LOS ANGELES — Over the summer prior to the 2015 season, USC updated its longtime practice facility of Howard Jones Field to include some flashy graphics along the sidelines that tell the story of Trojan football.
It includes everything you would expect, from the number of national titles won to how many Heisman Trophies occupy Heritage Hall. The graphics serve as a talking point when potential recruits stroll around and as a reminder of the standard the current players have to live up to.
In addition to the numbers, there are naturally photos of a host of recognizable names immortalized in some form or fashion. While most are players who have earned their place in Trojan lore, there are four coaches imprinted along the edges of the field: Howard Jones, John McKay, John Robinson (from his first stint, it should be noted) and Pete Carroll.
The common thread among all four? They each won a national title in Los Angeles and are in or will soon be in the College Football Hall of Fame.
As athletic director Pat Haden embarks on the second coaching search of his tenure and the third at USC in the past six seasons, those four title-winning coaches illustrate the standard that the next man to take the job will have to live up to. They also serve as a reminder that whoever takes over will have to appease a fanbase that is desperately yearning to actually meet expectations for a season and not fall short in dramatic fashion.
“I’ve been here for six years. You know Los Angeles and you know this is USC and you know the expectations are to win,” interim head coach Clay Helton said on Tuesday. “I know exactly what the job entails and what it demands.”
Helton does indeed know that as he continues on his second stint as the Trojans’ interim head coach. He will be given an opportunity to interview for the full-time job with Haden after the season but like Ed Orgeron two years ago, he will remain a long shot of following in Clemson's Dabo Swinney’s shoes by turning a temporary job into a permanent one.
At this point, just eight days after Steve Sarkisian’s contract was terminated, far bigger names than Helton are being mentioned.
At the top of the wish list, for many fans and media members alike, seems to be Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly.
On the surface, it makes some sense why some would connect the two dots. USC is one of the premier college jobs in the country and Kelly had near unprecedented success during his time at Oregon. With the Eagles still struggling despite their win against the New York Giants on Monday night, maybe a return to college could be in the cards at a place where success comes fairly easily.
"The Eagles coach of course had so much success in college, I am told he would have some interest in the USC job,” NFL Media insider Ian Rapoport said on NFL Network. “Although a source close to him points out Chip Kelly really likes to be liked and wanted, so that might be driving some of his interest."
Rapoport is burying the real information, however. To put it more bluntly, that latter point is driving all of the conversation around Kelly to USC.
Kelly’s team is currently tied for first place in the division after Monday night, and he is in the middle of a reported five-year, $32.5 million contract. While USC has deep pockets and can afford to make its next coach one of the highest paid in the country, that would still represent a near doubling what the school has paid its past two head coaches.
USC boosters would no doubt pony up in a heart beat to lure Kelly, but the reclusive New Englander does not appear to be chasing a pay check and has everything he wants in Philadelphia, including being one of the rare NFL coaches to control his own roster. Even more important, he works for a fairly hands-off owner in Jeffrey Lurie who has given Kelly nearly everything he has requested and has proved over the years to have no problem with retaining his football coach even if the team is not quite meeting expectations.
There are few, if any, reasons for Kelly to give up his position to deal with a sometimes headache-inducing one like USC.
And more to the point, while it may be fun to connect the former Oregon coach to the job at USC, there are even fewer indications that Haden himself would be comfortable hiring Kelly in the first place. The latter received a show-cause order as part of NCAA sanctions leveled against the Ducks for actions during his tenure, and Haden has been notoriously straight and narrow when it comes to compliance at USC since he took his current job.
For the Kelly-to-USC rumors to actually have some substance, the two parties would have to have some realistic chance of coming together. At this point, neither appears to be lusting after the other in any shape or form.
Bleacher Report recently spoke to two sources who worked with Kelly in Eugene and each believed that he would remain in the NFL for the foreseeable future.
“I can’t see it,” one source said of him going to USC, adding that the reputation the coach earned as being stingy with his time when it came to media obligations and booster functions was accurate.
Kelly donning the cardinal and gold would be a sight for sore eyes for many in the college game with the chance to see his fast-paced system mixed in with the type of athletes the Trojans typically recruit and indeed are already on the roster.
The Kelly talk is indicative of where USC is in the search process, however. Haden, who returned from the team’s loss at Notre Dame after experiencing a small health issue, has barely gotten started on the task of finding a new coach. With Kelly, Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh and yes, even Pete Carroll’s names already popping up in the media, it’s fairly obvious that USC boosters are doing what they can to float potential candidates in public.
"I love USC, its a great place. (I’m) flattered,” Carroll told reporters on Monday. “But that's not happening."
Further complicating matters is Haden’s role in the hiring process. He has the support of university president Max Nikias and appears to have the authority to make a hire, but many influential alumni around the university have questioned whether he should be able to make such a crucial decision given the number of mistakes he has made in the past few years while stewarding the department.
Whether Haden ultimately makes the hire or not, one thing is clear: The Trojans have to nail down a quality head coach who can actually stick around more than three years.
“I think it needs to be someone who creates a family-oriented atmosphere and is consistently even-keeled,” backup quarterback and next year’s presumed starter Max Browne told Bleacher Report. “But that’s (Haden’s) job and it’s on his plate.”
That is a plate that does not include Kelly but could include trendy names like Memphis head coach Justin Fuente, Houston’s Tom Herman, Utah’s Kyle Whittingham and maybe even somebody such as Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops.
It’s a critical time at Troy and a precarious hire for one of the top football programs in the country. Whoever winds up accepting the job, they will be reminded every practice of what it will take to even rise to the level of a spot along the wall.
Bryan Fischer is a national college football columnist at Bleacher Report and can be followed on Twitter at @BryanDFischer.
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Heading into the 2015 season, this was supposed to be a massive matchup of ACC heavyweights—perhaps even a preview of the conference championship game in November.
But Saturday's rematch of 2014's title showdown in Charlotte between Florida State (6-0, 4-0 ACC) and Georgia Tech (2-5, 0-4 ACC) doesn't have nearly the same amount of buzz thanks to a miserable losing skid from the Yellow Jackets.
Head coach Paul Johnson's team has fallen in five straight games, with three of them coming by a single possession—including last weekend's loss to Pittsburgh on a long, last-minute field goal. If there's anything sputtering Georgia Tech can take away from its recent woes, it's that the five losses have come to teams who have only lost four games so far in 2015.
Now the Jackets' brutal schedule continues with a home game against Florida State, which is back in the Top 10 after a monster second-half surge against Louisville last Saturday. The Seminoles are starting to hit their stride in a balanced and explosive offense, and the defense continues to stifle opponents on the ground.
Before we break down undefeated Florida State's trip to Atlanta to take on struggling Georgia Tech, here is all the basic info you need to know.
Date: Saturday, October 24
Time: 7 p.m. ET
Location: Bobby Dodd Stadium (Atlanta, Georgia)
Line: Florida State -5.5, according to Odds Shark
Lovejoy High School, located in the heart of Collin County, Texas, has its share of college football recruits. Among those in the 2016 class are 3-star wide receiver Aaron Fuller and 3-star quarterback Bowman Sells, who are committed to Washington and Houston, respectively.
When college coaches visited the school during the spring, they were pleasantly surprised to see a linebacker making play after play in practice. The intrigue only heightened when coaches found out the linebacker was only a freshman preparing for his sophomore season.
It was easy to like this linebacker. Now, imagine shaking the hands of the athlete and then doing a double-take after hearing his name.
"Hi, I'm Bumper Pool," he said.
2018 inside linebacker Bumper Pool has a name that instantly is considered one of the best football names in college football recruiting. Bumper James Morris Pool, as his father indicated, is his full name. At 6'2" and 215 pounds, Pool is an inside linebacker for Lovejoy who has let his game speak louder than his name this season.
"The name causes you not to forget him," Lovejoy head coach Ryan Cox said. "Once you see him play, you'll never doubt his ability."
'It's a football name'
Growing up in Allen, Texas, Pool used to answer a lot of questions about his name. He remembers having teachers assume he was being a class clown when they asked him his first name.
"They always thought I was the kid messing around in class," he said. "I would tell them, 'No, that's my real name,' but they never believed me at first. Whenever I'd go out, and I'm around people I don't know, I'd get it a lot.
"The people I'm around, they don't ask anymore. I know a lot of my friends, when they first met me, will tell their parents, 'I met a kid named Bumper.'"
It's a first name Pool said he never gets tired of explaining. Pool's father, Jeff, said the name was a vision he had while in high school.
Never mind the fact that the first and last name equated to the billiards game with the bumpers in the middle of the table and by the pockets.
"I always said if I had a son, his first name would be Bumper," Jeff Pool said. "It kind of fit as a football name, and when his grandparents were OK with that, I knew we had something."
"I don't get tired of it," Bumper added. "It's a football name. It's a conversation starter, too."
After watching him on the field, it's easy to see why Pool's first name quickly becomes secondary to those interested in him. Pool has been a varsity player since his freshman season. He started 10 of 11 games as a freshman for Cox.
Pool didn't start his first game but was in for Lovejoy's second series. He's been a mainstay ever since.
"We kind of had an idea about him coming out of eighth grade that he could be somebody who will help us out," Cox said. "Going into his freshman year, he didn't have spring football, but he still was able to do what we asked him to by the start of the season and showed us that he could play up."
No age requirement for playmaking
Oct. 9 proved to be the breakout game for Pool. Against McKinney North High School, Pool led Lovejoy's defense to a win, finishing with a career-high 19 tackles, three of which went for a loss. He also was named Defensive Player of the Week by the Dallas Morning News.
Credit some of his success to his work ethic and overall IQ of the game. Since first playing tackle football at 6, Pool has seen time all over the field, whether it was linebacker, quarterback, defensive end, tight end or running back. He's done it all, and no matter the age, he was always studying his positions.
"He's always loved football," Jeff Pool said. "He was a kid who'd be dressed with his helmet on sitting in the car ready for practice. He was ready to do whatever."
In addition to having a solid work ethic, Pool was a child who wasn't accustomed to losing games. Playing as a child, he suited up for the Allen Hurricanes, a team he said won 59 consecutive games.
Pool plays with a level of confidence that makes him an intriguing player all around the Lovejoy locker room. Despite being 16, he's a leader among all the players.
"Here's a kid who, as young as he is, he's able to command respect of the upperclassmen," Cox said. "It's because of what he does on and off the field. He's still a sophomore, and sophomores make mistakes on the field, but playing at his level—you don't always see in any kid in high school."
Through seven games, Pool has 92 tackles, including 47 unassisted and 11 behind the line of scrimmage. He also has three sacks, four pass breakups, four forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.
In short, he's everywhere on the football field—and colleges have been taking notice.
Recruiting on deck, and expectations high
Recruiting recently became a discussion topic with Pool, but it's nothing that he's taking seriously at the moment.
He has early interest from Arkansas, Baylor, Tulsa and SMU, and he's also received correspondence from Boston College. Pool took an unofficial visit to Baylor last weekend.
"It's super early, so I'm still keeping everything open," he said. "The coaches love my size and say they can't wait to see what I do in the future.
"They also love the name, of course."
Pool is expected to add weight to his frame, which would make him a college-ready inside linebacker from the eye test alone. If Pool remains the same size in the next couple of years, don't be surprised if he's moved to the outside linebacker spot because of his quickness and reaction time. He's already a solid tackler and is expected to get even better as he matures.
Jeff Pool said his son's primary objective is to maintain his focus not only on the field but also in the classroom. The opportunities to be successful will be there as long as he keeps his goals in mind.
"His mom and I talk to him all the time about it: Keep enjoying what you're doing, and keep making good decisions," Jeff Pool said. "A lot of kids his age start looking ahead too early. They want to live in the now instead of looking to their futures. There's no doubt that if he keeps doing what he's doing, he'll have every opportunity he wants."
And if all goes as planned, Bumper Pool will be more than just a unique name on the college football circuit.
"I still remember coaches seeing him do the things he does in practice," Cox said. "They asked who he was, and then their jaws dropped when I told them he was just going to be a sophomore.
"Then, when you tell them his name is Bumper Pool...that's going to stick with them."
Damon Sayles is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings. Follow Damon via Twitter: @DamonSayles.
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Will your team make the College Football Playoff?
Unlike most media sites, Bleacher Report doesn't give you a yes or no answer. Instead, we use analytics and the AP poll as a substitute for committee rankings to assign your team a probability to make the playoff.
The sortable table shows the results, while you can find more information on the methods here. Now let me highlight some key results.
Baylor continues to win big
Baylor won big again, beating Big 12 foe West Virginia 62-38. My numbers give the Bears a 53.8 percent chance to make the playoff, best in the nation.
How can these odds be so high when Baylor hasn't played any elite teams?
Well, Baylor keeps winning by big margins over these inferior opponents. West Virginia actually got within 24 points of beating Baylor, its smallest margin of victory this season.
Margin of victory is a good predictor of future games. Since 2005, the team with the higher average margin of victory before bowl season has won 58.5 percent of bowl games. For comparison, the team favored by the markets have won 61.1 percent. You can make an even better predictor by taking margin of victory and adjusting for strength of schedule. Good computer rankings do this, and it plays a big role in my version.
Alabama finds its groove
In its first four games, Alabama threw on 52 percent of plays. It seemed like an odd choice given the Crimson Tide's traditional run-first tendencies and their question mark at quarterback. In the three games since, Alabama has run the ball on 64 percent of plays, giving opponents a heavy dose of Derrick Henry. The Crimson Tide have won each of these conference games by comfortable margins.
With its 41-23 win over Texas A&M, Alabama's playoff probability rises to 37.1 percent, third in the nation behind Baylor and Ohio State. The Tide will get tested by LSU and Mississippi State, but they look on track to win the division and play in another SEC title game.
Notre Dame continues to roll
Notre Dame's offense racked up 476 yards on 7.9 yards per play in a 41-31 win over USC. This unit continues to impress despite season-ending injuries to a number of starters.
However, the defense is lagging behind the offense as it allowed USC to gain almost 600 yards on 7.7 yards per play. Despite its struggles, Notre Dame has a 19.9 percent chance to make the playoff. The Irish now enter the softer part of their schedule. Over their next four games, their lowest win probability is 67.4 percent at Pittsburgh.
Brian Kelly's team end its regular season at Stanford, and my numbers make the Fighting Irish a small underdog (47.4 percent win probability). If they win that game and end the season 11-1, the committee will have to decide how to treat them. The committee has stressed the importance of a conference championship. Will an 11-1 record with a close loss to Clemson be treated like a conference title? We don't know, and Notre Dame will spend championship weekend hoping a few top teams lose.
Stanford still in running from Pac-12
Stanford scored an emphatic 56-35 win over UCLA on Thursday. Despite a disastrous loss at Northwestern to start the season, the Cardinal have a 17.6 percent chance to make the playoff.
While all-purpose back Christian McCaffrey gets the headlines, an improved Stanford offensive line also deserves credit, which didn't allow a UCLA defender to touch McCaffrey on a 28-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.
However, it's not all roses for Stanford. The defense allowed 506 yards to UCLA at 6.9 yards per play, as the unit has dropped off from the past two seasons. Stanford won by a comfortable margin due to an Alijah Holder interception return for a touchdown and a 96-yard McCaffrey kickoff return that set up the offense near the goal line. An insane catch by Francis Owusu around the body of a UCLA defender helped as well.
With the downfall of Oregon, Stanford has a 81 percent chance to win its division (a cross-division game with Colorado helps these odds). However, even if the Cardinal win the Pac-12 North, they still play Notre Dame and most likely Utah in the Pac-12 championship game. Stanford must win both to assure its spot in the playoff.
Look for Ohio State or Michigan State to win Big Ten, not Iowa
Ohio State and Michigan State entered the season as the favorites to win the Big Ten. Both have had their struggles, but they still find themselves in the thick of the Big Ten race after seven weeks.
Ohio State has a 56.4 percent chance to win the Big Ten East, a big part of its 43.9 percent chance to make the playoff. Who cares who's playing quarterback when you have Ezekiel Elliott, the constant home run threat who's averaging 6.7 yards per carry?
Michigan State has a 31.8 percent chance to win the Big Ten East and a 26.8 percent chance to make the playoff. These numbers would be much smaller without its miracle fumble return to beat Michigan. But as I discussed previously, the Spartans outplayed Michigan in key facets of the game.
Whoever wins the East most likely plays Iowa, an undefeated team with a 88.6 percent chance to win the Big Ten West. The numbers like the East champion to win this title game, as Iowa only has a 14.7 percent chance to make the playoff.
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — It may have been the quickest answer running back Derrick Henry has given since he arrived at the University of Alabama three years ago.
He didn’t even wait for the end of the question, because as soon as the reporter got out “Have you thought about the Heisman,” Henry started repeatedly saying “no.”
“We're not focusing on that,” he said. “That's not our goal. Our goal is to get a team win every Saturday and go from there. We're not worried about that.”
While it sounds like rhetoric, to a man Alabama is claiming that’s been the difference in the Crimson Tide since the team held a players-only meeting following the loss to Ole Miss on Sept. 19.
According to Jonathan Allen, among those who spoke out during the 30-minute session included Reggie Ragland, Jarran Reed, A'Shawn Robinson, Derrick Henry, Eddie Jackson and Cyrus Jones, although the defensive end added that it was more of a team thing than any individual players speaking out.
The message was simple: Stop paying attention to what everyone else was saying, set aside individual concerns and put the team first.
"Can’t worry about accolades and us being No. 1 or No. 2, none of that stuff," Ragland said. "So we just worry about ourselves and trucking along now."
Since then Alabama has knocked off two Top 10 teams on the road and has also notched a shutout. With rival Tennessee visiting on Saturday, the defense has especially been clicking and last week outscored the Texas A&M offense thanks to three interception returns for a touchdown.
"Everybody started making plays out of nowhere," Ragland added. "Everybody was doing their job and everyone really focused and zeroed in the Georgia game, on the defensive side and offensive side."
Here’s everything you need to know for Saturday’s game against Tennessee, a long-standing rivalry known as the "Third Saturday in October."
Date: Saturday, October 24
Time: 2:30 p.m. CT (3:30 p.m. ET)
Place: Bryant-Denny Stadium
Spread: Alabama -15, according to OddsShark.com.
COLUMBUS, Ohio — As the cliche goes, hindsight is 20/20. It's easy to look back at events and make sense of them knowing exactly how they played out.
But with the latest development in Ohio State's unprecedented quarterback conundrum-turned-carousel, we finally seem to have reached the conclusion that was always meant to be.
Three days after benching Cardale Jones in favor of J.T. Barrett in the second half of the Buckeyes' 38-10 win over Penn State, Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer declared that Barrett will be his team's starting quarterback moving forward. The move was hardly a surprise to anyone who witnessed the No. 1 Buckeyes' beating of the Nittany Lions, which saw Barrett earn co-offensive player of the game honors after tallying 132 total yards (30 passing, 102 rushing) and four touchdowns (two passing, two rushing) in relief of Jones.
After declining to publicly commit to a starter on Monday, Meyer did so on Tuesday's Big Ten coaches teleconference.
"J.T. has earned the right to start Saturday at Rutgers," Meyer said. "It was a difficult decision."
To many, Barrett was the obvious choice—even prior to the season. After all, it was the reigning Big Ten Quarterback and National Freshman of the Year who led the Buckeyes to an 11-1 regular-season record a year ago, before a broken ankle opened the door for Jones to win three postseason games and capture the first-ever College Football Playoff championship.
If you follow the thought process that a player shouldn't lose his starting status because of injury, Barrett never lost his.
Only Meyer was following a different line of logic.
In Meyer's mind, since it was Jones who finished last season wearing college football's crown, he would be the one treated like a championship fighter who needed to be beaten decisively to lose his belt. And while he's denied as much publicly, it'd be understandable if he felt he owed Jones the first crack at starting this season after he opted to return to Ohio State rather than enter the NFL draft last spring.
Thus, it was Jones who started the Buckeyes' season-opening win against Virginia Tech and, despite a pair of in-game benchings in the second and third weeks of the season, continued to keep himself in Ohio State's starting lineup for the first seven weeks. But over the course of the past two weeks, the 6'5", 250-pounder has seen his role decrease—at first subtly and then dramatically—as Barrett became a more active part of the Buckeyes' game plan as a situational signal-caller.
And as opposed to earlier in the season, Barrett has made the most of his opportunities in recent weeks, tallying a total of seven touchdowns (five rushing, two passing) in his limited playing time.
"Sheer production," Meyer said when asked to explain why he was making the switch from Jones to Barrett. "Red-zone production and third-down production were the two areas that made the difference."
While many expected Barrett to beat out Jones for the Buckeyes' starting job this offseason—just as he did when Braxton Miller went down with a season-ending injury two weeks before the start of the 2014 campaign—perhaps they underestimated just how long of a leash Meyer would give Jones. Although his season stat line has been steady—1,242 yards, seven touchdowns, five interceptions on a 62.4 completion percentage—the strong-armed Jones has been ineffective in the downfield passing game, completing just three passes of 40 or more yards through seven games.
With Jones struggling with what was supposed to be his greatest strength and Barrett having seemingly returned to his 2014 form in the past two weeks, the redshirt sophomore now seems like the obvious choice for Meyer. A more mobile quarterback, Barrett provides a dynamic in the Buckeyes' ground game that Jones doesn't, something Meyer sees as essential in his spread offense.
And while Meyer said Tuesday that he hopes to keep Jones active in Ohio State's game plan, he remained unsure of how exactly he would go about doing so. One would imagine, however, that Barrett would now receive a leash as long as Jones did, although the hope for Meyer is that conversation will never have to occur.
Then again, after the ups and downs this quarterback saga has seen in the past year, Meyer knows that there's very little he can count on at this point.
"Not necessarily," Meyer answered when asked if he was at ease with his decision. "I don't know if I'm ever at peace during the course of the season, because there's always stuff going on."
But with the way Barrett has played in the past two weeks, Ohio State's quarterback situation seems as settled as it ever has been. This was the solution all along—it just took longer than anticipated for the Buckeyes to arrive at it.
Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Big Ten lead writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand. All statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com. Recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports.
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With the college football season halfway completed, teams across the nation are hoping to close strong in order to build momentum for the final recruiting push before signing day.
So far, a handful of teams have already made statements on the field that are causing top prospects to take notice.
In other cases, powerhouse programs are hoping to solve their issues by chasing recruits who can step in and provide an immediate boost next fall.
Which schools are poised to make a strong push on the recruiting trail in the coming months?
*Teams listed in alphabetical order.