NCAA Football

UCLA vs. Arizona State: Live Score and Highlights

UCLA 27, Arizona State 17 ; HALFTIME A massive Pac-12 South Division contest takes place tonight at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, as the No. 11 UCLA Bruins take on the host No. 15 Arizona State Sun Devils...

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UCLA Player Etched Name in Arizona State Logo on Field Before Game

The UCLA Bruins have a big Top 25 matchup against the Arizona State Sun Devils, and they might have been trying to get in their opponents' heads before the game.

Prior to Thursday night's contest, the Bruins wrote "UCLA" on the trident logo at midfield. If the Sun Devils see this before the matchup, things could get a little heated once it begins.

[Twitter]

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6 Most Important College Football Recruiting Visits of Week 5

The final weekend of September presents another compelling slate of college football matchups on campuses across the country. Recruits will be on the move again as another wave of official visits provides the latest stepping stone toward national signing day.

In the coming days, elite Texas talents will journey beyond state borders and a marquee Miami commit heads north. Continue reading for our weekly look at the most important prospect trips set to take place Saturday.

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Cincinnati RB Chamoda Kennedy-Palmore Dies in Motorcycle Accident at Age 19

Chamoda Kennedy-Palmore, a redshirt freshman running back at the University of Cincinnati, was killed Thursday afternoon after a vehicle crashed into his motorcycle. He was 19.

"It's a tragedy," Cincinnati associate athletic director Ryan Koslen said, per Keith BieryGolick of The Cincinnati Enquirer

According to police, Kennedy-Palmore was driving on Cincinnati's Vine Street when another vehicle swerved across two traffic lanes and struck his motorcycle. He was then taken to UC Medical Center by paramedics but was declared dead as the result of his injuries. Koslen said Kennedy-Palmore was wearing proper safety gear at the time of the crash. 

Kennedy-Palmore, who is originally from Liberty Township in Ohio, was in his second year as a walk-on with the program. In a statement confirming his passing, Cincinnati indicated that he was part of a "school-start tryout group" of players who joined the team for 2014 earlier this month.

"Our football program and university has suffered another great tragedy," Cincinnati coach Tommy Tuberville said. "I'm a father first and a coach second and it's always hard to put your thoughts into words during times like these. Chamoda was a talented non-scholarship player and a key member of our scout teams. He worked hard and earned his spot on the roster. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family."

The previous tragedy to which Tuberville alludes is the death of former offensive lineman Ben Flick, who died in an automobile accident on Sept. 21, 2013. Teammates Mark Barr and Javon Harrison were also injured in the crash.

Kennedy-Palmore graduated from Lakota East High School in 2013, where he was the team's top running back. BieryGolick's report indicated that he originally committed to Georgetown College before deciding to walk on locally at Cincinnati. Lakota East head coach Rick Haynes indicated he was well-liked by teammates and coaches.

"Chamoda definitely led by example by how hard he worked. His teammates definitely thought highly of him," Haynes said.

The identity of the driver who hit Kennedy-Palmore's motorcycle has not been released at this time. According to Fox 19, the driver was taken to a local hospital, but there is no word on his or her condition.

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter

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Texas Tech vs. Oklahoma State: Live Score and Highlights

Texas Tech 7, Oklahoma State 0—Middle of the 1st Quarter

The Oklahoma State Cowboys, clinging to a spot in the Top 25 at No. 24, will host the Texas tech Red Raiders in a Thursday night showdown that also serves as the Big 12 conference opener for both teams.

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Texas Tech Unveils 'White Ombre' Uniforms for Game vs. Oklahoma State

The Texas Tech Red Raiders have a big game on the road Thursday night against the Oklahoma State Cowboys, so they made sure to dress for success.

The team's official Twitter account unveiled their "White Ombre" uniforms courtesy of Under Armour, which feature an alternate logo on the helmets, jersey and pants.

The Red Raiders will try to take down the No. 24 Cowboys at 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN.

[Twitter, h/t College Spun]

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The Changing Identity of the SEC

"Is this what we want football to be?"

Those were the words of Alabama head coach Nick Saban in early October 2012 when preparing for Ole Miss' hurry-up, no-huddle offense led by head coach Hugh Freeze, according to AL.com's Andrew Gribble.

Fast-forward two years, and the "three yards and a cloud of dust" label synonymous with the SEC has been replaced with another—"wide open." Eleven of the conference's 14 teams are currently averaging more than six yards per play, as opposed to two in 2011.

Even Saban's team—with a little help from new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin—is lighting up the scoreboard. Through four games, the Crimson Tide are averaging 7.6 yards per play and, while not running a true hurry-up, no-huddle offense, still managing 78 plays per game.

The SEC has become a conference where defense doesn't win championships anymore; "just enough defense" wins championships. The definition of "just enough" changes based on the versatility and explosiveness of each individual team.

How did it get to this point?

 

The Introduction of the Spread

When Florida hired Urban Meyer from Utah prior to the 2005 season, critics said his offense wouldn't work in the SEC. Meyer himself even had concerns after getting trounced 31-3 at Alabama that year. 

“I was very concerned,” he told Ray Glier, then of The New York Times and now of Bleacher Report, in 2009. “I started believing what I was hearing."

All he did after that was win national championships in 2006 and 2008, help quarterback Tim Tebow win the Heisman Trophy in 2007 and win another SEC East title in 2009.

Sure, it helped Meyer that Tebow—a quarterback who is built perfectly to run his offense—decided to choose the Gators over Alabama in February of 2006. Since that time, though, spread elements have been injected into the SEC.

Auburn hired Gus Malzahn—a versatile offensive mind whose spread is more of a blend of old-school and new-school style—as its offensive coordinator in 2009 and then its head coach prior to the 2013 season. Ole Miss selected Hugh Freeze—a coach with a similar style—to replace Houston Nutt prior to the 2012 season.

That same year, Texas A&M brought first-year head coach Kevin Sumlin's flexible, pass-happy style into the conference along with Missouri, which finished ninth in the nation in rushing out of a spread attack the previous season.

The offenses have evolved from the read-option attack Meyer won with to variable attacks that blend power with open space.

When then-new head coach Gene Chizik told Auburn athletics director Jay Jacobs that he was thinking about bringing Malzahn in as offensive coordinator in 2009, Jacobs wanted to make sure he wasn't just bringing in the spread, but the right kind of spread.

"What was important to me, as a spread offense like this, is it all throwing and how does the rush balance out?" Auburn athletics director Jay Jacobs said. "What I quickly found out from talking to a lot of people and watching Gus' bowl game is that it's a lot of throwing, but it's a downhill football style. In this league, you have to run the ball to win."

That's exactly why Sumlin has been successful at Texas A&M. 

He came in with the reputation of being an air-raid coach who slings it all over the field. In his first year in the SEC in 2012, Sumlin's Aggies led the conference with 5.90 yards per rush and followed it up with 5.17 in 2013.

"With what we do, it's probably a little bit different than most people," Sumlin said. "Even though everybody lumps all spread offenses into one boat, that's not necessarily the truth. You have spread offenses that lead with the run that are misdirection-type offenses. You've got all kinds of different things. Certainly, no-huddle may be the contrasting factor."

It is, which brings us to the next point.

 

Tempo, Tempo, Tempo

FBS instituted a rule change prior to the 2008 season that gave us a 40-second play clock that resets when the previous play ends, similar to the NFL. It replaced a 25-second play clock that wouldn't start until the umpire spotted the ball—whenever that was. 

The result allowed teams that ran no-huddle offenses to not only sprint to the ball as they have in the past, but get the snap off quicker because officials wanted to keep play moving.

"The biggest change is tempo," said Florida head coach Will Muschamp. "With how quickly people are getting on the ball, snapping the ball and getting more snaps in the game, that to me is the most challenging aspect from a communication standpoint defensively. It effects technique, it effects fundamentals and creates fatigue, which creates cowards of us all."

In the SEC, that has led to a steady creep of offensive prowess as coaches and programs realized the benefits of tempo.

"Five years ago, if you look at what teams were averaging in yards per game and points per game, the game has certainly changed," said Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze.

Now programs can blend traditional smashmouth elements with wide-open elements found in spread offenses to keep opposing defenses on their toes while still wearing them down through speed and strength.

The rule change in 2008—Muschamp's first year as Texas' defensive coordinator—was something that created a perfect storm.

"It was an eye-opener for me in 2008 going to Texas," he said. "With some of the talented quarterbacks in the league at the time. Sam Bradford, we had Colt McCoy, Graham Harrell was at Texas Tech, Robert Griffin III was at Baylor, [Todd] Reesing was at Kansas. There was a bunch of really good quarterbacks, and the tempo of the league was really fast."

That served as a precursor to what was to come in the SEC. 

The ability to play fast, the evolution of the spread, quarterbacks recruited specifically to run it and an injection of creative play-callers have put defensive-minded SEC coaches into a bind.

"I think the fast pace of play and the way college football is right now definitely favors the offense, that’s why we see the points that we see," Saban told my B/R colleague Marc Torrence. "I think you have to have a lot more patience on defense. I think the whole approach to how you prepare for a game has to be completely different than what it used to be."

The more things change, though, the more they stay the same. 

"The tempo has changed," Jacobs said, "but the 'ball' is still the same."

 

Simplicity

Increased tempo in college football has simplified the game for everybody. Instead of complicated play calls, a focus on running a high number of plays has simplified the play-calling process.

Instead of wordy play calls in a huddle, teams signal in plays quickly through hand signals, pictures and numbers. This was a point of criticism while former Auburn quarterback Cam Newton was going through the draft process.

"Our method is ‘simplistic equals fast,'" he told ESPN.com's Jon Gruden (via ProFootballTalk.com) in 2011. "It’s so simple as far as, you look to the sideline [and] you see 36 on the board. And that’s a play. And we’re off.”

While that may hurt players moving on to the next level, it also presents challenges to defensive coaches at the college level.

Take Saban, for example. Instead of scheming to stop an offense, his No. 1 goal is simply to get his team lined up properly, which means plays that aren't exotic and an advantage that the offense has neutralized.

It goes beyond the game itself, though.

"It's been a little bit of a work in progress," Saban said. "When you have the new offenses, on defense, you have to be realistic about what you can implement and play in the games. We've always been more of a pro-style, match personnel and have a lot of different packages of things we can do on defense. You waste time practicing because you can't get it in the game when they go fast and don't substitute."

The Crimson Tide offense is actually going more uptempo itself these days, which has benefited its defense.

"We actually forced our offense to be a no-huddle team too has helped us on defense," Saban told Torrence. "Even though we don’t go fast all the time, just the fact that we can practice against a no huddle-type team rather than huddling up. Then, all the sudden, here’s a game where you have to go no-huddle and the players are used to that routine and how they have to play."

Exotic offenses have forced defenses to simplify. As is the case in the game itself, when you force the opposition to play your game, you have the advantage.

 

Recruiting

Size doesn't matter anymore; speed does.

Sure, having a 330-pound monster in the middle of the defensive line will certainly help teams that run 3-4 defenses, but even those ends can't simply be space-eaters anymore. 

Defenses need speed outside—like Alabama's A'Shawn Robinson and Jonathan Allen—in order to get off blocks and make plays, not just free up room for linebackers. 

New offenses that force defenders at all levels to run have changed the way SEC teams recruit defensively.

"We want to get longer and faster," Freeze said. "We're not so much concerned with defensive linemen or our backers being a certain weight. We think we can add weight once they get there. You have to recruit speed. If you can't run on the defensive side, it makes for some long afternoons. People are so good now at exploiting matchups and putting their guys in space with these offenses."

Instead of having outside linebackers who can go into the hole and stand up powerful running backs, you need outside linebackers who can do that and go east and west to track down speed-rushers and quarterbacks off the edge and, at the very least, occupy those lanes and turn plays back inside.

Freshman Alabama linebacker Rashaan Evans is a perfect example of teams adjusting to the speed of the game. Playing the same "Jack" linebacker position as 265-pounder Courtney Upshaw played in 2011, the 225-pound Evans has already made an impact for the Crimson Tide this year, notching six tackles and one sack through four games.

“Rashaan is a freak,” fellow linebacker Reggie Ragland told Torrence, B/R's lead Alabama writer, earlier this season. “And when you’re a freak, you deserve to be on the field. He’s putting that time in to be that player that Coach Saban and Coach Smart and (outside linebackers) Coach (Lance) Thompson want him to be.”

The injection of speed and creativity has forced coaches to react in the recruiting game, which has allowed a guy like Evans to make an immediate impact in the toughest conference in the nation.

 

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a co-host of the CFB Hangover on Bleacher Report Radio (Sundays, 9-11 a.m. ET) on Sirius 93, XM 208.

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of cfbstats.com, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports. Information from B/R's Alabama lead writer Marc Torrence was used in this story. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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5-Star DE Byron Cowart Sets Visits: Where Does He Fit Best?

The final stretch of 5-star prospect Byron Cowart's recruitment will feature four official visits to campuses across the country. He announced his intentions Thursday to spend time at Florida State, Florida, Alabama and Oregon:

Cowart, rated the nation's No. 1 strong-side defensive end in 247Sports' composite rankings, holds dozens of scholarship offers. He used his first official visit at Maryland earlier this month.

The 6'4", 250-pound prospect is among the most physically impressive recruits in the 2015 class. Cowart combines immense raw power with rare speed (clocked at 4.60 seconds in the 40-yard dash), covers the run and chases down quarterbacks.

He tallied 72 tackles and 13 sacks last season at Armwood High School in Seffner, Florida. Cowart has collected 23 tackles and three sacks through four games as a senior.

Now that we know where he's headed this fall, let's break down each visit and explore which option appears to present an ideal opportunity for the devastating Sunshine State defender.

 

Florida

The Gators have been viewed as a prohibitive favorite in this pursuit for a while, and that perception remains predominately steady through September. Cowart is projected to sign with Florida by 90 percent of predictions in 247Sports' Crystal Ball.

He's already spent significant time on campus and returned to Gainesville for game action earlier this season. Cowart plans to attend the team's Nov. 15 showdown with South Carolina.

Though the cause of Florida's woes under head coach Will Muschamp is often an anemic offensive attack, the team's latest defeat at Alabama proved there are plenty of holes to fill on defense. The Gators picked up some quality pieces last signing day, headlined by 5-star New Orleans defensive tackle Gerald Willis, but they could use a high-impact pass-rusher off the edge.

Cowart could immediately improve the program's 3rd-and-long defensive group and work his way into the rotation as a true freshman. He's been at or near the top of the list for Florida in this recruiting cycle since its early stages, but uncertainty swirling around the coaching staff doesn't exactly create a stable environment for high school prospects.

"The scary thing about it is I'm really comfortable with Florida," Cowart told Bleacher Report's Kynon Codrington. "The reason I say scary is the stability in the coaching staff. 

 

Oregon

Oregon naturally stands out on this list due to lack of proximity, but this visit shouldn't surprise those who've followed Cowart's recruitment. Earlier this year, he told 247Sports reporter Justin Hopkins (subscription required) the Ducks are a mainstay among his favorites.

"Oregon has always been up there for me on my list of schools," Cowart said.

Oregeon is competing with three teams that have won national championships in recent years and allow him to stay in a familiar region. Despite those challenges, don't discount Oregon in this race.

The Ducks are known as an offensive juggernaut, but equal talent on the other side of the football could vault Oregon into a new level. Cowart could quickly become the face of an improved Oregon defensive unit.

The team has struggled to sign top-tier defensive linemen and is still searching in this cycle. Cowart, who will be in attendance for an Nov. 22 game against Colorado, would be one of Oregon's most important signings in program history.

His biggest fan is willing to follow him to the West Coast.

"My mom and I were discussing that we've never really lived in the same place for more than five years," Cowart told Codrington. "Wherever I go she is probably going to go with me. She said she wouldn't have a problem moving to a place like Oregon, so that gave me the green light to visit them and see what it's about."

 

Florida State

The Seminoles have come on strong in recent months, giving the Gators a fight for his top in-state destination. Florida State, like Florida, has enjoyed recruiting success when it comes to addressing the defensive front. 

Jimbo Fisher and company are still firmly in the picture for top overall prospect Josh Sweat, the No. 1 weak-side defensive end in this class. Seminoles fans would be celebrating wildly if the team manages to bring both elite defenders to campus next year.

Cowart could ultimately decide to stay in his home state after surveying the options, and if the choice comes down to coaching staffs, it's difficult to see him choosing the Gators over Florida State. Fisher has the best job security in college football for anyone not named Nick Saban and is putting out an on-field product that's far superior than what Muschamp can muster at the moment.

The Seminoles are set to host Cowart on campus for an annual battle with Florida. It's the ideal time for Florida State to showcase where it stands in comparison to the Gators.

 

Alabama

Cowart, like all athletes interested in Alabama, must accept the fact that playing time could be hard to come by as an underclassman. Saban has assembled five straight top-rated recruiting classes, packing the roster with an array of blue-chip prospects.

Despite the presence of so many standouts, especially along the defensive line, Cowart is a talent who shouldn't shy away from elite competition. He is, after all, elite himself.

"People tell me that Alabama is too big and that I'll never play if I go there, but only you know what you are capable of based on what you see," Cowart told 247Sports reporter Charles Power (subscription required). "You can't tell me I can't play at Alabama, because I know what I saw. They compete and they work hard. That's what Alabama is about and that's what I'm about."

Cowart traveled to Tuscaloosa for spring game festivities. He'll return in October to watch the team take on Texas A&M in one of the most anticipated college collisions this season.

It will be interesting to see how his experience at Alabama holds up against the three Cowart has planned for November.

 

Verdict

Given the question marks surrounding Florida's staff right now, it's difficult to view the Gators as his best fit. If Muschamp stays on board, Cowart is more likely to land in Gainesville. 

Oregon offers him a chance to become an immediate program-changer, whereas he'd just be the latest 5-star recruit to sign with his other options. The Ducks are in dire need of young, dynamic defensive linemen to contend with an incredible stockpile of Pac-12 passers for years to come.

Florida State and Alabama both have a wealth of talent on their rosters. While there won't be a clear path to playing time with either program, the Seminoles aren't nearly as loaded along the defensive edge as Saban's squad.

Accounting for program success and stability, along with positional need, Florida State seems to be the strongest fit for Cowart at this stage. Still, there's a long way to go until his recruitment comes to end.

 

Recruit ratings and stats courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted.

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Why a Florida State vs. Oregon Title Game Would Be Perfect Start to Playoff Era

We asked for a playoff, and we got it. Now let's hope we get a title-game matchup worthy of being determined by a postseason tournament.

And since this is the dawn of a new era, there's no better way to bridge the gap from the past to the present by having the old guard take on some fresh blood for the championship. That's why having a Florida State-Oregon title game would be the best way for the College Football Playoff age to begin.

We're not alone in this view. NFL.com's Mike Huguenin has the Seminoles and Ducks meeting Jan. 12 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, while USA Today worked with an analytics website and ran 50,000 projections that came up with FSU-Oregon as its most likely title game.

But this isn't so much about who will be in there as it is who should participate in the first-ever championship game determined be an actual, 100 percent real playoff. FSU-Oregon makes the most sense, because it will give us everything we want for a title bout.

Florida State is the reigning national champion, the last one crowned through the BCS system that worked (mostly) well for 15 years but was scrapped in favor of a four-team playoff. This new system, according to the sound bites put out by the 13-person playoff selection committee, is meant to pit the four best teams against each other in a winner-take-all format.

Just exactly how all that gets established is a mystery at this point, because the first CFP rankings don't come out until late October and the specific criteria that each committee member will use to rank teams is as proprietary as a blue ribbon-worthy barbecue sauce. We've heard a lot of talk about strength of schedule taking precedence over how good the wins look, as well as factoring in things like injuries (maybe even suspensions of star players who decide to jump on a table and blurt out obscenities?) into who really is playing best at the end of the year.

As the defending champs, FSU's presence in the first CFP final would help pass on the torch from the BCS, because it would give weight to what the Seminoles did last year but also credit them for being able to sustain that success in this new playoff-centric environment even while weathering outside factors like Jameis Winston's off-field actions and constant media scrutiny.

The team that currently wears the crown should be given the chance to take on the best challenger out there. You won the last game of pool at the neighborhood bar? Who cares that it was eight-ball and now the game is cutthroat, you get dibs on all comers by owning the table until you lose.

As for Oregon, what other team in college football better epitomizes the idea of the here-and-now than the Ducks? The program has been a fashion trendsetter in the game for years, to the point that its weekly updates on what uniform combination out of 47,365 different options is going to be donned is one of the most retweeted items.

Oregon also features maybe the best individual player in the game in quarterback Marcus Mariota, who has transcended the dual-threat passer position into one that's truly an asset through both forms of offense. Mariota runs when he needs (or wants to) and throws when that works best. And unlike Winston, who has become an extremely polarizing figure even before winning the Heisman Trophy, Mariota doesn't have any notable character blemishes.

This would set up some classic story-script pairings, such as the incumbent-challenger and the villain-hero plot lines. Realistically, any team other than Florida State could play the challenger/hero role, but Oregon passes the eye test more in terms of national image and the likelihood it would be more backed than other teams.

An SEC team, while likely just as worthy from a performance standpoint—whoever emerges from that hellacious West Division, assuming they don't trip up in the SEC title game, will be as battled tested as anyone else and certainly would make a case for being one of the best in the country—faces the stigma of being from a league that all non-SEC fans would root against, regardless of whom it is.

Teams from the Big 12 also don't have as much of a sport-wide pull, aside from maybe Texas, but that's not happening this season. And the Big Ten? Well, that's nice to think its best team is even going to get a semifinal bid at this point, let alone be worthy of playing for a championship.

Florida State-Oregon is the best-case scenario, image-wise, for the initial College Football Playoff. The court of public opinion has a big influence, and this first version will be scrutinized more than the latest iPhone. Therefore it needs to have the best and most user-friendly features and apps.

 

Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.

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Why the 2014 Alabama Crimson Tide Offense Is Nick Saban's Most Explosive

The Alabama Crimson Tide have been one of the most dominant teams in college football since head coach Nick Saban took over the program.

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder and Barrett Sallee explain why this incarnation of the Alabama offense is its most explosive.

Do you think Alabama's offense is the best it's been in the Saban era?

Watch the video and let us know!

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Will Stud Michigan QB Commit Alex Malzone Challenge for Starting Spot as Frosh?

The Michigan Wolverines have gotten off to a rocky start to the College Football season but there is much hope in their highly touted 2015 QB Recruit Alex Malzone. Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder explains what he can offer the Wolverines in the years to come.

Do you think Malzone can resurrect Michigan's' offense?

Watch the video and let us know!

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Oklahoma Football: 5 Things the Sooners Need to Improve During Their Bye Week

The Oklahoma Sooners are heading into a bye week, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t work to be done.

Although the Sooners are sitting pretty at 4-0, some of the team’s vulnerabilities have been exposed in recent weeks. These vulnerabilities will need to be corrected if Oklahoma hopes to keep its march towards a national title intact.

Here are five things upon which the team needs to improve.

 

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Ohio State Football: Buckeyes Have Plenty to Prove in Showdown with Cincinnati

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Jalin Marshall is just a redshirt freshman, a second-year player who has only seen the field for three games in his college career.

So it's telling that even as one of the youngest players on the Ohio State roster, he is well aware of what's at stake for the Buckeyes in this weekend's showdown with Cincinnati.

"It’s a big game for us. It’s a statement game for us," Marshall said on Wednesday. "We have to come out there and play hard, play fast and play together, and I feel like we’ll come out there and get a win. Cincinnati’s definitely not gonna give it to us."

The same couldn't have been said about Ohio State's opponent two weeks ago, Kent State, which rolled over and watched the Buckeyes head into their bye week with a 66-0 blowout victory.

OSU's thrashing of the Golden Flashes gave it some much-needed confidence following a Sept. 6 loss to Virginia Tech, but the Buckeyes know that the Bearcats will bring much more talent to Columbus than KSU did before their bye.

The challenge of facing UC, however, will be a welcome one for an Ohio State squad still unsure of where it stands after having already completed one-quarter of the 2014 season.

With arguably the best quarterback they will see all season and and one of the most talented teams on their schedule coming to town for a final tune-up before the start of Big Ten play, there will be no shortage of points for the Buckeyes to prove this Saturday.

Exactly what does Ohio State hope to make a statement about?

 

Can the Buckeyes Beat the Bear?

Not the Bearcats, just the Bear—although doing the former will likely include accomplishing the latter.

During the Hokies' win in Columbus three weeks ago, Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer laid out what at the time appeared to be a blueprint of sorts for beating the Buckeyes.

Employing a 46 Bear defense that loaded the box and forced freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett to make plays through the air, the Hokies stifled the Ohio State offense, which was unable to make enough big plays to walk away with a win.

Unsurprisingly, a week later, Kent State came out with a similar look, although that quickly changed when the Buckeyes' talent advantage proved to be too much for any Golden Flash scheme to handle.

Cincinnati, on the other hand, could potentially hold its own with a similar approach, which is why Urban Meyer is fully expecting to see the Bearcats attempt to run the Bear on Saturday.

"There's no question," Meyer answered on his radio show when asked if he anticipates UC emulating Virginia Tech's defensive approach. "The good thing is that you can do some things to take them out of it."

As the Buckeyes learned against the Hokies, saying and doing are two different challenges.

But with two weeks to prepare for Cincinnati, Ohio State players insist that they're better prepared now to handle the 46 Bear than they were back then, which is something that they'll likely have to prove against the Bearcats.

"If they bring more than we can handle, we just gotta get the ball out quick to our playmakers and make plays," said junior tight end Nick Vannett. "Whatever they show us, we're confident that we're going to do well against their look."

 

What Is Ohio State's Offensive Identity?

Speaking of the Ohio State offense, with one game to go until the start of conference play, the Buckeyes are still unsure of what their bread and butter will be when they're in possession of the ball.

Two years ago, it was Braxton Miller's big-play ability with his legs. Last season, it was Carlos Hyde and a power run game behind Ohio State's equally experienced and talented offensive line. Now? The Buckeyes have plenty of options, but not a lot of answers.

Ideally, Meyer would like to blend together a balanced approach that mixes Barrett's ability as a distributor with a talented running back stable consisting of Ezekiel Elliott, Curtis Samuel and Rod Smith.

While such identity has yet to manifest itself for Ohio State, Meyer has seen positive signs that it could be on its way.

"I get confidence from what I see, not what I hope," Meyer said. "I see it on the practice field, I see it in the games. I see the maturity of a quarterback happening and most importantly, the offensive line's starting to get a little savvy to them too."

It also appears as though the Buckeyes experimented with wrinkles to add to their offense during the bye week, as evidenced by Marshall's revelation that he's spent time practicing as a quarterback in the Wildcat formation.

A signal-caller during his high school career in Middleton, Ohio, Marshall was offered scholarships by the likes of Tennessee and Cincinnati to play quarterback at the college level, and could soon again find himself behind center.

"We've done a little bit of it," Marshall said when asked if he's practiced as a situational quarterback. "We walked through it a lot, so hopefully on Saturday we can start some of it."

Whether or not the offense will use this look remains to be seen, but one way or another, this weekend could go a long way toward telling us what the OSU offense will pride itself on moving forward.

 

Where Does the Buckeyes Defense Stand?

By now, you already know the numbers: Out of 125 teams a season ago, Ohio State ranked 118th in the nation in pass defense, allowing an average of 286.3 yards per game through the air.

After being largely untested in that facet through the first three games of the season, the Buckeyes will now take on a Cincinnati passing offense that ranks ninth in the nation with an average of 353.5 yards per game through its first two contests of the year.

The storyline being beaten into the ground—can Ohio State's revamped pass defense withstand the Bearcats' aerial assault?—doesn't make it any less important.

After all, it was just a year ago that the Buckeyes had their national championship aspirations dashed when Connor Cook and Michigan State's passing attack proved to be too much for Ohio State to handle.

In Gunner Kiel, Cincinnati possesses what could very well be the best quarterback that the Buckeyes will face all season, which is why Ohio State won't be caught off guard by the Bearcats' game plan on Saturday.

"They're one of the top throwing teams in America," Meyer said. "There's not a mystery to this one at all."

But just because the Buckeyes know what's coming doesn't mean that they'll be able to stop it. Although the Ohio State secondary remains a question mark at this point, sophomore safety Vonn Bell insists that it's no longer the Achilles' heel for the Buckeyes that it was a season ago.

"We're all on the same page," Bell said of the OSU defensive backs. "You just gotta keep communicating. We're the back end and everyone knows who it is who gave up that touchdown, but we just stay on the same page and stay as one."

As for the rest of the Buckeyes defense, there will be plenty for it to prove this Saturday as well—especially with All-Big Ten defensive end Noah Spence out indefinitely following a second failed drug test.

Meyer has mentioned freshmen Tyquan Lewis and Jalyn Holmes as well as linebacker turned tight end turned defensive end Sam Hubbard—who had the best practice of his young college career on Wednesday—as players who could step up in Spence's absence.

"We're playing a back-and-forth game with him just because we're down with numbers," Meyer said of the 6'5", 244-pound Hubbard, a former 4-star prospect.

Like Marshall, seeing will be believing when it comes to Hubbard's new role taking shape on Saturday. But for a unit—and team—looking to prove itself, the Buckeyes will use all the help that they can get in one of the most pivotal games of the 2014 season.

 

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.

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The Hottest and Coldest Players in College Football Right Now

The calendar has turned to fall, but some college football players remain red-hot. Others are looking for a little Indian summer to help get warmed up after a cool start to the season.

Four weeks into the 2014 campaign, several notable players are in the midst of breakout seasons, while many are struggling to live up to expectations or put together a consistent performance.

Here's our look at the hottest and coldest players in college football at this point in 2014.

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Bret Bielema's Arkansas Razorbacks Are the SEC's Sleeper Team of 2014

For a moment this week, Bret Bielema’s main concern wasn’t the vaunted Texas A&M passing attack or a division ripe with ranked teams and College Football Playoff hopefuls. It was a stray Popeye’s chicken box—along with a harmless, nameless bag of Chinese food—that he stumbled upon after practice.

“This isn’t smorgasbord central here,” Bielema bellowed to his players. “If you want to eat our meals, that’s fine, but I don’t need to see things lying all over the counter. Nothing against Popeye’s and nothing against Chinese food, but it wasn’t on the menu.”

Now, no one hates Popeye’s. And a stray box of delicious fried chicken remnants—by Bielema’s own admission—pales in comparison to more pressing football matters. The same can be said about the team’s noticeably improved attire on game days, a movement that Bielema spoke of like a proud father.

Takeout boxes and pristine Windsor knots won’t make Kevin Sumlin’s offense any less diabolical. It won’t make the SEC West any less mortal than it looks right now. But the fact that Bielema is able to speak of these minute matters rather than massive fundamental cracks in the foundation—issues that plagued his team all of last season—highlight how far this program has come in relatively short order.

As a result, the SEC West—college football’s most powerful sector—has been put on notice for the foreseeable future. Arkansas, in unfamiliar fashion, is leading that charge.

It's not Nick Saban. It's not Gus Malzahn. You know plenty about these coaches and teams already. It's the program that was given no real expectations to perform; the one poised to grow the most.

“We’re probably still another recruiting class away with the offensive line,” Bielema said. “We need depth at fullback, tight end and wide receivers to get to where we need to be and operated as efficiently as I’d like. But we’re definitely stepping in the right direction.”

It is by no means perfect. It will remain a work in progress that will take years to fully complete, but the Razorbacks’ surge speaks more to the vast weaponry in the SEC West than the familiar rank-friendly brands—teams like Alabama and Auburn, for starters.

The bottom is pushing the top, and thus, we’re left with a football picture the likes we haven’t seen. Arkansas, meanwhile, is trying to avoid being the odd man out for much longer.

“I’m very aware that we’re the only team in the SEC West that isn’t ranked. I get that,” Bielema said. “We haven’t done anything to deserve that. But you’re beginning to establish some value to your name that has nothing to do with dollars; it has to do with what people are saying about you. We will earn what we get this Saturday by what we do this week.”

 

The Beautiful Destruction of the SEC West

Often times when we assess a division’s true worth, we begin at the summit. You start with the Florida States, Oregons and Alabamas of the world and work your way downward, making stops along the way to point out various imperfections.

As you make your way to the deepest depths of these groupings, you are left with logos that are there to simply take up space. These aren’t nearly as important as the checkmarks you crossed off to get here, because after all, someone has to be on the bottom.

In the instance of the SEC West, however, let’s start at the floor and work our way in reverse order. As you evaluate the current standings, you should recognize one glaring difference.

The current cellar team, LSU, has anything but a cellar reputation. It also has a rank in the AP Top 25, which you can evaluate as you will. The only team without a spot in the AP Top 25—or in this instance, the Top 17—is Arkansas.

“It might blow someone’s mind who isn’t involved in it,” Bielema said on the state of the division. “But for those of us who see it on a daily basis it really isn’t all that amazing.”

Arkansas will unquestionably rid itself of that dreaded “unranked” label if it can deliver an upset on Saturday. To do so, it will have to conquer Texas A&M as a 10-point underdog according to Odds Shark.

Although sportsbooks have A&M as a substantial favorite, they’ve also had to alter their expectations of the Hogs a month into the season. Golden Nugget oddsmaker Aaron Kessler provided perspective on what this team would look like operating in a different climate.

“There are only two—maybe three—teams in the Big Ten I would have favored over Arkansas regardless of where they played,” Kessler said. “Those teams are Michigan State, Wisconsin and perhaps Nebraska. In the ACC, Arkansas would be favored against every team except Florida State and Clemson.

For those keeping track, that means Arkansas would be favored over preseason playoff favorite, Ohio State. 

“I like them. They impressed some people with that Texas Tech win. It’s not just the numbers but how dominant they have looked.”

This isn’t your average bottom dweller; a break from the normal top-heavy presentation found in just about every division—including the SEC’s far less successful twin brother.

 In terms of evaluating the SEC West, Kessler sees the same thing you do. The only difference is he has to craft point spreads and assess value with enormous financial implications hanging in the balance.

“It's not even close,” Kessler said on ranking divisions. “I'd go SEC West followed by a big gap until I got to the Pac-12 North, SEC East and the Pac-12 South.”

 

The SEC's Most Dangerous Bottom Feeder

The expectations have shifted. Arkansas, thought to be a pseudo bye week for most SEC teams, has vigor. The Hogs won’t be favorite in the majority of their games, but with their unique rushing attack, they’ll be an enormous nuisance at the bare minimum.

Through four games, the Razorbacks are averaging 7.13 yards per carry, which is good for fourth nationally. The 1,298 rushing yards are good for fifth in the nation, and the 17 rushing touchdowns are second overall.

This incredible production hasn’t exactly come against brick walls. Outside of Auburn, the competition has been relatively average. Arkansas has played a much better schedule than most, although the Hogs should have rushing success against programs such as Texas Tech or Northern Illinois.

They’ve done much more than that, though. Arkansas ran for 650 yards the past few weeks, which has prompted the sudden reevaluation and timeline adjustments.

For Bielema, the praise that has come with encouraging early returns clashes somewhat with his personal expectations of what a vibrant football program should look like.

“I hope that some day beating Northern Illinois isn’t really a big deal,” Bielema said. “It was a big deal because we hadn’t won at home, but it’s a team that we should expect to have success on.”

The rest of the schedule—in particular, the next month—is a different story. Arkansas’s expectations will be reset one way or another with games against Texas A&M, Alabama and Georgia on deck. There is also another opponent included in this stretch, one Bielema wasted little time highlighting when pressed about the difficulty ahead.

“There’s a little bye week in there,” Bielema pointed out with a smile when pressed about navigating the minefield.

Indeed there is. Arkansas will catch its breath following this weekend’s game at AT&T Stadium before gearing up for a final stretch that stretches out over two months.

The rest of the SEC West has a similar turbulent path. The only difference, however, is many of these programs were anticipating Arkansas to provide a convenient tally in the win column. That’s no longer the case, and it’s why the SEC West will deliver heavyweight fights each and every weekend for the foreseeable future.

The hierarchy in the division will undergo some movement this weekend, regardless of the result. An impressive Texas A&M victory could propel the Aggies into a new expectation threshold. A surprising Arkansas victory—or even a solid performance in an "amost" effort—would push the bottom of that conference closer to the top, widening that gap between it and every other division.

“A win would probably justify in our guys’ minds that as long as they keep doing the things we ask them to do—offensively, defensively, special teams and what we ask them to do in the weight room and the classroom—you’ll have success,” Bielema said. “And in the SEC, it doesn’t come easy.”

It comes in the from of a box of chicken. Or a perfectly ironed shirt. Or the little things that the program suddenly has the luxury of addressing because it is taking care of everything else, one missed arm tackle at a time.

There is tremendous work still to be done and progress to be made. But after a year ripe defined by negative headlines and losses, Bielema has legitimized his program, and in turn, made the nation’s most terrifying group of teams even more so from the bottom up.

And the best part is, he’s only getting started.

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Texas A&M Football: 5 Players Who Have Surprised Us in 2014

The Texas A&M football team is 4-0 and ranked No. 6 in the country. It has achieved this early success because multiple players have stepped up and impressed with their strong performances early in the season. 

The Aggies were expected to take a step back in 2014 after losing Johnny Manziel and Mike Evans on offense and three expected starters from a defense that struggled in 2013. Instead, the Aggies have seen new stars emerge on both sides of the ball. 

Elite football programs do not rebuild after they lose great players, they simply reload by replacing those great players with talent that is just as good. Texas A&M is not an elite football program yet, but head coach Kevin Sumlin and his staff have done a very good job of improving the talent on the roster so they can reload at most positions.

This is a look at the players who have been pleasant surprises on both sides of the ball during the 2014 season. 

Begin Slideshow

UCLA Bruins vs. Arizona State Sun Devils Betting Odds: Analysis and Prediction

UCLA is 6-5 and 8-3 against the spread in its last eight meetings with Arizona State, but the Sun Devils beat the Bruins last year to win the Pac-12 South.

In a game that is likely to mean a lot when sorting out the Pac-12 South again this year, UCLA and ASU clash Thursday night in Tempe.

 

Point spread: The Bruins opened as three-point favorites at Sun Devil Stadium, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark (line updates and matchup report).

 

Odds Shark computer prediction: 34.9-33.8 Sun Devils

 

Why the UCLA Bruins can cover the spread

The Bruins are off to a 3-0 start, with victories at Virginia, over Memphis and at Texas. However, even in beating a pair of quality opponents on the road, UCLA hasn't played its best ball. And yet the Bruins outgained the Longhorns two weeks ago by over 100 yards and rushed for 217.

UCLA lost Heisman candidate and starting quarterback Brett Hundley early in that game against Texas to a non-throwing elbow injury, but junior Jerry Neuheisel, son of former Bruins QB and head coach Rick Neuheisel, came in and threw for 178 yards and two scores, earning the honor of being carried off the field on the shoulders of his teammates.

Hundley has had a bye week to heal, but head coach Jim Mora has yet to comment on whether he'll be ready to start, per the Los Angeles Times' Everett Cook.

 

Why the Arizona State Sun Devils can cover the spread

The Sun Devils are also 3-0, and 1-0 in Pac-12 play, having put up at least 38 points every time out. Two weeks ago, ASU defeated Colorado 38-24, grabbing an early 17-0 lead and only giving up the cover as 15-point favorites by allowing a meaningless score midway through the fourth quarter.

The Devils ran for 223 yards against the Buffaloes, and while they gave up over 500 yards of offense, much of that was accumulated while ASU played soft defense with a big lead. Running back DJ Foster has already run for 510 yards this season, and the Devils have committed just one turnover through three games.

ASU hasn't had great luck against UCLA recently, but it piled up 223 yards on the ground in beating the Bruins at the Rose Bowl last year 38-33.

 

Smart Pick

While Hundley may or may not be ready to go Thursday, Arizona State will be without its starting QB, Taylor Kelly, who remains sidelined with a foot injury suffered two weeks ago against Colorado.

And that, plus the Bruins' advantage on defense, should be the difference. So the pick here is with the visitors, giving the points to extend their 8-3 ATS run against the Sun Devils.

 

Trends

  • UCLA is 8-3 ATS in its last 11 games when playing Arizona State.
  • Arizona State is 4-2 straight up in its last six games when playing at home against UCLA.

 

All point spread and lines data courtesy of Odds Shark. All quotes gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted. Check out Twitter for injury updates and line move updates and get the free odds-tracker app.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

UCLA Bruins vs. Arizona State Sun Devils Betting Odds: Analysis and Prediction

UCLA is 6-5 and 8-3 against the spread in its last eight meetings with Arizona State, but the Sun Devils beat the Bruins last year to win the Pac -12 South...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Tennessee Volunteers vs. Georgia Bulldogs Betting Odds: Analysis and Prediction

While struggling over recent seasons, including four straight losses to rival Georgia, the Volunteers of Tennessee have had financial success against the Bulldogs, going 6-2 against the number in the last eight meetings.

Tennessee will try to snap its losing streak when it runs with the 'Dawgs on Saturday afternoon down in Athens, Ga.

 

Point spread: The Bulldogs opened as 18-point favorites at Sanford Stadium, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark. The total was 56.5. (Line updates and matchup report)

 

Odds Shark computer prediction: 52.9-32.2 Bulldogs

 

Why the Tennessee Volunteers can cover the spread

The Vols are off to a 2-1 start in their second season under Butch Jones, with victories over Utah State and Arkansas State and a tough loss at Oklahoma. Tennessee is only 1-2 ATS, but missed the cover against the Red Wolves by one point, winning 34-19 at -16, then blew an excellent chance to cover as 21-point dogs against the Sooners.

The Vols were driving early in the fourth quarter for a score that could have gotten them within 27-17, but QB Justin Worley threw a 100-yard pick-six, the final score in a 34-10 defeat.

Last year Tennessee almost had the Bulldogs beat in regulation, allowing the tying touchdown with five seconds to go. Then the Vols fumbled at the pylon in overtime, leading to a heartbreaking 34-31 loss but a cover at +13.

 

Why the Georgia Bulldogs can cover the spread

The Bulldogs bounced back from a heartbreaking loss of their own a couple weeks ago against South Carolina to trounce Troy last week 66-0, covering at -41. Georgia outgained the Trojans by over 300 yards and ran for 367.

Heisman candidate RB Todd Gurley touched the ball only six times last week, but he didn't need to do much, as the 'Dawgs got 155 yards and three scores on just 10 carries from freshman Sony Michel. Georgia already owns one win/cover over a quality program going through a rebuilding process this season, a 45-21 victory over Clemson in the season opener.

It would come as no surprise if a similar outcome occurred Saturday.

 

Smart Pick

Georgia is shooting for a division title, while Tennessee is building for the future. But the Vols hung in there against Oklahoma two weeks ago, and had last week off to prepare for this one.

The Bulldogs, meanwhile, often seem to play up or down to their competition, depending upon who that is. So the pick in this spot is with the dog and the points and an over wager if the computer is anywhere close to the mark.

 

Trends:

  • The total has gone OVER in four of Tennessee's last five games when playing Georgia
  • Georgia is 4-2 ATS in its last six games

 

Note: All point spread and lines data courtesy of Odds Shark, all quotes gathered first-hand unless otherwise noted. Check out Twitter for injury updates and line move updates and get the free odds tracker app.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Stanford Cardinal vs. Washington Huskies Betting Odds: Analysis and Prediction

The unbeaten Washington Huskies will face their first real test of the season when they open Pac-12 play by hosting the Stanford Cardinal Saturday.

The Huskies are a perfect 4-0 straight up this year but just 1-3 against the spread, with their first two wins having been decided by a total of eight points.

 

Point spread: The Cardinal opened as 5.5-point favorites at Husky Stadium, but it was 7.5 points as of Thursday, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark. The total was 48 (line updates and matchup report).

 

Odds Shark computer prediction: 40.7-32.1 Cardinal

 

Why the Stanford Cardinal can cover the spread

Washington has not played anybody yet, while Stanford has covered the spread in two of its first three games and had a bye week to prepare for the Huskies. Defensively, the Cardinal cannot play much better, surrendering a total of 13 points this season, with all of them coming in a 13-10 home loss to the USC Trojans on September 6.

Stanford bounced back from that loss with a 35-0 win over Army right before the bye, covering as a 29.5-point favorite.

The Cardinal have gone 4-1 ATS in the last five meetings at Washington and 12-3-1 versus the line in their past 16 road games against conference opponents, according to the Odds Shark college football database.

 

Why the Washington Huskies can cover the spread

The Huskies are 7-3 ATS in their last 10 home games against Pac-12 foes, and new head coach Chris Petersen finally gets to be involved in a conference game. The former coach of the Boise State Broncos enjoyed a lot of success in the WAC and Mountain West, going 57-6 (90 percent) in eight seasons, and he knows how important these league games are.

Offensively, Washington has been a scoring machine since barely beating Hawaii 17-16 in the season opener and failing to cover as a 17-point road favorite. The Huskies have averaged 49.3 points per game in their past three and limited Illinois and Georgia State to 33 points combined in their last two. Bettors have to like the fact that they are getting nearly a touchdown at home for Washington here.

 

Smart Pick

This play all comes down to whether you believe the Huskies can score like they have been over the past three games. While Stanford’s defense has been outstanding, the team has not played an offense like Washington’s yet this year.

Petersen inherited a schedule with easy opponents early on, but he has used this time to fine-tune the offense and prepare it for conference play. The Huskies have covered the last two meetings with the Cardinal as similar dogs, and they even won the last home game between the teams 17-13 in 2012, which happened to be the lone non-cover for Stanford in the past five at Washington.

Look for the Huskies to keep this one close again, with the possibility of pulling off the upset in front of their home fans.

 

Trends

  • Stanford is 5-1 SU in its last six games when playing Washington.
  • Stanford is 12-3-1 ATS in its last 16 road games vs. Pac-12 foes.

 

All point spread and lines data courtesy of Odds Shark. All quotes gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted. Check out Twitter for injury updates and line move updates and get the free odds-tracker app.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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