NCAA Football

10 Best Players from the Michigan-Notre Dame Rivalry

Saturday night, one of college football’s great rivalries comes to an end, at least for now.

When Michigan and Notre Dame meet at Notre Dame Stadium, it will mark the final scheduled game between the longtime rivals until at least 2020. 

CBSSports.com's Jon Solomon says the rivals are preparing to say goodbye, at least for right now. 

Two years ago, the Fighting Irish opted to end the series with Michigan, citing the need for greater scheduling flexibility, including an agreement which will see as many as five ACC teams per year come onto the Irish’s schedule, beginning this fall.

That ends what has been one of the game’s more tightly contested rivalries. Since the series was renewed following a 35-year hiatus in 1978, Michigan holds a 15-14-1 edge, with a number of the games featuring big performances and thrilling finishes.

There have been a number of impressive individual efforts since the series resumed, afternoons that captured fans’ attention for one reason or another—depending on who you were rooting for.

Here’s a look at the top 10 players of the Michigan-Notre Dame rivalry. Players were evaluated by their statistical performances and contributions to their team’s efforts.

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Ohio State Football: Why Devin Smith Will Be Key Against Virginia Tech

It was late in the third quarter when Devin Smith—hoping to make a game-changing play—split wide against Navy.

Ohio State was off to a sluggish start in its season opener, trailing 14-13 late in the third quarter. The Buckeyes offense had only produced two field goals, with the sole touchdown coming via Darron Lee's fumble recovery and 62-yard return.

When the ball was snapped, J.T. Barrett faked a hand-off to Ezekiel Elliott, which caused a split-second hesitation from Navy's deep safety.

That was all Smith needed.

Barrett launched an underthrown ball and the senior wideout adjusted, hauled it in and shook the Midshipmen defender for the go-ahead 80-yard touchdown.

According to John Kampf of The Morning Journal, Smith knew it was only a matter of time.

“I knew once [Meyer] called my number, I was going to make a play.”

With Frank Beamer and the Virginia Tech Hokies coming to town this Saturday, the Buckeyes will need Smith to deliver in a similar fashion.

 

Loads of Potential, Fits of Inconsistency 

Smith has come up with a number of big plays during his time in Columbus.

Facing the eventual Big Ten champion Wisconsin Badgers as a freshman, Smith got behind the defense in the final 30 seconds for a game-winning 40-yard touchdown.

A year later, he torched Cal with a 72-yard touchdown catch and burned Michigan State deep for a 63-yard score, both of which gave the Buckeyes a lead they wouldn't surrender.

Throughout his career, Smith has made a habit of scoring big touchdowns. The senior is averaging 41.7 yards per touchdown reception, and a big part of that is because of his blazing speed.

Even with his explosive playmaking ability, Smith hasn't found a way to be a consistent threat for the Buckeyes. The coaching staff feels that Smith struggles when the matchup isn't right.

“He’s great when things are great, and when things are hard that’s when he needs to shine,” wide receiver coach Zach Smith said, according to Kyle Rowland of Eleven Warriors. “He’s been inconsistent in that.”

Things will certainly be hard this Saturday when the Buckeyes go up against Virginia Tech's stingy defense.

 

Making the Hokies Pay

Virginia Tech has one of the nation's most talented cornerback tandems in Kendall Fuller and Brandon Facyson. The pair combined for 11 interceptions, 19 pass breakups and 30 passes defended in 2013, according to the school's official website.

With that talent in the secondary, defensive coordinator Bud Foster will freely load the box to stop the run and send a variety of exotic blitzes at Barrett. Fuller and Facyson will press Ohio State's receivers at the line of scrimmage to limit the easy plays, such as bubble screens or quick slants.

That's why Smith will be key this Saturday.

"This is going to be a lot of bump and run, man coverage," Meyer said of the Hokies defense, according to Tim May of The Columbus Dispatch. "There will have to be plays made down the field."

Will Smith be able to get behind Virginia Tech's defense? With Foster's defensive scheme, there will certainly be plenty of opportunities. It will come down to whether Ohio State's deep threat is strong enough to get past the bump at the line of scrimmage.

If Smith can't do that, it could be a rough night for the Buckeyes. 

 

Unless otherwise notes, all stats viaOhioStateBuckeyes.com. 

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

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Notre Dame vs. Michigan: 5 Keys to an Irish Victory

Saturday evening, Notre Dame and Michigan will play the final scheduled game of a rivalry defined by contentious stops and starts.

What started with something as serious and vile as anti-Catholic blackballing by former Michigan athletic director Fielding Yost has turned into a rather petty "he said, he said" between athletic directors Dave Brandon and Jack Swarbrick.

Brandon claimed to be shocked when Swarbrick hand-delivered a letter on the sidelines before the 2012 game, declaring Notre Dame's decision to opt out of the automatic contract renewal.

While he won't talk about it publicly, fill Swarbrick with truth serum and his true feelings for Brandon would likely be revealed, unappreciative of the Brandon and head coach Brady Hoke's characterization of the Irish as "chickens"—something boldly broadcast to the 115,000 strong in Michigan Stadium last year.

But with the talking almost over and the football just a day away, the jousting now turns to the field, where several very important battles will determine whether Notre Dame or Michigan finishes this chapter of the rivalry victorious.

Let's take a look at five keys to an Irish victory.

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Texas Football: What the Longhorns Must Do to Stop BYU's Taysom Hill

Stopping Taysom Hill has been on the Longhorns' minds since the BYU quarterback shredded them for 259 rushing yards in last season's backbreaking 40-21 defeat.

Now that the offense will be down four starters, containing him and the rest of the BYU offense will be the only shot Texas has at avenging their humiliation on Saturday.

"Revenge, being amped up—I'm not into all of that," defensive coordinator Vance Bedford said at his Wednesday press conference. "I'll go back to years ago when I played here," the former Longhorn later added. "We walked on the field and we were supposed to win because we were The University of Texas and that's why we came here."

No matter the approach Bedford and the rest of Charlie Strong's staff takes, this is one of the three most important games of their entire season. And if they're going to win it, they will have to do it with their defense that the Cougars exposed a year ago.

David Ash is out indefinitely with a concussion, per multiple reports, forcing raw athlete Tyrone Swoopes to make his first start at quarterback. Making matters worse, the sophomore will be doing so behind an offensive line without its leader, Dom Espinosa (broken ankle), while starting tackles Desmond Harrison and Kennedy Estelle sit out for violating team rules.

With those four starters out, Texas' defense will have to buckle down on the unit that gashed it for the most rushing yards, first downs and offensive plays run in the program's history (per ESPN.com's Max Olson).

To do that, the Horns will have to slow down quarterback Hill, who rushed for 259 yards and three scores last time around, by keeping him inside, forcing him to make mistakes in the passing game and, quite simply, finishing tackles.

 

Keep Him Inside

Whether Texas wants to spy Hill on most downs or designate players to keep him from breaking runs to the outside, it has several options thanks to its unique personnel.

As SB Nation's Wescott Eberts points out, the goal with the 232-pound Hill should be to keep him contained between the tackles on runs. Furthermore, a member of the front seven needs to at least be slowing him down before he can bear down on any member of Texas' smaller secondary.

That means Texas is going to lean on athletic linebackers Demarco Cobbs and Jordan Hicks extensively in this game. Both have sideline-to-sideline ability along with the size to bring Hill down one-on-one. Watching Cobbs on his 28-yard interception return for a touchdown, don't be surprised to see him outright spying Hill throughout the night.

The other player that will have to step up here is junior defensive end Shiro Davis. The Cougars will test him so long as it means running away from Cedric Reed, so Davis must make good on his reputation as a run-stuffer to keep Hill in check.

 

Force Him into Mistakes as a Passer

If there is one obvious flaw in Hill's game, it's his accuracy as a passer and his knack for throwing it to the other team. By getting pressure in his face, the Horns can keep the pick party rolling.

Though he was sharp against Connecticut, which gave up 7.6 yards per attempt in 2013 (per cfbstats.com), there's no doubting that Hill is mistake-prone. He posted a 19-14 touchdown-to-interception ratio in 2013, throwing multiple picks in six games.

Reed will provide consistent pressure, but the entire defensive line is capable of getting hits on Hill. Malcom Brown had 12 tackles for loss last season, and third-year sophomore Hassan Ridgeway is coming off a career night as one of the team's most impressive physical talents.

Simply put, this group is far more talented than the Connecticut one that got one sack and two pressures on Hill a week ago. These guys will get into the backfield, and the back seven is licking its chops after a four-interception debut against North Texas.

 

Simply Finish Tackles

The biggest thing that Texas can do to stop Hill, and the rest of the BYU offense, should also be the simplest—finish tackles.

For each of the three touchdowns Hill ran in against Texas' "defense," there are at least three missed tackles due to some combination of bad angles and poor effort.

Bedford noticed this as well:

You know what, I've seen the game on television and I've seen the video numerous times, that's tough. I grew up in a wishbone era – Oklahoma, Alabama – and 300 yards rushing back in those days was something special. When you look at that, it's somewhat disappointing and shocking. If you look at the video, a few plays here and there and a guy makes a tackle or a guy does an assignment the right way, you can cut those numbers in half.

This inability to finish plays is a big reason why the last regime collapsed, and fixing it alleviates a massive portion of the team's defensive woes. The Horns have the size and the speed on paper but have lacked the results to match it.

Based on last week's performance in which they held North Texas under 100 yards of offense, the Longhorns look like they're finally ready to get guys on the ground. 

Considering that Strong has only given up 600 rushing yards to quarterbacks over the last 10 years (per Olson), that should be enough to keep Hill in check and give Texas a chance to slug out a victory.

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UTSA Punter Does 'Bernie' After Pinning Arizona at 3-Yard Line

Punters like to celebrate, too.

During the second quarter of Thursday night's game, UTSA punter Kristian Stern did the "Bernie" after pinning Arizona at its own 3-yard line. 

[Fox Sports 1]

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Ranking the 5 Most Important Seniors on the Nebraska Cornhuskers in 2014

Nebraska football fans know how important seniors are to the success of the Cornhuskers in 2014. Not only do seniors provide the leadership that sets the tone on the field and in the weight room, but seniors also tend to be the players who make the plays to win games.

So for Nebraska to be successful in 2014, NU’s seniors will have to shine. Here, in order of importance, are Nebraska’s five most critical seniors.

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BYU Football: Without Utah Game, Texas Poses as 2014 Rivalry

For the past 90-plus years, BYU and Utah have built one of the most heated rivalries in college football. The "Holy War" has been an annual meeting between the two, and with the game taking a break until 2016, neither team has a true rivalry contest on its schedule.

Luckily for the Cougars, Texas took last year's 40-21 loss in Provo personally.

BYU ran all over the Longhorn defense last September, and although now-UT coach Charlie Strong was still at Louisville, he's seen the tape (over and over) and won't let it happen again.

“That’s all we hear about is BYU,” defensive end Cedric Reed said, via Jeff Call of the Deseret News. “We’ve got BYU marked on our calendars.”

In a way, this will be the Cougars' rivalry game for 2014. Of course, they have Utah State on the schedule, but the Aggies have always filled the "little brother" role for BYU. And, despite a big game in Boise coming up, the Broncos are on the decline, and it may not be much of a game.

It's usually great to have a big-named, power-five team preparing for you like you are its rival. You want teams to treat you like you have the upper hand.

But at the same time, coach Bronco Mendenhall has struggled with preparing his teams for heated rivalry games. Considering he has gone 0-4 in the last four years against Utah, and 6-3 all-time, it is no shock to see him try to downplay the significance of Saturday's game.

“That will be the story all week, of what happened last year,” Mendenhall said, via Call. “But, man, I don’t think from a coach’s perspective that will impact the outcome of the game at all. … Ultimately, we still have to get prepared to play a football game.”

So prepare you shall. Especially when Strong has "Believe You're Unbeatable" signs in the UT locker room and some Texas fans are rewriting the Bible:

In all seriousness, Strong and his team are preparing for this game like none other. They don't consider losing as an option. Unless Mendenhall does the same, it will be very, very hard to leave Austin with a win on Saturday night. 

"Now [the Longhorns] look at us and they know we're not the underdogs no more," Cougar running back Jamaal Williams said, via ABC 4 Sports. "They know they've got to play us like we're a big team and we are a big team so it's going to be a great game."

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Virginia Tech Football: Report Card Grades for Every New Starter

In last week's season-opening win over William & Mary, several Virginia Tech Hokies made their college debuts. Freshmen accounted for three of Virginia Tech's four touchdowns, while another freshman handled all of the kicking duties.

In addition to the freshman class, Tech debuted a new quarterback, too. Michael Brewer, a transfer from Texas Tech, made his first start for the Hokies.

How'd they do?

Here are grades for all of VT's new starters from Week 1. 

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Stanford vs. USC: Impact Players Who Are Key to Outcome

Over the course of the last few years, the Pac-12 conference has become one of the strongest in all of college football. This Saturday, Stanford will take on USC with major conference and playoff implications.

Although it’s tough to predict the future, it will be extremely difficult to reach the College Football Playoff as a team with two losses. That means this conference battle between the Cardinal and the Trojans is more important than ever, with plenty of difficult games remaining on each team’s schedule.

Both programs have matchups against Arizona State, Notre Dame and UCLA remaining, while Stanford also takes a trip to Oregon in November. If either squad has intentions of reaching the playoff, then this game is a must-win.

Like any other conference game, the outcome is sure to be tight. This typically means a few plays and a couple of impact players will decide the game. Let’s break the game down and examine the players who will influence its result the most.

 

USC Quarterback Cody Kessler

Kessler is the most important player for this Trojan team. The quarterback was incredible in the team’s opening game against Fresno State.

The junior completed 25 of 37 passes for 394 yards and four touchdowns by using 10 different receivers. He also added 28 rushing yards and another score on the ground.

Head coach Steve Sarkisian’s uptempo offense worked wonders in his first game. The team ran 104 plays and gained a ridiculous 701 total yards.

Kessler will again be vital in USC’s efforts to take down Stanford. The Cardinal defense is much better than that of Fresno State’s, so the quarterback will have to remain patient and pick his spots.

Although they will probably try to run 100 plays again, the key for Kessler is to avoid turnovers and make smart plays. If the Trojans give Stanford more opportunities and good field position, then I don’t like their odds.

 

Stanford Wide Receiver Ty Montgomery

Like Kessler, Stanford wideout and all-around playmaker Ty Montgomery will be the driving force of the Cardinal attack.

In the season opener, Montgomery caught five passes for 77 yards and a score. The elusive receiver also returned his first career punt for a touchdown and put to bed all questions about his surgically repaired shoulder.

Montgomery is an amazing weapon to have and will be crucial in the game this weekend. The 6’2”, 215-pound senior is a defensive nightmare because of his versatility. In the victory over UC Davis, Montgomery lined up at several different positions, including quarterback.

With USC’s best secondary player no longer available, Montgomery should be licking his chops. He knows the Trojans must be scheming to defend him, so we’ll see how both sides react.

 

USC Cornerback Kevon Seymour

The man whose task it will be to slow down Montgomery is USC corner Kevon Seymour. After star corner Josh Shaw got injured and suspended, Seymour became the leader at the position.

Seymour will be huge in this game defensively because of how potent Montgomery is with the football. The receiver was held to only four grabs and 23 yards in 2013, but that was with Shaw handling the duties.

If Seymour can’t handle the playmaker, then USC could be in trouble. They have several athletic corners on the roster, but none of them have a lot of experience outside of Seymour.

 

Stanford Quarterback Kevin Hogan

Although head coach David Shaw won’t be asking his quarterback to do what Kessler will, Kevin Hogan is still a major component of this game. In Stanford’s first game, he was a very efficient, going 12-of-16 for 204 yards and three touchdowns. He did, however, throw an interception.

Turnovers are exactly what Hogan will be looking to avoid against the Trojans. His job will be to simply manage the game, take care of the ball and get it to his playmakers.

With the strength of Stanford’s defense and the athletes on the offensive side, Hogan will be fine if he just avoids mistakes. If they can pound the ball, maintain possession and score a few touchdowns, then the Cardinal should be in great shape to win the game.

Look for the USC defense to creep up and force Hogan to beat it deep. The USC defense knows what Stanford wants to do on offense and will try to combat that with eight-man fronts. If Hogan can complete a few balls early, it could open up the field for the rest of the game.

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Jameis Winston Subject of Florida State Investigation into 2012 Incident

Florida State University has opened a formal disciplinary investigation of quarterback Jameis Winston, stemming from a 2012 incident in which he allegedly sexually assaulted another student.

Walt Bogdanich of The New York Times reported Thursday that school officials interviewed the woman in August to ascertain her side of the incident, which she reported to authorities nearly two years ago. 

“We thought it went very well,” the victim's attorney, John Clune, told the Times. “The school seemed to take it very seriously.”   

Winston, who won the 2013 Heisman Trophy and led the Seminoles to a BCS national championship as a freshman, is alleged to have sexually assaulted the woman on Dec. 7, 2012. While police were notified of the incident shortly thereafter, nearly an entire year passed before the Tallahassee Police Department opened a formal investigation.

Winston's family advisor David Cornwell was quick to fire back with a statement via John Taylor of CollegeFootballTalk:

The real story here is that after her Colorado attorneys created a media frenzy alleging that Florida State University failed to comply with its Title IX obligations, Ms. (name redacted) had to come clean and admit that she previously refused to cooperate with the university’s Title IX inquiry.

Now that she has finally done her Title IX interview, this is the fourth time Ms. (name redacted) has told her story.  We anticipate the same conclusion that followed her previous three statements to the Tallahassee Police Department, Florida State Attorney’s Office and in the FSU Code of Student Conduct hearing.  Jameis Winston did not sexually assault Ms. (name redacted).

While police later found there was not enough evidence for an indictment, the investigation was fraught with inconsistencies and public disapproval. At the center of the criticism was state attorney Willie Meggs, whose laid-back demeanor rubbed many the wrong way. Meggs joked with reporters and seemed downright jovial at times, leading one female reporter to exclaim "come on" in disgust, which was picked up by the boom mics for the television broadcast.

That led to increased questions about how seriously investigators took the claims, which were exacerbated by the case's curious timeline. Meggs later distanced himself from the investigation in an April interview with Bogdanich, criticizing police for failing to identify possible witnesses and multiple other errors that made Winston impossible to indict. 

“They just missed all the basic fundamental stuff that you are supposed to do,” Meggs said.

Winston, though staying largely silent on the matter, has maintained his innocence. He has retained two attorneys, first Tim Jansen and more recently the high-powered David Cornwell, who have primarily handled public comments.

"He's absolutely innocent, and I'm glad and pleased that Willie did a full investigation and found the same thing we did," Jansen told reporters last December, via ESPN.com's Mark Schlabach. "There's no evidence. He could not go forward with any charges."

Cornwell told Bogdanich he expects the university report to yield the same result. Florida State opened its case under the Title IX law, which forces schools to self-investigate allegations of sexual assault regardless of whether criminal charges are filed. According to Schlabach and Jared Shanker of ESPN.com, the law requires a "preponderance of evidence" for Winston to face any discipline.

"There are some good people who want to do the right thing on one side of campus, then you have one of the most powerful athletic departments in the country on the other side of the campus with the No. 1 football team in the nation," Clune told Bogdanich. "I think we will find out pretty quickly how that struggle will shake out.”

Winston will continue to be eligible to play football while the investigation is ongoing. The sophomore threw for 370 yards and had two total touchdowns in the Seminoles' 37-31 season-opening win over Oklahoma State last Saturday. He came into the 2014 season considered the favorite to become just the second player in history to win two Heisman Trophies.

Florida State is the No. 1 team in the country in both the USA Today and Associated Press polls. The Seminoles host Citadel on Saturday as they attempt to win their 18th consecutive game.

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter

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South Bend Changes Name of Michigan Street for Upcoming Fighting Irish Game

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish will play the Michigan Wolverines at home Saturday, and the city of South Bend has prepared by renaming one of its streets.

Michigan Street in South Bend will be temporarily changed to Fighting Irish Drive for this weekend. The Irish did the same thing when the Wolverines came to town two years ago and ended up winning, 13-6, so they're hoping that it works again this year.

[WNDU.com]

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

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

Watch the video and let us know!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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


Check out the video, and let us know!

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2015 NFL Draft Big Board Following First Week of CFB Season

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

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

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

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

 

*Indicates underclassmen

 

1. *Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon

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

 

2. *Andrus Peat, OT, Stanford

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

 

3. *Randy Gregory, DE, Nebraska

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

 

4. *Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State

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

 

5. Brandon Scherff, OT, Iowa

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

 

6. Vic Beasley, DE/OLB, Clemson

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

 

7. *Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama

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

 

8. *Nelson Agholor, WR, Southern California

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

 

9. Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon

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

 

10. *Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia

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

 

11. Cameron Erving, OT, Florida State

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

 

12. Cedric Ogbuehi, OT, Texas A&M

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

 

13. *Shilique Calhoun, DE, Michigan State

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

 

14. *Leonard Williams, DE, Southern California

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

 

15. *Landon Collins, S, Alabama

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

 

16. *Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA

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

 

17. Bryce Petty, QB, Baylor

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

 

18. Rashad Greene, WR, Florida State

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

 

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

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

 

20. *Jaelen Strong, WR, Arizona

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

 

21. Denzel Perryman, ILB, Miami

22. *Hroniss Grasu, OC, Oregon

23. La'el Collins, OT/G, LSU

24. *Trae Waynes, CB, Michigan State

25. *Stefon Diggs, WR, Maryland

26. *Sammie Coates, WR, Alabama

27. *Devin Funchess, TE, Michigan

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

29. *Shawn Oakman, DE, Baylor

30. *Shaq Thompson, OLB, Washington 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Kessler Taking to a New Offense

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

"Keep Going With What Works"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Matchup  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

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

Flash versus smash.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Follow Jason Gold on twitter @TheSportsGuy33. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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

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

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

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