NCAA Football

Week 9 College Football Picks: Texas Tech, Auburn, Temple as Home Underdogs

Three college football teams in Week 9 not only have a really good shot at covering the spread as home underdogs, but they also have a solid opportunity to pull off straight-up upsets as well.

The Texas Tech Red Raiders (5-3), Auburn Tigers (4-3) and Temple Owls (7-0) are all playing highly ranked opponents according to the AP Top 25 poll. However, they each have favorable situational-betting trends going in their favor.

Texas Tech is hosting the 12th-ranked Oklahoma State Cowboys (7-0) on Saturday and has won seven of the last 10 home meetings in the series. Oklahoma State has won the past six games against the Red Raiders overall, but the team’s previous three wins overall before routing winless Kansas last week 58-10 were decided by a total of 12 points.

Texas Tech has more than enough firepower to win this one SU as a consensus three-point home dog at sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark.

Auburn has really thrived as a home dog, going 8-3 against the spread and winning five of those 11 games SU. The Tigers will be hosting the 19th-ranked Ole Miss Rebels (6-2), who have done poorly in the role of road favorites, going 0-6 SU and ATS in their past six under that scenario.

Auburn has also won five of the past six meetings with Ole Miss SU and ATS, so look for the Tigers to make it six of seven here.

Temple will be playing its biggest home game in school history when the ninth-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish (6-1) visit Philadelphia. The Owls are off to their best start ever, and they are 6-2 ATS in winning their last eight games dating back to last season.

Temple just beat East Carolina 24-14 last Thursday as a 2.5-point road underdog to cover for the third time in four games.

Notre Dame has covered five in a row but lost its only game to another unbeaten opponent in the third-ranked Clemson Tigers back on October 3. The Fighting Irish are just 1-4 ATS in their last five games as road favorites of 10 points or more according to the OddsShark College Football Database.

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How Joey Bosa's Suspension Was a Blessing in Disguise for Ohio State

COLUMBUS, Ohio — When Joey Bosa found himself suspended for Ohio State's season opener against Virginia Tech, it left the Buckeyes with a gaping hole on their defensive line—one which head coach Urban Meyer initially thought his team wouldn't be able to fill with just one player.

After all, Bosa was a unanimous All-American in 2014, recording 13.5 sacks and 21 tackles for a loss with the type of dominant play where even numbers as impressive as those don't tell the entire tale.

In Bosa's absence, however, the defending national champions didn't merely just survive, picking up a 42-24 road win over the Hokies. Rather, what Meyer saw from his defensive line without Bosa on the field was something that caused his coaching staff to rethink its strategy and ultimately led to Ohio State's most talented defensive lineup.

 

'Rushmen'

As the No. 1-ranked Buckeyes have climbed out to a 8-0 start to the season, opponents have often found themselves facing crucial third downs against Ohio State, predominantly in obvious passing situations. When that's happened in recent weeks, Buckeyes defensive line coach Larry Johnson has opted to put his four best pass-rushers on the field, calling on Bosa, Adolphus Washington, Tyquan Lewis and Sam Hubbard in what the OSU assistant has deemed his "rushmen" package.

But unlike other defensive end-happy lineups, this set hasn't left the Buckeyes susceptible to draw plays or other unexpected runs, with a pair of natural edge-rushers turned NFL-caliber defensive tackles in the 6'6", 275-pound Bosa and 6'4", 290-pound Washington occupying the middle.

"It gives us the ability to rush the passer and also play the run in pass situations. Sometimes teams don't always pass in obvious pass situations, so we still got enough weight in there, meat in there, to still play against the run," said Washington. "That was Coach Johnson's whole thinking going into it."

However, whether Ohio State's super sub-package was something Johnson had pre-planned or happened to fall into this season remains unclear.

According to Washington, the Buckeyes didn't practice the "rushmen" lineup at any point during the preseason and first experimented with it a few weeks following their victory against Virginia Tech. With Bosa back in action, Johnson began toying with ways to keep his one-game replacement, Hubbard, on the field after the redshirt freshman tallied four tackles, 1.5 of which came for a loss, and a sack in the team's season opener.

"We knew nothing about it [in the preseason]," Washington said "I think it was the way Sam played against Virginia Tech...I think that had a big part to do with it."

Reminiscent of the New York Giants' "NASCAR" package, Ohio State's ability to get its four best pass-rushers on the field simultaneously has helped result in a Buckeyes defense that currently ranks 22nd in the nation in third-down defense and ninth in sacks.

"I guess it speaks for itself," Washington said with a smile. "We've been doing pretty good at it."

 

Role Reversals

As is the case with most unique sub-packages, the "rushmen" lineup takes some Ohio State linemen out of their natural positions, although any uncomfortableness they may feel is nothing compared to that of the opposing offensive lines who have faced it.

Nevertheless, Washington said that—for admittedly selfish reasons—the Buckeyes' pass-rush-heavy lineup isn't necessarily his favorite to take part in.

"I have to play nose guard and I just get double-teamed the whole time," he said. "But hey, I'll do it for a couple plays a game. It's all good."

Taking one for the team is nothing new for Washington, who arrived at Ohio State as a 5-star defensive end in Meyer's first recruiting class in Columbus in 2012. Following the emergence of Bosa in 2013, Washington moved inside to defensive tackle a year ago before shifting to nose guard to help free up Michael Bennett during the Buckeyes' run to the College Football Playoff.

Now, Washington's back at defensive tackle. Except, of course, for those few plays a game when he's playing nose guard, this time helping free up Bosa, who lines up next to him as a defensive tackle in the "rushmen" sets.

For his part, Bosa, who has tallied 3.5 sacks, 11 tackles for a loss and nine quarterback hurries this season, has no issue with moving inside. For somebody who is as consistently double-teamed as he is, it offers a unique look against opposing offenses that have often shaped their game plans around containing the reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year.

"Especially when I get single-teamed, I like moving down to the middle," Bosa said. "Getting our best pass-rushers out there, it's fun to fly after the quarterback and pretty much have all four of us getting there at the same time."

 

Young Guns

While Washington and Bosa have done the dirty work inside, it's Lewis and Hubbard who have benefited from the attention drawn by their more experienced teammates.

For Lewis, a redshirt sophomore starting for the first time in his college career, it's helped result in a team-high 5.5 sacks on the season, despite the former 4-star prospect being the least heralded of Ohio State's fearsome pass-rushing foursome.

"When the play comes your way, you just have to make it," Lewis said. "You got a one-on-one and you want to win every time. If you feel like you're the best in the country, you've gotta win every time."

In the case of Hubbard, the "rushmen" package has resulted in not just playing time he may not have been seeing otherwise as a backup, but an impressive statistical start to his college career.

The Cincinnati, Ohio, native's box scores have been as unique as one would expect for a high school safety who arrived at Ohio State as a linebacker before converting to tight end and eventually defensive end, as the former 4-star prospect has recorded 18 tackles, 3.5 sacks, five tackles for a loss and an interception in his debut campaign.

If not for Johnson's vision to get Hubbard on the field rather than keeping a traditional nose guard next to Washington, the Queen City product knows that his opportunities would be coming much less frequently.

"It’s just another opportunity to get after the quarterback," Hubbard said of the "rushmen" packages. "I’m excited to make a play when I get on the field."

Like Lewis, Hubbard is well-aware that doing so as often as he has been wouldn't be possible without the work of Bosa and Washington inside. That's what makes Ohio State's unique defensive line look so effective, as its experienced players inside and impressive youngsters on the edge have helped create a unit with no weak links and plenty of ability to get after opposing quarterbacks.

"Inside, it’s just not what guards and centers expect to see," Hubbard said. "Joey Bosa lined up across from you."

Given the way that the "rushmen" package came about, it's not something the Buckeyes necessarily expected to see either.

 

Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Big Ten lead writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand. All statistics courtesy of CFBStats.com. Odds provided by Odds Shark. Recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports.

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SEC Extra Points with Barrett Sallee: Odds SEC Team Doesn't Make the Playoff

Doomsday scenario?

The SEC's version is still in play following Ole Miss' 23-3 win over Texas A&M last weekend in Oxford.

The Rebels (6-2, 3-1 SEC) have a blowout loss to Florida and another road loss to Memphis out of the American Athletic Conference on their resume, but they still control their destiny in the SEC West thanks to a win over Alabama and LSU's still lingering on the schedule.

That presents a problem for the SEC if the Rebels win out and claim the SEC title, because that second loss could be the roadblock that prevents the SEC from getting a team into the second annual College Football Playoff, as Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated noted on Twitter over the weekend:

Make no mistake—that would also block Alabama from playoff glory even if the Crimson Tide win out.

If they finish 11-1, they wouldn't have a conference championship and would have a head-to-head loss to the team that does on the resume. I don't care how well Alabama would be playing at that point; conference championships matter more than they should. After all, simply winning an arbitrarily determined conference based mostly on geography doesn't make a team elite and should eliminate those that don't.

For that doomsday scenario to play out, though, Ole Miss would have to win out. That is a little more likely after clearing the Texas A&M hurdle, but road trips to Auburn and Mississippi State won't be easy, and home tilts against Arkansas and LSU will be incredibly tough.

Ole Miss is getting healthier thanks to the return of defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche and linebacker C.J. Johnson, but it's still hard to trust a team that has proven depth issues on defense and can't run between the tackles.

Odds the SEC's doomsday scenario plays out: 30-1. It's much more likely the SEC champ will have one loss than two.

 

Carl Lawson's Return: Trick or Treat?

For about 20 minutes inside the Georgia Dome during the season opener versus Louisville, Auburn's defense looked more like a power than a punch line.

Then "Buck" Carl Lawson hurt his hip. The unit hasn't been the same since and has regressed into the SEC's worst defense (430.6 yards per game) despite the presence of veteran coordinator Will Muschamp.

Lawson has been practicing this week, but head coach Gus Malzahn is still on the fence on whether his star will suit up Saturday against Ole Miss.

"We don't have any call on whether he's going to play, but he did have a limited practice [Tuesday], and when he was out there, he did fine," Malzahn said.

If he does return, the impact for the struggling Tigers should be apparent.

"The leadership alone and having his presence will be huge," Malzahn said. "He's our defensive leader and one of our team leaders. When we get him back, that will be a lift for our defense."

If Lawson plays, he's not going to line up opposite star Rebels tackle Laremy Tunsil in the same way Texas A&M's Myles Garrett did last week. In the opener, Lawson moved all over the field, including as a linebacker behind tackle Montravius Adams to bring pressure up the middle, and created confusion in the Cardinals offensive line.

That will be huge against Ole Miss, which has suffered from offensive line breakdowns often over the last two seasons even with Tunsil in the lineup.

Gut feeling: Expect Lawson to play Saturday afternoon.

 

Better Than Advertised

Ole Miss' Laquon Treadwell has proved to be one of the SEC's best receivers during his three-year career in Oxford. He leads the SEC with 94.5 receiving yards per game, 756 receiving yards and 54 receptions; he has five receiving touchdowns and has recovered just fine from a gruesome broken leg suffered late in last season's loss to Auburn.

Last week against Texas A&M, Treadwell caught five passes for 102 yards and a score. Is he better than he was over the last two seasons?

"Yes," Aggies head coach Kevin Sumlin said, "and I told him that after the game...and I hope I don't see you anymore. I think he's one of the better players in the country. He's strong. He's physical. He separated on the big touchdown. He's a heck of a football player and is going to have a successful career at the next level."

That's a pretty strong statement considering Treadwell established himself as one of the nation's best possession receivers as a true freshman in 2013 when he caught a team-high 72 passes and followed it up with 632 yards and five touchdowns in nine games last year.

It's not a huge surprise to Treadwell's coach, though.

"I firsthand witnessed how hard he worked to come back, so it's not quite as surprising that he's doing as well as he is," Rebels head coach Hugh Freeze said. "I don't know if it's because of anything physically as much as it is that he's matured mentally. I kind of relate, and I told him this...we talked about tempo a lot around here. After the ball is snapped, the pace in which you play, there were some where he might grade himself a six or seven. This year, there's a lot of nine or 10."

Terrifying.

 

In Need of a Spark

To say Missouri's offense is stagnant would be an insult to stagnant lakes, which can still provide plenty of entertainment on hot summer days.

It's nearly dry.

The Tigers (4-4, 1-4 SEC) have the second-worst offense in the country (277.6 yards per game) ahead of only UCF, are averaging just 4.40 yards per play (125th in the nation), haven't scored a touchdown since the South Carolina game on Oct. 3 and have converted three third downs over the last three games.

There could be help on the way, though.

Head coach Gary Pinkel announced that Maty Mauk's suspension for violating team rules has been lifted after four games, and the redshirt junior is back practicing during the bye week. Could he start next Thursday night against Mississippi State?

"Depth chart and playing-time decisions won't be made until next week," Pinkel said.

Mauk has to start. Nothing against true freshman Drew Lock. He has showed flashes of his potential during his first start—that win over South Carolina. But he hasn't completed more than 50 percent of his passes in any game since and has tossed two picks over that stretch. While he hasn't been the biggest problem, he's not the solution either.

Mauk might be.

He can provide a spark with his legs, has the experience from two straight SEC East titles and might be Missouri's best option.

If that's the case, though, a bowl game might not be an option for this year's Tigers.

 

The Great Unknown

Texas A&M opened up its quarterback competition this week for Kyle Allen, Kyler Murray and Jake Hubenak, which presents an interesting dynamic for South Carolina interim head coach Shawn Elliott in his second game at the helm.

The Gamecocks will visit College Station this weekend and are forced to prepare for all three players—all of whom present different challenges. Allen is more of a gunslinger, Murray is the dual threat with speed to burn and Hubenak is probably the most reliable of the trio.

"Defensively, you have to start looking at all of the characteristics they have and who potentially might play," Elliott said. "At the end of the day, it's going to come down to blocking and tackling, assignment-oriented football and making sure that we're in position to tackle."

It will be a big test for South Carolina, which has had two weeks to prepare for the Aggies but got thrown a curveball this week when Sumlin opened things up.

 

A Second Career?

Finally, a light moment here on SEC Extra Points.

Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen served as Florida's offensive coordinator from 2005 to 2008, so naturally he was asked about his experiences at the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party between the Gators and Georgia.

Naturally, that launched him into a golf discussion.

The Gators stayed at Sawgrass during his time with the program, and while he didn't get to play the famed TPC Stadium Course while he was there, he did mention that he and his staff played the famed No. 17 island hole three times the day before his Mississippi State program played Michigan in the 2011 Gator Bowl following the 2010 season.

The result?

"We each got to play three balls, and I did par one of my three," he said.

Not bad, Coach Mullen.

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Statistics are courtesy of cfbstats.com.

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report, as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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#TBT: Jameis Winston Could Not Be Contained in High School

Before the Heisman Trophy, the national championship and being selected first overall in the NFL draft, Jameis Winston was an absolute beast at Hueytown (Alabama) High School. Watch the then-5-star dual-threat quarterback do Jameis Winston things in the clip above.

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College Football Picks: Week 9 Predictions for Every Game

The last weekend of October will serve as a chance to catch our breath before the final stretch of 2015's college football season. The November slate looks to be as good as ever, and the first playoff rankings set to be released on Tuesday will get the ball rolling.

But before we jump ahead too far, we shouldn't forget about a lineup of games that could provide plenty of intrigue even with five of the top seven teams taking the week off.

The only matchup of ranked teams is one few could have predicted before the season, with one-loss Notre Dame visiting unbeaten Temple in the game of the week. Another six ranked schools are on the road, some facing pretty difficult tests that could throw a wrench into their future plans.

There are 55 games on the docket for Week 9, including the first batch of our beloved annual #MACtion weeknight tilts on Tuesday and Wednesday. We've made a prediction for every matchup on the schedule, so check them out and then give us your picks in the comments section.

Note: Team rankings are based on their spot in the Associated Press Top 25.

 

Last week: 45-10 (.818)

Season: 400-118 (.772)

 

Begin Slideshow

Ranking the Best ACC Matchups of Week 9

Week 9 of the ACC football schedule features multiple narratives from the previous week. 

How will Miami play after the firing of its (former) head coach, Al Golden? Can Florida State bounce back from its bizarre loss to Georgia Tech?

Will the Yellow Jackets avoid coming out flat after the significant victory over the Seminoles? Can North Carolina prove itself a legitimate contender in the conference against Pitt? 

All of these storylines make for an intriguing and interesting upcoming weekend. 

Begin Slideshow

Daily Fantasy College Football Week 9: DraftKings Optimum Lineup, Matchup Advice

Past the halfway point of the season or not, daily fantasy college football Week 9 presents the same challenge as the weeks prior.

Building a DraftKings Optimum Lineup isn't an easy task no matter how many weeks sit in the books because despite the overwhelming amount of data, owners have to do one thing to find success: the legwork.

Easier said than done, right? Most teams rest in the thick of conference schedules, making the task all the more difficult. Below, let's make the work a tad easier on owners by looking at an optimum lineup based on projections, point spreads and much, much more.

 

DraftKings Optimum Week 9 Lineup

Only Saturday games (noon ET to 4 p.m. ET) listed.

 

QBs

Dane Evans ($8,300)

It's hard to ever go wrong with Tulsa quarterback Dane Evans.

One of the nation's top gunslingers has a trio of 400-yard games under his belt already thanks to a high-octane offense and a leaky defense that necessitates his spamming the ball at all times.

To make Evans even more attractive than the pricier options is the fact he sits in one of the week's highest over/under totals at 75. It's going to be a shootout against SMU, owners of one of the nation's worst defenses against quarterbacks.

 

Chad Kelly ($7,400)

The same praise heaped on Evans above applies to Ole Miss' Chad Kelly, too.

Kelly has 22 or more points in five games this season as one of the nation's premier dual-threat players, not to mention one of its better deep passers. It certainly helps that he plays with one of the best wideouts in the game (more on him in a second).

While he threw three picks last time out, things figure to get easier for Kelly against Auburn, a team that just allowed three scoring tosses to Arkansas quarterbacks.

This one has an over/under of 58.5 and could wind up as a shootout, making Kelly an ideal value.

 

RBs

Samaje Perine ($6,700)

He's back.

Oklahoma's high-flying attack has somewhat buried Samaje Perine this year, but it felt like a matter of time before the star back broke free for a major game.

It happened in Week 8, as Perine rushed 23 times for 201 yards and four scores, good for 49.0 points.

Such production will be hard for the coaching staff to ignore going into a contest against Kansas in a game featuring an over/under of 63.5.

Get Perine while he's under-priced.

 

Chris Carson ($4,100)

As a punt play, owners could do much worse than Oklahoma State running back Chris Carson.

Carson hasn't posted major numbers as he eases his way back into things after a Week 5 injury. But it's important to remember he went for 13.2, 10.6 and 26.8 points over his first three games.

It's all about the matchup. Carson sits in a contest with an over/under of a ridiculous 78 against a Texas Tech team that struggles to stop much of anything. Look for him to have a breakout game once again.

 

WRs

Laquon Treadwell ($6,700)

About one of the best wideouts in the game.

Laquon Treadwell has a, well, interesting price considering he's the top target in the Ole Miss attack and has posted 36.6, 44.12 and 24.2 points over the course of his last three games.

Jon Moore of RotoViz summed up the strong run best:

As mentioned, this matchup features an over/under of 58.5 and an Auburn defense that has simply looked like a shell of past strong iterations.

Kelly won't throw much anywhere else, because why would he? Treadwell is in for a monster performance. Again.

 

Justin Hobbs ($4,400)

Quarterback-wideout stacks are always a smart way to go. 

Here, owners can get Tulsa No. 2 wideout Justin Hobbs at a great value, and that No. 2 posts numbers like a No. 1 wideout in a lot of offenses this year.

Hobbs has at least three grabs in each of his last three outings as he continues to emerge. In Week 6, Hobbs caught five passes for 82 yards and a score, a strong example of what he can do in the right situation. 

Which he has in Week 8 with that over/under of 75 against a woeful SMU defense. A touchdown wouldn't be a surprise.

 

Reginald Davis ($4,600)

On the other end of that Texas Tech-Oklahoma State matchup sporting an over/under of 78 is a great value play in the former's Reginald Davis.

Davis has downright exploded in recent weeks, scoring a touchdown in three consecutive games. The Cowboys defense is exploitable through the air, something Davis should be able to take advantage of in a heavyweight matchup sure to feature an epic amount of passing.

Expect nothing short of Davis' touchdown streak extending to four.

 

Flex

James Washington ($4,400)

Once again, flip back to the other side of the Red Raiders and Cowboys encounter for James Washington.

Washington has two touchdowns in his last three games and at least six catches in two of those. It's hard to ignore a guy who can do something like this:

Also hard to ignore? Washington's budding role within the offense, which may reach its peak in a shootout in which Oklahoma State could very much be considered on upset alert. Going for more than three times his asking price isn't out of the question.

 

Marchie Murdock ($3,400)

When it comes time to punt, owners have to look for guys with dipping salaries for various reasons who feature a ceiling well above and away from the price.

Which sounds like Illinois wideout Marchie Murdock.

The Illinois-Penn State showdown doesn't feature the sexiest over/under at 43, but it's important to understand that Murdock will be one of the top weapons on the field. He's missed two games with an injury but still touts the third-highest receptions total on the team and has 10.8 or more points in four of the five games he's played.

Tripling value and beyond seems a sure thing with Murdock.

 

 

Enter the DraftKings $1.25 M Play-Action contest this weekend. Use promo code BLEACHER REPORT when you sign up.

Pricing information and scoring data obtained from DraftKings.com. Odds via Odds Shark.

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Texas Football: Ranking the Longhorns' 5 Most Impactful Injuries in 2015

Texas has been fortunate enough to avoid any crushing injuries thus far this season.

Right now, things are looking up for the Longhorns. Thanks to wins over Oklahoma and Kansas State, they're back on the path to a bowl game with one of the country's youngest teams. They're also getting healthy.

With a little more than half the season in the books, injuries have only forced five starters to miss a combined eight games. Compared to losing a quarterback, like Baylor has experienced with Seth Russell, that's not half-bad.

But injuries certainly played a part in Texas' 1-4 start. Hassan Ridgeway and Holton Hill each got off to slow starts because of preseason injuries, Kent Perkins' missed two games with a knee injury and Daje Johnson lost time to a concussion.

These guys make an impact every time they're on the field and could have been difference-makers in a couple of Texas' losses.

 

1. DT Hassan Ridgeway (back)

Without a doubt, Ridgeway's preseason back injury has had the biggest impact on Texas' season. Fortunately, Texas' star defensive tackle has rebounded in a big way.

Ridgeway has yet to miss a game, but health was clearly an issue for him earlier in the year. A preseason back injury kept him out for most of fall practice, which also forced the coaches to manage his snaps for Texas' first three games. He didn't start those games, and Texas gave up an average of 37 points per game while he was getting up to speed.

Ridgeway's been healthy since, and he's been absolutely tearing it up. With two sacks and a fumble recovery for a touchdown, the splash plays are back for one of the conference's best linemen. InsideTexas.com's Justin Wells vividly described Ridegeway's skill set: 

But what's setting Ridgeway apart isn't showing up in the stats sheet. The 314-pounder is commanding double-teams on almost every play, freeing up guys like Poona Ford and Bryce Cottrell to get into the backfield. This is why 247Sports' Jeff Howe is saying, "There might not be a better tackle in the Big 12."

Based on what we've seen, a healthy Ridgeway would have been the difference in the 45-44 loss to Cal.

 

2. OT Kent Perkins (knee)

3. CB Holton Hill (leg)

It doesn't get much closer than these two, so we're pooling tackle Kent Perkins and cornerback Holton Hill together here.

Perkins went down with a knee injury in the third quarter of Texas' loss to Oklahoma State. In the first five quarters he missed, the Longhorns averaged 3.4 yards per play and scored only seven points, which came in garbage time. They were completely lost without his steadying presence on the right side, and it was painfully obvious.

Of course, the Horns got it together with a 313-yard rushing performance against Oklahoma. But they were just as good with Perkins against a Kansas State team that knew what was coming, running for 274 yards on 53 carries en route to the win. As Howe noted, Perkins threw the key block on the game's longest play.

All the evidence points to Perkins being one of this team's most important players, yet the impact of his injury barely edges out that of Hill. And that's because the freshman is already Texas' best defensive back.

Like Ridgeway, Hill was slowed this preseason by a leg injury. It kept the freshman out until the middle of fall camp and left him with a ton of ground to make up. The lack of reps kept Hill out against Notre Dame and limited him through the Horns' next two games.

Hill finally got his chance against Oklahoma State and has yet to look back. The freshman returned an interception for a touchdown in that game, fought hard in a tough matchup against TCU and has been generally avoided by both Oklahoma and Kansas State. Ryan Autullo of Austin American-Statesman and William Wilkerson of HornsDigest.com noted Hill's impressive performance:

Yes, at this point in the season, teams would rather try Duke Thomas and two returning starters at safety than go near Hill. Now imagine how good he would be, and would have been all season, had he practiced throughout the fall.

Perkins is a rock, but Hill is becoming one. If forced to choose one over the other at this point in the season, you can make a strong case for either of them.

 

4. WR Daje Johnson (concussion)

When healthy, Daje Johnson is the only Longhorns receiver guaranteed to get the ball. That, and his special teams value, made the senior's concussion a tough blow to this team.

Johnson got popped hard on Texas' first play against TCU and sat out through the Oklahoma game. 

The Texas offense bounced back without Johnson against the Sooners, but the Horns made it clear that they missed him. Johnson got the ball six times in his return against Kansas State, mostly on the jet-sweep action that Jay Norvell has made into a staple of the offense.

Just as important is Johnson's impact on special teams. He's by far the most explosive playmaker the Horns have in that phase of the game, making him one of the hardest guys to replace on the entire team.

 

5. LB Edwin Freeman (shoulder)

Despite being listed as day-to-day over a month ago, emerging linebacker Edwin Freeman has missed the last four games with a shoulder injury.

Freeman went down as if he was taking a dive against Cal, but he was actually severely injured on the previous play. He could miss as many as four more games with that shoulder, which has forced true freshman Anthony Wheeler into more action.

Fortunately Wheeler and, even more so, senior Peter Jinkens have been solid in Freeman's absence. But before then, Freeman was playing quality football, showing good speed and showing the ability to make plays in the backfield. He and Malik Jefferson should be fun to watch for the next couple of years. Back in September, Andrew King of the Football Brainiacs described Freeman and Jefferson as "freak athletes": 

The redshirt freshman proved in his three games that he has real talent. Let's hope he's able to come back and contribute before the season ends.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all stats and information courtesy of TexasSports.com.

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Florida vs. Georgia: Run Game Crucial to Victory for Both Teams

Quarterback matchups receive a ton of spotlight ahead of big-time games, but a look at the last few years of the fierce Florida-vs.-Georgia rivalry directs the eyes to the ground instead of the skies.

Just look at last season's matchup, when Florida upset a Top 10 Georgia team by a score of 38-20. Florida uncapped a 418-yard rushing performance at the "Cocktail Party," while Georgia only ran for 141 yards—its worst performance in that area for the entire 2014 season.

As for the quarterbacks, Georgia starter Hutson Mason had a good afternoon, completing 26 of his 41 passes for 319 yards and a touchdown. Treon Harris, who started in place of the now-transferred Jeff Driskel, only attempted six passes the entire game.

"We knew we were going to pound them and pound them and were going to keep pounding them," Florida running back Kelvin Taylor said after the 2014 win, per ESPN.com. "We weren't going to be denied."

While several aspects of these two teams have changed since last year's meeting—Florida (6-1) has a new head coach in Jim McElwain and is the favorite over Mark Richt's two-loss Georgia team, according to Odds Shark—the importance on the rushing attacks for this Saturday's matchup has not.

Georgia ended a two-game losing skid two weeks ago against Missouri, but the offense put up fewer than 300 total yards in a 9-6 win. The Bulldogs only averaged 2.67 yards per carry in their first full game since star Nick Chubb's devastating knee injury against Tennessee.

Part of the reason for the low numbers on the ground was the health of sophomore Sony Michel, who suffered a hip injury early in the game.

But after an off week, Richt says Michel is ready to go against Florida, per Jason Butt of the Macon Telegraph.

Now's the time for Michel to step up for this Georgia offense and take charge. He is averaging almost six yards per carry this season but could use a true breakout game as the new No. 1 running back.

If Bulldogs fans are looking for a magic number, try 150.

As Marc Weiszer of the Athens Banner-Herald noted, Georgia is 4-0 since 2006 when rushing for 150 yards or more against Florida. The Bulldogs are 0-5 when they don't hit that mark.

The 2015 Gators may have the nation's No. 21-ranked rush defense, but a quick glance at their game-by-game statistics from this season shows that most of the teams that have played it close with Florida effectively ran the football.

Florida has one of the nation's most talented secondaries with the likes of Vernon Hargreaves III, Jalen Tabor and Marcus Maye. Gator defensive backs average an interception per game and have already scored two pick-sixes this season—a troubling matchup for a struggling Greyson Lambert and his receiving corps.

Feeding the ball to an effective Michel will give Georgia the best chance to succeed against the Florida defense, and it'll also open things up more for Lambert when the Bulldogs decide to go to the air.

On the other side of this matchup, Florida is placing a high priority on generating explosive plays on the ground.

As Thomas Goldkamp of 247Sports put it, Florida's early-season success has been extra impressive because "the Gators have done it without any semblance of a strong running game."

And McElwain wants that fixed immediately.

"It’s not good enough, and it’s obvious," McElwain said, per Goldkamp. "We’ve got to get better. We haven’t created explosive runs. And look, the guys are trying. But obviously it’s not where we expect it to be or where it’s going to be. We’ve got to get better there."

Taylor has managed to run for 463 yards and eight touchdowns without a strong push from Florida's inexperienced offensive line. But Taylor, one of the stars from last season's win over Georgia, only had 25 yards on 15 carries against LSU.

It's hard to imagine Florida suddenly becoming dominant on the ground with that front five, but keep in mind this team exploded for more than 400 rushing yards against Georgia following its off week last year.

The 2014 Gators, too, entered Jacksonville needing a spark on the ground. In their four SEC games prior to the Georgia matchup, they had only averaged 130.25 rushing yards.

While this year's Florida offense isn't a strong candidate to drop 400 rushing yards on Georgia, it could very well find a way to get things on the ground against this Bulldog defense.

Alabama and Tennessee each rushed for two touchdowns and averaged more than four yards per carry in their respective wins over Georgia. Physical running back Derrick Henry led the way for the Crimson Tide against Georgia's run defense, but Tennessee got the majority of its rushing yards through quarterback Joshua Dobbs.

Like Dobbs, Harris has the ability to make plays with his feet, and Richt knows the challenges his defense will face with the Gator quarterback.

"They’ll move him through bootlegs and nakeds and sprint-outs, and things of that nature," Richt said, per Butt. "Treon is obviously a very athletic guy and has made a lot of athletic plays on the move, throwing and running."

Harris also has the experience of quarterbacking a successful rushing offense against this Georgia defense. 

As the series' most recent matchups show, Georgia gets victories over Florida when it runs the ball well but loses when it doesn't. The Gators won the matchup last season by slowing down the Bulldogs on defense and then running all over them.

Whichever side of that recent history repeats itself on Saturday will determine the side that leaves Jacksonville with an SEC title-contending future this season.

 

Unless otherwise noted, statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com.

Justin Ferguson is a college football writer at Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JFergusonBR.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Big Ten Football: Top 2015 Breakout Freshmen

Heading into Week 9 of the college football season, the Big Ten finds itself in good shape with three undefeated teams remaining and the resurgence of one of its traditional pillar programs.

The league has also witnessed no shortage of breakout players, many of whom have come in the form of freshmen who are still getting their feet wet at the college level.

From ready running backs to dominant defenders and even an already polished passer, the Big Ten has seen several freshmen play key roles on their respective teams this season. Some have been true freshmen while others have been second-year players who redshirted a season ago as plenty of conference newcomers have made an impact in 2015.

With that in mind, let's take a look at each Big Ten team's breakout freshman so far this season.

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Michael Wyche Arrested, Suspended: Latest Details, Comments, Reaction

Miami Hurricanes defensive tackle Michael Wyche was arrested early Wednesday and charged with misdemeanor domestic battery, according to police records obtained by Matt Porter of the Palm Beach Post.

Details on what caused Wyche's arrest are still uncertain. He was booked at 4:50 a.m. local time and remains jailed on $1,500 bond. Miami has suspended him indefinitely pending the outcome of the case, per Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports.     

A redshirt senior, Wyche joined the Hurricanes in 2014 as a junior college transfer. He's yet to record a defensive statistic in 2015 and has nine total tackles for his career. The Chesapeake, Virginia, native has led a life of off-the-field travails, as noted in a 2013 profile Mike Piellucci wrote for Sports on Earth:

"All of that's over now," he told them, meaning his old life on the streets. His tone recalibrates into something darker, angrier as he recounts it, the only time I have heard him raise his voice. "I'm a positive leader now," he continued, the words now tumbling out in almost rhythmic cadence. "I look at life from another perspective now. I'm in church now. I want to do what's right for this family -- I found the secret to success now. I'm fine. Tell me what's going on!"

Wyche is scheduled to have a Nov. 18 hearing regarding the domestic battery case. A misdemeanor charge carries a maximum of one year in jail if he's convicted.   

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Alabama's Real Offensive MVP Won't Score a Touchdown This Season

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — When it comes to MVP awards in sports, there’s an age-old debate about what’s more important: statistical production or value to one’s team, i.e. the athlete his team can least afford to be without.

The University of Alabama’s offense this season provides a perfect example of how the two categories are often not represented by the same player. Running back Derrick Henry is clearly the best player on paper, having already achieved his first 1,000-yard rushing season, but the guy the Crimson Tide really can’t replace is center Ryan Kelly.

“I’m not going to say he’s the MVP of the offense, but I will say that center position is so important in college, especially when you’re in an uptempo offense and doing so much at the line of scrimmage,” said former Alabama offensive lineman Barrett Jones, the most decorated player in Crimson Tide history when it comes to national honors. “It’s so vital. His leadership, it’s hard to characterize how important it is.

“I think he’s invaluable, and I think he’s had a great year so far.”

On an offense that had to replace nine starters, essentially everyone but Kelly and sophomore left tackle Cam Robinson, he was already the unit’s leader through the offseason and consequently one of Alabama’s representatives at SEC media days in July.

No one else on the offense comes close to his 39 career games and 29 starts, and despite the extra responsibilities of calling out the adjustments and snapping the ball, it’s been a long time since he yielded a sack or a quarterback hurry.

“Ryan is like the key to the offensive line,” Robinson said. “He’s the reason everything goes the way it goes. He’s extremely important to what we do as a unit, and he’s kind of like the heart and soul.

“My appreciation for Ryan Kelly is through the roof.”

The center position has a strong pedigree at Alabama during the Nick Saban years, as Kelly has followed Antoine Caldwell, William Vlachos and Jones, who were named, in order, All-American, second-team All-American and winner of the Rimington Award as the nation’s best center (the other two were both finalists).

Kelly is definitely in that same mix. He was named preseason All-SEC by the media and second-team by coaches, while four of the last eight Rimington winners played in the Southeastern Conference.

He’s also one of the few remaining ties to Alabama’s last national championships in 2011 and 2012.

“It’s cliche here, but it is the process,” Kelly said. “Everyone wants to talk about it, but it’s the real thing. No matter who you bring in, we aren’t going to change our standards for who you are. This is the ’Bama Way. This is a special place. It’s not for everybody to come to.

“I think that is one of the biggest things Coach Saban has drilled in us, that if you come here, you are a part of something bigger than you. Every guy who has had success here has partaken in that. All the success, the way he recruits—you can’t get around [the process], the hard work, the dedication, and he’s taught me to be a good person as well.”

In addition to being responsible for the line calls, he’s the one guy other than the quarterback who has to know absolutely everything, from the entire playbook to what personnel the opposition prefers to have on the field when it blitzes. That’s why coaches consider experience at the position to be a cherished commodity.

It was also the key to having Jones replace Vlachos after winning the Outland Trophy as college football’s best interior lineman at left tackle and gives a good idea of just how important Alabama views the position.

“Almost all of the best offensive lines that I’ve seen have an anchor, an experienced center who knows what he’s doing, who’s on the same page as the quarterback, same wavelength, who knows what’s going to happen before it happens,” Jones said. “It’s important that he’s a confident guy who doesn’t just kind of guess. When he makes a call, guys know that’s the right call, and guys get on the same page.”

However, the last time Alabama had a center not suffer a significant injury was Vlachos in 2011.

In 2013, Kelly missed three games with an MCL strain that occurred against Ole Miss. On the play in which tight end Brian Vogler fumbled, Anthony Steen knocked linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche to the ground, and Kelly fell back over him.

Kellen Williams, a fifth-year senior whom Saban dubbed the offensive line’s sixth man, replaced him in the game, and then fourth-year junior Chad Lindsay started against Georgia State, Kentucky and Arkansas.

“Last season when Barrett went down against Georgia, they told me to get ready,” Kelly said at the time. “Coming from a guy that hadn't started or played with the ones all year, Game 13 of the season, to do that is definitely hard. You don't know; you just have to prepare like you're a starter. I give all the props to Kellen. He came in and did a great job. He showed versatility, how versatile he is.”

In 2014, Kelly again went down against Ole Miss, this time with a sprained knee, and the results were more noticeable because Alabama didn’t have a veteran replacement. Coaches had to use two timeouts to avoid delay-of-game penalties, and Alabama didn’t score again as the Rebels pulled out a 23-17 victory.

A week later, though, redshirt freshman Bradley Bozeman looked much more comfortable when making his first career start.

It’s not a coincidence that when Kelly sustained his concussion during the second quarter at Texas A&M on Oct. 17, the Crimson Tide had a big lead, only to see the offense stall with three straight three-and-outs while amassing just 16 yards.

Alabama’s lead went from 28-6 to 28-20, as the Aggies were jumping the snaps by sophomore J.C. Hassenauer on the silent count, but after the offense put together a 13-play drive for a field goal, it went on to win, 41-23.

He returned for last week’s game against Tennessee but barely practiced, and it showed. At times the whole offensive line looked out of sync.

“When you don’t practice all week, it’s kind of crazy how fast you can get out of [playing] shape and the game speed,” Kelly said. “I kept just fighting through it. There are some things I’d like to change, and I wish I could have that week back of practice, but we got the W.”

Having Kelly back during the bye will give the line a chance to regroup, although Dominick Jackson’s status is unknown for LSU on Nov. 7. The senior right tackle suffered a high ankle sprain similar to the one Robinson had last year against Tennessee.

Robinson was able to return after the bye to face LSU, but if Jackson can’t, Alabama’s options are junior Brandon Greene, who has been splitting time at tight end, or to move redshirt freshman Ross Pierschbacher from left guard and insert Bozeman.

Either way, everyone will be leaning on Kelly to help get ready.

“Hopefully, I can be as good as Ryan Kelly someday,” Pierschbacher said. 

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Christopher Walsh is a lead SEC college football writer. Follow Christopher on Twitter @WritingWalsh.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Can Clay Helton Win His Way to USC's Head Coaching Job?

USC can, should and will look everywhere for its next head coach. When arguably the best job in college football becomes available, it behooves the administration to consider every possible option. But if for no other reason, athletic director Pat Haden also needs to get this hire right.

The Trojans program is too good and the roster is too talented for there to be this much turmoil.

When searching for who will succeed Steve Sarkisian, though, should Haden consider interim coach Clay Helton? It obviously depends on how Helton leads the Trojans through the rest of the season. If the results are there, though, then Helton absolutely needs to be on the short list.

That's not a matter of Helton being entitled to an interview. That's a matter of him earning one.

Helton has already navigated USC through a difficult two-game stretch against Notre Dame and Utah. Given where the Irish and Utes were ranked heading into each respective game, that's difficult for any team. Yet USC went 1-1, losing to Notre Dame by just 10 points and demolishing Utah 42-24.

More than that, something's different about this Trojans team. The players are confident and playing loose. They're having fun. As a result, they're playing up to their ability.

In the past two weeks, and despite all the off-field drama, Helton brought the team together. USC needs a stabilizing force, and Helton has provided that in the short term. But stability is something USC needs long-term as well.

Any turnaround in performance through the next five regular-season games should be noted by Haden.

This isn't the first time Helton has taken a tumultuous situation and smoothed it out. After Ed Orgeron's departure at the end of the 2013 season—Orgeron was the interim coach following Lane Kiffin's termination—Helton led USC to a 45-20 win over Fresno State in the Las Vegas Bowl.

What Helton has done and what he's meant for the program were summed up two weeks ago by former Trojans wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson (h/t the Los Angeles Times' Lindsey Thiry), who spoke to the team shortly after Sarkisian's firing. His point, in so many words, was that it was time for the players to play for one another and Helton—not worry about whom the next coach was going to be.

Only then could it achieve the level of success it wanted.

(Warning: Video contains NSFW language.)

Granted, USC will go through a thorough process in finding its next coach. That doesn't change regardless of the team's record from here on out. That is its responsibility.

In the meantime, playing for Helton is the team's responsibility. Johnson is right about that part, and Bleacher Report's Michael Felder—a former college player himself—knows that as well as anyone:

Now the question is whether USC can maintain that attitude and level of play. Up next is Cal, which, despite losing its last two games, features one of the best quarterbacks in college football, Jared Goff. A trip to Oregon and a home game against UCLA remain on the schedule as well.

Is this finally when the real USC emerges? The same USC that littered the preseason College Football Playoff conversation?

If so, Helton may know a little something about what it takes to get the most out of the Trojans.

As Greg Katz wrote on ESPN.com, Helton "will probably have to run the table on the remaining schedule to even have a chance at the job, but he has a chance and now the freedom to run the team as he wishes the rest of the way."

Part of that change includes reintroducing a more physical style of offense that USC was known for during the Pete Carroll era.

Against Utah, fullback Soma Vainuku got a touchdown on 4th-and-goal—his first since Week 1 of the 2014 season—and freshman running back Ronald Jones II was more frequently utilized with a season-high 15 carries:

“We had some big third downs and some critical fourth-down makes at the goal line,” Helton said, per Thiry. “Cody’s quarterback sneak and Soma going in there—if that’s not physical, what is?”

To Katz's point, if USC does win out, it would put the Trojans at 9-3 with a shot at the Pac-12 title game. If Utah loses one more game, USC would hold the tiebreaker. Playoff hopes have been lost for good, but that doesn't mean there's nothing left to accomplish. Helton has to get this team to believe that.

So far, it looks like he's done just that.

USC has made poor decisions before by searching for its next Carroll with a Carroll protege in mind. It's been a never-ending quest for a pot of gold that likely doesn't exist. Requiring a new coach to have ties to the program, a la Jack Del Rio and Jeff Fisher, limits the search unnecessarily, too.

USC can at least inquire about whomever it wants. That doesn't mean it has to ignore the current guy.

Of course, hiring interim coaches full-time is just as risky as hiring from the outside. For every Dabo Swinney that works out at Clemson, there's another example of a team getting caught up in the moment and making an ill-advised decision to promote the interim coach.

If USC really plans on hiring Helton over someone else, it needs to be sure he can win the X's-and-O's battle week after week, competently manage an entire coaching staff and 85 scholarship players in the middle of chaos, and develop blue-chip players into NFL stars.

Winning out alone doesn't prove Helton can do that consistently for three, four, five or six years. But it would give USC a reason to pause and wonder if he can.

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Can Clay Helton Win His Way to USC's Head Coaching Job?

USC can, should and will look everywhere for its next head coach. When arguably the best job in college football becomes available, it behooves the administration to consider every possible option...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Notre Dame vs. Temple Complete Game Preview

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Just like everyone predicted back in August, Notre Dame football’s Top 25 prime-time clash with Temple will be college football’s main event Saturday.

The No. 9 Irish and No. 21 Owls will meet under the lights at Lincoln Financial Field hours after ESPN’s College GameDay descends on Independence Mall in Philadelphia.

“We don’t pretend it’s not here,” Temple head coach Matt Rhule said to reporters Tuesday about the weekend’s hype. “We don’t pretend GameDay’s not coming. We don’t pretend that we’re not playing Notre Dame. All those things are great, but they don’t help us play better. All we can do is control how we play. That’s the message.”

The Owls are off to their best start in program history, 7-0 and fresh off a 24-14 road victory against East Carolina on Thursday. Notre Dame is even more well-rested, having enjoyed its bye week after the 41-31 win over rival USC on Oct. 17.

“[The Owls] just have a really solid football team,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said. “Again, one deserving of where they are, a Top 25 football team. It will be a great challenge for our football team, going on the road, and one that we’ll have to play very well.”

 

Date: Saturday, October 31

Time: 8 p.m. ET

Place: Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia

TV: ABC

Radio: IMG College Sports, SiriusXM Channel 129

Spread: Notre Dame by 10.5, according to Odds Shark

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College Football Coaches Who've Won More on Signing Day Than Saturday

College football might only be played in the fall and early winter, but fans can celebrate wins all year long thanks to the 24/7 recruiting cycle. Victories over rivals and conference foes can come in the offseason, especially during the frenzy known as national signing day.

However, the most important victories are still the ones that take place on the field—not on the recruiting trail. While recruiting is such a huge part of a head coach's success, he'll ultimately be judged by winning games with the players his staff brings to campus.

Unfortunately, some head coaches have had more success on signing days than Saturdays. They may sign star-studded recruiting classes year in and year out, but fans expect those high recruiting rankings to turn into teams that can compete for championships. 

Here are seven current head coaches—sorry, Al Golden isn't eligible anymore—who have landed more wins in 247Sports' Composite Team Rankings than they've had on the field during their current tenures. Some have had inconsistent success. Others are still waiting for their first big breakthrough seasons with the high-profile talent they've assembled.

Which head coach do you believe has the biggest gap between his victories on signing days and Saturdays? Sound off on these seven and even nominate your own candidates in the comments below.

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Top 5-Star College Football Recruit Performances of October

The identity of high school football title contenders is often forged in October, as teams enter that pivotal final postseason push. It's the ideal time for elite playmakers to rise up and validate praise, leading teammates toward a common goal.

Several 5-star prospects stepped into the spotlight and embraced the pressure this month, managing to match and even exceed immense expectations created by expansive college recruiting attention.

Here's a close look at top-tier athletes who showcased their skills across the country in October.

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How Ohio State's Adolphus Washington Has Transformed into Potential 1st-Rounder

How do you stand out on defensive lines that feature NFL draft picks such as John Simon and Michael Bennett, a future NFL selection in Noah Spence and a consensus first-team All-American in Joey Bosa?

That question has hung over the head of Ohio State defensive tackle Adolphus Washington his entire career. It took him four years to find the answer. 

Washington came to Columbus as one of the crown jewels of Urban Meyer's first recruiting class in 2012. Rated a 5-star defensive end and Ohio's No. 1 high school prospect, per 247Sports, he joined an Ohio State team with a big skill set, but the expectations he carried were even bigger.

Spence and Bennett hogged the spotlight early in Washington's career before Bosa showed up as a true freshman and took his spot in the starting rotation.

Over the last two seasons, Washington played a complementary role as superstars emerged around him. He didn't bring the intensity in practice, he'd take plays off during games and he doubted whether the fans or coaches wanted him in Columbus, according to Bill Landis of the Plain Dealer

But the former defensive end turned tackle is bringing a new focus and energy to the field during his senior season.

"Everybody wants to have the type of year that I'm having right now," Washington said, via Landis. "I would've much rather had done this early on in my career, my sophomore year. I just didn't have all my stuff together. I feel like everything is finally starting to come together."

Washington is in the midst of his most impressive and dominant season for the Buckeyes, tallying 37 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss and three sacks through eight games. He's been an absolute force in the middle of Ohio State's defensive line, anchoring a unit that's performing at a high level.

And after three years of mediocre play, he's blowing his teammates away. 

“[Washington] has all the talent in the world; no three-technique can pass rush like he can in college football,” Bosa said, according to Tim Shoemaker of Eleven Warriors. “I don’t believe there is anybody that is as quick and good with his hands. I think he’s finally starting to show what he can do.”

So what triggered the huge turnaround? For starters, he's finally playing the right position.

Washington came to Ohio State in 2012 as a 245-pound weak-side defensive end. He's always been a special athlete—he was an all-state basketball player in high school—and that athleticism made him a dangerous pass-rusher.

But with Spence winning the weak-side defensive end spot in 2013, Washington was bumped to the strong-side position. Five games into the season, Bosa knocked him out of that position, prompting his move to the interior of the line. 

Washington put on weight and joined Bennett as a starting defensive tackle in 2014, but he was slotted at the nose tackle position, a role primarily utilized to stuff the run and occupy blockers. That took away his greatest strength as a pass-rusher, but Bennett was the better option at the 3-technique spot.

When Bennett graduated and moved on to the NFL, that allowed Washington to slide over and play in his natural role. 

But that alone didn't prompt his rise. Defensive line coach Larry Johnson worked with Washington on his consistency, and Meyer clearly defined his expectations before the season started, according to Dave Biddle of Bucknuts.

The picture Meyer painted for Washington must have been crystal clear, because he's playing like a future first-rounder. In Bleacher Report's latest mock draft from Ryan McCrystal, Washington is projected as the No. 22 overall pick by the Seattle Seahawks. 

But to Washington's credit, he's not focusing on where he'll wind up next May. Ohio State's breakout defensive tackle is just working to get better.

“I definitely feel like I’ve made a lot of improvement," Washignton said, via Shoemaker. "My biggest thing is I’ve just gotta be consistent and keep it going.”

 

David Regimbal is the Ohio State football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

The Most Important Stat for Every College Football Playoff Contender

Football is a game of many things: inches, X's and O's and Jimmys and Joes. It's also a game of numbers. 

As college football has grown in popularity, stats (and advanced stats) have grown as fans tried to get a better, tangible understanding of why teams were good (or bad). For playoff-contending teams, stats can disclose a lot about why things work as well as they do. 

For this year's playoff contenders—teams ranked in and around the Top 15 of major polls who are either undefeated or have a loss to an above-.500 team—which single stat is the most important? Keep in mind this could be for better or worse. It could show a huge mismatch a team has to exploit, or a weakness a team has to keep under control. 

We dive into each playoff contender's most important stat based on these areas in the following slides. 

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College Football Picks for Week 9: B/R Experts' Predictions for the Top 5 Games

We’re quickly approaching that time in college football when every week there are matchups we’ve waited all year for, games that we will not soon forget and upsets that shake up the landscape of the sport.  It’s close, but we’re not there yet.

For the second week in a row, we have only one matchup that features two ranked teams. Not to worry, though. If Week 8 taught us anything, it’s that unbelievable games and storylines can happen anytime. Will this week hold true to that notion? Let’s take a look at the best games for Week 9.

The marquee matchup of the weekend features a team not often associated with a marquee matchup in college football: the Temple Owls. One of only 12 remaining unbeaten FBS teams, Temple faces Notre Dame in arguably the biggest regular-season game in the school’s history.

Led by a tough defense and electric running back Jahad Thomas, can the Owls shock the world and beat the visiting Irish, who look to keep their playoff hopes alive? ESPN’s College GameDay will be in Philly for the showdown, so it should be a must-watch for you, too.

The week’s biggest traditional rivalry takes us to Jacksonville for the annual edition of “The World’s Largest Cocktail Party”—oh, and a football game, too.

Georgia and Florida square off in a game that’s certainly lost a bit of luster since the season-ending injury to Dawgs star running back Nick Chubb and the season-ending suspension of Gators QB Will Grier. Whether it’s because of the loss of Chubb or other factors, Georgia certainly has not looked like the same team with their running back out. Facing a tough Florida D, it will certainly take a massive effort from Grayson Lambert to propel the Bulldogs to victory.

USC heads to Berkeley to face Cal in a matchup of two teams that were ranked just a few weeks ago. USC pulled off its biggest win of the year in toppling previously undefeated Utah last week, looking every bit like the fast, explosive, talented team that everyone thought they were in the preseason. Cal has lost two straight since a 5-0 start.

Pro scouts will certainly be tuned in to this one, as the game will feature a pair of future NFL gunslingers in Cody Kessler and Jared Goff. Watch out, scoreboard operator, you could be in for a busy night.

In the Big 12, while Baylor and TCU (and, to a certain degree, Oklahoma) get all of the headlines, Mike Gundy’s Oklahoma State team keeps plugging right along and sits at 7-0 on the year. And while they’ve yet to play a conference opponent with better than a .500 record, winning every game is still what matters. Can they summon the inner strength to win again, especially in the wake of the homecoming tragedy that struck the team and the community last week?

Heading to Lubbock to face a fiesty Texas Tech team is never easy, but it will be harder this week as Pat Mahomes and the Red Raiders look to bounce back from last week’s embarrassing loss to Oklahoma.

Finally, you should try to stay awake on Saturday, as one of last games to start could end up being one the best.

I know what you're thinking. Washington State? Really? Yes, after losing its opening game to FCS Portland State, people wrote off the Cougars. Big mistake. Mike Leach’s squad reeled off wins in five of its next six games and is sitting on the edge of bowl-eligibility.

Led by QB Luke Falk (third in nation in passing yards; fourth in TDs) and WR Gabe Marks (seventh in the nation in TD catches), the Cougars face their toughest test yet in the visiting Cardinal. Christina McCaffrey has been a revelation for Stanford, as the nation’s leader in all-purpose yards. Can Wazzu pull of a massive upset? Or will Stanford keep its Pac-12 title and playoff hopes alive?

With a 5-0 week, Adam Kramer has opened up a huge lead in the standings. Can he keep up the hot streak? Be sure to comment and tell us your picks and which games you’re most excited for in Week 9.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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