NCAA Football

Oklahoma Football: 5 Things the Sooners Need to Improve During Their Bye Week

The Oklahoma Sooners are heading into a bye week, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t work to be done.

Although the Sooners are sitting pretty at 4-0, some of the team’s vulnerabilities have been exposed in recent weeks. These vulnerabilities will need to be corrected if Oklahoma hopes to keep its march towards a national title intact.

Here are five things upon which the team needs to improve.

 

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Ohio State Football: Buckeyes Have Plenty to Prove in Showdown with Cincinnati

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Jalin Marshall is just a redshirt freshman, a second-year player who has only seen the field for three games in his college career.

So it's telling that even as one of the youngest players on the Ohio State roster, he is well aware of what's at stake for the Buckeyes in this weekend's showdown with Cincinnati.

"It’s a big game for us. It’s a statement game for us," Marshall said on Wednesday. "We have to come out there and play hard, play fast and play together, and I feel like we’ll come out there and get a win. Cincinnati’s definitely not gonna give it to us."

The same couldn't have been said about Ohio State's opponent two weeks ago, Kent State, which rolled over and watched the Buckeyes head into their bye week with a 66-0 blowout victory.

OSU's thrashing of the Golden Flashes gave it some much-needed confidence following a Sept. 6 loss to Virginia Tech, but the Buckeyes know that the Bearcats will bring much more talent to Columbus than KSU did before their bye.

The challenge of facing UC, however, will be a welcome one for an Ohio State squad still unsure of where it stands after having already completed one-quarter of the 2014 season.

With arguably the best quarterback they will see all season and and one of the most talented teams on their schedule coming to town for a final tune-up before the start of Big Ten play, there will be no shortage of points for the Buckeyes to prove this Saturday.

Exactly what does Ohio State hope to make a statement about?

 

Can the Buckeyes Beat the Bear?

Not the Bearcats, just the Bear—although doing the former will likely include accomplishing the latter.

During the Hokies' win in Columbus three weeks ago, Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer laid out what at the time appeared to be a blueprint of sorts for beating the Buckeyes.

Employing a 46 Bear defense that loaded the box and forced freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett to make plays through the air, the Hokies stifled the Ohio State offense, which was unable to make enough big plays to walk away with a win.

Unsurprisingly, a week later, Kent State came out with a similar look, although that quickly changed when the Buckeyes' talent advantage proved to be too much for any Golden Flash scheme to handle.

Cincinnati, on the other hand, could potentially hold its own with a similar approach, which is why Urban Meyer is fully expecting to see the Bearcats attempt to run the Bear on Saturday.

"There's no question," Meyer answered on his radio show when asked if he anticipates UC emulating Virginia Tech's defensive approach. "The good thing is that you can do some things to take them out of it."

As the Buckeyes learned against the Hokies, saying and doing are two different challenges.

But with two weeks to prepare for Cincinnati, Ohio State players insist that they're better prepared now to handle the 46 Bear than they were back then, which is something that they'll likely have to prove against the Bearcats.

"If they bring more than we can handle, we just gotta get the ball out quick to our playmakers and make plays," said junior tight end Nick Vannett. "Whatever they show us, we're confident that we're going to do well against their look."

 

What Is Ohio State's Offensive Identity?

Speaking of the Ohio State offense, with one game to go until the start of conference play, the Buckeyes are still unsure of what their bread and butter will be when they're in possession of the ball.

Two years ago, it was Braxton Miller's big-play ability with his legs. Last season, it was Carlos Hyde and a power run game behind Ohio State's equally experienced and talented offensive line. Now? The Buckeyes have plenty of options, but not a lot of answers.

Ideally, Meyer would like to blend together a balanced approach that mixes Barrett's ability as a distributor with a talented running back stable consisting of Ezekiel Elliott, Curtis Samuel and Rod Smith.

While such identity has yet to manifest itself for Ohio State, Meyer has seen positive signs that it could be on its way.

"I get confidence from what I see, not what I hope," Meyer said. "I see it on the practice field, I see it in the games. I see the maturity of a quarterback happening and most importantly, the offensive line's starting to get a little savvy to them too."

It also appears as though the Buckeyes experimented with wrinkles to add to their offense during the bye week, as evidenced by Marshall's revelation that he's spent time practicing as a quarterback in the Wildcat formation.

A signal-caller during his high school career in Middleton, Ohio, Marshall was offered scholarships by the likes of Tennessee and Cincinnati to play quarterback at the college level, and could soon again find himself behind center.

"We've done a little bit of it," Marshall said when asked if he's practiced as a situational quarterback. "We walked through it a lot, so hopefully on Saturday we can start some of it."

Whether or not the offense will use this look remains to be seen, but one way or another, this weekend could go a long way toward telling us what the OSU offense will pride itself on moving forward.

 

Where Does the Buckeyes Defense Stand?

By now, you already know the numbers: Out of 125 teams a season ago, Ohio State ranked 118th in the nation in pass defense, allowing an average of 286.3 yards per game through the air.

After being largely untested in that facet through the first three games of the season, the Buckeyes will now take on a Cincinnati passing offense that ranks ninth in the nation with an average of 353.5 yards per game through its first two contests of the year.

The storyline being beaten into the ground—can Ohio State's revamped pass defense withstand the Bearcats' aerial assault?—doesn't make it any less important.

After all, it was just a year ago that the Buckeyes had their national championship aspirations dashed when Connor Cook and Michigan State's passing attack proved to be too much for Ohio State to handle.

In Gunner Kiel, Cincinnati possesses what could very well be the best quarterback that the Buckeyes will face all season, which is why Ohio State won't be caught off guard by the Bearcats' game plan on Saturday.

"They're one of the top throwing teams in America," Meyer said. "There's not a mystery to this one at all."

But just because the Buckeyes know what's coming doesn't mean that they'll be able to stop it. Although the Ohio State secondary remains a question mark at this point, sophomore safety Vonn Bell insists that it's no longer the Achilles' heel for the Buckeyes that it was a season ago.

"We're all on the same page," Bell said of the OSU defensive backs. "You just gotta keep communicating. We're the back end and everyone knows who it is who gave up that touchdown, but we just stay on the same page and stay as one."

As for the rest of the Buckeyes defense, there will be plenty for it to prove this Saturday as well—especially with All-Big Ten defensive end Noah Spence out indefinitely following a second failed drug test.

Meyer has mentioned freshmen Tyquan Lewis and Jalyn Holmes as well as linebacker turned tight end turned defensive end Sam Hubbard—who had the best practice of his young college career on Wednesday—as players who could step up in Spence's absence.

"We're playing a back-and-forth game with him just because we're down with numbers," Meyer said of the 6'5", 244-pound Hubbard, a former 4-star prospect.

Like Marshall, seeing will be believing when it comes to Hubbard's new role taking shape on Saturday. But for a unit—and team—looking to prove itself, the Buckeyes will use all the help that they can get in one of the most pivotal games of the 2014 season.

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

The Hottest and Coldest Players in College Football Right Now

The calendar has turned to fall, but some college football players remain red-hot. Others are looking for a little Indian summer to help get warmed up after a cool start to the season.

Four weeks into the 2014 campaign, several notable players are in the midst of breakout seasons, while many are struggling to live up to expectations or put together a consistent performance.

Here's our look at the hottest and coldest players in college football at this point in 2014.

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Bret Bielema's Arkansas Razorbacks Are the SEC's Sleeper Team of 2014

For a moment this week, Bret Bielema’s main concern wasn’t the vaunted Texas A&M passing attack or a division ripe with ranked teams and College Football Playoff hopefuls. It was a stray Popeye’s chicken box—along with a harmless, nameless bag of Chinese food—that he stumbled upon after practice.

“This isn’t smorgasbord central here,” Bielema bellowed to his players. “If you want to eat our meals, that’s fine, but I don’t need to see things lying all over the counter. Nothing against Popeye’s and nothing against Chinese food, but it wasn’t on the menu.”

Now, no one hates Popeye’s. And a stray box of delicious fried chicken remnants—by Bielema’s own admission—pales in comparison to more pressing football matters. The same can be said about the team’s noticeably improved attire on game days, a movement that Bielema spoke of like a proud father.

Takeout boxes and pristine Windsor knots won’t make Kevin Sumlin’s offense any less diabolical. It won’t make the SEC West any less mortal than it looks right now. But the fact that Bielema is able to speak of these minute matters rather than massive fundamental cracks in the foundation—issues that plagued his team all of last season—highlight how far this program has come in relatively short order.

As a result, the SEC West—college football’s most powerful sector—has been put on notice for the foreseeable future. Arkansas, in unfamiliar fashion, is leading that charge.

It's not Nick Saban. It's not Gus Malzahn. You know plenty about these coaches and teams already. It's the program that was given no real expectations to perform; the one poised to grow the most.

“We’re probably still another recruiting class away with the offensive line,” Bielema said. “We need depth at fullback, tight end and wide receivers to get to where we need to be and operated as efficiently as I’d like. But we’re definitely stepping in the right direction.”

It is by no means perfect. It will remain a work in progress that will take years to fully complete, but the Razorbacks’ surge speaks more to the vast weaponry in the SEC West than the familiar rank-friendly brands—teams like Alabama and Auburn, for starters.

The bottom is pushing the top, and thus, we’re left with a football picture the likes we haven’t seen. Arkansas, meanwhile, is trying to avoid being the odd man out for much longer.

“I’m very aware that we’re the only team in the SEC West that isn’t ranked. I get that,” Bielema said. “We haven’t done anything to deserve that. But you’re beginning to establish some value to your name that has nothing to do with dollars; it has to do with what people are saying about you. We will earn what we get this Saturday by what we do this week.”

 

The Beautiful Destruction of the SEC West

Often times when we assess a division’s true worth, we begin at the summit. You start with the Florida States, Oregons and Alabamas of the world and work your way downward, making stops along the way to point out various imperfections.

As you make your way to the deepest depths of these groupings, you are left with logos that are there to simply take up space. These aren’t nearly as important as the checkmarks you crossed off to get here, because after all, someone has to be on the bottom.

In the instance of the SEC West, however, let’s start at the floor and work our way in reverse order. As you evaluate the current standings, you should recognize one glaring difference.

The current cellar team, LSU, has anything but a cellar reputation. It also has a rank in the AP Top 25, which you can evaluate as you will. The only team without a spot in the AP Top 25—or in this instance, the Top 17—is Arkansas.

“It might blow someone’s mind who isn’t involved in it,” Bielema said on the state of the division. “But for those of us who see it on a daily basis it really isn’t all that amazing.”

Arkansas will unquestionably rid itself of that dreaded “unranked” label if it can deliver an upset on Saturday. To do so, it will have to conquer Texas A&M as a 10-point underdog according to Odds Shark.

Although sportsbooks have A&M as a substantial favorite, they’ve also had to alter their expectations of the Hogs a month into the season. Golden Nugget oddsmaker Aaron Kessler provided perspective on what this team would look like operating in a different climate.

“There are only two—maybe three—teams in the Big Ten I would have favored over Arkansas regardless of where they played,” Kessler said. “Those teams are Michigan State, Wisconsin and perhaps Nebraska. In the ACC, Arkansas would be favored against every team except Florida State and Clemson.

For those keeping track, that means Arkansas would be favored over preseason playoff favorite, Ohio State. 

“I like them. They impressed some people with that Texas Tech win. It’s not just the numbers but how dominant they have looked.”

This isn’t your average bottom dweller; a break from the normal top-heavy presentation found in just about every division—including the SEC’s far less successful twin brother.

 In terms of evaluating the SEC West, Kessler sees the same thing you do. The only difference is he has to craft point spreads and assess value with enormous financial implications hanging in the balance.

“It's not even close,” Kessler said on ranking divisions. “I'd go SEC West followed by a big gap until I got to the Pac-12 North, SEC East and the Pac-12 South.”

 

The SEC's Most Dangerous Bottom Feeder

The expectations have shifted. Arkansas, thought to be a pseudo bye week for most SEC teams, has vigor. The Hogs won’t be favorite in the majority of their games, but with their unique rushing attack, they’ll be an enormous nuisance at the bare minimum.

Through four games, the Razorbacks are averaging 7.13 yards per carry, which is good for fourth nationally. The 1,298 rushing yards are good for fifth in the nation, and the 17 rushing touchdowns are second overall.

This incredible production hasn’t exactly come against brick walls. Outside of Auburn, the competition has been relatively average. Arkansas has played a much better schedule than most, although the Hogs should have rushing success against programs such as Texas Tech or Northern Illinois.

They’ve done much more than that, though. Arkansas ran for 650 yards the past few weeks, which has prompted the sudden reevaluation and timeline adjustments.

For Bielema, the praise that has come with encouraging early returns clashes somewhat with his personal expectations of what a vibrant football program should look like.

“I hope that some day beating Northern Illinois isn’t really a big deal,” Bielema said. “It was a big deal because we hadn’t won at home, but it’s a team that we should expect to have success on.”

The rest of the schedule—in particular, the next month—is a different story. Arkansas’s expectations will be reset one way or another with games against Texas A&M, Alabama and Georgia on deck. There is also another opponent included in this stretch, one Bielema wasted little time highlighting when pressed about the difficulty ahead.

“There’s a little bye week in there,” Bielema pointed out with a smile when pressed about navigating the minefield.

Indeed there is. Arkansas will catch its breath following this weekend’s game at AT&T Stadium before gearing up for a final stretch that stretches out over two months.

The rest of the SEC West has a similar turbulent path. The only difference, however, is many of these programs were anticipating Arkansas to provide a convenient tally in the win column. That’s no longer the case, and it’s why the SEC West will deliver heavyweight fights each and every weekend for the foreseeable future.

The hierarchy in the division will undergo some movement this weekend, regardless of the result. An impressive Texas A&M victory could propel the Aggies into a new expectation threshold. A surprising Arkansas victory—or even a solid performance in an "amost" effort—would push the bottom of that conference closer to the top, widening that gap between it and every other division.

“A win would probably justify in our guys’ minds that as long as they keep doing the things we ask them to do—offensively, defensively, special teams and what we ask them to do in the weight room and the classroom—you’ll have success,” Bielema said. “And in the SEC, it doesn’t come easy.”

It comes in the from of a box of chicken. Or a perfectly ironed shirt. Or the little things that the program suddenly has the luxury of addressing because it is taking care of everything else, one missed arm tackle at a time.

There is tremendous work still to be done and progress to be made. But after a year ripe defined by negative headlines and losses, Bielema has legitimized his program, and in turn, made the nation’s most terrifying group of teams even more so from the bottom up.

And the best part is, he’s only getting started.

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Texas A&M Football: 5 Players Who Have Surprised Us in 2014

The Texas A&M football team is 4-0 and ranked No. 6 in the country. It has achieved this early success because multiple players have stepped up and impressed with their strong performances early in the season. 

The Aggies were expected to take a step back in 2014 after losing Johnny Manziel and Mike Evans on offense and three expected starters from a defense that struggled in 2013. Instead, the Aggies have seen new stars emerge on both sides of the ball. 

Elite football programs do not rebuild after they lose great players, they simply reload by replacing those great players with talent that is just as good. Texas A&M is not an elite football program yet, but head coach Kevin Sumlin and his staff have done a very good job of improving the talent on the roster so they can reload at most positions.

This is a look at the players who have been pleasant surprises on both sides of the ball during the 2014 season. 

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UCLA Bruins vs. Arizona State Sun Devils Betting Odds: Analysis and Prediction

UCLA is 6-5 and 8-3 against the spread in its last eight meetings with Arizona State, but the Sun Devils beat the Bruins last year to win the Pac-12 South.

In a game that is likely to mean a lot when sorting out the Pac-12 South again this year, UCLA and ASU clash Thursday night in Tempe.

 

Point spread: The Bruins opened as three-point favorites at Sun Devil Stadium, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark (line updates and matchup report).

 

Odds Shark computer prediction: 34.9-33.8 Sun Devils

 

Why the UCLA Bruins can cover the spread

The Bruins are off to a 3-0 start, with victories at Virginia, over Memphis and at Texas. However, even in beating a pair of quality opponents on the road, UCLA hasn't played its best ball. And yet the Bruins outgained the Longhorns two weeks ago by over 100 yards and rushed for 217.

UCLA lost Heisman candidate and starting quarterback Brett Hundley early in that game against Texas to a non-throwing elbow injury, but junior Jerry Neuheisel, son of former Bruins QB and head coach Rick Neuheisel, came in and threw for 178 yards and two scores, earning the honor of being carried off the field on the shoulders of his teammates.

Hundley has had a bye week to heal, but head coach Jim Mora has yet to comment on whether he'll be ready to start, per the Los Angeles Times' Everett Cook.

 

Why the Arizona State Sun Devils can cover the spread

The Sun Devils are also 3-0, and 1-0 in Pac-12 play, having put up at least 38 points every time out. Two weeks ago, ASU defeated Colorado 38-24, grabbing an early 17-0 lead and only giving up the cover as 15-point favorites by allowing a meaningless score midway through the fourth quarter.

The Devils ran for 223 yards against the Buffaloes, and while they gave up over 500 yards of offense, much of that was accumulated while ASU played soft defense with a big lead. Running back DJ Foster has already run for 510 yards this season, and the Devils have committed just one turnover through three games.

ASU hasn't had great luck against UCLA recently, but it piled up 223 yards on the ground in beating the Bruins at the Rose Bowl last year 38-33.

 

Smart Pick

While Hundley may or may not be ready to go Thursday, Arizona State will be without its starting QB, Taylor Kelly, who remains sidelined with a foot injury suffered two weeks ago against Colorado.

And that, plus the Bruins' advantage on defense, should be the difference. So the pick here is with the visitors, giving the points to extend their 8-3 ATS run against the Sun Devils.

 

Trends

  • UCLA is 8-3 ATS in its last 11 games when playing Arizona State.
  • Arizona State is 4-2 straight up in its last six games when playing at home against UCLA.

 

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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UCLA Bruins vs. Arizona State Sun Devils Betting Odds: Analysis and Prediction

UCLA is 6-5 and 8-3 against the spread in its last eight meetings with Arizona State, but the Sun Devils beat the Bruins last year to win the Pac -12 South...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Tennessee Volunteers vs. Georgia Bulldogs Betting Odds: Analysis and Prediction

While struggling over recent seasons, including four straight losses to rival Georgia, the Volunteers of Tennessee have had financial success against the Bulldogs, going 6-2 against the number in the last eight meetings.

Tennessee will try to snap its losing streak when it runs with the 'Dawgs on Saturday afternoon down in Athens, Ga.

 

Point spread: The Bulldogs opened as 18-point favorites at Sanford Stadium, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark. The total was 56.5. (Line updates and matchup report)

 

Odds Shark computer prediction: 52.9-32.2 Bulldogs

 

Why the Tennessee Volunteers can cover the spread

The Vols are off to a 2-1 start in their second season under Butch Jones, with victories over Utah State and Arkansas State and a tough loss at Oklahoma. Tennessee is only 1-2 ATS, but missed the cover against the Red Wolves by one point, winning 34-19 at -16, then blew an excellent chance to cover as 21-point dogs against the Sooners.

The Vols were driving early in the fourth quarter for a score that could have gotten them within 27-17, but QB Justin Worley threw a 100-yard pick-six, the final score in a 34-10 defeat.

Last year Tennessee almost had the Bulldogs beat in regulation, allowing the tying touchdown with five seconds to go. Then the Vols fumbled at the pylon in overtime, leading to a heartbreaking 34-31 loss but a cover at +13.

 

Why the Georgia Bulldogs can cover the spread

The Bulldogs bounced back from a heartbreaking loss of their own a couple weeks ago against South Carolina to trounce Troy last week 66-0, covering at -41. Georgia outgained the Trojans by over 300 yards and ran for 367.

Heisman candidate RB Todd Gurley touched the ball only six times last week, but he didn't need to do much, as the 'Dawgs got 155 yards and three scores on just 10 carries from freshman Sony Michel. Georgia already owns one win/cover over a quality program going through a rebuilding process this season, a 45-21 victory over Clemson in the season opener.

It would come as no surprise if a similar outcome occurred Saturday.

 

Smart Pick

Georgia is shooting for a division title, while Tennessee is building for the future. But the Vols hung in there against Oklahoma two weeks ago, and had last week off to prepare for this one.

The Bulldogs, meanwhile, often seem to play up or down to their competition, depending upon who that is. So the pick in this spot is with the dog and the points and an over wager if the computer is anywhere close to the mark.

 

Trends:

  • The total has gone OVER in four of Tennessee's last five games when playing Georgia
  • Georgia is 4-2 ATS in its last six games

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Stanford Cardinal vs. Washington Huskies Betting Odds: Analysis and Prediction

The unbeaten Washington Huskies will face their first real test of the season when they open Pac-12 play by hosting the Stanford Cardinal Saturday.

The Huskies are a perfect 4-0 straight up this year but just 1-3 against the spread, with their first two wins having been decided by a total of eight points.

 

Point spread: The Cardinal opened as 5.5-point favorites at Husky Stadium, but it was 7.5 points as of Thursday, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark. The total was 48 (line updates and matchup report).

 

Odds Shark computer prediction: 40.7-32.1 Cardinal

 

Why the Stanford Cardinal can cover the spread

Washington has not played anybody yet, while Stanford has covered the spread in two of its first three games and had a bye week to prepare for the Huskies. Defensively, the Cardinal cannot play much better, surrendering a total of 13 points this season, with all of them coming in a 13-10 home loss to the USC Trojans on September 6.

Stanford bounced back from that loss with a 35-0 win over Army right before the bye, covering as a 29.5-point favorite.

The Cardinal have gone 4-1 ATS in the last five meetings at Washington and 12-3-1 versus the line in their past 16 road games against conference opponents, according to the Odds Shark college football database.

 

Why the Washington Huskies can cover the spread

The Huskies are 7-3 ATS in their last 10 home games against Pac-12 foes, and new head coach Chris Petersen finally gets to be involved in a conference game. The former coach of the Boise State Broncos enjoyed a lot of success in the WAC and Mountain West, going 57-6 (90 percent) in eight seasons, and he knows how important these league games are.

Offensively, Washington has been a scoring machine since barely beating Hawaii 17-16 in the season opener and failing to cover as a 17-point road favorite. The Huskies have averaged 49.3 points per game in their past three and limited Illinois and Georgia State to 33 points combined in their last two. Bettors have to like the fact that they are getting nearly a touchdown at home for Washington here.

 

Smart Pick

This play all comes down to whether you believe the Huskies can score like they have been over the past three games. While Stanford’s defense has been outstanding, the team has not played an offense like Washington’s yet this year.

Petersen inherited a schedule with easy opponents early on, but he has used this time to fine-tune the offense and prepare it for conference play. The Huskies have covered the last two meetings with the Cardinal as similar dogs, and they even won the last home game between the teams 17-13 in 2012, which happened to be the lone non-cover for Stanford in the past five at Washington.

Look for the Huskies to keep this one close again, with the possibility of pulling off the upset in front of their home fans.

 

Trends

  • Stanford is 5-1 SU in its last six games when playing Washington.
  • Stanford is 12-3-1 ATS in its last 16 road games vs. Pac-12 foes.

 

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

Stanford Cardinal vs. Washington Huskies Betting Odds: Analysis and Prediction

The unbeaten Washington Huskies will face their first real test of the season when they open Pac -12 play by hosting the Stanford Cardinal Saturday...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Oregon State Beavers vs. Southern Cal Trojans Betting Odds Analysis, Prediction

The USC Trojans might have fire in their eyes as they try to bounce back after that debacle at Boston College a couple of weeks ago, but the Oregon State Beavers can be a tough foe in tough spots, as their 5-0 record against the spread in their last five Pac-12 road games shows.

USC will be a double-digit favorite when it takes the field Saturday night at the Coliseum against OSU.

 

Point spread: The Trojans opened as 13-point favorites at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum but it was bet down to -9, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark. The total was 56, which would prove very low if the computer prediction is accurate. (Line updates and matchup report)

 

Odds Shark computer prediction: 42.9-29.8 Trojans

 

Why the Oregon State Beavers can cover the spread

Oregon State is off to a 3-0 start to this season, with victories over Portland State, Hawaii and San Diego State. And while they couldn't cover as 32-point favorites over the Vikings, they should have covered at -10 over the Warriors, after leading that game 38-7.

Last week they covered at -10 over the Aztecs, winning 28-7. The Beavers held San Diego State to just 215 yards of offense and won the time-of-possession battle by a 35-25 margin.

Bigger picture, with betting lines based in part on reputation, Oregon State has covered the spread in five of the last seven meetings with USC, winning three of those contests straight up as underdogs.

 

Why the Southern Cal Trojans can cover the spread

The Trojans are 2-1 both SU and ATS, with wins/covers over Fresno State and Stanford but that 37-31 loss at Boston College two weeks ago as 17-point favorites. USC outgained the Bulldogs by almost 400 yards, covering as 19-point chalk, then held the Cardinal to 128 yards on the ground and forced two turnovers in winning straight up as a three-point dog.

QB Cody Kessler has completed 71 percent of his throws this year, with eight touchdown passes and zero interceptions, while RB Javorius Allen has rushed for 318 yards. Last year the Trojans beat the Beavers up in Corvallis 31-14, outrushing OSU 242-92, winning outright as five-point underdogs.

 

Smart Pick

While USC may have beaten Stanford it got outgained that day by 122 yards. Then the Trojans got outgained by Boston College by 169 yards. And while Southern Cal beat Oregon State last year, Beavers QB Sean Mannion threw three interceptions, two in the red zone. OSU also missed a short field goal that day.

In other words, that game should have been closer. So the pick in this spot is with the Beavers and the points.

 

Trends:

  • Oregon State is 6-2 SU in its last eight games on the road
  • Southern Cal is 12-4 SU in its last 16 games when playing Oregon State
  • USC 1-3 ATS last four meetings with Oregon State
  • USC 8-3 ATS last 11 home games vs. Pac-12

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Oregon State Beavers vs. Southern Cal Trojans Betting Odds Analysis, Prediction

The USC Trojans might have fire in their eyes as they try to bounce back after that debacle at Boston College a couple of weeks ago, but the Oregon State Beavers can be a tough foe ...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

College Football Week 5: Top 25 Upset Alert

With Week 5 quickly approaching, is there another slate of wild upsets in the cards? Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Adam Kramer predicts some of the more interesting matchups. 

Will a Top 25 team fall this weekend?

Watch the video and let us know! 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs. Syracuse Orange Betting Odds, Analysis, Prediction

The Syracuse Orange will look to rebound after being upset at home last week when they face the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at MetLife Stadium in New York’s College Classic.

While the Orange will be playing on a neutral field, the New York area has been a home away from home for them, as they have covered the number in two previous games at MetLife and won two Pinstripe Bowl appearances at Yankee Stadium straight-up and against the spread

Point spread: The Fighting Irish opened as 13-point favorites at MetLife Stadium, but it was bet down to 9.5 points by Thursday, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark. The total was 49 points (line updates and matchup reports here).

Odds Shark computer prediction: 30.8-20.0 Fighting Irish

 

Why the Notre Dame Fighting Irish can cover the spread

Notre Dame has gone 6-1 ATS in its last seven games off a bye week and will try to continue the team’s perfect season away from home as a double-digit favorite.

The Fighting Irish have looked impressive in all three games so far this year but fell short of covering the spread in a 30-14 win over the Purdue Boilermakers as 30-point favorites in their last game on September 13.

Notre Dame has outscored the opposition 109-31 in three games and will be playing on a neutral field for the second straight time after beating Purdue at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

 

Why the Syracuse Orange can cover the spread

Syracuse lost both of the previous games the school played at MetLife Stadium, against Penn State 23-17 in 2013 as eight-point underdogs and against USC 42-29 in 2012 as 24.5-point dogs, covering the spread both times.

The Orange may have even been looking ahead to this prime-time matchup with Notre Dame in losing to the Maryland Terrapins 34-20 at the Carrier Dome last Saturday. They were down to Maryland 31-13 at halftime and wasted a great team rushing effort, totaling 370 yards on the ground including 156 from quarterback Terrel Hunt and 138 from running back Prince-Tyson Gulley.

If Syracuse can run the ball like that again, improving to 4-0 ATS in four games against the Irish is realistic.

 

Smart Pick

This is the farthest the Irish have traveled in 2014, and the bye week may not have come at a great time for them. They were playing well heading into the bye, but that momentum may be stalled in this spot as a big favorite.

Notre Dame also has much bigger games ahead on its schedule, while Syracuse has been targeting this game since the school put together New York’s College Classic a few years ago. The Orange have also performed well as underdogs recently, going 3-1 ATS in their past four, so watch for them to be extra motivated to perform well in front of thousands of alumni.

 

Trends:

  • The total has gone UNDER in six of Notre Dame's last seven games
  • Syracuse is 4-1 SU in its last five games

 

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

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North Carolina Tar Heels vs. Clemson Tigers: Odds, Analysis and Prediction

The North Carolina Tar Heels and Clemson Tigers both suffered tough losses last week, but each for different reasons as they meet in a key ACC matchup on Saturday.

The Tar Heels are coming off their first setback of the season, and it was a big one as they lost badly on the road to the East Carolina Pirates, 70-41.

North Carolina also fell to 0-3 against the spread while the Tigers have covered their past two but dropped a 23-17 decision on the road to the Florida State Seminoles in overtime last week.

 

Point Spread: The Tigers opened as 10-point favorites at Memorial Stadium, but the spread was bet to 14.5 points by Thursday.

Odds Shark Computer Prediction: Tigers 44.0, Tar Heels 31.7

 

Why the North Carolina Tar Heels Can Cover the Spread

The Tar Heels had high expectations for their play in the ACC this season, and those remain as they finally get a chance to prove themselves in their conference opener.

Even though they have struggled a bit in three nonconference games, the slate is wiped clean for league play and they can start competing for the ACC crown.

North Carolina is 5-1 against the spread in its last six conference games, with the only loss during that stretch coming against the Duke Blue Devils, 27-25, in its 2013 finale as a five-point home favorite.

The Tar Heels know what is at stake here and just need to keep this game within a couple of scores to cover the spread.

 

Why the Clemson Tigers Can Cover the Spread

Clemson has not faced North Carolina since 2011 but routed the Tar Heels 59-38 in that last meeting as a 9.5-point home favorite. The Tigers got off to an 8-0 start that year but have already dropped two games this season—none bigger than last week’s loss to Florida State.

Clemson dominated most of the game against the Seminoles but missed two field goals and turned the ball over late to miss out on a potential game-winning opportunity in the final minutes of regulation.

Still, true freshman quarterback Deshaun Watson played well under pressure and kept his team in the game until the end.

Watson is a future star and will have a short memory to help the Tigers bounce back in this spot. They have covered the spread in their last three games as home favorites.

 

Smart Pick

Who will have the worse hangover from last week’s performance?

That’s highly debatable, but Clemson is a fairly young team and should be able to rebound here. North Carolina was just on the road and got clobbered, so things will not get any easier in Death Valley.

The Tigers are the more talented team and will be a lot more confident playing at home. That may have even made the difference last week against Florida State.

The favorite is 4-1 ATS in the last five meetings, so look for Clemson to take out frustrations from the loss to the Seminoles on the Tar Heels in an easy victory.

 

Trends:

  • North Carolina is 4-11 straight up in its last 15 games on the road.
  • Clemson is 4-1 SU in its last five games when playing at home against North Carolina.

 

All point spread and lines data courtesy of Odds Shark, all quotes gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted. Check out Twitter for injury and line movement updates.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Missouri Tigers vs. South Carolina Gamecocks: Betting Odds, Analysis, Prediction

The South Carolina Gamecocks carry a three-game winning streak into this SEC matchup with the Missouri Tigers Saturday, but they have struggled to cover the spread recently.

The Gamecocks are just 1-3 against the spread (ATS) in their last four games following a 48-34 win against the Vanderbilt Commodores last week as 21.5-point road favorites.

 

Point spread: The Gamecocks opened as 5.5-point favorites at Williams-Brice Stadium, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark. The total was 61.5 points (Line updates and matchup report).

 

Odds Shark computer prediction: 38.6-28.5 Gamecocks

 

Why the Missouri Tigers can cover the spread

The Tigers were playing well this season, unbeaten in their first three games, before suffering a surprising 31-27 setback at home to the Indiana Hoosiers last week in the final minute. Mizzou lost to Indiana as a 14.5-point favorite and had covered its previous two games easily, beating Toledo and Central Florida by a combined score of 87-34.

A costly pass interference penalty on a 4th-and-6 play kept the game-winning drive alive for the Hoosiers and spoiled a great performance from Tigers quarterback Maty Mauk, who threw for 326 yards and two touchdowns in the losing effort.

Still, Missouri has done well in SEC road games, going 6-1 ATS in the last seven. The Tigers are also 7-2-1 ATS in their past 10 games as road underdogs.

 

Why the South Carolina Gamecocks can cover the spread

Since losing 52-28 at home to the undefeated Texas A&M Aggies in the season opener for both teams August 28, South Carolina has played much better offensively, averaging nearly 40 points per game.

The issue for South Carolina this season has been the team’s defense, which has still surrendered an average of almost 31 points during the winning streak. The Gamecocks allowed Vandy to jump out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter last week before scoring 24 unanswered points to take control. Their defense did have an interception return for a TD and seems to play to the level of its opponent.

While South Carolina has dropped three of four ATS, the team had covered five of its previous six, so it’s just a matter of time before the Gamecocks turn it around.

 

Smart Pick

Outside of the season-opening loss to Texas A&M, South Carolina has played well when motivated. The Gamecocks showed their mettle in coming back at Vanderbilt and beat the Georgia Bulldogs as 6.5-point home underdogs in their last game at Williams-Brice Stadium.

They also defeated a good East Carolina team 33-23 back on September 6, and that non-cover looks a lot better now that the Pirates are 3-1 after a 70-41 rout of the North Carolina Tar Heels. South Carolina handed Mizzou its only regular-season loss last year 27-24 in overtime as a three-point road underdog.

The Tigers have been playing over their heads this season and finally got caught. Now, they will finally play their first SEC game of the year, and the Gamecocks should win by double digits.

 

Trends

  • Missouri is 6-1 straight up in its last seven games on the road.
  • The total has gone over in four of South Carolina's last five 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

Florida State Seminoles vs. North Carolina State Wolfpack Betting Odds, Pick

Florida State is the defending national champion, but North Carolina State shouldn't have any fear of taking on the Seminoles, considering it has won two of the last four meetings and covered the spread in 11 of the last 13 matchups.

The Wolfpack will be big home dogs when they host FSU on Saturday afternoon in Raleigh.

 

Point spread: The Seminoles opened as 23-point favorites at Carter-Finley Stadium, but the spread was down to 18 points Thursday, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark. The total was 58.5 points (line updates and matchup report).

 

Odds Shark computer prediction: 44.4-25.9 Seminoles

 

Why the Florida State Seminoles can cover the spread

The Seminoles survived a close encounter with Clemson last week without starting quarterback Jameis Winston, who served a one-game suspension for some more off-field antics. Backup QB Sean Maguire threw for 305 yards and one touchdown, a 74-yard connection with Rashad Greene that tied the score at 17-17 with six minutes to go.

The FSU defense did the rest, forcing a turnover and then stuffing the Tigers on 4th-and-1 in overtime, setting up the winning score from running back Karlos Williams. This week, the 'Noles figure to get Winston back, and that's good news for Florida State financial backers considering FSU is 16-0 straight up and 11-4-1 against the spread in games he's started.

 

Why the North Carolina State Wolfpack can cover the spread

North Carolina State is off to a 4-0 start in its second season under head coach Dave Doeren, already topping last year's win total of three. Sure, the schedule hasn't been too tough, but the last two victories have come convincingly—49-17 at South Florida, covering as field-goal favorites, and 42-0 over Presbyterian, covering at minus-40.

The Pack ran for 315 yards against the Bulls and 265 yards (on just 31 carries) against the Blue Hose. North Carolina State has also hit the 40-point mark three games in a row, so it might have enough on offense to keep this one close.

The Wolfpack have covered 11 of 13 matchups with FSU, so this spread shouldn’t scare them or their backers.

 

Smart Pick

As of this writing, Winston is expected to start this game, but with the way that guy and this program operate, things could change by Saturday. So this pick relies almost entirely upon his status. Last year, with Winston, Florida State jumped out to a 35-0 lead in the first quarter on North Carolina State.

And while that probably won't happen this time around, the 'Noles, who went 3-1 ATS as double-digit road chalk last year, are still the pick here, on the road, giving the points.

 

Trends

  • Florida State is 4-2 ATS in its last six games on the road.
  • North Carolina State is 11-2 ATS in its last 13 games vs. Florida State.

 

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

Buying or Selling Every Top 10 Team as Playoff Championship Contender

Eighty percent of the Top 10 teams in the country have played a major-conference opponent, and one of the two that hasn't has played Boise State, one of the best group-of-five teams.

To wit, most of them have had to show us something to earn their current ranking. They have proved themselves worthy of their spot, giving us reason to believe they are a national title contender.

But some Top 10 teams are more worthy of that belief than others. Whether it is due to who they have beaten, how they have looked or who they still have left to play, certain Top 10 teams have stocks worth buying, while others don't.

Keep that last point—who they still have left to play—in mind as you read through these verdicts. Four teams from the SEC West made this list, and two more (LSU and Mississippi State) were not far behind. Even Arkansas, the sole SEC West team outside the national Top 25, looks frisky enough to pull an upset or two.

Only one or maybe two teams from that group will advance.

Their stocks were adjusted accordingly.

 

Note: All ranking info refers to the Week 5 Associated Press Poll

Begin Slideshow

Florida State Football: How the Seminoles Can Avoid Another Upset in Raleigh

Jimbo Fisher is a proponent of the process; quick to point out that Florida State’s successes and setbacks have been equal partners in helping gradually shape the Seminoles into the top college football program in the country.

But while Fisher acknowledges that FSU’s 17-16 loss at North Carolina State in 2012 was a “wakeup call,” the fifth-year head coach also knows no matter how far his team has come since that embarrassing loss, a similar fate this weekend could be just as devastating.

So how can Fisher’s team avoid another upset in Raleigh, North Carolina, when the No. 1 Seminoles (3-0, 1-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) and Wolfpack (4-0) play Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET? 

Perhaps most important in making sure history doesn’t repeat itself is remembering why it happened in the first place. Just like two seasons ago, FSU will roll into Raleigh with a top-five ranking and a legitimate shot to compete for a national championship. But a loaded roster and favorable spot alongside the game’s elite teams aren’t the only ingredients in a winning recipe.

“It takes more than just showing up with the name of Florida State,” FSU running back Karlos Williams said in an interview with Seminoles.com. “You have to go out there and play good football and execute every single down. Even if a bad play happens, [you have to] process [and] move on and play the next play and we have to do that this week.” 

If Florida State’s players learned their name alone isn’t enough to avoid blowing a 16-0 halftime lead and any potential championship chances, then Fisher also learned how to be a better coach in the wake of that loss to the Wolfpack.

FSU is 24-1 since that defeat and hasn’t lost a conference game since. The talent level in Tallahassee has certainly increased in that span, but Fisher’s ability as a head coach has experienced its own upward trajectory as well.

“You learn how to find ways to affect them and get them back in that mode,” Fisher said Monday at his weekly press conference. “How to coach them better and make better adjustments or whatever needs to be done, whether they are adjustments, emotional adjustments. Maybe pulling a guy for a couple plays to get his bearings back. Whatever it may be, how to maybe change a call, change something you are doing. 

“To just keep self-evaluating everything and process all the different phases around you to be able to get out of it.”

Fisher and his staff didn’t make the necessary halftime tweaks and adjustments to give the Seminoles the best chance to hold on to a lead and win that ballgame two seasons ago.

But such issues haven’t existed since then—just look at last weekend’s triumph over Clemson for evidence of that notion. Fisher and his staff revamped their offensive and defensive game plans in the back-and-forth affair against the Tigers, and those halftime changes helped FSU secure what would turn out to be an overtime victory. Avoiding another upset at the hands of the Wolfpack could come down to Fisher drawing on that second-half success.

"It was very tough, very frustrating, very point blank, but I guess it was another thing that we had to go through to make us the team we are now," Fisher said about losing two the Wolfpack. "And I think that loss may have had a huge impact on what happened the other night."

 

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

Follow @BrandonMellor on Twitter.

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Charlie Strong Is Just What College Football Needs, but He Won't Last at Texas

Every college football program believes in its myths.

At Notre Dame, where it's about blending championships and godliness, five players expect to have a hearing next week in the team's most recent cheating scandal. At Michigan, where it's about winning in the tough, old-fashioned way, the tough, old-fashioned coach they brought in to replace the modern one is about to be fired.      

This is all to explain what is already starting to happen to Texas coach Charlie Strong, who is in just the first month of his first season on the job. It's already starting, and within a few weeks Strong will be in deep trouble. You can smell it coming.

The thing is, Strong is a great fit for the college football world, a compassionate disciplinarian, which makes him a great fit for society, too. At Texas, he is, and always was going to be, a bad fit.

As the NFL drowns in off-field scandals, we claim to want discipline in football. And on Tuesday, Strong kicked a player off his team for the ninth time since spring.

Two players charged with sexual assault were kicked off immediately, and Strong didn't have to see a tape of the incident. Most of the others, according to Horns Digest's Chip Brown, were kicked off for failed drug tests.

So Strong is doing things the right way. His problem, though, is that Texas isn't interested in the right way. It wants the Texas Way. At least, that's what Texas' big dollar power brokers want. They never wanted Strong in the first place, as he wasn't big enough or showy enough, and they still can't even believe the school had the nerve to hire him without their approval.

"(At the time) I was talking to a coach who I think is one of the top five coaches in the nation," billionaire Texas oilman Red McCombs told CBSSports.com's Dennis Dodd this month, specifying only that he wasn't talking about Nick Saban. "I think I had him at the 5-yard line. The next day, they announced they'd hired Coach Strong. Obviously, something happened...

"It fell out like I was disappointed in Coach Strong. I was disappointed in the decision being made."

Revisionist history. When Strong was hired in January, McCombs said on ESPN radio that Strong was better suited as a position coach, or maybe a coordinator.

The mix of 1) players being kicked out; 2) recruiting shortcomings of former coach Mack Brown; and 3) quarterback David Ash quitting football because he had suffered too many concussions has left the Longhorns at 1-2, including a 41-7 home loss to BYU.

It's going to get worse. This team is going to go 5-7, maybe a game better or a game worse. And the powerbrokers are already expecting improvement.

They expect winning now, while Strong is trying to rebuild a program from the ground up. He preaches what he calls his five core values, and has put them on signs in the football building. There were signs like that last year at Louisville, too.

Honesty. Treat Women with Respect. No Drugs. No Stealing. No Guns.

The player kicked off on Tuesday was offensive tackle Kennedy Estelle, and Horns Digest wrote that Estelle and Desmond Harrison came to Strong a few weeks ago and said they had substance abuse problems. The school, according to Horns Digest, wanted to kick Estelle and Harrison out. But Strong talked officials into allowing them to keep their scholarships, go to rehab, go to class, and not practice or play football. If they followed the rules for six weeks, they could be reinstated on the team.

Estelle, according to the publication, did not follow the rules. So he's out.

Strong is sending his message. It's a message about doing things right, developing as young men, going to class. It's developing as men, and then winning from that core.

Sure, he's not perfect. He's not a myth. But he appears to be just what we need.

And yet, even if there is no outcry about him yet, it's coming. Soon. Believe me. ESPN already did an Outside the Lines on Wednesday on the criticism surrounding him. Analyst Danny Kanell, the former Florida State and NFL quarterback, said he's "concerned that Charlie Strong is losing that locker room" that his "my way or the highway approach" is not working.

Kanell is wrong. Strong isn't losing the locker room; he's building one. He is laying down laws and showing compassion and strength at the same time. And he has a record of success.

Strong is working to change the locker room culture, but that's not the culture that's going to defeat him.

Mack Brown did not leave the program in the best of shape. He rebuilt it, got Texas back into the national elite, won a national title and lost another one in the championship game. He told me last year that after that loss, he dropped into a funk. He admitted to making mistakes in recruiting and coaching. Strong has to pay for that now.

Any reasonable person can see that. But Brown built that program partly through his coaching, but partly by being the world's greatest PR man, masterfully bringing together all the powerbroker forces through his personality.

Strong doesn't have that personality. He might not have a personality at all. When he was hired in January, he sat on his hands and mumbled during the press conference. The Texas Way wanted a splashy announcement.

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Strong isn't splashy. Unlike Mack Brown, he doesn't seem like one of them. And I hope race isn't involved in that, but as ESPN has pointed out, he is the first black head coach Texas has ever hired for a men's sport.

Whatever it is, he doesn't fit. His resume said Louisville on it. He's not Saban or Gruden or Mora. The power boys undermined Brown in the first place, publicly pressuring him to leave while dropping Saban's name.

The power boys thought that all the money in the world could make everything right in 30 seconds. Apparently, Saban didn't think so.

But they wanted the myth.

 

Greg Couch covers college football for Bleacher Report. He also writes for The New York Times and was formerly a scribe for FoxSports.com and the Chicago Sun-Times.

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