NCAA Football

Predicting College Football's Biggest Headlines for Week 4

The 2014 College Football season is heading into Week 4. Bleacher Report's College Football Analysts Michael Felder, Adam Kramer and Barrett Sallee throw out their predictions for the biggest headlines after the big-time matchups this week.

Which team do you think will make a statement in Week 4?

Watch the video and let us know!

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B/R CFB Committee: Playoff Predictions Heading into Week 4

Week 4 of the 2014 College Football season is upon us, and our Bleacher Report Committee is ready to make their decision. College Football Analysts Barrett SalleeAdam Kramer and Michael Felder come together to create their College Football Playoff if it were this weekend. 

Who do you think deserves to be in the CFB playoffs?

Check out the video and let us know

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Week 4 Schedule: TV and Live Stream Info for Every Game

Week 3 of the college football schedule may have lacked serious punch (although upsets from South Carolina and Boston College made it more interesting than originally thought), but there is plenty of important action on tap in Week 4.

What’s more, fans won’t have to wait long for an exciting matchup, as nationally ranked foes Auburn and Kansas State clash in an interconference showdown Thursday.

Here is a look at the entire Week 4 schedule, as well as the television and live stream options.

Schedule courtesy of CBSSports.com. Viewing info courtesy of ESPN.com. For games without national or regional coverage on a major network, check local listings.

 

Live Stream Resources

For some reason there are actually people out there who schedule fall weddings or activities on a college football Saturday. This list of the most prominent live streams for college football should come in handy for those of you stuck at said weddings eating too many hors d'oeuvres.

 

ESPN: WatchESPN

 

SEC: CBSSports.com

 

Fox: Fox Sports Go

 

BTN: BTN2Go.com

 

Pac-12: Pac-12.com

 

ABC: ABC Live

 

CBS: CBSSports.com

 

Game of the Week

Auburn at Kansas State

Auburn sports a 3-0 all-time record against Kansas State and actually beat the Wildcats in 2007 but will likely be tested by a raucous crowd Thursday evening.

Even without Tre Mason, the Auburn rushing attack has hit on all cylinders in the early going. It racked up 358 yards on the ground against San Jose State and 302 rushing yards against Arkansas. Both were blowout victories thanks to the efforts of quarterback Nick Marshall, Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant.

Auburn’s offense should be even more explosive Thursday against Kansas State because Sammie Coates is expected to return from a knee injury. He led the team with 902 receiving yards a year ago on 42 catches and gives the Tigers an extra dimension through the air.

Perhaps the most important thing about this contest for Auburn is simply not overlooking it.

While the difference between the SEC and the rest of college football may be a bit overstated, Auburn deserves credit for scheduling this contest in the midst of a brutal league slate. It still has to play LSU, South Carolina, Mississippi, Texas A&M, Georgia and archrival Alabama and cannot afford a slip-up out of conference play if it wants to reach the College Football Playoff.

Head coach Gus Malzahn seemed dialed in, according to The Associated Press (via ESPN.com): “We are going to work on improving ourselves and try to get a head start. We are playing a very good team on the road with one of the better coaches that has ever walked the planet. We will have to have a good plan and have to be prepared.”

From Kansas State’s perspective, the key will be the defense (and the crowd) against that high-power, up-tempo Auburn attack.

The Wildcats struggled in the early going against Iowa State and allowed 28 points, but they did shut the Cyclones out in the second half. Perhaps it marked a turning point for the defense before the teeth of the schedule, especially since Kansas State won that game 32-28.

If the defense can hold its own, it will give dual-threat quarterback Jake Waters a chance to win this game. He has 655 combined passing and rushing yards and six touchdowns in two contests and should challenge the Tigers defensive front with his legs and arm.

If nothing else, it will be up to Waters to give his defense an occasional breather by staying on the field for extended drives.

Look for Kansas State to get out to a fast start. The crowd will be rocking with a Top Five SEC opponent in the house, and the Wildcats offense will respond in kind behind Waters. 

Brandon Marcello of the Alabama Media Group noted that the atmosphere will be daunting for the visiting Tigers:

However, Auburn’s multipronged rushing attack will eventually settle in and wear the Kansas State defense down (like it does to so many opponents). The Tigers will gradually pull away in the second half in what should be a close contest. 

Prediction: Auburn 35, Kansas State 24

 

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Biggest Surprises of the 2014 College Football Season so Far

Here’s the thing about college football: With a 13-game regular season followed by a bowl game, there’s plenty of room for talk. Speculation. Chatter.

Whatever you want to call it.

The openness and relative shortness of the college football schedule leaves fans with plenty of time to discuss their favorite team, their rival and everyone in between. So predictions are made. Proclamations occur. Opinions are formed.

And then the games begin.

Three weeks into the 2014 college football season, we’re rethinking some opinions. Some teams and players have exceeded expectations, while others have fallen far short of them.

Here’s a look at the biggest surprises as the college football season approaches the quarter mark.

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NCAA Football Rankings 2014: Top 25 Teams on Upset Alert for Week 4

It's hard to find many college football games across the Week 4 slate that scream upset, but then again, that was the case last weekend and look how things turned out.

From then-No. 9 USC falling on the road to Boston College to then-17th-ranked Virginia Tech falling at home to East Carolina, unpredictable upsets were of the norm throughout Week 3 despite only one matchup—Georgia vs. South Carolina—between fellow Top 25 teams. 

In Week 4, there are only two games in which both teams are ranked, but some of the nation's best teams are set to face their toughest tests of the year. This isn't to say those schools are definitely going down over the weekend, but there's no doubt that an upset could be brewing if they aren't careful.

Let's take a look at the full Week 4 rankings from The Associated Press, the Amway poll courtesy of USA Today and the Bleacher Report Top 25. Then we'll highlight which teams are on upset alert.

 

Teams on Upset Alert

No. 5 Auburn Tigers

It's only fitting for the Auburn Tigers that they enter their treacherous upcoming slate of SEC knockdown drag-outs with a big-time test of another kind.

Gus Malzahn's fifth-ranked Tigers will travel west in a tough nonconference battle between ranked foes, facing the No. 20 Kansas State Wildcats in a Thursday night spectacle. It will be the first of many chances the defending SEC champs will have to prove that they belong back in the national title game. 

It will also be the toughest test the Wildcats have faced at home in quite some time, as ESPN Stats & Information noted:

But there's no denying that Bill Snyder's team will be up to the task. The Wildcats defense has consistently been one of the best units in the Big 12, and being used to high-octane offenses will certainly help while going against Nick Marshall and the stud rushing attack Auburn boasts.

On top of that, their offensive line isn't shying away from the Tigers' daunting pass rush, per The Montgomery Advertiser's James Crepea:

Kansas State quarterback Jake Waters has been better than advertised so far in 2014, using his dual-threat abilities to gash defenses. Star wideout Tyler Lockett should also be able to make his impact against an Auburn secondary that has struggled against top receivers (see: Kelvin Benjamin). 

Most importantly, Bill Snyder Family Stadium will be a rowdy and raucous environment knowing that they have the national runners-up coming to town and one of the best teams in the country.

Auburn might get out of Kansas with its undefeated record still intact, but it won't be easy.

 

No. 21 BYU Cougars

BYU shot into the Top 25 after its resounding upset victory over Texas and stayed there after improving to 3-0, but their stay in the rankings might be short-lived.

The Cougars face an underrated Virginia Cavaliers team at home on Saturday, and all it takes is a look at the previous weekend's game for both teams to see that an upset is on the horizon.

The Cavaliers posted one of the surprise outcomes in this young college football season by topping then-No. 21 Louisville at home 23-21 to improve to 2-1. That lone loss was an eight-point defeat to UCLA, No. 7 at the time.

Meanwhile, BYU struggled to get past Houston in a 33-25 victory that saw the Cougars defense give up 315 yards through the air.

BYU is a huge favorite entering the game, but as Mark Ennis notes, the line is awfully exaggerated:

The Cavaliers turned heads by knocking off a 21st-ranked opponent a week ago, and they'll be looking to make it 2-for-2 on the road Saturday. 

 

No. 1 Florida State Seminoles

It's not very often given Florida State's cupcake-friendly ACC schedule that it is put on upset alert, but Jameis Winston's top-ranked Seminoles will be put to the test Saturday.

The 22nd-ranked Clemson Tigers come to town for a Saturday night affair, and Dabo Swinney's squad hopes to make it a much more competitive contest this time around.

When the two sides faced off in the middle of 2013, it promised to be one of the best games of the year. Instead, Winston and company strolled into Clemson and pulled out a 51-14 win.

With that in consideration, it's not surprising to see Florida State as a 20.5-point favorite according to Odds Shark. But don't be surprised if it's much closer than that.

The Tigers were neck-and-neck with Georgia before Todd Gurley took over, and Florida State has no true rushing dynamo who can compare. Cole Stoudt has been impressive in the passing game at times, and the inclusion of Deshaun Watson in certain packages could pose problems.

It's hard to see Florida State falling to a team that it certainly outmatches, but the Seminoles' opening-weekend affair against Oklahoma State showed just how vulnerable the Seminoles could be against top-flight ACC competition. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Playoff Standings 2013: Week 4 Rankings & Bowl-Game Projections

Bowl projections may technically still be in their infancy, but we're already close to being one-third of the way through the college football season.

Ever so slowly, the postseason is taking form. 

Projections are based on an equal split between Week 3 results, what problems or questions those results answer and strength of schedule for the remaining season. Keep in mind, too, that bowl slots don't always reflect conference standings; rather, they're the order in which bowls make their picks. 

Here's how the two major Top 25 polls looked after Week 3. The following slides contain bowl projections heading into Week 4. Below are links to the latest Associated Press and USA Today top 25 polls. 

 

Associated Press Top 25

USA Today Amway Coaches Poll

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Tennessee Volunteers Freshman Derek Barnett Working His Way Toward Greatness

Perhaps it's surprising how quickly Tennessee freshman defensive end Derek Barnett has made an impact on the Volunteers' young, revamped defense.

But it's not a shock to high school coach Cody White.

White, Barnett's coach at Brentwood Academy, knew his player was special when he battled through a back injury last season rather than just coasting toward his SEC scholarship.

"Some kids, when they [commit], they kind of Cadillac through their senior year," White told Bleacher Report on Tuesday. "Derek didn't do that. He worked extremely hard. I didn't know if he'd go over there and start, but I certainly thought he'd go over and put himself in a position."

After three games, the 6'3", 267-pound freshman defensive end is not only settling into a starting role, but a starring role for the Vols.

He is tied for sixth on the team with 11 tackles, including two for a loss. He also is tied for the team lead with a pair of quarterback hurries and has led a resurgent group of faster linemen who are on their way to reversing UT's pass-rushing woes of the past half-decade.

 

Leading a Defensive Revival in Knoxville

Making his second career start against the fourth-ranked Oklahoma Sooners, Barnett was dominant, blowing up plays in the backfield and containing OU quarterback Trevor Knight on the edge.

He finished with five tackles and a hurry despite being impeded much of the night.

Holding may be the only way to slow down Barnett.

UT head coach Butch Jones sang his freshman's praises all through fall practice, telling the Chattanooga Times Free Press' Patrick Brown that Barnett had a "tremendous camp" where he "upped everyone's level of play."

Even in a stout defensive end rotation that includes Curt Maggitt and Corey Vereen, among others, Barnett shines as the unit's best player. At times, coaches will put Maggitt back on the second level at linebacker to get their three-best speed-rushers on the field at the same time.

Barnett continually forces his coaches' hands when it comes to playing time and has ever since he arrived on campus this summer.

It didn't take long for Jones to know he had a future star on his hands. He told GoVols247's Wes Rucker (subscription required) Barnett's talent was complemented by the fact that he's "the epitome" of effort.

That doesn't surprise White, the blue-collar coach at Brentwood Academy who came from Texas where football is king.

Before taking over the Eagles, White coached in Denison, Texas—birthplace of President Dwight D. Eisenhower—and also coached for a time at the legendary Odessa Permian High School, made famous by the book Friday Night Lights.

He recognizes throwback toughness when he sees it, and Barnett embodies it.

As a senior at BA, Barnett battled injuries all season. Rather than take it easy, he rehabbed in order to keep playing, despite a future solidified by his commitment to Tennessee.

"We always appreciated the way he played the game," White said. "When you coach Derek and look him in the eye, you can see he wants to be the best. When you couple that with the athletic ability and competitiveness, you've got something special. That's what Tennessee's got in Derek."

 

Learning the Hard Way

That competitiveness spilled over into a major lesson learned for Barnett at the tail end of his high school career.

In a state playoff semifinal loss to rival Ensworth, Barnett delivered a late hit out of bounds in the game's waning seconds.

The hit coupled with the Ensworth announcer's reaction made the incident go viral, and it was picked up by Deadspin.com's Sean Newell. White said the personal foul was one of only a couple from his entire team all season and was out-of-character for Barnett, who quickly apologized.

The star player received a tough dose of embarrassment from the fallout, even though it was not dissimilar to the thousands of late hits that happen in football every year.

"I told Derek, 'Sometimes our greatest strength—in his case, competitiveness—can be our greatest detriment,'" White said.

"That play wasn't nearly as big a deal to me as it was some people, but we don't ever want stuff like that to happen, and Derek handled himself extremely well afterward. He was mad at himself after the game."

The Vols know all about competitive youngsters making critical blunders.

Last year, then-freshman defensive end Vereen had a pair of personal fouls against Georgia, including one that prolonged the Bulldogs' drive that sent a game UGA ultimately won into overtime.

Relentlessness sometimes needs restraint, and Barnett has shown the ability to do that so far in his college career. His most impressive attribute may be his discipline and understanding of the game.

"For a freshman he is level-headed," senior defensive tackle Jordan Williams told The Daily Beacon's Patrick Maccoon. "He doesn't panic or get too riled up when everything is flying fast around him. He's fast himself, and physical."

 

Bringing Wins With Him

Players like Barnett are therapeutic for the sickness of losing that has infected Rocky Top over the past few years.

He came from a highly successful high school football program and, according to White, elected to stay in state to be close to his mother and because he believed in what Jones was building at UT. Now, Barnett is a centerpiece for a program's hopeful resurgence.

He bristled at losing 34-10 against Oklahoma, a mentality that has been missing in Knoxville in recent years.

Barnett continued: "It hurts, but you've just got to learn from it and after we learn from it, just keep on pushing."

The confidence displayed by UT's freshmen indicates they'll eventually break through and turn around the program.

When they do, Jones can point back to winning key in-state battles for players such as Barnett as what aided the turnaround.

The Vols raided Middle Tennessee in the 2014 recruiting class for Jalen Hurd, Josh Malone, Jashon Robertson, Rashaan Gaulden, Vic Wharton, Aaron Medley and Michael Sawyers.

This year, the Vols have four commits from the Interstate 65 corridor between Murfreesboro and Nashville, and they are targeting more. It's becoming a major hotbed of talent for UT.

"I'm not trying to cast a stone here, but you could tell a major difference [when Jones took over for Derek Dooley]," White said. "As soon as Butch got there, he reached out heavily in the state. I don't ever tell the kids where to go or even have any allegiance, but at the same time, I feel like the flagship school needs to get kids from the state. He has done a phenomenal job.

"Coming from Texas, I've been around good football, and you could throw this [area] out there and be fine."

Barnett may wind up the best player from the area in a long time. While some in recruiting circles thought he'd project on the next level as a defensive tackle, Barnett worked to stay in shape and has been a force at defensive end—the position where he wanted to stay.

The start he's had is reminiscent of great UT linemen, and he is on pace to have the best freshman season of any Vols freshman defensive lineman since John Henderson.

Barnett hasn't done enough to be mentioned yet with the Tennessee legends. But with his work ethic and talent, he is only going to keep improving on a young career that already has solidified his status as a defensive centerpiece.

 

Unless otherwise noted all statistics gathered from UTSports.com and quotations obtained firsthand. All recruiting information from 247Sports.

Brad Shepard covers SEC football and is the Tennessee Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow Brad on Twitter here:

@Brad_Shepard

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USC Offense Searching for Identity After Rushing Woes at Boston College

Struggles in the run game during No. 17 USC’s 37-31 loss at Boston College on Saturday have head coach Steve Sarkisian using the Trojans’ bye week to evaluate their offensive identity.

“What we have to assess this week as an offensive staff is understanding who we are personality-wise as a team and what gives us the best chance to be successful,” Sarkisian said on his weekly conference call Sunday. “Is it to run to set up the pass, or is it to pass to set up the run? We have to figure that out.”

Sarkisian added that “every game is going to be different,” a reality with which the Trojans have quickly become acquainted.

The run game buoyed them against a Stanford defense that allowed just 135 passing yards. Conversely, the pass was all USC could muster while rushing for a combined 20 yards at Boston College.

Striking a more consistent balance between the run and pass is vital to USC’s no-huddle offense operating effectively.

Indeed, USC was at its best in Week 1 against Fresno State with a mix of both the run and pass. Quarterback Cody Kessler passed for a career-high 394 yards, but the ball-carriers combined for 277 yards.

With that said, the Trojans were also physically superior to Fresno State up front and exploited that advantage rather freely.

Stanford and Boston College were at times able to overwhelm a young USC offensive line that is still finding its identity. True freshmen Toa Lobendahn and Damien Mama, as well as first-year starter Zach Banner, have had to learn on the job through this initial stretch of the season.

The Trojans’ youth in the trenches underlined what Sarkisian described as a three-pronged issue plaguing USC in its effort to establish the run.

“Credit Boston College. They had some good schemes...we would have liked to have attacked differently,” he said Tuesday on the Pac-12 coaches teleconference. “We left people unblocked in the hole, which is uncharacteristic of us. Thirdly, there were times we got beat one-on-one.”

As the line struggled to contain Boston College at the point of attack, the ground game wasn’t all that suffered. Kessler threw for 317 yards and four touchdowns, but his options were limited on passing downs.

The inability to run on first or second down resulted in numerous 3rd-and-longs. The Eagles’ ability to bring pressure with just three and four rushers in obvious passing situations resulted in a paltry 5-of-16 for USC on third-down conversions.

“We’re a lot better when we get first downs, and there was a period in the game [Saturday]—and it occurred last week against Stanford—where we were going three-and-out,” Sarkisian said. “When we’re going three-and-out, that makes it hard on us from a rhythm standpoint.”

Offensive line coach Tim Drevno’s unit has plenty to iron out in the bye-week preparation for Oregon State.

“It’s a combination of all those things. We all need to be accountable to that, and I believe everybody in our building is. We’re working on fixing those things,” he said.

The one-week layoff comes at a most opportune time for the Trojans. Sarkisian hesitated to say that two physical games in as many weeks took a toll on USC’s depleted roster, but the Trojans’ loss could be a case study for Fox Sports reporter Bruce Feldman’s "Body Blow Theory":

Upon regrouping over the next two weeks, USC will return to Pac-12 play against an Oregon State team it dominated with the run a season ago. In particular, running back Javorius “Buck” Allen broke out against the Beavers defense for 133 yards and three touchdowns.

Allen surpassed 100 yards in each of USC’s first two games of 2014 and was again a cornerstone of the offense in Week 3. He overcame Boston College’s stifling run defense with a career-high nine receptions for 118 yards and a touchdown.

Sarkisian said part of the Trojans’ path to finding their offensive identity is continuing to use Allen as a receiver—with a caveat.

“We anticipated coming into the season that we’d be able to utilize him out of the backfield,” Sarkisian said. He’s got tremendous hands, he’s a really good route-runner and he can be...a difficult matchup on linebackers.

“I don’t know that nine catches for almost 120 yards is ideal,” he added.

Allen's role is just one more piece of the entire puzzle Sarkisian and his staff are working to have in place for the conference season. Another is reintegrating running back Tre Madden into the rotation.

Sarkisian told the Orange County Register last week that Madden could be ready in time for the Oregon State game.

That additional support for the run game should help USC establish its offensive identity for the remainder of the season.

 

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Statistics compiled courtesy of cfbstats.com.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

USC Offense Searching for Identity After Rushing Woes at Boston College

Struggles in the run game during No. 17 USC’s 37-31 loss at Boston College on Saturday have head coach Steve Sarkisian using the Trojans’ bye week to evaluate their offensive identity...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Texas A&M Punter Drew Kaser Continues to Push for Heisman Trophy with Video

No punter has ever won the Heisman Trophy, but Texas A&M punter Drew Kaser isn't going to let that stop him from trying to take home college football's top honor this season.

Earlier this year, the junior punter created a shirt to promote his "#Kaser4Heisman" campaign:

Now, he has created a video that will take his campaign to the next level.

Kaser pointed out some good facts in the video. He was among the best dressed at the 2014 SEC media days. He led the nation in punting average (47.4 yards per punt) last season, which was good enough to make him a second-team Associated Press All-American.

It's easy to overlook punters. That's why Kaser is doing his best to put himself on the map and encourage voters to think of punters as "Heisman people."

[Texas A&M Athletics, ESPN; h/t College Spun]

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Most Underrated Defensive College Football Recruits in the Class of 2015

For perspective on how fickle recruiting rankings can prove to be, take the example of the current defensive end duo of the Houston Texans: Jadeveon Clowney and J.J. Watt.

Four years ago, Clowney—the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft by the Texans—was a household name as the nation’s top recruit in the 2011 class.

By contrast, Watt was a little known 2-star recruit from Wisconsin who signed with Central Michigan in 2007 before eventually transferring to play for the Badgers a year later.

The 2015 class is sure to produce a few hidden gems who emerge as stars on the college level.

Which defensive standouts in the current cycle are being vastly underrated by recruiting services, analysts and fans?

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UCLA Football: 5 Most Important Adjustments That Need to Happen During Bye Week

With a bye upcoming this week, it provides head coach Jim Mora and the UCLA football team a perfect opportunity to recalibrate things. 

Sitting at 3-0, a huge conference test versus the Arizona State Sun Devils awaits on Sept. 25 in Tempe, Arizona. Before this contest, there are a few aspects of the team that need to be ironed out. 

This piece will speak about five adjustments in particular that need to happen during the open week. Much of it stems from a schematic view. Other issues deal strictly with personnel usage. 

Here are the five most important adjustments needing to happen during the bye week for the UCLA Bruins. 

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UCLA Football: 5 Most Important Adjustments That Need to Happen During Bye Week

With a bye upcoming this week, it provides head coach Jim Mora and the UCLA football team a perfect opportunity to recalibrate things. Sitting at 3-0, a huge conference test versus the Arizona State Sun Devils awaits on Sept...

Begin Slideshow

Can Brady Hoke Survive the 2014 Football Season?

The Michigan Wolverines take on the Utah Utes this week in College Football. Bleacher Report's College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Adam Kramer debate on how important a win is for Brady Hoke's job security. 

Do you think Brady Hoke will be Michigan's head coach in 2015?

Watch the video and let us know!

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Answering College Football's Biggest Questions Heading into Week 4

Week 4 of the 2014 college football season is just around the corner. Bleacher Report's college football analysts Michael Felder, Adam Kramer and Barrett Sallee play a classic game of "Would You Rather."

Which offense would you rather play against?

Watch the video, and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Speedy Noil Injury: Updates on Texas A&M Star's Knee and Return

Texas A&M wide receiver Speedy Noil suffered an apparent knee injury in the Aggies' victory over Rice on Saturday. His long-term status remains uncertain.    

ESPN's Texas A&M feed notes the wideout is likely to miss this week's game against SMU, according to head coach Kevin Sumlin:

Texas A&M insider Jeff Tarpley of 247Sports reports the injury is believed to involved the MCL in his left knee and is expected to cost him at least three weeks:

GigEm247 has learned that the former Under Armour All-American and 247Sports five-star prospect sustained a left knee injury (MCL) that will cause him to miss at approximately three to five weeks.

Brent Zwerneman of the Houston Chronicle passed along further comment from Sumlin, who downplayed any information about the severity of the injury released so far:

Noil has immediately emerged as a reliable target for Kenny Hill in the rebuilt Texas A&M offense. He ranks second on the team behind Malcome Kennedy with 197 yards through three games. He caught his first touchdown of the season before suffering the injury against Rice.

The Aggies will probably use a committee approach to fill the void behind Kennedy. Edward Pope, Ricky Seals-Jones and Josh Reynolds will probably all see some added snaps. Sabian Holmes can also help stretch the field.

While the group should ensure the offense doesn't suffer any type of major drop-off, Texas A&M will hope Noil is able to make a swift recovery. Given how quickly he's made an impact, the undefeated SEC squad will want him available as the level of competition rises over the next few weeks.

Since Sumlin wasn't ready to provide a timetable or confirm the other reports, the questions will continue to linger until the school provides an official update.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Alabama Football: Nick Saban's 4 Biggest Concerns Entering SEC Play

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The No. 2/3 Alabama football team has had three weeks to gear up for SEC play. It beat a power-five opponent that's looking like a better and better win every week in West Virginia, and then the Crimson Tide had two tune-ups against group-of-five opponents Florida Atlantic and Southern Miss.

As SEC play starts this week with a home game against the Florida Gators (2:30 p.m. CT, CBS), an Alabama team that remains highly ranked in the polls still has plenty to work on.

Here are Nick Saban's four biggest concerns entering conference play.

 

Play the ball

When looking at Alabama's secondary struggles this year, it hasn't been a matter of positioning. Crimson Tide cornerbacks have been in position to make a play; they just largely haven't done so.

That's on the technique.

We saw it first on West Virginia wide receiver Kevin White's touchdown grab in the end zone over Bradley Sylve. Sylve was draped all over White, but Sylve's back was turned, and White just made a play.

That issue cropped back up on several throws against the Golden Eagles, especially early on.

"I think that when players are in position to make plays, they need to make those plays," Saban said. "I think a couple of plays that ended up being what you called explosive plays, people are in position to make the play, and their player made the play on the ball."

With a big wide receiver like Florida's Demarcus Robinson coming to town, that technique will be critical.

 

Getting more players involved on offense

Alabama's offense, at least in the passing game so far, has been Amari Cooper and...Amari Cooper. It's a strategy that has worked so far, as Alabama has averaged 42 points and almost 300 passing yards per game.

But it's one that might not be sustainable in SEC play.

Cooper tops Alabama's pass-catching list with 33 receptions through three games. Next on the list is Christion Jones with nine. No other receiver has more than six. There have also been only two tight end catches—one to Brian Vogler for five yards, and one to Ty Flournoy-Smith for four.

"I think that there were other opportunities in the game for other guys," Saban said. "Sometimes, we didn't get them the ball. We did have a drop, but I also think that we're really trying to feature the players that we have. So far, what we've tried to do has been effective, and it's worked. A lot of it is going through Amari Cooper."

The Crimson Tide have a plethora of weapons at their disposal, even with wide receiver DeAndrew White's status still uncertain for the game. Tight end O.J. Howard, a preseason favorite by man pundits for the nation's best tight end, has been targeted once and has yet to catch a pass. Receiver Chris Black is explosive with the ball in space.

Cooper is one of the country's top wide receivers, but Alabama would do well to start spreading the ball around a little more.

 

More physical in the run game

After the Southern Miss game, Nick Saban pointed to a weakness in Alabama's run game, specifically runs up the middle.

"I think we have to be able to run the ball a little bit more consistently and effectively," Saban said, according to Michael Casagrande of AL.com. "We seem to do pretty well when we run the ball on the perimeter, but our inside running game has not been as good as we'd like for it to be."

Casagrande broke down the numbers, and Saban was right:

Alabama had 31 carries with the first-team line, 22 were between the tackles and nine tested the edges. Those 22 inside runs averaged 4.6 yards a try while the outside tries netted 11.8 per carry. Both of Alabama's negative running plays came between the tackles in the first half. It opened up more in the third quarter as the eight middle runs went for 51 yards or 6.4 yards a pop.

Alabama hasn't had elite interior strength since 2012, when Barrett Jones anchored an offensive line flanked by Chance Warmack and Anthony Steen at guards. This year, it's been Ryan Kelly at center with Arie Kouandjio on the left and either Leon Brown or Alphonse Taylor on the right.

The run game is still Alabama's bread and butter, and with a new quarterback under center, the Crimson Tide need that part of their offense to be clicking on all cylinders.

 

Tackling

By and large, the teams Alabama has played so far have put an emphasis on quick passes in a spread-out attack.

That changes this week.

The Crimson Tide will face a more pro-style offense with a downhill running game—a dying breed in the SEC. Alabama's linebackers and defensive line will be focused more on playing straight ahead and simply winning those physical battles rather than dealing with motion and misdirection.

"They run the ball a lot more and are good at it," linebacker Trey DePriest said. "They have a real big O-line that knows what they are doing. They push people around, so we have to know what we are doing up front."

The Crimson Tide missed several tackles in the open field against West Virginia, and the Mountaineers had success running the ball early on. It's hard to tell if that was an anomaly because there hasn't been a big enough sample size yet, but Alabama will find that out quickly this week.

And that improvement starts in practice.

"We didn't feel like we tackled very well in the first two games," Saban said. "I thought we tackled much better in the last game.

"We put a big emphasis on how a guy practices because if you start tackling people and taking them to the ground in practice, I think you're going to get a lot of guys banged up—the guys that you're practicing against plus the guys you're playing with. So the emphasis for us is to get yourself in the right position to tackle a guy and thud.

"I thought we did a better job of doing that last week in practice, and I thought we tackled better because of it in the game. I think it's going to be very, very important that we continue to do that because missed tackles and mental errors will just absolutely kill you when it comes to playing good defense."

 

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

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

SEC Football Q&A: SEC's Top Team, Will Muschamp's Hot Seat and Big Concerns

Don't look now, but it's already Week 4 of the college football season. At this point of the season, some teams have proved they have staying power, others haven't lived up to the hype, and there are still plenty of questions on the table.

Week 4 in the SEC provides several interesting matchups to keep an eye on, including Florida traveling to Tuscaloosa, LSU hosting Mississippi State and Auburn's trip to the Little Apple for a key Thursday night showdown with Kansas State.

Let's get you prepped for Week 4 with a little SEC Q&A.

Right now, I'd have to say Auburn because it's doing exactly what it did last year on both sides of the ball.

Sure, there was talk about quarterback Nick Marshall progressing as a passer during the offseason, and he hasn't really proved he has during the first two games of the season, What he did prove, however, is that it really doesn't matter all that much.

Auburn's multidimensional running game has picked up right where it left off. That scheme is so consistent that with one mistake, opposing teams are forced off their game plans, which typically leads to Auburn running away in the second half.

That's not to say that Texas A&M, LSU and Alabama don't have cases to be made. They do. But each of those teams has at least one lingering issue that hasn't been answered yet.

Texas A&M's defense looks more fundamentally sound, but South Carolina was really its only competition, and Heisman Trophy contender Mike Davis was in and out of the game in the season opener. Anthony Jennings seems to have the quarterback job at LSU on lockdown, but can he be a difference-maker against good teams? Alabama has its quarterback in Blake Sims and seems to have its issues at cornerback solved, but it really hasn't been tested since the West Virginia game.

Despite some relatively weak competition of its own, Auburn looks exactly like the team that won the SEC title last year.

Head coach Will Muschamp's status hasn't changed one bit as a result of that triple-overtime win over Kentucky last week, nor should it.

A win is a win for that particular Florida team considering where it was last season. More importantly, it answered some lingering questions against Florida.

Sure, quarterback Jeff Driskel struggled early, but he found a legitimate weapon at wide receiver—the first of which under Muschamp—in sophomore Demarcus Robinson. The Gators also discovered that running back Matt Jones is truly back, which is big news considering sophomore Kelvin Taylor is also capable of being a star in the SEC.

Defensively, it was a bit shocking to see the typically stout Gators give up 369 passing yards to the Wildcats. But that's an air raid offense, and they're going to do that to a lot of teams if quarterback Patrick Towles stays healthy and Kentucky's offensive weapons stay on the field.

If Florida goes 6-5, Muschamp will be gone. If it goes 7-4 (would have been 8-4 had Idaho not been canceled), he'll likely stick around—although it does depend on which teams those four losses are to and, more importantly, what the Gators look like in them.

Oh, without a doubt, everything that's going on at Vanderbilt.

As I mentioned above, I'm not too concerned with Florida's defense. Georgia's is definitely more of a concern, but it has the right coach—new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt—to fix it. It just may take longer than I expected.

Vanderbilt is a hot mess right now.

Last week, the Commodores had four quarterbacks bracketed with "or" on the depth chart and started true freshman Wade Freebeck against UMass—their third starting quarterback in as many weeks. It's sophomore Patton Robinette's job on this week's depth chart although Freebeck will still play, according to head coach Derek Mason on his weekly radio show (via Adam Sparks of The Tennessean).

Mason has grossly mismanaged his quarterback position during a tumultuous time for the Vanderbilt program. The 'Dores already had to deal with major roster turnover from last year's squad, and the transition to a new staff only added to the challenge. Instability was inevitable, and all Mason has done is add to it.

This is a team that got blown out at home by Temple, run by Ole Miss—which was expected—and needed a blocked punt returned for a touchdown to get back into the game in a win over UMass that went down to the wire.

That's not supposed to happen to an SEC team—not even Vanderbilt.

It was bound to be a rebuilding year in Nashville, but nobody expected it to be this bad

 

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

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Conference Power Rankings Post-Week 3

Each FBS conference is looking to maintain or restore its reputation during the first year of the College Football Playoff era. The power-five leagues all want to be the new SEC, and the group-of-five leagues all want to be the new Mountain West.

Three weeks into the season, that mission has gone better for some leagues than others. One power conference in particular has been the story of the first month—though not for the reason it wanted to—while others have seen their own narratives start to unfurl.

In putting together these rankings, special attention was paid to the F/+ ratings at Football Outsiders, an opponent-adjusted team metric.

The method of the ratings can be found via the above link, but for our purposes, all you need to know is that a score of 0.0 percent makes a team average, and that the further you deviate in either direction (positive or negative), the less average that team becomes. If a conference's score is in the positive, that means its average team is better than the national average team. If it's negative, that means it's worse.

Also taken into account for these rankings was the nonconference record of each league, signature wins and how the teams have looked on the field. Not everything is quantifiable, after all.

Sometimes one league simply looks better.

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Be Ready Texas A&M, Arkansas' Rushing Attack Isn't Slowing Down Anytime Soon

The Texas A&M Aggies are looking ahead to their game in two weeks vs. the Arkansas Razorbacks. Bleacher Report's college football analysts Barrett Sallee and Adam Kramer discuss how they believe this A&M defense will do against debatably the best running back duo in the country.

Who do you think will dominate this match up?

Watch the video and let us know.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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