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Oklahoma Football: Players Who Must Step Up with Trevor Knight Out vs Texas Tech

Oklahoma’s already waning season took another critical blow with the announcement that it will be without Trevor Knight for some time.

Earlier in the week, ESPN’s Brandon Chatmon relayed that the Sooners’ starting quarterback would miss Saturday’s contest against Texas Tech. Knight suffered an injury after being sacked by Baylor last weekend, needing a cart to leave the field.

With redshirt freshman Cody Thomas set to make the first start of his career, look for the Oklahoma coaching staff to try to take the pressure off the youngster.

Here’s who has to step up on Saturday.

 

Michiah Quick, WR

There were lofty expectations for the freshman receiver this season. However, it took until the seventh game of the season for Quick to register a catch.

That has to change moving forward.

Fortunately, the Sooners seem to be moving in the right direction, attempting to get Quick more and more involved in recent weeks. In fact, the Fresno, California, native has caught 14 passes for 150 yards and a touchdown over the last two games.

With still no word on whether leading receiver Sterling Shepard will return on Saturday, the pressure will be on Quick to be Thomas’ go-to receiver in a crunch.

For his part, Shepard feels confident in Quick’s abilities.

“I told you guys at the beginning of the season, he’s one of those guys that doesn’t act like a freshman,” Shepard said earlier this year, per The Oklahoman’sRyan Aber. “You guys got a chance to see that.”

Quick certainly has the talent. It’ll come down to whether he and Thomas will be able to get on the same page.

 

Any One of the Running Backs

With just 15 passing attempts in his career, Thomas isn’t likely to throw the ball too much on Saturday unless necessary.

More than likely, Oklahoma will run, run and run some more.

It certainly helps that the Red Raiders are downright awful at stopping the run. Through nine games, the team ranks No. 122 against the run (245.6 YPG) and has conceded a whopping 26 rushing touchdowns on a more-than-generous 4.9 yards per carry.

That’s music to the ears of a Sooners rushing attack that averages 225 yards per game on the ground.

There’s sophomore Keith Ford, who’s used his physical and agile running style to rack up 234 yards and five touchdowns in four appearances. Then there’s the tank-style running of Samaje Perine, who leads the team in both yards (788) and touchdowns (11). And don’t forget the most athletic of the bunch: Alex Ross—64 carries, 491 yards and three touchdowns—who also makes noise on kickoff returns.

Regardless of who gets the call, Oklahoma must run the ball successfully against Texas Tech.

 

Cody Thomas, QB

Of course, the player who needs to step up the most is Thomas himself.

In four relief appearances, Thomas has completed just seven of 16 passes for 50 yards and an interception. However, it’s worth noting that in his only meaningful snaps—against Kansas State in the second quarter—the redshirt freshman calmly quarterbacked the Sooners on a 95-yard touchdown drive, going 2-of-2 for 17 yards.

But don’t worry about Thomas being composed under pressure.

“[Thomas] kept his composure better than anybody I’ve ever coached,” said Mike Fuller, Thomas’ high school coach at Colleyville Heritage High, per The Oklahoman's Jason Kersey. “It didn’t matter if it was a scrimmage that didn’t mean anything or 4th-and-goal in a district game against a big rival, his demeanor never changed."

In a game where Thomas realistically won’t be asked to do much except manage the game, look for the Colleyville, Texas, native to be just fine.

 

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

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Tennessee Football: Top Head-to-Head Matchups vs. Kentucky

College football games are won and lost based on individual matchups, and there are several worth watching when the Tennessee Volunteers take on the Kentucky Wildcats Saturday evening.

As with most years, the Vols have a talent advantage heading into this game. But the Wildcats' newfound success on the recruiting trail under second-year head coach Mark Stoops makes the talent gap closer than it has been in recent years. 

No longer will Tennessee be able to simply outmuscle and outlast Kentucky and walk away with a win. Instead, the Vols will have to take advantage of matchups where they have an advantage and scheme around areas where the Wildcats have the upper hand.

Kentucky has the pieces on defense to limit Tennessee's emerging and highly potent offense. In addition, the Wildcats also have playmakers who can expose the same weaknesses that Georgia, Alabama and South Carolina took advantage of en route to scoring 30 or more points on the Vols.

Here are four matchups that could be the deciding factor to determine if the Wildcats walk out of Neyland Stadium with their first victory there since the Reagan administration or if the Vols inch one step closer to bowl eligibility. 

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Blueprint for How a 2-Loss SEC Team Makes the College Football Playoff

We haven't reached the point in the college football season where there's a realistic discussion about a two-loss team making the College Football Playoff. That said, we're one chaotic weekend away, if not one game away, from making it happen. 

As the playoff selection committee showed earlier this week with its most recent rankings, a team's record by itself means little. Oregon, with one loss, leapfrogged No. 2 Florida State. The actual swapping of the spots means little, as B/R's Adam Kramer and Fox Sports' Stewart Mandel pointed out, but the message it sent does mean something. 

That message, put simply, is a question: What has a team done? The record itself is secondary in the larger picture. Just ask undefeated Marshall, which remains unranked. Conversely, Auburn and Ole Miss, a pair of two-loss teams, sit at No. 9 and No. 10, respectively. 

That leads us back to the discussion about a two-loss team getting into the four-team field. Specifically, how could a two-loss SEC team claim one of those spots? 

 

It's the SEC West or Bust

As far as the SEC's playoff picture is concerned, a West Division team, and only a West Division team, has a shot. Not Missouri, which lost to Indiana and was shut out by Georgia at home. Not the Bulldogs, which have a pair of losses to Florida and South Carolina, which are a combined 9-8. Not the Gators, which have three losses. 

An SEC East team is not making the playoff, even if it wins the SEC. If it does, take the pin out of the grenade and blow the whole thing up, because the committee would have created an unmitigated disaster. 

Ultimately, four teams remain in the running for a playoff spot: Alabama (8-1), Mississippi State (9-0), Ole Miss (8-2) and, perhaps to a lesser extent, Auburn (7-2). The Tide are ranked at No. 5 in the latest playoff standings, but they control their path with a win over Mississippi State this weekend. 

There is still time for carnage, however. Beyond this weekend, Alabama and Auburn still have to play, as do Mississippi State and Ole Miss. The potential for a two-loss team winning the West is not far-fetched. 

The interesting thing to watch will be how the selection committee evaluates losses in November, not just for the SEC but for all of college football. If the whole body of work really does matter, when a team loses shouldn't be a big deal—at least in theory. 

 

A Conference Champion Only?

The possibility remains that the SEC gets two teams into the playoff. Specifically, that scenario revolves around the outcome of Saturday's game between Alabama and Mississippi State. 

That's a conversation for another day, however, as it involves a lot of hypothetical situations. As B/R colleague Barrett Sallee wrote this week, the SEC should be far more concerned about getting one team into the four-team field and not cannibalizing itself out of the picture altogether. 

A two-loss West team, on the other hand, makes things more cut and dry, because it would need to be the conference champ. That's not a debate right now. 

To put it in the words of selection committee chair Jeff Long, according to ASAPSports.com, "Let me remind you, and I will say this each and every week: Conference championships won will be an additional factor, but of course we won't have that information until December."

Where things get potentially complicated is if a one-loss West team loses the SEC championship. But, again, the scenarios in that situation aren't worth exploring until they actually arrive—if they arrive at all. 

No, conference champions aren't a prerequisite for the playoff. That's created a lot of intrigue about the postseason, and so far, that's been good for the sport. Yes, it's possible the team with the best record isn't a divisional champion, let alone conference champion.

However, there's a lot of good football being played elsewhere. Florida State remains undefeated. Oregon has one loss, but clearly the committee thinks highly of the Ducks. TCU is in the playoff if the season ended today, while Baylor and Ohio State are very much in the conversation. 

Putting an SEC team in the playoff that didn't win its own conference or division over those teams would be a tough one to justify without a ton of blowback. 

 

Or Pray for Chaos

Of course, assuming everything will go according to plan is a death wish. Oregon, Baylor, Ohio State, Florida State—they all have at least one more difficult game on the schedule. If this season has taught us anything, it's that there are no truly great teams that are head and shoulders above the rest. Everyone is vulnerable. 

If a two-loss SEC team is not the conference champion, it needs to pray for the rest of the college football landscape to be reduced to ash. The number of ways that could happen are myriad. 

The top of the SEC West is deep, which is not the same thing as the SEC itself being deep. There won't be a benefit of the doubt for losing to Georgia or Missouri, at least not without all hell breaking loose elsewhere. 

If the top of the West cannibalizes on itself, it needs the rest of college football to put the selection committee in an unenviable situation of selecting four teams tepidly. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All rankings reflect the latest playoff standings. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

How Will Ohio State Replace Dontre Wilson?

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Statistically, Dontre Wilson's sophomore season has been disappointing. For a player who was expected to be one of the focal points of the Ohio State offense and has only delivered 400 yards of offense and four touchdowns through the Buckeyes' first four games, that point is almost inarguable.

But while Wilson's impact has hardly been felt in Ohio State's stat sheets, he has remained one of the constant cogs on a Buckeyes offense that ranks fourth in points per game (46) and 10th in total offense (512.1 yards per game).

Whether it be as a decoy, ball-carrier or pass-catcher, the sophomore H-back has still been relied upon heavily this season, even if he hasn't yet lived up to the hype that he brought as a 4-star prospect from DeSoto, Texas.

Which is why as Wilson prepares to miss the remainder of the Buckeyes' regular season and a potential Big Ten Championship Game with a broken foot, Ohio State will need to find a way to replace the production left behind by the 5'10", 188-pounder.

With three recruiting classes to his credit since arriving in Columbus, Urban Meyer will have no shortage of options, starting with a player who has already begun to make a name for himself this season.

 

Jalin Marshall

While Wilson came to Columbus with the label of "the next Percy Harvin," Jalin Marshall has done plenty to showcase the versatility in which that role entails. Like Wilson, Marshall is listed on the Ohio State roster as an H-back, a wide receiver-running back hybrid who lines up in the slot as a threat to either run or catch.

Tallying 157 receiving yards, 107 rushing yards and three total touchdowns, Marshall hasn't posted the same numbers that Wilson has this season, but he has unseated the Lone Star State native as the Buckeyes' starting punt returner. More than that, Marshall has also served as Ohio State's Wildcat quarterback, even attempting a pass in the Buckeyes' Nov. 1 beating of Illinois.

"The Wildcat's legitimate especially at tempo. What Jalin gives you is he can throw," Meyer said on Monday. "We have a couple of passes ready for him, too."

With Wilson out of the lineup, those passes may have to be put on hold, however, as the Middletown, Ohio, native will now likely have his number called more often in both the Ohio State passing and running games. That's just fine with Marshall, who has emerged in recent weeks as one of Ohio State's more dependable playmakers.

"When Dontre and I were sharing the position, we did share reps," Marshall said. "It just gives me the opportunity to play a little bit more. It's heartbreaking to me because we are so close, but I feel like I'm ready to take on that role and play a little bit more at the H-Back position."

 

Noah Brown

Listed as third on the Ohio State depth chart behind Wilson and Marshall throughout the season, Brown isn't the prototypical H-back, but he does bring a unique skill set to the table.

At 6'1" and 240 pounds, Brown is significantly larger than Wilson and Marshall (5'11", 205 pounds), and far less experienced. Through the first nine games of his college career, the New Jersey native has recorded just one catch for nine yards, with most of his playing time having come with games having already been decided.

But while Brown's action has been limited, he has already proven as a more than capable blocker, springing running back Curtis Samuel free with a key block for a first-quarter touchdown in the Buckeyes' win over the Fighting Illini. The fact that Meyer was willing to play the unproven true freshman so early in a game speaks volumes to his ability, which the OSU head coach insists has warranted more playing time.

"Our 240-pound H-back, Noah Brown, brings a little something to the table, too," Meyer said. "He's earned some right to play.”

How Meyer's message manifests itself in Wilson's absence remains to be seen, but matchups with Minnesota and Indiana could make for the perfect opportunities for the former 4-star prospect to continue to get his feet wet heading into the Michigan game and likely conference title game.

With how he's progressed thus far, Brown figured to be a part of the OSU offense in the near future, but that future may have arrived sooner than anybody would have imagined.

 

Curtis Samuel

On the surface, Samuel seems like a perfect fit to replace Wilson, a 5'11", 196-pounder who has shown ability as both a dynamic rusher and pass-catcher thus far in his young college career. But Meyer insists that the true freshman will remain in his current role as Ezekiel Elliott's primary backup at running back, as that's where he's needed most.

"Probably not right now. Depends on how recruiting goes," Meyer said with a smile when it was suggested that Samuel could play H-back. "He can do a lot of things right now. We're beat up at tailback, too. You can't move a guy out of there yet."

Nevertheless, don't be surprised if Samuel sees his touches increase in Wilson's absence, as Meyer and offensive coordinator search for creative ways to make up for the loss of one of their most versatile playmakers. Despite currently being penciled in purely as a running back at the moment, Samuel seems to fit that mold, having caught eight balls for 68 yards, in addition to recording 314 rushing yards and four touchdowns.

It's also worth noting that while Samuel may not line up as an H-back, he will replace Wilson as the Buckeyes' primary kick returner. In his lone return of the season, in the Buckeyes' monumental win over Michigan State, the Brooklyn, New York, native returned the ball 22 yards.

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

The 3 Biggest X-Factors for LSU vs. Arkansas

LSU's clash with Arkansas on Saturday can viewed as college football's most exciting rivalry. 

No trophy game in the SEC has been closer than "The Battle of the Golden Boot." Since 2005, the matchup has been decided by an average of 6.2 points per game, per Evin Demirel of SportsSeer.com.

The tradition of thrilling finishes should continue on Saturday.

A rested Arkansas enters Saturday as a slight favorite, per Oddshark.com, despite having yet to win a conference game under Bret Bielema. The Razorbacks will be coming off a bye week and will have a raucous Fayetteville crowd aiding them. 

LSU's heartbreaking defeat against Alabama was a physical brawl in the trenches. Head coach Les Miles will need to have his Tigers prepared for a hungry Hogs team.

Here are three key factors for "The Battle of the Golden Boot." 

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Notre Dame Football: Irish Defense Must Get Back on Track

When the Durham Bulls needed to break a losing streak, Crash Davis created a rain delay. So that unexpected foot of snow to hit South Bend this week? Maybe Mother Nature has been watching the Irish defense the past few Saturdays and thought she could lend a hand. 

After opening the season allowing just 12 points a game through the first five weeks, Brian VanGorder's young defense has hit the skids, with the Irish allowing 42 points a game over the last four contests. 

Not surprisingly, the Irish have gone 2-2 over that stretch, buried not just by defensive struggles, but a rash of (often-discussed) turnovers that took the Irish out of the College Football Playoff conversation. (Not to mention that added a few pick-sixes to the wrong side of the scoreboard.)

But Saturday presents a wonderful opportunity for the defense to get back on track. Pat Fitzgerald's Northwestern offense comes to town—otherwise known as the perfect cure for a defensive slump. 

Northwestern's offense has been plain horrible this season. The Wildcats are the worst scoring offense of any team in a power-five conference. The 4.24 yards per play they average is 125th in the country. The offensive line has struggled mightily; the 29 sacks they've allowed is 112th in the country, and the 2.88 yards per carry the Wildcats average is 123rd in the nation. 

You want a slumpbuster? They don't get any better than this. 

Of course, Notre Dame has shown a maddening habit of playing tight games with teams that have no business staying close. And while snowy conditions will likely help slow down a Northwestern offense already moving like molasses, head coach Brian Kelly knows that could exacerbate a turnover problem that's done in the Irish offense these past few weeks. 

"It was 85 degrees and sunny and we turned it over five times," Kelly quipped on Thursday.

Still, Saturday's focus should be on getting back to the basics for the Irish defense. While the offense will have a much stiffer task—Northwestern's defense is a pretty solid unit, especially considering the help it gets on the other side of the ball—a confidence-building Saturday is needed for VanGorder's young and injury-depleted group. 

Any worry that a few tough weeks would harm this group was alleviated quickly during practice this week. 

"They are so engaged. They are so anxious. It's probably a poor analogy, they wanna do so well, they're like hunting dogs. Just looking up at you, 'What can I do?'" Kelly said Thursday. "But they're young. There's mental errors and mistakes that we have to clean up every day with them. You ask coach VanGorder and for him it's great because you have such a captive group that they just want to learn, but there's a lot of learning going on. Every day it's something new for them."

This weekend offers an opportunity to reap rewards after a week of hard work. The pass rush should see some opportunities to shine, with the beleaguered offensive line protecting quarterback Trevor Siemian only now getting healthy after an ankle injury robbed him of his already limited mobility.

Northwestern could also give redshirt freshman Matt Alviti his first significant playing opportunity, matching up a young quarterback with a seasoned defensive coordinator capable of blitzing from everywhere but the third row. 

The secondary should also catch its breath. Kelly announced that senior Cody Riggs will play this weekend, providing some part-time snaps in the secondary. Fifth-year captain Austin Collinsworth is available, too.

After giving up three touchdown passes to Arizona State's talented receivers, they'll face a receiving corps that's struggled to make big plays all season. Northwestern only has two receivers who have made a 30-yard reception. (All six of Notre Dame's regulars have at least one 30-yarder.) 

The lack of big plays is one that's really hurt the Wildcats, forcing an inconsistent offense to put together extended drives to score points. That they'll match up with Notre Dame's woeful red-zone defense is one battle that'll pit weakness against weakness, another opportunity for the Irish to show some improvement. 

With three regular-season games to go, the Irish can wrap up win No. 8 this weekend for Kelly, making him the first Notre Dame coach to win at least eight games in his first five seasons. 

And after a tough four-game stretch, Northwestern is just what the doctor ordered. 

 

*Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

SEC Football: Bowl Projections for Every SEC Team

With just about three weeks until the end of the college football regular season, the SEC race is certainly heating up.

In arguably one of the most competitive years in conference history, there will most likely be a whopping 11 bowl-eligible teams from the SEC. Not to mention, up to four teams are still competing for one of four coveted College Football Playoff spots.

All only provide reasons as to why the SEC is one of the most talked-about conferences year in and year out.

But why wait until next month to find out where each and every bowl-eligible SEC squad will be playing? Join B/R as we take our best stab at predicting the bowl location for each eligible team.

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Where Did This High School RB Come From?

The St. Francis High School football team in Wheaton, Illinois, decided to pull out one of the best trick plays you will see in a long time. Adam Lefkoe takes you through B/R's Insane High School Play of the Week.

Was this the best trick play of the year?

Watch the video and let us know! 

Highlights courtesy of Hudl.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Texas Football: 5 Reasons Why Charlie Strong's 1st Season Has Been a Success

The Longhorns are 5-5 and will need to beat either Oklahoma State or No. 4 TCU to earn a berth in a bowl game.

No matter how the final two games turn out, Charlie Strong's first season has been a success and should have Longhorn fans excited for the future.

Before the pitchforks come out, consider what the former Louisville coach inherited. Texas had lost any sense of identity under Mack Brown, earning a reputation for being soft. Only one Longhorn has been a first-rounder in the NFL draft since 2011, and not one heard his name called in 2014.

Now look at what Strong has lost since his arrival. He's been forced to either suspend or dismiss 11 players who refused to follow the rules, his starting quarterback retired from football following a Week 1 injury and he's had to start at least five different iterations of offensive linemen, per 247Sports.com's Jeff Howe.

In the midst of all that chaos, Strong has endeared himself to his team, developed a raw athlete into a dangerous quarterback, coached up one of the nation's best defenses and turned unknowns into weekly stars.

That's success in every sense of the term.

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How Florida State Has Built Winning Team Through South Florida Recruits

Bobby Bowden built a strong program at Florida State by recruiting well, especially in South Florida. And his successor, Jimbo Fisher, has spent decades recruiting the area, first as an assistant coach at Auburn and LSU, and now as FSU's coach.

In the past two years, FSU has landed four prospects apiece from the South Florida region (Dade, Broward and Palm Beach Counties). And the 2011 class, ranked No. 1 by 247Sports, was filled with future stars on offense like Rashad Greene, Kelvin Benjamin and Nick O'Leary.

"It’s fun to recruit there," said Fisher, who recruited the area when he was an assistant at Auburn and LSU. "I’ve always had South Florida myself, and I know that area very well. Some great people down there, very competitive. It’s great football.”

As the No. 3 Seminoles (9-0) prepare for Saturday night's rivalry game at Miami (6-3), let's take a look at some of the high school stars who left South Florida to play at FSU.

 

The past

Bowden had brought players from South Florida in his early years in Tallahassee in the late 1970s. He began making stronger inroads with South Florida recruits as the wins mounted. Bowden built a national reputation for FSU, and the Seminoles quickly became an attractive option.

From defensive stars like Marvin Jones, Lamont Green and Derrick Gibson to quarterback Danny Kanell and playmakers like Rashad Greene, Kelvin Benjamin, Anquan Boldin and Snoop Minnis, FSU's program has been built through success on the recruiting trail in South Florida.

Recruiting in the area is as competitive as any region in the nation. Miami, FSU and Florida are all targeting the same players while trying to uncover one or two diamonds in the rough. One such find was a native of the Virgin Islands who played tight end, Andre Wadsworth, a walk-on who later earned a scholarship and became an All-American defensive end.

Assistant coach Chuck Amato was Bowden's lead recruiter in Dade County in the 1980s and '90s and helped the staff sign numerous prospects.

"Coach Amato recruited that area for many years," former FSU defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews said. "He developed a lot of relationships with coaches. And the kind of games that we had against Miami during those years generated some interest from the prospects in that area (to come to FSU)."

 

The present

There are more than 40 players from Dade, Broward and Palm Beach Counties on the Miami roster. The Hurricanes are the hometown team, and they annually bring in a large number of the top recruits. But almost every major program from the power-five conferences recruit the area heavily, and FSU's program features a large contingent of players from the area.

At times Saturday night, there could be as many as eight South Florida 'Noles on the field for the offense if center Austin Barron returns from an arm injury. FSU also has Rashad Greene, Travis Rudolph, Ermon Lane and Bobo Wilson at receiver, tailback Dalvin Cook, tight end Nick O'Leary and right tackle Bobby Hart.

Wilson said he is friends with a number of Hurricanes, players he competed against at the Pop Warner or high school level. They talk now and then, and it's a rivalry built on respect. 

“It’s all love,” Wilson said. “But once we line up and compete, it ain’t no brotherhood."

 

The future

Building a relationship is the key to recruiting, Fisher has often said. But current 'Noles from the region help, too. They send a positive message when recruits make visits to Tallahassee.

"Your best recruiters are your team," Fisher said. "You’re talking about teams that are happy, teams that are successful, you don’t continually get good players year in and year out if your own kids aren’t recruiting for you. … Those kids tell them exactly what’s going on. That’s why you be so honest with them and coaches — don’t think your kids won’t tell them what’s happening in your organization."

The Seminoles have three verbal commitments from South Florida for the 2015 class: 5-star cornerback Tarvarus McFadden, 4-star safety Calvin Brewton and 4-star linebacker Sh'mar Kilby-Lane. Fisher is also hoping to land a few more prospects, notably receiver Calvin Ridley.

"It’s one of the best areas in America, and you can’t be in your own state and not recruit it," Fisher said. "And the kids that came here have had a lot of success and graduated from school. That’s what I’m happy about.”

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bob on Twitter. Stats are courtesy of seminoles.com. Recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.com.

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Nebraska Football: Ranking the Top 5 Surprises for the Huskers This Year

Nebraska football fans had an idea of what to expect coming into the 2014 season, but they have received a few surprises along the way. As with any season, unexpected twists and turns have popped up, changing expectations from where they were in the summer.

Here are five of the biggest surprises Nebraska fans have seen as the 2014 season has unfolded.

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8 Best True Freshmen Contributing for College Football Playoff Contenders

The final month of the college football season is no time for neophytes. The season’s most important games are played with a year’s worth of work and preparation riding on every snap. There’s no room for error and no time for players who coaches don’t trust.

This is especially true for College Football Playoff contenders. Although the last two Heisman Trophies were won by redshirt freshmen (Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M and Jameis Winston of Florida State), true freshmen can be hard to find on the depth charts of elite programs.

If you’ve cracked the two-deep chart as a significant contributor on a playoff contender this time of year, there’s little doubt that you’re talented. Coaches like to say that there aren’t any freshmen this time of year, because players who are contributing have enough experience to shed that label.

That’s certainly the case for these true freshman contributors to College Football Playoff hopefuls. Playoff contenders were defined as teams with one loss or fewer and ranked in the top 10 of the latest College Football Playoff Top 25. These players were selected for their contributions to their teams and overall ability.

Unless otherwise noted, all stats were obtained from teams' individual websites.

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Nebraska Football: What Wisconsin Means for Ameer Abdullah's Heisman Chances

Nebraska and Wisconsin football fans have waited several weeks to see Ameer Abdullah and Melvin Gordon face off. When the Huskers head to Camp Randall for this week's round of college football games, that matchup will finally take place.

However, there's another story happening at the same time. For Abdullah, his Heisman chances will be greatly impacted by how he fares against Wisconsin. It may not be what fans are watching for, but it's still important.

Abdullah has had an impressive 2014 season so far. It's one that has landed him on Heisman watch lists week to week. It's one that also requires him to remain impressive for the last three weeks of Nebraska's regular season.

Against Wisconsin, is that possible? The odds may feel stacked against Abdullah. After all, an MCL sprain took him out of the Purdue game. He was left with one rushing yard on six attempts, which is easily the biggest outlier of Abdullah's season.

That means his performance against the Badgers needs to be strong. Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen hopes Abdullah is well enough to put up a good fight.

"Given the class act he is," Andersen said, per the Chicago-Tribune. "I truly hope he is 100 percent."

During the 2014 season, Abdullah has four games where he surpassed the 200-rushing yard mark. Those were Florida Atlantic (232), Miami (229), Illinois (208) and Rutgers (225). He's only had three games with less than 100 yards, and those were McNeese State (54), Michigan State (45) and Purdue (1). At this point in the season, the senior has 1,250 yards and 17 touchdowns.

While impressive, that's not going to be enough to earn Abdullah an invite to New York City. An impressive win (or showing, even if the Huskers lose) would help his case significantly. That's easier said than done, though.

Wisconsin knows what it needs to do to beat Nebraska. Looking at the Huskers' sole loss, as well as the games where the team struggled, there is one common denominator: Abdullah. When his yards are limited, the Huskers struggle (like Michigan State and McNeese State). When he's given all the room to run, Nebraska's offense (and team as a whole) fare much better.

That means Wisconsin's defense is going to target Abdullah. They'll want to stop him and limit him. However, Abdullah and the Nebraska offense will have to find a way to ensure he gets the yards he needs. Abdullah is working hard to ensure that happens.

“I think he’s probably worked in the last week and a half as hard as I’ve seen him in a long time,” Nebraska offensive coordinator Tim Beck said, per ESPN.com. “He’s very determined to do everything he can to be 100 percent for the game.”

Obviously the injury to Abdullah's knee will remain a concern. As Mitch Sherman of ESPN.com pointed out, "MCL injuries are tricky. To be clear, it’s a partial tear -- by definition, that’s a sprain -- so it could get worse if he moves the wrong way on that leg. "

That alone makes the Wisconsin game a big one for Abdullah. It's hard to tell how his knee will respond until he's actually playing on it. In practice, Beck felt Abdullah "looked good," per CBSSports.com.

When all eyes are on the matchup of Abdullah and Gordon, fans should take a moment to pay attention to Abdullah's bigger storyline. How he fares against Wisconsin could easily seal his fate one way or another as a Heisman candidate.

Abdullah has made a career at Nebraska by doing everything he can to lead Nebraska to victory. Against Wisconsin, he has a chance to do just that, while also booking his flight to New York City in December.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

JC Shurburtt's Top 5 Underrated Recruits in 2015 Class

The 2015 class is full of top recruits that can come into some major programs and have an immediate impact for their respective teams. 

Stephen Nelson talks with 247Sports National Recruiting Director JC Shurburtt about some under-the-radar recruits in the 2015 class.

Who can have the biggest impact for their team next season?

Watch the video and let us know!

 

Highlights courtesy of Hudl.

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Who Is the QB of the Future for the LSU Tigers?

LSU has been having trouble at the quarterback position throughout the 2014 season. Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris have been splitting time for the Tigers, but they have both struggled.

Stephen Nelson talked with T-Bob Hebert, former LSU Tiger and host of the radio show Double Coverage, about the QB situation at the university.

Who should be the starting QB for the LSU Tigers?

Watch the video, and let us know!

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Andrew Zow: The Highs and Lows of Life as a Black QB at Alabama

At the onset of the season, there was a battle between Blake Sims and Jacob Coker to see just who would succeed AJ McCarron as Alabama’s starting quarterback. In a state where college football is a religion, this was heavily scrutinized tug of war.

While this played out, there was a not-so-subtle element of race bubbling beneath the surface. Sims is black, Coker’s white—there were questions if more than merit was at play. ‘Bama blogs and Facebook comment threads wondered aloud if race would be a factor.

Columnists suggested that SEC Network analyst Andre Ware favored Sims for the job primarily to champion a fellow black QB. In a region of the country with a complex history of race relations and at a school once on the wrong side of civil rights when Gov. George Wallace infamously stood in a doorway to block two black students from enrolling, it was no surprise that the quarterback battle would be framed this way.

Before Blake Sims this year, Andrew Zow was the last African-American quarterback to start at Alabama, playing from 1998 to 2002. Zow had an up-and-down career, playing through the turmoil of coach Mike DuBose’s final year and the uncertainty of Dennis Franchione’s two seasons as coach.

He was still able to guide Alabama to an SEC championship in 1999 and finished his career with 5,983 passing yards and 35 touchdowns. However, he was benched his senior season with some Alabama passing records within reach in favor of Tyler Watts.

Watts was white. People talked.

Today, Zow, 36, is married to his high school sweetheart and is the father of three sons and the head coach at Montevallo High School, about 30 miles outside of Birmingham. On a recent afternoon, Zow sat in his football office and reflected on his roller-coaster career at Alabama and what impact, if any, his race had on that experience.

 

Bleacher Report:Did your race matter at Alabama?

Andrew Zow: A lot of people want to make it racial a lot of time. I’m not going to say it’s not. Sometimes you may get the feeling that, "Hey, look this could be racially motivated." But with some of the things you put up with as quarterback, Bama fans could care less about your race. There’s the side of the fans who want their guy in there, regardless of what [racial] side you’re on. I put up with it.

There were times when I could have blown the top off it and said this is what it is. Sometimes I felt like that. But I had to think about the bigger picture for me and my family.

You run into some people who always had something to say, depending on whether you won or lost. We had a bad loss. I don’t know why, but I went to the mall. A guy stopped me and was trying to tell me how to play. I was pretty upset with him. As a quarterback, it’s hard to go anywhere. And that was when social media wasn’t that big. These guys now are like rock stars. 

 

B/R: Did the African-American community celebrate your accomplishments?

AZ: I was considered one of the most influential African-American athletes at the University of Alabama at the time. Back home in my community [Lake Butler, Fla.], I was more being celebrated as a kid playing quarterback in college than being a black quarterback at Alabama.

I don’t think they ever had anything specific where they held something for me. Within the black community, everyone was proud of me. You could sense the support, and they would say how many prayers they were sending up for me in being there and succeeding.

Sylvester Croom and his brother, Calvin Croom, they both played at Alabama. Calvin had a church in Tuscaloosa, the College Hill Baptist Church. The people at the church made a big deal of me playing quarterback. Calvin was one of those guys who celebrated and supported me. And Coach [Terry] Jones, the strength and conditioning coach at Alabama when I was there, he also went to the same church. He and his wife were very supportive of me. They had me come into the church and speak to the kids all the time.

 

B/R: What was it like being the QB at Alabama?

AZ: I came to Alabama not knowing what I was getting into. I was eight hours from home, and I didn’t know anybody here. I get here, and Bruce Arians, who’s now the coach for the Arizona Cardinals, is the offensive coordinator. I get into camp, receivers and upperclassmen love me because I have a live arm. Bruce Arians says, "You’re a quarterback."

There were rumors going around the locker room that they were going to move me to defensive back. I packed my bags that night to go back home the next day. I called my mom and, of course, she said pray about it and talked with her in the morning. I did, and I changed my mind.

I found out later the rumors were from another quarterback. He did it to get in my head. I was already on edge about it.

When Tyler Watts got there, there was more competition for me. I wasn’t a running quarterback. I wasn’t the stereotypical black quarterback. Supposedly the black kid can’t throw but can run, and the white kid can’t run but can throw. Those roles were reversed. Tyler ran a lot. It’s not that I couldn’t run. But in the SEC, if you can’t run faster than 4.5 [seconds in the 40-yard dash], you better be throwing the ball. And I had a strong arm.

 

B/R: Were you ever secure about your starting position?

AZ: I never liked splitting time at quarterback. They would switch me in and out [with Watts]. I remember going to Coach DuBose and saying, "I don’t want to share time anymore." He said we’re not. This was going into his last year, and he was having his issues off the field [a sexual harassment lawsuit].

We get out to UCLA at the start of the season, and we don’t know who the starter is. I was the starter coming out of the spring, but we don’t know who the starter is. I’m completely nervous because of it.

You know you’re going to get pulled at some time or another. But you don’t know when. As a coach now, I wouldn’t put that kind of pressure on a kid. You can’t play like that.

It’s the same thing with Blake Sims. You can’t play with the pressure of knowing that your coaches aren’t behind you. But in his case, I believe Coach [Nick] Saban and those guys are behind Blake. Regardless of what we think or the media thinks, I believe Coach Saban is behind him.

Going through that year was just hard. If the coaches aren’t on the same page, the kids aren't going to be on the same page. You’d see coaches arguing on the sidelines and coaches always at each other. It was a tough year.

Things didn’t get any better for me when Coach Franchione came in 2001. Our first conversation was him saying I couldn’t play for him if I turned the ball over. He was trying to get the point across on protecting the ball. But how can you play thinking if you make a mistake, you’re coming out? I had a rough third year, which is all on me. I take full blame.

 

B/R: Were there any specific decisions in which you wondered if race played a factor?

AZ: That third year, the only way I could play freely is if I knew I was going to play the whole game. I get into my senior year, and I come out of spring camp [the starter]. In fall camp, Tyler passes me up. How he did it, I don’t know.

Was it political? Part of me says yes, and part of me says he just beat me out. The competitive side of me says I did what I needed to do to get the job. We start that season 3-5. My senior year was starting like my junior year ended when we went 3-8.

We go into the Mississippi State game, and I look up at the sky, and I get this feeling that I’m going to play. Not wishing anything bad to happen to Tyler, but he gets hurt and I get in the game. I drive us down the field, and we win the game. I’m the Player of the Game.

Tyler is hurt pretty bad, and no one knows when he’s coming back. Even though I’m taking most of the reps in practice, practicing like the starter, they still don’t name me the starter. We played Auburn, and we beat them 31-7, and we had an unbelievable game. I’m Player of the Game.

We played Southern Miss the following Thursday night—to make up for the game we missed on 9/11. It was raining like crazy. We win, and I’m the Player of the Game again.

We go from 3-5 to 6-5. We make a bowl game, the Independence Bowl. It’s still up in the air going into the bowl game as to whether I’m going to be the starter. I’m thinking to myself, "So be it. The Lord has blessed me to have these last three games."

 

B/R: Looking back, do you have any clearer view about the reasons behind a few of those decisions?

AZ: There were some strange things that happened during my senior year. The four games I played, I was Player of the Game. I was also close to breaking some [team passing] records. In the UCLA game, Tyler goes down with cramps, I come in, and I’m 3-for-3, 95 yards with a touchdown. I get pulled because they said I had a concussion.

In the Mississippi State game, I drive us down to the goal line, and the third-string quarterback comes in the game, taps me on the shoulder and says, "Drew, I got you." I was like, "What?" I remember running to the sidelines, and I’m hot. Antonio Carter, who played wide receiver for us, said, "Drew, you haven’t said anything all year. Just keep it cool."

I was cool. Jonathan Richey was the third-string quarterback. He runs on the first play. On the second play, he fumbles, and Mississippi State gets the ball. We lose. No one ever explained why the third-string quarterback comes in the game.

 

B/R: What kind of relationship do you have with Blake Sims?

AZ: Going into AJ McCarron’s senior year, I spoke with Blake Sims the spring before last on the sidelines. I just told him to be ready. I’ve sent messages to guys who are down there for him. But he hasn’t reached out to me. You want the kid to succeed. This year is going to be tough.

The stuff on the field is hard enough. But the expectations are unbelievable. There are people out there that expect you to win a national championship and a Heisman.

I probably could have gone further in my career as a defensive guy, but I wanted to play quarterback. I wouldn’t trade it for the world because of what I experienced at quarterback at the University of Alabama—the good and bad. It takes a lot to play quarterback there.

 

B/R: How would you describe your relationship with the Alabama football program today?

AZ: My relationship with Alabama is good. Tuscaloosa is about an hour from here. I go down for A-Day. We have the Alabama connection [with former players]. I try to get involved if I can. My kids [three sons] and I try to go down for a bowl practice.

Coach Saban has been good to me. He’s very good with former players. He wants guys to be there for the other guys. If I was living in Tuscaloosa, I’d be going back there all the time. You talk about what he’s built there, it’s great. He’s very open.

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Bowl Predictions 2014: Projections for Playoffs and Selection Committee Games

The 2014 college football season is only 11 weeks old, and, while that is a small sample size, it is enough to let us know that the four-team playoff waiting at the end has not devalued the regular season.

Every week brings more thrilling excitement, nail-biting finishes and debates over schedule strength, postseason worthiness and the subjectivity of the rankings. The more things change in college football, the more they stay the same.

Another thing the playoffs will not completely devalue is bowl season. While every team wants to make the four-team postseason, there are four selection committee bowl games that will pit some of the nation’s best squads against each other on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.

Think of them like the old BCS games. Sure, Florida State and Auburn were the two playing in last season’s national championship, but Michigan State’s win over Stanford in the Rose Bowl and Clemson’s win over Ohio State in the Orange Bowl were still very important for the respective programs.

With that in mind, here is a look at the updated playoff projections and selection committee games heading into a critical Week 12.

 

Under-the-Radar Week 12 Game to Watch: Arizona State at Oregon State

The showdown between Mississippi State and Alabama is the marquee game on the Week 12 schedule, and Ohio State’s test against Minnesota, Florida State’s trip to Miami and Auburn’s game against Georgia also jump off the page.

However, the late-night Pac-12 date between Arizona State and Oregon State is one college football fans should keep an eye on because it has significant playoff implications.

The No. 6-ranked Sun Devils finally captured the nation’s attention in Week 11 when they easily handled Notre Dame, but now they have to go on the road and avoid a trap game against an Oregon State team that loves to air it out. If Arizona State is still reveling in its win over Notre Dame or looking ahead to a future clash with Arizona and potential conference championship game with Oregon, the Beavers could pull an upset.

At least coach Todd Graham seems focused on the task at hand, according to STATS LLC, via ESPN.com:

It definitely has to be right there at the top (of our wins). But our top priority and goal is to win the Pac-12 championship, the Rose Bowl, and then obviously the national championship and we haven't accomplished those goals yet and we have to move on in the locker room and get ready for Oregon State.

Interestingly, Arizona State has lost four consecutive times at Oregon State and has not won in Corvallis since 2005. However, there is plenty of reason for optimism this time around because of the Sun Devils’ offense against what Oregon State calls a defense.

The Beavers allowed 40.7 points per game the last three times they took the field and saw the opposition run for 673 yards during that stretch.

Arizona State’s balanced attack is 26th in passing yards per game and 44th in rushing yards per game with Taylor Kelly slinging it around and D.J. Foster finding holes behind an impressive offensive line. There is little doubt that the Sun Devils will score early and often against the Beavers, much like they did against Notre Dame.

While we know Arizona State will score, the interesting development to watch will be if Oregon State’s offense can keep up.

Quarterback Sean Mannion boasts the all-time Pac-12 record for career passing yards and has thrown for 739 yards the past two games. What’s more, he has been lethal against the blitz in his career, as Ted Miller of ESPN noted:

However, Mannion has also thrown six interceptions this season, and the Sun Devils feasted off turnovers against Notre Dame, per ESPN Stats & Info:

Arizona State will not have to respect the run (Oregon State is 115th in the nation in rushing yards per game), so it will be up to the secondary if the Sun Devils want to stay in the College Football Playoff hunt. Fortunately for the Sun Devils, they are second in the Pac-12 against the pass at 231.2 yards per game.

Oregon State will find a way to score some points with a dynamic quarterback like Mannion, but it won’t be nearly enough to counter the offensive onslaught we will see from the Sun Devils against the Beavers defense.

This one will be over by the middle of the third quarter. 

Prediction: Arizona State 44, Oregon State 27

 

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ESPN College Gameday 2014: Week 12 Schedule, Location, Predictions and More

The SEC is widely heralded as the strongest conference in college football, and Week 12 of the 2014 season brings us a clash between juggernauts Alabama and Mississippi State. Before these teams take the gridiron in Tuscaloosa, the cast of ESPN's College GameDay will be in attendance and ready to fire up the nation:

Will the No. 1 Bulldogs reign supreme, or will the No. 5 Crimson Tide shake up the College Football Playoff picture in a matchup that features extraordinary postseason implications? Be sure to tune in before Kirk Herbstreit, Lee Corso and the rest of the crew dish out their predictions for the day.

 

ESPN College GameDay Viewing Information

When: Saturday, November 15

Where: Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Alabama

Time: 9 a.m. - 12 p.m. ET

Channel: ESPN

Live Stream: WatchESPN 

 

Preview and Prediction

This matchup features a battle of strengths, as a potent Mississippi State offense runs into a sturdy Alabama defense. We all know the age-old adage about a stalemate that occurs between an irresistible force and an immovable object. That will be the theme of Saturday's game.

Mississippi State is already getting hyped for its intense road contest:

The Crimson Tide aren't slouches on the offensive side of the ball; they simply happen to be more prolific on defense. Quarterback Blake Sims has produced some enormous games, but the team's second-ranked scoring defense was the reason for wins against teams like Arkansas, Tennessee and LSU.

The Bulldogs are just the opposite. The team is only allowing 19.7 points against; however, the offense has simply been more consistent this season, putting up at least 34 points in eight of its nine contests. Dual-threat quarterback Dak Prescott has been the catalyst for Mississippi State's 12th-ranked scoring offense.

Here's a look at the tale of the tape between these two squads, giving us a better idea of which team may have the upper hand:

As you can see, the offensive side of the ball hasn't been extremely contrasting between these teams. After all, the Bulldogs are only averaging just about 35 yards more per game. However, scoring is where the difference lies, as Mississippi State is translating that yardage into 5.1 points more per contest than its impending opponents.

Defensively, Alabama has a large advantage. While the Bulldogs are ranked 16th in the nation in points against, they have been tested by ranked teams, giving up at least 23 points to LSU, Texas A&M and Auburn. On the flip side, the Crimson Tide held LSU to 13 points and Texas A&M to zero.

Last season, Mississippi State's Prescott missed his team's 20-7 loss to Alabama. The Bulldogs were absolutely manhandled in that contest, and the quarterback spoke about his feelings regarding that game during an interview with Drew Champlin of AL.com.

Said Prescott, "I wanted to play so badly (last season). They were ranked No. 1 and that was tough being out for that game. Of course I wanted to get out there. Now being able to go to Tuscaloosa and the starter and healthy, I'm very excited." 

This time around, Mississippi State happens to be ranked No. 1 in the nation. However, Alabama is riding an impressive four-game winning streak and hasn't allowed more than 20 points to an opponent in that span. Needless to say, Prescott will have his work cut out for him if he wants to buck this trend:

Expect to see another low-scoring game between these two teams. Prescott may struggle out of the gate against the best defense he's seen all year. Alabama may have trouble moving the ball early as well if a similar game plan to the team's Week 11 showing against LSU that featured a heavy passing game is utilized.

Yards will be tough to come by, and the battle for field position will be extremely important in this decisive game. In this kind of contest, it's better to have a defense that can force mistakes from its opponent. Alabama gets the win, and the College Football Playoff picture will become very interesting.

Prediction: Alabama 27, Mississippi State 24

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College Football Picks Week 12: Odds and Spread Predictions for Top 25 Teams

The top teams in the land are not out of the woods just yet.

With the meat of conference play still underway, the best of the best continue to mow over one another in an effort to reach the inaugural College Football Playoff. For now, the CFP committee sees a clear trio of teams worthy of the honor, with the No. 4 TCU Horned Frogs the final surprise entrant.

Of course, that will all go up in flames in a matter of days when another chaotic week unfolds. The matchups are numerous, entertaining and ripe for savvy financial investment.

 

Week 12 Top 25 Point Spreads and Predictions

Note: All odds, updated as of 3 p.m. ET on Nov. 13, are courtesy of Odds Shark. College Football Playoff Rankings via ESPN.com.

 

Upset Pick of the Week: Arkansas over No. 17 LSU

Perhaps it is too popular a notion that the LSU Tigers are set to take a dive on the road at the hands of the Arkansas Razorbacks. 

After all, Las Vegas gives Bret Bielema's team the nod. So, apparently, does one Kirk Herbstreit:

Popular or not, the notion makes sense, especially when one sprinkles in a little bit of history provided by SEC Network:

LSU is coming off a tough loss at the hands of Alabama. The vaunted Tigers defense, which still ranks fifth in the nation, allowed a field goal with three seconds left in regulation and then proceeded to allow the game-winning touchdown in overtime.

"This football team is made up of quality people and guys with character," LSU coach Les Miles said, per The Associated Press, via ESPN.com. "They will be fighters. We will try to improve as a team like always. We want to play ourselves into a (bowl) game of significance. That very next game of significance will be Arkansas in its stadium."

The situation is certainly not as dire for the Razorbacks. Bielema and Co. enter Saturday's contest off a bye week. Before that, they took No. 1 Mississippi State down to the wire on the road.

Arkansas touts the No. 17 rushing offense in the nation thanks to 248.2 yards per game on the ground. The attack is led by Jonathan Williams (877 yards, 10 touchdowns), Alex Collins (840, 10) and a host of others.

The problem for the Tigers is not only the rushing attack but also the fact that if they fall behind on the road, the offense will need to lean on quarterback Anthony Jennings, who has been anything but reliable while completing just 47.1 percent of his passes with nine touchdowns and six interceptions.

Quarterback issues, a recent crushing loss and a road affair spell doom for the Tigers. 

Prediction: Razorbacks 24, Tigers 20 

 

Lock of the Week: No. 4 TCU over Kansas

Hats off to TCU, as the program was able to get a cupcake Big 12 showdown lined up right after a brutal stretch.

The Horned Frogs took down West Virginia two weekends ago and then thumped Kansas State 41-20 last week. Right now, it appears as if Gary Patterson's team is on its way to a conference title.

All that stands in TCU's way this week is Kansas.

The Jayhawks are 3-6 this season, with their trio of wins coming against Southeast Missouri State (4-6, OVC), Central Michigan (6-4, MAC) and Iowa State (2-7, Big 12). Clint Bowen's team ranks 121st nationally in scoring at 18.2 points per game and 90th defensively with 30.0 points allowed per game on average.

It sounds bad, but understand that this will not necessarily be a walk in the park for TCU. This Jayhawks team gave the Horned Frogs some serious issues last year before eventually losing by 10.

The Jayhawks, led by quarterback Michael Cummings (1,160 yards, five touchdowns, two interceptions), have been able to hang tough against a number of quality opponents this season, as noted by a 27-20 loss to Oklahoma State in mid-October.

Still, one has to think the Horned Frogs will be gunning to make a statement in order to impress those in charge of the CFP. Baylor is hot on their heels and owns the head-to-head result this season. 

As a result, expect Trevone Boykin (2,691 passing yards, 23 touchdowns, four interceptions, 546 rushing yards, seven touchdowns) and the Horned Frogs to come out firing on all cylinders and never let their foot off the pedal.

Prediction: Horned Frogs 45, Jayhawks 17

 

Stats and information via ESPN.com unless otherwise specified.

 

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The 3 Biggest X-Factors for Florida State vs. Miami

The 59th meeting between the rival No. 3 Florida State Seminoles and Miami Hurricanes will be decided by more than their respective superstars.

Jameis Winston, Rashad Greene, Duke Johnson, Denzel Perryman and a handful of other athletes have earned the national attention, but a few X-factors will help provide the winning difference for their respective program.

Kickoff is scheduled for 8 p.m. ET on Saturday, Nov. 15, and will be broadcast on ABC. Be sure to watch for the following three competitors, because they're each primed to be involved in the game-deciding play.

 

Brad Kaaya, Miami, Quarterback

Following a slow start, Brad Kaaya has only thrown two interceptions over his last five outings compared to 10 touchdowns. Additionally, the freshman has completed 61.2 percent of his attempts, throwing fewer passes into tight coverage and limiting poor decisions.

Yet the Hurricanes' success is still predicated on their running game, which they'll certainly look to establish Saturday. Of course, an offensive focus built around Duke Johnson is like saving 15 percent in 15 minutes: Everybody knows that.

Consequently, Florida State should be ready for the ground attack, so Kaaya must be prepared to pick apart the Seminoles secondary. With P.J. Williams, Jalen Ramsey and Ronald Darby roaming the passing lanes, however, it's easier said than done.

Throughout the rivalry, freshman Miami quarterbacks have struggled against FSU, as noted by Matt Porter of The Palm Beach Post.

Nevertheless, whether it's a play-action or dropback pass, Kaaya will hold an important responsibility all night: protect the football. If he can do that, it means Johnson will receive more carries.

As long as the gunslinger efficiently advances the offense downfield, Miami will have additional opportunities for its star running back. Put simply, that is paramount to springing an upset on the 'Noles.

 

Mario Edwards Jr., FSU, Defensive End/Tackle

It's obvious, but it's true: The easiest way to disrupt Kaaya is to pressure him consistently. Mario Edwards Jr. knows that, and he's quite good at accomplishing it, too.

"Bother him, bother him early," Edwards said, per Dustin Tackett of the Orlando Sentinel. "Hit him, hit him often. That's definitely one of the things that we want to do."

Not only has the junior tallied a team-high 10 tackles for loss and three sacks, he's coming off the best performance of his career. Edwards registered nine stops, four for loss, and one sack against Virginia last weekend.

According to Brendan Sonnone of the Sentinel, FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher is excited to watch his versatile lineman progress.

You know, Mario is in shape. With his conditioning, Mario has a lot of ability to do those things. He's a D-tackle, he's a D-end, he can stand up and blitz as a backer. I mean, he can bring a lot of versatility to the game. That's why I'm really anxious for him to grow as a player. He can cause some havoc.

Alongside Eddie Goldman—who has developed into a beast at tackle—Edwards Jr. will be looking to improve on the two tackles for loss and one sack he managed during the 2013 meeting.

Considering that he contributes at three positions, the 6'3", 294-pounder should be presented with varying opportunities to contain the Miami offense. Capitalizing on those moments may ultimately be the difference between a tackle for loss or a 40-yard gain for the 'Canes.

 

Stacy Coley, Miami, Kick Returner

Nine games into the 2014 campaign, Miami can't possibly be holding a realistic hope for an explosion by talented wideout Stacy Coley. If that breakout performance comes, great, but the Hurricanes cannot depend on him to surprise everyone with his best offensive showing of the season.

But wide receiver isn't his only responsibility: Coley is the team's No. 1 returner.

So far, just 54.5 percent of Roberto Aguayo's kickoffs have resulted in a touchback, which means Coley should have at least three or four opportunities for a return.

Prior to the blowout of North Carolina, per Manny Navarro of the Miami Herald, the sophomore said he's trying to make every touch count.

"Whenever I get another opportunity or just get the ball in my hands I have to try and make something happen," Coley said.

Is it frustrating? "No. Not at all," he said. "I'm just happy the team is winning. I'm a team guy. It's not about me. It's about the team. Whatever I can do to help the team I just do it."

Now, Florida State's coverage unit has only surrendered 18.2 yards per return, so Coley—who has tallied 24.7—and his blockers will undertake a formidable task.

However, if the speedster breaks a couple big-gainers, flips field position and silences the Seminoles fanbase that is sure to travel well, he'll have boosted Miami's special teams. Every advantage the Hurricanes earn, no matter how small, will help Al Golden's team stay competitive for 60 minutes.

Then again, if the 'Noles don't allow Coley free space on returns, it's another critical in-game win for the reigning national champions and another step closer to their fifth consecutive victory over Miami.

 

Note: Stats courtesy of CFBstats.com and B/R research.

Follow Bleacher Report college football writer David Kenyon on Twitter: @Kenyon19_BR.

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