NCAA Football

Florida State Football: Players Who Must Step Up in Place of Injured 'Noles

Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher uses the concept of "next man up." He wants the second- and third-team players to prepare in practice each week as if they are needed on Saturdays.

The Seminoles made a run to the national championship in 2013 without losing a starter for a significant amount of time. But injuries have already tested FSU, which has lost defensive tackle Nile Lawrence-Stample (torn pectoral muscle) for the season and will now be without center Austin Barron (arm) for an indefinite amount of time. Tailback Karlos Williams (ankle) is also out.

"You're always concerned but as a coach you plan for them," Fisher said. "You train well and heal and you play good ball and you hope and pray those things don't happen. That's just ball, you get a bunch of big bodies falling around out there and that happened."

Fisher knows FSU will be without Barron on Saturday when the No. 1 Seminoles (5-0, 3-0 ACC) play at Syracuse (2-3, 0-1). Leading receiver Rashad Greene (concussion) returned to practice on a limited basis Wednesday, and Fisher said Thursday night that Greene is "good to go" pending a final clearance from doctors.

The Seminoles will turn to redshirt freshman Ryan Hoefeld at center. At tailback, sophomore Mario Pender will likely start and true freshman Dalvin Cook will get more carries. If Greene is unable to play, FSU will likely start Jesus "Bobo" Wilson alongside Christian Green, while adding in players like Kermit Whitfield and Travis Rudolph in three- and four-receiver sets.

"The thing I'm encouraged with is the depth we have and you see us practice like we do," Fisher said.

Here's a look at three players who must step up and fill the gaps:

 

Ryan Hoefeld rushed into action

When Barron was sidelined by a fractured arm in the first quarter of the 43-3 win over Wake Forest last Saturday, Hoefeld quickly took a few snaps with quarterback Jameis Winston and went in the game. With the exception of a few high snaps, Fisher said that Hoefeld played well.

"I thought Ryan Hoefeld did an outstanding job of coming in and, after the first couple of plays, getting his feet on the ground," Fisher said.

Now Hoefeld is preparing for his first college start on the road in a loud dome at Syracuse. And it will be against an Orange defense that loves to blitz, putting added pressure on Hoefeld to snap and get his hands up and into position to block.

Hoefeld is in just his second year at center. He was a right tackle at Brother Martin in Kenner, Louisiana, but he knew center would be his spot at FSU after he impressed offensive line coach Rick Trickett during one of Fisher's summer camps.

"He threw me in at center in some of the one-on-one stuff," Hoefeld said. "And (Trickett) said, 'I like you at center.' I kind of just went with it."

Hoefeld had never snapped before, something that he worked on repeatedly in practice drills. And he said he had to learn to "step and snap at the same time." While taking a redshirt in 2013, he was able to learn from Bryan Stork, who won the Rimington Award as the nation's best center, as well as Barron.

"Stork was a big help," Hoefeld said. "I still talk to him a lot now. He's still throwing me feedback."

 

FSU Has Found No. 2 Receiver in Wilson

With the graduation of Kenny Shaw and the early departure of Kelvin Benjamin to the NFL, one of the priorities over the offseason was developing the inexperienced but talented receiving corps.

Wilson was certainly in the mix to either start or play in three-receiver sets, but his June arrest on allegations that he stole a motor scooter on campus led to an indefinite suspension (he later reached a plea deal on two misdemeanor charges). Fisher allowed Wilson to travel to the season opener against Oklahoma State at Arlington, Texas, but made sure that the sophomore would only be standing and watching.

The one-game suspension was a wake-up call for Wilson.

"I think that really got to him and he understood that because we saw him wanting to get in there with those guys," Fisher said. "Bobo is a great young man. He just made a mistake and he has to learn from it and hopefully will."

Despite missing a game, Wilson is second on the team in receptions (17) and receiving yards (240 yards) and is tied with Greene for the team lead with three touchdown receptions. 

If Greene plays against Syracuse, expect to still see plenty of Wilson. But if Greene is held out, expect Winston to look toward Wilson frequently.

"I see him evolving as a young man, as a player, just learning all the details," Greene said. "He's understanding it. It's not hard to go out and get better at something, it's just the discipline part. Can you do it continuously, can you do it every day? He's doing a good job of doing it every day."

 

Pender Making Most of Chances

After spending two years on campus without being able to play, losing the 2012 season due to a sports hernia injury and the 2013 season to academics, Pender was ready to fight for playing time and show off his speed.

Pender missed the N.C. State game with a concussion but leads the team in yards per carry (6.7). He's also been trusted on the goal line, scoring all three of his touchdowns from three yards or closer.

Williams talked to Pender earlier this week about being ready to take on more of the workload. He's had just 23 carries in four games, but Pender is set to receive more carries on Saturday.

"He said, 'You might be the man this week, so I'm going to need you to go,'" Pender said. "So I looked at him and told him, 'I got you. Like always. We've got each others back no matter what happens.'"

FSU's running game has struggled in 2014, but the Seminoles have been better the last two games. The Seminoles ran for 166 yards at N.C. State, accumulating most of that total in the second half. And FSU had 171 rushing yards last week in the win over Wake.

Pender had his best rushing day of the season against the Demon Deacons, breaking loose on a 56-yard run and scoring on a three-yard carry in the third quarter. He's learning to be more patient and is also benefitting from improved play from the offensive line.

"I'm making the right reads and being more patient instead of trying to make a play happen," Pender said. "Letting it come to you and letting it develop like that."

Like all the players, Pender said he hates to get more playing time because of injuries to teammates. But he knows it's his responsibility to step in and perform, while also helping to continue the team's pursuit of an ACC title and a national championship.

"Jimbo always talks about how much great depth we actually have, and we do have a ton of players that can play at each position," Pender said. "We try to work with what we've got and make it happen."

 

Bob Ferrante is the Florida State Lead Writer for Bleacher Report, all quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bob on Twitter. Stats are courtesy of seminoles.com. All recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.

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Teams Most Likely to Pursue Lane Kiffin for Head Coaching Job

As we hurtle toward the midpoint of the 2014 college football season, we’re coming up on the sweet spot of another intriguing season: the hot-seat season.

With just under two months left in the season, athletic directors across America are doing the math on contract buyouts and diving into their iPhone contacts and Rolodexes to gauge what might happen if they fire a coach. SB Nation's Adam Jacobi says a number of coaches are already on the hot seat. 

Two programs have already joined the hunt: SMU’s June Jones resigned following a disastrous start, and Kansas canned Charlie Weis following two-plus unspectacular seasons. By late December, many more will have joined their ranks, looking for the candidate who’ll elevate their program among the college football elite.

One of the most intriguing potential candidates? Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin. Following his public flameout at Southern California, the controversial Kiffin has begun rehabbing his image as Nick Saban’s offensive play-caller.

Although last week’s 23-17 loss at Ole Miss was a setback, the Crimson Tide’s offense has been impressively balanced with a solid downfield passing element. Alabama averages 314.2 passing yards per game (No. 24 nationally) and 240.4 rushing yards per game (No. 22 nationally).

If Alabama continues on this trajectory, Kiffin will receive some interest in his services this winter. If he’s interested in leaving Tuscaloosa after one season, here are some programs who’ll be interested in his services.

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Notre Dame Football: Reassessing North Carolina as a Trap Game

Back in the dog days of summer, I discussed possible trap games on Notre Dame’s 2014 schedule. There were multiple options that met most of the criteria, but nearly every sign pointed to Saturday’s home game with North Carolina (3:30 p.m. ET, NBC) as a game where the Irish could get caught in a lack of focus.

Last week’s opponent, Stanford, was expected to physically test the Irish. It did.

Next week’s opponent, Florida State, was expected to be undefeated and ranked No. 1. It is.

So yes, the Fighting Irish are vulnerable Saturday afternoon. Of course, there are two sides to every story. Is North Carolina (2-3, 0-2 ACC) good enough to push Notre Dame in South Bend?

For a preseason Top 25 team, North Carolina has severely underachieved in the first half of the season. The Tar Heels won their first two games but were taken to the wire by San Diego State, an average Mountain West team. They’ve been non-competitive in their three defeats, losing by an average of 20 points to East Carolina, Clemson and Virginia Tech.

Their uptempo spread offense, for which head coach Larry Fedora was hired three years ago, has been highly inconsistent. A fast, athletic defense has been shredded for 50 points twice in the past three weeks.

Fedora can’t decide on a quarterback, as junior Marquise Williams and freshman Mitch Trubisky are again expected to both see the field this week. They've combined for 11 touchdowns and seven interceptions while completing just 59 percent of their pass attempts.

But, we were saying similar things about the Tar Heels last year, when they were sitting at 1-5. By season’s end, they had won six of seven games and routed Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl. They could’ve called it a season in mid-October, but they battled back and finished respectably.

As I explained before the Purdue-Notre Dame game, when the Irish were four-touchdown favorites after defeating Michigan but trailed late in the first half, we’ve seen this time and time again with Brian Kelly’s teams. A big win leads to a slow start the following week, regardless of opponent.

It’s a habit that, while not unique to Notre Dame, the Irish have struggled to kick. Any coach will tell you that he can’t get the identical level of effort out of his team for 12 straight games. Unlike most teams, however, Notre Dame rarely plays a team that is simply overmatched from the start.

That’s one of many challenges that Kelly has taken on at Notre Dame that he could avoid elsewhere. He’s been able to navigate those waters in terms of end result, but not without some significant scares (see 2012 BYU and Pittsburgh).

Despite a 17-point spread, North Carolina is capable of competing and perhaps even winning in South Bend. It probably won’t happen, but a quick study of both history and human psychology will tell you that the Irish will likely find themselves in a battle for much of Saturday’s game.

Notre Dame could render its magical escape against Stanford insignificant with a poor performance a week later, and it would certainly take much of the luster off of next week’s trip to Tallahassee.

But that’s the challenge in a sport that doesn’t allow for an off game, especially at Notre Dame. Don’t be fooled by North Carolina’s play leading up to Saturday. An Irish team with even the slightest absence of focus could find itself unexpectedly needing a second straight week of Notre Dame Stadium magic.

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College Football Picks Week 7: Odds and Spread Predictions for Top 25 Teams

After a chaotic Week 6 turned the world of college football upside down, Week 7 might just provide an encore. 

A number of high-profile matchups line the docket, and while this is great for fans, the same cannot be said for bettors who want to make some coin while enjoying the games. In the SEC alone, tough calls in the form of several SEC West bouts and an encounter between the top two teams in the East make for a crop of lines best resembling a minefield.

Again, that is just in the SEC. For fans brave enough to wager money on the outcomes, at least do so armed with knowledge. Below is a look at the full slate with a few highlights after the jump.

 

Week 7 Top 25 Schedule Projections

Note: All odds, updated as of 8 p.m. ET on Oct. 9, are courtesy of Odds Shark. 

 

Upset Pick of the Week: No. 10 Arizona (+3) over USC

This sounds like a favorite, right?

  • The home team.
  • Undefeated.
  • Went to Eugene and took down Marcus Mariota and the Oregon Ducks a week ago.
  • Is the No. 10 team in the nation.

Well, that would be the No. 10 Arizona Wildcats, the underdog at home in a matchup this weekend against the 3-2 USC Trojans.

Alright then.

Arizona averages 39.8 points per game, good for the No. 21 overall rank, behind the arm of freshman quarterback Anu Solomon (1,741 yards and 14 touchdowns to four interceptions) and the legs of freshman tailback Nick Wilson (574 yards and six scores).

The mastermind who brings it all together, though, is head coach Rich Rodriguez, a pioneer of the quick-twitch, spread-them-out attacks.

Rodriguez's offense specializes in big plays, while USC's defense specializes in surrendering them. 

Really, revealing that the Trojans just lost to unranked Arizona State and backup quarterback Mike Bercovici—who threw for an eye-popping 510 yards and five scores—on a 46-yard Hail Mary attempt at the end of regulation would be enough.

But take it a step further. In that game alone, the Trojans defense also allowed plays of 21, 77 and 73 yards.

"You learn the hard way in games like this," coach Steve Sarkisian said, per STATS LLC, via ESPN.com. "I feel bad for our kids, I thought they fought hard, competed well and gave amazing effort. But we didn't get it done in the end."

USC can be perceived as dangerous with a potential .500 mark all but ruining the season, but at the same time, the Wildcats have been the definition of dangerous all year long. The defense will do just enough while the offense hits on a few key plays in front of a friendly crowd to pull off the "upset."

Prediction: Arizona 28, USC 24

 

Spread to Avoid: No. 7 Alabama (-9) vs. Arkansas 

Something has to give when the No. 7 Alabama Crimson Tide travels to Fayetteville for a showdown with the surging Arkansas Razorbacks.

College GameDay sums up the war of attrition nicely:

Alabama is reeling after an upset at the hands of then-ranked No. 11 Ole Miss last week, where quarterback Blake Sims finally had a letdown performance with just 228 yards and one interception.

Really, that has been the main cause for concern for the Crimson Tide since the season even began, and while Arkansas does not exactly tout an elite defense, the Razorbacks do have a stable of backs that is unmatched in depth.

The No. 7 rushing offense in the land (316.6 yards per game) and No. 7 scoring offense (44.6) is spearheaded by no one back in particular:

It is easy to see, then, why bettors may want to steer clear of this one.

While Alabama is the better team on paper, the same could have been said last week against Ole Miss before quarterback Bo Wallace tossed three touchdowns. Brandon Allen (751 yards, nine touchdowns, one interception) is no slouch under center for the Razorbacks, either, should coach Bret Bielema call his number frequently Saturday. 

In the end, Nick Saban's team will likely overpower the not-quite-there-yet Razorbacks, but a spread of more than a touchdown does a disservice to the renaissance in Fayetteville. Truthfully, this one could swing either way.

Prediction: Alabama 35, Arkansas 27

 

Stats and information via ESPN.com unless otherwise specified. AP poll via The Associated Press.

 

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