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UCLA Football: 3 Biggest X-Factors for Bruins vs. Cal

The UCLA football team is currently at a crossroads. Expected to potentially win the Pac-12 and participate in the College Football Playoff, the Bruins have dropped back-to-back games versus Utah and Oregon...

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D-III College Football Team Pulls off Reverse Flea-Flicker Touchdown

Alabama's Huntingdon College, a Division III college football team, pulled off a trick touchdown that looks like it's straight out of Little Giants.

This reverse flea-flicker for a touchdown is basically what happens if you put all of the trick plays into one, and it somehow pays off.

Huntingdon ended up beating Christopher Newport 51-31.

[Uproxx]

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USC Football: Trojans Vying for More Explosive Plays

Long-yardage or explosive plays defined USC football in its heyday of the 2000s, and generating more of them is of particular emphasis for the Trojans before they face Colorado Saturday at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

First-year USC head coach Steve Sarkisian—who contributed to some of those prolific USC offenses of the 2000s—said he defines explosive plays as rushes of 10-plus yards and passes of 15-plus yards. An ideal night, Sarkisian said, is one in which 20 percent of the Trojans' plays qualify as explosive.

USC was close in last Saturday's 28-26 win at Arizona. Sarkisian said on his conference call Sunday that a little more than 17 percent of plays went for big yardage.

Two were touchdown runs of 34 and 48 yards by running back Javorius “Buck” Allen, a welcome sight to Sarkisian.

“I love it,” Sarkisian said after USC’s practice Tuesday at Howard Jones Field. “I was a little surprised…early in the year that we weren’t getting the big plays out of him that I had [seen] on film from the second half of last season. But now, the last couple weeks what we’ve gotten out him is kind of what I was anticipating.”

Sarkisian said he projected Allen for 1,500 rushing yards—Allen came 205 closer to that benchmark at Arizona, giving him 781 at the season’s midway point. Sarkisian also said he anticipated Allen would “be in consideration for some really cool accolades at the end of the year.”

It’s not the end of the year, but Allen did add Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week as one accolade.

USC has its explosive playmaker in the run game, but the next step for the Trojans to truly open up the offense is for quarterback Cody Kessler to deliver more long-yardage passes.

“We have to keep pushing the envelope,” Sarkisian said. To that end, a portion of Tuesday’s practice was devoted to deep routes. “That’ll make us a better team. That’ll make us more difficult to defend.”

Kessler has effectively managed the Trojans offense, avoiding catastrophic errors and distributing the ball among a variety of receivers.

And indeed, the quarterback has a handful of explosive plays such as his 21-yard connection with wide receiver Nelson Agholor on a post route at Arizona.

But the next step the Kessler and the USC offense can take against Colorado is with long balls of 30, 40, 50 yards. The Trojans have nine such plays on the season, while the Buffaloes have surrendered 11.

USC has an opportunity to exploit matchups with a diverse and talented corps of wide receivers facing one of the youngest secondaries in the Pac-12.

“We’re trying to take advantage of every aspect of this team,” said George Farmer, one of the USC wide receivers who could see long-ball opportunities Saturday.

Farmer and Kessler have connected primarily on shorter routes this season, evident in the receiver’s 7.9-yard-per-reception average. However, his speed can pose problems for cornerbacks trying to cover him on the perimeter.

"I know I'm capable of doing that. I know where my game stands," Farmer said, adding that any one of the Trojans receiving corps is capable of providing those coveted explosive plays.

“When the opportunity is in the game, whoever is in I’m pretty sure that we can get the job done. I feel confident in all our receivers,” he said.

 

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise cited. Statistics via CFBstats.com.

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USC Football: Trojans Vying for More Explosive Plays

Long-yardage or explosive plays defined USC football in its heyday of the 2000s, and generating more of them is of particular emphasis for the Trojans before they face Colorado Saturday at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Tennessee Football: Grading Each Positional Unit at Halfway Point of the Season

Prior to the start of the season, a 3-3 record for the Tennessee football team at the midway point is about what most rational fans should have expected.

But the sporadic flashes of what head coach Butch Jones' burgeoning, talented youngsters could be has everybody anxious and impatient, wanting to break through with a program-building victory.

The Vols have been close, but youth, mistakes and gaping holes have hindered the upward movement.

A roster that is green but growing up features 23 true freshmen who've played through the season's first six games—more than any other team in Division I. According to a tweet by Scout's Danny Parker, UT has started six true freshmen on offense, and the rest of the league has seven combined.

Sophomores who'd hardly seen the field prior to this season are prominent as well.

Some of the positions on UT's roster look set for the future. Still, others need maturation. One group in particular may be beyond repair this season, and it's the chief reason why the Vols haven't yet gotten their signature win.

It's been a mixed bag thus far in Jones' second season on Rocky Top. Let's take a look at the position-by-position breakdown.

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Watch 2016 QB Embarrass Defenders with 3 Spin Moves on Way to Touchdown

Some players like to juke. Some guys like to hurdle. Libertyville (Illinois) High School junior quarterback Riley Lees likes to spin.

A lot.

Lees does a series a spin moves as he eludes multiple defenders en route to an impressive touchdown.

Was this the most impressive high school run you've seen this year?

Watch the video and let us know! 

 

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Texas vs. Iowa State Complete Game Preview

The Texas Longhorns will look to pick up a second home win against 2-4 Iowa State Saturday. But the Cyclones have a score to settle after last season's controversial loss they suffered to the Longhorns.

Did Johnathan Gray really fumble the ball, which would have caused Texas to lose the game? Nobody really knows, but Iowa State head coach Paul Rhoads seemed to believe so following the 2013 home loss.

"I've got pretty good eyesight. The view I had of that gigantic screen in the north end zone showed a player that was not down and our guy with the football," Rhoads said of the controversial non-fumble call.

Will the Longhorns be prepared to take down the enraged Cyclones Saturday?

 

When: Saturday, Oct. 18, 8 p.m. ET

Where: Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, Austin, Texas

TV: Longhorn Network

Austin radio: KVET 98.1/1300

SiriusXM satellite radio: XM 202; Sirius 117; Internet 969; Spanish 550

Last meeting: Oct. 3, 2013, Ames, Iowa

Last meeting outcome: Texas 31, Iowa State 30

Opening spread: Texas (-11), via OddsShark.com

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Georgia Football: The 3 Biggest X-Factors for Georgia vs. Arkansas

The Georgia Bulldogs have had better and bigger wins in their history, but the 34-0 win against Missouri this past week was a statement game. It showed the world they are not out of the SEC and national title pictures despite the suspension of Todd Gurley.

With that said, they will have another tough road contest on Saturday when they square off against an Arkansas team that suffered a heartbreaking loss to Alabama.

So it will be another tough task for the Bulldogs, but at the same time, they have a ton of momentum going into Little Rock. So here are the three biggest X-factors for the Bulldogs vs. the Razorbacks.

 

Stop the Run

The first thing the Bulldogs need to do is play solid run defense, because the Razorbacks are the best rushing team in the SEC. Believe it or not, the Bulldogs have the second-best rushing defense in the conference, trailing only Alabama.

The Bulldogs are coming off a performance where they limited Missouri to 50 rushing yards on 22 carries. But the Razorbacks running game is on top of the conference because they have three backs who can start anywhere in the country. Alex Collins, Johnathan Williams and Korliss Marshall are the three guys manning the backfield for the Razorbacks and have been dangerous all year.

This is where Amarlo Herrera and Ramik Wilson come in. The two inside linebackers for Georgia will be key players in the game against Arkansas when it comes to stopping the run. They are the two leading tacklers for Georgia, and both do a great job not missing tackles and making sure the front seven has the right responsibilities and knows its assignments.

 

Air It out

It seems like quarterback Hutson Mason is an X-factor in every game this season. But seeing as how the Razorbacks pass defense ranks 12th in the SEC, this could be the game where he really makes some noise.

Mason has yet to take over a game, but he really hasn’t needed to because of the running game. With Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley back in the lineup, Mason has a chance to have a game where he can throw for 275 yards and three touchdowns.

But that’s only if the running game goes south. If that happens, Mason needs to win the game with his arm. Last week against Missouri, Mason was accurate, made good decisions and had great pocket presence. He should be able to do that against the Razorbacks, who do not possess a very intimidating unit on defense.

 

Keep Running It

But the bread and butter of the Bulldogs offense is the run game, and the duo of Nick Chubb and Brendan Douglass will need to be on top of their game once again on Saturday.

Chubb was a workhorse for the Bulldogs last week, rushing for 143 rushing yards on 38 carries. Douglas also was productive, as he rushed for 65 yards on 13 carries.

Neither player is of the caliber of someone like Gurley, who was the Heisman leader before the suspension, but both are talented backs who can wear down defenses, which is exactly what they can do against Missouri.

One other thing to watch for is the return of Keith Marshall. Head coach Mark Richt told the media this week, per College Football Talk, that there's a slight chance Marshall, who's looking to get back to where he was in 2012, could return this week. Marshall is a speedy back who would change the pace of the game when he’s in the rotation with Chubb and Douglas.

Keith Marshall seen practicing today for the first time since the Troy game. Richt said he doesn't think he'll play this week, however #UGA

— Logan Booker (@LoganBooker_BI) October 14, 2014

It’s clear that the Bulldogs are employing a run-oriented offense this season. Despite not having Gurley, they will have to use Chubb, Douglas and possibly Marshall to wear down the Razorbacks the same way they did last week against Missouri and the same way Gurley did against the rest of the SEC the first half of the season.

 

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Leonard Williams Injury: Updates on USC Star's Shoulder and Return

Leonard Williams, one of the best NFL prospects in America, is dealing with shoulder soreness. 

Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times has the details:

USC defensive lineman Leonard Williams did not practice Tuesday because of shoulder soreness, Coach Steve Sarkisian said.

Williams aggravated a lingering shoulder issue during the Trojans’ victory over Arizona. His status for Saturday’s game against Colorado will be determined as the week progresses.

Should the injury prove to be serious and keep him out of action, it would undoubtedly be a major blow for Justin Wilcox's defense. At 6'0" and 300 pounds with impressive athleticism and versatility, the junior is a nightmare for opposing offensive linemen. He tallied 13 sacks and 26 tackles for loss during his first two campaigns in Los Angeles, and in 2014 he has continued to build momentum as a potential No. 1 pick next spring.     

"He's a pretty special player and pretty special guy," said Wilcox, via the Los Angeles Times' Lindsey Thiry. "I don't really have a problem saying that, because no matter what, Leonard always comes out to get better."

The good news for the Trojans is Williams' willingness to play through injuries. He battled a shoulder injury for most of 2013 but missed just one game, and earlier this season, he racked up 11 tackles against Stanford while dealing with an ankle sprain. 

ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. (subscription needed) praised Williams after that performance:

He was so special against Stanford, playing through an injury with barely any drawbacks. If Williams doesn't wow you with quickness on the edge, realize he's 290-plus pounds and won't get pushed around even if he moves inside. At his size, he's a special athlete who could line up as a defensive end and drive a tackle back or line up on the outside shoulder of a guard and create problems with power and quickness, as well. He's the kind of disruptive, versatile lineman who can succeed in any system. A potential No. 1 pick.

That's two different people to use "special" while describing Williams, and it doesn't take long to see why. 

Steve Sarkisian and his staff will obviously miss Williams for as long as he's sidelined, but it's safe to say there are also plenty of NFL teams out there hoping the dominant force isn't affected by this newest affliction.

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Jameis Winston's Lawyer Writes Letter to Florida State Regarding Hearing

Many have wondered why Florida State waited so long to begin a Title IX investigation into the alleged sexual assault committed by quarterback Jameis Winston. According to a letter obtained by Kareem Copeland of The Associated Press, Winston and his adviser are wondering the same exact thing.    

Attorney David Cornwell, who has represented Winston in an advisory capacity throughout the Title IX investigation and other off-field transgressions, "accuses the school of trying to protect its own interests and responding to media pressure," per the letter obtained by Copeland.

Winston was accused of sexual assault on Dec. 7, 2012, a case that took nearly a year to be publicly exposed. Though state attorneys did not find enough evidence to send Winston's case to trial—he was cleared Dec. 5, 2013—Florida State restarted its own investigation to the matter in September. 

Under Title IX law, universities are required to investigate claims of sexual assault regardless of whether charges are filed. If found in violation of Florida State's code of conduct, Winston may be suspended or even kicked out of the university. Rachel Axon of USA Today reported in September that investigators interviewed the accuser and two others to determine what happened.

Florida State is currently considering four different disciplinary violations in its investigation, according to a letter sent to the Heisman winner obtained by Sean Rossman of USA Today. An independent arbitrator will make the ruling in the case, with the final say on any potential punishment coming from Florida State's president and board of trustees.

Since receiving notice of the disciplinary hearing, Cornwell has fired back on Winston's behalf—publicly and privately. The high-powered attorney pointedly questioned the university's motives from a timing perspective, noting that typically Title IX cases are resolved in 12 months—not the 20 in Winston's case. 

"It doesn't make any sense to rush this thing if we know now, the school has acknowledged that this woman waited 20 months to make a claim after being repeatedly asked by the school to come forward," Cornwell said on ESPN's Outside the Lines on Monday, per the Tallahassee Democrat.

Florida State publicly defended its handling of the case in an open letter to students posted last Friday. The school provided a detailed outline of how the case was handled from a university and police perspective, noting that student-athletes corroborated Winston's claim the sexual encounter was "consensual" in January 2013. Because of the Tallahassee Police Department's decision to not initially pursue the case and the eyewitness testimony, the Title IX officials were not informed.

Florida State claims an additional investigation, which concluded in February 2014 after Winston was not criminally charged, also did not warrant a full-fledged Title IX investigation. 

"On February 10, 2014, with neither party offering additional information to the investigative public record, FSU found that there was insufficient evidence to support a finding in the Title IX investigation at this time," the statement read. "Importantly, the ruling expressly left the door open for reconsideration if further information was brought forth."

U.S. Dept. of Education Office of Civil Rights opened an investigation of Florida State's Title IX processes in April. Florida State claims it re-opened the Winston case—he is specifically referred to as "the student" in the statement—after the accuser agreed to testify.

The attorney for the accuser, John Clune, claimed Florida State's statement was "full of errors" in a statement sent to Iliana Limon Romero and Brendan Sonnone of the Orlando Sentinel.

“Florida State knows that there is a big story about to break from the NY Times and their PR team is trying to do a little preventative damage control," Clune wrote. "The obvious news in this statement is that senior athletic department officials met with Winston and his lawyer one month after the rape occurred then decided to hide it from the Title IX office."

There has been no date set for Winston's disciplinary hearing. He is expected to start at quarterback for the No. 2 Seminoles when they host No. 5 Notre Dame on Saturday.  

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter

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The 3 Biggest X-Factors for Florida State vs. Notre Dame

There are three X-factors at play Saturday night that will go a long way toward determining whether or not No. 2 Florida State knocks off No. 5 Notre Dame at Doak Campbell Stadium—and yes, one of them is most certainly a news-generating quarterback.

1. Jameis Winston

FSU’s embattled quarterback is the ultimate X-factor in the premier matchup of Saturday’s slate of college football games. Winston has been expected to play against the Fighting Irish despite an impending disciplinary hearing, but news broke Monday that the reigning Heisman Trophy winner has been linked to an autograph authentication company.

Star Georgia running back Todd Gurley has already been suspended indefinitely for his link to the same company, so while Winston’s status for Saturday’s game remains the same as of Oct. 14, a lot could change in the next several days before FSU hosts Notre Dame.

Should Winston ultimately not be permitted to play against the Fighting Irish, the betting line would drastically shift. The Seminoles are currently 13.5-point favorites, according to Odds Shark.

Without Winston, the 'Noles’ quarterback situation would be a major issue.

Backup Sean Maguire, who started in place of a suspended Winston and beat Clemson earlier this season, missed last weekend’s game at Syracuse with a hand injury. John Franklin III stepped into the No. 2 role last week, but the redshirt freshman has never taken a college snap under center and has been cross-training at wide receiver.

Maguire’s status is not yet known.

Should Winston remain eligible, FSU would maintain its status as the favorite as the program looks for its 23rd consecutive victory. Despite the swirling off-field distractions, Winston was undeterred against the Orange last weekend, finishing with 317 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions and a 92.0 quarterback rating.

It would be hard to bet against Florida State with Winston under center, even if Notre Dame represents the team’s biggest challenge to date. Should FSU be without its leader, the nation’s longest winning streak could very well come to a screeching halt.

 

2. Defending a Playmaking Quarterback

Florida State showed some significant vulnerability already this season to playmaking quarterbacks as it struggled to slow Clemson’s Deshaun Watson and then North Carolina State’s Jacoby Brissett.

Watson threw for 266 yards in an overtime loss, and Brissett finished with 359 yards and three touchdowns in the Wolfpack’s near upset of FSU.

Notre Dame's more established Everett Golson could be even more dangerous.

“No matter what you do—whether you’re pass pro or running—they can always outnumber you on the run,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said at his Monday press conference. “The defense can … the only way to even those numbers up is to run the quarterback so you have a blocker for everybody, and you can handle that. That’s the only way you can even numbers up.  

“Running quarterbacks are always a problem and [Golson] is a good player.”

Golson has 1,683 passing yards with 16 touchdowns this season and is second on the team with 209 yards rushing. He is turnover-prone, but the Notre Dame quarterback has to be bottled up if the Seminoles defense wants to have success.

 

3. The Return of Matthew Thomas?

According to a report this week from Warchant.com, former 5-star prospect Matthew Thomas’ suspension has been lifted and he could be eligible to play for the first time this season Saturday against Notre Dame.

Fisher wasn’t able to confirm Thomas’ status, though, when asked Monday afternoon.

“I haven’t got official word, but I am anticipating that,” Fisher said. “I don’t know. That has to come from them, but we think he will be.”

Should his ban be lifted, the talented linebacker would immediately add a punch to FSU’s defense. Thomas has the ability to play a traditional linebacker role or be used as a rush end. With no proven pass-rusher on the roster opposite star Mario Edwards, Jr., Thomas’ athleticism off the edge could be a difference-maker against Notre Dame’s Golson-led offense. 

Thomas played in four games as a true freshman last year and posted four total tackles, two tackles for loss and one sack. He was granted a medical redshirt after sustaining a season-ending shoulder injury early in FSU’s 2013 campaign.

 

Brandon Mellor is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Statistics courtesy of Seminoles.com. All recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

Follow @BrandonMellor on Twitter.

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Ohio State Football: Experience for Underclassmen Will Pay off in Future

COLUMBUS, Ohio — His words may not have done it, but Urban Meyer's facial expression said enough.

Told that 13 of his 24 combined starters are currently classified as freshmen or sophomores, the Ohio State head coach looked down at the podium in front of him, briefly allowing himself to take his eye off the present in order to focus on the future.

"You said 13 of the 24?" Meyer responded, seeking clarification. "Wow."

It is indeed accurate, making the Buckeyes the youngest team in the Big Ten in terms of starters. Nevertheless, Ohio State still finds itself in the hunt for an appearance in the first ever College Football Playoff—a sign of just how bright the Buckeyes' future may be.

Because regardless of how the rest of the 2014 campaign shakes out for Ohio State, there should be no shortage of talent returning to Columbus for the following season.

Assuming that everybody on the Buckeyes roster maintains their eligibility, Ohio State is slated to return 15 combined starters (eight on offense, seven on defense) in 2015 in addition to current key defensive subs Raekwon McMillan and Armani Reeves.

That list includes four starting offensive linemen, the Buckeyes' current leading rusher and receiver, All-American defensive end candidate Joey Bosa and eight of OSU's top 10 tacklers.

Oh, and there's that pesky quarterback position, which remains the largest question mark for the Buckeyes in their immediate future.

Whether Braxton Miller returns from a season-ending shoulder injury for a fifth year as planned or redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett reclaims his current role as Ohio State's starting quarterback, the Buckeyes appear to be in good shape when it comes to next season's signal-caller.

Either Ohio State will be starting a two-time Big Ten MVP at quarterback in Miller or the player who's currently on pace to shatter his school single-season record for total yardage.

The mere presence of either Miller or Barrett alone should make the Buckeyes national title contenders—again—a year from now, and it won't hurt that no shortage of skill players will be returning to Columbus as well.

For at least one more season, the Buckeyes will bring back running backs Ezekiel Elliott (571 total yards, three touchdowns) and Curtis Samuel (6.0 yards per carry, two touchdowns), as well as wide receivers Michael Thomas (17 receptions, 322 yards, five touchdowns) and Dontre Wilson (14 receptions, 221 yards and five touchdowns).

Add in promising but unproven players such as wide receiver Jalin Marshall and tight end Marcus Baugh, and it's not hard to see why Meyer is so excited about the direction that his offense is already heading in.

"I'd like to have really fast players that create big plays," Meyer said. "We're kind of developing that right now."

Defensively, Ohio State also appears to be heading in the right direction, with Bosa (3.5 sacks, seven tackles for a loss) wreaking havoc in opponents' backfields and McMillan (15 tackles, two sacks) coming into his own while seeing significant playing time at middle linebacker.

The Buckeyes currently start a trio of underclassmen in the secondary with sophomore safeties Tyvis Powell and Vonn Bell playing behind freshman cornerback Eli Apple.

Fellow freshmen Gareon Conley and Damon Webb should help make up for the void that will be left by senior cornerback Doran Grant, and of the 17 current commits in Ohio State's 2015 recruiting class, five are defensive backs.

The Buckeyes could also use a boost from 5-star 2015 linebacker Justin Hilliard and Sam Hubbard, who appears to be heading toward a redshirt season in 2014.

"If it was his decision, he'd be playing. He's working hard enough to play," Meyer said of Hubbard, who has bounced between playing tight end, linebacker and defensive end thus far in his young college career. "It's just pulling the trigger and putting him in that game. He certainly could help us. A guy like that, you don't want him to [only] play a handful of snaps."

That's not to say that even with its influx of young talent, replacing current seniors such as Grant, defensive tackle Michael Bennett, tight end Jeff Heuerman, wide receivers Devin Smith and Evan Spencer, and right tackle Darryl Baldwin will be easy.

But given the constant turnover in college football on a year-to-year basis, the attrition Ohio State seems prepared to face should be minimal, which could set up for a steady run of success in Columbus in the coming years.

In fact, the last time Meyer could recall coaching a team as young as his current one came at Florida in 2007, which preceded the Gators' 2008 national title run and a 12-0 start to 2009.

While Meyer's '07 Florida squad started eight combined freshmen and sophomores, by this point in their season, they had already lost two games, robbing them of the national title experience that these Buckeyes are currently receiving.

Although that's where Meyer's focus remains, Ohio State's success is clearly set up to extend beyond the current season.

On top of aiding the Buckeyes in a potential playoff run, OSU's youngsters are gaining valuable experience, which should pay dividends in 2015—and perhaps beyond.

"We've gotten them a ton game reps," Meyer said of his underclassmen. "You're seeing them grow up a little bit."

How much they grow up by the start of next season remains to be seen, but it's not hard to see why Meyer was nearly left speechless on Monday by the mere mention of the Buckeyes' youth.

"I knew we were young, but I hadn't looked at that number before," he said. "That's a good sign for the future here."

 

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 recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

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Top Recruits Who Will Be Impacted by Result of Florida State-Notre Dame

Tallahassee enters the national spotlight again Saturday when Florida State hosts Notre Dame in a battle of unbeatens. Naturally, a matchup of this magnitude will draw interest from top-tier prospects across the country who are curious to see which powerhouse prevails.

The Seminoles and Fighting Irish are well-respected college football programs with reaches that extend far beyond regional borders. The result of this game will likely impact more than just a crowded collegiate playoff race, reverberating in the recruiting spectrum as well.

Several heralded high school stars are set to watch the contest closely—many in person—and will walk away from the showdown with an altered sense of how they feel about each team. Here's an examination of multiple players you can expect to keep a close eye on the action and why it could impact their respective recruitments.

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Ted's Takes on the Pac-12: Order Restored, UCLA's 'Program-Changing Game' & More

Glance at today's Pac-12 standings and it's clear what last weekend accomplished: correction.

Usual suspects Stanford and Oregon are atop the North. Cal received a mildly surprising dose of reality from Washington, ending its brief but thoroughly enjoyable week at the front of the division. 

The team to beat in the South, UCLA, is now staring up from fifth place, while Arizona's 2014 dream sequence crashed with a missed field goal.

And then, there is USC. The first conference team to three wins, Troy now leads the South, having shown resilience in shaking off a loss to Arizona State.

It was a light weekend, with four teams on a bye week. Of those, Utah may have most enjoyed its Saturday viewing. Due to host USC and Arizona (as well as Oregon), the Utes should have a big role in the West outcome.

On the field, there was a resounding theme: the importance of line play, especially on the offensive side.

Washington State head coach Mike Leach's first postgame comments at Stanford Friday night, as relayed by Stanford Athletic Communications, were: "I think the difference was the physical nature of the Stanford players. … They are bigger and stronger than we are."

Quarterback Connor Halliday echoed his coach, "That's just a really good defensive front. … They are so physical up front."

Stanford's formula consisted of direct, relentless pressure on Halliday and sharp tackling on the perimeter. Does that ring with familiarity?

It is much of the reason for Stanford's consecutive wins over Oregon. Cardinal lineman David Parry was in the Cougars backfield much of the night. Washington State couldn't protect its quarterback, thus Halliday was forced to throw underneath, often on the run. Leach told me several weeks ago that his offensive line was still young and inexperienced. They played that way at Stanford Stadium.

Yards per pass attempt is a closely watched statistic by many in football who believe it has a strong correlation to victory. Here are Halliday's numbers over the last two weeks:

The takeaway: The Cougars should have won their Oct. 4 game against Cal, but Stanford's defense smothered Halliday and kept him from positioning his team for a victory.

Halliday wasn't the only quarterback derailed by a lack of pass protection. Washington dominated Cal's front to limit Jared Goff. Washington State's three passing touchdowns at Stanford should not be a total surprise, but Cal scoring just one touchdown at home against the Huskies was stunning.

Washington used Stanford's defensive blueprint: It pressured Goff throughout, tackled the Bears receivers at the spot of the catch and created takeaways.

Here is the yards-per-attempt formula for Goff:

Hau'oli Kikaha was brilliant. His nine tackles, three sacks and one forced fumble were the sum of an overpowering game. Danny Shelton was his usual rock in the middle as the Huskies were sharp at moving their defensive linemen and creating different looks that tested Cal's protection schemes.

 

More notes from around the Pac-12

• The best Pac-12 quote of the week came from UCLA's Myles Jack.

"This was definitely one of those games that could shift the perception of our program. It was what we worked for, one of those program-changing games," Jack said, as reported by Bill Plaschke the Los Angeles Times, after the Bruins were pounded around the Rose Bowl.

Jack's candor is admirable. UCLA took the attention, magazine covers and playoff projections, all of which are so often directed to USC. Any supporting actor gladly grabs at a chance for a starring role. This was that chance for UCLA football.

Saturday was that day. Take down Oregon and create the moment Jack understood.

Instead, Brett Hundley was strip-sacked by Tony Washington in the first quarter, leading to the game's first touchdown. It's hard for an outsider to know if it was a protection bust of if Hundley should have seen an unblocked Washington, but a championship team and quarterback need to handle that situation.

The Bruins offensive line was expected to be a work-in-progress, but the progress is slow. Despite that, UCLA's bright spot on offense is Paul Perkins, whose 187 rushing yards Saturday give him 727 and a 6.3 average for the season. Will the Bruins feed Perkins more, beginning with a "must" trip to Cal Saturday?

Jim Mora pointed to the volcanic results throughout college football's first half to sustain the belief that UCLA's season is not over. Mora also accepted the responsibility for the sideline spat with defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich that was the distasteful lingering image of UCLA's day.

Ulbrich played 10 NFL seasons as a self-made pro. I came to know him as multiple concussions ended his pro career. Fierce passion drives him, thus his reaction to Mora, while a high-grade "snap," was understandable. Rightly, Ulbrich admitted that the public display of that passion doesn't serve his players.

• Then, there is Oregon. After the loss to Arizona, Mark Helfrich was toasted in the local media. One Portland columnist, John Canzano, gave Helfrich the time-worn "I know Chip Kelly, and you're no Chip Kelly" body slam.

The Ducks said little over 10 days. But after dismantling UCLA, they admitted they practiced hard. Very hard. They accepted coaching in the spirit of improvement. And they thoroughly beat the Bruins, 42-30.

Now, the word around Oregon football is relevance. The Ducks are relevant in both the conference and national races. Marcus Mariota is again relevant in the Heisman race, after an efficient four-touchdown day, two by ground and two by air.

• Washington proved the benefits of a bye week. Head coach Chris Petersen and the Huskies focused on self-scouting. Offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith told me the Huskies evaluated every pass scheme of their first five games and "streamlined" (his word) the pass game. UW's aerial attack needed a spark, and Cyler Miles needed a strong game to establish himself in a QB-dominated conference.

All was delivered.

Miles was accurate with short and intermediate routes, completing 22 of 29 passes for 273 yards. He threw a perfect corner-route TD pass to Joshua Perkins on the first play after a Kikaha forced fumble. And most importantly, Miles commanded a clean offense. No turnovers, no glaring mistakes.

It was a foundation game for Miles, as it established him as a winner in a conference game and created some hope for the Huskies as they take aim at Oregon next Saturday.

• Wildcat kicker Casey Skowron was the focal point of the final minute in Tucson. He executed a masterful onside kick, as he did in the comeback win over Cal, to give Arizona a chance to steal the win over USC. Anu Solomon and Cayleb Jones, blossoming as a leading pass combo, maneuvered the Wildcats into field-goal range. But Skowron, after a timeout freeze, missed a 36-yard kick for the win.

Aside from how unlikable the concept of placing a 60-minute physical battle in the hands and on the foot of a noncontact player is, no human deserves the scorn heaped upon Skowron. His missed kick was punctuated by a feeble flop.

A reasonable assumption is it was a human reaction to choking at the game-deciding minute. Skowron still does not warrant the hate from Twitter. Vulgar, vile, coarse, repellent: All begin to describe the Twitter venom unleashed on Skowron.

Personal view: Twitter can be an invaluable tool in dispensing real-time news and information. It can also be a weapon, allowing vitriol without accountability. In the case of a college football kicker, the tweets delivered to Skowron were truly pathetic.

 

Ted Robinson has been around the Pac-10 and Pac-12 for 30 years as the voice of Stanford football and now the Pac-12 Networks. He also is the San Francisco 49ers' radio play-by-play man, as part of his wide-ranging broadcast work on national and international sports.

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Bleacher Report Awards for 1st Half of 2014 College Football Season

Just like that, the 2014 college football season has reached the halfway point. Enjoy it now; the next eight weeks are going to go by just as quickly. Soon, you too will be spend the summer months pining for real football again while watching video replays and checking message boards.

Or, you'll be spending time outside. Either one.

That said, it's time to celebrate what has been an eventful first half of the year with the Midseason Bleacher Report College Football Awards. It's sort of like the Oscars, but with 94 percent less Daniel Day-Lewis and more Katy Perry. 

As we examine everything from the best player to the biggest upset and everything in between, let's take a moment or 10 to look back on what has made this season fun and unpredictable. 

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Would You Rather: Week 8 Edition

With another week of college football wrapped up, eyes are set on Week 8 with many intriguing matchups on the horizon. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder, Adam Kramer and Barrett Sallee take part in the always-entertaining game of "Would You Rather."

Would you rather be a cornerback vs. Bryce Petty or an inside linebacker vs. Melvin Gordon?

Watch the video, and let us know!

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The 3 Biggest X-Factors for Texas A&M vs. Alabama

The No. 21 Texas A&M football team will take on the No. 7 Alabama Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa on Saturday. There are a number of players in this game who could have a major impact on its outcome. 

The Aggies are 5-2 on the season with a 2-2 record in the conference. The Crimson Tide are 5-1 with a 2-1 record in the conference. This game will help determine the outcome of the race for the SEC West title. 

It is a must-win game for the Aggies. Three conference losses in the division will effectively eliminate their chance at qualifying for the SEC title game. 

This is a look at the players who could be X-factors in this matchup. 

Begin Slideshow

Virginia Tech Loss Fueling Ohio State While Hurting Its Playoff Hopes

How can something help and hurt you at the same time? That oddity—coming in the form of a 35-21 upset loss to Virginia Tech—is currently working its magic on Urban Meyer and Ohio State.

The 13th-ranked Buckeyes (4-1) entered fall camp as one of the handful of teams expected to compete for a spot in the inaugural College Football Playoff. Those aspirations took a huge hit, though, when superstar quarterback Braxton Miller was lost for the season after re-injuring his shoulder in August.

Ohio State's postseason aspirations suffered an even bigger blow in Week 2, when the Hokies invaded Columbus and confounded the Buckeyes with a unique—and on that night, unbeatable—defensive look. The Buckeyes plummeted from their No. 5 ranking to No. 22, and it appeared as though they were out of the playoff race.

But a trio of consecutive blowouts over Kent State, Cincinnati and Maryland, along with numerous upsets to higher-ranked teams, have given Meyer and Ohio State a flicker of hope. 

The Buckeyes' recent surge is the result of improved play from the offensive line, which is opening holes for running back Ezekiel Elliott and giving quarterback J.T. Barrett the time he needs to get through his progressions. The defense, which is running an aggressive 4-3 scheme, is starting to click under new co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash. 

But as a whole, the team is drawing motivation from the 14-point loss it suffered in Week 2. That was the message delivered by safety Tyvis Powell on Monday, according to Doug Lesmerises of The Cleveland Plain Dealer:

What [the Virginia Tech loss] has done is make everybody become more aggressive, on offense, on defense, the offense is scoring, the defense is playing better. Basically show the people who are going to pick the (playoff teams) that you deserve to be in that game.

That has certainly been reflected on the field. Ohio State has outscored its last three opponents by an average of 38.7 points and outgained them by an average of 337.7 yards. The Buckeyes were on such a roll that Meyer considered their recent bye week a hindrance to the team's building momentum.

Ohio State will return to the field this Saturday for a home matchup against Rutgers—hoping to add to that budding momentum.

"You have to come out and try to dominate every opponent now that we have suffered a loss," Powell said, via Lesmerises. "If we just were just barely beating people, they might say we're not good enough, so now we're trying to dominate every opponent that we play."

That may not be good enough. Paired with the Big Ten's perceived weakness, Ohio State's loss to Virginia Tech will serve as an anchor around the team's neck as it tries to climb the polls. 

That's because the Hokies slipped after their big win over the Buckeyes. Virginia Tech was defeated in back-to-back games against East Carolina and Georgia Tech in Weeks 3 and 4—losses that dropped Frank Beamer's squad from the Top 25. 

Other one-loss teams such as Auburn, Alabama, Michigan State and Oklahoma have better standings in the polls because their losses came against highly respected teams.

Because of that, there are seven one-loss teams ranked ahead of the Buckeyes.

That loss to Virginia Tech may be motivating Ohio State to play better on the field, but its ultimately hurting them in the race for the College Football Playoff. 

 

All stats via NCAA.com. All rankings via ESPN.com.

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

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What It's Really Like to Be a Notre Dame Student-Athlete

After months of official investigations, Honor Code hearings, student appeals, and university "no comments," Notre Dame's football team appears that it'll officially move on without its five players.

Last week, star cornerback KeiVarae Russell acknowledged he won't play this season, though plans to return in 2015. Tuesday morning, Phillip Daniels took to Twitter to announce that his son DaVaris, the Irish's leading returning wide receiver, won't play this season and will move on from Notre Dame. 

In his Tuesday morning press conference, head coach Brian Kelly acknowledged that he spoke with defensive end Ishaq Williams, who shared with his head coach that he won't return this season, but hopes to play out his eligibility in 2015. 

While no official word has come from reserve safety Eilar Hardy or backup linebacker Kendall Moore, both the Chicago Tribune and Irish Illustrated have previously reported that all five are unlikely to play this season, a finality that seems all but assured. 

The five Notre Dame football players become the latest in streak of high-profile academic blemishes that in the last 18 months have taken stars from the football (Everett Golson), basketball (Jerian Grant) and hockey (Robbie Russo) teams out of uniform.

These high-profile academic failures at a university that proudly trumpets their elite status both on the field and in the classroom, has turned Notre Dame into an easy target. What isn't publicized is just how difficult the daily grind both academically and athletically in South Bend. 

***

"Notre Dame is not for everybody," former linebacker Danny Spond told me. "It's not. It's plain and simple. Doing everything and anything to uphold that standard is very difficult. So you need help. You need help to get it done. Not to do your work, but to get it done."

That's where the office of Academic Services for Student Athletes (ASSA) comes in. Tucked inside the Coleman-Morse Center on the campus's South Quad, ASSA supports every student-athlete in Notre Dame's 26 varsity sports. If you want to know what it's really like to be a Notre Dame student-athlete, your journey should begin here. 

Open seven days a week, ASSA is a huge part of life for many student-athletes. Open before class and until midnight five nights a week, the office's stated mission provides "a wide range of services including general academic support, tutoring, monitoring of academic performance, team orientation, time management assistant, information about post-graduate and scholarship opportunities and academic recognition." 

 

Put into simple terms, the full-time staff often times serves as your head coach away from sports. And if you thought Brian Kelly was tough, you haven't met Adam Sargent. 

Sargent serves as the Associate Director of Academic Services. Along with Colleen Ingelsby, the duo works solely with the football team, making sure everybody on the roster is succeeding in the classroom, staying up to speed with their work, and doing everything they can do to continue the Irish's success both on and off the field. 

A former Notre Dame lacrosse player, Sargent's career as an athlete was cut short after a car accident nearly killed him and forced him into a wheelchair for the rest of his life. But unwilling to be defined by the accident, Sargent credited his development as a student-athlete at Notre Dame for his transition to life after the accident. He not only returned to campus and finished his degree, but he decided to never leave, transferring his passion to the student-athletes he now helps. 

 "Because I made the decision to come to Notre Dame, a school that I probably would not have been accepted to without my sport. Because I was challenged and supported by my coaches, by my faculty members, by people in this office, when I had my car accident, and I was recovering and recognizing that the outlets and options that I could engage in for the rest of my life had been reduced significantly because of my physical disability," Sargent said during a WatchND profile.  

"It was a source of comfort, a source of reassurance that I had developed more than I think I would have at many other places. That my intellectual capacity, that my interpersonal skill set, all of those things really were farther along than I think they would have been had I been at some place else. Because of that, I was well equipped to one, finish my degree, and two, find an outlet and profession that I could engage in, feel passionate about and do at a high level in spite of the physical disabilities that resulted from the injury and that was a great thing."    

The respect Sargent garners from players and coaches alike is universal. In a feature written during Notre Dame's BCS run, Sports Illustrated's Pete Thamel put a well-deserved spotlight on a man who does his best to shy away from it. 

But former Irish All-American Manti Te'o was just one of many Irish players who was unequivocal in his praise. 

"Without Adam Sargent, there would be no Notre Dame football," Te'o told Thamel. 

***

Of course, respecting Adam Sargent and wanting to be around Sargent are two very different things. If you are doing things right, you spend as little time with Sargent and his team as possible. But for some Irish football players struggling with the very stark transition to life at Notre Dame, the academic services program became a safe haven. 

Former offensive lineman Chris Stewart serves as a recent role model for success both on and off the field for Irish football players. Currently in his final year of law school at Notre Dame, Stewart spent time with both the New York Jets and Arizona Cardinals organization before getting on with life after football. 

But before he was the first student-athlete to ever enroll in law school while playing for the Irish, he was a home-sick football player frustrated with life both on and off the field. 

“It all came kind of socially into a perfect storm," Stewart recalled. "It was freezing cold. I was trying to do all these things with football. I made some good friends, but it was just a little bit different. Everything was different.

"I think that’s all part of broadening your horizons. The world that we’re all going to go into is hopefully, if you are doing it the right way, should be starkly different than the world you’re growing up in."

Frustrated after almost two years of being buried on the depth chart, Stewart remembers a time where he sought out time with his academic team, looking for a Saturday morning study session to remove the frustration of not traveling with the team. 

"They probably thought I was a terrible nerd," Stewart said with a laugh. 

But things turned around for Stewart on the field. After seriously considering leaving the program, Stewart won a starting job in 2008, starting 10 games for the Irish at guard. As a senior, he started all 12 games as well, with some NFL advisors believing that the 6'5", 351-pounder could be a third or fourth-round draft pick. 

But Stewart decided to play out his eligibility. And while some fifth-year college football players earn notoriety for taking ball room dancing class or other cushy electives, Stewart became a trailblazer almost by accident. 

"I graduated early and here I am with a fifth year and part of the year left," Stewart said. "So basically a year and a half of education. I graduated and knew I wanted to do something. A lot of programs wouldn't accept me, just thinking I couldn't handle the workload. 

"The ironic twist to the story is that I have [former Notre Dame All-American] Chris Zorich and a number of people taking me around, wondering what they can get this kid. We happen upon the law school and the dean says if you can do the work, we'll give you a shot. So lo and behold, I'm the first kid to do law school and football. 

"Family, faith, the Notre Dame family and blind luck." 

***

"Make the 40-year decision, not the four-year decision." 

For outsiders, the recruiting pitch Brian Kelly often sells carries the same type of boastful pride that makes Notre Dame one of the most polarizing schools in college sports. But with the university's First Year of Studies program putting student-athletes into an academic course load that's no different than the rest of the student body, the Irish staff sells the academic challenges as a positive. 

"I think one of the greatest things that I ever heard, that really drew me in during recruiting was remembering what Coach [Tony] Alford said to me sitting in my living room," Spond recalled. "Notre Dame is not for everyone. For a coach to tell you that and be honest with you, that speaks volumes."

 

If ever there was a player who embodied the 40-year decision, it's Spond. A starting linebacker on Notre Dame's 2012 defense, debilitating migraine headaches ended Spond's career during 2013's preseason camp. That forced him to get a jump-start on life after football, transitioning his competitive nature from the football field to the health care industry, where he's now living and working in Hilton Head, South Carolina.

So while Spond's dreams of finishing his football career on his own accord didn't happen, the habits he learned at Notre Dame have continued to guide him. It's part of why he doesn't blink at 12 to 14-hour days. He was working them in college. 

Spond graduated with a degree in Political Science. He took classes in Portuguese. And while the recent suspensions have some outsiders calling for relaxed standards or easier majors, from the inside Spond doesn't see any of those suggestions as anything more than excuses. 

"Notre Dame recruits a certain type of guy. He's the type of guy that can perform at a high level on the field and off the field," Spond said. "When we've had former teammates of mine and guys come in that can't make it in the classroom, a lot of them, and I'll speak very honestly and it might not sit well with people but it's true, a lot of it comes down to effort. 

"If you're willing to give the effort and you're willing to work with professors and put in the time, you can do it. There are thousands and thousands of examples across all sports that have made it happen. I was not the smartest person in my class. I would not have been at Notre Dame if it weren't for my athletic ability. But I put in the effort and I put in the time and I was able to get it done.

"It's not about the academics. It's not the intelligence level of the people being recruited. Let's figure out instead how to change their motivations and work ethic. Let's focus their time on something more productive." 

For Stewart, the issue is viewed the same way. And it's why he serves as a Student Representative on the Faculty Board of Athletics. It's also why he has a hard time seeing former teammates and friends become the unflattering face of an issue that doesn't exist in most athletic departments around the country. 

"I'm friends with some of the guys that are suspended right now," Stewart said. "It's a difficult thing. It's not something pretty for the university, it's not something good for their careers. But to say that the school should be more lacks in its academic pursuits, I don't think that's the right answer.

"The better answer is to say, 'Are we doing everything we can as a university to give our athletes the ability to succeed?' If the answer to that is truly yes, and that's part of your mission, then we need to uphold it.

"But it still doesn't remove the emotional part of it."

***

Notre Dame's official statement about the five players is no official statement at all. While that's made for some uncomfortable weeks for head coach Brian Kelly, the university considers this an academic matter, a process that will remain confidential and a part of the Honor Code process. 

The uproar that came along with months of uncertainty for the five players awaiting their fate will die out. And while there are certainly improvements that need to be made, both the university and the athletic department will move on, assuredly a little worse for the wear, but with their integrity intact. 

 

*Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand. Keith Arnold is a lead writer for Bleacher Report, covers Notre Dame football for NBCSports.com and was also a former student-athlete at Notre Dame. 

 

 

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Oregon Ducks to Wear Throwback Uniforms to Honor 20th Anniversary of 'The Pick'

The Oregon Ducks have been a step ahead of the rest of the college football world when it comes to uniforms in recent years. However, this weekend, the Ducks will be kicking it old school in order to pay tribute to a play that changed the program forever.

On Oct. 22, 1994, Oregon knocked off No. 9 Washington, 31-20. The play of the game: "The Pick."

With the Ducks leading 24-20 late in the fourth quarter, the Huskies were driving and looking to take the lead. That's when Oregon's Kenny Wheaton stepped up and returned an interception 97 yards for the game-sealing touchdown. 

Oregon pulled out a 31-20 victory over Washington and went on to win its first conference title since 1957. The Ducks have won six conference titles since 1994.

With the Huskies in town this Saturday, the Ducks will be honoring the 20th anniversary of "The Pick" by wearing these throwback uniforms.

[Nike, GoDucksdotcom]

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