NCAA Football News

The Florida State Seminoles Have More NFL-Ready Talent Than Just Jameis Winston

Jameis Winston is one of the biggest names in the upcoming NFL draft, but the Florida State Seminoles have tons of talent ready for the next level on both side of the ball.

Defensive lineman Mario Edwards Jr. has the skills to play anywhere on the line at the NFL level. In which round should FSU fans expect to see him drafted?

Watch CFB Analyst Michael Felder and NFL Draft Expert Matt Miller break down the Seminoles' top NFL prospects. 


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Will Everett Golson Play Himself into a Heisman Front-Runner vs. Stanford?

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish are taking on the Stanford Cardinal in South Bend, Indiana. With Everett Golson's Heisman hopes on the line, Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Barrett Sallee and Adam Kramer discuss how he will fare vs. the Stanford defense.

How do you think this Heisman contender will do?

Watch the video, and let us know!

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Oregon's Royce Freeman Trucks Arizona's Jarvis McCall Jr.

The Oregon Ducks are trying to stay undefeated Thursday night against the Arizona Cardinals, and plays like this one will get them fired up.

Freshman running back Royce Freeman ran like a grown man on this play, trucking Arizona cornerback Jarvis McCall Jr. in the first half.

[Vine]

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Ohio State Football: Defense Finally Turning a Corner?

The Ohio State football team has been plagued by poor defensive play in recent years, but with a new co-defensive coordinator and a fresh, aggressive scheme, could the Buckeyes be on the verge of fielding a dominant defense?

That's the hope for head coach Urban Meyer, who has consistently lamented the team's defensive woes throughout his tenure in Columbus.

The tipping point came last year in the Big Ten title game, when the Buckeyes were one victory away from playing for the BCS National Championship against Florida State. Instead, Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook dissected a beleaguered secondary, throwing for 304 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Spartans in a 34-24 victory.

That was midway through a three-game stretch when the Buckeyes allowed an average of 38.3 points and 539 total yards to end the 2013 season. It forced Meyer to hit the reset button and start over. 

“We completely have blown up and started from scratch,” Meyer said at Big Ten media days, according to John Kampf of The News-Herald. “(That is) an area that we were not very strong in, pass defense.”

Hiring Chris Ash to join the defensive staff was the first step in Meyer's overhaul.

Previously the defensive coordinator for Bret Bielema at Wisconsin and Arkansas, Ash is known for his aggressive 4-3 scheme. His defense requires the cornerbacks to play press coverage close to the line of scrimmage—a big difference from last year's defensive philosophy, which largely had the defensive backs in zone coverage.

Early returns from that drastic change are positive as the Buckeyes currently rank No. 13 in the country in pass defense, allowing just 162.5 passing yards per game. That's down from last year, when Ohio State ranked 110th in the country while allowing 268 passing yards per game.

However, the improved numbers this year come with a caveat. Run-heavy Navy attempted just four passes against the Buckeyes for 20 yards in the season opener. Two weeks later, Kent State was overmatched entirely in a laughable 66-0 rout.

The Buckeyes' first true test came last week against quarterback Gunner Kiel and the pass-happy Cincinnati Bearcats. A simple glance at the box score would indicate that Ohio State failed that test.

Kiel completed 21 of his 32 passes for 352 yards and four touchdowns (against no interceptions). While those numbers aren't a great reflection of the Buckeyes defense, Meyer was able to draw some positives from the performance.

"Those plays" were a reference to the three touchdown catches Cincinnati's Chris Moore hauled in against the Buckeyes. The three plays—one in each of the first three quarters—went for 221 yards, which accounted for 62.8 percent of Kiel's passing yards.

On the first catch, safety Vonn Bell was in position to make the play, but the young sophomore never turned to find the ball. As a result, Moore hauled in a tough pass for the 60-yard score.

On the second play, a missed assignment from one of the safeties put cornerback Eli Apple in a bad position, which resulted in an 83-yard touchdown catch.

The third and final big play was just the result of exceptional misdirection from Kiel, who pump faked the safety out of position to give Moore an open lane for the 78-yard scamper.

All three were the result of missed plays or assignments from freshmen or sophomore defensive backs. The Buckeyes adjusted midway through the third quarter—making sure their safeties were deep enough to support the corners playing press coverage. That produced the desired results for Meyer as Ohio State surrendered just two first downs and 27 total yards on Cincinnati's final four drives.

Once the young players grow more comfortable with Ash's aggressive defensive scheme, the mental lapses and occasional big plays will start to fade, and Ohio State's defense will be primed to regain its dominant status.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all stats via Ohio State's official website

David Regimbal covers Ohio State football for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.

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Arik Armstead Injury: Updates on Oregon Star's Ankle and Return

The Oregon defense lost a major piece of its front seven on Thursday with defensive lineman Arik Armstead going down with an ankle injury against Arizona, per GoDucks.com's Rob Moseley:

ESPN's Chantel Jennings had more details:

Armstead started a few games last year before being supplanted by DeForest Buckner. The then-sophomore finished 2013 with 15 total tackles, three tackles for loss and one sack, according to Sports-Reference.com.

With a couple of key losses on the Ducks' defensive line, the opportunity was there for Armstead to break out.

In August, Gary Horowitz of the Statesman Journal wrote that dropping basketball in favor of focusing on football was paying big dividends for Armstead:

Last winter Armstead opted to end his pursuit of playing two sports – he redshirted on the basketball team as a freshman – and that decision has helped him on the football field. ...

"Since he returned in the winter, he's been a different guy," defensive coordinator Don Pellum said. "He's been very consistent since then and throughout (fall) camp, and it's not only leading vocally, but it's playing really good. So now you've got a guy who's emerged vocally as a leader, and also is playing at a very high level."

Armstead entered Eugene with major expectations. Because of his versatility, he was listed on 247Sports as an offensive tackle, strong-side defensive end and defensive tackle. The site's composite rankings had him pegged as the No. 1 athlete and No. 14 overall player in the 2012 recruiting class.

This looked to be the year when Armstead would put it all together and follow through on the potential he showed coming out of high school and in his first two years on the field at Oregon.

Getting hurt will obviously impede the progress he's made in 2014.

Losing Armstead won't make Oregon much worse, but the Ducks do lose some depth on their defensive line.

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Miami Football: Hurricanes Must Show Improvement Against Georgia Tech

A victory over division foe Duke was an encouraging step forward, but the Miami Hurricanes still must show significant improvement when they face another Coastal Division opponent in Georgia Tech.

The 'Canes are still lacking production in four notable areas, and cleaning up those struggles would help the team separate itself from upcoming competition—excluding Florida State, of course.

Miami enters the prime-time battle on Saturday, Oct. 4, striving to earn an important conference victory as the bulk of their ACC schedule looms.

But if the Hurricanes remain hampered by these issues, the Yellow Jackets and all future opponents are talented enough to overpower Miami.

 

Wide Receiver Blocking

For better or worse, wide receiver screens are a staple of play-caller James Coley's offense. However, they haven't been very successful.

Miami has tallied more than 10 yards just once in at least 20 screen attempts, and its inability to move forward is largely a product of porous blocking by wideouts. Stacy Coley, Malcolm Lewis and Braxton Berrios are typically the targets, but they haven't had much room to operate.

Against Duke, safety Jeremy Cash completely ignored a D'Mauri Jones block and tackled Coley at the line of scrimmage. Brad Kaaya's pass is barely halfway to Coley by the time Cash is closing on the shifty receiver.

The Hurricanes' best screen of the year came at Nebraska, and to no surprise, blocking was the key.

Lewis cut his man, freeing his teammate for a one-on-one with five yards of separation, and Coley slashed upfield, shook a pair of tacklers and gained 17 yards.

An intended target cannot take his eyes off the ball and look for defenders; his main responsibility is to receive the pass. The difference when Coley actually had time to catch a ball and look upfield is certainly obvious.

Coach Coley has deservedly taken some heat for his post-scripted play selection, but the Miami receivers need to do their jobs better too, because the screen isn't leaving the offense's repertoire.

 

Penalties

The two easiest ways to lose a game are turnovers and penalties. While the Hurricanes haven't been stellar in either category, the latter is much easier to correct.

Miami's 7.8 penalties per contest cost itself 70.8 yards each outing, two discouraging numbers that rank 95th and 102nd, respectively, at the Football Bowl Subdivision level.

Offensively, the 'Canes have committed seven false starts, six holding penalties and three delay of games, all of which are drive killers. Surprisingly, Ereck Flowers and Clive Walford have been the biggest offenders, so Miami needs a couple key players to focus more.

On the other side of the ball, opposing offenses have been handed 10 free first downs due to pass interference and personal fouls. Saturday's matchup is largely focused on being disciplined, so Miami cannot afford to move the chains for Georgia Tech's run-focused offense.

 

Third-Down Success

All season long, Miami has struggled on what Al Golden calls the "money down," as noted by Christy Cabrera Chirinos of South Florida Sun Sentinel. A 2-of-13 mark against Duke didn't cost the Hurricanes a win, but it allowed the Blue Devils to hang around until late in the fourth quarter.

Additionally, Matt Porter of the Palm Beach Post notes Kaaya's efficiency is nearly cut in half between the opening and closing downs.

"On the first two downs, the true freshman is completing 67.3 percent of his passes," Porter said. "That number drops to 34.1 percent on third and fourth downs. He is averaging 9.7 yards per attempt on first and second, and 5.2 on third and fourth."

Overall, Miami is just 14-of-58 on third down, posting a 24.1 percent conversion rate that ranks third-worst in the country.

According to B/R research, the 'Canes have needed a combined 450 yards over those 58 third downs, an average of 7.8 yards.

Miami must start moving forward more consistently on the opening snaps and limit the long-yardage situations it encounters.

 

Kick Returns

Last season, the 'Canes amassed the nation's seventh-best mark at 25.1 yards per kick return. Comparatively, however, Miami's current 18.6 clip would have finished the 2013 campaign at No. 118 of 125 schools.

"Guys have just got to win their one-on-one battles," Phillip Dorsett said, per Susan Miller Degnan of the Miami Herald. "We have a dynamic returner back there in Stacy. We give him a crease, and he'll take it the distance. Obviously, we pride ourselves in breaking long runs because we're an explosive team, but in looking at the film ... we've got to help our returners out."

Considering Georgia Tech has only defended a handful of kickoffs all year, the Hurricanes may not receive many chances to run it out. Harrison Butker has consistently blasted the ball, forcing 18 touchbacks out of 24 kicks.

However, the Jackets have ceded 26.2 yards when opponents test the coverage. Coley is still looking for a breakout chance, and there's a decent possibility he finds that opportunity if a Butker kick is indeed returnable.

 

Unless otherwise noted, stats and rankings courtesy of CFBstats.com.

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

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Oregon's Reggie Daniels Tips Ball, Taps Toe to Stay in Bounds for Interception

Oregon Ducks cornerback Reggie Daniels got his first career interception on Thursday night against the Arizona Wildcats, and he made sure to make it a good one.

In the first quarter, Daniels made a bobbling interception while tiptoeing on the sideline to stay in bounds. You can see another angle of the interception below.

[Snappy TV, Vine]

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UCF Defeats Houston on Game-Sealing Touchback on Fumble into End Zone

This is not the way you ever want to lose a game.

The Houston Cougars were down 17-12 against the UCF Knights on Thursday night but had a chance to pull ahead late in the fourth quarter.

With 24 seconds remaining, Houston backup quarterback Greg Ward Jr. dove for the touchdown, but he fumbled the ball into the end zone, where it went out of bounds for a touchback. That allowed the Knights to run out the clock for the win.

[SB Nation]

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Nebraska Football: What the Cornhuskers Need to Do to Upset Michigan State

Nebraska football fans are gearing up for the biggest game of the 2014 season, a trip to East Lansing to face the defending Big Ten champion Michigan State Spartans. Last year, Michigan State beat Nebraska 41-28 in an ugly contest that saw NU lose the turnover battle by five (!) against the Spartans.

Most pundits think the Spartans will win on Saturday. But at least one smart and particularly handsome analyst thinks Nebraska will defy the odds and stay undefeated in 2014. Here’s what Nebraska must do to make that happen.

 

Take the Ball Away

This is me giving up on a thread I have been pulling for the last two years. If Nebraska stops turning the ball over, it can be so much more successful. And while that is true because, duh, all the evidence before us suggests that such a phase change simply isn’t going to happen.

But things are better this year, right? Nebraska’s turnover margin isn’t nearly as bad as it was last year, right?

Well, yes and no. Right now, Nebraska is plus-one in turnover margin, which is certainly far better than the minus-11 NU ended with in 2013.

Where was Nebraska at this stage last year, though? Plus-five. So Nebraska is actually four behind its turnover margin pace from last year—the year that ended at a disastrous minus-11.

In 2014, Nebraska has had six total turnovers. In 2013 at this stage in the season, Nebraska had—you guessed it—six turnovers. And the sad thing is that 2013 marked an improvement for the first five games of the season from 2012 (13) and 2011 (9).

So, I give up. Until proven otherwise, it’s just not reasonable to expect Nebraska to stop turning the ball over. But having a turnover margin so cartoonishly underwater in and of itself will prevent Nebraska from winning games like this and competing for conference titles. If Nebraska gets more turnovers than it gives up (or at least keeps the numbers close), then Nebraska's profligacy with the ball on offense will be neutralized.

This is my Doctor Strangelove moment, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Turnover.

 

Stop Jeremy Langford

The conventional wisdom is that the growth of Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook has been the key to the Spartans’ improved offensive attack. And there’s no doubt that Cook’s performance has sparked a revival that vaulted Michigan State to a conference title and national prominence.

But let’s take a look at this season. Michigan State is 3-1, with three wins over hopelessly outmatched opponents. The one loss was on the road, to Oregon.

Against the Ducks, Cook was 29-of-47 for 343 yards, with two touchdowns and two interceptions. He ended the game with a 128.53 quarterback rating, which is apparently very good according to those who have the foggiest notion of what a quarterback rating means.

So it looks like Cook played well in the Spartans’ loss. Sure, the defense had a lot to do with it, with the whole “giving up 47 points” thing. But how did the other part of Michigan State’s offense look?

Jeremy Langford had 86 yards and a touchdown against Oregon, his second-highest performance of the season. But he got those 86 yards on 24 carries, easily his biggest workload of the season. More importantly, Langford’s yards-per-carry average against Oregon was 3.58, almost two full yards less than his season average.

In other words, Oregon was able to beat Michigan State fairly convincingly by allowing Cook to play well but (in addition to scoring a lot of points) holding Langford’s yards per carry down. That’s the number to focus on. If the Blackshirts can corral Langford, keeping him under four yards per carry, Nebraska can make Michigan State’s offense one-dimensional and allow NU’s pass rush to work on Cook.

 

Be More Balanced on Offense

Nebraska fans of a more traditional bent have been thrilled to death with how NU’s offense has looked in the last two games. Against Miami, Nebraska ran the ball 80.5 percent of the time, and against Illinois, its run percentage “dropped” to 76.9 percent. Proponents of things like “identity” and “mindset” loved Nebraska’s devotion to the run game, particularly as quarterback Tommy Armstrong has looked less than convincing.

And it does seem that offensive coordinator Tim Beck has undergone a bit of evolution, making sure to give the ball to his best player rather than attempt to achieve balance for its own sake. But just as “balance” on offense on its own is not a laudable goal, neither is having an over-reliance on the running game.

Michigan State is sixth in the nation in rushing defense, allowing opponents an average of 80.75 yards per game. While Nebraska’s run game is its strength (right now sitting third in the nation with an average of 354.8 yards per game), it’s a fair assumption that Michigan State will at least be able to slow down Abdullah and company.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that Nebraska should sling the ball 50 times on Saturday (particularly given the dreadful weather forecast). Nebraska’s offense will need a healthy dose of Ameer Abdullah to be successful, sticking with him even if it is not successful early.

But there’s “sticking with him,” and there’s “80-20 run-pass balance.” Michigan State is simply too good defensively for Nebraska to be that one-dimensional. To win this game, Armstrong simply must make some plays with his arm, either in the short game to get the ball to playmakers in space or taking the lid off the defense with the deep ball.

 

Stats from CFBStats.com.

For a different look at Nebraska football, check out The Double Extra Point.

Or you can use the Twitter machine to follow @DblExtraPoint.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Arizona vs. Oregon: Live Score and Highlights

Oregon 7, Arizona 3 ; HALFTIME

Two explosive offenses will collide Thursday, as the Arizona Wildcats take on the No. 2 Oregon Ducks at Autzen Stadium in Eugene. 

The game will begin at 10:30 p.m. ET. It can be seen on ESPN. 

Odds Shark has Oregon as a 21-point favorite. A full box score courtesy of NCAA.com can be found here

 

Bleacher Report appreciates you sticking with us tonight. Stay here for score updates, instant analysis, social media and much more!

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Tennessee Football: What a Win over Florida Gators Would Mean for Volunteers

The checkerboard stadium has been announced, all the seats have been sold and the only thing we're waiting on is confirmation that the Tennessee Volunteers will not be wearing these hideous things: It's Florida week. The annual rivalry game against the Gators is of even greater importance this year because of what a win would mean for the rest of the season.

Florida isn't quite what it has been in previous years. After a stellar 11-2 season in 2012 that culminated in a head-scratching Sugar Bowl loss, the Gators followed it up with an even more puzzling 4-8 campaign last year. Now through three games, Florida has cancelled a game, destroyed a mid-major, nearly lost to Kentucky and halfway competed at Alabama. It's tough to get a read.

Meanwhile, Tennessee is on a clear trajectory upward. After two wins over quality, albeit lesser opponents, the Volunteers competed well at No. 4 Oklahoma and took No. 12 Georgia to the very last play in Athens. There's talent, there's energy and there's belief in the future of the program.

What would the future of the program look like with a win on October 4?

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Katy Perry May Join College GameDay as Celebrity Picker

ESPN's College GameDay will be at the Grove for the exciting game between the Ole Miss Rebels and Alabama Crimson Tide on Saturday in Oxford, Mississippi, and it might have a big name for its celebrity picker.

Kirk Herbstreit sent a tweet Thursday evening to recording artist Katy Perry, asking her if she would be interested in being this week's celebrity picker:

Shortly after, Perry responded with a very enthusiastic tweet, essentially saying that she would be interested in coming on but with stronger language:

Subsequently, ESPN's senior director of public relations announced on Twitter that Perry was set to be the guest picker:

[Twitter, h/t The Clarion-Ledger]

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

5 Bold and Off-the-Wall College Football Predictions for the Month of October

As memorable as September was in college football, it's nothing compared to the "Shock-tober" of surprises in store this next month.

The weather will turn toward more traditional football conditions—enough of this lightning-delay nonsense; we much prefer blowing snow—but the action on the field will remain red hot. So, too, will the temperatures of some coaches' seats, as the pressure to win will lead some to make some desperate moves.

October will also bring us the first official rankings released by the College Football Playoff selection committee, and the lead-up to that unveiling on Oct. 27 will cause nearly every game in the country to have an as-yet-unknown impact on those standings.

What other craziness can we expect? Scroll through to see five bold predictions for October.

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Texas A&M Is a Legitimate Playoff Contender, 'Go All-In' with the Aggies

College Station is witnessing an exciting new regime. No, not that clique their former Heisman Trophy-winning player (sorry, Drake) parties with. Texas A&M football is as hot as it's ever been, and currently they sit sixth in the Associated Press Top 25 Poll.

As impressive as they've looked at times, do they deserve all the hype? More importantly, do they have what it takes to continue ascending into the College Football Playoff picture? Here's why you should bet on the Aggies to grab one of the four slots come December:

 

Aggies have one of the best passing attacks in the country

Before this week's games commence, Texas A&M will have recorded the fifth-ranked passing offense in the FBS, averaging 401.2 yards per game, as documented by NCAA.com. Yes, Kenny Hill's stellar play has a lot to do with their superiority through the air.

As a quarterback with the third-most passing yards in the country, the sophomore has shown maturity and discipline that very well could get his team all the way back to the Metroplex for all the marbles, where he excelled as a stud for prep powerhouse Southlake Carroll. 

The show is more than just Hill, however. The Aggies have a slew of sure-handed, speedy receivers to complement shifty running backs as options for their QB to throw to. Redshirt freshman Ricky Seals-Jones and true freshman Speedy Noil are the 5-star young guns.

Texas natives Josh Reynolds and Edwin Pope provide length and quality depth at the position. Malcolm Kennedy is the big-play senior, a peak performer who has replaced Mike Evans more than admirably. The offensive line is top notch as well, considering starting left tackle Cedric Ogbuehi is projected as a first-round NFL draft pick by many.

 

A&M defense has talented players with room to improve over course of season

Though not as dominating, the defense has some athletes that will continue to get better. They've given up their fair share of yardage but have come up strong in clutch situations. The biggest one this year was stuffing Arkansas' gargantuan offensive line and running attack on the Dallas Cowboys' home field.

Pete Roussel of 247sports.com gave an in-depth examination of how Texas A&M defenders are learning on the fly and adjusting to their opponents when it matters most.

Freshman Garrett Myles has the ability to become a serious pass-rushing threat. Middle linebacker Jordan Mastrogiovanni is steady. If cornerback De'Vante Harris grows into the guy you can put up against the other squad's top wideout, taking pressure off shaky senior Deshazor Everett, the D could easily fit on the coattails of its mighty offensive counterparts for an exciting ride.

 

Their schedule will validate them due to playing in the SEC

They passed their first quiz in an overtime win versus the Razorbacks. Many more will arise by the end of the regular season for the Aggies, which is exactly why you should bank on them proving their worth as a playoff team. Next, they face Magnolia State divisional foes back-to-back in the Mississippi State Bulldogs and Ole Miss Rebels; both teams are ranked. Then, the Aggies will have to travel to Tuscaloosa.

The reality is, due to the fact that the SEC (especially the Western Division) is so stacked, if Texas A&M is able to come out only slighted scathed, they would have to be a logical pick as a premier postseason participant.

Take, for example, if the Aggies fall to Mississippi State on the road this weekend but go on to win their remaining regular-season games. After all the dust settles, it is not silly to assume that they will have beaten at least five top-tier SEC teams ranked 15th or better in any of the major polls.

Even if they got upset in the SEC Championship, how would it look to leave them out of the tournament after accomplishing such an awesome feat?

Texas A&M football, under the guidance of mastermind Kevin Sumlin, meets the requirements when you look to identify a College Football Playoff contender. Powerful offense? Check. Ability to make key stops in key situations on defense? Check. Magical signal-caller? Check. Leadership? Check that, too.

When you add into the equation a juggernaut conference—and specifically division—that they're battling in, it's honestly a no-brainer. Pencil in the Aggies for the four-team battle royale coming later in 2014. 

 

Star Ratings courtesy of 247Sports.com.

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BYU Cougars vs. Utah State Aggies: Complete Game Preview

After a bye week for both teams, BYU and Utah State will continue their annual series with a Friday night showdown in Provo. The Cougars won last year's matchup 31-14 in Logan and will look to extend their winning streak against USU.

BYU has won all four of its games this season, including impressive victories over Texas and Virginia. Utah State has struggled since its star quarterback Chuckie Keeton was injured and sits with a 2-2 record.

For a "rivalry" that is seemingly starting to take flight, here is a complete preview of the BYU-Utah State game.

Date: Friday, October 3

Time: 8:15 p.m. MDT

Place: LaVell Edwards Stadium, Provo, UT

TV: ESPN

Radio: KSL NewsRadio (102.7 FM, 1160 AM)

Spread:BYU -21

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Tennessee Football: Grading the Volunteers' Impact Freshmen After 4 Games

Tennessee's resounding wins over Utah State and Arkansas State, as well as its close game on the road against No. 13 Georgia, are due in no small part to the Volunteers' much-hyped and highly talented freshman class.

As the season progresses, and especially as the Vols begin looking toward the 2015 campaign, it will become clear that the 2014 class will set the stage for Tennessee's impending return to national relevance. 

Every recruiting class, no matter how highly ranked by national analysts, is bound to suffer from attrition and underwhelming performances. That's often due to players not conforming to program expectations or simply being overrated as high school recruits. 

So far, it appears that Tennessee head coach Butch Jones and his staff have not only avoided those issues, they have also put together a class that's playing far beyond the typical expectations of college freshmen in the SEC.

Here are grades for each of the Vols' biggest impact freshmen so far in 2014.

 

Jalen Hurd, RB

Jalen Hurd arrived in Knoxville cold—literally and figuratively.

He was an early enrollee who began working out with the team in the frigid January air, and while most of his fellow newcomers were fresh off high school playoff runs, Hurd hadn't played a down of football since he suffered an injury in the opening game of his senior season in August 2012.

Participating in winter workouts and spring practices is undoubtedly a big reason why Hurd has progressed so quickly in Tennessee's offense. Although Marlin Lane is listed as the starting tailback for Saturday's matchup with the Florida Gators, Hurd is and will continue to be the focal point of the Vols' running game.

After two average performances against the team's opening opponents, Hurd began to run with more confidence against the Oklahoma Sooners before having a breakthrough game against the Bulldogs last weekend.

His 119 rushing yards and one touchdown on 24 carries are the most for a Tennessee true freshman since Jamal Lewis rushed for 127 yards in the 1997 SEC Championship Game, according to the Chattanooga Times Free Press' Patrick Brown.

Hurd's large frame also makes him ideal for blocking assignments, and aside from a few miscues here and there, he has been solid creating space for quarterback Justin Worley to step up into the pocket and making room for wide receivers to make plays in space.

The one thing Hurd is missing from his short resume is a long touchdown run, but his explosiveness and ability to break tackles mean it's only a matter of time until he gets one.

Grade: A-

 

Ethan Wolf, TE

With his prototypical height and weight, tight end Ethan Wolf may be the biggest asset to offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian's offense moving forward. With a scheme that relies heavily on tight ends, Tennessee's offense never ran at full capacity last season due to injuries to Brendan Downs and A.J. Branisel. 

With the addition of Wolf, who also arrived on campus in January and immediately began carving out a role as a starter, Bajakian and Worley have more room to get creative when distributing the ball down the field.

Wes Rucker of 247Sports reports that while Tennessee's tight ends coach, Mark Elder, sees upside in Wolf, he says the freshman also still has a few things to learn.

There’s a lot of room for improvement there; there’s no question about that. There’s room for improvement with his blocking, there’s room for improvement with his receiving, route running, his physical capabilities. He can improve in all those areas. I don’t think he’s a tapped-out guy. You look at him, and you see he’s gonna develop physically over the next three years, and he’s gonna continue to develop technique-wise.

Wolf's presence is already showing up in the stat sheets. Despite missing the game against Oklahoma, Wolf has 13 catches for 115 yards in 2014. Like Hurd, Wolf is improving each week, and his biggest game of the season came against the Bulldogs when he hauled in five catches for 69 yards. 

The Vols caught a huge break when the injury Wolf suffered against Arkansas State caused him to miss only a single game, as his presence will be critical in helping the team finish the season with a winning record. 

Grade: B-

 

Derek Barnett, DE

Derek Barnett may have been a 4-star for 247Sports as a high school senior, but he's playing like a top-20 recruit. 

Barnett's commitment to the Vols over his hometown Vanderbilt Commodores shortly before national signing day this year didn't just help Tennessee lock down the state in terms of recruiting—it also gave the team one of its best pass-rushers in years.

A standout throughout summer camp, Barnett's raw ability quickly became apparent on game day, as he's notched 19 total tackles so far this season, including eight against Georgia last week.

Barnett is currently fifth on the team in total tackles, and while it's unlikely he will surpass stud linebackers A.J. Johnson and Jalen Reeves-Maybin, his progression from game to game means he could easily land in the top three or four by the time the season is over.

Although he has three tackles for loss and two quarterback hurries, Barnett hasn't notched a sack yet. At the rate he's going, it's hard to imagine he will be denied much longer. 

Grade: B+

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

8 Most Important College Football Recruiting Visits of Week 6

The first weekend of October is loaded with fantastic showdowns on college football fields in every corner of the country. Along with avid fanbases, a bevy of big-time recruits will be in attendance to take in the action.

Several schools are set host elite collections of high school talent from the 2015 and 2016 classes. These athletes are capable of becoming eventual cornerstones for collegiate programs and could come to define the next half-decade of success for coaching staffs currently in pursuit.

Each week we examine the most important campus visits expected to take place, keeping a close eye on the successes and recruitment of each athlete. Here's a look at the latest and perhaps most star-studded travel schedule for America's top players we've seen this season.

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Georgia DB Rico Johnson's Football Career Ended by Neurological Disorder

Georgia cornerback Rico Johnson's career in Athens is over before it ever got off the ground. Bulldogs head coach Mark Richt announced Thursday that the redshirt freshman is stepping away from football due to an ongoing neurological condition.   

“I’m thankful we caught this condition when we did,” Richt said in a statement. “Now we can help Rico transition to life after football. He will stay on scholarship through his graduation and we will assist him in finding employment through the P.O. Network!”

The genesis of Johnson's head injury is unknown at this time. According to the statement, Johnson noticed problems during Wednesday's practice and was taken to a nearby medical facility where he underwent neurological testing. Ron Courson, the university's director of sports medicine, did not reveal Johnson's diagnosis but said it will allow him to lead a "normal life."

"While we are very disappointed for Rico from a football standpoint, we feel extremely fortunate that he is healthy and that we were able to diagnose his condition and protect him from a possible catastrophic injury,” Courson said.  “Although he cannot continue his football career, he should be able to have a normal life.”

Johnson, who sat out last season, had five total tackles and one forced fumble in four games in 2014, playing mostly on special teams. A 3-star recruit from Swainsboro, Georgia, Johnson was originally brought in as a wide receiver but converted to defensive back due to need.

The 20-year-old athlete can remain on full scholarship at Georgia but will not count toward the team's 90-man limit due to medical hardship. The Bulldogs are scheduled to play 1-4 Vanderbilt at Sanford Stadium on Saturday.   

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter

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How Ameer Abdullah Went from Forgotten Alabama Recruit to Heisman Contender

Gus Malzahn, one of the brightest offensive minds of our generation, desperately wanted Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah. So did Nick Saban. So did USC. So did a handful of other SEC schools, including Ole Miss, Tennessee and Arkansas.

All of these power programs hoped to keep the Homewood, Alabama, senior close to home, which should come as no surprise. They saw the potential in Abdullah, even at just 5'8" and 30 pounds lighter than he is today.

Given the right tutelage, they felt that—if all went according to plan—Abdullah could eventually contribute at cornerback. Yes, cornerback.

Even Auburn—Abdullah's dream school—wanted him at a position he really wanted nothing to do with.

"It kind of ate me up," Abdullah told USA Today's Paul Myerberg about the recruiting process. "It really hurt my feelings. At a young age, my dream was to play running back. For your dream school to tell you that, it really hurt."

So it was time to leave.

 

From Alabama to Nebraska: Ameer Abdullah, 3-Star Cornerback

A Heisman Trophy was in another galaxy. A Big Ten championship—or even the thought of playing in the state of Nebraska—wasn't on the table. The NFL draft was just an entertaining telecast and nothing more. Even Abdullah's future at the position was in doubt.

Despite rushing for 1,795 yards on just 157 carries and scoring 28 touchdowns during his senior season—and doing so in one of the nation's recruiting hotbeds, in front of scouts weekly—Abdullah didn't set the recruiting world on fire. It was more of a slow churn.

The senior was listed as the No. 485 recruit nationally and the No. 25 athlete overall at 247Sports in the 2011 recruiting class. On Rivals, he was graded as a 3-star prospect and the No. 17 athlete in the nation.

He flashed brilliance, something JC Shurburtt, the national recruiting director at 247Sports, knew well before he was a star. But concerns over his size led to a much different recruiting picture than you might imagine.

"I saw him the most at the practices leading up to the Offense-Defense All-American Bowl that year in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and he was the most dynamic playmaker on the field that week," Shurburtt told Bleacher Report. "Just about every school wanted him as a cornerback or athlete, in large part because of his height. He was set on offense, though."

He didn't waver in his desire to play his position of choice, despite the pressure to play elsewhere. As interest and offers trickled in, Abdullah weighed his options.

It never felt as though the Alabama native—despite the mixed interest—would stray too far from home. Yet his dream to play running back at Auburn drifted away as spots filled up and commitments were made. 

Justin Hokanson, insider at AuburnUndercover.com, remembers his recruitment.

"Ameer's older brother attended Auburn at the time he was being recruited. Ameer was an Auburn fan, and he would have likely jumped on an offer, but it never came," Hokanson said. "The Tigers liked him at cornerback, if they had a spot for him in the class. Auburn just never pulled the trigger."

As Abdullah weighed his decision and national signing day approached, Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini took a take a trip down to Alabama to visit the "athlete."

Pelini, not one for extravagant sales pitches and empty promises, entered Abdullah's home and got comfortable before the position talk began.

"He kicked off his shoes like he had been living there for seven years and put his feet up on my table,” Abdullah recalled. "I'm like, 'Look at this guy.' That's who Bo is, though."

The only guarantee that Pelini offered while visiting Abdullah was a chance. There was no talk of carries or playing time, but Abdullah would get his shot at running back. Given the way things had gone up until that conversation, even the possibility of competing at the position resonated. Pelini's tone helped seal the deal.

"He didn't promise me a thing, which was really odd," Abdullah said. "He came to my house and offered me a free education and an opportunity to potentially play on this football team. He left it at that, and that really sat with me. That's really what attracted me to Nebraska."

In committing to Nebraska, Abdullah exited his comfort zone. He left Alabama to play for a coach who was willing to give him what many others couldn't or wouldn't. Pelini, meanwhile, was happy to take a chance of his own on a player he saw potential in.

"We saw someone we thought was really talented, special and a great kid," Pelini said. "You never know how good they'll be, but we recruited him because we thought he was special. It's proven to be that way."

 

From Nebraska to Superstardom: Ameer Abdullah, Heisman Hopeful

The days of fighting for position acceptance are over. Ameer Abdullah now has his own line of batteries.

Sort of.

To push the Heisman candidacy of its star tailback, Nebraska recently sent out a courtesy reminder to media members. It came in a small, unassuming FedEx package. Inside were eight (Abdullah's number) AA batteries. As for the significance of the gift, the all-caps text on the front of the packaging—just directly below the number on Abdullah's jersey—accurately summarized the purpose of the item.

"POWERING NEBRASKA FOOTBALL SINCE 2011."

There is plenty of truth to this. Abdullah didn't exactly burst onto the scene as a true freshman back in 2011, serving as Rex Burkhead's primary backup months after he arrived in Lincoln. That changed the following season when Burkhead dealt with injuries throughout the year.

As a sophomore in 2012, Abdullah ran for more than 1,100 yards despite splitting carries. When he took over as the primary ball-carrier in 2013, his numbers took off. His 1,690 rushing yards were ninth nationally.

Thus far in 2014, he is on track to shatter all of his career bests. His 833 rushing yards are tops in the nation. He has accomplished this despite logging 20 fewer carries than Pittsburgh's James Conner, currently No. 2 in the country with 790 yards.

His eight rushing touchdowns leave him one shy of his career high. And his 7.3 yards per carry through five games is more than a yard better than his previous best output for a season, which came last year.

Abdullah has improved in every major statistical category over the course of his entire career. That might seem like common practice for college football players; however, it's really anything but. Injuries and attention gained oftentimes can be where reputation and production meet at the fork in the road.

As the attention on Abdullah has increased, however, his production has skyrocketed.

"I think he's better in every area. I think he had a great year last year, but I think he's a better football player this year," Pelini said. "That's a testament to him and his hard work. His mindset and preparation. His drive. He's just playing at a very high level right now."

There are more physically gifted backs around the country. Georgia's Todd Gurley, for starters, is unmatched in this department. In terms of straight-line speed, look no further than fellow Big Ten running back Melvin Gordon, who has the edge in this department.

But in terms of the complete catalog, the one that stretches well past 40 times and other ways to categorize a running back's worth, it's hard to find a more productive back than this one.

In his past 18 games, Abdullah has eclipsed the 100-yard mark 15 times. In five games this season, he's gone over the 200-yard mark three separate occasions. And it's not just the numbers. It's the sheer violence of his cuts, his ability to fall forward for extra yardage and the way he can turn a short completion into a physics-defying 58-yard touchdown to save the Huskers' season.

Heisman moments typically don't happen in Week 2. They also don't come against McNeese State. But when you assess the individual effort that single-handedly won Nebraska a game that had no business being a contest in the first place, you can't help but rethink the accepted Heisman assessment protocol.

If Nebraska beats Michigan State on Saturday—and if cannot be stressed enough—it will likely have a great deal to do with what its star player was able to accomplish against one of the premier defenses in the country.

At that point, the Heisman conversations will change. They will have to. It doesn't matter how quarterback-driven the award has become—it will not be able to hold back Abdullah any longer. And even if the Cornhuskers succumb to what is likely a top-five team in a difficult environment, it should not change the perception of one of the nation's best offensive weapons. He has already made it.

Abdullah hasn't forgotten where he's come from or what it took from him to get here. Neither have the people who watched him thrive as a running back at Homewood High School or the various coaches that glazed over the prospect for someone else.

"It's probably the first thing I hear when I get off the plane," Abdullah said.

The state of Alabama didn't really want him; neither did the rest of the SEC. Neither did many others, for that matter, at least at the position he now dominates.

Ameer Abdullah has shed his 3-star label for something much more fitting: Heisman contender and the man powering Nebraska football since 2011.

 

Unless noted otherwise, all quotes obtained firsthand. You can follow Adam Kramer on Twitter @Kegsneggs

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

UCF Knights vs. Houston Cougars Live Blog: Reactions and Analysis

The University of Central Florida Knights will travel to TDECU Stadium to take on the Houston Cougars in an American Athletic Conference showdown Friday night at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN.

Both teams will be looking to get off to a fast start in conference play after underwhelming starts.

Houston enters the matchup at 2-2, fresh on the heels of a 47-14 victory against UNLV. UCF has started the season 0-2 but rebounded last week with a 41-7 thrashing of Bethune-Cookman.

Although UCF leads the series 4-1, four of those five matchups have been decided by just a touchdown. Houston will be looking to avenge last season's 19-14 loss which saw UCF hold on after stopping the Cougars on 4th-and-goal at the end of the game.

After one quarter, Houston leads UCF 3-0 courtesy of a Kyle Bullard field goal.

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