SOUTH BEND, Ind. — The time has finally come for Notre Dame football to face Florida State in one of the biggest regular-season matchups for the Irish in nearly 20 years.
It’s No. 5 Notre Dame traveling to Tallahassee, Florida, to square off with No. 2 Florida State. The Seminoles opened up as 12-point favorites, per Odds Shark, at Doak Campbell Stadium. Let’s take a look at the key factors for the prime-time tilt.
It begins and ends with quarterback play, and Jameis Winston and Everett Golson present a fascinating matchup. Both quarterbacks have experienced remarkable success early in their careers.
Winston, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, is completing 70 percent of his passes and has tossed 11 touchdowns and five interceptions.
“He's a very accurate thrower of the football, doesn't rattle, is an extremely confident player,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said Sunday of Winston. “You can see that he's the leader of that offense, and he makes it happen. He's very gifted, and he's a very, very accomplished quarterback in a very, very short period of time.”
Golson, meanwhile, has had an up-and-down stretch recently. On the one hand, his early-season play vaulted him among the top five or so candidates for the Heisman. But nine turnovers over a three-game span have quelled some of the buzz.
“We look at them and we go back to work and find ways to secure the football and do a better job,” Kelly said Sunday of the turnovers.
The game’s outcome won’t rest solely on the quarterbacks’ shoulders, obviously—Notre Dame’s defense will need to be sharp—but Golson cannot continue to cough the ball up. Winston and the Seminoles figure to be quick to translate Irish miscues into easy offense.
Notre Dame’s Secondary
As Kelly mentioned Sunday, the Irish were thinned out in the secondary Saturday against North Carolina, and the Tar Heels’ uptempo attack didn’t help. North Carolina quarterback Marquise Williams threw for 303 yards and two touchdowns in the losing effort.
“When it's settled down a little bit and these guys can get their eyes on what the formation looks like, they're okay,” Kelly said of the defense after Saturday’s win, per Notre Dame's athletics website. “We got to get better at that. But that's an inexperienced group that you saw out there today and they've got to get better.”
Notre Dame’s secondary will be tested against the Seminoles. In particular, Irish defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder and the defensive backs must find a way to contain Florida State star wide receiver Rashad Greene. The senior has snagged 44 receptions for 683 yards and three touchdowns this season.
“Obviously a guy that can stretch the field vertically, and they're not afraid to throw it against anybody,” Kelly said. “Just a great, great weapon.”
Irish cornerbacks Cody Riggs and Cole Luke must be on top of their games against Greene. Riggs, who was banged up briefly Saturday, should be ready for the Seminoles, and Luke has steadily improved through the first half of the season.
Communication from safeties Max Redfield and Elijah Shumate will be important, especially with graduate student captain Austin Collinsworth out with a dislocated shoulder.
It sounds simple, but special teams play will be crucial in Tallahassee. Two of the top kickers in the country will have their say in Saturday’s outcome with Notre Dame’s Kyle Brindza opposing Florida State’s Roberto Aguayo, the reigning Lou Groza Award winner.
Aguayo is a perfect 13-of-13 this season on field goals, and he’s a reliable safety valve for the Florida State offense.
Notre Dame’s return units have stagnated since a startling start against Rice. The Irish rank 108th in the country (out of 128 teams), per CFBStats.com, averaging 18.54 yards per kick return. If the Irish can gain an edge in the field-position battle, it will help take the defense out of “vulnerable positions,” something Kelly talked about as being an issue against the Tar Heels.
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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It’s not every day that the No. 1 team in the country wins by three scores and still falls in the Associated Press Poll, but that is exactly what happened in Week 7 of the college football season.
Florida State handled Syracuse, but Mississippi State was more impressive in a critical victory over Auburn. What’s more, Ole Miss controlled its game against Texas A&M and earned the No. 3 spot in that AP Poll.
Here is a look at the latest AP rankings:
You will read plenty of projections on the biggest games on the Week 8 schedule, like Florida State against Notre Dame, so here is a look at some of the under-the-radar contests that could shape the college football narrative moving forward.
Week 8 Projections
Utah at Oregon State
While all the talk about the Pac-12 this season has centered on Oregon, UCLA, USC, Stanford, Arizona and even Arizona State, Utah has quietly played its way into the conference race.
The Utes turned some heads in nonconference play when it completely controlled the game at Michigan and then surprised the league when they walked into UCLA and picked up a dramatic road game.
Now Utah is ranked, but it needs to deliver at Oregon State. This is the second game in a brutal seven-game stretch where the Utes play UCLA, Oregon State, USC, Arizona State, Oregon, Stanford and Arizona all in a row.
The key here will be the balanced offensive attack of Utah going up against a beatable Oregon State defense. The Utes average 217.8 passing yards and 202.2 rushing yards a game and should have their way against a Beavers defense that gave up a combined 66 points the last two weeks to USC and Colorado.
Oregon State also allowed 30 points to Hawaii and won’t get any breaks in the turnover department from Utah, as Adam Rittenberg of ESPN noted:
Oregon State will score some points, but Utah’s offense is simply too much in this one.
Prediction: Utah 38, Oregon State 28
Baylor at West Virginia
If there was ever a letdown game on the schedule for Baylor, it will be at West Virginia Saturday.
For one, it is almost impossible to expect the Bears to be emotionally ready to go again after their dramatic 21-point comeback against TCU in a top-10 showdown. Baylor is officially in the College Football Playoff discussion, but it has to bring the same intensity every week.
West Virginia is a sneaky team that gave Alabama all it could handle and hung with Oklahoma for four quarters. What’s more, the crowd will be rocking with a top-five opponent in the house and a chance to make an impact in the Big 12 race.
Baylor will get off to a slow start in this one. It is a noon kickoff the week after one of the most important and emotional wins in program history, and it will take a quarter or so to get into the flow.
That alone will keep it close, but the Bears offense will prove to be too much for West Virginia. The Mountaineers are 72nd in the nation in points allowed per game, while Baylor leads the nation in scoring and averages 371 passing yards per game.
It is simply too much to ask of that West Virginia defense to contain the Bears attack for an entire four quarters. This one will be closer than the final score indicates, but Baylor will pick up yet another victory.
Baylor 45, West Virginia 31
Washington at Oregon
Washington and its fans would love nothing more than to knock Oregon out of the College Football Playoff race, and this is the chance.
However, the Huskies’ 5-1 record is a bit misleading, because those victories came against Hawaii, Eastern Washington, Illinois, Georgia State and California. That Eastern Washington game came down to the final moments and finished with a 59-52 score.
If Eastern Washington is putting up 52 points against the Huskies, Marcus Mariota could have himself a day.
Interestingly, Washington coach Chris Petersen and Oregon coach Mark Helfrich were together on Oregon’s staff in 1997. Helfrich discussed their relationship, via Tyson Alger of The Oregonian, "The guy is a lifelong friend of mine and that won't change. I know that's going to make both of our fanbases very unhappy."
Oregon’s fanbase won’t be that unhappy when the Ducks offense carves up Washington’s vulnerable defense.
Oregon has had problems protecting Mariota, but the Huskies are not the team to take advantage of that for an entire four quarters. What’s more, Oregon will be at home, where it rarely ever loses, and still controls its Pac-12 destiny.
This may be a rivalry game, but the Huskies simply don’t have the personnel on defense to contain Oregon’s high-power attack the whole game.
Prediction: Oregon 41, Washington 24
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Week 7 of the college football season served to highlight one strange truth about 2014—the state of Mississippi is king.
Just one week after Mississippi State and Ole Miss scored landmark wins, the two Magnolia State schools once again stole the spotlight. Wins over Auburn and Alabama, respectively, officially solidified their status as College Football Playoff contenders.
But the two SEC squads weren't the only ones staking their claim to one of those four precious spots. There was plenty of other action that went down in Week 7 to shake up the title picture. Here's a look at the latest projections for the playoff and other marquee bowls heading into Week 8:
The latest AP Top 25 Poll can be viewed here.
The Projected Field
Mississippi State's meteoric rise sees them atop the college football world. For the third consecutive week, the Bulldogs took on a Top 10 team and came away victorious with their win over Auburn. As ESPN College Football points out, head coach Dan Mullen has led an unprecedented jump up the AP poll in the process:
One win over a Top 10 squad can be labeled a fluke. This is college football, after all. But the way quarterback Dak Prescott and Mississippi State have handled their brutal schedule has been anything but a fluke. With a week to recuperate before taking on Kentucky, Arkansas and UT-Martin, Starkville is only going to keep the hype train rolling as its team clings to that No. 1 ranking.
No, this iteration of the Seminoles isn't the same marauding team we saw in 2014. Close calls against Clemson and NC State proved that.
But that doesn't mean Florida State won't be making an appearance in the inaugural playoff. It simply means the Seminoles will need to work harder than they did last season to get there.
With Clemson already out of the way, the Seminoles have no more conference games against opponents who are currently ranked. Yet a marquee matchup in Week 8 provides them the perfect stage to add a signature win to their resume against Notre Dame in Tallahassee.
And if you don't think that's enough to make their resume strong enough, do you really think the committee will leave an undefeated defending champion on the outside looking in?
No team outside of Mississippi was a bigger winner in Week 7 than Baylor. Coming into the game with zero signature wins, head coach Art Briles and Co. finally got the chance to prove themselves and came through in a big way against TCU.
Unlike last year's Bears, this Baylor team has shown early that they can win in multiple ways. With quarterback Bryce Petty and the usually high-octane offense failing against Texas in Week 6, Baylor was able to grind out a 28-7 win thanks to a defense that ranked sixth in FEI defensive efficiency going into Week 7, per Football Outsiders.
But against No. 9 TCU, it was back to the air for the Bears, as Petty threw for over 500 yards in an offensive shootout that saw Baylor overcome a 21-point deficit in the fourth quarter. College GameDay provided some insight on the team's Big 12 title chances:
As the favorite to win the Big 12, Baylor is now in a great position to be a part of the playoff. It's difficult to envision a scenario in which the champion of the conference is not included in the tournament.
Back when Michigan State lost to Oregon and the rest of the Big 10 subsequently decided to lay a massive egg, it appeared that the storied conference would be left in the cold come January.
However, those notions may have been a bit premature. Despite the loss in Eugene, Sparty still finds itself at No. 8 in the most recent AP poll.
The polls obviously don't officially factor into the selection committee's process. However, the rankings serve as a reminder that the Spartans aren't as far off as some may believe when it comes to getting back in the top four.
With plenty of weeks left for the teams ahead of Michigan State to fall, all the Spartans have to do is continue to win to rise up the polls. With Ohio State remaining the only ranked team on the schedule, there's a strong chance an 11-1 Michigan State will get a Big 10 Championship Game to prove it belongs in the tournament.
Outside Looking in
Oregon, Notre Dame, Ole Miss and Georgia
Finishing just outside of the projected playoff, this list contains teams that will look to be the first in line should one of the above four teams falter somewhere the rest of the way.
Headlining this group of course is Mississippi, which currently resides at No. 3 in the AP poll but could be the victim of scheduling. With the Egg Bowl against Mississippi State to close out the regular season, it seems unlikely that both programs would get playoff invitations with one having a loss that late in the season.
However, one team whose loss might not look that bad is Notre Dame. The Irish haven't blemished their record quite yet, but they are 13.5-point underdogs to Florida State this week, per Oddsshark.com. As long as they play respectably enough to cover that spread and manage a second-half slate that includes USC and Arizona State, they'll have a hard time being denied a playoff berth.
Georgia, on the other hand, will have to rely on the timing of its loss rather than the quality of opponent. South Carolina hasn't looked great since losing to the Dawgs; however, head coach Mark Richt's greatest contender in the SEC East is Kentucky. Let that sink in.
With a spot in the SEC Championship Game looking like a near lock, it would be silly to count Georgia out just yet.
Finally, there's Oregon. The Ducks showcased exactly why college football is a sport that can drive prognosticators wild with a convincing 42-30 victory over UCLA. Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports commented on the win's impact in regard to their playoff chances:
A home loss to an Arizona team that lost the next week to USC is a tough one to explain to committee members. But it's important to remember that the Ducks still have a game against Stanford and potential Pac-12 Championship Game to prove themselves.
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The Tennessee Volunteers will walk right into the Magnolia State maelstrom this week when they travel to Oxford to take on the No. 3-ranked Ole Miss Rebels.
College football is caught up in the surging start for Hugh Freeze's team as well as Dan Mullen's Mississippi State Bulldogs, who overtook Florida State as the nation's top-ranked team.
The sport is focused on the state of Mississippi for the first time in decades. Two of the nation's current top three teams hail from there.
Meanwhile, UT is just trying to break through for a win it has been so close to against its first two league opponents, losing by a combined four points to Georgia and Florida.
If the Vols are going to sneak up on the heavily favored Rebs, they're going to have to play the game of their season and grow up quickly. Considering the strength of Ole Miss and its "Landshark" defense and the fact UT can't find any answers on its offensive line, this looks like an uphill battle for the Vols.
Let's take a closer look at the matchup.
Date: Saturday, Oct. 18
Time: 7 p.m. ET
Place: Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, Oxford, Mississippi
Radio: Vol Network, Ole Miss Football Radio Network Sirius/XM 84
Spread: Ole Miss by 17 points, according to Odds Shark.
After a week away from the action, Urban Meyer and No. 13 Ohio State will get back at it this Saturday when they host the Rutgers Scarlet Knights.
It will be a big game for the Buckeyes, who are looking to build on the momentum they gained in a trio of consecutive blowouts over Kent State, Cincinnati and Maryland. Those routs, in addition to a number of upsets to higher-ranked teams in the last two weeks, have Ohio State back in the College Football Playoff race.
To stay in that race, the Buckeyes will need to hold off the upset-minded Scarlet Knights. And while Ohio State is favored by 19.5 points, according to Odds Shark, Meyer will need his team to bring its best to the field this weekend.
Here are three X-factors for the Buckeyes in their matchup against the Scarlet Knights.
Ohio State's Secondary
The last time Rutgers saw the field, quarterback Gary Nova was torching the Michigan defense, completing 22 of 39 passes for a career-high 404 yards and three touchdowns against no interceptions. The senior signal-caller kept the Wolverines off balance, finding 10 different pass-catchers in a 26-24 victory.
Nova was named the Big Ten Player of the Week for his performance, and he earned the praise of Scarlet Knights head coach Kyle Flood.
"I thought he played an excellent game,'' Flood said of Nova, according to Keith Sargeant of NJ.com. "I thought he made good decisions, he made good throws. He made some plays under duress that guys who play at a high level make.''
Nova will challenge Ohio State's overhauled secondary.
The Buckeyes have played well under new co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash and his aggressive 4-3 scheme, but there have been growing pains. Cincinnati's Gunner Kiel took advantage of some miscues in Ohio State's secondary, throwing for 352 yards and four touchdowns in Week 5.
Ash's unit looked much better a week later against Maryland, limiting an explosive passing attack to just 244 yards while coming up with four interceptions.
If the Buckeyes bring that kind of focus to Ohio Stadium on Saturday, it will be a long afternoon for Nova and the Rutgers offense.
Joey Bosa will also need to make things difficult for Nova.
The sophomore defensive end has been an absolute terror coming off the edge for the Buckeyes this season. He's been a disruptive force, leading the team in tackles for loss (seven), sacks (3.5) and forced fumbles (three), according to Ohio State's official website.
The Scarlet Knights do a good job of protecting their quarterback, though. Rutgers allows just 1.33 sacks per game—ranking 26th nationally—which is a big factor in Nova's success this season.
One of the best ways to knock a passing attack out of rhythm is to fluster the quarterback. The Buckeyes are only averaging 2.4 sacks per game, so they'll need to ramp up the pressure this Saturday.
As the best pass-rusher on the team, Bosa will need to fuel that effort.
Ohio State's offense has surged in its last three outings, averaging 56 points and 623.7 total yards of offense per game.
Redshirt freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett has been sensational during that stretch, and he has the Buckeyes playing at a high level. But the emergence of sophomore running back Ezekiel Elliott has been a big factor in Ohio State's offensive explosion.
Against Navy and Virginia Tech, Elliott didn't catch a single pass out of the backfield and accumulated just 76 rushing yards, averaging 3.8 yards per carry. In Ohio State's last three games, though, Elliott is averaging 165 total yards per game and 6.5 yards per rush.
Meyer will unleash Elliott against a Rutgers team that has had decent success defending the run this year. The Scarlet Knights currently rank 44th in run defense—one spot higher than the Buckeyes—allowing 135 yards per game.
Ohio State will want to maintain the balance it has established over the last three games, so getting Elliott in a groove early will be key.
David Regimbal covers Ohio State football for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.
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We’ve reached the midway point of the college football season, and what a season it has been.
Who’d have expected Mississippi State to be No. 1 at the midpoint, or Ole Miss No. 3? Not many people, that’s for sure. New stars have emerged, and talented players we already knew about have improved their stock too.
The midpoint of the season is the perfect time to take a fresh look at college football’s top 25 players, so that’s what we’re doing right here.
Players were evaluated by their statistical value, their on-field performances and their overall value to their respective teams.
It’s hard to imagine that Auburn was a program whose football team won only three games in 2012. Since that time, Gus Malzahn has transformed the Tigers into a powerhouse.
Despite last weekend's loss at Mississippi State, the Tigers are starting to become a force nationally on the recruiting trail.
It’s safe to say that the offer to Williams—who also earned an offer from Notre Dame last week—was a big one for the former North Carolina commitment.
"It's probably the most excited I've ever been about an offer," Williams told Keith Niebuhr of AuburnUndercover.
Considering the Tigers have a trio of talented running backs committed in their 2015 class, adding Williams would give the Tigers backfield a ridiculous level of talent and depth.
Through six games, the North Carolina native has rushed for 1,703 yards and 21 touchdowns.
Meanwhile, Sullivan—who is currently committed to SEC West rival LSU—is a 6’6”, 200-pound wideout who ranks as the No. 72 player overall in the 2016 class.
With his size, Sullivan is in the mold of bigger pass-catchers and current Tigers star receivers Duke Williams and Sammie Coates.
While he would be tough to pull away from his home-state school, Malzahn’s offense has to be appealing to a playmaker of Sullivan’s caliber.
Nothing is official in recruiting until prospects enroll early at their school of choice or when they put pen to paper on national signing day.
A host of 2015 recruits who have made commitments are still being pursued by other programs hoping to swipe them away.
With signing day rapidly approaching, this trend will only increase as teams jockey to fill out the remainder of their 2015 classes.
Penn State Active With 2016 Studs
James Franklin and the Penn State Nittany Lions suffered a huge blow to their 2015 recruiting class when 4-star quarterback Brandon Wimbush decommitted in favor of Notre Dame last week.
However, he and his staff shook off that news and turned their focus to the 2016 class.
The Lions went across the country to California to offer 5-star linebacker and the No. 14 player overall in the 2016 class, Caleb Kelly, per Adam Gorney of Rivals.
The Lions are casting a wide net with offers to prospects across the country, and with Franklin’s recruiting prowess, that move could pay dividends in next year’s haul.
2016 California WR Nets Trio of Pac-12 Offers
Perhaps the most popular recruit in the country last week was California junior 3-star receiver Theo Howard.
Howard also holds offers from Michigan, San Diego State, UCLA and Washington State.
With his stock seemingly on the rise, Howard’s mailbox may get a little more crowded in the coming weeks and month.
Best of the Rest
- Tennessee offered 2016 4-star defensive end Terrell Hall, per ESPN’s Tom VanHaaren. Per Friedman, Ohio State also offered Hall last week. Finally, UCLA tendered the talented Washington D.C. pass-rusher.
- Woody Wommack of Rivals reports that Notre Dame has tendered 2016 4-star running back Elijah Holyfield.
- According to Chris Smith of 247Sports, Duke offered 2016 4-star linebacker Tre Lamar. Per Paul Strelow of TigerIllustrated.com, Boston College also tendered Lamar last week.
- Stanford offered 2016 defensive end Bo Peek. The Cardinal also tendered 4-star receiver Brandon Burton.
- Arizona State offered a pair of 2016 teammates in 4-star corner C.J. Pollard and 3-star defensive endOluwole Betiku.
- Gorney reports that Washington and Arizona State are the newest offers for 2016 4-star receiver Tyler Vaughns.
- Per Wommack, Mississippi State offered 2016 4-star safety Joejuan Williams. Williams also picked up an offer from North Carolina, per Smith.
- Louisville and North Carolina offered 2016 offensive lineman Tyler Pritchett. Per Bartow, the Cardinals also offered 2016 defensive back Jamel Cook.
- Pittsburgh offered 2016 4-star quarterback Jarrett Guarantano. Per Friedman, Maryland also offered Guarantano last week.
- Virginia Tech offered 2016 4-star corner Patrice Rene. The Hokies also offered 4-star wideout Brad Hawkins.
- According to Bill Kurelic of Bucknuts, 2017 offensive lineman Jordan McNair picked up an offer from Ohio State.
Sanjay Kirpalani is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.
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A weekend of unexpected results makes this Saturday's matchup between the Georgia Bulldogs and the Arkansas Razorbacks one of the SEC's most compelling games.
Georgia enters the contest following a 34-0 road victory over Missouri without star running back Todd Gurley, who has been suspended amid an ongoing NCAA investigation. The decisive victory allowed the Bulldogs to put a stranglehold on the SEC East and re-enter the national conversation.
Arkansas, meanwhile, suffered a narrow defeat at the hands of Alabama but commanded attention with such a hard-fought battle with a perennial national championship contender.
Here's what you need to know about Saturday's game:
- Date: Saturday, October 18
- Time: 4:00 p.m. ET
- Place: War Memorial Stadium, Little Rock, Arkansas
- TV: SEC Network
- Radio: Georgia Bulldog Radio Network, Razorback Sports Network
- Spread: Georgia (-3), per Odds Shark
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand and all statistics courtesy of Sports-Reference.com.
This is not a misprint—the college football universe revolves around the state of Mississippi.
The Mississippi State Bulldogs check in at No. 1 in the country in both the Associated Press Poll and Amway Coaches Poll after easily handling the Auburn Tigers. Not to be outdone, Ole Miss earned the No. 3 ranking in both polls after beating Texas A&M in decisive fashion.
Elsewhere, Notre Dame, Alabama and Oklahoma all struggled against lesser opponents, while Baylor completed an incredible comeback in the fourth quarter against TCU.
Here is a look at the Week 8 polls, as well as a glance at the Bleacher Report rankings.
Analysis and Reaction
The biggest takeaway from the latest polls is clearly the changing of the guard on top. Mississippi State is certainly in some uncharted territory, as SportsCenter and ESPN Stats & Info both noted:
Head coach Dan Mullen discussed his squad and its impressive rise to the top of the college football world, according to The Associated Press, via ESPN.com: “Every time we needed to make a play, a guy stepped up and made a play. We always wondered how to take the next step in this league…that’s it.”
Athletic director Scott Stricklin got in on the fun as well:
Mississippi State is just one of the big surprises near the top of the polls. Bruce Feldman and Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports both pointed that out:
Of course, the rise of Mississippi and Mississippi State also means the defending national champion Florida State took a step back, despite a win over Syracuse. You can make the case that the Seminoles have been less than impressive at times this year, but they still have not lost a game since 2012. Florida State fans would likely point that out when looking at the new poll.
The AP Top 25 noted that No. 1 falling after a win is not something that happens very often:
Fortunately for the Seminoles, they will have a chance to re-establish themselves in the No. 1 discussion again in their next game against Notre Dame. If the Fighting Irish defense plays like it did against North Carolina on Saturday, Florida State’s offense could have a big day.
ESPN Stats & Info pointed out just how rough of a day it was for Notre Dame in some aspects, even though it was a victorious effort:
Elsewhere, the SEC West has been more than impressive this year, especially against other competition. ESPN Stats & Info noted just how dominant the SEC West has been this season:
Still, one team that probably should be nowhere near the polls is Arkansas, as Chris Dufresne of the Los Angeles Times acknowledged. Sure, the Razorbacks had every chance to beat Alabama, which is somewhat impressive in itself, but the notion that a team that hasn’t won a league game since 2012 is even receiving votes is borderline ridiculous.
Another team that is receiving votes that has actually won some games is North Dakota State. Feldman praised the Bison’s resume:
If there is one thing we can be certain of in college football, it is that there will probably be more chaos during the next slate of games. We already discussed the matchup between Florida State and Notre Dame, but there are plenty of other contests that will shake up the polls.
Texas A&M plays Alabama, Baylor has a tricky contest at West Virginia, Kansas State battles Oklahoma, Oklahoma State plays TCU and Stanford takes on Arizona State.
The respective polls are certainly going to look different again next week.
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The 2014 college football season has undergone twists and turns galore, and there is no sign of things returning to normalcy as we gear up for Week 8.
The early-season expectations that Alabama and Auburn would remain the SEC heavyweights are a distant memory. Mississippi State took sole position of the No. 1 overall ranking with a convincing victory over the SEC champion Tigers, while Ole Miss posted its second straight big win in a road thumping of Texas A&M to move to No. 3.
The emergence of Mississippi teams has stalemated Florida State's status as the top team in the land, but that could change in Week 8, as the Seminoles will face their biggest test of the season in Notre Dame.
Without further ado, here's an early look at the Week 8 schedule, odds and predictions for the Top 25.
Note: All odds courtesy of Odds Shark, last updated Oct. 13 at midnight ET.
No. 21 Texas A&M at No. 9 Alabama
After the past two weeks Alabama has endured, it's safe to say a home game against the struggling Texas A&M Aggies couldn't have come at a better time.
Nick Saban's squad was knocked from its perch with a road loss to Ole Miss and nearly suffered a crushing blow to Arkansas in Week 7 before pulling out a 14-13 win on the road. Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen had chance after chance to lead his team to a win, but he couldn't get past the Crimson Tide defense.
Texas A&M is becoming desperate to get back into the win column after defeats the last two weekends—first to Mississippi State and then to Ole Miss, both in distasteful fashion.
The Crimson Tide have struggled mightily in recent weeks, but that didn't stop them from entering this one as big favorites, as Bleacher Report's Marc Torrence noted:
Texas A&M has prided itself defensively on getting to the passer and offensively on avoiding turnovers, but neither has been there as of late. The Aggies have turned the ball over three times in each of their last two games.
Meanwhile, it's been a struggle stopping opposing mobile quarterbacks, and that should only continue Saturday. Bo Wallace and Dak Prescott had their way both rushing and passing against the Aggies, making Saturday an easy bet for a bounce-back performance from Alabama quarterback Blake Sims.
Alabama's offense will find its groove, and an improving defense will keep forcing those Kenny Hill turnovers that are starting to become more common than Aggies fans would like.
Prediction: Alabama 38, Texas A&M 20
No. 5 Notre Dame at No. 2 Florida State
Last year means little to Florida State right now. The Seminoles have finally been leapfrogged in the standings despite avoiding their first loss of the season, and Saturday, they'll emerge against Notre Dame with a huge chip on their shoulder.
After taking care of business against Syracuse last weekend, Jameis Winston's crew will head into its biggest game of the season looking to continue throwing the ball with ease. He tossed three touchdown passes on 317 yards and was sacked only once against the Orange.
The 'Noles figured to face their toughest defensive test of the season, and that may still be true, but many began to wonder after the Irish gave up 43 points to North Carolina last weekend. The Tar Heels threw for 326 yards and three touchdowns through the air.
As long as Winston suits up, the secondary woes for the Irish should continue. ESPN.com's Josh Moyer reported Sunday that Winston expects to play Saturday despite an upcoming disciplinary hearing.
It will take the game of Everett Golson's life just to keep pace with Florida State, and even that might not be enough to bring the Seminoles their first loss of the season.
Prediction: Florida State 35, Notre Dame 24
No. 10 Georgia at Arkansas
The SEC East picture started to get a little clearer with Georgia's dominating Week 7 win over Missouri, but the Bulldogs' conference tests will continue Saturday with a tough road game against Arkansas.
Without Todd Gurley, Georgia didn't skip a beat offensively, and his absence allowed for Nick Chubb to emerge with 143 yards and a touchdown in the Bulldogs' 34-0 shutout of the Tigers. Meanwhile, the Razorbacks suffered heartbreak by coming so close to a program-changing upset of Alabama.
Bret Bielema will pull out all the stops to try to get the Razorbacks in the SEC win column, and he should have success establishing the run game against a Georgia team that gave up at least 100 rushing yards to its first three SEC opponents before limiting Missouri to 50.
However, with or without Gurley, Georgia has proved able to move the ball with ferocity on offense and put Hutson Mason in position to make positive plays without threading the needle.
A confident Razorbacks defense that just allowed 13 points to Alabama will keep it close, and a stout rushing attack led by Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams should make things interesting. But not enough to get that elusive first SEC win.
Prediction: Georgia 20, Arkansas 17
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We didn’t have the same type of chaos that we did in Week 6 during Saturday’s slate of college football games, but there were certainly some important results.
Mississippi State took over the No. 1 spot in the polls with an impressive victory over Auburn, Ole Miss continued its hot streak with a win over Texas A&M and Baylor somehow overcame a 21-point deficit in the fourth quarter against TCU.
Here is a look at the resulting Top 25 polls, as well as the Bleacher Report rankings, before we dig into some predictions for the biggest games in Week 8.
Week 8 Predictions
Notre Dame at Florida State
Safe to say, Notre Dame did not plan on entering its enormous showdown with Florida State like this.
Sure, the Fighting Irish found a way to beat North Carolina, but their defense did not impress. ESPN Stats & Info pointed out just how bad it was Saturday:
What’s more, quarterback Everett Golson turned the ball over three times, and the team found itself 14 points down before many of the fans even settled into their seats. ESPN Stats & Info highlighted the recent turnover problem:
That same Notre Dame defense that struggled so much has to go up against the Florida State passing attack that ranks 13th in the nation in passing yards per game at 324.
Defending Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston is likely ready to go against the Fighting Irish.
On the other side of the ball, it will be critical for Golson to avoid turnovers because the last thing Notre Dame needs to do is set up the Seminoles offense in scoring position with critical mistakes.
The thought here is that the Florida State offense is simply too much for the Fighting Irish in this one, especially at home. Even if Golson manages to avoid turnovers, which is a big “if” at this point, the Seminoles will find a way to score enough points against a Notre Dame defense that appeared very vulnerable Saturday.
Prediction: Florida State 41, Notre Dame 17
Texas A&M at Alabama
Alabama has not exactly looked like the powerhouse we are accustomed to the past couple of weeks. It lost at Ole Miss and then followed that up with what can only be described as a fortunate 14-13 win against an Arkansas squad that has not won in the conference since 2012.
The Razorbacks missed a critical extra point in that one; otherwise, it could have been a different story.
Alabama has still looked better than Texas A&M recently. The Aggies needed overtime to get past Arkansas, then got destroyed by Mississippi State and never really had a chance in a loss to Ole Miss. All that love for the Aggies early in the season after the win against South Carolina was probably unwarranted because South Carolina is nowhere near as good as many expected.
The key in this one, outside of the fact that the game is in Alabama, will be Alabama’s ability to stop Texas A&M’s passing attack. The Crimson Tide are sixth in the nation in points allowed per game, while the Aggies are third in passing yards per game.
Still, much of Texas A&M’s production has come against lesser opponents or in garbage time of its recent losses.
The thought here is that the Crimson Tide defense does more than enough to win in front of a raucous home crowd.
Prediction: Alabama 27, Texas A&M 20
Oklahoma State at TCU
We talk about motivation and emotion a lot during bowl season, as some teams disappoint and fall to postseason games that they likely have no interest in playing, but emotion could play a significant role in this one as well.
It is difficult to imagine TCU bouncing back one week after losing a 21-point lead in heartbreaking fashion to Baylor. That win would have propelled the Horned Frogs into playoff discussion for sure, but now they have to find a way to stay in the Big 12 title discussion with a bounce-back win over Oklahoma State.
The Cowboys have not lost since they hung with Florida State in the opener and are somewhat of a dark horse in the Big 12 race. They struggled to finally pull away from Kansas Saturday, but this is a golden opportunity to make a statement at TCU.
Oklahoma State wide receiver Jhajuan Seales discussed the Kansas game, according to The Associated Press, via ESPN.com: “You never want to go to a place and lose. Kansas had a great scheme and came out and played well.”
Kansas may have played well, but Oklahoma State needs to improve dramatically before the TCU contest.
It would be easy to pick Oklahoma State here because TCU players aren’t ready to go after a devastating loss. However, the thought here is that the exact opposite happens. TCU is playing at home, which will help the Horned Frogs rally as they get the bad taste out of their mouths from the Baylor loss.
TCU is third in the nation in points per game and will make enough plays on offense to re-establish itself in the Big 12 race.
Prediction: TCU 48, Oklahoma State 41
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Going into their second bye week of the season, the Wisconsin football team finds itself at 4-2 with a 1-1 record in Big Ten play with a bevy of questions at a number of key spots.
Uncertainty abounds at the quarterback position. Though the return of Joel Stave provides more stability under center, he has yet to look particularly comfortable as the signal-caller. With that being said, the threat of the deep pass has helped running backs Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement immeasurably.
Speaking of their two running backs, Gordon has cemented himself as a bona fide Heisman candidate after rushing for more than 1,000 yards in his first six games to go with 13 touchdowns on the ground and another one as a receiver.
One slightly troubling note about Gordon is the team's reliance on him. Gordon has notched 27 or more carries in each of his last three games. While in those games, he's rushed for at least 175 yards and a score, Gordon is on pace to exceed his career high in carries by 80, including the bowl game if they make one.
Clement has been used fairly sparingly thus far this year; however, he broke out for a huge game last week against Illinois to the tune of 13 carries for 164 yards and a score on a 72-yard scamper, which displayed his strength and speed.
Lost in the quarterback shuffle is Tanner McEvoy, who started the first five games before being replaced just before halftime against Northwestern and saw only one series against Illinois.
On defense, the Badgers have vacillated between looking great and extremely pedestrian, missing tackles left and right and taking a variety of drive-extending penalties.
Furthermore, their secondary, seen as a strength coming into the season, has been exposed for their inability to cover the deep pass. While safety Michael Caputo has been nothing but outstanding in run support and underneath in the passing game, he along with the rest of the secondary has struggled with deep throws.
Finally, after hitting a 51-yard field goal in the opener against LSU, Rafael Gaglianone is 5-of-8 on field-goal attempts and has a missed extra point to boot. Furthermore, punter Drew Meyer is averaging only 39.0 yards per punt, which is good for 113th-best in the country.
With all of that being said, let's take a more in-depth look at each of the five areas where the Badgers should make adjustments during this week off before they take on the meat of their Big Ten schedule.
That’s approximately—give or take a few hundred—how many seconds it took for Baylor and TCU to play a regulation football game on Saturday.
For those who don’t operate in seconds, this equates to roughly four-and-a-half hours, give or take a few minutes. For those who don’t judge football games with a stopwatch, this equates to 119 points right on the nose.
Baylor had to fight and claw its way back into this contest, and it did so with a barrage of scoring. After being down throughout the entire game—including 21 points scored against them in the fourth quarter—the Bears scored 24 points in the final 11 minutes to edge TCU 61-58.
I hope that score was as weird to read as it was to type. Let’s try that again.
There’s a very real possibility that TCU and Baylor’s basketball teams will not match this total later this year. And while we could zero in on this particular matchup—and we will momentarily—these types of games are almost assumed in 2014. Now, you may not anticipate 119 points, but you do expect scoring.
Notre Dame needed 50 points to edge North Carolina by a touchdown. The once defensively fueled Michigan State Spartans powered past Purdue 45-31. Oregon dropped 42 points on a UCLA defensive that was billed as one of the nation’s best coming into the season.
This is only a small sampling of the vast amount of offense that Week 7 provided, and in reality, it’s only a small, glaring aspect of a changing landscape. As it stands now, 35 teams are averaging 35 points or more each and every game. In 2009, only 11 teams finished the season with this weekly offensive output.
It’s where the game is going, and there’s nothing that tells you this trend will revert course. Offense is powering the game you know and love, one absurd box score at a time. Defense is still scattered throughout the country, although it's so much harder to find. It has lost the football war.
As for the awards, notable happenings and necessary Vines of Lou Holtz dancing, here is your Week 7 recap.
Offensive Player of the Week: Bryce Petty, Baylor
It’s not just the 510 yards passing and six passing touchdowns, although let’s begin there. Baylor’s gifted quarterback is accustomed to piling up incredible statistical numbers against defenses that really have no answer, although TCU presented a much different challenge entirely.
Down 21 points in the fourth quarter, Petty led his team back from the dead. The Bears’ scored 24 points in the final 11 minutes, in large part because of its deadly QB.
Each one of Petty’s touchdown passes for the day was at least 25 yards. Three were at least 45 yards or more and two were over 60 yards. By delivering from long distance, Petty kept Baylor's playoff hopes alive.
Dominant Defender: Terrance Plummer, UCF
Terrance Plummer had himself a game. Playing against a Taysom Hill-less BYU squad, the UCF linebacker was all over the field on Thursday night.
In total, Plummer finished with 17 tackles (11 solo) and four-and-a-half tackles for loss. Plummer also came away with a sack, a forced fumble and even added a fumble recovery as the cherry on top. Such hoggish box score work is not only appreciated, but it’s also celebrated here.
More importantly, the Knights took down the Cougars in overtime to win their third straight.
Video Game Box Score
-Let’s head back to Waco to more silly Baylor-TCU happenings. You’re already well aware of the 119 combined points, but toss in 1,267 total yards and 62 first downs. Add in the 217 total penalty yards, and you’ve more or less reached NFL Blitz in real life.
-Iowa and Indiana stake their claim to this section, just like we all expected. In a matter of 52 seconds in the first quarter, the Hawkeyes and Hoosiers combined to score 21 points. If you’re wondering exactly what this looks like—and I don’t blame you if you are—here’s the answer.
In the span of 52 seconds… pic.twitter.com/E2NPdiVbih— Adam Jaco-booOOOooo (@Adam_Jacobi) October 11, 2014
Anti-Video Game Box Score
-Remember how I told you that Baylor and TCU combined for 62 first downs? Well, to provide some perspective of what the opposite of this might look like, UConn and Tulsa combined for 27 total first downs in its matchup. And in terms of total offensive production, the Huskies and the Green Wave fell just short of the Bears and Horned Frogs by 104 points and 748 yards.
-In perhaps the strangest box score of the day, Oklahoma finished its 31-26 victory over Texas by converting only one—yes, one—third down. If you tuned into the first half of this matchup, you were also treated to one of the more dominant box scores of the year. And Oklahoma, somehow after the carnage below, still went into the intermission ahead.
The ball does indeed lie. pic.twitter.com/1Vnr3pmjNE— Adam Kramer (@KegsnEggs) October 11, 2014
I did not expect to see Lou Holtz dancing this week while wielding a giant cowbell. But there he was, swinging the noisemaker as a sunglass-equipped Rece Davis cheered him on in front of a perplexed Mark May.
In a Vine so good you’ll have to watch two, three, four or perhaps 400 times, watch the ESPN trio celebrate Mississippi State’s enormous win over Auburn in style.
You will not be able to stop watching this. I’m just warning you now.
It was not long ago that we all wanted Dan Mullen fired. In fact, the Mississippi State head coach spent the better part of last season fighting off tired hot-seat conversations that appeared to be gaining steam.
Then the Egg Bowl happened. Then 2014 happened. My, how foolish we all were.
As Mississippi State tied a bow on its 38-23 win over Auburn on Saturday, Mullen could no longer contain his emotion. His reaction on the sideline, given everything that’s happened over the past few years and what it’s taken to get to this point—to the nation’s No. 1 spot—was perfect.
Although there is still so much left to be done, I hope Mullen, Mississippi State and its entire fanbase soaked up every ounce of awesome from this victory.
For the Highlight Reel
Having watched this live, it first appeared to be some sort of glitch. My first thought was that the television had to be broken.
On a critical third down late in the fourth quarter, Texas Tech quarterback Davis Webb threw up a prayer to wideout Jakeem Grant as he was being pressured. The problem, however, was that Grant got tangled up with a defender and fell backward as the ball was falling from the sky.
In most instances, this would be a problem. Not here, though.
For the Highlight Reel: Part 2
Have no fear, LSU fans. There's no need to sprint to the comment section to express your displeasure (yet). Travin Dural’s catch is deserving of the utmost praise, which is why this week has multiple Highlight Reel chapters.
While being mauled, Dural hauled in a magnificent one-handed grab to give the Tigers a 27-24 lead over Florida deep in the fourth quarter. Ultimately, LSU won this game in very Les Miles fashion, and it was in large part because of this catch.
Well, that and a few other things. But the catch helped.
For the Highlight Reel: Part 3
How about a little love for the defense?
Utah State linebacker Zach Vigil wasn’t content with simply handling his assignment. He decided that it was time to blow up Air Force’s trick play, so he did.
Not only did Vigil doom this play from the get-go, he managed to come away with the tackle once the ball had been pitched. Oh, and he finished with 22 tackles, too.
If the College Football Playoff Started Today... (or Why I Hate Your Team)
Ah, yes. This is my favorite part of the weekly feature, a time when I can enrage the masses with so few words. Keep in mind, this is not a playoff projection. (Although it’s likely not far off.)
This is what my CFB playoff would look like if it started today. For the record, my playoff would be 128 teams and take seven months to complete, but the four-teamer will have to suffice.
Those four teams are…
- Mississippi State
- Ole Miss
- Florida State
Five Leftovers to Chew on
1. At some point, Bret Bielema is going to win an SEC game. That’s remarkably obvious, of course, although you almost feel for the coach as his team inches closer and closer to that first victory. Look no further than the 14-13 loss to Alabama on Saturday, a game in which Arkansas really battled. Perhaps that changes next week when the Hogs draw Georgia at home.
2. Speaking of Georgia, it still baffles me that a human being is being punished for putting pen on a piece of fabric. As a result, we’re using terms that the NCAA has more or less crafted—words like “amateurism”—to punish running back Todd Gurley. Should Gurley have known better? Of course. Am I going to stand on a soapbox and crush him for trying to pad his pockets some? Goodness no. This system is currently being taken apart brick by brick. Eventually, perhaps sooner than we know, this won't be an issue.
3. Why isn’t USC running back Javorius Allen getting more love? After his 205-yard performance on Saturday against Arizona, Allen has now rushed for at least 100 yards in six of seven games this season. For the year, he now has 781 yards rushing—four yards short of last year’s total—and he's only getting started. It’s not just the numbers, either. For a big back, Allen is remarkably athletic. Now, start talking about him more.
4. For the second season in a row, Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota has reached the halfway point without throwing an interception. His first last year came on November 23 against Arizona. Through six games this season, Mariota has totaled 23 touchdowns and zero INTs. Celebrate him for as long as you can, because he won’t be ours much longer.
5. Marshall is not going to make the College Football Playoff, although it’s looking more and more like the Thundering Herd will finish the regular season without a loss. Quarterback Rakeem Cato is fabulous, and the Marshall offense has scored at least 42 points in every game. I know the competition is remarkably weak, but I cannot wait to see this team (hopefully) take on a quality opponent in a bowl game.
Intentional Flop of the Week
Maybe, just maybe, Andre Debose has hands made of an undiscovered metal. Perhaps that’s how you could explain why LSU safety Jamal Adams was “thrown” to the ground when the Florida wideout made contact with his facemask.
Or, perhaps Adams was, well, “selling” it some. Regardless of where you stand on this important superhero debate, Adams’ downward fall drew the flag.
Unintentional Flop of the Week
Did you know that the enormous Kansas Jayhawk in the middle of the field is actually made of ice and banana peels? You didn’t?
Well, thanks to Oklahoma State quarterback Daxx Garman, you do now.
Fan of the Week
As a child, I had braces. As an adult, I still sport a retainer in the evenings. (Please don’t tell my dentist I don’t wear it during the day. Call it our little secret.)
I say this because Week 7’s best fan sported his braces proudly, showcasing his fine robotic smile with pride following Clemson’s victory over Louisville. It’s not just the braces, either. The wide spectrum of facial expressions added quite a bit here.
Once you join #teambraces, you never leave. Smile on, good sir. Smile on.
This Week in Telling Photos: Part 1
Sometimes you don’t need video to tell a story. Sometimes all you need is a still shot of bewildered fans trying to understand what just happened.
Behold a group of Texas fans wearing vastly different attire, trying to process the first half of the Longhorns season. There’s just so much here.October 11, 2014
This Week in Telling Photos: Part 2
In fairness to the Washington State defense, it put forth a solid effort against Washington State on Friday night. With that said, it shouldn’t alter the enjoyment you take from this incredible ESPN graphic that was used to depict the unit.
Yup, that about sums things up pic.twitter.com/NIUCeU1DU6— CougCenter (@CougCenter) October 11, 2014
This Week in Incredible On-Field Dance Moves
I'm sorry, Lou Holtz. But you have nothing on Dennis Norfleet, Michigan wide receiver and incredible stadium dancer.
Against Penn State, Norfleet showcased his moves as ‘Atomic Dog’ blasted over the stadium speakers. If you needed a reason to tune into Michigan football for the remainder of the year, you have one.
From the Peanut Gallery (Best Tweets of the Weekend)
TCU, basically pic.twitter.com/pJA3Xy9kjV— Ramzy Nasrallahween (@ramzy) October 12, 2014October 11, 2014October 11, 2014
These were good times. pic.twitter.com/o5PeFWqvms— Landon Howelloween (@landonhowell) October 12, 2014
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The Longhorns finally get a breather after three tough losses in four weeks, getting the 2-4 Iowa State Cyclones at home.
As long as they don't beat themselves, the Horns should break their two-game losing streak.
"It doesn't feel like a 2-4 team," senior defensive end Cedric Reed told reporters following the 31-26 loss to Oklahoma, via Texas' official website. And he's right, because the Longhorns are really close to being good but have only themselves to blame for their worst start since 1956.
After all, this 2-4 start could have been 4-2 with better decision-making.
Let's start with Texas' 20-17 loss to UCLA. The Longhorns infamously botched the coin toss to give the Bruins possession to start both halves. UCLA scored its first touchdown on its first drive of the second half and scored the game-winner on its last one.
The most recent loss to the Sooners is worse. The Longhorns should have had a 17-0 lead going into halftime instead of being down by four. A hold negated a 75-yard run by Tyrone Swoopes, and another bad snap on the goal line forced Texas to settle for a field goal rather than an easy touchdown.
Then there's what Texas gave up. Special teams was embarrassing in coverage on Alex Ross' kickoff return score, and a silly catch interference penalty put the Sooners in Longhorn territory on a drive that ended in a field goal.
Factor in Swoopes' pick-six to Zack Sanchez, and you're down 17-13 rather than up 17-0, or 10-0 at worst.
What the Longhorns need is a confidence boost. They haven't had a game all season in which they delivered a complete performance, and this week is the chance to do it.
Iowa State resides in the bottom half of the Big 12 in every major offensive and defensive category. The Cyclones play hard but are less talented than Texas at every position.
Avoiding dumb mistakes, continuing to improve in the running game and trusting in Tyrone Swoopes will be the X-factors that determine whether the Horns can actually deliver on this opportunity.
We touched on this above, but Texas' awful proclivity toward shooting itself in the foot cannot be discussed enough.
Every week, the Longhorns are finding new ways to get in their own way. They've fumbled three times on the goal line, have given up a special teams touchdown in consecutive games and are even having trouble getting the play off in time.
"My headphone went out is what happened. They didn't hear the personnel come out of my mouth, and that's why we started eating up clock," said offensive coordinator Shawn Watson in reference to an unbelievable timeout taken prior to a two-point conversion, via the Texas website.
Okay, so what about the other delay of game? The second-quarter drive that ate two timeouts to avoid another five-yard penalty?
Until they start moving the ball on a consistent basis, these penalties and errors will kill the Horns. They aren't the Baylor Bears, who can just erase 21-point deficits like clockwork.
Mistakes will obviously be made, but minimizing them will make a huge difference in the final score. This is especially true against a Cyclones team that Texas should dominate.
The Continued Improvement of the Ground Game
Gaining 148 yards on 41 carries isn't great, but it's something when you're going up against Jordan Phillips and Geneo Grissom. If that's a sign of what's to come, the Longhorn offense will hit its stride against the Cyclones.
Offensive line coach Joe Wickline has tinkered with the Texas front the past couple of games, inserting Darius James in at right tackle, removing Jake Raulerson from the center and shoving both Kent Perkins and Taylor Doyle over a spot.
As a result, the Longhorns have found running room against both Baylor and Oklahoma, two of the top five Big 12 defenses in terms of yards per carry.
We've yet to have a game where Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown both go off, but this could be the week. The Cyclones are giving up 212 yards per game, and a consistent rushing attack will transform this offense.
Keep Swoopes Rolling
The pick-six was unfortunate, but Swoopes just quietly turned in one of the best games in the history of the Red River Rivalry.
The sophomore quarterback was a different player after playing like a high schooler against Baylor. He kept his eyes up when he felt pressure, rediscovered his accuracy and ran with purpose when needed.
Without a doubt, the difference with Swoopes was his confidence. Two weeks ago, there's no way he's high-stepping into the end zone like he did on Saturday.
Unsurprisingly, Swoopes' best game coincided with Texas' highest scoring output since Week 1. And remember the 75-yard run he had called back by a dumb hold.
The Horns will go as he goes the rest of this season. Iowa State can't stop the player we saw in Dallas on Saturday, so the coaches have to do whatever they can to replicate that for this Saturday and beyond.
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Nebraska football fans have had an off week to recover from NU’s near-miss against Michigan State and will be looking for X-factors in the upcoming match against Northwestern. While Nebraska enjoys a 3-1 record against the Purples, it’s not at all hard to imagine that number being 1-3.
Two years ago, Nebraska was down 12 points with 8:31 to go, needing a miracle comeback to pull off a 29-28 win. And of course, last year Northwestern had Nebraska beaten when the clock struck 0:00, with NU needing the “RK III to 1” Hail Mary from Ron Kellogg to Jordan Westerkamp to preserve a win.
No. 1: Get Ameer on Track
If there’s any obvious plan for Nebraska, it’s this one. For the season, Ameer Abdullah has averaged 6.36 yards per carry, shouldering the load for Nebraska’s offense. But against Michigan State, Abdullah averaged 1.9 yards per carry. Don’t be fooled by Abdullah’s two touchdowns. The Spartans neutralized Nebraska’s biggest threat, which was a major factor in their win.
For Nebraska to get back on track, Abdullah needs to find his mojo again. Facing a Northwestern defense that is a respectable no. 55 nationally against the run, success on the ground against the Purples is not a foregone conclusion.
Whether Nebraska is able to get Abdullah back on track is the single biggest decider in terms of whether NU will escape Evanston, Illinois, with a win.
No. 2: Corral Trevor Siemian
Sure, freshman running back Justin Jackson looks like he might have been the playmaker Northwestern was looking for after the departure of Venric Mark on the eve of the season. Jackson has been terrific, averaging 4.48 yards per carry and providing the Purples’ offense with an unexpected spark.
But it is still senior quarterback Trevor Siemian who makes Northwestern’s offense really go. He’s completing 58.8 percent of his passes, has thrown for over 1,300 yards and has averaged 37.7 attempts per game. That means Northwestern isn’t afraid to put the ball in the air rather than rely on the ground to move the ball.
If the Blackshirts shut Siemian down, they go a long way toward getting a win against Northwestern.
No. 3: Avoid Interceptions
I know, I know, I’m breaking my Doctor Strangelove rule from a few weeks ago and asking Nebraska to stop turning the ball over. But this is a very specific admonition, avoiding the interception. While Northwestern hasn’t done anything this season that jumps off the statistical pages, one thing the Purples have done well is intercept opposing quarterbacks.
Northwestern has nine interceptions over six games, tied for first in the Big Ten. Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong has struggled with accuracy and decision-making, with five interceptions in six games and a handful of others which Armstrong was fortunate to see hit the turf.
That has the danger to be a deadly mix for Nebraska. While it’s likely that NU will feed the Purples a heavy dose of a rushing attack, there will be times in the game where Armstrong will need to make plays with his arm. Ensuring he makes those plays to white shirts, rather than the goth gear Northwestern will be rocking, will make a big difference on Saturday.
Stats from CFBStats.com.
For a different look at Nebraska football, check out The Double Extra Point.
Or you can use the Twitter machine to follow @DblExtraPoint.
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