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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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Everything You Need to Know About Oregon QB Commit Travis Waller in 30 Seconds

Travis Waller is a 4-star dual-threat quarterback who is committed to Oregon. He is a fantastic athlete with loads of potential.

Bleacher Report's college football team sat down to get to know the future Duck a little bit better.

What sort of impact can Travis Waller have for the Ducks?

Watch the video and let us know! 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Everything You Need to Know About Oregon QB Commit Travis Waller in 30 Seconds

Travis Waller is a 4-star dual-threat quarterback who is committed to Oregon. He is a fantastic athlete with loads of potential. Bleacher Report's college football team sat down to get to know the future Duck a little bit better...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Todd Gurley Applies for Reinstatement: Latest Details, Comments and Reaction

Todd Gurley may soon commence his domination of SEC defenses. After being suspended by the University of Georgia after allegedly taking impermissible benefits, the junior has applied for reinstatement. The school released a statement on the decision Wednesday:

Since completing its initial review of the eligibility matter involving UGA student-athlete Todd Gurley on October 9, the University has been supporting Todd and cooperating with his legal counsel as they review the matter.

Todd has confirmed his desire to seek reinstatement, and the University fully supports Todd's request. The University plans to file the necessary paperwork with the NCAA later today.

Gurley talked about the process in the statement, as did his attorney:

'I want to thank the University, coaches, teammates and the Bulldog Nation for their patience and support,' Gurley said. '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.'

Gurley’s attorney, William King, said, 'Todd has taken responsibility for his actions and is ready to rejoin his teammates. The University has been great throughout the past two weeks and has done everything it can to support Todd. I would especially like to thank President Morehead, Greg McGarity and Coach Richt for standing by Todd.'

Gurley, who was considered a Heisman favorite before his suspension, has been held out of two games due to the investigation. The school suspended him Oct. 9 for "an alleged violation of NCAA rules" to investigate claims he received a cash payment in exchange for autographing memorabilia. Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated reported Gurley was paid $400 for his signature on 80 items.

"I'm obviously very disappointed," Georgia head coach Mark Richtsaid in a statement at the time.

The situation drew comparisons to a similar case involving former Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel. In 2013, Manziel was investigated for allegedly signing autographs for brokers on multiple occasions, accepting thousands of dollars for his signature following his Heisman-winning freshman campaign. The NCAA ultimately found no proof of wrongdoing despite circumstantial evidence, though Manziel was suspended for a half for allowing his likeness to be improperly used.

Gurley's lengthier absence was mostly due to timing. The NCAA and Texas A&M had more than three weeks to investigate the claims and clear Manziel's name—all happening before the regular season began. Gurley was suspended midway through the season; in the two games he missed, the 6-1 Bulldogs took down Missouri (34-0) and Arkansas (45-32).

The standard suspension for accepting impermissible benefits in the $400 range is two games. 

In the season's first five games, Gurley rushed for 773 yards and eight touchdowns on 94 carries. He and Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott were viewed as co-favorites for the Heisman Trophy, with the victor likely being the one whose team had the most success down the stretch.

Gurley has no legitimate shot at winning the Heisman even if he is reinstated for Georgia's next game versus Florida; he's probably out of the running for every major collegiate award. Even if he has a stellar stretch run to the season, there will likely be a sect of voters who will outright refuse to award someone accused of wrongdoing. 

That said, Gurley's potential return would allow him to put his talents on display for pro scouts. Before the scandal, he was viewed as a contender to break the two-year streak of running backs not going in the first round—the first two such years in NFL history. While there will be a small sect of NFL teams that are turned off a bit by the ordeal, it's unlikely this situation will do much harm to his stock.

Manziel, after all, was the No. 22 overall pick in the 2014 draft despite character concerns. This is the only transgression on Gurley's record. Odds are, he'll recover from this. 

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter.

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Contender or Pretender: Which 1-Loss Teams Have the Best Chance to Make the CFP?

With the new College Football Playoff format established, one loss on your record doesn't necessarily have the same negative impact on your playoff hopes.  

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Barrett Sallee sift through the one-loss teams to establish their contender and pretender status. 

Which one-loss team will make it to the College Football Playoff?

Watch the video and let us know!

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Michigan Football: Could a Win over Michigan State Save Brady Hoke's Job?

Brady Hoke is barely hanging on to his job in the midst of his team’s collapse that began last season with a 29-6 loss to Michigan State. Since then, the Wolverines are 4-9 as they prepare for another visit to East Lansing, thanks to an unkind scheduling quirk.

Hoke desperately needs a victory over Michigan’s instate rival to save his job.

The fates of the two teams stand in stark contrast since they last met. Michigan State went on to win the Big Ten Championship followed by a Rose Bowl victory—all goals that Hoke has striven for and failed to attain since returning to Ann Arbor.

Michigan went into a tailspin, finishing in the basement of the Big Ten and getting embarrassed in a minor bowl game. Hoke also had to answer uncomfortable questions about how he handled the suspension of kicker Brendan Gibbons and Taylor Lewan, whose temper got him in trouble both on and off-the-field.

This season, Michigan State picked up where it left off and is competing for another Big Ten title while fighting for a berth in the the inaugural College Football Playoff. Michigan also stayed on the same course, spiraling down as Hoke was once again forced to answer uncomfortable questions—this time about the team’s handling of backup quarterback Shane Morris’ head injury and his team’s failure to generate offense.

Hoke is under fire from all sides: Fans are disappointed in his team’s performance; the national media for his garbled response on the Morris injury; his own boss, athletic director David Brandon, even threw him under the bus, releasing a contradictory late-night statement less than 24 hours later after Hoke talked with the media about Morris.

But even as Hoke’s fate seems all but sealed, his current players seem united in defending him.

Statements to the press are nice, but Hoke needs victories and a bowl berth to have any chance of returning next season.

The Michigan offense came out strong in its first game versus Appalachian State but has stuttered and failed since. The offensive line that reeked last season has only marginally improved. Freshman phenoms Jabrill Peppers and Freddy Canteen have all but disappeared while injuries on both sides of the ball have taken a toll on Michigan’s depth.

The nation will be watching this game, expecting a Michigan State beatdown and waiting to gauge if the Spartans are worthy of making the playoffs despite an early-season loss to Oregon. The stage is set for Michigan to put on an old-school performance that Hoke has been promising since he took over as head coach.

The odds against Hoke saving his job are long; but any hope hinges on Michigan’s performance this Saturday. Unfortunately for him, Michigan State is too talented and too focused on a larger mission to get tripped up by a struggling Michigan squad.

Michigan will fight for Hoke, but just putting up a good fight won't be enough to save his job.

 

Phil Callihan is a featured writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations obtained firsthand

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Looking Down Proud: Dak Prescott's Late Mom Knew He Would Win Heisman

Dak Prescott has been opening eyes with his outstanding play this season for the Mississippi State Bulldogs. The junior signal-caller has skyrocketed to the top of many Heisman Trophy boards. 

What many don't know is the story of his late mother, Peggy Prescott, and one of her wishes for her talented son. 

Bleacher Report took some time to sit down with Prescott and head coach Dan Mullen to hear his inspiring story.

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College Football Week 9 Schedule: TV and Live Stream Info for Every Game

College football pollsters certainly could use an upset-free weekend to help catch their breath. But if we've learned anything from the first two months of the season, it's not to count out the improbable even when it's not predictable. 

Spectacularly enough, only two matchups between Top 25 teams will hit viewers' television sets this weekend. There may not be Top 10 showdowns in the SEC or two College Football Playoff-caliber teams going at it, but that doesn't mean we're in for a boring weekend by any stretch now that the conference slate in full swing.

Will SEC elites Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Alabama continue pushing for a CFP spot, or will they fall victim to a conference upset? What about Kansas State's perfect Big 12 start? Will it be derailed by a Texas team looking to get Charlie Strong his first marquee win?

Florida State, Notre Dame, Auburn and more might be off this weekend, but plenty of questions are set to be answered in Week 9.

 

Note: Week 9 schedule courtesy of ESPN.com

 

Live Stream Note

More college football live streams may be available at the following websites. Subscriptions may be required for many of them:

WatchESPN.com

CBSSports.com

BTN2Go.com

Pac-12.com

NBC Live Extra

ABC Live

Fox Sports Go

 

Game of the Week

No. 3 Ole Miss at No. 24 LSU

The Ole Miss Rebels are new at being the hunted instead of the hunters, but they're not showing it, sprinting past every tough test in their way. Saturday, they'll visit an LSU team tired of being the punching bag in a SEC West that it used to rule.

It's not the marquee matchup of the weekend that we've grown accustomed to experiencing in October (see Notre Dame-Florida State or Auburn-Mississippi State). But on a weekend in which most of the nation's elite won't be tested, this game has the best chance to be a memorable one.

Fittingly, ESPN College GameDay will be there:

These two teams are in very different positions than last year. Hugh Freeze notched his first huge win at Ole Miss by topping then-No. 6 LSU. Now, it's Les Miles needing a win to generate some momentum for his fanbase, and Freeze is the one with his eyes set on a national title.

It's not really a secret as to why, either. LSU hasn't found continuity on offense, and its run defense has been a big problem after losing a heap of defensive talent to the NFL in recent seasons. 

On the other hand, Ole Miss' recent top recruiting classes are now sophomore and junior playmakers balanced out by experienced leaders such as quarterback Bo Wallace, cornerback Senquez Golson and defensive lineman Denzel Nkemdiche. 

Facing such a big-time team at home has the energetic Miles giddy for Saturday to come, per The News-Star's (Monroe) Glenn Guilbeau:

'This game here is one that you will enjoy,' said LSU coach Les Miles, who basically turned his press conference Monday into a promotional ad as he asked fans to attend, eat, stay late and be merry. 'I can tell you, it will be a magical place, and you will add to it. So to that crowd that will come in—come on! Let's have some fun!'

An Ole Miss letdown was almost expected after the Alabama win, but the Rebels instead trounced both Texas A&M and Tennessee. But even in what's been a down year, LSU has shown it can wear opponents down with a bruising run game.

And after all, those only two losses were to Auburn and Mississippi State.

Ole Miss has already shown it belongs in that category, but elite teams have to be at their best every week in the cutthroat SEC. The Rebels have shown they have the superior talent, but crazy things can happen in Death Valley. 

Another resounding win will have more clamoring that Ole Miss is deserving of the No. 1 spot over Mississippi State, but a loss will put the Rebels' CFP hopes on life support.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Khaylan Thomas to Arizona State: Sun Devils Land 4-Star LB Prospect

Todd Graham landed a major addition to his 2015 recruiting class Tuesday, securing the commitment of 4-star outside linebacker Khaylan Thomas.

A star out of Etiwanda High School in Rancho Cucamonga, California, Thomas chose Arizona State over Oregon, Oklahoma, UCLA and Arizona, among other top programs. He announced the news on Twitter:

He talked about his decision, via Scout.com's Greg Biggins:

I'm very excited to be a Sun Devil. I've honestly been leaning to ASU since the summer after my visit there. "I thought I wanted to take my trips and go through the process but the more I thought about it, the more I knew I wanted to be a Sun Devil. I woke up this morning and it just felt right to me so I decided now was the best time to go ahead and do it and get it over with.

Thomas is ranked No. 271 overall in the class of 2015 by the 247Sports' composite rankings. He is 20th in America among outside linebackers, and No. 35 in the state of California.

CronkiteSports.com's Adam Stites noted the positive effect on the class ranking for Arizona State, which also picked up a recruitment from the nation's top junior college linebacker, Davon Durant, on Tuesday:

Thomas is an explosive, instinctual talent who brings a physical, hard-hitting style. Biggins offered a comparison to former Sun Devils stud and current NFL standout Vontaze Burfict. It's high praise, but it's an understandable connection to make when you see Thomas' punishing hits:

At 6'2" and 210 pounds, he could stand to add some bulk, but that will come once he gets onto a college campus.

Arizona State has churned out some impressive linebacking talent—Burfict and Terrell Suggs, to name a few—over the years, and Thomas looks to be another tantalizing addition.

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Khaylan Thomas to Arizona State: Sun Devils Land 4-Star LB Prospect

Todd Graham landed a major addition to his 2015 recruiting class Tuesday, securing the commitment of 4-star outside linebacker Khaylan Thomas...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Davon Durant Flips to Arizona St: Sun Devils Land Former South Carolina Commit

First, the No. 14 Arizona State Sun Devils decisively beat the Stanford Cardinal at home. Now, they've added one of the top junior college players in the country to their class of 2015. All in all, it's been a good seven days.

According to 247Sports' JC Shurburtt, the Sun Devils captured the commitment of 4-star JUCO linebacker Davon Durant on Tuesday:

The nation's No. 1 JUCO inside linebacker, Davon Durant (Butler C.C.) has committed to Arizona State after backing out of a commitment to South Carolina.

Durant is a native of Greenwood, S.C. and is on track to enroll at ASU in January.

The versatile, athletic prospect could play any of the linebacker spots at Arizona State, including the "Devil" position.

Durant also confirmed the news on Twitter:

He's the second linebacker to pledge his future to ASU on Tuesday night, joining 3-star recruit Khaylan Thomas, per Doug Haller of AZCentral.com:

Durant is the seventh-best JUCO player in the 2015 class, according to 247Sports' composite rankings. He'd previously committed to South Carolina but decided to spurn the Gamecocks.

"It's nothing they did," said Durant, per Phil Kornblut of GoGamecocks.com. "I was thinking about it and I thought it wouldn't be the best choice for me. They've got a lot of linebackers and a lot of guys coming back. I'm going to give other people a chance."

At the time, Durant had yet to officially commit to Arizona State, but he talked about some of the positives about possibly joining the Sun Devils.

"I like their defense and they have a good scheme," he said. "Their coaches are great. We hit it off on my official. It's a good program and defensively I think I would fit well."

Over the years, Arizona State has had intermittent joy tempered with disappointment. John Cooper and Bruce Snyder took the Sun Devils to the Rose Bowl, and the combination of Dirk Koetter and Dennis Erickson showed promise early in their respective tenures before bowing out after failing to take the program consistently forward.

ASU is undoubtedly making progress under Todd Graham, both on the field and the recruiting trail. With the commitment of Durant, the team jumped 15 spots into 23rd for the class of 2015, according to 247Sports.

Finding players like Durant is what will help Arizona State bridge the gap with the likes of Oregon and Stanford in terms of sustained success.

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Davon Durant Flips to Arizona St: Sun Devils Land Former South Carolina Commit

First, the No. 14 Arizona State Sun Devils decisively beat the Stanford Cardinal at home. Now, they've added one of the top junior college players in the country to their class of 2015...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Arkansas State Runs Failed Fake Punt from Own End Zone

This call is either gutsy or stupid—or both.

Let's set the scene. Arkansas State is down 34-23 to Louisiana-Lafayette with seven minutes left in the third quarter. On fourth down, it's backed up inside its 10-yard line.

So, what's the call? Fake punt!

Well, it didn't work out, and that is why we don't call fake punts from the 8-yard line.

[RedditCFB]

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SMU Is the Worst Team in College Football, but Has Seen Tougher Days

These days, Southern Methodist might as well designate the “U” in SMU to stand for underdogs. No matter what college football team the Mustangs played right now, that would be their status.

SMU hardly is the first college team to start a season 0-6, but the scores have been so brutally bad this season they’ve created the illusion that football could disappear from the Dallas campus.

That happened there once before, in 1987-88, when repeated NCAA violations made SMU the only football team ever hit with the so-called “death penalty.”

But the reality is that it’s not going to happen again, even though SMU is world-class awful.

How bad are the Mustangs?

In six games they have scored only four touchdowns. The dreadful tally for total points is 39 for and 288 against. That ranks them dead last among FBS schools for points scored and also for points given up, and it pretty much defines Southern Methodist as the worst team in the nation.

Speculation about giving up on this disastrous team spiraled when the greatest running back in SMU history popped off and said maybe it would be the best thing to do.

That theory came from Eric Dickerson, the NFL Hall of Famer, who along with Craig James formed the “Pony Express” backfield that made SMU famous and feared before the NCAA hammer fell.

Reacting to the September resignation of coach June Jones—who quit after losing the opening two games by a combined score of 88-6—Dickerson told KRLD-FM in Dallas (via E.J. Holland of TheDallas Morning News) that:

I talked to four former players yesterday, and we all said if they don’t want to do anything, just kill the program. Just stick to academics and basketball and kill that program. It’s so frustrating for us to watch SMU become nothing but a laughing stock or almost non-existent. It’s almost like it doesn’t exist.

Why Jones walked away still hasn’t been explained. He invoked the ever convenient “personal reasons,” leaving some to wonder whether he had problems with the administration. Or whether, at the age of 61, Texas recruiting wars had taken a toll.

But it really doesn’t really matter what made the last coach of the run-and-shoot offense pack it in. What’s much more relevant is that SMU, despite its checkered history, did get back on its feet under Jones.

He took the Mustangs to four consecutive bowl games from 2009-2012, winning three, before dipping to 5-7 during the 2013 season. That ended a bowl drought that had stretched more than two decades for the most heavily penalized football team in NCAA history.

 

So SMU can field a winner, even if at the moment the only thing notable about the Mustang roster is that it includes wide receiver Deion Sanders Jr., son of "Prime Time."

One reason to believe that SMU can turn around the football program is what happened over at Moody Coliseum with the basketball team. Larry Brown was given a top-notch contract in 2012 and rewarded SMU’s generosity with a rapid turnaround.

The Mustangs might have been the best team left out of last year’s NCAA tournament and are projected as a top-10 team this season by CollegeFootballTalk.com. The irony is that Jones played a key role in getting Brown hired, even though he was 71 at the time.

Why would a coach want to take over SMU now? Lots of reasons. For one, the only direction it can go is up. Another is that the money probably will be excellent. Also, rapid success seems possible in the American Athletic Conference, where good-but-not-great East Carolina and Central Florida sit atop the standings.

And don’t underestimate the big-city recruiting allure of being in Dallas, as opposed to some of the Texas colleges that are out on the prairie.

SMU athletic director Rick Hart certainly doesn’t sound like he’s throwing in the towel.

After Jones’ resignation Hart told Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News that: “We won’t have a shortage of individuals from whom to select. This is a terrific job and the types of coaches we consider are going to know that. I’ll know when I sit down with people whether or not they’re the right fit. I’m not going to have to talk anybody into this.”

Given the pass-happy ways of college football in Texas, speculation about SMU’s next coach has focused on offensive coordinators who have roots or experience in the Lone Star State. They include Clemson’s Chad Morris, Texas A&M’s Jake Spavital, Baylor’s Philip Montgomery and Ohio State’s Tom Herman.

I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that whoever that new coach is, he won’t take over a team that goes winless in 2014. SMU still has a Nov. 8 date with 1-6 Tulsa and a Dec. 6 confrontation with 1-5 UConn. So there's hope for the underdogs.

And if any school has a history of digging its way out of the doghouse, it’s SMU.

 

Tom Weir covered college football as a columnist for USA Today.

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Urban Meyer's Tough Love Pushing Ohio State to Be Great

Since stumbling in an upset loss to Virginia Tech in Week 2, Ohio State has looked unstoppable in routs over Kent State, Cincinnati, Maryland and Rutgers.

But according to Urban Meyer, his team isn't playing at the level he expects it to, and he hasn't been shy about voicing that opinion. 

On the heels of a 39-point beatdown of the Scarlet Knights last Saturday, a game in which the Buckeyes out-gained their opponent by 240 total yards, Meyer talked as if the performance was a letdown. 

So what would Meyer consider great? That bar hasn't been reached despite Ohio State piling up more than 500 total yards and at least 50 points in four consecutive games, which set and tied school records, according to Adam Rittenberg of ESPN.com.

It's clear that Meyer has high expectations for his team, but that also extends to individual players. 

Quarterback J.T. Barrett has been sensational during Ohio State's dominant four-game stretch, completing 71.7 percent of his passes while throwing for 17 touchdowns against one interception. A brilliant performance against Rutgers earned him Big Ten Player of the Week honors. 

What did Meyer think of the showing from his rising signal-caller, who currently ranks third nationally in passer efficiency? 

"He could have played a lot better," Meyer said, according to Ari Wasserman of The Plain Dealer.

But those comments aren't made to put his Buckeyes down. Meyer is looking to motivate and—to his credit—it's having a positive effect that's permeating through the team. 

Linebacker Joshua Perry knows why Meyer is pushing so hard, according to Bill Rabinowitz of The Columbus Dispatch.

We all know we’re not as good as we could be right now. That’s kind of the interesting thing. We’ve been playing really well and beating teams by a lot, but we still have got a way to go on offense, defense and in the kicking game. 

I think that’s what [Meyer is] excited about, and that’s why he’s grinding us so hard. That’s what our leaders recognize, and that’s why we’re grinding so hard.

Fellow linebacker Darron Lee echoed that sentiment after Ohio State's thrashing of Rutgers.

The Buckeyes will need that hunger on the road this week when they travel to Happy Valley for a matchup against Penn State. One of the nation's most hostile environments will challenge a team stocked with first- and second-year players. 

But Meyer has made sure his players will go into Beaver Stadium with the right attitude.

“I love coaching this team,” Meyer said, according to Eric Seger of The Ozone.  "If our expectations are higher than the player’s themselves, that’s a problem.”

 

All stats via NCAA.com.  

David Regimbal covers Ohio State football for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Arkansas State RB Tackled on Defender, Gets Up to Score 70-Yard TD

Arkansas State faced Louisiana-Lafayette on Tuesday night, and Red Wolves running back Michael Gordon took a handoff and was seemingly tackled on what should have been a decent gain. 

But Gordon was on top of a defender and, therefore, was never ruled down. So he got up and took off for the 70-yard touchdown while the Ragin' Cajuns stood around and watched. 

Always play till the whistle, kids. 

[Reddit CFB, h/t College Spun]

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UCLA Football: Position-by-Position Midseason Grades for the Bruins

The No. 25 UCLA football team hasn't quite lived up to the expectations placed upon the Bruins before the 2014 season began. 

At 5-2, Jim Mora's team is likely out of the mix for a potential berth in the inaugural College Football Playoff. Injuries and poor play at certain positions have contributed to the current state of the squad. 

This piece will give a letter grade for every position unit on the team. The marks will be based both upon the statistical output in 2014 and the perception of the unit heading into the year. 

Here's a look at the position-by-position midseason grades for the UCLA Bruins. 

Begin Slideshow

UCLA Football: Position-by-Position Midseason Grades for the Bruins

The No. 25 UCLA football team hasn't quite lived up to the expectations placed upon the Bruins before the 2014 season began. At 5-2, Jim Mora's team is likely out of the mix for a potential berth in the inaugural College Football Playoff...

Begin Slideshow

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