NCAA Football

Florida State Football: What an Improved O-Line Would Mean for the 'Noles

What would an improved offensive line mean for the Florida State football team? It would mean a better Jameis Winston.

The reigning Heisman Trophy winner has been very good in 2014 but hasn’t been consistently spectacular like he was during a memorable redshirt freshman campaign that saw him capture a handful of national awards and guide the Seminoles to the national championship.

After leading the nation in 2013 with a passer rating of 184.85, Winston’s current rating of 153.19 ranks 26th in the country. A top-30 passer rating is certainly nothing to scoff at, but Winston simply hasn’t been as sharp in his second year guiding the FSU offense.

However, this is no sophomore slump.

Instead, Winston’s dip in efficiency has everything to do with a wide receiver corps in transition.

After throwing the football to Kelvin Benjamin, Kenny Shaw and Rashad Greene all season en route to a title, Winston has had to continue to evolve with an aerial attack featuring a host of youngsters alongside the veteran playmaker Greene.

As Jared Shanker and ESPN Stats & Info reveals, Winston has proven his ability to play under pressure. But without a veteran pass-catching corps to trust like he did last year, Winston’s success rate when the play breaks down has dwindled dramatically:

While young wide receivers like Jesus Wilson, Travis Rudolph and Ermon Lane have emerged in recent weeks, it will still take some time for them to earn the same level of trust that Winston had in last year’s pass-catchers.

Having the security blanket of Benjamin’s 6’5” frame and Shaw's fearlessness going across the middle of the field to accompany Greene's premier route running can’t be overlooked when discussing Winston’s successful debut season.

So until that trust level reaches a similar level with every wide receiver not named Greene, the pressure is on FSU’s offensive line to step up and protect Winston even better with the hopes of keeping him out of those under-pressure situations.

It will also be important for the line to keep improving so that the Seminoles’ ground game can generate some consistency.

But that may prove to be easier said than done.

FSU lost starting center Austin Barron to injury in last week’s win over Wake Forest and is now expected to start redshirt freshman Ryan Hoefeld Saturday at Syracuse. Hoefeld will benefit from a should-be tune-up game against the Orange before potential undefeated teams FSU and Notre Dame clash Oct. 18.

It probably won’t matter against Syracuse, but Florida State’s offensive line needs to be better so that Winston can be better—especially with a likely Top Five matchup looming in the near future.

 

Brandon Mellor is a Florida State writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Statistics courtesy of Seminoles.com and cfbstats.com. All recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

Follow @BrandonMellor on Twitter.

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USC Football: How Trojans Can Contain Rich Rod's Arizona Offense

USC football has no time to catch its breath—not if it's to slow down the No. 10-ranked Arizona Wildcats. 

The Trojans defense is up against one of college football's most celebrated offensive minds Saturday night—Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez—just one week after it surrendered 20 points to Arizona State in less than four minutes. 

Arizona State's final offensive eruption left the USC defense stinging this week, in part because it had executed coordinator Justin Wilcox's strategy well for the previous 56 minutes. 

"Our defensive plan coming in, we wanted to set the tone and stop the run," cornerback Adoree' Jackson said Wednesday after practice at Howard Jones Field. The Trojans did that, limiting Arizona State to just 31 yards rushing as a team.  

In selling out against the Sun Devils' multifaceted run game, in particular running back D.J. Foster, Jackson described more of a containment philosophy against the pass. 

"Which we did a good job of doing," he said. "Until the last three minutes of the game." 

USC's performance before that final stretch was not lost on Arizona State head coach Todd Graham, who saw his high-octane offense held to around 300 total yards up to that point. 

Of course, most offenses in the Pac-12 operate in such a way that a few minutes is all they need to change a game's dynamic. 

 

Quick Change 

Arizona State quarterback Mike Bercovici threw for 233 of his 510 yards in the Sun Devils' final three possessions.

Combined with the 462 rushing yards Wilcox's defense gave up in a Week 3 loss at Boston College, Arizona State's final burst has attracted criticism. 

Head coach Steve Sarkisian was adamant Wednesday in his defense of Wilcox's play-calling. 

"Justin's done a very good job," Sarkisian said. "It's unfortunate that the [Arizona State] game ended the way it did...I thought we played really good defense on Saturday for three-and-a-half quarters. 

"We give up a 4th-and-10 [conversion] on a 98-yard drive that extends the drive and they score a touchdown," he added. "We gave up...a [73]-yard touchdown pass, and we gave up a Hail Mary. So I don't think that's necessarily indicative of the defense we have." 

In addition to its performance for much of the way against Arizona State, Sarkisian also referred to USC limiting Pac-12 single-season passing record holder and Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion to 123 yards in Week 5. 

USC has shown flashes of being a great defense but must sustain it for an entire 60 minutes to beat Arizona. 

The Wildcats promise to test Wilcox's bunch with its many weapons, some of which can be unleashed out of the same sets. 

"They're a run-option pass team," Jackson said. "Basically you have to figure out if they're running the ball, optioning or passing the ball, because they do all three in one play." 

 

Anu Challenge for USC 

Quarterback Anu Solomon is the catalyst who sets the wheels in motion for Arizona's multidimensional attack. And like Arizona State's Bercovici, he's someone who can erupt for big yards in short periods of time.  

At 348.2 yards per game, Solomon is the nation's seventh-most prolific passer. In the last two games, Solomon put together a 235-yard fourth quarter against Cal and a 143-yard third quarter at Oregon, per ArizonaWildcats.com.

Solomon's gaudy passing statistics are in part the result of what Sarkisian describes as "a plethora of receivers." 

Arizona has five receivers with 10 or more catches this season, led by Cayleb Jones' 32 for 525 yards. Jones is reminiscent of Arizona State's Jaelen Strong, who hit USC for 202 yards a week ago. 

As it has all season, the USC secondary must contain the pass without redshirt senior cornerback Josh Shaw. Shaw was suspended indefinitely prior to Week 1 for lying about an incident in which he injured his ankles. 

"It's obvious when you have a senior and leader, you'd love to have him out there," Sarkisian said of Shaw. "Especially in our conference where so many people are throwing the ball." 

Shaw's absence has made for a decidedly young secondary. To wit, two of the unit's cornerstones—Jackson and Chris Hawkins—are freshmen.

In addition to its collective youth, the USC defense is also thin. That can wear down a unit faced with stopping an offense that operates as quickly as Arizona's. 

Much as Arizona State did last week, Arizona can put up points in a hurry. The Wildcats are so devoted to speed, Rodriguez appeared in video parodying the 1994 movie of that name. 

But for as good as the numbers say the Arizona offense is this season, there are dents in the Wildcats' armor previous opponents have exploited.

 

Aggression with Balance 

Despite his impressive statistics and growing national profile, Solomon is still a freshman prone to lapses.

"He's still growing up," Rodriguez said of Solomon on the Pac-12 coaches teleconference Tuesday.  

USC can look to Cal's effort for three quarters in Week 4 for inspiration on containing Rodriguez's offense and rattling Solomon.

The Golden Bears stacked the box to contain the run and mixed blitzes off the edges, which caused Solomon to force throws. 

Arizona also struggled to finish drives in Week 2 at UT-San Antonio. The Roadrunners brought consistent pressure, which resulted in a number of overthrows and missed targets from Solomon.

USC can slow Arizona with a similarly aggressive approach. The challenge then is not over-pursuing, which the Wildcats' zone read is designed to exploit. 

Boston College specifically attacked USC in that way. Hawkins said Eagles blockers intentionally left Trojans All-American defensive lineman Leonard Williams unchecked, allowing his pursuit of quarterback Tyler Murphy to dictate where the ball went. 

Rodriguez's system can make defenses pay in much the same fashion.

"It's a matter of making sure we're properly aligned," Sarkisian said. "It's not just about Leonard, it's about all 11 players on every defensive snap [ensuring] that our responsibilities are in tact."

Ultimately for USC Saturday, containing the Wildcats is as simple as meeting these responsibilities, Sarkisian said. As last week proved, however, the Trojans must do so for the entire night.  

 

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise cited. Statistics courtesy of CFBStats.com unless noted.  

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USC Football: How Trojans Can Contain Rich Rod's Arizona Offense

USC football has no time to catch its breath—not if it's to slow down the No. 10-ranked Arizona Wildcats...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

SEC Extra Points with Barrett Sallee: Jeff Driskel's Last Stand, Angry Spurrier

Jeff Driskel's Last Stand

Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel was benched late in the third quarter of the Gators' 10-9 win over Tennessee last week and watched from the sideline as true freshman Treon Harris led a 10-point fourth-quarter comeback to topple the Vols.

Two days later, Harris was suspended indefinitely from the program while under investigation for a sexual assault that allegedly occurred Sunday morning at an on-campus residence hall.

The quarterback job is Driskel's yet again, but he's going to have to be much better than he was against the Vols when he completed just 11 of 23 passes for 59 yards, no touchdowns and three interceptions.

"Jeff's a very strong, mentally tough guy," head coach Will Muschamp said on Wednesday's teleconference. "We had a talk Sunday and Monday. He was going to play in this game regardless of the situation if he started or not, and we expect him to play well."

What if he doesn't, though?

Muschamp already ripped the tablecloth off the table and made the move to Harris—and it worked. Would he make a similar move to Skyler Mornhinweg or true freshman Will Grier if Driskel struggles against LSU? It certainly seems that way, according to David Jones of Florida Today and Edgar Thompson of the Orlando Sentinel.

Muschamp knows how important this game is.

LSU is a far cry from where it was in 2011 when it last won the SEC title. Its defense is soft in the middle, can't contain running backs and running quarterbacks on the edge, and its offense is unlikely to make major dents against Florida's defense and force a shootout.

If Driskel is ineffective again, Muschamp will make a move. The season, and his job, might depend on it.

 

Angry Steve Spurrier Is Angry

South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier in front of a hot microphone is always a good idea, and the "Head Ball Coach" came through for the college football world on Wednesday, taking shots left and right—mostly at himself.

The Gamecocks have sputtered to a 3-3 record to start the season, which includes back-to-back losses to Missouri and Kentucky. What's the problem? Everything.

"Well that's a good question, what isn't working?" Spurrier said on the coaches teleconference. "We're pretty much near the bottom in every stat."

He's not lying. The Gamecocks rank 12th or worse in all four major defensive categories.

"We've got some coaching to do, and we're trying to. We don't have a pass rush, as everybody knows. That makes it difficult when the other team is throwing. Run defense is actually a bigger issue than pass defense. So anyway, we have some issues, but we're going to try to keep coaching these guys."

During Spurrier's radio show on Wednesday night, he went "full Spurrier," knocking himself and the team essentially all night, via Josh Kendall of The State:

Never change, Head Ball Coach.

Never change.

 

Big Game Dan

For the second straight week, all eyes will be on the state of Mississippi. 

No. 2 Auburn will travel to Starkville to take on co-No. 3 Mississippi State on Saturday afternoon, one week after the Bulldogs throttled then-No. 6 Texas A&M 48-31 at Davis Wade Stadium.

"Someone who looked it up told me that a matchup of these highly ranked teams could make it the biggest game ever in the history of Mississippi," head coach Dan Mullen said. "That's pretty exciting for us. Our guys understand that we have a long way to go, a lot of work and a great challenge ahead of us."

Hard work for Mullen, who isn't concerned about getting his guys up two weeks in a row for "the biggest game of their lives."

"We're only 2-0 in the SEC, and I think we wanted to win a lot more in the SEC than those two games," he said. "I think our guys really understand that focus. A lot of the attention that comes is kind of cool and kind of neat, but it really has nothing to do with our goal of winning the SEC West. That has always been our focus."

Is it coach speak? Yeah, probably.

Can Mullen—or any coach—really get 100 or so 18-to-22-year-olds to focus on the process and only on the process? Of course not. 

He is, however, taking the approach of a big-game coach, which is a good sign for the Bulldogs.

 

A Shining Star

Ole Miss is riding high following its 23-17 win over then-No. 3 Alabama last weekend in Oxford, but there's no time for the Rebels to pat themselves on the back. 

A road trip to College Station for a 9 p.m. ET tilt with Texas A&M awaits, and it's one that features one of the brightest up-and-coming stars in the SEC.

Aggies defensive end Myles Garrett has been the brightest star on A&M's otherwise anonymous defense, notching 6.5 sacks through the first six games of the season.

"He is a phenomenal talent," Rebels head coach Hugh Freeze said. "He's really quick-twitched, he has good pass rush moves that he's worked on in his craft. He's a guy who you better know where he is."

Halfway through the season, Garrett finds himself just 1.5 sacks away from tying the SEC single-season freshman sack record, which was set in 2011 by some guy named Jadeveon Clowney.

"I wasn't even aware of that until somebody pointed that out the other day," Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin said. "He's extremely explosive, he's very, very gifted naturally, and he's working on his technique as all young guys are gonna do. He's starting to see different blocking schemes, which is the greatest compliment. We sat him down a couple weeks ago when he was frustrated and said, ' that's the best compliment you can have when running backs and tight ends are sliding out and chipping you on the way out and protection is sliding to you, that's good."

Garrett will be coming after Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace on Saturday night in College Station, and if "Bad Bo" is out, it will be a long night for the No. 3 Rebels.

 

Quick Outs

  • Mississippi State walks a fine line with its cowboys, which are allowed to be used inside Davis Wade Stadium only if fans "ring responsibly." Athletics director Scott Stricklin reminded fans—25 percent of which he surmised didn't ring responsibly last week—to play by the rules or risk having the privilege revoked.
  • Kentucky is suddenly a football school following its 45-38 win over South Carolina. According to KentuckySportsRadio.com, fans received black t-shirts last week that say "why not?" There's not really a good answer to that question yet for Mark Stoops' crew, which sits at 2-1 within the conference. 
  • Auburn's defense has allowed conference opponents to convert just two of 24 third downs this year. That'll work.
  • What's the most challenging part about this week's opponent for Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema? "A-L-A-B-A-M-A," he said. He's not wrong.

 

 

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

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of cfbstats.com, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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Texas A&M Football: Should Aggies DC Mark Snyder Be on the Hot Seat?

The Texas A&M football team is 5-1 despite having one of the top offenses in the nation. Its defense is again struggling to stop anyone. After three years in College Station, Aggies defensive coordinator Mark Snyder is coaching for his job.

The Texas A&M offense is currently ranked No. 3 in the nation, averaging 583.2 yards per game. The defense is ranked No. 75 and is allowing 406.8 yards per game. In its last two games against SEC opponents, the Aggie defense has allowed 521.5 yards and 38 points on average.

The bottom line in the Southeastern Conference is that you need to play championship-level defense to win championships. You do not have to be dominant on the defensive side, but you have to be able to consistently create turnovers and get the opposing offense off the field.

The Aggies have not been able to do this during the last two seasons. The 2013 defense was very poor, allowing 475.8 yards per game and ranking No. 109 overall in the nation. 

The Aggies played numerous freshmen in 2013 and were supposed to benefit from their experience in 2014. Some of the same issues that were present in 2013 are still there in 2014. 

 

Blown Coverages

The Aggies secondary still struggles with blowing coverages in 2014. In 2013, Aggie fans would watch strong safety Howard Matthews blow his assignment on the wheel route on a weekly basis. He has been better in 2014, but the secondary is still allowing long touchdowns. 

The emergence of freshman safety Armani Watts has allowed Matthews to play closer to the line of scrimmage, where he has excelled. Watts has made some mistakes coming up to play the run, but overall he has been a solid addition to the secondary. 

Senior cornerback Deshazor Everett and junior cornerback De'Vante Harris have taken turns getting beaten for long touchdowns. Harris returned from injury to start against Arkansas and has struggled in coverage.

When you play football at a high level, your defensive backs are going to get beaten at times. However, there is no excuse for seeing opposing wide receivers running free in the secondary on a weekly basis.

It may be a matter of simplifying the coverages or playing different players, but it needs to be rectified. There is no excuse for having a poor secondary every season. Ultimately the responsibility for that lies at the feet of the defensive coordinator.

 

The Biggest Issue

The Aggies' biggest problem on defense is their linebacker play. The defensive line has improved since 2013, but the linebackers remain a weak point.

The Aggies do not have the requisite depth or size at the linebacker position to put an effective unit on the field. When 6'1", 230-pound senior Donnie Baggs is a starter, there are issues at the position. Baggs regularly gets run over by opposing running backs and is not effective against the run.

The Aggies sophomore middle linebacker Jordan Mastrogiovanni has recorded seven total tackles in the past two games. The Aggies played consecutive games against running teams in Arkansas and Mississippi State, and Mastrogiovanni was ineffective against both teams.

You cannot win in the SEC if you cannot stop the run, and the Aggies cannot stop the run with such poor linebacker play. Snyder is ultimately responsible for recruiting the talent to run his defense. If he does not have the linebackers on the roster to run his scheme, then it is his fault.

Snyder has been at A&M for three years, which has given him plenty of time to recognize the lack of talent at the position and address that need through the recruitment of junior-college players.

His failure to do so up to this point has caused a glaring weakness on his defense. If your front seven is weak in the SEC, you will not win football games. And right now the Aggies' front seven is weak because the play at linebacker is so poor.

 

What Needs to Change

There are no easy answers on defense. If it were as easy as simplifying the defense so the players could execute it easier, then that would have already have been done. 

There are ways to cover up deficiencies at one or two positions on a defense, but that is hard to do when it is an entire unit. The bottom line is that Snyder needs to figure it out quickly. The Aggies cannot afford to have another poor defensive season like they did in 2013. 

If the defense does not take a step forward in 2014, then Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin needs to find a coordinator who can make it take that step forward. You cannot expect to win championships with offense and special teams alone. 

The defense has to play at a high level consistently, and up to this point that has not been the case under Snyder. 

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Oregon's Defense Is the Key to Victory vs. UCLA and Brett Hundley

The Oregon Ducks and the UCLA Bruins both suffered major upset losses in Week 6. They are looking for redemption as they square off against each other this Saturday.

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder discusses the keys to victory for both team in this huge Pac-12 matchup.

Will Oregon make the College Football Playoff with one loss?

Watch the video and let us know!

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Auburn vs. Mississippi State: Bone-Chilling Hype Tape for the Ultimate Showdown

The Auburn Tigers and the Mississippi State Bulldogs square off in a battle of unbeaten SEC powers in Week 7. Both teams feature electrifying quarterbacks who are in the middle of the Heisman Trophy race.

Auburn QB Nick Marshall is coming off arguably his best performance of the season in a game against LSU where he accounted for four touchdowns. Bulldogs signal-caller Dak Prescott has emerged onto the national scene with wins over Texas A&M and LSU. This game will be entertaining.

Who will win: Auburn or Mississippi State?

Watch the video and let us know! 

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Rich Rodriguez Is Vindicated, but Will He Be Lured to a Big Program Again?

We like our happily-ever-afters in sports. The final gun and the final score. Rich Rodriguez has won the vindication war with Michigan. The end. You know the story: He was never accepted and then was thrown out for not being a true Michigan Man. And while Michigan now collapses with its once-beloved Michigan Man in place, Rodriguez is on top of the college coaching world again out in the desert.   

Arizona is undefeated, and ranked No. 10 with a signature win over then-No. 2 Oregon. Going into Saturday's big game against USC, it is in strong position to make the first College Football Playoff under RichRod. Is this the big I-told-you-so moment for him?

"Well, I don't know," Rodriguez told Bleacher Report. "I think that's left up for everybody else. Everybody said the experience was so bad (at Michigan) and 'You didn't fit up there.' I always said there was a lot of BS. It's been talked about, and there's some that hasn't even been out there (written about).

"We thought we'd fought through it all. And had we had a chance to see it through the fourth or fifth year, we thought we'd have a chance to compete for championships. But that didn't happen. We didn't get to year four, and that was unfortunate. But we're going to get to year four at Arizona."

That was a pretty good I-told-you-so, but was it the end of the story? Arizona surely hopes so, but it was only six or seven years ago that Rodriguez was one of the hottest college coaches in the country. And now that he's back, that only means that other schools are going to come calling again, going to consider his problems at Michigan to be the fault of Michigan's dysfunction.

Enjoy the moment, Arizona fans. Because these things turn fast in college football. Rodriguez will be courted by the end of the year. Count on it.

Big schools will call with big budgets, big recruiting bases and big histories. Those aren't things that Arizona has. And the question for Rodriguez is going to be whether he wants to jump back in again to the traditional big-time football powerhouse schools with all the same pressures and politics, resources and responsibilities. Or can he reach his goals at Arizona?

"Two things: I'd much rather have a coach in demand than a coach you're indifferent about or wanting to make a change," Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne, who hired Rodriguez, told Bleacher Report when asked what he'd do when schools come calling. "And we've invested in our football program heavily, as much as ever has been here. Do we have the same revenue streams as all the big programs out there? No we don't."

Let's be honest: Florida is most likely going to have an opening. If they were to come for Rodriguez, should he really ignore that for Arizona?

Yes, he should. Rodriguez has already gone that route, and it was the one failure in his career. He can turn Arizona into his own personal football palace. At Michigan, he had to try to wipe away generations of football, Michigan style, to put in his modern, no-huddle, spread offense. At Arizona, the canvas was blank, the fans were looking for his signature. And it fits in well in the Pac-12.

But that's far too simplistic. Rodriguez told me last year that the reason he left West Virginia for Michigan in the first place was that he didn't believe the school's new president was willing to make the financial commitment to make it a national championship contender. That's what he wanted. And remember, he left shortly after signing a contract with West Virginia, where fans thought they had their man for the long term.

Byrne points out that Arizona has spent heavily to improve its stadium and football facilities in the past few years. It's new and it's nice. But it isn't a palace like University of Nike, er, Oregon has.

Meanwhile, Rodriguez, according to Sports Illustrated's Andy Staples, makes $2.2 million and has, basically, an annuity—in the form of equity in a donor's company—currently worth about $6 million waiting for him if he stays at Arizona five more years.

But while Arizona is a basketball power, is it really able to be one in football? USA Today recently reported on the 2013 revenues of the nation's athletic departments. Texas was No. 1 at $165.6 million. Florida was No. 6 at $130 million. Arizona? No. 42 at $68.5 million.

ESPN recruiting expert Jeremy Crabtree told Bleacher Report that Arizona does have a solid recruiting base. He said that high school football has improved dramatically the past 10 years in the state and that the university is well regarded in Southern California. But still, he said, Arizona comes in behind USC and UCLA in the pecking order for recruits there. He said that Arizona can beat out the likes of Oregon State and Arizona State for California kids, and that might be surviving on, say, the 10th best players at certain position instead of top two or three.

So that might make it hard to compete for national championships regularly. At Florida, he said, Rodriguez would have a shot at landing any recruit.

Yes, but couldn't Arizona and RichRod lure kids from the Midwest, who are all ignoring the Big Ten and heading South or West to play in the warm?

And an even bigger issue is fit. It's something you're starting to see college basketball coaches pay attention to, as coaches from mid-majors don't just automatically jump for the next biggest job. You can accomplish plenty from the mid-majors; even the Boston Celtics hired their coach from Butler.

At Florida, fans would immediately be wondering why Rodriguez isn't winning national championships the way Urban Meyer did. At Arizona he was welcomed immediately and given the chance to do his thing.

"Well, I've heard a lot of talk about fit and who's the right fit and all that kind of stuff," Rodriguez said. "And I think sometimes that's just talk. If you've got a plan and a program you want to put in place and you're allowed the time to install that and see it through, then you'll be the right fit.

"People say, `Well you weren't the right fit at Michigan.' I'm the same guy I was at Michigan, (and) I was at West Virginia, and the same before that. Sometimes people see what they want to see as far as are you the right fit or not. That to me is kind of silly."

I could not disagree more. Everyone knows what it's like to take a job working for the wrong boss with the wrong co-workers in the wrong environment. It is miserable. And it just about ruined Rodriguez' career.

Rodriguez told me last year that he was undermined at Michigan, and theoretically he was talking about his predecessor, Lloyd Carr. For most of his career, Rodriguez had been the folksy guy telling folksy stories, such as how he invented parts of his offense. He was known as one of the game's true offensive innovators. But he'd say that the only reason he started having his offense hurry up without huddles was because he thought it was strange how two-minute offenses always seemed to move downfield so easily, but his regular offense didn't. He makes jokes about how his band didn't know the victory song.

Anyway, he'd say he installed the shotgun only because his quarterback way back when was too short to see over the line from up close. And all that stuff just stuck.

By the time he left Michigan, perception was that he was just the failure who violated NCAA practice rules and used language that was too harsh.

Byrne said that when he hired Rodriguez, he decided that the West Virginia RichRod was the real one, not the Michigan RichRod. He said he thought Tucson would be the right environment for Rodriguez, his family and even his staff.

He was right.

Rodriguez, who's 50, doesn't have to go anywhere else to reach the top. It took him until this past week's win over Oregon, nearly four years, to fully live down his last attempt at the top. The lure will be strong again, but if anybody should know by now, he should know that this is the place for his happily ever after.

 

Greg Couch covers college football for Bleacher Report. He also writes for The New York Times and was formerly a scribe for FoxSports.com and the Chicago Sun-Times. Follow him on Twitter @gregcouch.

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NFL Draft: Biggest Risers & Fallers Featuring the Next Adrian Peterson

With another college football week in the books, it's time to evaluate some of the top talent in the country. Which college star is NFL-ready?

Bleacher Report NFL draft lead writer Matt Miller joins Bleacher Report college football analyst Michael Felder to discuss who is rising and who is falling on Miller's NFL draft board.

Will Todd Gurley be selected in the first round of the 2015 NFL draft?

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Ohio State Football: Inside Urban Meyer's State of the Union Address to Team

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Every year, somewhere between the end the nonconference slate and the start of the league schedule, Urban Meyer delivers a state of the union address to his team. And more times than not, it includes discussion of the national title hunt.

This year was no exception, with the Ohio State head coach opting for the Buckeyes' second bye week in the past month to deviate from his typical opponent-at-hand approach. And while Meyer insists that this year's talk was a short one, his message was unmistakable.

All of Ohio State's goals—national championship included—remain on the table.

"I just show the rankings and show the teams, because they are going to hear it," Meyer told reporters on Wednesday. "When you look at it, everything is wide-open. In college football, this is a pretty open year.”

Meyer is not wrong, and a big part of that has to do with last weekend, which saw five of the top eight teams in the AP Top 25 and 11 ranked squads overall suffer losses. "They called it the strangest week ever—or whatever," Meyer said.

As a result, the Buckeyes jumped five spots in the AP Top 25, where they now sit at No. 15 after dropping to as low as 23rd following their Sept. 6 loss to Virginia Tech. Since its defeat at the hands of the Hokies, Ohio State has reeled off three consecutive wins and again appears to be on a collision course with 4-1 Michigan State for a de facto Big Ten East Division title game in East Lansing on Nov. 8.

And while there's no telling how the first-ever College Football Playoff committee would view a potential one-loss Big Ten champion, Meyer insists that's not the type of thing that the Buckeyes are focusing on anyways.

“We’re not really clinging to it," Meyer said. "But we’ve got a team that sees itself getting better. They’re much more confident in the way that they’re playing. They have a lot of confidence in our quarterback and skill players, and they’re seeing the defense be what it’s supposed to be right now."

Those ingredients have gone hand in hand with the winning recipe that has led to Ohio State's reinsertion into the playoff picture, which is already as messy as anyone could have imagined it would be at this point in the season.

But while the emergence of redshirt freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett and an apparently improving defense have put the Buckeyes in a more preferable position than they were in a month ago, Meyer admitted to being worried about OSU's second week off in the past four weeks. That, and not a potential playoff run, is the third-year Buckeyes head coach's top concern, as his team gears up for a crucial three-game stretch before its highly anticipated showdown with the Spartans.

"I don’t think these kids care," Meyer said of where Ohio State stands nationally. "I’m hoping they just want to get better. The thing we’re most concerned about is we had momentum and it’s been taken away, so we’ve got to keep that momentum somehow.”

In talking to the Buckeyes players, it became clear that Meyer's message to the media and his team were one and the same. In the span of two questions, center Jacoby Boren used the phrase "we can only control what we can control" three separate times, which is indicative of the mindset that Meyer has attempted to instill in his team.

"Stuff got pretty crazy last weekend," Boren said. "But I think our attitude is we just try to go out and get better every week. We can only control what we can control. We’re going to go out and try to win every game...win a Big Ten championship. After that we’ll see how things stack up, and hopefully they work out for us.

"But we can only control what we can control.”

That doesn't mean, however, that the Buckeyes haven't found themselves as bigger fans of certain teams in recent weeks. After all, Ohio State knows that it could still use some help in order to ultimately end up as one of the four teams chosen to participate in the first College Football Playoff.

“I would think we’d be kind of stupid not to," Boren said. "No doubt we want to have aspirations of doing big things. But if you see [a team] lose, you’re like, ‘OK, it’s good for us,’ but if we lose, it means nothing. So all we can do is keep winning every week and hopefully keep building on that, and we’ll go good places.”

Which gets to the core of why Meyer opted to acknowledge the Buckeyes' situation in the first place. And although the conversation may have been brief, it could ultimately be crucial when it comes to how Ohio State proceeds into the heart of its 2014 season.

“We had I’d say a five-minute discussion, because I know they’re going to hear about it probably walking around campus or watching TV, so why not address it?" Meyer said. "So, we address it and move on.

"I don’t want them to hear much about it at all after our conversation."

 

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

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Oklahoma vs. Texas Complete Game Preview

It’s always fireworks when the Oklahoma Sooners and Texas Longhorns tangle in Dallas.

Last season, the Longhorns shocked their rivals, upsetting the then-unbeaten Sooners, 36-20. It only goes to show that records are nothing but numbers when it comes to heated rivalries.

Will Texas surprise Oklahoma again? Or will the Sooners get sweet revenge?

Here’s everything you need to know about Saturday’s matchup.

 

Where: Cotton Bowl

When: Saturday, October 11, noon ET

Watch: ABC

Live Stream: Sooner Sports

Listen: Sooner Sports Radio Network

Betting Line: Oklahoma (-14), per Odds Shark

Begin Slideshow

College Football Week 7 Predictions: Picking Top 25 Games Against the Spread

It’s not an act you want to follow, but Week 7 has no choice but to roll up its sleeves and dive right in.

Following an upset-driven, chaos-infused weekend of college football, we are back at it once again, still processing what we observed. While it would be unreasonable to demand an encore of Week 6 magnitude, this stacked slate of games seems more than capable of following accordingly.

The AP Poll has a much different look and feel this week, which is understandable after 11 of the top 19 teams added a tally in the loss column. With the rankings rebooted, we’re continuing our weekly tradition of picking all games featuring Top 25 teams against the spread.

Given the magnificent carnage, last weekend’s 10-6-1 pick performance will suffice. We can do better, however, and that’s the plan this week. Of course it is.

 

All spreads are courtesy of Odds Shark unless noted otherwise.

Begin Slideshow

Jon Gruden's College Profile Reveals He Wanted to Coach Michigan Wolverines

If the 2-4 Brady Hoke-led Michigan Wolverines are looking for a new leader, a Super Bowl-winning coach might be available. Well, that's if old media guides are to be believed.

While San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh is a popular name who may be available after the 2014 season, Jon Gruden is another potential candidate to keep an eye on.

In Gruden's college profile at the University of Dayton, he revealed that he wanted to coach the Wolverines. Of course, he never did, instead starting out at the University of Tennessee in 1985 as a graduate assistant and finishing his career as a head coach with Oakland Raiders (1998–2001) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2002–2008).

He won Super Bowl XXXVII with the Bucs for the 2002 season and has a career head coaching record of 95-81.

Gruden, 51, hasn't coached since 2008 with the Buccaneers, and he currently works for ESPN as an NFL analyst.

[Twitter]

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Michigan Football: Signs That Brady Hoke Was Doomed from the Beginning

Brady Hoke needs a miracle to save his job.

As he prepares his team for a night home game vs. Penn State, Hoke stands inches from the point of no return, teetering between his passionate desire to lead the Wolverines to a new era of dominance and a dismal 4-10 record over the past 14 games that threatens to end his tenure.

But he was doomed the moment he arrived in Ann Arbor—done in by his new boss and the people he brought in to build his offense.


Bungled Coaching Search

When Rich Rodriguez was fired by athletic director David Brandon, there were two primary candidates that most fans expected to vie for the job—Les Miles and Jim Harbaugh.

Both had Michigan ties and had success as college coaches. But years of media leaks that Miles was the coach-in-waiting for Michigan had taken a toll on his credibility. The leaks were coming from somewhere and it certainly wasn’t Ann Arbor. An observer could easily conclude that the drip of rumors was a tactic to help Miles earn a steady stream of contract upgrades. Michigan was a bargaining chip that served Miles well.

Harbaugh was a different matter. He played quarterback for Bo Schembechler, had a successful career in the NFL and returned to the college game, eventually leading Stanford back to national prominence. He was slightly tarnished by a drunk driving incident (something that Michigan was sensitive to in the wake of Gary Moeller’s public meltdown), but the incident was well in the past.

Brandon’s slow-motion firing of Rodriguez resulted in a media blitz that had reporters tracking down every private plane leaving Michigan in an attempt to decipher where Brandon was conducting his coaching search. While only six days passed between Rodriguez’s firing and Hoke’s hire, the rumor mill had churned long enough to give the impression that he was anything but the first choice. He certainly wasn’t the first choice of most fans who craved a candidate with a higher national profile.

Hoke and Brandon embarked on a national tour to woo Michigan fans and alumni, and for the first year everything went better than could be expected. Michigan went 11-2 while Brandon basked in the renaissance of Michigan football.

But what Brandon intended as a systematic coaching search damaged Hoke's stature among many fans; something that would bubble to the surface as the team failed to repeat the success of his first season. And Brandon, who had taken a very public role during Hoke’s first successful season, now finds himself inextricably linked to Hoke as the program falters.


No Offensive Identity

One the main questions facing Hoke in his first season was how he would deal with star quarterback Denard Robinson. Robinson had decided not to transfer, giving Hoke something Rodriguez didn’t have during his first season—a quality experienced quarterback.

Robinson wasn’t a good fit to lead a power-football offensive attack which required a quarterback who could keep a defense honest by being able to throw downfield. Robinson’s stature made it hard for him see past his linemen when throwing long. He also didn’t have the best throwing mechanics. What he did have was incredible acceleration and cutting ability that made him a dangerous weapon running the ball. During Hoke’s first season (2011), offensive coordinator Al Borges installed an offense that made use of Robinson’s talents and Michigan went 11-2.

The problem was that Robinson was a unique talent whose skills were best utilized running behind a line anchored by center David Molk. Molk, who won the the Rimington Trophy as the best center in the country in 2011 and was also the Big Ten offensive lineman of the year that same season, would be sorely missed after his graduation.

The Michigan offense relied on Robinson, who was practically impossible to replace, and Molk, who was one of the best offensive linemen in the recent history of Michigan football.

The next season (2012), Borges tried and failed to mold Robinson into a more conventional quarterback by having him move under center. The offense stumbled as Robinson tried to run less and pass more. The offensive line struggled to replace Molk, and as the season progressed, Robinson’s legs once again became the focal point of the offense. The wear and tear took its toll and he was injured for much of the season, eventually being knocked out off the Nebraska game.

Backup Russell Bellomy was crushed in relief of Robinson and Devin Gardner, who had moved to wide receiver, was rushed back to start at quarterback the next game vs. Minnesota. He would split duties with Robinson for the rest of the season.

Michigan finished 8-5, losing three more game than in Hoke’s first season.

The 2013 season began with Devin Gardner at quarterback, and Michigan finally appeared ready to unleash the power running game that Hoke had been promising since his arrival. But problems on the offensive line caused Borges to scrap planned offensive changes to again rely on his quarterback as the primary running attack—this time Gardner instead of Robinson. And once again, the quarterback took a beating, leaving him on crutches after the Ohio State game. Unlike Robinson, Gardner had the stature and throwing arm to make plays downfield, but his Achilles' heel was bad decision-making which resulted in 11 interceptions. 

Hoke fired Borges and brought in Doug Nussmeier from Alabama as offensive coordinator for the 2014 season. So far the results have been disastrous. Nussmeier has tried to deploy a solid running game but has been hampered by a poor offensive line. The Michigan offense lives and dies by its quarterback—as Devin Gardner continues his frenetic turnover pace with no apparent backup quarterback in sight.


Questionable Talent Upfront

Michigan's problems stem from a lack of development on the offensive line, which is ironic since Hoke has preached from day one at Michigan that success starts upfront.

But Michigan’s best players on the offensive line under Hoke—center David Molk, tackle Taylor Lewan and tackle Michael Shofield—were already on the team when Hoke arrived. Hoke and his staff have not recruited and developed any elite offensive linemen during his tenure. The offensive line problems have hampered both Al Borges and now Doug Nussmeier in their attempts to install offensive schemes that weren’t so dependent on amazing quarterback play.

It’s a vicious cycle—the more pressure on Gardner, the more he tries for big plays, which leads to more turnovers. Once again, there is no backup ready to replace him if he gets injured or falters. The running attack stalls as different linemen miss assignments every game.

 

Persistent Offensive Problems Sink Hoke

Brady Hoke started in a hole thanks to Brandon’s drawn-out decision to fire Rodriguez. It made them both look bad. Hoke had the luxury of inheriting a roster with more talent than the one Rodriguez did, but was unable to develop quarterback talent or offensive linemen.

The lack of player development has hampered the installation of any offense based on running the ball from the backfield.

The problems are almost the inverse of those of Rodriguez, who could put together a strong offense but whose defense was a disaster.

Hoke squandered talented recruiting classes by not making enough changes on his coaching staff to generate better player development.

When Hoke is fired, people will blame whatever record Michigan ends up with this season. But the seeds of his demise were planted before he came to Ann Arbor by an athletic director who was more concerned about making himself the story during the coaching search. Hoke is front and center taking the blame after every loss, which is fitting since he is responsible for the failure of his staff. It’s an example that David Brandon could learn from.


Phil Callihan is a featured writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations obtained firsthand

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@PSCallihan

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Texas Needs Different Mindset to Upset Oklahoma, Turn Season Around

When Charlie Strong took the podium following Texas' loss to Baylor, he said something that caught the attention of the room: "We don't know how to win yet."

The Longhorns' 2-3 record proves just that.

"Finish" signs were plastered on the walls of the football facilities leading up to the Baylor game, but the Longhorns were not able to finish with a win.

In fact, the team has not been able to finish many games this season. Losing has almost become second nature to many players on the Longhorns roster, and the senior leaders want to change that.

When running back Malcolm Brown was in high school, he said he never entered a game feeling he was going to lose.

But he told his teammates he does not feel enough guys on the roster have that mentality in 2014.

"I can't even tell you any game we went in and I wasn't like, 'We're about to smash this team,'" Brown said. "I don't feel like that about this team, and we need to get that type of confidence."

Brown came from Steele High School (Cibolo, Texas), where his team was 44-9 in his three years as a starter. 

But his mindset has not changed. And other players on the team feel the same way.

"I expect to go out and win, but I don't think we have all of the guys expecting to go out and win," cornerback Quandre Diggs said. "I know guys are young, but that's no excuse. My freshman year, I had that mentality, but I guess everybody doesn't have that dog in them."

From the play on the field, it appears some Longhorns may be lacking that "dog" mentality.

"Some people are expecting, 'Oh, something is going to go wrong.' We may be playing well and something's going to go wrong instead of going out with the mindset that we're going to completely demolish this team," fifth-year senior linebacker Jordan Hicks said. "There's people who lack the confidence of we're going to go out there and smash opponents."

Defensive coordinator Vance Bedford understands what it takes to beat Oklahoma because Bedford was a part of four winning teams in the Red River Shootout.

And he still takes the game personally.

"If you want to talk, we can talk. If you want to fight, we can fight. That's what the Red River Shootout is," Bedford said. "They're coming into our state, the state of Texas. It's Texas pride. It's Texas attitude. That's how I feel about it. I'm trying to make sure my players feel that way."

Still, pulling an upset against No. 11 Oklahoma will not come easy.

The Sooners are coming off of a loss to TCU, and Bob Stoops' teams have never lost back-to-back conference games during his 16-year tenure coaching Oklahoma.

The opening spread for the 109th Red River Showdown had the Longhorns as a 14.5-point underdog to the Sooners, according to OddsShark.com. Nobody is really giving Strong's team a chance in this game.

But this is familiar territory for Texas.

Last season, the Longhorns entered the Cotton Bowl as an underdog but had the mindset that losing is not an option.

"There was something different about last year, as opposed to the few years before that when I was playing—I could just feel it," senior wide receiver Jaxon Shipley said. "If we come out with that same fire, I think we'll be good to go."

The Longhorns did not have a perfect scenario heading into the Oklahoma game last season. But the team knew it could win the game.

Texas has to have a win-at-all-cost mentality Saturday to avoid a fourth loss of the season.

"Guys were definitely motivated and ready to go out there," junior running back Johnathan Gray said of last season's game. "That's what we have to have this year. We went out there with a mentality that we have to win this game and it's a big game for everybody. That's the same kind of mentality we have this year, and we have to step out there on Saturday and do it."

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.

Taylor Gaspar is Bleacher Report's featured columnist covering the Texas Longhorns. Follow Taylor on Twitter: @Taylor_Gaspar.

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What Tennessee Must Do to Turn Things Around and Reach Bowl Game in 2014

Opportunities remain for the Tennessee Volunteers to get those elusive six wins and become bowl-eligible for the first time since 2010, but they have a lot of work to do if they want to reach that goal.

The Vols' 10-9 loss to Florida in Neyland Stadium happened because UT squandered a nine-point fourth-quarter lead. The result was a 10th consecutive loss to the Gators and the Vols' third straight setback to drop their record to 2-3.

Saturday was pivotal for UT's season, and the Vols couldn't take advantage.

They know it, too.

UT coach Butch Jones was more terse with the media during Monday's press conference than he has been at any point this season, defending his offensive scheme and personnel decisions. Close losses wear on everybody involved, and it's no different on Rocky Top.

The admittedly impatient coach knows UT's young Vols—who've played 22 true freshmen and will add another to that list this week in running back Derrell Scott—are extremely close to breaking through.

But, so far, the Vols haven't done so with a big win.

A schedule riddled with land mines awaits, and, somehow, Jones and his young team have to come up with four more wins. This weekend's homecoming game against Chattanooga should be one, but, beyond that, from where will they come?

Some things have to change and improve if Tennessee is going to go bowling.

 

Cut Out Pivotal Mistakes

Staying in games hasn't been an issue for the Vols, but they've made extremely costly blunders that led to losses.

A few of them were unforced, too.

Trying to trim Oklahoma's late lead to 27-17, Justin Worley tried to force the football into double coverage from the 3-yard line. The ball was intercepted and returned 100 yards for a game-clinching score. It was his second interception in the end zone against OU.

With UT down only three points to Georgia in the fourth quarter, freshman running back Jalen Hurd lost a fumble that was recovered by UGA defensive lineman Josh Dawson for a touchdown to give the Bulldogs an insurmountable 10-point lead.

With UT leading Florida 9-0 at the end of the third quarter, Worley was hit by blitzing cornerback Jalen Tabor. Worley fumbled at the Gators' 30-yard line, and Treon Harris led them to a touchdown.

That pivotal play was sandwiched around other major miscues as well.

Linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin's potentially momentum-changing interception to start the second half was virtually erased when Worley threw one to Vernon Hargreaves III on the very next play.

Fast forward to UT's frenetic, game-ending drive when the Vols were down by a point. After converting a 4th-and-long pass to Pig Howard, Worley threw into double coverage again in what appeared to be a miscommunication with his receiver. It, too, was intercepted, and UT's hopes were dashed.

Those were all poor decisions that cost UT a shot to win key football games.

In four red-zone trips against the Gators, UT came away with nine points. Worley took the blame, telling GoVols247's Wes Rucker:

I think I’ve forced the ball a little bit more, made a couple of stupid throws that I wish I could take back. But, yeah, turnovers have hurt us the past couple of games. You can’t win when you turn the ball over. I, myself, have to do a better job personally. I take full responsibility for those plays. …

We've just got to protect the ball a little better. … It starts with me. I'm the quarterback.

The Vols haven't helped themselves with things like three false-start penalties on third downs against the Gators, but that stuff happens. It's the momentum-gutting cripplers that UT specializes in with games on the line, and they've got to cut them out.

 

Fix a Foundering Offense

Tennessee's porous offensive line hamstrings everything the Vols want to do on that side of the football. But the issues are deeper-rooted than that.

Jones noted, according to Rucker, that offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian's scheme is not to blame for the struggles. Instead, it's the execution.

Everyone thinks a great play call is a magical cure. Everybody runs the same plays. It comes down to execution. It's one-on-one matchups. There's only so many things we can do with run schemes and pass schemes. It still comes down to winning your one-on-one matchups, and that's the game of football.

Drops. Turnovers. Penalties. Mental blunders. They've all plagued the Vols.

Tennessee is 13th in the SEC in scoring offense, 13th in total offense, last in rushing offense and seventh in passing offense. Those are staggeringly telling numbers about how bad UT has been on that side of the ball.

Along with the blocking deficiencies, the team doesn't have a fullback it can plug in, either. The Vols have sometimes put a tight end in the backfield to help matters, but that doesn't always work when the offensive front is getting manhandled at the point of attack.

A week after defending Bajakian following a 32-point performance at Georgia, Jones again went to bat for his offensive coordinator this week.

This scheme, Jones said, is the best for the personnel on UT's roster, and play-calling isn't the reason for the struggles against the Gators.

Issues remain, however. So how do the Vols fix them?

Tennessee's scheme is far from perfect, but Bajakian—who has become a bit of a fall guy on UT message boards—isn't a miracle worker.

He's still charged with finding some ways to open up an offense that is devoid of an SEC-caliber line, but the Vols have to execute.

The onus falls on Worley and the offensive line, but they're not alone in shouldering blame.

Where was lethal weapon Ethan Wolf against Florida? The Vols' star freshman tight end, who'd been such an integral part of the offense, had one catch for three yards.

Marquez North finished with just four catches for 26 yards. Freshman Josh Malone had some critical drops, including an early one in the red zone that could have gone for a touchdown.

Though Von Pearson returned to the field, he was extremely limited and held to one catch against the Gators.

Since Worley doesn't have any time to let plays develop downfield, he has to rely on getting the ball to his elusive playmakers and letting them make big things happen. Nobody is better at that than Pearson, and UT will be better once he gets healthy.

Tennessee's offensive stars aren't starring. That has to improve immediately.

From play-calling to execution to finishing drives with touchdowns, the Vols must do a better job scoring points or they'll be watching bowl season for a fourth consecutive year.

 

Close the Deal

Of course, all three of these points bleed together into one universal conclusion: Tennessee has to pull off a key win that will open the program's floodgates.

Anybody can see UT is no longer the pushover it has been, but the Vols still aren't winners. They can't break through.

For those who point to last year's game against South Carolina qualifying as a signature win for the Jones regime, that's true. But that was another team, senior-laden and totally different than this group of freshmen.

"Team 118" needs to win a big game against a quality opponent to prove to everybody that it can and to provide another steppingstone for the program.

To do that, the Vols have to stop turning the ball over, they've got to execute better on offense and they've got to get over the psychological hump of winning a big game. It's a lesson every young team needs to learn, and UT has yet to do it.

There are several opportunities left. The Vols should beat the Mocs this weekend, but somewhere among a gauntlet of Ole Miss, Alabama, South Carolina, Kentucky, Missouri and Vanderbilt, they need to find three more wins.

There's no reason to think that can't happen; most of those teams have proven flawed. But expecting wins and actually winning are two totally separate things. UT has to get to the point where it breaks through.

It goes back to one of Jones' sayings this offseason about "earning the right to win." This Vols team hasn't done it yet. When the breaks fall, they routinely fail to fall UT's way.

Until that changes, Tennessee will stay at the bottom of the SEC, and they'll miss a bowl game yet again.

 

All statistics taken from CFBStats.com. quotes gathered firsthand and all recruiting information taken from 247Sports.com, unless otherwise noted.

Brad Shepard covers SEC football and is the Tennessee Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow Brad on Twitter @Brad_Shepard.

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College Football Week 7: Top 25 Upset Alert

How can you top the week that was "Shakeup Saturday"?

With more upsets, that's how.

After one of the wildest slates of games in recent memory, the college football world turns its eyes to Week 7.

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Adam Kramer highlights some of the games that could surprise you in this edition of the Upset Alert. 

Which top team will fall this weekend?

Watch the video, and let us know! 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

The One Unit to Watch in Auburn's Showdown vs. Mississippi State

In 2008, it was 3-2. Now it's No. 3 vs. No. 2

My, how far these two teams have come since Auburn topped Mississippi State in a defensive slugfest that featured five total points. 

No. 2 Auburn will travel to No. 3 Mississippi State on Saturday afternoon in a game that not only will establish a favorite in the SEC West, but also vault the winner into serious contention of being the No. 1 team in the country in next week's polls.

While all eyes will be on the respective defenses going up against talented and multi-dimensional running games, this game will be won or lost on Auburn's wide receivers getting open, holding on to the ball and exploiting favorable matchups against Mississippi State's cornerbacks.

D'haquille "Duke" Williams, a 6'2", 216-pound junior, has been one of the early stars of the season, catching 25 passes for 385 yards and three touchdowns, with 18 of his receptions going for first downs. Sammie Coates, a 6'2", 201-pound junior who was Auburn's leading receiver last year, fought through a knee injury early in the season to catch four passes for 144 yards and a touchdown in last week's 41-7 win over LSU.

With Auburn's offense being founded on the run, Mississippi State's safeties will have to creep up to help out and leave 6'1" cornerback Taveze Calhoun and 5'10" cornerback Jamerson Love one-on-one against Williams and Coates.

That's a sketchy place to be, and the Bulldogs' coaching staff knows it.

"They do such a great job running the ball and use a lot of misdirection, and the strength of their passing game is their play action," Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen said. "That does leave corners on an island a bunch because of formations, schemes and motions."

Mississippi State's pass defense ranks last in the SEC, giving up 328.2 yards per game. That number is skewed a little bit after its prevent defense gave up yards in chunks against LSU and Texas A&M. But the Aggies did have nine huge drops in the loss, most of which were not in garbage time.

As Matt McClearin of MASS on JOX on 94.5 in Birmingham notes it could translate to a big day for Auburn's wide receiving duo.

For the season, the Bulldogs have given up 23 passing plays of 20 or more yards, the worst mark in the SEC and 110th in FBS.

"They're going to have to step up and play a really good game," Mullen said. "In this type of games, both teams are going to have the opportunity to create some one-on-one matchups. Maybe it's a guy in the open field with the ball in his hand or maybe a guy going to catch a ball down the field. You're going to have to win the one-on-one matchups if you're going to win the game."

Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall and Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott are stealing all the pub in what is not only a matchup of two Top 5 teams, but also one that features two quarterbacks squarely in the race for the Heisman Trophy. While Marshall's legs will play a big part in determining the outcome, they won't be the biggest factor.

He's going to have to exploit those one-on-one matchups downfield with Williams and Coates. 

If he does, his team's playoff hopes and his own Heisman hopes will go through the roof.

 

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

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of cfbstats.com, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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Oregon vs. UCLA: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time and More

No. 12 Oregon and No. 18 UCLA head into a decisive Pac-12 showdown Saturday as two of the major programs stunned in upsets last week.

Brett Hundley and the Bruins lost by two points to an unranked Utah team, while a few days earlier, Marcus Mariota and the Ducks were upended by an unranked Arizona team for the second year in a row.

While this matchup may have lost a bit of its preseason shine as a result, both offenses figure to put on a show in Pasadena that fans will want to catch. With backs against the wall in terms of College Football Playoff aspirations, not to mention conference implications, both teams will leave it all on the field in a clash they seemed to focus on last week while overlooking inferior opposition.

There is nothing to overlook this week. This is the season for both teams summed up in 60 minutes.

 

Behind Faltering Lines

Both Mariota and Hundley returned to school this year rather than jumping to the pros in order to contend for a Heisman and a shot in the inaugural CFP.

Neither has been perfect, but much of the blame can fall on miserable offensive lines. Despite a wealth of issues in the offensive trenches for both teams, as NFL.com's Bryan Fischer points out, both signal-callers have transcended the deficiencies for some eye-popping numbers:

Viewed together, both players are on fire this year:

Again, the numbers are quite impressive considering, according to SportsOnEarth.com's Matt Brown, that Mariota has been sacked 15 times over the course of five games, with Hundley sacked 22 times.

While these two are no stranger to games beneath the spotlight, this one may very well dictate the outcome of their legacies at the collegiate level. While Hundley is at home, his wobbly line and inability to get the ball out on time against an Oregon defense that averages 3.2 sacks per game may put him at a disadvantage. 

Then again, as Brown mentions, the coaching staff in Eugene has admitted that Mariota is not fully healthy. Thanks to a wealth of injuries that has crippled the effectiveness of his line, the Ducks signal-caller may be in for his roughest game yet.

 

History Looms…

…For the visitors.

While UCLA has been somewhat unexpectedly up-and-down all season, this latest batch of rough water for the Ducks has the program in a bit of a notable historical bind.

Oregon has not lost back-to-back games in nearly seven years, and while impressive, the streak has perhaps never been in so much jeopardy. This time, Mark Helfrich's team must overcome a top program on the road.

"Execution, discipline, a bunch of things that we control were not good enough," coach Mark Helfrich said, per STATS LLC, via ESPN.com. "It was not good enough to play the schedule we play. We need to play more cleanly in every phase."

Recent history says Oregon has an advantage considering the Ducks held Hundley to a 13-of-19 mark for 64 yards in a 42-14 win last year. That, and the fact the Ducks have won five straight and 10 of 12 in the series.

But anything can happen on the field, and especially when two prolific offenses with leaky offensive lines get together for a track meet.

 

When: Saturday, October 11, 3:30 p.m. ET

Where: Rose Bowl, Pasadena, California

Television: Fox

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 69.5
  • Spread: Oregon (-3)

 

Team Injury Reports 

Injury reports per Sports Network, via USA Today.

 

Prediction

A two-pronged Bruins attack is going to give the Ducks defense some trouble.

Hundley can do it all on his own, as seen above, but he is also flanked by sophomore Paul Perkins, who has 540 yards and three scores this season on a 5.7 per-carry average. Both get a shot at an Oregon defense that struggles mightily against the run and ranks outside the top 50 in terms of points allowed per game (23.2).

The only problem in going all-in with UCLA is that a game such as this predictably comes down to quarterback play. Hundley can be sloppy at times with the football and take costly sacks, whereas Mariota excels in terms of turnovers and pocket awareness.

It will come down to the waning moments, but Mariota gets the nod over Hundley.

Prediction: Ducks 33, Bruins 30

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

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LSU vs. Florida: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time and More

Old foes LSU and Florida meet Saturday in The Swamp, but neither comes in ranked for the first time since 1989, and neither has anything of merit on its resume. 

Les Miles and the Tigers are on the hunt for answers and their first SEC win of the season in their third attempt after most recently getting laughed out of the building at Auburn, 41-7. It is much of the same story for Will Muschamp and Florida, a team that has padded its conference record with wins over Kentucky and Tennessee, but neither being any sort of convincing. 

Saturday is going to be a grisly affair. In an era when the passing game trumps all, these two teams hardly have an idea of who the starter is under center and prefer to take a defensive-minded approach into each contest. 

For a pair of struggling teams, this game might just be their highlight of the season. Ugly as it may be, expect the bitter rivals to leave it all on the field. 

 

Bonding Over Issues

In a cruel sort of way, these teams were made for each other. 

Florida trots junior Jeff Driskel under center Saturday—but only because the staff is forced to.

See, Driskel has been an absolute dud this season, completing just 54.7 percent of his passes for 695 yards and five touchdowns to six interceptions. Last week in a knee-slapper of a 10-9 win against lowly Tennessee, freshman quarterback Treon Harris entered late and led the team to a win.

So just as Florida seems to find a viable option at the most important position of all, Harris gets suspended by the program for off-field issues, per Roger Simmons of the Orlando Sentinel.

For Miles and LSU, it is back to the drawing board yet again. The team thought it had an answer in freshman Brandon Harris, but he fell flat on his face in the public shaming at the hands of Auburn. Original starter Anthony Jennings did not fare much better. Their numbers on the season tell the whole story:

Instead of sticking with one of the two, Miles has decided to revert back to an open competition, per The Advocate's Ross Dellenger:

It seems a safe bet that both will take the field at one point or another, not that the approach has worked well to date.

So it is rather easy to see why both of these teams are unranked and this iteration of the rivalry is getting little attention. At the most important position of all, these teams struggle in a shocking manner for programs that reel in so many top prospects on a yearly basis.

 

The Better the Opponent...

...The weaker these two teams look.

The home team Saturday walloped Eastern Michigan 65-0 but then proceeded to need three overtime periods to defeat Kentucky. A 42-21 loss to Alabama was predictable going into it whereas the Gators should have dismantled a 2-3 Tennessee team but instead won 10-9.

It is even worse for LSU. The Tigers do have a marquee victory over Wisconsin, but a 34-29 loss to Mississippi State saw the Bulldogs rush for 302 yards. Auburn ran for 298 in last week's lopsided outcome.

Both of these teams struggle to contain strong runners, and both bring those to the table, too.

Florida is sure to have a wealth of issues with Leonard Fournette and Kenny Hilliard. The former has 364 yards and four scores on a 5.5 yards-per-carry average while the latter has 309 yards and five scores on a 5.1 yards-per-carry average.

The inverse is true, too. Florida leans on Matt Jones and his 373 yards and three scores for production as well as Kelvin Taylor and his 144 yards and two scores.

So guessing which team will impose its will with its one-dimensional attack is quite an interesting riddle indeed.

 

When: Saturday, October 11, 7:30 p.m. ET

Where: Ben Hill Griffin Stadium at Florida Field, Gainesville, Florida

Television: SEC Network

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: N/A
  • Spread: LSU (-1)

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports courtesy of The Sports Network (via USA Today.)

 

Prediction

The home team has won the last three encounters between these two, and while it is feasible that a strong Florida defense led by surefire first-round pick Dante Fowler Jr. will show strongly, the program itself has steadily been descending into chaos.

Outside of the Harris suspension, sophomore quarterback Skyler Mornhinweg and freshman defensive lineman Gerald Willis III got into a fistfight over cleats that sent the former to a hospital, per Jeff Barlis of ESPN.com.

So no, not all is right in The Swamp. Really, it is not in LSU, either, but the Tigers at least are not embattled with each other off the field.

This one is going to be ugly and low-scoring, with the only real difference between the two being the talent of LSU's running backs. Expect a late field goal to end it, mercifully.

Prediction: LSU 20, Florida 17

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

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