NCAA Football

Nebraska Football: What the Cornhuskers Need to Do to Upset Michigan State

Nebraska football fans are gearing up for the biggest game of the 2014 season, a trip to East Lansing to face the defending Big Ten champion Michigan State Spartans. Last year, Michigan State beat Nebraska 41-28 in an ugly contest that saw NU lose the turnover battle by five (!) against the Spartans.

Most pundits think the Spartans will win on Saturday. But at least one smart and particularly handsome analyst thinks Nebraska will defy the odds and stay undefeated in 2014. Here’s what Nebraska must do to make that happen.

 

Take the Ball Away

This is me giving up on a thread I have been pulling for the last two years. If Nebraska stops turning the ball over, it can be so much more successful. And while that is true because, duh, all the evidence before us suggests that such a phase change simply isn’t going to happen.

But things are better this year, right? Nebraska’s turnover margin isn’t nearly as bad as it was last year, right?

Well, yes and no. Right now, Nebraska is plus-one in turnover margin, which is certainly far better than the minus-11 NU ended with in 2013.

Where was Nebraska at this stage last year, though? Plus-five. So Nebraska is actually four behind its turnover margin pace from last year—the year that ended at a disastrous minus-11.

In 2014, Nebraska has had six total turnovers. In 2013 at this stage in the season, Nebraska had—you guessed it—six turnovers. And the sad thing is that 2013 marked an improvement for the first five games of the season from 2012 (13) and 2011 (9).

So, I give up. Until proven otherwise, it’s just not reasonable to expect Nebraska to stop turning the ball over. But having a turnover margin so cartoonishly underwater in and of itself will prevent Nebraska from winning games like this and competing for conference titles. If Nebraska gets more turnovers than it gives up (or at least keeps the numbers close), then Nebraska's profligacy with the ball on offense will be neutralized.

This is my Doctor Strangelove moment, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Turnover.

 

Stop Jeremy Langford

The conventional wisdom is that the growth of Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook has been the key to the Spartans’ improved offensive attack. And there’s no doubt that Cook’s performance has sparked a revival that vaulted Michigan State to a conference title and national prominence.

But let’s take a look at this season. Michigan State is 3-1, with three wins over hopelessly outmatched opponents. The one loss was on the road, to Oregon.

Against the Ducks, Cook was 29-of-47 for 343 yards, with two touchdowns and two interceptions. He ended the game with a 128.53 quarterback rating, which is apparently very good according to those who have the foggiest notion of what a quarterback rating means.

So it looks like Cook played well in the Spartans’ loss. Sure, the defense had a lot to do with it, with the whole “giving up 47 points” thing. But how did the other part of Michigan State’s offense look?

Jeremy Langford had 86 yards and a touchdown against Oregon, his second-highest performance of the season. But he got those 86 yards on 24 carries, easily his biggest workload of the season. More importantly, Langford’s yards-per-carry average against Oregon was 3.58, almost two full yards less than his season average.

In other words, Oregon was able to beat Michigan State fairly convincingly by allowing Cook to play well but (in addition to scoring a lot of points) holding Langford’s yards per carry down. That’s the number to focus on. If the Blackshirts can corral Langford, keeping him under four yards per carry, Nebraska can make Michigan State’s offense one-dimensional and allow NU’s pass rush to work on Cook.

 

Be More Balanced on Offense

Nebraska fans of a more traditional bent have been thrilled to death with how NU’s offense has looked in the last two games. Against Miami, Nebraska ran the ball 80.5 percent of the time, and against Illinois, its run percentage “dropped” to 76.9 percent. Proponents of things like “identity” and “mindset” loved Nebraska’s devotion to the run game, particularly as quarterback Tommy Armstrong has looked less than convincing.

And it does seem that offensive coordinator Tim Beck has undergone a bit of evolution, making sure to give the ball to his best player rather than attempt to achieve balance for its own sake. But just as “balance” on offense on its own is not a laudable goal, neither is having an over-reliance on the running game.

Michigan State is sixth in the nation in rushing defense, allowing opponents an average of 80.75 yards per game. While Nebraska’s run game is its strength (right now sitting third in the nation with an average of 354.8 yards per game), it’s a fair assumption that Michigan State will at least be able to slow down Abdullah and company.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that Nebraska should sling the ball 50 times on Saturday (particularly given the dreadful weather forecast). Nebraska’s offense will need a healthy dose of Ameer Abdullah to be successful, sticking with him even if it is not successful early.

But there’s “sticking with him,” and there’s “80-20 run-pass balance.” Michigan State is simply too good defensively for Nebraska to be that one-dimensional. To win this game, Armstrong simply must make some plays with his arm, either in the short game to get the ball to playmakers in space or taking the lid off the defense with the deep ball.

 

Stats from CFBStats.com.

For a different look at Nebraska football, check out The Double Extra Point.

Or you can use the Twitter machine to follow @DblExtraPoint.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Arizona vs. Oregon: Live Score and Highlights

Oregon 7, Arizona 3 ; HALFTIME

Two explosive offenses will collide Thursday, as the Arizona Wildcats take on the No. 2 Oregon Ducks at Autzen Stadium in Eugene. 

The game will begin at 10:30 p.m. ET. It can be seen on ESPN. 

Odds Shark has Oregon as a 21-point favorite. A full box score courtesy of NCAA.com can be found here

 

Bleacher Report appreciates you sticking with us tonight. Stay here for score updates, instant analysis, social media and much more!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Arizona vs. Oregon: Live Score and Highlights

Oregon 7, Arizona 3 ; HALFTIME Two explosive offenses will collide Thursday, as the Arizona Wildcats take on the No. 2 Oregon Ducks at Autzen Stadium in Eugene. The game will begin at 10:30 p...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Tennessee Football: What a Win over Florida Gators Would Mean for Volunteers

The checkerboard stadium has been announced, all the seats have been sold and the only thing we're waiting on is confirmation that the Tennessee Volunteers will not be wearing these hideous things: It's Florida week. The annual rivalry game against the Gators is of even greater importance this year because of what a win would mean for the rest of the season.

Florida isn't quite what it has been in previous years. After a stellar 11-2 season in 2012 that culminated in a head-scratching Sugar Bowl loss, the Gators followed it up with an even more puzzling 4-8 campaign last year. Now through three games, Florida has cancelled a game, destroyed a mid-major, nearly lost to Kentucky and halfway competed at Alabama. It's tough to get a read.

Meanwhile, Tennessee is on a clear trajectory upward. After two wins over quality, albeit lesser opponents, the Volunteers competed well at No. 4 Oklahoma and took No. 12 Georgia to the very last play in Athens. There's talent, there's energy and there's belief in the future of the program.

What would the future of the program look like with a win on October 4?

Begin Slideshow

Katy Perry May Join College GameDay as Celebrity Picker

ESPN's College GameDay will be at the Grove for the exciting game between the Ole Miss Rebels and Alabama Crimson Tide on Saturday in Oxford, Mississippi, and it might have a big name for its celebrity picker.

Kirk Herbstreit sent a tweet Thursday evening to recording artist Katy Perry, asking her if she would be interested in being this week's celebrity picker:

Shortly after, Perry responded with a very enthusiastic tweet, essentially saying that she would be interested in coming on but with stronger language:

Subsequently, ESPN's senior director of public relations announced on Twitter that Perry was set to be the guest picker:

[Twitter, h/t The Clarion-Ledger]

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

5 Bold and Off-the-Wall College Football Predictions for the Month of October

As memorable as September was in college football, it's nothing compared to the "Shock-tober" of surprises in store this next month.

The weather will turn toward more traditional football conditions—enough of this lightning-delay nonsense; we much prefer blowing snow—but the action on the field will remain red hot. So, too, will the temperatures of some coaches' seats, as the pressure to win will lead some to make some desperate moves.

October will also bring us the first official rankings released by the College Football Playoff selection committee, and the lead-up to that unveiling on Oct. 27 will cause nearly every game in the country to have an as-yet-unknown impact on those standings.

What other craziness can we expect? Scroll through to see five bold predictions for October.

Begin Slideshow

Texas A&M Is a Legitimate Playoff Contender, 'Go All-In' with the Aggies

College Station is witnessing an exciting new regime. No, not that clique their former Heisman Trophy-winning player (sorry, Drake) parties with. Texas A&M football is as hot as it's ever been, and currently they sit sixth in the Associated Press Top 25 Poll.

As impressive as they've looked at times, do they deserve all the hype? More importantly, do they have what it takes to continue ascending into the College Football Playoff picture? Here's why you should bet on the Aggies to grab one of the four slots come December:

 

Aggies have one of the best passing attacks in the country

Before this week's games commence, Texas A&M will have recorded the fifth-ranked passing offense in the FBS, averaging 401.2 yards per game, as documented by NCAA.com. Yes, Kenny Hill's stellar play has a lot to do with their superiority through the air.

As a quarterback with the third-most passing yards in the country, the sophomore has shown maturity and discipline that very well could get his team all the way back to the Metroplex for all the marbles, where he excelled as a stud for prep powerhouse Southlake Carroll. 

The show is more than just Hill, however. The Aggies have a slew of sure-handed, speedy receivers to complement shifty running backs as options for their QB to throw to. Redshirt freshman Ricky Seals-Jones and true freshman Speedy Noil are the 5-star young guns.

Texas natives Josh Reynolds and Edwin Pope provide length and quality depth at the position. Malcolm Kennedy is the big-play senior, a peak performer who has replaced Mike Evans more than admirably. The offensive line is top notch as well, considering starting left tackle Cedric Ogbuehi is projected as a first-round NFL draft pick by many.

 

A&M defense has talented players with room to improve over course of season

Though not as dominating, the defense has some athletes that will continue to get better. They've given up their fair share of yardage but have come up strong in clutch situations. The biggest one this year was stuffing Arkansas' gargantuan offensive line and running attack on the Dallas Cowboys' home field.

Pete Roussel of 247sports.com gave an in-depth examination of how Texas A&M defenders are learning on the fly and adjusting to their opponents when it matters most.

Freshman Garrett Myles has the ability to become a serious pass-rushing threat. Middle linebacker Jordan Mastrogiovanni is steady. If cornerback De'Vante Harris grows into the guy you can put up against the other squad's top wideout, taking pressure off shaky senior Deshazor Everett, the D could easily fit on the coattails of its mighty offensive counterparts for an exciting ride.

 

Their schedule will validate them due to playing in the SEC

They passed their first quiz in an overtime win versus the Razorbacks. Many more will arise by the end of the regular season for the Aggies, which is exactly why you should bank on them proving their worth as a playoff team. Next, they face Magnolia State divisional foes back-to-back in the Mississippi State Bulldogs and Ole Miss Rebels; both teams are ranked. Then, the Aggies will have to travel to Tuscaloosa.

The reality is, due to the fact that the SEC (especially the Western Division) is so stacked, if Texas A&M is able to come out only slighted scathed, they would have to be a logical pick as a premier postseason participant.

Take, for example, if the Aggies fall to Mississippi State on the road this weekend but go on to win their remaining regular-season games. After all the dust settles, it is not silly to assume that they will have beaten at least five top-tier SEC teams ranked 15th or better in any of the major polls.

Even if they got upset in the SEC Championship, how would it look to leave them out of the tournament after accomplishing such an awesome feat?

Texas A&M football, under the guidance of mastermind Kevin Sumlin, meets the requirements when you look to identify a College Football Playoff contender. Powerful offense? Check. Ability to make key stops in key situations on defense? Check. Magical signal-caller? Check. Leadership? Check that, too.

When you add into the equation a juggernaut conference—and specifically division—that they're battling in, it's honestly a no-brainer. Pencil in the Aggies for the four-team battle royale coming later in 2014. 

 

Star Ratings courtesy of 247Sports.com.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

BYU Cougars vs. Utah State Aggies: Complete Game Preview

After a bye week for both teams, BYU and Utah State will continue their annual series with a Friday night showdown in Provo. The Cougars won last year's matchup 31-14 in Logan and will look to extend their winning streak against USU.

BYU has won all four of its games this season, including impressive victories over Texas and Virginia. Utah State has struggled since its star quarterback Chuckie Keeton was injured and sits with a 2-2 record.

For a "rivalry" that is seemingly starting to take flight, here is a complete preview of the BYU-Utah State game.

Date: Friday, October 3

Time: 8:15 p.m. MDT

Place: LaVell Edwards Stadium, Provo, UT

TV: ESPN

Radio: KSL NewsRadio (102.7 FM, 1160 AM)

Spread:BYU -21

Begin Slideshow

Tennessee Football: Grading the Volunteers' Impact Freshmen After 4 Games

Tennessee's resounding wins over Utah State and Arkansas State, as well as its close game on the road against No. 13 Georgia, are due in no small part to the Volunteers' much-hyped and highly talented freshman class.

As the season progresses, and especially as the Vols begin looking toward the 2015 campaign, it will become clear that the 2014 class will set the stage for Tennessee's impending return to national relevance. 

Every recruiting class, no matter how highly ranked by national analysts, is bound to suffer from attrition and underwhelming performances. That's often due to players not conforming to program expectations or simply being overrated as high school recruits. 

So far, it appears that Tennessee head coach Butch Jones and his staff have not only avoided those issues, they have also put together a class that's playing far beyond the typical expectations of college freshmen in the SEC.

Here are grades for each of the Vols' biggest impact freshmen so far in 2014.

 

Jalen Hurd, RB

Jalen Hurd arrived in Knoxville cold—literally and figuratively.

He was an early enrollee who began working out with the team in the frigid January air, and while most of his fellow newcomers were fresh off high school playoff runs, Hurd hadn't played a down of football since he suffered an injury in the opening game of his senior season in August 2012.

Participating in winter workouts and spring practices is undoubtedly a big reason why Hurd has progressed so quickly in Tennessee's offense. Although Marlin Lane is listed as the starting tailback for Saturday's matchup with the Florida Gators, Hurd is and will continue to be the focal point of the Vols' running game.

After two average performances against the team's opening opponents, Hurd began to run with more confidence against the Oklahoma Sooners before having a breakthrough game against the Bulldogs last weekend.

His 119 rushing yards and one touchdown on 24 carries are the most for a Tennessee true freshman since Jamal Lewis rushed for 127 yards in the 1997 SEC Championship Game, according to the Chattanooga Times Free Press' Patrick Brown.

Hurd's large frame also makes him ideal for blocking assignments, and aside from a few miscues here and there, he has been solid creating space for quarterback Justin Worley to step up into the pocket and making room for wide receivers to make plays in space.

The one thing Hurd is missing from his short resume is a long touchdown run, but his explosiveness and ability to break tackles mean it's only a matter of time until he gets one.

Grade: A-

 

Ethan Wolf, TE

With his prototypical height and weight, tight end Ethan Wolf may be the biggest asset to offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian's offense moving forward. With a scheme that relies heavily on tight ends, Tennessee's offense never ran at full capacity last season due to injuries to Brendan Downs and A.J. Branisel. 

With the addition of Wolf, who also arrived on campus in January and immediately began carving out a role as a starter, Bajakian and Worley have more room to get creative when distributing the ball down the field.

Wes Rucker of 247Sports reports that while Tennessee's tight ends coach, Mark Elder, sees upside in Wolf, he says the freshman also still has a few things to learn.

There’s a lot of room for improvement there; there’s no question about that. There’s room for improvement with his blocking, there’s room for improvement with his receiving, route running, his physical capabilities. He can improve in all those areas. I don’t think he’s a tapped-out guy. You look at him, and you see he’s gonna develop physically over the next three years, and he’s gonna continue to develop technique-wise.

Wolf's presence is already showing up in the stat sheets. Despite missing the game against Oklahoma, Wolf has 13 catches for 115 yards in 2014. Like Hurd, Wolf is improving each week, and his biggest game of the season came against the Bulldogs when he hauled in five catches for 69 yards. 

The Vols caught a huge break when the injury Wolf suffered against Arkansas State caused him to miss only a single game, as his presence will be critical in helping the team finish the season with a winning record. 

Grade: B-

 

Derek Barnett, DE

Derek Barnett may have been a 4-star for 247Sports as a high school senior, but he's playing like a top-20 recruit. 

Barnett's commitment to the Vols over his hometown Vanderbilt Commodores shortly before national signing day this year didn't just help Tennessee lock down the state in terms of recruiting—it also gave the team one of its best pass-rushers in years.

A standout throughout summer camp, Barnett's raw ability quickly became apparent on game day, as he's notched 19 total tackles so far this season, including eight against Georgia last week.

Barnett is currently fifth on the team in total tackles, and while it's unlikely he will surpass stud linebackers A.J. Johnson and Jalen Reeves-Maybin, his progression from game to game means he could easily land in the top three or four by the time the season is over.

Although he has three tackles for loss and two quarterback hurries, Barnett hasn't notched a sack yet. At the rate he's going, it's hard to imagine he will be denied much longer. 

Grade: B+

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

8 Most Important College Football Recruiting Visits of Week 6

The first weekend of October is loaded with fantastic showdowns on college football fields in every corner of the country. Along with avid fanbases, a bevy of big-time recruits will be in attendance to take in the action.

Several schools are set host elite collections of high school talent from the 2015 and 2016 classes. These athletes are capable of becoming eventual cornerstones for collegiate programs and could come to define the next half-decade of success for coaching staffs currently in pursuit.

Each week we examine the most important campus visits expected to take place, keeping a close eye on the successes and recruitment of each athlete. Here's a look at the latest and perhaps most star-studded travel schedule for America's top players we've seen this season.

Begin Slideshow

Georgia DB Rico Johnson's Football Career Ended by Neurological Disorder

Georgia cornerback Rico Johnson's career in Athens is over before it ever got off the ground. Bulldogs head coach Mark Richt announced Thursday that the redshirt freshman is stepping away from football due to an ongoing neurological condition.   

“I’m thankful we caught this condition when we did,” Richt said in a statement. “Now we can help Rico transition to life after football. He will stay on scholarship through his graduation and we will assist him in finding employment through the P.O. Network!”

The genesis of Johnson's head injury is unknown at this time. According to the statement, Johnson noticed problems during Wednesday's practice and was taken to a nearby medical facility where he underwent neurological testing. Ron Courson, the university's director of sports medicine, did not reveal Johnson's diagnosis but said it will allow him to lead a "normal life."

"While we are very disappointed for Rico from a football standpoint, we feel extremely fortunate that he is healthy and that we were able to diagnose his condition and protect him from a possible catastrophic injury,” Courson said.  “Although he cannot continue his football career, he should be able to have a normal life.”

Johnson, who sat out last season, had five total tackles and one forced fumble in four games in 2014, playing mostly on special teams. A 3-star recruit from Swainsboro, Georgia, Johnson was originally brought in as a wide receiver but converted to defensive back due to need.

The 20-year-old athlete can remain on full scholarship at Georgia but will not count toward the team's 90-man limit due to medical hardship. The Bulldogs are scheduled to play 1-4 Vanderbilt at Sanford Stadium on Saturday.   

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

How Ameer Abdullah Went from Forgotten Alabama Recruit to Heisman Contender

Gus Malzahn, one of the brightest offensive minds of our generation, desperately wanted Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah. So did Nick Saban. So did USC. So did a handful of other SEC schools, including Ole Miss, Tennessee and Arkansas.

All of these power programs hoped to keep the Homewood, Alabama, senior close to home, which should come as no surprise. They saw the potential in Abdullah, even at just 5'8" and 30 pounds lighter than he is today.

Given the right tutelage, they felt that—if all went according to plan—Abdullah could eventually contribute at cornerback. Yes, cornerback.

Even Auburn—Abdullah's dream school—wanted him at a position he really wanted nothing to do with.

"It kind of ate me up," Abdullah told USA Today's Paul Myerberg about the recruiting process. "It really hurt my feelings. At a young age, my dream was to play running back. For your dream school to tell you that, it really hurt."

So it was time to leave.

 

From Alabama to Nebraska: Ameer Abdullah, 3-Star Cornerback

A Heisman Trophy was in another galaxy. A Big Ten championship—or even the thought of playing in the state of Nebraska—wasn't on the table. The NFL draft was just an entertaining telecast and nothing more. Even Abdullah's future at the position was in doubt.

Despite rushing for 1,795 yards on just 157 carries and scoring 28 touchdowns during his senior season—and doing so in one of the nation's recruiting hotbeds, in front of scouts weekly—Abdullah didn't set the recruiting world on fire. It was more of a slow churn.

The senior was listed as the No. 485 recruit nationally and the No. 25 athlete overall at 247Sports in the 2011 recruiting class. On Rivals, he was graded as a 3-star prospect and the No. 17 athlete in the nation.

He flashed brilliance, something JC Shurburtt, the national recruiting director at 247Sports, knew well before he was a star. But concerns over his size led to a much different recruiting picture than you might imagine.

"I saw him the most at the practices leading up to the Offense-Defense All-American Bowl that year in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and he was the most dynamic playmaker on the field that week," Shurburtt told Bleacher Report. "Just about every school wanted him as a cornerback or athlete, in large part because of his height. He was set on offense, though."

He didn't waver in his desire to play his position of choice, despite the pressure to play elsewhere. As interest and offers trickled in, Abdullah weighed his options.

It never felt as though the Alabama native—despite the mixed interest—would stray too far from home. Yet his dream to play running back at Auburn drifted away as spots filled up and commitments were made. 

Justin Hokanson, insider at AuburnUndercover.com, remembers his recruitment.

"Ameer's older brother attended Auburn at the time he was being recruited. Ameer was an Auburn fan, and he would have likely jumped on an offer, but it never came," Hokanson said. "The Tigers liked him at cornerback, if they had a spot for him in the class. Auburn just never pulled the trigger."

As Abdullah weighed his decision and national signing day approached, Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini took a take a trip down to Alabama to visit the "athlete."

Pelini, not one for extravagant sales pitches and empty promises, entered Abdullah's home and got comfortable before the position talk began.

"He kicked off his shoes like he had been living there for seven years and put his feet up on my table,” Abdullah recalled. "I'm like, 'Look at this guy.' That's who Bo is, though."

The only guarantee that Pelini offered while visiting Abdullah was a chance. There was no talk of carries or playing time, but Abdullah would get his shot at running back. Given the way things had gone up until that conversation, even the possibility of competing at the position resonated. Pelini's tone helped seal the deal.

"He didn't promise me a thing, which was really odd," Abdullah said. "He came to my house and offered me a free education and an opportunity to potentially play on this football team. He left it at that, and that really sat with me. That's really what attracted me to Nebraska."

In committing to Nebraska, Abdullah exited his comfort zone. He left Alabama to play for a coach who was willing to give him what many others couldn't or wouldn't. Pelini, meanwhile, was happy to take a chance of his own on a player he saw potential in.

"We saw someone we thought was really talented, special and a great kid," Pelini said. "You never know how good they'll be, but we recruited him because we thought he was special. It's proven to be that way."

 

From Nebraska to Superstardom: Ameer Abdullah, Heisman Hopeful

The days of fighting for position acceptance are over. Ameer Abdullah now has his own line of batteries.

Sort of.

To push the Heisman candidacy of its star tailback, Nebraska recently sent out a courtesy reminder to media members. It came in a small, unassuming FedEx package. Inside were eight (Abdullah's number) AA batteries. As for the significance of the gift, the all-caps text on the front of the packaging—just directly below the number on Abdullah's jersey—accurately summarized the purpose of the item.

"POWERING NEBRASKA FOOTBALL SINCE 2011."

There is plenty of truth to this. Abdullah didn't exactly burst onto the scene as a true freshman back in 2011, serving as Rex Burkhead's primary backup months after he arrived in Lincoln. That changed the following season when Burkhead dealt with injuries throughout the year.

As a sophomore in 2012, Abdullah ran for more than 1,100 yards despite splitting carries. When he took over as the primary ball-carrier in 2013, his numbers took off. His 1,690 rushing yards were ninth nationally.

Thus far in 2014, he is on track to shatter all of his career bests. His 833 rushing yards are tops in the nation. He has accomplished this despite logging 20 fewer carries than Pittsburgh's James Conner, currently No. 2 in the country with 790 yards.

His eight rushing touchdowns leave him one shy of his career high. And his 7.3 yards per carry through five games is more than a yard better than his previous best output for a season, which came last year.

Abdullah has improved in every major statistical category over the course of his entire career. That might seem like common practice for college football players; however, it's really anything but. Injuries and attention gained oftentimes can be where reputation and production meet at the fork in the road.

As the attention on Abdullah has increased, however, his production has skyrocketed.

"I think he's better in every area. I think he had a great year last year, but I think he's a better football player this year," Pelini said. "That's a testament to him and his hard work. His mindset and preparation. His drive. He's just playing at a very high level right now."

There are more physically gifted backs around the country. Georgia's Todd Gurley, for starters, is unmatched in this department. In terms of straight-line speed, look no further than fellow Big Ten running back Melvin Gordon, who has the edge in this department.

But in terms of the complete catalog, the one that stretches well past 40 times and other ways to categorize a running back's worth, it's hard to find a more productive back than this one.

In his past 18 games, Abdullah has eclipsed the 100-yard mark 15 times. In five games this season, he's gone over the 200-yard mark three separate occasions. And it's not just the numbers. It's the sheer violence of his cuts, his ability to fall forward for extra yardage and the way he can turn a short completion into a physics-defying 58-yard touchdown to save the Huskers' season.

Heisman moments typically don't happen in Week 2. They also don't come against McNeese State. But when you assess the individual effort that single-handedly won Nebraska a game that had no business being a contest in the first place, you can't help but rethink the accepted Heisman assessment protocol.

If Nebraska beats Michigan State on Saturday—and if cannot be stressed enough—it will likely have a great deal to do with what its star player was able to accomplish against one of the premier defenses in the country.

At that point, the Heisman conversations will change. They will have to. It doesn't matter how quarterback-driven the award has become—it will not be able to hold back Abdullah any longer. And even if the Cornhuskers succumb to what is likely a top-five team in a difficult environment, it should not change the perception of one of the nation's best offensive weapons. He has already made it.

Abdullah hasn't forgotten where he's come from or what it took from him to get here. Neither have the people who watched him thrive as a running back at Homewood High School or the various coaches that glazed over the prospect for someone else.

"It's probably the first thing I hear when I get off the plane," Abdullah said.

The state of Alabama didn't really want him; neither did the rest of the SEC. Neither did many others, for that matter, at least at the position he now dominates.

Ameer Abdullah has shed his 3-star label for something much more fitting: Heisman contender and the man powering Nebraska football since 2011.

 

Unless noted otherwise, all quotes obtained firsthand. You can follow Adam Kramer on Twitter @Kegsneggs

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

UCF Knights vs. Houston Cougars Live Blog: Reactions and Analysis

The University of Central Florida Knights will travel to TDECU Stadium to take on the Houston Cougars in an American Athletic Conference showdown Friday night at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN.

Both teams will be looking to get off to a fast start in conference play after underwhelming starts.

Houston enters the matchup at 2-2, fresh on the heels of a 47-14 victory against UNLV. UCF has started the season 0-2 but rebounded last week with a 41-7 thrashing of Bethune-Cookman.

Although UCF leads the series 4-1, four of those five matchups have been decided by just a touchdown. Houston will be looking to avenge last season's 19-14 loss which saw UCF hold on after stopping the Cougars on 4th-and-goal at the end of the game.

After one quarter, Houston leads UCF 3-0 courtesy of a Kyle Bullard field goal.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Rapper Stalley Says Johnny Manziel and Coach Kevin Sumlin Partied with Rick Ross

It's no secret Johnny Manziel has been living up the party scene since his college days.

However, it seems he had a surprise wingman join him for at least one of his escapades—Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin.

In an interview with Bomani Jones and Dan LeBatard on ESPN's Highly Questionable, rapper Stalley reveals the two were out together at a party thrown by hip-hop mogul Rick Ross, and Sumlin was "the life of the party."

So, how much fun did they have?

Stalley says, "On a scale of 1 to 10, I would say 15."

[Highly Questionable, h/t Yahoo Sports]

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Alabama Football: Will Blake Sims' Shoulder Injury Be an Issue vs. Ole Miss?

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Blake Sims jogged through drills with the rest of the quarterbacks.

He watched Jake Coker, Alec Morris, Cooper Bateman and David Cornwell zip quick throws to a line of receivers and would occasionally jump in himself, taking a little bit off his throws. They were closer to lobs than darts.

That was during the media viewing period of Wednesday’s practice, and it’s looked like that for most of this week and last, when Alabama had a bye week. Sometimes, Sims wouldn’t throw at all.

Sims is on a “pitch count” in practice, as Saban called it last Monday, while he recovers from a shoulder injury sustained against Florida. Saban compared the injury to AJ McCarron’s last year, when McCarron wouldn’t put in as many reps in practice so his shoulder wouldn’t be worn out for the upcoming game.

So the question on everyone’s mind is whether or not Sims will be healthy for the Crimson Tide’s undefeated showdown against Ole Miss this weekend?

The injury shouldn’t be an issue, according to Saban. He said as much twice on Wednesday.

“Blake has done very well in practice,” Saban said on the SEC coaches teleconference. “He hasn't had any issues this week so far in terms of being able to throw the ball. We're really pleased with the way he's progressed. He's been able to take all the reps that he's prescribed to take, so we're pleased with that.

He reiterated that again Wednesday night after practice.

“Blake’s fine, he’s done really well,” Saban said. “Hasn’t had any issues or problems. Looks like his old self, I would not know that he was ever hurt based on the way he’s practiced and the way he’s played. He hasn’t had any discomfort at all after doing it, which I think is the real key to it.”

That’s good news for an Alabama team that will need its fifth-year senior leader under center to perform at a high level on Saturday.

The Ole Miss defense is second in the country and first in the SEC in interceptions with nine. The only team with more picks than the Rebels is Louisville, which has played one more game.

The Rebels have allowed the fewest total yards and second-fewest passing yards of anyone in the conference.

It’s not like Sims hasn’t been practicing—that's far from the case.

While we don’t know exactly what his load has been like, it sounds like the team has been cautious with how much it’ll work him.

“I think as long as he’s in there on quality plays. I mean, if we’ve got a run play, we’ll let another guy go take it and let Blake get ready,” tight end Brian Vogler said. “It doesn’t really affect most of us as long as we’re making the right calls and running the right routes. The timing’s there, it’s already been built, but obviously we improve on it when he’s in there.”

To say Sims has been a pleasant surprise for Alabama this year would be an understatement.

He’s thrown for 1,091 yards, eight touchdowns and just two interceptions. He’s fourth in the country in passer rating. According to Aaron Suttles of TideSports.com, Sims is 18-of-21 passing on third down.

Sims also brings a dynamic to Alabama’s offense that it hasn’t had in a long time. He’s the team’s third-leading rusher with 141 yards.

His shoulder injury hasn’t slowed him down in that regard.

"He looks amazing to me,” defensive lineman Dalvin Tomlinson said. “Trying to rush against him, he's pretty fast. He's been looking good, though.”

Sims’ shoulder injury was initially concerning, and its long-term effects are yet to be determined. But Alabama is managing him well, already having some experience with a similar injury. All signs point to it not being issue in Alabama’s biggest game of the year.

 

Marc Torrence is the Alabama lead writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats come from cfbstats.com.

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

8 Most Improved College Football Players from a Season Ago

Maybe it's a result of maturity. Maybe it's because of improved coaching. Or it could just be that something clicked.

Whatever the case, several college football players this fall are performing leaps and bounds better than what we saw from them a year ago. In some cases, that individual improvement has helped put their teams over the hump.

Improvement can easily be judged based on statistics, but there's often more to it than just better numbers. For each of the eight players we've identified as the most improved in college football from a year ago, there's something that changed for them that enabled the performance upgrade.

Begin Slideshow

Set to Explode: 4-Star ATH Donte Jackson Is a Name to Remember

Donte Jackson is a 4-star athlete out of New Orleans, LA. With Georgia and LSU leading the pack, Jackson has numerous schools pushing for his commitment. Bleacher Report's College Football Analyst Michael Felder breaks down this underrated and underappreciated recruit in the 2015 class.

Who else do you think is underrated in the 2015 class?

Watch the video and let us know! 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

5 Week 6 Games That Will Have Biggest Impact on College Football Playoff

It's October and it's on.

Though much of September played out like college football's version of the preseason, it still served to whittle down the field of potential playoff teams. Only 17 of the 128 FBS teams made it out of the month without a loss and that number is guaranteed to dwindle by a quarter in the first weekend of October.

All 17 unbeatens will be in action this weekend, including four matchups between undefeated teams, beginning with Thursday night's Oregon-Arizona showdown. There are six games between teams currently ranked in the AP poll—that's as many as the previous four weekends combined.

The center of the college football universe this Saturday will be the state of Mississippi (when's the last time you heard this phrase uttered?...like, never?), where the SEC West shakeup will begin in earnest. The four combatants in the games in Oxford and Starkville have a combined record of 17-0, but two teams will emerge with their first losses of the season by sundown Saturday.

So here's our look—and predictions—of this week's five key games for the College Football Playoff race. OK, so we lied, we counted the SEC West Six-Pack as one game:

SEC West Six-Pack

Texas A&M (5-0) at Mississippi State (4-0)
Alabama (4-0) at Ole Miss (4-0)
LSU (4-1) at Auburn (4-0)

The toughest division in college football will see all six of its ranked teams cannibalize each other. And with the exception of LSU, which already lost to Mississippi State, the losers on Saturday won't necessarily be out of the running for the division title, and hence, the College Football Playoff field.

But the most intriguing game of the trio just might be the one not played in Mississippi. The battle of the Tigers has gone LSU's way in six of the last seven years, with Auburn only winning in 2010, when it went undefeated and won the BCS title. Keep in mind that was the only time Gus Malzahn faced LSU on The Plains as a member of the Auburn staff.

Predicted winners: Mississippi State, Alabama, Auburn

Oklahoma (4-0) at TCU (3-0)

It should surprise no one that Gary Patterson has righted the ship at TCU after a rough start in its first two years in the Big 12. But the Horned Frogs' rebuilt defense will be severely tested by Oklahoma, which has its sights set on winning the Big 12 and earning an entry to the playoff field. 

Because there is no conference championship game, OU can ill afford to lose any games as it could potentially mean the loss of the Big 12 title. But the visit to Fort Worth just might be the toughest remaining road game for the Sooners, who will get all the other Big 12 contenders at home.

Predicted winner: Oklahoma

Stanford (3-1) at Notre Dame (4-0)

In Notre Dame's magical season of 2012, it was able to beat Stanford in OT thanks to a controversial call. (Is it me or does it seem like all of Notre Dame's close shaves in 2012 were aided by the refs?) That loss might very well have kept the Cardinal out of the BCS title game.

The scenario is very similar this season. Everett Golson is back and with him the Irish are once again in the mix for the national championship run. For Stanford, already with an early-season loss to USC, this is a must-win game to stay in the hunt for a playoff spot.

Predicted winner: Notre Dame

Nebraska (5-0) at Michigan State (3-1)

This is essentially an elimination game for the Big Ten's flickering playoff hopes. A loss by either team will end its chance of landing a spot in the four-team field.

The Huskers are the only B1G team coming out of September without a loss, and that's only the case because of an Ameer Abdullah miracle run to beat McNeese State. With Nebraska's weak schedule, it'll have to run the table to make any claims for the playoff, and even that might not be enough. 

Predicted winner: Michigan State

Utah (3-1) at UCLA (4-0)

This game would've been another battle of the unbeatens until Utah was stunned by Washington State at home, blowing a 24-7 halftime lead. Still, it's a major showdown in the Pac-12 South, which currently seems to be UCLA's for the taking.

But the Bruins have shown a maddening inconsistency in the Jim Mora era so don't be surprised if they suffer a letdown after last week's big win over Arizona State. On top of that UCLA might also be caught looking ahead to a huge showdown next week against Oregon. This is a classic trap game. 

Predicted winner: Utah

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Texas A&M Football: Why LB Position Will Keep Aggies from Being Elite in 2014

The Texas A&M football team is undefeated and ranked No. 6 in the country. Unfortunately for Aggie fans, the team's deficiencies at the linebacker position will prevent it from taking the next step and becoming a playoff team in 2014. 

Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin has again built one of the top offenses in the land. The Aggies are averaging 594.6 yards and 51.2 points per game. The defense is allowing a respectable 376.4 total yards per game. 

The Aggies are currently in the middle of the pack when it comes to defenses in college football, which is a major improvement over 2013, when they had the No. 109 overall defense. The Aggies have improved with better safety play and a much improved defensive line.

The issue for the Aggies is that their linebacker play is still lagging behind. They do not have the size, talent or depth at the linebacker position to help form an elite SEC defense.

 

Size Does Matter

The Aggies entered the 2014 fall camp with an expected starting lineup of Shaan Washington at strong-side linebacker, Jordan Mastrogiovanni at middle linebacker and Donnie Baggs at weak-side linebacker.

Washington is a 6'3", 235-pound sophomore who has the size and speed needed to be an effective linebacker in the SEC. Unfortunately, he broke his collar bone early in fall camp and was forced to miss the first three games of the season. 

With Washington out, the Aggies opened the season with Baggs at weak-side linebacker, Mastrogiovanni in the middle and A.J. Hilliard on the strong side. Then Hilliard got injured in the season opener against South Carolina. 

Like Washington, the 6'2", 230-pound sophomore had the requisite size to make plays in the SEC. Baggs is a 6'1", 230-pound senior who looks and plays a lot smaller than his listed weight. 

The key to winning games in the SEC is to stop the opponent's running game. Aggie fans have grown tired of watching opposing running backs shake off the tackles of the Aggies' smallish linebackers like Baggs. 

Mastrogiovanni is a 6'3", 244-pound sophomore who has plenty of size and speed. His issue is that he does not possess the instincts to be an effective middle linebacker. In the Aggies' 35-28 overtime win over Arkansas, he often found himself in the wrong place or struggled to get off blocks.

The Razorbacks ran 74 offensive plays against the Aggies including 47 rushing attempts. Mastrogiovanni was in on three assisted tackles for the game. The starting middle linebacker of the Texas A&M defense did not get a single solo tackle against a team that the Aggies knew was going to run the ball.

Baggs put up a similar stat line with three tackles against the Hogs, but he did add a tackle for loss. He will be in the right place at the right time, but he does not possess the size and strength to bring down some of the bigger backs in the SEC. 

The Aggies allowed 285 yards rushing against Arkansas because their linebackers could not get off blocks to make plays. When they did get off blocks, the bigger Arkansas running backs just shrugged off their tackle attempts. 

Washington returned from his injury in Week 4 against SMU. He has tallied 13 tackles with two tackles for loss and two sacks in two games. Washington had seven tackles against Arkansas.

The lack of size and talent will be exacerbated as the Aggies move into the meat of the SEC schedule. The Aggies have games against Mississippi State, Alabama and LSU remaining on their schedule. 

All three teams feature running backs with the size to give the Aggie linebackers problems. The sad reality for Aggies fans is that they have one legitimate SEC linebacker on the squad right now in Washington. 

 

How To Fix The Problem

The only way to solve this deficiency of talent at the linebacker position is to recruit more talent to Aggieland. The Aggies had huge issues on their defensive line in 2013, but the addition of defensive end Myles Garrett and a few other recruits has given them the depth and talent to be an effective SEC unit. 

The Aggie coaches need to do the same thing at linebacker in the 2015 class that they did on the defensive line in the 2014 class. They need to recruit some of the best linebackers in the nation and hope they come in ready to play. 

The Aggies simply need to get bigger and better at the linebacker position. Getting Hilliard back from injury in 2015 will help. He and Washington at the two outside linebacker spots will be a formidable duo. 

Texas A&M has three linebackers verbally committed in the 2015 class. Two of them, Riley Garner and Landis Durham, should have the size required in 2015 to walk in and help the team. The Aggies need to land elite linebacker recruit Malik Jefferson to give this class the kind of boost that Garrett gave the 2014 class. 

As for the 2014 season, Aggie fans are going to have to hope that true freshman linebackers Josh Walker and Otaro Alaka develop as quickly as possible. It would behoove the Aggie coaches to get them more playing time. 

The freshmen may make youthful mistakes, but they will get better in the future. Watching Walker or Alaka cover the wrong gap will be more beneficial for the future of Aggie football than watching Baggs get run over by another opposing running back. 

The Aggies have the offense, special teams and defensive line to be a championship-level team. They are missing the linebackers, and that will limit their success in 2014. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ohio State Football: What Could Have Been If Urban Meyer Had Landed Stefon Diggs

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Even for a recruiter as talented as Urban Meyer, Ohio State's 2012 class was nothing short of a miracle.

With just 15 prospects and not a whole lot of star power committed to becoming Buckeyes with two months to go until national signing day, Meyer certainly had his work cut out for him when he accepted Ohio State's head coaching position on Nov. 28.

But by the time Feb. 1 rolled around, 5-star prospects Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington signed on to be Buckeyes, as did big-name prospects such as Bri'onte Dunn, Taylor Decker, Se'von Pittman and Kyle Dodson.

And although Meyer's 25-man haul ranked an astounding fifth in the nation, per 247Sports, it appeared to be missing at least one key element. For a coach who had found so much success at Florida with offensive speed, Meyer's premiere patchwork class was short on playmaking skill players—3-star prospects Michael ThomasRicquan Southward and Frank Epitropoulos being the only wide receivers to sign with Ohio State in 2012.

Fortunately for the Buckeyes, Meyer's top target at the position remained uncommitted—at least for the time being. But nine days later, Stefon Diggs officially took his name off the market, when the Olney Good Counsel 5-star prospect opted to stay close to home and sign with Maryland.

"We had a good relationship with Stefon Diggs and his family," Meyer said on Monday. "I really thought we had a legitimate shot at him. I knew when we were watching him play that he was something special. Now that I see him, he’s as good as there is in America.”

The Buckeyes bounced back from Diggs' decision to take his talents elsewhere, reeling off 24 consecutive wins to start Meyer's career in Columbus. But in the two complete recruiting cycles since Diggs turned Terrapin, Ohio State is still yet to sign a prospect with the same type of talent as the class of 2012's second-ranked wideout.

This Saturday, the loss of Diggs for the Buckeyes could become twofold, when Ohio State squares off with its former target. As Meyer mentioned, the 6'0", 190-pounder has proven to be as good as advertised in his two-plus seasons in College Park, which could prove problematic for a Buckeyes secondary still struggling to find its footing this season.

"He's going to be a first-round draft pick," Meyer said of Diggs on his weekly call-in show on Thursday. "A real dynamic guy."

The numbers back up Meyer's assessment.

After accumulating 962 yards (848 receiving, 114 rushing) yards of total offense and eight touchdowns (six receiving, two returns) in 2012, Diggs' stats were stunted as a sophomore as a broken leg limited him to just seven games. Despite only playing roughly half a season, Diggs tallied 34 receptions for 587 yards and three touchdowns—numbers which would have made him Ohio State's third-leading receiver in 2013.

Back to full strength, it hasn't taken long for Diggs to prove that he's back on track, as in five games he's already racked up 29 receptions, 398 yards and two touchdowns. That comes as no surprise to Buckeyes cornerback and Massachusetts native Armani Reeves, who became plenty familiar with the Old Line State product on the northeast prep-camp circuit.

“He’s a great player. I remember going against him in high school at a lot of camps, and he’s a great guy, a great player and he’s going to be a workload for us," Reeves said. "But that’s why we came to Ohio State, to play against guys like that."

That's a sentiment shared by OSU sophomore safety Vonn Bell, a fellow 5-star prospect, who sees plenty of himself in Diggs when he watches the Maryland star on film. But rather than big hits, it's big plays that Diggs is dying to deliver, and if Diggs does, Bell knows he's going to hear about it.

“He has swagger. He’s very confident. If he gets a catch on me, I see that he’s gonna try to talk to me, but I’m gonna tell him that I coming the next play," Bell said of Diggs, seeking out a camcorder to emphasize his message. "Those type of guys like that—you gotta let them know you’re there.”

In order to better prep themselves for what they're about to face, the Buckeyes have called upon freshmen wideouts James Clark and Terry McLaurin.

Both 4-star prospects, each were highly touted players coming out of high school, but it's telling that Ohio State has needed two different players to emulate Diggs on this week's scout team, as no one single Buckeye possesses the same size and ability that their upcoming opponent does.

Capable of making plays down the field, off of screens, reverses and in special teams, it seems as though Diggs would have been a perfect fit to play the "Percy Harvin role" in Meyer's spread offense at Ohio State.

Bell compared the Maxwell Award and Biletnikoff Trophy preseason watch list member to Buckeyes H-back Dontre Wilson, which is somewhat of an understatement of what Diggs has already accomplished in his college career.

"He’s quick, but he’s very strong and very aggressive," Reeves said. "He has a lot of different tools. Especially in college, a lot of guys either have the speed or the strength. He’s a gifted athlete—he has both. That’s what makes him special."

It's also what made him so attractive to Meyer. And while the third-year Ohio State head coach insists that he moved on "quickly" from the failed recruitment of Diggs, it's hard to imagine that he won't find himself thinking "what could have been" when he finally sees him play in-person at the college level on Saturday.

Because for the Buckeyes to contain Diggs, it may just take another miracle.

 

Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Ohio State Lead Writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes obtained firsthand. All recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Pages