NCAA Football

College Football Lacks Concussion Policy, Could Lead to Tragedy

The video is tough to watch. Shane Morris staggers after taking a direct hit to his helmet. He collapses, reaching for his teammate to keep him upright. Immediately, his teammates begin waving to the sidelines. Instead of an athletic trainer, Morris, a QB for Michigan, is met by Brady Hoke, the head coach. 

Morris was sent back into the game moments later, despite appearing woozy and blinking slowly. Hoke was close enough to notice this, and he sent Morris back out anyway. Hoke's job is not to diagnose, but he appeared unaware of the issue even as late as Monday. That speaks to a systemic failure of communication, top to bottom.

When Morris finally came off the field, he was met by Hoke, a position coach and walked into a group of players. It's unclear if a doctor saw him at this point, but it appears that Morris is speaking to Paul Schmidt, the longtime head athletic trainer at Michigan, in a brief shot. 

Less than a minute later, after the replacement's helmet came off, Morris was put back into the game. Schmidt is seen again and pats Morris on the back as he goes back into the game. While it is impossible to know what Schmidt saw or evaluated, he had only a minute to do so. That is not enough time for even a cursory concussion evaluation, nor even time to treat his ankle. 

Hoke insisted on Monday that Morris did not have a concussion and that he was complaining of pain in his ankle. While Morris did clearly have an ankle injury and could be seen hobbling on the plays in between that injury and his head injury, Hoke and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier did not appear to have noticed that either, calling for a rollout for Morris on one play.

It is that ankle injury that was noted by athletic director Dave Brandon in a statement. Brandon said in the statement that Morris had been treated for a sprained ankle earlier in the game, and medical staff on the sideline believed that was why he stumbled while trying to walk around after being hit by Cockran.

"The team neurologist, watching from further down the field, also did not see the hit. However, the neurologist, with expertise in detecting signs of concussion, saw Shane stumble and determined he needed to head down the sideline to evaluate Shane," Brandon stated, via USA Today. It does not appear to have happened before Morris was sent back out.

At no point did Hoke, Nussmaier or Schmidt appear to question whether Morris should be put back in the game. It's unclear whether Hoke or Nussmaier called for Morris' reinsertion, but no one protested, including Morris. 

Gregg Doyel at CBS summarizes the situation well: "Hoke says he never saw the hit to the head. Same goes for everyone else on his staff—on the sideline and in the press box, including some with access to replays—and everyone on the medical staff as well. So when all of these trained professionals saw Shane Morris reeling his way off the field, and when they saw teammates gesturing to the sideline for help, they all thought it was because of the ankle."

This situation recalls one in the NFL two seasons ago when Colt McCoy, then with the Cleveland Browns, was hit in the head and clearly concussed. He also injured his hand on the play, and when asked by the medical staff, McCoy complained of hand pain. He was not evaluated for a concussion and was sent back out by the coaching staff. 

That incident led to several changes in NFL policy, including the use of a "concussion observer" who is supposed to have the ability to call down to the sidelines and request a concussion evaluation on any player. The efficacy of that program is in doubt, but it was nonetheless a quick and positive response to a clear problem.

With collegiate football, the question is not whether this is a problem or whether this could recur, but who is in position to do something about it? The NCAA, the conference authority or the school itself could all be in position to make changes, but aside from very few instances, there is no clear policy to prevent this kind of incident.

While the NCAA does offer guidelines for concussion management that appear very specific, there's a loophole in there that goes to this very case. For any of the policy to matter, a concussion must first be diagnosed. Morris' situation shows just how difficult this can be and how easy it is to miss. 

Let's assume that all the parties involved have good intentions. While you don't have to like or even agree with this assumption, I find it easier to believe that a long-tenured athletic trainer is both competent and well-intentioned. Schmidt was seen with the player, and reports are that he checked Morris' ankle, much in the same way that McCoy's hand, the immediate painful issue, is the primary complaint.

Of course, to assume this, we have to also assume that Schmidt saw no symptoms. In asking about Morris' ankle, Schmidt must not have seen any signs of concussion such as an unfocused gaze, slurred or altered speech, or the same kind of balance problems he appeared to show on the field. The assumption is that Schmidt, a trained and respected medical professional, missed the signs that Morris' teammates saw just a few moments prior.

(Speaking of which, I wonder if anyone will ask Ben Barden, the offensive lineman who helped hold Morris up, what he saw and thought at that time. What did he see and who did he tell? The answers could clear up a lot of issues. Michigan should make Barden and Schmidt available immediately.) 

It's harder with Brady Hoke, who refuses to wear a headset and has a history of diminishing injuries. A few years ago, Hoke told a player to stop limping. Devin Gardner was later found to have a broken foot. At Ball State, Hoke insisted on a practice in sub-freezing conditions, leading to frostbite for several players.

Hoke's greatest sin is not missing the injury—that can be very difficult to see from his position on the sidelines—but in failing to have someone see it and getting him the information. We still don't know if someone in the press box might have seen by eyes or replay what had happened to Morris, but we do know that by Monday, no one had clarified the situation for Hoke.

On B/R Radio Tuesday, Drew Sharpe of the Detroit Free Press told us that Hoke still appeared to have the facts of the situation confused. Sharpe also said that Nussmeier may have been signaling at one point for Morris to stay down. Michigan would not confirm this or make Nussmeier available for questions.

Indeed, Congress is now getting involved. Rep. Bill Pascrell of New Jersey and co-chair of the Congressional Brain Injury Task Force has asked the Big Ten to investigate. We'll have to see if this kind of attention forces changes. 

A simple solution would be to put an athletic trainer or other qualified observer in the press box, as the NFL does. The NFL's system hasn't been very successful, but it is an improvement that the NCAA or conferences could immediately put into place without significant extra cost. Even at the smaller schools or lower levels, this is doable by this weekend, if athletic departments call for it. 

Michigan may have other problems, but they're not alone with this important issue. The NCAA, conferences and individual schools need to address this issue now before the "student-athletes" they claim to care about end up with the same kind of brain and long-term issues that the NFL is struggling to deal with. 

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Ole Miss Matchup Moment of Truth for Alabama's Defense

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — It’s not that the Alabama defense is bad. Far from it.

The Crimson Tide haven’t exactly been dominant so far, but they haven’t really had many opportunities to prove themselves, either.

In its one game against a legitimate offense, West Virginia, Alabama gave up almost 400 yards of offense, including 365 through the air. The secondary was a big question mark coming into the season, and early on it still looked weak.

Games against Florida Atlantic, Southern Miss and Florida (one of the SEC’s worst offenses) have been nice opportunities to get things sorted out, but none posed a significant threat.

That changes this week.

Ole Miss boasts one of the top offenses in the SEC that’s putting up nearly 500 yards per game so far this year, including 335.5 yards per game passing.

It will be the season’s next big test for the Alabama defense and will show how far this secondary and unit as a whole have come since that first game.

One thing Alabama has going for it right now is the defense’s overall health.

Jarrick Williams is expected to be back from a foot injury, while Eddie Jackson is competing for starting reps after a quad injury. Jackson is expected to compete with true freshman Tony Brown for the second cornerback spot, after Brown’s starting debut against Florida.

The Crimson Tide have been missing pieces here or there for various reason so far this year but should have their full cast ready to go on Saturday.

They've also done some shuffling personnel-wise in the back seven to further shore things up. Jackson replaced Bradley Sylve at cornerback. Trey DePriest is back at middle linebacker, and the secondary has done some shuffling around in nickel and dime to maximize athletic ability.

Ole Miss will present plenty of problems of its own.

Bo Wallace is now in his third year at quarterback and throwing the ball as well as he ever has. He’s averaging 317.8 yards per game passing and has thrown for 11 touchdowns.

On the perimeter, Laquon Treadwell is as good as any receiver in the SEC, and this year he’s already caught 20 balls for 307 yards and a touchdown. The 6’2”, 229-pound receiver presents some size that Alabama struggled matching up with against West Virginia.

“He's a very quick receiver, explosive,” Alabama safety Landon Collins said of Treadwell. “You get the ball in his hands and he can do basically anything with it. We have a lot of respect for him, and we're definitely going to look to him and not turn our backs to him because he can be a game changer.”

Cody Core and Vince Sanders are two other explosive receivers, and tight end Evan Engram, at 6’3”, 227 pounds, could create matchup problems as well.

“I think that any time a team has a guy that has the versatility that [Engram] has, it always creates problems,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “The guy lines up in the backfield, and then he lines up out at wide receiver. Sometimes you've got to have a linebacker on him. I always think that tight end is one of the most difficult mismatch guys. And he's certainly a quality player and a really, really good receiver.”

A lot of the focus on this game has been Alabama’s explosive offense against Ole Miss’ stout defense, but on the other half of the game is where we’ll find out what this Crimson Tide defense is made of.

It hasn’t been tested much this season but will get plenty thrown at it this weekend.

 

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

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

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Notre Dame Football: World Hopping on Everett Golson Bandwagon, Can He Deliver?

The Return. The Redemption. And now...The Rematch.

After 600 days away from football and a blistering start to the 2014 season, Everett Golson might not just be running Brian Kelly's playbook, but also Joseph Campbell's. 

This hero's journey that Golson finds himself on has turned the face of Notre Dame football—one of the most polarizing teams in all of sports—into a quarterback that just about everybody is rooting for. With Golson's bandwagon growing larger by the day, the senior faces his toughest challenge of the year: Stanford's No. 1 defense. 

With the Irish and Cardinal set to do battle Saturday afternoon, Golson has an opportunity to write another chapter in an epic saga that's transfixed sports fans. Facing a defense that's the best in the country by just about every statistical measurement, the engine that drives Notre Dame's offense will face a defense that could be even better than the one that knocked him from Notre Dame's 20-13 overtime win two years earlier.

But then again, so is Golson. And it's not just Notre Dame fans that are taking notice. The quarterback is now in the lead pack for the Heisman Trophy, getting 12/1 odds, the same as Georgia's Todd Gurley.

He's also earning praise across the college football world. Yahoo! Sports' Pat Forde profiled Golson Wednesday, finding an unlikely fan of the quarterback in Cincinnati head coach Tommy Tuberville. 

"Gosh almighty, he’s good, now,” Tuberville told Forde. "He’s real good. I think he’s made the most improvement. He’s got the team on his back."

Tuberville might be one of the few coaches in America that truly appreciates Golson's abilities, with his Bearcats program scooping up Gunner Kiel when the former Notre Dame quarterback transferred after being stuck behind Golson in 2012. 

Also taking notice of Golson's improvements is Stanford coach David Shaw. After holding Golson to just 12-of-24 passing two seasons ago, Shaw commented on the quarterback he's seen on tape this year versus the one his team prepared for in 2012. 

"Watching him, it's the difference of confidence. I think he was really good two years ago," Shaw said. "He was very athletic, very accurate, hard to catch and pin down in the backfield. This year, it's the same, but he almost just seems composed, where as before it seemed a little frantic. Know he knows you can't catch him."

That mix of composure, athleticism, arm strength and accuracy has people openly wondering about Golson's NFL future, not always an option for an undersized quarterback. But news is trickling in from NFL talent evaluators, many of whom are taking notice in Golson's improvements. 

"I would compare him very favorably to Russell Wilson in college," Lou Holtz told me last week. "I saw Russell Wilson play when he was at NCS. I saw him when he went to Wisconsin for his last year. I think Everett Golson has the same qualities. He’s got that quick release.

"People say he’s not 6'3", and I say this: Do his feet reach the ground? If your feet reach the ground you’re tall enough. Look at Drew Brees. He’s no more than six feet. But he’s played QB his whole life at six feet. You learn how to find the holes to find the receivers. It’s not like you’re 6'5" and all of a sudden you’re 5'11".  I think he has a great future in the NFL."

You expect praise like that from Holtz, never one to shy away from the blue and gold pompoms. But even Shaw made the same comparison after breaking down Notre Dame's first four games. 

"I'm not putting him on this pedestal just yet, but I heard someone say it the other day and I believe they were right, that he reminds you of Russell Wilson," Shaw said. "You watch him run around, he never seems panicked, he never throws the ball into triple coverage. If he can get away, he gets away. If he can throw it away, he throws it away. If he can scramble for four yards, he scrambles for four yards. He protects himself, he gets down. He's been a handful for everyone that he's played."

At 4-0, Golson's triumphant return from academic purgatory has been one of the best stories of the first month of the college football season. But to continue down this storybook path, he's going to need to beat an attacking Stanford defense that's giving up less than a touchdown a game. 

Another Saturday, another gigantic test for Golson. 

 

*Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand.  

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Wisconsin Football: Game-by-Game Predictions for the Month of October

Marred by slow starts, bad finishes and flashes of stellar play nestled in between, the Wisconsin football team finds itself off to a 3-1 start.  With cooler temperatures and Big Ten play blowing in off the shores of Lake Mendota, the Badgers find themselves with just three games in the month of October.

With two home games and one road game dotting their October schedule along with a second bye coming in the middle, the Badgers maintain an incredibly advantageous slate throughout the first two months.

Starting with their first trip to Ryan Field since 2009, where they haven't beaten the Northwestern Wildcats since 1999 in Evanston, the Badgers then come back home to face the high-scoring Illinois Fighting Illini.  After a bye week, the Badgers take on the Maryland Terrapins during homecoming weekend to close out the month.

Let's take a look at how the Badgers will fare during their first three Big Ten games of the season.

Begin Slideshow

Miami Football: Game-by-Game Predictions for the Month of October

The Miami Hurricanes only play three times during the month of October, but two matchups are absolutely imperative to win.

A nonconference bout with Cincinnati is sandwiched between clashes with Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech, but the latter contests will have a significant impact on the 'Canes' chase for the Coastal Division title.

Miami recovered from a loss to Louisville in its first ACC meeting and handled Duke, a victory needed to stay a legitimate contender heading into the second portion of the season.

The results for each October game could realistically swing either way, so the present month has the potential to either break the Hurricanes or be a crucial step toward Miami winning the Coastal.

 

Georgia Tech, Oct. 4

After one frustrating season with an oft-hesitant Vad Lee, Justin Thomas is leading Georgia Tech's triple-option flexbone offense. The sophomore quarterback has proved to be a better fit than his predecessor, and he's complemented by A-back Zach Laskey and deep threat DeAndre Smelter.

Thomas handled a few snaps last season against the Hurricanes, but he'll attempt to make a highlight that's more positive than the current memorable one.

Entering the contest unblemished at 4-0, the Yellow Jackets have survived a Georgia Southern comeback and capitalized on Virginia Tech's game-changing errors to steal a victory.

While Thomas, Laskey and Smelter have been solid, Georgia Tech is still mediocre defensively—especially against the run. Duke Johnson and Joe Yearby will take advantage of the 5.43 yards per carry the Jackets defense has allowed, opening up the Miami passing game that is improving on a weekly basis.

The 'Canes have defeated Georgia Tech every year since 2009, and a sixth consecutive series win gives Miami two important early intra-division wins.

Prediction:Miami 27, Georgia Tech 17

 

Cincinnati, Oct. 11

Against teams like Nebraska, Duke and Georgia Tech, the Hurricanes' defensive goal is to make the quarterback throw. Miami failed to stop Ameer Abdullah, and Nebraska deserved the victory. Conversely, the 'Canes limited Duke's rushing attack, earning the win by forcing Anthony Boone to throw.

But when Cincinnati travels to South Florida, that's all Tommy Tuberville's team wants to do. Plus, it certainly has someone capable of slinging the football around, overshadowing the 112th-ranked rushing attack in the nation.

Notre Dame transfer Gunner Kiel patiently waited for his opportunity, and he's been outstanding in his first career starts.

"The Gunner is for real," Paul Daugherty of The Cincinnati Enquirer wrote. "Can he tackle?"

Undeniably, Kiel has been shredding defenses with impressive numbers, but the problem is Cincinnati's defense has been shredded even more. Through three games, Cincinnati has surrendered 36.0 points and 545.7 yards per outing, which ranks 108th and 125th, respectively, out of 128 programs.

The Bearcats can improve considering they've played two fewer games than Miami and are still settling down. However, that doesn't mean Cincinnati is magically turning into an elite defense before Saturday, Oct. 11.

Sun Life Stadium workers must make sure the scoreboard is completely functional because the 'Canes and Bearcats will be lighting it up. Miami holds a slight edge, though, since its defense can earn a few more stops.

Prediction: Miami 41, Cincinnati 36

 

Virginia Tech, Oct. 23

No matter what happens between now and Thursday, Oct. 23, this rivalry game is a must-win for both teams.

Should the 'Canes knock off Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech, they'll likely be in control of the Coastal. But if Miami loses to the Yellow Jackets, it needs this win to have a fighting chance at the division title.

The Hokies have already fallen once in conference play, collapsing at home to Georgia Tech. North Carolina and Pittsburgh stand in Virginia Tech's way before Miami, and collecting all three ACC victories will be challenging for Frank Beamer's squad.

In years past, defensive coordinator Bud Foster has made life difficult for the Hurricanes offense. In 2014, however, the Virginia Tech cornerbacks have played an absurd amount of man coverage with no safety help over the top.

East Carolina and Western Michigan both torched Hokies defensive backs, so Miami speedsters Phillip Dorsett, Stacy Coley and Herb Waters are poised to burn them, too. Quarterback Brad Kaaya has thrown a handful of simply outstanding deep passes, and those opportunities figure to be plentiful against Virginia Tech.

According to Andy Bitter of The Roanoke Times, cornerback Brandon Facyson will likely take a medical redshirt, furthering the concerns in the secondary.

With all that being said, the Hokies hold a few critical advantages: Lane Stadium, on a Thursday night, in a must-win situation. The environment will be electric, and the home team will be emotionally fired up.

But similar to the last three years, the wild card remains Virginia Tech's quarterback. The 'Canes twice made Logan Thomas look like a superstar during his otherwise roller-coaster tenure in Blacksburg, and 2014 quarterback Michael Brewer has been equally inconsistent, if not more.

The Texas Tech transfer has already tossed 10 interceptions, and many of the turnovers were simply terrible decisions. Unless Brewer shows notable improvement by eliminating poor choices against the UNC and Pitt defenses, Miami will be favored to win a close battle.

Prediction: Miami 24, Virginia Tech 20

 

Note: Cincinnati and Virginia Tech scores subject to change because game-changing circumstances may arise between this writing and kickoff. Official predictions will be available in a matchup preview at the beginning of the respective week. Stats and rankings courtesy of CFBStats.com.

Follow Bleacher Report college football writer David Kenyon on Twitter: @Kenyon19_BR.

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4-Star 2016 CB Saivion Smith Earns ND Offer: Can Irish Pull Florida Standout?

During the middle of Notre Dame’s bye week two weeks ago, Irish running backs coach Tony Alford hit the Sunshine State in search of future targets on the recruiting trail. 

His travels led him to IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida. He offered 2016 4-star wideout Tavares "T.J" Chase on his trip, but he also made sure to introduce himself to talented 2016 corner Saivion Smith while he was on campus. 

Less than two weeks later, that introduction paid off for Smith, as he received some good news from Alford earlier this week. 

“Tony Alford actually reached out to me,” Smith told Bleacher Report. “I called him up last night and we had a long conversation and he offered me at the end of the conversation. I really like Notre Dame. They have a great tradition, a great background and a good coaching staff.”

The 6’1”, 175-pound Smith—who is a 4-star prospect tabbed as the nation’s seventh-best corner and No. 59 player overall in the 2016 class—admitted that he coveted an offer from Brian Kelly and his staff after seeing his good friend earn one days earlier. 

“I was really excited when I got the offer,” Smith said. “I know about their academics. My friend T.J. got offered a little while ago so I was kind of jealous, but I was proud of him and happy for him.”

Smith transferred to IMG in the offseason after beginning his prep career at Lakewood High School in nearby St. Petersburg. 

The new surroundings have helped Smith thrive, as he’s recorded five interceptions—two of which he’s returned for touchdowns—a forced fumble and a blocked extra point attempt in just six games.

“It’s great,” Smith said of his new home. “The coaches here are great. Learning all the new techniques here, it’s kind of prepared me for what is coming. Most high schools don’t really offer that.”

In addition the Irish, Smith has earned offers from powers such as Florida State, Florida, Ohio State, Clemson and UCLA, among others.

He visited UCF, Florida, Clemson and Virginia Tech in the summer, and he was present for Florida State’s win over Clemson earlier this month.

Smith doesn’t have any more visits planned, instead preferring to focus on his current season at IMG. However, he did mention Alabama and USC as teams he is hoping to hear more from.

Smith insists that he’s in no rush to narrow his options, and a commitment isn't in his immediate plans. 

“I actually have to take more visits before I narrow it down to a list, or even get close to making my decision,” Smith said.

One factor he did mention that will play a role in his decision is each school’s academic background. Smith—who reports a 3.0 GPA—hopes to major in sports management in college. Until he makes it to the next level, his current goals are simply to keep growing and progressing on and off the gridiron.

“My goals off the field are to get to a 4.0 GPA or higher, and on the field, I just want to focus on trying to help the team win the rest of our games,” Smith said. “Hopefully we win a state title and get ranked as high as possible nationally.”

 

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

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Devin Gardner Named Michigan's Starting Quarterback vs. Rutgers

With the University of Michigan's 2014 college football season fading fast, embattled head coach Brady Hoke is putting his trust back in Devin Gardner at quarterback.    

According to Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports, Gardner will start for the Wolverines on Saturday against Rutgers one week after being benched in favor of Shane Morris:

With Michigan sitting at 2-3 and coming off consecutive losses, Hoke gave his senior signal-caller a vote of confidence, per Mike Sullivan of 97.1 The Ticket in Detroit:

This decision comes on the heels of major controversy regarding Morris. The sophomore left last week's game against Minnesota after sustaining a helmet-to-helmet hit early in the fourth quarter that left him visibly wobbly. (He was later diagnosed with a "probable mild concussion.") However, he later re-entered the game for one play after Gardner lost his helmet during a run, despite not receiving clearance to return from the team's medical staff.

Hoke has come under fire since the incident. He released a statement suggesting he initially removed Morris from the game due to the aggravation of an earlier leg injury, according to Nicole Auerbach of USA Today:

Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon then blamed miscommunication for Morris being allowed back on the field, per Jon Solomon of CBS Sports:

Tyler Donahue of Bleacher Report weighed in on how the uncertainty surrounding the program has negatively impacted recruiting:

Hoke was already on the hot seat due to his team's awful play, but this Morris situation only turned up the heat more. The sophomore signal-caller isn't even "listed as an option for the Rutgers game," per ESPN.com's Dan Murphy

Hoke probably needs to go on a major run for the rest of the season in order to possibly retain his job. The final nail in the coffin may have been the mishandling of Morris' injury, though, and reverting to Gardner isn't likely to change that.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter

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Why Auburn Needs WR D'haquille Williams to Be a Difference Maker Against LSU

AUBURN, Ala. — Last December, Auburn recorded a huge victory against LSU on the recruiting trail with the signing of D'haquille "Duke" Williams.

This Saturday, Auburn will hope to secure another win against its SEC West rival with the help of the ultra-talented wide receiver it pried away from Louisiana.

"[Williams] is going to be a great luxury for us no matter who we're playing, but a week like this week, they've got really long, athletic guys that can cover," offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said. "Hopefully our big wideouts will match up well and play well against them and we can make some plays."

Williams, the former No. 1 overall junior college recruit, was once committed to play for his in-state Tigers but later flipped and signed with the ones from Alabama.

"We really just sold Auburn," Lashlee said. "Auburn's a great place, he came here and fell in love with it. I think home is home to anybody, but I think he was interested in maybe a fresh start somewhere. He fell in love with it, we tried to sell what we had to offer, we had a great need, and it just kind of worked out." 

After a full spring and summer of practices to get him acclimated to Gus Malzahn's uptempo offense, Auburn wasted no time in getting the ball to Williams.

In his debut, an important divisional showdown with a much-improved Arkansas team, the former Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College star recorded the team's best single-game receiving performance since the 2010 SEC Championship Game.

"Honestly, I didn't come in and think I was going to have a big game like this," Williams said after Auburn's 45-21 win against the Razorbacks. "But I just kept catching the ball and catching the ball, making plays. As the game went on, the ball kept coming to me, so I just had to make big plays for my team."

The ball kept coming to Williams the next week against San Jose State, when he added 60 more yards to his season tally.

It continued two weeks later at Kansas State, where he caught a late third-down pass from Nick Marshall on a double move to put the nail in the Wildcats' coffin.

And the ball headed in his direction back home against Louisiana Tech last Saturday—although he had to reach a bit more for it to record an impressive one-handed touchdown catch.

"He just has a special gift," Malzahn said after Auburn's recent 45-17 victory. "He knows how to catch the ball, so it doesn’t surprise me."

This weekend, Auburn's coaches and fans alike will hope the ball continues to come to Williams because the Tigers will need some of his "special gifts" against the team that almost signed him.

Standing at 6'4" with top-level athleticism and ball skills, Williams has been the perfect addition to an Auburn offense that was deadly but one-dimensional in 2013.

In 2014, with a couple of pieces from the nation's top rushing attack off to the NFL, the Tigers have been more prone to air it out—mostly to Williams, as former leading receiver Sammie Coates continues to recover from a nagging injury.

Williams has played on the inside and the outside of Auburn's offense so far this season, creating matchup problems for any opposing defense, no matter what scheme it might use.

While Coates, the No. 3 player nationally in yards per catch last season, was primarily a deep-ball target for play-action passes, Williams provides an intermediate threat Auburn lacked last season against LSU and the rest of the SEC.

"He's huge when you [go against] anybody in our league because you're going to get more man coverage, so it gives us another receiver that can win against man coverage," Lashlee said. "Last year, we were kind of limited with [Coates]. It's also just huge in general, because it makes it hard for people to double and take certain guys away when we've got more than one guy."

As Williams said after the Arkansas game, "You can't double-team everybody."

Although LSU's defense has been weak against the run when playing power conference teams this season, Auburn will need to throw the ball to defeat the Bayou Bengals in Jordan-Hare Stadium this Saturday.

LSU has had a top-30 pass defense each of the last five seasons and is currently No. 5 nationally by allowing only 130 yards per game through the air, but big games from top receivers have been factors in the Tigers' more recent losses.

With the exception of a pair of conservative, run-heavy Alabama teams, each team that has defeated LSU since the 2012 Chick-fil-A Bowl against Clemson has had a receiver go for more than 100 yards: 

In each of these losses, one receiver was able to record more than 100 yards by hitting LSU's secondary for big gains through the air.

As a healthy receiver with NFL-ready talent, Williams is an easy candidate for that role in this season's edition of the Tiger Bowl.

With that in mind, Auburn's plan of attack with the pass is simple.

"He's a great player," Lashlee said. "We need to get him the ball."

 

All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports. All stats courtesy of CFBStats.com.

Justin Ferguson is Bleacher Report's lead Auburn writer. Follow him on Twitter @JFergusonAU.

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Comparing J.T. Barrett's and Braxton Miller's First 4 Starts Under Urban Meyer

When Braxton Miller suffered a season-ending shoulder injury during fall camp, J.T Barrett was instantly thrust into the national spotlight as Ohio State's new starting quarterback.

Now four games into the season, Barrett has settled in, producing at a high level as the trigger man of Urban Meyer's spread offense. The Buckeyes are 3-1—the lone setback coming via Virginia Tech and a defensive scheme Ohio State was woefully unprepared to attack. 

Following the upset loss, Barrett rebounded by orchestrating back-to-back routs of Kent State and Cincinnati. The redshirt freshman is playing so well, in fact, that a question about a potential 2015 quarterback controversy was posed to Urban Meyer this week. 

"Braxton's our quarterback," Meyer said when looking ahead to next season, according to Bleacher Report's Ben Axelrod. "To be fair, Braxton's the Big Ten Player of the Year. But it's good to know we've got both of them."

History has proved that a good quarterback is imperative to the success of Meyer's teams. With Alex Smith at Utah, Tim Tebow at Florida and now Miller at Ohio State, that success has been sustained throughout his head coaching career.

It's early, but Barrett appears to be next in line as one of Meyer's star signal-callers. While they have different strengths, Barrett has proved himself capable of standing in for Miller.

Here's a look at how the two quarterbacks measured up in their first four starts under Meyer.

 

Similar Production

After toiling through a freshman season with an interim head coach (Luke Fickell) and a team with no offensive identity, hopes were high for Milller when Meyer took over in 2012. The Buckeyes were embarking on a new era, and their new coach had a quarterback who was perfectly suited to his spread system.

That became evident very quickly. 

Against Miami (Ohio) in the Buckeyes' season opener, Miller piled up 368 total yards and three touchdowns in a 56-10 victory. He set a single-game school record for rushing yards by a quarterback with 161, highlighted by a 65-yard touchdown dash that showcased his speed and a nasty stutter step.

That was just a preview. In Ohio State's following three matchups against UCF, Cal and UAB, Miller thrived and ended up wracking up 1,195 total yards and 14 touchdowns over his first four games.

Barrett has been marginally more productive.

Through four games, Barrett has accumulated 1,292 total yards of total offense (97 more than Miller) to complement 14 touchdowns.

Much like his mentor, Barrett made quick work of etching his name in Ohio State's history book. Facing Kent State in Week 3, Barrett tied a single-game school record with six passing touchdowns—a mark he reached midway through the third quarter.

Both quarterbacks got off to incredibly fast starts during their opening seasons under Meyer. 

 

Different Strengths

Miller's advantage over Barrett is obvious the moment you watch them in action. Miller has game-breaking speed—a strength that makes him lethal on the ground running plays such as the zone read. 

But Barrett is much further along as a passer at this point in his career. 

In Ohio State's first four games, Barrett averaged 271.8 passing yards per game. Miller's career-best passing performance came last year against Penn State, when he threw for 252 yards (almost 20 yards shy of Barrett's average) in a 63-14 rout of Penn State. 

Of course, you could make the case that Barrett is benefiting from an improved group of wide receivers. That's an element that Ohio State's offense has lacked during Miller's time in Columbus, and this season was supposed to be the year Meyer paired a dangerous group of perimeter playmakers with one of college football's best dual-threat quarterbacks.

That didn't pan out, though, giving way to Barrett's sudden explosion. And judging from his first four starts, it looks like Ohio State's future is very bright.

 

All stats via Ohio State's official website

David Regimbal covers Ohio State football for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Big Ten's Playoff Hopes on the Line in Week 6

Remember when the Big Ten was unofficially out of the playoff picture? It wasn't that long ago.

The death of the Big Ten, as Bleacher Report's Adam Kramer lamented, happened in Week 2. That's when Nebraska needed a miracle from running back Ameer Abdullah to beat McNeese State. That's when Michigan was shut out 31-0 by Notre Dame. That's when Ohio State was stunned by Virginia Tech in The Horseshoe and Michigan State found itself unable to beat Oregon on the road.

The conference is 5-11 against fellow power-five schools heading into Week 6, with its best win easily being Indiana's upset over Missouri on the road.

For the most part, though, there have been sweeping narratives about how lowly the Big Ten has been.

However, the Big Ten's playoff chances also rest partially on what happens in Week 6—not solely on what happened in early September.

The first fact that should be addressed is that many of the bad losses and close calls came from teams that aren't realistically in the playoff picture—or aren't anymore, at least.

Sure, Purdue was pummeled by Central Michigan, but it's also fair to wonder whether the Boilermakers will win three games this year. Iowa, which had a close call against Ball State, is looking more and more like a middle-of-the-road conference team.

The top of the Big Ten is what matters.

The likes of Michigan State and undefeated Nebraska shouldn't be counted out just yet. In fact, Bleacher Report's resident playoff guru, Sam Chi, has the Spartans and Huskers in his latest mock playoff standings at No. 13 and No. 16, respectively.

As it happens, the marquee Big Ten game in Week 6 is Nebraska's trip to Michigan State.

There's a lot on the line beyond just another win. Abdullah, second in the nation with 833 rushing yards, could continue his ever-growing Heisman Trophy campaign against a defense that allows fewer than three yards per rushing attempt.

A win on the road against Michigan State would look great for Nebraska's playoff resume. It would also remove much of the bad taste left over from the win over McNeese State. The season is still young, but a road win in East Lansing would undoubtedly launch Nebraska into a greater postseason discussion.

Conversely, the Spartans can ill afford to lose another game. A win over Oregon in Week 2 could have bought some forgiveness. By itself, there's nothing wrong with Sparty's road loss against a quality opponent. Anyone who watched that game knows Michigan State hung with Oregon in a way the box score simply doesn't show.

If the selection committee is going to punish teams that lose quality games, what's the point of scheduling them?

Still, a two-loss team is going to have a steep hill to climb to even think about a playoff spot.

If Spartans coach Mark Dantonio had it his way, only conference champions would make the playoff. That's likely Michigan State's only path now—and that's if it wins every game going forward.

"My vision is you should be a champion of your league before you can be a champion of the country," Dantonio told reporters. "That would be my vision, if I was doing it. Might not happen like that. But that would be my vision."

Do top Big Ten teams need help getting into the playoff? Possibly, but that's why there are two full months of college football left. Let everything play out.

No one in the discussion for one of the four coveted spots is truly out of the running yet.

Reports of the Big Ten's death in regard to the playoff picture may have been greatly exaggerated.

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand.  

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

10 Programs That Should Be Better at Recruiting but Still Struggle

Tradition, geography and on-field performance are just a few of the factors that help programs build a successful recruiting class.

Also, anytime a new coaching staff is brought in, that new blood and energy can help boost a program that has been searching for a shot of energy on the recruiting trail.

However, there are some programs that struggle despite possessing at least one or more of the elements listed above.

Which programs fall under the category of schools who struggle in recruiting and have room to improve in that area?

*Teams listed in alphabetical order.

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Kansas Football: Program Is in Shambles, and It's Going to Be Hard to Get out

The Kansas Jayhawks football team has been hapless for a few years now, prompting most fans to assume that it has always been like that.  But actually, it hasn’t.

Only six years ago, in early 2008, the Jayhawks beat Virginia Tech to win the Orange Bowl.  That year they went 12-1, Mark Mangino won national coach of the year and the Kansas program looked toward the future with promise.

But then the university administrators made their first big mistake.  They ousted Mangino amid reports that he had mistreated his players.  One specific report claimed he grabbed a player and put his finger in his chest, and some former players called Mangino insensitive and said he made embarrassing remarks about them during games or practice.

Is it that serious of an issue? 

Personally, I don’t think it is.  The kid was probably being disrespectful and causing a disturbance, and Mangino got angry.  But the way our society has changed, it is understandable that so much emphasis was put on that type of infraction.

Should Mangino have been fired?

No way.  He did a fine job of turning things around in Lawrence, and he had a plan firmly in place for more future success. 

However, Kansas made their decision.  I think it was the wrong move, but they could have easily made up for it by hiring a better coach.  They then hired Turner Gill, a former Nebraska quarterback.  He could never get anything going, and he was canned after two terrible seasons.

Still, they had a chance to get it right.  They had a host of names on the market to replace Gill.

Then-Houston coach Kevin Sumlin, then-Connecticut coach Randy Edsall, and former Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn were reportedly the top targets, but Kansas went a different direction.

Instead of hiring an up-and-coming star to pace the sidelines, they opted to go with someone who did nothing but lose in his prior college coaching stop.  Kansas handed the reins to Charlie Weis, who somehow found a way to lose at Notre Dame despite having abundant talent at his disposal.

Weis was revered as a terrific offensive mind during his tenure as an NFL offensive coordinator, winning four Super Bowls in the process, but the Jayhawks were never able to move the ball in his tenure.  Weis only won six games in two-and-a-half seasons, including a horrid 1-18 record in Big 12 play.

And after a 23-0 loss to Texas where the offense once again was hapless, Weis was fired.

Now, Kansas is back to where they were in 2009 when they fired Mangino.  Except this time, it is worse.

Then, at least they were coming off some winning seasons and there was some talent on the roster for the new coach to inherit.  Now, the team is in absolute shambles.

Meanwhile, the batch of coaches whom Kansas could have had is thriving.  Sumlin has Texas A&M as one of the premier teams in the SEC, Malzahn resurrected the Auburn program into a championship contender and Edsall is still overseeing a rebuilding effort at Maryland.

It is ludicrous to think that the Kansas athletic department picked Charlie Weis over those hot names, but then again, there is a reason why Kansas has been really bad for so long.

Not surprising, the list of potential replacements is not nearly as favorable as it was three years ago.  Former Ole Miss head coach and USC interim coach Ed Orgeron, Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables and Nebraska offensive coordinator Tim Beck are rumored to be in the conversation, but they all have their negatives.

Orgeron floundered at Ole Miss, and the other two have zero head coaching experience.

Keep in mind that Kansas is not exactly a place that everyone wants to go.  For a young coach, it is probably not very high on any list of dream destinations.

It is out in the middle of nowhere, the program has been awful recently and the Big 12 is loaded with solid teams, meaning it is going to be a long road to becoming even bowl-eligible.  Also, Kansas is known as a basketball school, so anything that happens on the gridiron will always be overshadowed by what happens on the hardwood.

KU defensive coordinator Clint Bowen will take over as the interim head coach, but once this regular season is in the books, it will be time to make a decision regarding the next coach.

Nobody knows whom they will decide to hire, but their track record does not bode well for future success.  The athletic department has come up empty on its last two hires, so they are either due to find a gem this time around or are doomed for another bad one.

I think they need to branch out a bit in their search.  There are a huge crop of coaches who need to be in the conversation.  Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris is one of the best around, Baylor offensive coordinator Philip Montgomery has overseen one of the best collegiate offenses in history and knows how to exploit Big 12 defenses.  Whether or not those two would even be interested in to be determined, but they should at least get an interview.

Either way, Kansas might currently be the hardest job in America.  Things can’t get any worse in Lawrence, but the university and its fans are going to need a ton of patience if they ever want to see a competitive team again.

Kansas has made bad decision after bad decision, and whomever they name as the new coach is going to feel the burden of all those mistakes.

And after every loss, check box scores from around the country, because chances are Kevin Sumlin and Gus Malzahn led their respective teams to victory.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Week 6 Predictions: Picking Top-25 Games Against the Spread

Two televisions will not suffice.

To truly appreciate the depth and overall brilliance of Week 6 of the college football season, you’re going to need more. Grab that credit card and take that SUV to the nearest electronics hub, fit as many flat screens in the back as you possibly can and worry about the credit card bill when it arrives.

After a relatively slow start to the season, we have patiently—or perhaps impatiently—waited for a slate of games just like this. From top to bottom, there might not be a more compelling lineup of matchups all year.

Because of this, you must treasure every moment on the seven to 10 flat screens you are soon to purchase.

In the world of point spreads, Week 6 presents plenty of intriguing stances made by oddsmakers. And as is tradition, we’re picking winners for all games featuring teams in the current AP Top 25.

After three winning weeks in a row, Week 5 served as a bit of a setback. Not to fear; we’re simply loosening up our arm. Monster week, ahoy.

 

All spreads are courtesy of Odds Shark unless noted otherwise.

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Ohio State Football: Joey Bosa Is Already Next Great Buckeye Defender

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Never shy to interact with his fans (and media members) on Twitter, it's no secret to Joey Bosa's 20,000-plus followers that the Ohio State defensive end is a fan of music and video games.

But for Bosa, there's at least one activity that trumps his passion for deadmau5 and Destiny: quarterback sacks.

That was apparent on Saturday, when the super sophomore couldn't stop smiling following the Buckeyes' 50-28 win over Cincinnati. After all, it was Bosa's first-quarter sack-turned-safety of Bearcats quarterback Gunner Kiel that played a key role in Ohio State jumping out to a 30-7 lead in the first half.

“It’s pretty much why I play the game,” Bosa said of the play. “It’s why I play football, to go out there and have fun with my friends and hit the quarterback in the face.”

If that's the case, then his college career has already been a blast for Bosa.

Breaking into the Buckeyes' starting lineup as a true freshman a season ago, the Fort Lauderdale, Florida, native made an immediate impact, recording 44 tackles, 13.5 of which came for a loss and 7.5 sacks en route to being named a Freshman All-American by Sporting News and the Football Writers Association of America.

And thus far, the 6'5", 278-pounder has avoided a sophomore slump, tallying 10 tackles, 4.5 of which have come for a loss and 2.5 sacks through Ohio State's first four games of 2014.

When he lured the former 5-star prospect from storied St. Thomas Aquinas High School a year ago, Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer figured he was getting something special in Bosa. But even he's been surprised by how quickly the Sunshine State product has made his presence felt.

"I thought we'd have a guy that would be pretty much game-ready because he went to a really quality high school program," Meyer said. "I didn't imagine he'd be this ready. He's extremely strong and quick and relentless. And on top of that he loves and understands the game.”

It doesn't hurt that football runs in the bloodline of Bosa, the son of former Boston College defensive tackle John Bosa and nephew of Ohio State linebacker Eric Kumerow. But while both his father and uncle were selected by the Miami Dolphins with first-round picks in 1987 and 1988, respectively, Joey has a chance to be the best of the bunch, as evidenced by Meyer's preseason proclamation that Bosa "is as good a defensive end as anybody in America."

That's obviously high praise from the third-year Buckeyes head coach, but it's not a coincidence that CBSSports.com analyst Dane Brugler is already projecting Bosa to potentially be the top overall pick in the 2016 NFL draft. Adding to Bosa's reputation as well has been OSU linebacker and ESPN analyst Chris Spielman, who has compared him to Houston Texans star J.J. Watt.

But despite all of the praise that's already been heaped on Bosa, Buckeyes co-defensive coordinator Luke Fickell believes that he's yet to scratch the surface of his potential. A defensive tackle at Ohio State from 1993-96, Fickell played alongside arguably the greatest defensive lineman in Buckeye history in Mike Vrabel and sees similar traits in the young Ohio State star.

“The sky’s the limit for that guy with his abilities...he is a very dominating force. He’s tough. He’s a guy that’s got the speed that’s able to get the edge, but he’s got the power to do some things inside. It’s an unbelievable combination," Fickell said. "I haven’t seen a whole lot of guys like it, but we’re still going to expect him to continue to grow. Joey’s got a lot of growth he can continue to do."

That's bad news for the rest of the Big Ten, which has already felt the wrath of a player who's not even at the halfway point of his second college season yet. As for his teammates, they're just glad that they get to reap the benefits of Bosa's game-changing hits, as opposed to having them come against their own offense.

"He changed the whole course of the game by hitting Gunner Kiel like that and forcing that safety," said senior defensive tackle Michael Bennett. "It gave us incredible momentum, and Gunner was kind of looking for him from that point on. I love the kid. He makes plays for us.”

"He’s a freak," added junior nickelback Armani Reeves. "He does things that some D-ends, you’re just like, ‘Wow.’ He’s a great player and when you see his hits like that, you’re looking at greatness. You’re watching greatness. He’s a great player and I’m just happy he’s on our side.”

Having already accomplished so much so soon in his college career, it's not unrealistic to think that Bosa will one day leave Columbus as the greatest defensive lineman in school history. He likely won't stick around long enough to eclipse the 36 career sacks that Vrabel—the man who recruited him to Ohio State as a position coach—set as the program standard, but that hasn't stopped Meyer from comparing him to another Buckeye great, and then some.

“I think John Simon," Meyer answered when asked if Bosa reminds him of any other player he's coached. "He's a little more talented than John, a little longer. But John Simon had that same—you watch those two play in practice and compete and there's a mindset.

"Everybody knows how we all feel about John Simon. But to even mention someone in that same vein, who is a few inches taller and a little longer, that's pretty rare air."

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Rapid-Fire Predictions for College Football's Biggest Matchups in Week 6

College football Week 6 is gearing up to be a special one. Many are referring to it as "Survival Saturday" because of the heavy volume of high-ranking teams squaring off. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder, Barrett Sallee and Adam Kramer dish out their mock headlines for this intense week on the gridiron.

What will be the biggest surprise this weekend?

Watch the video and let us know! 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Predicting the Winner of Each College Football Conference After Week 5

Well, September is officially behind us, and we’re through a month of the college football season.

Every team in the Football Bowl Subdivision has had multiple opportunities to impress us, or, in some cases, make their teams long for the beginning of basketball practice.

Two coaches (Kansas’ Charlie Weis and SMU’s June Jones) have already departed, and the heat has been turned up on others, like Michigan’s Brady Hoke.

We might not know everything about college football (and we’ll find out plenty more this weekend), but now we can evaluate teams at least a little better than we could before.

So this is an excellent opportunity to project the winners of every FBS conference. Projections are based on performance thus far, schedules and observations made over the course of September.

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Georgia Football: Dawgs Offense Faces Huge Dilemma

No matter how you slice it, it's hard to be overwhelmed with the fruits of Georgia's labors in the passing game this season.  Though the prolonged absence of key playmaking receivers Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley has hurt, it's still difficult for some to reconcile the general mediocrity of the Bulldogs' aerial assault.

Senior quarterback Hutson Mason is completing 69 percent of his passes—a perfectly respectable number—but through four games, he's thrown for a meager 566 yards.  And his two-interception performance against Tennessee has some calling for a change.

A change may in fact be necessary for the quarterback position in Athens, but it may not necessarily be regarding personnel.  As it stands, the huge dilemma the Dawgs offense now faces is more philosophical.

 

Recognizing Strengths

It should be noted, perhaps first and foremost, that Georgia's offense is not broken.  For every fan clamoring for offensive coordinator Mike Bobo's head, there are a handful of defenses praising his unit's execution. 

The fact that Georgia is averaging over 45 points per game through four contests—all of which have come against FBS opposition and two of which came against ranked foes—is overlooked all too often.  And ironically, fans are quick to laud junior running back Todd Gurley as a Heisman Trophy candidate and demand that he be fed while failing to recognize that his workload will decrease efforts in the passing game.

And to both of those ends—Georgia's ability to score and run the ball effectively—it should be hard to question what Bobo is doing with his personnel.  After all, Georgia ranks eighth in the nation in scoring thanks to a ground attack that is also in the top 10.

To date, Georgia has recognized its strength, relied upon it and (for the most part) won football games.  Sure, the South Carolina loss was bitterly disappointing, and perhaps play-calling during that contest was situationally bizarre, but was that loss squarely on the shoulders of Bobo and Mason?  Defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt didn't think so.

"They ought to be raking me over the coals," Pruitt told Chip Towers of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution after the loss to South Carolina.  "You score 35 points, you're supposed to win."

 

What Could Come

As long as Georgia does score at least 35 points—something the Bulldogs have done in every game this year—victory will be expected.  But at some point, Georgia's impressive ground attack is going to meet its match.  It's just not feasible for this team to average seven yards per carry throughout the entire season.

The question when that time comes will be, how will Georgia's offense respond?  The question right now is, how does Georgia prepare for that day?

On paper, Vanderbilt is a fairly innocuous opponent.  Sure, the Commodores upset an injury-riddled Georgia team last year, but there's no tangible reasoning that would suggest Vandy keeps this game too close. 

And that's where the dilemma sets in.  Against Vanderbilt, Georgia will have two options on offense—both of which will likely yield a lopsided victory for the Dawgs.  Bobo could continue to rely on Gurley and a host of capable running backs to wear the Commodores down into submission.  Or he could place an emphasis on developing the passing game.

On one hand, why would he dilute a winning formula?  On the other, shouldn't this team prepare for a scenario in which a passing game is necessary to garner victory?

Ultimately, the latter seems the more viable solution—at least for this game against an outmatched opponent.  Putting an emphasis on the passing attack may irk fans, but it will also give Mason and his receivers (potentially even Mitchell and Scott-Wesley) a chance to stretch the field in a relatively low-risk environment.  Further, such a game plan minimizes injury risk to the team's greatest asset, Gurley.

If things along these lines go well against Vanderbilt, fans and players alike will have more confidence heading into road showdowns with Missouri and Arkansas.  If the emphasis on moving the ball through the air doesn't pan out, then the team is back at square one—relying on a stable of running backs.

But don't forget that square one has been pretty impressive this season.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Is Mississippi State Football Finally for Real in 2014?

Flash in the pan or staying power?

That will be what's on the line on Saturday afternoon in Starkville, Mississippi, for the No. 12 Mississippi State Bulldogs, who host the No. 6 Texas A&M Bulldogs in one of three enormous Week 6 SEC West games.

After a 34-29 upset of LSU two weeks ago, this is the game that can solidify the Bulldogs not only as a competitive team in the nation's toughest division but a contender for the division title.

They'll prove it on Saturday afternoon against the Aggies.

Cracks emerged last weekend for Texas A&M in the overtime win over Arkansas, particularly in its rush defense, which gave 285 yards on the ground to the potent Hogs rushing attack.

Sure, cornerback Deshazor Everett was named SEC Defensive Player of the Week with 16 tackles, but when a corner plays that much of a factor in the running game, it isn't a good thing. A&M's linebackers were caught out of position often and missed several tackles, which was a problem that plagued the Aggies last season.

While it looks much different, Mississippi State can exploit Texas A&M's defense in a similar way that Arkansas did. Even without center Dillon Day—who was suspended this week for stomping on two LSU players last week—the Bulldog offensive line is fast, physical and is a big reason why Mississippi State's multidimensional rushing attack is so successful.

Running back Josh Robinson is third in the SEC in rushing yards per game (121.25), and quarterback Dak Prescott leads all SEC quarterbacks with 94.5 rushing yards per game.

"You’ve got a completely different attack," Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin said in quotes emailed by the university. "Spread attacks get lumped into the same group and that’s not necessarily the case. There’s no doubt these guys like to run the ball from this attack. The quarterback is part of the run game."

That offense will replicate the success that Arkansas had last week and will force Texas A&M into a shootout.

This time, though, quarterback Kenny Hill won't be able to keep up.

Lighting up South Carolina is nice. Doing the same in a big win over Arkansas is, too. Neither of those defenses come anywhere close to comparing to the one Mississippi State will trot out at Davis-Wade Stadium on Saturday.

The defensive line rotates up to nine or 10 players for a full four quarters, generates relentless pressure and the back end of that defense, while statistically not up to par (it's skewed by one bad performance), is loaded with talented cornerbacks like Jamerson Love and Taveze Calhoun.

"Jamerson is a real speed player for us," Mullen said during last week's teleconference. "Where [former Bulldogs] Johnthan [Banks] and [Darius] Slay also had some size. I think he's up there with those guys as that type of player. He's still improving, and there are some things he can get better at, but he certainly has the talent to play at the next level."

Everything is coming together for Mississippi State. The Bulldogs have a dynamic, veteran-laden offense combined with a defense that's loaded with depth and big-game experience.

This not only will help the Bulldogs top the Aggies in a game in which Mississippi State has gone from a slight home underdog to a 2.5-point favorite, according to OddsShark.com, but will help them stay in the mix for the SEC West title.

Does that mean the Bulldogs will win it?

It'll still be an uphill battle. A road trip to Alabama in mid-November will be a tall order, and they'll have to stay hot next week when the defending SEC champion Auburn Tigers roll into town.

They already have played a big role in who will win the division with their road win in Death Valley two weeks ago and will repeat the feat with a big win over Texas A&M on Saturday.

The LSU game was no fluke.

Mississippi State has staying power, and the team will prove it Saturday afternoon in Starkville.

 

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

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Florida State Football: 'Noles Unfazed by Latest Rankings Changes

The Florida State football team has opened 4-0 and has remained No. 1 in the AP poll but dropped to No. 2 in the coaches poll.

Still, coach Jimbo Fisher and the players have chosen to ignore the rankings and the changes.

"We can't control the polls," Fisher said. "All we have to do is keep winning. If we keep winning and doing what we do, we'll be fine."

One starter, tailback Karlos Williams, said Monday night that he didn't even know about the drop in the coaches poll until the topic was brought up by a reporter.

"It's about playing football," Williams said. "It's about wins and losses. We don't pay attention to it. It's called clutter."

Fisher loves to use the word "clutter" to describe what he considers unnecessary chatter about the program. He prefers to focus on improving his team and the program while preparing for Saturday's opponent.

FSU has been able to survive a challenging first month of the season, which has included "clutter" from the suspensions of wide receiver Jesus "Bobo" Wilson for the season opener and Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Jameis Winston for the Clemson game.

The Seminoles' 4-0 start has extended FSU's winning streak to 20 games. But a year after winning 12 of 14 games by 30 or more points, FSU escaped with a six-point win over Oklahoma State at Arlington, Texas, held off Clemson for a six-point overtime win and trailed 24-7 at North Carolina State before rallying to win 56-41.

FSU has won all three of its games against Football Bowl Subdivision teams while short-handed. Along with the suspensions of Wilson and Winston, three key Seminoles—defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. (concussion), defensive tackle Nile Lawrence-Stample (torn pectoral) and tailback Mario Pender (concussion)—missed the NC State game with injuries. Lawrence-Stample is out for the season.

Players feel like their mettle should be rewarded. Instead, it's been met by doubt.

"I don't have no doubts about Florida State," Williams said.

Some voters, however, do have doubts. Voters like style points, and FSU hasn't been winning like the 2013 team. FSU's win over the Wolfpack required a second-half rally, and despite putting up 535 total offensive yards and eight touchdowns, voters have adjusted their ballots.

FSU received 26 first-place votes in the coaches poll, a drop from the 36 first-place votes from the Sept. 21 poll. The Seminoles are still winning, but they are lacking when it comes to style points, a measure that is intangible but also clearly essential to voters.

"People can put us at 25; I really don't care," safety Tyler Hunter said. "We're still undefeated. We have to go out this week and play the game."

The polls don't hold quite the weight they once did. The BCS standings are now a thing of the past, and the four teams that earn spots in the College Football Playoff will be picked by a selection committee following the conference championship games on Dec. 7. The committee's first picks will be released on Oct. 28.

Up next for FSU is a home game with Wake Forest and then a road trip to Syracuse on Oct. 11. A potential top-10 showdown with Notre Dame (4-0) on Oct. 18 in Tallahassee, Florida, looms—a game that could feature two unbeaten teams that will have a tremendous impact on the national championship picture.

Bob Ferrante is the Florida State Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bob on Twitter. All statistics are courtesy of seminoles.com. All recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Week 6 Schedule: TV and Live Stream Info for Every Game

With conference games starting in full swing, Week 6 of the college football season will be the first chance for many top teams to truly prove themselves.

Saturday features six games between ranked teams, including four between squads in the Top 15. Obviously, there will be a lot of shake-up in the polls Sunday no matter what happens.

Just as importantly, the top teams looking to show they deserve a spot in the College Football Playoff will have to come through with strong performances this weekend.

Here is a guide to help you watch every game either on television or online.

Schedule courtesy of ESPN.comFor games without national or regional coverage on a major network, check local listings. 

 

Live Stream Info

Many of the games are also available online at one of these locations, although some need subscriptions:

ESPN: WatchESPN

SEC: CBSSports.com

Fox: Fox Sports Go

BTN: BTN2Go.com

Pac-12: Pac-12.com

ABC: ABC Live

CBS: CBSSports.com

NBC:NBC Live Extra 

 

Top Games to Watch

No. 3 Alabama at No. 11 Ole Miss

Ole Miss has not fared well against Alabama in recent memory, as noted by ESPN Stats & Info:

However, this time can be different. Safety Cody Prewitt explained it well, via Brandon Speck of FoxSports.com:

We understand that we haven't played a team that's going to be as good as Bama. But we don't really think Bama is as good as they have been. And we're better than we have been. We're looking forward to getting to the game plan and really nailing down all the tweaks and stuff that we're going to have to put into Bama.

This was not his way of taking a shot at Alabama or creating bulletin-board material, but it is true that this is Ole Miss' best chance at knocking off the Tide.

The Rebels have been great on defense this season, holding opponents to just 8.5 points per game to rank third in the nation. With senior quarterback Bo Wallace spreading the ball around, he has a chance to attack the Alabama defense in ways few others have done in the past.

The Tide allowed 21 points to a struggling Florida offense, so it's clear this unit can be beaten.

Still, the game will likely come down to turnovers. Wallace has already thrown six interceptions this year, something he has gotten away with so far but will not against an elite opponent. If he can take better care of the football, though, Ole Miss should be able to put points on the scoreboard.

With a relatively inexperienced offense trying to deal with the screaming fans in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, there is certainly potential for an upset. 

 

No. 14 Stanford at No. 9 Notre Dame

While there are a number of other big-time matchups, including various SEC battles and Oklahoma going on the road against TCU, the game between Stanford and Notre Dame could end up being the most important for the entire country.

It will be extremely difficult for the committee to decide which teams are the four best at the end of the season, mostly because it is tough to judge the conferences against one another. The good news is Notre Dame is here to bring everyone together.

With multiple opponents in the Big Ten, the Pac-12 and the ACC on the schedule, the Irish can help judge how the conferences stack up against one another. For example, a dominant win over Stanford on Saturday followed by a blowout loss at the hands of Florida State in a few weeks could seriously hurt the Pac-12's standing, especially if the Cardinal play well in conference.

However, Stanford has a chance to carry its entire conference with a strong performance, and it can do that with the No. 1 scoring defense in the country. The unit was elite last season but lost many key players. Still, Dave Fleming of ESPN believes it is even better:

Everett Golson has played well this season, but he will face a serious challenge in the upcoming game. If he struggles, this could end up being an easy win for the Cardinal.

 

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