NCAA Football

Ohio State vs. Virginia Tech: How Will J.T. Barrett Perform vs. Hokies Defense

The Virginia Tech Hokies travel to Columbus to take on the Ohio State Buckeyes this weekend. Bleacher Report's College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Barrett Sallee discuss the biggest topics heading into this matchup. Who do you think will win this battle?

Watch the video and let us know!

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Nebraska Football: Meet WR Jordan Westerkamp, the Huskers' New X-Factor

Chances are you've heard about Jordan Westerkamp by now. If not, you've at least heard about the Hail Mary that defeated Northwestern in 2013.

If you still weren't completely familiar with Westerkamp after that, the sophomore wide receiver made himself even harder to ignore after Nebraska's matchup with Florida Atlantic.

Against the Owls, Westerkamp had seven receptions for 125 yards and one touchdown, per ESPN.com. While impressive, it wasn't just Westerkamp's statistics that had heads turning. Instead, it was a single behind-the-back catch.

"It was a crazy play. I ran a corner route, and I saw the ball get tipped, so I put my hands back, and the ball just landed perfectly," Westerkamp said.

That catch did more than just remind people of who he is. It also made it clear that he's Nebraska's newest X-factor.

Before the season began, it was easy to assume the receiving corps would need help after seniors Kenny Bell and Jamal Turner graduate. JUCO players looked to be the best bet to fill any necessary holes. While those players may still be needed for extra depth, Westerkamp is proving that he's ready to take over as the leader of this group.

His attitude is proof of that. When asked which catch was his favorite, the Hail Mary or the behind-the-back, Westerkamp was quick to switch the conversation back to his team.

"I try to not look too much into that stuff," he said. "It was a great team win today. We came out and played well. I just want to contribute as much as possible to the team for our success."

As for Bo Pelini's reaction? He was clear that while it was something new for him, it's to be expected for someone like Westerkamp.

"I've coached a lot of football, but I've never seen that one," Pelini said. "I don't think I've ever seen that. That one's hard to explain. To even have the wherewithall to put your hands back there, it's amazing. I've always said he catches everything that's near him. He showed that right there."

The future definitely looks bright for Westerkamp. In 2013, he had 20 receptions for 283 yards and one touchdown, per ESPN.com. One year later, the sophomore is well on his way to surpassing those numbers.

A major benefit is his friendship with quarterback Tommy Armstrong. While Westerkamp shines on his own, the relationship he has with Armstrong is nothing but a big benefit to his potential as a receiver.

"The kid is my best friend, so we have that chemistry," Westerkamp said. "As the receiver I've obviously got a lot of passes from him. I take a lot of pride because he is my best friend and I never want to let that guy down, so I go out there and play hard for him."

That news has to be good for both coaches and fans. When Bell and Turner leave, the experience and age they take with them will be a loss. However, Westerkamp is proving he has what it takes to step up as the leader the Huskers need.

And from the sound of it, another memorable moment for Westerkamp is only a catch away.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand at Nebraska's postgame press conference on Aug. 30.

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USC vs. Stanford: X-Factors Leading into Pac-12 Battle

The USC Trojans are taking on the Stanford Cardinal. Bleacher Report's college football analysts Michael Felder and Barrett Sallee discuss the key topics leading up to this matchup. Who do you think will take home the W?


Check out the video, and let us know!

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2015 NFL Draft Big Board Following First Week of CFB Season

Week 1 of the 2014 college football season has come and gone, and we have gotten a look at some of the best talent in the country, which gives us a bit of a jumping off point for the 2015 NFL Draft.

Obviously, it's not much to go off of, and they won't impact the rankings heavily. But there were some great performances to go along with some pretty disappointing ones as well. 

I did my "way-too-early" 2015 big board way back in May right after the 2014 draft, and you'll notice that the top of the list looks relatively the same, but there is a lot of shuffling on the back end.

Remember, this is not a mock draft in any way; it is merely my own ranking of the best draft-eligible college prospects in 2015. 

 

*Indicates underclassmen

 

1. *Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon

Marcus Mariota's blend of speed and arm ability is exceedingly rare. He reminds me a bit of a taller Mike Vick with the way he can outrun defensive backs and also throw bombs down the field. 

 

2. *Andrus Peat, OT, Stanford

Andrus Peat is a Goliath at 6'7", and he anchors another exceptional Stanford offensive line this year. His spot as the top offensive lineman in this class, however, is not at all set in stone. He's still a bit raw, and there are lots of talented players behind him.

 

3. *Randy Gregory, DE, Nebraska

A bit of a boom-or-bust guy right now, Randy Gregory is a former junior college transfer who led the Big Ten in sacks last year. He suffered a minor knee injury in Week 1 and will likely miss this week's game against McNeese State, per Steven M. Sipple of the Lincoln Journal Star (h/t Jerry Hinnen of CBSSports.com).

 

4. *Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State

Jameis Winston might be the biggest name in college football, but he isn't necessarily the best player. Don't get me wrong—I think he's a tremendous player. His raw natural talent is exceptional, but he has to harness it and put some of his off-the-field issues aside.

 

5. Brandon Scherff, OT, Iowa

Brandon Scherff is quietly one of the best players in the country heading into 2014. I think he's an early sleeper candidate to be the first non-quarterback selected in this draft.

 

6. Vic Beasley, DE/OLB, Clemson

Vic Beasley is just an absolute monster on the outside. I don't know whether he'll play at outside linebacker or defensive end in the NFL, but he looked sharp against Georgia and is a difference-maker that any defense wants to have.

 

7. *Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama

In that original Big Board I have linked to up top, I said it was difficult for me to separate Amari Cooper with Nelson Agholor, and that still holds true. But after seeing Cooper dominate in Week 1 with 130 yards, I switched the places of these two while moving them both up.

 

8. *Nelson Agholor, WR, Southern California

Agholor had only 55 receiving yards in Week 1, but he caught two touchdowns, which is good for his projections. He isn't a physically imposing player, but showing a nose for the end zone is always good.

 

9. Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon

I certainly have nothing against Ifo Ekpre-Olomu despite his dropping from No. 6 in my original ranks to No. 9 here. Beasley, Cooper, and Agholor just all impressed me, but Ekpre-Olomu is still by far the best cornerback in the country with his range and versatility.

 

10. *Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia

The biggest riser after Week 1. I don't think I'm jumping the gun much at all here. In fact, I might even be late, but I'll say it now: Todd Gurley has the highest ceiling of any non-quarterback in this draft, and he could be a legitimate NFL superstar. The only thing him holding him back is the anti-running back movement in the league right now.

 

11. Cameron Erving, OT, Florida State

A former defensive tackle, Cameron Erving will still have to prove in 2014 that he's polished up his game enough to be worthy of a high pick. But from an athletic standpoint? He's top-10 material; no question about it.

 

12. Cedric Ogbuehi, OT, Texas A&M

A&M is looking like an offensive tackle factory right now, and Cedric Ogbuehi will look to follow in Luke Joeckel's and Jake Matthews' footsteps. He has all the ability to be the first tackle selected come May.

 

13. *Shilique Calhoun, DE, Michigan State

Consider me sold on Shilique Calhoun's upside. A former basketball star and latecomer to football, I'm confident he will take college football by storm in 2014.

 

14. *Leonard Williams, DE, Southern California

Leonard Williams is an animal on the defensive line, and he will have a major test against Stanford's great offensive line Saturday. He looks more and more like a 3-4 DE to me.

 

15. *Landon Collins, S, Alabama

Through no fault of his own did Landon Collins fall a few spots here, although Alabama's defense as a whole didn't look that great against West Virginia. He's a pretty good bet to be the first safety taken next May if he declares.

 

16. *Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA

I don't like over-reacting too much to one game, but Brett Hundley did not look good at all against Virginia. He's got a lot of competition at the quarterback position in this class, and he needs to step it up quickly.

 

17. Bryce Petty, QB, Baylor

Baylor's opener against SMU doesn't really mean much, but the gap is definitely small between Bryce Petty and Hundley. I think Petty is the safer bet at this point, but Hundley has more upside.

 

18. Rashad Greene, WR, Florida State

There is nothing sexy about Rashad Greene; he isn't big, he isn't a speedster and he doesn't make many highlight-reel plays. But he's a heck of a pass-catcher and has been really consistent for Winston. Greene dominated Oklahoma State last Saturday with 11 catches, 203 yards and a touchdown.

 

19. *T.J. Yeldon, RB, Alabama

I may have heaped a lot of praise on Gurley earlier, but don't think I'm sleeping on T.J. Yeldon at all. His 126 rushing yards against West Virginia is the biggest reason the Crimson Tide didn't blow that game.

 

20. *Jaelen Strong, WR, Arizona

The Philadelphia native isn't a big name right now. But he's got a whole lot of potential, and people should start taking notice. He started 2014 off with a bang, notching 10 catches for 146 yards.

 

21. Denzel Perryman, ILB, Miami

22. *Hroniss Grasu, OC, Oregon

23. La'el Collins, OT/G, LSU

24. *Trae Waynes, CB, Michigan State

25. *Stefon Diggs, WR, Maryland

26. *Sammie Coates, WR, Alabama

27. *Devin Funchess, TE, Michigan

28. *Mario Edwards, Jr., DE, Florida State

29. *Shawn Oakman, DE, Baylor

30. *Shaq Thompson, OLB, Washington 

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College Football Picks Week 2: B/R's Expert Predictions for Top 5 Games

Week 2 of the 2014 college football season will bring us the end of an era in South Bend, a battle of playoff favorites in Eugene, a whole bunch of unknowns in Columbus and shots at redemption in Austin and Palo Alto.

Michigan and Notre Dame will square off for the final time in the foreseeable future in what should be a close contest throughout. Neither team wants to end this rivalry game with a loss, so expect the Wolverines and the Fighting Irish to come down to the wire.
With two contrasting styles of play, the Oregon and Michigan State game is sure to keep fans on the edge of their seats. Will the Spartans tough nose defense slow down the great speed of the Ducks’ roster? 

USC head coach Steve Sarkisian knows what it takes to beat Stanford, but earlier this week, Trojans starting quarterback had a procedure done on his toe. Will he be fully healthy and ready to challenge the Cardinal's talented defense? 

Ohio State struggled to put Navy away in Week 1, and now the Buckeyes face a hungry Virginia Tech squad looking to make some noise with the national spotlight on them. Will Urban Meyer have his team ready to avoid an upset?

And the final contest our experts picked this week is a rematch of a game that was an embarrassment for Texas a season ago. BYU’s Taysom Hill will once again be tough to stop, but Longhorns’ head coach Charlie Strong is known for solid defense. However, the major question in this game is how will Texas’ offense look without quarterback David Ash and starting center Dominic Espinosa?

Sallee and Blaudschun have the early lead with perfect picks from Week 1, but there is a great deal of football left to be played. Kramer, Kercheval and Felder have plenty of time to catch up. Who will come out on top this week?

Sound off in the comments below on their picks and who you think will win in Week 2

*All picks made straight up. Spread is not a factor.


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USC vs. Stanford: Underrated QBs Cody Kessler, Kevin Hogan Fight for Spotlight

"This week's matchup, you're really looking at two of the Rodney Dangerfields of the conference."

Stanford head coach David Shaw may be the only person in America who thought to draw a parallel between the starting quarterbacks in Saturday's matchup of Top 15 teams (No. 14 USC vs. No. 13 Stanford) and the late stand-up comedian known for lamenting his lack of respect.

However, the analogy Shaw drew during Tuesday's Pac-12 coaches teleconference is spot-on.

In a year when the Pac-12 is being praised for its depth and quality of quarterbacks, Kevin Hogan and Cody Kessler are being treated as afterthoughts to Heisman Trophy favorites such as UCLA's Brett Hundley and Oregon's Marcus Mariota as well as NFL draft prospect Sean Mannion of Oregon State.

"People might say the fifth- and sixth-best quarterbacks in our conference [Hogan and Kessler] are really, really good," Shaw said. "When you watch Cody Kessler play, you say, 'Wow, he's really good.' When you watch Kevin Hogan play, you say, 'You know what? He's really good and he wins football games.'"

According to ESPN.com's Heisman Watch, neither Hogan nor Kessler is at the forefront of the highly publicized Pac-12 quarterback discussion.

That could change with the spotlight on Stanford Stadium this Saturday, and an early advantage in the conference's championship race is at stake.

Other elements of Saturday's marquee matchup might overshadow the quarterbacks. Both Stanford and USC feature top-flight defenses. As a result, the two most recent installments in the series have not exactly been quarterback battles—Stanford won the 2012 encounter 21-14, while USC took last year's contest 20-17.

USC head coach Steve Sarkisian explained how each program's style contributed to both quarterbacks getting overlooked.

"Both those guys last season...were really effective players," he said. "Their offenses weren't ones where the quarterback was just going to put up the most dynamic numbers. In this day and age of college football, some of the numbers people are putting up, that's what people tend to focus on."

 

Kessler Taking to a New Offense

Sarkisian's introduction of a hurry-up, no-huddle offense promises to boost Kessler's numbers and thus shine a more prominent light on him.

He is coming off a career-best performance of 394 yards and four passing touchdowns.

"Cody played really tough, played gritty, played tough," Sarkisian said. "Really handled an offense, for his first game running a new system, really, really well. I don't think we could have asked for more out of him."

He also showed off his mobility in Sarkisian's hurry-up offense, rushing for 28 yards and scoring once on the ground.

"It's a part of our offense. We'll never ask Cody just to be a runner. That's not who we are," Sarkisian said on his conference call Sunday. "But I do believe he has enough athleticism to just make it another part of our offense that you have to defend. He has the ability to use his legs to get us out of a jam."

Indeed, that new dimension of USC's offense adds to the game film opposing defensive coordinators like Stanford's Lance Anderson must study in preparation for the Trojans.

It also makes Kessler a more dangerous individual weapon for a USC lineup already loaded with explosive playmakers.

Kessler said at Pac-12 media days that his job was getting those playmakers the ball in position to roll off big gains. Against Fresno State, the quarterback did just that.

Ten different Trojans caught passes, including six with three or more receptions. Kessler and favorite target Nelson Agholor connected for two touchdowns, while the highly anticipated debut of freshman John "JuJu" Smith produced four catches for 123 yards.

The hurry-up offense has provided USC with a jolt that promises to make this year's matchup with Stanford more offensive than in seasons past.

Conversely, Hogan's role as the facilitator of Stanford's offense is unchanged from a season ago, when the Cardinal claimed a second straight Pac-12 Championship.

 

"Keep Going With What Works"

There is a collective pride in the Stanford program about the identity it's forged over the past seven years. The Cardinal have no intention to deviate from the formula, either.

Hogan emphasized at Pac-12 media days that Stanford's attack starts with the run.

"Keep going with what works" is how he described the philosophy.

The Cardinal offense doesn't mean Hogan is just there to get the running backs the ball, however. Rather, he's become adept at exchanging quantity for quality.

Stanford's 38-14 win over Arizona State in last December's Pac-12 Championship Game is a prime example. Hogan went 11-of-17 passing, scored on strikes of 17 and 30 yards, and added 45 rushing yards for good measure.

The Cardinal's unrelenting ground attack lured in the defense for Hogan to exploit mismatches, finding wide receivers Devon Cajuste and Ty Montgomery.

That performance typified what makes Hogan a great fit for Stanford and serves as an interesting case study for a statistical gem ESPN.com's Ted Miller mined:

Afterward, I asked Shaw about Hogan's development in 2013, his first full year as starter.

"When given the opportunity and games are on the line in big moments against ranked teams, he shows what he's capable of," Shaw said.

Hogan opened 2014 with a performance similar to what he delivered in the 2013 Pac-12 Championship Game, putting together a typically efficient outing in Stanford's 45-0 Week 1 drubbing of UC Davis. He went 12-of-16 for 204 yards and scored touchdowns on one-quarter of his completions.

The Stanford passing attack added weapons in the offseason with freshman running back Christian McCaffrey and sophomore Austin Hooper becoming the pass-catching tight end that was absent from the Cardinal offense in 2013.

Montgomery reestablished himself as a dangerous, big-play threat last week with five catches for 77 yards and a touchdown reception. Big target Cajuste is back in the lineup against USC after missing the UC Davis game due to suspension.

"People are going to be amazed when they see these guys come out this season," Hogan said of the Stanford wide receiving corps.

 

The Matchup  

In December, Shaw cited Hogan's "big arm" and "clear conscience" as setting the foundation for Hogan's high individual ceiling.

That clear conscience will be necessary Saturday against USC. In the Cardinal's loss to the Trojans last November, Hogan threw two interceptions. One ended a promising Stanford drive in the red zone.

On the other hand, Kessler played an efficient game against Stanford's ballyhooed defense last season.

He's rarely been better in his young career than when he completed three consecutive passes, including one on fourth down, to lead the Trojans on a nine-play drive that set up kicker Andre Heidari's game-winning field goal.

USC will try to replicate that success against one of the toughest defenses in college football.

The Trojans may operate in an uptempo scheme now but remain committed to a power style, which promises to challenge the Stanford front seven.

"They're tough to crack and get after the quarterback like we typically like to," Shaw said of the USC offensive line.

Despite starting two true freshmen (Toa Lobendahn and Damien Mama), against Fresno state, the Trojans' front five kept Kessler from being sacked.

The challenge facing USC in its effort to slow Hogan is similar. With preseason All-American left tackle Andrus Peat as its anchor, Hogan operates behind one of the most imposing offensive lines in the Pac-12—if not the nation.

Both Hogan and Kessler have an opportunity to flourish in the spotlight with this matchup. It's unlikely anyone will compare the winner to Dangerfield again after this week.

 

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise cited. Statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com.

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USC vs. Stanford: Underrated QBs Cody Kessler, Kevin Hogan Fight for Spotlight

"This week's matchup, you're really looking at two of the Rodney Dangerfields of the conference...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

How Do the Oregon Ducks Prepare for Michigan State's Ferocious Defense?

Flash versus smash.

That is the only suitable way to categorize the showdown between the third-ranked Oregon Ducks and the seventh-ranked Michigan State Spartans.

The Ducks and Spartans are very different football teams—so much so that is almost seems like they’re not even playing the same sport. That’s why this matchup is so intriguing and ESPN’s College GameDay will be visiting Eugene this weekend.

We know that Oregon’s offense is revolutionary. It’s so revolutionary that the rest of college football has stolen bits and pieces of it, if not the whole playbook, and the NFL came calling for the offense's leading man: Chip Kelly.

The Ducks' zone-read-based “blur” offense operates at a speed and efficiency that would make Henry Ford cry tears of joy.

However, let’s not discount how great Michigan State’s defense is. In fact, it’s a groundbreaking defense in its own right. It seems simple, just like the Ducks offense, but can shift on a dime into a multitude of sets.

Dr. Evil once said to Austin Powers, “We’re not so different, you and I.” Well, Oregon’s offense and Michigan State’s defense aren’t all that different from one another.

In 2013, Oregon’s offense ranked second in the nation in total yards per game (565) and third in points per game (45.5). Conversely, Michigan State’s defense ranked second in yards per game allowed (252) and third in points allowed per game (13.2).

There’s no doubt that both Oregon’s offense and Michigan State’s defense are the best in the nation at what they do, and they're changing the game of football as they do it.

So, what exactly will Oregon’s offense up be against this weekend at Autzen Stadium?

Well, Michigan State is one of two teams to rank in the top five in defensive yards per play in each of the last three seasons, along with Florida State.

In 2013, while compiling a 13-1 record, claiming a Big Ten title and winning the Rose Bowl, the Spartans finished first in defensive yards per play.

The reason that head coach Mark Dantonio and defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi have built such a successful defense is because of the 4-3 scheme they run and how they coach their players to make quick, instinctive changes before the snap.

Instead of trying to guess what Oregon’s offense is going to do on Saturday and picking the wrong defensive formation, Michigan State will utilize a defense that will change into the right alignment depending on how the offense lines up.

There may be times when Michigan State is playing Cover 4 and others when it's stuffing nine players in the box.

The only thing we know for sure about the Spartans defense is that it will start in a “4-3 Over” paired with “Quarters,” which is more commonly known as the Cover 4 defense.

Now, Michigan State’s defensive schemes and its ability to maneuver the formations on the fly have worked well against opponents who operate slowly. After all, most Big Ten teams don’t operate at any speed, let alone at Mach 10 like the Ducks.

The biggest concern for the Spartans has to be whether or not they will have the time to read Oregon’s offense and adjust on the move. Oregon’s speed has left opponents in the dust before.

If Michigan State can’t adjust early to the speed, it may go home scratching its heads.

With that said, the Spartans defense is smart and talented enough to make Oregon work for every first down. There’s a reason the Spartans’ rushing defense has been in the top 10 nationally in each of the past three seasons.

Additionally, the Spartans only allowed 12 passing touchdowns in 2013, while holding opposing quarterbacks to a 47.5 percent completion percentage.

The Spartans defense will depend heavily on defensive ends Shilique Calhoun and Marcus Rush, who will be tasked with controlling Oregon’s nearly unstoppable rushing attack. Calhoun, who is perhaps the best defensive player in the Big Ten, will also be asked to put pressure on quarterback Marcus Mariota, which isn’t exactly the easiest thing in the world to do.

Michigan State’s secondary lost its best player from last year's team, Darqueze Dennard, to the NFL. However, the secondary should still be solid this year, especially with the front seven putting pressure on the quarterback.

One of the biggest concerns for the Ducks has to be whether or not the young wide receivers are able to take on the aggressive Spartans secondary.

We know the Spartans are going to play a ton of man coverage. It will be on the Ducks' wide receivers to create space and make plays, especially in 3rd-and-long situations.

Oregon’s offense is in for one of its toughest tests in years. The last time Oregon saw a defensive like this, it was 2011 and LSU manhandled the team in Cowboys Stadium. Three seasons later, the Ducks get an opportunity to show the college football world that speed truly kills—and just because you’re fast doesn’t mean you’re soft.

In order for Oregon to succeed against Michigan State’s defense, and thereby grab a victory, the Ducks are going to need to play with more strength between the tackles and be more aggressive in all phases of the game.

Whether that means holding blocks a split second longer or taking a big hit trying to make a play, it’s all going to have to be done to beat Michigan State.

Oregon’s offense needs to use its speed to impact Michigan State’s ability to adapt at the line of scrimmage, which is the Spartans' best defensive asset. If Oregon can incorporate an element of nastiness to its vicious offensive attack, the Ducks should come away with a huge victory over the Spartans.

 

Follow Jason Gold on twitter @TheSportsGuy33. 

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How Do the Oregon Ducks Prepare for Michigan State's Ferocious Defense?

Flash versus smash. That is the only suitable way to categorize the showdown between the third-ranked Oregon Ducks and the seventh-ranked Michigan State Spartans...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Updated Recruiting Odds: Where Will Stud WR George Campbell Land?

George Campbell is a 4-star wide receiver out of the Sunshine State. This stud is making his college decision very soon between LSU, Florida State and Florida. Bleacher Report's College Football Analyst Michael Felder breaks down the odds of where Campbell will commit. Where do you think he will land? 

Check out the video and let us know!

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Throwback Thursday: LeGarrette Blount Punches Boise State Player After Loss

Chip Kelly had the Oregon Ducks in the national championship contention every year when he was the team's head coach, but his tenure there got off to a rough start.

On Sept. 3, 2009, Oregon lost to Boise State in Kelly's debut as Ducks coach. The 19-8 loss wasn't a great way to start his tenure in Eugene, but it's what happened after the game that overshadowed his debut—and not for a good reason.

After the game, Ducks running back LeGarrette Blount—who finished the game with negative rushing yards—punched Broncos defensive end Byron Hout in the face. Blount even got into it with the fans on his way off the field. Thankfully, this incident did get even uglier.

Kelly quickly decided to suspend Blount for the rest of the season. However, Blount ended up playing in Oregon's final two games of the season, including the 2010 Rose Bowl against Ohio State.

The punching incident certainly didn't help Blount's draft stock; the running back went undrafted. 

[YouTube]

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Are the Georgia Bulldogs National Championship Contenders?

After a strong week from Todd Gurley and the Georgia Bulldogs against Clemson, Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Adam Kramer, Barrett Sallee and Michael Felder discuss their National Championship potential.

Do you think they can make it all the way?

Watch the video and let us know!

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Ohio State Football: 3 Keys to Beating the Hokies in the 'Shoe Saturday Night

Ohio State’s 17-point victory over Navy last Saturday was a little too close for comfort. Buckeye fans are not accustomed to seeing just six points on the board at halftime. Neither is Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer, and he told Bill Landis of the Northeast Ohio Media Group the poor play starts up front.

Very disappointed," Meyer said. "There's a standard set of offensive line play for many, many years, and it's really been enhanced by Coach Warinner the last two years. That didn't resemble an offensive line at Ohio State for the first two quarters.

Meyer, tradition and a defense filled with elite talent led to lofty expectations this season, but it is obvious there is no substitute for experience. With eight new starters on offense, no one should be surprised that it took a couple of quarters to get going against the Midshipmen. The offense won’t have the luxury of a slow start this week.

Ohio State takes on Virginia Tech at 8 p.m. ET Saturday in Ohio Stadium. This will be the Buckeyes' first difficult nonconference game under Meyer. The Hokies might be unranked, but they have been one of the most consistently good teams for the past 20 years under head coach Frank Beamer. The Buckeyes are in for a battle, as Virginia Tech wants to end Ohio State’s 25-game regular-season winning streak and get back to being among the best in the FBS.  Ohio State must play considerably better to hold off the Hokies.

Here are three keys to the winning the game:

 

J.T. Barrett Playing with Poise

After Braxton Miller was lost for the year, there was a legitimate concern that a special season was in jeopardy. After Barrett’s performance against Navy, there should be a collective sigh of relief. He finished the game 12-of-15, passing for 225 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. He also had 50 yards rushing. That is a great start to his career, but Virginia Tech’s defense is far superior to Navy’s defense. This week's challenge will substantially harder.

Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster is a fantastic coach and one of the premier defensive strategists in the game. Expect him to dial up the intensity and disguise his cover packages to confuse Barrett and force him into making costly mistakes.

The Hokies’ strength is their secondary, where Kendall Fuller and Brandon Facyson return. Last year, Fuller was the ACC’s Rookie of the Year, and both were named first-team freshman All-Americans by 247Sports. They’re hard-hitting cornerbacks who cover well. Fuller is ready for the challenge of playing the Buckeyes telling the Associated Press, "It's definitely going to be fun, something we're all looking forward to, playing a team like that that's been successful over the years with a great environment and great college atmosphere," he said.

With Fuller and Facyson flying all over the field, Barrett will have to be quick with his decisions and precise in his throws for the offense to be effective. Avoiding interceptions and getting the ball to his playmakers in space is critical. This is also his first home game in front of 105,000 fans at night. He definitely needs to feed off of that energy. If he plays well, the Buckeyes’ offense will be fine.

 

Attack on Defense

If the coaches and talent are as good as advertised, it is time to unleash the fury. The yearning for the return of the Silver Bullets is palpable, and Buckeye Nation has been anxiously waiting since January to see the impact that co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash and defensive line coach Larry Johnson will have on this team. Their aggressive style will be put to the test against Virginia Tech who runs an uptempo, pro-style offense.

One player who appears ready to show off the new look is sophomore Darron Lee, who will be making just his second start at strong-side linebacker. He finished with seven tackles and had a 61-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown against Navy, earning him the Big Ten Network’s Defensive Player of The Week. If his progression continues, it is safe to say the Buckeyes won’t miss Ryan Shazier.

Ash’s effect on the defense should be most visible in the secondary, which did not get many opportunities to showcase its improvement against Navy’s triple option. That won’t be the case against Virginia Tech’s balanced attack.

Quarterback Michael Brewer had a successful debut against William & Mary last week, finishing the game 23-of-30 for 251 yards and two touchdowns and one interception. The Hokies also rushed for 222 yards against the Tribe.

Tyvis Powell and Vonn Bell have the perfect opportunity to put last year’s demons to rest by playing with discipline. Under Ash’s base 4-3 over Cover 4 defense, the safeties need to react quickly to the call. With the defensive line and linebackers focusing on their gap assignments and the corners locking down their section of the field, the safeties are the glue that makes the Cover 4 work well. If they play fundamentally sound and are in sync with the corners and linebackers, the defense will earn back its Silver Bullets nickname.

 

Improve Third-Down Conversion Percentage

Against Navy, the offense was just 2-of-8 on third-down conversion attempts. It needs to be closer to 50 percent to beat the Hokies. The key is getting good production on first and second down to avoid long-yardage situations. Success depends on the offensive line playing much better.  

Given his history, it is likely that Ed Warinner will correct the line’s mistakes. If he did, they should be able to stop the Hokies’ pressure giving the skill players a little time and space to work their magic and put the offense in great field position throughout the game.

 

Analysis

This game has been marked on Ohio State’s calendar for several years, and it comes at an ideal time.   Championship-caliber teams need to face some adversity to test their resolve. Beating the Hokies would give the Buckeyes a tremendous confidence boost. It won’t be easy, but they should pull out a 27-17 win.    

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Ohio State Announcement Throwing Wrench into Last Michigan vs. Notre Dame Week

This week was supposed to be a celebration of the culmination of one of the greatest rivalries in all of college football. But perhaps fittingly, the end of the Notre Dame-Michigan series will be a bitter one.

It wasn't enough for the Fighting Irish to pull the plug on the series, exercising an out in their contract with the Wolverines two years ago that would make this weekend's midwest matchup the last scheduled between the two teams.

With little more than 48 hours to go until the showdown in South Bend, Notre Dame announced an upcoming series that it surely knew would grab national headlines, with a partner that Michigan is plenty familiar with.

It could just be a coincidence that the Fighting Irish decided to use this week to reveal their upcoming home-and-home series with the Wolverines' arch rival, Ohio State, per the Buckeyes' official website, but in all likelihood, it's probably not. The Buckeyes will host Notre Dame in Columbus on Sept. 3, 2022, before traveling to South Bend on Sept. 23, 2023.

Ohio State isn't exactly replacing Michigan on the Notre Dame slate—the Wolverines and Fighting Irish have met in each season from 2002-2014—but the reaction from the media was telling, if not predictable.

Just two days before two of college football's traditional powers were scheduled to meet for the final time, all eyes were on a matchup that won't be taking place for another eight years.

While we still have a near-decade to discuss who will be coaching in the first game of the OSU-Notre Dame series (and for what team), let alone the players who will be on the field (the true freshmen who will play in that game are currently in fifth grade), Thursday's announcement served as a direct message to Michigan that the Wolverines can be easily replaced—if not upgraded from.

Perhaps the first sign Michigan should have seen came in 2010, when the Fighting Irish announced a four-game series with Texas to start in 2015. That preceded the scheduling partnership between Notre Dame and the ACC, which was ultimately cited for the Irish's canceling of the Michigan series.

But regardless of the backdoor deals and scheduling technicalities that led to this weekend being the last meeting between Notre Dame and Michigan for the foreseeable future, the fact remains that on the eve of their finale, the Wolverines find themselves as the odd man out.

Since the Fighting Irish decided to bring an end to the series two years ago, Michigan has hardly recovered from a scheduling standpoint, inking a neutral-site date with Florida in 2017 and home-and-homes with Arkansas (2018-19), Virginia Tech (2020-21), UCLA (2022-23) and Oklahoma (2025-26).

Of course, a lot can happen between now and the next two to 12 years, but it's hard to imagine any of those games garnering the same attention that the two-game series between Notre Dame and Ohio State will. When the two teams met for the first time ever in 1935, it was billed as "The Game of the Century," a nickname that carried over to their two-game series in 1995 and 1996.

Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer remembers the 1996 meeting between the Buckeyes and Fighting Irish well. Then the wide receivers coach at Notre Dame, Meyer witnessed Ohio State storm South Bend and walk away with a 29-16 victory in a game that was preceded by hype that still stands out to the now-OSU headman.

"I just remember the lead up to that game was incredible," Meyer said on his weekly call-in show on the Ohio State Radio Network on Thursday. "Two of the most tradition-rich programs in America and a rabid fanbase on both ends. I've witnessed both of them."

None of that is going to change in the next eight years, which is perhaps the biggest reason why Thursday's announcement has overshadowed Saturday's actual game. In a series where Michigan has won six of the last eight meetings, perhaps the Irish are looking for any edge that they can get, as they look to walk away from this weekend's historic finale on top.

And as the head coach of the Wolverines' chief rival, who is Meyer to disagree?

 

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

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Jesus 'Bobo' Wilson Returns: What It Means for Florida State's Offense in 2014

He may only have three career catches to his credit, but Florida State missed Jesus “Bobo” Wilson in the team’s close-call victory over Oklahoma State last weekend.

Wilson, a true sophomore who played sparingly a season ago as a backup behind FSU’s triple-headed receiver rotation of Rashad Greene, Kenny Shaw and Kelvin Benjamin, was expected to push for a starter’s role entering the offseason. But that plan was at least temporarily delayed when Wilson was arrested over the summer for his role in an on-campus theft of a scooter.

In July, the athletic pass-catcher pleaded no contest to a pair of misdemeanor charges for petty theft and criminal mischief.

Wilson was still permitted to practice with the Seminoles during fall camp, but—despite making the trek to Texas with his teammates for the season opener—was benched in FSU’s 37-31 triumph at AT&T Stadium. Two days later, Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher announced Wilson would be available for Saturday’s home game against The Citadel.

“He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do and been very mature in handling things,” Fisher said. “I think sometimes taking a guy to a game and making him sit there is a lot worse than leaving him at home. You know, just the joy of going out there and watching your teammates when you could be part of it, I think it’s very critical to how much people depend and count on you.”

FSU quarterback Jameis Winston is counting on having another target to rely on in the passing game.

His up-and-down performance against the Cowboys was a product of the reigning Heisman Trophy winner admittedly trying too hard to duplicate last season’s heroics, while also continuing to get comfortable with his revamped receiving corps. The byproduct was a passing game that starred Greene and his 11 grabs for 203 yards and a score, but perhaps relied too much on the sure-handed senior.

Wilson still may be inexperienced, but he has been catching passes from Winston on the practice fields for more than a year.

“It puts a smile on my face because we have all of our weapons now,” Winston told the media Wednesday. “We were missing our brother at first, but now he is back. I am really excited to throw him some touchdowns.”

Added Winston: “He is kind of like Kermit [Whitfield] in a sense, but his field awareness—the way he can get open and make plays after he catches—is amazing.”

A former 3-star recruit, according to 247Sports, the 5'9", 177-pound Wilson is shifty and explosive and can play in either the slot or outside. Last season, he showed an ability to be an effective punt returner, notching 86 total yards on eight punt returns. He could be in the mix for those duties this year, although Greene is still listed as the starter in that role.

In FSU's April spring game, Wilson caught four passes for 101 yards and one touchdown.

With Wilson in the mix and Greene expected to continue his march toward virtually all of the FSU receiving records, Winston and the offense still could feature redshirt senior Christian Green (two catches for 73 yards against Oklahoma State), Whitfield, Jarred Haggins and true freshman Travis Rudolph, who saw action in the first game and could have an expanded role this weekend. Fellow rookies Ermon Lane and Ja’Von Harrison could also play roles in the offense as they get more comfortable with Winston.

For now at least, the ‘Noles get a much-needed boost from a player many expect to make an impact.

“I’m hopeful and we’ll see,” Fisher said about Wilson’s return. “But I thought Bobo had a great camp. That’s why we’ll get him back and we’ll have plans on playing him.”

 

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

Follow @BrandonMellor on Twitter.

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College Football Week 2: Top 25 Upset Alert

Bleacher Report's College Football Analyst Adam Kramer throws out some of his upset alerts for Week 2 of the 2014 college football season. Who do you think has a chance to fall this week?

Watch the video and let us know!

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SEC Extra Points with Barrett Sallee: Todd Gurley for Heisman, Alabama's CBs

Todd Gurley's Opening Night Statement

If a player who plays a position other than quarterback is going to win the Heisman Trophy, it helps to make a statement early.

Georgia running back Todd Gurley's statement was made on Saturday afternoon between the hedges, when he set a Bulldog single-game record with 293 all-purpose yards and four total touchdowns in Georgia's 45-21 win over ACC foe Clemson.

"Todd Gurley is obviously as good as it gets," Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. "He is a great, great football player. If you give him the ball in the position that we gave them he is going to do great things. Gurley, and all their backs, were special tonight."

The performance was good enough to vault Gurley into the No. 3 spot in B/R's Saturday night Heisman rankings and has him as high as first in others, including HeismanPundit.com's weekly straw poll. 

Lofty praise for Gurley for sure, but how realistic is it that he can legitimately win the Heisman Trophy?

It's going to take a lot considering there's a crowded quarterback field this year that includes Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, Baylor's Bryce Petty and, as we saw during Week 1, Texas A&M quarterback Kenny Hill.

Only two non-quarterbacks have won the award since 2000: former Alabama running back Mark Ingram (2009) and former USC running back Reggie Bush (2005)—who returned his after NCAA sanctions hit the Trojans.

Playing special teams will help Gurley, though. That's something that he should continue to do as long as Georgia's running back depth in Athens stays intact. The emergence of true freshmen Sony Michel and Nick Chubb combined with veteran Keith Marshall allows the Bulldogs to keep Gurley fresh in the first half, use him on special teams as needed and then bring him in as "the hammer" in the second half to take advantage of tired defenses.

He's in the mix, and if the Bulldogs follow the same blueprint that worked last week against Clemson, Gurley has a legit chance to win college football's top individual prize.

 

Fixing The Glitch

It was clear watching Alabama play West Virginia inside the Georgia Dome on Saturday afternoon that cornerback play is still an issue for the Crimson Tide.

A big one.

Bradley Sylve and Cyrus Jones were both picked on by quarterback Clint Trickett early and often, and had it not been for several key drops and unforced errors, West Virginia would have put itself in position to spring the upset.

Head coach Nick Saban recognized the problem and is working this week to fix it.

Sophomore Eddie Jackson—who started four games last year and tore his ACL this spring—is practicing this week and should play this weekend against Florida Atlantic.

"He has practiced, he has done well, and I feel like we'll play him some in this game in some kind of way trying to ease him back into what he has to do to become a player at his position, which he's totally capable of," Saban said on Wednesday. "A very good player who we're anxious to get back in the lineup, but certainly not at the expense of putting him at any risk."

That's big, because Alabama's secondary needs to be fixed in a hurry. 

As I mentioned in the video above, it appeared to me that both quarterback Blake Sims and Jake Coker approached the season opener as the No. 1 and No. 2 quarterbacks, respectively—not as "1A" and "1B." Coker will likely get a shot to prove his coaches wrong these next two weeks against Florida Atlantic and Southern Miss, but the coaching staff was fine with Sims managing the game well—especially when they went more no-huddle in the second quarter.

"I thought Blake did a really good job," Saban said after the game. "He had a couple of guys open who he missed, and he also had a couple of guys who dropped balls that he delivered. All and all, for him to throw for 250 yards, he did a pretty good job of executing."

Can Sims open it up if Alabama gets forced into a shootout? He didn't have to against West Virginia, and Saban and offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin would probably not go down that road if they don't have to. That's why Saban is exploring options in the defensive backfield, because offensively, this is what the Crimson Tide is at the moment.

 

Time for Ole Miss to Act Like a Contender

Ole Miss' first outing was successful—the Rebels topped Boise State 35-13 last Thursday in the first of two Chick-fil-A Kickoff Games—but that game was much closer than the score indicates, and quarterback Bo Wallace was the reason why.

Wallace tossed three picks in the first half, telegraphed his passes and allowed a clearly undermanned Bronco team to hang around far too long.

"Two of the three interceptions were a bit unbelievable to us, because they weren't even in his progression on the route," Freeze said after the game. "He'll be the first to tell you that, and he knows that. It was a bit amazing. He was a little out of sync."

A team improves the most between the first and second game of the season, and the Rebel quarterback better play smarter against a struggling Vanderbilt team in Nashville, otherwise contending for the SEC West will be more wishful thinking than anything else.

The foundation for Ole Miss is set. The defense looks nasty, Laquon Treadwell is a monster at wide receiver and tight end Evan Engram is a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses. Wallace just needs to stay smart, and Ole Miss needs to find a running game.

If they accomplish those two things against the 'Dores at LP Field, they can become that fly in the ointment in the SEC West.

 

Is Brandon Harris the Forgotten Man?

Sophomore Anthony Jennings and true freshman Brandon Harris entered last weekend's game in a battle for the top spot on the depth chart, but it didn't look like it based on how head coach Les Miles and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron used them.

Harris only got one series against the Badgers in which he didn't throw a pass late in the second quarter.

That will change this weekend against Sam Houston State.

“I think Brandon Harris is coming,” Miles said according to Glenn Guilbeau of Gannett Louisiana. “We’re not going to predetermine lack of playing time for him. We’re going to continue to bring him on. But it was obvious in that game that the opportunity for us to win was to get Anthony Jennings comfortable in there and let him play."

Jennings was just 9-of-21 against the Badgers but was 4-of-6 for 119 yards and a touchdown in the second half. Expect LSU to weave Harris more into the game plan this week to gauge what his upside is. If the Bossier City, Louisiana native "gets it" and shows more upside, more playing time may come his way early in the season.

 

Quick Outs

  • Missouri opened as a 5.5-point favorite at Toledo, and that line has actually dropped to 3.5 or 4.0 according to OddsShark.com. There's a good reason. Missouri's defense looked average at best last week to South Dakota State, and the Tigers let the Jackrabbits—with a backup quarterback—hang around way too long. If the Tigers mess around this week, the Rockets could spring the upset.
  • South Carolina better watch out for East Carolina. The Pirates can sling it around, and South Carolina's defense has major issues in the front and back ends.
  • Breakout star this week: Alabama quarterback Blake Sims. If the 250 yards last week count as his breakout performance, than go with Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel.
  • Who will disappoint? Auburn's defense. The Tigers will experiment up front a bit, which will lead to plenty of yards for the Spartans. It won't matter for Auburn's offense, which will play dial-a-score on offense.
  • UAB beat Troy by 38 points last week, but Mississippi State shouldn't worry. The Bulldog defense is tough, and barring some major unforeseen development, Dan Mullen's crew should roll.
  • Psst...Vandy...settle on a quarterback and actually let him play.

 

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and video analyst for Bleacher Report and 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.

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College Football Athletes Most Likely to Explode in Week 2

Week 2 of the 2014 college football season is just around the corner with some big names ready to show what they have. Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Barrett Sallee, Michael Felder and Adam Kramer discuss who they think will explode in Week 2. Who do you think we should keep our eye on?

Watch the video, and let us know.

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Marcus Mariota's Rise to Stardom: From Unknown Athlete to Heisman Favorite

Marcus Mariota is one of the biggest names in college football, but his journey from Hawaii to the University of Oregon is not your typical top Heisman candidate story.

Do you think Mariota will win the Heisman Trophy?

Watch the video to check out the Oregon QB's journey. 

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NCAA Football Rankings 2014: Latest Week 2 Standings and Playoff Predictions

Even with the NCAA College Football Playoff's arrival, every week still bears a major impact on the championship outlook.

Take the season's opening week, where South Carolina saw its CFB chances go bye-bye after getting steamrolled by Texas A&M. Clemson and Wisconsin aren't looking good either after suffering Week 1 losses, but Clemson and LSU both climbed up the recent AP poll.

Some seismic changes already shook college football, yet the top four remained the same. With the new system, those are the spots we're watching closely.

Here are the latest predictions for which four teams will occupy playoff spots at the end of the year.

Change is almost certain atop the rankings after No. 3 Oregon and No. 7 Michigan State clash. A Spartans victory would propel them into the playoff picture while plummeting the Ducks down next week's rankings.

That makes Saturday's showdown a must-watch for all college football fans. Let's take a look at the pivotal matchup.

 

Game of the Week: No. 7 Michigan State vs. No. 3 Oregon (Saturday at 6:30 p.m. ET)

Week 1 only stood to amplify this matchup's meaning. UCLA's sluggish 28-20 victory over Virginia helped solidify Oregon as Pac-12 favorites, and Braxton Miller's season-ending injury allows Michigan State to leapfrog Ohio State in the Big Ten. 

Both teams are favorites to win tough conferences, but the loser will hold no wiggle room going forward. As for CFB aspirations, a signature victory against a Top 10 opponent would go a long way.

ESPN's Ted Miller called it "a Rose Bowl matchup the first weekend of September." Only instead of wrapping a neat bow on a successful season, this bout sets the tone for the remainder of the year. As Miller explained, this also creates a scenario where each squad wants the other to stay elite after this weekend so they look better by the transitive property.

"A further twist is that both teams after the game become each other's biggest fans, with both winner and loser wanting the other to make the result a more impressive measure of itself," Miller said.

This brawl represents a tale of two widely contrasting teams. While Oregon's high-powered offense compiled 565 yards and 45.5 points per game last year, respectively ranked second and third in the FBS, Michigan State instead ranked second and third in yards and points allowed.

Opponents mustered 252 yards and 13.2 points per game against the Spartans, and they played to that average when allowing 244 total yards against Jacksonville State last week. It's a battle of offense against defense that the Ducks have lost before.

Fox analyst Charles Davis compared Michigan State to Stanford, a program that has soured Oregon's championship aspirations in each of the past two years. He told USA Today's Joe Rexrode:

Their nemesis, their kryptonite in recent years has been Stanford. What's Stanford's style of play? Heavy-duty running the ball on offense, being extremely physical, excellent tackling team on defense, which makes you run more plays. All those yards after catch, yards after contact, open-field plays that Oregon's used to getting, that hidden yardage, they weren't getting against Stanford.

On the bright side, at least the Pac-12 powerhouse knows what to expect. Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost is prepared for MSU's corners to press cover throughout the game, a physical formula that has served the Spartans well.

"Everybody that plays them knows what they're going to run," Frost told MLive.com's Mike Griffith. "They just run it really well, so we have to be prepared for it and we have to execute."

Yes, a similarly styled Stanford beat Oregon twice, but the Cardinal did so by a combined nine points, including an overtime victory two years ago over a freshman Marcus Mariota. That 2012 defeat marks Oregon's last loss at Autzen Stadium.

ESPN's Power Football Index gives the Ducks a high probability of riding their offensive juggernaut to victory.

It won't come easy, but Oregon finally conquers a hard-nosed defense due to Mariota's maturation and a crucial home-field advantage. A win also vaults Mark Helfrich's squad into No. 1 consideration.

Prediction: Oregon 31, Michigan State 27

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