NCAA Football News

Hugh Freeze Addresses Photo of Robert Nkemdiche Holding Bong

Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze said the school has seen the picture of Robert Nkemdiche with a bong, though he declined to say whether his star defensive lineman would be punished.      

"I'm very aware of the picture and also when it was taken and where it was taken," Freeze said Monday, per Hugh Kellenberger of The Clarion-Ledger. "We test our entire team on our drug-testing policy at the beginning of the season and then we have our follow-up tests throughout the course of the year. I'm super confident we handled each one the same and we enforce our policy very consistently."

The image, which was a Snapchat taken of Nkemdiche, according to Kellenberger, was posted by Clay Travis of Fox Sports Sunday, a day after the Rebels' 35-20 win over Texas A&M. Travis' post was cobbled together from a since-deleted post on a Tennessee message board. According to Travis, the poster has had the photo since August but decided to make it public before the Volunteers' game against Ole Miss.

The Volunteers and Rebels play Saturday at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. Ole Miss comes into the game just two points behind Florida State for second place in the Associated Press Poll after back-to-back wins against Top 25 opponents.

Nkemdiche, a sophomore, is one of the driving forces behind the Rebels' ascent. He has 14 tackles and one sack through the first six games, but his ability to draw doubleteams and plug run gaps has helped Ole Miss build one of the nation's top defenses. Only Stanford gives up fewer points per game and the Rebels have given up six offensive touchdowns all season.

Nkemdiche has yet to comment on the photo. As noted by Kellenberger, terms of Ole Miss' drug testing program would not require the school to suspend him if it is his first offense. If Nkemdiche had previously tested positive in the past, another violation would require a suspension commensurate with 25 percent of the team's remaining games.

"We're going to hold them accountable for actions that are not what we want representing our university and our program, or that would hurt themselves," Freeze said. "I'm very confident that we deal with all of them in the same manner, and that'll we'll continue to do that."

The former No. 1 recruit in the country, per 247Sports, Nkemdiche was one of three players suspended for part of last year's Music City Bowl. In February, Nkemdiche and his brother, Rebels linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche, were sued for $2 million after allegedly being two of seven football players to knock another student unconscious at an on-campus party.

Denzel Nkemdiche rejoined the team in June after being suspended throughout the spring. Robert Nkemdiche does not have any other publicly available disciplinary transgressions.

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

An Insider's Guide to Mississippi State's Cowbell Tradition

Love 'em or hate 'em, Mississippi State's tradition of ringing cowbells inside Davis Wade Stadium is one of the most prominent—and noisy—traditions in the SEC.

Never have those cowbells been so loud than last Saturday, when the home-standing Bulldogs topped then-No. 2 Auburn 38-23 to improve to 6-0 and ascend to the top spot in both major polls.

The combination of the big-game atmosphere with the clanging of the cowbells created a raucous environment that rivals that of any stadium in any sport, as evidenced by this tweet from USA Today's Dan Wolken, who was in attendance for Saturday's win over Auburn.

Pat Forde of Yahoo! Sports called the atmosphere inside Davis Wade Stadium on Saturday an "ear-splitting slice of hell" for the visiting team.

Don't believe me?

Check out this vine of Mississippi State taking a knee to end the game from Michael Bonner of the Jackson Clarion-Ledger.

"That's our spirit symbol," said athletics director Scott Stricklin. "That's what we rally around, how we show our emotion and share our joy with one another."

Just where did the tradition come from?

As the old legend goes, the tradition dates back to the 1930s and, according to Mississippi State's tradition page, a football game against intra-state rival Ole Miss. A cow roamed near the field as the Bulldogs were toppling the Rebels, and a tradition began where cows were present at all Mississippi State home games.

As stadiums grew bigger, fans realized that cows being at games may not be the best idea in the world, and substituted the cow's bell instead.

Times evolved, and two professors in the 1960s began welding handles on bells which, in 1964, began being sold in the bookstore with proceeds going to the Student Association and Industrial Education Club, which helped mass-produce the cowbells.

Cowbells became synonymous with Mississippi State in the 60s, which is a tradition that has stood the test of time.

"It's a very personal item," said Stricklin. "Which is why they're given as gifts. They're handed down through generations of families. People decorate them with stickers and paint. Your Mississippi State fan identity is embodied in that one piece of metal."

The cowbell is not only a statement of each individual's Bulldogs fandom, but a reminder of the heritage of the school itself.

"The cowbell is special to MSU folks for two reasons," said Brian Hadad, a Mississippi State fan and host of the B&B Show on Bulldog Sports Radio on VSporto. "One, it plays at our heritage as an agricultural school.  Two, it's one of the few things that is uniquely ours, that other fans identify with us. Everybody has a special chant, or a communal tailgate area. Not everybody has that symbol." 

Artificial noisemakers were banned by the SEC in 1974—a rule that stayed in place through 2010. That didn't prevent cowbells inside the stadium, though.

Stricklin, who is a Mississippi State graduate in addition to its athletics director, got the job in May of 2010, a few weeks before SEC Spring Meetings in Destin, Florida. His first order of business was lifting the ban.

"There had been some conversations leading up to it, but when I interviewed with Dr. [Mark] Keenum in late April [2010], one of the questions in the interview was, 'how are you going make sure we keep the cowbell?' When he hired me, it was 'OK, you have spring meetings in three weeks, you better figure this out. It wasn't exactly the easiest jumping-off point, but Dr. Keenum deserves a lot of credit. He was a big part of that effort."

Through the "Ring Responsibly" campaign, Mississippi State was granted an exemption that allows fans to bring in artificial noisemakers, so long as they coincide with times in which music is allowed to be played through the stadium's public address system. 

In years past, that meant only during and coming out of media timeouts and other times in which play is stopped. That changed this year, when the SEC allowed stadiums to play music up until the center touched the ball.

"We actually used this offseason to educate fans on that, hoping that will get people re-calibrated to the rule," Stricklin said.

Save for one minor hiccup against Texas A&M, Stricklin has been pleased with the responsible ringing of Mississippi State fans.

"At the Texas A&M game, I thought we had about three-quarters of the stadium doing it the right way," he said. "But when you have that many people who aren't, it sounds like a lot more because of the noise that they make. It was important that we had a heart-to-heart with the fanbase to let them know where we need to be, and I was pleased with the response. I thought we did an outstanding job on Saturday."

They certainly did—on the field, and off of it.

"The change from bells to voices when Auburn would get over the ball was incredibly noticeable," said Hadad. "When it was time to ring, Mississippi State fans went all out. My ears hurt well into Sunday afternoon."

Cowbells have now taken on the persona of the team they represent, which, at 6-0 and ranked No. 1, is used to doling out punishment that persists well into Sunday.

 

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and video analyst for Bleacher Report, as well as a co-host of the CFB Hangover on Bleacher Report Radio (Sundays, 9-11 a.m. ET) on Sirius 93, XM 208.

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of cfbstats.com, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Virginia Tech vs. Pittsburgh: Complete Game Preview

After a much-needed week off, the Virginia Tech Hokies get back to work this week with a road matchup against Pittsburgh. 

Each team enters this week's game with a 1-1 mark in the ACC Coastal Division, but Pitt has lost three straight after opening the season 3-0. 

The Hokies lead the all-time series 8-5 and won last year's matchup, but the Panthers won the previous four meetings. 

Virginia Tech entered its bye week on a strong note with a convincing 34-17 win at North Carolina. Pitt lost a thriller at Virginia before its bye week. 

  • When: Thursday, October 16, 2014
  • Where: Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  • Time: 7:30 p.m. ET
  • TV: ESPN
  • Radio: Virginia Tech IMG Sports Network. Here is a complete list of stations by area.
  • Spread: The Hokies are presently two-point favorites, via Odds Shark.

Begin Slideshow

LSU Tigers vs. Kentucky Wildcats Complete Game Preview

The Kentucky Wildcats have a better record than the LSU Tigers. That is not a typo, nor a reference to basketball.

Wildcats head coach Mark Stoops has led his team to a 5-1 record with a 2-1 mark in conference play. Stoops' two conference victories came against Vanderbilt and South Carolina, and his team was a bad call away from beating Florida in "The Swamp."

LSU earned its first conference win in the Gators' habitat last Saturday thanks to some clutch playmaking in the fourth quarter. The 5-2 Tigers will look to become bowl eligible for the 10th straight season under head coach Les Miles Saturday.

The last time the Wildcats were 5-1 was in 2007. They were able to make it 6-1 after a thrilling triple-overtime victory over LSU. The two would not meet again until 2011, when the Tigers suffocated the Wildcats 35-7

Here is a preview of this week's matchup.

 

What You Need to Know

Time: 6:30 p.m. CST

Place: Tiger Stadium; Baton Rouge, La.  

TV: SEC Network

Radio: LSU Sports Radio Network, UK IMG Sports Network

Spread: LSU by 10.5, via Oddsshark.com

Begin Slideshow

Florida State Needs to Suspend Quarterback Jameis Winston

This is the moment for Florida State when it answers the big question: What do you stand for? It's an opportunity, really. You do the right thing for the right reasons, and no matter the cost, you can look in the mirror later. When you stand for something, it's forever.           

On Saturday, Florida State, the defending national champ, will play undefeated Notre Dame. The winner becomes a strong favorite to get into the College Football Playoff. The loser does not. But Florida State needs to make a real statement first and do one thing:

Suspend Jameis Winston. Now.

It's the only thing to do for Florida State, for the sport of football and even, frankly, for society in general. And if Florida State lets Winston play? Then that makes a statement, too—a dangerous one. In fact, Florida State already did the wrong thing in allowing Winston to play this past Saturday against Syracuse. 

In the past few days, Florida State informed Winston that he will face a school disciplinary hearing into sexual abuse. On top of that, The New York Times detailed ways in which university officials, the athletic department and even the Tallahassee police seemed to work together in keeping Winston out of trouble last year when a woman accused him of rape. It was the same incident Winston's disciplinary hearing will investigate. FoxSports.com had a story, too, detailing ways the school and police at times seemed to undermine the state attorney's potential pursuit of charges against Winston.

So no, there is no proof that Winston did anything wrong. The state's attorney did not file charges. Why suspend Winston then?

To stand for the right thing. So far, the school appears to have schemed in a way to prioritize football over the cries of a woman who says she was hurt. For some reason, when a woman alleges violence from a football player, the first thought is about the player and protecting him. It needs to be about the woman.

If the athletic department has interfered with justice in a cover-up to protect football, then if the football team suffers, that's just too bad.

The finger is now pointed straight at Florida State. And the university seems to be reacting by trying to cover up its cover-up, making it appear to have been investigating the allegation against Winston all along, as it was supposed to under Title IX legislation. Look for a lot of people to be fired over this.

Winston needs to sit out until everything is worked out, partly in fairness to his accuser, but also as a message that if women say they have been assaulted, then someone will listen. It is almost a cliche the way Florida State has behaved.

Former Chicago Bears general manager Jerry Angelo told USA Today last week that " 'hundreds and hundreds' of domestic violence incidents were covered up during his 31 years in the NFL." He later said that was an embellishment but did not refute the point. He pointed the finger at himself and seemed to be trying to clear his conscience.

The elevator video in the Ray Rice case makes it impossible to hide this stuff anymore. Violence against women is an epidemic in football. So the NFL, the whole sport, is staring down the issue.

Winston, as the Heisman Trophy winner, is such a public figure. To let another cover-up go by, and allow him to be cheered and idolized Saturday against Notre Dame, is just the wrong thing. If that turns out to mean erring, for once, on the side of the woman, then so be it.

It's a risk worth taking to stand for something.

Look at the sharp contrast in example Notre Dame is setting. Notre Dame suspended five players before the season started on suspicion of cheating on academics. Nothing had been proven. The school was only investigating. Yet the players have not been allowed to practice or play in a game all year.

This isn't about perfection. Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson didn't play last year after he was kicked out of school for a cheating scandal. He was allowed back after a year. So, it's clear that this isn't an isolated incident.

Notre Dame has a serious problem. But look what it's doing while looking into it. It is hurting the football team. Think of the message. It's the same message Texas coach Charlie Strong has been sending, kicking players off the team, including one who was accused—not convicted—of sexual assault.

Notre Dame prioritized academics over football. Texas prioritized humanity over football.

Florida State has its chance now to change its stand.

At this point, Winston might be on the run. Heisman Trophy voters are staying away from him. Sports Illustrated wrote that he might be best served legally by dropping out of school now. That, the story said, would prevent him from going to the school disciplinary hearing where he might give testimony that could be used for evidence against him and lead to charges being filed later.

We've already seen that Winston has been in trouble for stealing soda pop and crab legs. And The New York Times story said he was among at least a dozen Florida State players involved in BB gun incidents that caused thousands of dollars of damage, forcing police to respond. 

This isn't about those things.

The Times reported:

1) In January of 2013, a few days after Winston was identifed by his accuser, Florida State athletic department officials met with Winston's lawyer and then decided, on behalf of the university, not to start a discpilinary inquiry "as required by federal law."

2) On his Instagram page, "Mr. Winston posted a video clip in February in which he and a teammate, mimicking a viral music video, jokingly sang a line from the song 'On the Floor' by the rapper IceJJFish, which celebrates men not taking 'no' for an answer from women: 'She said she wants to take it slow, I'm not that type of guy I'll letcha know, when I see that red light all I know is go.' "

3) Florida State, as part of its investigation into the rape allegation, did not attempt to talk with Winston until after it won the national championship and didn't interview his accuser for seven months after that.

Earlier this season, Winston was suspended for a game when he jumped on a table on campus and started mimicking a disturbing viral video on the Internet, yelling, "F--k her right in the p---y!"

What does Florida State stand for anyway? Beating Notre Dame?

How about something bigger?

 

Greg Couch covers college football for Bleacher Report. He also writes for The New York Times and was formerly a scribe for FoxSports.com and the Chicago Sun-Times.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Miami Football: Adjustments Hurricanes Must Make on Bye Week

The Miami Hurricanes opened the 2014 college football campaign by playing seven consecutive weeks, but the 4-3 'Canes have finally entered their first of two season byes.

Head coach Al Golden and his staff will spend the additional practice time making adjustments and correcting evident flaws before the next game on Thursday, Oct. 23, at Virginia Tech.

Additionally, Miami must address a couple in-game flaws, two areas that have directly contributed to every result so far.

Note: Problems on third down have continuously been covered, so while that issue is the most important to correct, it will not be highlighted once again. Feel free to air your grievances in the comments section below.

Begin Slideshow

College Football Picks: Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets vs. North Carolina Tar Heels

The Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets will look to bounce back from a bad loss in the ACC with another matchup in the Coastal Division against the North Carolina Tar Heels at Kenan Stadium. Saturday’s contest is set to kickoff at 7 p.m. ET, and the game will be broadcast nationally on ESPNU.

Georgia Tech’s stay in the AP Top 25 was brief after last Saturday’s stunning 31-25 loss to Duke as a 3.5-point home favorite. The Yellow Jackets had won their first five games of the season straight up, and they are 3-3 against the spread after this loss. The total stayed “under” the 58.5-point closing line against the Blue Devils, and it has stayed under in Tech's last three games.

The Tar Heels gave Notre Dame a run for its money their last time out in a wild 50-43 loss as 16.5-point road underdogs. It was their fourth loss in a row to drop to 2-4 overall. This was also the first time this season that North Carolina covered the spread in its first six games. The total went “over” the 62.5-point line, and it has now gone over in three of UNC's last four games.

 

Georgia Tech vs. North Carolina Betting Storylines

One of the biggest reasons for Georgia Tech’s success this season has been a rushing offense that is churning out an average of 294.7 yards per game. Through the first seven weeks of the college football season, this remains the eighth-highest average in the country. The concern has been on the other side of the ball, with a defense that is ranked 64th in points allowed (25.0).

Quarterback Justin Thomas has thrown for only 724 yards and seven touchdowns for the Yellow Jackets this season, but he is also the team’s leading rusher with 589 yards on 93 carries. The other main workhorse out of the backfield has been Zach Laskey. He has rushed the ball 105 times for 521 yards and three scores for an average of five yards per carry.

North Carolina has been able to move the ball through the air this season with a passing game that is ranked 30th in the nation in average yards per game (285.0).

The main man behind all this production has been quarterback Marquise Williams, who is also a dual threat with his legs. He has thrown for 1,386 yards and 11 touchdowns while completing 60.5 percent of his 195 attempts. He has also racked up a team-high 375 yards on the ground and three scores on 75 carries.

This is another team that has had its issues stopping opponents on defense. The Tar Heels are one of the worst teams in Division IA in points allowed, currently giving up an average of 43.3 points per game, which is a major problem if you are only averaging 37.2 PPG on offense. During the current four-game slide, this unit has given up 50 points or more three times.

 

Georgia Tech vs. North Carolina Betting Odds and Trends by Doc’s Sports

Point Spread: Georgia Tech -2.5

Total Line: OFF

The betting trends on Covers have the Yellow Jackets going just 5-10-1 ATS in their last 16 games and 2-3-1 ATS in their last six games on the road. The total has gone over in 10 of their last 15 games.

The Tar Heels are 19-6 SU in their last 25 home games but just 1-4 ATS in their last five games played at home. The total has stayed under in four of their last five home games in ACC play.

Head-to-head in this matchup, Georgia Tech has won the last five meetings both SU and ATS, with the total staying under in four of the last six meetings in North Carolina.

 

College Football Picks: Georgia Tech vs. North Carolina Betting Predictions

Georgia Tech needs a convincing win on Saturday to recapture the attention of the national polls and keep pace in the race for the ACC Coastal Division title. This is a much better team than what we saw last Saturday against Duke, and that will be reflected in a win that easily covers the 2.5-point spread.

Take: # 329 Georgia Tech (-2.5) over North Carolina- 7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 18

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Super 16 Poll Week 8: Complete Rankings Released for 2014 Season

If you ever wondered exactly what the College Football Playoff would look like with 12 more teams, the Super 16 poll is for you. The format has been extended to four teams for now, but it's fun every week to see exactly what the layout would look like.    

Midway through the season, the poll was sure to change yet again after the likes of Auburn, TCU and others fell in Week 7. After all, the Tigers were the No. 1 team in the poll before Mississippi State knocked them down a peg.

Now that the poll is finally released, here's a look at the full results from FootballFoundation.org. Individual votes can also be found here. As for a tabulation of the votes, this nifty little chart should help put the votes into perspective.

 

Analysis

Much like it did in the Associated Press and Amway Coaches polls, Mississippi State saw a huge jump in the rankings. A victory over the top-ranked team in the SEC will do that for a program.

This is uncharted territory for the Bulldogs, who had never reached the top of the AP Poll. In fact, they saw one of the fastest rises in college football history up the AP Poll, per ESPN College Football:

Mississippi State has also seen a meteoric rise in the SEC after not being given much hope prior to the season, as Paul Finebaum of ESPN notes:

Florida State was able to remain unblemished this season with a win over Syracuse (2-4) by a final of 38-20. They might not have a loss this year, but the Seminoles have certainly faced their fair share of problems against inferior programs.

Whether it was the nail-biting season opener against Oklahoma State or being down by 10 points against NC State in the third quarter, nothing has come easy for the 'Noles. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs have trounced two straight Top 10 opponents by an average of 16 points.

That was enough for Brian Davis of the Austin American-Statesman to push Mississippi State over the top:

Florida State will get a chance to make its own statement this weekend against Notre Dame at home. But if the Seminoles fall, it could be the Irish jumping up the rankings after Week 8.

Along with the Bulldogs, several other undefeated teams remain highly ranked in the polls. Of those teams, Ole Miss not only shares the same state with MSU but also a Top Five ranking.

The Rebels have pulled off some equally impressive magic this season, but have been overshadowed by their SEC West counterparts. Coach Hugh Freeze believes the division is good enough to have two teams contending for a title, per Hugh Kellenberger of The Clarion-Ledger:

I do think the SEC West deserves two in the playoff. ...

If we got beat tonight it would have been because Texas A&M beat us in their place and they are a good football team. But I never worried about that. Our kids are excited, we enjoyed the win but they'll come back down and get ready.

The only remaining unbeaten team not listed in the poll is Marshall, which is led by Rakeem Cato. In fact, the Thundering Herd remain behind AAC rival ECU in every poll despite their record.

Every other poll might be trying to predict who the top teams are in the country, but the Super 16 gives college football fans a look at what they truly want. Four teams in the playoff is nice, but there are still several worthy programs that would miss out due to one or even two losses.

As the season continues to progress, some might say that Alabama and Oregon should still have a shot. According to the format from the Super 16 poll, both of those teams would have a great chance of still winning a national championship.

Under the current format, both programs still need a lot of help. Though the 16-team layout hasn't come to fruition, it's always nice to dream of what the playoff could look like.

 

Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Updated National Championship Odds for Top 10 Teams After Week 7

There are 26 remaining zero- or one-loss teams from power conferences, and all 26 would have at least an argument for making the College Football Playoff if they ran the table for the rest of the season.

For obvious reasons, though, the Top 10 teams in the country are the ones with the highest odds of making and winning the CFP. Exceptions such as Oklahoma loom right on the periphery, but for the most part, the Top 10 teams are the active favorites.

The odds on this list were created using easy-to-understand criteria, restated below from my post-Week 3 odds board:

Were the season (from this point forward) played X more times, Team Y would win the national championship once…

In trying to decide that answer—abstract as it may be—the primary factors under consideration were talent, experience, coaching, how the team has looked thus far and schedule difficulty.

That last point is of particular importance. These odds do not reflect how a team would fare in a four-team playoff, necessarily. They first reflect how likely a team is to even make a four-team playoff, and then they reflect how the team in question would fare.

Sound off below to let us know what you think.

 

Note: All team rankings refer to the Week 8 Associated Press Poll. All recruiting info refers to the 247Sports Composite rankings.

Begin Slideshow

Power Ranking the Best Conference in College Football: The SEC West

The SEC West is stacked with great competition. The top five teams in the conference are all ranked in the Top 25. Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Barrett Sallee ranks the best conference in football.

Will an SEC West team win the national championship?

Watch the video and let us now!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Washington Huskies vs. Oregon Ducks Complete Game Preview

The Oregon Ducks (5-1, 2-1) are coming off their best road victory of the season, but there’s no time to relax as the rival Washington Huskies (5-1, 1-1) come roaring into Eugene on Saturday. 

Oregon, ranked No. 9 in the latest Associated Press poll, has earned a victory in its last 10 meetings against the Huskies—a fact that doesn't sit well with Washington fans. However, this will be the first time that Oregon gets to face Washington’s new head coach Chris Petersen.

Duck fans remember Petersen well from his time at Boise State. With Petersen at the helm, the Broncos defeated the Ducks in 2008 and 2009.

The Huskies are still getting their feet wet under their new head coach but are coming off their most convincing win of the year—a 31-7 destruction of California in Berkeley.

There will be a lot on the line come Saturday at Autzen. Pac-12 North standings will take a back seat to this heated rivalry. This isn’t just another game for fans of the Ducks and Huskies. This is a border war and a fiery one at that.

Here's what you need to know:  

Date: Saturday, Oct. 18

Time: 5 p.m. Pacific Time

Place: Autzen Stadium (Eugene, Ore.)

TV: Fox Sports 1

Spread: Oregon -19, according to OddsShark.com.

Begin Slideshow

Watch Alabama Commit Blake Barnett Light It Up with 6-Touchdown Performance

Top Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback commit Blake Barnett had himself a day vs. Corona High School in California. The senior signal-caller accounted for six touchdowns while throwing for 253 yards in the 57-25 romp. 

Can this performance be topped this season?

Watch the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Michigan-Ohio State Rivalry Leads to Ann Arbor Bank Staying Open on Columbus Day

The Michigan-Ohio State rivalry never rests. Even on holidays.

Columbus Day is celebrated on the second Monday of October each year. However, the employees at the Bank of Ann Arbor aren't getting the day off. Why not? It's because Columbus, Ohio, is home to the Michigan Wolverines' biggest rival, the Ohio State Buckeyes.

This is certainly not the first trivial act in the rivalry's recent history. Back in early September, Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer had ESPN's Brad Nessler and Todd Blackledge change into Buckeyes attire after they showed up to practice wearing blue shirts.

And there is still plenty of time for both schools to heat up the rivalry between now and the big game. The Wolverines and Buckeyes don't face off until Nov. 29 in Columbus.

In a season in which Michigan can't beat Minnesota or Rutgers, Wolverines fans are still focused on the No. 13 Buckeyes. That's what makes this rivalry so great.

[Bank of Ann Arbor]

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Michigan Football: Steps Wolverines Secondary Must Take to Improve

Michigan’s secondary hasn’t always lived up to the hype this season.

But on Saturday, the Wolverines defensive backs did enough to momentarily quiet their critics.

Two weeks ago, Team 135’s backfield was shredded by Rutgers’ Gary Nova, who threw for 404 yards and three touchdowns. This past Saturday, Penn State’s sophomore star Christian Hackenberg was supposed to carve another chunk from DB coach Curt Mallory’s stock.

But he didn’t.

In fact, he looked incredibly average, passing for just 160 yards and a touchdown. Furthermore, his lone interception proved to be quite costly, as Jourdan Lewis plucked the pass late in the third quarter to set up Matt Wile’s game-tying, 42-yard field goal (13-13).  

From top to bottom, quarter to quarter, Saturday was one of the better efforts by the DBs.

“[The momentum and energy] started from this whole week—we had a great week in practice, and this whole week it just carried over to Saturday,” said the 5’10”, 175-pound sophomore corner. “We just unleashed on the field.”

Lewis was proud of the way his teammates responded to Hackenberg, who opened the game with four completions for more than 10 yards. The Wolverines executed strategy, learned from past mistakes and pieced together and entire game, which is always the goal.

“Always,” he said. “That’s our plan, every game—and that’s exactly what coach [defensive coordinator Greg] Mattison wants [is for] us to play four quarters and finish.

“And that’s what we did.”

While the win came at a great time—just two weeks before Michigan (3-4, 1-1) heads to No. 8-ranked Michigan State (6-1, 2-0)—it can’t be overblown. Sure, it was important for the sake of winning, but it doesn’t erase the rest of the mess that’s become 2014.

The offense is slowly but surely churning. There could be more, and better, production on the horizon. They key word is "could." 

The run defense has been more than reliable. That’s an understatement, actually. It’s been the backbone of Greg Mattison’s No. 9-ranked total defense.

Now it’s the secondary’s turn to tighten up on all fronts.

 

Doing the Job

With just three interceptions on the season, it’s a wonder that the Wolverines have the Big Ten’s No. 4-ranked pass defense (207.4 YPG, 6.7 YPC). Imagine what a few friendly bounces could do for the corners and safeties. Bad luck and tough breaks have been the case all year, evidenced by Delonte Hollowell’s almost-touchdown versus Penn State.

Had there been a fumble, Hollowell’s recovery for six points would have stood. Instead, it was ruled as an incomplete pass, which it clearly was. But that doesn’t mean that Hollowell shouldn’t be praised for the instinctual move.

The defensive backs still have “it.” But “it” isn’t as consistent as it needs to be.

Blake Countess, a 5’10”, 185-pound redshirt junior, must regain his bearings or risk seeing more time on the bench. He was absent for stretches during the second half against Penn State. Was it based on play? Or was he hurt?

Only Countess and the coaching staff know for sure.

But one thing is certain: If the preseason Jim Thorpe Award candidate doesn’t rebound, the defense will be in for a long fall. His coverage against Rutgers was far below his normal standard. He wasn’t incredible versus the Nittany Lions, either.

Michigan’s secondary won’t reach its peak if Countess remains in a lull.

 

Getting Rest

During Saturday’s postgame presser, one of the better questions was asked by John Borton of The Wolverine. Injuries aside, he wanted to know if Hoke thought now was a good time for a bye.

“[Sips water] That’s a very good question, John. Yes, it is [media laughs],” Hoke said with a smile. “Believe me. It’s happening at a good time as far as we get some rest, and the guys get away from us a little bit—which is always positive.

“Probably more positive for them than me because I’ll worry about them. I think it’s good that we have a chance for them to get rested up a little bit.”

Due to a leg injury, Delano Hill’s out for the rest of the year. Five-star sensation Jabrill Peppers isn’t playing for whatever reason. Hoke won’t say if he’s injured, so don’t bother asking. The rest of the stable—Channing Stribling, Dymonte Thomas, Reon Dawson, Terry Richardson and Brandon Watson, to name a few—must stand on guard in the event something happens to Ray Taylor, Jarrod Wilson or Lewis.

Preparation and readiness are key.

With that said, Michigan will likely spend part of its Saturday watching the Spartans, who travel to Bloomington to take on Indiana. As of now, Michigan State has the No. 6-ranked passing offense (254 YPG) in the Big Ten, which is a modest stat for a team that’s capable of piling on points through the air.

However, all stats aren’t created equal. And some don’t tell the entire story. At No. 3, the Spartans have one of the league’s—and the country’s—most efficient passing attacks. Their quarterbacks have been picked just five times this year, contributing to an impressive efficiency rating of 156.

This season isn't over, but it's close. A loss to Michigan State wouldn't shock anyone. However, the secondary can play a major factor in the potential upset in East Lansing. 

It's easier said than done, but that's about all the hope that remains for a team that was supposed to be in line for a Big Ten championship. 

 

Follow Bleacher Report’s Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81

Unless otherwise noted, quotes and references to were obtained firsthand by the writer. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

USC vs. Colorado Complete Game Preview

No. 22-ranked USC can extend its lead atop the Pac-12 South win column Saturday against an opponent the Trojans have beaten by an average of 29 points per game over the last three seasons: Colorado.

The Buffaloes' futility since joining the Pac-12 in 2011 is well-documented. They have just three conference wins in that time, and last year's four-win campaign was the program's best since coming over from the Big 12.

Still, Colorado has made strides in head coach Mike MacIntyre's second season. The Buffs play an uptempo, pass-happy offensive style that has helped produce monster numbers for one of the nation's leading receivers, Nelson Spruce.

There's virtually no bigger splash Colorado can make than spoiling the homecoming game for a nationally ranked opponent that also happens to be the Pac-12's most iconic program. 

Avoiding the letdown after a marquee win at Arizona is critical for USC to keep its hope of a Pac-12 championship intact.

When: Saturday, Oct. 18; 6 p.m. ET 

Where: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum

TV: Pac-12 Networks

Begin Slideshow

Amari Cooper Injury: Updates on Alabama Star's Status and Return

Last season, we saw that injuries are one of the few things capable of slowing down Amari Cooper. Unfortunately, we may be getting another example of that claim. 

Cooper hasn't missed any game action as of yet, but according to AL.com's Andrew Gribble, Cooper's status is in question for the Crimson Tide's game against Texas A&M:

Alabama star receiver Amari Cooper was hampered by injuries throughout Saturday's win at Arkansas, but it doesn't appear his ability to play against Texas A&M is at risk.

Alabama coach Nick Saban said there were no significant injuries to report during his opening statement at Monday's press conference, but he indicated Cooper and defensive end D.J. Pettway would be limited at practice to start the week.

Cooper took a hard hit during Saturday's second quarter but returned for the second half.

Saban did not specify what was ailing Cooper.

After one of the best freshman seasons in school history (59 catches, 1,000 yards, 11 touchdowns), Cooper caught just 45 balls for 736 yards and four scores in 2013. A foot injury was the main culprit, as he missed two games and was at less than 100 percent for several others before finally looking like himself late in the season. 

Nick Saban and Co. will be hoping this newest malady doesn't have the same long-lasting effect. 

Cooper, regarded by many as the best wide receiver in the country, has good hands and is unbelievably explosive. Bleacher Report's Adam Kramer put it simply after Cooper torched West Virginia for 12 catches and 130 yards in the Crimson Tide's 2014 opener:

"He's one of the best receivers I've seen, and I've been here for five years," senior safety Nick Perry told Gribble. "I've practiced against Julio (Jones), practiced against (Marquis) Maze. Coop is just a different breed."

The Jones comparison is especially lofty, but Cooper has shown that when he's healthy, he can do some truly special things on the football field. 

Alabama has another talented receiver in DeAndrew White, a playmaker in Christion Jones and a dominant rushing attack led by T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry, so the cupboard on offense isn't exactly bare.

But a healthy Cooper makes it a lot easier to win games. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Watch the Monster Hit That Knocked the Helmet Clean off a High School Receiver

Meet Dilan Thomas, cornerback at American Heritage High School in Plantation, Florida. The 2015 graduate absolutely lays down a monster hit, causing his opponent to lose his helmet. 

Is this the biggest hit you've seen on the high school level?

Watch the video and let us know! 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

No. 1 Recruit Josh Sweat Changes Official Visits Plan

The No. 1 prospect in the 2015 recruiting class, Josh Sweat, has rearranged the schedule by which he will visit colleges.

Sweat is a 6'5", 240-pound defensive end from Chesapeake, Virginia, who dislocated his left knee in September and will miss the rest of his senior season to recover. According to his 247Sports timeline, he was previously scheduled to visit Virginia Tech Sept. 20, Georgia Oct. 4, Florida State Oct. 17 and Oregon Nov. 1., but the injury forced him to change things up.

Per Evan Watkins of 247Sports, Sweat's new schedule, which no longer includes a trip to Oregon, looks like this:

Sweat is not a heavy favorite to land at any one school. His predictions fall across the board on the 247Sports "Crystal Ball," with Florida State (41 percent) and Virginia Tech (38 percent) sitting a few lengths ahead of Ohio State and Georgia (nine percent apiece).

Sweat saw Virginia Tech beat Ohio State on his official visit to Columbus in Week 2 and has an obvious tie to his home-state school. The Hokies were once a massive favorite to land him, and although things have gotten ambiguous these past six months, the fact that they are now Sweat's last official visit might prove beneficial.

In the past three recruiting classes, three defensive ends have ranked No. 1 or No. 2 on the 247Sports Composite rankings.

The first of those players was Jadeveon Clowney, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft. The second of those players was Robert Nkemdiche, who is well on his way to an All-American season for Ole Miss. And the third of those players was Myles Garrett, who ranks No. 4 in the country with 7.5 sacks as a true freshman at Texas A&M.

To wit, there's a reason people are obsessing over Sweat's recruitment. He looked like a man among boys at Nike's "The Opening" this summer, clocking a 4.46 in the 40-yard dash. Defensive players as big and strong as Sweat are not supposed to be able to do that.

"I thought I could have jumped a little higher," Sweat told MaxPreps host Chris Stonebraker after posting a 39-inch vertical and finishing second in the SPARQ National Championship. He's a player for whom second-best will never be enough. Combining such an attitude with Clowney-esque physical tools is rare and, admittedly, terrifying.

Chime in below and let us know where you think Sweat should play.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Notre Dame vs. FSU: Which Heisman Contender QB Will Lead Their Team to Victory?

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish travel to Tallahassee, Florida, for their first true road game of the season when they take on the reigning national champions, the Florida State Seminoles.

Not only does this game feature two Heisman Trophy contenders, but it has major implications on the College Football Playoff picture.

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Barrett Sallee and Adam Kramer break down the important matchup of the two superpowers.

Who will come out on top? Watch the video and let us know!  

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Watch the Best Tip-Drill Catch You'll See All Week

At Dallas Christian High School in Dallas, Texas, junior wide receiver Jacob Yarbrough makes an improbable catch off a ball that was tipped up by the defender. Watch this incredible play! 

Was this the best high school catch you've seen this year?

Watch the video and let us know!

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Pages