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College Football Capsules: Overlooked Baylor defense also Big 12's best

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Posted: Wednesday, November 13, 2013 10:15 pm

WACO (AP) — Baylor senior safety Ahmad Dixon takes a deep breath and has the same thought each time he gets to the sideline after a defensive stop.

"I'm just like, Wow, this is really us, this is who we are," Dixon said.

While often overlooked because of all the outrageous numbers put up by their high-scoring offense, the fourth-ranked Bears also have the Big 12's best defense.

With seven senior starters who have learned third-year defensive coordinator Phil Bennett's system and a tenacious approach, Baylor is allowing only 15.4 points and 306 total yards a game. That is best in the league and top 10 nationally for a group that gave up 37 points and nearly 500 yards a game while among the nation's 10-worst defenses the previous two seasons.

"Having knowledge, and that's something that we have," Dixon said, explaining the difference. "You can go out there and you can play fast, you can play physical and you can play fearless because you're not out there thinking. You're not worrying about anything. You're just playing ball."

That vastly improved defense is a big reason why the Bears are 8-0 for the first time in school history.

"They don't get enough praise," Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty said.

The Bears (8-0, 5-0 Big 12), fifth in the BCS standings, play Texas Tech (7-3, 4-3) in the Dallas Cowboys' stadium on Saturday night. They have a school-record 12-game winning streak.

Baylor passed its most significant test so far with a 41-12 victory last week over then-No. 12 Oklahoma. While the final score got lopsided, the Sooners had their fewest yards (237) over an 85-game span since 2007 and were held in check as the Bears offense got off to an uncharacteristically sputtering start. Oklahoma lost yards on eight plays and gained nothing or only 1 yard on 11 other snaps.

The Bears allowed more than 500 yards eight times last season, including 807 to West Virginia in that wild 70-63 loss. The fewest they gave up was 342, a number higher than their average this season.

Bennett was Pittsburgh's interim head coach preparing for a bowl game at the end of the 2010 season when he got a call from Baylor coach Art Briles, whose team had just played in its first bowl 16 years.

Briles told Bennett that the Bears were going to be really good on offense, and that they could be a special team with a comparable defense. Bennett took the job, given control of the defense and recruiting the players for it.

"What he's brought is stability and experience. He's a tireless worker that's very driven to succeed," said Briles, the mastermind of an offense that has still thrived with different quarterbacks in both seasons since Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III went to the NFL.

During his first spring, Bennett wrote down a list of deficiencies on defense, and it was a lengthy list for the former SMU head coach now at his eighth different school as defensive coordinator. Previous stops included LSU, Texas A&M, TCU and Kansas State.

"I say this with all honesty, I've done this as long as anybody that's doing it today and those two years, that year-and-a-half, getting to where we got ... might have been my best coaching job," said Bennett, in his 36th consecutive season as a coach. "We were able to get crucial stops, the kids bought in."

Baylor has more interceptions (11) than touchdown passes allowed (eight). They average nine tackles for loss, second among FBS teams, and also lead the Big 12 with three sacks a game.

Combine that stout defense with the big-play offense, and the Bears are winning by an average margin of 45.6 points a game — that difference is more than any other Big 12 team scores per game. They lead the league allowing only 174 yards passing per game, and are third in rushing defense (132 yards per game).

Defensive end Terrance Lloyd, called "Pops" by his teammates because of his team-high 38 career starts, admits that Bennett's system "was confusing at first" and is hard, but certainly works for the Bears.

Eddie Lackey, a linebacker with a knack for big plays, said players need to be strong-minded to play for Bennett in the Bears' defense.

"You've got to have a long memory in a sense of remembering what to do, but short memory as in you're going to get yelled out, you're going to get screamed at," Lackey said. "You need to clear that and just forget about it. ... He's only trying to make you better and he's going to pat you on the back and ask you how your family's doing after practice."

-- Stephen Hawkins

Baylor coach Briles gets new 10-year deal

Baylor coach Art Briles has a new 10-year contract with the fourth-ranked Bears, the team he has taken from perennial Big 12 loser to the conference's lone remaining undefeated team.

Briles told The Associated Press on Wednesday night he is really "humbled and blessed" by the new deal that goes into effect after this season.

"It allows us to do what our job is, concentrate on Texas Tech this Saturday," Briles said. "We feel fortunate to be at Baylor, and are glad the feeling is mutual."

Baylor regents approved the deal Wednesday. Financial terms weren't revealed, which is standard policy for the private university.

When Briles arrived at Baylor six years ago, the Bears had just finished their 12th consecutive losing season under four coaches since the inception of the Big 12.

Briles is 41-30 at Baylor, which is 8-0 for the first time in school history. The Bears are fifth in the BCS standings and have won a school-record 12 games in a row. Briles' fast-paced spread offense has turned Baylor into a national title contender this season. The Bears are averaging 61 points, on pace to break a major college football record.

The 10-year deal goes through the 2023 season. Briles had already been signed for multiple seasons past this year.

"We've got a lot of bridges to cross. We feel like we're in the infant stages of our program, without question," said Briles, who turns 58 next month. "That's what makes it exciting."

After playing Texas Tech in the Dallas Cowboys' stadium this weekend, the Bears have games left at 12th-ranked Oklahoma State and TCU. Their regular-season finale, which will be the last game played at Floyd Casey Stadium, is Dec. 7 against 23rd-ranked Texas in what could conceivably determine the Big 12 champion.

Baylor went 4-8 in each of Briles' first two seasons, including 2009 when Robert Griffin III suffered a season-ending knee injury in the third game of the season.

But in 2010, the Bears had their first winning season as a Big 12 team and made it to their first bowl game in 16 years. A year later, Griffin won the Heisman Trophy while Baylor capped its first 10-win season since Mike Singletary was a linebacker at the school 31 years earlier with a win over Washington in the Alamo Bowl.

Next season, the Bears move into a new $260 million on-campus stadium situated on the banks of the Brazos River.

Baylor athletic director Ian McCaw said in a recent interview with the AP that Briles turned Baylor "into a destination job" after arriving in a position that "was not the most appealing out there."

"To his credit, Art's created something here that's really special and we hope he's going to see it through to the final line," McCaw said then.

Briles came to Baylor from Houston, where he was 34-28 in five seasons (2003-07). The Cougars were 0-11 two seasons before he arrived, but Briles led them the 2006 Conference USA championship and four bowl games.

Briles has spent his entire coaching career in Texas, starting in the high school ranks. He won four state championships in his 12 seasons at Stephenville High before becoming the running backs coach at Texas Tech, his alma mater. He spent three seasons with the Red Raiders before going to Houston.

"Obviously, his track record was tremendous, but the things that were especially appealing about him were his ability to turn around programs," McCaw told the AP last month. "What he did at Stephenville High, taking over a program that really had never won, leading them to four state championships, taking over Houston when they were 0-11 and taking them to four bowl games. It takes a unique coach to be able to lead that kind of a turnaround, and he's got the makeup to do it. And he's done it again at Baylor."

-- Stephen Hawkins


SEC teams scramble to salvage, upgrade bowl hopes

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — The Florida Gators haven't sat out the postseason in nearly a quarter century. The Vanderbilt Commodores, who had been to four bowl games in 120 years before James Franklin's arrival, have a good shot at making it three in a row.

Plenty of other Southeastern Conference teams are also jockeying for postseason eligibility or trying to spruce up their bowl resumes for more prestigious, better-paying games in the season's final weeks.

Making a bowl means more money, practice time and exposure to recruits. Of course, the SEC can fill its coffers even more if a team is playing for the league's eighth consecutive national title.

The bowl scramble goes well beyond the BCS championship game hopes of No. 1 Alabama and perhaps No. 7 Auburn. No. 9 Missouri, No. 10 Texas A&M and No. 11 South Carolina all have hopes of making a BCS game and/or playing for the SEC title.

Eight teams are already eligible for the SEC's 10 guaranteed bowl slots, and only Arkansas and Kentucky don't have a shot at making the postseason.

The injury-plagued Gators (4-5) are trying not to let the heat get to them but they have to beat either South Carolina or No. 2 Florida State to become eligible, assuming they'll triumph over Georgia Southern in between.

"We're taking everything one game at a time, one snap at a time," Florida center Jon Harrison said. "If we focus on things too far in the future, we lose sight of the task at hand. We're trying to work on Florida and eliminating the self-inflicted wounds that Florida has been suffering from."

Vanderbilt's 34-17 victory over the Gators changed the bowl situation significantly for both teams. The Commodores are 5-4 and need only one more win against a favorable ending schedule: Kentucky (2-7), Tennessee (4-6) and Wake Forest (4-6).

Frankin, who led Vandy to its first bowl game since 1982 in his debut season, isn't interested in looking beyond going 1-0 each Saturday.

"From an outside perspective, talking to the media or things like that, we do bring up some of the historical things because we're still trying to change people's perception about Vanderbilt football and what we've been and where we're going," he said. "We'll talk about it a little bit.

"Internally and with our program, we've been pretty consistent with our 1-0 message."

The bowl scramble is a nice issue for the SEC, which didn't fill the 10th bowl spot in Shreveport, La., last season.

Vanderbilt has the inside track among the four teams trying to get to six wins and bowl eligibility. Tennessee, Florida and Mississippi State (4-5) all still need two more wins.

The Volunteers must beat Vanderbilt and Kentucky after an open date after failing to make a bowl the past two seasons. Ending that drought, says safety Brian Randolph is "definitely our No. 1 focus."

"It's all we've been thinking about," Randolph said.

Guard Zach Fulton said Tennessee players met to stress the importance and benefits of getting to the postseason.

"You have a lot of fun, you get to bond with your teammates on and off the field and you go to different sites and places you've never been before, and just the bonding and having extra practices is great," Fulton said.

The money's not bad, either, for the programs. For teams like Mississippi and No. 25 Georgia, upgrading their bowl destination can mean a much higher payday. Among the non-BCS games, the payout can range from $1.925 million for the BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham to $8.5 million for Orlando's Capital One Bowl, which gets first dibs on teams who aren't in the BCS.

The SEC champion will go to either the Sugar Bowl or the BCS title game in Pasadena, Calif. Schools get anywhere from $1.175 million to $1.875 million for bowls outside the championship game plus a travel allowance. The rest of the pie is divvied15 ways, with one slice for each member and one for the SEC.

"Certainly to move a second team up into the BCS structure, there's a significant payout for that as far as additional revenues are concerned," said Mark Womack, the SEC's executive associate commissioner and CEO.

The league is hoping it has the problem of trying to find a bowl site elsewhere if it has more than nine eligible teams beyond the BCS.

"We have teams that become very attractive teams to those bowls," Womack said.

Now, the challenge is getting to them.

-- John Zenor

Florida brass backs Muschamp amid losing streak

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Florida officials are coming to coach Will Muschamp's defense.

President Bernie Machen and athletic director Jeremy Foley voiced strong support for Muschamp on Wednesday, telling the school's website they are fully committed to keeping Muschamp around to fix the team's problems.

The Gators (4-5) have their second four-game losing streak in Muschamp's three seasons and are facing the possibility of missing a bowl game for the first time since 1990. If Florida doesn't upset No. 11 South Carolina or second-ranked Florida State this month, the program will have its first losing record since 1979.

"I'm a thousand percent convinced that Will Muschamp is the guy to lead this football program," Foley said. "Nothing has changed in what we feel about Will Muschamp from the day we hired him.

"Everyone around here wants the same thing. We want to do what is right for the University of Florida. We understand that this football season has not gone the way any of us wanted it to go, certainly not the way our fans wanted it to go, and most of all, not the way Will Muschamp wanted it to go."

Muschamp is 22-13 at Florida, including 13-10 in Southeastern Conference play. The latest loss came against Vanderbilt on Saturday. It was the Commodores' first win in the series since 1988 and first in Gainesville since 1945.

Sure, the Gators have been ravaged by injuries this season. They lost quarterback Jeff Driskel, defensive tackle Dominique Easley, running back Matt Jones and seven others to season-ending injuries. But many wonder how Florida — even with backups — can have the worst offense in the SEC and lose to Vandy by 17 points.

"We have a history of being successful. We have a history of fixing things when they need to be fixed," Foley said. "And that is what is going to happen here, and coach Muschamp is the one that will fix it.

"I understand the passion and the disappointment. But at the end of the day, we've got great fans, they love the Gators and their passion makes this place special. They are hurting. They want the program to be successful, and we feel that hurt."

Florida finished 11-2 last year, losing to rival Georgia and then Louisville in the Sugar Bowl. Had the Gators beaten the Bulldogs, they would have played Alabama for the SEC title.

Foley said he doesn't "think that was a fluke."

Many fans disagree, pointing to close wins against Texas A&M, LSU, Missouri and Louisiana-Lafayette as proof. The Gators needed a blocked punt returned for a touchdown in the final seconds to beat the Ragin' Cajuns 27-20 in Gainesville.

"We will get better under Will Muschamp's leadership," Foley said. "This is not the quote-unquote dreaded 'vote of confidence.' This is just how we all feel around here. We have a strong faith and a strong belief in his capabilities, in his leadership skills, in his ability to evaluate what needs to be fixed."

"We'll stay the course here. We'll get it right."

Machen also weighed in.

"I want the Gator Nation to know that I have full confidence in coach Muschamp and his leadership of the football program," Machen said.

-- Mark Long

Filing in ex-player case refers to 'text messages'

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Lawyers for a former Vanderbilt University football player charged with rape say that they haven't been given a large amount of evidence, including "text messages from witnesses and coaches."

The Tennessean reports California-based defense attorneys for Brandon Vandenburg are seeking the evidence in a filing Tuesday. The newspaper said Vanderbilt spokeswoman and vice chancellor Beth Fortune, in an emailed statement, did not answer questions about text messages from coaches and said the issues in the filing are for a court to decide.

Head football coach James Franklin couldn't be reached by the newspaper for comment, and Fortune said athletic director David Williams wouldn't discuss the filing. A spokeswoman for the district attorney's office declined to comment.

Vandenburg and three other ex-players have pleaded not guilty to aggravated rape.

D'Appollonio a nominee for Burlsworth Trophy

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) — University of Arkansas deep snapper Alan D'Appollonio has been named a nominee for the Burlsworth Trophy

D'Appollonio is a walk-on who handles snaps on point-after kicks, field goals and punts and earlier this season became the first snapper to be named Southeastern Conference Special Teams Player of the Week.

The Burlsworth Trophy is named after former Razorback walk-on Brandon Burlsworth and is given to the most outstanding collegiate football player who began his career as a walk-on. Burlsworth walked on at Arkansas in 1994 before earning All-America honors in 1998.

Big 12

The face of the Sooners is up front in C Ikard

NORMAN, Okla. (AP) — The lot of most offensive linemen is to toil away, play after play, with their work mostly going unrecognized unless something goes wrong. But Oklahoma center Gabe Ikard isn't a typical lineman.

Gregarious and funny, Ikard has overcome his often-obscure playing position to become the face of the Sooners - a spot usually reserved for a quarterback, running back or other star player.

The senior from Oklahoma City is the go-to player for reporters for his thoughts not just on Oklahoma football, but for subjects as diverse as a controversy involving the Oklahoma band's pre-game routine to the fortunes of the NBA's Oklahoma City Thunder to wistfully wondering about what his celebration might be like if he ever actually scored a touchdown.

So, naturally, he was front-and-center this week for No. 22 Oklahoma (7-2, 4-2 Big 12 Conference) as they prepare for their home finale on Saturday against Iowa State (1-8, 0-6).

"Normally you don't see offensive linemen speaking in front of people that much," Ikard said this week. "But I've taken pride in the way I've represented myself and represented my family and represented this university. Something I hold dear to my heart is being able to represent this place well."

Ikard would seem to be a coach's dream. At 6-foot-3 and 298 pounds, he has the size and versatility to play multiple positions on the offensive line, and play them well. He was an All-America third-team selection in 2011 and an All-Big 12 pick last season. He's also an academic standout.

Ikard is "as smart as they come as a football player and, obviously, in the classroom as well," Oklahoma co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell said. "You've seen all the awards he's won. He's a guy that cares deeply for this program. It meant something for him to come and play and it means something to him every day. That's why you see him prepare in practice the way that he does every single day. ... He has a bright future ahead of him in the game of football and in the game of life as well."

Ikard started at left guard for the Sooners the final 12 games of the 2010 season and hasn't left the starting lineup since. As a sophomore, he started six games at guard and seven at center, replacing the injured Ben Habern, and last season, he made a permanent move to center. Against Iowa State, he'll make his 47th straight start.

This season, Ikard has been the centerpiece of a line that helped the Sooners post a pair of 300-yard rushing games to open the season. With a bevy of senior running backs in Brennan Clay, Damien Williams and Roy Finch, Oklahoma ranks No. 21 in the Bowl Subdivision in rushing offense at 217.7 yards per game.

"Gabe Ikard did it all last year as well," Stoops said. "He's the guy that handles it best. Gabe can do anything. He's pretty special."

That said, the Sooners have struggled to run the ball in their two losses this season, which has made it challenging for junior quarterback Blake Bell to successfully pass the football. Last Thursday against No. 5 Baylor, Oklahoma managed only 87 yards rushing and 237 yards of offense in a 41-12 loss.

Those outside the program have laid much of the blame on Bell and the play-calling of co-offensive coordinator Josh Heupel, although Stoops has defended both of them.

Ikard said the offensive line didn't do its job against the Bears and that was a big reason for the Sooners' offensive struggles.

"The way we played on Thursday is not going to help any quarterback, no matter who you put behind us," Ikard said.

Ikard's willingness to take responsibility has endeared him to teammates and coaches. His answers are usually thoughtful and detailed, without giving away the inner workings of the Oklahoma program.

"For me to be a team captain, be able to speak in front of you great people, it's something, it's one of those things where coach (Bob) Stoops has put a lot of trust in me and I feel a lot of responsibility to represent this place well and make us look good," Ikard said.

Ikard acknowledges being a sentimental sort and said he likely will be emotional on Saturday when he takes the field at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium for the final time.

"I always wanted to play here as a kid," Ikard said. "I loved it. For this to be my last game is going to take a while to soak in. I'm sure I'll cry like a little schoolgirl after it, but I'm excited about it. One last experience out there is something I'll remember for the rest of my life."

-- Murray Evans

Kansas State's Mueller unlikely national sack leader

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) — The nation's sack leader doesn't play in the Southeastern Conference, nor did he play prep football in some hotbed such as Florida or Texas that churns out Division I prospects.

No, Ryan Mueller went to a small high school in Kansas, and is now a star for Kansas State.

The junior defensive end from the Leawood, Kan., had three sacks in last week's win over Texas Tech, giving him 10½ for the season. He also leads all Division I players with 15 tackles for loss, helping to pace a vastly improved Kansas State defense.

"What you're seeing is the direct result of how hard Mueller works," said center B.J. Finney, who has had to attempt to block him in practice. "Mueller is a very hard worker, he's a great guy and he doesn't take any day for granted. He doesn't take a day off. His motor is always running and he's always screaming, hooping and hollering."

He earned a reputation for that at St. Thomas Aquinas High School, where he was the Kansas City metro's defensive player of the year as a senior. But those accolades didn't translate into scholarship offers, so Mueller elected to walk on at Kansas State.

It turned out to be a blessing for the Wildcats (5-4, 3-3 Big 12). The first-year starter is just one sack behind the school's single-season record of 11½, set first by Nyle Wiren in 1996 and matched by Ian Campbell in 2005.

"His relentless to get in the backfield and get the quarterback or whoever is in the backfield," linebacker Jonathan Truman said. "It's just an attitude that he has that nothing is going to stop him when the ball is snapped."

In a narrow loss to fourth-ranked Baylor, when Kansas State held the high-flying Bears to roughly half their season average for points, Mueller turned in one of the more impressive plays that folks will ever see. He sacked quarterback Bryce Petty while stripping the ball and then recovering it on his own — not a bad way to fill up the stat sheet.

It's not common for Bill Snyder to complement his players individually. He prefers to talk about the team as a whole. But then again, Mueller's success is hard to ignore.

"Nobody practices harder than Ryan Mueller," Snyder said. "Nobody."

But the response that Mueller offered to such kind words spoke volumes about the leadership role he's adopted on the team, and proved that he's learning to adopt Snyder's mindset.

"I'd rather have Coach say, 'I've never had a team practice like I'm coaching right now,'" Mueller said. "That'd be a bigger compliment for me personally."

The Wildcats struggled defensively early in the season, and were roundly criticized for their inability to stop North Dakota State in the closing minutes of the opener. The result was a game-winning drive by the Bison and an embarrassing loss to a lower-level program.

But as the defense has improved, so has Mueller's production.

He's had eight of his 10½ sacks over the last five games, including at least one in each of them, and Kansas State has rattled off three consecutive wins to get into bowl contention.

The Wildcats can become eligible with a win over TCU on Saturday.

Not bad for a kid who didn't have a scholarship offer coming out of high school, a kid who was viewed by many as undersized and not athletic enough to compete in a BCS conference.

Not bad for a kid who had just 17 tackles, and 2½ sacks his first two seasons.

"Ryan is one of those players that no matter what he does, no matter if he does it right or wrong, he's going to go fast," safety Dante Barnett said. "He will never quit on a play."

-- Adam Suderman

Top 25

College Picks: Conference races heat up down home stretch

The race to the national championship game has been well defined.

No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Florida State are in control. No. 3 Ohio State and No. 4 Baylor are on deck. There is a group of one-loss teams crossing their fingers and hoping for chaos.

Then there are the conference races, where there is still plenty of sorting out to do.

American Athletic Conference — Simple. Only a major collapse could keep UCF out of the BCS as the American's representative and conference champ.

Atlantic Coast Conference — Florida State has already locked down the Atlantic Division spot in the championship Dec. 7 in Charlotte, N.C. The Coastal is messy with four teams with two losses, but could be become far less cluttered if Georgia Tech losses to Clemson on Thursday night and if Duke beats No. 24 Miami on Saturday. That would give Duke a clear path to its first ACC title game by winning out. A Hurricanes win puts Virginia Tech in the driver's seat.

Big Ten — Not one, but two huge upsets would be necessary to keep Ohio State out of the conference title game as the Leaders division champ. And No. 14. Michigan State would be in great shape in the Legends division by beating Nebraska on Saturday.

Big 12 — No. 4 Baylor (5-0), No. 12 Oklahoma State (5-1) and No. 23 Texas (6-0) have yet to play each other. The sorting out starts this week when the Cowboys play at the Longhorns.

Pac-12 — The North Division is Stanford's if it can win out, but one slip gets Oregon back in the hunt. Over in the South, No. 21 Arizona State at No. 13 UCLA next week could decide it, but Southern California still has a chance to work its way back in the mix by upsetting Stanford on Saturday.

Southeastern Conference — Alabama-Auburn will decide the West, if both get through this weekend. In the East, Missouri is in control if it wins out, but a slip or two by the Tigers could put South Carolina and Georgia back in play.

In conferences without an automatic BCS bid:

Mid-American Conference — After beating Ball State, No. 20 Northern Illinois still has to contend with Toledo in the West. Bowling Green-Buffalo on Nov. 29 will decide the East.

Conference USA — North Texas can lock up the West Division this week by beating Texas-San Antonio. The East could come down to the regular season-finale between Marshall and East Carolina.

Mountain West — No. 16 Fresno State can lose one of its final two games and still win the West. Boise State and Utah State are in a tight race in the Mountain division, but the Broncos hold the tiebreaker.

Sun Belt — Louisiana-Lafayette has a one-game lead on Arkansas State, a win in the bank over the Red Wolves and still play two of the league's worst teams (Georgia State and South Alabama). The Ragin' Cajuns are cooking.

The picks:


No. 25 Georgia (plus 3½) at No. 7 Auburn

Bulldogs have won six of seven in the Deep South's oldest rivalry ... GEORGIA 38-35.

No. 12 Oklahoma State (minus 3) at No. 23 Texas

Longhorns have been keeping the critics off Mack Brown's back ... OKLAHOMA STATE 28-27.


Georgia Tech (plus 10½) at No. 8 Clemson, Thursday night

Tigers have eyes on at-large BCS bid ... CLEMSON 31-23.

Texas Tech (plus 27) vs. No. 4 Baylor at Arlington, Texas

Bears bring their point-a-minute game to home of the Dallas Cowboys ... BAYLOR 58-24.

No. 5 Stanford (minus 3) at Southern California

Trojans' defense will challenge Cardinal's power offense ... STANFORD 23-16.

Utah (plus 25) at No. 6 Oregon

Should be one feisty bunch of Ducks ... OREGON 49-14.

Florida (plus 13½) at No. 11 South Carolina

Do Gators have any fight left? ... SOUTH CAROLINA 24-17.

No. 14 Michigan State (minus 6½) at Nebraska

Potential season-changer for Huskers ... MICHIGAN STATE 20-14.

No. 24 Miami (minus 3) at Duke

Blue Devils looking for first eight-win season since 1994 ... MIAMI 28-17.


Washington (plus 2½) at No. 13 UCLA, Friday night

Bruins freshman star LB/RB Myles Jack is Bellevue, Wash., not far from the UW campus ... WASHINGTON 31-27.


Indiana (plus 22) at No. 17 Wisconsin

Badgers have won eight straight in series, average score 52-16 ... WISCONSIN 51-24.


Houston (plus 16) at No. 19 Louisville ... LOUISVILLE 31-21.

Oregon State (plus 13½) at No. 21 Arizona State ... ARIZONA STATE 45-21

Cougars face second straight tough road game after close lose to UCF. Beavers trying to avoid late-season tailspin.


No. 1 Alabama (minus 25½) at Mississippi State ... ALABAMA 35-14.

Syracuse (plus 39) at No. 2 Florida State ... FLORIDA STATE 55-10.

No. 3 Ohio State (minus 33) at Illinois ... OHIO STATE 48-13.

No. 15 UCF (minus 16½) at Temple ... UCF 42-17.

Iowa State (plus 24½) at No. 22 Oklahoma ... OKLAHOMA 48-14.

Last week: Record straight: 13-4; vs. points 9-8. Season: 174-34; 94-89-3. Best bet: 7-3-1. Upset special: 4-6.

-- Ralph D. Russo

Buckeyes unbeaten again, but are they better?

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Two teams, each 9-0. They play in the same league. They're both highly ranked.

Which is better? If you're comparing the 2012 Ohio State Buckeyes and the current version, coach Urban Meyer has the answer.

"We're a better team," he said, referring to his current Buckeyes. "We're a better functioning team."

Meyer is careful to not insult last year's team, which definitely started from the lowest rung on the ladder. Those Buckeyes followed a dreadful 6-7 season by going a surprising 12-0.

They posted only the sixth unblemished season in the programs 123 years despite being deprived of the incentive of playing in a bowl game. That was taken off the table because of NCAA sanctions stemming from former coach Jim Tressel's failure to disclose he knew of players likely taking improper benefits in 2010.

"I don't want to ever disrespect our (2012) seniors because they were such an incredible group of players," Meyer said. "And they were really good players, too."

He said the difference is when Ohio State has the ball.

"(Which team is better is) an interesting conversation, but we're just more functional, certainly on offense," Meyer said. "We're much better on offense than we were a year ago."

The numbers support his position.

Through nine games — and heading into a game with Illinois, just like the 2012 team was — this year's Buckeyes are averaging 100 yards of total offense and 13 more points per game.

This year's third-ranked team averages 531 yards of total offense per game, 301 rushing and 230 passing. It's scoring 48.2 points a contest.

Playing a similar schedule, the 2012 Buckeyes, ranked No. 6 through nine games, were averaging 432 yards of total offense per game, 248 rushing and 184 passing. That squad was averaging 38.6 points a game.

"Last year there were some games that teams played us real heavy in the box because we couldn't do as much with our passing game," said starting offensive lineman on both teams, Jack Mewhort. "But this year it's a lot different. There's not eight or nine guys in the box because this offseason Braxton and the receivers and the running backs and all the skill guys got together and decided they were going to be really good this year. They've done that so far."

As a sophomore, quarterback Braxton Miller was also the team's best rusher. So picking up first downs — not scoring quickly — was a priority.

Through nine games, he was completing 56.6 percent of his passes for 12 touchdowns with six interceptions.

This year, despite missing almost three full games with a sprained knee ligament, he is completing 72.5 percent of his passes for 15 touchdowns with three interceptions.

"I feel that we execute a lot better than we did last year," wide receiver Evan Spencer said. "Once we get rolling, we're rolling. There's not many people who can stop us."

Consider also that Carlos Hyde has shown vast improvement at running back this year. In 2012 at this juncture he had 600 yards in seven games; so far this season he has 701 in six games.

Meyer also said the Buckeyes are better on special teams. But stopped short of saying his latest defense was ahead of last year's.

Most people attribute that edge not to personnel or depth or star players, but rather to strong leaders on the defensive unit.

"Last year's team we had the heart and the leadership. I don't know if we necessarily were as talented, but we had the will to win," said linebacker Joshua Perry, a backup a year ago and a starter now. "This team has the same will to win but we've got a little bit more juice behind us, too, talent-wise. Our defense is a little quicker and on offense we've got some tools now."

The 2012 defense, led by linemen John Simon, Johnathan Hankins, Garrett Goebel and Nathan Williams — all of whom graduated except for Hankins, who jumped to the NFL early — came into its own late in the season.

The statistics don't point to a stronger defense a year ago. The present defense still has a ways to go, particularly without nine starters from last year's unit.

"On defense I'm not sure we're quite as good. Remember this time last year is when we hit the accelerator and we played excellent defense," Meyer said. "We are getting a little better on defense. We're much better on offense than we were a year ago, but defensively I'm not sure."

-- Rusty Miller

Anderson giving No. 5 Stanford some relief

STANFORD, Calif. (AP) — Until he sacked Oregon's Marcus Mariota last week, teammates had teased Henry Anderson for his lack of flair following big plays.

"Goose," as Stanford players nicknamed him after he went scoreless in the "Madden NFL" video game his freshman year, got caught up in the moment for a change when he helped bring down Mariota. He popped up, crossed his arms and stared at the stands behind the end zone in celebration.

"He'd been as bland as a Saltine cracker post-play," linebacker Shayne Skov said. "We had been waiting for something from him and he delivered."

Forgive the Stanford defensive end for finally letting loose.

After sitting out the previous six games with a knee injury, Anderson wants to make his presence known again. His return already has provided some relief for the fifth-ranked Cardinal (8-1, 6-1), who play at Southern California (7-3, 4-2) on Saturday night looking to take a major step toward hosting the Pac-12 title game for a second straight season.

Anderson injured his knee in the second game of the season at Army when his leg snapped back awkwardly in a pile of players. He was put through a rigorous rehabilitation program with a return targeted for the Oregon game, though for weeks it seemed he'd likely be out even longer.

The Cardinal's depth took another major hit when fellow starting defensive end Ben Gardner suffered a season-ending injury to his left chest muscle in a win at Oregon State on Oct. 26.

"Those guys, playing against some up-tempo teams, didn't really get a lot of breathers. It was tough sitting up in the stands and watching them come off the sideline gasping for air and not able to help them at all," Anderson said. "When Ben went down, I kind of knew I'd have to come in and help those guys out."

Anderson's addition was hard to miss. At 6-foot-6 and 295 pounds, the redshirt junior is one of the most imposing specimens on Stanford's stout defense.

He ended last season with 50 tackles, including 16 for a loss, six sacks and five pass breakups. Most of the production came over the final seven games as his technique improved rapidly each week.

"You look at him, and he's a Sunday player," Stanford coach David Shaw said. "I think the injury probably stopped any thought of him possibly going pro this year, which he never talked about anyway. He's a difference maker. When he's healthy, to be 6-6 and 295 and that athletic and playing low, there are not a lot of guys on the planet built like that."

Anderson still had to hone his skills at Stanford. He dominated offensive linemen at his Atlanta-area high school, where he once had his elbow popped back into place on the sideline before returning to play.

Besides putting on pounds of muscle, the biggest adjustment he had to make was getting lower than his opponent — which is not that easy at his height.

"In high school, I could kind of get away with that just because I was bigger than everybody else. But in college ... those guys dominated me early on," Anderson said. "So I kind of realized I had to get my pads down if I wanted to play well."

Growing up in the heart of Southeastern Conference country, most of Anderson's friends were Georgia fans. His parents, Eric and Ellen, went to Wisconsin, and he said that's probably why he doesn't speak with a Southern accent.

When it came time to choose a college, Anderson wanted a strong combination of academics and athletics. He turned down offers from Wake Forest, Georgia Tech and others, he said, because former Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh had turned things around and he didn't think other academic-rich programs would be able to sustain success on the field.

Anderson, a political science major, said he hasn't given much thought to forgoing his final year of eligibility for the NFL after this season. In all likelihood, though, he'll be back next season.

For now, he's just happy his knee is healthy again.

"I was a little nervous going out there full speed having to tackle guys and stuff like that," Anderson said. "But after the first drive or two, it felt pretty normal."

-- Antonio Gonzalez

No. 8 Clemson seeking better home showing

CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) — No. 8 Clemson has another chance in the national spotlight — and doesn't want to blow it like last time.

The Tigers (8-1, 6-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) hold their first Thursday night game at home in 11 years when they take on Georgia Tech (6-3, 5-2). It was a month ago when college football last centered on Death Valley and the ACC's first top-five showdown in eight years, with Florida State in town.

Instead of a shootout, it was a Florida State beatdown with the 'Noles scoring the most points ever by an opponent at Clemson in the 51-14 loss that cost Clemson a shot at the ACC title.

Tigers coach Dabo Swinney likes how his team has bounced back since with sizeable road wins over Maryland (40-27) and Virginia (59-10). Still, he knows his team must keep striving if they hope to have a special season.

"Not many teams that started in the top 10 stayed in the top 10," he said. "Our team has kind of hung in there and had a really good season to this point, but we're going to be judged on how we finish."

Defensive tackle DeShawn Williams said the Tigers owe the fans after the Florida State debacle and are ready to make amends against Georgia Tech.

"It feels like we haven't had a home game in forever," he said. "I think we're going to give a lot of positive feedback."

Georgia Tech has never made it easy for Clemson and doesn't figure to in this one, either. The Yellow Jackets are trying to keep alive their ACC title hopes — they are among four two-loss teams atop the Coastal Division — and lead the league at more than 311 yards rushing a game this season.

Tech coach Paul Johnson has won four of the six meetings with Clemson since coming on board with the Yellow Jackets after the 2007 season, several of those when a Tigers victory would've been historic. The Jackets spoiled Swinney's head coaching debut in 2008 and beat Clemson for the ACC championship a season later.

Two years ago, it was Georgia Tech's 31-17 victory that ended Clemson's 8-0 start and run to a national championship. The Yellow Jackets come in off three straight victories.

"We look at it as an opportunity to go in and measure ourselves as a team and see if we've made the progress we feel we've made in the past couple of weeks," Johnson said.

Five things to watch for in No. 8 Clemson's game with Georgia Tech

TAJH ON TARGET? Clemson senior quarterback Tajh Boyd has had some up and down moments this season. He threw no interceptions his first four games, then had six picks in the past five. Boyd seemed to right things in Clemson's last game when he passed for 377 yards and three TDs in the blowout win at Virginia and the senior is eager to end his career strongly. "I want to be remembered as a finisher," Boyd said.

GEORGIA TECH'S OPTION. The Yellow Jackets have run over Clemson the past six meetings, surpassing 300 yards on the ground in all but two games of that stretch. They went for 339 yards rushing in last year's 47-31 loss, yet held a 31-30 lead in the fourth quarter before fading. David Sims and Robert Godhigh have combined for more than 1,000 yards and 11 TDs.

CUT BLOCKS. Williams smiled when asked about Georgia Tech. "Man, I don't want to deal with all those cut blocks," he said. The Yellow Jackets offensive linemen are proficient at the practice of tying up a defender low and getting them on the ground. Williams says the Tigers must be fast at moving their feet to make plays.

THURSDAY NIGHT MADNESS. Clemson hasn't had a Thursday night game at home since losing to North Carolina State 38-6 in 2002. The school's administration tried to stay away from such home games because of the disruption to academic life. Afternoon classes will be cancelled for the game, although the parking lots for fans won't open until 2 p.m., perhaps limiting the usual tailgating crowd at Death Valley.

SACK MASTERS: Both sides feature pass rushing ends who have made a difference this season. Clemson's Vic Beasley leads the ACC and is third in the country with 10 sacks. Georgia Tech's Jeremiah Attoachu has six sacks and is a big reason why his team's given up less than 19 points a game this year.

-- Pete Iacobelli

White has fun time in end zone for No. 17 Badgers

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin running back James White always seems to be in a good mood, grinning often when he's around teammates.

Senior year is a whole lot of fun when you spend so much time scoring touchdowns.

With eight touchdowns in the last three games, and a team-high 13 on the year for the 17th-ranked Badgers (7-2), White is making the most of his dwindling opportunities in Wisconsin red.

"Things have just been happening to go my way," White said, laughing. "I still have to come out here, keep working hard, keep watching film, keep leading this team on."

Right on into the end zone. Two running scores last week in a victory over BYU, and one receiving touchdown. Two rushing scores the previous week against Iowa. Two rushing touchdowns and another receiving touchdown the week before that against Illinois.

White isn't just a three-week wonder, either.

He's the FBS active career leader in rushing touchdowns with 43, the fourth-best total on the school career list. He's also the active leader in total career touchdowns with 46.

"I mean, it's good to have, but I wouldn't be able to get there without my offensive line, with the receivers, with the quarterbacks, even without the other running backs," White said. "It's a team goal."

But at a run-heavy program in which White has often been overshadowed by more explosive teammates. This year, it has been sophomore breakaway threat Melvin Gordon.

Before that, Montee Ball deservedly hogged the spotlight with 5,738 all-purpose yards and an NCAA-record 83 career touchdowns in his four-year career. The steady, 5-foot-10 White just keeps plugging along. Take the handoff and score. It's routine for him, too.

"He's a guy that people should try to emulate. His demeanor, being humble, hard-working, dedicated," position coach Thomas Hammock said Tuesday after practice about White's imprint on the program.

Freshman Corey Clement, who'll likely take on more carries next year, pointed to White's 14-yard touchdown run last week against BYU as emblematic of the senior's career. A third-and-2 handoff into the right side of line with the hope of just getting a first down. But White didn't stop.

"He kind of stayed level to himself and planted, and he went. It was kind of shocking to us because we didn't think he was going to stay up after that," Clement said. "But that's the kind of game James plays."

He's a trusted blocker and a reliable receiver, too. White's 625 receiving yards are just 34 from setting the school record for a running back, held by Joe Armentrout. Tight end Jacob Pedersen describes White as a jack-of-all-trades.

"When he has to run he's going to make that one cut to get you as many yards as possible," Pedersen said. "In the passing game, when a running back can do that in the passing game it's just a nightmare for defenses, knowing that when's he's on the field there's all those possible opportunities."

But running the ball is clearly his forte. He might be primed for another big game this weekend against Indiana — White has averaged 130.7 yards in his career against the Hoosiers, scoring five touchdowns.

-- Genaro C. Armas

Florida State QB investigated in sexual assault

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston is under investigation in an alleged sexual assault reported nearly a nearly one year ago. The university and Winston's attorney confirmed Wednesday that the Tallahassee Police Department is conducting an investigation.

Winston has been spectacular for the No. 2 Seminoles in his first college season and the redshirt freshman is one of the leading contenders for the Heisman Trophy. He has passed for 2,661 yards and 26 touchdowns to help Florida State win its first nine games and move into position for a spot in the BCS national championship game.

Tallahassee Police Department officials refused to answer any questions, although they did release a heavily redacted two-page incident report. The report does not mention Winston by name, but it says the incident took place between 1:30 and 2 a.m. last Dec. 7. It describes the suspect in the sexual assault case as being between 5-foot-9 and 5-11. Winston is listed by Florida State at 6-4.

Timothy Jansen, a Tallahassee attorney, said Winston hasn't been interviewed by police. Jansen said that at one point he had believed the matter had been resolved.

"We basically hope it will be resolved quickly and that Winston will be exonerated and he will be able to focus all his attention on academics and football," Jansen said.

The school and coach Jimbo Fisher wouldn't comment because the investigation wasn't closed. The school also said there was no change in Winston's status for the Seminoles' home game Saturday against Syracuse.

-- Gary Fineout and Kareem Copeland

Wednesday's Game

Lynch leads No. 20 N. Illinois past Ball State

DEKALB, Ill. (AP) — Northern Illinois coach Rod Carey thinks Huskies quarterback Jordan Lynch deserves to be mentioned in Heisman Trophy talk.

"If Jordan isn't in the conversation for the Heisman I don't know what people are watching, they were asleep," Carey said. "In my estimation that trophy goes to the best player in the nation and with the performance he had tonight, he dang sure should be in that conversation."

Playing in front of a national television audience, Lynch threw two touchdown passes and ran for two scores to help No. 20 Northern Illinois beat Ball State 48-27 on Wednesday night.

"I feel like I'm improving every week," Lynch said. "I still think the best is yet to come."

Lynch threw a 36-yard touchdown pass to Da'Ron Brown to break a tie with 5:49 left, and the Huskies (10-0, 6-0 Mid-American) ran the nation's longest active home winning streak to 25 and their conference run to 23. The 10-0 mark is their best since the 1963 team finished 10-0.

Lynch added a 16-yard touchdown run with 1:26 to go, and defensive end Joe Windsor scored on a 49-yard interception return with 46 seconds left.

Lynch was 26 of 32 for 345 yards and ran for 123 yards on 20 carries. Brown had 12 receptions for 209 yards, also catching a 58-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter.

"He's a very good player," Ball State coach Pete Lembo said. "He's fast, he's built like a linebacker, but he's got tailback speed. He's got a lot of savvy."

The victory preserved Northern Illinois' hopes for a second straight Bowl Championship Series appearance They played in the Orange Bowl last season and are 15th in the BCS rankings. They need to stay undefeated and pass Fresno State in the BCS to have a shot.

Keith Wenning was 35 of 49 for 324 yards for Ball State (9-2, 6-1). Willie Snead had 12 catches for 121 yards and a touchdown, and Jahwan Edwards ran for 156 yards and a score.

The loss ended the Cardinals' seven-game winning streak and 11-game MAC run.

The teams combined for three scores in the final 1:28 of the first half.

Edwards' 2-yard touchdown run — his school record 38th — gave Ball State a 21-13 lead, but Lynch and Brown combined on the 58-yard touchdown strike with 1:13 left to make it 21-20.

Scott Secor lined a successful 43-yard field goal into the wind with 30 seconds to go, and Sims missed a 52-yard try with a second left, leaving the Cardinals up 24-20.

Ball State had the ball to start the second half, but stalled at midfield and was forced to punt for only the second time.

Northern Illinois' subsequent drive included a key third-down 10-yard pickup by Lynch as he escaped two defenders, a fourth-down keeper for a first down at the Cardinals 47 and a fourth-and-goal touchdown run from the 1 by tailback Cameron Stingily for a 27-24 lead.

Northern Illinois stopped Ball State at the 1, forcing the Cardinals to settle for a 19-yard field goal that tied it at 27 with 3:07 to go in the third.

Ball State was held to three second-half points.

"We just couldn't keep the drives going," Lembo said. "We'd move the ball, have long drives and get on their side of the field and then the drives would just kind of stall. I think that was the different from the first half to the second half."

Lynch combined with Brown on a 54-yard pass to the Cardinals 10 early in the fourth quarter, but Brown fumbled and Ball State safety Brian Jones recovered at the 13.

Lynch and Brown teamed again for the go-ahead score with 5:49 left.

The Huskies resume play next Wednesday night at Toledo.

-- Jack McCarthy

News & Notes

Defenses gaining upper hand in the ACC

The stat line almost looks like a typo. Eleven tackles. Six behind the line of scrimmage. Two forced fumbles. Oh, and a sack too. All by one player in one game.

It didn't happen at South Carolina. Or Alabama. Or LSU. Or Ohio State. Or Stanford.

It happened in a league no one talks about for a program no one talks about, a place where good defense hasn't become a marginalized part of the game. Yet Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald figures he was simply doing his job against Georgia Tech two weeks ago, when he singlehandedly kept the Panthers in the game, even if it couldn't prevent a 21-10 loss.

"I just try to go out there and make plays for my team," Donald said.

It's an ethos repeated throughout the Atlantic Coast Conference, where defenses are having just as much a say in the conference race as the eye-popping numbers put up by those breakneck offenses that seem to be proliferating elsewhere in the country.

ACC teams are averaging 23.8 points per game in league play, the lowest among the five power conferences. The Big Ten is at 24.9, though that number jumps to 26.6 if anemic Purdue is thrown out. The scoring only soars from there, with the Pac-12 leading the way at 31.2 points per game.

And it's not just Oregon. Seven of the dozen schools in the Pac-12 are averaging more than 30 points in conference play. Compare that to only four of 14 programs in the ACC.

While the coaches and players allow the numbers can be skewed a bit because of the more pedestrian offensive pace of the league in general, they add it wouldn't be fair to say tempo is the only reason the marching bands don't cue up the fight song as much after touchdowns as their brethren in other places.

"It's a very athletic league," Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said. "If you look at pro ball. A lot of the linebackers, D-linemen, corners, there's a ton of players from this league."

The ACC has had 21 defensive ends or outside linebackers taken in the first two rounds of the NFL Draft since 2006, by far the most among the Bowl Championship Series conferences, including Florida State's Bjoern Werner and Cornelius Carradine last spring.

Not bad for a league that has spent most of the last decade watching its star slowly fade. No. 2 Florida State's resurgence along with the steady climb of No. 8 Clemson and the revival at No. 24 Miami have helped. So has the steady defensive brilliance at Virginia Tech. Yet the league's ability to put playmakers on defense reaches far beyond the upper crust.

Duke, Pittsburgh, North Carolina and Syracuse have also picked things up as the season has worn on. The Blue Devils (7-2) are in the midst of their best season since 1994 thanks largely to a defense that hardly resembles the unit that dropped a 58-55 shootout to the Panthers back in September. Duke has allowed just 52 points combined in its last three ACC games, all victories.

After "that Pitt game, we just made a collective decision to just make a change," Duke defensive end Kenny Anunike said. "Just make an overall defensive change — overhaul, basically. We've proven when the defense plays well, we win those games."

Sometimes in spectacular fashion. Redshirt freshman safety DeVon Edwards — all of 5-feet-9 — returned consecutive passes for touchdowns in the fourth quarter of a 38-20 last week against North Carolina State in just his second career start.

It was the same in Florida State's 59-3 decimation of Wake Forest, as the Seminoles returned a pair of interceptions for scores to take steal some of the spotlight away from freshman quarterback and Heisman Trophy candidate Jameis Winston.

Pitt picked up arguably the biggest victory of coach Paul Chryst's two-year tenure by rallying past then No. 24 Notre Dame 28-21 last Saturday. The game's three biggest plays were turned in by defensive back Ray Vinopal.

Vinopal stripped Notre Dame wide receiver TJ Jones inside the Pitt 5 to stop one score. He picked off Fighting Irish quarterback Tommy Rees in the end zone early in the fourth quarter to thwart another drive and followed it up by intercepting Rees' next pass and returning it 40 yards to set up the winning touchdown.

His performance was a testament to the resiliency of defenses across a league that is getting stingier as the weeks pass.

"I think you're seeing teams that, as they get used to what offenses are doing, they get better," North Carolina coach Larry Fedora said. "I think that's what's happening in the league. I don't think the offenses are any worse. I think the defensive play is just improved."

-- Will Graves

QB Hackenberg, Penn State focusing on strong finish

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — Christian Hackenberg's season has mirrored that of Penn State overall. Some highs, some lows and a lot of memories in between.

But if the Nittany Lions freshman quarterback has indeed hit the wall during this rollercoaster season, he's not showing it. In fact, he's focused on finishing with an upswing — and that's it.

"You're going to face adversity throughout the season," Hackenberg said. "That's something I tried to keep on the back burner and just focus on doing everything I can do to help the team. The big thing for me is sending the seniors out right. They've done a lot for me and I have a lot of respect for the guys and I couldn't thank them enough."

Penn State (5-4) meets Purdue (1-8) on Saturday.

"It's the same for all the underclassmen; we look at them with the same amount of respect," Hackenberg added. "For me, it's just time to buckle down and send the team out right."

That could start vs. the Boilermakers this weekend. Securing and stashing Win No. 6, after all, won't be as easy vs. Nebraska and Wisconsin — Penn State's final two opponents.

Hackenberg has completed 178 of 306 passes for 2,187 yards. He's also thrown eight interceptions and mishandled a few snaps. But it's all been a part of the game as the Nittany Lions continue to build a new brand in the Bill O'Brien Era.

"I think that every freshman definitely hits that wall," O'Brien said. "There's been times when it's been tough because we haven't made plays or maybe made the play call we wanted to make. I think there's other times that have been great times, like the Michigan and Illinois overtime wins. I think he made really great throws there at the end of both games.

"It's an ever-evolving process and I think one of the things that's great about Christian is that he's very resilient."

Hackenberg has passed for 13 scores this season, and opened the year 2-0.

"He's smart, he has a tremendous work ethic and he's 18 years old," O'Brien said. "That's not an excuse for anything; it just is what it is.

"I do think that over the next three weeks, you'll see improvement and I think you'll see Christian get better here."

Offensive guard John Urschel concurs. Urschel, a fifth-year senior, has taken Hackenberg under his wing since June.

"Hack's a different breed of guy," he said. "He's a true competitor. As a true freshman, he's leading our offense. This guy is a leader and he really shows it day in and day out, and I'm really thankful we have him here.

"He makes mistakes here and there. Everybody does. But I don't know how he handles everything he does."

Hackenberg is second overall in Big Ten passing, and has handled the attention — that goes with being a quarterback at Penn State — quite well.

"As a quarterback, you have to understand everyone's looking at you," he said. "You have to bring the same type of intensity to the huddle each day at practice and then in the games be consistent. For me, luckily, it's worked out pretty well. I wouldn't say I'm the only leader.

"We have a lot of seniors out there we all rely on, and I rely on heavily, and they help me out."

The feeling is mutual. And that's why — despite some disheartening losses this season — there is still a wave of optimism around Happy Valley.

"I definitely," Hackenberg said, "feel comfortable."

-- Jim Carlson

Sankey on pace for record season at Washington

SEATTLE (AP) — Bishop Sankey is naturally quiet and reserved, which carries over to everything from talking to the media to simply tossing the ball to the nearest official after he scores a touchdown.

So it's not surprising that all the attention Washington's star running back has received this year — both because of uplifting stories about his family and for his play on the field — feels a bit awkward. It's doesn't suit Sankey to be self-congratulatory.

"I'm just trying to get ready for each game and try and be productive each week to help the team out," Sankey said.

By the end of this season, Sankey may own the Washington record books. In the long lineage of Huskies running backs, from Hugh McElhenny to Napoleon Kaufman, Sankey is on pace to trump them all.

Sankey ranks No. 3 in the country averaging 145 yards per game. With three regular-season games remaining, Sankey needs just 390 yards to better Corey Dillon's school record of 1,695 yards rushing set in the 1996 season. Dillon set his mark in 12 games. With the Huskies already bowl eligible, Sankey has a chance at a 13th game that could help him establish a record likely to stand for quite some time.

"If it happens, it happens. It's not something I've really been focusing on. I've just been trying to prepare each week and get better as a player," Sankey said. "If that's the case, it'll take care of itself."

If Sankey can get to Dillon's record, it'll add to an already memorable junior season. He's set a new career high in yards rushing in a game two times, including 241 yards rushing against California that might have approached McElhenny's 1950 school record of 296 yards if not for the Huskies holding such a big lead.

Sankey has benefited from the Huskies' new up-tempo offense, which has led to the team running more plays and more chances for Sankey to carry the load. He also has a chance at setting the school mark for career touchdowns rushing by the end of his junior season.

Sankey's also missed chances to add to his rushing load because of blowouts against Idaho State, California and Colorado where he was pulled early to give his backups some experience. And now he gets a shot at No. 13 UCLA on Friday after the Bruins allowed 149 yards last week to Arizona's Ka'Deem Carey.

"This guy, he's a glider, and he's tough to tackle. He's a really good football player," UCLA coach Jim Mora said, referring to Sankey. "You're talking about two of the very best backs in the nation, maybe the two best in the nation back-to-back. It's really a challenge."

Secondary to Sankey's on-field production has been the off-field story of his grandfather Albert getting to see his grandson play in college for the first time following a cornea transplant in late September. Albert Sankey became a cult figure among Washington fans after seeing Bishop play for the first time at Stanford on Oct. 5, when the Huskies nearly upset the Cardinal and a positive play for Washington seemed to happen every time the elder Sankey was shown on the television broadcast.

"If you had walked in my shoes, that's a miracle in itself that a man was blind for five years and then able to see his grandson," Albert Sankey said in a phone interview. "It's a humbling feeling. It's a joyful feeling."

Albert Sankey was a regular in his grandson's football life, often traveling from Alabama to where Bishop was living to watch him play youth football. When he got to high school and Albert Sankey's vision began to fail, other parents in the stands would verbally relay what was happening on the field during Bishop's games.

He knew his grandson was a very good running back, but seeing him in person brought a new appreciation.

"He's gotten better. He's focused on the game," Albert Sankey said. "I like to say he turned into the type of player I expected him to be."

-- Tim Booth

Freshman wide receiver coming up big for Washington State

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — It's no surprise that Washington State's receivers are productive in coach Mike Leach's Air Raid offense. But it is a surprise that true freshman River Cracraft is among the best of them. Leach's complicated schemes usually take time to sink in, but Cracraft took to them right away.

As a result, he's caught 28 passes, tied for fourth on the team, for 355 yards. He's averaging 12 yards a catch.

"He's been really impressive," Leach said. "He came in ready to play right away."

Many freshmen are hesitant at first to compete for a job, but Cracraft "quietly went fast and went hard every single play," Leach said.

"He's been a starter since the day he got here," Leach said.

Washington State (4-5, 2-4 Pac-12) plays at Arizona (6-3, 3-3) this Saturday. The game follows WSU's second bye week. Cracraft, who attended Santa Margarita High School in California, said he has taken his cues from team leaders like quarterback Connor Halliday and top receiver Gabe Marks.

The 6-foot, 198-pound receiver also suffers from no lack of confidence.

"Wherever I have been, I always thought I could compete at the highest level," Cracraft said. "I knew there were great receivers here, but I thought if I worked hard I could earn a spot."

As for his unusual first name, Cracraft said there is a simple story: His grandfather used to live next to the River Clyde in Scotland. His full name is River Clyde Cracraft.

Washington State opened the season with eight straight games, then had both its bye weeks straddling a home loss to Arizona State. As a result, the Cougars have played only one game in a period of nearly a month. The Cougars came out flat in the loss to Arizona State and were steamrolled early.

Washington State needs to win two games to become bowl eligible, or all three to have its first winning season since 2003. After Arizona, the Cougars host Utah in the home finale and then play at archrival Washington. Leach said there is no special sense of urgency for the remaining three games.

"You try your best each game," he said. "There is no secret stuff we have packed away we are going to break out for special occasions. We want to do our best every play."

-- Nicholas K. Geranios

Virginia Tech K Journell dismissed from team

BLACKSBURG, Va. (AP) — Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer has dismissed kicker Cody Journell from the team. Beamer announced the senior's dismissal Wednesday, citing a violation of team policies. Beamer declined further comment.

Journell made 10 of 16 field goal attempts and 24 of 26 extra-point tries this season. The school says Journell's replacement hasn't been determined. The Hokies (7-3, 4-2 ACC) host Maryland (5-4, 1-4) on Saturday in Blacksburg.

Beamer also had suspended Journell for Virginia Tech's Sept. 21 game against Marshall for an unspecified violation of team rules.

Journell pleaded guilty in May 2012 to misdemeanor trespassing. He was suspended from the team for seven months and missed Virginia Tech's 2012 Sugar Bowl appearance.

Grambling faces financial punishment for forfeit

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — The Southwestern Athletic Conference announced on Wednesday that Grambling will face financial penalties after forfeiting its road game against Jackson State on Oct. 19.

The SWAC did not announce exact figures in its release, but said the fine would be issued in accordance to the league's bylaws. Grambling spokesman Will Sutton has said previously that amount is $20,000. Grambling must also play road games at Jackson State the next three seasons.

Grambling's players staged a boycott of the Jackson State game because of issues with Grambling's leaders, including the school's rundown facilities, long bus trips to road games and personnel decisions.

The SWAC also said Grambling will pay Jackson State an undisclosed amount from its "future distribution amounts" to help Jackson State recoup lost money from the Oct. 19 cancellation.

Related News

Two more charged in North Carolina agents probe

HILLSBOROUGH, N.C. (AP) — A sports agent's employee and a former college football player are charged with violating North Carolina's agent law, making them the fourth and fifth people facing criminal charges for providing benefits to Tar Heels football players in 2010.

Willie James Barley Jr. and Michael Wayne Johnson Jr. are charged with facilitating Georgia-based agent Terry Watson's efforts to sign Robert Quinn and Greg Little — both now in the NFL — in violation of the law.

They are the last of the five to appear in court after being indicted by an Orange County grand jury on Sept. 30. Those indictments came after testimony from an investigator with the North Carolina Secretary of State's office after a three-year investigation and were immediately placed under seal.

Indictments against Watson, his longtime associate and a former UNC tutor were unsealed last month.

"I don't anticipate any more indictments at this time," Orange County district attorney Jim Woodall said after Johnson's court appearance Wednesday afternoon.

Barley is listed on an arrest order as Watson's employee, while Johnson is Little's friend and was the starting quarterback at North Carolina Central at the time. Johnson and Little — now a receiver with the Cleveland Browns — played together at Hillside High School in Durham.

Johnson, 25, faces three counts of athlete agent inducement, including providing a location for Watson to meet with Little and provide him with $5,000 in May 2010. He also provided Watson a location to send a package containing $100 for Little in May and June of that year, according to indictments unsealed Wednesday.

William D. Young IV, Johnson's Raleigh-based attorney, said his "shocked" client was never anything more than "an extraordinary student-athlete and dedicated lifelong friend of Greg's" with no relationship to Watson.

"My view of this statute is it's designed to protect any student-athlete from the grips of an agent — period," Young said.

Woodall said Johnson — currently an employee of Rosenhaus Sports Representation, which has Little as a client — was arrested Friday in Florida, then released on a promise to return to court.

"We're not alleging that (Johnson) was being induced to sign a contract," Woodall said. "And therefore I don't think they're protected under the statute."

Barley, 29, of North Chesterfield, Va., faces four inducement charges by providing Quinn with benefits of $1,525.74 for a trip the eventual NFL first-round draft pick took to Miami in May 2010. That included $750 to purchase two roundtrip airline tickets, a hotel room valued at $675.74 and $100 in cash in addition to the use of a car for two days, according to indictments.

Barley was arrested late last week, appeared in court Friday and released on $30,000 bond.

The state's Uniform Athletes Agents Act requires agents to register with the Secretary of State's office and is designed to shield athletes from sports agents who would offer gifts to entice them to sign representation contracts. Prosecution is left to district attorneys in locations where violations are alleged to have occurred.

It is a Class I felony to violate the law, meaning a maximum prison sentence of 15 months, and violations also could carry civil penalties of up to $25,000. Woodall has said anyone without a criminal record must receive probation if convicted of a Class I felony.

Former tutor Jennifer Wiley Thompson was the first to appear on Oct. 3 on four counts of providing benefits to Little to help Watson sign the former Tar Heels receiver.

Thompson paid for airline tickets for Little and Johnson to go to Miami in May 2010, with Little telling investigators he reimbursed Thompson with money provided by Watson, according to a probable cause affidavit in a June search warrant.

Watson was charged with 13 counts of providing cash or travel accommodations to Little, Quinn and Marvin Austin valued at nearly $24,000. He also faces one count of obstruction of justice for not providing records sought by authorities.

Watson's friend, Patrick Mitchell Jones, of Cartersville, Ga., is charged with providing $725 to Quinn and also appeared in court last month.

Quinn, Little and Austin were either dismissed from the team or declared permanently ineligible by the NCAA for receiving improper benefits and didn't play during the 2010 season. Quinn plays for the St. Louis Rams, while Austin was a second-round pick of the New York Giants in 2011 and also spent time with Miami and Dallas this season.

The next hearing for all five defendants is scheduled for Dec. 17.

-- Aaron Beard

Ouachita Baptist to unveil Cliff Harris Award

ARKADELPHIA, Ark. (AP) — Ouachita Baptist University and the Little Rock Touchdown Club are scheduled to unveil the Cliff Harris Award.

The award will be given to the top defensive player chosen from among Division II, Division III and NAIA colleges and universities. It's named for former OBU safety Cliff Harris who was an All-AIC selection before going on to a professional career with the Dallas Cowboys that included five Super Bowl appearances. The trophy for the award is to be revealed during halftime of Saturday's Ouachita Baptist-Henderson State game on the OBU campus.

Harris is scheduled to attend the unveiling.

© 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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