Head Coach Brady Hoke isn’t concerned about fans panicking after two near-losses to inferior teams.
“I don’t really worry about it,” said Hoke during his weekly press conference. “We have great fans; they are entitled to their opinions.”
The Wolverines are 4-0 entering their bye week and looking forward to the start of Big Ten play against Minnesota at the Michigan Stadium.
Two weeks ago, few would have expected the Wolverines to struggle against Akron and UConn, two teams with only a single victory between them.
The Wolverines face numerous questions on offense, and the bye week is the perfect opportunity to work on aspects of the game without needing to implement a game plan until the following week.
Hoke has said the team is getting back to basics and evaluating players position by position. Part of this evaluation needs to be on special teams, which have been exacerbated by problems on offense.
Catch the ball
Kick returner Dennis Norfleet has shown spark returning kicks. But, he has also bobbled some and nearly turned the ball over a few times. Drew Dileo has shown sure hands but doesn’t have the explosive burst of Norfleet.
Norfleet remains the best option here, but he needs to catch the ball without drama. Long returns are great, but if he starts turning the ball over, Dileo might need to be the primary option.
Punter Matt Wile is averaging 36.5 yards a punt and hasn’t averaged enough punts per game (more about that later) to be listed in the official NCAA punting statistics.
But if he did have enough punts, he’d be ranked No. 82 in the country.
The poor blocking up front has also added to the problems as Wile is being rushed to get rid of the ball.
With the Wolverines ranked No. 102 nationally in net punting, it may be time to give Kenny Allen a shot.
Why mention Devin Gardner in a discussion about special teams?
Because he's the main reason Wile doesn’t have more punts.
Fans may cringe at the statement that a punt is a great offensive play, but compared to Gardner’s mistakes this season (eight interceptions and two fumbles), it’s a preferable option.
Drastic improvements, and perhaps some personnel changes, are needed for the Wolverines to regain the mojo they had after beating Notre Dame.
They are still 4-0, but with numerous problems on offense, special teams might be the key to remaining unbeaten as they sort things out.
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
After a less-than-stellar performance against Colorado State last week, the Alabama Crimson Tide will host the Ole Miss Rebels in their SEC home opener on Saturday.
The Rebels have proven to be a dangerous team offensively in their first three games and will face an Alabama defense that has looked suspect at times.
Can the Crimson Tide put it all together this week and get their national title hopes back on track? Or will Ole Miss send shock waves through the SEC and the rest of the country?
Here's everything you need to know:
Time: 5:30 p.m. CT
Place: Bryant-Denny Stadium, Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Radio: Crimson Tide Sports Network, Ole Miss Network
Spread: Alabama by 16 points, according to Vegas Insider
The Alabama Crimson Tide have been historically known for having some of the best defenses in college football. Back in the late 1980s, linebacker Derrick Thomas was the star in Tuscaloosa.
From 1985-88, Thomas was one of the most dominant defensive players in all of college football. When he left Alabama for the 1989 NFL draft, where he was selected fourth overall by the Kansas City Chiefs, he had racked up 52 career sacks, including 27 his senior season. Both of those marks are still NCAA records.
Twenty-seven sacks in one season. Think about that. The NCAA didn't officially record sacks until 2000. Since then, Terrell Suggs has the most single-season and career sacks with 24 and 44 respectively. Neither of those numbers come that close to Thomas' marks.
Thomas was also the 1988 Dick Butkus Award winner as well as a unanimous All-American.
And he's not in the College Football Hall of Fame.
Rob Gill, the co-producer of A Football Life: Derrick Thomas, which debuted on Tuesday on the NFL Network, said in a report by Duane Rankin of the Montgomery Advertiser that he couldn't hardly believe Thomas wasn't in the CFB Hall of Fame.
“That seems like a glaring omission,” Gill said. “Twenty-seven sacks? If that was the only thing he ever did on the football field. You would think that would merit serious consideration.”
It's no secret that Thomas was one of the best linebackers in NFL history. He was a nine-time Pro Bowler, he ranks 12th all-time in sacks with 126.5 despite playing fewer seasons than all but one player in the top 20 of that same list. He also holds the single-game record for sacks with seven.
Thomas was also the 1989 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, the 1993 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year and a 2009 inductee into the Pro Football Hall of Fame prior to his death in 2000 from a pulmonary embolism just 17 days after a car crash that left him paralyzed.
With Thomas' accomplishments professionally being so vast, that could be a reason why his college career has been overlooked.
But for D.T. to be overlooked by the voting members of the College Football Hall of Fame is just wrong at this point.
Thomas was most recently denied by the hall for the third straight year this past May.
But on Tuesday, with the airing of the NFL Network's documentary on Thomas, his name began making rounds. "Derrick Thomas" trended nationally on Twitter as highlight reels and interviews about one of the SEC's greatest linebackers of all time played.
One of the hottest topics of discussion on Twitter about Thomas was his lack of induction into the College Football Hall of Fame. The case for him seems to be worthy of entry, without a doubt.
Let's put some of Thomas' career numbers into perspective.
Thomas' 27 sacks his senior season were just one-half less than what Jadeveon Clowney and Jarvis Jones had combined last season.
It's almost unimaginable to think that both Jones and Clowney won't someday enter the CFB Hall of Fame. And Thomas nearly outdid them both in one season.
Thomas also holds Alabama school records for blocked kicks in a career (5), tackles for loss in a career (68) and forced fumbles in a career (10).
Ultimately, Thomas was one of the best linebackers that not just Alabama or the SEC, but all of college football has ever witnessed. The NFL Network put his career on display with its documentary on Tuesday night, which showed that for over a decade he did nothing but strike fear in the hearts of quarterbacks.
It's time to put him in the College Football Hall of Fame.
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
A new show unveils itself each Saturday when Michigan takes the field—up and down, back and forth, Team 134 has yet to find consistency this fall.
Ranked No. 18 by the Associated Press, the Wolverines (4-0) have this weekend to regroup and refresh after a humbling, 24-21 victory in Week 4 over UConn. Turnovers, mistakes and communication errors contributed to a second straight close call for coach Brady Hoke, whose team hosts Minnesota on Oct. 5 during its Big Ten opener at The Big House.
Michigan set a benchmark when it clipped the Irish 41-30 in Week 2, proving that when all the parts move together, Team 134 is capable of hanging with high-profile opponents. Nonetheless, Hoke's team has played well enough to earn a C- for September, although its ceiling is much higher.
This slideshow will also hand out individual marks for key starters and other key contributors. From Devin Gardner to Brendan Gibbons, it's report card time for the Maize and Blue.
Who would have thought that just four weeks into this college football season and we would already be seeing prospects entering first-round discussion in the 2014 NFL draft, despite being only first-year eligible players?
Wisconsin Badgers running back Melvin Gordon is one of them, and for good reason.
Gordon has displayed speed, vision, balance, power and patience on his way to leading the NCAA in rushing yards this season with 624 yards on a mere 53 carries. And the crazy part is, he's not the only redshirt sophomore making noise.
Plenty of other young players are making their cases too. Seeing how well Giovanni Bernard has adapted to life in the NFL should make Gordon and other underclassmen consider making a similar jump early next year.
Nonetheless, getting past just the first-year eligible players—and Gordon in particular—which other college athletes are making similar cases for their right to be first-round NFL selections?
The season is young, but here are three players generating plenty of buzz early for the next NFL draft.
Kyle Berger is a 4-star linebacker prospect who committed to Ohio State in April. He is one of the top players in the Buckeyes' class, as his skills and potential are impressive.
The Ohio native is a solid player, and with head coach Urban Meyer looking to build a stingy defense, Berger fits right in. He has an interesting skill set, good size and solid work ethic.
Ohio State is excited for his arrival, but before that happens, Berger warrants a closer look.
It's only Week 5, but this is arguably the biggest game on the schedule, not only for No. 4 Ohio State and No. 23 Wisconsin, but for the entire Big Ten as well.
While the implications have been downplayed by both teams' head coaches, there are high stakes on the line. The winner essentially jumps out to a two-game advantage in the Big Ten Leaders Division, going one-up in the loss column and owning the tiebreaker for the division crown.
There's obviously a long way to go in Big Ten conference play, so such an important matchup this early in the season is almost a travesty. But it also means both teams may have time to recover from a defeat with seven games remaining on their schedules.
The Badgers (3-1) have actually already begun conference play, defeating Purdue, 41-10, in Madison, Wisc. The Buckeyes (4-0) finished off non-conference play with the 76-point slaughtering of Florida A&M.
Recent history in this rivalry has not been kind to the Badgers. Ever since Wisconsin knocked off No. 1 Ohio State in 2010, it has lost two hotly contested games to the Buckeyes—one on a Hail Mary pass in Columbus, Ohio, in 2011, and the other in overtime at Camp Randall last season.
Ohio State is postseason-eligible, so the Badgers will be hard-pressed to get away with a loss this time around.
We break down the players to watch, keys to victory and offer a prediction for the showdown at The Shoe.
Day, Time: Saturday at 7 p.m. CT
Place: Ohio Stadium, Columbus, Ohio
Spread: Ohio State -7 (via Bovada.lv)
For more than a quarter of a century, Florida has had the upper hand on Kentucky in their college football rivalry.
Although the Gators come into Lexington, Ky., with a 26-game winning streak against the Wildcats, both teams enter the 64th game of their series under new leadership.
Kentucky is in its first season under new head coach Mark Stoops. Stoops' run as the defensive coordinator at Florida State from 2010-12 has familiarized him quite well with the Gators.
Kentucky opens its SEC season against No. 20 Florida on Saturday and is 1-2 on the season. The Wildcats are coming off a bye week after a 27-13 loss to the top-10 Louisville Cardinals.
Florida entered the 2013 season by coming off its own loss to Louisville, stemming from January's 33-23 Sugar Bowl setback. The Gators sit at 2-1 after opening conference play with a sloppy win against Tennessee at home last weekend.
The victory signaled the end of quarterback Jeff Driskel's season, as Driskel broke his leg to turn the starting reins over to redshirt backup Tyler Murphy. While Murphy rose to the occasion, this weekend's night game against the Wildcats will mark his first college start at quarterback.
When: Saturday, Sept. 28; 7 p.m. ET
Where: Commonwealth Stadium, Lexington, Ky.
Radio: Sirius 94, XM 200
Spread: Florida (-13); via TeamRankings.com
The AP Top 25 Poll is one of the most influential ranking formats in college football. Being ranked is always a good thing, but if a team wants to stay ranked in future seasons, it needs to bring in a great recruiting class.
Some Top 25 teams are acing the recruiting test for 2014, while other programs may want to repeat the course. With October rapidly approaching, many recruiting classes have taken shape, so it's time for a recruiting progress report.
The No. 1 team in the country is on track to pass "Recruiting 101" with flying colors, but the No. 2 team needs a tutor. Also, several programs in the Top 25 are doing the work to earn high grades.
With seven touchdown receptions, Oregon State's Brandin Cooks leads the nation. With 208.5 yards receiving per game, Colorado's Paul Richardson leads the nation. Saturday's matchup of the Buffaloes and Beavers may fly under the national radar, but the two star wide receivers should light it up.
Both can wreak havoc on opposing defenses, particularly for those unprepared to address their individual skill sets.
Practicing against a similar playmaker every day isn't the worst preparation for Saturday's Pac-12 clash.
"It's always good to practice against Paul," Colorado head coach Mike MacIntyre said on Tuesday's coaches' teleconference call. "We go against each other at the speed of the game...in passing situations."
MacIntyre compared Richardson's quickness to that of Cooks, a facet of the Buffalo junior's game that has produced four touchdowns in Colorado's first two wins.
Few wideouts exhibit the same big-play abilities as Cooks, who has three games with over 100 yards and 639 total through four games.
But if there's anyone in the Pac-12 able to match his breakaway speed, it's Richardson.
His return from an ACL injury that sidelined him throughout 2012 has been outstanding. Passing offense appeared to be one of the myriad challenges facing MacIntyre and his new staff in their first year at Colorado, but Richardson's steady presence has helped quarterback Connor Wood get to six touchdowns and well over 700 yards.
Richardson's work in recent weeks has been limited to workouts with his Buffalo teammates. Colorado is back in action for the first time in three weeks after its bye last Saturday and a postponement of its Week 3 date against Fresno State.
Efforts to find a new date with Fresno State are not progressing currently. In the interim, the Buffaloes must try to reestablish the momentum they built in the program's first win streak since Nov. 2010.
"It seems like three years ago since we last played," MacIntyre said. "We've done [all] we can to keep [up to] the speed of the game. This is like another opening game for us."
Saturday is indeed an opening game for the Buffs in that Oregon State is Colorado's first Pac-12 opponent. The Beavers have been through the conference wringer once so far this season, outlasting Utah in a thrilling 51-48 overtime shootout in Week 3.
Never was Cooks' presence more evident than on that night, when the junior hauled in three touchdown receptions.
Last week's win over San Diego State was Cooks' first appearance this season without a touchdown catch, but he proved how much of a game-changer he can still be without reaching the end zone. His line: 14 catches for 141 yards.
Cooks is able to accelerate beyond defensive backs for the deep ball, but it's his play closer to the line that MacInyre said makes him especially dangerous.
"Run after catch," MacIntyre said. "A lot of his passes that he makes big plays on are screen catches that he makes two or three people miss."
Cooks' skill along the edges and in space made him an invaluable asset to the Beaver aerial attack a season ago, but even with over 1,100 yards receiving he lived in the shadow of teammate Markus Wheaton.
Now, he takes up top billing for the 3-1 Beavers alongside quarterback Sean Mannion.
"Brandin has always been a talented, fun, hardworking kid," Oregon State coach Mike Riley said on Tuesday's call. "Markus got a lot of attention, and well-deserved...But Brandin just had a really big-time offseason. He's improved his strength. He's harder to tackle."
Both Cooks and Richardson should have yet another big game in front of them Saturday. Each team has had its struggles defensively without seeing a playmaker in the opposite receiving corps of their caliber.
The lofty benchmark each has set the nation's No. 1 and 2 overall receivers is likely to rise.
Kyle Kensing is the Pac-12 Lead Writer. All quotes were obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted. Follow Kyle on Twitter: @kensing45.
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
Think life was always easy for Archie Manning and his family through their college and professional careers? Think again, as ESPN's The Book of Manning outlines how they overcame life's toughest tests to become one of the legendary families in sports.
The documentary began by outlining the early life of Archie Manning, growing up on cotton farms and indulging a two-pronged love for baseball and football. That path led him to Ole Miss, where he beat the odds to start at quarterback as a sophomore in 1969.
Archie Manning's dual-threat quarterback ability was dissected. Unlike Peyton and Eli today, Archie was actually known for his running. He led his Rebels in passing and rushing later on in his college career.
As the big man on campus entering his junior year, and with the homecoming queen on his arm, Archie was on top of the world and bringing Ole Miss football back to the top.
Then, tragedy struck. Coming home from a wedding over the summer, Archie found his father dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Unsurprisingly, the death of Archie's father was a big turning point in his life. He contemplated giving up football entirely to help his family, but he made the tough decision to return back to Oxford, as ESPN's 30 for 30 showed:
Archie's legend grew to epic proportions, becoming a beacon of light for the state of Mississippi in a time where segregation and poor education stifled the state. He became larger than life and an icon for the region—much like Peyton eventually became in Tennessee.
Archie entered his senior season as the obvious Heisman Trophy favorite, with his Rebels having championship aspirations. And again, just as things looked better than ever for the quarterback and folk hero, he suffered another setback.
He broke his left arm against Houston, which inevitably derailed his season. But he battled his way back to play late in his Ole Miss career as his sights were set toward the NFL.
As the second overall pick in the 1971 draft, Archie never garnered a winning season in 11 years with the New Orleans Saints. Their struggles were more a byproduct of his team's instability and lack of talent than his own play (he had seven head coaches in 11 seasons).
Despite his struggles on the professional gridiron, the film depicts a caring father who never brought his work home. As Archie himself states in the documentary, losing his father at such a young age impacted the way he looked at his young sons:
As the film transitions to early life for Cooper, Peyton and Eli, we unsurprisingly see sports-crazed kids who yearned to follow in their father's footsteps.
But Archie, as Cooper and Eli outlined, set limitations on his sons playing football—they weren't allowed to play organized, contact football until the seventh grade.
When they were finally unleashed, Cooper (the receiver) and Peyton (the quarterback) created a formidable duo in high school. As Cooper headed to his father's alma mater, the unavoidable notion among Rebels fans was that Peyton would soon follow.
But as Cooper stated, "something just wasn't right" physically, inspiring him to see a doctor. He was soon diagnosed with spinal stenosis, which in non-medical talk means he played his entire career one hit away from being in a wheelchair for the rest of his life.
His playing days quickly ended with the news, and after a serious surgery, he had to learn how to walk again.
Peyton had little trouble emerging as a star without his older brother catching passes, as he became a larger-than-life recruit. But instead of following Cooper and Archie, he chose to go to Rocky Top and join the Tennessee Volunteers.
As expected, a backlash came from the Ole Miss fanbase as Rebels diehards called treason and directed much of the blame on Archie.
It probably didn't help that Peyton played one of his best games as a college quarterback against Ole Miss in a 41-3 drubbing.
The film goes on to dissect Peyton's legendary success at UT, where he set a slew of all-time records and created a folk-hero status larger than his own father's in Oxford.
But even for the golden boy who saw nothing but success through college, Peyton had his own struggles. The documentary outlines his Heisman Trophy snubbing to Michigan's Charles Woodson.
As Peyton's success propelled him to the No. 1 pick in the 1998 draft, Eli was just leaving high school and entered Ole Miss as the supposed savior that both of his brothers couldn't be:
However, he didn't get off to a favorable start—he was arrested for public intoxication as a freshman, something that he admitted set off an alarm in his head that he had to get things together.
And get things together he did. He set 47 school records, more than half of which were his father's. He led the Rebels to their first 10-win season in more than 30 years. In doing so, he created his own legend at Ole Miss and became a household name:
After all of it, Archie can look back and see the men each of his three sons became and know that he succeeded as a father, making a positive impact on the lives of Cooper, Peyton and Eli:
The Mannings may very well be the first family of college football and perhaps sports in general, but as the documentary showcased front and center, it wasn't always easy for Archie and crew.
The Book of Manning outlined the many struggles each member of the Manning family had to go through at times in their respective lives, showing that even the most famous and legendary sports icons can get a reality check.
Through the untimely death of Archie's father, his NFL struggles, Cooper's unfortunate injury and more, the inner strength of the Manning family was tested many a time. And as Mannings typically do, they rose above it and became even better.
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
Atlantic Coast Conference play is right around the corner as the No. 15 Miami Hurricanes prepare for a nonconference bout with the South Florida Bulls. The Hurricanes are 3-0 for the first time since 2004, so there is some buzz starting to surround the program.
But Miami has to keep focused on South Florida, because there are a few areas in which Miami can and must improve before the ACC season kicks off for Golden's team.
Head coach Willie Taggart and his 0-3 Bulls do not appear as if they will be a massive challenger to the 'Canes, but taking Saturday's game for granted would be a huge mistake.
Miami has a golden opportunity for its leader to get into a rhythm, and avoiding a certain bug is necessary too.
No More Injuries
Miami's glorified scrimmage against Savannah State was supposed to be a chance for key reserves and younger players to receiver a solid number of snaps.
What wasn't supposed to happen, however, was quarterback Stephen Morris, running back Duke Johnson and wide receiver Herb Waters each leaving the game due to injury.
The bumps and bruises did allow players such as Ryan Williams, Stacy Coley, Eduardo Clements and Gus Edwards extra reps, but the Hurricanes did not intend for the additional snaps to happen that way.
Plus, Duke Johnson has had an injury scare in each of the first three games—a testament to how hard the sophomore back plays. But each injury scare is just that—scary. Whenever Duke limps off the field or is slow to get up, Miami fans hold their collective breath.
And of course, Stephen Morris exited the game with a bone bruise on his right ankle, but he expects to play, according to Susan Miller Degnan of The Miami Herald. Morris definitely needs the game action too, as he has thrown for just 404 yards through three games, and for perspective, Morris threw for 404-plus in three games last year.
The 'Canes must leave the South Florida contest relatively injury-free as the pivotal part of the season—conference games—begins the following week.
Find Their Offensive Rhythm
Some of Miami's offensive struggles against Florida Atlantic can be chalked up as first-game jitters, but the Hurricanes starting unit still has not quite meshed.
Morris and Co. showed strides during the first quarter vs. Florida, but the Gators' defense kept the 'Canes at bay for the rest of the game.
Savannah State, as mentioned earlier, was an opportunity for reserves to get more snaps, but the game also provided an outstanding chance for the Miami offense to get on the same page. While the Hurricanes showed no ill effects after Morris left the field, it would have been beneficial for the receivers to work with the senior quarterback in a game situation.
Georgia Tech is the first opponent during conference play, and the Yellow Jackets have played admirably through three games (and two ACC matchups). Paul Johnson's team allowed just 319 yards to Bryn Renner and the North Carolina offense, and although it was raining, the number is quite low for the Tar Heels.
The Yellow Jackets host Logan Thomas and Virginia Tech on Thursday night (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN), and that Coastal Division clash is a DVR-worthy game to see where both teams—especially Georgia Tech—currently stand.
South Florida has not been playing awful defense, allowing just 305.7 yards per game which ranks 23rd in the nation, so Saturday is certainly not a "gimme" for the Hurricanes.
Nonetheless, Morris and his receivers must start connecting on a regular basis, and Johnson (101.3 yards per game) needs to continue running the ball effectively.
Dominate the Game
Overall, though, South Florida is bad, you guys.
To understand how far the Bulls have fallen, consider this: Miami was beaten by USF 23-20 in 2010 and clipped a Skip Holtz-coached team 6-3 on a last-second, game-winning field goal.
Last season, the Hurricanes left no doubt who the superior team was by thrashing South Florida 40-9 at Sun Life Stadium.
Fast forward to 2013, and the Bulls were beaten by McNeese State 53-21.
Yes, the FCS' McNeese-stinkin'-State.
Two weeks later, South Florida fell to Florida Atlantic 28-10—a squad this Miami team beat by 28 in the season-opener. But Al Golden refuses to overlook the Bulls and believes USF's offense will be especially tough to handle coming off a bye week, according to Matt Porter of the Palm Beach Post.
The Bulls' offense hasn't impressed many, ranking 116th in the nation in passing yards, 121st in points scored and 120th in total yards. Golden, however, disregarded the numbers. ... "If you’re going to put any wrinkles in, that’s the time to put them in," Golden said. "I think it’s going to be a great challenge, especially in the first 15 plays. Whatever adjustments they have made, we have to adapt and adjust quickly so we don’t incur any damage on defense."
The 'Canes must now allow this matchup to become a trap game and dominate the 12 p.m. ET contest on Saturday.
As in 2012, Miami must leave no doubt once again and then the team can begin preparing for Georgia Tech and ACC play at full-strength and in rhythm.
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
The Virginia Tech Hokies narrowly avoided a crushing defeat with last week's triple-overtime win over Marshall to move to 3-1. Unfortunately for the Hokies, they are on a short week and must be ready to play on Thursday as they travel to Atlanta to face Georgia Tech in their first ACC contest.
The Yellow Jackets enter Thursday on a short week too, having defeated North Carolina 28-20 at home. The Jackets improved to 3-0, 2-0 in ACC play.
Since the Hokies entered the ACC in 2004, Georgia Tech has been their primary rival in the Coastal Division of the ACC. In fact, since the ACC championship game was instituted in 2005, either the Hokies or Jackets have represented the Coastal every year.
The Hokies have won the last three meetings between the schools and are 7-3 all-time against Georgia Tech. Paul Johnson's only win over VT occurred in 2009, but his flexbone offense has given Bud Foster trouble over the years.
The two schools opened the 2012 season with the Hokies winning an overtime thriller in Blacksburg. Will this game be as exciting as that one?
- When: Thursday, September 26, 2013
- Where: Bobby Dodd Stadium, Atlanta, Ga. (55,000)
- Time: 7:30 p.m.
- TV: ESPN
- Radio: Virginia Tech IMG Sports Network. Here is a complete list of stations by area.
- Spread: Georgia Tech is currently a seven-point favorite.
Week 3 featured just one matchup between top-25 teams. With that, there were several lopsided scores, as some of the better teams in the country faced inferior competition.
Top teams facing bottom-feeders led to many teams stuffing the stat sheet with dominant performances.
As we near Week 5, we are starting to get a good feel for which teams are legitimate defensively. Don't look too much into Texas A&M's Week 3 loss to Alabama. Yes, it was a bad performance, but how many teams in all of college football could shut down the Crimson Tide?
The new No. 1 team in our defensive power rankings earned it last week. They continue to get better each week.
Is it your favorite team?
Here is a look at the top 10 defenses in college football as we rapidly approach Week 5.
The Tennessee Volunteers are one-third of the way through the 2013 season. This year has featured blowouts, turnover extravaganzas and a quarterback switch, but few are surprised by the ending result—a 2-2 record.
The individuals involved in that 2-2 record, though, have been surprising. Sure, the offensive line was going to be good, and yeah, we knew the running backs were experienced and talented. But the youth of the wide receivers and progression of the secondary have been really impressive.
Here are the five players who have surprised us in the early part of the 2013 season.
It’s a rare day when Notre Dame collides with a Big 12 opponent. It’s an even rarer day when the Irish lose to one.
Notre Dame heads into Saturday’s showdown in South Bend with No. 14 Oklahoma sporting a 28-4-1 all-time record against the 10 current members of the Big 12. Those 33 games have come against just six teams, as the Irish have never faced Iowa State, Kansas State, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech.
Of the six conferences with automatic bids to BCS bowls, Notre Dame has lost to at least one team from the ACC, American, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC within the past 24 months.
The last Fighting Irish loss to a Big 12 team? That would be the 1970 Cotton Bowl, a 21-17 defeat to Texas in Notre Dame’s first postseason appearance after lifting its self-imposed bowl ban that had been in place for nearly half a century.
The Fighting Irish’s .863 winning percentage against the Big 12 isn’t simply a product of beating up on the league’s bottom feeders. Notre Dame has won nine of 10 meetings with the Sooners (you’ll hear that stat once or twice or 37 times this week) and eight of 10 against the Longhorns, including all four meetings since that loss in Dallas almost 44 years ago.
Two victories over Big 12 opponents have won national titles for Notre Dame. The Irish and Longhorns met on New Year’s Day 1978, and No. 5 Notre Dame rolled to a 38-10 victory over Heisman Trophy winner Earl Campbell's top-ranked Texas, helping vault them to the top spot in the polls.
Eleven years later, West Virginia was the victim, as the Irish claimed a 34-21 victory in the 1989 Fiesta Bowl to win the program’s most recent national championship.
That was the first of four victories for Notre Dame over the Mountaineers, who also fell to Bob Davie's Irish teams in 1997, 2000 and 2001. Kansas is the only Big 12 team besides Oklahoma and Texas to record a win over Notre Dame, doing so all the way back in 1904. The Jayhawks also tied the Irish, as the teams played to a scoreless draw in 1933. The teams have met four other times, with the Irish winning each, but only once since 1938, a 48-13 Irish victory in the 1999 Eddie Robinson Classic in South Bend.
Notre Dame outscored Baylor 68-3 in their two meetings (1925 and 1998 in South Bend), and the Irish blanked TCU 21-0 at Notre Dame Stadium in 1972.
Having Oklahoma on their schedule has generally boded well for the Fighting Irish. They used a 38-0 win in Norman in 1966 to help jump-start a national title run. Just last season, Brian Kelly’s team played its best game of the year en route to the BCS Championship Game in a 30-13 victory over the Sooners, also in Norman.
National-title hopes for this season are barely flickering, but a win over Oklahoma on Saturday could be the victory that leads Notre Dame back to a BCS bowl for the second year in a row. A loss would likely require the Irish to sweep their final seven games to qualify for the BCS.
Of course, when discussing Notre Dame and Oklahoma, it would be unjust not to mention the 1957 7-0 Fighting Irish win at Owen Field that ended the Sooners' NCAA-record 47-game winning streak under legendary coach Bud Wilkinson.
While the 1957 Irish finished a respectable 7-3, even some of Notre Dame's lesser teams had success against the Sooners. The 1999 Irish, which finished 5-7, defeated Oklahoma 34-30. That was Bob Stoops' first defeat as head coach of Oklahoma.
Given its track record against the Big 12, perhaps it was wise for Notre Dame to schedule an upcoming four-game series with Texas, with games in 2015, 2016, 2019 and 2020. If the Irish complete a home-and-home sweep of Oklahoma on Saturday, Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick may consider dialing up his Sooners counterpart, Joe Castiglione, about another series between the teams.
However, with the Irish locked into five ACC games every year beginning next year and annual games with Navy, Purdue, Stanford and USC, games against Big 12 teams in the future will likely be rare. In addition, with the Big 12 having moved to a nine-game conference schedule in 2011, Big 12 teams now play just three non-league games each season.
Notre Dame fans should savor the uniqueness of Saturday’s game—an intersectional collision between two historical powers—a rarity in today's world of increasingly weak non-conference schedules. Despite receiving a bit less hype than last October’s battle of top-10 teams in Norman, the game has significant national implications for both the 3-0 Sooners and the 3-1 Fighting Irish.
If history holds true, they’ll also enjoy the outcome.
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
Nebraska football fans had any lofty expectations for their season dashed when NU coughed up an 18-point lead en route to a 41-21 drubbing at the hands of UCLA. For many, the rest of the season really became an afterthought, certainly nothing to look forward to.
That may have been premature. Nebraska’s schedule remains very manageable (which is the polite way of saying “full of not very good teams”). At the start of the season, fans circled the November 9 trip to Ann Arbor as the game of the season. Is Nebraska, even with all the weaknesses exposed in the first quarter of the season, good enough to make it through the next four games between now and November 9 unscathed?
The Case For
Nebraska’s next four opponents are home to Illinois, away to Purdue, away to Minnesota, and home to Northwestern. The first three of that foursome are conference foes that have been struggling. Illinois posted the worst conference record in 2012. Purdue is currently 1-2, with its only win being a 20-14 victory over Indiana State. Minnesota has lost its last two games against Nebraska by a combined score of 79-28. And Northwestern will have to come to Lincoln to face Nebraska.
Sure, the Northwestern game will be tough. Given Michigan’s recent struggles against Akron and Connecticut, it’s possible the Purples might be the sternest test on Nebraska’s schedule this year. But the game will be at home, where Nebraska will (likely) be 6-1 and coming into the contest full of confidence. Plus, it’s not like Northwestern’s defense is much better than Nebraska, with the Purples checking in at No. 89 nationally in total defense (compared to Nebraska at No. 108).
Plus, one of the reasons for Nebraska’s struggles on defense has been a lack of experience given all the youth and new players that have been plugged into the system. Seven games in should be enough to get all those fresh faces enough game experience to make them at least a little battle-hardened and ready for the meaty part of Nebraska’s schedule.
The Case Against
It would be unwise to write off the chances for a Nebraska loss at any point in the season, particularly in conference play. Illinois quarterback, Nathan Scheelhaase, is the type of dual threat that Nebraska’s defense has struggled against throughout Bo Pelini’s tenure in Lincoln.
And the Illini are making a nice turnaround in year two of Tim Beckman’s time in charge. They dominated Cincinnati, 42-17, and held in there against nationally-ranked Washington to a 34-24 loss. Illinois’ visit to Lincoln might not be the gimme a certain smart and particularly handsome analyst thought it would be before the season.
Purdue is still trying to put things together, but the Boilermakers did hang with Notre Dame, last year’s national runners-up, losing 31-24. More importantly, the game is Nebraska’s first road trip, which means it will be the first time a very young and inexperienced defensive unit has to face a hostile environment. Yes, Nebraska should win this game, but funny things can happen to kids on the road.
While Nebraska has dominated Minnesota since joining the Big Ten, the Gophers are undefeated this season. They also have Donnell Kirkwood, one of the conference’s best rushers. Plus, the game is away from home, another challenge for a young squad.
And then Northwestern comes to town. The Purples came to Lincoln and knocked off Nebraska in 2011, 28-25, a score that flattered the Cornhuskers in terms of the overall performance of the two teams. Last year, Northwestern would have made it two straight wins over Nebraska, absent Taylor Martinez leading an amazing fourth-quarter comeback.
There is a plausible scenario where Nebraska loses each of the four games between now and Michigan, although a loss to Northwestern is the most plausible of the four.
Nebraska’s two toughest games between now and Michigan are against Illinois and Northwestern. Nebraska is fortunate to have them both at home, a big advantage. And both teams certainly have their flaws.
Neither team plays much defense. As mentioned, Northwestern is No. 89 nationally in total defense. Illinois is No. 116. And while Northwestern’s offense is closer to Nebraska’s (No. 31 nationally in total offense compared to Nebraska’s No. 22), the Purples’ schedule has been softer than Nebraska’s. Look for the disparity in those numbers to rise.
Illinois, on the other hand, is No. 56 nationally in scoring offense. Yes, the Illini have the firepower to challenge Nebraska, but given that NU has performed significantly better on offense and (amazingly enough) on defense, and that the game is in Lincoln, Nebraska should be able to get a win.
The remaining two games are on the road, which present its own challenges. Purdue did play Notre Dame close, but for whatever reason is always able to keep things close against the Irish. In 2012, when the Boilermakers went 6-7, they only lost to Notre Dame 20-17 in South Bend. So that tight game may be a bit deceiving.
And Minnesota’s undefeated start is likely a bit of a mirage, as the wins have come against UNLV, New Mexico State, Western Illinois, and San Jose State. If Minnesota is still undefeated when it plays Nebraska, that means the Gophers will have wins over Iowa, Michigan, and Northwestern, and then they can be considered a danger.
Yes, it’s awfully hard to invest any trust in this squad of Cornhuskers, given how the defense is putting in performances that would make the 2007 squad blush. The ghost of the UCLA collapse will be haunting both the team and the fans, to be certain.
But none of the teams between now and Michigan have the kind of offensive firepower that can do what UCLA did to Nebraska’s defense. So, based on the evidence presented, the verdict is that Nebraska will likely be 7-1 on November 9 when it takes the field in Ann Arbor.
All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com.
Or, you could always use the Twitter machine to follow @patrickrunge.
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
The injury bug has hit the Texas Longhorns early this season, with one of the more serious situations surrounding Texas quarterback David Ash.
Ash left the Longhorns second game of the season against BYU with a concussion and subsequently sat out the third game against Ole Miss. Ash was released to play in the Longhorns Big 12 opener against Kansas State, but Ash started experiencing concussion-like symptoms after taking a couple of big hits early in the game and did not return for the second half.
With the quarterback situation up in the air, the Longhorns will need to rely on the running game to carry the offense.
The amount of talent and depth of the running back unit is impressive. Johnathan Gray, Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron have the ideal combination of speed, strength and skill. But Gray has three times the number of carries of Brown and Bergeron, which could mean Gray will receive the bulk of the carries this season.
Johnathan Gray was a stud during his time at Aledo High School and holds six Texas High School football records: Career rushing carries (1,218); 100 or more rushing yard games in a season (16 in 2009 and 2011); career 100 or more rushing yard games (51); most rushing touchdowns in a season (65 in 2011); most career touchdowns (205); and career scoring (1,232). But the consensus 5-star running back has not consistently performed up to his potential at Texas.
This season, Gray ranks 45th nationally in rushing yards per game but is tied for 21st in rushing attempts. Seventeen sophomore running backs are averaging more rushing yards per game than Gray, who was the No. 1 running back in the 2012 recruiting class according to Rivals.com. To make matters worse, Gray ranks 116th in yards per carry.
There is zero chance that hundreds of recruiting analysts from ESPN.com, Rivals.com, Scout.com, etc. over-ranked Johnathan Gray—the 2011-2012 Gatorade National Football Player of the Year. The talent is obviously there and considering his high school track record, Gray should be averaging 100 yards or more in nearly every game. So why does he only have three 100-yard games at Texas?
A lot of the blame for Gray's underwhelming numbers falls on the Texas coaches' inability to properly utilize the offensive weapons. Last season, Gray had 149 carries compared to the 2012 rushing attempts leader Le'Veon Bell's 382 carries, so it is no surprise Gray's freshman year was nothing special. But the uncertainty at quarterback should be the push the coaches need to start building the game plan around Gray and the other running backs talent.
When Ash went down at halftime against Kansas State, Gray's carries increased and his second-half yardage nearly doubled his first-half stats. Gray kicked off Big 12 conference play with his first 100-yard game this season, earning himself the Earl Campbell Tyler Rose Award and College Football Performance Awards honorable mention of the week. This is the Johnathan Gray Texas fans have been waiting to see.
It's unfortunate that it took an injury to the starting quarterback for Texas to rely on Johnathan Gray's talent. Gray showed a glimpse of his potential against Kansas State, but that performance should be the first of many 100-yard games for the sophomore. At this point, Texas fans can only hope Gray continues to be given the opportunity to live up to the expectations of being the No. 1 running back recruit in his class.
With no timetable currently set for David Ash's return, the time is now for Johnathan Gray to lead the Texas offense through Big 12 play and prove he has the ability to be an impact player at the college level.
Follow Taylor on Twitter: @Taylor_Gaspar
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
The No. 9 ranked Texas A&M Aggies take on the Arkansas Razorbacks in Fayetteville in Saturday. If the Aggies want to notch their first Southeastern Conference win of the season, they will need to find a way to shut down Arkansas' running game.
The Razorbacks are 3-1 on the season behind a strong defense and a very powerful running game. The Hogs are averaging 246 yards rushing per game.
The Aggies have struggled tremendously on defense in 2013, particularly in their front seven. The Texas A&M defense is allowing 218 yards rushing and 5.9 yards per carry.
The Aggies defense is going to have to improve by leaps and bounds if they are going to slow down the Arkansas running game. This is a look at the steps that the Aggies will have to take if they want to hold the Hogs in check.