NCAA Football News

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! 

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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?

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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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Texas Needs Different Mindset to Upset Oklahoma, Turn Season Around

When Charlie Strong took the podium following Texas' loss to Baylor, he said something that caught the attention of the room: "We don't know how to win yet."

The Longhorns' 2-3 record proves just that.

"Finish" signs were plastered on the walls of the football facilities leading up to the Baylor game, but the Longhorns were not able to finish with a win.

In fact, the team has not been able to finish many games this season. Losing has almost become second nature to many players on the Longhorns roster, and the senior leaders want to change that.

When running back Malcolm Brown was in high school, he said he never entered a game feeling he was going to lose.

But he told his teammates he does not feel enough guys on the roster have that mentality in 2014.

"I can't even tell you any game we went in and I wasn't like, 'We're about to smash this team,'" Brown said. "I don't feel like that about this team, and we need to get that type of confidence."

Brown came from Steele High School (Cibolo, Texas), where his team was 44-9 in his three years as a starter. 

But his mindset has not changed. And other players on the team feel the same way.

"I expect to go out and win, but I don't think we have all of the guys expecting to go out and win," cornerback Quandre Diggs said. "I know guys are young, but that's no excuse. My freshman year, I had that mentality, but I guess everybody doesn't have that dog in them."

From the play on the field, it appears some Longhorns may be lacking that "dog" mentality.

"Some people are expecting, 'Oh, something is going to go wrong.' We may be playing well and something's going to go wrong instead of going out with the mindset that we're going to completely demolish this team," fifth-year senior linebacker Jordan Hicks said. "There's people who lack the confidence of we're going to go out there and smash opponents."

Defensive coordinator Vance Bedford understands what it takes to beat Oklahoma because Bedford was a part of four winning teams in the Red River Shootout.

And he still takes the game personally.

"If you want to talk, we can talk. If you want to fight, we can fight. That's what the Red River Shootout is," Bedford said. "They're coming into our state, the state of Texas. It's Texas pride. It's Texas attitude. That's how I feel about it. I'm trying to make sure my players feel that way."

Still, pulling an upset against No. 11 Oklahoma will not come easy.

The Sooners are coming off of a loss to TCU, and Bob Stoops' teams have never lost back-to-back conference games during his 16-year tenure coaching Oklahoma.

The opening spread for the 109th Red River Showdown had the Longhorns as a 14.5-point underdog to the Sooners, according to OddsShark.com. Nobody is really giving Strong's team a chance in this game.

But this is familiar territory for Texas.

Last season, the Longhorns entered the Cotton Bowl as an underdog but had the mindset that losing is not an option.

"There was something different about last year, as opposed to the few years before that when I was playing—I could just feel it," senior wide receiver Jaxon Shipley said. "If we come out with that same fire, I think we'll be good to go."

The Longhorns did not have a perfect scenario heading into the Oklahoma game last season. But the team knew it could win the game.

Texas has to have a win-at-all-cost mentality Saturday to avoid a fourth loss of the season.

"Guys were definitely motivated and ready to go out there," junior running back Johnathan Gray said of last season's game. "That's what we have to have this year. We went out there with a mentality that we have to win this game and it's a big game for everybody. That's the same kind of mentality we have this year, and we have to step out there on Saturday and do it."

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.

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

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What Tennessee Must Do to Turn Things Around and Reach Bowl Game in 2014

Opportunities remain for the Tennessee Volunteers to get those elusive six wins and become bowl-eligible for the first time since 2010, but they have a lot of work to do if they want to reach that goal.

The Vols' 10-9 loss to Florida in Neyland Stadium happened because UT squandered a nine-point fourth-quarter lead. The result was a 10th consecutive loss to the Gators and the Vols' third straight setback to drop their record to 2-3.

Saturday was pivotal for UT's season, and the Vols couldn't take advantage.

They know it, too.

UT coach Butch Jones was more terse with the media during Monday's press conference than he has been at any point this season, defending his offensive scheme and personnel decisions. Close losses wear on everybody involved, and it's no different on Rocky Top.

The admittedly impatient coach knows UT's young Vols—who've played 22 true freshmen and will add another to that list this week in running back Derrell Scott—are extremely close to breaking through.

But, so far, the Vols haven't done so with a big win.

A schedule riddled with land mines awaits, and, somehow, Jones and his young team have to come up with four more wins. This weekend's homecoming game against Chattanooga should be one, but, beyond that, from where will they come?

Some things have to change and improve if Tennessee is going to go bowling.

 

Cut Out Pivotal Mistakes

Staying in games hasn't been an issue for the Vols, but they've made extremely costly blunders that led to losses.

A few of them were unforced, too.

Trying to trim Oklahoma's late lead to 27-17, Justin Worley tried to force the football into double coverage from the 3-yard line. The ball was intercepted and returned 100 yards for a game-clinching score. It was his second interception in the end zone against OU.

With UT down only three points to Georgia in the fourth quarter, freshman running back Jalen Hurd lost a fumble that was recovered by UGA defensive lineman Josh Dawson for a touchdown to give the Bulldogs an insurmountable 10-point lead.

With UT leading Florida 9-0 at the end of the third quarter, Worley was hit by blitzing cornerback Jalen Tabor. Worley fumbled at the Gators' 30-yard line, and Treon Harris led them to a touchdown.

That pivotal play was sandwiched around other major miscues as well.

Linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin's potentially momentum-changing interception to start the second half was virtually erased when Worley threw one to Vernon Hargreaves III on the very next play.

Fast forward to UT's frenetic, game-ending drive when the Vols were down by a point. After converting a 4th-and-long pass to Pig Howard, Worley threw into double coverage again in what appeared to be a miscommunication with his receiver. It, too, was intercepted, and UT's hopes were dashed.

Those were all poor decisions that cost UT a shot to win key football games.

In four red-zone trips against the Gators, UT came away with nine points. Worley took the blame, telling GoVols247's Wes Rucker:

I think I’ve forced the ball a little bit more, made a couple of stupid throws that I wish I could take back. But, yeah, turnovers have hurt us the past couple of games. You can’t win when you turn the ball over. I, myself, have to do a better job personally. I take full responsibility for those plays. …

We've just got to protect the ball a little better. … It starts with me. I'm the quarterback.

The Vols haven't helped themselves with things like three false-start penalties on third downs against the Gators, but that stuff happens. It's the momentum-gutting cripplers that UT specializes in with games on the line, and they've got to cut them out.

 

Fix a Foundering Offense

Tennessee's porous offensive line hamstrings everything the Vols want to do on that side of the football. But the issues are deeper-rooted than that.

Jones noted, according to Rucker, that offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian's scheme is not to blame for the struggles. Instead, it's the execution.

Everyone thinks a great play call is a magical cure. Everybody runs the same plays. It comes down to execution. It's one-on-one matchups. There's only so many things we can do with run schemes and pass schemes. It still comes down to winning your one-on-one matchups, and that's the game of football.

Drops. Turnovers. Penalties. Mental blunders. They've all plagued the Vols.

Tennessee is 13th in the SEC in scoring offense, 13th in total offense, last in rushing offense and seventh in passing offense. Those are staggeringly telling numbers about how bad UT has been on that side of the ball.

Along with the blocking deficiencies, the team doesn't have a fullback it can plug in, either. The Vols have sometimes put a tight end in the backfield to help matters, but that doesn't always work when the offensive front is getting manhandled at the point of attack.

A week after defending Bajakian following a 32-point performance at Georgia, Jones again went to bat for his offensive coordinator this week.

This scheme, Jones said, is the best for the personnel on UT's roster, and play-calling isn't the reason for the struggles against the Gators.

Issues remain, however. So how do the Vols fix them?

Tennessee's scheme is far from perfect, but Bajakian—who has become a bit of a fall guy on UT message boards—isn't a miracle worker.

He's still charged with finding some ways to open up an offense that is devoid of an SEC-caliber line, but the Vols have to execute.

The onus falls on Worley and the offensive line, but they're not alone in shouldering blame.

Where was lethal weapon Ethan Wolf against Florida? The Vols' star freshman tight end, who'd been such an integral part of the offense, had one catch for three yards.

Marquez North finished with just four catches for 26 yards. Freshman Josh Malone had some critical drops, including an early one in the red zone that could have gone for a touchdown.

Though Von Pearson returned to the field, he was extremely limited and held to one catch against the Gators.

Since Worley doesn't have any time to let plays develop downfield, he has to rely on getting the ball to his elusive playmakers and letting them make big things happen. Nobody is better at that than Pearson, and UT will be better once he gets healthy.

Tennessee's offensive stars aren't starring. That has to improve immediately.

From play-calling to execution to finishing drives with touchdowns, the Vols must do a better job scoring points or they'll be watching bowl season for a fourth consecutive year.

 

Close the Deal

Of course, all three of these points bleed together into one universal conclusion: Tennessee has to pull off a key win that will open the program's floodgates.

Anybody can see UT is no longer the pushover it has been, but the Vols still aren't winners. They can't break through.

For those who point to last year's game against South Carolina qualifying as a signature win for the Jones regime, that's true. But that was another team, senior-laden and totally different than this group of freshmen.

"Team 118" needs to win a big game against a quality opponent to prove to everybody that it can and to provide another steppingstone for the program.

To do that, the Vols have to stop turning the ball over, they've got to execute better on offense and they've got to get over the psychological hump of winning a big game. It's a lesson every young team needs to learn, and UT has yet to do it.

There are several opportunities left. The Vols should beat the Mocs this weekend, but somewhere among a gauntlet of Ole Miss, Alabama, South Carolina, Kentucky, Missouri and Vanderbilt, they need to find three more wins.

There's no reason to think that can't happen; most of those teams have proven flawed. But expecting wins and actually winning are two totally separate things. UT has to get to the point where it breaks through.

It goes back to one of Jones' sayings this offseason about "earning the right to win." This Vols team hasn't done it yet. When the breaks fall, they routinely fail to fall UT's way.

Until that changes, Tennessee will stay at the bottom of the SEC, and they'll miss a bowl game yet again.

 

All statistics taken from CFBStats.com. quotes gathered firsthand and all recruiting information taken from 247Sports.com, unless otherwise noted.

Brad Shepard covers SEC football and is the Tennessee Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow Brad on Twitter @Brad_Shepard.

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College Football Week 7: Top 25 Upset Alert

How can you top the week that was "Shakeup Saturday"?

With more upsets, that's how.

After one of the wildest slates of games in recent memory, the college football world turns its eyes to Week 7.

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Adam Kramer highlights some of the games that could surprise you in this edition of the Upset Alert. 

Which top team will fall this weekend?

Watch the video, and let us know! 

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The One Unit to Watch in Auburn's Showdown vs. Mississippi State

In 2008, it was 3-2. Now it's No. 3 vs. No. 2

My, how far these two teams have come since Auburn topped Mississippi State in a defensive slugfest that featured five total points. 

No. 2 Auburn will travel to No. 3 Mississippi State on Saturday afternoon in a game that not only will establish a favorite in the SEC West, but also vault the winner into serious contention of being the No. 1 team in the country in next week's polls.

While all eyes will be on the respective defenses going up against talented and multi-dimensional running games, this game will be won or lost on Auburn's wide receivers getting open, holding on to the ball and exploiting favorable matchups against Mississippi State's cornerbacks.

D'haquille "Duke" Williams, a 6'2", 216-pound junior, has been one of the early stars of the season, catching 25 passes for 385 yards and three touchdowns, with 18 of his receptions going for first downs. Sammie Coates, a 6'2", 201-pound junior who was Auburn's leading receiver last year, fought through a knee injury early in the season to catch four passes for 144 yards and a touchdown in last week's 41-7 win over LSU.

With Auburn's offense being founded on the run, Mississippi State's safeties will have to creep up to help out and leave 6'1" cornerback Taveze Calhoun and 5'10" cornerback Jamerson Love one-on-one against Williams and Coates.

That's a sketchy place to be, and the Bulldogs' coaching staff knows it.

"They do such a great job running the ball and use a lot of misdirection, and the strength of their passing game is their play action," Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen said. "That does leave corners on an island a bunch because of formations, schemes and motions."

Mississippi State's pass defense ranks last in the SEC, giving up 328.2 yards per game. That number is skewed a little bit after its prevent defense gave up yards in chunks against LSU and Texas A&M. But the Aggies did have nine huge drops in the loss, most of which were not in garbage time.

As Matt McClearin of MASS on JOX on 94.5 in Birmingham notes it could translate to a big day for Auburn's wide receiving duo.

For the season, the Bulldogs have given up 23 passing plays of 20 or more yards, the worst mark in the SEC and 110th in FBS.

"They're going to have to step up and play a really good game," Mullen said. "In this type of games, both teams are going to have the opportunity to create some one-on-one matchups. Maybe it's a guy in the open field with the ball in his hand or maybe a guy going to catch a ball down the field. You're going to have to win the one-on-one matchups if you're going to win the game."

Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall and Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott are stealing all the pub in what is not only a matchup of two Top 5 teams, but also one that features two quarterbacks squarely in the race for the Heisman Trophy. While Marshall's legs will play a big part in determining the outcome, they won't be the biggest factor.

He's going to have to exploit those one-on-one matchups downfield with Williams and Coates. 

If he does, his team's playoff hopes and his own Heisman hopes will go through the roof.

 

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

No. 12 Oregon and No. 18 UCLA head into a decisive Pac-12 showdown Saturday as two of the major programs stunned in upsets last week.

Brett Hundley and the Bruins lost by two points to an unranked Utah team, while a few days earlier, Marcus Mariota and the Ducks were upended by an unranked Arizona team for the second year in a row.

While this matchup may have lost a bit of its preseason shine as a result, both offenses figure to put on a show in Pasadena that fans will want to catch. With backs against the wall in terms of College Football Playoff aspirations, not to mention conference implications, both teams will leave it all on the field in a clash they seemed to focus on last week while overlooking inferior opposition.

There is nothing to overlook this week. This is the season for both teams summed up in 60 minutes.

 

Behind Faltering Lines

Both Mariota and Hundley returned to school this year rather than jumping to the pros in order to contend for a Heisman and a shot in the inaugural CFP.

Neither has been perfect, but much of the blame can fall on miserable offensive lines. Despite a wealth of issues in the offensive trenches for both teams, as NFL.com's Bryan Fischer points out, both signal-callers have transcended the deficiencies for some eye-popping numbers:

Viewed together, both players are on fire this year:

Again, the numbers are quite impressive considering, according to SportsOnEarth.com's Matt Brown, that Mariota has been sacked 15 times over the course of five games, with Hundley sacked 22 times.

While these two are no stranger to games beneath the spotlight, this one may very well dictate the outcome of their legacies at the collegiate level. While Hundley is at home, his wobbly line and inability to get the ball out on time against an Oregon defense that averages 3.2 sacks per game may put him at a disadvantage. 

Then again, as Brown mentions, the coaching staff in Eugene has admitted that Mariota is not fully healthy. Thanks to a wealth of injuries that has crippled the effectiveness of his line, the Ducks signal-caller may be in for his roughest game yet.

 

History Looms…

…For the visitors.

While UCLA has been somewhat unexpectedly up-and-down all season, this latest batch of rough water for the Ducks has the program in a bit of a notable historical bind.

Oregon has not lost back-to-back games in nearly seven years, and while impressive, the streak has perhaps never been in so much jeopardy. This time, Mark Helfrich's team must overcome a top program on the road.

"Execution, discipline, a bunch of things that we control were not good enough," coach Mark Helfrich said, per STATS LLC, via ESPN.com. "It was not good enough to play the schedule we play. We need to play more cleanly in every phase."

Recent history says Oregon has an advantage considering the Ducks held Hundley to a 13-of-19 mark for 64 yards in a 42-14 win last year. That, and the fact the Ducks have won five straight and 10 of 12 in the series.

But anything can happen on the field, and especially when two prolific offenses with leaky offensive lines get together for a track meet.

 

When: Saturday, October 11, 3:30 p.m. ET

Where: Rose Bowl, Pasadena, California

Television: Fox

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 69.5
  • Spread: Oregon (-3)

 

Team Injury Reports 

Injury reports per Sports Network, via USA Today.

 

Prediction

A two-pronged Bruins attack is going to give the Ducks defense some trouble.

Hundley can do it all on his own, as seen above, but he is also flanked by sophomore Paul Perkins, who has 540 yards and three scores this season on a 5.7 per-carry average. Both get a shot at an Oregon defense that struggles mightily against the run and ranks outside the top 50 in terms of points allowed per game (23.2).

The only problem in going all-in with UCLA is that a game such as this predictably comes down to quarterback play. Hundley can be sloppy at times with the football and take costly sacks, whereas Mariota excels in terms of turnovers and pocket awareness.

It will come down to the waning moments, but Mariota gets the nod over Hundley.

Prediction: Ducks 33, Bruins 30

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

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

Old foes LSU and Florida meet Saturday in The Swamp, but neither comes in ranked for the first time since 1989, and neither has anything of merit on its resume. 

Les Miles and the Tigers are on the hunt for answers and their first SEC win of the season in their third attempt after most recently getting laughed out of the building at Auburn, 41-7. It is much of the same story for Will Muschamp and Florida, a team that has padded its conference record with wins over Kentucky and Tennessee, but neither being any sort of convincing. 

Saturday is going to be a grisly affair. In an era when the passing game trumps all, these two teams hardly have an idea of who the starter is under center and prefer to take a defensive-minded approach into each contest. 

For a pair of struggling teams, this game might just be their highlight of the season. Ugly as it may be, expect the bitter rivals to leave it all on the field. 

 

Bonding Over Issues

In a cruel sort of way, these teams were made for each other. 

Florida trots junior Jeff Driskel under center Saturday—but only because the staff is forced to.

See, Driskel has been an absolute dud this season, completing just 54.7 percent of his passes for 695 yards and five touchdowns to six interceptions. Last week in a knee-slapper of a 10-9 win against lowly Tennessee, freshman quarterback Treon Harris entered late and led the team to a win.

So just as Florida seems to find a viable option at the most important position of all, Harris gets suspended by the program for off-field issues, per Roger Simmons of the Orlando Sentinel.

For Miles and LSU, it is back to the drawing board yet again. The team thought it had an answer in freshman Brandon Harris, but he fell flat on his face in the public shaming at the hands of Auburn. Original starter Anthony Jennings did not fare much better. Their numbers on the season tell the whole story:

Instead of sticking with one of the two, Miles has decided to revert back to an open competition, per The Advocate's Ross Dellenger:

It seems a safe bet that both will take the field at one point or another, not that the approach has worked well to date.

So it is rather easy to see why both of these teams are unranked and this iteration of the rivalry is getting little attention. At the most important position of all, these teams struggle in a shocking manner for programs that reel in so many top prospects on a yearly basis.

 

The Better the Opponent...

...The weaker these two teams look.

The home team Saturday walloped Eastern Michigan 65-0 but then proceeded to need three overtime periods to defeat Kentucky. A 42-21 loss to Alabama was predictable going into it whereas the Gators should have dismantled a 2-3 Tennessee team but instead won 10-9.

It is even worse for LSU. The Tigers do have a marquee victory over Wisconsin, but a 34-29 loss to Mississippi State saw the Bulldogs rush for 302 yards. Auburn ran for 298 in last week's lopsided outcome.

Both of these teams struggle to contain strong runners, and both bring those to the table, too.

Florida is sure to have a wealth of issues with Leonard Fournette and Kenny Hilliard. The former has 364 yards and four scores on a 5.5 yards-per-carry average while the latter has 309 yards and five scores on a 5.1 yards-per-carry average.

The inverse is true, too. Florida leans on Matt Jones and his 373 yards and three scores for production as well as Kelvin Taylor and his 144 yards and two scores.

So guessing which team will impose its will with its one-dimensional attack is quite an interesting riddle indeed.

 

When: Saturday, October 11, 7:30 p.m. ET

Where: Ben Hill Griffin Stadium at Florida Field, Gainesville, Florida

Television: SEC Network

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: N/A
  • Spread: LSU (-1)

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports courtesy of The Sports Network (via USA Today.)

 

Prediction

The home team has won the last three encounters between these two, and while it is feasible that a strong Florida defense led by surefire first-round pick Dante Fowler Jr. will show strongly, the program itself has steadily been descending into chaos.

Outside of the Harris suspension, sophomore quarterback Skyler Mornhinweg and freshman defensive lineman Gerald Willis III got into a fistfight over cleats that sent the former to a hospital, per Jeff Barlis of ESPN.com.

So no, not all is right in The Swamp. Really, it is not in LSU, either, but the Tigers at least are not embattled with each other off the field.

This one is going to be ugly and low-scoring, with the only real difference between the two being the talent of LSU's running backs. Expect a late field goal to end it, mercifully.

Prediction: LSU 20, Florida 17

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

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Auburn vs. Mississippi State: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time, More

Showdown No. 88 between No. 2 Auburn and No. 3 Mississippi State is the biggest ever—not to mention the SEC and inaugural College Football Playoff implications that make it one of the top games of the 2014 season. 

In the midst of the chaos that was last weekend, both the Tigers and Bulldogs took major bites out of brutal schedules in an SEC West that is shaping up in rather historic fashion.

Gus Malzahn's Tigers welcomed then-ranked No. 15 LSU to town and turned Les Miles and Co. back, 41-7. One week removed from also beating up on LSU, Dan Mullen and the Bulldogs made short work of a visiting and then-ranked No. 6 Texas A&M team.

These two have made a habit of going down to the wire in recent years even when the result was supposed to be lopsided, so expect nothing short of a classic now that the two programs stand on equal footing.

 

A Tale of Two Quarterbacks

Fans know about Nick Marshall, the man who helped to lead Auburn on that magical run one season ago.

By all accounts, the senior is a better passer than ever with 755 yards and eight touchdowns to one interception along with 392 yards and four scores on the ground. In that thumping of LSU, 207 passing yards and two scores, as well as another 119 yards and two more scores inserted Marshall into the Heisman Trophy conversation.

That conversation being a place Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott is getting quite familiar with.

Prescott actually reminds many of a former Auburn quarterback by the name of Cam Newton, but a comparison to Tim Tebow does not hurt, either. That may sound like legendary collegiate company, but Prescott has the numbers to back it up:

Auburn players such as cornerback Jonathon Mincy understand the unique challenge that Prescott poses.

"This will be the first quarterback in a while with that size and caliber," he said, per The Associated Press (via ESPN.com).

Prescott may be the lesser known of the two, but he has plenty of experience under his belt and clearly does not shrink in the spotlight. He is easily the best player under center the No. 9 overall defense has encountered to date—on the road, at that.

 

Fast out the Gates

Auburn has been a notoriously slow starter this year. 

Mississippi State, not so much.

Prescott led the Bulldogs to a 17-3 halftime advantage against LSU, a margin which the Tigers would never recover from before the clock hit all zeroes. It was the same story in more impressive fashion against the Aggies, as the Bulldogs jumped out to a 28-10 advantage at the break and never looked back.

The lone exception for Auburn, of course, is that 31-point explosion against LSU before the break.

Still, this is dangerous territory for a team encountering its toughest test to date and a Bulldogs defense that quietly ranks in the top 25. While the Bulldogs are prone to giving up the big pass play, the last thing the Tigers want to do on the road is fall behind early and allow Prescott and back Josh Robinson (592 yards and six scores on a 7.5 yards-per-carry average) to pound out the clock and keep their offense off the field.

It is not unreasonable to think that the first team to score will go on to win. Then again, that would not be very entertaining, would it?

 

When: Saturday, October 11, 3:30 p.m. ET

Where: Davis Wade Stadium at Scott Field, Starkville, Mississippi

Television: CBS

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 63
  • Spread: Auburn (-3)

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports per The Sports Network, via USA Today.

 

Prediction

An SEC West power is going to fall Saturday, and a superb quarterback's Heisman hopes will be seriously dashed in the process.

Mississippi State feels quite new to contests of this magnitude, so while home-field advantage helps, it is difficult to go against a more experienced roster.

This is especially the case when the defense is one of the best in the nation yet again, Marshall has done nothing short of improve under center and the offensive genius of Malzahn remains at the helm of a potent attack.

The Bulldogs have had a magical run to date, but a speed bump awaits when Prescott and Co. are asked to score more points than Malzahn against an elite defense.

Prediction: Auburn 40, Mississippi State 34

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

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

With a showdown against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish looming, the Florida State Seminoles must find a way to avoid a trap game against the Syracuse Orange on Saturday if they hope to hold onto their No. 1 ranking and inside track toward a College Football Playoff spot.

With that in mind, here is a look at some of the essentials for the game before we dig into a preview and prediction.

 

Florida State vs. Syracuse

Date: Saturday, Oct. 11

Time: 12 p.m. ET

Spread: FSU -23.5, according to Odds Shark, as of Wednesday evening 

TV: ESPN/Watch ESPN

 

Injury Updates

The injury report for each team is courtesy of USA Today as of Wednesday evening:

 

Preview

Yes, Florida State struggled to get past Clemson (without star quarterback Jameis Winston, mind you) and allowed a surprising 41 points to North Carolina State, but it is still undefeated. 

After the past week of incredible upsets in college football, that is really all that matters. Alex Scarborough of ESPN reinforced that idea:

Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher likely had that same concept in mind when he made the following comments, according to The Associated Press, via ESPN.com:

I told our kids after the game, 'Go enjoy playing. It's like the pressure of playing today -- you've got to win, you've got to do this. Are you dominant? Who cares? Who cares if you're as dominant as you were last year? Just keep getting better at being the team you are and enjoy playing the game of football.

The good news for Florida State is that it has a history of domination when it comes to playing Syracuse. In fact, the Seminoles destroyed the Orange 59-3 last year in a game that was never in doubt. It was Florida State’s sixth straight victory against Syracuse, and the Seminoles outscored the Orange by an average of 29.2 points a game during that span.

Syracuse has more problems than just Florida State, though.

The Orange have dropped three straight games and lost quarterback Terrel Hunt to injury in Friday’s loss to Louisville. Hunt is the team leader in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns for an offense that has been lackluster for much of the season.

Without him, moving the ball could prove even more difficult.

Syracuse needed two overtimes to get past Villanova, scored only 15 points against Notre Dame and managed just six points against Louisville. Florida State, on the other hand, has put up a combined 99 points the past two weeks and ranks 15th in the nation in passing yards per game. The Orange simply won’t be able to keep up.

The only real concern for the Seminoles is avoiding getting caught in a trap game. Next up for the defending champs is a showdown with Notre Dame, which could be one of the most important college football games of the season, but they cannot overlook a conference road game, no matter how large the gap in talent may be Saturday.

The Seminoles will start slowly in this noon showdown (with Notre Dame in mind), but the talent difference will prove to be too much. This game will be over by halftime. 

Prediction: Florida State 49, Syracuse 17

 

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UNC vs. Notre Dame: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time and More

During a weekend in which some of the best took a nosedive and seriously wounded themselves on the hunt for the inaugural College Football Playoff, No. 6 Notre Dame stood tall and took down the Stanford Cardinal.

The reward is a breather against North Carolina.

Brian Kelly's Fighting Irish have just once left the state of Indiana this season to great success. A match with the ACC's 2-3 Tar Heels is perfectly timed before Notre Dame must finish the season with four of its six games on the road.

Larry Fedora and the Tar Heels bring with them to South Bend, among other things, a three-game losing streak and a dreadful defense that seems incapable of being fixed. It figures to be an exploitable unit for Everett Golson and Co., although after last week's events, it would be silly to write off the Tar Heels' chances entirely.

 

A Lopsided Encounter

Notre Dame got its first true test of the season last week. Michigan was in no way a test, and while Purdue always plays the rivalry tough, that did not count, either.

But a Stanford team with one loss to its name on the fringe of being eliminated from the CFP? A Stanford team that even after the loss still touts the No. 1 overall defense, which surrenders an average of 8.6 points per game?

That was a test. A test the Fighting Irish passed with flying colors.

Whispers about the Fighting Irish's chances at a CFP berth are now screams. Against the Cardinal, Golson threw for 241 yards and a pair of scores, including the game-winning toss in the waning moments. The defense limited the Cardinal to just 205 total yards.

On the other side of Saturday's matchup is a North Carolina defense that has allowed an average of 42 points per game, ranking the unit No. 142 overall. On the three-game losing streak, the unit gave up 70 points to East Carolina, 50 more to Clemson and another 34 to a defensive-minded Virginia Tech team.

Obviously those are major issues, but Fedora sounds dialed in on a Notre Dame defense that quietly ranks No. 3 overall with an average of 12.0 points allowed per game, as captured by Mike Barber of the Richmond Times-Dispatch:

For a bit of perspective, digest a note from GoHeels.com's Adam Lucas:

So no, on paper at least, North Carolina does not stand a chance. On paper.

 

Eye on the Ball

The only thing that can stop Notre Dame at this point is Notre Dame.

Golson almost gave the game away last week after his red-zone interception took points off the board, and an early fumble allowed the Cardinal to get in for their first touchdown. In the red zone, the offense now ranks 45th in terms of efficiency, per NCAA.com.

Those are negatives that can certainly be corrected against a miserable defense.

"We're not there yet. We're going to continue to work, continue to work with the same five guys and continue to work on building some continuity there," Kelly said, per The Associated Press, via ESPN.com.

Again, a young Notre Dame team can hurt itself by overlooking the Tar Heels entirely. After all, a week after Saturday's duel, the Fighting Irish travel outside of the state for the second time—for a showdown against Jameis Winston and the No. 1 Florida State Seminoles. 

Kelly has surely stressed focus all week. A slight mishap against a team that now hinges its season on playing the spoiler can be quite dangerous, indeed.

 

When: Saturday, October 11, 3:30 p.m. ET

Where: Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Indiana

Television: NBC

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 64.5
  • Spread: Notre Dame (-17)

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports per Sports Network, via USA Today.

 

Prediction

Say hello to a trap game. 

As bad as North Carolina has been, the offense, led by junior quarterback Marquise Williams, still averages 36.0 points per game.

While Notre Dame is sitting atop the collegiate world, it will continue to get the very best shot each program has. Not only may the Fighting Irish be overlooking the Tar Heels, there is a major distraction brewing over the five suspended players for academic reasons.

Notre Dame is going to win. But Kelly's team might just play down to the competition once again, so the final line may not end up as dominant as it could have been.

Prediction: Notre Dame 44, North Carolina 20

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

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Ole Miss vs. Texas A&M: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time and More

In a way, both No. 3 Ole Miss and No. 14 Texas A&M are recovering as they prepare for Saturday's game with massive SEC implications.

One type of recovery is much more positive, though. Senior quarterback Bo Wallace and the Rebels are on the mend after a stunning upset of Alabama the week prior in what is quickly developing into one of the most fruitful seasons in recent program history.

Meanwhile, the Aggies are on the hunt for answers after their defense was exploited and their offense was ineffective in a 48-31 beatdown at the hands of Mississippi State.

On paper, the matchup has the looks of a battle of strengths. But the Ole Miss defense will need to keep its bearings on the road while Aggies quarterback Kenny Hill and his offense get to rediscover a rhythm from the comforts of home.

 

The First to 40...

...Might win this game.

Wallace and the Rebels score nearly 36 points per game and just one game has not been decided by double digits this year—the 23-17 win over Alabama.

There, Wallace tossed three scores and 251 yards in a performance that etched his name into the books as a legend of the SEC. The senior has handled himself like so despite the feat, instead turning his focus to the Aggies.

"We now know what we thought we already knew," Wallace said, per The Associated Press, via ESPN.com. "We know that we can compete with any team in the country. Now it's just getting to work and making sure we take every day as an opportunity to get better."

The Aggies sputtered on the road to 526 total yards last week against the Bulldogs but went 5-of-17 on third downs and 1-of-3 on fourth downs, while the sophomore Hill tossed four touchdowns to three interceptions on 62 attempts.

Despite the misstep, Kevin Sumlin's team still ranks No. 3 overall with an average of 47.8 points per game and, as ESPN Stats & Info notes, tops the nation in efficiency: 

Clearly, last week's hiccup was but a bump in the road, although one that was to be expected for a young quarterback in his first season as a starter. At home, look for Sumlin and Co. to mitigate the turnover issues with a balanced attack that features Trey Williams and Tra Carson, backs that average a minimum of 5.7 yards per carry.

At home, the Aggies might just be able to get back to their high-scoring ways.

 

Getting Defensive

Then again, this is not only one of the best defenses in Ole Miss history, it is a unit that ranks No. 2 in the nation with an average of 10.2 points allowed per game.

Regardless of whether this Alabama team is better than past iterations, the Rebels' ability to hold the Crimson Tide to 396 total yards, force two turnovers and a 6-of-16 mark on third down is a praise-worthy accomplishment.

Expect attitude on the defensive side to be a prominent factor for Ole Miss come Saturday. This is a Rebels team that was a footnote in Johnny Manziel's illustrious career the past two seasons, losing to the Aggies 30-27 in 2012 and 41-38 in 2013.

If a team is destined to shut down the offensive genius of Sumlin and the explosiveness of Hill yet again, it is the Rebels and senior corner Senquez Golson, who has four interceptions in five games, including the game-winning grab late against Alabama.

So while Wallace and the offense get the highlights, remember to not go into Saturday underrating what the Rebels can do on the defensive side of things. That in of itself may see Ole Miss to another epic victory.

 

When: Saturday, October 11, 9 p.m. ET

Where: Kyle Field, College Station, Texas

Television: ESPN

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 63
  • Spread: Texas A&M (-2)

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports per Sports Network, via USA Today.

 

Prediction

The Aggies do average 55.0 points over the course of five consecutive wins at home, but two strong outputs came against Lamar and Rice, while another was almost an upset at the hands of a physical Arkansas team.

There is no room for finesse Saturday night. The Rebels are an elite defensive team that can match the Aggies blow for blow on every down.

The offensive line in front of Wallace silenced the Crimson Tide's rush last weekend, so a Texas A&M front that leads the SEC with 20 sacks may be a moot point, especially with Wallace continuing to take superb care of the football.

Through a strong defense and a veteran leader under center, expect the Rebels to fend off an upset bid on the road.

Prediction: Ole Miss 40, Aggies 36

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

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

The times are changing in the SEC, with this theory none better personified than in Saturday's showdown between the No. 7 Alabama Crimson Tide and the Arkansas Razorbacks.

Alabama has been spotty at best this season when confronted with quality opposition, and after a 23-17 loss to an upstart Ole Miss program, Nick Saban's Crimson Tide must travel to Fayetteville for an encounter with one of the collegiate landscape's most physical rushing attacks.

Bret Bielema's Razorbacks are in the midst of a renaissance of sorts. Their last game was an overtime loss to then-ranked No. 6 Texas A&M on Sept. 27, which sets the stage Saturday for a first of its kind between these two foes, as WholeHogSports of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette notes:

With a berth in the inaugural College Football Playoff on the line for Alabama and the signal of a program finally back on its feet for Arkansas, something has to give Saturday.

Expect nothing short of a grisly, well-contested affair.

 

Brute Force

Bielema and his staff make no effort to disguise what they want to do. The team is going to run it until it imposes its will, win or lose.

Thanks to a bevy of names, the Razorbacks are No. 1 in the SEC and the nation in rushing touchdowns and come in at No. 7 overall with an average of 44.6 points scored per game:

The approach is something Saban clearly respects, as one can glean from an excerpt provided by Jim Dunaway of WIAT-42 Birmingham:

Of course, Saban's team makes a lot of headway on the ground as well thanks to an iffy quarterback situation. T.J. Yeldon has 407 yards and two scores on a 5.3 per-carry average, while his complement, Derrick Henry, has 357 yards and as many scores on a 5.1 per-carry average.

Alabama has the talent to counter Arkansas' main strength, though. The Crimson Tide excel against the run, having allowed just one team (Florida) to gain more than 100 yards on the ground this season.

So while Bielema's team will need to mostly stay the course, leaving its comfort zone via the play-action pass with junior quarterback Brandon Allen (751 yards, nine touchdowns, one interception with a 59.8 completion percentage) is a must.

 

Road Weary

As if facing a surging Arkansas team after a loss is not enough, the fact this game is on the road should give Crimson Tide faithful serious pause. 

After all, Alabama hardly got past West Virginia at a neutral location to start the season. Granted, the team was busting in a new quarterback, but a major weakness—the defensive secondary—was exposed in a major way as Mountaineers signal-caller Clint Trickett went for 365 yards and a score.

The team's second road contest was in Ole Miss last week, where Blake Sims tossed an interception while his counterpart, Bo Wallace, tossed three touchdowns.

Alabama is clearly uncomfortable away from home, but Bielema is more concerned with what the Crimson Tide usually do after a loss.

"I think Alabama is a tough football team coming off a win or a loss," Bielema said, per The Associated Press, via ESPN.com. "I did the research as well and realized they had not lost two conference games back to back since (Saban's) first year."

So, as is the case with the overarching game itself on the field, something has to give. Either Alabama will continue to struggle away from home, or the team will live up to its billing as one that does not take kindly to SEC losses.

 

When: Saturday, October 11, 6 p.m. ET

Where: Razorback Stadium, Fayetteville, Arkansas

Television: ESPN

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 56
  • Spread: Alabama (-11)

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports per Sports Network, via USA Today.

 

Prediction

What Bielema has been able to do in a short period of time, in the SEC no less, should serve as inspiration for any number of programs on the mend across the nation. The Razorbacks might just be the most improved team in the country.

But this is certainly no passing-of-the-torch moment.

While Alabama is not very close in terms of talent to some of the teams Saban has rolled out over the past few years, Sims and Co. will come out hungry and score enough to overwhelm a run-first team. The Arkansas defense struggles against quality opposition, surrendering 42 points to Auburn and 35 to Texas A&M.

This will not be any typical Alabama-Arkansas clash. The former will pick up its eighth win in a row, but expect it to be much more competitive than in years past.

Prediction: Alabama 35, Arkansas 24

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

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USC vs. Arizona: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time and More

Just as anyone would have predicted, the USC Trojans are unranked as they head to Tucson for a clash with the lone undefeated team in the Pac-12, the No. 10 Arizona Wildcats.

Despite the presence of a freshman quarterback and running back, the Wildcats are one of the best teams in the nation, especially on the offensive side of the football, a notion exemplified by an upset of then-No. 2 Oregon last week in Eugene.

Meanwhile, Steve Sarkisian's Trojans are in a full tailspin, as the team cannot help but give up big play after big play. Two losses suggest gloom and doom for USC, although a routine win over Arizona would this time pay dividends.

In one of Saturday's late contests, the Pac-12 as we know it will be on the line as the roles of two annual contenders are flipped. Will it yield the typical outcome?

 

Underdog With Bite

Not many people paid attention when Arizona mostly breezed through an opening slate that read UNLV, UTSA and Nevada. A few heads turned after a 49-45 win over California, but still, these Wildcats were too young, too inexperienced and would fold against traditional conference powers.

Except they didn't. In Oregon last week, the Wildcats defense held Oregon to a 4-of-14 mark on third down and got a late strip while the offense held the ball for more than 33 minutes to get the 31-24 victory.

Freshman running back Nick Wilson ran for 92 yards and a pair of scores on a ridiculous 7.1 yards per carry, bumping him to 574 yards and six scores on the season. Freshman quarterback Anu Solomon was a tad quieter, but he has completed 63.6 percent of his passes this season to go with 1,741 yards and 14 touchdowns to four interceptions.

The mad genius behind the program's turnaround despite the young status of key players? Rich Rodriguez, of course, who is in the midst of a bit of a career renaissance himself. The innovator of a quick-twitch attack believes his team is mature enough to not suffer a letdown against USC, as recorded by STATS LLC, via ESPN.com:

I was impressed with our players' attitudes going into the game and afterward. We celebrated in the locker room a little bit and then got on the plane. Maybe because it was so late, five minutes after takeoff it was silent. Our guys have the ability to focus quickly. I think they know how important this game is as well.

Now for the fun wrinkle to Saturday's encounter: The No. 10 team, which just won in Oregon and is at home for this one, isn't the favorite.

Nothing like a little disrespect to motivate one of the most explosive teams in the land.

 

Defensive Woes

The USC offense has gotten by. Simple as that. Cody Kessler has been ho-hum under center, throwing for 1,380 yards and 10 touchdowns to no interceptions to lead an offense that ranks No. 55 in the nation while scoring an average of 33.0 points per game.

The defense has been a mess.

USC seems to enjoy giving up the big play. In a laughable 37-31 loss to Boston College earlier this season, the Eagles scored on plays of 25, 54 and 66 yards.

It was certainly not an isolated incident. USC defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox summed it up in an apt manner, as captured by Michael Lev of the Orange County Register:

Last week, in a loss to Arizona State, the unit allowed scoring plays of 21, 77 and 73 yards before a game-winning Hail Mary connection that spanned 46 yards. Many will point out that the Sun Devils only found room for 31 rushing yards, but backup quarterback Mike Bercovici threw for 510 yards and five scores.

Against an offense that makes a living off the big play, Wilcox better have the holes in his unit properly patched in a hurry.

 

When: Saturday, October 11, 10:30 p.m. ET

Where: Arizona Stadium, Tucson, Arizona

Television: ESPN 2

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 68
  • Spread: USC (-3)

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports per Sports Network, via USA Today.

 

Prediction

USC is groggy on the ropes. Having two losses and a .500 record at the halfway point of the season is very much a reality.

The Trojans are going to wind up eating the mat.

Arizona's offense it too potent and adaptable to what a defense brings to the table to struggle to move the ball, let alone score. Meanwhile, the USC defense annually suffers against read-option looks and clearly cannot prevent the big play.

For one reason or another, Arizona has been counted out again before taking the field. Clearly, that is just the way the Wildcats like to operate.

Prediction: Arizona 28, USC 24

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

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