NCAA Football News

Alabama Football: How Should AJ McCarron Handle Questions About the Tide?

TUSCALOOSA, Ala.—AJ McCarron hasn’t exactly endeared himself to many Alabama fans since leaving Tuscaloosa with three BCS National Championship rings (two of which he won as a starter).

His latest comments came on 99.1 FM in Tuscaloosa on Tuesday, in which he said Alabama lacked “true leaders” on offense and that Saban has “put handcuffs” on the offense in the past.

After Alabama coach Nick Saban responded to those comments, saying they were untrue and that he doesn’t know how McCarron would know about Alabama’s leadership, McCarron went back on the air Wednesday, claiming he was taken out of context and clarifying his remarks.

That has led to a number of negative comments from fans, media and even former teammates.

It’s hard to imagine a bigger fall from grace for a three-time national champion that didn’t involve a major scandal.

So how should McCarron have responded, and what could he do going forward to help his image? That depends on his motivation, according to Dr. Kenon A. Brown, a professor in Alabama’s nationally recognized public relations program.

“I really don’t understand how he could be critical of a team that has supported him, of a fanbase that supported him, and a fanbase that he delivered, as part of a team, two national championships to,” Brown said in an interview with Bleacher Report. “And it seems like since he has left The University of Alabama, he’s taken every chance that he has to, in my opinion, candidly take shots at the program.”

Brown, who specializes in image and reputation management in sports, said that judging by McCarron’s comments, it’s hard to tell just what his motivation is at this point.

“Does he think that this is going to put him in a more positive light?” said Brown, who has published academic papers on Lebron James’ Decision and Michael Vick’s dogfighting scandal and how they subsequently repaired their images.

“Does he think that he maybe will not have a productive NFL career? So he thinks being candid and being controversial is going to propel him to stardom so he can take an anchor job on the SEC Network or something like that? Is he focused on the celebrity nature more than being the quarterback for the Cincinnati Bengals? Is he bored because he’s rehabbing his shoulder? I don’t know.”

This isn’t the first time McCarron has made disparaging comments about his alma mater.

It started soon after the Crimson Tide’s Sugar Bowl loss to Oklahoma, when McCarron was out of Alabama’s protective bubble. He attributed Alabama’s lack of success at the end of the 2013 season to entitlement among young players.

As the NFL Draft process began, reports surfaced that teams weren’t impressed with his interview process. He said he thought he would be drafted in the bottom half of the first round but was eventually taken in the fifth round by the Bengals.

To McCarron’s credit, he largely stayed quiet during the offseason and into the regular season. Tuesday night, he put himself out there once again, and the criticism came back up.

“Maybe he’s showing his true colors now,” Brown said. “If you follow collegiate and professional sports you know that there’s a level of control of the comments that you can make as a collegiate athlete. They have rules, they have regulations, they monitor social media. And then that’s really lifted when you become a professional.”

McCarron shouldn’t necessarily be criticized for having an opinion, though, Brown said. Plenty of players—including McCarron’s predecessor, Greg McElroy, now an analyst with the SEC Network—have offered criticism of the team.

The difference was in the delivery.

“I would rather him own up to his opinion and at least try to justify his comments rather than backtracking,” Brown said. “Because then that’s when you look bad. I think when you start backtracking on the comments that you’ve made…now it starts looking like you were just in it to increase ratings, you were just in it to increase your public presence.”

Which brings us back to the motivational aspect.

If McCarron is doing this just to get attention, negative or otherwise, then he is very much succeeding.

But if he still wants to be a representative of the University of Alabama, there could be some fences that need a little bit of mending. That’s why Brown said if he was advising McCarron, he would begin that process as soon as possible.

“The first thing he needs to do is at least contact somebody on the Alabama coaching staff, whether it’s Saban or whoever, and at least attempt to clarify his comments,” Brown said. “The SEC really thrives on tradition. We like bringing our legends back. We like keeping our stars in good graces. Peyton Manning is around [Tennessee] two or three times a year. We like bringing back the people that help us re-live our glory days…It’s less likely for [McCarron] to be in those good graces when he comes back.”

There is also value in simply remaining silent.

“It comes to a point where you just need to keep your mouth shut," Brown said. "You do not have to have the last words at all times. You stated your case. You made your opinions, Saban gave his opinion about your comments. Why couldn’t it just end there?”

McCarron, though, is never going to lose the graces of the entire Alabama fanbase. He was a part of all three national championships under Saban and is one of the most recognizable players in one of the greatest runs in college football history.

Images like “The Drive” against LSU in 2012 or him picking apart the Notre Dame defense in Miami won’t be quick to leave fans’ minds.

That’s why the AJ McCarron debate comes down to what exactly his motivations are, and what he’s trying to accomplish in his post-Alabama life.

“If I’m trying to get him in the spotlight—which, let’s be honest, this is what publicists do—if we’re talking about celebrity status, if you’re trying to become a celebrity, that’s one thing. And maybe this is the right move for him to be this brash, outgoing personality,” Brown said. “But if you’re trying to be a football player, and you’re still trying to be some sort of representative of the University of Alabama, tone it down a little bit. Just a little bit. I’m not saying don’t have an opinion, just tone it down a little bit.”

 

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

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

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7 Most Important Recruiting Visits of Week 7

Recruits are on the move again this weekend, attending meaningful college football matchups on campuses across the country. We're now less than four months shy of national signing day, placing added pressure on hosts to ensure players and their families enjoy a positive experience.

Games remain the top priority for every coaching staff, but as days dwindle in the regular season and February approaches, the result is a steadily rising sense of urgency in recruiting departments. Several have a chance to make strides with coveted targets in the coming days. 

Each week on Bleacher Report, we roll out a list of the most important campus visits to monitor. Here's our latest breakdown, including a pair of premier committed prospects who are headed to enemy territory.

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Todd Gurley Suspended: Best-/Worst-Case Scenarios for Heisman Contender

Georgia running back Todd Gurley has been suspended indefinitely "during an ongoing investigation into an alleged violation of NCAA rules," the school announced.

Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman reported that the NCAA is investigating whether Gurley accepted extra benefits for his likeness.

Bleacher Report college football analyst Michael Felder discusses the current situation for Gurley and the Bulldogs. How will this affect the team? 

Watch the video and let us know! 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

How Pac-12 South Compares to SEC West Division

It has more ranked teams than unranked ones. It features a previously ranked team that just fell out of the poll. And its bottom feeder, while winless at this point, is much improved from a year ago and seems poised to knock someone off sooner rather than later.

Are we talking about the SEC West? Yes. But we're also referring to the Pac-12 South.

There are an uncanny number of similarities between the nation's best division and one that's making a strong case for being the SEC West's understudy. One has five of seven teams currently ranked in the Associated Press Top 25; the other has four of six; while the fifth-best club began the season in the rankings and just fell out after a loss on Saturday.

The quality of the teams from top to bottom has made it so that unbeaten teams are underdogs this week despite playing at home, according to Odds Shark, and both divisions are considered so deep that the likelihood of a team coming out of there unblemished seems small.

Since there have been no head-to-head meetings between the divisions, it's hard to really compare them to each other in terms of performance. The chart below lists how each has fared in a handful of quantifiable categories:

Those numbers clearly show the SEC West is the better division, but that's not really in question. The Pac-12's figures are good, too, but despite that and the divisions' other commonalities, there's one place where the SEC West and Pac-12 South differ immensely: the court of public opinion, as Bryan Fischer of NFL.com pointed out earlier this week:

Fischer is referring to the leagues as a whole, but with the majority of each conference's ranked teams in these two divisions (each has two ranked on the other side, and combined make up 52 percent of the AP Top 25), the attention is being placed mostly on the SEC West and Pac-12 South. This was enhanced by last week's results involving Pac-12 schools, with North power Stanford and Oregon both losing.

Oregon's loss came to Arizona, which vaulted the Wildcats into the top 10 after being unranked a week ago. Utah jumped into the rankings as well after beating UCLA, also on the road, while Arizona State moved up (and knocked out USC) by winning in Los Angeles on a Hail Mary.

That kind of cannibalism is similar to what went on in the SEC West and is what will continue throughout the season. Last Saturday saw Ole Miss top Alabama for the first time in a decade, while Mississippi State downed fellow unbeaten Texas A&M and Auburn blew out sliding LSU.

The only teams in those divisions not involved in the chaos last week were their respective cellar dwellers, Arkansas and Colorado. They're a combined 0-5 in league play, but both look much better than they did in 2013 and may very well pick off a ranked opponent very soon.

(Arkansas has a great chance to do so this Saturday, hosting a vulnerable Alabama team.)

It will be more of the same this week, with the Pac-12 South also involved in a huge intra-divisional clash between UCLA and Oregon. Those were the preseason favorites in the conference, but with each heading into the game after a loss it's become an unofficial elimination game for playoff consideration.

"Is all the parity a good thing?," writes George Schroeder of USA Today. "At this point, there doesn't appear to be an elite team in the bunch."

The SEC West faces the same possibility by the time the regular season is done, yet the narrative is more about how such parity means it deserves to land half of the College Football Playoff semifinal berths.

 

Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Todd Gurley Suspended for Violation of NCAA Rules: Latest Details and Reaction

The University of Georgia has suspended star running back Todd Gurley indefinitely.

The school didn't go into specifics regarding the suspension but said in a press release that an "ongoing investigation into an alleged violation of NCAA rules" is underway.   

"I'm obviously very disappointed," said Bulldogs head coach Mark Richt. "The important thing for our team is to turn all our attention toward preparation for Missouri."   

Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports provides details on Gurley's infractions:

Seth Emerson of The Macon Telegraph confirms the alleged reasoning behind the suspension:

Sports Illustrated's Andy Staples provides more details on a specific incident:

SI.com has learned that a person confirmed to Georgia’s compliance office this week that he paid Gurley $400 to sign 80 items on campus in Athens, Ga., one day this past spring. The person claimed to have a photo and video of Gurley signing the items, but neither the photo nor the video showed money changing hands. NCAA rules require schools to immediately declare a player ineligible if they discover a violation has been committed. Schools may then apply for the player’s reinstatement. Reached by text message on Thursday afternoon, Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity declined comment.

No. 13 Georgia hits the road Saturday to take on the No. 23 Missouri Tigers in a game that could very well decide the outcome of the SEC East. They are the two highest-ranked teams in the division, so the winner of Saturday's contest will have a major advantage in the divisional race. 

Heading into the week, Gurley ranked sixth in the country in rushing yards (773) and tied for seventh in rushing touchdowns (8). ESPN.com currently lists him atop its Heisman Watch for Week 7.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

UCLA Football: What Bruins Must Do to Beat Oregon

The UCLA football team has a tough task ahead this coming weekend, as it hosts the explosive No. 12 Oregon Ducks and star quarterback Marcus Mariota. 

This could ultimately be a must-win game for both teams. UCLA is coming off a tough two-point loss at home to the Utah Utes. Oregon also was defeated at home by the upstart Arizona Wildcats. To this point in the season, neither team has played its best football. 

This piece will look at specific principles the Bruins can use in order to beat the Ducks. 

 

Protect Brett Hundley

This should go without saying. UCLA has given up 23 sacks on the season, which ranks the team near the very bottom of all Division I in the category. 

There comes a point when one has to wonder whether or not Hundley will get seriously hurt due to the lack of protection. Last week against Utah, the quarterback was sacked 10 times. This statistic doesn't include hurries or even hits. 

There are ways in which UCLA could opt to lessen the pressure from the opposition. For one, a heavy diet of screens, misdirections in the run game, quick passes (such as slants or bubble screens) and rollouts would help. Oftentimes in the Utah game, Hundley was essentially nailed-down inside of the pocket.

Rarely did offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone move the launch point. Conventional wisdom also suggests less of an emphasis on five- or seven-step drops—opting instead for three-step drops. 

In terms of helping out on blocking assignments off the edge, a running back could possibly be used to "chip" the defensive end. An extra blocker next to the tackle could also work. Running the football with regularity also helps in this capacity. 

Versus Oregon, UCLA will be facing a very good lineman in defensive end DeForest Buckner. The Hawaii native is an extremely active and athletic player and could pose problems in passing downs.

The other talented defensive lineman for the Ducks—Arik Armstead—is questionable after suffering an ankle injury versus Arizona. According to Ryan Thorburn of The Register-Guard, Armstead has participated in practice this week. His health is a question mark, but a potential return would be a big boost for Oregon. 

Oregon's defense as a whole is mobile. The linebackers in particular are adept at bursting through run gaps and making plays in the backfield. As a result, the play-calling needs to be altered as a means to combat the expected pressure Oregon will likely bring. 

 

Win the Battle Up Front

While UCLA's offensive line has had problems, the Oregon front has faced similar difficulties. In the last two contests, Oregon's offensive line has given up 12 sacks. On the season, the Ducks rank No. 110 overall in sacks allowed. 

Injuries have ravaged the overall depth of the Oregon offensive line group. Projected starter (and best lineman) Tyler Johnstone is out for the entire season.

Starting tackle Jake Fisher has been nursing a lower-leg injury for the past few weeks. Reserve linemen Andre Yruretagoyena and Haniteli Lousi have also been out for multiple weeks. According to Dane Brugler of CBS Sports, Fisher will be a game-time decision for this weekend's contest. 

As a result, Oregon starts a true freshman (Tyrell Crosby) and a walk-on (Matt Pierson) at both tackle spots.  

UCLA needs to take advantage of these matchups and get after Mariota with pressure. Pierson in particular has struggled versus the speed-rush. Deon Hollins could be a huge factor in this ballgame with his ability to utilize his quickness and speed off the edge. Dually, Crosby will likely be going up against a 5th-year senior in Owamagbe Odighizuwa. 

The Bruins need to win the battle up front with their defensive line against Oregon's group. 

 

Keep Containment

Utah killed UCLA last week with the zone-read element. Utes quarterback Kendal Thompson was effective running the football in large part because of UCLA's failure in keeping containment on the edge. 

Against Oregon, this is a must. The defensive end must stay home and not crash down too hard on the tailback. Should this scenario continue on Saturday, Mariota will have a field-day rushing for yardage. 

If anything, last week may have provided UCLA with good practice for what it'll see on Saturday. Regardless, the defense will have to stay disciplined. It also has to tackle well in space against the vast array of skill position talent Oregon possesses. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Buying or Selling Every Top 10 Team as Playoff Championship Contender

If college football were a stock market, this past weekend would have resulted in record trading.

With seven unbeaten teams and 11 ranked schools losing last week, the likelihood of having four clear contenders for the national title is dwindling. The College Football Playoff selection committee is going to have its hands full trying to sift through what is shaping up to be a long list of worthy candidates for the semifinal bowl games.

A smart investor knows not to make impulse transactions, but as things stand now, it's time to take a look at the teams currently occupying the top 10 spots in the Associated Press poll to see whether they really stack up as championship contenders or pretenders.

Follow along to see whether it's smart to buy low or sell high.

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Florida State Football: What an Improved O-Line Would Mean for the 'Noles

What would an improved offensive line mean for the Florida State football team? It would mean a better Jameis Winston.

The reigning Heisman Trophy winner has been very good in 2014 but hasn’t been consistently spectacular like he was during a memorable redshirt freshman campaign that saw him capture a handful of national awards and guide the Seminoles to the national championship.

After leading the nation in 2013 with a passer rating of 184.85, Winston’s current rating of 153.19 ranks 26th in the country. A top-30 passer rating is certainly nothing to scoff at, but Winston simply hasn’t been as sharp in his second year guiding the FSU offense.

However, this is no sophomore slump.

Instead, Winston’s dip in efficiency has everything to do with a wide receiver corps in transition.

After throwing the football to Kelvin Benjamin, Kenny Shaw and Rashad Greene all season en route to a title, Winston has had to continue to evolve with an aerial attack featuring a host of youngsters alongside the veteran playmaker Greene.

As Jared Shanker and ESPN Stats & Info reveals, Winston has proven his ability to play under pressure. But without a veteran pass-catching corps to trust like he did last year, Winston’s success rate when the play breaks down has dwindled dramatically:

While young wide receivers like Jesus Wilson, Travis Rudolph and Ermon Lane have emerged in recent weeks, it will still take some time for them to earn the same level of trust that Winston had in last year’s pass-catchers.

Having the security blanket of Benjamin’s 6’5” frame and Shaw's fearlessness going across the middle of the field to accompany Greene's premier route running can’t be overlooked when discussing Winston’s successful debut season.

So until that trust level reaches a similar level with every wide receiver not named Greene, the pressure is on FSU’s offensive line to step up and protect Winston even better with the hopes of keeping him out of those under-pressure situations.

It will also be important for the line to keep improving so that the Seminoles’ ground game can generate some consistency.

But that may prove to be easier said than done.

FSU lost starting center Austin Barron to injury in last week’s win over Wake Forest and is now expected to start redshirt freshman Ryan Hoefeld Saturday at Syracuse. Hoefeld will benefit from a should-be tune-up game against the Orange before potential undefeated teams FSU and Notre Dame clash Oct. 18.

It probably won’t matter against Syracuse, but Florida State’s offensive line needs to be better so that Winston can be better—especially with a likely Top Five matchup looming in the near future.

 

Brandon Mellor is a Florida State writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Statistics courtesy of Seminoles.com and cfbstats.com. All recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

Follow @BrandonMellor on Twitter.

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USC Football: How Trojans Can Contain Rich Rod's Arizona Offense

USC football has no time to catch its breath—not if it's to slow down the No. 10-ranked Arizona Wildcats. 

The Trojans defense is up against one of college football's most celebrated offensive minds Saturday night—Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez—just one week after it surrendered 20 points to Arizona State in less than four minutes. 

Arizona State's final offensive eruption left the USC defense stinging this week, in part because it had executed coordinator Justin Wilcox's strategy well for the previous 56 minutes. 

"Our defensive plan coming in, we wanted to set the tone and stop the run," cornerback Adoree' Jackson said Wednesday after practice at Howard Jones Field. The Trojans did that, limiting Arizona State to just 31 yards rushing as a team.  

In selling out against the Sun Devils' multifaceted run game, in particular running back D.J. Foster, Jackson described more of a containment philosophy against the pass. 

"Which we did a good job of doing," he said. "Until the last three minutes of the game." 

USC's performance before that final stretch was not lost on Arizona State head coach Todd Graham, who saw his high-octane offense held to around 300 total yards up to that point. 

Of course, most offenses in the Pac-12 operate in such a way that a few minutes is all they need to change a game's dynamic. 

 

Quick Change 

Arizona State quarterback Mike Bercovici threw for 233 of his 510 yards in the Sun Devils' final three possessions.

Combined with the 462 rushing yards Wilcox's defense gave up in a Week 3 loss at Boston College, Arizona State's final burst has attracted criticism. 

Head coach Steve Sarkisian was adamant Wednesday in his defense of Wilcox's play-calling. 

"Justin's done a very good job," Sarkisian said. "It's unfortunate that the [Arizona State] game ended the way it did...I thought we played really good defense on Saturday for three-and-a-half quarters. 

"We give up a 4th-and-10 [conversion] on a 98-yard drive that extends the drive and they score a touchdown," he added. "We gave up...a [73]-yard touchdown pass, and we gave up a Hail Mary. So I don't think that's necessarily indicative of the defense we have." 

In addition to its performance for much of the way against Arizona State, Sarkisian also referred to USC limiting Pac-12 single-season passing record holder and Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion to 123 yards in Week 5. 

USC has shown flashes of being a great defense but must sustain it for an entire 60 minutes to beat Arizona. 

The Wildcats promise to test Wilcox's bunch with its many weapons, some of which can be unleashed out of the same sets. 

"They're a run-option pass team," Jackson said. "Basically you have to figure out if they're running the ball, optioning or passing the ball, because they do all three in one play." 

 

Anu Challenge for USC 

Quarterback Anu Solomon is the catalyst who sets the wheels in motion for Arizona's multidimensional attack. And like Arizona State's Bercovici, he's someone who can erupt for big yards in short periods of time.  

At 348.2 yards per game, Solomon is the nation's seventh-most prolific passer. In the last two games, Solomon put together a 235-yard fourth quarter against Cal and a 143-yard third quarter at Oregon, per ArizonaWildcats.com.

Solomon's gaudy passing statistics are in part the result of what Sarkisian describes as "a plethora of receivers." 

Arizona has five receivers with 10 or more catches this season, led by Cayleb Jones' 32 for 525 yards. Jones is reminiscent of Arizona State's Jaelen Strong, who hit USC for 202 yards a week ago. 

As it has all season, the USC secondary must contain the pass without redshirt senior cornerback Josh Shaw. Shaw was suspended indefinitely prior to Week 1 for lying about an incident in which he injured his ankles. 

"It's obvious when you have a senior and leader, you'd love to have him out there," Sarkisian said of Shaw. "Especially in our conference where so many people are throwing the ball." 

Shaw's absence has made for a decidedly young secondary. To wit, two of the unit's cornerstones—Jackson and Chris Hawkins—are freshmen.

In addition to its collective youth, the USC defense is also thin. That can wear down a unit faced with stopping an offense that operates as quickly as Arizona's. 

Much as Arizona State did last week, Arizona can put up points in a hurry. The Wildcats are so devoted to speed, Rodriguez appeared in video parodying the 1994 movie of that name. 

But for as good as the numbers say the Arizona offense is this season, there are dents in the Wildcats' armor previous opponents have exploited.

 

Aggression with Balance 

Despite his impressive statistics and growing national profile, Solomon is still a freshman prone to lapses.

"He's still growing up," Rodriguez said of Solomon on the Pac-12 coaches teleconference Tuesday.  

USC can look to Cal's effort for three quarters in Week 4 for inspiration on containing Rodriguez's offense and rattling Solomon.

The Golden Bears stacked the box to contain the run and mixed blitzes off the edges, which caused Solomon to force throws. 

Arizona also struggled to finish drives in Week 2 at UT-San Antonio. The Roadrunners brought consistent pressure, which resulted in a number of overthrows and missed targets from Solomon.

USC can slow Arizona with a similarly aggressive approach. The challenge then is not over-pursuing, which the Wildcats' zone read is designed to exploit. 

Boston College specifically attacked USC in that way. Hawkins said Eagles blockers intentionally left Trojans All-American defensive lineman Leonard Williams unchecked, allowing his pursuit of quarterback Tyler Murphy to dictate where the ball went. 

Rodriguez's system can make defenses pay in much the same fashion.

"It's a matter of making sure we're properly aligned," Sarkisian said. "It's not just about Leonard, it's about all 11 players on every defensive snap [ensuring] that our responsibilities are in tact."

Ultimately for USC Saturday, containing the Wildcats is as simple as meeting these responsibilities, Sarkisian said. As last week proved, however, the Trojans must do so for the entire night.  

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

SEC Extra Points with Barrett Sallee: Jeff Driskel's Last Stand, Angry Spurrier

Jeff Driskel's Last Stand

Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel was benched late in the third quarter of the Gators' 10-9 win over Tennessee last week and watched from the sideline as true freshman Treon Harris led a 10-point fourth-quarter comeback to topple the Vols.

Two days later, Harris was suspended indefinitely from the program while under investigation for a sexual assault that allegedly occurred Sunday morning at an on-campus residence hall.

The quarterback job is Driskel's yet again, but he's going to have to be much better than he was against the Vols when he completed just 11 of 23 passes for 59 yards, no touchdowns and three interceptions.

"Jeff's a very strong, mentally tough guy," head coach Will Muschamp said on Wednesday's teleconference. "We had a talk Sunday and Monday. He was going to play in this game regardless of the situation if he started or not, and we expect him to play well."

What if he doesn't, though?

Muschamp already ripped the tablecloth off the table and made the move to Harris—and it worked. Would he make a similar move to Skyler Mornhinweg or true freshman Will Grier if Driskel struggles against LSU? It certainly seems that way, according to David Jones of Florida Today and Edgar Thompson of the Orlando Sentinel.

Muschamp knows how important this game is.

LSU is a far cry from where it was in 2011 when it last won the SEC title. Its defense is soft in the middle, can't contain running backs and running quarterbacks on the edge, and its offense is unlikely to make major dents against Florida's defense and force a shootout.

If Driskel is ineffective again, Muschamp will make a move. The season, and his job, might depend on it.

 

Angry Steve Spurrier Is Angry

South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier in front of a hot microphone is always a good idea, and the "Head Ball Coach" came through for the college football world on Wednesday, taking shots left and right—mostly at himself.

The Gamecocks have sputtered to a 3-3 record to start the season, which includes back-to-back losses to Missouri and Kentucky. What's the problem? Everything.

"Well that's a good question, what isn't working?" Spurrier said on the coaches teleconference. "We're pretty much near the bottom in every stat."

He's not lying. The Gamecocks rank 12th or worse in all four major defensive categories.

"We've got some coaching to do, and we're trying to. We don't have a pass rush, as everybody knows. That makes it difficult when the other team is throwing. Run defense is actually a bigger issue than pass defense. So anyway, we have some issues, but we're going to try to keep coaching these guys."

During Spurrier's radio show on Wednesday night, he went "full Spurrier," knocking himself and the team essentially all night, via Josh Kendall of The State:

Never change, Head Ball Coach.

Never change.

 

Big Game Dan

For the second straight week, all eyes will be on the state of Mississippi. 

No. 2 Auburn will travel to Starkville to take on co-No. 3 Mississippi State on Saturday afternoon, one week after the Bulldogs throttled then-No. 6 Texas A&M 48-31 at Davis Wade Stadium.

"Someone who looked it up told me that a matchup of these highly ranked teams could make it the biggest game ever in the history of Mississippi," head coach Dan Mullen said. "That's pretty exciting for us. Our guys understand that we have a long way to go, a lot of work and a great challenge ahead of us."

Hard work for Mullen, who isn't concerned about getting his guys up two weeks in a row for "the biggest game of their lives."

"We're only 2-0 in the SEC, and I think we wanted to win a lot more in the SEC than those two games," he said. "I think our guys really understand that focus. A lot of the attention that comes is kind of cool and kind of neat, but it really has nothing to do with our goal of winning the SEC West. That has always been our focus."

Is it coach speak? Yeah, probably.

Can Mullen—or any coach—really get 100 or so 18-to-22-year-olds to focus on the process and only on the process? Of course not. 

He is, however, taking the approach of a big-game coach, which is a good sign for the Bulldogs.

 

A Shining Star

Ole Miss is riding high following its 23-17 win over then-No. 3 Alabama last weekend in Oxford, but there's no time for the Rebels to pat themselves on the back. 

A road trip to College Station for a 9 p.m. ET tilt with Texas A&M awaits, and it's one that features one of the brightest up-and-coming stars in the SEC.

Aggies defensive end Myles Garrett has been the brightest star on A&M's otherwise anonymous defense, notching 6.5 sacks through the first six games of the season.

"He is a phenomenal talent," Rebels head coach Hugh Freeze said. "He's really quick-twitched, he has good pass rush moves that he's worked on in his craft. He's a guy who you better know where he is."

Halfway through the season, Garrett finds himself just 1.5 sacks away from tying the SEC single-season freshman sack record, which was set in 2011 by some guy named Jadeveon Clowney.

"I wasn't even aware of that until somebody pointed that out the other day," Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin said. "He's extremely explosive, he's very, very gifted naturally, and he's working on his technique as all young guys are gonna do. He's starting to see different blocking schemes, which is the greatest compliment. We sat him down a couple weeks ago when he was frustrated and said, ' that's the best compliment you can have when running backs and tight ends are sliding out and chipping you on the way out and protection is sliding to you, that's good."

Garrett will be coming after Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace on Saturday night in College Station, and if "Bad Bo" is out, it will be a long night for the No. 3 Rebels.

 

Quick Outs

  • Mississippi State walks a fine line with its cowboys, which are allowed to be used inside Davis Wade Stadium only if fans "ring responsibly." Athletics director Scott Stricklin reminded fans—25 percent of which he surmised didn't ring responsibly last week—to play by the rules or risk having the privilege revoked.
  • Kentucky is suddenly a football school following its 45-38 win over South Carolina. According to KentuckySportsRadio.com, fans received black t-shirts last week that say "why not?" There's not really a good answer to that question yet for Mark Stoops' crew, which sits at 2-1 within the conference. 
  • Auburn's defense has allowed conference opponents to convert just two of 24 third downs this year. That'll work.
  • What's the most challenging part about this week's opponent for Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema? "A-L-A-B-A-M-A," he said. He's not wrong.

 

 

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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Texas A&M Football: Should Aggies DC Mark Snyder Be on the Hot Seat?

The Texas A&M football team is 5-1 despite having one of the top offenses in the nation. Its defense is again struggling to stop anyone. After three years in College Station, Aggies defensive coordinator Mark Snyder is coaching for his job.

The Texas A&M offense is currently ranked No. 3 in the nation, averaging 583.2 yards per game. The defense is ranked No. 75 and is allowing 406.8 yards per game. In its last two games against SEC opponents, the Aggie defense has allowed 521.5 yards and 38 points on average.

The bottom line in the Southeastern Conference is that you need to play championship-level defense to win championships. You do not have to be dominant on the defensive side, but you have to be able to consistently create turnovers and get the opposing offense off the field.

The Aggies have not been able to do this during the last two seasons. The 2013 defense was very poor, allowing 475.8 yards per game and ranking No. 109 overall in the nation. 

The Aggies played numerous freshmen in 2013 and were supposed to benefit from their experience in 2014. Some of the same issues that were present in 2013 are still there in 2014. 

 

Blown Coverages

The Aggies secondary still struggles with blowing coverages in 2014. In 2013, Aggie fans would watch strong safety Howard Matthews blow his assignment on the wheel route on a weekly basis. He has been better in 2014, but the secondary is still allowing long touchdowns. 

The emergence of freshman safety Armani Watts has allowed Matthews to play closer to the line of scrimmage, where he has excelled. Watts has made some mistakes coming up to play the run, but overall he has been a solid addition to the secondary. 

Senior cornerback Deshazor Everett and junior cornerback De'Vante Harris have taken turns getting beaten for long touchdowns. Harris returned from injury to start against Arkansas and has struggled in coverage.

When you play football at a high level, your defensive backs are going to get beaten at times. However, there is no excuse for seeing opposing wide receivers running free in the secondary on a weekly basis.

It may be a matter of simplifying the coverages or playing different players, but it needs to be rectified. There is no excuse for having a poor secondary every season. Ultimately the responsibility for that lies at the feet of the defensive coordinator.

 

The Biggest Issue

The Aggies' biggest problem on defense is their linebacker play. The defensive line has improved since 2013, but the linebackers remain a weak point.

The Aggies do not have the requisite depth or size at the linebacker position to put an effective unit on the field. When 6'1", 230-pound senior Donnie Baggs is a starter, there are issues at the position. Baggs regularly gets run over by opposing running backs and is not effective against the run.

The Aggies sophomore middle linebacker Jordan Mastrogiovanni has recorded seven total tackles in the past two games. The Aggies played consecutive games against running teams in Arkansas and Mississippi State, and Mastrogiovanni was ineffective against both teams.

You cannot win in the SEC if you cannot stop the run, and the Aggies cannot stop the run with such poor linebacker play. Snyder is ultimately responsible for recruiting the talent to run his defense. If he does not have the linebackers on the roster to run his scheme, then it is his fault.

Snyder has been at A&M for three years, which has given him plenty of time to recognize the lack of talent at the position and address that need through the recruitment of junior-college players.

His failure to do so up to this point has caused a glaring weakness on his defense. If your front seven is weak in the SEC, you will not win football games. And right now the Aggies' front seven is weak because the play at linebacker is so poor.

 

What Needs to Change

There are no easy answers on defense. If it were as easy as simplifying the defense so the players could execute it easier, then that would have already have been done. 

There are ways to cover up deficiencies at one or two positions on a defense, but that is hard to do when it is an entire unit. The bottom line is that Snyder needs to figure it out quickly. The Aggies cannot afford to have another poor defensive season like they did in 2013. 

If the defense does not take a step forward in 2014, then Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin needs to find a coordinator who can make it take that step forward. You cannot expect to win championships with offense and special teams alone. 

The defense has to play at a high level consistently, and up to this point that has not been the case under Snyder. 

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Oregon's Defense Is the Key to Victory vs. UCLA and Brett Hundley

The Oregon Ducks and the UCLA Bruins both suffered major upset losses in Week 6. They are looking for redemption as they square off against each other this Saturday.

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder discusses the keys to victory for both team in this huge Pac-12 matchup.

Will Oregon make the College Football Playoff with one loss?

Watch the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Auburn vs. Mississippi State: Bone-Chilling Hype Tape for the Ultimate Showdown

The Auburn Tigers and the Mississippi State Bulldogs square off in a battle of unbeaten SEC powers in Week 7. Both teams feature electrifying quarterbacks who are in the middle of the Heisman Trophy race.

Auburn QB Nick Marshall is coming off arguably his best performance of the season in a game against LSU where he accounted for four touchdowns. Bulldogs signal-caller Dak Prescott has emerged onto the national scene with wins over Texas A&M and LSU. This game will be entertaining.

Who will win: Auburn or Mississippi State?

Watch the video and let us know! 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Rich Rodriguez Is Vindicated, but Will He Be Lured to a Big Program Again?

We like our happily-ever-afters in sports. The final gun and the final score. Rich Rodriguez has won the vindication war with Michigan. The end. You know the story: He was never accepted and then was thrown out for not being a true Michigan Man. And while Michigan now collapses with its once-beloved Michigan Man in place, Rodriguez is on top of the college coaching world again out in the desert.   

Arizona is undefeated, and ranked No. 10 with a signature win over then-No. 2 Oregon. Going into Saturday's big game against USC, it is in strong position to make the first College Football Playoff under RichRod. Is this the big I-told-you-so moment for him?

"Well, I don't know," Rodriguez told Bleacher Report. "I think that's left up for everybody else. Everybody said the experience was so bad (at Michigan) and 'You didn't fit up there.' I always said there was a lot of BS. It's been talked about, and there's some that hasn't even been out there (written about).

"We thought we'd fought through it all. And had we had a chance to see it through the fourth or fifth year, we thought we'd have a chance to compete for championships. But that didn't happen. We didn't get to year four, and that was unfortunate. But we're going to get to year four at Arizona."

That was a pretty good I-told-you-so, but was it the end of the story? Arizona surely hopes so, but it was only six or seven years ago that Rodriguez was one of the hottest college coaches in the country. And now that he's back, that only means that other schools are going to come calling again, going to consider his problems at Michigan to be the fault of Michigan's dysfunction.

Enjoy the moment, Arizona fans. Because these things turn fast in college football. Rodriguez will be courted by the end of the year. Count on it.

Big schools will call with big budgets, big recruiting bases and big histories. Those aren't things that Arizona has. And the question for Rodriguez is going to be whether he wants to jump back in again to the traditional big-time football powerhouse schools with all the same pressures and politics, resources and responsibilities. Or can he reach his goals at Arizona?

"Two things: I'd much rather have a coach in demand than a coach you're indifferent about or wanting to make a change," Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne, who hired Rodriguez, told Bleacher Report when asked what he'd do when schools come calling. "And we've invested in our football program heavily, as much as ever has been here. Do we have the same revenue streams as all the big programs out there? No we don't."

Let's be honest: Florida is most likely going to have an opening. If they were to come for Rodriguez, should he really ignore that for Arizona?

Yes, he should. Rodriguez has already gone that route, and it was the one failure in his career. He can turn Arizona into his own personal football palace. At Michigan, he had to try to wipe away generations of football, Michigan style, to put in his modern, no-huddle, spread offense. At Arizona, the canvas was blank, the fans were looking for his signature. And it fits in well in the Pac-12.

But that's far too simplistic. Rodriguez told me last year that the reason he left West Virginia for Michigan in the first place was that he didn't believe the school's new president was willing to make the financial commitment to make it a national championship contender. That's what he wanted. And remember, he left shortly after signing a contract with West Virginia, where fans thought they had their man for the long term.

Byrne points out that Arizona has spent heavily to improve its stadium and football facilities in the past few years. It's new and it's nice. But it isn't a palace like University of Nike, er, Oregon has.

Meanwhile, Rodriguez, according to Sports Illustrated's Andy Staples, makes $2.2 million and has, basically, an annuity—in the form of equity in a donor's company—currently worth about $6 million waiting for him if he stays at Arizona five more years.

But while Arizona is a basketball power, is it really able to be one in football? USA Today recently reported on the 2013 revenues of the nation's athletic departments. Texas was No. 1 at $165.6 million. Florida was No. 6 at $130 million. Arizona? No. 42 at $68.5 million.

ESPN recruiting expert Jeremy Crabtree told Bleacher Report that Arizona does have a solid recruiting base. He said that high school football has improved dramatically the past 10 years in the state and that the university is well regarded in Southern California. But still, he said, Arizona comes in behind USC and UCLA in the pecking order for recruits there. He said that Arizona can beat out the likes of Oregon State and Arizona State for California kids, and that might be surviving on, say, the 10th best players at certain position instead of top two or three.

So that might make it hard to compete for national championships regularly. At Florida, he said, Rodriguez would have a shot at landing any recruit.

Yes, but couldn't Arizona and RichRod lure kids from the Midwest, who are all ignoring the Big Ten and heading South or West to play in the warm?

And an even bigger issue is fit. It's something you're starting to see college basketball coaches pay attention to, as coaches from mid-majors don't just automatically jump for the next biggest job. You can accomplish plenty from the mid-majors; even the Boston Celtics hired their coach from Butler.

At Florida, fans would immediately be wondering why Rodriguez isn't winning national championships the way Urban Meyer did. At Arizona he was welcomed immediately and given the chance to do his thing.

"Well, I've heard a lot of talk about fit and who's the right fit and all that kind of stuff," Rodriguez said. "And I think sometimes that's just talk. If you've got a plan and a program you want to put in place and you're allowed the time to install that and see it through, then you'll be the right fit.

"People say, `Well you weren't the right fit at Michigan.' I'm the same guy I was at Michigan, (and) I was at West Virginia, and the same before that. Sometimes people see what they want to see as far as are you the right fit or not. That to me is kind of silly."

I could not disagree more. Everyone knows what it's like to take a job working for the wrong boss with the wrong co-workers in the wrong environment. It is miserable. And it just about ruined Rodriguez' career.

Rodriguez told me last year that he was undermined at Michigan, and theoretically he was talking about his predecessor, Lloyd Carr. For most of his career, Rodriguez had been the folksy guy telling folksy stories, such as how he invented parts of his offense. He was known as one of the game's true offensive innovators. But he'd say that the only reason he started having his offense hurry up without huddles was because he thought it was strange how two-minute offenses always seemed to move downfield so easily, but his regular offense didn't. He makes jokes about how his band didn't know the victory song.

Anyway, he'd say he installed the shotgun only because his quarterback way back when was too short to see over the line from up close. And all that stuff just stuck.

By the time he left Michigan, perception was that he was just the failure who violated NCAA practice rules and used language that was too harsh.

Byrne said that when he hired Rodriguez, he decided that the West Virginia RichRod was the real one, not the Michigan RichRod. He said he thought Tucson would be the right environment for Rodriguez, his family and even his staff.

He was right.

Rodriguez, who's 50, doesn't have to go anywhere else to reach the top. It took him until this past week's win over Oregon, nearly four years, to fully live down his last attempt at the top. The lure will be strong again, but if anybody should know by now, he should know that this is the place for his happily ever after.

 

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

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NFL Draft: Biggest Risers & Fallers Featuring the Next Adrian Peterson

With another college football week in the books, it's time to evaluate some of the top talent in the country. Which college star is NFL-ready?

Bleacher Report NFL draft lead writer Matt Miller joins Bleacher Report college football analyst Michael Felder to discuss who is rising and who is falling on Miller's NFL draft board.

Will Todd Gurley be selected in the first round of the 2015 NFL draft?

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ohio State Football: Inside Urban Meyer's State of the Union Address to Team

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Every year, somewhere between the end the nonconference slate and the start of the league schedule, Urban Meyer delivers a state of the union address to his team. And more times than not, it includes discussion of the national title hunt.

This year was no exception, with the Ohio State head coach opting for the Buckeyes' second bye week in the past month to deviate from his typical opponent-at-hand approach. And while Meyer insists that this year's talk was a short one, his message was unmistakable.

All of Ohio State's goals—national championship included—remain on the table.

"I just show the rankings and show the teams, because they are going to hear it," Meyer told reporters on Wednesday. "When you look at it, everything is wide-open. In college football, this is a pretty open year.”

Meyer is not wrong, and a big part of that has to do with last weekend, which saw five of the top eight teams in the AP Top 25 and 11 ranked squads overall suffer losses. "They called it the strangest week ever—or whatever," Meyer said.

As a result, the Buckeyes jumped five spots in the AP Top 25, where they now sit at No. 15 after dropping to as low as 23rd following their Sept. 6 loss to Virginia Tech. Since its defeat at the hands of the Hokies, Ohio State has reeled off three consecutive wins and again appears to be on a collision course with 4-1 Michigan State for a de facto Big Ten East Division title game in East Lansing on Nov. 8.

And while there's no telling how the first-ever College Football Playoff committee would view a potential one-loss Big Ten champion, Meyer insists that's not the type of thing that the Buckeyes are focusing on anyways.

“We’re not really clinging to it," Meyer said. "But we’ve got a team that sees itself getting better. They’re much more confident in the way that they’re playing. They have a lot of confidence in our quarterback and skill players, and they’re seeing the defense be what it’s supposed to be right now."

Those ingredients have gone hand in hand with the winning recipe that has led to Ohio State's reinsertion into the playoff picture, which is already as messy as anyone could have imagined it would be at this point in the season.

But while the emergence of redshirt freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett and an apparently improving defense have put the Buckeyes in a more preferable position than they were in a month ago, Meyer admitted to being worried about OSU's second week off in the past four weeks. That, and not a potential playoff run, is the third-year Buckeyes head coach's top concern, as his team gears up for a crucial three-game stretch before its highly anticipated showdown with the Spartans.

"I don’t think these kids care," Meyer said of where Ohio State stands nationally. "I’m hoping they just want to get better. The thing we’re most concerned about is we had momentum and it’s been taken away, so we’ve got to keep that momentum somehow.”

In talking to the Buckeyes players, it became clear that Meyer's message to the media and his team were one and the same. In the span of two questions, center Jacoby Boren used the phrase "we can only control what we can control" three separate times, which is indicative of the mindset that Meyer has attempted to instill in his team.

"Stuff got pretty crazy last weekend," Boren said. "But I think our attitude is we just try to go out and get better every week. We can only control what we can control. We’re going to go out and try to win every game...win a Big Ten championship. After that we’ll see how things stack up, and hopefully they work out for us.

"But we can only control what we can control.”

That doesn't mean, however, that the Buckeyes haven't found themselves as bigger fans of certain teams in recent weeks. After all, Ohio State knows that it could still use some help in order to ultimately end up as one of the four teams chosen to participate in the first College Football Playoff.

“I would think we’d be kind of stupid not to," Boren said. "No doubt we want to have aspirations of doing big things. But if you see [a team] lose, you’re like, ‘OK, it’s good for us,’ but if we lose, it means nothing. So all we can do is keep winning every week and hopefully keep building on that, and we’ll go good places.”

Which gets to the core of why Meyer opted to acknowledge the Buckeyes' situation in the first place. And although the conversation may have been brief, it could ultimately be crucial when it comes to how Ohio State proceeds into the heart of its 2014 season.

“We had I’d say a five-minute discussion, because I know they’re going to hear about it probably walking around campus or watching TV, so why not address it?" Meyer said. "So, we address it and move on.

"I don’t want them to hear much about it at all after our conversation."

 

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.

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Oklahoma vs. Texas Complete Game Preview

It’s always fireworks when the Oklahoma Sooners and Texas Longhorns tangle in Dallas.

Last season, the Longhorns shocked their rivals, upsetting the then-unbeaten Sooners, 36-20. It only goes to show that records are nothing but numbers when it comes to heated rivalries.

Will Texas surprise Oklahoma again? Or will the Sooners get sweet revenge?

Here’s everything you need to know about Saturday’s matchup.

 

Where: Cotton Bowl

When: Saturday, October 11, noon ET

Watch: ABC

Live Stream: Sooner Sports

Listen: Sooner Sports Radio Network

Betting Line: Oklahoma (-14), per Odds Shark

Begin Slideshow

College Football Week 7 Predictions: Picking Top 25 Games Against the Spread

It’s not an act you want to follow, but Week 7 has no choice but to roll up its sleeves and dive right in.

Following an upset-driven, chaos-infused weekend of college football, we are back at it once again, still processing what we observed. While it would be unreasonable to demand an encore of Week 6 magnitude, this stacked slate of games seems more than capable of following accordingly.

The AP Poll has a much different look and feel this week, which is understandable after 11 of the top 19 teams added a tally in the loss column. With the rankings rebooted, we’re continuing our weekly tradition of picking all games featuring Top 25 teams against the spread.

Given the magnificent carnage, last weekend’s 10-6-1 pick performance will suffice. We can do better, however, and that’s the plan this week. Of course it is.

 

All spreads are courtesy of Odds Shark unless noted otherwise.

Begin Slideshow

Jon Gruden's College Profile Reveals He Wanted to Coach Michigan Wolverines

If the 2-4 Brady Hoke-led Michigan Wolverines are looking for a new leader, a Super Bowl-winning coach might be available. Well, that's if old media guides are to be believed.

While San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh is a popular name who may be available after the 2014 season, Jon Gruden is another potential candidate to keep an eye on.

In Gruden's college profile at the University of Dayton, he revealed that he wanted to coach the Wolverines. Of course, he never did, instead starting out at the University of Tennessee in 1985 as a graduate assistant and finishing his career as a head coach with Oakland Raiders (1998–2001) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2002–2008).

He won Super Bowl XXXVII with the Bucs for the 2002 season and has a career head coaching record of 95-81.

Gruden, 51, hasn't coached since 2008 with the Buccaneers, and he currently works for ESPN as an NFL analyst.

[Twitter]

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Michigan Football: Signs That Brady Hoke Was Doomed from the Beginning

Brady Hoke needs a miracle to save his job.

As he prepares his team for a night home game vs. Penn State, Hoke stands inches from the point of no return, teetering between his passionate desire to lead the Wolverines to a new era of dominance and a dismal 4-10 record over the past 14 games that threatens to end his tenure.

But he was doomed the moment he arrived in Ann Arbor—done in by his new boss and the people he brought in to build his offense.


Bungled Coaching Search

When Rich Rodriguez was fired by athletic director David Brandon, there were two primary candidates that most fans expected to vie for the job—Les Miles and Jim Harbaugh.

Both had Michigan ties and had success as college coaches. But years of media leaks that Miles was the coach-in-waiting for Michigan had taken a toll on his credibility. The leaks were coming from somewhere and it certainly wasn’t Ann Arbor. An observer could easily conclude that the drip of rumors was a tactic to help Miles earn a steady stream of contract upgrades. Michigan was a bargaining chip that served Miles well.

Harbaugh was a different matter. He played quarterback for Bo Schembechler, had a successful career in the NFL and returned to the college game, eventually leading Stanford back to national prominence. He was slightly tarnished by a drunk driving incident (something that Michigan was sensitive to in the wake of Gary Moeller’s public meltdown), but the incident was well in the past.

Brandon’s slow-motion firing of Rodriguez resulted in a media blitz that had reporters tracking down every private plane leaving Michigan in an attempt to decipher where Brandon was conducting his coaching search. While only six days passed between Rodriguez’s firing and Hoke’s hire, the rumor mill had churned long enough to give the impression that he was anything but the first choice. He certainly wasn’t the first choice of most fans who craved a candidate with a higher national profile.

Hoke and Brandon embarked on a national tour to woo Michigan fans and alumni, and for the first year everything went better than could be expected. Michigan went 11-2 while Brandon basked in the renaissance of Michigan football.

But what Brandon intended as a systematic coaching search damaged Hoke's stature among many fans; something that would bubble to the surface as the team failed to repeat the success of his first season. And Brandon, who had taken a very public role during Hoke’s first successful season, now finds himself inextricably linked to Hoke as the program falters.


No Offensive Identity

One the main questions facing Hoke in his first season was how he would deal with star quarterback Denard Robinson. Robinson had decided not to transfer, giving Hoke something Rodriguez didn’t have during his first season—a quality experienced quarterback.

Robinson wasn’t a good fit to lead a power-football offensive attack which required a quarterback who could keep a defense honest by being able to throw downfield. Robinson’s stature made it hard for him see past his linemen when throwing long. He also didn’t have the best throwing mechanics. What he did have was incredible acceleration and cutting ability that made him a dangerous weapon running the ball. During Hoke’s first season (2011), offensive coordinator Al Borges installed an offense that made use of Robinson’s talents and Michigan went 11-2.

The problem was that Robinson was a unique talent whose skills were best utilized running behind a line anchored by center David Molk. Molk, who won the the Rimington Trophy as the best center in the country in 2011 and was also the Big Ten offensive lineman of the year that same season, would be sorely missed after his graduation.

The Michigan offense relied on Robinson, who was practically impossible to replace, and Molk, who was one of the best offensive linemen in the recent history of Michigan football.

The next season (2012), Borges tried and failed to mold Robinson into a more conventional quarterback by having him move under center. The offense stumbled as Robinson tried to run less and pass more. The offensive line struggled to replace Molk, and as the season progressed, Robinson’s legs once again became the focal point of the offense. The wear and tear took its toll and he was injured for much of the season, eventually being knocked out off the Nebraska game.

Backup Russell Bellomy was crushed in relief of Robinson and Devin Gardner, who had moved to wide receiver, was rushed back to start at quarterback the next game vs. Minnesota. He would split duties with Robinson for the rest of the season.

Michigan finished 8-5, losing three more game than in Hoke’s first season.

The 2013 season began with Devin Gardner at quarterback, and Michigan finally appeared ready to unleash the power running game that Hoke had been promising since his arrival. But problems on the offensive line caused Borges to scrap planned offensive changes to again rely on his quarterback as the primary running attack—this time Gardner instead of Robinson. And once again, the quarterback took a beating, leaving him on crutches after the Ohio State game. Unlike Robinson, Gardner had the stature and throwing arm to make plays downfield, but his Achilles' heel was bad decision-making which resulted in 11 interceptions. 

Hoke fired Borges and brought in Doug Nussmeier from Alabama as offensive coordinator for the 2014 season. So far the results have been disastrous. Nussmeier has tried to deploy a solid running game but has been hampered by a poor offensive line. The Michigan offense lives and dies by its quarterback—as Devin Gardner continues his frenetic turnover pace with no apparent backup quarterback in sight.


Questionable Talent Upfront

Michigan's problems stem from a lack of development on the offensive line, which is ironic since Hoke has preached from day one at Michigan that success starts upfront.

But Michigan’s best players on the offensive line under Hoke—center David Molk, tackle Taylor Lewan and tackle Michael Shofield—were already on the team when Hoke arrived. Hoke and his staff have not recruited and developed any elite offensive linemen during his tenure. The offensive line problems have hampered both Al Borges and now Doug Nussmeier in their attempts to install offensive schemes that weren’t so dependent on amazing quarterback play.

It’s a vicious cycle—the more pressure on Gardner, the more he tries for big plays, which leads to more turnovers. Once again, there is no backup ready to replace him if he gets injured or falters. The running attack stalls as different linemen miss assignments every game.

 

Persistent Offensive Problems Sink Hoke

Brady Hoke started in a hole thanks to Brandon’s drawn-out decision to fire Rodriguez. It made them both look bad. Hoke had the luxury of inheriting a roster with more talent than the one Rodriguez did, but was unable to develop quarterback talent or offensive linemen.

The lack of player development has hampered the installation of any offense based on running the ball from the backfield.

The problems are almost the inverse of those of Rodriguez, who could put together a strong offense but whose defense was a disaster.

Hoke squandered talented recruiting classes by not making enough changes on his coaching staff to generate better player development.

When Hoke is fired, people will blame whatever record Michigan ends up with this season. But the seeds of his demise were planted before he came to Ann Arbor by an athletic director who was more concerned about making himself the story during the coaching search. Hoke is front and center taking the blame after every loss, which is fitting since he is responsible for the failure of his staff. It’s an example that David Brandon could learn from.


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

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