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Kansas State vs. Oklahoma: Live Score and Highlights

Kansas State 14 Oklahoma 14 - Mid 2nd Quarter

The Oklahoma Sooners and Kansas State Wildcats battle in a pivotal Big 12 showdown. After the fireworks these two put on last year, will this season’s meeting live up to the hype?

The match will be on ESPN. B/R will be following along with the action.

Keep it locked here for in-game analysis and updates.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Rankings 2014: Final NCAA Overview of Week 8 Standings

We're on the heels of two epic weeks of college football action that shook up the standings in a big way, and Week 8 promises to deliver more of the same. In fact, things already began in ominous fashion for the nation's top teams, as No. 20 Utah was taken into two overtimes by unranked Oregon State on Thursday.

Could we see more of the same on Saturday?

With several pivotal matchups set to take place—including No. 5 Notre Dame at No. 2 Florida State—the College Football Playoff picture is poised to shift yet again. Aside from that enthralling contest, four other games pit Top 25 teams against each other.

Before all of the polls shift in dramatic fashion in the aftermath of these compelling matchups, let's take one last look at the current standings followed by a preview of the week's marquee game.

Poll information courtesy of the Associated Press, USA Today and Bleacher Report.

 

Marquee Game

No. 5 Notre Dame at No. 2 Florida State

This game promises to provide plenty of fireworks, as two Top Five, undefeated, high-octane squads take the gridiron to determine which will continue to remain well in the hunt for a berth in the College Football Playoff.

It's quite interesting how similar both of these teams have looked over a couple of recent turbulent contests.

Notre Dame's defense looked as solid as ever on October 4, defeating a strong Stanford team 17-14 with a last-second touchdown pass on 4th-and-11. Cardinal quarterback Kevin Hogan was held to 158 passing yards and was intercepted twice while Stanford's running game could only muster 1.5 yards per carry.

The following week, it was a completely different story, as the Fighting Irish gave up an unexpected 43 points to North Carolina. The team simply couldn't contain dual-threat quarterback Marquise Williams, which isn't a good sign with Jameis Winston on the horizon.

Notre Dame's defense held this impressive stat prior to the North Carolina game, via College GameDay:

Still, Notre Dame's offense has been highly explosive lately, and quarterback Everett Golson continues to be very effective. Maintaining a balanced offense while avoiding costly turnovers will be key for an Irish victory on Saturday—especially if the defense continues to struggle in the trenches.

We'll see if Golson can add another victory to this impressive record, via ESPN College Football:

Florida State has been just as inconsistent as Notre Dame lately. The Seminoles couldn't figure out North Carolina State quarterback Jacoby Brissett when the teams faced off in late September, allowing the Wolfpack to gain 520 yards of offense. In Week 7, it was more of the same, as Syracuse racked up 412 yards of offense against this unit.

Sandwiched between those two games was a masterful defensive effort against Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons were held to just three points and gained only 126 yards of offense against a dominant Seminoles team.

Offensively, Florida State has been outstanding of late, as Winston has looked good since returning from a suspension earlier in the season. Like Notre Dame, this offense is capable of lighting up the scoreboard on any given week. Although, it will be interesting to see if Winston is fazed by ongoing off-the-field issues. Here's a look at a discussion on the matter, via ESPN College Football:

Expect this game to come down to which defense shows up. The pressure is heavy on Notre Dame's unit, as playing in a loud, hostile environment will not be conducive to a bounce-back performance. This one could easily come down to which team can make one decisive defensive stop.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Bowl Predictions 2014: Projections for Top Postseason Matchups

This wild and crazy college football season has been one of the most fun to follow and hardest to predict in recent years. Perennial powerhouses have been humbled, and suddenly the state of Mississippi is beginning to look like the college football capital of the world.

It's a glorious and jumbled mess right now, but here's how we sort it at this point. Check out the predictions for the top seven bowl games this postseason. Just below the chart is an explanation of this top-four prediction.

 

Why Florida State Will Make the College Football Playoff

Florida State hasn't looked nearly as dominant this season as it did last year. Yes, the team is 6-0, but at this point in last year's run, the Noles had beaten opponents by an average of 49.3 points per game. The team's margin of victory thus far this season is just 18.3.

There hasn't been a huge increase in competition to explain the drop-off. As a matter of fact, last year's first six games featured matchups against two ranked opponents. The Clemson squad Florida State beat 51-13 in 2013 was ranked third in the nation at the time.

Even with the obvious decline, the Noles are in a safe place. They do have a tough matchup coming up on Saturday against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, but if Florida State can escape with a win, it probably won't play another ranked team all year.

Virginia and Louisville have a shot at jumping back into the Top 25, but each would likely have to win this week. 

In any case, both games are contests Florida State should win. Because the Noles have a fairly easy remaining schedule, they are a good bet to occupy one of the four CFP spots.

 

Michigan State Will Beat Out Oregon for a Spot

The fourth spot in the CFP might just come down to the Oregon Ducks and Michigan State Spartans. Earlier in the season, the Ducks defeated Michigan State 46-27 in Eugene.

If the teams both end the regular season with one loss, that would obviously give Oregon the edge. Based on the remaining schedules, it's more likely Oregon loses another game and the Spartans run the table.

The Ducks have a home game remaining against old nemesis Stanford and a road game against Utah. It's hard to imagine Oregon escaping both of those games unblemished. Stanford has beaten Oregon each of the last two years and seems to own a psychological advantage over this Ducks regime.  Also, Utah can't be taken lightly.

In a down year for the Big Ten, the Spartans have the advantage.  The Spartans have an even easier remaining schedule than Florida State. 

A home game against No. 13 Ohio State is the only remaining contest against a ranked team. On the strength of that, they should represent the Big Ten in the CFP.

 

Why Both Mississippi Squads Will Make the College Football Playoff

Based on what we've seen on the field, the Mississippi State Bulldogs and Ole Miss Rebels are the two best teams in the country. The voters recognized the Bulldogs by vaulting them ahead of the defending national champion Florida State Seminoles in the most recent poll.

Despite a decisive win on the road over the Texas A&M Aggies on the same day, Ole Miss couldn't quite overtake the Noles' for the second spot. It's only a matter of time before both ascend to the top of the rankings.

Both the Bulldogs and Rebels have played rough schedules, and each still has two more games against ranked opponents remaining; that includes a head-to-head matchup in the regular-season finale.

Should that game determine which of the two go to the CFP? Not if both teams come into the game undefeated, which is a real possibility.

Ole Miss still has to go into Baton Rouge and defeat the LSU Tigers, but the Bayou hasn't been nearly as treacherous for visitors as it has been in seasons past. The team already dropped a home contest against Mississippi State earlier in the season.

The Tigers have fallen out of the Top 25 and aren't considered an upper echelon SEC team at this point.

The Rebels will take on Auburn in a spirited battle on Nov. 1, but the game takes place at Oxford where Ole Miss has looked its best. While it will be tough, Bo Wallace and Co. should be the favorites in that game.

Mississippi State can't sleep on Kentucky next Saturday. The Wildcats are 5-1 heading into a matchup with LSU this week. A win would have talented sophomore quarterback Patrick Towles and his teammates confident heading into the clash with the Bulldogs.

Per Jennifer Smith of Kentucky Sports, the confident Towles is raring to go on the road against a seemingly vulnerable LSU team. He said:

"I love playing on the road because it really helps me focus better. If I got a lot of people yelling, I know that, 'Hey, I gotta really focus right now.' So I like it. I hope they get as loud as they can."

The Bulldogs-Wildcats game is in Kentucky and could be a trap for the nation's No. 1 team if they aren't mentally prepared. Assuming Mississippi State beats Kentucky, the only other problematic game on paper before the clash with Ole Miss on Nov. 29 is a visit to Tuscaloosa to take on Alabama.

While this is a down year by the standards of Nick Saban and Co., they are still going to be a handful at home. That's especially the case assuming Bama still has some CFP hopes still alive.

Despite the competitive road games, I don't see the Bulldogs losing until they travel to Oxford to face their in-state rivals. Last week's win over Auburn was a proving point for Mississippi State. It won a game against a top-notch opponent without their Heisman Trophy candidate, Dak Prescott, throwing the ball well.

He did run for 121 yards and two touchdowns, but he also tossed two interceptions.

Prescott will likely be better the rest of the way, but it's a great confidence booster to know that his defense could respond and hold perhaps the premier running team in the nation to a human 232 yards on the ground. 

They obviously can't play each other in the SEC title game, but there isn't a team in the SEC East capable of knocking off Ole Miss provided it stays away from injuries to key personnel.

Ole Miss and Mississippi State will wind up rematching in the national championship, like it or not.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Furman vs. South Carolina: Live Score and Highlights

South Carolina are set to play host to Furman in a non-conference battle at Williams-Brice Stadium on Saturday. The game will kickoff at noon EDT and will be televised on the SEC Network.

The Gamecocks are coming off a much-needed bye week; after winning three of their first three of four games, they fell to Missouri and Kentucky to fall to 3-3. All three of the Gamecocks’ losses came against SEC opponents, meaning they are on the verge of elimination from the SEC East race.

They are looking to get back on track against Furman, a team that has a 2-4 overall record and a 1-1 record in the Southern Conference. After winning its first two games of the year, Furman has lost its last four games because of injuries at the quarterback position.

Be sure to come back to this blog when the game kicks off for score updates and highlights.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Oklahoma State vs. TCU: Top Storylines Heading into Big 12 Showdown

If No. 12 TCU harbors any desire to win the Big 12, then it will need to beat No. 15 Oklahoma State. If the Cowboys want to continue to bat the top of the conference, they must knock off the Horned Frogs.

Suffice it to say that the stakes are high when TCU meets OSU at Amon G. Carter Stadium in Fort Worth, Texas.

Between that and the offensive firepower on show—the two teams are combining to score 83 points a game—this is one of the top games to watch on Saturday.

Below is a brief rundown of some of the biggest storylines and questions going into the massive Big 12 clash.

 

Where's TCU at Mentally?

Giving up a 21-point lead in the final 11 minutes has got to wreak havoc on a team's confidence. The Horned Frogs truly had an epic collapse over Baylor, with the No. 4 Bears somehow walking away with the win.

A loss like that has to linger in the players' psyches. The best teams find a way to compartmentalize that bitterness and disappointment and instead look to the task ahead.

TCU head coach Gary Patterson believes any negative mental effects from that defeat are no longer a problem for his players.

"It was a better practice on Sunday for Oklahoma State than it was for Baylor on Sunday the week before," he said during his weekly news conference on Tuesday, per the Horned Frogs' official website. "We had a great practice, and I expect us to have a really great practice today. I think people handle failure a lot better than they handle success sometimes."

Getting off to a fast start against Oklahoma State will really help put the Baylor game in the rearview mirror. However, if the Cowboys jump out to an early lead and start piling on, it could be a snowball effect for TCU. The ill feelings from the fourth quarter against the Bears will come to the fore, and the Horned Frogs will lose their focus.

 

The Status of Trevone Boykin's Wrist

As Trevone Boykin goes, so go the Horned Frogs. If he struggles on Saturday, TCU won't have the firepower to keep pace with the Oklahoma State aerial attack.

Early in the week, news out of Fort Worth had Boykin possibly missing a month. Patterson denied that was the case but did reveal that the junior quarterback has a left wrist injury, per Billy Wessels of PurpleMenace.com. He added that Boykin will wear a soft cast on his left hand.

Boykin's emergence this season has been nothing short of astounding. Bleacher Report's Adam Kramer made the comparison to Matt McGloin, who went from throwing for a little over 3,119 yards combined as a sophomore and junior at Penn State before exploding for 3,271 as a senior:

According to Mark Cohen, TCU's assistant athletic director for media relations, Boykin is the first Patterson-coached QB to go for 250 yards or more for five games in a row:

As long as the injured wrist isn't giving Boykin too many problems, the Horned Frogs offense shouldn't see any sort of drop.

 

Will Oklahoma State's Young Defense Be Exposed?

Coming into the year, Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy needed to replace seven players on the defensive side of the ball. That kind of turnover generally leads to early growing pains, but the Cowboys have so far avoided any large-scale problems.

The Florida State game should simply be written off as an outlier.

There have been some warning signs, namely giving up 379 yards to Kansas and 512 to Texas Tech. Through six games, though, the Cowboys rank 54th in total defense (378.2 yards a game) and 61st in scoring defense (24.7 points a game), both of which are respectable.

It has to be said that the majority of OK State's opponents haven't exactly been offensive juggernauts— Seminoles and Red Raiders excluded. Missouri State is an FCS school while Kansas, Iowa State and UTSA rank 112th, 110th and 116th, respectively, in total offense.

TCU, on the other hand, is 15th and, unlike Texas Tech, possesses a defense that should offer some resistance.

The Cowboys' somewhat spotty play on offense over the last two weeks means that Oklahoma State's defense could be in for its most important test of the season.

 

Can the Cowboys Strike an Offensive Balance?

Speaking of the OSU offense, the easiest way to support a backup quarterback thrown into the starting role is by establishing a steady presence on the ground. The Cowboys didn't do that against the Cyclones and Jayhawks, rushing for 129 and 114 yards, respectively.

Keep in mind those yards came against the 104th- and 75th-ranked rush defenses.

John Helsley of The Oklahoman didn't pull any punches when describing the struggles of the Cowboys running attack:

The Cowboys' inability to run effectively has handcuffed the offense across the board. With the ground game minimized, defenses can commit more to pressuring the passer, which for quarterback Daxx Garman means more sacks and more hits and less time.

Gundy's been critical of the offensive line play for weeks, revealing the unit’s play as "average."

And that might be generous.

Running back Desmond Roland refused to name names and point fingers on Monday, but the tacit admission in his comments was that the offensive line isn't pulling its weight.

"It's pretty difficult, but the young guys are playing, they're keeping their heads held high and they're working hard in practice," he said, per Helsley. "So, sooner or later they'll figure it out."

The Horned Frogs got torched by Shock Linwood in the Baylor game, but TCU's run defense has been otherwise respectable, surrendering an average of 139.8 yards a game.

Success on the ground won't be a given for OSU, but it will be imperative so as to ease the pressure on Garman.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football: Top 5 Games to Watch in Week 8

Week 8 of the 2014 college football season will include matchups that could make or break teams' seasons. 

Fifth-ranked Notre Dame will make the trip down to Tallahassee to face off with second-ranked Florida State in a Saturday night showdown. The two last met in the 2011 Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando, Florida, with the Seminoles winning 18-14. 

The Big 12 will feature two high-profile matchups, with No. 14 Kansas State traveling to No. 11 Oklahoma as well as No. 15 Oklahoma State visiting No. 12 TCU. 

Bill Snyder's Wildcats are looking for their second win in three seasons against the Sooners while the Horned Frogs hope to take down the Pokes for the first time since joining the conference. 

Down in the SEC, it will be No. 7 Alabama hosting a frustrated, 21st-ranked Texas A&M squad that has lost its last two games to both Mississippi schools by an average of 16 points. 

We're nearly halfway through the season, and this Saturday could decide the fate of teams in the national championship picture. 

Here are the top five games to watch in Week 8.

Begin Slideshow

Texas A&M vs. Alabama: Keys to Victory for Both Teams in SEC West Battle

There's no Johnny Manziel or A.J. McCarron and it's not a top-five showdown like we expected a few weeks back, but everything is still on the line for No. 7 Alabama and No. 21 Texas A&M heading into Saturday night's game at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

Sure, the Aggies are reeling off losing two straight games to Mississippi State and Ole Miss. The schedule obviously gets no easier this week, but early-season flashes from Kenny Hill and Co. along with the Tide's recent struggles could lead some to believe we're in for more SEC chaos.

On the other hand, isn't it just a matter of time until Alabama becomes Alabama again? With their toughest opponents ahead, the Crimson Tide will be hungry to get back to their winning ways. One more loss would cripple a still very real shot the College Football Playoff, but a resounding win will have most buying back in on Nick Saban's crew.

With so much on the line for both teams, getting the victory will come down to executing on a few keys. Here's a look at what each team should focus on doing to get the win on Saturday.

 

Keys for Alabama

Establish the Run

For a team with the reputation of Alabama's, seeing it struggle like it did on the ground Saturday against Arkansas is akin to seeing pigs fly. 

The Crimson Tide's 14-13 win over Arkansas was ugly in a lot of facets, but none more so than in the run game. A complete inability to establish the run led to the Tide trailing 13-7 after three quarters, and they had single-digit rushing totals in the third before finishing with 66 unimpressive yards.

You may recall this matchup from last year, when Alabama was able to hold on despite a huge day offensively from Manziel and Texas A&M. That was largely due to a dominant run game, rushing for 234 yards as a unit. 

Alabama just hasn't been the force it once was on the ground, ranking 37th in the nation—still good, but not up to its standard—in rush yards per carry. But it should be a return to normalcy against Texas A&M, who has allowed an average of 240 rushing yards on the ground in its last three games. 

Arkansas shut down Alabama on the ground last weekend, forcing Blake Sims to make plays in the passing game. The results weren't pretty, and it resulted in the Razorbacks having multiple chances to win the game late.

A repeat performance of that won't go as smoothly this time around, not with the ball in Kenny Hill's hands instead of Brandon Allen.

 

Shake Kenny Hill's Confidence Early

After being the victim of Manziel's biggest moment in his 2012 Heisman season, don't expect Alabama to think lightly of youngster Kenny Hill coming into Saturday—even if he has fallen off a bit in recent weeks.

The sophomore quarterback started hot with 17 touchdowns to two interceptions in his first five games. Even though his team has suffered back-to-back lopsided losses, it only hurt Hill in the interception category—he threw for 766 yards and six touchdowns along with five picks in those two losses.

An Alabama defense that used to be impenetrable now has holes, the most glaring of which is in the secondary. The Tide rank just 34th in the nation in pass defense, giving up 208 yards per contest. 

With questions in the secondary, the onus will fall on Jonathan Allen, Jarran Reed and Trey DePriest to try and get pressure on Hill to shake his confidence. Alabama doesn't want to get in another shootout, because it may not have enough on the offensive side of the ball to hang with Hill if he gets hot. 

 

Keys for Texas A&M

Eliminate the Crowd Early

Two blowout defeats that weren't as close as the final score suggested has Texas A&M licking its wounds. But after losing so terribly at home to Ole Miss last weekend, perhaps taking an us-against-the-world mentality into one of college football's sanctuaries could be a blessing in disguise.

However, that won't be the case if Kevin Sumlin's squad doesn't start strong.

A 20-0 first-quarter lead helped Texas A&M beyond measure when it pulled off the unthinkable defeat of Alabama in Bryant-Denny Stadium in 2012, but they needed all of it. Alabama made a surge before falling short, 29-24.

Hill will be hard-pressed to give his team a 20-point lead at any point, but any sort of lead at all will give his team an incredible boost. It will also do plenty to quiet an Alabama crowd of 101,821 that—after recent weeks—won't be getting very loud if it sees its team struggle for a third straight week.

Texas A&M did the opposite of getting the crowd out of it when it faced Mississippi State, and it led to the Bulldogs blowing the game open. Doing so again in Tuscaloosa will make the Aggies SEC West roadkill for the third straight week.

 

Don't Abandon the Ground Game

I know it sounds silly, so let's set one thing straight. By far Texas A&M's biggest strength comes in the passing game, and that above all else is what will lead them to success against Alabama. 

But that passing game will have a much lower chance of flourishing without at least a threat of a running game.

The Aggies executed that game plan to a tee against South Carolina in their season opener, rushing for 169 yards that played a huge part in Hill enjoying the aerial assault that he did. A few weeks later, they rushed for 137 yards against Arkansas and needed all of them in an overtime win.

Texas A&M did run the ball well against Mississippi State, but many of those 160 yards came in garbage time. Against Ole Miss, the run game was abandoned completely—they were outgained on the ground, 160-54.

Alabama is much stiffer against the run than the pass, but the main focus defensively for the Tide will be on the passing game. A few first-down runs, however, will allow for those defensive backs to sag and open up Hill to attack over the top.

 

All stats courtesy of CFBstats.com unless otherwise noted.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Oregon Football: Can Ducks Extend Decade of Dominance vs. Washington?

When Oregon and Washington take the field at Autzen Stadium on Saturday it will have been 4,005 days since the Huskies last defeated the Ducks. It has been a "Decade of Dominance."

The date was Nov. 1, 2003. The Huskies had just completed their second consecutive victory over the Ducks in convincing fashion—a 42-10 knockout. Since then it's been all Oregon. Do you remember who was on the Huskies in 2003? Remember the name Casey Paus? How about Kenny James? Reggie Williams? Me neither.

How about Washington’s head football coach in 2003? Bueller? Bueller?

It was Keith Gilbertson. Gilbertson would be fired one year later after compiling a career record of 7-16 with the Huskies.

Needless to say, it’s been a long time since the Huskies took down the Ducks. Since 2004—the beginning of Oregon’s decade of dominance over Washington—the Ducks have compiled the seventh-best record in college football. Oregon has gone 103-31 since 2004—good for a winning percentage of 76.9. But more important to Duck fans is the team's winning percentage against their hated rivals to the north—100 percent.

Ten games. Ten victories.

Washington fans are about as tired of hearing the Ducks gloat about their decade of success as Dodger fans are of watching the Giants go to the World Series. They also won’t enjoy the fact that Oregon will be wearing throwback uniforms to celebrate the 20-year anniversary of “The Pick”—Kenny Wheaton's game-winning 97-yard interception return against Washington that propelled the Ducks to the Rose Bowl. It's one of the most important plays in the history of the Oregon program and a sore spot for fans of the Huskies.

In order to combat the continued dominance of the Oregon program, the Huskies made a huge splash in the offseason by recruiting former Boise State head coach Chris Petersen to lead the program after coach Steve Sarkisian fled town for USC. If Ducks fans aren’t scared of Petersen, they should be.

Since 2006—the year Petersen took over as head coach of the Broncos—he has compiled the best record in all of college football. Including his first six games with Washington, Petersen is 101-16 as head coach—good for a winning percentage of 86.3. Moreover, Petersen is 2-0 against the Ducks in his career as a head coach. His Broncos defeated the Ducks in Eugene in 2008 by the score of 37-32 and in Boise in 2009 by the score of 19-8.

While the Ducks are still considered the class of the Pac-12, the Huskies are on the rise and they present a very real threat to Oregon’s chances of staying in the hunt for a spot in the College Football Playoff.

With so much on the line and with this being such a heated rivalry, it begs the question: Can the Ducks continue their decade of dominance?

Here are the two things the Ducks must do to win No. 11:

 

Win the Turnover Battle

The Ducks are ranked No. 5 in the country in turnover margin. You would assume that Oregon would have the edge here. You would be wrong. The Huskies are ranked No. 1 the country in turnover margin. In fact, Washington has forced 15 turnovers this season and has only turned the ball over once. The Ducks have forced 12 turnovers and have turned the ball over twice. Both quarterbacks—Cyler Miles and Marcus Mariota—have yet to throw an interception this season.

The key for the Ducks offense is going to be avoiding linebacker Shaq Thompson. Not only is Thompson being considered as a Heisman trophy candidate, but he’s also scored more defensive touchdowns (4) than almost every team in the entire country.

So far on the year the Huskies have forced 10 fumbles and five interceptions. That’s 15 total turnovers. Shaq Thompson has returned four of those for touchdowns. Four!

Simply put, he’s the 2014 version Tyrann Mathieu, aka the “The Honey Badger.” You’ll remember that Mathieu finished fifth in the Heisman vote for LSU in 2011 and was unequivocally a game-changer for the Tigers.

The key for the Ducks offense will be keeping control of the ball and avoiding Shaq Thompson at all costs. The Ducks have only turned the ball over twice this season; however, both turnovers came in their lone loss of the season to Arizona. This much is clear: If the Ducks don’t turn the ball over, they’re going to win the game.

Let’s not forget about what Oregon’s defense needs to do against Cyler Miles and company. Miles and the Washington offense have only turned the ball over once this season—a fumble against Illinois. While the Ducks defense has forced 12 turnovers this season—six interceptions and six fumble recoveries—they’re going to have to force Miles—a sophomore—into making some mistakes.

There may not be a turnover in this game with the way both offenses have been able to protect the ball. However, if Oregon manages to just get the ball one more time to Marcus Mariota it could be the difference between a tight game and a blowout.

 

Let Mariota do Mariota Things

Speaking of the Heisman favorite. After two straight conference games in which the Ducks offensive line failed to allow Mariota to play from the pocket, the O-line finally got Mariota the space and protection he needed against UCLA last weekend.

In contests against Arizona and Washington, Mariota was sacked 12 times. For comparison's sake, Mariota was only sacked 18 times during the entire 2013 season and 17 times during the 2012 season.

While Mariota was still able to score eight touchdowns against Arizona and Washington State, he wasn’t able to consistently move the offense down the field and generate points. However, against UCLA—due to the return of left tackle Jake Fisher—the Ducks scored 42 points in three quarters and Mariota accounted for 285 yards—210 passing, 75 rushing—and four scores before the Ducks let off the gas early in the fourth quarter.

The motto for Oregon’s offense for the rest of the season should be to let Mariota do Mariota things. In order for Mariota to do his thing, Oregon’s O-line is going to have to produce as well as they did against a subpar UCLA defense.

The Washington Huskies defense will provide a much stiffer test for Oregon’s O-line. The Huskies rank No. 2 in the country in team sacks this year with 24—an average of four per game. Moreover, Washington has two players ranked within the top five in terms of individual sacks this season. Hau’Oli Kikaha—a senior linebacker—is ranked No. 2 in the country with 10 sacks this season. Danny Shelton—a senior defensive lineman—is ranked No. 5 in the country with seven sacks.

It’ll be Oregon’s toughest test of the season. Washington is going to bring the heat and force Mariota to make plays from the pocket with pressure coming directly at him. However, Mariota’s ability to escape the pocket will come in handy. The Oregon O-line just needs to give Mariota enough time to make the determination to scramble and offer him a lane to run through. If they can do that, the Ducks will come away with a victory.

This isn’t just another game between conference foes. This is a rivalry game and a bitter one at that.

Washington would love nothing more than to shake the Oregon monkey off their backs and ruin the Ducks' postseason aspirations in the process.

The Ducks, on the other hand, have win No. 11 in their sights and see Kenny Wheaton in their dreams.

 

Jason Gold is Bleacher Report’s lead Oregon writer. Follow Jason on Twitter @TheSportsGuy33.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Oregon Football: Can Ducks Extend Decade of Dominance vs. Washington?

When Oregon and Washington take the field at Autzen Stadium on Saturday it will have been 4,005 days since the Huskies last defeated the Ducks. It has been a "Decade of Dominance...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Wisconsin Football: QB Recruits Who Wisconsin Should Pursue Heavily

Seemingly every year, the Wisconsin football team comes in with three definitive statements about the offense: It has a fantastic stable of running backs, a phenomenal offensive line and a massive question mark as to whom the quarterback will be or how well he will do.

Scott Tolzien won the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award for the top senior quarterback in 2010 as he completed a whopping 72.9 percent of his passes while Montee Ball came four yards short of reaching 1,000 yards, which would have given the team three 1,000-yard rushers.

After a miracle transfer and storybook season from Russell Wilson in 2011, the Badgers have faced nothing but questions at quarterback.

In 2012, despite reaching the Rose Bowl thanks to one great game and some luck involving the ineligibility of both Penn State and Ohio State, the Badgers were dreadful under center.  Three quarterbacks started multiple games that season including Danny O'Brien, Curt Phillips and Joel Stave.

Last season, Stave was the man under center; however, he struggled mightily with accuracy on downfield throws, and his lack of mobility forced him to remain in the pocket at all costs, with his brief forays outside the pocket ending horribly.

Coming into 2014, with 4-star dual-threat quarterback D.J. Gillins enrolling in January, Tanner McEvoy moved back to quarterback and Bart Houston still in the fold, there was a real, open competition at signal-caller for the team.

Unfortunately for the Badgers, instead of having four good options competing for the position, it seemed as if whoever won the starting job would be a stop-gap option until Gillins fully learned the offense or 3-star incoming freshman Austin Kafentzis got to campus.

McEvoy ended up winning the job, which caused Stave to get the "yips."  Fast forward six games into the season and Stave, clearing his mental hurdles, is back out as the starting quarterback.  Ineffective play-calling doomed McEvoy's tenure, as forcing him to stay inside the pocket is a recipe for disaster while his legs make him a difficult weapon to contain.

Conventional wisdom says to bring in a quarterback per class, even though the Badgers have good depth at the position.  With Kafentzis highlighting the Class of 2015, let's take a look at three potential options for the Badgers to bring in for the Class of 2016.

Begin Slideshow

Texas A&M Football: How Kenny Hill Can Lead Aggies to Upset Alabama

After a rough couple of weeks, Texas A&M quarterback Kenny Hill has a chance to turn it all around when the Aggies take on Alabama in Tuscaloosa on Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET on CBS).

Losses to Ole Miss and Mississippi State put a damper on the team’s surprising 5-0 start. More importantly, it put a serious damper on Texas A&M’s SEC title and College Football Playoff hopes.

Fortunately, a win against the Crimson Tide would be the perfect remedy to all of that.

Here’s what Hill has to accomplish to help the Aggies pull off the upset on Saturday.

 

Assume More of a Leadership Role

Life as a first-year starting quarterback can be a trying time. However, playing in the SEC West, Hill has no choice but to fast-track his progress if Texas A&M wants to hang around.

More specifically, Hill must become a better leader.

After beginning the season on a tear, the sophomore has had some rough outings of late. But worse than his mistakes in recent weeks was his composure on the sidelines. That includes coming off the field laughing after one of his fumbles was returned for a touchdown against Ole Miss last Saturday.

“I could have stepped up and been a better leader,” Hill said in his postgame presser a week earlier following a loss against Mississippi State. “We’ll get it fixed.”

We're still awaiting that transformation.

College football teams that wish to be successful in late October and November generally boast great leadership from the important positions. A road trip to take on Alabama would be a great time for Hill to take the reins of this team.

 

Attack Alabama Secondary

It’s never easy facing the Tide defense.

According to Tide 99.1's The Game, however, the same can’t be said about the secondary:

Through six games, Alabama ranks No. 34 against the pass (208.3 yards allowed per game). That marks the school’s first time outside of the top 15 in the category since 2008.

Although the unit has only allowed six passing touchdowns, the Tide aren’t forcing many turnovers—just three interceptions—and haven’t been able to stop teams from moving the ball. In fact, opponents have recorded 200 or more passing yards in every game but two this season.

Already a pass-happy team, the Aggies should be perfectly content with sticking with the MO. Entering this weekend, the team ranks No. 3 in passing offense (396.0 YPG).

Just take a look at the weapons Hill has at his disposal. Josh Reynolds has been a favorite, leading the team in yards (476) and touchdowns (eight). In total, five different wide receivers have recorded 300 or more receiving yards, six have caught 20 or more passes and seven have found the end zone at least twice.

All these secondary concerns should be music to the ears of Hill.

 

Shake Off Turnover Bug

Through the first five games, Hill threw just two interceptions. Over the last two, he has five, including one that went back for a touchdown.

Hill also coughed up a fumble during last Saturday’s 35-20 loss to Mississippi State that went back for a touchdown. That makes two turnovers that resulted in immediate scores in a game that was decided by two touchdowns.

That has to change against an Alabama team that usually feasts on opponents’ turnovers.

“When you lose, there’s a lot more criticism or a lot more questions asked from outside than even inside,” said Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin, per AL.com’s Michael Casagrande. “The way we do things here, we’re always analyzing everything. When you lose a game or you’re inefficient, you have to start looking at things and saying, ‘What’s wrong?’”

On the season, the Aggies rank No. 115 in turnover margin at minus-six. Although the Tide haven’t picked off too many passes—just three—the defense has forced five fumbles thus far.

Beating Alabama at home is a tough enough task as it is. Hill and Texas A&M wouldn’t be doing themselves any favors by handing the Tide free possessions.

 

All stats, recruiting information and rankings used in this article are courtesy of cfbstats.com and 247Sports.

For complete coverage and everything college football, you can reach Sebastian on Twitter and via email at Sebastian.LenaBR@gmail.com.

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Can Notre Dame Score on an Elite Defense?

Brian Kelly came to South Bend hailed as an offensive guru. It wasn't a title he gave himself. It also hasn't been a title he's necessarily earned since taking over the Notre Dame program.

Only one of Kelly's Notre Dame teams has finished a season ranked in the top 50 in scoring offense. Even the 2014 offense, finally running a spread attack with a quarterback custom-fit for the head coach's scheme, is ranked a fairly pedestrian No. 40 in the country. 

While Kelly has taken the Notre Dame football program to heights unseen since Lou Holtz roamed the sidelines, the Irish's undoing has been a dominant defense. Over Kelly's five seasons, points have been few and far between against teams playing great defense.

We saw it against Stanford two weeks ago, when Notre Dame turnovers and the nation's No. 1 defense combined to hold the Irish to just 17 points. We saw it in 2013, when the Irish only reached 21 points once in games against Michigan State, Oklahoma, USC and Stanford. 

The Irish got by in 2012 behind one of the nation's best defenses. They managed to win seven regular-season games while averaging just 19 points per victory.  

If there's a signature win that stands out from the rest during Kelly's tenure in South Bend, it's Notre Dame's 30-13 victory over Oklahoma. It's the only win over a Top 15 team where Notre Dame managed to reach 30 points. 

If the Irish are going to win on Saturday night against No. 2 Florida State, they're going to have to light up the scoreboard. And after four seasons of struggling to do that against elite defenses, it might be a near-impossible task. 

Of course, the Seminoles might not qualify as an elite defense. A season after putting together the nation's No. 1 scoring unit, Florida State has taken a step backwards in just about every major category. 

The Seminoles won shootouts against Oklahoma State and North Carolina State, giving up over 30 points in the first six games of the season when Florida State hasn't given up more than 30 points twice in a regular season since 2010. 

That vulnerability, paired with an offense that Kelly thinks is finally ready for primetime, should determine which team walks out of Doak Campbell Stadium 7-0. 

In the offseason, Kelly took steps to get his offense ready for carrying the load. That meant a return to the spread playbook he utilized at Cincinnati. It also meant a return to calling plays, with veteran assistant Mike Denbrock taking over the day-to-day of the unit. 

It's helped Notre Dame make the jump from average to good thus far, averaging just shy of five touchdowns a game. 

​​"I believed that this was set up for it to occur," Kelly told USA Today. "I also knew that we had to be a lot more aggressive offensively because we were going to have to support a young defense.

​​"It's a lot closer [to what we did at Cincinnati]. We've had four or five screens for touchdowns. We're able to play at a better pace, averaging over 80 plays the last three games. We're a lot more comfortable in this style of offense. For me to call this kind of offense, it's easier for me because it's what I'm used to."​

 

That theory will be put to the test against the Seminoles. With Jameis Winston and the Florida State offense ready for a shootout, it'll be up to Kelly's offense to keep up. 

History has shown that to be difficult to do. But with Everett Golson and a set of young, talented playmakers, Kelly has his offense poised to break through. 

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Tre Madden Injury: Updates on USC Star's Toe and Recovery

USC running back Tre Madden's unfortunate luck will cost him the entire 2014 season. The redshirt junior hasn't played this season due to a toe injury and won't see the field any time soon. 

According to Michael Lev of The Orange County Register, Madden's injury will preclude him from playing at all this year:

Tre Madden, his parents and USC coach Steve Sarkisian met Thursday to discuss the tailback’s next steps, and they all reached the same conclusion: Madden will sit out the remainder of this season and prepare for 2015.

The redshirt junior from Mission Viejo High hasn’t been able to play this year because of a turf-toe injury suffered in training camp. He plans to see a foot specialist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center on Monday to determine the best course of healing.

Madden's father, Curtis Madden, is quoted in Lev's report as saying that the goal is for his son to be 100 percent when next season starts:

We’re moving forward. It’s disappointing that he’s not going to be able to contribute this season. But there’s next year and the year after that.

...

He wants to show he’s capable of being the type of running back he (was) at the beginning of last year.

Madden was USC's second-leading rusher in 2013 with 703 yards and three touchdowns on 138 carries. Depth at running back has been an issue for the Trojans this season. Javorius Allen remains steady with 781 yards and seven touchdowns through six games, but only two other running backs have more than 10 carries (Justin Davis, James Toland).

One silver lining for USC is that Sarkisian knows he will have Madden back for the 2015 season if Allen, who is a junior, decides to enter the NFL draft. Madden just has to prove he's capable of staying healthy to be the leader USC needs. 

 

If you want to talk sports, hit me up on Twitter. 


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Tre Madden Injury: Updates on USC Star's Toe and Recovery

USC running back Tre Madden's unfortunate luck will cost him the entire 2014 season. The redshirt junior hasn 't played this season due to a toe injury and won't see the field any time soon...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Cold Hard Fact for Friday, October 17, 2014

Fact: Saturday's Top Five showdown between Florida State and Notre Dame will feature two starting quarterbacks who have never lost a regular-season game (Jameis Winston, Everett Golson).

Bleacher Report will be bringing sports fans the most interesting and engaging Cold Hard Fact of the day, presented by Coors Light.

Source: ESPN Stats & Info

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4-Star Teammates Brad Hawkins and Ron Johnson Preview Ohio State Visit

It's Thursday afternoon at Camden High School's football field and, like most teams in America, the Panthers are working through final preparations for another pivotal Friday night matchup. For junior standouts Brad Hawkins and Ron Johnson, a Saturday afternoon game also looms large. 

The 4-star tandem is heading to Ohio State for the first time this weekend. The Buckeyes host Big Ten newcomer Rutgers, a program that hosted both players on campus earlier this month and made offers to four members of Camden's 2016 class. 

"College teams want these guys to commit so early now," said Camden head coach Dwayne Savage, who will travel to Columbus with his players. "It makes it very important to get them on campuses as soon as possible so they can really look at the school and get to know coaches."

Hawkins and Johnson each hold Ohio State offers, and the Buckeyes coaching staff hasn't been coy about pursuing the pair. Co-offensive coordinator Ed Warinner traveled to Camden, a community located across the Delaware River from Philadelphia, last month to spend time with them in person.

"It means a lot when a coach comes by from pretty far away like that," Hawkins said. 

Now they'll return the favor.

Hawkins, a versatile wide receiver and defensive back, anticipates an exciting time in a new environment.

"I'll be looking at everything while we're there," he said. "The facilities, the campus, the game atmosphere, all that stuff. It should be great."

Hawkins, rated 33rd nationally among 2016 receivers in 247Sports' composite rankings, is among the north east's hottest recruits. He added offers from Maryland and Virginia Tech earlier this week, pushing his total collection of collegiate options above a dozen.

"I'm enjoying the process," Hawkins said. "I'm definitely glad teams are noticing me and want me to be part of their program."

It would be hard to ignore him this season. The 6'2", 190-pound playmaker leads Camden with 32 receptions for 405 yards and seven touchdowns through five games, per MaxPreps.

Hawkins is on pace to surpass the career-best statistics he recorded as a sophomore, when he caught 45 passes for 805 yards and 14 scores during a run to the sectional state semifinals. 

"He can make a big play no matter what the situation is," Johnson said. "I've seen him turn bad plays into touchdowns. That's what he does. He's dangerous and can score from anywhere on the field every time he touches the ball."

That's precisely why his coach believes Hawkins is best-suited on offense.

"He's a special receiver and the focus right now is really on teams that are recruiting him at that position," he said. "Some of the SEC schools that have shown interest in him have said they'd like to bring him in as an 'athlete', which means he'd probably be moved to free safety. South Carolina is still in the picture because they offered him as a receiver."

The Gamecocks are one of several squads competing with Ohio State for a commitment from Hawkins. He mentioned Virginia Tech, Rutgers and Pitt as other possibilities, though he remains open to plenty of other options.

Hawkins has kept a close eye on the Buckeyes this season. He's impressed by the way redshirt freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett is orchestrating the offensive attack in place of Braxton Miller, who was viewed as a Heisman Trophy contender.

"He's been really good so far," Hawkins said. "It shows that Urban Meyer has a good plan in place for his offense and I like the way they've handled the quarterback situation. Braxton Miller comes back next year, and then I would have a chance to spend my first two seasons with Barrett at quarterback. That [would] be exciting."

Hawkins, who views himself as an immediate-impact slot receiver, also stressed the skills of his traveling companion. Johnson, a 6'4", 240-pound defensive end, has drawn rave reviews.

"Ron is a great competitor and teammate," Hawkins said. "He's a huge part of our defense because he control things up front and plays very aggressive. Plus, he's a great athlete."

That athleticism has some college teams sizing up Johnson as a possible stand-up rusher off the edge. He's been a beast this season, blowing up offensive backfields on a regular basis.

Johnson tallied 40 tackles—including 20 for loss—and four sacks during the first five games. He takes pride in his development as a well-rounded defender.

"People look at me as a pass-rusher, but I'm a big run-stopper too," Johnson said. "I can sit on the outside and help shut things down."

His father played football at Wisconsin, and Johnson plans to attend the Badgers' Nov. 1 matchup at Rutgers. Though he hasn't been to Madison yet, the possibility of creating a legacy could eventually lure him to campus.

"That would be interesting," Johnson. "But to be honest, I'm completely wide open with my recruitment right now."

The Buckeyes are a team that specifically stands out from the pack. 

"I'm definitely interested in Ohio State and ready to check it out more," he said. "That was a big offer for me."

His options also include Penn State, Miami, Pitt and South Carolina.

Johnson and Hawkins have several offers in common. They've traveled to several schools together and are set to add Ohio State to that list.

So could this become a package deal?

"You know what, I really do want to play with Ron at the next level," Hawkins said. "We'll see what happens, but I hope it works out."

The Buckeyes have an opportunity to sell that possibility this weekend.

 

All quotes obtained firsthand.

Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.

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How Georgia Can Beat Arkansas Without Todd Gurley

The plan for Georgia this Saturday against Arkansas is the same as it was a week ago: Win without star running back Todd Gurley. 

For the second straight week, Chip Towers of TheAtlanta Journal-Constitution reports that Gurley is not traveling with the team as the university investigates whether he provided his autograph for money, a violation of NCAA rules.  

On Thursday, the NCAA tweeted that it is still awaiting the school's request for reinstatement. 

How long it takes for the matter to be resolved remains to be seen, but Towers writes that the process rests firmly on Georgia and its findings: 

That the NCAA has not received the results of UGA’s investigation is key because it means its committee on eligibility cannot deliberate the findings and issue a ruling. Persons familiar with the process have told the AJC it takes at least 24 hours to turn around an eligibility case and the committee does not meet on weekends.

Regardless, sources familiar with the investigation indicate that Gurley wouldn’t be cleared to play even if the committee had received the report by now. According to NCAA statutes, a student-athlete who has received more than $400 in improper benefits is subject to a suspension of at least 20 percent of competition dates. Gurley’s alleged compensation exceeds that amount, sources have told the AJC.

As it relates to Saturday's game against Arkansas in Little Rock, Gurley's absence was likely expected. The Bulldogs already handled one opponent without Gurley, shutting out Missouri, 34-0. How can head coach Mark Richt win another game without his workhorse running back?

 

Give it to Nick Chubb (again and again)

Good thing Georgia has running backs for days.

Gurley was the cornerstone of the Bulldogs offense, touching the ball an average of 25 times per game this season against opponents not named Troy. Still, his 22 carries a game didn't hold a candle to the 38 carries freshman running back Nick Chubb had against Missouri in Week 7. In all, Chubb touched the ball 42 times. 

At 5'10" and 230 pounds, Chubb is built to handle that kind of punishment. 

Whether Chubb replicates those numbers against Arkansas remains to be seen, but the theme is that Chubb has to run the (dang) ball. Against Missouri, the Bulldogs handed off to Chubb 18 times on first down plays and later converted most of its third downs in those instances. 

In other words, Georgia established the tone by getting Chubb the ball early with generally favorable results. He's the primary back now that Gurley is out, so expect Chubb to be the tone-setter again. 

The knock on Bulldogs offensive coordinator Mike Bobo is that he tries to get too cute when he doesn't need to be. Against Missouri, though, Georgia made no secret about what it was going to do. The Tigers were ready, they just couldn't stop it. 

Arkansas has been giving up four yards per rush on the season, a number Georgia will take any day of the week. However, the Razorbacks have done a better job against the run as of late. From giving up 6.3 yards per carry against Auburn in Week 1 to giving up one-third of that against Alabama last week, this looks like a defense that's coming together. 

Georgia could test that hypothesis with a one-two punch of Chubb and Brendan Douglas. Keith Marshall could return as well, according to Richt (via Seth Emerson, The Telegraph)

"If Keith's not ready this week I feel like he'd be ready for Florida," Richt said. "So I feel like we're getting some guys back."

What made Georgia's ground attack so formidable wasn't just Gurley; it was Gurley plus all of the other running backs behind him. The depth of this position will continue to be tested, but it's nevertheless a key group if Georgia's going to win another road game. 

 

Defense: Make Brandon Allen Win

The glaring number on the Georgia-Missouri stat line are the five turnovers committed by the Tigers. Undeniably, it's tough, if not impossible, to win a game when you're minus five in the turnover margin.

However, it's also true that Georgia managed just three points off of two Maty Mauk interceptions in the first quarter. It's not like Missouri had to claw its way back into the game right from the start. 

Rather, an overall inability to move the ball hurt Missouri. In the six possessions Missouri had that didn't end in a turnover, the Tigers went three-and-out four times. Georgia's defense hardly budged. 

Keeping Arkansas in obvious passing situations on third downs, not the turnovers, is what Georgia has to rely on this Saturday. A team isn't going to win the turnover margin 5-0 every week. 

Georgia has one of the best rushing defenses in the country. The Bulldogs front seven vs. the Razorbacks running attack of Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams is undoubtedly the matchup to watch. 

Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen has been fairly efficient on the year, throwing for a touch under 1,000 yards, 10 touchdowns and just two picks. Then again, Arkansas doesn't rely on Allen. In six games, the Razorbacks have handed off to Collins or Williams 161 times on first and second downs, with the two basically splitting those carries. 

The results have been great for Bret Bielema's offense; Arkansas gets well over five yards per carry in those situations. 

So it's no surprise that Allen is best passing the ball on first down (63.9 completion percentage, six touchdowns) when play action is most effective. Tight ends AJ Derby and Hunter Henry are popular targets, combining for 23 catches and four touchdowns. 

Conversely, asking Allen to thrown on third down, especially anything longer than 3rd-and-3, hasn't worked out well

Stopping Collins and Williams on a consistent basis is difficult and probably not something Georgia will do every single time. The important thing, though, is that the Bulldogs do it enough to put more pressure on Allen. 

The styles of Arkansas and Georgia are somewhat similar in that they're at their best when controlling the line of scrimmage relative to the running game. Georgia's offense has already shown it can do that without Gurley in the lineup. The Razorbacks are a physical team, though.

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com

 

 

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Bobby Bowden Discusses Jameis Winston's Draft Stock

Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston is undoubtedly a talented player whose skills would transfer well to the NFL. But his off-field behavior has clouded his draft stock, as many people are left questioning his maturity.

Former Seminoles coach Bobby Bowden is now one of those people.

In an interview with ESPN, via Chase Goodbread of NFL.com, Bowden voiced his concerns that Winston is immature and makes things much harder than they should be given his immense talent:

Jameis has got to grow up. He does things that kids in grammar school would do, or kids in junior high would do, you know it? I think once he draws the line, and says 'I'm not going to step below this another time,' I think he can do that. But if he don't, he's going to make it mighty tough on himself.

As far as Winston's NFL draft stock is concerned, Bowden believes that there has already been a substantial drop because of all the off-field issues the 2013 Heisman winner has faced:

I think his draft status has already dropped way down, you know. But what's amazing to me about him, I don't care what goes on off the field, once he gets under the center, he blocks everything else out. It don't affect the way he plays.

That's the dilemma NFL teams will face if Winston declares for the 2015 draft. He can create a lot of distractions during the week, but on game day there are few players in the country who can shut out the noise and make highlight-reel plays like him.

 

If you want to talk sports, hit me up on Twitter. 


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How College Football Recruits Are Reacting to the Florida Gators' Struggles

The status of Will Muschamp's job and the climate of the Florida football program hasn't improved during the 2014 season, and the results are having an impact on the recruiting trail.

With the Gators falling to LSU last weekend, the hot-seat talk surrounding Muschamp is starting to cloud the future of the Gators program. 

The primary evidence of that is UF’s efforts on the recruiting trail. The Gators' 2015 recruiting class is ranked 12th, per 247Sports. Not in the country, but in the SEC. Contrast that with the fact the average class rank for Florida in the last decade is sixth nationally, and it begins to shed light on the Gators' struggles this year.

Florida is ranked behind programs such as Kentucky, Arkansas, Tennessee and other SEC schools that Florida has made a habit of defeating on and off the field in recent years. The Gators currently have zero 5-star recruits committed. However, three of the nation's top 10 prospects overall are heavily considering Florida.

But why are recruits hesitant in casting their lot with a school that has been a recruiting juggernaut?

Byron Cowart, the nation’s top-ranked defensive end and the No. 4 player overall in the 2015 class, per 247Sports' Composite, has Florida in his lead group along with Florida State, Alabama and Oregon.

He was in attendance for the Gators loss to LSU last weekend, according to GatorBait.net’s Luke Stampini (subscription required). Despite the loss, Cowart is still encouraged by what he sees from the Gators on the field, and he believes they have the tools to finish the season strong. 

“Pretty much, I feel like they have it in the bag,” Cowart told Stampini. “I was talking to coach [Brad] Lawing and he said all their games are winnable. If they win the rest of their games and execute. His thing is don’t let LSU beat you twice, which means don’t go out here and have a bad week of practice. If they move on from this, this will be a lesson.”

Gators 4-star linebacker pledge Adonis Thomas is another player who is critical for Muschamp and his staff to keep. According to Jake Rowe of Dawgs247 (subscription required), Thomas is still considering schools such as Georgia and Alabama, despite his commitment.

“I’m trying to wait right now and see what happens with Florida and the season and the coaching staff,” he said. “That will have a big effect on my decision. I’m going to wait until the end, really.”

Another target who was in attendance at the Swamp for the LSU game was 4-star offensive lineman Jalen Merrick. Per Stampini (subscription required), Merrick stated that he and a few of the Gators' remaining top targets are taking a wait-and-see approach to what will transpire in Gainesville over the next couple of months. 

“I think everybody is taking that into consideration when you talk to Byron Cowart, CeCe [Jefferson] on why they are waiting so long, because they are kind of unsure of their status, if they will be here next year,” Merrick told Stampini.

After seeing Muschamp on the sidelines of his game on Thursday, 4-star linebacker target Jeffrey Holland told GatorBait (subscription required) that he’s been told he has nothing to worry about with regards to the future of the coach and his staff.

“They said everything is going to be alright, they’re going to stay here,” Holland said of Muschamp and his staff. “They are going to stay at Florida. They say everything is going to be alright. I’m waiting to see what happens.”

However, he admits that a potential change in Gainesville would have an impact on his feelings toward Florida.

“It would change a lot, because I don’t know who would come in,” Holland said. “I don’t know who they’re recruiting.”

Even with all of the turmoil surrounding the Gators, most recruits have grown up with memories of the Gators as one of the nation’s premier powerhouses.

Despite their current 3-2 record, the SEC East is still wide open and gives the Gators a chance to make a run toward their first division title since 2009.

A strong finish to the season would likely coincide with a banner finish to the 2015 class on the recruiting trail.

However, if the losses continue to pile up, it’s clear that a coaching change in Gainesville would come with a price of potentially losing out on some of the top players in the 2015 cycle.

 

Sanjay Kirpalani is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

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Grading Every SEC Football Team's Performance from First Half of 2014 Season

We’re only seven weeks through the college football season, and the SEC has already provided a season’s worth of close games, scintillating finishes and surprises.

Entering this weekend, two of the Top Three teams in the polls belong to the SEC, while five are included in the Top 10. Furthermore, the conference also boasts two of the top-five Heisman Trophy contenders—Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott and Georgia’s Todd Gurley.

In other words, the SEC is stealing the show once again.

But just how good has each team in the conference been?

In giving each team a grade, we looked at a number of factors. These ranged from strength of schedule, teams beat, teams lost to, performance in games completed and similar issues.

Join B/R as we take a closer look at all 14 SEC teams.

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