NCAA Football News

Matthew Thomas Suspended: Latest Updates on FSU LB's Status and Return

Florida State redshirt freshman linebacker Matthew Thomas has reportedly been suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules.

Warchant.com reported the news:

According to Warchant.com, reasoning for the suspension has not been disclosed but it's only expected to keep him out for about half of the season. The report specifically mentions October 18—the day that the Seminoles host Notre Dame—as the date he could return by.

The rumblings on Thomas have been conflicting. He has missed practice since August 16, with coaches stating an ankle injury to media while others, including WJXL's Rick Ballou, hinted on Twitter about concern of a NCAA investigation as the reason why Thomas was being held out.

As the eighth-ranked player in his national recruiting class and a five-star prospect per 247 Sports composite rankings, Thomas figured to play a big role in the Seminoles' offense in 2013 before only playing just three games with a nagging shoulder injury. He ended up redshirting last season, but was a full go coming into this season.

It's not an ideal time for Jimbo Fisher's crew to go down another linebacker. Delvin Purifoy and Kain Daub are already both out an extended amount of time, and the Seminoles host No. 23 Clemson on Sept. 20. The defensive unit will want to improve as a whole after allowing 31 points and 364 total yards to Oklahoma State in Week 1. 

 

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8 Pairs of College Football Recruits Who Could Dominate Together in College

College football brings together elite athletes from across the country, creating lifelong friendships and prolific teammates. The 2015 recruiting class features plenty of potential dynamic duos who could partner up for years to come and alter the fortunes of their team.

Whether it's a quarterback and receiver routinely torching opposing backfields or bookend defensive linemen wreaking havoc, there are several intriguing possible pairings in this cycle. Some of them already appear to be in place with both players committed, while others remain a work in progress and require crucial decisions before national signing day.

We explored possible prospect matchups that could excel at the next level. Program fanbases should be tantalized by the realistic chances of these future tandems coming to fruition.

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Maryland Terrapins Transform Mascot into Muscle-Bound Monster in New Team Video

Call NATO, scramble the Blue Angels and get the Justice League on the horn.

Actually, don’t call NATO. It's next to worthless in a rush, and we need decisive, scorched earth action if we’re going to bring down the monster the University of Maryland just unleashed on the world.

The Terrapins posted their new, team intro video to Facebook on Friday, pumping up fans with football highlights, eye-pummeling uniforms and an AC/DC soundtrack.

It’s your run-of-the-mill, college football hype video—except for the overly vascular reptile smashing stones and leering deeply into your soul.

That’s Testudo—the Terrapins’ trusty mascot—who appears to have dedicated himself to a heavy schedule of weightlifting and turtle-enhancing drugs since last fall.


Testudo is no longer messing around. He might not even be a mascot anymore, as he looks primed to climb out of the briny deep and destroy a seaside village.

Just so we're clear, this is what Testudo looked like in 2013:

Now the turtle has teeth. We are all dead.

You can’t protect your house against a bipedal turtle with fangs and moisture-wicking technology. It’s just not possible.

Big Ten beware. The Terrapins are now Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles with a decidedly malevolent bend.

 

Follow Dan on Twitter for more sports and pop culture news.

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Alabama Football: Why Tide Don't Need Former Clemson QB Chad Kelly

The Alabama Crimson Tide may have somewhat of a quarterback dilemma.

No, we’re not talking about the up-and-down play of current starter Blake Sims in Week 1. Instead, it’s the prospect of a current JUCO quarterback coming to town, per his Twitter (H/t College Football Talk), which has since been deleted:

If you recall, Chad Kelly was a 4-star recruit out of Buffalo, New York, and was listed as the No. 5 dual-threat quarterback in the nation. After backing up Tajh Boyd at Clemson, the 6'3", 205-pounder is currently putting up video game numbers at top-ranked JUCO school East Mississippi.

Since the Tweet has since been deleted, one has to wonder whether he will still be making the trip. But regardless, no matter how talented Kelly may be, there really is no need for him at Tuscaloosa.

 

Unnecessary Distraction

There was absolutely no reason for Kelly not to be a serious contender to start for Clemson this season.

Unfortunately, things didn’t quite go his way during the spring. But instead of working through the issues, Kelly chose to lash out at the coaching staff. That includes an incident where he had to be escorted off the field by Clemson police.

It didn’t take long for head coach Dabo Swinney to declare enough was enough, as he soon after announced Kelly’s dismissal from the team, via a released statement:

I have dismissed Chad Kelly for conduct detrimental to our program. He has had a pattern of behavior that is not consistent with the values of our program. I hope he will mature and grow from this and become the man and player I know he can be. I wish him nothing but the best in the future academically and athletically.

Nick Saban runs a pretty tight ship at Alabama. 

Kelly had an issue sitting on the bench during a spring game. Do you think his attitude will be any better when he’s sitting on the sidelines for a year or more?

It’s a distraction the team doesn’t need.

 

Too Crowded at the Top

The Tide could field a baseball team with the quarterbacks on their depth chart.

Well, not really. But saying the team has plenty of options under center is an understatement

While Sims would be gone if Kelly were to arrive in 2015, Jacob Coker looks like a safe bet to be the front-runner for the job next season. A 3-star recruit out of Mobile, Alabama, Coker backed up Jameis Winston at Florida State last season. He has shown potential thus far in spring practices, per NFL.com's Mike Huguenin

Then of course you need to consider Alabama’s crop of young guns at the position.

From the 2013 class, there’s hope that 4-star Cooper Bateman and 3-star Alec Morris can develop into talented quarterbacks. After redshirting in 2013, Bateman will only be a sophomore come next season.

David Cornwell is the only quarterback from the 2014 class. A 4-star prospect out of Norman, Oklahoma, the 6'5", 241-pounder was ranked as the No. 4 quarterback in the country. 

Finally, there’s 5-star commit Blake Barnett from the 2015 class. The No. 1-ranked dual-threat quarterback in the country—and No. 17-ranked prospect—Barnett should make a strong push for playing time. He was also named the Elite 11 MBP:

There’s just too much talent already on the Tide to bring on Kelly.

 

All recruiting information and rankings used in this article are courtesy of 247Sports.

For complete coverage and everything college football, you can reach Sebastian on Twitter and via email at Sebastian.LenaBR@gmail.com.

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Wisconsin Football: Report Card Grades for Every New Starter

During Week 1, the Wisconsin football team held a 24-7 lead early in the third quarter.  From that point, the Badgers totally fell apart, going on to lose 28-24 after untimely injuries coupled with hyper-conservative turned hyper-aggressive play-calling led to their demise.

With a brand-new quarterback, new receivers on the outside and a pair of new tight ends, the Badgers passing offense sputtered badly.  Technically, Melvin Gordon wasn't a starter last season, but he played as much as anyone and thus wasn't included in this.  Furthermore, both Dan Voltz and Dallas Lewallen started numerous games last season and weren't included in here either.

On defense, the Badgers looked really good for the first 35 or so minutes, save one first-half blown coverage, which led to an 80-yard pass.  The Badgers are breaking in a brand-new front seven to go with a new free safety in true freshman Lubern Figaro.

On special teams, the Badgers trotted out a true freshman kicker, who may have been the most impressive player on the field for either team—or at least his dance moves were.

Let's take a look at all 14 new starters for the Badgers with grades on their performance against LSU and a breakdown of how they've played so far this season.

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Michigan vs. Notre Dame: Wolverines Run Game Key to Victory over Fighting Irish

The Michigan Wolverines put on an offensive demo against an Appalachian State Mountaineers team that was woefully outmatched on both sides of the ball.

This week will be different, going up against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. 

Their program is ranked 16th in the nation and put on a similarly impressive showing in Week 2, defeating Rice 48-17. In that game, senior quarterback Everett Golson threw for two touchdowns and ran for three more, showcasing his ability both in the running and passing game.

The rivalry has historically produced a number of close games and dramatic finishes, in which the Wolverines have a 24-16 advantage.

Considering this is the last time the two teams will play each other for the foreseeable future (since Notre Dame has exercised its option to discontinue the rivalry) and that the Fighting Irish left Ann Arbor last year after coming up short 41-30, they're going to be extremely motivated.

The "Chicken Dance" song should still be fresh in their minds.

The Wolverines also come into Notre Dame stadium with an abysmal road record under head coach Brady Hoke, going 6-8 away from Michigan Stadium.

If the Wolverines are going to buck that trend, they'll need to continue doing what they did last week against Appalachian State: Run the football.


Michigan's Rushing Attack

Senior QB Devin Gardner threw only 14 passes, but completed 13 of them for three touchdowns to wide receiver Devin Funchess against Appalachian State. But what made Michigan's offense so strong was the sophomore rushing tandem of Derrick Green and De'Veon Smith.

The two running backs combined for 285 rushing yards and three touchdowns.

In total, the Wolverines put up 350 yards on the ground with 210 passing yards to complement. With such a strong tandem at running back, coach Hoke would do well to build his game plan around those two players and establish the running game as early as possible against Notre Dame.


Freeing Up the Passing Game

Once the running of Smith and Green has impacted head coach Brian Kelly's defensive game plan for the Fighting Irish, the Wolverines will have an opportunity to use play action and get Funchess open down the field.

Despite the fact that Notre Dame is going to be without cornerback KeiVarae Russell, it is still a far more skilled and versatile secondary than what Funchess and Gardner were dealing with when they played Appalachian State.

On the interior, Notre Dame will also be without defensive end Ishaq Williams and linebacker Kendall Moore, making them more vulnerable to the running game.

The Wolverines will need to exploit that weakness before they let Gardner start chucking the ball down the field.

But if the success of their rushing attack continues, freeing up the passing game will be a quick process.


Sticking with the Rushing Attack

Even though the yards per attempt will be lower, the Wolverines should keep handing the ball off to their playmakers. The same rushing attack that allowed them to dominate an over-matched Appalachian State squad should allow them to keep pace with Notre Dame.

It'll also give them the opportunity to keep an already fractured Fighting Irish defense on the field with a possession-based game plan.

If they can keep the score close, the play of Gardner and Funchess will be enough to outscore a tired Fighting Irish defense in the second half of the game.

Bobby Kittleberger writes about fantasy football for The FF White Papers. You can get in touch with him via Twitter.

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Miami Football: 5 Key Reserves to Watch Against Florida A&M

When the Miami Hurricanes return to conference play later this month, top reserves will be asked to fill in seamlessly for starters.

Some backups are important than others, and those are key players to watch against Florida A&M on Saturday, Sept. 7 at 7 p.m. ET.

Despite a mediocre opening to the 2014 campaign, the Canes are clear favorites heading into the meeting. After all, the Rattlers are a subpar FCS team and cannot be expected to hang around for long.

Barring a completely unexpected result, Miami reserves will see significant playing time Saturday night, which is crucial for the Hurricanes moving forward.

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Washington State's Infamous 'Popcorn Guy' Gets a '30 for 30' Trailer

Nobody will ever forget about "Popcorn Guy" from last year's Stanford-Washington State game. His story is so invigorating that he now has his own ESPN 30 for 30 trailer.

There have been some interesting 30 for 30 documentaries in the past, but this feature seems like it would be an instant hit. That's why ESPN's Colin Cowherd has taken the first step in making it happen.

It's just a spoof, but we'd all love to hear what was going through Popcorn Guy's mind at the time.

[ESPN, h/t GameDayr]

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George Campbell Commits to FSU: Where LSU, Florida Turn After Missing on 4-Star

LSU and Florida’s pursuit of bringing in elite talent at wide receiver hit a snag on Friday afternoon.

After months of deliberation, 4-star wide receiver George Campbell announced his decision to commit to Florida State, per ESPN.com’s Derek Tyson. That left the Tigers and Gators—two teams strongly considered by the nation’s No. 7-ranked receiver—in a bit of a hole.

But while losing out on Campbell certainly hurts, all hope is not lost for these two SEC squads.

 

Where Does Florida Go Now?

With a class that includes just one receiver—3-star Kalif Jackson—the Gators are in desperate need to zero in on a couple of more targets at the position.

A name that immediately comes to mind is that of Ryan Davis. The 4-star athlete is currently ranked No. 26 at his position and has the chops to make a splash at receiver at the next level.

Already having made three trips to Gainesville since August, Davis is expected to make a fourth visit shortly, per 247Sports’ Luke Stampini. That can only be a good sign for Florida.

Bleacher Report’s Sanjay Kirpalani thinks Antonio Callaway should also be in the discussion:

A 3-star receiver out of Miami’s Booker T. Washington High School, Callaway is quickly gaining steam and would make a great addition for any team. What he may lack in size (5'11", 175 lbs) he more than makes up for with great ball skills and the ability to make plays in the open field.

He’s exactly the kind of receiver Florida needs to add.

 

Where Does LSU Go Now?

For head coach Les Miles and LSU, they now turn their attention toward bigger fish to fry.

Hometown product Tyron Johnson, a 5-star receiver out of New Orleans, should be the team’s top priority right now. The 6'1", 191-pounder is ranked as the No. 24 overall prospect and No. 3 among wide receivers.

An early Tigers lean, Johnson has since named Texas Tech a leader back in June, per 247Sports’ Taylor Hamm (subscription required). Still, LSU found itself included in his official top 10, per Johnson’s Twitter page:

The loss of Campbell only increases the pressure on the Tigers to snag the top receiver in the state. Failing to do so could be a significant blemish on the 2015 recruiting class.

Another name the team should focus in on is 4-star receiver Carlos Strickland.

Hailing from Dallas, the 6'5", 194-pounder has the size and hands that have impressed scouts across the country. He’s currently listed as the No. 15-ranked receiver in the country.

According to 247Sports’ Sonny Shipp, LSU already has its eye on Strickland: 

Strickland would give any quarterback a great target in the passing game and is a threat to take it the house any time he touches the ball.

 

All recruiting information and rankings used in this article are courtesy of 247Sports.

For complete coverage and everything college football, you can reach Sebastian on Twitter and via email at Sebastian.LenaBR@gmail.com.

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College Football Rivalries We Miss the Most

Forget Yankees-Red Sox, Packers-Bears, Celtics-Lakers. Nothing tops a good ol’ fashioned college football rivalry.

Forget records; the most important thing is bragging rights over a bitter enemy. But conference realignment and budget cuts have kiboshed some of the best matchups. 

Just this weekend we'll see the end of one of the better rivalries in the sport when Michigan and Notre Dame line up opposite one another. Saturday's showdown will mark the end of a rivalry that has spanned 41 contests dating back to 1887. 

That got us thinking, what other college football rivalries would we not mind seeing again?

Here are five rivalries we miss.

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Can Notre Dame Stop Michigan's Most Explosive Player?

The Michigan Wolverines are taking on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish this week for a showdown like no other. Bleacher Report's College Football Analyst Michael Felder breaks down exactly how Michigan wide receiver Devin Funchess fits into the game plan.

Who do you think will win this matchup?

Watch the video and let us know.

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Alabama Football: What to Watch for from Blake Sims and Jake Coker in Week 2

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — If you’ve been waiting for Jake Coker to play a meaningful snap of football, Saturday is your day.

By all accounts, the Florida State transfer will get to throw his first passes in a Crimson Tide uniform when Alabama faces Florida Atlantic on Saturday in Bryant-Denny Stadium. This, after watching much of the West Virginia game from the sidelines and coming in for only two handoffs to run out the clock.

Coker will split reps with Blake Sims, who played much of that West Virginia game and had a solid debut as a starter. It will be just about everyone’s first time to see the two side by side and will add more fuel to the fire that is Alabama’s quarterback competition (and it is still very much a competition).

So what should we be on the lookout for this weekend?

First, how the reps are actually split.

Saban said on Monday that he hadn’t decided how he would do so (and joked that even when he did, he wouldn’t reveal it). On his radio show Thursday night, he still seemed like he hadn’t made a decision on exactly when Coker would enter the game.

"Now I haven't decided when that's going to be in this game but I'd rather decided that this is how we're going to do it before we ever go out there because that's really the only way you give a guy a fair opportunity,” Saban said, according to Michael Casagrande of al.com. “He knows when he's going to go out there and he can be ready to go out there and we can go from there."

When Coker takes his first snap is still a big question.

The last time Alabama had a situation like this, against Kent State in 2011, AJ McCarron and Phillip Sims alternated every three drives. McCarron got the start in that game and ended up actually winning the job.

Coker could come in sooner rather than later. The staff got a whole game’s worth of film out of Sims last week and have yet to see anything from Coker. They also, though, don’t want to shake Sims’ confidence by playing Coker the majority of the time after Sims had a worthy debut.

The other question, obviously, is how Coker will actually look when he plays.

It’s one thing to look good in practice, which Coker has, displaying his vaunted arm strength and zip. But it’s another to combine that with understanding the playbook and being able to lead an offense in a game.

That was the big thing that Sims showed, more or less, in the season opener. He may not necessarily have all of the measurables that Coker has, but he knows the offense and can operate effectively.

Saban saw some of that in 2011, too.

"Really, sometimes in practice, Phillip looked like he would be the best guy," Saban said, per Casagrande. "Then we played them both in the game and AJ played better in the game, so that is what ultimately made our decision to make AJ the starter."

The relative strength, or lack thereof, of the opponent means everything will need to be taken with a grain of salt.

FAU allowed 55 points and 785 yards of offense last week to Nebraska. Alabama should be able to have its way with the Owls (just don’t tell Saban that). It won’t exactly be an accurate barometer for how one or the other would play once SEC competition starts.

But it’s also the reason Alabama has the luxury of being able to play two quarterbacks. Against West Virginia it went with the guy that Saban trusted the most in a power-five game. He got Alabama through and played well in the process.

With a lower-level team up next on the docket, though, the real quarterback competition can begin.

 

Marc Torrence is the Alabama lead writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats come from CFBStats. All recruiting information comes from 247Sports.

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

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What Alabama Must Fix to Continue Success in the SEC

The Alabama Crimson Tide are looking to prove that they are still a top team in college football. Bleacher Report's College Football Analyst Michael Felder discusses where they need to improve the most. How well do you think they will do this year?

Watch the video and let us know.

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Florida State's Plan to Improve the Offensive Output

Jameis Winston and the Florida State Seminoles are looking to repeat in 2014. After a shaky start against Oklahoma State last week, FSU is looking to prove that it is still the top team in college football. Bleacher Report's Stephen Nelson talked to The Associated Press' Kareem Copeland about what is expected from this offense. How well do you think it will do this year?

Check out the video and let us know.

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George Campbell to Florida State: Seminoles Land 4-Star WR Prospect

One of the most dynamic athletes in the class of 2015 has officially committed to  Florida State. George Campbell, an athlete that plays both wide receiver and defensive back, announced that he would be playing with the Seminoles, per ESPN's Tom VanHaaren:

Standing at 6'3", 184 pounds, Campbell is a 4-star player, the No. 7 wide receiver and the 17th-best overall recruit in the nation, according to 247Sports' composite rankings. His 769 receiving yards on 31 receptions and seven touchdowns made him a hot commodity, but his speed is what shines through for college coaches.

His agility was on full display during the Under Armour Combine, running a 4.36 40-yard dash, as Derek Tyson of ESPN and Recruiting Nation points out:

Campbell has also shown physicality off the line against some of the best defensive back prospects in the country:

Earning a commitment from Campbell is a huge get for Florida State. Back in December, Campbell was ready to suit up for Michigan before deciding to leave his recruitment open. Tom VanHaaren of ESPN reported Campbell's decommitment from the Wolverines on Dec. 17:

What fans will love about Campbell is not only his speed but also his explosiveness and ability to high-point the football. Most highlights of Campbell show him in open space, but he's also shown flashes of athleticism as both a corner and receiver.

The Seminoles have already found replacements for the losses of Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw in Ermon Lane and Travis Rudolph, but Campbell is a multi-tool athlete that will come in the year following and bolster the roster yet again.

With the likelihood of Jameis Winston being gone after the 2014 season, having Campbell along with Lane and Rudolph will make the transition to a new quarterback much easier for Florida State. 

Follow R. Cory Smith on Twitter:

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George Campbell Commits to Florida State: What 4-Star WR Brings to the Seminoles

George Campbell is a 4-star wide receiver out of Florida, according to 247Sports. He has officially made his commitment to the Florida State Seminoles.

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Barrett Sallee break down exactly how he fits into this high-powered program.

How well do you think he will do at the next level? Watch the video and let us know!

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Oregon vs. Michigan State: Which Teams Needs the Win More, Ducks or Spartans?

Standing out in a largely unappealing slate of Week 2 games is a gem: Michigan State at Oregon. 

There have already been big games in Week 1—Clemson at Georgia, LSU vs. Wisconsin—and there will be equally big games later this month, like Auburn's trip to Kansas State on Sept. 18. Additionally, USC heads to Stanford on Saturday in a battle of top-15 teams. 

But this one in Eugene has the College Football Playoff's fingerprints all over it.

Take preseason rankings with a large grain of salt, but Michigan State-Oregon is the first game of the 2014 season that puts two top-10 teams against one another. Because it's a nonconference game, it already has a semifinal feel to it. 

It's also a fascinating matchup of styles between Oregon's high-tempo, spread 'em out offense vs. Michigan State's stout defense. 

So which team needs the win more?

The short answer is Michigan State, but not because Sparty is fighting some arbitrary uphill battle for respect. This program should already have that respect, having defeated Ohio State in last year's Big Ten championship before toppling Stanford at its own game in the Rose Bowl. 

No, Michigan State doesn't need a win on the road against the Ducks—to which it is a double-digit underdog*, according to oddshark.com—to "arrive." 

(*Spreads are not necessarily based on what oddsmakers think the difference in score will be. Rather, they're based on how oddsmakers feel they can get 50 percent of the public to bet on one side and 50 percent to bet on the other.) 

Michigan State doesn't need this win to boost a supposedly laughable Big Ten schedule, either. The narrative is that the Pac-12 is the overall stronger conference.

However, a glance over Oregon's schedule shows that the Ducks have just two opponents, not including Michigan State, currently ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 (UCLA and Stanford). That's the same number of ranked opponents left on the Spartans' schedule. 

Those numbers, of course, are subject to change. For that matter, schedules can't be fully evaluated until the end of the year. The point being, Oregon and Michigan State's respective schedules are on generally equal footing right now. There's a mix of good teams and bad teams. 

Rather, A Spartans win would be an important moment for a reloaded defense. The 2013 group was special, ranking in the top five nationally against the run, the pass, in total yards allowed and points allowed, according to cfbstats.com.

Among the players gone from that defense include linebackers Denicos Allen and Max Bullough, cornerback Darqueze Dennard and safety Isaiah Lewis and defensive tackle Micajah Reynolds. 

To tab those losses as anything other than significant would be downplaying them. They're losses that defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, widely respected as one of the best in college football, must overcome. 

Sparty isn't void of talent, though. Defensive end Shilique Calhoun is a pass-rushing force. Freshman defensive lineman Malik McDowell is already contributing as well. 

"We're a pressure team, but we're getting better pass rush collectively from four guys," head coach Mark Dantonio said last year to Adam Rittenberg of ESPN.com

To win on the road in a tough environment against Oregon, one of the top offenses in the country, would be a major confidence boost for this defense (and for the entire program). Even a solid performance by the Spartan defense would be a win in its own right. 

In many ways, winning or losing does rest on the defense. Michigan State likely isn't going to win a shootout against Oregon. That's not who the Spartans are.  

Chris B. Brown of Grantland has a perfect explanation of how Michigan State plans to slow Oregon's attack. In short, keep it simple, but keep it malleable: "Rather than trying to call the right defense and maybe being right or maybe being wrong, Dantonio and Narduzzi have responded to this challenge by building a responsive defense that mutates into the right alignment depending on what the offense does."

That's easier said than done.

Above all else, Michigan State has to stay disciplined in the face of misdirection, fakes and pre-snap motion. With future games against the likes of Michigan, Maryland, Ohio State and Penn State, the best preparation for future offenses could come from the Spartans' most difficult opponent. 

The good news for State is that it has one of the best head coach-defensive coordinator combos in the country in Dantonio and Narduzzi. Getting outclassed would be nothing short of surprising. A close loss for either team wouldn't necessarily bump them out of the playoff discussion, either. 

If we're fortunate enough, we'll get that close game. 

 

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

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Auburn Football: Tigers' Offense Still Has Room for Improvement

AUBURN, Ala. — To some coaches, putting up close to 600 yards of offense and scoring 45 points against a conference opponent would be an A+ day.

But to Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee, it's a B- day at best.

"I just think from the O-line to the receivers to running backs to quarterbacks, the whole, we were a little above average," Lashlee said, per AL.com's Brandon Marcello. "C+, B-. We played well. We did not have a lot of busts. At the same time we could have executed at a better level."

After Lashlee handed out his grade of the offense Monday night, his head coach echoed him in his Tuesday morning press conference.

"Overalll, we are happy that we won," Malzahn said. "We are 1-0 in the SEC, but we have a lot of areas to improve. We made some mistakes, and we will work very hard this week on correcting them." 

Upcoming opponents, you have been warned—the Tigers aren't satisfied after a game in which they went 4-for-4 with four touchdowns on red-zone scoring chances and averaged 8.5 yards per play.

"Compared to last year, we made fewer mistakes, but there are still so many things that need to be tweaked," Malzahn said. "We have to make sure our alignments are correct and the things that allow you to execute a play."

Here are three main areas that the two Auburn coaches say need "tweaking" as the Tigers head into game No. 2:

 

Third Down and Short Conversions

Judging from a quick look at the box score, Auburn performed well on third downs against Arkansas. The Tigers converted nine of their 14 chances, good enough for the 11th-best average nationally and the second-best average in the SEC on college football's opening weekend.

But two of the ones the Tigers missed stood out to Lashlee after his review of the film.

"The most disappointing part of the first half was probably the third and shorts," Lashlee said, per Marcello. "That's something we were really good at last year, so we've really got to be better in that area moving forward. We had chances with the lead to stay on the field and maybe try to extend our lead."

Auburn missed a pair of 3rd-and-short conversions in the first half, and the momentum Arkansas gained from those failures helped turn a two-touchdown lead into a tie game heading into halftime.

A blitz from the Arkansas defense stopped senior running back Cameron Artis-Payne for a loss of one yard on 3rd-and-1 midway through the third quarter, which led to a Daniel Carlson punt. The Razorbacks scored on the ensuing drive to tie the game at 21.

The Tigers couldn't muster a response after Artis-Payne was stopped for no gain on another 3rd-and-1, once again coming off a strong Razorback blitz.

"Honestly, we didn't execute," Lashlee said, per Marcello. "They showed us some blitz looks that we were ready for, and we just didn't get it cut off on the back side in both situations."

The two stops were surprising, especially for a team that grabbed a first down on the ground 79 percent of the time last season when it was facing third down and three yards or less.

But once Auburn got adjusted to the blitzes, Artis-Payne was much more effective in moving the chains. The Tigers finished the second half 5-for-7 on third-down conversions, and the senior running back had 177 yards on 26 carries.

 

Fumbles

With all the extra plays and drives Auburn had through its hurry-up, no-huddle offense last season, ball security was a major issue.

The Tigers fumbled the ball 30 times last season, third-most nationally. However, they were fortunate to recover 19 of those times, giving them the nation's 12th-lowest fumble loss percentage and the SEC's best at 36.7 percent.

Auburn let the ball go only twice during last Saturday's game against Arkansas, with debuting wide receiver D'haquille Williams getting a fumble to bounce out of bounds on the last drive of the second quarter and Artis-Payne turning it over near midfield early in the third quarter of a close game.

"We protected the football in the passing game, and that’s always very important, too," Malzahn said. "I know we had the one turnover with Cameron, but we'll work on getting that corrected."

Auburn's coaching staff put a big emphasis on ball security this offseason, and Lashlee said the two fumbles in the season opener were "not acceptable."

The Tigers are not going to rely on having one of the nation's best rates at getting those fortunate bounces off fumbles, so look for improvement in that area as the season continues.

 

Penalties

Auburn's offense avoided the dreaded whistle before the snap against Arkansas—but after the ball was in play, it was a different story.

The Tigers had six penalties for 61 yards against the Razorbacks, a mark that was above their game average from last season, when they finished fourth in the SEC and 30th nationally in avoiding the yellow flags.

Auburn had two big plays called back in the first half on offensive penalties—a holding call on Sammie Coates and a face-mask call on Patrick Miller.

Lashlee was glad the Tigers recovered from those fouls to find the end zone on those drives, but he marked those down as other areas to improve on the average offensive grade.

"Fortunately, in both cases, we were able to convert the third down and still score the touchdown, and usually that doesn't happen," Lashlee said, per the Montgomery Advertiser's James Crepea. "The statistics will tell you that most times when you have a touchdown called back it won't end well. We've got to clean that up."

Anything that slows down the high-powered Auburn offense, even penalties that don't affect the end result of the drive, are getting highlighted and corrected by Malzahn and Lashlee.

Even though the Tigers are favored by 30 points against San Jose State this weekend, Malzahn wants to see a lot of improvement from his offense starting this Saturday.

"The great thing about a first game is you usually improve more from the first game to the second game than you do all year, and that is what we have to do," Malzahn said.

 

Justin Ferguson is Bleacher Report's lead Auburn writer. Follow him on Twitter @JFergusonAU. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports. All stats courtesy of CFBStats.com.

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Pressure on Michigan WR Devin Funchess to Deliver Epic Performance vs Notre Dame

Minutes before Michigan’s season opener, the move that began in desperation last season become complete. Devin Funchess officially switched jerseys from No. 87 to No. 1 and then went out and made Brady Hoke look like a genius for making a him a full-time wide receiver.

But big games versus foes like Appalachian State are quickly forgotten when you play at a program like Michigan.

At Michigan you make your bones against your bitter rivals—Notre Dame, Michigan State and Ohio State.

And next up for Michigan is a night game that will mark its last scheduled meeting with Notre Dame.

Funchess announced his presence on the landscape of college football with a resounding performance versus Appalachian State. Wearing the hallowed No. 1 jersey he caught everything thrown in his general direction (seven receptions for 95 yards, three touchdowns) and looked like he might be the next great player to star for the Maize and Blue. 

Quarterback Devin Gardner said it best.

“He [Funchess] can probably be the best receiver to ever play here” as per the Detroit Free Press.

Some of the greats in Michigan history have had top performances versus Notre Dame. In 2010 Denard Robinson gashed the Irish for 502 yards (258 yards rushing with two touchdowns, 244 yards passing with one touchdown) in a 28-24 victory in South Bend. The game jump-started his Heisman Trophy campaign and he finished sixth in the voting.

In 1991 Desmond Howard began his Heisman Trophy march with “the catch,” an amazing touchdown reception which became an epic moment in Michigan football history.

Now, Funchess has an opportunity to showcase his talent in a primetime contest before a national audience with dire implications for his team and his coach.

For the first time in 135 years, Michigan will play all three of its key rivals on the road. A win versus Notre Dame would propel the team back into the national rankings and put it on a collision course with Michigan State at the end of October. A loss would not only damage the team’s prospects of returning to the rankings but spur speculation that head coach Brady Hoke is on the hot seat.

Even larger than the implications of a win or a loss is how Hoke will be viewed as the arbiter of Michigan tradition by deeming Funchess worthy of the number. Former coach Rich Rodriguez got himself into hot water by ignoring the minutiae of Wolverine football culture.

"The young man asked me about it [wearing the No. 1 jersey], and I said that's fine," said Michigan coach Brady Hoke after Funchess’ first game. “…And believe me I asked him who has worn No. 1, and he started with Anthony Carter and went down the list, so I think that he earned it,” via ESPN.

A big game for Funchess coupled with a Michigan victory would evoke talk of Wolverine tradition and would be a powerful statement supporting Hoke’s rebuilding efforts. It would also give Hoke a signature victory on the road where his teams have struggled.  

Funchess definitely has the talent to be a playmaker versus Notre Dame.

Devin Gardner has acknowledged that via MLive, “[Jabrill Peppers] and [Devin] Funchess are probably the top two athletes on the team…I used to always like to think I was the top athlete on the team. But these two guys…they’re pretty elite.”

Funchess (6’5”, 230 pounds) will also have favorable matchups versus Notre Dame. He towers over the players who will be tasked with covering him.

The circumstances are right for him to leave an indelible mark on the last game (for now) of this classic rivalry.

Notre Dame will do everything in its power to stop Devin Funchess. But Devin Funchess might be unstoppable.

 

Phil Callihan is a featured writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations in this article were obtained via Press Conferences or in person.

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All season statistics from mgoblue.com, official University of Michigan athletic department web site.

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