NCAA Football

Texas A&M QB Kenny Hill's Parents File for 'Kenny Trill' Trademark

As their son begins to make a name for himself as the quarterback of Texas A&M, Kenny Hill's parents are trying to make sure that they own their son's popular nickname, "Kenny Trill."

One Twitter user revealed that Hill's parents, Kenneth and Lorrie Hill, recently filed for a trademark on the nickname.

It may not be a bad move by the parents. If Hill continues his hot start, his nickname is going to be just as popular as "Johnny Football" was over the past two seasons.

Hill has thrown for nearly 800 yards and seven touchdowns and has yet to throw an interception through two games this season. The sophomore has led his team to two blowout victories and has the Aggies ranked No. 7 in the nation.

[Twitter, h/t College Spun

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NCAA Football Rankings 2014: Latest Week 3 Standings and Playoff Predictions

The inaugural College Football Playoff does not entirely stick a fork in the NCAA rankings.

Now more than ever, the polls act as a guideline to get a pulse on the state of the college football landscape and a potential glimpse at the four lucky teams that will make it to the playoff.

Week 3 of the season itself is a bit of a downer in terms of high-profile matchups after a dynamite opening two weeks, but the playoff picture is as clear as day when one takes into consideration how the top teams look and what the rest of the schedule looks like.

Here is a look at the latest batch of polls and some predictions.

 

Associated Press and Amway Week 3 Top 25 Rankings

Let's take a look at the four surest bets to make the CFP before the week's action gets underway:

For a brief second, Florida State looked like it was perhaps in for a season full of struggle. In a 37-31 win over Oklahoma State to start the season, even last year's Heisman winner Jameis Winston looked a bit off the mark, going for 370 yards and a score, but with two interceptions.

Call it rust.

It'd be nice if the Seminoles defense had not allowed the Cowboys to convert on 50 percent of their third-down attempts, but Winston was back in form the very next week, misfiring on only five passes and throwing for 256 yards and a pair of touchdowns in a blowout over Citadel.

It's clear the Seminoles have reloaded well for a second title push, although not nearly as well as the squad Oregon touts this season.

Really, it had been easy to write off the Ducks. Lots of flash, but it had been easy to pigeonhole them as a team that would lose to elite competition late in the season.

Not anymore.

After a 62-13 ho-hum victory over South Dakota, Heisman contender Marcus Mariota and the Ducks welcomed an elite defensive team in then-No. 7 Michigan State to town.

As nobody would have been brave enough to suggest beforehand, Oregon abused the perennially stout unit for 491 total yards while Mariota threw for 318 yards and three touchdowns. ESPN CollegeFootball documents the historic carnage quite well:

The schedule lines up well for the Ducks, too. Dates against UCLA and Stanford, the lone remaining ranked opponents, are no longer as scary since both have already collected losses.

Alabama is a mainstay in this sort of conversation, like it or not. Those who want to see the dynasty fall seemed set to get their wish, as Nick Saban's Crimson Tide stumbled out of the gate with a 33-23 win over West Virginia.

There the quarterback controversy ended, as Blake Sims did well enough with 250 yards and a pick. Running back T.J. Yeldon was his usual elite self, going for 126 yards and a pair of scores. Despite this, it was his quarterback Saban was impressed with after the fact.

"But all in all for him to throw for 250 yards, he did a pretty good job of executing all in all and I'm happy with his progress," Saban told reporters.

Again, quarterback was really the only thing stopping the Crimson Tide from getting to the Playoff. Sims went out in Week 2 in a 41-0 rout of Florida Atlantic and threw for 228 yards and a pair of touchdowns before taking a seat.

With that glaring weakness out of the way, it is quite clear the machine will continue to roll. Dates with Ole Miss, Texas A&M, LSU and Auburn loom large in the future, but a one-loss SEC team likely won't miss out.

Rounding out the bunch is an Oklahoma team that has yet to be truly tested this season, but fans will recall the triumph for Bob Stoops' team over Saban's last year in the Sugar Bowl.

Through two games, the Sooners have outscored the opposition by a tally of 100-23. The run defense has been nothing short of elite, and quarterback Trevor Knight is still protected by a strong running game—this time the duo of Keith Ford and Alex Ross, who have already combined for seven rushing touchdowns this year.

As Grant Ramey of The Daily Times illustrates, Stoops is thrilled with his dual-threat quarterback:

The schedule is not so kind for the Sooners, though. Dates with Kansas State, Baylor, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State will stress the defense and put more pressure on Knight to win games with his arm.

At this juncture, though, it is hard to roll with anyone else but the Sooners when it comes to CFP predictions. Sure, Notre Dame and Georgia have been major surprises so far, as has Texas A&M (don't forget Auburn hanging around either), but right now the top four are the only logical choices until proven otherwise.

 

Stats via ESPN.com. Amyway poll via USA Today. AP poll via The Associated Press.

 

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Alabama Football: Rashaan Evans Headed for Early Stardom?

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Rashaan Evans tore off the edge as if shot out of a cannon, his sights set on Florida Atlantic quarterback Greg Hankerson. Right tackle Eric Minemyer just watched as Evans sprinted past him.

Evans left his feet, almost going horizontal, as Hankerson fell to the ground. Evans, the freshman from Auburn, Alabama, stood up and celebrated his first of likely many sacks.

But as he came to the sideline, defensive coordinator Kirby Smart put his arm around Evans’ shoulder and pointed up at one of the four replay screens in Bryant-Denny Stadium. Evans hadn’t wrapped up in his tackle, and while that may work against FAU, it won’t against shiftier quarterbacks like Auburn’s Nick Marshall.

“He did a great job on the rush, but he didn’t wrap the quarterback up,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said Wednesday. “Even though the guy’s knee happened to be down on that play, there may be a play some day when you don’t wrap the guy up where maybe he’s not down.

“We were just trying to teach him that it was a great rush, he did a great job, but you have to wrap up the quarterback.

Evans, a 5-star linebacker whose recruitment between Alabama and Auburn came right down to the wire and was the Crimson Tide’s biggest steal in the 2014 recruiting cycle, is still learning as a freshman who’s only been on campus since May. But, even on a team loaded with pass-rushers, his time could be coming sooner rather than later.

It’s not often that Alabama’s players heap extravagant praise on their teammates. Especially when it’s a freshman—where half the battle is keeping their egos under control since most of them were so highly rated out of high school.

So reporters perked up when junior linebacker Reggie Ragland offered up this assessment of Evans on Monday:

“Rashaan is a freak,” Ragland said, matter-of-factly. “And when you’re a freak, you deserve to be on the field. He’s putting that time in to be that player that coach Saban and coach Smart and (outside linebackers) coach (Lance) Thompson want him to be.”

Evans didn’t wait long to announce himself to the college football world.

He was in on special teams for the opening kickoff against West Virginia. He burst down the field and was the first one to the ball, making Alabama’s first tackle of the 2014 season.

Evans’ size and strength was evident from the get-go.

At early fall practices, the 6’3”, 225-pound Evans was very noticeable. It was going to be hard to keep him off the field.

The Crimson Tide, though, don't lack for edge-rushers.

Denzel Devall and Xzavier Dickson are the veterans at outside linebacker, and while their production hasn’t exactly been eye-popping, they know the defense inside and out, which is just as, if not more, important to Saban.

Ryan Anderson, a redshirt sophomore, has seen more playing time this season. And sophomore Tim Williams has all the talent in the world but has been in Saban’s doghouse after being suspended for most of fall camp.

In Evans, Alabama now has an explosive option that it can presumably use in its rotation. And he already has his first sack under his belt.

“Oh, that’s big for confidence,” sophomore defensive lineman Jonathan Allen said. “I feel like the first sack is probably the hardest one to get. So now he knows what it feels like, he’s been there, so he knows what he has to do to get there. I really think it’s good for his confidence and I feel like he can really help us out on the defense.”

Because the referee had a bad angle on the play, he didn’t see Hankerson’s knee initially touch the ground and didn’t blow his whistle. Evans, though, got up to celebrate while Hankerson got up and started running again, and Williams brought the quarterback down, this time in view of the official.

The ability is clearly there. And while Evans is impressing his coaches and teammates, he’s still learning what it takes to play at this level.

“Yeah, Coach Kirby wasn’t too happy about that,” Allen said. “We just try to learn to let our play do the talking. You don’t want to bring any unwanted or any negative attention. It’s really a team thing.

“It’s just a learning experience.”

 

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

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

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USC Football: Talk of Title Hopes Are Trojans' New Distraction

Thanks to a marquee road win and a Top 10 AP ranking, USC football is no longer just associated with drama and distractions. Now the Trojans can be called title contenders.

Talk of a College Football Playoff berth has replaced headlines about cornerback Josh Shaw's suspension and former running back Anthony Brown's messy departure at outlets like Yahoo! Sports and USA Today. But now there's a new distraction: expectations.

“I don’t think that exists here,” first-year head coach Steve Sarkisian joked on Tuesday’s Pac-12 coaches teleconference call when asked if he wanted a week free from drama or possible distraction.

Sarkisian may not have anticipated the off-field spotlight would be cast on him before his first game. Championship expectations, on the other hand? Those he was prepared to face.

“My expectations were that I was choosing to take this job at USC because it was one of, if not the best job in America,” he said. “There’s a long line of history and tradition here of winning football championships, accolades, all those sort of things. That’s the expectation level here at USC.

“If you take this and that’s not what you have in mind, this probably isn’t the right job for you,” he added.

As those expectations start to become reality, the Trojans have generated so much outside buzz for so long, the chatter is becoming white noise.

“We’ve learned a lot about our team,” Sarkisian said. “We learned a lot about the maturity and leadership on our team. These are great examples for us that we can hold onto to for the future...regardless of the distractions that are going on outside.”

One of those leaders for USC is defensive lineman Leonard Williams. He made 11 tackles and a sack en route to Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week recognition—and he did it on an injured ankle.

After practice Wednesday, Williams explained a mindset in the Trojans locker room that remains consistent through both praise and criticism.  

"Coach Sark always tries to tell us to stay out of the hype, whether it's negative hype or positive," he said.

If Williams is a fitting leader in USC’s collective effort to block distractions, it may be because he has experience with it. His play was a constant for USC through a tumultuous 2013 season that included a 3-2 start, the midseason firing of Lane Kiffin and a highly publicized coaching search.

Williams is now the face of the mounting praise coming USC’s way after the win at Stanford. His play through his ankle injury validates NFL draft pundits, like B/R's Matt Miller, who project him to be one of the first selected next May.

But Williams has also seen how fleeting the positive hype can be. He was a Freshman All-American on the 2012 USC team that opened the season atop the AP Poll and finished unranked following a 1-5 finish.

The risk these Trojans run with getting caught up in their own hype is similar to what that team endured: losing its edge. Holdovers like Williams and the new coaching staff are working to ensure that title talk won’t be a distraction.

“In the beginning of the [2014] season, people weren’t really talking that highly of us,” Williams said. “Now that they are, [Sarkisian] wants us to keep ignoring all of that and just keeping like we’ve been working. Keep acting like we’re at the bottom, because that’s what got us here.”

 

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise cited. Statistics courtesy of CFBstats.com

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USC Football: Talk of Title Hopes Are Trojans' New Distraction

Thanks to a marquee road win and a Top 10 AP ranking, USC football is no longer just associated with drama and distractions. Now the Trojans can be called title contenders...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

College Football Athletes Most Likely to Explode in Week 3

The 2014 college football season is heading into week 3 with some players just itching to show they are the best of the best. Bleacher Report's College Football Analysts Adam Kramer, Barrett Sallee, and Michael Felder discuss who they believe will explode onto the scene in week 3.

Who do you think we should look out for?

Watch the video and let us know!

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College Football Rankings 2014: Latest Look at Week 3 Polls and Standings

Remember Week 2 of the college football season, when games such as Michigan State vs. Oregon, Ohio State vs. Virginia Tech, USC vs. Stanford and Michigan vs. Notre Dame populated the schedule?

Week 3 will be nothing like that.

There likely won't be many significant changes in the polls this week, because only one game features two ranked opponents (Georgia vs. South Carolina). What’s more, the argument can be made that South Carolina doesn't even belong in the Top 25 after getting blown out by Texas A&M and struggling to pull away from East Carolina. 

It is still worth glancing at the two polls before a rather lackluster slate of games in Week 3, but they will probably look awfully similar in Week 4.

 

Game to Watch: Tennessee at Oklahoma

South Carolina has given us no reason to think it can hang with a Georgia team that already beat Clemson handily, so we are looking toward a nonconference tilt between Tennessee and Oklahoma for the game to watch this week.

There will be playoff implications for any squad that plays an SEC team out of conference, even if Tennessee is not exactly Alabama or LSU. The general consensus is that the Big 12 is a notch below the SEC and even the Pac-12, so an Oklahoma win in prime time against a recognizable program will certainly help the league as a whole.

It would also continue the Sooners' momentum against the SEC after they manhandled Alabama in the Sugar Bowl to end last season.

Linebacker Geneo Grissom suggested as much, according to The Associated Press, via ESPN.com: "Oh yeah. It’s a nice SEC matchup. It’s going to be a big game, lot of people there. Hopefully a sellout crowd, so we're going to come ready."

There is also some novelty here, as Oklahoma and Tennessee have never played in the regular season and split two Orange Bowls, with the Volunteers winning in 1939 and the Sooners winning in 1968.

This kicks off a crucial stretch for Tennessee. After the trip to Oklahoma, the Vols go to Georgia and then return home to face archrival Florida. Tennessee is 2-0, but the season could go off the rails rather quickly. Of course, the glass-half-full approach would suggest that Tennessee has a chance to announce to the country that it is ready to be on the national stage again with a victory in Norman.

It would certainly be an incredible way to kick off Butch Jones’ second year.

As for Oklahoma, the Sooners travel to West Virginia, play at TCU and then have a showdown with hated Texas in the three games following Saturday. Both teams need a win, as crucial portions of the season are on the horizon.

If Tennessee plans to walk out of Oklahoma with a monumental victory, it needs to get off to a fast start.

The Sooners allowed a meager three points in the first half against Louisiana Tech and then shut out Tulsa before intermission in the second game. In fact, Oklahoma holds a massive 62-3 advantage over its opponents before halftime.

The Volunteers have also impressed on defense at times this year and held Utah State to 244 yards and 3-of-14 on third-down conversions. Arkansas State was only 4-of-17 on third-down conversions in the second game.

However, Oklahoma represents a much more formidable opponent, and the Trevor Knight-Sterling Shepard combination will be difficult to contain. Knight threw for 299 yards and two touchdowns against Tulsa, while Shepard hauled in a touchdown catch and 177 receiving yards.

Outside of the action on the field, another storyline is Bob Stoops versus the SEC. The Oklahoma coach has suggested that the widespread vision of the SEC as the best conference is merely propaganda, and his squad certainly backed him up when it was destroying the mighty Crimson Tide in the Sugar Bowl. 

ESPN Stats & Info noted that Oklahoma has matched up rather evenly with the SEC since Stoops took over in 1999:

Stoops will add to his resume against the SEC in this one. Oklahoma will get off to a fast start, like it has every week, behind a raucous crowd and will gradually pull away from Tennessee. The Volunteers look improved over last year’s 5-7 team, but they aren’t quite on the Sooners’ level yet.

It will be nearly impossible for Tennessee to overcome a slow start on the road against an elite team. This one will be over by the third quarter. 

Prediction: Oklahoma 34, Tennessee 17

 

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College Football Week 3: Top 25 Upset Alert

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Adam Kramer throws out some of his upset alerts for Week 3 of the 2014 college football season.

Which teams do you think have a chance to fall this week?

Watch the video and let us know!

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Ohio State Football: Did Virginia Tech Unveil Buckeyes' Kryptonite in Week 2?

Inside the halls of the Woody Hayes Athletic Center—the de facto headquarters of the Ohio State football team—motivational mantras line the walls.

"POINT A TO POINT B AS FAST YOU CAN GO!" says one sign.

"4-6 SECONDS OF RELENTLESS EFFORT AND FOCUS," reads another.

But in the week following the Buckeyes' 35-21 loss to Virginia Tech, it's been a different cliche that's been the overarching theme of Ohio State's practices.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

Urban Meyer doesn't like being fooled, period, but that's exactly how the third-year Buckeyes head coach felt last Saturday when the Hokies stifled the Ohio State offense with a 46 Bear defense that employed a Cover 0 coverage. Meyer and his staff had not previously seen Virginia Tech use such a scheme while reviewing the Hokies on film, and as a result the ill-prepared Buckeyes struggled to move the ball on a consistent basis.

"The start of the game I remember on the headsets I said, 'Wow, I've never seen them do that,'" Meyer said on Monday. "They made a decision to take away the tailbacks and there were nine guys within six yards of the line of scrimmage, and you have to make someone pay a price."

Ohio State's shock was apparent in the box score, with quarterback J.T. Barrett completing just nine of his 29 pass attempts and throwing three interceptions in the second start of his college career. The redshirt freshman quarterback didn't get much help from the rest of his offense either, as the line struggled to protect him and wide receivers routinely dropped balls.

If ever there was a blueprint for beating the 2014 Buckeyes, this appeared to be it. Load the box to take away Ohio State's run game and force the inexperienced—and thus far, inefficient—passing attack to try to beat you over the top.

And given the success that the Hokies found with that plan on Saturday, why wouldn't future Buckeye opponents try a similar approach? It's not a coincidence that in the days leading up to Ohio State's matchup with Kent State, the Buckeyes have remained focused on the defense they just saw, as Meyer is well aware of how ineffective it made his offense look on film.

"Oh definitely, that's something we've been practicing against," OSU running back Ezekiel Elliott said. "We've got a couple of answers for it."

Finding those answers didn't require much work for the Buckeyes, who made in-game adjustments but just didn't execute properly in their loss to the Hokies. After all, there's a reason that the 46 defense isn't used more regularly in football, as it leaves one's cornerbacks on an island and susceptible to giving up big plays.

The Ohio State staff realized that early enough in the game to call for more shots down the field, but the Buckeyes never found the consistency to make Virginia Tech truly pay for its dare-you-to-throw approach. For Meyer, it's not a matter of knowing how to defeat such defense, but more of an issue of whether or not his team can.

"I thought we've improved at wide receiver, and we just didn't get open enough. When we did, it was a protection flaw," Meyer said. "If they're going to play zero coverage, you have to make those shots. And we haven't had a lot of that."

Which is why until the Buckeyes prove otherwise, they can expect a steady serving of the same defense that handed them their first loss of the season. The good news for Ohio State is that very few future opponents possess the defensive talent that Virginia Tech does, although Meyer knows that the toughest team left on the Buckeyes' schedule this season will certainly be taking a hard look at last weekend's game film.

"I don't know if people have the personnel [to play 46 defense]. I know one of them does. The team that won the Big Ten last year does," Meyer said, referencing Michigan State. "I don't know. That's risky stuff."

Risky? Sure. But as the Hokies proved last Saturday, it can be just as rewarding if Ohio State allows it to be.

 

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

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Purdue vs. Notre Dame: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time and More

On the hunt for a sixth consecutive win over rival Purdue to retain the Shillelagh Trophy for the foreseeable future, No. 11 Notre Dame hits the road Saturday for Lucas Oil Stadium in the last of one of the sport's longstanding series.

One week removed from ending its series with Michigan—in dominant fashion, by the way—Notre Dame now looks to come out on top as a 68-year streak comes to a close.

The finality of the rivalry for the time being adds a layer of intrigue to this matchup that would otherwise be absent given the trajectories of both teams at this point. Desperation is a surefire motivator, so expect the Boilermakers to go down swinging Saturday. 

Then again, many thought the same for Michigan last week. With any luck, this one will turn out to be a much more entertaining affair between heated rivals. 

 

Questions and Answers...Or Lack Thereof

The return of senior quarterback Everett Golson has provided the Fighting Irish with a spark most could not have fathomed before the season.

Really, it's as if he never left. Through two games, Golson has thrown for 521 yards and five touchdowns with another three scores on the ground. It's not as if Golson is doing it against strictly bad competition, either, with three of those passing touchdowns coming against the Wolverines. In that game, he completed 67.6 percent of his passes.

Not only is Golson suddenly a Heisman contender, he has the attention of those at the next level, such as Bleacher Report's Matt Miller:

As it stands, the questions as to how quickly the Notre Dame offense could be effective have been met with a resounding answer.

That is, of course, a bit of bad news for the Boilermakers. Darrell Hazell's team actually started the season on the right foot, beating Western Michigan 43-34. Sophomore quarterback Danny Etling went for 181 yards and two scores. Running back Raheem Mostert tallied 146 yards and a score on 22 carries.

It all turned bad the week after, though. Etling threw two picks in a 38-17 loss to Central Michigan while Mostert gained all of 53 yards with a 2.8 average. As Tyler James of NDinsider.com humorously notes, the defense did not exactly show up, either:

The up-and-down play of the entire team has done nothing short of raise more questions than answers. Hazell hinted to the press in the week leading up to the game that neither quarterback is technically the starter (the other being Austin Appleby, who attempted 17 passes against Central Michigan).

"We'll let you know here in a couple of days," Hazell said, per Mike Carmin of IndyStar.com. "I'm not going to say it's a competition. We'll make the decision here as we go forward, come out of (Tuesday's) practice and see where we are and go from there."

Barring an epic turnaround, Saturday's contest will be a continued search for an identity for Purdue.

 

The Notre Dame Effect

This is one ugly contest set to unfold—on paper.

The thing is, even when the Boilermakers are at their worst, they still pull a great performance out of the hat against Notre Dame. Kelly understands this, as captured by Irish Illustrated:

He's certainly not exaggerating.

Last year, a Purdue team that wound up 1-10 welcomed then-ranked No. 21 Notre Dame to town and held a lead going into the final frame before the Fighting Irish rattled off 21 points to win, 31-24.

The year before that, the Boilermakers rolled into Notre Dame Stadium and about ruined the Fighting Irish's perfect season before a late field goal ended the game at 20-17.

So yes, things look bleak for Purdue. But the program does its finest work in even downtrodden years against Notre Dame, so there is an outside chance Saturday turns out to be a competitive affair.

 

When: Saturday, September 13, 7:30 p.m. ET

Where: Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, Indiana

Television: NBC

Live Stream: NBC Sports Live Extra

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 56.5
  • Spread: Purdue (-29.5)

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports via USA Today.

 

Prediction

There is a slim, slim chance Notre Dame has a bit of a hangover as it rides high into the matchup thanks to the upset over Michigan.

But in reality, the Fighting Irish are simply too talented to suffer an epic letdown against a Purdue team that can't even decide on a starter under center two games into the season. That reeks of an ugly offensive performance, especially against a defense that picked off Michigan's Devin Gardner three times.

Expect this one to get out of hand by the half. This is Kelly's most talented squad since 2012, and he is sure to apply lessons learned in that debacle against Purdue to great success.

The Shillelagh Trophy is set to reside with the Fighting Irish for a long time.

 

Prediction: Fighting Irish 35, Purdue 7

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

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Georgia vs. South Carolina: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time and More

The lone contest this weekend between ranked teams stands tall as one of the season's most critical when No. 6 Georgia hits the road to take on No. 24 South Carolina.

Thus far, the tale for two SEC powerhouses has been as polar opposite as possible. The Bulldogs are one of the nation's biggest surprises thanks to a win over then-ranked No. 16 Clemson to start the season, 45-21.

Steve Spurrier's Gamecocks are arguably the biggest disappointment of all, a season-opening loss to then-ranked No. 21 Texas A&M and a struggle against East Carolina doing much to eliminate the team in the minds of fans just two games into the season.

We won't be able to tell the difference Saturday when these two step into the ring. Despite being the favorite, Georgia coach Mark Richt understands this best.

“I got a feeling this game could get a little bloody,” Richt said, per ESPN.com's Alex Scarborough. “I think both teams are tough, physically. … Before it’s over, it may get down to a bit of a fistfight.”

Tension and implications run deep in this one, to say the least.

 

The Scramble for Balance

At Williams-Brice Stadium, the Gamecocks defense has held the Bulldogs to a total of just 27 points in their last three encounters.

The problem is, Jadeveon Clowney is gone, and with him went any semblance of respectable defense so far this season for Spurrier's side.

Against the Aggies to start the season, the South Carolina defense allowed Kenny Hill to throw for 511 yards and three scores, while back Trey Williams took 13 totes for 78 yards and a score. Three Aggies backs recorded a per-carry average of 4.3 or greater.

The lack of a pulse for Spurrier's defense did not change much against East Carolina, either. It was a 33-23 win, but Pirates signal-caller Shane Carden still threw for 321 yards, and that same big-play leakage from the Gamecocks defense was present, as one can glean from the final box score of notable rushers:

A performance like that against Georgia back Todd Gurley, a surefire Heisman candidate, will have South Carolina fans leaving for the exits early come Saturday.

This season, Gurley has just 15 totes—which went for 198 yards and three touchdowns. Look at it this way, via Trent Smallwood of Bulldawgillustrated.com:

The struggle has been about the same for the South Carolina offense. Star back Mike Davis looked his usual self against East Carolina with 18 carries for 101 yards and two scores, but senior quarterback Dylan Thompson has struggled with the reins in his hand, totaling 632 yards and five touchdowns to two picks—completing just 50 percent of his throws against the Aggies.

None of this is to suggest Georgia is without work to do, but South Carolina is littered with issues at exactly the wrong time.

 

Seasons on the Line

With so many star players, notable coaches and more featured in this matchup, it is easy to forget just how much it means for both sides.

The winner of this clash has not won the SEC East since 2010, but the point stands—seasons will be defined Saturday based on past events and how the rest of the schedule sets up.

Believe it or not, all is not lost for South Carolina. The schedule is rather simplistic in the coming weeks, and Georgia might slip in a brutal division. ESPN.com's Edward Aschoff explains this in an apt manner:

South Carolina's schedule sets up very nicely. After Georgia, South Carolina travels to struggling Vanderbilt, hosts Missouri, goes to Kentucky, takes a bye, and then hosts Furman before a trip to Auburn. During that time, Georgia has three straight home games against Troy, Tennessee and Vandy, before going on the road to play Missouri and Arkansas. Those road games won't be easy, especially if Arkansas' running game stays hot.

If the Gamecocks can find a productive balance as mentioned, a win Saturday can be parlayed into quite the streak before a trip to Auburn in October and a trip to Gainesville in November.

Conversely, Georgia cannot afford to hit a speed bump now if the conference title game and a playoff berth are to be in serious consideration late in the season.

 

When: Saturday, September 13, 3:30 p.m. ET

Where: Williams-Brice Stadium, Columbia, South Carolina

Television: CBS

Live Stream: CBSSports.com

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 60
  • Spread: Georgia (-3)

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports via USA Today.

 

Prediction

Things look bad for the Gamecocks. That's putting it lightly.

Ponder this—the Aggies ran up more yardage on the road against the Gamecocks than they did at home against Lamar.

Davis will continue to get his, and Thompson should get more comfortable as the weeks progress, but that defense is in for a world of hurt against Gurley, and it doesn't help that Hutson Mason seems comfortable under center after taking over for the departed Aaron Murray.

It may be a road contest, but the Bulldogs are catching the Gamecocks at the perfect time. Expect Gurley and the offense to produce enough for a gritty, perhaps bloody, victory.

Prediction: Bulldogs 27, Gamecocks 23

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

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Tennessee vs. Oklahoma: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time and More

In another Big 12-SEC showdown Saturday, Tennessee hits the road to take on No. 4 Oklahoma and hopes it fares better than conference compatriot Alabama did in last year's Sugar Bowl.

Both teams have ran up undefeated marks through two contests apiece while breaking in new faces at important spots, but in terms of postseason aspirations, the schools are very much on different trajectories.

Now in his 16th season at the helm, Bob Stoops seems to have a roster on hand that can push for a berth in the inaugural playoff, especially given the rather simplistic overall schedule as long as his side can avoid an upset Saturday.

Despite major progress on the recruiting trail, Butch Jones' debut as coach of the Volunteers last year fell flat at 5-7, but his inexperienced team continues to grow each week and figures to make this is an exciting bout, should his young roster not crumble under the pressure in a hostile environment.

 

Getting Defensive

Tennessee's best chance Saturday comes down to the defensive side of the football, with all due respect to senior quarterback Justin Worley (520 yards, five touchdowns and one interception through two games) and his team's non-existent running game (average of 139 yards per game and a meager 3.3 yards per carry against mediocre competition).

In an 38-7 triumph over Utah State in the opening week, the Vols defense gave up just 244 total yards and allowed just three third-down conversions. The following 34-19 win over Arkansas State saw the unit give up 331 total yards and four chain-moving plays.

"Our defensive line is getting tremendous pressure up front and just impacting the quarterback," cornerback Cam Sutton said, per The Associated Press (h/t ESPN.com). "That makes our jobs easier covering receivers downfield."

The only problem for Tennessee, then, is the fact the Sooners have been just as great.

Oklahoma has allowed no more than 330 total yards and six third-down conversions in each of its first two contests, which have been won by a total tally of 100-23.

Run defense has been a particular strong suit for the Sooners. Louisiana Tech as a whole averaged 1.9 yards per carry, and Tulsa trumped that with a 2.8 average. Against an offense that has had issues getting going on the ground in what amount to warm-up contests, these numbers are obviously a serious concern for Tennessee going into Saturday.

 

Experience Matters

Also of concern is the experience gap, a factor that in a large amount of cases will decide contests between top teams outright.

Jones has done a superb job in carving out a niche in the tough SEC recruiting market. But his classes are not that of USC—the young players are not going to come in and excel right away against top-tier competition such as Oklahoma.

Still, Stoops appears to have done his due diligence and respects the sheer athleticism Jones has been able to add on both sides of the football.

“We recognize it as another big challenge, an exciting challenge,” Stoops said, per ESPNDallas.com's Jake Trotter. “I know they’ve recruited really strong in the last couple of years. When you watch them on tape, you see a lot of speed running around, you see a lot of big guys. They’ve really got a great-looking team.”

ESPN CollegeFootball does a great job of breaking down just how much the advantage rests in Oklahoma's favor where it matters most come Saturday—in the trenches:

So while Tennessee has shined against lesser competition, that young defensive line now has to deal with sophomore Sooners quarterback Trevor Knight, who has 552 yards and three scores through the air and another 52 yards and a touchdown on the ground.

Don't forget about sophomore backs Keith Ford and Alex Ross, either. The two have combined for 264 yards and seven touchdowns already to balance out the offense.

The ever-present factor that is a road game plays a part, too.

 

When: Saturday, September 13, 8 p.m. ET

Where: Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, Norman, Oklahoma

Television: ABC

Live Stream: ABC Live

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 56
  • Spread: Oklahoma (-21)

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports via USA Today.

 

Prediction

Were this contest in Tennessee, it would be a tad more difficult to judge.

Unfortunately for Jones, his program is still a few years out from being able to pull off a dramatic upset against a school such as Oklahoma.

The lack of a ground game is a serious problem. The aforementioned Worley was miserable away from home last year, too, completing less than 50 percent of his passes against ranked opposition. Forced into a one-dimensional attack against a great defense, the Volunteers will be able to do little in the way of scoring.

For Stoops and the Big 12, it is sure to be another feather in the cap.

Prediction: Sooners 35, Volunteers 14

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

UCLA vs. Texas: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time and More

"What could have been" seems to be the theme Saturday night when No. 12 UCLA hikes to the Lone Star State for a clash with the Texas Longhorns.

On paper, this was one of the year's best overall matchups. A rejuvenated UCLA squad with a Heisman contender under center encounters a rebuilding Texas program infused with fresh blood at head coach. What could go wrong just two games into the season?

Everything, obviously.

The Longhorns are a hobbled mess with seemingly little left in the tank already, while the Bruins have done their best fish-out-of-water impression, flopping and wailing in matchups designed to act as warm-ups before the schedule gets serious.

Yet, the encounter remains interesting, at least on some levels.

 

Grand Expectations…Squashed

After an 8-5 season and the departure of Mack Brown, Charlie Strong was supposed to breathe some life into a hapless program in need of direction on both sides of the football.

Instead, Strong has dealt with issues within the organization, a lack of productivity on the field and an inability to avoid the injury bug.

The Longhorns started the season with a 38-7 win over North Texas, but starting quarterback David Ash suffered a concussion in the process and is out indefinitely. So sophomore Tyrone Swoopes took the reins against BYU the week after—Strong suspended offensive tackles Kennedy Estelle and Desmond Harrison beforehand—and threw for 176 yards, a touchdown and an interception and was sacked three times.

On the flip side, BYU ran up 429 total yards, 248 of which came on the ground, and won the possession battle by nearly 10 minutes. The Longhorns defense allowed its adversary to score on all six of its trips to the red zone.

"It is an embarrassment," Strong said, per The Associated Press, via ESPN.com. "It is an embarrassment to this program and an embarrassment to the university."

UCLA coach Jim Mora understands the feeling all too well.

Preseason favorites to perhaps push for a playoff berth thanks to the presence of Heisman contender Brett Hundley under center, UCLA took to the road and escaped with a 28-20 victory over Virginia to start the season.

There, Hundley was quiet with 242 yards, and the defense gave up 386 total yards. The week after, UCLA returned home and scored a 42-35 win over Memphis, which saw Hundley somewhat get back to form with 396 passing yards and three touchdowns, although his lone interception was returned for a touchdown.

Great, but the team needed to break a fourth-quarter tie at 35 apiece against a team that went 3-9 last season.

“I’ll tell you again, there’s no satisfaction yet in the way that we are playing,” Mora said, via UCLABruins.com.

Hence the whole "Why they play the game" spiel. What was once viewed as a major, season-defining game is now merely a blip on the radar.

 

The Tale of Intertwined Programs

Interestingly enough, this one has storylines that span the off-field spectrum, too.

It was not too long ago that Mora was making the rounds as a possibility for major programs before he wound up putting ink to paper on an extension with the Bruins.

Texas was, of course, one of the top suitors.

ESPN.com's Chris Low documents the extent of the program's pursuit in great detail, but the highlight is certainly this nugget:

During those conversations, Texas offered to send a private jet to pick up Mora's parents, and anybody else he wanted, and bring them to all of the Longhorns' games.

"I'm like, 'Is there a bottom to your bucket?'" Mora said he remembers thinking at the time.

So Texas wound up spurned. Mora is happy as is for familial reasons as much as football reasons, which is respectable in its own right. Of course, one has to think that Strong, if he didn't already, now understands that he was not the first option.

Call it a layer of much-needed intrigue for a game that features a diminished on-field product to the surprise of most.

 

When: Saturday, September 13, 8 p.m. ET

Where: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas

Television: Fox

Live Stream: Fox Sports Go

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 49.5
  • Spread: UCLA (-6)

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports via USA Today.

 

Prediction

A downtrodden, limping Texas squad against a severely underperforming UCLA team is a combustible recipe.

"Combustible" as in, this one should be a stinker.

UCLA is easily the better team. The defense can play well enough to shut down a shaky sophomore under center, and Mora and his staff have done a good job of mitigating issues along the offensive line by drawing up designed runs and rollouts for Hundley. 

Remember, Strong's defense struggled against another mobile quarterback in BYU's Taysom Hill, who threw for 181 yards and added another 99 and three touchdowns on the ground.

As he should be, Hundley is the difference in this matchup. If he can single-handedly make it an entertaining affair remains to be seen.

Prediction: UCLA 38, Texas 24

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Pac-12 Football: Which Team Is Most Likely to Pull an Upset in Week 3?

Despite several games that were closer on the scoreboard than they appeared to be on paper, the Pac-12 had a successful Week 2 with the exception of Washington State dropping their game at Nevada.

Call that a wash, however, because Oregon notched a major victory for the conference in beating the reigning Rose Bowl champion Michigan State Spartans by 19 points.

Once again, the conference heads into a weekend where every team is favored to win, many by double digits. The only matchup between two Pac-12 teams is Arizona State at Colorado, yet another game that doesn't look very even.

Out of all the games scheduled for Saturday, which ones will result in an upset? We're taking a glance at every game on the slate for Week 3 in the Pac-12 and determining which program has the best chance of getting upset. 

Begin Slideshow

Pac-12 Football: Which Team Is Most Likely to Pull an Upset in Week 3?

Despite several games that were closer on the scoreboard than they appeared to be on paper, the Pac-12 had a successful Week 2 with the exception of Washington State dropping their game at Nevada...

Begin Slideshow

Georgia Football: What the Bulldogs Must Do to Control Gamecocks RB Mike Davis

The Georgia-South Carolina game could be the most physical game on the SEC schedule. Both teams are expected to run the ball often, which could lead to a low-scoring battle in which both defenses play at a high level.

South Carolina has the daunting task of taking on Todd Gurley, who rushed for 198 yards in the Clemson game nearly two weeks ago.

However, the Bulldogs will have the tough task of trying to stop Mike Davis, who torched UGA last year with 149 rushing yards and one touchdown.

As everyone should know, the Gamecocks were dominated by Texas A&M nearly two weeks ago in Columbia, but one of the reasons they lost as badly as they did was the fact that Davis was hampered by a rib injury suffered in the game.

He was able to bounce back against East Carolina with 101 yards and two touchdowns in the 33-23 win.

In order for the Bulldogs to come away with the win, they will have to contain Davis, just like South Carolina did to Gurley two years ago. But how do the Bulldogs go about doing that?

@gifdsports: Mike Davis 36 yard td run https://t.co/Xh6GV4QvDv@Mike28davis turn up!

— Brandi Mills (@BrandiCMills) September 7, 2014

When the Bulldogs played against Clemson in the season opener, they limited the Tigers to 102 rushing yards on 44 carries.

They were able to play the run effectively because all four linebackers (Amarlo Herrera, Ramik Wilson, Leonard Floyd and Jordan Jenkins) were able to get off their blocks and make tackles near of behind the line of scrimmage. The reason they were able to do that was the defensive line taking on the blocks and eating up space.

As such, nose guard Mike Thornton will play a big role in the South Carolina game, as he, James DeLoach and Sterling Bailey will go up against a veteran offensive line.

With that said, Thornton will go up against redshirt freshman center Alan Knott. Don’t be surprised if Thornton is lined up against Knott for the majority of the snaps, which could lead him to make some plays behind the line of scrimmage.

Like Gurley, Davis is a guy who gets better during the game. Therefore, the key for the defense is to attack Davis early and often—especially with his health issues.

Georgia's front seven will have to do what it did against Clemson in the second quarter, which is swarm to the football and not miss tackles. Davis is tough to bring down, but if the Bulldogs play fundamental football and don't over-pursue, they should be able to slow down Davis. In turn, that should lead to a win.

Because the Bulldogs have not scored more than 20 points in Columbia in 20 years and have not thrown a touchdown pass there in 10 years , the defense will have to play at a higher level than it did against Clemson.

Davis, who is an Atlanta native, will be amped up for this game and will not let the nagging injuries get to him. He is expecting a big game from himself.

If the Bulldogs want to be the favorite in the SEC East, the defense will need to have a dominant performance. That starts with shutting down South Carolina’s best offensive weapon.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

BYU vs. Houston: 4 Players to Watch in Thursday Night Showdown

BYU will have a great chance to gain national recognition this Thursday when they host Houston (7 p.m. MDT, ESPN). The BYU Cougars are coming off of a huge road win against Texas, but get another big test against UH.

Houston bounced back last week, putting up 47 points in a shutout win over Grambling State. They lost their season opener but will seek revenge after last year's 47-46 defeat to BYU.

Both teams will field talented playmakers, but who should you keep your eye on? Here are four players that will definitely make a difference in Thursday's game.

Begin Slideshow

Texas vs. UCLA Complete Game Preview

The Texas Longhorns have a chance to quiet the critics after the embarrassing loss it suffered to BYU in Week 2.

But bouncing back against No. 12 UCLA will not be an easy task.

The 2-0 Bruins have yet to play a complete game this season, but they have a chance to rectify that against the young, injury-plagued Longhorns.

Can Texas change the direction of the season by upsetting UCLA, or will the Longhorns rollover and finish nonconference play with a losing record? 

Let's take a look.

 

When: Saturday, Sept. 13, 8:00 p.m. ET

Where: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas

TV: Fox

Austin radio: KVET 98.1/1300

SiriusXM satellite radio: XM 202; Sirius 117; Internet 969; Spanish 550

Last meeting: Sept. 17, 2011, Rose Bowl, Pasadena, California

Last meeting outcome: Texas 49, UCLA 20

Spread: UCLA (-7.5), per OddsShark.com

Begin Slideshow

Georgia Football: Can Todd Gurley Match Herschel Walker's Legacy?

Todd Gurley, the Georgia Bulldogs’ Heisman candidate at running back, has only played one game this season, but he’s already having himself a year.  

And if he maintains his current trajectory, he's going to chase down the legacy of the uncatchable Herschel Walker.

Gurley's record-setting performance in Week 1 against the Clemson Tigers was nothing short of legendary.  He ran for 198 yards and three touchdowns.  He notched a 100-yard kickoff return for another score.  He set a school record for all-purpose yardage in a single game.  And he did all this against what was supposed to be one of the stouter defenses in the country. 

Oh, and Gurley touched the football only 17 times.

In fairness to Gurley, this magnificent effort wasn’t entirely unexpected.  Since arriving on campus in 2012, the talented running back has had a knack for big performances in the biggest of games. 

The 2012 SEC Championship Game is remembered for Georgia’s last-minute drive that came up five yards short against Alabama.  Lost in that furious and frustrating finish, was Todd Gurley’s 122 rushing yards—the most garnered by any runner against the Crimson Tide’s vaunted national championship defense that season.

Last year, Gurley ran for 154 yards (on just 12 carries) in a close loss to Clemson.  He accounted for 132 yards in a big win over South Carolina and burned LSU for 73 yards on just eight carries before going down with an injury.  Hobbled all year long, Gurley accounted for more than 155 yards of offense in each of his final five games of the 2013 season. 

Over that stretch he scored 10 touchdowns and averaged over 170 yards of offense per outing.

With those performances serving as a backdrop and good health providing further context, Gurley’s game against Clemson was hardly a breakout performance.  To the contrary, it was more of the same for the junior running back.

Somewhat less used, however, are the comparisons to Georgia legend Herschel Walker.  To be sure, Walker is perhaps unmatchable measuring stick by which all Bulldog running backs are measured.  That’s not new by any means.  What’s surprising is just how merited the Gurley/Herschel parallels have become.  More unanticipated still is the fact that some such comparisons actually favor Georgia’s current running back—not the Heisman winner from the early 1980s.

Who would have thought that another Georgia running back would ever threaten Herschel's place atop the Bulldog hierarchy?

 

The Shadow of Herschel Walker  

Herschel.

If one is talking Georgia football, the surname is superfluous. 

One of the most highly recruited football players of all time, Herschel was Herschel before he even arrived in Athens.  As a freshman he somehow surpassed impossibly high expectations and ran for over 1,600 yards and 15 touchdowns.  Not to be outdone, he ran for 1,891 yards the following season and won the Heisman trophy as a junior thanks to a 1,752-yard performance in 1982.

Herschel Walker spent three years torturing opposing defenses as a Bulldog, and Georgia running backs have spent the last 30 years chasing his ghost.

Rodney Hampton was fun to watch, but he wasn’t Herschel.  Garrison Hearst was great, but he wasn’t Herschel.  Musa Smith was a fine running back, but he wasn’t Herschel.  Knowshon Moreno could electrify a crowd, but he wasn’t Herschel.

Isaiah Crowell was hailed by the 247Sports Composite as the nation’s best running back in the Class of 2011.  He played one season as a Georgia Bulldog and heard Herschel comparisons before he even put on the red and black.  When reflecting on his lone season as a Dawg this spring, Crowell said he “really tried to minimize” the comparison to Herschel.  But his efforts were fruitless. 

“People compare every running back that comes through Georgia to Herschel Walker,” insisted Crowell, who was honored as SEC Freshman of the Year in 2011.  But he wasn’t Herschel.

Though I’m sure it was not the very first, I heard one of the initial Gurley/Herschel comparisons in Sanford Stadium on Sept. 1, 2012.  After Gurley ran a kickoff back for a 100-yard score and his second touchdown of the first quarter of his first collegiate game, it was apparent that he was a special talent.  He just wasn’t Herschel special—at least not according to the season ticketholder behind me.

“You know, he’s big and fast,” the man began.  “But he’s not as big as Herschel or as fast as Herschel.  Herschel was at least 30 pounds heavier and a whole lot faster as a freshman.”

Somehow, the passing of time has made Herschel Walker even bigger physically than his eye-popping numbers.  Truth be told, Herschel did not play football at a weight 30 pounds heavier than Gurley, who was listed at 218 pounds as a freshman.  Herschel played at 225 pounds.

But Walker, to the credit of the amateur analyst seated behind me in Section 126 that day, may have been faster than Gurley.  Yet even that judgment is hard to declare definitively. 

Both Walker and Gurley boast significant accomplishments on the track, but while Walker focused on short sprints at the collegiate level, Gurley committed his efforts as a freshman to hurdles.  Walker’s sprint debut saw him post a 6.32 second time on the 60-yard dash (just under 55 meters) according to the The New York Times.  In 2013, Gurley ran the 60-meter hurdles in a time in 8.12 seconds (the seventh-fasted time in Georgia history per GeorgiaDogs.com).

On the football field, the two look fast and faster—in no particular order.

 

Opposing Defenses

Comparisons to Herschel aren’t merely difficult to measure of because of hyperbole or the exaggeration that is sure to add to a legend over time.  Instead, comparisons are confounded by the altered nature of the game.  Put curtly, football was different when Herschel played at Georgia in the early 1980s.

Radi Nabulsi, the publisher of UGASports.com and a Georgia Insider for NBC’s Atlanta affiliate, has covered Georgia football for years and tempers any comparison by observing clear-cut differences in opposing defenses. 

“Defenses have caught up with faster, stronger players on the defensive side of the ball,” Nabulsi says.

Such an observation is not hypothesized conjecture.  Both running backs opened their junior seasons with games against Clemson, but the physical makeup of the two Tiger defenses is both staggering and indicative of a generation-long evolution of athletes.

In 1982, Herschel’s junior season, 26 defensive linemen and linebackers were on Clemson’s roster.  The average weight of these athletes was 230.5 pounds.  Only two players in that group were listed at a weight greater than 265 pounds.

The 32 defensive linemen and linebackers on this year’s Clemson roster weigh an average of 253.13 pounds.  Eleven of these players weigh in excess of 265 pounds.

Competition as a whole also confuses direct comparisons.  Gurley is playing during what is arguably the toughest era in Southeastern Conference football history.  For comparison’s sake, two SEC teams finished ranked in the final AP Poll in Walker's sophomore season of 1980 and three teams were ranked at the end of 1981. 

In both 2012 and 2013, seven SEC teams were ranked in the final AP Poll.

Walker played against the same six SEC opponents (Tennessee, Ole Miss, Vanderbilt, Kentucky, Florida and Auburn) in each of his first two seasons.  Those six teams combined to go 26-41 (a .388 winning percentage) in 1980 and only one of those teams (Florida at 8-4) finished in the top half of the conference.  The following season those schools combined for a 31-36 record (a .463 winning percentage).

During Gurley’s freshman campaign, Georgia played nine SEC opponents, who accounted for a combined 66-48 record (.579 winning percentage).  Last year, Georgia’s eight conference foes combined for 65 wins and 38 losses (.631 winning percentage).

As dominant as Herschel may have been in the early 1980s, it’s hard to make the case that the defenses he faced were more stifling than those Gurley has seen.

 

Offensive Styles

Of course, Gurley has been aided tremendously by Georgia’s offensive style.  Until this season, he played in the same backfield as the most prolific passer in SEC history, Aaron Murray.  At its most rudimentary nature, the balanced attack orchestrated by coordinator Mike Bobo is designed to keep defenses—bigger and faster though they may be—much more off guard.

Case in point, last year Georgia averaged 34.8 pass attempts per game and 38 rushes per contest.  That balance is distinct, particularly relative to Georgia’s offense in the early 1980s. When Walker won the Heisman Trophy in 1982, he carried the ball 335 times.  That year, Georgia attempted just 155 passes. 

Furthermore, the running load has been distributed somewhat equally during Gurley’s tenure.  As a freshman, Gurley accounted for just 222 of Georgia’s 513 carries.  Last year, Gurley carried the ball 165 times while other Bulldogs toted the rock a combined 310 times.  In one contest this season, Gurley notched just 15 of Georgia’s 40 rushes.

Walker, on the other hand, was much more depended upon by the Bulldogs offense, and as a result, the game plans of opposing defenses focused almost exclusively on him.  As Nabulsi summarizes:

Gurley enjoys a strong passing game that softens defenses; Walker didn’t have that luxury (no offense to my man Buck [Belue]).  Opposing defenses knew Walker was going to get the ball. Gurley has also shared the backfield with some talented running backs, allowing him to keep his legs fresh for later in the game.

 

Should the Comparison Even Exist?

Barrett Sallee, Bleacher Report’s Lead SEC Football Writer, says it’s unfair to compare any running back—other than Bo Jackson—to Herschel Walker.  But he recognizes the similarities between Gurley and Walker.  “Both came in as grown men who can run over, around and through opposing defenders,” he observes.

Nabulsi does differentiate between the styles of the two backs, writing “Walker appeared to run with more power and strength.  Yes he was a fast guy, but watching the tapes, he ran north-south, breaking tackles at the line of scrimmage then in the second level.”

“Gurley on the other hand has better vision and sees cutback lanes and cracks the line,” Nabulsi counters.  “Gurley is more elusive, his hips sway out of reach, he stiff arms and slides behind blocks better.”

But it’s hard to argue with the production of either player.

Walker’s 5,259 rushing yards won’t be touched by Todd Gurley.  That much is all but guaranteed.  But even with significantly fewer offensive touches, Gurley could catch several Walker milestones.

Walker scored 52 total touchdowns over a three-year college career.  Already, Gurley has scored 38.  If he can stay healthy for the remainder of this season, that school record will likely topple.

Gurley also could threaten Walker’s all-purpose yards mark if the Bulldogs make it to the SEC Championship Game and at least one additional postseason contest.  Walker finished his career with 5,749 all-purpose yards.  Gurley currently stands at 3,468.  If he gets 13 additional contests, he’ll need to average just over 175 total yards per game.  For context, he’s averaged 190.7 all-purpose yards per game over the course of his last six outings.

 

Who Wins Out?

“Sure, Gurley is great,” Sallee acknowledges.  “But Walker was on an entirely different level.”

That sentiment is likely the consensus among Bulldog fans, as the uniqueness that defined Herschel is hard to counter.

“Herschel posted one of the most amazing careers in college football history, finishing in the top three of the Heisman Trophy voting all three years at Georgia,” Sallee recounts.  “That’s not supposed to happen to a running back, or a player at any position.”

But there’s something to be said for what Gurley might still accomplish.  And before that, there’s tremendous value in what he’s already done.

Comparing Gurley and Walker on a game-by-game basis is as futile as it is foolish.  Walker averaged more than 30 carries per game throughout his collegiate career.  Gurley has averaged just north of 16 rushes per contest and carried the ball 30 times on exactly one occasion (against South Carolina last season).

Where things get interesting, however, is when the two studs are compared at the same point—as measured by total carries—in their careers.  To date, Gurley has carried the ball 402 times in 25 games.  Walker carried the ball 403 times over the course of his first 15 games.

Though the argument can be made that Gurley was fresher for the 400 or so carries in this sample, it’s hard to refute the statistical advantage he holds over Walker within these parameters.  The first 402 carries of Gurley’s career resulted in 2,572 yards and 30 touchdowns.  Herschel’s first 403 carries yielded 2,231 yards and 18 scores.

Obviously, more of those carries occurred for Herschel when he was younger—nearly 68 percent of the touches in question occurred during his first season at Georgia.  But Herschel’s most productive year on a per-carry basis was his freshman campaign.

And on a per-carry adjustment, Gurley’s statistical advantage within this sample is decisive.

And these numbers do not include Gurley’s production as a receiver or his special teams prowess. 

Currently, Gurley claims 553 career receiving yards and six receiving touchdowns to go with two scores on special teams play.  Herschel’s three-year career resulted in 243 career receiving yards, three receiving touchdowns and no special teams scores.

 

The Legacy Gurley Can Leave

Earlier this week, Georgia head coach Mark Richt hinted at the seemingly obvious notion that Gurley will forgo his senior season as a Bulldog and enter the NFL draft.

Undoubtedly, the junior will be atop most draft boards at his position if he does in fact leave.  What remains to be seen is where he’ll fit in the Georgia record book.

From a theoretical standpoint, Gurley could chase down Walker’s all-purpose yards and touchdown marks and he could do so with higher per-touch averages in just about every major category.  But would that be enough to put him at the upper echelon of Bulldog lore? 

Most likely not—at least not without a national championship. 

And even if the Dawgs were to win the inaugural College Football Playoff, Gurley is fighting an uphill battle.  Thirty long years of Herschel talk have made Walker insurmountable as a legend.  And to Walker’s credit, he’s added to his own legacy by conquering professional football (in two leagues), the Olympics (he finished seventh at the 1992 Winter Games in the two-man bobsled) and even mixed martial arts.

Accordingly, numbers, highlights and even championships may not be enough to win over the Georgia faithful as the long-established predisposition of Bulldog fans is that there will never be another Herschel Walker.

As Nabulsi summarizes, “Gurley is the man, but Walker was a once in a lifetime talent.”

Nevertheless, at some point—maybe sooner than later—Georgia fans will realize a given lifetime doesn’t see too many talents like the one who currently wears number three in the backfield for the Bulldogs, either. 

Maybe then, we’ll spend the next 30 years looking fruitlessly for the next Todd Gurley.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand.  All statistics pertaining to Herschel Walker accessed via GeorgiaDogs.com.  All statistics pertaining to Todd Gurley and team and conference records accessed via Sports-Reference.com.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Breaking Down Amari Cooper's Early-Season Success

Alabama junior Amari Cooper entered the season as one of the top wide receiver prospects in the nation and even debuted at No. 6 overall on ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr.'s big board (insider subscription required). 

Despite the preseason hype, few could have predicted the record-setting start to Cooper's 2014 campaign. 

Through two games, Cooper has hauled in 25 passes for 319 yards and one touchdown in Alabama's victories over West Virginia and Florida Atlantic. 

At his current pace, Cooper looks like a good bet to leave early for the 2015 NFL draft, so let's take a look at what he has done to establish himself as one of the top prospects and what weaknesses may still hold him back from living up to the current hype at the next level.

 

Footwork at the Line of Scrimmage

Cooper doesn't have elite breakaway speed, but his quick feet allow him to create separation at the line of scrimmage. 

Take a look at this play against West Virginia in which Cooper uses his footwork to shake press coverage from Mountaineers sophomore cornerback Daryl Cooper. 

 

Blocking Skills

An underrated aspect of Cooper's game is his ability to contribute without the ball in his hands. 

Poor blocking skills rarely factor into a wide receiver's scouting report these days, but a receiver like Cooper can certainly elevate his stock by putting forth a quality effort to contribute as a blocker. 

As Matt Waldman alludes to in the tweet below, Cooper is still refining his blocking skills, but the effort and willingness to deliver a big hit is already there—and that's half the battle with skill-position players. 

 

Inconsistent Hands

The biggest concern in Cooper's game is his hands, which have already been an issue this season with a dropped pass in the end zone against Florida Atlantic. 

While Cooper has showed a knack for coming down with some acrobatic catches, it's often the easy ones that bite him—an issue which may indicate a lack of focus.

Cooper's shaky hands were on display last year at the Sugar Bowl, as he let a potential first down bounce off his hands in the third quarter. 

 

Limited Physical Tools

Much of Cooper's success is due to his technical skills rather than his raw physical talent. As a result, it's fair to wonder if he may already be near his ceiling.

Cooper is listed at 6'1", 210 pounds—certainly not small, but far from the size NFL teams prefer in No. 1 receivers. 

To make matters worse for Cooper, he lacks the breakaway speed to make up for his limited size. While he has made some plays after the catch this season, a closer look at those runs, such as the one highlighted below, shows how he greatly benefited from blocking and poor defense.

On this particular play, Cooper catches the ball with roughly a seven-yard cushion from the nearest defender and has a block already in place. While the play went for 24 yards and significantly boosted his yards after the catch, it's tough to give Cooper any credit for the play.

These modest physical tools can certainly be overcome, and many of the game's most productive receivers have similar measurements to Cooper. But it is worth noting that the vast majority of top-10 picks are blessed with the size-speed combination of guys such as Julio Jones or A.J. Green, and Cooper will never be confused with those types of receivers. 

 

Where Does His Draft Stock Stand?

Despite the fact that he's not a perfect prospect, Cooper clearly has starter potential. A high-end comparison for Cooper would be potential Hall of Famer Marvin Harrison, while a more modest evaluation might compare him Greg Jennings. 

Either way, Cooper has a bright future, and his impressive start has certainly caught the attention of any NFL personnel who hadn't already been tuned in to his performance for the Crimson Tide. 

Cooper appears to be headed toward a consensus first-round grade, with a mid-second-round landing spot likely being on the floor for his draft stock, barring any injuries or off-field issues in the coming months. 

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