NCAA Football

UCLA Football: 5 Players Who Have Surprised Us in 2014

Jim Mora and the No. 10 UCLA football team have gotten off to a 3-0 start with little in the way of comfortable positioning. None of the three victories were decisive by any stretch of the imagination...

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Nebraska Football: 5 Players Who Have Surprised Us in 2014

Nebraska football fans had a pretty good idea who would be stars this season for the scarlet and cream. But there are always players who will surprise, putting on performances no one saw coming and helping to make the spectacle thrilling from week to week.

This season is no exception, so here are five players who have caused us to sit up and take notice in 2014.

All stats from cfbstats.com.

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Western Michigan vs. Virginia Tech: Complete Game Preview

Another week, another disappointing loss for the Virginia Tech Hokies. Fortunately for Tech, the Western Michigan Broncos enter Lane Stadium this Saturday.

Most Virginia Tech fans likely see the Broncos as a formidable opponent since the Hokies are coming off two home losses in a row. 

The Broncos, at 2-1, have already surpassed their win total from 2013. They have a high-flying offense averaging just over 41 points per game.

However, WMU hasn't seen a defense like Virginia Tech's this fall.

For the Hokies, they'll be without the services of senior defensive tackle Luther Maddy, who will be out 2-4 weeks after surgery to repair a torn meniscus. 

Tech is 3-0 all time vs. Western Michigan. In the previous three meetings, the Hokies have outscored the Broncos 124-0.

  • When: Saturday, September 27, 2014
  • Where: Lane Stadium, Blacksburg, Virginia
  • Time: 12:30 p.m. ET
  • TV: ACC Network
  • Radio: Virginia Tech IMG Sports Network. Here is a complete list of stations by area. 
  • Spread: Virginia Tech (28), via Odds Shark 

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College Football: Week 4 Recap, Pick Results and Final Thought

Week 4 of the college football season consisted of the nation's Top Five teams making critical plays to avoid being upset. 

A big upset occurred at Death Valley, as Dak Prescott and the Mississippi State Bulldogs knocked off LSU, 34-29, for the first time since 1999.

Arizona scored an unanswered 19 points with three minutes and 30 seconds left in the fourth quarter and defeated Cal 49-45 on an incredible Hail Mary pass as time expired. 

No. 1 Florida State got all it could handle from rival No. 22 Clemson on Saturday night. The Seminoles, who were without Jameis Winston, held on for dear life as they tried to keep their national championship hopes alive. Two missed field goals by Clemson kicker Ammon Lakip hurt the Tigers, but it was a late fumble in the fourth quarter that was the real heartbreaker for Dabo Swinney’s squad. 

With about two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Florida State quarterback Sean Maguire threw an interception that appeared to be the dagger for the Seminoles. Two plays later, though, Clemson running back C.J. Davidson fumbled on the Florida State 14-yard line, and the ball was recovered by the Seminoles. The fumble caused the game to go into overtime.  

Swinney opted to go for 4th-and-1 on the first possession in overtime, and the Tigers were unable to get a first down. The Seminoles took advantage of Clemson’s missed opportunity, and running back Karlos Williams ran in for a 12-yard touchdown to give the Seminoles a 23-17 victory.  

While No. 1 barely survived, the No. 2-ranked Oregon Ducks were in for a surprise on the road at Washington State. The Ducks headed into Pullman on a seven-game winning streak against the Cougars, but Mike Leach had his offense ready to go.

Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday passed for an impressive 436 yards and four touchdowns against the Ducks defense and was in position to pull off the big-time upset. The Cougars came up just short, though, as Halliday was sacked on fourth down by Oregon linebacker Tony Washington with 3:34 remaining in the fourth quarter. It was good enough for the Ducks to escape with a 38-31 win. 

Heisman front-runner Marcus Mariota completed 21 of 25 passes for 329 yards and five touchdowns in Oregon's win.   

Nick Saban’s No. 3-ranked Crimson Tide outlasted Florida 42-21 in Tuscaloosa, while No. 4 Oklahoma defeated Big 12 foe West Virginia on the road 45-33. Auburn also hung on to defeat a tough Kansas State team 20-14 on Thursday night. 

BYU and East Carolina continued to improve on their impressive seasons thus far with big wins over ACC opponents. The Cougars improved to 4-0 behind quarterback Taysom Hill with a 41-33 home win over Virginia. After losing at South Carolina 33-23 on Sept. 6, the Pirates defeated Virginia Tech and North Carolina in back-to-back weeks. Quarterback Shane Carden led the East Carolina offense to a school-record 789 yards and defeated the in-state Tar Heels by an unexpected 70-41 score. 

 

Games Attended

No. 5 Auburn 20 at No. 20 Kansas State 14

Kansas State had more than enough chances to upset No. 5 Auburn on Thursday night. An Auburn interception that bounced off Wildcat wide receiver Tyler Lockett's shoulder pads and ended up in Tiger defensive back Jonathan Jones' hands in the end zone during the first quarter along with three missed field goals were the deciding factors in Bill Snyder’s team dropping to 2-1 on the season.

The Kansas State defense contained quarterback Nick Marshall for a majority of the game, but Marshall's pass on third down to wide receiver D’haquille Williams with about two minutes left in the fourth quarter sealed Auburn's 20-14 win. 

 

Miami (Fla) 31 at No. 24 Nebraska 41

It was a matchup between two programs that have faced off in four Orange Bowls and one BCS title game in the Rose Bowl. True freshman Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya had a career-high 359 passing yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions.

The Hurricanes hung around and were driving down the field to tie or take the lead late in the third quarter after a Tommy Armstrong interception, but a fumble by Duke Johnson, which was returned for a 57-yard touchdown by cornerback Josh Mitchell, seemed to be the turning point in the game.

Nebraska star running back Ameer Abdullah had Heisman-like numbers, as he rushed for 229 yards and scored three touchdowns. Abdullah also passed Heisman winner Johnny Rodgers as Nebraska’s all-time leader in all-purpose yards with 5,760 yards. 

In a chippy second half, the Huskers eventually put away the Hurricanes 41-31. 

 

Pick Results

Overall Record: 12-8

Week 4 Record:  4-1

Note: Team in bold indicates author’s pick

 

Prediction: Auburn 35, Kansas State 27

Result: Auburn 20, Kansas State 14

 

Prediction: Alabama 34, Florida 18

Result: Alabama 42, Florida 21

 

Prediction: LSU 42, Mississippi State 28

Result: Mississippi State 34, LSU 29

 

Prediction: Florida State 31, Clemson 17

Result: Florida State 23, Clemson 17

 

Prediction: Nebraska 38, Miami (Fla) 20

Result: Nebraska 41, Miami (Fla) 31  

 

Final Thought

Mississippi State had arguably its best win under sixth-year head coach Dan Mullen on Saturday night. It was the first time the Bulldogs had defeated the Tigers on the road since 1991. Junior dual-threat quarterback Dak Prescott proved to the nation that he is the real deal, as he completed 15 of 24 passes for two touchdowns. Prescott also rushed for 105 yards and one touchdown. 

Despite the defense giving up 19 unanswered points in the fourth quarter, it held the LSU rush attack to just 89 yards and allowed the Tigers only two first downs on 13 third-down attempts. 

Mullen’s squad defeated its first Top 10 team on the road since 1986. It had not defeated a ranked team since winning at Florida in 2010. 

In the toughest division in football, which consists of currently undefeated Alabama, Auburn, Texas A&M and Ole Miss, is Mississippi State a dark-horse contender to win the SEC West?  

The Bulldogs will get a bye week before hosting highly ranked Texas A&M and Auburn in back-to-back weeks. Big wins over the Aggies and the Tigers could give them a chance to be undefeated when traveling to Alabama, where they haven't won since 2006.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Oregon Football: Adjustments Ducks Must Make During Bye Week

Despite the fact that Oregon is undefeated and is the second-ranked team in the nation, according to The Associated Press, the Ducks are not infallible and must make significant adjustments during their first bye week. 

While the Ducks are highly regarded nationally, a tight victory over the Washington State Cougars on the road proved that Oregon has a long way to go if it is to receive an invitation to the inaugural College Football Playoff. If it weren’t for the superb performance of Heisman candidate Marcus Mariota, the Ducks very well could have been licking their wounds from an early-season loss to an opponent who was 1-2.

Needless to say, the Ducks have a significant amount of progress to make in the coming weeks. However, this bye week may be more important for a different reason. The Ducks' biggest issue is that they need to get healthy, and quickly. Arizona comes to town on Oct. 2 with a perfect 4-0 record in tow and the confidence that they can compete with Oregon—just look at the result from last year.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the adjustments the Ducks must make during their bye week.

 

Offensive Line Woes

The Ducks offensive line has been decimated by injuries. They’ve lost three tackles so far this season—Tyler Johnstone, Jake Fisher and Andre Yruretagoyena—forcing true freshman Tyrell Crosby and redshirt junior Matt Pierson, who is without a scholarship, into action.

As a result, the Ducks offense has sputtered at times due to the erratic play of the line. While the Ducks offense has still managed to score 48.5 points per game, they’ve been inconsistent in doing so due to the influx of defenders in the backfield.

Until Saturday’s game against Washington State, the most sacks Oregon’s line had ever given up in a game during the Mariota era, dating back to 2012, was three. The Cougars sacked Mariota five times in the first half alone and seven times for the game. Mariota was still ridiculously effective—going 21-of-25 for 329 yards and five touchdowns—but the offense still managed “only” 38 points for the game.

While Crosby and Pierson are the easy targets, head coach Mark Helfrich believes that long-time starters, such as center Hroniss Grasu and left guard Hamani Stevens, contributed to substandard play from the offensive line.

"It wasn't so much the new guys that it was some other guys trying to do too much like I talked about last night," Helfrich said during his usual Sunday teleconference, per The Oregonian's Andrew Greif. "There are a few things that were just really Day One assignment kind of issues and that's frustrating but yeah they changed it up."

While the Ducks line struggled for most of the game, they did get better as the game wore on. Grasu agrees with that sentiment: "(The linemen) calmed down and focused a little more,” he said, according to Greif.

Grasu has a point. The Ducks scored on their final three possessions of the game before running out the clock on their last possession.

Perhaps the inexperienced offensive line got better as the game wore on, and they began to understand the pressure that the Cougars were sending their way. It also helped that Mariota began to roll out more and get the ball out of his hands more rapidly.

One of Oregon’s mantras during the Chip Kelly and post-Kelly eras has been “next man up.” The Ducks have confidence in their young offensive linemen and believe that they will excel. There’s no reason to doubt that the inexperienced players will step up—especially when you consider that the Ducks have gone 61-9 since 2007, Kelly’s first year at Oregon.

The Ducks continually replace players and expect them to step up to the challenge. For the most part those players have excelled.

During this bye week it is crucial for the offensive line to come together as a unit and improve upon what was their worst performance since 2012, as evidenced by the seven sacks allowed.

The cure is more repetitions. The Ducks coaches must figure out a way to remedy this situation by the time Arizona comes rumbling into town on Oct. 2.

 

Defensive Miscues 

The best way to describe Oregon’s defense so far this year is two-faced. At their best, it is a ball-hawking group that bends but doesn’t break. In fact, Oregon’s defense has ranked in the top 20 nationally in turnovers gained in each season since 2010.

For three quarters against Michigan State, and full games against South Dakota and Wyoming, the defense has played its role to perfection.

However, in the second quarter against Michigan State, a quarter in which it allowed 24 points, and against Washington State, the Ducks defense has looked soft and uninspired.

Yes, the Ducks are replacing six starters from their 2013 team that ranked No. 19 in turnover margin. However, inexperience isn’t an excuse for the inconsistencies on defense so far this season.

The biggest issues for the Ducks defensively are getting consistent pressure on the quarterback and allowing yards through the air.

So far this season the Ducks have given up an average of 315 yards passing per game, which ranks No. 120 out of 128 eligible schools. To be fair, the Ducks are ranked No. 23 in sacks per game, having gotten three per game so far this season. However, those sack numbers are a bit misleading.

While the Ducks have been able to score sacks, they’ve generally lacked the ability to cause havoc in the backfield, thereby giving quarterbacks time in the pocket to accurately gun down their intended targets.

Aerial attacks from Michigan State and Washington State have eaten the Ducks alive defensively. Cougars quarterback Connor Halliday was 43-of-63 for 436 yards against the Ducks. Spartans quarterback Connor Cook threw for 343 yards on 47 attempts, 29 of which were completed. Perhaps the Ducks will have better luck against quarterbacks not named Connor.

Here are some other facts about Oregon’s defense this year. The Ducks are ranked No. 99 in total defense, giving up 468 yards per game so far in 2014. The defense is also ranked No. 44 nationally with 24 points per game allowed.

While Oregon’s defense has physically struggled against the passing game, Helfrich believes the team has struggled more mentally than physically, especially against Washington State.

Helfrich said, per Greif:

From the mental aspect when you look at it on defense we really gave up about 200 yards in missed tackles and leverage. There were some things that we just have to shore up and understanding how you fit in the defense and where your help is and how to play it inside-out and outside-in depending on where that it, communication and that's very easily accomplished in a walk-through setting better than a practice setting in getting healthy to get ready for next week.

New defensive coordinator Don Pellum is partially to blame, as his 3-4 scheme has failed at times to bring the heat on opposing quarterbacks. His defense wasn’t getting any pressure against Washington State, something that also occurred in the second quarter against the Spartans. The lack of pressure is directly tied to Pellum’s affinity for dropping eight defenders into coverage against pass-heavy opponents.

"We did some three-man rush and had to adjust to a four-man rush, played some zone and played some man and played some man-under zone," Pellum said, according to Greif. "We had to mix it up a little bit."

Oregon’s inexperienced secondary has struggled in on-on-one matchups. Going forward, Pellum and the Ducks defense are going to need to find a way to get more pressure in the backfield and force quicker decisions from opposing quarterbacks. The Ducks secondary simply cannot hold up against talented quarterbacks when they have more than three or four seconds in the pocket.

 

Get Healthy

Helfrich stated that one of the goals for the bye week is to get healthier as a team heading into the matchup against Arizona. “Certainly that's one goal of this time if there is a little lapse of time it's to get healthier and everybody's fighting that.”

The Ducks have obviously experienced significant injuries along the offensive line, and no one knows when Fisher or Yruretagoyena will be able to see the field again, though it’s possible both of them are out for the year.

At this point in the season, all teams have nagging injuries and the Ducks are no different. While practice reps are important, especially for some of the more inexperienced positions, it is more important for the Ducks to take care of their injuries and get ready for the heart of their Pac-12 conference matchups.

Helfrich understands that the Ducks are still growing as a team and need to improve in the coming weeks if they are to reach their lofty goals.

“We're getting better in some areas and we need to improve in many and we'll start back with that on Tuesday” said Helfrich.

Helfrich and the rest of the Ducks coaching staff know that this bye week is crucial for them. They must straighten out their defensive issues, coach up their young offensive line, and hopefully get healthy.

The meat of the Pac-12 conference schedule is ahead of them. Every single opponent is going to give the second-ranked Ducks their best shot.

Oregon would be wise to get their ducks in a row.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Oregon Football: Adjustments Ducks Must Make During Bye Week

Despite the fact that Oregon is undefeated and is the second-ranked team in the nation, according to The Associated Press , the Ducks are not infallible and must make significant adjustments during their first bye week...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Most Important Stat for Each Top 10 Team so Far

Is any number more significant than the final score?

Though the key to building a successful season is actually winning games, identifying the driving force behind victories is critical in predicting continued success.

Whether it’s rushing yards, turnover margin, sacking the quarterback or defending the pass, every great team is great at something specific.

It’s why Florida State’s No. 18-ranked rushing defense mattered last season, a unit that gave up only 124.7 yards per game. 

Even though the ‘Noles coughed up 232 ground yards to No. 2 Auburn in the BCS title game, it was the fewest the Tigers managed in their last nine games and almost 100 yards short of their average output.

Here’s a look at the early-season magic number for each AP Top 10 team in 2014—stats that have gotten each team to the top and may be the reason it stays for the long haul.

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Tyrek Cole to West Virginia: Mountaineers Land 4-Star CB Prospect

Tyrek Cole, a 4-star cornerback prospect, per 247Sports, from Miramar High School in Hollywood, Florida, announced Monday that he will play college football for the West Virginia Mountaineers.

He confirmed the news himself on Twitter:

Cole took to Twitter earlier in the day to confirm he'd renounced his commitment to Florida State:

Mike Farrell of Yahoo Sports inferred that Cole would choose West Virginia:

According to 247Sports' composite rankings, Cole is the seventh-ranked cornerback in the 2015 class and the No. 88 overall prospect.

With a social media handle that reads, "Cole_island" and a picture of New England Patriots superstar Darrelle Revis in the background, it's evident that Cole has high aspirations on the gridiron.

But before he can make the leap to the NFL, Cole has a whole bright collegiate career ahead of him. Cole has the attitude and all the natural instincts to be a lockdown corner. What he has to work on most is building up his bulk without sacrificing too much speed or quickness.

Measuring in at 5'11.5" is an asset for Cole, whose tenacity and ability to combat receivers with his hands makes him play stronger than he appears at just 170 pounds.

Cole can close quickly on the ball and possesses natural coverage skills that can't necessarily be taught. As he continues to hone his craft and refine his technique, intensified coaching is bound to only accentuate Cole's current strengths.

What also makes Cole so exciting is that he isn't afraid to step up in run support. When he puts on some added muscle, he'll be an even more formidable tackler. Feeding off the hits he makes in the running game in addition to his playmaking in coverage will morph Cole into a more complete player.

There is a definite chance for Cole to see the field right away. Cole's current skill set likely translates best to the slot, but he can move to the outside as a sophomore or junior when he fills out his frame a bit. That ought to aid his all-around development and see him develop an even deeper understanding of schematics, making Cole a threat to shut down any team's top receiver.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Michigan Giving Away Tickets vs. Minnesota with Purchase of Coke Products

After a 2-2 start that includes last week's 26-10 loss to Utah, the Michigan Wolverines are probably starting to see a pretty big decline in ticket sales, which is probably what inspired this promotion.

With the purchase of two Coca-Cola products listed at $1.50 apiece, Michigan fans can apparently get two free tickets to this Saturday's game against the Minnesota Golden Gophers. One fan even tweeted a photo of the tickets he supposedly received as part of this ridiculous bargain.

 

Updates from Monday, Sept. 22

According to ESPN's Darren Rovell, the promotion was a "miscommunication", and the director of football communications at Michigan released a statement to clarify.

--End of Updates--

 

Alejandro Zuniga of The Michigan Daily tweeted a picture to confirm the promotion.

[Twitter, Reddit, h/t College Spun]

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs. Syracuse Orange Complete Game Preview

After a much-needed week off, Notre Dame begins its ACC scheduling commitment when it heads east to take on Syracuse. For the first time this season, the Irish will play a game outside of Indiana, finally boarding a plane in the last weekend of September. But Syracuse has moved this game out of the Carrier Dome, heading to MetLife Stadium as the Irish play their second straight game in an NFL, neutral-site stadium. 

It's been five seasons since Notre Dame played Syracuse, their first game since the demoralizing 24-23 loss in 2008, when Greg Robinson's hapless squad very nearly spelled the end of the Charlie Weis era in a senior day disappointment. Since then, both programs have seen quite a bit of change. 

For the Orange, Robinson was replaced by native son Doug Marrone, who returned to his alma mater to lead the program back to respectability. But after four seasons, he surprised many by taking the Buffalo Bills head coaching job. That brought in Scott Shafer, who has his second Orange team 2-1, though coming off a disappointing home loss to Maryland. 

Of course, Notre Dame's program hardly resembles the one that last played the Orange. Ranked in the Top 10 and playing excellent football on both sides of the ball, a nationally televised prime-time game may have lost a bit of its luster with the Orange falling to the Terrapins, but it will still serve as a good measuring stick before Notre Dame gets into the meat of their schedule.  

Let's get you ready for Saturday night's game.  

 

Date: Saturday, Sept. 27

Time: 8:00 p.m. ET

Place: MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey

TV: ESPN

Radio: IMG College Sports, SiriusXM Channel 129

Spread: Notre Dame by 11.5, according to Odds Shark.

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Nebraska Cornhuskers vs. Illinois Fighting Illini Complete Game Preview

It's homecoming week for the Nebraska Cornhuskers. To kick things off, the Huskers open Big Ten Conference play against Illinois at Memorial Stadium.

Nebraska leads the series 8-2-1, per Huskers.com. While the two teams have played a total of 11 times, only four of those matchups have happened since 1953. The other seven took place between 1892 and 1925, per HuskerMax.com.

The Huskers (-18) are greatly favored over the Fighting Illini, according to Odds Shark. Nebraska wants to win big too. With I-back Ameer Abdullah's Heisman campaign gaining more and more attention, the Huskers would like to be undefeated when they roll into East Lansing, Michigan, on Oct. 4. An undefeated season to that point would not only help Abdullah but would also keep Nebraska on track to the Big Ten Championship.

Who will come away victorious in Week 5?

 

Where: Memorial Stadium, Lincoln, Nebraska

When: Saturday, September 27, at 9 p.m. ET

Watch: Big Ten Network

Listen: Husker Sports Network or Sirius Channel 113, XM 195

Betting Line via Odds Shark: Nebraska (-18)

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Why Florida Head Coach Will Muschamp's Seat Is Hotter Than Michigan's Brady Hoke

Michigan head coach Brady Hoke and Florida head coach Will Muschamp: a pair of dead men walking.

Each man's firing went from likely to inevitable in Week 4, but Muschamp's fate seems especially sealed.

This is true despite the fact that Hoke's team has been worse than Muschamp's team in 2014. Neither has looked good, but Florida has one loss to Michigan's two and has at least managed to score some points against power-five competition. The Wolverines have redefined stagnant.

Hoke is in a similarly dismal position to that of Muschamp, as outlined in thorough detail by Bleacher Report's Phil Callihan, who wrote that Hoke has "fumbled his chance to rebuild Michigan and it will cost him his job." His assessment is frank and, in all likelihood, true.

Regardless, Muschamp's grim outlook is grimmer than Hoke's grim outlook, in large part because of where he plays, whom he plays and how long he's been playing there/against them.

If four years isn't enough to get things right, the SEC will eat you alive.

Muschamp and Hoke are in kindred situations—and not just because of their impending expiration date.

Both were weened on the defensive side of the football. Both have made a BCS bowl. Both have done a pretty good job recruiting, and both replaced a scapegoat offensive coordinator with a splashy addition this winter.

Those splashy additions, however, have not made much of a difference. Or at least they have not through four games. Doug Nussmeier's offense has looked a lot like Al Borges' at Michigan, and Kurt Roper's offense has looked a lot like Brent Pease's at Florida. Big, Dumb and Ugly from the shotgun is still Big, Dumb and Ugly. The only thing that's changed is the potential for an airmailed snap.

Michigan's two games against power-five competition have been a 31-0 loss at Notre Dame—the program's first offensive shutout since 1984—and a 26-10 home loss to Utah. Florida's two games against power-five competition have been a 36-30 overtime win at Kentucky and a 41-21 loss at Alabama.

Both teams are 0-2 in the "did we not get embarrassed?" department, and neither coach can afford for that to drop to 0-3. They need to make tangible progress, and they need to do it soon.

Which brings us to the upcoming schedule:

Florida gets a bye this week, and the Tennessee team it plays in Week 6 will be coming off a road trip to Georgia.

However, it will also be playing in the Vols' SEC home opener…in Neyland Stadium…against a team that, at this point, might actually have more upside than the Gators. It's younger, sure, but it's also untainted by the pock of Muschamp's coaching.

Butch Jones knows how to develop an offense.

A loss at Tennessee would extra-seal Muschamp's fate. A loss at Tennesee followed by a loss to LSU would end his tenure. If the Gators start the season 2-3 overall and 0-3 in SEC play, Muschamp will not be the coach against Missouri on October 11.

Even 3-2 and 1-2 might wrap things up.

Hoke, meanwhile, gets winnable games against Minnesota and at Rutgers before hosting Penn State in Week 7. The Gophers and Scarlet Knights are playing better ball than Michigan right now, but they are an easier pair of opponents than Tennessee and LSU.

And if Hoke enters a night game against Penn State with a 2-0 Big Ten record—especially if Penn State is ranked at that point, as it very well might be—he'll get another last-ditch chance to save his job.

Muschamp eluded being fired last offseason because of his defense, which finished No. 17 in the F/+ ratings at Football Outsiders despite his team's 4-8 record. The year before that, when Florida went 11-2 and played in the Sugar Bowl, it finished No. 2 in the same metric.

This year's defense let up 450 yards to Kentucky—Kentucky!—and a school-record 645 yards to Alabama. Career backup Blake Sims looked like future Heisman candidate Blake Sims, and career punchline Lane Kiffin looked like future head coach (again) Lane Kiffin.

With no defense to hang his hat on, what does Muschamp have left? The depth he's built along the offensive line? The development of Jeff Driskel? The camaraderie he's fostered in the locker room?

No

Nope.

And quite literally the opposite:

"We feel like we're as talented a football team as anybody in the [SEC] East," Muschamp said after the loss to Alabama, per OnlyGators.com.

And in this case, he's exactly right.

Florida is as talented a football team as anybody in the SEC East. It's as talented a football team as just about anybody in America. But talent has never been the issue. That's exactly why his job is in such jeopardy to begin with: Coaching is the reason this team stinks.

The same can (and should) be said about Hoke and the fiasco at Michigan, but playing in the Big Ten is a benefit Muschamp doesn't have. You can hide a mediocre team against the Rutgers and the Minnesotas of the world, and you can spin that hiding as improvement over the course of the season.

It takes a person with clouded judgement to fall for such an obvious ruse, but the "He's a Michigan Man!" defense has clouded plenty of peoples' judgements in the past.

Muschamp doesn't have a card like that to play.

The only defense he has just got abused on national television.

 

Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ohio State Buckeyes vs. Cincinnati Bearcats Complete Game Preview

The last time the Ohio State football team left the field, the Buckeyes were admittedly unsure of how good they really were. But that should all change this Saturday, when the next pivotal opponent on OSU's schedule comes to town.

It won't be a long drive for the Buckeyes' foe, either, as it will just take Cincinnati a two-hour drive up I-71 to come to Columbus for the Bearcats' next Buckeye State battle. Ohio State, however, will hardly be the cake walk that Toledo and Miami (Ohio) were for UC, and the Bearcats will be a much more formidable foe than Kent State was for the Buckeyes before OSU's bye.

Factor in the Buckeyes' newly installed press coverage defense squaring off with Cincinnati's pass-happy offensive approach, and this weekend's matchup has all of the makings of an instant classic. It could also prove to be a turning point in the season for both Buckeye State programs, both of whom still have high hopes for their 2014 campaigns.

Until then, here's everything you need to know about this weekend's battle between the Buckeyes and the Bearcats:

Date: Saturday, Sept. 27

Time: 6 p.m. ET

Place: Ohio Stadium in Columbus, Ohio

TV: Big Ten Network

Radio: Ohio State Football Radio NetworkBearcat IMG Sports Network

Spread: Ohio State (-12.5), via Odds Shark 

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Alabama Football: What You Should and Shouldn't Be Concerned About After 4 Games

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Alabama's football team enters its bye week very much on a high note, fresh off a 42-21 win over Florida that wasn’t as close as the scoreboard would indicate.

There is very much a sense that the AP Top 25 Poll's third-ranked team could do something special this year, even with so much uncertainty heading into the season.

After four games—two against respectable, power-five teams and two against lower-level FBS schools—we’re starting to get a sense of what the identity of this team could be.

Here is what you should and shouldn’t be concerned about going into the bye week and the meat of Alabama’s SEC schedule.

 

Should: Interior Offensive Line Play

The biggest difference between this offense and Alabama offenses of old isn’t the big-play capability on the perimeter but a lack of a power run game.

That was one of Alabama’s biggest assets in its 2012 championship year. It boasted a historic offensive line that could bully teams in the run game into submission.

It regressed in 2013 and doesn’t look like it’s gotten much better this season.

Pro Football Focus graded the Alabama-Florida game as part of its college game of the week, and both center Ryan Kelly and right guard Leon Brown received negative grades in run-blocking and overall.

Left guard Arie Kouandjio has been better than expected and still received a run-blocking grade just above average (0.1).

As the game went on, Alabama had more and more success running the ball, but most of those runs were outside the tackles.

There will come a time when the Crimson Tide will need to run north-south consistently to take control of a close game, and so far it’s unclear whether they’ll be able to do that against a good opponent.

 

Shouldn’t: Quarterback Play

Put simply: Blake Sims has exceeded expectations, and then some.

He threw for the second-most yards in Alabama history on Saturday in his first SEC game, and even more impressively he’s commanded the offense with confidence and not gone “rat-trap”—essentially, giving up on plays too early—like Saban has criticized him for before.

Sims was expected to take a backseat to Florida State transfer Jake Coker but has emerged as one of Alabama’s best players on offense.

He dispelled all criticism that he couldn’t throw the ball downfield on Saturday, consistently hitting medium-range throws over the middle and nailing the long ball several times.

 

Should: Secondary

On paper, Alabama’s secondary played well against Florida. In reality, the Gators offense is not very good, and the Crimson Tide benefited from that.

Cornerback play has actually improved since the season opener. Freshman cornerback Tony Brown had a positive grade in his first start and looks like he’s here to stay in that role. Eddie Jackson is struggling to stay healthy, but Cyrus Jones has started every game and also had a positive grade in the game.

Alabama’s biggest problem is at safety, especially in Nickel and Dime situations.

Landon Collins is probably the best safety in the game, but there isn’t much help around him. Nick Perry and Jabriel Washington have been nothing to write home about. Geno Smith and Maurice Smith are talented but still learning. Smith had one of the worst grades for Alabama on defense.

The good news is that Jarrick Williams should be healthy by the time the Crimson Tide play Ole Miss next week. That should help Alabama’s safety issues to some extent, especially at "Star," the fifth defensive back in nickel sets.

PFF graded Florida’s passing offense at a putrid minus-8.7. The Rebels can stretch the field in the passing game and will be the secondary’s next big test this season.

 

Shouldn’t: Play-Calling

From the first play, new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin called a brilliant game against Florida that had been building up since Week 1.

He exploited mismatches all over the field and got the ball into the hands of Alabama’s playmakers. When the aforementioned inside run game was struggling, he stayed in the air and came back to it in the fourth quarter when the defense was gassed.

It was a much more wide-open attack than we’re accustomed to seeing, but it’s actually a lot closer to what coach Nick Saban wants out of his offense.

“I love this, the way we play. I always want to play this way,” Saban said on Monday before a meeting with the Birmingham Monday Morning Quarterback Club. “I want to take what the defense gives. One of the things that we really like, and I like to do philosophically, we do now, and we talk about this a lot, is try to eliminate the other team having the opportunity to give you a negative play because you don’t have enough flexibility to either spit the ball out to a receiver or change the play and go in the other direction.

“And I think that’s the one thing that we’ve done a really good job of so far offensively. I think Lane does a great job in planning that way, and the players have executed pretty well,” he said.

Kiffin is showing why he is regarded as one of the best offensive minds in the game.

 

Marc Torrence is the Alabama lead writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Florida State vs. NC State: Complete Game Preview

No. 1 Florida State has had to use two gritty performances to open 3-0.

The Seminoles needed a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns to hold off Oklahoma State 37-31 in the season opener. And on Saturday they used a few late defensive stands and a Karlos Williams touchdown run in overtime to take a 23-17 win over Clemson.

Now FSU moves into a softer part of its 2014 schedule. The Seminoles' next three games are at North Carolina State (4-0) on Saturday, back home for Wake Forest (2-2) on Oct. 4 and at Syracuse (2-1) Oct. 11. 

While N.C. State is 4-0, the Wolfpack haven't been tested. They rallied in the final two minutes to edge Georgia Southern 24-23 in the opener and then defeated Old Dominion 46-34, South Florida 49-17 and Presbyterian 42-0.

Here's a look at FSU's matchup at North Carolina State on Saturday at 3:30 p.m.

 

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8 College Football Recruits Who Had an Explosive Week

Standout college football prospects delivered dazzling plays and game-changing performances throughout the nation this past weekend. Their achievements provide plenty for us to discuss in our weekly rundown of top efforts from premier players.

Offensive fireworks stole the show in some parts of the country, while defenders dominated elsewhere. Here's our latest look at those who shined.

 

4-star athlete Ray-Ray McCloud, Sickles High School (Tampa, Florida)

Constant rain showers couldn't slow down the Clemson commit Friday night. McCloud muscled and maneuvered his way through the mud for 171 rushing yards and a touchdown, per Jeff Berlinicke of The Tampa Tribune.

The 5'9", 175-pound playmaker could see time at both receiver and running back in college. He also flashed some passing skills in the 15-7 win over Steinbrenner High School, throwing a 30-yard touchdown strike to put Sickles on the board first.

“It was wet but we used it to our advantage,” McCloud told Berlinicke. “Passing is part of our offense and we had that play set up. It felt like the right play at the right time.”

McCloud, who rushed for 2,300 yards as a junior, has 652 yards and six scores on the ground through four games this year, per MaxPreps.

 

4-star defensive back Micah Abernathy, Greater Atlanta Christian School (Norcross, Georgia)

The coveted cornerback proved again he's capable of contributing on either side of the ball. Abernathy returned from an injury he suffered in the season opener to carry Greater Atlanta Christian to a 41-0 victory over Hapewell Charter. 

He rushed for three touchdowns in the first half with those dashes coming from distances of 57, 14 and 43 yards, per Katie Mucci of the Gwinnett Daily Post. The 6'1", 187-pound prospect is likely to line up in the defensive secondary at the next level.

Abernathy spent an official visit at Oregon earlier this month and could be lured out west despite significant interest in SEC territory. Teams in pursuit include Tennessee, Ohio State and Georgia.

 

4-star 2017 quarterback Tate Martell, Bishop Gorman High School (Las Vegas, Nevada)

The first-year transfer quarterback's emergence as a catalyst for the nation's top-ranked high school squad rates among the most compelling storylines this season has to offer. He remained unbeaten as the Gaels' starter with a scintillating performance Friday night against Southern California powerhouse Santa Margarita Catholic. 

Martell completed 8 of 11 attempts for 193 yards and three touchdowns, per David Schoen of the Las Vegas Journal-Review. The 5'11", 180-pound passer kept the pressure on opposing defenders with impressive improvisational skills.

He looked particularly spectacular on the contest's first scoring play. Martell evaded pressure and launched an 80-yard touchdown toss, which Rivals reporter Rob Cassidy chronicled:

The effort even warranted a response from UFC president and Bishop Gorman graduate Dana White, who compared him to 2012 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel:

Martell, who started as a freshman at Poway High School in California, has more than 1,000 total yards and 11 touchdowns through five games. He committed to Washington before eighth grade, but several other programs continue to pursue.

 

3-star defensive back Ronnie James, Glassboro High School (Glassboro, New Jersey)

The two-way standout made a statement Friday evening, running wild against an overwhelmed Salem High School defense. James, a 6'0", 180-pound prospect who projects favorably at safety in college, carried the ball 13 times for 225 yards and three scores in a 41-15 victory, per NJ.com.

He rumbled for two touchdown runs over 70 yards and added a second-quarter receiving score. James reached the end zone three times before intermission (one of which you can watch in the video below).

His older brother, Paul James, is the leading rusher at Rutgers. He is also set to join the Scarlet Knights next season following an August commitment.

 

4-star Travis Waller, Servite High School (Anaheim, California)

The Oregon pledge gained a reputation as one of the country's most dangerous dual-threat quarterbacks by exhibiting big-play abilities with his legs.

This season, following a summer that featured an Elite 11 finals appearance, Waller looks like a more complete prospect who can operate at a high level from within the pocket.

He put those improvements on display Friday night during a 42-21 win over Edison. Waller dissected the defensive secondary, racking up 327 passing yards and four touchdowns, per Steve Fryer of the Orange County Register.

His latest passing performance (20-of-28) provided further evidence of Waller's maturation at the position. 

"I’m trying to trust my arm more than my legs this season," he told Fryer after the victory.

 

5-star 2016 running back Kareem Walker, DePaul Catholic (Wayne, New Jersey)

The top-rated junior rusher reminded everyone why he earned 5-star status as an underclassman with a dominant performance against Pascack Valley. Walker erupted for 254 yards on 20 carries in a 35-14 victory, per NJ.com.

He scored four touchdowns and was at his finest in the fourth quarter. The 6'1", 210-pound playmaker sprinted for 97- and 71-yard scores during the final frame.

Walker visited Rutgers earlier this month for the Penn State game. His offer list includes Alabama, Clemson, Penn State, Notre Dame and Florida State. 

 

5-star wide receiver Calvin Ridley, Monarch High School (Pompano Beach, Florida)

Ridley wrapped up his high school career in style Friday night. The Alabama commit could only compete in three games as a senior due to age restrictions.

He turned 19 years and nine months old, surpassing the limit for Florida high school athletes. Ridley, rated No. 1 nationally among receivers, caught seven passes for 186 yards and two touchdowns.

His final reception resulted in a 40-yard score in a 48-0 win over Piper High School, per Ryan Acquavita of the Sun Sentinel.

Ridley enjoyed a masterful abbreviated season. His last performance punctuated a three-game stretch that included 18 catches, 420 yards and six touchdowns. 

“He’s put us on the map nationwide,” Monarch coach Calvin Davis told Steve Gorten of the Sun Sentinel. “Being rated the top receiver in the country [by ESPN and Rivals.com] does a lot for your program. It does a lot for the morale of the kids. So he’s been a huge asset to our program. I don’t know where we’d be without him.”

The 6'0", 170-pound recruit celebrated the end of his high school career with a trip to Tuscaloosa, where he watched Amari Cooper become the Crimson Tide's all-time leader in touchdown catches. It's a mark Ridley could someday have in his cross-hairs.

 

5-star 2016 defensive back Levonta Taylor, Ocean Lakes High School (Virginia Beach, Virginia)

Taylor, rated the No. 1 cornerback in his class, put on a clinic Friday night. He recorded six tackles and showed off ball-hawking skills that have so many top-tier college programs clamoring for his commitment. 

The 5'10", 170-pound defender picked off a pair of passes, returning one for a touchdown, per Gerry Hamilton of ESPN. Taylor also raced to the end zone on a punt return.

His offer list continues to expand. Scholarship have arrived from Arizona State, Georgia, Duke and Kentucky this month.

 

Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Deshaun Watson Named Clemson QB: Is He the Future of the ACC?

The Clemson Tigers have made a change at quarterback. After a heartbreaking loss to the Florida State Seminoles, head coach Dabo Swinney told reporters that he has decided to pull senior QB Cole Stoudt in favor of freshman Deshaun Watson.

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder discusses the quarterback situation for the Tigers.

Did Swinney make the right decision?

Watch the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Super 16 Poll Week 5: Complete Rankings Released for 2014 Season

There were close calls, shocking results and Heisman-esque performances. There were conference clashes, prime-time matchups and points galore. 

In other words, it was just another weekend of college football.   

And with this week's results, the Super 16 poll—a poll that votes under the premise of deciding the top 16 teams in the nation as though there were a 16-team playoff to finish the season—has once again shifted.

Let's take a look at the latest poll, along with Bleacher Report's official Top 25, and recap this week's most notable action.

 

Analysis

A lot of teams are likely feeling pretty lucky to either be as high as they are on this week's poll or even included at all.

Florida State gave Clemson every opportunity to win and still survived. Auburn was tested by Kansas State. Washington State gave Oregon everything it could handle and then some. West Virginia gave Oklahoma something to ponder, though the Sooners pulled away in the second half. Alabama faced a similar challenge against Florida.

And then there was LSU, which shockingly lost to Mississippi State. 

"It's not necessarily just the players," head coach Les Miles told The Associated Press, via ESPN.com, after LSU's disappointing performance. "I'm putting first of all the responsibility on me. I know our guys on our team expect more from themselves... They're stung and it's not something that they enjoyed."

No indeed. It would be hard to enjoy giving up 570 yards of total offense, with 302 coming on the ground. 

Meanwhile, Clemson's brutal schedule to start the season has not done it any favors. A trip to Georgia in the opener certainly humbled the Tigers, while Saturday night's overtime loss to Florida State broke their hearts, especially since the Seminoles put the game on a silver platter for Clemson and the away side couldn't take advantage.

Just consider the following stat from John Buccigross of ESPN:

You don't win football games by failing to convert in the red zone; it's really that simple. And you don't win the ACC by failing to beat a Jameis Winston-less Florida State, either.

Oregon is likely counting its blessings, meanwhile, and most of them begin with the words, "God bless Marcus Mariota." The star quarterback completed 21 of 25 passes for 329 passing yards and five touchdowns with no turnovers despite being sacked seven times. Can you say Heisman?

Of course, the defense was also pushed to the max, giving up 436 passing yards and four touchdowns to opposing quarterback Connor Halliday. Oregon's opponents are going to take two things from the game film: You can harass Oregon's offensive line with a solid pass rush, and you can certainly throw the ball against the Ducks.

Whether or not that's enough to beat Mariota and company remains to be seen.

With most of the big teams surviving this week, there simply weren't that many surprises in the Super 16. There might be some movement this week, however, with UCLA facing Arizona State and Missouri taking on South Carolina, while there's always the possibility for a major upset.       

College football is as crazy and enthralling as ever. Expect even more surprises next week.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Shy Tuttle Sets Decision Date: Which Program Is Best Fit for 4-Star DT?

One lucky team will land a potential difference-maker to its 2015 recruiting class on Friday afternoon when 4-star defensive tackle Shy Tuttle will announce his commitment, according to Ryan Bartow of 247Sports.

Earlier in the summer, the Lexington, North Carolina, product tweeted out a top five of Clemson, Miami, North Carolina, N.C. State and Tennessee.

However, this battle appears as if it will come down to the two home-state schools and neighboring Tennessee.

All three schools have made waves in their attempts to woo Tuttle—such as UNC head coach Larry Fedora and N.C. State head coach Dave Doeren taking helicopters to visit him during a game earlier this month and Tennessee sending him mail with his picture photoshopped next to Beyonce.

But which school provides the best opportunity for the 6’3”, 315-pounder to succeed? Let’s break down his top three choices and their pitches in hopes of landing Tuttle.

 

North Carolina

Larry Fedora and the North Carolina Tar Heels were the early favorites to land Tuttle, who lives less than 80 miles away from Chapel Hill. 

To say that the Tar Heels defense could use a run-stuffing defensive tackle would be an understatement. Through three games, UNC has allowed 668 yards rushing and ranks 111th nationally in rush defense, according to cfbstats

Additionally, per Ourlads, three of their top four interior defensive linemen are upperclassmen—which presents Tuttle with a great opportunity to come in and play right off the bat.

Considering the proximity to home and the chance at early playing time, North Carolina presents Tuttle with a strong case as to why he should migrate east to Chapel Hill for the next four seasons.

 

N.C. State

After going 3-9 in his first season as N.C. State’s head coach, Dave Doeren quietly has the Wolfpack sitting at 4-0 heading into this weekend’s matchup against top-ranked Florida State. 

On the recruiting trail, N.C. State’s 2015 class—which is currently rated the worst in the ACC—could use the jolt of adding the state’s top-ranked player.

One of the Wolfpack’s two interior spots on the defensive line has a pair of seniors in the two-deep, according to Ourlads.

The chance to be a signature defensive recruit for a team on the rise has to be appealing for Tuttle.

 

Tennessee

Another one of Tuttle’s suitors with a second-year head coach who is building some positive momentum is Butch Jones at Tennessee.

Unlike the Wolfpack, whose class currently sits at No. 72 nationally, the Volunteers have assembled a Top-10 class in the 2015 cycle.

A particularly appealing opportunity for Tuttle would be the chance to line up alongside 5-star Vols commit Kahlil McKenzie, which would form one of the most formidable defensive line tandems in the country. 

Additionally, the Vols have one senior, one junior and a third-year sophomore filling out three of the top four spots in their two-deep, per Ourlads. Another thing helping Tennessee is Tuttle’s bond with Vols defensive line coach Steve Stripling.

“He told me I’d be playing tackle, but I’d learn all the positions,” Tuttle told Ryan Callahan of GoVols247 (subscription required) earlier this spring. “And he showed me how they do things. (Stripling and I) talk pretty often. He’s put a lot of people in the NFL. He’s their coach, but then he’s going to look after you.”

While staying in-state has its perks, the Vols can counter with the allure of playing in the SEC.

 

The Pick 

The main selling point for the Tar Heels is their inviting depth chart, while N.C. State and Tennessee are still building on the excitement of new coaching staffs who appear to have their programs headed in the right direction.

When considering factors such as playing time, a chance to win and the best overall fit for Tuttle, the Vols seem to have the best combination for him to find success in the short- and long-term.

Regardless of which school he chooses, Tuttle is a candidate to make an immediate impact as soon as he steps foot on campus next season.

 

Sanjay Kirpalani is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

UCLA vs. Arizona State: Complete Game Preview

When: Thursday, Sept. 25, 10 p.m. ET Where: Sun Devil Stadium; Tempe, Ariz. TV: Fox Sports 1 Every UCLA vs. Arizona State encounter of the last three seasons was decided on the final drive...

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