NCAA Football

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Ryan Hoefeld rushed into action

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

FSU Has Found No. 2 Receiver in Wilson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Pender Making Most of Chances

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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Teams Most Likely to Pursue Lane Kiffin for Head Coaching Job

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

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

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

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

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

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

Begin Slideshow

How Will Heisman Front-Runner Dak Prescott's Game Translate to the NFL?

Dak Prescott has taken the college football world by storm. There are a lot of questions about how and if his abilities will translate to the NFL.

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder and NFL National Columnist Matt Miller discuss how well Dak Prescott could do in the NFL.

Would Dak Prescott be the first QB selected if he came out this year?

Watch the video and let us know! 

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Notre Dame Football: Reassessing North Carolina as a Trap Game

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Week 7 Top 25 Schedule Projections

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

 

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

This sounds like a favorite, right?

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

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

Alright then.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Arizona 28, USC 24

 

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

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

College GameDay sums up the war of attrition nicely:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prediction: Alabama 35, Arkansas 27

 

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

 

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ESPN College Gameday 2014: Week 7 Schedule, Location, Predictions and More

The SEC is the place to be for the second straight week as it pertains to the ESPN College GameDay crew. A week after visiting Oxford, Mississippi ahead of Ole Miss' big win over Alabama, Kirk Herbstreit, Lee Corso and Rece Davis will visit the campus of the other Mississippi school that came up with a huge victory in Week 6.

The Mississippi State Bulldogs stifled Kenny Hill and the Texas A&M Aggies en route to a 48-31 win that further legitimized the squad in the eyes of America, and the pollsters. The win gave the Bulldogs back-to-back wins over top-10-ranked opponents, and it also vaulted the team into the third spot in the AP Top 25, per ESPN.com.

Games don't get much bigger than a matchup between the No. 2 team and the No. 3 squad. The fact that both are SEC programs only adds to the intrigue.

Here's the schedule for the show and the game.

 

When: Saturday, Oct. 11 at 9 a.m. for GameDay and 3:30 p.m. for game.

Where: Starkville, Mississippi

TV: ESPN for GameDay and CBS Sports for the game.

 

Nick Marshall Will Lead Auburn to Huge Win and No. 1 Spot in Polls

Backing Mississippi State in this one is the trendy thing to do, but Auburn's dual-threat quarterback and overall studly running game will lead it to the biggest win of the college football season.

Marshall is hitting his stride and beginning to look like a real Heisman Trophy candidate.

He accounted for 326 total yards and four touchdowns in last week's win over the LSU Tigers. For the season, Marshall has 1,147 yards, 12 scores and just one interception. Perhaps most importantly, he and a good number of his Tigers teammates have an abundance of experience in huge games.

Last year's national championship is the biggest example, and the huge meeting with Alabama in the 2013 Iron Bowl is another.

As good as the Bulldogs have looked this season, this is the first time quarterback Dak Prescott and Co. have been on this big of a stage. Yes, the Bulldogs are at home, but Marshall, senior running back Cameron Artis-Payne and others have proven they can win on the road.

Earlier this season, the Tigers pulled out a tough one on the road against a pesky Kansas State Wildcats team. In that game, Marshall had to prove he could win a game for his team with his arm and not just his legs.

He answered the challenge by tossing two touchdown passes. The Tigers' run game was held to a human 123 yards in that contest, so it was a great test and confidence booster for Marshall as a quarterback.

Since then, he's gotten better. He has completed over 60 percent of his passes, thrown for five touchdowns, no interceptions and he's run for four scores.

Mississippi State's offense is explosive. It has averaged 42.6 points per game. However, the Bulldogs haven't faced a defense as talented as Auburn's. The Tigers have only allowed one opponent to reach the 20-point mark this season. That includes holding the LSU Tigers to just seven points last week.

Auburn will run the ball effectively and Marshall will make enough plays for his team to win. No matter what No. 1 Florida State does against the Syracuse Orange, it won't be enough to hold off Auburn after this big victory.

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Mark Blaudschun's Blitz: Beware of the Sleeping Tigers of LSU

They lost a game to Mississippi State and the entire state went viral. They lost another game at Auburn and people started preparing eulogies for a program that appeared to be heading south.

The mighty SEC again occupies the prime real estate in the AP Top 25—three of the top four spots amid a total of seven ranked teams this week—but a familiar name is missing: LSU.

A 41-7 loss to Auburn last week dropped Les Miles' Tigers out of the rankings for the first time since November 2008, a run of 87 consecutive weeks. LSU is 0-2 in the SEC, which hasn’t happened since 2001. The once impenetrable John Chavis-coached defense, a cornerstone for LSU’s championship contending teams, was punctured for a combined 1,136 yards in the losses to Mississippi State and Auburn, part of the price of losing half of last year’s defensive line to the NFL.

LSU’s critics—just check the message boards on TigerDroppings.com—are saying that even becoming bowl eligible (six wins) might be a tough fight, considering the back half of the schedule includes games against No. 3 Ole Miss, No. 7 Alabama and No. 14 Texas A&M.

So have LSU and Miles, the Mad Hatter himself, lost their magic touch?

Nope.

This downturn will be a one-year blip, if that, on the radar screen, and Mike the Tiger and his streak will soon be on the prowl again in Tiger Stadium.

Here's why:

The problem for LSU is not talent-related. The Tigers had the nation’s No. 2 recruiting class last year and No. 6 class the year before, according to Rivals.

But the young Tigers—especially those playing key roles in the skill positions—have had some growing pains that have left LSU slow to replace the program’s numerous departed stars.

Freshman quarterback Brandon Harris, who is battling with sophomore Anthony Jennings for the starting nod against Florida this week, was a 4-star recruit, but his starting debut against Auburn was a wash out. The freshman finished just 3-of-14 passing against a team which played for the national championship a year ago and had six defensive starters returning.

Running back Leonard Fournette and wide receiver Malachi Dupre, both 5-star recruits, have also had bumpy starts.

"It's awfully tough to win in that competition with a freshman QB,'' a Miles confidant told Bleacher Report. "There's no question they will be back. Les gets talent every year and he coaches them up well enough to get to the NFL.''

Admittedly, the bar is high at LSU. Since 2010, the Tigers have posted an overall record of 48-10. In the past 12 years, they have played in three BCS title games and won two national championships.

Lately the talent has been so good that it has moved through the system quicker than expected. In the past two years, 18 LSU players have left early for the NFL draft. Two years ago, 11 Tigers jumped to the NFL.

"We led college football in three-and-outs,'' said Miles at the SEC media days this summer. "It's a real challenge for any program to lose junior and senior classes.''

So the coach knew he faced an uphill battle this season, well before the loss to Mississippi State that surprised so many.

This week, Miles was asked if he knew how difficult it would be to maintain LSU's status with a continuing flow of new talent. "In other situations, I would think it would be very difficult,” he said at his press briefing. “But at LSU, I think we would have great opportunities. I think that we have quality personnel and I think that's the difference. It's just (a matter of) making that adjustment.''

Yes, the "adjustment'' has been painful.

A year ago, the Tigers dealt with a huge defensive rebuilding because of NFL attrition, but they had offensive veterans such as quarterback Zach Mettenberger and wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry to fight back. LSU won by outscoring everyone. Not this year.

These Tigers are aware of the criticism. On Monday, they held a "players’ only" meeting, where they took full responsibility. "It's one of those meetings that we can decide our own destiny,” defensive end Danielle Hunter told the New Orleans Times Picayune. "It's either step up now or keep going down the drain.''

Added Dupre: "I just think we need to grow as a team in all phases of the game and just get better because the games won't get any easier for us.”

It will be a tough fight to get the Tigers back into the attack mode and quieten their disgruntled fans. But they also know they are in almost a "must-win" situation each week, starting Saturday at The Swamp.

They are talented enough and each SEC game is like dog years in terms of experience. They are growing up quickly.

Nap time for these Tigers is over.

 

Just Asking

1. Will Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott make it to New York as a Heisman finalist?

Absolutely. Everything is in place. A repeat of last week's efforts in the win over Texas A&M (five TDs) will push him that much closer. As Prescott said of the victory, "It was a Mississippi State-ment.” Prescott has the exposure necessary. He is playing on a Top 5 team and he has the numbers—13 TD passes, six rushing TDs, 1,687 total yards. A big win over Auburn would do much to seal the deal as a Heisman front-runner.

 

2. Will Arizona play like a national contender or a Pac-12 team?

A Pac-12 team. That means they will find a way to lose a game people think they should win. The unbeaten Wildcats went from unranked to No. 10 in one week thanks to their 31-24 road win over then No. 2 Oregon. Next up is 3-2 USC. Warning. The unranked Trojans visit Tucson on Saturday and are favored. What's with the Pac-12 teams not closing the deal in big games? Last week, four ranked or favored Pac-12 teams all lost, killing the NCAA title chances of USC and Stanford, and hurting those of Oregon and UCLA. Let's see if the Wildcats can escape that trend this week. But even if they can’t, don't count on a Pac-12 team making it to the Final Four.

 

3. Will Michigan State’s close call against Nebraska hurt the Spartans’ playoff hopes?

On the surface it might seem that way. Nearly blowing a 24-point fourth-quarter lead at home is not the way to gain confidence with the selection committee. But at second glance, it probably wouldn't be a deal breaker. Michigan State needs to win out—including the Big Ten East showdown with Ohio State and the Big Ten championship game, a possible rematch with Nebraska. At 12-1, the Spartans should be in the playoff discussion. Two wins over Nebraska and a win over Ohio State would be solid credentials. The loss to Oregon didn't look that bad until the Ducks lost last week. But an Oregon loss to UCLA on Saturday would also hurt the Spartans.

 

4. How long will Florida State maintain its No. 1 ranking?

The obvious answer is until someone beats them. And someone will beat the Seminoles. Clemson had them beat until the final seconds of regulation time. North Carolina State had a fourth-quarter lead. But the Seminoles found a way to win both times. Last season's team beat everyone but Boston College by an average of 45 points per game until the BCS title game when they had to come from behind to beat Auburn. So where will the stumble come this year? I say it comes on a Thursday night (Halloween weekend) in Louisville on Oct. 30.

 

5. Could Baylor go 12-0 and not make the College Football Playoff?

Yes, it could. The Bears have no equity with the selection committee. Look at their non-conference schedule. SMU, FCS Northwestern State and Buffalo. Beating Oklahoma and TCU would be nice wins, but that doesn't compare with a couple of SEC one-loss teams that could emerge, an unbeaten or a one loss Notre Dame, an unbeaten or once beaten Pac-12 team or even a one-loss Big Ten team. It's also a matter of math. Four spots and five power conference leagues, plus Notre Dame. Baylor comes up short in the measurable—strength of schedule—and probably in the eye test. The Bears need to take care of business on Saturday against TCU but they also need to pray for some more upsets involving teams like Notre Dame, Michigan State, Ohio State and Alabama.

 

Picking the Playoff Teams

My Final Four ...

1. Auburn: Same script for the Tigers as last season's run to the title game?

2. Florida State: The ‘Noles will go as far as Jameis can carry them.

3. Mississippi State: Beating Auburn will create another Cow Bell symphony in Starkville.

4. Mississippi: The starters are good enough, but can they overcome A&M and its 12th Man in College Station?

 

On the Outside Looking in ...

5. Baylor: Who would have thought a game in Waco vs. TCU would be bigger than Texas vs. OU in Dallas?

6. Notre Dame: Will academic fraud issues be discussed at halftime of the UNC game?

7. Michigan State: Biding their time until Big Ten East showdown with Ohio State in November.

8. Alabama: The loss to Mississippi State hurt; seeing Auburn move ahead of them in the polls is even more painful.

 

People of Interest

 1. Jeff Driskel: With Treon Harris' suspension, embattled Florida QB gets another chance to save his job against LSU.

2. Todd Gurley: Heisman talk is replaced by media firestorm surrounding Georgia back’s suspension, the team confirmed.

3. Marcus Mariota: The quarterback’s Heisman bid and the Ducks’ playoff hopes require him to have his game face on against UCLA.

4. DeShaun Watson: If Clemson’s freshman QB had started against Florida State, the Seminoles wouldn't be No. 1 right now.

5. Brady Hoke: Another loss could seal the deal on the coach’s future at Michigan.

 

Weekend Predictions

1. Stanford will need to score more than 30 points to beat Washington State.

2. No Top 10 team will lose to a lower ranked team this week.

3. Northwestern will continue to lead the Big Ten West, Cal will continue to lead the Pac-12 North and Missouri will continue to lead the SEC East.

4. East Carolina QB Shane Carden will run his string of 400-yard plus passing games to four against South Florida.

5. Oklahoma will leave Texas with an 0-2 record in games played in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex region.

 

Mark Blaudschun covers college football as a national columnist for Bleacher Report. He has more than three decades of experience covering sports at a variety of newspapers in New Jersey, The Dallas Morning News and The Boston Globe. Follow him on Twitter @blauds.

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Ohio State Buckeyes Are Still a Long Shot to Make the College Football Playoff

In college football, a team is only as good as its last win. Fresh of its 52-24 victory at Maryland last Saturday, Ohio State is looking pretty good heading into its second bye week.

The renewed sense of optimism in Central Ohio is palpable. Three dominating wins in a row will do that. Buckeye Nation is back to thumping its chest. While laudable, there is considerable work remaining to be done. Demanding respect in the polls is a little premature.

The good news is the carnage in the Top 10 last weekend has the Buckeyes poised to climb back into the College Football Playoff picture. The bad news is they have no room for error. They also need help from a lot of teams in front of them. Chances are still slim that they make it into the selection committee’s top four. Here are three reasons why.

 

Must Finish 12-1

The Buckeyes need to win the rest of their games to have any chance at making the playoff. The schedule is certainly favorable considering how ordinary the Big Ten is this year, but the trip to East Lansing on November 8 is still looming. Are the Buckeyes good enough to beat the Spartans? Not yet.  

Ohio State’s offensive production over the last three games has been remarkable, but the reality is it was playing against pathetic defenses. Kent State’s defense is allowing 462.2 yards and 33.6 points per game, Cincinnati is giving up 561.8 yards and 37.3 points per game and Maryland is yielding 451.2 yards and 25.2 per game. Granted, the offense could have struggled to move the ball or put up points. Instead it was in command in all three games.

Head coach Urban Meyer’s young offense is beginning to find its rhythm and is playing with increasing confidence. Momentum is building, but the offense still needs to show that it can execute against a formidable defense before any real assessment can be made.

Rutgers and Penn State will provide reasonable tests for Ohio State over the next three weeks. Both teams have good defenses. They’re not as stout as Michigan State’s defense, but they are definitely better than the doormats the Buckeyes have been playing lately. These games will measure whether or not they are capable of scoring a lot of points against the Spartans.

Michigan State’s defense certainly grabs most of the headlines, but its offense is dangerous too. The Buckeyes defense will have its hands full the entire game. Evidence is starting to mount that it is able to handle the challenge.

Until the second half of the Cincinnati game, there was cause for concern because the secondary looked like it was going to be a serious problem again this year. For the last six quarters, the back seven has played well. They are maturing and beginning to demonstrate just how dominant they can be. This growth needs to continue for the Buckeyes to have a shot at winning a night game against a highly motivated Michigan State team.  

 

One Major Conference Champion, and Notre Dame Must have Two Losses

With just four spots to spread among the champions from the five major conferences and Notre Dame, the Buckeyes will need one conference champion and Notre Dame to have at least two losses for them to make into the playoff.

For argument’s sake, let’s say all of the conference champions finish with one loss. The SEC and Pac-12 champions are in because these conferences are clearly the best this season. This leaves two spots for the Big 12, Big 10, ACC and the Fighting Irish.

Barring a complete meltdown, the Seminoles will win the lowly ACC. Despite being even weaker than the Big Ten, the likelihood is minimal that the committee would deny a one-loss Florida State team the chance to defend its national championship.

This leaves one spot for the Big 12, Big Ten and Notre Dame should it stay in the hunt.

Ohio State would probably get picked over a one-loss Baylor and TCU, but edging out a one-loss Oklahoma or Notre Dame is questionable. The Big 12 is better than the Big 10 this year, and it would be tough for the committee to select the Buckeyes over the Sooners.

Presuming Notre Dame’s one loss is against Florida State, it would still have wins over Michigan, Purdue, Northwestern, Navy, Arizona State, Stanford, Louisville and USC. Even the most diehard Buckeye fan would have to admit that this resume would trump Ohio State’s resume if the fourth spot comes down to these two teams.

Like it or not, the perception around the country is the Big Ten is weak. The Buckeyes can win the Big Ten, finish 12-1 and still not get selected if several other high-quality teams finish with just one loss too. Ohio State will need significant help to get into the selection committee’s top four. A few additional losses by some of the remaining favorites would do it.

 

Lack of Chances to Earn Style Points

Unlike all of the remaining contenders who have several games to prove they are one of the four best teams, Ohio State’s remaining opportunity to earn credible style points is the game at Michigan State. A potential game against Nebraska in the Big Ten Championship Game would help a little, but the only game with legitimate flare is against the Spartans.

To counter, the Buckeyes must run up the score on every team and soundly beat the Spartans. They cannot afford any close games or scares against inferior opponents. Ohio State must continue to show that the loss to Virginia Tech in Week 2 was a minor setback caused more by the loss of Braxton Miller than any systemic flaw in the team.

 

Analysis

Ohio State can only control how it plays. The early-season loss to the Hokies may be forgiven as long as the rest of the body of work is extraordinarily impressive. Anything less is a knockout punch.

The Buckeyes' best hope is a continuation of chaos. Working in their favor is there seems to be a lack of dominant teams in college football this season. Many of the preseason favorites have already lost a game, and Florida State has looked vulnerable in several games. More upsets are likely.

Expectations are that the committee will select conference winners. The Pac-12 and SEC champions are in unless there is complete pandemonium in conference play. Despite its flaws, Florida State will find a way to remain unbeaten and make it. This means it is time for the Buckeyes to root against the Big 12 and Notre Dame. They are the primary roadblocks if the Buckeyes take care of their business.

A month ago, Ohio State looked lost, but Meyer has held the ship together and weathered the storm. The tide is slowly turning in their favor. With eight more wins and a little luck, the Buckeyes might get selected for the inaugural playoff. Odds are long, but that will make the journey much more interesting.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Georgia Football: How Bulldogs Offense Must Respond Without Todd Gurley

The Georgia Bulldogs' pivotal game against Missouri—and the rest of their remaining slate—got a little more difficult on Thursday evening when the university announced the indefinite suspension of star running back Todd Gurley.

Now, Georgia's offense, which to date has depended heavily on a stout running game, is left to reorganize while the junior Heisman Trophy candidate is removed from play.  Though the length of his suspension remains to be seen, the potential impact is both known and feared.

Without Gurley, the Bulldog offense will be without the SEC's leading rusher and one of the most versatile weapons in the country.  Over the course of his career, Gurley has rushed for over 3,100 yards, returned two kickoffs for touchdowns and accounted for 611 receiving yards.  Just last week he completed a 50-yard pass against Vanderbilt.

Georgia must respond offensively with a quick-striking passing attack and creative use of personnel.

 

Get the Ball Out

Though quarterback Hutson Mason has drawn the ire of a portion of the Georgia faithful as of late, the fifth-year senior has not justified that overt negativity.  To be sure, Mason is quite a departure from record-setting quarterback Aaron Murray, but given his lack of in-game experience and the rise of Gurley, that much should be expected—at least statistically.

Nonetheless, Mason has performed adequately within offensive coordinator Mike Bobo's system.  Case in point:  In five starts this season he has completed more than 68 percent of his passes.  With Gurley out, that statistic matters more so than any other.  After all, a diminished ground attack will necessitate more passing but not necessarily deeper passing, which has been a shortcoming for Mason this year.

If Georgia can get star wide receivers Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley back from injury and fully functional, this passing attack could still be formidable—with or without Gurley.  The key will be getting the ball out quickly and letting receivers go to work.

Mitchell is certainly capable of making plays in space, and sure-handed targets like Michael Bennett and Chris Conley have always excelled in the short- to mid-range passing game.  An emphasis on getting the ball to elusive threats like speedsters Isaiah McKenzie and Reggie Davis could also benefit the Dawgs.

Bobo knows his weapons, and he knows his quarterback.  Mason is not going to win games with slow developing play-action bombs or deep back-shoulder fades.  But he can have success with precisely timed patterns that eat up eight or 10 yards at a time.

 

Get Creative 

One could argue that this season has been Bobo's most creative as a play-caller, and that's not a bad thing.  Already Mason and two other passers (Brice Ramsey and Faton Bauta) have received playing time.  Ramsey has even played select situations early in games.  

Bobo must recognize the three passers' unique skill sets and utilize them accordingly.  Mason is the most experienced and the most knowledgeable of the playbook.  Ramsey has the biggest arm.  Bauta is the most capable as a runner.  All three of those components will prove valuable at some point and could create an advantage for Georgia.

Getting athletes involved in a variety of ways should also be paramount.  Though he's currently out with injury, Sony Michel was a tremendous threat in the passing game.  Conversely, McKenzie has been a threat in the running game from his wide receiver spot.  With the best athlete on the team out, getting the ball into the hands of the most explosive remaining playmakers must take precedent.

And of course, the talented remaining running backs should not be forgotten.  Brendan Douglas was stellar as a true freshman last season when Gurley and Keith Marshall were out with injury.  True freshman Nick Chubb has already impressed this season.  

Perhaps the most creative use of these talents is an overly stacked backfield with tight end Jeb Blazevich as an extra blocker and fullback Quayvon Hicks paving the way.  Though such a formation is a far cry from innovative, it is somewhat abnormal relative to today's spread-out offensive formations.

Against a team like Missouri, which boasts a host of explosive outside pass-rushers, churning out yardage up the middle could be a potent antidote.

Todd Gurley was the best player on Georgia's football team; that much is indisputable.  But that's a credit to Gurley, not necessarily an indictment of his teammates.

Of Gurley's suspension, Richt told GeorgiaDogs.com that he was "disappointed," and to an extent he spoke for the entire team, the university and Bulldog Nation.

But there's a difference between being down and being out.  Which descriptor most accurately defines Georgia's offense remains to be seen.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand and all stats courtesy of Sports-Reference.com.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

1 Key Stat Each Undefeated Team Should Know to Avoid Upset This Week

Did you know that Alabama was ranked No. 106 in turnover margin coming into last Saturday’s game with Ole Miss?

It’s a statistic that makes the 23-17 upset loss more understandable, especially since the game ended with Alabama quarterback Blake Sims throwing an interception on the Ole Miss 32-yard line with two minutes remaining.

The Tide’s tale of woe reminds us that each of the 10 programs which have survived to Week 7 without a loss have a weakness, something that’s just waiting to be exposed.

It’s there, no matter how invincible a team may look on the surface.

Here’s a look at a simple number for each perfect program, a telling statistic that could become the foreshadowing we should have been looking for in the first place. 

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