NCAA Football

Bowl Predictions 2014: Updated Playoff Projections Heading into Week 8

We projected Florida State, Oklahoma, Michigan State and Alabama as the four playoff teams heading into Week 7’s slate of games, and we are not going to change that now.

Yes, the Crimson Tide struggled mightily against an Arkansas team that hasn’t won a conference game since 2012, and the Spartans let Purdue hang around far too long, but the bottom line is both teams came away with victories.

Elsewhere, the Seminoles handled Syracuse, and the Sooners narrowly escaped a matchup with their archrival, Texas. The game against the Longhorns may have been too close for comfort from Oklahoma’s perspective, but some rivalry games really do follow the “throw the records out” cliche.

Week 8 does not get much easier for Florida State, Oklahoma or Alabama, but the good news is all three teams are at home. The thought here is that the Seminoles outlast Notre Dame, the Sooners knock off Kansas State and the Crimson Tide handle a Texas A&M team that is likely overrated to begin with given its recent performances against the Mississippi schools and Arkansas.

Michigan State should handle Indiana based on the talent gap alone, even if the Hoosiers did expose Missouri earlier in the season.

That means the playoff projections stay intact for another week. However, they are far from set in stone with potential trap games looming. With that in mind, let’s take a look at a few dark-horse teams that won’t actually make the playoffs but could realistically disrupt the path for those with postseason hopes.


Playoff Projections

Sugar Bowl: Florida State vs. Oklahoma

Rose Bowl: Michigan State vs. Alabama 

Championship Bowl (in Arlington, Texas): TBD (Semifinal winners)


Dark-horse Teams That Could Derail Playoff Hopes


Weird things happen on Thursday nights in the college football world, and Florida State will walk into Louisville on Thursday, Oct. 30 with its playoff hopes on the line.

This also happens to be the next game for the Seminoles after their prime-time showdown with Notre Dame, and they also have rivalry clashes with Miami and Florida down the road. There is the possibility that they could overlook Louisville.

As Patrick Stevens of noted, that may not be the best idea:

That Louisville defense Stevens mentioned is third in the nation in points allowed per game at 14.1 and held Florida International to three points, Wake Forest to 10, Syracuse to six and Clemson to 23 in its last four games.

On the other hand, Florida State is averaging 39 points a game, so something will have to give. Considering Notre Dame’s recent turnover problems and defensive struggles, and the fact that the game against the Fighting Irish is in Tallahassee, the trip to Louisville could actually be more difficult for the Seminoles in their quest to repeat as national champions.



Michigan State likely has one game circled on its remaining calendar: a Nov. 8 showdown with Ohio State that could very well decide the Big Ten championship and even a spot in the College Football Playoff.

However, if the Spartans do come away with a victory against the Buckeyes, it is not that difficult to envision something of an emotional letdown in the next game. That contest is at Maryland, and the Terrapins will likely be fired up to make a statement to the rest of the Big Ten that they have arrived, especially after missing a similar chance in a loss to Ohio State.

This one will also be under the lights and in front of what should be a raucous crowd.

Ohio State coach Urban Meyer actually provided some words of warning to anyone who overlooked Maryland, via Patrick Maks of Eleven Warriors, "They’re the most athletic defense we’ll face so far this year."

On the other side of the ball for Maryland, wide receiver Stefon Diggs is one of fastest and most electrifying players in all of college football. The vaunted Michigan State defense gave up 46 points to Oregon and an inexplicable 31 to Purdue, which means there could be some holes in the secondary for Diggs to exploit. 

If he gets Maryland on the board early and lets the Terrapins' athletic defense do some work, this one could get interesting for Michigan State’s playoff hopes.



It has come to this for LSU in 2014; it is considered a dark horse that could play spoiler to a contender’s season instead of actually being a contender itself.

Alabama visits LSU on Nov. 8 in a game that will in all likelihood be under the lights. The Tigers were crushed by Auburn, lost 34-29 to Mississippi State and needed a miraculous final couple of minutes to beat Florida 30-27 in the Swamp. Safe to say, they have fallen off the national radar a bit this season.

LSU has no chance at the playoffs or a realistic opportunity to win the SEC West with two head-to-head losses against Mississippi State and Auburn, which means it can redefine the 2014 season with a win against archrival Alabama.

By Nov. 8, the inexperience on the LSU roster won’t be quite as much of an issue, and the combination of Leonard Fournette and the LSU offensive line could pose a problem for the Crimson Tide. If Alabama stacks the box, the Tigers could also hit Travin Dural over the top. 

Ultimately, the talent on the Alabama side may win out, but don’t overlook the Tigers as a serious threat to the Crimson Tide’s playoff hopes.


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Texas Tech Football: Be Patient with Kingsbury, the Future Is Bright

2014 has not been kind to Texas Tech and Kliff Kingsbury.  The Red Raiders have not lived up to the hype that followed them after their dominating performance in last year’s Holiday Bowl, when they beat Arizona State, 38-21, despite being 22-point underdogs.

The Red Raiders struggled immediately out of the gate, barely escaping games against Central Arkansas, an FCS team, and UTEP with victories.  But then they got shredded 49-28 against Arkansas and lost their first three Big 12 games against Oklahoma State, Kansas State and West Virginia.

The four consecutive losses are demoralizing, especially for a team with aspirations to be a dark horse in the Big 12 title race, and the 0-3 conference start is the first time that has happened since 1990. 

There are some positives in Lubbock, though.  Texas Tech has played pretty well in two of those conference losses.  They scored 35 points against Oklahoma State, a team that played Florida State very close in their first game of the year.  In that game, the Red Raider offense churned out 512 yards of total offense, and the defense played better than one would expect against such a high-octane offense.

And the Red Raiders played by far their best game of the season last Saturday against West Virginia.  In that game, the Red Raiders recorded more than 300 passing yards and 200 rushing yards, an impeccable display of balance that hasn’t been seen in Lubbock in years.  The defense played very well also, limiting Clint Trickett to only 301 passing yards, his lowest output of the season.

The two things that have plagued the Red Raiders the most in the Kingsbury era have been turnovers and penalties.  They tied the Mountaineers 1-1 in the turnover battle, the first time of the season that the Red Raiders have not had more turnovers than their opponent.

However, the impact of each of those turnovers could have been much different.  The Red Raiders’ lone turnover was a Davis Webb interception that killed a promising drive at the end of the first half, while they could only manage a field goal on West Virginia’s turnover despite recovering a Trickett fumble deep in scoring territory.

Because Kingsbury’s squad has been behind in the turnover margin by so much, it needs to capitalize on the ones it does force.

Unfortunately, the penalties are another story.  Against West Virginia, the Red Raiders did not limit the damage in that regard, piling on a dozen more flags to add to their nation-leading total.  For the season, they are averaging more than 11 penalties and 104 penalty yards per game.  That is an obscenely high total, making it even harder for Tech to win games.

These two particular aspects of the game have to drive Kingsbury crazy.  He told TheDallas Morning News that he has tried everything to stop the penalties, but nothing has worked. 

That’s what the Texas Tech fans and athletic department need to understand.  Kingsbury is only 35 years old and has only been a coach of any kind for six years.  He spent two seasons as an offensive quality control assistant at the University of Houston, then two as the co-offensive coordinator at the same school.  Next, Kingsbury followed Kevin Sumlin to Texas A&M.  And after one year of overseeing one of the most prolific offenses in the country in 2012, Kingsbury reached the pinnacle of coaching.  He got offered his dream job, head coach at his alma mater, and is now the head man at the same place he played quarterback in the early 2000s.

Kingsbury has proven that he is one of the best offensive play-callers in the country, but not head coach.  When he was solely an offensive coach, he had Sumlin there to handle discipline as well as defense, while Kingsbury was able to devote all of his time to offensive schemes.

Now it’s a different story.  Kingsbury has to focus on all the aspects of the game as well as learn how to win games as a head coach.  No longer can he be the nice guy on the staff, the players’ best friend.  He can still be cool, but the players also have to know that they must be disciplined and that there will be consequences for mistakes.

Tech had to know that there were going to be some growing pains with Kingsbury at the helm due to his young age and overall inexperience, and the program showed it is willing to be patient when it signed Kingsbury to an extension that will keep him in Lubbock through the 2020 season.

The current Texas Tech roster is loaded with talent, especially on the offensive side of the ball, which makes it even more mind-boggling that the offense hasn’t been firing on all cylinders.  But it’s easy to forget that the team is very, very young across the board.  Its starting lineup is filled with underclassmen on both sides of the ball.

The Red Raiders have only two seniors on offense and four on defense.  They are also playing with a brand new defensive coordinator, Mike Smith, who took over the position after Matt Wallerstedt resigned unexpectedly.

Tech is rife with youth, and despite the rough start to this season, the future is still bright in Lubbock.  The incoming recruiting class is impressive, headlined by Jarrett Stidham, the third-ranked dual-threat quarterback in the nation, according to ESPN Recruiting Nation

Kingsbury is going to be a terrific coach, but he is not there yet.  His good looks will only get him so far as a head coach, and he has the necessary work ethic to catapult himself toward the top coaches in the Big 12.

He even said so himself in his postgame press conference.  He said to reporters after the game that his team still doesn’t know “how to finish.”  That goes for the players as well as the coaching staff. 

There is no reason for panic in Lubbock.  The Red Raiders may not win many games this year, but things usually have to get worse before they get better.  Their four losses have been to good teams: Kansas State and Oklahoma State are both ranked in the Top 15, while Arkansas and West Virginia each lost to Alabama by a combined 11 points.

If anybody can bring championship-caliber success to the High Plains, it is Kingsbury.  Give him a few years for him as well as his players to hone their respective crafts, and the Red Raiders will be competing for Big 12 championships on a yearly basis.     

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Herschel Walker Comments on Jameis Winston, Todd Gurley and Heisman Trophy

The college football landscape is currently being dominated by autograph scandals involving star players Jameis Winston and Todd Gurley. While many have sided with the athletes, one former Heisman Trophy winner feels differently.

According to comments from an appearance on ESPN's Paul Finebaum Show (via Kipp Adams of 247Sports), former University of Georgia star Herschel Walker is of the belief that both Winston and Gurley deserve to be punished for their roles in the controversy.

Gurley, who is arguably the best Georgia running back since Walker, was recently suspended indefinitely as the NCAA investigates whether he accepted money in exchange for autographs.

Walker feels as though Gurley's suspension is justified, but he is also mystified by Florida State's handling of Winston:

It is a sad situation. But I think (Georgia head coach) Mark Richt is doing the right thing. I think Todd realized what he did is wrong. Coach Richt has sat him down, which I think is the correct thing to do because you don't want to jeopardize all the other players. If the NCAA comes in and finds something that they did was inappropriate, then the whole team, and everything they have done, is punishable. I think that is what is happening at Florida State, so that is why I am sort of shocked at that situation.

The Seminoles' star quarterback is being investigated as well, but Florida State has opted against suspending the reigning Heisman Trophy winner thus far. Winston is no stranger to scandals, which is a big reason why Walker is unwilling to give him the benefit of the doubt:

You want to talk about the rape case, I do not know about the rape case, but I do know the young lady never recanted her statement. You want to talk about the crab leg situation. What I do know is the video tape showed him walking out of the store without paying for it. You want to talk about him getting on the table, students were there videotaping it. But now this comes up again and they are 'oh he didn't do it.' He may not have done it, but you have to look at it and see what his word is worth.

Winston is currently under review by Florida State for the sexual assault case mentioned by Walker. He has yet to be punished for his alleged involvement, although he was suspended for one game earlier in the season for inappropriate actions in the university's student union.

Even so, many, such as Greg Gabriel of 670 The Score, feel as though Winston has been protected far too much by FSU:

Walker has a Heisman vote due to his status as a past winner, but it is unlikely that he will cast one in favor of either Winston or Gurley this year. Walker didn't vote for Winston last season, and according to Adams, he feels the same way this time around:

I did not vote for (Winston) because of anything he did on the field. When I won the Heisman, I hope it stood for more than me just playing football. I hope it stood for me being a person, how I did in school and for me being an athlete. Being an athlete is more than just playing the game. Being an athlete is about doing more. I did not vote for Jameis because of that. The Heisman Trophy is supposed to be about integrity. Until his act is cleaned up, I cannot give him my vote. And it is the same time with Todd Gurley. Right at this moment, I cannot give Gurley my vote. If he comes back and I see a change then, that vote can be there. But at this time today, I cannot give them my vote.

While Gurley's Heisman chances have been damaged perhaps beyond repair by the suspension he is currently serving, Winston is still very much in the mix. If Walker has his way, though, he will not become the first back-to-back Heisman Trophy winner since Ohio State running back Archie Griffin.

It remains to be seen if the other voters hold the same opinion, but the fact that Walker is against both Winston and a star player from his alma mater speaks volumes.


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College Football's Influence on the NFL

Imagine that football is actually a startup company and a head coach is its self-appointed CEO. This coach has an idea—you'll just love it—ready to become the next big product on the market. There's a marketing plan in place to sell it and some mock sales projections mapped out for your convenience. Everything is packaged and ready to be patented.

Except, the idea isn't original. In fact, this "next big thing" has already existed in some other form for decades. 

Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez, the father of the zone read, put it best. "There is no patent on schemes."

Football is a game where just about everything is borrowed. Even the birth of college football between Princeton and Rutgers in 1869 was a concept borrowed from rugby. As the sport has evolved, so have the X's and O's. And it's common, if not expected, for coaches to take an idea here or a theory there as though they're at a football buffet. 

The coaching fraternity is tight, and its members at all levels constantly share information with one another. Coaches can't stay complacent, lest they fall behind quickly if they do. College football is in a unique spot along the freeway of ideas. Rodriguez is one of multiple coaches who, in an interview with Bleacher Report, said there is a "trickle-up effect" from college to the pros. 

How has college football influenced the NFL? It's a large question with multiple answers. But three areas in which the college game's fingerprint have been seen in the pros are offense, defense and tempo. 



You can see, just for a moment, that West Virginia quarterback Pat White even had the ESPN cameraman fooled. 

Eleven seconds into a game against Mississippi State on Oct. 20, 2007, White appeared to hand the football off to running back Steve Slaton, a consensus All-American and Doak Walker finalist from the year before. The defensive end, undoubtedly knowing Slaton's credentials, crashed in. The linebackers crashed in. The cameraman crashed in. 

So White pulled the ball out and ran. He made one cut to his right, freezing a safety and then turned on the afterburners. White was in the open field now. The Bulldogs defense was caught buying a lie to which there was no refund. 

One play, 64 yards, 21 seconds, 7-0 Mountaineers. 

White wasn't the first quarterback to run Rodriguez's zone read, but he's among the most recognizable. But to say Rodriguez invented the zone read isn't entirely accurate. He was really more of a witness of its inception. 

Pete Thamel, then of The New York Times, chronicled "The Evolution of a Broken Play" in '07. During Rodriguez's early coaching days at Glenville State, a small Division II program in the heart of West Virginia, his quarterback, Jed Drenning, opted to keep the ball on a mishandle.

“Why did you do that?” Rodriguez asked Drenning.

“The end squeezed in, so I kept it,” Drenning said.

“Oh, right,” Rodriguez said, pretending not to be surprised. “Oh, we’re putting that in next week.”

Today, the zone read is run at every level of football. 

"No one philosophically built an offense on misdirection," Drenning said. "It’s an underdog offense that is no longer run by underdogs."



The zone read is one of several packaged plays designed to give ball-carriers the option to make a play based on what certain defenders do. Many of those packages pay homage to old-school concepts with a new spin and name. 

The Wildcat, which took the ball out of the quarterback's hands and put it in the control of the team's most explosive playmaker, is a callback to single-wing football. The Wildcat was made famous by running back Darren McFadden of Arkansas, but it eventually found its way into the NFL through the Miami Dolphins and running back Ronnie Brown. 

Another package, the inverted veer, is oftentimes mistaken as a zone read, even though it's really more of a quarterback power with a sweep, as Bleacher Report's Michael Felder explains:

First thing you notice in this play is that everyone is going in the same direction. Unlike the zone and mid-line reads where the running back goes play-side and quarterback goes backside, the inverted veer has both parties going in one direction.

The end result is the same, however: Take important defenders out of the game, even if it's only for a few plays. NFL defenses have put an emphasis on elite pass-rushers, such as Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers (Green Bay) and Mario Williams (Buffalo), as the league has geared toward passing (more on that later).

By using zone-read and option concepts, especially if mixed in with the pass, offenses are taking those key players out of the play. 

"Part of the reason you do things like the zone read is because it gives you an opportunity for someone other than a lineman to block that 5-tech defensive end," Drenning continued. "If [San Francisco 49ers quarterback] Colin Kaepernick hands it off on a zone read, by that very function, he’s blocking someone."

It's also, according to Drenning, "the poster child for something that is a lot broader." 

It's the spread offense. 

Sometimes, borrowing concepts from college offenses is obvious. Seattle's "pop" pass seen in its season opener against Green Bay can be traced back to Auburn last year, per an Auburn Tigers tweet: 

Other times, it's more discrete—and not always related to the spread. "I think a lot of NFL teams are looking at Stanford," said Scott Roussel of "They want to know why they've been so successful in developing players." 

The Cardinal have had 20 players drafted into the NFL since former coach Jim Harbaugh, now of the San Francisco 49ers, took over in 2007. 

No matter the playbook specifics, an offense's goal is to create space. The spread offense, and all of the styles and formations that have spawned from it, simply found other ways to do it. From Hal Mumme's Air Raid to Chris Ault's Pistol formation—they've all found their way into NFL playbooks. 

Currently, Ault is a consultant for the Kansas City Chiefs. 

"There’s a lot of interaction," said Roussel. "Chris Ault has spoken with a lot of NFL teams. He has a big assistant tree."



What defines a pro-style offense anyway? A quarterback under center? A fullback in the I-formation? The lines between traditional and spread offenses have become blurred. 

"I find it amusing that pro-style offense is equated to three-step drop under center," added Rodriguez. "I think shotgun is a new pro style."

Rodriguez is on to something. According to Pro Football Focus, Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco had the most dropbacks from the shotgun (586) of any signal-caller during the 2013 NFL season.

That accounted for roughly 87 percent of his total dropbacks. Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning was a close second with 581 dropbacks from the shotgun, which accounted for roughly 86 percent of his total dropbacks. 

Flacco, Manning, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers—some of the best in the game—run their offenses primarily out of the shotgun.  

With quarterbacks such as Kaepernick, Robert Griffin III (Washington) Russell Wilson (Seattle Seahawks) and Johnny Manziel (Cleveland Browns) coming into the league, offensive coordinators have to find different ways to put them in positions to be successful. 

Athletic quarterbacks aren't new to the NFL. Steve Young (whose NFL career started in 1985) and Michael Vick (started in 2001) are just two of many. Even quarterbacks such as Rodgers and Andrew Luck of Indianapolis are so-called "pro-style" quarterbacks who can make plays with their feet. 

But Kaepernick did help usher in a new wave of dual-threat signal-callers to the league with his record-setting game against Green Bay in January 2013 (181 rushing yards and two touchdowns). 

The Packers actually did a good job of preparing for Kaepernick's designed/option runs, but there was ultimately no accounting for his scrambling ability. 

There rarely is. 



The narrative that dual-threat quarterbacks are just athletes who have been given the keys to an offense is being proved wrong year after year. 

With the rise of events such as the Elite 11 and 7-on-7 tournaments, high school quarterbacks are refining their passing skills to complement their running skills year-round. 

"The athletic quarterback has played a bigger role," said Drenning. "Quarterbacks used to be either a passer or a runner. Now, they’re more polished; they’re ahead of the curve." 

Of the 18 quarterbacks who attended the 2014 Elite 11 Finals over the summer, roughly half are either 4- or 5-star dual-threats on 247Sports' composite rankings. Many have verbally committed to schools whose offenses are based out of the spread. 

As quarterbacks like the aforementioned ones move up from high school to college, and from college to the NFL, they'll continue to change the dynamic of what makes up a pro-style quarterback. And coaches will look to expand their play calls to accommodate those players' strengths. 

"Who doesn’t want to find a guy who can throw the ball all over the place, but who can run?" asked North Texas coach Dan McCarney. "It’s an extra running back."

That extra running back means defenses have to assign someone to him. It's no longer a game of 11 defenders vs. 10 offensive players, then. By technically leveling the playing field, the offense has found another way to tip the scales in its favor. 



If every action has an equal and opposite reaction, then the offensive trickle-up effect in football has spawned a defensive trickle-up. 

Defense is, after all, reactionary. As such, the job description for defenses in the spread era is fairly simple: run. Everyone on defense has to be able to run. 

"The game is so fast now. You have to deploy your defensive guys to play in space," said McCarney, who cut his coaching teeth at Big Ten programs Iowa and Wisconsin. "We used to have these linebackers who were these big, tough guys. And God bless ‘em, I wouldn’t trade them for anything, but it’s a different game now.

"It’s not played in a phone booth anymore."

It's an ironic statement from McCarney, whose Mean Green program was recently dubbed the "Stanford of Conference USA" by The Dallas Morning News columnist Rick Gosselin.  

But that doesn't make McCarney's statement any less true. At the very least, defenses, especially in the middle, have to be adaptable. For example, no longer are interior linebackers simply there to stop the run. Rather, they need to be versatile defenders, capable of dropping into coverage and pursuing the quarterback. 

Former Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier was drafted 15th overall by the Pittsburgh Steelers largely because he was one of the most athletic linebackers in college football. 

Coaches seek that kind of athleticism and versatility. Every season, Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart will face Texas A&M's Air Raid, Auburn's spread and LSU's smashmouth running attack. Just trying to stop a different offense every week is a challenge that never gets nearly the attention it deserves. Athleticism, especially in the middle of the defense, is at a premium. 



No matter the base defense, putting more speed on the field has been a priority for coaches. Since the NFL is considered a passing league, a greater emphasis has been placed on the pass rush.

Former South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney was the No. 1 overall player taken in the 2014 NFL draft to the Houston Texans—despite the fact that the Texans don't run a 4-3 defense like the one Clowney ran in college. 

But Clowney was considered an elite pass-rusher and a rare pro prospect. He was the best player available, so the Texans took him. 

There's also an emphasis on pass coverage, and pro clubs are willing to pay for elite defensive backs. 

Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman announced on his website in May that he had inked a four-year deal worth $57.4 million, $40 million of which was guaranteed. Two months later, Arizona Cardinals corner Patrick Peterson signed a five-year contract extension worth $70 million with $48 million guaranteed, which made him the highest-paid corner in the league. 

"Almost every defense plays base with five defensive backs with a linebacker/safety," said Roussel." That’s [LSU defensive coordinator] John Chavis’ base defense. Look at Rob Ryan and the Saints. They load up on safety types."

Putting more speed behind the defensive line has led to coaches using variations of the 3-4, 4-2-5 or 3-3-5. Jeff Casteel, Rodriguez's defensive coordinator at Arizona, has been running a 3-3-5 stack for years, and like the zone read, it got a lot of attention at West Virginia. 

"We started doing 3-3-5 years ago because it was different, but adaptable," Rodriguez said. "You don’t have to sub in the base personnel."

The evolution of a college football defense is designed to stop more wide-open attacks. As elements of the spread make their way into the NFL, coaches need defenders capable of stopping them.

At the same time, defensive coaches are finding players who can fight fire with fire. Former Nebraska and current Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh is a freak along the interior of the D-line who can still get to the quarterback. 

Traditional roles for defensive players are being chucked out the window in favor of players who can do multiple things. Coaches can design schemes based around that personnel. 

"One of these days, we’ll have a Heisman winner who plays defense," McCarney said. "I hope it happens in my lifetime."



Tempo is a tool as old as football itself. Tempo can be slow to wind down the clock just as it can be fast to prevent defenses from adjusting or substituting. 

Winning the time of possession isn't always important. Dictating the tempo of a game is. 

Tempo has often been associated with hurry-up, no-huddle teams that run a version of the spread—even though they don't necessarily have to go hand in hand.

"Tempo isn’t tethered to the spread, but it puts the defense in a bad situation," said Drenning. 

That philosophy transcends every level of football. Uptempo teams have existed in the pros before, but former Oregon coach Chip Kelly really got things kicked into high gear, so to speak, when he became the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles. 

As ESPN The Magazine documented, Kelly brought an entirely new philosophy to the league: 

He arrived in Philadelphia with an offense recognized as much for its unorthodoxy as for its speed. It didn't rely on audibles. It didn't concede that the best way to score is by throwing. And it didn't require a 700-page playbook.

As Kelly once said: "Instead of trying to outscheme your opponent, put your players in an environment where they can be successful because they understand exactly what they have to do." 

The results were instantly noticeable. The Eagles went 10-6 in Kelly's first year, winning seven of their final eight games to make the playoffs. Per Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk, Kelly attributes the tempo learning curve to what players experienced at lower levels of football: 

“I think it’s probably a trickle‑up effect,” Kelly said. “It’s kind of started at a lower level and moved up.”

Kelly said that when he was introducing some of his fast-paced concepts with the Eagles last year, he found that many players had experience with it in college or in high school, even if they hadn’t seen it in the NFL.

The level of talent disparity grows the lower you go down the football chain. In high school, coaches aren't able to recruit players. They can only coach what they have. In many ways, those coaches have to be the most creative with tools like tempo. 

"Necessity is the mother of all invention," Rodriguez said. 



In 2014, the tempo debate at the college level was about player safety. In February, the Football Rules Committee drafted legislation that would "allow defensive units to substitute within the first 10 seconds of the 40-second play clock, with the exception of the final two minutes of each half, starting with the 2014 season."

“This rules change is being made to enhance student-athlete safety by guaranteeing a small window for both teams to substitute,” said Troy Calhoun, head coach at the Air Force Academy and chair of the committee.

“As the average number of plays per game has increased, this issue has been discussed with greater frequency by the committee in recent years, and we felt like it was time to act in the interests of protecting our student-athletes.”

The so-called 10-second rule was immediately met with backlash from coaches such as Rodriguez, Washington State's Mike Leach and Ole Miss' Hugh Freeze. Ultimately, the proposal was disregarded. 

More plays don't always equal a faster tempo, either. In fact, Georgia and Iowa ran just as many plays per game (72) as Auburn in 2013. Furthermore, Michigan State ran more plays (83) than Oregon (68) in the Spartans' Week 2 loss. 

The idea that Michigan State, considered a more "traditional" team, couldn't "keep up" with the Ducks is easily debunked. 

A glance over the 2013 numbers show some usual suspects among the most plays per game, but teams such as Auburn and Oregon—poster children for the hurry-up, no-huddle—are nowhere to be found. In fact, the Ducks ran 12 fewer plays per game last year than Texas Tech and Cal. 

Yes, the game has gotten faster. In 2008, only five teams—Oklahoma, Tulsa, Houston, TCU and Nevada—ran more than 1,000 plays in a season. And none ran more than 80 plays per game. But more plays hasn't equated to more injuries. 

College Football Matrix released a non-scientific study in 2013 that indicated slower-paced teams actually ran a higher risk of injuries than fast-paced teams. In any case, there's been little to nothing that suggests uptempo teams are more at risk for injuries. 

And uptempo offenses live to play another year. 

The tempo debate reached its peak when Alabama head coach Nick Saban, a defensive guy through and through, famously, and rhetorically, asked, "Is this what we want football to be?

Saban is brilliant enough to know the answer to that. Whether he likes it or not, this is football. In a 14-13 win over Arkansas in Week 7 of the '14 college football season, Saban conceded as much against, of all people, another pace-of-play advocate: Bret Bielema. Cecil Hurt of The Tuscaloosa News commented on the situation:


Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand.

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How Alabama's Offense Can Get Back on Track vs. Texas A&M

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — A major reason for Alabama’s overall woes the last two games, one in a late loss to Ole Miss and the other in a tight win over Arkansas, has been the sudden ineffectiveness of the offense.

The Crimson Tide put up 396 yards of offense against Ole Miss and just 227 against Arkansas. That two-game total of 623 is lower than Alabama's offensive output against Florida alone and just three more yards than it put up in a game against Southern Miss.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what is wrong with the offense. That’s probably because it’s not just one or two things specifically that have gone wrong.

This will be a good week to get back on track, facing a Texas A&M defense that is giving up almost 400 yards per game.

Here are a couple of ways Alabama can do just that.


Control the line of scrimmage

This is the Crimson Tide’s biggest key to winning on Saturday. And it’s something Alabama hasn’t done much of lately, especially in the run game. It rushed for just 66 yards against Arkansas.

Alabama’s offensive line just hasn’t been able to get the push it’s been accustomed to over the last few years, and it is severely affecting its ability to run the ball, especially between the tackles.

The Crimson Tide will likely be without center Ryan Kelly once again. And it looks like Leon Brown will be back at right guard.

“Maybe with healthier players and more continuity we’ll continue to make progress,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “And I also think that we have to do a better job of executing all the way around. I don’t think we’ve blocked people on the perimeter like we could have, or should have, or have. And I think it’s important that at the quarterback position we execute and do the things, and take what the defense gives us.”

Teams have been putting more focus on stopping Amari Cooper and giving Alabama more room to run the ball. The Crimson Tide just haven’t capitalized. That needs to change this week.

“I think people in the first three or four games of the year, we had a lot of easy, fast, quick throws,” Saban said. “Some of them turned into very big plays. People now take those things away regardless with who is there. They are basically challenging you to run the ball, which is something we have to do better.”


Get Blake Sims into a rhythm

Alabama’s first-year quarterback hasn’t been his cool, calm self that we saw over the first four games of this season.

He’s had his two lowest completion percentages of the year against Ole Miss and Arkansas. And there were two plays in both games where he hit defenders right in the hands only to have it dropped.

Those games were also his first two road starts. Saban thinks Sims needs to get “re-centered” this week, and having that home-field advantage back might help him, per Andrew Gribble of

"He needs to do to take what the defense gives, read his reads, make the throws," Saban said on his radio show Thursday, per Gribble. "Don't worry about making too many big plays and have a little more patience as a player, and I think he'll be right back to where he was."

Saban and offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin can set him up for success with short, low-risk throws to build Sims’ confidence. Then he can start opening it up more and hit the big plays we were accustomed to seeing during the beginning of the season.


Get receivers not named Amari Cooper involved

Cooper currently leads Alabama in catches with 54. The next receiver on that list is DeAndrew White, who’s missed two games to injury, with 16, then Christion Jones with 11.

The passing game has largely been Cooper, Cooper and more Cooper.

Arkansas sold out on him, and he only had two catches. That led to Alabama’s worst passing output and overall offensive output of the season.

White can be a weapon in the passing game. His speed gives him some big-play ability. Jones has had a down year all around, from returning kicks to receiving, but he was a favorite target of AJ McCarron in the past.

“We also have to throw the ball more effective in other ways. And utilize as many people as we need to,” Saban said. “Because we have confidence in all of our receivers and our tight ends and our backs that they can be effective in the passing game.

"I just think it's more important for us to go back to the basics of what we need to do to execute and make better judgments, choices and decisions of how we distribute the ball, and we'll be just fine.”

Receiver is Alabama’s deepest position group right now. There is no shortage of weapons. Behind those starting three is Chris Black, a former 4-star. And then there’s O.J. Howard, the uber-talented tight end, who’s sitting at just six catches for 150 yards so far this year.

So the Crimson Tide have the tools and pieces needed to really open up the offense. It could be just what Alabama needs to get it back on track as well.


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

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

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Nebraska Football: De'Mornay Pierson-El Poised to Be Playmaker for Huskers

Nebraska wide receiver Kenny Bell sees the potential. “He’s going to be a great player here. There’s no question in my mind,” Bell said, per the Omaha World-Herald. “He’s got the work ethic. He’s more than intelligent enough. He works his tail off. He blocks, he catches, he does all the right stuff.”

Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald agrees. "He’s a young guy, but he looked a lot like Jeremy Maclin to me," Fitzgerald said, per "I’ve got nightmares of that guy.”

Who are they talking about? It's none other than freshman wide receiver and punt returner De'Mornay Pierson-El.

Solely looking at the numbers, Pierson-El's time at wide receiver doesn't look that impressive. He's only had a total of three receptions. One of those catches was a touchdown though, which came against Florida Atlantic. It's not a lot yet, but the potential is there.

However, Pierson-El is showing off his skills elsewhere. As a punt returner, he has 334 punt return yards and two touchdowns so far in 2014, which makes him the nation's best. He was even named the Big Ten's Special Teams Player of the Week earlier in the season after the Fresno State matchup. His success at punt returning is only the beginning of the playmaker he can become for Nebraska.

The key is going to be getting Pierson-El the ball more. Bell acknowledged that Nebraska plans to do just that.

“We’re trying to get him touches now,” Bell said, per the Omaha World-Herald. “Look for No. 15 to start making more plays for us.”

Fitzgerald also expects the Huskers to use Pierson-El more against Northwestern than they previously have. "Pierson-El is a difference-maker with the ball in his hand," he said, per "With the bye week, we expect to see him touch the ball more."

So, will Pierson-El see more action against Northwestern? Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini believes so.

"We think he's a really good football player, somebody who we want to keep getting more experience and expand his role as the season goes on but not overload him either," Pelini said, per "But he has to be ready for that. We're continuing to bring him along and teach him and get him more comfortable and more confident as the season goes along."

With all that said, look for Pierson-El to become a playmaker for the Huskers as the season wears on. With every game that passes, the 5'9" and 175lb. player shows he has something special.

As a punt returner, he is averaging 17.6 yards on 19 carries, which ranks him eight nationally, per the Lincoln Journal Star's Steven M. Sipple. His explosiveness has not only earned him the respect of current coaches and players, but also players of the past.

"What he's doing is reminiscent of what we did back in the day," Former Husker DeJuan Groce said, per Sipple.

Against Northwestern, Pierson-El has the opportunity to improve. The Wildcats are punting 6.5 times per game, while only averaging 37.74 yards per punt. This is a prime matchup for Pierson-El to really make a bigger statement, which is why Fitzgerald is so complimentary of him.

The key going forward will be to evolve Pierson-El beyond being just a punt returner, but to harness that talent at wide receiver. As quarterback Tommy Armstrong continues to grow, Pierson-El will with him. It's all about getting Armstrong comfortable with Pierson-El, which practice and time can help.

Ultimately, as Pierson-El grows this season, Husker fans should feel confident in his ability to take over the role Bell will leave behind when he graduates. With Jordan Westerkamp also improving, Pierson-El is helping create a very bright future for the Nebraska receiver corp.

No team can, or should take Pierson-El lightly. Whether he's returning punts or getting more catches at wide receiver, he's becoming more impressive with every game. That can't be ignored.


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LSU Football: Grading Each Positional Unit at Halfway Point of the Season

LSU head coach Les Miles has reached double-digit wins in each of the last four seasons. Unfortunately for Miles, that streak is now in danger considering the Tigers' troublesome 5-2 start in 2014. 

LSU's win against Florida on Saturday was impressive, but the Tigers were handled in their other two SEC games against Auburn and Mississippi State. Miles' only other win against a meaningful opponent was the comeback victory against Wisconsin in the season opener. 

Coaches can only do so much, as talent is the most important component for a team to be successful. Miles has seen some of his position groups have success while others struggle. He will need the entire team to hit its stride for the team to finish 5-1, which would add another 10-win season to his legacy.  

Here is a review of how each position group has fared so far. 

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Best-, Worst-Case Scenarios for Every Playoff Contender's Second Half of 2014

This weekend marks the tipping point in the 2014 college football season. We’re through seven weeks of the “regular season,” and depending on which league you’re in, seven or eight weeks remain. For leagues with a title game, it’s seven weeks, and for those without it’s eight, since some leagues finish their regular seasons on the championship weekend of Dec. 5-6.

This marks the first year of the new College Football Playoff, and intrigue surrounding college football’s expanded postseason is high. When the College Football Playoff selection committee releases its first rankings on Oct. 28, we’ll have a better idea of which teams are serious playoff contenders, but the first half of the season has already done plenty to separate the haves from the have-nots in the playoff picture. Yahoo Sports' Pat Forde has an excellent look at which teams are true contenders.

Here, we’re taking a look at the best- and worst-case scenarios for every College Football Playoff contender. To determine these contenders, we used the top 13 teams in the latest Associated Press Top 25 rankings. That isn’t to say that a team can’t make a run and make the playoff, but these teams have shown they’re legit contenders, based on key wins or their upcoming schedule and opportunities for big wins.

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Is Ohio State DE Joey Bosa the Next J.J. Watt?

Ohio State Buckeyes defensive end Joey Bosa is only a sophomore, but he is already drawing comparisons to Houston Texans star J.J. Watt.

Bosa is racking up Watt-like stats this season for the Buckeyes, but is the comparison accurate?

Watch Michael Felder and Matt Miller break down Joey Bosa's NFL comparison. 

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Building the Ultimate 2015 Quarterback Recruit

The 2015 class has a handful of quarterbacks who are bound for greatness at the next level.

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder builds his ultimate 2015 QB recruit based on various attributes.

Which QB do you think deserves to be mentioned?

Watch the video and let us know!

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ESPN College GameDay 2014: Week 8 Schedule, Location, Predictions and More

No. 2-ranked Florida State University may have dropped a spot in The Associated Press and Amway Coaches polls this week, but it is still going to be the center of the college football universe with a marquee opponent on the slate for Week 8.

Kirk Herbstreit and the rest of the ESPN College GameDay crew will head to the city of Tallahassee on the Florida panhandle for the Seminoles' clash against No. 5 Notre Dame.

This is the second time this season that College GameDay has set up shop at Florida State, with the previous visit taking place September 20 when the Seminoles hosted—and defeated—their ACC rivals, the Clemson Tigers.

Both of these illustrious programs are 6-0 on the year and harbor ambitions of reaching the inaugural College Football Playoff. Florida State is coming off a 38-20 road victory over Syracuse, while the Fighting Irish were last seen trading blows with a middling North Carolina program in a 50-43 shootout win in South Bend.

Neither team has been particularly alluring this season despite the unblemished records. Florida State seems to toggle in and out of cruise control against lesser opponents (aka everyone), while Notre Dame has faced just one top-tier opponent in Stanford, which turned out to be a fairly drab affair that the Irish won by a score of 17-14.

Here is the schedule and the coverage info for the show and the game.


ESPN College GameDay Info

When: Saturday, Oct. 18, 2014

Time (ET): 9 a.m. - 12 p.m. (preview show)

Where: Doak Campbell Stadium, Tallahassee, Florida

Watch: ESPN

Live Stream: WatchESPN


Notre Dame Will Win Turnover Battle, Defeat Florida State

Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson has turned in some remarkable performances this season, including a five-touchdown effort against the Rice Owls in Week 1 and 25 consecutive completed passes in a 31-15 win over Syracuse.

While still putting up big numbers every week, Golson has struggled with turnovers as of late, something that the Seminoles defense will be quick to take advantage of and turn into extra opportunities for a robust offense led by their Heisman-winning quarterback, Jameis Winston (as if the introduction was really necessary at this point).

As ESPN Stats & Info pointed out during Notre Dame's Week 7 game against North Carolina, Golson's performances have grown increasingly sloppy as the season has progressed:

Golson fumbled twice in that game and threw a costly pick-six.

Forcing Golson into making mistakes is important, but the defense knows it cannot take too many chances against a dual-threat quarterback.

"It's always tough when you have a quarterback that can run and pass because you never know," FSU linebacker Terrance Smith said, via Brendan Sonnone of The Orlando Sentinel. "Even if everybody's locked down in the backfield, he can still pull the ball down and run. So your D-linemen have to have their rush lanes; they have to keep contain on him and keep him bottled up."

The ability to stay disciplined and keep containment on Golson will be a key test for the likes of Smith and defensive ends Mario Edwards Jr. and Lorenzo Featherston.

Golson will almost surely make a few mistakes throwing the ball, but he has played some error-free games this season and can count on sure-handed running back Tarean Folston to safely grind out tough yards. Not only that, but the Seminoles defense, while still one of the toughest in the nation, hasn't done enough to win the turnover battle in most contests.

Florida State has forced 11 turnovers this season, but it has committed 12 of its own. Winston has tossed five interceptions in five starts and will be going up against an opportunistic Fighting Irish defense that has picked off opposing signal-callers 10 times in six games.

Florida State's subdued running game, ranked just 98th in the nation, will struggle against Notre Dame's staunch rush defense, led by linebacker Jaylon Smith and defensive tackle Sheldon Day. The Fighting Irish have given up just 3.23 yards per carry this season, via

This will force Winston to pass more often than he should have to with an underwhelming running back like Karlos Williams in the fold. This isn't necessarily a bad thing with targets like Rashad Greene and Nick O'Leary, but if things get one-dimensional for the 'Noles, Notre Dame should be able to take advantage.

There is an incredible amount of pressure on Winston and his 'Noles teammates to perform, but the Fighting Irish could be spurred on to greater heights knowing that they have a schedule full of trap games coming up.'s Matt Fortuna explains: 

Notre Dame travels Nov. 8 to an Arizona State team that currently stands at 4-1. The Irish host the same Louisville team on Nov. 22 that should be FSU's toughest remaining test on Oct. 30, one whose defense currently rivals that of anyone in the country. They also close at rival USC, which is admittedly an enigma right now but has no shortage of talent. 

After a marshmallow-soft start to the season, Notre Dame must walk a decidedly tough road from here on out. Should it lose to Florida State, it will have to hope the SEC schools take turns beating each other to have a chance at the playoffs. Look for Golson and the Notre Dame defense to take the extra motivation and turn it into a narrow road victory.

Notre Dame wins 34-30.

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College Football Picks Week 8: Odds and Spread Predictions for Top 25 Teams

After a few surprising weeks of college football, fans should be ready for anything in Week 8.

Mississippi State has climbed to the No. 1 spot in the polls, but the Bulldogs will get a well-deserved week off after beating three Top 10 teams in a row. The good news is most of the Top 25 will be in action in a number of highly anticipated battles.

Saturday will feature five games between ranked teams, including Florida State and Notre Dame. Both are looking to remain undefeated. 

This is certain to create some difficult decisions for those looking to bet on the games, but here is a breakdown of picks against the spread with a deeper look at some of the tougher calls.


Best Games

No. 5 Notre Dame at No. 2 Florida State

It is truly unfortunate that the big story heading into this game is the status of Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston. Between Winston facing the school's judicial board and allegedly being paid for autographs, there are questions about whether the reigning Heisman Trophy winner will even play this weekend.

Looking at the game itself, though, the battle appears to be a good one when both teams are at full strength. Chris Fowler of ESPN noted how successful the quarterbacks have been throughout their careers:

Everett Golson led the Irish to the national title game two years ago but was little more than a game manager at that point. This year, however, he is making big-time plays with both his arm and his legs and is a big reason the squad is 6-0.

The only question is whether he can hold on to the ball, as both interceptions and fumbles have been an issue lately. Stewart Mandel of notes that the team is working to solve this issue:

If Golson can avoid turnovers, Notre Dame has a chance to put up points against a Florida State defense that has been inconsistent this year. Meanwhile, the Fighting Irish rank eighth in the country in points allowed, even after giving up 43 points to North Carolina last week.

Florida State should be able to win this game at home, but it will be close throughout, and Notre Dame should be able to do enough to cover the large spread.


No. 21 Texas A&M at No. 7 Alabama

There was a lot of criticism following Alabama's one-point win over Arkansas, but the Crimson Tide found a way to win when they needed it. Most importantly, it once again showcased the team's strong defense, which has held opponents to 23 or fewer points in every game.

Meanwhile, Texas A&M's offense, which seemed unstoppable a few weeks ago, was held to just 20 points against Ole Miss. Kenny Hill is still one of the most dynamic players in the nation, but he made mistakes, and the rest of the team did not pick up the slack, losing for the second week in a row.

With Alabama's talent in the front seven, the squad has a chance to once again keep the Aggies offense from running up the score. Head coach Nick Saban has another plan as well:

Controlling the clock should be easy against a Texas A&M defense that has struggled lately. The squad ranks 71st in the country in total defense and holds possession for an average of just over 27 minutes, which ranks 114th in FBS.

Alabama will utilize a lot of Derrick Henry and T.J. Yeldon on the ground to move the ball before going deep to Amari Cooper when the defense falls asleep. The Tide should be able to control the game, keep the opposing offense off the field and secure a relatively easy win.


No. 14 Kansas State at No. 11 Oklahoma

While Oklahoma is 5-1 on the season, there are serious questions surrounding the offense—specifically, Trevor Knight.

The sophomore quarterback was playing well through the first four games but has struggled mightily in the last two. College Football Talk jokes that it might have something to do with a certain pop star:

Regardless of the reason, the Sooners will not have too much success as long as the quarterback continues to make bad decisions with the football. His efficiency rating of 128.7 ranks 75th in the country among 125 qualified players. That does not sound like the person who was considered a Heisman candidate earlier in the year, according to Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports:

On the other hand, Jake Waters has carried Kansas State with his ability to make plays with his arm and his legs. If he can avoid turnovers, he can help the Wildcats put up a lot of points this weekend.

Over the last three weeks, Oklahoma has allowed West Virginia's Clint Trickett, TCU's Trevone Boykin and Tyrone Swoopes of Texas to each throw for over 300 yards with two touchdowns. Waters has the arm to continue this stretch and help his team pull off the upset on the road against the Sooners.


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

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Big 12 Football: Ranking the 10 Most Exciting Conference Games so Far in 2014

Last week delivered one of the greatest Big 12 games of all time—a thrilling comeback victory from the Baylor Bears over the TCU Horned Frogs, then one of college football's hottest teams after upending Oklahoma. 

But that's not the only exciting game this season has delivered us. 

From TCU's upset of Oklahoma to Kansas State's come-from-behind win over Iowa State, the Big 12 has already delivered plenty of drama. 

With that, let's check out the top 10 Big 12 games so far in 2014-15. 

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Michigan Football: Grading Each Positional Unit at Halfway Point of the Season

The storm clouds are swirling in Ann Arbor as Brady Hoke tries to salvage Michigan’s season and save his job. The gridiron turmoil has been dwarfed by off-the-field drama as Hoke and athletic director David Brandon are under fire for mishandling Shane Morris’ head injury.

Both Michigan’s season and Hoke’s tenure hang in the balance as Michigan (3-4, 1-2 Big Ten) prepares to face in-state rival Michigan State.

After last season’s 7-6 finish, Hoke hired Doug Nussmeier to replace offensive coordinator Al Borges and shuffled his defensive staff. Now it’s time to see how each position group has fared midway through the season.

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Storm Woods Injury: Updates on Oregon State RB's Knee and Return

As the Oregon State Beavers attempt to topple the 20th-ranked Utah Utes, they'll be without the services of running back Storm Woods.

Lindsay Schnell of Sports Illustrated reported that Woods injured his right knee:

Before exiting the game, the junior rusher had nine carries for 46 yards. He entered the game as Oregon State's second-leading runner, with 342 yards and three touchdowns on 59 carries.

The Beavers will undoubtedly hope that Woods makes a quick recovery. They play No. 23 Stanford on the road next Saturday and then meet a resurgent California a week after that.

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Texas Football: Grading Tyrone Swoopes Through 5 Games as a Starter

Following a poor showing at home against Baylor, Tyrone Swoopes lost his luster. Texas' sophomore quarterback looked uncomfortable, unsure of himself and unready to usher the Longhorns into a new era.

What a difference a week makes.

Swoopes busted out for a career day in Texas' 31-26 loss to Oklahoma, accounting for three touchdowns and setting career highs with 334 passing yards and 50 yards on the ground. 

The 384 total yards were the most in Red River Showdown history, per Texas associate athletic director John Bianco, and Swoopes' performance has rewritten the outlook for the rest of the Horns' season. That is, as long as the 243-pounder can build upon the impressive showing.

For as good as Swoopes played against the Sooners, he is far from a finished product. But by showing improvement, grading out higher and higher as he continues to log starts, the sophomore is on the verge of a strong second half of the season.

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Ezekiel Elliott's Emergence Fueling Ohio State's Offensive Explosion

While quarterback J.T. Barrett has Ohio State flying high, it's the play of running back Ezekiel Elliott that's fueling the offense's recent surge. 

The 13th-ranked Buckeyes (4-1) have posted a trio of consecutive blowouts over Kent State, Cincinnati and Maryland. During that stretch, Ohio State has averaged 56 points and 623.7 total yards per game. 

Barrett is garnering worthy attention for his fantastic play—the redshirt freshman has been named to the Maxwell Award watch list, according to Ohio State's team spokesperson—but Elliott has taken his game to a higher level. 

Because of that, the Buckeyes have bounced back from their upset loss to Virginia Tech and are climbing up the national rankings.

Here's a closer look at Ohio State's breakout sophomore ball-carrier. 


Finding a Groove

After losing Carlos Hyde and his record-setting production to the NFL, Meyer and the Buckeyes were tasked with filling an enormous hole in the backfield.

Elliott put himself in position to fill that hole with a solid freshman campaign, and he capitalized during spring practice, emerging as the team's top back

Despite having surgery to repair a broken wrist in early August, he returned to the field in two short weeks and locked down the starting spot late in fall camp.

Once the season kicked off, though, it took Elliott a few weeks to find a groove. He struggled against Navy and Virginia Tech—Ohio State's first two opponents—averaging just 3.8 yards per carry. 

It didn't help matters that the Buckeyes' offensive line, working to replace four multi-year senior starters from a season ago, got off to an equally slow start. But backup running back (and true freshman) Curtis Samuel averaged 5.9 yards per carry during that same span—behind the same shaky offensive line—which highlighted Elliott's struggles.

After a Week 3 bye, the Buckeyes hosted a severely overmatched Kent State team, providing Elliott with an opportunity to gain some confidence. He did just that, piling up 117 total yards (65 rushing, 52 receiving) on just 11 touches. The only thing Meyer would have changed about the performance was giving Elliott more opportunities. 

"I have mixed emotions," Meyer said, according to Ari Wasserman of The Plain Dealer. "Zeke is our starting tailback, but he only had seven carries." 

When Samuel suffered a leg injury against Cincinnati, Elliott saw his workload increase, and he rewarded Meyer with an explosion of production.

Over the Buckeyes' last two games (Cincinnati and Maryland), the sophomore averaged 160.5 rushing yards and 26 carries per game. He also added six catches for 61 yards.


Balancing the Offense

Elliott's emergence has been huge for Ohio State because it gives Meyer the balance he's looking for in his offense.

After the Maryland game, when the Buckeyes ran for 269 yards and threw for 264, Meyer talked about the importance of a diversified attack.

"Yeah, it’s a very balanced offense,” Meyer said, according to Eric Seger of The Ozone. “I’m very involved in the play calling, myself and Tom (Herman). There’s a lot of opportunities to make plays because we’re confident. We weren’t that way in the first game.”

Pairing Elliott's improvement on the ground with Barrett and a dynamic passing attack has made Ohio State's offense very dangerous.


All stats via Ohio State's official website

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

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Nebraska Football: Grading Each Positional Unit at the Season's Halfway Point

Now that the Nebraska football season has reached its halfway point, it’s time to think about grades for each positional unit. Six games in, we have enough data now to reach at least some preliminary conclusions about how each unit has performed and what to expect for the season’s second half.

So, on a standard A-F grading scale, here’s how each unit has graded out for the first half of the 2014 season.

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Grading Each Florida State Positional Unit at Halfway Point of the 2014 Season

Less than 48 hours away from a game that will make or break No. 2 Florida State’s 2014 season, let’s look back at how the reigning national champions got here—position by position.

A season after obliterating its competition en route to the third national championship in program history, this year’s FSU squad has had to fight for all six of its wins. With a showdown against Notre Dame set for 8 p.m. ET Saturday at Doak Campbell Stadium, here’s a look at how each spot on the Seminoles’ roster has fared through the first half of the regular season.

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Where Have You Gone, Coach O?

The drive between Northwestern State and Mandeville, Louisiana is roughly four hours. It’s an unassuming trek—with two roads doing the majority of the heavy lifting—although Ed Orgeron isn’t concerned with when he’ll finally make it home. For the first time in his professional life, there is nowhere he has to be.

Even through his thick, unmistakable Cajun drawl, you can hear the joy in Orgeron's voice as he navigates the familiar terrain. After a picture-perfect weekend—one that centered around football, albeit in a much different capacity than what he’s accustomed to—the former Ole Miss and USC head coach is embracing his newfound freedom as a free agent, dad and husband.

On Friday night, Orgeron watched his son Parker, a junior, lead Mandeville past rival St. Paul’s with two second-half touchdowns. The very next day, Orgeron was inducted into the Northwestern State Athletic Hall of Fame, the university where he played his college football.

“It was a great honor,” Orgeron said. “If I was coaching, I would not have gotten a chance to do any of this.”

As he makes his way back toward Mandeville—the city the Orgerons decided to call home when he latched on with the New Orleans Saints back in 2008—one can’t help but wonder why he would want to come back to a sport that has not always been reciprocal with its love.

He was chewed on and spit out at Ole Miss. At USC, his reward for bringing an unresponsive program to life was time off. He has logged thousands of nights in hotel rooms away from his family, a product of his magnificent recruiting track record. And then there’s the profession itself, a cutthroat and cruel way to make a buck, albeit a lucrative one.

For the first time in forever, Orgeron can say “home” and mean it. There’s no disclaimer attached, no strings that require discussing. He’s not living out of a suitcase, and the anguish of USC is more of just a bad scar than an emotional drain.

He sounds at peace with where he is and what he’s doing, and yet, his coaching itch has never been this strong. For reasons we couldn’t possibly understand, Orgeron is ready to trade in this stress-free life for a headset.

“It never stopped,” Orgeron said. “I didn’t leave because I didn’t have the coaching itch, that’s for sure. It was something we felt like we needed to do. But we’re ready to coach more than ever right now. I promise you.”


A Weekend with Ed Orgeron 

Like your college football Saturdays, Ed Orgeron’s game days revolve around food, the great outdoors and football. Before he leaves the house, he wakes up his son, makes him breakfast and takes him to football practice. As soon as he’s where he needs to be, Orgeron heads to the gym.

Even at the age of 53, Orgeron is a fitness junkie. He can still bench press 325 pounds comfortably and squats 315 pounds for reps, which probably isn’t far off from many of the players he has coached in his weight class.

After lifting and running, Orgeron heads home to cook for the second time. He prepares another meal that he and his wife enjoy by the pool and patio. They relax together, a Saturday ritual that is still somewhat foreign to both. When the first games come on, the day takes a different tone.

At that point, Orgeron is a coach again. He spends his Saturdays exactly like you do, bouncing from station to station and soaking in as much football as he can.

“We watch as many games as we possibly can on Saturday, sometimes watching games until early in the morning the next day,” Orgeron said. “We get up on Sunday, go to church and then come back and do the same thing with the NFL. It’s kind of cool; I’ve never had a chance to do this.”

He doesn’t just tune in because he loves the sport, although the baseline for his obsession begins there. Orgeron, like the rest of us, is watching to see each chapter of the season unfold. But he’s also watching to perfect his craft, a never-ending process for a coach.

“I really watch No. 1 as a coach, especially to see all the spread offenses,” Orgeron said. “I want to see who’s doing well and just keep up with it. I’m trying to get as much as I can out of it.”

When USC plays, the situation changes some. His consumption of the game reaches a more personal level that he won’t find anywhere else. There are no hard feelings—at least none that he cares to share—and he’s more focused on the people he’s spent a great deal time with, from family rooms to the practice field.

“It’s never going to be like watching any other team,” Orgeron said. “I don’t watch every play, but I’m obviously very interested in the well-being of those young men. We’re tied to them and we wish them the best.”


A Time for Reflection

One of the best lessons Orgeron has taken with him over time—through success and failure—could be summed up in a delicious item.


One of Orgeron’s first orders of business when he was handed the reins to the USC head coaching position was to bring the team together. To do that, he appealed to taste buds.

He brought in chicken and waffles, although that wasn’t enough. After talking to a handful of players who wanted their sweet-tooth options returned to the cafeteria, Orgeron also brought the cookies back that were lost in the Kiffin era. The players responded accordingly.

“I think they ate 500 the first night,” Orgeron said.

Cookies, of course, are only a small portion of the bigger picture. What has made Orgeron valuable as a coach is the way he manages people.

He’s not a chalkboard wizard. That's not to say he doesn’t know the game and the areas he teaches, but Orgeron’s value—the thing that separates him from just about any other coach in the country—comes in the way he manages personalities. It's his natural ability to get an entire team to run through a brick wall at the snap of a finger.

It’s about compromise and, more importantly, understanding the pulse of your team. For Orgeron, it was about taking his experiences at Ole Miss—a situation he struggled with—and tweaking the margins.

“When you have five years to think about what you would do as a head coach again, there are a lot of thoughts that you write down,” Orgeron said. “I told myself that when I got my chance again, these are the things I wanted to do. So I did them.”

Orgeron was granted this opportunity after the Trojans lost 62-41 against Arizona State. He was named interim coach follow Kiffin’s removal, and the team responded to the change, winning six of the next seven games.

It set up a matchup against rival UCLA, a game that many felt was Orgeron’s opportunity to turn the interim tag into something far more official with a win.

Regardless of the circumstances or whether this scenario was considered within USC walls, the Trojans lost to the Bruins and Orgeron was removed as coach, making way for the hiring of Steve Sarkisian. Although there were conversations about keeping Orgeron on the staff, it didn’t transpire.

Having bonded through difficult times, through small, meaningful actions and his overall inviting style, the players didn't hide their emotions when Orgeron wasn't given the job.

USC player showing his respect to Coach Orgeron in the @LasVegasBowl:

— RedditCFB (@RedditCFB) December 21, 2013

You're not going to find a better recruiter, coach, or father figure that is anything remotely like Ed Orgeron!

— Kenny Bigelow (@_mcmxcv__) December 1, 2013

Words can't explain how I'm feeling right now....just lost a father. Way more than a coach #coachO

— Leonard Williams (@LWtrojan94) December 2, 2013

How hard will Sark's job be? Players openly crying after Orgeron's departure. #USC

— Ryan Abraham (@insidetroy) December 2, 2013

“You look at the overall body of work, and we had a lot of success there,” Orgeron said. “We’re very appreciative of the time with the USC family, and they were very good to us.”

The offseason came and Orgeron processed the past season and the path in front him. As he dealt with the disappointment of not getting the head-coaching position at USC, he processed his next move at home.

Although he had conversations with teams about various positions, none of them ever developed into something serious.

“I never really entertained anything, and I wasn’t really looking for anything to be honest with you,” Orgeron said. “After looking back, we feel that taking this year and spending it with my family off was one of the best things we did.”


What’s Next for Coach O

The Silly Season is on the horizon. Soon, your Twitter feeds and bottom tickers will be flooded with rumors of coaches being fired, coaches being hired and other strange, newsworthy developments regarding vacant positions.

Scott Roussel, who has turned this maddening time into a profession at, believes this upcoming Silly Season could be an active one for Orgeron.

“Ed has been very clear that he will return to coaching, and the respect that the coaching community has for him allows him some flexibility to investigate potential head coaching opportunities,” Roussel said. “Meaning, a lot of head coaches would love to have Ed on their staff and will hold a position for him a few weeks, and possibly longer, while he checks for the perfect fit out there.”

Head-coaching vacancies have already started to open. Kansas, in need of a recruiting boost, would make quite a bit of sense for both parties. Other opportunities will undoubtedly follow, and Orgeron—if granted a platform to state his case—could put himself in prime position.

“If Ed is invited to interview for a head coaching position, he is the type of guy whose personality can instantly win over an athletic director and university president,” Roussel added. “He’s lightning in a bottle. He just needs the right opportunity.”

At this moment in time, that right opportunity has not presented itself. Orgeron has yet to really get a serious look, although that will undoubtedly change once the calendar hits November and searches ramp up.

“It’s still early, but I’m sure there will be some options that will come and some things we’re going to like,” Orgeron said. “I just haven’t gotten a serious call from anyone yet.”

For him, in this place in time, this isn’t the worst thing. As he braces for the next chapter of his life and a return to his beloved, grueling profession, there are still high school football games he wants to see.

There is still breakfast to be made and other meals to be cooked. There is still pool and patio time to be shared with his family in a home that he can finally call home with no strings attached.

“I do believe I will be a head coach again. I do believe that,” Orgeron said. “When that’s going to happen, I don’t know. Maybe it will be next year, maybe not. We’re going to keep all options open.”


Adam Kramer is the College Football National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Unless noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.

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