NCAA Football News

Texas QB David Ash Gives Up Football Due to Health Concerns

Texas quarterback David Ash's football career is over. Three weeks after Ash suffered his latest concussion in a Week 1 win over North Texas, Texas head coach Charlie Strong announced the QB has decided to give up the sport to maintain his long-term health.

Longhorn Network and ESPN Texas provided the news from Strong's Wednesday press conference:

Ash, a junior, threw for 190 yards and a touchdown in the Longhorns' 38-7 win against North Texas on Aug. 30. While he took numerous hard shots throughout the game, he did not begin exhibiting signs of a concussion until after the game. Ash complained of dizziness and a headache to trainers and was later diagnosed with a concussion.

He has not played in either of Texas' last two games, both losses. Ash was a starter in parts of each of the last three seasons, but bouts with concussions limited him to only three games in 2013. He suffered his first in a 40-21 loss to BYU in Week 2 before going down two games later against Kansas State, effectively ending his season as he struggled to return.

The NCAA granted Ash an extra year of eligibility, and after being cleared to play, he seemed set for a big year. Strong, who replaced longtime Longhorns coach Mack Brown, had a large hand in developing former Louisville star QB Teddy Bridgewater. At 6'3" and 230 pounds, Ash had a combination of prototypical size and above-average skills that should have prepared him for a breakout.

But as news of Ash's latest head injury became public, a growing chorus wondered whether he should be playing football at all.

"That's a decision his family is going to have to make," Strong told reporters earlier this month. "You have to be concerned, any time you have that number of concussions. We will never jeopardize a young man's health for the sake of this football team. That will always be the case."

In announcing Ash's retirement, Strong indicated that the quarterback came to him and said this was the best thing for his future, per the American-Statesman's Kirk Bohl:

Ash, 22, finishes his college football career with 4,728 passing yards and 31 touchdowns against 18 interceptions. An underrated athlete, he added 379 yards and five touchdowns on the ground.

As he has the past two weeks, sophomore Tyrone Swoopes will continue as Texas' starting quarterback going forward. Swoopes has thrown for 372 yards and three touchdowns against one interception this season but has struggled to make plays down the field. The Longhorns have averaged less than 300 yards of offense in his first two starts.

Given the numerous players already suspended or kicked off the team in Strong's short tenure, losing Ash is a tough blow in what's shaping up to be a rough season in Austin. But as Strong and everyone associated with the Texas program has said throughout this ordeal, the most important thing is that Ash is able to live a long and healthy life.

If walking away from football is the only way that can happen, then he's making the right decision.

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Rankings 2014 Week 4: Preview for Head-to-Head Top 25 Matchups

For the second straight week, college football seems to be taking a reprieve from anything others might deem "difficult." Despite the beginning of conference play for most of the nation, the Week 4 schedule is decidedly chock-full of the elites taking on the non-elites.

Of course, we were saying that at this time seven days ago. And the college football gods decided to smite our skepticism by providing perhaps the most surprising and exciting slate of games this season. Should history repeat itself, we should all spend the rest of 2014 complaining about how all the games are terrible and be rewarded with week-to-week goodness.

Until then, this week looks super-meh, you guys.

Only three games on the calendar feature single-digit spreads, per Odds Shark. Only two games feature two opponents currently sitting inside the Associated Press Top 25. One of those two contests happens on a Thursday. The other games look like a combination of bloodbaths so gory they're unwatchable and ho-hum shrugfests best served as "entertainment" to get your daughter's damn slumber party to calm down already. 

So, in an effort to spice things up, let's talk about the two games featuring teams with numbers next to their names. At least one of those contests has a decent chance of being good!

 

No. 5 Auburn at No. 20 Kansas State (7:30 p.m. ET Thursday, ESPN)

It's honestly disappointing that arguably Week 4's best game is set up to get slaughtered against a Thursday Night Football telecast. Kansas State and Auburn have both gotten off to red-hot starts, averaging 95.5 points per game between them while taking care of lesser competition.

The 20th-ranked Wildcats overpowered Stephen F. Austin before engaging in a torrid fourth-quarter comeback against Iowa State two Saturdays ago. Quarterback Jake Waters has compiled 655 total yards (462 passing, 193 rushing) and six touchdowns in those two contests, emerging as a much more dynamic two-way threat than he was as a junior.

"Every quarterback we've played has been pretty mobile, but not like this guy," Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson told James Crepea of the Montgomery Advertiser. "Coach (Bill) Snyder is going to run him intentionally about 30 times a game if he has to. That will be a big deal, and just being able to fit the run against him period.

Waters' ascent has been no doubt helped by the emergence of sophomore running back Charles Jones. The 5'10" speedster is averaging more than six yards per carry and has scored two touchdowns each of the first two weeks; Jones has been the far superior option to senior DeMarcus Robinson, who has struggled in his first extended look in the backfield.

That is partially a byproduct of Kansas State's unique rushing system. Bill Snyder still somehow uses the Wildcat formation with effect, and Jones has scored all four of his touchdowns this season out of the formation, per Joel A. Erickson of AL.com.

While it seems archaic in today's football culture to be talking about the Wildcat—a formation that is more effective at the college level but nonetheless a gimmick—Kansas State's execution has Auburn taking it seriously.

"When they get in the Wildcat, it's just like everybody else," Johnson said, per Erickson. "They give you a lot of different formations just to try to get you misaligned or find an open spot where they can punch a hole in your box."

In essence: A game written off as an easy Tigers win suddenly looks a whole lot more compelling.

Auburn's defense did a fine job stopping the run in Week 1's win over Arkansas, but some of that was thanks to some strange play-calling to start the second half. With the game still within arm's length, the Razorbacks continually went to the Brandon Allen over trusting one of the nation's best rushing attacks.

Against Auburn, Allen threw 31 times. He's thrown 17 in the last two weeks, both Arkansas wins.

If the Tigers are able to jump out to an early lead, it's unlikely Kansas State is able to mount a comeback. Waters is a solid passer but one who can be undone by inaccuracies; his best moments come when the Wildcats can use the threat of a run to open the middle of the field.

Auburn should be, and is, a strong favorite Thursday night. Just be sure to check back in on this game at halftime if Thursday Night Football pulls you away. If it's close, that'll probably stay the case through the final whistle.

 

No. 22 Clemson at No. 1 Florida State

A childish mistake by Jameis Winston has flipped this game's narrative on its head. Florida State announced Wednesday afternoon that the Heisman-winning quarterback will be suspended for the first half of Saturday's game after making lewd comments around campus earlier this week.

"First of all, I want to apologize to the university, my coaches and to my teammates," Winston told reporters. "I'm not a 'me' person, but in that situation, it was a selfish act, and that's not how you do things around here. I want to apologize to my teammates because I have now made a selfish act for them. That's all."

Winston's benching opens the door for an upset that seemed all but impossible for Clemson, which was manhandled by a much shakier Georgia team earlier this month. The Tigers opened as 20.5-point underdogs, per Odds Shark, and have since seen most sportsbooks pull the game off their books in response.

Sean Maguire will be under center for the first half, which, well, doesn't bode too great for Florida State's chances. Maguire has only a 26-pass sample on his resume—far too few to make any true assessment—but has thrown two picks and averaged 5.5 yards per attempt while playing against less-than-stellar competition.

In his most extended look last season, he completed 9-of-14 passes for 84 yards with a touchdown and interception in an 80-14 win over Idaho.

At the very least, we can comfortably assume the Florida State offense will be significantly less dynamic with Maguire under center. Winston has never finished a game with a yards-per-attempt average of less than 5.67 and all but one of his games (at Wake Forest, last season) have been above six.

There is also reason to believe Clemson will be fired up when Winston does get in the contest. Players left over from last year's team have spoken openly about a tweet Winston sent in March, showing the exterior of Death Valley with the caption "our house."

“That’s a guy that wants to make it all about him,” defensive lineman Grady Jarrett told reporters. “We’ll let him have that. It’s a team game.”

Florida State went into Clemson's home field in 2013 and left with a 51-14 romp that helped propel its national championship run and continued Winston's rise to a household name. It'd almost be fitting that Clemson take down the Seminoles at a time when Winston's infamy and immaturity—the number of people who tweeted about his actions over the last few days are astounding—ultimately led to his absence.

But one issue remains: Florida State is better at football. Rashad Greene and Karlos Williams did not disappear overnight, nor did one of the nation's best defenses. If Maguire can manage the game well enough to stay within one score—and by manage the game I mean the definition to the word; no turnovers, smart throws, extended drives led by the ground game—Winston should clean up in the second half.

That's quite a sizable "if."

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Re-Ranking the Class of 2011 Quarterbacks

Hindsight is always significantly more clear than outlooks based on projection when it comes to college football recruiting. Not every 5-star is destined for greatness and lightly scouted high school prospects annually rise to stardom at the next level.

We took a look into the rearview mirror to examine a loaded 2011 class of quarterback recruits, throwing out old ratings and analysis in the process. After reviewing how each passer has performed in high-stakes collegiate settings, here's how we rank the top members of a collection that includes multiple first-round NFL draft picks and a Heisman Trophy winner.

 

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Florida Gators' Keys to Victory Against the Alabama Crimson Tide

Most experts and analysts aren't giving the Florida Gators much of a chance to defeat the Alabama Crimson Tide on Saturday. To their credit, it did take the Gators three overtimes to defeat the Kentucky Wildcats 36-30.

While the Gators didn't play well last weekend, they certainly shouldn't be 14.5 underdogs like they are on Saturday, according to Odds Shark. Here are the Gators' keys to victory over the Crimson Tide. 

 

Driskel Needs to Air It Out

Alabama’s secondary was awful against the West Virginia Mountaineers in Week 1. Quarterback Clint Trickett was able to throw for 365 yards and a touchdown pass.

Alabama will be without its starting free safety, Nick Perry, for the first half of Saturday's game. Perry was ejected during the second half of last week's game against the Southern Miss Golden Eagles for targeting. So expect quarterback Jeff Driskel to get the ball into receiver Demarcus Robinson's hands early.

Driskel threw for 295 yards and three touchdowns against the Wildcats. Robinson tied a school record last week with 15 catches for 216 yards and two touchdowns.

The Gators are averaging 90 plays from scrimmage offensively under first-year coordinator Kurt Roper. With the Crimson Tide short-handed in their secondary, you should expect the Gators to call a lot of passing plays early in the game. 

 

Contain Cooper's Big Plays

Amari Cooper comes into the game against Florida leading the nation in catches with 33. He is also third in the nation in receiving yards with 454.

Fortunately for the Gators, they have arguably the best cornerback in college football in Vernon Hargreaves. The sophomore is first in the nation with 2.50 passes defended per game. Hargreaves also ranks first in the SEC with five pass breakups. 

Last week, Kentucky quarterback Patrick Towles threw for 369 yards and three touchdowns against the Gators. Head coach Will Muschamp told Gators beat writer David Jones that Florida has to make improvements in its secondary, and he is correct.

If the Gators secondary struggles like it did against Kentucky, it could be a long day. Florida has to limit Cooper's plays and force other Crimson Tide receivers to beat them. 

 

Slow Down the Alabama Running Game

Last week Towles was able to improvise and make plays with his feet against the Gators. This week, Florida will face another dual-threat quarterback in Blake Sims.

Not only did Sims throw for two touchdowns against Southern Miss last week, but he also rushed for 46 yards and a touchdown. 

The Gators also have to worry about running backs T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry. Alabama has averaged 205 rushing yards per game, so you can expect head coach Nick Saban to pound the ball to take pressure off Sims and the passing game. 

Both Alabama and Florida's defenses are good enough to keep the game close. If the Gators can limit the mistakes and take advantage of Alabama’s short-handed secondary, they certainly have a chance to win this game. 

 

Follow on Twitter .

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Wisconsin Football Recruits: Latest Updates on 2014 Commits, Visits and Targets

Ever since Gary Andersen was hired to be the head coach of the Wisconsin football team, the Badgers have made remarkable strides in recruiting.  

While many of Andersen's swings have been misses, he's expanded the Badgers' recruiting area immensely and stepped up the Badgers targets in a major way.

While Andersen has had trouble mining the Badgers' traditional recruiting area—namely Minnesota and Wisconsin—he's made major strides in California, Texas and Florida, garnering 10 of the Badgers' 19 recruits from those three states alone.

The Badgers' recruiting class currently sits at No. 22 overall and fourth in the Big Ten behind Penn State, Ohio State and Michigan.  The Badgers have an outside chance of sneaking into the top 20 after all is said and done but will likely find themselves among the top 30 teams when it comes to recruiting.

With plenty of high-profile targets still uncommitted while the Badgers continue to try to flip others, the next few weeks will be pivotal as the Badgers attempt to round out their 2015 recruiting class.  

Let's take a look at their commits, upcoming visits and targets still in play for the Badgers as they close out their non-conference schedule.

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Jameis Winston a Symptom, and a Product, of Football Culture in Need of Change

What image do you see when Jameis Winston jumps on a table and yells "F--k her right in the p---y!"? (If you're not following, the "F" is for a swear word and the "p" for a derogatory term for female anatomy.) Do you see some college kid doing a dumb thing? Or something more shocking?   

It should be shocking. Because football—and not just the NFL—is grappling with issues of acts of violence against women. And it shouldn't just take a graphic video of Ray Rice knocking his then-fiancee out cold in an elevator to make us see the culture behind the violence. No, I'm not equating jumping on a table and yelling with domestic violence. It would be dangerous and unfair to Winston to go so overboard. But in a less obvious way, Winston's behavior is representative of a football culture that is the breeding ground for more serious offenses.

Anyone can see violence in a video, but what's harder to see is the seed of this kind of behavior.

Florida State suspended Winston for the first half of Saturday's big game against Clemson for that phrase. It was the right move by FSU coach Jimbo Fisher, because the only thing that registers with so many athletes is taking them off the field. Winston was mimicking a viral video where someone pretends to photobomb live reports by saying those words in the background.

With this latest incident, Winston is either turning into a dangerous cliche, or he already was one and we were duped out of realizing it. It's on us for not seeing it.

Last year, we were told so many times about how Winston was different, how he was a team player. At a press conference, we might see him stop talking about himself and start naming and thanking each individual offensive lineman.

Now, his image is transforming, maybe for fans and certainly for his future employers in the NFL. An anonymous NFL scout, according to Yahoo columnist Dan Wetzel, tweeted this to him about Winston:

"He keeps filling up the 'recurring stupidity' column."

About this time last year, reporters asked Winston about Johnny Manziel's behavior, and Winston replied: "If I get Manziel Disease, I want every one of you all to get your mikes and start slapping me on the head.''

He's going to be eating those words now, but the truth is, we're way past that. Winston's actions are far more hurtful than those of Johnny Football. Manziel was about partying and name-dropping and selling his autograph.

Winston's actions may not have been intentionally mean-spirited. But this isn't like his other recurring stupid mistakes, such as reportedly stealing soda pop (although the restaurant did not pursue charges) or crab legs. This is much bigger, and symbolic.

Think about this: Less than two years ago, a woman accused Winston of raping her. After an investigation, no charges were filed, but the whole thing made national news. And now, sports—football in particular—are staring down the issue of athletes and violence against women. It might be the first time football has decided to take this seriously, thanks to TMZ showing a video of Rice on the elevator.

And what does Winston do? Jumps on a table and starts yelling about assaulting women. At the least, it was degrading to women. His chant was not about sex; it contained violent, dehumanizing language.

Just a college kid, I know. Not a genius. But this arrogance is at the root of the problem, this comfort in the sense that a football player is all-powerful and able to say anything.

This week, in response to the Ray Rice case—or at least to the public-relations disaster that resulted from it—NFL commissioner Roger Goodell formed a four-woman committee on domestic violence and sexual assault. Part of their task will be about education.

Winston apparently is a perfect example of the type of player they need to address. He has not been found guilty of any assault or violence. He has not demonstrated any overt examples of any such behavior. What he shows is a thought process, a seed of a cultural thing among so many football players that needs to be rooted out. It's about what attitudes toward women are being taught through a lifetime in the sport.

That's going to be tough to change. It has something to do with the ego of football players, their need to be tough guys, and their views about the value of anyone whom they don't see as a tough guy.

Recurring stupidity is an issue, and it did cost Manziel some in the draft. But part of his problem was the strength of his arm. Winston is bigger than Manziel and has a stronger arm. In usual times—as in, before last week—this would go down as another example of boys being boys.

But the perception of Winston is changing, and an NFL team will have to decide whether it can entrust the job of being the face of a franchise to Winston. And that's a matter of not only his behavior, but also his growing public-relations baggage.

Winston apologized for the chant in a press conference, and said he has to "tone it down." 

I don't know. That just sounds as if he thinks he has Manziel Disease.

 

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.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football's Greatest Old Wizard Isn't Ready to Ride Off into the Sunset

Bill Snyder’s college coaching debut came three years before we landed on the moon. The president was Lyndon B. Johnson. A gallon of gas cost $0.32. The Beatles, in the words of the late John Lennon, were “more popular than Jesus.”

Steve Spurrier, quarterback of the Florida Gators, kicked—yes, kicked—a game-winning 40-yard field goal against Auburn. Weeks later, he won the Heisman. Gus Malzahn, the coach for whom Snyder is currently spending elongated hours game-planning, celebrated his first birthday. It was 1966.

In football, time is insurmountable. It is unbowed. It is a relentless brute that will eventually conquer every player or coach in some capacity, no matter what kind of fight they are able to put up. And yet, in the instance of the 74-year-old Snyder—a throwback in every sense of the word—time has seemingly met its match.

Like a wizard working on variations of spells and acquiring newfangled tricks with his wand, the coach who brought Kansas State back from the dead, retired and then returned to do it again is truly one of a kind.

The man loves football. He eats one meal a day, mainly because it gets in the way of football, and he refuses to take lunch breaks. When asked a matchup-centric question, you can hear his voice break its normal methodical pace ever so slightly. Even after talking about various ways to start and stop an offense over 50 years, he still seems to genuinely enjoy the long hours and incredible challenges.

His style is anything but orthodox. From his eating habits to variations of the wishbone and beyond to his persistent and unmistakable JUCO recruiting efforts, his impact on the sport he has nurtured will be evident on Thursday when Auburn comes to town. And when it comes to embracing challenges, there are few as daunting as this one.

Led by 48-year-old Malzahn, Auburn will be operating with its unique offense led by Nick Marshall, a former JUCO quarterback whom Snyder desperately tried to lure to Manhattan, Kansas, when he excelled at Garden City (Kansas) Community College.

The plan is familiar and diabolical, a page out of one of many of Snyder’s books, with slight variations here and there. The awareness of it all won’t make it any easier to slow down, which is why Kansas State has been deemed a nine-point home underdog according to Odds Shark.

“We don’t have the personnel to emulate the speed, the quickness, the strength and the size that they present,” an honest Snyder said this week while assessing how the Wildcats planned to prepare.

But if there is anyone equipped to slow down Auburn—a powerful blur that hasn’t lost against the spread in a full calendar year and was a minute away from a national championship just eight months ago—Snyder, with his walking encyclopedia of football knowledge and his own bag of tricks, has as good a chance as anyone of derailing the train he helped assemble.

 

A Brief History Lesson: Six Decades of Success

“There is only one school in the nation that has lost 500 games,'' Bill Snyder said when he landed the Kansas State job in 1989. ''This is it, and I get to coach it.''

Sports Illustrated crowned Kansas State “Futility U” when Snyder, after 23 years of bouncing around as an assistant, finally landed his first head coaching job in Manhattan. After a stint at North Texas, Snyder migrated north to Iowa, where he served as the offensive coordinator under the legendary Hayden Fry. It was here that his stock began to rise, and Kansas State—in search of football CPR—tapped the 50-year-old to be its next head coach.

At the time Sports Illustrated posted its piece, Kansas State had gone 0-26-1 over its past 27 games. Dating back to 1934, the team had gone to one bowl game. Perhaps even more staggering, the Wildcats had just two winning seasons over the previous 34 years.

While the story was nuclear in nature, it was also deadly accurate. Given Snyder’s overall lack of head coaching experience, expectations were minimal, just like they were for the coaches who came in and failed before him.

But then, without warning, the team started to win. In 1990, just two years after he took over, the Wildcats won five games. The following season, they won seven. In 1993, they won nine. By 1996, Kansas State was rolling.

Less than a decade after taking over a so-called "dead" program, Snyder led Kansas State to an undefeated regular season in 1998 in which they were they voted the No. 1 team in the country.

Barry Switzer, one of the greatest college football coaches to ever walk this earth, had this to say about Snyder to Tim Layden in a Sports Illustrated piece published 10 years later: "Bill Snyder isn't the coach of the year, and he isn't the coach of the decade. He's the coach of the century."

In 2005, Snyder retired from the job after two average seasons, at least by these newfound standards. In 2009, he returned—a move that’s hard to compute given the bridge-burning nature of the business—and led K-State to a 10-win season after only two years. Three years after his return, the Wildcats made a BCS bowl.

In 2013, Snyder, at the age of 73, inked a five-year contract extension to remain with the program. For anyone else, it would have seemed like an absurd bit of business to give a man in his mid-70s a long-term contract.

For Kansas State, it was a no-brainer.

 

Game Week: Inside the Mind of a Football Wizard  

When asked how he plans to slow down Auburn’s offense, Snyder, seated comfortably in his element, his hands locked together, couldn’t help but laugh. It didn’t come across as nervous or anxious, but rather as an honest response to the task ahead.

“You can take your pick,” Snyder said. “It’s kind of like throwing at a dart board.”

Snyder is back to the chalkboard again, the place where he seems most at home. This is his comfort zone. It’s as if he’s testing his game plan out in the open, just to see how it sounds. He is light on cliches and the obvious, instead throwing out meaty fillets for those who crave X's and O's in their football conversations.

“They have a lot more offense than what people might indicate,” Snyder said. “They can do a lot of different things in a lot of different ways. And it’s not just the zone read.”

He breaks from Auburn. Someone has asked a question regarding Kansas State’s special teams, and he wasted little time diving headfirst into a response. Over the next few minutes, Snyder provided a crash course on the matter, giving enough material for a chapter in a book. His philosophical approach had a philosophical sound bite to back it up.

“We never step away from its value,” Snyder said as the room processed the special teams lesson it just unexpectedly received.

You can see his brain calculate—sharp as ever—as he recalls certain plays, film or players while making comparisons. And with his soothing and unwavering tone, you get a sense that you should be writing all of this down for more than just a quote in a story.

With chaos sweeping into town in the form of the nation’s hottest football program, no human being should be this calm, especially one who is expected to lead a roster composed of about 50 percent walk-ons.

But then you remember everything he’s been through—the unthinkable practice hours and film sessions, critical game scenarios and expectation-less times from a different era—and you realize that Auburn really isn’t all that daunting in terms of the bigger picture. It’s just the next game for a coach who has always been about the next game.

Getting the team to acquire this same mindset is a different matter entirely. It’s also a challenge he’s embracing.

“Their focus has been on the moment, whatever that happens to be. Yesterday it was on yesterday, and today it’s on today,” Snyder said. “I’d like to think that they’re enthused about the opportunity and the challenge that lies in front of them, but if you get caught up too much in Thursday night you’re probably not taking care of Monday.”

It comes down to the preparation. But it also comes down to balancing confidence—some might even call it arrogance—with just the right amount of nerves to carry you through an abbreviated game week.

“Any football coach in the country wants his players to honestly—and ‘honestly’ is a valuable word—believe that they will win and can win,” Snyder said. “You can expect to win and should have that attitude if you prepare yourself.”

Snyder, hands still overlapping, voice unwavering, is back in his comfort zone, comparing Auburn’s offense to ones he’s schemed against and even coached.

He highlights the wishbone and how it has advanced. He also mentions Ell Roberson and Michael Bishop—two quarterbacks he coached more than a decade ago—while searching for the appropriate comparison to Nick Marshall. It comes off as natural and familiar, as if he coached these players yesterday.

The conversation comes full circle, and Snyder provides his own state-of-the-offense assessment of what his team will face on Thursday and beyond.

“Football evolves,” Snyder said. “Whatever it was will reinvent itself and be back again.”

No one would know better. After all, college football’s greatest active historian and walking wizard has reinvented his program—and himself—time and time again.

 

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Miami vs. Nebraska: What the 'Canes Must Do to Shut Down Ameer Abdullah

The Miami Hurricanes defense has noticeably improved in 2014, but the nation's 15th-ranked run-stopping unit will be tested by Nebraska superstar Ameer Abdullah.

Since the beginning of last season, the running back has posted 13 100-yard performances and scored 15 total touchdowns. Overall, the senior has compiled an impressive 6.2 yards per carry since the Cornhuskers beat Wyoming in August 2013.

According to SI.com, Florida Atlantic coach Charlie Partridge had high praise for Nebraska's star back. "He's got all three: power, make-you-miss ability and speed. All at an extremely high level. He's a great player," he said.

Two weeks ago, McNeese State of the Football Championship Subdivision surprisingly contained Abdullah to a mere 54 yards on 17 rushes. His 3.2 yards per attempt marked the worst average since his freshman season, three long years ago.

It's possible to stop Abdullah, especially considering the 'Canes are a more powerful overall defense than McNeese State's—bigger, faster, stronger.

But collective physicality is far from the deciding factor of victories. Miami needs to stay disciplined more than ever because its defense cannot lock in solely on him. Keeping both Abdullah and quarterback Tommy Armstrong in check will be an enormous challenge.

Completely focusing on Abdullah leads to mental lapses and allows Armstrong to break off huge runs, so there needs to be a proper balance, with the emphasis certainly on the former.

While the Hurricanes have a decent unit of defensive linemen, Denzel Perryman and Thurston Armbrister face a major task on Sept. 20 at 8 p.m. ET.

As a team, Miami has already tallied 21 tackles for loss. Ten players have earned a spot in that category, where Perryman and Armbrister pace the unit with 4.0 each, while Ufomba Kamalu has 3.0 and edge-rusher Tyriq McCord has 2.5.

Now, the 'Canes must prove whether or not those superb numbers mean anything against the country's ninth-best rushing attack.

 

Study the Blueprint, Make It Better

McNeese State did an excellent job of defending the speed option, not ceding a long gain to either player. The Cowboys took the risk and unleashed a safety toward the running back. It definitely worked, since Abdullah was tackled for a loss five times on a mere 17 carries.

But the game plan, though outstanding in its own right, was not perfect.

Armstrong broke loose three times for a combined 98 yards, and each time was via the read-option. Abdullah managed one run for more than 15 yards, which happened on the second possession of the day and was off, you guessed it, a read.

In the picture above, there is an open lane to attack between the defensive end and the man guarding Nebraska's slot receiver. All it would take is one slip-up by the McNeese State defensive end for Abdullah to waltz untouched into the second level.

And he made that one mistake.

Junior right tackle Zach Sterup capitalized on the aggressiveness of the Cowboys defensive end and buried him into the wash, leaving no opposition to Abdullah's run:

He easily eluded three tacklers at the second level and scampered for 19 yards, his longest run of the day. Had the end stayed home, Abdullah would have a running lane between either the center and guard, but a linebacker was filling that gap.

The best way to counteract that play is sealing the edges and not getting overzealous, and the Cowboys calmed down later in the quarter.

On a comparable call, the McNeese State defenders—from the trenches to the secondary—executed perfectly this time:

Armstrong's running lane was closed, and a McNeese lineman disrupted the backfield, forcing Abdullah outside. This time, the weak-side end rightfully stayed on his edge, giving his teammates sufficient time to track down the Nebraska back near the sideline for a three-yard loss.

McNeese State sealed the gaps, pushed Abdullah away from his blockers and didn't allow him back to the line of scrimmage.

Plus, Armstrong had nowhere to go.

It's a total team effort, not an individualistic approach. That's the only way the Hurricanes can stop Abdullah. Otherwise, the Cornhuskers will run Miami right out of Lincoln, and the senior running back will be the one leading the charge.

One mistake, and the only thing stopping Abdullah could be the end zone.

 

Statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com.

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

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Everything You Need to Know About Jameis Winston's Backup: Sean Maguire

Sean Maguire was an afterthought as part of Florida State's 2012 signing class. He was the other quarterback—a 3-star prospect from New Jersey.

The afterthought, considered the No. 4 quarterback in the spring of 2013, will now start for No. 1 FSU (2-0) against No. 22 Clemson (1-1) on Saturday at 8 p.m. ET following Jameis Winston's suspension for the first half due to his vulgar and profane comments Tuesday.

Winston and Maguire came to FSU together as part of the 2012 class. While Winston won a Heisman Trophy and a national title, Maguire has been patiently waiting for his turn.

And now, Maguire gets his turn—even if it's just for a half.

In March 2013, as FSU was about to begin spring football practice, Maguire was clearly the No. 4 quarterback.

He was behind Clint Trickett, who had the most game experience at that point and was the quarterback that coach Jimbo Fisher had named the No. 1 guy going into the spring. And he was behind Winston and Jacob Coker.

And then the dominoes began to fall. Winston had a breakout performance in the spring game, and Trickett graduated the next month and was able to transfer (and play immediately) at West Virginia. 

Winston beat Coker for the starting job and led FSU to 14 straight wins, including the national title. And after Coker suffered a knee injury in November 2013, Maguire was elevated to the No. 2 spot. Coker's graduation and transfer to Alabama in May further paved the way for Maguire.

"It's funny how things turn out," Maguire said this spring. "I can't control where [Coker and Trickett] ended up. But, either way, I think it worked out pretty good."

Now, just 18 months after being the No. 4 quarterback, Maguire is the starter in a crucial matchup against conference rival Clemson. 

"Sean is going to do great," Winston said. "I just texted Sean a little while ago. Me and Sean are going to do some quality film work after practice."

Here are a few things you should know about Maguire:

 

Maguire Could Have Played Elsewhere

Emphasis on the word "played." According to 247Sports, Maguire had scholarship offers from the likes of Penn State, Rutgers, Syracuse, Connecticut and North Carolina State.

But Maguire said he made a visit to FSU and knew where he wanted to play.

"I wanted to come here," Maguire said in 2013. "I loved the coaches. I loved the whole school. I think the competition is awesome.

"I could have taken the easy way out and gone to some school up North and been starting, but I'd rather compete with the best."

Maguire didn't shy away from the challenge of FSU and competing for snaps in practice with the likes of Winston, Trickett and Coker. 

In the spring of 2013, Maguire was often portrayed as the dark horse or not mentioned at all when media and fans discussed the quarterback competition.

"Everyone portrays it as them three," Maguire said. "But in my mind, and I know in coach Fisher's mind, I'm right there. I've been working hard. This is my chance to prove that I belong right there."

 

Preparation Is the Key 

Maguire knew practice and playing time would be sparse. But he made sure he was ready. He listened to Fisher and quarterbacks coach Randy Sanders but also asked questions. Coach Fisher saw that Maguire was ready to prove what he could do.

Winston saw it, too. While they are both quarterbacks and, technically, are competing against each other in a sense, Winston could appreciate Maguire's progress.

"He's been working his tail off," Winston said. "I respect Sean; the team around him respects Sean. Sean is going to do a great job."

Fisher has an eye for quarterbacks. In some respects, he recruits the position too well.

He has recruited EJ Manuel, Trickett, Coker, Winston, Maguire and J.J. Cosentino. That's an NFL starter, West Virginia's starter, Alabama's backup QB and a Heisman winner. Maguire is Saturday's night's starter, and Cosentino is a highly regarded true freshman.

Fisher's prior comments about Maguire speak volumes.

"He wasn't recruited here to sit the bench, either," Fisher said in 2013. "I think the guy is a very talented guy and has good ability."

 

He Has the Tools and Weapons to Be Successful  

Fisher doesn't drop praise on players just to make them look good. But when asked about Maguire in the past, he praised him for his work ethic and skills on the field.

While Maguire has attempted fewer than 30 college passes, it's clear that he has a strong arm and is accurate. He's put in the extra hours in the weight room and has bulked up to 220 pounds. And he's spent countless hours watching film with Winston and the other quarterbacks.

What Maguire lacked going into 2014 was experience. But he took second-team reps in the spring, and he completed 15 of 28 passes for 203 yards, a touchdown and an interception in the spring game.

"I felt today went well," he said in the spring. "I felt really comfortable out there."

How will Maguire fare Saturday? That remains to be seen.

But while Maguire isn't as polished a quarterback as Winston, he has similar traits (height, size, arm strength, vision) along with a deep receiving corps.

Maguire can throw to one of the nation's top receivers (Rashad Greene) or one of the country's best tight ends (Nick O'Leary). And Kermit Whitfield and Jesus "Bobo" Wilson are rising stars. FSU's running backs have shown that they are capable runners and blockers but also love to catch passes out of the backfield (Karlos Williams is third on the team with seven receptions).

Maguire has no shortage of confidence. And there's plenty of confidence in him by Fisher and teammates, too. 

 

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

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History Shows Nebraska-Miami Game Will Be an Epic Clash

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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College Football Picks: Week 4 Predictions for Every Game

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

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

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

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

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

Season record: 175-41 (.810)

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

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

That's what I do.

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

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

1. Is Florida State really No. 1?:

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

 

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

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

 

3. Transitive property time for Oklahoma:

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

 

4. The case of BYU:

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

 

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

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

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The Two Teams That Have Displayed Championship Pedigree in 2014

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

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

It's not Alabama, the perennial power.

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

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

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

Oklahoma and Oregon, and not necessarily in that order. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Oregon Football: Surprises, Disappointments so Far for 2014 Ducks

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

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

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

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

 

Surprises

Royce Freeman

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Wide Receivers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Erick Dargan 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Disappointments

Thomas Tyner

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Defensive Line

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

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

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

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

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

 

Passing Defense

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Impressive.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Only 3,636 days and counting!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are the Tigers ready?

The truth is, we don't know.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Do you think Winston can still win the Heisman?

Watch the video and let us know!

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