Michigan is three games into the 2014 season, and it’s yet to put together a solid four-quarter effort.
But somehow, and perhaps somewhat luckily, the Wolverines find themselves at 2-1 heading into this Saturday’s home date with Utah, which has averaged 52 points while coasting to a 2-0 record.
Team 135 won’t see 3-1 with another Notre Dame-esque offering, and it won’t calm the masses if it comes out flat on offense or breaks on defense.
In short, if the Wolverines want to take down coach Kyle Whittingham’s Utes, something that Brady Hoke hasn’t done in two attempts, they’ll have to be as close to perfect as possible.
They’ll have to make field goals. They’ll have to minimize turnovers.
They’ll have to finally show their mettle.
Expect a Quick Start on “O”?
The Wolverines scored 17 points during the first half of their 34-10 win over the Red Hawks, who entered the day with 18 consecutive setbacks and nothing else to lose but No. 19. They hung around for three quarters until Michigan decided to distance itself.
Prior to that, Nussmeier’s offense scored zero in Week 2 against Notre Dame.
Through three games, the former Alabama coordinator’s scheme and personnel have failed to strike fear into opponents. Michigan hasn’t appeared powerful enough to quickly build a lead, sustain it and run away with games as it should.
The lack of steady production has been frustrating for fans, but not for Nussmeier. He’s expecting more, and soon.
“No, I’m not frustrated at all,” he replied when asked if he was. Then he cited young receivers and running backs, and the fact quarterback Devin Gardner, a fifth-year senior who’s had three OCs, is “in his third game of a new system.”
Sophomores Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith have the potential to carry the load from the backfield, but they’re slow starters. Without Devin Funchess, who’ll return when he returns, the passing game has suffered, leaving outcomes to be juggled in the hands of guys with few reps.
“You just look at the youth out there, and there is going to be a growth process,” Nussmeier said. “Our kids have worked extremely hard and take pride in doing things right.
“Now, has it been perfect? No. Do we have a long way to go? Yes. But the attention is there, the focus is there, the want to is there and we’ve just got to continue to improve.”
A week ago, he said the offense was in its “infancy” stage.
Will the fourth game be enough to get Gardner acclimated to the “new system”? Apparently four years of college ball haven’t been enough.
Will it continue to serve as part of the “growth process”? Or will it be another that prompts the same questions next week?
Saturday is the one-third mark of the season. Thirty-three percent. Michigan can’t continue crawling like an infant. It has to get up and run like a big boy.
“We took another step. We took a step in the right direction [versus Miami],” insisted Nussmeier. “Still, we know as a group, that consistency has got to be better. But, at times, you see us do some things very, very well.”
Hoke admitted that his team was less than keen this past weekend versus the Red Hawks, who caught the Wolverines on their heels before and after the break.
“We had five minutes in the second quarter that would be five minutes that we would like to have [back],” he said, referencing Amara Darboh’s 29-yard catch-turned-fumble and Gardner’s interception. However, he said he was pleased with the overall effort and “hard work” attitude.
Any miscue, and we’re talking any, could be the difference versus the Utes, who won’t be as forgiving as prior opponents Appalachian State and Miami. Another pick thrown by Gardner, especially late, would turn out the lights in Ann Arbor. With four interceptions thus far, he ranks No. 15 nationally in terms of frequency and needs two more to be No. 1.
Another turnover could break the bank, not to mention the hearts of the (probable) 100,000-plus in the stands. The Wolverines’ eight giveaways lead the Big Ten, with three fumbles and five interceptions.
A performance like that against Utah could send them hobbling to another so-so finish and tumultuous offseason.
Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81
Unless otherwise noted, quotes were obtained firsthand by the writer.
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College football’s beauty is in its turnover.
Each winter, a large group of junior and senior stars depart the game, through graduation and early entry into the NFL draft.
Each spring and summer, they’re replaced by fresh, talented faces. One of the joys of each football season is watching new talents emerge across the college gridiron landscape, thrill fans and earn their place in college football lore.
Three weeks into the 2014 college football season, some of the top freshmen and redshirt freshmen are emerging as stars. We took a stab at power ranking the top 25 across college football—picked for the stats they have piled up as well as the overall impact they have made on their teams already.
What if I told you Kansas State quarterback Nick Marshall was gearing up his Wildcats for a big out-of-conference game against No. 5 Auburn in the hopes of not only launching his Heisman campaign in tiny Manhattan, Kansas, but in also making a statement that his team is a legitimate contender for the Big 12 and national titles?
That almost happened.
Marshall—the senior signal-caller for the Auburn Tigers—was pursued heavily by Kansas State as a dual-threat quarterback out of Garden City (Kansas) Community College in the class of 2013.
So much so that Kansas State head coach Bill Snyder wanted Marshall over then-Iowa Western Community College and current Kansas State starting quarterback Jake Waters, according to Jay G. Tate of AuburnSports.com.
"He definitely wanted me there," Marshall told Tate in May of 2013. "They were cool, but that's not what I wanted. I came to Kansas to get away; I didn't want to stay in Kansas. That's the last thing on my mind."
Except that it wasn't.
Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee were hot on the trail of Marshall at Arkansas State but knew other programs—bigger programs—would come calling. Kansas State was already there, Indiana got into the mix and then the big one came—Texas.
"I was going to go with Texas," he said.
But Case McCoy was reinstated to the program in January 2013, and Marshall's Texas offer was pulled, according to Tate. Instead of heading to Austin for an official visit, Marshall told Auburn's coaches he'd instead visit Kansas State that weekend. Malzahn and Lashlee convinced him to commit instead of taking the trip, despite the best efforts of Snyder.
"He didn't waver at all," Garden City offensive coordinator Matt Miller told Tate. "Even with Bill Snyder writing hand-written letters every day saying: You're my guy; you're my quarterback. They knew Nick was better than the guy they had coming in. They saw Nick being their starter."
What would that have been like for Kansas State?
Instead of rotating quarterbacks last season with Waters and former Wildcat Daniel Sams, Marshall would likely have won the job outright in the summer for the then-defending Big 12 co-champion Wildcats.
Would that have prevented Kansas State from losing four of their first six games of the 2013 season?
He certainly would have made the North Dakota State game to open the season easier, as well as Texas, Oklahoma State and Baylor. Couple Marshall with wide receiver Tyler Lockett and then-senior running back John Hubert—a 1,000-yard performer—and Kansas State's rebuilding year would have been more of a reloading year.
A dynamic dual-threat quarterback with a tremendous deep threat and capable running back in an offense that knows how to properly utilize running quarterbacks?
That sounds familiar. You know, sort of like Auburn's 2013 season?
That's not to say that Kansas State would have been 13 seconds away from a national title with Marshall, but it wouldn't be a dark-horse title contender this year, either. Marshall showed a tremendous ability to pick up an offense on the fly in 2013 at Auburn, leading the Tigers to a 12-2 record despite only two-and-a-half weeks at starting quarterback before taking his first snap.
His ability to grasp the offense and go would have made the transition away from Collin Klein easier for Snyder and kept the Kansas State program in the national discussion.
Instead, though, Marshall got out of Kansas, landed in Auburn and the rest is history.
When the Tigers take the field on Thursday night in the Little Apple, though, it will hold special meaning for Marshall. Kansas State was one of the few willing to give him a shot at quarterback. Had Malzahn not been hired by Auburn, Marshall might have been leading the Wildcats into this big out-of-conference showdown on Thursday night instead of the Tigers.
Oh, what might have been.
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.
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The Auburn Tigers take on the Kansas State Wildcats in Week 4. Bleacher Report's College Football Analysts Adam Kramer and Barrett Sallee discuss how Tigers quarterback Nick Marshall can explode onto the scene. Do you think Nick Marshall deserves to be in the Heisman talks?
Watch the video and let us know!
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Upsets. Heisman candidates. Conference rivalries. Memorable plays. Intriguing matchups to come.
Ah, the college football season is in full swing. Is there anything better?
No, probably not. Below, we'll take a look at the Associated Press poll, Bleacher Report poll and the records of each team before previewing this week's most intriguing games on the schedule. You can practically feel the pageantry from here.
Previewing Top Games on Schedule
Let's call a spade a spade—Week 3 offered fans looking for premier matchups a pretty weak slate of options. South Carolina beating Georgia was a highlight, sure, and there were plenty of intriguing upsets, but in general, Saturday wasn't the type of day that had you glued to your couch.
This week should be more compelling, however.
Things will get started off in brilliant fashion on Thursday night, as No. 5 Auburn and No. 20 Kansas State will clash in a matchup of two of the more dynamic offenses in college football. The Tigers have the No. 7 rushing offense (330 yards per game) and the No. 5 scoring offense (52 points per game), while the Wildcats have rushed for 236 yards a game (32nd in college football) and have put up 43.5 points per contest (21st).
It may be early in the year for these teams, but it's one heck of a test for both. Auburn, at least, should be pretty healthy, and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee has a better idea of his team's identity already, per Brandon Marcello of AL.com:
It's big early in the year because you play one or two games, so you've got a good feel for the new personnel; you've kind of a feel how this team is coming together. It gives us a chance to have everybody as healthy as they can be, even though we've only played two games. We can really work on the direction we think we're going to go.
The only star player with an injury is receiver Sammie Coates, the Tigers' top threat in 2013. Coaches expect his knee to be ready for the 6:30 p.m. kickoff Thursday at Kansas State.
Dual-threat quarterback Jake Waters and the Wildcats will be tough to top at home, but Auburn's ability to not only run the ball at will on opponent's but also play excellent defense will make them quite formidable, even on the road. This one should have plenty of fireworks.
There will be plenty of other intriguing matchups throughout the week, but the other big doozy on tap is No. 22 Clemson traveling to face defending national champions and No. 1 team in the nation Florida State on Saturday night.
At home, Jameis Winston and company are going to be tough to beat. Then again, we were saying something similar before their opener against Oklahoma State, and they squeaked by in that one, winning 37-31.
Still, the defending champions are loaded. But are they so loaded they are upset-proof?
Andrea Adelson of ESPN doesn't think so, and one of the main reasons is Deshaun Watson:
Though coach Dabo Swinney does not want to incite a quarterback controversy, we have seen first-hand just how dynamic Watson is when he gets into the game. Cole Stoudt does remain the starter, but Watson is effective when he gets his turn. Of the six drives Watson has led, Clemson has scored a touchdown on five of them. Granted, most came against South Carolina State, but it is hard to ignore how much more dynamic the Clemson offense is when Watson is in the game. His mobility makes him a tremendous asset, and Clemson should use that to its advantage. Plus, he is averaging 16.4 yards per pass attempt and 21.3 yards per completion. The bye week gave Clemson coaches the opportunity to figure out how they want to use him, and when they want to use him.
That's going to give the Seminoles an extra threat to game-plan for and take up a decent chunk of their preparation. Could that give Clemson enough of an edge to pull off the upset?
Perhaps. Perhaps not. Winston remains one of college football's most dangerous, most talented weapons, and he'll be expected to bring his A-game in prime time. This one is going to be fun regardless of the outcome.
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Are Georgia and USC out of the College Football Playoff hunt after losing in Week 3?
What about Michigan State, South Carolina, Stanford, Wisconsin, Clemson and Ohio State? Is a good bowl game all 2-1 teams have left to play for?
Though there are plenty of unknowns in the new era of college football, we know this for sure: If fewer than four teams go undefeated this season, the programs that finish with one loss will fight over the remaining playoff spots.
This makes the one-loss season almost as valuable as running the tables, and it means that if you haven’t lost more than one game yet, you’re still in the mix.
On the flip side, if you lose again, earning the dreaded, dastardly second loss, you really are just playing for a decent bowl game.
Here’s a look at teams with the biggest risk—because of a weakness on the field or a tough upcoming schedule—of suffering a “something-and-2” mark this season.
If No. 5 Auburn is to make the College Football Playoff, the journey officially starts at No. 20 Kansas State Thursday.
One of the week's lone matchups between Top 25 teams and one that comes under a national microscope kicks off a brutal path for Gus Malzahn's Tigers. For the Wildcats, the visit offers not only the biggest game ever played at Bill Snyder Family Stadium, but a chance to build an impeccable playoff resume.
Thanks to a pair of talented, versatile offenses, this showdown figures to be a high point of the week, as intended. Whether the Big 12 or SEC emerges in a better position for the playoff is a tough guess based on the matchup at hand.
As most unfortunately realized too late last season, Malzahn's offense has a way of controlling the pace of the game no matter what the opposition attempts to do about it.
In a way, Kansas State can do much of the same.
The Wildcats have dual-threat senior Jake Waters under center to thank for that. Through two games, he has led the team in passing and rushing, going for 223 passing yards and 55 rushing yards with four total scores against SF Austin before 239 through the air and 138 on the ground with two scores against Iowa State.
"It's rare, but Jake's a rare quarterback," running back Charles Jones said, per STATS LLC, via ESPN.com. "He's excellent in running and passing, and I saw that when he first came here. I saw how well he runs and just how good of a passer he is. To a lot of people it might be a surprise, but to us, we expect him to do stuff like that."
While Auburn is no stranger to running threats under center, the team has yet to encounter a talent like Waters. Last year, the only teams able to beat the Wildcats held him to 50 rushing yards or fewer.
Of course, Auburn signal-caller Nick Marshall is a bit more well-known thanks to his role as the leader of last year's improbable run while rushing for more than 1,000 yards and completing nearly 60 percent of his passes for 1,976 yards and 14 scores through the air.
But keep in mind that the Wildcats are more than accustomed to dances with prolific offenses thanks to their status as a member of the Big 12.
It equates to a war of strengths in which an additional emphasis will be placed on the turnover battle. Whichever team gives way in that regard will be forced to give up its preferred approach and surrender a stranglehold on the game's pace in order to catch up.
For two senior quarterbacks, it can very much be chalked up to a game of chess.
The Path Less Traveled
It is difficult to find two teams with a more difficult path to the playoff, a journey that coincidentally begins Thursday night.
Why Thursday? Auburn athletics director Jay Jacobs wanted the world—including the College Football Playoff selection committee—to be paying close attention.
"The other thing, too, is it’s on Thursday night, so everybody in the nation will be watching," he said, per ESPN.com's Greg Ostendorf. "We didn’t have a competitive disadvantage whatsoever—us or Kansas State—and it put Auburn versus Kansas State on Thursday night, ESPN."
Capture their imagination now, because the road ahead is littered with mines.
The Wildcats still have to take on No. 4 Oklahoma, No. 25 Oklahoma State and No. 7 Baylor, the highest ranks of those being away contests. Visits to TCU and West Virginia are no laughing matters, either.
Ditto for the Tigers, a team that encounters schools such as No. 8 LSU, No. 14 South Carolina, No. 10 Mississippi, No. 6 Texas A&M and No. 13 Georgia before a trip to take on No. 3 Alabama to close the season.
It is critical for both teams to get off to a hot start as they get into the teeth of their respective schedules. The wherewithal to even book Thursday's showdown knowing full and well the conference responsibilities that lie ahead speaks volumes as to how competitive each program is.
For one, the gamble creates perhaps a playoff-ending loss.
When: Thursday, September 18, 7:30 p.m. ET
Where: Bill Snyder Family Stadium, Manhattan, Kansas
Live Stream: WatchESPN
Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):
- Over/Under: N/A
- Spread: Auburn (-6.5)
Team Injury Reports
Injury reports via USA Today.
While both sides agreed to have this showdown in Manhattan, and the Wildcats are 130-31-1 at home since 1990, the favorite seems to be the safe way to go with this one.
Both teams enter the game coming off a bye, and for Auburn, that means another week of Marshall getting his feet back under him before he takes on an inexperienced Wildcats secondary that allowed a minimum of 200 passing yards in each of their first two games against mediocre competition.
Expect to see Marshall get back to his 2013 form when it comes to the passing attack. Auburn's prowess on the ground will open things up, and as long as the Tigers can keep the turnovers down, the offense will eventually wear down an iffy defense and pile on the yardage and points.
Prediction: Tigers 38, Wildcats 24
Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.
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In a clash of styles, the Wisconsin Badgers face off against the Bowling Green Falcons in a nonconference tilt. The Badgers are coming off a bye week, while the Falcons are riding high after a thrilling victory over the Indiana Hoosiers in Bloomington, 45-42.
Both teams have to feel pretty good about where they stand right now, all things considered, though both face mounting injury issues. Bowling Green lost starting quarterback Matt Johnson for the season with a hip injury, while the Badgers have lost a number of players including defensive tackle/end Warren Herring, fullback Derek Watt and running back Taiwan Deal until at least the start of Big Ten play.
For the Badgers, a win here would help boost the standing of the Big Ten as a whole, which has taken a beating over the past two weeks, including a litany of blowouts and losses to teams in and outside of the power five. For Bowling Green, a win would be their second in as many weeks against Big Ten foes.
Let's take a closer look at each team's keys to victory, whom to watch and a prediction for the game.
Michigan is 2-1 after defeating Miami (Ohio) last week 34-10. Fans were dismayed by three second-quarter miscues that left the teams tied 10-10 before the Wolverines put the game away in the second half.
This week, Michigan faces Pac-12 opponent Utah—a team that is averaging 57.5 points per game. The Utes (2-0) are coming off a 5-7 campaign but lost three of those games by seven points or fewer. The highlight of last season was a 27-21 upset of No. 5 Stanford.
If Michigan has another second-quarter meltdown, Utah’s prolific offense will make them pay. The Utes won't be intimidated by playing at Michigan Stadium, having won 25-23 during their last visit in 2008.
Last week, Michigan got the ground game rolling (276 yards), with running back Derrick Green (22 carries for 137 yards with two touchdowns) leading the way as the offensive line finally began to open holes. Hoke would like to slow down Utah’s high-tempo offense by riding the ground game to victory, while Utah coach Kyle Whittingham wants to strike quickly and often, mixing the run and the pass.
Date: Saturday, September 20, 2014
Time: 3:30 p.m. EDT
Place: Michigan Stadium (109,901), Ann Arbor, Mich.
Series vs. Utah: Michigan and Utah are tied (1-1)
Radio: Michigan Sports Network, Sirius (113), XM (195)
Spread: Michigan by 6.5 via Odds Shark
Live Stats: MGoBlue.com GameTracker
Last Meeting vs. Utah: 2008, Utah 25, Michigan 23
The Rich Rodriguez era began with a 25-23 loss to Utah at Michigan Stadium. Michigan trailed 25-10 at the beginning of the fourth quarter but scored 13 points to make final score close. The loss marked the second straight year that Michigan lost its home opener and set the tone for the team’s 3-9 finish.
*Information according to University of Michigan Wolverine Football game notes.
Before the 2014 season began, the national love for the Pac-12 revolved around the conference's incredible group of quarterbacks, which ranks among the best at any point in league history.
There's the headlining act of Marcus Mariota and Brett Hundley, but when the main course is followed with players like Taylor Kelly, Sean Mannion, Kevin Hogan and Cody Kessler, you know you have something special.
Rounding out the group are gunslingers Jared Goff and Connor Halliday, a healthy and dangerous Travis Wilson and promising youngsters Anu Solomon, Cyler Miles and Sefo Liufau.
Through three weeks of the season, the group has impressed, but how would you rank them?
Keep in mind that most teams have played just three games, and some only two. There isn't a single starting quarterback who has played straight-up bad football, either, and even those on the lower half of our list have put up solid numbers.
This will become a lot less subjective when certain teams pile up more wins and quarterbacks begin to separate statistically.
In fact, many of the league's quarterbacks have yet to face a difficult opponent, further complicating the process. For now, though, we'll go off what we've seen so far.
Based solely on the play thus far in the 2014 season, here's how we would rank the 12 starting quarterbacks in the Pac-12.
All stats via CFBStats.com. Remember, this is based on this season alone and prior reputation. NFL draft prospects or future potential have no weight in the rankings.
The honeymoon is over for Texas head coach Charlie Strong. But according to the coach, he is not sure if he ever had that luxury.
"Did I ever have one? No, when you're at a program with a lot of passion, pride and tradition, that's what you expect," Strong said of the "honeymoon" phase of his new job. "We're not going to coach any different. We're going to continue on. It's a process, and we know this. It's going to take a while, but the fact is we have what we have, and we have enough to get it done."
Strong was very clear about his expectations prior to the season, but his words may have fallen on deaf ears.
The Longhorns' leader said his team was not going to be a national title contender in his first year at Texas.
The statement was honest and fair.
And Texas fans who believed otherwise were setting themselves up for disappointment.
The Longhorns are three games into the season. It is still unclear who this team is and what it can be with Strong at the helm.
It's obvious there are a significant number of issues Texas is facing as it prepares for conference play.
In an effort to not write a novel about all of the problems, here are four important questions the Longhorns need to answer before the start of the Big 12 schedule.
1. What is the identity of the offense?
The Longhorns entered the season with expectations of running a ground-and-pound style of offense with running backs Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray.
The offensive line plays a major role in the success or failure of the running attack. After three games, the ground game has not been very successful.
The Longhorns have played the last two games without veteran center Dominic Espinosa (ankle) and offensive tackles Kennedy Estelle and Desmond Harrison (suspensions).
The loss of those three players left Texas with a very inexperienced line that has struggled to establish the line of scrimmage.
Strong has not determined when Estelle and Harrison will return to the team, but if this offense wants to enter Big 12 play with a run-heavy attack, it will need more help from the offensive line.
Otherwise, the coaches may need to reconsider the amount of emphasis placed on the running game and allow quarterback Tyrone Swoopes to show what he can do in the passing game.
2. Should Malcolm Brown receive the majority of the carries?
It's time to address the elephant in the room. Gray does not possess the same amount of talent he had in his first two seasons at Texas.
The junior suffered a torn Achilles tendon last November. He sat out of spring ball and then claimed he was "95 percent" healthy heading into fall camp.
But his production on the field makes you wonder if he is playing at less than 95 percent.
To be fair, the offensive line's inability to open up holes for the ground game plays a role in Gray's lackluster numbers. But it is not entirely the line's fault.
Gray has not shown the same burst or wiggle ability he had in previous seasons.
Chris Wesseling of NFL.com questioned if a torn Achilles is a "death sentence" for NFL running backs. Wesseling reported "no running back ever has recaptured sustained pre-injury form after rupturing an Achilles tendon."
Could Gray be experiencing this alleged effect of a torn Achilles? Maybe, but only blaming the injury for his production may be misguided.
What is known is Brown's production on the field has continued, even without the help of the offensive line. And he offers a big advantage that Gray has not consistently displayed: ability to gain yards after contact.
Considering the inexperienced line and the less-than-impressive offensive numbers, one has to wonder if the coaches should stop splitting reps between the two running backs and simply give Brown the majority of the carries.
It's apparent that both backs have struggled to get in a rhythm, partially because the offense has struggled to stay on the field and extend drives.
The Longhorns need to allow one running back to get in a rhythm to make an impact. And throughout the first three games, Brown appears to be the most consistent option.
3. Who are the leaders?
When adversity strikes, it's up to the coaches and players to step up and lead the team.
The Longhorns have faced a lot of adversity early in the season, but what players are standing tall and telling the team it's time to bounce back from the misfortune?
Strong challenged his team, specifically seniors, to take charge of the locker room.
But it doesn't appear to be working.
Texas' 41-7 loss to BYU was the worst home loss since 1997. And this happened following last season's humiliating performance against the Cougars, which ultimately led to the demise of former head coach Mack Brown.
How could the team allow that to happen twice? And where were the leaders?
Strong did not have an answer to either of those questions. In fact, he said the coaches took last season's loss more personal than the players, even though the staff was not on campus in 2013.
"I said to our football team, with this coaching staff not being here last year, we're taking this game more personal than you are," Strong said. "It shows how much further we have to come with our leadership, and we have to get guys to lead this football team. The seniors need to take ownership."
Leadership is not a characteristic that can be taught. It has to come naturally.
Are there any natural-born leaders on the roster? Sure, but when those leaders will make an impact is unknown.
It needs to happen soon if Texas is going to compete in conference play.
4. Can the Longhorns rebound following the 1-2 start?
Starting the season with a losing record is not a foreign concept for the Longhorns. Texas had two non-conference losses in 2013 but bounced back and won six consecutive games against Big 12 opponents.
The same needs to happen this season.
Texas has a bye this week and will then head to Lawrence to take on Kansas on Sept. 27.
The Longhorns should be able take down the Jayhawks, but the following weeks will not be a breeze.
Two of the toughest opponents on the schedule are No. 7 Baylor and No. 4 Oklahoma. Texas will face those teams in back-to-back weeks.
Can the Longhorns upset the Bears and Sooners? Of course it can happen.
Is it likely to occur? Probably not.
Texas has to make significant changes over the next two weeks if it wants to avoid having a losing record in the first half of the season, which has not happened since 1993.
"We have to go out and compete each and every week and play our best," Strong said Monday. "It doesn't matter who the opponent is. It's about our focus and preparation. There are only so many opportunities that we are given, so we cannot waste another opportunity."
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.
Taylor Gaspar is Bleacher Report's featured columnist covering the Texas Longhorns. Follow Taylor on Twitter: @Taylor_Gaspar.
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With confidence rising, the last thing the Buckeyes need is a week off. Getting more reps is the only way to gain meaningful experience. Since Ohio State can’t change its schedule, it needs to make the most of its bye week.
Here are four ways they can improve over the next ten days:
The Buckeyes started slowly against Navy and Virginia Tech, scoring just a total of 10 points in the first half of both of these games. The Buckeyes were much more efficient against Kent State last Saturday, but let’s not kid ourselves.
The Golden Flashes are a lousy team. Racking up 66 points against a glorified practice squad is nice, but taking anything away from this game other than a win would be foolish.
Even with the personnel losses, the offense looked completely out of sync during long stretches against the Hokies and Midshipmen. Whether the problem was dropping passes, missing blocking assignments, poor communication, turnovers or inefficiency on third down, the ineptitude has been shocking.
Head coach Urban Meyer has to find a way to get the team into a rhythm more quickly. The upcoming schedule is hardly overwhelming, but the team can ill afford to continue starting in a hole if it wants to win the Big Ten.
Pick a Starting Running Back
After three games last year, the offense had 856 yards rushing. This year it has 708 yards. Having two good backs is definitely a luxury, but finding a clear-cut starter would help the offense become more consistent.
Ezekiel Elliott is the quasi-starter, but he and Curtis Samuel are fairly even right now. Elliott has rushed for 141 yards and two touchdowns and Samuel has rushed for 176 yards with two touchdowns. It is time to get one of them the bulk of the carries.
Maybe Elliott’s wrist injury is still affecting him, but Samuel seems to have the edge. The offense has more energy when Samuel is in the game. He is averaging 6.66 yards per carry which means a lot to a team struggling with third-down conversions. He can help move the chains.
The effectiveness of Meyer’s offense is largely dependent on the quarterback(s) and running backs being in sync. Rotating Samuel and Elliott might keep both of them fresh, but it seems more important to get quarterback J.T Barrett and the offensive line comfortable working with a single running back.
If the offense looked bad against Virginia Tech, the special teams were even worse. Among the miscues were two missed field goals, a 24-yard punt, several penalties and a kickoff that drifted out of bounds. It was an abysmal night for this unit.
On the season, Cameron Johnston is averaging 41.6 yards per punt, so it is easy to forgive the botched kick against the Hokies. It is concerning, however, that the unit is allowing 10.67 yards per return, up from the 8.1 yards per return from last season.
With his speed, Dontre Wilson should be the Buckeyes difference-maker, especially in open space. So far, the results have been mixed. He has been decent on kickoff returns, averaging 22.6 yards per return, but just ordinary on punt returns, averaging 9.2 yards per return. Big returns are momentum builders and the offense needs all the help it can get right now. It is time for him to step up.
Freshman Jalin Marshall returned two punts for 66 yards against Kent State. Meyer is looking for ways to get the ball in the hands of his young, skilled players. It would be smart to give Marshall the job full-time and let Wilson focus on returning kickoffs.
The missed field goals against Virginia Tech were painful, but freshman Sean Nuernberger needs more time to develop into a consistent kicker. Meyer is not known for settling for field goals, but he may have to stomach some growing pains to get the kid some experience. There will be moments later in the season when Meyer will need Nuernberger to deliver.
Meyer has his handprints all over special teams. Expect him to get the problems fixed over the next couple of weeks.
Solidifying the Offensive Line
Confidence for Ohio State was low after being annihilated by Virginia Tech, so it was nice to see an improved performance by the Buckeyes offensive line against Kent State. Progress is likely to be slow throughout the season. Fortunately, there is time to build this unit into a cohesive group before seeing a Virginia Tech-like defense again.
Meyer was on the money when he told Doug Lesmerises of Northeast Ohio Media Group recently that he is not worried about facing bear zero every week. “I don’t know if people have the personnel,” he said. “I know one of them does.”
The line has eight weeks to unify and raise its level of play to win at Michigan State. There will be significant challenges along the way, but the Spartans are the only team that can execute that type of pressure.
Now that his starting five are in place, it is time for offensive line coach Ed Warinner to work his magic. Over the next two weeks, expect him to challenge the guys to correct the mistakes from the first few games. He can’t fix all the holes overnight, but even a slight improvement should be enough to get a win over Cincinnati on Sept 27.
There is hope that the offense turned a small corner against Kent State. If it did, this team will start to make tremendous strides in the coming weeks. Coupled with a vastly improved defense, the Buckeyes have a legitimate shot at running the table. That will make Buckeye Nation happy once again.
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What a difference a week makes for the Virginia Tech Hokies. Coming off one of the biggest wins in recent school history at then-No. 8 Ohio State, the Hokies found themselves ranked and hosting a tough East Carolina squad.
The Hokies defense was asleep at the wheel throughout the first half, and quarterback Michael Brewer looked nothing like the cool customer he was the two weeks before. And Tech suffered a heartbreaking home loss to the Pirates.
Now, Virginia Tech must regroup to face Georgia Tech in the ACC opener for both teams this Saturday in Blacksburg.
The Yellow Jackets enter this weekend's matchup at 3-0; however, with wins over Wofford, Tulane and Georgia Southern, it isn't as if they've been challenged yet.
The two schools have been rivals since Tech entered the ACC in 2004. The ACC Championship Game, which began in 2005, has featured either the Yellow Jackets or Hokies representing the Coastal Division in all but one year—2013.
While Georgia Tech has the second-most appearances in the ACC title game from a team representing the Coastal, it hasn't exactly been an even series. Virginia Tech is 8-3 all-time versus Georgia Tech, including an 8-2 record since the Hokies entered the ACC.
VT has won the last four meetings.
- When: Saturday, Sept. 20, 2014
- Where: Lane Stadium, Blacksburg, Virginia
- Time: Noon ET
- TV: ESPN
- Radio: Virginia Tech IMG Sports Network. Here is a complete list of stations by area.
- Spread: The Hokies are currently eight-point favorites, according to OddsShark.com
This Arkansas State fake punt against Miami from Saturday will leave you wondering what you just saw.
Facing a 4th-and-5 from the Miami 40-yard line, the Red Wolves tried to catch the Hurricanes by surprise with a fake punt. Not only did the Red Wolves send a man in motion, but when the ball was snapped, one of their receivers decided to "put 'em in a coffin."
Once the receiver got up, he promptly got sent right back down.
Arkansas State punter Luke Ferguson's pass was intercepted by Miami's Raphael Kirby, so it's safe to say that this play didn't go as planned.
[Vine, h/t Twitter]
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Great slate or not, one thing is certain with each week of college football action: It's going to wreak havoc on rankings.
The Bleacher Report power rankings have gone through another seismic shift thanks to several unexpected results; only the top few spots are unaltered from the week before. And with a few matchups on the books this weekend pitting highly ranked teams, further shuffling is expected.
Our power rankings are comprised of an average of five ratings: The Associated Press media and Amway coaches polls, Bleacher Report's Top 25, ratings guru Jeff Sagarin's computer ledger and my personal ranking.
Take a look at how the 128 FBS teams are ranked as we move into Week 4 and then let us know your thoughts in the comments section.
The Oregon Ducks (3-0) finished off their nonconference schedule against Wyoming last Saturday with a solid 48-14 victory.
Now the real season begins.
The Ducks will hit the road to open Pac-12 conference play against the Washington State Cougars in Pullman, Washington. The Cougars (1-2) opened the season with losses to Rutgers and Nevada before thoroughly destroying Portland State and setting a Pac-12 record for passing yards in a single game with 630 yards.
The last time these two teams met the Cougars threw for 557 yards in a 62-38 loss at Autzen Stadium. You may remember Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday threw the ball a total of 89 times in that game, establishing a new NCAA record in the process. On the night, Halliday was 58-of-89 for 557 yards and four touchdowns. He also threw four interceptions.
While Halliday may not throw 89 times again this weekend, expect the Cougars and head coach Mike Leach to throw the kitchen sink at the Ducks.
It might not be close, but it's going to be entertaining.
Here's what you need to know:
Date: Saturday, Sept. 20th
Time: 7:30 p.m. Pacific Time
Place: Martin Stadium (Pullman, Wash.)
Spread: Oregon -23.5, according to OddsShark.com.
The Clemson Tigers will travel to Tallahassee to take on the top-ranked Florida State Seminoles on Saturday night. The game will be nationally televised, so it’s an opportunity for both teams to make a statement.
The Seminoles return a lot of talent from last season’s national championship team, while the Tigers will continue to rely on new faces offensively. Both defenses play physical, which should make for an exciting matchup.
5-star Iman Marshall Announces Top 5
Long Beach (California) Poly defensive back Iman Marshall announced his top five over the weekend. Marshall tweeted out his list consisting of Florida State, LSU, Michigan, Notre Dame and Oklahoma:
All five programs recruit out of state well, so it's no surprise to see each in the mix for Marshall. However, only Notre Dame and Oklahoma have players on their roster from the Golden State.
As far as when he will take his official visits, that is still up in the air, according to Marshall's father. Mr. Marshall told me via text message, "He hasn't set any dates. He will not be able to take any of his officials until November because of the NCAA requirement that he must take the SAT and/or ACT first."
Despite the fact that Marshall didn't list any West Coast schools in his top five, the buzz is USC is still in play. The 247Sports Crystal Ball has him as a 100 percent lock to the Trojans.
I spoke to Scout.com West Coast recruiting analyst Greg Biggins about Marshall's recruitment.
Biggins told me, "Marshall grew up a fan of USC. He has been to campus unofficially multiple times. He has a good relationship with the coaching staff. Stanford and UCLA want him. At the next level he is looking for a school that can showcase his ability early as a freshman.
"Scheme-wise he wants a school that allows him to be aggressive and play press man. Academics are important, so a school on his list like Notre Dame could use that. He has referred to LSU as DBU. All the schools have a chance, so it will be interesting to see."
It sounds like Marshall is going to take his out-of-state visits but keep USC, UCLA and Stanford in the fold before making a pledge. Despite Marshall announcing his five official visits, expect the Golden State schools to be there come decision day.
Sooners Make a Huge Jump With 4-Star LB from Ohio
Outside linebacker Anthony McKee from Columbus, Ohio, returned home from his official visit to Oklahoma and raved about his time in Norman. Heading into the trip, Michigan State was McKee's standout school. However, the 4-star defender said the Sooners are now even with the Spartans.
"Oklahoma is now tied with Michigan State. They are my top two for sure," McKee told me directly. "I almost committed. If my family was there I probably would have. They showed a great time. My host was the linebacker, Curtis Bolton. The defense was impressive. That stood out. I also liked being with the team during warm-ups."
Next up for McKee is a visit to East Lansing for the Michigan State-Ohio State game on November 8. He said it will likely come down to that visit when breaking down the Spartans and Sooners.
"I have a good relationship with Coach (Mike) Tressel at Michigan State. Same for Coach (Tim) Kish at Oklahoma," added McKee. "I like how both defenses get after it. That's what makes it so hard because both are great places with great people."
McKee said he doesn't have a timetable on when he will commit, stating, "It could happen after my next visit or later on."
When asked for a prediction for the Spartans-Buckeyes contest? The Columbus native said, "Michigan State should win by two touchdowns. I'd say 28-14."
'Dawgs in Good Shape with 4-Star Athlete
The Georgia Bulldogs are looking to make some headway in Louisiana for the Class of 2015. Head coach Mark Richt and defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt have made Donte Jackson a major priority for the 'Dawgs. Jackson attended the UGA-Clemson game in Athens two weeks ago for an unofficial visit.
Jackson told me, "That visit was real nice. All the fans up there were happy to see me. I got a chance to talk to the players and Coach Richt, and they happy to see me back there after visiting for their summer camp. It was a productive visit. Coach Pruitt stresses to me a lot that I'm his No. 1 guy. It was a lot of love."
The 4-star speedster said his relationship with the coaching staff is one of the reasons he is considering Georgia.
"I really like Coach Richt. He is a laid-back guy, but he really focuses on building better men and not just football players," added Jackson.
"I grew up a fan of college football, and Georgia was one of the schools I really liked," he said "I was fan of players like A.J. Green and Knowshon Moreno. It helped when they got Coach Pruitt over from Florida State. That made me start liking them a lot. They want me at cornerback and as a returner. They want me to come in compete for playing time early."
Jackson is a well-rounded athlete. As a junior he won state championships in the 100 and 200 meters, and he plans to continue participating in both sports at the next level.
"All of the schools that I'm considering have offered me for football and track," noted Jackson. "It helps me stay healthy and helps me keep my speed up when I play that corner position so no one is running past me."
LSU is still working hard to keep the New Orleans native home. Ace recruiter Frank Wilson has led the charge for Jackson along with defensive backs coach Corey Raymond.
"Me being a New Orleans guy, I've always had love for LSU. They had a place in my football heaven," stated Jackson. "My lead recruiter is Coach Frank (Wilson). He is pretty much like an uncle. I call him Uncle Frank. I talk with Coach (Les) Miles a lot. He is a cool guy. Coach Raymond is always telling me how much he needs me and how I can come in early to play the nickel position."
So is this an SEC showdown for sticky cover man? He replied, "I can't necessarily say it's a SEC battle, but my lead two schools are LSU and Georgia."
Jackson is planning to make his decision at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl on January 3. He said Ole Miss, Texas Tech, UCLA and USC are schools he is still considering.
Miami Loses a 4-Star RB Commit
On Saturday morning, 4-star running back Jordan Cronkrite decommitted from the Hurricanes and took a road trip to Gainesville to check out the Gators.
Cronkrite was one of Miami's four 4-star commitments at tailback. Running back is a position of need for the 'Canes, as standout Duke Johnson is eligible for the NFL draft. However, some recruiting insiders feel Miami will be just fine with its trio of verbal pledges.
I caught up with recruiting veteran David Lake of 247Sports site InsideTheU.com.
"In the big picture it's not a huge loss because of the guys committed like Jordan Scarlett, Dexter Williams and Mark Walton. They are ranked higher than Cronkrite," stated Lake. "Jordan is a good back, but his best position at the next level could be safety. It's not a slight to him. I watched him on Friday, and he made more plays in the secondary."
The loss still stings a little because Miami head coach Al Golden has made recruiting the tri-county area of Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach a key factor for his staff. UM is still in great shape for the future. Lake said Miami could be close to returning to the days of Clinton Portis, Willis McGahee and Frank Gore with this class.
"I think this is as close it has been if all three stick. What I like most about Scarlett, Williams and Walton is they have embraced the competition," remarked Lake. "They have said the right things publicly that they want to share carries like Portis, McGahee and Gore. It would be easy to say they want to be the featured guy."
Williams was the first of the backs to commit. Lake said keep an eye on him down the stretch.
"When he committed it came as a surprise. Florida has been involved with him, and his family likes the Gators," added Lake. "Yet he is still firm. In fact he has already signed his financial aid agreement papers. It's hard to say this is a situation to watch, but I think it is."
Miami is currently ranked No. 12 in 247Sports' team rankings.
Magnolia State 4-star Checks Out Ole Miss
Offensive guard Javon Patterson took his second unofficial visit of the fall. Patterson was in Oxford, Mississippi, for the Rebels' 56-15 thrashing of Louisiana-Lafayette. The rugged lineman liked what he saw from Ole Miss.
"My favorite part was the Grove. Ole Miss is a great school with lots of tradition," Patterson told me directly. "I'm going to try to take an official visit. I feel comfortable with Ole Miss and Auburn."
Mississippi State is heavily involved with the road grader from Petal. The 6'2", 290-pounder was in Starkville on August 30 for the Bulldogs' home opener. He currently has a top five of Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Mississippi State and Ole Miss. When asked who is recruiting him the hardest? He quickly replied, "All of them."
Last week the Rebs added a commitment from 4-star offensive lineman Drew Richmond. I asked Patterson if that would affect his decision.
"I did see Drew committed. I would not really have an impact, but it would be great to play with him," answered Patterson.
As of now, the 247Sports Crystal Ball gives him an 83 percent chance to commit to the Rebels. It would be an impressive haul for head coach Hugh Freeze to get Patterson and Richmond in the same class.
4-Star Micah Abernathy Talks Oregon Visit
Last weekend, Norcross (Georgia) Greater Atlanta Christian cornerback Micah Abernathy took his first official visit to Oregon and returned with rave reviews.
"It was my first time out there. My favorite part about it was getting to know the coaches better," Abernathy told Bleacher Report. "I didn't know them too well, but I feel better about them after this visit. My recruiter is Coach (John) Neal and he is a real cool guy. I'm getting to know Coach (Mark) Helfrich more, and he is a genuine guy."
When asked if his family wants him to stay closer to home, he responded: "No it doesn't matter where I go. They will support me."
The in-state Bulldogs hosted Abernathy for an unofficial visit in their season opener. He said it was good to get up there again after participating in their summer camp.
Abernathy stated: "It was a cool environment. The fans were loud, and that was one of the things you notice when you get there. I got a chance to talk to Coach Pruitt again. He is a cool guy."
He said he is going to talk to his parents about setting up his next official visit. They didn't accompany him to Oregon.
"All of the schools are even right now, but Georgia, Oregon and Tennessee recruiting me the hardest right now."
Ohio State and Penn State sit firmly in his top five. The 247Sports' Crystal Ball has him leaning toward Georgia with a 75 percent chance he picks the Bulldogs.
Unless otherwise noted all quotes were obtained firsthand. Recruiting information and ratings courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted.
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