NCAA Football News

Texas A&M vs Mississippi State: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time, More

There is no rest for the weary in the chaotic SEC West, which features six teams ranked 15th or higher, and this especially applies to No. 6 Texas A&M one week removed from a shaky performance.

Kenny Hill and the Aggies are on the road this time around to visit the No. 12 Mississippi State Bulldogs, a team coming off a bye week rightfully earned after an upset of LSU in Baton Rouge.

Not only do both teams tout quarterbacks who post eye-popping numbers, they also feature two of the nation's better defenses in a contest that is both the biggest test to date for each and one that will define the season on the whole.

In the SEC East, there is minimal wiggle room for error, so Saturday's early start in Starkville figures to begin the day's festivities with a boom.

 

Surpassed Expectations

The shadow cast by the legend of Johnny Manziel has quickly been lifted thanks to the stunning play of sophomore Aggies quarterback Hill, who has wasted little time throwing for 1,745 yards and 17 touchdowns to two interceptions.

While Hill's resounding success certainly earns him plenty of credit, the majority of it should go to the system and abilities of coach Kevin Sumlin. His offense ranks No. 2 in the land thanks to scoring 51.2 points per game on average, a number Bulldogs coach Dan Mullen is well aware of heading into Saturday.

"You know you're going to have to score," he said, per STATS LLC, via ESPN.com. "If they hit their average, it means we have to score 52. If you hold them just below the average, we'll have to score 50. Offensively, you know you're going to have to score points against them if you're going to beat them."

Mullen's team can certainly light up the scoreboard too, though. Junior quarterback Dak Prescott has been a pleasant surprise this season, completing 60.4 percent of his passes for 964 yards and an 11-2 touchdowns-to-interceptions ratio. He also has 378 yards and three scores on the ground.

Of course, the highlight for Prescott came on the road against LSU when he racked up 373 total yards and three scores.

As College GameDay puts into visual form, both unexpected elite performers are among the best in the nation in a number of facets:

As a result, what was once a notable matchup on the entire SEC slate before the season is perhaps one of the best quarterback showcases the season has to offer, not to mention one that will give a single team a serious leg up in the race for the SEC crown.

 

Getting Defensive

Understandably, the mostly strong defensive work from both teams gets swept under the rug.

The Bulldogs rank in the top 20 by allowing just 16.5 points per game. Outside of beating up on lesser opponents, the unit has made a name for itself thanks to that performance against LSU, where star linebacker Benardrick McKinney and his unit held the Tigers to a 2-of-13 mark on third downs.

Now, Mississippi State does struggle against the pass (LSU threw for 341 yards), but the Aggies are certainly not perfect, either.

While Texas A&M comes in at No. 13 overall thanks to an average of 15.0 points allowed, the defense was torched by Arkansas in a 35-28 overtime win to the tune of 285 rushing yards. While most teams are due to get roughed up by the Razorbacks' attack, the point stands that the Bulldogs have an attack that can replicate the ground production Arkansas found to great success.

Not only is Prescott a serious threat on the ground, running back Josh Robinson is third in the conference in rushing yards per game (121.3), averaging 7.8 yards per carry on the way to 485 yards and four scores.

Whichever defense blinks most often in the face of elite attacks will outright decide the game.

 

When: Saturday, October 4, 12 p.m. ET

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

Television: ESPN

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 68
  • Spread: Mississippi State (-2)

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports via USA Today.

 

Prediction

On one hand, the easy pick seems the Bulldogs. At home, well rested off a bye and in possession of an attack ripe to exploit a wobbly opponent, it seems Prescott and Co. are in for another major day.

Then again, the test that was Arkansas for the Aggies cannot be overstated. Hill and the rest of the team were bent but in no way broken in what was akin to a serious growth spurt as halftime adjustments eventually saw the team to a win.

In fact, the Aggies outscore opponents by 59 points in the fourth quarter this year. Call it a slow start or give credit to Sumlin and his staff for the necessary adjustments. Either way, understand that Hill can keep the Aggies in the game before adjustments are made.

Expect this one to be close through three quarters and change, but when push comes to shove, the better coaching staff—and arguably, the better quarterback—wins out.

Prediction: Aggies 35, Bulldogs 30

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

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

For only the second time since the start of the 2011 season, Notre Dame is listed as an underdog at home.

Perhaps it has to do with the fact No. 14 Stanford touts the nation's top defense. Or maybe it is simply a distrust of a young Notre Dame team that was rather sloppy in its last contest. That, and perhaps the notion that David Shaw would not allow his team to drop its second game of the season and ruin playoff aspirations so early.

Regardless, Brian Kelly's ninth-ranked Fighting Irish face their stiffest test to date as whispers of playoff hopes begin to mount. The team has blown through its schedule to date and is leagues ahead of where most thought it would be by this time, only heightening the importance of the showdown.

The 29th battle for the Legends Trophy comes with more implications than ever before thanks to the playoff. As far as must-see action goes Saturday, two old foes take the crown.

 

Points Premium Personified

It is rather cut and dry. Stanford's defense is best in the nation thanks to all of 6.5 points surrendered per game. Notre Dame comes in at No. 4 thanks to 11.5. Neither team has allowed an opponent to score more than 17 points.

All things considered, the Fighting Irish had a rather simplistic schedule, especially now that Michigan has been exposed as a fraud. Still, limiting the Wolverines to no points is an achievement.

Conversely, the Cardinal have had a tougher go of it, losing to USC but only surrendering 13 points. They allowed the same number last week in Washington, albeit in a sloppy win that was supposed to act as a warm-up for Saturday's showdown.

Notre Dame will lean on senior signal-caller Everett Golson for production. Through four games, he is completing nearly 70 percent of his passes for 1,142 yards and 11 touchdowns to two interceptions. His receivers, such as Amir Carlisle, have proven elite, but Stanford possesses a defense that routinely nullifies advantages at skill positions.

To overcome a defense that has allowed just two touchdowns and opponents three trips into its red zone, Golson will need to overcome another past demon—his erratic play in big games. Stanford defensive coordinator Lance Anderson offered some lofty praise of the quarterback who was benched when the rivals met two years ago, as captured by Stewart Mandel of FoxSports.com:

When we played him before, he was a very athletic quarterback, he made a lot of plays running around, and he’s always had a strong arm. He has a cannon. What I’ve seen on film, not only is he making plays running around, not only does he have a strong arm, but he’s improved his accuracy a lot. He’s an all-around threat.

On the flip side, senior Cardinal quarterback Kevin Hogan will look to remain composed on the road one week removed from throwing for just 178 yards with a touchdown and an interception.

His production will largely hinge on the surprising backfield trio of Barry Sanders, Remound Wright and Kelsey Young, names who each average better than five yards per carry. A strong defense should provide some cushion, but at Notre Dame, while outmatched at skill positions, the Cardinal offense will need to be much better than last week's 20-point showing.

 

Mistake-Free Football…

…Is one of those cliche terms coaches and athletes are told by professionals in suits to say before and after a game to appease the media.

Saturday, the trope means everything.

Stanford struggled to upend Washington last week, a team that had serious issues getting past Hawaii and Eastern Washington. Not only did Hogan bumble his way through the contest, the offense as a whole ran up a 3-of-12 mark on third down and turned the ball over three times. The team committed eight penalties that cost it 85 yards.

Considering the defense still held the Huskies to 179 total yards and a 2.1 per-carry average, it should go without saying that if Shaw's team can clean up its act, it will be a close game Saturday.

Notre Dame was not as sloppy against Syracuse, but the team did get flagged eight times for 80 yards, and Golson tossed a pair of interceptions. Kelly seems to understand that his team is young and prone for a letdown, and a few critical errors will not cut it against the Cardinal.

"We are not an experienced group and if we sway too far from working on getting out of our breaks and taking a direct snap, because we may fumble it, we're going to be in trouble," he said, per The Associated Press, via ESPN.com. "So that's where I really have to stay as a task master when it comes to those details."

In a pairing of familiar foes and elite defenses, even a single mistake can decide the outcome Saturday.

 

When: Saturday, October 4, 3:30 p.m. ET

Where: Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Indiana

Television: NBC

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 44.5
  • Spread: Stanford (-1.5)

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports via USA Today.

 

Prediction

It is becoming more difficult by the week to trust this Stanford team.

A home loss to USC should have never occurred, nor should struggles against a questionable Washington team. Elite defense or not, a trip to South Bend does not bode well—and that is before taking into consideration the litany of mistakes that have plagued the team to date.

Notre Dame is inexperienced, sure. It would be iffy to suggest that Golson can overwhelm a great Cardinal defense, but he is dynamic enough and surrounded by a strong complement of weapons to push this one in his team's favor.

It certainly will not be pretty, but the Fighting Irish are better balanced and explosive.

Prediction: Fighting Irish 21, Cardinal 17

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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

The 48th edition of the Tiger Bowl between LSU and Auburn could not have bigger implications, as both teams look to secure solid footing in the SEC before season-defining stretches.

No. 5 Auburn is on the hunt to repeat as SEC champs and snap a three-game losing streak to LSU, the only team to upend Gus Malzahn's team a season ago.

The 15th-ranked Tigers already have a loss on the season's resume, but coach Les Miles and his staff seem to believe they have found a remedy to the team's issues in freshman quarterback Brandon Harris.

In a late duel between defensive stalwarts, season aspirations will be extended or crushed in emphatic fashion. As some would tout, it is set to be just another wild Saturday in SEC land.

 

Ground Wars

Both Tigers in action Saturday in Auburn have gaudy statistics on the defensive side of things.

The home side ranks No. 15 overall with an average of just 16.3 points per game allowed, while the visitors are even better at No. 6 with an average of 13.

That said, both can struggle against the run, which in turn opens up secondaries to exposure through the air.

LSU knows a lot about this topic. In a 34-29 loss to Mississippi State two games ago, Miles' side allowed a staggering 302 total rushing yards. In a four-point win to start the season, the team was gashed by Wisconsin to the tune of 268 rushing yards on a 6.9 per-carry average to go with three scores.

That shaky ground defense against good teams is troublesome, especially against an Auburn offense that can replicate the attack Mississippi State brought to the table. Malzahn's team ranks among the top 20 rushing squads thanks to a read-option attack with quarterback Nick Marshall and back Cameron Artis-Payne, among others:

Along those same lines, Auburn can struggle at times against the rush. On just 29 carries, Arkansas ran up 153 yards, and even Louisiana Tech found room for 105 yards.

LSU certainly has a pair of backs who can exploit an up-and-down defense. Leonard Fournette and his 322 yards and four scores is the star of the show, but Kenny Hilliard is right behind with 298 yards and four scores of his own.

In a predictable, entertaining matter, whichever team can impose its will on the ground figures to leave Saturday still on the warpath toward greater aspirations.

 

The Wild Card

It probably took longer than it should have, but Miles has made a change under center, placing his faith in the freshman Harris.

Harris, who entered LSU's last game against New Mexico State after a dreadful beginning from Anthony Jennings, posted an 11-of-14 line for 178 yards and three touchdowns. He also ran for two scores. The week prior, in that eventual loss to Mississippi State, Harris entered to provide a spark and went 6-of-9 for 140 yards and two touchdowns.

LSU has now scored touchdowns on 12 of the last 15 possessions Harris has been under center.

"Absolutely, (we're) not looking past this one (performance)," Miles said, per Jim Kleinpeter of NOLA.com. "Seven straight scoring drives, he did the things we asked him to do, no turnovers, operated the offense very effectively."

The problem is, there is a world of difference for Harris Saturday. It is the freshman's first career start, not to mention at night in front of a national audience against one of the best teams in the nation.

Should Harris stay composed and his ground game keep the Auburn defense honest, he has two elite receivers to utilize against a shaky secondary. Travin Dural already has himself 534 yards and five touchdowns on the year, while Malachi Dupre (197 yards and four scores on nine receptions) is slowly becoming Harris' go-to receiver, as illustrated by Randy Rosetta of NOLA.com:

Of course, the inverse is always true. Harris could play like a freshman in a less-than-ideal situation, turn the ball over a few times and further complicate the quarterback controversy.

No pressure.

 

When: Saturday, October 4, 7:00 p.m. ET

Where: Jordan-Hare Stadium, Auburn, Alabama

Television: ESPN

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 56.5
  • Spread: Auburn (-7.5)

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports via USA Today.

 

Prediction

Revenge is quite the motivator, but so is a season-defining win before a wicked stretch that includes Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Texas A&M, Georgia and Alabama.

In short, Auburn cannot afford to drop this one.

By all accounts, the home team should come out on top. The crux of Malzahn's attack is rushing the football in a creative, brutal manner, something LSU clearly struggles with this season. Harris has the sheer talent to make this one competitive, but a few freshman mistakes mean the ball resides in Auburn's hands just long enough to secure the win.

Prediction: Auburn 34, LSU 31

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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

Everything known about No. 3 Alabama either goes out the window or is dramatically reinforced Saturday when the Crimson Tide visit No. 11 Ole Miss.

As this year's SEC West continues to flirt with being the best in history—six of the seven teams enter the weekend ranked 15th or higher—Saturday marks the first serious test for a new-look Crimson Tide team as well as arguably one of the biggest home games in school history for the undefeated Rebels.

Given the elite form of both teams and the surefire ripple effect the outcome will have on them as they dive deeper into the conference schedule, it goes without saying that this is one of the top overall matchups of the season.

 

Full Stride

The biggest question for Alabama entering the season resided under center, but it took all of four games for dual-threat senior Blake Sims to pull away from Jake Coker.

Slowly but surely, Sims has improved at a steady pace, with his best performance of all coming against the toughest opposition:

Behind the arm and legs of Sims, the Crimson Tide average 42 points per game, and they rank No. 4 in the nation with an average of 594.3 yards per game and No. 5 overall in yards per play at 7.62. A 42-21 rout of a strong Florida defense was enough to put a halt to any lingering questions.

For a week, at least.

Ole Miss happens to butter its bread on the defensive side of the football, ranking third in the nation with an average of just 8.5 points per game surrendered. The unit allows just 248.0 yards per game and 3.74 yards per play. 

Hugh Freeze's defense held Boise State to just 13 points before the explosive Broncos went on to score 34 or more in each of their next three games. Vanderbilt scored three. Louisiana-Lafayette dropped all of 15. Memphis scored three despite still averaging 34.3 points per game through four contests.

The unit, led by standouts such as defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche and safety Tony Conner, certainly has the talent to shut down the Crimson Tide if it can rattle Sims with the help of the crowd, forcing Nick Saban's side into a one-dimensional attack with backs Derrick Henry (320 yards, two touchdowns on six yards per carry) and T.J. Yeldon (284 yards, two touchdowns on five yards per carry).

A recipe is there. All that remains is proper execution.

 

Trash Talk and Weak Points 

Due to an elite defense and the best start in school history since 1970, the Rebels ride into Saturday's game confident.

Just ask defensive back Cody Prewitt, who had some choice words about the matchup when speaking to FoxSports.com's Brandon Speck:

We understand that we haven't played a team that's going to be as good as Bama. But we don't really think Bama is as good as they have been. And we're better than we have been. We're looking forward to getting to the game plan and really nailing down all the tweaks and stuff that we're going to have to put into Bama.

Bulletin board material was the last thing the Crimson Tide needed, but they get it anyway. 

All banter between two dominant teams aside, an underrated element of the contest is certainly flying greatly under the radar at the moment—special teams.

As ESPN Stats & Information points out, both teams sport two of the worst units not just in the SEC but in the nation overall. Per the research, the "Tide's contributes minus-2.79 points per game towards their winning margin while the Rebels' contributes minus-1.83."

Among other things, a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by West Virginia recently shows the issues the Crimson Tide have in this area. It is yet another facet that may hurt the team on the road against a credible opponent although the pendulum certainly swings both ways.

 

When: Saturday, October 4, 3:30 p.m. ET

Where: Vaught-Hemingway Stadium at Hollingsworth Field, Oxford, Mississippi

Television: CBS

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 51
  • Spread: Alabama (-7)

 

Team Injury Reports

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

 

Prediction

The last time Ole Miss beat Alabama was back in 2003 when a guy by the name of Eli Manning was under center.

This year, the man is Bo Wallace. The senior does complete 71 percent of his passes, but he already has an alarming six interceptions in four games despite the rather weak schedule, four shy of his total from the entirety of the 2013 season.

Much of the blame rests on the iffy play of the offensive line, which has allowed a wealth of pressure and surrendered 29 tackles for loss so far.

Against Alabama, that simply will not cut it. The Crimson Tide defense may have a new cast of names in place compared to last season, but the unit still gives up just 14 points per game, good for No. 9 overall.

The propensity for Sims to get rattled is certainly there, but between turnovers and leaky play on special teams, the Crimson Tide will have plenty of opportunities to put this one away in emphatic fashion.

Prediction: Crimson Tide 28, Rebels 17

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Brady Hoke a Symptom of a Much Bigger Problem at Michigan

In the 1960s, college students protested Vietnam. In the '80s, they protested to free Nelson Mandela. This week, Michigan fans protested because their football team is really, really bad. They believe it's not living up to the style and substance of those great teams of Michigan's past, which qualifies as a societal issue.   

When it comes to Michigan football, the administrators, fans and even the media are serving self-interests by seriously piling on to failed coach Brady Hoke. He is the world's easiest scapegoat.

But here is one thing I know for sure: Hoke is not the problem at Michigan.

Blaming Hoke is like blaming your flu on the sniffles. And what started with blaming him for losses has turned into painting him as a monster for leaving quarterback Shane Morris in the game Saturday for a play, and then for another one later, when he had a concussion.

Hoke is not a monster. Most likely, it was ineptitude at not knowing what was wrong with his quarterback. At worst, Hoke is a neanderthal, wanting a kid to tough-out a brain injury.

Michigan wanted a neanderthal when it hired Hoke. That was the point. That was the problem. Michigan is stuck in the past, in Bo Schembechler's time. It doesn't know how to move forward. In fact, it doesn't even want to. And that mentality has buried Michigan football.

Instead of blaming Hoke for being exactly what Michigan wanted him to be, Michigan should be asking itself what made it want Fred Flintstone to coach its team in the first place.

Hoke is bringing down Michigan football? Please. How do you explain why Michigan was falling for five years before he arrived? Everyone wants to isolate Hoke, scapegoat him. Athletic director Dave Brandon, known for loving the spotlight, slipped out of it for a few days after Saturday's game, making sure it could all fall on Hoke, the coach he selected. The media have focused on him because they are desperate to sound tough about something and it's easy to talk tough when everyone else is saying the same thing. And the rest of Michigan's fans, support, power?

Well, they can blame Hoke or they can blame their belief system.

The real story here isn't Hoke, but Michigan, which always thought it was above this sort of collapse. It happened at Nebraska, USC, other places. But Michigan was doing it the right way with the right kids, at a special place. Their spot on the mountaintop was permanent.

Yet with that belief, that history and incredible facilities, Michigan has found a way to make itself obsolete.

Sure, Hoke will be fired. He should be. But if Michigan wants to make real progress, it needs to fire someone else:

The Michigan Man.

In 1989, when Michigan basketball coach Bill Frieder told Schembechler, who was then the athletic director, that he was leaving after the NCAA Tournament for Arizona State, Schembechler told him to leave now. He wasn't going to have someone who isn't a "Michigan Man" coach his team. Steve Fisher then stepped in to lead the team to the national championship.

Michigan Man has come to represent an ideal about tough play, high morals, hard work, doing things the right way. And winning. Michigan has won more football games than any other program in the country. But the Michigan Man hasn't evolved.

Football has.

You've seen those posters showing shadowy characters through evolution? The progression ends with the shadow of modern man with a cellphone stuck to his ear or something. Michigan Man is still dragging his knuckles.

The rally on campus Tuesday drew about 1,000 people according to the Ann Arbor News. They were calling for Brandon to be fired. Student Alex Hartley told the Detroit Free-Press, "I grew up a Michigan fan. Ever since (Brandon) took over, he has changed tradition to get more money."

Welcome to the 2014, kid.

Student Craig Kaplan told ESPN that "It makes me upset how students have been handled and how the culture at Michigan has changed."

You find that there is a call for Michigan to change back. That is the wrong direction.

Michigan tried to move the right way when it hired Rich Rodriguez. He wasn't Michigan Man, but instead Modern Man.

Michigan wasn't ready for his newfangled hurryup spread offense and rejected him from the minute he arrived. Rodriguez told me last year that he was undermined by the old guard because he wasn't a "Michigan Man." Rodriguez, now a successful head coach at Arizona, made a face and said that in a funny, sarcastic voice.

The feeling was that Rodriguez would never win at Michigan. So he was fired after winning 3 games, then 5, then 7. Now, his offense is the trend in college football and other coaches come to him for advice on how to run it.

Michigan brought in Hoke, the tough guy, former assistant under Michigan coach Lloyd Carr. Hoke derisively called rival Ohio State "Ohio" and called Notre Dame "chicken" for dropping their series. He talked about the tradition of Michigan, and smashmouth football.

He was a caricature of the Michigan Man. That's what fans were buying, so that's what Michigan was selling.

When Michigan looks for a new coach next year, whoever is doing the looking, it needs to open up the model. Forget the Michigan Man, or let him evolve. Realize that most high school star players around the country have no interest in what Michigan stands for or who played there.

They care only about playing in the NFL. Michigan hasn't been getting players there lately.

It's not easy to hold on to the past while moving forward. Nebraska is still fighting that. Notre Dame almost buried itself trying to live in the past. When it hired Charlie Weis, a former Notre Dame student, it fell so deeply in love with its past that it gave Weis a 10-year contract.

Then Notre Dame found Brian Kelly, a good coach who fit enough into Notre Dame's traditional identity, but was doing things his own way.

Michigan needs to find its own Brian Kelly. When you have all the money and all the facilities in the world, you can always find a way. Michigan still has time before it's history.

 

Greg Couch covers college football for Bleacher Report. He also writes for The New York Times and was formerly a scribe for FoxSports.com and the Chicago Sun-Times.

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Which Pac-12 Teams Could Play Spoiler to the Conference's Playoff Hopefuls

Even at the dawn of October, the Pac-12's list of playoff hopefuls is significantly smaller than when the season started. Fresh slates no longer exist, and most teams with a loss on the resume have already seen any dreams of championship glory fade away.

Those teams can still have as big of an impact as anyone in the race to the playoff, though. The only teams with any real shot of reaching the four-team final act are Oregon, UCLA, Stanford and USC. The Cardinal and Trojans are at a disadvantage with losses to their names, but the talent is there and should everything come together, the top four is still within reach.

Other one-loss teams throughout the conference don't have the same potential, and Arizona—while undefeated—has a difficult road ahead to keep the unblemished record. We'll find out Thursday whether the Wildcats are for real.

So if we accept that the Ducks, Bruins, Cardinal and Trojans are the only teams remaining with a legitimate shot at the playoff, which teams have the best chance to ruin dreams in the final two months of the season?

Let's take a look at five teams with the best chance to play spoiler to the Pac-12's playoff hopefuls.

 

All stats via cfbstats.com.

Begin Slideshow

How Devin Gardner Can Put Michigan on the Right Path Again

Devin Gardner will be the starting quarterback when Michigan travels to play Rutgers on Saturday night. He gets the nod after relieving Shane Morris, who was knocked out of last week’s game.

It’s a shot at redemption for a player who now has a chance to rescue his team, his coach and his legacy. Under intense pressure to save his job, head coach Brady Hoke needs his fifth-year senior quarterback to play well now more than ever before.

Michigan football remains in turmoil for its mishandling of Morris’ multiple injuries versus Minnesota. According to Yahoo Sports' Graham Watson, fans have called for both Hoke and athletic director David Brandon to lose their jobs.

Gardner has the physical talent to be a great quarterback—he’s a tough, versatile player with a strong throwing arm and no fear of running the ball. Howevr, his decision-making under pressure has been suspect.

Here’s how CBSSports.com's Dane Brugler evaluated his pro prospects prior to the season:

WEAKNESSES: Upper and lower body mechanics are a mess and he often releases while off-balance, causing his ball placement to end up all over the place. He holds the ball too long and has struggled in the past with anticipating the rush and not recognizing his keys to find favorable match-ups downfield.

Poise and pocket presence is lacking at this point and he needs to do a better job working around the noise while keeping his eyes downfield.

His play this season reinforced the notion that he’s a talented but flawed player. After losing his job to Morris, it appeared that Gardner wouldn’t have a chance to prove his critics wrong.

Now, while facing the greatest pressure and most intense scrutiny of his career, Gardner has a chance to rewrite the script. Michigan’s fade has moved beyond the sports page, and the spotlight is on Gardner.

Here is what he needs to do to rally his team and get the season back on track.


Take Care of the Football

Gardner tends to overestimate his arm strength and accuracy. He needs to stop throwing into double coverage and hoping for the best. Part of it is driven by desperation to make a big play when his receivers are covered, but as a senior quarterback, he needs to make better decisions.

The Michigan offense is not nearly good enough to overcome bad turnovers, and that includes when he takes off and doesn’t properly secure the ball.


Stop Locking on Receivers

Gardner has a problem with short passes being intercepted or knocked down. At least two of his interceptions this season were the result of passes being tipped near the line of scrimmage. He simply locks on to his intended receiver immediately and gives the defense a chance to make a big play.

This is a serious flaw in his technique that he needs to overcome.


Settle Down in the Pocket

Gardner needs to show patience in the pocket—a tough trait to display considering the pressure he’s been under behind a suspect offensive line. He needs to move in the pocket and find time for receivers to get open.

Too often, his feet aren’t set and his accuracy suffers as a result.


Maximize the Opportunity

Gardner’s bad habits have grown worse over time. Maybe watching from the sidelines has given him insight on his previous mistakes.

If Gardner’s Twitter presence is any indication, he’s looking forward to the challenge of salvaging this season.

His teammates are hoping he’s up to the task.

 

Phil Callihan is a featured writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations obtained firsthand.

Follow @PSCallihan

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Texas Football: Longhorns Defense Holds Key to Upsetting Baylor Bears

When Texas defensive coordinator Vance Bedford was asked if Baylor's offense scares him to death or fires him up, his answer was both.

"I have had sleepless nights and restless days trying to figure out how to slow them down," Bedford said. "I've looked at every video from this year and last, and nobody has really slowed them down."

Bedford admitted that the only thing that slowed down Baylor's offense was cold weather in 2013. However, the coach doesn't have the power to bring that to Austin Saturday afternoon.

What he does have is a talented defense that is still angry about losing the Big 12 Championship to the Bears last season.

Since quarterback Tyrone Swoopes was named the starter, the Longhorns offense has only averaged 15.6 points per game. Meanwhile, Baylor is averaging a whopping 56.7 points against opponents.

But considering the offense has struggled to get into the end zone, the pressure will be on the defense to hold Baylor to limited points in order for the Longhorns to have a chance at pulling off an upset.

Game-planning for Baylor's offense has not been an easy task for Bedford and the Texas defense. The Bears have a variety of impact players on the roster and a quarterback who does not make many mistakes.

But one of the biggest factors that plays to Baylor's offensive success is the fast tempo of the game.

"When an offense is going fast, sometimes it's hard to see who's lined up where. That's a concern," Bedford said. "[Bryce Petty] hasn't been sacked this year. The ball is out that fast. I don't know how to get to the guy. We were watching video today and all I can do is just shake my head. We might as well not rush anybody and drop everyone and hope he gets tired and takes a knee."

Baylor would pose a threat to any defense in the nation. It would take an enormous performance to shut down Petty and the Bears offense.

No opponent has stepped up to the challenge thus far.

With that said, Baylor has not faced a defense with the amount of talent that the Longhorns' unit has. The defense is also still holding on to the fact that it was 30 minutes away from winning the Big 12 Championship against the Bears last season.

"That's something you never forget," safety Mykkele Thompson said of losing the Big 12 title and a Fiesta Bowl bid last season. "You just try throughout this week to work hard to make sure you have an opportunity to change that."

The Longhorns understand that a shutout is likely not possible. The team is not preparing for that scenario.

What it is working toward is limiting the number of points Baylor's offense puts up on the board.

When outsiders look at the stat sheet, they may think the Texas defense has struggled more often than not in the first four games of the season, which is simply wrong.

The Longhorns defense played one bad quarter in four games—the third quarter against BYU. Texas gave up a few big plays against UCLA, but overall the defense has not been the issue this season.

The trend is moving more in favor of a stout defense. However, will it move quickly enough to contain the almighty Baylor offense?

"We are making strides. We're headed in the right direction. We're taking baby-steps. But the only thing about the baby steps we are taking is we are going to run into a buzz saw. You wish we were playing Podunk U, but we're not. We're playing Baylor University, who is leading the entire country in offense," Bedford said. "You don't want to take baby steps against that opponent."

Nobody is giving Texas the benefit of the doubt against Baylor, including the experts in Las Vegas.

Head coach Charlie Strong was not surprised to hear his Longhorns were an underdog to the Baylor Bears. However, he was taken back when he heard how little faith Vegas has in his team.

"Wow, they're something," said Strong, who couldn't help but laugh at how significant the spread was. "But you know what, they deserve every bit of it."

According to Odds Shark, the opening spread listed Baylor as a 13-point favorite over Texas.

The number has gradually moved further in favor of the Bears, and Bedford tends to agree with the larger spread.

"Somebody told me we were a 14-point underdog. I'd give them 21 points," Bedford said. "If it were up to me, I don't even know if I would want to show up for the game. I just want to wave a white flag and surrender. You talk about not sleeping and not eating, trying to defend these guys will do it all to you."

But does anyone believe Bedford, who played football for the University of Texas, is actually going to wave a white flag to Baylor?

Absolutely not.

There may not be an exact recipe to shut down Baylor's offense, but thinking Bedford and Strong are willing to surrender is naive.

These are two of the best defensive minds in college football. They may not have the talent of years past, but they are going to do all they can to find the right game plan to withstand the Bears.

However, it will be up to the players to step up to the challenge.

"As a defense we see it as a challenge. They're going to come into our house and try and put points up on us," linebacker Jordan Hicks said. "We're going to take that into consideration this week and make sure that we're doing everything that we can to make sure that doesn't happen."

 

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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NCAA College Football Picks: Week 6 Against the Spread

This week, the football fun kicks into another gear.

A whopping six games will be played between top 25 teams—each of them interconference matchups.

Better yet? Each one makes the cut for this installment of picks! You’re welcome!

Let the good times roll, with lines via CoopersPick.com:

  

No. 3 Alabama vs. No. 11 Ole Miss

Betting Odds: Alabama -5.5

Alabama has the nation’s ninth-ranked defense to go with a very solid and balanced offense, yet the team has only covered the spread once this season. The Rebels have played a weaker schedule, but their D ranks third and can throw the pigskin around with the best of them.

The road team has covered the spread in five of its last six games between these two SEC rivals.

Pick Against the Spread: Ole Miss is a good team...but not Alabama good. Even on the road, expect the Tide to roll.

 

No. 4 Oklahoma vs. No. 20 TCU

Betting Odds: Oklahoma -4.5

The Sooners got their first Big 12 win last week but did give up 33 points in doing so. TCU has played weaker opponents, but a defense that ranks second in the nation and only gives up seven points per game is nothing to sneeze at. TCU won its last game against SMU 56-0.

OU is 5-0 ATS in its last five road games, and TCU is only 4-9 ATS in its last 13 home games.

Pick Against the Spread: The Horned Frogs' D will finally be put to the test...one that OU will pass. Go with the Sooners to win and cover.

 

No. 15 LSU vs. No. 5 Auburn

Betting Odds: Auburn -8

LSU did beat a ranked Wisconsin team in the season opener, but a loss to Mississippi State in conference play has the Tigers at 0-1 in the SEC. A loss to Auburn, and they're likely out of the College Football Playoff picture. They may have the sixth-ranked defense, but in their two games facing solid teams in Wisconsin and MSU, they gave up a combined 58 points. Now they have to contain Auburn and its rushing attack, with dual threats in RB Cameron Artis-Payne and QB Nick Marshall.

Auburn is 5-1-1 ATS in its last seven home games against LSU.

Pick Against the Spread: The Tigers will absolutely win—guaranteed (a little mascot joke there...tough crowd). Take Auburn, even with the points. 

 

No. 6 Texas A&M vs. No. 12 Mississippi State

Betting Odds: Texas A&M -1

The Bulldogs are undefeated, and they not only beat a Top 10 LSU team in their last game, but they have had two weeks to prepare for this big game. Meanwhile, Texas A&M needed overtime to beat Arkansas, where it gave up 28 points. Aggies QB Kenny Hill leads the fifth-ranked passing offense and for the season, he already has 17 TD and only 2 INT.

Mississippi State is 4-1 ATS in its last five home games, and Texas A&M is 1-4 ATS in the last five games facing a team with a winning record.

Pick Against the Spread: It'll be close, but MSU will prevail.

 

No. 14 Stanford vs. No. 9 Notre Dame

Betting Odds: Stanford -1

Stanford handed Washington its first loss of the season last week and while the Cardinal offense is decent, the team wins behind the nation's top-ranked defense. Notre Dame's D unit isn't too shabby either, ranking fourth, with a balanced offensive attack to boot. Last season at Stanford, the Cardinal beat the Fighting Irish 27-20.

The road team is 4-1 ATS in the last five games between them, and Stanford is 20-7-1 ATS in its last 28 road games.

Pick Against the Spread: Should be another nail-biter, but take the Cardinal to out-Catholic the Fighting Irish in a win and cover. 

 

No. 19 Nebraska vs. No. 10 Michigan State

Betting Odds: Michigan State -9.5

The Spartans' only loss this season came against Oregon, while their three wins were all in blowout fashion, admittedly facing much weaker teams. They are the nation’s third highest-scoring team, averaging a staggering 50.3 ppg. At 5-0, the Cornhuskers are working on bringing back the glory days of Tom Osborne's dominant squads, and Ameer Abdullah leads a rushing attack that ranks third in the country. He's fresh off two consecutive games over 200 yards on the ground.

Nebraska is 5-0 ATS in its last five road games and 5-1 ATS in its last six against Michigan State.

Pick Against the Spread: MSU might win, but Nebraska will keep it close and cover the 9.5-point spread.

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Georgia Football: Do the Bulldogs Need to Become a More Balanced Offensive Team?

October is a crucial month for the Bulldogs. They have three SEC games coming up, and they can’t afford to lose another game or their dream of playing the Georgia Dome in December could come to an end.

One of the key reasons the Bulldogs are 3-1 and still control their own destiny in the SEC is they have no issues scoring points. They are averaging 45 points per game, and the reason for that is the running game has been outstanding. The Bulldogs are averaging 300 yards per game thanks to the running of Todd Gurley, who has half of those yards.

It’s great the Bulldogs are able to run the ball well, but they are at the bottom of the conference in passing, averaging 162 passing yards per game.

So do the Bulldogs need to be a more balanced team on offense?

It would certainly help their cause of being a dominant team in the SEC. The way things are shaping up now is the SEC West is far superior than the SEC East, and the reason for that is what those teams can do on offense. The best example is Alabama. The Crimson Tide are fifth in the SEC in rushing offense (258 yards per game), and they are second in the SEC in passing offense (335 yards per game).

The Bulldogs are having tons of success running with guys like Gurley, Nick Chubb and Sony Michel (who has a shoulder injury), but making opposing defenses worry about the passing game will make the Bulldogs more dangerous.

Despite having experience before this year, Mason is still a first-year starter, and he’s still learning how to play in the SEC. That’s part of the reason why he is not having the numbers he would like to have. But when the Bulldogs have a player like Gurley in the backfield, he’s going to be the central focus on the offense and not Mason.

When the Bulldogs went to the SEC title game in 2012 and nearly made it to the BCS National Championship, they were as balanced on offense as any team in the country. The Bulldogs were fourth in the conference is passing yards per game (285), and they were also fourth in the conference in rushing yards per game (182) when the Bulldogs had Aaron Murray in his third year as a starter and Gurley in his first.

The biggest thing for the Bulldogs when it comes to Mason and the passing game is they need to be more aggressive. They need to throw the ball downfield more like Murray during his career in Athens.

Mason told Chip Towers of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he has put too much pressure on himself, and he’s trying to get everything right. He went on to say that he needs to take more chances and just let it rip.

The Bulldogs will get a boost when it comes to the passing game as Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley will make their return to the lineup for the first time this season. Both players suffered knee injuries last year, and they both provide deep threats for Mason and the offense.

Mark Richt defends QB Hutson Mason on call-in show by saying WR Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley will help in downfield passing.

— Marc Weiszer (@marcweiszer) September 30, 2014

Gurley and the run game should be the central focus on offense because the Bulldogs' top priority on offense is to run the ball first and throw off of play action. But if they want to win the SEC East and the SEC, they have to be the offense they were in 2012 where they could run and throw on anybody at any given time.

 

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UCLA Football: What Bruins Must Do to Avoid Letdown Before Oregon Game

Expectations for Jim Mora and the No. 8 UCLA Bruins are incredibly high. After demolishing Arizona State last week, many people have seemingly jumped back onto the Bruins bandwagon after a slow start to the season. 

For a program languishing in mediocrity before Mora's arrival, this is foreign territory. UCLA hasn't been considered a top-10 team since the days of DeShaun Foster and Cade McNown (aside from a brief time in 2005). 

With expectations come pressure and, thus, a potentially inflated ego. A younger team (such as UCLA) could be more susceptible to losing a game it shouldn't.

"Trap games" also seemingly pop up at the most inopportune moments. UCLA potentially faces one this weekend, as it hosts a stingy Utah team.

Why is this a dangerous game?

The following week, UCLA will host No. 2 Oregon Ducks in Pasadena, California. If both the Ducks and Bruins can remain undefeated, next week's contest will likely be the most significant game at the Rose Bowl involving UCLA in over a decade.

Kyle Whittingham's team enters the contest having lost a tough game last week to Washington State. The Cougars outscored the Utes 28-6 after the first quarter, narrowly winning the game by a point.

After the big win over Michigan in Ann Arbor, this was a difficult defeat to swallow. 

Make no mistake, Utah is a talented team. Dres Anderson is one of the best wide receivers in the Pac-12 Conference. The special teams unit is potentially the best in the country. The kicking duo of Tom Hackett and Andy Phillips is excellent, and returner Kaelin Clay has already scored four touchdowns on kick and punt returns. 

Defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake is also adept at bringing pressure in creative and exotic ways. As Mora told Kyle Goon and Matt Piper of The Salt Lake Tribune, "This is an outstanding defense. They actually use their linebackers well to get pressure. What they do is kind of simple, but also difficult because of their speed and decisiveness."

Utah doesn't have the "sexy" appeal of an Oregon or Southern Cal. Nonetheless, the Utes are a very respectable opponent. 

In terms of a schematic standpoint, this piece will address areas in which UCLA can avoid a letdown before a potentially colossal affair the following week. 

 

Make Travis Wilson Uncomfortable

Utah's signal-caller isn't the most accurate quarterback. His shaky footwork and funky release directly correlate with a 58.3 percent completion rate on the year. Although he's thrown seven touchdowns and no interceptions, the Utah offense has sputtered in recent weeks. 

The Utes were able to score only one offensive touchdown in each of the past two games. Much of the scoring output has come from the special teams and defense. Against Washington State, Wilson went 18-of-38 for 165 yards. 

Wilson gets into trouble when he tries to force things down the field. It appears he has improved in the area—as evidenced by not throwing an interception to date this season. 

Against UCLA a year ago, he threw six interceptions. The Bruins brought pressure early and often against the signal-caller. Wilson got flustered in the pocket, and it contributed to poor throws. 

UCLA hopes it can recreate the same scenario again on Saturday night. 

 

Stop The Run

Utah running back Devontae Booker leads Utah in rushing with 357 yards and three touchdowns. He's a physical runner with impressive breakaway speed. 

UCLA will have to bottle up the talented back. The Bruins' best shot at victory is slowing the run, while having Wilson try to beat them with his arm. The strength of Utah's offensive line appears to be in regards to its run-blocking capabilities. 

In terms of pass protection, it's a different story. Wilson was constantly badgered by pressure last week when he attempted to drop back and throw the football down the field. Utah's offensive line is massive but not overly athletic or mobile. 

This bodes well for the likes of UCLA edge-rushers Deon Hollins, Owamagbe Odighizuwa and Takk McKinley. 

Should Booker sustain success rushing the football, it will take pressure off Wilson. It will also open things down the field for Anderson, Clay and Kenneth Scott. 

 

Control Kaelin Clay

With Utah's offensive struggles in recent weeks, the electric returner out of Long Beach has given the team multiple shots in the arm—via four touchdown returns on punts and kickoffs. Not only does it give Utah points, but these awesome displays of athleticism also boost the team's morale considerably. 

Per Jack Wang of the Los Angeles Daily News, UCLA will kick to Clay. As Mora said, "We kick off to whoever. We have one of the best kickoff coverage units in college football. We have not given up a single yard yet in four games on a punt return." 

UCLA does possess impressive statistics when it comes to defending against kicks. However, it still has to be very cognizant of Clay's return ability. 

There are many signs that point to this being a potentially tough game for UCLA. Utah is a well-coached football team. It will certainly be wanting to atone for the loss last weekend. 

However, this UCLA team appears to be on a mission. I expect Brett Hundley to have another great game, taking advantage of a thin and injured Utah secondary. I also believe UCLA's pass rush will get some production versus the Utes offensive line. 

When speaking about the potential for "looking ahead" to Oregon, Mora said, via Piper and Goon: "It's a week-to-week proposition. This week we're playing a team that had a tremendous win last time they went on the road. If you talk about not overlooking guys, it can get into players' heads and be kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy. For us, it's about trying to play up to our standard."

If the players possess the same sort of mindset as their head coach, UCLA should be able to avoid any sort of letdown.  

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Clemson Football: Game-by-Game Predictions for the Month of October

The Clemson Tigers are probably glad to see the month of September come to an end. After two disappointing losses to Georgia and Florida State, it’s time to turn the page to a new month. October will provide the opportunity to gain momentum and rhythm with three of the four games at home.

The Tigers will take on North Carolina State Saturday and then the focus will turn to Louisville, Boston College and Syracuse.

Let’s take a look at the predictions.

Begin Slideshow

10 Biggest Questions Facing Top 25 Teams Heading into Week 6

October is here. It's a time for Halloween, way too much pumpkin spice and the real start of conference play in college football.

No conference game feels bigger than Ole Miss hosting Alabama, though Mississippi State and Texas A&M should be a great one, too. A showdown in East Lansing between arguably the two top teams in the Big Ten, Michigan State and Nebraska, caps off the evening.  

Which storylines are the most compelling for Top 25 teams in Week 6? The answers are in the following slides. 

The only criterion here is that one of the teams involved has to rank in either The Associated Press or Amway coaches poll

Begin Slideshow

15 College Football Teams on High Upset Alert in Month of October

October is when the weather begins to turn, and when dream seasons often fall as frequently as the leaves. 

The number of potential upsets this month is astounding, as pretty much every top team faces at least one opponent in October that is able to knock them off their high perch. These aren't the only tough games they'll have over the next 31 days, but they are the ones that might result in a loss if not given proper focus and attention.  

Last October we saw Stanford fall at Utah, Missouri win at Georgia, Texas take down Oklahoma and UCF surprise Louisville, and that's just a few of the upsets. 

For the purposes of this piece, we've set some parameters to determine something as a potential upset. For teams currently ranked in the Associated Press Top 25, games on the road against teams within 10 spots of them in the latest poll wouldn't count but any home loss to a lower-ranked team would. Same goes for any loss to an unranked opponent, home or away. 

For unranked teams, upsets are based on records and location. 

Take a look at which teams need to make sure their upset alert siren is tuned and ready to handle October's potential pitfalls. 

Begin Slideshow

UCLA Football: Bruins O-Line Getting Comfortable in Time for Pac-12 Play

Some may have been reaching for the panic button with the way UCLA's offensive line performed in the three games before the start of Pac-12 play.

Not Bruins offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone. 

After Wednesday's practice at Spaulding Field, Mazzone credited the linemen's growing familiarity and comfort with one another for UCLA's success last week at Arizona State. 

"It's kind of like a girlfriend. Date her long enough and you get to know her good habits and her bad habits," he said. 

OK, so maybe the Bruins offensive line won't be taking one another out for dinner and a movie. But for the first three weeks when the unit was under heavy scrutiny, the linemen were still in the early portion of their getting-to-know-you phase. 

"We keep forgetting that even through [preseason] camp and going into the first couple weeks [of the season], every day it was a different guy at guard or a different guy at center," Mazzone said. 

UCLA faced a rash of injuries across its front five well before facing Virginia in Week 1. Most notably, tackle Simon Goines had to have surgery to remove bone spurs from his ankle and center Jake Brendel hurt his knee. 

Brendel's void was particularly glaring in the season opener, as Virginia routinely brought pressure up the middle to get to quarterback Brett Hundley—which the Cavaliers did five times. 

In contrast, the Bruins surrendered just one sack to Arizona State in last Thursday's 62-27 win. The UCLA offensive line also paved the way for the team's best rushing performance of the season, with 225 yards and 6.4 yards per carry. 

Mazzone said the unit is "starting to jell a little bit," and that extends beyond the typical starters. 

Injuries remain a concern going forward, particularly with guard Alex Redmond coming out of the Arizona State game and his status for this Saturday against Utah being up in the air.

Picking up the slack a week ago was redshirt freshman Kenny Lacy, a product of Phoenix Mountain Pointe High School making his return home for the Pac-12 opener.  

Lacy worked seamlessly with the rest of the line, both in pass protection and as a run-blocker. Lacy said he was particularly pleased with how he picked up assignments. 

"That's something I pride myself on," he said.

The first-year lineman's contribution to the improving unit caught the eye of Mazzone, as well.   

"He came in and did a really nice job," Mazzone said. "I was proud of Kenny." 

The challenge for Lacy and the rest of the Bruins offensive line this week is taking the next step in that developing relationship. Utah comes into the Rose Bowl Saturday night with the second-most sacks in the Pac-12 and the stingiest run defense in the conference. 

The Utes promise to test a UCLA run game that has found its rhythm behind running back Paul Perkins. Perkins surpassed the 100-yard mark in each of the last two games, and the Bruins gained more than 200 yards as a team each contest. 

"We're typically and historically pretty good run defenders," Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said on Tuesday's Pac-12 conference call. 

Indeed, Utah has finished ranked No. 23 nationally or better against the rush in each of its first three seasons since joining the conference in 2011. This year, opponents are averaging just 2.97 yards per carry against the Utes defense.

"If we're going to have a chance to win the ballgame on Saturday, we're going to have to continue to do a good job in that area," Whittingham added.

So how can the UCLA offensive line keep the honeymoon going when faced with a front seven that includes linebacker Jared Norris (6.5 tackles for loss), defensive end Nate Orchard (4.5 sacks) and defensive tackle Clint Shepard (three tackles for loss)?

At least one Bruin has an idea.  

"I plan to play better this week," Lacy said.  

 

No Yellow Light for Hundley 

Hundley's explosiveness outside of the pocket is one driving force behind the UCLA rushing attack. Thursday, despite coming off an elbow injury that required the quarterback to wear a bulky brace, Hundley went for 72 yards on eight carries—one of which culminated with him leaping over a would-be tackler. 

Did Hundley's run make his coaches a little nervous? 

"I closed my eyes," Mazzone said.

Nerves or no, however, the dual-threat playmaker won't get a red or yellow light on improvising as the situation dictates.  

"We weren't going to put him out there unless we felt and he felt he was 100 percent. And that's Brett," Mazzone said. "That's how Brett plays. We wouldn't want him out there if he wasn't playing that way."

 

UCLA Defense Gearing Down for a Slower Tempo 

Uptempo offenses are all the rage around the Pac-12. Just last week, the UCLA defense faced 105 snaps against Arizona State, per UCLABruins.com.

Utah comes into Saturday's affair averaging 30 fewer offensive plays per game, via UtahUtes.com. Though this year's Utes offense plays at a somewhat higher tempo than past Utah teams—the handiwork of coordinator Dave Christensen—this remains one of the slower-paced teams in the conference.

UCLA defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich said after Wednesday's practice that the Bruins' preparation reflects Utah's more methodical style. 

"It's different," he said. "We go all through training camp and you see our offense, they're always on the ball. They're always rolling. It's just super, super fast. So [facing a lower tempo team] it's almost like, what's going on? Why hasn't the ball been snapped?" 

The risk a defense accustomed to playing an uptempo style faces against an offense like Utah's is allowing impatience to dictate actions. Ulbrich said the Bruins defense is adapting to the "different mindset."

Of course, UCLA has had an equalizer that effectively counters any type of offense thus far in 2014: converting turnovers into touchdowns. 

Cornerback Ishmael Adams' 95-yard interception return for a touchdown was the Bruins' fourth defensive touchdown on the year. 

Utah quarterback Travis Wilson has yet to throw a pick this season, but UCLA got him for six last year. 

"We take that into consideration," said defensive back Anthony Jefferson, who intercepted Arizona State quarterback Mike Bercovici last week. "I'm pretty sure [Wilson] is going to want to have a good game this year, so we're going to have to lock it down." 

 

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise cited. Statistics courtesy of CFBstats.com

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What LSU Needs to Do to Shut Down Auburn's Rushing Attack

Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn is college football's most unique offensive mind. 

Malzahn's offensive genius can take over football games. His use of formations, fakes and pre-snap motion all at a rapid pace is unlike any other coach in college football. 

Malzahn's only defeat to SEC opposition has been LSU. The Bayou Bengals jumped out to a 21-0 lead before halftime last season, which was an uphill battle too steep for his team to climb. 

It is highly unlikely for LSU to have the same fast start against Auburn on Saturday. Malzahn's quarterback, Nick Marshall, was rattled early, as it was his first road SEC start. He committed three turnovers in the game, two of which were interceptions. 

Since that performance in Tiger Stadium, Marshall has only thrown three interceptions in Auburn's last 14 games. He became an asset to the Malzahn's system, instead of just an athletic facilitator. The offense has morphed into one of college football's most feared rushing attacks. 

LSU's rushing defense has disintegrated from what it has been in years past. The Tigers have allowed 570 combined rushing yards against Mississippi State and Wisconsin, the only two power-five conference teams they have faced. 

LSU head coach Les Miles was fortunate to come back and beat the Badgers. Miles did not have enough magic to do the same against the Bulldogs. If the rushing defense continues to be as horrid as it has been, the Bayou Bengals will not defeat a team from the SEC West this season. 

Things do not look good for LSU's defense. The defensive tackle play has been the worst under the Miles era, which does not bode well against a gifted Auburn offensive line. 

The best defense is a good offense. LSU true freshman quarterback Brandon Harris will be making his first start on Saturday. Harris must have success to give his defense much-needed rest. 

But what the LSU offense does is out of the defense's control. Here are three keys for defensive coordinator John Chavis' unit to focus on against Auburn. 

 

Efficient Tackling

Auburn has a multitude of playmakers. Marshall is often flanked by either Cameron Artis-Payne or Corey Grant, both of whom are dangerous ball-carriers. 

LSU must not miss tackles in the open field, which has happened far too often this season. 

 

Play Recognition

Diagnosing Malzahn's plays can be as tough as reading Egyptian hieroglyphics. Auburn will bust open some big gains, so LSU needs to not get discouraged.

The key will be limiting explosive plays. Chavis and his staff must make adjustments throughout the game for all of Malzahn's play variations.

 

Crisp Technique

LSU's technique has been inconsistent this season. Blown assignments have been the norm, as has individual technique. It was alarming against Mississippi State, but things could be even worse against Auburn. 

Malzahn's center, Reese Dismukes, anchors an offensive line that washes defensive linemen out of the play. Chavis' defense must be concerned about doing their assignment only. If not, gaping holes will open.

 

Film Study

LSU's only touchdown allowed against New Mexico State was a 79-yard touchdown run. The play is a perfect example of what Malzahn loves to do with his offense. 

Here is how LSU's shutout was prevented. 

New Mexico State is in shotgun formation with three receivers to the left of the formation. After an unsuccessful run on first down, it is likely to think the Aggies will pass. Yet backup quarterback Andrew Allen is in the game, who is more mobile than the starter.

Defensive tackle Lewis Neal (LN), middle linebacker D.J. Welter (DJ) and weak-side linebacker Debo Jones (Debo) are the players to watch. Because of three receivers to the left, Jones is stretched out wide. This means Welter is responsible for a wide space to the left of the formation.

As the ball is snapped, it is clear New Mexico State is running the read-option. To pull Jones further out of the box, the inside slot receiver runs toward the sideline as if he is running a screen. Notice how Jones' first step is toward the sideline. This also essentially pulls the safety, Ronald Martin, to that side, out of the play as well. 

Here is another angle of the play from the end zone. Now that we know Jones is pulled out of the play, this leaves Welter and Neal responsible to cover space on the backside of the formation. 

After the snap, Welter sees what New Mexico State is trying to do. Neal, a recently converted defensive tackle, fires off the ball wildly. The defensive end, Tashawn Bower (DE), is stood up and pushed out wide. This leaves a massive hole on the backside of the formation. 

Welter guesses the running back has the football and runs in that direction. Neal is out of control and takes himself out of the play. Bower is stretched out, which makes the hole even bigger. 

Because Jones and Martin respected the wide receiver screen, there is no safety or linebacker help to cover the hole left by Welter and Neal. It is now a foot race to the end zone.

Bower gives a valiant effort to shoestring tackle Allen. Welter recovers and is now chasing Allen. 

The gap between Allen and Welter increases. Allen eventually reaches paydirt for New Mexico State's only score of the game.

Miles addressed this play at his weekly Monday press conference. 

"The linebacker should have fallen back in that seam and made that tackle. It was a pretty effective play call. Just, again, a mistake, based on not getting the call or based on the player not understanding the call, but we felt like we made improvement in that on the week," said Miles. 

Miles did not clarify if that linebacker should have been Welter or Jones. From this vantage point, it looks to have been Welter's responsibility. Either way, Neal's over-penetration and inability to stay under control also contributed to the touchdown. 

These kinds of touchdowns are the ones Auburn usually capitalizes on and against even the sharpest of defenses. Auburn faced Alabama in last year's Iron Bowl and was victorious. This is how the Tigers struck first against the Crimson Tide with a 45-yard touchdown run by Marshall. 

Auburn is facing a 3rd-and-2. Despite being in a four-wide receiver set with no tight ends, the Crimson Tide know the Tigers are likely to run the football. Running back Tre Mason (TM) is lined up to the left of Marshall (NM), with Ricardo Louis (RL) running in motion from right to left. 

Middle linebacker C.J. Mosley, outside linebacker Adrian Hubbard (AH) and safety Landon Collins (LS) are the key players to watch as this play unfolds. Picture Mosley and LSU's Welter as playing similar roles. 

The first thing to notice after the snap is the impeccable timing of this play. Notice how Louis is directly in front of Marshall and behind the left guard and tackle. This blocks Collins and Mosley's vision to see where exactly the ball is heading. 

Hubbard's job is to keep contain, which means, on this play, to key on the widest player to his side of the formation. Because of Louis' speed, Hubbard is forced to stay even wider than normal. Auburn's offensive line technique is phenomenal everywhere, especially the double team on Jeoffrey Pagan (No. 8) from the left guard and tackle. 

The play has now progressed to the "mesh point," which is where the quarterback must now decide whether to hand the ball off to the running back or keep it. Marshall is a magician at fakes, as he holds the ball to the last second to deceive the defense. Right now, it looks as if Mason will get the ball. 

Mosley has taken a wide step to the left just to see around the double team of Pagan, which leaves a massive hole on the backside of the formation. Marshall saw the outside linebacker, Hubbard, stretched out in the last slide. He now sees a wide lane to run through, which is why he kept the ball. 

Because of the deceptiveness of the fake, Mosley continues his pursuit of an empty-handed Mason. The jet-sweep motion of Louis took Collins out of the frame. Hubbard successfully kept contain, but at the expense of a massive hole and getting sealed off by a receiver. 

It is now a foot race to the end zone for Marshall. 

The play design was for Collins to be unblocked. Dangerous ball-carriers such as Marshall should be able to make defenders miss in the open field. But because Collins was wrong-footed by the chance that Louis would get the ball, he must now recover and chase. 

Marshall's elite speed is too much for Collins. The touchdown ignited Jordan-Hare Stadium. Unfortunately, nothing else happened in this game for the Tigers to be excited about. 

 

Conclusion

The two plays diagrammed above have slightly different variations, but the objective was the same: stretch out the defense with motion to the outside and then fool the defense with read-option. 

Alabama's Mosley suffered the same fate of LSU's Welter. It is impossible to know if either blew an assignment. Coaches instruct players to do different things. Yet the same result happened, which was a massive gap for a quarterback to run for a long touchdown. 

Mosley, Collins and Pagan are all NFL-caliber players. Welter, Neal and Jones are not. They were whipped by a less athletic, freshman quarterback from New Mexico State. Marshall is not only faster than him but more deceptive. 

Welter's supposed error, which he has made in the past, likely prevented LSU from its third shutout of the season, but that is ultimately meaningless. This could turn into a vital teaching tool for the Tigers. Chavis will show the tape of this play to his unit and show why these assignments cannot be blown against Auburn. 

LSU's first-team defensive ends of Jermauria Rasco and Danielle Hunter will need to play big. The Tigers will also need Kwon Alexander, their best linebacker, to make as many tackles as possible. Do not be surprised if Chavis eventually switches to Kendell Beckwith if Welter is overwhelmed by Auburn's athleticism. 

Malzahn's rushing offense has been somewhat stagnant in the past few weeks, but expect them to be focused and ready to go on Saturday. He will use plenty of pre-snap, jet-sweep motion with his receivers, as the Tigers struggled to stop that against Wisconsin. Artis-Payne and Grant will also get plenty of reps between the tackles to wear down LSU's thin defensive tackle unit. 

What makes Auburn scary is the improvement at wide receiver from a year ago. Junior college transfer D'haquille Williams is a matchup nightmare. Louis, Quan Bray, Melvin Ray, Sammie Coates and tight end C.J. Uzomah are also tough covers for the talented LSU secondary. Chavis may not have the luxury to committing extra defensive backs to help stop the run. 

This matchup against Auburn could be even worse for LSU than Mississippi State. Miles must hope his team tackles efficiently, reads plays quickly and keeps their technique sharp. The Bayou Bengals will get tired, but they must fight through and execute those three keys. 

If not, Malzahn and Marshall could beat them worse than Dan Mullen and Dak Prescott did weeks ago. And another beatdown from a conference foe will not go over easy LSU fans. 

 

Stats, rankings and additional information provided by cfbstats.com and LSU Sports Information. Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Follow me on Twitter @CarterthePower.

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Nebraska Football: Cornhuskers' X-Factor vs. Michigan State

Despite losing to Nebraska, Illinois head coach Tim Beckman had nothing but good things to say about Ameer Abdullah. However, it wasn't just the popular I-back who got some credit from Beckman.

"He is very good. Their offensive line is very good," Beckman said in his postgame press conference. "I think Ameer would be the first one to tell you that."

After defeating Miami at home, Abdullah actually was the first to say that at the Husker podium.

"They did great," Abdullah said. "They played physical. It starts off with the pipeline. They had to get a push and I felt they got a push the whole night."

After Illinois, it's clear that Nebraska's offensive line has become the X-factor. In order to provide Abdullah and all of the Husker running backs the room to run, the offensive line has to be on its game. In the last few weeks, the unit has done just that.

People have taken notice too. After defeating the Hurricanes, HuskerOnline.com's Dan Hoppen made note of the successes he was seeing from the offensive line.

As for the offensive line itself, the group has a very creative nickname for itself. The name, as reported by the Lincoln Journal Star's Steven M. Sipple, highlights what this group wants to accomplish.

For offensive lineman Alex Lewis, he says it's all about taking that name and putting it to use, especially for a particular player, per Huskers.com.

"As an offensive lineman that's what you live for," Lewis said. "When you have a guy back there like No. 8 (Ameer Abdullah) it always gets you going and fired up. The crowd starts cheering and you can't even explain it."

To date, Nebraska's offense has rushed for 1,774 yards and 16 touchdowns on 256 carries. While right guard Mike Moudy has said the unit has to continue improving, per Brian Christopherson of the Lincoln Journal Star, the results so far have been promising.

Even quarterback Tommy Armstrong acknowledged the hard work of the offensive line, per Huskers.com:

The offensive line is doing an incredible job. Like I said, I’m just trying to put them in the right position to block and see things easier. Get set a lot quicker and stuff like that. It’s easy if you get set quick with our tempo and then be able to see things happen faster for offensive line to adjust to certain things. I think McNeese State was a great thing for us. They blitzed us a lot. They played a lot of different things for our offensive line and just for our receivers and stuff as a whole as an offense. We saw a lot of things that we could have changed and could have worked on better and I think that it helped us throughout the season.

Walking away from the close call with McNeese State, the offensive line has come away stronger. While Abdullah only had 54 yards and one touchdown on 17 attempts against the Cowboys, the Husker offensive line has given the I-back better blocks since. Abdullah hasn't had less than 100 yards per game as a result, per ESPN.com.

Senior offensive lineman Jake Cotton doesn't want to take all the credit, though.

"There are plays where we just don't block anybody, we bust assignments and stuff—but he'll get a 25-yard run," Cotton said, per Nicole Auerbach of USA Today. "People will say, 'Wow, the offensive line.' No! Actually, it's quite nice to block for a guy who can bail you out of some trouble. That's the kind of back he is. He creates something where nobody else thinks that could happen."

Regardless, the Nebraska offensive line has become the X-factor. Against a team like Michigan State, the unit will have to play stronger than it has to date. The Spartan defense should expect a tough group, though.

No matter what, Abdullah is just happy with what he's seeing, per Huskers.com. "I can’t say more about those guys, I am really proud of them."

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Insider Film Breakdown: Everett Golson's Speed Too Much to Handle for Stanford

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish take on the Stanford Cardinal in their biggest test of the season thus far. The Cardinal feature a stout run defense, while we all know about the running ability of star QB Everett Golson. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder breaks down the game film, illustrating just how the Irish plan to run the ball vs. Stanford.

Will Notre Dame be able to establish a sound running game?

Watch the video and let us know!     

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The Biggest Threat to Each Remaining Undefeated College Football Team

Five weeks ago, there were 128 undefeated teams in college football. But 128 became 89, 89 became 56, 56 became 34, 34 became 25, and last week, 25 became our current total, 17.

That esteemed group of 17 hails from seven of the 11 FBS conferences: all five of the power leagues, the Independents and Conference USA. The American, the MAC, the Mountain West and the Sun Belt are all without a single unbeaten.

With so much season left to play, however, it's safe to assume that most (if not all) of these teams will lose at some point. With four matchups between undefeated teams set to take place this weekend, that "some point" shouldn't be too far down the road.

The list that follows is not a prediction of where each team will lose its first game. It's an assessment of which game is most likely to result in a loss. Georgia Tech, for example, is not likely to win its first 11 games of the season. Someone in the ACC is going to beat it. Regardless, the game we listed was its regular-season finale. In a vacuum, that's the game it is most likely to lose.

Sound off below to let us know where you disagree.

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College Football Picks Week 6: B/R's Expert Predictions for Top 5 Games

Week 6 of the 2014 college football season is loaded with games that have major playoff implications.

The state of Mississippi has an excellent chance to steal the spotlight on Saturday, as the Mississippi State Bulldogs look to shut down Kenny Hill and the surging Texas A&M Aggies, and the Ole Miss Rebels aim to defend their ranking with Nick Saban and Alabama coming to town.

Will Dan Mullen, Hugh Freeze and the entire state of Mississippi be celebrating come Saturday night?

Notre Dame hopes to keep its win streak intact as it hosts the Stanford Cardinal, a team the Irish have only beaten once in the last five years.

That lone victory came in 2012, and it was quite controversial. What will the 2014 edition of this rivalry hold?

It’s a battle of tigers down on the plains as Auburn hosts LSU. Will freshman quarterback Brandon Harris outshine Nick Marshall? Will Les Milessample any grass at Jordan-Hare Stadium? 

Nebraska has a great opportunity to take charge in the Big Ten, but beating Michigan State in Spartan Stadium will be quite the challenge. Mark Dantonio hasn’t lost at home since the 2012 season.

Ben Kercheval is still in first place, despite going 0-5 last week. Will we have a new leader after Week 6 or can Kercheval continue his reign on top?

Let us know your picks in the comments below!


Reminder: Our experts are picking the Top Five Saturday games against the spread.

Odds via opening lines at Odds Shark.  

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