NCAA Football News

SEC Extra Points with Barrett Sallee: Blake Sims' Big Test vs. Florida

Time to Shine

Over the first three weeks of the season, one thing became abundantly clear in Tuscaloosa—Blake Sims is Alabama's starting quarterback.

This isn't a case of Sims being No. 1 and Florida State transfer Jake Coker being "1A," and it hasn't been from the moment toe met leather in the Georgia Dome in the season opener vs. West Virginia.

Sims is the man—regardless of what is said in press conferences—and is going to have to be "the man" this week with the vaunted Florida defense rolling into T-Town.

Sims has developed a chemistry with star wide receiver Amari Cooper over the first three games, helping Cooper vault to head of the pack with a nation's-best 33 catches for 454 yards and two touchdowns.

This week, though, lining up opposite Cooper will be third-team All-American cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III. Florida head coach Will Muschamp commented on Hargreaves' ability on Wednesday.

"He's got great instincts," Muschamp said. "He's very quick. He's got good long speed. He has natural ability to play with his back to the ball, which a lot of players really struggle with. The guy really has a lot of poise with his back to the football, and the way we play, we end up in those situations quite a bit."

Hargreaves might not win all the one-on-one battles with Cooper, but he'll win some.

That means Sims is going to have to look to spread the ball around more to his other receivers—something that he hasn't done enough of over the last three games.

Don't be fooled by the 369 passing yards Florida gave up last week in a triple-overtime win over Kentucky. The Wildcats run an air raid attack, and if all of quarterback Patrick Towles' weapons stay healthy, Kentucky is going to do that to a lot of teams—even those with top-notch defenses.

Sims has been solid thus far, but the inability to stretch the field and spread the love around to his other targets have been the only remaining points of contention.

Solve one or both against the Gators, and Sims will suddenly look more like a difference-maker than just a game manager.

 

Double Standard

When is a flaw not a flaw? When one team belongs to a traditional SEC power and the other belongs to a traditional SEC doormat.

That's exactly what's going on ahead of the LSU-Mississippi State game, where perception doesn't seem to equal reality.

The reality is this: LSU has struggled with consistency in the passing game—quarterback Anthony Jennings is completing just 51.9 percent of his passes—while Mississippi State has struggled in pass defense, giving up 311.7 yards per game through the air.

One unit (LSU's passing offense) seems to be considered the exception because Jennings has shown a knack for hitting the deep pass, while the other (Mississippi State's pass defense) seems to be considered the rule despite the fact that the numbers are more due to one bad game (UAB rolled up 435 passing yards against the Bulldogs in Week 2).

Look beyond that.

Led by cornerbacks Jamerson Love and Taveze Calhoun, Mississippi State's pass defense has only allowed opponents to complete 48.9 percent of their passes on the season. The Bulldogs have also forced five interceptions on the season, which is tied for the second-best mark in the SEC.

Mississippi State's "awful" pass defense is as much—if not more—of an anomaly as LSU's inconsistency in the passing game.

With a stellar front seven that will not only stop the run, but force Jennings to make quick decisions—something he has struggled with in the past—this could be the breakout game for Mississippi State's defense.

 

West Is Best

There's a recurring theme in this week's AP Top 25 poll, as five of the top 10 teams in the country reside in the SEC West.

That's right, 71.4 percent of the division is in the top 10, with No. 3 Alabama, No. 5 Auburn, No. 6 Texas A&M, No. 8 LSU and No. 10 Ole Miss.

Fair? Appropriate? Absolutely.

The last team in that group may shock you. After all, Ole Miss looked sloppy in its season opener against Boise State and then beat up on two cupcakes in Weeks 2 and 3.

Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze assessed the situation during a press conference:

If you look in our half alone all seven teams should be ranked in the top 25. The SEC West is that strong. I just want to be sure our kids and everyone hears the message that it is great and awesome, and we’ve come a long way in a short amount of time, but let’s not lose sight of enjoying the journey and keeping our eyes focused on the process and not so much the results.

There have to be 10 teams in a top 10, so if you take out Ole Miss, who slides in?

The Rebels boast a top-20 defense (296 YPG), a top-20 offense (44 points per game) and a quarterback in Bo Wallace who leads the nation in completion percentage (75.5 percent).

Does Wallace's success shock you? It shocks me. I was very critical of his performance against the Broncos in Week 1, and whether his gaudy completion percentage is a result of Dr. Bo becoming "Captain Checkdown" or not, it's still impressive.

The Rebels are undefeated, statistically impressive and boast one of the most fearsome defenses in the nation. What more do you want?

 

South Carolina Back? 

South Carolina's performance against Georgia on Saturday night in what was a must-win game was nothing short of impressive, but there's still work to be done.

The Gamecocks are back in the SEC East discussion, but don't tell head coach Steve Spurrier that.

"We're not talking about division championships or anything around here," he said. "I can assure you of that. I don't know, and none of us know what kind of a team we have yet. If we can show improvement and play the game a little smarter at times, maybe we will have a chance at a big season."

After the blowout loss in Week 1 to Texas A&M, that's all South Carolina wanted. A chance.

With Auburn and Florida both on the road and Missouri coming to Williams-Brice Stadium next week, it's still a rocky road for the Head Ball Coach and the Gamecocks.

He may not want to talk about it, but he can at least think about it now—which is progress from where the program was seven days ago.

 

Quick Outs

  • No, Arkansas won't struggle with NIU. The Hogs' offensive line will control the line of scrimmage, help produce another big day for the running backs and lead to a Hogs runaway. Arkansas imposed its will on the road at Texas Tech, and doing the same at home against a Middle Atlantic Conference team shouldn't be much of an issue.
  • What's that sound? It's Kenny Hill lighting up the stat sheet vs. SMU.
  • Tennessee is off this week, and it's the perfect time for it. The Vols played Oklahoma tough before being worn out by grown men on both lines of scrimmage. Despite that, the defense forced five straight three-and-outs in the game and only allowed 75 yards following the first drive of the second half. Moral victory? Yes, which is important for a team as young as Tennessee.
  • Missouri announced a home-and-home series with UConn. No, Missouri, SEC teams aren't supposed to go to UConn. Ever.
  • Yep, Kenny Hill just torched SMU again.
  • Vanderbilt is going to start Patton Robinette at quarterback this week. At least for a play. Then, who knows?
  • Kenny Hill may toss "eleventy" billion touchdown passes against SMU. No, that's not a real number. Hill's about to make it real—or "trill"—though. I'll show myself out.

 

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

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

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JUCO Standout Wesley Collins Adjusting Comfortably at the Collegiate Ranks

Independence Community College running back Wesley Collins was asked recently to assess his relationship with the Pirates coaching staff.

"Me and the coaches on staff here at ICC have a great relationship," Collins told Bleacher Report on Wednesday. "But as for the running back coach, I couldn't have asked for a better mentor and coach. He's the type of coach you will go out there and fight for."

Collins, a redshirt freshman, was alluding to Independence running backs coach VanDyke Jones II. Now in his second season as a member of the ICC coaching staff, Jones II also serves as the Pirates strength and conditioning coordinator as well as works intensely with a number of players on the Pirates special teams.

Jones II has played a pivotal role in helping Collins become acclimated to the team's potent rushing attack, particularly after the former Field Kindley High standout made the transition from Butler Community College.

To his credit, it's safe to assume that Collins has taken heed to the advice Jones II has passed along to him considering he has emerged as the team's top rusher.

Heading into Saturday's home game against cross-state rival Coffeyville, Collins leads the Pirates with 180 yards on 36 carries through three games. His longest run, a 28-yard scamper, came in last week's home loss to Dodge City.

Collins' 36 rushes are first on the team, ahead of fellow back Courtney Allen, who has generated 34 carries through three outings.

Add to the fact that Collins appears to be adjusting comfortably to his new team, and it's no wonder many believe the sky's the limit for a speedy back who's finally fulfilling his dream of playing collegiate football.

Also, Collins doesn't shy away from the fact that he's still somewhat fazed over the Butler coaching staff electing to release him after last season.

How else is there to explain why he labeled ICC's season opener a "statement game"?

"With my debut being against Butler, I wanted to make a statement," said Collins, who finished with a team-best 80 yards on 18 carries in a 57-16 loss to the Grizzlies. "I played well, and I definitely felt I left a sour taste in their mouths about my release. Versus Iowa Central, I didn't have the game I strived to have, but I didn't play bad. Versus Dodge City, I played well again, very similar to Butler, but definitely not as good as I would have wanted to play."

For Collins and Co., there is still much more football to be played to erase the memory of ICC's 0-3 start. The Pirates have seven regular-season games remaining, more than enough time to regroup, let alone get more stellar performances from Collins, their featured back. He was recruited by a host of major Division I colleges while at Field Kindley, most notably Tulsa, Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State, Missouri Southern, Northern Iowa and Southern Illinois, among others.

Now that he is starting to flourish in this, his first full season of college football, the possibility exists that these schools could continue their pursuit of the Pirates' featured back.

"Personally, I felt that my performance during the spring was good even with the mistakes, especially during the spring game where I led the team in rushing yards," Collins said. "Through (spring practices), I felt really good. I felt I blossomed into my own."

That’s quite evident given how quickly he's becoming acclimated at the collegiate ranks.

 

Andre Johnson is a regular contributor for Bleacher Report. Based in Dallas, Texas, Johnson covers the NFL and the NBA's Southwest Division. To reach Johnson, send an email to andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.

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Miller: Off-the-Field Issues Not Keeping Jameis Winston from Being a Top Pick

Florida State QB Jameis Winston has seen some ups and downs during his collegiate football career. The redshirt sophomore is currently suspended for the first half of FSU vs. Clemson this Saturday.

The reigning Heisman Trophy winner is looking to bring back-to-back national championships to Tallahassee, Florida. Bleacher Report's College Football Analyst Michael Felder and NFL Draft Lead Writer Matt Miller discuss his potential as a future NFL quarterback.

How well do you think Winston will translate into the NFL?

Watch the video and let us know!

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USC Defense Emphasizing Basics to Shut Down Zone Read

Temperatures at Loker Track Stadium Wednesday morning crept into the 90s, but the sweltering Southern California sunshine paled in comparison to the heat Boston College's zone-read offense put on the USC defense Saturday.

The Eagles put up a blistering 452 rushing yards, and the resulting 37-31 loss had USC defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox going back to the basics.

"I obviously didn’t do a good job preparing us, so I’ll take that [responsibility] 100 percent,” he said following Wednesday's practice.

USC is emphasizing the elementary components of defending the zone read because that's what Boston College quarterback Tyler Murphy was able to most effectively exploit. The Trojans were off-balance even before the snap because of misalignment and missed assignments.

Safety Su'a Cravens put it thusly: "When teams run the zone read, and you don’t really know what you’re doing or what your assignment is, that’s the result you’re going to get."

That's a result the Trojans certainly don't want repeated, but the problems leading up to it must be remedied before they return to Pac-12 Conference play. USC's South Division rivals Arizona, Arizona State and UCLA all run schemes similar to that of Boston College, with mobile quarterbacks akin to Murphy.

A fourth Pac-12 South team, Utah, has integrated more zone-read principles into its offense since the arrival of coordinator Dave Christensen last offseason.  

Put simply, USC's conference championship aspirations hinge on its ability to shut down the zone read.

The good news for the USC defense, according to cornerback Chris Hawkins, is that the system's nuances should not take the Trojans quite as much by surprise.

"I'm feeling good about it because now we’ve seen it," he said. "It’s not going to be new to us."

One of the more unexpected facets of Boston College's zone read was that it actually allowed USC preseason All-American defensive tackle Leonard Williams to dictate the play.

"They were zone-reading off of Leonard—not blocking him, and just seeing where he goes, then taking it the opposite [direction]," Hawkins said. "He’s our best player on defense and they just took him out of the game. It was something we’re not used to."

Williams made 11 tackles the week prior in USC's 13-10 win at Stanford. He was limited to five at Boston College.

With USC's most disruptive playmaker taken out of his element, the rest of the Trojans defense was thrown out of balance. Murphy and Co. took advantage of USC's confusion to the tune of 8.4 yards per carry.

The quarterback in particular used the Trojans' misalignment to average nearly 15 yards on his 13 rushes.

According to Hawkins, Boston College's plan may become a blueprint for future zone-read opponents facing the Trojans. The difference going forward?

USC will be anticipating it.

"If Arizona State or Arizona watches the [Boston College game] film, I expect they’ll try to do the same thing to Leonard," he said. "So it’s something we have to practice and be ready for, and I think we will be.” 

The Trojans will have to be ready for it or risk giving up the home run plays that doomed them Saturday. Wilcox attributed those to more basic miscues the coaching staff is emphasizing in the practices to come.

"The explosive plays showed up, whether it was due to technique error [or]…we had eyes in the wrong spot. We had a lot of missed tackles," he said.

Seven runs accounted for 268 yards of Boston College's total rushing output, via USCTrojans.com. Sixty-six came on Murphy's fourth-quarter touchdown, which effectively slammed the door on USC.

Murphy's career-high night is hardly the first time the USC defense has struggled against a mobile quarterback operating out of the zone read. The issue predates the current coaching staff and actually spans three defensive leaders.

In 2013, Wilcox's predecessor, Clancy Pendergast, saw Arizona State's Taylor Kelly and UCLA's Brett Hundley gash the Trojans out of the zone read.

In 2012, Monte Kiffin's 4-3 base formation looked outdated against opponents like Arizona and Oregon, a defense that B/R lead national writer Michael Felder examined.

Shutting down the zone read is a recurring problem for the USC defense, but 2014 is a new season and new opportunity to remedy its woes.  And it just might be a lot more simple than a major overhaul, as Cravens described.

"Discipline," he said. "Knowing your assignment, and do your own job. That’s what we need to do."

 

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

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College Football Athletes Most Likely to Explode in Week 4

College football Saturday is full of hidden gems. Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Barrett Sallee, Adam Kramer and Michael Felder predict their players to explode in Week 4.

Which player will impact his team the most?

Watch the video, and let us know! 

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College Football Week 4: Top 25 Upset Alert

With Week 4 upon us, could we be in store for another slate of wild upsets? Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Adam Kramer previews some of the interesting matchups.

Will college football be on upset alert?

Watch the video, and let us know! 

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Georgia Football: How the Bulldogs Can Exploit Tennessee's Young Team

After a tough loss to South Carolina last week, Georgia will look to bounce back against Troy on Saturday. This is good for the Bulldogs to face a team like the Trojans because this will give them time to fix some things they need to correct before they get back into the thick of the SEC schedule.

And the Bulldogs’ next opponent will be Tennessee. The Vols started the season with solid wins against Utah State and Arkansas State. But when the Vols went to Norman, Oklahoma, to face the Sooners, they struggled in all phases of the game and ended up losing 34-10.

But the Vols have a bye week before facing the Bulldogs, so they will have time to prepare for a team that is looking to get back in the SEC East race. What the Sooners were able to do against the Vols is exploit them on both sides of the ball due to their youth. Can the Bulldogs do the same thing?

Let’s start with the Tennessee offense. We all know that the Vols are a young team, but they are really young at key positions on offense. The offensive line has been the Achilles' heel for the Vols in the early stages of the season. There are no senior starters on the line and there are two freshmen in the starting rotation.

The interior defensive line, led by Mike Thornton, will have to get after guard Jashon Robinson, who is a true freshman, and Leonard Floyd, who is the Bulldogs’ best edge-rusher. Left tackle Brett Kendrick will be instrumental as well all game long.

Tennessee's allowed nine sacks through three games this season after allowing just 15 all of last season.

— Patrick Brown (@patrickbrownTFP) September 15, 2014

But even with the freshmen starters, there are zero starters returning from last year. That is one of the main reasons quarterback Justin Worley was sacked five times in the Oklahoma game, which led to him making mistakes down the stretch.

The Bulldog defense also needs to make sure it hits tight end Ethan Wolf every snap. The true freshman has eight receptions for 46 yards and zero touchdowns this season. Linebackers Amarlo Herrera and Ramik Wilson need to attack him any time he’s in the middle of the field.

As far as the Tennessee defense goes, the defensive line consists of a sophomore defensive end (Corey Vereen), a sophomore nose tackle (Danny O’Brien) and a freshmen defensive end (Derek Barnett). One of the things Oklahoma was able to do well against the Vols is run the football because the Sooners were able to attack the Vols defensive line with a bigger and more experienced offensive line.

What the Bulldogs should do is what they have done the last two games: feed the ball to Todd Gurley as much as they can.

The offensive line has done a solid job in the run game this season, and that should not change when the Dawgs go up against the Vols. No matter if it is isolations, toss sweeps or stretch plays, Gurley should have no issues getting past the first wave of defenders and get a ton of yards.

And if that happens, that should open the door for Hutson Mason to make timely throws. He has looked solid so far this season, but with a young team like the Vols coming to Athens, they will do whatever it takes to rattle him, which is why running the football an attacking the young defensive line is crucial especially in the early stages of the game.

Make no mistake about it—the Bulldogs have a tough task ahead of them. Tennessee will be coming into the game hungry and well-rested. The Vols know they can come into Athens and beat the Bulldogs because head coach Butch Jones will have them ready to play.

But if the Bulldogs get off to a fast start, control the clock and get their star players in position to make plays, they should earn their first conference win of the year with no issues.

 

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College Football Week 4 Schedule: Breaking Down Weekend's Most Intriguing Games

If the first few weeks of the college football season have proven anything, it's that no one is safe from an upset.

Two Top 10 teams have lost in each of the last two weeks, creating plenty of uncertainty as fans look ahead to the College Football Playoff at the end of the year. Although one loss does not necessary eliminate a team from national title contention, it definitely makes it more difficult.

The result is that every single game becomes vital for the top teams to survive with an undefeated record. This will not be easy thanks to a few intriguing matchups highlighting an action-packed week in college football.

 

No. 5 Auburn at No. 20 Kansas State

It took a long time for people to respect Auburn as a national title contender last season, but the squad has been firmly in the Top Five all year. Still, ESPN's Paul Finebaum believes the squad is even better than people think:

The Tigers are building off their No. 1 rushing attack from 2013 with the No. 7 unit this time around. This has helped lead a team that has scored an average of 52 points per game through two weeks.

That being said, the squad has not dealt with an opponent anywhere near Kansas State's ability to this point in the year. The Wildcats held Iowa State to just 2.8 yards per carry in the last game, which was a big reason the team was able to come back after going down 15 points in the first half.

With dual-threat quarterbacks Jake Waters and Nick Marshall going head-to-head, this is certain to be an exciting battle from start to finish.

 

No. 22 Clemson at No. 1 Florida State

Florida State embarrassed Clemson 51-14 the last time these two teams met, a showdown that seemed to legitimize the Seminoles' standing as a national title contender. They kept up their strong play with an undefeated season and a BCS championship.

However, things could be a little difficult for Florida State this time around without the reigning Heisman Trophy winner in the first half. According to ESPN's Joe Schad, Jameis Winston will be suspended for the start of the game:

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney is certainly not taking this matchup any more lightly, via Manie Robinson of The Greenville News:

Sean Maguire will get the start, and while there is a lot of offensive talent, he could have a hard time against an aggressive Clemson defense. If the Seminoles fall far enough back, even Winston could end up struggling to lead a comeback.

This is one of the toughest games on Florida State's schedule, and a poor performance without the starting quarterback could end up ruining the season.

 

No. 4 Oklahoma at West Virginia 

Although West Virginia is not ranked, the squad has been extremely impressive in the first three games.

The Mountaineers started the year off with a respectable 10-point loss to Alabama on a neutral field before showcasing the offense with 94 combined points in games against Towson and Maryland. Matt Zenitz of The Baltimore Sun notes how well quarterback Clint Trickett performed last game:

Trickett currently ranks third in the FBS with 1,224 passing yards, while top target Kevin White ranks second in the nation with 460 receiving yards.

While Oklahoma ranks eighth in the nation with just 11 points allowed per game, the defense is going to have its hands full in this matchup.

Fortunately, the Sooners offense has been playing well with Trevor Knight leading a balanced attack alongside running backs Keith Ford, Samaje Perine and Alex Ross.

This is certain to be a high-scoring battle, and it might come down to which team gets the ball last.

 

Follow Rob Goldberg on Twitter for the latest breaking news and analysis.

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College Football Week 4 Predictions: Picking Winners of Top 25 Matchups

At face value, Week 4 of the 2014 college football season is pretty easy to digest.

Well, maybe.

Conference play is getting underway around the nation, but on paper, it looks like a bunch of great teams set to beat up on lesser teams before things get serious. Then again, last week was pretty similar in its appearance as a ho-hum slate, but then Boston College took down USC and other such shenanigans.

So really, this week is not one to skip. Below, let's take a look at the full Top 25 slate and identify a few games to watch closely, as things may not be all that they seem on paper.

 

2014 College Football Week 4 Top 25 Predictions

Note: AP poll via The Associated Press.

 

Breaking Down Notable Games

No. 22 Clemson vs. No. 1 Florida State

Really, Clemson's return to prominence in recent years has been fully overshadowed by Florida State figuring things out at the same pace.

Then winning a title.

Oh, and dismantling the Tigers 51-14 at Memorial Stadium last season. Meanwhile, the Tigers just lost names such as Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins to the NFL and started the season in a not-so-hot manner before making the trip to Doak Campbell Stadium.

So what can save the Tigers?

Jameis Winston, last year's Heisman winner, of course. Florida State announced Wednesday that the signal-caller will be suspended for the first half of Saturday's showdown, ever so slightly opening the door for an improbable comeback.

This means Clemson, 1-1 after a season-opening humbling at the hands of Georgia, will need to get production from senior quarterback Cole Stoudt in a hurry—he has thrown for just 446 yards, one touchdown and an interception.

That, and not turn the ball over, as coach Dabo Swinney told Natalie Pierre of the Tallahassee Democrat:

The biggest things is, we've got to take care of the ball. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure that out. We turned it over four times last year and just put the ball on the ground on one of them, in just a scoop and score. Those are things where you just don't have that type of room for error when you're playing a great, great football team like Florida State.

When Winston does make his appearance after the break, elite Clemson end Vic Beasley and a few others will have something to say to him about this tweet from a few months back: 

Not that it will matter all that much.

Historically speaking, Florida State rarely loses to Clemson at home. Sans Boyd and Watkins, the Clemson offense does not have the firepower to match Winston, even for a half. Forcing a few turnovers may throw a wrench in things, but that's assuming the Tigers can turn down their own issues in that area at the same time.

On the road, that's a lot to ask a team still finding its footing.

Prediction: Seminoles 35, Tigers 14 

 

No. 4 Oklahoma vs. West Virginia

For a team that is ranked No. 4 overall and has outscored its first three opponents by a combined total of 134-33, Oklahoma sure does not get a ton of love.

Perhaps that is because the wins came against Louisiana Tech, Tulsa and Tennessee.

Alright, that last school is not horrible, but there are questions as to Bob Stoops' team's legitimacy, which will get answers against West Virginia—a team that gave Alabama all it could handle to start the season in a 10-point loss before going on to blow out Towson 54-0 and win in Maryland 40-37.

As Bleacher Report's Adam Kramer muses, even Vegas is getting nervous about the showdown:

In a word, the Mountaineers are explosive and rank No. 5 overall in the nation in terms of passing yards per game (410.3). The culprit under center is senior Clint Trickett, who has 1,224 yards and seven touchdowns to one interception.

The numbers are not fluff, either. Trickett stood tall against the Crimson Tide and completed 64.4 percent of his passes for 365 yards and a score. Flanked by running back Rushel Shell (207 yards, two scores), the Mountaineers can score on any defense in the nation.

Oklahoma quarterback Trevor Knight has not been as impressive, throwing for 860 yards and four touchdowns to two interceptions. Even worse, he will miss star back Keith Ford, who is out with an injury.

"That'll be a week-to-week," said Stoops, per Cliff Brunt of The Associated Press. "That could be two weeks, three weeks, it's always a little bit hard to tell, depending on how it heals, so we'll just have to wait and see how that goes. For sure, he won't be able to play this week."

Traveling to Morgantown without a top running back and encountering an offense that ran more than 100 plays last week and scored effectively on Alabama is a recipe for disaster.

Upset alert is fully engaged for this one

Prediction: Mountaineers 38, Sooners 35

 

Stats and information via ESPN.com unless otherwise specified.

 

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Clemson vs. FSU: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time and More

No. 1 Florida State and No. 22 Clemson are ranked for the fourth straight time going into their head-to-head encounter, this time Saturday at Doak Campbell Stadium.

The Seminoles have had few issues dispatching the Tigers in recent years, but keep in mind that of those four matchups, the lesser seed has won two of the last three.

Clemson, now led by senior quarterback Cole Stoudt, stumbled out of the gate to a 1-1 record, but Florida State has been anything but dominant in two games thus far and will be without last year's Heisman winner, Jameis Winston, for the first half of the contest, per Dan Wolken of USA Today.

It certainly adds another layer of intrigue to an already important showdown considering the winner has gone on to win the ACC in each of the past three years, which this year is even more important when one remembers playoff implications.

Don't blink Saturday night.

 

Adaptation and Evolution

Clemson stood little chance at home last season in an eventual 51-14 loss to Florida State and now must pick up the pieces without Tajh Boyd.

To his credit, Stoudt has seemingly improved with each start so far. After a debacle against Georgia, he completed 71 percent of his passes for a touchdown against South Carolina State. For him, the key is mistakes on the road, as noted by Clemson football's Twitter account:

Really, the Tigers are seemingly brand new at all of the critical spots on offense. Wideout Sammy Watkins is gone, as is Martavis Bryant and guard Brandon Thomas. Artavis Scott, a freshman, has stepped into the void at wideout and caught eight balls for 205 yards and two scores, with sophomore Mike Williams along for the ride with seven for 171.

Florida State faces adaptation questions of its own, too. Gone is Kelvin Benjamin, a problem only made worse for a half come Saturday with Winston out of the picture. The next man up is sophomore Sean Maguire, who has attempted all of 16 career passes.

It is even more concerning when one remembers that the Winston-led offense has not been without struggles. He has thrown three touchdowns to two interceptions, and the Seminoles were almost upset by Oklahoma State, 37-31.

A 37-12 win over Citadel seems nice, but Coastal Carolina posted pretty much the same line the week prior. Florida State's defense gave up 250 rushing yards to the Bulldogs—and remember, Citadel is a school that has posted a record better than .500 just twice since 2000.

 

Fueling the Fire

It is not as if this contest needed any additional ammunition thanks to the aforementioned implications, but the Clemson staff is making sure its players understand the atrocities suffered one year ago.

"We've tried to remind these guys that we did get embarrassed out here, make no mistake about it," Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris said, per The Associated Press, via ESPN.com. "Yes, we've definitely talked about it."

Even if the anger due to that loss began to fade over the offseason, Winston himself seemed to reignite the fire back in March in a Twitter post that included a picture of Memorial Stadium:

"It's going to be in the back of our minds," Clemson safety Robert Smith said, per NFL.com's Mike Huguenin. "I'm never going to forget that. He apologized and all that, but you're going to have it in the back of your mind."

The feud is given life through personal on-field beefs, too. Clemson defensive end Vic Beasley and Florida State offensive tackle Cam Erving—two surefire first-round NFL picks, as of now, at least—squared off last year and saw Winston's blind-side protector win. Who wins Round 2 is anybody's guess.

"Oh, yeah, I've been waiting on that opportunity," Beasley said, per Aaron Brenner of The Post and Courier. "I love going against the best. He did pretty well on me last year. So, definitely, I'm looking forward to that matchup."

Undoubtedly, so is the rest of the nation and the watchful eye of the pro game.

 

When: Saturday, September 20, 8 p.m. ET

Where: Bobby Bowden Field at Doak Campbell Stadium, Tallahassee, Florida

Television: ABC

Live Stream: WatchESPN

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 60.5
  • Spread: Florida State (-20.5)

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports via USA Today.

 

Prediction

The first two games of the season have not exactly seen the Seminoles earn that No. 1 rank, with the Winston news only potentially further throwing things for a loop.

While Florida State does not have a back such as Georgia's Todd Gurley (who does?), the fact Clemson gave up 328 rushing yards to the Bulldogs should reassure the Seminoles that a run-first approach will get the job done without Winston under center to start the game.

Granted, Winston seems due for one horrific game each season, and the Tigers return seven defensive starters from a year ago. But with Erving nullifying Beasley, Winston will have time to carve through the defense at home.

Florida State has won 10 of 11 at home against Clemson by a combined score of 425-167. There is no reason to believe a Clemson team in transition on offense can outgun the Seminoles offense and turn that trend around.

Prediction: Seminoles 35, Tigers 14

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Miami vs. Nebraska: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time and More

Not since 1976 has college football seen legendary rivals Miami and Nebraska meet in the regular season, but the fire gets rekindled in a showdown Saturday with postseason aspirations swinging in the balance.

Two teams that have combined for 10 national titles, a handful of which came against one another, look anything but title contenders so far this year, but there is no time like the present against an old foe to get things on the proper trajectory.

In what should be a gritty, defensive-minded and run-first affair, the Cornhuskers will look to extract a semblance of revenge for the last meeting against the Hurricanes—a loss in the 2001 BCS National Championship—and steer the Big Ten ship back on course.

 

When History Looms Large

History cannot be ignored in this one, even if most involved have nothing to do with the ghosts of years past.

Miami took down Nebraska in 1983 and 1991 in Orange Bowl triumphs to win titles, while the Cornhuskers capped a perfect 1994 campaign with a win over the Hurricanes for a title of their own. Sporting News' Bill Bender adds some perspective:

Still, as Hurricanes coach Al Golden points out, via Christy Chirinos of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the players are doing their best to keep that past an afterthought:

It is probably for the better, as both teams have plenty of current issues to address.

Miami got off on the wrong foot to start the season in a 31-13 drubbing at the hands of Louisville. Freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya has looked just that through three games, throwing for 693 yards and seven touchdowns to five interceptions.

Conversely, Nebraska sits undefeated and averages in the top 10 in rushing yards per game (324.3) and scores the 11th-most points in the nation with an average of 47, but those numbers came against Florida Atlantic, McNeese State and Fresno State.

Cornhuskers sophomore quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. has not looked much better than his Saturday counterpart, throwing for 773 yards and seven touchdowns to one interception but completing just 53.1 percent of his attempts.

Defensively, both teams have been hailed as strong in that area at one point or another, but the Hurricanes gave up those 31 points to the Teddy Bridgewater-less Cardinals and 20 points to Arkansas State, while Nebraska hardly got past McNeese State at home, 31-24.

All bets are off come Saturday, historic matchup or not.

 

No. 8

Swept under the rug during all the reminiscing of the glory days between the two schools is a pair of elite running backs who can single-handedly dictate the outcome of the game.

For Miami, it is Duke Johnson. Last year, Johnson rushed 145 times for 920 yards and six scores. To date, his per-carry average has never wavered below 6.3 yards.

Ameer Abdullah is the No. 8 for Nebraska. Last year alone he posted 1,690 yards and nine touchdowns on 281 totes and is well on his way toward a third consecutive season of at least 226 carries, eight scores and 1,100 yards.

So far, the two are neck and neck this year:

Neither is known for seizing the spotlight, though, instead favoring to focus on the team aspect of any matchup, even if it comes against a fellow elite running back.

“As long as we’re doing what we need to do and we’re good in our game plan and being fundamentally sound, I don’t feel like anybody can stop us,” Abdullah said, per Jon Nyatawa of Omaha.com. “Why worry about someone else when your biggest enemy is yourself?”

With a potential spot in the Heisman race up for grabs, as well as a chance to etch their name in the annals of an epic rivalry, expect both men to be at the top of their game Saturday.

 

When: Saturday, September 20, 8 p.m. ET

Where: Tom Osborne Field at Memorial Stadium, Lincoln, Nebraska

Television: ESPN2

Live Stream: WatchESPN

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 58
  • Spread: Nebraska (-8)

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports via USA Today.

 

Prediction

Mistakes will reign supreme Saturday.

Kaaya has been extremely loose with the football, and should he perform in that manner again, it will be impossible for those around him to overcome on the road against a ranked nonconference foe. The same goes for Armstrong, though, whose inefficiency has flirted with plenty of interceptions to date.

Home-field advantage is not much of a factor here, either. In six years under Bo Pelini, the Cornhuskers are just 18-9 at home.

Taking this into account, not to mention the near loss to McNeese State, the Hurricanes can look to force Nebraska into a one-dimensional attack that forces Armstrong to win the game with his arm.

When push comes to shove, there is simply no guarantee he can do just that. The Hurricanes are more athletic on both sides of the football and more prone to big plays. Just one will make the difference.

Prediction: Hurricanes 24, Cornhuskers 23

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Florida vs. Alabama: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time and More

For Nick Saban's No. 3 Alabama Crimson Tide to secure a 23rd straight win in an SEC opener, he must move past close friend and Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp Saturday in Tuscaloosa.

Both SEC powers enter undefeated but certainly not unscathed. Saban still has things to figure out under center, while Muschamp must turn things around quickly after a close call against a lesser team last weekend.

A win for Alabama means legitimacy in the playoff hunt. A win for Florida signals an upward trend in Muschamp's job security, not to mention a clear sign things are on the mend after a 4-8 campaign and five losses in the conference a year ago.

As seems to always be the case between the two, much rides on the outcome of what is sure to be a competitive encounter.

 

Finding the Spark

Technically speaking, this one has the look of a blowout.

Alabama has cruised through three opponents (West Virginia, Florida Atlantic, Southern Miss) by a combined score of 126-35, and the team seems to have found a leader in senior quarterback Blake Sims, who already has 646 passing yards and four scores with another 102 and two on the ground.

But really, something feels off.

Alabama will be down two safeties for the matchup with the Gators, a team led by junior signal-caller Jeff Driskel. More importantly, Saban himself does not seem so sure about the quarterback position, which is a bad thing going into a showdown with Muschamp's defense.

“I think we're going to have to make a decision on a week-to-week basis on what gives us the best opportunity to win,” Saban said, per Fox Sports' Stewart Mandel.

So far, the statistics seem to back up that logic:

Still, it is a dangerous game to play against an SEC team, let alone Florida.

Muschamp's side does face a similar dilemma, though, as it needed triple overtime last week to upend Kentucky, 36-30. Keep in mind that went down in Gainesville, the Wildcats won all of two games last season and none in the SEC and the Gators shot themselves in the foot with eight penalties.

The most concerning thing for Florida, though, is the continued lack of explosiveness on offense against top-tier competition. Kurt Roper’s offense scored six points against LSU last year. Against Missouri? 17. All of 14 against South Carolina. Worst of all, just seven against Florida State.

Should that trend continue, the Gators are in for a long day Saturday on the road.

 

Strong Connections, Weak Results

Remember when this was one of the sport's top rivalries?

The foundation is certainly still there, and it starts at the top with the coaches.

Muschamp is a descendant of the Saban coaching tree and was his defensive coordinator at LSU before serving with him in that not-so-memorable NFL stint with the Miami Dolphins. Now a head coach himself, this version of the rivalry has happened once in 2011, where the former assistant was topped 38-10.

Really, though, for this one to capture the imagination of the globe as it used to, Muschamp's side has to experience a quick uptick in quality. The insider knowledge has Roper feeling confident at least, as captured by Zach Abolverdi of Gainesville.com:

Then there is Saban, who has a perspective that sounds like it comes from the heavy favorite in the matchup (which he is), per Edgar Thompson of the Orlando Sentinel:

Again, the framework is in place for this to be something special. But until Florida can keep pace, even with an Alabama team that does not resemble the dominance of past dynasty years, this is but another SEC contest in which the Crimson Tide are the heavy favorite.

 

When: Saturday, September 20, 3:30 p.m. ET

Where: Bryant-Denny Stadium, Tuscaloosa, Alabama

Television: CBS

Live Stream: CBSSports.com

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 52
  • Spread: Alabama (-16)

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports via USA Today.

 

Prediction

Believe it or not, there are things to like about the Gators.

Driskel is back under center after missing a chunk of last year due to injury and already has 542 yards and four scores through the air while completing 63.6 percent of his passes. On the flip side, Vernon Hargreaves III is one of the best corners in the nation and sure to be a hot commodity at the pro level soon, which means Alabama wideout Amari Cooper and Co. will have some issues moving the ball.

Alabama appears vulnerable, but that may simply be the subconscious desire of a nation tired of seeing the Crimson Tide in contention nitpicking at perceived issues more than anything.

The fact remains that Alabama has arguably the most talent on any roster in the nation and is at home against a team that struggled with Kentucky last week. Offense might be limited, but it will favor Saban's team, as expected.

 

Prediction: Crimson Tide 23, Gators 13

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

UCLA Football Recruiting: Latest Updates on 2014 Commits, Visits and Targets

Jim Mora and his staff have gotten the UCLA football program off to a nice start in recruiting for the 2015 cycle.

According to 247Sports.com, the Bruins have 14 known commitments to date. What's more, as of right now, both 247Sports.com and Scout.com have UCLA with a Top 20 class. Per Scout.com, UCLA has a commitment from the top quarterback in the country (Josh Rosen), the top center in the country (Fred Ulu-Perry) and the second-best tight end (Alize Jones). 

This piece will include a complete chart of official visitors in the upcoming months. It will also highlight strong performances by two current commitments and speak about the two most recent additions to the program. 

 

Bruins Ink Rosen and McKinley

UCLA got a considerable boost this past week with the additions of signal-caller Josh Rosen and defensive end Takkarist McKinley. 

Per Chris Foster of the Los Angeles Times, Rosen signed a grant-in-aid document with the Bruins on Monday. Rosen's high academic standing enabled him to graduate from high school early. He will enroll in time for the winter quarter. 

This is a massive coup for UCLA. Rosen is an elite talent at the quarterback position. By entering college early, he'll have the opportunity to participate in spring ball. With Brett Hundley likely leaving at the end of the season, Rosen has every chance to start as a true freshman next season. 

As Rosen told Foster: "[UCLA is] churning out NFL players. They are on top in Los Angeles. Coach Mora is an awesome coach. It's something special to be a part of."

The addition of McKinley caught many off guard. Per Everett Cook of the Los Angeles Times, an error on his college transcript allowed him to be instantly eligible for competition on the Division 1 level.

Greg Biggins of Scout.com elaborated on the strange situation even further, explaining that McKinley was wrongly dubbed as a non-qualifier coming out of high school.

UCLA was able to ascertain this development, and they subsequently snagged the very talented defensive prospect. Per BruinReportOnline.com, defensive line coach Angus McClure was a huge reason why McKinley ultimately signed with UCLA. 

Rivals.com rates McKinley as the fifth-best junior college prospect in the entire country. Although relatively raw, McKinley's physical gifts are undeniable. As a high school senior, McKinley ran a 10.5 in the 100-meter dash. He did this at 6'3", 235 pounds. 

Last year at Contra Costa Community College, McKinley notched 10 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss. According to Ed Lewis of BruinSportsReport, McKinley's former coach Alonzo Carter compared him to NFL great Jevon Kearse. 

The addition of McKinley is considerable. Due to UCLA's lack of success rushing the passer through three games—only three sacks have been registered—he could find himself as a third-down rusher right off the bat. Per Cook, Mora expects McKinley to potentially play against Arizona State next week. 

 

A Look at Official Visitors

Courtesy of BruinReportOnline.com, here is a list of expected official visitors over the course of the season (as of 9/17):

Of course, this is a very preliminary list and recruits often change their minds from week to week. Many of the UCLA commitments will likely visit on the same weekend—perhaps for the game versus Southern Cal in November. 

Ryan Newsome is a very important recruit for the Bruins. He represents the quick, shifty, fast slot receiver desperately needed in the offense. Looking at his film, the 247Sports.com 4-star athlete is very comparable to that of current St. Louis Rams receiver Tavon Austin. 

Two other Texas natives—Malik Jefferson and Soso Jamabo—are also immense targets. Scout.com has Jefferson rated as one of the best players in the entire nation. The 5-star linebacker is eerily similar to current UCLA linebacker Myles Jack. 

Jamabo is the big back currently missing in UCLA's offense. The Bruins will be going up against the likes of Notre Dame and Oklahoma, but with an official visit upcoming, they've got a puncher's chance with the elite athlete. 

As for other 2015 prospects, BruinReportOnline.com reported that UCLA made an offer to current Notre Dame commit and 4-star receiver C.J. Sanders. Ryan Bartow of 247Sports.com reported the Bruins have also made an offer to athlete Tim Irvin. The Miami native is the nephew of NFL great Michael Irvin. 

 

Two Commitments with Big Games This Past Weekend

The elite tight end out of Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas, Alize Jones, put on a show versus Corona Centennial. 

Jones registered eight catches for 163 yards and two touchdowns in the narrow 43-42 victory. 

As Greg Biggins opined (subscription required):"There isn't a better athlete at the tight end position anywhere in the country. [Jones] has every physical tool you'd want in a next level prospect including size, elite speed, hands and body control."

It would be an absolute shock to see Jones redshirt as a true freshman next year. He could help to give UCLA a very dynamic option on offense in '15. 

Running back commitment Bolu Olorunfunmi rushed for 185 yards and three touchdowns in a win over Buhach Colony High School. Olorunfunmi is a punishing back, getting most of his yards after contact.

The talented tailback chose UCLA over offers from Notre Dame and Stanford, among others.  

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Week 4: Previews and Predictions for the Top 5 Games

Week 4 of the college football season will feature both intriguing nonconference and conference matchups.

The week begins on Thursday night in Manhattan, Kansas, as No. 20 Kansas State and No. 5 Auburn will face off in what could be the big upset of the week.

ACC rivals Florida State and Clemson will headline Saturday’s slate of games in Tallahassee, while Miami (Fla.) travels to Nebraska in what will be their first meeting since the 2002 Rose Bowl. In the SEC, Mississippi State has high hopes of finally defeating LSU on the road with a dangerous quarterback in Dak Prescott, and the Florida Gators head into a hostile Bryant-Denny Stadium, where Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide have lost just three times in the last five years. 

In what should be another week filled with pandemonium, here are the top-five games to watch this week. 

Begin Slideshow

Michigan Football: Why WR Amara Darboh's Time Is Now

Amara Darboh proved one thing this past Saturday: Michigan has someone other than Devin Funchess who can catch the ball, make plays and score touchdowns.

Granted, Darboh’s breakout versus Miami (Ohio) was more of a necessity than a luxury, but it’s difficult to deny his six catches for 88 yards and a score. After all, someone has to do it while Funchess, the Wolverines’ star wideout, recovers from whatever he’s recovering from.

Brady Hoke won’t say, leaving the guessing game as the only available option at the moment.

But back to Darboh—he’s entering his time. Whether or not he wanted to get it like this doesn't really matter. However, it’s safe to assume that he probably wanted to earn the role rather than inherit it from a sidelined teammate.

Nonetheless, he’s quickly become one of the last, and best, remaining remedies for Team 135’s sluggish offense.

If Funchess returns soon, great; Michigan will have two consistent threats with which to take on the Big Ten. If he doesn’t come back, well, at least Darboh will be prepared to compensate for the absence of a 6’5”, 236-pound Biletnikoff contender.

 

What He Brings

Now three weeks into his first season at Michigan, offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier has yet to showcase the true range of his play-calling savvy. Part of that is because his offense is struggling, and without Funchess, aerial options have been few and far between. 

But Nussmeier now has Darboh, a 6'2", 211-pounder with an above-average set of hands and great ability to get physical with blocks and separation techniques. He's not the tallest or fastest, but he can scoot down the field every so often and slip through layers of coverage, evidenced by his 29-yard-catch-turned-fumble in Week 3 against the RedHawks. 

Just forget the fumble part. 

Had he held onto that ball, we'd be talking about one of the Wolverines' best offensive plays of the year. They've been scarce, sure, but Darboh's grab-and-dash was refreshing. It proved what most have thought all along: He's good at what he does and can certainly increase his team's chances of winning. 

During a postgame media session this past Saturday, sophomore tight end Jake Butt complimented Darboh's attitude, work ethic and, of course, his six catches for 88 yards and six points. Butt seemed genuinely excited, or maybe relieved, that someone else emerged as a go-to for quarterback Devin Gardner, who will need all of the help he can get this week against Utah. 

"We were really excited about him before that injury last year," Butt said when asked about his teammate's potential. "We all knew what kind of ability he had, and he kind of put that on display today."

Darboh brings a sense of "new" to the fold. Michigan fans have yet see him unleash his real power, excluding Saturday, and that's exciting for them. They know what Funchess can do. They've seen Jehu Chesson make a few plays. But Darboh's arrival feels different. 

With nine catches for 137 yards, he trails only Funchess when it comes to production. It's early, and depending on usage, stats can be skewed in either direction. Unless Saturday was a fluke, Darboh appears to be the one until the No. 1 makes a triumphant entrance. 

 

Secret Weapon? 

Don't forget about the extra forearm muscles used to secure catches. Not everyone has those, you know. 

Fans aren't the only ones who haven't seen much of Darboh. The competition hasn't either. With that said, game-planning for him could be difficult.

He's an ideal variable for Michigan, and he could be a dreadful nightmare this weekend for Kalani Sitake, the Utes' defensive coordinator/linebackers coach/assistant head coach. 

Thanks to offensive coordinator Dave Christensen, Sitake hasn't had a lot to worry about lately. Utah averages 57.5 points per game (No. 3 in the NCAA), which is a comforting statistic for any DC. Sitake's guys just have to make sure the opposition doesn't go Utah on them. 

Michigan's offense hasn't proved that it can hang big numbers on the scoreboard, but if Darboh plays like he did against Miami, a Utes-like total could be possible. It's a stretch, but not outside the realm of logic.

Fresno State's Josh Harper had six catches for a season-high 83 yards against Utah. The 6'1", 185-pound senior is a respectable athlete who uses speed and agility to elude tackles. However, he's not in the same league as Darboh when it comes to physicality. But yet he had little trouble with Utah's secondary. 

That's a promising sign for Michigan, and for Darboh, who is a game away from igniting Team 135's offense and evolving into a legitimate top option, not just a secondary get-by while the star takes a breather. 

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Pac-12 Football: The Best 2015 NFL Draft Prospect from Each Pac-12 School

The Pac-12 Conference looks loaded with as much talent as ever, and when the 2015 NFL draft commences in the spring, you can expect to hear the names of a bunch of the league's stars—perhaps more than a few—in the very first round.

Given the propensity of experts to stay way ahead of the game with mock drafts, you're likely familiar with several names on the list as far as how highly scouts think of them. But every Pac-12 team has players who will someday be making plays as a professional.

Let's take a look at the very best 2015 NFL draft prospect from every team in the league.

 

All stats via cfbstats.com. All draft eligible players were candidates for the list, meaning each player has at least three years of college experience, redshirts included.

Begin Slideshow

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

For the Clemson Tigers, things are pretty much done in the 2015 recruiting cycle. With 22 commits, there isn’t much more room in the incoming class.

So, we focus our attention to the players already committed to the Tigers, a group that includes eight 4-star prospects. The Tigers have the potential to finish with a top-10 class and build momentum for the future.

Begin Slideshow

NCAA College Football Picks: Week 4 Against the Spread

New week. Better games. 

One of the biggest kicks off Thursday night when No. 20-ranked Kansas State plays host to No. 5-ranked ranked Auburn. The other game between a couple of highly regarded teams is an SEC battle when No. 1 Florida hosts No. 22 Clemson. 

Read on for a breakdown of these matchups as well as several others, with the lines again courtesy of CoopersPick.com:   

 

No. 5 Auburn vs. No. 20 Kansas State

Betting Odds: Auburn -9.5

Auburn has two straight blowout wins and one of the best rushing offenses in the nation with the duo of Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant, who are each averaging over six yards per carry. 

It is 4-0 ATS in its last four road games, and Kansas State is 2-5 ATS in its last seven nonconference games.

Pick Against the Spread: Take Auburn in this one.

 

No. 22 Clemson vs. No. 1 Florida State

Betting Odds: Florida State -19

The Seminoles may be undefeated, the reigning champs and the top-ranked team in the nation, but they narrowly avoided an upset in their season opener facing Oklahoma State.

Furthermore, as Marc Tracy of The New York Times reports, reigning Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston has been suspended for a whole, entire half, dealing yet another blow to the pairing of football and chivalry. Clemson already lost to Georgia last week, but it came back big, scoring 73 points last week. 

Clemson is 4-1 ATS in its last five games against FSU.

Pick Against the Spread: The Tigers are on the prowl, covering at least the points. 

 

Florida vs. No. 3 Alabama

Betting Odds: Alabama -14.5

Florida is the big underdog in this one, and it avoided a huge upset against SEC foe Kentucky, needing three overtimes to prevail. Alabama has the nation’s 10th-ranked defense and in the last two games has surrendered only 12 points while scoring 93.

Alabama is 0-6-1 ATS in its last seven games overall but 5-0 ATS in its last five at home against Florida.

Pick Against the Spread: The Crimson tide wins big and covers. 

 

Mississippi State vs. No. 8 LSU

Betting Odds: LSU -10

Both are undefeated, but while Mississippi has yet to play a conference game, LSU beat a ranked Wisconsin team in its season opener and has the nation’s second-ranked defense to boot. 

MSU is 4-1 in its last five road games. Meanwhile, the favorite has covered the spread in the last four games between these two SEC teams.

Pick Against the Spread: LSU's defense is too good not to carry the squad to at least a 10-point victory.  

 

No. 4 Oklahoma vs. West Virginia

Betting Odds: Oklahoma -10 

The Sooners have yet to play a close game, and after three games, they are only giving up an average of 11 points. West Virginia has won two straight after its opening-season loss facing Alabama—and only lost by 10. WVU quarterback Clint Trickett has over 1,200 passing yards with seven touchdowns and only one interception already this season.

Oklahoma is 4-0 ATS in the last four road games, and WVU is 2-5 ATS in its last seven home games.

Pick Against the Spread: OU continues its early dominance and will win and cover on the road.

 

Miami vs. No. 24 Nebraska

Betting Odds: Nebraska -7.5

Miami has won two straight, but its only road game facing a solid team was the opener when it lost badly to Louisville, 31-13. Nebraska is 3-0 and back in the top 25, mainly because of a rushing attack which ranks ninth in the nation, averaging an astounding 324.3 yards per game.

The 'Canes are 1-5 ATS in their last six road games, while the Huskers are an equally mediocre 1-4 ATS in their last five home games.

Pick Against the Spread: While it pains me to pick it, the Nebraska running game will be too much for Miami to handle, even with the spread.

 

Virginia vs. No. 21 BYU

Betting Odds: BYU -16

Interesting game here, as BYU is ranked but narrowly avoided an upset in the last game as a big betting favorite at home. On the other side of the coin, Virginia’s only loss was to a top 10 UCLA team, and it knocked off a ranked Louisville team last time out.

Virginia is 5-0 ATS in the past five overall, and BYU is 3-1-1 ATS in its last five home contests.

Pick Against the Spread: Go with the underdog Cavaliers, as they may not win, but they will cover.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

How Brady Hoke's Demeanor Has Changed Throughout His Michigan Coaching Career

When Brady Hoke emerged as a candidate to replace Rich Rodriguez in 2011, Jason Whitlock wrote that, “[Hoke would] crawl on hot, broken glass to work inside Schembechler Hall as the head coach.”

Now, three games into his fourth season, he’d rather crawl on hot, broken glass than answer questions about the status of injured players.

Are you wondering if wide receiver Devin Funchess will play versus Utah? Or how about linebacker Desmond Morgan?

Hoke has nothing for you.

"I'm not going to talk about any of those guys who didn't play," Hoke said during his weekly press conference.

When pressed for a reason he replied, "Because I don't feel like it.”

While the quip earned a chuckle from the assembled media, it’s an example of Hoke’s changing relationship with the media as his team’s fortunes have dipped during his tenure.

Michigan entered this season unranked, with declining student ticket sales and the athletic department needing to hustle to preserve its streak of 100,000-plus crowds. Prior to the season opener, the athletic department offered deals bundling basketball tickets as an incentive for fans to buy football tickets.

Michigan, the quintessential football school, had resorted to leveraging basketball to fill its football stadium.


Hoke’s Return to Ann Arbor

Hoke was hailed upon his return to Ann Arbor in the wake of the disastrous Rich Rodriguez era. Hoke went on the road to re-engage fans and alumni who had been alienated by Rodriguez’ lukewarm embrace of Michigan tradition and even more disappointed by his 15-22 record on the field.

Hoke and his staff also made efforts to publicize the changes on the field. During spring and fall camp, selected practices were open to the media. When the season began, Hoke continued a practice began under Rodriguez of having informal roundtable discussions after his formal press conferences. These sessions provided a forum for more in-depth questions on a wide range of topics.

Fort Schembechler, as the football complex is known, had lowered the gates and was engaged in proactive public relations effort to promote Hoke’s efforts to bring tradition back to Michigan football.

Hoke’s efforts on the field bore immediate fruit. The team went 11-2 in its first season. Media coverage was also favorable; a rift that had opened up under Rodriguez that resulted in a very public and embarrassing NCAA investigation (but only minor penalties) had been repaired.


The Fort Pulls Up the Drawbridge

But access began to change as the team’s fortunes dipped. During Hoke’s second season, practice visits were scaled back. Criticism began to mount as the team finished 8-5. It began with a 41-14 loss to Alabama and was punctuated by debates about whether Hoke should wear a coaching headset during games and offensive coordinator Al Borges' baffling experiment to turn quarterback Denard Robinson into a dropback passer.

Criticism reached a crescendo last season as Michigan fell to 7-6 amid a lost November, when the team went 1-4, which included losses to key rivals Michigan State and Ohio State. The discontent become so fierce that athletic director David Brandon took to his blog to offer support and rebuke critics:

Brady Hoke is our coach and will be leading our football program well into the future. There is no question about it. Brady has done a great job rebuilding the program and reshaping the culture to the level it was under coaches Bo Schembechler, Gary Moeller and Lloyd Carr. Anyone making efforts to stir up a coaching controversy at Michigan is ill-informed and is likely promoting a personal agenda that is not in the best interest of Michigan Football.

The message was clear. You’re either with us or against us.

It’s a theme that Hoke would echo this season when questioned about his team’s 31-0 loss to Notre Dame.

"If they're truly fans, they'll believe in these kids and what they've done and the hard work they've put in," he said. "If they're not, they won’t."


From Boo-Boos to Radio Silence

Hoke has always been reluctant to discuss injuries. In his first couple of seasons, he’d describe them as “boo-boos” or “owies,” but he’d least entertain questions about when a player would return.

This season he has decided to not answer any questions about injuries unless a player will miss the rest of the season. 

Occasionally a player will tweet information that could be construed as an update, only adding to the rumors and confusion among fans. 

When things were going well, Hoke was open when answering questions and discussing players, but as the losses have mounted, information has become less than forthcoming. The media discussion roundtables have also been scrapped.

Victory may have a thousand fathers, but defeat begets thousands of questions, and fans are hungry for information, with injuries being a top area of interest.

Until Hoke can win more games, his reluctance to address injuries will only bring more negative attention to a program that appears to be hanging in the balance.

 

Phil Callihan is a featured writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations obtained firsthand

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Nebraska Coach Tom Osborne's Decision to Go for Two Remembered 30 Years Later

If Tom Osborne is anything, he is confident. 

It's been 30 years since the 1984 Orange Bowl against Miami, a game with the national championship on the line. It was a game Osborne's Nebraska Cornhuskers, riding a 22-game winning streak, lost 31-30 when Osborne famously elected to go for two instead of a tying extra point. 

A two-point conversion that failed. 

On Saturday, Nebraska and Miami will play again, this time in Lincoln, for just the 11th meeting ever between the two schools. The series is tied at five wins a piece. 

That game will undoubtedly dredge up archived footage and memories of Osborne's decision to go for the win instead of, as he put it, "backing in" to a national championship. 

Osborne could have been annoyed when he was asked about the decision and no one would have blamed him. How would you like to be asked about a loss of that scale over and over again?

"Does it ever get tough revisiting that moment?"

He paused.  

"It’s not difficult for me to talk about," he said. "I don’t necessarily view it as a negative in our program."

Even after 30 years, there was no there was no regret, no qualifying statement preceding the explanation. His answer was simple, as though you could hear his shoulders shrug matter-of-factly just by the tone of his voice. 

It was the same answer now as it was then. 

"You play to win." 

 

Setting the Stage

There was no overtime in college football during the 1983 season. It wasn't instituted until 1996. Before that, it was possible to end a game with identical scores and without a winner, regardless of what Harvard football might say about a certain tie with Yale in 1968. 

Yet, in 307 games as the head coach of Nebraska, Osborne tied just three times. That's fewer than one percent. And in the 11 seasons leading up to the '84 Orange Bowl, Osborne's Huskers won 108 games by an average of 28 points. 

The '83 Huskers may have been the most talented offense of them all, averaging 50 points a game. They were loaded with running back and Heisman winner Mike Rozier, receiver Irving Fryar and quarterback Turner Gill, plus a wealth of offensive linemen.

Rarely in Osborne's tenure of thorough domination did he need to go for two. He was prepared, however, should the occasion arise. It did against Miami, which was in its infancy of becoming "The U" under head coach Howard Schnellenberger. Quarterback Bernie Kosar was a freshman, as was running back Alonzo Highsmith. 

With Rozier sidelined with an ankle injury, the Huskers entered halftime down, 17-14. Thanks to another 14-point Miami run in the third quarter, Nebraska needed two fourth-quarter touchdowns just to come within one point. 

Nebraska's second and final touchdown came on a critical 4th-and-8 inside Miami territory. A wide-open Fryar had dropped a pass in the end zone the play before. Gill took the snap on an option-action play, saw Fryar was covered, ran horizontally down the line and pitched the ball to backup running back Jeff Smith, who scooted 24 yards for the score. 

"That particular play was fairly difficult to handle because it put a lot on the quarterback," said Osborne. 

If that play was risky, it didn't touch what Osborne did next. With about 40 seconds left in the game, Osborne wasn't interested in the extra point. "By that point in the game," he explained, "it didn’t appear we were going to get another chance [on offense]."

 

The Play

There was no hesitation. Osborne had the play he wanted and felt confident after watching tape on the Hurricanes. 

"When you start looking at two-point conversions, you’re looking at what they’re doing inside the 5-yard line defensively," Osborne said. "Even if an offense isn’t going for two points, if it’s third down and, say, two or three yards to go in a goal-line situation, it’s the equivalent of a two-point situation.

"We were fairly certain they’d be in man-to-man coverage and rushing at least five," he continued. "So we thought putting the halfback to the flat—hopefully covered by a safety or linebacker—we could pick up the three yards. So I thought we had a good play called and we practiced it several times."

Amid the roars inside the Orange Bowl, the offense stayed on the field. This was it, the crossroads of one dynasty and the start of another. 

Gill took the snap, rolled out to his right and threw to the running back in the flat. It was just like they had practiced. 

The result was not. The pass was batted away by Hurricanes defender Ken Calhoun. Incomplete. Game over. The months of preparation that could have resulted in Osborne's first national championship as a head coach, and the first for Nebraska since 1971, came to a halt in a matter of seconds. 

"The guy who was covering Irving on the slant saw what was happening, came off his coverage and took a dive at the ball and got a finger tip on it," Osborne said. "He made a good play."

The intensity within the Orange Bowl surged. Schnellenberger was yelling for his players to get off the field. Osborne was trying to regroup, to figure out what, if anything, he could do next. There was nothing to do, except coming to terms with defeat. 

"There was no doubt in Tom Osborne's mind, there was no doubt in my mind," Schnellenberger said about the two-point attempt in an interview with NBC's Bill Macatee. "He's a champion and he went after it like a champion."

Keeping with his philosophy, Osborne would likely say there was only one champion that night. 

  

Aftermath

Going for two didn't end Nebraska's dynasty. It did, however, help launch another. That is the mark of a defining moment, as Evan Scott Schwartz of Sports Illustrated opined: 

The ramifications were massive. Miami leapt to No. 1 in the final AP poll, just ahead of No. 2 Nebraska and No. 3 Auburn, which had squeaked by Michigan in the Sugar Bowl. The controversy extends to this day, as Auburn claims a share of the 1983 national title and fans and analysts still question Osborne’s decision to go for two.

Miami’s Schnellenberger would make way for the brash Jimmy Johnson, who would begin to shape Miami’s cocky and controversial identity. The Canes would march to three more championships over the next eight seasons, and the program soon became a recruiting juggernaut and factory for NFL talent.

Nebraska wouldn't win a national title for another 11 years—on Jan. 1, 1995 against Miami in the Orange Bowl, of all teams and places. From 1987-'93, the Huskers lost seven straight bowl games. 

"Some people at the time wished we kicked the point because we hadn’t won [a national championship] since 1971," Osborne said. "They were hungry for that. I’m sure there are people today who still thought it was a bad decision." 

But it never affected Osborne's standing within the Nebraska program. The Huskers' dynasty of the mid-1990s is one of the all-time greats. Chase Goodbread of NFL.com named the '95 Nebraska team the best to ever play college football. 

Osborne's legacy is synonymous with Cornhuskers football. More than that, though, Osborne is synonymous with the state of Nebraska. When combining his years as a head coach, assistant, athletic director and even a member of the United States Congress, Osborne served Nebraska for more than 40 years. 

Steven Sipple of the Lincoln Journal Star captured the relationship last April when he interviewed Jon Frankel, who is producing/directing an upcoming 30 for 30 documentary for ESPN about the two-point conversion: 

Nebraskans like to see themselves in Osborne, the Hastings native. Of course, they supported the coach's call.

"Nebraska lost the game, but did it with honor," said Frankel, getting to the essence. "Ultimately, that means more than what the scoreboard says."

Osborne chuckled, slightly scoffing. 

"The 'moral victory' term—I don’t know what that means," he said. 

In Osborne's mind, you either won or lost. And he won a lot. The head coach of 25 years won three national titles—all after the '84 Orange Bowl—and 255 games. Like all coaches, Osborne prepared to win every single one. He wasn't always successful, but he was 83 percent of the time. 

"The main thing that was important to me was that we played at the highest level, which to me meant we were capable of winning a national championship," Osborne said. "I guess I walked off the field that night feeling that we had played at a very high level."

"And we just didn’t get it done."

 

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

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