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USC vs. Notre Dame Complete Game Preview

WHEN: Saturday, Nov. 29; 3:30 p.m. ET

WHERE: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum 

TV: Fox 

USC is afforded a rare luxury few college football teams have on their schedules: The Trojans get a rivalry week do-over. 

After suffering a 38-20 loss at UCLA to conclude its Pac-12 docket, USC ends its first regular season under first-year head coach Steve Sarkisian against its other traditional rival, Notre Dame.

National championship implications and Heisman Trophy jockeying have been on the line in past installments of the USC-Notre Dame series.

No such stakes are on the line in the 86th meeting, but the Jeweled Shillelagh is reward enough to motivate two teams limping into the Coliseum. 

Notre Dame is a loser of four of its last five against Florida State, Arizona State, Northwestern and Louisville. USC sports an identical 7-4 record but is trying to avoid its only losing streak of the season. 

The Trojans are also out to salvage Sarkisian's goal of a strong November. They can still finish 9-4, which could be enough to land them in the final rankings and build some positive momentum heading into an important offseason.

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USC vs. Notre Dame Complete Game Preview

WHEN: Saturday, Nov. 29; 3:30 p.m. ET WHERE: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum TV: Fox USC is afforded a rare luxury few college football teams have on their schedules: The Trojans get a rivalry week do-over...

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5 College Football Recruits Who Had an Explosive Week

Playoff action is in full swing across the national high school football landscape as state titles and individual legacies hang in the balance. For many standouts, it's the final stretch run before embarking on collegiate careers.

As the 2014 campaign creeps to a close, we continue to keep tabs on the top prospects. Here's a peek at the premier performances from another busy weekend of meaningful matchups.

 

4-star 2015 WR Trent Irwin, Hart High School (Santa Clarita, California)

Though his team fell short of advancing in the state playoff tournament, Irwin established himself among California's most accomplished pass-catchers. The 6'2", 190-pound playmaker set state records for career receptions and receiving yards during a 52-21 loss to Upland High School in second-round playoff action.

He caught 15 passes for 165 yards in the defeat, according to Cary Osborne of The Santa Clarita Signal. The totals pushed his career numbers past those of current Minnesota Gophers sophomore Drew Wolitarsky, who finished with 281 receptions and 5,148 yards at Canyon High School.

Irwin ranks eighth all-time on the national receiving yards list and 15th in terms of catches, per Kevin Askeland of MaxPreps. He is closing in on a decision (with Arizona State, UCLA, Stanford and Oregon State in the mix).

His high school quarterback, fellow 4-star recruit Brady White, is committed to the Sun Devils.

 

5-star 2015 DB Minkah Fitzpatrick, St. Peter's Prep (Jersey City, New Jersey)

The two-way standout pushed St. Peter's Prep to a state championship rematch with Paramus Catholic by dominating during the semifinal round. Fitzpatrick, who stands 6'1", 198 pounds, caught nine passes for 274 receiving yards, per Braulio Perez of NJ.com.

He hauled in three touchdown tosses from teammate and Notre Dame quarterback commit Brandon Wimbush. Each of his scoring receptions occurred during the third quarter, with strikes from 42, 44 and 64 yards out.

Fitzpatrick's efforts helped the team run away with a 31-14 victory over Bergen Catholic. He leads St. Peter's in receptions this season and also serves as a shutdown defensive back.

Alabama is expected to utilize him at cornerback, where he is rated fourth nationally in 247Sports' composite rankings. He also considered offers from Florida State, South Carolina and Penn State.

 

4-star 2015 RB Johnny Frasier, Princeton High School (Princeton, North Carolina)

The 5'11", 220-pound Florida State commit rumbled through an overwhelmed Camden County defense Friday night en route to his fourth 200-yard rushing output of the season, per MaxPreps. Frasier found the end zone three times in a 40-22 win that sent Princeton into the state quarterfinals.

He turned 23 carries into 204 yards, extending his triple-digit rushing yardage streak to 20 games. Frasier now has more than 2,200 rushing yards this season and 35 total touchdowns.

His 11.5 yards-per-attempt average makes him one of the most dynamic offensive weapons of the 2015 class. Frasier, rated fifth nationally among running backs in 247Sports' composite rankings, has rushed for more than 6,000 yards since his sophomore season.

Florida State landed his pledge in August, though several teams are still in the hunt. Campus visits this fall have included Duke, Florida, North Carolina State and Tennessee.

 

2-star 2015 QB Josh Love, Long Beach Poly High School (Long Beach, California)

The 6'2", 188-pound passer picked apart Crespi High School during a state sectional quarterfinal battle. Love fired four touchdown passes while working against man-to-man pass coverage, leading Long Beach Poly to a 44-27 win, per Eric Sondheimer of the Los Angeles Times.

He completed 14 passes for 287 yards, fueling a second-half comeback. Love added a rushing touchdown, giving him five total scores.

His senior season now features 39 touchdown passes and 2,900 yards through the air. Love and the Jackrabbits advance to a semifinal showdown against St. John Bosco and top-rated 2015 quarterback Josh Rosen.

Love remains uncommitted. His past campus visits include Oregon State and BYU.

 

3-star 2015 QB Chason Virgil, West Mesquite High School (Mesquite Texas)

Just days after Mississippi State pulled his full scholarship due to roster reasons, per Devin Hasson of Mesquite News, Virgil showed what the Bulldogs will be missing moving forward. Virgil, rated 19th nationally among pro-style passers in 247Sports' composite rankings, erupted in a hard-fought second-round playoff loss to McKinney North.

The 6'2", 170-pound prospect completed 27 pass attempts for 404 yards and six scores, according to Michael Florek of The Dallas Morning News. Virgil added 42 rushing yards in the 50-44 defeat.

He was expected to enroll early at Mississippi State before the situation changed. Now looking for a new home, Virgil will review his offer list (which includes Nebraska, Louisville, Colorado and Auburn).

 

Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Florida State vs. Florida: Complete Game Preview

Florida State's focus is on Florida, and a win over the rival Gators will give the Seminoles something rare in college football: a perfect regular season.

FSU is the last unbeaten team in a power-five conference in 2014, and the Seminoles are closing in on a 12-0 regular season. While they did it last year en route to a 14-0 national title run, FSU has enjoyed four other unbeaten regular seasons.

Until the 1990s, FSU had only done it twice. In their fourth year of football (1950), the Seminoles went 8-0. And legendary coach Bobby Bowden did it in 1979 as FSU opened 11-0 before falling to Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl.

The Seminoles went 11-0 in 1996 before losing to Florida in a rematch in the Sugar Bowl, and they did it again in 1999 with a perfect 11-0 run during a national title season (capped by a win over Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl).

Can FSU finish off Florida and go unbeaten in the 2014 regular season? Let's take a look at Saturday's game (3:30 p.m. ET on ESPN).

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College Football Picks: South Carolina Gamecocks at Clemson Tigers Odds

The SEC's South Carolina Gamecocks invade Memorial Stadium this Saturday afternoon to renew a longstanding rivalry against the Clemson Tigers out of the ACC. The Battle of the Palmetto State is set to kick off at noon ET, and it will be broadcast nationally on ESPN.

The Gamecocks come into this bitter rivalry fresh off a 37-12 romp over South Alabama as a heavy 24-point home favorite this past Saturday. They are now 3-1 against the spread in their last four games, but overall on the year, South Carolina is just 4-7 ATS with a straight-up record of 6-5. The total has stayed "under" in three of its last five outings.

Clemson bounced back from a devastating 28-6 loss to Georgia Tech as a 1.5-point road favorite with a 28-0 shutout of Georgia State this past Saturday as a heavy 39.5-point favorite at home. The Tigers are now 8-3 SU on the year with a 4-7 record ATS. The total has stayed under in six of their last seven games.

 

South Carolina at Clemson Betting Storylines

It has been a forgettable 2014 campaign for the Gamecocks after coming into the season with serious aspirations of making a run at the SEC title. They posted a SU 3-5 losing record in conference play after going 6-2 in each of the previous three years. The offense has been productive all season long with an average of 34.8 points a game, but a multitude of breakdowns on the other side of the ball has led to South Carolina's defense allowing an average of 30.8 points a game, which is ranked 95th in the nation.

Dylan Thompson has taken the majority of the snaps at quarterback, and he has thrown for 3,031 yards and 23 touchdowns while completing 60.1 percent of his 378 attempts. Pharoh Cooper continues to be his favorite target with 58 receptions for 921 yards and eight scores. Mike Davis has anchored the running game with 888 rushing yards and nine touchdowns on 174 carries, but lately, it has been Brandon Wilds getting the majority of the carries. He has added 556 yards on 99 attempts for an average of 5.6 yards a carry.

All three of Clemson's losses this season came against ranked teams, and overall, it has had some major trouble covering against the teams it was supposed to beat. The Tigers come into this matchup 3-6 ATS this season as favorites, and they have failed to cover in their last three games at home as favorites. Part of the reason can be attributed to an offense that has struggled with consistency all season long.

Clemson's running game is averaging 146.5 yards a game, and it's adding another 256.3 yards through the air. The net result has been an offense that is ranked 60th in the nation in scoring with an average of 29.6 points a game. There is no denying that the Tigers defense has been the strength of this team after holding opponents to just 17.6 points a game. The 28 points this unit allowed in the loss to Georgia Tech was just the second time all season that it gave up more than 23 points in a game.

 

South Carolina at Clemson Betting Odds and Trends by Doc's Sports

Point Spread: Clemson -4.5

Total Line: OFF

The betting trends on Covers have the Gamecocks listed at 6-2 ATS in their last eight games following a SU win, and they are 9-3 ATS in their last 12 games against a team with a SU winning record. The total has stayed under in their last six games against the ACC.

The Tigers are 0-5 ATS in their last five games following a SU win, and they have failed to cover in their last six games overall. The total has stayed under in their last four home games.

The home team in this heated rivalry is 5-2 ATS in the last seven meetings, and the total has stayed under in the last four games.

 

College Football Picks: South Carolina at Clemson Betting Predictions

It is hard to go against the home team in such a big rivalry as this, but betting on Clemson this season has been a very expensive proposition. The Gamecocks will be looking to go out on a high note after such a disappointing year, so expect head coach Steve Spurrier to have his team ready. South Carolina has won the last five meetings both SU and ATS, and I really like its chances to keep this streak going with another victory this year.

 

Take: # 409 South Carolina (+4.5) over Clemson - Noon, Saturday, Nov. 29

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Why Alabama Should Be Terrified of Auburn in the Iron Bowl

This year's Iron Bowl doesn't carry division and national title hopes for both teams like last year's edition did, but that doesn't diminish the intrigue associated with the nation's biggest rivalry.

It just changes it a little bit.

No. 1 Alabama will have everything to gain on Saturday afternoon in Tuscaloosa. The SEC West title, playoff hopes and revenge will be in front of the Crimson Tide, while Auburn will enter Bryant-Denny Stadium with nothing to lose other than the state title.

If there's anything scarier in college football than the thought of Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn emptying the playbook, I'm not sure what it is. On top of that, his players don't have class this week and have all week to focus on football.

Look out, Alabama.

Why should Alabama be terrified of the Tigers?

 

Duke Could Get Loose

Auburn wide receiver D'haquille "Duke" Williams has missed the last two games after suffering a sprained MCL in the first half of the loss to Texas A&M earlier this month, but he could return for the Iron Bowl showdown with the Crimson Tide.

According to offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee (via: Ryan Black of the Columbus (Ga.) Ledger-Inquirer), Williams could make a return this weekend in Tuscaloosa.

Williams' return would be huge for Auburn and quarterback Nick Marshall, in particular. He has 38 catches for 609 yards and five touchdowns this season, and he has done his best work in clutch situations. Of his 38 catches, 15 have come on third down, and 13 of those have gone for first downs.

Alabama will undoubtedly load up against Marshall and running back Cameron Artis-Payne, and having a receiver like Williams available to move the chains will force the Crimson Tide to stay honest, back safeties off a step and make life just a little bit easier for the Tigers offense.

Alabama head coach Nick Saban knows just how dangerous Williams is, according to John Zenor of The Associated Press:

Williams' return would also benefit fellow wide receiver Sammie Coates. The superstar junior has been fighting through a lingering knee injury suffered in the season opener against Arkansas and is finally rounding into form, according to Lashlee (via Black).

Williams and Coates together allows Lashlee and Malzahn to get creative with their passing plays and take advantage when one or the other are in single-coverage.

 

The Multidimensional Rushing Attack

It's no secret that mobile quarterbacks give Saban's defenses fits from time to time, and Marshall himself did that last season. He rushed for 99 yards and a touchdown in addition to his two passing touchdowns last year in the 34-28 win for the Tigers, and he calmly led the Tigers down the field in the closing minutes before hitting Coates for the game-tying touchdown.

If you look back at all of Alabama's losses since 2009, all of those teams have quarterbacks who presented a threat on the ground. Not all of them had huge days on the ground against the Tide, but that threat forced the Tide to play flawless assignment football, and those coaches used that threat to open up their offenses.

It isn't the tempo that gets Saban, it's the threat of a running quarterback combined with tempo and motion that gets Saban's defenses in trouble.

Even the best linebackers get sucked in by play-action and the eye-candy that Malzahn's offense creates before and right after the snap, and it's something that Saban is very concerned about according to B/R Alabama lead writer Marc Torrence.

Take last year, for example.

On Marshall's touchdown run in the first quarter (2:16 mark of the video below), linebacker C.J. Mosley and safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix both get sucked in on the zone read to Tre Mason, which leaves a gaping hole for Marshall to run through for the score. These are two defenders collecting NFL paychecks right now, and even they got assignments confused.

Why? 

Clinton-Dix was on the move with the fly-sweep action to Ricardo Louis, which created confusion among the Tide linebackers and safeties.

Whether you feel Marshall has progressed as a passer or not, this is still the same offense run by the same coach and quarterback that puts a ton of stress on opposing defenses. One blown assignment could lead to a touchdown from anywhere on the field, which puts a ton of pressure on Saban, defensive coordinator Kirby Smart and Alabama's defense.

 

Red-Zone Defense

Auburn's defense has been more of a punchline than a power during Malzahn's first two seasons on the Plains, but when the Tigers get backed up into a corner, they typically fight back with a vengeance. 

The Tigers rank second in the SEC in red-zone defense, allowing opponents to score 68.89 percent of the time.

Conversely, Alabama's offense is 10th in the SEC in red-zone conversions at 82.35 percent. As Sporting News pointed out last week, Saban wasn't too happen with offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin after the Crimson Tide couldn't punch it in on three attempts inside the six-yard line in the win over Western Carolina.

Auburn's best chance against the Crimson Tide is winning a track meet. If the Tigers can get one or two key red-zone stops against the Crimson Tide and force field goals instead of touchdowns, it will allow the Tigers offense to stay multidimensional and in its comfort zone.

 

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

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Betting: Odds Favor Alabama over Auburn in Iron Bowl

Mississippi State will be aiming to solidify its position in the College Football Playoff Rankings when it meets the Ole Miss Rebels on Saturday in the annual Egg Bowl game for a matchup that opened as a pick'em.

The Bulldogs improved to 10-1 last weekend with a dominating 51-0 victory over Vanderbilt, easily covering as 29.5-point favorites at sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark. The win comes on the heels of their 25-20 loss to Alabama two weeks ago, which toppled the Bulldogs from the top spot in the national rankings.

Mississippi enters Week 14 looking to end a stretch of four straight against-the-spread losses, 1-3 straight up, including a humbling 30-0 loss to Arkansas last weekend.

The Rebels posted a 41-24 win over the Bulldogs as slim one-point favorites the last time they hosted their in-state rivals, but they are 4-6 SU and 4-5-1 ATS in their last 10 Egg Bowl matchups.

Alabama will be looking to avenge its Iron Bowl loss from last year when it faces Auburn as seven-point favorites on the Week 14 college football betting lines.

The Crimson Tide were denied a berth in last season’s national championship game in a stunning 34-28 loss to the Tigers in the last meeting between the two teams. Alabama looks poised for another championship run, riding a six-game SU winning streak, but has been a major betting disappointment this season, going 2-8-1 ATS, with its last ATS win coming in a 59-0 thrashing of Texas A&M in Week 8.

Alabama has enjoyed success in recent Iron Bowl matchups, going 4-2 SU in its last six against Auburn, 3-3 ATS, with the point total finishing OVER in their last three meetings.

No. 6 Ohio State continues its quest for a top-four spot in the CFP Rankings when it takes on Michigan as heavy 20-point favorites this weekend. Ohio State rides a nine-game SU winning streak into Saturday’s Wolverines vs. Buckeyes betting matchup at Ohio Stadium.

However, the squad has failed to cover in three of its last five games, while the 5-6 Wolverines are on a two-game ATS losing streak, 4-7 ATS on the season.

In other Week 14 college football opening lines at the sportsbooks, TCU is favored by 7.5 points over Texas, while UCLA is a 4.5-point favorite over Stanford, and Florida State is a 10-point favorite against the rival Florida Gators.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

LSU Tigers vs. Texas A&M Aggies Complete Game Preview

Turkey with a side of LSU football is a combination Tiger fans will love. 

LSU will play Texas A&M on Thanksgiving Day in a clash between two 7-4 teams from the SEC West. The Tigers should be fresh coming off a bye after suffering a miserable 17-0 beatdown from Arkansas. 

The Aggies also had a bye to recover after a loss. Texas A&M was edged out at home by Missouri 34-27 a week after upsetting Auburn 41-38

Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin has had more issues with LSU than any other team he has faced during his time in College Station. Sumlin is 0-2 against the Tigers, as his offense has struggled to move the football versus defensive coordinator John Chavis. 

Thursday will be the first time the Tigers have played on Thanksgiving Day since 1973, per LSU Sports Information

 

What You Need to Know

Time: 7:30 p.m. ET

Place: Kyle Field, College Station, Texas

TV: ESPN

Radio: LSU Sports Radio Network, Texas A&M Sports Network

Spread: LSU (-2), via OddsShark.com 

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Pittsburgh vs. Miami: Complete Game Preview

The Miami Hurricanes will host the Pittsburgh Panthers on Saturday, Nov. 29, during the 2014 regular-season finale.

Pitt (5-6, 3-4 ACC) needs a victory to earn bowl eligibility for the seventh consecutive year, which would continue the second-best stretch in program history.

Miami (6-5, 3-4) has dropped two straight contests, including a demoralizing 30-13 loss to Virginia last weekend.

Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. ET at Sun Life Stadium and will be televised on ESPN2.

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Ultimate Guide to College Football Rivalry Weekend

Rivalry Week is the bittersweet conclusion of the college football regular season as we know it.

It is the last week with what one would call a "full slate of games," which for obvious reasons is terrible. But it annually gives us one of the best, most entertaining weeks of the year.

This year's assortment of rivalry games looks as good as usual, if not better. Starting Thanksgiving night and continuing through Friday and Saturday, the schedule is littered with games that feature massive postseason, division, conference and College Football Playoff implications.

With four spots to vie for instead of two, this year's stretch run is roughly twice as exciting as the years of the BCS era. Don't argue with that. It's science.

Here is everything you need to know about the weekend ahead.

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Insider Buzz: Which Targets Are Top Priority for New 2015 Florida Staff?

With Will Muschamp on the outs in Florida, its time for the next regime to make their impact on the recruiting trail. The incoming coaching staff has their work cut out for them as they attempt to land some of the nation's top talent.  

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder was joined by Bleacher Report National Recruiting Analyst Sanjay Kirpalani as they addressed some of the Gators' key needs.

Which aspect is most important for Florida?

Watch the video and let us know!  

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

UCLA vs. Stanford Complete Game Preview

WHEN: Friday, Nov. 28; 3:30 p.m. ET 

WHERE: The Rose Bowl; Pasadena, California

TV: ABC 

UCLA returned to the Top 10 of the Associated Press Poll for the first time since Week 1 following the Bruins' 38-20 rout of rival USC. 

The Bruins should also climb from its No. 9 spot in the College Football Playoff rankings Tuesday, inching ever closer to contention for a berth in the inaugural tournament. 

A spot in the playoff isn't possible with a Pac-12 title, and a Pac-12 title isn't attainable without a win over Stanford. And, as head coach Jim Mora was quick to point out following last week's win, the Pac-12 championship is his team's ultimate goal.

"If we can win Friday, we will have another shot to win the Pac-12 Championship," Mora said. "I don’t talk about that other stuff." 

He added UCLA's "world's got to end" with Stanford. In other words, this is a big one for the Bruins.  

 

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UCLA vs. Stanford Complete Game Preview

WHEN: Friday, Nov. 28; 3:30 p.m. ET WHERE: The Rose Bowl; Pasadena, California TV: ABC UCLA returned to the Top 10 of the Associated Press Poll for the first time since Week 1 following the Bruins' 38-20 rout of rival USC...

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UNC Football Players Damage Duke Locker Rooms While Celebrating Victory

Thanks to a postgame celebration that devolved into petty vandalism, North Carolina will be shelling out money in the aftermath of its football program's 45-20 victory over Duke on Thursday.

The (Durham) Herald-Sun’s Steve Wiseman reports that UNC players caused thousands of dollars in collateral damage after their willy-nilly spray-painting of the Victory Bell.

According to Wiseman, UNC players wasted no time in tagging their newly won trophy and sprayed paint over multiple pieces of property.

Duke employees reported finding light blue paint in the locker room and the letters "UNC" painted on a door near the facility's entrance.

North Carolina head coach Larry Fedora personally called Duke head coach David Cutcliffe to apologize for his players' actions. UNC athletic director Bubba Cunningham also phoned Duke AD Kevin White to make amends.

On top of their individual apologies, UNC released a joint statement from Fedora and Cunningham expressing their disappointment in the players involved in the vandalism:

We would like to apologize to the Duke Football program and Duke University for some inappropriate actions after last Thursday night's game in Durham. Our players took the celebrations too far when they were painting the bell, resulting in damage to some of the facilities at Duke. We take full responsibility for our players' actions and will be paying for all costs associated with the cleanup. We view this as a rivalry built on mutual respect and we expect our players to behave better in a way that is more befitting of the rivalry. 

While the school has promised to pay for the damages, it does not appear that any players will face repercussions for the incident.

In the scope of the long and bitter Duke-UNC rivalry, spray painting locker rooms is relatively innocuous. Considering managers of the schools' basketball programs threw down in fisticuffs during their annual game this February, a bit of minor vandalism is a drop in the bad blood bucket.

 

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

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Dark-Horse Teams That Can Crash the College Football Playoff

The College Football Playoff draws closer, and most of the top teams seem to be in good position to remain in the top four spots. However, there are still squads outside of the playoff looking for their ticket into the CFP.

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder, Barrett Sallee and Adam Kramer give their picks for a dark-horse candidate to crash the CFP.

What two-loss team can crash the College Football Playoff?

Watch the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Watch 5-Star CB Iman Marshall Absolutely Demolish Running Back

Class of 2015 5-star cornerback Iman Marshall (Long Beach Poly High, Long Beach, California) is known for his jaw-dropping hits, but he took it to another level when he met this running back coming at him full steam. 

Was this the biggest hit of the season?

Check out the video and let us know! 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Minnesota Golden Gophers vs. Wisconsin Badgers Complete Game Preview

It's Axe Week, Badgers fans.  The Minnesota Golden Gophers vs. Wisconsin Badgers, on the final day of the regular season, with a trip to the Big Ten Championship Game on the line at Camp Randall Stadium.  If this isn't everything schedule-makers hoped for, I don't know what is.

The Gophers come into this game coming off a miraculous win at Memorial Stadium when Briean Boddy-Calhoun ripped the ball out of the tenuous grasp of De'Mornay Pierson-El just six feet from the end zone to lock up the 28-24 road victory over then-No. 23 Nebraska.

For the Badgers, a combination of Joel Stave, Tanner McEvoy and Melvin Gordon paced the offense while the defense prayed on the sideline they didn't need to come out one more time as the Badgers won their first game decided by seven points or fewer under Gary Andersen in a 26-24 victory over the Iowa Hawkeyes.

The Badgers sit at 6-1 in the Big Ten, one game ahead of the 5-2 Gophers. However, with the first tiebreaker being head-to-head records, this game is for all the marbles and a chance to play Ohio State in the Big Ten title game.

Let's take a look at the keys to success and players to watch for both teams, while also looking at what the coaching staffs and players have to say to go along with a prediction for who will represent the Big Ten West in the Big Ten title game.

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What Will Playoff Committee Need to See from Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl?

Even in the age of the College Football Playoff, the sport is essentially a beauty contest.

Despite being ranked No. 4 last week by the College Football Playoff selection committee, Mississippi State needs to use its Saturday showdown with Ole Miss as the runway. 

If Alabama wins the Iron Bowl with Auburn, it'll be the last chance for the Bulldogs to leave an impression on the committee. Because of that, head coach Dan Mullen's crew needs style points against the Rebels on national television on Saturday afternoon.

As Mississippi State offensive lineman Ben Beckwith notes (via: Bob Carskadon of HailState.com), the Rebels want to play spoiler.

The Bulldogs' spot in the four-team event is tenuous at best, with Baylor, Ohio State and TCU all nipping at their heels. Some or all of those teams could boast conference championships—a stated point of emphasis for the committee—when all is said and done, and Mississippi State's job this week should be to minimize the impact of those conference championships as much as possible.

What specifically does Mississippi State need to show?

 

Game Control

The Bulldogs need "game control." Lots and lots of "game control."

Unfortunately, that term has crept into the national narrative in this new age of the four-team playoff, and with Ole Miss reeling following its 30-0 loss at Arkansas last week, Mississippi State needs to earn a lot of game control points against an Ole Miss team whose flaws have surfaced over the final month of the season.

Ole Miss' loss last week really hurts Mississippi State. Sure, Arkansas looks a little tougher now, but a Top 10 matchup on rivalry weekend would have been the perfect way to go out on a high note.

Instead, the Rebels are beat up with star wide receiver Laquon Treadwell out and quarterback Bo Wallace nursing an ankle injury, and they haven't been able to run all season long even at optimal health. Mississippi State's front seven has to hold the Rebels rushing attack in check and force "Bad Bo" to make an appearance. 

The Bulldogs' resume is more beefy than a team like Baylor's, which only has beaten three teams with records above .500. But Mississippi State doesn't have a top-end win like Baylor's over No. 5 TCU or one as emphatic as the Bears' 48-14 road win at Oklahoma.

A win over Ole Miss wouldn't really change the fact that Baylor has the better signature win, but if the Bulldogs go on the road and emphatically beat a team in the lower half of the Top 25, it would at least bolster the case.

 

A Complete Defense

There are no great teams in college football this year, there are just a bunch of good ones. Mississippi State is in that group, and proving to the committee that it has fixed its flaws late in the season would be a good way to tie a bow on the resume.

What are Mississippi State's problems? Its defense has holes.

Sure, the Bulldogs are giving up just 18.4 points per game (11th in the nation) and boast the best red-zone defense in the country (59.46 percent), but they're giving up 400.7 yards per game and 4.24 yards per play.

Simply put, defensive coordinator Geoff Collins' crew bends but doesn't break very much.

It needs to be as stiff as a board on Saturday.

These are uncharted waters for all of us, and while the committee can set forth specific metrics that are emphasized, Mississippi would be well-served to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that it has become a truly complete football team by holding Ole Miss' offense in check everywhere on the field, not just inside the 20-yard line.

 

Strength vs. Strength

Ole Miss is known for its stifling defense that's giving up just 309.9 yards per game and 179.0 through the air, which will present a tough challenge for Mullen, quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Josh Robinson.

Mississippi State's offense needs to show that it's strong against one of the best, and that means big days from Prescott, Robinson and the loaded group of receivers that includes Jameon Lewis and De'Runnya Wilson.

Prescott thinks that the 51-0 win over Vanderbilt that saw the Bulldogs put up 502 total yards and break the 500-yard mark for the eighth time this season served as a nice tuneup (via: Carskadon):

Prove it. 

Go out there and play the brand of Mississippi State football that earned the No. 1 ranking earlier in the season over defending national champ Florida State, despite the 'Noles not losing a game.

This is a beauty pageant, and there's a runway waiting for Mississippi State in Oxford on Saturday afternoon.

It needs to turn some heads, regardless of where it's ranked going in.

 

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

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

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Bowl Projections 2014: Latest Playoff Predictions, Odds and More

Make sure to get as much family and friend time in as you can early on this Thanksgiving week, because the race for the College Football Playoff will take center stage on Thursday night, Friday and Saturday. 

Rivalry games and conference championship contests are all that stand in the way of a potential playoff spot for a number of teams, including Alabama, Florida State and Oregon.

With that in mind, here is a look at the latest playoff projections and odds from Statmilk and Odds Shark before my playoff predictions and a deeper look at one of the dark horses that could butt its way into the entire conversation.

 

Statmilk Playoff Projections and Odds

National championship odds are courtesy of Odds Shark, as of Sunday night at 10 p.m. ET.

 

Scott Polacek Playoff Projections

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

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

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

 

The Dark-Horse Candidate: UCLA

There are four playoff spots available, and if Alabama, Florida State and Oregon win out, they are taking three of them. After all, that would mean the Crimson Tide won the SEC, the Ducks won the Pac-12 and the Seminoles finished as the only undefeated power-five conference team and as ACC champs.

Between the quality wins on Oregon’s and Alabama’s resumes and the zero in the loss column for Florida State, there isn’t much of an argument against those three.

The next tier consists of the one-loss contenders in Ohio State, Mississippi State, Baylor and TCU. They all have an inside track on two-loss UCLA from the Pac-12, but that will only truly matter when the final rankings are released.

Chaos is an inescapable part of college football, especially with a number of rivalry showdowns and conference championship tilts on the immediate horizon.

It is not that difficult to envision a scenario where some combination of an Alabama loss to Auburn, a Baylor loss to Kansas State, a TCU loss to Texas, an Ohio State loss to Wisconsin, a Mississippi State loss to Ole Miss, a Florida State loss to Georgia Tech or, most importantly in this scenario, an Oregon loss to UCLA occurs.

Clearly, this all will not happen, but we could certainly see a few upsets, which would open the door for the red-hot Bruins.

If UCLA was to win out and push its winning streak to seven, that would mean the resume includes wins over Texas, Arizona State, Arizona, USC, Stanford and Oregon in the Pac-12 title game. The selection committee will also grant some favor toward conference champions, which would help UCLA’s cause. 

Chris Dufresne of the Los Angeles Times passed along some interesting numbers from Nate Silver of Five Thirty Eight, as well his own opinion on UCLA’s ultimate chances:

UCLA’s biggest problem is the two in the loss column, although defeats at the hands of Utah and Oregon are nothing to really be ashamed of either. Still, the Bruins survived close calls against Virginia, Memphis, Texas, California and Colorado, which isn’t exactly Murderers' Row.

If TCU gets criticized for a close win against Kansas and Ohio State takes some heat for a narrow victory over Indiana, UCLA deserves to be put under that same microscope for those games as well.

Still, winning is all that matters, and quarterback Brett Hundley discussed where his team stands, via Chris Foster of the Los Angeles Times:

“We went through the expectations and the hype at the beginning of the season, where everyone wanted us to win by 60. We’ve grown. We learned to play football and not worry about the rankings. We sit in a pretty good position, but it doesn’t matter right now.”

A lot is potentially at stake here in this UCLA hypothetical between the value of a conference championship, marquee wins and respectable losses. What’s more, plenty has to happen before the Bruins are serious playoff contenders, including a much-easier-said-than-done upset of Oregon in the conference title game. 

Just be warned, though, that UCLA still has a chance to factor into the playoff discussion by season’s end.

 

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Auburn Football: Tigers Fans' Complete Guide to 2014 Iron Bowl

AUBURN, Ala. — It's Thanksgiving week in the state of Alabama, and that usually means three things: food, family and at least one college football team with national title hopes is about to go up against its biggest rival.

This season, Alabama is once again on the path to a berth on the game's biggest stage—this time, a potential place in the inaugural College Football Playoff. The Crimson Tide have not been as impressive in 2014 as championship-quality teams of years past under Nick Saban, but they are still right where they want to be heading into the final week of the season.

On the other side, Auburn's dreams of repeating as an SEC champion and avenging its national title game loss are gone after a late-season slide. However, Gus Malzahn's uptempo and hungry team that thrived as the underdog throughout the 2013 season is back in a familiar spot in 2014, one in which it will once again try to inflict the killer blow on Alabama's title goals.

To make things even more dramatic, this year's Iron Bowl comes one year after the most exciting and unbelievable finish in the sport's history, Chris Davis' "Kick Six."

Hopes and hatred will reach a boiling point Saturday night—yes, it's a night game this year—in Tuscaloosa as Auburn hopes to turn the college football world on its head one more time:

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