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Florida State Football: Seniors Brought Back Prosperity to Program

Florida State's class of 2010 and '11 signed with coach Jimbo Fisher with the hope that together they would turn things around and bring prosperity back to the program. After a national championship and two ACC titles, FSU's program is again one of the best in the nation.

FSU is riding a 26-game winning streak, and members of the class of 2011 have won 45 games (the redshirt seniors can claim 10 more wins from 2010).

Fisher and the Seminoles will honor the seniors on Saturday before the game against Boston College. Among the seniors is Cameron Erving, who began his FSU career at defensive tackle before moving to left tackle in 2012 and then switching to center on Saturday. The move by Erving has solidified the offensive line.

"It is selflessness, but also those guys know that it adds value to them, too," Fisher said. "When you are a multiple guy up front and can play two or three positions, your value to the league (NFL) becomes so much greater."

Erving's contributions at multiple positions shows the players' willingness to do whatever they can for the team and help the Seminoles win. Here's a look at FSU's seniors and their contributions to the program:

OL Austin Barron: A second-team offensive lineman most of his career, Barron had five starts in his first three seasons and then started five games in 2014 before suffering a fracture to his right arm.

OL Cameron Erving: Recruited as a defensive tackle in 2010, Erving moved to left tackle in the spring of 2012. He immediately won the starting job, protecting the blind side for quarterbacks EJ Manuel and Jameis Winston. Erving won the ACC's Jacobs Blocking Trophy (top offensive lineman) in 2013 and started nine games at left tackle this season before moving to center on Saturday against Miami.

WR Christian Green: A Scout.com 5-star quarterback, Green converted to receiver at FSU and had a promising redshirt freshman season in 2011 (26 receptions, 450 yards). But Green could never recapture that success and he has just six catches for 120 yards and a touchdown in 2014.

WR Rashad Greene: FSU's all-time receptions leader (246), Greene has 3,507 yards and 27 touchdowns. He is closing in on the school record for receiving yards (Ron Sellers had 3,598) and receiving touchdowns (Peter Warrick had 31). Greene has back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons—the first time an FSU receiver has done that since Sellers in 1967-68.

WR Jarred "Scooter" Haggins: Another former high school quarterback, Haggins also made the move to receiver but has battled injuries to his shoulder, wrist and knee. He has just 21 career catches.

TE Kevin Haplea: A transfer from Penn State before the 2012 season, Haplea had three catches in his first year in Tallahassee but missed 2013 with a knee injury. He has two catches for 19 yards this season but has made a big impact off the field by leading fundraisers for the Fisher family's Kidz1stFund.

OL Bobby Hart: He first started as a 17-year-old in 2011 at right tackle and has 33 games under his belt. Hart has been durable but hasn't been as consistent as the other senior linemen.

DE Desmond Hollin: A junior college transfer, the defensive end has 37 career tackles and has provided needed depth on the line. He also started two games in 2014.

OL Tre' Jackson: The All-ACC right guard has started 38 career games and has been a consistent blocker for the Seminoles. He has been named a semifinalist for the Outland Trophy and was named ACC Offensive Lineman of the Week three times in 2014.

OL Josue Matias: An All-ACC left guard, Matias has started 39 career games. He has been a steady, durable force on the line.

TE Nick O'Leary: A John Mackey Award finalist in 2013, O'Leary is FSU's career leader among tight ends for catches (103), yards (1,379) and touchdowns (13). He has caught a career-high 37 passes in 2014 and is one of eight semifinalists for the Mackey Award.

CB Nick Waisome: The corner has played in 48 career games and has started 15 games. He has 34 career tackles.

RB Karlos Williams: A Scout.com 5-star safety prospect, Williams was a special-teams star and reserve defensive back his first two years. He filled in at linebacker in the 2012 ACC Championship Game and had a game-clinching interception of Georgia Tech's Tevin Washington in the final minute to seal up a win over the Yellow Jackets.

 

Bob Ferrante is the lead Florida State writer for Bleacher Report. Follow Bob on Twitter. Stats are courtesy of seminoles.com.

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Notre Dame Football: 5 Underclassmen to Watch for in Final Weeks

To put it kindly, the last few weeks haven't gone well for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Brian Kelly's team has lost three of four, throwing into chaos postseason plans that had Notre Dame fans hoping to be a part of the College Football Playoff, but now could have them finishing the season in the Belk Bowl. 

But that's what critical turnovers and a rash of injuries will do to a young football team. So now it's Brian Kelly's job to see just what the youth on this roster can do, with an eye toward next year's football team now playing a key role in the development of his roster.

While the loss to Northwestern still stings, the future is bright in South Bend. With rumors once again beginning to swirl, Kelly said the only interest in Florida he has is a trip to warm up in a few weeks—not any head-coaching vacancy—likely ending the silly season early.

That's likely easier as he'll look to a team that'll return 19 starters, with cornerback KeiVarae Russell and defensive end Ishaq Williams adding a few more experienced bodies. 

But with a bowl game and battles with Louisville and USC still ahead, it's time to see what the kids can do. Especially as they'll be counted on to play key roles on a team that'll have a playoff-or-bust attitude. 

Here are five underclassmen worth watching. 

 

*Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand. 

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The Most Important College Football Games Left on the Recruiting Calendar

With less than a month remaining in college football’s regular season, there are precious few opportunities for recruits to visit some of their favorite schools while witnessing a festive atmosphere.

The calendar still has a handful of games that should have plenty of top recruits filling up the stands down the stretch. 

For example, a number of top rivalries headline the nation’s most anticipated upcoming showdowns.

Which games left on the recruiting calendar are the most important contests left in the regular season?

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How Ohio State Turned Season Around & Became Nation's 'Most Dangerous' Offense

The Ohio State Buckeyes were left for dead when star QB Braxton Miller was declared out for the season with a preseason shoulder injury.

However, with J.T. Barrett under center and the offensive line bolstered, the Buckeyes have skyrocketed to No. 6 in the most recent rankings with national championship dreams in sight. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder illustrates how the Buckeyes have salvaged their season. 

Who should be credited for OSU's resurgence?

Watch the video and let us know! 

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Which Nebraska Cornhusker Commits Are Vital for Bo Pelini's Defense in 2015?

Bo Pelini and the Nebraska Cornhuskers are bringing in some much-needed top talent on the defensive side of the ball. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder breaks down the incoming Nebraska recruiting class and how they can impact the 2015 season.

Which recruit will make the most noise for the Cornhuskers next season?

Watch the video and let us know! 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Stay or Go: Should Nation's Top Underclassmen QBs Make Jump to NFL?

The NFL is always calling for the top QBs in college football. It is a tough decision for these young student-athletes. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder and Bleacher Report Lead NFL Draft Writer Matt Miller joined Stephen Nelson to give their answers on which underclassmen QBs should enter the draft.

Which underclassmen QB should enter the NFL draft?

Watch the video and let us know! 

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Which 2015 Commits Will Step into Immediate Impact Roles for Auburn Offense?

The Auburn Tigers are losing a lot of talent on the offensive side of the ball. However, in true Gus Malzahn fashion, he's recruited some of the most explosive talent in the land.

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder breaks down the key recruits on the offensive side of the ball who will be suiting up for the Tigers next fall.

Which newcomer will make the biggest impact for Auburn?

Watch the video and let us know! 

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USC's Cody Kessler Emerging as One of 2015 NFL Draft's Top Quarterback Prospects

The consensus among media draft analysts, from ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay (both subscription required) to CBS Sports’ Rob Rang and Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller, is that Oregon’s Marcus Mariota and Florida State’s Jameis Winston are not only the top two quarterbacks eligible for the 2015 NFL draft, but two of the best overall prospects.

After Mariota and Winston, the door is wide open for another quarterback prospect to emerge as the 2015 draft’s No. 3 signal-caller. No one has yet, but USC’s Cody Kessler is one overlooked passer who is quietly making a case for himself.

UCLA’s Brett Hundley, Michigan State’s Connor Cook, Notre Dame’s Everett Golson and Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott are the quarterback prospects most frequently labeled as being in the next tier. They are all quarterbacks with intriguing physical tools and who have been very impressive in their best games this year, but they have been beset overall by inconsistency and turnovers.

Kessler does not have the physical upside of those more often-discussed prospects, but he has had a fantastic junior season thus far in which he displayed significant improvement and polish. For a team looking for a potential quick fix at the quarterback position but not in position to draft Mariota or Winston, Kessler just might be the right fit as a Day 2 pick, should he declare for the 2015 draft.

 

Why Is Kessler Being Overlooked?

It’s unusual for a quarterback at Southern California, one of the most well-known programs in college football, to be putting up some of the best statistics in college football yet still be flying under the radar.

Kessler currently ranks fourth in the Football Bowl Subdivision in quarterback rating (169.0) and completion percentage (70.2), according to CFBStats.com. Only Mariota, with 29 touchdown passes and two interceptions, has a better touchdown-to-interception ratio—among quarterbacks who have thrown at least 15 touchdowns this year—than Kessler (29 touchdowns, three interceptions).

Despite breaking a school record with seven touchdown passes in a game this year against Colorado, at a university that has had six quarterbacks drafted—including three top-10 overall picks—since 2003, Kessler has not generated the buzz of many of the other top senior and junior passers in college football.

It’s seemingly as though “no one expects the junior to leave school early,” as Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times suggested this week after talking to NFL scouts.

It might very well be in Kessler’s best interest to return to USC for his senior season—outside of Mariota and Winston, there are no quarterbacks with remaining collegiate eligibility who should jump to the NFL without seriously considering the pros and cons of declaring for the draft after this season.

Even so, “scouts are beginning to evaluate [Kessler],” according to Farmer.

The senior class of collegiate quarterbacks appears to offer no early-round picks, and the junior class is full of players like Cook, who has a high ceiling but said on The Dan Patrick Show (h/t Detroit Free Press) he intends to return to school, and would be smart to do so.

Considering that, a player who has improved significantly like Kessler has this year should not have his pro potential ignored.

 

Why It’s Time to Pay Attention to Kessler

When Kessler is auditioning for NFL teams, whether that be in the 2015 draft or in 2016, he will have to fight the stigma of the “game manager” label he seems destined to have stuck to him.

A 6’1”, 210-pound player with limited athleticism, Kessler lacks outstanding physical traits and is not going to be a dual-threat NFL quarterback.

That said, Kessler has a stronger arm than people might think. He has efficient throwing mechanics and regularly generates significant velocity on his downfield passes.

In Kessler’s most recent game, a 38-30 win for USC over California, the following 32-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver George Farmer—which traveled nearly 50 yards through the air—was a prime example of the quarterback’s ability to sling the ball deep with zip.

More important than Kessler’s deep ball, which is not awe-striking but still effective, is his ability to fit intermediate throws with precise timing in between tight windows.

Also from USC’s most recent game against California, the following 10-yard touchdown pass on a diamond-angle route by junior wide receiver and potential early-round draft pick Nelson Agholor, was an evident display of skill in that area.

Skeptics might note that those two examples of throws came against a Golden Bears passing defense that has literally allowed 68 more passing yards per game than any other defense in the FBS. As impressive as Kessler was in his 371-yard, four-touchdown performance last Thursday night, he was expected to be given his opponent.

With multiple games coming up against tougher opponents, including UCLA on Saturday and Notre Dame next week, Kessler will have to show that he can continue to make plays of that degree as the competition rises.

Nonetheless, the throws above would be impressive against any opponent, and seem to be signs of continued improvement from a player who threw for 344 yards and four touchdowns in the Las Vegas Bowl against Fresno State at the end of his sophomore season and has continued to play very good football ever since.

One of the most important aspects of evaluating a prospect at any position is assessing how well that player has improved. Since no drafted player is viewed as a finished product, scouts want to see that a player continuously gets better as his collegiate years progress.

That has happened with Kessler, whose play in 2013 prior to the Las Vegas Bowl was average enough that he had to compete with redshirt freshman Max Browne during spring practice in order to retain the starting quarterback job. His improvement over the past year did not only make him USC’s clear-cut starter, but also a player who is no longer (or at least should no longer) be an NFL afterthought.

As an unnamed NFL scout noted in the aforementioned article by Farmer, one of the biggest areas in which Kessler has advanced is in his ability to read defenses and find open targets: "[Coach Steve Sarkisian] has done a nice job developing him. He shows good ability to go through his progressions in the pocket. He's not a big kid, but he seems to see the field pretty well, from first to second and even to the third receiver at times."

Kessler still stares down some of his throws, but with noticeably less frequency than he did in previous years.

The quarterback also does a nice job of consistently keeping his eyes downfield, looking for targets, even when he is pressured and/or on the run.

Although it’s a safe bet Kessler won’t wow anyone with his speed running a 40-yard dash, he shows good ability to extend plays outside the pocket and make downfield throws on the move.

Kessler’s biggest selling point might be his lack of mistakes, as evidenced by his having thrown only three interceptions in 339 passing attempts this season.

While Kessler’s ball placement is not always perfect, it’s rare to see him make a throw to any level that is badly off the mark. He has a clear understanding of how to throw the ball with anticipation, while his velocity enables him to drive the ball to his target.

 

If Kessler Declares, Where Will He End Up in the Draft?

As noted before, Kessler’s draft stock will be at least in part determined by how strongly he finishes the season.

With his next two games each being high-profile matchups, and against quarterbacks (Hundley and Golson) with whom he could be competing for draft position, Kessler has multiple opportunities in front of him to capture national attention if he can outduel signal-callers who have been hyped up more extensively to this point.

As much of Kessler’s statistical excellence has been accumulated on throws inside 15 yards, he must continue to showcase that he can connect on challenging downfield passes, without compromising the reliability that has become his resume this year.

There are still some noteworthy flaws in Kessler’s game.

While his consistency in keeping his eyes downfield is a positive trait, he needs to become better at sensing pressure coming toward him to avoid sacks. Additionally, he sometimes tries too hard to keep plays alive, despite being a limited athlete, which also results in getting taken down when he should have just thrown the ball away.

There are some impressive examples in Kessler’s tape of completing passes downfield under pressure and/or using his feet to navigate the pocket to step into throws. Overall, however, his footwork is an area in which he needs further improvement.

Kessler’s not likely to suddenly grow three inches or procure sprinter speed, but he’s been able to improve his game significantly, nonetheless. Given his improvement to date, there’s reason to believe that with continued development, Kessler can work his way through the fixable issues that remain in his game.

From a long-term standpoint, it would likely be best for Kessler if he holds off going pro until 2016 and instead continues his development as a third-year starter for USC in his senior year.

“I think he's a prospect down the road, but I would never encourage a junior, especially a quarterback, to come out,” said the NFL scout quoted by Farmer.

On the other hand, it shouldn’t simply be assumed that Kessler will remain at USC past this year—especially if he finishes the season on a high note.

Kessler will have to overcome the “game manager” stigma, along with the dissent some might have from drafting USC quarterbacks, as recent examples like 2009 first-round pick Mark Sanchez and 2006 first-round pick Matt Leinart failed to meet expectations for the teams that invested in them.

However, every prospect is different. A player shouldn’t simply be judged by those who played his position at a school before him—especially considering that Kessler’s current offensive line at USC is not nearly as effective as the blocking units that Sanchez and Leinart had in front of them during their collegiate years.

Kessler's not a franchise-quarterback prospect in whom a team should be investing a first-round draft pick. His limitations might not keep him from becoming a quality starter, but they do make it less likely that he will emerge as a superstar.

As it currently stands, Kessler should project as a selection between the second and fourth rounds. He might never emerge as a team's long-term starter, but he has enough skill to quite possibly be a pleasant surprise if and when he gets the chance to lead an NFL offense, and his development makes it promising that he could play as a rookie if needed.

All GIFs were made at gfycat.com using videos from YouTube.

Dan Hope is an NFL/NFL Draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.

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USC's Cody Kessler Emerging as One of 2015 NFL Draft's Top Quarterback Prospects

The consensus among media draft analysts, from ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay (both subscription required) to CBS Sports’ Rob Rang and Bleacher Report’s ...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

College Football Picks Week 13: Odds and Spread Predictions for Top 25 Teams

The College Football Playoff selection committee shocked the nation with its Week 13 rankings, as 9-1 Alabama catapulted to the top, 9-1 Oregon remained in second following its bye week and undefeated Florida State dropped to third. Mississippi State rounded out the Top Four.

Of course, fans of the Seminoles were outraged by the preposterous act of ranking one-loss teams ahead of an undefeated squad; however, a strong argument can be made against Florida State, as it hasn't produced many convincing wins despite a weak schedule.

Regardless of which side you are on, one thing is certain: No team is a lock to make the inaugural College Football Playoff just yet. We've seen plenty of unexpected finishes throughout the season, and Week 13 should be no different.

Before the action on college's gridiron returns, let's take a look at which teams and odds the nation's top contenders must deal with Saturday.

All game odds courtesy of Odds Shark and current as of November 20.

Note: No. 12 Kansas State played Thursday, and No. 5 TCU and No. 18 Georgia Tech are on bye.

 

Upset Pick of the Week: No. 24 Louisville over Notre Dame

Before we delve into the analysis here, let's get one thing straight: Even though Notre Dame isn't ranked, the Fighting Irish are home favorites over the Cardinals. That makes this an upset pick in the eyes of Vegas oddsmakers.

At the beginning of the season, this game line and corresponding prediction would have been completely different. After all, for the first half of 2014, Notre Dame looked to have one of the nation's best defenses and Louisville was trying to figure out how to recover from losing Teddy Bridgewater to the draft and DeVante Parker to injury.

Oh, how things have changed.

Let's use one word to describe Notre Dame's defense right now: pathetic. Sure, that seems harsh, but take a look at the team's three most recent performances. The Irish defense allowed 39 points to Navy, 55 to Arizona State and 43 to Northwestern. For those of you counting at home, that's a total of 137 points given up during that span.

This tweet from Chicago Tribune Sports sums it up for the Irish:

Making matters worse for the Irish are quarterback Everett Golson's ball-security issues. He's prone to fumbling whenever he's pressured, and he has thrown at least one interception in each of his last seven games. That's not a winning recipe.

Now, Notre Dame has Louisville coming to town. The Cardinals have been a completely different team since the return of Parker. In Week 12, he torched the Boston College secondary for 144 yards and a score on eight receptions. He brings a great balance to the Cardinals offensive attack.

The NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah is already considering Parker a first-round selection:

Judging by Notre Dame's recent performances, don't expect the Irish secondary to contain Parker. Expect a huge day for the NFL-bound wideout as Louisville narrowly escapes South Bend with a victory.

Prediction: Louisville 38, Notre Dame 34

 

Lock of the Week: No. 7 Baylor over Oklahoma State

Get ready to see the nation's most high-flying offense pull off an enormous win at McLane Stadium on Saturday. The stars have aligned for the Bears to absolutely decimate Oklahoma State due to a late-season matchup.

The Cowboys looked like they could be one of the nation's top teams early in the season when they were playing nobodies. After a close loss to Florida State in Week 1, Oklahoma State went on a five-game winning streak against unranked opponents. Then, it ran into the meat of its schedule.

What ensued were four consecutive losses—three to ranked opponents and one to Texas. During those four contests, the Cowboys offense failed to score more than 14 points in any game. The team suffered its worst defeat of the season in Week 12, scoring just seven points against the Longhorns.

Here's a telling tweet regarding Oklahoma State's offense from Longhorn Network at halftime of that game:

On the flip side, we have a Baylor team that continues to light up scoreboards each and every week. Of the team's nine contests this season, it has scored at least 45 points in seven of them. Quarterback Bryce Petty also just broke a school passing record, according to ESPN Stats & Info:

Needless to say, facing off against Oklahoma State's 91st-ranked defense in Week 13 is a pretty favorable matchup.

Even more impressive has been the Bears defense. After giving up a good chunk of points to both TCU and West Virginia, Baylor responded by holding both Kansas and Oklahoma to just 14 points. Again, that's a good omen considering Oklahoma State's recent offensive struggles.

The fact that Baylor is playing at home is just the icing on the cake here. Expect the Bears to tear it up early and often in Week 13 against the Cowboys, putting up some gaudy numbers while their defense plays well enough to keep Oklahoma State well away from covering the spread.

Prediction: Baylor 56, Oklahoma State 14

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Bowl Predictions 2014: Updated Playoff Projections and Odds on Brink of Week 13

If the rivalry games in Week 14 and the conference championships in Week 15 are the main courses on the way to the College Football Playoff, Week 13 is the appetizer that will feature tons of style points.

Fans may be subjected to too many style points considering every one of the undefeated or one-loss playoff contenders are at home against unranked and overmatched foes. 

With that in mind, here is a look at the latest playoff projections and odds from StatMilk, as well as my own playoff projections. While I believe Florida State, Oregon and Alabama will all win out and clinch a spot, Baylor’s head-to-head victory over TCU will eventually come into play in the final College Football Playoff poll.

 

StatMilk Playoff Projections

 

Scott Polacek Playoff Projections

Sugar Bowl: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Baylor

Rose Bowl: No. 2 Florida State vs. No. 3 Oregon 

Championship Bowl (in Arlington, Texas): TBD (semifinal winners)

 

Week 13 Playoff X-Factors

Every one of the playoff contenders should win easily in Week 13, but there are still some X-factors that are worth watching for college football fans.

The first one at noon ET will be Indiana running back Tevin Coleman’s opportunity to make a statement on the national stage against Ohio State’s defense. Coleman is second in the nation behind the football-playing robot that is Melvin Gordon with 1,678 rushing yards on the season. He also has 12 touchdowns and is the main reason why Indiana is 11th in the country in rushing yards per game.

One person who certainly knows about Coleman now after preparing for the game is Ohio State coach Urban Meyer, via Bill Landis of Cleveland.com: “The tailback is ridiculous. I didn't know that until I went and watched the tape with the defense. He's unbelievable."

The Buckeyes defense just allowed 145 rushing yards and three touchdowns to Minnesota’s David Cobb, so the precedent is there for elite Big Ten running backs to exploit Ohio State.

Even if Coleman goes off, it may not be enough to beat Ohio State. After all, the Buckeyes should have a talent advantage nearly everywhere else, although Coleman and his team did upset Missouri earlier in the year.

Superstar players should never be taken lightly, regardless of what team they are on.

Elsewhere, Florida State would be advised to not start so slowly against Boston College because the Eagles are built to bleed the clock with a strong running game. Florida State has trailed at the half in six of its last 11 games and had to come back from deficits of 15 points or more three times this year. But, Boston College is 12th in the nation in rushing yards per game.

Quarterback Tyler Murphy has 1,006 rushing yards, and running back Jon Hilliman has 620 and 11 touchdowns. Boston College beat USC with a head-turning 452 rushing yards and will try to pound the clock early and often against the Seminoles.

That strategy would work better if the Eagles had the lead.

In the evening, fans will be subjected to a revenge game for Baylor against Oklahoma State.

The Bears were in the stretch run of a magical 2013 season, which included a blowout win over Oklahoma, and were in the national title picture until they completely derailed at Oklahoma State. Baylor lost 49-17, which is sure to be a motivating factor on Saturday. 

The Bears now have the nation’s No. 1 scoring offense, will be playing at home and understand that style points matter for playoff purposes. Baylor could roll the Cowboys, especially given this update from Kyle Fredrickson of The Oklahoman regarding Oklahoma State’s quarterback:

As long as the Bears don’t get too caught up in seeking revenge and end up pressing, this one should be over by halftime against an Oklahoma State squad that has lost four consecutive games.

 

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ESPN College GameDay 2014: Week 13 Schedule, Location, Predictions and More

Football may not be the first thing that comes to mind when Harvard and Yale are brought up, but the two Ivy League schools know what they are doing on the gridiron. 

In fact, the Crimson are a perfect 9-0, while the Bulldogs are 8-1. Saturday marks the 131st version of “The Game,” and the Ivy League title is on the line. ESPN’s traveling pregame show responded accordingly and will air College GameDay on Harvard’s campus before the rivalry showdown:

It is the second time during the 2014 season that College GameDay has been to an FCS game, with the first coming in Fargo, North Dakota, for the North Dakota State and Incarnate Word Academy meeting.

Here is a look at the essential information for the show before looking at a preview and prediction of Saturday’s game.

 

ESPN College GameDay: Week 11 Info

Date: Saturday, Nov. 22

Time (ET): 9 a.m. - 12 p.m.

Location:
Cambridge, Massachusetts

Watch: ESPN  

Live Stream: WatchESPN

 

Preview and Prediction

In case you were not fired up enough for this high-stakes rivalry clash, Harvard University shared a hype video:

If Harvard wins, it is the outright Ivy League champion, while a Yale victory would earn the Bulldogs a share of the title and open up an opportunity for Dartmouth to claim a portion of the championship as well with a win over Princeton.

This may be a rivalry, but Harvard has dominated as of late. In fact, the Crimson have seven straight victories against Yale and have won 12 of the last 13.

What’s more, only Ohio State and Boise State boast a higher winning percentage since 2001 than Harvard, so this whole winning thing is not a new phenomenon in Cambridge.

Something will have to give on Saturday because Harvard has the Ivy League’s best scoring defense at 11 points allowed per game, and Yale features the conference’s best scoring offense at 43 points a contest.

Harvard’s scoring defense is actually top in the entire FCS, second against the run (82.6 yards per game), second in first downs allowed (148) and ninth in yards allowed per game (292.8). It will have to slow down Tyler Varga, who leads the Ivy League with 1,296 rushing yards.

Varga turned some heads across the college football landscape when he gashed Army’s defense in a 49-43 Week 2 upset win for 185 rushing yards and an astounding five touchdowns.

Yale coach Tony Reno believed that the Army game from earlier in the season will help his squad in this upcoming marquee showdown, via Paul Doyle of the Hartford Courant: "It was a pretty big environment. I think the big stage, we've already handled that. That was really nice to have that."

While Varga will put up some numbers based on talent alone, the difference in the game will be when Harvard has the ball.

That strength vs. strength matchup will cancel each other out when the Bulldogs offense goes up against the Crimson’s stingy defense, but the middle-of-the-pack Yale defense that allows 29.8 points a game will not be able to slow down running back Paul Stanton Jr. and the Harvard offense.

That will be a serious problem because of how difficult it is to score on the Crimson’s top-ranked defense.

Harvard’s offense is averaging 32.9 points a game, largely because of Stanton Jr. He tallied four touchdowns in last year’s 34-7 win against Yale and is fresh off a career-high 235 rushing yards and three touchdowns against Penn in a 34-24 victory.

Stanton Jr. is red hot entering this rivalry showdown, and he has the Ivy League’s best defense to back him up on the other end. Harvard will make it an unprecedented eight consecutive wins over Yale. 

Prediction: Harvard 41, Yale 23

 

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Miami Football: Clash with Virginia Begins Show-Me Stretch for Al Golden

The Miami Hurricanes blasted a pair of conference opponents in Virginia Tech and North Carolina, and are starting to show signs of significant improvement compared to the 18-point season-opening loss to Louisville.

Following a bye week, Al Golden's team proved it actually belonged on the same field as Florida State for the first time since 2009. The result—a four-point loss—was undoubtedly disappointing, but it wasn't discouraging.

Miami's final two regular-season opponents are Virginia and Pittsburgh, which means an 8-4 finish to the 2014 campaign is attainable. 

Good teams defeat lesser competition, but that's something the 'Canes have been unable to do consistently.

However, the impressive nature of the recent three-game stretch means it's time for "The U" to confirm it belongs on the nation's radar for 2015.

The return to relevance is a painstaking road, especially for the program that underwent a turbulent period overshadowed by a major distraction. Yet even at 6-4 this season, Golden has positioned the Hurricanes closer than ever to reemergence on the Football Bowl Subdivision landscape.

Their performance against FSU made the country pay a little more attention to the once-dominant school. According to Susan Miller Degnan of The Miami Herald, ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit had plenty of praise for the future of the 'Canes:

I'm not saying this as a pro-Miami guy or an anti-Miami guy. I follow this stuff every minute that I'm awake. I talk with a lot of coaches all across the country, and what Al Golden and Mark D'Onofrio and James Coley are doing right now, and with the young talent they have around them, there is a lot to be excited about on that team.

"Closer than ever" is a phrase to which many Hurricanes supporters have voiced their objections on various parts of the Internet. Why? It's been repeatedly said for a few seasons now, but Miami still hasn't reached the expected dominant level.

Many—including myself—have to admit an error: The 'Canes weren't truly ready before this year, but we flocked to something shiny once we saw a potential superstar in Duke Johnson.

Ultimately, the entire team had a bigger hill to climb than was acknowledged by the masses.

Golden didn't inherit a program that was winning 10-plus games each season yet proceeding to completely screw everything up. Former coach Randy Shannon left the team with little elite talent, so Miami became Golden's mess.

The roster would require at least four recruiting classes and one star quarterback for a complete rebuild. Since 2012, the Hurricanes signed the No. 10, 14 and 12 classes in the nation—plus Brad Kaaya.

"They've got a true freshman quarterback and the sky is the limit," Herbstreit told the Herald. "If they put one more recruiting class behind what is already on that roster, Miami is so close. And I think anybody that doesn't recognize that just doesn't watch the game or maybe know the game."

The drawn-out NCAA investigation remains a viable excuse, and retaining Golden for a fifth year is entirely fair. The 2015 roster will be 100 percent comprised of his recruits, so Golden will be fully judged on his own team's performance.

Herbstreit noted that the expectations to this point were unfair:

Today's about Twitter, and it's about people not having a realistic view on things. Nobody wants to realize that Nevin Shapiro, that whole NCAA debacle, that whole dark cloud, was just a couple years ago. You don't go through Nevin Shapiro and possibly being put on death penalty and probation and years and years of setback and just blink your eyes and say, "Well, we're Miami so we've got to win 12 games."

But Golden has already made the two-deep legitimately competitive despite all the setbacks, so now it's a matter of filling out the rest and then executing on the field. Remember, this journey that may seem long enough already didn't happen overnight.

Miami was stuck in a crater, not just a hole.

The 'Canes, however, must begin flipping the script and burying their opponents as the 2014 season nears its conclusion. Virginia and Pittsburgh are both respectable teams, but neither is better than Miami on paper.

Virginia's defense—highlighted by Quin Blanding and Anthony Harris, among others—is excellent. Overall, it's allowed 347.8 yards and 25.2 points per outing—the Cavaliers' best marks since 2011 and 2008, respectively.

But quarterback Greyson Lambert and the UVA offense isn't a supreme threat. While Darius Jennings, Taquan Mizzell and Kevin Parks are all decent players, the unit doesn't have a breakout star. Jennings and Mizzell have notable speed, but it's not an attribute Miami is ill-prepared to handle.

Conversely, Pittsburgh is carried by running back James Conner and wide receiver Tyler Boyd, both of whom are difficult to contain. Conner ranks third in the nation with 1,562 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns, while Boyd has accounted for 951 yards and six scores.

However, the Panthers defense can be exploited, considering it surrenders 351.5 yards and 27.7 points per game.

What's more, Pitt allowed 56, 51 and 40 points to Georgia Tech, Duke and North Carolina, respectively, over the team's last three games.

Simply put, these are the types of matchups the Hurricanes must start dominating. They've demonstrated the ability to overpower teams (see: Virginia Tech and UNC), but 60-minute execution is imperative moving forward.

"You do not want to play Miami next year. I'll tell you that right now," Herbstreit told the Herald.

Golden's team can start to defend that early promotion by knocking off Virginia, Pittsburgh and the eventual bowl opponent. The 2015 season may seem far away, but finishing the current campaign on a high note would help silence detractors and continue advancing the program in the right direction.

The 'Canes officially removed themselves from the plague of mediocrity this season, challenging top competition into the fourth quarter. They came up short, but the experience gained from those games must translate against the mid-level teams remaining on the schedule.

Golden has accomplished many things at Miami, none larger than hoisting The U out of a crater and turning a few heads in the process. But his justifiable excuse has an expiration date that is soon approaching.

He's signed the talent. He's created winning game plans. Beginning Saturday and carrying into 2015, however, it's time for his successes to show up in the win column.

 

Stats courtesy of cfbstats.com. Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

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

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Auburn Football: 5 Class of 2015 Recruits the Tigers Must Land

AUBURN, Ala. — The last few weeks on the Plains have some Auburn fans already looking forward to next season.

The Tigers will look to come back in 2015 and follow through on their championship dreams after a 2014 campaign that could result in breaking the 10-win milestone but will be without a conference or national title.

Gus Malzahn and his staff need to reload the roster after a large senior class—and perhaps a few early entrants into the NFL draft—move on from the team.

Auburn has already addressed some key needs with its 20 current commitments, who make up the nation's No. 10 recruiting class, according to 247Sports' Composite Rankings.

With the Tigers facing a tuneup game against Samford this weekend, now is a good time to look at the top five uncommitted prospects Auburn needs to sign this offseason.

Begin Slideshow

UNC vs. Duke : Game Grades, Analysis for Tar Heels and Blue Devils

 

There's nothing quite like rivalry games in college football.  If for no other reason, you have to love these kind of games for their unpredictability.  If you looked at the metrics coming into tonight's showdown along Tobacco Road, you'd honestly have to admit that Duke looked to be the far superior squad.

Well, like we said: these games are notoriously difficult to predict.

North Carolina came out swinging, landed some early body blows, and never looked back.  What's perhaps even more impressive is the fact that UNC rode its much-maligned defense to victory.

Let's break it all down here in our game grades for both the Tar Heels and Blue Devils.

Box score via NCAA.com

 

 

UNC Pass Offense

We'll start with North Carolina's Marquise Williams.  He's generally known as a dual-threat guy who can make big plays with his feet, but it was his arm on display tonight in Durham.

Williams unloaded on the Blue Devils secondary to the tune of 276 yards and two touchdowns.  Ryan Switzer caught just three of Williams' 18 completions on the night, but Switzer had a game-high 109 yards.  Bug Howard also hauled in three catches for 55 yards while Quinshad Davis had six receptions for 44 yards and a score.

Mack Hollins had the other TD reception on his lone catch from a yard out.

Duke had been surviving much of the season by not giving up the deep ball.  Tonight, Williams and his receivers killed Duke by having success with the deep pass—and when the Tar Heels were rolling, Duke looked utterly incapable of stopping them.

We aren't venturing higher than a "B" in the passing offense, however, mainly due to William's penchant for risky play with the football when under pressure.  Rather than simply tacking the sack, Williams tried twice to make a move and throw the football late.  The result was two fumbles that gave Duke a glimmer of hope in the first half.

Lucky for Williams, his defense bailed him out both times.

 

UNC Run Offense

Marquise Williams, true to form, had a team-high 21 carries on the night, but it was T.J. Logan's performance that really stood out.  A 47-yard run that initially appeared to end in the end zone (but on review was ruled out at the one) was one of the most impressive running highlights of the evening for either team.

Logan is shifty in the backfield, able to avoid tackles near the line.  But his amazing track star-like speed in the open field is what was really impressive.  Logan finished the night with 116 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries.

In the end, UNC had three rushers with 96 yards or more—a number that will certainly please UNC fans and give Duke coaches fits when reviewing game tape tomorrow.

It's also worth noting, however, that Williams committed his third fumble of the evening in the run game.

 

UNC Pass Defense

North Carolina entered tonight's game with the 116th-ranked pass defense in the nation, giving up 283.4 yards per game.  Holding Duke to 262 passing yards isn't a quantum leap in terms of improvement, but it's an improvement, nonetheless.

Additionally, UNC was able to get pressure on Anthony Boone all evening, thanks in large part to some lock-down coverage by the Tar Heels secondary.  The defensive line played inspired and won the battles up front, and Boone never looked comfortable in the pocket.  As the game wore on, Boone was quick to dance outside of the pocket, reacting to the pressure—real or imagined.

Duke's early inability to throw the ball (89 yards on eight-of-17 passing in the first half) led the Blue Devils to try and rely on its running game while trailing by several touchdowns.

Forcing Duke to run the ball would work well only if UNC's similarly bad run defense could stand up to the pressure.

 

UNC Run Defense

And stand up to the pressure it did.  North Carolina, sporting the 115th-ranked run defense in the FBS (228.2 yards per game) limited Duke to just 116 yards on 37 carries.

There isn't much to say here except, "wow!"  What an improvement.  If there's one position group that deserves the praises of head coach Larry Fedora, it has to be the front seven.

Not only did UNC bottle up Boone when he was in the pocket, the front seven was able to contain any and all Blue Devils who dared carry the football.  The Tar Heels also did an outstanding job of limiting the big plays, as the long rush for Duke on the evening was a 12 yard scamper from Thomas Sirk.

Run defenders aren't often the superstars of a performance, but anyone watching tonight's game knows just how important these guys were to this winning effort for UNC.

 

UNC Special Teams

There isn't much to complain about here, as special teams really didn't play a massive role in a pretty lopsided game.

Thomas Moore was perfect, going one-for-one in field goals and six-for-six on extra points.  Tommy Hibbard averaged 42.3 yards on his three punts.

The lone exciting highlight for the special teams came from Ryan Switzer, whose 16-yard punt return early in the second quarter set UNC up with favorable field position near midfield—leading to a touchdown that put the Tar Heels up, 28-7.

 

UNC Coaching

Let's face it: Larry Fedora didn't have much reason to hope his Tar Heels would be able to provide much in the way of defensive resistance.  He really had to hope his offense could keep up with Duke.

Instead, his defense shut the Blue Devils' offense down while his offense overcame numerous miscues to open up a huge early lead.

While the game certainly wasn't perfect, Fedora's game-plan worked even better than he even likely hoped.  The defense played inspired football and the coaches kept the offense's head screwed on straight even after three fumbles by Marquise Williams.

 

 

Duke Pass Offense

We really expected to see more from Anthony Boone.  Sure, he's not the most prolific passer, having thrown for less than 2,000 yards coming into the evening.  But, he's been accurate when he's needed to be, and his on-field generalship of the offense has been a big part of the Blue Devil's success.

So we were more than a bit surprised to see a smidgen of panic in his eyes this evening as the UNC defensive front was able to dial up some consistent pressure.

After a few passes batted down at the line, a few sacks and a few more knockdowns, Boone began reacting early—too early—to pressure in the pocket.  This resulted in hurried throws and passes on the run—never a good combination for a quarterback.

After passing for just 89 yards in the first half, Boone finished 22-of-40 for 202 yards, two touchdowns and an interceptions that looked more like an arm punt than anything else.

To be fair, UNC's defensive secondary played out of their minds tonight, but Boone was making bad decisions with the football even when he wasn't truly forced into such bad throws.

 

Duke Run Offense

When the passing game struggles, you're supposed to be able to rely on your run game.  For Duke, that wasn't the case against North Carolina.

Five Blue Devils combined for just 116 yards—the exact same total yardage that UNC's T.J. Logan put up by himself.  What's more, Logan needed just 18 carries to reach that mark while Duke took 37 attempts to get there.

Boone also managed to fumble twice in the first half while running with the football, and he led the team with a paltry 36 yards on the ground.

Again, we have to credit UNC's defense for getting early pressure in the backfield, disrupting plays before they could truly materialize.  But if UNC was able to get into the Duke backfield so often, don't we have to start pointing some fingers towards the Duke offensive line?

You bet we do.

 

Duke Pass Defense

All thing being equal, Duke's pass defense didn't play that poorly.  Limiting an opposing quarterback to 276 yards and a pair of passing touchdowns isn't a stellar performance, but it's certainly not the end of the world.

The only problem is that the passing defense was the best part of the defense for Duke on the evening, and when 276 yards is the high point, you're in trouble.

Williams and his receivers were able to find holes in the Duke secondary, and the Tar Heels exploited the short routes every bit as much as they did the deep balls.  Duke had been making a living off of limiting big plays by opposing offenses, but tonight, the Tar Heels had nearly a half-dozen plays of 20-or-more yards just int he passing game, including a 62-yard pass from Williams to Ryan Switzer.

If your offense isn't playing well, the defense has to lend a hand by getting stops and preventing big plays.  On both of those fronts tonight, Duke failed.

 

Duke Run Defense

Here is where it really gets ugly for Duke.  The Blue Devils knew they would need to limit the runs from Williams and his compatriots.  Knowing a thing and doing a thing are very different.

Duke was run over to the tune of 316 rushing yards and three scores in an absolute clinic on how not to defend against the run.

T.J. Logan was able to run past every defender Duke had on the field and Marquise Williams had no trouble finding running room—even with Duke keying on the well-known rushing quarterback.

There's no other way to put this: the run defense was a complete failure this evening.

Okay, not "complete failure," but close.  The only reason we're giving a "D+" to the group is for the forced fumble and three fumble recoveries the guys up front had int he first half.

 

Duke Special Teams

If you were hoping for some sort of spark from the Duke special teams, you were likely disappointed.  That said, there really wasn't much opportunity for that badly-needed spark.  Duke forced just three UNC punts, only one of which was returned.  That lone return went for 30 yards, but that drive ended in a fumble—one of two committed by Duke in the red zone tonight.

We are marking down for two things here.  First, punter Will Monday was sadly able to down his own punt after kicking it almost straight up.  The net result was a weak 15 yard punt for the Blue Devils.  Secondly, Duke's failed two-point conversion late in the game that forced the Blue Devils to try an earlier-than-expected on-side kick (that failed).  Sure, you can blame the offensive unit for that, but since it's technically a special teams play, we're mentioning it here.

And besides, that failed on-side kick as a result is definitely a special teams play.

 

Duke Coaching

There just wasn't anything good about tonight's performance, and David Cutcliffe was visibly upset with his players and assistants on the sideline at times.

While there's a certain level of relying on the players to execute the plays (which the Blue Devils certainly failed to do over long stretches), we expected to see better adjustments to UNC's defensive pressure in the second half.  Those adjustments never materialized.

Instead, Duke's offensive play-calling became even less imaginative and the result was predictable.

We can't ignore all of the great things Cutcliffe has done at Duke over the past several years, but tonight wasn't one of his better moments.

 

Unless otherwise noted, quotes or references to quotes were obtained firsthand by the writer.

Follow Bleacher Report's National College Football Featured Columnist David Luther on Twitter!

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Will Michigan Beat Maryland to Become Bowl-Eligible?

Michigan has fought back from a brutal 2-4 start to be one win away from a bowl berth. With two games to play, Brady Hoke’s best chance to take his team bowling depends on beating Maryland in Michigan’s home finale.

A win would salvage some dignity for the team’s 12 seniors and preserve Hoke’s slim chance of retaining his job.

A loss would mean Michigan’s bowl hopes would rest on defeating Ohio State in Columbus, something even the most optimistic Michigan fan would acknowledge is very unlikely.

Reasons Michigan Will Win

Quarterback Devin Gardner

When Devin Gardner is at his best, he can completely dominate a game—see last season versus Notre Dame and Ohio State or this season versus Appalachian State. Brady Hoke said that Gardner rested during the bye week, and his health was improving. That might mean less passing and more slashing with Gardner using his legs to cause problems for Maryland.

Last year Gardner saved his best performance for last, coming within a two-point conversion of upsetting Ohio State. If he’s truly healthy Maryland might not be able to stop him.


Michigan’s Defense

Michigan’s defense is currently ranked No. 8 in the nation, a development that has been overshadowed by the total collapse of its offense. Linebacker Jake Ryan—90 tackles, 56 solo, per cfbstats.com—is having a great season, and the defensive line has been solid. If freshman Jabrill Peppers had stayed healthy and Blake Countess had returned to top form the secondary might have been spectacular.

Ryan and his teammates should have no problem containing an offense which is 111th in the nation.


Maryland’s Injuries

Maryland’s wide receiver ranks have been thinned by injury problems (Stefon Diggs) and discipline issues (Juwann Winfree). The loss of the team’s top receiver, Diggs (52 receptions for 654 yards and five touchdowns), is especially damaging.

These latest losses further decimate a position group that was already struggling to replace players, according to Roman Stubbs of The Washington Post:

One of the team’s leading receivers from 2013, Nigel King, transferred to Kansas in August. Then came the season-long suspension of junior starter Levern Jacobs, and his younger brother, Taivon Jacobs, suffered a torn ACL in the season opener against James Madison.

The Michigan defense should have the advantage of working against quarterback C.J. Brown as he tries to link up with inexperienced receivers.

Reasons Michigan Will Lose

Quarterback Devin Gardner

Gardner has been in a season-long downward spiral since the season opener. He’s usually his own worst enemy, throwing ill-advised passes that often end up being intercepted (13). If Gardner can’t scramble and he starts forcing the ball downfield, Maryland will have opportunities to convert turnovers into points.

If Gardner struggles, the game might be a replay of the Northwestern game (10-9), giving Maryland the edge with kicker Brad Craddock having hit 14 straight field goals this season.


No Frank Clark

The Michigan defensive line has improved dramatically over the course of the season. But defensive end Frank Clark will be missed after being dismissed from the team. He had been a key part of the line’s improvement.

If Maryland can wear down his replacements (Mario Ojemudia and Taco Charlton) or, even worse, get its run going in his absence, then Michigan could be in trouble.

 

Michigan Should Win Unless…

The Maryland passing attack is in rough shape with being down so many wide receivers. The Michigan defense should be able to keep the Terrapins from scoring a lot of points unless turnovers give them a short field to work with.

Everything adds up to a Michigan victory if Devin Gardner can limit his turnovers.

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

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@PSCallihan

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Kansas State vs. West Virginia: Score and Twitter Reaction

With No. 12 Kansas State coming off of its biggest loss of the season and its national championship hopes in shambles, many wondered how the Wildcats would respond on their trip to Morgantown, West Virginia. 

Quite well, it turns out.

Jake Waters threw for 400 yards, Tyler Lockett had a punt return for a touchdown, and the Wildcat defense held the West Virginia offense in check en route to a 26-20 victory on Thursday.

The contest proved yet another banner performance from Lockett, who added 10 receptions and 196 yards to his 43-yard touchdown scamper in the second quarter. Lockett was consistently able to get open underneath for Waters, stretching the field barely beyond the first-down marker to extend drives.

"I think Lockett is one of the best players in the country," Mountaineers coach Dana Holgorsen told reporters before the game. "He hurt us last year, he's hurt a lot of people over the last couple of years."

Lockett became Kansas State's all-time leading receiver in the Wildcats' 41-20 loss to TCU two weeks ago. The senior wideout broke a record set by his father, Kevin Lockett, a longtime NFL wide receiver and punt returner who played for four teams.

As it has for much of the season, Lockett's ability to get open made the job a lot easier for Waters, who completed 22 of 34 passes. The senior dual threat made the most out of breakdowns in the West Virginia secondary, as for the third time in four games his running ability was thwarted. Waters has carried the ball 19 times for 15 yards in his last two games.

"You have heard me say this time and time again about Jake. The experience of two years of practice and playing some games just made him better," Wildcats coach Bill Snyder told reporters. "Through that, he has gained so much more confidence."

The same could have been said for Clint Trickett before the past few weeks. The West Virginia quarterback had been one of the nation's breakout players, but his increasing propensity for turnovers has done the Mountaineers no favors.

Trickett added two interceptions Thursday, each halting potential West Virginia scoring drives. He finished 12-of-25 passing for 112 yards and left in the third quarter with an injury. Skyler Howard replaced Trickett and was far more effective under center, throwing for 198 yards and making plays with his legs.

West Virginia's offense was rejuvenated when Howard entered the game. Their uptempo attack began wearing down Kansas State's front seven, opening up the middle of the field. Howard hit Kevin White from seven yards out to score the team's first touchdown and then hit a streaking Mario Alford over the middle for 53 yards to make the game 23-17 with seven minutes and 23 seconds remaining. 

The Mountaineers' ability to extend drives on the ground proved a stark contrast to their opponents. West Virginia rushed for 123 yards against a paltry one for Kansas State. Rushel Shell had a game-high 60 yards, while Dreamius Smith added 35.

From a yardage and total plays standpoint, it would appear West Virginia had the upper hand for most of the game. And sometimes it felt like it did. But mental errors—not just ones from Trickett—helped the Wildcats come away with a victory.

West Virginia turned the ball over four times, compared to two for Kansas State, only one of which was meaningful. The disparity continued a trend that's existed all season. The Wildcats were tied for the nation's fourth-fewest turnovers coming into Thursday, with eight. The Mountaineers were No. 109 in the nation.

“They don’t do anything to hurt themselves,” Holgorsen said, per the school's official website. “They don’t have many negative plays. They’re just an efficient unit.”

Each of West Virginia's turnovers led directly to Wildcat points or likely points being wiped off the board for the Mountaineers. Wendell Smallwood's fumble wiped out a 1st-and-goal opportunity from the Kansas 2-yard line. Both Trickett interceptions were followed by Matthew McCrane field goals, as was Vernon Davis' muffed punt return in the third quarter.

McCrane proved a critical part of keeping Kansas State ahead. The freshman made four of five attempts with a long of 44 yards. Despite the fact that McCrane missed a gimme from 22 yards out early in the fourth quarter, Snyder put him on the field for a game-icing 32-yarder with just under three minutes remaining.

That decision led to some long looks from offensive players who wanted to attempt a 4th-and-inches conversion, but it wound up sending Kansas State home with a win.

The Wildcats play their last home game of 2014 next week against Kansas before closing out their regular season with a road trip to Baylor. While it'd be nearly impossible for Kansas State to get back into the playoff picture, Snyder and Co. can take solace in being a spoiler and potentially reaching one of the bowls formerly known as BCS contests.

West Virginia closes shop next week at Iowa State. The Mountaineers will look to end their fourth losing streak of three or more games in the past three seasons. Iowa State has yet to earn a Big 12 victory, so it's likely WVU ends 2014 on a high note. That's nonetheless little solace for a team that opened November inside the Top 20.

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter

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Clint Trickett Injury: Updates on West Virginia QB's Status and Return

An up-and-down season for West Virginia may begin trending down very quickly for the Mountaineers after Thursday night, as quarterback Clint Trickett was unable to finish the team's game against Kansas State due to an injury.

Josh Taylor of TribLIVE Radio has more:

Trickett has played well this season for West Virginia, throwing for 3,285 yards, 18 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He shined in the team's signature win this season over Baylor, finishing 23-for-46 with 322 passing yards, three touchdowns and a pick.

Still, he hasn't been able to keep the Mountaineers from losing three straight games and falling to a disappointing 6-5 on the season.

It's hard to imagine things will get any easier for the Mountaineers if his injury costs him the rest of the season, though Skyler Howard did throw for two touchdowns in relief duty against Kansas State after Trickett left in the third quarter.

West Virginia finishes its season on November 29 against Iowa State before likely playing in a low-level bowl game in December.

 

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Nebraska Football: Ranking the 5 Best Pro Prospects on the Cornhuskers

Still smarting from seeing Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon score again (and again and again) on the Blackshirts, Nebraska football fans are looking for anything to distract them from Saturday’s debacle. One exercise is to take a look at Nebraska’s roster and think about who the best NFL prospects are in scarlet and cream.

Judging NFL prospects has some subjectivity to it, of course—particularly when you look at younger kids who have not had an opportunity to see the field. Sometimes experience and what you have seen on film can rule the day, while other times, raw potential can make a player an exciting prospect.

So, trying to balance all of those considerations, here are Nebraska’s five best pro prospects.

 

All draft projections and measurables come from The Sports Xchange.

Begin Slideshow

Ohio State Football: What's Wrong with the Buckeyes' Run Defense?

With less than a minute and a half remaining in the second quarter of Ohio State University's matchup against the University of Minnesota, Gophers running back David Cobb burst past the Buckeyes' defensive line and raced to the end zone for a 30-yard touchdown. It was his second score of the afternoon—a score that tied the game at 14—and it pushed his rushing total to 96 yards in just two quarters of action.

Cobb's early success sent Ohio State defensive tackle Michael Bennett into a fury. The senior ripped his defensive teammates in the locker room at halftime for allowing the Gophers' running back to bully his way through the defense.

“I let them know that I wasn't happy about it, and I felt like there was a lot of apathy like, ‘Oh, we only let them get 14 points,' and I felt like we shouldn't have let them get any,” Bennett said, according to Patrick Maks of Eleven Warriors

"It was mostly just a call to action," the star lineman added. "We can’t be OK with that. You can’t let them run up the ball; we’re better than that. We need to form a wall and not let their running back get through."

That wall took shape after the break. Cobb had a much tougher time finding the lanes he cruised through to start the game—averaging just 3.7 yards per carry in the second half until he broke free on his final carry for a 12-yard touchdown. 

It's too early to tell if that second-half surge signified the end of Ohio State's struggles against the run. But with the Buckeyes shooting up the rankings and closing in on a coveted spot in college football's first playoff, coach Urban Meyer needs his defense to step up in a big way.

If those struggles continue, Ohio State could fall short of its lofty goals. 

The Buckeyes will be challenged this week when they host Indiana University. Hoosiers running back Tevin Coleman ranks second nationally with 1,678 rushing yards, and he has the speed and versatility to hurt Ohio State where it has struggled in recent weeks. 

The junior running back is coming off his best performance. He ran through—and past—Rutgers University on his way to a career-high 307 rushing yards last Saturday. That performance put the Buckeyes on alert, and they know they'll need to be at their best when Coleman and the Hoosiers invade Columbus.

“We have to do our job, or this guy’s gonna run all over us,” Buckeyes linebacker Darron Lee said, according to Eric Seger of The Ozone

What does that entail? How can Ohio State get the job done after giving up a combined 282 rushing yards and six touchdowns to Cobb and Michigan State University's Jeremy Langford over the last two weeks?

Meyer doesn't believe that any wholesale changes are needed schematically. The Buckeyes are comfortable in what they do—each defender just needs to do his part and rely on the formation to take care of itself.

"We just got to make sure we're gap sound—be very smart," Meyer said, according to Bill Landis of The Plain Dealer. "We're facing one of the best rush teams certainly in the Big Ten, and we're just, I think we're comfortable with the style of defense we're planning to go play Indiana and stop that run, limit that run offense."

The players tasked with stopping Coleman agree with their coach, and they're confident that the adjustments they made in the second half against the Gophers will carry over.

“I think you go from the Michigan State game to the Minnesota game, and really, we’ve got to wrap up and finish tackles in a couple of situations,” Lee said (via Seger). “But for Minnesota, I felt in the second half, we did a much better job of that. All that comes down to assignment, really.”

If the Buckeyes halt the Hoosiers and come out with a victory on Saturday, they'll clinch a spot in the Big Ten title game for the second consecutive year. That's where a matchup with the nation's top runner, the University of Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon, potentially awaits. 

The Badgers are in the driver's seat for the West Division after Gordon set a single-game FBS rushing record with 408 yards in a 59-24 demolition of No. 16 University of Nebraska. If Wisconsin can close out the year with victories over the University of Iowa and No. 25 Minnesota, it will book a trip to Indianapolis to play for the Big Ten title.

And if the Buckeyes need to stop Gordon in order to win their first Big Ten Championship since 2009, they'll need their run defense to improve in a big way. 

 

All stats via NCAA.com.

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

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