NCAA Football News

10 Biggest Questions Facing Top 25 Teams Heading into Week 8

The halfway point of the college football season is here. The weather is cooling down, but the playoff race is heating up. Contenders and pretenders in every conference are starting to form.

For yet another week, there are some critical SEC games. But don't forget about the Big 12, which features two games between Top 25 teams plus a potential trap game for Baylor.

Then there's the game of the week: Notre Dame at Florida State in a Top 10 showdown. 

Which storylines are the most important heading into Week 8? The answers are in the following slides. 

The only criterion here is that one of the teams involved has to rank in either the Associated Press poll or the Amway coaches poll.

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Predicting College Football's Biggest Headlines for Week 8

Week 8 of the college football season is upon us, which means a whole slew of new storylines await. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Barrett Sallee, Adam Kramer and Michael Felder pick their biggest headlines for Week 8 in the video above. 

What will stand out most after Week 8? Watch and let us know!

 

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Updated Heisman Odds: Is It Dak Prescott's Trophy to Lose?

The Heisman picture continues to get clearer as the season draws on, but we could have some spoilers who may very well play their way to New York City for the Heisman Ceremony. Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Adam Kramer gives us his updated Heisman odds.

Who will win the Heisman this year?

Watch the video and let us know!

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Emergence of Power Run Game Is Alabama's Key to Victory over Texas A&M

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Austin Shepherd didn’t mince words when asked about the Alabama offensive line’s performance in Saturday’s 14-13 win over Arkansas.

“Personally, I thought I played terrible,” the senior right tackle said. “I kind of take responsibility for it. I don’t think any of us had a good game. Probably the worst game we’ve played as a unit just to be straight up. I mean, I thought we were prepared. We just kind of didn’t execute like we wanted to.

“I went back and watched it and it was kind of just one person here and there. I mean, one play I give up a sack, the next play Cam (Robinson) gives up a pressure, the next play right guard gives up pressure—just a lot of inconsistency. We just got to be more consistent.”

That’s been a common theme so far in 2014. Alabama’s trademark on offense during Nick Saban’s time in Tuscaloosa has been an ability to pound opponents into submission in the running game.

It’s been largely missing in 2014.

But that power run game and the ability to put it all together will be key to an Alabama victory this week over Texas A&M.

The Crimson Tide’s running game was a big reason why they survived a shootout last season in College Station. It allowed Alabama to better control the the tempo of the game and keep Johnny Manziel off the field.

In that game, Alabama rushed for 234 yards. In Alabama’s last two games this year, however, the Crimson Tide have rushed for 234 yards combined.

Alabama is averaging 4.91 yards per rush this season, which puts it at just No. 37 in the country. That average is its lowest total since 2008.

So what’s the problem?

It has to begin and end up front with the offensive line. Where Alabama has had physical maulers who could impose their will on front sevens in the past, this year’s group hasn’t been so intimidating.

Center Ryan Kelly’s absence has hurt. Bradley Bozeman has had to play in the last two games. Right guard is still a mix of Leon Brown and Alphonse Taylor, neither of whom has yet to take control of the starting position.

Saban says it’s a matter of technique.

“It wasn’t that we weren’t blocking the right guys, it’s more that we weren’t finishing the blocks,” he said. “We would get on the guy, the guy would slip us, come off and make the tackle. That’s the big thing that we need to do up front. Same thing in pass protection. We overset them, we get beat inside, just basic fundamental execution needs to be better and we need to finish better.”

Shepherd agreed.

“I mean, just technique really,” Shepherd said. “For instance on my play, just the wrong set. I watched some guys' wrong technique. We’re in an outside zone, and they just overreached the linebacker, and the running back cuts back and the guy’s in the hole. I mean, just little stuff. If we had done little things right, we would’ve been fine, but it just didn’t happen, and we’ve got to fix all that.”

The Crimson Tide have also been without one of their top playmaking running backs. Kenyan Drake broke his leg against Ole Miss and will miss the rest of the season. He was averaging 5.09 yards per carry, which is the highest among regular running backs right now.

“It's been tough,” junior running back T.J. Yeldon said. “We really could use him. He was our speed guy, we could use him out wide. But things happen and we just have to move on.”

If there was a game for Alabama to put it all together and run the ball at will, this would be it. Texas A&M’s offense operates quickly and efficiently, and there’s no better way to counter that than by keeping it off the field as much as possible.

Alabama is capable of doing that. It just hasn’t shown that yet this season.

 

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

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

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LSU Quarterback Dilemma: Who Should Les Miles Start Under Center?

Would you trade short-term success for potential long-term riches? LSU head coach Les Miles must answer this question when choosing his starting quarterback for each game this season.

Miles' current starter, Anthony Jennings, is average. His numbers against Florida were a mediocre 10-of-21 for 110 yards and a touchdown. His numbers on the season are not that much better.

The other option under center is true freshman Brandon Harris, who has better tools than Jennings in every aspect of quarterbacking. Harris got his opportunity to be the guy in LSU's previous game against Auburn but struggled mightily.

Miles said he wanted to get Harris on the field against the Gators, but the opportunity did not present itself.

"We wanted to play Brandon Harris, I did, certainly coach (offensive coordinator Cam) Cameron did, just what happens you get in those tight games, the win and the necessary momentum doesn't present itself and so what you say is, let's go with Anthony," said Miles, per LSU Sports Information.

Miles probably sees a lot of himself in Jennings. They both are not flashy, but when the game is on the line, they will more than likely come through with victory.

No coach in the SEC has been better at coming from behind than Miles. ESPN Stats & Info has the stat to prove it:

Jennings' best attribute is also Miles', which is finding a way to win the fourth quarter. He has thrown clutch touchdowns against Arkansas, Wisconsin and Florida.

However, Jennings' timely play has not been enough to solidify himself as the starter.

 

Who Has More Potential? 

Miles must look at the big picture when looking at the quarterback position.

Jennings has a similar, but slightly better, career trajectory than Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen. They are serviceable starters who struggle to complete half of their passes and have limited skill sets.

On the other hand, Harris could be a better version of Auburn's Nick Marshall. Harris has an elite arm and amazing escapability with his legs. Cameron would certainly have more playbook flexibility with the true freshman.

Harris can, and probably will, be a better quarterback than Jennings if given equal opportunity.

 

How Should Miles Distribute the Snaps?

Miles must weigh his short- and long-term goals. He and his staff can hopefully see this year's team will not win championships, so he must make a tough choice.

Jennings' triumph in The Swamp has made the situation more complicated. He led the team to its only SEC victory, so giving Harris meaningful snaps could send the wrong message.

Miles also knows he has reached a national championship with average, yet steady, quarterbacking in the past, but he must understand that is unlikely to happen again.

Miles can shorten the game with Jennings by pounding the rock with Leonard Fournette and keeping the score close. When Miles needs a clutch pass to win the game, he can trust Jennings to come through—basically the same blueprint against Florida.

Or Miles can give Harris another chance against SEC opposition. He is the likelier quarterback to lead a team to a championship. The true freshman has a fourth-quarter comeback of his own against Mississippi State, though it did not result in victory.

A two-quarterback system is not out of the question either.

Miles has used Jordan Jefferson and Ryan Perrilloux in the past with certain packages to get them on the field. That could easily happen with Harris in the next couple of games.

 

Conclusion

There is no clear way Miles should handle this complex situation.

The development of quarterbacks has never been Miles' coaching expertise. And the Valley Shook!'s Paul Crewe agrees, stating that the average season of a QB who was recruited and developed by Miles has been abysmal.

How Miles brings along Jennings and Harris will determine if LSU can challenge for SEC Championships again.

Miles could play Jennings for the rest of the season and allow Harris—with a season of Cameron's offense under his belt—a chance to win the job in the offseason. But if Harris succeeds in doing so, then valuable game experience that could have gone to the true freshman would be wasted.

Miles could also follow what Mississippi State's Dan Mullen did with Dak Prescott.

Prescott played sparingly in his freshman year, shared snaps and starts with a less talented Tyler Russell as a sophomore and then became the unquestioned leader of a No. 1 team destined for a spot in the College Football Playoff as a junior.

Harris' eventual development into a Prescott-level player is not as far-fetched as one might think, especially considering that some of his fellow freshmen will have likely matured into NFL-level playmakers by the time they are juniors. 

Miles will be under immense pressure to make a College Football Playoff appearance with his 2014 class, which features Harris and Fournette, at some point.

Miles' 100 wins in Baton Rouge, the loaded SEC West and the Tigers' 18 early entries into the NFL draft over the past two seasons have bought him a "down year." As long as he reaches a bowl game in 2014, which only requires one more victory, this season will not be a disaster.

Legendary coaches are not remembered for eight and- nine-win seasons but for championships.

If Miles feels playing Harris—even if it means benching the better quarterback to win now in Jennings—is better for the success of the program in the long term, he should do it.

Barring a miracle transfer or recruit, LSU's starting quarterback in 2015 and 2016 will either be Harris or Jennings. How Miles manages their snaps this season could determine how things play out in the future.

 

Stats, rankings and additional information provided by cfbstats.com and LSU Sports Information. Recruiting information provided by 247Sports.

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow me on Twitter @CarterthePower.

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Miami Football: Phillip Dorsett on Track to Join Exclusive Club

Despite reeling in just 16 passes through seven games, Phillip Dorsett is on track to join an exclusive Miami Hurricanes club.

The 'Canes have a history of NFL-caliber receivers donning the orange and green, but the senior wideout may attain something Michael Irvin, Reggie Wayne, Santana Moss and other top names never accomplished.

Only four receivers in program history have ever tallied 1,000 yards in a single campaign: Eddie Brown in 1984, Andre Johnson in 2002, Leonard Hankerson in 2010 and Allen Hurns last year.

As of this writing, Dorsett is averaging 78.6 yards per game, which works out to 1,021 for the season. In addition to 1,000 being a feasible plateau, Miami's remaining schedule favors Dorsett's chances to reach it.

From this point forward, he must manage 75 each outing—including bowl play—to hit quadruple digits. The Hurricanes' next opponents are Virginia Tech, North Carolina, Florida State and Virginia, four of the Atlantic Coast Conference's five worst pass defenses.

Combined, those four squads have allowed 246.4 yards through the air each outing. Of Brad Kaaya's 1,806 passing yards, Dorsett has accounted for 30.5 percent. Based on those numbers, the senior will average 75 per game heading into the regular season finale.

How's that for fun with math?

Granted, his numbers are admittedly inflated by an outstanding performance against Arkansas State, a nonconference bout in which Dorsett became the third Miami receiver to record 200 yards.

The FBS-leading 34.4 yards per reception he's recorded thus far is frankly absurd, and there's practically zero chance Dorsett actually maintains that average.

With that being said, continuing the trend of just 2.2 catches per game isn't very likely, either. He and Kaaya have started to connect on spacing routes, five-yard passes that Dorsett has turned into gains of 30 or more because of his blazing speed.

Even if the senior falls short of 1,000 yards, though, it isn't the lone statistical category in which he's set to join elite company.

Should the wideout register four more touchdowns, Dorsett will be just the sixth Hurricanes pass-catcher to rack up 10 in one year. The five others? Irvin, Lamar Thomas, Wayne, Johnson and Hankerson.

"I just try to take advantage of every opportunity that I get," he said, per David Lake of 247Sports (subscription required). "They don't come a lot, so you have to make plays when your number is called. I try to score no matter what and get in the end zone."

Dorsett is running down plenty of career record lists, too.

His 13 touchdowns is currently tied with Travis Benjamin for the 10th-most in school history, and three more scores would only trail the aforementioned five and Moss. That's not a terrible group to be chasing.

Dorsett's 28-yard touchdown against Cincinnati was the 100th reception over his four seasons at "The U," becoming only the 13th Miami receiver to achieve the century mark. Plus, his 143-yard day at the expense of the Bearcats lifted him to the ninth spot in career yards, and 81 more will propel Dorsett to No. 7.

The next step is the NFL, and Dorsett is a virtual lock to be the next Hurricane to be drafted and only the fourth since 2006.

His numbers might not be gaudy, and he likely won't be a first-round pick, but Dorsett is asserting himself as one of the best wideouts in program history. And considering the talent Miami has produced, that's a pretty exclusive club, too.

 

Note: Stats courtesy of CFBStats.com and hurricanesports.com.

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

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Dak Prescott Will Enter 2015 NFL Draft If Projected to Be Selected in 1st Round

Mississippi State has been one of the best stories in college football this season, led by its breakout star at quarterback, Dak Prescott.   

But the Bulldogs better prepare themselves for life after Prescott, because the quarterback recently told Pete Thamel and Thayer Evans of SI.com that there's a possibility he will enter the 2015 NFL draft:

'One of the worst things is not going, getting injured and hurting your situation,' he said. 'I wouldn’t risk it if I had a chance to go first round. I’m graduating college, and my time here will be done, I’ll do exactly what I wanted to do.'

He added: 'When the time came and there’s an option, first, second or third round and I had the season I wanted to have, I’d go.'

Prescott is on track to graduate in December with a degree in educational psychology, but Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen expects him back next season. 'I’d be shocked, but you never know,' he said.

Prescott's pro prospects are an interesting point of debate. On one hand, he's currently one of the Heisman front-runners, with 1,478 passing yards, 14 passing touchdowns, four interceptions, 576 rushing yards and eight rushing scores. His ability as a dual-threat quarterback is always intriguing, especially as more teams in the NFL are adapting plays like the zone-read into their playbooks.    

On the other hand, he's only in his first year as the starter and his completion percentage of 61.5 percent isn't terribly impressive. Earlier in the month, one NFL general manager compared him to another opinion-dividing quarterback to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com:

It's hard to argue that Prescott wouldn't benefit from another year of seasoning at Mississippi State. On the other hand, it's hard to argue with Prescott turning pro if he feels he'll be selected in the first three rounds to eliminate the injury risk that accompanies returning to college. 

If Prescott continues to shine, perhaps wins the Heisman Trophy and leads Mississippi State to an SEC title or the College Football Playoff, it's hard to imagine him returning for his senior year. If he's left with major goals to accomplish after this season, however, he would likely be better off continuing to improve at Mississippi State.   

 

 

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Watch High School RB Hurdle 5 Defenders in 1 Game

St. John's High School senior running back Shane Combs likes to hurdle. Combs hopped, skipped and jumped his way past multiple defenders in the Pioneers' 52-20 win over Massachusetts rival Shrewsbury High School. Combs ended his monster day with 198 yards rushing and three touchdowns. 

Was this the best run you've seen on the high school level?

Watch the video and let us know! 

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Focus Is on Fun for Getting UCLA Football Back on Track

Getting back to winning amid a two-game losing streak for the UCLA Bruins could be as simple as getting back to the most basic reason for playing football: having fun. 

"We played kind of uptight," linebacker Deon Hollins said after UCLA's practice Tuesday at Spaulding Field. 

The team's collective tension boiled over last Saturday at a temperature rivaling the near-100-degree temperatures in the Rose Bowl for the Bruins' 42-30 loss to Oregon. 

The most noteworthy examples of the team's emotion perhaps getting the best of it were defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich's sideline argument with head coach Jim Mora and defensive lineman Eddie Vanderdoes' flag for striking an Oregon player in a pile. 

Mora said Tuesday that the Pac-12 will not suspend Vanderdoes for Saturday's game at Cal but rather discipline would be "handled in-house."  

But after reaching a melting point Saturday, UCLA is positioned to simmer down.  

Hollins attributed UCLA's uptight attitude to "a lot of expectations."  

The record-high temperatures in California are falling this week, and so too have the outside expectations placed on the Bruins. UCLA, once a Top 10 team, is out of both The Associated Press and Amway Coaches Polls. 

The Bruins' slide from national championship contender to unranked following losses to Utah and Oregon could easily turn into a full-on tailspin, but they're using their struggles to regroup. 

"We never relax," center Jake Brendel said. "But it is kind of like, hit the reset button."

UCLA faced a similar situation last year, losing at Oregon one week after falling to Stanford. The Bruins went on to win five of their next six, including blowouts over rival USC and bowl game opponent Virginia Tech to start the 2014 hype in earnest. 

During the backstretch of the 2013 season, a looser UCLA bunch danced on the sideline before opening kickoffs and flew around fields with an exuberance seemingly lacking this campaign. 

If nothing else, the Bruins' current losing skid presents an opportunity to channel that same kind of attitude as they hit the second half of 2014.  

"It's never a good thing to lose two times in a row," Brendel said. "But in a way, that could help us just because the certain people who were here last year could have an idea of how to manage that."  

UCLA's looser outlook gets tested immediately with a visit to Cal, one of the less inviting venues in the Pac-12 for recent Bruins teams. UCLA is winless there since its last conference championship-winning season, 1998.  

The trek north is already fun for linebacker Eric Kendricks, whose older brother, Mychal, starred at Cal before joining the NFL's Philadelphia Eagles. 

"I think my brother has a bye week, so he might be coming down," Kendricks said. "He'll probably on their sideline rooting for the Bears."

Some good-natured family trash talk hasn't started yet, but Kendricks said that's because "the week's still early."  

Younger brother can get the last word with a Bruins win, but that's contingent on the defense shutting down Cal's high-powered passing offense, led by quarterback Jared Goff.

Goff is averaging 363.2 passing yards per game and has 22 touchdown throws with just three interceptions. 

Whereas Utah and Oregon attacked UCLA with multifaceted rushing attacks, Cal will send a bevy of wide receivers at the Bruins for Goff to air it out.

"You've got to change your mindset as far as running to the ball," Kendricks said of transitioning from the run-based opponents to Cal's bear-raid. "I'm not going to give you all our secrets on what we're going to do, but [change is] definitely looking in the game plan." 

Nothing could be more fun for the Bruins than spoiling Saturday for Goff and Co.—and a little fun is just what UCLA needs to get its season headed in the right direction. 

 

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise cited. Statistics courtesy of CFBstats.com

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Rivalry Renewed: The Notre Dame vs. Florida State Ultimate Hype Tape

The rivalry between Florida State and Notre Dame is a heated one that is also layered with historical context. Two of the top teams of the last 25 years of college football collide to write another chapter in the already stirring clash of prestigious powerhouses.  

Does ND or FSU have the better shot at winning the national championship?

Watch the video and let us know!

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B/R CFB Committee: Playoff Predictions Heading into Week 8

With Week 8 quickly approaching, it's time to take a look at the College Football Playoff picture. There are quite a few deserving teams that are playing some outstanding ball right now, but only four teams can make the dance.

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael FelderAdam Kramer and Barrett Sallee forecast their potential College Football Playoff.

Who is in your top four right now?

Watch the video and let us know! 

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Bo Jackson Speaks About Failed Attempt to Mentor Jameis Winston

Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston nearly had a mentor in former Heisman winner Bo Jackson, but the two-sport superstar claims the controversial Seminoles star didn't want to listen.     

During an appearance on The Jim Rome Show, via Chase Goodbread of NFL.com, Jackson said that he tried to speak with Winston and the encounter didn't go well:

I really don't know who is giving this young man guidance. I have communicated with him and I just talked to him like I was his dad. The things that you need to do. And this was before the incident where he was (suspended) from the baseball team (for stealing crab legs). I'm the type of person, I will go out of my way to help anybody. Normally, I don't like giving people advice if I haven't been down that road myself. But if I give you advice on something that I know more about than you by just falling out of bed in the morning, if you can't take that advice and learn from it, then I've got nothing else to do with the situation. You're on your own.

Rome did try to get clarification about what exactly Jackson said to Winston, but the former running back would only say, "If I told you what I told him, it'll probably singe the hairs in your ears."

Florida State is currently looking into whether Winston received compensation from a company that specializes in selling autographed merchandise, according to a report from Darren Rovell and Mark Schlabach of ESPN.com.  

Schlabach separately reported on Oct. 11 that Winston is going to face a disciplinary hearing from Florida State officials regarding the allegations of a 2012 sexual assault case involving a female student at the school. 

Winston has had controversy follow him around for most of the last two years for a variety of reasons. While he certainly isn't under any obligation to listen to what Jackson claims to have told him, the nationwide perception of Winston won't be helped by this.   

 

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Could a 2-Loss Team Make College Football Playoff?

Are we on course for a repeat of the 2007 madness?

Remember the wackiest year in the BCS era, when a two-loss team made it to the championship game and won the national title? It's only the third weekend of October, but there's a possibility that history might repeat itself in the inaugural year of the College Football Playoff.

While most of the strangeness took place in the final two weeks of the season in 2007, we might not have to wait as long this year. There are only five unbeaten major conference teams (with all due respect to Marshall—which is not much), and at most only three of them may be undefeated at the end of the regular season.

One of the unbeatens is sure to go down Saturday as Notre Dame visits Florida State. The Egg Bowl later in the season will eliminate another potential unbeaten. What this means is that at least one one-loss team will crash the four-team playoff field.

Which brings us to our next question. Might a two-loss team make the playoff field?

The answer is a definite maybe. With two of the five power conferences already without an undefeated team, it's very likely that a two-loss conference champion will be considered by the selection committee. And if the committee sticks to the pledge that conference titles will be of paramount importance, then a two-loss conference winner might be picked ahead of a one-loss at-large team.

So who are the potential two-loss candidates?

There are 22 one-loss teams in the power-five conferences, and it's from this group that a two-loss conference champ might emerge. Teams already with two losses are unlikely to remain in the mix as they must run the table from here on out, but there are exceptions as well.

We'll then start our process of elimination. First step: Any two-loss ACC or Big Ten team will not be in the playoff field. Both conferences are ranked significantly below the other three, according to Jeff Sagarin (via USA Today), so even a one-loss team, including Florida State, might have a hard time making the playoff field.

That leaves us with the SEC, Pac-12 and Big 12. With plenty of conference games ahead and competitive top-tier teams, it's not beyond question that a two-loss team might emerge as the conference champion. Taking a look at teams already with at least one loss, these are the most likely candidates to make the playoff despite two losses:

1. Georgia - The Bulldogs can incur another conference loss (or a loss to Georgia Tech) and still win the SEC East. And if they shock the West winner and take the SEC title, the committee probably will have to put them in the playoff field either over or in addition to another SEC team.

2. Auburn/Alabama - Both teams are in the same boat, with a loss each to one of the unbeaten Mississippi teams. A second loss probably will not be good enough to win the division, so the most likely path for either team—the one that wins the Iron Bowl—to make the playoff field is to win the SEC West with one loss but lose the SEC title game and still be picked as an at-large team.

3. USC - The Trojans already have two losses, but they have a couple of things going for them: Their remaining conference schedule is relatively benign, and they have a high-profile game against Notre Dame at the end of the regular season. If they can win the Pac-12 South, defeat an unbeaten or one-loss Irish and then take the conference title, they have a shot. It's a long shot, but it can be done.

4. Oregon - The Ducks might be able to win the Pac-12 North with two losses and then take the conference title. But they'll need a lot of help in this scenario to make the playoff field. They'll need Michigan State to win the Big Ten with two losses and all SEC teams except the champion also with multiple losses.

5. Oklahoma - Half of the Big 12 teams have no more than one loss, but OU is the only one with a (slim) chance to make the playoff field with two losses. In that case, the Sooners will have to at least share the conference title and have at least one other power-five conference winner be saddled with two or more losses. Their computer rankings likely will remain high even after incurring another loss.

 

Follow on Twitter @ThePlayoffGuru

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How Ohio State's Offense Has Changed from Braxton Miller to J.T. Barrett

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Even if the rest of Columbus is, Tom Herman isn't one for "What could be?"

Which is why when asked how his unit would be different this season with the injured Braxton Miller starting in place of J.T. Barrett, the Ohio State offensive coordinator opted not to compare the past two Buckeye quarterbacks.

"I get that question quite a bit," Herman admitted on Monday. "You guys like to deal in what ifs and hypotheticals. I like to deal in what is and reality. So I don't think it would be much different."

But as Herman's answer continued, the coach speak eroded as he admitted that there are some plays that Miller's presence allowed him to call and that Barrett's presence doesn't permit. "Obviously the home run ability of him when he tucks the ball and runs with it, whether on a design run, scramble, read, whatever, is going to be there when Braxton's in and as opposed to when he's not," he relented.

Home run ability.

That seems to have been the phrase of choice for the Buckeyes staff on the many occasions that it's been asked to discuss what the Ohio State offense misses without Miller at the quarterback position. After all, in two seasons under Urban Meyer, Miller compiled 2,339 rushing yards and 25 rushing touchdowns, en route to twice being named the Big Ten's MVP.

But even as Miller has stood on the sideline, nursing a season-ending torn labrum this year, the Buckeyes offense has hummed along under the direction of Barrett.

Through the first five games of the 2014 season, Ohio State ranks 12th in the nation in yards per game (524) and fifth in scoring average (44.5 points per game). Those numbers are comparable to the Buckeyes' averages a year ago of 512 yards and 45.5 points per game, which ranked eighth and fifth in the country, respectively.

So without Miller's ability to run the ball, how has Ohio State kept its offense on track? It hasn't been with the legs of Barrett, who has attempted 14 fewer rushes for 122 less yards than Miller did in his first five full games of the 2013 campaign.

Rather, the Buckeyes have maintained their home run ability with a plethora of emerging playmakers and the steady hand of Barrett, who ranks third in the country with a passer rating of 186.3. In his first five starts, the redshirt freshman has completed passes to 12 separate receivers—in 12 games in 2013, Miller connected with a total of nine different pass-catchers.

Drawing back on a conversation with former Notre Dame head coach and current ESPN analyst Lou Holtz, Meyer was more honest while discussing the difference in this year's Ohio State offense. As Holtz sees it, Miller's injury has required others to step up, leading to a more balanced approach for the Buckeyes.

"[Holtz] said it's a much different offense now than it was last year, and it's because there's a void," Meyer said. "We're using skill. Ezekiel Elliott is a different player than [running back] Carlos [Hyde] was. You got Dontre [Wilson] and Jalin [Marshall] starting to develop, which gives you a little more flexibility on the perimeter run game too."

The numbers in the Buckeyes' box scores back that up, although that may be selling Barrett's ability short. While he may not be as explosive as his predecessor, Barrett has proven efficient as a runner with 55.2 yards per game, in addition to completing a higher percentage (66.2 percent) of his passes than Miller did a season ago.

Which begs the question: Does the improvement of the Ohio State offense have more to do with the talent around the quarterback position or the person playing it?

There's a compelling argument for each.

On the one hand, Barrett doesn't have Hyde or Corey "Philly" Brown to rely on, but he has been gifted with improved versions of Elliott and Wilson, as well as Marshall, Michael Thomas and Corey Smith—each of whom redshirted a season ago. In fact, Miller entered this season expecting to play the role of distributor, stating it was his preference to not run the ball as much as he has in the past.

That's of course something that we'll have to take his and the Ohio State coaching staff's word for, as the latter showed a propensity for relying on Miller's legs when games have gotten tight in the past two seasons.

Is it Barrett's ability as a seemingly more natural passer that has allowed for the Buckeyes' new spread-it-around approach? Or would Miller be finding similar success, while also adding his dynamic running ability to the equation?

These are the hypotheticals that Herman isn't interested in dealing with, as he insists that his focus solely remains on the Buckeyes' upcoming matchup with Rutgers. But regardless of what he says, there's no denying that the Ohio State offense has been different this season than it has been in the past two—regardless of whatever the reason for that may be.

"What we do well, our offensive staff, is we adapt to the personnel—I've been asked that question, 'Is this the vision we have?'" Meyer said. "I'd like to have really fast players that create big plays. We're kind of developing that right now. But I don't mind having what we had last year either.

"As long as there's good quality players to work with, which you should always have at Ohio State, it's up to the offensive staff to develop the plan around those players. I think our guys have done a really good job."

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Auburn Football: Grading Each Positional Unit at Halfway Point of the Season

AUBURN, Ala. — This week, the defending SEC champions are at a crossroads.

The Auburn Tigers have not completely found the same stride against highly ranked teams that they had toward the end of 2013, but Auburn is still a SEC and College Football Playoff contender at 5-1 through the first half of the season.

Although there has been a stronger emphasis on the passing game and a wealth of returning talent, Auburn's offense is below the pace it set last season in head coach Gus Malzahn's return to the Plains. Meanwhile, the Tiger defense is playing some of its best ball since the days Tommy Tuberville roamed the sidelines at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

With an important off week between the 38-23 loss to new No. 1 Mississippi State and the rest of a brutal schedule—all three of Auburn's remaining road games are against teams currently ranked in the Top 10—it's a good time to review each positional unit at this point in the campaign.

I have handed out midterm grades for each position, and while Auburn has continued its run as one of the country's best teams, there is definitely room for improvement across the field. Take a look at the following grades and post your own report card for the Tigers in the comments section below.

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Can Marcus Mariota Lead Oregon Past Washington and into the Playoff?

The Oregon Ducks' high-powered offense faces a stiff test when it squares up against the Washington Huskies' staunch defense.

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Adam Kramer and Michael Felder break down the intriguing matchup.

Will Washington's defense be able to stop the speedy Oregon attack?

Watch the video and let us know! 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

SEC Extra Points with Barrett Sallee: Fans Should Like Nick Saban's Rant

Saban Steps Up

Everybody loves a good press conference rant, and Alabama coach Nick Saban provided one on Monday, going off on fans and critics who are disappointed over Alabama's 14-13 win over Arkansas last weekend.

"I was just happy to see our players be happy about playing a game and winning," Saban said. "And it really, sort of, if you want to know the truth about it, pisses me off when I talk to people that have this expectation like they're disappointed that we only won the game 14-13 and the way we played. Really. That's frustrating. You wanna talk about something that's frustrating? That's frustrating. To me. For our players. Who played with a lot of heart in the game."

Good for Saban.

He has every right to defend his players and team from critics with unrealistic expectations. Any road win in the SEC is a good win, and while his team—particularly his special teams unit—was a little sloppy in Fayetteville, it overcame adversity on the field and got a very important win.

What's the problem?

There isn't one.

Star wide receiver Amari Cooper suffered and fought through a shoulder injury in the game, which was played in rainy conditions. Going conservative, in that situation, isn't the worst idea ever.

Has Alabama's success since 2008 created an expectation of excellence? Absolutely. Like every other team in the country, though, Alabama has a roster full of 18-to-22-year-old young men who make mistakes, get rattled and figure out ways to rebound.

When they do rebound, they shouldn't be criticized. They should be complimented.

 

No Other Option

Florida quarterback Treon Harris was in line to start last week at home vs. LSU, but a five-day investigation into a sexual assault allegation—which was later recanted—cost him a week of practice, film room work and the game vs. the Tigers.

Harris is back now, and according to head coach Will Muschamp, he and redshirt junior Jeff Driskel will both see time during the game.

"They both will play this week, and we'll work through the week, and we'll see how things go and we'll see how it goes from there," Muschamp said in quotes emailed by Florida. "Right now, Jeff [Driskel] will probably start, but they're both going to play."

This is how it should be done, given the circumstances.

I wrote on Saturday that it's up to Harris to save Muschamp's job, but in order for that to happen, it needs to be handled responsibly. Starting Driskel and working Harris in is the responsible thing to do.

Starting Driskel and getting Harris in early allows Muschamp to get them both into the flow early and then go with whoever is more productive—which likely will be Harris based on Driskel's struggles throughout his career.

If Muschamp were to start Harris, he struggles and then the team goes back to Driskel, it'd be a panic move. It'd hurt more than help the team and, in turn, hurt Muschamp's job stability.

It'll be Harris' job soon enough, most likely by halftime against Missouri this weekend.

 

High Praise From the Top Bulldog

Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott has gone from Heisman Trophy dark horse to contender to front-runner in a matter of five weeks and is a big reason why his Bulldogs are ranked No. 1 in both the AP Top 25 and USA Today football coaches polls for the first time ever.

Prescott has averaged 246.3 passing yards and 96 rushing yards per game while scoring 23 total touchdowns through six games.

To athletics director Scott Stricklin, Prescott's leadership skills and the relationship he has with his teammates are even more impressive.

"He's a special individual," Stricklin told Bleacher Report. "I've been at this for over 25 years in college athletics, he's one of the most unique individuals who I've ever been around. He's so mature for his age and respectful. On top of that, he has such natural leadership abilities. On top of that, he's a heck of a football player. Take the football piece away, and he's still a great guy to have in the program and a part of the University. I've never been around any student-athlete quite like him."

If Prescott and the Bulldogs keep this up, he'll be in New York City representing his team, his school and his family as a Heisman finalist.

 

Gurley Watch...Continues

Georgia is still working with the NCAA to figure out star running back Todd Gurley's status for this weekend, as the school's investigation on whether or not Gurley accepted money for autographs enters its second week.

With Gurley in limbo, Georgia is again preparing for life without him, as the Bulldogs travel to Little Rock for a game with the Arkansas Razorbacks this weekend.

After the team first said that former running back J.J. Green wouldn't need to move from safety back to the offensive side, Seth Emerson of The Telegraph reports Green has moved back to running back this week in practice.

Is that a sign of Gurley's status? Maybe and maybe not. It is, though, a sign that Georgia needs bodies at running back.

Freshman Nick Chubb had 42 touches last week in the 34-0 win over Missouri, which earned him SEC Freshman of the Week honors. Since the Gurley news broke last Thursday evening, he was really the only option.

With a full week to prepare for life without Gurley—should that be the case—head coach Mark Richt has some time to piece together some depth.

Green finished second on the team last season with 384 yards and three touchdowns, and he will provide an insurance policy along with Brendan Douglas behind Chubb this week if Gurley can't go.

Richt and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo didn't have the time to sort the situation out last week. They do now, and moving Green back to offense is a smart move.

 

Quick Outs

  • When is the proper time to refer to Kentucky as an SEC East contender? If the Wildcats beat LSU in Death Valley—yes, even a down LSU team—that would signify the proper time. The SEC West hasn't lost to a team outside of the SEC West yet this year, and if Kentucky is the team that breaks that streak, that would qualify as a statement win.
  • The Robert Nkemdiche picture fiasco was ridiculous this week. First and foremost, opposing fans holding pictures of players as ransom and posting them during game week in a direct attempt to get them in trouble is a concerning practice. Let's not make that a trend. Secondly, Ole Miss' policy doesn't require suspension on the first offense and all signs point to this being new territory for Nkemdiche. Unless we find out otherwise, the story should end here.
  • Tennessee running back Jalen Hurd is banged up but will play against Ole Miss on Saturday, according to The Tennessean. The Vols need him, because the last thing quarterback Justin Worley needs is that Ole Miss front four pinning its ears back and coming after the quarterback with no threat of the running game.
  • Auburn is changing the way it is evaluating quarterback Nick Marshall, according to Joel A. Erickson of AL.com. That's a good thing. Marshall is a big-play quarterback on the ground and through the air, so why force him to be something he's not by making him throw shorter and intermediate routes? If Marshall is himself, Auburn will be fine.

 

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

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Do the Ohio State Buckeyes Belong in Playoff Discussion?

Ohio State was left for dead after an embarrassing loss to Virginia Tech, but the Buckeyes have kept their heads down and most importantly, kept winning. Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Adam Kramer discuss whether or not Ohio State is worthy of playoff consideration.

Would you put a one-loss Ohio State team in your College Football Playoff?

Watch the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Twitter Reacts to Seth Green's B/R Exclusive Commitment to Oregon

Seth Green is headed to Oregon. The 4-star quarterback prospect announced his decision to attend Oregon on Wednesday to Bleacher Report, choosing the Ducks over Michigan State and Minnesota. 

KSTP-TV Sports Anchor Chris Long shared an image of Green expressing his excitement:

Considered among the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the nation, the East Ridge (Woodbury, Minnesota) product was considered by most a near-lock to pick Oregon, per 247Sports' Crystal Ball predictions. 

Dave Schwartz, KARE11 Weekend Sports Anchor, reiterated this wasn't a shocking announcement, while Tim Leighton of TwinCities.com observed Green was leaning a certain way during the press conference: 

“I would say yes, [Oregon is] leading, but everyone makes it sound like it’s the obvious choice,” Green told David La Vaque of the Star Tribune prior to the announcement. “That isn’t true because Michigan State is a great program. They have three active quarterbacks in the NFL right now. And then Minnesota is the hometown team. Coach [Jerry] Kill is bringing the program up tremendously.”

Steve Wiltfong of 247Sports.com quickly noticed Oregon has a streak of signing high-caliber quarterbacks:

Jack Satzinger of MNDaily.com noted Minnesota was heavily recruiting Green heading into the announcement:

However, Marcus R. Fuller of TwinCities.com acknowledged Green handled the process respectfully:

Ryan McCumber of TheMajors.net predicts how Green's commitment will alter Michigan State's recruiting plans:

As a member of the Class of 2016, Green was under no pressure to make a decision now. He is in the middle of his junior season and can only make a verbal commitment at this juncture. He will not be contractually bound to Oregon until national signing day in 2016—nearly a year-and-a-half from now.

But Green sounds like someone who's already pot-committed long term.

“It just feels right for me because I narrowed down my choices,” Green told La Vaque. “I want to get it out of the way and focus on getting better as a quarterback. And also I want to help recruiting for that school.”

Ranked eighth nationally among dual-threat quarterbacks by 247Sports' composite rankings, Green has opened the eyes of scouts with his ability to create with both his arm and feet. He had thrown for 1,091 yards and 13 touchdowns, adding 343 yards and three scores on the ground prior to Friday's game against Mounds View. 

It's difficult to find many players with more physical talent. Green is listed at 6'3" and 210 pounds, with the potential to bulk up his frame over the next year. While no one will confuse him with a prime Michael Vick, he's not lacking for athleticism or top-end speed. If Mark Helfrich can work on getting more mechanical consistency, Green might be able to slot into the starting lineup as an underclassman.

However, Clint Brewster of 247Sports.com offered his critique of Green following the announcement:

Timing here, in many ways, is crucial. Green's commitment allows him to push away the distractions that others in his class will be dealing with for the next year. His improvements can also be more concentrated to Oregon's system, which has consistently highlighted dual-threat quarterbacks.

In all, everyone gets to cross off a major need from their checklist. We'll see if the feeling stays mutual into the winter of 2016, though.

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Week 8 Predictions: Picking Top-25 Games Against the Spread

College football’s regular season is halfway complete, which is jarring and, yet, somehow familiar. 

Each campaign moves at extraordinary speed, and we don’t realize how swiftly it goes until the schedules are empty and we’re left gazing into nothing. Thankfully, they are not. There is still so much meaningful football to be played—so much to look forward to—and it kicks into force yet again for Week 8.

While the overall slate of games may not reach Week 6 or Week 7 levels, at least on paper, there are more than enough intriguing games to satisfy your football palate.

To add further intrigue, of course, are point spreads. And our weekly tradition of picking all games featuring the AP Top 25 against the spread has no bye week. We could have used one last week—offering up an overall performance under .500 after a solid run of selections—but that’s no excuse. 

Winning ways return with our Week 8 picks; at least that’s the plan.

 

All spreads are courtesy of Odds Shark unless noted otherwise.

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