Ten best non-conference games for college football in 2017

The college football season is just about to start and most teams will start with non-conference games to start their seasons. There are some great non-conference games this season that not only feature matchups of teams with a lot of history, but also games that will impact the College Football Playoff. Here are the ten best non-conference games for the 2017 college football season:

10. 22 West Virginia vs. 21 Virginia Tech (Landover,MD), Sep. 3

Best Non-conference games

(Photo by manhattanhokies.com)

This is on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend to help kick off the college football season. There will be no NFL games to compete against, so this game will have a lot of viewers.

Both teams came out in the AP Top 25 poll that was recently released. This game may be a little overshadowed by some other big games in the opening weekend, but it will have a huge impact on the college football season.

West Virginia finished last season with a 10-3 record and get new life at the quarterback position in Will Grier. In the first year of the new Big 12 Championship Game, the Mountaineers could beat out Oklahoma or Oklahoma State for a spot. With a win in the non-conference against a good team like Virginia Tech, the Mountaineers can catapult their way to the College Football Playoff if a lot of things go their way.

Virginia Tech won the ACC Coastal Division last season and will likely do so again this season. They have a great back seven of the defense, which will be challenged by Grier. The offense will give us the first view of Josh Jackson who will be a good dual-threat quarterback for the Hokies.

9. Notre Dame at 14 Stanford, nov. 25

Best Non-conference games

One of many close games in the Stanford-ND rivalry happened two season ago. (Photo by youtube.com)

Notre Dame may have missed out on the AP Poll for the Preseason, but have a lot of intriguing games considering their history and talent. They still received 65 votes, which means if they win in week one they will be in the top 25. This rivalry game happens on the last weekend of the regular season, so Notre Dame will have to win some games to help earn this spot on the list.

It is a make it or break it year for Brian Kelly. If the season is going poorly this could be his last game at Notre Dame. If the Fighting Irish can play up to their potential and only have two or so losses heading into this game, a win in this game could get them into a New Year’s Six Bowl Game. For Stanford they could be in a position where they have won the Pac-12 North and this game comes before the Pac-12 Championship game, or they could be trying to make their resume look better because they lost the Pac-12 North.

This game features a good offensive line at Notre Dame against a very good Stanford defense, that ranked 18th in the country in scoring last season. If all goes as planned for both schools, some of the bigger names on the team could be fighting for draft position or for postseason awards. Mike McGlinchey can cement his status as a top tackle in the NFL Draft, while Bryce Love of Stanford can rack up more rushing yards.

8. 15 Georgia at Notre Dame, Sep. 9

Best non-conference games

Notre Dame Stadium will be packed for the Georgia game. (Photo by und.com)

SEC teams don’t often play Notre Dame, but two staffers met at a seminar and now we have two historic teams playing once this year and once in 2019 in Athens. If both teams win in week one, this will be a game between ranked opponents, making it even bigger.

Georgia is on a quest to win the SEC East and doing so is very possible. If they get to the SEC Championship with only a loss or two they could be in a “win and you are in” situation for the College Football Playoff. That is easier said than done, but a win at Notre Dame would be a nice feather in their caps. Jacob Eason, Nick Chubb and the Georgia offense will have a chance to light up a Notre Dame defense that struggled last season. The defense can help set the tone on what could be a great season.

The Fighting Irish will likely be in the AP poll in the second week and be tested with a very good Georgia team. Brandon Wimbush will be thrown into the fire against a Bulldog defense that returns 10 starters. The matchups to watch in this game are endless for a variety of different reasons: How many yards can the Georgia offense get? How will Wimbush fair against a good Georgia defense? How will the NFL talent on the Notre Dame offensive line do against the NFL talent in the Georgia front seven?

Even if this game becomes a blowout for one side or another, it will give fans a good idea of where each program is headed this season.

7. 4 USC at Notre Dame, oct. 21

best non-conference games

No matter what side you root for, everyone remembers the “Bush Push”. (photo by insidesocal.com)

USC will take a break from their Pac-12 schedule to play this rivalry game with Notre Dame. Yes, Notre Dame is in a third straight game on this list, but they do play a great non-conference schedule with their 12 games to fill.

The Trojans want to make the College Football Playoff this season, that is for sure. Sam Darnold could be the next in a long line of Heisman Trophy winners out of USC. He has a chance to light up the scoreboard at Notre Dame Stadium and do it in front of a national audience.

After the Georgia game, the Fighting Irish have a chance to go on a win streak. They play Boston College, Michigan State, Miami (OH) and North Carolina before their two weeks to prepare for USC. Optimally they would be 6-0 at that point, but they have more talent than everyone, but Georgia. If they are 5-1 with a loss to Georgia this game would have huge implications. If their record is anything less than 4-2 at this point of the season, Kelly is likely looking at a new job.

One interesting battle to watch from this game is Iman Marshall and Jack Jones covering Equanimeous St. Brown of Notre Dame. All will be playing on Sundays in a few years and will like the challenge of playing against one another.

6. 23 Texas at 4 USC, Sep. 16

USC certainly didn’t take it easy in the non-conference schedule. They get a rematch of the BCS National Championship Game, arguably the greatest one of all time, when Vince Young ran in the game-winning touchdown and unofficially ended the USC dynasty under Pete Carroll.

The Trojans are a little bit ahead of the Longhorns right now in terms of getting back to a National Championship, but this game will be big nonetheless. With their aspirations to make it to the College Football Playoff, USC needs to take care of business out of conference. A key to this game is that they play Texas a week after Stanford and will likely be banged up from a physical game.

Texas has hired Tom Herman to get them back to their winning ways. They have the talent on the roster, but needed a man in charge to get them where they want to go. Shane Buechele will get a chance to show his improvement against a USC defense that should be pretty solid. Malik Jefferson is a star at linebacker for the Longhorns and will want to play well against a good offensive unit like USC to improve his NFL Draft stock.

5. 17 Florida vs. 11 Michigan (Arlington, Texas), Sep. 2

Best non-conference games

Jim Harbaugh and Jim McElwain will square off in week one. (photo by youtube.com)

The second best game of the opening weekend features two teams that finished with nine wins last season and two teams that struggled on offense. Both will try to have their defenses lead them to victory again in 2017.

Florida made the SEC Championship Game last year and have the capability to do it this year as well. They have talented players on their defense, but only four returning starters, so new stars will get their chance in a big game. The offensive line returns four starters, but the thing that they have lacked is a quarterback as Feleipe Franks tries to give them one. They will have to deal with seven players being suspended for the misuse of financial aid, including star wide receiver Antonio Callaway.

The Wolverines have problems of their own to worry about. They only have one returning starter on defense and four on offense, which struggled against good competition last year anyways. Their hope is that Jim Harbaugh’s recruiting pans out. Wilton Speight needs to take a step forward on offense, while the defense needs star recruits like Rashan Gary to step up.

This game will provide the chance to get to know a lot of the new faces on both of these teams and also allow fans to see if these teams have what it takes to win their divisions.

4. 3 Florida State at 17 Florida, Nov. 25

Best non-conference games

Florida State celebrating after a victory over Florida (Photo by cbssports.com)

At this point in the season, Florida State may be trying to stay in contention for the College Football Playoff, while Florida may be getting ready as the SEC East representative in the SEC Championship Game. Whether this rivalry game has as much riding on it as we expect is unknown, but it will be a good way to cap off the regular season for both teams.

The Seminoles may have one or two losses at this point in the season, but could still make the College Football Playoff. Deondre Francois will have already been tested by the defenses of Alabama, Clemson and Louisville, so this will provide him with another opportunity to see what he can do.

Florida lost to Florida State last year in this game and then had to prepare for the SEC Championship the next week. They will have a good defense again, but will need Franks to step up in this game especially. The Gators will need him to have a career day against the likes of Tarvarus McFadden and Derwin James.

This game will likely have a lot riding on it, as it did last season and will also feature a lot of talented players going up against each other once again.

3. 12 Auburn at 5 Clemson, Sep. 9

Best non-conference games

Gus Malzahn and Dabo Swinney will square off again. (Photo by seccountry.com)

Clemson’s first big test as reigning champs is taking on Auburn, a team that has a lot of high expectations themselves. Auburn is looking to get back in the National Championship picture and can use this game to show people that they are for real.

The Clemson defense will likely be very good again with seven returning starters and a lot of good recruits waiting to fill in. Offensively Deshaun Watson will be replaced by Kelly Bryant (or Hunter Johnson), an this will be the first time to shine for a new quarterback. It won’t be an easy task for the new quarterback because Auburn was seventh best scoring defense in the country in 2016 and returns eight starters.

Auburn looks to Jarrett Stidham to get them back to their high-scoring ways on offense. He was successful at Baylor before transferring. With six starters on offense back, he should have a lot of the tools he needs to make things happen. The defense will be good again and will be trying to force an inexperience quarterback into turnovers.

The fun part of this game to watch is Stidham and the Auburn offense against the talented Clemson defense. If Stidham can live up to the hype, it could be a great game.

2. 7 Oklahoma at 2 Ohio State, Sep. 9

Best non-conference games

Baker Mayfield and J.T. Barrett will go head to head a second time. (Photo by thefootballbraniacs.com)

This game last year featured a lot of trash talk leading up to it, but Ohio State escaped Norman victorious, 45-24. With both teams having legitimate College Football Playoff aspirations, it makes it easy to call it one of the top two non-conference games of 2017. This will give fans a chance to see how Lincoln Reilly does in his first big game as head coach of the Sooners.

Ohio State lost a lot of talent to the NFL, but returns 15 starters and a lot of talent. J.T. Barrett will try to get back on track with new offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson. He had a great game against the Sooners last year and will likely do so again in 2017. The defense has an inexperienced secondary that will be tested by Baker Mayfield.

Mayfield should put up points, but needs new weapons to step it up after losing a lot of key players to the NFL and graduation. His offensive line returns to protect him, which is a huge factor in this game. Defensively, Oklahoma isn’t great and needs that to improve for this game in particular. They have talented players, but because they can’t stop that many teams, they need to force turnovers.

The players to watch in this game are the ones in the trenches. Oklahoma features a good offensive line, including Orlando Brown. Ohio State has a good defensive line with Sam Hubbard, Tyquan Lewis and Nick Bosa. A lot of NFL talent will be going at it in this game.

While this game doesn’t rule a team out of College Football Playoff contention, Ohio State’s margin for error would be less and Oklahoma would have a lot of help needed with a loss.

1. 3. Florida State vs. 1 Alabama (Atlanta,GA), Sep. 2

Best non-conference games

Deondre Francois and Jalen Hurts. (photo by sbnation.com)

This is a game that we could be seeing again in the College Football Playoff. Both teams are that good. It is the perfect way to kick-off the season and both teams will be trying to make a statement.

Alabama is coming off of a loss to an ACC team in the National Championship Game. Nick Saban is going to try to make the ACC pay in this one. Jalen Hurts is back, but won’t be able to run as much on this very athletic Florida State defense. He will have to use his arm, which was average at best last year. He will have help from Calvin Ridley on the outside. The defense will continue to plug in players like they do every season and will once again be elite.

Florida State has a lot of tough games this season, so winning this one would be a huge relief and give them a chance to make a mistake later on in the season. The offensive line will be tested by the good Alabama defense. They have to protect Deondre Francois long enough for him to make good throws. On defense the Seminoles will try to make Hurts beat them with his arm, which will be tough with McFadden and James in the secondary.

Watching Calvin Ridley and the Alabama receivers try to get separation from the Florida State secondary will be fun to watch in this game.

Thank the football gods for this game. It is a great game in week one and should get everyone hyped for a great season.

 

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College football preseason 2017 top 25: 25-21

The college football season is about a month and a half away and it can’t come soon enough. As rosters are finally completed with transfers (thank you Malik Zaire) and spring ball all wrapped up, it’s time to look forward to the fall. Who will be the top 25 teams in college football this season?

25. Kansas State Wildcats

Bill Snyder is back for another season as the head man of Kansas State. He had his youngest team ever last season and still finished 9-4. This year should show improvements for the Wildcats, but the record will likely be similar. They will grind out games in typical Snyder fashion.

College football preseason 2017 top 25: 25-21

Byron Pringle

Jesse Ertz will be back to lead the offense at quarterback with his dual-threat abilities. He led the Wildcats in both rushing and passing last year and looks like he will do the same this season.

A few running backs will get a chance to help him out on the ground, including Alex Barnes and Justin Silmon. Byron Pringle and Dominique Heath are good wide receivers on the outside, and will have to make the most of their opportunities, as Ertz only threw for 1,755 yards last season.

The bulk of the offensive line is back including center Reid Najvar and tackles Scott Frantz and Dalton Risner, which should help create more than the 32.2 points per game last year.

Defensively, the Wildcats will have to replace the pass-rushing ability of Jordan Willis, who is off to the NFL, but they do return the other three starters from the defensive line. They help make this defense great at stopping the run which ranked 11th in the country.

The linebackers will be all new starters this year, but keep an eye on Da’Quan Patton who was one of the best JUCO linebackers last season.

Three out of four starters from the secondary return to a unit that needs to improve from its 114th ranking against the pass a year ago.

With an easier non-conference schedule this season, the Wildcats should be undefeated heading into conference play. Their big games at home will be TCU, Oklahoma and West Virginia, while they will be on the road to face Texas and Oklahoma State. With these games posing problems, Kansas State should be able to get out of the regular season with a maximum of four losses by grinding out games and winning the turnover battle.

24. Northwestern Wildcats

Northwestern had a solid 7-6 season last year that was capped off with a win over Pittsburgh in the Pinstripe Bowl. This season they return a lot of key players that should help them compete for the Big Ten West.

College football preseason 2017 top 25: 25-21

Justin Jackson (Photo by: Chicago Tribune)

The backfield is stacked with talent for the Wildcats, featuring three-year starter Clayton Thorson at quarterback and the man who will likely be the school’s all-time leading rusher at year’s end, Justin Jackson at running back. Both can run the ball really well and Thorson improved significantly as a passer from his freshman to his sophomore year. With his natural progression he can make Northwestern’s scoring offense one of the best in the Big Ten.

Four starters return on the offensive line, but they will need to replace Big Ten leading receiver Austin Carr from last year’s squad.

Defensively the Wildcats are best in the secondary, with Godwin Igwebuike and Kyle Quiero, who are two of their best players and are paired with two other returning starters.

They lose Anthony Walker from their linebacking core, but feature a lot of capable replacements. There isn’t much depth on the defensive front, but their starters are solid. The defense lost its best player in Walker, but there is no reason why they should take a step back this year after ranking 24th in the country in scoring defense.

The schedule matches up favorably for Northwestern. They travel to Wisconsin and play Penn State at home in back to back games, but the rest of the games on their schedule should be manageable. The Wildcats will be going to a bowl game and expect at a very minimum eight wins.

23. Washington State Cougars

Winning the Holiday Bowl would have been a nice way to cap off the season, but the Cougars fell to Minnesota to finish with an 8-5 record. Mike Leach got the team rolling and won all eight games in a row, including seven of them being in conference. Washington State got the most important player to return to school for one more year, which will give them another solid season.

College football preseason 2017 top 25: 25-21

Luke Falk (Photo by: seattletimes.com)

Luke Falk could’ve gone to the NFL Draft, but elected to come back to Pullman for his senior season. Falk has two-straight 4,000-yard passing seasons and has a touchdown to interceptions ratio of over three to one. He will have another big year, even though he loses key receivers River Cracraft and Gabe Marks.

Multiple wide receivers are capable of stepping up, but Tavares Martin Jr. is the big play guy. Three returning starters on the offensive line will help protect Falk and the Cougars are also very deep at running back.

Last season, Washington State ranked in the top half of the country in scoring defense, and with that offense humming that’s all they really have to do to make the team successful.

The passing defense is awful and they lost Shalom Luani which hurts. They do return four starters from the secondary, two linebackers and two defensive linemen. Peyton Pelluer is a great linebacker who brings back a lot of experience with 233 career tackles. They will need the secondary and pass rush to get a lot better to be a successful defense.

Washington State has it’s fair share of tough games in 2017 including: Boise State, USC, Stanford and at Washington. Having three of those key games at home is a huge boost to the Cougars. They should be able to beat Boise State at the very least. Getting USC in the crossover game is tough, but Washington State could max out at 10 wins or bottom out with eight, assuming they don’t lose to an FCS opponent for the third year in a row.

22. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

There is no doubt that Brian Kelly’s seat is hot after finishing 4-8 last season. He brought in new coordinators so now the onus is totally on him. No Notre Dame team should ever go 4-8, especially given their schedule. A lot of players need to step up this season, but the talent is there.

College football preseason 2017 top 25: 25-21

Equanimeous St. Brown (Photo by: usatoday.com)

Notre Dame will be breaking in a new quarterback in Brandon Wimbush. He was a highly-touted recruit, but he didn’t play well in the spring game. The key for Wimbush’s development is the great offensive line he has in front of him. Four of the linemen are returning starters and two, Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson, could have been drafted very early in the 2016 NFL Draft.

A lot of the wide receivers are inexperienced, but Equanimeous St. Brown (along with being one of the coolest names in college football) is blossoming into a star. Durham Smythe and Alize Mack (formerly Alize Jones), provide good targets at tight end.

Running the ball is a versatile player who is capable of running and catching out of the backfield, Josh Adams.

The Fighting Irish have been decimated with injuries the past few seasons on the defensive side of the ball and don’t return many starters. The good news is that a lot of players have gotten experience over the last few years. The bad news is they didn’t play particularly well.

This season they need to get better at stopping the run. Nose tackle Jerry Tillery and linebacker Nyles Morgan will do what they can, but will need help. The secondary and defensive lines are shaky overall, but the linebackers are talented and will have to lead the team.

As always, Notre Dame does have some marquee games this season. They host Georgia and USC and travel to Miami and Stanford. Other games on the schedule are tricky, but those are the bigger games. Their matchup with Georgia in week two will let everyone know if the Fighting Irish are bouncing back or not. Notre Dame should win eight games during the regular season and if they don’t Kelly likely won’t be on the sidelines anymore.

21. Virginia Tech Hokies

Justin Fuente rejuvenated the Hokies last year and got them a 10 win season after they defeated Arkansas in the Belk Bowl. They lost some key players, but with Fuente, Virginia Tech will be able to figure it out.

College football preseason 2017 top 25: 25-21

Tremaine Edmunds (Photo courtesy: athlonsports.com)

Jerod Evans surprisingly left for the NFL Draft and went undrafted, so the Hokies will likely turn to Josh Jackson, who has great playmaking ability. Isaiah Ford and Bucky Hodges also left school early, but Cam Phillips will be a great target for Jackson. Other receivers need to produce as well.

Travon McMillan saw his production slip during his sophomore season, but is a solid running back and should have a good junior season. Three returning offensive linemen will help the Hokies move the chains.

The defensive front has one starter returning in Viny Mihota, but the back seven brings back a lot of experience. Their secondary should be one of the best in the country with Terrell Edmunds, Brandon Facyson and Greg Stroman. Tremaine Edmunds will stand out as the best linebacker in the ACC. Virginia Tech was good on defense last year, but should be able to take it to another level in 2017.

The schedule shouldn’t be too rough on the Hokies, but they do have a few big games. They play a neutral site game against West Virginia, Clemson at home, at Miami, at Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh in Blacksburg. Virginia Tech should be able to win most of those games. The Hokies can win anywhere between nine and 11 games in the regular season and can get back to the ACC Championship Game.

 

Featured image: mysanantonio.com

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Dark Horse Candidates for the 2017 Heisman Trophy

The Heisman Trophy is an award that has a lot of favorites every year, but usually the winner of the award is someone that is unexpected. Last year Lamar Jackson won the Heisman with 50/1 odds. For the 2017 season there a lot of players who can win the award that don’t have any listed odds (Baker Mayfield not listed for off the field issues). This year the race is wide open and these are the guys to look at that are under the radar:

 

Jarrett Stidham, QB, Auburn

Stidham has experience playing at Baylor two seasons ago. He filled in for the injured Seth Russell and played 10 games. In those 10 games Stidham completed 68.8% of his passes for 1,256 passing yards. He had 12 touchdowns and just two interceptions. With Russell coming back and a lot of allegations going around the Baylor program, Stidham decided to transfer to Auburn.

Jarrett Stidham (Photo by: Gridironnow.com)

The past few seasons Auburn has had a talented team, but has been missing a quarterback. Enter Stidham. In Auburn’s offense, he has a chance to have a real impact. The running game, led by Kamryn Pettway, should open up the passing game for Stidham. Pettway rushed for 1,220 yards at 5.9 yards per carry last season. If teams try to stack the box, Stidham will hit the open receivers as a result.

Part of winning the Heisman is being on a good team. Auburn has a chance to compete for the SEC West and if they win some of their big games, can get Stidham in the Heisman talk.

Jacob Eason, QB, Georgia

Eason flashed his potential during his freshman season and now has room to improve on that. He threw for 2,430 yards, 16 touchdowns and eight interceptions, which will need to be increased.

Nick Chubb is listed highly on Heisman lists, but Eason could be the one getting all the attention if Georgia wins some big games. Chubb and the running game will help set up Eason. Eason will stretch the field with his great arm strength and make plays.

The Bulldogs had a bit of a down year by their standards, but in a weak SEC East, Georgia can pick up some easy wins. They do have big games for Eason to make his mark, including: Notre Dame, Auburn and Florida.

Brandon Wimbush/Josh Adams, Notre Dame

One of two players from Notre Dame could win the Heisman in 2017, depending on how the offense will run. Wimbush is the new quarterback, who was a good recruit, but struggled in the spring game. Adams has been sharing time in the Notre Dame backfield for two years and now will get his chance to shine. He has accounted for 2,006 total yards in two seasons and will have the rushing stats to pair with some decent receiving stats this year.

The key to both of these players winning the Heisman is an experienced and good offensive line. With Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson electing to return to school, despite being projected to get drafted highly, will make Notre Dame great in the trenches. Put them with a bunch of good recruits and the Fighting Irish will have a physical offensive line.

Notre Dame players will surely get the benefit of the doubt when entering the Heisman discussion, but there are some big games where these playmakers can make their mark. The Fighting Irish play USC, Stanford, Georgia, Miami and North Carolina, all games that should garner a lot of attention.

Royce Freeman, RB, Oregon

Freeman was limited by injuries last season, but still almost ran for 1,000 yards. He is an accomplished college running back with 4,148 rushing yards in his career. Had he not gotten injured he would have been in range to be the NCAA all time leading rusher.

Royce Freeman Heisman

Royce Freeman (Photo by: fishduck.com)

With a new coaching staff and a young quarterback, Freeman will have to carry the offense for Oregon to do well. If he is healthy he should expect a heavy work load. If he plays like he did in 2015, when he rushed for 1,838 yards on 6.5 yards per carry, he will likely be a Heisman Finalist.

Oregon has the chance to have a successful season, with an easier schedule, but they still leave a few games for Freeman to make his mark. Their biggest out of conference games are Nebraska and Wyoming, which are OK, but not a marquee games. The games against Washington and Stanford will be huge for Freeman’s Heisman campaign.

Mike Weber, RB, Ohio State

J.T. Barrett will likely get all the publicity if Ohio State is winning, but Weber has a solid freshman season to build off of. If Barrett throws too many interceptions or has some bad performances in wins, the public favor will be shown to Weber. Weber averaged 6.0 yards per carry and ran for over 1,000 yards in his freshman season.

Ohio State will likely want to have Weber carry the ball more to prevent Barrett from carrying it too many times and getting injured. The problem is that running with Barrett works. Weber will have to raise his production to make this happen and find the end zone often.

The Buckeyes are favorites to end up in the College Football Playoff once again, but they do have some tests that should give Weber a chance to see the national spotlight. Ohio State plays Oklahoma, Penn State and Michigan. If he can have big games in those match ups, Weber can find himself in the Heisman talks.

Myles Gaskin, RB, Washington

Gaskin is another running back that might be overshadowed by his quarterback, but with a good season can also find himself in contention for the Heisman. He has two straight seasons of 1,300 rushing yards and will just need to improve his production a little bit to be in consideration.

Myles Gaskin Heisman

Myles Gaskin (Photo by: zimbio.com)

The Huskies’ lost their deep threat in John Ross, which may change the offense for this season. Gaskin will be required to do more because Washington won’t have so many drives ending in big plays by John Ross for touchdowns. Gaskin will be asked to score more than 10 touchdowns on the ground, improving his Heisman chances.

Washington’s schedule is ridiculously easy, meaning Gaskin has to put up a lot of stats. He will get his chance at a big game and Heisman moment against Stanford.

 

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