NCAA Football

Notre Dame Football: The Importance of the Irish Secondary Against Michigan

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Michigan has been blaring music this week during practice, trying to prepare for a raucous road environment Saturday night. But it was Notre Dame football that turned up the volume early in the week, aiming to improve its communication in the secondary.

After Notre Dame allowed five explosive plays (four passes), three of which Irish head coach Brian Kelly attributed to poor communication, in its season-opening 48-17 win over Rice, defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder increased the decibels in the meeting room.

“I was in the quarterback meeting room and I could hear our safeties communicating very well during film study,” Kelly said Tuesday with a knowing smile.

“Coach VanGorder … made it clear during the meetings how he wants those guys to communicate,” Kelly added.

VanGorder and Kelly want the defensive backs—the safeties, in particular—to be more demonstrative and to take control. Irish graduate student safety and captain Austin Collinsworth typically handles that communicative role, but Collinsworth has been sidelined with an MCL injury.

Senior S Austin Collinsworth will miss today's season opener vs. Rice with an injury. Elijah Shumate will start in his place.

— Michael Bertsch (@NDsidBertschy) August 30, 2014

“Austin was very good at [the communication aspect],” Kelly said Tuesday. “It was part of his DNA. That was his strength of who he was.”

With Collinsworth on crutches, junior safety Elijah Shumate hopped into the starting spot against the Owls, joining sophomore starter Max Redfield. Shumate had less than 48 hours to prepare for his start, and Redfield was forced to play without his running mate Collinsworth, who had been handling much of the quarterback-like preparations and communications.

“These are things that Max and Elijah are going to have to continue to get better at,” Kelly said of the communication. “These guys are going to have to take control as if they have that same kind of ability [as Collinsworth], and they're going to have to do it right now. Michigan is on them, and it's going to have to happen immediately.”

Michigan is on them, and Wolverines junior wide receiver Devin Funchess will be looking to blow by them. The 6’5” 230-pounder terrorized Appalachian State in Michigan’s season-opening 52-14 win. Funchess reeled in seven receptions for 95 yards and a career-high three touchdowns.

Devin Funchess with 3 TD in 1st game wearing #1. Last time Michigan WR wore #1 was Braylon Edwards on Jan. 1, 2005 (also had 3 TD in game)

— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) August 30, 2014

Asked about his talented wide receiver two days after the victory, Michigan graduate student quarterback Devin Gardner made a clear yet bold statement.

“He can probably be the best receiver to ever play here,” Gardner said simply.

Now, whether Funchess ends up better than former Michigan greats Braylon Edwards, David Terrell and Desmond Howard is another story. The point, though, is Notre Dame has its hands full with Funchess.

“Funchess being on the perimeter is a matchup problem, and he will be a matchup problem for everybody he plays this year,” Kelly said. “We will have to find ways obviously to slow him down, and he's going to be difficult, and Gardner has played great against us.”

Notre Dame’s secondary will have to communicate well to at least be in position to slow down Funchess and the Michigan aerial attack.

Otherwise, it could get quiet quickly in Notre Dame Stadium.

 

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Mike Monaco is a lead Notre Dame writer for Bleacher Report. Follow @MikeMonaco_ on Twitter.

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Georgia Football: Early-Season Hype Could Be Stumbling Block for Dawgs

Georgia fans weren't the only ones to take note of the Bulldogs' convincing victory over the Clemson Tigers in Week 1.  

The message that Mark Richt's squad sent was heard loud and clear by experts around the country, and they reacted accordingly, voting Georgia higher in major polls and including the Dawgs in playoff projections.

This early-season hype, merited as it may be, could be a stumbling block for Georgia.

 

National Rise

This time last week, Georgia had as many unknowns as knowns.  Hutson Mason was still a relatively new starter at quarterback, the offensive line was still looking to replace several longtime starters and the entire defense was in the midst of renovation.  To be sure, the talent level in Athens was obvious and optimism surrounded the coaching staff.  

But there were a lot of question marks heading into the 2014 campaign.

A strong game—and a stellar second half in particular—against Clemson was more than enough to address concerns, at least as far as national pundits were concerned.

After opening the season ranked 12th by both the AP Poll and the Amway Coaches Poll, the Bulldogs climbed to the sixth and eighth spots, respectively, after their big season-opening victory.

Individual playoff prognostications were equally fond of Georgia's big win, as a host of analysts moved the Dawgs into their projected four-team playoff bracket.

Even Bleacher Report's own Adam Kramer put the Bulldogs in the playoff as the fourth seed.

 

Trouble with the Top

Richt and his coaching staff have been disciplined in tempering expectations for his team this week.  

Earlier this week, the head coach told Tim Tucker of the Albany Herald: "I'm not going to get too excited yet.  We've got a long way to go."  He added that the team probably looked better in the win than it actually is at this point in the season.

Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo was equally unimpressed by the newfound spotlight on the program and playoff projections.  "You've just got to ignore the noise and continue to work," he told Marc Weiszer of the Athens Banner-Herald.

Defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt was also unenthused by the national attention his team received this week.  "We've still got a long ways to go," he told Seth Emerson of The Telegraph.  "I mean, basically all we've done is guarantee that we can go 1-11.  That's all we've done."

Though the coaches have been coy to an extent that almost seems scripted, there's sound reasoning behind the downplaying of accomplishments.  The sample size for this Georgia team—and the opponent the Dawgs dismantled in Clemson for that matter—is extremely small.  And, the only thing worse for a developing team than hearing praise all week is hearing praise for two weeks.  In that regard, the off week may have yielded too much down time for players.

But Georgia knows, all too well, the perils of early-season hype.

In 2008, the Bulldogs entered the year as the top-ranked team in both the AP and Coaches Poll.  A slow decline (despite winning) was accelerated by a September loss to Alabama that sent the Dawgs falling down the ranks.  The team finished the season raked 15th in the BCS standings.

In 2012, a hot five-game winning streak against five unranked opponents propelled Georgia to the fifth spot in both the AP and Coaches Poll before an embarrassing 28-point loss to South Carolina sent the Dawgs tumbling.

As recently as last season, when a rash of untimely injuries struck down a formidable Bulldogs team, Georgia reached the No. 6 spot in the AP Poll by Week 6 of the season, only to disappear from contention after a slew of losses.

 

Avoiding the Letdown

Perhaps the most important thing for Georgia players and fans to remember at this juncture is that the Bulldogs haven't accomplished anything yet.  Pruitt alluded to this with his 1-11 comment, but even more tangibly: Georgia is no closer to winning the SEC East than it was before the season began.

While it's not remotely realistic to think the Dawgs will go 0-8 in conference play this year, it's certainly not out of the realm of possibility for Georgia to lose on the road to South Carolina next week.  And a loss to the Gamecocks puts Georgia behind the curve in the SEC East. 

From there, the trickle-down effect is significant.  Failing to win the SEC East, after all, eliminates Georgia from SEC Championship contention and most likely makes the playoff dream a fantasy.

In that regard, the win over Clemson truly was nothing more than a nice start.  But that beautiful beginning could be negated as soon as next Saturday if Georgia doesn't remain focused on the task at hand.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Picks Week 2: Odds and Spread Predictions for Top 25 Teams

The treacherous, unforgiving college football season does not often dole out second chances. None of the nation's top-ranked schools can afford an early slip-up with four precious College Football Playoff spots hanging in the balance.

Last week, three teams included in the AP Top 25 kicked off the season in the losing column, all against fellow ranked adversaries. Including these marquee matchups early in the season produces madness in the polls, and that chaos won't subside this Saturday.

Two premier bouts bless the schedule, both of which will shape the Pac-12 outlook. Oregon and Michigan State will up the ante with a showdown carrying championship implications.

Before I break down those games, here's a full look at every ranked team's upcoming opponent.

*Spreads unavailable at time of publishing. 

Note: All odds, updated as of early Friday morning, are courtesy of Odds Shark.

 

No. 14 USC at No. 13 Stanford (-3)

Putting all childish coaching controversies aside, Stanford's David Shaw said something about the Cardinal and Trojans' rivalry that should net everyone's approval.

"When both teams have been ranked, when one team has been ranked, it hasn't mattered," Shaw said during a conference call, per the Los Angeles Times' Gary Klein. "The games are tight and the games are exciting. They're fun to watch."

Last year's meeting was as close as could be. USC escaped with a win on a last-minute field goal, but Stanford finished the four quarters with 26 more total yards. A year after proving evenly matched, the Pac-12 enemies stand back to back in the AP poll, foreshadowing another nail-biter this weekend.

Steve Sarkisian sure started his USC coaching tenure in style. The Trojans celebrated his debut by accumulating 701 total yards in a 52-13 blowout over Fresno State. Warmly welcomed to Sarkisian's spread offense, Cody Kessler quickly generated career highs with 394 passing yards and four touchdowns.

Stanford dazzled on the other side, limiting UC Davis to a measly 115 total yards during last week's 45-0 shutout. One of college football's toughest defenses has stifled stronger offenses, ruining Oregon's title hopes twice in the past two years.

Per ESPN Stats & Info, the Cardinal haven't lost lately at Stanford Stadium, the site of Saturday's showdown:

Playing at home gives Stanford the slight edge over USC, but it wouldn't be surprising to see this contest once again decided on a late field goal.

Prediction: Stanford 23, USC 20 

 

No. 7 Michigan State at No. 3 Oregon (-11)

Games like this usually don't come around this early in the season. A loss could prove fatal to either school's playoff chances, and a victory bolts the winner way up the rankings.

Here we have yet another battle between an offensive machine and a defensive powerhouse. Last year, Oregon ranked second in yards amassed, while Michigan State placed second in yards allowed. 

Once again, home-field advantage factors prominently into this game's outlook. Oregon has not suffered a loss at home since falling to Stanford in overtime during the 2012 season. Memories of the Ducks' last two losses to the Cardinal naturally come up, as they maintain the offense vs. defense narrative.

Fielding questions about the comparison during Tuesday's press conference, head coach Mark Helfrich resented those past shortcomings shaping a negative perception of his team's ability to survive against a defensive-minded club.

"That’s the media’s job," he said. "If one loss happens, we have to totally rebuild our program. It’s kind of that unfair situation to our guys, to a certain extent, that Stanford loses to Utah and it’s just an aberration, but we lose to Stanford and we have to totally blow everything up and start over."

A win this weekend would earn some temporary silence, at least until Oregon faces Stanford later in the season. Before that, however, Oregon would vault up to No. 2, possibly even No. 1 if Florida State doesn't play any better.

Betting against the spread, Michigan State's stringent defense should keep the score within single digits, which would enable the Spartans to cover with ease. Unfortunately, beating the spread doesn't count in the win column.

Look for Marcus Mariota to pass this huge test, proving his legitimacy as a top college quarterback and an NFL prospect with a strong effort against Michigan State's physical secondary.

Prediction: Oregon 31, Michigan State 27

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ESPN College GameDay 2014: Week 2 Schedule, Location, Predictions and More

We're only two weeks into the college football season, but that's all it took for a marquee matchup to grace ESPN's College GameDay that has serious College Football Playoff implications both ways. 

Oregon and Michigan State will do battle in a Week 2 affair that has more of the feeling of a Rose Bowl, and the implications couldn't be higher. The third-ranked Ducks and seventh-ranked Spartans will both have a chance to add a season-altering win, but a defeat will make it an uphill climb for a top-four finish at the end of the season. 

Heisman favorite Marcus Mariota got his campaign off to a strong start against South Dakota last weekend, but his quest to become the fifth straight quarterback to lift the Heisman Trophy will be soon forgotten if the Spartans pull off the upset in Eugene. 

Take a look at everything you need to know for Saturday night's matchup.

 

Date: Saturday, September 6, 2014

Time: 6:30 p.m. ET

Where: Autzen Stadium, Eugene, Oregon

TV: Fox

Live Stream: Fox Sports Go 

 

Oregon Player to Watch: Marcus Mariota, QB

The amount of speed and talent on the outside for Oregon's offense goes without saying, and it tends to recreate itself season after season to give the team one of the most formidable attacks in college football.

But there's only one Marcus Mariota. 

After two dominant seasons manning the Ducks offense in 2012 and 2013, Mariota opted to return for his junior season despite throwing 66 touchdowns to just 10 interceptions in his career. From ESPN to Bleacher Report, the quarterback has seen his name crop up on Heisman watch list after Heisman watch list. 

In sparse action, as you'd expect against FCS opponent South Dakota, Mariota played just one half but was spectacular. He finished with 14-of-20 passing for 267 yards, throwing three touchdowns and rushing for another. 

But he'll be hard-pressed to post a similar performance against the hard-hitting Spartans defense. 

Michigan State finished 2013 with the second-best total defense in all of FBS, holding opponents to just 252 yards per contest. The Spartans have lost seven defensive starters from the team that beat Stanford in the Rose Bowl, though.

"They're a great defense," Mariota told ESPN.com's Chantel Jennings. "They're really good at what they do. They put their players in good positions to make plays. We'll have to communicate up front and make sure we're good in our protections. And try to take our shots." 

Bleacher Report's Matt Miller sees it as a crucial test for the Oregon quarterback:

Taking care of the ball will be key for Mariota. He's only tossed 10 career interceptions, third fewest for a player with 20 career starts over the last three seasons, according to ESPN.com's Brian Shalvoy. But as impressive as his four picks on the season were last year, each of them came in the final two games—one a loss. 

Michigan State beat Stanford in last year's Rose Bowl by winning the turnover battle and dominating the passing game. To beat Oregon, it will need Mariota to struggle in order to get an advantage in both of those categories.

 

Michigan State Player to Watch: Jeremy Langford, RB

In Mark Dantonio's punishing offense, with a burly offensive line and a pro-style scheme, having an elite running back with the right skill set is crucial to the team's success.

Enter Jeremy Langford.

Langford has been picking up where Le'Veon Bell and Javon Ringer left off in the Spartans backfield, namely making waves as one of the nation's top running backs. 2013 marked his first season taking over for Bell in the backfield, and he dazzled with 1,422 yards and a ridiculous 19 total touchdowns (18 rushing) on nearly five yards per carry.

The 6'1", 208-pound senior was a workhorse in the Rose Bowl against Stanford, carrying 23 times for 84 yards and a score. 

As for this season, Langford has been watched closely with a nagging injury and split carries in the season opener, but Brian Calloway of the Lansing State Journal reported he's a full go in practice and for the game. 

Langford can make his impact even against the best of defenses, but the Statesman Journal's Gary Horowitz captured why he might be even more excited than usual about Saturday's game:

With a downhill running style and behind a strong offensive line, Langford could really pose problems for Oregon's defense—a unit that prides itself on speed and versatility more than lining up and hitting you in the mouth.

Connor Cook has emerged as a big-time quarterback with playmaking ability for Michigan State, and that only makes Langford's chances of breaking out even greater. Oregon better have some defensive tricks up its sleeves to deal with Michigan State's dynamic offense. 

 

Prediction

Michigan State offers too much on offense to not make this one interesting, but defensive holes won't be enough to overcome a machine-like Oregon offense and a raucous Autzen Stadium crowd.

Having last year's No. 2 defense is great and all, but it's just that—last year. With seven new starters on defense, the Spartans might return to their elite level on defense, but it won't be early in the season and it won't come against the high-powered opponents they face Saturday.

Oregon has struggled in recent seasons to go through its Pac-12 schedule undefeated, but a marquee nonconference game at home early in the season shouldn't deter the Ducks' chances of an unbeaten season.

Prediction: Oregon 38, Michigan State 30

 

Note: All stats courtesy of CFBStats.com unless otherwise noted.

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Which UCLA Bruins Have Best Chance of Winning a National Award?

The UCLA football team has three players capable of not only competing for but potentially winning national awards by the end of the season. 

Quarterback Brett Hundley is the obvious name on this list. Aside from the Heisman Trophy, he could be in the running for multiple awards this season. The other two names mentioned in this piece both play the same position. 

Of course, these hypotheticals will hinge upon a strong season by the Bruins. Not only will the trio be a direct cause of victories, but a very successful season will likely mean enhanced notoriety in the national eye. 

Here's a look at the Bruins with the best chance of winning a national award in 2014. 

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Which UCLA Bruins Have Best Chance of Winning a National Award?

The UCLA football team has three players capable of not only competing for but potentially winning national awards by the end of the season. Quarterback Brett Hundley is the obvious name on this list...

Begin Slideshow

Tennessee Football: Jalen Reeves-Maybin Shaping Up to Be Breakout Star

Watching Jalen Reeves-Maybin roam the field from sideline to sideline Sunday night was like opening a time portal into the glory days of Tennessee's defense.

The 6'1", 230-pound linebacker finished his first career start in Neyland Stadium with a team-high 10 tackles against Utah State, including credit for half a tackle for loss.

Reeves-Maybin—or "JRM," as he's known at UT—personified the Volunteers' speed revival throughout coordinator John Jancek's unit, and his play drew plenty of praise from high places.

Though it was just one game against hardly SEC-caliber competition, Reeves-Maybin's performance was still impressive.

He was one of the players who helped UT neutralize drives, smothering USU Heisman hopeful quarterback Chuckie Keeton before he got to the edges.

The speed and athleticism he displayed will translate well when the big boys come up on the schedule, and Vols fans have every reason to believe the sophomore from Clarksville, Tennessee, has all the trappings to be the next great linebacker on Rocky Top.

When asked about his breakout performance, Reeves-Maybin displayed the type of mentality you want in any player. He is eager to improve and hungry to do more.

Reeves-Maybin has been preparing himself for this opportunity to break out since committing to former UT coach Derek Dooley over Ole Miss and others, arriving in Knoxville as a mid-term enrollee prior to the 2013 season.

As a recruit, 247Sports listed JRM as a 200-pound safety. He carved a niche as a special teams dynamo as a true freshman in 2013, leading the team with 11 tackles in that role, according to his official bio.

A flair for the highlight-reel play followed him, too. Reeves-Maybin was the player whose rousing punt block against Georgia helped UT surge into a late lead against the Dawgs.

A move to linebacker midseason in 2013 gave Reeves-Maybin the clearest path to playing, and he added 20 pounds this offseason to get into his peak physical condition to start at weak-side linebacker in UT's defense.

Against Utah State, he looked comfortable in the scheme and confident in his playmaking ability. At times, he shook off the shackles of inexperience and looked downright dynamic.

He has come a long way since a season ago.

Nine of those tackles came in the first half before UT began rotating in backups, so he was at his best when he was surrounded by UT's defensive stalwarts.

Reeves-Maybin's performance hearkened back to the days when current LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis led the Vols defense that was pepped with elite athletes.

It was common in the late 1990s and early 2000s for UT to take safeties and bulk them up into linebackers. Players such as Kevin Burnett, Eddie Moore and Eric Westmoreland made the move, and it translated into all-conference careers in orange and white.

They parlayed that position change into NFL careers, too.

JRM could be on his way to the same type of future if he continues to develop.

It's only one game, but the Vols have been high on his potential since he arrived on campus. In his first start, he certainly looked the part.

Even his hard-to-impress position coach, Tommy Thigpen, had high praise for Reeves-Maybin when he was talking with Volquest.com's Rob Lewis and Paul Fortenberry (subscription required):

He communicated the way he needs to, played really well in space…It's easy to forget sometimes that he's a sophomore and just made his first start at linebacker. Came in as a safety, moved to linebacker midseason…I'm pleased with where he's at. When he moved over last year he was kind of a fish out of water but now when he comes in he's one of the leaders in our room.

That translated to being a leader on the field, and showing out is something difficult to do when you're lined up beside tackle-gobbling middle linebacker A.J. Johnson.

When the live bullets started flying around, so did Reeves-Maybin.

As debuts go, it couldn't have gone much better.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all statistics gathered from CFBStats.com and quotes as well as observations obtained firsthand.

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

@Brad_Shepard

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

10 Best Players from the Michigan-Notre Dame Rivalry

Saturday night, one of college football’s great rivalries comes to an end, at least for now.

When Michigan and Notre Dame meet at Notre Dame Stadium, it will mark the final scheduled game between the longtime rivals until at least 2020. 

CBSSports.com's Jon Solomon says the rivals are preparing to say goodbye, at least for right now. 

Two years ago, the Fighting Irish opted to end the series with Michigan, citing the need for greater scheduling flexibility, including an agreement which will see as many as five ACC teams per year come onto the Irish’s schedule, beginning this fall.

That ends what has been one of the game’s more tightly contested rivalries. Since the series was renewed following a 35-year hiatus in 1978, Michigan holds a 15-14-1 edge, with a number of the games featuring big performances and thrilling finishes.

There have been a number of impressive individual efforts since the series resumed, afternoons that captured fans’ attention for one reason or another—depending on who you were rooting for.

Here’s a look at the top 10 players of the Michigan-Notre Dame rivalry. Players were evaluated by their statistical performances and contributions to their team’s efforts.

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Ohio State Football: Why Devin Smith Will Be Key Against Virginia Tech

It was late in the third quarter when Devin Smith—hoping to make a game-changing play—split wide against Navy.

Ohio State was off to a sluggish start in its season opener, trailing 14-13 late in the third quarter. The Buckeyes offense had only produced two field goals, with the sole touchdown coming via Darron Lee's fumble recovery and 62-yard return.

When the ball was snapped, J.T. Barrett faked a hand-off to Ezekiel Elliott, which caused a split-second hesitation from Navy's deep safety.

That was all Smith needed.

Barrett launched an underthrown ball and the senior wideout adjusted, hauled it in and shook the Midshipmen defender for the go-ahead 80-yard touchdown.

According to John Kampf of The Morning Journal, Smith knew it was only a matter of time.

“I knew once [Meyer] called my number, I was going to make a play.”

With Frank Beamer and the Virginia Tech Hokies coming to town this Saturday, the Buckeyes will need Smith to deliver in a similar fashion.

 

Loads of Potential, Fits of Inconsistency 

Smith has come up with a number of big plays during his time in Columbus.

Facing the eventual Big Ten champion Wisconsin Badgers as a freshman, Smith got behind the defense in the final 30 seconds for a game-winning 40-yard touchdown.

A year later, he torched Cal with a 72-yard touchdown catch and burned Michigan State deep for a 63-yard score, both of which gave the Buckeyes a lead they wouldn't surrender.

Throughout his career, Smith has made a habit of scoring big touchdowns. The senior is averaging 41.7 yards per touchdown reception, and a big part of that is because of his blazing speed.

Even with his explosive playmaking ability, Smith hasn't found a way to be a consistent threat for the Buckeyes. The coaching staff feels that Smith struggles when the matchup isn't right.

“He’s great when things are great, and when things are hard that’s when he needs to shine,” wide receiver coach Zach Smith said, according to Kyle Rowland of Eleven Warriors. “He’s been inconsistent in that.”

Things will certainly be hard this Saturday when the Buckeyes go up against Virginia Tech's stingy defense.

 

Making the Hokies Pay

Virginia Tech has one of the nation's most talented cornerback tandems in Kendall Fuller and Brandon Facyson. The pair combined for 11 interceptions, 19 pass breakups and 30 passes defended in 2013, according to the school's official website.

With that talent in the secondary, defensive coordinator Bud Foster will freely load the box to stop the run and send a variety of exotic blitzes at Barrett. Fuller and Facyson will press Ohio State's receivers at the line of scrimmage to limit the easy plays, such as bubble screens or quick slants.

That's why Smith will be key this Saturday.

"This is going to be a lot of bump and run, man coverage," Meyer said of the Hokies defense, according to Tim May of The Columbus Dispatch. "There will have to be plays made down the field."

Will Smith be able to get behind Virginia Tech's defense? With Foster's defensive scheme, there will certainly be plenty of opportunities. It will come down to whether Ohio State's deep threat is strong enough to get past the bump at the line of scrimmage.

If Smith can't do that, it could be a rough night for the Buckeyes. 

 

Unless otherwise notes, all stats viaOhioStateBuckeyes.com. 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Notre Dame vs. Michigan: 5 Keys to an Irish Victory

Saturday evening, Notre Dame and Michigan will play the final scheduled game of a rivalry defined by contentious stops and starts.

What started with something as serious and vile as anti-Catholic blackballing by former Michigan athletic director Fielding Yost has turned into a rather petty "he said, he said" between athletic directors Dave Brandon and Jack Swarbrick.

Brandon claimed to be shocked when Swarbrick hand-delivered a letter on the sidelines before the 2012 game, declaring Notre Dame's decision to opt out of the automatic contract renewal.

While he won't talk about it publicly, fill Swarbrick with truth serum and his true feelings for Brandon would likely be revealed, unappreciative of the Brandon and head coach Brady Hoke's characterization of the Irish as "chickens"—something boldly broadcast to the 115,000 strong in Michigan Stadium last year.

But with the talking almost over and the football just a day away, the jousting now turns to the field, where several very important battles will determine whether Notre Dame or Michigan finishes this chapter of the rivalry victorious.

Let's take a look at five keys to an Irish victory.

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Texas Football: What the Longhorns Must Do to Stop BYU's Taysom Hill

Stopping Taysom Hill has been on the Longhorns' minds since the BYU quarterback shredded them for 259 rushing yards in last season's backbreaking 40-21 defeat.

Now that the offense will be down four starters, containing him and the rest of the BYU offense will be the only shot Texas has at avenging their humiliation on Saturday.

"Revenge, being amped up—I'm not into all of that," defensive coordinator Vance Bedford said at his Wednesday press conference. "I'll go back to years ago when I played here," the former Longhorn later added. "We walked on the field and we were supposed to win because we were The University of Texas and that's why we came here."

No matter the approach Bedford and the rest of Charlie Strong's staff takes, this is one of the three most important games of their entire season. And if they're going to win it, they will have to do it with their defense that the Cougars exposed a year ago.

David Ash is out indefinitely with a concussion, per multiple reports, forcing raw athlete Tyrone Swoopes to make his first start at quarterback. Making matters worse, the sophomore will be doing so behind an offensive line without its leader, Dom Espinosa (broken ankle), while starting tackles Desmond Harrison and Kennedy Estelle sit out for violating team rules.

With those four starters out, Texas' defense will have to buckle down on the unit that gashed it for the most rushing yards, first downs and offensive plays run in the program's history (per ESPN.com's Max Olson).

To do that, the Horns will have to slow down quarterback Hill, who rushed for 259 yards and three scores last time around, by keeping him inside, forcing him to make mistakes in the passing game and, quite simply, finishing tackles.

 

Keep Him Inside

Whether Texas wants to spy Hill on most downs or designate players to keep him from breaking runs to the outside, it has several options thanks to its unique personnel.

As SB Nation's Wescott Eberts points out, the goal with the 232-pound Hill should be to keep him contained between the tackles on runs. Furthermore, a member of the front seven needs to at least be slowing him down before he can bear down on any member of Texas' smaller secondary.

That means Texas is going to lean on athletic linebackers Demarco Cobbs and Jordan Hicks extensively in this game. Both have sideline-to-sideline ability along with the size to bring Hill down one-on-one. Watching Cobbs on his 28-yard interception return for a touchdown, don't be surprised to see him outright spying Hill throughout the night.

The other player that will have to step up here is junior defensive end Shiro Davis. The Cougars will test him so long as it means running away from Cedric Reed, so Davis must make good on his reputation as a run-stuffer to keep Hill in check.

 

Force Him into Mistakes as a Passer

If there is one obvious flaw in Hill's game, it's his accuracy as a passer and his knack for throwing it to the other team. By getting pressure in his face, the Horns can keep the pick party rolling.

Though he was sharp against Connecticut, which gave up 7.6 yards per attempt in 2013 (per cfbstats.com), there's no doubting that Hill is mistake-prone. He posted a 19-14 touchdown-to-interception ratio in 2013, throwing multiple picks in six games.

Reed will provide consistent pressure, but the entire defensive line is capable of getting hits on Hill. Malcom Brown had 12 tackles for loss last season, and third-year sophomore Hassan Ridgeway is coming off a career night as one of the team's most impressive physical talents.

Simply put, this group is far more talented than the Connecticut one that got one sack and two pressures on Hill a week ago. These guys will get into the backfield, and the back seven is licking its chops after a four-interception debut against North Texas.

 

Simply Finish Tackles

The biggest thing that Texas can do to stop Hill, and the rest of the BYU offense, should also be the simplest—finish tackles.

For each of the three touchdowns Hill ran in against Texas' "defense," there are at least three missed tackles due to some combination of bad angles and poor effort.

Bedford noticed this as well:

You know what, I've seen the game on television and I've seen the video numerous times, that's tough. I grew up in a wishbone era – Oklahoma, Alabama – and 300 yards rushing back in those days was something special. When you look at that, it's somewhat disappointing and shocking. If you look at the video, a few plays here and there and a guy makes a tackle or a guy does an assignment the right way, you can cut those numbers in half.

This inability to finish plays is a big reason why the last regime collapsed, and fixing it alleviates a massive portion of the team's defensive woes. The Horns have the size and the speed on paper but have lacked the results to match it.

Based on last week's performance in which they held North Texas under 100 yards of offense, the Longhorns look like they're finally ready to get guys on the ground. 

Considering that Strong has only given up 600 rushing yards to quarterbacks over the last 10 years (per Olson), that should be enough to keep Hill in check and give Texas a chance to slug out a victory.

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UTSA Punter Does 'Bernie' After Pinning Arizona at 3-Yard Line

Punters like to celebrate, too.

During the second quarter of Thursday night's game, UTSA punter Kristian Stern did the "Bernie" after pinning Arizona at its own 3-yard line. 

[Fox Sports 1]

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Ranking the 5 Most Important Seniors on the Nebraska Cornhuskers in 2014

Nebraska football fans know how important seniors are to the success of the Cornhuskers in 2014. Not only do seniors provide the leadership that sets the tone on the field and in the weight room, but seniors also tend to be the players who make the plays to win games.

So for Nebraska to be successful in 2014, NU’s seniors will have to shine. Here, in order of importance, are Nebraska’s five most critical seniors.

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BYU Football: Without Utah Game, Texas Poses as 2014 Rivalry

For the past 90-plus years, BYU and Utah have built one of the most heated rivalries in college football. The "Holy War" has been an annual meeting between the two, and with the game taking a break until 2016, neither team has a true rivalry contest on its schedule.

Luckily for the Cougars, Texas took last year's 40-21 loss in Provo personally.

BYU ran all over the Longhorn defense last September, and although now-UT coach Charlie Strong was still at Louisville, he's seen the tape (over and over) and won't let it happen again.

“That’s all we hear about is BYU,” defensive end Cedric Reed said, via Jeff Call of the Deseret News. “We’ve got BYU marked on our calendars.”

In a way, this will be the Cougars' rivalry game for 2014. Of course, they have Utah State on the schedule, but the Aggies have always filled the "little brother" role for BYU. And, despite a big game in Boise coming up, the Broncos are on the decline, and it may not be much of a game.

It's usually great to have a big-named, power-five team preparing for you like you are its rival. You want teams to treat you like you have the upper hand.

But at the same time, coach Bronco Mendenhall has struggled with preparing his teams for heated rivalry games. Considering he has gone 0-4 in the last four years against Utah, and 6-3 all-time, it is no shock to see him try to downplay the significance of Saturday's game.

“That will be the story all week, of what happened last year,” Mendenhall said, via Call. “But, man, I don’t think from a coach’s perspective that will impact the outcome of the game at all. … Ultimately, we still have to get prepared to play a football game.”

So prepare you shall. Especially when Strong has "Believe You're Unbeatable" signs in the UT locker room and some Texas fans are rewriting the Bible:

In all seriousness, Strong and his team are preparing for this game like none other. They don't consider losing as an option. Unless Mendenhall does the same, it will be very, very hard to leave Austin with a win on Saturday night. 

"Now [the Longhorns] look at us and they know we're not the underdogs no more," Cougar running back Jamaal Williams said, via ABC 4 Sports. "They know they've got to play us like we're a big team and we are a big team so it's going to be a great game."

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Virginia Tech Football: Report Card Grades for Every New Starter

In last week's season-opening win over William & Mary, several Virginia Tech Hokies made their college debuts. Freshmen accounted for three of Virginia Tech's four touchdowns, while another freshman handled all of the kicking duties.

In addition to the freshman class, Tech debuted a new quarterback, too. Michael Brewer, a transfer from Texas Tech, made his first start for the Hokies.

How'd they do?

Here are grades for all of VT's new starters from Week 1. 

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Stanford vs. USC: Impact Players Who Are Key to Outcome

Over the course of the last few years, the Pac-12 conference has become one of the strongest in all of college football. This Saturday, Stanford will take on USC with major conference and playoff implications.

Although it’s tough to predict the future, it will be extremely difficult to reach the College Football Playoff as a team with two losses. That means this conference battle between the Cardinal and the Trojans is more important than ever, with plenty of difficult games remaining on each team’s schedule.

Both programs have matchups against Arizona State, Notre Dame and UCLA remaining, while Stanford also takes a trip to Oregon in November. If either squad has intentions of reaching the playoff, then this game is a must-win.

Like any other conference game, the outcome is sure to be tight. This typically means a few plays and a couple of impact players will decide the game. Let’s break the game down and examine the players who will influence its result the most.

 

USC Quarterback Cody Kessler

Kessler is the most important player for this Trojan team. The quarterback was incredible in the team’s opening game against Fresno State.

The junior completed 25 of 37 passes for 394 yards and four touchdowns by using 10 different receivers. He also added 28 rushing yards and another score on the ground.

Head coach Steve Sarkisian’s uptempo offense worked wonders in his first game. The team ran 104 plays and gained a ridiculous 701 total yards.

Kessler will again be vital in USC’s efforts to take down Stanford. The Cardinal defense is much better than that of Fresno State’s, so the quarterback will have to remain patient and pick his spots.

Although they will probably try to run 100 plays again, the key for Kessler is to avoid turnovers and make smart plays. If the Trojans give Stanford more opportunities and good field position, then I don’t like their odds.

 

Stanford Wide Receiver Ty Montgomery

Like Kessler, Stanford wideout and all-around playmaker Ty Montgomery will be the driving force of the Cardinal attack.

In the season opener, Montgomery caught five passes for 77 yards and a score. The elusive receiver also returned his first career punt for a touchdown and put to bed all questions about his surgically repaired shoulder.

Montgomery is an amazing weapon to have and will be crucial in the game this weekend. The 6’2”, 215-pound senior is a defensive nightmare because of his versatility. In the victory over UC Davis, Montgomery lined up at several different positions, including quarterback.

With USC’s best secondary player no longer available, Montgomery should be licking his chops. He knows the Trojans must be scheming to defend him, so we’ll see how both sides react.

 

USC Cornerback Kevon Seymour

The man whose task it will be to slow down Montgomery is USC corner Kevon Seymour. After star corner Josh Shaw got injured and suspended, Seymour became the leader at the position.

Seymour will be huge in this game defensively because of how potent Montgomery is with the football. The receiver was held to only four grabs and 23 yards in 2013, but that was with Shaw handling the duties.

If Seymour can’t handle the playmaker, then USC could be in trouble. They have several athletic corners on the roster, but none of them have a lot of experience outside of Seymour.

 

Stanford Quarterback Kevin Hogan

Although head coach David Shaw won’t be asking his quarterback to do what Kessler will, Kevin Hogan is still a major component of this game. In Stanford’s first game, he was a very efficient, going 12-of-16 for 204 yards and three touchdowns. He did, however, throw an interception.

Turnovers are exactly what Hogan will be looking to avoid against the Trojans. His job will be to simply manage the game, take care of the ball and get it to his playmakers.

With the strength of Stanford’s defense and the athletes on the offensive side, Hogan will be fine if he just avoids mistakes. If they can pound the ball, maintain possession and score a few touchdowns, then the Cardinal should be in great shape to win the game.

Look for the USC defense to creep up and force Hogan to beat it deep. The USC defense knows what Stanford wants to do on offense and will try to combat that with eight-man fronts. If Hogan can complete a few balls early, it could open up the field for the rest of the game.

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Jameis Winston Subject of Florida State Investigation into 2012 Incident

Florida State University has opened a formal disciplinary investigation of quarterback Jameis Winston, stemming from a 2012 incident in which he allegedly sexually assaulted another student.

Walt Bogdanich of The New York Times reported Thursday that school officials interviewed the woman in August to ascertain her side of the incident, which she reported to authorities nearly two years ago. 

“We thought it went very well,” the victim's attorney, John Clune, told the Times. “The school seemed to take it very seriously.”   

Winston, who won the 2013 Heisman Trophy and led the Seminoles to a BCS national championship as a freshman, is alleged to have sexually assaulted the woman on Dec. 7, 2012. While police were notified of the incident shortly thereafter, nearly an entire year passed before the Tallahassee Police Department opened a formal investigation.

Winston's family advisor David Cornwell was quick to fire back with a statement via John Taylor of CollegeFootballTalk:

The real story here is that after her Colorado attorneys created a media frenzy alleging that Florida State University failed to comply with its Title IX obligations, Ms. (name redacted) had to come clean and admit that she previously refused to cooperate with the university’s Title IX inquiry.

Now that she has finally done her Title IX interview, this is the fourth time Ms. (name redacted) has told her story.  We anticipate the same conclusion that followed her previous three statements to the Tallahassee Police Department, Florida State Attorney’s Office and in the FSU Code of Student Conduct hearing.  Jameis Winston did not sexually assault Ms. (name redacted).

While police later found there was not enough evidence for an indictment, the investigation was fraught with inconsistencies and public disapproval. At the center of the criticism was state attorney Willie Meggs, whose laid-back demeanor rubbed many the wrong way. Meggs joked with reporters and seemed downright jovial at times, leading one female reporter to exclaim "come on" in disgust, which was picked up by the boom mics for the television broadcast.

That led to increased questions about how seriously investigators took the claims, which were exacerbated by the case's curious timeline. Meggs later distanced himself from the investigation in an April interview with Bogdanich, criticizing police for failing to identify possible witnesses and multiple other errors that made Winston impossible to indict. 

“They just missed all the basic fundamental stuff that you are supposed to do,” Meggs said.

Winston, though staying largely silent on the matter, has maintained his innocence. He has retained two attorneys, first Tim Jansen and more recently the high-powered David Cornwell, who have primarily handled public comments.

"He's absolutely innocent, and I'm glad and pleased that Willie did a full investigation and found the same thing we did," Jansen told reporters last December, via ESPN.com's Mark Schlabach. "There's no evidence. He could not go forward with any charges."

Cornwell told Bogdanich he expects the university report to yield the same result. Florida State opened its case under the Title IX law, which forces schools to self-investigate allegations of sexual assault regardless of whether criminal charges are filed. According to Schlabach and Jared Shanker of ESPN.com, the law requires a "preponderance of evidence" for Winston to face any discipline.

"There are some good people who want to do the right thing on one side of campus, then you have one of the most powerful athletic departments in the country on the other side of the campus with the No. 1 football team in the nation," Clune told Bogdanich. "I think we will find out pretty quickly how that struggle will shake out.”

Winston will continue to be eligible to play football while the investigation is ongoing. The sophomore threw for 370 yards and had two total touchdowns in the Seminoles' 37-31 season-opening win over Oklahoma State last Saturday. He came into the 2014 season considered the favorite to become just the second player in history to win two Heisman Trophies.

Florida State is the No. 1 team in the country in both the USA Today and Associated Press polls. The Seminoles host Citadel on Saturday as they attempt to win their 18th consecutive game.

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter

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South Bend Changes Name of Michigan Street for Upcoming Fighting Irish Game

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish will play the Michigan Wolverines at home Saturday, and the city of South Bend has prepared by renaming one of its streets.

Michigan Street in South Bend will be temporarily changed to Fighting Irish Drive for this weekend. The Irish did the same thing when the Wolverines came to town two years ago and ended up winning, 13-6, so they're hoping that it works again this year.

[WNDU.com]

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Ohio State vs. Virginia Tech: How Will J.T. Barrett Perform vs. Hokies Defense

The Virginia Tech Hokies travel to Columbus to take on the Ohio State Buckeyes this weekend. Bleacher Report's College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Barrett Sallee discuss the biggest topics heading into this matchup. Who do you think will win this battle?

Watch the video and let us know!

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Nebraska Football: Meet WR Jordan Westerkamp, the Huskers' New X-Factor

Chances are you've heard about Jordan Westerkamp by now. If not, you've at least heard about the Hail Mary that defeated Northwestern in 2013.

If you still weren't completely familiar with Westerkamp after that, the sophomore wide receiver made himself even harder to ignore after Nebraska's matchup with Florida Atlantic.

Against the Owls, Westerkamp had seven receptions for 125 yards and one touchdown, per ESPN.com. While impressive, it wasn't just Westerkamp's statistics that had heads turning. Instead, it was a single behind-the-back catch.

"It was a crazy play. I ran a corner route, and I saw the ball get tipped, so I put my hands back, and the ball just landed perfectly," Westerkamp said.

That catch did more than just remind people of who he is. It also made it clear that he's Nebraska's newest X-factor.

Before the season began, it was easy to assume the receiving corps would need help after seniors Kenny Bell and Jamal Turner graduate. JUCO players looked to be the best bet to fill any necessary holes. While those players may still be needed for extra depth, Westerkamp is proving that he's ready to take over as the leader of this group.

His attitude is proof of that. When asked which catch was his favorite, the Hail Mary or the behind-the-back, Westerkamp was quick to switch the conversation back to his team.

"I try to not look too much into that stuff," he said. "It was a great team win today. We came out and played well. I just want to contribute as much as possible to the team for our success."

As for Bo Pelini's reaction? He was clear that while it was something new for him, it's to be expected for someone like Westerkamp.

"I've coached a lot of football, but I've never seen that one," Pelini said. "I don't think I've ever seen that. That one's hard to explain. To even have the wherewithall to put your hands back there, it's amazing. I've always said he catches everything that's near him. He showed that right there."

The future definitely looks bright for Westerkamp. In 2013, he had 20 receptions for 283 yards and one touchdown, per ESPN.com. One year later, the sophomore is well on his way to surpassing those numbers.

A major benefit is his friendship with quarterback Tommy Armstrong. While Westerkamp shines on his own, the relationship he has with Armstrong is nothing but a big benefit to his potential as a receiver.

"The kid is my best friend, so we have that chemistry," Westerkamp said. "As the receiver I've obviously got a lot of passes from him. I take a lot of pride because he is my best friend and I never want to let that guy down, so I go out there and play hard for him."

That news has to be good for both coaches and fans. When Bell and Turner leave, the experience and age they take with them will be a loss. However, Westerkamp is proving he has what it takes to step up as the leader the Huskers need.

And from the sound of it, another memorable moment for Westerkamp is only a catch away.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand at Nebraska's postgame press conference on Aug. 30.

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