NCAA Football

Colorado State Rams vs. Boise State Broncos Betting Odds: Analysis, Prediction

The Colorado State Rams are one of the hottest teams in the country and will try to avoid cooling off against the Boise State Broncos in one of the nation’s toughest places to play.

The Rams are coming off a 31-17 victory against rival Colorado last week in their season opener to win their fifth in six games both straight-up and against the spread.

But Boise State has caused them problems recently in winning the last three meetings over the past three years.

 

Point spread: Broncos opened as eight-point favorites, which had been bet up to -10.5; the total was 57.5 at Bronco Stadium, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark. (Line updates and matchup report)

 

Odds Shark computer prediction: 35.2-31.9 Rams

 

Why the Colorado State Rams can cover the spread

Despite losing three straight times to Boise, the Rams have at least narrowed the gap each of the last three years, falling by 50 points in 2011, 28 in 2012 and 12 last season. Two of those meetings came at home, but Colorado State has performed very well on the road, covering eight of their last nine in that situation.

The team’s most recent game away from home took place last week in Denver against the Buffaloes, and the Rams used a strong running game to prevail as senior Dee Hart and junior Treyous Jarrells combined for 260 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Another performance like that could keep Colorado State within single digits.

 

Why the Boise State Broncos can cover the spread

The “Smurf Turf” in Boise remains one of the top home-field advantages in the country, and you can bet the Broncos are excited to be back there playing in front of their fans after losing 35-13 to Ole Miss in Atlanta last week.

Boise did not even score a TD against the Rebels until there were less than five minutes remaining in the game, and the team should have a lot more confidence in a building where opponents have gone 4-21 straight-up in the last 25 games there.

 

Smart Pick

Did the mystique of Boise State leave with former head coach Chris Petersen, who is now in Washington? That question will continue to be answered throughout the season, and the Rams may very well be the next team to upset the Broncos there—or at least give them a scare.

Colorado State is 8-1 ATS in its last nine road games while Boise is just 1-4 versus the line in its past five at home. Keep in mind, the Rams just need to stay within a couple of scores to give their backers a chance to cash on them. And they have also won five of their last six on the road.

 

Trends:

  • Colorado State is 7-18 SU in its last 25 games on the road
  • Boise State is 18-7 SU in its last 25 games
  • Colorado State is 8-1 ATS in its last nine road games

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Creating the Ultimate College Football Fantasy Team for Week 2

The first week of the 2014-15 college football season featured its fair share of outstanding individual performances, great kicking efforts and dominant defensive accomplishments. Most were by the usual suspects, but plenty of surprises were out there as well.

Here's the thing, though: One week doesn't make a trend. Just because someone had a good first game doesn't mean they're in line for a big year, and vice versa for expected stars who struggled in the opener. Using fantasy stats from the first week to dictate who to play in Week 2, while seemingly a good approach, doesn't ensure success.

That means picking the ultimate college football fantasy team for this weekend is as much of a crapshoot as it was for the opening set of games. It's a guessing game for at least a few more weeks, until patterns emerge.

But that won't stop us from trying to put together the best lineup, taking into account how players and teams performed last week but also considering the circumstances of those first games as well as the opponent and venue for this weekend. Take a look at our choices, then give us your feedback in the comments section.

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Stanford Football: A Timeline of a Football Powerhouse

The final dark days of Stanford football began and ended with former coach Walt Harris. 

In his first home game with the Cardinal in 2005, Harris allowed his team to blow a 17-point lead to UC Davis and give up a go-ahead score with eight seconds left. Stanford lost 20-17, and the Aggies became the first non-Division I Football Bowl Subdivision team ever to beat Stanford. The Cardinal would win just five more games with Harris in control before he was subsequently, and rightfully, fired in December of 2006. 

Fast forward eight years, and it's a completely different story. Stanford opened its home schedule with UC Davis but handled the game with absolute ease, winning 45-0. The fact that there was no news was good news. That's what one should expect from a program that has won back-to-back Pac-12 championships. 

The quest for a third straight conference title is approaching in earnest. A Saturday game against No. 14 USC in Los Angeles has early season playoff implications...as does an October road trip to Notre Dame...and an Oct. 18 visit to Arizona State...and a Nov. 1 road game at Oregon...and a season-ending game at UCLA.

This is what Stanford is now: a program whose weekly goal is to win in order to satisfy a realistic goal to be one of the four teams playing for a national championship. 

Here's how it happened.

 

Jim Harbaugh

A bad hire can set a program back just as much as a good hire can launch it forward. Stanford made a bad hire with Harris, who went 6-17 in two years. 

Then Jim Harbaugh happened, and he put Stanford on the national map because he of it.

Harbaugh came to Stanford from the University of San Diego two weeks after Harris was let go. The hire was applauded, with Michelle Smith of the San Francisco Chronicle writing that Harbaugh was "young, energetic and charismatic. He has impressive college and NFL resumes as a player, name recognition and success at running a college football program."

It wasn't just lip service, either. It took just five games before Harbaugh recorded his first signature win: a 24-23 stunner over No. 2 USC, to which Stanford was a 41-point underdog, in the Coliseum. 

2007 was a year unlike any other in recent college football history. It was a time when the sport apparently turned 21 in human years and partied too hard. While nothing may top Appalachian State-Michigan on the surreal upset meter, Stanford-USC was up there among the wildest endings that season. 

If nothing else, it brought about the end of a 35-game home win streak while simultaneously ushering in a new era at Stanford. As it turned out, beating USC by one point was only the beginning. Stanford toppled the Trojans again in 2009, 55-21, one week after beating Oregon, 51-42, for the first time since 2001. 

For those keeping track, that means Harbaugh recorded wins over Pete Carroll, who is coming off a Super Bowl win with the Seattle Seahawks, and Chip Kelly, an innovator in every aspect of the game. By the time Harbaugh left for the San Francisco 49ers in 2011, the Cardinal had won the Orange Bowl with a 12-1 record.

 

Recruiting

Harbaugh took a program that hadn't had a winning season since 2001 and started beating the nonsense out of opponents. That requires a massive attitude adjustment, but just as importantly, a recruiting boost. In a time when offenses want to spread the field, Stanford opted to run over defenses. 

Defensively, the Cardinal built itself to handle spread offenses like Oregon's. 

Tight end Coby Fleener, wide receiver Doug Baldwin and fullback/linebacker Owen Marecic, all of whom are playing, or have played, in the NFL, were the highlights of Stanford's 2007 class

The 2008 class is the group that really got things rolling. Quarterback Andrew Luck was the prize recruit, but offensive linemen David DeCastro and Jonathan Martin were part of that class, as was receiver Chris Owusu. 2009 brought in linebacker Shayne Skov and defensive ends Trent Murphy and Ben Gardner. 

Stanford recruited players who wanted to fight in a phone booth. 

It began up front. Stanford has had four offensive linemen and three defensive linemen drafted since Harbaugh took over the program, according to NFL.com. Tackle Andrus Peat could be one of the first offensive linemen taken in next year's draft if he declared early. 

According to head coach David Ashaw, Peat is a a rare talent, via Bryan Fischer of NFL.com

I don't know if there's been anybody else in our conference, in the last eight years, that is as good as Andrus Peat has been and can be. In my entire career, nine years in the NFL, the only offensive lineman that was a step above of where Andrus can be is Jonathan Ogden -- one of the best tackles to ever play. 

Everything the Cardinal have wanted to do offensively and defensively, including leading the Pac-12 in points allowed in 2013, has started up front. 

 

David Shaw

All the toughness that Harbaugh embodied at Stanford has been kept alive by David Shaw, who has a 35-7 record as the current head coach. According to the Wall Street Journal, Shaw has a 14-4 record against Top 25 teams in his three years at Stanford. 

As Ted Miller of ESPN.com tweets, it's not just that Shaw has a 14-4 record—it's that he's won 14 games against top-25 teams in a short amount of time. 

Shaw's biggest win to date easily came on a cold November night in 2012 when Stanford upended Oregon 17-14 in overtime. The Ducks averaged nearly 50 points per game that season, but they could barely get in the end zone against Shaw's defense. 

At the very least, it marked a changing of the guard in the Pac-12 North. 

While other Pac-12 programs were trying to find an answer to Oregon's uptempo spread offense, Stanford already had it figured out. With the best defensive front seven in recent memory, the Cardinal were able to disrupt Oregon's offense up front while providing the speed on the back end that they needed. 

Stanford had Oregon's number again in 2013 with a 26-20 win, cementing itself as the class of the Pac-12. But with the departures of Skov, Murphy and Gardner, not to mention defensive coordinator Derek Mason, the longevity of Stanford's defensive prowess remains to be seen. 

 

Built For The Future

Think that Stanford is on the decline? Don't be so sure. 

The Cardinal pulled in the No. 13 recruiting class nationally in February, according to 247Sports.com, highlighted by 5-star defensive end Solomon Thomas and 4-star quarterback Keller Chryst. 

As Thomas showed in his live commitment on signing day on ESPN, there's a certain "cool" factor in committing to Stanford. What started as an impressive turnaround has morphed into a program with staying power. No matter the result between Stanford and USC on Saturday, the Cardinal have a national brand that appeals to elite high school prospects. 

It's a far different program than the one that lost to UC Davis. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Stanford Football: A Timeline of a Football Powerhouse

The final dark days of Stanford football began and ended with former coach Walt Harris. In his first home game with the Cardinal in 2005, Harris allowed his team to blow a 17-point ...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Connor Cook vs. Oregon: MSU'S Passing Attack Will Be Able to Keep Up with Ducks

After a 45-7 victory over Jacksonville State this past weekend, Michigan State and quarterback Connor Cook are ready to build off their strong showing and prove their passing attack can keep up with Oregon's high-powered offense this Saturday when the two square off in Eugene, Oregon.

Despite taking a low hit on his left knee early in the first quarter, Cook finished last week's game going 12-of-13 through the air for 285 yards and three touchdowns.

He did not miss any significant time because of the hit but did tell Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports he thought it was a cheap shot:

With the Jacksonville State game in the rear-view mirror, Cook and the Michigan State offense now have their sights set on keeping pace with Oregon.

While much of the focus will be placed on whether or not the Michigan State defense can slow down Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota and an offense that averaged nearly 46 points per game last season, Cook and the Michigan State offense showed in the opener that they have the ability to put points on the board.

Despite attempting fewer than 15 passes against Jacksonville State, Cook finished the game with the highest QBR in the past 10 seasons:

Cook had some early struggles last season before finishing the final seven games—including the team's Rose Bowl victory over Stanford—with 13 touchdowns and just four interceptions.

He appears to be more comfortable in the offense, and his defense knows how important the high-powered offense is to the team's success.

"When you have an explosive offense like that clicking, it's dangerous for any team to be playing against," Michigan State safety Kurtis Drummond told The Associated Press. "Seeing them come out there clicking early like that is getting us more confidence and allowing us to play more at ease."

While Jacksonville State has nowhere near the same talent level as Oregon, Cook showed great awareness, accuracy and decision-making on the field last Saturday.

Michigan State scored on five of its first six drives against Jacksonville State, with the majority of them going for more than 50 yards.

With a dependable target like wide receiver Tony Lippett and an emerging deep threat in junior AJ Troup, Cook has all of the tools in place to keep up with Oregon's high-powered offense.

Oregon’s offense is known for its uptempo style and ability to put points on the board quickly. In its opener against South Dakota last Saturday, the offense scored 62 points. However, after averaging 55.6 points per game in their first eight games last season, the Ducks averaged just 29.2 in their final five contests when matched up against tougher competition.

Cook and Michigan State proved against Jacksonville State last Saturday just how efficient they can be on offense, but they will likely need to score at least 40 points to beat Oregon on Saturday night.

As long as Cook's knee injury from last week does not resurface, do not dismiss the Spartans' chances of keeping with Mariota and the Oregon offense.

 

All stats courtesy of Sports-Reference.com.

Follow @MattEurich 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Is Sophomore QB Tyrone Swoopes Ready to Lead the Texas Longhorns?

Tyrone Swoopes will get the start for the Texas Longhorns in Week 2 vs. BYU. Bleacher Report's College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Barrett Sallee break down how he will do in his first start of his collegiate career. How well do you think Swoopes will do?

Watch the video and let us know.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Clemson Football: Report Card Grades for Every New Starter

The Clemson Tigers weren’t able to come away victorious against the Georgia Bulldogs last Saturday, but how did the new starters perform in that contest? For a team that had question marks going into the season, the contributions of these new starters are very important.

*Tavaris Barnes and Reid Webster, who started for suspended players Corey Crawford and David Beasley, weren't included because those two guys should claim their starting roles again moving forward.

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Inside Evander Holyfield's Son's Monster 7-TD Game

Elijah Holyfield is a four star running back in the 2016 class, according to 247Sports Composite. Holyfield is also the son of former heavyweight world champion Evander Holyfield. Elijah took time to talk with Bleacher Report about his stellar performance in the first game of his junior season at Woodward Academy in College Park, GA.

How well do you think he can do at the next level?

Watch the video and let us know.

 

Rankings courtesy of 247Sports Composite

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Marcus Mariota vs. Michigan State: Why Balanced Attack Is Key for Oregon Victory

The Oregon Ducks have one of the most prolific offenses in college football. This week against Michigan State, it will need to be firing on all cylinders in order for the team to come out victorious.

The key for Oregon’s offense and Heisman-hopeful quarterback Marcus Mariota is balance.

Mariota’s Ducks finished second in the nation in yards last season behind only the Baylor Bears. The biggest reason they were so successful and consistent was the balance they showed on the offensive side of the ball.

Unlike some schools that strictly rely on the passing game, the Ducks and head coach Mark Helfrich like to attack in a variety of ways. In 2013, the team averaged 565 yards per game, with 291.5 coming through the air and 273.5 on the ground.

By moving the ball on teams through both the pass and run, defenses have a very difficult time stopping the Ducks. There isn’t one facet teams can focus on to shut down because almost everything Oregon does offensively works.

They also often run an uptempo offense to take defenses out of their comfort zone.

A balanced offense would be huge for Oregon against Michigan State because the Spartans are typically very hard to move the ball against.

They love to crowd the line of scrimmage and blitz players throughout the game. If Oregon becomes too one-dimensional, the Spartans and coach Mark Dantonio will try to capitalize by bringing even more pressure.

Even though many teams try to emulate what the Ducks offense can do, they simply can’t because they don’t have a superstar like Mariota.

In order to beat the stingy Michigan State defense, Mariota will have to play one his better all-around games.

Last season, the Ducks quarterback ranked second in the nation in adjusted QBR with a score of 88.0. The only player to do better was Heisman winner Jameis Winston.

Mariota is almost impossible to scheme for defensively because he’s so talented in different ways. We all know he can beat people with his legs, but he’s surprisingly accurate with his arm as well. He threw for more than 3,600 yards in 2013 with a completion percentage of 63.5. He also added 31 touchdowns and just four interceptions.

In the season opener against South Dakota, Mariota recorded 267 yards and three touchdowns on 14-of-20 passing. He also rushed six times for an additional 43 yards and another score.

These statistics would be impressive for any quarterback in a game. Mariota accomplished this in just the first half.

Now don’t get me wrong, Michigan State’s defense will pose much more of a threat to Oregon than South Dakota's unit. However, Mariota is a special player who will surely look to duplicate his performance.

A major factor in the game will be Mariota’s ability to make good decisions and throw the ball consistently.

Michigan State likes to press its cornerbacks right in the faces of receivers to disrupt timing. If he can beat the corners over the top on a few occasions, the secondary will be forced to back up and respect his arm. This will open up the running lanes.

According to Mike Griffith of MLive.com, ESPN’s Rece Davis recently had a fair deal of praise for Mariota. “He's got blinding speed, we've seen that, but I think he has a really smooth, nice delivery, and the demeanor he has is that he can pull Oregon along with him,” he said.

When Mariota is playing well, I don’t think there’s a defense in the country that can slow him down.

The main reason things went south for the Ducks last season was because their leader wasn’t healthy. If he can play every game at full strength, Oregon shouldn’t have any problems scoring points.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Marcus Mariota vs. Michigan State: Why Balanced Attack Is Key for Oregon Victory

The Oregon Ducks have one of the most prolific offenses in college football. This week against Michigan State, it will need to be firing on all cylinders in order for the team to come out victorious...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Utah Kicker Comes Up with Perfect Way to Introduce the World to Newborn Son

Like father, like son.

Maximus Phillips is only a day old but is already looking like he will be a Utah Ute some day. Utes sophomore kicker Andy Phillips introduced the world to his newborn son on Wednesday in a very appropriate way.

Even Utah welcomed the newborn to the family.

The kicker started his season by making all eight of his extra-point attempts in a win over Idaho State last week, but that strong opener takes a back seat to the birth of his son.

[Andy Phillips, h/t ESPN]

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

USC vs. Stanford: Cody Kessler Must Be Highly Proficient to Upset Cardinal

It hasn’t taken the Pac-12 schedule long to give the college football world a marquee matchup, with No. 14 Southern California and No. 13 Stanford facing off Saturday in Palo Alto.

And for the Trojans to pull off an upset, it will take a top-notch performance from a slightly hobbled Cody Kessler.

USC’s starting signal-caller underwent a small procedure earlier this week to fix what is believed to be a toe injury, per a report from ESPN.com. Not much has been said publicly about the injury, but Kessler is expected to be ready for Saturday afternoon’s game:

There were early reports that Kessler was treated for a staph infection, but that has since been reported as false, according to the Orange County Register's Michael Lev:

The Trojans were able to knock off Stanford last year at home, but it took an early touchdown and a field goal in the final minute against the Top Five team to do so. Kessler attempted a season-high 37 passes and completed 25 of them for 288 yards and a touchdown, and it will certainly take a similar performance on the road this week for USC to take an early advantage in the Pac-12 standings.

While Kessler isn’t known as a top-rated passer or Heisman Trophy candidate, he manages the game well and is not prone to turnovers, which is always key in matchups against a formidable opponent. He tossed seven interceptions last season (none against Stanford) and only had one two-pick game in 2013—at Arizona State in a 62-41 loss.

Kessler’s success is also a high priority for the Trojans because of Stanford’s historical success against the run. The Cardinal only allowed 23 yards on the ground last year against USC and return seven starters on defense. They have three seniors on their defensive line and two at linebacker.

The Trojans offensive line lost three starters, including center Marcus Martin to the NFL, which isn’t very conducive for a high-functioning rushing game against an experienced defense.

But USC is talented enough at wide receiver with Nelson Agholor, who was an All-Conference player in 2013, to make things happen with the passing game if Kessler can find time to throw and do so accurately.

Freshman JuJu Smith and sophomore Darreus Rogers are also threats through the air. Rogers caught 22 balls last season and had five against Fresno State to begin the 2014 season. Smith led the Trojans last week with 123 yards on four catches.

USC had 10 different players record a catch against Fresno State in the 52-13 win, and Kessler completed 25 passes for nearly 400 yards. One can’t expect those numbers to be that high against Stanford, but the same proficiency from the junior quarterback and vast distribution is a must again this week.

One has to expect Stanford to keep a close eye on Agholor, which means Kessler will need to keep his eye out for whoever is open and not depend on his top receiver to be available in crunch-time situations.

Kessler’s confidence should be high after a strong performance to begin the season, and that confidence will need to translate into a lot of yards and completions this week for USC to win.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

USC vs. Stanford: Cody Kessler Must Be Highly Proficient to Upset Cardinal

It hasn ’t taken the Pac -12 schedule long to give the college football world a marquee matchup, with No. 14 Southern California and No. 13 Stanford facing off Saturday in Palo Alto...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

College Football Picks: Week 2 Predictions for Every Game

Not a bad opening week, huh?

The 2014 college football season gave us six days' worth of exciting games, beginning with Georgia State's first FBS victory and ending with Louisville's successful debut in the ACC. In between there were shootouts, defensive struggles, laughers, upsets and even a game at The Swamp canceled because the field resembled...a swamp.

Can Week 2 match or surpass what we've just gone through?

This week's slate features 72 games, including 29 pitting FBS teams against FCS competition. That's down from 47 from the opening week, when North Dakota State (at Iowa State) and Bethune-Cookman (over Florida International for the second straight year) continued the tradition of the little guys knocking off the big boys.

Scroll through to see our selections for Week 2, then give us your thoughts in the comment section.

Week 1 record: 70-14

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Miami Football: 5 Corrections Hurricanes Must Make Against Florida A&M

The Miami Hurricanes have plenty to correct after the 2014 season opener, despite the sample size being admittedly small. Florida A&M enters Sun Life Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 6, so "The U" doesn't have much time to prepare.

Superior teams can sometimes win on talent alone, which is certainly the case for this coming Saturday. Miami is expected to rout the Rattlers, but the final box score may not be indicative of the way Al Golden's team truly performs.

While first-game nerves contributed to mistakes in Kentucky, Miami needs to correct its early problems before future ACC play.

Fortunately, the meeting with Florida A&M provides the 'Canes an excellent opportunity to recover from a disappointing performance at Louisville.

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Trey DePriest's Return Is the Spark Alabama's Defense Needs

Alabama's defense didn't exactly look like itself on Saturday afternoon in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game against West Virginia when the Crimson Tide gave up 365 yards through the air in a 33-23 win over the Mountaineers.

The absence of senior linebacker Trey DePriest was a big reason why.

DePriest sat out the opener with what head coach Nick Saban termed a "minor NCAA infraction," and the absence of the quarterback of the defense caused confusion in the back end of the unit.

"We made a lot of errors," Saban said after the game. "When you have leadership out there, you know, a guy who calls the defenses and everybody's really confident in the call that they're making and directing the whole thing just like a quarterback. We didn't have that in this game. We didn't have anybody who's every played before."

Saban announced on Wednesday that the quarterback of his defense is back.

"He's back on the team," Saban said on the SEC coaches teleconference. "He wasn't suspended by me, so he made a mistake, he paid for it, and he's available to play. And we're looking forward to him having the opportunity to play and hopefully affect our team in a positive way as well as him performing like he's capable of."

That's big news for the Crimson Tide because while inconsistency in the secondary was the most glaring issue for the defense on Saturday, Saban consistently brought up the absence of a leader on defense in the postgame press conference when discussing what the problem was.

DePriest finished third on the team last season with 65 tackles and was being counted on to fill the leadership role vacated by superstar C.J. Mosley, who exhausted his eligibility after last season.

Assuming DePriest is healthy—he has been dealing with a minor knee injury during fall camp—the confusion that reigned supreme on Saturday won't be there this weekend when the Crimson Tide host Florida Atlantic in the home opener in Tuscaloosa.

Will the execution be there, though?

DePreist's return is coupled with the possibility of cornerback Eddie Jackson moving into the starting lineup in favor of Bradley Sylve, who was picked on by the Mountaineers. Jackson practiced with the first team opposite Cyrus Jones on Tuesday, according to AL.com, but that doesn't necessarily mean he'll start this week.

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

Whether the secondary issues are fixed or not, getting DePriest back is a huge boost for the Tide. Saban specifically referenced the importance of having a veteran linebacker making the calls against today's exotic offenses, which are prevalent on the schedule.

Alabama's next four opponents run some variation of the spread. Florida Atlantic is veering more toward a run-based spread, Southern Miss head coach Todd Monken's offense thrives with tempo, Florida offensive coordinator Kurt Roper was brought in specifically to pick up the pace, and Ole Miss has been playing "fastball" since Hugh Freeze was hired prior to the 2012 season.

The quarterback of the defense is back, and if all goes according to plan, DePriest will bring some stability to the Crimson Tide prior to the start of the SEC schedule.

 

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and video analyst for Bleacher Report and co-host of the CFB Hangover on Bleacher Report Radio (Sundays 9-11 a.m. ET) on Sirius 93, XM 208. Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.

 

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Grading the Top 5 College Football Offenses Heading into Week 2

Typically, Week 1 is a cupcake-fest for the best teams in college football, allowing the top offenses to post numbers that (even by their standards) seem a little over-the-top.

This year, however, four of the five best projected offenses in the country (per the F/+ projections at Football Outsiders) matched up with an FBS opponent, three matched up with a power-conference opponent and one even matched up with a ranked opponent.

This allowed a better early look than usual at the state of the nation's top offenses, an assessment of how quickly they've come together. And the one that was toughest to gauge because it didn't play an FBS opponent (Oregon) will provide us the best glance of all when it hosts Michigan State this Saturday.

The season is still in its infant stages, and every unit has places where it can (and probably will) improve, but based on a fairly telling slate of Week 1 games, here is how the top projected offenses grade out. 

 

A Note About the Five Offenses Included (and the Countless Offenses Not)

One quick reminder before we proceed. 

The offenses graded below were projected as the top five offenses in the country before the season, per the F/+ projections at Football Outsiders. We are grading how they performed relative to preseason expectations. We are NOT grading the five most impressive offenses from the first week of the year.

The reason for doing it this way is simple: The five most impressive offenses from the first week of the year would inherently grade out well. This whole list would be A's and (more likely) A-pluses. It would be like grading the five highest-grossing movies of 2013 based on how high-grossing they were. It wouldn't make any sense.

Please bear this in mind before you take to the comments section and complain about your team's exclusion. It's not because we don't like your team or think its offense is overrated. It just didn't fall within the framework of this article.

 

 

5. Alabama Crimson Tide

Points per Game: 33.0 (60th)

Yards per Game: 538.0 (30th)

Yards per Play: 6.56 (46th)

Blake Sims got the start and threw 8.2 solid innings against West Virginia, giving way to Jake Coker for the final out. His final stat line (24-of-33 passing, 250 yards, no touchdowns, one interception; six carries for 42 rushing yards) paints a fair depiction of his performance: solid but unspectacular.

Alabama doesn't need anything more than "solid but unspectacular," however, which is ostensibly why Sims got the start. You'd like to see him eliminate plunging ducks such as this first-quarter pass to DeAndrew White, but for the most part, his job is just not to screw up.

To call an Alabama quarterback a "game manager" is reductive, but it's not altogether untrue. Especially with champion-of-the-bubble-screen Lane Kiffin at offensive coordinator, a big part of Sims' job on Saturday was getting the ball into his playmakers' hands early and watching them go.

Here, for example, is the first offensive snap of the season: a 24-yard gain on a quick pass to Amari Cooper:

One of Sims' other major jobs was even simpler than throwing bubble screens: handing the ball off to T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry.

I ranked Alabama's running backs the top position group in the country before the season, and its two bell-cows did nothing to confute that in Week 1. Each back rushed for more than 110 yards, averaged more than five yards per carry and found the end zone at least once.

Alabama was certainly one of the biggest disappointments of Week 1, but more of that had to do with the secondary than the offense. Sims was underwhelming compared to late-period AJ McCarron, but he was no worse than early-period McCarron or all-periods Greg McElroy. The offense still posted 538 yards and averaged more than 6.5 yards per play against a defense that was underrated when healthy in 2013.

According to Marc Torrence of Bleacher Report, head coach Nick Saban said he still doesn't "hesitate to say that there’s a quarterback competition," which is fine given some of the reviews we've heard on Coker. There's a chance he can bring this offense to a new level; he certainly has the rocket arm to stretch the field.

If Sims remains the starter, though, it shouldn't be cause for panic in Tuscaloosa, at least based on what he showed in Week 1. This was a solid B-plus debut for him and Kiffin's Alabama offense.

Final Grade: B+

 

4. Florida State Seminoles

Points per Game: 37.0 (51st)

Yards per Game: 479.0 (49th)

Yards per Play: 6.70 (38th)

Jameis Winston was the Heisman Trophy winner, Kelvin Benjamin was the first-round NFL draft pick and Devonta Freeman is the Year 1 NFL fantasy sleeper, but the true heart and soul of Florida State's offense last year was the lineman, not the skill players.

The group was supposed to be even better in 2014, despite the loss of perhaps its best player, center Bryan Stork. The other four starters returned—as seniors—and a game-worn senior in Austin Barron was replacing Stork up the middle. Tackle Cameron Erving and guard Tre' Jackson were supposed to be All-America candidates.

All of which made what happened against Oklahoma State disconcerting. We'll have to see how the Cowboys' front seven looks against other opponents, but for one night, it made the Seminoles' big uglies look bad. Especially in the running game, where Florida State averaged just 3.42 yards per carry, they were outmuscled.

"On run blocking, I don’t think we were as physical as we needed to be," admitted head coach Jimbo Fisher, per Brendan Sonnonoe of the Orlando Sentinel, "And I think they will say the same thing. We played well enough to create space and make plays, but not up to our potential."

In the passing game, Winston looked alright for the most part but made a few uncharacteristic mistakes. His QB rating of 138.45 was the second-lowest of his career, leading only his second-most-recent game, the BCS National Championship against Auburn.

The pair of interceptions Winston threw were particularly jarring, both coming as the result of a poor decision. In 2013, he didn't throw his second interception until his 91st attempt of the season.

This year, he threw it on attempt No. 22:

The biggest bright spot for the Seminoles was wide receiver Rashad Greene, who is a safe bet to the lead the team in receiving for a fourth consecutive season. His 11 catches for 203 yards bailed FSU out of a tight spot, especially during the fourth quarter, when he took a tightly threaded pass 50 yards for a game-clinching touchdown.

Without Benjamin and Kenny Shaw on the roster, Winston looked Greene's way even more often than usual, which is cause for concern going forward. Along with dominant offensive line play, last year's offense was so good because of balance, because opponents didn't know who to defend. It could beat you in so many different ways.

This year's offense looks a little more predictable, or at least it does after one game. Tight end Nick O'Leary needs to become a bigger part of the passing game plan, and freshman receivers Travis Rudolph and Ermon Lane need to expedite their game-readiness.

Otherwise, the 'Noles might be in trouble.

Grade: C+

 

3. Baylor Bears

Points per Game: 45.0 (26th)

Yards per Game: 574.0 (17th)

Yards per Play: 5.92 (62nd)

It's difficult to give Baylor a complete offensive grade after quarterback Bryce Petty, the second-most efficient passer in the country last season, was forced to leave the game with a back injury.

According to Shehan Jeyarajah of The Dallas Morning NewsPetty plans to play against Northwestern State in Week 2, and even if he doesn't, the injury (two cracked transverse processes in his lower back) is not one that should jeopardize his season, so there's no cause for serious panic in Waco. Nonetheless, watching their star player leave the game in the first half was not how Baylor fans had hoped to open McLane Stadium.

Before Petty was forced to the locker room, he was 13-of-23 passing for 161 yards and two touchdowns. The Bears didn't get out to the same indomitable start as they did in last year's nonconference games, but once they got rolling, they looked sharp.

Petty's 46-yard touchdown pass to 5-star freshman KD Cannon, in particular, was something to feel good about: 

Seth Russell looked decent—not great, not awful—in relief of Petty, and the running game flashed its depth by giving 16 carries to Shock Linwood and 12 to Johnny Jefferson. Neither back topped the 90-yard mark, but once Petty returns to the lineup to keep defenses more honest against the pass, they should find more room to run.

Baylor was by no means the juggernaut we saw against Louisiana-Monroe and Buffalo last season, which is reflected in its sub-six yards per play, but that it still put up 574 yards of offense on a night where it didn't fire on all cylinders is good enough to salvage a B.

With room to improve going forward—not to mention a defense that earned an A-plus-plus on opening night—the Bears still have to feel great about their prospects in 2014.

Grade: B

 

2. Oregon Ducks

Points per Game: 62.0 (3rd)

Yards per Game: 673.0 (7th)

Yards per Play: 9.61 (3rd)

Tom Fornelli of CBSSports.com put it best on the Eye on College Football podcast this weekend, referring to what Oregon does to inferior teams in the first few weeks of a season as "empty calories."

Delicious as it looks to rank in the top eight of points per game, yards per game and yards per play, the Ducks get no substance from beating up on the likes of South Dakota. It comes sizzling out of the kitchen, but there's not enough nutrition in those numbers for an offensive reputation to subsist upon.

Sensible judgement on Oregon's offense will be withheld until after Week 2, when it hosts a formidable, Pat Narduzzi-coached Michigan State defense, but for now, based on what we have to work with, this unit looks just as good as one would expect. Marcus Mariota coasted to 310 offensive yards on 20 passes and six carries, looking healthy and confident on the left knee that ailed him last year.

The most important takeaway from Saturday's win was the utilization of Byron Marshall, last year's leading rusher, in the role of a "taser" hybrid. After Bralon Addison tore his ACL during spring camp, the Ducks were left dangerously thin at receiver, but with Thomas Tyner (a sophomore) and Royce Freeman (a freshman) appearing to be the future in the backfield, they had running back depth to spare.

And this was their decision on what to do with it:

The role Marshall occupied in Week 1 was similar to the one De'Anthony Thomas occupied the past few seasons, and although their skill sets are not completely congruent, it should be interesting to see how he fares in that role against Michigan State on Saturday.

Chris Brown of Grantland published a thorough breakdown of the Spartans defense Tuesday, highlighting their adherence to one basic set, the 4-3 Over, a man-zone hybrid that relies on linebackers to cover the middle of the field against inside receivers and running backs.

If Marshall looks as good flexed out wide against the Spartans as he did in the tuneup (which he finished with eight catches for 138 yards and two touchdowns) and the offensive line can overcome not having left tackle Tyler Johnstone (torn ACL), Oregon might be able to give Michigan State a rare bout of trouble.

Based on what we saw in Week 1, there is no reason to think that it can't…but what we saw in Week 1 was admittedly not much.

Grade: A (but incomplete)

 

1. Texas A&M Aggies

Points per Game: 52.0 (15th)

Yards per Game: 680 (6th)

Yards per Play: 6.87 (32nd)

Texas A&M was bar-none the biggest story of opening weekend, obliterating South Carolina for 680 yards of total offense and 52 points in Williams-Brice Stadium, and doing it on national TV.

For adherents of the F/+ ratings, however, that did not come as a total surprise. Despite the losses of quarterback Johnny Manziel, receiver Mike Evans and left tackle Jake Matthews (all first-round picks in the 2014 NFL draft), the system at Football Outsiders projected the Aggies as the top offense in college football.

But not even F/+ could have predicted the magnitude of A&M's success. Quarterback Kenny Hill completed 44 of 60 passes, a wide array of throws at every level of the field, and finished with more passing yards (511) than Manziel had in any single game of his career.

Hill was (and is) just as light as Manziel on his feet, but unlike his forerunner, he doesn't look to tuck and run as soon as he leaves the pocket. He extends the play rather than transmuting it, keeping his eyes downfield for open receivers on broken/adjusted routes:

In this regard, Hill might be the perfect quarterback for a Texas A&M team with myriad pass-catching options.

Senior Malcome Kennedy is a savvy route-runner with an advanced understanding of Kevin Sumlin's offense, Speedy Noil was a top-10 recruit in 2014 and projects as the ideal shifty slot weapon and Ricky Seals-Jones (6'6"), Edward Pope (6'4"), Josh Reynolds (6'4") and Cameron Clear (6'6") are football players in basketball players' bodies who are always technically open (sort of) thanks to their physical gifts.

Combine all this with the rest of A&M's offensive weapons, and you have a unit that deserves to be called the best in the country. Especially in the trenches, this did not look like a one-game fluke.

Cedric Ogbuehi looked just as good as Luke Joeckel and Matthews at left tackle, and Germain Ifedi looked just as good as Matthews and Ogbuehi on the right. Matthews' younger brother, Mike, is no slouch starting at center, the position their father, Bruce, enjoyed a Hall of Fame career playing in the NFL.

Save the inexperience, there is nothing not to like about this offense. And if inexperience were ever going to be a problem, one would think a prime-time road game in Week 1 against a Top 10 team would be the framework that exposes it, right?

Suffice it to say that wasn't the case.

Grade: A+

 

Note: Recruiting info refers to the 247Sports composite rankings

Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT

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Cody Kessler Injury: Updates on USC QB's Toe and Recovery

USC starting quarterback Cody Kessler will not let a foot injury prevent him from playing in one of the biggest games of the season.      

According to Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times, the junior missed practice on Tuesday as he was "treated for an infection." Head coach Steve Sarkisian explained the issue to reporters:

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

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

Ryan Abraham of USCFootball.com notes the quarterback was ready to compete on Wednesday.

Kessler is coming off one of the best games of his career in Week 1, totaling 394 passing yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions. He also added 28 rushing yards and another touchdown on the ground in the 52-13 win over Fresno State.

Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports points out this game had a big effect on his Heisman potential:

However, things will be much tougher against No. 13 Stanford and the defense that shut out UC Davis 45-0 in the Cardinal's first game. While it is obviously still early in the year, this is an important battle that could easily be a preview of the Pac-12 Championship Game.

The Trojans will certainly hope Kessler is 100 percent for the first conference game of the season. Otherwise, freshman Max Browne will be asked to take over the role after going 3-of-4 for 30 yards in his first appearance on Saturday.

 

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

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Virginia Tech Hokies vs. Ohio State Buckeyes Betting Odds: Analysis, Prediction

It wasn't exactly pretty, but Ohio State got by Navy in its season opener and even got lucky with a cover as 14-point favorites.

This week, the Buckeyes are favored by almost two touchdowns again, this time for an ACC/Big Ten showdown with Virginia Tech on Saturday night at the Horseshoe in Columbus.

 

Point spread: Buckeyes opened as 12-point favorites; the total was 47 in midweek wagering at Ohio Stadium, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark (line updates and matchup report).

 

Odds Shark computer prediction: 32.9-27.5 Buckeyes

 

Why the Virginia Tech Hokies can cover the spread

The Hokies opened their season last Saturday with a 34-9 victory over William & Mary. Tech led 17-6 at the half and 27-9 after three quarters, outgained the Tribe 488-193, held the ball for almost 33 minutes and covered the spread as 23-point favorites.

Junior quarterback Michael Brewer, making his first college start, completed 23 of 30 throws for 251 yards, complimenting a Hokies ground attack that accounted for 222 yards. Virginia Tech returned 14 starters this year, nine on offense, including four along the offensive line.

Finally, the Hokies were dogged on the road twice last year; they won both those games outright.

 

Why the Ohio State Buckeyes can cover the spread

The Buckeyes outlasted the Midshipmen last Saturday in Baltimore 34-17, scoring two late touchdowns to cover as two-touchdown chalk.

Redshirt freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett, playing in place of the injured Braxton Miller, hit on 12 of 15 throws for 226 yards and led the team in rushing with 50 yards. Ohio State has won 24 of its last 26 games outright, including 15 in a row at home.

The Buckeyes only returned four starters on offense this season but seven on defense, including the entire front four.

Ohio State is constantly battling big point spreads, and it's still managed to go 6-4 against the spread the last 10 times it's been favored by two touchdowns or more.

 

Smart Pick

Barrett played well in his debut, but losing Miller is still huge. If he were playing in this game, Ohio State would probably be favored by 20 points.

But he's not, so this becomes a matchup of two quarterbacks with a combined two collegiate starts going against what should be two pretty good defenses. Points may be hard to come by, so the pick for this one is with the points and the underdog.

 

Trends

  • Virginia Tech is 2-10 ATS in its last 12 games on the road.
  • Ohio State is 23-2 straight up in its last 25 games.

 

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

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Can Eddie Jackson's Return Be Shot in Arm Alabama's Secondary Needs?

TUSCALOOSA, Ala.  — It looks like Alabama will be getting a remedy for the secondary blues that crept up in the Crimson Tide’s opener against West Virginia.

Cornerback Eddie Jackson, who sustained a torn ACL in the spring, has made a faster recovery than most expected and will get his first bit of playing time since injuring his knee in a spring scrimmage.

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

“From a medical standpoint, he's been cleared. So now we're sort of working him into it, and he's looked pretty good.”

His practice reps would seem to indicate that, too.

During Tuesday’s media viewing period, Jackson worked with the first-team at cornerback in nickel drills, taking Bradley Sylve’s spot opposite Cyrus Jones.

“I think Eddie has done a great job getting the rehab and working hard to get better,” Jones said on Monday. “I don’t really know too much about where he is physically, but if he says he’s ready, I guess he is.”

Jackson’s return to the Alabama defense is a shot in the arm for a Crimson Tide secondary that got beat up against the Mountaineers and got even more bad news this week.

Sylve was the main culprit on the back end for Alabama. He was frequently in coverage against West Virginia’s Kevin White, who caught nine balls for 143 yards and a touchdown.

Sylve actually had good positioning on White most of the time, but his errors were in technique, like not playing the ball on the fade route for a touchdown or missing open-field tackles.

“He's coached to play the ball, he's capable of playing the ball, he didn't play the ball,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “That's poise and confidence. He's supposed to look for the ball and play the ball.”

If Jackson does take Sylve’s place at corner, like his practice reps indicated, it will be a welcome upgrade in several departments.

Jackson wasn’t perfect by any stretch as a freshman in 2013. His high point came against Ole Miss, when he read a wide receiver pass and picked off Laquon Treadwell. But he struggled with consistency, and his playing time was limited.

In the spring, Saban praised Jackson, calling him “probably our best corner, most consistent” before his injury.

He also gives Alabama a big-bodied presence. At 6’0”, 188 pounds, he’s more equipped to handle big SEC receivers than the smaller Sylve. And he can pack a punch, as he also showed in that Ole Miss game.

Jackson’s return will also help, somewhat, to mask an injury that hurts Alabama’s secondary.

Safety Jarrick Williams, a glue guy and veteran for Alabama on the back end who plays in nickel and dime situations, will miss at least four weeks with a foot fracture, according to Saban. Geno Smith likely steps into his role at Star, with a number of younger options at Money when Alabama goes with six defensive backs.

Throwing more inexperience into the mix was the last thing Alabama needed in the secondary. But getting Eddie Jackson back will help to mask some of that and is another step toward getting the defense back on track.

 

Marc Torrence is the Alabama lead writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats come from CFBStats. All recruiting information comes from 247Sports.

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

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