NCAA Football News

Michigan Football: Surprises, Disappointments So Far for 2014 Wolverines

Michigan hasn't been the Michigan that followers of Team 135 expected to witness this fall.

Through four games, the Wolverines (2-2) haven't appeared to show much promise. The effort seems to be there. Brady Hoke, the head coach, has raved about his players' attitudes and work ethics. 

The same has been true for offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, who have each seen "great things" on their sides of the ball but have yet to see desired results. 

On Monday, the three coaches emphasized that this season isn't over. They know about the disappointed fans. They seem genuinely surprised that things have gone down this path too. They're just as uncomfortable as the fans in stand. 

They want more for their team, each of them said in one way or another Monday. 

 

Not-So-Dominant Doug (Nussmeier offense)

In its weekly stat packet given to the media, Michigan continues to boast about being 10-of-10 in the red zone. However, that doesn't tell the entire story. Six of those attempts came against Appalachian State—which the Wolverines beat 52-14 in Week 1—and the other four came against Miami (Ohio), which lost 34-10 at The Big House in Week 3.

During Week 4's loss to Utah, Team 135 didn't reach the red zone. It failed to do so during its 31-0 loss to Notre Dame in Week 2. The stat packet should read that Michigan has pierced the opponent's 20 in 50 percent of its games. That's more accurate and points to the true nature of the offense, which has yet to get the job done.

During the first half Saturday, Michigan reached the Utes 24- and 36-yard lines. In the second, it barely penetrated 10 yards into their territory.

Percentages and tendencies surrounding the offense could be discussed, sure. But there's not much to say. The running backs aren't contributing much at all, and the O-line appears to have regressed since 2013. The Wolverines are certainly feeling the rapture without Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield manning the tackle spots. 

A one-dimensional, Devin Funchess-exclusive passing game has Nussmeier running in place. Given the opportunity and resources, it's clear that receivers such as Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson can make the grade and produce.

But they need a quarterback who can precisely deliver the ball. 

That quarterback is not Devin Gardner. 

It seems as if Nussmeier, who once called the shots for a high-powered Alabama offense, will be forced to make hard decisions regarding personnel this week. Back on media day, Shane Morris said that he was "100 percent ready" to take on the starting role. Could the 6'4", 218-pound sophomore get the call against the Gophers? 

Yeah. It sounds like that could easily happen. 

 

Greg Mattison's Defense is Good, but...

Solid numbers back the defense, but it's overshadowed by a horrid offense. That was the case in 2013, and it appears as 2014 could be worse, making Mattison's defense all the more vital to success. 

Running on the Wolverines hasn't come easy. Opponents have broken just a pair of big gains on the ground, and that's something to build upon. Utah's Bubba Poole burst for 24, and Appalachian State's Terrence Upshaw gouged for 27. But Notre Dame's backfield was stopped, held to a paltry 54 yards on the ground. 

Mattison's unit has allowed just 1.83 yards per carry during the past three games. In terms of total defense, his guys are No. 1 in the Big Ten and No. 8 nationally. It even helped out Saturday, as all 6'3" and 293 pounds of Willie Henry produced a touchdown after a seven-yard interception. 

So what gives? 

Michigan's offense, that's what. 

It's disappointing to see so many solid defensive efforts go to waste. It's a surprise that the offense is this ineffective, and it's both to see the results on the field each weekend. 

 

Jake Ryan Looks Human

Devontae Booker juked Ryan out of his shoes (not literally) during the second half of Utah's 26-10 slamming of Michigan. Ryan's 13 tackles (seven solo) led the team, but he's yet to take firm command of his defense. However, the reliable senior is still familiarizing himself with his new position, middle linebacker, so he probably deserves a slight break. 

Still, though; he's not yet the Jake Ryan of old. Not yet, anyway. That's both a huge disappointment and a surprise. Most thought he'd be be one of the nation's elite linebackers at this stage of his career. As of now, he's trying to stay afloat while his teammates try to wind themselves a little tighter. 

 

Secondary Shock? 

At one point, cornerback Jourdan Lewis had dropped on the depth chart. He hasn't been perfect, but he's now playing like a true starter rather than an option.

Hoofing it from across the field and well behind the play, Lewis saved a sure six points on Saturday when he tackled Poole, who took a screen pass 67 yards to the left before being stopped at Michigan's 25.

Due to Lewis' incredible motor, the Wolverines held Utah to a field goal instead of giving up a 90-yard-plus touchdown. 

During his postgame presser Saturday, Hoke suggested that not writing about that play would be a disservice to Lewis. And Hoke's right. Lewis deserves credit for not only maintaining a high level of competition but, more simply, showing that he cares about the outcome regardless of circumstances. A lot of guys can't (or won't) make that tackle. 

Team 135's secondary isn't in a state of disrepair. It still has leaders such as cornerback Blake Countess to help guide the way. Due to strange luck and a couple of dings, Peppers has yet to make a real impact in the backfield, and that's been considerably more surprising than Lewis' recent rise. 

On Monday, Countess said he's confident in his teammates, which, of course, is a positive. He still believes the defensive backfield can be a strength for Michigan and expects more from himself and others as the Wolverines enter Big Ten play. 

Countess expressing confidence isn't a surprise, nor does it disappoint. He's supposed to confident. This year's secondary is easily the deepest Michigan's had in more than a decade. But given the circumstances, it's a surprise and disappointment that it's come to this: One of the best DBs in the nation reassuring an angry mob of fans that everything's going to be OK.

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

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

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Will USC Get Back into Pac-12 Contention with Win vs. Oregon State?

The USC Trojans will look to bounce back from their shocking loss to Boston College in Week 3 when they welcome the Oregon State Beavers to town. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Adam Kramer predict how this game will go down. 

How will USC fare this weekend vs. Oregon State?

Watch the video, and let us know!

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Rapid-Fire Answering College Football's Hottest Questions for Week 5

Week 5 of the college football season is right around the corner. With that, Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder, Barrett Sallee and Adam Kramer decided to play a classic game of "Would You Rather?"

Which wideout would you rather cover: Amari Cooper or Sammy Watkins? See this and more discussed in the video above.

Let us know your answers in the comments!

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Florida State Football: Players Who Have Surprised Us in 2014

It's not a shock that Florida State is 3-0 and is still ranked No. 1 in the nation, but the way the first month of the season has gone has certainly been a surprise for the Seminoles.

After squeaking past Oklahoma State, beating FCS foe The Citadel and then weathering the storm of Jameis Winston's one-game suspension for what turned out to be a come-from-behind victory over Clemson, FSU heads to North Carolina State this weekend as its Atlantic Coast Conference schedule heats up.

The way the season has played out hasn't been the only surprising aspect of the year. Several 'Noles players have also surprised—both positively and negatively—through the team's first three games.

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SEC East Chaos Will Continue with Tennessee's Trip to Georgia

So far this season, the SEC East has been the land of the lost—as every team that has played at least one SEC game has at least one SEC loss.

Weird?

Maybe, but more chaos is yet to come.

If there's one thing we know about Georgia, it's that the Bulldog defense hasn't solved its issues in pass defense the way head coach Mark Richt and new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt would have liked. The Bulldogs are giving up 6.7 yards per passing attempt (10th in the SEC), and opposing quarterbacks are completing 59.4 percent of their passes against them (third-worst in the SEC).

Don't look now, but things are going to get worse before they get better.

The Tennessee Volunteers will roll into Athens this week as 17-point underdogs according to OddsShark.com, but with a corps of wide receivers that would make Lane Kiffin blush. Marquez North, Pig Howard and the rest of the Vols' crew is the most talented group of wide receivers Georgia has faced all year, despite the fact that two contributors—Von Pearson (out) and Josh Smith (day-to-day)—are hampered by ankle injuries.

That just means more responsibility for Josh Malone—a 6'3", 204-pound true freshman. The former 4-star prospect from Gallatin, Tennessee, chose Tennessee over Georgia and several others and once signed a financial aid agreement with the Bulldogs prior to this year's national signing day, according to Gentry Estes of Dawgs247.com 

"He's played consistently, every time he's gone in there, he's caught the football, he's advanced the football, he's blocked, he's done everything that we've asked of him," head coach Butch Jones said in quotes emailed by Tennessee. "He's been a quiet, consistent performer for us."

Add Malone into the mix with Howard—who could line up outside or in the slot—and North, a preseason third-team All-SEC performer, according to the league's coaches, and Tennessee has weapons aplenty to exploit Georgia's major weakness.

"We have capable players," Jones said in quotes emailed by Tennessee. "It's going to come down again, football is a game of one-on-one matchups whether it's up front or out on the perimeter. Again, we're going to have some one-on-one matchups Saturday."

Those one-on-one matchups outside will almost exclusively favor the Vols.

Who's going to keep quarterback Justin Worley upright?

Nobody, according to Georgia linebacker Leonard Floyd.

That may be the case against Georgia's fast and physical front seven. Worley has, however, made smart decisions with the football throughout this season, save for one 100-yard pick-six against Oklahoma. He doesn't force balls into tight coverage, has taken the checkdown when appropriate and has made great throws on the move when pressure forces him out of the pocket.

That trend will continue this week, which will lead to Tennessee not just hanging around, but winning the game outright.

Tennessee—with the help of Georgia's pass defense—will make this game a shootout. It'll force Georgia to put the ball in the hands of quarterback Hutson Mason, and while Mason has been solid, Georgia has yet to put the ball in his hands in any key situation this year.

Advantage: Tennessee.

End result: More chaos in the SEC East.

Get your popcorn ready.

 

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.

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College Football Rankings 2014: Week 5 NCAA Standings and Top 25 Team Records

The four weeks of the 2014 college football season have been interesting, to say the least. We've already seen once-promising teams fall swiftly down the rankings, and, in turn, others have risen from the ashes after several vastly impressive performances.

That trend was prevalent in Week 4, as LSU and Missouri plummeted after suffering brutal losses, Florida State and Oregon survived huge scares of their own and previously unranked teams surged into the Top 25 standings for the first time this season.

The AP Top 25 Twitter account relayed the changes just prior to the release of the new rankings:

Despite some struggles, the nation's top teams remained in their previous positions, but which squads were the biggest movers heading into Week 5? Here's a look at the full Top 25 standings, followed by an early outlook for the College Football Playoff.

 

College Football Playoff Outlook

(1) Florida State

Without Heisman-winning quarterback Jameis Winston in the fold on Saturday, Florida State just squeezed past Clemson in an overtime thriller. The Seminoles lucked out again, as Oregon struggled against Washington State soon after, solidifying Florida State atop the rankings for another week.

Winston will be back in action on Saturday against North Carolina State, but this matchup shouldn't be overlooked by the Seminoles. The Wolfpack's defense has been phenomenal this season, allowing an average of just 18.5 points per game. However, North Carolina State has yet to face a team near Florida State's caliber.

The Seminoles should be able to come away with a convincing win to maintain their No. 1 ranking, and with No. 8 Notre Dame being the only ranked team currently residing on the team's remaining schedule, we could expect to see Winston and Co. at the top seed entering the playoffs.

 

(2) Oregon

The Ducks have a much-needed bye in Week 5 after barely defeating Washington State by a score of 38-31. Marcus Mariota was terrific once again, passing for 329 yards and five touchdowns. Rob Moseley of GoDucks.com tweeted Mariota's impressive season statistics:

Unfortunately, the team's defense was rather suspect. Cougars quarterback Connor Halliday torched the secondary for 436 yards and four scores.

A lackluster effort in Week 4 didn't allow the Ducks to leapfrog the struggling Seminoles for first place; however, they didn't lose any ground, either.

A well-timed bye week is next up for Oregon, and the team will have plenty of time to get things in order before facing Arizona in Week 6. No. 11 UCLA and No. 16 Stanford remain on the Ducks' schedule, but if the team's secondary can get back on track, there's no reason to assume it will relinquish the No. 2 ranking.

 

(3) Alabama

Alabama also has a bye in store for Week 5; however, that may not be the most optimal timing, as this team has really started to jell over the past couple of weeks. The Crimson Tide trounced Florida in Week 4 by a score of 42-21 thanks to the efforts of Blake Sims and Amari Cooper.

Sims solidified himself as the team's quarterback with another strong performance. He completed 23 of his 33 passing attempts for 445 yards, four touchdowns and one interception against the Gators. Cooper reeled in 10 receptions for 201 yards and three scores.

ESPN College Football relayed Sims' historic performance:

Combine that lethal passing attack with the ground game of Derrick Henry and T.J. Yeldon, and you get a very dangerous offense. The Seminoles and Ducks should be looking over their shoulders, as the Crimson Tide continue to improve and gain ground.

Expect to see Alabama in the top four—or possibly higher—by season's end.

 

(4) Oklahoma

The Sooners emerged victorious once again in Week 4 after a back-and-forth contest against West Virginia. The Mountaineers have a solid passing attack—they almost upset Alabama in Week 1—and while they're unranked, they can't be overlooked.

Oklahoma's defense did allow 376 yards and two touchdowns to quarterback Clint Trickett, but the unit also picked him off twice and limited West Virginia's running game to just 3.4 yards per carry.

On the offensive side of the ball, the Sooners saw a blazing performance from Samaje Perine. The ball-carrier rushed 34 times, racking up 242 yards and four touchdowns. His breakout performance will help take pressure off quarterback Trevor Knight going forward.

The running back was given 247Sports' weekly award for true freshmen:

The Sooners will get their toughest test of the year in November when they face off against No. 7 Baylor. If Oklahoma can survive the high-flying Bears, it can be conceived it will remain in the top four up until the playoffs.

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Freshmen Adoree' Jackson, Chris Hawkins Aim to Super-Power USC Secondary

A gleeful USC head coach Steve Sarkisian may have coined a new nickname for freshman phenom Adoree’ Jackson at the Trojans’ practice last Wednesday.

“No. 2 is the kryptonite of the offense,” Sarkisian shouted over the music blaring on the Loker Track Stadium PA system.  

The cornerback Jackson had just forced his third turnover of the scrimmage period. Sarkisian called him the “player of the day,” after the morning’s practice.

So, can we start calling the 5-star 2014 signee Jackson “Kryptonite” now?

“For the day, I guess,” he laughed. “I made a couple of good plays, but I’ve got to keep doing that from now on for the nickname to stick.”

Jackson will get ample opportunity to make plays this season. The freshman has already contributed in all three phases of the game: at cornerback on defense, wide receiver on offense and returning on special teams.  

His three-way play has produced four receptions for 32 yards and a touchdown; three kickoffs returned an average of 27 yards; and three tackles, two of which went for a loss.

USC’s Week 4 bye afforded Jackson the opportunity to work on all three facets of his game.

"[Playing in all three phases] doesn't get difficult at game time, because in practice you get a lot of reps," he said. Jackson added the practice time is dedicated to "getting mentally ready."

The freshman may need to focus much of his energy on unleashing some kryptonite on the passing Superman of the Pac-12, Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion.

Mannion set the conference’s single-season record with 4,662 yards through the air in 2013, and Oregon State’s 372.6 yards per game ranked third in the nation.

Jackson recognizes the challenge of facing the Beavers' pass-heavy attack, but he also sees the chance to earn the nickname Sarkisian inadvertently created at practice.

"It's a good chance for the [defensive backs] to get some pass deflections, some interceptions and if we can't get there in time, some tackles," Jackson said.

Mannion relies on multiple receivers to pile up his considerable statistics. Four Beavers have 10 catches or more this season. Thus, USC needs a superb team effort to ground Oregon State. 

Fortunately for Trojans defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, the combination of Jackson and Chris Hawkins gives USC a potential dynamic duo.  

Like Jackson, Hawkins is a first-year contributor to the Trojans defense. However, Hawkins didn’t arrive at USC with the same fanfare. A 4-star prospect out of nearby Rancho Cucamonga, California, Hawkins redshirted the 2013 campaign to get up to speed with the college game.

The learning year paid off. Hawkins impressed during preseason camp, earning a spot atop the depth chart even before redshirt senior Josh Shaw’s indefinite suspension.

With Shaw out, Hawkins has stepped up as one of the leading playmakers in the secondary. He's made 11 tackles, deflected a pass and, against Boston College, grabbed his first career interception.

"It was something I worked toward for a long time, so I wasn't surprised when it happened," Hawkins said of his pick. "But I will say to get the win, I'd give my first college interception back."

Of course, the two things don't have to be mutually exclusive. Hawkins has plenty more interceptions ahead in his USC career, some of which should play a part in Trojans victories.

Perhaps then, Hawkins will get his own new nickname from the coaching. In the meantime, his presence in tandem with Jackson ensures a double-dose of kryptonite for Pac-12 offenses for years to come, starting with Oregon State.

 

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise cited. Statistics compiled via CFBstats.com unless otherwise noted. Recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports.com composite scores. 

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UCLA vs. ASU: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time and More

One of college football's budding rivalries takes center stage Thursday as the No. 11 UCLA Bruins meet the No. 15 Arizona State Sun Devils in a battle of unbeatens with massive Pac-12 implications hanging in the balance.

The two explosive programs figure to put on quite the show when one recalls that the last two encounters have come down to the final possessions and been decided by a total of seven points.

For Sun Devils coach Todd Graham, the showdown is beginning to dwarf other so-called rivalries.

"Our fans tell me: 'Hey, Coach, that's the game you got to win,' so that's the game we got to win," Graham said of the Territorial Cup, per Doug Haller of AZCentral.com. "But this is the game that determines the (Pac-12 South) champion every year, so heck yeah, there's no doubt."

While both teams enter this year's affair limping, the future impact of the end result assures it will still be entertaining throughout.

 

At Home Without a Leader

The Sun Devils enter the most wounded, as senior quarterback Taylor Kelly will miss the contest after he suffered a foot injury against Colorado.

ESPN CollegeFootball ‏noted the news:

Kelly is one of seven players in school history to surpass the 6,000-yard mark. To put the impact of his loss into perspective, here is a gander at his numbers over the course of his three years as a starter:

Three of those scores this season came against Colorado before the foot injury.

Left to pick up the pieces in one of his team's biggest games of the year is junior Mike Bercovici, who has all of 24 career passing attempts to his name. To his credit, he seems undeterred in the face of large expectations, as captured by Tyler Lockman of FoxSports.com:

I've been ready for this for a long time. I really do put the pressure and the constraint on myself that this is an opportunity I owe to my teammates. If I wasn't ready right now, it would be pretty obvious to the guys at practice. I think the guys felt confidence in me after this practice knowing there's no drop off.

The weapons are certainly in place for Bercovici to succeed.

Junior running back D.J. Foster averages a ridiculous 9.4 yards per carry this season thanks to 510 yards and five touchdowns on just 54 attempts. Junior receiver Jaelen Strong is a big-bodied target who already has 19 receptions for 266 yards and a pair of scores to his name.

Perhaps swinging the scales back to neutral a bit is the notion that UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley may not be at 100 percent, too. Still, there remains one rather large mountain to climb if the Sun Devils are to pull off the upset.

 

Unfulfilled Expectations

While it seems all gloom and doom for the hosts, it is not as if UCLA has lived up to its billing this season.

Sure, the team is 3-0. But a 28-20 victory over unranked Virginia to start the season—in which Hundley was held without a passing touchdown—seemed to signal a dismal forecast for what many thought would be one of college football's most dominant teams.

Memphis came to visit the week after, as in the Tigers from the AAC, a team that won all of three games last season. They gave UCLA all it could handle, as Hundley and Co. only escaped with a 42-35 win.

Then it was off to Texas, which saw the Bruins need 10 points in the final frame to emerge the winner against a reeling Longhorns team, 20-17.

Coach Jim Mora put it best after the win over Memphis, and it certainly still applies going into Thursday.

"Obviously, still a lot to work on," Mora said, per The Associated Press, via ESPN.com. "That's the game we play, though. We're happy to get a win, but there's no satisfaction yet in the way we're playing."

With UCLA's defense giving up entirely too many points, Thursday may not be the showdown most had envisioned between two great quarterbacks, but the propensity for the Bruins to make it interesting nonetheless is certainly present.

 

When: Thursday, September 25, 10 p.m. ET

Where: Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, Arizona

Television: Fox Sports 1

Live Stream: Fox Sports Go

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: N/A
  • Spread: UCLA (-3)

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports via USA Today.

 

Prediction

UCLA has been a disappointment and Arizona State is without its best player, but this is still one fans need to see in what is a rather boring overall week of action, on paper at least. 

Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports concurs: 

Losing a starting quarterback is never easy to overcome, but there are two factors that help to mitigate the impact.

One is a home contest. Another is a home contest after a bye week. Finally, and most importantly, is a bevy of talented players insulating the position in what is a quarterback-friendly scheme.

The Bruins have had one too many issues on the defensive side of the ball against beatable opponents to inspire confidence in this showdown. Kelly would have put things over the top, but even without him the Sun Devils will come away with a close one as key contributors rally around their new leader under center.

Prediction: Sun Devils 34, Bruins 30

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

North Carolina Tar Heels vs. Clemson Tigers Complete Game Preview

After a heartbreaking loss in Tallahassee, the Clemson Tigers will look to get things back on track this Saturday against the North Carolina Tar Heels.

The Tar Heels are also looking to turn things around after an embarrassing performance in Saturday’s 70-41 loss to East Carolina.

This is an important conference game for both teams, but especially for Clemson. The Tigers can’t afford another loss within the ACC with Florida State controlling its own destiny at this point.

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Michigan Wolverines vs. Minnesota Gophers Complete Game Preview

Michigan suffered a humbling 26-10 loss at home to Utah last week. The Wolverines offense had another power outage, with the team’s only touchdown coming from a pick-six from defensive tackle Willie Henry.

Senior quarterback Devin Gardner had accuracy problems with two interceptions, fueling conjecture that Brady Hoke may have finally seen enough of his misfiring senior quarterback.

Michigan (2-2) begins the Big Ten slate versus Minnesota (3-1) with a blank conference record and a chance to win the Little Brown Jug, the oldest trophy in major division collegiate football.

Last week’s game versus Utah was interrupted by a torrential downpour that temporarily flooded parts of the field at Michigan Stadium. It seems an apt metaphor for the state of Michigan football that is sinking fast under Hoke in his fourth season. He desperately needs a big win at home to quiet the discontent among the fanbase. The stats are in his favor, since Michigan has won the last six meetings versus Minnesota and 22 of the last 23.


Date: Saturday, September 27, 2014

Time: 3:30 p.m. ET

Place: Michigan Stadium (109,901), Ann Arbor, Michigan

Series vs. Minnesota: Michigan leads the series 73-24-3

Television: ABC

Radio: Michigan Sports Network, Sirius (113), XM (195)

Spread: Michigan by 9.5 via Odds Shark

Live Stats: MGoBlue.com GameTracker

Last Meeting vs. Minnesota: 2013, Michigan 42, Minnesota 13

Michigan cruised by Minnesota during last season’s Big Ten opener. The Wolverines took a 14-7 lead into halftime before pulling away with four touchdowns in the second half. It would be the last easy victory of the season.

The next week the Wolverines began a 2-6 slide that would eventually cost offensive coordinator Al Borges his job and cast lingering doubts on the state of program.

*Information according to University of Michigan Wolverine Football game notes.

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Pac-12 Football: Predicting Bowl Appearances for Pac-12 Teams

The Pac-12 Conference hasn't even fully entered conference play, but the postseason picture is much clearer than when college football began at the beginning of the month.

Which teams remain in the championship hunt? Will any surprise contenders emerge from either division? Both Cal and Utah look much improved from dreadful 2013 campaigns, while a team boasting arguably the most impressive win in the country—Oregon—was nearly knocked off by a Washington State squad that has otherwise looked pitiful.

Nobody has looked overwhelmingly dominant throughout the first four weeks, and yet, aside from maybe Colorado and Washington State, no team looks like the clear doormat or even belongs outside of the conference championship discussion.

Let's take a look at where things stand in relation to the bowls that teams will be invited to at the end of the year, with the full understanding that things could drastically change over the next few weeks as teams begin squaring off head-to-head.

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Georgia Football: 4 Players That Have Surprised Us in 2014

Believe it or not, the Bulldogs are three quarters into the regular season and they are still in the race to the College Football Playoff. Despite losing to South Carolina, the Bulldogs got a big win to start the season against Clemson, and they had an opportunity to get some younger players in to run over Troy last week.

To no surprise, Todd Gurley, Amarlo Herrera and Ramik Wilson have played well and are on pace to have All-SEC seasons. But there have been a few players who have performed well that were not expected to, or even expected to play at this point of the season.

Here are four players who have surprised us in 2014.

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UCLA Football: 5 Players Who Have Surprised Us in 2014

Jim Mora and the No. 10 UCLA football team have gotten off to a 3-0 start with little in the way of comfortable positioning. None of the three victories were decisive by any stretch of the imagination. Regardless, the Bruins found a way to remain undefeated. 

In terms of personnel, there are five surprises—both positive and negative—through the first three games. Two of the players in question have been mild disappointments up to this current point. 

The other three athletes have pleasantly played above their respective ceilings heading into the season. 

Here are five players who've surprised thus far for the Bruins in 2014.

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Nebraska Football: 5 Players Who Have Surprised Us in 2014

Nebraska football fans had a pretty good idea who would be stars this season for the scarlet and cream. But there are always players who will surprise, putting on performances no one saw coming and helping to make the spectacle thrilling from week to week.

This season is no exception, so here are five players who have caused us to sit up and take notice in 2014.

All stats from cfbstats.com.

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Western Michigan vs. Virginia Tech: Complete Game Preview

Another week, another disappointing loss for the Virginia Tech Hokies. Fortunately for Tech, the Western Michigan Broncos enter Lane Stadium this Saturday.

Most Virginia Tech fans likely see the Broncos as a formidable opponent since the Hokies are coming off two home losses in a row. 

The Broncos, at 2-1, have already surpassed their win total from 2013. They have a high-flying offense averaging just over 41 points per game.

However, WMU hasn't seen a defense like Virginia Tech's this fall.

For the Hokies, they'll be without the services of senior defensive tackle Luther Maddy, who will be out 2-4 weeks after surgery to repair a torn meniscus. 

Tech is 3-0 all time vs. Western Michigan. In the previous three meetings, the Hokies have outscored the Broncos 124-0.

  • When: Saturday, September 27, 2014
  • Where: Lane Stadium, Blacksburg, Virginia
  • Time: 12:30 p.m. ET
  • TV: ACC Network
  • Radio: Virginia Tech IMG Sports Network. Here is a complete list of stations by area. 
  • Spread: Virginia Tech (28), via Odds Shark 

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College Football: Week 4 Recap, Pick Results and Final Thought

Week 4 of the college football season consisted of the nation's Top Five teams making critical plays to avoid being upset. 

A big upset occurred at Death Valley, as Dak Prescott and the Mississippi State Bulldogs knocked off LSU, 34-29, for the first time since 1999.

Arizona scored an unanswered 19 points with three minutes and 30 seconds left in the fourth quarter and defeated Cal 49-45 on an incredible Hail Mary pass as time expired. 

No. 1 Florida State got all it could handle from rival No. 22 Clemson on Saturday night. The Seminoles, who were without Jameis Winston, held on for dear life as they tried to keep their national championship hopes alive. Two missed field goals by Clemson kicker Ammon Lakip hurt the Tigers, but it was a late fumble in the fourth quarter that was the real heartbreaker for Dabo Swinney’s squad. 

With about two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Florida State quarterback Sean Maguire threw an interception that appeared to be the dagger for the Seminoles. Two plays later, though, Clemson running back C.J. Davidson fumbled on the Florida State 14-yard line, and the ball was recovered by the Seminoles. The fumble caused the game to go into overtime.  

Swinney opted to go for 4th-and-1 on the first possession in overtime, and the Tigers were unable to get a first down. The Seminoles took advantage of Clemson’s missed opportunity, and running back Karlos Williams ran in for a 12-yard touchdown to give the Seminoles a 23-17 victory.  

While No. 1 barely survived, the No. 2-ranked Oregon Ducks were in for a surprise on the road at Washington State. The Ducks headed into Pullman on a seven-game winning streak against the Cougars, but Mike Leach had his offense ready to go.

Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday passed for an impressive 436 yards and four touchdowns against the Ducks defense and was in position to pull off the big-time upset. The Cougars came up just short, though, as Halliday was sacked on fourth down by Oregon linebacker Tony Washington with 3:34 remaining in the fourth quarter. It was good enough for the Ducks to escape with a 38-31 win. 

Heisman front-runner Marcus Mariota completed 21 of 25 passes for 329 yards and five touchdowns in Oregon's win.   

Nick Saban’s No. 3-ranked Crimson Tide outlasted Florida 42-21 in Tuscaloosa, while No. 4 Oklahoma defeated Big 12 foe West Virginia on the road 45-33. Auburn also hung on to defeat a tough Kansas State team 20-14 on Thursday night. 

BYU and East Carolina continued to improve on their impressive seasons thus far with big wins over ACC opponents. The Cougars improved to 4-0 behind quarterback Taysom Hill with a 41-33 home win over Virginia. After losing at South Carolina 33-23 on Sept. 6, the Pirates defeated Virginia Tech and North Carolina in back-to-back weeks. Quarterback Shane Carden led the East Carolina offense to a school-record 789 yards and defeated the in-state Tar Heels by an unexpected 70-41 score. 

 

Games Attended

No. 5 Auburn 20 at No. 20 Kansas State 14

Kansas State had more than enough chances to upset No. 5 Auburn on Thursday night. An Auburn interception that bounced off Wildcat wide receiver Tyler Lockett's shoulder pads and ended up in Tiger defensive back Jonathan Jones' hands in the end zone during the first quarter along with three missed field goals were the deciding factors in Bill Snyder’s team dropping to 2-1 on the season.

The Kansas State defense contained quarterback Nick Marshall for a majority of the game, but Marshall's pass on third down to wide receiver D’haquille Williams with about two minutes left in the fourth quarter sealed Auburn's 20-14 win. 

 

Miami (Fla) 31 at No. 24 Nebraska 41

It was a matchup between two programs that have faced off in four Orange Bowls and one BCS title game in the Rose Bowl. True freshman Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya had a career-high 359 passing yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions.

The Hurricanes hung around and were driving down the field to tie or take the lead late in the third quarter after a Tommy Armstrong interception, but a fumble by Duke Johnson, which was returned for a 57-yard touchdown by cornerback Josh Mitchell, seemed to be the turning point in the game.

Nebraska star running back Ameer Abdullah had Heisman-like numbers, as he rushed for 229 yards and scored three touchdowns. Abdullah also passed Heisman winner Johnny Rodgers as Nebraska’s all-time leader in all-purpose yards with 5,760 yards. 

In a chippy second half, the Huskers eventually put away the Hurricanes 41-31. 

 

Pick Results

Overall Record: 12-8

Week 4 Record:  4-1

Note: Team in bold indicates author’s pick

 

Prediction: Auburn 35, Kansas State 27

Result: Auburn 20, Kansas State 14

 

Prediction: Alabama 34, Florida 18

Result: Alabama 42, Florida 21

 

Prediction: LSU 42, Mississippi State 28

Result: Mississippi State 34, LSU 29

 

Prediction: Florida State 31, Clemson 17

Result: Florida State 23, Clemson 17

 

Prediction: Nebraska 38, Miami (Fla) 20

Result: Nebraska 41, Miami (Fla) 31  

 

Final Thought

Mississippi State had arguably its best win under sixth-year head coach Dan Mullen on Saturday night. It was the first time the Bulldogs had defeated the Tigers on the road since 1991. Junior dual-threat quarterback Dak Prescott proved to the nation that he is the real deal, as he completed 15 of 24 passes for two touchdowns. Prescott also rushed for 105 yards and one touchdown. 

Despite the defense giving up 19 unanswered points in the fourth quarter, it held the LSU rush attack to just 89 yards and allowed the Tigers only two first downs on 13 third-down attempts. 

Mullen’s squad defeated its first Top 10 team on the road since 1986. It had not defeated a ranked team since winning at Florida in 2010. 

In the toughest division in football, which consists of currently undefeated Alabama, Auburn, Texas A&M and Ole Miss, is Mississippi State a dark-horse contender to win the SEC West?  

The Bulldogs will get a bye week before hosting highly ranked Texas A&M and Auburn in back-to-back weeks. Big wins over the Aggies and the Tigers could give them a chance to be undefeated when traveling to Alabama, where they haven't won since 2006.

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Oregon Football: Adjustments Ducks Must Make During Bye Week

Despite the fact that Oregon is undefeated and is the second-ranked team in the nation, according to The Associated Press, the Ducks are not infallible and must make significant adjustments during their first bye week. 

While the Ducks are highly regarded nationally, a tight victory over the Washington State Cougars on the road proved that Oregon has a long way to go if it is to receive an invitation to the inaugural College Football Playoff. If it weren’t for the superb performance of Heisman candidate Marcus Mariota, the Ducks very well could have been licking their wounds from an early-season loss to an opponent who was 1-2.

Needless to say, the Ducks have a significant amount of progress to make in the coming weeks. However, this bye week may be more important for a different reason. The Ducks' biggest issue is that they need to get healthy, and quickly. Arizona comes to town on Oct. 2 with a perfect 4-0 record in tow and the confidence that they can compete with Oregon—just look at the result from last year.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the adjustments the Ducks must make during their bye week.

 

Offensive Line Woes

The Ducks offensive line has been decimated by injuries. They’ve lost three tackles so far this season—Tyler Johnstone, Jake Fisher and Andre Yruretagoyena—forcing true freshman Tyrell Crosby and redshirt junior Matt Pierson, who is without a scholarship, into action.

As a result, the Ducks offense has sputtered at times due to the erratic play of the line. While the Ducks offense has still managed to score 48.5 points per game, they’ve been inconsistent in doing so due to the influx of defenders in the backfield.

Until Saturday’s game against Washington State, the most sacks Oregon’s line had ever given up in a game during the Mariota era, dating back to 2012, was three. The Cougars sacked Mariota five times in the first half alone and seven times for the game. Mariota was still ridiculously effective—going 21-of-25 for 329 yards and five touchdowns—but the offense still managed “only” 38 points for the game.

While Crosby and Pierson are the easy targets, head coach Mark Helfrich believes that long-time starters, such as center Hroniss Grasu and left guard Hamani Stevens, contributed to substandard play from the offensive line.

"It wasn't so much the new guys that it was some other guys trying to do too much like I talked about last night," Helfrich said during his usual Sunday teleconference, per The Oregonian's Andrew Greif. "There are a few things that were just really Day One assignment kind of issues and that's frustrating but yeah they changed it up."

While the Ducks line struggled for most of the game, they did get better as the game wore on. Grasu agrees with that sentiment: "(The linemen) calmed down and focused a little more,” he said, according to Greif.

Grasu has a point. The Ducks scored on their final three possessions of the game before running out the clock on their last possession.

Perhaps the inexperienced offensive line got better as the game wore on, and they began to understand the pressure that the Cougars were sending their way. It also helped that Mariota began to roll out more and get the ball out of his hands more rapidly.

One of Oregon’s mantras during the Chip Kelly and post-Kelly eras has been “next man up.” The Ducks have confidence in their young offensive linemen and believe that they will excel. There’s no reason to doubt that the inexperienced players will step up—especially when you consider that the Ducks have gone 61-9 since 2007, Kelly’s first year at Oregon.

The Ducks continually replace players and expect them to step up to the challenge. For the most part those players have excelled.

During this bye week it is crucial for the offensive line to come together as a unit and improve upon what was their worst performance since 2012, as evidenced by the seven sacks allowed.

The cure is more repetitions. The Ducks coaches must figure out a way to remedy this situation by the time Arizona comes rumbling into town on Oct. 2.

 

Defensive Miscues 

The best way to describe Oregon’s defense so far this year is two-faced. At their best, it is a ball-hawking group that bends but doesn’t break. In fact, Oregon’s defense has ranked in the top 20 nationally in turnovers gained in each season since 2010.

For three quarters against Michigan State, and full games against South Dakota and Wyoming, the defense has played its role to perfection.

However, in the second quarter against Michigan State, a quarter in which it allowed 24 points, and against Washington State, the Ducks defense has looked soft and uninspired.

Yes, the Ducks are replacing six starters from their 2013 team that ranked No. 19 in turnover margin. However, inexperience isn’t an excuse for the inconsistencies on defense so far this season.

The biggest issues for the Ducks defensively are getting consistent pressure on the quarterback and allowing yards through the air.

So far this season the Ducks have given up an average of 315 yards passing per game, which ranks No. 120 out of 128 eligible schools. To be fair, the Ducks are ranked No. 23 in sacks per game, having gotten three per game so far this season. However, those sack numbers are a bit misleading.

While the Ducks have been able to score sacks, they’ve generally lacked the ability to cause havoc in the backfield, thereby giving quarterbacks time in the pocket to accurately gun down their intended targets.

Aerial attacks from Michigan State and Washington State have eaten the Ducks alive defensively. Cougars quarterback Connor Halliday was 43-of-63 for 436 yards against the Ducks. Spartans quarterback Connor Cook threw for 343 yards on 47 attempts, 29 of which were completed. Perhaps the Ducks will have better luck against quarterbacks not named Connor.

Here are some other facts about Oregon’s defense this year. The Ducks are ranked No. 99 in total defense, giving up 468 yards per game so far in 2014. The defense is also ranked No. 44 nationally with 24 points per game allowed.

While Oregon’s defense has physically struggled against the passing game, Helfrich believes the team has struggled more mentally than physically, especially against Washington State.

Helfrich said, per Greif:

From the mental aspect when you look at it on defense we really gave up about 200 yards in missed tackles and leverage. There were some things that we just have to shore up and understanding how you fit in the defense and where your help is and how to play it inside-out and outside-in depending on where that it, communication and that's very easily accomplished in a walk-through setting better than a practice setting in getting healthy to get ready for next week.

New defensive coordinator Don Pellum is partially to blame, as his 3-4 scheme has failed at times to bring the heat on opposing quarterbacks. His defense wasn’t getting any pressure against Washington State, something that also occurred in the second quarter against the Spartans. The lack of pressure is directly tied to Pellum’s affinity for dropping eight defenders into coverage against pass-heavy opponents.

"We did some three-man rush and had to adjust to a four-man rush, played some zone and played some man and played some man-under zone," Pellum said, according to Greif. "We had to mix it up a little bit."

Oregon’s inexperienced secondary has struggled in on-on-one matchups. Going forward, Pellum and the Ducks defense are going to need to find a way to get more pressure in the backfield and force quicker decisions from opposing quarterbacks. The Ducks secondary simply cannot hold up against talented quarterbacks when they have more than three or four seconds in the pocket.

 

Get Healthy

Helfrich stated that one of the goals for the bye week is to get healthier as a team heading into the matchup against Arizona. “Certainly that's one goal of this time if there is a little lapse of time it's to get healthier and everybody's fighting that.”

The Ducks have obviously experienced significant injuries along the offensive line, and no one knows when Fisher or Yruretagoyena will be able to see the field again, though it’s possible both of them are out for the year.

At this point in the season, all teams have nagging injuries and the Ducks are no different. While practice reps are important, especially for some of the more inexperienced positions, it is more important for the Ducks to take care of their injuries and get ready for the heart of their Pac-12 conference matchups.

Helfrich understands that the Ducks are still growing as a team and need to improve in the coming weeks if they are to reach their lofty goals.

“We're getting better in some areas and we need to improve in many and we'll start back with that on Tuesday” said Helfrich.

Helfrich and the rest of the Ducks coaching staff know that this bye week is crucial for them. They must straighten out their defensive issues, coach up their young offensive line, and hopefully get healthy.

The meat of the Pac-12 conference schedule is ahead of them. Every single opponent is going to give the second-ranked Ducks their best shot.

Oregon would be wise to get their ducks in a row.

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Most Important Stat for Each Top 10 Team so Far

Is any number more significant than the final score?

Though the key to building a successful season is actually winning games, identifying the driving force behind victories is critical in predicting continued success.

Whether it’s rushing yards, turnover margin, sacking the quarterback or defending the pass, every great team is great at something specific.

It’s why Florida State’s No. 18-ranked rushing defense mattered last season, a unit that gave up only 124.7 yards per game. 

Even though the ‘Noles coughed up 232 ground yards to No. 2 Auburn in the BCS title game, it was the fewest the Tigers managed in their last nine games and almost 100 yards short of their average output.

Here’s a look at the early-season magic number for each AP Top 10 team in 2014—stats that have gotten each team to the top and may be the reason it stays for the long haul.

Begin Slideshow

Tyrek Cole to West Virginia: Mountaineers Land 4-Star CB Prospect

Tyrek Cole, a 4-star cornerback prospect, per 247Sports, from Miramar High School in Hollywood, Florida, announced Monday that he will play college football for the West Virginia Mountaineers.

He confirmed the news himself on Twitter:

Cole took to Twitter earlier in the day to confirm he'd renounced his commitment to Florida State:

Mike Farrell of Yahoo Sports inferred that Cole would choose West Virginia:

According to 247Sports' composite rankings, Cole is the seventh-ranked cornerback in the 2015 class and the No. 88 overall prospect.

With a social media handle that reads, "Cole_island" and a picture of New England Patriots superstar Darrelle Revis in the background, it's evident that Cole has high aspirations on the gridiron.

But before he can make the leap to the NFL, Cole has a whole bright collegiate career ahead of him. Cole has the attitude and all the natural instincts to be a lockdown corner. What he has to work on most is building up his bulk without sacrificing too much speed or quickness.

Measuring in at 5'11.5" is an asset for Cole, whose tenacity and ability to combat receivers with his hands makes him play stronger than he appears at just 170 pounds.

Cole can close quickly on the ball and possesses natural coverage skills that can't necessarily be taught. As he continues to hone his craft and refine his technique, intensified coaching is bound to only accentuate Cole's current strengths.

What also makes Cole so exciting is that he isn't afraid to step up in run support. When he puts on some added muscle, he'll be an even more formidable tackler. Feeding off the hits he makes in the running game in addition to his playmaking in coverage will morph Cole into a more complete player.

There is a definite chance for Cole to see the field right away. Cole's current skill set likely translates best to the slot, but he can move to the outside as a sophomore or junior when he fills out his frame a bit. That ought to aid his all-around development and see him develop an even deeper understanding of schematics, making Cole a threat to shut down any team's top receiver.

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Michigan Giving Away Tickets vs. Minnesota with Purchase of Coke Products

After a 2-2 start that includes last week's 26-10 loss to Utah, the Michigan Wolverines are probably starting to see a pretty big decline in ticket sales, which is probably what inspired this promotion.

With the purchase of two Coca-Cola products listed at $1.50 apiece, Michigan fans can apparently get two free tickets to this Saturday's game against the Minnesota Golden Gophers. One fan even tweeted a photo of the tickets he supposedly received as part of this ridiculous bargain.

 

Updates from Monday, Sept. 22

According to ESPN's Darren Rovell, the promotion was a "miscommunication", and the director of football communications at Michigan released a statement to clarify.

--End of Updates--

 

Alejandro Zuniga of The Michigan Daily tweeted a picture to confirm the promotion.

[Twitter, Reddit, h/t College Spun]

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