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Everything will be better with a playoff, right? With no clear-cut top teams and just four spots in the playoff, Gene Wojciechowski explains the playoff selection committee has their work cut out for them.

Big 12 weekend rewind: Week 4

September, 22, 2014
Sep 22
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Taking stock of Week 4 in the Big 12:

Team of the week: Oklahoma. The Sooners took West Virginia’s best shot in the first half, then asserted their dominance in the second half on the way to an impressive 45-33 victory. After West Virginia took a 24-17 lead with 1:20 left in the second quarter, the Mountaineers were held to a single field goal until an empty touchdown late when the outcome had already been decided. The Oklahoma running game was unstoppable. The defense and special teams made big plays. And the fourth-ranked Sooners passed their first road test with flying crimson colors.

Disappointment of the week: Kansas State. The Wildcats had fifth-ranked Auburn on the ropes. But they missed out on a potential 16 points with three missed field goals and an interception at the Auburn 2-yard line. The Wildcats played well enough to win, especially a K-State defense that completely hampered Auburn’s high-powered running attack all night. But the Tigers made the plays needed to win. The Wildcats did not.

Big (offensive) man on campus: Samaje Perine. Oklahoma’s true freshman tank of a running back rushed for 242 yards and four touchdowns on 34 carries while wearing down the West Virginia defense in the second half. His 242-yard output was the 13th-highest in school history and the highest by an Oklahoma freshman since Adrian Peterson in 2004.

Big (defensive) man on campus: Jake Love. Ben Heeney gets most of the love on the Kansas defense. But Heeney’s wingman at linebacker was the difference-maker in the Jayhawks’ 24-10 win over Central Michigan. Love had four tackles for loss and a sack and snuffed out two Central Michigan screen plays late in the game when the Chippewas still had a chance to tie.

Special-teams player of the week: Alex Ross. West Virginia had taken a 24-17 after a botched Oklahoma onside kick. But after the West Virginia score, Ross gave the Sooners the momentum for good, taking the ensuing kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown with 1:08 to go in the first half. Ross, who added 56 yards rushing, currently leads the country in kickoff returns.

Stat of the week: Oklahoma kicker Michael Hunnicutt totaled nine points (one field goal, six extra points) in the West Virginia win, passing DeMarco Murray to become the Sooners’ all-time leading scorer with 392 career points.

Quote of the week: “The latter.” -- Kansas State coach Bill Snyder, when asked if Auburn had won the game or Kansas State had lost it.

Stats that defined Sooners' win

September, 22, 2014
Sep 22
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Oklahoma is a legitimate national championship contender. The Sooners proved it with an impressive 45-33 win against West Virginia last Saturday in Morgantown, West Virginia. True freshman running back Samaje Perine was the story of the night with 242 rushing yards and four touchdowns. But there were several key stats that helped decide the Sooners' first Big 12 conference victory.

100 percent in the redzone: Oklahoma scored touchdowns on all five red-zone drives, largely because of the excellence of Perine. The bruising running back had 12 carries for 60 yards and four touchdowns inside WVU’s 20-yard line, an average of five yards per carry. The Sooners' ability to convert drives into touchdowns was critical. Oklahoma entered the game ranked 16th in the FBS in red-zone efficiency at 78.9 percent.

Oklahoma converted 50 percent of its third-down attempts: The Sooners' offense had struggled on third down heading into the game and started slow on third down against WVU with 2 of 6 conversions in the first quarter. But the Sooners' offense found a rhythm in the second half, converting four of seven attempts in the final 30 minutes. Oklahoma entered the game No. 64 among FBS teams and No. 6 in the Big 12 at 41.8 percent.

WVU’s single quarterback hurry: If Oklahoma's 301 rushing yards and 6.5 yards per carry average isn’t enough to convince you the offensive line dominated the game, consider this: Quarterback Trevor Knight attempted 30 passes, wasn’t sacked and was only hurried once. The offensive line paved the way on the ground and protected Knight throughout the game. The unit is the foundation of Oklahoma's College Football Playoff hopes.

Oklahoma's 9.5 yards per carry on first down: Perine and Alex Ross combined for 235 rushing yards on first down alone. Nothing underscores Oklahoma's dominance and Perine’s rise to stardom like the freshman’s 19 carries for 181 yards (9.5 yards per carry) on first-down plays. The strong running production also helped Knight complete 7 of 11 first-down throws for 111 of his 205 total passing yards. Once the Sooners decided to lean on the running game, it was all over.

WVU’s 3.4 yards per carry: The Mountaineers weren’t any less committed to the run than the Sooners, with 40 rushes for 137 yards and two touchdowns. But they didn’t have the success on the ground like Oklahoma. Sophomore linebacker Jordan Evans, who has seamlessly slid into the starting lineup for Frank Shannon, had a team-high 11 tackles including nine solo stops to help the Sooners slow WVU's rushing attack.
Trevor KnightKevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsTrevor Knight and the Sooners have been the class of the Big 12 in the first month of the season.
Coming into the season, people in and out of the footprint wondered if the Big 12 would be able to land a spot in the inaugural College Football Playoff.

But after the nonconference season, Baylor and Oklahoma have emerged as bona fide playoff contenders – thanks to how they’ve performed.

But also, how their conference foes have performed, as well.

Sure, the Big 12 didn’t deliver a signature nonconference victory. Oklahoma State failed to topple Florida State. West Virginia couldn’t upset Alabama. And Kansas State squandered too many opportunities to knock off Auburn.

But in all three spotlight games, the Big 12 acquitted itself well, setting up Oklahoma or Baylor – or whoever wins the conference – as a strong playoff contender when the committee sits down to select its four teams in December. More importantly, in an era when there are five major conferences and only four playoff spots, the Big 12 positioned itself ahead of the Big Ten and the ACC heading into league play.

The Big Ten endured a disastrous start to the playoff era, with the Big 12 contributing to the debacle. West Virginia edged out Maryland. TCU hammered Minnesota. Iowa State handed Iowa its only loss so far. With Ohio State also falling at home to Virginia Tech and Michigan getting wiped out by Utah and Notre Dame, league wins in the Big Ten won’t look nearly as impressive as they will in the Big 12.

The effects of that have already begun to come to fruition.

Oklahoma received eight more first-place votes in the coaches' poll and two more in the AP poll over the weekend after winning at West Virginia, even though the three teams ranked ahead of the Sooners – Florida State, Alabama and Oregon – all won Saturday, too.

The reason?

The Sooners’ victory in Morgantown was viewed nationally as a quality win, because of how tough West Virginia played Alabama and how it played in the road win over Maryland.

Should the Bears prevail in Ames this weekend, the win would be viewed in a more favorable light because the Cyclones bounced back at Iowa City.

Such a domino effect will roll through the entire Big 12 schedule. If Baylor and Oklahoma escape Kansas State, the playoff committee will be compelled to think back to how the Wildcats outplayed Auburn for much of the game in their narrow loss. If the Bears and Sooners defeat Oklahoma State, the committee will have the Cowboys’ performance against defending national champion Florida State in the back of their minds.

It wasn’t the perfect nonconference showing for the Big 12. Besides West Virginia, Oklahoma State and Kansas State coming up in short in marquee matchups they could have very easily won, Texas has let the league down again, dropping two nonconference games for the second consecutive year. Iowa State’s opening loss to North Dakota State didn’t help. And Texas Tech getting steamrolled on its home field by Arkansas only enhanced the reputation of the SEC West Division at the expense of the Big 12.

But when compared to the Big Ten or even the ACC outside Florida State, the Big 12’s nonconference performance overall was a success. The ACC delivered some stunning wins, notably Boston College’s victory over then-No. 9-ranked USC and Virginia Tech’s win over then-fourth-ranked Ohio State. But as everyone heads into conference play, the No. 1 Seminoles are the only ACC team currently ranked in the AP Top 25. The Big 12 has four ranked teams in the AP poll, with TCU and West Virginia sitting right on the fringe, as well.

Meanwhile, as other top teams around the country have endured shaky moments, Oklahoma and Baylor have been dominant. The Sooners, who have been as impressive as any team in the country through the first month of the season, are 4-0 with an average margin of victory of four touchdowns. The Bears – albeit to much lesser competition – have an average winning margin of more than 50 points.

Their showdown on Nov. 8 in Norman will give either the opportunity to make a huge statement to the playoff committee.

But there will be other opportunities to impress along the way, as well. Thanks to the rest of the Big 12, which as a league exits the nonconference looking even stronger than when the season began.

Big 12 morning links

September, 22, 2014
Sep 22
8:00
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I was watching this game live. Unbelievable.
  • West Virginia's players and coaches are thankful their open week has finally arrived, writes Stephen J. Nesbitt of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The Mountaineers have definitely earned it. No one in the country has played a more brutal schedule so far than West Virginia, which has faced the No. 1- and No. 2-ranked teams in the ESPN power rankings; a team that retuned 17 starters; and a team that played in the FCS national championship last season. "It's been four tough weeks to start the season," coach Dana Holgorsen said. "Been some tight games, close games, and guys are starting to wear down." Still, by hanging tough with the Sooners and Crimson Tide, the Mountaineers have proven they have a tough team, too. After this well-deserved week of rest, they could be a team that does some major damage the rest of the season.
  • Kansas State is picking up the pieces after its heartbreaking loss to Auburn, according to Joshua Kinder of the Manhattan Mercury. The Wildcats essentially left 16 points on the field in the 20-14 loss to the Tigers. It will be tempting to obsess about what could have been in that loss. But the Wildcats have to look forward. K-State will have another opportunity to deliver a landmark win before long. The Wildcats play host to UTEP and Texas Tech, then get an open week before traveling to Oklahoma. Coach Bill Snyder showed against Auburn what he can do with an extra week to prepare.
  • Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty is eager to get his full complement of wideouts back for the conference opener at Iowa State, he tells the Waco Tribune-Herald's John Werner. Even though the Bears have played one of the worst non-conference schedules in the country, they are leading the nation in almost every major statistical category despite missing several key offensive players because of injuries. Antwan Goodley (quad) and Corey Coleman (hamstring) are expected to be good to go this weekend. Levi Norwood (wrist) and Clay Fuller (collarbone) are on the verge of returning, too. The return of those four, coupled with the emergence of freshmen K.D. Cannon and Davion Hall, could make for a receiving corps as formidable as any in the country.
  • The Tulsa World's Bill Haisten looks back at "the rant" seven years ago that has come to define in part Mike Gundy's tenure at Oklahoma State. Haisten points out that before the rant, Gundy’s record at Oklahoma State was three games below .500. Since the rant, Gundy is 43 games above .500. Personally, I think the rant has had very little to do with Gundy's success in Stillwater. Oklahoma State has won because it has recruited better, installed good schemes and constructed immaculate facilities. The Cowboys would be where they are now, with or without Gundy's rant.
  • The child abuse charges levied against former Oklahoma All-American running back Adrian Peterson have left the Sooners in a quandary. Peterson gave $1 million to his alma mater two years ago, the biggest gift ever by a former player. In return, the school put Peterson’s name on the football team’s meeting room. The Oklahoman's Jenni Carlson wonders if Oklahoma should remove Peterson's name from the room. It's an interesting thought. When I was at the Oklahoma-Tennessee game two weeks ago, I cringed when they kept announcing interviews were in the "Adrian Peterson" room. If the NFL elects to dissociate itself with Peterson, that will put Oklahoma in a tough spot.
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South Carolina's ever-changing outlook, another huge Saturday for running backs and Cal's trigger-happy email proves costly at the official store. It's all ahead in your College Football Minute.

Big 12 bowl projections: Week 4

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
8:00
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With six Big 12 teams on bye this weekend, there was no need to shake up our weekly conference bowl projection.

Kansas State and West Virginia were impressive enough, despite losing, to hold on to their bowl spots from last week. Oklahoma continues to look like a strong contender for the College Football Playoff. Oklahoma State could move up in the Big 12 bowl hierarchy Thursday with a win over Texas Tech.

Allstate Sugar Bowl: Oklahoma
Cotton Bowl: Baylor
Valero Alamo Bowl: Kansas State
Russell Athletic Bowl: West Virginia
AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl: Oklahoma State
AutoZone Liberty Bowl: TCU
Cactus Bowl: Texas
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ESPN college football reporter Adam Rittenberg joins Antonietta Collins to break down the new No. 1 team in the ESPN power rankings and share which teams he felt were too harshly ranked by the panel of experts.

Playoff Forecast: OU No. 1 over FSU

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
2:56
PM ET

Each week throughout the season, the Playoff Forecast will use ESPN's Football Power Index and human logic (i.e., the eye test) to determine which teams are best positioned in the chase for the inaugural College Football Playoff. These rankings take into account perceived team strength (including injuries) and remaining schedule difficulty (including prospective conference championship games).

The Playoff Forecast is not intended to be a prediction of the selection committee's weekly Top 25, which will be released every Tuesday starting Oct. 28. It is a projection of which teams have the best chance to be in the top four come December.


1. Oklahoma Sooners

FPI's chance of winning out: 22.1 percent
FPI's chance of winning the conference: 58.5 percent

After clearing one of their most difficult road hurdles with an impressive second-half performance at West Virginia, the Sooners seem as good a bet to go undefeated as any team in a Power 5 conference. Their most highly regarded remaining opponents, Baylor and Oklahoma State, must both visit Norman, and the toughest test away from home seems to be at TCU, which comes on Oct. 4 after OU has a bye week to prepare. Also, the fact that the Big 12 has no conference championship game is another factor that enhances Oklahoma's chances of finishing the regular season unblemished.

Big 12 Power Rankings: Week 4

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
2:00
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Getting It Done: Samaje Perine

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
11:46
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Oklahoma running back Samaje Perine rushes for a five-yard touchdown, his third of the night, to lead OU to a win.

Big 12 helmet stickers: Week 4

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
9:00
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A true freshman made his case to become a household name, a pair of Jayhawks changed the game, another target emerged in Manhattan, Kansas, and the Big 12's most consistent receiving threat did it again. Here's a look at the best performances in the Big 12 this week:

RB Samaje Perine, Oklahoma: Even if you didn't watch the game you probably already know how dominant the Sooners true freshman running back was in OU's 45-33 win over West Virginia. He finished with 34 carries for 242 yards and four touchdowns. And he got better as the game went on. Keith Ford better hurry back.

Oklahoma's offensive line: While Perine basks in all the headlines, the Sooners offensive line was the foundation of OU's ground-and-pound victory in Morgantown, West Virginia. Perine and Alex Ross (eight rushes for 56 yards) each averaged at least 7 yards per carry. Tackles Daryl Williams and Tyrus Thompson, guards Nila Kasitati, Adam Shead and Dionte Savage along with center Ty Darlington deserve a ton of credit.

WR Justin McCay, Kansas: His numbers aren't staggering. His impact was. The Jayhawks receiver changed the game with his 60-yard catch and run for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter. McCay finished with two receptions for 66 yards and the score but KU might not have defeated Central Michigan, 24-10, without McCay's big play.

LB Jake Love, Kansas: Fellow linebacker Ben Heeney was outstanding, as usual, but Love was very productive in his own right. He finished with five tackles including four tackles for loss and one sack. His back-to-back tackles for loss in the middle of the fourth quarter helped set up Corey Avery's touchdown on the Jayhawks next possession, which essentially sealed the win.

WR Curry Sexton, Kansas State: The Wildcats got the usual big plays from Tyler Lockett but Sexton provided a quality second option for K-State's offense. He had a career-high 11 receptions for 121 yards in the Wildcats' 20-14 loss to Auburn. Six of Sexton's 11 receptions came on third down and seven of his catches resulted in a first down. His previous career high was six receptions and 112 against West Virginia in 2013.

WR Kevin White, West Virginia: The Mountaineers' senior continues to prove Lockett and Baylor's Antwan Goodley have competition for the honor of Big 12's best receiver. White had 10 receptions for 173 yards and one touchdown. It was his fourth straight 100-yard game to start the season and third game with at least 140 receiving yards.

OU's Perine bulldozes, closes out WVU

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
1:30
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MORGANTOWN, W. Va. -- The Oklahoma backfield is a full house, and Bob Stoops hardly seems concerned about putting his talented tailbacks in any order on a depth chart.

But if the Sooners don’t want to get too hung up on designating a pecking order, particularly when the nominal starter is hurt, that’s fine. No matter who takes the first carries for Oklahoma’s brutally efficient rushing attack, it’s pretty clear by now it knows who will handle the last few.

[+] EnlargeSamaje Perine
Tyler Evert/Associated PressSamaje Perine was a battering ram that West Virginia couldn't handle Saturday, especially in the fourth quarter.
In case there was any doubt, Samaje Perine bulldozed it out of existence on Saturday night at Milan Puskar Stadium, battering his way through the West Virginia defense until it couldn’t take any more and establishing himself as the ideal closer as the No. 4 Sooners rode him hard down the stretch in a 45-33 win.

“I wouldn’t say it’s best to be the closer,” Perine said. “But it sure is a good thing for a coach to have confidence in you like that at the end of the game.”

The Sooners had plenty of faith in the true freshman well before the end of the game, riding Perine almost from start to finish in a coming-out party that at least made it worth discussing whether Keith Ford had been unseated while sitting out with an ankle injury.

Perine rushed 34 times for 242 punishing yards, each one taking a toll on every Mountaineer who tried to bring him down. By the time he finished off his fourth touchdown run of the game, West Virginia seemed almost completely unwilling to take him on, and the Sooners definitely took notice as defenders continually lowered their sights on him after getting trucked repeatedly by the 243-pounder.

Regardless of whether or not the Sooners call on him that early or often again this season as they rely on the ground game to compensate for some inconsistency through the air, Perine clearly has carved out a role for himself. And if the Sooners can keep him fresh with a lighter load alongside Ford and Alex Ross, that might make him even more dangerous to tired defenders as they make a push for the College Football Playoff.

“Samaje was just outstanding,” Stoops said. “You know about how powerful and strong he is, but he also has great vision, great ability to cut and he just had a sensational night.

“You know what, these guys are all going to play. And we’re going to keep them fresh. But like tonight, you know, somebody gets hot -- he gets more. It’s really pretty simple.”

There was no need to complicate matters against the Mountaineers, though they made the Sooners’ road conference win a challenge.

They capitalized on a few misfires from Oklahoma quarterback Trevor Knight to get defensive stops, continued to cause some problems offensively with their explosive passing attack and had the score tied heading into halftime. But that was when Perine took over, toting the ball 20 times after intermission -- and grinding the game away with seven consecutive carries on the final scoring drive, which ended with a 19-yard trip to the end zone and a warm embrace from Stoops as he trotted back to the sideline.

“I didn’t know [his game] was that big until I looked down at the stat sheet,” offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said. “He’s a great player, mature player -- he’s a load, you know what I mean?

“But before it’s all said and done, before this season is over, we’re going to need everybody who was in that locker room tonight on our side of the ball. Tonight was Samaje’s night. Hopefully he has more nights like that, but the rest of those guys have to be ready, too.”

Stoops has already proven he can find a way to use them all, and a huge outing by Perine isn’t going to change either his plans or interest in providing a clear-cut depth chart.

But even if Perine’s workload lightens up in the coming weeks, it’s a safe bet now that he’ll be on the field when it’s time for the Sooners to close the deal.

What we learned in the Big 12: Week 4

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
12:46
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Here’s what we learned about the Big 12 in Week 4:

[+] EnlargeSamaje Perine
AP Photo/Tyler EvertThere was no stopping Samaje Perine on Saturday, as the Sooners freshman ran for 242 yards and four touchdowns against West Virginia.
1. Samaje Perine is a man-child: Oklahoma true freshman running back Samaje Perine just turned 19 years old this week. But he was a grown man among boys Saturday, as he bowled over West Virginia in Oklahoma’s 45-33 win in Morgantown. Perine rushed for 242 yards and four touchdowns while averaging 7.1 yards per carry. It was the 13th best rushing total in Sooners history, which is saying something at a school that has produced Greg Pruitt, Steve Owens and Billy Sims, among countless other standout rushers. It was also the second best rushing output ever in a game by a true freshman at Oklahoma, trailing only Adrian Peterson's 249-yard performance against Oklahoma State in 2004. After the opener, Perine naively declared this could be the best running back group ever to pass through Oklahoma. That’s way too bold, but Perine and sophomores Keith Ford and Alex Ross -- who returned a critical kick for a touchdown at the end of the first half to give the Sooners momentum for good -- figure to give Oklahoma one of the nation’s most formidable one-two-three punches at running back for the foreseeable future. Perine, a tank of a rusher, is heading that charge.

2. Dana Holgorsen has West Virginia heading in the right direction: This was a disappointing loss for coach Dana Holgorsen and the Mountaineers, who moved the ball at will on Oklahoma in the first half. But after Ross’ 100-yard kickoff return at the end of the first half, West Virginia could never regain momentum nor get its offense back on track. Still, despite being 2-2, the Mountaineers have proven they have a quality squad, after hanging tough with two teams that might well end up in the inaugural College Football Playoff. Clint Trickett is the most improved quarterback in the Big 12, if not the country, and receivers Kevin White and Mario Alford are devastating weapons downfield. If the Mountaineers play the rest of the year the way they have this first month of the season, they will win a bunch of games. Meanwhile, Holgorsen, whose job status once seemed to be in jeopardy, should be firmly entrenched as the head coach of the future in Morgantown.

3. Kansas’ defense ought to keep it in games: At the beginning and the end of their 24-10 victory over Central Michigan, the Jayhawks produced some big plays offensively. But the defense was the reason Kansas ultimately prevailed, as its offense endured some shaky stretches over the second and third quarters. Led by linebackers Ben Heeney and Jake Love, the Kansas defense forced three turnovers, sacked Central Michigan QB Cooper Rush three times and limited the Chippewas to just 279 yards of offense. Wins haven’t been easy to come by at Kansas, but the defense should give the Jayhawks a chance to win again this season while the offense attempts to harness semblances of consistency.

4. Kansas State figures to be a load in the Big 12: Even in a 20-14 loss to Auburn, the Wildcats showed Thursday night that they will be a tough out for anyone they face the rest of the season. The K-State run defense was phenomenal and snapped Auburn’s 13-game streak of at least 200 yards rushing. Wideout Tyler Lockett, whom Auburn coach Gus Malzahn called “electric,” is a game-changer on offense and special teams, never mind the crucial dropped touchdown pass that turned into an interception. Bill Snyder has to figure out what to do going forward at placekicker, but the Wildcats were good enough to beat the fifth-ranked team in the country. And they’re good enough to be a force in the Big 12 the rest of the way.

5. Oklahoma and Baylor remain the co-favorites: Coming into the season, the Sooners and Bears appeared to be the clear frontrunners to win the league title. Through four weeks of the season, nothing has changed. Oklahoma has been incredibly impressive with its physical offensive line, powerful rushing attack and swarming defense. The Bears have wiped out lesser competition, though they’ve done it while missing many of their key players due to injuries. Kansas State, West Virginia, Oklahoma State and TCU have impressed, but there’s been nothing so far that suggests the Nov. 8 showdown between Oklahoma and Baylor in Norman won’t decide the Big 12 championship.

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Everything will be better with a playoff, right? With no clear-cut top teams and just four spots in the playoff, Gene Wojciechowski explains the playoff selection committee has their work cut out for them.
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