Cardinals promote LB's Hayes, Schofield from PUP list

The Arizona Cardinals have promoted linebackers Gerald Hayes and O’Brien Schofield from the physically unable to perform list, making them eligible for Sunday’s game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Hayes has been battling a back issue, and Schofield’s story is a remarkable one considering that he suffered a torn ACL in January.

To make room for the newcomers, the Cardinals released linebacker Alex hall and wide receiver Onrea Jones.

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Brad Biggs covers the Bears for the Chicago Tribune

Saints expected to go with all black uniform Sunday night

The New Orleans Saints will wear black jerseys at the Superdome for the first time this season Sunday night when they host the Pittsburgh Steelers in the nationally televised NBC game.

Chances are, they’ll be in black pants too, according to Mike Triplett of the New Orleans Times Picayune. Saints coach Sean Payton would not confirm the choice of pants, but the players clearly prefer that look.

“I think everybody likes the all-blacks. I just wish we didn't have to wear white socks,” wide receiver Marques Colston told Triplett.

Typically, the Saints have worn white jerseys at home for the first half of the season and black jerseys at home for the second half of the season. The way things have gone for the Saints, maybe it’s time for a change, huh?

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Brad Biggs covers the Bears for the Chicago Tribune

Miami QB Harris injured

Miami quarterback Jacory Harris was knocked out of the team’s ACC game against Virginia early in the second quarter after getting leveled — cleanly — on a passing play that resulted in an underthrown pass and interception.

Harris, who was left motionless for a bit, was helped off the field and taken to the locker room.

Backup Spencer Whipple, son of offensive coordinator Mark Whipple, entered the contest in Charlottesville and threw an interception on Miami’s next possession. The Hurricanes trail 14-0 at the half, and Whipple looks overwhelmed under center. He finished the first half 2 of 6 through the air for 22 yards and two interceptions.

Stay with the National Football Post for more information when it becomes available on Harris’ condition.

UPDATE: Harris is out for the game with an undisclosed injury. The Hurricanes have now turned to true freshman Stephen Morris under center. The coaching staff decided to burn his redshirt, as they are desperate for steady play at QB. Despite being down, the 'Canes need to run the ball in the second half because that might be their best chance to generate any offense.

Email dave.miller@nationalfootballpost.com or follow me on Twitter at Miller_Dave

Report: Packers make a pitch to keep Tramon Williams

The Green Bay Packers have made a longterm contract offer to Tramon Williams in an effort to lock up the cornerback for years to come.

According to Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Packers have offered Williams a deal with an annual average salary of more than $5.418 million, the figure veteran cornerback Al Harris is at. The deal, though, does not exceed the $9.73 million Charles Woodson, the reigning NFL defensive player of the year, receives on average.

Per McGinn, the proposal would include a bonus in the range of $10 million to $12 million. Williams is reportedly weighing the offer while also considering what could await him in free agency. He’s having a terrific season and Williams could be an unrestricted free agent in 2011 depending on how the collective bargaining agreement shakes out.</p>

“Whatever happens happens, but I want to be in Green Bay,” Williams told McGinn. “Me waiting until unrestricted, I'm not into that. If it happens to go that way, then it does.”

It’s a wonderful situation for Williams to be in considering he was an undrafted free agent from Louisiana Tech in 2006. The top cornerbacks in the league average more than $8 million per season and if Williams waits for the open market, he could command that. We’ll see how much he wants to stay in Green Bay and how badly the Packers want him.

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Brad Biggs covers the Bears for the Chicago Tribune

Beanie Wells named starting running back for Cardinals

After a year and a half, Beanie Wells has the starting job for the Arizona Cardinals that he has coveted.

Coach Ken Whisenhunt announced on Friday that Wells will be the starter for Sunday’s game at University of Phoenix Stadium against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He replaces Tim Hightower, who according to Darren Urban of the team’s Web site, lost his third fumble of the season last week in a loss at Seattle.

“Tim is still going to get carries and be involved in all aspects of the offense,” Whisenhunt said. “He’s not going to just be a third-down back. … But (Beanie starting) is the way we’re going to go.”

The Cardinals need to lean on their ground game with undrafted rookie free agent Max Hall at quarterback. We’ll see if Wells, the team’s first-round draft pick a year ago, can do a better job of securing the ball. He’s had his own fumbling issues in the past. That would be the quickest thing to lead Whisenhunt back to Hightower.

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Brad Biggs covers the Bears for the Chicago Tribune

NFL fines Darnell Dockett $15,000 for late hit

Arizona Cardinals defensive tackle Darnell Dockett has been fined $15,000 for a late hit last Sunday in his team’s loss at Seattle.

Dockett was called for a late hit when he dove into the back of wide receiver Mike Williams, who was already down. The league socked Dockett with a fine, according to Mike Sando of ESPN.com.

It’s not the first time the league has come after Dockett for some questionable play against the Seahawks. He was fined last season for pressing his elbow into the neck of Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck.

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Brad Biggs covers the Bears for the Chicago Tribune

Click here to win cash today playing fantasy football with the NFP and FanDuel

Week 8 Pick 'Em Contest

With the way I’ve been picking games the last few weeks, I have a sound financial strategy that I would like to give to you, my loyal readers.

Pick against me this weekend.

I haven’t gone better than 1-2 in close to four weeks, so I suggest you study my picks below and go against them this Sunday.

Don’t worry about thanking me when you’re rolling in the dough.

It’s the least I could do.

NFP Pick ‘Em Contest Rules:

1. Pick three (3) games against the spread. Be sure to use the lines from the right side of the chart (current).

2. You MUST get all three games correct.

3. Enter your picks in the comments section below and try to write them out like I do at the end of this story.

4. In addition, be sure to leave a guess for the TOTAL AMOUNT OF POINTS that will be scored in Sunday night’s Pittsburgh-New Orleans showdown. This will serve as our tiebreaker.

5. Do NOT pick the Monday night game.

6. The winner(s) will be announced in the Run & Shoot blog on Monday. I'll need your address so I can hook you up with an NFP tee shirt and beanie.

The Tipper’s Picks (9-12 on the year, 1-2 last week)

NEW YORK JETS (-6) vs. Green Bay Packers

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (-7.5) vs. Buffalo Bills

DETROIT LIONS (-2.5) vs. Washington Redskins

Who ya got?

”Week

Saturday primer

Some opinions, takes and things NFL scouts will be looking for in week nine of the college football season.

Missouri vs. Nebraska
3:30 p.m. ET ABC

What to watch for

Paul ICONPaul needs to be more consistent catching the football.

• Can Nebraska WR Niles Paul keep the momentum going? After a miserable effort vs. Texas, Paul had his best game of the season last week, catching nine passes for 131 yards and doing a great job keeping pressure off the Nebraska run game. Paul is a really gifted athlete who possesses a strong, compact build, displays good strength as a route runner and has the ability to get up to speed quickly and track the football down the field. However, his biggest downfall at this stage is his overall lack of concentration and focus at crucial times in the game, which often leads to the football ending up on the ground. He’s the kind of guy who can consistently separate vs. man coverage, but he needs to continue to build on his solid effort from last week if he hopes to be much more than a mid-round selection.

Missouri DE Aldon Smith can be a real difference-maker up front, as he made his presence felt early last week vs. Oklahoma with a 58-yard interception return following about a month long layoff due to a fracture in his fibula. At 6-5, 250 pounds, the kid is a real physical specimen. He possesses a strong, lean frame, with great length and impressive initial burst for a guy his size. He’s the type of pass rusher who will command consistent additional attention from the Nebraska offensive line throughout the night and if there is one reason why the Cornhusker passing game can’t get it going, the blame will probably fall squarely on the broad shoulders of Smith.

• Key matchup

Nebraska DT Jared Crick vs. Missouri C Tim Barnes
Finally, one prospect who has seen a real drop-off in his play/production this season is Nebraska DT Jared Crick. Crick hasn’t been nearly as impressive inside this year without big Ndamukong Suh next to him commanding the double team, which has led to many scouts wondering just how good of a player he can be at the next level. And he’s going to get a real test in this one vs. in my opinion, one of the best centers in the country in Tim Barnes. Like Crick, Barnes is a tall, long-armed guy with good lateral ability, can stick to blocks through the play and is really effective on the move. Typically Crick wants to gain a step off the snap with his initial burst then use his length to fight his way off blocks. But Barnes has the snap and step ability to reach Crick initially and uses his hands and length well enough to stay engaged through the play. So this is another nice stage for Barnes to show well in back-to-back nationally televised games vs. solid competition, which should only continue to boost his draft stock.

Oregon vs. Southern Cal
8:00 p.m. ET ABC

What to watch for…

• There isn’t as much of a size differential between the USC offensive line and the Oregon defensive line as many people think, as the Trojans have more of an athletic, finesse unit who like to pull, get out in space and use their length to get into blocks quickly and stick to their man through the play. And Trojan RB Allen Bradford has to play a major role in this one. When evaluating him from a pure size/speed aspect the guy looks like a high draft pick. However, his downfall is that he isn’t the most instinctive of runners between the tackles and will struggles to decipher info and find running lanes. But, if the interior of the USC offensive line can control the undersized front of Oregon, Bradford should have plenty of room to do some real damage in this one and keep the Trojans ahead of the chains and the Oregon offense off the field. Because once he gets those big wheels rolling, he can be an absolute bear to bring down at the second level.

James ICONJames could give the USC defense a lot of trouble at the second level.

• On the flip side Oregon RB LaMichael James lacks ideal size, but the guy is built low to the ground, is really shifty in tight areas and has a great feel picking his way through traffic and making his way toward daylight. The USC defensive front has the talent, but I have some major concerns about their linebacking corps if/when James is able to get into the second level. OLB Michael Morgan has been one of the worst run defenders I have ever seen for a prospect who is rated “so highly,” as he struggles to take on blocks of any kind, is easily pushed past the play and lacks a decent feel inside. But, the one thing he does have going for him is that he does possess good range when asked to run sideline-to-sideline on perimeter runs — something Oregon loves to do. Nevertheless, expect the Oregon coaching staff to alter their runs when running at Morgan, forcing him to take on blocks and not simply to run to space, aka play to his weakness.

• The last note to mention doesn’t involve any individual prospects but has more to do with the entire USC team. With the Trojans not being bowl eligible this season, you have to think Lane Kiffin and the Southern Cal coaching staff has been playing this game up as their “bowl game.” So expect USC to come out with guns blazing early and it will be interesting to see if Oregon can match tempo and respond without digging themselves into a hole. Another potential factor could be revenge. The Ducks put a beatdown on USC last season and you can’t help but think a lot of the Trojans who where present last year still have a bitter taste in their mouth and would love nothing more than to return the favor and knock the Ducks out of national title contention.

Other prospect matchups to watch…

Miami WR Leonard Hankerson vs. Virginia CB Ras-I Dowling
If you’re looking for a big, long athletically gifted defensive back, look no further than Virginia’s Ras-I Dowling. The guy is a physical tackler who can track the football vertically and does a nice job going up and making a play on the throw. However, he isn’t the most technically sound of defensive backs with his footwork and has a tendency to get upright and leggy when asked to open up his hips and redirect. And typically he has the size, length and power to really disrupt the timing of his receiver and simply out-physical his man down the field, which allows him to get away with his lack of ideal technique. However, this week vs. a bigger, more physical wideout like Hankerson, who possesses the kind of body control and initial quickness to separate out of his breaks, shield and pluck the football, could give Dowling a real tough time, and will ultimately be a big determining factor in deciding if he’s a legit man-to-man cover man in the NFL or if he’s limited to more of a FS or cover-two type corner guy at the next level.

Stanford QB Andrew Luck vs. Washington QB Jake Locker
This is a big game for Washington quarterback Jake Locker as he will be throwing side by side with Andrew Luck, who in my opinion is the best QB prospect in the nation. Locker is the more physically gifted kid, but it’s the mental aspects of the game that you can’t measure where L
uck ultimately has the clear advantage. Stanford doesn’t possess the greatest of athletes on defense, but they run a 34 front, bringing pressure from a lot of areas and can be physical on run downs as well, forcing opposing offenses into third and long situations. Therefore, Locker is going to need to be efficient making quick decisions from the pocket and deliver an accurate football on time — something he has struggled with at times this year. As for Luck, he just needs to play within himself. And when evaluating the two prospects, the biggest thing I want to leave you the readers with is at the end of the game who looked like the poised senior QB and who looked like the redshirt sophomore? Your answer will go a long way in determining exactly who is the better QB prospect.

Oklahoma WR Ryan Broyles vs. Colorado CB Jimmy Smith
Smith is the one cornerback who is really flying under the radar this season playing for a poor Colorado team. However, at 6-2, 205 pounds, the guy can sit into his drop, use his length to really disrupt the timing of the pass game and possesses good balance and ball skills when asked to click and close. He was one of the best corners I saw on tape coming into the year and has done nothing to refute that so far this season. However, he’ll be facing off with the type of receiver who would give any 6-2 defensive back trouble in Oklahoma’s Ryan Broyles. Broyles is a strong, shifty route runner who has some impressive quickness and change of direction skills to his game and knows how to go get the football. But, he’s been banged up as of late dealing with some ankle problems, which could limit his effectiveness just enough for Smith to really be able to control him consistently off the line and limit his touches in this one.

NFL draft/college football questions? Get them answered at Wes.Bunting@nationalfootballpost.com

Follow me on Twitter: @WesBunting

Week 8 Final Injury Report

OUT: Definitely will not play.
DOUBTFUL: 75% chance will not play.
QUESTIONABLE: 50-50 chance will not play.
PROBABLE: Virtual certainty player will be available for normal duties.

Dexter McCluster, RB, Kansas City Chiefs (ankle, QUESTIONABLE): McCluster took limited reps in all three practice sessions this week due to a high ankle sprain. Even if he plays this Sunday, his role will be very limited.

DeAngelo Williams, RB, Carolina Panthers (foot, QUESTIONABLE): Williams missed all three practices this week and is expected by many to be held out of Sunday’s game at St. Louis. Owners should look for another option at RB in Week 8.

Danario Alexander, WR, St. Louis Rams (knee, QUESTIONABLE): Alexander injured his knee during Friday’s practice session and will most likely be held out for Week 8. Keep him on your bench.

Steven Jackson, RB, St. Louis Rams (finger, QUESTIONABLE): Despite being listed as questionable, Jackson is expected to start Sunday vs. Carolina.

Eddie Royal, WR, Denver Broncos (groin, PROBABLE): Royal was a full participant in Friday’s practice session and should play Sunday in London against the 49ers.

Alex Smith, QB, San Francisco 49ers (shoulder, OUT): Smith has been ruled OUT for Week 8.

Vernon Davis, TE, San Francisco 49ers (ankle, QUESTIONABLE): Davis missed practice on Wednesday but took limited reps on Thursday and Friday. He should be good to go Sunday in London vs. Denver.

Donald Driver, WR, Green Bay Packers (quadriceps, PROBABLE): After missing practice on Wednesday and Thursday, Driver took limited reps on Friday and is expected to start Sunday in New York against the Jets.

David Garrard, QB, Jacksonville Jaguars (concussion, PROBABLE): Garrard is expected to start Sunday at Dallas.

Tony Romo, QB, Dallas Cowboys (clavicle, OUT): Romo will miss the next 6-8 weeks with a fractured clavicle.

Dez Bryant, WR, Dallas Cowboys (ankle, PROBABLE): Bryant was a full participant in practice on both Thursday and Friday. Expect the rookie to be in the starting lineup this Sunday vs. Jacksonville.

Carson Palmer, QB, Cincinnati Bengals (hip, PROBABLE): Despite missing practice on Thursday, Palmer was a full participant in Friday’s session and is expected to start Sunday vs. Miami.

Brett Favre, QB, Minnesota Vikings (foot/ankle, QUESTIONABLE): Favre missed practice on both Wednesday and Thursday but returned to take limited reps during Friday’s session. While he may start Sunday at New England, owners are advised to look for another option.

Fred Taylor, RB, New England Patriots (toe, OUT): Taylor has been ruled OUT for Week 8.

Deion Branch, WR, New England Patriots (hamstring, QUESTIONABLE): Branch took limited reps in practice on Thursday and Friday. He will be a game-time decision for Sunday’s showdown with the Minnesota Vikings.

Louis Murphy, WR, Oakland Raiders (chest, OUT): Murphy has been ruled OUT for Week 8.

Zach Miller, TE, Oakland Raiders (foot, QUESTIONABLE): Miller took limited reps in practice all week due to an ankle injury he has been nursing.

Steve Breaston, WR, Arizona Cardinals (knee, QUESTIONABLE): Breaston took limited reps in all three practice sessions this past week. He will likely be a game-time decision Sunday vs. Tampa Bay.

Malcom Floyd (hamstring) & Legedu Naanee (hamstring), WRs, San Diego Chargers: Both Floyd and Naanee are listed as “DOUBTFUL” for Sunday’s game against the Tennessee Titans. Owners should not expect to see either player on the field this weekend.

Antonio Gates, TE, San Diego Chargers (toe, QUESTIONABLE): Gates was a full participant in Friday’s practice and will most likely start this weekend against the Tennessee Titans.

Buster Davis, WR, San Diego Chargers (ribs, QUESTIONABLE): Davis missed practice on Wednesday and Thursday, but took limited reps during Friday’s session. He will likely be a game-time decision Sunday vs. Tennessee.

The Washington Redskins

QUESTIONABLE: Donovan McNabb (hamstring), Chris Cooley (foot), DeAngelo Hall (back), LaRon Landry (Achilles)

-Landry took limited reps on Friday and could be a game-time decision Sunday at Detroit. McNabb, Cooley and Hall were all full participants in Friday’s practice session and are expected to start.

Reggie Bush (leg) & Pierre Thomas (ankle), RBs, New Orleans Saints: Both running backs have been ruled OUT for Week 8.

NOTE: The official reports for the Monday night game (Texans at Colts) will not be released until late Saturday. We will go over it during Sunday’s live chat.

However, Joseph Addai (neck) and Austin Collie (hand) did not practice on Friday. Donald Brown (hamstring) took limited reps and Pierre Garcon (hamstring) was a full participant.

NFP Saturday Tailgate

The boys in Bristol have dubbed today “Anarchy Saturday” and “Roadblock Saturday,” so we’ll roll with those fancy names. Call it what you want, but there are seven remaining unbeatens in college football — and six of them are on the road this week. Boise State, the other undefeated squad, took care of business at home this past Tuesday against Louisiana Tech.

The Bowl Championship Series standings will continue to dominate the conversation across the land, but Saturdays are all about what happens on the field. So with that in mind, let’s not waste any more time. Get that grill fired up and let’s start this weekend’s tailgate.

Once again, the spotlight shines on ‘SC

For one night, at least, nothing else matters. Not the two-year bowl ban. Not the loss of 30 scholarships spread over three seasons. Not the weakening of a dynasty.

For one night at the Coliseum, USC can be back on top of the college football world.

Lane KiffinICONLane Kiffin and the Trojans had an extra week to prepare for Oregon's high-powered offense.

And Lane Kiffin can quiet many of his critics.

Saturday evening, the Trojans welcome in Oregon, the No. 1 team in both human polls and current No. 2 in the BCS standings. The Ducks will seek to move to 8-0 for the first time since 1933. If you’ve just seen highlights of Oregon’s offense, you know how absurd it has looked throughout the year. It averages over 55 points per game — almost a full touchdown more than Oklahoma State, the nation’s No. 2 offense. While quarterback Darron Thomas is potent through the air, the Ducks remain most dangerous on the ground, ranking third in the nation in rushing at 322 yards per game — an attack paced by LaMichael James, who is second only to Cam Newton in the conversation of best player in the nation.

But numbers aside, it’s the way that the Ducks conduct themselves offensively that’s scary for the opposition. Fast-paced, up-tempo all of the time. A dinking and dunking, running and throwing, no-huddle spread-option attack. Even if you speed up defensive practices during the week, you’re likely to be out of breath trying to defend it on Saturdays. It has given defenses fits all season long.

Thomas, the sophomore signal caller, is running this unit better than anyone other than perhaps head coach Chip Kelly could have imagined. He completed 22-of-31 passes for 308 yards and three TDs in the Ducks’ 60-13 win last Thursday night against UCLA. His stellar season is now being noticed, as he was named a semifinalist for the O'Brien Award, given annually to the nation’s best quarterback. Add in James, and you have two of the most dangerous weapons in college football.

The bright spot for the Trojans? They can move the ball and score points themselves, so this contest won’t look like UCLA-Oregon from a week ago.

Trojans quarterback Matt Barkley, who has taken big strides this year in his decision-making, leads an attack that features two receivers, freshman Robert Woods and senior Ronald Johnson, that will pose the toughest challenge yet for the Ducks’ defensive backs. While Stanford’s Andrew Luck may be the best quarterback Oregon has faced, he doesn’t have quite the level of skill players around him.

Barkley, who has thrown for 20 touchdowns against just 4 interceptions with a 65 percent completion percentage, has helped the Trojans convert 53 percent of their chances on third down and epitomizes the difference that Kiffin can have on a quarterback and an offense.

But what has happened to the USC defense? During the peak of Pete Carroll’s reign in Los Angeles, the Trojans’ unit was one of the more dominant groups in the nation. Despite constantly developing players into NFL prospects, ‘SC was able to reload year in and year out and remain one of the best.

So when Kiffin brought his father, Monte Kiffin, and defensive line coach Ed Orgeron to Los Angeles, the team’s youth on that side of the ball was thought to be a non-issue. After all, this was the Monte Kiffin.

Fast forward to the mid-point of the season, and you would think that Monte made a wrong turn somewhere along the line on his journey from Knoxville. The Trojans can’t tackle, consistently miss assignments and often don’t look tough. They rank 87th in the nation in total defense (402.6 yards per game), with the rebuilt secondary looking especially vulnerable, ranking 89th in the nation in pass-efficiency defense.

While the unit may have been torched by Oregon and Stanford last season, it still only gave up 19.9 points per game when all was said and done. The 2010 squad, which has struggled to grasp Kiffin’s Tampa 2 scheme, would be thrilled with that number.

Darron ThomasICONDarron Thomas calmly and smoothly leads Chip Kelly's spread-option attack.

So USC doesn’t stand a chance against the best offense in the country, right?

Well, perhaps they do if they throw the Ducks’ spread-option off with some new looks.

“The Tampa 2 isn't exactly what you shut down the triple option with,” Kiffin told area reporters, laughing. “That's for a whole different deal.”

Keep in mind that although he had great success with the Tampa 2 at the pro level, Kiffin ran a variety of schemes while defending the wishbone and other unique styles of play during college coaching stints at Nebraska, Arkansas and North Carolina State before moving to the NFL. The Tampa 2 is designed to stop the pass. How can the Trojans stop the run?

No matter what looks the Trojans throw at the Ducks defensively, perhaps there is hope. They are coming off their best defensive performance of the season in a 48-14 victory over Cal, where they held the Bears to 245 total yards and 10 first downs. They also have had an extra week to prepare, which comes in handy if Kiffin really is teaching a new scheme. ‘SC allowed live tackling in practice this week, and the unit also went through faster-paced workouts to try to simulate game speed against the Ducks’ track offense. The Trojans should at least be ready to play physically from the get-go.

Perhaps most importantly, the Trojans are healthier. Defensive end Wes Horton returns after missing the last three games with a back injury, and fellow end Nick Perry’s ankle is doing better. Versatile lineman Armond Armstead and linebacker Malcolm Smith also should feel much better.

Depth remains a major concern, however, with personnel losses due to graduation, transfers and the overall youth. Even with more spirited practices the last few weeks, will the Ducks’ tempo on offense be too much to overcome? It may not be enough that defenders just stay in their gaps — not against this offense.

It’s been an eventful week of smack talking, with Barkley intimating in a tweet that Oregon could fall like UFC champion Brock Lesnar did to Cain Velasquez in UFC 121. We had Kelly praising the Trojans for their high-star recruits, with Kiffin finding it surprising that the Ducks head coach had extra time to break down the Trojans roster. Then, perhaps the best one of all was USC defensive tackle Jurrell Casey questioning whether or not the Ducks were even that good.

Come Saturday night, all the off-the-field hoopla ends, and all of our questions will be answered as the sun sets and the lights go on in Los Angeles.

Kiffin brushed off talk abou
t this being USC’s bowl game and stand-in national championship moment. If he truly feels that way, he’ll likely feel differently if he’s standing on the winning sideline with a group of valiant and resilient Trojan players.

To listen to a breakdown of the Michigan State-Iowa and Missouri-Nebraska matchups, as well as more on Oregon-USC, check out the latest On the Quad podcast, featuring yours truly and NFP Director of College Scouting Wes Bunting.

Things better left unsaid

However, there were some nuggets of info that were not covered in the podcast…

Kirk CousinsICONCan Kirk Cousins keep the Spartans unbeaten in Iowa City?

<p> Michigan State-Iowa: If this game is close at the half, which many expect it to be, the edge may go to the Spartans. Michigan State has owned the second halves of games this season, while the Hawkeyes have had their issues after the break. In the last two games alone, Iowa has given up 42 second-half points, allowing Michigan to make their game close and letting Wisconsin steal a victory last week. Michigan State, meanwhile, has scored 51 points after the break the last two weeks, shutting down Illinois and storming back against Northwestern last week. I still don’t know if the Spartans’ offensive line will be ready for the test that awaits when it lines up against Iowa’s front four, but they seem to have that second-half magic working for them this year.

Missouri-Nebraska: Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert is completing 71 percent of his passes against defenses that aren’t blitzing. When the blitz is coming, that number drops to 41 percent. Gabbert had all night to throw last week in the Tigers’ win over Oklahoma. That likely won’t be the case this week against the Blackshirts.

Skinny posts

…It’s just a formality now that Colorado’s Dan Hawkins is finishing up his final weeks as head coach in Boulder. As written weeks ago, Buffaloes icon Bill McCartney’s name keeps popping up as a potential short-term replacement. Former CU and local high school coach Dave Logan has been mentioned by many as a possible assistant head coach and the heir apparent after McCartney rights the ship. Woody Paige of The Denver Post brought up an even more intriguing name this past week: LSU’s Les Miles, a former CU assistant under McCartney. Because Miles’ act in Baton Rouge is running thin with a lot of fans and media in SEC country, Paige writes that it could be a good fit. Miles has apparently told close friends that Boulder was his favorite place to live. I’ve written before that the calling for Miles to be fired has been absurd, but it would certainly be an interesting move, especially with the Buffaloes headed off to Pac-12 country.

…Despite its awful loss to Navy last week, Notre Dame still has to finish up its season — likely to the dismay of Fighting Irish faithful. And it’ll be a banged-up unit this week against Tulsa, with senior nose tackle Ian Williams out four to six weeks with a sprained MCL, slot receiver Theo Riddick out another three weeks with an ankle sprain and wideout Michael Floyd likely a game-time decision once again with his strained hamstring.

Kevin SumlinICONIs Kevin Sumlin on Minnesota's radar?

…It’s hard to say who the frontrunners are for the Minnesota job — if there even are any — but Marcus Fuller of the St. Paul Pioneer Press tweeted this week that Houston head coach Kevin Sumlin is getting “lots of love being thrown” his way. Sumlin is a former wide receivers and quarterbacks coach at the Big Ten school, and his wife is a native of the state (her parents still live there). The former offensive coordinator at Oklahoma may be the biggest name the Gophers could lure into that program, and he may be the best candidate. He’s a good recruiter, and he has won some big games at Houston. He beat two ranked teams in his first season at the school in 2008, and the Cougars defeated No. 5 Oklahoma State on the road, Texas Tech the next week and at Mississippi State two weeks later in 2009. Quite simply, he sounds like the anti-Tim Brewster.

…Look out for South Carolina wide receiver Alshon Jeffery in the game against Tennessee. In the last two games, the Volunteers’ secondary has been burned by Georgia’s A.J. Green and Alabama’s Julio Jones. The stars combined to catch 18 passes for 317 yards. Jeffery leads the SEC with 49 catches and 898 receiving yards, so it could be another long night for Derek Dooley and the Vols.

…This is the first time that both Florida and Georgia will be unranked in the AP poll entering the “World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party” (yes, it will still be called that in this column) since 1979. The Bulldogs won that game 33-10 and have been playing very well since the return of Green. We’ve heard that Urban Meyer will have some new wrinkles for the offense — and he better if you’re a Gators fan. The inability to score in the red zone has been astounding. The Gators started the season 16-of-16, but are just 3-of-11 during their current three-game losing streak. They’ve also turned it over 14 times this season. Florida has also struggled on first down. The Gators rank 119th (out of 120 FBS teams) in average yards gained on first down. Those numbers may not be able to be corrected even with a bye week.

Quote of the week

“It’s really unique what they do. It’s faster than anyone we’ve ever seen or been around. I've never seen a team play with that tempo.” — USC head coach Lane Kiffin on the Oregon offense under Chip Kelly.

Have any suggestions for this column or have a college football question? Feel free to send me an email at dave.miller@nationalfootballpost.com.

For updates throughout the games — and pretty much 24/7 because I don’t really sleep too much — follow me on Twitter at Miller_Dave

Enjoy the games!

Check out the latest edition of the NFP Top 25 and NFP Heisman Watch.