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USC Football: John 'JuJu' Smith Primed to Be Trojans' Next Star Receiver

Many star receivers have called USC home over the years, and after his breakthrough performance in the Trojans’ 56-28 romp over Colorado last Saturday, freshman John “JuJu” Smith looks ready to become the next.

Smith caught four passes for 104 yards, made a highlight-reel play in the first quarter and scored his first career touchdown on a seven-yard strike from quarterback Cody Kessler.

That first touchdown marked a significant milestone for the former 5-star recruit.

“I was hoping to score this week,” a smiling Smith said as he made his way up the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum tunnel.

There's nothing quite like the first time, and for Smith's veteran teammates like running back Javorius "Buck" Allen, seeing the freshman register his first touchdown was great.

"I love that JuJu got his touchdown," Allen said.

Smith has a high standard to meet to write his name alongside the many great wide receivers who wore cardinal and gold before him. It's a list that includes names like Keyshawn Johnson, Mike Williams, Dwayne Jarrett, Marqise Lee and Smith's teammate, Nelson Agholor.

Of course, it doesn't hurt that Smith has a high ceiling and plenty of time to reach it.

He certainly took one big step to that end Saturday, in the process setting a standard by which head coach Steve Sarkisian can measure current Trojans.

"How he played Saturday, I would love our entire team to play every time they take the field," Sarkisian said of Smith during a conference call on Sunday.

Neither the 104 yards nor the touchdown reception Smith had tell the full story of how significant his performance was. After all, he tallied 123 receiving yards in his USC debut against Fresno State, immediately validating the hype he had coming out of Southern California prep powerhouse Long Beach Poly.

Rather, Smith's effort against Colorado was the freshman answering the challenge Sarkisian set for his team during the preceding week.

"Coach told me we need to make explosive plays, and when the ball was thrown to me, I took advantage," Smith said.

Smith took advantage to the tune of 26 yards per reception, and even that element of Smith's play misses a critical part of why he stands out to Sarkisian.

"It's easy to look at four catches for over 100 yards and a touchdown," Sarkisian said. "But what he did blocking perimeter, what he did [on] special teams—I think [linebacker] Quinton [Powell] had one more rep than him on special teams, but playing second-most reps on special teams—it was awesome to see coming from a true freshman."

That Smith is standing out isn't necessarily a surprise. He was one of the most highly sought-after prospects of the 2014 recruiting class, with suitors around the nation.

One was Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham, whose No. 19-ranked Utes face Smith and the Trojans Saturday in a marquee Pac-12 showdown.

"Very good athlete. We recruited him back in high school," Whittingham said on Tuesday's Pac-12 coaches conference call. "We knew back then he was a heck of a defensive player."

Smith starred at safety as well as wide receiver in his time at Long Beach Poly. Had Sarkisian and his staff opted to play the freshman in the secondary, he could very well be starring there instead.

Smith's mindset, as Sarkisian described, certainly suggests the youngster would acclimate well no matter where the Trojans used him.

"JuJu brings a great attitude and mentality every day to practice, every day to school, every day as a teammate," Sarkisian said. "He's just been a model person in our program."

But playing receiver seems to be suiting Smith just fine. Whittingham may have summed it up best.

"For a freshman, he's doing some really good things and he obviously has a bright future," he said.

Smith's future may be bright, but there's a glow building in his present as well, and the spotlight was on him Saturday as he exited the Coliseum field.

A smattering of Trojans fans greeted him on his way to the locker room with shouts of "JuJu!" in appreciation for his big day.

It won't be the last time the USC faithful sing Smith's praises, and it won't be the last time he leaves the field with a touchdown in tow either.

 

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise cited. Statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com. Recruiting rankings and information via 247Sports.

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USC Football: John 'JuJu' Smith Primed to Be Trojans' Next Star Receiver

Many star receivers have called USC home over the years, and after his breakthrough performance in the Trojans’ 56-28 romp over Colorado last Saturday, freshman John “ JuJu ” Smith looks ready to become the next...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Insider's Look at LeBron James' Impact on Ohio State Football

COLUMBUS, Ohio — With about 30 minutes to go until Ohio State's Sept. 6 kickoff with Virginia Tech, Braxton Miller came strolling out of the newly renovated Ohio Stadium tunnel with a sharp navy suit taking the place of his customary Buckeyes uniform.

Three weeks removed from suffering a season-ending torn labrum, Miller was met with a hero's welcome from the Ohio State faithful, who chanted his name in his first public appearance since enduring the injury.

But as loud as the ovation for the reigning two-time Big Ten MVP was on that night, it paled in comparison to what took place mere moments later.

Dressed in a black and red Nike sweatsuit and black Tackma snapback hat, LeBron James came strolling out of the very same tunnel, whipping what would be a record crowd at Ohio Stadium into a frenzy.

"Hey LeBron, O-H!" the Buckeyes' student section shouted in unison as James walked up the field to observe warm-ups.

The Cleveland Cavaliers megastar turned around and acknowledged the crowd, gesturing with his arms.

"I-O!"

The scene played out exactly how Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer envisioned it would back in July, when he issued an open invitation to the four-time NBA MVP just weeks after James opted to re-sign with the home-state Cavs.

And while James' relationship with the Buckeyes actually dates back to his high school days at Akron's St. Vincent-St. Mary High School, it's been even more apparent since Meyer took over the Ohio State program in 2012.

That hasn't been by accident either, as the recruiting-minded Meyer obviously understands the value in having the world's most powerful athlete in his team's corner. Even back when the state of Ohio possessed mixed feelings about James following his decision to leave Cleveland for the Miami Heat in 2010, Meyer remained an avid supporter of the Rubber City native, defending him on numerous occasions.

"I hear people criticize him and I’m like, ‘Criticize LeBron James?,’" Meyer said during an appearance on ESPN's Mike & Mike. "And I get all the switching teams, but he lives life right and he’s a model citizen. I love LeBron James. I want my son to be around LeBron James.”

The same goes for Meyer's players—and recruiting targets—which is why the Woody Hayes Athletic Center isn't short on reminders of James' affiliation with the Buckeyes. Alongside pictures from wins over Michigan and mementos from national championship seasons is an image of James, addressing the crowd at a pregame pep rally in 2013.

James, who jumped straight to the NBA out of high school back in 2003, even has his own locker at Ohio State's Schottenstein Center, an obvious recruiting tactic by Buckeyes basketball head coach Thad Matta. Not that the 11-time All-Star minds being honored inside an arena that he's never won more than a high school state championship inside of.

"It's very humbling," James said on Monday before he and the Cavs took on the Chicago Bulls in a preseason game in Columbus. "For Coach Matta and the coaching staff, even the players and the whole campus, it's an unbelievable program here. This school, to give me a locker in their gym even though I never put on a Buckeye uniform, it's an honor."

And although the hardwood is where James makes his living, he's found himself associated with the Buckeyes football program dating back to his friendship with star running back Maurice Clarett during Ohio State's 2002 national championship season.

Six years later, the former All-State receiver appeared on ESPN's College GameDay in Columbus as a guest picker, revealing that had he played college football, it would have been as a Buckeye.

"Absolutely, I wouldn't have gone nowhere else," James said. "I would have been right here wearing this red and this gray, baby."

It was around this time that James befriended Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor, who like James had achieved plenty of fame at a relatively young age. Playing in a preseason game in Columbus just days after Pryor's Buckeyes were upset by lowly Purdue in 2009, James spoke of his relationship with the former 5-star signal-caller.

"[I'm] trying to mentor him and get him through life in the spotlight, which I've been through," James said. "I'm trying to be that guy who can really help him get through a lot of situations which he's never seen before but now he's seeing and understanding."

Although James' move to Miami complicated his relationship in Columbus—he was noticeably booed when he and Dwyane Wade attended an Ohio State-Duke basketball game in 2011—he managed to maintain a relationship with the Buckeyes from afar.

When Jim Tressel found himself amid controversy that ultimately led to his resignation, James was there to support both the former OSU head coach and the university. And like Pryor, he managed to mentor Miller as well.

By the time 2013 rolled around, all appeared to be forgiven, and James was received warmly when he stood on the sideline in a Buckeyes sweatshirt for Ohio State's prime-time showdown with Wisconsin. That was the same night that he addressed the jam-packed pregame Skull Session pep rally, reaffirming Ohio State as his faux alma mater. 

But while it was one thing to have James on the sideline for a single game, his decision to return to Cleveland this past July presented a whole new set of benefits for the Buckeyes. Now just two hours away from Ohio State's campus, James would be able to attend games with more regularity and take part in events like Monday night's preseason game in Columbus.

“It’s big. He means a lot in recruiting,” Meyer said. “You can’t measure the positive feeling of him standing on the sideline for an Ohio State game. He truly loves Ohio State.”

That may seem like a stretch—after all, James plays basketball, and Meyer coaches football—but the impact of James' return on recruiting has been evident on social media. It's not a coincidence that 5-starprospectsTorrance Gibson and Nick Bosa have each acknowledged James' connection to the Buckeyes, as there's no bigger brand in sports right now than LeBron James.

Which brings us back to that Sept. 6 night, where James and his buddies watched Ohio State fall to Hokies from the Buckeyes' sideline. James may have never enrolled in a class in Columbus or suited up for the Scarlet and Gray, but you wouldn't know it based on the buzz he brought with him, which is why Meyer takes no issue with classifying the global icon as an honorary alum.

"He is the classiest big-time athlete I’ve ever been around. He’s extremely articulate. He walks in the room and he’s a CEO. I know exactly where he’s from, I know the school he’s from and I just think he’s an incredible role model," Meyer said.  “He’s a Buckeye."

 

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

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Which USC Legend Does 4-Star QB Commit Ricky Town Compare To?

Ricky Town, a USC commit, is looking to make a big difference in Southern California. The 4-star quarterback has a skill set that can make an immediate impact on the Trojans.

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder compares him to a former USC great.

How do you think Town will fit in at USC?

Watch the video and let us know! 


Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Which USC Legend Does 4-Star QB Commit Ricky Town Compare To?

Ricky Town, a USC commit, is looking to make a big difference in Southern California. The 4-star quarterback has a skill set that can make an immediate impact on the Trojans...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Ranking Best Tennessee vs. Alabama Rivalry Games

The Tennessee-Alabama rivalry is one of the most storied in all of college football.

Since the first contest between the two teams ended in a 6-6 tie in 1901, the Third Saturday in October has been one of the sport's most streak-prone rivalries, with both teams typically gaining control of the series for long stretches of time.

Alabama currently holds a seven-game winning streak dating back to the 2007 contest, but before that, the Volunteers won 10 of 12 matchups, including a seven-game winning streak from 1995 to 2001.

However, with the Crimson Tide's recent ascension to the top of the college football world and Tennessee's coaching turnover, Alabama has gained a 50-38 lead in the all-time series record. 

Historically, Tennessee is second only to Alabama in total wins in the SEC, and longtime college football fans in the South still recognize this game as one of the premier contests in the conference. 

Here are five of the best and most important games in this rivalry in the modern era of college football. 

Begin Slideshow

Big Ten Mascots Create Music Video for Taylor Swift's 'Shake It Off'

Don't worry about the haters, mascots of the Big Ten. The haters are just going to hate, hate, hate, hate, hate.

Mascots from some of the schools in the conference had some fun and created their own music video for Taylor Swift's "Shake It Off." Although they didn't all get together and jam out, the mascots were able to go around their respective campuses to create some shots for the music video.

Let's see mascots from the Southeastern Conference top this.

[TheRealSparty, h/t The Big Lead]

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What Went Wrong for Will Muschamp at Florida?

Will Muschamp is likely, probably—OK, almost definitely—going to get fired. When they lower the boom on the coach nicknamed Boom, the legacy of the Head Bawl Coach will not be his sideline rants. It will be the offense he neglected, the offense he didn't know how to fix, the offense where he didn't develop a quarterback.

This has been some shipwreck.     

Consider one thing as athletic director Jeremy Foley pulls UF off the rocks the next few months.

Nick Saban has had four offensive coordinators at Alabama. Muschamp has had three. That's a lot of turnover in the play-calling, but Saban managed the changeover. Yeah, sure, I get that Saban is a veteran coach and a better head coach than his protege.

But Saban was the head coach for the entire team, not just one third of it, the defense. He coaches the DBs, just like Muschamp, but whenever you see a picture of offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin calling plays, who has that get-off-my-lawn stare standing in the same picture frame as Kiffin? It's Saban.

"Nick Saban is a head coach with a defensive background, but he also has had a philosophy for what he wants his offense to look like regardless of who is calling plays," said Phil Savage, the color analyst for Alabama radio and CEO of the Senior Bowl. "In eight years, he's had four coordinators, but he has never allowed one to come in like a vacuum cleaner salesman and wire up the entire house with outlets and hoses in every room, so that when they left, the whole thing has to be torn out and a new system installed."

 

Revolving door

Muschamp's first season was with Charlie Weis as play-caller and the Gators were going to win with a pro-style offense. Weis left to coach Kansas. That was Muschamp's fault for hiring a guy with too much ambition and not getting an OC he could team-build with. UF was going to pay Weis $2.6 million over three years. He was gone after one.

Then came Brent Pease, the maestro of the Boise State offense. I remember Boise's offense and it was a collection of plays, it seemed like, not a rigid scheme of offense. It was very multiple and it worked in Idaho, but not in Florida. The Broncos also had a poised veteran quarterback, Kellen Moore, who completed 74 percent of his passes in 2011. The Gators had nothing like Moore.

Pease stuck for two years. In 2012, the Florida defense (fifth nationally in yards alowed) was the lynchpin to an 11-2 season, while the offense was satisfactory. The best thing about it was it did not turn the ball over. The whole operation looked like Alabama. More on that in a moment.

Injuries wrecked the Gators in 2013 and they finished 4-8. Pease was gone.

In came Duke's Kurt Roper. I look at the UF offense and it has a little Gus Malzahn in it. Motion, spread the defense out, and then double-teams at the point of attack. But the Gators still have problems at quarterback. Jeff Driskel cannot break the habit of short, safe passes. He does not see down field.

With all the quarterback transfers, it is startling that Florida could not recruit one of those veteran QBs moving around the country. Instead, they had one of their former quarterbacks, Jacoby Brissett, almost taking down Florida State in a North Carolina State uniform.

In this day and age of offensive football, Florida has been left behind. The Gators had no set philosophy. They went from pro to multiple to spread.

We all know Saban has a Process. Well, he stuck with it, even as he was changing parts in the coaches meeting room from Major Applewhite to Jim McElwain to Doug Nussmeier to Kiffin.

"Nick says, 'This is how we win around here, and we want your ideas and for you to put your flavor on things, but these are the parameters philosophy-wise,' " Savage said.

Here is a small example. Every single practice, Alabama does ball-security drills. Saban is a maniac about it. He makes sure it gets done, according to his players.

Florida committed six turnovers against Missouri in a 42-13 loss. I'm sure the Gators practice ball security, but to how much detail?

The Gators are 3-3 and turn the ball over. Florida is 110th in yards per play in FBS, which doesn't always take into account the quality of opponent, but you get the point. The unit is in disarray. 

 

Starts at the top

Offensive coordinators move around more than defensive coordinators. Athletic directors hire OCs more as head coaches. Head coaches in trouble steal OCs away to fix what's broken.

Look at the SEC. Arkansas, Auburn, Georgia, LSU, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Missouri, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas A&M have head coaches who tilt to offense. That's 10 of 14.

That Mike Bobo is still the offensive coordinator at Georgia after 14 years says as much about the decency of head coach Mark Richt as Bobo's skill at running the offense. Richt was an offensive coach at Florida State, by the way. Mostly, OCs leave, but the good head coach stays and keeps a hand on the offensive rudder, like Saban.

That Florida hired a rookie head coach in the SEC was a mistake. That is the 20-20 hindsight view, of course. Everyone said Muschamp was a great hire. He wasn't, and Foley won't make the mistake again. He will get a veteran coach, who will be an offensive coach, and give them Muschamp's $3 million, probably more.

Dan Mullen's name keeps popping up, but there is an under-current at Florida. People didn't like him. What's more, Scott Stricklin, the athletic director at Mississippi State, is a hustler. I bet he is gathering cash from around his state to keep Mullen where he is in Starkville.

The other thing to consider is that Mississippi State has the look of a unique team. Veteran quarterback, a lot of fifth-year seniors. This kind of team comes along rarely. Can Mullen use his system of red-shirting at a school like Florida, where 5-star recruits have one eye on the NFL and want to leave after just three years? I don't think so.

I would say Colorado State's McElwain would be a slam dunk for the Gators, but the Denver Post's Terry Frei reports the buyout of McElwain's freshly-signed contract is $7.5 million. That's a rich separation, even for Florida.

The Wheel of Fortune spins quickly in college football and it is spinning and about to spit out a decent fellow, Muschamp. He was a walk-on at Georgia, a guy who was told he would never play football again after a horrific leg injury. Muschamp became a star for the Bulldogs. He screams on the sideline and it's a little much, but he is going to be somebody's ace defensive coordinator. This is a good guy getting dumped on by media like me and by fans, but this is the culture of the game he bought into.

Muschamp came within one yard of coaching in the national championship game less than two years ago. Southern Cal couldn't score from the Notre Dame 1-yard line in 2012, and the Irish played Alabama for the title. Florida was right there as No. 2 ready to get in the big game. One yard away.

That about sums up the Gators. One yard has been hard to come by.

 

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

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Florida State's Character on Full Display with Winston, Fisher's Actions

On 4th-and-goal from the 2-yard line and less than 20 seconds left in Saturday night's game, Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson threw a short pass to wide receiver Corey Robinson for what initially looked like a go-ahead touchdown.  However, pass interference was called on the offense, negating the touchdown and pushing the Irish back 15 yards.

Golson could not find an open receiver on the last play of the game, Florida State escaped with a narrow victory—its 23rd in a row—and Seminoles quarterback Jameis Winston is now being praised like he's some kind of superhero.  Nearly every single sports analyst around the country is commending the team on its supposed stellar, come-from-behind performance.

This is just another example of the college football world jumping on the bandwagon of a player and team, but this time, it doesn't make any sense.

First, it was an inconsistent pass interference call.  Was there some contact at the line of scrimmage?  Definitely.  Were the receivers more intent on getting in the way of the defenders than continuing on their routes?  Absolutely.  In the official rulebook, what Notre Dame did may technically be a penalty, but that type of play never gets flagged. 

Every team in America runs crossing patterns—"rub routes"—against man coverage in hopes that it will clear space for a receiver.  Notre Dame did it several times throughout the game, as did Florida State, and it wasn't called.  The play in general is not illegal; it's simply a strategic way for the offense to create space for its playmakers, and it never gets called.

The fact that it was called in this situation is unfair.  If it's not going to be deemed illegal in the middle of the game with the ball around midfield, it definitely should not be called with the game on the line in the waning seconds of the game.

Next, the outpouring of praise for Florida State is surprising, especially since it was a nine-point favorite coming into the game, according to CBSSports.com.  The Seminoles got outplayed the entire first half and then needed a controversial pass interference call to bail them out.  Their performance on Saturday night did not warrant all of the praise.  

However, what was even more shocking was head coach Jimbo Fisher's postgame interview.  While talking to ESPN's Tom Rinaldi, the way Fisher described his team was slightly ironic. 

"The heart and discipline in that room," Fisher said.  "There's character, there's heart, there's a team full of great kids.  It's a high-character program that's run the right way on class, on dignity, in the classroom, on the field and off the field, and this team shows it."

Using "character" and "class" in the same sentence in regard to Florida State's program is a complete joke, and it makes the school—and Fisher—look slightly foolish.  The leader of the off-field shenanigans is Winston, ostensibly the leader of the squad, which makes these remarks somewhat hypocritical.

His list of off-field transgressions is nearly limitless and include shoplifting from a supermarket, yelling obscene profanities on top of a table on school grounds and allegedly raping a woman.  To be fair, the Feds are still investigating, and he is still in the process of attempting to rid himself of that bad publicity.

And then there are the questionable autographs. ESPN.com's Darren Rovell reported on Thursday that over 2,000 authenticated Winston signatures were found online.  In the wake of Georgia running back Todd Gurley's suspension for allegedly accepting compensation for signing autographs, this is a big deal. 

It seems like this would be a tough infraction to prove because it's very hard to accurately determine whether Winston signed these items for money or signed something for a fan who is attempting to resell it.  But Matt Powers, owner of Powers Collectibles and a specialist in the business, feels sure that Winston is guilty.

"No one who is not a dealer is going to submit that many autographs at one time," Powers said.  "But besides the number, the giveaway of the JSA authenticated items that you can see on eBay, that suggests it was a sit-down signing, as the consistency of autograph, the cleanliness of the autograph and the fact that the autograph is signed in the same place over and over."

Powers goes on to say that after examining the memorabilia signed by Winston, he could tell that he was completely focused when he was signing because of the consistency of the autographs.  He says that when athletes are signing in public for fans, they tend to scribble their signature.  Whether or not the NCAA will make Winston pay for his infractions is yet to be determined, but I think it's safe to take the word of a professional.

There is a chance that Winston did indeed receive compensation for his autographs, but even if he didn't, the wave of uncertainty that follows Winston is palpable.  There was no proof that Gurley was guilty, either, but he was suspended anyway.

Which is why I cannot fathom why the college football world is so dramatically in love with last year's Heisman Trophy winner.  It seems like ESPN would want a well-rounded person to be its cover boy—someone who truly has character, not someone with questionable judgment like Winston.

Florida State should have lost the game against Notre Dame, but it was bailed out by an inconsistent call.  Winston has not been good enough this year to warrant all of the accolades he is getting, and it is hard to see him—as well as his school—getting such publicity. 

If the Seminoles manage to get a few more calls and make their way into the inaugural College Football Playoff, it will be very unfortunate.  They basically have to go undefeated to be a part of the Playoff due to their cupcake conference schedule, and the Notre Dame game would have been the loss that exiled them from contention.

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SEC Football Q&A: Who's the Better QB, Blake Sims or Nick Marshall?

It seems like only yesterday when votes were cast in Hoover, Alabama, for the predicted order of finish in the SEC, but here we are with just over a month left in the season.

Time flies when you're having fun, and the SEC West has been having a lot of fun so far in 2014. Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Alabama and Auburn all find themselves among the top of the Associated Press Top 25, with College Football Playoff berths in their sights.

In College Station, however, things have gone south. The Texas A&M Aggies have lost three straight and were just shut out 59-0 by Alabama, marking the first time in head coach Kevin Sumlin's head coaching career that he has been shut out.

How do the quarterbacks in the state of Alabama match up? What's wrong with the Aggies? Can Georgia make some noise?

Those questions are answered in this week's SEC Q&A.

 

Both are incredibly underrated, but give me Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall over Alabama's Blake Sims simply because Marshall has done it longer.

Since the two systems are vastly different, there's really no way to compare the two statistically. Of course Marshall will have more success on the ground and of course Sims will have a higher passer rating. Who will have the longer career in the NFL is a non-factor for me as well, because that's not what we're discussing here.

I've seen Marshall succeed as a college quarterback on every single stage he's been on. He's led his team to an SEC title, accounted for three touchdowns in the national title game and made clutch throw after clutch throw in tight spots throughout his career, including a 39-yarder to Duke Williams on 3rd-and-9 vs. Kansas State to win a big game on the road.

Sims doesn't have anything close to that on his resume.

Sure, he has some big games against lesser competition like Florida and Texas A&M, but didn't make the big throws in a 14-13 win over Arkansas and was picked off in the end zone late by Ole Miss on what would likely have been the game-winning touchdown. That pick wasn't his fault. He dropped it in the bucket for O.J. Howard, who had it bounce off his hands. It didn't happen though, and that's the one trump card Marshall has over him.

I'd still take them both on my team, though. Each runs his respective offense very well, and have each school in the state of Alabama in the thick of the College Football Playoff hunt.

 

As you see in the video above, benching quarterback Kenny Hill in favor of Kyle Allen isn't it.

A good start would be on defense, where the Aggies have been the punch line to a really bad joke for going on two years now. Defensive coordinator Mark Snyder's crew is poorly-coached, lacks fundamentals and, at this point, the preparation of the defense has to be questioned as well.

This tweet last season after A&M's loss to Auburn has stuck in my mind for the last year:

The quick huddle was absolutely not something new for Auburn for that game, and has been a staple of Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn's offense since he became a college assistant in 2006.

The preparation hasn't looked better since and, fundamentally, they're still all over the place. Either simplify the defense or move on, but it's clear that something needs to be done.

Offensively, it seems like head coach Kevin Sumlin and offensive coordinator Jake Spavital maybe fell in love with Hill's press-clippings early in the season, and tried to turn him into somebody he isn't. When you have a stable of running backs like the Aggies have, you use them. So far this season, they've run only 249 running plays and 359 passing plays. 

Even if you're striving for balance, that number is way too skewed. Sixty passes in a win over South Carolina is great but probably unnecessary. Forty-two in the blowout of Lamar seems a bit extreme and 37 against SMU is probably 36 too many.

Get back to the ground game, wear down opposing defenses and get Hill more involved as a true dual-threat quarterback. That's how he can live up to his "Kenny Trill" billing.

 

Yes, because that definition changes based on the specific team.

Is Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall? Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas? LSU quarterback—gasp—Jordan Jefferson?

All of those players started in the BCS National Championships Game, so why can't Georgia quarterback Hutson Mason be a playoff-caliber quarterback? He's been a solid game manger in trying times without running back Todd Gurley over the last two weeks, tossing three touchdowns and no picks in two straight road wins. 

He has a running back in freshman Nick Chubb who he trusts, the possibility of getting Gurley—the best player in college football—back at some point and the probability of fellow running backs Sony Michel and Keith Marshall returning soon.

He has a veteran wide receiving corps and, suddenly, a defense that can put his offense in good field position. The Bulldogs have forced six interceptions over the last two games and 10 on the season—three more than it had all of last season.

If Mason continues to do what he has done the last two weeks, that's all Georgia needs to make a playoff run.

Don't sleep on that being a possibility, either. At 6-1 and with the No. 9 ranking, Georgia still controls its playoff destiny. Win out—which would include a win over Auburn and a top-tier SEC West foe in Atlanta—and not only would Georgia be in the playoff, it'd likely be a No. 1 or No. 2 seed depending on what happens elsewhere.

 

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

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

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Power Ranking College Football Conferences by QB Play

Which college football conference has been getting the best quarterback play? It's a difficult question to answer.

Raw passing numbers do not tell the whole story because they do not account for strength of opponent faced. The Total QBR stat at ESPN.com attempts to fix this—and for the most part does a very good job—but it still doesn't feel right to measure a position as nuanced as quarterback with one comprehensive metric.

The most prudent way to measure quarterback play—both on an individual and a collective basis—would seem to be a balance of those metrics along with…you know…actually watching the games.

Raw stats are important because they imply usage rate and reliance. QBR is important because it implies efficiency and adjusts for opponent. And the eye test is important because sometimes what happens on a football field cannot be quantified in numbers.

The list that follows was based on all three of those factors. It rated conferences from top to bottom, which is to say that the quarterback of each team in the league was considered.

Depth was preferred but not mandatory if the players at the top of the conference are playing well enough to compensate. Injured players were only considered if they are projected to return in 2014.

Sound off below and let me know where you disagree.

Begin Slideshow

Jameis Winston's Best Career Path Is to Declare for 2015 NFL Draft

Jameis Winston’s college football career has been incredibly successful on the field, but controversy and turmoil behind the scenes have made it clear that his best option after this season is to enter the 2015 NFL draft.

Winston is a former Heisman Trophy winner and, as ESPN’s College GameDay pointed out on Twitter, is still undefeated as quarterback of the Florida State Seminoles:

During last year’s freshman season, Winston racked up 4,057 yards and 40 touchdowns through the air and another 219 yards and four touchdowns on the ground. His numbers in 2014 have been way down this season (just 15 touchdowns in six games), and Winston’s play has likely been affected by the off-field distractions that have followed him.

On top of a previous sexual assault investigation and a one-game suspension for a “profane and sexually explicit outburst,” according to ESPN.com's Jared Shanker, Winston is currently being investigated by the school’s compliance department regarding possible payments for autographs, via ESPN.com.

The original report from Darren Rovell of ESPN.com claims one company alone has authenticated over 2,000 Winston signatures. Florida State is looking into claims that Winston received payment in return for signing memorabilia.

With everything going wrong off the field, Winston and the Seminoles must ride out the storm for the remainder of the season. It will be imperative that the quarterback keeps a low profile for the remainder of his time on campus, but that is something that has proved difficult in the past.

Not only will Winston have to keep playing at an elite level and win games on the field, but he will also have to contend with school work and the distractions from the university’s investigation. While he can likely pull it off for the remainder of the season, the jump to the NFL in 2015 would give him a clean slate moving forward.

As a young man growing up in the mainstream spotlight, the culture shock moving from college to the pros may be exactly what he needs.

Despite the adversity, Winston spoke with William C. Rhoden of The New York Times about his confidence and the tenacity of the entire Florida State program:

One thing we are consistently proving is that we are winners. And no matter what type of adversity we may face, we are family here at Florida State, and we play hard. The one thing people need to realize about the Seminoles team is when we’ve got our backs against the wall, we always rise.

Instead of being the king of the campus, Winston would likely be drafted by a team looking for a franchise quarterback. With an entire organization depending on his play, the immaturity issues would be addressed immediately by the veterans on the roster.

Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller talked about a possible landing spot for Winston:

While Winston has struggled with accepting advice in the past (just ask Bo Jackson), he would have no choice but to adapt to the NFL mentality and adopt the work ethic demanded of a quarterback in the league. The pressure on players at the top level is incredible, and any organization that drafts Winston would expect elite play fairly quickly.

The NFL is about what a player does on the field first and foremost, but the off-field expectations are just as high. The franchise that adds Winston to the roster will understand his issues and have a plan in place to correct them. If a team is willing to spend a high draft pick on him, the organization will absolutely have a plan to minimize his ability to make mistakes off the field.

Another year at Florida State would allow him to pad his stats and enjoy campus life again, but he needs a change of scenery that will force him out of his comfort zone. With Winston vulnerable, he will lean on his NFL teammates, and the hope is that he matures with their guidance.

It’s also worth noting that staying in school may hurt his stock even more. High-profile college stars like Tim Tebow and Matt Leinart exposed themselves to criticism and injuries by staying in college too long, and Winston and his camp should understand the risk associated with sticking around for his junior season.

Winston has an incredible amount of raw talent but needs to show the maturity necessary to carry a franchise at the next level. A team will take the educated risk on Winston, but it will ultimately be up to him to take full advantage of the opportunity.

 

*Stats via ESPN.com.

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Will Muschamp on the Hot Seat: Who Should Be Florida's Next Head Coach?

After their 41-3 loss to the Missouri Tigers, the Florida Gators are reeling, which means head coach Will Muschamp is on the hot seat. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder and Barrett Sallee discuss who could be the next Florida head coach.

Can Will Muschamp survive the season? If not, who will be the next head coach?

Watch the video and let us know!


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Devin Gardner, Michigan QB, Comments on Racial Abuse, Leadership and More

The University of Michigan's college football team is in the midst of a tumultuous season, and nobody has been caught in the crosshairs more so than senior quarterback Devin Gardner.

The Wolverines are a disappointing 3-4, and Gardner has received much of the blame due to the nature of the position he plays. While the talented signal-caller has done his best to brush off the criticism, he acknowledged that some of his critics have made things personal, according to Angelique S. Chengelis of The Detroit News.

"I've been called the N-word so many times this year," Gardner said. "One guy told me I was the N-word, and said I know N-words can't play quarterback. And I was like, are we not past this? Say what you want about my skill, but come on."

That revelation rightfully disturbed many, including MLive.com's Nick Baumgardner:

Perhaps the most trying point of his season came when head coach Brady Hoke decided to start sophomore Shane Morris under center against Minnesota on Sept. 27.

While Gardner was hurt by the decision, he decided to make the best of it and lead by example during practice.

I just try to help my teammates, and I knew they'd be watching me. I knew coming in on Sunday, they're going to say, 'What's Devin going to do? How's Devin going to respond?' I felt I responded the best anybody could ever respond. I was helpful in practice, upbeat, just trying to keep the energy in practice. It felt like I was going to start. And then when it came to the game against Minnesota, it's like, I'm not going to start. I took a step back and was like, 'Wow, I'm not playing this game.' But I treated it as if I was.

Gardner regained his starting job the following week, and while things certainly haven't gone perfectly since then, he showed his toughness and resolve by leading the Wolverines past Penn State on Oct. 11 despite dealing with an apparent ankle injury.

Even with his ankle ailing, Gardner fully intends to play against rival Michigan State on Saturday afternoon.

"You can't not feel the pain," Gardner said. "The thing is, it's mind over matter. You have to ignore it. Try to ignore it. You can't compare a sprain to a broken bone, but high-ankle sprains are pretty bad. They hurt pretty bad."

Even though Michigan likely isn't in position to challenge for a Big Ten title, its season is far from over. Bowl eligibility is hanging in the balance, and Gardner has to be at his best in order to reach that threshold.

He has somehow managed to block out the negativity that many have spewed in his direction. Even though he isn't having an ideal campaign by any means, leading Michigan to a bowl would be a sweet conclusion to his collegiate career.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter

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Suspended Georgia Star Todd Gurley Appears to Wear 'Free Gurley' T-Shirt

If this is indeed Georgia running back Todd Gurley, his "Free Gurley" shirt echoes what Bulldogs fans—and many college football fans around the country—are saying.

Georgia suspended Gurley earlier this month while the school investigates a situation regarding the Heisman Trophy candidate allegedly getting paid for signing autographs. His indefinite suspension isn't sitting well with those who believe student-athletes should be able to make money off their names.

It appears the Bulldogs star is itching to get back on the field.

Of course, most people would fight for their own cause, so something like this isn't totally surprising. However, it is incredibly awesome—if it is in fact Gurley.

[Doug Gottlieb Show]

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Oklahoma State Notified of NCAA Violations: Latest Details, Reaction, Analysis

Oklahoma State was notified the NCAA is looking into three possible Level II violations, which are considered a "significant breach of conduct" under the current violation structure.

Brett McMurphy of ESPN broke the news:

John Helsley of The Oklahoman notes the issues were found during a joint investigation between the school and the NCAA:

The NCAA lays out what a Level II violation entails:

Violations that provide or are intended to provide more than a minimal but less than a substantial or extensive recruiting, competitive or other advantage; includes more than a minimal but less than a substantial or extensive impermissible benefit; or involves conduct that may compromise the integrity of the NCAA collegiate model as set forth in the Constitution and bylaws.

Helsley and Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman report the deep dive into the athletics program was done following a five-part series by Sports Illustrated that looked at alleged misconduct at Oklahoma State. It found those claims were "fundamentally unfounded."

The report states that during the process of reviewing those allegations, other potential violations were discovered. They involve a failure to apply the drug policy, improperly organizing a support program and failing to monitor both of those issues.

Also included in the report were comments from athletic director Mike Holder:

I am pleased that the independent inquiry did not substantiate the primary contentions contained in the Sports Illustrated article. Nevertheless, we take the remaining matters very seriously and will undertake the appropriate actions. As I said last year after I learned about the Sports Illustrated series, we strive to comply with the rules and operate with integrity. We want our loyal fans to be proud of our teams and our athletic program. I appreciate coach (Mike) Gundy and every one of our coaches for their desire to do things the right way.

As mentioned, the newly announced possible violations are likely to carry minor penalties compared to the potential punishment if the Sports Illustrated reporting was corroborated by the investigation.

No word on when a final decision about penalties for the three Level II violations will be made. The Cowboys are ranked just outside the top 25 in the current polls, and while it's unclear when sanctions will come down, it could likely make recruiting more difficult for Mike Gundy in the future. 

 

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Oregon Students Play Beer Pong in the Stands During Washington Blowout

Oregon beat the Washington Huskies for the 11th straight time on Saturday, notching a 45-20 blowout that left students bored and itching for activities.

They opted to pass the time the only way they know how: throwing pingpong balls into cups of liquid.

Twitter user @JeffWhiteee (h/t ESPN’s Darren Rovell) tweeted a picture of the impromptu pong party. As decreed in the university’s 1876 charter, students played the game atop an inflated American flag raft.

Oregon doesn’t sell alcohol at Autzen Stadium, which would imply that the pong wasn’t being played with beer. To assume such would be brazen and foolhardy, however, as no one smuggles thigh-warmed alcohol into sporting events with the efficacy of a college undergrad.

The fluid in these cups could be anything from Keystone Light to groin-incubated Franzia. The possibilities are nothing if not sweaty and endless. 

In any case, Oregon looks to keep its playoffs hopes alive Friday when it plays the California Golden Bears at Levi's Stadium. Don’t forget to bring the bend-y flasks and raft, guys.

 

Follow Dan on Twitter for more sports and pop culture news.

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Oregon Students Play Beer Pong in the Stands During Washington Blowout

Oregon beat the Washington Huskies for the 11th straight time on Saturday, notching a 45-20 blowout that left students bored and itching for activities...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

NCAA Football Rankings 2014: Full List of Week 9 College Standings and Polls

Are you ready for another week of chaos in the college football world?

We could be in store for that in Week 9 with only two games featuring a clash between ranked teams in The Associated Press poll. The underdogs have a chance to play spoiler to College Football Playoff hopes, just like West Virginia did against Baylor and Kansas State did to Oklahoma in Week 8.

Here is a look at the latest polls heading into Week 9 (the Bleacher Report poll can be found here) before we look at an under-the-radar game that college football fans should keep an eye on before they take in showdowns between Ole Miss and LSU, Utah and USC and Ohio State and Penn State.

 

Under-the-Radar Game to Watch: Oregon Ducks at California Golden Bears

Oregon is back in the national championship picture, but the 2014 season has not exactly been smooth sailing for the Ducks.

After an impressive win against Michigan State in the nonconference slate, Oregon nearly lost to Washington State (and got a little help from a missed pass interference call in the final minutes) and then did lose to Arizona. The offensive line allowed a combined 12 sacks in those two games, which is particularly concerning when you consider how important the health of Marcus Mariota is for the season.

Oregon center Hroniss Grasu discussed the need for the team and line to get tougher, via Kevin Gemmell of ESPN.com: “We have to be nastier. We have to come off the ball and finish the plays. Our playmakers, our running backs, our skill guys are going to make the defenders miss and extend the plays, so we have to keep on working on finishing.”

While it is worth watching the Oregon offensive line problems, this game is on here as a matchup to watch because California’s offense could give Oregon’s defense some fits. Plus, it is in California on a Friday night, and we have seen plenty of strange things happen in college football during weeknight games.

The Golden Bears are third in the nation with 372.1 passing yards a game, and sophomore quarterback Jared Goff has developed into something of a star even though his team is only 4-3. He has 2,482 passing yards, 24 touchdowns and only four interceptions for a quarterback rating of 167.3.

As for Oregon’s defense, it couldn’t make the critical stop when it needed to against Arizona, struggled against Washington State and had issues in the first three quarters against Michigan State. It is beatable if Goff comes out firing.

Still, Goff’s counterpart is arguably the best player in college football.

Mariota is on his way to a potential Heisman Trophy and NFL contract and has 1,957 passing yards, 289 rushing yards, 24 total touchdowns and, most amazingly, zero interceptions. That’s right, he hasn’t thrown a single pick yet even though his offensive line has failed to provide adequate protection for much of the year. 

John Canzano of The Oregonian noted that it’s just business as usual for No. 8:

All of those incredible statistics mean he is the front-runner for the Heisman in a lot of people’s eyes, including Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports, Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports and CBS Sports in general:

Ultimately, the Golden Bears may put up some points and keep this one interesting, but we are talking about Mariota and an explosive Oregon offense going up against an abysmal defense. The Ducks are sixth nationally in points per game with 43.6, 15th in passing yards per game with 309.7 and 32nd in rushing yards per game with 217.3.

As for California’s defense, you ask?

It ranks a lowly 120th in opposing scoring this year and is giving up 38.4 points a game. It allowed 60 points to Washington State, 56 to Colorado, 49 to Arizona and 36 to UCLA and has struggled all season.

It is perfectly all right to shudder at the thought of Mariota shredding the California secondary deep into the night on Friday. 

Prediction: Oregon 51, California 28

 

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WVU Mountaineers vs. Oklahoma State Cowboys Odds: Analysis and Prediction

The West Virginia Mountaineers will go for their fourth straight win and try to beat the Oklahoma State Cowboys for the second year in a row when they square off in Stillwater. The Mountaineers are coming off a huge 41-27 home win over previously unbeaten Baylor last week as eight-point underdogs and will be dogs yet again this week when they visit Oklahoma State.

 

Point spread: Cowboys opened as four-point favorites at Boone Pickens Stadium, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark. (Line updates and matchup report)

 

College football pick via Odds Shark computer: 37.7-35.2 Cowboys

 

Why the West Virginia Mountaineers Can Cover the Spread

Even though West Virginia has won its past three games, last week’s upset of the Bears was a breakthrough performance for the team after failing to cover the spread in three straight. The Mountaineers barely beat Texas Tech 37-34 on the road in their previous game as 5.5-point favorites and have struggled against some of the better teams in the Big 12.

West Virginia quarterback Clint Trickett outplayed Heisman Trophy candidate Bryce Petty of Baylor with 322 passing yards and three touchdowns, and he has topped the 300-yard mark in every game this season. Trickett keeps the Mountaineers in every game, and he could be the difference in helping them pull off the upset here.

 

Why the Oklahoma State Cowboys Can Cover the Spread

The Cowboys were in a similar spot as West Virginia is now before losing 42-9 at TCU last week as 10.5-point underdogs. They had won their previous five games, going 2-3 against the spread, and appeared to be ready to make a run for the conference title. But Oklahoma State is just not the same team away from home, also failing to cover the 20-point spread in a 27-20 road win at Kansas before the loss to the Horned Frogs.

The Cowboys are 8-3 ATS in their past 11 home games against Big 12 opponents, including a 37-20 victory as 16.5-point favorites in their last game at Boone Pickens Stadium on October 4.

 

Smart Pick

The Mountaineers are playing really well right now, but they are just 1-4 ATS in their past five road games against conference foes. Keeping that in mind, the over is appealing, considering betting trends are favoring it for both sides. The total has gone over in five of West Virginia’s last seven games as a road underdog and 3-1 in Oklahoma State’s past four as a home favorite.

The Cowboys were averaging more than 38 points in their previous five games before losing to TCU, and the Mountaineers have scored nearly 40 per game since losing to Alabama 33-23 in the season opener. Ironically, the under has cashed in the last three games for each team, so look for that trend to come to an end in what should be a high-scoring conference matchup.

 

Betting Trends

  • The total has gone OVER in four of West Virginia's last six games on the road
  • Oklahoma State is 2-4 ATS in its last six games

 

All point spread and lines data courtesy of Odds Shark, all quotes gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted. Check out Twitter for injury and line movement updates and get the free odds tracker app.

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