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How LSU Offense Can Find Success vs. Tough Ole Miss Defense

LSU quarterback Anthony Jennings is about to swim into shark-infested waters on Saturday night. 

The Ole Miss "Landshark" defense is a bloodthirsty bunch. The unbeaten Rebels are No. 1 in the country in scoring defense and sit atop the SEC in takeaways.  

Ole Miss currently leads the nation in scoring defense with 10.6 PPG. HC Hugh Freeze has made huge improvements. pic.twitter.com/okVFKy9bkt

— ESPN CollegeFootball (@ESPNCFB) October 20, 2014

Jennings has only lost one game as a starter and has yet to throw an interception in SEC play. On the other hand, he has eclipsed 200 yards only once and is completing a measly 50 percent of his passes. 

Jennings is not the only player head coach Les Miles needs to step up. The entire offense must rise to the occasion for the Tigers to upset the No. 3 team in the country.

Here is what the offense needs to do to be successful. 


Establish the Run

It sounds so cliche, but running the football is so crucial to success in the SEC. The Tigers need to develop a ground game to help Jennings throw the ball successfully against the Rebels. 

How LSU should run it is an inexact science, especially against a stout Rebels front. 

Ole Miss is allowing less than 100 rushing yards per game, which is second in the SEC. The Rebels are formidable up the middle, led by defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche. But a closer look at the numbers from Cameron Roberson of Death Valley Voice gives hope to the Tigers:

Against the two top-30 rushing offenses Ole Miss has faced, they've allowed 361 yards, 4.46 ypa. LSU is 30th in rushing offense.

— Cameron Roberson (@LSUbeat) October 22, 2014

LSU left guard Vadal Alexander and right guard Ethan Pocic both played their best games of the season against Kentucky. Alexander and Pocic's biggest improvements have been their ability to get to the second level of the defense to block linebackers. 

Unfortunately for the Tigers, the Rebels defensive tackle play is better than Kentucky. Blocking beyond the line of scrimmage becomes more difficult when guards are stalemated after the snap. Ole Miss does a great job of maintaining gap responsibilities against the run. 

Alabama's best runs came when running backs T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry found small creases and cutback lanes. LSU's stable of backs must do the same. The only way that is possible is if the LSU offensive line continues blocking hard even if it is beat initially. Running back Terrence Magee and the offensive line displayed both traits to perfection on his first touchdown run against Kentucky. 

[ESPN Video] 3Q LSU T. Magee run for 9 yds for a TD: Terrence Magee run for 9 yds for a TD http://t.co/VQs0ziE9ws#Wildcats

— Kentucky Wildcats (@BR_UKWildcats) October 19, 2014

LSU will also look to run the "stretch" behind left tackle La'el Collins, a play that had success against Florida and Kentucky. The play puts added pressure on defensive ends to hold the point of attack. The problem with the stretch is the time it takes to develop, which is tough against the speed of the Rebels defense. 

That is an NFL block right there RT @Goldkamp247 LSU's La'el Collins blows Jon Bullard 5 yards off LOS https://t.co/DLlDuSo0S2

— Derek Tyson (@DerekTysonESPN) October 13, 2014

No matter how it is done, effective runs will be vital for offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. The play-action pass would do wonders for Jennings. 


Complete Short and Intermediate Passes

Jennings' worst trait has been the short and intermediate passing game. If that does not change against Ole Miss, it will be costly. 

The Rebels love to play "soft" coverage, meaning their defensive backs play off the line of scrimmage in an effort to prevent big plays. Jennings must take what the defense gives him and move the chains. Below is an example against Alabama of the massive cushions the Crimson Tide receivers were given. 

Jennings' chemistry with Travin Dural is special, but the Rebels will likely have safety help on his top target all game long. If he forces deep passes into double coverage to Dural, it will result in interceptions. 

Alabama quarterback Blake Sims did an adequate job against the Rebels dumping the ball off to his tight ends when his No. 1 target, Amari Cooper, was blanketed. Unfortunately for Jennings, LSU's tight ends have only caught three passes all season. He will need slot specialists John Diarse and Trey Quinn to step up and make these tough plays.

If the coverage is slated to Dural's side, 5-star true freshman Malachi Dupre will have more opportunities to make plays. Dupre has caught 11 balls for 257 yards and four touchdowns, but a majority of that has come with Brandon Harris at quarterback. He must perform as well with Jennings as he did with Harris.

Jennings must also do a better job of delivering Dupre the football. Below is a beautifully designed play by Cameron against Mississippi State in the early stages of the second quarter.

After a successful Leonard Fournette run two plays prior, Cameron calls a play-action pass that forces the Bulldogs linebackers to crash the line of scrimmage. This creates a massive opening in the middle of the field. Pass protection is solid across the way, and Dural—running a deep post—takes the safety with him.

Pocic gets pushed back some into Jennings, but overall, the pocket to deliver the ball is relatively clean. This is a throw he must make to an open Dupre (who is not in the above frame). 

Jennings skips the pass to Dupre, killing the perfectly executed play by the Tigers.  

The Rebels will force Jennings to beat them. He must be willing to read the defense and throw to his second or third read if need be. Locking onto a receiver against the safety duo of Cody Prewitt and Tony Conner will lead to interceptions and/or bone-crushing hits. 


Pass Protection

Ole Miss is not a blitzing a team. The Rebels trust their athletic defensive line to get to the quarterback on passing downs.

There will be times when LSU's rushing attack is stifled, which means the offensive line must be effective protectors when the Rebels know the Tigers will pass. 

Even with an effective running game against Florida, the Tigers allowed four sacks. Offensive line coach Jeff Grimes has seen his group give up 16 on the season, including nine in conference play. 

Marquis Haynes is a pass-rushing specialist who leads the Rebels in sacks with 6.5. Expect Ole Miss to line Haynes up against the much-improved right tackle, Jerald Hawkins. 

Nkemdiche, C.J. Johnson, Byron Bennett and Deterrian Shackelford all have two sacks on the season as well. The entire Rebels front creates great push even if it doesn't reach the quarterback. 

LSU's line must provide Jennings a pocket to throw the football. He must trust his protection and allow his receivers time to get open. The group, though, cannot have this happen:

Watching LSU game again, completely forgot when Bud Dupree blew by La'el Collins, a preseason top-10 NFL Dr... https://t.co/K81XzrwnB4

— Jason Marcum (@marcum89) October 22, 2014

Cameron must also instruct Jennings to get the ball out of his hands quickly. If a pass is open underneath, take it. This could be a game where checkdowns to Magee are the best option.



LSU cannot skate by with simple running plays and a few tosses from Jennings. Former Tigers quarterback Alan Risher agrees, per ESPN 104.5:

Alan Risher on @1045espn's #AFR: "I firmly believe" that #LSU cannot win against #OleMiss running their same offensive strategy.

— James Haralson (@jamesharalson) October 21, 2014 

The Ole Miss defense is packed with intelligent, well-prepared athletes. If the Rebels know what is coming, they will dominate. But despite their dominance, it is not an impossible feat for the Tigers to have a successful game offensively.

Red Cup Rebellion states Ole Miss has forced SEC opponents to score nearly 20 points below their season averages. If that trend continues, the Tigers project to score 17 points and gain 311 total yards. With the way Rebels quarterback Bo Wallace is performing, that will likely not be enough for the Tigers to win. 

LSU must run the ball effectively, complete short passes and protect Jennings in order to win. If not, the carnivorous Landsharks could have a bloody night in Death Valley. 


Stats, rankings and additional information provided by cfbstats.com and LSU Sports Information. Recruiting information provided by 247Sports.

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow me on Twitter @CarterthePower.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Heisman Trophy 2014 Stock Watch: Who Is Rising and Falling Post-Week 8?

Week 8 was highlighted by a Top Five game between Notre Dame and Florida State that had massive implications on the race for the College Football Playoff and a similarly consequential effect on the race for the Heisman Trophy.

According to the Bovada numbers at Odds Shark, Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson and Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston were two of the top seven pre-Week 8 Heisman candidates, and the result of a head-to-head matchup can go a long way when the ballots are due in December.

Elsewhere, an upset in Morgantown, West Virginia, had a sizable effect on two players' Heisman chances—one positive, one negative. The same can be said of a 59-0 blowout in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

We compiled this list using the aforementioned Bovada numbers at Odds Shark, which were updated earlier this week on account of what happened Saturday. It does not reflect players such as Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace, whose odds held firm at 20-1.

Sound off below to let us know who you think should win.

Begin Slideshow

Front-Runners, Wild Card and Expectations for the Chaotic ACC Coastal Division

The Atlantic Coast Conference's Coastal Division might be the chaotic disaster we've come to expect, but it's just getting started.

As has been said, "It's a dog-eat-dog world." Well, the seven football programs in the league's parity-filled faction has excelled at gobbling each other up.

In fact, Andy Bitter of The Roanoke Times points out the entire division—in just eight weeks—has already defied the transitive property.

And there's no sign of those nonsensical results ending. Put simply, the Coastal is a mess.

Three teams sit at 2-1 in conference action, another at 2-2 and a trio at 1-2. It may not appear that a front-runner exists, but exploring what's left on each team's slate provides a relatively clear answer on the programs to watch.

Relatively, of course, since the division undeniably has the potential to implode.



Duke dropped its conference opener to Miami, but the Blue Devils are still in great position to repeat as Coastal champions.

Led by outstanding safety Jeremy Cash, Duke is preparing to encounter the most favorable remaining schedule, highlighted by comfortable matchups against the bottom two from the Atlantic Division: Syracuse and Wake Forest.

Laura Keeley of the Raleigh News & Observer said though Duke hasn't necessarily separated itself as the team to beat, the Blue Devils possess a couple of advantages.

There is a remarkable amount of parity in the division—a seven-way tie at 4-4 is a possibility—so it's hard to predict who is going to win any Coastal Division game. That said, Duke does have an edge in coaching—David Cutcliffe and his staff know what they're doing, and the Blue Devils won't beat themselves. Duke [leads the] ACC in turnover differential (plus-8), fewest turnovers committed (five) and fewest sacks allowed (four).

Since the Blue Devils won't beat themselves, another opponent has to earn it. So, enter Pittsburgh.

Under the direction of third-year coach Paul Chryst, the Panthers are poised to dethrone Duke, especially if they beat Georgia Tech on Oct. 25.

Pitt needs more consistent play from quarterback Chad Voytik, but the duo of running back James Conner and wideout Tyler Boyd is one of the most daunting combinations in the ACC.

Voytik and Conner recently shredded Virginia Tech on the ground, while Boyd hauled in six passes for 86 yards, including a 53-yard score. When the 'Canes defeated Duke, they relied on a similarly balanced attack, so the blueprint is there.

The matchup between Duke and Pitt on Nov. 1 at Heinz Field will be the deciding factor in which program holds the edge in the Coastal.


Wild Card

What is North Carolina? Frustrating, that's what.

The Tar Heels surrendered nearly 800 yards to East Carolina, so staging a last-minute comeback to upset Georgia Tech was the natural result for the Heels.

Larry Fedora's squad is like the neighborhood kid who overstays his welcome. He tags along no matter the activity, even if outclassed. Then, once you think he's disappeared, bam!, the little stinker is standing right in the foreground wondering what's up next.

For the second straight year, North Carolina found itself mired in a four-game losing streak before winning its seventh outing of the season.

Was the victory over Georgia Tech the beginning of another second-half resurgence? There is no definitive answer, it's merely conjecture.

Even if the Tar Heels don't rise up the standings, they can still wreak some serious havoc against Virginia, Miami, Pitt and Duke.


Credit Where It's Due, But Pretender, Too

Heading into the season, Virginia was supposed to be the worst team in the Coastal. Despite solid recruiting efforts, head coach Mike London was probably going to start feeling his seat warm.

But the Cavaliers didn't listen to the noise.

They put a scare into then-No. 7 UCLA, shocked 21st-ranked Louisville, fought a Top-25 BYU squad and knocked off Pitt. A win over Duke would propel Virginia to a 3-0 conference record and challenger status, but it ultimately came up a touchdown short.

Following the loss, per Andrew Ramspacher of The Daily Progress, quarterback Matt Johns said, "We're still in the race. It really is still wide open. That gives us a great opportunity next week to come back and correct our mistakes and hopefully come out with a win."

The sophomore is technically correct, but the Cavaliers face the toughest road of any Coastal program—a path they likely must navigate at 4-1 to stay in contention.

David Teel of the Daily Press said Virginia's limited offense and thin defense will doom the Cavaliers.

"Presuming Jameis Winston's continued presence," Teel said, "it's difficult to imagine Virginia winning at FSU. So to go 4-1 down the stretch, the Cavaliers would have to win four consecutive coin-flip games, including road tests at nemeses Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech."

Virginia surprised the ACC, and the Cavaliers deserve to be recognized for their superb efforts through seven games. But 2014 just isn't their year.


Work to Do and Help Needed

Georgia Tech ripped off five straight wins and started to draw national attention, but it was only a matter of time before its record was blemished. Duke, of course, happily obliged in derailing a confident Yellow Jackets squad—one week after Tech swarmed Miami.

Though a letdown against North Carolina was something Paul Johnson's team needed to avoid, Georgia Tech is still very much alive. Ken Sugiura of the Atlanta Journal Constitution said a 7-5 finish is realistic and can see the Jackets plucking an eighth.

As poorly as the defense played against North Carolina, it's still the same team that beat Virginia Tech and Miami. Tech's defense isn't great, but I tend to think it's better than what it showed. And, as long as the offense plays efficiently, that should give Tech a chance in their final four ACC games.

Pittsburgh has yet to face an offense the caliber of Tech's and the Jackets have played their best defense against pro-style offenses. Virginia is better than expected, but hardly unbeatable, particularly at Bobby Dodd Stadium. You'd have to think the Jackets would have a chance at N.C. State. Clemson, obviously, will be a bear.

As it stands, Georgia Tech is the two-loss team with the best chance to win the Coastal.

Miami, on the other hand, is clinging to a minimal title chance. Plus, although the Hurricanes surely don't want it any other way, they must host longtime rival Florida State.

A third loss would nearly eliminate "The U," but an unlikely hypothetical favors Miami. Should a three-way tiebreaker be relegated to intra-division record, the 'Canes are fortunate two conference losses (likely) came from the Atlantic, because its Coastal winning percentage would be higher.

If—and that's an incredible if—Miami can manage four victories, it would hold a head-to-head advantage over at least four division foes and probably five.

Ultimately, Duke Johnson and Co. aren't finished, but the 'Canes are nearly eliminated and hoping for a multi-team gridlock.

Virginia Tech can't catch a break, fighting through a host of bumps and bruises to its injury-riddled roster. The Hokies have played without Marshawn Williams, Luther Maddy, Shai McKenzie, Trey Edmunds and Brandon Facyson while Josh Stanford took a temporary leave of absence.

Falling short to Georgia Tech and Pitt stung, but losing to either Miami or Duke is basically a death sentence for Virginia Tech. Three shortcomings in the Coastal won't sit nicely in a tiebreaker, so the Hokies might be the first team effectively eliminated in the near future.

Though Virginia Tech's conference hopes are practically dashed, toppling in-state rival Virginia would be a middling Miss Congeniality-esque prize.



Madness. Expect madness. And heartbreak. Then false hope, which only leads to heartbreak once again.

Virginia Tech is the first team to exit the picture, followed by UNC shortly thereafter. With respective losses to Florida State, Virginia's fate is sealed despite an encouraging campaign while Miami's final shreds of hope are almost completely dashed.

Georgia Tech hangs around through mid-November, but a loss to Clemson keeps the Jackets from heading to Charlotte. The winner of Duke vs. Pitt eventually becomes the 2014 champion only to be handled by the Seminoles in the ACC Championship Game.

Nevertheless, don't be surprised at any result, because the Coastal Division is a chaotic, dog-eat-dog world, and anything is possible.


Note: All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

National Football Foundation Releases 2015 College Football Hall of Fame Ballot

The 2015 ballot for induction into the College Football Hall of Fame—the first class that will be inducted since the launch of the new Atlanta, Georgia location—was released Wednesday afternoon by the National Football Foundation.

The ballot includes 75 players and six coaches from the Football Subdivision ranks, which is standard protocol, but the names were released earlier than usual because the 2015 class will be announced for the first time on Jan. 9 in Arlington, Texas, three days before the national championship takes place in AT&T Stadium.

"We would like to thank [College Football Playoff] Executive Director Bill Hancock and his staff for the opportunity to announce our Hall of Fame Class in conjunction with the Championship Game," said NFF President & CEO Steve Hatchell in the official press release. "We believe the presence of the national media at the title game will significantly raise the profile of the announcement…"

Featured on the ballot are three former Heisman Trophy winners—Colorado running back Rashaan Salaam, Nebraska quarterback Eric Crouch and Texas running back Ricky Williams—along with several other high-achieving players and even one active head coach.

Here is a full look at the FBS Ballot:

*Note: highlighted names did not appear on the 2014 ballot.


RB Ricky Williams, Texas

Williams won the Heisman Trophy in 1998 after leading the country in rushing for the second consecutive season. He also broke the record for most career rushing yards by an FBS player (previously held by Tony Dorsett of Pittsburgh), an achievement that was remarkable despite being broken by Ron Dayne of Wisconsin just one year later.

But Williams did not make the CFB Hall of Fame on his first attempt last season, thanks in large part to the NFF's unwritten rule about electing players from the same school in consecutive seasons—a rule alluded to by Ivan Maisel of ESPN.com in 2012.

Former Longhorn Jerry Gray was inducted in the 2013 class, so Williams never stood a real chance of getting in despite appearing on the ballot. This time, though, he should be fair game.


The Big Miami Three

Like Williams, a trio of former Miami Hurricanes knew not to get their hopes in 2014 after Vinny Testaverde was inducted in 2013.

But this time, their hopes are as high as they should be.

The trio in question consists of defensive tackle Jerome Brown, a unanimous first-team All-American in 1986; defensive tackle Warren Sapp, recipient of the 1994 Lombardi and Nagurski Awards; and linebacker Ray Lewis, a first-team All-American in 1995.

Sapp and Lewis are modern icons for having played more recently than Brown, but all three players have strong cases for eventual inclusion. No more than one of them will get in this season (unless the voting process changes), but they shouldn't all be left out again.


Bill Snyder, Kansas State

Snyder is eligible to make the Hall of Fame thanks to a new rule allowing active coaches who are 75 or older to appear on the ballot, per Ralph Russo of The Associated Press.

His 75th birthday was less than three weeks ago (Oct. 7).

Alas, even though Snyder is the most recently eligible of the 81 FBS names on the ballot, he is one of the surest bets for induction. He turned a stillborn Kansas State program into a Big 12 contender during the 1990s and early 2000s before retiring, watching his former program regress for three seasons under Ron Prince, returning and getting it back to its current state (No. 11 in the current AP poll).

Former Oklahoma head coach Barry Switzer once said of Snyder: "He's not the coach of the year, he's not the coach of the decade, he's the coach of the century!", per Mark Janssen (via ESPN.com).

And at 75, he's still going stronger than ever.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

SEC Extra Points with Barrett Sallee: Treon Harris Starts, Lane Kiffin's Return

No Other Option

Desperate times call for desperate measures.

Florida head coach Will Muschamp announced during Wednesday's SEC coaches teleconference that true freshman quarterback Treon Harris will start against the Georgia Bulldogs in the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party on Nov. 1.

"He has knack for making plays and making some good things happen for our football team," Muschamp said. "We have struggled with production at the quarterback position, and that's been an issue for us along with some others. He's a guy who has a much better understanding moving forward."

At this point, Harris is the only option. 

He was 8-of-12 last week against Missouri for 98 yards, one touchdown and one interception, and he provides much more of a home run threat than redshirt junior Jeff Driskel, which is a huge factor for an offense that lacks any semblance of a spark.

Driskel—who will have a role as a quarterback moving forward in some capacity—has thrown six touchdowns and 10 interceptions this season while completing just 53 percent of his passes.

With a bye week to prepare for the Bulldogs and Muschamp on thin ice, consider this a Hail Mary—one last shot for Muschamp to attempt to catch lightning in a bottle before packing up his office and moving on to a defensive coordinator role somewhere outside of the Gainesville city limits.


He's Baaaack

The Alabama-Tennessee rivalry doesn't carry the same national appeal as it used to due in part to Alabama's offensive coordinator's impact on the Tennessee program.

Lane Kiffin, current Tide coordinator and former head coach of the Vols in 2009, will make his return to Knoxville on Saturday in a game that's been circled on the calendar ever since Kiffin was hired by Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban in January 2014.

Tennessee's defense has been pretty good this year, giving up just 325.9 yards per game, but the combination of Alabama's offense getting right at home last week and Kiffin looking to make a statement will create a homecoming celebration for Kiffin, who will be coaching from the sideline.

When asked if Kiffin is really concerned about his return to Knoxville, Saban downplayed it.

"Why would you say 'really'? I haven't heard much about it," Saban said on Wednesday. "I think the most important thing for us is that we need to focus on the game. The game's not about that. The game is about the players. Regardless of what fans think and fans do, I think our coaches are focused on what we're going to do in the game and how we're going to help our players play their best."

It's more of a distraction for Tennessee than it is for Kiffin and Alabama.

Alabama has a job to do after opening things up with 672 yards in a home win over Florida, Alabama went on the road and averaged just 311.5 over the next two games against Ole Miss and Arkansas. Last week at home, it lit it up yet again with 602 yards. 

The Tide are not going to make the same mistake again. 

In uncharacteristic fashion, the outspoken Kiffin will speak softly and carry a big stick.

Saban doesn't allow assistants to speak to the media except for one time in the summer and once before bowl games, so Kiffin will speak through quarterback Blake Sims, wide receiver Amari Cooper and running backs T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry.

It's going to get ugly.


Weathering the Storm

Georgia announced on Wednesday that it is seeking reinstatement for star running back Todd Gurley after the junior was suspended for the previous two games during an investigation into improper benefits.

"I want to thank the University, coaches, teammates and the Bulldog Nation for their patience and support," Gurley said in a statement emailed by Georgia. "I take full responsibility for the mistakes I made, and I can't thank the University, my coaches and teammates enough for supporting me throughout this process.  I'm looking forward to getting back on the field with my teammates."

Like a good lawyer in court, Georgia wouldn't ask for reinstatement unless it already knows the answer, so expect Gurley back for the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party on Nov. 1 vs. Florida.

If that's the case, running back Nick Chubb deserves consideration for team MVP honors. All Chubb did in Gurley's absence was rush for 345 yards and three touchdowns in road wins at Missouri and in Little Rock over Arkansas.

Those two wins were statements for Georgia.

The defense forced six interceptions during that span after only picking off seven passes all of last season. The offense didn't miss a beat, Chubb got valuable carries and proved he can help keep Gurley fresh, and quarterback Hutson Mason settled down and didn't throw an interception after throwing three in the previous two games.

Gurley may get the Heisman Trophy hype, but Chubb deserves team MVP consideration. Without him, Georgia wouldn't be in control of its College Football Playoff destiny.


Say What?

Ole Miss is cruising right along as the No. 3 team in the nation, complete with an unblemished record and one of the most ferocious defenses in the nation. 

Next stop: Baton Rouge, where the Rebels are 3.5-point favorites over LSU, according to Odds Shark.


This is the same LSU team that got run out of its own building by No. 1 Mississippi State, got stomped on the road by No. 5 Auburn and is woefully one-dimensional by necessity on offense due to quarterback issues, right?

How is that possible?

Playing in Death Valley at night counts for something, sure. But Mississippi State proved that isn't as much of a factor as it has been in years past when it topped the Tigers 34-29 in a game that wasn't nearly as close as the score indicated. 

One way to explain it would be LSU's defense. The Tigers' weakness has been run defense, where they rank 10th in the SEC at 162.5 yards per game. Ole Miss can't really exploit that, though. The Rebels rank 11th in the SEC in rushing offense at 151.29 yards per game and haven't been able to run between the tackles very well at all, which could explain why the line is so low.

Those giant hotels in the southern Nevada desert didn't build themselves, and oddsmakers typically know what they're doing. That Ole Miss defense, though, will make quarterback Anthony Jennings' head spin and will lead the Rebs to another big win.


The Hunted

These are uncharted waters for the Mississippi State Bulldogs, who will play with the No. 1 ranking next to their name for the first time in program history when they kick off with Kentucky on Saturday afternoon.

Head coach Dan Mullen isn't concerned. He talked about the challenges his team now faces in quotes released by Mississippi State:

This is the biggest game we have played of the season. I said the Auburn game was the biggest game ever played in the state of Mississippi. This game is bigger now. Now we are a team that has a target on our back. We have to go on the road in a hostile environment and play one of the hottest and most improved teams in college football.

It may be new for Mississippi State, but it's not for Mullen.

As the offensive coordinator of Florida from 2005-2008, Mullen is well-versed on how to handle success. The Gators spent every week of the 2006 season in The Associated Press Top 10 and all but two in the Top 10 in 2008—both of which resulted in national titles for the Gators.

Mississippi State won't spend too much time patting itself on the back reading its press clippings. Nothing Mississippi State will see from here on out will surprise Mullen, and a good team always takes on the personality of its coach.


Too Good To Sit

Auburn "Star" Justin Garrett had the hybrid linebacker/safety position locked down exiting the spring of 2013, but a foot injury opened the door for Robenson Therezie to take the job and run with it.

Midway through the 2014 season, Garrett is on the move to linebacker, where he will split time with middle linebacker Cassanova McKinzy and outside linebacker Kris Frost.

"You can't have Justin Garrett sitting on the sideline for 55 snaps," said defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson in quotes released by Auburn. "We're trying to find a way to get the best 11 on the field on any one play."

Garrett's increased role will help out a run defense for Auburn that's already shown a tremendous amount of improvement this year. The Tigers rank sixth in the SEC in rushing yards per game at 120.67 and fifth in yards per attempt at 3.34.

Auburn has that strong South Carolina rushing attack, led by Mike Davis, this week, Georgia looming in Athens on Nov. 15 and a trip to Tuscaloosa to play Alabama to wrap up the season.

Getting Garrett in the mix at linebacker is the right move at the right time.


Quick Outs

  • Johnny McCrary will start at quarterback for Vanderbilt against Missouri, according to The Tennessean, making him the fourth starting quarterback for the Commodores this year. Fourth time's the charm? McCrary has tremendous upside but needs the weapons around him to step up to solidify the job full time.
  • South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier and Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn have struck up a friendship since Malzahn was hired by Auburn prior to the 2013 season. The credit for that friendship goes to golf. Spurrier, Malzahn and Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze play a mini-tournament in Destin, Florida, in spring meetings every May, and bragging rights are on the line. "The first year, I lost," Spurrier said. "People think I win all the time. I won last year, though."
  • Florida head coach Will Muschamp discussed the possibility of Georgia running back Todd Gurley being back for the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party, saying, "We want to play people at their best. He'll be fresh, I imagine that."


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

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

5 Games That Will Determine Final College Football Playoff Rankings

The College Football Playoff selection committee will unveil its very first rankings next Tuesday, and then every Tuesday after that until the final rankings—along with the playoff pairings and New Year's Six bowl matchups—on Dec. 7. 

In reality, none of the first six rankings really matter, since they have no bearing on the only one that counts—at least theoretically speaking. The committee has pledged that its rankings won't function like the polls and that it will consider results and data independently each week.

If that's really the case, then we need to let the season play out, as the playoff picture should clarify each week as more teams take on losses. Even as of now, only about a dozen or so teams are still realistically in the running for a playoff spot, and the rest of the regular season will serve as an elimination tournament.

With that in mind, here are the five games that will have more to do in deciding the committee's final rankings—and playoff pairings—than any others.


Mississippi State at Ole Miss

This will turn out to be the most important Egg Bowl in history if both teams continue to roll toward a showdown for the SEC West title. Granted, both teams still have much work to do—Mississippi State visits Alabama, while Ole Miss hosts Auburn—but there's at least a 50-50 chance that the winner of the Egg Bowl will be in the SEC Championship Game. Even the loser might have a shot at a playoff berth.


Notre Dame at USC

The Irish do not play in a conference championship game, but this regular-season finale might have just as much importance. Two years ago, Notre Dame barely beat a depleted USC team that was playing without quarterback Matt Barkley to secure a spot in the BCS title game. It might have to do more of the same this year at the Los Angeles Coliseum and hope an 11-1 record will be good enough to get in the playoff field.


Ohio State at Michigan State

Make no mistake: This game will decide more than the Big Ten East, with the Big Ten championship and a possible spot in the playoff being up for grabs as well. The winner of this game will have a good chance to finish 11-1, and depending on how things shake out in the other conferences (and with Notre Dame), the B1G just might swipe a playoff spot even in a clearly down year for the conference.


SEC Championship Game

Four of the power-five conferences will have championship games, but the other three likely will have overwhelming favorites. That might not be the case in the SEC if Georgia wins the East and finishes 11-1, with or without Todd Gurley. A Bulldogs victory over the West winner would still be an upset but opens the possibility of the SEC landing two teams in the four-team playoff.


Kansas State at Baylor

The Big 12 is the lone conference without a title game, but this regular-season finale might just serve that purpose. The Wildcats are now the lone unbeaten team in conference play but still must face TCU, currently the highest-ranked Big 12 team in the polls. If both Baylor and K-State win out, then the winner of this game will have an excellent chance of making the playoff field.


Bonus: Central Florida at East Carolina

While Marshall of Conference USA is one of only four unbeatens in FBS, the winner of the American Athletic Conference still stands a fair chance of taking the automatic bid to a New Year's Six bowl granted to the top group-of-five champion. This regular-season finale for the only two teams still unbeaten in conference play very well could serve as the de facto American championship game.


Follow on Twitter @ThePlayoffGuru

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Jerome Baker's Flip to Ohio State the Latest Chapter in Urban Meyer-Florida Saga

COLUMBUS, Ohio — "Always a Gator."

Those are the words that Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer has used during the multiple occasions in which he's been asked about his former employer. After all, depending on your feelings toward Steve Spurrier, Meyer is arguably the greatest coach in Florida history, leading the Gators to a 65-15 record and two national championships in his six seasons in Gainesville.

But starting with the way he left—and then returned and left again—only to end up coaching the Buckeyes a year later, Meyer's lifelong attachment to Florida has mostly been one-sided of late. After accepting the Ohio State head coaching position in late 2011, it didn't take long for "Urban Liar" shirts to pop up on the UF campus, the memories of two crystal balls in three seasons quickly forgotten.

In the three years since Meyer came to Columbus, the complications in his relationship with the Gators have only grown, with incidents taking place both in the media and on the recruiting trail. The latest chapter in the Meyer-Florida story was written on Tuesday, when 4-star 2015 Cleveland Benedictine linebacker Jerome Baker flipped his commitment from the Gators to the Buckeyes.

Despite his July commitment to Florida—which came mere hours before LeBron James announced that he'd be returning to Ohio—Baker always seemed destined to wind up at Ohio State. As recently as late September, he appeared to be all but uncommitted as a prospect, attending the Buckeyes' battle with Cincinnati in an Ohio State hat.

But while it may have only seemed like a matter of time until Baker flipped to the Buckeyes, the situation is a little more complicated than that. This wasn't an Ohio kid getting infatuated with a warm-weather school and committing on the spot. The 6'2", 210-pounder's interest in becoming a Gator was real.

Baker's high school coach, Joe Schaefer, played for Florida defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin at Bowling Green. In a recent story by Marc Tracy of The New York Times, Baker spoke of his desire to play in the SEC in order to enhance his potential of becoming an NFL prospect.

"I don’t want any questions of, ‘You went to the Big Ten?’ There’s not that many teams that are good in the Big Ten anymore," Baker said. “I wanted to say that I played against great backs every game. I wanted the challenge. It was a test of myself, my pride. And the SEC is the biggest test.”

That, however, wasn't enough for Florida to overcome the uncertainty surrounding Meyer's replacement, Will Muschamp, who has lost 10 of his last 13 games as the Gators' head coach. And rather than run to another SEC school, Baker opted to look down I-71 to Columbus, where Meyer maintained that he'd always have a home with the Buckeyes.

"He always wished Jerome the best even when he said he was going to Florida," Baker's father, Jerome Baker Sr., told Steve Wiltfong of 247Sports (subscription required). "That relationship was always strong.”

But that won't stop the perception from being that Meyer is kicking the Gators while they're down as Florida stumbles toward its second consecutive season of irrelevance. After all, this isn't the first time that the third-year Ohio State head coach has gone up against his former employer for a highly touted prospect.

The most memorable incident came shortly after Meyer signed on with the Buckeyes and instantly went to work recruiting 5-star wide receiver Stefon Diggs. And although the Olney, Maryland, native ultimately ended up with the hometown Terrapins, he became a central figure in one of the earliest signs of friction between Florida and Meyer.

According to Sporting News, Meyer attempted to dissuade Diggs from signing with the Gators by telling him that he wouldn't let his own son go to Florida due to character issues that existed within the UF program. Meyer, for his part, denied any negative recruiting against the Gators when it came to Diggs.

“I love Florida; I’ll always be a Gator. My motives were pure as gold when I left," Meyer said. "We left Florida because I was dealing with health issues that I’ve since learned how to control.”

It wouldn't be the last time that Meyer and the Gators would bump heads on the recruiting trail.

In 2013, Ohio State turned in Florida to the NCAA for an alleged secondary violation involving a "bump" with now-Buckeyes freshman running back Curtis Samuel. Although Meyer claimed to be unaware that his current program had reported his former one, sources told ESPN's Brett McMurphy otherwise.

The Gators were cleared of any wrongdoing by both the SEC and NCAA.

"We didn't do anything wrong. The University of Florida didn't do anything wrong. And so we appreciated our friends from Ohio making sure we're compliant with NCAA rules," Muschamp sarcastically stated at last year's SEC media days. "They certainly know a little bit about that subject."

Other recent Meyer-Florida incidents have included former Gators star Tim Tebow allegedly recruiting on behalf of Ohio State and Meyer's wife, Shelley, telling Bucknuts.com (h/t The Gainesville Sun) that her perception of Florida fans is that they feel like they were left at the altar. By comparison, Baker's flip seems benign, as even the most hardcore of the Gators faithful would be hard-pressed to blame the 17-year-old for taking his talents elsewhere right now.

But nevertheless, it serves as a reminder of the long—and still growing—history between Meyer and Florida.

Always a Gator? Maybe in Meyer's mind. But in Gainesville, that's not necessarily up to him to decide.


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 and recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports. 

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Treon Harris Replaces Jeff Driskel as Florida's Starting QB vs. Georgia

After a 3-3 start to the 2014 college football season, Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp has named freshman Treon Harris the starting quarterback for the team’s Week 10 matchup against the Georgia Bulldogs.    

Robbie Andreu of The Gainesville Sun shared the news Wednesday:

Muschamp plans on using the Week 9 bye to get Harris plenty of practice with the first-team offense, according to OnlyGators.com:

Harris takes over for struggling junior Jeff Driskel. While Muschamp claims Driskel will play a role in the offense, he has only thrown for 928 yards with six touchdowns against 10 interceptions. He's also rushed for just 155 yards with two touchdowns in six games.   

In limited action during three games this season as Driskel’s backup, Harris is 12-of-18 for 263 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. Add in another 51 yards and a touchdown on the ground, and the freshman has shown he can make a difference when on the field.

The Gators are giving Harris the best opportunity to succeed by naming him starter now. With two weeks to prepare for a meeting with Georgia’s 19th-ranked defensive unit (allowing just 20 points per game), Harris has the chance to make an instant impact for Florida.

Remaining matchups against South Carolina and Florida State during the regular season will be a trial by fire should he keep the starting job, but he'll have more experience under his belt by then. 

*Stats via ESPN.com.


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Ted's Takes: Pac-12's Most Important Player, the Rise of Cody Kessler

Four plays in the second quarter of an early evening at Autzen Stadium in Eugene showcased the most important player of the second half of the Pac-12 season. 

Oregon led Washington 14-6, controlling the game’s early stages behind the play of Marcus Mariota and a bend-but-don’t-break defense.

If the Huskies could flip any momentum, it was after a punt pinned the Ducks at their 1-yard line. One stop by the defense and Washington would gain field position and a legitimate hope of evening the score.

Enter Royce Freeman.

Oregon calmly had Mariota turn and hand the ball to Freeman on four consecutive plays. No dazzling motion, no attempt to confuse or deceive the defense, no warp-speed pace, simply what some of us with flecks of gray like to refer to as “football.”

I plead guilty to the charge of living in the past. Amid the blizzard of short passes to tiny speedsters trying to outflank defenders, there reside a few anachronistic programs that actually attempt to win the line of scrimmage and, therefore, establish a running game.

Oregon isn’t Stanford. They don’t bury you with multiple tight ends, three extra offensive linemen and a desire to bludgeon. But, from Chip Kelly to Mark Helfrich, the Ducks have always run. 

They succeed at times because their pace denies defenses the time to align properly. Freeman ran untouched for 37 yards to score the Ducks’ first touchdown through a chasm in Washington’s defensive front so deep that center Hroniss Grasu could, after snapping the ball, immediately run the second level and block linebacker John Timu.

Speed afoot has marked the Ducks’ recent running success. Think of LaMichael James and DeAnthony Thomas getting the ball outside the tackle box and simply being too fast to corral. Since Jonathan Stewart left for the NFL in 2008, Blount has been the only big-body back to play for the Ducks.

What Oregon hasn’t had in recent years is a Royce Freeman. A 229-pound back who can run straight into and through defenses. A back who can still run when everyone knows he will get the ball. A back who can employ the Ducks’ version of “ground and pound.” 

Through six games, Freeman has 636 yards on 114 carries with 11 touchdowns. He's off to a great start in a long line of talented Oregon running backs. 

Oregon can run the ball out from their own 1-yard line with Freeman. Because when Mariota runs the option and draws defenders, as on a 4th-and-goal play in Saturday’s first half, Freeman can take a late pitch and damage a defense. Freeman is what rival Stanford did have but currently does not.

After a six-year run of Toby Gerhart, Stepfan Taylor and Tyler Gaffney, the 2014 Cardinal have not developed a dominant back. And Stanford’s offense has sputtered without that reliable weapon and the Ducks are heavy favorites to break through in the Pac-12 North for that reason. 

Royce Freeman will run on the field at Autzen on November 1 as the lone back who could control the game. Freeman could do to Stanford that day what Taylor (33 carries for 161 yards in 2012) and Gaffney (45 for 157) have done to beat Oregon the last two years.

Oregon holds the Pac-12’s best hope of landing a team in the first playoff. They have the best quarterback and a capable defense. Freeman could provide the magical missing ingredient to boost the Ducks back into the national-championship picture.


Cody Kessler on the Rise 

Can a quarterback be anonymous in Los Angeles? Playing under the shadow of Brett Hundley, Cody Kessler has remained out of the headlines until his seven-touchdown-pass day against Colorado.

With this year’s coaching change at USC has come a style change. The offense has moved to the increasingly omnipresent fast-pace, quick-pass scheme. It remains a sensory assault to see the Trojans line up in the pistol and, only occasionally, run a toss sweep.

Despite the change, Kessler has managed USC with few mistakes. In seven games, he has thrown just one interception while converting 46.2 percent of third downs. On his watch, USC has turned the ball over only five times. 

Watching USC Saturday reminded me of an assignment last year broadcasting their Boston College game. Trojan Nation was weary of a screen-centric pass game orchestrated by Lane Kiffin. That prompted an unprecedented roar from the Coliseum crowd when, on the game’s first play, an attempted deep post pass from Kessler to Marquise Lee was incomplete.

There were similar sentiments around USC football last week. Can Kessler throw intermediate and deep passes? Is the new Trojans offense going to feature a high number of short throws? Kessler answered with long touchdowns to Nelson Agholor and Juju Smith.

Elite? Not yet for Kessler. But he is rising on the Pac-12 quarterback ladder. Approaching November, here are my top five, based strictly on this season’s play:

1)   Marcus Mariota, Oregon. Efficient? 70.2 percent completion with an impressive 10.41 yards per pass attempt (conference-leading). Clean? Zero interceptions. He still damages with his legs when needed, but he progresses in his ability to make all the needed throws. Question? Ball security/hand strength. Still too many loose footballs.

2)   Cody Kessler, USC. The numbers cited above are hard to debate. It is easy to place him in the “game manager” bin, a convenient landing spot for those quarterbacks without exceptional athletic ability. More fitting for Kessler thus far would be "winner."

3)   Jared Goff, Cal. My vote for Most Improved Player earns him a slight edge over more heralded players. What Goff has: tremendous footwork, a strong arm and the ability to execute any required pass. What Goff needs: an improved offensive line, more weight/strength.

4)   Brett Hundley, UCLA. The toughest call. While the Bruins have yet to play to their expected level, the numbers suggest Hundley has performed (72.5 percent completion, 13 TD passes, 305 rushing yards). The number that hurts: four interceptions in 204 attempts, the highest interception percentage among this group of quarterbacks.

5)   Connor Halliday, Washington State. Longevity earns him this spot over Arizona State’s Mike Bercovici. I continue to resist citing stats for anyone playing in this quantity-over-quality offense. But Halliday has developed a top-level connection with receiver River Cracraft (most underrated player of the first half) and, to me, clinched this spot with his second-half performance in Utah, handing the Utes their only loss.

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Ted's Takes: Pac-12's Most Important Player, the Rise of Cody Kessler

Four plays in the second quarter of an early evening at Autzen Stadium in Eugene showcased the most important player of the second half of the Pac -12 season...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Predicting Every College Football Power-5 Team's Final Record

The 2014 college football season has officially turned the corner. We’ve passed the halfway point of the season, with midseason All-America teams appearing and bowl projections popping up with more urgency. Next week, the fun really starts when the College Football Playoff selection committee releases its first Top 25 rankings, which will further shape conversation for the inaugural four-team bracket.

Per Daniel Uthman of USA Today Sports, everyone is chasing Florida State and Mississippi State.

As we work our way to the homestretch, it seemed like an appropriate time to take a crack at projecting every team’s final regular-season record. We took into consideration the season to date and the difficulty of teams’ remaining opponents, as well as momentum.

Begin Slideshow

Michigan State Fan Spray Paints Michigan's Block 'M' Green

Some may wonder why Michigan State fans would bother messing with Michigan this year, but there's nothing like kicking a rival while it's down.

The Spartans (6-1) will host the Wolverines (3-4) on Saturday, and rivalry week is off to a great start for the team in green. On Tuesday night/Wednesday morning, someone—presumably a Spartans fan—painted the block "M" on the University of Michigan's campus green and added "SU" to the right of it in white.

It doesn't take a genius to figure out which fanbase is (probably) responsible for this prank.

By late Wednesday morning, the block "M" had been cleaned up.

[Twitter, h/t Uproxx]

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Can Georgia RB Todd Gurley Still Win the Heisman?

Before he was suspended for allegedly being paid to sign autographs, Todd Gurley was one of the Heisman Trophy favorites. Through five games, he racked up 773 yards and eight touchdowns on 94 carries, averaging 8.2 yards per rushing attempt.

With Georgia seeking reinstatement for the star running back, Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Barrett Sallee debate whether he still has a chance to win the Heisman.

Can Gurley still lift the trophy if the NCAA reinstates him? Watch the video and let us know!

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Offensive Gurus Steve Spurrier and Gus Malzahn Similar in More Ways Than 1

AUBURN, Ala. — Gus Malzahn used to wear a boring hat.

Around 2000, however, the Auburn head coach said he decided to make the switch to a visor—a style popularized by South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier.

As Malzahn rose through the high school coaching ranks in his home state of Arkansas, he admired the success and innovation of the visor-wearing "Head Ball Coach" roaming the sidelines at Florida.

"I’ve always looked up to Coach Spurrier," Malzahn said Tuesday. "I’ve had nothing but respect for the way that he operates. He’s got a great offensive mind."

On Saturday, the two great offensive minds will face off as opposing head coaches for the first time.

According to Odds Shark, the younger Malzahn and the defending SEC champions will have the upper hand as 17.5-point favorites over the struggling Gamecocks, but Malzahn said he expects a tough challenge from Spurrier's team.

"He’s a great competitor," Malzahn said. "He’s one of the better coaches to ever come through the SEC. You know he’ll have his team ready. They were ranked in the Top 10 to start the season for a reason. They won 11 games two or three years straight and they have good players. We expect to get their best. That’s how we’re coaching."

The two SEC head coaches have a mutual admiration on the field and a friendship off it.

Malzahn said when the two get together during the SEC's spring meetings, he is looking for much more than just sideline fashion advice.

"It’s really more of a respect deal, and you get to know somebody off of the field," Malzahn said. "He’s a great person and a guy that, from time to time, I’ll bounce things off of him. We visit at the spring meetings...I don’t get into X's and O's. It’s more of the wisdom part. He’s been there and done it and had unbelievable experiences—especially in our league."

Spurrier, who Malzahn admitted was the winner of their offseason golf games, said in his weekly press conference that he admired the Auburn head coach as one of the new wave of SEC coaches calling their own plays in a league historically dominated by defense.

"I think most all of us coaches, offensive coaches, that call plays, we sort of all like each other because we have so much in common," Spurrier said. "Hugh Freeze, Dan Mullen, it seems like we've got more head coaches calling plays now than hardly any time I remember."

The two offensive-minded coaches might get along off the field, but there is no denying there are several major differences between them.

While Spurrier makes headlines and sets Twitter ablaze regularly with his free-wheeling style of answering press conference questions, Malzahn plays it closer to the vest—more specifically, the sweater vest.

The two coaches also had different upbringings in coaching. Spurrier is a former Heisman Trophy winner who was already an SEC legend at Florida, but Malzahn played small-school football and flew under the radar at the high school level.

However, Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson, who was Spurrier's assistant head coach at South Carolina from 2008 to 2011, sees one major similarity between the two.

"The one thing they have in common is both of them...invented their offense," Johnson said Sunday. "That offense wasn’t borrowed from this guy and that guy, and this job I had four years ago and another guy that taught me how to do this. Both of them took an offense that they saw as a vision, and they both have such command for it because they know exactly what they want to do when you do something on defense."

Johnson said both coaches have such a handle on their personal offensive styles that the common practice of halftime adjustments doesn't necessarily work—these unpredictable offenses can change on the fly.

"You better get it adjusted the next play, because if you did something or took something away, it wasn’t going to take him another series or halftime adjustment to get you," Johnson said. "He knows his offense. He knows when to pull the trigger, and if you take something away, he knows how you did it and he knows what he’s doing to do to hurt that."

Malzahn said he enjoyed watching how Spurrier could do just that in the SEC by communicating and strategizing in a way the opposition in the SEC wasn't used to seeing.

Although Spurrier did it with the passing game in his "Fun 'n' Gun" offense in Gainesville, Malzahn has done it primarily on the ground with his "hurry-up, no-huddle" brand of football.

"I think what they've done is run the ball extremely well against everybody, just about everybody they've played," Spurrier said. "He has an excellent scheme."

But both coaches have become more balanced in their approaches to the game recently.

Spurrier's South Carolina teams have had star running backs such Marcus Lattimore and now Mike Davis, and Malzahn's Auburn team is inching more toward passing with the development of Nick Marshall, Duke Williams and Sammie Coates.

Those schematic tweaks will play a major factor in Saturday's game.

"(Spurrier) likes to pass the ball, but his offense, he wants to run the ball," said senior defensive tackle Jeff Whitaker, who was part of Auburn teams that beat South Carolina twice in 2010 and once more in 2011. "You've just got to win your battles, because Coach Spurrier is a Hall of Fame coach because a lot of people tried to make him one-dimensional."

If Malzahn can secure a home victory against one of his coaching heroes this weekend, it could go a long way in getting his team back on the right path to Atlanta for another SEC Championship Game berth.

If the Tigers can once again run the table after their off week, Malzahn could join Spurrier as one of the only coaches to repeat as conference champion in the title-game era. From there, Malzahn would be well on his way to his plan for a Spurrier-esque dynasty of lighting up scoreboards and winning championships.

"We have high goals," Malzahn said. "We know we have to play well. We have to get better. Our players are committed to that."

For Malzahn, that would be something taken from Spurrier that matters a lot more than an item of headwear.


All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com.

Justin Ferguson is Bleacher Report's lead Auburn writer. Follow him on Twitter @JFergusonAU.

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Tennessee Defense Must Create Turnovers to Stay Competitive with Alabama

Tennessee's upstart, rebuilt defense has vastly improved in 2014, but the most frustrating takeaway from coordinator John Jancek's unit is its lack of takeaways.

That has to change immediately if the Vols are going to keep from getting blown off their home field against Alabama on Saturday night at Neyland Stadium.

To slow an offense that features fifth-year senior quarterback Blake Sims, a two-headed running back monster in T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry that most NFL teams covet and star receiver Amari Cooper, UT must force turnovers.

Multiple turnovers.

It's a weakness in what has been an otherwise strong unit this season, and coach Butch Jones admitted as much to reporters during his Monday press conference, according to UTSports.com:

I thought we [had] many, many opportunities to impact the game Saturday night, and we weren't able to do that. ... That is part of, that is how you win football games. I thought we started fast defensively which we spoke about in the post game press conference. 37 yards in the first seven possessions. But we need to start taking the ball away defensively.

The Vols are eighth in the SEC with 14 forced turnovers, and they are also tied for eighth with Florida in turnover differential.

Those numbers have to improve in Saturday night's rivalry game against the Tide. There's no way UT can beat Bama without creating extra possessions. Then, the offense has got to take over and turn those turnovers into touchdowns.

It's a tall task, but without stealing some scores, UT can't expect to hang with a team as complete as its heated, hated rival to the South. 

The Tide have been susceptible to mistakes this year, losing 11 so far.

Nick Saban is miffed at his team's failure to take care of the football, telling Bleacher Report's Marc Torrence earlier this season: "One of the disappointing things to me about our team is we have made more emphasis on ball security and getting turnovers this year than I can ever remember in all the teams I've been a coach. And we continue to not play the ball correctly and turn the ball over."

Then, the Tide went out the following Saturday and put on a gaffe-fest in a narrow 14-13 win at Arkansas.

The rash of miscues is uncharacteristic of Alabama in recent years, and it has a decisive advantage against UT in that department. In Alabama's current seven-game winning streak over the Vols, the Tide forced UT into 12 turnovers while committing just five.

Now, UT must reverse that trend in a big way Saturday following the Tide's spotless 59-0 win over Texas A&M where Saban's team committed no penalties or turnovers.

Though the Vols have improved dramatically on defense, impacting the game with turnovers hasn't been their forte. Said Jones at his press conference this week:

We spend so much time on ball disruptions and working the fine details of it. That is what I spoke to our defensive players about is, how do you go from good to great? Everything we do, we want to be elite...That is a mindset of a champion. So the next stage of growth and development defensively is being able to impact the quarterback and take the ball away defensively.

That's perhaps the biggest step remaining for a defense that already made huge strides.

It's evident on the scoreboard how takeaways keep this year's young Vols in games.

Against Georgia, the Vols forced two miscues, and they had three interceptions when they played the Gators. Though UT didn't win either game, they were right in the thick of both before losing 35-32 to the Dawgs and 10-9 to UF.

On the road against the third-ranked Ole Miss Rebels, UT didn't force any.

Jones opened his postgame press conference with the topic after the Vols offense committed four in their 34-3 loss to Ole Miss. A team as undermanned and short on depth and talent as UT can't win big games committing them, and they can't win without causing them, either.

Tennessee's speed-based, opportunistic defenders keep putting themselves in position to make big plays, but they've got to break through. Struggling to complete the big, momentum-swinging play has been a deterrent for much of the year.

A memorable time came when star cornerback Cameron Sutton baited Florida quarterback Treon Harris into throwing a would-be fourth-quarter pick-six. Sutton instead slipped just a bit, and though he batted the ball away, an interception returned for a score would have meant a UT win.

Jones told the media there were other squandered chances against the Rebels, according to Volquest.com's Grant Ramey (subscription required): "We thought we had great opportunities for a couple interceptions, we had the right defensive call with the right down-and-distance. You know, robbing a dig route and we are waiting for it to be thrown and it is thrown and we kind of freeze in the moment."

The funny thing is, two weeks ago, the narrative on turnovers was flipped.

It wasn't until the lopsided loss at Ole Miss (against a superior team, by the way) that it became a talking point. But the bottom line is, regardless of how well the Vols have done taking the ball away at times, they've not made the game-changing plays.

Bama, at its worst, has proven this year it's mistake-prone. At their best this past weekend, the Tide manhandled the Aggies partly because of their near-perfect effort. Part of the reason for that game is A&M's defense was a sieve. 

UT's defense is much better than A&M's. But without forcing turnovers and parlaying them into points, the Vols are in for a similar fate.


All stats taken from CFBStats.com, unless otherwise noted.

Brad Shepard covers SEC football and is the Tennessee Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow Brad on Twitter @Brad_Shepard.

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Bo Pelini Is Wrong in Questioning ESPN's Relationship with the SEC

It's a good time to be an SEC team. Then again, it was a good time to be in the SEC last year, and the year before that and the year before that, and so on.

As of Sunday, SEC West teams Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Alabama and Auburn are ranked inside the top five of the Associated Press poll. Meanwhile, the Amway coaches poll has those four teams in the latest top six. Playoff projections from USA Today—which aren't really projections; they're more of a result "if the season ended today"—have two SEC West teams in the four-team field. 

The SEC is the king of college football—or, at least, that's the narrative being pushed. However, Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini takes issue with that, as well as the business partnership between the SEC and ESPN. 

From Huskers.com

On how good the SEC West is
I don’t know. I think that will play out as the season goes on. We will find out. We will see how that goes. They play good football, and I know there is some good football played in some other conferences, too. It’s hard to say because you just don’t see unfortunately in this day in age a lot of crossovers. So you don’t get a lot to make that decision on to be able to compare and contrast.  You have to go off what the media says to a certain extent and what some people say.

On ESPN’s and the SEC’s relationship involving the SEC Network
I don’t think that kind of relationship is good for college football. That’s just my opinion. Anytime you have a relationship with somebody, you have a partnership, you are supposed to be neutral. It’s pretty hard to stay neutral in that situation.

Pelini was asked about the SEC West and ESPN, and he gave his honest answer. You can't fault him for that, but you can disagree about the relationship between ESPN and the SEC. 

Yes, ESPN and the SEC have a partnership: the SEC Network. Of course ESPN is invested in the success of the SEC. 

However, ESPN also has rights to the Big Ten, the ACC, the Big 12, the Pac-12 and just about everybody else in major college football. ESPN is the single largest rights holder for college football games by a country mile. Under no circumstances would the World Wide Leader ever want to lose out on any conference's rights. 

Similarly, the Big Ten Network has its own agreement with Fox, which owns about half of the network. Of course, Fox doesn't have the same fingerprint on the sport as ESPN does, but the same question Pelini raised could apply there as well.  

While ESPN has an interest in the SEC's success, there are interests in every conference's success. For example, Matt Yoder of Awful Announcing points out that ESPN's Saturday Night Football showcase for Week 9 is Ohio State's road trip to Penn State. The Nittany Lions aren't even ranked and there's little intrigue about this game. Nevertheless, the storyline is that the Buckeyes, ranked No. 13 in the AP poll, are clawing back toward being in the playoff picture. 

You could even go so far as to say there's an interest in Notre Dame's success, even though NBC has been the rightsholder for Irish home games, because of the brand of the program. 

That being said, it's understandable that Pelini would question the relationship. Securing rights with the SEC and Texas (Longhorn Network) is always going to raise concerns about objectivity. However, ESPN employs plenty of personalities and analysts from outside the SEC footprint, including Chris Fowler, Scott Van Pelt, Kirk Herbstreit and Desmond Howard. 

Ultimately, the only opinion that matters anyway is that of the playoff selection committee. What skeptics like Pelini hope is that its opinion isn't swayed by outside forces. 

Pelini is right about one thing: The season will work itself out. By year's end, the Big Ten could be in the playoff picture. If a Big Ten team makes the playoff, it cools the bias discussion. 


Ben Kercheval is the lead writer for college football.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Dylan Favre's Roller-Coaster Life in Uncle Brett's Shadow

MARTIN, Tenn. — The least interesting thing about Brett Favre's nephew is that he's Brett Favre's nephew.

It's true. No matter how many times the information is shared. No matter how many newspaper articles include "Brett Favre's nephew" within the first four sentences. No matter how many times the three words are robotically cobbled into a brick-like substance, then slammed over your head, then slammed over your head again and again and again and again until you're bloodied and dazed.

Yes, Dylan Favre is, indeed, Brett Favre's nephew. There. We said it. The information has been conveyed.

Yet the information is—ho-hum—a tiny part of the story. Brett Favre's nephew is a survivor. A star. A bust.  A failure. A success. An inmate. A saint. A father. A soon-to-be college graduate. A quarterback. Oh, and he rarely talks to his most famous relative.

"He's a great guy," says Dylan. "But my uncle and I have different lives. We're different people."

Brett Favre's nephew is sitting inside something called the Kathleen Elam Multipurpose Room, which overlooks the football stadium on the campus of the University of Tennessee-Martin. The town sits 135 miles east of Memphis, 155 west of Nashville and features the annual Tennessee Soybean Festival (where the Little River Band recently made an appearance!), a sandwich shop named Sammies, a nice yet unremarkable college campus and, um...ahem...eh...little else.

OK, nothing else.

"It's not a place you come to for entertainment," says Dylan. "It's quiet."

As he speaks, Brett Favre's nephew glances down toward the empty Poland Spring water bottle positioned in his right fist. He stops from time to time, repositions the black goop from his cheek to his tongue, drools into the container and pinches some Grizzly Wintergreen out of a tin. Then drools again.

"Repulsive habit," he says, shrugging slightly, words trailed by a slight drawl. "I'm not proud of it."

He is 22 years old—handsome, muscular, soft-spoken and the senior quarterback for the UT-Martin football team. Actually, Dylan Favre is one of the quarterbacks for the UT-Martin football team. Actually, Dylan Favre is the second quarterback for the UT-Martin football team, clawing for playing time behind Jarod Neal, a strong-armed yet erratic junior from nearby Henderson.

Which is where the story of Brett Favre's nephew gets interesting.


Life as Brett's Nephew

See, he isn't supposed to be here. Not on this underwhelming 3-5 team, not in the underwhelming Ohio Valley Conference, not fighting for time at the position he once owned. Football glory was his destiny, as was—he truly believed—an NFL future.

Dylan Favre will tell you so much as long as one understands he's neither bragging nor complaining, that—deep down—he knows 95 percent of his missteps are of his doing.

"I have no one to blame," he says—pinch, drool. "No one else to look at..."

Wait. Stop. At this moment, let's suspend the initial premise. Let's talk about being Brett Favre's nephew and all that comes with the status. Just for a second.

First, the good: Dylan Favre has attended some cool events. He walked the red carpet at the ESPYs, met Samuel L. Jackson and stood on the sidelines in Green Bay tossing balls with Aaron Rodgers before a game. Being Brett Favre's nephew means, on occasion, receiving free sporting goods apparel and bumping into interesting people.

"I once rode to a practice with Dom Capers," he says.

There is a momentary pause, the unspoken mental debate of whether Capers—longtime Packers defensive coordinator—qualifies as interesting.

Now, the bad: Dylan Favre's father is Jeff Favre, Brett's younger brother and a man who only speaks with his sibling on rare occasion. Yet wherever Dylan Favre has gone, he has been compared to Brett. Among other items that have been noted through the years: Dylan's arm isn't as strong as Brett's. Dylan doesn't have Brett's size (nephew stands 5'11"; uncle stands 6'3"). Dylan doesn't have Brett's charisma. Dylan doesn't have Brett's instincts. Dylan doesn't have Brett's savvy or moxie.

"The comparisons are unfair," says Scott Favre, Brett and Jeff's older brother and Dylan's uncle. "How can you live up to the level of a star NFL quarterback?"

Dylan's parents conceived their son when they were students at Hancock High School. Rhonda Doyle was 16 at the time, Jeff a year older. On March 19, 1992, the day his son was born, Jeff was on a recruiting trip to Southern Miss.

"I was a senior, and I wasn't ready for it," Jeff says. "I was surprised, taken aback, not sure what to do. I was still a kid myself. You're told to be responsible, but you're so young. What do you know?"

"I was disappointed," says Bonita Favre, Jeff's mother. "It was a very bad decision, and it was upsetting. But then you think about it, and all you can do is accept and hope for the best."

Baby Dylan was raised by Rhonda and her mother, Cindy, in a small apartment in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, and was bequeathed the last name Doyle. Shortly after Jeff (who played linebacker at Southern Miss) and Rhonda married in 1999, he became Dylan Favre.

"What would have happened had I stayed a Doyle?" he asks. "It'd all probably all be a lot less complicated."


A Vagabond Upbringing

Though Dylan was born in Picayune, Mississippi, his childhood was a wayward one. His father worked as a casino executive, a job that took him from city to city and state to state. When Dylan was five years old, the Favres moved to Muskego, Wisconsin. That was home for two years until they returned to Mississippi.

In fifth grade, Dylan relocated to Livingston, Texas, then shortly thereafter came back to Mississippi again. That didn't hold for long, and the Favres took off for Nixa, Missouri. The stay lasted for two-and-a-half years until yet another homecoming.

It was dizzying and uncomfortable, and the you're-not-Brett jabs probably started, oh, 15 years ago, when Dylan began playing organized youth football. Because Favres play quarterback, Dylan found himself at the position. And he was good—very good. Quick. Smart. Feisty. Instinctive. He threw off his back foot like his uncle, made plays out of nothing like his uncle, improvised like his uncle. But he wasn't his uncle. Couldn't be.

"Ain't too many Favres outside of Mississippi," Dylan says. "People probably figured out we were related."

Dylan completed seventh grade in Kiln, Mississippi, the town where Brett came of age and where most of the Favres still live. He attended Hancock Middle School but transferred to Saint Stanislaus—a Bay St. Louis-based Catholic school with a strong football program—for the 2005-06 academic year.

It took Dylan but a couple of days to recognize a dream setting. The school staff was passionate about sports and seemed to know it was being gifted a future star. For the first time in forever, he felt at home.

"I'm in my second week of school, going through workouts, loving every minute of it," he says. "We were about to play our first game. Then Hurricane Katrina hit."


Mother Nature Intrudes

As he begins the story, Dylan spits, then pauses. The black goop makes a sound when it hits the bottom of the bottle. Splunk. He wipes his lip with a forearm.

While his features remain young and boyish, his words carry the heaviness of a veteran. Oftentimes, there's a subtle sadness to Favre. Unspoken, but present. When you've seen a lot and those around you are worried most about keg parties and the new iPhone, it has a way of revealing itself.

On the afternoon of August 29, 2005, Dylan and a large handful of family members and friends were in Kiln, preparing for the storm inside his grandmother Bonita's home at the end of Irvin Favre Drive.

"We're boarding the windows, making sure we have enough food and gas for the generators," he says. "My grandma had experienced many hurricanes, and she never had much of a problem."

The house, situated at a dead end, is wedged between a lake and the bayou. During especially fierce past storms, water tended to rise up a hill, approach the front door then meekly run back down.

"The main worry were trees falling," Dylan says. "But we weren't scared or anything. Hurricanes are excuses for big parties. You eat, talk, hang out. It can be a good time."

At 6:30 that morning, Dylan woke to the sound of wind whistling against the trees.

"No big deal," he says. "We go outside, and we're watching the storm from the porch. We have that big hill, and the water's rising, but not so we're scared."

As the hours passed, the water crept closer to the house. And closer. And closer. And closer.

"It gets to the front door and starts leaking through the bottom," he says. "Still, no one panicked. The thinking was, 'It'll stop, and we'll just have to replace the floor.'"

The water didn't stop. Before long, it was two feet deep. Then four feet deep. Young children (and two dogs) were placed in the attic space. The water kept rising. Five feet. Six feet.

"All the water backed up all the sewage, and it's all floating through the house," Dylan says. "You would literally see what people put in the toilet floating around the house."

The Favres owned a party barge, and Scott and Jeff swam to the boat, hoping it could provide an escape.

"It wouldn't crank," Dylan says. "They came back. We're all freaking out. I'm crying. My dad and uncle opened a door in the house, and more water came pouring in."

Dylan was 13 and terrified. He glanced out the kitchen window and decided his odds of survival were slim.

"Please let me out!" he begged his father. "I'll take my chance holding onto a tree before I drown in this house."

Ultimately, everyone put on life jackets and swam 50 yards from the home to the nearby pool house, which was raised and, apparently, dry.

"My great grandmother [Izella French, Bonita's mom] was alive, and my dad is swimming her over," Dylan says. "She pukes everywhere, all over him. Everything was gross. Our clothing, our house, our bodies."

That night, all 20 people slept in a single bedroom. The next morning, they woke up to a destroyed house, a destroyed yard, a destroyed town. The mile-long road leading down to the Favre property was covered with downed trees. Dylan and another uncle slowly, carefully navigated their way around the destruction.

"He hands me a pistol because there were reports of looting," says Dylan, chuckling. "I'm in eighth grade, walking down the street with a pistol in my hand."

The recovery would take months. Jeff and Rhonda relocated to Alexandria, Louisiana, where another casino gig awaited. Dylan and Bonita, meanwhile, flew to Green Bay to stay with Brett, his wife Deanna and their two daughters.

"I went from one of the worst times in my life to one of the coolest," he says. "Every morning, I would wake up and go to the stadium with him."

As Brett and the Packers practiced, Dylan would remain inside the locker room, playing video games, eating to his heart's content. He stood on the sidelines during games.

"All my clothing was ruined," he says. "But my uncle had a deal with Nike, and I pretty much got Nike everything—shoes, socks, underwear. It was amazing."

After three head-spinning weeks, Dylan moved yet again. He returned to Nixa to live with a family friend and play football and basketball at Nixa Junior High, where he knew the coaching staff and had a handful of friends.

"Then in January, I moved to Louisiana to be with my family. And I kind of lost it."

He was 13 years old and fed up with rented homes and strange doorbells and unfamiliar pillows and beds that were too hard and too soft but rarely just right. He was tired of new coaches, new offenses, new teammates, new uniforms. He desperately craved familiarity and stability—Mom and Dad be damned.


Finding a Football Home

That's why, come his freshman year of high school, Dylan moved back to Kiln to stay with Bonita and Scott (both live on the same property, in different houses) and attend Saint Stanislaus.

"Not for one or two years," he says. "For four years. To have a home."

It was the time of his life. As a freshman, Dylan quarterbacked the JV team (and played wide receiver and special teams for the varsity) to a 5-1 mark. The varsity football offensive coordinator was Stu Rayburn, a former Kent State quarterback who, over two college seasons in the early 1980s, threw seven touchdowns and 34 interceptions. For whatever he lacked in Division I statistics, however, Rayburn was an offensive visionary.

As the majority of Mississippi high schools operated either the Oklahoma wishbone or the Delaware Wing-T, Rayburn installed a spread formation that placed the quarterback in the shotgun and featured four (and sometimes five) wide receiver sets. The varsity, behind quarterback Chad Boos, ran the offense well. The JV, with Dylan Favre behind center, was a Tchaikovsky symphony.

"There wasn't anything he couldn't do," says Boomer Scarborough, a wide receiver on the team. "He was just electricity, making plays, making big plays. You're talking about a quarterback who was also the hardest worker, the best teammate, the leader. Dylan was a star, no question."

The following season, Dylan took over as varsity quarterback, and the roll continued. Rayburn was now his direct offensive coordinator, and in Favre, he had an on-field extension of his philosophy. Dylan was allowed to audible whenever he felt the need. He carried the ball more than any running back and picked apart opposing defenses to the tune of 36 touchdowns.

"You're talking about someone who threw for more than 3,000 yards as a 10th-grader," says Casey Wittman, the Rockachaws coach at the time. "He had an Archie Manning thing about him where he'd make these awkward sidearm throws that somehow worked. He was all about accuracy, and he was really tough. There aren't many kids at that age who played like he did."

With the success, however, came the comparisons. And the complications. Thanks both to his achievements and his name, Dylan's final three high school seasons were a whirlwind of articles, interviews, news features, hype. He wasn't merely a successful prep quarterback. He was a star. A stud. A wizard. In Happy Days speak, he was the BMOC. Yet he was also, by his own admission, immature and somewhat lost.

He believed his own clippings—partly because they were true, partly because, well, he was a kid. In and of itself, the inflated ego wouldn't have been such a problem. Yet with his parents in another state, Dylan says he often felt as if he were raising himself. Sometimes, he stayed with Bonita. Sometimes, he stayed with Scott. Sometimes, he stayed at this friend's house. Or that friend's house.

He was 15 when he got his first tattoo (his initials on the rear of his forearm), a spur-of-the-moment decision that involved showing up at the nearby parlor and saying, "Um, I guess just do letters—that'll be cool."

As a 10th-grader, Dylan and three friends decided—spur of the moment—to drive the 279 miles to Panama City, Florida, for three days of spring break debauchery.

"I just took off," he says. "It's not like I had to ask Mom and Dad for permission and say, 'Is this OK?' We just hopped in the car and drove. No one ever knew.'"

Dylan came and went as he pleased. He'd sleep on couches, on beds, on cots. When he stayed with Scott, breakfasts were prepared and rides to school offered. But nothing was mandatory. He was allowed to be his own man.

"You never really knew where Dylan would be from day to day," says Scarborough, his teammate and closest friend. "He'd pick and choose and float. Wherever he ended up that week, whatever clothes he had in his truck, there wasn't much to it. He'd stay where he'd stay. Oftentimes that was at our house—which was cool with us. Is that an ideal way to grow up? Probably not. But I think Dylan made it work."


The Glory Days

If Favre emerged as a sophomore, he exploded as a junior, setting a state record with 45 passing touchdowns and rushing for 448 yards and seven more scores. He was named the Sea Coast Echo's Offensive Player of the Year and was a first-team all-district selection. And yet as Division I recruiters prowled the sidelines of Mississippi high school games, seeking out the next generation of college stars, Dylan found himself overlooked and ignored.

Whereas his famous last name and video game-esque statistics made sportswriters drool, his famous last name and video game-esque statistics made scouts wonder whether this was a case of hype trumping substance. They questioned his size, arm strength and ability to run a conventional offense. They wondered whether he knew how to take the snap from under center. Dylan Favre was deemed a quirky curiosity—entertaining to behold, but more question than answer.

Plus, there was the strut. The walk. The smirk. Dylan rubbed many as unlikable even though one is hard-pressed to find those who actually dislike him. In person, he's warm and charming, looks people in the eye and asks about their day. But from afar, the perception wasn't great.

He just seemed like a kid who thought himself God's gift to football. It probably didn't help that Favre says (with the school's blessing) he rarely attended classes on Mondays after games—his time to stay home and reflect.

"I've always had a swagger in football," he says. "I admit that. But I really think a lot of that was perception. People saw my name in the paper all the time, and they thought I saw myself as big time. Which I really didn't. There are people I don't know who can't stand me. It's weird."

"Dylan was cocky, confident...whatever you want to call it," says Forrest Williams, the Saint Stanislaus head coach for Favre's final two seasons. "But not in a malicious or mean way. He knew he was good, and he took pride in what he did."

Favre’s senior season was, by all measures, unparalleled. He completed 341 of 539 passes for 5,539 yards (yes, 5,539 yards), 63 touchdowns (yes, 63 touchdowns). He ran for another 18 touchdowns (yes, 18 touchdowns), intercepted six passes as a safety and averaged 41.4 yards per punt. He was named the state of Mississippi's Mr. Football and 4A Player of the Year.

No one in the history of United States organized high school football has ever scored more touchdowns in a season. Not Barry Sanders. Not Herschel Walker. Not Joe Namath. Not Joe Dudek.

No one.

Favre led his team to a 14-1 mark and its first state championship—a 35-16 win over Lafayette County that still ranks as his No. 1 personal highlight.


A Frustrating Recruiting Process

Surely, the recruiters would now come flocking.

Surely, they'd see the title and the numbers and the highlights and...and...and...


Rivals.com failed to rank Favre among its top 30 in-state prospects.

"Dylan is a limited guy physically," Barton Simmons, one of the service's analysts, said at the time. "He's undersized, maybe 5'10", so that's a concern from the quarterback position. He's put up some great numbers and won a state championship, and I think his greatest attribute may be his competitiveness, but from a physical standpoint, I think he's going to have a hard time playing quarterback in the SEC."

Signing day was February 3, 2010. By mid-December he had a single offer, from Northwestern State—a school he'd never heard of. While attending the Ole Miss football camp before his senior year, Favre had been approached by Houston Nutt, the Rebels head coach.

"You've got a swagger about yourself that I love," Nutt said. "Would you consider maybe trying another position?"

The one college Favre expected to hear from was Southern Mississippi, the school where, 23 years earlier, his uncle rose from sixth-string nobody to legend. Yet throughout his senior season, the Golden Eagles showed no interest.

"I mean, I'm right there in your backyard," Dylan says. "My dad played there, my uncle played there. And...nothing. They offered me a scholarship the night before the state championship game, but I'm sure it was only because of alumni pressure. It was insulting."

Adding to the insult fest, Favre was bypassed for the Under Armour All-America High School Football Game, the nation's elite prep showcase. He did, however, play in the North-South Mississippi All-Star Game on December 19, completing his first 13 passes en route to winning the MVP trophy. In attendance was Dan Mullen, Mississippi State's second-year head coach.

Two weeks later, the primary name on the Bulldogs' quarterback wish list—some kid out of Blinn College named Cameron Newton—committed to Auburn, leaving a gaping hole in the program's recruiting plan. On January 2, 2010, Dylan received the call he'd been waiting for.

"We're offering you a scholarship," Mullen said. "We want you to be a Bulldog."

"It was," says Dylan, "a dream come true. I was going to be an SEC quarterback."


A Dead End at Mississippi State

The worst three-year span of Dylan Favre's relatively charmed life began with the naive hope of emerging as an instant collegiate superstar.

He arrived in Starkville, Mississippi, midway through the summer of 2010 certain that great things awaited. Tyson Lee, Mississippi State's quarterback, had graduated, leaving a wide-open gap in Mullen's offense.

There were three candidates for the job—junior Chris Relf, redshirt freshman Tyler Russell and Favre—and the gunslinger from Kiln believed, in his heart, he was the man.

"I just want a shot to prove myself," he told Sports Illustrated. "I think that's all I need."

Thanks to his pedigree, Favre was one of the hot topics of the incoming class. He played well in practice as well as in the annual Maroon-White spring game. Then, one week before the Sept. 4 opener against Memphis, Favre was sitting with Russell and Relf in a quarterback meeting. Mullen entered the room, and the two players left.

"Dylan," Mullen said, "we're going to redshirt you this season. It's a good thing because..."

Shortly thereafter, Dylan Favre began to cry.

He didn't understand. Hadn't he played well? Wasn't he a proven winner?

"Looking back now, I know Coach was right," he says. "But at the time, no. I was a competitor. I wanted to play and play immediately. It crushed me."

Because he was the third quarterback on the roster, Favre dressed for every game knowing he wouldn't appear. As his fellow redshirts worked out Friday mornings then did as they pleased over the weekends, Favre felt as if he were playing pretend backup quarterback.

He'd travel to away games, slip into a uniform, hear the pep talks up close yet sulk internally.

"Yeah, it's cool seeing some of the amazing stadiums," he says. "Going to Death Valley, going to Alabama. But mostly, it sucked standing there, soaking in the atmosphere but knowing I wasn't a part of it."

The Bulldogs finished the season with a 9-4 mark, destroying Michigan 52-14 in the Gator Bowl. The one thought that kept Favre afloat was that, come 2011, he could no longer be redshirted or ignored. Despite being inactive as a freshman, he studied hard and felt well-versed in Mullen's wide-open offense. On paper, he was competing with Russell for the task of backing up Relf. In his heart, he was shooting for No. 1.

On April 9, 2011, Favre excelled in the Maroon-White spring game, completing 17 of 26 passes for 199 yards and rushing for a team-high 41 yards. He was dashing and energized, and his 24-yard touchdown pass to Robert Johnson was a breathtaking sight.

Five months later, however, Mullen suspended Favre and four teammates for the opener at Memphis, citing "various violations of team rules."

"I was just stupid," Favre says. "Not doing some things I was supposed to do."

Like what?

"Honestly, I don't really want to go back there. But it's painful because we were up big late (the Bulldogs beat Memphis, 59-14), and I probably would have gotten in. Just really dumb of me."

The dumb continued. Favre was restricted to punt coverage in a Week 2 loss at Auburn, then again in a Week 3 setback at No. 3 LSU. On the night of Sept. 15, maybe an hour after returning to his room following the defeat, Favre sat at his computer and, under the now-defunct Twitter handle @DnoB_favre_6no4, wrote, "Is an opportunity too much 2 ask for?" He then went to sleep.

"I had a couple of hundred followers," he says. "When I woke up Sunday morning, I had more than 3,000. I'm like, 'What did I just do?'"

He immediately called Mullen to apologize, and the coach offered a kind word and quick forgiveness. However, the season was quickly spiraling down the toilet. Mississippi State was a mediocre team, and Favre's opportunities rarely came.

He made his collegiate quarterbacking debut at Georgia on Oct. 1, went 0-of-2 passing, accounted for minus-10 yards of offense and barely touched the turf. For the season, he played in nine games, completing 13 of 26 passes for 119 yards and a touchdown. Favre was clearly skilled and athletic, but also lacked any sort of patience or perspective..

On November 19, the Bulldogs traveled to Arkansas, where they were crushed by the No. 6 Razorbacks, 44-17. The only offensive bright spot was Favre, who ran for one touchdown and threw for another. A few days later, Mullen told Favre and Russell that Relf, back from a concussion, would likely play the entire final regular-season game against Ole Miss. Favre seethed, and everyone on the team could feel it.

"Once I found that out, I was already so mad and immature, and I was unable to see the big picture," he says. "I was only seeing right now. The moment. And the truth is, I was a redshirt freshman with plenty of time. But I wanted the ball at that moment, every single play. It was stupid. I was stupid. And I reacted...badly."

Those who know Dylan Favre well—really well—agree his passion is his greatest strength and his stubbornness is his greatest weakness. He says something, he stands by it. He makes a decision, the decision sticks. It matters not if he's proven wrong, shown a different way, made to understand alternative methods. No. When Dylan puts his foot down, he rarely—if ever—picks it back up.

Even though Mississippi State routed Ole Miss, 31-3, Favre found the experience to be an intolerable one. Instead of cheering on his teammates or making suggestions to Relf, Favre pouted. Now, some three years removed, he admits it was selfish and petulant, that he allowed football frustration to engulf his life. But at the time, the pain was real.

When the game ended, Favre sought out Mullen to tell him he would not be sticking around for whatever bowl game the Bulldogs might qualify for. He wanted to go elsewhere. He wanted to be a star.

"That's fine," Mullen said. "I hope it works out for you."


Dylan Hits Rock Bottom

Considering its considerable charm, its breathtaking beaches, its grassy plains and eye-catching landscapes, the state of Mississippi can offer a whole lot of physical ugly.

Thanks to BP, rainbow-hued oil slicks continue to plague too much of the Gulf. Thanks to the intensive heat, there are wide, unflattering swaths of dry, brown nothingness. Jackson, the capital city, is rundown and dilapidated in spots—one boarded-up window after another.

Yet when it comes to pure dreariness, few places match the inside of a cell at the Pearl River County Jail, where random hair follicles reign supreme, peeling paint dangles from the walls like dead bugs in discarded webs, and toilets are repositories for lingering excrement samples from inmates past.

This may well be one of the worst places in America.

This is where, for three nights in April 2012, Dylan Favre resided. Still, to this day, the experience scars Favre like few other moments from his life.

The initial trouble began shortly after midnight on April 19, when Favre's silver Dodge Charger was pulled over by police for not having a functioning taillight. At the time, he was in Poplarville, Mississippi, to work out with his new teammates at Pearl River Community College, the place where, Favre presumed, he'd spend one year before landing at Hawaii or Texas Tech or one of countless Division I programs.

Years earlier, Scott Favre, Dylan's uncle, starred as a quarterback for the Wildcats, and he strongly encouraged Dylan to follow suit.

"They threw a lot, they had strong teams," says Scott. "I was a big influence in him going there. I feel very guilty for that."

On this morning, with the sky dark and the police lights flashing, Dylan watched as officers removed three bags of marijuana, empty sandwich bags and a set of digital scales. He was charged with possession of a controlled substance with intent to distribute.

"Stupid," he says now, still spitting tobacco juice, still holding a bottle. "Just really, really stupid..."

He was handcuffed, loaded into the rear of a police car and taken to Pearl River County Jail. When he closes his eyes, Favre can still picture the cell.

"There was a bench shaped like an L," he says. "They gave me a little mat, a toothbrush, a little cup to get water out of the sink, then a sheet. It was gross. There was hair all over the floor. Dirt, too. It was freezing. I tried to sleep the time away, but I couldn't sleep. I had to put on the yellow jump suit, and they gave me some Crocs. You had to put stuff in your hair so you don't spread lice. They spray you down, rub it in your scalp. You're not a person. You're an animal."

Shortly after being admitted, Dylan was granted one phone call. He thought about his parents. His grandmother. His Uncle Scott. Then, he picked the person whose voice he needed most to hear. Her name was Brianna McLeod, an Evans, Georgia, native and junior soccer player at Mississippi State. The two initially met during a freshman class, Life Skills of a College Athlete, and shared a passion for sports and conditioning.

They were, on the surface, opposites—the African-American daughter of a Harvard-educated physician; the white kid from rural Mississippi.

"We were just friends at first," McLeod says. "My freshman year, I tore every ligament in my left knee and was on crutches. From that first day, if Dylan saw me crutching somewhere, he'd offer a ride, help me get to class, help carry my stuff. He'd come watch movies with me because there weren't many places I could go."

Friendship morphed into love, and when Dylan initially told her of his plans to leave the SEC powerhouse for a middle-of-nowhere junior college, McLeod urged him to reconsider.

"Not for myself or any selfish reasons," she says. "Honestly, I just thought it was shortsighted and kind of dumb. But Dylan does what he wants to do. It's hard to convince him otherwise."

Now, in the early hours of April 19, McLeod picked up her cell phone, unsure of what she was hearing. Was that Dylan...crying?

"I thought he was joking at first because I'd never seen this boy cry, I'd never heard this boy cry," she says. "When I realized he was serious, I asked what he wanted me to do. He didn't really have an answer—he just told me he wanted to explain why he wasn't answering his phone."

Over a span of 72 hours, as his lawyer tried to get his release, Dylan Favre sat in his cell and thought. He thought about awful mistakes. He thought about the possible ruination of his football career. He thought about the embarrassment he brought upon his family. He thought about Brianna having to explain this to her parents. He thought and thought and thought and thought.

"As soon as I saw my grandma after my release, I bawled," he says. "I was ashamed and embarrassed."

Dylan pauses to think about this. Spits out tobacco juice yet again.

"It's weird," he says. "That was as low as I've ever been. But I wouldn't change it. You sometimes need moments like that—really bad, really awful moments—to wake you up. I always had things go my way. Then I was sitting in jail. I think it served a purpose for me. Maturity, maybe."

The news went viral—almost always presented beneath a headline that included the familiar words "Brett Favre's Nephew." Tim Hatten, the Pearl River football coach, had no choice but to suspend Dylan—more out of public relations survival than genuine intent to punish.

"The truth is, what hurt Dylan most was his name," says Hatten. "If he wasn't related to Brett Favre, it's not even news. I was aware of that. Plus, I've always devoted myself to giving kids second chances, third chances, to turn things around. I wasn't going to give up on Dylan."

Favre was placed in a pretrial diversion program, which allows first-time, non-violent offenders the chance to not have a criminal record as long as they complete a series of goal-oriented, community service-related conditions, which Favre did.


The Pearl River Mistake

The quarterback was reinstated in time for the season and returned to endure the worst beating of his career. Favre had envisioned Pearl River as a glorious stepping stone; he'd inevitably dominate the lesser competition en route to a full scholarship elsewhere.

There was just one problem: The 2012 Pearl River Wildcats stunk. The offensive line was abysmal. The receivers were, with rare exception, Division III-caliber. During his amazing high school run, Favre would drop back and have a good five...six...seven seconds to throw. Here, it was one, two—splat!

On September 1, the team traveled to Scooba, Mississippi, to face East Mississippi—and was walloped, 35-15. Pearl River followed with a triumph over Mississippi Delta then lost five of seven. It was, by all measures, a complete failure. The stands were usually packed with invisible entities. Division I scouts rarely showed up.

His statistics (16 touchdown passes, 15 interceptions, 2,204 yards passing) were unremarkable. In the third game of the season, a 39-34 loss to Jones County Junior College, a defensive lineman named Julian Boochie slammed into Favre's right knee, tearing the meniscus. As he stood on the sideline, tears streamed down Dylan's cheeks. He turned to Hatten.

"Coach, this is not how it was supposed to go," he said. "Not at all."

One weekend later, against Coahoma Community College, Favre released a pass as a Tigers lineman drove him backward into the ground, left shoulder first. The pain shot through his body, and when he rose, he felt his collarbone touching his shoulder pad.

"My season probably should have ended right there," he says. "My knee is messed up, my shoulder is messed up. But if I sit, we'd have won one game out of four, and my college career probably ends. I couldn't go out like that."

Favre returned the following week and played out the season. He was, Brianna says, far from the ideal teammate or student.

"He was home all the time at his grandma's," she says of Bonita's house, a 40-minute drive from campus. "He probably went to some classes, and he probably did some workouts. But mostly, he stayed in Kiln, as far away from Pearl River as possible. I can't blame him—he was miserable. Nothing went right that year. Nothing."

Well, there was one thing. Depending on how you look at it.


Life Interrupts Football

She felt weird.

That's the best way Brianna McLeod describes it. Just, weird. Not right.

In the summer of 2012, leading up to her junior year at Mississippi State, her body was...off. Yes, she'd skipped her period. But that happens, right? Certainly to athletes in the heat of training.

Regardless, en route to visiting Dylan at his Uncle Scott's house that July, she picked up a home pregnancy test from the local drugstore.

"I didn't tell Dylan what I was thinking because I didn't want to upset him with a false alarm," she says. "But it was on my mind."

It was a weekend night when she slipped into the bathroom to take the test. Dylan was on the couch watching his favorite film, Friday. The room was dark.

"I came up to him, and I was really, really quiet," Brianna says.

"What's the matter?" Dylan asked, pausing the movie.

Brianna began to cry. "I'm pregnant," she said. "I just took the test. I'm pregnant."

Three months earlier, Dylan sat in a jail cell, bemoaning life. Now, he sat in a living room, numb. But not numb in the traditional sense.

"I was shocked, but excited," he says.

He thought about his own childhood, about coming and going and going and coming, about seeing his parents then not seeing them.

"It's going to be OK," he said. "Let's go to the doctor and find out for sure. But it's OK. I love you. I know I want to be with you. Stop crying. I know we're gonna make this work."

Truth be told, he didn't know. His dreams of being a professional football player were all but dead. His SEC scholarship was gone. He was about to play awful football for an awful football team.

"I don't think it hit me until much later," he says. "I don't get how you can be fully prepared for that sort of news."

With her pregnancy confirmed, Brianna dropped out of college to live with her parents in Evans, Georgia. Dylan played out the season at Pearl River, head foggy, mind racing.

"I was arrested in April," he says. "I found out I was going to be a dad in June. Then in September and October, I had two injuries that would later require surgery. It was a very strange year."

The one thing he truly believed was that his football career had ended. Pearl River was an unmitigated disaster. No colleges—Division I, II or III—were in the market for unproductive, injury-prone, undersized quarterbacks with arrest records and pregnant girlfriends.

"Nobody was after me," he says. "I was old news."


A Helping Hand

Then, a rare stroke of fortune. The University of Tennessee-Martin employed a quarterback coach named Eric Stuedemann, who had been a graduate assistant at Mississippi State during Favre's time at the school. Though Dylan Favre was a cold product, the Skyhawks—members of the Football Championship Subdivision—didn't have the luxury of ignoring former Division I players. Especially when they came recommended.

Stuedemann was insistent that Favre had matured and would be an enormous asset to Martin's offense. It hardly hurt that Jason Simpson, the team's head coach, had attended Southern Miss, where he starred in baseball at the same time Jeff Favre played football.

With some trepidation, he invited Dylan for a campus visit. The quarterback arrived with his left arm in a sling, a result of postseason shoulder surgery.

"Here's the truth...Dylan had a bad reputation," says Simpson. "He had baggage. There were some coaches who warned me not to take him. Two, in particular, said he'd ruin the program. But then you meet Dylan. And you know what? He's personable and funny. He's passionate. I was drawn to him, and I could see he was hungry for another chance."

Favre accepted a scholarship offer from Martin and moved to campus for the spring 2013 semester. He was happy to have a home but heartbroken over being apart from his pregnant girlfriend, who remained in Georgia with a rapidly expanding belly. There are 533 miles separating Martin and Evans, and while he visited as often as possible, it wasn't an easy journey.

On the afternoon of Friday, March 1, Dylan told Brianna—18 days away from the due date—that he wanted to delay his latest trip for one day. He was tired, he'd endured a taxing practice that morning, it was a relentless drive.

"Well," she said, "it would really suck if I went into labor today."

"Fine," he said. "I'll take a nap then start driving."

There was no way the baby—a boy, they knew—would arrive so soon. The due date was March 19, one day before Dylan's birthday. He was convinced it was meant to be. Father and son would share a birthday.

At 12:30 in the morning on March 2, Dylan texted Brianna from Atlanta. He was two hours away. After reading the words, she went to the bathroom.

"That," she says, "is when my water broke."

This is how the texts went:


Dylan: YOU SURE?

Brianna: YES!!

Dylan called his mom, who assured him these things take time. Then Brianna's mother, Sonia, timed her contractions, which were four minutes apart. Four minutes!

She called Dylan—"Drive fast," she said. "This baby is coming well before tomorrow." Jeff Favre texted his son—IF YOU GET A SPEEDING TICKET, I'LL PAY FOR IT.

That was all he needed to hear. Dylan averaged, oh, 95 mph en route to Augusta's University Hospital. He barged into the delivery room at 2:20.

"I'm here!" he shouted. "I'm finally here!"

Xavier DeWayne Favre was born at 2:56.


Finding a New Identity

There's an unwritten rule in the world of sports journalism: Endings need to work out.

There has to be a last-second Hail Mary that's snagged from midair by the undersized runt with the heart of gold. There has to be a record set, a roster spot earned, a glorious final on-field scene that makes the entire piece worth reading.

Well, sorry.

Dylan Favre's career as a UT-Martin quarterback has been, at best, OK. Last season, while splitting time with Neal, he started five games, throwing for 1,081 yards, nine touchdowns and five interceptions. There were some good moments (he tossed three touchdowns in a 24-23 upset of No. 7 Central Arkansas) and some boneheaded ones (he fumbled six times on 60 carries).

He ranked second in the nation with a 71.1 completion percentage but also whined when his playing time was cut. This year, playing infrequently for a bad team, Favre has thrown two touchdowns and three interceptions. His one start, against Jacksonville State on Oct. 4, was awful. He completed just six of 20 passes for 25 yards. The Skyhawks lost 38-14, prompting the school's website to run the awesomely optimistic headline, "Satterfield Breaks School Punt Record but Skyhawks Fall." He hasn't appeared in the last two games—both UT-Martin victories.

"Dylan is a good player," says Neal. "But he's spastic. He's always moving around a lot, running a lot. He's got his uncle in him. That gunslinger mentality. He's anything but prototypical."

"Dylan probably hasn't had the career he's wanted," says Simpson. "And I feel bad about that. He expected big things of himself. But I also think he's probably OK with life. Maybe that's surprising, but I really think so."

Indeed. When Xavier was born, Dylan decided he would drop out of UT-Martin and move to Georgia, where he could be with his girlfriend and newborn and finish his degree requirements at Augusta State College.

"You're an idiot," Brianna told him. "Your education is being paid for. What are you thinking?"

Dylan acquiesced but with the understanding that they find a way to be together. Last July, four months after the birth, Brianna and Xavier relocated to Martin.

"My parents were terribly sad," says Brianna, who is enrolled in school as an occupational therapy major. "They wanted us to stay so they could help raise their grandson. But a family needs to be together. And me, Dylan and Xavier—we're a family."

These days, as a forgettable football season comes to a close and the Martin leaves turn from green to yellow to brown, Dylan Favre's existence revolves not around the game he once lived and died for, but the child who waddles back and forth, a nonstop blur of motion.

Inside their off-campus apartment in a development called The Meadows, Dylan and Brianna spend most of their time chasing Xavier from room to room, picking up his pacifier, cleaning out bottles, changing dirty diapers. He is a handsome boy with his mother's eyes and his father's smile, and when he picks up the ball lying at his feet, it zips across the room with notable velocity.

"If I could change some things, would I?" says Dylan, who will graduate at semester's end with a degree in accounting. "Maybe. But at the end of the day, I can't ask for much more. I mean that. I have a son who's healthy, who brightens my day regardless of what happens. Which is big time for me. Because back when I was only concerned with football, football, football, everything in my life depended on how I played. The decisions I made, the mood I was in, how I interacted with other people. If I had a bad day, I would be so mad about it. I didn't even want to see anybody.

"Now, I come home every day—whether I had a good day or a bad day—and as soon as I walk in the door and see my son, he's saying 'Dah! Dah!' He's smiling and wanting to play. It sounds silly, but I mean it. How can anything else bring me down after that?"

He grins knowing that, at long last, his days being known as Brett Favre's nephew are coming to an end.

He is now, simply, Dylan Favre.

Xavier Favre's dad.

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Georgia Football: Bulldogs' Incredible Defensive Turnaround Deserves Praise

Talk all you want about freshman running back Nick Chubb’s emergence as a replacement for star running back Todd Gurley, but the Georgia Bulldogs defense is the most praiseworthy facet of this team.

Just a few short weeks ago, the high expectations for new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt seemed patently misplaced.  Entering October, the Bulldogs were 3-1 but had more than a few causes for alarm on defense. 

A Week 3 loss to South Carolina fell, by Pruitt’s own admission, squarely on the shoulders of the defense.  “You ought to be raking me over the coals,” he told Chip Towers of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution regarding blame for the loss to the Gamecocks.  He had a point given the 27 first downs, 447 yards and 38 points surrendered to the Gamecocks.

Just two weeks later, it took late-game heroics and 208 rushing yards from Gurley to survive against a mediocre Tennessee team as Volunteers quarterback Justin Worley torched the Bulldogs for 264 passing yards and three touchdowns.

Things looked bleak for Georgia off the field as well.  Junior college transfer Shattle Fenteng, who was expected to contribute in the secondary, underwent surgery in late September and was ruled out for the season.  A few days later, Sheldon Dawson, a contributor at cornerback, was dismissed from the team.  Then, defensive back Rico Johnson was medically disqualified and freshman cornerback Shaquille Jones was dismissed.

For a team in desperate need of answers, things went from bad to worse over the course of just a few days.  By conventional logic, the indefinite suspension of Gurley, which was announced two days prior to an October 11 date at Missouri, would put further pressure on the defense and likely sink the team.

But then it didn’t.

To that end, the cohesive rally of Georgia’s offense, led by Chubb, has stolen headlines.  But lost in that deserving tale of defiance by the seemingly down-and-out Dawgs is the fact that Pruitt’s defense has turned things around decisively.

And while the offense has made do by plugging in more-than-competent talent to replace a star, the defense has played to a different tune—one composed equally of steady reliance on its existing strength and ongoing improvement in an area of concern.

That strength, of course, is the Bulldogs front seven, and that unit is no secret.  Amarlo Herrera and Ramik Wilson continue to pace the team with 57 and 55 tackles respectively from their middle linebacking spots.  Jordan Jenkins and Leonard Floyd terrorize opposing quarterbacks from the outside with their quick first steps and use of leverage.  To date, the two outside pass-rushers have combined for 12.5 tackles for loss,  8.5 sacks and an astonishing 32 quarterback pressures.

And the defensive line has certainly done its job in eating up space, occupying blockers and making plays in the backfield.  Ray Drew, who appeared lost in the depth chart this spring, has racked up 10 quarterback pressures.  Toby Johns, Sterling Bailey and Mike Thornton have been persistent forces as well.

Ironically, improved play in the secondary has furthered the showcase of Georgia’s athletic front seven.  In that light, Pruitt’s defensive backs’ ongoing improvement has been the most pleasant surprise of the past few weeks.  This unit is playing knowledgeably within the defensive scheme, aggressively when necessary and with a newfound sense of urgency.  The result is a higher success ratio in one-on-one matchups and more time for the defensive front to disrupt.

And these improvements are widespread in the secondary.  Damian Swann, who has started more than 30 games over the course of his Bulldogs career, has never played better.  On Monday, he was named SEC Defensive Player of the Week.  On the other end of the experience spectrum, true freshman Dominick Sanders has risen from unheralded recruit to full-time starter and star.

The stellar play of the defensive line and linebackers and marked improvement of cornerbacks and safeties has vested itself in stellar performance—even from a statistical standpoint.  Georgia ranks 19th in the nation in scoring defense, 16th in yards allowed per game and 11th in turnovers forced.

But perhaps the most telling improvement of this Georgia defense is on a game-by-game basis.

Georgia has held each of its last three opponents below their season scoring average, and on the year, only two opponents (Tennessee and Vanderbilt) have surpassed their average yard production against Georgia. 

Yesterday, ESPN analyst and former Bulldogs David Pollack told ESPN Radio (per Chance Linton of 247Sports) that Pruitt was making “a big difference.”  He added, “I think you gotta start paying more attention to Georgia now.”

Future opponents probably are taking notice.  And it’s not just the Georgia offense they’re worried about.


Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand and all stats courtesy of GeorgiaDogs.com. 

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2015 Recruits Who Could Change the Fortunes of Struggling 2014 Teams

The benefits of scoring big victories on the recruiting trail can quickly change the fortunes of a program that is struggling on the field. 

For example, take the 2013 class that Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze and his staff put together—a class that finished No. 8 nationally

In the two years prior to signing that class, the Rebels went 9-16. Since then, they’ve gone 15-5, including a 7-0 start this year and a current ranking of No. 3 nationally in the polls.

There are several recruits in the 2015 class who could help struggling programs turn things around quickly.

Which 2015 recruits could change the fortunes of teams who are struggling in 2014? 


Recruits are listed in alphabetical order.


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Florida State Football: Star Freshmen Have Answered the Call

Travis Rudolph's progress in the preseason was evident as he practiced to glowing reviews from coach Jimbo Fisher and teammates. And while a foot injury slowed him at times, Rudolph is one of a large group of freshmen that have answered the call and had an impact on the Florida State football team.

Rudolph had his best game against Notre Dame, grabbing six passes for 80 yards and a touchdown in the first quarter of Florida State's 31-27 win on Saturday night. Of Rudolph's six catches, one was an 11-yard touchdown pass from Jameis Winston and four went for a first down.

"I think he's got a chance to be a very good player and he's developing in a lot of ways," FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said.

No. 2 FSU needed freshmen and sophomore receivers to emerge this fall after Kelvin Benjamin left early for the NFL and senior Kenny Shaw graduated. While FSU returned top receiver Rashad Greene and tight end Nick O'Leary, there were plenty of holes to fill.

Rudolph, a 5-star receiver from West Palm Beach, Florida, didn't play much in FSU's first three games as he recovered from a foot injury. He had his first reception in the win at North Carolina State on Sept. 27 and had his first touchdown a week later in a win over Wake Forest. Rudolph has 17 catches for 232 yards and two touchdowns this season, helping to turn what was a depleted group into one of the strengths of the offense.

"Travis Rudolph is going to be an amazing player," Winston said. "You can't be prouder than a young guy just stepping up in the clutch."

FSU has had plenty of players hit the field for the first time this season and help the Seminoles to a 7-0 start heading into the bye week. In addition to Rudolph, Let's take a look at FSU's true and redshirt freshmen who have made significant contributions this fall:


Five that have made an impact

Dalvin Cook

The true freshman from Miami, a 5-star prospect who was Florida's Mr. Football in 2013, helped FSU wear down Syracuse with a 122-yard effort. With Karlos Williams (ankle) out, and fill-in starter Mario Pender (ankle) injured in the first half, Cook had a season-high 23 carries. He has run for 270 yards and three touchdowns this season.


Lorenzo Featherston

The 4-star defensive end from Greensboro, North Carolina, leads the true freshmen with 17 tackles. He had a breakout game at N.C. State with five tackles and a forced fumble and then added seven tackles and a fumble recovery against Wake Forest.


Ryan Hoefeld

Austin Barron was just getting settled in at center when he fractured his arm in the win over Wake Forest. Hoefeld, a redshirt freshman who was a 3-star prospect from New Orleans, played well in the final three quarters against the Demon Deacons and made his first start in a loud dome at Syracuse. While Notre Dame constantly brought pressure up the middle, Hoefeld was better in the second half. And that kind of challenge early in his career will only help his progress.


Jacob Pugh

The 4-star linebacker from Tallahassee had a huge night against Notre Dame, intercepting a second-quarter pass and then picking off Everett Golson's final throw of the night. While the true freshman is viewed often as a rush end, he also showed that he was in the right place at the right time in pass coverage. Pugh has eight tackles in 2014.


Matthew Thomas

The 5-star linebacker from Miami played quite well against Notre Dame after serving an NCAA-mandated six-game suspension. While FSU often plays just two linebackers in its 4-2-5 scheme, Thomas had six tackles against the Fighting Irish and the redshirt freshman showed that he deserves increased playing time.


Three others to watch

Derrick Nnadi

The true freshman, a 4-star defensive tackle from Virginia Beach, Virginia, has made eight tackles, seeing playing time as a reserve and giving coaches another option when Nile Lawrence-Stample was lost for the season with a torn pectoral muscle.


Ermon Lane

The 4-star receiver from Homestead, Florida, has made five catches for 105 yards, although most of the true freshman's playing time came earlier in the year. But he will be in line for increased playing time in 2015.


Trey Marshall

The 4-star defensive back from Lake City, Florida, has missed the last three games with a concussion. But the true freshman played well as a reserve earlier in the year and had four tackles.


Bob Ferrante is the Florida State Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bob on Twitter. All stats are courtesy of seminoles.com. All recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.

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