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South Carolina vs. Florida: Live Score and Highlights

Steve Spurrier will return to Gainesville for the fifth time as an opposing head coach when South Carolina travels to Florida to take on the Gators. The game will kickoff at noon EST and it will be televised on the SEC Network.

The Gamecocks come into this game looking to snap a two-game losing skid. They fell short against Auburn and lost to Tennessee in overtime. One of the reasons for the struggles of Spurrier’s group is they are last in the conference in scoring and rushing defense.

And they are facing a Florida team that has found its offense. After a 38-20 win against Georgia and a 34-10 performance against Vanderbilt, the Gators have an outside shot of winning the SEC East, but they would need Georgia to lose against Auburn and Missouri to lose its last three games.

Be sure to come back to this blog when the game kicks off for the latest scoring updates and highlights.

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It's on Jimbo Fisher to Shake Up Florida State Get-Away-with-It Football Culture

Jimbo Fisher was on the sidelines in Gainesville last Nov. 30 when his hot-headed quarterback came bouncing over following an unplanned timeout. Jameis Winston started jawing at Fisher about whose fault it was. The Florida State coach grabbed Winston by the facemask and reminded him quickly who was in charge.

Fisher needs to grab the collective facemask of his football team and remind the players who is in charge so they quit with this stuff.

It's just a culture down there in Tallahassee, right? Crash a car; leave it in the middle of the street. Steal a scooter. Steal crab legs. Destroy private property. Do what you want.

The latest issue, as reported Friday by the New York Times, is that star defensive back P.J. Williams made an illegal turn, ran into another car and then left the scene of the accident. He was driving with a suspended license and had unpaid fines to boot.

This was after receiver Bobo Wilson stole a scooter. This was after Jameis Winston shouted vulgarities in the middle of campus and after Winston seemingly shoplifted crab legs. This was after FSU players were questioned over destruction of private property.

I read the Yahoo! account of Winston's father trying like heck to get on the field after the Louisville game when he didn't have a proper pass. I wasn't surprised. The thinking for an FSU connection seems to be: The rules apply to you and you, but not to me, surely not to me who is affiliated with FSU football.

I know, these players all have family, and the parents should be stomping into town to deal with their kids' mischief and pay their fines, etc. Kids make mistakes, but maybe Fisher, the parent proxy, needs to attend a seminar led by Georgia coach Mark Richt or Texas coach Charlie Strong on how to deal discipline when mistakes pile up. Maybe Fisher really doesn't think it is his job to police these guys off the field. Maybe he doesn't even think there is a problem.

There is a problem. Maybe it's Fisher's leniency. Wilson committed a felony and was suspended one game. Williams fled the scene of a car crash Oct. 5 and played the next week against Syracuse. He was written two tickets and maybe that was good enough for Fisher.

I bet you Fisher talks to his team—maybe begs them—to behave and represent the school in a positive manner. I bet he does.

The message isn't being heard.

Here is the deal. If football players make trouble the head coach should have something to say about it until he is heard.

Richt, the Georgia coach, would have had something to say to P.J. Williams about making an illegal turn, driving with a suspended license, walking away from a wreck.

Here is what Richt would say: "You're not playing in the next game." Williams played the next game after the car crash, so we assume Fisher said nothing.

Richt and Strong would also be finding out why one of their players was piling up fines for speeding. They would have something to say about that. They would have something to say about an accident where two vehicles were totaled.

Richt would have found out who was popping windows with BB guns and ordered some punishment. I guarantee it. He wouldn't have sent his fixer to the apartment complex.

Fisher stepped up when receiver Wilson was arrested and charged with stealing a scooter. It is a felony. Wilson was suspended for one game. The coach acted. He has to act more forcefully it seems. Winston was suspended for a game shouting a vulgarity on campus and then pranced out in his uniform for the Clemson game. Fisher had to tell him to get back in the locker room.

Fisher knows what's right and what's wrong, but his players just do whatever.

You just wonder about the sports world sometimes. Jets coach Rex Ryan gets fined $100,000 for an F-bomb he threw after the Jets-Steelers game. A college football player is destructive while driving on a suspended license and plays the next game.

Jimbo needs to be a better sheriff, not just a great football coach and great recruiter. Florida State is cruising toward another national championship and the Seminoles will be belittled everywhere outside Tallahassee because of this trouble.

Florida State's fans, of course, will bash the messenger. Happens everywhere they say. Kids will be kids. What's a hit-and-run with no serious injuries? By itself, maybe not a lot. But when the mischief keeps happening, you wonder what kind of culture there is at FSU.

You wonder if Jimbo Fisher needs to yank on some more facemasks.

 

Ray Glier covers college football for Bleacher Report. He has covered college football and various other sports for 20 years. His work has appeared in USA Today, The New York Times, CNN, The Washington Post and Al Jazeera America. He is the author of How the SEC Became Goliath (Howard/Simon & Schuster, 2013).

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College Football Rankings 2014: Updated Playoff Predictions for Week 12

This is the week that everyone associated with college football has been waiting for. The College Football Playoff rankings have provided a platform to discuss everything, but Week 12 is when the grainy picture comes into focus. 

Of course, just because it appears things will be in order, this is college football. This selection committee already changed the way things go. It doesn't appear to have one set of criteria for ranking teams, which is good and bad. 

It's good because no team can rest on its laurels after a win. It's bad because making up rules on the fly can result in ignoring the evidence that has been presented each week and what the results say about a team's performance. 

Whatever rationale the committee has for doing what it does, here are predictions for the CFP rankings and a look at the current standings. 

 

College Football Playoff Predictions

Note: Predictions are for what the final four will be at season's end. 

As evidenced by the top four, there will be a lot of turnover in the standings by the time we get to the official announcement on December 7. The biggest change is Florida State falling out of the top four, though, admittedly, it's not likely to happen this week. 

The Seminoles are playing a Miami team that hasn't looked good virtually all year, save for one performance against Duke. Don't be so quick to dismiss the Hurricanes in this spot. They are playing at home in prime time with an underrated defense that can give Jameis Winston fits. 

According to Football Outsiders' metrics, Miami's defense ranks 15th nationally in defensive efficiency and fourth in big play prevention (IsoPPP). 

Winston has had problems with his accuracy this season, especially early in games. In Florida State's comeback win against Louisville, the defending Heisman winner threw two of his three interceptions in consecutive drives during the second quarter.

Matt Fortuna of ESPN.com cited Miami's improved running game with Duke Johnson against a decent Florida State run defense as a key factor if an upset is going to happen:

The junior has been on absolute tear lately, eclipsing the 100-yard mark in each of his last five games. Johnson's rushing average during this stretch? That would be 168.6 yards per game. Taken one step further, his rushing average over the last three games is 196 yards per game. Florida State has been OK stopping the run, ranking 35th nationally. 

The Seminoles have been flirting with disaster all season, so an upset seems likely to come before season's end. Whether it's this week against Miami, at the end of the year against Florida or in the ACC Championship Game is another story. 

As for the four teams featured in these predictions, it's not a complex path for each of them to get in. Alabama is going to get a huge boost into the top four, presumably all the way up to No. 1, with a win against Mississippi State on Saturday. 

A win for the Bulldogs in this spot would end a 57-year streak in which an SEC West school has failed to win at LSU and Alabama in the same year, per Andy Johnston of The Atlanta Journal Constitution.

Doing so will require the Bulldogs to overcome the country's No. 2 scoring defense. Dak Prescott has done great things this season, but the star quarterback has thrown five of his seven interceptions in his last three SEC games. 

As Coy Wire of FoxSports.com wrote, Prescott has to play his best game of the season to secure a victory for Mississippi State because of a much-improved 'Bama defense:

In 2013, Alabama's defense had only 22 sacks in 13 games and allowed 3.3 yards per rush. In 2014, through nine games, the defense already has racked up more sacks (23) than last season and is ranked fifth in the nation allowing only 2.8 yards per rush.

...

Prescott has been at his best this season when he’s hit back-shoulder fades and back-shoulder stop routes against press coverage, so look for him to attempt those types of passes often. But remember, Prescott has struggled lately to connect on those throws with the accuracy he showed earlier in the season.

So assuming a loss here for the Bulldogs, they will fall in the rankings but still have time to make up for it with a game against Mississippi to end the season. 

Oregon has the easiest remaining path to get in the College Football Playoff. The Ducks have already moved up to the No. 2 spot, a position they will occupy the rest of this season with two easy wins against Colorado and Oregon State to end the regular season. 

The Pac-12 title game is fascinating right now because Arizona State would be Oregon's opponent. The two teams aren't playing in the regular season. The Sun Devils jumped up to No. 6 by virtue of their win over Notre Dame, though that also highlighted flaws with the team. 

Arizona State and Oregon aren't good defensive teams, ranking 50th and 51st overall in scoring defense, respectively, but the Ducks average nearly 10 more points per game and wouldn't have let a 34-3 lead against the Fighting Irish shrink to three points. 

TCU will likely draw the biggest complaints from fans because of its loss against Baylor and what some could call a lucky win over West Virginia. It's clear the committee likes the Horned Frogs, who end the season against Kansas, Texas and Iowa State. 

Gary Patterson's team doesn't have to worry about a conference title game, so three wins against three teams with a combined 10-18 record will push TCU to 11-1 with quality wins over West Virginia and Kansas State in consecutive weeks. 

One hiccup throws the whole system out of whack, but Alabama, Oregon, TCU and Mississippi State are the four best bets to be in the College Football Playoff based on the current standings and the remaining schedules for each. 

 

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


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Jonathon Cooper Commits to Ohio State: What 4-Star DE Brings to Buckeyes

Ohio State acquired a foundational member for its 2016 recruiting class Friday when in-state standout Jonathon Cooper publicly shared his pledge to the Buckeyes. He initially committed to the team in October but waited to share his decision, per Steve Wiltfong of 247Sports.

The 6'3", 215-pound Columbus area product is considered a 4-star defender and could ultimately fill multiple roles in college. He is projected to play weak-side defense end and rates 13th nationally among prospects at the position in 247Sports' composite 2016 rankings.

Cooper received a scholarship offer from head coach Urban Meyer this summer while attending camp. The longtime Buckeyes fan fulfilled a lifetime dream by accepting it.  

"What made Ohio State right for me that it's right here at home, I grew up an Ohio State fan, the coaches are great, I found a connection and I feel I have a good relationship with the people," he told Wiltfong. 

Cooper holds offers from an array of college programs, including Notre Dame, Kentucky and Michigan State. He visited the Fighting Irish earlier this season but ultimately decided to stay home. 

The Lincoln High School junior is a scheme-diverse playmaker who already possesses impressive physical tools and carries quite a reputation as a pass-rusher. Cooper has collected 11.5 sacks through 10 games this season, per MaxPreps.

He's hardly a one-dimensional defender, contributing mightily against the run along the perimeter and inside. Among his 80 total tackles, 46 are solo and 11 have occurred behind the line of scrimmage.

Cooper exhibits an explosive blend of lateral quickness and downfield power that should continue to develop through physical maturation. He already does an admirable job of maintaining technique and doesn't allow himself to lose track of what's happening in the offensive backfield.

Ohio State now holds four commitments, including three 4-star recruits, in its 2016 class. Each pledge is an in-state prospect.

 

Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.

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Georgia's 2015 Recruiting Class Riding on This Weekend

Georgia hosts Auburn this Saturday in a pivotal showdown between a pair of two-loss SEC programs. The matchup presents an opportunity for both teams to climb in conference standings and gives Georgia a chance to showcase its game-day atmosphere in front of several key recruits.

Bulldogs head coach Mark Richt and his staff have assembled the country's No. 3 recruiting class in 247Sports' composite rankings less than three months shy of national signing day. The squad could make a charge at top-ranked Alabama and No. 2 Florida State by cashing in on a talent-packed visitor list this weekend.

"The atmosphere that I know we can provide is very attractive to the recruits that come in, official visits, unofficial visits," Richt told Jake Rowe of 247Sports. "Just how our fan base loves our team and supports them means an awful lot to those players, and it means an awful lot to those parents as well."

Despite a late official visit cancellation from 5-star Florida cornerback Tarvarus McFadden, Georgia will still have its hands full selling the university's vision to premier prospects. Bulldogs coaches will have help from a variety of committed players who are also expected on campus, including Jonathan Ledbetter, Patrick Allen and Natrez Patrick.

Georgia could solidify a strong class and perhaps surge to the top of national recruiting rankings by adding more top-tier pieces to its latest haul of pledges. Here's a peek at the most-wanted playmakers expected in Athens for the prime-time showdown against Auburn.

 

5-star defensive end Josh Sweat (Chesapeake, Virginia)

The nation's top overall 2015 prospect returns to the recruiting trail after spending approximately two months out of the spotlight. Sweat, a 6'5", 240-pound defender from Oscar Smith High School, suffered a season-ending knee injury in September and ensuing surgery postponed his official visit schedule.

He spent time at Ohio State earlier this fall and will stay busy during the final stretch toward a decision. Sweat is set to stay at Georgia this weekend before rounding out November with visits to Virginia Tech and Florida State.

The freak athlete drew comparisons to No. 1 overall NFL draft pick Jadeveon Clowney this July at The Opening, an invite-only football showcase held at Nike's world headquarters. He turned heads by running the 40-yard dash in 4.46 seconds and held his own against America's top offensive linemen throughout drills.

"You have to be perfect against Sweat," 5-star Clemson offensive tackle commit Mitch Hyatt told me after multiple one-on-one matchups. "Otherwise, you're done."

Sweat dominated during his final full high school season, compiling 94 tackles and 22 sacks as a junior. He previously visited Georgia in June and could create quite a formidable duo with fellow 5-star defensive lineman Trent Thompson, a tackle who committed to the Bulldogs this summer.

 

5-star offensive lineman Chuma Edoga (Powder Springs, Georgia)

The McEachern High School mauler may have verbally committed to USC in April but that hasn't stopped the Bulldogs from staying on his trail. Edoga, a 6'3", 276-pound tackle, is rated third nationally among players at the position in 247Sports' composite rankings.

Offensive line remains an area of need for Georgia in this recruiting cycle, and Edoga has topped the team's target board for quite some time. He impressed at The Opening and earned an invitation to the U.S. Army All-American Bowl.

Edoga initially spurned the Bulldogs with his Trojans pledge but never cut off communications with Georgia's staff. This trip presents a last-ditch opportunity for the team to keep him close to home in coming years.

Georgia has struggled to claim top in-state offensive linemen during this cycle, so expect a full-court press with Edoga on campus.

 

4-star defensive tackle Albert Huggins (Orangeburg, South Carolina)

Huggins, yet another heralded lineman, hasn't made an official visit to this point. If Georgia has its way, he won't need to take anymore after this weekend.

The 6'3", 279-pound Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School standout rates 10th nationally among defensive tackles in 247Sports' composite rankings. However, his athleticism and length leave the door open for a possible career at strong-side end.

Huggins, who tallied 135 total tackles and 18 sacks as a sophomore and junior, spent time on campus in July and is anticipating an exciting return trip.

"It was a good atmosphere and they treat you well," he told Phil Kornblut of GoUpstate.com. "Hopefully I can have fun and see what Georgia is all about. I'm really considering Georgia."

Clemson is viewed as another strong contender for his commitment. The Tigers have been frequent hosts of Huggins throughout his recruitment process and present the biggest challenge for the Bulldogs to bring him into town for good.

 

4-star defensive back Ronnie Harrison (Tallahassee, Florida)

Perhaps the long and winding recruitment of this Sunshine State safety has one final twist up ahead. The 6'3", 205-pound University School star initially committed to North Carolina prior to his junior season but flipped to Alabama this summer.

Now the rangy defensive back is exploring other options before taking an official visit to Tuscaloosa later this month. His visit to Georgia will be followed by a journey to Notre Dame, according to 247Sports.

Harrison, rated 11th nationally among safeties in 247Sports' composite rankings, offers help at a crucial position for the Bulldogs. Georgia managed to address it with the addition of in-state safety Rashad Roundtree and could truly bolster things by adding Harrison.

He's a two-way standout in high school, leading the team with 800 rushing yards, 26 tackles and 13 touchdowns, per MaxPreps.

 

4-star linebacker Roquan Smith (Montezuma, Georgia)

Smith is another must-have in-state target for the Bulldogs. He remains one of the country's top uncommitted defenders, rated fourth nationally among outside linebacker prospects in 247Sports' composite rankings.

The 6'2", 205-pound Macon County High School playmaker enjoyed arguably the finest game of his career last Friday. Smith starred on both sides of the ball in a victory over Lamar County that clinched a regional championship.

He rumbled through defenders for 263 rushing yards and three scores, per Michael Carvell of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Smith added more than 20 tackles at linebacker during a commanding performance.

“He had one for the ages,” Macon County coach Larry Harold told Carvell. “Roquan put us on his back and carried us to that region title. ... I’ve never in my life seen a performance like that on both sides of the ball."

Smith is viewed as a Georgia lean but several schools remain in the mix, including Florida, Miami, Ole Miss and South Carolina. He could be the next stud to join an impressive Bulldogs class.

 

Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.

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Todd Gurley Returns, but Nick Marshall Can Be the Star of Auburn vs. Georgia

The primary focus of Auburn's trip to Georgia on Saturday will be the return of Bulldogs running back Todd Gurley. The junior, a preseason Heisman Trophy candidate, missed the last four games because of a suspension for signing his name on memorabilia items for money.

But the game is also a return for Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall.

The senior began his college career as a cornerback for the Bulldogs in 2011. However, he was booted from the team in February of 2012 for a violation of team rules, which was later determined to be theft of a teammate.

Now, with the Tigers hoping to avoid a second straight loss, Marshall returns to his former school.

"I think it's going to mean a lot to Nick," Auburn defensive end Gabe Wright told Brandon Marcello of AL.com. "He mentioned that he hasn't been back since his freshman year."

In a game that could feature a lot of points, Marshall—not Gurley—could be the star of the show. As Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee wrote earlier this week, Gurley isn't even the X-factor on his own team.

Yes, having Gurley back is huge, but the Bulldogs ran the ball just fine without him. In fact, Georgia as a team rushed for at least 200 yards in the three of the past four games in Gurley's absence, averaging just over five yards per carry.

Freshman Nick Chubb showed he was more than capable of shouldering the load.

Rather, Georgia should be concerned about how it's going to stop Auburn's rushing attack, led by Marshall and running back Cameron Artis-Payne. Combined, the two have 1,888 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns. That alone is more than 93 other FBS teams this season.

More specifically, Marshall accounts for roughly 50 percent of Auburn's total yards per game and 60 percent of the team's offensive touchdowns.

The Bulldogs gave up 632 yards on the ground in the past two games, 418 of which came against Florida when the Gators attempted just six passes for 27 yards.

Neither Florida nor Kentucky are anywhere near as good running the ball as Auburn is. For comparison, the Tigers rank eighth in the country at 5.93 yards per carry and average just over 286 yards per game. The Gators and Wildcats average at least 1.3 fewer yards per carry.

What's even more impressive is that Auburn gets those kinds of numbers while being efficient.

The Tigers get labeled as a no-huddle, hurry-up team that runs 100 plays a game when nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, Auburn runs about 72 plays per game—17 fewer than Baylor, which leads the nation in that category—at a nifty two-to-one run-to-pass ratio while averaging seven yards per play.

Ultimately, there are two things that have hurt Auburn: defense and mistakes. The Tigers have given up at least 30 points, lost the ball nine times and committed 31 penalties in their past four SEC games.

Not surprisingly, Auburn is 2-2 in that stretch despite having little trouble scoring.

Even though Georgia's strength is solely in the ground game, a shootout between these two offenses is definitely possible. In potentially tight games where every play seems to matter, you want your best player on the field at all times.

That's less likely to happen at the running back spot with substitutions. Gurley may be the best player on the field, but only Marshall is going to handle the ball on every snap.

As Marcello points out, Marshall has had a knack for making big plays when it matters most:

The big-game quarterback has proven dependable under the lights in his 22-game career with the Tigers, too, while leading five fourth-quarter comebacks, including the miraculous 73-yard touchdown pass that knocked off Georgia in 2013 and cemented his name in Auburn lore.

Does Marshall have another big game in him? He'll need to have one without leading receiver Duke Williams, who will miss Saturday's game after sustaining a knee injury in the loss to Texas A&M.

But it's not like Auburn is without weapons. Sammie Coates and Quan Bray will be just two of Marshall's options in the passing game. And, of course, there's Artis-Payne.

Together, Auburn's offense could make Marshall's return to Georgia far sweeter than Gurley's.

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com.

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Texas A&M vs. Missouri: What Tigers Must Do to Beat the Aggies

The Missouri Tigers will be looking to move one step closer to securing back-to-back SEC East titles when they travel to College Station to take on the Texas A&M Aggies on Saturday (7:30 p.m. ET on SEC Network).

However, coming off an impressive result of their own—a 41-38 victory over then-No. 3 Auburn last weekend—the Aggies will be coming in poised and confident.

It’s a formula that could spell doom for the Tigers. Odds Shark currently lists them as 3.5-point underdogs.

Here’s what Missouri has to do in order to avoid a setback.

 

Keep Mauk’s Jersey Clean

If the Tigers hope to win, the offensive line must do whatever it can to keep quarterback Maty Mauk off the ground.

Entering this weekend, Texas A&M has compiled a whopping 32.0 sacks. That’s good enough to tie for No. 6 in the nation and first—along with Mississippi State—in the SEC.

Look for freshman standout Myles Garrett to continually create havoc in the backfield. The Arlington, Texas, native has already racked up 11.0 sacks, 12.5 tackles for loss and nine quarterback hurries on the season.

On the year, Missouri has been solid at limiting the amount of sacks given up. Thus far, the Tigers have allowed just 15.0 sacks, ranking No. 37 in the nation.

With Mauk already struggling to make noise in the passing attack, having to deal with a disruptive pass rush wouldn't make matters any easier.

 

Continue Riding Strong Defensive Play

The Tigers have had a pretty impressive defense all season long.

In fact, through nine games, the unit ranks No. 24 in total defense (339.8 YPG). The strength is strong play in the secondary—it's only allowed eight passing touchdowns and intercepted 10 passes—and a stifling pass rush that has racked up 31.0 sacks on the year.

Most impressive is Shane Ray, whose 12.0 sacks represent a single-season school record.

“He’s one of the great competitors I’ve ever been around,” head coach Gary Pinkel told Kristie Rieken of The Associated Press. “I’d put him in my top five since I’ve been coaching.”

Along with Ray, the Missouri defense as a whole has only been getting better in recent weeks.

The unit has now held three straight opponents to under 300 total yards of offense and fewer than 15 points. The Tigers have gained eight turnovers while racking up 10.0 sacks during that span as well.

With the Aggies appearing to rediscover their offensive firepower, the Missouri defense will be put to the test.

 

Play Mistake-Free Football

Avoiding sacks and playing stout defense will help, but as Missouri blog Rock M Nation puts it, playing turnover-free football is the key:

Although Mauk has been a solid game manager, he struggled to find much accuracy in his only two SEC road starts.

In games against South Carolina and Florida, the sophomore completed just 18 of 52 passes (34.6 percent). He also failed to throw a single touchdown and tossed one interception.

Sure, Texas A&M isn’t a turnover-making machine, ranking just No. 112 in the nation with 10 takeaways. However, it wouldn’t be wise of the Tigers and Mauk to gift the Aggies careless mistakes.

Against the last tough defense he faced (Georgia), Mauk struggled. In a 34-0 loss, the Kenton, Ohio, native threw for just 97 yards and four interceptions on 9-of-21 passing.

If he’s not careful, Mauk could be in for a devastating repeat performance on Saturday.

 

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.

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Alabama Needs a Healthy T.J. Yeldon Against Mississippi State

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The big question hanging over the Alabama football team has been the status of T.J. Yeldon.

Alabama’s leading rusher was dealing with a foot injury during the bye week and in the lead-up to the LSU game. Then, late in the matchup against the Tigers, he sprained his ankle, which has limited him in practice this week.

Alabama coach Nick Saban has been noncommittal on his status this week, only saying that he’s improving and doing more everyday. And during media viewing periods at practice this week, Yeldon appeared to be more involved with each passing day.

Saban gave his most informative update Thursday night on his weekly radio show.

"I think he'll be able to play in the game. How explosive he'll be in the game remains to be seen," Saban said, per Andrew Gribble of AL.com. "The kind of injury he has is something you can play with but if he practices too much, it really aggravates him. We just try to practice him enough so he's ready to play. He's certainly had a great season for us."

That uncertainty should be a cause for concern for Alabama fans. Yeldon has been one of Alabama’s best offensive players.

And with the Crimson Tide’s running back depth already as thin as it is, it needs a healthy T.J. Yeldon when it faces Mississippi State on Saturday.

Yeldon leads Alabama with 686 rushing yards and has been a reliable workhorse for the Crimson Tide, now in his third year in the offense.

He’s split carries with Derrick Henry (and Kenyan Drake before his injury) this season, a running back setup Saban has been fond of on offense. But there’s no question who the feature back is in the offense.

“I think it’s huge [to have Yeldon healthy],” right tackle Austin Shepherd said. “We’re not thin, thin at running back, but I consider him one of our best players and a leader on the offense. I think it’s huge to have him.”

Shepherd’s right. Alabama isn’t necessarily thin at running back in terms of talent or bodies. But when you take game experience into account, that picture changes.

Drake was the third part of a three-headed monster for Alabama. Offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin found a lot of creative ways to use the speedster in the run and passing game before he suffered a brutal leg break against Ole Miss.

He was also Alabama’s only other running back with a lot of in-game experience.

Senior fullback Jalston Fowler has carried the ball at times during his career as a running back. At 6’1”, 248 pounds, though, he isn’t exactly a candidate for a lot of carries.

Behind them are a pair of former 4-star recruits who have shown ability but have only played sparingly.

Sophomores Altee Tenpenny and redshirt freshman Tyren Jones have gotten 15 and 22 carries this season, respectively. Those have mostly come late in out-of-hand games.

So depending on how limited Yeldon is, that would leave only Henry for the offense to lean on against the No. 1 team in the country.

“Derrick Henry has played well for us all year long,” Saban said. “I thought he probably had his best game up at Tennessee. We have total confidence in him as a player. We thought he played well in the last game. ... He's been very productive this year, has played very well for us. I think it's going to be important for him to continue to do that because his role's probably going to get expanded even more as we get late in the season here.”

Alabama’s situation isn’t ideal, but it’s an enviable problem to have. Its star running back gets banged up, and it has 4- and 5-star talent behind him to pick up the slack.

But as the Crimson Tide hit this last stretch of the season against two Top 10 teams, they need their workhorse back to be as healthy as possible.

 

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

Follow on Twitter: @marctorrence.

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Notre Dame Football: How the Irish Bounce Back Against Northwestern

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — One week after the “Debacle in the Desert,” Notre Dame football walks into the start of a playoff-free future Saturday when it hosts Northwestern.

Following their 55-31 loss to Arizona State in Tempe last weekend, the Irish dropped to No. 18 in the College Football Playoff rankings. Effectively eliminated from the four-team playoff, where does Notre Dame turn now?

“All we do is talk about what we need to do this week to win, so we're all in it to win,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said Tuesday. “Our focus is about what do we need to do to win the weekend because they want to sing the fight song at the end of the day and whatever happens at the end, we weren't going to be able to control whether or not we went to the playoffs.

“So we focus on things we know we can control and what we know we can control is what we do during the week.”

Naturally, one of the primary points of emphasis for the Irish this week is cleaning up the turnovers. Irish quarterback Everett Golson committed five turnovers against the Sun Devils, who turned Notre Dame’s miscues into 28 points.

Kelly offered a public vote of confidence in his quarterback Tuesday, praising Golson’s leadership and accountability while saying the entire offense needs to pick up its level of play to combat the recent rash of turnovers.

On Thursday, Kelly went a step further and highlighted Golson’s week of practice, saying the signal-caller has an “immense” amount of pride and was fun to coach developmentally.

“Nobody likes to be that guy that is singled out for their play, but he’s the quarterback at Notre Dame,” Kelly said. “He embraces that. He took control this week in practice, was vocal and was a guy I hadn’t seen before.”

Irish fans certainly hope Golson looks different, too, when he takes the field inside Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday.

As has really been the case the entire season, the Irish appear poised to go just as far as Golson can take them. That was the case early on in the season, when Golson was playing turnover-free football and the Irish were rolling to a 6-0 start.

Things have shifted recently, of course, as turnovers have mounted and the pressure has been ratcheted up accordingly for the Notre Dame defense.

The Irish's first step to bouncing back against the Wildcats centers around Golson. Controlled, crisp play from the quarterback should lighten the load on Notre Dame’s defense, which shouldn’t be particularly stressed anyway against a Northwestern offense that only tallied nine points versus Michigan last weekend.

The Irish defense didn’t allow more than 17 points in any of the first five games, but North Carolina, Florida State, Navy and Arizona State have found success in each of the last four matchups.

Sure, some of that relates to the turnovers and the short fields granted to Notre Dame’s opponents. But after surrendering an average of 95.8 rushing yards per game through those first five games, Notre Dame has ceded 142.7 per game since—a figure that doesn’t include Navy’s atypical 336-yard performance two weekends ago.

“This past weekend, we had our poorest performance on the defensive line,” Kelly said. “It showed.”

The Irish will look to get back to stopping the run against the Wildcats, who rank 114th in the country in rushing offense, per cfbstats.com.

With a better showing from the defensive line and a more judicious Golson, Notre Dame shouldn’t have much trouble getting back in the win column against Northwestern.

 

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Mike Monaco is a lead Notre Dame writer for Bleacher Report. Follow @MikeMonaco_ on Twitter.

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Report Claims Police Mishandled Hit and Run Involving FSU Football Players

Florida State defensive back P.J. Williams was reportedly involved in a hit-and-run car crash back in October, but the Tallahassee Police Department allegedly mishandled the incident. 

An investigation by Mike McIntire and Walt Bogdanich of the New York Times shows Williams and fellow Seminoles defender Ronald Darby left the scene after the accident. 

The police report also failed to include key details about the crash, including the amount of damage that was done to the other car involved and the fact its airbag deployed:

The report also minimized the impact of the crash on the driver of the other car, Ian Keith, by failing to indicate that his airbag deployed—an important detail because Mr. Keith said in an interview that the airbag had cut and bruised his hands.

The decision was also made to change the type of offense:

The examination found that Mr. Williams, driving with a suspended license, was given a break by the Tallahassee police, who initially labeled the accident a hit-and-run, a criminal act, but later decided to issue him only two traffic tickets. Afterward, the case did not show up in the city's public online database of police calls—a technical glitch, the police said.

Also noted in the New York Times report is that the Florida State University police were contacted for help during the investigation. It sent two ranking officers to the scene, but their presence or actions were never made into a report, with the school stating their role was too minor to note.

A campus police chief told the New York Times his agency acted properly by having officers visit the scene, but they were not involved in any citations or other actions.

Campus Police Chief David L. Perry said in a statement that he reviewed the actions of his officers and found that they behaved appropriately. "This was a routine matter of our agency responding to a simple request from TPD and it was all together proper for our officers to go the scene," Mr. Perry said.

The final crash report listed the offenses as making an improper left turn and unknowingly driving with a suspended license. A prior decision to hold Williams' car for evidence was overturned.

Further investigation showed the way the situation was handled did not fall in line with how Tallahassee police dealt with similar crashes in the past.

It comes on the heels of questions about how the department handled a sexual-assault accusation made against Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston in 2012.

Williams arrived in court two days later to pay prior fines to have his license reinstated. The report states the outstanding money owed in relation to the October tickets has not been paid, however, which has caused another suspension.

 

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Kenny Hilliard Injury: Updates on LSU RB's Shoulder and Recovery

LSU Tigers senior running back Kenny Hilliard will miss the remainder of the regular season with a shoulder injury, per The Associated Press (h/t ESPN.com), who referenced a person familiar with the situation.

Hilliard had rushed for 434 yards and six touchdowns for the No. 17 Tigers on the season. He injured the shoulder in Saturday's loss to the Alabama Crimson Tide. 

Per the article on ESPN, the person with knowledge spoke on condition of anonymity as the team's coaching staff has yet to divulge the details regarding the injury. Hilliard had spoken briefly about the injury on Twitter, but he gave no clues about the severity:

Super freshman Leonard Fournette will likely carry an even bigger load moving forward, and senior Terrence Magee figures to get the majority of the carries vacated by Hilliard's absence. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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.

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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.

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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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