NCAA Football

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

Begin Slideshow

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

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.

“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?

Begin Slideshow

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. 

Begin Slideshow

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!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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.

Begin Slideshow

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

With Trip to Tuscaloosa Calling, Florida Searching to Rekindle Feud with Alabama

Once upon a time, Alabama and Florida had the throne to themselves in the SEC. The Crimson Tide and Gators replenished their NFL stockpiles year to year and then jousted to become not only the best team in the SEC—one from the West, the other from the East—but the best team in the country. The rest of college football would eat their dust.

It seemed it would be Nick Saban vs. Urban Meyer, both relentless recruiters, swapping the crystal back and forth for a decade or so. They would own the fertile recruiting grounds in their respective states, raid Georgia as they needed and then become the new Notre Dame by hooking up national recruiting bases.

It was 2008-09. Florida had spent $28 million on its football facility with the seed of an $7 million gift from Bill Heavener, the college roommate of Bob Tebow, Tim's dad. Alabama was in the process of taking Bryant-Denny Stadium over that magical 100,000-seat threshold. Both programs were paying their head coaches startling salaries.

Bama vs. Florida, as long as Saban was dueling Meyer, would fetch $500 for a seat halfway to the moon in the corner of the upper deck end zone. Bama vs. Florida would have to be played the morning of the Super Bowl just to satisfy the hype. Bama vs. Florida would be colossal.

The colossus collapsed after two seasons.

The last time we saw the Florida dynasty, it was leaving the Georgia Dome in tears on Dec. 5, 2009. Tebow and the defending national champion Gators, ranked No. 1, had just been struck down by the No. 2 Crimson Tide in the SEC title game, 32-13.

Tebow wept as he left the field after his final SEC game. The next season, Florida was 8-5.

Meyer suddenly had health issues—or burnout, or something—and disengaged from recruiting and then resigned. Bama fans insist Saban scared off "Urban Legend" with the Tide's 14-0 season in 2009.

But Saban didn't scare off Auburn. The Tigers popped up out of the bushes in 2010. They pummeled teams with a better version of Tebow, Cam Newton, and bamboozled defenses with the slot machine-like offense of Gus Malzahn that seemed to spit out random plays. The Tigers beat Alabama in the Iron Bowl—now that is an enduring rivalry—and won the national title.

So, after back-to-back tussles in the SEC title game in 2008 and '09—the Gators won one, the Tide won one—Alabama's dynasty was interrupted; Florida's dynasty was blown up. The game didn't matter as much anymore.

The Crimson Tide (3-0) and Gators (2-0) meet Saturday in Tuscaloosa, and while both teams may be unbeaten, this is still not a game that leaves Main Street deserted like it did five years ago. It will be expensive to watch in person, but not a which-way-to-the-poor-house expensive. Alabama vs. LSU is a bigger game now than Bama-Florida. Georgia vs. South Carolina is bigger. Auburn vs. LSU is about to be bigger. Alabama vs. Auburn was always bigger.

Alabama and Saban are still intimidating. They won national titles in '11 and '12 and were one play from possibly playing for the title in '13, until Auburn struck again. The Tide are revved up once more in '14 with their bottomless corps of running backs and formidable linemen.

It's Florida that lags.

The Gators struggled with Kentucky last week. That's probably enough said right there. When the Gators were rolling from 2006 to 2009, they beat the basketball school 63-5 in one meeting. In overtime Saturday night, a moving truck likely was idling somewhere. If Florida had lost to the Wildcats, it would have been dispatched to coach Will Muschamp's house, no doubt.

It has been a bumpy four-year ride for Muschamp. The last time the Gators played Alabama, they lost 38-10 in '11. That happened in The Swamp, no less. After starting last season 4-1, Florida lost seven straight to close the campaign, including a 26-20 decision against Georgia Southern. The fanbase was outraged.

While the Gators may be undefeated going into Saturday's game at Alabama, they still haven't recovered from December 2009.

"After Meyer stepped down and Muschamp was hired, instability at the the coordinator and quarterback positions, along with numerous injuries, created an almost impossible situation for offensive success," said Alabama color analyst Phil Savage, the CEO of the Senior Bowl and former NFL GM. "Now, with offensive coordinator Kurt Roper on board, you can see some of the natural ability emerging at running back and wide receiver with Jeff Driskel playing the best football of his career."

Tom Lemming, the Chicago-based recruiting analyst, told B/R that he had the last four Muschamp recruiting classes ranked 12th, fifth, fourth and eighth, respectively. There has been a replenishing of the roster, but not like the job done by the other Saban disciple, Jimbo Fisher, who replenished Florida State post-Bobby Bowden and won the national title in '13.

The Gators have some NFL-style talent, including wide receiver Demarcus Robinson and cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III, among others, but it is hard to win consistently with so much quarterback instability. The school that has produced three Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks just can't get the position in order, and some of that has to do with the Gators trying to figure out who they want to be on offense.

Jeff Driskel was hurt last season and is back in '14. It remains to be seen whether he is going to get himself to another level. Driskel had issues finding the open receiver when Kentucky brought extra-man pressure last week, so you can imagine what Alabama is thinking for this week: Squeeze the Gator with the ball and see if he will throw it to us.

The good news for Driskel is the Crimson Tide just don't look as threatening on defense as they did in a four-year stretch from 2009 to 2012, when they had an astonishing 77 interceptions. This season, they have forced one turnover (fumble) and haven't grabbed a single interception in three games. When one wonders why talented Alabama defensive back Eddie Jackson, just five months removed from knee surgery and with a contraption locked to his knee for support, is on the field, now the reason is clear.

It is a stretch to think Driskel is going to restore this rivalry with a monumental performance Saturday, especially on the road and especially because he looked so disjointed against UK. But there is some intrigue.

Alabama has Amari Cooper, its preseason All-American receiver, while the Gators have Hargreaves at defensive back, and he is a star. The Gators have a terrific running back in Matt Jones, who gained 156 yards against Kentucky, while Alabama has the best defensive back in the country, safety Landon Collins, who will play closer to the line in this game and see Jones face-to-face on the second level.

But what the Gators really need is the next Carlos Dunlap or Ray McDonald or Derrick Harvey on the defensive line, or throwback linebackers such as Brandon Siler or Brandon Spikes. They were stars when Florida was on its roll, and indeed a heavy-handed defense is what might rekindle this rivalry to its fullest.

For now, it is just another SEC game in which Alabama is favored by at least two scores. Gators fans will tell you it shouldn't be that way. Ever.

 

Ray Glier has covered college football and various other sports for 20 years. His work has appeared in USA Today, The New York Times, CNN, The Washington Post and Al Jazeera America. He is the author of How the SEC Became Goliath (Howard/Simon & Schuster, 2013).

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Texas A&M Football: Will Myles Garrett Be Named an All-American in 2014?

The Texas A&M football team has an improved pass rush in 2014 because Myles Garrett has lived up to his recruiting ranking on the field. Garrett will make it three years in a row that the Aggies have had an All-American on their team. 

The ranking of recruits is an inexact science. Every year there are "can't miss" recruits who fail to live up their billing while recruits who were overlooked by various sporting websites and news outlets develop into stars and first-round draft picks. 

Garrett was the No. 1 recruit in the nation in the 2014 class, according to 247Sports. The 6'5", 255-pound athlete registered 20.5 sacks as a senior at Martin High School in Arlington, Texas. 

He has not let up since arriving in College Station. Garrett leads the Aggies with 5.5 sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss on the season. The sack total tied the school record for sacks by a freshman. Jadeveon Clowney holds the SEC freshman record for sacks in a season at eight, and with nine games left in the 2014 schedule, that record is within reach. 

Garrett has an extremely rare combination of size, speed and strength. He is a true freshman who has split double-teams on the way to sacking the quarterback. A lot of young defensive linemen have one skill that is at a very high level but need to develop the others. 

Some are fast and need to get stronger, while some have strength but need to develop pass-rushing moves. Garrett has it all and has displayed it on the field during the Aggies' first three games.  

He can bull rush an offensive lineman on one play and bend a blow by him on the next. Garrett is a rare kind of pass-rusher college fans need to enjoy for the next three years because if he stays healthy, he will be paid a lot of money to chase quarterbacks on Sundays. 

 

A Popularity Contest

In order to be named to an All-American team, it is not enough to simply be great on the field. It has become somewhat of a popularity contest where being named to a preseason All-American team is almost as important as how a player performs on the field. 

The media likes to be right, and it's going to name its preseason selections as All-Americans as long as they put up the requisite numbers to earn the selection. If a player wants to be named an All-American and was not one of the media's darlings before the season started, then that player needs to set the college football world on fire, much the same way that Johnny Manziel and Jameis Winston have the previous two seasons. 

Garrett currently ranks No. 2 in the nation in sacks behind Washington defensive tackle Danny Shelton. If Garrett wants to beat out the Vic Beasleys of the world, then he is going to have to put up a big number. 

If Beasley and Garrett were to each get 12 sacks on the year, then Beasley would be named to the All-American team because of the preseason hype he received. It would not matter that 12 sacks would set an SEC record for freshmen—Garrett would get passed over. 

He is going to have to put up a monster number—like 15 sacks—that the media cannot ignore. Garrett is also going to have to make some big plays in big games.

It is great that he got 2.5 sacks against Rice, but 2.5 sacks against Alabama would be the equivalent of double that number against Rice or SMU. If Garrett wants to be named an All-American, then he is going to have to stand out on the field when the Aggies play Alabama, Auburn and LSU.

Luckily for Aggie fans, Garrett has the kind of talent and drive to have that kind of impact. He is the best freshman defensive player to set foot on the A&M campus in over 20 years. Garrett will be the first freshman defensive lineman to be named an All-American since Sam Adams pulled off the feat in 1991.  

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Tennessee Football Recruiting: Latest Updates on 2015 Commits and Targets

Although the final score didn't reflect it, the Tennessee Volunteers game against the No. 4 Oklahoma Sooners on Saturday proved that head coach Butch Jones' recruiting prowess has the team on the right track. 

Running back Jalen Hurd and defensive end Derek Barnett, both freshmen, made big impacts on the game, with Hurd breaking two long runs and Barnett creating major headaches for the Sooners offensive line throughout the evening.

As Jones has pointed out time and time again, Tennessee is young and lacking depth at nearly every position, and the only way to remedy that situation is by recruiting top-notch athletes.

Thanks to Jones' tenacity, the Vols' 2015 class is shaping up to be every bit as good as the 2014 edition, with two five-star commits and several four-star prospects already on-board. 

While there's certainly a long way between now and national signing day, Jones and his staff will continue pursuing every recruit on their board, including those already committed to Tennessee and those who have pledged to play elsewhere.

Here's a recap of the latest news on Tennessee's 2015 recruiting targets and commitments. 

Begin Slideshow

Wake Forest Sends Recruit Photoshopped Kim Kardashian West Magazine Cover

Who knew that Kim Kardashian West was a Wake Forest fan?

That may not actually be true, but the Demon Deacons coaching staff will hope that this creative, Photoshopped magazine cover impresses 2015 recruit Kengera Daniel. 

Update: Sept. 16 at 1:25 p.m. ET

As it turns out Daniel wasn't the only Wake Forest recruit to get a Photoshopped magazine cover to try to woo him to Winston-Salem.

Class of 2015 recruit Marcus Marshall's also received a Photoshopped cover, featuring the talented Selena Gomez.

--End of Update--

Earlier this year, the Tennessee Volunteers sent recruit Shy Tuttle a Photoshopped Rolling Stone cover of him and Beyonce. That appeared to go over well—the Vols are among Tuttle's most likely destinations, per 247 Sports—so the Demon Deacons decided to borrow a page out of the their book.

[Twitter, h/t SB Nation]

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Pages