Javorious Allen

CFT Previews: The National University Holiday Bowl

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WHO: No. 24 USC (8-4) vs. Nebraska (9-3)

WHAT: The 37th National University Holiday Bowl

WHERE: Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego, California

WHEN: 8:00 p.m. ET Dec. 27 on ESPN

THE SKINNY: Nebraska goes into this postseason match-up with an interim coaching situation following the removal of Bo Pelini as head coach. The Huskers have since hired Mike Riley from Oregon State, although he will not coach this game. He should, however, be familiar with Nebraska’s opponent. The Huskers take on USC, with Nebraska looking for its first victory against the Trojans in the small history of the series.

Steve Sarkisian‘s offense will look to find success through the air. USC quarterback Cody Kessler passed for 3,505 yards and 36 touchdowns with just four interceptions this season. Nebraska’s pass defense ranks 27th in the nation with just 12 touchdown passes allowed and 12 interceptions. But they have not faced a passing offense like USC’s. Nelson Agholor and JuJu Smith are a solid 1-2 punch as targets, and running back Javorious Allen is a 1,300-yard rusher with the ability to catch and run as well.

Of course, Nebraska has a pretty good running back too. When healthy, Ameer Abdullah is one of the best running backs in the country. Injuries have slowed him down a bit this season, but Abdullah has had time to get ready for the game and should be expected to carry the bulk of the load on offense for Nebraska. The Huskers also bring Randy Gregory as a defensive force to be reckoned with.

THE PREDICTION: USC 31, Nebraska 23

Weekend Preview: Championship races coming down to the wire

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It’s time to get prepared for another critical weekend around college football. Division and conference races are coming down the home stretch and postseason eligibility is still on the line for a number of teams. Here’s a rundown of what to pay attention to this weekend.

Alabama, Florida State on collision course

If you go by what the national narrative is, we are all set for No. 1 Alabama (9-0, 6-0 SEC) vs. No. 2 Florida State (9-0, 7-0 ACC) in the final BCS Championship game. That would be a rather fitting match-up of course, with Florida Sate having played in the first three BCS title games under the new format and Alabama having won three of the last four. It really would be a fitting way to close the book on the BCS, but we still have some games to get through before really digging in to that theme. This week should end with both picking up another win.

Alabama will have the more difficult task this weekend though, going on the road to take on a Mississippi State team that is in real need of a win. While Alabama continues to pound SEC competition, Mississippi State (4-5, 1-4 SEC) has given up 85 points in their last two games while sinking below .500. Mississippi State is coming off losses to ranked South Carolina and Texas A&M, so a home game against Alabama will wrap up a rough three-game stretch. A loss means Mississippi State needs to win their final two games of the year to become bowl eligible. The pressure for Dan Mullen really is mounting. And Nick Saban thinks he has pressure with his job.

In Tallahassee the Seminoles will wrap up their ACC schedule with a home game against Syracuse (5-4, 3-2 ACC). Florida State is already heading to the ACC Championship Game regardless of the outcome, but another big win should be enough to keep Florida State comfortably in the top two of the BCS standings. After a week that saw Heisman front-runner Jameis Winston thrown in to a potentially negative spotlight this week, how he handles the situation should be interesting. Winston has answered every challenge thrown his way this season. There should be no reason he does not answer this one either.

Auburn hosting Georgia

The biggest threat to Alabama in the SEC is likely Auburn (9-1, 5-1 SEC). Before we start making plans for one of the biggest Iron Bowls in history though, Auburn must get by Georgia (6-3, 4-2 SEC) this weekend. The Bulldogs may have been roughed up and beat up this season, but Georgia has won two straight games and is capable of playing spoiler. Heck, a win for Georgia even gives the defending SEC East champs an outside shot at returning to Atlanta although the odds are still not very good. Auburn has been thriving on the running game and has not had to rely much on the passing game. If the Tigers can continue to break big plays on the ground, Auburn will continue to have Alabama’s attention.

All eyes on Durham, North Carolina, of course

Maybe Duke (7-2, 3-2 ACC) going to a bowl game last year wasn’t exactly a fluke. The Blue Devils are now in position to make a run to take on Florida State in the ACC Championship Game. In football. Seriously.

A bit of a tangled mess in the ACC Coastal Division could start to sort itself out a little more this weekend after Georgia Tech concluded their ACC schedule with a loss Thursday night at Clemson. Duke can keep pace with Virginia Tech (7-3, 4-2 ACC) if they can pick up a home win against a Miami (7-2, 3-2 ACC) team that is all of a sudden sinking. A win for Duke will also clinch the most wins in a single season (eight) since winning eight games in 1994. Virginia Tech will be playing Maryland, which should result in a win unless the offense implodes.

B1G Game in the Big Ten

Ohio State is all but locked in to the Big Ten championship game, but the Legends Division is still a little more open. That could change this weekend with No. 16 Michigan State (8-1, 5-0 Big Ten) travels to Nebraska (7-2, 4-1 Big Ten). The winner will control the fate of the division with time running out in the Big Ten, but the loser will not necessarily be eliminated. The Spartans have been playing the best defense this season int he conference and should be able to control Nebraska’s offense, which will be tested by Ameer Abdullah. If the Spartans shut down Abdullah, it could be a long day for the home team.

Stanford looks to keep Pac 12 edge against revived Trojans

No. 4 Stanford (8-1, 6-1)is coming off the biggest win of the year but must continue the momentum this weekend on the road against one of the hottest teams in the country, if not just the Pac 12. USC (7-3, 4-2) is actually in position for a potential shot at playing for a Pac 12 title, although they need a little help while taking care of their own schedule in front of them. Stanford has won three straight on the strength of their defense that was able to shut down Oregon for three and a half quarters last week. This week they take on a USC team that has won three straight games and is playing quite well on both sides of the football, especially in the running game. USC won’t have Silas Redd but Javorious Allen has burst on the scene the last couple of games. USC may be trying to chop down a red wood with inadequate gear, but they aren’t trying to do so with a butter knife either. A win keeps USC in the Pac 12 South conversation and reopens the path to the Pac 12 championship game (and Rose Bowl?) for Oregon.

You would not want to be Utah today

If there is one team you might feel sorry for this weekend it might just be Utah (4-5, 1-5 Pac 12). The Utes only have one win in Pac 12 play this season, and ironically enough it came against Stanford. This weekend Utah heads to No. 6 Oregon (8-1, 5-1 Pac 12). The Ducks, of course, are returning home after getting trounced by Stanford last week. You have to think Oregon is going to get back on track with their offense rather quickly. Utah is 1-3 on the road this season and has lost three straight Pac 12 games. Utah has been a pesky team this season though. In addition to defeating Stanford, Utah has also topped BYU, taken Oregon State to overtime, lost to UCLA by a touchdown and lost to Arizona State by one. Utah needs two wins to become eligible for a postseason berth, but winning in a place they haven’t won since 1994 is not going to be easy.

Other Conference Races to Watch

American: No. 17 Central Florida (7-1, 4-0 AAC) is in Philadelphia Saturday to take on Temple (1-8, 0-5 AAC). They should leave town with a win against the Owls, putting the Knights one step closer to clinching the conference’s automatic BCS berth. Central Florida has a one-game lead on No. 20 Louisville, Cincinnati and Houston in the loss column and head-to-head tie-breakers against Louisville and Houston, who play each other this weekend. Cincinnati is at Rutgers.

Central Florida does not need to worry about No. 14 Fresno State or No. 15 Northern Illinois, but each of those BCS busting hopefuls will be keeping a close eye on the Knights for BCS standings purposes.

Big 12: No. 24 Texas (7-2, 6-0 Big 12) and No. 5 Baylor (8-0, 5-0 Big 12) could collide in a de facto Big 12 championship in the final week of the season, but let;s see if they get through this weekend first. Texas takes on No. 12 Oklahoma State (8-1, 5-1 Big 12) and Baylor faces Texas Tech (7-3, 4-3 Big 12) in Cowboys Stadium.

Conference USA: North Texas is closing in on a Conference USA division championship in the west. North Texas is battling Rice for the top spot in the division, with each owning one conference loss and North Texas owning the head-to-head tiebreaker. UTSA can become eligible for their first bowl game in program history with just one more win.

SEC: No. 9 Missouri (9-1, 5-1 SEC) needs to avoid any head-to-head tie-breakers with No. 10 South Carolina (7-2, 5-2 SEC) in the SEC East, so a win this weekend at Ole Miss would be huge before hosting Texas A&M in the regular season finale. Missouri enters the weekend one game ahead of the Gamecocks in the loss column. South Carolina owns the head-to-head tiebreaker thanks to an overtime victory a few weeks back at Missouri.

Bowl Eligibility Update

The following teams in action this weekend are one win shy of bowl eligibility:

Rutgers, Syracuse, Boston College, Maryland, Pittsburgh, Kansas State, UTSA, Navy, San Diego State, San Jose State, Colorado State, Vanderbilt, Arkansas State, Troy

Conversely, the following teams can be eliminated from postseason considerations with a loss this weekend:

South Florida, Memphis, NC State, West Virginia, TCU, Illinois, Florida Atlantic, Central Michigan, New Mexico

USC rules Silas Redd out for Stanford

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USC has ruled running back Silas Redd out for this weekend’s game against Stanford. Earlier this week Redd was questionable for the game after suffering a knee injury in USC’s most recent win against Cal.

On Thursday night USC’s official Twitter feed made the announcement, along with some other injury updates…

Redd has only played in five games this season due to nagging knee and leg injury concerns slowing him down. Redd had rushed for a season high 140 yards against Oregon State two weeks ago after being stuffed by Utah for zero yards on 10 carries the week before. Redd rushed for 112 yards in a loss at Notre Dame but has largely been a non-factor for USC’s offense this season.

USC’s running game will likely continue to see the emergence of Javorious Allen, who has rushed for 133 and 135 yards in each of USC’s last two games. Allen also scored five touchdowns between the two games. Tre Madden is SUC’s leading rusher this season although his role has been reduced at times lately due to a nagging hamstring. Madden is probable for this weekend’s game against the Pac 12’s leading rushing defense. Stanford is one of eight teams from an AQ conference holding opponents to fewer than 100 rushing yards per game (99.22).

USC’s Orgeron State of mind takes down sinking Oregon State

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Perhaps it was unwise to write off USC (6-3, 3-2) for the year. After getting blown out by Arizona State and leaving Lane Kiffin at the airport on the way home, the Trojans have shown a fresh look and are playing with revived energy. Perhaps it is no coincidence interim head coach Ed Orgeron has provided a spark as the Trojans won their third straight Pac 12 game since making the coaching change. The latest notch in the win column came Friday night with a 31-14 victory at Oregon State (6-3, 4-2).

Orgeron wanted the players to get back to having fun when he took over as interim coach. So far, that is exactly what has been happening with the pressure off.

For the second time this season, USC had two running backs rush for 100 yards in a single game. To illustrate just how deep USC is in the backfield, they accomplished that feat with four different running backs. Silas Redd (140 yards) and Javorious Allen (133 yards) each went over the century mark Friday night against Oregon State. Earlier this season, against Arizona State, Tre Madden (128 yards) and Justin Davis (122 yards) each recorded 100-yard games. As much as the running game led the way, the return of receiver Marqise Lee certainly was a factor right from the start. The Bieletnikoff Award winner from 2012 returned after recovering from a sprained knee over the past few weeks and was nearly unstoppable for Oregon State’s defense. Lee caught just five passes but that included a 71-yard touchdown on USC’s first offensive snap of the night and a total of 105 yards. Cody Kessler had an effective night with the support of a particularly strong running game taking the pressure off of him under center.

The defense also continued to slam the door shut for USC. Oregon State left 17 points on the board between turnovers and missed field goals and the USC defense picked off Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion three times. To put that in to some perspective, Mannion had thrown 30 touchdowns and just three interceptions all season before Friday night’s contest. the last time Mannion was picked off more than once in a game was November 24, 2012 against Oregon, when the Ducks intercepted four passes. Oregon State lost to Stanford last week and has all of a sudden seen their potent offense have holes poked in it. What looked like a sleeper in the Pac 12 has now had the Pac 12 championship dream nearly vanish in a matter of two games. And they still have to play Oregon.

USC may not be in the same class as Oregon and Stanford, but when USC plays a complete game the way they did against Oregon State Friday night, the Trojans are capable of making things interesting in the Pac 12 race down the stretch in November. Two games that stand out before the end of the season both happen to come at home. USC hosts Stanford November 16 and ends the regular season at home against UCLA on November 30. UCLA may have been exposed a bit in recent weeks against the Cardinal and Oregon and Stanford has already lost on the road in Pac 12 play (Utah), so they are certainly beatable.

And if Orgeron is the man in charge, there is no question these Trojans will be ready to let loose against anyone standing in front of them. It is much more refreshing to be watching USC now than it was at the start of the year. Getting to the Pac 12 championship game may be a bit of a reach, but it is also not impossible. Arizona State would have to lose twice before the end of the season though and the Sun Devils may have an offense that will not let that happen.

USC can still put together a nine or even ten win season, which felt completely out of reach a month ago.

With the win, USC is now bowl eligible for a second straight season after serving a postseason ban under NCAA sanctions.

Lee, Redd and Allen lead USC to halftime lead on Oregon State

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Marqise Lee was quick to make an impact and Silas Redd has led the USC running game to help the Trojans take a 21-14 in to the break against Oregon State.

USC’s offense has had some easy plays against an Oregon State defense that has been lost at times and lacks pursuit other times. Allowing Lee to break free in a wide open field on USC’s first play proved to be costly, to the tune of a 71-yard touchdown for an early lead. Redd leads USC with 85 rushing yards but Javorious Allen has stepped in to score twice on the ground.

Oregon State dug the 14-0 hole in the first quarter but wasted little time in storming back in the second quarter. Sean Mannion connected with Brandin Cooks for a 27-yard touchdown to get the home team on the scoreboard and then 14 seconds later Oregon State’s Ryan Murphy had intercepted a Cody Kessler pass and returned it down the right sideline for a 42-yard pick-six that needed to be upheld by a video review to determine if he had broken the goal line while in the air. He did, and the game was tied at 14-14.

Kessler and the Trojans kept their cool though and marched 75 yards in ten plays and capped the drive with the second touchdown run by Allen in the first half.

Oregon State’s offense may have been cracked last week by Stanford. USC’s defense has risen to the occasion so far, but must keep it going to hold off Oregon State’s potent offense after the break. USC was unable to do that against Arizona State earlier in the season, and Arizona made things interesting in the second half of a game as well. Oregon State is only down one score at home, but the offense has to start playing better against a solid USC defense.