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Utah Is the National Championship Contender Nobody Saw Coming

Identities are usually forever in college football. It is nearly impossible to change them. And the sport's big boys are so desperate to keep others out of their club that they even legislate that reality—make all the rules so that they can have all the power, play for all the glory and keep all the money.         

Somehow, Utah slipped in the door to the club while no one was looking. That's the way the Utes would want it: unnoticed. They are ranked No. 5 and are working on their third undefeated season in 12 years, but until now they have managed to do it in secret, maybe popping up to beat an Alabama in a Sugar Bowl and then going back into hiding.

Shhh, don't tell anyone: They are one of the big boys now.

Did anyone notice that happening? They hope not.

Coach Kyle Whittingham still needs to use the underdog theme to motivate his team. I asked him about the lack of attention and if he uses it to his advantage.

"Absolutely," he said. "We've played with a chip on our shoulder for a lot of years. We'll continue to do so."

Utah is the little engine that still kind of likes being called the little engine. It's what the Utes are comfortable being. Less comfortable is being the site of ESPN's College GameDay this week. ESPN chose Cal-Utah over Miami-Florida State.

It's quite a trick to keep a chip on your shoulder when you're ranked No. 5 in the country, with seven No. 1 votes. When you blow out Oregon and push around Jim Harbaugh's Michigan, you can't keep hiding.

So does being exposed as big-time change the feel of things?

"I guess that could be a little different feel," Whittingham said. "But we've been through this before, in '04 and '08."

Well, not exactly. Yes, those were the two other undefeated seasons, but they had ceilings beneath a title game.

Given a fair shake in those years, would they have won a title?

"That'll be the debate with us forever," said Brian Johnson, the quarterback on that 2008 undefeated team that beat Alabama. "I'm sure everyone on our team felt we could stand up to anyone.

"That team was really, really talented. I thought we could have played with anyone in the country. A lot of those guys are still playing on Sundays."

Johnson is coaching on Saturdays. He's the quarterbacks coach at Mississippi State now.

Utah, meanwhile, was one of the last teams in the door to the big conferences for the 2011 season, jumping from the Mountain West to the Pac-12. Now, it is on the right side of the legislation and can play for a national title, not just be good enough to win one.

Johnson felt that 2008 team was that good, but it didn't get a shot. The problem was that Utah was playing from behind. It started the season unranked. Too many poll voters—and this isn't him talking—vote the traditional powers high up in the rankings, and then it takes a miracle to let an outsider move up.

"If you stacked our resume against other teams…" he started to say.

And then he stopped. To finish his thought: It wasn't that Utah wasn't the best team. It was that it was in the category of schools called a major college but not really allowed to compete with other major programs for the biggest prize.

"That's true," he said.

It's not true now, though Johnson—who was an assistant coach and then offensive coordinator after the Utes moved to the Pac-12—agreed with Whittingham that Utah has never stopped thinking of itself as the underdog.

"It didn't really change the program," he said. "I mean the way it is built. It was still all about hard work and outworking opponents. They're still recruiting the same kinds of kids who have that chip on your shoulder.

"I came out of high school in Texas, and I didn't really have a ton of offers. They gave me a chance."

See? Johnson still talks about his old team as if it's the little guy. It was the place that launched Urban Meyer's career, as he led Utah to its 2004 undefeated season. But at that point, Utah was seen as one of those schools where winning coaches could launch to bigger jobs.

Whittingham has been the head coach there for 11 years now. He was there when Johnson and the Utes beat Alabama 31-17 in the Sugar Bowl in 2009. Johnson was named MVP of the game.

Back then, Utah was publicly resentful of the system that was leaving it out. Now that it's in, it isn't changing. For four years, Utah never threatened in the Pac-12 South. Media who cover the conference picked the Utes to finish fifth out of six teams in the division this year.

For as long as Whittingham has been around, he still seems unknown. Like Utah. He played in the USFL, the CFL and was even a replacement player for the Rams in 1987. (That's the nice word for a "scab.") He learned under Meyer and, according to CBSSports.com's Dennis Dodd, still talks with him every week.

Running back Devontae Booker provides the power, and quarterback Travis Wilson has finally figured out what he's doing. The thing about Utah is that the players seem to be in the right place all the time. Booker is another one of those mid-major types of finds that Utah lives on: He bounced around with bad grades, couldn't make it to a top team and then ended up at Utah, succeeding even in the classroom.

So Utah moves on toward a national title run as one of college football's great underdogs.

This is life as the little engine that could. Only now, it really could.


Greg Couch covers college football for Bleacher Report.

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Bowl Predictions 2015: Projections for College Football Playoff

Surprise teams such as Utah, Florida, Northwestern and Michigan have shaken up the NCAA football rankings this year and will likely find themselves in respectable bowl games.

The No. 5 Utes have seven first-place votes in the latest Associated Press poll, though, and have a clearer path to the College Football Playoff. It's still approximately a month before the first CFP poll of the year is released, but Utah looks to be in prime position to get inside the Top Four by year's end.

In terms of which three other teams yours truly currently projects to join Utah, a lot of it depends on conference, strength of schedule and where marquee games are played.

Find out whom the Utes figure to take on as the prospective fourth playoff seed, along with the other predicted matchup in the second edition of the College Football Playoff.


Orange Bowl: No. 1 Ohio State vs. No. 4 Utah

The way is paved for the Utes to claim the Pac-12 South title. They host California at home this weekend and also welcome UCLA in their penultimate regular-season game.

USC on the road is the only big hurdle for Utah to clear on the remainder of its slate. That comes on October 24. As Michigan continues to thrive, that season-opening win looks even better for the Utes and ought to compensate for the mere fringe Top 25 opponents left on the schedule.

Joel Klatt of Fox Sports referenced a key element to what's helped Utah rise among NCAA football's elite—and could serve as a problem to even its most formidable impending foes:

Speaking of soft schedules, no one has had a much easier path than the reigning national champions, yet Ohio State hasn't looked like the juggernaut that peaked at the perfect time last year. Returning loads of NFL-caliber talent, coach Urban Meyer's powerhouse has looked rather ordinary.

It's hard to blame such a talented team for getting at least a bit complacent. OSU defied the odds and expectations by winning it all last year and are now getting every opponent's best shot. The team has lacked energy and must not slip up before closing 2015 with Michigan State at home and bitter rival Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Ohio State has so much talent on offense that Meyer doesn't seem to know what to do with it. That's what led to the quarterback dilemma between Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett in the first place. Jones and OSU no longer have the chip on their shoulder like they did in 2014. Now they're being hunted.

CBSSports.com's Dane Brugler alluded to one severe problem that's plagued the Buckeyes in the early going of 2015:

A lot of overthinking appears to be occurring in Columbus, particularly on Jones' end. By the time the playoffs roll around, provided the Buckeyes are still undefeated, they are bound to figure out how to jell. They're simply too stacked at every spot on the roster to not come together in time.

Defensive end Joey Bosa, linebacker Darron Lee and a strong secondary give Ohio State real teeth on defense. Utah's Travis Wilson doesn't throw the ball well enough deep down the field (6.84 yards per attempt) to divert the Buckeyes from selling out versus the run.

Speaking of which, Ezekiel Elliott is a legitimate challenger to Leonard Fournette as the best running back in the country. Elliott scored touchdowns on runs of 55, 65 and 75 yards to help the Buckeyes escape with a road win over Indiana.

The Utes concede 4.15 yards per carry to Ohio State's 3.04. That would be the difference in a compelling matchup where Utah would put up a strong fight as the underdog but wouldn't be able to overcome the Buckeyes' depth and determination to repeat as champions.

Prediction: Ohio State 31, Utah 20


Cotton Bowl: No. 2 Texas A&M vs. No. 3 TCU

The SEC West is a most competitive division, but Texas A&M seems to have all the goods to make it to the College Football Playoff ahead of teams like LSU, Alabama and Ole Miss.

Aggies defensive coordinator John Chavis has helped transform what's been a putrid defense into an outfit good enough to complement the offense. Pass-rushing extraordinaire Myles Garrett is the catalyst, leading the charge for his side that averages 3.8 sacks per contest—tied for fourth-most in the country.

Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman highlights the production from Garrett and Daeshon Hall already:

At the all-important QB position, Texas A&M—unlike Ohio State—has done an exemplary job handling its dilemma of having two quality signal-callers. Kyle Allen is the man under center for now, but true freshman Kyler Murray is advanced to the point that he's still pushing for playing time.

This is in spite of the fact that through five games, Allen has 13 TD tosses to only two picks. The sophomore learned on the field in his first year in College Station and is translating that experience well to make a considerable jump in year two.

"You've seen his play elevate in tough times and crucial situations," said play-caller Jake Spavital of Allen's progress, per ESPN.com's Sam Khan Jr. "In the fourth quarter and in overtime [against Arkansas] he was making such mature decisions that he probably wouldn't get to last year, but the experience that he's had got him in that situation."

Home-field advantage against Baylor in its regular-season closer will aid TCU's cause to make one of the CFP contests an all-Lone Star State affair. The Horned Frogs are led by a capable QB in his own right in Trevone Boykin, who's a definite Heisman candidate.

What makes the difference in this matchup and gives the Aggies the edge is Chavis. His immense experience during his lengthy tenure at LSU saw him shut down numerous dual-threat field generals, such as A&M's own Johnny Manziel. Chavis ought to figure something out to stymie Boykin and his top weapon in Josh Doctson.

Allen has a plethora of receiving options at his disposal, whereas Boykin relies chiefly on Doctson. With the likes of Garrett chasing him down and Chavis scheming to confine Boykin to the pocket, Texas A&M has all the tools to defeat TCU in a hypothetical intrastate postseason showdown.

Prediction: Texas A&M 38, TCU 28


Note: Stats courtesy of NCAA.com unless otherwise indicated.

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College Football Picks Week 6: Vegas Odds, Spread Predictions for Top 25 Games

While the reigning champions from Ohio State continue to sit atop the polls, no clear front-runner has truly emerged so far this season heading into Week 6. There are still plenty of contenders with their eye on one of those coveted playoff spots.

As a hectic Week 5, which saw the Buckeyes and Michigan State win by just a single score, illustrated conference play is when business really begins to pick up. So the teams with a legitimate chance to win the national title will rise in the coming weeks while the pretenders fall by the wayside.

Let's check out the full slate of Top 25 games on tap for Week 6 along with spread details and picks for each contest. That's followed by a preview for some of the weekend's top clashes.


Week 6 Spread Picks for Top 25 Games


Previewing Best Matchups

No. 13 Northwestern vs. No. 18 Michigan

There were plenty of overreactions when the Jim Harbaugh era at Michigan began with a road loss to Utah. Since then, however, that defeat looks far more acceptable considering the Utes' success and the Wolverines have rattled off four straight wins, including an impressive 31-0 triumph over BYU.

Now it's time for another serious test. Northwestern owns the nation's top scoring defense. Michigan is close behind in second. That points toward a classic brawl, and Wildcats defensive end Deonte Gibson is looking forward to it, per Brian Bennett of ESPN.

"It's old-school football," Gibson said. "We're going to line up and go, and it's either we're going to move you off the ball or you're going to stop it. It's a battle of wills."

Both teams are at their best offensively when running the ball, and it's unlikely either side is going to change their approach. The action at the line of scrimmage is going to feature plenty of intense, hard-fought battles for just a couple of yards.

That said, the biggest question surrounds the quarterbacks. Which starter, Michigan's Jake Rudock (5 TD, 6 INT) or Northwestern's Clayton Thorson (4 TD, 3 INT), will do a better job of moving the chains on third down without turning the ball over? The answer likely decides the game.


Miami (Fla.) vs. No. 12 Florida State

Yes, this game would have carried more intrigue if Miami didn't lose to Cincinnati last week. But that doesn't change the fact it's good to see meaningful games between the Hurricanes and Seminoles again. It's one of the most entertaining rivalries in sports when both sides are competitive.

The latest edition of the rivalry also marks the first real test for FSU. It's just outside the top 10 despite some mundane showings against the likes of Boston College and Wake Forest. Matt Porter of the Palm Beach Post isn't expecting a technical masterpiece from either side this week, either:

Though the Seminoles offense has been trending in the right direction, the defense must rise to the occasion this week. It hasn't faced an offense with the number of playmakers Miami features, led by Joseph Yearby and Rashawn Scott.

If Florida State is a serious contender to make another championship run, this is a game it should win pretty handily. Miami isn't back on that level quite yet. But whether the Seminoles can shake off the numerous lingering concerns is still up for debate.


No. 23 Cal vs. No. 5 Utah

No team has shot up the rankings with more authority during the early weeks than Utah. It scored that aforementioned victory over Michigan to open the campaign, and then the Utes crushed Oregon to garner a lot more attention on a national level.

Now they have to deal with the added pressure of being among the playoff favorites. It may not seem like much on the surface, but it's a big deal for the program to get a visit from ESPN's College Gameday. Kevin McGuire of College Football Talk further highlighted their rise:

Like Utah, Cal remains undefeated, but it doesn't have a marquee win. The Golden Bears have three chances to change that coming up as they face UCLA and USC after Utah. So the outlook for their season will be a lot more clear by Halloween.

Once again, it's the defenses that will take center stage. Cal must get a better performance from a unit that has given up 96 points over the last three games. That's why Utah, which held Oregon to just 20 points, should hold the edge overall.


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ESPN College GameDay 2015: Location, TV Schedule and Week 6 Predictions

Utah made a major statement with its blowout victory over Oregon two weeks ago to remain undefeated. With that strong start comes increased expectations, as the Utes are now firmly in the playoff conversation. Facing off with the Cal Golden Bears will be another test of championship mettle.

It's clear people around the country are starting to take notice, too. Not only has Utah gained traction in the polls, but the school also gets to host ESPN College GameDay this week. ESPN PR confirmed the selection for the high-profile Pac-12 matchup:

Let's check out all of the important details for the pregame show. That's followed by a preview and prediction for the spotlight contest, which airs on ESPN at 10 p.m. ET Saturday.


ESPN College GameDay Details

Where: Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, Utah

When: Saturday, Oct. 10, at 9 a.m. ET

Watch: ESPN

Live Stream: WatchESPN


Game Preview

Utah didn't receive a ton of hype coming into the season, going unranked in both the AP and Amway Coaches preseason polls. An opening win over Michigan in Jim Harbaugh's debut brought the Utes back into the spotlight, and they've continued to build on that.

It's led to a rapid rise up the polls to the point where the Utes are getting votes for the top spot. George Schroeder of USA Today is one person impressed with their early resume:

Between those type of accolades and getting to host GameDay, the amount of pressure on the team's shoulders is increasing exponentially. The Utes have gone from playoff long shot to top contenders in only a month, and that can be difficult to handle.

Head coach Kyle Whittingham stated the added attention is a positive for the school but admitted it will test his players, as noted by the school's athletics site:

It is great for our program and university so we have to be able to handle it. If you want to be a good team, you have to handle the success that you've had and the attention that's being placed on your program. That's part of the deal. You have to be able to block out the noise and continue to stay focused. We have to continue to do the things that have gotten us here. If you get in the mindset where you're worried about the external things and end up paying attention to all of it, it’s going to end up being a distraction so you can't allow that.

On the flip side, Cal is also unbeaten at 5-0 but is still looking for a marquee win. Over the next three games, the Golden Bears will face Utah, UCLA and USC. That's a remarkably difficult stretch, but it also represents an opportunity to make a serious charge up the rankings.

A year ago, they were 4-1 at this stage before watching their season completely fall apart, finishing the campaign at 5-7. Head coach Sonny Dykes likes the direction of his team and is confident there won't be a repeat performance, per Ron Kroichick of the San Francisco Chronicle:

One of the biggest differences is just the depth. This time last year, we were starting to run out of players. The second half of the Arizona game (a 49-45 loss), guys started getting hurt.

Right now, we've stayed remarkably healthy and we have depth at some key positions - depth we didn't have last year. You could see last year we were going to have some issues in the secondary when people got hurt, and (opponents) exploited that down the stretch.

I think this year's team is a lot different. We're a different team defensively, and I think it's going to serve us well.

Both of these teams are capable of putting up eye-popping offensive numbers. Utah tallied 62 points in its destruction of Oregon, while Cal has scored at least 30 points in every game. Jared Goff has been particularly impressive for the Golden Bears, throwing 15 touchdowns, tied for third-best in the nation.

That's why this game rests on which defense is able to get more key stops in the second half. It's an area where Utah should hold the advantage.

The Utes held the high-flying Oregon offense to just 20 points, seven of which came via a Ducks touchdown during garbage time. The defensive effort was arguably more impressive than the 62 points they scored.

Cal has given up at least 24 points in three straight games, including 44 to an otherwise struggling Texas squad on the road. As a whole, it ranks 63rd in the nation in points per game allowed despite a favorable schedule to this point in the season.

Former Utah lineman and current KFAN radio host Kyle Gunther believes the overall edge is firmly in the Utes' favor despite the added pressure:

One other factor that should help the Utes' cause is the scheduling. It's often difficult to come back strong after an emotional win like the one they had over Oregon. But they had a bye week to celebrate and recover before turning their focus to Cal.

In the end, this should be a competitive game into the second half, but look for Utah to pull away in the fourth quarter to stay perfect.

Prediction: Utah 34, Cal 24


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ESPN College GameDay 2015: Location, TV Schedule and Week 6 Predictions

Utah made a major statement with its blowout victory over Oregon two weeks ago to remain undefeated. With that strong start comes increased expectations, as the Utes are now firmly in the playoff conversation...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Love Him or Hate Him, Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema Is Definitely One of a Kind

It doesn’t really matter the setting, time of year or whom he’s addressing—when Bret Bielema speaks as the University of Arkansas head football coach, everyone can count on a few things.

His words will be emotional and confrontational, draw attention and may not be exactly eloquent. He will say what’s on his mind and what the average fan is thinking, and he won’t really care about whose coaching feathers he could be ruffling.

If you don’t wear cardinal red, then Bielema doesn’t necessarily care if you don’t like the message. He won’t make excuses for the times he doesn’t use coachspeak, and he’ll never apologize for being the biggest fan of his own players.

That’s just the way he is, like during this week’s Southeastern Conference teleconference with reporters while fielding questions about Saturday’s game at No. 8 Alabama (7 p.m. ET/6 p.m. CT on ESPN).

"Nothing prepares you for this venue," Bielema said about Bryant-Denny Stadium. He called the 52-0 defeat there two years ago "probably one of the most embarrassing losses for me as a head coach, personally."

Regarding powerful Crimson Tide running back Derrick Henry, he said, "I don’t know how pretty his stride is and all that jazz, I just know he’s a really good player." Regarding Nick Saban, Bielema said, "We’re trying to put a little speed bump in 'The Process.'"

And then, like usual, Bielema made a statement that was a little off with a detail but otherwise dead on in his assessment: "They’re an NFL front. They have 12 to 13 guys in the interior D-line that play a lot of football. You have guys who are listed as third string who come in and make an unbelievable play."

Alabama does, in fact, have players listed as third string who are making big plays, but the number was a little off. It’s been rotating 10 defensive linemen but will creatively attack with its linebackers.

The point is that Bielema isn’t your normal football coach. Nor does he want to be.

He enjoys reggae music, embraces "flip-flop Fridays" and met his wife in a Las Vegas casino. Not only does Bielema frequently tweet @BretBielema, but during the offseason the couple posts recipes with step-by-step pictures.

"He’s his own guy, and he’s going to do it the way that works for him," said associate athletic director Kevin Trainor, who heads Razorbacks sports’ public relations department and gets the phone calls whenever Bielema says or does something out of the norm.

That’s pretty often. A perfect example was early in training camp, when reporters and players alike saw running back Alex Collins and wide receivers Jojo Robinson and Cornelius Floyd carrying a mattress around the practice field. It was their punishment for being seconds late to a team meeting.

Bielema wanted to make a point while embarrassing them in a way no one would forget. It was strength and conditioning coach Ben Herbert who saw the mattress and said, "Ooh. I think it’s wet, too."

Stories like that make Bielema such a big hit with national media, along with his refreshing answers, even though they sometimes need to be double-checked.

“I love it from him because it shows that he’s human,” said Tom Murphy of the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, who calls Bielema "The Malaprop King."

But while that didn’t necessarily play well in Wisconsin (one time Bielema accidentally referred to a player as self-defecating instead of self-deprecating), he was able to quickly connect with the Razorbacks fans. Unlike his predecessors, he is viewed as being one of them.

That didn’t really happen at his previous job. Although he was Barry Alvarez’s handpicked successor, Bielema sometimes came across at Wisconsin like he does while wearing a suit: uncomfortable. Yes, he had success, but he was following a local legend who continued to cast a large shadow.

Bielema inherited some of the assistants such as offensive coordinator Paul Chryst (now the Wisconsin head coach), but he grew frustrated at the lack of competitive salaries for them. He also publicly feuded with other coaches including former Minnesota coach Tim Brewster and current Ohio State coach Urban Meyer—somewhat like he has this fall with Texas Tech's Cliff Kingsbury.

Part of the Badgers fanbase would never accept him simply because he wasn’t Alvarez, who is still Wisconsin’s athletic director. Bielema lost too many close games, or the fans accused him of running up scores. Despite having three straight Rose Bowl appearances, he was 1-5 against Ohio State, 2-3 versus Penn State and 2-4 in bowl games.

The fans were even more unforgiving when he left, claiming Bielema turned his back on the program that gave him his big chance. The truth was he had probably taken it as far as he could—somewhat similar to what his mentor Hayden Fry had experienced at Iowa. At age 42, Bielema had a 68-24 record but felt it was time for a new challenge.

"When you get a little older you get a little wiser," Bielema said. "I love to compete, don’t get me wrong, I think I used to relish that moment probably a little bit longer than I needed to, and it was competitive nature thing all the time. I was relentless at that. That probably rubbed some people the wrong way. I’d kind of remind people of it all the time, we were kind of successful, maybe a little overconfident.

"Don’t confuse confidence with cockiness. I really believe that. I want our players to be confident, as well as me, but a lot of times people confuse that with cockiness and I can see how that came across at an earlier age. I’m very respectful and humble for what I’ve been given here."

Enter Arkansas, which after having scandalous Bobby Petrino and John L. Smith at the helm was a mess. In addition to eight players being arrested, others were failing out of school, and the NCAA’s 2013 Graduation Success Rate report had Arkansas dead last in the SEC.

Although Bielema had been to Arkansas only once before on a recruiting trip, he liked what he saw and the program’s potential. Fayetteville was in the middle of a dramatically growing area, and five different SEC teams had combined to win nine national titles since 1998, including an unprecedented seven straight (2006 to 2012).

Why not Arkansas?

"First and foremost the demographics," he said. "I was excited that kind of like at Wisco you’re the main program in the state. No disrespect to Arkansas State, I love what they accomplish and what they do, to be the one program in the state in the Power Five conferences and then not have any pro teams in the state, I knew it was a chance to kind of galvanize the state if you did things right, and get everyone behind you from east, west, north, central...

"That’s been really fun."

Moreover, the money was better, not just for him but the assistant coaches. In addition to Arkansas paying the $1 million contract buyout to Wisconsin, his salary went from $2.5 million to $3.2 million, and Bielema recently got a bump to $4 million this year ($4.25 from 2016 to 2020).

That was despite not having won an SEC road game yet (which he’s since rectified), but perhaps the best indication of the program’s progress was demonstrated by last year’s defense. Arkansas went from giving up an average of 25.8 points in September to just 10.3 in November.

After playing eventual SEC champion Alabama and then-No.1 Mississippi State both close, Arkansas became the first non-ranked team since 1942 to shut out Top 25 teams in consecutive weeks, defeating Ole Miss and LSU by a combined score of 47-0. For an encore, it limited Texas to 59 yards during a 31-7 bowl victory.

Winning that game against its former Southwest Conference rival was a big deal to the Arkansas fanbase, which Bielema understood and stoked. During a photo with Texas counterpart Charlie Strong, he appeared to give a “Horns Down” signal, which the coach said wasn’t intentional, but at SEC media days he described taking a knee in the Texas Bowl as both “fulfilling” and “borderline erotic.” 

That was definitely intentional, along with his attire. After Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen drew attention by sporting a new pair of Adidas Yeezy Boost shoes the day before, Bielema showed up wearing custom Air Force 1s and mentioned that being with Nike helped him in recruiting after being at Wisconsin (which was an Adidas school).

“When they first hit the sunlight I had to put on my sunglasses,” fifth-year quarterback Brandon Allen said. “They’re pretty out-there shoes.

"It’s just like him to wear those shoes and pull it off."

Similarly, Bielema, who was a marketing major at Iowa and has the Tiger Hawks logo tattooed on his left calf, sparked a rift with Auburn that was fueled by a statement during one of his numerous preseason speaking engagements: “I know you guys know I really hate Auburn.”

“He’s kind of the anti-Gus Malzahn,” Murphy’s veteran colleague Bob Holt said about their personalities. “He has a lot of bravado. I don’t think it’s false. You can see why he’s such a good recruiter.”

At the 2014 media days Bielema brought three seniors whom he thought “represent what Hog Football is all about” and topped that by putting the starting five offensive linemen on the cover of the 2015 media guide.

“I think it’s awesome, I really do,” Allen said about the cover that could have featured him or the high-profile running backs. “Playing offensive line is so tough. You play the dirtiest, the grittiest position and you get no recognition for it. So any little thing you can do, take them to dinner, but them in first class on our planes, put them on the cover of the media guide I think that’s huge. They deserve every bit of the recognition that they get.” 

It was anything but surprising. During last season’s 21-0 victory over UAB, he had 350-pound lineman Sebastian Tretola throw a short touchdown pass, and not only did Bielema say during his halftime interview “Come to Arkansas as a lineman, we'll make you famous,” but the school started a mock Heisman Trophy campaign for the guard. 

That’s the real key of Bielema’s success—the way he’s been able to relate to his players. Sometimes, it’s with humor or how his emotions show through, like when he started to tear up on senior day when players he didn’t recruit were being honored.

They’ve responded, and although Arkansas is off to another tumultuous start, having lost to Toledo, Texas Tech and Texas A&M (in another heartbreaking defeat), only to turn around and win at Tennessee, the coach continues to take the pressure off the players and keep Razorbacks football fun. 

“I feel like it was a blessing in disguise,” said senior running back Jonathan Williams, who was sidelined by foot injury during training camp, about the turmoil during his first years on campus. “Nothing against the former coaching staff, I liked them obviously because I committed to them, but having Coach Bielema the way he is, how personable he is, how much of a competitive coach he is, I see the program turning around.”


Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Christopher Walsh is a lead SEC college football writer. Follow Christopher on Twitter @WritingWalsh.

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Steve Sarkisian Looking More Like Lane Kiffin 2.0 After Ominous Washington Loss

LOS ANGELES — Misery loves company, and on Thursday night at the Coliseum, there was plenty of the former, even if there was not much of the latter.

The few USC fans who even bothered to show up to witness a lifeless 17-12 loss to Washington didn’t break a sweat fretting about beating the rush to get onto the 110 Freeway after the game. Why would they? 

There are only a handful of people they can talk to about their frustrations with the Trojans in the car. At least hanging out in the stands, after seeing an ill-advised field goal doink off the upright in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter—a perfect metaphor for the night—would allow them to vent in unison.

“How embarrassing is that?” one cardinal and gold-clad fan shouted.

“This is pathetic,” another lamented.

“Four million-plus for this? What the…” and you can probably guess the line of expletives that followed from another USC fan, the confused little Trojans fans a row away be damned.

This is the state of Troy in 2015.

This is where the fanbase is after USC dropped its second consecutive home game in a season for the first time since 2001. That was Pete Carroll’s first season, and it’s looking increasingly likely that his two former assistants who have taken over as head coach since his return to the NFL—Lane Kiffin and now Steve Sarkisian—will fall flat once again in re-creating the Hollywood dynasty that once ruled the West Coast.

“At the end of the day, we didn’t play well enough, and we didn’t coach well enough. That’s the bottom line,” Sarkisian said after the game. “This one at the end of the day is on me. We didn’t coach well enough. We didn’t execute well enough. We didn’t manage the game well enough.”

Lane Kiffin 2.0 is turning out to be…well, Lane Kiffin 2.0. Who could have seen that coming? Everybody but USC athletic director Pat Haden it seems. It’s quite fitting that through their first 18 games, both Kiffin and Sarkisian hold the same record: 12-6. 

At least Kiffin won 10 games in his second season. Given their performance earlier this season against Stanford and on Thursday against Washington, that seems quite far-fetched for the Trojans this year despite what most consider to be the Pac-12’s best talent.

Sarkisian showed some promise in overhauling and turning around a moribund Washington program before his return to Troy, but he still drew plenty of ire from Huskies fans for his inability to turn the corner in Seattle.

Those same fans, making the trip down merely hoping to be competitive with one of the country’s youngest rosters, reveled in this one. Most of those who bleed purple thought they got an early Christmas present when Sarkisian’s departure allowed the program to finally lure Chris Petersen out of Boise State.

On Thursday, they were doubly sure of it.

“We really haven’t had one where we felt really, really good about, even last year,” Petersen remarked. “This one is one [the team] can feel good about.”

The Trojans were outplayed in the lackluster loss, but they were more acutely outcoached.

Players afterward noted they had a quality week-plus of practices coming off a bye and felt prepared for what they were going to see out of Washington. When the lights came on and the pressure started to mount, however, the answers on the sidelines were simply not there.

Sarkisian and offensive coordinator Clay Helton failed to stick with an effective running game despite the fact that quarterback Cody Kessler could barely get a pass off behind a patchwork offensive line. Starting tailback Tre Madden averaged nearly 7.1 yards per carry on his way to a 123-yard night.

Freshman Ronald Jones II looked to be the second coming of Reggie Bush on a 66-yard run that set up the team’s only touchdown, but he managed just seven other carries on the night.

As if that were not bad enough, Sarkisian elected to attempt a 46-yard field goal down five points with just over three minutes left in the game. As he held just one timeout, Washington only needed to pick up one first down in order to salt the game away.

It did just that and may have sealed Sarkisian’s fate for many in the USC fanbase at the same time.

“I hate to admit to confusion. I’m frustrated, that’s a better word, I’m frustrated because I believe in this team,” the head coach said. “When you have an opportunity to seize a moment and gain momentum…and when you don’t do that, it’s frustrating to me. That’s the puzzle I have to put together to make sure we can do that moving forward.”

How long will he have to do that, though?  

Haden hired Sarkisian in part because he was the anti-Kiffin. The Southern California native grew up around the program, is a good recruiter and, in sharp contrast to his predecessor, knows how to deal with the media in Los Angeles like the best of them. His issues in turning the corner with a program, many said, wouldn’t be an issue at USC with much more talent on the field.

Sarkisian may not be fired at the airport this season (as Kiffin was), but it looks increasingly like he’ll still meet the same fate as his good friend and former colleague. That the two coaches’ records are exactly the same through their first 18 games isn’t eerie but indicative. 

It has become increasingly clear that the hire of Sarkisian looks like another misstep for Haden, but one has to wonder if he learned his lesson of keeping a bad coach around too long the first time around.

The former Trojans quarterback and Rhodes scholar inherited Kiffin when he took over at Heritage Hall, after all, but still saw giving a second chance to his embattled head coach backfire after USC fell from preseason No. 1 to a lifeless 7-6 in 2012.

That end result was an infamous early-morning firing at LAX.

Haden has signed up for several more years as the Trojans athletic director, but even the USC alum won’t be able to afford much patience to see what Sarkisian can do with the program in the middle of another lost season for this year’s pick to win the Pac-12.

When asked afterward if he was coaching for his job the rest of this season, Sark was blunt.

“Not at all.”

It was one of the few assertive answers to emerge out of the locker room on Thursday night, but at this point, he is being quite wishful.

The state of Troy is plenty miserable at the moment.

At least Sarkisian and his staff may have some company at the end of the line.


You can follow Bryan Fischer on Twitter at @BryanDFischer.

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Steve Sarkisian Looking More Like Lane Kiffin 2.0 After Ominous Washington Loss

LOS ANGELES — Misery loves company, and on Thursday night at the Coliseum, there was plenty of the former, even if there was not much of the latter...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Washington vs. USC: Game Grades, Analysis for Trojans

An offseason's worth of expectations, national rankings and conference championship predictions proved overwhelming for Southern California Thursday night at the Coliseum, as the 17th-ranked Trojans fell short against Pac-12 North foe Washington, 17-12. For more details, check out the NCAA box score here

After suffering a home upset to Stanford three weeks prior while ranked No. 6, USC slogged through its Thursday night prime-time matchup against the Huskies, eventually suffering its second loss of the season. Next up on the schedule, the Trojans will face a tough road test against No. 15 Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, as they attempt to save face for their early-season shortcomings. 

Pass Offense: Following a dismal performance in the first half, including two interceptions and no scores, USC starting quarterback Cody Kessler failed to create a rebound second half as he finished the day 16-of-29 for 156 yards passing, as well as minus-25 yards rushing. The pass protection wasn't much better, as the Washington defensive front consistently harassed Kessler throughout the matchup.

Rush Offense: The lone bright spot for the USC offense came in the form of the rush attack, as backs Tre Madden and Ronald Jones II combined on the day for 185 yards and one score behind 25 carries. Madden racked up 96 yards in the first half, while Jones II provided the sole spark for the Trojans in their attempted second-half comeback, earning 65 yards of his own and the touchdown. 

Pass Defense: As expected, Washington true freshman QB Jake Browning failed to create much offense for the Huskies in his second conference appearance. However, the USC defense, while holding Browning to just 137 yards on 16-of-32 passing with one interception, was unable to capitalize on all the young quarterback's miscues. 

Rush Defense: After a first half that included just 48 rushing yards for the Huskies, USC surrendered 87 yards and a score in the second, as the ground game paid dividends for Washington down the stretch. True freshman Myles Gaskin forced the USC defense into short third downs and took pressure off Browning when necessary. 

Special Teams: The first half was uneventful, with two short field goals easily drilled by Alex Wood. However, a fourth-quarter miss by Wood on a makeable 46-yarder served only to undercut the Trojans' comeback attempt. 

Coaching: In a game that constantly featured a pissed-off Steve Sarkisian, the Trojans committed multiple penalties that dug into their offensive bottom line. Further, expectation following a bye week usually includes a mentally ready squad, and the mistake-ridden USC team that took the field on Thursday night was anything but mentally prepared. And that's all on coaching. 

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Washington vs. USC: Game Grades, Analysis for Trojans

An offseason's worth of expectations, national rankings and conference championship predictions proved overwhelming for Southern California Thursday night at the Coliseum, as the 17th-ranked Trojans fell short against Pac-12 North foe Washington, 17-12.

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Washington vs. USC: Score, Highlights and Twitter Reaction

The No. 17 USC Trojans had nearly two weeks to prepare for Thursday night's Pac-12 showdown with the Washington Huskies, but the Trojans looked bewildered and out of sorts as they fell 17-12 at the Coliseum.

Turnovers plagued USC (3-2) all night, as three giveaways prevented the Trojans offense from establishing a rhythm against a stingy Washington (3-2) defense that entered the night having allowed just two touchdown passes.

Trojans quarterback Cody Kessler finished the night 16-of-29 for 156 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions, as Washington's defensive line provided pressure that kept the senior off-balance all night. USC entered the evening averaging a ninth-ranked 532 yards per game, but head coach Steve Sarkisian's squad couldn't match that lofty mark as hopes of revenge against his former program faded. 

Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman broke down Sarkisian's shortcomings since arriving in Los Angeles:

While USC outgained Washington 346-299, the Trojans converted a paltry one of 13 third downs.

However, USC's rushing attack did a commendable job of stabilizing the offense when it couldn't get anything going through the air. Running back Tre Madden toted the rock 17 times for 120 yards, including 96 yards on 11 carries in the first half. Ronald Jones II chipped in with 65 yards on eight carries and a touchdown that cut the deficit to 17-12.

Huskies freshman quarterback Jake Browning wasn't prolific, either, completing 16 of 32 passes for 137 yards and an interception. Head coach Chris Petersen's team leaned on the ground game all night as a result, and Myles Gaskin didn't disappoint. The freshman totaled 134 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries. 

Although the Trojans were coming off a bye, they didn't appear to be locked in, as Sports Illustrated's Pete Thamel observed:

USC came out flat on both sides of the ball, and that lethargy carried over to the second half. 

Kessler tossed two first-quarter interceptions, including an ill-advised pass on USC's first drive of the game. The errant throw led Bleacher Report's Bryan Fischer to compare Kessler to some other underwhelming Thursday night passers:

It also didn't help that USC's starting center, Max Tuerk, was knocked out of the game with a knee sprain, per Fischer.

On the other side of the ball, NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah noted USC's defense was giving Browning a ton of time to work with:

Athlon Sports' Josh Webb concurred:

Browning couldn't capitalize on ideal working conditions in the pocket early, though. The Huskies' first drive stalled and resulted in a missed field-goal attempt, and Browning couldn't help the team capitalize on a 17-play, 79-yard drive with seven points. Instead, Washington had to settle for a field goal deep in Trojans territory.

However, the Huskies finally broke through in the third quarter thanks to some trickery that resulted in a 27-yard touchdown pass by wide receiver Marvin Hall, per the Pac-12 Networks: 

Receiver Brayden Lenius proceeded to make one of the best catches of the season on the Huskies' ensuing drive, per the Pac-12 Networks:

Plays like those proved to be the difference for a Washington team that was marginally more efficient on the offensive side of the ball.

The Huskies aren't destined for greatness this year, but they showed some nice resolve following a 30-17 loss to California on Sept. 26. Upcoming dates against Oregon and Stanford will be better measuring sticks of Washington's standing in a competitive Pac-12, but Petersen has his program headed in the right direction.

The same can't necessarily be said for the Trojans, who have now lost two of their last three games and fall to 1-2 in conference play with Thursday night's loss. And with back-to-back-to-back showdowns against Notre Dame, Utah and California on deck, Thursday may have just been the beginning of what could be a tumultuous 2015 season.


Post-Game Reaction

According to the Los Angeles Times' Lindsey Thiry, Sarkisian was the only USC representative available to the media at the postgame press briefing: 

Once he hit the podium, Sarkisian refrained from placing the blame on Kessler, per InsideUSC:

And even though his seat is starting to warm up, Sarkisian doesn't believe his job is in jeopardy, per Thiry: 

In fact, Sarkisian remained adamant that his team will rebound despite daunting upcoming dates, according to InsideUSC:

UW Football's Elise Woodward passed along comments from Petersen, who assumed an optimistic tone following the upset:

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Washington vs. USC: Live Score and Highlights

USC 6, Washington 3 - Halftime

Stay tuned for breaking news, commentary and analysis throughout the matchup as the 17th-ranked Trojans battle Pac-12 Conference foe Washington during primetime Thursday night football on ESPN. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Washington vs. USC: Live Score and Highlights

USC 6, Washington 3 - Halftime Stay tuned for breaking news, commentary and analysis throughout the matchup as the 17th-ranked Trojans battle Pac-12 Conference foe Washington during primetime Thursday night football on ESPN...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Tyrie Cleveland Reveals Top 8: Which School Is Best Fit for 4-Star WR?

Eight lucky schools have made the cut in hopes of landing 4-star wide receiver Tyrie Cleveland.

Via his Twitter account, the nation’s No. 6 receiver and the No. 61 player overall in the 2016 cycle announced his top eight schools.

Arizona State, Arkansas, Florida, Houston, Oklahoma, Ole Miss, TCU and Texas A&M will battle it out in hopes of signing Cleveland in February.

He was committed to the Aggies for roughly six months before reopening his process back in April.

Which of his finalists presents him with the best option to make an impact early in his college career?

For starters, his list is largely ripe with schools who have lit up scoreboards this season. Six of his top eight schools feature offenses that currently rate among the nation’s top 25 total offenses.

Cleveland has the skill set to fit in nicely at any one of his finalists.

The three schools based outside of the Lone Star State that appear to have the most traction with Cleveland are Arizona State, Oklahoma and Ole Miss.

As Taylor Hamm of GigEm247 noted, he’s already taken official visits to check out the Sooners and the Sun Devils, and he intends to use an official visit to Oxford at some point.

The biggest attraction with the Sun Devils would be the opportunity to continue playing with his good friend, prep teammate and current 4-star quarterback Dillon Sterling-Cole—who is currently pledged to the Sun Devils.

All three of his in-state options feature programs that have prolific aerial attacks.

In TCU’s Josh Doctson, Texas A&M’s Christian Kirk and Houston’s Demarcus Ayers, all three programs have receivers who are among the nation’s top 25 most productive wideouts.

Heading to Fort Worth and potentially sliding into Doctson’s spot on the outside is a role that he could find appealing.

Of all of the staffs recruiting him, he may be closest to Texas A&M and head coach Kevin Sumlin.

“Every time I go out there, I feel comfortable, so there’s progress,” Cleveland told Hamm. “Every time I go there, I get a different vibe, and they’ve been doing a great job talking with me. Coach Sumlin has been talking to me a lot. We talked a few days ago on the phone, so it’s been great.”

He has been present for two of the Aggies' home games thus far.

Another plus for the Aggies in their quest to regain Cleveland’s commitment is the health of their quarterback situation.

With sophomore Kyle Allen, freshman Kyler Murray and a pledge from 2017 5-star passer Tate Martell, the Aggies appear to be set up for success at the game’s most critical position for years to come. 

While prospects who decommit from a program rarely end up signing with their original school of choice, the Aggies have plenty of positives trending in their direction with Cleveland.


Sanjay Kirpalani is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand, all recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports, and all states courtesy of cfbstats.com.

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Power Ranking College Football's Top 12 Defensive Players

College football continues to be driven by high-powered offense, with 15 schools scoring at least 40 points per game and 17 averaging more than 500 yards. It's to the point where we expect teams to score almost every time they have the ball, and when they don't it's usually because of poor execution rather than strong defense.

Then we have a game like Saturday night's clash between Clemson and Notre Dame, when the host Tigers came up with a huge defensive stop in the final seconds by thwarting Notre Dame's two-point conversion attempt.

Believe it or not, there are plenty of great defensive players in college. If not, stars from that side of the ball wouldn't have accounted for 15 of the 32 first-round picks in the 2015 NFL draft.

Through five weeks of the 2015 season, several defenders have stood out from the pack with their individual play. We've ranked the top 12, factoring in their statistics as well as their tendency to be involved in the big stops in key moments.


Begin Slideshow

Uncommitted 2016 Recruits Most Likely to Commit Next

The month of October is when many recruits begin taking official visits. Some of those recruits choose to end their processes around this time as well.

Decisions are coming soon for a few athletes, and college coaches are preparing for upcoming announcements that could bring immediate help to their offensive or defensive lineups. Here are five athletes who are expected to make their decisions either this month or early next month.

All five athletes have been confirmed by Bleacher Report.

Begin Slideshow

Meet Richard Mullaney, Alabama's Unlikely Star

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — He’s a California guy who roots for Boston teams and came to the University of Alabama via a transfer from a school more than 2,000 miles away.

Yeah, sometimes Richard Mullaney shakes his head a little about the unusual direction his life has taken, and he’s still not exactly sure how it all came about. One thing that he is certain of, though, is that it’s more than worked out.

“It was just the perfect situation how everything just kind of fit together,” he said.

If there’s been a surprise on the 2015 Crimson Tide, it’s been Mullaney, who this time a year ago was unknowingly wrapping up his career at his first college, Oregon State. The only returning starter at wide receiver suffered a season-ending elbow injury during the second half of the 29-23 double-overtime loss to Utah.

Perhaps fittingly, it was a former Crimson Tide guy who indirectly set this whirlwind in motion, Mike Riley, with his decision to leave after two stints at Oregon State (1997-98, 2003-14, going 93-80) for Nebraska.

Along with a chance to follow in the footsteps of receivers such as Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh, the coach had been the reason why Mullaney left home. The California kid had grown up about 30 minutes south of Los Angeles “without traffic,” where he set a state single-season record for receptions with 122 for 1,709 yards and 20 touchdowns as a senior at Thousand Oaks High School.

However, none of the Oregon State players had a clue that that something was up until they were notified of an emergency team meeting. They were stunned by the announcement on Dec. 4.

“Riley’s gone,” they told Mullaney on their way out, as he was late because it was finals week. Exactly one week later, Oregon State would make an equally surprising move after Gary Anderson resigned from Wisconsin to fill the opening.

The one thing Mullaney didn’t do was make a knee-jerk move. He even went through spring practices with the new coaching staff and scored a touchdown in the spring game while wearing his No. 8.

But by finishing up his degree in human development and family sciences, Mullaney had the option to play at any school with an opening as a fifth-year transfer. Meanwhile, the Beavers were going to have not only a new quarterback with Sean Mannion drafted by the St. Louis Rams but also a new offense after switching to a spread, uptempo scheme.

Mullaney struggled with the decision. He didn’t want to go out with just 18 receptions for 216 yards and one touchdown in six games as his final season, but coming off a 5-7 year, the Beavers weren’t looking at a quick turnaround.

“With Oregon State, I was comfortable, and it’s not like I wanted to leave, but it’s just hard,” he said. “Four years there, so many friends, memories.

“At the end of the day, I had to do what’s best for me and what I wanted long-term.”

He asked to be released from his scholarship. Had Riley stayed, he never would have considered such a move.

“It was hard just talking to Coach Anderson,” Mullaney said. “The short time I got to know him, I really respect the guy. I would have loved to play for him under different circumstances. But I got the release, next thing I know I’m coming here on a trip and just fell in love with the place.”

To give an idea of how fast things happened, Mullaney was in Reser Stadium for the last time on Saturday, June 13, for his graduation ceremony. That was one day after getting his release and two days before flying to Tuscaloosa.

To borrow a phrase from a prominent California team, the Oakland Raiders, the program’s commitment to excellence stood out even though Nick Saban wasn’t on hand for the visit, which occurred during a vacation the coach had planned months in advance. They did talk via Skype, though, and when Alabama offered a scholarship, he accepted.

In addition to his father, who hails from Boston (thus the fan allegiance), among those Mullaney had talked things over with was Luke Del Rio, the former Alabama walk-on quarterback who played at Oregon State last season and has since transferred to Florida. 

However, he didn’t get a chance to pick the brain of Riley, who played for Paul W. “Bear” Bryant from 1971-74 and was offered the Alabama job when Dennis Franchione left for Texas A&M in 2002. Mullaney said the coach reached out to him and his family after the decision had been made.

When people asked him why the abrupt change, his response was simple: “It’s Alabama.”

“Nothing gets better [in college football]. I wanted to prove to everyone out there that I could compete with the best.”

Alabama had a need at the position even before sophomore Cam Sims suffered a torn ACL in the spring. After the departures of Amari Cooper, DeAndrew White and Christion Jones, the Crimson Tide’s top returning wide receiver was junior Chris Black, who made 15 receptions for 188 yards last season.

In comparison, Mullaney had caught 83 passes for 1,160 yards and five touchdowns over three seasons. His best year came as a sophomore in 2013, when he registered 52 receptions for 788 yards and three scores.

Moreover, Alabama would have a new quarterback and no one who could be sort of a security blanket, whom it could confidently go to in the clutch.

"We hoped that role would happen with really three guys this year,” Saban said. “Robert Foster, ArDarius Stewart and Calvin Ridley showed us enough early in camp and that we thought he could emerge and be one of those guys. With the circumstances as they are, he's gotten more opportunity, and he's responded very well to it.”

When Foster suffered a shoulder injury against Ole Miss that required surgery, Mullaney took his spot. Although Alabama’s comeback came up short, he had seven catches for 61 yards and two touchdowns, including one in which he hurdled a defender in route to the end zone.

“He’s a guy that a lot of people around here trust a lot,” said senior quarterback Jake Coker, another graduate transfer from Florida State. “He just does what he’s supposed to do.”

That’s exactly what Alabama needed, and it’s been everything that Mullaney hoped. From the barbecue food to the fans, and the high level of talent on the Crimson Tide roster, it’s all been as good, if not better, than hyped. His California nature stuck out a little when he called it “awesome,” but so far, so good.

He quickly grasped coordinator Lane Kiffin’s offense and planned on letting his play do his talking for him. Before long, his new teammates started raving about the new guy.

"My first impression of Mullaney was that he has good hands,” safety Geno Matias-Smith said. “He's a sure catch. Kind of reminds me of Kevin Norwood. That's been a comparison from a lot of guys."

“Goes up to attack the ball and he runs really good routes,” tight end O.J. Howard said. “He’s definitely a steal for us.”

So far, Mullaney, wearing No. 16 for the Crimson Tide, has made 15 receptions for 160 yards and, as the primary slot receiver, started the last two games. Ole Miss and Georgia also provided his first taste of league play, which is a little different in the intense Southeastern Conference.

Oregon State might have the Civil War with Oregon, but that’s pretty much it in terms of rivalries. Additionally, Mullaney’s only postseason experience has been in the Alamo Bowl and the Hawaii Bowl (he had three receptions for 52 yards against Boise State). Maybe that will change as well. 

“We’re just happy to have him,” senior center Ryan Kelly said. “He’s been a great guy on and off the field.”


Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Christopher Walsh is a lead SEC college football writer. Follow Christopher on Twitter @WritingWalsh.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Oregon Offers Free Tickets for Game vs. Washington State to UCC Students, Staff

The Oregon football program is offering free tickets to students and staff members at Umpqua Community College for the Ducks' game Saturday against Washington State.

CBSSports.com's Tom Fornelli reported on the Ducks' announcement Thursday. Students and staff are asked to fill out a form and are able to enter for up to four free tickets for the Pac-12 contest at Autzen Stadium.

This commendable gesture by Oregon comes after the tragic mass shooting that occurred at Umpqua last week in which 10 people were reported dead and nine others wounded. The Umpqua campus is located approximately 70 miles south of the University of Oregon in Eugene.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Oregon Offers Free Tickets for Game vs. Washington State to UCC Students, Staff

The Oregon football program is offering free tickets to students and staff members at Umpqua Community College for the Ducks' game Saturday against Washington State. CBSSports.com's Tom Fornelli reported on the Ducks' announcement Thursday...

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Ohio State Football: How the Buckeyes Should Be Using Braxton Miller

On the first play of the game against Indiana last Saturday, Braxton Miller motioned across the field and took a flip pass from Cardale Jones.

It was a call made by the coaching staff to get the ball in the hands of one of Ohio State's most dangerous playmakers, but Hoosiers cornerback Rashard Fant diagnosed the play and wrapped Miller up before he cleared the line.

The nine-yard loss killed the drive before it even began. The Buckeyes failed to make up the lost ground and punted two plays later.

That was just one of two touches Miller registered against the Hoosiers, as he finished the game with a meager five all-purpose yards.

On Wednesday, Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer talked about the lack of opportunities Miller is getting, per Austin Ward of ESPN.com:

He touched it twice [against Indiana], and we've got to give him more touches, direct touches. He almost came out of one ... and the other one is just a bad call by me.

But, no, he deserves touches. He's an electric player with the ball in his hand. We just have not got him loose the last couple of games.

The numbers certainly back that statement up. In Ohio State's last three games against Northern Illinois, Western Michigan and Indiana, Miller tallied just 50 total yards on 12 touches, averaging 4.2 yards per play with no touchdowns.

That downturn seemed so improbable after Miller's incredible performance in the season-opening win against Virginia Tech, when he ripped off touchdowns of 54 and 53 yards on his way to a 140-yard performance.

The Buckeyes already boasted so many stars on offense, but Miller looked like the perfect big-play complement who would take the offense from great to unfair levels of production.

But like the offense, Miller has been bogged down by defenses that—on paper—should have posed very little resistance. In the last four games, he hasn't scored a touchdown or produced a play that went for more than 20 yards.

The problem is twofold.

First, the Buckeyes offense is predicated on in-play reads. In essence, the ball will theoretically go where the defense shows itself to be the most vulnerable, and since most teams have been selling out to stop Miller, the ball just simply hasn't gone his way.

Meyer suggested as much on Oct. 5, per BuckeyeGrove.com's Ryan Donnelly:

But Ohio State was force-feeding the ball into Miller's hands when it lined him up as a Wildcat quarterback. In the final two games of the nonconference slate, Miller gained just 18 yards on eight carries, averaging 2.2 yards per carry.

Despite Miller's quiet outing against the Hoosiers, Meyer is getting a sense for how to utilize one of college football's most dangerous playmakers. And while Miller didn't generate any game-breaking plays, he's starting to do the little things that come with playing wide receiver.

“It's frustrating, but you know, he graded a champion," Meyer said of Miller's Indiana performance, via Ward. "The Virginia Tech game, he did not. So think about that."

So how can Meyer get Miller more involved?

Part of that falls on the rest of the offense. If Jones can build a solid chemistry with his receivers in the passing game and the offensive line continues to pave big lanes for Ezekiel Elliott in the running game, opposing defenses will have to cover more ground.

That would free Miller up because opposing defenses have honed in on him when he motions into the backfield or lines up at quarterback.

And eventually, Meyer will need to let Miller throw the ball. The Buckeyes have utilized him as a Wildcat quarterback, but he's thrown just once this season—an ineffective flip pass to Jalin Marshall that netted three yards against Northern Illinois.

With that said, it's clear that Meyer is dedicated to getting Miller the ball.

"I’m just sick about Braxton," Meyer said, according to Patrick Murphy of The OZone. "I want to get him the darned ball and you just get caught up in the flow of the game."

But as the offense improves, the game should flow toward Miller more naturally and frequently.


David Regimbal is the Ohio State football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com