NCAA Football News

History Shows Nebraska-Miami Game Will Be an Epic Clash

Miami and Nebraska haven't met in the regular season since 1976. Yet the two have met many times during the postseason. As a result, a rivalry (of sorts) was born.

Twelve years after the two last met, Miami travels to Nebraska to face the Cornhuskers once again. If history has any say, the meeting will be nothing short of epic.

In fact, it doesn't matter that neither are competing for a national title in this meeting. What makes this matchup under the lights so big is the history that lies behind it.

The Huskers and the Hurricanes first met in Miami in 1951. Since that first meeting, the two have faced off a total of 10 times. The all-time series is currently tied 5-5.

Of all the previous meetings, the one that resonates most with fans is the 1984 Orange Bowl National Championship. Down by a touchdown, the Huskers fought their way back to make it 31-30 with 48 seconds left on the clock. It was at that moment that former head coach Tom Osborne made a big decision. He went for two.

Unfortunately, the two-point conversion failed, but it's still something Husker fans discuss to this day. During Nebraska's weekly press conference, head coach Bo Pelini was asked what he would have done in the same situation.

Would he have also gone for two? “Yeah, I would have," he said, per Huskers.com.

It's been 30 years since that game took place. Yet it's one both Nebraska and Miami fans keep discussing. It's proof that this clash is much more than just any other game on the schedule.

The last meeting between the two has also left fans talking, too. Meeting in Pasadena for the 2002 Rose Bowl National Championship, Miami took a quick 34-0 lead before halftime. The Huskers never recovered, losing 37-14.

Twelve years later, fans still remember that game. It's part of the reason why game tickets are 70 percent higher for this matchup than the season average, per Jesse Lawrence of Forbes. Nebraska fans are willing to pay to hopefully witness redemption for that game.

Things have changed in those 12 years, yet there is poetic justice to this meeting. Sports Illustrated's Evan Scott Schwartz summed it up best:

Nebraska coach Bo Pelini has never faced the Hurricanes while with the Cornhuskers, but he’s notched at least nine wins each season since taking over in 2008. The Canes have been adrift for several seasons but climbed as high as No. 7 in 2013, their highest ranking under fourth-year coach Al Golden.

As for the overall series? In a slightly poetic twist, given that Osborne refused to play for a tie, Miami and Nebraska are tied at 5-5. Now that overtime exists, this game should break that deadlock.

The history between Miami and Nebraska has been nothing short of interesting since they first met in 1976. Five of their matchups, for instance, have been in either the Rose Bowl or Orange Bowl, per HuskerMax.com. Of those five, Nebraska only won one.

With the shift in conferences, rivalries have slowly taken a hit for most programs. For Nebraska, playing Miami is a return to the past and an opportunity to revisit a rival.

It's nostalgia at its finest. However, it's not just the memories that make this matchup enticing. It's the fact that these two teams have built a history on playing for championships.

There's no championship on the line this time, but both teams could use the win. And as history has shown, anything can happen.

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College Football Picks: Week 4 Predictions for Every Game

After three weeks of mostly nonconference games, and the vast majority of them being uninspiring matchups that provided only a few intriguing results, Week 4 starts to move toward league play and establishing conference superiority.

Of the 57 games scheduled between Thursday and Saturday, 13 of them are conference tilts, including six involving ranked teams. In addition, one of the two pairings this weekend features Associated Press Top 25 teams squaring off. The SEC has three conference games scheduled, while the ACC and Pac-12 have two league games apiece. 

But this is still a relatively light week overall, as 25 of the 128 FBS programs are on byes and another 11 face FCS opponents. Of the nonconference games, six feature teams from power conferences tangling, while major independent BYU hosts Virginia.

Check out our predictions for Week 4's games and then give us your thoughts in the comments section.

Last week's record: 44-14 (.759)

Season record: 175-41 (.810)

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5 Things College Football Playoff Committee Should Be Watching for in Week 4

If the 13 members of the College Football Playoff selection committee are truly on top of their job every Saturday, this is what they need to do: Tell everybody to get out of their house—wives, grandkids, in-laws, Eli, Peyton...everybody—and plop themselves in front of at least three TV sets with a computer, a phone and a tablet readily available to keep up with all the games and social media chatter.

That's what I do.

But since they're fallible human beings, they can't measure up to such impossible standards. They might slip up by going to the kitchen to grab a sandwich, taking a call from a former president or rushing down to the sideline to argue with an official.

So I'm here to help. To keep things simple, let's just look at the big picture and leave the nitty-gritty to the computers. They should focus on these five things for this week:

1. Is Florida State really No. 1?:

The Seminoles did not look particularly impressive in their season-opening win over Oklahoma State, and now comes their ACC opener against Clemson. After his latest indiscretion, reigning Heisman winner Jameis Winston will have to sit out the first half in what could be the toughest test in-conference for the defending national champs. Though Clemson was soundly beaten by Georgia, this game should at least provide some clues as to whether FSU should be No. 1, or even a playoff lock.

 

2. Moment of truth (September edition) for the state of Alabama:

Both Auburn and Alabama are near the top of the polls after cruising to relatively easy September victories. But this week things might get a bit messy. Auburn travels to Manhattan to face an always-ornery Bill Snyder-coached Kansas State team while Alabama opens SEC play at home against Florida. The Gators didn't look like world beaters in a 3-OT win over Kentucky, but they'll be a bit more jacked up for this one.

 

3. Transitive property time for Oklahoma:

Let's see, last year Oklahoma beat Alabama by 14 in the Sugar Bowl, but Alabama claims its heart wasn't in it. This year, Alabama labored to beat West Virginia at a neutral site and now Oklahoma has a chance to top the Tide's 10-point margin of victory when it visits Morgantown. If the committee values common-opponent comparisons, then this game should mean a whole heck of a lot.

 

4. The case of BYU:

What to do about BYU might be the committee's biggest headache come selection time, particularly if the Cougars finish the season undefeated. They host a Virginia team that's coming off an upset of previously-ranked Louisville and outplayed UCLA in its season-opening loss. This will be BYU's second common opponent with the Bruins, who also struggled to beat Texas—a team that BYU destroyed with ease. The fact that BYU is ranked far below UCLA in the polls makes little sense and the committee should take note.

 

5. Make sure to keep Northern Illinois on the radar:

The Huskies vexed the BCS in its final two years and they're at it again. NIU is off to a 3-0 start, including a victory over Northwestern. If it wins at Arkansas this week then the Huskies must be in the conversation when it comes to picking the best "Group of Five" champion for the New Year's Six bowl lineup. Without the BCS standings to rank teams somewhat objectively, it'll be completely up to the committee to pay attention so it can make a reasonable selection.

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The Two Teams That Have Displayed Championship Pedigree in 2014

The 2014 college football season is young, but there are two teams standing out in the ever-unfolding playoff race. It might not be the two you'd initially expect, either. 

It's not Florida State, the defending national champion.

It's not Alabama, the perennial power.

That's not to say those two teams aren't great and won't contend for a playoff, but there are questions. The Seminoles suspended quarterback Jameis Winston for one half of this Saturday's game against Clemson following vulgar remarks he made this week. The Tide are still developing at the cornerback spot. 

Texas A&M has to answer questions about its defense as the season progresses. As do South Carolina and Georgia, which haven't held up to great competition just yet.  

Ultimately, there are two teams that have been the most impressive through three weeks:

Oklahoma and Oregon, and not necessarily in that order. 

At the very least, the mock selection committee from USA Today has the Ducks and Sooners in the four-team playoff were it played today. Oregon occupies the No. 1 overall spot and Oklahoma is the No. 4 seed, but the gap between No. 4 and No. 5 is as decisive a margin as there's been, per the committee: 

The Playoff Projection panel this week voted for a top four of Oregon (70 points), Florida State (64), Alabama (45) and Oklahoma (43). The five other teams receiving votes were Texas A&M (20), Auburn (17), Notre Dame (6), Baylor and UCLA (4 each). Georgia and USC, last week's fourth- and sixth-leading vote-getters, received none this week after each losing Saturday.

Of course, there's a lot of football to be played, and USA Today's weekly post is nothing more than fun. But it provides some context about which programs have the most impressive wins. Though both Oregon and Oklahoma have been known for offense through the years, their respective defenses are grabbing headlines now. 

Besides Texas A&M's road upset at South Carolina in Week 1, no other team had a bigger win this early in the year as Oregon did over Michigan State. And, despite the Big Ten floundering in non-conference games, the Spartans remain a possible playoff team if they go undefeated the rest of the way. 

Oregon gets praise because of its offense, but the Ducks' defensive second-half adjustments against the Spartans were just as impressive.

It started on third down. The Ducks had a hard time getting off the field in the first half but did put Michigan State in more difficult third-down situations in the the third and fourth quarters. Of the Spartans' eight third-down plays in the second half, six were from eight yards or longer. 

 

The Spartans also had success in the vertical passing game with receiver Tony Lippett, who had 11 catches for 133 yards and a score. While Oregon couldn't shut out Lippett altogether, it was able to limit his impact in third-down passing plays.

That's when an offense needs its key playmakers the most, and with a few exceptions, the Ducks did a good job of taking Lippett out of those plays. 

Similarly, Oklahoma's defense rose to the occasion in a 34-10 win over Tennessee. The Vols are still building up their program, so this was an expected win. But the Sooners didn't leave any room for guessing. 

 

Oklahoma recorded five sacks for a loss of 32 yards, according to Oklahoma's post-game notes. Linebacker Eric Striker accounted for an additional two tackles for loss and three quarterback hurries. That's not including the three takeaways by the Sooners' defense. The Vols' offensive line simply isn't very good right now, and Oklahoma's defensive front seven made sure quarterback Justin Worley knew it. 

"They are strong in the interior with (Jordan) Phillips, (Charles) Tapper and (Chuka) Ndulue," ESPN's Chris Fowler said via Mel Bracht of The Oklahoman. "And they have such quickness with (Geneo) Grissom and Striker on the outside. And they are creative with how they want to come after you. It’s just a lethal combination."

Both teams have tricky road games in Week 4. Oregon travels to Washington State, and Oklahoma heads to West Virginia without the services of lead running back Keith Ford because of a fractured foot. If the Ducks and Sooners want to be in the playoff conversation this time next week, wins are still crucial. 

If the defenses have shown anything thus far, however, it's that Oklahoma and Oregon are legitimate playoff possibilities as we near December. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand. 

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College Football Picks Week 4: B/R's Expert Predictions for Top 5 Games

The cupcake games are gone, and as we roll into conference play, several teams have chances to pull off big-time upsets.

Clemson will travel to Tallahassee to face the defending champion Florida State Seminoles, who will be without Jameis Winston for half of the game. 

The FSU quarterback was suspended for the first half after he yelled an obscene phrase in public. Backup Sean Maguire will start in his place. 

Alabama will play host to Florida. While the Tide will be challenged by a stout Florida defense, the big question here is whether the Gators offense can get things going on the road. Winning in Tuscaloosa is no easy task these days.

Clint Trickett has been exceeding expectations at quarterback for West Virginia, and he’ll look to give Oklahoma all it can handle in the Sooners' first road test of the season.

Miami and Nebraska have a great history of epic clashes, and their primetime showdown is sure to keep fans on the edge of their seats.

The final game our experts will pick pits an underrated Mississippi State team aiming to assert itself in the SEC against an LSU team out to show it belongs in the discussion as an elite team.

Ben Kercheval took the commanding lead after a wild Week 3, but as last week showed, anything can happen in college football.

Who will come out on top this weekend? Let us know your picks in the comments below.

*All picks made straight-up. Spread is not a factor.

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Oregon Football: Surprises, Disappointments so Far for 2014 Ducks

With a 3-0 record and the best nonconference win in the nation this season already under their belt, the Oregon Ducks are off to a fantastic start to the 2014 season. 

Oregon, ranked second by The Associated Press, proved to the country with a win over then seventh-ranked Michigan State that they’re a program to be reckoned with this season. Victories over lowly South Dakota and Wyoming proved to be solid exhibition games for the Ducks and helped work out some of the kinks on both sides of the ball.

While the Ducks have positioned themselves as a national-championship contender, as evidenced by the fact that they either lead or are tied for the lead in eight statistical categories, there is room to grow as a program and some flaws that could be exposed by the right team.

As the Ducks begin their Pac-12 conference schedule this week against Washington State, a team they’ve beaten seven straight times, it’s time to check up on the surprises and disappointments from the Ducks' season so far.

 

Surprises

Royce Freeman

Freeman, a true freshman running back, hasn’t been Oregon’s go-to back so far this season. However, he has found his niche as “the closer.”

On the season, Freeman has rushed the ball 28 times for 186 yards and five touchdowns. He’s done most of his damage in the fourth quarter, specifically against Michigan State, when he scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to seal an Oregon victory.

When head coach Mark Helfrich was asked about his affinity to playing Freeman late in games and if that was by design, he said, “Yes and no, we had couple things game-plan-wise for him, a couple things game-plan-wise for the other guys that were unique to them and I think it was just more of rub of the green this week.”

As the season progresses and Freeman is presented with more opportunities to run the ball and be the featured back, he’ll show why he’s such a special player. He may be Oregon’s most complete back since LaMichael James.

The coaching staff thought very highly of Freeman during fall camp and expected him to play right away. I’m not sure any of them thought he would be this good this quickly.

 

The Wide Receivers

Coming into the season, the Ducks coaching staff was concerned about the overall inexperience of their wide receiver corps. However, offensive coordinator Scott Frost believes that the position is now the deepest it has ever been during his tenure at Oregon. 

"The biggest thing was we had inexperience at wide receiver and honestly coming out of these three games we're deeper there than we've ever been in my time at Oregon” Frost told Andrew Greif of The Oregonian. “That's been a pleasant surprise. We feel great about 7-8 guys coming out to execute and make plays. That's definitely a positive for the offense."

Though the young wide receivers have been effective so far this season, head coach Mark Helfrich believes that they will continue to improve.

“I think just we knew we were going to have to play a lot of young guys across the board especially at wideout” Helfrich said to a group of reporters on Sunday. “I think those guys are doing about what we expected and will continue to improve.”

When asked if the young wide receivers are ready for Pac-12 conference play, Helfrich said, “Absolutely. We're at the point now where there's not freshmen and sophomores and juniors and seniors, if you're in there you're our No. 1 guy period and we expect those guys to play like it and play great if they've been here for three games or three years.”

The combination of Keanon Lowe, Dwayne Stanford, Darren Carrington and true freshman Devon Allen has proven to be very effective for the Ducks so far this season.

Allen, who has three touchdowns so far this year, including two against Michigan State, has been the dynamic playmaker the Ducks were hoping for.

Throw in the fact that running back Byron Marshall, who has 12 receptions for 190 yards and two touchdowns, has been spectacular catching the ball out of the backfield, and you have one of the most dynamic receiving corps in college football.

 

Erick Dargan 

Redshirt senior free safety Erick Dargan has been the backbone of Oregon’s defense so far this season and is tied for the national lead in interceptions with three so far this season. 

While Dargan’s interception of Connor Cook in the first half of the Michigan State game was impressive, his two-pick performance against Wyoming was spectacular.

When Helfrich was asked about Dargan and his ball-hawking abilities, he said that Dargan makes those same types of plays in practice every day.

“He ‘s been exactly as he practices and that is what is amazing about Dargan,” Helfrich said, according to Steve Mims of the Register Guard. “He had a ton of picks in practice similar to the kind of tip play he had today. He’s done that 20 times in practice.”

The Ducks are going to need Dargan to keep doing what he’s doing in the secondary, especially against Washington State this weekend. The Cougars threw the ball 89 times against the Ducks last season, an NCAA record.

One can only imagine how Dargan is salivating over the interception opportunities that will be presented to him this weekend.

 

Disappointments

Thomas Tyner

Tyner, a sophomore running back, was set to be Oregon’s featured back this season and be one of the most productive backs in the nation. So far, however, he has disappointed a bit.

On the year, Tyner has rushed for 155 yards and a touchdown on 35 attempts, an average of 4.4 yards per carry. He also has seven receptions for 31 yards. For comparison's sake, as a true freshman last season Tyner rushed for 711 yards and nine touchdowns on 115 attempts, good for a 6.2 yards-per-carry average. He also caught 14 passes for 134 yards.

When Helfrich was asked about Tyner’s place in the running back rotation and his inability to break off big chunks of yards, he said that while he hasn’t broken the big one yet, he’s doing some nice things on the field:

“Right, he probably had three plays on that first drive where it was like 'OK!' oh, OK. It was close and he was frustrated there on a couple but he also hit a few really well and did a really nice job in protection that sprung a few big plays and he's really become a total guy” said Helfrich, according to Greif. “Had a chance to make a few plays in the passing game and did. One time got tangled up with the 'backer but he's getting better and love how he's been practicing. He's been practicing his tail off.”

Running backs coach Gary Campbell believes his trio of running backs—Tyner, Marshall and Freeman—has left some big plays on the field, according to Tyson Alger of The Oregonian. “I think there's always room for improvement," Campbell said. "I'd like to see us break some more tackles. I'm not satisfied with that. I can think of at least four or five runs that we should have broken, a couple that should have been for touchdowns."

The Ducks don’t need Tyner to be a superstar. The trio of running backs, plus Marcus Mariota’s ability to run, forms one of the most dynamic rushing attacks in the nation. However, for the Ducks to reach their potential as a program they’re going to need Tyner to break off big runs and produce at the level he’s capable of.

 

The Defensive Line

The Oregon defensive line is inexperienced as a group and the starters are still trying to find their way as a unit. Defensive tackle Arik Armstead and defense ends DeForest Buckner and Alex Balducci haven’t underperformed this season, but much more was expected from them.

The biggest problem for the defensive line has been putting pressure on the quarterback in third-down situations. That is something that must be corrected as the season goes on. The Ducks defensive line has all the potential in the world. In order for the Ducks to succeed defensively, the line must put pressure on the opposing quarterback and get sacks in big situations.

The good news for the Ducks front line, and defense in general, is that they played well enough to give the offense a chance to blow opponents out of the water. There is no doubt that the defense is only going to get better as the season goes on, and defensive coordinator Don Pellum now knows how to maneuver his players depending on the opponent and the game situation.

"I think the biggest thing now through three games is we've had a chance to look at and evaluate players” Pellum told The Oregonian’s Andre Greif. “How good will the front be? At times they're really good and other times they're not, but we've seen them and we know what we have and we have a chance to play guys in different combinations. Moving forward if we're playing a certain type of team, we know which guys to put in there. If it's a pass situation we know what guys we'd put in. That's what's been really good for us in this preseason."

With a matchup against Washington State and its “Air Raid” offense coming this week, the Ducks have to be able to get pressure on Connor Halliday early and often. However, Pellum believes that the Ducks are going to pick and choose where and when they bring the heat."I don't know if all-out pressure is the key. I think in the game plan you have to have a pressure package but pick and choose when you bring it” said Pellum according to Greif. “Pressure can really help you and pressure can really hurt you."

 

Passing Defense

While Oregon’s defense has done a solid job of forcing turnovers—they’ve forced six through three games—and the secondary has performed well, Oregon’s passing defense has been suspect, especially in 3rd-and-long situations.

The Ducks defense has allowed 825 yards through the air in three games this season, an average of 275 yards per game. That will not get it done, especially when you consider that nine of the other 11 schools in the Pac-12 conference are returning quarterbacks from last season.

Oregon’s pass defense will be tested this weekend against Washington State. The Cougars are averaging 511 yards per game through the air, the best mark in the nation.

The Ducks secondary has done a fine job forcing turnovers, most notably Dargan and All-American cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, but they need to be more diligent in third-down situations and not allow 3rd-and-long conversions.

As we mentioned, the defensive line also will need to create more havoc in the backfield, thereby giving the secondary more opportunities to use their playmaking abilities.

The Ducks are already a great team, but there is a ton of room for growth. With Pac-12 play getting under way this week, Oregon is going to need to tie up the loose ends and turn their weaknesses into strengths.

 

Jason Gold is Bleacher Report’s lead Oregon writer. Follow him on twitter @TheSportsGuy33.  

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LSU QB Anthony Jennings, Not Dak Prescott, Will Be Saturday Night's Star

LSU quarterback Anthony Jennings will shine on Saturday night in Tiger Stadium. 

The buzz is all about Mississippi State gunslinger Dak Prescott, and rightfully so. Prescott is the closest thing to Cam Newton the SEC has seen since 2010. He has thrown for at least 200 yards in every game and takes no prisoners when running between the tackles.  

Impressive.

But Prescott has not seen a secondary the caliber of LSU's this season. If the Tigers front seven can defend the run effectively on early downs, defensive coordinator John Chavis will have a variety of blitzes and coverages ready to throw Prescott's way. 

Jennings is not on the same level of Prescott, but he does have a more favorable matchup.

The Bulldogs defense is 13th in the SEC in passing yards allowed despite having not yet played a power-five conference team. The experienced unit allowed UAB to throw for 435 yards, which included three touchdowns of at least 70 yards. 

Jennings' favorite target, Travin Dural, has been the SEC's best deep threat. Dural is averaging 30.8 yards per reception and is tied for the conference lead in touchdowns with four. 

Mississippi State will likely blanket Dural, but the freshman trio of John Diarse, Trey Quinn and Malachi Dupre are primed for a breakthrough. Diarse is a physical force over the middle and is tough to tackle. Quinn and Dupre have the skills to shred soft coverage.

The key will be LSU's pass protection. The offensive line will have to block reigning three-time defensive lineman of the week Preston Smith. The Bulldogs also get consistent push up the middle from the interior. 

Nevertheless, LSU's offensive line has performed admirably in pass protection this season. The group will have four starters from last year's line who will start on Saturday night. It has performed exponentially better at home than on the road dating back to last season.

Prescott's playmaking ability will keep the game close. But Chavis will make the proper adjustments to eventually slow him down, much like he did last season. The Bulldogs scored 23 points in the first half but only mustered three in the second. 

Jennings' best quality has been his ability to make clutch throws, so expect him to play his best in the second half. The sophomore is far from a polished passer but, if given proper time, should pick apart the porous Bulldogs secondary. 

Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron will give Jennings ample opportunities to get the football down the field. He will throw for a career high against the Bulldogs, which will help lead the Tigers to their first conference win. 

 

Stats, rankings and additional information provided by cfbstats.com and LSU Sports Information. Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow me on Twitter @CarterthePower

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Texas, Michigan Agree to Play Future Home-and-Home Football Series

Michigan no longer has the second-winningest program in college football history, Notre Dame, scheduled for any future games, but it replaced the Irish with the third-winningest team in FBS history, the Texas Longhorns.

Texas announced the future home-and-home series with the Wolverines in a news release Wednesday afternoon, saying that the games have been agreed on in principle and now just have to be presented to the university's System Board of Regents:

The Football program has reached an agreement in principle with the University of Michigan for a home-and-home series in Ann Arbor on Aug. 31, 2024, and in Austin on Sept. 4, 2027, the school announced Wednesday. The agreement will be presented to The UT System Board of Regents for their consideration on Nov. 5-6, 2014.

If the agreement is passed, these games would become the second and third meetings between Texas and Michigan, barring any matchups in bowl games. Their lone meeting came in the 2005 Rose Bowl, during which Vince Young led Texas to a 38-37 victory on a last-second field goal by Dusty Mangum.

"A matchup of this magnitude doesn't come along all that often," said Michigan head coach Brady Hoke in a statement released by the university, "and when it does it's special for both programs and the great fans that support each institution.

"This also is a special series for all fans of college football, and I anticipate great games just like the first contest played between the two programs."

Texas has been particularly aggressive in scheduling nonconference games for the future, Michigan joining programs such as Notre Dame, Ohio State, USC and Arkansas on its slate for the next decade.

As Bryan Fischer of NFL.com points out, however, the one team Texas fans are most eager to see (Texas A&M) is nowhere to be found after leaving the Big 12 and joining the SEC two seasons ago:

It's easy to see a report such as this and find the negatives: that it isn't Texas A&M, that it won't be played for 3,636 days, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Those things are not necessarily unwarranted, but the fact remains that Texas and Michigan just scheduled a home-and-home football series, and in an era of creampuff-filled schedules and hollow neutral field environments, that is a welcome bit of news.

Only 3,636 days and counting!

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Georgia Football Recruiting: Latest Updates on 2015 Commits, Visits and Targets

The Bulldogs may have lost to South Carolina last Saturday, but that doesn’t mean their goals are out of reach. They will need to keep working to stay in the race for the SEC East while preparing for 2015 and beyond.

And that means they need to be on top of their game when it comes to recruiting. As of right now, the Bulldogs have 21 commitments for the 2015 season, including Trent Thompson who is one of the 10 best players in the country, according to 247 Sports.

But the Bulldogs aren’t done yet. If they want to continue to contend in the SEC, they have to keep working to get the best players in the state and the best players in the country. So here are the latest recruiting updates for Georgia.

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Is LSU Walking into a Trap at Home vs. Mississippi State?

Saturday night in Death Valley is typically a scary place for any opponent. This week, though, it could be scary for the homestanding LSU Tigers.

Head coach Les Miles' crew will host a dangerous Mississippi State squad in Baton Rouge on Saturday night, after two weeks of relative snooze-fests against Sam Houston State and ULM.

Are the Tigers ready?

The truth is, we don't know.

Quarterback Anthony Jennings has taken control of the battle with Brandon Harris but is last in the SEC among qualifying quarterbacks in completion percentage (51.9 percent). The reason he's become "the man" in Baton Rouge is a knack for the big play. The sophomore from Marietta, Georgia is averaging 10.9 yards per attempt on the season and tossed five touchdown passes—four of which went to Travin Dural.

He's going to have to be "the man" against Mississippi State. The Bulldogs will force him to be.

Head coach Dan Mullen's crew is giving up 392 yards per game—11th in the SEC. But that stat is skewed due to some shaky and surprising play in the secondary. The Bulldogs are giving up 311.7 yards per game through the air and just 80.33 on the ground.

Miles knows that he has his work cut out for him on the ground against the stout Bulldogs front seven.

"They're mobile, big and the scheme is very quality," Miles said on Wednesday's coaches teleconference. "They look like a quality defensive unit. When you get in conference, you see these kinds of defenses and that's Mississippi State."

Led by Preston Smith, the first person in conference history to win SEC defensive lineman of the week for three straight weeks, the Bulldogs front four—which averages 293 pounds in its two-deep—is loaded with talent and deep enough to stay fresh for a full four quarters.

"I think we have an opportunity to match up pretty well with them within the front seven," Bulldogs head coach Dan Mullen said on the coaches teleconference. "They're just enormous, so you have to try to have some size out there on the field, and we have some size in our front seven."

This won't be the breakout game for running back Leonard Fournette or any of the LSU running backs. 

Mississippi State will force Jennings to beat it through the air, and so far, Dural has become Jennings' most reliable target. Eleven of Jennings' 27 completions have gone to Dural, and LSU's second-leading receiver (Diarse) has only six catches on the season.

"He's making better decisions, he's hitting the open receiver now and really then," Miles said in quotes emailed by the university. "It was only a couple of times where the choice could easily [have been to go] to the other side, and he just chose to go to Dural, which in hindsight, there are some reasons for that as well."

Don't be fooled by the pass defense, though. Mississippi State's secondary is loaded with potential with budding stars like Jamerson Love and Taveze Calhoun, as well as veteran safeties Jay Hughes, Kendrick Market and Justin Cox.

"They have the leading receiver in the SEC in big plays," Mullen said in quotes emailed by Mississippi State. "They are a top 10 team in the country and playing on the road on a Saturday night is a big challenge for us. We are going to have to play at a very, very high level to find a way to win."

They have the pieces to play at a very high level defensively, and don't be surprised if it all comes together against the Tigers.

Mississippi State's defense will come to play, and put Bulldogs quarterback Dak Prescott in position to spring the upset late. Against LSU's defense, that's a tall order—but not impossible.

Expect a four-quarter slug fest on Saturday night in Death Valley.

 

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and video analyst for Bleacher Report and 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

Will Latest Incident Ruin Jameis Winston's Back-to-Back Heisman Hopes?

Florida State has suspended Heisman-winning quarterback Jameis Winston for the first half of the Seminoles' game vs. Clemson on Saturday, per Dan Wolken of USA Today. Bleacher Report college football analysts Michael Felder and Barrett Sallee debate whether Winston should kiss his chance to win a second Heisman goodbye.

Do you think Winston can still win the Heisman?

Watch the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Keyshawn Johnson's Nephew, Michael Thomas, Is Next Big Thing at Ohio State

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Just Get Me the Damn Ball!

That was the title of Keyshawn Johnson's 1997 autobiography, released just one year into the 1996 No. 1 overall pick's NFL career. And more than 17 years later, it's become a rallying cry of sorts for his nephew, although Michael Thomas hardly carries himself with the same bravado as his famous uncle.

Few would describe Thomas as loud and boisterous, at least not in front of the media, where it's clear that the Ohio State wide receiver would prefer to disappear behind the doors of the Woody Hayes Athletic Center as quickly as possible. A shy kid with a sheepish smile, it doesn't take much to see that Thomas would rather field passes from his quarterback than questions from reporters.

But the Los Angeles native presents a different persona on Twitter, where @Cantguardmike has been known to let his inner Uncle Keyshawn out. Perhaps never more so than he did following last season's loss in the Orange Bowl, where he called out the Buckeyes' lack of production at the wide receiver position.

"There was 2 people on the field that combined for 200+ plays past 2 games only brought to the table 3 catches 16 [yards]," Thomas posted, among other remarks in a string of since-deleted tweets. "They are considered starters at Ohio State!"

If Thomas was frustrated—and his posts would indicate that he was—with the underwhelming numbers of starters Devin Smith and Evan Spencer, he was likely more upset with himself than he was anyone else. After all, whatever Smith and Spencer were contributing in 2013 was certainly more than Thomas, whom the Buckeyes coaching staff opted to redshirt as a sophomore.

"Mike knows at the end of the day he could have beat out anybody and offered more production, but he didn't," Ohio State wide receivers coach Zach Smith said when asked about Thomas' comments in February. "Those guys beat him out."

 

Fast forward eight months later and Thomas looks a little bit more like Johnson did during his standout days at Southern California—and not just because he's adopted his famous uncle's No. 3 uniform.

Rather than standing on the sideline—a role that once led to Johnson forcing a trade from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers—Thomas finally finds himself in a starring role for the Buckeyes. Through the first three games of the 2014 season, he leads Ohio State with team highs of 11 receptions, 214 yards and four touchdowns.

After a preserved year of eligibility took precedent over his potential production a season ago, the 6'3", 209-pounder is now the undisputed No. 1 wide receiver on a Buckeyes team that entered this season in desperate need of one.

"When the opportunity comes and presents itself, I just know I need to catch the ball first and get the most out of it," Thomas said following his two-reception, 77-yard, two-touchdown performance against Kent State on Saturday. "We've got a lot of talented guys that can make plays too, so just when it presents itself, I take it."

Through the first fourth of the season, that's exactly what Thomas has done, scoring at least one touchdown in each of Ohio State's first three games. It's the type of production that the Buckeyes were missing in last season's back-to-back losses to Michigan State and Clemson in the Big Ten Championship Game and Orange Bowl, respectively, the type that led to his out-of-character social media rant.

 

It was also the type of production that many expected from Thomas when he burst onto the scene in Columbus in Ohio State's 2012 spring game. An early enrollee yet to officially start his college career, the Woodland Hills Taft product stole the show in the Buckeyes' annual exhibition, recording 12 catches for 131 yards.

That wasn't enough, however, to impress his All-American uncle, who accumulated 168 catches, 2,796 yards and 16 touchdowns in just two seasons with the Trojans in 1994 and 1995. What really stood out to Johnson was that Thomas managed to play as a true freshman, catching three balls for 11 yards during Ohio State's run to a 12-0 season in 2012.

"Those were lollipop grabs in a spring game. How could you have put any claim to that?" Johnson told The Toledo Blade in 2013, via Eleven Warriors. "What means something is he's playing against Michigan, playing against Wisconsin, that's what means something to me. And when you're in the rotation as a true freshman, what more can you ask for?"

His early production may have been underwhelming, but Thomas appeared to be building momentum heading into his sophomore season. In his second spring game, he again put up big numbers, with seven receptions, 79 yards and a touchdown catch to his credit.

But perhaps true to his uncle's prophecy, none of that seemed to matter much when the 2013 season rolled around. As Smith, Spencer and Corey "Philly" Brown were trotted out for the majority of the Buckeyes' wide receiver reps, Thomas was strapped to the sideline, as Urban Meyer insisted on not losing another year of the former 3-star prospect's eligibility.

"We don’t want to redshirt," Meyer said after Thomas sat out Ohio State's first two games of the 2013 season. "But we also don’t want to waste a year."

Insisted Zach Smith of Thomas, "He prepared to play. He was as much a part of the team as anyone else."

Thomas' final stats on the season—zero catches for zero yards and zero touchdowns in zero games—indicated otherwise.

 

While it may not have shown in his infamous string of tweets, Thomas insists that he took a positive approach into his redshirt season. It may have been unconventional, but the third-year player says that it was somewhat necessary after what was an otherwise wasted freshman campaign in 2012.

"I just needed to keep working hard on developing and just grow up and mature and do what the coaches tell me and trust in them," Thomas said. "I definitely felt my time was going to come."

That time appears to be now, as evidenced by his impressive stats that are no longer being posted in just the spring game. With 11 receptions—six more than Ohio State's next leading wideout—Thomas has shown the stability to be a possession receiver while also showing big-play ability, with touchdowns of 63 and 58 yards on the year.

"It's just like a dream come true," Thomas said. "To wear scarlet and gray and make plays on that field in that great stadium."

And as for Uncle Keyshawn's advice? Surprisingly, it's had nothing to do with Thomas' ability as a pass-catcher.

"He just tells me: 'Finish blocks,'" Thomas said of the three-time Pro Bowler's words of wisdom.

Of course, getting Thomas the damn ball hasn't hurt the Buckeyes either.

 

Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Ohio State Lead Writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand. All recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

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15 Most Anticipated Matchups Remaining on 2014 College Football Schedule

Some of the most eagerly awaited games of the 2014 college football season—Michigan State at Oregon, for example—are already behind us, but so many still remain. 

What's more, so many new ones have materialized based on the results of the first three weeks. Some games, we have known for months would be watershed moments in the season; others, we have only just realized.

This list is a combination of the two, skewing heavily toward games with potential College Football Playoff implications. Other factors taken into account included recent series history, personnel matchups and potential off-field narratives worth watching.

For obvious reasons—i.e., placing five teams inside the current Associated Press Top 10—the SEC West showed up often, but there are plenty of games from outside the nation's best division, too.

Sound off below and let us know what else you're looking forward to.

Begin Slideshow

Alabama Football: After 3 Weeks, No Question Blake Sims Should Be the Starter

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — There was never going to be a bold announcement or proclamation. Nick Saban was never going to hang up a banner or put out a press release announcing who the winner of Alabama’s quarterback competition is.

It didn’t happen in 2011. AJ McCarron and Phillip Sims split reps against Kent State, McCarron started and played the whole game against Penn State, and then just…kept starting.

And it’s happening this year, too.

Blake Sims played all but two garbage-time snaps against West Virginia, split reps with Jake Coker against Florida Atlantic and wasn’t pulled until the end of the third quarter against Southern Miss when the game was long out of hand.

But Sims is Alabama’s starting quarterback, and through three games the fifth-year senior has shown that he is the best man for the starting quarterback job and has earned the right to lead the Crimson Tide in their SEC opener against Florida.

“Obviously, Blake is our starting quarterback right now,” wide receiver Amari Cooper said, according to Ken Rogers of the Dothan Eagle. “He’s playing more than Coker is playing—and he’s playing well. Both of them are playing well. They’re doing everything that coach (Lane) Kiffin is asking them to do.”

The best thing Blake Sims has going for him right now is his understanding of the offense.

He gets what Nick Saban wants out of a quarterback—efficiency, ball control, game management skills—and translates that well on the field. There have been some teachable moments, to be sure, but overall he’s looked very comfortable in calling plays, getting the ball out quickly and operating with confidence.

Coker is still learning the ropes in that department.

In two straight games, he’s taken a sack on 3rd-and-goal, one that nullified any chance at points since it was at the end of a half. Those are the kind of mistakes that makes Saban pull his hair out.

Sims has also been incredibly efficient.

Sims is third in the country in completion percentage (75) and 12th in yards per attempt (10.1). He is also the sixth most efficient passer, per ESPN’s Total QBR.

And he’s getting it done when it matters the most:

While Sims hasn’t put up the monster numbers that quarterbacks around the country have—he checks in at No. 69 in passing yards per game with 215.3—he’s running the offense how Saban wants it run.

And he gives the Alabama offense an extra dimension that it hasn’t really had under Saban.

Sims has regularly used his legs to pick up extra yards when there’s nothing open downfield. He’s averaging 7.29 yards per rush and has already scored two touchdowns with his feet, both coming in the red zone.

He’s also had some highlight-worthy plays in the process:

“The ability to extend plays. That’s something as a defensive coordinator that’s very difficult to deal with as far as off-rhythm plays,” Florida coach Will Muschamp said on the SEC coaches teleconference Wednesday. “The protection breaks down, the routes are covered and he’s able to extend the play. He’s an accurate thrower. He’s got a high percentage of completion, a guy that continues to improve to me, game in game out. He’s 3-0, and that’s the most important thing.”

The knock on Sims has been that he hasn’t shown the ability to throw the ball downfield consistently and that all of his yards come after the catch on quick throws to playmakers like Cooper.

But to criticize Sims for that is to criticize Saban and offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin for a game plan that has utilized the weapons it has on offense and taking advantage of the defenses it is facing.

Sims hasn’t thrown downfield because he hasn’t had to. And the Crimson Tide have put up 568.3 yards of offense per game, good for 12th in the country, in the process.

His teammates say that if and when that time comes, Sims will be able to make those throws:

Besides, Alabama’s successful quarterbacks have never really been relied on to sling it around. According to Sports-Reference, Greg McElroy averaged 8.6 passing yards per attempt, while McCarron averaged 8.8. That’s significantly less than Sims’ current 10.1. (And it’s not like those two didn't have plenty of success with screen passes in big games anyway.)

Not a lot of people thought Sims had a real chance at winning Alabama’s quarterback competition when Coker’s transfer came with such high reviews.

But three weeks into the season, it’s clear Sims is the best man for the job. Even if it didn’t come with much fanfare.

 

Marc Torrence is the Alabama lead writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats come from CFBStats. All recruiting information comes from 247Sports.

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

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Jameis Winston Suspended for 1st Half vs. Clemson: Latest Details and Comments

Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston has been suspended for the first half of Saturday's game against No. 22 Clemson.

Dan Wolken of USA Today was the first to report the reigning Heisman Trophy winner's suspension:

Winston's actions came to light on Twitter on Tuesday, and The Big Lead's Jason McIntyre reported what he said (language NSFW).    

According to Wolken, the sophomore signal-caller yelled the obscene phrase at the student union.     

Winston apologized for his actions following the news of his suspension and provided further comments:

Warchant.com also shared video of Winston's apology:

Corey Clark of the Tallahassee Democrat tweeted out the official statement released by Florida State relating to the disciplinary decision:

Gil Brandt of NFL.com noted that Sean Maguire is set to replace Winston:

Prior to the announcement of the suspension, FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher made it clear that he wasn't pleased with Winston's actions, per Wolken.

"It was not a good decision," Fisher said. "You can't make certain statements that are derogatory or inflammatory to any person, race or gender. You have to understand that. ... You have to be very intelligent about what you say, (because) it matters."

Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee believes that the one-half suspension is a warning shot in Winston's direction regarding the immaturity he has displayed in off-field situations:

It is clear that Florida State is sending a message since Saturday's game figures to have a big impact on the Seminoles' College Football Playoff chances.    

Winston is a key piece to the puzzle, but the team will have to rally together as a whole to have success in the first half without its leader on offense against Clemson.  

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter.

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College Football Rankings 2014: Official Week 4 Polls and Playoff Projections

The college football season has provided an incredible first three weeks to the season. Although nothing changed within the Top Five in either of the major polls this week, title contender Georgia lost to SEC foe South Carolina in a thrilling game.

The other Top 10 casualty was USC. After a huge victory against Stanford, the Trojans dropped significantly in the polls thanks to a horrible loss to Boston College.

Mississippi moved into the AP Top 10 after a third consecutive blowout, while Baylor and Texas A&M also moved up a spot with the departure of the Bulldogs.

Let’s take a look at the latest polls heading into Week 4 and consider the early projections for the College Football Playoff.

 

 

Playoff Projections

The College Football Playoff projections altered slightly from last week. Georgia’s loss knocks it out of contention for now and allows Oklahoma to come in at the No. 4 spot.

The Sooners took care of business at home against Tennessee but face a tough test this week when they travel to Morgantown to take on West Virginia. The Mountaineers gave Alabama trouble in the opener.

Oklahoma isn’t the most discussed team in the Top Five, but it might be later in the season. Its schedule is extremely easy compared to the other top teams. The most difficult games remaining on the schedule include matchups with No. 20 Kansas State (Oct. 18), No. 7 Baylor (Nov. 8) and No. 25 Oklahoma State in the final week.

Oklahoma might not crack the Top Three unless someone loses, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t belong. The Sooners looked superior when they beat Alabama in last year’s Sugar Bowl, and nothing has changed since. With the teams they have to play, you can almost make them a lock for the playoff.  

Although the two polls differ between the No. 2 and No. 3 rankings, I like Alabama ahead of Oregon. Despite the Ducks’ win over a highly ranked Michigan State in Week 2, teams that play in the SEC will get the nod, at least in my book.

This past week, Oregon rolled over Wyoming 48-14. Led by Marcus Mariota, the high-powered Ducks head to Washington State on Saturday.

Oregon has already proved it’s one of the best teams in the nation with its comeback win against Michigan State. A lot of people may be down on the Big 10, but Michigan State is exceptionally talented and will be back to the top of the polls by year’s end.

The Crimson Tide beat up on Southern Miss to complete the easy part of their schedule. They open up conference play this week against Florida.

Thus far, wide receiver Amari Cooper has been carrying the load for Alabama’s offense. In just three games, he’s recorded 33 receptions for 454 yards and two touchdowns.

'Bama hasn’t been able to showcase its team in a few weeks. After its performance Saturday against the Gators, people will remember why Nick Saban has been so difficult to defeat. The SEC schedule is always a nightmare, but the Tide are good enough to win another title.

Florida State remains in the top spot, where it will stay until it loses. The defending champs were off last week but now face one of their more difficult tasks in 2014 with No. 22 Clemson in town.

If they can get past this test, the Seminoles should breeze through their schedule until mid-October when they face No. 9 Notre Dame.  They may have lost some playmakers, but Jameis Winston more than makes up for that.

Although the season is just getting underway, I really believe these four teams will be there at the end. They are the most talented teams in the country and could all realistically make the playoff even with a loss.

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Cam Erving vs. Vic Beasley the Most Important Matchup in FSU vs. Clemson

Vic Beasley had 13 sacks in 2013, putting together one of the finest pass-rushing seasons in ACC history.

The number doesn't exactly come with an asterisk. Those 13 sacks are impressive, of course. But it does come with a disclaimer—that the All-American defensive end didn't have a sack against Florida State in the Seminoles' 51-14 rout.

"Things just didn't go the way we wanted them to," Beasley said.

He was talking about the performance by Clemson's defense, which allowed Jameis Winston to throw for 444 yards. But he could just as easily have said the same about his frustrations in the one-on-one matchup with FSU left tackle Cameron Erving.

At the time, Erving was starting just his 20th game ever as an offensive lineman. A defensive tackle at Moultrie (Georgia) Colquitt County High, Erving was a Rivals.com 3-star prospect. After missing the 2010 season with a back injury, his first at FSU, coach Jimbo Fisher approached Erving about moving to the offensive line. Erving declined and had 20 tackles as a reserve in 2011. With FSU in need of a left tackle, Fisher tried again and Erving reluctantly agreed to make the move to offense in the spring of 2012.

He showed progress in his first year on offense and graded out at 73 percent in his final six games that fall. But the challenge of facing Beasley would be a considerable one.

Erving turned in one of his best performances of the season, holding the 6'3'', 235-pound Beasley to just two tackles. While Erving had impressed prior to that game, keeping Beasley away from Winston was an impressive accomplishment.

The Erving vs. Beasley matchup will again be a pivotal one on Saturday night as No. 1 FSU hosts No. 22 Clemson. Erving won the ACC's Jacobs Blocking Trophy as the conference's top offensive lineman in 2013, and Beasley is the ACC's top edge-rusher.

"It's definitely always fun to go against a great competitor such as Vic," Erving said. "He got me a few times—he just didn't get to the quarterback. Couple more seconds here or there he could have did it."

While plenty of eyes in the stadium and on TV will be watching the quarterbacks and skill players, the Erving-Beasley battle is crucial for both teams. FSU has a senior-laden offensive line and must keep Winston upright in the passing game while trying to establish a ground attack. Clemson's defensive strength is its all-senior defensive line that wants to disrupt the rhythm of FSU's passing game and bottle up FSU's deep stable of running backs.

FSU, however, has made a habit of passing the ball successfully in the past three matchups with Clemson. While FSU lost a 2011 game in which Clint Trickett threw for 336 yards, EJ Manuel followed with 380 yards. And Winston passed for 444 yards last season.

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney is concerned about what Winston can do on Saturday if given time to read the Tigers defense.

"I don't think you can just sit back there and have a ham sandwich," Swinney said. "They have got too good of skill outside, and you can't cover those guys forever. You've got to be able to disrupt the timing of the passing game and create pressure if you're going to have success against a great quarterback."

That's where Beasley can affect the game or, perhaps, not affect the game. He has watched the 2013 game again and again. He's reviewed game film of FSU's first two 2014 games. And Beasley is ready for another showdown with Erving.

"This is a matchup that I definitely look forward to," Beasley said. "I like playing against great players."

Said Erving: "I feel like he's a great player. I feel like going against better competition always brings out the best in you."

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

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10 Class of 2015 Recruits from SEC Country Who Should Play Outside the SEC

One of the main reasons the SEC has risen to prominence in college football is because of the fertile recruiting grounds located in the league’s geographic footprint.

However, plenty of schools from other power-five conferences are entering the southeastern part of the country in search of top talent. Schools such as Oregon, USC, Michigan State and Ohio State are among those who fit this category. 

Additionally, ACC schools who occupy similar territory are proving to be worthy of butting heads with SEC powers on the recruiting trail.

For recruits, the decision to play in a league outside the SEC may come down to the way they fit in a school’s system, their bond with a particular coach or a better opportunity to find playing time early in their careers. 

Which remaining recruits in SEC country in the 2015 class would fit better playing their college football elsewhere?

*Players listed in alphabetical order.

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Texas Football: Realistic Expectations for Longhorns in Big 12 Play

For the Texas Longhorns, expectations are almost always unreachable unless the season ends with a national championship.

Head coach Charlie Strong is finding this out early in his first season even though he tried to temper fans' unrealistic hopes during his 12-city bus tour, according to Brian Davis of the Austin American-Statesman: 

We have everything available, and I don't know why we can't be successful. There's no reason for us not to be. Now, I can't tell you how soon it's going to be. Don't hold me to that. Don't say, 'Ooh, coach said next year we'll be in the national...' We will not be in the national championship game.

His statement may have upset people, but he was being honest. Those who did not listen to the coach only have themselves to blame.

Now the Longhorns are 1-2 heading into Big 12 play.

It's doubtful many people predicted Texas would have a losing record prior to its conference schedule. But then again, nobody anticipated the Longhorns would have an entirely new, inexperienced offensive line protecting a first-year starting quarterback either.

But that's where Texas is, and whining about it will not change the outcome of the current situation.

It's difficult to assess the talent level of college football teams after only three games because many schools schedule easy non-conference opponents.

But Texas has the toughest strength of schedule of all Big 12 teams and is ranked No. 15 of 128 in strength of schedule in the nation, according to Jerry Palm of CBSSports.com.

The first six games of the season prove this.

The Longhorns have their first true road game Sept. 27 against Kansas. They will then face No. 7 Baylor at home and No. 4 Oklahoma at Cotton Bowl Stadium.

The Bears are averaging 50-point victories over the first three opponents of the season. The Sooners have scored an average of 45 points compared to the 11 points it has given up to competitors.

Texas has yet to put up anything close to those numbers.

To be fair, Baylor has faced an FCS team, Buffalo and SMU. One could argue the SMU Mustangs are the worst team in Division I college football this season. The Mustangs are averaging three points per game compared to the average 44 points it has surrendered to its opponents.

Does this mean the Bears are not as good as they appear? Absolutely not. Will Texas be the favorite to beat Baylor or Oklahoma? Not a chance.

There is a good possibility the Longhorns will be 2-4 following the Red River Shootout, but the uphill battle does not end in Dallas.

Texas will hit the road to face No. 20 Kansas State, Texas Tech and No. 25 Oklahoma State. Oklahoma State gave No. 1 Florida State a run for its money in Week 1.

The trio of road games will feature tough opponents in some of the most difficult environments in the conference. 

Whoever put together the Longhorns' schedule did not do Strong any favors. It also doesn't help that the Big 12 is shaping up to be a much better league than last year.

But entirely dismissing Texas is premature.

The Longhorns loss to BYU was inexcusable. Texas was unprepared and embarrassed by the Cougars for the second consecutive season.

Strong referred to the loss as an "embarrassment to the university and an embarrassment to the football program," taking full responsibility for not having his team ready to face BYU.

The team rebounded and battled against UCLA, which almost ended in an upset. Unfortunately for Texas fans, almost isn't good enough.

The difference between Week 2 and Week 3 was apparent. The Longhorns went from giving up 41 points and only seeing the end zone once against then-unranked BYU (now No. 21) to holding No. 12 UCLA to 20 points and moving the chains on offense to put 17 points on the board.

The progress is evident.

Can it continue against Big 12 opponents?

Yes, but it will be an arduous task.

The Longhorns have to gain momentum in the few games where the team will likely be favored to win and put together an extraordinary game plan poised to upset at minimum one ranked opponent.

"Now everything counts," Strong said. "It's only three games, so we just have to pick ourselves back up and know how to handle adversity. There's going to be some tough losses. So we'll see what type of team we are and how we bounce back."

It's too early to dismiss Strong's Longhorns, but expecting a 10-win regular season with what Texas has shown thus far is not wise.

 

Team rankings via AP Top 25 Poll.

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.

Taylor Gaspar is Bleacher Report's featured columnist covering the Texas Longhorns. Follow Taylor on Twitter: @Taylor_Gaspar.

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Texas A&M Aggies vs. Southern Methodist Mustangs Betting Odds: Analysis, Pick

Texas A&M is only 3-7 against the spread the last 10 times it has been lined as a favorite on the road, while SMU is 8-2 ATS in its last 10 games as a home dog.

The high-flying Aggies bring their show to Dallas for a renewal of an old Southwest Conference rivalry with the Mustangs on Saturday night.

 

Point spread: The Aggies opened as 28-point favorites at Gerald J. Ford Stadium, but it was 32.5 points by Wednesday with a total of 62, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark. (Line updates and matchup report)

 

Odds Shark computer prediction: 57.8-25.2 Aggies

 

Why the Texas A&M Aggies can cover the spread

Some thought the Aggies might struggle without Johnny Football, but while he's been holding a clipboard in Cleveland, his former team has gone on without him to start 3-0 with two covers. Texas A&M sprang out of the gate with a whopping 52-28 “upset” of South Carolina, winning outright as 10-point road dogs.

The Aggies then dispatched Lamar 73-3, covering at -46. And last week, A&M beat Rice 38-10, although it couldn't quite cover the spread at -31. The Aggies only held the ball for 17 minutes against the Owls but made good use of that time, racking up 477 yards of offense on just 47 plays.

New starting quarterback Kenny Hill has done a wonderful job of stepping in behind center for head coach Kevin Sumlin, hitting on 69 percent of his throws. He has 11 touchdown passes and zero interceptions.

 

Why the Southern Methodist Mustangs can cover the spread

The Mustangs are trying to play through a change in coaches after June Jones resigned last week. SMU is off to an 0-2 start, whiffing against Baylor and North Texas. The Mustangs tried to hang with the Mean Green last week, and if not for a fumble return for a North Texas score, they would have been right in the game into halftime.

SMU is a program in transition at the moment, on the sidelines and at quarterback. But the Mustangs are playing at home, where they're 9-4 ATS over the last two-plus seasons. Can interim head coach Tom Mason rally the troops to put on a decent showing in this spot?

Pride, and a little added toughness, can sometimes go a long way toward covering point spreads, and their recent trend is covering at home.

 

Smart Pick

This one has “ugly” written all over it. Texas A&M has beaten SMU each of the last three seasons by an average score of 45-10, and Saturday's final score could be even worse, with the Mustangs now working with their backup QB.

The only pick one could give here in good conscience would be with the Aggies, minus the points.

 

Trends

  • Texas A&M is 1-4 ATS in its last five games on the road
  • Southern Methodist is 8-3 ATS in its last 11 games at home

 

Note: All point spread and lines data courtesy of Odds Shark, all quotes gathered first-hand unless otherwise noted—check out Twitter for injury updates and line move updates and get the free odds tracker app.

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