NCAA Football

Oregon State vs. USC: Game Grades, Analysis for the Trojans

It wasn't pretty, but the USC Trojans sent the Oregon State Beavers home thinking about an embarrassing 35-10 loss.

Though USC committed 14 penalties, its defense was the bright spot in a decent overall performance.

 

Passing Offense

Cody Kessler did not dominate, but he spread the ball around and connected with nine different receivers. Eight players tallied at least two catches, with Darreus Rogers' 48-yard touchdown grab being the highlight.

Rogers catch was the most important catch of the game. The Beavers would have been content with a four-point deficit at the break, but they looked deflated during the second half while playing from a double-digit hole.

 

Running Offense 

USC relied heavily on Kessler during the first 30 minutes, but Buck Allen and Justin Davis dominated the second half. Overall, the duo combined to gain 197 yards, and both players found the end zone on rushing touchdowns.

 

Pass Defense

Oregon State's Richard Mullaney hauled in a couple jump-balls downfield, but it's hard to criticize the secondary on well-covered passes in which the receiver makes a tough, contested catch. Su'a Cravens returned a pick 30 yards for a score, and Leon McQuay snared an interception in the end zone for another defensive TD.

USC gave Sean Mannion few easy looks, as the Beaver quarterback never looked comfortable thanks to constant pressure and tight coverage by USC. Mannion completed 4-of-13 passes during the second half for 16 yards.

 

Run Defense

Despite some rather pedestrian rushing numbers, Storm Woods and Terron Ward actually had solid showings against the Trojans. For some reason, however, Oregon State abandoned the ground game and relied on Mannion's arm—unsuccessfully, that is.

Woods and Ward combined for 90 yards on 16 attempts. USC's front seven certainly wasn't complaining about the lack of running plays, but it needs to improve in that area.

 

Special Teams

Andre Heidari yanked a 36-yard field goal but did convert four extra points, so it wasn't all bad for the senior. Kris Albardo averaged 40.5 yards per punt, pinning Oregon State inside its own 10-yard line three times.

The most glaring issue was the Trojans kick coverage, which allowed Ryan Murphy to return a kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown. Fortunately for the Trojans, it didn't come back to haunt them.

 

Coaching

Defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox had his unit prepared for a bounce-back performance, and it shined. Oregon State entered the night averaging 447 yards and 31.7 points per outing, but USC limited its opponent to just 181 total yards.

The offense still has some issues, but Kessler and Co. converting 11-of-22 third and fourth downs was outstanding.

 

Follow Bleacher Report college football writer David Kenyon on Twitter: @Kenyon19_BR.

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Oregon State vs. USC: Game Grades, Analysis for the Trojans

It wasn't pretty, but the USC Trojans sent the Oregon State Beavers home thinking about an embarrassing 35-10 loss. Though USC committed 14 penalties, its defense was the bright spot in a decent overall performance...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

NCAA Football Rankings 2014: Predicting the AP Top 25 After Week 5

Week 5 was more about what almost happened than what did.

Florida State, Texas A&M and Georgia were pushed to the brink by N.C. State, Arkansas and Tennessee, respectively, and looked for a long while like they might fall victim to an upset.

Ultimately, they all survived those challenges, but the Associated Press Poll voters were taking notes. Were their struggles enough to move them down the rankings in a week where only two Top 25 teams lost? Or will the status quo be maintained when the new poll comes out Monday?

Here is a guess at the answer:

Note: Poll reflects the author's projection of the Week 6 poll—not how he would rank the teams himself.

 

Fun Fact

In this projection—i.e., one where South Carolina falls out of the Top 25 and TCU climbs in—the Big 12 and SEC would both place 50 percent of their teams in the rankings. The former's would be backloaded with three teams ranked in the bottom fifth, but given the Big 12's preseason reputation, matching the SEC would be remarkable nonetheless.

Technically, the FBS Independents also place 50 percent of their "conference" in the rankings with Notre Dame and BYU, but we'll ignore that for reasons of sample size (only four Independent teams).

 

Teams Rising:

UCLA

Let's start with the obvious. UCLA played a road game against a "top-15" team in the country and won by 35 points.

That's an easy way to move up the rankings.

No matter your opinion of the Sun Devils, it was hard not to be impressed by what UCLA did in Tempe, overcoming a slow start to blow away the reigning Pac-12 South champion. Quarterback Brett Hundley gave a Heisman-worthy performance in his return from an elbow injury, combining for 427 total yards and five touchdowns.

That was on Thursday. But the Bruins' stock kept climbing late Saturday night when the Memphis team that everybody gave them grief for barely beating, 42-35, put up a similar fight at Ole Miss.

 

TCU

TCU beat SMU 56-0 Saturday, which is par for the course for opponents of the Mustangs but nice to see nonetheless.

In three games this season, the Horned Frogs have scored 128 points and allowed just 21, appearing to have found a nice offensive rhythm under first-year offensive coordinators Sunny Cumbie and Doug Meachem. Quarterback-turned-receiver-turned quarterback Trevone Boykin has taken well to the spread attack, and he's ready for the big test he'll face against Oklahoma in Week 6.

"Coach says get ready for the games you're supposed to win and the big games will take care of themselves," Boykin said, per the Associated Press (via ESPN.com). "We will probably be up on the little things because we have a better opponent coming to town next week."

The Horned Frogs also rise a bit because their best opponent to-date, Minnesota, looked strong in a road win at Michigan. Granted, there are high school teams out there that look like they could beat Michigan right now, but a win at the Big House will always be a win at the Big House.

TCU beat Minnesota in Week 3, 30-7.

 

Teams Falling:

South Carolina

South Carolina lost a game it should have won against Missouri on Saturday, blowing a 20-7 lead in the fourth quarter and falling on its home field, 21-20.

The Gamecocks were the better team for more than three-fourths of the night, at one point even holding Missouri to 69 yards of offense over a 40-minute stretch of game time. They were playing strong and sound against a decent opponent, and they appeared to be heading toward an easy (and important) win.

But all of that was erased in the final seven minutes when Missouri scored two quick touchdowns and forced South Carolina into a four-and-out to clinch the win. It returned the favor after last year's game in the other Columbia when South Carolina erased a double-digit fourth-quarter deficit to beat the Tigers on their own home field.

As a result, Steve Spurrier's team should drop out of the rankings.

 

Arizona State

Arizona State hung tight against UCLA for the first portion of the game, finding success despite the absence of quarterback Taylor Kelly. In fact, it even led by two scores, 17-6, 16 minutes into the game.

Big plays became its undoing, though, and the final result was ugly. An 80-yard touchdown by Eldridge Massington and two 95-plus-yard scores by Ishmael Adams all contributed to the Sun Devils' downfall, exposing their tackling as slipshod on a national stage.

To be honest, Todd Graham's team was over-ranked in the first place. It lost just about everything from last year's defense, and the new unit had not been tested before Week 5. It was only ranked No. 15 in the country by virtue of other teams losing.

It was never one of the 15-best teams.

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Watch USC QB Cody Kessler's Monster Hail Mary TD Pass to Close out 1st Half

The USC Trojans were locked in a close game with the Oregon State Beavers entering the half before Trojans QB Cody Kessler found Darreus Rogers on a ridiculous 48-yard Hail Mary as time expired.  

Was this Hail Mary heave as good as Arizona's last week?

Watch the video and let us know! 

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Watch USC QB Cody Kessler's Monster Hail Mary TD Pass to Close out 1st Half

The USC Trojans were locked in a close game with the Oregon State Beavers entering the half before Trojans QB Cody Kessler found Darreus Rogers on a ridiculous 48-yard Hail Mary as time expired...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

College Football Scores 2014: Week 5 Results and Top Stars for Top 25 Teams

There were a ton of close calls in a wild and wacky Week 5, but in the end, there was just one mild upset. 

A week after falling out of the Top 25, the Missouri Tigers rebounded with a win over No. 13 South Carolina on the road. Russell Hansbrough found the end zone three times, and the final score gave the Tigers a 21-20 lead.

Missouri capped off a nine-play, 51-yard drive with just 3:34 remaining. Mizzou's defense held, and the offense ran out the clock to seal the victory. The win might be enough to push the Tigers back into the Top 25.

The Texas A&M Aggies came close to being bitten by the upset bug. However, the Arkansas Razorbacks fell apart on defense down the stretch and squandered the lead.

Kenny "Trill" Hill spurred on a furious fourth-quarter rally to come back from a 28-14 deficit after three quarters. An 86-yard connection between Hill and Edward Pope made it 28-21. The Aggies would later tie it on a 59-yard strike from Hill to Josh Reynolds.

Hill put a stamp on his impressive performance with a 25-yard touchdown pass to Malcome Kennedy in overtime. The defense stepped up to stop the Razorbacks on a 4th-and-2 situation to seal the victory. It was just one of the thrilling finishes on the first Saturday of the fall.

Here's a look at all of the scores from the Top 25 teams. 

 

Top Individual Performances

Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia Bulldogs

We've seen Gurley truck and juke would-be tacklers. On Saturday, we got to see him hurdle one. In the fourth quarter, with less than eight minutes remaining, Gurley leaped over a diving Brian Randolph and completed a 26-yard gain.

After the game, Georgia head coach Mark Richt admired his star's show of athleticism. Per The Associated Press (h/t ESPN.com), Richt said: "I don't know how high Todd got on that thing. That was pretty impressive to see right there in front of you. You just shake your head and go, 'Wow.'"

All in a day's work for the man who has seemingly established himself as the nation's best running back.

The 208 yards was his highest rushing total of the season. Through four games, he has a total of 610, and his two scores give him six on the season.

At this point, it seems that only an injury could keep him from being invited to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony.

 

Karlos Williams, RB, Florida State Seminoles

The Noles avoided disaster on the road against the North Carolina State Wolfpack on Saturday. After trailing early, Florida State created some distance between it and NC State to win by 15 points.

Much of the credit should go to Williams. He hadn't had a breakout game yet this season, but with the team in need of a stabilizing force on the ground, Williams came through.

He surpassed his total for rushing touchdowns in the previous three games with three. Florida State will need Williams to continue to shine for it to maintain a balanced attack.

 

Chris Moore, WR, Cincinnati Bearcats

Moore batted .1000 on Saturday. 

He made three catches, and each of them went for touchdowns; however, it was in a losing cause against in-state rival Ohio State.

Still, Moore's day was noteworthy. The 6'1" junior had touchdown catches of 63, 80 and 78 yards. His yards per catch was a whopping 73.6. This performance easily blows away everything Moore has done in college leading up to this point.

Cincinnati surely hopes this is a sign of things to come.

 

Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA Bruins

Both Hundley and UCLA needed a big performance against the Arizona State Sun Devils, and they got it.

As part of the 62-27 blowout win, Hundley was nearly flawless in a big-time game against a quality conference foe. His rushing total and score on the ground only augmented his value.

Hundley threw for more yards in the Week 2 win over Memphis, but neither he nor the Bruins were as sharp as they were on Thursday night in Tempe, Arizona.

 

Ameer Abdullah, RB, Nebraska Cornhuskers

If Abdullah isn't a serious candidate for the Heisman, then no one is. On Saturday, he and the Cornhuskers trampled the Illinois Fighting Illini for 458 rushing yards.

Abdullah's rushing totals pushed him to the top spot in the nation in yards with 833. It was his third 200-yard game, and he's now averaging 166.6 yards per contest.

He and the Cornhuskers will get a serious test next week when the team travels to East Lansing to take on Michigan State.

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College Football Rankings Week 6: B/R's Official Top 25

Just as there are many ways to skin a cat, there are quite a few things that can happen on the field to affect a college football team's ranking.

That can be seen in the Bleacher Report Top 25, which despite no losses among our top 12 teams from the previous week, there was still quite a bit of shuffling in the rankings based on the way those teams came about their victories. Additionally, losses by a few ranked teams either knocked them down the list, or all the way off it.

This week's Bleacher Report Top 25 was voted on by 19 members of Bleacher Report's college football team: writers Keith Arnold, Ben Axelrod, Phil Callihan, Michael Felder, Justin Ferguson, Andrew Hall, Kyle Kensing, David Kenyon, Ben Kercheval, Adam Kramer, Brian Leigh, Brian Pedersen, Barrett Sallee, Brad Shepard, Erin Sorensen, Marc Torrence and Greg Wallace, as well as editors Eric Bowman and Max Rausch.

Each voter submits his or her ballot based on observations made during the just-completed week's games. Teams receive 25 points for a first-place vote, all the way down to one point for being ranked 25th. And then the top 25 vote-getters are ranked in order of their point totals.

Check out Bleacher Report's Week 6 poll, then give us your thoughts in the comments section.

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Nebraska Football: Ameer Abdullah Rewriting the Record Books with Every Run

Watch out, record books, Ameer Abdullah is coming.

After five games, the Nebraska I-back is showing no sign of slowing down. As a result, records, both at Nebraska, in the Big Ten and nationally, are falling one-by-one.

In fact, here's a short list of what Abdullah accomplished against Illinois in one night:

  • Rushed for 208 yards and three touchdowns on 22 attempts.
  • Rushed for 200 yards in back-to-back games for the first time in his career (and the first player to do so since Ahman Green in 1997).
  • Had his 21st career 100-yard rushing game, which moved him into second on Nebraska's career list.
  • Scored his 36th career touchdown, which includes 28 rushing touchdowns. His 36 overall touchdowns tie Tommie Frazier for the sixth-most in Nebraska history.

And that's just in one game. What's becoming abundantly clear is that Abdullah is setting himself up for a record-breaking season.

One record that is obtainable by Abdullah is the most 200-yard rushing games in a season for a division I athlete. That currently belongs to USC's Marcus Allen, who crushed records in 1981. More than thirty years later, Abdullah could take the record away.

The Nebraska I-back already has three 200-yard games on the season and he'll likely have more, as long as he has no injuries. If he runs like he did against Illinois when coming up against future opponents, tying or surpassing Allen's record is possible.

Additionally, Abdullah is leaving his mark in the Big Ten. His 212 all-purpose yards against Illinois increased his career total to 5,974 yards, which moves him within 26 yards of becoming the seventh player in conference history with 6,000 career all-purpose yards. Those 212 yards jumped Abdullah ahead of Michigan's Anthony Carter (5,799 yards), Wisconsin's Brandon Williams (5,852 yards) and Montee Ball (5,935 yards).

Illinois head coach Tim Beckman recognized Abdullah's talent after being defeated by the Huskers. "He is very good," Beckman said. "Their offensive line is very good. I think Ameer would be the first one to tell you that. I think that personally, he is probably as good as there is in the country."

At the school level, Abdullah is just breaking record-after-record. In fact, the I-back is only five attempts behind Mike Rozier’s school record of 668 carries. It seems likely he'll surpass that against Michigan State.

Abdullah is making history. Every week, college football fans from across the country are treated to the Ameer Abdullah show, which hasn't been disappointing yet. Head coach Bo Pelini recognizes that.

"I like everything I see from Ameer," Pelini said. "He's a pretty special player."

And if he keeps running, no record is safe.

 

All quotes and statistics were obtained firsthand at Nebraska's post-game press conference, unless otherwise noted.

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Should Notre Dame Be Considered a Favorite for CFB Playoff?

After their 31-15 win over the Syracuse Orange at MetLife Stadium, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish are starting to state their case as an elite team. With a huge matchup with Stanford looming next week, is it time to start thinking of Notre Dame as a team that could crash the College Football Playoff?

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder debates whether or not Notre Dame will be one of the last four remaining.

Do you think Notre Dame will be in the College Football Playoff?  

Watch the video and let us know!

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Heisman Watch 2014: Top 5 Rankings for Week 5

With Week 5 in the books, it's time to reassess the Heisman Trophy race. Todd Gurley, Kenny Hill, Nick Marshall and Melvin Gordon all went off on Saturday, while Amari Cooper and Marcus Mariota were idle during their bye week. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Barrett Sallee dishes out who he thinks is the Heisman front-runner.

If the season ended today, who do you think would win the Heisman?

Watch the video and let us know! 

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Power Ranking the SEC Heading into the Most Exciting Weekend of College Football

After five weeks of college football it's time to rank the SEC. Texas A&M, Missouri and Georgia both won in thrilling fashion, while Ole Miss, Auburn and LSU all won laughers.  

Bleacher Report College Football analysts Barrett Sallee and Adam Kramer discuss who's on top in the nation's premiere conference. 

Who is the best team in the SEC?

Watch the video and let us know!

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ESPN College GameDay Selects Alabama vs. Ole Miss in First Ever Trip to Oxford

The Ole Miss Rebels have burst into the national spotlight this season with a perfect 4-0 start. Now that spotlight will grow even bigger as Oxford, Mississippi will get the College Gameday treatment when they look to move to 5-0 against No. 4 Alabama next week.

GameDay tweeted the news:

According to Michael Casagrande of AL.com, the Rebels needed to take care of business against Memphis for the show to come to Ole Miss next. They did just that with a 24-3 victory over the Tigers. 

With the show heading to "The Grove" for the first time in the school's history, Lee Corso and Co. are sure to be greeted by a raucous crowd.

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ESPN College GameDay Headed to Oxford, Miss., for Alabama vs. Ole Miss

ESPN's College GameDay is coming to Oxford, Mississippi, for the first time in the history of the show.

Lee Corso, Chris Fowler, Kirk Herbstreit and the crew will be on The Grove to watch Alabama play Ole Miss in a matchup of undefeated SEC West rivals, the show's official Twitter account confirmed Saturday:

Ole Miss played a closer-than-expected game against Memphis in Week 4, struggling to separate from the Tigers in a 24-3 win. It was ugly, but it was enough to keep Hugh Freeze's team undefeated, and it will probably be enough to keep them in the national Top 10.

Alabama is coming off a bye and has dominated (to put it lightly) its recent series with the Rebels. Last year's 25-0 win in Tuscaloosa was actually the closest margin since a 23-10 win in 2010.

All things told, the Crimson Tide have beaten Ole Miss 10 consecutive times and in 21-of-23 meetings since 1989.

The Rebels can be forgiven for their struggles against Memphis—an underrated team—after a week spent looking ahead to Alabama. Freeze did his best to mitigate that, but he knew it was inevitable.

"I'd be foolish to think that they're not hearing all the other," Freeze said before the Memphis game, per Duane Rankin of the Montgomery Advertiser. "We're doing everything we can (to combat that)."

But now that the hurdle has been cleared, officially, Ole Miss can begin earnest preparation for one of the biggest games in school history.

If it wins, it will not only position itself for a run at the SEC title, it might also rise to the Top Five of the Associated Press poll, a spot it hasn't occupied since 1970, per Sports-Reference.com.

After Week 4, the Rebels checked in at No. 10.

Other notable games on the Week 6 schedule include LSU at Auburn, Stanford at Notre Dame, Texas A&M at Mississippi State and Nebraska at Michigan State. Any of those games would have made a quality GameDay backdrop, but even in a stacked week, a matchup of two Top 10 teams was a shoo-in to host the show.

This should be one of the best games of the year.

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Dominant Ole Miss Defense Will Give Alabama Its Toughest Game Yet

The SEC isn't always pretty, but Ole Miss showed on Saturday that they don't care. The show that the Rebels defense put on against the Memphis Tigers proves that when they take on the Alabama Crimson Tide next week, they'll be ready for the fight of their lives. 

Though the Ole Miss offense struggled for the first three quarters, the defense, which can be considered the best in the nation, helped the Rebels walk away with a 24-3 win.

Wallace struck gold early in the game, connecting with Laquon Treadwell for a 63-yard touchdown just three minutes into the game to take a 7-0 lead for the Rebels. Memphis tacked on a field goal later in the first quarter, then it wasn't until the fourth quarter that the Rebels finally started clicking offensively. 

Ultimately, it was Ole Miss's defense that produced some truly amazing numbers Saturday. 

The Tigers, who scored 35 points against then-No. 11 UCLA in their second game, were limited to just that field goal. They went 3-of-16 on third downs and racked up a measly 23 yards rushing on 31 carries. 

That's business as usual for the Rebels defense. They give up just 8.5 points per game and, heading into this week, gave up just 375 yards of offense per game. That number is sure to skydive after allowing just 104 to the Tigers. 

Though in the past the SEC West has traditionally gone through Tuscoloosa, Ole Miss would like nothing more than to change that destination to tiny Oxford, Mississippi

The Tide have yet to be tested like the Rebels have. Ole Miss already has blowout wins against two competitive opponents in Boise State and Vanderbilt, while Alabama's best win is against West Virginia, a jump start yet otherwise middle-of-the-road Big 12 squad. 

The Big Blue Wall of Ole Miss is certainly on a higher level than the Mountaineers.  

It's true, Alabama's offense has rolled offensively to start the year, averaging 42 points per game. And its defense has only given up 14. 

But Bo Wallace—like it or not—is the best and most experienced quarterback the Tide will be facing up to this point. 

Can Wallace be careless with the ball? His two interceptions against Memphis and six on the season seem to indicate that. 

Alabama's weakness defensively is in the secondary, though. While the Tide entered Week 5 ranked No. 1 in total defense, they are just 27th against the pass despite facing mediocre passing attacks. 

Against West Virginia, Clint Trickett torched the Alabama secondary to the tune of 375 yards. More importantly, the Mountaineers hung 23 points on the board and lost by just 10. 

Ole Miss won't give up 33 points. You'll be lucky to get 20 on them, especially with how slow both Freeze and Saban operate offensively. 

In 2013, according to 247sports, the Rebels' recruiting class ranked eighth nationally thanks largely in part to guys like Robert Nkemdiche, safety Tony Conner and defensive tackle Lavon Hooks. All these guys have made an impact on this defense, and this class was built for next week's tilt. 

So how does Ole Miss beat Alabama next week? 

Winning the turnover battle and forcing the Tide into mistakes—like the massive amount of penalty yards they forced on the Tigers today—is a big start. Containing Amari Cooper—because you can't truly stop Cooper—is another big step. 

Ultimately, the Rebels just have to let the defense show out and force an untested Blake Sims to make plays against hands down the toughest defense the Tide will face arguably all season. 

It'll be tough against Alabama, who have 10 straight wins against the Rebels and have won 21 of the last 23 meetings. But if this Ole Miss defense can give Wallace enough time to find a comfort zone like they did against Memphis, the Rebels will have an outstanding shot at knocking off the Tide. 

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Illinois vs. Nebraska: Game Grades, Analysis for the Cornhuskers

When a Heisman hopeful like Ameer Abdullah rushes for over 200 yards and three touchdowns in a conference game, you already know what kind of grade the Nebraska ground game is going to receive.  

But what about the rest of the Huskers team?

This game was a great warm-up for next week's showdown against Michigan State in East Lansing, and a fresh set of grades for the Cornhuskers is ready heading into that nationally relevant Big Ten showdown.

Box score via NCAA.com

 

Pass Offense

Tommy Armstrong had a perfectly mediocre performance against Illinois.  Luckily, Nebraska didn't need him to be any better than that in order to win.

Armstrong was 10-of-21 for 166 yards, one touchdown and one pick.  The day started very slowly for the Cornhusker quarterback, mainly because Ameer Abdullah was handling the Illini all by himself.  Armstrong didn't have a single completion until the last play of the first quarter, but he made up for it with a fairly prolific second quarter.

After halftime, with the game in hand, throwing the ball wasn't a priority.

Still, with a sub-50 percent completion ratio, Armstrong's inconsistency shouldn't be rewarded.

 

Rushing Offense

Anyone want to take a guess at Nebraska's grade here?

A total of 458 yards and five touchdowns, 208 yards and three touchdowns coming from Ameer Abdullah, only tells you the final tally.  What those numbers don't tell you is the incredible depth of talent the Huskers have at the position, as each back on the roster seems to possess the power and speed to run over and around defenders.

Abdullah is clearly the lead and should be a legitimate Heisman contender this season, but don't sell Nebraska short by believing he's the only guy capable of making highlight-reel runs in Lincoln.

 

Pass Defense

Holding Illinois' back-up quarterback Reilly O'Toole to 17-of-38 for 261 yards is decent enough. But limiting the Illini to one passing TD while picking off three O'Toole passes is worthy of recognition.

Both halves were pretty even in terms of passing success (or lack thereof) for the Illini, but Nebraska's pass rush was a factor all evening long, thanks to Randy Gregory and pals, so I'm content in giving a solid "B+" for the pass defense.

 

Run Defense

As impressive as the run defense was in the first half (allowing just 71 yards on 15 carries), things got even better after halftime.

The Illini finished with just 87 total rushing yards on the evening.  That early rushing TD hurt the Huskers grade, but Nebraska gets a significant boost for the final mark thanks to its suffocating run defense in the second half.

 

Special Teams

If there's one weakness in Nebraska's game so far, it has to be special teams.  The Huskers were 1-for-2 on field goals, averaged just four yards per return on both punt returns and kick returns (though Nebraska had only one kickoff return), and the punting average was an inflated 37.7 because of some great bounces and rolls in punter Sam Foltz' favor.

That kind of poor performance doesn't matter much against Illinois.  Against Michigan State or Wisconsin on the other hand...

 

Coaching

Bo Pelini is smart enough to stick with what's working.  Right now, that's Ameer Abdullah.  The only gripe (and, believe me, it's a small one) is that it would be nice to see stars like Abdullah, Armstrong and wide out Kenny Bell come out of the game a little bit earlier.

If the game is well in hand in the second half—let's say it's a three-score (or larger) lead—why risk injury?  In fact it appeared that Abdullah tweaked his right knee in the second half.  It didn't appear serious, but the point here is that it didn't need to happen at all.

We're just saying...

 

Unless otherwise noted, quotes or references to quotes were obtained firsthand by the writer.

Follow Bleacher Report's National College Football Featured Columnist David Luther on Twitter!

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Notre Dame Still Has a Long Way to Go Before It Can Beat Florida State

It's not fair to say that Notre Dame went on prime-time television and laid an egg. But the Irish's 31-15 victory over Syracuse produced more questions than it answered. 

The Irish survived the type of turnover-plagued performance that we haven't seen since 2011, the year of the Brian Kelly purple face. Three lost fumbles, two Everett Golson interceptions—including a late pick-six that could've gotten the Orange back in the game—put Kelly on the brink once again, with Notre Dame making the type of sloppy mistakes that usually guarantee your team will lose a football game.

"They knew they did not play the kind of football necessary to win each and every week," head coach Brian Kelly said after the game, perhaps a mild understatement. 

The Irish never felt like they were in danger of losing the football game. But they also felt miles away from being a team that can walk into Doak Campbell Stadium and beat Florida State, too.

Entering the toughest month of the season with Stanford heading to South Bend next weekend, Notre Dame's sloppy game raised all sorts of questions about the Irish that didn't necessarily exist last week. 

"You can't turn the football over and expect to win all your games," Kelly told ESPN's Heather Cox at the end of the national broadcast. "We did some good things tonight... but five turnovers is just not going to get the job done." 

For a young team traveling to an away game for the first time, Saturday night's environment was a test that Kelly hoped to pass with flying colors. Instead, it's back to the drawing board.

The message this week was dedicated to not looking past the Orange, with Stanford and a trip to Tallahassee on the October horizon. Yet the Irish made critical early (and often) mistakes that took probably a dozen points off the board and kept the Orange in the game, even with Notre Dame's defense shutting down Terrel Hunt. 

In between turning the football over four times, Golson played brilliantly. He completed 25 straight throws, a Notre Dame record and one shy of the NCAA record as he picked apart the Syracuse defense in the short passing game. 

But for as beautiful as his perfect 72-yard touchdown pass was to Will Fuller, his nonchalance with the football was exactly what Kelly talked about fixing earlier in the week. 

"He's very careful with the football, very conscientious throwing the football," Kelly said Thursday. "We worry about how he carries the football. He carries it like he's dribbling a basketball." 

Golson dribbled one off his knee on the Irish's first drive, ending a promising opening series when the ball was knocked loose. He nearly lost another on an overload blitz, but converted guard Steve Elmer recovered. And no basketball metaphor can do his fumbled spike justice, with the ball falling through his hands before he swatted at it, giving the Orange the ball with the Irish already safely in field-goal range. 

Even Golson's decision-making throwing the football was careless at times. His first interception was a misread, looking past a wide-open Ben Koyack and then overthrowing C.J. Prosise. And the interception to Durell Eskridge was one of the worst throws he's made in an Irish uniform, with the safety walking right into Golson's throwing lane before taking the pass back for an easy touchdown. 

If you're looking for a way to refocus your attention and forget about any September Heisman chatter, Golson found the best way. 

"I know my team expects more of me so I've got to come out and be better from the get," Golson told Cox after the game. "I came out and had a very sloppy first half and I was lucky it didn't cost us as much as it should have."

It may be an old coaching cliche, but it's often been said that you learn more from a sloppy win than a difficult defeat. And expect a lot of learning and a few extra hours in the film room to get things squared away. 

What should the Irish be looking at?

Ball security for one, with running back Greg Bryant joining the fumble parade. Blown special teams assignments, with the Irish being fooled by a fake punt. And a two-minute drill by the offense that had receivers lining up incorrectly, just one of the eight penalties Notre Dame committed on the night. 

It's not easy to win in college football; give the Irish credit for losing the turnover battle by four and still winning with relative ease. 

But if the Irish have aims of heading to Florida State and knocking off the defending champs, they've got plenty of work to do. 

 

*Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand.  

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Contenders and Pretenders for the College Football Playoff After Week 5

After Week 5 of the college football season a lot of teams are looking the part of a national championship participant, but there can only be four teams that make it to the College Football Playoff. Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Adam Kramer, Barrett Sallee and Michael Felder tell you who is for real and who isn't. 

What team is a legit threat to be national champion?

Watch the video and let us know!

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Notre Dame vs. Syracuse: Game Grades, Analysis for the Fighting Irish

In what was a weird game to say the least, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish improved to 4-0 on the season after defeating the Syracuse Orange, 31-15, at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey. 

The Irish were able to rack up 500 yards of total offense, but they turned the ball over five times, including four by quarterback Everett Golson. And the defense allowed only one touchdown, but surrendered over 400 yards of offense.

So there will be a lot of things the Irish will have to work on before they get ready to take on teams like Stanford and USC, because if they want to get into the College Football Playoff picture, they can’t afford to play like they did against the Orange.

Here are game grades for each positional unit for the Irish.

 

Passing Offense

Golson struggled in the first half, and that was because the Orange were constantly blitzing him. But he made adjustments after intermission and completed 26 straight passes. Golson played solid but would have had a better night had he not thrown two interceptions and fumbled twice. 

 

Running Offense

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly made adjustments with the offensive line this week to see if they could run between the tackles more effectively. The Irish ran for 161 yards, but most of those runs came off the edge. Because the Irish were able to throw the ball effectively, the running game was not a priority, but they need to be able to run up the middle if they want to remain undefeated.

 

Pass Defense

The pass defense for the Irish was strong in the first half, but Orange quarterback Terrel Hunt was able to hit his receivers on big pass plays in the second half. The secondary was solid in coverage, but Hunt really wasn’t pressured as much as he could have been. The good thing is that Notre Dame did not give up a passing touchdown, and cornerback Matthias Farley came up with an interception in the second half.

 

Run Defense

Syracuse never got the run game going because linebackers Jaylon Smith and Joe Schmidt were all over the place. One of the reasons the Orange could not get anything going on offense is the fact their running game was inconsistent, forcing quarterback Hunt to try and beat the Irish with his arm. Hunt did score on a rushing touchdown, though, which was the first rushing score the Irish have given up this season.

 

Special Teams

The special teams for the Irish were as good as you could ask for. Kyle Brindza made his only field goal, and he was good in the punting game, averaging 40 yards per punt. But one of the plays of the game came on special teams when Jarron Jones blocked an extra point in the second half. It didn’t really impact the outcome of the game, but it was good to see him block the third kick of his career.

 

Coaching

The offensive line changes Kelly made did not work in terms of finding production in the running game. And it looked as if in the first half the Irish coaching staff didn't anticipate the Orange defense being as aggressive as it was. But Kelly simplified things in the second half and the Irish were able to make plays. The one thing his players will be working on this week is ball security, because five turnovers can’t happen again.

 

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Ameer Abdullah vs. Illinois: Stat Line, Highlights, Twitter Reaction

The Heisman campaign for Nebraska Cornhuskers running back Ameer Abdullah seems to gain steam every week. Saturday night, Abdullah helped Nebraska roll over the Illinois Fighting Illini en route to a 45-14 victory at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Take a look at Abdullah's stat line:

Abdullah opened the scoring with a 12-yard touchdown run that culminated a seven-play, 75-yard drive. In the second quarter, Abdullah added two more touchdown runs of eight and two yards. The 5'9", 195-pound senior has eclipsed the 100-yard mark in all but one of Nebraska's five games.

This was his third 200-yard performance.

He's averaging 166.6 yards per game.

Saturday the Illini had no answer for Nebraska's rushing attack on the whole, but Abdullah has feasted on almost every opponent. Coming into the season, Abdullah wasn't considered a major contender for the Heisman Trophy, but his production has forced people to take notice.

He came into the week second in the nation in rushing. After his 208 yards, Abdullah passed Pittsburgh's James Conner for the top spot.

Being the nation's leading rusher will undoubtedly help add some legitimacy to Abdullah's case to at least be invited to New York for the Heisman ceremony.

Abdullah and Nebraska have the first of two huge games ahead of them nest week. Next Saturday, they will attempt to conquer the No. 9 Michigan State Spartans on the road. Michigan State will represent the stiffest run defense Abdullah has seen this year, and the Cornhuskers' toughest opponent overall.

Coming into the week, the Spartans were No. 5 against the run in the nation and the highest-ranked team in the conference.

If Abdullah can shine and Nebraska wins in East Lansing, it'll serve as a major plus for the player and team. Later in the season, Nebraska will take on the No. 19 Wisconsin Badgers in Madison. 

Putting up big numbers and winning against the best competition is the key to getting Abdullah recognized nationally. We'll see if he can keep it going.

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College Football Playoff Projections After Week 5

The college football world was nearly turned upside down with a few top teams having close calls before pulling out narrow victories.

Bleacher Report's Adam Kramer discusses who is in and who is out for the College Football Playoff.

Who do you think belongs in the discussion? Watch the video and let us know.

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