The stage is set for the Pac-12’s final weekend, and it's one we could not have predicted.
UCLA plays for a second South title in three years, Stanford shifts to the unfamiliar spoiler role, Arizona and Arizona State fight each other while they share a need for a Stanford win, Oregon pushes toward the national playoff, Marcus Mariota drives toward the Heisman, and, in a shock, USC and Notre Dame meet in what feels like a consolation game.
Here are snapshots from two key games last Saturday that defined this weekend’s script.
Berkeley, Late First Quarter, Stanford 10 Cal 0
Looking to finish a scoring drive, Cal turned to its emerging runner Daniel Lasco. Crossing the Stanford 5-yard line, Cardinal linebacker Blake Martinez drilled Lasco, jarring the ball free into the arms of A.J. Tarpley.
Through seven conference games, Stanford’s defense had only created two takeaways. This Big Game saw the Cardinal force five Cal turnovers.
Berkeley, Second Quarter, Stanford 10 Cal 7
Most notable in the struggles of Stanford’s offense has been the vulnerability of the Cardinal to blitzing. Kevin Hogan entered the weekend with the worst conference passer rating against the blitz (52.9 completion percentage, 127.3 rating), per STATS, Inc.
Two plays in a drive that led to Stanford opening a 17-7 lead demonstrated an adjustment for the Big Game. On a second down from the Stanford 40, Cal blitzed two linebackers inside. Against a six-man rush, Hogan calmly waited for freshman Christian McCaffrey to get free over the middle and delivered a pass an instant before two Bears slammed him to the turf.
The second “blitz beater” came later in the drive on another 2nd-and-10. A swing pass to Kelsey Young in the left flat beat another six-man rush and placed Stanford inside Cal’s 20.
Hogan had his best game of the season, completing 15 of 20 passes for 214 yards. For the second consecutive week, Stanford pleased its fans by using McCaffrey as an offensive weapon (three carries and two receptions). Ultimately, Stanford’s decisive win over Cal must give UCLA pause approaching the Bruins’ biggest game of the season.
Pasadena, Second Quarter, UCLA 14 USC 7
The Trojans had moved the ball to the UCLA 4-yard line. They scrambled to run their goal-line offense at a quick tempo.
Here is the play sequence:
- 1st-and-goal: Shotgun run by Justin Davis to the 1.
- 2nd-and-goal: Shotgun keep by Cody Kessler for negative-two yards.
- 3rd-and-goal: Shotgun pass to Davis in left flat for TD.
Three goal-line plays, three shotgun formations, zero downs for leading conference rusher Buck Allen, zero snaps from center and run formations. On the third play, there was a touchdown, but there have been many moments this year when a fan has been left wondering "Is this USC?"
Pasadena, Second Quarter, UCLA 14 USC 14
UCLA's response to the tying touchdown was a drive that underscored the decisive win for the Bruins. Their offensive line kept Brett Hundley clean. He was sacked twice, but USC’s defense succeeded in targeting Hundley’s running, holding him to two net rushing yards.
At midfield in this drive, that was apparent on 3rd-and-4. USC offered a controlled rush that neither pressured Hundley nor allowed him an escape. Hundley’s reaction was to calmly stand in the pocket and use the extra time to scan the field, advancing through progressions until he found Mossi Johnson for a first down.
The measure of Hundley’s play was apparent in his ability and willingness to beat USC as a pocket passer.
Coach of the Week honors should go to UCLA defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich. The same man whose emotional snap during the Oregon game went viral. The same man, in his first year as a coordinator, whose defense had lingered in the middle of the conference rankings.
But Ulbrich is also the man who lasted 10 years as an NFL linebacker who excelled on special teams. On arrival at UCLA, he helped mold Anthony Barr from an H-back to a linebacker who earned first-round NFL draft status.
Ulbrich and his defense won this night. The defense held USC to 104 rush yards, limited Nelson Agholor to 24 receiving yards as the Trojans threat occasionally saw Myles Jack opposite him as a slot defender and, until a desperation fourth-quarter drive, had kept the Trojans under 200 total yards. Who predicted that?
Consecutive plays by the Bruins defense late in the second quarter triggered the game-deciding shift.
On a 3rd-and-4 from the UCLA 38, Allen ran for a first down despite fierce pressure from UCLA’s Deon Hollins, who appeared to anticipate the snap count.
The next play, first down from the UCLA 33, saw Kessler throw a quick pass in the right flat. Again, Hollins jumped on the exact snap count, his head start allowing him to blow by tackle Zach Bonner. The immediate presence of Hollins forced a quick, high throw from Kessler, the ball tipped by a USC receiver and caught by a diving Eric Kendricks.
Hundley capitalized on the takeaway—a 68-yard drive finished by a scoring pass to Eldridge Massington giving UCLA a 24-14 halftime lead.
Pasadena, Third Quarter, UCLA 24 USC 14
The Bruins doubled down on their touchdown that ended the first half. Taking the second-half kickoff, UCLA went 84 yards on nine plays to break open the game.
Essential to this drive was the pass game. First was 3rd-and-7 from the UCLA 19. USC could have regained some balance had it forced a three-and-out punt to start the half. Hundley fired a left side pass to Devin Lucien, whose route had carried him beyond the line to gain. But to catch the pass, Lucien’s momentum carried him back inside the first-down marker.
USC freshman Adoree' Jackson needed to simply wrap up Lucien, even if the catch was completed, short of the first down. But Jackson took a path inside Lucien’s left hip, trying to deflect or intercept the pass. He missed the ball, Lucien using that mistake to catch the ball and wheel upfield for first-down yardage.
Two plays later, Hundley lofted a deep pass down the right sideline. Thomas Duarte leapt over USC’s Leon McQuay to complete a 38-yard gain. Two plays where the UCLA receiver defeated the USC defensive back eventually cemented this game.
Four plays later, Paul Perkins ran for a touchdown that gave UCLA a 31-14 lead, and the Bruins never looked back.
UCLA vs. Stanford
This week, Stanford’s role as spoiler presents unease for UCLA. Do the Cardinal embrace this task given their fate to play in a lower-tier bowl game? Can UCLA reach the same emotional state as last Saturday?
On the field, one matchup should be the most significant in the outcome: UCLA's defensive line vs. Stanford's offensive line.
If the Bruins front can replicate the game-long pressure it applied on Kessler, it will test Hogan’s performance against the blitz.
If Stanford’s offensive line can repeat the push it employed against Cal, the Cardinal dormant run game could relieve Hogan of the burden to make big plays.
Can Stanford find its “identity” for one day? Or does UCLA validate its dominance of USC and keep Jim Mora on track to build in Westwood what Pete Carroll brought to USC?
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It’s come down to one final, sure-to-be-agonizing Saturday for Michigan football—and unfortunately for the Wolverines, it can’t come soon enough.
And, in a twisted sort of way, that’s something to be thankful for.
The fall of 2014 didn’t go as planned for Team 135, which was supposed to have a much-improved O-line, feature a bolstered running game and tout a more confident and effective quarterback—none of which happened, leading to a 5-6 (3-4 Big Ten) record and most likely postseason-less year No. 4 for coach Brady Hoke.
The addition of offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier was supposed to remedy some of the woes, but it didn’t. Instead, the Wolverines have occupied the Big Ten’s basement of total and scoring offense for most of the season.
However, during Monday’s presser at the Crisler Center, Nussmeier was quick to point out that his team had averaged better than 200 rushing yards during its recent three-game stretch.
And he realizes one important thing: “We have to score more points,” he said.
Better late than never.
That said, it’s probably best to just slam the door on 2014, take a look at the minimal amount of good and move forward into 2015.
Change on the Field
With Devin Gardner, a fifth-year senior, running out of eligibility, the Wolverines will have a new quarterback under center—hopefully not on his back—in 2015.
Shane Morris, a junior-to-be, is a likely candidate. But so is Wilton Speight—the 6’6”, rocket-armed will-be-redshirt freshman can certainly take over and deliver results for an offense in desperate need of change.
At this point, fans want anyone but No. 98.
Drake Johnson and De’Veon Smith, as referenced by Nussmeier, have on occasion taken steps in the right direction, suggesting that the opposite of what was produced on the field this year—the Big Ten’s No. 7-ranked rushing offense (166 YPG)—will be present next fall.
For a team that’s built on grinding out yards—a return to that will be a welcome difference in 2015, especially given the perceived talent in the backfield. Derrick Green broke his clavicle Oct. 4 versus Rutgers but has since quickly recovered. But he won’t be available Saturday, Hoke said Monday, so it’s on to next year for the former blue-chip prep.
Smith will also be a junior, and although he's struggled mightily, strong potential remains. He's had difficulty choosing lanes, though, and that's been his biggest problem. Once corrected, Smith should see the light in 2015.
And since next year is the topic, it only makes sense to take a look at those who return on the O-line: The No. 1 left tackle since arrival, Mason Cole stands to anchor the front as a sophomore in 2015; another year of experience has Graham Glasgow in position to have a strong senior year at guard.
Jack Miller returns for one more go at center. That’s a good thing.
The only question will be the right side, as sophomores Ben Braden (RT) and Kyle Kalis (RG) made their share of mistakes in 2014 and leave room for doubt heading into 2015. Their showings against the Buckeyes will either amplify or relieve some of that uncertainty.
As a whole, the O-line has performed far below expected levels. The “youth” excuse has run its course. That word can no longer be used when talking about the line—or anything else—because there will be more “Jr.” and “Sr.” tags next go guys’ names on the depth chart.
Change off the Field
Students, alumni and fans got what they wanted when Dave Brandon resigned on Halloween. It was a treat after several tricks from the athletic director, who didn’t seem to have a clue about much of anything.
The flyovers, while entertaining, are no more. Fans can no longer buy two Cokes and receive free tickets from the former pizza baron. Future plans for fireworks after touchdowns won’t be made, either. The Brandon era is done—and to say that fans and supporters are thankful would be an understatement.
Furthermore, Brady Hoke probably won’t be the J. Ira and Nicki Harris Family Head whatever for too much longer. As a matter of fact, he seemed to be aware that his time has come during Monday’s press conference. With his irritation cloaked with a smile and pounding, rah-rah fist, Hoke deflected questions pertaining to his job status, instead choosing to focus on the Buckeyes and what “The Game” means to players.
But he knows the deal. The clock is on its way to hitting all zeroes. Being the man he is, Hoke’s taking it all in stride and with class. Michigan fans probably couldn’t ask for more from a guy in his position. He’s definitely taken the high road.
Commits to Hoke’s 2015 class have been dropping like flies since December of 2013.
Stumbling backward since going 7-6, the Wolverines have lost George Campbell (5-star WR), Damien Harris (5-star RB), Shaun Crawford (4-star CB), Garrett Taylor (4-star CB) and Darian Roseboro (4-star DE), just to name a few, but the recent change of heart was the real kicker: Local star Mike Weber decommitted as Team 135 dropped senior day to the visiting Maryland Terrapins.
And, of course, he did it on Twitter.
The loss of the 4-star superstar running back of Detroit Cass Tech is devastating—the Wolverines are in need of depth at the position.
During the same game, Chris Clark, a 4-star tight end commit, tweeted that Michigan had “officially hit rock bottom," per 247Sports.
One can only assume that he's reconsidering and that more ship-jumpers are on the way.
But hey, at least Jabrill Peppers is sticking around. He’s even gone as far as to publicly deflect. Breezy is Michigan’s for keeps.
Before being redshirted due to a lower-body injury, the former 5-star everything was viewed as a savior-esque recruit. Peppers was going to take the Big Ten by storm and attempt to fulfill his dream of winning the Heisman as a true freshman.
He’ll have to settle for doing it as a redshirt soph like the rest of them. But at least he’s safe and secure in Ann Arbor.
Caris LeVert, Zak Irvin, Derrick Walton—what’s not to like about John Beilein’s team?!
Plus, the coach develops his guys. Walton is better than he was last year. Irvin is too. And coincidentally, so is LeVert.
What a novel concept: Guys are improving with time—and there are noticeable leaps across the board for Michigan, which has a good shot at competing for a top spot in the Big Ten this season.
Be oh so thankful for that.
Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81
For what should Michigan be most thankful? Feel free to start a conversation in the comments section.
Unless otherwise noted, quotes and references were obtained firsthand by the writer
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With just one regular-season week and conference championships left to be played, time is certainly running out for teams looking to make a run at the College Football Playoff.
Every team that constituted the Top Four last week won over the weekend, but it can be argued that the gap is starting to close with teams like Baylor, TCU and Ohio State lurking closely behind. In addition to that, there is reason to believe that the selection committee could alter the order of its Top Four even if nobody actually drops out.
That could be a major factor over the next couple of weeks, especially due to the perceived importance of winning conference title games.
With the 14th and final week of college football's regular season looming, here is a rundown of the projected College Football Playoff rankings ahead of Tuesday night's release.
Alabama Holding Steady
The selection committee is smitten with Alabama and its impressive resume, and it is difficult to imagine the Crimson Tide residing anywhere other than No. 1 when the new rankings are constructed. Bama didn't exactly test itself with a game against Western Carolina Saturday, but it ultimately took care of business with a 48-14 victory.
Alabama is now 10-1 and it is displaying excellent balance. The defense is great as usual, as it is No. 2 in points allowed, while the offense is really clicking as well at a clip of 35 points per contest. Quarterback Blake Sims has blossomed under offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, and the running game has been a handful for the opposition, too.
One concern coming out of last week's game is the health of Heisman Trophy candidate and superstar wide receiver Amari Cooper. The incredible junior has more than 1,300 yards and 11 touchdowns on the season, but he left the Western Carolina game with a knee injury.
According to Cecil Hurt of The Tuscaloosa News, however, head coach Nick Saban isn't at all concerned about the ailment:
That is great news for Alabama as it prepares for an Iron Bowl clash with Auburn. As long as the Tide can avoid an upset against the Tigers or in the SEC Championship Game, they should have the CFP's No. 1 seed locked down.
The Tide are clearly being rewarded for excelling against an extremely difficult schedule, but they can't afford to let their guard down since one loss could easily knock them out of the running.
Mississippi State Remains in Top 4
After holding the No. 1 spot for several weeks, Mississippi State dropped to No. 4 in the CFP by virtue of a five-point loss to Alabama. It would have been easy for the Bulldogs to fold after that, but they did just the opposite by drubbing Vanderbilt 51-0 to improve to 10-1 with Ole Miss looming.
According to ESPN Stats & Info, that marked Mississippi State's most dominant conference performance in nearly 80 years:
In the wake of that convincing victory coupled with quality wins over LSU, Texas A&M and Auburn, the Bulldogs should be safely in the CFP Top Four for this week at the very least. Unfortunately, they may very well be sitting ducks moving forward.
Since Mississippi State is blocked by Alabama in terms of playing for the SEC title, it won't have an opportunity to impress the selection committee. Assuming Bama, Oregon and Florida State all take care of business by winning out and winning their conference titles, the Bulldogs will be in a tough spot.
They are aided by the fact that there is no Big 12 title game, which means BYU and TCU are at the same disadvantage. With that said, Ohio State can win the Big Ten Championship, which may vault the Buckeyes past the Bulldogs.
Mississippi State's win over Vandy was so impressive that it may very well leapfrog Florida State for this week, but Dan Mullen's team will ultimately be at the mercy of the teams around it and the selection committee even if it finishes with only one loss.
Florida State Continues to Slip
Florida State is the defending national champion and is a perfect 11-0 this season, yet an argument can be made that it isn't among college football's top four teams. The Seminoles have been dropping in recent weeks and entered the weekend as the No. 3 seed.
They once again escaped with a win as they defeated Boston College 20-17 on a last-second field goal. These types of wins have become the Noles' modus operandi this season, and while they aren't always pretty, the fact that they get results deserves some respect.
In fact, head coach Jimbo Fisher was very matter-of-fact about his team deserving a CFP spot after narrowly escaping with a win over the Eagles, per Brendan Sonnone of The Orlando Sentinel.
"Why wouldn't it? We're undefeated," Fisher said. "We're undefeated. We finish every game. Everybody else in the country has not finished at least one game. We've finished every one of them. Isn't that the object?"
Florida State absolutely has to remain in the Top Four as the only undefeated team in a power conference, but with only two wins over current Top 25 teams, the selection committee is likely to begrudgingly make that determination.
The committee clearly values the quality of victories more than the quantity of them, which is why the Seminoles could easily fall to No. 4. They still control their own destiny since leaving a perfect team out of the CFP would be an extremely bad look for the new system, but it is clear that Florida State will have to take an "us against the world" mentality into the season's closing weeks.
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The nation's Top Four remained the same following Week 13 of the college football season. However, Florida State's performance was slightly different than those of Alabama, Oregon and Mississippi State.
While the second-, third- and fourth-ranked teams won in decisive fashion, blowing their opposition out of the water, the Seminoles squeezed past the unranked Boston College Eagles, narrowly escaping with a three-point win. While this caused some controversy, one important fact remains: Florida State is still unbeaten.
With all four of these teams in action in Week 14, the possibility of the rankings changing once again is real. After all, if we've learned anything so far this year, it's that no team is safe from defeat in any given week against any opponent.
Before another pivotal week on the amateur gridiron kicks off, here's an updated look at the nation's rankings and standings.
Full CFB standings can be viewed at ESPN.com.
Week 14 Marquee Matchup
(4) Mississippi State at (18) Ole Miss
This may be the most important Egg Bowl we've seen in quite some time. The Mississippi State Bulldogs remain entrenched in the College Football Playoff picture, but in-state rival Ole Miss is looking to play spoiler.
Both of these teams are coming off shutout performances in Week 13; however, only one finished on the right side of the scoreboard. While the Bulldogs trounced Vanderbilt 51-0, the Rebels were shocked by Arkansas, losing 30-0.
Talk about a swing in momentum.
Chris Fowler broke down the FPI formula for the game:
Despite the devastating loss, Ole Miss still boasts the nation's top-ranked scoring defense, allowing an average of just 13.5 points per game. While the team gave up 30 to Arkansas, it was mainly due to offensive miscues, as the defense held the Razorbacks to 311 total yards.
Mississippi State isn't a slouch on the defensive side of the ball either. The Bulldogs rank 11th in the nation, allowing an average of just 18.4 points per game. They devastated the Commodores offense in Week 13, giving up a total of just 228 yards.
The winner of this matchup will be the team that can find a way to produce significant offense against the opposing stout defense.
Ole Miss has a tough hill to climb in that regard, as quarterback Bo Wallace is coming off a miserable showing. He completed just 16 of his 31 passing attempts for 235 yards, zero touchdowns and two interceptions against Arkansas. Adding to the quarterback's woes for the upcoming game is the sprained ankle he suffered in that contest, via Hugh Kellenberger of the Jackson Clarion-Ledger:
Wallace will need to get much more help from the team's backfield against the Bulldogs. Jaylen Walton and Co. produced just 63 yards on 33 carries, a dismal average of 1.9 yards per rush, against the Razorbacks.
On the flip side, Mississippi State boasts a very dangerous rushing attack. In Week 13 against Vanderbilt, the team combined to rush for 283 yards and two touchdowns on 51 carries, averaging 5.5 yards per rush. The balanced attack allowed quarterback Dak Prescott to flourish, completing 16 of his 21 passing attempts for 193 yards and three touchdowns.
That kind of performance is one big reason why Prescott is mentioned in Heisman Trophy discussions, via SEC Network:
It's rather difficult to go against Prescott and the Mississippi State offense in this one. The Ole Miss defense is talented and will give the Bulldogs a run for their money; however, due to Wallace's recent poor play and the fact that the Rebels have lost three of their last four games, Ole Miss won't notch an Egg Bowl win this year.
Prediction: Mississippi State 24, Ole Miss 17
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The Heisman Trophy is on everyone's mind at the onset of a new college football season and remains there until a winner is crowned during the annual ceremony in New York. Each and every week, analysts and fans scrutinize the performances of front-runners and adjust their rankings in accordance with their findings.
This is one such example.
Of the many, many talented student athletes throughout the nation, several stand out above the rest. To decide which of them are deserving of the prestigious award, voters are asked to identify their top three selections in order. A first-place vote is worth three points, a second-place vote is worth two points and a third-place vote is worth one point.
Here's a look at the three players who should be receiving the lion's share of those votes, ranked from third through first.
3. J.T. Barrett, QB, Ohio State
This was a very difficult decision. Barrett was neck-and-neck with Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott, but recent record-breaking performances propelled the freshman signal-caller into third place.
After a rocky start to his season, Barrett began to light up scoreboards, beginning with his six-touchdown performance against Kent State. He rode the momentum established in that game to a nine-game winning streak heading into Week 14.
This young player only appears to be getting better as the season progresses. He put up one of the best all-around performances of the season against a stout Michigan State defense, throwing for 300 yards and three touchdowns while rushing for 86 yards and two more scores. He outdid himself one week later, rushing for a school-record 189 yards against Minnesota.
In Week 13, Barrett threw four touchdown passes against Indiana, cementing himself further in the team's record books with two more records, via Bill Rabinowitz of The Columbus Dispatch and ESPN Stats & Info:
The freshman won't go on to win the Heisman this season, but the sky is the limit for the quarterback. Expect to see his name in the mix for the trophy very early next season.
2. Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin
Speaking of players who only seem to get better as the season rolls along, Gordon has been electric recently. The junior running back has eclipsed the 100-yard mark in 10 of the team's 11 contests this season and leads the FBS with 2,109 rushing yards heading into Week 14—he tops the rushing touchdowns category as well with 25.
According to ESPN Stats & Info, Gordon is the fastest player in history to eclipse the 2,000-yard mark in a season:
Over Gordon's last three contests, he's gained more than 200 yards on the ground in each. His crowning achievement this season was his 408 rushing yards against Nebraska, setting a new NCAA single-game record. ESPN's Travis Haney expanded on just how impressive the ball-carrier has been recently:
Currently, Barry Sanders owns the all-time single-season rushing total of 2,628 yards. That mark has stood since 1988, but Gordon has a chance to break that mark, especially if the Badgers can defeat Minnesota and earn a trip to the Big Ten title game.
If that winds up being the case, this Heisman race will get very interesting.
1. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
Mariota, the Oregon Ducks' junior signal-caller, may be one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the history of college football. He's an extremely accurate passer and makes very good decisions with the football in his hands. That's led to a total of just two interceptions this season. That's right, two.
Throwing two picks is impressive for any quarterback who accompanies them with roughly 1,000 passing yards and 10 touchdowns. However, Mariota has already passed for 3,103 yards and 32 touchdowns this season. That ratio is simply incredible.
And, according to Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports, that's nothing new for the NFL's future first-round draft pick:
In Week 13, Mariota led the Ducks to a 44-10 drubbing of Colorado, throwing three touchdowns and running for another in the process. That set a new Pac-12 single-season record, according to SportsCenter:
Accumulating that immense amount of touchdowns is a feat all in its own; doing it with the kind of efficiency Mariota displays every single week is absolutely extraordinary. That's the reason he could go No. 1 overall in the 2015 NFL draft, and that's the reason he'll win the Heisman Trophy.
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TUSCALOOSA, Alabama—The head coach felt like he had to do something. After Alabama was stuffed on two fourth-and-short plays in the fourth quarter of last year's Iron Bowl against Auburn—a game that Alabama would lose 34-28—Nick Saban decided he needed to revamp his offense. Without telling his staff, Saban invited recently-fired Lane Kiffin to Tuscaloosa for eight days last December to "brainstorm" and analyze the Tide's offense, especially its weaknesses.
"It was my vacation," Kiffin joked.
Kiffin, who had been unceremoniously fired on a tarmac by USC a few months before, had a long history with Saban. He nearly left USC in 2007 to join Saban's staff shortly after Saban was hired in Tuscaloosa—agent Jimmy Sexton represents both coaches—but ultimately he decided to stay in Los Angeles before leaving for the NFL a few weeks later. Now Saban wanted his opinion on how he could revitalize his offense, which had been a ground-based, pro-style, conservative attack. It had brought three national titles to The Capstone, but it struggled down the stretch in 2013. The Tide had been the only team in the final month of the 2013 regular season that had failed to score 30 points against Auburn.
Shortly after arriving in Alabama Kiffin had a long dinner at Saban's house on Lake Tuscaloosa; the two talked Xs and Os deep into the night. Saban and Kiffin may seem different—Saban is a taskmaster and, at age 63, still an obsessive perfectionist; Kiffin is an inveterate jokester and, at age 39, likes to have a good time and is considered a player's coach. Both, however, are coach's sons who relish the philosophical, chess-match aspects of the game. The quickest way to earn Saban's respect is to flash a high football IQ, and by all accounts, Kiffin has an understanding of the nuances of the sport that is blue moon rare.
For eight days Kiffin carefully studied everything about the Alabama program. Every evening before he returned to his room at the Capstone Hotel, Kiffin would review his notes from the day with Saban for about 15 minutes. Saban liked what he heard. He never said he lost faith in offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, but an obvious message was conveyed. After Oklahoma beat Alabama 45-31 in last January's Sugar Bowl, Nussmeier left to become the offensive coordinator at Michigan. Kiffin, hoping to rehabilitate his image and rejuvenate his career, accepted the offer from Saban.
It was a gamble for Saban to bring him in—Saban was lampooned nationally for the hire—but it has paid off. Because love him or loathe him, Lane Kiffin is a huge reason why the Crimson Tide is now four wins away from winning its fourth national title in six years.
The Master And The Student
There they were, college football's odd couple of 2014, walking side-by-side along the west sideline at Bryant-Denny Stadium. It was minutes before the kickoff between top-ranked Alabama and Western Carolina last Saturday, and the two coaches strolled in silence through the warm autumn afternoon, arms folded, heads down, looking like a pair of philosophers deep in thought.
The opening whistle blew, the crowd of over 100,000 sent a roar that rolled like thunder into the Southern sky, and the game was on. The Crimson Tide offense jogged onto the field. The two coaches—Nick Saban and Lane Kiffin—stood a few feet from another.
Kiffin relayed the play calls to senior quarterback Blake Sims. Saban paced nearby, his blazing brown eyes constantly locking onto his first-year offensive coordinator, as if the head coach wanted to intervene. He finally did: When Kiffin called a pass late in the first quarter, Saban exploded, lighting into Kiffin, screaming he wanted to run the ball.
Message received: Alabama kept the ball on the ground on 10 of its next 11 offensive plays. Slowly the storm in Saban's eyes disappeared. The Tide won 48-14 as the offense piled up 612 total yards and the machine in Tuscaloosa continued to hum along, ruthless and relentless.
After the final whistle sounded, the Crimson Tide coaches walked into the north end zone portal that led to the locker room. Saban would emerge minutes later to talk to the microphones and cameras and tape recorders, but Kiffin—the mastermind behind the most prolific offense of the Saban era in Tuscaloosa—simply disappeared from view.
Saban doesn't allow his assistant coaches to speak to the media during the season, which has only deepened the intrigue—locally and nationally—surrounding this unlikely duo. How many seasons will Kiffin stay in Tuscaloosa? What has been the key to Kiffin's success in developing Blake Sims? What is this fast-paced offense?
"We're having more fun this year and coach Kiffin is a big reason why," said Brian Vogler, a senior tight end. "He's opened up the offense. He really understands what players do well and he puts them in positions to succeed. And having him on the field has been key because he listens to us during games and takes our suggestions. It makes all of us feel like we're really part of the offense and part of something special.
"Coach Kiffin and coach Saban are really clicking. It's like they've discovered, as the season has gone on, how much they have in common," Vogler said. "They communicate and understand each other in a very deep way. They're having fun together. It's a great thing to see, especially with how things ended last year."
Reconciling The Past
Bill Battle, Alabama's athletic director, cringed when he first heard the news. (Kiffin eventually won Battle over when they had their first lengthy conversation.) Kiffin's last foray into the SEC did not end well.
On the field at Tennessee in 2009 Kiffin had been a success. He assembled a top-five recruiting class even though he was on the job for only a few weeks before national signing day. The Vols' offense increased its scoring average by 12 points and the total offense swelled from 268.3 yards a game to 383.5. Perhaps most impressive: Kiffin and Tennessee were a last-second blocked field goal away from beating Alabama, the eventual national champion, in Tuscaloosa. The Vols outgained the Tide by nearly 100 yards.
But then in January 2010 Kiffin was offered his dream job at USC and left Knoxville. Tennessee administrators were furious—Kiffin had spent months talking about building something special, brick by brick, year by year, at UT—and the fan base felt betrayed. When word leaked that Kiffin was about to announce his resignation, an angry mob of students gathered outside the coaches' offices, vowing to block his exit. A mattress was set on fire. Kiffin eventually made it out, but the threat of violence underscored how irate the entire fan base was with Kiffin.
"As you make mistakes, the number one thing you've got to do is learn from them," Kiffin said this past August in his only meeting with reporters this season. "And not just make excuses for them. I've made more than anybody, probably. To go through what I've gone through and still be fortunate to be here, a coordinator with Saban at Alabama, you take some time to reflect on that." At the press conference on the second-floor of the Mal Moore Athletic Facility, Kiffin sounded like a contrite, team-first coach. This was the plan; Saban had met with him that morning to make sure his new coach didn't say anything "that would end up on the ticker."
The time out of the spotlight clearly has been good for Kiffin, because his loose lips have gotten him in plenty of trouble in the past. This is a coach who was once described as a "flat out liar" by former Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis, who hired Kiffin in 2007 and fired him in midway through the '08 season. A year later at Tennessee, Kiffin called Urban Meyer, then the coach at Florida, a cheater and proclaimed that wide receiver Alshon Jeffery would end up pumping gas if he didn't come to Tennessee. (Jeffery, for the record, went to South Carolina and is currently a Chicago Bear.) For much of his head-coaching career, Kiffin has been a walking PR disaster, his own worst enemy, a coach who seemingly never really grew up.
In other words, he's been the exact opposite of Saban.
"Lane's done a really good job for us all year," Saban told reporters earlier this season. "The players like him, they respond really well to him. He's a really great coach. I think the reason why people in Tennessee are pissed off at him is because they know he's a good coach and they were upset when he left. I get that. I understand that.…I'm sure there are a lot of our fans, and Tennessee fans, that realize that Lane Kiffin is a very good coach."
Bringing The Fun To T-Town
On his first day on the job in Tuscaloosa, Kiffin began installing his version of the West Coast offense, which features elements of the hurry-up. He also began working with quarterback Blake Sims, who was recruited as a running back. Kiffin schooled Sims in all of his favorite routes: fades, short crosses and quick screens. He put quarterback rollouts into the offense repertoire. And he preached playing with tempo.
Kiffin has a well-earned reputation for developing quarterbacks. He helped USC's Matt Barkley set Pac-12 records for career passing yards and touchdowns. He helped the Trojans' Matt Leinart and Mark Sanchez became first-round NFL draft picks. And at Tennessee he transformed Jonathon Crompton from a player who completed only 51.5 percent of this passes in 2008 into a quarterback who connected on 58.3 percent of his throws in '09 and tossed 27 touchdown passes and only 13 interceptions. His mission with Sims: Improve his throwing mechanics and help him grow comfortable in the West Coast offense.
It worked immediately. Alabama totaled 538 yards of offense in its season-opening 33-23 win over West Virginia. Afterward, Saban confessed that the Tide may have lost the game if Kiffin hadn't been on the sideline to guide and calm Sims, who set a school record for completions (24) and attempts (33) for a first-time starter.
"Y'all need to fess up," Saban said after the game to reporters, his voice rising. "Most places that don't like [Lane], it's because he left and they were mad because of that. They weren't mad about anything he did while he was there. Just do a little research."
Three weeks later, on Sept. 20, the Alabama offense ran out onto the field for the first play of the Florida game. At the line of scrimmage Sims looked at Kiffin, who quickly assessed the Gators defensive alignment. As the play clock ticked down, Kiffin changed the play and called a slant-and-go route to running back Kenyan Drake. Lined up out wide right, Drake was covered by a linebacker. At the snap of the ball Drake easily blew past the linebacker and then caught a perfectly lobbed strike from Sims. As Drake sprinted into the end zone for an 87-yard touchdown, Kiffin pumped his fist in air and shouted in excitement. The happiness on his face could have lit up a dark film room.
Kiffin had another eruption of emotion on Oct. 25 at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville. On Alabama's first offensive play of the game, he signaled for Sims to throw a quick pass to Amari Cooper. The play worked just like Kiffin had drawn it up on Dry Erase whiteboard, as Cooper juked a defender and sprinted 80 yards for a touchdown. The only person running as fast as Cooper in the stadium may have been Kiffin, who sprinted down the sideline like his shoelaces were on fire. This kind of spontaneous, child-like joy had been glaringly absent at Alabama last year—even when the team was ranked No. 1.
"That was a huge moment for coach Kiffin going back to Tennessee," Vogler said. "We feed off that energy when coach Kiffin gets pumped up. It gets all of us ready to go. It's so important. "
An Unlikely Reunion
When Kiffin was at Tennessee, he had recruited Blake Sims out of Gainesville (Georgia) High. If Kiffin had stayed in Knoxville, Sims would have ended up a Volunteer. "This is a crazy guy," Sims said of Kiffin. "He's funny and he was a good guy. The way his attitude was, you could tell he was a guy who wanted to win. That's why it doesn't surprise me that coach Saban went and got him for this program because he fits it all the way around." After 10 games, Sims has completed 187 of 301 passes (62.1 percent) and thrown 20 touchdowns and only four interceptions. His passer rating of 156.1 ranks 12th best in the nation.
The Nick Saban Internship
"I want to be learning and growing. Coach Saban teaches his coaches every day."
— Lane Kiffin
So far, Alabama has been the perfect place for Kiffin to rebuild his career. No coach on the offensive staff spends more time at Saban's side than Kiffin.
At Alabama under Saban, virtually every minute of every day is scripted. The expectations for the assistants are robustly clear.
"The thing about Nick is that he clearly spells out for you what he expects and what your duties are," said Jim McElwain, an offensive coordinator for Saban at Alabama from 2008 to '11 who is now the head coach at Colorado State. "He can be tough, but he's all about one thing: winning. That's it. He has a clear plan and a clear organizational calendar. In all my time with Nick, I think we only had one conversation that wasn't about football. He's the most focused, driven person I've ever met."
Kiffin is constantly taking notes in this no-nonsense environment—from how Saban runs meetings to how he deals with various disciplinary issues to how he interacts with his players. For now Kiffin appears content to stay in Tuscaloosa for at least another season. And then he'll likely get one more shot at being a head coach.
There has never been a doubt in Kiffin's ability to call a hell of a game or develop a quarterback. Most of his past failures can be traced to his inexperience; now he's earning the football equivalent of a post-doctorate degree in Tuscaloosa.
He's learning Saban's template for running a program and literally reading Saban's book on winning, a nearly 200-page, bound document in which Saban details every aspect of running a program, from proper sleeping habits for players to nutrition and motivation.
When Kiffin gets his next shot as a head coach, he will have been Sabinized and he will be ready.
Lars Anderson is a 20-year veteran of Sports Illustrated and the author of six books, including The Storm and the Tide, which was published in August. He's currently an instructor of journalism at the University of Alabama. Follow him on Twitter @LarsAnderson71.
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The TCU Horned Frogs fell to No. 6 in the Associated Press Top 25 after they were given a scare by Kansas in Week 13. Things won't be getting any easier for this College Football Playoff contender, as a trip to Austin to take on the surging Texas Longhorns is next on the slate.
Earlier in the season, this contest had the makings of a lopsided affair. TCU's offense was demolishing every foe, and Texas couldn't seem to live up to expectations, dropping five of its first eight games. However, the Longhorns have recently hit their stride, winning their last three games, and they appear to be a formidable Week 14 opponent.
Can quarterback Trevone Boykin lead the Horned Frogs to a vastly important 10th win on the season, or will Texas play spoiler and finish the year strong with a fourth consecutive win? There's plenty at stake here, including Big 12 bragging rights within the state of Texas.
While neither defense has been bad this season, we should expect a high-scoring affair at Royal Texas Memorial Stadium on Thursday. Both TCU and Texas have been lighting up scoreboards lately, and each team's quarterback is the primary reason.
We've seen TCU's Boykin go off this year. The junior signal-caller was involved in some early Heisman Trophy discussions, especially following his 433-yard, seven-touchdown performance against Texas Tech in the Horned Frogs' 82-27 victory.
Since that astounding performance, Boykin's production has dropped off, though. Over his last three games, he's notched three touchdowns and two interceptions, eclipsing the 300-yard mark just once. He did have a brilliant rushing performance against Kansas State, carrying 17 times for 123 yards and three touchdowns, but he'll need to do much more through the air against Texas.
Still, according to DFW Sports News, Boykin is extremely happy with the team's offense:
As for the Longhorns, quarterback Tyrone Swoopes has played very well lately. The sophomore signal-caller completed 24 of his 33 passing attempts for 305 yards and two touchdowns in Week 13 against Oklahoma State, giving him plenty of momentum heading into Thursday.
Swoopes commented on the importance of Thursday's game against TCU, via Jori Epstein of The Daily Texan:
If Boykin can regain his previous form, Swoopes may need the game of his brief career to keep the Longhorns in contention.
While many points are expected to be posted by both of these teams, finishing strong on the defensive side of the ball will come into play. The inability to close out games has plagued both Texas and TCU this season, and this game could easily come down to one defensive stand.
The Horned Frogs suffered their only loss this year against Baylor in a high-scoring affair that saw the Bears win 61-58. With just over 10 minutes remaining in the game, TCU held a 58-37 lead. Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty led two quick touchdown drives, knotting up the game at 58, and a field goal as time expired won the game for the Bears in regulation due to 17 unanswered points.
Earlier this season, Texas faced a difficult opponent in UCLA. Quarterback Brett Hundley exited the game, forcing backup Jerry Neuheisel into action. He played well, and the game remained close throughout; however, a Swoopes touchdown pass put the Longhorns up 17-13 with just over five minutes remaining.
Soon after, Neuheisel completed a 30-yard pass to Paul Perkins inside the Longhorns' territory, but a Jordon James fumble was recovered by Texas, ending the threat. Swoopes and Co. were held to a 3-and-out, and following a good punt return, Neuheisel completed a 33-yard touchdown strike to Jordan Payton, winning the game for the Bruins.
Allowing big passing plays late in the game won't fly against Boykin and the Horned Frogs in Week 14.
When: Thursday, November 27
Where: Royal Texas Memorial Stadium in Austin, Texas
Time: 7:30 p.m. ET
Channel: Fox Sports 1
Live Stream: Fox Sports Go
Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):
- Over/Under: 56.5
- Spread: TCU -6.5
Team Injury Reports
Injury reports per The Sports Network, via USA Today.
One thing that's kept TCU alive when Boykin has struggled is its running game. This team has a very talented running back in Aaron Green, and he's coming off a great showing against Kansas, ripping off 128 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries. He's really come into his own of late, notching three 100-yard performances in his last three games, and he's always a threat to hit a home run.
Texas has a couple of talented backs in Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown, but they've been a little erratic lately. Brown managed only 31 yards on 15 carries against Oklahoma State, and he's averaged fewer than four yards per carry in three of his last five games. It's been a similar story for Gray, who had a great three-touchdown showing against West Virginia but also averaged four yards per carry or fewer in five games this season.
Keeping a balanced offense will be crucial for any kind of offensive success in this game, and entering Week 14, the Horned Frogs appear to be more capable of achieving just that.
Prediction: TCU 37, Texas 30
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It may seem like nothing is more important in the world of college football than the race for the College Football Playoff, but good luck suggesting that to the various fanbases across the country before Week 14.
After all, it’s rivalry week, and the only thing on the minds of Ohio State, Alabama, Oregon, Florida State and Mississippi State fans is beating Michigan, Auburn, Oregon State, Florida and Ole Miss, respectively. Bragging rights for the next 364 days are on the line, and college football legacies are defined by performances in these showdowns.
The larger picture will be waiting for the players and coaches in the aftermath, but let’s take a peek at it anyway. Here is a look at the latest playoff projections and odds from StatMilk and Odds Shark before mine.
The national championship odds listed are courtesy of Odds Shark, as of Monday afternoon at 4 p.m. ET.
StatMilk and Odds Shark Playoff Projections and Odds
Scott Polacek Playoff Projections
Sugar Bowl: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Baylor
Rose Bowl: No. 2 Florida State vs. No. 3 Oregon
Championship Bowl (in Arlington, Texas): TBD (semifinal winners)
Playoff contenders Ohio State, Alabama, Oregon, Florida State and Mississippi State are all favorites heading into their final regular-season games, but the cliche of “throw the records out” really does apply when a rivalry game is on tap.
After all, the heavily favored Buckeyes and Ducks beat overmatched Michigan and Oregon State squads by a combined two points last season. Motivations change and intensity increases in these annual showdowns, and the team with the better record or more talent doesn’t always have an easy go of things.
What’s more, the pressure of the playoffs is a very real phenomenon, and the contenders will be the ones pressing in the fourth quarter if Saturday’s games come down to the final minutes. How they respond could be the difference between a playoff spot and just another bowl game.
From a historical standpoint, the rivalry between Ohio State and Michigan is typically included in the same category as showdowns between the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox and the Duke and North Carolina basketball teams. That intensity will be there in the Horseshoe again Saturday.
"I want our players to take part ownership of the program. This is not another game. This is The Game," he said.
The clash between Alabama and Auburn will represent a chance for revenge for the Crimson Tide after a 110-yard return of a missed field goal on the final play of last year’s game ended Alabama’s national title hopes and propelled Auburn into the game against Florida State.
Those Seminoles will take on Florida on Saturday, and one X-factor to watch will be how the Gators respond for Will Muschamp. It is their coach’s final regular-season game at the helm, and there could be even more motivation to send him out a winner than there already would be in a contest with the hated Seminoles.
Oregon State may be 5-6, but it has Sean Mannion directing the charge on offense. He is the Pac-12’s all-time leader in career passing yards and has a chance to shock an Oregon defense that has appeared vulnerable at times this season.
Gina Mizell of The Oregonian sang Mannion’s praises recently, and that talent could be an issue for the Ducks:
One game fans of Ohio State, Baylor and TCU will watch very closely is the contest between Ole Miss and Mississippi State.
A once-promising season is all but over for the Rebels after three straight SEC losses, and ruining the title hopes for the Bulldogs is all they have left. If that were to happen, the race for the No. 4 seed in the College Football Playoff would be wide open.
Embrace the chaos.
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Thursday marks the 53rd meeting in the LSU-Texas A&M rivalry. This historic series dates back to 1899 and is led 29-20-3 by LSU. This rivalry went on a hiatus following the 1995 season but was rekindled in 2011 when the Aggies were defeated by the Tigers in the Cotton Bowl. LSU has won the two meetings since.
This year, these teams may be the SEC's most enigmatic.
Texas A&M began the season with a 52-point scoring frenzy against South Carolina, but after dropping three straight to ranked conference opponents, the team fell out of the picture. However, a win against Auburn in early November finally earned the Aggies bowl eligibility. They enter Week 14 at 7-4.
LSU has much of the same story. The Tigers got off to a great start, defeating Wisconsin to begin their season. However, dropping games to Mississippi State and Auburn took the team out of College Football Playoff contention. LSU did take down Ole Miss in October but has since lost two consecutive contests to Alabama and Arkansas. The Tigers are 7-4 entering the final game of the regular season.
The history of this series says it all. These teams have been going at it for years, producing a bevy of memorable performances. We're poised to get another this time around.
Clash of Styles
There may not be two teams with greater differences in the entire SEC.
LSU is extremely defensive-minded and has been for quite some time. However, this year, the Tigers defense has been more crucial than ever due to the lack of the team's offensive efficiency.
Sophomore quarterback Anthony Jennings needs much more time to develop into a viable option under center. He hasn't thrown for more than 200 yards or more than one touchdown since LSU's first two games of the season.
The team has fared slightly better on the ground, as freshman running back Leonard Fournette leads the charge with 745 yards and seven touchdowns on the season, but he's only eclipsed the 100-yard mark three times this season. Luckily for the Tigers, Texas A&M doesn't feature too strong of a defense and is ranked 104th in the nation against the run.
This tweet from Glenn Guilbeau of USA Today sums up both teams' weaknesses:
On the flip side, the Aggies are all about offense. Although, they've had to put up points with two different quarterbacks at the helm this season. Kenny Hill began the season with a flourish, throwing for 511 yards and three touchdowns against South Carolina. However, he began to struggle later in the season and was benched in favor of Kyle Allen.
Allen's had his moments since he was named starter, the biggest of which came in a victory over Auburn. The quarterback threw for 277 yards, four touchdowns and one pick in that game, as the Aggies ran a very balanced attack.
Speaking of balanced attacks, that may be the only way around a superb LSU defense that's only allowing 16.4 points per game. A trio of ball-carriers featuring Tra Carson, Trey Williams and Brandon Williams will attempt to find a way to reach paydirt against a Tigers defense that's only allowed 12 rushing touchdowns this season.
Home Sweet Home
While these teams are very different, one factor could be even more prominent than their diverse styles of play. That would be home-field advantage.
The Aggies are 4-2 at Kyle Field after plenty of mixed results this season. They blew the doors off lesser opponents such as Lamar and Rice, were taken to overtime by Arkansas and were defeated by Ole Miss and Missouri. That last defeat was the most concerning.
Missouri came into College Station without an extremely potent rushing offense but still racked up a total of 335 yards and three touchdowns, averaging 6.8 yards per carry along the way. That's not good news for the Aggies, as the Tigers will be coming into town with a ground-and-pound mindset.
LSU is 1-2 on the road this season, and the results haven't been pretty. The Tigers just edged Florida by a three-point margin, notching their lone road win of the year; however, the other two featured bad losses at the hands of Auburn and Arkansas.
Much of this can be pegged on LSU's inability to establish its running game away from home. In Death Valley, the Tigers have been all over opposing defenses, averaging 235.1 rushing yards per game and scoring a total of 18 rushing touchdowns. It's been completely different on the road, as the team is only averaging 123 yards per game on the ground, scoring just four times.
Making matters worse, 14 of the team's 15 passing touchdowns this year came at home. Needless to say, an already sluggish Tigers offense is completely lethargic when out of its comfort zone.
When: Thursday, November 27
Where: Kyle Field in College Station, Texas
Time: 7:30 p.m. ET
Live Stream: WatchESPN
Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):
- Over/Under: 49.5
- Spread: LSU -2.5
Team Injury Reports
Injury reports per The Sports Network, via USA Today.
Despite the massive amount of differences between these two teams, they actually match up quite well. We should absolutely expect a low-scoring game, as the Aggies will struggle moving the ball against LSU's defense and the Tigers' road struggles on the offensive side of the ball will continue.
In contests like this, the upper hand generally goes to the team with the better defense. In this case, that would be LSU. Expect the Tigers to cause plenty of issues for Allen and Co., creating turnovers, winning the battle for field position and giving their offense short fields to work with.
The Aggies have some playmakers on the offensive side of the ball, and creating a big play isn't out of the question here. Texas A&M may get on the scoreboard due to its ability to take the top off a defense, but it can't count on that to defeat the Tigers.
Prediction: LSU 23, Texas A&M 17
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With just one week remaining in the Pac-12 regular season, the all-conference teams are not only taking shape, but the majority of the spots are set in stone.
Arguably the second-best conference in college football, the Pac-12 will not only boast one of the strongest all-league teams, but many of the players will be up for and likely win postseason awards.
One such player, whom you might be able to guess, has a decent chance to bring the Heisman Trophy back out to the West Coast.
The offensive stars in this conference have become household names, but several young players on defense will threaten to reshape the league's identity in the years to come. All will be featured in the following slides, which lay out our projections of the Pac-12 All-Conference First Team.
All stats via CFBStats.com. The Pac-12 puts out an all-conference team that features two RBs and two WRs on offense, so we'll do the same with the projections. As for the defense, while there are many deserving candidates in the front seven, we're sticking with three DL and four LBs.
With Thanksgiving right around the corner, the prudent thing would be to speak about the things Jim Mora and the UCLA football team are thankful for.
Sitting at 9-2, there's a real chance for the Bruins to potentially sneak into the final four of the inaugural College Football Playoff.
There are multiple aspects that have helped get UCLA to this current spot. A gargantuan effort by a reserve quarterback was a potential turning point early in the season. Another big play by an embattled cornerback helped to seal a victory.
Three players have immensely helped the Bruins in becoming a Top 10 team. Lastly, the head coach deserves a great deal of thanks.
This piece will speak about what the UCLA Bruins should be thankful for in 2014.
The College Football Playoff rankings should look similar to last week's after the top four teams came away with wins. Teams were also eliminated from winning what has been wild races in the Big Ten West and Pac-12 South Divisions.
It doesn’t seem to be as surprising anymore, as No. 3 Florida State escaped yet again with a 26-yard game-winning field goal by placekicker Roberto Aguayo to give the Seminoles a 20-17 victory. It was their fifth game this season that was decided by six points or less.
While there was drama in Tallahassee, nothing was bigger than UCLA’s statement 38-20 win over crosstown rival USC to keep itself in contention for the division title. Quarterback Brett Hundley threw for 326 yards, three touchdowns and one interception to lead the Bruins to their third straight win over the Trojans.
No. 15 Arizona also kept itself in the Pac-12 South Division discussion with a convincing 42-10 win at No. 17 Utah. A win at home in one of the biggest Territorial Cup games ever in the in-state rivalry against Arizona State on Friday, along with a UCLA loss, would give the Wildcats a berth in the Pac-12 Championship Game.
The Big Ten West Division will now come down to the Battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe on Saturday with No. 25 Minnesota upsetting No. 23 Nebraska on the road by scoring 14 unanswered points to win 28-24. No. 16 Wisconsin also edged out Iowa on the road, 26-24, with help from Melvin Gordon’s 200 rushing yards and two touchdowns. The winner will face Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on Dec. 6.
Eighth-ranked Ole Miss became the second ranked team in a row to be shut out by now-bowl-eligible Arkansas 30-0 and was eliminated from winning the SEC West Division title.
Colorado 10 at No. 2 Oregon 44
The second-ranked Oregon Ducks continued their quest for the national championship on Saturday with a blowout 44-10 win at home against Colorado. Heisman front-runner quarterback Marcus Mariota had an impressive outing in what was likely his final game at Autzen Stadium.
Mariota was 24-of-32 for 323 yards and scored four total touchdowns, which gave him 42 total touchdowns on the year and helped break former USC quarterback Matt Barkley’s Pac-12 single-season record of 41 touchdowns. He also became the fifth quarterback in FBS history to throw for 9,000 yards and rush for 2,000 yards.
Another threat in the backfield against the Buffaloes was freshman running back Royce Freeman, who ran for 105 yards and two touchdowns. Freeman rushed for 20-yard and seven-yard touchdowns in the first half to help give the Ducks a convincing 20-0 lead early in the second quarter.
Freshman wide receiver Charles Nelson was a threat in the receiving corps as well, as he recorded three receptions for 62 yards and two touchdowns against a Colorado defense that heading into Saturday’s contest was surrendering an awful 38.6 points per game.
With a 34-point loss to Oregon, Colorado suffered its seventh straight loss of the season and fell to 0-8 in Pac-12 play. Running back Christian Powell led the offense with five carries for 51 yards against a Duck defense that held the Buffalo offense to only 226 total yards.
Oregon will face in-state rival Oregon State on the road in the Civil War on Saturday, prior to playing in the Pac-12 Championship Game on Dec. 5 at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California.
Overall Record: 42-23
Week 13 Record: 3-2
Note: Team in bold indicates author’s pick
Prediction: Nebraska 35, Minnesota 24
Result: Minnesota 28, Nebraska 24
Prediction: Ole Miss 31, Arkansas 17
Result: Arkansas 30, Ole Miss 0
Prediction: Arizona 27, Utah 24
Result: Arizona 42, Utah 10
Prediction: Wisconsin 31, Iowa 13
Result: Wisconsin 26, Iowa 24
Prediction: UCLA 35, USC 31
Result: UCLA 38, USC 20
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It’s Thanksgiving week, and it’s a time for families to get together and reflect on the things they are thankful for. It’s also a time where families can get together and watch college and professional football all day long.
The Georgia Bulldogs won’t be playing on Thanksgiving Day, but they will be preparing for a big Saturday game against in-state rival Georgia Tech. Both schools are 9-2, and there’s a chance both teams will be playing in their respective conference championships depending on the outcome of the Missouri-Arkansas game on Friday.
So the Bulldogs are fortunate to once again be in a position where they can win 10 games, beat Georgia Tech and go to the Georgia Dome next week.
But what are some of the other things the Bulldogs should be thankful for this season?
The Clemson Tigers and South Carolina Gamecocks will square off Saturday in another chapter of the storied rivalry. The Gamecocks—winners of five straight against Clemson—have been through a rough season, but a win Saturday would make the season a success.
The big question mark for Clemson will be whether quarterback Deshaun Watson will be able to play. He is still listed as day-to-day, and we probably won’t know much until late in the week.
This should be another great matchup, and I don’t see any scenario where this game doesn’t come down to a few plays in the fourth quarter.
For the Virginia Tech Hokies and the Virginia Cavaliers, the 2014 college football season comes down to one game. The Hokies and Cavaliers have more on the line in this year's contest than they've had in years.
No, a spot in the ACC Championship Game is not up for grabs. Instead, both schools, currently at 5-6 on the season, need one more victory to become bowl-eligible. For embattled Virginia head coach Mike London, it could mean saving his job.
The Hokies are looking to extend their bowl streak to 22 years with a win over the Hoos.
In past years, the winner of this game was almost a foregone conclusion, with Tech winning the past 10 meetings and 14 of the last 15 overall. However, Tech's punchless offense combined with UVA's strong defense make this year's meeting different.
The Cavaliers are coming off one of the most impressive wins of the London era with last week's dismantling of Miami in Charlottesville. Meanwhile, Tech will try to bounce back from one of the more embarrassing performances of Frank Beamer's 28 years in charge. The Hokies lost to Wake Forest in double overtime in a game that was scoreless at the end of regulation.
- When: Friday, November 28, 2014
- Where: Lane Stadium, Blacksburg, Virginia
- Time: 8 p.m. ET
- TV: ESPN
- Radio: Virginia Tech IMG Sports Network. Here is a complete list of stations by area.
- Spread: The Cavaliers are currently one-point favorites, via Odds Shark.
With the Thanksgiving holiday approaching, Nebraska fans will be looking hard for something about which to be thankful.
In the course of seven days, Nebraska fans saw their Cornhuskers go from an 8-1 team on the periphery of the College Football Playoff to (at best) the third-best team in the Big Ten West. In the process, they saw Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon set the FBS all-time record for rushing yards in one game—needing only three quarters to do so—and saw less-than-fleet Minnesota quarterback Mitch Leidner gash the Blackshirts for 133 yards on the ground.
So what can Nebraska fans be thankful for as they sit down to their turkey and trimmings?
Think about what would have happened if Jordan Westerkamp had hauled in Tommy Armstrong's across-the-field throw for a touchdown to salvage an ugly win against the Gophers. Nebraska would have gone to Iowa City at 9-2 with a chance to win the B1G West with help. The struggles of 2014 would have been seen as a blip rather than evidence of the program's level.
Yes, the struggles of 2014, not just the past week. Remember, this is the same Nebraska squad that needed a miracle play from Ameer Abdullah to avoid defeat at home against McNeese State of the FCS. It's the same Nebraska squad that was down 27-3 against Michigan State going into the fourth quarter before staging a furious comeback—fueled by a punt return and a short drive led by backup quarterback Ryker Fyfe.
A win over Minnesota on Saturday—driven by a broken play, a blocked field goal and a last-minute touchdown drive—would have allowed Nebraska to paper over the cracks for another year and allowed fans to tell themselves their team was something it was not: a contender.
In seven years, Bo Pelini's Nebraska teams have been to three conference title games. In 2009, a Ndamukong Suh-led Nebraska squad was one second away from beating Texas. In 2010, a freshman Taylor Martinez threw an interception that likely turned the tide in Oklahoma's 20-13 victory.
And in 2012—well, Nebraska fans all remember what a 7-5 Wisconsin squad that finished third in the Leaders Division and went to Indianapolis only due to sanctions levied against Ohio State and Penn State did to that crew of Cornhuskers.
Two years removed from that title game, and Nebraska is on track (if oddsmakers are to be believed) for Pelini's seventh four-loss campaign in seven seasons.
As a smart and particularly handsome analyst noted after Wisconsin's 59-24 mauling of Nebraska in Madison, a Nebraska program ending the season at 10-2 or 9-3 would be hard-pressed to dismiss Pelini even though that record really would not be indicative of whether Nebraska was a contender to win a division title. The record would mask the true state of the program under Pelini at the end of the 2014 season.
But with a loss to Minnesota, the second loss on the bounce against the Gophers? With the oddsmakers favoring Nebraska to drop a second straight to Iowa, producing this year's version of a four-loss season with a three-game losing streak?
Clarity. The loss to Minnesota provides clarity to anyone observing the Nebraska program as to what it is.
The question about what to do, of course, is open. Pelini thinks his program is on the right track and on the verge of a breakthrough season. Pelini takes care of his players, runs a clean program and gets his teams to bowl games each year. His quote after the Wisconsin game, via Mitch Sherman of ESPN.com, that "a lot of programs across the country would die to have won the amount of football games we've won" is accurate.
Of course, most programs around the country don't have the investment in football, the tradition, resources or fanbase support Nebraska provides, but that's another story.
The bottom line is that there are a lot of good reasons to retain Pelini's services as Nebraska's head coach, either positive (his winning record, his recruiting, the program he runs) or negative (the cost of a firing, the trauma to the fanbase and the fear of the unknown with a new coach).
But at least after the Minnesota loss, those pros and cons can be debated by the Nebraska fanbase—and ultimately by athletic director Shawn Eichorst—with a clear perspective as to where Nebraska's football program currently lies without a deceptive and unrepresentative win-loss record concealing the blemishes.
Clarity. If you're looking for something to be thankful for about Nebraska football this holiday season, be thankful for clarity.
For a different look at Nebraska football, check out The Double Extra Point.
Or you can use the Twitter machine to follow @DblExtraPoint.
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
This past weekend of college football won't go down as the greatest in the sport's history, but it was still one that gave us plenty of rankings-altering results. Wins, losses, good performances and bad led to shake-ups all over the Bleacher Report power rankings.
These rankings are comprised of an average of five ratings: The Associated Press media and Amway Coaches polls, Bleacher Report's Top 25, ratings guru Jeff Sagarin's computer ratings and my personal ranking.
Take a look at how the 128 FBS teams are ranked heading into Week 14 and then give us your take in the comments section.