NCAA Football News

Pac-12 Football: Ranking the Pac-12 Quarterbacks Through 3 Weeks

Before the 2014 season began, the national love for the Pac-12 revolved around the conference's incredible group of quarterbacks, which ranks among the best at any point in league history.

There's the headlining act of Marcus Mariota and Brett Hundley, but when the main course is followed with players like Taylor Kelly, Sean Mannion, Kevin Hogan and Cody Kessler, you know you have something special.

Rounding out the group are gunslingers Jared Goff and Connor Halliday, a healthy and dangerous Travis Wilson and promising youngsters Anu Solomon, Cyler Miles and Sefo Liufau.

Through three weeks of the season, the group has impressed, but how would you rank them?

Keep in mind that most teams have played just three games, and some only two. There isn't a single starting quarterback who has played straight-up bad football, either, and even those on the lower half of our list have put up solid numbers.

This will become a lot less subjective when certain teams pile up more wins and quarterbacks begin to separate statistically.

In fact, many of the league's quarterbacks have yet to face a difficult opponent, further complicating the process. For now, though, we'll go off what we've seen so far.

Based solely on the play thus far in the 2014 season, here's how we would rank the 12 starting quarterbacks in the Pac-12.

 

All stats via CFBStats.com. Remember, this is based on this season alone and prior reputation. NFL draft prospects or future potential have no weight in the rankings.

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Biggest Questions Texas Faces After a Losing Non-Conference Record in 2014

The honeymoon is over for Texas head coach Charlie Strong. But according to the coach, he is not sure if he ever had that luxury.

"Did I ever have one? No, when you're at a program with a lot of passion, pride and tradition, that's what you expect," Strong said of the "honeymoon" phase of his new job. "We're not going to coach any different. We're going to continue on. It's a process, and we know this. It's going to take a while, but the fact is we have what we have, and we have enough to get it done."

Strong was very clear about his expectations prior to the season, but his words may have fallen on deaf ears.

The Longhorns' leader said his team was not going to be a national title contender in his first year at Texas.

The statement was honest and fair.

And Texas fans who believed otherwise were setting themselves up for disappointment.

The Longhorns are three games into the season. It is still unclear who this team is and what it can be with Strong at the helm.

It's obvious there are a significant number of issues Texas is facing as it prepares for conference play. 

In an effort to not write a novel about all of the problems, here are four important questions the Longhorns need to answer before the start of the Big 12 schedule.

 

1. What is the identity of the offense?

The Longhorns entered the season with expectations of running a ground-and-pound style of offense with running backs Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray.

The offensive line plays a major role in the success or failure of the running attack. After three games, the ground game has not been very successful.

The Longhorns have played the last two games without veteran center Dominic Espinosa (ankle) and offensive tackles Kennedy Estelle and Desmond Harrison (suspensions).

The loss of those three players left Texas with a very inexperienced line that has struggled to establish the line of scrimmage. 

Strong has not determined when Estelle and Harrison will return to the team, but if this offense wants to enter Big 12 play with a run-heavy attack, it will need more help from the offensive line.

Otherwise, the coaches may need to reconsider the amount of emphasis placed on the running game and allow quarterback Tyrone Swoopes to show what he can do in the passing game.

 

2. Should Malcolm Brown receive the majority of the carries?

It's time to address the elephant in the room. Gray does not possess the same amount of talent he had in his first two seasons at Texas.

The junior suffered a torn Achilles tendon last November. He sat out of spring ball and then claimed he was "95 percent" healthy heading into fall camp.

But his production on the field makes you wonder if he is playing at less than 95 percent.

To be fair, the offensive line's inability to open up holes for the ground game plays a role in Gray's lackluster numbers. But it is not entirely the line's fault.

Gray has not shown the same burst or wiggle ability he had in previous seasons.

Chris Wesseling of NFL.com questioned if a torn Achilles is a "death sentence" for NFL running backs. Wesseling reported "no running back ever has recaptured sustained pre-injury form after rupturing an Achilles tendon." 

Could Gray be experiencing this alleged effect of a torn Achilles? Maybe, but only blaming the injury for his production may be misguided.

What is known is Brown's production on the field has continued, even without the help of the offensive line. And he offers a big advantage that Gray has not consistently displayed: ability to gain yards after contact.

Considering the inexperienced line and the less-than-impressive offensive numbers, one has to wonder if the coaches should stop splitting reps between the two running backs and simply give Brown the majority of the carries.

It's apparent that both backs have struggled to get in a rhythm, partially because the offense has struggled to stay on the field and extend drives.

The Longhorns need to allow one running back to get in a rhythm to make an impact. And throughout the first three games, Brown appears to be the most consistent option.

 

3. Who are the leaders?

When adversity strikes, it's up to the coaches and players to step up and lead the team.

The Longhorns have faced a lot of adversity early in the season, but what players are standing tall and telling the team it's time to bounce back from the misfortune?

Strong challenged his team, specifically seniors, to take charge of the locker room.

But it doesn't appear to be working.

Texas' 41-7 loss to BYU was the worst home loss since 1997. And this happened following last season's humiliating performance against the Cougars, which ultimately led to the demise of former head coach Mack Brown.

How could the team allow that to happen twice? And where were the leaders?

Strong did not have an answer to either of those questions. In fact, he said the coaches took last season's loss more personal than the players, even though the staff was not on campus in 2013.

"I said to our football team, with this coaching staff not being here last year, we're taking this game more personal than you are," Strong said. "It shows how much further we have to come with our leadership, and we have to get guys to lead this football team. The seniors need to take ownership."

Leadership is not a characteristic that can be taught. It has to come naturally.

Are there any natural-born leaders on the roster? Sure, but when those leaders will make an impact is unknown.

It needs to happen soon if Texas is going to compete in conference play.

 

4. Can the Longhorns rebound following the 1-2 start?

Starting the season with a losing record is not a foreign concept for the Longhorns. Texas had two non-conference losses in 2013 but bounced back and won six consecutive games against Big 12 opponents.

The same needs to happen this season.

Texas has a bye this week and will then head to Lawrence to take on Kansas on Sept. 27.

The Longhorns should be able take down the Jayhawks, but the following weeks will not be a breeze.

Two of the toughest opponents on the schedule are No. 7 Baylor and No. 4 Oklahoma. Texas will face those teams in back-to-back weeks. 

Can the Longhorns upset the Bears and Sooners? Of course it can happen.

Is it likely to occur? Probably not.

Texas has to make significant changes over the next two weeks if it wants to avoid having a losing record in the first half of the season, which has not happened since 1993.

"We have to go out and compete each and every week and play our best," Strong said Monday. "It doesn't matter who the opponent is. It's about our focus and preparation. There are only so many opportunities that we are given, so we cannot waste another opportunity."

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.

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

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Buckeyes Head into Bye Week Looking to Fix Issues to Make a Run at Big Ten Title

With confidence rising, the last thing the Buckeyes need is a week off.  Getting more reps is the only way to gain meaningful experience.  Since Ohio State can’t change its schedule, it needs to make the most of its bye week.

Here are four ways they can improve over the next ten days:

 

Starting Fast

The Buckeyes started slowly against Navy and Virginia Tech, scoring just a total of 10 points in the first half of both of these games.  The Buckeyes were much more efficient against Kent State last Saturday, but let’s not kid ourselves.

The Golden Flashes are a lousy team.  Racking up 66 points against a glorified practice squad is nice, but taking anything away from this game other than a win would be foolish.    

Even with the personnel losses, the offense looked completely out of sync during long stretches against the Hokies and Midshipmen.  Whether the problem was dropping passes, missing blocking assignments, poor communication, turnovers or inefficiency on third down, the ineptitude has been shocking.

Head coach Urban Meyer has to find a way to get the team into a rhythm more quickly. The upcoming schedule is hardly overwhelming, but the team can ill afford to continue starting in a hole if it wants to win the Big Ten.

 

Pick a Starting Running Back

After three games last year, the offense had 856 yards rushing.  This year it has 708 yards.  Having two good backs is definitely a luxury, but finding a clear-cut starter would help the offense become more consistent.  

Ezekiel Elliott is the quasi-starter, but he and Curtis Samuel are fairly even right now.  Elliott has rushed for 141 yards and two touchdowns and Samuel has rushed for 176 yards with two touchdowns.  It is time to get one of them the bulk of the carries. 

Maybe Elliott’s wrist injury is still affecting him, but Samuel seems to have the edge. The offense has more energy when Samuel is in the game.  He is averaging 6.66 yards per carry which means a lot to a team struggling with third-down conversions. He can help move the chains. 

The effectiveness of Meyer’s offense is largely dependent on the quarterback(s) and running backs being in sync. Rotating Samuel and Elliott might keep both of them fresh, but it seems more important to get quarterback J.T Barrett and the offensive line comfortable working with a single running back.

 

Special Teams

If the offense looked bad against Virginia Tech, the special teams were even worse.  Among the miscues were two missed field goals, a 24-yard punt, several penalties and a kickoff that drifted out of bounds.  It was an abysmal night for this unit.

On the season, Cameron Johnston is averaging 41.6 yards per punt, so it is easy to forgive the botched kick against the Hokies.  It is concerning, however, that the unit is allowing 10.67 yards per return, up from the 8.1 yards per return from last season.

With his speed, Dontre Wilson should be the Buckeyes difference-maker, especially in open space.  So far, the results have been mixed.  He has been decent on kickoff returns, averaging 22.6 yards per return, but just ordinary on punt returns, averaging 9.2 yards per return.  Big returns are momentum builders and the offense needs all the help it can get right now.  It is time for him to step up.   

Freshman Jalin Marshall returned two punts for 66 yards against Kent State. Meyer is looking for ways to get the ball in the hands of his young, skilled players. It would be smart to give Marshall the job full-time and let Wilson focus on returning kickoffs.

The missed field goals against Virginia Tech were painful, but freshman Sean Nuernberger needs more time to develop into a consistent kicker.  Meyer is not known for settling for field goals, but he may have to stomach some growing pains to get the kid some experience.  There will be moments later in the season when Meyer will need Nuernberger to deliver. 

Meyer has his handprints all over special teams.  Expect him to get the problems fixed over the next couple of weeks.

 

Solidifying the Offensive Line

Confidence for Ohio State was low after being annihilated by Virginia Tech, so it was nice to see an improved performance by the Buckeyes offensive line against Kent State.  Progress is likely to be slow throughout the season. Fortunately, there is time to build this unit into a cohesive group before seeing a Virginia Tech-like defense again.

Meyer was on the money when he told Doug Lesmerises of Northeast Ohio Media Group recently that he is not worried about facing bear zero every week. “I don’t know if people have the personnel,” he said.  “I know one of them does.”

The line has eight weeks to unify and raise its level of play to win at Michigan State.  There will be significant challenges along the way, but the Spartans are the only team that can execute that type of pressure. 

Now that his starting five are in place, it is time for offensive line coach Ed Warinner to work his magic.  Over the next two weeks, expect him to challenge the guys to correct the mistakes from the first few games.  He can’t fix all the holes overnight, but even a slight improvement should be enough to get a win over Cincinnati on Sept 27. 

 

Analysis

There is hope that the offense turned a small corner against Kent State.  If it did, this team will start to make tremendous strides in the coming weeks.  Coupled with a vastly improved defense, the Buckeyes have a legitimate shot at running the table.  That will make Buckeye Nation happy once again. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Georgia Tech vs. Virginia Tech: Complete Game Preview

What a difference a week makes for the Virginia Tech Hokies. Coming off one of the biggest wins in recent school history at then-No. 8 Ohio State, the Hokies found themselves ranked and hosting a tough East Carolina squad.

The Hokies defense was asleep at the wheel throughout the first half, and quarterback Michael Brewer looked nothing like the cool customer he was the two weeks before. And Tech suffered a heartbreaking home loss to the Pirates.

Now, Virginia Tech must regroup to face Georgia Tech in the ACC opener for both teams this Saturday in Blacksburg.

The Yellow Jackets enter this weekend's matchup at 3-0; however, with wins over Wofford, Tulane and Georgia Southern, it isn't as if they've been challenged yet. 

The two schools have been rivals since Tech entered the ACC in 2004. The ACC Championship Game, which began in 2005, has featured either the Yellow Jackets or Hokies representing the Coastal Division in all but one year—2013. 

While Georgia Tech has the second-most appearances in the ACC title game from a team representing the Coastal, it hasn't exactly been an even series. Virginia Tech is 8-3 all-time versus Georgia Tech, including an 8-2 record since the Hokies entered the ACC.

VT has won the last four meetings. 

  • When: Saturday, Sept. 20, 2014
  • Where: Lane Stadium, Blacksburg, Virginia
  • Time: Noon ET
  • TV: ESPN
  • Radio: Virginia Tech IMG Sports Network. Here is a complete list of stations by area.
  • Spread: The Hokies are currently eight-point favorites, according to OddsShark.com 

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Arkansas State Player Plays Dead During Fake Punt, Gets Lit Up

This Arkansas State fake punt against Miami from Saturday will leave you wondering what you just saw.

Facing a 4th-and-5 from the Miami 40-yard line, the Red Wolves tried to catch the Hurricanes by surprise with a fake punt. Not only did the Red Wolves send a man in motion, but when the ball was snapped, one of their receivers decided to "put 'em in a coffin."

Once the receiver got up, he promptly got sent right back down.

Arkansas State punter Luke Ferguson's pass was intercepted by Miami's Raphael Kirby, so it's safe to say that this play didn't go as planned.

[Vine, h/t Twitter]

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College Football Rankings 2014: Power Ranking All 128 Teams for Week 4

Great slate or not, one thing is certain with each week of college football action: It's going to wreak havoc on rankings.

The Bleacher Report power rankings have gone through another seismic shift thanks to several unexpected results; only the top few spots are unaltered from the week before. And with a few matchups on the books this weekend pitting highly ranked teams, further shuffling is expected.

Our power rankings are comprised of an average of five ratings: The Associated Press media and Amway coaches polls, Bleacher Report's Top 25, ratings guru Jeff Sagarin's computer ledger and my personal ranking.

Take a look at how the 128 FBS teams are ranked as we move into Week 4 and then let us know your thoughts in the comments section.

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Oregon Ducks vs. Washington State Cougars Complete Game Preview

The Oregon Ducks (3-0) finished off their nonconference schedule against Wyoming last Saturday with a solid 48-14 victory.

Now the real season begins. 

The Ducks will hit the road to open Pac-12 conference play against the Washington State Cougars in Pullman, Washington. The Cougars (1-2) opened the season with losses to Rutgers and Nevada before thoroughly destroying Portland State and setting a Pac-12 record for passing yards in a single game with 630 yards. 

The last time these two teams met the Cougars threw for 557 yards in a 62-38 loss at Autzen Stadium. You may remember Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday threw the ball a total of 89 times in that game, establishing a new NCAA record in the process. On the night, Halliday was 58-of-89 for 557 yards and four touchdowns. He also threw four interceptions. 

While Halliday may not throw 89 times again this weekend, expect the Cougars and head coach Mike Leach to throw the kitchen sink at the Ducks. 

It might not be close, but it's going to be entertaining. 

Here's what you need to know:  

Date: Saturday, Sept. 20th

Time: 7:30 p.m. Pacific Time

Place: Martin Stadium (Pullman, Wash.)

TV: ESPN

Spread: Oregon -23.5, according to OddsShark.com.

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Clemson vs. Florida State Complete Game Preview

The Clemson Tigers will travel to Tallahassee to take on the top-ranked Florida State Seminoles on Saturday night. The game will be nationally televised, so it’s an opportunity for both teams to make a statement.

The Seminoles return a lot of talent from last season’s national championship team, while the Tigers will continue to rely on new faces offensively. Both defenses play physical, which should make for an exciting matchup.

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Kynon's Korner: 5-Star Names Surprising Top 5, Track Star Talks SEC Schools

5-star Iman Marshall Announces Top 5

Long Beach (California) Poly defensive back Iman Marshall announced his top five over the weekend. Marshall tweeted out his list consisting of Florida State, LSU, Michigan, Notre Dame and Oklahoma: 

All five programs recruit out of state well, so it's no surprise to see each in the mix for Marshall. However, only Notre Dame and Oklahoma have players on their roster from the Golden State. 

As far as when he will take his official visits, that is still up in the air, according to Marshall's father. Mr. Marshall told me via text message, "He hasn't set any dates. He will not be able to take any of his officials until November because of the NCAA requirement that he must take the SAT and/or ACT first." 

Despite the fact that Marshall didn't list any West Coast schools in his top five, the buzz is USC is still in play. The 247Sports Crystal Ball has him as a 100 percent lock to the Trojans.  

I spoke to Scout.com West Coast recruiting analyst Greg Biggins about Marshall's recruitment. 

Biggins told me, "Marshall grew up a fan of USC. He has been to campus unofficially multiple times. He has a good relationship with the coaching staff. Stanford and UCLA want him. At the next level he is looking for a school that can showcase his ability early as a freshman.

"Scheme-wise he wants a school that allows him to be aggressive and play press man. Academics are important, so a school on his list like Notre Dame could use that. He has referred to LSU as DBU. All the schools have a chance, so it will be interesting to see."

It sounds like Marshall is going to take his out-of-state visits but keep USC, UCLA and Stanford in the fold before making a pledge. Despite Marshall announcing his five official visits, expect the Golden State schools to be there come decision day. 

 

Sooners Make a Huge Jump With 4-Star LB from Ohio

Outside linebacker Anthony McKee from Columbus, Ohio, returned home from his official visit to Oklahoma and raved about his time in Norman. Heading into the trip, Michigan State was McKee's standout school. However, the 4-star defender said the Sooners are now even with the Spartans.

"Oklahoma is now tied with Michigan State. They are my top two for sure," McKee told me directly. "I almost committed. If my family was there I probably would have. They showed a great time. My host was the linebacker, Curtis Bolton. The defense was impressive. That stood out. I also liked being with the team during warm-ups."

Next up for McKee is a visit to East Lansing for the Michigan State-Ohio State game on November 8. He said it will likely come down to that visit when breaking down the Spartans and Sooners. 

"I have a good relationship with Coach (Mike) Tressel at Michigan State. Same for Coach (Tim) Kish at Oklahoma," added McKee. "I like how both defenses get after it. That's what makes it so hard because both are great places with great people." 

McKee said he doesn't have a timetable on when he will commit, stating, "It could happen after my next visit or later on." 

When asked for a prediction for the Spartans-Buckeyes contest? The Columbus native said, "Michigan State should win by two touchdowns. I'd say 28-14."

 

'Dawgs in Good Shape with 4-Star Athlete

The Georgia Bulldogs are looking to make some headway in Louisiana for the Class of 2015. Head coach Mark Richt and defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt have made Donte Jackson a major priority for the 'Dawgs. Jackson attended the UGA-Clemson game in Athens two weeks ago for an unofficial visit. 

Jackson told me, "That visit was real nice. All the fans up there were happy to see me. I got a chance to talk to the players and Coach Richt, and they happy to see me back there after visiting for their summer camp. It was a productive visit. Coach Pruitt stresses to me a lot that I'm his No. 1 guy. It was a lot of love."

The 4-star speedster said his relationship with the coaching staff is one of the reasons he is considering Georgia.

"I really like Coach Richt. He is a laid-back guy, but he really focuses on building better men and not just football players," added Jackson.

"I grew up a fan of college football, and Georgia was one of the schools I really liked," he said "I was fan of players like A.J. Green and Knowshon Moreno. It helped when they got Coach Pruitt over from Florida State. That made me start liking them a lot. They want me at cornerback and as a returner. They want me to come in compete for playing time early."

Jackson is a well-rounded athlete. As a junior he won state championships in the 100 and 200 meters, and he plans to continue participating in both sports at the next level. 

"All of the schools that I'm considering have offered me for football and track," noted Jackson. "It helps me stay healthy and helps me keep my speed up when I play that corner position so no one is running past me."

LSU is still working hard to keep the New Orleans native home. Ace recruiter Frank Wilson has led the charge for Jackson along with defensive backs coach Corey Raymond.

"Me being a New Orleans guy, I've always had love for LSU. They had a place in my football heaven," stated Jackson. "My lead recruiter is Coach Frank (Wilson). He is pretty much like an uncle. I call him Uncle Frank. I talk with Coach (Les) Miles a lot. He is a cool guy. Coach Raymond is always telling me how much he needs me and how I can come in early to play the nickel position." 

So is this an SEC showdown for sticky cover man? He replied, "I can't necessarily say it's a SEC battle, but my lead two schools are LSU and Georgia."

Jackson is planning to make his decision at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl on January 3. He said Ole Miss, Texas Tech, UCLA and USC are schools he is still considering. 

 

Miami Loses a 4-Star RB Commit

On Saturday morning, 4-star running back Jordan Cronkrite decommitted from the Hurricanes and took a road trip to Gainesville to check out the Gators.

Cronkrite was one of Miami's four 4-star commitments at tailback. Running back is a position of need for the 'Canes, as standout Duke Johnson is eligible for the NFL draft. However, some recruiting insiders feel Miami will be just fine with its trio of verbal pledges.

I caught up with recruiting veteran David Lake of 247Sports site InsideTheU.com.

"In the big picture it's not a huge loss because of the guys committed like Jordan ScarlettDexter Williams and Mark Walton. They are ranked higher than Cronkrite," stated Lake. "Jordan is a good back, but his best position at the next level could be safety. It's not a slight to him. I watched him on Friday, and he made more plays in the secondary."

The loss still stings a little because Miami head coach Al Golden has made recruiting the tri-county area of Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach a key factor for his staff. UM is still in great shape for the future. Lake said Miami could be close to returning to the days of Clinton Portis, Willis McGahee and Frank Gore with this class.

"I think this is as close it has been if all three stick. What I like most about Scarlett, Williams and Walton is they have embraced the competition," remarked Lake. "They have said the right things publicly that they want to share carries like Portis, McGahee and Gore. It would be easy to say they want to be the featured guy."

Williams was the first of the backs to commit. Lake said keep an eye on him down the stretch.

"When he committed it came as a surprise. Florida has been involved with him, and his family likes the Gators," added Lake. "Yet he is still firm. In fact he has already signed his financial aid agreement papers. It's hard to say this is a situation to watch, but I think it is."

Miami is currently ranked No. 12 in 247Sports' team rankings

 

Magnolia State 4-star Checks Out Ole Miss

Offensive guard Javon Patterson took his second unofficial visit of the fall. Patterson was in Oxford, Mississippi, for the Rebels' 56-15 thrashing of Louisiana-Lafayette. The rugged lineman liked what he saw from Ole Miss. 

"My favorite part was the Grove. Ole Miss is a great school with lots of tradition," Patterson told me directly. "I'm going to try to take an official visit. I feel comfortable with Ole Miss and Auburn."

Mississippi State is heavily involved with the road grader from Petal. The 6'2", 290-pounder was in Starkville on August 30 for the Bulldogs' home opener. He currently has a top five of Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Mississippi State and Ole Miss. When asked who is recruiting him the hardest? He quickly replied, "All of them."

Last week the Rebs added a commitment from 4-star offensive lineman Drew Richmond. I asked Patterson if that would affect his decision. 

"I did see Drew committed. I would not really have an impact, but it would be great to play with him," answered Patterson.

As of now, the 247Sports Crystal Ball gives him an 83 percent chance to commit to the Rebels. It would be an impressive haul for head coach Hugh Freeze to get Patterson and Richmond in the same class. 

 

4-Star Micah Abernathy Talks Oregon Visit

Last weekend, Norcross (Georgia) Greater Atlanta Christian cornerback Micah Abernathy took his first official visit to Oregon and returned with rave reviews. 

"It was my first time out there. My favorite part about it was getting to know the coaches better," Abernathy told Bleacher Report. "I didn't know them too well, but I feel better about them after this visit. My recruiter is Coach (John) Neal and he is a real cool guy. I'm getting to know Coach (Mark) Helfrich more, and he is a genuine guy."

When asked if his family wants him to stay closer to home, he responded: "No it doesn't matter where I go. They will support me."

The in-state Bulldogs hosted Abernathy for an unofficial visit in their season opener. He said it was good to get up there again after participating in their summer camp. 

Abernathy stated: "It was a cool environment. The fans were loud, and that was one of the things you notice when you get there. I got a chance to talk to Coach Pruitt again. He is a cool guy." 

He said he is going to talk to his parents about setting up his next official visit. They didn't accompany him to Oregon. 

"All of the schools are even right now, but Georgia, Oregon and Tennessee recruiting me the hardest right now." 

Ohio State and Penn State sit firmly in his top five. The 247Sports' Crystal Ball has him leaning toward Georgia with a 75 percent chance he picks the Bulldogs. 

 

Unless otherwise noted all quotes were obtained firsthand. Recruiting information and ratings courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

LSU Tigers vs. Mississippi State Bulldogs Complete Game Preview

The first of many SEC tests for LSU and Mississippi State will kick off Saturday night in Tiger Stadium. 

The Tigers are 3-0 fresh off two shutouts against Sam Houston State and UL-Monroe. The Bulldogs boast the same record but without a win against a team from a power-five conference. 

LSU head coach Les Miles is 9-0 against Mississippi State. Bulldogs head coach Dan Mullen has only been within 10 points of the Tigers once, which was his first season in 2009. 

Here is a preview of this week's matchup.

 

What You Need to Know

Time: 6:00 p.m. CT 

Place: Tiger Stadium; Baton Rouge, Louisiana

TV: ESPN

Radio: LSU Sports Radio Network, Mississippi State Bulldog Sports Network 

Spread: LSU by 10, via Oddsshark.com

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Miami vs. Nebraska: Complete Game Preview

One-time powerhouses renew a classic rivalry when the Miami Hurricanes enter Memorial Stadium to challenge the Nebraska Cornhuskers on Sept. 20 at 8 p.m. ET.

ESPN2 will carry the the nonconference clash, which is highlighted by a pair of the nation's best running backs in Duke Johnson and Ameer Abdullah. According to Oddsshark, the 'Huskers are favored by seven points.

The last meeting between the programs was the 2001 BCS National Championship, where the 'Canes plastered Nebraska 37-14.

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Nebraska Cornhuskers vs. Miami Hurricanes Complete Game Preview

Nebraska and Miami last met each other in the regular season in 1976. That doesn't mean these two programs haven't seen each other plenty of times between then and now.

Instead, the Huskers and Hurricanes became accustomed to meeting in the postseason. The last time the two met was the 2002 Rose Bowl, where Miami won 37-14. Hurricane quarterback Ken Dorsey led a big charge against the Huskers and Heisman winner Eric Crouch.

Twelve years later, the two finally meet again. The all-time series is tied at 5-5, making this matchup more interesting than ever. Adding fuel to the fire, Nebraska is 3-0 against Miami in Lincoln, per Huskers.com.

It's hard to believe that these two programs have only met a total of 10 times. Despite so much time in between, it's clear both are anxious to meet once again.

Will the Huskers come away victorious in this final nonconference matchup for the season?

 

Where: Memorial Stadium; Lincoln, Nebraska

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

Watch: ESPN2

Listen: Husker Sports Network or Sirius Channel 113, XM 196

Betting Line via Odds Shark: Nebraska (25-2)

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Nick Chubb Injury: Updates on Georgia RB's Thumb and Return

Georgia Bulldogs running back Nick Chubb underwent a surgical procedure Monday to address a fractured left thumb and could miss extended time, beyond just this week's upcoming game versus Troy.

Chip Towers of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported what Chubb's mother, Lavelle Chubb, said regarding her son's status moving forward after his operation at St. Mary's Hospital in Athens.    

"He's doing good; he's just resting right now," said Lavelle Chubb. "They said they would see how he's doing (Tuesday) before they make that decision. Possibly this week but they’re not really sure (how long he'll be out)."

Chubb had a breakout performance of sorts in Georgia's 45-21, season-opening victory over Clemson, racing 47 yards to the end zone in the fourth quarter of that contest. Chubb finished with four carries and 70 yards.

Although the Bulldogs suffered a letdown and lost to South Carolina this past Saturday, it was another strong outing for Chubb, who ran for 34 yards on just four attempts. Radi Nabulsi of UGASports.com highlighted Chubb's promising start:

Per 247Sports' composite rankings, Chubb was the No. 6-ranked running back in the high school class of 2014.

The Troy game shouldn't be too much of a problem for Georgia to handle, particularly with regard to its rushing attack. Superstar Todd Gurley is already in place, and Sony Michel and Keith Marshall are fully capable of spelling Gurley when he's taking a break on the sidelines.

This setback isn't ideal for Chubb, given how much of an immediate impact he's had in his brief time in Athens. However, his future is bright, and the Bulldogs would be wise not to press him back into action.

A deep backfield affords Chubb plenty of time to fully recover and still make his presence felt later this season, amid what promises to be a difficult SEC schedule.

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Alabama Crimson Tide vs. Florida Gators Complete Game Preview

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The preseason is over, and it’s time for the real football to begin. Or something like that.

With a tip of the cap to West Virginia, which is looking better and better every week, Alabama’s three-game, warm-up stretch of the Mountaineers, Florida Atlantic and Southern Miss is over, and SEC play gets ramped up into full gear this week. The Florida Gators are coming to Tuscaloosa and will test the Crimson Tide with the most talent they’ve seen so far on defense and a much more physical offense.

Plenty of newcomers will be tested on both sides of the ball, as the pressure of SEC play ramps up the level of competition across the board.

Florida is coming off of a triple overtime win over Kentucky. It’s hard to get a good read on the Gators, since their season opener against Idaho was cancelled due to weather and their only other game was against cellar-dweller Eastern Michigan.

We’ll probably know a lot more about both teams after the weekend.

Here’s everything you need to know:

Date: Saturday, Sept. 20

Time: 2:30 p.m. CT

Place: Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Alabama

TV: CBS

Radio: Crimson Tide Sports Network, Gator IMG Sports Network

Spread: Alabama by 14.5-15, according to OddsShark.com.

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Florida State vs. Clemson Complete Game Preview

Florida State hasn't had troubles putting up points on Clemson the past two years.

Since Brent Venables arrived from Oklahoma and was hired as the Tigers' defensive coordinator before the 2012 season, he has helped the team improve gradually. Last season, Clemson allowed just 22.2 points per game (24th best in the Football Bowl Subdivision).

But FSU has been able to put some impressive numbers on the board. In 2012, FSU shook off a sluggish start to win 49-37 behind EJ Manuel's 380 passing yards and two touchdowns. And last year, in a top-5 showdown, visiting FSU routed Clemson 51-14 as Jameis Winston threw for 444 yards and three touchdowns.

That's 1,232 offensive yards by FSU the past two seasons against the Tigers.

Clemson will try again to slow down FSU's offense when the teams face off on Saturday at 8 p.m. ET (ABC).

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Alabama and Florida to Finally Unveil Offensive Secrets in Saturday Showdown?

The jury is still out on just how good Florida and Alabama really are, but it won't stay that way for much longer.

The third-ranked Crimson Tide will host the unranked Gators on Saturday afternoon in Tuscaloosa, with both teams needing to make a statement to prove that they're actually back.

For Alabama, the cornerback issues that haunted head coach Nick Saban's crew appear to have been solved in wins over Florida Atlantic and Southern Miss. Was that a byproduct of Eddie Jackson's return and Cyrus Jones' development, or more due to weak competition?

At quarterback, Blake Sims has settled into the starting quarterback role. The senior has completed 75 percent of his passes (48-of-64) for 646 yards, four touchdowns, one pick and a 177.29 passer rating—third-best in the SEC among qualifying quarterbacks.

Florida's offense has rolled up 593.5 yards per game and 6.59 yards per play against Eastern Michigan and Kentucky, but at 6.2 yards per attempt, quarterback Jeff Driskel has yet to stretch the field.

Could the two traditional powers have been holding things back during the early part of the season, despite both playing close games?

Perhaps, and they could be unveiled this week.

 

Time for OJ?

The search for Alabama tight end O.J. Howard has entered its fourth week, with the 6'6", 240-pounder nowhere to be found.

Sure, Saban has been asked.

"O.J. Howard is a guy that we need to get more involved in probably what we're doing," he said during last Wednesday's coaches teleconference. "I think he has some capabilities to make plays that we need to take advantage of. He has been open a few times and we just haven't gotten him the ball."

Nothing changed against Southern Miss, as Howard finished the game with a grand total of zero catches on the season.

That's going to change at some point, and there's no time like the present. Alabama has a small village of ultra-talented wide receivers outside, but Florida's secondary is legit—despite the way the stats looked against Kentucky's air raid offense last weekend.

According to The Associated Press' John Zenor, Saban knows that Amari Cooper, his star wide receiver, is going to have his work cut out for him going up against Vernon Hargreaves III:

Instead of Sims getting into a rhythm with Cooper—as has been the case for the first three weeks—hooking up with Howard might be an attractive alternative early. This would keep the Gator defense on its heels throughout the game.

 

An Added Dimension

Remember when Florida's new offense was expected to put stress on opposing defenses by utilizing Driskel's skills on the ground?

I do.

"I think this offense fits him better as opposed to what we may have been doing before," head coach Will Muschamp said at SEC media days in July. "To utilize his athleticism and space, some of the things he's able to do athletically, is going to benefit him and us."

Driskel feels the same way.

"I think teams know that I'm fast," Driskel told Bleacher Report in June. "I've put on film that I can run by DBs, and that's talked about during the week when defenses are getting ready for us. It's just something else that the defense has to account for and is kind of where the game is moving."

Through two games this season, though, Driskel hasn't seen his production on the ground pick up. He has only posted seven carries for 24 yards on the season—3.5 carries per game.

For reference's sake, Driskel averaged 9.1 carries per game in 2012, when he led the Gators to a Sugar Bowl appearance.

Has he been making the wrong reads?

Just to make sure, Thomas Goldkamp of 247Sports went back to look at the tape from the Kentucky game:

That doesn't necessarily mean he won't run more in the future, though.

Whether he's been told not to run or the plays haven't called for him to take off, he hasn't been as much of a weapon on the ground as anticipated. Don't count on it staying that way forever.

Driskel has legitimate breakaway speed, and Alabama's defenses have struggled with mobile quarterbacks such as Auburn's Nick Marshall and former Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel in the past.

Even Oklahoma's Trevor Knight—who lit the Tide up through the air—made an impact with his legs, getting outside of the pocket and making throws on the run in last season's Sugar Bowl.

 

Can 'Bama Stretch The Field?

For the most part, Sims has been used as a game manager through three games. Sure, he's averaging 10.1 yards per attempt, but that stat is inflated quite a bit by receivers—namely, Cooper—getting chunks of yards after the catch.

Is this the week when Sims stretches the field?

We talked about the possibility of Howard making more of an impact, and Sims' lone interception of the season was on a seam route downfield into double coverage against West Virginia.

Whether it's Howard down the seam, the likely return of wide receiver DeAndrew White—as reported by TideSports.com's Aaron Suttles—Cooper simply beating Hargreaves or all of the above, a downfield passing attack would keep opposing defenses honest.

Those running lanes for Sims and Alabama's stable of running backs would then be the size of the Grand Canyon.

Can Sims do it?

He hasn't had many chances, and maybe that's by design. At some point, though, the Crimson Tide offense is going to have to take a few risks.

If the defense struggles with Driskel and/or top receiving target Demarcus Robinson on Saturday, it'll be time to see if Sims has what it takes deep downfield.

 

 

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.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Notre Dame Football: The One Fix Brian Kelly Must Make During the Bye Week

As Notre Dame takes its first week off, the Irish find themselves in an enviable position—an undefeated record, a difficult schedule looking less daunting by the week and an opportunity to get their thin roster healthy after multiple injuries hit during their 31-14 victory over Purdue. 

But if there's one main objective to accomplish over the bye week, head coach Brian Kelly and offensive line coach Harry Hiestand must fix a unit that's underperforming. 

The Irish front five played perhaps its worst game of the season on Saturday night, giving up four sacks to the Boilermakers. That number could've been even uglier if quarterback Everett Golson had not shown his elusiveness on multiple occasions, escaping pressure as he scrambled and ran his way to leading rusher status for the Irish offense Saturday night.

That's an unnecessary—and dangerous—role for the engine of the Irish, especially with a talented trio of backs capable of carrying the load. But it can't do that if the offensive line doesn't open up any holes.

After starting the season strong with 281 yards on the ground against Rice, the Irish have seen that output plummet the past two weeks. 

Why that's happening remains to be seen. After being held to just 54 yards on the ground against Michigan, Kelly explained that the Wolverines' scheme played a large part in that struggle. But after seeing Notre Dame held to just 3.7 yards a carry against Purdue, you start to wonder if these comments have a bit of spin to them.  

"The way [Michigan] decided to play the game, there was six, seven guys [at the line of scrimmage], it was just how they decided that they wanted to take those opportunities away from us," Kelly explained after the 31-0 victory over the Wolverines. "We were glad to oblige them and throw the football. If somebody is going to play the game so one‑sided defensively, we're going to throw the football."

That wasn't Purdue defensive coordinator Greg Hudson's scheme, and the Irish still didn't run the ball well. So after back-to-back weeks of struggling on the ground, Kelly acknowledged a problem up front. And while there doesn't seem to be one glaring issue, the lack of chemistry in the starting five has the head coach understanding that improvements must be made. 

"We're falling off a block here. We miss a fit here," Kelly said on Sunday. "And maybe it's just the continuity took us a little bit longer. It's nothing big, but it's everything. ... They've got to get cleaned up before we get to where we want offensively."  

Kelly acknowledging continuity points back to a training camp restack. After playing all spring with Steve Elmer at left guard and redshirt freshman Mike McGlinchey at right tackle, Notre Dame opened camp with Elmer at tackle and unproven veterans Matt Hegarty and Conor Hanratty sharing time at left guard. 

Teamed with center Nick Martin and fifth-year senior Christian Lombard, that trio was expected to be an asset while Elmer and left tackle Ronnie Stanley got acclimated to new positions. But an ankle injury suffered against Rice for Lombard has forced both Hanratty and Hegarty into the starting lineup surrounding Martin, and it's created question marks. 

"Quite frankly, we've got to find a little bit more push inside, and that's what we're going to try to come up with," Kelly said. "So we're in the process right now of kind of sorting that out ourselves."

One place the Irish won't look is to their talented freshman, Quenton Nelson. After impressing during fall camp, it seems that Kelly and Hiestand want to keep a redshirt on Nelson if at all possible. Beyond that, the focus likely turns to Elmer. 

An elite recruit and a physical specimen, the sophomore held his own last year at guard, thrown into the lineup after Lombard required season-ending back surgery. But after shifting outside to tackle, a position he profiles at nicely at 6'5.5" and 315 pounds, the Irish staff needs to decide if it works its way through growing pains or moves Elmer back inside. 

"I think you could look at it one of two ways. One, let's hang in there and let him continue to work through a new position. Or two, he's much more comfortable at guard," Kelly said.

A third scenario likely plays into the equation even more: Is McGlinchey ready to be an every-down player?

As physically talented as any offensive lineman on the roster, McGlinchey is still growing into his 6'7.5" frame. And at only 310 pounds, he'll be asked to hold up against defenses like Stanford and Florida State thrown into the October fire fairly quickly.

Or Kelly could shift Lombard back outside to right tackle, where he started in 2012 for the 12-1 Irish. Lombard dominated Rice's Christian Covington during the season opener, but he isn't necessarily healthy with an ankle sprain and hasn't played tackle in two seasons.  

Over the past three seasons, Notre Dame has collected some elite talent along the offensive line. Credit Hiestand's ability to recruit and teach, something on display last season as the Irish offensive line didn't miss a beat even after losing three starters to injury. 

But without first-rounder Zack Martin and third-round pick Chris Watt, the Irish front five needs to find its identity if Notre Dame wants to turn 2014 into a season to remember. 

"We're going to evaluate where we are after three weeks because we have to get better," Kelly said. "We know we've got some good players. We have to figure out whether we have them all in the right place."

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Oklahoma State Cowboys vs. UTSA Roadrunners: Winners and Losers from Week 4 Game

The Oklahoma State Cowboys welcomed the UTSA Roadrunners to town this past Saturday and turned what looked like an intriguing matchup into a bona fide rout.

UTSA had the Stillwater faithful on upset alert. Luckily for Oklahoma State fans, the Pokes were having none of it.

Oklahoma State came out strong and never really looked back. It didn't look completely dominant, but it played well enough to erase any doubt about its ability take care of the teams it's expected to beat.

The Cowboys were the big winners in this one, but who are the individual winners and losers from this game? Read on to find out. 

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

National signing day 2015 has the look of a potentially historic date in USC football recruiting history.

It marks the first time in more than three years that the program has a full allotment of scholarships with which to work, the result of a 10-scholarship reduction each year since 2012 as part of USC's sanctions from the Reggie Bush affair. 

Head coach Steve Sarkisian and his staff are using the Trojans' replenished allotment to the fullest. USC already has 16 verbal commitments for the 2015 class.

The most recent additions are Tristan Payton—a 4-star wide receiver from First Coast High School in Jacksonville, Florida—and Cole Smith, a 3-star center from nearby Mission Viejo High School. Both pledged to USC in August. 

The Trojans are ranked atop the Pac-12 currently and check in at No. 10 in 247Sports' national rankings. The rest of the conference may once again have to get used to looking up at USC when it comes to recruiting. 

"Consider yourself an up-and-coming recruiting power in...the Pac-12? If so, you'd better buckle up, because the ride is about to get a lot bumpier, especially on the recruiting trail. ...[T]he big boys are back," is AL.com's Gary Laney's advice to the rest of the conference with USC returning to full scholarship strength. 

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Super 16 Poll Week 4: Complete Rankings Released for 2014 Season

It's hard to find anyone who isn't both excited and relieved that college football will finally have a playoff to determine a national champion this season. But there are some folks who believe that a four-team playoff doesn't go far enough.   

Consider the members of the Football Writers Association of America and the National Football Foundation among them. The two groups decided last February that they would conduct a weekly poll of the top 16 teams in the nation, essentially giving fans an idea of which teams would qualify for a 16-team playoff.

Fascinated? Then read on below, as we reveal those rankings, Bleacher Report's Top 25 and take a look back at the week that was.  

 

Polls

 

Analysis

It was perhaps the perfect week for the Super 16 poll to debut. A pretty quiet week in terms of top matchups meant the poll wasn't going to have to deal with a number of ranking controversies in its debut week.

The major questions for any pollsters this week were pretty simple: How far would USC drop after being upset by Boston College, and where do South Carolina and Georgia belong in the rankings after the Gamecocks beat the Bulldogs, 38-35, in the weekend's premier matchup?

Thankfully, we don't have to debate whether or not USC would belong in a 16-team playoff—and we'd certainly never have to debate that argument this early in the season—because the polarizing viewpoints on that topic would rage for days on end. Had they lost at home, it would be easier to argue they deserved no consideration for a top-16 spot, but a road loss is a road loss, even to a team you're expected to defeat. 

All is not lost for USC, of course. Far from it.

"The goal, obviously, of being Pac-12 champs is very alive for us," coach Steve Sarkisian told reporters after the game. "I thought we came out playing well, and for whatever reason I thought we lost it. I've got to figure that out."

Meanwhile, South Carolina saved its season, defeating Todd Gurley and Georgia. In fact, perhaps it was how Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo utilized Gurley—or perhaps more accurately, didn't utilize him—that was the difference in this game. Martin Rickman of SI.com took a closer look at that:

Still, star tailback Todd Gurley had just eight carries for 44 yards in the first half. The Bulldogs had just 14 for 71. Mason went 9-of-12 for 132 passing yards, but that left the Bulldogs in a 24-13 hole at the break.

Gurley finished with 131 yards and a touchdown, a two-yard scamper with 9:23 to play in the third quarter that cut South Carolina’s lead to 24-20. Yet on the next possession, after the Gamecocks had extended their advantage to 11, Bobo went away from the ground game. He called for an empty-backfield set on a key third-and-two. Mason’s pass fell incomplete and the Dawgs were forced to punt.

As Rickman would go on to note, "When a team has the best running back in college football, it should use him." Perhaps it will be a lesson that Georgia takes with them going forward. 

There were other upsets on the day, of course, as Virginia Tech fell to East Carolina, while Louisville was knocked off by Virginia. Suffice to say, neither team will be cracking the top 16 anytime soon. 

A few teams that should be entrenched in these rankings for much of the season find themselves atop the rankings, however. It should come as little surprise that some combination of Florida State, Oregon, Alabama and Oklahoma should be in the top four. Auburn, Texas A&M, Baylor and LSU have all impressed early as well.

If nothing else, the SEC teams should continue picking one another off and providing us all with very intriguing football as they do. One would imagine plenty of SEC squads will make their way into the top-16 throughout the season. 

And one would imagine that, while we won't actually get a 16-team playoff at the end of the season, it will be quite fun debating who would belong in such a system throughout the year.

 

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