NCAA Football

Tennessee Football: Realistic Expectations for Vols in SEC Play

The 2014 Tennessee football team is noticeably better than it was a season ago. But are the Volunteers good enough to win more games in a rugged SEC schedule?

A bowl has always been this year's goal for the Vols, and head coach Butch Jones reiterated that to his team prior to last week's loss to Oklahoma, according to Grantland's Holly Anderson:

One day, somebody in this room is getting married, and this whole team will be at that reception, and you'll be talking, telling stories. And when you get that bowl ring? A bowl ring is the equivalent of a storybook. The two sides of it tell the story of your season. Team 118 will be bonded by that ring for the rest of their lives.

Can UT have a storybook ending or will it be another frustrating finish?

For a program that has gone 7-25 in league play over the past four seasons, the Vols need at least a mediocre in-conference showing to make their first bowl game since 2010.

Despite the 34-10 setback to fourth-ranked Oklahoma, positive vibes surround UT's program.

Improvements in team speed and competitiveness were evident against OU, and the outcome was not indicative of the game. Two end-zone interceptions and a questionable call on what appeared to be an Oklahoma fumble stood in the way of making the score look more presentable.

The Sooners were clearly better, but Tennessee found some positive elements in the running game late and also proved its third-down defensive prowess was no fluke, holding OU to 3-of-12 in conversions.

How will all that translate in SEC play? As impressive as some aspects of UT's loss were, others continued to be worrisome.

Given the way perennial league bottom-feeders like Arkansas and Kentucky have fared, prognosticators aren't high on UT's SEC ceiling. Power rankings from ESPN.com and 247Sports' JC Shurburtt placed the Vols 13th this week, ahead of only lowly Vanderbilt.

So, let's take a look at what Tennessee fans can realistically expect from the Vols entering SEC play.

 

Shouldn't Win

Before we get into the game-by-game breakdown, one thing is clear: There isn't a single contest remaining on the schedule that the Vols can't win.

The OU game proved UT shouldn't be counted out of any game.

Alabama hasn't looked dominant with Blake Sims at quarterback, and the Crimson Tide have some offensive weaknesses such as an inability to stretch the field in the passing game. There are also some defensive question marks, especially in the secondary.

Despite UA's imperfect start, its offensive talent is disgusting. Running backs T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry as well as wide receiver Amari Cooper—who is on an All-American pace—are matchup nightmares for anybody.

The Tampa Bay Times' Antonya English detailed the 'Bama offense's school-record start under new coordinator Lane Kiffin, so the downfield issues haven't hindered the Tide much. Also, with all those 4- and 5-star defenders, Nick Saban will eventually find a solution.

Alabama isn't the immovable force it normally is, but it's still asking too much for a young Vols team to beat its biggest rival again this year.

Tennessee's other toughest matchup also comes from the loaded SEC West.

If Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace can play at the level he has since a forgettable first half in the season opener against Boise State, the Rebels are going to be a tough game in Oxford, Mississippi.

The Clarion-Ledger's Hugh Kellenberger notes Wallace is 58-for-72 passing (80.5 percent) for 857 yards, eight touchdowns and one interception since the first 30 minutes of the season.

Couple that with a defense loaded with talented players and experience, and the Rebels look daunting.

 

Should Win

The 2-1 Vols should get another victory when they host FCS little brother Chattanooga on Oct. 11, but where are the other three wins going to come from to push UT into a bowl-eligible team?

There are only two league games UT should clearly win, and one of those is now debatable.

Vanderbilt is seemingly in shambles, even after its last-second win over Massachusetts. Temple beat the Commodores by 30 in the season opener. Then they were demolished 41-3 by Ole Miss before the nail-biter against UMass.

The quarterback issues detailed by The Tennessean's David Climer are still prevalent, and first-year coach Derek Mason has failed to instill confidence in his squad following back-to-back nine-win seasons led by James Franklin.

Therefore, it's tough to see VU beating Tennessee for the third consecutive season.

The Vols are just a better team, though a lot that can happen between now and Nov. 29.

Under second-year coach Mark Stoops, Kentucky looks vastly improved. The Wildcats took Florida to the brink in "The Swamp" before losing 36-30 in double overtime last Saturday. They appear faster on defense, better offensively under quarterback Patrick Towles and could be a tough draw.

Stoops won some big recruiting battles last year, and that talent is paying dividends.

Given UT's offensive weaponry at wide receiver and Worley playing the best football of his career, the Vols still should beat UK in Neyland Stadium. UT has won 28 of the past 29 meetings against the 'Cats, and it's hard to believe the outcome will be any different.

 

Swing Games

That leaves an abnormal amount of pivot games.

So many teams are difficult to read this early in the season, but UT should be encouraged by how the early season has played out thus far.

Georgia looked like a national title contender in a second-half throttling of Clemson. Then, the Bulldogs tanked at South Carolina, getting exposed with a defense full of holes and a coaching staff that refused to ride running back Todd Gurley at critical moments.

The Gamecocks flashed a dynamic offense against UGA but a defense that gave up 680 yards in a 52-28 season-opening loss to Texas A&M. They also struggled to stop East Carolina in a narrow win but looked much-improved against UGA. They're extremely hard to read at this point.

While Carolina and Georgia are going to be tough draws for the Vols on the road, UT shouldn't be written off in either one.

Last year, the Vols came within an eyelash of upsetting Georgia at Neyland Stadium before succumbing in overtime.

Pig Howard's crushing goal-line fumble will be etched in the minds of UT fans for years.

The very next game, the Vols completed the upset of South Carolina.

UT always seems to play those two teams close.

Prior to the up-and-down start from UGA and Carolina, the two biggest swing games on the schedule were Florida and Missouri—played in Neyland Stadium on Oct. 4 and Nov. 22, respectively.

They remain huge.

Florida may be a lot better than it has been, but it proved in that game that its deficiencies from last year's 4-8 season are not completely cleared. Quarterback Jeff Driskel is still susceptible to giving away big plays, and a defense that was supposed to be the team's strength struggled versus UK.

Considering UT hasn't beaten the Gators in nine seasons, it's unlikely the Vols will be expected to win.

But with the game being played in Knoxville, there are very few reasons why UT should fear Will Muschamp's team.

Of all the negatives that come with playing so many youngsters, there is one bonus: Many of these kids have never lost to Florida before. The history is irrelevant—and the same can be said on the flip side with UK players devoid of the stigma that comes with losing to UT.

Missouri again has talent and speed, led by quarterback Maty Mauk, but the Tigers lost so much from last year's SEC East champion squad that it's difficult to know how they'll fare in SEC play.

Much more will be known about the Vols and Mizzou by the time they play the regular season's penultimate game, but MU has looked beatable.

 

Prediction

Tennessee has too many question marks right now to guarantee any wins, save the showdown with the Mocs. However, there are enough questions in a wide-open SEC East that optimism should abound on Rocky Top.

If UT can beat Chattanooga, Vanderbilt and Kentucky, that leaves the Vols needing to win just one of their four swing games to get a bowl berth.

It's a tough road for the Vols, but they are going to be a difficult draw for most teams they play, too.

If UT can find some things to help its run-blocking and keep Worley upright, it will become bowl-eligible. Getting injured receivers Von Pearson and Josh Smith as well as tight end Ethan Wolf back as quickly as possible is equally important.

Right now, the safe bet is on UT going 3-5 in league play.

While that's far from where the Vols want to be, it's a step in the right direction. Most importantly, it's a result that would see them in the postseason for the first time in four years.

 

Unless otherwise noted all statistics gathered from UTSports.com. All recruiting information from 247Sports.

Brad Shepard covers SEC football and is the Tennessee Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow Brad on Twitter @Brad_Shepard.

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College Football Teams Whose 2015 Recruiting Focus Is Primarily Offense

Unlike the NFL draft, the college football recruiting process gives coaches and teams a chance to bring in quality and quantity with most schools bringing in 20-25 prospects with each cycle.

However, there are cases where teams still have to focus on more than taking the best player available.

With the offensive explosion that has enveloped the sport in recent years, many teams across the country are looking to beef up their talent on that side of the ball in the 2015 cycle. 

Which schools are primarily focusing on adding quarterback, running backs, receivers and offensive linemen in their 2015 classes?

*Teams listed in alphabetical order.

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LSU Football Recruiting: Latest Updates on 2015 Commits, Visits and Targets

LSU will begin its SEC season against Mississippi State on Saturday night. Though head coach Les Miles and his coaching staff are focused on defeating the Bulldogs, they always keep an eye on recruiting. 

Miles currently has 15 commits in the 2015 class, which ranks him 12th nationally and seventh in the SEC. The Tigers have not finished outside the top 10 since 2012

LSU fans should not be alarmed with the current ranking, as it is still early in the recruiting process. The Tigers are the only school in the top 15 with 15 or less commitments, which means there is still plenty of room for the class to grow. 

Here is a breakdown of the latest on LSU's recruiting trail. 

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Florida State Football: How Clemson Has Become FSU's Biggest ACC Rival

Florida State has had some significant ACC rivalries through the years. But even in the last 10 years, since Miami joined the conference, FSU's biggest league rival has been Clemson.

"It's FSU's biggest ACC rivalry," former Clemson coach and current Raycom analyst Tommy Bowden said. "And probably the most significant rivalry in the conference."

An argument can be made that FSU-Miami has been the most dramatic through the decades, especially considering the Seminoles' missed kicks in the 1990s and 2000s. But the FSU-Miami series has become one-sided. Jimbo Fisher is 4-0 against the Hurricanes since he took over as FSU's head coach in 2010. And three of the four wins have been by 13 or more points. 

FSU-Clemson has taken top billing on the Seminoles schedule for a few reasons. The biggest one is that they are both Atlantic Division teams, and the winner gets a leg up on the other in the race to win the division (while also grabbing the first tiebreaker, head-to-head result, if they each finish the ACC schedule with the same conference record).

Either FSU or Clemson has represented the Atlantic Division in the ACC Championship Game each year since 2009. And in each of the past five seasons, the team that wins the FSU-Clemson game has claimed the division title.

That's how important Saturday's FSU-Clemson game is to both teams. The Seminoles won the last two ACC titles, and the path to the championship included a 49-37 win over Clemson in Tallahassee in 2012 and a 51-14 thrashing at Clemson last year.

While Fisher is 3-1 against Clemson as head coach, the Tigers have had success in the last decade against FSU. Clemson claimed victories over FSU from 2005-07 and won games at Death Valley in 2009 and 2011.

"Clemson is a great program with great tradition," Fisher said. "They're ranked highly. And when you get into your conference, those teams are very naturally going to become rivals."

Rivals also bring out the best in each other. Even though FSU routed Clemson in the Top Five showdown last year, it was a game in which the Seminoles realized just how good they were—and how far they could go. That win put FSU at 6-0, en route to a 14-0 season and a national title.

"To come out and perform in a hostile environment like that against a big-time opponent, it gave us good confidence to know that we could go on the road and we could play with the best teams in the nation," Fisher said.

FSU and Clemson have also waged a number of head-to-head recruiting battles through the years. Chris Nee, a recruiting analyst for 247Sports, said Clemson coaches are very active in the Sunshine State. Recent prep prospects that have left the state and signed with Clemson include 5-star defensive back Mackensie Alexander of Immokalee, Florida, linebacker Tony Steward of St. Augustine and 4-star defensive end Tavaris Barnes of Jacksonville.

"Assistant coach Jeff Scott leads the charge for them, but both coordinators (Chad Morris on offense and Brent Venables on defense) for the Tigers also make Florida a regular stop as well as other members of their staff," Nee said. "The Tigers have had success in the Sunshine State and won some great battles head-to-head with Florida State." 

On the flip side, FSU has found success in the Carolinas and has gone head-to-head with Clemson for prospects in Georgia. In 2014, FSU landed 4-star defensive end Lorenzo Featherston of Greensboro, N.C., who chose the Seminoles over Clemson, Florida, Miami and Auburn. And in 2012, 4-star linebacker Ukeme Eligwe of Stone Mountain, Georgia, signed with FSU.

"It ramps up the personal animosity," Bowden said. "A lot of those guys were rivals in high school and that carries over to college. And it adds to the buildup." 

Bob Ferrante is the Florida State Lead Writer for Bleacher Report, all quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bob on Twitter. All recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.

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Nebraska Football: What Cornhuskers Must Do to Shut Down Miami RB Duke Johnson

Look out, Nebraska. Ameer Abdullah isn't the only running back worth paying attention to on Saturday. Duke Johnson is coming to town.

The junior running back from Miami has quite the impressive resume, which is exactly why people need to be looking out for him. Despite breaking his ankle late last season, Johnson racked up solid numbers for Miami as a sophomore. Now that he's fully healed, that hasn't changed in 2014.

In just three games, Johnson has 277 yards on 43 attempts for two touchdowns. While he didn't score in Miami's 31-13 loss to Louisville, he carried the ball 20 times for 90 yards, per HurricaneSports.com.

Neither Florida A&M nor Arkansas State proved much of a challenge for Johnson and Miami, which means he'll be ready to go against Nebraska. How will the Huskers handle the running back?

First, the Nebraska linebackers are going to need to have one heck of a game. BTN.com's Tom Dienhart recently discussed Johnson versus the Husker linebackers.

"The Cornhuskers have nice speed and athletic ability at linebacker," Dienhart said. "That should allow Nebraska to hem in Johnson, one of the country’s top backs."

Dienhart continued, saying that if the linebackers don't keep Johnson in check, he'll run all over the Huskers and leave Lincoln with a win.

Stopping Johnson goes beyond the linebackers, though. It will take a strong defensive showing across the board, similar to the one Louisville put together against the Canes.

The Courier-Journal's Jeff Greer took a hard look at what the Cardinals did to stop Miami. His three primary notes were that "Louisville shed blocks really well, tackled well and controlled the line of scrimmage." The Huskers can absolutely use those tips to better prepare for Johnson.

After all, Louisville held Miami to just 12 first downs and 70 total rushing yards, per Greer. That's not too shabby, especially for a team that wants to defeat the Hurricanes.

For Nebraska, controlling the line of scrimmage will be important. Defensive end Randy Gregory will lead that effort, which is something head coach Bo Pelini believes will be vital in stopping Johnson, as he explained in a press conference:

I think their game and philosophy starts with the running game. They want to be physical and they want to pound you some. They kind of set up their passing game with the running game by getting some play-actions with things down the field and making you have to honor that running game. Like any good football team, you better control the line of scrimmage and control the running game. That gives you a lot better opportunity to dictate to them rather than them dictate to you.

Abdullah agreed, saying the following in a press conference: "I’m just worrying about the defense. We have great defenders on our side. We have Maliek Collins who is really stepping up. Obviously Randy (Gregory) is back in the equation. I’m sure they will have a great game plan to corral him."

Ultimately, corralling Johnson is what it comes down to for Nebraska. If the Huskers let Miami dictate the game, Johnson will have his way and run all over. If Nebraska can settle in, control the line of scrimmage and put pressure on Hurricane quarterback Brad Kaaya, things should fall in the Huskers' favor.

All eyes are set to be on Abdullah when kickoff arrives. Nebraska needs to be ready, though. He's not the only running back who could make things interesting.

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Florida State's Amazing Rise Since 2013 'Showdown' vs. Clemson

Florida State's upcoming game Saturday against Clemson holds a special significance as it relates to the resurgence of the Seminoles program. 

For one, it is the ACC's most nationally relevant rivalry, as Dan Wolken of USA Today Sports writes: 

It might be bad timing for Swinney, who is 1-3 against Florida State's Jimbo Fisher, but their parallel trajectories have undoubtedly helped energize and legitimize a lagging ACC, giving the league a marquee rivalry at a time when traditionally strong programs like Miami, Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech have dipped.

But as it pertains exclusively to Florida State, the Clemson game offers some historical markers. 

Eleven months ago to the date, Florida State traveled to Clemson as a five-point favorite, according to Covers.com. That's the slimmest margin the Seminoles have been favored by in a regular-season game since being a touchdown favorite in a 2012 loss to Florida. 

Of course, we all know what happened between the Seminoles and the Tigers. Florida State jumped out to a 27-7 halftime lead and put things away for good shortly thereafter in a 51-14 rout. Quarterback Jameis Winston launched into stardom (and a bona fide Twitter trash talker) and the "Florida State is back" wagon finally got rolling without catching on fire, as it might otherwise in The Oregon Trail.

That leads to another point: Florida State hasn't been an underdog heading into a game since facing the Tigers in Death Valley in September 2011, a 35-30 loss. And even then, the Noles were a 2.5-point 'dog. Play that game in Tallahassee and the line undoubtedly shifts. 

Yes, Florida State has been a perennial favorite for what almost amounts to three full years. It can be easy to forget, then, that there was a time not so long ago when the results didn't always match the expectations. The Noles weren't always the dominant program steamrolling teams—and all their hopes and dreams along the way—on a weekly basis. 

The inexplicable losses come to mind. There's the 17-16 head-scratcher at North Carolina State in 2012, for which Florida State was a 17-point favorite. There's the 35-30 loss to Wake Forest and the 14-13 defeat to Virginia in 2011. Again, Florida State was a double-digit favorite in both losses. 

But since the Clemson game a season ago, Florida State has done everything expected of them. That's no easy feat given the unpredictable nature of college football, a game played with 18-22-year-olds. 

Not only did Florida State enter the rest of its regular-season games as major favorites—the "smallest" spread was 21 points against Miami—it covered in all but one of them (North Carolina State). 

It's easy to see why. 

The 2013 Seminoles scored the most points by an NCAA team in a single season—723—a record previously held by the 2008 Oklahoma Sooners. The Noles also had the No. 1 scoring defense in the country, according to cfbstats.com, a Heisman-winning quarterback and three consensus All-Americans (Winston, defensive back Lamarcus Joyner and center Bryan Stork). 

Seven players from the '13 Florida State team were drafted into the NFL last spring, one year after 11 players were drafted. The fruits of Fisher's recruiting labor—he's landed a top-10 recruiting class in each year as a head coach, according to the 247Sports.com composite rankings—have been evident. 

The Seminoles have always been talented; it was a matter of everything coming together. 

Not to mention there was significant turnover in the coaching staff heading into the 2013 season. According to Coley Harvey of the Orlando Sentinel, Fisher had six new assistants join the staff following the 2012 season. 

Listing off the accolades gives a new appreciation for the kind of run Florida State is on—and could be on for a while—regardless of what happens against Clemson. 

There is a question mark for that game. Winston has been suspended for the first half following vulgar remarks he made in public this past week. Sophomore Sean Maguire will start in Winston's place. Still, the Seminoles are still a 14.5-point favorite, according to OddsShark.com

"He [Fisher] told me to be ready and said the game plan is not changing, this team is not changing, we're going to go out in the first half and do everything we usually would," Maguire said, via Jared Shanker of ESPN.com. "He had all the confidence in the world in me. He expects nothing to change just as so do I. It's a cliché answer but it's true: Nothing really has changed this week."

Including, Florida State hopes, winning big. 

One year ago, that line might have been much, much smaller. Two years ago, there would have been questions about whether Florida State would pull off the win at all without its star player (even if only for a half). Not now. 

Perhaps this says just as much about Clemson as it does Florida State, but Winston's suspension isn't widely viewed, at least in Vegas, as a game changer. 

If Florida State wins comfortably Saturday, it'll come full circle from the Clemson game a season ago—the last time there was even a doubt about the Seminoles' chances. To go a full year as such large favorites, and to live up to those lofty expectations, shows just how far this program has come. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. 

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Amari Cooper Is College Football's Most Unassuming Superstar

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Amari Cooper is better than you, and he knows it.

“Could you have envisioned the start that you’ve had through the first three weeks?” he was asked on Monday at a routine press conference.

“Yeah.”

“You talked in the spring about Lane Kiffin and how you’d seen Marqise Lee and you were looking forward to that. Is this that why you anticipated this?”

“Yeah, that’s the exact reason.”

It’s not arrogance.

He was asked, after all, if there was anyone who could cover him. He said no, because there’s not.

The difference, though, between Cooper and other top wide receivers is that he won’t go out of his way to tell you he’s better than you.

“He is sort of a quiet guy when it comes to how he plays, Nick Saban said. "He's not a trash-talker. He doesn't say much. He listens. Very respectful of his coaches to do what they're asking him to do and tries to do it and get better. I have a tremendous amount of respect for guys that go about their business like he does. He's just a really good person as well as a very, very good competitor.”

At a position that is so prone to extracurricular antics, Cooper will just let his play do the talking.

This isn’t a story, though, about another blue-collar, lunch-pail, we-first player, because Amari Cooper is not just another wide receiver.

Cooper is humble, but confident. Mature beyond his years. He is a superstar who knows it, but he doesn’t feel the need to rub it in your face.

The best wide receiver in college football is off to a scorching start and doesn’t appear interested in slowing down any time soon. He’s in an offense that loves to get the ball to him anyway it can, with a new quarterback that has found a security blanket he can lean on.

 

Ability

It’s hard to pinpoint the one thing that makes Amari Cooper so good, because there isn’t really one.

He has the speed to burn you over the top, the size to tussle with SEC cornerbacks, the route-running to get open, the moves to break ankles in the open field and the body control to go up and get jump balls.

“Coop’s got really good size, very quick for a guy his size. He’s got explosive speed,” Saban said. “He’s exceptionally good against press, coming off the ball, but he’s also very good coming out of a break. Most of the time the defender gets beat either on the release or out of the break. A lot of guys are pretty good at one and maybe not as good at the other. And he has really good hands and good ball skills.

“He’s the complete package when it comes to a guy that is a pretty complete player.”

Brett Goetz coached Amari Cooper with the South Florida Express, a seven-on-seven team that showcases the area’s top talent at skill-position players.

Cooper was hurt during his junior year of high school football—a critical year for scouts and coaches to evaluate players—so he didn’t quite garner the hype that other players in his class did.

Later, in the spring of 2011, Cooper joined Goetz and the Express. Goetz knew he had something special right away.

“His greatness was seen from one of our first practices,” Goetz said.

Cooper dominated that season and into his senior year, among his own team and against the top players from around the South. “Easy,” is how Goetz frequently described his style of play. It never looked hard for the Miami Northwestern receiver.

“There’s a lot of good receivers,” Goetz said. “But the great ones just make it look so easy and so fluid.”

That continued into his college career.

Cooper took off his freshman year, playing a bigger and bigger role on the 2012 Alabama offense as the season went on.

His biggest catch came at the end of the SEC Championship Game that year, a play-action pass over the top that gave Alabama a lead late. Cooper nearly stopped, unaware the ball was coming his way. Once he realized what was happening, he turned on the afterburners and came away with the score.

“They’ll throw a bomb to him and he’ll just come under the ball,” Goetz said. “He always finds a way.”

Goetz sat in the stands at the BCS National Championship Game against Notre Dame later that year, since it was in South Florida. He was with Sam Madison, a four-time Pro Bowl cornerback with the Miami Dolphins.

Cooper caught two touchdowns that day and almost had a third. AJ McCarron uncorked a deep shot his way, Cooper finding an inch of separation behind the two-deep safeties he had just split like a log. The ball landed just inches in front of Cooper.

Madison turned to Goetz.

“You know he’s hurt. Something’s wrong,” Madison said. “He always finds a way to get under that ball.”

 

Work ethic

Kynon Codrington worked on Saban’s Dolphins staff during the 2004 season and has since covered recruiting in that area, most recently for Bleacher Report.

When Mario Cristobal took Alabama’s offensive line coach job in February of 2013, Codrington texted the former FIU coach congratulations after he had gotten settled down. Cristobal told Codrington that Cooper was the hardest working player he’s been around.

“Of the wide receivers?” Codrington asked.

“No,” Cristobal replied. “The whole team.”

Alabama strength coach Scott Cochran runs a notorious strength and conditioning program called the "Fourth Quarter," designed to get players in shape before spring practice and in the summer.

New offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin thought the workouts were hard enough as it is. But Kiffin noticed Cooper regularly working out two hours before the rest of the team came in for Cochran’s grueling training regimen.

“Amari is completely dedicated to being the best football player that he can,” Kiffin said at the start of fall camp. “He’s completely focused, so he’s great to work with. He wants to be great and he also wants to expand his game. He comes in and asks question about how you move around and how do you get to these spots. He’s been great to work with.”

Cooper has never really been one to go out much on weekends or at night, either. He has a social life, to be sure, but doesn’t feel the need to engage in other activities.

“I just abstain from doing activities that won’t help me with football or school or where I want to be,” Cooper said. “Sometimes it just seems like there’s not enough time in the day as far as in the spring and the season you have school and football. So you just try to work around that. You just try to get better. There’s always something you can do to get better. Sometimes it just doesn’t seem like the day is long enough to do all of those things.”

Saban said a coach's dream is when his best players are also the hardest workers. He certainly has that in Cooper.

 

Mindset

Even with all of the skill and determination, Cooper doesn’t have any interest in showing off.

He never has.

"Most humble, quiet kid I’ve ever been around. The most humble superstar I’ve ever seen,” said Goetz, who's coached area stars like Ryan Shazier, Geno Smith and Duke Johnson. “Amari was just so quiet. Zero arrogance. Just got the job done. Never talked about it, never showboated, just a great player on and off the field. ... He doesn’t need to do anything above what he does by catching the ball and scoring a lot of touchdowns.”

Still, Cooper is not the type to deflect praise or give the straight for-the-good-of-the-team company line.

He said that he knows his statistics. He’s aware of his climb up Alabama’s record books. And he knows how much better he is than the rest of college football.

That quiet confidence is almost more terrifying for a defensive back than an in-your-face receiver.

Where the latter gives you ammo and motivation for the next play, Cooper just moves on.

No, Cooper would rather just beat you—whether that's over the top, across the middle or in open space like he's done so often this year so far. It wouldn't be like Cooper to brag or show off. He doesn't have to.

He still knows he’s better than you, because he is. He just won’t tell you.

“You can tell he's a confident guy,” right tackle Austin Shepherd said. “I have all the confidence in the world in him. I would be too if I was that guy. He's different.”

 

Marc Torrence is the Alabama lead writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats come from CFBStats. All recruiting information comes from 247Sports.

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

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College Football Picks Week 4: Odds and Spread Predictions for Top 25 Teams

If last week showed bettors anything, it is that even the seemingly easiest of weeks in the college football realm can morph into a disaster.

Last week seemed easy enough. National heavyweights booked opponents they were sure to use as one final practice run before conference play began. It was easy coin for bettors before the season got tricky.

Then the upsets happened.

This week seems easy enough, too. Conference heavyweights mostly open up against perceived cannon fodder before taking on schools in their weight class. It seems easy coin for bettors before the difficulty is turned up a notch. 

If only things were so simple. Thank the spreading parity for the early hurdles. Here is a look at the Week 4 Top 25 slate.

 

2014 College Football Week 4 Top 25 Odds

Note: All odds, updated as of 8 p.m. ET on Sept. 18, are courtesy of Odds Shark. AP poll via The Associated Press.

 

Odds to Avoid 

Mississippi State vs. No. 8 LSU (-7)

Look, the spread is relatively small here as is, and for good reason. Take a look at some of the factoids compiled by ESPN CollegeFootball:

As one can glean, LSU has been dominant in its past two contests, although it is important to point out that the opposition was minuscule in the form of Sam Houston State and Louisiana-Monroe.

More telling in regards to the 2014 Tigers is the season-opening clash with then-ranked No. 14 Wisconsin, where Les Miles' team hardly squeaked out a four-point win and got help in the form of two Badgers turnovers.

One thing the Badgers do well that flustered LSU? Run the ball. The team gouged the Tigers defense at home to the tune of 268 yards—140 yards and a score came from Melvin Gordon.

That happens to be an issue, as the Bulldogs can be quite potent on the ground. Junior back Josh Robinson currently averages 6.3 yards per carry and has 288 yards and three scores. Quarterback Dak Prescott, another junior, has rushed 40 times for 273 yards and two scores.

Prescott is of particular concern for LSU Saturday. He can beat teams through the air, too, as he has shown with 696 yards and nine touchdowns to two interceptions.

"Dak Prescott is as good a player as there is at his position in our conference," Miles said, per The Associated Press, via ESPN.com. "He's a guy that stands back in the pocket and knows what he's looking at. He makes the throws and he has the ability to pull it down. He runs with strength."

Thanks to a strong rush defense, LSU will need to lean on sophomore quarterback Anthony Jennings for critical production at one point or another, and while he continues to improve as the starter, it's a scary proposition for those who want to bet that the Tigers can cover the spread.

Even at home, this one has the feel of a tricky encounter and, while the Bulldogs record in the past decade and change against LSU is horrific, that just makes it seem even worse as an overdue upset.

Stay away, just in case.

Prediction: Tigers 24, Bulldogs 20

 

Virginia vs. No. 21 BYU (-13.5)

Do bettors really want to go down this path again?

Virginia burnt boatloads of bettors just one week ago in an upset of then-ranked No. 21 Louisville.

Now BYU is No. 21. For bettors with strong memories, the Cavaliers also burnt the Cougars last season—one of their two wins on the year came against BYU.

These Cavaliers are no joke thanks to a strong defense, as seemingly always. An eight-point loss to start the season against UCLA hurt, but a 23-21 win over the Cardinals in which Mike London's team controlled the clock, gave up just 282 total yards and allowed just four third-down conversions on 14 attempts bodes well against BYU.

Then again, the Cougars are 3-0 and led by junior dual-threat quarterback Taysom Hill, who already has 689 yards and four scores through the air, with another 356 yards and six touchdowns on the ground.

Running wild on UConn, Texas and Houston is impressive in a way, but Hill has yet to be truly tested. As former NFL player David Nixon points out, he may have little room to operate if his line loses the battle in the trenches:

To be frank, the spread here is entirely too large against a Virginia team known for its defense. The Cavaliers held Heisman contender Brett Hundley in check without a touchdown pass and lost by eight, before embarrassing a Louisville team known for its offense.

On the flip side, Hill's eye-popping individual numbers still only led to an eight-point win over a 1-2 Houston team.

Feel confident in a traditional defense keeping things close Saturday.

Prediction: Cougars 27, Cavaliers 23

 

Stats and information via ESPN.com unless otherwise specified.

 

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College Football Week 4 Schedule: Preview for Saturday's Under-the-Radar Games

For the second straight week, Saturday's college football slate leaves a little to be desired on paper. Only two games on the slate feature Top 25 teams, one of which was played Thursday night.

So unless you DVR'd Auburn-Kansas State, the only game of great import to objective observers is Clemson-Florida State, which doesn't kick off until well into the sports bar hours of the evening. What the schedule needs is a revamping—or, at the very least, a deeper dive into its recesses, where we can at least pull out some games that will be more watchable than expected.

The games below will feature exactly zero teams I expect to make this year's College Football Playoff. But that's the point; this is one of the final couple of weeks in which these teams still matter. As the intraconference play begins ramping up, it's going to be difficult to check in on the likes of Eastern Carolina. You can't much compare ECU-Temple on Nov. 1 to Oregon-Stanford or Auburn-Ole Miss.

For now, though, the Pirates may actually be more fun to watch than a majority of games featuring one of the Big Five.

With that in mind, let's check in on some of the under-the-radar contests worth checking out Saturday.

 

Marshall at Akron (2 p.m. ET, ESPN3)

Rakeem Cato is ridiculously fun to watch. That's the only justification needed here, as Marshall hits the road to take on an Akron team it should beat handily. The Thundering Herd are 12.5-point favorites on the road, per Odds Shark, and that might be underselling their offensive firepower. 

Cato, the nation's sneakiest Heisman candidate, has thrown for 953 yards and nine touchdowns through the first three weeks. He's also added 152 yards and two touchdowns on the ground, including a 63-yard scamper that would have provided a so-called Heisman moment had it not happened in a 48-7 blowout of Rhode Island. [Shrugs.]

"He's the best deep-ball thrower I've seen in a long time," Akron coach Terry Bowden told reporters.

Indeed, many of Marshall's touchdowns this season have come via the long bomb. Leading receivers Davonte Allen and Angelo Jean-Louis are both averaging more than 20 yards per reception. Senior Tommy Shuler, the 5'7" jitterbug who has been Cato's best target each of the last two seasons, has been relegated to something of a third receiver role.

While that's disappointing given that he's coming off consecutive 100-catch seasons, it speaks to Marshall's underrated depth at receiver.

“Those guys are great,” Cato said of his receivers, per Dave Wilson of Metro News. “They’re great wideouts, and they go hard every day. They’re willing to get better and listen to what Coach (Bill) Legg has to say and understand what he wants to do with this offense. To see those guys making plays, that’s a blessing for our offense.”

Akron comes into Saturday two weeks removed from a loss to Penn State in Happy Valley. The Nittany Lions overpowered a hapless Zips offense, holding them to a lone field goal despite not forcing any turnovers. Kyle Pohl averaged just 4.5 yards across his 46 passing attempts, slightly better than the 2.8 yards the ground game averaged.

Akron probably doesn't have the firepower to keep up with Marshall here, but it could dent Cato's Heisman run. Against a better-than-advertised secondary, Penn State's Christian Hackenberg threw two picks and Howard's Greg McGhee managed just 68 passing yards. 

This might be more of a defensive struggle than expected. Still, watch for Cato.

 

North Carolina at East Carolina (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU)

Eastern Carolina is quite familiar to anyone who's been paying attention the last two Saturdays. The Pirates held a halftime lead and were down only a touchdown for most of the fourth quarter against South Carolina before losing 33-23. A week later, they executed the upset they'd failed to a week prior, with Shane Carden scampering in from one yard out to give ECU a 28-21 win over Virginia Tech.

Ruffin McNeill's team will try to play the spoiler again Saturday against North Carolina. This time, the Pirates get the advantage of being at home before a crowd that'll be as inspired as it has been in recent memory. 

Carden has become a bona fide mid-major star over the last three seasons and is on pace to approach (if not surpass) his sterling junior-year numbers. The Houston native has thrown for 1,031 yards and seven touchdowns against two interceptions so far, with his completion percentage being the only number noticeably down.

"This guy, I think he's pretty special. He's really a good, good football player, he really is, and he understands the system fully. He can run it at top-notch speed and be very comfortable," North Carolina coach Larry Fedora said, per Nick Bromberg of Yahoo Sports. "He's got a lot of confidence in his receivers because he's got really good receivers. He knows where they're going to be, and therefore they're able to make a lot of plays and they're very explosive"

East Carolina's offense should continue its successful run against a Tar Heels defense that's struggled to find a rhythm. San Diego State and Liberty were both able to move the chains on the ground, and the Pirates' four leading backs are each averaging more than five yards per carry. If they can establish the run early and get into a rhythm, Carden will find holes in an aggressive secondary.

The Tar Heels, of course, have their own playmaker at quarterback in Marquise Williams. The junior has combined for six total touchdowns while averaging nearly 300 yards of total offense, making plays with his arm and legs. Williams was at his very best two weeks ago against San Diego State, completing 20 of 29 passes for 255 yards while adding 63 on the ground.

He is North Carolina's leading rusher and passer. Stopping him will be the first, second and third priority for East Carolina; it'll just be easier said than done. This should be the best game between two unranked opponents this week. 

 

Northern Illinois at Arkansas (7 p.m. ET, ESPNU)

Northern Illinois rarely gets out from behind the MACtion cloud to get a shot at the Big Five. So when it does, it's always interesting to see if the mid-major giant can pull off the upset. Huskies legend Jordan Lynch toppled Big Ten opponents Purdue and Iowa on the road last season before a heartbreaking loss to Bowling Green in the MAC Championship Game ruined hopes of a BCS berth.

Lynch is gone, and so is the BCS. The quest, though, remains the same when Northern Illinois travels to Arkansas on Saturday night.

Lynch replacement Drew Hare has gotten off to an auspicious start since taking over, combining for eight touchdowns while avoiding turnovers in the Huskies' 3-0 start. Senior Akeem Daniels has led a multifaceted rushing attack, which features five players with 90 or more yards so far. Northern Illinois, as per usual, is sitting eighth nationally in rushing yards per game.

Five spots ahead? Arkansas, which has gone on a total tear since its opening-week loss to Auburn. The Razorbacks scampered for 438 yards and seven touchdowns in last Saturday's thrashing of Texas Tech in Lubbock. Alex Collins went for 212 yards on 27 carries and scored twice; Jonathan Williams touched paydirt four times on his 22 carries and had 145 yards.

This came one week after blasting Nicholls State for 495 rushing yards. 

Quarterback Brandon Allen threw the ball 31 times against Auburn. He's done so 17 times since, as coach Bret Bielema has all but abandoned his shaky aerial attack. Allen, a junior, has thrown six touchdown passes against one interception this season, but his career has been full of mental errors and inaccuracies. 

Even as Arkansas had more success running the ball—the Razorbacks had 10 straight losses before their back-to-back wins—Bielema maintains he still plans to find balance. 

“That day is coming,” Bielema said, per Robbie Neiswanger of the Arkansas News. “In practice we are not running the ball 68 times and throwing it 12 times or whatever it was. We are doing a balance that is probably even more lopsided for the pass just because we wanted to get some extra work on it. I am very, very excited to see where it comes out when it does.”

In a battle of two grind-it-out teams, who knows? Maybe it'll be the quarterback who throws better who winds up carrying his team to victory.

(Just kidding. It'll be the run.)

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter

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ESPN College GameDay 2014: Week 4 Schedule, Location, Predictions and More

After one look at the Week 4 schedule in college football, there was only one sensible location for the ESPN College GameDay crew to host the weekly show.

With a schedule rather light when it comes to head-to-head matchups with ranked teams, the No. 1 Florida State Seminoles battling the No. 22 Clemson Tigers was the best of the lot.

It would be great if the only storyline was football, but thanks to a poor decision from Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston, there's more to this game than pigskin action.

The two ACC rivals will square off in a prime-time game televised by ABC on Saturday night. Here's a look at the complete schedule, TV viewing information and predictions for every game on the Week 4 slate. 

Just below the table is a closer look at the featured game, as well as two other matchups to keep an eye on this Saturday.

TimeRoadHomeTVPredictions Noon ET Eastern Michigan No. 11 Michigan State Big Ten Network Michigan State Noon ET Troy No. 13 Georgia SEC Network Georgia Noon ET Bowling Green No. 19 Wisconsin ESPN2 Wisconsin Noon ET Western Illinois Northwestern ESPNews Northwestern Noon ET Iowa Pittsburgh ESPNU Iowa Noon ET Southern Illinois Purdue Big Ten Network Purdue Noon ET Old Dominion Rice FSN, ROOT Rice Noon ET Georgia Tech Virginia Tech ESPN Virginia Tech 12:30 p.m. ET Tulane Duke RSN, ROOT Duke  12:30 p.m. ET Maryland Syracuse ACC Network Syracuse  12:30 p.m. ET James Madison Villanova CSN James Madison  1 p.m. ET Maine Boston College   Boston College 1 p.m. ET Delaware State Temple   Temple 1 p.m. ET Eastern Kentucky UT-Martin   Eastern Kentucky 2 p.m. ET Marshall Akron   Akron 2 p.m. ET Hawaii Colorado Pac-12 Network Hawaii 3 p.m. ET VMI Samford   Samford 3 p.m. ET Eastern Washington Montana State ROOT Montana State  3:30 p.m. ET No. 6 Texas A&M SMU ABC/ESPN2 Texas A&M 3:30 p.m. ET Virginia No. 21 BYU ESPN BYU 3:30 p.m. ET Florida No. 3 Alabama CBS Alabama 3:30 p.m. ET Norfolk State Buffalo   Buffalo 3:30 p.m. ET North Carolina East Carolina ESPNU East Carolina 3:30 p.m. ET Louisville FIU FS1 Louisville 3:30 p.m. ET Central Michigan Kansas FSN, SunSports Kansas 3:30 p.m. ET Utah Michigan ABC/ESPN2 Michigan 3:30 p.m. ET Rutgers Navy CBSSN Navy  3:30 p.m. ET Nicholls State North Texas Sinclair North Texas  3:30 p.m. ET Army Wake Forest   Wake Forest 3:30 p.m. ET Howard Morgan State   Morgan State 4 p.m. ET Texas State Illinois ESPNews Illinois 4 p.m. ET San Jose State Minnesota Big Ten Network Minnesota 4 p.m. ET Indiana No. 18 Missouri SEC Network Missouri 4 p.m. ET Massachusetts Penn State Big Ten Network Penn State 4 p.m. ET Florida Atlantic Wyoming Mountain West Network Wyoming 4 p.m. ET New Hampshire Richmond CSN Richmond  4 p.m. ET Incarnate Word Abilene Christian   Abilene Christian 6 p.m. ET Presbyterian NC State   N.C. State 6 p.m. ET Bethune-Cookman UCF   UCF 6 p.m. ET Georgia State Washington Pac-12 Network Washington 6 p.m. ET Ave Maria Mercer   Mercer 7 p.m. ET Miss State 8 LSU ESPN LSU 7 p.m. ET Northern Illinois Arkansas ESPNU Arkansas 7 p.m. ET Utah State Arkansas State   Arkansas State 7 p.m. ET Miami (Ohio) Cincinnati CBSSN Cincinnati  7 p.m. ET Northwestern State Louisiana Tech   Louisiana Tech  7 p.m. ET Middle Tennessee State Memphis   Memphis 7 p.m. ET Idaho Ohio   Ohio 7 p.m. ET Appalachian State Southern Miss American Sports Network Southern Mississippi  7 p.m. ET Ball State Toledo   Toledo 7 p.m. ET Murray State Western Michigan   Western Michigan 7 p.m. ET Bryant Liberty   Liberty 7:30 p.m. ET Georgia Southern South Alabama   South Alabama 7:30 p.m. ET No. 14 South Carolina Vanderbilt SEC Network South Carolina 7:30 p.m. ET No. 4 Oklahoma West Virginia FOX Oklahoma 8 p.m. ET No. 22 Clemson No. 1 Florida State ABC Florida State 8 p.m. ET UNLV Houston   Houston 8 p.m. ET Miami No. 24 Nebraska ESPN2 Nebraska 8 p.m. ET New Mexico New Mexico State   New Mexico State 10 p.m. ET California Arizona Pac-12 Network Arizona 10 p.m. ET Southern Utah Fresno State Mountain West Network Fresno State 10:30 p.m. ET Louisiana Boise State CBSSN Boise State  10:30 p.m. ET San Diego State Oregon State FS1 Oregon State 10:30 p.m. ET No. 2 Oregon Washington State ESPN Oregon

 

Don't Follow the Leader

Without question, Winston is the leader of one of the most talented football teams in the country—the defending national champions. That said, the young man is going to have to start making better decisions. 

Per Dan Wolken of USA Today, Winston is suspended for the first half of the matchup with the Tigers for standing on a table on campus and yelling an obscene phrase.

After receiving his punishment, Winston said this: 

First of all I just want to apologize to the university, to my coaches and to my teammates. I'm not a me person, but in that situation, that was a selfish act and that's not how you do things around here, so I really just want to apologize to my teammates because I've now made a selfish act for them and that's all.

With Winston sitting for the first half, the Noles will start redshirt sophomore Sean Maguire in his place. Make no mistake about it, this is a game the Noles should win—even without Winston in the first half—but that's not the point.

As a leader, man and member of society, Winston has to grow up. In the words of Ice Cube, someone should tell the talented youngster, "Check yourself before you wreck yourself."

 

Boomer Sooner Bummer?

How good are the West Virginia Mountaineers? In Week 1, they pushed the Alabama Crimson Tide before falling 33-23. The Mountaineers have bounced back with a lopsided win over Towson State and a three-point nail-biting victory at Maryland in Week 3.

Was West Virginia's strong showing against the Tide just a product of early growing pains between Alabama head coach Nick Saban and offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin

We'll likely find out on Saturday when Trevor Knight and the Sooners come to town looking to remain undefeated.

 

BYU's Quest to Test the System

The College Football Playoff structure was set up in part to allow teams that aren't from the major conferences to have an opportunity to compete for the national championship. The BYU Cougars are one of the programs that could put that aspect of the new system to the test.

The Cougars are 3-0, and they look like a team with the talent and friendly schedule to perhaps run the table. Their Week 4 matchup could be one of the team's biggest tests.

The Virginia Cavaliers will be looking to spoil the Cougars' dreams. 

Last week, behind a defense that forced four turnovers, the Cavs pulled an upset against the Louisville Cardinals. Can they do it again?

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Why Georgia's Todd Gurley Will End NFL Draft's First-Round Running Back Drought

Despite a clear and rapid devaluation of the running back position in the NFL, Georgia’s Todd Gurley should be a clear-cut first-round selection if he enters the 2015 NFL Draft.

There was at least one running back selected in the first round of every draft from 1964 through 2012.

There have been no first-round running backs in either of the two drafts since.

It increasingly looks as though NFL teams are buying into the philosophy that running backs shouldn’t be first-round picks. Annual examples of franchises turning Day 2 and 3 picks into immediate contributors in their backfields have supported the thesis that it is no longer necessary to make major investments at the position.

That shouldn’t stop a team from making Gurley an exception to the new rule.

Gurley, who has emerged as a Heisman Trophy favorite two games into his junior season, has a rare combination of qualities that prime him for potential NFL stardom.

 

Built for Excellence

Gurley has ideal size for a between-the-tackles runner, listed at 6’1” and 226 pounds by Georgia’s official athletics website, but he’s no plodder.

With a chiseled upper body and terrific leg drive, Gurley forces defenders to be technically sound in their tackling. He consistently powers through arm tackles and keeps his legs churning through contact.

One of the most important traits for a running back is his balance; Gurley’s is superb. In cahoots with his power, Gurley uses that balance to keep plays alive after contact that would stop most running backs in their tracks.

The following examples for Georgia’s games this season versus Clemson and South Carolina exemplify how tough Gurley makes himself to bring down.

Gurley’s ability to run through defenders is impressive on its own, but what really makes Gurley special is how well he can run past and away from opposing players.

Seemingly the spawn of a Mack truck and a gazelle, Gurley has a gracefulness in the open field rarely seen from backs of his size. He accelerates naturally, cuts cleanly and exhibits tremendous vision.

As he showed on his end zone-to-end zone kickoff return in Georgia’s season opener versus Clemson, Gurley has no shortage of big-play ability.

Running north and south between the tackles should always be Gurley’s bread and butter, but he doesn’t always have to plow through bodies to extend plays.

In the following example from this past Saturday’s outing against South Carolina, Gurley showed how he could use his burst and change-of-direction to create yardage for a key play.

Needing 16 yards for a third-down conversion, it looked as though Gurley would be stopped well short as his attempt to run left was thwarted by a wall of defenders.

Reversing the field and outrunning defenders for a big play is a tactic typically reserved for small scat backs, but for Gurley, this play was just one more example of him defying the norms for his position and measurables.

There might not be as many big plays in Gurley’s arsenal at the next level; his physical traits won’t stand out to the same degree against bigger and faster defenders in the NFL. Still it’s evident that Gurley has elite-level tools, even by professional standards, and a skill set that should be highly translatable to any offense.

Gurley can be an offensive asset on any down and distance. In addition to being a vigorous between-the-tackles runner with the speed to do damage outside, Gurley is also a sure-handed pass-catcher out of the backfield and has provided quality in his experience as a pass protector.

Through the first 26 games of his collegiate career while playing in college football’s toughest conference, the SEC, Gurley has already accumulated 3,260 yards from scrimmage and 38 touchdowns.

There are no significant deficiencies in Gurley’s game that should stop him from immediately continuing to achieve success in the NFL.

The most legitimate concern teams might have with Gurley—a concern teams have with running backs in general that has led to the devaluation of the position—is his long-term durability.

Gurley suffered an ankle injury last season that cost him three games and seemingly hampered him to an extent for the rest of the year. He has already had more than 480 total touches in less than three seasons of collegiate play, and his physical style of running leads him to taking many shots to the body over the course of a game.  

That concern, nonetheless, shouldn’t keep Gurley from being one of the premier prospects in the 2015 draft, assuming he declares.

 

Gurley’s Talent Should Trump the Trend

One reason there were no first-round running back selections in the past two drafts—and no running backs taken in the top 50 picks of the most recent draft—is that many NFL offenses now favor a running back-by-committee approach over having an every-down feature back.

Another reason why there were no first-round running backs in the past two drafts, however, is simply that there were no prospects at the position who clearly ranked among the top 32 players in their respective class.

There is a clear trend away from running backs being high draft picks, and that trend is likely to continue going forward, but Gurley looks as though he could be one of the top five or 10 talents in the 2015 draft class.

If teams decide not to draft Gurley solely because of the position he plays, it’s a decision they surely could regret.

As recently as 2012, a running back was still considered worth a premium draft choice when the Cleveland Browns actually traded up one spot to the No. 3 overall pick to select Trent Richardson.

The failures to date of Richardson, who was traded by the Browns just two games into his second season and has played even more disappointingly for the Indianapolis Colts, might be playing a part in the league’s collective hesitancy to value running backs as headliners of draft classes.

It doesn’t help Gurley’s cause that his game carries some similarities to that of Richardson, who accumulated more than 3,800 yards from scrimmage and scored 44 touchdowns in his own career playing for SEC powerhouse Alabama, yet has not even come close to being as effective as an NFL back.

That said, Gurley has also drawn comparisons to a number of backs who have been highly successful in the NFL.

CBS Sports’ Rob Rang compares Gurley to Marshawn Lynch, who played a pivotal part in the Seattle Seahawks’ run to a Super Bowl championship last season. Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller likens Gurley to Shaun Alexander, the 2005 NFL MVP, while SEC on CBS commentator Gary Danielson compared Gurley to Eddie George, who ran for more than 10,000 yards in his nine-year NFL career, during Saturday’s broadcast of the Georgia-South Carolina game.

Any NFL team that believes Gurley can have similar success to Lynch, Alexander and/or George should not hesitate to draft the Georgia running back if it needs an upgrade at the position.

 

Where Will Gurley Land?

Should a team use a high first-round pick on Gurley, the selection will likely be stigmatized because of the trend set in the past two drafts. But as Bleacher Report’s Cian Fahey noted last weekend, his potential to be one of the NFL’s best running backs could make him worthy of consideration as early as the top 10 picks.

There could end up being multiple first-round running backs in the 2015 draft. Wisconsin junior Melvin Gordon III is an explosive playmaker with a special combination of acceleration and agility, while South Carolina junior Mike Davis and Alabama junior T.J. Yeldon could also garner consideration in the top 32 picks.

None of those backs, however, are as complete a back or as specially talented as Gurley is. As long as Gurley stays healthy and avoids off-field trouble, his standing as the draft’s top runner should go largely unchallenged.

According to NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah, Bucky Brooks and Charles Davis, an NFC personnel executive recently said he has not “seen a back like Gurley in a long time.”

"He has such an impressive blend of speed and power,” the executive reportedly said. “He competed in the 60-meter hurdles at Georgia and I think that has helped him with his leg drive."

Any offense could benefit from the addition of a ballcarrier like Gurley, but teams who could be in the market for feature backs include the Indianapolis Colts, Baltimore Ravens, Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints.

Two other teams that could be ideal fits for Gurley if they end up in the running back market could be the Minnesota Vikings, dependent upon how Adrian Peterson’s legal situation plays out, and the Seattle Seahawks, who could opt to move on from Lynch in the 2015 offseason.

Regardless of who ends up being the most interested in Gurley, don’t expect him to have an agonizing wait in the green room. He’ll become too good to pass up at some point in Round 1, and he might even entice a team to trade up for him.

 

All GIFs were produced at gfycat.com, using game videos from DraftBreakdown.com and Noonkick.com. All statistics courtesy of CFBStats.com, unless otherwise noted.

Dan Hope is an NFL/NFL Draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.

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Auburn Offense Struggles, but Nick Marshall Comes Up Big When It Counts

MANHATTAN, Kan.—Nick Marshall didn't win any awards with his performance Thursday night.

With the entire nation watching on the only college football game of the night, a big statistical performance away from home could have made him a legitimate contender for the Heisman Trophy.

But Marshall only went 17-for-31 passing for 231 yards, two touchdowns and an interception in No. 5 Auburn's 20-14 road win against No. 20 Kansas State.

After rushing for 103 yards in the previous game, the stingy Kansas State defense held him to 46 yards on the ground.

No one is ready to call Marshall a Heisman finalist after the Tigers escaped with a close victory in Manhattan, but he won something more important to him than national acclaim—he won a game that could make a difference in his team's fight for another national title berth.

"This prepared us a lot," Marshall said after the game. "I'm glad we had this away game in the Big 12 because we've got some like this in the SEC, too. We know how to respond from here on out."

Marshall showed that ability to respond to adversity in the fourth quarter of Thursday night's clash with the Wildcats. He recorded a couple of clutch throws to leading target D'haquille Williams and helped the Tigers convert seven of their nine third downs in the final period.

He led an offense which struggled to get any momentum going to a 15-play, 80-yard touchdown drive to open the fourth quarter. The senior quarterback gave the Tigers an important two-score lead on a picture-perfect toss to a leaping Williams.

Marshall found Williams for another clutch connection to end the game.

Facing a 3rd-and-9 with two minutes to go, the senior quarterback got the defense to bite on a double move from Williams that resulted in a 39-yard conversion.

Three kneel-downs later, Marshall was walking off the field a winner.

"He has that knack for when the game is on the line," Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn said. "He did it all last year, and he did it tonight. He helped find a way to help our team win the game."

As Auburn's rushing game struggled all night—the Tigers were held to fewer than 200 yards on the ground for the first time since 2013's win against Mississippi State—it was up to Marshall and Auburn's developing passing game to put the nail in the coffin.

"It is kind of one of those deals if you run the football, you take away 20 seconds and give them a chance to win the game, or you can take a chance and try to win the game yourself," Malzahn said. "We just felt strong about trying to give our guys a win."

Offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said the staff might not have had that same confidence in Marshall last season.

But, after three games in the 2014 season, Auburn has a new level of trust in Marshall, and Marshall has a new trust in his own arm.

"My confidence level is really high right now," Marshall said. "Last year, I would've probably flushed out of the pocket on that play. But, this year, I just trust my linemen with everything in me, and I know they trust me. So I just stayed in the pocket and delivered that ball."

With Kansas State packing the box and sealing the gaps against the run, Auburn needed Marshall to come through with a big passing game.

Even though his 231 yards won't make any Heisman watch lists this weekend, it was the most yards for Marshall through the air since Auburn's last major road win—the 2013 Texas A&M game.

"With the confidence we have in him, big outcomes like this will happen," junior receiver Ricardo Louis said. "We'll win the big game and overcome any adversity."

And Marshall definitely went through his share of adversity in Manhattan.

He had three passes tipped by an opportunistic Kansas State defensive line, including one that resulted in the interception early in the second quarter. Three of Marshall's passes were dropped by his receivers, with Williams missing a surefire touchdown before halftime.

But he bounced back from all that in the fourth quarter and rallied his team for a victory against a ranked power-conference opponent.

To Marshall, that major W on the schedule means a lot more than any early-season Heisman hype.

"This is huge," Marshall said. "This said a lot about our team. I looked down the sidelines to see how everyone was responding, and it looked good. We just came out here and got that victory."

 

All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports. All stats courtesy of CFBStats.com.

Justin Ferguson is Bleacher Report's lead Auburn writer. Follow him on Twitter @JFergusonAU.

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Auburn's Struggle with Kansas State Shows Cracks in the SEC Elite

Auburn’s football team won a hard-fought game on the road against a tough Kansas State team Thursday night, but it may have dealt its Southeastern Conference compatriots a figurative loss.

This is the reality of the expectations that now rest on the shoulders of the SEC’s eight ranked teams. When a conference has eight members in the Associated Press top 20 and seven in the top 15, the burden of proof weighs a little heavier.

If indeed Auburn is the nation’s No. 5 team and second only to Alabama in the SEC then the Tigers should have rolled into Bill Snyder Family Stadium and stomped the Wildcats flatter than the Kansas prairie. Anything less, and the schoolyard bully suddenly doesn’t look so fearsome.

Such was the disappointing case for Auburn while winning 20-14 against No. 20 Kansas State. The slash-and-burn attack that had scored at least 30 points in 12 consecutive games appeared to have missed the flight.

Auburn did a lot of things right while playing in front of the biggest crowd in K-State history, but it also bared some considerable flaws in its first major test of the season.

The Auburn ground game that averaged 330 yards in season-opening victories against Arkansas and San Jose State was painfully slow to find its footing, with only 55 yards in the first half.

The final count was 45 totes for 128 yards, a 2.8 average that contributed heavily to the Tigers failing to convert on third down until just three minutes, 29 seconds were left in the first half.

More telling is that Kansas State managed to turn that trick without overloading the box. It played with six men up front most of the way and still kept Auburn groping for traction. That’s going to make this game film a must-see commodity for Auburn’s future opponents.

All of those things that made Auburn’s offense so formidable last season—the relentless tempo, the confounding shifts and motions—either were missing or simply had zero impact against Kansas State.

Auburn looked quicker and more athletic, but Kansas State showed that patience and scheme can be great equalizers.

SEC proponents will say heck, Snyder’s disciplined team creates problems like that for nearly everyone. That’s true, but it’s not the point.

The fact is that the rest of the nation can be expected to howl long and loud anytime an SEC team fails to register a blowout in a quality non-conference game, and 20-14 falls far short of that standard. And voters on the College Football Playoff panel can expect constant reminders of that from those who have suspicions about the ballot box getting unfairly stuffed.

Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, the self-appointed top critic of what he calls SEC “propaganda,” certainly can be counted on to make that case. And Stoops will have no trouble putting together a chorus to back him up from schools in the Big 12, ACC, Big Ten, Pac-12 and elsewhere.

Yes, Auburn’s win ups the SEC’s record to 28-2 against non-conference teams this season, but that feast has included several servings of cupcakes. 

More importantly, No. 3 Alabama still needs to prove its struggles with West Virginia were a fluke. And No. 13 LSU needs to erase the memory of escaping Wisconsin by only a four-point margin.

That might seem like nitty-gritty nit-picking. But that's the way college football works these days. Style points count. And it’s not an unfair onus to put on the SEC when there are continued rumblings about putting two SEC teams in the College Football Playoff, including from the powerful voice of ABC’s Kirk Herbstreit.

As for Auburn, its defense was nothing short of awesome, holding Kansas State to 40 rushing yards on 30 carries. But the legion of SEC fault-finders will say Auburn got off cheap because of K-State’s self-inflicted wounds.

Quarterback Jake Waters threw an early end-zone interception when he was parked near the Auburn goal line, and the compass of kicker Jack Cantele was horribly off as he missed three field goals, including a gimme from 22 yards.

That led Snyder to say the outcome had a lot more to do with his team’s shortcomings than Auburn’s superlatives.

Yes, the result of this one easily could have flipped. And then the noise from the SEC critics would have been absolutely deafening.

 

Tom Weir covered college football as a columnist for USA Today.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Texas Football Recruiting: Latest Updates on 2015 Commits, Visits and Targets

One commit has been flipped and four offers are out for the Texas Longhorns, who have used their bye week to catch up on the recruiting trail.

Following Texas' 20-17 defeat at the hands of UCLA, Charlie Strong and his staff went right back to work on Tuesday. The Horns have put out four offers to 2015 recruits since Tuesday, landing one commit with two more likely to follow.

Despite these recent successes, Strong still has plenty of work to do. Three major recruits who have yet to pledge to a program saw his Horns fall to 1-2 in person, while one more has begun shortening his list as he prepares to take visits.

The next month looks like a crucial one for Strong's first full recruiting class.

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Mark Blaudschun's Blitz: Jameis Winston Trouble Leaves Florida State Vulnerable

They are the defending national champions. They have won 28 of their last 30 football games and 18 consecutive games. They have not lost a since Nov. 24, 2012. They have last year's Heisman Trophy winner. They carry the swagger that great teams wear as comfortably as their uniforms.   

And yet the perception exists that Jimbo Fisher's Florida State Seminoles may not be this year's best team. Perhaps, instead, it is Oregon, which has won its first three games by a combined 156-54 score. Or maybe the SEC, after having its string of seven consecutive national championship snapped last season, will re-establish itself on top after starting the season with seven teams in the AP's top 15 after three weeks.   

Is the burden of being the defending national champion too much for the Seminoles?

Or are they simply not as good as they were a year ago?

Certainly, with the latest Jameis Winston escapade resulting in the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback being benched for the first half of Saturday night's game against Clemson, Florida State's road back to the title game has already hit a bump. And if the 'Noles aren't careful, an entire season's dream could disappear before halftime.

What's at stake is considerable. The winner will have essentially a two-game edge over the loser (via the head-to-head win), as well as history on its side as the victor of this game has also won the last three ACC championships.

Even before Winston was suspended for yelling a sexually explicit comment in the Florida State student union earlier this week, the Seminoles did not seem nearly as intimidating. A team that beat 12 of its 14 opponents by an average of 45 points last season (only Boston College, which lost by 14 during the regular season, and Auburn, which lost by three in the BCS title game, could stay with the Seminoles through an entire game) has looked beatable this year.

An opening matchup with Oklahoma State resulted in a 37-31 win that wasn't decided until the final seconds. One week later, a supposed cream puff game versus FCS opponent The Citadel saw Florida State win, but not dominate, in a 37-12 final that would have been a halftime score last season.

Even if the Seminoles beat Clemson, there are potential axle-busting potholes the national championship bus must avoid. A back-to-back meeting with Notre Dame (at home) and Louisville (two weeks later) awaits in October and then there are annual meetings with in-state rivals (at) Miami and Florida, sandwiched around a potentially tricky meeting with Boston College in November.

And then there are the unknown factors: Is FSU still motivated? Are the 'Noles prepared for the chore of being every opponent's "game of the season?" How much have Winston's off-the-field problems affected what the Seminoles do on the field?

Former Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy, who quarterbacked the Crimson Tide for two seasons (including a 2009 national title), and is now working for the SEC television network, knows the burden of playing games in the season after a 14-0 run.

 

"It's always extremely difficult to navigate the schedule when you are getting every team's best shot,'' McElroy told Bleacher Report in a text message. "We would show up to play on Saturday and have a game plan that is designed to beat man-to-man coverage, and then sure enough, they would play zone the whole game.

"The pressure remains the same and the expectations aren't that different, especially playing at Alabama, but the way teams prepare for you changed significantly in the year following the national championship."

Playing without its best player for a half will add to Florida State's challenge against a team desperate to avoid an 1-2 start following its season-opening loss to Georgia. With the added spice of a rivalry developing into SEC-type of feud, the Seminoles are traversing some risky ground that could see their season take a fall.

 

Trouble Ahead For The Tigers?

In surviving for a 20-14 win at Kansas State Thursday night, Auburn revealed more about what is isn't than what it is.

More specifically…

Auburn is not close to being the best team in the country.

Auburn may not be the best team in the SEC.

And Auburn may not even be the best team in the highly regarded (for now) SEC West.

True, the Tigers did what a No. 5 team had to do against a school ranked 15 spots lower—win. But look a little closer and you'll see a game in which Kansas State squandered 19 points, including three missed (but makeable) field goals, a fumble that put Auburn in position for a field goal of its own and a lost touchdown on a pass that bounced off of Kansas State wide receiver Ty Lockett's shoulder pads into the arms of Auburn defensive back Jonathan Jones.

And that vaunted Auburn running game, which had rushed for more than 200 yards in each of its last 13 games—the longest such streak in the FBS—was held to 128 yards.

In short, Auburn looked very beatable.

Still, the Tigers got through, in large part because quarterback Nick Marshall proved he could make clutch throws.

Other than the win, that may be the best news Auburn gets for some time, as the Tigers face a minefield of a schedule ahead.

No. 8 LSU looms on Oct. 4 before a date with No. 14 South Carolina on Oct. 25. Then the schedule really gets tough with back-to-back-to-back games against No. 10 Ole Miss (on the road), No. 6 Texas A&M and No. 13 Georgia (on the road) before the regular season finale at No. 3 Alabama.

Auburn needs to root for Kansas State to win the remainder of its games and finish with no worse than a 10-2 record, with one of those 10 wins coming against either Oklahoma or Baylor.

Here's why.

Give Auburn the benefit of the doubt and say the Tigers only lose two of its remaining games. If K-State can finish first or second in the Big 12 race, the win on Thursday night will look much more impressive to the selection committee than it does right now.

And as well all know, perceptions matter when it comes to the selection process.

 

Countdown to the Final Four

It's never too early to gaze into the crystal ball and predict how the playoff matchups will shake out were the Final Four to be set today.

Last Four In
Oregon: May be the best team in the country.
Florida State: Jameis or no Jameis, until someone beats them the Seminoles are a force.
Alabama: Best team in the SEC?
Oklahoma: How can the Sooners be a sleeper?

Last Four Out
Auburn: Can stake a claim to being the best team in SEC West, but the schedule may speak louder.
Georgia: You can argue the Bulldogs were better than South Carolina, but played dumber.
Michigan State: 12-1 gets the Spartans in the playoffs.
Baylor: Paper Bears thus far, but wins over Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas would make them Final Four tough.

 

Race to the Playoffs

We are only three weeks into the college football season and we are down to 41 teams (out of 128) who have legitimate chances of making it into college football's Final Four.

Teams: 128
Teams eliminated: 87
Teams remaining: 41—Cincinnati, Florida State, N.C. State, Syracuse, Clemson, Pittsburgh, Georgia Tech, Duke, North Carolina, Kansas State, Baylor, Oklahoma, TCU, Oklahoma State, Penn State, Michigan State, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Marshall, BYU, Notre Dame, Oregon, California, Washington, Oregon State, Stanford, Arizona State, USC, Utah, Arizona, UCLA, Florida, South Carolina, Missouri, Georgia, Ole Miss, Auburn, Texas A&M, Mississippi State, Alabama, LSU.

 

You've Got To Be Kidding

1. So FSU is sitting Jameis Winston down for one half of a game. Come on. It's about time FSU stepped up and really took a stand. How about an entire game suspension against a big time rival? What do you think the reaction will be if FSU falls behind Clemson in the first half and Winston comes off the bench to lead FSU to victory? Suddenly, the punishment becomes a prelude to Winston being carried off the field in celebration. 

2. Five teams in the top 10 from one division? That's the SEC West, where Alabama, Auburn, Texas A&M, LSU and Ole Miss all checked in among the nation's 10 best AP teams heading into Week 4.

How good is the division? Going into this Saturday's games, the SEC West had a combined record of 20-1, with Arkansas the only division team to lose a game.

The division will lose some of its punch as teams play each other, but it would not be a stunner to see three SEC West teams in the final top 10 and even two in the Final Four. 

3. In the latest FBS quarterback efficiency rankings put out by the NCAA, Seth Russell led the likes of Marcus Mariota (No. 4), Texas A&M's Kenny Hill (No. 9) and FSU's Jameis Winston (No. 28). Who's Seth Russell? Baylor's backup quarterback. But the Bears have skated over SMU, Northwestern State and Buffalo so easily that Russell is getting as much playing time, and doing as much with it, as the starter, Bryce Petty.

4. Remember when Nebraska and Miami used to be a really big game with a lot at stake. Well, the two teams will meet on Saturday for the first time since they played for the national championship in the 2002 Rose Bowl. Since '04, neither team has won a conference championship or been ranked in the top 10 in the final polls.

Think about that. Miami and Nebraska haven't been relevant in the national title conversation for the past 10 seasons.

The future may be brighter, but it will take awhile. Nebraska has been caught in a cycle of nine- and 10-win seasons under Bo Pelini, which is good, but not good enough to become a player in the Big Ten or nationally.

Miami, on other hand, is just emerging from the fog of NCAA sanctions and is going to need time for Al Golden to have a fair shot at recreating the magic at the U. 

5. I know teams have bye weeks. But what about leagues? The Big 12, which has 10 teams, will see six schools sitting this week. The two non-conference games: Auburn at Kansas State and Central Michigan at Kansas. Oklahoma travels to West Virginia in the Big 12 opener for the Sooners.

All conferences have weeks in which some of their teams take byes. USC and UCLA are both idle this week in the Pac-12. The SEC has three teams—Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee—off. But to have the majority of the conference idle is just strange. 

Extra Points

So who's going to play quarterback when Alabama opens its SEC season against Florida on Saturday? If you listen to Tide Coach Nick Saban, does the phrase "fence sitting" come to mind. "We're going to play Blake [Sims] and we'll always evaluate and see how it goes," said Saban at his mid-week press conference. "We have a lot of confidence in Jake (Jacob Coker). If we need to play Jake, we'll certainly have no problems putting him in there and allowing him to play."...The ACC has had a solid season of upsets thus far, highlighted by Virginia Tech's win at then-No. 8 Ohio State and Boston College's win over then-No 9 USC. The last time that two unranked ACC teams beat two ranked teams in the same season was in 1981, when Georgia Tech upset No. 1 Alabama and Clemson downed No. 4 Georgia...

Game of the Week

Oklahoma at West Virginia: At the start of the season, this is looked like a walk-over game for the Sooners. Now? With the game in Morgantown, West Virginia may prove ready for prime time.

The Mountaineers are dangerous at home and can play with anyone (witness their close loss to Alabama). Also, Oklahoma might have a letdown after its SEC showdown with Tennessee last week.

The pick: West Virginia 28, Oklahoma 24

 

Mark Blaudschun covers college football as a national columnist for Bleacher Report. He has more than three decades of experience covering sports at a variety of newspapers in New Jersey, The Dallas Morning Newsand The Boston Globe. Follow him on Twitter @blauds. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Auburn vs. Kansas State: Game Grades, Analysis for Tigers, Wildcats

It wasn't easy by any stretch, but the No. 5 Auburn Tigers managed to labor through a tough 20-14 victory over the rugged No. 20 Kansas State Wildcats. 

Give a ton of credit to Kansas State's defense in this contest. Auburn entered the game averaging over 330 rushing yards per contest. The Wildcats held the Tigers' vaunted rushing attack to 128 yards on 45 attempts (which equates to 2.8 yards per carry). 

With the ground game stalling, Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall took it upon himself to win the game with his arm. Huge throws to Duke Williams and Ricardo Lewis ultimately won the game for the Tigers. 

Kansas State was beset by a horrid kicking game and untimely turnovers. Without these uncharacteristic flubs, Bill Snyder's team likely would have won. 

Final stats from the game can be found here at NCAA.com.

Check out the first-half and final grades for both the Tigers and Wildcats. Additional analysis for different position units will also be addressed.

 

Auburn Tigers Game Grades

Passing Offense

The grade for this category would be higher, if Marshall wasn't victimized by a series of drops. Williams in particular didn't do his signal-caller any favors. He dropped a would-be touchdown in the first half. 

Marshall's prowess as a passer was impressive throughout the night. He isn't a pure thrower in the sense of the term. However, he stepped up and threw darts down the field. Marshall also was able to convert at a high clip on third-down attempts.

Auburn went 2-of-7 on third down in the first half. For the game, the Tigers finished 10-of-18. A big reason was Marshall's ability to engineer strong drives in the second half. 

 

Pass Defense

K-State signal-caller Jake Waters was sustaining some success in the first half. The absence of veteran captain Jermaine Whitehead was especially evident. Jonathan Jones was flagged for two pass-interference penalties on one drive. 

As the game progressed, the unit settled. Trovon Reed had a nice diving interception in the second half. More than anything, the unit kept stud wide receiver Tyler Lockett from beating them deep. Lockett had six catches for only 45 yards. 

 

Rushing Offense

Perhaps the biggest shock of the contest was Auburn's lack of effectiveness in running the ball. To be fair, K-State had a wonderful scheme for Malzahn's offense. 

Although Auburn did rush for 145 yards on the night, it came on 28 carries. The Tigers rushing attack is one of the most prolific in all of college football (as evidenced by 330.0 yards a game on the ground). For this reason, the grade is very low. 

 

Run Defense

On the flip side, the Tigers defensive front, led by Gabe Wright, Angelo Blackson and Montravius Adams, was stout all night. The unit limited Waters' effectiveness as a runner, holding the K-State signal-caller to minus-7 yards rushing. 

On the night, Kansas State rushed for 40 yards on 30 carries. The paltry 1.3 yards per carry total is directly related to the outstanding effort by Auburn's defensive line. Linebacker Kris Frost also was very active in penetrating the gaps and making plays. 

 

Special Teams

Auburn was solid in all phases of the kicking game. Kicker Daniel Carlson connected on both of his field-goal attempts. If there was one area to improve in, it'd be punt coverage. Lockett did average 23.7 yards per return. This statistic kept Auburn from receiving an "A."

 

Coaching

Malzahn didn't call a poor game by any stretch. Most of the ineffectiveness in the run game did stem from Kansas State's strong defensive effort. 

In the second half, Malzahn rolled Marshall out more, and he was able to find greater success in the passing game. As the game progressed, Malzahn pushed the tempo considerably. The offense was able to get into a rhythm, and put points on the board. 

 

Kansas State Wildcats Game Grades

Passing Offense

Jake Waters got off to a nice start early. Throwing for 157 yards in the first half, he found receiver Curry Sexton early and often. Sexton led the team with 11 catches for 121 yards. As the game progressed, Auburn's pressure up front hindered Waters' ability to attack downfield. 

Waters threw two picks on the night, one coming on a play in which he was flushed from the pocket and threw an errant pass. The other interception was a drop in the end zone by Lockett. Although he didn't throw a touchdown pass, he managed the game well.

Waters finished 24-of-40 for 245 yards.

 

Pass Defense 

K-State's secondary was solid in the first half. Marshall wasn't able to find success throwing deep to Williams or Sammie Coates.

The second half was a different story. 

A 40-yard touchdown toss from Marshall to Lewis opened up Auburn's offense. Williams also proved to be a handful most of the night. He would have had a second touchdown, if not for a drop. On a 3rd-and-9 attempt with two minutes remaining in the game, Marshall found Williams for a 39-yard gain—a play that ultimately ended K-State's chance at a comeback. 

 

Rushing Offense

The Auburn defensive front posed problems all night for K-State's offensive line. Simply put, there weren't many holes for Waters, Charles Jones and Demarcus Robinson to run through. 

Robinson and Jones did get rushing touchdowns, but the unit only rushed for 40 yards on 30 carries. A big part of the K-State ground game is Waters running the football on read-option plays. He was held to minus-7 rushing on 11 carries.

 

Run Defense

This was the most impressive unit on the night, perhaps for either team. K-State did a masterful job of plugging up the lanes up front. The defensive line also did a terrific job of keeping containment and not allowing Marshall to have a big game operating the zone-read option. 

Auburn entered the matchup averaging 330.0 yards per game on the ground. K-State held the Tigers to 128 yards on 45 carries. The lack of a consistent rushing attack hindered the ability of Auburn's offense to function at a high level. 

 

Special Teams

K-State generally prides itself on having strong special teams play. Tonight was a completely different story.

Kicker Jack Cantele missed all three of his field-goal attempts. He also started the game by kicking the ball out of bounds. The misses by K-State's kicker often thwarted any sort of momentum the team had. Things got so difficult that walk-on kicker Matthew McCrane was put into the game to kick the extra-point attempt at the end of the fourth quarter. 

It was an absolute nightmare game for the K-state kicker.

 

Coaching

Snyder and his staff comprised a great game plan for this contest. K-State's goal was to slow the tempo way down, and that's exactly what happened. Auburn never fully got comfortable on offense. 

In terms of stopping the run, Wildcats defensive coordinator Tom Hayes did a great job of putting his defenders in a place to succeed. Holding Auburn's offense to 359 yards is a pretty impressive feat, considering the Tigers entered tonight averaging well over 500 yards of total offense per game.

 

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Michigan Football: Devin Funchess Key to Keeping Wolverines Alive in Big Ten

Brady Hoke’s refusal to discuss injuries keeps both the public and future adversaries guessing about whom quarterback Devin Gardner may be targeting this weekend.

It also prevents him from having to face questions about the grim reality of Michigan’s Big Ten title hopes if Devin Funchess doesn’t soon return.

Hoke likes to repeat the old coaching adage “the most important game is the next game,” but Michigan’s nonconference slate has already been spoiled by its 31-0 whipping to Notre Dame.

Michigan faces several obstacles to make its first appearance in the Big Ten title game, but none are more daunting than road games versus Michigan State and Ohio State.

Michigan’s best chance to compete in those games hinges on Devin Gardner and Devin Funchess lighting up the scoreboards in East Lansing and Columbus.

Without Funchess, the offense stumbled in the second quarter in Week 3 when Miami of Ohio managed a brief run sparked in part when one of his replacements, Amara Darboh, fumbled the ball. Hoke also blamed Gardner’s interception as being tipped at the line of scrimmage and sailing over the intended receiver. Funchess' imposing size (6’5”) and long reach make him a hard target to miss even when Devin Gardner is under fire.

Take a look at this Funchess highlight reel. Count how many times he makes a play using either his leaping ability or by using his frame to create space to make a catch—and hurdling an Ohio State defender is just a bonus.

Now look at the play he makes versus Jabrill Peppers in this drill.

Michigan may be able to beat other teams with his backups, but Hoke needs Funchess to have a shot at beating Michigan State or Ohio State.

Utah is a dangerous opponent, averaging the third-most points per game in the country (57.5). A loss to the Utes would put the Wolverines at .500 heading into the Big Ten slate, and the heat would undoubtedly be on Hoke.

But make no mistake, Michigan’s Big Ten hopes, and perhaps Hoke’s future, depend on Gardner and Funchess playing pitch and catch against conference opponents.

Michigan needs Funchess to start dominating Big Ten rivals and being the topic of SportsCenter tweets again as soon as possible.

 

Phil Callihan is a featured writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations obtained firsthand.

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@PSCallihan

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Sure, Auburn Won, but Is It Better Than Alabama and Texas A&M?

Yes, Auburn defeated Kansas State 20-14, but it was a sloppy performance. The Tigers will have a tough time beating Alabama or Texas A&M if they come out sluggish on offense again.

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Adam Kramer discuss where Auburn stands in the SEC West. 

Do you think Auburn is still the top team in its division?

Watch the video, and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Head-to-Head College Football Matchups to Watch for in Week 4

Make no mistake. College football is a team game. It’s 11-on-11, my guys against your guys, and the best team wins.

One player can’t beat an opponent all by himself. Victories typically go to the most talented teams that make the fewest mistakes.

That said, games can be swung by the most important one-on-one matchups. One false move, one bad coverage, and it can mean six points the other way or a big-yardage play.

Mano-a-mano showdowns are crucial, and Week 4 of the college football season is full of them.

From coast to coast, talented, high-profile players will square off in important matchups that will play major roles in game outcomes.

Here’s a look at the most important among them. 

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Ranking the 5 Best Moments in the Nebraska-Miami Rivalry

For most fans of a certain age, the Nebraska-Miami rivalry holds a very special place in history. Nebraska helped put Miami on the national stage with the Hurricanes’ amazing 31-30 victory in the 1984 Orange Bowl. Nebraska’s humblings at the hands of Miami in Orange Bowls of 1989 (23-3) and 1992 (22-0) led Tom Osborne to a wholesale change in his recruiting and defensive schemes. And that, as a result, led to Osborne’s first national championship—fittingly, against Miami in the Orange Bowl—in 1994.

Overall, Miami and Nebraska have split, playing each other 10 times, with each team winning five. So in looking back through history, here are the five best moments (from a scarlet and cream perspective) of the Nebraska-Miami rivalry.

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