The Nebraska football team that faced McNeese State looked familiar. It reminded fans of a team they'd seen in the past. It felt all too familiar.
Nebraska fans are used to a roller-coaster ride. Since head coach Bo Pelini took over in 2008, the Huskers have battled significant highs and lows. The challenge has always been having the team play as a complete unit.
Against Florida Atlantic, Fresno State and Miami, that's the direction Nebraska has shown it is headed in. The offense, defense and special teams are all beginning to play equally with one another.
After the McNeese State game, Pelini commented on the team's wild ride against the Cowboys:
You can’t ride the waves of being way up and way down, how you feel when you win. The approach has to stay the same. Whether you win by 50 or whether you win with 20 seconds to go. At the end of the day, you’re approach has to be the same.
Since then, the approach has been looking better and better. While Nebraska's offense has gotten a majority of the attention—BTN.com called it one of the nation's best after the Miami game—the defense cannot be forgotten.
As of this week, the Blackshirts are ranked No. 31 nationally in yards allowed per game. Led by defensive end Randy Gregory, the Huskers are only allowing 329.8 yards per game.
Speaking of Gregory, he's a definite asset to building a more complete team for Nebraska. On defense, he had two sacks, a forced fumble, two quarterback hurries and seven total tackles again Miami, per the Omaha World-Herald.
As a result, he was named the Week 4 Lott IMPACT Player of the Week.
On the other hand, what Gregory is to the defense, I-back Ameer Abdullah is to the offense. The senior's leadership and talent have pushed his Heisman Trophy campaign into high gear. NCAA.com's Brendan Bures even took a look at what Abdullah brings to the table for Nebraska, which is a lot to say the least.
Having Gregory on defense and Abdullah on offense has been vital. However, what the two are building on their respective sides of the ball can make an impact after they're gone.
The matchup with Illinois will provide the Huskers with another chance to show they're becoming more complete as a team.
With Brian Christopherson and Brian Rosenthal of the Lincoln Journal Star reporting that linebacker David Santos is doubtful for the game against the Fighting Illini, the Blackshirts will be forced to step up. In doing so, the defense will need to limit mistakes and breakdowns. How it responds will be very telling of the unit's growth.
Nebraska is 4-0 for the first time since 2011. That alone speaks volumes about where this team is at. It's not going to be an easy path, but the offense and defense are looking more complete than they have in years.
That alone should make fans tired of riding the roller coaster feel a little bit better.
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It's been a tough start to the season for the 1-2 Texas Longhorns, which just dismissed another player from the team. That's why we should all appreciate the players, such as Malcom Brown, who have done nothing but impress despite the struggles of the collective team.
The Horns went into their bye week ranked in the bottom half of the Big 12 in scoring, rushing offense, passing offense, total offense and rushing defense. Through three games, not a whole lot has gone right.
That is, unless you look at the seasons Tyrone Swoopes, John Harris and the aforementioned Brown have turned in. While many of their teammates are still finding their way in the new system, these three are turning in the best seasons of their careers.
The hope is that their teammates can start matching their production before bowl eligibility slips away.
Another ho-hum start.
Another set of embarrassing losses.
Another coach on the hot seat.
Welcome to Michigan football, 2014 edition.
Thanks to a 31-0 whitewashing at the hands of Notre Dame and an embarrassing home loss to Utah, the Wolverines stand at 2-2 as they prepare to begin their Big Ten conference schedule this Saturday against Minnesota.
With national title hopes no more than a fantasy and a Big Ten title looking unlikely, it seems to be a question of when, not if, Brady Hoke's reign as the Michigan football coach will come to an end.
As it often has in the years since Michigan last hoisted the championship trophy in 1997, the chatter around Ann Arbor these days regards direction—as in, who can lead the Michigan football program back into prominence?
In speaking with a few Michigan insiders, the consensus answer to that question is Harbaugh...but not the Harbaugh most assume.
San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh may have the Wolverines pedigree, after having played quarterback for Bo Schembechler from 1983-86, but it is brother John, head coach of the Baltimore Ravens, who might emerge as the front-runner when the Michigan job officially does become available.
"[Michigan] hiring John would be like hitting a home run with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth inning to win the game," said one NFL insider who has known both John and Jim Harbaugh for many years. "He's a good person. He's a good coach. It would be a great fit. And I think he would be interested in the job."
The opportunity may not be an easy sell to a Super Bowl-winning coach who has the Ravens in the early playoff hunt. Furthermore, Harbaugh and Hoke are friends. They worked together as assistants at Western Michigan. Given their shared past, it's unlikely Harbaugh would want to be connected with the firing of Hoke.
But that doesn't mean Michigan won't move on their current coach.
The Wolverines have lost at least six games in four of the last six seasons, including a 7-6 crash and burn last year that concluded with regular-season losses to Iowa and Ohio State and a blowout loss to Kansas State in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.
Hoke's fourth year at the school hasn't been much better, limited to a pair of wins over non-power-five conference teams Appalachian State and Miami of Ohio.
Last week's weather-delayed 26-10 loss to Utah dropped Michigan's record over its past seven games to 2-5 while raising the "Hoke must go" frenzy among Michigan backers.
Former Michigan quarterback Michael Taylor, who guided the Wolverines to a pair of Big Ten titles in 1988 and '89, went public on a Michigan call-in show this week, blasting the school administration for not hiring Jim Harbaugh four years ago following the firing of Rich Rodriguez.
"We didn't get the coach (Harbaugh) who should have been our coach here," said Taylor. "[Hoke's] pedigree did not deserve to be a $4 million coach here at Michigan."
John Bacon, who wrote about the short and tumultuous tenure of Rodriguez at Michigan in the book Three and Out, says the situation at Michigan is volatile.
"It's Michigan," said Bacon, who teaches a course at the school and maintains his own blog. "It's always changing, but there are a lot of unhappy people."
But will the change come from a "Michigan Man" such as Jim Harbaugh or a Michigan-bred man such as John, who went to high school in Ann Arbor when his father Jack was a Michigan assistant?
Jim is the flash-point name for Wolverine fans. The former Michigan QB flirted with the Wolverines four years ago when he was coaching Stanford before opting for the 49ers.
While reports by NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport (h/t NFL.com's Marc Sessler) and CBSSports.com's Jason La Canfora suggest Harbaugh's run with the team may be coming to an end as he battles with Niners management about a contract extension and other issues, his ties to the NFL—and the title he covets—appear stronger.
"There is no way that Jim is going to leave the NFL when his brother and [Seahawks coach and rival] Pete Carroll have Super Bowl rings,'' said a source who has known Jim for many years. "He's one of the most competitive guys in the world, and besides he would be one of the top choices for any NFL job that opens in the next few months."
John is more secure in his job and has a contract that runs through 2017. However, ESPN.com's Don Van Natta Jr. and Kevin Van Valkenburg reported that he had a difference of opinion on the way the Ravens management handled the Ray Rice situation.
If the Ravens miss the playoffs for the second consecutive season and an enticing job such as Michigan opens, Harbaugh might want to return to Ann Arbor.
The Michigan staff already has John's fingerprints on it. Greg Mattison, who was one of Harbaugh's first assistant coaching hires for the Ravens, was hired last year by Hoke to be the Wolverines' defensive coordinator. The move was not made without Harbaugh's approval.
There are other non-Harbaugh options, of course.
LSU coach Les Miles, another Michigan man, was in the mix in '08 (before Rodriquez was hired) and in '10 (after he was fired). But a third run at Miles may be just as fruitless.
Former Rutgers coach Greg Schiano had an offer to coach the Wolverines in '08—Michigan had sent a plane to New Jersey to fly Schiano back to Ann Arbor—but had a last-minute change of heart and stuck it out at Rutgers for another season before he briefly moved to the NFL with Tampa Bay.
Fired last year, Schiano certainly would listen if Michigan called.
Hoke could quiet the noise if he can turn the Wolverines in the right direction in the next two months. But that would require wins at Michigan State and Ohio State, something that Hoke has not done since he took over in '11.
That's looking unlikely now—maybe as unlikely as one of the Harbaughs leaving the NFL.
Never say never, though.
Can You Say "Playoffs?"
Even UCLA coach Jim Mora Jr.'s father, Jim Sr., might not object to using that term after the Bruins' impressive 62-27 Pac-12 victory over Arizona State on Thursday night.
Mora Jr. watched with satisfaction as UCLA, regarded as a sleeper college football playoff team by many preseason prognosticators, put everything together for its best effort of the season.
After a sluggish start with unimpressive wins over Virginia, Memphis and Texas, the Bruins showed some swagger in blowing past the previously unbeaten Sun Devils.
After UCLA allowed ASU to jump out to a 17-6 lead, Bruins quarterback Brett Hundley overcame an injury to his non-throwing left shoulder to rack up 355 total passing yards and four touchdowns through the air, including a pair of 80-yard scores.
By the time the night was over, UCLA had tallied the most points ever scored in the history of 55-year-old Sun Devil Stadium.
The Bruins, who have home games with unbeaten Utah and Oregon in the next two weeks, would seem to have all the ingredients necessary for success: a Heisman Trophy-quality QB in Hundley, an All-American-caliber linebacker in Myles Jack, who was the Pac-12's Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year last season—he was a deadly in the red zone against running backs last season—and a dangerous threat on defense and special teams in cornerback Ishmael Adams, who broke the Arizona State game open with a 95-yard interception return and, later, a 100-yard kickoff return.
Sounds like a formula for success...and the playoffs, doesn't it?
Countdown to the Final Four
Last 4 In
1. Florida State: It survived against Clemson without Jameis Winston. Still the team to beat.
2. Alabama: With added passing game, the Tide are starting to roll.
3. Oregon: The Ducks will go as far as Marcus Mariota can carry them.
4. Oklahoma: It has the easiest route to the Final Four.
Last 4 Out
1. Auburn: As the SEC race begins, let's see what the Tigers have.
2. Baylor: It's scoring more than the basketball team.
3. Texas A&M: The Aggies might still be the best in SEC West.
4. Michigan State: The Big Ten's best hope.
Race to the Playoffs
We are four weeks into the college football season, and we are down to 33 teams (out of 128) who have legitimate chances of making it into college football's Final Four.
Total teams: 128
Teams eliminated: 95
Teams remaining: Florida State, North Carolina State, Georgia Tech, Duke, Cincinnati, Oklahoma, Baylor, TCU, Penn State, Nebraska ,Wisconsin, Michigan State, Ohio State, BYU, Notre Dame, Oregon, Washington, Oregon State, Arizona State, Arizona, UCLA, Utah, Stanford, USC, South Carolina, Texas A&M, Alabama, Auburn, Mississippi, Mississippi State, LSU, Georgia.
You've Got To Be Kidding
It is a must-win game for both teams.
Ohio State cannot afford another loss this season if it hopes to maintain any shot at the playoffs, while Cincinnati needs to beat the Buckeyes to prove it's worthy of being the highest-ranked non-power-five conference team—which gets a bid to either the Cotton, Fiesta or Peach Bowl.
Here's the scary part for the Buckeyes: Cincinnati can win this game. Bearcats coach Tommy Tuberville has a big-time pedigree, with prior stops at Auburn and Texas Tech. He has a team that went 9-4 last season and has 14 starters back, including Notre Dame transfer Gunner Kiel at quarterback.
The Bearcats have taken care of their other Ohio challenges this season—Toledo and Miami of Ohio. Don't be shocked if they take care of their biggest and offer the Buckeyes an in-state black eye for the first time in a long, long time.
2. Kentucky has not won an SEC game in two years.
OK, Kentucky hasn't been a factor in football since...when did Bear Bryant coach the Wildcats?
But under the guidance of Mark Stoops, UK is showing some teeth behind a revamped defense led by defensive ends Alvin Dupree and Za'Darius Smith.
It took Florida into overtime a few weeks back and has a good chance at ending its conference losing streak when struggling Vanderbilt comes to Lexington on Saturday.
3. Talk about no respect. Miami is a seven-point favorite Saturday against a Duke team that has scored 93 points in its last two meetings with the Hurricanes.
The Blue Devils finished ahead of the 'Canes in last season's ACC Coastal Conference race en route to the ACC title game, where they lost to national champion FSU. This season is shaping up in a similar manner, with the Blue Devils off to a 4-0 start and Miami at 2-2.
Sounds like it's time to give the Devil his due.
4. Clemson center Ryan Norton, who snapped the ball high over quarterback Deshaun Watson's head in last week's 23-17 overtime loss at No. 1 Florida State and cost the Tigers a possible go-ahead touchdown, has received threatening messages on social media.
Come on, people. Get a grip. Get a life. Then again, maybe in this social media age, when everyone is quick to vent, this isn't all that surprising.
It is disturbing and disappointing.
Quote of the Week
"You're a shoelace from that guy going into the game. Alex Smith (at Utah) was a backup quarterback, took over and did very well. Tebow was our backup quarterback to Chris Leak; he did very well (You think? Tebow won the Heisman)." - Ohio State coach Urban Meyer, talking about the importance of backup quarterbacks in his weekly press conference.
Famous for celebrating its student body known as the "12th Man," Texas A&M also boasts the largest uniformed group of students outside of the U.S. military academies, known as the Corps of Cadets.
Last weekend, the now-volunteer corps played its part in the Aggies' 58-6 win over SMU when an Aggie cadet threw himself in front of an SMU football player who was on a collision course with Reveille VIII, the school's mascot collie.
During the game, SMU receiver Der'rikk Thompson came running off the field straight toward the hound, who was sitting on his bed on the Aggies sideline. Aggies sophomore Ryan Kreider, who was on the sidelines as well, took the hit from Thompson and for Reveille VIII.
Elsewhere, former Texas starting offensive tackle Kennedy Estelle was dismissed by coach Charlie Strong for a violation of team rules. Estelle is the ninth player dismissed this season by Strong, who took over from Mack Brown last January.
Game of the Week
Syracuse vs. Notre Dame
This is the first of four ACC games Notre Dame will play this season. The Irish will play five each year and face each of the ACC's 14 teams during the next three seasons. The series kicks off at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey.
Considering Syracuse is winless there, the No. 8 Fighting Irish may live up to the 9.5-point favorite Las Vegas thinks they are.
The Pick: Notre Dame 31, Syracuse 14
Betting information courtesy of Odds Shark.
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 News and The Boston Globe. Follow him on Twitter @blauds.
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Florida State expected to see plenty of Jacoby Brissett through the years. While Brissett was recruited by FSU coach Jimbo Fisher, the quarterback from Palm Beach Gardens didn't make an official visit to Tallahassee and signed with Florida in February 2011.
But Brissett's journey took a detour after three starts over his first two seasons in Gainesville.
When coach Will Muschamp named Jeff Driskel the starter in the fall of 2013, Brissett transferred to North Carolina State.
After sitting out for a season due to the NCAA's transfer rules, Brissett is completing 69.7 percent of his passes and has the Wolfpack off to a 4-0 start. Now FSU will see Brissett for the first time since he threw for 43 yards, a touchdown and an interception for the Gators in a 21-7 loss to the Seminoles in November 2011.
"Strong arm, physical guy, great competitor," FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. "Can reach all the throws across the field, deep, short, intermediate. He moves around well for a big guy. He's a tough guy and a leader and he'll be ready to play. He's the difference in their offense in one year."
N.C. State went just 3-9 in 2013, but coach Dave Doeren's first season included an 0-8 mark in the ACC.
While the Wolfpack are playing their first ACC game against the No. 1 Seminoles on Saturday, they have already won more games than last year and shown improvement on offense and defense.
"I feel like I'm getting better each week," Brissett said. "We're translating what we do in practice to the field, and it's showing in the games."
In wins over Georgia Southern, Old Dominion, South Florida and Presbyterian, Brissett has thrown for a combined 10 touchdowns and one interception. Brissett is leading an offense that has averaged 40.3 points per game in 2014.
"He's been able to be a catalyst for us," Doeren said. "But he's also been able to be a game manager."
Those wins, however, come with one not-so-small asterisk: The first two wins came against programs playing their first seasons in the Football Bowl Subdivision, South Florida has struggled with a 2-2 start and Presbyterian is a Football Championship Subdivision program.
Even though the schedule has been relatively soft, FSU's defensive players have been impressed by Brissett.
Without defensive end Mario Edwards Jr., who is out with a concussion, FSU will still need to pressure Brissett. Ends Chris Casher and DeMarcus Walker as well as tackles Eddie Goldman and Derrick Mitchell must put some heat on the quarterback and force him to make mistakes.
Brissett hasn't been pressured much this season, and this is the first time he's seeing a top defensive unit.
"He definitely looks like he is the real deal," FSU cornerback P.J. Williams said. "He can make plays. I think they have a real good offense."
Brissett has made the most of his new opportunity at N.C. State. His first shot at college football was full of ups and downs: He started at LSU (a 41-11 loss) and the following week at Auburn (a 17-6 loss) as a true freshman. The following year, he helped the Gators to wins over Louisiana and Jacksonville State.
But Driskel soon surpassed Brissett, and he decided to move on. After sitting out and watching all of the losses, Brissett has N.C. State off to a hot start.
A week after facing a dynamic Clemson offense with quarterback Deshaun Watson, FSU's defense faces another test.
"They're the best team that we will play so far, and I feel like we're the best team that they've played so far," Brissett said. "We're playing really well right now. Our offensive line is doing a really good job of protecting me and doing well in the run game. It's going to be a real good game."
Bob Ferrante is the Florida State Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Stats courtesy of seminoles.com and gopack.com. All recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.
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Over the past two seasons, college football fans got spoiled.
They watched as a pair of electric, talented freshman quarterbacks in Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel and Florida State's Jameis Winston led their teams to national prominence and were rewarded with a Heisman Trophy.
So the natural question entering the 2014 season was simple: Who's next?
Who would emerge as the next great freshman quarterback, capturing the nation's attention?
Four weeks into the season, there's no clear answer. There doesn't appear to be an impact freshman signal-caller on the level of Manziel or Winston, but that doesn't make 2014 any less compelling.
A crop of talented freshman quarterbacks has emerged, with more on the verge of a breakthrough that could make this class even stronger.
If anything, we've learned through four weeks that there's no one way to handle a standout freshman quarterback, but rather several intriguing options. Ohio State's Urban Meyer, Arizona's Rich Rodriguez and Clemson's Dabo Swinney would certainly agree. The prominent coaches took various paths to starting a freshman quarterback, but all are on a positive track as the season's first month wraps up.
Rodriguez took the conventional route.
Arizona's coach was looking for his third starting quarterback in as many years at the Wildcats helm, and redshirt freshman Anu Solomon emerged as the starter.
He hasn't looked back since.
Solomon threw for an Arizona freshman-record 425 yards in a season-opening 58-13 rout of UNLV. While he hasn't been perfect (13 touchdowns against three interceptions), the dual-threat Solomon has been pretty darn good.
Last week, while most of you were asleep, the freshman enjoyed his first truly magical moment.
The Wildcats trailed Cal, 31-13, entering the fourth quarter, but Solomon just kept throwing. And throwing. And throwing.
His last completion was his biggest: a 47-yard Hail Mary to Austin Hill on the game's final play for a stunning 49-45 victory. Solomon threw 73 times and completed 47 of them with 520 yards and five touchdowns against two interceptions.
Meanwhile, Urban Meyer didn't have a choice.
J.T. Barrett was expected to see time in the waning moments of Ohio State blowouts, if that, after besting sophomore Cardale Jones for the Buckeyes' backup job. After all, standing in his way was one Braxton Miller, one of the most dynamic dual threats in college football.
But when Miller left an August practice with a shoulder injury (the same shoulder that he'd undergone offseason surgery on), just like that, Barrett was the man with Miller forced into a redshirt season.
No apprenticeship, no adjustment period. Here's a Top Five team, J.T. Don't mess this up.
As you might expect, Barrett has been up and down. The Columbus Dispatch's Tim May says Barrett "continues to learn on the job." In his first start, Ohio State trailed Navy at the half before rallying for a second-half win: Barrett completed 80 percent of his passes and threw for 226 yards in a 34-17 win.
The following week, Bud Foster and Virginia Tech's defense harassed him all night in a 35-21 loss, OSU's first home defeat since 2011.
Barrett completed only nine of 29 passes for 219 yards and a touchdown against three interceptions, but Meyer didn't waver. He praised Barrett's character following the Tech loss, per ASAP Sports:
You could see he can throw and he runs it well enough, but the real, which is probably as important as anything, is the character and maturity and what kind of human being he is. So he'll rebound. I have all the confidence in the world, so does our offensive staff. That is his strength.
While this weekend's game against Cincinnati and the Big Ten slate will provide a true gauge of Barrett's readiness, he bounced back with 312 yards passing and six touchdowns against an interception in OSU's 66-0 rout of overmatched Kent State.
That brings us to the guy who could be the best of the entire group: Deshaun Watson.
Watson stepped into a difficult situation at Clemson.
At Gainesville (Ga.) High School, he ran a spread offense very similar to Tigers offensive coordinator Chad Morris' hurry-up, no-huddle scheme, piling up over 17,000 yards of total offense. Watson enrolled early at Clemson and went through spring practice with the Tigers, emerging as the backup following Chad Kelly's dismissal.
But there was the not-so-small matter of Cole Stoudt. The senior had spent the past three seasons backing up Tajh Boyd, who left Clemson as the ACC's all-time touchdown leader and No. 2 passing yards leader behind N.C. State's Philip Rivers.
At some point, Watson would be the man. But would it be September 2014...or September 2015?
Right from the start, the former looked a lot more likely.
The freshman impressed in his college debut at Georgia, finishing his first drive with a beautiful 30-yard touchdown toss to Charone Peake.
Fans' calls for Watson only grew louder following a rout of South Carolina State, in which Watson completed eight of nine passes for 154 yards and three touchdowns. Still, Swinney insisted there was no quarterback controversy and pleaded with fans to support Stoudt.
That sentiment lasted about as long as it took for Stoudt to bounce a pass at the feet of wide-open tight end Jordan Leggett in the Florida State red zone Saturday night.
Stoudt lasted one more drive, but when Watson entered the game late in the first quarter, he never looked back.
His first drive covered 75 yards and ended in a Clemson field goal, and Stoudt probably realized he needed to get comfortable on the sidelines.
This was now Watson's team.
Against one of the nation's nastiest defenses, Watson was impressive, completing 19 of 28 passes for 266 yards and adding a rushing touchdown while pushing the No. 1 Seminoles to the absolute brink.
Florida State escaped with a 23-17 overtime victory, but take away a Ryan Norton shotgun snap 10 feet over his head in the red zone, a pair of Ammon Lakip missed field goals or C.J. Davidson's deadly red-zone fumble with one minute, 36 seconds left in the game, and Watson would've strolled out of Tallahassee with a stunning upset.
Swinney said on the ACC teleconference this week, per ASAP Sports, that Watson "doesn't have a lifetime contract" and that Stoudt "is still going to have an opportunity to play."
Make no mistake, though. This is Watson's time, and everyone knows it. When Swinney and Morris knew, they knew, as Swinney said:
The first two games Cole played really well and so did Deshaun. We went into the game with the same mindset. They practiced well. When Deshaun came in, we missed a touchdown opportunity with Cole, a play he's got to make for us. When Deshaun came in, he sparked us, continued to play well. We made the decision, Hey, let's see where this young man can take us.
Clemson might be the best 1-2 team in the nation, given that it trailed Georgia 24-21 in the fourth quarter before tiring in a 45-21 defeat.
Of the three programs we examined, Swinney was by far the most cautious with his freshman quarterback but could find himself in the best situation. Each of the Tigers' final nine games is winnable, starting with this week's home game against North Carolina. It's the perfect opportunity for the talented Watson to cement his role as the starting quarterback for the next three seasons.
We'll find out plenty more about Solomon next week against No. 2 Oregon, and the Big Ten slate will surely test Barrett, giving him a chance to learn now, even if a healthy Miller returns next season.
That's the fascinating thing about this season's freshman quarterbacks. Different approaches. Different opportunities to grow.
They might not make it to the Heisman Trophy ceremony in December, but watching these guys develop should be fun no matter how you approach it.
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The outcome of Saturday's game between Georgia and Tennessee won't merely impact conference standings, team records and program morale. While the importance of those factors can't be overstated, the most lasting impact of this matchup will be on the recruiting trail.
A cursory glance at both teams' rosters shows that these two states do a lot more than share a state line. These two flagship programs share a recruiting pool. Tennessee has 17 players from the state of Georgia on its official roster. And though Georgia has just three Bulldogs on its roster from the Volunteer State, such recent notables as wide receiver Marlon Brown and offensive linemen Austin and Hunter Long hail from Tennessee.
For Georgia, the hope is that a fifth win over the Vols in five years—something the Dawgs have never previously accomplished—helps block a deluge of talent from spilling out of the state and into the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains in Knoxville. After all, the Volunteers aren't only luring quantity away from Georgia; they're getting high-quality players.
Two of Tennessee's three most-highly regarded recruits (per 247Sports) in the 2015 class have Georgia ties. Wide receiver Preston Williams hails from Hampton, Ga. while running back Alvin Kamara left Norcross, Ga. for the University of Alabama and is currently enrolled at Hutchinson Community College in Kansas.
In total, six of Tennessee's 22 commitments for next year's class are from the Peach State. All six rank in the top 100 nationally at their respective position per 247Sports.
And to be fair, although Georgia's rich surrounding talent pool eliminates the need to go into Tennessee often, Mark Richt and his staff have made waves north of the home state border. Van Jefferson, the top receiver in Tennessee, chose the Bulldogs over the Volunteers in August. Tight end Jackson Harris, the seventh-best recruit in Tennessee per 247Sports, is a longtime Georgia commit.
For Georgia, the best-case scenario on Saturday is a big win that gives way to a more secure border and maybe even a flipped commitment or two.
D'Andre Walker, a 4-star defensive end from Fairburn, Ga., is considering Tennessee and Georgia along with Auburn. A stout defensive effort by the Dawgs led by a slew of young players (like Lorenzo Carter and Dominick Sanders) making plays could sway him to the Bulldogs.
Micah Abernathy, a 4-star cornerback playing at Greater Atlanta Christian, is considering Oregon, Ohio State, Penn State, Tennessee and Georgia. Seeing a young Georgia secondary take strides weekly will be enticing for Abernathy but not as enticing as seeing one that dismantles Tennessee's passing game.
And who knows what a fifth-straight win might yield. Williams, a 5-star wide receiver committed to Tennessee, will likely stay loyal to the Volunteers. But it would be hard to knock him for flipping to an in-state power that has dominated his school of choice since he was in middle school.
And as Richt pointed out to Gentry Estes of 247Sports earlier this week, Georgia is still pursuing prospects who are committed elsewhere. Though unable to comment explicitly on individuals, Richt stressed, "Sometimes you'll snag a guy that's committed to someone else too. So we're working some guys that are committed at other schools."
In that regard, the possible outcomes from the game itself and the impact on recruiting are very different.
On the field, a Georgia win is expected; even a lopsided victory does little to change perception of the Bulldogs. A loss, however, could spell disaster for the Dawgs' SEC Championship dreams. Between the lines, Georgia has little to gain and everything to lose.
In recruiting, however, Georgia could stand to make a strong push for uncommitted stars and present a compelling case for flipping a commitment. That's worth playing for.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand. All recruiting rankings, ratings and stats courtesy of 247Sports.
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Every Top 25 team has certain games circled on the calendar every season, but all it takes is one slip to put any College Football Playoff hopes in serious jeopardy. That means no opponent can be overlooked.
That is an important theme as we head into Week 5 of the college football season.
Thursday night’s showdown between UCLA and Arizona State was the only matchup between ranked teams on this week’s slate, but the underdogs will surely be looking for some timely upsets. With that in mind, here is a look at the odds and spread predictions for every Top 25 team.
Game to Watch: No. 1 Florida State at North Carolina State
The No. 1 team in the country and defending national champion is going on the road to face an undefeated team. On paper, this is certainly a noteworthy contest, and it is easy to look at the 4-0 record next to North Carolina State’s name and see this as a potential upset.
However, the difference in strength of schedule between Florida State and the Wolfpack describes a telling story. College GameDay pointed out that the Seminoles have been tested in the early going:
On the other hand, the Wolfpack have played Georgia Southern, Old Dominion, South Florida and Presbyterian, which is not exactly murderer’s row.
North Carolina State didn’t inspire much confidence, either, when it trailed the majority of the game against Georgia Southern before eventually winning by a single point, 24-23. The defense also struggled against Old Dominion and allowed 34 points to a team that only managed 17 against Eastern Michigan.
There is something to be said about the fact that the Seminoles are coming off of an emotional overtime victory against Clemson in what may be their most difficult test of the regular season.
Defending Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston did not play in that contest, but the defense (largely due to Clemson miscues) did just enough to keep Florida State in the game and eventually win at the end. The Seminoles actually trailed for the first time in 12 regular-season contests.
Head coach Jimbo Fisher commented on the result, via ESPN.com: "The mental resolve of this football team, that's why I love them. They understand how to rally together, they understand how to pull together, and they understand how much they care for each other. I think they mentally got themselves back together."
That mental resolve will be tested as Florida State tries to get up for another game seven days after its emotional roller coaster of a victory.
The key for North Carolina State will be exploiting what appears to be a vulnerable Seminoles offensive line. In fact, Florida State only managed 13 yards on 27 carries against the Tigers and allowed five sacks.
The presence of Winston alone will cut down on the sack totals thanks to his ability to elude pressure, but the offensive line is certainly a concern for now.
This wouldn’t be the first time the Wolfpack sprung a surprise on the Seminoles, either. North Carolina State has won five of its last seven home games against a ranked Florida State squad, including the 17-16 stunner in 2012 over the No. 2 Seminoles.
If the North Carolina State defense can rattle Winston with pressure or at least shut down the running game, it would open up the opportunity for the offense to do some work. Quarterback Jacoby Brissett leads the ACC with a 166.7 passer rating with 10 touchdowns and one interception, which is a large reason why the Wolfpack are averaging 502 yards of offense a game.
Throw in Shadrach Thornton, who ran for 173 yards and two scores in last year’s game against Florida State, and the Wolfpack have the pieces to challenge the Seminoles defense.
While Brissett and Thornton may keep it close for the first half, the North Carolina State defense just isn’t built to take advantage of Florida State’s offensive line. We are talking about a unit that allowed more than 500 total yards of offense against Old Dominion.
Winston will pick apart the secondary and make plays with his feet, essentially ending this one by the fourth quarter. The Heisman winner led his team to 35 first-quarter points alone against the Wolfpack last year.
It won’t be quite as ugly this time around, but Winston and the Seminoles will win by a comfortable margin.
Prediction: Florida State 41, North Carolina State 20
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After a disappointing sophomore season cast some doubt, Alabama’s Amari Cooper is proving early in his junior season that he is one of college football’s best wide receivers and a top prospect among players eligible for the 2015 NFL draft.
It’s been clear since Cooper’s true freshman year in 2012, when he had 59 receptions for precisely 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns, that the wideout was a special talent.
In his second season for the Crimson Tide, Cooper failed to take the next step to stardom. As he battled drops and a nagging foot injury, Cooper never topped five catches and 75 yards in the first 10 games of his sophomore year, and he finished the season with just 45 receptions for 736 yards and four touchdowns.
He’s already made up for last year’s letdown with a remarkable start to this season.
Cooper has nearly matched his 12-game production from last season in just four contests this year; his 43 catches and 655 receiving yards both lead the Football Bowl Subdivision, while he has already topped his touchdown total from last year with five scores.
Dating back to the last two games of his sophomore campaign, when he finally started to get his groove back in Alabama’s losing efforts to Auburn and Oklahoma, Cooper will go into the second month of the college football season on a run of six straight performances in which he has accumulated at least 121 receiving yards.
Those numbers are neither fluke nor simply the product of a well-oiled offensive system. Cooper’s on-field play clearly demonstrates that he is making his greatness happen with his own tools.
Those tools should enable Cooper, a junior who will be draft-eligible after this season, to continue to be highly productive in the NFL.
Tools for Greatness on Display
It’s not a surprise that Cooper has played exceptionally this year. He faced high expectations coming into the season as he was already ranked as the top prospect at his position by many draft analysts, including ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay (both subscription required).
That said, it remained important for Cooper to prove he could perform at a consistently high level.
So far this season, he’s doing exactly that.
Cooper possesses many qualities that should attract scouts to him as a potential high first-round draft pick.
Not the least of those qualities is Cooper’s big-play ability. He’s already had plenty of flashy, exciting moments in his career, but perhaps his most memorable (although Auburn cornerback Chris Davis ultimately ensured that it wasn’t the biggest play of the day) was his 99-yard catch-and-run touchdown in last year’s Iron Bowl.
A natural runner who glides to the football, Cooper can take a well-thrown deep ball to paydirt. He excels at adjusting his stride to track the ball downfield, has the speed to run away from a defensive back like he left Auburn’s Jonathon Mincy in the dust on that play and he possesses the balance to run through contact.
Another dangerous trait of Cooper’s is his lateral quickness. He doesn’t have to rely on his ability to beat a defender downfield to make a big play; as the following example from last season’s Orange Bowl versus Oklahoma demonstrates, even a screen pass can turn into a huge gain once the ball is in Cooper’s hands.
Cooper regularly extends plays by making defenders miss with his sharp cuts. His quickness also extends to route-running, which might be the most spectacular aspect of his game.
There will be receivers in the 2015 draft with faster 40-yard dash times and longer arms, but there’s unlikely to be anyone who gets open as fluently as Cooper does.
The key to running great routes is to waste as little motion as possible. Cooper makes crisp breaks that force defensive backs to react immediately or get burned.
The following 11-yard catch against West Virginia from this year’s Alabama season opener was a textbook display of route-running 101 by Cooper. After beating a jam off the line of scrimmage with a fluid double move, Cooper made a clean turn toward the middle of the field to separate from WVU cornerback Daryl Worley.
While Cooper had some issues with catch consistency in 2013, he’s had no such problems this season. Typically, the Crimson Tide star has been able to pluck the ball out of the air and secure it in his hands, even on plays like the following example from last year’s Auburn game, in which he had to make an adjustment back to an underthrown ball.
Cooper has the downfield receiving capabilities on the outside that a No. 1 NFL receiver is expected to have, but it’s really at the intermediate level of the field where he does his best work. With 27 plays from scrimmage of 10 yards or more already this season—the most of any player in the FBS, according to CFBStats.com—Cooper is making it clear that he can make the chains move.
Red-zone skills won’t be a selling point for Cooper, but he’s also proven that he’s a competitive receiver who doesn’t back down from physical opposition.
One of the best one-on-one wins of his career came in last week’s Alabama win over Florida—a game in which Cooper accumulated career-high totals of 201 receiving yards and three touchdowns—when the wideout made a four-yard catch in the end zone over one of the most talented cornerbacks in the nation, Florida’s Vernon Hargreaves III.
How High Could Cooper Be Selected?
In the most recent NFL draft this May, Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins was so highly regarded that the Buffalo Bills traded their first- and fourth-round picks for the 2015 draft to move up just five spots, to No. 4 overall from No. 9, to select him.
Their decision to make that move, in a draft that ended up having five wideouts go in Round 1 and 15 off the board in the top 100, made it clear that Watkins was viewed as an elite talent.
Even with regard to how highly Watkins was valued, NFL Media’s Daniel Jeremiah believes that Cooper might be an even better prospect.
“I think he's a better football player just all-around, just polished in everything, as a route runner, I think he's a little bit ahead of Sammy,” Jeremiah recently said on the College Football 24/7 podcast, according to NFL.com’s Chase Goodbread.
Jeremiah isn’t the only one with glowing praise for Cooper. A talent evaluator for an AFC team, who also compared Cooper to Watkins, told Yahoo! Sports’ Eric Edholm earlier this week that he views Cooper as a top-10 level talent.
Pro Football Hall of Fame wide receiver and current ESPN NFL analyst Cris Carter also recently praised Cooper on ESPN’s Mike & Mike, according to Charles Power of BamaOnLine:
I don't know what he's going to do in the pros, but since Ozzie Newsome, Alabama has the best wide receiver that they have had in the history of their school and his name is Amari Cooper. He is a true junior from Miami and he is fabulous. His ability to run routes- I met Amari when he was in high school at a football clinic and he's probably the most advanced wide receiver that I have seen at a young age since Randy Moss.
Not everyone, however, believes that Cooper is a rare talent. Ryan McCrystal, the founder of DraftAce.com and a Bleacher Report contributor, sees Cooper as a complementary player rather than a star of an NFL offense.
McCrystal presents a valid point. Listed at 6’1” and 210 pounds by Alabama’s official athletics website, Cooper will not have a universal size advantage over cornerbacks at the next level. And while he runs well with the ball in his hands, there are likely to be other receivers in the first-round mix who run faster 40-yard dash times.
Compare Cooper to Watkins, however, and there’s reason to believe Cooper might also end up a top-five draft pick.
Cooper’s official measurables aren’t likely to be far off from those of Watkins, who measured in at 6’1” and 211 pounds and ran a 4.43-second 40-yard dash at the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine, according to NFL.com.
Watkins was neither the biggest nor the fastest receiver drafted in Round 1, but he was the most complete. How Cooper’s speed compares to Watkins is to be determined, but he displays similar open-field playmaking skills and route-running ability.
If there is one real weakness in Cooper’s game, it’s his blocking. Cooper’s game tape regularly shows him whiffing chances to pick up defenders, such as the example below, while he lacks the strength to generate significant movement even when he does get his hands on a potential tackler.
While blocking is a capacity that Cooper’s NFL team will expect him to improve in, it’s probably not a shortcoming that will make a team pass on him.
Cooper could decide to delay the NFL until 2016 and return for his senior season at Alabama, but that would come as a surprise.
So long as Cooper continues to catch the ball consistently and avoids the pitfalls of his 2013 season, he’s a good bet to be a top-10 overall selection.
Dan Hope is an NFL/NFL Draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.
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The ESPN College GameDay crew is heading to Steve Spurrier's neck of the woods this week, with the show set to broadcast from Columbia, South Carolina, on Saturday ahead of No. 13 South Carolina's conference clash with Missouri.
GameDay revealed the news on Sunday:
The Gamecocks announced on Twitter that country singer Kenny Chesney will perform a short concert on campus and serve as GameDay's guest picker:
This game admittedly lost some luster when the Tigers fell to the Indiana Hoosiers last Saturday. What was an intriguing game between two Top 25 SEC teams became slightly less interesting. The Hoosiers exposed some of Missouri's biggest flaws and grounded the team's expectations.
Spurrier threw a subtle dig at the Tigers when talking about GameDay's impending arrival in The Palmetto State, per David Morrison of the Columbia Daily Tribune:
According to Odds Shark, the Gamecocks open as 5.5-point favorites. With the game in Williams-Brice Stadium, many will expect South Carolina to pick up its fourth win of 2014.
When: Saturday, Sept. 27, 2014
Time: 9 a.m. - 12 p.m. ET (Game is scheduled for 7 p.m. ET)
Where: Williams-Brice Stadium, Columbia, South Carolina
Live Stream:Watch ESPN
South Carolina Player to Watch: Gerald Dixon, DE
Nobody expected South Carolina to seamlessly replace Jadeveon Clowney on the defensive line, but the Gamecocks' inability to get after the quarterback through four games is a bit of a concerning sign. They've recorded four sacks on the year, which on average ranks 105th in the country.
"We're just sort of a little limited, I guess, as far as one of those natural rush guys that we used to have around here," Spurrier said about his front seven, per Josh Kendall of The State in Columbia. "We really don't have quite the guys we used to have around here with Jadeveon, even Chaz Sutton. Kelcy Quarles got a bunch of sacks last year."
One of the players Spurrier will hope can help stem the tide on Saturday is defensive end Gerald Dixon, who's not to be confused with his half-brother, defensive tackle Gerald Dixon Jr. Dixon is one of four Gamecocks players to record a sack in 2014. He's also recorded two tackles for loss, which ranks first on the team.
If Dixon can help put early pressure on Tigers quarterback Maty Mauk, then it will be a long day for the Tigers.
ESPN.com's Sam Khan Jr. wrote that the offensive line is a major question mark for Missouri:
The Tigers struggled mightily in its loss to Indiana. They committed three false start penalties, allowed two sacks and Indiana collected 11 tackles for loss, the most the Hoosiers have had in nearly two years. There were bad snaps and even worse, the Tigers lost senior left guard Anthony Gatti to a torn ACL during the game. Missouri hasn’t run the ball as well as it did a year ago (the Tigers are averaging 4.76 yards per carry, ninth in the SEC, compared to 5.66 yards per carry last season) and quarterback Maty Mauk was under pressure often against the Hoosiers. If the Tigers are going to bounce back from Saturday’s loss and start SEC play on the right foot at South Carolina, the offensive line play has to be better.
The Tigers might be exactly what the Gamecocks need to spark their pass rush. Playing at home against a suspect line makes for a great confluence of factors for USC.
Missouri Player to Watch: Maty Mauk, QB
This is admittedly an obvious choice, but the Tigers will go as far as Mauk takes them in this game. In last year's home loss to the Gamecocks, he completed 10 of 25 passes for 249 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
Henry Josey and Marcus Murphy helped keep Mizzou in the game by rushing for a combined 132 yards and two touchdowns. Josey won't be there this time around, making this a little more difficult for the visitors and heaping more pressure on Mauk.
Efficiency has been the name of Mauk's game so far. His completion percentage is up a little over 10 points from last year (51.1 percent in 2013 to 61.6 percent in 2014), and he's thrown 14 touchdowns to four interceptions.
Mauk said that losing to South Carolina was more down to mistakes from Missouri rather than USC going above and beyond, per Morrison:
This is a great time for him and the rest of the Tigers to set the record straight.
The further away we get from South Carolina's one-sided 52-28 defeat to Texas A&M, the more that result looks like a bit of an outlier. The Gamecocks were thoroughly outclassed by the Aggies, but Spurrier and his coaching staff looked to be at a major disadvantage by having no idea of the extent of Kenny Hill's abilities.
It's hard to get a proper read on Missouri because the Tigers have yet to beat a power-five opponent this year. Losing at home to an Indiana team fresh off giving up 571 yards to Bowling Green isn't a good look, either.
Expect the South Carolina offense to overwhelm the Tigers early. This game won't turn into a blowout, but it could be one of those final scores that ends up looking deceptive. The Gamecocks should be in control for much of the game.
Final Score: South Carolina 37, Missouri 28
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Led by an Arizona native in Brett Hundley, UCLA stormed into the desert Thursday night and smashed Arizona State by a score of 62-27.
UCLA's signal-caller didn't let his hyperextended left elbow deter him at all. He threw for 355 yards and four touchdowns on the night. Hundley also scrambled for 70 yards and a touchdown in the process. He looked confident, comfortable and clinical.
Arizona State was absolutely crippled by the big play. The Bruins had five plays of at least 80 yards. Shoddy kick coverage and poor tackling were the culprits behind much of UCLA's success.
Mike Bercovici did have a solid game, in which he went 42-of-68 for 488 yards and three touchdowns. However, his inexperience did rear its ugly head at times.
An ill-advised throw on the final drive of the first half led to an Ishmael Adams' interception return for a touchdown. This was arguably the biggest play in the game, firmly shooting momentum over to the Bruins.
A full box score can be found here, courtesy of NCAA.com.
Check out first-half grades and final grades for both the Bruins and the Sun Devils. Additional analysis for different positional units will also be addressed.
UCLA Bruins Game Grades Analysis
Hundley was terrific. His vision on throws down the field was immensely impressive. Although he had five incompletions, two of those were egregious drops. He was constantly in control the entire evening.
Despite wearing a bulky elbow brace, Hundley had his best game this season and perhaps ever as the UCLA quarterback.
This wasn't a tremendous effort across the board. ASU's quarterback did throw for almost 500 yards. However, the Sun Devils were forced to throw on almost every play in the second half (due to the scoreline). As a result, these numbers are a bit skewed.
Adams' interception return for a touchdown was the biggest play of the game. It gave UCLA the momentum, which ultimately propelled the team to the victory. Anthony Jefferson's coverage of Jaelen Strong was particularly solid. His interception will go down as one of the more impressive plays Thursday night (in a night full of impressive plays).
Although the team got off to a slow start early, offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone stuck with the ground game. Hundley's ability to evade the rush and scramble for first downs was demoralizing for the ASU defense.
Perkins really picked up his effort in the second half. His ability to gash ASU's defense up the middle enabled UCLA to chew up time on the clock. His juke of ASU safety Jordan Simone in the fourth quarter was absolutely ridiculous.
The offensive line also deserves a good bit of credit. Not only did the unit keep Hundley protected but the running backs (and quarterback) rolled up 225 yards on the ground.
It was apparent UCLA's defensive scheme was set on stopping D.J. Foster. The defensive line did a great job of stuffing plays between the tackles. As a result, ASU was forced to get Foster out on the perimeter, simply as a way to get him more production.
UCLA held one of the nation's best to 30 yards on nine carries. ASU in total rushed for a paltry 3.7 yards per carry average. Credit especially goes to Eddie Vanderdoes and Eric Kendricks. Both were all over the place. Kendricks in particular was tremendous in shooting through gaps to make plays.
What more can Adams do? The electric returner displayed why he's one of the nation's best in this specific category. His ability to stop and start on a dime makes him truly special.
Kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn was perfect on all of his field-goal attempts. Punters Matt Mengel and Adam Searl were also solid in pinning ASU deep in its own territory.
Mazzone called a great game offensively. The play-calling was dynamic, especially in terms of throwing the ball down the field. Jeff Ulbrich didn't have a great start to the game schematically. ASU was picking up yards in big chunks. However, he made adjustments and held ASU to only 10 points after the first quarter.
In short, UCLA outscored ASU 56-10 after the first quarter. This sort of domination could truly galvanize the Bruins going forward. UCLA is now 20-0 under Mora when leading at halftime.
Arizona State Sun Devils Game Grades Analysis
A bright spot was the statistical output by the reserve signal-caller. Bercovici threw for 488 yards and three touchdowns. A few of his throws were beautiful, and much of his effectiveness came when he was afforded time to sit in the pocket and deliver the ball down the field.
The poor throw at the end of the first half was a back-breaker. However, his play as a whole has to be encouraging. "Berco" is a solid option for ASU until (or if) Taylor Kelly can come back. In this game, Bercovici set school records for completions (42) and attempts (68).
In a word, abysmal. Blown coverages led to big plays by Thomas Duarte over the heart of the field. Three missed tackles turned a five-yard Eldridge Massington catch into an 80-yard touchdown. Jordan Payton started the second half with an 80-yard touchdown reception.
It was a bad night for the secondary. Nothing else needs to be said.
The rushing attack never was able to fully get its footing. UCLA did do a good job of winning the line of scrimmage with its defensive line. Foster, Kalen Ballage, Demario Richard and Deantre Lewis weren't having the luxury of running through gaping holes or lanes.
By the time ASU got down by three touchdowns, offensive coordinator Mike Norvell was forced to effectively abandon the ground game. In totality, ASU rushed for only 134 yards on 36 carries.
ASU's biggest problem was its inability to tackle well in space. On multiple occasions, Perkins was able to juke defenders for extra yardage. Hundley's scrambling also posed big time issues.
On the night, the young defense relinquished 225 yards rushing. UCLA ran to the tune of 6.4 yards per carry.
Aside from its own kicking game, ASU had immense trouble all night. Adams' ability to slice the kick coverage was a constant problem. The 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown effectively ended the game early in the third quarter.
The last drive in the first half sticks out the most. Throughout the first half, Todd Graham's propensity to call timeouts at strange moments left ASU with none during this final stretch. Down three points with less than a minute left, a bizarre quarterback draw was called.
The ill-advised decision to throw the ball on the next play led to an interception return for a touchdown. It was truly poor clock management and game management for that matter.
Defensively, ASU had no answer for UCLA's ability to throw the ball down the field. In terms of adjustments made at halftime, there were apparently none.
I do consider Graham to be a very good coach. However, Thursday night wasn't his best showing.
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Sun Devil Stadium may have gone quiet after the third of UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley's four touchdown passes Thursday night in the No. 11-ranked Bruins' 62-27 defeat of No. 15 Arizona State.
However, a message reverberated loud and clear through the silence that followed Hundley's 80-yard connection with Jordan Payton to open the second half: UCLA is still very much a threat to win the Pac-12 championship.
Officially, it was Hundley's second 80-yard score of the night, though considerable yards-after-catch made both possible. The first was Eldridge Massington's pinball play to cut into Arizona State's 17-6 lead early in the second quarter.
Massington's run gave Hundley his first touchdown since returning from an elbow injury that sidelined the quarterback most of UCLA's Week 3 win over Texas. Once that first one was under his belt, Hundley got rolling en route to his best game of 2014 and arguably the top performance of his college career.
"It's nothing that I did. It's what the team did," Hundley said in his postgame interview with Fox Sports 1. "[Offensive] line did a great job and I give them all the credit."
UCLA surrendered 11 sacks through its first three games, but the previously maligned Bruins' front gave Hundley plenty of time operate Thursday.
Hundley also praised the wide receiving corps for "balling out." Payton and Thomas Duarte led the group with a combined nine receptions for 246 yards.
But UCLA's quarterback deserves plenty of praise, as well.
Hundley went 18-of-23 passing for 355 yards. He scored a fifth touchdown on the ground and rushed for 72 yards with reckless abandon—perhaps a bit too reckless at times.
The quarterback may have had all of Westwood, California, holding its collective breath when he hurdled a defender on a first-quarter carry eerily reminiscent of the play on which he injured his elbow.
That wasn't all Hundley jumped on the night. The redshirt junior may have jumped right back onto the Heisman Trophy radar with his stellar performance.
Likewise, a UCLA team whose bandwagon lightened considerably after three close calls against Virginia, Memphis and Texas should reemerge in the championship conversation.
The winner of the UCLA-Arizona State game has represented the South in every Pac-12 Championship Game since the event's inception in 2011. Those previous three meetings were decided by a combined eight points.
Unlike its last three meetings with Arizona State—or its first three contests of the 2014 season—UCLA didn't need to sweat out a single-digit decision.
The deluge started on the Massington touchdown reception, kicking off a 56-10 run spanning the final three quarters.
While Hundley guided the offense with precision, Ishmael Adams scored UCLA's fourth defensive touchdown of the season.
His 95-yard return of a Mike Bercovici interception just before halftime completely swung the game's momentum, as B/R College Football Playoff guru Samuel Chi noted.
Adams also ran back a kickoff of 100 yards—the first UCLA kick returned for a score since 2007. That touchdown, an 89-yarder by Matthew Slater? It came against Arizona State, per Jack Wang of the Los Angeles Daily News.
While everything went right for UCLA, just about everything went wrong for Arizona State. The Sun Devils were playing without their own preseason Heisman contender, quarterback Taylor Kelly, and the Bruins took advantage of the inexperienced Bercovici.
The Bruins intercepted Bercovici twice, the first of which came on Anthony Jefferson's takeaway from Sun Devils wide receiver Jaelen Strong.
UCLA capitalized on some big plays and the Sun Devils' quarterback situation. But also credit UCLA defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich, who crafted a masterful game plan for Arizona State running back D.J. Foster.
Sun Devils head coach Todd Graham called Foster the "best player [he] ever coached" on Tuesday's Pac-12 coaches conference call, and the running back earned his coach's praise with a remarkable 9.4-yard per carry average coming into Thursday's contest, per CFBstats.com.
Linebacker Eric Kendricks led an aggressive pursuit by the UCLA front seven. Foster managed just 30 yards on nine carries.
With the UCLA defense slowing Arizona State's high-octane attack, and the Hundley-led Bruins offense firing on all cylinders, the Bruins put together a truly complete game.
And now that it has that elusive, all-around performance under its belt, UCLA has a championship contender's look to it.
Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Statistics compiled courtesy of ESPN.com.
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Many college football fans wondered when the real UCLA would finally show up. Thursday night, the No. 11 Bruins put together their best game of the 2014 season so far, recovering from a sluggish first quarter to beat the No. 15 Arizona State Sun Devils 62-27 in Tempe.
Coming into the game, UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley's health was an ongoing storyline. He was absent at the end of the Bruins' 20-17 win over Texas two weeks ago, with backup QB Jerry Neuheisel throwing the game-winning touchdown.
As a more mobile passer, Hundley opens himself up to further injury when he tucks the ball and runs. Bruins head coach Jim Mora admitted that if the junior was to play Thursday, any sort of restrictions on his touches were out of the question.
"It wouldn't be fair to him, it wouldn't be fair to our team, to ask him to go out there and be somebody that he's not," said Mora, per Chris Foster of the Los Angeles Times. "I don't think we can limit him that way. If he does play, he's got to be able to do everything."
Hundley showed few ill effects from his elbow injury, throwing for 355 yards and four touchdowns on 18-of-23 passing. He also carried the ball eight times for 72 yards.
Question marks also hovered around Arizona State quarterback Mike Bercovici, who replaced the injured Taylor Kelly and made his first collegiate start on Thursday.
Bercovici performed admirably in Kelly's absence, completing 42 of 68 passes for 488 yards and three touchdowns. Turnovers were a big facet of the game, however, and the junior was culpable on three of them—two interceptions and one fumble.
Things started off well enough for Bercovici and the Sun Devils, as they carried a 10-6 lead into the second quarter. Kicker Zane Gonzalez began the proceedings with a field goal, and then Bercovici found tight end Kody Kohl for a five-yard touchdown pass (via Pac-12 Networks):
A little over 30 seconds into the second quarter, Bercovici picked up his second TD of the night, with wideout Cameron Smith on the receiving end of a 29-yard pass.
With 14:24 left in the first half, ASU had already jumped out to a quick 17-6 lead. Things were looking pretty good for the home side.
Hundley and the Bruins offense quickly stormed back. The Heisman Trophy candidate picked up two quick touchdowns, first hitting wide receiver Eldridge Massington for the first of his two 80-yard TD passes and then hooking up with Nate Iese near the goal line.
All of a sudden, UCLA was up 20-17 with 2:13 to go until halftime, and the worst was yet to come for Arizona State.
The game swung irrevocably toward the Bruins as halftime was mere seconds away. Bercovici led the Sun Devils all the way down to the Bruins' 15-yard line, and ASU looked poised to at the very least tie the game.
However, he made the worst mistake possible, throwing an interception to Bruins defensive back Ishmael Adams, who went 95 yards to the house for the touchdown, increasing UCLA's lead to 10 points, 27-17, with two seconds left in the first half.
Perhaps more impressive than the interception was how quickly Adams motored down the field:
Many Sun Devils fans were likely upset with Bercovici for the turnover, but NFL.com's Bucky Brooks laid much of the blame at Smith's feet:
You can't overstate the impact of that pick-six, which resulted in a 10-point and maybe even 14-point swing. UCLA also received the ball to start the second half, making matters even worse for the Sun Devils.
On the first play from scrimmage in the second half, Hundley connected with wide receiver Jordan Payton for an 80-yard touchdown, doubling up on Arizona State and giving the Bruins a 34-17 lead.
Athlon Sports tracked how quickly fortunes changed for both Arizona State and UCLA. Within the span of a few minutes of game time, the Bruins went from being down four points to up 17:
Former Sun Devils linebacker Vontaze Burfict was on hand for the game, which led USA Today's Paul Myerberg to joke that ASU might be debuting a new linebacker to help stem the tide:
Gonzalez hit a field goal on Arizona State's next possession, making it 34-20, but on the ensuing kickoff, Adams went 100 yards for the touchdown, immediately undoing all of the progress made by the Sun Devils' scoring drive:
As Doug Haller of AZCentral.com pointed out, Adams has become a major nuisance for ASU over the last two years:
On the very next play from scrimmage after Adams' touchdown return, Bercovici was hit in the pocket and fumbled. The ball was recovered by UCLA defensive lineman Kenny Clark at the ASU 23-yard line.
The Bruins quickly scored, increasing their lead to 28 points, 48-20, with 8:27 to play in the third, which all but signaled the end of any Arizona State comeback attempt.
One of the biggest reasons for UCLA's win was how well the Bruins shut down ASU running back D.J. Foster. The junior entered Thursday averaging 170 yards a game. UCLA held him to 30 yards on nine carries.
The more Foster struggled, the more pressure was placed on Bercovici as a result, and eventually, Bercovici wilted under that pressure.
This win came at a great time for UCLA. The Bruins play the 3-0 Utah Utes next Saturday, and the week after that, they get the No. 2 Oregon Ducks in the Rose Bowl.
Arizona State is only through the first stage of a three-game series against current Top 25 opponents. The Sun Devils travel to Los Angeles to meet No. 18 USC next Saturday. Two weeks later, they play No. 16 Stanford at home.
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As Tennessee prepares for its journey to take on the No. 12 Bulldogs in Athens, Georgia on Saturday, there are several players in this year's contest on both teams who will undoubtedly go on to have storied careers both in college and the NFL.
The Tennessee-Georgia rivalry isn't college football's most heated, and each team falls somewhere between fourth and fifth in each other's list of "most hated rivals."
Nevertheless, there's no shortage of bad blood between these two programs, as the Volunteers have regularly pulled elite players from the Peach State and each win gives the other team a sizable recruiting advantage for the next 364 days.
Tennessee has lost four in a row to the Bulldogs, although the Vols came tantalizingly close to a victory last year in Neyland Stadium.
Part of the reason behind the series' recent lopsidedness is the overall lack of talent on Tennessee rosters. Georgia has remained relatively well-stocked in terms of loading up on blue-chip players, but Tennessee head coach Butch Jones has a lot of ground to make up in order for the rivalry to become truly competitive again on a year-to-year basis.
Georgia's star running back Todd Gurley and Tennessee's senior All-SEC linebacker A.J. Johnson will likely meet head-to-head several times during Saturday's matchup, and both could easily earn spots on an updated version of this list in a few years' time.
But until they do, here's a list of the 10-best players of the Tennessee-Georgia rivalry in recent years.
Quarterback Marcus Mariota undoubtedly leads the second-ranked Oregon Ducks; however, there are five players whose contributions have surprised us and have carried the team to an unblemished 4-0 record.
The Ducks reached their first bye week unbeaten by defeating South Dakota, Michigan State, Wyoming and Washington State. Two of those victories—Michigan State and Washington State—were hotly contested battles that the Ducks would not have won without the contributions of some of their younger and previously unproven athletes.
Here are the five players who have surprised us so far in 2014.
Arizona State's Christian Westerman needs to learn to keep his head on a swivel, or at least broaden his field of vision.
On a play when his quarterback was getting strip-sacked, Westerman was looking for the closest person to block, with no one to be found.
To be fair to Westerman, it looks like everyone on the offensive line did a poor job on the play.
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In a game that featured a ton of passing, a ton of penalties and not a ton of defensive prowess, the Oklahoma State Cowboys bounced back from a relatively slow start to blow past the Texas Tech Red Raiders, 45-35, en route to a 1-0 start in the Big 12 conference.
The Red Raiders piled up nearly 160 yards of penalties, taking big plays and touchdowns away when they were most needed, and Oklahoma State took advantage, eventually securing the victory. Oklahoma State has now won its last 25 home contests against unranked opponents.
Here is the box score via NCAA.com.
Texas Tech Passing Offense
At first glance, you'll see Texas Tech with nearly 400 passing yards and five completions for touchdowns and think "A-plus." But scratch just below the surface, and you'll notice that as a team, Texas Tech completed 37 passes on 60 attempts, and those five touchdowns are tempered by three interceptions.
While Davis Webb played well before leaving the game with a separated non-throwing shoulder, Texas Tech was hounded all night by dropped passes. Add in a comparatively low completion percentage and we'd be hard-pressed to give the Red Raiders' passing offense anything better than a B-minus for Thursday night's fitful effort.
Texas Tech Rushing Offense
The Red Raiders put up only 118 yards on the ground against Oklahoma State, with DeAndre Washington leading the way with 85 yards.
As a team, Texas Tech averaged just 3.9 yards per carry and failed to reach the end zone. The fact that we're handing out a C-plus for a pretty poor showing should remind Texas Tech fans that Oklahoma State won't be the toughest run defense the Red Raiders will face in 2014.
Texas Tech Pass Defense
It's hard to like what the Texas Tech pass defense did against Oklahoma State, but then again, not many teams fare well against the Cowboys passing attack.
Still, the Red Raiders gave up 370 yards and four touchdowns on just 31 attempts. The only reason we're not flunking the entire secondary is the fact that J.J. Gaines and Jah'Shawn Johnson each came up with an interception on the night.
Since we're handing out some pretty generous grades to TTU, we'll keep that going with the pass defense by awarding some extra credit for the two picks. A grade of C is still all we can manage.
Texas Tech Run Defense
Here, Texas Tech actually exceeded expectations. After giving up literally a quarter mile (0.248, to be exact) of rushing yards against Arkansas in their last game, the Red Raiders held Oklahoma State to just 158 yards on the ground.
In the first half, OSU was held to 72 yards on 18 carries before giving up a couple of scores on the ground. We dropped the first-half A-minus to a final grade of a straight B, but head coach Kliff Kingsbury and new sole defensive coordinator Mike Smith should be pleased with the improvement.
Texas Tech Special Teams
If you want to know where most of Texas Tech's painful penalties came from, just watch a tape of the special teams plays from Thursday night.
Time after time, the Red Raiders saw impressive returns wiped out due to holding, a block in the back or some other silly penalty. One even managed to wipe a 99-yard kickoff return by Jakeem Grant off the scoreboard.
These plays are also where so much of that "phantom penalty yardage" comes into play. A holding call on the 99-yard kick return only counts as 10 yards' worth of penalties, although its true impact is about 85 yards and six points.
Add in a few miscues on punts, and the special teams is lucky to get any credit at all. A D-plus is the result, and we'll need this letter to be signed by a parent.
Texas Tech Coaching
Kliff Kingsbury didn't have any great trouble in the first half coaching Mike Gundy down to the wire. After halftime, there weren't too many great adjustments made, but we didn't see a need for many, either.
In the end, Kingsbury and his staff just didn't have the horses to keep up with the Cowboys. Because of the plethora of penalties, however, we can't give the staff anything better than a grade of B for the evening.
Penalties reflect poorly on the coaches—something the Texas Tech staff will surely make clear to the players come their next practice.
Oklahoma State Passing Offense
Like Texas Tech, you look at the raw numbers and think "A-plus." But also like Texas Tech, there's more to look at than gaudy passing totals.
Still, Daxx Garman nearly out-passed Davis Webb (shy by just four yards) and did so on 23 fewer pass attempts. We will mark down for the two picks thrown by Garman, but we'll award him and his receivers a higher grade than we did his counterparts from Texas Tech. He gets a B-plus.
Oklahoma State Rushing Offense
Both halves were fairly equal in output, both resulting in around 75 yards and a touchdown.
Desmond Roland carried the ball 23 times for 86 yards to lead the way for the Cowboys. Oklahoma State didn't rely too much on the run game mainly because it didn't need to, so it's hard to mark down for that. It's similarly hard to give a sterling grade for a relatively easy evening, so we'll settle on a B-plus.
Oklahoma State Pass Defense
The pass defense for Oklahoma State did its job, holding the Red Raiders out of the end zone when needed and coming up with some big stops in the second half.
The Red Raiders quarterbacks were thrice intercepted on the evening, and that's certainly worthy of some recognition—and extra credit. Kevin Peterson, Seth Jacobs and Ramon Richards each got in on the action, and the Cowboys did something the Texas Tech interceptors didn't do: add a little return yardage (although it was just seven combined yards).
We think a B sounds like a nice, solid final grade.
Oklahoma State Run Defense
The Cowboys put up nothing short of a B-plus performance on run defense against Texas Tech. Oklahoma State held Texas Tech to less than four yards per carry and zero ground points on the evening.
Oklahoma State Special Teams
This is actually a difficult category in which to grade the Cowboys. On one hand, statistically the Cowboys did a fine job of holding Texas Tech in check. On the other hand, if you watched the game, you'll note that the Red Raiders did an excellent job of shooting themselves in the foot.
Can we really reward the Cowboys for Texas Tech's error-prone performance?
The Cowboys, for their part, had a pretty mediocre showing on special teams, averaging 21 yards on kickoff returns but just 0.7 yard on three punt returns.
We will, however, note that Ben Grogan connected on his only field-goal attempt of the night (42 yards) and was a perfect 6-of-6 on extra points.
Still, we can't get all of those electric returns by the Red Raiders out of our minds. A B-minus is about as good as we can do here.
Oklahoma State Coaching
Despite not seeing enough in the first half to give Mike Gundy and his staff much of a grade, when the final whistle blew, we didn't have any major complaints. Play-calling was about as expected, leaning heavily on the pass. And since it was working most of the evening, why change things?
The Cowboys did make some nice adjustments on defense in the second half...or was it that the Red Raiders just couldn't keep up with a deeper, more talented Cowboys squad?
Either way, we're happy with a B from Gundy and Co., and Oklahoma State fans should be, too.
Unless otherwise noted, quotes or references to quotes were obtained firsthand by the writer.
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