NCAA Football

Texas vs. Oklahoma Complete Game Preview

One of the most storied rivalries in college football kicks off Saturday in the 109th Red River Showdown between the Texas Longhorns and the Oklahoma Sooners.

Both teams are coming off losses and will be looking to build some momentum with a win in the Cotton Bowl.

The Sooners, who have never dropped back-to-back conference games under head coach Bob Stoops, have the early advantage over the Longhorns, and most people will enter this game expecting a destruction by Oklahoma over first-year head coach Charlie Strong and Texas.

But the same scenario followed the Longhorns last season and ended with a Texas upset.

Can Texas repeat and shock the nation?

 

When: Saturday, Oct. 11, 12 p.m. ET

Where: Cotton Bowl, Dallas

TV: ABC

Austin radio: KVET 98.1/1300

SiriusXM satellite radio: XM 202; Sirius 117; Internet 969; Spanish 550

Last meeting: Oct. 12, 2013; Cotton Bowl, Dallas

Last meeting's outcome: Texas 36, Oklahoma 20

Opening spread: Oklahoma (-14.5), per Odds Shark

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Meet College Football's Most Productive WR, Whom You've Probably Never Heard Of

Colorado receiver Nelson Spruce was remarkably unremarkable against Oregon State last weekend, catching six passes for 35 yards and no touchdowns. Even so, he still ranks second in the country in receptions per game (10.3), fifth in receiving yards per game (122.0) and first in receiving touchdowns (10).

That should tell you everything you need to know about the season Spruce has been having—the type that can withstand a massive outlier without moving him out of the Biletnikoff discussion. After six weeks, he, Amari Cooper of Alabama, Kevin White of West Virginia and a small group of bigger-name players at better-known schools are the best candidates to win that award.

But who the heck is this guy anyway? 

And how the heck did he become so productive?

And what the heck is going on with this team up in Boulder?

Let's dive in and take a closer look.

 

As a Recruit: Were There Really 1,000 Better Players?

Spruce was a scant-recruited prospect from Thousand Oaks, Calif., placing just outside the national Top 1,000 in the class of 2011, per the 247Sports composite rankings. He was a 3-star recruit, the No. 126 receiver in the country and the No. 100 player in the state.

According to Buffzone.com, he caught 73 passes for 1,292 yards and 18 touchdowns during his senior season of high school and also had 31 tackles and three interceptions on defense.

Here is a look at his senior-year highlights:

2011 was a strange year for receivers.

Spruce was not alone in going overlooked, ranking closely behind former Penn State star Allen Robinson (No. 122) and right ahead of current Duke star Jamison Crowder (No. 128).

Recruiting is an obviously imperfect science that lends itself to revisionist criticism. The rankings weren't wrong, necessarily, because recruits get undervalued at every position every year.  

Still, it's a fun coincidence to see three players so productive get bunched so close together so far down the list. A strong case could be made for Spruce, Robinson and Crowder having outperformed the three most-productive receivers in the top 10: Sammy Watkins of Clemson, Jarvis Landry of LSU and Kasen Williams of Washington.

Turns out that chip-on-the-shoulder thing really matters.

 

As an Underclassman: Stepping Into the Void

It's impossible to discuss Spruce's career without discussing Paul Richardson, Spruce's former teammate at Colorado and a second-round pick of the Seattle Seahawks in the 2014 NFL draft.

Richardson caught 73 passes for 1,069 yards in his freshman and sophomore seasons, the former when Spruce was a senior in high school and the latter while Spruce was redshirting. After the team's leading receiver, Tony Clemons, graduated in 2011, Richardson was poised to become the undisputed No. 1 option and one of the top receivers in the Pac-12 as a junior in 2012.

That all changed, however, when Richardson tore his ACL in a non-contact special teams drill during spring practice that offseason. He was immediately ruled out for the 2012 season, and Colorado was in immediate need of a new top receiver.

"Obviously, it's a blow to our team, but it's a part of the game," said then-head coach Jon Embree, per the team's official website. "It's an opportunity for others to step up and lessen his loss."

The opportunity Embree referred to was not lost on Spruce, who caught eight passes for 64 yards and a touchdown against Colorado State in his first career game. After catching only five combined passes against Sacramento State and Fresno State, he starred once again in his Pac-12 debut, catching eight passes for 103 yards and a touchdown in a 35-34 win over Washington State.

That win would prove to be the apex of Colorado's season: The Buffaloes finished 1-11, and Embree was promptly fired. But Spruce was a small speck of light on an otherwise dark campaign, starting the final eight games and becoming the third freshman in school history to lead the team in receptions (44). He also led the team in receiving yards (446), and with new head coach Mike MacIntyre and offensive coordinator Brian Lindgren coming over from San Jose State, which had just finished No. 6 in the country in passing yards per game, the future of Colorado's air attack looked promising.

That held doubly true with the return of Richardson, who came back stronger than ever from his knee surgery. Spruce benefitted from his role as the No. 1 receiver in 2012, and the upshot of that was obvious when opponents started rolling coverages toward Richardson in 2013.

Spruce finished the year with improved numbers across the board—55 catches for 650 yards and four touchdowns—and left the 'Buffs feeling good about their future at the position despite Richardson's decision to declare early for the NFL draft.

But even Spruce couldn't have foreseen what happened next.

 

As a Junior: The Best Receiver in College Football?

"One guy doesn’t make (Richardson’s) numbers up," said Spruce at Pac-12 media days this offseason. "But I think we’re a lot deeper at this position than at any time since I’ve been here. I think guys are going to step in and you’ll see the ball spread out more."

So much for that.

Six games into the season, Spruce has debunked his own forecast, becoming the one guy who does make up Ricardson's numbers. In some ways, he has actually exceeded them:

The highlighted areas speak to the differences in Spruce and Richardson's games. Spruce is a possession receiver, whereas Richardson was a deep threat. Throwing to Spruce gives you a better chance at completing a pass and gaining positive yardage. Throwing to Richardson gave you a better chance of hitting a home run.

But Spruce transcends his role as a pure possession receiver by also making plays down the field—one of many things that has made his start to the season so unique. Through six games, he is tied for the national lead with two receptions of 70 yards or longer.

Let's attempt to put some of this in context.

With 85 targets through six games, Spruce is on pace for 170 on the season. According to the numbers at Football Study Hall, only two players had more than that last season: Davante Adams of Fresno State and Willie Snead of Ball State. Adams had a catch rate higher than that of Spruce (74.9), but Snead finished well below (61.6).

In fact, of the 30 players with even 115 targets last season, only four finished with a better catch rate than that of Spruce: Adams, Watkins, Brandin Cooks of Oregon State and Justin Hardy of East Carolina.

Cooks won the Biletnikoff Award and was the No. 20 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. Watkins was an AFCA All-American and the No. 4 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. Adams led the country in receptions and touchdowns and was the No. 53 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. And Hardy is still in school but threatening to break the all-time NCAA receptions record this season.

That is not a bad group to be associated with.

Spruce set his own receptions record in an overtime loss at Cal earlier this season, hauling in 19 passes, the most by a single player in the history of Pac-12 football. The performance earned him "Offensive Player of the Week" honors from Bleacher Report's Adam Kramer, despite the fact that Colorado lost the game.

At 6'1", 195 pounds, Spruce doesn't have one trait (e.g., size, speed, length) that sticks out among the best in the country, but the whole of his production is better than the sum of his parts. B/R's resident offensive-pass-interference advocate, Michael Felder, recoiled at the push-offs Spruce got away with in Week 1 against Colorado State…but if pushing off ain't broke, why should he fix it?

"Any company out there, I would tell you, 'Hire Nelson Spruce and he will run your company in five or 10 years,'" said MacIntyre of his star receiver, a finance major and a two-time member of the All-Big 12 Academic Team, per Tom Kensler of The Denver Post.

But if MacIntrye keeps using Spruce the way he has been these first six weeks, those faceless corporations he's addressing might not ever get a chance to heed his advice.

It's hard to run a business when you're playing in the NFL.

 

Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Meet College Football's Most Productive WR, Whom You've Probably Never Heard Of

Colorado receiver Nelson Spruce was unremarkable against Oregon State last weekend, catching six passes for 35 yards and no touchdowns. Even so, he still ranks second in the country in receptions per game (10...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Brandon Wimbush to Notre Dame: Irish Land 4-Star QB Prospect

Notre Dame picked up a big commitment for the 2015 class, as Brandon Wimbush decided he would rather play with the Fighting Irish than Penn State.

Den Wetzel of Yahoo Sports provided the latest details on the dual-threat quarterback:

Wimbush is considered the No. 4 player in the nation at his position, according to 247Sports. He has a strong arm and has shown the ability to be a quality passer at the next level, but his true standout ability is his knack for tucking the ball and running.

The New Jersey native has a 4.65 time in the 40-yard dash and has the ability to be a big-time playmaker at the position.

Mike Farrell of Rivals.com notes this is a big get for Notre Dame:

Malik Henry is more of a pro-style passer in the 2016 class, but the Irish would love to bring as much talent as possible to the most important position in the sport.

While Wimbush's commitment might be disappointing for Penn State fans who thought he was ready to play for the Nittany Lions in a few years, it should not be considered too surprising based on recent events. The 4-star quarterback visited Notre Dame's 17-14 win over Stanford on Saturday and seemed to really enjoy his time.

According to Ryan Bartow of 247Sports.com, Wimbush said, "It was awesome. I really enjoyed it."

Assuming there are no more changes to his recruitment, the young player will join a squad that already has talent at quarterback between Everett Golson and Malik Zaire. Still, Wimbush has the playmaking ability that should get him onto the field before too long.

While a redshirt season is likely as he learns the playbook and figures out how to play quarterback at the next level, Wimbush has the potential to be a star within the next few years.

 

Follow Rob Goldberg on Twitter for the latest breaking news and analysis.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Updated National Championship Odds After Week 6

This season's college football games have been wild and unpredictable, challenging everyone's notions about who is the best team.

After four upsets among The Associated Press' top six schools last week, Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Adam Kramer gives you the updated odds of the elite teams to win the national championship.

Which school do you think will take the College Football Playoff?

Watch the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Jameis Winston Now Shopping for Crab Legs with Chaperone?

Jameis Winston and crab legs are intertwined forever. That is never changing.

The moment Winston walked out of a Tallahassee-area Publix supermarket in April with $32.72 worth of pilfered crustacean legs, his penchant for crab meat became a fixture on the College GameDay sign circuit. As long as he plays football, Winston will look into the stands and see at least one Photoshopped picture mocking the incident.

But if there's anything Florida State's sophomore quarterback has taught us over the last year, it's that he's going to do what he's going to do. If Winston still wants to enjoy crab legs, he will do so—even if it means bringing in outside supervision.

In what appears to be further evidence of Winston's evolution as a leader of men/seafood connoisseur, an image purportedly of Winston at a Tallahassee-area Winn-Dixie surfaced on Monday night. 

Twitter user Forbes Dreams (h/t Busted Coverage's Joe Kinsey) tweeted the image, claiming the quarterback was at the supermarket buying crab legs with a "chaperone." 

What do we know about this image? Not much aside from the time stamp and the allegations that Winston was being squired about on a late-evening crab run.

It could be that Winston is required to have a teammate or friend with him in public at all times. Or the quarterback could have taken it upon himself to use the buddy system when shopping. Even crazier, he and a friend could've had a hankering for Dungeness and popped over to the store. I don't believe that's illegal yet.

In any case, continue making your signs, college football fans. Nothing will stop Famous Jameis from getting his fresh catch of the day.

 

Follow Dan on Twitter for more sports and pop culture news.

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Can Texas Start Turnaround Against Bruised and Battered Oklahoma?

Texas and Oklahoma has historically been the marquee game of the week in the Big 12, if not nationally, in mid-October.

That's not the case this year. TCU and Baylor is the  Top 10 matchup of the week in the Big 12. The Red River Showdown—as it's now known—still has some weight, but not nearly as much as it has in other years.

This has almost everything to do with Texas and its 2-3 start. Oklahoma, meanwhile, is coming off its own loss to TCU. Anyway, it's fair to wonder if there's going to be a point when it starts to click for Charlie Strong's team.

The first half of the Longhorns' schedule—BYU, UCLA, Baylor and Oklahoma—was always believed to be the harder stretch, but the second half of the schedule doesn't look like a breeze now either. A road game at Kansas State on October 25 still looms large, but West Virginia (November 8) and TCU (November 27) are much improved from a year ago.

Depth has been an issue for Texas because of a combination of injuries and nine dismissals—and another suspension. But Strong is not making excuses.

If he had to grade his team through five games, he told Chuck Carlton of The Dallas Morning News that the midseason report would be bad: 

Oh, God. Wow. We’re sitting here at 2-3 and midseason grades. We’re not playing up to our ability. We can play a lot better than what we’re playing ... I don’t want to say a letter grade but I would say this: If it was a letter grade, it wouldn’t be very good.

Texas could get a lot of momentum by beating the Sooners in Dallas. Remember, the Horns upset Oklahoma last year 36-20 as part of a six-game winning streak after starting 1-2.

How would Strong's team pull out an upset this year?

Like every other game for Texas this season, it starts on defense. Strong and his staff have done an excellent job of coaching up the defense so that it's a unit that actually meets expectations. The Horns rank eighth nationally in sacks and 21st in points per game.

Other than being gashed—again—by BYU for 41 points, Texas has held each opposing offense, including Baylor, to 21 or fewer points. In fact, the Horns were only down 6-0 at BYU at the half before the Cougars unleashed their offense in the second half.

In that same vein, Baylor only led Texas 7-0 at the half of last Saturday's game, and that was a result of a blocked field goal returned for a touchdown.

Baylor's three touchdown drives were lengthy, too. The shortest scoring drive was nine plays for 60 yards. That won't make Texas' defense feel any better, but the point is that the Longhorns made the Bears work for everything they got.

That's going to be part of the formula against Oklahoma. Texas has to keep big plays to a minimum.

That starts with containing quarterback Trevor Knight. Knight didn't play in last year's Red River Showdown, a curious decision given Blake Bell's struggles and Texas' inability to slow down quarterbacks who were legit rushing threats.

Texas has faced a variety of mobile quarterbacks this year, but only one (BYU's Taysom Hill) had big numbers (99 yards, three touchdowns). Knight is a different type of runner than Hill, who is more powerful and decisive.

If anything, Hill is a more similar runner to Sooners freshman running back Samaje Perine.

That's another weapon Texas will have to defend. With Perine and Knight, Oklahoma has a slash-and-smash combination. The Longhorns have been more susceptible to the run, ranking 55th in the country in yards per rush.

At some point, the defense can only do so much.

Texas' offense has to do a better job of putting points on the board. Otherwise, it will put added pressure on a defense to keep things close with the hope that there will be a big play, turnover or some sort of special teams break that will help close the gap.  

Texas ran the ball successfully against Oklahoma a year ago, but the offensive line this time around is a patchwork group of inexperienced players.

It's a fascinating quandary. On one hand, Texas' best offensive players, Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown, are in the backfield. On the other, the Longhorns rank ninth in the Big 12 in yards per rush. 

Downhill running was the key matchup for Texas against Oklahoma last year, and it just so happened to be the Sooners' primary weakness. It's hard to find that same type of favorable matchup this time around.

The Longhorns will play hard—they have all year. Weird things can happen in a rivalry game—they did last year.

Oklahoma is a 14.5-point favorite on Odds Shark for good reason. Texas' turnaround doesn't look like it will happen in Week 7. Despite the loss to TCU, Oklahoma remains a complete team. ESPN.com's Brandon Chatmon and Jake Trotter still have the Sooners as the conference favorites.

Texas is barely fielding a complete team. That's an uphill fight.

In time, things may click for the Longhorns offense, and the wins could follow. For now, there's still a feeling that things are going to be disappointing before they get better for Texas.

 

Statistics courtesy of cfbstats.

Ben Kercheval is a college football lead writer on Bleacher Report.

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Florida QB Skyler Mornhinweg, Star Frosh Gerald Willis III Involved in Fight

Florida earned a huge road win at Tennessee on Saturday, but since then it's been nothing but bad news for the Gators.

Backup quarterback Skyler Mornhinweg and reserve defensive lineman Gerald Willis III reportedly got into a fight with each other outside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville on Monday night, according to Thomas Goldkamp of GatorBait.net

A University of Florida spokesman told Goldkamp that Mornhinweg, a redshirt sophomore, and Willis, a true freshman, had "a misunderstanding" that university police Major Brad Barber confirmed was a fight.

No charges were filed, as both players opted to withdraw their complaints, according to Goldkamp.

The fight stemmed from an argument over missing cleats, according to Edgar Thompson of the Orlando Sentinel:

No information has been released as to whether either player will face punishment for the incident. Willis, however, "had been on shaky ground" prior to the fight with Mornhinweg, missing two games this season because of disciplinary reasons, according to Goldkamp. 

The 6'2", 255-pound Willis has four tackles, 0.5 sacks and a quarterback hurry this season. He was a 4-star recruit from New Orleans, rated No. 35 overall in the 2014 class and the nation's third-best defensive tackle prospect, according to 247Sports.   

The 6'3", 212-pound Mornhinweg started Florida's final three games in 2013, completing 44 of his 63 passes for 344 yards and three touchdowns. He hasn't played this season and isn't listed on the Gators' depth chart heading into Saturday's home game against LSU.  

The incident occurred on the same day that quarterback Treon Harris was suspended by the school from all football activities amid allegations of sexual assault. 

Harris, a true freshman who came off the bench to lead the Gators to their 10-9 win at Tennessee on Saturday, has been implicated in an incident that occurred just after midnight Sunday at a campus residence hall. A statement from school president Bernie Machen released Monday said that Harris was suspended by the University Athletic Association:

We have no tolerance for sexual assault on our campus. The university is committed to providing a safe and inclusive environment for every member of the UF community. We must strive to protect all of our students from sexual harassment and assault, and do everything in our power to promote a safe learning environment.

Harris' attorney, Huntley Johnson, told Thompson that Harris would cooperate with the investigation. He said Harris hasn't been arrested and that he doesn't expect his client to be detained, according to Thompson.

Florida trailed 9-0 in the fourth quarter Saturday when Harris entered the game. He led the Gators to both of their scoring drives, including the one capped by Austin Hardin's game-winning, 49-yard field goal with 6:20 left. Harris came in for starter Jeff Driskel, who was 11-of-23 for 59 yards and three interceptions before being benched.

The Mornhinweg-Willis scuffle, combined with the allegations against Harris, are the last thing Florida coach Will Muschamp needs as he battles through a make-or-break season that's featured offensive inefficiency despite a new offensive coordinator. The Gators are 3-1 overall and 2-1 in the SEC but have scored only 31 points in their last two games in Kurt Roper's offense. 

 

Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP

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SEC Underdog Getting Hot on Recruiting Trail

The start of October has always raised spirits at the University of Kentucky, as fans start getting excited for the start of another championship run on the hardwood.  It is rare that the Wildcats football team elicits the same reaction. 

However, after the Wildcats beat South Carolina 45-38 to improve to 4-1, fans in the Bluegrass State are harboring visions of winning the SEC’s Eastern Division.

The hot start on the field has also translated to the recruiting trail, as 2015 4-star Ohio twins Andrew and David Dowell and 2016 3-star Georgia corner Jordan Griffin pledged to Kentucky over the weekend.  

The 6’0”, 170-pound Griffin said the atmosphere inside Commonwealth Stadium for the win over the Gamecocks contributed to his decision to end the recruiting process. As Griffin told Bleacher Report:

It was a crazy experience. I always had a feel for Kentucky. They were my first offer so it meant a lot to me. Me and Coach Derrick Ansley, we have a great relationship. I never had a relationship like that with any of the coaches who have recruited me. I felt like that offer wasn’t just a regular offer. It really meant something. The environment was crazy. The fanbase was incredible. I felt like it was the place for me. Just seeing that smile on my mother’s face at the time, it was enough for me to go ahead and make that decision.

There may be more good news on the way. 

Quarterback Zerrick Cooper—a 4-star recruit in the class of 2016 and a high-school teammate of Griffin—is on the verge of announcing his commitment, with Kentucky and Clemson among his favorites, per Josh Edwards of CatsPause (subscription required).

“It would be a great experience to play with Zerrick in college,” Griffin said. “We’re like best friends. He hasn’t really committed yet. I know the tweets are going around, but his top two is still Clemson and Kentucky. He’s still narrowing it down to see where he wants to go.”

The Wildcats picked a good week for the upset as a number of other key targets were in the stands on Saturday. 

5-star in-state senior running back Damien Harris—arguably the top player on the board for the Wildcats—was also in attendance last weekend and came away duly impressed. 

The Bluegrass State’s top junior prospect—4-star offensive lineman Drake Jackson—was also present for UK’s huge win and the visit seemed to make a lasting impression on him as well.

While the floodgates are seemingly open for top recruits to head to Lexington, it’s important to note that the Wildcats’ fast start on the field was preceded by big wins on the recruiting trail early in Stoops’ tenure.

The Wildcats finished with the No. 34 class in 2013—which Stoops and his staff finished out after being hired just a couple of months before signing day.

In the three years prior to his arrival in Lexington, the ‘Cats average class ranking was 45th in the nation. Factoring in Kentucky’s last two classes and its current one, the Wildcats have improved that number to No. 26 nationally.

The Wildcats have done a tremendous job of focusing on their home state and surrounding areas such as Ohio while also spreading out to fertile territories such as Florida and Georgia.

With the positive momentum resulting in a perfect storm of enthusiasm from the fanbase and wins on the field, the buzz surrounding Kentucky football is seemingly at an all-time high. As Griffin told Bleacher Report:

I’ve noticed that a lot of recruits are starting to become attracted to Kentucky. It has been a hot topic with Kentucky. I’m really excited about the class that is coming in this year and the class we’re building with 2016. Watching them play, it’s tremendous. Those guys play their hearts out. They came from going 2-10 last year and they are already 4-1 now and should be 5-0. It’s been a crazy experience for them.

If the wins keep piling up this season, expect that trend to push the Wildcats' efforts on the recruiting trail to new heights.

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Georgia Should Trust Hutson Mason and Shy Away from 2-QB System

While the SEC West—and the state of Mississippi, in particular—has become the talk of the college football world over the last few days, there's a big game brewing back east that's littered with division title implications, defensive question marks and uncertainty at the quarterback position.

Georgia will travel to Columbia to take on the Missouri Tigers at noon ET on Saturday morning in a game that will define the landscape of the SEC East moving forward.

A big piece of the puzzle for the Bulldogs is quarterback Hutson Mason, who hasn't exactly picked up where record-setting signal-caller Aaron Murray left off.

Mason is averaging just 137.4 yards per game through the air—the worst mark among SEC quarterbacks who have started every game this season. His 6.8 yards per attempt are 11th in the conference among qualifying quarterbacks.

Redshirt freshman Brice Ramsey saw time last week against Vanderbilt in times other than mop-up duty, completing two of four passes for 31 yards.

According to Seth Emerson of The Macon Telegraph, head coach Mark Richt suggests this is a trend that will continue this week for the Bulldogs:

It better only be a situational rotation, because if Richt wants his team to win the East, it's going to do it with Mason running the ship and he needs to build some confidence.

When you have running back Todd Gurley to rely on, all the quarterback needs to do is be a caretaker. Through the first month-plus of the season, though, it seemed like Georgia was calling pass plays outside the hashmarks rather than in the middle of the field, where Mason has been more comfortable.

Playing "musical quarterbacks' won't make the problem better, it will only make it worse.

Mason needs confidence. Confidence can be gained this week in, as Richt told Logan Booker of Bulldawg Illustrated:

Mason needs to get comfortable, and the way to make him comfortable is to call plays to his strengths and let him play. He's already looking over his shoulder, and that's the last place the coaching staff should want him to be looking.

Despite the woes in the passing game, things are looking up for the Bulldogs in some departments.

Wide receiver Malcolm Mitchell (ACL, leg) played for the first time in more than a year last week and fellow receiver Justin Scott-Wesley (ACL) was on the brink of playing last week. According to Ethan Burch of Morris News Service, his absence against the Commodores surprised Richt.

Missouri isn't the team against which Georgia should rotate quarterbacks.

Shane Ray and Markus Golden—who rank first and third, respectively, in sacks per game in the SEC—get off the edge in a hurry. Even if Mason doesn't instill a ton of confidence with the staff making quick decisions, does playing a redshirt freshman on the road in a big game change that?

Nope.

Georgia needs this game and its quarterback to be a big part of it. If he's not, hopes of its third SEC East title in four years will likely disappear.

Now's not the time to get cute.

 

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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Ohio State Football: J.T. Barrett Entering Heisman Conversation

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Following his latest standout showing—a 338-yard, five-touchdown outing in Ohio State's 52-24 win over Maryland on Saturday—J.T. Barrett gave some credit to his nighttime medicine.

"The thing I do now is I take the Sleepytime Tea," Barrett said. "I don’t want to be up just sitting with my thoughts at night."

But while Barrett may now be sleeping better following a shaky start to the 2014 season, the rest of the country is beginning to wake up when it comes to the Buckeyes' redshirt freshman quarterback.

Heisman Trophy odds can't be found for Barrett on online gambling sites—at least not yet—but that hasn't stopped the Wichita Falls, Texas, native's name from entering the conversation for college football's most prestigious award. On its latest watch list, reputed website HeismanPundit.com ranked Barrett seventh in a "long view of the race that takes into account schedule and statistical trends."

As Heisman Pundit creator and publisher Chris Huston explained to Bleacher Report, the inclusion of Barrett is a result of more than just what he's already accomplished in his freshman season. Having accumulated 1,354 passing yards, 276 rushing yards and 19 total touchdowns through Ohio State's first five games, Barrett is on pace for the best statistical season ever by a Buckeyes quarterback—one which would compare favorably to recent Heisman signal-callers.

“The last six Heisman-winning quarterbacks have averaged 4,292 yards of total offense and 47 combined touchdowns and a 181.3 passer rating," Huston said. "If you’re gonna win the Heisman in this day and age if you’re a quarterback, you pretty much need to have 4,000 yards of total offense and 40 touchdowns. That’s pretty much been the standard since Tim Tebow won the Heisman."

Assuming Ohio State advances to the Big Ten Championship Game and plays 13 contests before the Dec. 13 Heisman presentation in New York City, Barrett's current pace extrapolates to totals of 4,237 yards of offense (3,520 passing yards, 717 rushing yards) and 49 total touchdowns. His passer rating of 186.4 also meets the quarterback criteria set forth by Huston.

Those totals would eclipse what Jameis Winston accomplished in his Heisman-winning campaign a year ago, when the Florida State quarterback totaled 4,013 yards (3,820 passing, 193 rushing) and totaled 42 touchdowns in 13 games. They would be comparable to Robert Griffin III's 4,642 total yards and 45 touchdowns in 2011, Cam Newton's 3,998 total yards and 49 touchdowns in 2010, Sam Bradford's 4,493 total yards and 53 touchdowns in 2008 and Tim Tebow's 4,181 total yards and 55 touchdowns in 12 games in 2007.

(If the Buckeyes only take part in 12 games, Barrett's currently on track to tally 3,911 total yards—3,249 passing, 662 rushing—and 45 total touchdowns.)

But it's not just Barrett's potentially impressive stat line that could work in his favor when it comes to a potential Heisman run. According to Huston, playing for Ohio State will only help Barrett's cause, as voters are more apt to vote for candidates who play for big-name schools.

"Ohio State is a traditional Heisman power," Huston said. "If you have this kind of season for Ohio State and Ohio State goes 12-1, this is better than if you put up the same numbers for a 12-1 team at Baylor, for example, or Mississippi State.

“So there’s the built-in advantage of playing for a Heisman power, plus the production that he’s on-pace for. Now the question is, will he continue the pace?"

The Buckeyes' schedule would suggest so, with games against Rutgers and Illinois sandwiching a road contest against a largely unproven Penn State team on Oct. 25. While the Nittany Lions rank ninth in the nation in total defense, the Scarlet Knights rank 69th and the Fighting Illini rank 112th, with the latter surrendering an average of 502.8 yards per game.

Currently at 4-1 on the year, Ohio State again appears to be on a collision course for a Nov. 8 showdown with eighth-ranked Michigan State. And not only will that game likely decide this season's Big Ten East Division champion, it could also very well serve as a prime-time platform for Barrett's Heisman hopes, should he make the most of the Buckeyes' upcoming slate.

"If he keeps this pace—say against Rutgers, Penn State and Illinois he throws for a combined 11 touchdowns and then runs for three touchdowns as well—you’re looking at a lot of production," Huston noted. "Then people are going to start to notice. And then he’s going to have that big set up game at Michigan State where it’s basically going to be for the division title and Michigan State has a well-respected defense.

"If he can do that same kind of stuff against Michigan State, then he will be seen as a legitimate candidate at that point."

That's a lot of "ifs," especially when you take into consideration that the Spartans currently rank 11th in the nation in total defense and have given up an average of 20.6 points per game through their first five contests. But given who Ohio State has coming up between now and then, it appears to be almost likely that a trip to New York City will be on the line for Barrett in his matchup with MSU.

Of course, Barrett won't be the only person in control of his Heisman destiny.

For a player who entered 2014 as an unknown until Braxton Miller went down with a season-ending injury two weeks prior to the start of the season, Barrett hardly carries the same name recognition as Heisman hopefuls such as Georgia running back Todd Gurley, Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota and Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper. In fact, Huston estimates that if it were Miller who had accomplished what Barrett already has this season, he would have placed him third on his most recent watch list, based on the two-time Big Ten MVP's status as an established star.

That's not to say that Barrett won't be able to overcome his status as a relative unknown in college football, as both Winston and Johnny Manziel did as much in their respective Heisman Trophy-winning seasons. But it's worth noting that the two redshirt freshmen were helped by weaker fields in their Heisman races, something that Barrett would also need to benefit from in order to win the trophy.

"If you look at Johnny Manziel and Jameis Winston, they had incredible seasons as redshirt freshmen, but they had to have a lot of things happen," Huston said. "For Barrett to do it, if he has the kind of year that he’s on pace to have, he’s going to still need some of these other guys who are established in front of him to falter a little bit.”

So where do Barrett's Heisman odds currently stand?

With more than two months left until the award is actually handed out, perhaps it's too early to tell. But a lot will be decided in the Buckeyes' next four games—especially that fourth one—as Barrett may need to stock up on his Sleepytime Tea for a potential trip to city that never sleeps this December.

"I don’t expect him to win. I still think it’s going to be very hard for him to get to New York," Huston explained. "At the end of Michigan State, if he has 30 touchdown passes—which he’s on pace to have— then people are going to be like, ‘Well here’s a guy who’s got four games to go with already 30 touchdown passes.' People are going to start to realize what an incredible season it is and then that will start to snowball.

"Him being a freshman makes it hard to predict. But, if you’re looking out there for somebody who’s a redshirt freshman who has a chance to win, that’s definitely Barrett.”

 

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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Watch 2015 WR Darius Slayton Open Up About His Best Advice, Meeting Gus Malzahn

The 2015 recruiting class is filled with incredibly talented players. Among them is 4-star wide receiver Darius Slayton. Darius takes time to sit down with Bleacher Report and discuss his game as well as the first time he met Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn. 

What school do you think Slayton should attend?

Watch the video and let us know!

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Tennessee Volunteers vs. Chattanooga Mocs Complete Game Preview

The Tennessee Volunteers will try to regroup following Florida's 10-9 comeback win in Neyland Stadium in time to take on their little brother a couple hours down Interstate 75.

A game against the Chattanooga Mocs couldn't come at a better time.

Following road losses at Oklahoma and Georgia and a gut-wrencher to the Gators last week, UT needs a bit of a break.

Chattanooga, although ranked 12th in the Football Championship Subdivision, is as close to one as the Vols are going to get.

The Mocs are no pushover at 3-2 with losses to Central Michigan (20-16) and fellow FCS power Jacksonville State (26-23 in overtime). They're coming off an offensive explosion in a 55-7 win over the Virginia Military Institute.

But they don't have the horses to compete with an SEC team.

This game shouldn't be an issue for UT to get its third win. Let's take a look at what you need to know for homecoming.

Date: Saturday, Oct. 11

Time: 4 p.m. ET

Place: Neyland Stadium, Knoxville, Tennessee

TV: SEC Network

Radio: Vol Network, Sirius 113/XM 190

Begin Slideshow

SEC Football Q&A: Todd Gurley's Heisman Hopes, Can West Team Run the Table?

Another one bites the dust. 

Well, two, in fact.

Texas A&M and Alabama each took a loss this weekend—to Mississippi State and Ole Miss, respectively—leaving the Rebels, Bulldogs and defending SEC champion Auburn as the only three remaining undefeated teams in the SEC.

Which has the best chance of going undefeated? Will a player from the SEC win the Heisman Trophy? What's going on in Florida? We'll answer all of those burning questions in this week's Q&A.

 

Despite the caveat of "keeping the schedule in mind," it's still Auburn. Before the season and even as recently as last week, the entire college football world looked at Auburn's schedule with jaws on the floor thanks to the high ranking of all of the remaining teams on the schedule.

It's not as difficult as it appears, and unless there's some catastrophic injury or something bizarre that happens, Auburn will likely be favored over every team remaining on the schedule save for—maybe—Alabama in Tuscaloosa. South Carolina and Georgia can't cover anyone and will certainly struggle with Sammie Coates and Duke Williams. Texas A&M struggles to stop the run between the tackles, which is a staple of head coach Gus Malzahn's offense. Ole Miss struggles along the offensive line, and Auburn's front four has been getting progressively better throughout the season.

The Mississippi schools don't have that luxury.

Despite being co-No. 3 with its intra-state rival, Ole Miss is a three-point underdog at Texas A&M this week, according to Odds Shark, and still has to play Auburn and Mississippi State. Mississippi State is an underdog to Auburn this week and has to travel to Tuscaloosa and Oxford.

Auburn is the most complete football team in the SEC. Its running game hasn't missed a beat, quarterback Nick Marshall has stepped up his game as a passer, the run defense is stifling, and the Tigers are getting hot at the right time. 

 

The Georgia running back certainly has a better chance now than he did a week ago, that's for sure.

When the favorite—Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, in this case—goes down for the first time, the door swings wide open for contenders to step up and make their Heisman case. Gurley did that this weekend against Vanderbilt when he rushed for 163 yards and two touchdowns, caught two passes for 24 yards and completed a pass for 50 yards—Georgia's longest completion of the season.

Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott, Notre Dame signal-caller Everett Golson and Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall have stepped up their respective Heisman games to join Gurley in the Heisman discussion, but Gurley has been the one constant.

Either Prescott or Marshall will lose this weekend, and despite Golson's stellar play this year—he's thrown 13 touchdowns and only three interceptions this season—voters will hold the dreaded "character card" against him after he missed the 2013 season after having "poor judgement on a test," according to The Associated Press (via ESPN.com).

It's going to be hard for Gurley to top a quarterback and win the Heisman, but as long as he stays healthy, he'll be in New York as a finalist. If the top signal-callers in the country continue to play "musical quarterbacks" in the Heisman polls, Gurley's chances will increase. 

He just needs to keep doing what he's doing and hope the dominoes fall in his favor.

 

No, even though, if he is let go after the season, it probably would be viewed as the game that forced athletic director Jeremy Foley to make the move.

Foley told Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel (subscription required) last month that Muschamp will get the entire season and then Foley will evaluate the state of the program.

Besides, what purpose does firing Muschamp midseason serve?

The Gators aren't going to hire a replacement right away, so recruiting is going to be affected regardless. Florida certainly wouldn't be swimming the in same coaching poll as Kansas, which fired Charlie Weis earlier this season. Even if Michigan shows Brady Hoke the door, the Gators and Wolverines will probably have a much different pool of candidates.

But what about Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen?

The former Gators offensive coordinator is sitting at 5-0 and has his Bulldogs ranked No. 3, which would surely be attractive to Michigan. 

If Mullen is a legit candidate for Florida and Foley wants to talk to him, it can wait. In fact, given the current state of Mississippi State's program, Mullen would likely prefer that conversation to start after the season to prevent any distractions.

No, losing to LSU doesn't earn Muschamp the boot right away. It might be the game that causes Foley to show him the door after the season, but there's no reason to fire him during it.

 

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: 5 Startling Statistics Through 6 Weeks

The Texas A&M football team is 5-2 on the season and 2-1 in the SEC. The Aggies have generated a number of interesting statistics during the first half of the 2014 season. 

Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin has always put up prolific numbers on offense. The Aggies have led the SEC in offense the first two seasons they have been in the league.

It is not surprising that some of the offensive numbers individual Aggie players put up are impressive. The Aggies have also put up some numbers that are surprising in a bad way during the first half of the 2014 season.

This is a look at some of the surprising statistics the Aggies have put up during the first six games of the season.  

 

Begin Slideshow

Tennessee Football: 5 Startling Statistics Through 6 Weeks

Six weeks of the 2014 college football season are in the books, and the Tennessee Volunteers have put up some surprising statistics as the season nears its halfway point.

The Vols are right where most analysts predicted in the preseason with a 2-3 record and zero SEC wins. Saturday's loss to the Florida Gators was particularly frustrating for the team and head coach Butch Jones, as the Vols had numerous opportunities to put the game away and end 10 straight years of futility to its biggest SEC East rival.

While Jones's mantra is that football is a game of inches, it's also a game of statistics, and diving into a few key areas of the Vols' performance this season helps illustrate exactly why the team lost on Saturday and may have trouble reaching a bowl game.

Although teams can and certainly do turn things around, it appears Tennessee has a few critical weaknesses—along with a surprising strength—that could either cause the season to spiral out of control or get the Vols right back into SEC East contention. 

Here are the five most startling statistics through Week 6 for the Tennessee Vols. 

Begin Slideshow

Power Ranking the Top 25 Quarterbacks Through 6 Weeks

The college football season is almost at its midpoint, which means we've seen enough to reassess our player rankings at every position. And what position is more fun to talk about—if not more excessively talked about—than quarterback?!

The QB hierarchy hasn't undergone major changes since the preseason, but enough has happened to warrant a new batch of rankings. We haven't seen a freshman come out gangbusters a la Johnny Manziel in 2012 and Jameis Winston in 2013, but a couple of underclassmen (and even some upperclassmen) have come close.

These rankings are a reaction but not an overreaction to what has happened in the first six weeks of the year. In other words, we haven't forgotten how a quarterback played in 2013 (or 2012 and 2011), but his 2014 performance was weighted as a pretty big data point.

Also keep in mind that these rankings are a pure construction of the 2014 college football season. They do not project how a quarterback will translate to the NFL or even how he projects to next year. They are a subjective answer to the question, "Which QB would you pick to lead your team into a must-win game next weekend?"

Sound off below, and let us know what you think.

 

Note: Total QBR refers to the quarterbacking metric compiled by ESPN.com. All other numbers come via cfbstats.com.

Begin Slideshow

Will the UGA vs. Missouri Matchup Determine SEC East?

Georgia finds itself right back in the thick of things in the SEC with many of the top teams going down. The Missouri Tigers have upset on the mind when the two SEC East teams go head-to-head. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Barrett Sallee discuss who they think will win this matchup with huge SEC implications.

Will the Tigers or the Bulldogs win the SEC?

Watch the video, and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Why the Texas A&M Aggies Will Ruin the Ole Miss Rebels' Perfect Season

The Ole Miss Rebels are riding high after one of the biggest wins in their football program's history. They have another tough test in the Texas A&M Aggies, who look to rebound after a loss to Mississippi State.

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Barrett Sallee discuss why Ole Miss might be in trouble against the Aggies.

Do you think Ole Miss will get upset in Week 7?

Watch the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Meet Georgia Tech, the Best Team No One Is Talking About

Of the 10 undefeated teams remaining in college football, Georgia Tech may be the one most under the radar. 

Following a wacky Week 6 in which five of the AP poll's Top Eight teams lost in the same weekend, Georgia Tech quietly put away Miami 28-17 to advance to 5-0, Tech's first win against the Hurricanes since 2008. It was, give or take, the 947th most exciting thing to happen that weekend. 

Put another way, it was somewhere between Katy Perry using corndogs as props on College GameDay but just above Purdue beating Illinois 38-27. 

Thus, the Yellow Jackets' win barely moved the meter. Georgia Tech finally cracked the Associated Press and coaches' Top 25, but it came in at No. 22 and No. 23, respectively. 

There's some legitimate rationale for that: Georgia Tech's non-conference schedule was especially soft and included a narrow escape over Georgia Southern. 

But Georgia Tech is 2-0 in the ACC all the same and the only other undefeated team in the conference besides Florida State. The Jackets are a 4.5-point favorite in an important divisional game against Duke this Saturday, per Odds Shark. Barring a collapse, Georgia Tech could be favored in every remaining game leading into the last two weeks of the season against Clemson and Georgia. 

How did Georgia Tech get to this point? 

 

The Leader

If there's a compelling hook to this whole undefeated story, it's head coach Paul Johnson. Recall that in January, Bruce Feldman, then of CBSSports.com, tweeted that Johnson was unhappy with the school and was hoping for a buyout. 

Feldman is one of the most reliable reporters out there, but Johnson quickly denied the report and the original tweet was deleted

"I've been here going on seven years. My family lives here," said Johnson in an April interview with Jeremy Fowler of CBSSports.com. "I've had several opportunities to leave here in the last seven years."

So while it was much ado about nothing, it nevertheless came at an interesting time. Earlier that week, starting quarterback Vad Lee announced he was transferring. Lee told ESPN's Joe Schad that "The triple-option was never really my thing." 

Georgia Tech was also coming off a 7-6 record, losing three of its last four games. Johnson hadn't led the Yellow Jackets to more than eight wins in a season since 2009 when his team won the ACC and appeared in the Orange Bowl. 

Johnson has turned the ship around, however. Whatever chatter about the hot seat there was regarding Johnson before the season has been thoroughly extinguished. 

 

The Offense

The triple-option is what made Johnson famous at Georgia Southern and Navy. Though he brought in a completely new style to Georgia Tech, he had immediate success with the athletes on his roster.

The combination of quarterback Joshua Nesbitt, running back Jonathan Dwyer and receiver Demaryius Thomas helped the Yellow Jackets finish in the top 15 nationally in points scored per game, according to cfbstats.com

However, Johnson has showed that he can score points with a consistency matched by few others. 

Since 2011, Johnson's offense has been almost identical on a yearly basis. In '11, Georgia Tech's offense scored 34.3 points per game. That number went down to 33.6 points per game in '12 but rose to 35.1 points per game in 2013. Through five games this season, Tech is averaging 34.6 points per game.

That's a difference, through about three-and-a-half years, of 1.5 points per game. To achieve that level of consistency with the constant turnover in college football is impressive. 

The triple-option can be tough to stop, especially when an opponent has one week to prepare. It requires incredible discipline from everyone on defense. It's not so much about someone being a hero as it is about everyone knowing their assignments.

Still, Tech is going to get its points. The magic number to beat Georgia Tech is 30. Johnson has only won about 33 percent of his games since taking over Tech in 2008 when opponents score at least 30 points. 

Basically, if you want to beat Georgia Tech, you're probably going to have to do it in a shootout. 

 

The Stars 

The quarterback is a focal point of the triple-option, so the attention is naturally going to be on sophomore Justin Thomas. 

Through six weeks, Thomas has been an ideal playmaker in Johnson's offense, leading the team with 470 yards on the ground and three touchdowns while averaging six yards a carry. But Thomas is more than another effective runner at quarterback. He's also passing the ball well enough to have a semblance of balance. 

Two quarterbacks have thrown for 11 touchdowns in a season at Tech under Johnson: Tevin Washington in 2011 and Lee in '13. Thomas is already up to seven passing touchdowns to just one interception.

Passing is obviously not a huge part of Georgia Tech's offense, but run-based teams still need to be able to pass effectively in the few instances they do air it out, as Andrea Adelson of ESPN.com points out: 

As for the offense, Thomas has been an upgrade over Vad Lee. Thomas ranks No. 3 in the ACC in rushing, and Georgia Tech has gone from No. 9 in the ACC in pass efficiency to No. 2 because Thomas is better throwing the football. 

For not focusing on the pass, Tech has been known for a recent list of big-bodied wideouts, from Thomas to Stephen Hill. DeAndre Smelter has filled in that role with 35 receptions for 684 yards and eight touchdowns over the past year-and-a-half. 

Then there's senior B-back Zach Laskey, who's been as reliable a ball-carrier as the Yellow Jackets have had in recent years. A bruising back, Laskey has 1,631 yards and 10 rushing touchdowns in his career. 

It's a one-two-three punch that resembles the '09 team and the star power it had on offense. 

If the '09 team is to be used as any comparison, Georgia Tech could be on its way to great things again this season. Eventually, the country will take notice. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. 

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