NCAA Football News

5 Arkansas Players Alabama Missed on in Recruiting

Alabama and Arkansas renew their SEC rivalry Saturday evening in Fayetteville. Like so many conference foes, these programs perennially clash on the recruiting trail, resulting in interesting subplots taking place within the on-field action.

Whether a player was once spurned by his opponent as a prospect or ultimately elected to go elsewhere despite holding an offer from that team, things become a bit more personal when the two sides meet again between the hash marks. 

Here's a look at five former recruits who could have potentially worn a Crimson Tide uniform but instead represent the Razobacks in battle.

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Johnny Manziel Shows Support for Todd Gurley with #FreeGurley Tweet

After going through his own autograph controversy while playing at Texas A&M last year, Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel took to Twitter on Friday to show support for suspended Georgia running back Todd Gurley.

Manziel followed up with a comment to reporters in Cleveland: 

Gurley was suspended indefinitely by the University of Georgia on Thursday during an "ongoing investigation into an alleged violation of NCAA rules." Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports is reporting that the investigation is for accepting extra benefits for his likeness. 

[Twitter]

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How SEC West Division Could Land 2 Teams in the College Football Playoff

We're still early enough in the college football season that most one-loss teams in power-five conferences shouldn't be eliminated from the playoff conversation. 

Similarly, the idea that a single conference, and perhaps division, could get two teams into the College Football Playoff shouldn't be officially ruled out, either. 

Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn certainly thinks so. 

"I think there's going to be good chance there will be two teams from the [SEC] West, or at least two teams from the SEC, to make the Final Four,"Malzahn said Thursday on ESPN Radio's Mike & Mike.

Of course, Malzahn is going to stump for what benefits the division and conference in which he coaches because, ultimately, it means that it could benefit his team. 

The possibility of two SEC West teams making the playoff isn't unfathomable, however. While, in theory, winning a conference matters, it's not a prerequisite. The theme maintained by CFP executive director Bill Hancock is that the field will consist of "the four best teams.

What qualifies as "best" remains to be seen, but what is known is that it doesn't solely mean being a conference champ. In 2011, the two best teams in the BCS' eyes, Alabama and LSU, came from the SEC West. 

Other recent history suggests that, while rare, two teams from the same division could be playoff bound. A mock selection committee re-examining the 2008 season included Texas and Oklahoma, both formerly of the now-defunct Big 12 South, in its "practice" four-team playoff

The general consensus in 2014 is that the SEC West is college football's strongest division. Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports wrote as much in late September, and the latest Associated Press and coaches polls have five West teams among the top 25. B/R's playoff guru, Sam Chi, has three SEC West in his latest playoff mock standings

Interestingly, though, four of the five top SEC West teams are ranked in the top 10 even though their toughest football ahead of them. Put another way, many teams at the top of the West division still have to play one another. 

That's not to suggest that the West is overrated, but it's also worth pointing out that, prior to Week 6, the best win by any team in that division (with the benefit of hindsight) was Auburn's road victory over Kansas State on Sept. 18. 

That could mean a couple of things. On one hand, it could mean that the West cannibalizes itself and no one escapes without multiple losses. On the other, two teams could rise to the top with, say, one loss between them. 

Either scenario creates the potential for a fascinating conversation at season's end, though largely dependent on what the rest of the landscape looks like. 

Does the Big Ten champion—say Michigan State or Ohio State—still have one loss? How about the Pac-12? Do Florida State and Georgia Tech get through the season unscathed and meet in the ACC championship game? These are all questions that would play a part in shaping the Final Four. 

Strength of schedule varies, to be sure, but the general rule of thumb for a playoff-caliber team, at least among power-five conferences, is relatively consistent: There will be some stinkers, some decent opponents and some good ones. 

The nuances of side-by-side resumes is where things get tricky. 

In other words, it's going to take a lot of losing outside the SEC for the West to get two teams into the playoff—and that's assuming the West doesn't beat itself up along the way. 

Mathematically, there would have to be two others conferences that take themselves out of the playoff race for this to be a possibility. Which ones would those be? It's tough to tell as of Week 7. 

There's also the matter of perception. 

Just as the SEC's reputation could factor into a pair of teams making the playoff, other conferences don't have that luxury. 

The Big Ten's reputation has tanked, especially after a pretty horrific effort in Week 2. The Big 12 is in an interesting position since it lacks a conference championship game and puts teams at a greater risk to lose because of a nine-game conference schedule. 

The Pac-12 lacks other major brands outside Oregon, UCLA and USC. Once Arizona upset Oregon last Thursday, the narrative shifted to whether the Pac-12 would have a playoff team at all (this is, of course, premature). 

Even the SEC East, which appears to be wide open, has been knocked down a couple of pegs perception-wise thanks to South Carolina's 3-3 record and Missouri's loss to Indiana. 

Conference perception ultimately shouldn't aid or hinder what a certain team does during the regular season. Until the selection committee proves that point, however, it's an interesting storyline. 

Whether the SEC West benefits from it or not remains to be seen. As of the second week in October, however, just about anything is possible. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. 

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Florida State Defends Jameis Winston Investigation in Letter to Students

Florida State University released an open letter to its community on Friday in an attempt to offset what it describes as a "drumbeat of misinformation" concerning its investigation into the 2012 sexual assault allegation against football star Jameis Winston.

The statement posted on its official site, which includes an 18-step timeline highlighting its handling of the situation and the Title IX obligations associated with it, doesn't name Winston. It refers to him as "the athlete," but the details are in line with his situation.

Florida State said the main reason for its silence on the issues was in order to protect students. It also explains why it decided to speak out now:

But as we expect other stories to appear, it is abundantly clear that the continual drumbeat of misinformation about the University's actions causes harm to our students, faculty, alumni, supporters and the FSU community as a whole. Because of this, and within the constraints of state and federal privacy laws, we want to share with you more detail to set the record straight.

The university states it immediately responded after learning of a possible sexual assault and passed the case to the Tallahassee Police Department after learning the alleged incident occurred off-campus.

It went on to explain why the Title IX administration was not notified about the case, which was at the time no longer being pursued by the police:

The Athletics Department also considered accounts by the athlete and two other FSU student athletes who were present at the encounter. All three independently described it as consensual. Based on that and the TPD's decision, the Athletics Department did not file a report with the University's Title IX administrator or the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities.

A decision was then made to send the case to the State Attorney's Office for further review. FSU asserts it attempted to help protect the complainant's personal information from the public and followed up with a Title IX investigation.

Based on the information available, it was announced in February they would not move forward with it unless new details were brought to light. Two months later, the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights began to look into Florida State's handling of the situation.

After getting cooperation from the complainant, Florida State reopened the Title XI investigation and notes it's currently approaching a "final resolution of the complaint."

The university states it's also working with the Department of Education on its inquiry into the matter:

The University takes sexual assault very seriously. The University is also cooperating fully with the U.S. Dept. of Education investigation into this matter. Indeed, it was the University that informed the DOE nearly six months ago about the Athletics Department knowledge of the case.

Iliana Limon Romero and Brendan Sonnone of the Orlando Sentinel provided a response from the accuser's lawyer, John Clune, about the open letter. He claims it's filled with errors and is just an attempt to get in front of another story that will be released:

Florida State knows that there is a big story about to break from the NY Times and their PR team is trying to do a little preventative damage control. The obvious news in this statement is that senior athletic department officials met with Winston and his lawyer one month after the rape occurred then decided to hide it from the Title IX office.

He also accused Florida State of attempting to break laws to protect its football program:

The statement's timeline is full of errors but it shows that we can add both [the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act] and the victim-advocate privilege to the list of laws Florida State is willing to break to protect this football program. What else can the school do wrong in this mess? The whole country is moving toward improving the response to campus rape while Florida State still backpedals the other way.

Winston has continued to play throughout the process. He's denied any criminal acts and, last December, the state attorney decided against charging the quarterback. He was suspended for one game earlier this season for a separate incident.

 

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SEC Football: Rating Each Team as a 2014 Contender or Pretender

The SEC conference has lived up to its billing as the most competitive conference in college football.

Entering Week 7, the conference has seven teams ranked in the Top 25, including four in the top seven. The next highest conference (Big 12) has just five.

All eyes will be on the SEC once again this weekend, as several high-profile matchups are on deck. Among them, No. 2 Auburn travels to face No. 3 Mississippi State, and No. 3 Ole Miss takes on No. 14 Texas A&M.

Now is the time when the contenders begin to separate themselves from the pretenders. 

In determining whether a team is a contender or a pretender in the race for the SEC title, we looked a number of factors, ranging from strength of remaining schedule, depth of roster, performance in games completed and similar issues. 

Here’s Bleacher Report’s take on where all 14 teams place.

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Ohio State Football: Why Urban Meyer Should Take Credit for Cam Newton

COLUMBUS, Ohio — It started with what seemed like a fairly innocuous question toward the end of his weekly call-in show. But when Urban Meyer was asked by a caller about Ohio State's plans when it came to recruiting quarterbacks, he couldn't help but share the Buckeyes' sales pitch.

"There's always guys on the horizon. That's never going to change," Meyer said on Thursday's edition of The Urban Meyer Call In Show on the Ohio State Radio Network. "That's the one position that's so unique in all of sport, especially for what we do, and the quarterbacks I've been fortunate to be around, I mean it's a who's who now."

That led to some discussion about what made Tim Tebow special and some banter with co-host Jim Lachey. From there, Meyer continued to sell his history with signal-callers, listing the "who's who" that he's coached.

"The unique thing we can sell is our offense has had more first-rounders. [Along with] Florida State, we've had three first-rounders come popping out out of our offense," Meyer said. "We've had two Heisman Trophy winners—well I count Cam Newton because he was with us for a couple of years."

Meyer's answer continued, but this caught my attention. I tweeted it. Outrage and comments from national media members followed.

Newton, of course, earned his Heisman Trophy at Auburn, en route to leading the Tigers to the 2010 national championship. Prior to that, he spent two seasons with Meyer at Florida, backing up Tebow before leaving Gainesville in the spring of 2009 amidst no shortage of controversy.

Newton's two-season totals with the Gators amounted to a whopping 54 passing yards on 12 attempts to go along with 113 rushing yards and four scores on the ground. Those numbers obviously pale in comparison to what Newton accomplished at Auburn—as well as Blinn College in 2009—but that doesn't matter to Meyer.

Nor should it. 

Because as the head coach at Ohio State, Meyer's responsibility lies with the Buckeyes. Not Newton, not Auburn and not any opponent he finds himself facing for a top-tier quarterback on the recruiting trail.

Meyer's pitch of Newton is of course a stretch—a Bikram Yoga stretch, as Kobe Bryant might say—given that Newton only appeared in a total of six games during his two-season stint in Gainesville and hardly scratched the surface of the talent that led to him becoming the first overall pick of the 2011 NFL draft.

But the fact of the matter remains that Meyer can claim a tie—albeit a flimsy one—to Newton, one of the NFL's most popular players.

That's especially important when one of the questions that Meyer hears most often from high school quarterbacks is, "How are you going to the get me to the NFL?" No, Meyer isn't responsible for nudging Newton to the professional ranks, but his decision to play for Meyer in the first place and eventual success in a similar spread system are enough for the third-year Buckeyes head coach not to ignore that of Newton's four-year college career, more of it was spent with him than anyone else.

Auburn obviously has a stronger pitch when it comes to Newton, and perhaps fittingly, the Tigers are one of the teams that Ohio State finds itself battling with in the race for the services of 5-star quarterback Torrance Gibson. But that's all that this is really about anyways, as high school kids aren't really interested in picking apart a head coach's embellishments.

Which is why as Meyer continued his answer, he had no problem continuing to stretch the truth, referring to Josh Harris as a Heisman Trophy candidate and Chris Leak as an All-American. Harris never received a vote for college football's most prestigious award during his career at Bowling Green, and Leak was only named an honorable mention for All-American in 2004—the season before Meyer arrived in Gainesville.

"I tell the kids in recruiting there's a lot of theory, a lot of staffs will say, 'We hope we really develop a good quarterback,'" Meyer said. "Where we can say that everyone who's ever played for us has been developed."

And while that, too, is an embellishment—Newton's 2007 classmate and fellow 5-star prospect John Brantley never caught on in the NFL after a lackluster college career—Meyer's track record with quarterbacks speaks for itself. Harris—a running back when Meyer arrived at Bowling Green in 2001—was drafted by the Baltimore Ravens in 2004, a year before Utah quarterback Alex Smith was selected first overall by the San Francisco 49ers.

Despite being a polarizing prospect, Tebow—the 2007 Heisman Trophy winner—was taken by the Denver Broncos in the first round of the 2010 draft, and after Meyer's arrival in Columbus in 2012, Braxton Miller reeled off two consecutive Big Ten MVP award-winning seasons. Even the development of unheralded Kenny Guiton and current Buckeyes starter J.T. Barrett speaks favorably for Meyer, and that's before you even mention the two national titles that he totaled with the Gators.

Which begs the question, with all of Meyer's success otherwise, why even bring up Newton's name?

The answer? Because he can. In the world of recruiting, resumes aren't regulated and every edge matters—no matter how dull they may be.

 

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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Auburn's Defense Looks to Continue Resurgence and Contain Dak Prescott

AUBURN, Ala. — Ellis Johnson wasn't ready for "The Dak Attack" last season.

In his third game as Auburn's defensive coordinator, the coaching veteran had a game plan for his defense that centered on slowing down Mississippi State quarterback Tyler Russell, who had been battling an injury.

However, just before kickoff at Jordan-Hare Stadium, the Bulldogs sent out Dak Prescott for his first SEC start.

But the dual-threat quarterback had no problem with the pressure placed on him—he compiled 346 total yards and two rushing touchdowns in his team's close 24-20 loss to the Tigers.

"We didn't have a really good plan, and when we tried to adjust it on the fly, [Mississippi State] still did an excellent job," Johnson said. "His runs last year—designed runs—were really the biggest problem we had in that game. So we obviously know what he's capable of doing."

Prescott won't take Auburn by surprise this season, but he will defend his home turf at Davis Wade Stadium this Saturday as a much-improved player—a Heisman front-runner—for a No. 3 squad that has knocked off back-to-back Top 10 opponents.

"He was not as good [last season] at reading coverages and as accurate throwing," Johnson said. "And right now, he's as good a dual-threat quarterback as there is in America. He's throwing the ball on time. He's throwing it accurately."

The unquestioned leader and focal point of Dan Mullen's high-powered offensive scheme, Prescott will be the main target for an Auburn defense that has also made incredible strides since last season's dramatic meeting between Auburn and Mississippi State.

The Auburn defensive line had several question marks heading into the season without the likes of Dee Ford and Carl Lawson. While the pass rush isn't anywhere close to what Johnson wants from the unit, the front four has helped Auburn become one of the top rush defenses in the country.

And, even after a complete shutdown of the LSU offense in last Saturday's eye-opening 41-7 rout of the Bayou Bengals, the Tigers still think there is plenty of room for improvement.

"As the season went on last year, we drastically progressed," senior defensive tackle Gabe Wright said. "Go through another spring and fall, and it really helped us make strides. And even seeing some of these games that are described as dominant, there's still so many mistakes that could be cleaned up."

Wright and the rest of the Auburn defense have already kept one of the nation's most prolific rushing quarterbacks in check this season.

Kansas State's Jake Waters, who has rushed for more than 100 yards in two Big 12 games this season, finished a Thursday night showdown against Auburn with negative-seven rushing yards.

Gus Malzahn said he hopes his defense will be able to carry over the confidence from stopping Waters into this weekend's matchup in Starkville, but the head coach admits Prescott will be a new kind of challenge.

"They're a different team than Kansas State, and that was just that specific plan for that week it worked out," Malzahn said. "He's an outstanding quarterback...he's like a running back when he runs it. "

One area Prescott looks especially dangerous against the Tigers will be on the scramble. Auburn's defense has allowed a few big runs from quarterbacks when the coverage wins out but the containment breaks down.

"We can't do anything different scheme-wise, because we've got to play the coverages we've got," Johnson said. "We've just got to do a better job of staying in our rush lanes and keeping him boxed up...any time you rush and you've got all man-under and no zone, you've got nobody hanging around there to help you, and that's got to improve."

While Auburn's Heisman candidate, Nick Marshall, is more of a shifty and agile runner, Prescott likes to beat defenses on the ground with his power.

For senior cornerback Jonathon Mincy, seeing a player of Prescott's caliber means he and his teammates on defense will put special focus on one area of their game.

"Someone who can be a run and pass threat like that, and also being a bigger body that can get into the second level, that's going to be big," Mincy said. "But we feel like we can stop anybody. It's going to come down to tackling...we're going to go out there and do our job."

But Auburn will not be able to just worry about Prescott's running ability.

The junior is averaging 244 yards per game through the air and has 14 passing touchdowns to just two interceptions this season. Although Prescott struggled with his passing accuracy last season, he is coming off a big win against Texas A&M in which he completed 76 percent of his passes.

"I thought he threw the ball decently last year," Malzahn said. "They hurt us on some big throws. They hit four verticals and he made a very good throw. This year, it seems that he’s a lot more confident, knows where everybody is and is in total control."

After several weeks of success on the field and a week of focused preparation, this resurgent Auburn defense will look to slow down a talented Heisman hopeful who has already garnered comparisons to another bigger, dual-threat quarterback who recently won the award.

More specifically, a Heisman winner who was coached by Malzahn and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee.

"All I know is our defense had their work cut for us, and we do too," Lashlee said. "I hope he’s not Cam Newton on Saturday."

 

All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports. All stats courtesy of CFBStats.com.

Justin Ferguson is Bleacher Report's lead Auburn writer. Follow him on Twitter @JFergusonAU.

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LSU Football: Tigers Poised for Breakout Game vs. Florida

LSU's matchup against Florida on Saturday will be the first time both teams face each other unranked in the Les Miles era, but that does not mean there will be a shortage of talent.

The Tigers and Gators annually put players in the NFL and have enough talent to beat any team on any given week.

Despite the immense amount of playmakers on hand, both programs have underperformed. Miles is looking to avoid his first 0-3 conference start at LSU, while Florida head coach Will Muschamp has luckily squeaked out a 2-1 record to start SEC play.

The Tigers were defeated 14-6 in their last trip to "The Swamp" in 2012. Miles' team this season has been crushed by Mississippi State and Auburn, both of which are now ranked in the Top Five.

The Gators are a step down from the Bulldogs and Tigers from the Plains, which should give opportunities for some of the LSU players to have a breakout games.

Here are four Tigers to look out for on Saturday.

 

Leonard Fournette

LSU has spread the carries amongst four running backs this season. Leonard Fournette, Kenny Hilliard, Terrence Magee and Darrel Williams have all shown flashes of excellence, but the Tigers' running backs have had a tough time getting in rhythm this season against meaningful opposition due to over-rotation.

Miles needs to find one to take the bulk of the carries, and the best of the group is Fournette.

The 5-star true freshman is LSU's leading rusher and was the most effective against Auburn. Three consecutive powerful "Buga" runs that totaled 22 yards set up LSU's longest gain in the first quarter, a 52-yard play-action bomb from Brandon Harris to Malachi Dupre.

The Tigers would go on to score their only points of the game on the next play.

Miles should ride the true freshman triumvirate of Fournette, Harris and Dupre against Florida. The offense should center around Fournette, though, as his runs should open up Dupre and Travin Dural on the outside.

The LSU offensive line bludgeoned the Gators' front last season, so Miles will hopefully get a similar performance from his big uglies.

Fournette has not performed the miracles everyone expected him to so far this season. Miles, who pumped him up more than any other player he has ever coached, should give him more opportunities to do so on Saturday.

 

Danielle Hunter 

LSU defensive end Danielle Hunter leads the team in tackles with 37 and tackles for loss with five. Hunter has also recovered a fumble and returned it for a touchdown against Mississippi State.

Hunter has only tallied one sack this season, but Saturday will be his first favorable quarterback matchup in SEC play. The previous signal-callers he has faced, Dak Prescott and Nick Marshall, are mobile playmakers who run offenses that keep defensive ends on their heels.

Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel has some mobility, but he is not nearly athlete that Prescott and Marshall are.

Driskel was sacked three times last week against Tennessee, so Hunter and his fellow defensive ends should be licking their chops against an inconsistent Florida offensive line.

 

Kwon Alexander

Junior Kwon Alexander has raked in 36 tackles, 10 more than any other linebacker. Alexander needs the other players in his position group to play better for LSU's defense to not be last in the conference in run defense.

Alexander moved to weak-side linebacker when Lamin Barrow moved on to the NFL last season. Barrow's best game was against Florida in 2013, when he led the team with 13 tackles.

The Gators offense is limited and predictable with Driskel under center, so expect Alexander to attack the line of scrimmage in an effort to make big plays.

Alexander started against Florida as a true freshman the last time the Tigers visited The Swamp. He suffered a broken ankle in that loss, which pushed him out of the rotation. Expect him to play with extra motivation on Saturday.

 

Jalen Mills

Driskel has thrown more interceptions than touchdown passes this season. If LSU can slow down running back Matt Jones, defensive coordinator John Chavis should be able to dial up some lethal defenses on passing downs that should confuse the Gators offense.

Driskel, who is a below-average passer, will have a tough time reading what Chavis will throw at him.

Jalen Mills' is LSU's best blitzing defensive back and has amazing ball skills. Mills raked in a sack and five tackles against Florida last season.

LSU's defensive backs have had a miserable start in conference play. Mills and the rest of the secondary have a favorable matchup against Florida's receivers, which should open up opportunities for the Tigers to have a dominant performance against Driskel.

 

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

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

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Nebraska Football: Huskers D Earning the Right to Be Labeled 'Blackshirts'

It's a tradition that has been a part of Nebraska football since the mid-1960s. "Blackshirts," the earned label for the Huskers defense, has been something defensive players look forward to every year.

Prior to Bo Pelini's tenure, the Blackshirts were hung in players' lockers prior to the first week of the season. That changed when Pelini was hired.

"Blackshirts are earned on the field," Pelini said, per Mike Babcock of Huskers.com. He did make an exception in 2013, however. The coveted jerseys were handed out prior to the season for the first and only time. In 2014, Pelini has returned to the philosophy that the players must earn their Blackshirts.

While Nebraska lost to Michigan State on the road, it's time for Pelini to hand out the jerseys. The defense has earned them.

Against the Spartans, the Nebraska defense forced three takeaways in the first half. While the offense failed to convert, the defense was arguably holding up their end of the deal.

Plus, the Huskers managed to keep Michigan State's offense to season lows. MSU quarterback Connor Cook, for instance, was limited to only 11-of-29 passing against Nebraska. That's a far cry from his 69 percent completion rate prior to the game.

It was more than just limiting Cook, though. Here are just a few highlights from the Nebraska defense's performance against Michigan State:

  • Junior defensive end Randy Gregory snagged his first interception of the season in the first quarter.
  • Senior linebacker Trevor Roach recorded an impressive career-high 18 tackles, which blew past his previous record of seven tackles against Tennessee-Chattanooga in 2011.
  • Four of Roach's tackles were for a loss, totaling nine yards.
  • The three takeaways marked the third straight game that Nebraska had as many takeaways.

Not too bad, is it? The defense's success is only creating more confidence, too.

“I feel like we can make big plays,” nickelback Byerson Cockrell said, per Alex Lantz of the Lincoln Journal Star. “As far as interceptions, fumbles and all that, we can make those plays. … That gives me a lot more confidence. Especially when I see Nate [Gerry] catch a ball, it’s like, ‘Man, I want one now.’”

If Cockrell wants an interception, he's in good company. Looking at the defense's overall statistics shows a group that isn't something to take lightly.

So, who should specifically get a Blackshirt? As of now, it looks like Roach, Zaire Anderson, Josh Mitchell and the front four deserve them most. If Pelini is all about them earning the Blackshirts, it's time to hand them out.

Nebraska may have lost to Michigan State, but there was a big victory on the defensive side of the ball. That deserves to be recognized, and there is no time like the present.

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Is Steve Spurrier Right to Publicly Criticize His South Carolina Team?

No one is unhappier about South Carolina's 3-3 record than head coach Steve Spurrier—and he isn't afraid to say so.

The Head Ball Coach is, understandably, still steamed over a 45-38 loss to Kentucky in Week 6. It was a game that, with all due respect to the Wildcats' efforts, was given away.

It's been a tumultuous season already for the Gamecocks, who have an impressive win over Georgia but a pair of tough losses to Texas A&M and Missouri.

Even a 48-34 win over Vanderbilt in Week 4 was classified as "embarrassing":

So it shouldn't have come as a total surprise when Spurrier again spoke frankly about his team on his weekly call-in show (h/t John Whittle of TheBigSpur):

Somebody said, "If the fans bitch, what do you think?" I just say, "They should bitch about the way we perform." As long as we’re playing with effort and smarts, I think the fans are fine.

When we can’t cover kickoffs and we can’t do this, that and the other, it’s embarrassing. I’m embarrassed at times the way we play. If we play smart, fundamentally sound and get beat, maybe we can live with that. Let’s give it our best effort. We’ll keep pushing to see if we can get the best effort out of these guys.

When it comes to Spurrier, who is a walking sound clip, Chris Dufresne of the Los Angeles Timesput it best: "Spurrier doesn't try to be mean, it's just impossible for him to sugar coat the truth."

That's a big reason why Spurrier's a favorite with national media. He has a flair for trolling, and there's likely as much coachspeak in him as there is body fat on a professional bodybuilder.

As that relates to Spurrier's quote above, he isn't saying anything that's not true. Just about every coach would echo the sentiment that if a team is playing smart and with effort, the losses can be easier to live with—though it'd still be hard.

This isn't Spurrier calling his team a "pile of crap," a la Charlie Weis, either. Spurrier may be blunt, but he's not malicious in this instance.

Nor has Spurrier been malicious this season when talking about his team. He's been critical and at times complimentary, but he's always been himself.

That leads to another point: Every coach has a different style when talking about his team publicly, just as every coach has a different style when handling his team behind closed doors.

As the Houston Chronicle's Mike Finger notes, first-year Texas coach Charlie Strong, for example, refuses to criticize the team he has:

The more important factor is if a coach is the same person every day with his team.

If Spurrier's public comments are any indication, he's the same coach every day. That establishes a clear expectation which players are able to follow. Every coach is hard on his team—the important thing is that he's consistent with his approach.

If Spurrier is consistent, and he's been in the game long enough for us to believe that's the case, then chances are his players aren't taken aback by anything he said this week, the week before or the week before that. Furthermore, they're probably not going to be be taken aback by anything he says in the future. 

Regardless of South Carolina's record going forward, those players will continue to play hard for Spurrier and each other.

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. Unless otherwise cited, all quotes obtained firsthand.

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Micah Abernathy Commits to Tennessee: What 4-Star CB Brings to Vols

Tennessee suffered a heartbreaking 35-32 loss to Georgia two weeks ago, but Butch Jones and the Vols earned a huge win Friday morning over the ‘Dawgs by landing a commitment from 2015 4-star corner Micah Abernathy.

The Atlanta native selected the Vols over offers from Georgia, Oregon and Alabama, among others. The decision comes on the heels of his official visit to Knoxville last weekend. 

“After my three officials, we sat down and talked about it on Monday,” Abernathy told 247Sports' Rusty Mansell (via Ryan Callahan of GoVols247). “We talked about it a little bit Wednesday and a little bit Thursday, and then I decided I’m going to be a Vol.”

He’s the latest big-time pledge for Jones, who has quietly put together a class that is rated No. 3 overall in the country.

Abernathy is a major pull for the Vols for a number of reasons. 

For starters, he's the seventh metro-Atlanta area recruit who has pledged to the Vols in this cycle. That's a huge presence for an out-of-state school in one of the most talent-laden hotbeds in the country.  

Three of those players, Abernathy included, are among the state's top 25 prospects in the 2015 class.

At 6'1", 187 pounds, Abernathy has the size and the athleticism necessary to contribute in a secondary that will have to replace senior starter Justin Coleman next season. 

While he's still raw at the corner position, it's hard to ignore the physical tools he brings to the table, as Barton Simmons, the 247Sports director of scouting, told Callahan (subscription required): “Micah is the type of player whose best football is in front of him. Athletically, he’s got all the tools you want in a big SEC cornerback. He’s got elite size. He can really run. He’s physical. He’s athletically elite. He’s just raw and relatively inexperienced at the cornerback position."

However, the largest impact of his decision coincides with the ability of Jones and his staff to go into the Peach State and beat out a power such as Georgia for a player the Bulldogs coveted.

Considering the struggles that Tennessee's program has endured over the last decade, victories such as this one on the recruiting trail are taken as signals that the days of being an afterthought in the SEC East are coming to an end soon.

“For this to be a kid that Georgia wanted and for Tennessee to come in and go head-to-head, weekend-to-weekend on official visits and beat the Dawgs, I think that really is a testament to where the Tennessee program is," Simmons said.

With Tennessee's class making noise on the national scene, the buzz surrounding the Vols program is clearly a positive factor with a number of the nation's top recruits. 

By landing studs such as Abernathy, Jones and his staff are sending a message to the nation and the rest of the SEC that the Vols program is one that is on the rise.

 

Sanjay Kirpalani is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.

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Florida State Football: Players Who Must Step Up in Place of Injured 'Noles

Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher uses the concept of "next man up." He wants the second- and third-team players to prepare in practice each week as if they are needed on Saturdays.

The Seminoles made a run to the national championship in 2013 without losing a starter for a significant amount of time. But injuries have already tested FSU, which has lost defensive tackle Nile Lawrence-Stample (torn pectoral muscle) for the season and will now be without center Austin Barron (arm) for an indefinite amount of time. Tailback Karlos Williams (ankle) is also out.

"You're always concerned but as a coach you plan for them," Fisher said. "You train well and heal and you play good ball and you hope and pray those things don't happen. That's just ball, you get a bunch of big bodies falling around out there and that happened."

Fisher knows FSU will be without Barron on Saturday when the No. 1 Seminoles (5-0, 3-0 ACC) play at Syracuse (2-3, 0-1). Leading receiver Rashad Greene (concussion) returned to practice on a limited basis Wednesday, and Fisher said Thursday night that Greene is "good to go" pending a final clearance from doctors.

The Seminoles will turn to redshirt freshman Ryan Hoefeld at center. At tailback, sophomore Mario Pender will likely start and true freshman Dalvin Cook will get more carries. If Greene is unable to play, FSU will likely start Jesus "Bobo" Wilson alongside Christian Green, while adding in players like Kermit Whitfield and Travis Rudolph in three- and four-receiver sets.

"The thing I'm encouraged with is the depth we have and you see us practice like we do," Fisher said.

Here's a look at three players who must step up and fill the gaps:

 

Ryan Hoefeld rushed into action

When Barron was sidelined by a fractured arm in the first quarter of the 43-3 win over Wake Forest last Saturday, Hoefeld quickly took a few snaps with quarterback Jameis Winston and went in the game. With the exception of a few high snaps, Fisher said that Hoefeld played well.

"I thought Ryan Hoefeld did an outstanding job of coming in and, after the first couple of plays, getting his feet on the ground," Fisher said.

Now Hoefeld is preparing for his first college start on the road in a loud dome at Syracuse. And it will be against an Orange defense that loves to blitz, putting added pressure on Hoefeld to snap and get his hands up and into position to block.

Hoefeld is in just his second year at center. He was a right tackle at Brother Martin in Kenner, Louisiana, but he knew center would be his spot at FSU after he impressed offensive line coach Rick Trickett during one of Fisher's summer camps.

"He threw me in at center in some of the one-on-one stuff," Hoefeld said. "And (Trickett) said, 'I like you at center.' I kind of just went with it."

Hoefeld had never snapped before, something that he worked on repeatedly in practice drills. And he said he had to learn to "step and snap at the same time." While taking a redshirt in 2013, he was able to learn from Bryan Stork, who won the Rimington Award as the nation's best center, as well as Barron.

"Stork was a big help," Hoefeld said. "I still talk to him a lot now. He's still throwing me feedback."

 

FSU Has Found No. 2 Receiver in Wilson

With the graduation of Kenny Shaw and the early departure of Kelvin Benjamin to the NFL, one of the priorities over the offseason was developing the inexperienced but talented receiving corps.

Wilson was certainly in the mix to either start or play in three-receiver sets, but his June arrest on allegations that he stole a motor scooter on campus led to an indefinite suspension (he later reached a plea deal on two misdemeanor charges). Fisher allowed Wilson to travel to the season opener against Oklahoma State at Arlington, Texas, but made sure that the sophomore would only be standing and watching.

The one-game suspension was a wake-up call for Wilson.

"I think that really got to him and he understood that because we saw him wanting to get in there with those guys," Fisher said. "Bobo is a great young man. He just made a mistake and he has to learn from it and hopefully will."

Despite missing a game, Wilson is second on the team in receptions (17) and receiving yards (240 yards) and is tied with Greene for the team lead with three touchdown receptions. 

If Greene plays against Syracuse, expect to still see plenty of Wilson. But if Greene is held out, expect Winston to look toward Wilson frequently.

"I see him evolving as a young man, as a player, just learning all the details," Greene said. "He's understanding it. It's not hard to go out and get better at something, it's just the discipline part. Can you do it continuously, can you do it every day? He's doing a good job of doing it every day."

 

Pender Making Most of Chances

After spending two years on campus without being able to play, losing the 2012 season due to a sports hernia injury and the 2013 season to academics, Pender was ready to fight for playing time and show off his speed.

Pender missed the N.C. State game with a concussion but leads the team in yards per carry (6.7). He's also been trusted on the goal line, scoring all three of his touchdowns from three yards or closer.

Williams talked to Pender earlier this week about being ready to take on more of the workload. He's had just 23 carries in four games, but Pender is set to receive more carries on Saturday.

"He said, 'You might be the man this week, so I'm going to need you to go,'" Pender said. "So I looked at him and told him, 'I got you. Like always. We've got each others back no matter what happens.'"

FSU's running game has struggled in 2014, but the Seminoles have been better the last two games. The Seminoles ran for 166 yards at N.C. State, accumulating most of that total in the second half. And FSU had 171 rushing yards last week in the win over Wake.

Pender had his best rushing day of the season against the Demon Deacons, breaking loose on a 56-yard run and scoring on a three-yard carry in the third quarter. He's learning to be more patient and is also benefitting from improved play from the offensive line.

"I'm making the right reads and being more patient instead of trying to make a play happen," Pender said. "Letting it come to you and letting it develop like that."

Like all the players, Pender said he hates to get more playing time because of injuries to teammates. But he knows it's his responsibility to step in and perform, while also helping to continue the team's pursuit of an ACC title and a national championship.

"Jimbo always talks about how much great depth we actually have, and we do have a ton of players that can play at each position," Pender said. "We try to work with what we've got and make it happen."

 

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

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Teams Most Likely to Pursue Lane Kiffin for Head Coaching Job

As we hurtle toward the midpoint of the 2014 college football season, we’re coming up on the sweet spot of another intriguing season: the hot-seat season.

With just under two months left in the season, athletic directors across America are doing the math on contract buyouts and diving into their iPhone contacts and Rolodexes to gauge what might happen if they fire a coach. SB Nation's Adam Jacobi says a number of coaches are already on the hot seat. 

Two programs have already joined the hunt: SMU’s June Jones resigned following a disastrous start, and Kansas canned Charlie Weis following two-plus unspectacular seasons. By late December, many more will have joined their ranks, looking for the candidate who’ll elevate their program among the college football elite.

One of the most intriguing potential candidates? Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin. Following his public flameout at Southern California, the controversial Kiffin has begun rehabbing his image as Nick Saban’s offensive play-caller.

Although last week’s 23-17 loss at Ole Miss was a setback, the Crimson Tide’s offense has been impressively balanced with a solid downfield passing element. Alabama averages 314.2 passing yards per game (No. 24 nationally) and 240.4 rushing yards per game (No. 22 nationally).

If Alabama continues on this trajectory, Kiffin will receive some interest in his services this winter. If he’s interested in leaving Tuscaloosa after one season, here are some programs who’ll be interested in his services.

Begin Slideshow

How Will Heisman Front-Runner Dak Prescott's Game Translate to the NFL?

Dak Prescott has taken the college football world by storm. There are a lot of questions about how and if his abilities will translate to the NFL.

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder and NFL National Columnist Matt Miller discuss how well Dak Prescott could do in the NFL.

Would Dak Prescott be the first QB selected if he came out this year?

Watch the video and let us know! 

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Notre Dame Football: Reassessing North Carolina as a Trap Game

Back in the dog days of summer, I discussed possible trap games on Notre Dame’s 2014 schedule. There were multiple options that met most of the criteria, but nearly every sign pointed to Saturday’s home game with North Carolina (3:30 p.m. ET, NBC) as a game where the Irish could get caught in a lack of focus.

Last week’s opponent, Stanford, was expected to physically test the Irish. It did.

Next week’s opponent, Florida State, was expected to be undefeated and ranked No. 1. It is.

So yes, the Fighting Irish are vulnerable Saturday afternoon. Of course, there are two sides to every story. Is North Carolina (2-3, 0-2 ACC) good enough to push Notre Dame in South Bend?

For a preseason Top 25 team, North Carolina has severely underachieved in the first half of the season. The Tar Heels won their first two games but were taken to the wire by San Diego State, an average Mountain West team. They’ve been non-competitive in their three defeats, losing by an average of 20 points to East Carolina, Clemson and Virginia Tech.

Their uptempo spread offense, for which head coach Larry Fedora was hired three years ago, has been highly inconsistent. A fast, athletic defense has been shredded for 50 points twice in the past three weeks.

Fedora can’t decide on a quarterback, as junior Marquise Williams and freshman Mitch Trubisky are again expected to both see the field this week. They've combined for 11 touchdowns and seven interceptions while completing just 59 percent of their pass attempts.

But, we were saying similar things about the Tar Heels last year, when they were sitting at 1-5. By season’s end, they had won six of seven games and routed Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl. They could’ve called it a season in mid-October, but they battled back and finished respectably.

As I explained before the Purdue-Notre Dame game, when the Irish were four-touchdown favorites after defeating Michigan but trailed late in the first half, we’ve seen this time and time again with Brian Kelly’s teams. A big win leads to a slow start the following week, regardless of opponent.

It’s a habit that, while not unique to Notre Dame, the Irish have struggled to kick. Any coach will tell you that he can’t get the identical level of effort out of his team for 12 straight games. Unlike most teams, however, Notre Dame rarely plays a team that is simply overmatched from the start.

That’s one of many challenges that Kelly has taken on at Notre Dame that he could avoid elsewhere. He’s been able to navigate those waters in terms of end result, but not without some significant scares (see 2012 BYU and Pittsburgh).

Despite a 17-point spread, North Carolina is capable of competing and perhaps even winning in South Bend. It probably won’t happen, but a quick study of both history and human psychology will tell you that the Irish will likely find themselves in a battle for much of Saturday’s game.

Notre Dame could render its magical escape against Stanford insignificant with a poor performance a week later, and it would certainly take much of the luster off of next week’s trip to Tallahassee.

But that’s the challenge in a sport that doesn’t allow for an off game, especially at Notre Dame. Don’t be fooled by North Carolina’s play leading up to Saturday. An Irish team with even the slightest absence of focus could find itself unexpectedly needing a second straight week of Notre Dame Stadium magic.

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College Football Picks Week 7: Odds and Spread Predictions for Top 25 Teams

After a chaotic Week 6 turned the world of college football upside down, Week 7 might just provide an encore. 

A number of high-profile matchups line the docket, and while this is great for fans, the same cannot be said for bettors who want to make some coin while enjoying the games. In the SEC alone, tough calls in the form of several SEC West bouts and an encounter between the top two teams in the East make for a crop of lines best resembling a minefield.

Again, that is just in the SEC. For fans brave enough to wager money on the outcomes, at least do so armed with knowledge. Below is a look at the full slate with a few highlights after the jump.

 

Week 7 Top 25 Schedule Projections

Note: All odds, updated as of 8 p.m. ET on Oct. 9, are courtesy of Odds Shark. 

 

Upset Pick of the Week: No. 10 Arizona (+3) over USC

This sounds like a favorite, right?

  • The home team.
  • Undefeated.
  • Went to Eugene and took down Marcus Mariota and the Oregon Ducks a week ago.
  • Is the No. 10 team in the nation.

Well, that would be the No. 10 Arizona Wildcats, the underdog at home in a matchup this weekend against the 3-2 USC Trojans.

Alright then.

Arizona averages 39.8 points per game, good for the No. 21 overall rank, behind the arm of freshman quarterback Anu Solomon (1,741 yards and 14 touchdowns to four interceptions) and the legs of freshman tailback Nick Wilson (574 yards and six scores).

The mastermind who brings it all together, though, is head coach Rich Rodriguez, a pioneer of the quick-twitch, spread-them-out attacks.

Rodriguez's offense specializes in big plays, while USC's defense specializes in surrendering them. 

Really, revealing that the Trojans just lost to unranked Arizona State and backup quarterback Mike Bercovici—who threw for an eye-popping 510 yards and five scores—on a 46-yard Hail Mary attempt at the end of regulation would be enough.

But take it a step further. In that game alone, the Trojans defense also allowed plays of 21, 77 and 73 yards.

"You learn the hard way in games like this," coach Steve Sarkisian said, per STATS LLC, via ESPN.com. "I feel bad for our kids, I thought they fought hard, competed well and gave amazing effort. But we didn't get it done in the end."

USC can be perceived as dangerous with a potential .500 mark all but ruining the season, but at the same time, the Wildcats have been the definition of dangerous all year long. The defense will do just enough while the offense hits on a few key plays in front of a friendly crowd to pull off the "upset."

Prediction: Arizona 28, USC 24

 

Spread to Avoid: No. 7 Alabama (-9) vs. Arkansas 

Something has to give when the No. 7 Alabama Crimson Tide travels to Fayetteville for a showdown with the surging Arkansas Razorbacks.

College GameDay sums up the war of attrition nicely:

Alabama is reeling after an upset at the hands of then-ranked No. 11 Ole Miss last week, where quarterback Blake Sims finally had a letdown performance with just 228 yards and one interception.

Really, that has been the main cause for concern for the Crimson Tide since the season even began, and while Arkansas does not exactly tout an elite defense, the Razorbacks do have a stable of backs that is unmatched in depth.

The No. 7 rushing offense in the land (316.6 yards per game) and No. 7 scoring offense (44.6) is spearheaded by no one back in particular:

It is easy to see, then, why bettors may want to steer clear of this one.

While Alabama is the better team on paper, the same could have been said last week against Ole Miss before quarterback Bo Wallace tossed three touchdowns. Brandon Allen (751 yards, nine touchdowns, one interception) is no slouch under center for the Razorbacks, either, should coach Bret Bielema call his number frequently Saturday. 

In the end, Nick Saban's team will likely overpower the not-quite-there-yet Razorbacks, but a spread of more than a touchdown does a disservice to the renaissance in Fayetteville. Truthfully, this one could swing either way.

Prediction: Alabama 35, Arkansas 27

 

Stats and information via ESPN.com unless otherwise specified. AP poll via The Associated Press.

 

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ESPN College Gameday 2014: Week 7 Schedule, Location, Predictions and More

The SEC is the place to be for the second straight week as it pertains to the ESPN College GameDay crew. A week after visiting Oxford, Mississippi ahead of Ole Miss' big win over Alabama, Kirk Herbstreit, Lee Corso and Rece Davis will visit the campus of the other Mississippi school that came up with a huge victory in Week 6.

The Mississippi State Bulldogs stifled Kenny Hill and the Texas A&M Aggies en route to a 48-31 win that further legitimized the squad in the eyes of America, and the pollsters. The win gave the Bulldogs back-to-back wins over top-10-ranked opponents, and it also vaulted the team into the third spot in the AP Top 25, per ESPN.com.

Games don't get much bigger than a matchup between the No. 2 team and the No. 3 squad. The fact that both are SEC programs only adds to the intrigue.

Here's the schedule for the show and the game.

 

When: Saturday, Oct. 11 at 9 a.m. for GameDay and 3:30 p.m. for game.

Where: Starkville, Mississippi

TV: ESPN for GameDay and CBS Sports for the game.

 

Nick Marshall Will Lead Auburn to Huge Win and No. 1 Spot in Polls

Backing Mississippi State in this one is the trendy thing to do, but Auburn's dual-threat quarterback and overall studly running game will lead it to the biggest win of the college football season.

Marshall is hitting his stride and beginning to look like a real Heisman Trophy candidate.

He accounted for 326 total yards and four touchdowns in last week's win over the LSU Tigers. For the season, Marshall has 1,147 yards, 12 scores and just one interception. Perhaps most importantly, he and a good number of his Tigers teammates have an abundance of experience in huge games.

Last year's national championship is the biggest example, and the huge meeting with Alabama in the 2013 Iron Bowl is another.

As good as the Bulldogs have looked this season, this is the first time quarterback Dak Prescott and Co. have been on this big of a stage. Yes, the Bulldogs are at home, but Marshall, senior running back Cameron Artis-Payne and others have proven they can win on the road.

Earlier this season, the Tigers pulled out a tough one on the road against a pesky Kansas State Wildcats team. In that game, Marshall had to prove he could win a game for his team with his arm and not just his legs.

He answered the challenge by tossing two touchdown passes. The Tigers' run game was held to a human 123 yards in that contest, so it was a great test and confidence booster for Marshall as a quarterback.

Since then, he's gotten better. He has completed over 60 percent of his passes, thrown for five touchdowns, no interceptions and he's run for four scores.

Mississippi State's offense is explosive. It has averaged 42.6 points per game. However, the Bulldogs haven't faced a defense as talented as Auburn's. The Tigers have only allowed one opponent to reach the 20-point mark this season. That includes holding the LSU Tigers to just seven points last week.

Auburn will run the ball effectively and Marshall will make enough plays for his team to win. No matter what No. 1 Florida State does against the Syracuse Orange, it won't be enough to hold off Auburn after this big victory.

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Mark Blaudschun's Blitz: Beware of the Sleeping Tigers of LSU

They lost a game to Mississippi State and the entire state went viral. They lost another game at Auburn and people started preparing eulogies for a program that appeared to be heading south.

The mighty SEC again occupies the prime real estate in the AP Top 25—three of the top four spots amid a total of seven ranked teams this week—but a familiar name is missing: LSU.

A 41-7 loss to Auburn last week dropped Les Miles' Tigers out of the rankings for the first time since November 2008, a run of 87 consecutive weeks. LSU is 0-2 in the SEC, which hasn’t happened since 2001. The once impenetrable John Chavis-coached defense, a cornerstone for LSU’s championship contending teams, was punctured for a combined 1,136 yards in the losses to Mississippi State and Auburn, part of the price of losing half of last year’s defensive line to the NFL.

LSU’s critics—just check the message boards on TigerDroppings.com—are saying that even becoming bowl eligible (six wins) might be a tough fight, considering the back half of the schedule includes games against No. 3 Ole Miss, No. 7 Alabama and No. 14 Texas A&M.

So have LSU and Miles, the Mad Hatter himself, lost their magic touch?

Nope.

This downturn will be a one-year blip, if that, on the radar screen, and Mike the Tiger and his streak will soon be on the prowl again in Tiger Stadium.

Here's why:

The problem for LSU is not talent-related. The Tigers had the nation’s No. 2 recruiting class last year and No. 6 class the year before, according to Rivals.

But the young Tigers—especially those playing key roles in the skill positions—have had some growing pains that have left LSU slow to replace the program’s numerous departed stars.

Freshman quarterback Brandon Harris, who is battling with sophomore Anthony Jennings for the starting nod against Florida this week, was a 4-star recruit, but his starting debut against Auburn was a wash out. The freshman finished just 3-of-14 passing against a team which played for the national championship a year ago and had six defensive starters returning.

Running back Leonard Fournette and wide receiver Malachi Dupre, both 5-star recruits, have also had bumpy starts.

"It's awfully tough to win in that competition with a freshman QB,'' a Miles confidant told Bleacher Report. "There's no question they will be back. Les gets talent every year and he coaches them up well enough to get to the NFL.''

Admittedly, the bar is high at LSU. Since 2010, the Tigers have posted an overall record of 48-10. In the past 12 years, they have played in three BCS title games and won two national championships.

Lately the talent has been so good that it has moved through the system quicker than expected. In the past two years, 18 LSU players have left early for the NFL draft. Two years ago, 11 Tigers jumped to the NFL.

"We led college football in three-and-outs,'' said Miles at the SEC media days this summer. "It's a real challenge for any program to lose junior and senior classes.''

So the coach knew he faced an uphill battle this season, well before the loss to Mississippi State that surprised so many.

This week, Miles was asked if he knew how difficult it would be to maintain LSU's status with a continuing flow of new talent. "In other situations, I would think it would be very difficult,” he said at his press briefing. “But at LSU, I think we would have great opportunities. I think that we have quality personnel and I think that's the difference. It's just (a matter of) making that adjustment.''

Yes, the "adjustment'' has been painful.

A year ago, the Tigers dealt with a huge defensive rebuilding because of NFL attrition, but they had offensive veterans such as quarterback Zach Mettenberger and wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry to fight back. LSU won by outscoring everyone. Not this year.

These Tigers are aware of the criticism. On Monday, they held a "players’ only" meeting, where they took full responsibility. "It's one of those meetings that we can decide our own destiny,” defensive end Danielle Hunter told the New Orleans Times Picayune. "It's either step up now or keep going down the drain.''

Added Dupre: "I just think we need to grow as a team in all phases of the game and just get better because the games won't get any easier for us.”

It will be a tough fight to get the Tigers back into the attack mode and quieten their disgruntled fans. But they also know they are in almost a "must-win" situation each week, starting Saturday at The Swamp.

They are talented enough and each SEC game is like dog years in terms of experience. They are growing up quickly.

Nap time for these Tigers is over.

 

Just Asking

1. Will Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott make it to New York as a Heisman finalist?

Absolutely. Everything is in place. A repeat of last week's efforts in the win over Texas A&M (five TDs) will push him that much closer. As Prescott said of the victory, "It was a Mississippi State-ment.” Prescott has the exposure necessary. He is playing on a Top 5 team and he has the numbers—13 TD passes, six rushing TDs, 1,687 total yards. A big win over Auburn would do much to seal the deal as a Heisman front-runner.

 

2. Will Arizona play like a national contender or a Pac-12 team?

A Pac-12 team. That means they will find a way to lose a game people think they should win. The unbeaten Wildcats went from unranked to No. 10 in one week thanks to their 31-24 road win over then No. 2 Oregon. Next up is 3-2 USC. Warning. The unranked Trojans visit Tucson on Saturday and are favored. What's with the Pac-12 teams not closing the deal in big games? Last week, four ranked or favored Pac-12 teams all lost, killing the NCAA title chances of USC and Stanford, and hurting those of Oregon and UCLA. Let's see if the Wildcats can escape that trend this week. But even if they can’t, don't count on a Pac-12 team making it to the Final Four.

 

3. Will Michigan State’s close call against Nebraska hurt the Spartans’ playoff hopes?

On the surface it might seem that way. Nearly blowing a 24-point fourth-quarter lead at home is not the way to gain confidence with the selection committee. But at second glance, it probably wouldn't be a deal breaker. Michigan State needs to win out—including the Big Ten East showdown with Ohio State and the Big Ten championship game, a possible rematch with Nebraska. At 12-1, the Spartans should be in the playoff discussion. Two wins over Nebraska and a win over Ohio State would be solid credentials. The loss to Oregon didn't look that bad until the Ducks lost last week. But an Oregon loss to UCLA on Saturday would also hurt the Spartans.

 

4. How long will Florida State maintain its No. 1 ranking?

The obvious answer is until someone beats them. And someone will beat the Seminoles. Clemson had them beat until the final seconds of regulation time. North Carolina State had a fourth-quarter lead. But the Seminoles found a way to win both times. Last season's team beat everyone but Boston College by an average of 45 points per game until the BCS title game when they had to come from behind to beat Auburn. So where will the stumble come this year? I say it comes on a Thursday night (Halloween weekend) in Louisville on Oct. 30.

 

5. Could Baylor go 12-0 and not make the College Football Playoff?

Yes, it could. The Bears have no equity with the selection committee. Look at their non-conference schedule. SMU, FCS Northwestern State and Buffalo. Beating Oklahoma and TCU would be nice wins, but that doesn't compare with a couple of SEC one-loss teams that could emerge, an unbeaten or a one loss Notre Dame, an unbeaten or once beaten Pac-12 team or even a one-loss Big Ten team. It's also a matter of math. Four spots and five power conference leagues, plus Notre Dame. Baylor comes up short in the measurable—strength of schedule—and probably in the eye test. The Bears need to take care of business on Saturday against TCU but they also need to pray for some more upsets involving teams like Notre Dame, Michigan State, Ohio State and Alabama.

 

Picking the Playoff Teams

My Final Four ...

1. Auburn: Same script for the Tigers as last season's run to the title game?

2. Florida State: The ‘Noles will go as far as Jameis can carry them.

3. Mississippi State: Beating Auburn will create another Cow Bell symphony in Starkville.

4. Mississippi: The starters are good enough, but can they overcome A&M and its 12th Man in College Station?

 

On the Outside Looking in ...

5. Baylor: Who would have thought a game in Waco vs. TCU would be bigger than Texas vs. OU in Dallas?

6. Notre Dame: Will academic fraud issues be discussed at halftime of the UNC game?

7. Michigan State: Biding their time until Big Ten East showdown with Ohio State in November.

8. Alabama: The loss to Mississippi State hurt; seeing Auburn move ahead of them in the polls is even more painful.

 

People of Interest

 1. Jeff Driskel: With Treon Harris' suspension, embattled Florida QB gets another chance to save his job against LSU.

2. Todd Gurley: Heisman talk is replaced by media firestorm surrounding Georgia back’s suspension, the team confirmed.

3. Marcus Mariota: The quarterback’s Heisman bid and the Ducks’ playoff hopes require him to have his game face on against UCLA.

4. DeShaun Watson: If Clemson’s freshman QB had started against Florida State, the Seminoles wouldn't be No. 1 right now.

5. Brady Hoke: Another loss could seal the deal on the coach’s future at Michigan.

 

Weekend Predictions

1. Stanford will need to score more than 30 points to beat Washington State.

2. No Top 10 team will lose to a lower ranked team this week.

3. Northwestern will continue to lead the Big Ten West, Cal will continue to lead the Pac-12 North and Missouri will continue to lead the SEC East.

4. East Carolina QB Shane Carden will run his string of 400-yard plus passing games to four against South Florida.

5. Oklahoma will leave Texas with an 0-2 record in games played in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex region.

 

Mark Blaudschun covers college football as a national columnist for Bleacher Report. He has more than three decades of experience covering sports at a variety of newspapers in New Jersey, The Dallas Morning News and The Boston Globe. Follow him on Twitter @blauds.

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Ohio State Buckeyes Are Still a Long Shot to Make the College Football Playoff

In college football, a team is only as good as its last win. Fresh of its 52-24 victory at Maryland last Saturday, Ohio State is looking pretty good heading into its second bye week.

The renewed sense of optimism in Central Ohio is palpable. Three dominating wins in a row will do that. Buckeye Nation is back to thumping its chest. While laudable, there is considerable work remaining to be done. Demanding respect in the polls is a little premature.

The good news is the carnage in the Top 10 last weekend has the Buckeyes poised to climb back into the College Football Playoff picture. The bad news is they have no room for error. They also need help from a lot of teams in front of them. Chances are still slim that they make it into the selection committee’s top four. Here are three reasons why.

 

Must Finish 12-1

The Buckeyes need to win the rest of their games to have any chance at making the playoff. The schedule is certainly favorable considering how ordinary the Big Ten is this year, but the trip to East Lansing on November 8 is still looming. Are the Buckeyes good enough to beat the Spartans? Not yet.  

Ohio State’s offensive production over the last three games has been remarkable, but the reality is it was playing against pathetic defenses. Kent State’s defense is allowing 462.2 yards and 33.6 points per game, Cincinnati is giving up 561.8 yards and 37.3 points per game and Maryland is yielding 451.2 yards and 25.2 per game. Granted, the offense could have struggled to move the ball or put up points. Instead it was in command in all three games.

Head coach Urban Meyer’s young offense is beginning to find its rhythm and is playing with increasing confidence. Momentum is building, but the offense still needs to show that it can execute against a formidable defense before any real assessment can be made.

Rutgers and Penn State will provide reasonable tests for Ohio State over the next three weeks. Both teams have good defenses. They’re not as stout as Michigan State’s defense, but they are definitely better than the doormats the Buckeyes have been playing lately. These games will measure whether or not they are capable of scoring a lot of points against the Spartans.

Michigan State’s defense certainly grabs most of the headlines, but its offense is dangerous too. The Buckeyes defense will have its hands full the entire game. Evidence is starting to mount that it is able to handle the challenge.

Until the second half of the Cincinnati game, there was cause for concern because the secondary looked like it was going to be a serious problem again this year. For the last six quarters, the back seven has played well. They are maturing and beginning to demonstrate just how dominant they can be. This growth needs to continue for the Buckeyes to have a shot at winning a night game against a highly motivated Michigan State team.  

 

One Major Conference Champion, and Notre Dame Must have Two Losses

With just four spots to spread among the champions from the five major conferences and Notre Dame, the Buckeyes will need one conference champion and Notre Dame to have at least two losses for them to make into the playoff.

For argument’s sake, let’s say all of the conference champions finish with one loss. The SEC and Pac-12 champions are in because these conferences are clearly the best this season. This leaves two spots for the Big 12, Big 10, ACC and the Fighting Irish.

Barring a complete meltdown, the Seminoles will win the lowly ACC. Despite being even weaker than the Big Ten, the likelihood is minimal that the committee would deny a one-loss Florida State team the chance to defend its national championship.

This leaves one spot for the Big 12, Big Ten and Notre Dame should it stay in the hunt.

Ohio State would probably get picked over a one-loss Baylor and TCU, but edging out a one-loss Oklahoma or Notre Dame is questionable. The Big 12 is better than the Big 10 this year, and it would be tough for the committee to select the Buckeyes over the Sooners.

Presuming Notre Dame’s one loss is against Florida State, it would still have wins over Michigan, Purdue, Northwestern, Navy, Arizona State, Stanford, Louisville and USC. Even the most diehard Buckeye fan would have to admit that this resume would trump Ohio State’s resume if the fourth spot comes down to these two teams.

Like it or not, the perception around the country is the Big Ten is weak. The Buckeyes can win the Big Ten, finish 12-1 and still not get selected if several other high-quality teams finish with just one loss too. Ohio State will need significant help to get into the selection committee’s top four. A few additional losses by some of the remaining favorites would do it.

 

Lack of Chances to Earn Style Points

Unlike all of the remaining contenders who have several games to prove they are one of the four best teams, Ohio State’s remaining opportunity to earn credible style points is the game at Michigan State. A potential game against Nebraska in the Big Ten Championship Game would help a little, but the only game with legitimate flare is against the Spartans.

To counter, the Buckeyes must run up the score on every team and soundly beat the Spartans. They cannot afford any close games or scares against inferior opponents. Ohio State must continue to show that the loss to Virginia Tech in Week 2 was a minor setback caused more by the loss of Braxton Miller than any systemic flaw in the team.

 

Analysis

Ohio State can only control how it plays. The early-season loss to the Hokies may be forgiven as long as the rest of the body of work is extraordinarily impressive. Anything less is a knockout punch.

The Buckeyes' best hope is a continuation of chaos. Working in their favor is there seems to be a lack of dominant teams in college football this season. Many of the preseason favorites have already lost a game, and Florida State has looked vulnerable in several games. More upsets are likely.

Expectations are that the committee will select conference winners. The Pac-12 and SEC champions are in unless there is complete pandemonium in conference play. Despite its flaws, Florida State will find a way to remain unbeaten and make it. This means it is time for the Buckeyes to root against the Big 12 and Notre Dame. They are the primary roadblocks if the Buckeyes take care of their business.

A month ago, Ohio State looked lost, but Meyer has held the ship together and weathered the storm. The tide is slowly turning in their favor. With eight more wins and a little luck, the Buckeyes might get selected for the inaugural playoff. Odds are long, but that will make the journey much more interesting.

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Georgia Football: How Bulldogs Offense Must Respond Without Todd Gurley

The Georgia Bulldogs' pivotal game against Missouri—and the rest of their remaining slate—got a little more difficult on Thursday evening when the university announced the indefinite suspension of star running back Todd Gurley.

Now, Georgia's offense, which to date has depended heavily on a stout running game, is left to reorganize while the junior Heisman Trophy candidate is removed from play.  Though the length of his suspension remains to be seen, the potential impact is both known and feared.

Without Gurley, the Bulldog offense will be without the SEC's leading rusher and one of the most versatile weapons in the country.  Over the course of his career, Gurley has rushed for over 3,100 yards, returned two kickoffs for touchdowns and accounted for 611 receiving yards.  Just last week he completed a 50-yard pass against Vanderbilt.

Georgia must respond offensively with a quick-striking passing attack and creative use of personnel.

 

Get the Ball Out

Though quarterback Hutson Mason has drawn the ire of a portion of the Georgia faithful as of late, the fifth-year senior has not justified that overt negativity.  To be sure, Mason is quite a departure from record-setting quarterback Aaron Murray, but given his lack of in-game experience and the rise of Gurley, that much should be expected—at least statistically.

Nonetheless, Mason has performed adequately within offensive coordinator Mike Bobo's system.  Case in point:  In five starts this season he has completed more than 68 percent of his passes.  With Gurley out, that statistic matters more so than any other.  After all, a diminished ground attack will necessitate more passing but not necessarily deeper passing, which has been a shortcoming for Mason this year.

If Georgia can get star wide receivers Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley back from injury and fully functional, this passing attack could still be formidable—with or without Gurley.  The key will be getting the ball out quickly and letting receivers go to work.

Mitchell is certainly capable of making plays in space, and sure-handed targets like Michael Bennett and Chris Conley have always excelled in the short- to mid-range passing game.  An emphasis on getting the ball to elusive threats like speedsters Isaiah McKenzie and Reggie Davis could also benefit the Dawgs.

Bobo knows his weapons, and he knows his quarterback.  Mason is not going to win games with slow developing play-action bombs or deep back-shoulder fades.  But he can have success with precisely timed patterns that eat up eight or 10 yards at a time.

 

Get Creative 

One could argue that this season has been Bobo's most creative as a play-caller, and that's not a bad thing.  Already Mason and two other passers (Brice Ramsey and Faton Bauta) have received playing time.  Ramsey has even played select situations early in games.  

Bobo must recognize the three passers' unique skill sets and utilize them accordingly.  Mason is the most experienced and the most knowledgeable of the playbook.  Ramsey has the biggest arm.  Bauta is the most capable as a runner.  All three of those components will prove valuable at some point and could create an advantage for Georgia.

Getting athletes involved in a variety of ways should also be paramount.  Though he's currently out with injury, Sony Michel was a tremendous threat in the passing game.  Conversely, McKenzie has been a threat in the running game from his wide receiver spot.  With the best athlete on the team out, getting the ball into the hands of the most explosive remaining playmakers must take precedent.

And of course, the talented remaining running backs should not be forgotten.  Brendan Douglas was stellar as a true freshman last season when Gurley and Keith Marshall were out with injury.  True freshman Nick Chubb has already impressed this season.  

Perhaps the most creative use of these talents is an overly stacked backfield with tight end Jeb Blazevich as an extra blocker and fullback Quayvon Hicks paving the way.  Though such a formation is a far cry from innovative, it is somewhat abnormal relative to today's spread-out offensive formations.

Against a team like Missouri, which boasts a host of explosive outside pass-rushers, churning out yardage up the middle could be a potent antidote.

Todd Gurley was the best player on Georgia's football team; that much is indisputable.  But that's a credit to Gurley, not necessarily an indictment of his teammates.

Of Gurley's suspension, Richt told GeorgiaDogs.com that he was "disappointed," and to an extent he spoke for the entire team, the university and Bulldog Nation.

But there's a difference between being down and being out.  Which descriptor most accurately defines Georgia's offense remains to be seen.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand and all stats courtesy of Sports-Reference.com.

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