The Scoop on tonight's games

Two games dot the schedule tonight, the traditional Thursday night affair on ESPN and a special mid-week game in the Southland Conference. Let's get right to it.

North Carolina at Virginia (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Though it may have seemed impossible when the Cavaliers endured their six-game losing streak, Mike London's team is still in contention for a bowl game. Virginia bookended its half-season slide wth wins over Richmond and Penn State to open the year and defeats of N.C. State and Miami in the last two weeks. A win tonight and next week at Virginia Tech will send the Cavs to back-to-back bowls for the first time since 2004-05. Nevermind that Virginia hasn't beaten Virginia Tech since 2003, that's next week's problem. What does Virginia need to do to beat North Carolina?

A big issue for Mike London's team has been its disconnect between yards and points. The Cavs have gained the fifth-most yards in the ACC but scored the ninth-most points. Their defense has allowed the third-fewest yards in the conference but allowed the fifth-most points. Underlying that issue has been its problems with turnovers.Virginia possesses and even turnover margin (6-6) in their four wins and stand at a minus-12 (16-4) in their six losses. That minus-12 margin puts them in last place in the ACC and 112th in the nation in turnover margin.

Quarterback Michael Rocco returned to a regular spot in the line-up last week and threw for 300 yards and four touchdowns in the 41-40 win over Miami. Virginia will need Rocco to remain hot and put pressure on a smarting North Carolina defense fresh off a 68-50 loss to Georgia Tech. The Tar Heels have also struggled away from home this season, winning only once in four tries. Tonight's game is in Charlottesville. 

If nothing else, you should tune in to watch the masterful North Carolina running back Giovani Bernard. The sophomore leads the ACC and ranks eighth nationally with 126 rushing yards per game while simultaneously ranking fourth in the country in punt returns at nearly 18 yards per return. Bernard won the N.C. State game with a 74-yard punt return touchdown with 13 seconds to go to break a 35-35 tie. The combination of Bernard and quarterback Bryn Renner (270 yards per game, 20 touchdowns) will be a handful for Jim Reid's defense. 

A bowl game is out of the picture for Larry Fedora's group in his first year at the helm, but at 6-4 he can still lead the Tar Heels to their first eight-win regular season since 2009. 

Southeastern Louisiana at Nicholls State (7 p.m. ET)

Bragging rights in the River Bell Classic are on the line tonight as Ron Roberts' first season at the helm of Southeastern Louisiana concludes in Thibodaux, La., against Charlie Stubbs and Nicholls State. At 1-8 overall and 0-6 in the Southland Conference, 2012 has been a trying season for Nicholls State but part of that can be salvaged if the Colonels can extend their home winning streak in the River Bell Classic to six games. The 2010 meeting came down to a late two-point conversion when Nicholls State batted down a Southeastern Louisiana pass to preserve a 27-25 win. 

A win tonight for Southeastern Louisiana means the Lions will finish in third place in the Southland in Roberts' first year. Roberts has impressively put the Lions near the top of the standings despite ranking at the bottom of the Southland Conference in both scoring offense and scoring defense. Luckily for Southeastern Louisiana, Nicholls State is seventh among eight teams in scoring offense and sixth in scoring defense.  

Texas A&M is keeping it simple on offense and getting results

Would the people who said that Kevin Sumlin and Kliff Kingsbury's up tempo offense wouldn't work in the SEC please step forward. With the body of work that Sumlin and his offensive staff have put together this season, it's now safe to say that statement could not have been more wrong.

In their first year in the new league, under a new coaching staff with a very different offensive approach, Texas A&M's offense has improved in every offensive statistic since 2011. The Aggies rank in the top 18 in rushing offense (13th - 243 ypg), passing offense (18th - 303 ypg), total offense (5th - 545 ypg) and scoring offense (4th - 43 ppg). All of those stats surpass what they were able to accomplish last season under Mike Sherman and his staff in their fourth season (and they were no slouch on offense last year by any means).

Those numbers aren't far off from what Sumlin and Kingsbury (who was our 2011 FootballScoop offensive coordinator of the year) helped engineer last season at Houston where they led the country in passing offense, total offense, and scoring offense.

When people said that the up tempo, "Air Raid" approach wouldn't work in the SEC, I flashed back to watching Houston play multiple times throughout the 2011 season where I caught myself wondering, "Can anyone stop these guys?"

Kingsbury's offensive success over the past two seasons has hinged on keeping things simple and allowing their guys to play fast, while (most importantly) getting players to play with confidence within the scheme..

“That's by design. We're better off having 11 guys knowing what to do on offense and the guys we're playing against knowing what we're going to do, than having two or three guys (on offense) knowing exactly what we're going to do and it being real fancy or complicated.” Sumlin explained to the Houston Chronicle.

Sumlin also noted that the logic behind being with players for just 20 hours a week factored into their offensive scheme, as opposed to tyring to install and execute a complicated pro style scheme. They don't hand out a playbook, instead they focus on perfecting a handful of plays that players easily remember and can eventually execute in their sleep.

"In the NFL, there's a lot more time. You have to use your time wisely, and it's hard to do that with a real thick playbook."

The staff believes that if you can get your guys to play fast without analyzing things, you'll end up with a better product on game day, which is something that Kingsbury learned firsthand playing under Mike Leach. 

"It's a belief that if you can get them to play faster and not think as much and let them use their natural abilities the best they can, then you're going to have a better product. We'd have so many repetitions, and he (Leach) would say, 'They're going to know it's coming, and they're still not going to be able to stop you.'"

That feeling of confidence on the field as a player is extremely empowering, and that makes calls a whole easier to to make from the sideline when you've got really good players executing with confidence.

Emotional pre game speech following Hurricane Sandy

After enduring one of the worst storms in recent U.S. memory, many teams out in New York had to prepare for a first round playoff game.

Two teams that the storm hit particularly hard, Queens Beach Channel HS (NY) and Port Richmond HS of Staten Island (NY), got paired up in the first round of the state playoffs, and had to overcome some incredibly difficult circumstances just to make it to game day.

According to Cameron Smith of Yahoo!Sports, the first day following Hurricane Sandy, only 15% of Beach Channel's students showed up to school, which was held in makeshift emergency location. All of the football team's equipment had been washed away in the storm and their football field had been transformed into an emergency landing area for helicopters carrying medical and disaster releif supplies.

And these guys still found a way to prepare for a playoff game. 

Despite those obstacles, the staff and players at Beach Channel came together for the big playoff game and as the video shows, head coach Victor Nazario had a difficult time keeping his emotions in check as he addressed his team before kickoff.

Many of us across the country get so caught up in our own programs, and trying to win games and change lives,  that it's easy to lose sight of what others are going through, particularly out on the east coast. After our games the past few weeks, we're fortunate enough to board the bus and head to the comfort of our own homes and resume our everyday lives, while thousands and thousands of coaches and players out on the east coast went home to help repair their communities and homes following their games over the past several weeks. 

This pre game video captures coach Nazario's pre game speech before the playoff game. Listen to his message and the emotion in his voice, and how he uses adversity and the game of football to help provide a platform for life lessons. Good stuff.

Coach Nazario and his team ended up falling that afternoon, 38-6 to Port Richmond.

Coach Nazario's pep talk [contains profanity] from GothamSchools on Vimeo.


VIDEO: ESPN's in-depth coverage of LSU before the Alabama game

ESPN The Magazine went all in on coverage of November 3 LSU-Alabama game, giving readers (and viewers) and inside-out look at the LSU program.

Writer Wright Thomspon was embedded with Les Miles throughout the week of the game. His feature is quite a long one but worth your time. 

My favorite Miles anecdote comes at the beginning with Thompson at Miles' home watching football on TV during LSU's bye week. A snippet: 

As Bob Stoops rants at a ref on this rare free Saturday, Miles grins and says, "Give 'em hell, Bob!" Just before the kickoff of the Alabama game, he did frenzied circles in the kitchen, opening the freezer, drawers, looking through the pantry and bellowing in his Coach Voice: "I know there's candy around here somewhere. Where is the Halloween candy!?"

The majority of the piece focuses on just how much the Alabama game means to Miles, especially in light of January's National Championship, and how much big games like the one in question take out of Miles. A regularly cited figure throughout the feature, Alabama marked LSU's 11th game versus a top five foe since its 2007 national championship. 

ESPN The Magazine also took viewers inside three three parts of the body of LSU football.

Here's a look on the field at Tiger Stadium:

A trip inside the LSU weight room:

And, finally, a look at the LSU equipment room:

Vandy AD: "We're prepared to do what we need to do to keep James Franklin"

One of the more consistent names that we've heard brought up when coaching vacancies have been talked about over the past two off seasons is Vanderbilt's James Franklin. Coach Franklin and his staff have led the Commodores to back to back bowl eligible seasons for the first time in school history, and athletic director David Williams wants to make it clear that they're going to do everything they can to keep Franklin in Nashville.

“Whether it is an extension, whether it is changing terms, whether it is ripping [the contract] up and giving a new one, we’re prepared to do what we need to do for James Franklin to be the football coach. James and I meet every week, including this morning, and I think we’re both on the same page that we expect next year when we kick off in the opening game against Mississippi that James Franklin will still be at the helm of Vanderbilt football. I have every expectation of that.” Williams told the Nashville City Paper earlier this week.

“I think he has had a great season, and it’s not over. In my 13 years we’ve been eligible for bowls three times. This is the first time in my 13 years that we’ve been bowl-eligible with still two games to play." 

Franklin earned a contract extension after last season's 6-6 regular season finish, and Vanderbilt has also shown that they're serious by recently breaking ground on a new indoor practice facility that they'll be able to use next October.

“I can’t predict what happens five, 10 years from now but I think James likes it here. He’s had success here. We certainly like having James here. I think we’re working on changing a lot of things as it relates to how football has been approached at Vanderbilt." Williams explained. "As long as we can continue to do that we don’t really have to worry about looking for something else.

“As James tells the kids, what can you ask for? You get to play in the SEC, you get to live in one of the best cities in the United States and you’re with one of the greatest universities in the world. Why would you leave?”

Given the high profile success that Franklin has had over in such a short period of time, it makes sense that many athletic directors want him leading their football programs, and we're confident that at least a few administrators have reached out to gauge his interest in leaving Nashville. But Williams has a good point...you're coaching in the greatest football conference in the country, live in one of the best cities in the nation, and get to sell one of the top educations in the world to recruits.

With all of that said, don't expect Franklin's name to get quieter as jobs open up. Him and his staff are doing a tremendous job and have a promising future.



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