Florida State and Virginia broke long droughts between 1,000-yard rushers a season ago, but so far this season both schools have struggled to run the ball consistently.

So has Clemson, in danger of failing to produce a 1,000-yard rusher for the first time in four seasons.

So has Miami even, a program that returned the best back in the ACC in Duke Johnson.

The four schools rank in the bottom half in the nation in rushing, which is somewhat surprising considering the talent they have in the backfield. In the 18 combined games the four starting running backs in the group have played this season, only two resulted in 100-yard performances. Johnson is the only one on pace for a 1,000-yard regular season.

[+] EnlargeDuke Johnson
Joel Auerbach/Getty ImagesDuke Johnson didn't get his first 100-yard rushing game of this season until last week.
Kevin Parks, the only returning 1,000-yard rusher from a season ago, has 258 total yards this season, and his yards-per-carry average is down from 4.5 to 3.4.

One common theme ties them all together – each program has dealt with inconsistency along its offensive line. Florida State has had a tough time replacing starting center Bryan Stork; the entire right side of the Miami offensive line is new; Virginia has been a revolving door up front; and Clemson has gotten little or no push from its linemen.

In fact, no offensive line is doing less for its team than Clemson, which is averaging just 1.04 yards before contact per rush. Florida State is second in the ACC in highest rate of runs resulting in zero yards or loss, at 24.3 percent; Miami is fourth (20.9 percent).

FSU also has been the worst team in the ACC in rushing between the tackles on non-quarterback runs (3.06 yards per carry). Miami, Clemson and Virginia rank 9-10-11, respectively.

The Canes had their best rushing day of the season last week against Duke, when Johnson had his first 100-yard game and the team had over 200 yards rushing. Johnson said in a phone interview one of the biggest reasons was because Miami changed up some of its blocking schemes and honed in on little details that the veterans on the offensive line a season ago intuitively knew.

“Changes on the offensive line, it kind of hurt just because last year we had two seniors on the right side of the line, so that kind of helped out in case the communication got lost, you had two older guys on the right side who understand everything that’s going on and they’re able to make the check and help out,” Johnson said.

What also hurt Miami was seeing a stacked box early in the season, with true freshman Brad Kaaya starting at quarterback. Virginia also has seen the same, with unproven quarterbacks Greyson Lambert and Matt Johns.

But Virginia also is going with a running back by committee approach, similar to Clemson. Producing a 1,000-yard rusher when going that route becomes more difficult. Still, neither team is getting much production out of any of its backs.

Virginia ranks 11th in the ACC in yards per rush (3.81), while Clemson is 13th (3.53). The Hoos have just 15 runs of 10 or more yards, while Clemson has 11.

“As a running back, you always want to have those home runs, and when you don’t get them, you think back and wonder what’s going on?” said Clemson back C.J. Davidson, who leads the team with 133 yards rushing. “But just by watching film, I know we’re a few steps or a few plays away from having those plays.”

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney says he would love one of his backs to step up and emerge “but we’re not quite there yet after four games.”

Virginia has relied on Parks, Taquan Mizzell and Khalek Shepherd -- all three have 35-plus carries. But Parks started off slowly against FBS competition last year, too, before hitting his stride. He reeled off three straight 100-yard games to close the season.

The better news now is that Virginia already has more wins than all of 2013, a trade-off Parks gladly will make.

“We’re winning. Yards will come,” Parks said. “For me, I just try to let the game come to me and see what I get.”
Mark Helfrich's 15-2 record at Oregon is the best start for any Pac-12 head coach since Pappy Waldorf went 16-1 beginning in 1947, but that second loss was a doozy. While there was no shame in losing at No. 6 Stanford last season, the 42-16 shellacking the Ducks suffered at Arizona two weeks later was stunning.

The Wildcats handed Oregon its first defeat to an unranked team since 2009. The 26-point margin was the program's biggest since losing 44-10 to USC in 2008. The defeat ended a run of four consecutive BCS bowl berths, and included an added dose of negative publicity when receivers De'Anthony Thomas and Josh Huff turned up their noses during the preceding week at the prospect of playing in another Rose Bowl.

[+] EnlargeMark Helfrich
AP Photo/Steve DykesMark Helfrich knows the Ducks may have extra motivation on Thursday after last season's loss to Arizona.
This accumulation of negatives unleashed the naysayers who wasted little time insisting that it demonstrated that Helfrich couldn't match the leadership of former coach Chip Kelly.

Helfrich, clearly aware of this, didn't bob-and-weave with the media after the game. He didn't snarl either. Or pass the buck.

"Very sluggish in every phase. That's 100 percent my fault," he said. "I have to figure out exactly which levers to pull and buttons to push."

While Kelly repeated his "forward looking" mantra ad infinitum, Helfrich admitted at the time the Ducks were due some "inward looking." Ten months later, No. 2 Oregon prepares for the Wildcats to visit Autzen Stadium on Thursday night. While Helfrich completely embraces the Ducks "Win the day" philosophy -- he helped establish it as Kelly's offensive coordinator -- including only looking forward to playing "nameless, faceless opponents," he said this week that he doesn't write off the idea that some of his players might find some additional motivation from the events of Nov. 23, 2013 in Tucson.

“Anytime you don’t give somebody your best shot, that should leave a bad taste in your mouth," Helfrich said. "There were some guys that felt that way. It certainly looked that way on film. Hopefully that contributes to fuel the engine of your process.”

It was a strange game. Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota threw his first two interceptions of the season, ending a Pac-12 record streak of 353 passes without a pick. It was the first of three Oregon turnovers. The Ducks also turned the ball over on downs twice and were flagged eight times for 66 yards.

Mariota looked as stunned as Oregon fans after the game. "I have never been blown out like this before in my life," he said at the time.

Yet, as bad as the Ducks looked, Arizona deserves plenty of credit. It played a near flawless game in all three phases. The Wildcats had no turnovers, just two penalties, converted 11 of 16 third downs and were 6-for-6 with six touchdowns in the red zone. Critically, the Wildcats tackled well in space. They yielded some big plays but not any huge plays, as the Ducks had six plays of more than 20 yards but none longer than 30 and none reached the end zone.

That's pretty much the formula for beating anyone, but tackling in space is particularly noteworthy against the Ducks.

“That’s what’s going to be the key again," Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said.

The biggest new variable in this year's game is Wildcats quarterback Anu Solomon making his first road start in Pac-12 play. While Solomon made his first career road start in the Alamodome against UTSA, Autzen Stadium is a far more challenging venue. Further, Solomon had his worst game of the season against the Roadrunners in terms of traditional pass efficiency rating and Total QBR.

“He’s kept his poise pretty well," Rodriguez said of Solomon. "This will be a test for him. He’s shown a lot of maturity. I’m sure there will be a few mistakes but I think he’s got the kind of mentality that if he does make a mistake or two to shake it off and keep playing.”

Helfrich was asked this week if he'd figured out "which levers to pull and buttons to push" to avoid another lackluster performance. Not surprisingly, he didn't divulge a eureka moment. That's because there's no magic. A team like Oregon, a national title contender over the past five seasons, has no margin for error. Every bad weekend is judged harshly and endlessly analyzed. There's no, "Oh, well," any more for Oregon. Wins are expected and any loss is a cause for panic.

Helfrich has posted a historically good start to his career, but coaching the Ducks after Kelly has left him with a fan base that owns a "national title or bust" mentality. Ultimately, the loss at Arizona a year ago only serves as an Exhibit A for an unsurprising truism for all teams aspiring to be champions.

Said Helfrich, “It doesn’t just happen. Winning is really hard. You have to earn every single bit of it.”

South Carolina State's Buddy Pough reaches milestone

October, 2, 2014
Oct 2
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It’s not every day a person has a chance to reach a milestone in his career. These opportunities don’t come along very often. Buddy Pough was able to get to that special plateau when South Carolina State defeated Hampton, 17-10, last Saturday to earn his 100th career coaching victory.

Pough is in his 13th season as South Carolina State's head coach. He has compiled an impressive 100-45 record. Pough has consistently been one of the best FCS coaches in the country. He has led the Bulldogs to two outright MEAC championships and shared three other league crowns while guiding SC State to four FCS playoff appearances.

[+] EnlargeBuddy Pough
AP Photo/ Richard ShiroWith a 100-45 record at South Carolina State, Buddy Pough is behind only legendary coach Willie Jeffries in wins at the school.
In addition, he has coached some great players, who have gone on to play in the NFL such as Phillip Adams (New York Jets), Jakar Hamilton (Dallas Cowboys), Rafael Bush (New Orleans Saints) and others. Since the big win over the Pirates, Pough hasn’t been able to reflect on his great accomplishment. It hasn’t quite sunk in yet.

“You know, one of the tough things about reaching milestones during the year, you’re so busy trying to figure out how to get another one,” Pough said. "You’re not really paying that much attention to the guys who you’ve met over the years.

“I did try to thank most of the people who were involved. We’ve had some really good players here. You think about the coaches, all the different secretaries and the people in our department who pull for us like there’s no tomorrow. It’s a reflection of a lot of years. I’m trying to hide out on those years. I don’t want people to know how long I’ve been hanging around here.”

Pough has shown great longevity and commitment to South Carolina State not only as a coach, but also as a player. With his latest win, he’s second on the Bulldogs' all-time coaching list for wins behind the legendary Willie Jeffries (128-77-4, 19 seasons).

Pough picked up a lot of knowledge about the game during his playing days at South Carolina State. He played for Jeffries, the school’s Hall of Fame coach. In 1974 and 1975, Pough was a terrific offensive lineman, helping South Carolina State put together a 16-6-1 record during those seasons.

He realizes how fortunate he was to play for Jeffries who was a real trail blazer for black coaches. In 1979, Jeffries was hired by Wichita State making him the first African American to coach at a Division I-A program.

“Coach is around here a bunch,” Pough said. “He’s still around doing a lot of great things. He’s going to be the head coach of the Medal of Honor game, which is a big all-star game that’s going to be held in Charleston, South Carolina, during the Christmas holidays. So, he’s doing all kinds of stuff and still as fit as ever.”

South Carolina State (3-2) will face North Carolina A&T (4-1) in what appears to be a great HBCU matchup in the Atlanta Football Classic. The game will be played in the Georgia Dome on Saturday, Oct. 4 at 3:30 p.m. If the Bulldogs can slow down Aggies running back Tarik Cohen, they will have a chance to grab a key win in the MEAC and another victory for Pough.

NOTES

  • Arkansas-Pine Bluff quarterback Benjamin Anderson was named the SWAC Offensive Student-Athlete of the Week. Anderson passed for more than 200 yards for the first time this season as he finished with 256 passing yards, completing 19 of 33 passes, with two touchdowns in overtime against Jackson State. He also rushed for 135 yards on 25 carries and another TD to finish with 391 total yards.
  • Alabama State linebacker Daerius Washington was named the SWAC Defensive Student-Athlete of the Week. Washington and the Hornets defense held the Texas Southern offense to only three points and 221 total yards. Washington led with a team-high 10 tackles, five solo, had two sacks and two tackles for a loss of seven yards.
  • Bethune-Cookman quarterback Quentin Williams was selected as the MEAC Offensive Player of the Week. Williams accounted for three touchdowns as he led the Wildcats’ offense in a 34-33 nonconference win over Florida Tech. He had a career-high tying 16 completions on 28 attempts and produced a career-high 222 yards through the air along with two passing TDs. He also ran for a rushing TD with 15 rushing attempts for 31 yards.
  • Delaware State defensive back Terrick Colston named the MEAC Defensive Player of the Week. Colston had nine tackles, seven solo stops in a 35-10 conference win over Savannah State. He intercepted one pass and forced and recovered a fumble to help seal the win.
SBN Sports Network Black College Football Poll

1. Bethune-Cookman
2. Alcorn State
3. North Carolina A&T
4. Tennessee State
5. Alabama State
6. South Carolina State
7. Winston-Salem State
8. Texas Southern
9. Jackson State
10. Livingstone


BLACK COLLEGE HALL OF FAME
The Black College Football Hall of Fame announced Thursday that 25 finalists will be on the ballot for induction into the Black College Football Hall of Fame.

Players:
Emerson Boozer (RB, University of Maryland Eastern Shore, 1962-1965)
Roger Brown (OL, University of Maryland Eastern Shore, 1956-1959)
Ken Burrough (WR, Texas Southern University, 1966-1969)
Harold Carmichael (WR, Southern University, 1967-1970)
Richard Dent (DE, Tennessee State University, 1979-1982)
Hewritt Dixon (RB, Florida A&M University, 1959-1962)
L.C. Greenwood (DE, University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff, 1965-1968)
Harold Jackson (WR, Jackson State University, 1965-1968)
Gary “Big Hands” Johnson (DL, Grambling State University, 1971-1974)
Ernie “Big Cat” Ladd (DL, Grambling State University, 1957-1960)
Leo Lewis (RB, Lincoln University, 1951-1954)
Tyrone McGriff (OL, Florida A&M University, 1976-1979)
Timothy Newsome (RB/KR, Winston Salem State University, 1976-1979)
Jethro Pugh (DE, Elizabeth City State University, 1961-1964)
Ken Riley (QB, Florida A&M University, 1965-1968)
Donnie Shell (DB, South Carolina State University, 1970-1973)
Otis Taylor (WR, Prairie View A&M University, 1961-1964)
Emmitt Thomas (QB/DB, Bishop College, 1962-1965)
Everson Walls (DB, Grambling State University, 1977-1980)
Aeneas Williams (CB, Southern University, 1987-1990)

Coaches and contributors:
Joe Gilliam, Sr. (Defensive Coordinator, Tennessee State University, 1963-1983)
W.C. Gorden (Head Coach, Jackson State University, 1976-1991)
Ralph Waldo Emerson Jones (President, Grambling State University, 1936-1977)
Arnett Mumford (Head Coach, Southern University, 1927-1961)
William J. “Billy” Nicks (Head Coach, Morris Brown, 1930-1942, Prairie View A&M University, 1945-1965)

Can Spartans stop Huskers run game?

October, 2, 2014
Oct 2
9:32
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Eric Francis/Getty ImagesAmeer Abdullah ran for 123 of Nebraska's 182 yards vs Michigan State last season.
At 5-0, Nebraska enters its matchup against Michigan State as the only unbeaten team in the Big Ten. Led by Heisman candidate Ameer Abdullah, the Cornhuskers have been fueled by a potent rushing attack, while the Spartans have made their mark by stopping the run.

Something has to give on Saturday when these two teams square off in East Lansing (8 ET on ABC).

A matchup of strengths
Nebraska ranks in the top three in the FBS in rushing yards per game, yards per rush and rushes of 10 yards or longer.

The Cornhuskers are averaging a Power Five-high 4.4 yards before contact per rush and have made it at least five yards past the line of scrimmage before first contact on 32 percent of their runs (best in the Big Ten).

Against Illinois last week, Nebraska had five rushing touchdowns, one more than Michigan State has allowed all season.

The Spartans rank in the top five in the FBS in rushing yards allowed per game and yards per rush.

They have allowed 92 TOTAL rushing yards before contact, fourth best among Power Five schools. Nebraska has rushed for 1,136 yards before contact in five games this season, most among Power Five schools.

Ameer Abdullah leads the way
Last week against Illinois, Abdullah ran for 208 yards and three touchdowns.

That was his FBS-leading third game with 200 rushing yards and 18th straight game with at least 100 yards from scrimmage. No active running back has a streak of more than 10 such games.

Abdullah has been able to get his yards in chunks, gaining at least 10 yards on 25 percent of his carries. He leads the nation with 29 rushes of 10-plus yards.

Abdullah has gained 546 of his FBS-leading 833 yards before contact. He has 39 rushes in which first contact was not made until five yards past the line of scrimmage, the most by any Power Five player.

What does Michigan State do well?
Despite losing six defensive starters from last season, Michigan State is allowing eight fewer rushing yards per game than it did last season, when it ranked second in the FBS in rushing defense.

Like last year’s squad, the Spartans have not allowed their opponents to get going. They have contacted opposing rushers at or behind the line of scrimmage on 63 of their 111 rushes (57 percent), the highest percentage for any Power Five defense.

They lead the nation in percentage of opponents’ rushes that do not gain yards (39 percent).

The Spartans also have been great at wrapping up opponents. They have only nine missed tackles on opponents’ rushes (tied for second in the Big Ten) and lead the conference with 55.3 rushing yards allowed after contact per game this season.

Looking toward Saturday
Last season, Michigan State beat Nebraska 41-28 in Lincoln. It was the Spartans’ first win against the Cornhuskers in eight tries.

However, the 182 rushing yards allowed were the second-most Michigan State has surrendered over the last two seasons, with 123 coming from Abdullah. The Spartans were helped by five Nebraska turnovers and an inefficient Nebraska passing game.

This year, if Michigan State allows Abdullah to again rush for that many yards the results may be different. In the last four years, Nebraska is 18-3 when Abdullah runs for at least 100 yards, and Michigan State is 6-5 during that time when allowing a player to rush for 100.

Kickoff Show: Week 6 (1 ET)

October, 2, 2014
Oct 2
9:30
AM ET
Join ESPN>com reporters Edward Aschoff, Heather Dinich, Ted Miller and host Chantel Jennings as they look forward to the packed slate of games this weekend and answer your questions live on screen.

SEC Week 6 predictions

October, 2, 2014
Oct 2
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Now we're talking. Three SEC West games between top 15 teams, plus a Tennessee-Florida rivalry game with Will Muschamp fighting for his job. Which teams will take a giant step toward the playoff this weekend? Let's get on with the picks.

Why Tennessee wins: The Vols have lost two straight but went toe-to-toe with Georgia in a tough road environment. Now they return home, where they've played well this season and let's be honest: Justin Worley has outplayed Jeff Driskel so far this year. Quarterback play goes a long way in a tightly contested game, which this could be. So give me the home team with the better quarterback. Florida had an off week and the Gators needed it badly, but they still have a lot of work to do. Tennessee 30, Florida 24 -- Sam Khan Jr.

Why Florida wins: Through the first three games, Florida is trending in the wrong direction. The Gators were lucky to survive against Kentucky and then were throttled by Alabama the next week. But I think they bounce back Saturday. They had a week off, which is a good remedy for any struggling team, and they’re better up front, especially with the return of starting left tackle D.J. Humphries. Florida 31, Tennessee 24 -- Greg Ostendorf

Why Texas A&M wins: Arkansas was probably the worst matchup for A&M in the entire SEC and the Aggies survived -- barely. Defending Dak Prescott and Josh Robinson won’t be a treat for A&M, either, but Mississippi State’s beleaguered secondary is in for a long Saturday. This should be a great game, but my money’s on Kenny Hill & Co. putting up a few more points. Texas A&M 30, Mississippi State 21 -- David Ching

Why Mississippi State wins: Is there anything Prescott can’t do? The kid can embarrass defenses with his arm and his legs, and with the holes in the defense A&M showed us against Arkansas, I think he’s going to have another big day. It’ll be interesting to see how Mississippi State’s secondary holds up against Hill, but I think they can put pressure on him up front. This one is coming down to the very end, and with a bruising back like Robinson helping Prescott, the Bulldogs get another big West win. Mississippi State 31, Texas A&M 28 -- Edward Aschoff

Why Alabama wins: I went back and forth with this one so many times because I think Ole Miss has the offense to hurt Alabama. That up-tempo play won’t be kind to the Crimson Tide, but having two weeks to prepare is a major advantage. This is by far the best team either has faced to this point, and I just don’t think Ole Miss will be able to run the ball. That means the Tide can put pressure on Bo Wallace and force him to make mistakes. Those mistakes late will have Bama walking out of the Grove with a close win in front of the “GameDay” crew. Alabama 27, Ole Miss 23 -- Edward Aschoff

Why Ole Miss wins: This isn't your daddy's Ole Miss. This isn't even your slightly older brother's. This version of the Rebs is different with a talented group of pass-rushers, a ball-hawking secondary and one of the best wide receivers in the country. Throw in the fact that the game's in Oxford and that Ole Miss runs the hurry-up, no-huddle as well as anyone, and you've got the right ingredients for an upset. Ole Miss 34, Alabama 31 -- Alex Scarborough

Why Auburn wins big: It’s not as much that I think Auburn is that good -- the offense still isn’t quite in sync. It’s more that I don’t trust LSU freshman quarterback Brandon Harris. The talent is there, but he’s making his first start in what will be a raucous atmosphere on the Plains. And this isn’t last year’s Auburn defense. The front four will make life difficult for Harris and the LSU offense. Auburn 31, LSU 14 -- Greg Ostendorf

Why LSU keeps it close: Clearly none of us has been too impressed with LSU's defense, but Auburn's defense has yet to contend with a passing game like the one it will see on Saturday. Though just a true freshman, Harris has "an NFL arm," according to none other than Gus Malzahn. Expect lots of drama on the Plains. Auburn will prevail in front of the home crowd, but this one could come down to which team has the ball last. Auburn 34, LSU 30 -- Jeff Barlis

Why South Carolina wins: Kentucky is one of the feel-good stories in the SEC this season and South Carolina currently exists somewhere on the opposite end of the happiness spectrum. The Gamecocks might go into meltdown mode if they lose to the Wildcats. I won’t rule out that possibility -- the Wildcats are vastly improved this season, but South Carolina still feels like the safer pick. South Carolina 30, Kentucky 20 -- David Ching

Why Kentucky wins: I predicted this early in the week, before Dorian Baker and Stanley "Boom" Williams were suspended. But despite my newfound misgivings, I'm not backing off. This is a classic case of two teams going in opposite directions. Za'Darius Smith and Bud Dupree will harass Dylan Thompson into a few interceptions, which A.J. Stamps may or may not pick off, and the Wildcats will score just enough points to win in regulation. Kentucky 30, South Carolina 24 -- Alex Scarborough

Why Georgia wins big: We all like Georgia big, and it's easy to see why. The Bulldogs are deeper and more talented and have arguably college football's best player in Todd Gurley. Vanderbilt has struggled out of the gate and might be without quarterback Patton Robinette for this game. It doesn't look pretty for the Commodores. Georgia 42, Vanderbilt 10 -- Sam Khan Jr.

Standings
Jeff Barlis 44-5
Chris Low 44-5
Edward Aschoff 43-6
David Ching 43-6
Greg Ostendorf 43-6
Sam Khan Jr. 42-7
Alex Scarborough 41-8

Big Ten Week 6 predictions

October, 2, 2014
Oct 2
9:00
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Austin Ward notches the first perfect week (9-0 last week) among our experts and moves into a tie with Mitch Sherman for the top record overall. Not as many games this week, but Michigan once again divides our experts. On to the picks ...



Why Michigan State will win: Improvement was expected all along on offense, but seeing the Spartans on top of the league in scoring at this point still qualifies as a surprise. Connor Cook’s development at quarterback makes Michigan State even more dangerous than it was a year ago, when it won the Big Ten relying heavily on its defense, and the roster looks capable of winning either a slugfest or a shootout. Heisman Trophy candidate Ameer Abdullah might be able to make this one the latter, but the Spartans are the most talented team in the league, their playoff hopes are on the line and they’re at home. That’s too much to overcome for the Huskers. Michigan State 34, Nebraska 24. -- Austin Ward

Why Nebraska could win: The Huskers, under Bo Pelini, usually find a way to match up well with Michigan State because the Spartans, especially on defense, coach with a mindset similar to the Nebraska style. MSU lost to Nebraska in 2011 and 2012 and beat the Huskers 41-28 last year, with help from five Nebraska turnovers. Such understanding helps the Huskers find weaknesses. There’s no doubt Nebraska will attempt to establish the running game. Likely, though, it’ll need help from quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. to extend the field -- his strength in the passing game. If it works, Nebraska can eat clock and play keep-away from Cook. -- Mitch Sherman



Why Rutgers will win: Well, first things first: Have you seen Michigan play lately? The program is in total disarray behind the scenes, and the Wolverines haven't shown that they can beat -- or even compete credibly with -- any team with a pulse. Plus, Rutgers has had a terrific pass rush this season, which should frighten the bejeezus out of Devin Gardner given the state of the maize and blue offensive line. Michigan's defense will keep it in the game, and Gary Nova has to make sure he doesn't play Rutgers out of the game. But no sane person can possibly pick the Wolverines with any confidence right now. Rutgers 21, Michigan 14 -- Brian Bennett

Why Michigan will win: Of course the resident contrarian is going with the Maize and Blue. Rutgers sees all the turmoil at Michigan and clearly will overlook the Wolverines (now there's a sentence that has never been typed). In all seriousness though, Michigan can't be done this early, can it? A loss in Piscataway, New Jersey, effectively ends the season for the Wolverines, who have yet to lose in the East Division and still can hope for a stunning turnaround. I expect a big night from Frank Clark, Blake Countess, possibly New Jersey native Jabrill Peppers and the Wolverines' defense, which records two pick-sixes against Nova. Gardner avoids the turnover bug and leads two field goal drives as Michigan prevails in Piscataway. Michigan 20, Rutgers 17 -- Adam Rittenberg



Why Purdue will win: I just can't shake the idea that Darrell Hazell can push his Boilermakers to at least one conference win this season. The Illini (or Northwestern on Nov. 22) might be their best chance. Illinois ranks 109th nationally with 11 turnovers at the end of September. A couple more on Saturday could give Purdue the opportunities it needs to stay close and pull out a big win. If that doesn't sell you, Jim Cornelison of Chicago Blackhawks anthem fame will be singing "The Star-Spangled Banner" before kickoff. Something interesting is bound to follow. Purdue 26, Illinois 24. -- Dan Murphy

Why Illinois will win: Neither team is particularly good, but Illinois shouldn't struggle putting up points in this game. Quarterback Wes Lunt, tailback Josh Ferguson and wideout Geronimo Allison combine to form one of the more underrated trios in the Big Ten, and Purdue's defense gave up 72 points to the directional Michigans. As for Purdue's offense? Well, Hazell still isn't quite sure who's going to start at quarterback Saturday. It won't matter; Illinois pulls away in the second half. Illinois 35, Purdue 21. -- Josh Moyer

The other unanimous selections

Ohio State 42, Maryland 30: Maryland's first-ever Big Ten home game is a doozy as the Buckeyes come to town. The Terrapins are strongest where Ohio State is weakest, with their electric receivers capable of causing all sorts of trouble for Chris Ash's still wobbly pass defense. Expect lots of fireworks, but in the end a rapidly improving Buckeyes offense has too much speed for Maryland to handle.

Wisconsin 28, Northwestern 17: Wisconsin hasn't won in Evanston, Illinois, since 1999, and the Wildcats are riding a sudden urge of confidence after knocking off Penn State on the road last week. Tanner McEvoy will have to be sharp, but the combination of the Badgers' defense and Melvin Gordon will rule the day.

Indiana 31, North Texas 24: Indiana can beat almost anybody if its offense is clicking (see: Missouri) and lose to just about anyone because of its defense (see: Bowling Green). Still, the Hoosiers should bounce back against the Mean Green.

Our records:
Mitch Sherman: 48-11 (.814)
Austin Ward: 48-11 (.814)
Brian Bennett: 47-12 (.797)
Adam Rittenberg: 47-12 (.797)
Dan Murphy: 17-5 (.773)
Josh Moyer: 43-16 (.729)

Pac-12 Week 6 predictions

October, 2, 2014
Oct 2
9:00
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Why Oregon will win: Two years ago, Kevin Hogan made his first road start at Autzen and won. Anu Solomon is making his seconds career road start. The difference was Stanford had a defense to back up Hogan. Arizona’s defense isn’t on that level yet. This has track meet written all over it. And maybe it will be. But eventually home-field advantage will make an impact. And the first time Arizona makes a mistake, the Ducks will pounce. -- Kevin Gemmell



Why Stanford will win: I’m not sold on either team’s offense but I think Stanford has faced tougher competition. Everything that has gone wrong with the Cardinal this year is fixable and coachable. If Stanford can clean up some of its procedural issues, it's going to put up points. The Cardinal have all the ingredients to be an effective red zone team. The defense needs no fixing. It’s No. 1 in the country for a reason. I like the Cardinal here in a one-possession game. -- Kevin Gemmell

Why Notre Dame will win: Both teams play great defense, but Notre Dame is getting more superior play at quarterback with Everett Golson than Stanford is getting from Kevin Hogan. I particularly like Golson’s improved maturity as a passer, which makes his running ability even more dangerous. Further, home-field advantage can’t be discounted. It was a factor for the Cardinal last week in Husky Stadium and it will be a factor again in front of Touchdown Jesus, only this time Stanford will come up short. -- Ted Miller



Why Oregon State will win: Sean Mannion and his receivers will have been itching to get back onto the field since their loss in Los Angeles and they're going to want to make a statement. Colorado, still fuming from their double-overtime loss, is going to press a bit early, giving the Beavers a chance to get out to a quick start and, even if receiver Victor Bolden isn't in the game, allow Mannion a chance to gain some confidence with his other receivers. Colorado is also giving up 5.0 yards per rush. Look for Storm Woods to have a breakout game on the road and Mannion to button up this offense and make this a true business trip for the Beavers.-- Chantel Jennings

Why Colorado will win: The Buffs are back at home. Their offense is brimming with confidence after putting up 56 points in last week’s double-overtime loss at Cal. Meanwhile, Oregon State is reeling after Sean Mannion struggled while USC racked up 461 yards of total offense on them. Colorado enters a truly brutal stretch to close the season after this -- at USC, vs. UCLA, vs. Washington, at Arizona, at Oregon, vs. Utah -- so I expect Mike MacIntyre’s squad to come into this one with an unmatched sense of urgency. Because of that, expect more big things from Nelson Spruce, who has broken Colorado’s single-game reception record two weeks in a row (19 catches last week). -- David Lombardi



Why USC will win: In the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world of college football, USC made it easy to forget about its trip to Boston College with a sound defeat of Oregon State, while Arizona State's defense showed an inability to tackle against UCLA. Hard to go against the Trojans at home with those two games fresh on the mind. -- Kyle Bonagura



Why UCLA will win: Now that the Bruins have proven they are who we ... well, at least can be who we thought they were, there's far less reason for concern. Utah, however, has some major offensive worries following a home loss to Washington State in which the Utes simply couldn't move the ball. It was hard to look at them like a bowl team, let alone one that would go to UCLA and win. -- Kyle Bonagura



Why Washington State will win: Both teams score points in bunches, and I like Cal’s superior balance, but this one will come down to which defense can make a few stops. While, statistically, the defenses are comparable, what the Cougars did against Oregon and Utah suggests it has a better chance to throw the decisive blow (or two). -- Ted Miller

Big 12 Week 6 predictions

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Why Oklahoma will win: The Sooners have featured a powerful rushing attack behind Samaje “Optimus” Perine. Defense, however, will be the reason they’ll prevail in Fort Worth, Texas. This is the first real test for TCU’s new hurry-up offensive attack, but Oklahoma’s swarming front seven and ball-hawking secondary will prove to be too much for TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin. In 13 meetings, the Horned Frogs have never scored more than 20 points against Oklahoma. That doesn’t change Saturday. Oklahoma 29, TCU 17 -- Jake Trotter

Why TCU will keep it close: The Horned Frogs are well-rested and hardly tested, and they're going to make a statement. They're going to score enough points to remind us that this OU team isn't invincible, and TCU's defensive line is stout enough to make Sooners QB Trevor Knight sweat. But OU escapes in a survive-and-advance game and adds another credible win to its playoff résumé. Oklahoma 35, TCU 31 -- Max Olson

Why Baylor will win: Too many things have to go perfectly for Texas to win this game, and not enough will. Baylor's still-underappreciated defense will make the Longhorns one-dimensional by taking away the run and will trick QB Tyrone Swoopes into making the mistakes he's avoided so far. Like last year, Baylor's offensive firepower will break through to win the second half. Baylor 38, Texas 20 -- Max Olson

Why Kansas State will win: The Wildcats rarely beat themselves, and Texas Tech has a bad habit of being its own worst enemy. That’s not a good recipe for an upset, especially in Manhattan, Kansas. And K-State WR Tyler Lockett appears to be returning to his playmaking ways. It could be a tough afternoon for the Red Raiders. Kansas State 35, Texas Tech 21 -- Brandon Chatmon

OTHER UNANIMOUS PICKS

Oklahoma State over Iowa State, 49-20: Which Cowboys receiver will break out in this game? With Daxx Garman under center for OSU, its offense has regained the explosiveness we’ve become accustomed to. Winning the turnover battle could be Iowa State’s only hope. -- Chatmon

West Virginia over Kansas, 45-6: West Virginia will be out for revenge after last season’s debacle in Lawrence. The Mountaineers look like the most improved team in the league, while Kansas looks destined for another trip to the cellar. -- Trotter

ACC Week 6 predictions

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Adelson: The Louisville defense has been extremely impressive, coming into the game ranked No. 3 in the nation in total defense, No. 1 in rush defense, No. 9 in scoring defense and tied for fifth in turnovers gained. On the road, with a freshman starting quarterback and a shaky offensive line, the Cards will once again rely on its stout defense to be the difference in a game that will not feature much offense. Louisville 20, Syracuse 17

Fortuna: Points will be hard to come by in this game, but the Orange's offense is due for a break or two after having little to show for high-yardage efforts in consecutive losses to Maryland and Notre Dame. Louisville's defense has been ridiculously strong through five weeks, but its offense, surprisingly enough, has left much to be desired, especially up front. Scott Shafer's defense made life difficult for a much better Cardinals team in 2012, and it forced five Notre Dame turnovers in last week's loss in Jersey. Expect another defensive score in this game as Louisville falls victim to the tricky Friday night Carrier Dome tilt that has stopped so many better teams in recent years. Syracuse 20, Louisville 14



Hale: Ugly mistakes have been the undoing of this once-promising season for Virginia Tech, but there’s some optimism amid so many self-inflicted wounds. The Hokies aren’t being dramatically outplayed even in their losses. They just need to stop shooting themselves in the foot. And what better way to fix those problems than taking on a defense that has surrendered nearly 150 points and nearly 1,800 yards in the past three weeks. Michael Brewer has tossed multiple interceptions in four straight games, but UNC’s D has been unbelievably friendly to opposing QBs. Brewer just needs to know when to be aggressive and when to settle for less. Defensive tackle Luther Maddy is out for Tech, but the Heels’ ground game is among the worst in the ACC. Big plays have burned the Hokies on D, but only Wake Forest has fewer plays of 20-plus yards this year than North Carolina among ACC teams. Virginia Tech isn’t as good as it looked against Ohio State, but this is a matchup in which the Hokies should thrive. Virginia Tech 24, North Carolina 21

Shanker: North Carolina has allowed 120 points the past two weeks and more than 800 yards through the air. While there is still no excuse for those numbers, it did come against quarterbacks Shane Carden and Deshaun Watson. The Tar Heels won't see a quarterback on that level Saturday. In fact, Virginia Tech's Michael Brewer has repeatedly taken the air out of the sails of his own team with untimely interceptions. The UNC offense isn't exactly clicking either, but it should be able to take advantage of a few Virginia Tech miscues. If the Heels' secondary is in the right position, it could pick off a few passes. The Hokies' rushing attack is hurting without Shai McKenie (torn ACL), too. It won't be a pretty win, but that's the least of UNC's concerns right now. UNC 28, Virginia Tech 20



Adelson: Miami has won five in a row in the series, thanks in part to its superior speed. In the last five wins, the Canes have averaged 35.8 points as the Jackets have had a hard time slowing down Miami's playmakers. That will be the case again Saturday, as Brad Kaaya has shown tremendous growth and the Miami run game picks up steam against the worst rush defense in the ACC. Meanwhile, Miami's speed on defense has helped it slow down the triple-option threat. Denzel Perryman, who looked like a man possessed last week, will be a big reason why the Canes slow down Justin Thomas. Miami 35, Georgia Tech 28

Fortuna: The Hurricanes' defense looked like it might have turned a corner in last week's win over Duke, but that means little when facing the dreaded triple-option. The Yellow Jackets are coming off a bye, and there is something to be said for a team that continually gets itself out of trouble. The win at Virginia Tech was huge, and Justin Thomas is turning into an efficient passer who can keep the Canes' defense off-balance. Brad Kaaya is getting better, but Miami's offense has room for growth, which will be difficult to realize with a banged-up offensive line facing the fresh legs of an opportunistic Georgia Tech defense. Georgia Tech 27, Miami 17

Wake Forest at Florida State: Most of us understand it's a major rebuilding job for Dave Clawson, which makes Wake Forest's defensive effort all the more impressive. However, Florida State should roll the Demon Deacons and have their starters out by the third quarter. Florida State 55, Wake Forest 7

Pitt at Virginia: The Pitt bandwagon has been abandoned, but the Cavaliers are serious contenders in the Coastal. The defense is among the conference's best, and the offense is showing signs of improvements. Virginia 23, Pitt 13

NC State at Clemson: Deshaun Watson was fantastic in his first start, and he could already be the conference's second best QB. Jacoby Brissett has a case, too, but he'll face a stingier defense than Watson. Clemson 38, NC State 35
Big Ten teams need to find a way to increase athleticism through recruiting and Wisconsin is working hard in Florida to make that happen. Plus, UCLA quarterback commit Josh Rosen continues to be the gift that keeps on giving for the Bruins on the recruiting trail.

If you’ve watched any Arizona football this year, you might have noticed that the Wildcats have a penchant for the dramatic.

Sure, the last game comes to mind. And the fact that Arizona scored 36 points in the fourth quarter and needed a 47-yard Hail Mary as the clock expired to beat Cal certainly qualifies as dramatic.

But it wasn’t just that game. After a blowout win in their opener against UNLV, the last three for the Wildcats have been nip-and-tuck. Coach Rich Rodriguez said he’s not sure if there’s a common denominator between this team and being able to win close games. But he’s glad they do.

“I hope it’s the fact that our guys don’t worry or don’t get too concerned about the scoreboard and just play 60 minutes,” Rodriguez said. “Every coach talks about it. We talk about it quite a bit. In fact we talk about it before every game. No matter what happens, we’re going to play for 60 minutes and then we’ll look up and see what the score is.”

As the Wildcats prep for a huge showdown with No. 2 Oregon Thursday night, it’s worth taking a look at the fourth quarter of Arizona’s past three games to see just how tight things got.

Arizona-UTSA win probabilityESPN Stats and Info
Game analysis: At one point, UTSA had a 74 percent probability of winning this game. That was in the second quarter after taking a 14-13 lead. But the Wildcats battled back and took a 26-16 lead into the fourth quarter.

Fourth-quarter analysis: Things got dicey halfway through the final frame. Though Arizona’s probability of winning never dropped below 50 percent, it did dip down to 59.8 when UTSA took over at their own 20 trailing 26-23 with 5:09 left to play.

Tipping point: With the score still at 26-23, UTSA picked up a first down at its own 31. But on second down, Tucker Carter was intercepted by Jared Tevis. UTSA’s win probability dropped to 3 percent.

Arizona, NevadaESPN Stats & Infomation
Game analysis: Despite jumping out to a 3-0 lead, Nevada never had better than a 43.6 percent chance of winning this game. The metrics account for Arizona being at home and the fact that the Wildcats can score a silly amount of points. They built a 21-6 lead in the second quarter, but Nevada came back to tie things up in the third, making things a little more uncomfortable than the home team probably would have liked.

Fourth-quarter analysis: Of the three games we’re examining here, this was the easiest fourth quarter for the Wildcats. Even after Nevada pulled to within a touchdown with 6:01 to play, its odds of winning never reached above 16.9 percent.

Tipping point: After Anu Solomon connected with Cayleb Jones on a 24-yard touchdown strike five seconds into the fourth quarter, Arizona’s win probability shot up from 63 percent to 94.4. But as the next graphic will show us, every second counts.

Arizona, CalESPN Stats and Info
Game analysis: By virtue of being home, Arizona started with a 62.5 percent chance of winning. But as Cal scored point after point, that probability dropped down to the 3- and 4-percent range. Then, wackiness ensued.

Fourth quarter analysis: Even as the Wildcats began their march toward erasing a 31-16 deficit, their win probability rarely spiked. The closest they got was a 41.6 probability when Solomon and Jones hooked up for 15 yards with 2:44 left to play, cutting Cal’s lead to 45-43. That dropped almost seven percentage points after the failed two-point conversion.

Tipping point: Just before the "Hill Mary," Cal’s chances of winning were 87.9 percent. One play changed it all. Solomon and Austin Hill wrote themselves into Arizona lore with an iconic play that will fill highlight videos for years to come.
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Malcome Kennedy lay on the turf, trainers tending to his injured left shoulder.

[+] EnlargeEdward Pope & Malcome Kennedy
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsTexas A&M receivers Malcome Kennedy and Edward Pope have combined for 49 receptions and six touchdowns through Week 5 this season.
With 57 seconds left in the fourth quarter, the Aggies trying to march downfield and complete a scoring drive to cap off a come-from-behind win against Arkansas, something was wrong with Texas A&M's senior receiver after he landed squarely on his left side and quickly reached for his shoulder. It was separated.

"I thought he was done," Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said afterward.

Kennedy hadn't come this far -- all the way from Cayuga, a small East Texas high school that played in the state's smallest 11-man classification, Class 1A, when he was there and from being a reserve receiver who waited his turn to become a featured target and a senior leader -- to allow shoulder pain to keep him from finishing.

"I felt like I had to go," Kennedy said. "I popped it out of place and the trainers came over, calmed me down and popped it back in. They asked me if I was all right and if I was done. I said 'No. I've got to go.' I just had a lot of adrenaline so it didn't hurt. I still was ready to go."

Moments later, he proved as much, catching a dart from Kenny Hill for the game-winning 25-yard touchdown in Texas A&M's 35-28 overtime win against the Razorbacks.

In many ways, Saturday was a snapshot of what Kennedy means to the Aggies. He usually isn't the first name outsiders think of when discussing Texas A&M receivers. For the past two seasons, that distinction belonged to Mike Evans, a 2014 first-round NFL draft pick who now plays for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

This season, Kennedy is the elder statesman of the Aggies' deep, young receiving corps, but some were more interested in discussing the bigger (sophomore Ricky Seals-Jones) or faster (true freshman Speedy Noil) young, new toys that the Aggies had to play with.

Meanwhile Kennedy, the dependable "Y" receiver in the Aggies' Air Raid-inspired offense, simply catches footballs -- lots of them -- does his work and speaks up when necessary, leading his group and the offense forward.

"Malcome is the vocal leader of our offense," offensive coordinator Jake Spavital said.

He's also the leading receiver currently. Through five games, he tops the Aggies in catches (33) and receiving yards (378) to go with two scores. His catch total is more than double of the next-best receivers, Edward Pope and Josh Reynolds, who each have 16.

And those who miss the days of Evans, the freakishly-athletic former basketball player who could seemingly catch everything in his stratosphere? Kennedy even showed he has the ability to do that, going up and leaping over an SMU defender on a jump ball on third-and-13 in the first quarter of the Aggies' win against the Mustangs last month. It is the kind of catch few associate with Kennedy, who does the majority of his work across the middle of the field. He has been invaluable to the development of Hill, the Aggies' sophomore sensation quarterback.

"He has helped a lot because he is an easy target to find," Hill said. "He's always getting open. That helps a lot. ...On a third down, he's a guy you can lean on and go to."

For a team that starts two freshmen (Noil and Seals-Jones) and a sophomore (Reynolds) alongside him at receiver, Kennedy is the heart of the receiving corps. He displayed as much Saturday when the Aggies' trailed the Razorbacks by 7 points at halftime and he delivered an inspired speech to his teammates in the locker room.

"At halftime, I walked in with something I was going to say," Sumlin said. "When I got to the door, I'm the last guy there, but Malcome Kennedy was standing at the door, talking to everybody as we're going in. And then he looked at me and said 'I have something I've got to say.' So we went back in, I listened to him for about 30 seconds and I said 'Yeah, that's better than anything I can say.' So we started looking at adjustments offensively for the second half."

Kennedy, a member of the team's leadership council, also has a knack for making big catches. His first such one came in one of biggest games in recent Texas A&M history, the 2012 upset of Alabama. With the Aggies clinging to a six-point lead midway through the fourth quarter, Johnny Manziel launched a pass toward the front left corner of the end zone where Kennedy beat Dee Milliner and hauled in the final points the Aggies would score in their 29-24 landmark victory.

So it's no surprise that when the Aggies need a big catch to move the chains or change the game, he's the one they turn toward.

"When the game's on the line," Spavital said, "Malcome's the guy we're going to."

He knows that. That's why two plays after the shoulder injury, he subbed himself in on third down before the clock expired in regulation. When the Aggies got the ball first in overtime, Spavital called a play that he said he woke up thinking about, one that they called earlier in the game, but didn't work.

Kennedy manned his spot at the "Y" receiver, saw what he liked and the rest is history.

"It was finally the look we wanted," Kennedy said. "The two high safeties; they were playing pretty far off the hash and the linebackers were tucked in the box and they were ready to stop the run so I went in there like I was blocking and I came out full speed and Kenny hit me."

Said Spavital: "I knew that play was going to eventually score for us in this game and it was the perfect opportunity to get it in there to Malcome. ...He made a great misdirection and made a big-time play and won the game for us."

Video: Class rankings Oct. 1 update

October, 1, 2014
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video

National recruiting coordinator Craig Haubert breaks down updates to the ESPN class rankings for 2015 football recruiting. Two top-10 classes from the SEC East added ESPN 300 prospects Friday.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Four plays haven’t changed anything for Urban Meyer, but they certainly got his attention.

The Ohio State coach hasn’t lost any faith in the players he has recruited, the coaches he hired or the system he had installed to fix a broken pass defense. But a handful of busted coverages and lost individual battles Saturday against Cincinnati at least concerned Meyer enough that he had to spend part of his Sunday grading the defense himself.

Meyer came away still convinced the plan in place and the personnel on hand is capable of reaching a championship level. But there’s no question it wasn’t there yet last weekend, which might be a troubling sign with another set of dangerous wide receivers waiting for the No. 20 Buckeyes this Saturday at Maryland.

“I hear someone say just take away those four plays,” Meyer said. “You can't just take away those four plays. That's part of the game. ... We played a very good throwing offense and we had four really bad plays that we have to get corrected -- have to get corrected.

“I'm satisfied with the direction we're going. We've just got to get them corrected.”

The Buckeyes don’t have any time to waste making those corrections with Stefon Diggs and Deon Long on deck this weekend, and Meyer hasn’t really bothered to hide his disappointment coming out of a game he touted as the first real test for a rebuilt, revamped secondary.

Twice already he’s publicly gone through the details of the four critical mistakes that produced four touchdowns and 240 yards through the air, in the process making it clear just how closely he was inspecting the film and searching for answers after Ohio State had worked so diligently to correct the issues that essentially cost it a shot at the national championship last season.

There was a one-on-one battle safety Vonn Bell couldn’t win despite tight coverage. A missed assignment against a screen pass. The coaching staff was on the hook for dialing up a coverage Meyer didn’t appear to be a big fan of just before halftime. And finally, perhaps a momentary lapse in technique and recognition that led to one more deep strike that at least for a moment turned a blowout into a tight 33-28 battle with the Bearcats.

There are elements of risk with the more aggressive schemes the Buckeyes have installed this season, increasing the amount of press coverage, attacking quarterbacks with different blitzes and challenging players across the board to win individual matchups. The gambles aren’t always going to pay off, but Ohio State is well aware it can’t afford to go bust as often as it did last Saturday if the Buckeyes are going to climb back into contention for the College Football Playoff.

“I think that’s what we’re going to put on our shoulders as coaches,” defensive coordinator Luke Fickell said. “We want our guys to have confidence in what they’re doing. I told them and we’re going to keep repeating it: I’d rather bet on myself, I’d rather bet on my guys and put them in position to go ahead and know that we have confidence in them, that we don’t have to make wholesale changes and knee-jerk and do some things.

“There are some things we can do better, but we’re still going to bet on ourselves.”

In turn, Meyer is going to keep backing some of the most decorated recruits in the country at cornerback and safety. He may spend a little extra time watching the defense and offering a bit more input, but he trusts the staff to get the job done. And he’s definitely not planning to scrap the vision he has for his defense in favor of a conservative, bend-but-try-not-to-break defense.

And if the pieces are truly all in place, the message is pretty clear.

“When you do what we do, you’re going to put yourself in one-on-one battles,” co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash said. “We’ve got to win some of them.”

The alternative is going flat broke.

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