NCAA Football

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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Notre Dame vs. Michigan: Keys to Victory for Both Teams in Week 2

The Michigan Wolverines and Notre Dame Fighting Irish are going head-to-head during Week 2 of the 2014 college football season. Bleacher Report's College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Adam Kramer break down the hottest topics heading into this matchup. Who do you think will win?

Watch the video and let us know.

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LeBron James' Role in Ohio State Football's Biggest Recruiting Weekend of 2014

A mere three weeks after LeBron James announced his return to the Cleveland Cavaliers, Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer issued an open invitation for the NBA megastar to attend any Buckeyes game he'd like.

It didn't take long for James to take Meyer up on the offer.

"I think he'll be in town," Meyer responded on Wednesday when asked if James would be in attendance for Ohio State's game against Virginia Tech on Saturday—the first Buckeyes home contest of the 2014 season.

Should James find himself standing on the Ohio State sideline, the four-time NBA MVP will be joined by a plethora of the nation's top high school prospects. Since arriving in Columbus in 2012, Meyer has attempted to turn night games at Ohio State into can't-miss events for recruits, and Saturday's prime-time showdown with the Hokies will be no exception.

"[It's] probably the biggest of the year," Meyer said of the Buckeyes' upcoming recruiting weekend. "I just see who's coming. A night game in The Horseshoe—last year we had Wisconsin and Penn State [at night], and those were big hits."

Given the tentative visitor list, this weekend could prove to be an even bigger hit for the Buckeyes, as several of their top targets and the nation's top high school players are slated to be in Columbus. Even with 5-star quarterback Torrance Gibson rescheduling his official visit for a later date, there won't be any shortage of stars standing underneath the bright lights of Ohio Stadium on Saturday—James included.

"He means a lot in recruiting,” Meyer said of James at Big Ten media days in Chicago in July. “You can’t measure the positive feeling of him standing on the sideline for an Ohio State game."

Who are the top prospects Meyer is hoping James will have a positive impact on this weekend? Let's take a look.

 

Josh Sweat

The top-ranked player at any position in the 2015 class, defensive end Josh Sweat will make his way to Columbus this weekend by way of Oscar Smith High School in Chesapeake, Virginia. At 6'5" and 240 pounds, Sweat possesses 4.5 40 speed and is the type of player who's capable of making an instant impact at the college level.

Unsurprisingly, the 5-star prospect is being chased by the nation's top schools and only raised his profile after a junior season that saw him tally 94 tackles and 22 sacks. Ohio State will get the first crack at Sweat when it comes to official visits, before he heads to Virginia Tech on Sept. 20, Georgia on Oct. 4, Florida State on Oct. 18 and Oregon on Oct. 31.

At this point, many believe that the Buckeyes trail the Seminoles and Hokies in the race for Sweat's services, but this weekend will provide Meyer and his staff with an opportunity to gain ground on the front-runners. The addition of defensive line coach Larry Johnson has only added credibility to Ohio State's efforts in the the Old Dominion State, which has given the Buckeyes Curtis Grant and Jalyn Holmes in recent years.

Ohio State may have little more than a long shot at landing Sweat, but that won't stop the Buckeyes from pulling out all the stops for his arrival on campus this weekend. All it could take is one good visit to sway fortune in Ohio State's favor, as Meyer looks to make an impression on the headliner of this weekend's visitor list.

 

Damien Harris

The top running back in the 2015 class, Damien Harris is a onetime Michigan commit who decided to reconsider his options when he backed away from his verbal pledge to Brady Hoke last January. The Wolverines' loss could be the Buckeyes' gain, as Ohio State now finds itself heavily favored to land the Berea (Kentucky) Madison Southern product.

At 5'11" and 205 pounds, Harris is a 5-star prospect who fits the mold of the bigger type of running back that Meyer has preferred since Carlos Hyde found success in his spread offense. Kentucky hasn't traditionally been known as a power-rich state when it comes to producing college football talent, although the Buckeyes will have to fend off the home state Wildcats in order to secure a commitment from Harris.

Michigan also remains in the picture for Harris, as do Alabama and Florida. But as of right now, Ohio State is the only school that is scheduled to receive an official visit from the Bluegrass State product, which will come this weekend alongside some of the country's other top prospects.

 

Matthew Burrell

Sweat won't be the only prospect from Virginia in attendance in Columbus on Saturday, as Matthew Burrell will make his way to Ohio State from Woodbridge C.D. Hylton High School.

A 4-star prospect, Burrell ranks as the nation's fourth-ranked guard and No. 96 overall prospect in the 2015 class. Since arriving at Ohio State, Meyer has made it clear that he can never recruit too many talented offensive linemen, signing five players at the position in his 2014 class.

While Alabama and Florida State remain in the hunt for the 6'5", 302-pounder, 98 percent of 247Sports' Crystal Ball predictions have Burrell winding up at Ohio State. This weekend's visit could go a long way toward solidifying the Buckeyes' status with the highly touted lineman who has already taken two unofficial visits to Columbus in the past year.

 

Jordan Whitehead

Another likely Ohio State commit, Whitehead will make his way to Columbus a little more than a month after attending the Buckeyes' Friday Night Lights camp. 247Sports currently favors the Monaca (Pennsylvania) Central Valley product to eventually wind up at Ohio State, although Penn State and West Virginia remain in the race for his services.

The 6'0", 180-pounder ranks as a 4-star prospect and the No. 20 cornerback in the 2015 class. He visited Pittsburgh a week ago but has no other official visits planned after his trip to Columbus.

Expected to announce his college decision on Oct. 3, this weekend's visit from Whitehead could go a long way toward sealing the deal for Ohio State in his recruitment. The Buckeyes already have four cornerbacks committed to their 2015 class, but Meyer wouldn't mind adding another—especially with the talent of Whitehead.

 

Jacques Patrick

Of the long-shot variety, 4-star running back Jacques Patrick is expected to take an official visit to Ohio State this weekend, although most expect the product of Timber Creek High School in Orlando, Florida to wind up at Florida State.

At 6'1.5" and 230 pounds, Patrick is a true power back who also possesses 4.51 40-yard speed. Patrick ranks as the nation's No. 2 running back and 44th overall player, making him a big get for whichever team lands his services.

And while that team is expected to be the Seminoles, getting him to Columbus and onto the Ohio State campus can't hurt the Buckeyes' chances, no matter how small they are. It's no secret that Meyer would like to land two running backs in his 2015 class, and finding a way to bring both Harris and Patrick to Ohio State would be quite the haul for the two-time national champion head coach.

 

Kevin Toliver II

Also a long shot, but taking a visit to Columbus this weekend nevertheless is 5-star cornerback Kevin Toliver II, who has been committed to LSU since Nov. 4, 2012. At 6'2" and 185 pounds, Toliver measures in as the nation's second-ranked cornerback and the No. 7 overall player in the 2015 class.

And although the Jacksonville Trinity Christian product has maintained what is nearly a two-year commitment to the Tigers, he has insisted on taking all five of his official visits this fall, the first of which came last weekend when he checked out Auburn. After taking in his Ohio State visit this weekend, Toliver will head to Virginia Tech on Sept. 19, LSU on Nov. 7 and UCLA on Nov. 21.

Those trips reek of a player trying to make the most out of his recruiting experience, although who's going to argue with one of the top players in the country wanting to check out your campus? As mentioned with Sweat and Patrick, it never hurts to have a player take a visit, even if—as will likely be the case with Toliver—that's all it's for.

 

2016 Prospects

In addition to some of the top high school seniors in the country, a number of highly touted 2016 prospects will make their way to Ohio Stadium for this Saturday's game. Those juniors expected to be in attendance include but aren't limited to:

Fort Lauderdale (Florida) St. Thomas Aquinas 5-star defensive end Nick Bosa

Columbus (Ohio) Gahanna Lincoln 4-star defensive end Jonathon Cooper

Saint Clairsville (Ohio) 4-star outside linebacker Brendan Ferns

Nashville (Tennessee) Father Ryan 4-star safety Joejuan Williams

Indianapolis (Indiana) Ben Davis 4-star running back Chris Evans

Detroit (Michigan) Cass Tech 4-star offensive guard Michael Onwenu

Eden Prairie (Minnesota) 3-star outside linebacker Carter Coughlin

 

Ohio State Commits

In addition to help from LeBron, the Ohio State coaching staff is hopeful that its recruiting efforts will be aided by the presence of several prospects who have already issued verbal commitments to the Buckeyes. Ohio State's next three recruiting classes will each be represented on campus on Saturday, with the following commits expected to take visits to Columbus:

2015 Cincinnati (Ohio) St. Xavier 5-star outside linebacker Justin Hilliard

2015 Saint Paul (Minnesota) Cretin Derham Hall 4-star defensive end Jashon Cornell

2015 Dublin (Ohio) Scioto 4-star inside linebacker Nick Conner

2015 Hyattsville (Maryland) DeMatha Catholic 3-star safety Tyler Green

2015 Detroit (Michigan) Cass Tech 3-star defensive end Joshua Alabi

2015 Columbus (Ohio) Worthington Kilbourne long snapper Liam McCullough

2016 Hubbard (Ohio) 4-star running back George Hill

2016 Portsmouth (Ohio) Sciotoville 4-star offensive guard Tyler Gerald

2017 Massillon (Ohio) Washington 4-star quarterback Danny Clark 

 

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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San Diego State Aztecs vs. North Carolina Tar Heels: Betting Odds and Prediction

Don't tell anyone, but the North Carolina Tar Heels have been a pretty good bet at home recently, covering the spread in 13 of their last 18 games in Chapel Hill.

The Heels will try to extend that run Saturday afternoon when they welcome in the Aztecs from San Diego State to Kenan Memorial Stadium.

 

Point spread: Tar Heels opened as 15.5-point favorites, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark. The total was hovering near 60 points. (Line updates and matchup report)

 

Odds Shark computer prediction: 38.7-25.0 UNC

 

Why the San Diego State Aztecs can cover the spread

The Aztecs opened this season with a 38-7 win over FCS Northern Arizona, covering as 18-point favorites. They had the spread taken care of by halftime with a 24-0 lead, then closed things out from there.

San Diego State rushed for 194 yards and went 6 for 12 on third-down conversions, spreading the ball around as 12 different players either ran the ball or caught it. The Aztecs only returned 10 starters this year, but one is senior QB Quinn Kaehler, another is thousand-yard receiver Ezell Ruffin and three more are along the offensive line.

San Diego State has taken advantage of being a big dog over recent seasons, going 5-1 ATS the last six times it's been dogged by two touchdowns or more, per the Odds Shark database Also, the Aztecs catch a break in that this game starts at 8 p.m. local time instead of something closer to noon local, which would be breakfast time on the West Coast.

 

Why the North Carolina Tar Heels can cover the spread

The Tar Heels began 2014 with a 56-29 victory over FCS Liberty, although they couldn't quite cover the line as 30-point chalk. Carolina gave up nine points on defense and even trailed early in the third quarter, but they roared back to score 35 of the last 42 points of the game.

The Heels ran the ball for 208 yards, threw it for 235 more and forced six turnovers. But they committed four of their own to go along with 10 penalties. They're better than that, though. Carolina returned 15 this year, including their starting quarterback, four along the offensive line and seven on defense.

In two seasons under head coach Larry Fedora, the Tar Heels have been favored by two touchdowns or more seven times; they're 5-2 ATS in those spots.

 

Smart Pick

North Carolina has the edge on both sides of the line of scrimmage and should win this game. The only matter will be the margin of victory.

The Heels are 10-4 ATS at home under Fedora, and the last time a team from west of the Mississippi visited Chapel Hill, Carolina sent Idaho home with a 66-0 defeat two years ago. If the Tar Heels can eliminate the turnovers and the penalties, or at least minimize them, they should be fine.

So the pick here is with North Carolina minus the points.

 

Trends:

  • San Diego State is 4-1 SU in its last five road games
  • North Carolina is 13-5 ATS in its past 18 home games

 

Note: All point spread and lines data courtesy of Odds Shark, all quotes gathered first-hand unless otherwise noted. Check out Twitter for injury updates and line move updates, and get the free odds tracker app.

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Missouri Tigers vs. Toledo Rockets Betting Odds: Analysis and Prediction

The Missouri Tigers are on a roll, with 13 wins and 12 covers in their last 15 games. The Toledo Rockets are on a run of their own, with seven wins in their last eight home games.

This week, Mizzou takes its act on the road for a rare visit to a MAC town when it plays at the Glass Bowl on Saturday afternoon.

 

Point spread: The Tigers opened as 5.5-point favorites, but the line was down to -3.5 by Thursday, according to most sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark. The total was 60 (line updates and matchup report).

 

Odds Shark computer prediction: 31.5-28.6 Toledo

 

Why the Missouri Tigers can cover the spread

The Tigers opened this season with a 38-18 victory over FCS South Dakota State, although they couldn't quite cover the spread as 25-point favorites. Mizzou led throughout the game, and just when things got iffy, the Tigers spurted away for the 20-point win.

Missouri outrushed the Jackrabbits 215-119, got three touchdown passes from quarterback Maty Mauk and forced three turnovers. The Tigers only return eight starters this year, but three of them are on the offensive line, and two of them are on the defensive front four.

And that doesn't include Mauk, who now owns a 14-2 career touchdown-to-interception ratio. Finally, Missouri is 3-0 ATS in its last three games chalked as favorites on the road.

 

Why the Toledo Rockets can cover the spread

The Rockets began their season with a 54-20 win over FCS New Hampshire, covering as 11-point chalk. Toledo spotted the Wildcats an early 14-3 lead and then scored 38 points in the second half to roll to the victory.

The Rockets racked up 667 yards of offense, 307 on the ground and 360 through the air. Toledo has 16 starters back this year, including seven on offense, led by four along the line, and nine on defense.

Going back to 2010, the Rockets are 5-0 ATS in their last five games against Big Five conference opponents, according to the Odds Shark college football database, including a cover as 16-point road dogs at Missouri last season.

 

Smart Pick

Missouri has a lot of holes to fill on both sides of the ball, while Toledo brings back almost its entire offensive line and defense. The Rockets must be licking their chops at the chance to knock off a big-time foe on their home field.

Talent-wise, the Tigers might still have an edge, but this game sets up as a possible upset. So the pick here is on the home dog.

 

Trends

  • Missouri is 13-2 SU in its last 15 games.
  • Toledo is 6-2 SU in its last 8 games.

 

All point-spread and lines data courtesy of Odds Shark. All quotes gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted. Check out Twitter for injury updates and line-move updates, and get the free odds tracker app.

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Michigan State Spartans vs. Oregon Ducks Betting Odds: Analysis and Prediction

Despite dealing with some ridiculous point spreads in recent seasons, the Oregon Ducks have been a moneymaker, going 15-7 against the spread over their last 22 games.

But that trend will get tested this week when the Ducks host the defending Rose Bowl champion Michigan State Spartans on Saturday night in Eugene. Might this be a preview of a College Football Playoff game to come?

Might this be yet another ATS win for the Spartans when they get points from the oddsmaker?

 

Spartans-Ducks Point Spread: The Ducks opened as 11-point favorites, but the number was approaching 14 points as of Thursday, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark. The total was 58 earlier in the week. (Line updates and matchup report)

 

Odds Shark computer prediction: 40-28 Ducks

 

Why the Michigan State Spartans can cover the spread

The Spartans are 5-3 straight-up and 7-0-1 ATS the last eight times they've been lined as dogs. Underestimating Michigan State has been very bad for a college football fan's wallet.

They opened 2014 with a 45-7 victory over FCS program Jacksonville State, covering as 34-point chalk. Michigan State led 38-0 at halftime, outgained the Gamecocks 565-244, forced three turnovers and held the ball for 38 minutes.

Sparty returns 12 starters this season, including seven on offense, most notably quarterback Connor Cook and 1,400-yard rusher Jeremy Langford. MSU is on a pretty good road run, going 11-2 SU and 11-1-1 ATS away from East Lansing since 2011.

 

Why the Oregon Ducks can cover the spread

The Ducks opened this season with a 62-13 victory over FCS program South Dakota, just missing a cover as 52-point favorites. Oregon led 35-6 shortly before halftime and scored the last 27 points of the game.

The Ducks have 13 starters back from last season, including eight on offense, led by quarterback and Heisman Trophy candidate Marcus Mariota, 1,000-yard rusher Byron Marshall and four along the offensive line.

Also, over the last two seasons, Oregon has been favored by two touchdowns or less six times, and they've gone 5-1 both SU and ATS in those games.

 

Smart Pick

Oregon looks like it's up to its usual tricks, which will make for a tough matchup for the Spartans, who are not used to dealing with an offensive operation like the Ducks.

And Michigan State, while still formidable, has to replace three starters along the offensive line as well as both defensive tackles from last season. So while a double-digit spread might scare some away, the smart money for this one is on Oregon, minus the points.

 

Trends:

  • Michigan State is 8-0-1 ATS the last nine times as an underdog.
  • Michigan State is 11-2 SU and 11-1-1 ATS record away from home since 2011.
  • Oregon is 15-7 ATS in its last 22 games.

 

Note: All point spread and lines data courtesy of Odds Shark, all quotes gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted. Check out Twitter for injury updates and line move updates, and get the free odds tracker app.

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College Football Rankings 2014: Latest Look at Week 2 Polls and Standings

When you think of all the hype surrounding the preseason college football polls, then look at where things stand after just one week of games, it shows how ridiculous it is to have a ranking system come out before there's anything to evaluate teams by. 

In fact, I would argue that Week 2 is the first time anyone should examine the polls and see what they mean. Preseason rankings aren't going to go away because there's too much investment in them, but remember not to take them as sacrosanct. 

Now that the railing on preseason polls is over, we should focus on the positives. Let's talk about this week's polls and the Week 2 games that are going to provide the biggest shakeups when the rankings are released next week. 

 

Key Week 2 Matchups

No. 7 Michigan State at No. 3 Oregon

All eyes will be on the Pac-12 this weekend, as the two biggest games involving ranked teams take place out west. The first one is the marquee matchup of Week 2 with the defending Big Ten champion Michigan State Spartans traveling to Autzen Stadium to take on the third-ranked Oregon Ducks. 

In addition to being a battle between two Top 10 teams, the Spartans and Ducks are diametric contradictions. The Spartans want to hit you in the mouth and pummel you with defense; the Ducks want to run you off the field with their offense. 

Ted Miller of ESPN.com listed all the ways in which these two teams differed from each other using last year's stats:

Last year, Oregon ranked No. 2 in the nation in total offense (565 yards per game) and No. 4 in scoring offense (45.5 ppg). Michigan State ranked No. 2 in total defense (252.2 ypg) and No. 3 in scoring defense (13.2 ppg). The Spartans also enter the game knowing they beat the Pac-12 team that beat the Ducks, given that they dispatched Stanford 24-20 in the 2014 Rose Bowl. 

It's not an entirely apt point because college football teams change dramatically each season, but the roster construction is relevant. Mark Helfrich has kept the Chip Kelly legacy alive by recruiting speed and playing at a faster pace than should be humanly possible. 

Mark Dantonio played defensive back at South Carolina and grew up as a coach on the defensive side of the ball, most notably at Ohio State from 2001-03. 

With all that said, ironically, the difference in the game looks like it will come from Michigan State's offense against Oregon's defense. Connor Cook has been hit with the dreaded "game manager" label. 

If Oregon comes out firing on all cylinders in front of its home crowd, Cook will have to make plays down the field to keep things from getting out of hand. He's proven doubters wrong in the past, but even this might be above his head. 

Prediction: Oregon 34, Michigan State 24

 

No. 14 USC at No. 13 Stanford

While it's not getting the same attention as Michigan State vs. Oregon, USC and Stanford might be an even more important game on the schedule because the winner will get a leg up on the loser in the Pac-12 standings. 

This is also a big moment for USC, which is still trying to work its way back to elite status after probation took away scholarships. The Trojans are in good shape right now, but we don't know how good they really are or what will happen when their depth gets tested. 

When you look at the coaches in this game, at least based on their resumes, it's no-contest which side has the edge, via ESPN's College Football Twitter feed:

Steve Sarkisian could never figure out how to bring top-tier talent to Washington and was working with a blank slate, while David Shaw took over a program Jim Harbaugh built and has kept rolling. 

Neither one is an excuse or denigration of the jobs they have done, just an observation based on their career trajectories. 

The last four times these teams have met, the results have been nothing less than exciting. Each game has been decided by eight points or less, including one overtime game in 2011 and a last-second field goal in 2013. 

That certainly signals an entertaining game, though Stanford's physical style will eventually wear out USC's defense and give the Cardinal the upper hand in the Pac-12 title race. 

Prediction: Stanford 27, USC 20

 

Michigan at No. 16 Notre Dame

This game is notable not just because it's Michigan and Notre Dame, but because it will be the last time we see these two teams play each other for a long time. Since the Fighting Irish are becoming a de facto ACC school in football, there's no room for the Wolverines anymore. 

This also has the potential to be an exciting showdown, as noted by Bill Bender of SportingNews.com on Twitter:

That stat is misleading because Michigan played an FCS school (Appalachian State). Notre Dame's performance does deserve praise since it came with a quarterback in Everett Golson making his first start since the 2012 season and suspensions to wide receiver DaVaris Daniels, cornerback KeiVarae Russell, defensive end Ishaq Williams and linebacker Kendall Moore as the school investigates an academic fraud scandal. 

The Wolverines do have their own dynamic playmaker at quarterback in Devin Gardner and a special talent at wide receiver in Devin Funchess, who Gardner raved about after the Appalachian State game to Nick Baumgardner of MLive.com:

We are going to find out just how much of that raw potential Funchess has tapped into already against a solid Notre Dame secondary. The Fightin' Irish have had to supplement their depth due to the absence of Russell, so Michigan might be able to take more chances than it otherwise would have. 

If that happens, the Wolverines will end their rivalry with Notre Dame in style. 

Prediction: Michigan 20, Notre Dame 17

 

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East Carolina Pirates vs. South Carolina Gamecocks Betting Odds, Prediction

South Carolina's Gamecocks should be chomping at the bit to get back on a football field after getting embarrassed by Texas A&M in their season opener, having their 18-game home winning streak snapped.

They'll try to start a new winning streak, and avoid the start of a losing streak, when they host East Carolina on Saturday night in Columbia.

 

Point spread: The Gamecocks opened as 15.5-point favorites, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark. The total was 63 in early wagering (line updates and matchup report).

 

Odds Shark computer prediction: 44-20 South Carolina

 

Why the East Carolina Pirates can cover the spread

The Pirates opened this season with a 52-7 victory over FCS North Carolina Central, covering as 39-point favorites. EC spotted the Eagles the first score of the game on a fumble return, then scored the last 52 points.

The Pirates led 31-7 by halftime, then later beat the spread by tacking on one last touchdown with a minute-and-a-half to go. East Carolina outgained NCCU 582-174, ran the ball for over 200 yards and threw it for 375 more.

The Pirates only return nine starters this season, but fortunately, they include senior quarterback Shane Carden and his two favorite pass-catching targets, Justin Hardy and Isaiah Jones, who combined for 18 catches for 240 yards and three scores last week.

 

Why the South Carolina Gamecocks can cover the spread

It's difficult to sift a silver lining out of last week's performance, other than perhaps to say that QB Dylan Thompson, in his fourth career start, threw for 366 yards and four scores. The Gamecocks should just put last week behind them, and go forward from here.

South Carolina returned 14 starters this year—including 1,000-yard rusher Mike Davis—four along the offensive line and six on defense. As mentioned above, the Gamecocks had an 18-game home winning streak going, with a 12-6 against-the-spread run. So they've been a good value at Williams-Brice Stadium.

South Carolina also beat East Carolina just two years ago 48-10, covering as 21-point favorites.

 

Smart Pick

The Gamecocks might be angry heading into this one, and that doesn't bode well for an East Carolina team that has to replace three starters along the offensive line and seven starters on defense.

Last week, South Carolina ran into a buzzsaw in Texas A&M, and sometimes things like that just happen. This week, the Gamecocks hold advantages across the board. Also, the worst thing bettors can do is handicap a game based simply on what happened last week.

So in anticipation of a bounce-back effort, the pick goes with South Carolina, minus the points.

 

Trends

  • East Carolina is 1-4 ATS in its last five games on the road.
  • South Carolina is 4-2 ATS in its last six games at home and 20-1 straight up.

 

Note: All point spread and lines data courtesy of Odds Shark. All quotes gathered first-hand unless otherwise noted. Check out Twitter for injury updates and line move updates and get the free odds-tracker app.

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Why Media Needs to Listen to Will Muschamp, Leave Player Discipline to Coaches

Florida hasn't played a game yet, but head coach Will Muschamp has already let loose a mini-tirade after a minor "controversy" stemming from Saturday's no-contest between the Gators and Idaho.

Wide receiver Demarcus Robinson and defensive linemen Darious Cummings and Jay-nard Bostwick were all scheduled to be suspended for the opener, which was suspended due to weather following the opening kickoff and subsequently cancelled.

Despite the no-contest, Muschamp announced on Monday that the trio would be back for this weekend's matchup with Eastern Michigan.

"We did have Darious Cummings and Jay-nard Bostwick suspended for the first game for a violation of team rules. They will be back this week with us," Muschamp said in quotes released by Florida. "They’ve not just as far as a suspension of a game but they’ve had a lot of other things from me as well as Demarcus Robinson who had a university sanction that’s been resolved."

That caused a negative reaction from a few folks around the country, including ESPN's Woody Paige, who called it the "lamest thing he's ever heard," according to Edgar Thompson of the Orlando Sentinel.

Muschamp fired back on Wednesday on the weekly SEC coaches teleconference.

"They were with the scout teams [last week]," Muschamp said. "It's not just about suspending players for games, OK? There's a lot of things that go into discipline. It's about altering and changing behavior, which we've done here."

Muschamp made sure to point out, while the three players didn't technically miss a game, that there was much more under the surface that his critics might not know about.

"There's a lot of things that go into those situations—a lot more than people know," Muschamp said. "It's very frustrating for me as a coach or any coach to have someone being critical, and you don't even have all of the information. At the end of the day, I make the decisions in the program, I handle the discipline of this program and it's been handled very well."

Muschamp is right.

It's not his fault Mother Nature decided to drop lightning all around "The Swamp" on Saturday night, when the suspensions were being administered. 

He's also right about those players suffering punishment behind the scenes. It's not a picnic to be on the scout team, especially when you're supposed to be stars of the team. That's what those players had to do all week leading up to the Idaho game. 

They did miss a game. Every Gator player did.

Let's be real, Florida would have had the Idaho game in hand by halftime. So would missing those 30 minutes of football really be what alters and changes player behavior? 

No.

The punishment leading up to the game is far more effective in accomplishing Muschamp's stated goal.

Does that mean players shouldn't be suspended for games? No.

This is just a unique circumstance in which Mother Nature prevented the final pieces of the punishment to be in place.

Should the three players practice as contributors this week and then sit against Eastern Michigan? No. That's punishing the whole team. If their suspensions carried over, the responsible thing would be to put them on scout teams again while the rest of the team prepares for the Eagles.

They already did that.

Don't blame Muschamp for lifting the suspensions. Praise him for being honest, forthcoming and firing back at critics who just don't get it.

 

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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Can Michigan State Save Football in America's Heartland?

Not to pressure Michigan State, but Saturday's game at Oregon will define the Spartans' entire year. It will set the Big Ten on the course for its future, whether it's going to be taken seriously for years to come in this new world of college football—of conflicts of interest, billions of dollars and a season-ending playoff.

Not to pressure Michigan State, but this game will validate, or invalidate, a team, a conference, Midwest football in general and even—not to pressure—the way of life in the heartland, white picket fences and mom's apple pie.

As a Midwesterner, I might have gone a little overboard there.

But while the focus of this weekend is on whether the Pac-12 has surpassed the SEC as the nation's top conference (it has), the truth is, this game means more to the Big Ten. Best, second best—it doesn't matter when four teams are going to the College Football Playoff.

What matters is fourth best, fifth best. The bullies of the Power Five conferences have all but kicked out the little guys so they don't have to share the new TV money. But do the math: There are four spots in that playoff and five bullies. Not to mention, the SEC will be lobbying for two of the four golden tickets.

So at the end of the year, the playoff selection committee is going to have to kick out the weakest bully.

Not to pressure Michigan State, but at this point, that's the Big Ten. And this game is the league's best—maybe only—chance to change that.

"I'm comfortable. We're in a great conference," Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said on the Big Ten coaches' teleconference this week. "I'm sure there are people who want to say if we win, the Big Ten is strong and the Pac-12's weak or vice versa. But I don't really buy into that philosophy."

He doesn't have to.

It's about public perception and finding a reasonable excuse for the playoff selection committee to jettison someone. These are all new dynamics in college football, new politics that will come with the playoff. One current athletic director from each power conference—and none from the weaklings—is on the committee, making decisions that will affect the finances of the leagues.

Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, possibly the sharpest and shrewdest of the conference leaders, can already see what this game means. He told Sports Illustrated this week that Saturday's game could be "disproportionately important" for how people will view the Big Ten: "I don't downplay the game. It takes on an added dimension."

But what happened to the Big Ten, anyway? There is no one answer, of course. But a lot of the shift has to do with style. The Big Ten has traditionally been a smashmouth league, and tradition has left the conference a little slow to modernize. Maybe Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler just had too much success for too long, and everyone has followed. Fans like to see football played that way.

Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez was an offense guru at West Virginia, and he tried to bring that to Michigan, but fans never warmed up to him. Now, he's at Arizona, and he's a guru again. I asked him about that last year in his office, and he made a face and said in a mocking voice that he wasn't a "Michigan Man."

Now, Brady Hoke, a Michigan Man, is in place, and fans were thrilled to get him. Problem: It doesn't appear that he's the coach Rodriguez is.

Michigan is also in a statement game for the Big Ten this weekend, though to a lesser extent, against Notre Dame.

The truth is, so many traditional Midwest powerhouses—Michigan, Nebraska—have dropped at least a level. So Ohio State, which recruits heavily in the South with former Florida coach Urban Meyer, might be the only one still perennially near the top. Notre Dame is trying.

"Since I've come to Notre Dame, I don't know that our Midwestern roots have really shown themselves here," Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly told Bleacher Report. "Just in last year's class, I think we were 18 states. I think we signed 23 players. Their representation went from New Jersey to California to Texas. Certainly Florida and Texas, California are three big states for us."

None of those places is in the heartland.

"I think the demographics have shown a move to certain areas of the country now that are hotter recruiting," Kelly said. "The Carolinas are strong just because of the shift in demographics. Because of that, we're stronger in that area—Virginia, North Carolina on the East Coast."

If he went on much longer, he might have named every state outside the heartland. So much of the problem is that teams from the Rust Belt have been built on hardscrabble kids who came from blue collar families. And when the factories close or move, that cuts into these teams.

"I mean, just take a look at Pennsylvania, the great high school teams that used to be in that area," Kelly said. "Now, because of the steel town, the exodus of so many jobs in that area, that high school football is not what it once was. I think that's happened in a lot of these industrial cities throughout the Midwest as well."

Most people expect Oregon to speed right past Michigan State. But in the Rose Bowl last season, Michigan State outmuscled Stanford, which has outmuscled Oregon two years in a row. The Spartans, playing Midwest football, are actually just the kind of team that beats Oregon, with hard-hitting defenses that are fast and suffocate spread teams.

The prediction here is that Michigan State will win. Mom's apple pie depends on it.

Not to pressure Michigan State.

 

Greg Couch also writes for The New York Times. He was formerly a scribe for FoxSports.com and The Chicago Sun-Times.

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Virginia Tech vs Ohio State: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time and More

A week removed from a rocky start to the season, Urban Meyer's No. 8 Ohio State Buckeyes play host to a perennial defensive stalwart when they welcome Frank Beamer's Virginia Tech Hokies to Ohio Stadium Saturday night.

The Buckeyes, sans former Heisman hopeful Braxton Miller, have a lot of questions in need of answers sooner rather than later, so a nonconference encounter with a team on the rise comes at a bad time.

For the Hokies, a second-place finish in the ACC Coastal division last year can be improved upon via a major upset despite a wealth of new faces in critical places.

Below, let's take a look at the info to have down pat before the game gets underway.

 

When: Saturday, September 6, 8 p.m. ET

Where: Ohio Stadium, Columbus, Ohio

Television: ESPN

Live Stream: WatchESPN

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 47
  • Spread: Ohio State (-12)

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports via USA Today.

 

New Faces Under Center

With Miller out of the picture, the signal-caller tasked with getting the Buckeyes to the playoff is freshman J.T. Barrett, who did well enough against Navy in a 34-17 victory last week.

The problem is, "well enough" won't get the job done against a Beamer defense. That 12-of-15 mark for 226 yards and two touchdowns to one interception, as well as a team-high 50 yards rushing, looks good but figures to be dramatically reduced against the Hokies.

Luckily for the Buckeyes, the Hokies also have a new face under center this season in junior Michael Brewer. He misfired on just seven passes and threw for 251 yards and two touchdowns to one interception in his team's 34-9 win over William & Mary in which the Hokies outgained the opposition, 488-193.

Known for defense, the numbers may come as a surprise, but much of Brewer's efficiency has to do with the weapons around him. ESPN.com's KC Joyner explains this best (subscription required):

Virginia Tech isn't thought of as having a potentially dominant aerial attack, but the Hokies were one of only three ACC teams to have three wide receivers with at least 40 receptions last season (Clemson and Florida State being the others) and all three of those wideouts (Willie Byrn, Demitri Knowles and Joshua Stanford) returned this year.

Pass catching volume wasn't the only positive among this group. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Hokies' 2013 wide receiver corps ranked 29th nationally in yards per reception (14.4).

While the quarterbacks will get most of the spotlight come Saturday, the situation around Brewer actually speaks to the larger theme of the contest. There are other issues that may very well dictate the outcome of the game.

 

Potential Pitfalls Mire the Buckeyes

While the Hokies were a pleasant surprise to start the season—a clear indication that Beamer's run is far from over despite winning all of 15 games the past two seasons combined—Ohio State turned some heads with its struggles.

Simply put, more was expected of the Buckeyes, Miller or not.

The defense allowed Navy to roll for 390 yards, of which only 20 came through the air. Virginia Tech is no slouch, either, with Beamer—who personally oversees running backs—promoting the freshman duo of Shai McKenzie and Marshawn Williams after they combined for 147 yards and a score on 21 carries last week.

More concerning is the Buckeyes secondary and how it can counter the aforementioned trio of receivers, especially with Bradley Roby now in the NFL. Doran Grant has the look of a star, but safeties Tyvis Powell and Cam Burrows have little game experience.

Above all else, though, is the ragged state of the offensive line in front of Barrett. Meyer himself put this issue into perspective, as captured by Doug Lesmerises of Cleveland.com:

Concern number one is offensive line. We're facing (what) will be one of the top one or two defensive lines we'll face all year. Our offensive line did not play like an Ohio State offensive line. The second half we played pretty good. But pretty good is not what we expect. You play pretty good this week you won't win that game. So we have to get much better fast in the offensive line.

With losses to the NFL such as Jack Mewhort and Corey Linsley, it is no wonder the Buckeyes struggled in the trenches, even if the unit gets to regularly practice against one of the best defensive lines in the country.

"It's not just J.T. When we say expand the play book, it's for J.T. and it's for the offensive line," Meyer said, via ESPN.com. "Once those two groups come together, which I'm expecting that to happen rather quickly … well, it better or we won't win this (Virginia Tech) game."

The line better take a serious jump in a short amount of time if Barrett's second half from last week is to translate to Saturday. If it does not, Meyer's words might sound quite prophetic indeed.

 

Prediction

As much as Virginia Tech seems to have an advantage, especially with the Buckeyes' misstep a week ago, it is hard to go any other way with the game taking place in Columbus.

It helps that Beamer's regime has been gashed with a streak of horrific performances when it matters most, but more important is the fact Ohio State is simply a deeper, more talented team. Even if Barrett falters against a great line, he has backs such as Curtis Samuel and Ezekiel Elliott to fall back on—not to mention his legs when things break down in the pocket.

Now, the provided spread is a tad ridiculous. Virginia Tech can keep this a low-scoring affair, but the offense will struggle to find ways to produce points consistently. Regardless, the Buckeyes will pull away late.

 

Prediction: Buckeyes 23, Hokies 17

 

Statistics courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

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Michigan vs. Notre Dame: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time and More

Saturday, a fading rivalry between two legendary programs has one last gasp for the foreseeable future when the Michigan Wolverines make the trip to South Bend to take on No. 16 Notre Dame.

No future installments of the showdown that annually kicks off the serious portion of the season are on the schedule for future years, so fans might want to set anything and everything aside to catch this one.

As Sporting News' Bill Bender illustrates, recent history says the final clash will be a classic:

The game, however, continues to produce dramatic finishes to the present day. Since the programs resumed the rivalry on an almost-annual basis in 1978, the Wolverines have a 15-14-1 advantage. Four of the last five meetings have been decided by a TD or less, and close to 20 points per game were scored in the fourth quarter in those games.

Below, let's take a look at all of the game's pertinent info, factors to take into account beforehand and a prediction to boot.

 

When: September 6, 7:30 p.m. ET

Where: Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Indiana

Television: NBC

Live Stream: NBC Sports Live Extra

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 56
  • Spread: Notre Dame (-6)

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports via USA Today.

 

The End of a Series and What's at Stake

Last year, the Fighting Irish made the trip to Ann Arbor and left with bowed heads after a 41-30 loss. Coach Brian Kelly took a hit in more ways than one, as before the contest he had downplayed the credibility of the rivalry itself. 

He sure isn't making that mistake twice.

Kelly clearly doesn't care too much for the series, but he put it in a more kind manner this year when speaking to the press about the doors now open for his team with Michigan out of the way, as captured by Nick Baumgardner of MLive.com:

I'm not going to go so far as to categorize not playing anymore is a good idea, because that's going to come back to me. So I'm going to stay away from that. I will say this: Given the complexities of our schedule, in not being able to play Michigan, it opens up so many more exciting opportunities for us.

Those opportunities are a major reason Kelly's side simply cannot afford to lose at home Saturday. In fact, it would be easier to list off the unranked teams Notre Dame encounters the rest of the way.

The Fighting Irish, as the ranks stand currently, have dates with No. 13 Stanford, No. 21 North Carolina, No. 1 Florida State, No. 17 Arizona State, No. 25 Louisville and No. 14 USC on the schedule this year, making the path to the playoff seemingly impossible.

Of course, the game is important to Michigan as well, but the Wolverines appear to have an easier ride after Saturday's encounter.

 

The Quarterback Spotlight

Like many collegiate contests, this one will come down to who produces better under center.

On Michigan's side is Devin Gardner once again, who threw four touchdowns and led the Wolverines in rushing last season in that triumph against the Fighting Irish. Just last week, Gardner was back to that form in a 52-14 win over Appalachian State, throwing for 173 yards and three touchdowns.

Kelly himself admits that Gardner is a player who forces his staff's hand unlike most.

“I would think we would have a little bit more and a variety of schemes for Gardner because he can hurt you obviously running the football and throwing the football,” Kelly said, per Keith Arnold of NBCSports.com. “We’re going to have to have a comprehensive plan for him.”

It will not be as easy for Gardner to be the best signal-caller on the field this time around, though, especially now that Everett Golson is back under center for Notre Dame.

In Notre Dame's 48-17 rout of Rice last week, the senior threw for 295 yards and two scores while complementing that output with 41 yards on the ground and another three touchdowns. As ESPN's George Whitfield Jr. notes, not only has Golson taken a step up in a development sense, those around him have received an upgrade, too:

It all equates to a thrilling showdown between two of the collegiate landscape's more entertaining quarterbacks, and who knows? Maybe a marquee victory with some gaudy stats propels one of the two into the Heisman conversation.

 

Prediction

At first glance, there are issues that could doom either side.

Michigan has been miserable on the road under coach Brady Hoke, going 6-8 away from Michigan Stadium over the course of his tenure.

On the flip side, Kelly's defense looks to be without cornerback KeiVarae Russell, defensive end Ishaq Williams and linebacker Kendall Moore yet again, per the injury report.

That last bit, above all else, will decide the contest.

The Notre Dame defense was already a work in progress. Gardner is sure to get his one way or another, but it is wideout Devin Funchess (seven catches for 95 yards and three touchdowns last week) who will really break the Fighting Irish's back late in the contest.

In a battle between two of the winningest programs in NCAA history, one player can decide it all. Push comes to shove Saturday, that will be Funchess.

 

Prediction: Wolverines 35, Fighting Irish 28

 

Statistics courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

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

One team will hit the fast lane to the inaugural College Football Playoff, but neither will emerge unscathed from Autzen Stadium Saturday when the No. 3 Oregon Ducks host the No. 7 Michigan State Spartans.

Oregon, the Pac-12 favorite and perennial offensive powerhouse, meets Michigan State, arguably the Big Ten favorite and perennial defensive powerhouse, in a bout that is not only one of the 2014 season's best, but a refreshing callback to when home-and-home arrangements were the norm, rather than the new trend that is neutral-field meetups.

The whole "something has to give" spiel does not do this one justice, either. ESPN Stats & Info offers a digestible way of pointing out that two more evenly matched programs are difficult to find:

Below, let's run through all the critical info surrounding the heavyweight bout before nailing down a prediction for one of the most unpredictable games in recent history.

 

When: Saturday, September 6, 6:30 p.m. ET

Where: Autzen Stadium, Eugene, Oregon

Television: Fox

Live Stream: Fox Sports Go

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 55.5
  • Spread: Oregon (-11)

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports via USA Today.

 

War of Contrasting Styles

Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi has done a splendid job since 2007, but even he has perhaps never been tasked with such a daunting feat—shutting down Oregon and its bevy of skill players, not to mention Heisman hopeful Marcus Mariota.

He knows it, too.

"They are a lot faster than we are, if you watch the tape," Narduzzi said, per Joe Rexrode of the Detroit Free Press. "We will have our hands full."

Indeed. In fact, Narduzzi's unit rarely has to deal with the type of attack the Ducks bring to the table. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Ducks have run the zone read on 44 percent of their rushing attempts since the beginning of last season—the Spartans have only faced that wrinkle 12 percent of the time in that same period.

The ground game is clearly how Oregon wants to primarily operate this season. In last week's 62-13 trouncing of South Dakota, four players rushed for 40 or more yards, and the team as a whole generated 7.7 yards per carry and four scores on the ground.

Heck, it was a running back—junior Byron Marshall—who led the team in receiving with eight grabs for 90 yards.

The sliver of hope for Michigan State is that, despite giving up 273 yards on the ground against Ohio State in the Big Ten title game last year to a similar attack, Stanford already wrote the blueprint on how to shut down the Ducks.

Last year, David Shaw's team pulled off the upset and held Oregon to 62 rushing yards and a 2.6 average. To pretend the Spartans cannot do the same is downright ignorant.

The numbers speak for themselves, but understand that Narduzzi's blitz-heavy, run-oriented attack will give Mariota some pause in the pocket. More importantly, that hidden yardage the Ducks are so accustomed to racking up—missed tackles, overpursuits and the like—won't be there Saturday against a disciplined unit, the same way it wasn't there against Stanford last season.

Oregon coach Mark Helfrich surely understands the task his explosive offense faces, and he has one player in mind to key on—end Shilique Calhoun, who racked up 7.5 sacks last year and has one already this season.

Something that won't get enough attention leading up to the contest is just how well the Spartans offense has progressed under the guidance of quarterback Connor Cook. In a 45-7 win over Jacksonville State last week, Cook misfired on just one attempt and went for 285 yards and three scores.

Cook and the offense now get to go against a sloppy Ducks defense that missed a wealth of tackles and allowed South Dakota to rack up 370 total yards, 172 of which came on the ground. Even worse, star corner Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is hobbled, as Andrew Greif of The Oregonian explains to Mike Griffith of MLive.com:

He's the All-American who is the glue of the secondary but he limped off after changing direction early in the second quarter Saturday evening. He did not return after getting the ankle re-taped, but said he tried to play before coaches told him he wasn't needed. He didn't seem in obvious pain afterward as he walked to the training room, but had a limp. Ekpre-Olomu at less than 100 percent is still better than most college corners, but it's a concern.

If Cook and star back Jeremy Langford (who also hobbled off the field a week ago) can produce against a defense that may not be operating at 100 percent this early in the season, the game may turn out much closer than most would have anticipated—just look at the odds.

 

Prediction

The reality is, Mariota is a Heisman favorite and future NFL draftee for good reason, and he returned to the collegiate landscape for contests such as this.

While the offense will surely have its hiccups against a physical defense, Mariota should help the Ducks to jump out to an early lead. Cook and the Michigan State offense are not a unit built to score in droves, let alone do so in a hurry, so expect the Ducks to force the Spartans out of their comfort zone quickly.

When these two meet in East Lansing in 2015, it may very well end up a different result. But this season, with Mariota under center in a venue the program has gone 92-17 at since 1997, the Ducks are the pick, albeit a close one.

 

Prediction: Ducks 27, Spartans 24

 

Statistics courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

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USC vs. Stanford: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time and More

One of the 2014 college football season's early surprises is the first Pac-12 showdown of the season, as well as the first conference game between top-15 teams, when the No. 13 Stanford Cardinal welcome the No. 14 USC Trojans to The Farm Saturday.

There, David Shaw's team will look to extract a semblance of revenge after a shocking upset at the hands of the erratic Trojans one season ago, while Steve Sarkisian will hope to continue the fruitful beginning of his era as the man in charge.

As seems to typically be the case between the two rivals, Saturday's affair will feature a war of contrasting styles and plenty of season-long implications.

Let's take a look at the most important details surrounding the game and come up with a prediction as to how things shake out.

 

When: Saturday, September 6, 3:30 p.m. ET

Where: Stanford Stadium, Stanford, California

Television: ABC

Live Stream: WatchESPN

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 55
  • Spread: Stanford (-4)

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports via USA Today.

 

Tea Leaves and Injuries

Given the fact both schools beat up on lesser programs in Week 1, it is hard to fathom just how much from those end results will translate to the field Saturday night and impact the game.

Shaw's team predictably ranks No. 5 in total defense already thanks to a 45-0 win over UC Davis out of the Big Sky Conference. Quarterback Kevin Hogan misfired on just four passes and threw for 204 yards and three scores, while his defense held the Aggies to a 1-of-13 mark on third downs.

USC was the opposite in a 52-13 win over Fresno State, racking up 701 total yards to rank No. 4 in the country in total offense. Freshman wideout JuJu Smith had himself a breakout game with four receptions for 123 yards, while Javorius Allen led the team in rushing with 133 yards and a score on 22 totes.

Normally, this sort of dynamic would inspire a "So what does all of this mean?" charade, but to be frank, it is entirely too early in the season to pull that card, especially when last season the two fought their battle much later in the season.

One thing we do know is that USC did not emerge unscathed. While quarterback Cody Kessler threw for 394 yards and four touchdowns, an injury casts a shadow over his potential production on the road against an elite defense.

Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times has the scoop from Sarkisian:

He had a deal with his toe that had been bothering him throughout the ballgame. We felt like we wanted to take care of it sooner rather than later.

This morning was the first chance we could to have a procedure done to get it, in our opinion, cleaned up.... It obviously didn't affect his play Saturday.

While the issue does not sound all that concerning as of now, it is certainly something to monitor Saturday night if the Trojans offensive line cannot keep Kessler's jersey clean.

After all, USC has very little in the way of options behind him on the depth chart.

 

Controversy Surrounds the Game's Deciding Factor

Not often do fans get such a two-for-one deal, so bask in this one.

Both Shaw and Sarkisian say there is no beef between them, but remember that the latter was the coach at Washington last season when Stanford emerged with a 31-28 victory, and after the game, the then-Huskies coach accused the Cardinal of faking injuries to slow down his no-huddle attack.

"It was over," Shaw said, via ESPN.com. "It was in the past. He and I sat together at lunch and breakfast a couple times and talked about a bunch of other things. Our wives are getting to become good friends; they know each other well so there's no animosity whatsoever."

Sarkisian also made it a point this week to downplay the issue:

I think, first of all, I have a great deal of respect for David as a coach and as a person. We had a disagreement in the heat of the moment and I think both of us have moved on. We've seen each other on different occasions since then. We were actually in Hawaii together at an event. We haven't spoken on it and I think our relationship is fine. We've moved on.

Regardless of whether or not fans want to buy the talk, the subject will be very much put to the test Saturday—that no-huddle is the key to the game for both sides.

Kessler's health will obviously decide whether the attack is potent. But for Stanford, those left behind after Shayne Skov and Trent Murphy, among others, moved on will decide if the unit can slow what has the look of a vicious, quick-twitch attack.

 

Prediction

For USC, a loss Saturday would be a crushing blow despite the underdog status, as Steve Mason of ESPNLA 710 illustrates:

Unfortunately for the new-look Trojans, this one has the look of a loss. While Shaw has lost a few critical starters, his systems have routinely had to duel high-profile attacks such as what Oregon brings to the table and have done so with efficiency—last year, his defense held the No. 2 Ducks to 20 points.

The timing of this matchup simply does not favor USC, especially with Kessler and star defensive end Leonard Williams not locks to be 100 percent. Don't forget a patch of off-field distractions, either.

Also remember that the Cardinal have won 17 in a row at home. Expect that number to climb to 18 after time expires Saturday.

 

Prediction: Cardinal 24, Trojans 23

 

Statistics courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

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Predicting Todd Gurley's Stats for Each Remaining Georgia Bulldogs Game

Everyone in the college football world knows how good Todd Gurley is. Last Saturday proved that Gurley can be even better, despite already being considered by many as the best running back in the country.

Walter Football and CBSSports.com currently list him as the No. 1 running back in their 2015 NFL draft rankings.

In the win against Clemson, Gurley rushed for 198 yards and three touchdowns on 15 carries, but he also returned a kickoff 100 yards for a score. His 293 all-purpose yards—he lost five yards on a reception—broke a single-game school record.

If he keeps this up, he will run away with the Heisman Trophy as well as the Doak Walker Award. However, the question is, will Gurley play at the same level all season long or will teams finally find a way to slow him down?

Here are projected stats for Gurley’s 11 remaining games of the season:

Odds Shark has the over/under for Gurley’s rushing yards set at 1,260.5. It also has his over/under for rushing touchdowns set at 13.5.

Based on what he did in the game against Clemson, he should have no issues getting more than 1,300 yards and 14 touchdowns. Gurley has scored three touchdowns in two other games in his career. He did it in 2012 against Tennessee and again in 2013 against Georgia Tech.

With that said, he has never started a season the way he did on Saturday, tying his personal best in touchdowns and setting it in rushing yards.

Gurley will have his best year to date because of the other three running backs on the roster.

Keith Marshall has the same explosion as Gurley, but he will be eased into action because he’s coming off ACL surgery. Meanwhile, true freshmen Sony Michel and Nick Chubb could be called "Gurshall Jr." because they are very similar.

Chubb runs tough between the tackles and Michel is good at running off the edge and using his speed to blow past defenders. Not only will opposing defenses have to account for Gurley, they will have to make sure they can slow down Marshall, Chubb and Michel, which will lead to more opportunities for Gurley to make explosive plays.

He is not going to have a game like he had against Clemson every time he steps on the field this year, but expect him to put up big numbers because there is not one team he will face this season that can stop him.

Florida and Vanderbilt are the two best rushing defensive teams the Bulldogs will face, but Gurley has rushed for over 100 yards the two times he has faced the Gators. When he played against the Commodores in 2012, he rushed for 130 yards and two touchdowns in a blowout win.

Based on what Gurley did against Clemson and what he’s done in the last two years, there is not a running back in the country like him.

If he’s able to stay healthy, there is no reason he won’t lead the SEC in rushing and end the 2014 season and as a finalist for a number of awards.

 

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LSU Football: Tigers Secondary Key to Run at SEC Title

The LSU secondary's filthy performance against Wisconsin was Patrick Peterson approved.

"It's 'DBU.' It's what we do," Peterson said.

Peterson, a former LSU cornerback, was was an All-American during his time in Baton Rouge and is now an All-Pro with the Arizona Cardinals. He was in attendance on Saturday and served as an honorary captain for The Tigers in 28-24 victory over the Badgers. 

LSU defensive back Jalen Mills said Peterson's presence provided extra motivation for the Tigers to perform at a high level, especially in the secondary. And the next wave of Tiger ball hawks did not disappoint. 

LSU's suffocation of the Badgers passing attack was astonishing. Quarterback Tanner McEvoy was 8-of-24 for 50 yards and two interceptions.

To put those numbers into perspective, the Tigers allowed at least 100 passing yards to every opponent they faced last year. The 33 percent completion percentage was the best since LSU's dismantling of Kentucky in 2011, where the Wildcats only completed 28 percent of their passes.

LSU's defense, as a whole, did not perform at a high level. Wisconsin had its way on the ground, rushing for 268 yards on 39 carries. The most LSU allowed in a game last year was 216.

 

The Comeback

The Badgers were in control of the football game in the third quarter with a 17-point lead. But when the Tigers cut the deficit to three, Wisconsin began throwing the football with more frequency. And that is where the game turned in LSU's favor.

Both of the Tigers' fourth-quarter interceptions came on consecutive drives, with the first resulting in the game-winning touchdown. 

Mills snatched the first with a mixture of athleticism and guile. McEvoy thought he had an open tight end running down the sideline, but Mills shrunk the gap and caught the ball at its highest point. The junior said after the game he "baited" McEvoy into the throw, which was also a regular move of Peterson's.

LSU's next interception stopped what started to be a promising drive for the Wisconsin.

After two first downs, the Badgers found themselves near midfield. Offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig decided to pass on first down.

Ludwig's call was not a bad one. He chose to attack Dwayne Thomas, who was playing a traditional cornerback role for the injured Jalen Collins. But Thomas out-muscled receiver Reggie Love to knock the football away. True freshman defensive tackle Davon Godchaux did a nice job using a "rip move" to create some pressure up the middle.

For the next two plays, things would only get worse for Wisconsin. 

The incomplete pass forced 2nd-and-10, which allowed defensive coordinator John Chavis to bring in his 3-2-6 "Mustang" package. The package includes six defensive backs on the field at once.

The biggest benefit of the Mustang package are the variations that can come from it. Chavis' creativity for the next two plays is defensive genius. 

 

Film Study

The Tigers crowd the line of scrimmage with seven players, which is what they normally do in this defense. Chavis loves to blitz at least the Nickel, which is Mills (JM), or the dime, which is true freshman Jamal Adams (JA).

Wisconsin understands it is unlikely all seven blitz, but protection calls must account for each of the players. Mills said after the game it is tough for offenses to call correct protections because they do not know which edge player is blitzing. This creates unblocked defensive backs attacking the quarterback at high speed. 

On this play, Mills looks locked in man coverage on the slot receiver. Because of that, McEvoy's personal protector, which in this case is Gordon, believes Adams is the likely blitzer.

Here is another look of the play pre-snap from behind the play. Notice Gordon eying down Adams, who looks as if he is going to come on a blitz. 

The key to blocking the Mustang is to have strong one-on-one blockers across the offensive line. The left tackle, center and right tackle's responsibility is to block the defensive lineman lined up in front of them. The guards must hold off blitzing backers if they choose to come. If not, they must help the others protect.

Adams, as expected, blitzes. He is stopped as Gordon does a superb job of crossing the face of McEvoy and making the tough block. But fortunately enough for the Tigers, linebacker Kwon Alexander blitzed as well and, despite being held, whipped the guard in front of him with his speed and power.

McEvoy, like he had done all night long, ran backwards and threw a prayer off his back leg. None of his receivers were open and the ball fell harmlessly out of bounds. 

Wisconsin made all the right decisions in protection on this play, but did not fully execute. Alexander blew by his one-on-one matchup against the right guard and created immense pressure. LSU's coverage was picturesque, which helped set up an ominous 3rd-and-10 for the Badgers. 

On the next play, Wisconsin predictably lines up in shotgun again and LSU in the Mustang. This time, though, Gordon is on the right of McEvoy instead of the left. Wisconsin knows the Tigers love blitzing either Adams or Mills, but not both, in this defense. Adams, again, is the more likely blitzer. 

But this time, Wisconsin is fooled by Mills. He is the blitzer and Adams sinks into coverage. 

Mills did a phenomenal job pre-snap disguising his blitz. He looked as if he would be locking up in man coverage like he did the play before. Because of it, the left tackle, nor Gordon, account for him.

But because Mills blitzed, somebody must cover Love, the slot receiver. Alexander, a linebacker who dominated a guard on a blitz the previous play, takes over Mills' responsibility. Notice all the ground he must make up to catch Love, who is running a corner route away from him.

Mills takes a precise, sharp angle towards the unblocked run towards McEvoy, who read the play correctly. He would expect a receiver against a linebacker on a corner route to be open. Instead, Alexander's sublime pass coverage skills swallows Love's route. 

Across the board, LSU is playing precise coverage. The smartest throw would have been to the underneath crossing patters, but that would have been well short of the first down if completed. Instead, he fires up a hopeful prayer to Love.

Mills hits McEvoy as he is releasing the football. The ball is floated up in the air for an easy interception for free safety Ronald Martin, who was shading over the top of Alexander in case he needed help defending Love. Even if the ball was thrown accurately, it still would have been a tough reception for Love after failing to create space from a linebacker. 

Wisconsin blocked the play admirably with the omission of Mills. Chavis' creativity forced a turnover that helped lead to victory. 

 

Causes of Concern

McEvoy and Wisconsin's receivers are below average, so it is important to not get carried away with LSU's dominance. The Tigers will run into some issues when facing the elite SEC receiving corps of the SEC West. 

LSU's pass rush form its defensive line could have been better. The Tigers had plenty of one-on-one opportunities, but rarely created havoc. There will be times LSU will need to get pressure with four traditional rushers. If that does not improve, the secondary could be exposed.  

LSU must do a better job of stopping the run. Gordon is just one of many future NFL running backs the Tigers will face this season. An effective running game usually opens up the pass, but that was not the case this time around. Next time, they may not be so lucky. 

Before the season began, the projected defensive backs in the Mustang package were White and Rashard Robinson as the traditional corners, Martin and Rickey Jefferson as the safeties, and Mills and Thomas as the nickel and dimebacks. 

Robinson did not make the flight, per The Advocate. His replacement, Jalen Collins, who split first team reps with Robinson this offseason, had suffered an injury previous to the illustrated plays above.  Even without those two key pieces, the LSU defense still dominated. 

Chavis has tough personnel decisions to make with the embarrassment of riches he possesses at defensive back.

Collins is healthy and will continue to start over Robinson according to James Moran of Tiger Rag. This also means Thomas will move back inside on the nickel and dime Mustang packages. But for that to happen, Chavis must bench Adams, whose presence on the field was noticeable. 

  

Conclusion

Allowing only 50 yards passing is an astonishing feat. That might not be matched again this season by the Tigers, if not ever. 

What Chavis can do schematically relies solely on the athletic ability of his players. If LSU's defenders can play man-to-man, bump-and-run coverage all season long, the Tigers will be tough to beat through the air.

Cornerback Tre'Davious White's performance was similar to that of Morris Claiborne, who was LSU's best cover corner on the famed 2011 SEC Championship team. White looks bound to be an All-SEC performer. 

Alexander also deserves credit for his versatility. Neither of the illustrated plays Alexander made above will show up on the stat sheet, but were of the highest difficulty. Outside of a few mental errors early, he led LSU in tackles and played special teams effectively. The junior emphasized after the game he is willing to play any role in order for the defense to succeed.  

The interchangeable parts in the secondary over the years are what has made LSU "Defensive Back University." Coaches across the country would do anything to have the Tigers backups. This is what makes Peterson being at the game somewhat ironic. 

Mills, who has played every position possible in the LSU secondary, said he looks up to Tyrann Mathieu and Ron Brooks. Mathieu and Brooks played the nickel and dime on the 2011 SEC Championship team, which featured the best LSU defensive backfield ever. That defense did not include Peterson, who left early for the NFL.

LSU's secondary might not have the potential this season of that 2011 group, which included two first-team All-Americans. But they can lead LSU to being the best defense in the country if the front seven improves during the season. 

Just ask Peterson. 

"I believe if the defense stops the run, they can be special," said Peterson. "As of right now, the passing defense looks pretty good. I know it's a long season, but if they go in there with a stout front, I believe they have a really good chance to winning it all." 

 

Stats, rankings and additional information provided by cfbstats.com and LSU Sports Information. Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow me on Twitter @CarterthePower  

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