SEC: Louisville Cardinals

Top 10 instant-impact recruits in 2015 

January, 14, 2015
Jan 14
With signing day a few weeks away, early enrollees already on campus and the national championship game in the books, which teams are reloading with talent that can hit the field and make an immediate impact?

Here are 10 committed prospect who have the chance to contribute early and often in the 2015 season:

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The season began with Georgia’s hopes pinned to star tailback Todd Gurley. It ended with a huge game by his understudy, freshman Nick Chubb. Georgia’s ground game pounded Louisville, and the defense forced three turnovers in a 37-14 win Tuesday in the Belk Bowl.

How the game was won: Louisville stacked the box early in hopes of slowing down Chubb and Georgia's ground game, but really, the Cardinals had no answers. Chubb ran for 20 yards on his first carry, and the deluge continued from there. For the game, Georgia had eight plays of 19 yards or more, including runs of 20, 30, 31 and 82 yards by Chubb. Louisville might have kept the game close, but three turnovers and a handful of ugly throws that prevented big plays downfield from Kyle Bolin and Reggie Bonnafon killed the Cardinals’ momentum again and again. When Sony Michel rumbled into the end zone to put Georgia up 27-7 midway through the third quarter, the outcome was all but assured.

Game ball goes to: Chubb. Who else? The freshman tailback stepped in for Gurley earlier this year, and Georgia’s ground game didn’t miss a beat. With offensive coordinator Mike Bobo gone and starting QB Hutson Mason hurt, it was no surprise Chubb stepped up once again; he set a Georgia bowl game record for rushing yards. Chubb finished with 33 carries for 266 yards and two touchdowns. He demoralized Louisville’s defense again and again and totaled the second most rushing yards in a game by a Georgia back. For the game, UGA racked up 299 yards on the ground -- the most by any team against the Cardinals in more than six years.

What it means: For Georgia, it’s an optimistic conclusion to a season filled with some bitter disappointments. The late loss to South Carolina, the thumping at the hands of Florida and the stinging defeat to Georgia Tech -- not to mention the controversy surrounding Gurley -- still are likely to be the overwhelming memories of a season that started with high expectations. But the Belk Bowl performances by Chubb and Jeremy Pruitt’s defense offered a more palatable finish and some hope for next year. There’s still much for the Bulldogs to figure out -- from the vacant offensive coordinator job to the vacant QB position (Mason's a senior) -- but there is plenty of talent already in place on this roster. For Louisville, Year 1 under Bobby Petrino had its high points, but as DeVante Parker, Gerod Holliman and other stars depart, the real work is just beginning.

Best play: Chubb had plenty of them but perhaps none bigger than his 31-yard touchdown midway through the second quarter that put Georgia in control of the game 17-7. The Bulldogs didn't looked back from there.


Viewer's Guide: Belk Bowl

December, 30, 2014
It’s not often that the coordinators steal the show in a matchup between two big-time programs, but the assistant coaches have been the biggest stories of the Belk Bowl. Of course, they’re not the only names to watch in Tuesday's ACC-SEC showdown between Louisville and Georgia.

Grantham vs. UGA: A year ago, Todd Grantham was the defensive coordinator at Georgia, and Bulldogs fans didn’t shed many tears when he departed for Louisville. The Cardinals, on the other hand, are thrilled with the move as they have emerged as one of the top defensive teams in the nation. There will be ample familiarity, as Grantham was responsible for recruiting virtually every player on Georgia’s defense and the Bulldogs’ offense is certainly used to seeing a Grantham-led defense at work too. Grantham has downplayed the relationships, but several Georgia players have stayed in close contact with him this year and several who were dismissed by Mark Richt found their way to Louisville.

No Bobo for Bulldogs: While Grantham is the biggest story among the coordinators, the departure of Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo, who left to take over at Colorado State, might be the more intriguing storyline. Bobo had spent nearly his entire career at UGA, first as a player then an assistant, and he had been calling plays for Richt since 2006. John Lilly, another longtime Richt assistant, will be calling plays Tuesday, but the future of the Georgia offense certainly is in flux. The Belk Bowl will be an interesting peek into what that future might look like.

The head coaches have issues too: If his assistants are the big story, Richt’s role as head coach remains the longest-running story at Georgia. It’s hard to criticize a guy who so consistently wins games, but has he won enough of the big ones? This has been the debate in Athens for years, and after another disappointing season at Georgia, which featured the Todd Gurley saga, a dismal loss to Florida and a shocking defeat to Georgia Tech, the heat is once again on Richt, who could sure use a victory to calm the fires. On the flip side, Bobby Petrino was booted from the SEC after an off-field debacle at Arkansas, and he will get a chance to rack up his third win in four tries against an SEC foe since that departure.

Chubb vs. Louisville D: There’s no denying the talent of Georgia tailback Nick Chubb, who proved to be a force of nature this season in relief of Gurley. The true freshman rushed for 1,281 yards and 12 touchdowns, averaging nearly 7 yards per carry this season. Chubb has topped 100 yards and scored a touchdown in seven straight games, but the test against Louisville is a big one. The Cardinals ranked second in the nation in rushing defense this season, allowing less than 3 yards per carry and just nine touchdowns all year.

Parker vs. Georgia’s secondary: The best player on the field might be Louisville’s DeVante Parker. The star receiver missed the first seven games of the season but still finished the year eighth in the ACC in receiving yards (735) and second in yards per catch (21.0). Georgia led the SEC in passing defense (158.4 yards per game), though, and Louisville’s quarterback situation is far from secure as Reggie Bonnafon recovers from a knee injury. Kyle Bolin is waiting in the wings.
Let's not sit here and act like 2014 wasn't a disappointment for the Georgia Bulldogs. There's a reason head coach Mark Richt sat so comfortably in a hotel meeting room in Hoover, Alabama, and delivered a confident decree about having the SEC East's best team.

And by all accounts, he was right ... well, for the most part. Talent-wise, no other team really should have touched the Bulldogs in a year in which the East was more of a punchline than anything else. But that's why they play the games, and Georgia didn't take advantage of the rest of the league's misfortunes, losing to South Carolina and Florida. Those teams finished the regular season with a combined record of 12-11, and Florida will have a new head coach in 2015. The regular season then culminated with a face-palming overtime loss to rival Georgia Tech.

The Bulldogs then watched as third-year SEC darling Missouri -- a team Georgia housed 34-0 on the road -- waltz into Atlanta and lost to Alabama.

[+] EnlargeTodd Gurley
AP Photo/John BazemoreGeorgia lost Todd Gurley, got him back, then lost him again in a seesaw season. But the Bulldogs can still get a 10th win with a Belk Bowl victory.
So the SEC fell out of the Bulldogs' paws and the College Football Playoff became an afterthought once November got going. Nobody around the Georgia program will say that the 2014 season worked out the way it should have, and 9-3 isn't a record this program envisioned back in August.

But that doesn't mean that getting to 10 wins isn't important, and this team has a lot of pride to play for, especially with their chips down at the moment. A victory in the Belk Bowl over Louisville, which just happens to have old defensive coordinator Todd Grantham on its payroll, on Tuesday would be a big win for a program that has seen more positive days.

It's almost as if the Bulldogs are dealing with a handful of issues all at once. The season ended in tumultuous fashion, but then Georgia lost longtime offensive coordinator Mike Bobo, who is now the head coach at Colorado State. Offensive line coach Will Friend will also leave for CSU after the bowl game.

The Internet is also ablaze with rumors concerning the idea of defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt leaving after just one year. Oh, and dynamic freshman Isaiah McKenzie has been suspended for the bowl game.

In a season that featured the unceremonious end of stud running back Todd Gurley's career in Athens, getting to 10 wins would be considered a major accomplishment at this point. And it's an accomplishment that should be an important goal for the Bulldogs.

Getting to 10 wins would give Richt nine 10-win seasons during his 14-year tenure in Athens. It would also give the Dawgs at least 10 wins for the third time in the last four years. Ten wins is a feat that rivals Florida, South Carolina and Tennessee didn't even come close to sniffing this season. Ten wins would help in recruiting, and it would inject some momentum into this team heading into the offseason and spring.

There should be plenty of motivation on the Dawgs' sideline this week. Quarterback Hutson Mason, who had the tall task of replacing record-setting starter Aaron Murray, wants to erase some of the pain of that Georgia Tech loss with a win over a solid Louisville squad. There's no doubt that Pruitt would love to win the defensive battle over Grantham, who is no doubt licking his chops at the opportunity to face Georgia's offense. And then there's just the simple fact that Georgia is a program that should enter the 10-win realm because it's, well, Georgia.

Athletic director Greg McGarity has already talked about the importance of 10 wins for the Bulldogs and Richt. What's coming down the tracks in Athens is unknown, but this program needs some momentum going into 2015. There will be a new offensive coordinator and a new quarterback taking over. With enough solid talent coming back on both sides, the expectations will continue to be high, but entering 2015 with a more positive outlook internally wouldn't be so bad.
Todd Grantham said he has not communicated with his former co-workers at Georgia in the eight days since learning that his new team, Louisville, will face the Bulldogs in the Dec. 30 Belk Bowl.

On a Monday conversation with reporters, the first-year Louisville defensive coordinator downplayed any competitive advantage he might have gleaned from practicing against most of the Bulldogs’ players over the previous four seasons as a Mark Richt assistant.

“It still gets down to getting off blocks, tackling people, winning one-on-one matchups on both sides of the ball, so I don’t think that’ll play as big a factor as you guys will make it out to be,” Grantham said. “I think it gets down to just playing football. Obviously they’re a talented team. They’re one of the best offenses in the country, so we know we’ve got to play well and be ready for a big challenge.”

[+] EnlargeTodd Grantham
AP Photo/Timothy D. EasleyTodd Grantham's Louisville defense leads the nation in interceptions and is tied for seventh in sacks.
A veteran assistant like Grantham has plenty of experience in situations like this, coaching against friends, former co-workers or ex-players several times each season. While he understands the intrigue surrounding his coaching against a program where he was on staff less than a year ago, Grantham said it doesn’t add extra juice to the bowl game from his perspective.

“I’ve got a lot of respect for the people there -- both the coaches and the players,” Grantham said. “This isn’t the first time that a coach has faced a team that he was coaching the year before. It’s part of the business. We’ve had a great season. We went 9-3 and it’s a chance for us to send our seniors out the right way because they really did believe in our system when we came here.”

That they did. Former Louisville coach Charlie Strong left a strong defensive identity behind when he left for Texas after last season, and the Cardinals have thrived in the first season under Grantham’s leadership. Despite losing safety Calvin Pryor and defensive end Marcus Smith to the first round of the NFL draft, Louisville still ranks sixth nationally in total defense, allowing 293.3 yards per game.

Further, the Cardinals lead the nation in interceptions (25), rank fourth in third-down defense (28.2 percent) and are tied for seventh in sacks (3.25 per game). They’re in the top 20 in turnovers gained (T12, 28), scoring defense (18th, 20.5 points per game) and red zone defense (T19, 27 opponent scores in 36 red zone possessions).

Not bad for a first season in a new conference -- and Grantham said it’s only the tip of the iceberg.

“Our main focus and vision is to win the ACC and compete for a national title, and after one year here and the recruiting class we’re having, I’m more convinced than ever that we can reach that goal,” Grantham said.

That sounds very much like the sales pitch that Grantham used to make while wearing Georgia’s red and black. Replace ACC with SEC and insert Florida instead of Florida State as the opponent he has circled as the roadblock standing between his team and the championships it wants to win.

Grantham’s tenure at Georgia ended with a bit of a flop -- the young Bulldogs surrendered 29 points and 375.5 yards per game last season -- as fans and media questioned his job security throughout the 2013 season.

“We obviously had a really young team last year and we kind of faced some veteran offenses, some veteran quarterbacks, and because of that, we had to take some shots with those guys, but I think they got better for it,” Grantham recalled. “They were able to mature and I think that’s one of the reasons they’re able to have some success right now.”

Two of those young players, cornerback Shaq Wiggins and safety Josh Harvey-Clemons, followed Grantham to Louisville and sat out this season as transfers. Grantham credited the former Bulldogs for their work on the scout team and said he expects them to compete for starting jobs in 2015.

As for Georgia, Grantham said he remains proud of what the program accomplished in his four seasons there -- a time where the Bulldogs won SEC East titles in 2011 and 2012 and dominated rivals Florida, Georgia Tech, Auburn and Tennessee with an 11-1 record in his final three seasons.

That’s what Grantham said he remembers about his Georgia tenure, not the last season where he came under fire.

“I’ve always known I was a good coach in what I was doing,” Grantham said. “I think if you go back and look at the changes we were able to establish and make at the University of Georgia in my time there, we were able to win games, we were able to put, really, Georgia back on the map from being relevant.”

Ranking the SEC bowl games

December, 10, 2014
1. Allstate Sugar Bowl: Alabama vs. Ohio State

This game is the top one for obvious reasons, primarily, it’s the one bowl game involving the SEC that has real stakes -- the winner goes to the national championship game. If the College Football Playoff semifinal wasn’t strong enough for you, it matches two of the most well-known head coaches in the game right now, Nick Saban and Urban Meyer. Those two did battle before when Meyer was at Florida, so the reunion should be plenty compelling.

2. Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl: Ole Miss vs. TCU

This is the only other SEC bowl that matches up two top-10 teams. TCU was one of the teams left at the altar by the selection committee, so it’s probable that the Horned Frogs would like to stomp a highly-regarded SEC team to make a statement. Ole Miss has had an impressive season and can secure only its seventh 10-win campaign in school history and its third since 1971.

3. Belk Bowl: Georgia vs. Louisville

It’s the Grantham Bowl. Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham’s current team (Louisville) takes on his previous team (Georgia). It’s a safe bet he’d like to have his unit excel en route to a Cardinal win. The Cardinal defense is sixth nationally in yards per game allowed (293.2) but it’ll get tested by the Georgia running game, led by freshman sensation Nick Chubb (1,281 yards), who leads Georgia’s 12th-ranked rushing attack (255 yards per game).

4. Outback Bowl: Auburn vs. Wisconsin

You have two of the nation’s top rushing teams as well as two pretty good running backs in this one. There’s the nation’s top individual rusher, Heisman Trophy finalist Melvin Gordon (2,336 yards) against Auburn’s Cameron Artis-Payne (1,482) who leads the SEC. Wisconsin averages a whopping 314 rushing yards per game, third in the nation while Auburn posts a hefty 258.5 (11th).

5. AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Texas A&M vs. West Virginia

If you like scoring, you’ll enjoy this one. Both teams average more than 33 points per game and they each throw it around a lot, averaging more than 300 passing yards per game. There are familiar faces on the coaching staffs as well. West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen worked for Kevin Sumlin for two seasons at Houston and Texas A&M offensive coordinator Jake Spavital worked for Holgorsen at Oklahoma State and West Virginia before going to A&M. It’s Air Raid everywhere.

6. Capital One Orange Bowl: Mississippi State vs. Georgia Tech

He wasn’t a Heisman finalist but Dak Prescott was in the Heisman conversation for much of the season. It’s definitely worth tuning in to see Prescott and his partner-in-crime, running back Josh Robinson, who is aptly nicknamed “Bowling ball.” Georgia Tech is worth a watch for traditionalists, as the Yellow Jackets run the triple option well: just ask Georgia (who they beat in overtime) or Florida State (a team they stayed step-for-step with for much of the night).

7. Advocare V100 Texas Bowl: Arkansas vs. Texas

Long live the Southwest Conference. This is a throwback battle if there ever was one. These teams are both in the top 30 nationally in defense, each allowing fewer than 350 yards per game. The job Bret Bielema has done to get the Razorbacks to a bowl this season is noteworthy, while Charlie Strong seems to be laying the foundation for future success at Texas. Also, Strong has history in Arkansas -- he was born in Batesville and played for Central Arkansas. He said Tuesday this will be the first time he’ll root against the Hogs.

8. Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: LSU vs. Notre Dame

Considering the profile of these two programs, you wouldn’t expect this game to be this far down the list. While the two teams have strong histories, this season hasn’t been stellar for either. There’s plenty of intrigue, though, from getting to see LSU’s star freshmen (Leonard Fournette, Malachi Dupre, Jamal Adams, etc.) to the quarterback situation at Notre Dame, where Brian Kelly has opened up competition between Everett Golson and Malik Zaire. For what it’s worth, Les Miles said bowl prep will also be an important evaluation time for his quarterbacks, Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris.

9. Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl: Missouri vs. Minnesota

This one may not have the sizzle on the surface but it matches two quality teams, both ranked in the Top 25. Missouri features two of the league’s best pass-rushers, Shane Ray and Markus Golden. Those two are worth watching alone, even if the Tigers’ offense isn’t always. Minnesota features one of the nation’s top rushers, running back David Cobb, who is ninth in rushing yards this season (1,548).

10. Duck Commander Independence Bowl: South Carolina vs. Miami

This game could become a feeding frenzy for Miami running back Duke Johnson, who is 12th in the country in rushing yards (1,520). South Carolina allows 214.4 rushing yards per game, 107th nationally. But the Gamecocks can score plenty of points, they average 33.3. Keep an eye on Pharoh Cooper, a dynamic receiver and returner who can do it all, including pass, and has 1,164 yards from scrimmage and 12 touchdowns this season.

11. TaxSlayer Bowl: Tennessee vs. Iowa

Tennessee is thrilled to be in a bowl. You might even say they’re happy. It’s the first time in a bowl since 2010 for the Volunteers. There’s still a long way to go to get this proud program back to where it wants to be but they’re moving in the right direction. The Vols have a ton of talented freshmen on the roster who played key roles this season and sophomore quarterback Joshua Dobbs, who came on strong late in the season, seems to have a bright future in Knoxville.

12. Birmingham Bowl: Florida vs. East Carolina

Any time you go into a game with an interim coach, it’s not ideal. That’s what the Gators have to do after firing Will Muschamp. Defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin will serve as the interim coach. For Florida fans, this is a chance to scout a future opponent -- the Gators and Pirates meet Sept. 12 next season. East Carolina brings a high-powered offense led by quarterback Shane Carden, who is second nationally in passing yards (4,309). That should be a good test for a talented Florida defense. The continued development of true freshman quarterback Treon Harris is also worth keeping an eye on.

Grantham reunion 'interesting' for UGA

December, 8, 2014
Mark down Georgia graduate assistant Christian Robinson for making the understatement of the year on Sunday shortly after the Bulldogs' bowl matchup became public knowledge.

"This will be interesting,” Robinson tweeted.

No kidding.

There are subplots galore in the Belk Bowl pairing between Georgia (9-3) and Louisville (9-3), but the biggest one centers around who will be standing across the field from the Bulldogs. Not just volatile defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, who joined Bobby Petrino's Louisville staff in January after spending the previous four seasons at Georgia, but also defensive backs Shaq Wiggins and Josh Harvey-Clemons, who followed Grantham from Athens to Louisville.

Both sides will do their best to downplay any hurt feelings that accompanied those exits, where Grantham left after fans and media regularly questioned his job security during a disappointing 2013 season and Harvey-Clemons (dismissal) and Wiggins (transfer) leaving shortly thereafter.

In fact, Georgia coach Mark Richt attempted to do as much on Sunday. But rest assured, the winner will privately take a great deal of satisfaction in the outcome. That's nearly as much of an understatement as former UGA linebacker Robinson's tweet.

It was Grantham, after all, who was Robinson's defensive coordinator in the final three seasons of his career. In 2011 and 2012, Grantham's defense played a big role in the Bulldogs winning the SEC East both seasons and posting a combined 8-0 record against rivals Florida, Auburn, Tennessee and Georgia Tech. It was Grantham, also, who helped Robinson land the graduate assistant-ship at his alma mater, bringing Robinson onto the 2013 coaching staff shortly after the St. Louis Rams released him during preseason camp.

But things went south last season, with a rebuilding defense struggling mightily by surrendering 29 points per game and Grantham becoming the target of much of the fans' wrath. When Louisville offered a pay raise and the chance to add his brother, Tony, to Petrino's coaching staff, it felt like the best move for all involved for Grantham to change locales.

By and large, the results have been positive for both parties. Richt hired an entirely new defensive coaching staff, led by new coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, and Georgia's defense has improved over its 2013 performance. And while Louisville lost two defensive starters to the first round of the NFL draft, Grantham's Cardinals defense still ranks sixth nationally by allowing 293.3 yards per game.

His defense is doing that without the services of Harvey-Clemons or Wiggins, who are both sitting out the season as transfers. But the awkwardness of the situation is not lost on the Bulldogs, current or former. Wiggins' tweet after the bowl announcement showed that he was amused by the pairing, and he and former UGA teammate Ryne Rankin traded messages about it later in the afternoon.

Compounding the potential unpleasantness is the presence of Petrino himself. It has been seven years removed from when he abandoned the Atlanta Falcons in midseason in order to take the head coaching job at Arkansas, but it's safe to say many sports fans in the Peach State will never forgive him for the way he handled his exit.

Former Georgia quarterback D.J. Shockley experienced the whole thing first-hand as a backup quarterback with the Falcons during Petrino's short tenure. He weighed in on the matchup Sunday, as well.

However, we've long since crossed this bridge with Petrino. He coached against Georgia twice during his time at Arkansas, so the stories about his coaching against a Georgia-based team have already been written.

Shoehorning his departure from the Falcons into some sort of rivalry with Georgia always felt like a stretch, anyway. Not so with Grantham. This is a game that the Bulldogs' former defensive coordinator desperately wants to win, and surely his former co-workers feel the same way.

Robinson was right. It's sure to be interesting when their teams meet up on Dec. 30.
Florida State SeminolesTim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsLosing to Florida would surely knock the Seminoles out of the College Football Playoff conversation.
The story line gets regurgitated the last weekend in November, every single season. At this point, does it really need to be said just how badly the ACC has to beat its SEC rivals come Saturday?

Well, yes. Because the results carry even more significance now that we are in in the College Football Playoff era. Just look at the way the ACC has been dismissed as a conference. Unbeaten Florida State is ranked behind two one-loss teams in the only rankings that matter -- as much an indictment about the Seminoles’ close wins as it is about the perception of the ACC as a whole.

While it has been convenient for many to dismiss what Florida State has accomplished, it has been just as convenient to dismiss the accomplishments of No. 18 Georgia Tech, No. 22 Louisville and No. 24 Clemson. But it may be less difficult to do so if all four teams come through and all win this weekend.

The last time Florida State, Georgia Tech and Clemson swept their SEC rivals was in 2000. The last time they posted a winning record against them was in 2008, when Georgia Tech and Clemson came out victorious. That also happens to be the last time both teams won their SEC rivalry game.

This might be their best shot at a sweep in years. With Kentucky-Louisville now added into the mix, the Cards, Florida State and Clemson are favored to win. All three are at home; all three are the only teams ranked in the matchup. Georgia Tech is the only underdog, though the Jackets go into their game off a bye, with a four-game winning streak under their belts.

To take it one step further, the FPI game projections show:

  • Florida State with a predicted 73 percent win percentage over Florida.
  • Louisville with a predicted 77 percent win percentage over Kentucky.
  • Clemson with a predicted 62.5 percent win percentage over South Carolina.
  • Georgia with a predicted 80 percent win percentage over Georgia Tech.

“Winning would help the league a lot but it’s going to be how does the media portray it?” Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said. “When I was here in ’08, my first year, we beat Georgia and Clemson beat South Carolina … but nobody said much about it. It was like, ‘Oh.’ Now the next year when they beat us, it was a big deal so would it help the league? Sure. Anytime we can go head to head with the SEC and win a game it helps the league.”

Johnson brings up an excellent point. Will a potential sweep be diminished in value because they are all against SEC East teams? Georgia is the only ranked SEC squad in the group. Florida and South Carolina have been disappointments; Kentucky is not bowl eligible. Georgia is the only school among the four with a winning record in SEC play.

So the East is not even close to its counterparts in the West, creating a no-win situation. If the ACC does well in these games, people may not dish out as much credit as they should. If the ACC winds up with a losing record, get ready for more finger pointing and laughter.

If we are looking a little closer at the matchups, there are two teams that cannot afford to lose: Florida State and Clemson. If Florida pulls the upset, Florida State will be out of the College Football Playoff, the worst result imaginable for a league that only has the Noles in the mix.

The stakes are high for Dabo Swinney and Clemson, too. After beating South Carolina as interim coach in 2008, he has gone 0-5. For the first time since 2009, Clemson will be the only ranked team in the matchup. Clemson has the No. 1 defense in the nation; South Carolina has the No. 87 defense in the nation. While Deshaun Watson’s status remains up in the air, the feeling is that Clemson simply cannot afford to lose this game again, not when it has so many obvious advantages.

“The last five years, we’ve had 15 turnovers and they’ve had three,” Swinney said. “That affects everything. That affects your plays per game, it affects your time of possession, it affects the way things are called, field position, on and on and on and on. That’s definitely something we have to get changed for us to have a chance to win the game. There’s no doubt about it.”

Georgia Tech also has lost five straight to Georgia, and 12 of the last 13. Last season, the Jackets blew an early 20-0 lead and lost 41-34 in double overtime. Todd Gurley scored both overtime touchdowns for the Bulldogs. He won't play Saturday.

While Georgia Tech has a Top 25 ranking and spot in the ACC championship game, a win over Georgia would only add to an already stellar season.

“The atmosphere is different about this week because it’s a must-win game,” Georgia Tech safety Jamal Golden said. “You don’t want to give them bragging rights for the next 365 days. You just have to hear it over and over again that you can’t beat them. It’s one of those games you look forward to playing.”

It’s one of those games that has to fall in the ACC win column this year.
Kentucky versus Louisville is better known as a basketball rivalry. The two schools have only met 26 times on the football field, far less than any of the other ACC-SEC rivalry games on tap for this weekend, but the Governor’s Cup dates all the way back to 1912. Bragging rights will still be on the line when the Cardinals and Wildcats play Saturday.

This year’s game is unique, too. It’s the first time in history the two schools will finish the regular season against each other. Kentucky holds a 14-12 edge in the all-time series.

ACC reporter Andrea Adelson and SEC reporter Greg Ostendorf break down the ACC-SEC showdown below:

Key to victory for Kentucky: Quarterback Patrick Towles threw for at least 200 yards and a touchdown in six of Kentucky’s first eight games. The Wildcats were 5-3 during that stretch. In his last three games -- all losses -- Towles has failed to surpass 200 yards, and he’s thrown more interceptions (three) than touchdowns (two). Now, with Kentucky’s bowl hopes on the line, it’s up to Towles and this offense to play better than they have in recent weeks. But just because Louisville isn’t in the SEC doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a great defense. The Cardinals have forced 26 turnovers and are among the nation’s leaders in Total QBR allowed.

Key to victory for Louisville: Establish the run. Louisville is most effective offensively when its ground game and pass game are working in concert. In two of their three losses this season, the Cards failed to gain 100 yards rushing. Just this past weekend in a big win over Notre Dame, Louisville had 229 yards on the ground and another stellar performance from Brandon Radcliff. Whether he or Michael Dyer is carrying the ball for Louisville, it will need another big effort to help out quarterback Reggie Bonnafon and the play-action passing that is so integral to getting DeVante Parker and company free.

X-factor for Kentucky: As important as Towles is to the offense, Alvin "Bud" Dupree is maybe more important to the defense. The 6-foot-4, 264-pound defensive end is one of the top pass rushers in the SEC, and he’s remained consistent despite Kentucky’s recent struggles. In the team’s latest loss to Tennessee, Dupree finished with 14 tackles and a sack. He leads the team with 9.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks on the season. The senior, who will likely be playing on Sundays next year, doesn’t want this to be his final game with the Wildcats. He still wants to play in a bowl game, something he’s never done at Kentucky.

X-factor for Louisville: As noted above, Louisville has done a terrific job all season of forcing turnovers. Gerod Holliman is a big reason why, with 13 interceptions -- one shy of tying the NCAA single-season mark. But he is not the only one forcing turnovers. Louisville has 19 total interceptions on the season. So with an aggressive, opportunistic group in the defensive backfield, you can bet Louisville will do whatever it can to make sure Towles continues his recent slump. Holliman may have something to say about that.

Ostendorf’s favorite moment from the rivalry: The Governor’s Cup is no Iron Bowl. It doesn’t have a history of legendary finishes. But the 2007 game and the game-winning touchdown pass from Andre Woodson to Steve Johnson was about as good as it gets in this rivalry, especially for Kentucky fans. With less than a minute left, Johnson somehow got behind the defense along his sideline and Woodson threw a perfect pass, hitting him in stride for a 57-yard touchdown. Commonwealth Stadium erupted. Louisville was ranked No. 9 at the time, and it was the first time Kentucky had beaten its in-state rival in five years.

Adelson’s favorite moment from the rivalry: I started covering Louisville in the Big East in 2011, so my history with the rivalry is not as extensive as hard-core Cards fans. But I will never forget watching Teddy Bridgewater enter the Kentucky game as a true freshman that season, and truly realizing a star would be born. He was calm under pressure, made good decisions and was a big reason why the Cards broke a four-game losing streak in the series. Bridgewater ended up 10-of-18 for 106 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions, and he started every other game the rest of his Louisville career.
Let’s say you’re a hot, up-and-coming head coach in a Group of 5 league. You have job opportunities in every one of the Power 5 conferences. If you’re picking solely based on title path -- the fastest way to the College Football Playoff -- which conference do you choose?

Here's my ranking of every division in the major conferences, going from the most ideal to join as a new coach to the most difficult. Easiest to hardest. (I’m counting the Big 12 as one 10-team division. It’s a reasonable way to view it since, as with the divisions in the other four leagues, everyone plays everyone.)

1. Big Ten West

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National links: Beware the big day 

October, 28, 2014
Welcome to terrific Tuesday. Or terrible Tuesday. All depends on your perspective.

The College Football Playoff selection committee began deliberations on Monday in Grapevine, Texas. Tonight at 7:30 p.m. ET, Arkansas Athletic Director Jeff Long will unveil to a most curious audience the first-ever CFP rankings.

It's a historic time -- and surely chaotic.

Marc Tracy of the New York Times, in assessing the moment, writes that “historians will most likely date the end of the era of good feelings to 7:31.”

With that in mind, some advice for fans from the Big Ten to the SEC:

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Auburn is hoping for a fresh start this season under new head coach Gus Malzahn. Louisville will get a new start next season when it moves to the ACC. In 2015, the two schools will meet in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game to open the season, the schools announced Thursday.

The game will be held at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta on Sept. 5, 2015.

For Auburn, it will mark its second trip to the Georgia Dome to play in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff. The Tigers lost to Clemson last year, 26-19, which was the start to a disappointing season.

It will be Louisville’s first appearance in the game. Coming off a Big East title and a win over Florida in the Sugar Bowl last year, the Cardinals will likely match Auburn with name power.

“Louisville and Auburn represent two great football brands with incredible fan bases and a tradition of winning,” Gary Stokan, Chick-fil-A Bowl president and CEO, said in a statement. “The ACC vs. SEC is a tremendous rivalry that has proven to be a recipe for sellouts, high TV ratings and close, competitive games.”

Fore more on the 2015 game, click here.

Video: Kentucky's most important game

June, 10, 2013

Kentucky's most important game in 2013 is against Louisville at home on Sept. 14.
The slow days of spring and summer that precede the college football season can bring some interesting topics to bat around in your brain.

Well, that very thing happened this week when John Clay of the Lexington Herald-Leader brought up the notion of potentially ending the Kentucky-Louisville football series. He dove into the subject because of a tweet from J. Rowland stating that he didn't believe Kentucky had anything to gain from playing its in-state rival on the football field.

Clay then wrote three reasons why Kentucky shouldn't end its series with Louisville. His three reasons were that the rivalry has increased the interest in football in the state, Kentucky wins have provided the Cats with good season momentum, and its much better than another cupcake opponent.

All good points, really. These have traditionally been basketball schools, and now Louisville has another BCS win in hand. It could also be a top-5 team when these teams meet this fall. Not too long ago, the Wildcats played in five straight bowl games, and the excitement around the program has really grown in the past few months with Mark Stoops running the show.

Imagine what a Kentucky win this fall against Louisville would do for the buzz around the program? To the rest of the SEC, this isn't Florida-Florida State or Texas-Texas A&M, but it's important to the Bluegrass State. A win by the Wildcats would be huge for Big Blue Nation, and could provide the right push for a team looking to get back into the bowl picture this fall.

Obviously, there's no way the rivalry will be scrapped this season, but its future really is unknown. Rowland made the point in his series of tweets that there's no real evidence that Kentucky really benefits from beating Louisville when it comes to recruiting, and that the Wildcats will be judged far more on SEC results.

I can't speak for high school athletes in or around Kentucky, but after covering recruiting for so long I know that individual games really don't mean all that much in the end. But I do think that beating up on your rival does make an impression on high school kids. Proving that you're the cream of the crop in your own state can go a long way for kids trying decide between two schools like Kentucky and Louisville.

The point of a nine-game SEC schedule was also talked about. Now, if that happens, teams will have to cut one of their nonconference opponents. That could mean teams that hover around the six-win mark could opt to get rid of their stronger out-of-conference foes. For Kentucky, that would likely be Louisville. Making it to a bowl is more important for Kentucky in the long run than beating Louisville.

I get that, and I get that Kentucky is far away from legitimately competing for an SEC title or more. Why risk missing a bowl game?

But I also understand that there's more to it than that. This game has been good to both schools, both fan bases and the state in general. And Kentucky has been much more competitive against the Cardinals (8-11 since 1994) than its divisional rivals. While Kentucky has gone 4-6 in its past 10 games against Louisville, it is 0-10 against Florida, 1-9 against South Carolina and Tennessee, and 2-8 against Georgia. For those counting at home that's 3-27.

This program deserves a decent gridiron football rival that fans enjoy being a part of, and this game puts more people in seats than some lesser directional school would.
The 2013 NFL draft is in the rearview mirror, so now it's time to look into our crystal ball one year into the future at all the tantalizing possibilities for the 2014 NFL draft.

The most tantalizing thought of all: South Carolina behemoth defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater both declare as underclassmen and therefore produce one of the biggest debates in recent memory. Do you take a game-changing defensive end with the No. 1 overall pick or a franchise quarterback?

They are already rated as the top two players available for 2014 in several mock drafts. So Edward Aschoff in SEC land and Andrea Adelson in Big East/AAC land decided to let the debate begin!

[+] EnlargeLouisville's Teddy Bridgewater
Chuck Cook/USA TODAY SportsTeddy Bridgewater has the size, speed and intagibles to be the top pick in the NFL draft.
AA: The first thing I want to say is I love Clowney. I love watching him play. I love his demeanor. I love his personality. I had a front-row seat for the Outback Bowl and chronicled his demolition of Michigan running back Vincent Smith, the best play I have ever seen in person. Now, having said that, is there really a debate here? Honestly? To build an NFL team, you build at quarterback. That is why the overwhelming majority of No. 1 overall picks have been quarterbacks. Let's just go back to 2000 to make things easy. Do you know how many No. 1 overall picks were quarterbacks in that time span? Ten. Do you know how many No. 1 overall picks were defensive ends in that same span? Two. Teddy Bridgewater has every single measurable tool every single NFL team wants. He has a great arm, great physical size and can make plays with his legs. And he has every single intangible every NFL team wants. He is a gritty leader, plays through pain, is a student of the game, obsesses about every detail and has absolutely no character issues. Bridgewater is the clear choice.

EA: I love Bridgewater. He can sling it with the best of them and has the toughness that any coach at either the college or pro level would want. I'd start a franchise around him, if Jadeveon Clowney wasn't sitting there. Yes, the NFL has turned into more of an offensive league, but let's just look at the most recent Super Bowl. Defense wins championships, and Clowney will make an immediate impact with whichever team wins his sweepstakes. Were scouts and talking heads clamoring for Bridgewater to skip the 2013 season so that he could guarantee his spot as the first player taken in next year's draft? In the words of Kevin McCallister: I don't think so. Clowney is more than just a man-child. I'm not sure he's even human. He runs a 4.5 40-yard dash at 6-6, 272 pounds. He's a physical specimen and could play in the NFL right now. He would have been the unquestioned first pick in this year's draft if he could have left early. "The Hit" was only the beginning. Also, he's going up against the best offensive lines in the country and still has 21 sacks, 33.5 tackles for loss and seven forced fumbles during his two-year career. How is Bridgewater's stock going to go any higher playing in the Big East?

[+] EnlargeJadeveon Clowney
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsJadeveon Clowney showed his ability to turn a game around in the Outback Bowl against Michigan.
AA: His stock is not going to go up any higher because he already is listed either No. 1 or No. 2 on just about every early 2014 mock NFL draft. Where do you want him to go, infinity and beyond? The competition will be bland this year, but forget that. Bridgewater will always have Florida. Clowney? Not so much. Scoreboard says Louisville > Florida > South Carolina in 2012. And yes, if the Gamecocks had Bridgewater under center, they would have been playing for another SEC title last year. One more point on the schedule. Whom did Eric Fisher play against in the MAC that warranted his selection as the No. 1 overall pick? Fisher was selected over a player at his position from the SEC. So throw conference affiliation out. Now, let's look at what value a quarterback brings to a team versus what value a defensive end brings to a team. For my millions upon millions, I want a player who touches the ball every single play he is no the field. There is no doubt that Clowney is a once-in-a-lifetime player. But it is much more difficult for a once-in-a-lifetime defensive player to change the fortunes of a pro team without a strong quarterback behind center. Defense may win championships, but the last time I checked, No. 1 overall picks John Elway, Troy Aikman, Peyton Manning and Eli Manning all won Super Bowls. Mario Williams, Courtney Brown and Bruce Smith? Nada.

EA: Wow! So you're putting Teddy Heisman in the same boat as Elway and the Mannings? My goodness. I mean he's good, but his shinning moment was beating a Florida squad that barely made it off the bus in New Orleans. Here's the thing about Clowney: He still has a lot of room to grow. He's admitted to taking plays off last year, and he was still arguably the best defensive player in the country. Imagine if he had played to his full potential last year. And everyone in Columbia seems to think that he's ready to become a complete player. Think about that for a second. He's even more motivated going into his final year. He wants to prove something and he might just prove that he's the best player in the country, regardless of position. You don't find athletes like Clowney every day. There are plenty of quarterbacks out there who could be franchise players. There's no one in next year's draft who comes close to measuring up to the kind of defender Clowney is -- and will be. Sure, he won't throw any touchdowns and he won't have the ball in his hands every play, but he'll change games for his future team. He'll figure out a way to get the ball back to his offense and he'll figure out a way to get points on the scoreboard. He might even do it himself sometimes. The bottom line is that Clowney is a rare breed, and passing on him with the first pick would be foolish.