NCAA Football News
There is no question that the AP and coaches polls will exert influence on the selection committee. How could they not? Whether you're watching the games, reading the papers or checking out the scores online, many teams' names are attached to a number, signifying their rankings.
But the trouble with the polls is that, since they start in the preseason, perception bias is always built in. Voters don't rank their teams from scratch week to week—as they should—but only slide them up or down as if there are fixed pole position and starting grid.
That's why you have the current absurdities such as Oklahoma being ranked three spots ahead of TCU (in the coaches poll) even though the undefeated Horned Frogs just beat OU last week. Or Oregon two ahead of Arizona even after losing at home to the unbeaten Wildcats, also last week.
In the BCS era, how you started in the polls often mattered greatly in how you finished since the polls accounted for two-thirds of the standings for most of BCS's run. In 2004, Auburn never got to play for the national championship even though it was the undefeated SEC champion because it began the year at No. 17 in the AP poll and could never catch up to USC and Oklahoma, which started 1-2 and finished 1-2 at the end of the regular season.
In the College Football Playoff, the selection committee will not release its rankings until the last weekend of October. The 13 committee members theoretically should be able to keep an open mind, as they're not beholden to any outside rankings.
If that's the case, then they should have these "sleeper teams" on their radar because while they're not at the top of the polls, they deserve every consideration for the four-team playoff field if they continue to perform the way they have been this season.
TCU (AP ranking: No. 9)
The Horned Frogs spent their first two years in the Big 12 in rebuilding mode after double-digit-win seasons in their final four years in the Mountain West. The expectations for this year's team weren't very high either, as they were 35th in the preseason AP poll.
But after last week's upset victory over Oklahoma, people are beginning to take notice. If TCU can shock another Top Five team—this week at Baylor—it'll be in the driver's seat for the Big 12 title. With Gary Patterson's typically stout defense restored and Trevone Boykin at quarterback, this team is very much a dark horse for a spot in the playoff field.
Ohio State (AP ranking: No. 15)
OK, the Buckeyes are not your typical sleeper, as they were ranked fifth in the preseason AP poll. But after losing quarterback Braxton Miller before the season began and losing to Virginia Tech in the second game of the season, they have vanished from the list of playoff contenders.
But Urban Meyer has quietly restored order, and J.T. Barrett is now up to speed running the OSU offense, putting up at least 50 points in his last three games. With the Big Ten mired in mediocrity, the Buckeyes have only one remaining game against a ranked opponent. And if they can win at Michigan State on Nov. 8, they should be able to take the Big Ten title with a 12-1 record and possibly crash the playoff field.
Georgia Tech (AP ranking: No. 22)
Of the nine unbeaten power-five conference teams, the Yellow Jackets are by far the lowest ranked. And that has little to do with their performance on the field and everything to do with the fact that they didn't receive a single vote in the preseason AP poll, when Florida, Texas and even Louisiana-Lafayette all did.
But Georgia Tech is very much a threat to run the table in the ACC Coastal, as it has already beaten Virginia Tech and likely won't face a ranked team until its season finale at Georgia. Of course, the Jackets have lost the Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate 12 of the last 13 years, and even if they get past that, they'll in all likelihood face Florida State in the ACC title game. But for now, the committee should keep an eye on them.
Notre Dame (AP ranking: No. 6)
The Fighting Irish can be considered a sleeper because few gave them much of a chance to replicate their 2012 success. While Everett Golson returned at quarterback after a one-year absence, they were ranked only 17th in the preseason AP poll, as they faced what appeared to be a daunting schedule.
But look again now, and Notre Dame might be just one victory away from locking up a playoff spot and possibly even crashing the playoff field with one loss. The Irish play at Florida State in two weeks, and after that, they might not face another ranked team the rest of the season. How well they play against the defending champs will be key, as style points may very much influence the committee's decision at season's end.
Follow on Twitter @ThePlayoffGuru
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After a crazy week of college football, there is a lot of uncertainty surrounding the College Football Playoff as the end of the season draws near.
Five of the top eight teams in the nation went down, and the teams that knocked them off are looking at their own bids to the postseason. Ole Miss, Mississippi State, TCU and Arizona might have earned surprise wins in Week 6, but they are all undefeated and have as much of a chance at reaching the playoff as any other FBS team.
The problem is there is a lot of football left to be played, as few teams have even reached the halfway mark of the season. A lot can change in the rankings, and conference matchups continue to get tougher.
Here is a look at the latest rankings heading into Week 7, although the projected playoff might seem a bit different as we predict what will happen for the rest of the season.
College Football Playoff Projection
If the season ended today, there would likely be two, if not three SEC teams in the College Football Playoff. Auburn, Ole Miss and Mississippi State remain undefeated, while Alabama and Texas A&M are not too far behind.
However, it is a long season in what is clearly the toughest division in the country. The top team will be lucky to come away with just one loss, while the others will probably end up with at least two defeats.
It might not take an undefeated record to get into the playoff based on all the losses we have seen around the nation, but it is hard to imagine a two-loss squad getting into the discussion over a team with a better record.
This forces us to choose the best team in the SEC, and that leaves Auburn after showing that it is really the best in all of college football to this point in the year. Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee believes the Tigers should be ranked above Florida State:
Kirk Herbstreit of ESPN agrees and puts them as the top team:
While the Tigers might lose a game this season—something that could even come Saturday at Mississippi State—this is a great squad that was also unafraid to go out and schedule a non-conference road game against a very good Kansas State team.
Auburn should be able to survive the SEC and earn a spot in the playoff while the rest of the conference struggles to stay consistent enough to earn a spot.
The path to the playoff would not be as difficult for either Florida State or Baylor. The Seminoles survived arguably their toughest conference foe in Clemson despite not having Jameis Winston for the entire game.
Notre Dame could end up pulling off an upset, but the game will be in Tallahassee. As long as Florida State walks away with a victory, it should be able to keep winning until it earns a spot in the playoff.
Baylor will have a tougher road in the Big 12, although matchups against TCU, Oklahoma State and Kansas State are all at home. This leaves just a road game at Oklahoma as the toughest test on the path to an undefeated regular season.
While the Bears have not faced the most difficult schedule to this point, they have an explosive offense that should be able to keep the team in the win column for the rest of the year.
As for Oregon, head coach Mark Helfrich knows the latest loss could be damaging but told reporters after the game that he believes there is an opportunity for redemption:
As soon as your record isn't hyphen zero you lose the con and so from that standpoint it's a little bit frustrating but we can't do anything about that now, just like we can't do anything about winning the previous game, you can't do anything about losing the previous game if you don't handle your business moving forward. I think there's going to be a ton of movement nationally as well as in our conference. This is a tough conference, as we've said for a long time, couple with the toughest path to the playoff.
Despite being behind four different one-loss teams in the latest Amway Coaches Poll, Oregon has a chance to end up with some good wins against UCLA, Stanford and whomever it will face in the Pac-12 Championship Game, not to mention the victory over Michigan State earlier in the season.
If the Ducks can run the table, they would be extremely difficult to keep out of the playoff. Luckily, they have the talent to pull off this feat and join the rest of the top squads for an exciting postseason.
Follow Rob Goldberg on Twitter for the latest breaking news and analysis.
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After Week 6, aka "Shakeup Saturday," it's becoming very difficult to forecast what will transpire on game day. Top teams are falling every weekend, and this is just the beginning.
Which team will impress the most?
Watch the video and let us know!
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With Week 6 in the books, the college football world turns its attention to another frantic slate of games.
Would you rather be Nick Marshall or Dak Prescott?
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When Virginia Tech pulled off its improbable upset last month, the Ohio State Buckeyes plummeted from their No. 5 ranking and became an afterthought in the College Football Playoff race. But after a trio of consecutive blowouts and a chaotic Week 6 that featured numerous upsets, Urban Meyer's squad has suddenly re-entered the fray.
That development is not lost on the Buckeyes head coach, who said he'll be discussing Ohio State's postseason prospects with the team because "everyone is talking about it," according to Todd Porter of The Repository.
If not for a wild week of upsets, college football's inaugural playoff would not have been a talking point in Meyer's "state of the union."
No. 2 Oregon triggered the madness last Thursday when it fell to then-unranked Arizona. The next day, No. 18 BYU lost to a 2-2 Utah State team. On Saturday, No. 3 Alabama, No. 4 Oklahoma, No. 6 Texas A&M, No. 8 UCLA, No. 16 USC and No. 17 Wisconsin all fell to lesser-ranked or unranked teams.
The Buckeyes also benefited from No. 15 LSU getting walloped by fifth-ranked Auburn and No. 19 Nebraska falling short against 10th-ranked Michigan State.
Despite the madness, Ohio State elevated just five spots in this week's polls and now sits at 15th nationally. Two teams jumped the Buckeyes (No. 9 TCU and No. 10 Arizona), while four of the teams that fell last week remain in the Top 14.
But an impressive performance against an overmatched Kent State team paired with blowout wins over quality Cincinnati and Maryland squads have Ohio State trending upward.
Quarterback J.T. Barrett—who stepped in when Braxton Miller was lost for the season—looked lost (as did the rest of the offense) when the Buckeyes fell at home in Week 2 against Virginia Tech. But Barrett bounced back, and now he's guiding one of the most efficient offenses in the country.
The defense is surging as well. Outside of a few broken plays against Cincinnati, the unit is responding well to new co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash's aggressive 4-3 scheme.
Tom Dienhart of the Big Ten Network believes that if Ohio State continues to improve, it will boast a solid resume for the College Football Playoff.
"I think if the Buckeyes run the table and win the Big Ten with just one loss, they would have a good shot to make the playoffs," Dienhart wrote on BTN.com. "This team is getting better and better. It’s scary."
The Buckeyes, now at 4-1 on the year, are entering their second and final bye week of the season. They'll host Rutgers the following week before traveling to Penn State for a prime-time game in Happy Valley. Then, the Buckeyes will tune up against Illinois before their biggest showdown of the season—a November night game on the road against Michigan State.
Ohio State will close out November with games against improved Minnesota and Indiana teams before hosting Michigan in the regular-season finale. It's a manageable slate for Meyer and his Buckeyes.
But will the Virginia Tech loss be too big of a blemish for the selection committee to overlook?
ESPN.com's Heather Dinich writes that Miller's injury would come into consideration when the group evaluates Ohio State's resume.
The selection committee can't ignore the injury to quarterback Braxton Miller, and it could lend to some leniency by the 13-member group when evaluating the Buckeyes' 35-21 home loss to Virginia Tech in Week 2. It's the lone blemish on Ohio State's schedule, and it has looked worse since the Hokies lost back-to-back games after their upset. The committee, though, has said it will factor in injuries. It was the first home game of J.T. Barrett's career -- and he threw three picks.
The Big Ten's perceived weakness could ultimately cost the Buckeyes, but it does pave the way for a potential run at the College Football Playoff. And if Ohio State continues to look as impressive as it has the last few weeks—along with a few more upsets of higher-ranked teams—that's exactly where Meyer's team could be headed.
David Regimbal covers Ohio State football for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.
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Former Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron went on the radio Tuesday and said a bunch of things to make Alabama fans angry, continuing a trend he started in the offseason. (Apparently, rehabbing his shoulder and backing up Andy Dalton and Jason Campbell in Cincinnati is not taking up too much of his time.)
Speaking his mind after the Crimson Tide lost their first game of the season at Ole Miss, McCarron questioned the leadership on the current roster.
"I think one of the things that this team is lacking that hurts them the most is not having the true leaders like we had last year and guys that, when things go bad, 'hey, let's calm everybody down, pick it back up and go back to work and get back on the right track,'" McCarron told Tuscaloosa's Tide 99.1 FM radio show, per Michael Casagrande of AL.com.
On the topic of wide receiver Amari Cooper, whose 52 receptions this season are 40 more than any other player on the team, McCarron wondered about the decision-making dichotomy between head coach Nick Saban and first-year offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin:
I don't know if that's Lane doing that or if coach Saban is kind of putting the handcuffs on Lane like I've known Coach to do in the past on his offensive coordinator and we're going to be very bland and run this play and do this and we'll throw it on third down if we have to. It's going to be interesting to see how they bounce back against Arkansas this week and what kind of offense comes out this week.
I understand Coop is an unbelievable player. He was that for us when I was there, but when you target somebody so much ... I think that was one of the best things we did while I was there. We spread the ball around to everybody. I mean, I think in numerous games ... where we had almost everybody on offense catch the ball that was eligible to catch the ball. Teams could never really pinpoint and play their defenses to cover Coop and I think that's one of the things they're struggling with right now.
McCarron led Alabama to back-to-back national titles after the 2011 and 2012 seasons and the Sugar Bowl after the 2013 season. After losing the Sugar Bowl to Oklahoma—the first season-ending loss of his career—McCarron said on TheJim Rome Show that the team was plagued by having too much success, which influenced the younger players.
His opinion holds weight in Tuscaloosa because of the legend he created the past three seasons, but at this point, McCarron is starting to become an unnecessary headache for the current players. Alabama lost a close road game against a team that is ranked No. 3 in the current Associated Press poll. Its offense is ranked No. 2 in the country according to the S&P+ ratings at Football Outsiders.
There is not exactly trouble in paradise. And even if there were, Saban—not McCarron—is the one who is best equipped to fix it.
On the point of Saban "handcuffing" his offensive coordinators—the point from McCarron's interview that will probably grab the most headlines—it is salient to look not just at Alabama's numbers but also at Michigan's. The Wolverines, after all, hired former Alabama coordinator Doug Nussmeier to run their offense this offseason, ostensibly unshackling him from the "binds" Saban had "tied."
In its first three games against power-conference teams (counting Notre Dame), Michigan gained 768 yards on 195 plays—an average of fewer than four yards per play. It didn't score an offensive touchdown against Notre Dame and Utah and looked even worse against Minnesota.
So much for Nussmeier's "liberation."
McCarron's comments will serve as a midweek distraction for the Alabama media and maybe even one or two players, but on the whole, the opinion of the former Crimson Tide quarterback has little to no bearing on the current team.
If Alabama loses at Arkansas this weekend, it will be because Arkansas is better than people realize. It won't be because the team "lacks true leaders," and it especially won't be because the team is distracted by what the Cincinnati Bengals' third-string quarterback had to say.
And rightfully so.
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For the first two-plus years in the SEC, Texas A&M has been all sizzle but no steak.
The Aggies have become one of the most high-profile teams in the conference thanks to the emergence of 2012 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, a high-octane offense and a couple of signature wins along the way.
The elephant in the room is an SEC West title—or lack thereof.
Despite incredible success over the first two seasons in the conference, the Aggies haven't truly contended for the division title. While not out of it in 2014, they're again fighting an uphill battle following the 48-31 loss to co-No. 3 Mississippi State on Saturday.
Just how far away from contending for the SEC West title is head coach Kevin Sumlin's crew?
The defense is soft and young in the middle, which is a big reason why Arkansas and Mississippi State gashed the Aggies with 574 total rushing yards over the last two games.
Nose guard Hardreck Walker is only a sophomore, defensive tackle Alonzo Williams has experience but has been inconsistent and seven players on the depth chart on the defensive line are underclassmen.
Middle linebacker Jordan Mastrogiovanni has been fighting through an ankle sprain this year, and senior strong-side linebacker Donnie Baggs has been bouncing around from strong- to weak-side while sophomore Shaan Washington recovered from a broken collarbone.
Washington's return has settled the starters back in their rightful home but hasn't helped the rush defense.
"From a depth issue that’s probably the one area on our football team where we don’t have as many players as we do at every other position," Sumlin said during Tuesday's press conference. "Those guys are playing more plays than anybody and the [ankle] injury to [linebacker] AJ [Hilliard] really pushed things back."
With so much youth on the depth chart in the front seven and a lack of depth at linebacker, this is a problem that's only fixable with time. Had defensive tackle Isaiah Golden not been dismissed from the program this spring, maybe the defense wouldn't be in this position. Unless Sumlin has a flux capacitor, he can't go back in time and get him back.
The struggles in the middle of the defense are widely known and are overshadowing some positive signs from the Aggie defense. Freshman defensive end Myles Garrett has 6.5 sacks on the season, 1.5 fewer than former South Carolina standout Jadeveon Clowney had when he set the SEC freshman sack record of eight in 2011. He's helped the Aggies lead the conference in sacks (19) and post the third-most tackles for loss (39).
Add in a back end of the defense—which, while not great, has a solid foundation for the future with freshman free safety Armani Watts—and there are some bright spots.
Ten of Texas A&M's 22 signees in last season's recruiting class—including Garrett—were defensive players with four stars or more, according to 247Sports.com. Five of Texas A&M's 19 commitments in the class of 2015, including 5-star defensive tackle Daylon Mack, are 4-star defenders.
Help is coming, and the foundation that is being built this season will only lead to depth in the coming seasons.
That's all Texas A&M needs.
Sumlin has proven throughout his career that his offense is going to click regardless of the name on the back of the quarterback's jersey or his strengths and weaknesses. Quarterback Kenny Hill didn't have the best day on Saturday, tossing three picks against Mississippi State, but he is third in the nation with 21 touchdown passes, sixth in yards per game (351.7) and 12th in passer rating (161.80).
Of the Aggies top six receivers, only one—senior Malcome Kennedy—is an upperclassman.
The foundation is there for success at the highest level of the SEC, just not this season.
The potency and potential of Texas A&M's offense gives defensive coordinator Mark Snyder some wiggle room. His defense doesn't have to be great, it just has to be adequate.
It has shown flashes of that this season, which is progress from last season. Not enough progress to handle Mississippi State's multi-dimensional rushing attack and contend for the division title, but certainly enough to build off of.
Barrett Sallee is the Lead SEC college football writer and video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a co-host of the CFB Hangover on Bleacher Report Radio (Sundays, 9-11 a.m. ET) on Sirius 93, XM 208.
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It’s hard to believe, but we’re nearing the halfway point of the 2014 season. By now, we have a solid handle on every team in college football as they’ve worked their way into league play with five or six games under their belts.
By now, the freshmen who were untested in August and early September have almost become veterans. They know how the game is played. They’ve made big plays, mistakes and adjustments, all in the name of improving their games.
While a number of talented freshmen have emerged, more are lurking just below the surface of stardom. Some have just earned a starting role. Others are playing behind veterans. Either way, they’ve proved that they deserve a longer look—a chance to show what they can do in critically important situations.
Here are some freshmen who deserve more playing time as the second half of 2014 unfolds.
WACO, Texas — He's a Heisman Trophy candidate who led Baylor to its first conference title since 1980. Still, the moment that shaped Bryce Petty's college career didn't occur on a football field.
It happened in a backyard swimming pool.
Only three people were present the day Petty was baptized in the summer of 2012. Chris Wommack, an ordained minister in Waco, dunked the quarterback under the water while Wommack's wife, Susan, stood near the edge and captured the occasion on camera.
Wommack had asked Petty—whom he'd mentored the previous seven months—if he wanted to invite friends and family to witness the occasion. He declined.
"Bryce wanted the moment to be very private between him and God," Wommack said. "It was the moment when he said, 'God, my life is yours.'"
Since that day, Petty has set numerous Baylor records while leading the program to unprecedented heights. The Bears went 11-2 last season and earned a BCS bowl berth for the first time in school history. Now a senior, Petty is the catalyst for a 2014 squad with a No. 5 ranking and realistic hopes of a national title entering Saturday's tilt with ninth-ranked TCU.
Blessed as he is with NFL size (6'3", 230 pounds), speed and arm strength, Petty said the main reason for his success is less about his physical attributes and more about what happened that day in the swimming pool.
And in the months leading up to it.
"Once I got big into my faith, everything changed for the better," Petty told Bleacher Report last month. "My self-worth used to be based on football. Now I realize it's about so much more."
Petty paused and smiled.
"Football is what I do," he said. "It's not who I am."
Countless times during his teens and early 20s, Bryce Petty said he was asked the same question: "How is your relationship with God?"
"Fine," Petty always said, without giving it much thought.
Something felt different, though, in January of 2012.
Petty had just finished a gym workout in his hometown of Midlothian, Texas with friend and former Seattle Mariners catcher Brandon Bantz. As the two sat across from each other at Kim & Jenny's Restaurant, Bantz asked Petty how strong he was in his faith.
"To be honest," Petty said, "It's not going very well. I'm not where I want to be."
It's not as if Petty was doing things that would bring embarrassment to himself or his team. Petty had never been a drinker or hell-raiser. His grades were solid and he was working hard on the field and in the weight room.
Still, even though he considered himself a Christian—Petty's mom, Dena, is a former youth pastor—he didn't pray regularly and rarely went to church. He was thinking of himself before others.
"Something was missing," Petty said. "Deep down, I just wasn't happy."
Part of the reason, Petty said, was a series of events that both jolted his ego and damaged his confidence in the main place he'd always felt secure: the football field.
Petty committed to Tennessee before his senior year of high school in 2008, but head coach Phil Fulmer was fired two months before February's National Signing Day. Instead of vowing to honor the university's scholarship offer, new coach Lane Kiffin sent an assistant to inform Petty in December that he'd be wise to re-open his recruitment.
Baylor, which had recruited Petty previously, hopped back into the mix and out-dueled Virginia Tech and others for Petty's services, but Bears coach Art Briles informed Petty he'd need to "grayshirt" in 2009. That meant Petty had to stay home and take classes at a local junior college in the fall before joining his new team in the spring.
While the rest of his high school classmates were off enjoying their freshman year of college, Petty spent his first semester taking 11 hours at a single-building campus a few miles from his home. The highlight of his week came each Tuesday when Petty drove to Waco to watch the Bears practice.
"The rest of the time I just worked out and threw on my own," Petty said. "I probably wasn't very fun to be around back then."
Petty redshirted in 2010 and backed up Heisman winner Robert Griffin III in 2011.
By the time he confided in Bantz in January of 2012, Petty had spent three years feeling like a non-factor in the Baylor locker room.
"I'm a people-pleaser," Petty said. "I don't get satisfaction unless I know you like what I'm doing. But [Briles] hardly talked to me. I'd have venting sessions with my mom and say, 'I can't tell if [Briles] even likes me.'
"You start to wonder if you're even a good quarterback anymore. For three years I didn't have anything on the field to judge myself off of. Doubt started creeping into my mind."
At lunch that day, Bantz suggested Petty call Wommack, then a minister at Woodway Baptist Church in Waco. Wommack had mentored Bantz during his college years at Dallas Baptist University and had a history of working with Baylor football players, as well.
Petty and Wommack, 61, began meeting twice a week; once at Wommack's house for a Bible study, and once for lunch at a local restaurant, where they'd discuss everything from school to girls to family to football to life.
In one of their first meetings, Petty repeatedly stressed to Wommack that he was "a very good football player."
"I believe you," Wommack said. "Now I want to help you become the type person that will make you an even better football player."
Wommack chuckles when recalling the conversation.
"Bryce wanted to have a certain image when it came to football," Wommack said. "But after three or four months, he realized he could trust me and he didn't need to have that image. He became honest about the things he was dealing with. That's when I began to see him feeling like his feet were on solid ground."
Wommack couldn't have entered Petty's life at a more ideal time.
With Griffin moving on the NFL, Petty felt confident about his chances of becoming Baylor's starting quarterback as a redshirt sophomore in 2012. Instead, Petty said it became clear during the spring and summer that Briles was leaning toward the older, more experienced Nick Florence as Petty's replacement. Petty said most of his reps with the starting offense were limited to a series or two each practice. He didn't think he was being given a fair shot.
Petty said he became a bad teammate, especially during the summer. He sulked inwardly, didn't smile or joke very often and quit being a vocal presence on the field.
"I was too into my feelings," Petty said. "I wasn't being myself. At the time, I felt I was better than Nick. I was ready to take over. Coach said it was a competition, but I got four reps at the end of each practice. It wasn't a healthy competition. Not to say I liked it when Nick messed up, but when I did better than him, it made me feel good."
The negative feelings didn't linger for long.
Petty listened to his coaches that summer and began to understand their vision. His mother, Dena, explained that immaturity meant reacting in the moment while maturity was seeing the bigger picture. Wommack helped, too, encouraging Petty to "take his relationship with God onto the football field."
By the first game of the 2012 season, Petty had done more than simply accept Briles' decision to start Florence.
He'd embraced it.
Petty said he realized being a starting quarterback was about more than arm strength and accuracy and speed. It was about being a commanding presence in the huddle, earning your teammates' trust and confidence and valuing winning more than stats and individual success. It was about having the right attitude.
"I completely bought in and dove into the role of being the best backup I could be," Petty said. "Once I started understanding that part of the game, everything changed for me. I started to realize and believe that my time was coming."
Briles certainly noticed. He commended Petty for how he reacted to a frustrating situation.
"I'm sure he might have had some (anger) inside, but he didn't let other people see it," Briles said. "I never noticed anything negative from him.
"When you go to work at a bank, you don't start out as the president. You work your way up and prove that you're worthy of sitting in a different chair someday. Nothing is ever going to be given to you here. If you want something, you've got to fight for it, and that's what Bryce did."
Less than two months before the 2012 season, Petty asked to be baptized.
"The changes that occurred his life were glaring," Wommack said. "He quit basing his happiness on how he performed in football. You could see a calmness take over him, a sense of peace, a sense of joy.
"He started feeling really good about who Bryce Petty is."
A few hours before the biggest game of his life—a home showdown against No. 12 Oklahoma—Petty telephoned Wommack with an urgent request.
"Chris, I need a favor," Petty said. "I need you to pick up C.J. and drive him to the stadium."
C.J. is a fourth-grader that Petty has spent the past two years mentoring through his affiliation with the Waco chapter of "Big Brothers Big Sisters."
Often that means picking C.J. up and taking him to Wommack's for a swim or to dinner at a restaurant near his home. Other days he may stop by C.J.'s elementary school for a surprise visit or take him to the Baylor football complex to play catch with him and his teammates.
Petty surprised C.J.—whose father has spent time in prison—with a trip to a Waco water park for his most recent birthday. C.J. had so much fun that, the next time Petty picked him up, he was waiting at the door wearing a swimsuit and holding a towel.
"C.J.," Petty laughed, "that was a special occasion for your birthday. We can't do that every time. That place is expensive."
With C.J. in the stands for last season's game against Oklahoma. Petty threw for three touchdowns and ran for two more in a 41-12 victory that moved the Bears to 8-0 while keeping them in the Big 12 and NCAA title hunt.
"It was so important to for him to have C.J. at that game," Wommack said. "I guess he just wanted to share that moment with him and show him what kind of things are possible with hard work."
Just as the onus is on Petty to lead his team, the sixth-year senior also feels a responsibility to set a good example off the field for Baylor supporters and for the Waco community.
Petty said he and Wommack talked about how important it is that younger fans see examples of athletes doing things the right way, too. That's one of the reasons he now brings a handful of Baylor teammates with him to Bible study each week.
"When he gets to the NFL he's going to be the face of a city, the voice of a city," Wommack said. "The quarterback of a pro team carries so much influence. I asked him one time, 'When the people of an entire city look at you, what are they going to see?'
"I think that stuck with him. He's guarding his reputation and establishing who he is."
Petty certainly made an impact on the life of Ethan Hallmark, a 13-year-old in Midlothian who died last month of neuroblastoma, an aggressive form of childhood cancer.
Upon learning in December that Hallmark was one of his biggest fans, Petty visited the boy's home on Christmas Day and spent hours talking with him and his family. As Petty prepared to leave, Hallmark's mother asked if he'd lead the family in prayer.
"Everyone stood in a circle and held hands," said Dena Petty, who was also present. "Bryce started praying and he had to stop for a minute. He broke down. It was a very emotional moment for everyone."
Petty and Hallmark starting texting almost daily, and Petty helped the teenager check an item off of his bucket list by arranging for him to attend Baylor's spring game. The heat forced Hallmark to watch the contest from a shaded area near the concourse instead of in the stands. But afterward, Petty trekked up the bleachers and spent nearly an hour talking with Hallmark before he returned home.
When Petty saw Hallmark again months later, he picked him up at his house at 7 a.m. and drove him to the hospital for chemotherapy treatment that lasted until 8 p.m. Petty stayed with Hallmark the entire day and then drove the boy home.
Petty returned to Midlothian to visit with Hallmark during Baylor's off-week late last month, just two weeks before the child died. Even though Ethan wasn't able to communicate, his mother told Dena Petty in a text that her son was very aware that Bryce was there.
"Bryce told me that he was confused why a kid like Ethan would look up to him," Rachel Hallmark wrote in the text. "His humbleness is amazing."
Petty doesn't publicize such actions. Not once during a 30-minute interview with Bleacher Report did Petty bring up C.J. or Ethan. His relationship with them was revealed during interviews with Petty's friends and families.
"It's important that athletes understand the pedestal they're on," Petty said. "It's not something you should run from or hide from. You can't just say, 'I'm 22, I can do whatever I want.' You have little kids looking up to you.
"Visiting hospitals and mentoring kids isn't for everyone. That's fine. It's whatever tugs at your heart. But at the end of the day, we can all be nice. We can all be good people. It's really not very hard."
That, more than anything, is how Petty hopes to be remembered at Baylor.
Using his character and faith to lead his team to another Big 12 title and a berth in the four-team national playoff would be more gratifying than winning the Heisman, he said. When Petty looks back on all he achieved, he'll have equal appreciation for the journey that led to the accomplishments.
By Petty's count, 1,786 days passed between his final high school game in 2008 and his first start at Baylor on Aug. 31, 2013. During that time he blossomed into a different player.
And a different person.
"It's all happening because of my faith," Petty said. "Everything I'm experiencing is happening for a reason. It's all part of a purpose. It's all part of His plan."
Jason King covers college sports for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @JasonKingBR.
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Jameis Winston's challenge was always that his record-breaking 2013 season set the bar too high—that whatever he did on the field in 2014 would not measure up.
His Heisman season was almost too good statistically, as Winston threw for 4,057 yards and set a school record for touchdown passes in a single season (40) while completing 66.9 percent of his passes.
With FSU losing two of its top receivers in Kelvin Benjamin (a first-round pick by the Carolina Panthers) along with Kenny Shaw, Winston's numbers in 2014 couldn't possibly stack up. The stats couldn't possibly measure up against one of the best years ever by a college football quarterback.
But through four games played in 2014, removing the game he missed due to suspension against Clemson, Winston's numbers are comparable. The sophomore has more passing yards this season (1,288 yards vs. 1,048 yards in 2013). His touchdown passes are down (12 TDs in 2013 vs. eight TDs in 2014) and interceptions are up (two INTs in 2013 vs. five INTs in 2014).
Search the Internet for Heisman polls, and Winston's name is often left off or not mentioned at all. While it's likely that voters are not considering Winston due to his off-field issues, or even the fact that he missed the Clemson game to suspension, it is surprising that a returning Heisman winner on the nation's No. 1 team isn't under consideration on many Heisman polls.
Bleacher Report's Michael Felder ranked Winston fifth in his Heisman video breakdown, and NFL.com's Mike Huguenin has Winston eighth, but they are in the minority in giving Winston a spot in the Heisman discussion this year. An ESPN.com poll by 10 panelists who provide votes for first through fifth place lists nine players (Winston didn't receive even a fifth-place vote). A 10-person anonymous poll conducted by Heismanpundit.com did not list Winston. And neither did lists compiled by CBSsports.com, the Sporting News or SI.com.
A look back at Winston's 2013 season
First, let's take a look at Winston's game-by-game numbers through the first four weeks of 2013:
A 25-of-27 performance in Winston's first college game certainly vaulted the redshirt freshman into the Heisman conversation. He followed it up with a good game against Nevada but then clearly played down to the competition against Bethune-Cookman of the Football Championship Subdivision. The Boston College game included a little bit of everything, from a lackluster first quarter to a sensational second quarter that ended with a Hail Mary touchdown pass to Shaw that put FSU ahead for good, 24-17.
For the season, Winston threw for 275 or more yards in nine of 14 games. It was that kind of consistency (both wins and stats) that helped Winston win the Heisman Trophy.
What Winston has done this fall
This fall, FSU is without Benjamin and Shaw, so Winston has had to establish a rhythm in the passing game with a group of new receivers like Jesus "Bobo" Wilson and Kermit Whitfield. And Winston had a veteran center in Bryan Stork in 2013, whereas this fall he had to adjust to a new starter in Austin Barron.
Now let's examine Winston's first four games of 2014:
Winston was hit-or-miss in a 370-yard passing game against Oklahoma State, where he had a Heisman moment with a dazzling 28-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. He was accurate against The Citadel and then, after the suspension, returned at N.C. State to help rally the team from a 24-7 deficit with four touchdown passes and a TD run. The win over Wake Forest was shaping up to be a pedestrian game for Winston, but he had a 59-yard touchdown pass to Travis Rudolph in the fourth quarter and Winston ended the day just shy of a 300-yard game.
Also, FSU's 2013 schedule was criticized for being too easy. It featured early games against Nevada and Bethune-Cookman. The 2014 schedule was cited in the summer for being one of the nation's 10 toughest by FOXSports.com's Bruce Feldman. It's clear that Winston's four opponents of 2014 are more challenging than those first four from 2013.
FSU's road ahead is filled with opportunities for both Winston and the team to impress. The Seminoles face a potential Top 5 showdown with Notre Dame (5-0 going into Saturday's game against North Carolina) when the Fighting Irish visit Tallahassee, Florida, on Oct. 18. FSU's trip to Louisville for a Thursday night game against Louisville could be the Seminoles' most challenging ACC game left on the schedule.
And while FSU's young receivers are emerging, it's not clear if playmaker Rashad Greene (concussion) will play against Syracuse or if he will need more time to recover.
How does Winston stack up against other 2014 QBs?
There's no telling how much the combined effect of Winston's off-field issues have had on voters. But statistically speaking, Winston isn't far off from his 2013 numbers. Or those of a group of 2014 quarterbacks that are on Heisman lists.
Winston's numbers aren't gaudy, but they are right there with the group. And remember that almost all the quarterbacks in this group have played five games versus Winston's four games.
Statistically, Mariota has the best numbers—but he also suffered a loss last Thursday. But of the group of seven quarterbacks above, Winston is third in completion percentage and fourth in yards. He's tied for last in touchdowns and has the second most interceptions.
Why isn't Winston in the conversation? While the off-field issues weigh heavily for many Heisman voters, it's also clear that he is being judged through the lens of his 2013 season.
Bob Ferrante is the Florida State Lead Writer for Bleacher Report, all quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bob on Twitter. All stats are courtesy of seminoles.com and FSU's 2014 media guide.
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The College Football Playoff was supposed to take some level of urgency away from the regular season. Four teams getting to the end of the season undefeated was an impossible expectation, but a clear enough hierarchy should be formed that we have a general idea of what to expect.
Week 6 changed everything. Desperation is again a way of life around the nation, as a cascade of upsets threw the backs of supposed championship contenders against the wall. Oregon, Alabama, Oklahoma and Texas A&M all went down in a blaze of whatever antonym you'd like to use for glory. Not for nothing, but those were four of the nation's top six teams.
What's left is a quartet of teams desperately clinging to the hope the teams above them will share a similar fate, while their replacements try to avoid just that. Given that three of the top four teams in the Associated Press poll reside in the daunting SEC West, well, good luck with that one.
Given that two of said teams play each other Saturday, all sorts of heck and hootenanny are sure to transpire. With that in mind, now is as good a time as any to take a look at the Top Four. You know, before the inevitable changes to next week's Top Four.
1. Florida State
Ahh, Florida State. The 25 percenter who does not reside within the world's most competitive football division. And the one who has looked by far the worst among the teams currently slated for the inaugural CFB playoff.
The Seminoles, after having not allowed a game to come closer than 14 points during the 2013 regular season, already have two one-touchdown wins under their belt in 2014. Their win against North Carolina State required a 17-point comeback, and they were down double digits until five minutes remaining in the third quarter. Even last week's 43-3 shellacking of Wake Forest featured a miserable first half highlighted by a mistake-prone and stagnant offense.
I've got to get us going, I've got to get us started fast. At the end of the day, that's what we've got that defense for. Sometimes they've got to have our backs. Sometimes we've got to have their back. At the end of the day when Florida State starts playing Florida State football and defense and offense is all on the same cylinder, we're going to be fun to watch.
Winston, in theory, is correct. On balance, the Seminoles are the most talented team in the country. That's why they were ranked No. 1 coming into the season and partially why they're still atop the standings despite looking less dominant than nearly every other power-five unbeaten.
Florida State has another muscle-flexing game coming up this week against Syracuse, but it's hard to not start looking ahead to its Oct. 18 clash with Notre Dame. The Irish, like their co-unbeaten, have gotten by with a series of solid, non-dominant wins. Their first four games were a cupcake-mashing party—yes, Michigan in its current form is a cupcake—and last week's home win over Stanford required fourth-down heroics from Everett Golson.
In 2012, many pointed to Notre Dame's dominant win over Wisconsin as the tipping point. It was the time when everyone realized that this wasn't just a flukish, nice little run they were having—that they would have a legit shot at a national championship.
The same storyline will carry over into this Florida State-Notre Dame matchup. For both teams. Florida State's toughest game after the Irish, before a potential ACC Championship Game, is against a below-average Louisville team Oct. 30. Notre Dame travels to Arizona State on Nov. 8.
All else should be smooth sailing for both teams. Two weeks from now, we may have our first playoff "lock."
2. Auburn and 3. Mississippi State
It only makes sense to write about these two teams in a pair. One will probably usurp Florida State as the No. 1 team in the country next week. The other will become a pit of SEC boa constrictors waiting to strangle the life from their playoff hopes.
Not that this game is a big deal or anything.
Auburn and Mississippi State each come into Saturday's showdown at Davis Wade Stadium after their most impressive wins of the season. The Tigers systematically picked apart LSU in a 41-7 blowout that was somehow worse than the final score. Nick Marshall accounted for four touchdowns as LSU imploded on both sides of the ball.
Dan Mullen's Bulldogs had exposed Les Miles and Co. two weeks earlier, but their real arrival came last Saturday when they invited Texas A&M into their house just to steal Kenny Hill's lunch money. The Aggies quarterback threw three interceptions and looked out of sorts before cobbling together two garbage-time touchdowns to make his stats look better in the 48-31 loss.
Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott, meanwhile, established himself (in my mind) as the clear Heisman favorite. Prescott threw for 268 yards and two touchdowns while adding 77 yards and three scores on the ground. The words "Tim" and "Tebow" were strung together at numerous points on the broadcast, both a nod to Mullen's roots as a Florida offensive coordinator and Prescott's unique brilliance.
Auburn defensive tackle Gabe Wright told reporters:
He puts a tremendous amount of pressure on you. He is a dual-threat quarterback and just saying that, I think that in itself already speaks volumes. Dual-threat means he can both run and pass. And he's mentally capable to run their offense now. I think he's more comfortable now.
The implications here are obviously huge. But Mississippi State especially can confirm its title hopes with a win. Visits to Alabama and Ole Miss are the only two remaining games against ranked opponents on its regular-season schedule. Sure, OK, that's hard as hell. It's also par for the course for an SEC team and much easier than the outlook for its opponent.
Auburn still has games with Ole Miss, Texas A&M, Georgia and Alabama remaining after Saturday. Even South Carolina could give the Tigers trouble if Steve Spurrier can somehow salvage his team's morale.
Good Lord, the SEC is good.
4. Ole Miss
The Rebels' prize for breaking their 10-game losing streak against Alabama is a trip to College Station. Not exactly as cool as, say, a piece of a goalpost.
It's the second straight major test for the Ole Miss defense, which came up huge in high-priority situations against the Crimson Tide. Senquez Golson's last-minute interception of Blake Sims on what looked like an Alabama steamroll down the field proved the clincher, but it's far from the only factor. The Rebels held Alabama to a 6-of-16 conversion rate on third down, committed three penalties to the Tide's eight and had Bo Wallace somehow avoid throwing an interception.
Wallace avoiding interceptions has become an increasingly rare occurrence. He's given away at least one pass in all but two games this season and seven of his last 10 dating back to 2013. The senior has long been very good when he's making the right decision; he at times is very bad at doing such a thing.
With Ole Miss' run attack essentially consigned to change-of-pace status, Hugh Freeze's team is essentially an updated version of the classic SEC model. Bigger, stronger, faster than any team defensively. Air-based and high-variance offensively. It's a model that can make the Rebels look like the nation's best team when all is running smoothly—or veer them off a cliff the moment Wallace or the defense shows a sign of weakness.
Hill, a Heisman candidate before last week's debacle, is as equipped as any quarterback to make the latter happen. Texas A&M opening drives are a thing of beauty. No coach in the nation is better at drawing up an opening script than Kevin Sumlin, as evidenced by the Aggies scoring first in 29 of their last 32 games. Sumlin is going to give NFL defensive coordinators nightmares next year if he ever decides to head to Sundays.
Ole Miss has scored first in all five games this season. Its comeback from a 14-3 deficit last week against Alabama gives me faith Wallace has matured enough to handle the pressure, but the 12th man can cause the walls to close in awfully fast. The winner of this game may be determined by which side gets on the board first.
Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter
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It is hard to imagine things getting any crazier than the past week of college football, but Week 7 will certainly try.
Week 6 saw a number of ranked teams go down, including five of the Top Eight teams in the country. This caused a major shift in the polls and in current projections for the College Football Playoff. The SEC West still has three teams near the top of the rankings, but they are not exactly the teams you would expect, as Auburn, Ole Miss and Mississippi State are the undefeated squads.
This week is certain to create just as much excitement with a few more big-time conference matchups throughout the weekend.
Here is a look at the complete schedule beginning Thursday to help you catch as many games as possible.
Schedule courtesy of ESPN.com. For games without national or regional coverage on a major network, check local listings.
Live Stream Info
Many of the games are also available online at one of these locations, although some require subscriptions:
Fox: Fox Sports Go
ABC: ABC Live
NBC: NBC Live Extra
Top Games to Watch
No. 2 Auburn vs. No. 3 Mississippi State
Many people have a problem with the preseason polls because they often keep more deserving teams from cracking the top until the teams ahead of them lose.
Heading into Week 7, Florida State remains the No. 1 team in the nation after winning last year's national title. However, Auburn has arguably been even better this season, excelling on both sides of the ball. The team showed off its complete effort with a 41-7 win over LSU.
ESPN's Paul Finebaum believes the Tigers should be the No. 1 team in the nation:
The statistics back this up, as ESPN's Football Power Index has a decent separation between Auburn and the rest of the country:
Auburn is the most efficient team in the nation and one of just five teams with a plus-10 rating on both offense and defense. That means each unit makes a big contribution toward blowing teams away, which makes it no surprise the Tigers have outscored teams by an average of 27.6 points per game this season.
However, another one of those five balanced teams is Mississippi State, which will look to continue its recent track record of knocking off Top 10 teams when it hosts Auburn.
The Bulldogs went on the road to beat then-No. 8 LSU before knocking off then-No. 6 Texas A&M at home. In both games, the squad went up at least three touchdowns before giving up some late scores to make it appear closer than it was.
It is no surprise ESPN will be on hand for the festivities in Starkville:
Auburn has been great this season, but this will be a tough battle on the road to remain undefeated.
No. 9 TCU vs. No. 5 Baylor
Baylor has done a good job running up the score on opponents once again to start this season, but the Bears have not faced anyone of note.
In fact, none of the opponents on the schedule so far have a winning record on the season.
On the other hand, TCU cared enough to put another power-conference opponent on the schedule, defeating Minnesota 30-7. Interestingly, that is the Gophers' only loss in five games.
TCU continued to impress with an upset win over No. 4 Oklahoma thanks to 318 passing yards and two touchdowns by Trevone Boykin. This was not a fluke for head coach Gary Patterson, who is used to this type of success against top teams, according to Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports:
The Horned Frogs have a lot of talent and have a chance to surprise a Baylor team that is not ready for this type of opponent.
There is also some extra motivation for the two teams in a game that has become a bit of a rivalry in the Big 12. Last season, Patterson had some choice words for Baylor coach Art Briles. "If that's what class is, then I don't want to be it," Patterson told reporters after the game.
Thus, it is no surprise Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty has been looking forward to this game.
"Really even before, every time we play it seems like we don't like each other, I guess that’s the making of a rivalry," the quarterback explained in a press conference earlier in the week. "We circle them on the schedule when it comes out."
As if there wasn't enough intrigue already, this game could be physical from start to finish on Saturday.
Follow Rob Goldberg on Twitter for the latest breaking news and analysis.
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Don’t tell anybody, but the Georgia Bulldogs offense is spectacularly potent.
You probably didn’t notice over the condemnation of quarterback Hutson Mason, the general dismissal of everyone not named Todd Gurley and the “Fire Bobo!” chants. But this offense isn’t half bad. In fact, it’s not bad at all.
This offense is not only more competent than it's given credit for, but also more lovable than anyone seems to recognize.
Great Success, Even from Mason
If you measure Georgia’s efforts by something other than fan sentiment, it’s surprisingly easy to be impressed by the offensive unit. The Bulldogs rank sixth in the country in points scored per game, and all five of their to-date opponents hail from the FBS level.
In most scenarios, that level of production would be too good to be ignored. At Georgia, however, many are too consumed by what they think is missing to notice what is happening. The points scored are nice, but the more popular narrative is that Mason lacks chemistry with receivers, puts up shaky statistics and generally leaves everyone (himself included) disappointed.
And in fairness, Mason is a departure from former quarterback Aaron Murray and his SEC passing records. Mason is not going to touch any of those records. But while folks bemoan lack of arm strength, passing deficiencies and other perceived shortcomings of the fifth-year senior, he’s leading Georgia's offense to a 45.0 average scoring output.
Even Murray couldn’t touch that record; his best offense yielded 37.8 points per game in 2012.
The irony of the anti-Mason campaigns is rich. He’s not Murray, but he is completing a higher percentage of passes this season (68.3) than Murray ever did. He doesn’t throw the deep ball like Murray, but isn’t the point of the deep ball to score points or to keep the defense honest and set up the run? Isn’t Georgia scoring points and running the ball as well as it ever has?
Mason is receiving grief and the much-dreaded “game manager” title, but he’s quietly managinggames very well. Not only are the Bulldogs scoring tons of points, but they’re also winning.
If Georgia garners a victory this weekend against Missouri, the team will be 5-1 through the season’s first half. Murray’s big arm and prolific offenses only managed that good of a start once in his four years under center. Georgia hasn't opened with a better six-game record since 2005.
Hutson Mason is a winner. What’s not to love about that?
Embracing Todd Gurley
Ask any Georgia fan in the nation, and he or she will tell you the best football player in the country dons the red and black on Saturdays and wears jersey No. 3. Todd Gurley is not only the best running back in the fans' eyes, but the best player in the country.
They may not be wrong. They are often, however, misunderstanding.
Georgia relies heavily on Gurley—that much is undeniable. The junior running back has had a hand (either in running, receiving or passing) in nearly 40 percent of Georgia’s gained yards. The reason for this dependence is cause for debate, though.
While those accustomed to a prolific passing attack see a lack of one and assume the absence is a reflection of ineffectiveness, there’s danger to assuming that Gurley is Georgia’s only offensive hope. Working on the presumption that Gurley is depended upon because Georgia cannot pass the football sells the Heisman Trophy candidate far too short.
More valid is the notion that Georgia relies on Gurley because he gives the Dawgs an optimal chance to pick up yardage, first downs, points and wins. That’s much more a credit to his skills and determination than it is an indictment of Mason and Georgia’s passing game. Gurley isn't Georgia's only option, but he is the team's best option.
Gurley is a once-in-a-generation talent. That should be self-evident at this point. Calling for a greater emphasis on the aerial assault takes away from what he’s capable of doing on his own. And resigning him to the role of “Georgia’s only option on offense” negates the efforts he’s put in to earn his workload.
It’s easy to recognize Gurley for the beast that he is, but Georgia fans need to embrace his role within the offense as a fully good thing.
Of course, none of the lunacy or ironic inconsistencies quite hold their own in comparison to the Bobo firing campaign. After all, all Bobo has done is coordinate the most successful offenses in program history.
Confused as to why Bobo needs to go? You’re not alone. But tune in to Twitter this Saturday for a sampling of disgruntled rumblings. Keep your eye on your laptop or smartphone and watch the vitriol roll in while Georgia racks up points.
Truthfully, Bobo has given Georgia fans exactly what they want—a prolific offense. And he’s done so in incredibly entertaining fashion.
Though Mark Bradley of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution turned Todd Gurley’s long pass completion into a negative commentary on Mason this weekend, the fact remains that it was one of the more exciting plays in recent Georgia history, as it was a true deviation from conservative play-calling.
Also a divergent from typical Georgia football is the regularity with which Georgia has kept its offense on the field on fourth down. Bobo's commitment to moving the chains and scoring points has vested itself in the best fourth down conversion rate in the country.
And along the way, Bobo has trotted out multiple quarterbacks (Brice Ramsey and Faton Bauta in addition to Mason), sent Mason out wide as a receiver, gotten the ball into the hands of an electrifying freshman receiver (Isaiah McKenzie) in the backfield, used young talents like Nick Chubb and Sony Michel and otherwise dazzled with still injury-limited personnel.
Georgia is 4-1 because of its offense, and if the Bulldogs want to get back to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game, they're going to have to ride Bobo, Mason, Gurley and the rest of the unit. Despite a resounding lack of faith from what is (hopefully) a vocal minority, this group is up to the calling.
Maybe when the Bulldogs are back in the conference title game, this offense will get some love. They can take another step in that direction this weekend against Missouri.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand and all statistics courtesy of NCAA.com.
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The Texas Longhorns are 2-3, have one of the country's worst offenses and are about to face an angry Oklahoma squad that just dropped a heartbreaker to TCU.
That should be startling enough for Texas fans hoping to see a rebound from a 28-7 loss to Baylor.
Unfortunately, the statistics show that the Horns still have a ways to go. The offense, led by Tyrone Swoopes, has been unable to sustain drives or generate big plays, putting the defense in a perilous position come the second half.
To turn things around this season, head coach Charlie Strong has to get these alarming numbers trending in the opposite direction.
The last time the Ducks lost two consecutive games during a single season was in 2007 when the Oregon dropped games to Arizona and, you guessed it, UCLA. In order to avoid a similar fate seven years later, the Ducks must take control of the game early, bring the heat defensively and play a much smarter brand of football.
A loss to UCLA would be a devastating blow to Oregon’s postseason dreams—dreams that were rekindled after a week that turned the college football world upside down. A road win against one of the best teams in the Pac-12 should instantly vault the Ducks back to the top of the Pac-12 power rankings and reestablish themselves as postseason contenders.
Here’s what Oregon must do to beat UCLA at the Rose Bowl on Saturday:
Ground Game Must Get Going
While Oregon’s running game hasn’t been dreadful this season—ranking No. 34 in the country having rushed for 209 yards per game—it hasn’t been as successful as it has been in past years.
Yes, LaMichael James, Kenjon Barner and De’Anthony Thomas are gone. However, the combination of Thomas Tyner, Royce Freeman, Marcus Mariota and Byron Marshall should form one of the most successful rushing attacks in the entire nation.
Oregon’s offense is predicated on the success of the zone-read and the ability to establish a strong running game. When the Ducks fail to run the ball, defenses have the ability to key in on Mariota and the passing game. While Mariota can twist around defenses with his legs, he’s most effective when his legs are the Ducks third-best offensive option.
In two conference games so far this season, the Ducks have ran for a grand total of 316 yards on 83 carries—an average of 3.8 yards per carry—and have yet to score a rushing touchdown in conference play. By comparison, in the Ducks three nonconference games this season Oregon rushed for 729 yards on 115 carries—an average of 6.34 yards per carry. While the Ducks faced South Dakota and Wyoming in two of those nonconference games, they did face a Michigan State team that currently ranks No. 4 in the country in rush defense.
Against the Spartans the Ducks rushed for 173 yards on 40 carries—an average of 4.3 yards per carry. By no means are those numbers up to Oregon’s lofty standards from years past. However, they are very strong numbers against the fourth ranked rushing defense in the nation.
So what happened to the Ducks rushing attack that has ranked in the top 10 in yards gained per carry since 2007? Everything goes back to blocking.
Oregon’s success in the running game has less to do with the running backs and has more to do with the offensive line and their ability to consistently create holes for the backs to hit. It’s tough to run the ball when your offensive line has more holes than a slice of Swiss cheese. Moreover, the Ducks depend heavily on their wide receivers to block downfield. While the wide receivers have been more successful in their duties than the offensive line has, they’ve still not been able to spring the backs open enough to hit homerun-type plays.
The Ducks desperately need their offensive lineman and wide receivers to create space for the running backs and the offense in general to be successful. Without a solid running game to depend on, the Oregon offense becomes a pass-happy offense that is forced to convert many more third downs than it should be forced to. Without a running game, Oregon’s “blur” offense turns into a “dud” offense.
In order to beat UCLA—ranked No. 64 against the run this season—the Ducks will have to be successful in the run game and take some pressure off Marcus Mariota and the wide receivers. The Ducks offensive line can help itself in pass protection by being able to establish a running game early against the Bruins.
If the Ducks have a successful day on the ground, they’ll have a great shot at knocking off the Bruins. It would also help if the Ducks defense can turn up the heat and spice things up a bit.
Bring The Rush
Despite the fact that the Ducks rank No. 19 in the country in sacks this season—averaging 3.2 sacks per game this season—and third in the Pac-12 conference, Oregon's pass rush has yet to make a significant impact on opposing quarterbacks this season.
The Ducks are ranked No. 119 out of 125 eligible schools against the pass this season—giving up an average of 309.6 yards per game through the air. In terms of total defense, the Ducks are ranked No. 102 in the country and are allowing 453.8 yards per game.
Oregon’s defense has struggled to make an impact on opposing offenses for a couple of reason—poor secondary play, vanilla coverage’s, blown assignments and inexperience to name a few. However, one way to combat UCLA’s offense, which is ranked No. 36 and is averaging 465.4 yard per game, is to attack their weak offensive line.
The Bruins offensive has surrendered 4.6 sacks per game this season, which ranks them No. 123 out of 125 teams in the country. Last week against Utah, a game that UCLA lost 30-28, the Bruins allowed quarterback Brett Hundley to be sacked 10 times.
UCLA’s offense has a clear weakness. The Ducks must relentlessly attack it even if it means giving up the occasional big play and being more vulnerable in the secondary.
Outside linebackers coach Erik Chinander’s eyes lit up when asked this week about bringing pressure against UCLA this weekend, according to Andrew Greif of The Oregonian.
"You always want to put pressure on everybody,” said Chinander. “I love pressure.”
While defensive coordinator Don Pellum hasn’t dialed up the pressure much this season, he will need to against the Bruins. Oregon’s defense has shown that it doesn’t have the ability to sit in zone coverage and defend the pass for extended periods of time. Brett Hundley is an incredibly talented passer and is extremely mobile. If the Ducks give Hundley the opportunity to sit back in the pocket and extend plays with his mobility, Oregon’s defense will be beaten over and over again.
Push has come to shove for the Ducks defense; however, there is a way out of the current rut they’re stuck in. It’s called pressure. If the Ducks want to avoid consecutive conference losses, Pellum would be wise to crank the heat on Oregon’s pressure from simmer to boiling hot.
Last week against Arizona, the Ducks committed 10 penalties that resulted in a loss of 79 yards, including two crucial penalties—one on linebacker Tony Washington and one on cornerback Troy Hill—on Arizona’s final drive that led to the game-winning touchdown.
Through five games this season the Ducks have committed 42 penalties—ranked No. 102 in the nation—for 333 yards—an average of 66.6 yards per game. Quite simply, the Ducks have been an undisciplined team in all three phases so far this season.
If the Ducks are going to re-establish themselves as the class of the Pac-12, they’re going to need to not only play better, but also play smarter.
Oregon has a huge opportunity against UCLA this weekend. A road win versus a ranked conference opponent is the best way for the Ducks to reinsert themselves in the College Football Playoff picture.
The Ducks squandered an opportunity last week to keep their perfect season intact. However, due to the wild events of last weekend they were granted another opportunity to establish themselves as real championship contenders this season.
It’s time for the Ducks to show the country what they’re really made of. By nightfall on Saturday, we’ll know exactly who the 2014 Ducks are and where they’re heading this season.
Jason Gold is Bleacher Report’s lead Oregon writer. Follow Jason on Twitter @TheSportsGuy33.
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If you're a high school senior who grew up in Southern California, your introduction to college football as a child likely came in the form of a scintillating Reggie Bush sprint or a helmet-rattling Clay Matthews quarterback sack. Memories of the Pete Carroll era are ingrained in the minds of young, rising stars throughout the region, including Keisean Lucier-South.
The coveted Orange County prospect looked elsewhere when it came to collegiate options for quite some time, but recent events have caused him to reconsider his stance on the Trojans. Suddenly, head coach Steve Sarkisian and company are sitting pretty with the 5-star pass-rusher.
Lucier-South, a coveted 6'5", 225-pound playmaker who runs the 40-yard dash in 4.70 seconds, announced a top five of Oklahoma, Florida, Michigan, Oregon and UCLA—in no particular order—this summer. He disregarded USC for reasons that resonated on a personal level.
“I thought USC wasn’t really interested in me because they just didn't recruit me much," Lucier-South said. "Honestly, that was pretty disappointing because I grew up watching the team and have a lot of good memories and respect for the program. So that’s why I took them off the list. It just seemed like they didn't want me and I'm not interested in being where I'm not wanted."
He's not sure if his list of favorites sent a message to the folks in Los Angeles, but the Trojans' approach quickly changed.
"Pretty much right after I released my top five, the team started coming after me harder and harder," Lucier-Smith said. "That got me thinking."
His growing sentiment that USC deserved another opportunity culminated earlier this season when Sarkisian attended an Orange Lutheran High School game to watch him play.
That list was going to need another look after all.
“It blew me away when Coach Sark showed up to my game and it showed me how much they actually care about me," he said. "That made me reconsider things and now USC is back in the picture. USC is definitely a team I’m looking at closely. Things have changed in a hurry."
Of course, the Trojans must still contend with several other suitors.
Lucier-South, rated No. 2 nationally among weak-side defensive ends in 247Sports' composite rankings, is set to make an official visit to Michigan this weekend. The Wolverines have suffered three straight defeats, and speculation has grown this may be Brady Hoke's final season as head coach in Ann Arbor.
"It's going to be very interesting when I get there because there are some unknowns," he said. "I don't know if Coach Hoke is going to be there at the end of this season or the start of next year. They're still recruiting me hard as ever, but it's definitely a little weird and a situation I'm not dealing with at other schools."
Those other options include Oregon, where he's headed on Halloween weekend. The Ducks provide another potential Pac-12 destination and aim to upgrade the defensive front with players of his caliber.
“I love a lot of things about Oregon—the facilities, the school, the coaching staff," Lucier-Smith said. "It’s a visit I've been excited about for a long time. There are a lot of things I’ll be looking at while I’m there. It’s another opportunity to consider things before I make a decision.”
He visited Oklahoma earlier this season. Though his initial outlook on the program suggested he would only return to Norman as a member of a visiting team, that perception changed after watching the Sooners defeat Tennessee.
“Oklahoma was really a surprising visit—in a great way," Lucier-South said. "It was an excellent visit in every way. I thought it would be a small, boring town, but that wasn’t what it was like at all. I could definitely see myself living there for the next four or five years. I have a lot of love for coach (Jerry) Montgomery and coach (Bob) Stoops.”
His latest campus tour took place at UCLA, where he watched the Bruins go down in dramatic fashion. Utah pulled off a road visit to derail UCLA's unbeaten season.
Surprisingly, the Bruins' cross-town rival came up in conversations while Lucier-South sat in the Rose Bowl bleachers.
“I spent a lot of time talking with (4-star 2014 prospect) Osa Masina at the UCLA game, and he really seemed interested in USC," he said. "It’s a place he could see himself playing, and I feel the same way. We have a lot in common because we can both play linebacker or defensive end. The two of us could do a lot of damage together if it works out that way.”
Lucier-South spent the first three games of his senior season lined up at outside linebacker, which was previously unfamiliar territory for him. Due to injuries along the defensive front, he has since moved back to end.
The experience provided an opportunity for Lucier-South to gauge his strengths and weaknesses at each position. Some teams, including Michigan, are recruiting him exclusively at linebacker.
“I really liked standing up and was surprised by how much of a difference it makes," he said. "I think I’m a better pass-rusher when I start off the play like that. Except, I do think I can generate more power when my hand is in the dirt. I wouldn't say I have a preference of where I line up in college but I’m excited about the possibility of playing either position."
Lucier-South has spent the past two seasons tormenting quarterbacks. Since the start of his junior campaign, he's tallied 67 tackles, including 17 for loss, and 12 sacks, per MaxPreps.
Despite the ebbs and flows of a frenzied recruiting cycle, Lucier-South refuses to focus on just one aspect of the journey. His goal is to find the complete package before national signing day.
“This process isn’t all about football and I think that’s important for all recruits to remember," he said. "There’s a lot more that goes into life at college. Football is very important for three months out of the year but education and everything else plays a huge role and I won’t lose focus of that.”
All quotes courtesy of B/R national recruiting analyst Tyler Donohue unless otherwise noted.
Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.
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Let’s all just admit this now—we don’t really know anything about college football this season.
After all, if we did, then 11 of the teams that the voters declared as the 25 best in the nation would not have all lost in the same week. That’s right, the Nos. 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18 and 19 teams in the AP Poll all lost this past week, many of them in dramatic fashion (Here’s looking at you, Alabama and USC.).
SportsCenter and CNN’s Rachel Nichols put the carnage in visual display:
Of course, a week like that can turn the playoff picture upside down. With that in mind, let’s take a look at an updated projection for the four College Football Playoff spots.
Sugar Bowl: Florida State vs. Oklahoma
Rose Bowl: Michigan State vs. Georgia
Championship Bowl (in Arlington, Texas): TBD (Semifinal winners)
Criticize Florida State all you want for a close victory against Clemson or allowing 41 points to North Carolina State, but if all the upsets on Saturday told us anything, it was that style points are overrated.
All that really matters in college football is winning, and that is all the Seminoles have done the past two seasons.
Alex Scarborough of ESPN suggested the same thing:
If the defending champs win out, they are going to get a playoff spot, whether each game is a one-point victory or a 40-point victory. Florida State is going to win out because it is incredibly talented, has the defending Heisman Trophy winner directing the offense and has nobody remaining on the schedule with the talent on both sides of the ball to compete outside of Notre Dame.
The Seminoles will walk away from that game victorious under the lights in Tallahassee in front of a raucous crowd.
What’s more, Florida State’s nonconference win over Oklahoma State is looking better every week. At the end of the year, the Seminoles’ two victories over the Cowboys and Fighting Irish will represent one of the best nonconference schedules in the country and be more than enough to counteract any real or perceived weaknesses of the ACC.
It may seem backwards to include Oklahoma in the College Football Playoff in the immediate aftermath of its loss to TCU, but this is all about the SEC and Pac-12 beating themselves up over the rest of the season.
Teams like Oregon, UCLA, Arizona State, Utah, Stanford and Arizona will gradually knock each other out of playoff consideration out west, and the loaded SEC West will do the same. In the meantime, Oklahoma gets possible challengers Kansas State, Baylor and Oklahoma State all at home and will take care of business in Norman.
Quarterback Trevor Knight understood the situation after his team lost to TCU, according to The Associated Press, via ESPN.com: "This isn't the defining moment of our season. There's a lot of football left. Who knows what's down the road. It's early in the season, a one-loss team can still make it."
The Sooners will certainly benefit from what happens in the SEC and Pac-12, but don’t sell their efforts short if they win out. Picking up victories over the Cowboys, undefeated Bears and Wildcats will be much easier said than done, meaning Oklahoma will be a deserving participant at year’s end.
You can basically take everything we just mentioned in the Oklahoma section and apply it to Michigan State’s situation.
The members of the Pac-12 and SEC West will continue to hand each other losses, and the Spartans will gradually sneak up the polls. Come the end of November, that early-season loss to Oregon will seem like a distant memory, and one that nobody should be ashamed of. Michigan State was breaking in a number of new defensive starters against what is typically a dominant Ducks offense.
Michigan State is not going to lose to Purdue, Indiana, Michigan, Maryland, Rutgers or Penn State. The talent gap is simply too large, and the Spartans will be motivated with a potential playoff spot on the line.
The season basically boils down to a prime-time showdown on Nov. 8 against Urban Meyer’s Buckeyes.
Don’t write off Ohio State, either, even though Braxton Miller is out for the year, and it lost early to Virginia Tech. This is a team that has plenty of freshmen and sophomores in critical roles (including J.T. Barrett at quarterback) and has clearly progressed every week. The Buckeyes will be a stiff test for the Spartans and will likely be ranked in the Top 10 by then (assuming no more losses).
The thought here is that Michigan State prevails under the lights at home in a thriller, much like it did in the Big Ten championship game last season.
That will give the Spartans an inside track to a playoff spot.
Is Georgia the best team in the SEC?
However, sometimes it’s not just about being the best. The SEC West is going to cannibalize itself with Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Texas A&M, Auburn, Alabama and even LSU (although the Tigers appear to be far behind the other top teams in that division) battling with each other every single week.
The Bulldogs, on the other hand, only have to play Auburn from that entire list. What’s more, that game comes at home after Auburn plays a stretch of five consecutive games against LSU, at Mississippi State, against South Carolina, at Ole Miss and against Texas A&M.
If that seems unfair, it kind of is this season. The difference between the SEC West and SEC East is large enough to drive a truck through, and the Bulldogs will catch a worn-down Tigers team at just the right time.
We will also see the same type of situation in the SEC championship game, which just so happens to be in Georgia’s backyard in Atlanta. The Bulldogs will prevail over a physically worn-down SEC West opponent and punch their ticket as a surprise team in the College Football Playoff.
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Sitting at 4-1, the No. 18 UCLA Bruins football team has been plagued by four statistical categories.
Two of these specific deficiencies deal with the defense as a whole. To be frank, the unit has underperformed considerably. Defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich's group needs immense improvement, should the Bruins still have aspirations of competing for a BCS bowl bid.
The most startling statistic involves the beleaguered offensive line. Should this trend continue, starting quarterback Brett Hundley will eventually be sporting a body cast.
Lastly, the statistical output of one of UCLA's biggest weapons has been shockingly minimal.
Here are four startling statistics through the first five weeks of the season for Jim Mora's team.
*Statistical information is courtesy of NCAA.com, unless noted otherwise.
Five weeks ago, the Big Ten took shots from every angle when it was left without a team in the AP poll’s Top 10. Now, it’s the Pac-12’s turn to stand up and be counted out.
Teams from the left coast are perilously close to being left out of the College Football Playoff unless there’s a major shift that’s hard, if not impossible, to foresee.
This season was supposed to see both Oregon and UCLA contend for the national championship. Instead, when those teams meet on Saturday, one will leave the Rose Bowl with a second defeat and face near-certain elimination from the playoff picture, even though Halloween is still three weeks away.
Where does that leave the Pac-12 teams that were supposed to impress the playoff committee’s voters?
Oregon has tumbled from No. 3 in the preseason rankings to No. 12 in this week’s poll following a loss to Arizona at home. UCLA has fallen 11 spots, from seventh to 18th, after falling to Utah, also at home.
“Overrated” also is a chant Southern Cal and Stanford would have to accept.
USC perhaps could have been forgiven for its defeat at Boston College because of cross-country travel. But last weekend’s loss at home to previously unranked Arizona State booted the Trojans, the preseason No. 15, out of the AP Top 25.
Stanford, the preseason No. 11, is barely hanging on, clinging to the 25th spot. But it also joined the ranks of the twice-beaten by falling at Notre Dame. Credit the Cardinal with a moral victory, however. They held the Fighting Irish to a season-low 17 points and lead the nation in allowing only 8.6 points a game, but haven’t been able to find the end zone often enough in their big games.
The Pac-12’s additional problem is that the two teams that have risen amid the carnage need to keep winning before they’ll gain national credibility. But Arizona and Arizona State haven’t captured the imagination with the same flair as their up-and-coming counterparts in the Southeastern Conference, Mississippi and Mississippi State.
No. 10 Arizona has an unblemished 5-0 mark, but it’s tough to get excited about a team that survived against 1-4 Texas-San Antonio by the slim count of 26-23. And that wasn’t a game of funny bounces. The Wildcats didn’t commit a single turnover, but they did trail, 16-13, at one point.
Likewise, No. 20 Arizona State—the Sun Devils are still wearing skid marks from the 62-27 pasting UCLA laid on them.
Find yourself a Pac-12 advocate and you’re likely to hear that the chronicle of unmet expectations is a testament to what a marvelous conference this is. The only one among the Power Five, in fact, that plays a nine-game conference schedule and also has a conference championship game.
Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott certainly feels that way. At the league’s media days in July, he heralded that distinction, saying, via SB Nation's Berkelium97:
We know that there will be continued controversy and debate, but the clear statement has been made that strength of schedule is going to be a determining factor in figuring out which of the four teams ought to be competing in that playoff. With the most competitive nine-game conference schedule in the nation, our champion will be incredibly well-positioned in this first-ever historic college football playoff.
At the moment, that forecast doesn’t look terribly accurate.
Meantime, a more relevant piece of trivia is the Pac-12’s disappearing act from the national championship conversation.
The only time a Pac-12 team won the big game during the 1999-2014 history of the BCS championship was when USC claimed the 2004 season title, only to vacate it because of the Reggie Bush saga.
Oregon coach Mark Helfrich addressed the glaring absence of a national champion from the Pac-12 at the conference’s media days, saying, via CBSSports.com's Dennis Dodd, "That's the next step for this league. We can all point and whine about how we didn't get in this game and that game. As soon as you lose a game you've lost the right to be the lead speaker."
Which is where the Pac-12 is now.
Yes, five of the Top Eight teams in the AP poll just lost during a history-making week, but only UCLA and Oregon did so at home.
To get back in the hunt, both of those teams need to solve their woeful situations on the offensive line. Oregon has let Marcus Mariota get battered with 12 sacks in its last two games. And UCLA’s O-line gave up a jaw-dropping (and skull-rattling) 10 sacks by Utah on Brett Hundley.
The four-team College Football Playoff leaves room for once-beaten teams to get in, but twice-beaten squads are going to have a very rough time making a case.
If one of those is deemed worthy, it seemingly would have to emerge from the SEC, and more specifically, the SEC West, which has four teams ranked among this week’s top seven. Winning seven of the last eight national championships makes that an easy argument for the SEC.
Maybe Arizona can get through the rest of its schedule unscathed. But a two-loss season seems more likely after a look at its upcoming slate.
The Wildcats will play an angry bunch from USC this week, then have a road date at Washington State against Connor Halliday, who has the hottest arm in the land. After that, it’s another road contest at UCLA.
The prospect of the Pac-12 champion having two losses was put into perspective two weeks ago by Stanford coach David Shaw, who during a teleconference with reporters said, via SB Nation's Kevin Zimmerman:
It’s far too early to accurately project how things will shake out -- that’s a fool’s errand -- but based on what’s progressed through six weeks, it’s hard to imagine any Pac-12 team finishing with less than two losses. If that’s the case, it would pose a problem for the conference’s playoff chances regardless of the other to-be-determined variables.
Shaw added that it will all hinge, of course, on the 13-member selection committee that will vote on the College Football Playoff.
In that regard, the Pac-12 might not be in such bad shape. USC athletic director Pat Haden is a member, as are Stanford professor Condoleezza Rice and Tyrone Willingham, who was formerly a head coach at Stanford and Washington.
But the Pac-12 is going to need to have a lot more than that going for it to avoid getting shut out of the playoffs.
Tom Weir covered college football as a columnist for USA Today.
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Painful. Crushing. Frustrating. Enraging. All of these words are perfect ways to describe the loss against Florida last Saturday. But deflating is the way I best describe it. The Tennessee Volunteers didn't convert in the red zone and turned the ball over three excruciating times.
But if the team learns something from the game and uses it to improve, it's an acceptable outcome. We all wish the Big Orange could win and learn, but success often limits learning from whatever mistakes were made in the process. With the gut-wrenching loss on October 4, Tennessee has every reason to learn a lot.
Here are five things that stood out to me.