NCAA Football News

Shy Tuttle Commits to Tennessee: What 4-Star DT Brings to Vols

When Lexington, North Carolina, star defensive tackle Shy Tuttle verbally committed to Tennessee on Friday, per 247Sports, it gave the Volunteers their second major national recruiting victory for a top-tier tackle during this recruiting cycle.

So much for a program that has struggled to lure elite interior linemen in recent classes.

Now, if his commitment holds, the Vols will be able to pair Tuttle with 5-star Kahlil McKenzie in the middle of their defensive line for the foreseeable future.

Tuttle solidifies what will become the nation's top interior defensive line class.

"It's been a long, long time since Tennessee landed two defensive tackles in the same class who are as talented as Tuttle and Kahlil McKenzie, who are ranked by 247Sports as two of the nation's top four defensive tackles," GoVols247's Ryan Callahan told Bleacher Report.

"When you throw in Quay Picou, a 4-star prospect, I can't imagine that any other team will end up with a group of defensive tackles in the 2015 class that's more impressive than Tennessee's," Callahan said.

"King Tut" is the kind of jumbo athlete that is difficult to find to anchor an interior, and once he gets in a collegiate training and nutrition system, he's going to be a force. Though his strength is against the run, Tuttle's film displays that he has the lateral quickness to be a complete tackle.

There's a reason why he's one of the top high school players at his position in the country.

 

Franchise Duo

Though Tennessee loaded up on talented defensive linemen in the 2014 recruiting class, a group of big men highlighted by Derek Barnett and Dewayne Hendrix lacked beef. 

The Vols currently have just two defensive linemen listed on their official roster who weigh more than 300 pounds (freshmen Michael Sawyers and Charles Mosley)

Tuttle and McKenzie give the Vols nearly 635 pounds of bulk and athleticism to clog the middle of the line. In the trench warfare of the SEC against running teams like Alabama and Georgia, guys like that are essential.

The 6'3", 315-pound defensive tackle helps fill a role that currently doesn't exist on the Vols roster, and he could find himself with immediate reps because of it.

His coach at North Davidson High School, Mark Holcolm, recently told Scout.com's Chad Simmons where he believes his star projects on the next level:

He's gonna be a shade nose or a 3-technique at the next level. He's a run-stopper, but he can run down a line and make plays. That's one of the things people noticed about him early is his ability—he tackled a couple of jet sweeps early from a 3-technique and a 5-technique. I think that's what people see: a man that big who moves that well. ...

He can be as good as he wants to be in terms of getting with a nutrition regimen. ...

He's going to blossom into probably a 330-pound animal. That's what he's going to be down the road.

Tennessee identified Tuttle as a top target early and really began to emerge as a strong candidate to land his commitment toward the end of the summer.

Tuttle didn't have the same family ties to the program as McKenzie, whose father and uncle starred for UT in the 1980s, so the Vols used some out-of-the-box recruiting tactics to help lure him.

Whereas McKenzie's bucket hat campaign drew some considerable buzz over Twitter, the real unorthodox measures were taken with Tuttle when UT superimposed his image over Jay-Z's alongside Beyonce. The tactic drew headlines.

Whether UT's methods to lure Tuttle were lauded or loathed varies, but the Vols undoubtedly could not care less.

In the end, they got their man, and he will team with McKenzie to give Butch Jones and defensive line coach Steve Stripling a formidable force on the defensive front for the next three or four years.

 

Re-Opening North Carolina

During the salad days of the 1990s, the Vols thrived recruiting the fertile grounds of North Carolina. After a half-decade lull, Tuttle's pledge continues a recruiting revival in that state for Jones in his short time at UT.

Under Johnny Majors and Phillip Fulmer, elite prospects such as Carl Pickens, Leonard Little, Heath Shuler, Montario Hardesty, Jonathan Crompton and O.J. Owens matriculated west. Even though the players didn't always pan out, UT got its share of the most coveted kids who came out of that state.

It's back to the future the past few years.

The renewed success began with star sophomore wide receiver Marquez North, who stuck with UT after it fired Derek Dooley. It hasn't stopped, either, as UT has raided its neighbor for a total of 10 players from North Carolina who have either signed or committed for future classes.

One of the many reasons Tennessee has stayed in a down cycle for so long is its struggles in recruiting the Carolinas and Virginia, but those days are over.

With a couple of its ace recruiters—Tommy Thigpen and Mark Elder—spearheading the efforts, the Vols are a force again over there, winning battles recently reserved for teams such as Clemson, Florida, Florida State and Alabama.

Tuttle may be the biggest victory yet. While he could have gone to the home state Tar Heels or Wolfpack as well as Clemson, Alabama or others, he elected to play for the Vols.

Getting a player with his size, athleticism and upside is a major win on the recruiting trail.

The Vols desperately need to add at least one more offensive lineman, a linebacker and a couple of cornerbacks in this year's class. But Tuttle is another player who is a cornerstone, an elite lineman who is essential to have when it comes to building programs that can win important conference games.

He's the prototype SEC defensive lineman and appears primed to have a big career in Knoxville.

"Tennessee might have had more pressing needs than another defensive tackle, but it's hard to imagine the addition of Shy Tuttle not making a major impact on the Vols' defensive line," Callahan said.

"He's a powerful defensive tackle with good size, and those are hard to come by. And he's planning to be an early enrollee, which should give him a good chance of contributing right away."

There are plenty of hills to climb on Rocky Top, but with players like Tuttle, better days are on the way.

 

Unless otherwise noted all statistics gathered from cfbstats.com. All recruiting information from 247Sports.

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

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Notre Dame Football: Lou Holtz Weighs in on Playoffs, Investigation

Stop me if you've heard this one: Lou Holtz likes Notre Dame.

But after years of serving as a punching bag on ESPN for his pro-Irish delusions, the former Notre Dame coach and current TV pseudo-psychologist, Dr. Lou has every reason to be bullish about the Irish after watching them play the first three games of the season. 

"After the first week, I had them as one of my top six teams for the playoff," Holtz told me this week. "I now have them as one of my top four."

Holtz made that proclamation after seeing the Irish up close and watching some of Notre Dame's future opponents begin to wilt. Yet it's more than just the early-season struggles of teams like Florida State, USC and Stanford, Holtz formed his opinion after getting a rare in-season look behind the scenes in South Bend when he visited with Brian Kelly and the team, taking in Friday's practice before the Michigan game. 

"This football team, there’s something special about it," Holtz told me. "Watching them practice, watching them play, it’s a special team. I don’t look at the stars, I look at the third-teamers at practice. Everybody’s focused on what they’re doing. There’s no individual there, there’s no selfishness there, and there’s great talent."

That last part is particularly important, according to Notre Dame's second-most winningest coach. It's also a big reason why Holtz could rattle off the Irish's upcoming schedule from the top of his 77-year-old head. 

"I think that they will beat Florida State in Tallahassee. I think they’ll get by Stanford at home," Holtz said, walking me through the potential pitfalls. "The only other game, with [Taylor] Kelly being injured, the quarterback at Arizona State, does volumes for us. And I just don’t think that Southern Cal is as talented as some thought after the Stanford game."

While Holtz's optimism does feel like vintage Holtz, he made it clear that the biggest reason he felt that way was the blossoming relationship between Brian Kelly and quarterback Everett Golson. 

"I love Everett Golson. He is just a winner," Holtz said. "He’s got great peripheral vision, and he made a couple of throws against Michigan that I want to tell you, you don’t see except on Sunday. And not every game on Sunday. He’s got a rifle of an arm, he’s got a quick decision, excellent vision. There’s just something about him."

Of course, with Notre Dame still shy three key starters and five total players as their academic investigation drags on, we still don't know how good this team can be until the dust settles. But after talking to a coach who spent a decade dealing with the university's administration, I took the opportunity to ask him about his experiences dealing with off-field issues.

"When I went there, they said you’ll have nothing to do with the academics, and you’ll have nothing to do with the discipline of an individual on campus," Holtz said.

Then he walked through his experience in 1989, reminding me that things aren't all that different today under the Golden Dome than in Holtz's era. 

"1989. We’re defending national champs," Holtz recalled. "I found out the morning our team reported, right before the team picture, that Tony Brooks, our leading ground-gainer from the previous year, had driven his car onto campus the day before in order to empty his clothes.

"He was suspended for the season. He wasn’t allowed to drive his car on campus because he had too many parking tickets, and, consequently, Tony wouldn’t be able to play that entire year.

"In that same conversation, they informed me that Michael Stonebreaker was involved in a car accident in the offseason. He had alcohol on his breath, but was not arrested for drunken driving, and he was not given a citation. But because of that, our All-American linebacker, Michael Stonebreaker, would not be able to play the entire year. I found that out the morning we reported in 1989."

But just as some have wondered why Kelly hasn't complained more about the separation between the football program and the handling of his players, Holtz said it comes with the territory. 

"You know what you do? That’s Notre Dame. They make the decision. You close ranks, you pick up the rifle and you march on."

On a day where Holtz spent his morning promoting the AFCA Allstate Good Works Team, a passion of his that he hopes will remind football fans of the good things happening right now, Holtz's love for the game was more than apparent. 

So was his love for Notre Dame, a feeling Holtz will take to his grave (literally, he's got two plots in the campus cemetery for himself and his wife). That's why you could hardly blame the former coach for finding the teaching moment—and recruiting pitch—that he believes makes Notre Dame different than just about every other college football program in America. 

"Discipline isn't what you do to somebody, it's what you do for somebody," Holtz said. "What Notre Dame does, they're not looking at this week or next week, they're looking at 40 years down the road. It's not a four-year decision, it's a 40-year decision."  

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Miami Football: Surprises, Disappointments so Far for 2014 Hurricanes

Through the opening third of the 2014 regular season, the Miami Hurricanes have a few surprises and disappointments on both sides of the football.

The 'Canes are returning to conference action this weekend, and any underperforming players must start to contribute regularly while the unexpected bright spots cannot stop producing. 

Miami is still seeking its first ACC Championship Game berth, and that goal would take a serious hit with a loss to Duke on Saturday.

If that were to happen, it will be another frustrating year in Coral Gables, and it will partly be a result of the early-season shortcomings. But if the 'Canes eventually earn the division crown, they'll point directly to an encouraging signs that emerged in September.

 

Surprises

The True Freshmen Trio

Simply watching quarterback Brad Kaaya's high school tape, it was apparent he was immensely talented and had potential. But developing on a weekly basis like he has as a true freshman?

Special.

Having had to endure the Kyle Wright, Kirby Freeman, Jacory Harris and Stephen Morris eras, Miami and its fans haven't seen this kind of decision-making under center seen since the days of Ken Dorsey and Brock Berlin.

The gunslinger Kaaya set a freshman record with 342 passing yards against Arkansas State and proceeded to rack up 359 the following weekend at Nebraska. He'll likely raise that mark by the end of the season, but that's not even his most noteworthy feat.

Kaaya is on pace to top the program's 26-year-old single-season record of 29 passing touchdowns.

Two of his current 10 scores have gone to Braxton Berrios, another member of the 2014 class, who leads all wide receivers with 14 catches. The shifty slot receiver has tallied 149 yards, and he's already become a fixture in the 'Canes offense.

Many hoped Chad Thomas would immediately take over on the defensive line, but Courtel Jenkins has provided the biggest impact by a freshman in the trenches, tallying 10 stops to date. The tackle has established himself in the rotation behind senior Olsen Pierre and junior Calvin Heurtelou.

 

Thurston Armbrister's Emergence

He was once a barely recruited, zero-star safety out of Hollywood Hills, Florida, but Thurston Armbrister has become the best outside linebacker for the Hurricanes.

The senior has registered 24 tackles, including four sacks. Additionally, he has forced two fumbles, recovered another and broke up a pass.

According to Christy Cabrera Chirinos of the Sun Sentinel, Armbrister has made an impression as a leader, too. He's also been a mentor to younger teammates like freshman outside linebacker Darrion Owens, who should take Armbrister's role next year.

"He's really made me catch on really fast my first game…everything he knows, I know," Owens said. "If I mess up, he'll be right on me...He's helped me a lot."

Ultimately, there's no question Armbrister has proven to be the team's breakout star in 2014.

 

Pat O'Donnell's Replacement

"You can forget about trying to replace Pat," head coach Al Golden told InsideTheU (subscription required) in May, and there was absolutely zero reason to disagree. The now-Chicago Bears punter shattered school records, leaving a massive void to be filled.

"He was obviously a great punter," new Miami punter Justin Vogel said in mid-August, per Susan Miller Degnan of The Miami Herald. "I'm just going to do whatever I can do, and we'll see what happens. I'm not going to try and worry about beating him. I'm just going to worry about being the best I can for this team."

However, the Florida transfer is providing most of what the Cincinnati transfer brought to the Hurricanes and is indeed replacing him quite admirably. Vogel has averaged 44.8 yards per kick over 13 punts, which currently ranks second in program history.

While Miami certainly wishes it didn't need to use Vogel much, not being able to flip field position could prove detrimental during ACC play. Nevertheless, when the offense stumbles, it's reassuring to know the punter hasn't caused more problems.

 

Disappointments

Stacy Coley's Slow Start

Stacy Coley finished 2013 with six touchdowns in his final five games, scoring in three different ways—rushing, receiving and a punt return. He accomplished all this in Phillip Dorsett's absence, so pairing them up was an exciting thought.

However, after catching only three screen passes at Louisville, Coley left the Florida A&M game early and then missed the matchup against Arkansas State. But a shoulder injury is not what makes the talented sophomore a disappointment through four games.

Considering he has just six receptions for just 31 yards and his longest kick return is 29 yards, Coley is still looking for his first explosive play.

He's too talented for the cold streak to continue for an entire season, but the speedster has been underwhelming so far.

 

Tackling Relapse

"Defensive deficiencies resurface in Hurricanes' loss to Nebraska," Fox Sports Florida's Christina De Nicola wrote.

The Cornhuskers rushing attack simply overpowered Miami, totaling 343 yards on 6.4 per attempt. Ameer Abdullah was hardly challenged, picking up an extra yard or two on practically every carry and shaking off tacklers like Taylor Swift does haters.

Gap control was barely a thought, and the Nebraska duo of Abdullah and Tommy Armstrong Jr. absolutely punished the 'Canes.

After Miami players and coaches spent the spring and summer sessions preaching how the defense's tackling has improved, one poor showing returned a truthful voice to the critics.

 

Struggles at Cornerback

Originally thought to be the defense's strongest unit, the secondary has ceded a 62.7 completion percentage to opposing Football Bowl Subdivision passers, which ranks 91st in the nation.

Though Tracy Howard has the team's lone interception of a quarterback, the junior has not been the dynamic shutdown corner he was expected to be.

What's more, Howard's unwillingness to take on Abdullah on a tackle attempt near the end of the first quarter of the Nebraska game was so blatantly obvious that it's no wonder Ladarius Gunter and Artie Burns have been starting ahead of him.

However, both players haven't been much better. Nebraska receiver Kenny Bell picked on the cornerbacks, reeling in a 40-yard touchdown as Gunter chased him down and picking up 17 yards on 3rd-and-11 against Burns.

The Hurricanes have yet to face the ACC's best wideouts—namely Duke's Jamison Crowder, Florida State's Rashad Greene and Pittsburgh's Tyler Boyd—so the defensive backfield needs to start locking down receivers, or else those three receivers are poised to have career days.

 

Note: National rankings from CFB stats, and individual numbers from hurricanesports.com.

Follow Bleacher Report college football writer David Kenyon on Twitter: @Kenyon19_BR.

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10 College Football Teams That Can't Afford for Starting QB to Get Injured

There is arguably not a more important position in college football than quarterback.

The entire offense runs through the quarterback; the poise, confidence and talent from whoever is taking snaps under center can easily be transferred to the rest of the team. In many cases, the team wins and loses by its quarterback play.

But what happens if the quarterback falls victim to injury?

Ohio State found that out the hard way, as quarterback Braxton Miller was announced out for the entire season prior to Week 1. After beginning the season as national title contenders, the Buckeyes seem to be struggling to even win its division.

Here are 10 teams that could face similar plights if their starting quarterback were to be injured.

Begin Slideshow

Ranked Teams Most in Need of a Stud Quarterback Recruit

Similar to how NFL coaches, personnel and organizations are married to their starting quarterbacks, college coaches hit the recruiting trail in search of quarterbacks who can change the culture of a program. 

Kevin Sumlin helped resurrect the Texas A&M program thanks to the talents of Johnny Manziel, while Jimbo Fisher elevated Florida State’s program back into a powerhouse after landing Jameis Winston in a heated recruiting battle. 

A handful of ranked teams will have to replace starters next season, while others are battling a lack of depth or are without a clear-cut option who represents the future of their respective programs.

Which ranked teams are most in need of a superstar quarterback recruit?

*Teams listed in alphabetical order.

Begin Slideshow

When Fully Healthy, Alabama's Defense Can Finally Show What It's Made of

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama’s defense hasn’t been terrible by any means. Statistically, it sits at No. 5 in the country in yards per game.

But it hasn’t exactly faced a murderers' row of offenses, and has given up more big plays than it would like.

Part of this could be drawn up to injuries. The Crimson Tide have been without several key contributors at some point or another throughout fall camp and into the season.

But coming out of a bye week and ready to sink its teeth into the meat of its SEC schedule, Alabama looks to be pretty much healthy on that side of the ball.

After scrutiny over its performance so far this season, the Alabama defense can finally show the country what its made of, and we’ll see whether this is a unit that can complement its championship-caliber offense.

While Alabama is giving up just 250.3 yards per game, that number is inflated because of the strength of teams the Crimson Tide have played so far, especially as it pertains to the run game.

Alabama has been most susceptible through the air, where it sits at No. 28 nationally. Most of those yards came against West Virginia, which put up 365 yards. Southern Miss even managed to hit pass plays of 24, 36, 27 and 25 yards.

Florida threw for just 93 yards, but Jeff Driskel is one of the worst quarterbacks in the SEC.

Part of that can be chalked up to injuries and inconsistencies in personnel. Alabama has been without several key starters for some stretch of time, but now it looks like the Crimson Tide will have their full cast at their disposal coming up.

Cornerback Eddie Jackson and safety Jarrick Williams have been two critical losses in the secondary. Jackson is one of Alabama’s most physical cornerbacks and has matched up with top receivers in the conference. Williams plays in nickel and dime and plays well against the run.

Alabama coach Nick Saban said on Tuesday that both of them should be good to go.

The Crimson Tide also missed Trey DePriest, the team’s most experienced inside linebacker, for the season opener from an NCAA infraction and for most of fall camp with a knee injury. His return as the signal-caller has improved the team’s communication.

“Since we got Trey back, he's been leading everybody on the defense,” junior linebacker Reggie Ragland said. “Everybody has responded real great. Coach Saban called us out and we definitely had to respond to that. Everybody has come out, known their assignments and played real tough football.”

Indeed, Saban called Alabama’s defense “soft” at halftime of the West Virginia game. The Mountaineers moved the ball fairly consistently during the game, especially through the air, and hung around longer than most fans, coaches and players would have liked.

Getting DePriest back helped curb some of that.

“When you're a football player, you're known to be tough, smashmouth, especially coming here,” Ragland said. “When your coach calls you out, you definitely have to respond to it.”

By all accounts, Alabama is getting its defenders back at just the right time.

The Crimson Tide will face Ole Miss and Texas A&M, the league’s two best passing teams, in the next three games.

Whether or not Alabama is up to the challenge, we’ll find out soon.

 

Marc Torrence is the Alabama lead writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

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4-Star DE Michael Barnett Flips Commitment from Florida State to Georgia

Michael Barnett provided a plot twist in his recruitment process Friday morning, impacting a pair of top-10 2015 classes. The South Carolina defensive end was expected to sign an early enrollment agreement with Florida State, but changed course and switched his allegiance to Georgia:

The 4-star Woodland High School prospect altered his collegiate plans to the surprise of those who attended a ceremony anticipated to end with him solidifying a commitment to Florida State. Instead, Barnett backed out of a three-month verbal pact with the Seminoles. 

He identified personal relationships as a main motivation. 

“My godmother is a Georgia fan,” Barnett told Ryan Bartow of 247Sports. “I have family in Georgia. I could’ve played anywhere and been successful. The SEC played a part. Georgia plays in a powerhouse conference.”

He is the second standout defensive lineman to flip to Georgia in a six-week span. Former Alabama commit Jonathan Ledbetter joined the Bulldogs class in mid-August.

Their decisions were preceded by perhaps the most important pledge of this recruiting cycle. Trent Thompson, a 5-star defensive tackle rated third overall in 247Sports' composite rankings, announced his commitment to Georgia four days before Ledbetter jumped on the bandwagon.

Coach Mark Richt's latest haul also includes 4-star pass-rushers Chauncey Rivers and Natrez Patrick, creating a stockpile of talent along the defensive front for Georgia. It's quickly become an area of strength for the Bulldogs in a class that currently rates second nationally in 247Sports' composite rankings.

Barnett, a 6'5", 258-pound playmaker, has made an impact throughout his high school career. He emerged as a top-tier collegiate prospect in 2012, earning All-State honors as a sophomore.

His junior season was even more impressive. Barnett registered career-highs across the board with 89 tackles, including 31 for loss, and seven sacks.

He is rated 11th nationally among strong-side defensive ends in 247Sports' composite rankings.

Barnett initially committed to Virginia Tech, but reopened his recruitment in February. He holds a list of scholarship offers that also includes Clemson, Alabama, LSU and Notre Dame.

Florida State falls to sixth in class rankings with the departure of Barnett. Jimbo Fisher's team has lost a pivotal piece of its class, and is now left looking for help at defensive end. 

The Seminoles and Bulldogs are battling for the top prospect at the position in Josh Sweat, a 5-star Virginia product sidelined with a dislocated patella. He is expected to spend official visits at both campuses before making a decision.

 

Recruit ratings and offer information courtesy of 247Sports.

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Trovon Reed Has Finally Found His Home in Auburn's Improving Secondary

AUBURN, Ala. — In three full seasons as a wide receiver, former 5-star recruit Trovon Reed only recorded one career touchdown reception.

In three full games as a brand-new cornerback, Reed has recorded two interceptions.

"I can’t even express how I feel right now," Reed said after his first pick, a leaping grab that took away a potential fourth-quarter touchdown away from San Jose State. "I don't know what to say...I haven’t been this happy in a long time."

Reed's road from highly rated high school athlete to fifth-year college senior has been a long and bumpy one.

When Reed was a junior in high school, his mother Roszaina died of stomach cancer. Eight months later, on Roszaina's birthday, he committed to Auburn over home-state school LSU as Louisiana's top recruit—an ultra-athletic quarterback who was viewed as a future star wideout in then-offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn's hurry-up, no-huddle offense.

"I coached at LSU for three years," Dennis Lorio, Reed's high school coach, told Auburn Undercover's Philip Marshall in 2009. "Eddie Kennison was there. They have the same burst, the same vision, the same sideways movement. Trovon's hands are probably a little better than Eddie's, and Eddie played in the NFL for about 12 years."

After taking a redshirt in Auburn's 2010 National Championship season, Reed hit the field in 2011 as a major part of the Tigers' receiving rotation. But, even with two starts and 10 games of action, he finished with 164 yards and zero touchdowns.

In 2012, Reed scored his first collegiate points with a 40-yard touchdown grab against lowly New Mexico State, one of the only offensive highlights in Auburn's dreadful 3-9 season.

Even as an experienced junior in 2013 with experience in new head coach Malzahn's system, Reed's receiving yards fell for a third straight season. He had not recorded more than two matches in a single game since 2011.

Reed didn't come close to living up to the hype he received in high school, but he was determined not to fade away as an underutilized senior in Auburn's senior.

Instead of focusing on making catches, Reed turned his attention to stopping them by voluntarily moving to Auburn's secondary as a cornerback, a position he played in high school All-American games.

"I played in the offense, now I had to make a decision for myself and what's best for the team also," Reed said in April. "I wanted to go out and help those guys in the cornerback room."

The Auburn coaching staff announced the surprise change at the beginning of spring practices, and the Louisiana native immediately went to work at breaking into the Tigers' two-deep depth chart. By the end of fall camp, he had locked down the second-string field cornerback spot behind Josh Holsey.

Three games later, Reed has a pair of interceptions, several pass breakups and a new wealth of playing time he did not see as a veteran wide receiver.

"He's made steady progress, and I think now it's to the point we can play him as much as those starters, and that's important," defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson said. "It's good to have depth there now...I think [cornerbacks coach Melvin Smith] has been pleased overall with his progress, and I think a pattern of big plays is going to help his confidence."

Reed was thrown into the fire against Kansas State by having to cover highly touted receiver Tyler Lockett several times throughout last Thursday night's matchup.

"When I first got over [to the secondary], it was like, 'I can't get beat. I can't get beat,'" Reed told the team's official website after the Tigers' 20-14 victory. "They sat me down and said, 'Sometimes you're going to get beat. You've just got to go to the next play.' They just kept my head right. I always tell him, 'If you've got that much confidence in me, then I can't let you down.'"

Reed didn't let Auburn down—he played a big part in holding Lockett to only 45 receiving yards.

Head coach Gus Malzahn singled him out for praise in his postgame press conference in Manhattan, saying he was pleased with how Reed had transitioned his talents as a wide receiver, especially his speed and ball skills, into his play as a SEC-level cornerback.

"I am very proud of Trovon," Malzahn said. "You are talking about a guy that has not been playing defense since the spring. To go out there and play one of the better receivers in college, he played it pretty well. I was definitely impressed with him. He had the big interception in the fourth quarter that was huge for us."

Not only has Reed improved his production by making the switch to cornerback, he has also improved the play of the Auburn secondary—the entire unit and individual players.

According to Holsey, Reed brings the mindset of an offensive player to the defensive back meeting room, which helps everyone's awareness and ability to diagnose plays even before the ball is snapped.

"We'll ask him for split rules," Holsey told the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer's Ryan Black. "He'll tell you if a receiver is this far, he's running this. If he's this far in, he's running that. That helps us a lot as a defense by asking him, because he knows sometimes just based off of splits what the wide receiver is going to run."

With all the additional snaps he is getting in a new position, Reed has left the dark days of his first few college seasons behind. He said he is "having fun again" playing football and finally feels comfortable with his role on the team.

Reed knows he doesn't have many more games left on the Plains, but he is focused on finishing his Auburn career on a high note.

"There's an ending to every story," Reed said. "And I'm trying to make this one a dream."

 

All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports. All stats courtesy of CFBStats.com.

Justin Ferguson is Bleacher Report's lead Auburn writer. Follow him on Twitter @JFergusonAU.

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Notre Dame Football: How Offensive Line Shakeup Impacts Irish

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Despite all the good that has come out of Notre Dame football’s 3-0 start and ascension to No. 8 in the national polls, the Irish have not been able to find the right answer on the offensive line.

In three games, Notre Dame's opponents have tallied six sacks—just two fewer than the Irish surrendered all of last season. The rushing attack has looked slow and plodding at times, slowly churning its engine around the line of scrimmage. Notre Dame rushed for 54 yards on 31 carries against Michigan (1.7 yards per attempt) and 139 yards on 38 rushes against Purdue (3.7).

The day after the Purdue game, Irish head coach Brian Kelly said the coaching staff would evaluate the offensive line and consider shifting personnel. Nine days later—following the bye week—Kelly offered a new projected starting line but was not ready to set it in stone. On Thursday evening, Kelly confirmed the line will feature left tackle Ronnie Stanley, left guard Nick Martin (from center), center Matt Hegarty (from guard), right guard Steve Elmer (from right tackle) and right tackle Christian Lombard (from right tackle).

It’s not too difficult to see why Notre Dame felt changes were necessary. But how will the moves play out?

“Physicality at the guard position, more than anything else, is what we were looking for at that position,” Kelly said Tuesday.

Kelly praised Martin’s physicality, and Elmer is listed at 315 pounds. That should, in theory, lead to better pushes along the interior.

But shifting four players around on the offensive line—leaving just Stanley as the lone starter remaining in his same position—is a bold move. Offensive linemen seem to always preach the importance of chemistry and comfort with their line mates.

Now, it helps that the personnel doesn’t change much—with the exception of Hegarty starting and senior guard Conor Hanratty heading to the sideline. But Martin is playing a completely new position. Lombard is playing right tackle for the first time since the 2012-13 season. When asked about the chemistry, Kelly was quick to note Hegarty, Elmer and Lombard all have past experience at their new spots and there’s “a real comfort level for those three guys at that position.”

“I think it's really about when they're at that position, it's their comfort level lining up at right guard, right tackle and center,” Kelly said. “That choreography comes in time. That will take time, that choreography, if you will.”

It very well could take time for the unit to sync up. While that may be slightly more acceptable against Syracuse this weekend, Notre Dame will have a smaller and smaller margin for error with communication and protections when it faces Stanford, Florida State, Arizona State and USC.

As far as communication goes, Kelly said Thursday that Martin will help Hegarty with some of the snap calls.

“It will allow [Hegarty] to keep his eye on snapping and execution,” Kelly said. “… Matt’s got his hands full with taking care of his own position as well.”

Kelly didn’t seem too concerned with the communication along the line, saying the Irish worked hard at it all week and adding Stanley helps with calls from the outside in.

All things considered, we’ll have to wait and see how this line performs Saturday and in the coming weeks. But something needed to be done. On paper, increasing the interior physicality should help—as long as it doesn’t come at the expense of communication lapses.

An improved line would help keep Everett Golson upright and healthy and, potentially, jump start the running game. If Notre Dame’s three-headed backfield can run successfully behind an experienced offensive line, this already impressive Irish offense could take another step forward.

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 May Get Worse Before It Gets Better for Kliff Kingsbury and Texas Tech

Sometimes, a game cannot merely be summed up by its box score, or even with words. That's the case for Texas Tech's 45-35 loss to Oklahoma State Thursday night, which can be more appropriately summed up in a simple GIF of collective facepalms. 

Yeah, it was pretty bad. And that's not including the injury to starting quarterback Davis Webb, who reportedly sustained a dislocated non-throwing shoulder, per Red Raider Sports' Aaron Dickens. 

Tech continues to struggle in three primary areas: penalties, turnover margin and defense. Against the Pokes, the Red Raiders had a jaw-dropping 16 penalties for 158 yards—a game high for a Kliff Kingsbury-coached team—plus three turnovers.

Texas Tech did much better in that department in a Week 3 loss to Arkansas (five penalties for 60 yards) but obviously regressed Thursday night. As Jake Trotter of ESPN.com tweets, Texas Tech now leads the nation in most penalty yards per game. 

Kingsbury told Chris Level of Red Raider Sports after the game that the problem is undeniably and solely on his shoulders. 

As Dickens' tweet shows, penalties have been a problem for years in Lubbock. After 17 games with Kingsbury, though, Tech, in theory, should be playing smarter. 

The same logic applies with the turnover problems, which, as Zach Barnett of Footballscoop.com adds, extends all the way into last season. 

The streak speaks for itself, and Kingsbury will be the first to say that it's not acceptable. 

The last component, defense, actually deserves some leniency. Texas Tech has been thin on that side of the ball, and coaching turnover hasn't helped. Last week, defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt resigned for what was officially cited as "personal reasons," according to a Texas Tech email release. His replacement, co-defensive coordinator Mike Smith, became the sixth different DC for the Red Raiders in six seasons. 

It's tough to expect any kind of consistency or improvement with that level of turnover. 

In short, Texas Tech is a frustrating, if not borderline infuriating, team to watch. One can only imagine how Kingsbury feels. Playing smarter football has been a point of emphasis from him, and things aren't working out in that department. 

The doom and gloom theory for Tech isn't unfounded or hyperbolic. It's tough to win games when a team is constantly losing the turnover battle and/or shooting itself in the foot with penalties. Not surprisingly, Texas Tech is 3-7 in its last 10 games. 

Things may get worse before they get better, too. Big 12 play is underway, and the remaining schedule does this team few favors, as David Ubben of Fox Sports Southwest notes: 

A look down the schedule reveals just how difficult reaching the postseason will be for the Red Raiders. They'll have to win four of eight remaining games in Big 12 play and even Kansas may not be a sure thing, considering its running game may be a difficult matchup for Tech's front seven. Tech faces Iowa State in Ames and every single game on Texas Tech's slate the rest of the way is one it could lose. Without vast improvement, Tech may fall as far as 4-8. 

To be clear, Kingsbury is a bright coach who knows his stuff. His team has bounced back before. After a five-game losing streak to end the 2013 season, the Red Raiders had one of the best bowl wins of the post season in a 37-23 upset over Arizona State in the Holiday Bowl. 

The 2015 recruiting class is highlighted by 5-star quarterback Jarrett Stidham. If there's one thing Kingsbury does well, it's recruit quarterbacks. 

That's not going to solve all of Tech's problems by itself, but it adds to the theory that Kingsbury can turn things around. The obvious question is when it'll happen.

Kingsbury agreed to a contract extension in August, after just one year on the job, that would take him through 2020. His new salary starts at $3.1 million and increases by $200,000 annually. Obviously, Tech is paying Kingsbury on what it believes he can do, not necessarily on what he has done. 

And what Kingsbury hasn't done is fix his team's sloppy play. That's rarely something that can be fixed overnight, too.

It may eventually get better. Every team operates under the belief that it can. There just hasn't been anything thus far to indicate it will anytime soon.

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.com. 

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LSU Football: Surprises, Disappointments so Far for 2014 Tigers

LSU is 3-1 so far in 2014, which is surprising and disappointing. 

The Tigers have been favored in every game they have played this season, but they have not played like it. They were down 24-7 against Wisconsin in the season opener but were able to score 21 unanswered points and win. After two dominant shutouts against cupcakes Sam Houston State and UL-Monroe, LSU was eviscerated by Mississippi State in Tiger Stadium last Saturday night.

LSU head coach Les Miles is historically good in big games. But so far in 2014, Miles' squad has been flat against the two power-five conference teams it has faced.

Miles has won at least 10 games in every season since 2010. That appears to be in jeopardy with the way the Tigers have looked against meaningful opposition. He believes he can do a better job himself of having his team prepared. 

Les Miles: "I have to improve and be a better head coach." #LSU

— Shea Dixon (@Sheadixon) September 21, 2014

Here are some other surprises and disappointments for the 2014 Tigers thus far.  

 

Surprises

Few predicted wide receiver Travin Dural to be LSU's best offensive player after the first four weeks. Dural has caught 18 passes for 494 yards and four touchdowns. He has been LSU's leading receiver in every game this season.

Dural did not make any preseason All-SEC teams. If he keeps up his stellar play, he will be in the running for multiple postseason honors.

True freshman defensive tackle Davon Godchaux went through some growing pains against Mississippi State. He was consistently pushed out of his gap and was stomped on by center Dillon Day.

But Godchaux was not on anyone's radar to be a regular rotation player this season. He was presumably behind Maquedius Bain, Greg Gilmore and Frank Herron, but he surpassed them with his raw talent. The pride of Plaquemine, Louisiana, has shown flashes of excellence and has a bright future in the eyes of Miles.

On the broadcast, play-by-play man Sean McDonough says Les Miles compared Davon Godchaux to Glenn Dorsey during their meeting with him. #LSU

— Ross Dellenger (@DellengerAdv) September 1, 2014

 

Disappointments

LSU's run defense has been embarrassingly bad. Defensive coordinator John Chavis' unit allowed Wisconsin and Mississippi State to rush for a combined 570 yards. 

The Tigers still have to play the powerful rushing attacks of Auburn, Alabama and Arkansas. If they cannot stop the run, they might go winless against SEC West opposition. 

LSU's own running game hasn't been too stellar, either. The Tigers only managed 89 yards on the ground against the Bulldogs and have had only one rusher eclipse 100 yards in a game. 

The experienced offensive line has yet to find a cohesive starting unit. LSU 5-star freshman Leonard Fournette has been a non-factor, rushing for only 56 yards on 15 carries against power-five conference opposition.  

Fournette, Kenny Hilliard, Terrence Magee and Darrel Williams have been good, but not great. They, along with the offensive line, can, and must, perform at a higher level. 

 

Stats, rankings and additional information provided by cfbstats.com and LSU Sports Information. Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Follow me on Twitter @CarterthePower. 

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Breaking Down Michigan's Lengthy Quarterback Problem

Fans will have to wait until Saturday to see whether Devin Gardner or Shane Morris starts versus Minnesota, but Michigan is no stranger to quarterback controversies.

The turmoil began as soon as Lloyd Carr announced his retirement, and both Brady Hoke and Rich Rodriguez have struggled since with a series of talented but flawed players at the most important position on the team.

Prior to Rodriguez, Michigan enjoyed a steady stream of prototypical NFL-ready quarterbacks, tall in stature with rifle arms and solid decision making skills. But most importantly, they were recruited and developed for a specific style of play that favored game managers over playmakers.

Brady Hoke fueled the latest controversy when he refused to name Devin Gardner as his starting quarterback during his regular Monday afternoon press conference. He continued to play coy throughout the week, declining to name a starter.

As Hoke’s future hangs in the balance, here is a look back at Michigan’s troubled quest for a premier quarterback.


Quarterback U

Lloyd Carr’s retirement marked the end of a remarkable period consistency and depth at the quarterback position for Michigan

Consider the 1997 national championship team that had three potential NFL caliber quarterbacks battling for the starting position; Brian Griese, Scott Dreisbach and Tom Brady. Griese would lead Michigan to the Big Ten title and national championship followed by a decade-long NFL career as occasional starter and backup.

Dreisbach began his Michigan career with a spectacular fourth-quarter comeback versus Virginia in 1995 and played professionally during a nine-year career in the NFL, NFL Europe and arena league. Brady completed his Michigan career after battling with phenom Drew Henson and become one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL history. 

After Brady’s graduation Michigan turned to the enigmatic Drew Henson whose development at quarterback was stunted by his professional baseball career. When New York Yankee owner (and noted Ohio State booster) George Steinbrenner lured Drew Henson away, he was replaced by John Navarre who filled the position until graduating. Both quarterbacks played at a high level and Michigan enjoyed great success with them at the helm.

Matt Gutierrez was groomed to replace Navarre, but an injury gave Chad Henne an opportunity to start as a true freshman. He never relinquished the starting position and Ryan Mallett was expected to succeed him.

Every quarterback who started for Michigan from 1989 to 2007 had strong collegiate careers and played in the NFL. Even some of the backups (Dreisbach, Guiterrez and Mallett) had professional opportunities to continue playing after Michigan.

This was a remarkable recruiting advantage, and Mallett was poised to be the next great Michigan quarterback.

But it all changed when Lloyd Carr retired.


Rodriguez Era (2008-2010)

Rich Rodriguez arrived on campus, and a number of players decided to leave the program. Part of this was the normal churn of players deciding that they didn’t fit the new system. But in a controversial move, Carr let it be known that he would approve transfers and even reportedly advised a previously committed quarterback recruit to switch schools.

Mallett, the most talented quarterback on the roster, took the exit and transferred leaving Rodriguez to make do with Nick Sheridan and Steven Threet.

Sheridan had played his high school football locally and was a solid, if not spectacular recruit. As a Michigan legacy (his father Bill had been Michigan's linebacker coach from 2002-04), he joined Jason Carr (Lloyd), Jeremy Jackson (Fred) and Jim Harbaugh (Jack) as the son of a current or former coach given an opportunity play for the Wolverines.

Threet was a transfer dropback passer who left Georgia Tech when the coaches who recruited him departed the program. Like Mallett, he was tall with a big arm in the traditional mold of previous Michigan signal-callers.

Unfortunately for Sheridan and Threet, Rodriguez didn’t need traditional dropback passers—he needed quarterbacks who could run his revolutionary zone-read offense.

Sheridan and Threet tried their best, but a took brutal beatings at the helm of the offense as the team finished an abysmal 3-9. Threet, who would later have success in a traditional offense after transferring to Arizona State, retired from football after suffering four concussions, two of which happened after leaving Michigan.

Sheridan, who on past Michigan squads would have been relegated to holding a clipboard and signaling in plays as the third or fourth quarterback, was pressed into service and payed a physical toll running Rodriguez’ offense. He also retired from football despite having remaining eligibility.

Justin Feagin was a late addition to the team, he would appear in three games but eventually be dismissed from the team after the details of a failed drug deal were revealed.

The 2009 season saw the addition of two quarterbacks who were better fits for Rodriguez’ system. Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson split the quarterback duties with Forcier eventually being named starter and being honored as a member of the freshman All-Big Ten team. But a better fit at quarterback didn’t translate into success on the field—Michigan finished 5-7.

Forcier had been groomed to play quarterback from a young age and had two brothers who also played the position collegiately. While blessed with great physical tools, Forcier struggled off-the-field and was ruled academically ineligible near the end of the 2010 season. A career that began with such promise ended when he was dismissed by athletic director David Brandon a few weeks later. Forcier never played college football again.

The 2010 season saw the emergence of Denard Robinson as Forcier career's imploded. Robinson was the dynamic player who Rodriguez needed, and he was spectacular.

But the team still finished 7-6. Although Michigan finished the season ranked No. 8 nationally in total offense, Rodriguez was undone by the inability of his team to play respectable defense.

Rodriguez' inability to successfully utilize Threet and Sheridan put the program in a hole he couldn't recover from. 


Hoke Era (2011-present)

The Hoke era began with the dismissal of Forcier and most notably the decision by Denard Robinson to stay with the program. Unlike Rodriguez, Hoke began his tenure with a talented, experienced quarterback.

During the 2011 season everything came together. With competent defensive coaching, Michigan finished 11-2 with a BCS Sugar Bowl victory over Virginia Tech and seemed poised for greater things the next season.

But things began to sour in 2012. Offensive coordinator Al Borges began to move Robinson under center, more negating his ability to run the ball. Defenses also began to adjust, challenging him to pass the ball more. At 5’11” he was short for a quarterback and had difficulty seeing downfield and reading pass coverages.

A lack of talented receivers caused Devin Gardner to move to wide receiver, possibly hampering his long-term development.

Later in the season when Robinson was injured, backup Russell Bellomy only completed 3-of-16 passes for 38 yards with three interceptions in a crucial game versus Nebraska and prompting Gardner’s return to quarterback. Robinson, hobbled by numerous injuries, teamed with Gardner to complete the season a respectable 8-5.

If fans were disappointed by 2012, they were absolutely mortified by 2013. Gardner took over the reins after Robinson graduated and was promptly moved to receiver in the NFL.

Michigan was again lean at quarterback, with Bellomy being out for the season because of an ACL injury.

Gardner looked good initially despite playing behind an epically bad offensive line. In the preseason, Michigan touted its return to power football, but as the season progressed Gardner was the only player consistently running the ball with a success.

But being the focal point of the offensive wore him down, and Michigan would begin a slide that would carry through to this season.

Gardner took a beating, missing the bowl game because of an injury while throwing 11 interceptions as Michigan finished 7-6.

In 2014 the offensive problems forced Hoke to hire a new offensive coordinator.

So far the results have been underwhelming.

Through four games, Gardner has already thrown six interceptions. The offense that was supposed to be simplified and streamlined has failed to score touchdowns in two games.

The season is barely a month old, and Hoke’s tenure is in jeopardy as he contemplates benching Devin Gardner.


Conclusions

Forget every remaining game on the schedule except for Michigan State and Ohio State. Victories over these two rivals would guarantee that Hoke returns next season.

Gardner is a better quarterback than Morris right now. But it’s not about which quarterback has a better chance of beating Minnesota.

Four games into Gardner’s senior season, his track record indicates that Michigan is on track for epic defeats in East Lansing and Columbus. After which, Brady Hoke and perhaps even athletic director David Brandon will be fired.

He doesn’t seem to be a good fit for whatever offensive scheme Doug Nussmeier is trying to install.

The last six seasons show what happens when players are put in systems that don’t match their skill sets. Rodriguez was dumped and Hoke is on the verge of the same fate.

If Brady Hoke can’t see it’s time to start Shane Morris then maybe he doesn’t have the skill set for his job either.
 

Phil Callihan is a featured writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations obtained firsthand

Follow
@PSCallihan

All season statistics from mgoblue.com, official University of Michigan athletic department web site.

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Nebraska Football: Huskers Finally Becoming a Complete Unit

The Nebraska football team that faced McNeese State looked familiar. It reminded fans of a team they'd seen in the past. It felt all too familiar.

Nebraska fans are used to a roller-coaster ride. Since head coach Bo Pelini took over in 2008, the Huskers have battled significant highs and lows. The challenge has always been having the team play as a complete unit.

Against Florida Atlantic, Fresno State and Miami, that's the direction Nebraska has shown it is headed in. The offense, defense and special teams are all beginning to play equally with one another.

After the McNeese State game, Pelini commented on the team's wild ride against the Cowboys:

You can’t ride the waves of being way up and way down, how you feel when you win. The approach has to stay the same. Whether you win by 50 or whether you win with 20 seconds to go. At the end of the day, you’re approach has to be the same.

Since then, the approach has been looking better and better. While Nebraska's offense has gotten a majority of the attention—BTN.com called it one of the nation's best after the Miami game—the defense cannot be forgotten.

As of this week, the Blackshirts are ranked No. 31 nationally in yards allowed per game. Led by defensive end Randy Gregory, the Huskers are only allowing 329.8 yards per game.

Speaking of Gregory, he's a definite asset to building a more complete team for Nebraska. On defense, he had two sacks, a forced fumble, two quarterback hurries and seven total tackles again Miami, per the Omaha World-Herald.

As a result, he was named the Week 4 Lott IMPACT Player of the Week.

On the other hand, what Gregory is to the defense, I-back Ameer Abdullah is to the offense. The senior's leadership and talent have pushed his Heisman Trophy campaign into high gear. NCAA.com's Brendan Bures even took a look at what Abdullah brings to the table for Nebraska, which is a lot to say the least.

Having Gregory on defense and Abdullah on offense has been vital. However, what the two are building on their respective sides of the ball can make an impact after they're gone.

The matchup with Illinois will provide the Huskers with another chance to show they're becoming more complete as a team.

With Brian Christopherson and Brian Rosenthal of the Lincoln Journal Star reporting that linebacker David Santos is doubtful for the game against the Fighting Illini, the Blackshirts will be forced to step up. In doing so, the defense will need to limit mistakes and breakdowns. How it responds will be very telling of the unit's growth.

Nebraska is 4-0 for the first time since 2011. That alone speaks volumes about where this team is at. It's not going to be an easy path, but the offense and defense are looking more complete than they have in years.

That alone should make fans tired of riding the roller coaster feel a little bit better.

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Texas Football: 3 Longhorns Who Have Impressed Us in 2014

It's been a tough start to the season for the 1-2 Texas Longhorns, which just dismissed another player from the team. That's why we should all appreciate the players, such as Malcom Brown, who have done nothing but impress despite the struggles of the collective team.

The Horns went into their bye week ranked in the bottom half of the Big 12 in scoring, rushing offense, passing offense, total offense and rushing defense. Through three games, not a whole lot has gone right.

That is, unless you look at the seasons Tyrone Swoopes, John Harris and the aforementioned Brown have turned in. While many of their teammates are still finding their way in the new system, these three are turning in the best seasons of their careers.

The hope is that their teammates can start matching their production before bowl eligibility slips away.

Begin Slideshow

The Other Harbaugh May Have Solution for What Is Ailing Sputtering Wolverines

Another ho-hum start.

Another set of embarrassing losses.

Another coach on the hot seat.

Welcome to Michigan football, 2014 edition.

Thanks to a 31-0 whitewashing at the hands of Notre Dame and an embarrassing home loss to Utah, the Wolverines stand at 2-2 as they prepare to begin their Big Ten conference schedule this Saturday against Minnesota.

With national title hopes no more than a fantasy and a Big Ten title looking unlikely, it seems to be a question of when, not if, Brady Hoke's reign as the Michigan football coach will come to an end.

As it often has in the years since Michigan last hoisted the championship trophy in 1997, the chatter around Ann Arbor these days regards direction—as in, who can lead the Michigan football program back into prominence?

In speaking with a few Michigan insiders, the consensus answer to that question is Harbaugh...but not the Harbaugh most assume.

San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh may have the Wolverines pedigree, after having played quarterback for Bo Schembechler from 1983-86, but it is brother John, head coach of the Baltimore Ravens, who might emerge as the front-runner when the Michigan job officially does become available.

"[Michigan] hiring John would be like hitting a home run with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth inning to win the game," said one NFL insider who has known both John and Jim Harbaugh for many years. "He's a good person. He's a good coach. It would be a great fit. And I think he would be interested in the job."

 

The opportunity may not be an easy sell to a Super Bowl-winning coach who has the Ravens in the early playoff hunt. Furthermore, Harbaugh and Hoke are friends. They worked together as assistants at Western Michigan. Given their shared past, it's unlikely Harbaugh would want to be connected with the firing of Hoke.

But that doesn't mean Michigan won't move on their current coach.

The Wolverines have lost at least six games in four of the last six seasons, including a 7-6 crash and burn last year that concluded with regular-season losses to Iowa and Ohio State and a blowout loss to Kansas State in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.

Hoke's fourth year at the school hasn't been much better, limited to a pair of wins over non-power-five conference teams Appalachian State and Miami of Ohio.

Last week's weather-delayed 26-10 loss to Utah dropped Michigan's record over its past seven games to 2-5 while raising the "Hoke must go" frenzy among Michigan backers.

Former Michigan quarterback Michael Taylor, who guided the Wolverines to a pair of Big Ten titles in 1988 and '89, went public on a Michigan call-in show this week, blasting the school administration for not hiring Jim Harbaugh four years ago following the firing of Rich Rodriguez.

"We didn't get the coach (Harbaugh) who should have been our coach here," said Taylor. "[Hoke's] pedigree did not deserve to be a $4 million coach here at Michigan."

John Bacon, who wrote about the short and tumultuous tenure of Rodriguez at Michigan in the book Three and Out, says the situation at Michigan is volatile.

"It's Michigan," said Bacon, who teaches a course at the school and maintains his own blog. "It's always changing, but there are a lot of unhappy people."

But will the change come from a "Michigan Man" such as Jim Harbaugh or a Michigan-bred man such as John, who went to high school in Ann Arbor when his father Jack was a Michigan assistant?

Jim is the flash-point name for Wolverine fans. The former Michigan QB flirted with the Wolverines four years ago when he was coaching Stanford before opting for the 49ers.

While reports by NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport (h/t NFL.com's Marc Sessler) and CBSSports.com's Jason La Canfora suggest Harbaugh's run with the team may be coming to an end as he battles with Niners management about a contract extension and other issues, his ties to the NFL—and the title he covets—appear stronger.

"There is no way that Jim is going to leave the NFL when his brother and [Seahawks coach and rival] Pete Carroll have Super Bowl rings,'' said a source who has known Jim for many years. "He's one of the most competitive guys in the world, and besides he would be one of the top choices for any NFL job that opens in the next few months."

John is more secure in his job and has a contract that runs through 2017. However, ESPN.com's Don Van Natta Jr. and Kevin Van Valkenburg reported that he had a difference of opinion on the way the Ravens management handled the Ray Rice situation.

If the Ravens miss the playoffs for the second consecutive season and an enticing job such as Michigan opens, Harbaugh might want to return to Ann Arbor.

The Michigan staff already has John's fingerprints on it. Greg Mattison, who was one of Harbaugh's first assistant coaching hires for the Ravens, was hired last year by Hoke to be the Wolverines' defensive coordinator. The move was not made without Harbaugh's approval.

There are other non-Harbaugh options, of course.

LSU coach Les Miles, another Michigan man, was in the mix in '08 (before Rodriquez was hired) and in '10 (after he was fired). But a third run at Miles may be just as fruitless.

Former Rutgers coach Greg Schiano had an offer to coach the Wolverines in '08—Michigan had sent a plane to New Jersey to fly Schiano back to Ann Arbor—but had a last-minute change of heart and stuck it out at Rutgers for another season before he briefly moved to the NFL with Tampa Bay.

Fired last year, Schiano certainly would listen if Michigan called.

Hoke could quiet the noise if he can turn the Wolverines in the right direction in the next two months. But that would require wins at Michigan State and Ohio State, something that Hoke has not done since he took over in '11.

That's looking unlikely now—maybe as unlikely as one of the Harbaughs leaving the NFL.

Never say never, though.

 

Can You Say "Playoffs?"

Even UCLA coach Jim Mora Jr.'s father, Jim Sr., might not object to using that term after the Bruins' impressive 62-27 Pac-12 victory over Arizona State on Thursday night.

Mora Jr. watched with satisfaction as UCLA, regarded as a sleeper college football playoff team by many preseason prognosticators, put everything together for its best effort of the season.

After a sluggish start with unimpressive wins over Virginia, Memphis and Texas, the Bruins showed some swagger in blowing past the previously unbeaten Sun Devils.

After UCLA allowed ASU to jump out to a 17-6 lead, Bruins quarterback Brett Hundley overcame an injury to his non-throwing left shoulder to rack up 355 total passing yards and four touchdowns through the air, including a pair of 80-yard scores.

By the time the night was over, UCLA had tallied the most points ever scored in the history of 55-year-old Sun Devil Stadium.

The Bruins, who have home games with unbeaten Utah and Oregon in the next two weeks, would seem to have all the ingredients necessary for success: a Heisman Trophy-quality QB in Hundley, an All-American-caliber linebacker in Myles Jack, who was the Pac-12's Offensive and Defensive Rookie of the Year last season—he was a deadly in the red zone against running backs last season—and a dangerous threat on defense and special teams in cornerback Ishmael Adams, who broke the Arizona State game open with a 95-yard interception return and, later, a 100-yard kickoff return.

Sounds like a formula for success...and the playoffs, doesn't it?

 

Countdown to the Final Four

Last 4 In

1. Florida State: It survived against Clemson without Jameis Winston. Still the team to beat.
2. Alabama: With added passing game, the Tide are starting to roll.
3. Oregon: The Ducks will go as far as Marcus Mariota can carry them.
4. Oklahoma: It has the easiest route to the Final Four.

Last 4 Out

1. Auburn: As the SEC race begins, let's see what the Tigers have.
2. Baylor: It's scoring more than the basketball team.
3. Texas A&M: The Aggies might still be the best in SEC West.
4. Michigan State: The Big Ten's best hope.

 

Race to the Playoffs

We are four weeks into the college football season, and we are down to 33 teams (out of 128) who have legitimate chances of making it into college football's Final Four.

Total teams: 128

Teams eliminated: 95

Teams remaining: Florida State, North Carolina State, Georgia Tech, Duke, Cincinnati, Oklahoma, Baylor, TCU, Penn State, Nebraska ,Wisconsin,  Michigan State, Ohio State, BYU, Notre Dame, Oregon, Washington, Oregon State, Arizona State, Arizona, UCLA, Utah, Stanford, USC, South Carolina, Texas A&M, Alabama, Auburn, Mississippi, Mississippi State, LSU, Georgia.

 

You've Got To Be Kidding

1. Ohio State has not lost against a team from the state of Ohio since it fell to Oberlin...in 1921, a winning streak that stands at 39 games as Cincinnati visits Columbus on Saturday.

It is a must-win game for both teams.

Ohio State cannot afford another loss this season if it hopes to maintain any shot at the playoffs, while Cincinnati needs to beat the Buckeyes to prove it's worthy of being the highest-ranked non-power-five conference team—which gets a bid to either the Cotton, Fiesta or Peach Bowl.

Here's the scary part for the Buckeyes: Cincinnati can win this game. Bearcats coach Tommy Tuberville has a big-time pedigree, with prior stops at Auburn and Texas Tech. He has a team that went 9-4 last season and has 14 starters back, including Notre Dame transfer Gunner Kiel at quarterback.

The Bearcats have taken care of their other Ohio challenges this season—Toledo and Miami of Ohio. Don't be shocked if they take care of their biggest and offer the Buckeyes an in-state black eye for the first time in a long, long time.

2. Kentucky has not won an SEC game in two years.

Two. Years.

OK, Kentucky hasn't been a factor in football since...when did Bear Bryant coach the Wildcats?

But under the guidance of Mark Stoops, UK is showing some teeth behind a revamped defense led by defensive ends Alvin Dupree and Za'Darius Smith.

It took Florida into overtime a few weeks back and has a good chance at ending its conference losing streak when struggling Vanderbilt comes to Lexington on Saturday.

3. Talk about no respect. Miami is a seven-point favorite Saturday against a Duke team that has scored 93 points in its last two meetings with the Hurricanes.

The Blue Devils finished ahead of the 'Canes in last season's ACC Coastal Conference race en route to the ACC title game, where they lost to national champion FSU. This season is shaping up in a similar manner, with the Blue Devils off to a 4-0 start and Miami at 2-2.

Sounds like it's time to give the Devil his due.

4. Clemson center Ryan Norton, who snapped the ball high over quarterback Deshaun Watson's head in last week's 23-17 overtime loss at No. 1 Florida State and cost the Tigers a possible go-ahead touchdown, has received threatening messages on social media.

Come on, people. Get a grip. Get a life. Then again, maybe in this social media age, when everyone is quick to vent, this isn't all that surprising.

It is disturbing and disappointing.

 

Quote of the Week

"You're a shoelace from that guy going into the game. Alex Smith (at Utah) was a backup quarterback, took over and did very well. Tebow was our backup quarterback to Chris Leak; he did very well (You think? Tebow won the Heisman)." - Ohio State coach Urban Meyer, talking about the importance of backup quarterbacks in his weekly press conference.

 

Extra Points

Famous for celebrating its student body known as the "12th Man," Texas A&M also boasts the largest uniformed group of students outside of the U.S. military academies, known as the Corps of Cadets.

Last weekend, the now-volunteer corps played its part in the Aggies' 58-6 win over SMU when an Aggie cadet threw himself in front of an SMU football player who was on a collision course with Reveille VIII, the school's mascot collie.

During the game, SMU receiver Der'rikk Thompson came running off the field straight toward the hound, who was sitting on his bed on the Aggies sideline. Aggies sophomore Ryan Kreider, who was on the sidelines as well, took the hit from Thompson and for Reveille VIII.

Elsewhere, former Texas starting offensive tackle Kennedy Estelle was dismissed by coach Charlie Strong for a violation of team rules. Estelle is the ninth player dismissed this season by Strong, who took over from Mack Brown last January.

 

Game of the Week

Syracuse vs. Notre Dame

This is the first of four ACC games Notre Dame will play this season. The Irish will play five each year and face each of the ACC's 14 teams during the next three seasons. The series kicks off at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey.

Considering Syracuse is winless there, the No. 8 Fighting Irish may live up to the 9.5-point favorite Las Vegas thinks they are.

The Pick: Notre Dame 31, Syracuse 14 

 

Betting information courtesy of Odds Shark

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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Florida State Football: How 'Noles Can Contain NC State QB Jacoby Brissett

Florida State expected to see plenty of Jacoby Brissett through the years. While Brissett was recruited by FSU coach Jimbo Fisher, the quarterback from Palm Beach Gardens didn't make an official visit to Tallahassee and signed with Florida in February 2011.

But Brissett's journey took a detour after three starts over his first two seasons in Gainesville.

When coach Will Muschamp named Jeff Driskel the starter in the fall of 2013, Brissett transferred to North Carolina State.

After sitting out for a season due to the NCAA's transfer rules, Brissett is completing 69.7 percent of his passes and has the Wolfpack off to a 4-0 start. Now FSU will see Brissett for the first time since he threw for 43 yards, a touchdown and an interception for the Gators in a 21-7 loss to the Seminoles in November 2011.

"Strong arm, physical guy, great competitor," FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. "Can reach all the throws across the field, deep, short, intermediate. He moves around well for a big guy. He's a tough guy and a leader and he'll be ready to play. He's the difference in their offense in one year."

N.C. State went just 3-9 in 2013, but coach Dave Doeren's first season included an 0-8 mark in the ACC.

While the Wolfpack are playing their first ACC game against the No. 1 Seminoles on Saturday, they have already won more games than last year and shown improvement on offense and defense.

"I feel like I'm getting better each week," Brissett said. "We're translating what we do in practice to the field, and it's showing in the games."

In wins over Georgia Southern, Old Dominion, South Florida and Presbyterian, Brissett has thrown for a combined 10 touchdowns and one interception. Brissett is leading an offense that has averaged 40.3 points per game in 2014.

"He's been able to be a catalyst for us," Doeren said. "But he's also been able to be a game manager."

Those wins, however, come with one not-so-small asterisk: The first two wins came against programs playing their first seasons in the Football Bowl Subdivision, South Florida has struggled with a 2-2 start and Presbyterian is a Football Championship Subdivision program.

Even though the schedule has been relatively soft, FSU's defensive players have been impressed by Brissett.

Without defensive end Mario Edwards Jr., who is out with a concussion, FSU will still need to pressure Brissett. Ends Chris Casher and DeMarcus Walker as well as tackles Eddie Goldman and Derrick Mitchell must put some heat on the quarterback and force him to make mistakes.

Brissett hasn't been pressured much this season, and this is the first time he's seeing a top defensive unit.

"He definitely looks like he is the real deal," FSU cornerback P.J. Williams said. "He can make plays. I think they have a real good offense."

Brissett has made the most of his new opportunity at N.C. State. His first shot at college football was full of ups and downs: He started at LSU (a 41-11 loss) and the following week at Auburn (a 17-6 loss) as a true freshman. The following year, he helped the Gators to wins over Louisiana and Jacksonville State.

But Driskel soon surpassed Brissett, and he decided to move on. After sitting out and watching all of the losses, Brissett has N.C. State off to a hot start.

A week after facing a dynamic Clemson offense with quarterback Deshaun Watson, FSU's defense faces another test.

"They're the best team that we will play so far, and I feel like we're the best team that they've played so far," Brissett said. "We're playing really well right now. Our offensive line is doing a really good job of protecting me and doing well in the run game. It's going to be a real good game."

 

Bob Ferrante is the Florida State Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Stats courtesy of seminoles.com and gopack.com. All recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.

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College Football Programs Showing There's No Wrong Way to Break in a Freshman QB

Over the past two seasons, college football fans got spoiled.

They watched as a pair of electric, talented freshman quarterbacks in Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel and Florida State's Jameis Winston led their teams to national prominence and were rewarded with a Heisman Trophy.

So the natural question entering the 2014 season was simple: Who's next?

Who would emerge as the next great freshman quarterback, capturing the nation's attention?

Four weeks into the season, there's no clear answer. There doesn't appear to be an impact freshman signal-caller on the level of Manziel or Winston, but that doesn't make 2014 any less compelling.

A crop of talented freshman quarterbacks has emerged, with more on the verge of a breakthrough that could make this class even stronger.

If anything, we've learned through four weeks that there's no one way to handle a standout freshman quarterback, but rather several intriguing options. Ohio State's Urban Meyer, Arizona's Rich Rodriguez and Clemson's Dabo Swinney would certainly agree. The prominent coaches took various paths to starting a freshman quarterback, but all are on a positive track as the season's first month wraps up.

 

Anu Solomon

Rodriguez took the conventional route.

Arizona's coach was looking for his third starting quarterback in as many years at the Wildcats helm, and redshirt freshman Anu Solomon emerged as the starter.

He hasn't looked back since.

Solomon threw for an Arizona freshman-record 425 yards in a season-opening 58-13 rout of UNLV. While he hasn't been perfect (13 touchdowns against three interceptions), the dual-threat Solomon has been pretty darn good.

Last week, while most of you were asleep, the freshman enjoyed his first truly magical moment.

The Wildcats trailed Cal, 31-13, entering the fourth quarter, but Solomon just kept throwing. And throwing. And throwing.

His last completion was his biggest: a 47-yard Hail Mary to Austin Hill on the game's final play for a stunning 49-45 victory. Solomon threw 73 times and completed 47 of them with 520 yards and five touchdowns against two interceptions.

 

J.T. Barrett

Meanwhile, Urban Meyer didn't have a choice.

J.T. Barrett was expected to see time in the waning moments of Ohio State blowouts, if that, after besting sophomore Cardale Jones for the Buckeyes' backup job. After all, standing in his way was one Braxton Miller, one of the most dynamic dual threats in college football.

But when Miller left an August practice with a shoulder injury (the same shoulder that he'd undergone offseason surgery on), just like that, Barrett was the man with Miller forced into a redshirt season.

No apprenticeship, no adjustment period. Here's a Top Five team, J.T. Don't mess this up.

As you might expect, Barrett has been up and down. The Columbus Dispatch's Tim May says Barrett "continues to learn on the job." In his first start, Ohio State trailed Navy at the half before rallying for a second-half win: Barrett completed 80 percent of his passes and threw for 226 yards in a 34-17 win.

The following week, Bud Foster and Virginia Tech's defense harassed him all night in a 35-21 loss, OSU's first home defeat since 2011.

Barrett completed only nine of 29 passes for 219 yards and a touchdown against three interceptions, but Meyer didn't waver. He praised Barrett's character following the Tech loss, per ASAP Sports:

You could see he can throw and he runs it well enough, but the real, which is probably as important as anything, is the character and maturity and what kind of human being he is. So he'll rebound. I have all the confidence in the world, so does our offensive staff. That is his strength.

While this weekend's game against Cincinnati and the Big Ten slate will provide a true gauge of Barrett's readiness, he bounced back with 312 yards passing and six touchdowns against an interception in OSU's 66-0 rout of overmatched Kent State.

 

Deshaun Watson

That brings us to the guy who could be the best of the entire group: Deshaun Watson.

Watson stepped into a difficult situation at Clemson.

At Gainesville (Ga.) High School, he ran a spread offense very similar to Tigers offensive coordinator Chad Morris' hurry-up, no-huddle scheme, piling up over 17,000 yards of total offense. Watson enrolled early at Clemson and went through spring practice with the Tigers, emerging as the backup following Chad Kelly's dismissal.

But there was the not-so-small matter of Cole Stoudt. The senior had spent the past three seasons backing up Tajh Boyd, who left Clemson as the ACC's all-time touchdown leader and No. 2 passing yards leader behind N.C. State's Philip Rivers.

At some point, Watson would be the man. But would it be September 2014...or September 2015?

Right from the start, the former looked a lot more likely.

The freshman impressed in his college debut at Georgia, finishing his first drive with a beautiful 30-yard touchdown toss to Charone Peake.

Fans' calls for Watson only grew louder following a rout of South Carolina State, in which Watson completed eight of nine passes for 154 yards and three touchdowns. Still, Swinney insisted there was no quarterback controversy and pleaded with fans to support Stoudt.

That sentiment lasted about as long as it took for Stoudt to bounce a pass at the feet of wide-open tight end Jordan Leggett in the Florida State red zone Saturday night.

Stoudt lasted one more drive, but when Watson entered the game late in the first quarter, he never looked back.

His first drive covered 75 yards and ended in a Clemson field goal, and Stoudt probably realized he needed to get comfortable on the sidelines.

This was now Watson's team.

Against one of the nation's nastiest defenses, Watson was impressive, completing 19 of 28 passes for 266 yards and adding a rushing touchdown while pushing the No. 1 Seminoles to the absolute brink.

Florida State escaped with a 23-17 overtime victory, but take away a Ryan Norton shotgun snap 10 feet over his head in the red zone, a pair of Ammon Lakip missed field goals or C.J. Davidson's deadly red-zone fumble with one minute, 36 seconds left in the game, and Watson would've strolled out of Tallahassee with a stunning upset.

Swinney said on the ACC teleconference this week, per ASAP Sports, that Watson "doesn't have a lifetime contract" and that Stoudt "is still going to have an opportunity to play."

Make no mistake, though. This is Watson's time, and everyone knows it. When Swinney and Morris knew, they knew, as Swinney said:

The first two games Cole played really well and so did Deshaun. We went into the game with the same mindset. They practiced well. When Deshaun came in, we missed a touchdown opportunity with Cole, a play he's got to make for us. When Deshaun came in, he sparked us, continued to play well. We made the decision, Hey, let's see where this young man can take us.

Clemson might be the best 1-2 team in the nation, given that it trailed Georgia 24-21 in the fourth quarter before tiring in a 45-21 defeat.

Of the three programs we examined, Swinney was by far the most cautious with his freshman quarterback but could find himself in the best situation. Each of the Tigers' final nine games is winnable, starting with this week's home game against North Carolina. It's the perfect opportunity for the talented Watson to cement his role as the starting quarterback for the next three seasons.

We'll find out plenty more about Solomon next week against No. 2 Oregon, and the Big Ten slate will surely test Barrett, giving him a chance to learn now, even if a healthy Miller returns next season.

That's the fascinating thing about this season's freshman quarterbacks. Different approaches. Different opportunities to grow.

They might not make it to the Heisman Trophy ceremony in December, but watching these guys develop should be fun no matter how you approach it.

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How Georgia vs. Tennessee Showdown Will Impact Recruiting

The outcome of Saturday's game between Georgia and Tennessee won't merely impact conference standings, team records and program morale.  While the importance of those factors can't be overstated, the most lasting impact of this matchup will be on the recruiting trail.

A cursory glance at both teams' rosters shows that these two states do a lot more than share a state line.  These two flagship programs share a recruiting pool.  Tennessee has 17 players from the state of Georgia on its official roster.  And though Georgia has just three Bulldogs on its roster from the Volunteer State, such recent notables as wide receiver Marlon Brown and offensive linemen Austin and Hunter Long hail from Tennessee.

For Georgia, the hope is that a fifth win over the Vols in five years—something the Dawgs have never previously accomplished—helps block a deluge of talent from spilling out of the state and into the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains in Knoxville.  After all, the Volunteers aren't only luring quantity away from Georgia; they're getting high-quality players.

Two of Tennessee's three most-highly regarded recruits (per 247Sports) in the 2015 class have Georgia ties.  Wide receiver Preston Williams hails from Hampton, Ga. while running back Alvin Kamara left Norcross, Ga. for the University of Alabama and is currently enrolled at Hutchinson Community College in Kansas.  

In total, six of Tennessee's 22 commitments for next year's class are from the Peach State.  All six rank in the top 100 nationally at their respective position per 247Sports.

And to be fair, although Georgia's rich surrounding talent pool eliminates the need to go into Tennessee often, Mark Richt and his staff have made waves north of the home state border.  Van Jefferson, the top receiver in Tennessee, chose the Bulldogs over the Volunteers in August.  Tight end Jackson Harris, the seventh-best recruit in Tennessee per 247Sports, is a longtime Georgia commit.

For Georgia, the best-case scenario on Saturday is a big win that gives way to a more secure border and maybe even a flipped commitment or two.

D'Andre Walker, a 4-star defensive end from Fairburn, Ga., is considering Tennessee and Georgia along with Auburn.  A stout defensive effort by the Dawgs led by a slew of young players (like Lorenzo Carter and Dominick Sanders) making plays could sway him to the Bulldogs.

Micah Abernathy, a 4-star cornerback playing at Greater Atlanta Christian, is considering Oregon, Ohio State, Penn State, Tennessee and Georgia.  Seeing a young Georgia secondary take strides weekly will be enticing for Abernathy but not as enticing as seeing one that dismantles Tennessee's passing game.

And who knows what a fifth-straight win might yield.  Williams, a 5-star wide receiver committed to Tennessee, will likely stay loyal to the Volunteers.  But it would be hard to knock him for flipping to an in-state power that has dominated his school of choice since he was in middle school.

And as Richt pointed out to Gentry Estes of 247Sports earlier this week, Georgia is still pursuing prospects who are committed elsewhere.  Though unable to comment explicitly on individuals, Richt stressed, "Sometimes you'll snag a guy that's committed to someone else too.  So we're working some guys that are committed at other schools."

In that regard, the possible outcomes from the game itself and the impact on recruiting are very different.

On the field, a Georgia win is expected; even a lopsided victory does little to change perception of the Bulldogs.  A loss, however, could spell disaster for the Dawgs' SEC Championship dreams.  Between the lines, Georgia has little to gain and everything to lose.

In recruiting, however, Georgia could stand to make a strong push for uncommitted stars and present a compelling case for flipping a commitment.  That's worth playing for.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand.  All recruiting rankings, ratings and stats courtesy of 247Sports.

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College Football Picks Week 5: Odds and Spread Predictions for Top 25 Teams

Every Top 25 team has certain games circled on the calendar every season, but all it takes is one slip to put any College Football Playoff hopes in serious jeopardy. That means no opponent can be overlooked.

That is an important theme as we head into Week 5 of the college football season.

Thursday night’s showdown between UCLA and Arizona State was the only matchup between ranked teams on this week’s slate, but the underdogs will surely be looking for some timely upsets. With that in mind, here is a look at the odds and spread predictions for every Top 25 team.

*Note: The Associated Press Top 25 Poll was used, the broadcast information is courtesy of ESPN.com and the point spreads are courtesy of Odds Shark as of Thursday afternoon.

 

Game to Watch: No. 1 Florida State at North Carolina State

The No. 1 team in the country and defending national champion is going on the road to face an undefeated team. On paper, this is certainly a noteworthy contest, and it is easy to look at the 4-0 record next to North Carolina State’s name and see this as a potential upset.

However, the difference in strength of schedule between Florida State and the Wolfpack describes a telling story. College GameDay pointed out that the Seminoles have been tested in the early going:

On the other hand, the Wolfpack have played Georgia Southern, Old Dominion, South Florida and Presbyterian, which is not exactly murderer’s row.

North Carolina State didn’t inspire much confidence, either, when it trailed the majority of the game against Georgia Southern before eventually winning by a single point, 24-23. The defense also struggled against Old Dominion and allowed 34 points to a team that only managed 17 against Eastern Michigan.

There is something to be said about the fact that the Seminoles are coming off of an emotional overtime victory against Clemson in what may be their most difficult test of the regular season.

Defending Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston did not play in that contest, but the defense (largely due to Clemson miscues) did just enough to keep Florida State in the game and eventually win at the end. The Seminoles actually trailed for the first time in 12 regular-season contests.

Head coach Jimbo Fisher commented on the result, via ESPN.com: "The mental resolve of this football team, that's why I love them. They understand how to rally together, they understand how to pull together, and they understand how much they care for each other. I think they mentally got themselves back together."

That mental resolve will be tested as Florida State tries to get up for another game seven days after its emotional roller coaster of a victory.

The key for North Carolina State will be exploiting what appears to be a vulnerable Seminoles offensive line. In fact, Florida State only managed 13 yards on 27 carries against the Tigers and allowed five sacks.

The presence of Winston alone will cut down on the sack totals thanks to his ability to elude pressure, but the offensive line is certainly a concern for now.

This wouldn’t be the first time the Wolfpack sprung a surprise on the Seminoles, either. North Carolina State has won five of its last seven home games against a ranked Florida State squad, including the 17-16 stunner in 2012 over the No. 2 Seminoles.

If the North Carolina State defense can rattle Winston with pressure or at least shut down the running game, it would open up the opportunity for the offense to do some work. Quarterback Jacoby Brissett leads the ACC with a 166.7 passer rating with 10 touchdowns and one interception, which is a large reason why the Wolfpack are averaging 502 yards of offense a game.

Throw in Shadrach Thornton, who ran for 173 yards and two scores in last year’s game against Florida State, and the Wolfpack have the pieces to challenge the Seminoles defense.

While Brissett and Thornton may keep it close for the first half, the North Carolina State defense just isn’t built to take advantage of Florida State’s offensive line. We are talking about a unit that allowed more than 500 total yards of offense against Old Dominion.

Winston will pick apart the secondary and make plays with his feet, essentially ending this one by the fourth quarter. The Heisman winner led his team to 35 first-quarter points alone against the Wolfpack last year.

It won’t be quite as ugly this time around, but Winston and the Seminoles will win by a comfortable margin. 

Prediction: Florida State 41, North Carolina State 20

 

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Alabama's Amari Cooper Emerging as 2015 NFL Draft's Top Wide Receiver Prospect

After a disappointing sophomore season cast some doubt, Alabama’s Amari Cooper is proving early in his junior season that he is one of college football’s best wide receivers and a top prospect among players eligible for the 2015 NFL draft.

It’s been clear since Cooper’s true freshman year in 2012, when he had 59 receptions for precisely 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns, that the wideout was a special talent.

In his second season for the Crimson Tide, Cooper failed to take the next step to stardom. As he battled drops and a nagging foot injury, Cooper never topped five catches and 75 yards in the first 10 games of his sophomore year, and he finished the season with just 45 receptions for 736 yards and four touchdowns.

He’s already made up for last year’s letdown with a remarkable start to this season.

Cooper has nearly matched his 12-game production from last season in just four contests this year; his 43 catches and 655 receiving yards both lead the Football Bowl Subdivision, while he has already topped his touchdown total from last year with five scores.

Dating back to the last two games of his sophomore campaign, when he finally started to get his groove back in Alabama’s losing efforts to Auburn and Oklahoma, Cooper will go into the second month of the college football season on a run of six straight performances in which he has accumulated at least 121 receiving yards.

Those numbers are neither fluke nor simply the product of a well-oiled offensive system. Cooper’s on-field play clearly demonstrates that he is making his greatness happen with his own tools.

Those tools should enable Cooper, a junior who will be draft-eligible after this season, to continue to be highly productive in the NFL.

 

Tools for Greatness on Display

It’s not a surprise that Cooper has played exceptionally this year. He faced high expectations coming into the season as he was already ranked as the top prospect at his position by many draft analysts, including ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay (both subscription required).

That said, it remained important for Cooper to prove he could perform at a consistently high level.

So far this season, he’s doing exactly that.

Cooper possesses many qualities that should attract scouts to him as a potential high first-round draft pick.

Not the least of those qualities is Cooper’s big-play ability. He’s already had plenty of flashy, exciting moments in his career, but perhaps his most memorable (although Auburn cornerback Chris Davis ultimately ensured that it wasn’t the biggest play of the day) was his 99-yard catch-and-run touchdown in last year’s Iron Bowl.

A natural runner who glides to the football, Cooper can take a well-thrown deep ball to paydirt. He excels at adjusting his stride to track the ball downfield, has the speed to run away from a defensive back like he left Auburn’s Jonathon Mincy in the dust on that play and he possesses the balance to run through contact.

Another dangerous trait of Cooper’s is his lateral quickness. He doesn’t have to rely on his ability to beat a defender downfield to make a big play; as the following example from last season’s Orange Bowl versus Oklahoma demonstrates, even a screen pass can turn into a huge gain once the ball is in Cooper’s hands.

Cooper regularly extends plays by making defenders miss with his sharp cuts. His quickness also extends to route-running, which might be the most spectacular aspect of his game.

There will be receivers in the 2015 draft with faster 40-yard dash times and longer arms, but there’s unlikely to be anyone who gets open as fluently as Cooper does.

The key to running great routes is to waste as little motion as possible. Cooper makes crisp breaks that force defensive backs to react immediately or get burned.

The following 11-yard catch against West Virginia from this year’s Alabama season opener was a textbook display of route-running 101 by Cooper. After beating a jam off the line of scrimmage with a fluid double move, Cooper made a clean turn toward the middle of the field to separate from WVU cornerback Daryl Worley.

While Cooper had some issues with catch consistency in 2013, he’s had no such problems this season. Typically, the Crimson Tide star has been able to pluck the ball out of the air and secure it in his hands, even on plays like the following example from last year’s Auburn game, in which he had to make an adjustment back to an underthrown ball.

Cooper has the downfield receiving capabilities on the outside that a No. 1 NFL receiver is expected to have, but it’s really at the intermediate level of the field where he does his best work. With 27 plays from scrimmage of 10 yards or more already this season—the most of any player in the FBS, according to CFBStats.com—Cooper is making it clear that he can make the chains move.

Red-zone skills won’t be a selling point for Cooper, but he’s also proven that he’s a competitive receiver who doesn’t back down from physical opposition.

One of the best one-on-one wins of his career came in last week’s Alabama win over Florida—a game in which Cooper accumulated career-high totals of 201 receiving yards and three touchdowns—when the wideout made a four-yard catch in the end zone over one of the most talented cornerbacks in the nation, Florida’s Vernon Hargreaves III.

 

How High Could Cooper Be Selected?

In the most recent NFL draft this May, Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins was so highly regarded that the Buffalo Bills traded their first- and fourth-round picks for the 2015 draft to move up just five spots, to No. 4 overall from No. 9, to select him.

Their decision to make that move, in a draft that ended up having five wideouts go in Round 1 and 15 off the board in the top 100, made it clear that Watkins was viewed as an elite talent.

Even with regard to how highly Watkins was valued, NFL Media’s Daniel Jeremiah believes that Cooper might be an even better prospect.

“I think he's a better football player just all-around, just polished in everything, as a route runner, I think he's a little bit ahead of Sammy,” Jeremiah recently said on the College Football 24/7 podcast, according to NFL.com’s Chase Goodbread.

Jeremiah isn’t the only one with glowing praise for Cooper. A talent evaluator for an AFC team, who also compared Cooper to Watkins, told Yahoo! Sports’ Eric Edholm earlier this week that he views Cooper as a top-10 level talent.

Pro Football Hall of Fame wide receiver and current ESPN NFL analyst Cris Carter also recently praised Cooper on ESPN’s Mike & Mike, according to Charles Power of BamaOnLine:

I don't know what he's going to do in the pros, but since Ozzie Newsome, Alabama has the best wide receiver that they have had in the history of their school and his name is Amari Cooper. He is a true junior from Miami and he is fabulous. His ability to run routes- I met Amari when he was in high school at a football clinic and he's probably the most advanced wide receiver that I have seen at a young age since Randy Moss.

Not everyone, however, believes that Cooper is a rare talent. Ryan McCrystal, the founder of DraftAce.com and a Bleacher Report contributor, sees Cooper as a complementary player rather than a star of an NFL offense.

McCrystal presents a valid point. Listed at 6’1” and 210 pounds by Alabama’s official athletics website, Cooper will not have a universal size advantage over cornerbacks at the next level. And while he runs well with the ball in his hands, there are likely to be other receivers in the first-round mix who run faster 40-yard dash times.

Compare Cooper to Watkins, however, and there’s reason to believe Cooper might also end up a top-five draft pick.

Cooper’s official measurables aren’t likely to be far off from those of Watkins, who measured in at 6’1” and 211 pounds and ran a 4.43-second 40-yard dash at the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine, according to NFL.com.

Watkins was neither the biggest nor the fastest receiver drafted in Round 1, but he was the most complete. How Cooper’s speed compares to Watkins is to be determined, but he displays similar open-field playmaking skills and route-running ability.

If there is one real weakness in Cooper’s game, it’s his blocking. Cooper’s game tape regularly shows him whiffing chances to pick up defenders, such as the example below, while he lacks the strength to generate significant movement even when he does get his hands on a potential tackler.

While blocking is a capacity that Cooper’s NFL team will expect him to improve in, it’s probably not a shortcoming that will make a team pass on him.

Cooper could decide to delay the NFL until 2016 and return for his senior season at Alabama, but that would come as a surprise.

So long as Cooper continues to catch the ball consistently and avoids the pitfalls of his 2013 season, he’s a good bet to be a top-10 overall selection.

 

All GIFs were made at gfycat.com using videos from DraftBreakdown.com. All statistics courtesy of Alabama’s official athletics website unless otherwise noted.

Dan Hope is an NFL/NFL Draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.

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