Posts by Brian Peel

SQ Foster Farms Bowl Preview

In what will be their third matchup in four seasons, UCLA and Nebraska will do battle at the Foster Farms bowl in Santa Clara, California on Saturday night. Neither team is where they thought they would be at the beginning of the season, as both have suffered unforeseen setbacks. UCLA (8-4, Pac-12) enters the game

In what will be their third matchup in four seasons, UCLA and Nebraska will do battle at the Foster Farms bowl in Santa Clara, California on Saturday night. Neither team is where they thought they would be at the beginning of the season, as both have suffered unforeseen setbacks. UCLA (8-4, Pac-12) enters the game off a disappointing loss to rival USC that knocked it out of the conference championship, while Nebraska (5-7, Big Ten) is one of only a few bowl teams that have more losses than wins. 

Storylines

   

UCLA’s Attrition: After a hot start to the season that saw the Bruins go 4-0 and ranked as high as No. 7 in the country, UCLA’s injuries finally caught up to the team. The losses of superstar linebacker Myles Jack and defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes were the most notable injuries as the Bruins struggled the final two-thirds of the season, going 4-4 down the stretch. For the first time in his UCLA coaching career, Jim Mora lost to rival USC and despite strong play from true freshman quarterback Josh Rosen, the Bruins never felt like a CFB Playoff contender. 

Nebraska’s Bad Luck: Under new coach Mike Riley, Nebraska has been painfully close in coming away with a win in five of its seven losses. By now, everyone knows about the team’s opening game loss to BYU on the “Hail Joseph Smith,” but Nebraska has also suffered losses by three points, one point, and twice by two points. That being said, the team did win in mostly improbable fashion against undefeated Michigan State, so maybe things even out in the long run. 

Key Stats

16: While Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong has thrown 21 touchdowns this season for the Cornhuskers, he has also tossed 16 interceptions. Sixteen is an alarming number for any quarterback in 12 games played, but what makes it even worse is the fact that Armstrong is a veteran in his third season as a starter. UCLA’s Rosen, on the other hand, has thrown only nine interceptions in 2015 and he is a true freshman. If Nebraska has any shot at pulling off the upset, the team will need to limit its turnovers against a Bruins team that has picked off 12 balls this season.  

2-0: Since the 2012 season, UCLA is 2-0 against Nebraska. In two non-conference games, the Bruins won 36-30 in Pasadena in 2012 and 41-21 in Lincoln in 2013. UCLA out-gained Nebraska in total yards in those games by a combined 1157 to 770, but a key player is missing from those two Bruin victories: quarterback Brett Hundley. Hundley is now backing up Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay, which is wonderful news for Cornhusker fans, considering he threw seven touchdowns in those two matchups. 

31: That is the combined number of points Nebraska has lost by in its seven defeats this season. Plenty of fans will likely criticize Mike Riley for the team’s disappointing overall record, but the truth is Nebraska has been just a play or two away from a very special season. Nebraska really seemed to figure some things out late in the season with its victory over Michigan State and close loss to an undefeated Iowa team. Riley was highly successful at Oregon State and if he is given enough time, the same should happen in Lincoln. 

Key Players

Paul Perkins, RB, UCLA: After three stellar seasons in Los Angeles, UCLA’s Paul Perkins will have to decide if he is ready for the NFL or wants to come back for his senior season. In 2015, Perkins has run for 1,275 yards and 13 touchdowns to go along with his 27 catches and 234 receiving yards. In a conference that is full of outstanding running backs, Perkins is always near the top of the list and he will need to play well again for UCLA to come away victorious. Nebraska has been excellent against the run this year, ranking eighth in the country in rush yards allowed, so look for them to put the pressure on Rosen to make plays down the field. 

Jordan Westerkamp, WR, Nebraska: Only four players for Nebraska made the first or second team All-Big Ten Football and three of the four were a kicker, punter, and defensive tackle. Jordan Westerkamp was the sole offensive player to make the postseason list and it was certainly deserved, considering the Cornhuskers have struggled at the quarterback position this season. Westerkamp has 63 catches, 874 receiving yards, and seven touchdowns including the game-winner against Michigan State. UCLA has some future NFL players in its defensive backfield and ranks 41st in the country in passing defensive, so it is up to Westerkamp to help stretch the field for Nebraska’s inconsistent passing game. 

Why UCLA Wins

Since Jim Mora took over as head coach in 2012, UCLA has become a different program. No longer is UCLA the school that lives in USC’s shadow or just a sleeping giant that always underachieves; rather, UCLA is one of the country’s best programs right now. At 8-4, the Bruins did not end the season the way they wanted to, but considering the injuries that piled up on the defensive side of the ball and the growing pains of a true freshman quarterback, UCLA is not in such a bad spot. UCLA will be one of the best teams in the country next year and winning a bowl game in convincing fashion against a Big Ten team could help set the tone for 2016. 

Why Nebraska Wins

The odds makers in Vegas are pretty smart guys, so when you see that a 5-7 team is less than a touchdown underdog to a team that was in the top-25 for most of the season, you become a little suspicious. Looking at the stats, Nebraska is not far behind UCLA in things like total offense, total defense, and points per game. As pointed out earlier, the Cornhuskers have been a pretty unfortunate team for most of the year, so if they put together a solid, mostly mistake-free game, and force the true freshman quarterback into making a few mistakes; they have a shot at pulling off the upset. 

Prediction


This is the kind of bowl that could go either way because the fact of the matter is, neither team is probably all that motivated to play in it. The Foster Farms Bowl is not exactly a New Year’s Six Bowl and both teams could be playing in a game that is worth a little more nationally. Nebraska might be playing for pride because of its poor record, but UCLA will certainly want to end 2015 on a good note after USC ended its season for all intents and purposes.   

Right now, UCLA just looks like the more put together team both offensively and defensively. Despite how good they are against the run, the Cornhuskers are 69th in the country in total defense, so expect the Bruins to move the ball fairly well throughout the game, especially through the air. Rosen is not really a true freshman at this point anymore and Nebraska will have to make a lot of plays offensively to try and keep up. I don’t see that happening.  

Final Score:

UCLA 34, Nebraska 24

    

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SQ Pac-12 Championship Preview

On Saturday night at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California; the Pac-12 will crown its champion when the No. 20 USC Trojans (8-4, South) and the No. 7 Stanford Cardinal (10-2, North) face off for a shot at the Rose Bowl, and maybe even more, depending on who you're rooting for. If all hell breaks lose on Saturday and teams like

On Saturday night at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California; the Pac-12 will crown its champion when the No. 20 USC Trojans (8-4, South) and the No. 7 Stanford Cardinal (10-2, North) face off for a shot at the Rose Bowl, and maybe even more, depending on who you’re rooting for. If all hell breaks lose on Saturday and teams like Clemson and Alabama are upset, Stanford still has a slim chance of making the College Football Playoff. But before any of that they need to take out a USC team that has been playing very good football over the last month or so. This game isn’t exactly a de facto CFP quarterfinal like the Big Ten Championship will be, but that doesn’t mean there wont be plenty on the line in this intriguing clash at the home of the 49ers. 

I mean, no matter how you look at it, it’s got to be better than watching Blaine Gabbert throwing a three-yard slant to Anquan Boldin.  

Storylines

Rematch: Saturday’s tilt will actually be the second time this season that the Cardinal and the Trojans will square off. Despite being decided underdogs and on the road, Stanford won the teams’ first contest back in mid-September, 41-31, a game that propelled the two teams in very different directions. Following the victory, Stanford won eight of their next nine games, while USC dropped two of their next three. The Trojans fired head coach Steve Sarkisian amid controversy, promoting offensive coordinator Clay Helton to interim head coach. Almost three months after their initial meeting, these two teams mostly have the same pieces in place but this still feels like a different game.  

Clay Helton’s Chance: No, it wont be Chip Kelly vs. David Shaw, or Jon Gruden vs. David Shaw, or even Pete Carroll vs. David Shaw. Just this past week, USC decided to remove Helton’s interim tag, which means he will be calling the shots for the Trojans for the foreseeable future. After the disaster and controversy to start the season, USC rebounded under Helton and went 5-2 down the stretch. It’s a bold move by the Trojans to name Helton permanent head coach, and perhaps they should have waited till after the season. After all, if previous seasons are any indication, USC players only seem motivated when they are playing for an interim coach. 

Containing McCaffrey: 216 total yards is all that stands between Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey and history. Barring injury, McCaffrey is likely to break Barry Sanders’ record of 3,250 single-season all-purpose yards. McCaffrey, who gets the ball by way of the run, pass, and return game, racked up 249 total yards in the two teams’ last meeting, but was held out of the end zone. It is almost inevitable that McCaffrey will get his yards on Saturday because of the way Stanford gets him the ball, but if the Trojans have any shot at being the Pac-12 champions they will have to limit his big plays.    

Key Stats

0-4: Teams representing the South in the Pac-12 championship are winless in four tries since the conference’s inaugural championship game in 2011. North Division winner Stanford is 2-0 in previous championship games, winning in 2012 and 2013. This will be USC’s first appearance in the Pac-12 championship, with UCLA, Arizona State, and Arizona winning the South in the past four seasons. 

39:29-20:31: Stanford dominated time of possession last time out between these two despite USC not committing any turnovers. The Trojans had the ball so little compared to the Cardinal because they couldn’t get them off the field in critical situations, as Stanford was eight for twelve on third down conversions. Despite losing the game by ten points, USC was only outgained by 47 yards.  

14.4 miles: That is the distance between Stanford’s campus in Palo Alto and Levi Stadium in Santa Clara where the game will be played. That is about a 20 minute bus ride for the Cardinal while the Trojans in Los Angeles are situated approximately 350 miles away. Will Stanford be able to generate a home field advantage on Saturday? Or will USC fans make the trip to what is supposed to be a neutral field? The Trojans haven’t played great on the road this year, losing twice and playing nearly every game close besides a blowout win in Tempe against ASU.    

Key Players

Stanford: Kevin Hogan has put together a very solid senior season, with 27 total touchdowns, 2,794 total yards, and only seven interceptions. Last time around against the Trojans, Hogan hit 18-23 passes for 279 yards and two touchdowns, despite suffering an ankle injury in the game. Despite being overshadowed by McCaffrey, Hogan has delivered steady and productive play, and been very good in clutch situations for the Cardinal this season. Having the most wins of any quarterback all-time at Stanford is no small feat, but Hogan will still need to play lights-out on Saturday if Stanford wants a shot at the CFP.   

USC: It would be easy to pick Cody Kessler as the key player on the Trojans’ side, as this game might very well come down to which quarterback outduels the other, but USC will really need to make plays on defense in order to win this game. Freshman cornerback Iman Marshall has has been a star in the defensive backfield for USC this season; he leads the Trojans in pass breakups with seven, is tied for the team lead in interceptions with three, and is third in total tackles. The entire Trojan defensive backfield will need to play better this time around if USC wants to play in the Rose Bowl, as last time these two met, Hogan and the Cardinal receivers were easily the better side.   

   

Prediction:

Early in the second quarter of this season’s first matchup between these two, USC was winning 21-10 and looked like they were going to roll to an easy victory over Stanford. The Cardinal responded by outscoring the Trojans 34-10 the rest of the way, with Hogan making big plays with his arms and legs and the Stanford offensive line controlling the line of scrimmage. 

This time around, I think things will be different. If USC can just make a few plays on defense—whether a turnover, some third-down stops, sacks, etc.—they will win the game. Stanford’s defense is a shell of its former self and has struggled all season, ranking 50th in the country in total defense. The Trojans certainly have the weapons to expose it with Kessler, wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, and running back Ronald Jones, just to name a few. The Cardinal have escaped with a couple of close victories over the last month, but I don’t see it happening here. USC pulls off the upset.          

Final Score: USC 34, Stanford 27 

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College Football As Thanksgiving Dinner

Oh it’s that time again when you gather around the table with the people you know and mostly despise to discussargue, scream incoherently about immigrants, LGBT rights, racial tension, an advancing Caliphate, and the latest episode of Scandal. No, it’s not another presidential debate, it’s Thanksgiving. 

Football and Thanksgiving are cosmically intertwined so eat up and then

Oh it’s that time again when you gather around the table with the people you know and mostly despise to discussargue, scream incoherently about immigrants, LGBT rights, racial tension, an advancing Caliphate, and the latest episode of Scandal. No, it’s not another presidential debate, it’s Thanksgiving. 

Football and Thanksgiving are cosmically intertwined so eat up and then gather around and watch large people run into each other at full speed…Black Friday comes but once a year.  

Turkey: Les Miles 

People do a lot of things to turkeys these days. You can cook it in the oven, smoke it, deep fry it, or as the Pilgrims and Native Americans did at the first Thanksgiving–stuff two other deboned birds in it and wrap it all in bacon. All of these preparation methods apply to the current state of Les Miles whose career in Death Valley is all but over. LSU has lost three games in a row, and despite Miles winning a national championship in 2007, the Tigers’ inconsistency these past few years means a new coach will be in Baton Rouge next fall.     

Mashed Potatoes: Iowa’s Schedule 

Soft, mostly white, somehow someone spilled some corn in it; Iowa’s schedule is the most innocuous dish on the table. The Hawkeyes are undefeated at 11-0 and ranked No. 4 in the latest College Football Playoff rankings. But how much of that is due to Iowa’s mostly mediocre schedule? With their biggest wins coming against Wisconsin and Northwestern, Iowa’s strength of schedule is ranked 65th in the country which is one of the worst for a Power Five conference team. They will have a shot to prove their worth in the next couple weeks when they travel to Nebraska on Saturday and face Michigan, Michigan State, or Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship next week. 

Stuffing: Baylor 

Made up with a mixture of different things yet somehow still really good, Baylor just keeps on rolling even with the loss of two quarterbacks. Last week’s victory over an undefeated Oklahoma State in Stillwater was made even more impressive when third string quarterback Chris Johnson was forced into action yet still delivered 138 yards and two touchdowns in the second half alone. If the No. 7 Bears have any chance to make the CFP, Johnson will have to continue to make plays as Jarrett Stidham is now out for the year with a broken bone in his ankle. 

Ham: Oklahoma 

Nobody really knows how or why it is there but for some reason it is on the table. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good for the most part, but it is probably unnecessary in this setting. Some people really like it but it mostly goes uneaten and then thrown in the trash. Okay, this isn’t really about Oklahoma, I just don’t feel ham is needed on Thanksgiving.

Gravy: Alabama

It’s not thanksgiving without pouring gravy over everything, and it’s not college football without Alabama blowing out everybody they play. Since losing to Ole Miss back in September, the Crimson Tide have won their last eight games and have outscored their opponents 276-89. Nick Saban is so focused right now he probably wouldn’t notice if he someone switched out his ubiquitous bottle of coke with a gravy boat.     

Cranberry Sauce: Several Teams Trailing the Top 4 in the CFP Rankings 

All bloodied, squished together, and a little sour: Michigan State, Baylor, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Florida, Oklahoma State, and North Carolina have but only a single loss to their names but are in the unenviable position of being potentially left out of the Playoff. Like cranberry sauce, they’re all good teams but few would complain if they didn’t make the final cut.   

Pie: Clemson 

It’s been a really sweet season so far for Clemson and Dabo Swinney as they are undefeated and in the driver’s seat of the CFP. Quarterback Deshaun Watson might very well take home the Heisman next month and the Tiger’s defense is currently fifth in the country in total yards allowed. But beware Tigers…by the end of the night, everybody wants a slice of pie.

As Marshawn Lynch once said, “I’m thankful.” 

Well said Marshawn, we all should be plenty thankful. These could be dark times ahead, so hold your turkey close and your football closer. 

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How The West Was Lost

This past Saturday, Pac-12 "After Dark" took its most sinister turn yet. Already on life support, the conference's shot at having a team selected for the second time in as many years for the College Football Playoff was finally snuffed out on a chilly night in Palo Alto when Kevin Hogan's two-point conversion pass fell incomplete

This past Saturday, Pac-12 “After Dark” took its most sinister turn yet. Already on life support, the conference’s shot at having a team selected for the second time in as many years for the College Football Playoff was finally snuffed out on a chilly night in Palo Alto when Kevin Hogan’s two-point conversion pass fell incomplete and the Stanford Cardinal stumbled and sputtered to a 38-36 defeat at the hands of the mostly middling Oregon Ducks. In a little over a month, when the College Football Playoff kicks off in Dallas, the Conference of Champions will be nowhere to be seen. It is a black day in college football when the sun finally does set in the West.  

Well Alabama will certainly be there! Meh. Ohio State is so much fun! Pssh. Clemson is a great story! Dah….bo.   

No Tommy Trojan. No Phil Knight. No MUSS, Bear Down, or World’s Largest Rock and Roll Band. 

No fun.  

How did this happen? How did a conference that produces countless NFL players and some of the most innovative styles of play find itself the odd man out? Well, by falling at its own hands. 

While cannibalism was the ultimate cause of the Pac-12’s demise in 2015, the conference didn’t exactly help themselves back in September. In nearly every marque non-conference match up this season, the Pac-12 fell flat. 

Arizona State, seen by many as a dark horse contender for the CFP, was dominated by a Texas A&M team that has been little more than average in the SEC this season. Oregon played Michigan State close in East Lasing but couldn’t come away with a late victory. Stanford was shocked by Northwestern and Washington State lost to an FCS team in Portland State. The Pac-12’s best out of conference wins were Utah and UCLA victories over Michigan and BYU respectively, but overall it was a sparse showing by the conference in the early part of the season, a time when national respect is potentially up for grabs. 

Things really started to go south for the Pac-12’s playoff hopes when conference play began. USC, a team that started the season 2-0 and looked as good as any team in the country, lost their conference opener in the Coliseum to Stanford, a team that, as previously mentioned, had already faltered in their first game of the year. The Trojans went into a tailspin shortly thereafter, concluding with the firing of head coach Steve Sarkisian. USC has bounced back nicely since then, winning four games in a row, but, with three loses on their resume, have been no threat to make the Playoff since early October. 

UCLA was always going to be in an uphill battle when they named true freshman Josh Rosen the starting quarterback before the season, but perhaps if they had stayed healthier they would still be in the mix. Dogged by countless injuries on the defensive side of the ball, including one to star linebacker Myles Jack, the Bruins first loss was an unexpected one to ASU, a team that isn’t currently bowl eligible. Two losses following that put the Bruins out cold. 

After their embarrassing performance against Northwestern to start the year, Stanford rolled off eight straight victories and was No. 7 just last week in the CFP rankings. With wins over USC and UCLA under their belt, the Cardinal had a clean path to the Playoff. But Saturday’s home loss to an Oregon Ducks team that isn’t exactly being run by Chip Kelly and Marcus Mariota closed the book on them.  

For most of the year, Utah looked like a real possibility to represent the Pac-12 in the CFP. Starting the season 6-0 and ranked as high as No. 3 in the country, the Utes brand of physical football seemed like a good matchup aagainst almost any team in the country. But that all came crashing down when they lost to, you guessed it, USC. Maybe no other game better encapsulates the Pac-12 in 2015 than Utah’s falter against the struggling Trojans, as once again the conference couldn’t get out of its own way.   

The rest of the conference never really stood a chance at making the CFP when they had all accumulated multiple losses by mid-October. 

If all of this sounds convoluted and messy, that’s because it is. Week in and week out, Pac-12 teams just couldn’t help but knock each other off the top. No team was safe and no team ever felt untouchable like we have seen in the recent past. Instead of cannibalism, perhaps a better way to describe the Pac-12 this season is a snake eating its own tail. Whenever a team looked like they were getting somewhere, someone came along and swallowed it all up. Whenever a team looked like they had pulled off a major upset, it was actually hurting the conference as a whole. 

Yes, it is now officially after dark in the Pac-12. The lights have been turned off for good in 2015.  

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College Football’s Forgotten Man Can Knock Off Bama

If you were to wind your clock back almost exactly a year to Week 11 of the 2014 college football season, things would look a little different than they do now. 

Michigan, who was still very much Harbaughless, was stumbling around with Brady Hoke as their head coach. Whether the Maize and Blue would return to prominence any time soon was in serious

If you were to wind your clock back almost exactly a year to Week 11 of the 2014 college football season, things would look a little different than they do now. 

Michigan, who was still very much Harbaughless, was stumbling around with Brady Hoke as their head coach. Whether the Maize and Blue would return to prominence any time soon was in serious doubt. 

Future first overall pick Jameis Winston was in the midst of leading Florida State to a 29 game win streak. The quarterback seemingly generated controversy on a week-by-week basis as one of the sport’s most polarizing figures.  

How about the Buckeyes? The soon-to-be national champions weren’t even in the top ten of the college football playoff rankings and Cardale Jones was an unheard-of bench warmer. Well, technically that is still partially true but you get my point. 

Yes, college football is a perpetual revolving door of players, coaches, and success. New story lines can emerge in as little as a week’s time, let alone an entire year. 

One program that has experienced that inevitable shift is Mississippi State, a team that was undefeated and in the driver’s seat of the college football playoffs come week 11 of last year. The Bulldogs, who had already defeated three top 10 teams, were facing their toughest opponent of the season on November 15, 2014; the No. 5 ranked Alabama Crimson Tide. Junior Quarterback Dak Prescott, who at the time was the Heisman favorite, led Mississippi State into Tuscaloosa as the No. 1 team in the country, but the Bulldogs struggled on offense for most of the game and fell to Alabama by a final score of 25-20. 

Mississippi State lost again two weeks later to rival Ole Miss. Despite winning their first nine games of 2014, the Bulldogs ended the season losers of three of their last four after falling to Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl. 

While Mississippi State has not been a historically prestigious football program, and appearing in a New Year’s Six bowl may have been an important step for the overall respect of their program, the Bulldogs must have felt like 2014 could have been even more special if not for their disappointing performance against Alabama that seemed to put the season in a tailspin.  

Fast-forward to week 11 of 2015 and Mississippi State isn’t exactly in the same position they were last year. While the Bulldogs are a respectable 7-2 on the year and still in the hunt for the SEC West, they lack the magic and the spotlight they had for most of last season and have yet to defeat a team ranked in the top 25. That could all change this Saturday when they take on a team that might bring the disappointments of last season and the struggles of this season full circle. It’s Alabama of course, only this time the tables have turned, with the Tide being the playoff contender and Mississippi State playing at home with a shot at making a late run. 

If the Bulldogs have any chance of beating the Crimson Tide on Saturday in Starkville it will come down to the arm, and certainly the feet, of their senior leader Prescott, who casual fans of college football may have forgotten. After last season’s Heisman campaign fell short in the final month of the season, Prescott has come back in 2015 and played even better despite lack of recognition from the national media. On the year Prescott has thrown for 2,351 yards, with a 66.7 percent completion rate, 18 touchdowns, and incredibly only one interception despite throwing the ball 300 times already. Without an established number one running back, Prescott is also the Bulldogs leading rusher, with 418 yards and seven more touchdowns on the ground. Most of Prescott’s stats put him in the top three of the SEC in the various passing categories and he is number five in the country in Total QBR, which measures quarterback performance on all play types, according to ESPN. What makes these stats even more impressive is the fact that Prescott missed all but the first series of the Bulldogs 45-17 over Troy in October when he left the game due to illness. 

Prescott Through Nine Games Total Yards Completion % Total Touchdowns Interceptions
2014 3,010 61% 29 7
2015 2,769 67% 25 1

There is no denying Prescott’s stats are impressive and that he is not only one of the best quarterbacks in the country but one of best players overall. Yet, all that being said, Alabama and Nick Saban make a living out of terrorizing opposing quarterbacks. Just as it is year in and year out, the Crimson Tide are statistically one of the best defenses in the country. Alabama is No. 3 in total defense, No. 8 in sacks, and top 25 in most defensive passing numbers including boasting the No. 6 pass efficiency defense. Most would agree Alabama has the best defense in the country in 2015, but, just as it has been in the past under Nick Saban, the Crimson Tide might have a weakness that someone like Prescott can exploit.

How have we seen Alabama lose games in the past few seasons? Mobile quarterbacks that can spread out the field and are able to run up-tempo offenses. Alabama thrives when it can force a team to play in a small box and let their front-seven dominate the line of scrimmage. But teams that have gone away from that strategy have had some success. The most striking example of this weakness being exploited is of course what Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M did to Alabama in 2012 and 2013. Auburn has provided Alabama plenty of issues the past few seasons under Guz Malzahn and with Cam Newton back in 2010. Earlier this year Ole Miss gave the Crimson Tide their only loss of the season when quarterback Chad Kelly did damage throwing and running. Going back as far as 2008, Tim Tebow, who is basically a rich man’s Prescott, lead Florida past Alabama in the SEC Championship. Current Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen was Florida’s offensive coordinator that year by the way.  

All of this considered, Saturday’s match up in Starkville, (A.K.A. Starkvegas) should be a fun one. If the Bulldogs have any shot at beating an Alabama team that is probably the best team in the country, Dak Prescott will have to play the game of his life. Last season against the Tide, Prescott struggled, throwing three interceptions and failing to move the ball for almost the entire game. For the most part, that game was the cause of the nation’s dismissal of Mississippi State and their superstar quarterback. Come Saturday afternoon, prepare to be reacquainted.  

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Alabama VS LSU Will Come Down To The Quarterbacks…Again

It's the matchup we've all been waiting for. Brute strength. Raw power. Venomous hatred. No, I'm not talking about Lincoln Chafee vs Lindsey Graham, although that battle may be just as physical.

What I'm talking about is that game that is played in early November every year. A rivalry that is so good it doesn't even need

It’s the matchup we’ve all been waiting for. Brute strength. Raw power. Venomous hatred. No, I’m not talking about Lincoln Chafee vs Lindsey Graham, although that battle may be just as physical.

What I’m talking about is that game that is played in early November every year. A rivalry that is so good it doesn’t even need a name. It’s Power I. It’s punting. It’s, by god, a fullback! It’s Alabama-LSU. 

Fans of the modern game of college football may very well be turned off by Saturday’s clash between the No. 4 Tide and the No. 2 Tigers as, after all, these two teams average under 50 points per game and aren’t exactly keen on running up-tempo, no huddle offenses.  

The Alabama-LSU games of the past have been decided less by big offensive numbers but rather by three other things: defense, special teams, and, maybe most importantly, safe quarterback play. This year’s iteration in Tuscaloosa shouldn’t venture too far from that script.

While NFL scouts will undoubtedly be drooling over Heisman favorite Leonard Fournette going head-to-head with a Nick Saban-coached front seven that allows a scant 2.6 yards per rush to opposing running backs, the outcome is going to come down to two players more than anyone else: the quarterbacks, Alabama’s Jake Coker and LSU’s Brandon Harris.  

Before we examine this year’s matchup of signal callers, lets first take a look at how this game has shaped up since 2011 when Alabama-LSU really started to take off as a must-watch game in college football. In five games between the Crimson Tide and the Tigers, Alabama has won four, with the most important coming in the 2011 BCS National Championship. LSU won the first meeting between the two in the 2011 regular season, but has lost four in a row in the series including last season’s 20-13 overtime loss in Baton Rouge. Alabama is averaging 21.2 points per game while LSU is managing exactly ten less points at 11.2. Every game has been close in the four regular season games besides the 2013 bout when the Tide won 38-17,  a game that was tight until the fourth quarter.  

Neither team has necessarily gotten great quarterback play in the last five games between the two SEC behemoths. Alabama’s AJ McCarron and Blake Sims combined to hit 87 out of 154 throws (56%) for 986 yards and six touchdowns, while LSU’s Jordan Jefferson, Jarrett Lee, Zach Mettenberger, and Anthony Jennings were 68 for 118 (57%) for 762 yards and three touchdowns.

These stats aren’t drastically different when you consider under Les Miles LSU has never really been a highly successful passing team, and have generally been conservative on offense. Alabama’s offense isn’t too different philosophically, but they’ve been more willing to throw the ball down field, which helps explain the slightly better passing numbers.   

The biggest contrast between the Tide and the Tigers when it comes to quarterback play has been turnovers. In the five games since 2011, Alabama quarterbacks have only thrown one interception while LSU quarterbacks have tossed four. It is difficult not to point at this statistic as a key reason why Alabama has won the last four matchups between the teams. Alabama has protected the ball. LSU, not so much.  

QBs Since 2011 Completion % Yards Touchdowns Interceptions
Alabama 56 986 6 1
LSU 57 762 3 4

On Saturday, expect more of the same from the Alabama-LSU passing games, as neither team boasts an All-American at quarterback. The Tide’s Jacob Coker has been the quintessential game manager this season for Alabama, exactly what Saban always seems to prefer in his man under center.

The Florida State transfer hasn’t necessarily won the Tide any games with his play but he hasn’t lost them any either. On the year, the senior is completing 64% of his passes with 1,623 yards, 11 touchdowns, and seven interceptions. In the Tide’s only loss this season, against Ole Miss, Coker wasn’t the starter but came in to relieve Cooper Bateman and almost led them to a late comeback before eventually falling 43-37. Considering Alabama likely has the best defense in the country and a dominant run game led by Derrick Henry, Coker doesn’t have to do too much for the Tide to win most games. But against the Tigers he will most certainly have to make a few big throws in tough situations.  

Jake Coker, Alabama vs Georgia (October 3, 2015) 

On the other side, LSU’s Brandon Harris has been a difficult player to figure out. The Tigers were very high on him coming into the season, but the sophomore has not been as consistent throwing the ball downfield as LSU fans would like. Through seven games, Harris has a 59% completion rate with 1,098 yards and nine touchdowns. Harris is getting more comfortable as the season progresses as well. In his last three games, Harris is averaging a 63% completion rate, 239 passing yards and 2.3 touchdowns.

Maybe the best thing Harris has done in 2015 is take care of the ball, as he is yet to throw an interception in 128 passing attempts, which considering the recent history of the teams, could decide the outcome.  

Brandon Harris to Tyron Johnson for the 61 yd TD 

The biggest X-factor between the two quarterbacks is their mobility. While Coker has actually shown glimpses of athleticism outside the pocket, he has only managed 77 rushing yards, partially due to his inability to consistently get away from a pass rush. While Harris isn’t exactly Johnny Manziel back there, his 136 yards rushing and three touchdowns could cause the Tide some problems if he can get away when the pass protection breaks down. In the one game LSU has won in their last five meetings with Alabama, quarterback Jordan Jefferson ran for 43 yards on mostly designed runs and caused some problems for the Tide defensively.

The truth is, nobody is watching Alabama-LSU on Saturday night to see which quarterback will outduel the other one. 

People want to see Fournette, a man so big and so strong even the braces on his teeth look intimidating, or how all 6 foot, 3 inches of Alabama’s Derrick Henry dominates the field. Some might even tune in to watch Les Miles snacking on Bryant Denny’s freshly cut grass or Nick Saban practically castrating Lane Kiffin on the sideline.  

No, Jake Coker vs Brandon Harris on Saturday night isn’t going to be Tom Brady vs Peyton Manning. But that doesn’t mean their performances wont decide the game.   

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Stanford Is The Struggling Pac-12’s Only Hope For Playoffs

There is a deep, dark, ancient secret that those on the East Coast might not want you to know about. Every Saturday night, when Nick Saban is swaddled in his footie pajamas and Urban Meyer is eight slices deep into a Papa John's Meat Lover's Pizza, college football is just getting underway in a land where Pumpkin

There is a deep, dark, ancient secret that those on the East Coast might not want you to know about. Every Saturday night, when Nick Saban is swaddled in his footie pajamas and Urban Meyer is eight slices deep into a Papa John’s Meat Lover’s Pizza, college football is just getting underway in a land where Pumpkin Spice Lattes flow like water. I’m speaking of course of the West Coast, home of the Pac-12. Yes, the Pac-12 is used to getting no respect from East Coast media. But perhaps this season those critics have a point.  

The truth is, the Pac-12 has only itself to blame this season for being one of the forgotten Power Five conferences in 2015. Compared to the SEC, Big Ten, and Big 12, which have a combined 13 teams in the Top 25 in either the AP or Coaches Poll and seven of the top ten teams, only three Pac-12 teams find themselves in the Top 25 and it doesn’t help that the conference continues to cannibalize each other, especially at the top. Last week No. 3 Utah’s perfect season was obliterated by USC, 42-24 in Los Angeles which few outside of Las Vegas saw coming. The Trojans of course are the conferences’ most talented team once again but just as the case has been every year in the post-Pete Carroll era, inconsistency has been their downfall. USC was ranked as high as No. 6 in the country before dropping three games amid the Steve Sarkisian scandal. Things look just as bad up North in Eugene, with Oregon already falling three times including a astonishing 42-point loss to Utah in Autzen Stadium. The rest of the conference has looked mostly mediocre to bad with no team even close to challenging for a playoff berth. That is, besides the smart guys of course. 

Flashback to week one of the college football season and you might think any chance of Stanford making the Playoff was as unlikely as Donald Trump hosting the Latin Grammys. The Cardinal, a team known for their bullying, physical style of play since Jim Harbaugh rebuilt the program in 2007, got a taste of their own medicine when Northwestern dominated them from start to finish, coming away with a 16-6 victory. Stanford’s power run game was held in check against the Wildcats as the Cardinal only managed 85 rushing yards while giving up 225 rushing yards of their own. One big factor why Stanford struggled so much may have to due with the fact that the Cardinal had to travel half-way across the country and play a game that started at 9 a.m. Pacific time. 

Whatever the reason may be for Stanford’s sluggish start to the season, things have certainly turned around since. After their opening loss, the Cardinal have won their last six games by an average of 21 points. Stanford is undefeated in the Pac-12 at 5-0 in the conference, including dominate victories over then No. 6 USC and then No. 18 UCLA. The Cardinal win over the Bruins may best be known for when receiver Francis Owusu made the catch of the year in college football. 

In their six game winning streak, Stanford is at 42.6 points per game and have rediscovered their run game, averaging 244 yards on the ground. After falling out of the top 25 following the loss to Northwestern, the Cardinal is now ranked No. 8 in both polls. 

Northwestern Average in Last Six Games 
Rushing Yards 85 244
Total Yards  240 490
Points  6 42.6

Senior quarterback Kevin Hogan has been his usual steady self, tossing 14 touchdowns and limiting his turnovers. Hogan has done his job but who the Cardinal have really leaned on is multidimensional superstar Christian McCaffrey. McCaffrey, the son of former Denver Broncos Receiver Ed McCaffrey, is technically a running back but this season he has proven to be much more. The sophomore from Denver has 1,818 total yards which leads the entire nation and has put him in the Heisman conversation. Not only has McCaffrey run for 953 yards but he has also made 21 catches for 284 yards and returned a combined 27 punts and kickoffs that give him another 581 yards. Wearing the number five jersey, McCaffrey looks a little like USC’s most recent Heisman winner Reggie Bush who finished the 2005 season with 2,611 total yards and got the ball in every way possible as well.    

Stanford’s spectacular offense has been needed as the Cardinal defense has yet to look like the dominant unit it has been for the past few seasons. While the defense hasn’t been poor, ranking 32nd in the country in both defensive yards allowed and points allowed, they have yet to play some of the most explosive teams on their schedule. One of the most glaring deficiencies in this year’s defense is the lack of an elite pass rush, which is what Stanford’s defense has been built on in the past. This year, the Cardinal only have ten total sacks which is tied for 103rd in the nation and second to last in the Pac-12. Since David Shaw took over as head coach in 2011, Stanford has been near the top in the country in sacks which means it is less about the scheme and more about the players. Six players have a sack for Stanford but four of those players have only one. 

This lack of pressure could spell doom for Stanford down the stretch starting at Washington State on Saturday. The Cougars are second in the country in passing, averaging 415 yards through the air and are finally looking like Mike Leach era Texas Tech. If the Cardinal do survive Saturday up in the Palouse, they still have a tough gauntlet of Oregon, Cal, and Notre Dame, and a potential Pac-12 Championship Game to close the season. 

Fans of West Coast football know what kind of program Stanford has built. They know that despite a brutal opening loss that the Cardinal can rebound and make themselves relevant again. They know that Stanford is tough enough to close out a season even against good competition. They know that David Shaw and his team are mentally strong enough to play well even when the stakes are raised late. If all that does come to fruition, perhaps the East Coast will finally know as well.  

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