NCAA Football News

USC vs. Arizona State Complete Game Preview

WHEN: Saturday, Oct. 4, 7:30 p.m. ET

WHERE: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum

TV: Fox

Saturday’s Pac-12 South matchup pitting No. 16-ranked USC vs. Arizona State features teams with matching 3-1 overall records. However, the conference implications on the line could not be much more different for each side.

USC is in pursuit of a 3-0 start to Pac-12 play, coming off a 35-10 rout of Oregon State in Week 5. Conversely, Arizona State is trying to avoid an 0-2 hole in the league.

The Sun Devils opened their Pac-12 slate with a thud last week, dropping a 62-27 decision at home to UCLA. A second consecutive loss within the division would put the reigning South champions squarely behind the eight ball.

Arizona State could be without starting quarterback Taylor Kelly, who missed the Sun Devils’ Week 5 loss with a foot injury. Sun Devils head coach Todd Graham said Kelly is "pretty questionable," via Doug Haller of the Arizona Republic

Backup Mike Bercovici passed for 488 yards and three touchdowns in his first career start last week. Bercovici’s ability—or inability—to end USC’s streak of four games without surrendering a passing touchdown may tell the story of this week’s contest.

The USC defense will have plenty of motivation to shut down the Sun Devils offense, however. The 62 points Arizona State scored in last year’s meeting with USC tied the most ever given up by the Trojans.

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Wake Forest vs. Florida State Complete Game Preview

Florida State should finally enjoy a more comfortable victory on Saturday.

After three close calls against Oklahoma State, Clemson and North Carolina State, the Seminoles (4-0) now play host to one of the Atlantic Coast Conference's worst teams, Wake Forest (2-3). 

FSU likely won't need overtime, as it did to slip past Clemson. Or a late touchdown, as it did to hold off Oklahoma State. Or a second-half rally, as it did at NC State.

The Seminoles have shown their fight, but they've also shown their weaknesses. When FSU takes the field against the Demon Deacons, the Seminoles need to show that they have improved their tackling and run blocking. And they need to cut down on the turnovers after giving up two interceptions and a fumble against the Wolfpack.

All of the questions have caused poll voters to question FSU. The Seminoles retained the No. 1 spot in the AP poll, but they dropped to No. 2 behind Alabama in the USA Today football coaches poll.

Here's a look at the FSU-Wake Forest game, which begins at 3:30 p.m. ET and will be televised regionally by ABC (and on ESPN3.com outside of the region).

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UCLA vs USC: Which LA Powerhouse Has Best Shot for CFB Playoff?

USC has one loss on the season, and UCLA is undefeated. These teams are fighting for position in the Pac-12 South, but they have their eyes set on the College Football Playoff.

Bleacher Reports College Football Analysts Barrett Sallee and Adam Kramer debate which of these teams has the best shot to play for the national championship.

Which one of these Pac-12 powers has the best chance of winning it all?

Watch the video and let us know!

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College Football Odds: Week 6 Betting Lines Open with FSU as Huge Favorite

The Florida State Seminoles will look to put a stop to an 0-5 skid against the spread when they play host to the Wake Forest Demon Deacons Saturday as 38-point favorites on the college football betting lines.

The 4-0 Seminoles maintain a tenuous grip on the top spot in the AP Top 25, but they have fallen behind undefeated Alabama in the Amway Coaches Poll.

Florida State had four turnovers, including three by quarterback Jameis Winston, and needed to overcome a 17-point deficit to top North Carolina State 56-41 over the weekend.

This week, the Seminoles face a lesser opponent in the form of division rival Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons have lost eight of their last 10 straight up, including a 59-3 beating by Florida State last November.

However, the Demon Deacons are 4-2 against the spread in their last six games, including covering in their last three as double-digit underdogs.

The 4-0 Crimson Tide will have their hands full in maintaining their perch atop the Coaches Poll when they take on Mississippi as 4.5-point road favorites, per sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark this week.

The Tide put an end to a five-game losing streak ATS with a 42-21 win as 14-point favorites over Florida in Week 4. Alabama is 5-0 SU in its last five against the Rebels, including a 25-0 victory last season. However, the Crimson Tide have been a betting disappointment when facing Ole Miss, covering in just three of their last nine meetings.

The 4-0 Oregon Ducks will be gunning for a seventh consecutive victory SU when they welcome the Arizona Wildcats to town as 23-point favorites, per sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark.

Despite putting numbers in the win column and a steady raise in the national rankings, the Ducks have been a disappointment to college football bettors, covering just twice in their last nine overall while going 0-5 ATS in their last five when favored by 20-plus points.

The Wildcats, meanwhile, are off to a 4-0 start but have been losers in their last three ATS.

In other Week 6 college football betting matchups, Texas A&M travels to Mississippi State as a slim one-point road favorite in a battle of undefeated teams, while the 4-0 Auburn Tigers play host to the 4-1 LSU Tigers as nine-point home favorites.

The 4-0 UCLA Bruins return home to take on Utah as 12.5-point favorites, while the surprising East Carolina Pirates are favored by 38 points over SMU.

 

Opening NCAA lines aggregated by Odds Shark

Central Florida at Houston -2.5   Florida Atlantic at Florida International 9   Arizona at Oregon -23   Louisville at Syracuse 3.5   San Diego State at Fresno State 2   Utah State at BYU     Iowa State at Oklahoma State -17   Texas A&M at Mississippi State 1   Marshall at Old Dominion 17.5   Ohio State at Maryland     Southern Methodist at East Carolina -36   Southern Miss at Middle Tennessee -17   Purdue at Illinois     Florida at Tennessee 1.5   Ball State at Army -3   Virginia Tech at North Carolina 1.5   Eastern Michigan at Akron -21   Massachusetts at Miami (Ohio) -4.5   North Texas at Indiana -14   Tulsa at Colorado State -15   Navy at Air Force 4   Ohio at Central Michigan     Wisconsin at Northwestern 9.5   North Carolina State at Clemson -14   Buffalo at Bowling Green -5   Baylor at Texas 13   Alabama at Mississippi 4.5   Stanford at Notre Dame 0   Wake Forest at Florida State -38   New Mexico at UTSA -19   Oklahoma at TCU 5   Arizona State at Southern Cal -11   Kansas at West Virginia -24   Oregon State at Colorado 7.5   Vanderbilt at Georgia -33   Kent State at Northern Illinois -22   South Alabama at Appalachian State 5.5   Georgia State at Louisiana-Lafayette -17   LSU at Auburn -9   Utah at UCLA -13   Idaho at Texas State -15   Hawaii at Rice -6   Texas Tech at Kansas State     Louisiana-Monroe at Arkansas State -10   Michigan at Rutgers -3.5   UAB at Western Kentucky -14   Texas El Paso at Louisiana Tech -13   Toledo at Western Michigan 10   Memphis at Cincinnati -6.5   Miami at Georgia Tech -1   Pittsburgh at Virginia -4   South Carolina at Kentucky 7.5   Nebraska at Michigan State -8   UNLV at San Jose State     Ga Southern at New Mexico State 16.5   Boise State at Nevada 1.5   California at Washington State -4  

 

Stats and odds courtesy of Odds Shark.

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Will Michigan's Brady Hoke and Florida's Will Muschamp Survive the Season?

With the losses mounting, some of the most prestigious coaching jobs in the country are in jeopardy. The seats are heating up. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Adam Kramer and Michael Felder tell you who could be out of a job this season.

Do you think these coaches will make it through the year?

Watch the video and let us know! 

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What Is the Most Important SEC Game in Week 6's Monster Lineup?

Week 6 has arguably the best regular-season matchups of the year. The SEC has a slate of fantastic games that is sure to shake up the conference and College Football Playoff picture. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Barrett Sallee debate which game has the biggest implications.

Which SEC team has the most at stake in Week 6?

Watch the video and let us know.

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Will Arizona Repeat 2013 Heroics and Blow Up Oregon's CFB Playoff Chances?

The Arizona Wildcats pulled off one of the most shocking upsets of the 2013 season when they trounced the Oregon Ducks, 42-16, in Tucson, Arizona. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Barrett Sallee and Adam Kramer rehash last season's big win for Arizona, as well as look forward to this year's version in Eugene, Oregon.  

Could we see a repeat of that fateful day in Week 6? 

Watch the video and let us know!

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SMU Head Coach Search: Latest News and Rumors on Position

With the resignation of June Jones, SMU needs to find a football coach capable of bringing the program back to its glory years.   

According to Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports, the team could be considering former Texas head coach Mack Brown:

A wildcard name to keep an eye on with the SMU vacancy is former Texas coach Mack Brown, now an ESPN broadcaster. Word is, some well-connected SMU brass are intrigued by Brown and think he might be tempted by the chance to coach again.

The head coaching job became available when Jones surprisingly resigned after just two games, according to The Associated Press, via ESPN Dallas Fort Worth. The former Hawaii coach explained:

It was a very difficult decision for me to make, as you can imagine. I have devoted my life for the last 50 years to playing and coaching this game and it has been a great journey. This job has a lot of demands, as you know, and along with that journey comes a price that is paid.

I have some personal issues I have been dealing with and I need to take a step away so I can address them at this time.

Jones had a 36-43 record in his career at SMU, including an 0-2 mark in 2014 before leaving. The squad proceeded to lose the next two games without him and go into the conference portion of the schedule 0-4. Overall, the squad has been outscored 202-12.

Although the Mustangs are just two years removed from a win in the Hawaii Bowl, it seems the current squad is a long way from contending on a weekly level. It will obviously be difficult for any coach to turn around this program within a few years.

That being said, Brown is someone who would bring immediate respectability to the program. While he had his ups and downs throughout his career, the coach totaled a 238-117-1 record over 29 years with Texas, North Carolina and Tulane, including a national championship in 2005.

He also has a lot of recruiting ties in the area after spending 16 years in Austin.

Interestingly, he could have some competition from a former player and assistant. According to Kirk Bohls of the Austin American-Statesman (h/t John Taylor of Pro Football Talk), Major Applewhite has reportedly applied for the SMU job.

There will certainly be a lot of interest around the country for the position, especially considering the recruiting hotbed in the area. This coaching search remains something to follow in the coming weeks and months.

 

Follow Rob Goldberg on Twitter for the latest breaking news and analysis.

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Alabama's Offense vs. Ole Miss' Defense Won't Be the Determining Factor

When No. 3 Alabama walks into Vaught-Hemmingway Stadium in Oxford, Mississippi, on Saturday afternoon to take on No. 11 Ole Miss, it will be power vs. power in one of the biggest SEC games of the season.

Alabama's offense currently ranks fourth in the nation in yards per game (594.3) and fifth in yards per play (7.62). Quarterback Blake Sims and that crew will be going up against the fourth-best defense in the country (248.0 YPG and 3.74 yards per play).

The Rebels have notched nine interceptions in just four games, so while Sims has looked great all year long—particularly two weeks ago when he tossed for 445 yards and four touchdowns against Florida—this will be, by far, his toughest test of the year. 

Ole Miss safety Cody Prewitt is excited about facing off against the Tide offense, saying, per Fox Sports' Brandon Speck that "we don't really think Bama is as good as they have been."

The matchup between Ole Miss' defense and Alabama's offense won't be what decides the game, though. Ole Miss' offense vs. Alabama's front seven is the most important matchup of the game.

It'll be no contest, as SEC Network's Paul Finebaum explained to The Opening Drive on WJOX 94.5 in Birmingham.

Alabama has made an effort to be faster in its front seven over the last few years, with fast and physical players like defensive end Jonathan Allen and linebacker Rashaan Evans. Those kinds of players—Allen, in particular—will be a huge factor on Saturday afternoon in Oxford.

Ole Miss' offensive line has been a sore spot this year. The Rebels have given up 29 tackles for loss this season—tied for the second-worst mark in the SEC. That inconsistency up front is a big reason why quarterback Bo Wallace has been mistake-prone.

Wallace has thrown an SEC-worst six interceptions, including two last week against Memphis in addition to fumbling once. He and Ole Miss' offensive line haven't seen anything like what's coming at them this weekend. 

The Crimson Tide front seven gets after the quarterback, thrives off mistakes generated with pressure and will put Sims and that offense in position to capitalize.

How do you slow down a pass rush?

A consistent running game would help, and Ole Miss' running game has been far from consistent this year.

The Rebs are averaging just 160.75 yards per game on the ground and just 3.99 yards per carry—the third-worst mark in the conference. If they have a strength on the ground, it's off the edge, where smaller running backs I'Tavius Mathers and Jaylen Walton have done the most damage.

Guys like Allen can track down even the fastest running backs, as he proved last year in the highlight above, chasing down Heisman Trophy finalist Tre Mason from behind.

If Ole Miss can protect Wallace and prevent him from taking risks against Alabama's defense, it will go a long way toward springing the upset. Doing that, however, probably requires establishing a strong and consistent running game, and against this Alabama defense, that's no easy task.

Bama's offense vs. Ole Miss' defense is going to be a wildly fascinating chess match, with both teams earning their fair share of praise. 

It will be a decidedly one-sided affair when Ole Miss has the ball, though.

The Tide will be all over the Rebels from the get-go, force mistakes by the dozen and lead the Crimson Tide to a big victory on the road in Oxford.

 

Barrett Sallee is the Lead SEC college football writer and video analyst for Bleacher Report, as well as a co-host of the CFB Hangover on Bleacher Report Radio (Sundays, 9-11 a.m. ET) on Sirius 93, XM 208.

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of cfbstats.com, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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College Football Rankings 2014: Updated Outlook on Top Week 6 Polls

A wild weekend of college football has fans ready to check out the Week 6 college football rankings from The Associated Press, USA Today and Bleacher Report.

With several top programs like Alabama, Oregon and Oklahoma having the week off, and other schools like Florida State and Georgia barely picking up victories, there has been turnover in the polls.

Here are the updated Week 6 rankings and the biggest winner and loser from Week 5.

*Polls via Amway coaches', The Associated Press and Bleacher Report.

 

Biggest Winner: LSU

The biggest winner of Week 5 was LSU. With several top-ranked teams off and several others barely earning a victory in hard-fought matchups, LSU utterly dominated New Mexico State, winning by a lopsided score of 63-7.

While the Tigers still have a loss on their record, it came against a better-than-expected Mississippi State team. Add in a Week 1 win over the tough Wisconsin Badgers, and LSU looks more and more like a viable SEC Championship contender every week.

The story of the day was freshman quarterback Brandon Harris. Not only did he go 11-of-14 through the air for 178 yards and three touchdowns, but he also racked up 36 yards on the ground for another two touchdowns.

Despite Harris clearly winning the starting job with his Week 5 performance, Tigers head coach Les Miles told Ron Higgins of The Times-Picayune about his quarterback situation:

We're not going to operate that way. We're always going to do things in a measured fashion. We'll go back and communicate with our team.

Brandon Harris came in and did exactly what we needed him to do. He handled the communications, and he made positive plays. Seven straight scoring drives, no turnovers, he operated the offense very effectively. I didn't see that as a surprise.

But I can tell you this. We're going to need both quarterbacks this season. There's a long season left. Anthony Jennings has to get better. Some of the things he did, the fumble and two picks, are things he cannot do. He'll have to make changes, he'll have to improve.

As great as the win was for LSU, the program must turn its attention immediately to its biggest opportunity of the year against Auburn on the road in Week 6. The Tigers are desperate to climb back into the postseason conversation, and a win over Auburn would help the school’s case.

If LSU can use the momentum created against New Mexico State to stun Auburn, the Tigers will continue to climb the rankings and be a viable championship contender.

 

Biggest Loser: Arizona State

As great as the win was for LSU in Week 5, the loss for Arizona State against UCLA was equally as devastating for the Sun Devils. The matchup against the Bruins was the first real test of the season for ASU, and the program failed miserably, losing 62-27.

The offense had its issues, but it was Arizona State’s defense that ultimately betrayed them. The Sun Devils allowed an astounding 580 total yards of offense (355 passing and 225 rushing), including four highlight-reel touchdowns, via ESPN College Football's Twitter account:

Arizona State needed this win. The team began the toughest stretch of the schedule at home against UCLA and will now travel to USC and host Stanford in the next two games. With the team’s confidence shaken, the Sun Devils could easily fall to 3-3 after six games.

If the program has any real hope of regaining their place toward the top of the rankings, Arizona State must beat both USC and Stanford and go on to beat Notre Dame later in the season. That's a tough stretch for any team, but ASU is coming off a disheartening loss.

Starting quarterback Taylor Kelly was unable to play with a foot injury and was replaced by Mike Bercovici. Regardless of which player starts next week, the key for the team must be limiting turnovers and being smarter with the football.

 

*Stats via ESPN.com.

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Samuel Chi's Mock College Football Playoff Standings: Week 6

While there are 17 teams still unbeaten in FBS, only about a dozen or so realistically remain in the hunt for a spot in the four-team playoff field. The SEC West, with six of its seven teams ranked in the Top 15, takes up almost half of the list of the contenders.

But that does not mean multiple teams from that division will get into the playoff. The possibility does exist, though it's a long shot. The SEC West will begin in earnest its elimination process this weekend as three divisional showdowns take place: Alabama visits Ole Miss, Auburn hosts LSU and Mississippi State welcomes Texas A&M.

None of the other conferences are likely to land more than one team in the playoff field, and they will now go through their own internecine battles. Here's a look at where everyone stands at the end of the "preseason" phase.

 

The Rankings

(See methodology of standings)

 

The Playoff Teams

1. Oklahoma

The Sooners remain on top of the standings but will now enter the most challenging portion of their schedule, beginning with a visit to unbeaten TCU. OU's solid strength of schedule will keep it in the playoff field as long as it keeps winning. (Projected bowl: Playoff at Sugar Bowl)

2. Auburn

The Tigers will enter the most brutal six-game stretch of 2014 beginning with the LSU game. After that, they'll play five more teams currently ranked in our Top 25, including road games at both Mississippi schools and Georgia. And if they get through all of that unscathed, they still have to visit Tuscaloosa for the Iron Bowl at the end of the regular season. (Projected bowl: Playoff at Rose Bowl)

3. Florida State

A second consecutive narrow escape doesn't affect FSU's place in the playoff, but it might influence its seeding. Because they're the defending national champions, the 'Noles will make the playoff field as long as they win the ACC undefeated, or perhaps even with one loss. (Projected bowl: Playoff at Rose Bowl)

4. Alabama

Even though they're also in the SEC West, the Tide somehow have an easier schedule than most of their divisional foes. They avoid the better teams in the SEC East and have likely their toughest two games (Texas A&M and Auburn) at home. (Projected bowl: Orange Bowl)

 

First Four Out

5. Oregon

Don't let the heading fool you: The Ducks are in the playoff field if they win out, no ifs and buts. Even with one loss, Oregon likely will have a shot to get into the playoff as long as it wins the conference title. The Ducks host Stanford this year, which will help their chances. (Projected bowl: Playoff at Sugar Bowl)

6. Texas A&M

The Aggies can still play their way into the playoff field, thanks to last week's overtime escape against Arkansas. But for them, it's likely one (loss) and done because of their atrocious nonconference schedule. (Projected bowl: Cotton Bowl)

7. UCLA

The Bruins did themselves a huge favor with an emphatic win at Arizona State last Thursday. That was enough to wipe away a rather unimpressive nonconference portion of the season in which they barely beat three middling teams in Virginia, Memphis and Texas. But things are just getting started for UCLA, as it must navigate perhaps the top-ranked schedule in FBS this year. (Projected bowl: Fiesta Bowl)

8. Ole Miss

The Rebels might not be in this spot for long after getting by September against subpar competition, struggling against Memphis for three quarters in their last game. The upcoming game against visiting Alabama arguably will be the most important in program history in at least a quarter century, or more. (Projected bowl: Non-CFP bowl)

 

Other Fun Facts

* At the moment, there does not appear to be a spot for BYU in the six CFP bowls. The Cougars' independent status is not helping their cause, as there is no guarantee of any sorts for them. Complicating things is that the ACC has a guaranteed second spot in the Orange Bowl should Florida State qualify for the playoff, and right now that belongs to Clemson (ranked at No. 26).

* The other independent, Notre Dame, likely will not be squeezed out as long as it either wins out or finishes the season with just one loss. The Irish can play their way into the playoff field if they can knock off Florida State and essentially grab the ACC's place for themselves.

* East Carolina remains in the driver's seat for the "Group of 5" guaranteed bowl slot. It's likely that the Mountain West, MAC and Sun Belt are already eliminated, leaving just Marshall from Conference USA and the winner of the East Carolina-Cincinnati game (if it wins the American title) as the only contenders for that bowl slot.

Follow on Twitter @ThePlayoffGuru

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LSU vs. Auburn Complete Game Preview

AUBURN, Ala. — Auburn received its first major test two weeks ago at Kansas State, but the degree of difficulty steps up even higher this weekend in the first of six straight conference games.

And Gus Malzahn's team will not be able to ease into what could be a half-dozen games against ranked competition. No, Auburn will kick things off with a home game against a hungry LSU team that has beaten Auburn seven of the last nine years—including last season, when the Bayou Bengals handed Auburn its only regular-season loss.

It's safe to say the two teams are not at top gear heading into this year's Tiger Bowl. Undefeated Auburn's offense is not at the efficiency it enjoyed at the end of last season, while LSU recently dropped a home game to Mississippi State for the first time in more than two decades amid a quarterback controversy.

However, both defenses have been bright spots this season, with Auburn making the jump toward the top 25 nationally in several major categories and LSU continuing to be one of the country's toughest against the pass.

This highly anticipated SEC West showdown has all the makings of another instant classic in what has been a series filled with incredible moments. Before we get into the full breakdown, here are the basics: 

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Ohio State Band Makes Michigan the Witch in Tribute to 'The Wizard of Oz'

This year marks The Wizard of Oz's 75th anniversary, so the Ohio State University Marching Band decided to pay tribute to the movie with its halftime show during Saturday's game against Cincinnati.

Of course, the band had to put its own spin on things.

They created a variety of formations that depicted certain characters. From Dorothy and Toto to the Scarecrow and the Wicked Witch of the West, the band brought the movie's major characters to life on the field.

They also revealed something that most fans of the movie didn't know about one of the characters: The Wicked Witch of the West was a Michigan Wolverine.

Ohio State's band typically finds a way to take a shot at Michigan during its halftime shows, and it found the perfect way to do so during its Wizard of Oz tribute. 

[The Ohio State University

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Tennessee Volunteers vs. Florida Gators Complete Game Preview

It's been nine long years since the Tennessee Volunteers tasted victory against the heated, hated rival Florida Gators.

But unlike most recent games between the two teams, Saturday's game appears wide open.

Both the Vols and Gators have considerable holes. They've combined for three losses already through seven total games a year removed from neither going to a bowl game.

While UT has shown flashes of being on its way back into the conference picture, Florida has its own questions under fourth-year coach Will Muschamp. He fired his offensive coordinator and hired Duke's Kurt Roper after a four-win 2013.

The Gators have had offensive issues again this year, struggling to beat Kentucky at The Swamp, then getting pummeled by Alabama.

Are these two teams passing while going in different directions? Or are the Gators still the "Mighty Gators" when they step onto the field against a Vols team that hasn't been able to get over the psychological hump against them?

UT has a huge opportunity for a major, perhaps season-altering win on Saturday. It may be the most important game of Butch Jones' Tennessee tenure so far. Let's break it down.

 

Date: Saturday, Oct. 4

Time: Noon ET

Place: Neyland Stadium, Knoxville, Tennessee

TV: SEC Network

Radio: Vol Network, Gator Sports Network, Sirius/XM 91

Spread: Florida by 1 point, according to Oddsshark.com.

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Notre Dame Football: Game-by-Game Predictions for the Month of October

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Notre Dame football improved to 4-0 with its 31-15 win over Syracuse on Saturday, but the schedule stiffens, and the Irish made it clear they know they’ll need to improve against their upcoming opponents.

Following the victory at MetLife Stadium, Irish sophomore linebacker Jaylon Smith was asked in a straightforward manner: Will Notre Dame start losing if it puts forth similar performances to the one it did against the Orange?

"Yeah, as simple as that," Smith said. "You talk about Stanford and North Carolina and Florida State, teams like that coming up, you can't allow for those mental errors and that sloppiness. So we understand that."

The Irish committed five turnovers but still powered to a fairly convincing win. Players and coaches agreed afterward that isn't a sustainable model.

But the Irish are the No. 9 team in the country and have scored at least 30 points in each game. They have a defense that has met (and possibly exceeded) expectations quicker than expected.

So how will Notre Dame fare against its three October opponents?

 

Stanford

Notre Dame faces its first true test of the season when it squares off with No. 14 Stanford on Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium.

The Irish have taken care of business through their first four games—quite convincingly in the first two, not as forcefully in the second two. They'll need to be on their game against Stanford, which has already battled with USC and Washington.

Yet in both of those games, the Cardinal were not overly impressive. Stanford suffered its lone loss, 13-10, at the hands of the Trojans in Week 2. Despite gaining 413 yards of total offense, the Cardinal fumbled four times and lost two. Stanford was just 2-of-5 in the red zone.

Against Washington on Saturday, the Cardinal doubled Washington's offensive output (364-179 yards) but, again, lost two fumbles, threw an interception and committed eight penalties for 85 yards.

Notre Dame's defense has proved capable of slowing solid ground attacks, and Irish defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder will present different looks trying to confuse Cardinal quarterback Kevin Hogan.

The great matchup will be on the other side, where Stanford's top-ranked defense (by both scoring defense and total defense, per CFBStats.com) will aim to slow Notre Dame's high-powered offense. Everett Golson should make his share of plays, but the Irish ground game will have to chip in and provide variety against a strong defense.

Still, Notre Dame's offense looks too potent, and its defense should hold up.

Prediction: Notre Dame wins

 

North Carolina

This matchup looked intriguing when North Carolina began the season ranked at No. 23 in the preseason AP poll, just six spots behind the Irish at that point.

But the two defenses have been polar opposites, tilting the balance well in the favor of Notre Dame. The Tar Heels surrendered 29 points in a season-opening win over Liberty (FCS) and 27 in a victory over San Diego State. Not terrible.

But the defense has been porous the last two weeks to say the least. North Carolina allowed 70 points to East Carolina two weekends ago and 50 points to Clemson on Saturday. That's a stunning 120 points in two games.

Any way you slice it, it's challenging to see Notre Dame's offense falling quiet. Even if the Tar Heels clean things up defensively, Golson and the Irish offense have been too explosive. They'll have a prime opportunity to pick apart a North Carolina defense that ranks 126th (of 128 FBS teams) in scoring defense, per CFBStats.com.

Prediction: Notre Dame wins

 

Florida State

Make no mistake, this has been the marquee tilt on Notre Dame's 2014 schedule for a while now. The Seminoles have been sitting at No. 1 in the nation the entire season, and Florida State presents a challenging obstacle despite some recent close calls.

The Seminoles needed overtime to top Clemson at home two weeks ago and only outlasted North Carolina State, 56-41, on Saturday on the road.

Still, Seminoles quarterback Jameis Winston is the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, and there is talent all over the field.

It will be quite interesting, however, to see how Florida State's defense changes between now and Oct. 18, when the Irish and 'Noles kick off in Tallahassee, Florida.

Stout in the run to the national championship, Florida State has fallen sharply off that pace in 2014.

Expect this game to be closer than what some pundits would have predicted before the season, but it will still be very difficult for a young Notre Dame squad to saunter into Doak Campbell Stadium in a raucous environment and escape with a victory.

Prediction: Florida State wins

 

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Mike Monaco is a lead Notre Dame writer for Bleacher Report. Follow @MikeMonaco_ on Twitter.

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College Football's Most Important Offers of the Week

Last weekend’s showdown between St. John Bosco (California) and Bishop Gorman (Nevada)—the nation’s top two prep programs in the USA Today high school football national rankings—was preceded by some intriguing news on the recruiting trail. 

A pair of dynamic Bishop Gorman sophomores, quarterback Tate Martell and receiver Tyjon Lindsey, learned they had earned offers from Pac-12 powerhouse USC.

This development is particularly interesting in the case of Martell, who committed to then-Huskies head coach and current USC head coach Steve Sarkisian in July of 2012.

Martell told Lars Hansen of Realdawg.com (subscription required) last month that he’s sticking with his pledge, and that he’s been in communication with Chris Petersen and the new staff.

"I am still committed," Martell said. "Coach [Chris] Petersen and coach [Jonathan] Smith both told me that my commitment stands and they want to keep my commitment."

The 5’11”, 180-pounder is a 4-star prospect and the No. 93 overall player in the 2017 class. As B/R’s Tyler Donohue notes, Martell has gotten off to a blistering start in his first year in charge of the Gaels program. 

The Trojans' offer to Lindsey makes him the third skill player on the Gorman roster with a tender from USC—joining 2015 4-star receiver Cordell Broadus and 2015 4-star tight end and UCLA commit Aliz’e Jones

While it’s still very early in the process for both Martell and Lindsey, expect Sarkisian and his staff to keep close tabs on both 2017 standouts moving forward.

 

Oregon Heads to Texas to Offer 2016 Standouts

Dating back to Chip Kelly’s tenure at Oregon, the Ducks have always recruited the state of Texas hard, with former Ducks standouts such as LaMichael James, Josh Huff and Darron Thomas all hailing from the Lone Star State.

Last week, Mark Helfrich and his staff offered two of the top juniors from Texas in Sachse High School teammates and 4-star standouts Devin Duvernay and Jared Mayden II.

Duvernay, who is the No. 38 player overall in the 2016 class, is one of the nation’s top receivers. Mayden, who checks in at No. 89 overall, is rated as the No. 6 corner in the 2016 class.

Both players have lengthy offer lists. But with the Ducks’ history of plucking talent out of Texas, don’t be surprised if they become factors in the recruitment of both Duvernay and Mayden.

 

2016 DE Blowing Up

Arguable the most popular player in recruiting circles last week was 2016 4-star defensive end Terrell Hall.

The 6’5”, 218-pound Washington, D.C., native picked up offers from Penn State, Iowa, Virginia Tech and Rutgers last week. 

On the heels of his offer from James Franklin, Hall made it to Happy Valley last weekend for the Lions game against Northwestern. This weekend, Hall is scheduled to visit Maryland. 

With Hall possessing the size and athleticism to become a pass-rushing terror off the edge, expect the interest in his recruitment to continue to pick up steam moving forward.

 

Oklahoma Offers Pair of 2016 Defenders from Houston

Bob Stoops and the Oklahoma Sooners have made a living recruiting in the state of Texas.

The Sooners hit the Houston area hard last week, resulting in a pair of offers to defensive standouts in the 2016 class. 

Eric Monroe, a 5-star safety, and 3-star linebacker Jeffrey McCulloch are the latest Texas natives whom Stoops is pursuing in hopes of getting them to head north for college.

Monroe—who is one of the top five juniors in Texas—is a 6’0” 180-pounder who ranks as the nation’s third-best safety in the 2016 class. With McCulloch, the Sooners' offer represents his most high-profile tender to date.

 

Best of the Rest

  • According to Friedman, Maryland offered 2016 defensive end Keith Simms. Pittsburgh also offered the 6’3”, 220-pounder last week.

 

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

 

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AP College Football Poll 2014: Official Top 25 Rankings, Week 6 Projections

There were quite a few close calls, but with just one upset, there weren't many changes in college football's Top 25 rankings on Sunday. The South Carolina Gamecocks were replaced in the rankings by the team that defeated them on Saturday.

The Missouri Tigers pulled off the 21-20 upset over the Gamecocks and rose to 24th in the rankings. The Tigers had just been bounced from the rankings after an upset home loss to the Indiana Hoosiers the week before.

South Carolina fell out of the Top 25 altogether.

After being destroyed at home by the UCLA Bruins, the previously undefeated Arizona State Sun Devils also dropped out of the rankings. The 3-0 TCU Horned Frogs filled the void by landing at the No. 25 spot.

The Horned Frogs will immediately be forced to prove their worth. They take on the No. 4 Oklahoma Sooners.

Here's a look at the updated Top 25.

Rank Team Record Points 1 Florida State (27) 4-0 1416 2 Oregon (13) 4-0 1405 3 Alabama (13) 4-0 1387 4 Oklahoma (7) 4-0 1357 5 Auburn 4-0 1272 6 Texas A&M 5-0 1206 7 Baylor 4-0 1149 8 UCLA 4-0 975 9 Notre Dame 4-0 972 10 Michigan State 3-1 944 11 Ole Miss 4-0 906 12 Mississippi State 4-0 848 13 Georgia 3-1 788 14 Stanford 3-1 643 15 LSU 4-1 636 16 USC 3-1 560 17 Wisconsin 3-1 502 18 BYU 4-0 450 19 Nebraska 5-0 445 20 Ohio State 3-1 298 21 Oklahoma State 3-1 246 22 East Carolina 3-1 237 23 Kansas State 3-1 216 24 Missouri 4-1 145 25 TCU 3-0 109

Week 6 will be anything but uneventful. There's a plethora of games that will immediately impact the College Football Playoff scene. All of the following games pit undefeated teams against each other:

  • Alabama at Ole Miss
  • Oklahoma at TCU
  • Texas A&M at Mississippi State

 

Will "Trill" Lead the Aggies to Victory?

It begins with the No. 6 Texas A&M Aggies traveling to take on No. 12 Mississippi State Bulldogs. This is a key SEC West battle. The winner of this game figures to represent the biggest challenge to the No. 3 Alabama Crimson Tide for the division title.

The Aggies are set to take on Bama on Oct. 18, while the Bulldogs get the Tide on Nov. 15. 

On Saturday, the red-hot Kenny "Trill" Hill will attempt to keep the momentum he established back in Week 1 vs. South Carolina. Last week against the Arkansas Razorbacks, Hill rallied the Aggies to an overtime win with three second-half touchdown passes.

The Bulldogs defense has proven to be tough all year. It has allowed only 16.5 points this season. Facing a high-powered offense like the Aggies, it's a battle of two extremes. The winner could very well break into the top five.

 

Is Ole Miss Ready for the Big Time?

One of the other colossal games on the schedule features Bama on the road against the No. 11 Ole Miss Rebels. This is yet another intense battle in the treacherous SEC West. Ole Miss' program has been building toward a season like this for the last two years.

With senior quarterback Bo Wallace having a fine year, and the defense sparked by defensive tackle Robert Nkemidiche, the Rebels are going to be a major test for the Tide. 

Can Bama run the football against the Rebels defense? Will Amari Cooper continue his blistering start? Through four games, Cooper is averaging 10.75 receptions, 163.75 yards and 1.25 touchdowns. 

This should be one heck of a battle.

 

How Will the Rankings Look When the Smoke Clears?

It's unlikely either the Florida State Seminoles or Oregon Ducks falter. The Seminoles are at home against the unranked and offensively challenged Wake Forest Demon Deacons. 

Oregon has a tougher assignment against the undefeated Arizona Wildcats. Still, Marcus Mariota and Co. are at home. The Ducks will be expected to handle the Cats easily.

Things obviously get a bit tougher for Alabama and Oklahoma. Both teams are on the road against undefeated, ranked opponents. If you're looking for the team more likely to come up with the upset win, bet on Ole Miss.

The Rebels will be amped, but it all comes down to ball security for Wallace. He's thrown six interceptions this season already. His defense will keep him in the game, but if Wallace turns the ball over, Ole Miss can't win.

Look for Ole Miss to come up with one of the biggest wins in program history on Saturday. Bama will fall out of the top four, and the playoff picture will be turned on its ear.

 

Stats per CFBStats.com

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NCAA Football Rankings 2014: Week 6 Standings and Analysis for Latest Polls

Winning isn't everything. One wouldn't expect that adage to carry over into NCAA football rankings predicated on which schools play a sport better than others, but tell that to Florida State.

The phrase takes on another meaning in this setting. Winning isn't everything, because beating your opponent in dominating fashion is just as important. Although the Seminoles staved off an upset against the North Carolina State Wolfpack, they showed vulnerability in the process.

How did allowing 41 points affect their standing atop the college football leaderboard? Would Texas A&M and Georgia face any repercussions for narrowly generating victories in SEC play? Let's take a look at the latest AP and Amway coaches polls.

 

NCAA Rankings Analysis

For the third time in four games, Florida State came dangerously close to dashing its title defense short. Against NC State, the Seminoles surrendered 24 first-quarter points and 520 total yards throughout the game, but Jameis Winston and Karlos Williams picked up the slack in their 56-41 victory.

In his return from a one-game suspension, Winston threw for 365 yards and four touchdowns along with two interceptions and a fumble that kept the Wolfpack alive. In his best game of the season, Williams accrued 126 rushing yards and a career-high three touchdowns.

Coach Jimbo Fisher took a positive outlook, crediting his team for rallying from behind to salvage a victory. Per ESPN's CollegeFootball's Twitter page:

Now the cynical perspective: FSU has a 13-point margin of victory after winning last year's regular-season games by an average of 40 points per contest. The defense has allowed 403.3 yards per game, hardly befitting a No. 1 squad.

So despite improving to 4-0, the Seminoles lost the top mark in the Amway poll, falling to an idle Alabama team that boasts a 28-point average margin of victory through four games. In the AP poll, they hold a narrow nine-point lead over Oregon.

If the Crimson Tide return from their week off to derail Ole Miss, they'll stay ahead of FSU in the Amway rankings while leapfrogging them in the AP poll. Oregon can also bolster its case for No. 1 against Arizona.

Meanwhile, Texas A&M and Georgia received mulligans despite close calls. The Aggies knocked off Arkansas after allowing 285 rushing yards. After College GameDay praised A&M's improved defense earlier in the day, the club regressed by allowing 484 total yards on Saturday.

Although the Razorbacks are 3-2, their other loss came at Auburn's hands, and the voters realize that a low-level SEC team is still a top-notch squad. Georgia received the same benefit, as the Volunteers have lost two consecutive games but to two ferocious foes in the Bulldogs and the Oklahoma Sooners.

Against 1-4 Vanderbilt, Georgia won't receive the same benefit of the doubt with a single-digit victory. After gaining a career-high 208 yards against Tennessee, Todd Gurley will continue to bolster his Heisman candidacy while keeping his squad in Top 10 consideration.

Arizona State's Top 25 standing was stripped in one listing and placed in jeopardy in the other after relinquishing 62 points to UCLA. Brett Hundley carved up ASU's secondary for 355 yards and four touchdowns, making Mike Bercovici's 488 yards all for naught.

As noted by ESPN CollegeFootball, the Sun Devils somehow gave up four touchdowns spanning more than three-quarters of the field.

With its next two games against USC and Stanford, Arizona State can erase the sour taste stemming from that defeat by upending its Pac-12 rivals. Given its defensive woes, however, it's more likely that at least one more loss sends ASU slipping further down the polls. 

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Vanderbilt vs. Georgia: Complete Game Preview

The Vanderbilt Commodores may be struggling in the post-James Franklin era, but that doesn't mean they'll be any less upset-minded this weekend when they travel to take on the Georgia Bulldogs.  And such a mentality is merited given this game's recent history and the wide-open state of the SEC East.

Last year, Vanderbilt shocked Georgia with a 31-27 victory.  And if there's anything we've learned from this division in 2014, it's that anything—even a repeat upset—is possible.

Here's what you need to know about Saturday's game: 

  • Date: Saturday, October 4
  • Time: 4:00 p.m. ET
  • Place: Sanford Stadium, Athens, Georgia
  • TV: SEC Network
  • Radio: Georgia Bulldog Radio Network, Vanderbilt Radio Network
  • Spread: Georgia (-32.5), per OddsShark.com

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College Football Rankings 2014: Latest Standings and Predictions for Week 6

The college football rankings won't look the same following a crazy Week 6 schedule that features six matchups of ranked teams.

Looking back on Week 5, there were a few results that shook up the standings. South Carolina dropped a game to Missouri, Stanford just edged Washington and Texas A&M needed overtime to defeat Arkansas. Expect action that's even more compelling in Week 6.

Anything can happen in football, so counting on the higher-ranked team isn't exactly a foolproof method of success. You'll have to analyze the matchups to predict the winners.

Below, you'll find predictions for a few notable matchups on the schedule as well as the updated standings heading into Week 6.

 

Arizona at Oregon

While not a matchup against ranked teams, Arizona and Oregon will be an exciting affair. The Wildcats and Ducks are both 4-0. That said, Oregon's competition has obviously been much stronger.

Marcus Mariota, a favorite for the Heisman Trophy, has been stellar on the year. He has already racked up 13 touchdowns and 1,135 yards through the air. Throw in the 214 yards and three touchdowns on the ground, and Mariota has truly been one of the most dynamic weapons in the game.

Of course, he's had some help. Royce Freeman, Devon Allen and Byron Marshall have been strong supporting characters in Oregon's impressive start.

The Wildcats have a potent offense as well, so this game could definitely become a shootout by the second half. Quarterback Anu Solomon has 13 touchdowns and 1,454 yards through the air to go with 167 yards rushing.

Nick Wilson is a dynamic rusher, totaling four touchdowns and 482 yards thus far. It will be the combined efforts of Solomon and Wilson that determine if the Wildcats can keep up with the Ducks.

While both teams are 4-0, the strength of schedule tells us that Oregon has played far better teams. Arizona has wins over UNLV, UTSA, Nevada and California—a far cry from South Dakota, Michigan State, Wyoming and Washington State.

The Ducks will be 5-0 following next Saturday.

Prediction: Oregon, 42-28

 

Texas A&M at Mississippi State

Ready for the game of the week?

The Aggies are 5-0 after an overtime victory against the Razorbacks, and Kenny Hill has looked superb to start the season. He's attacking defenses through the air and capitalizing on space in the middle with his feet.

This team is arguably better than last year's group led by Johnny Manziel and Mike Evans, and that really says something. The Aggies are definitely a contender for one of the four playoff spots when the season comes to a close.

The Bulldogs enter Week 6 after a bye week. They defeated lackluster opponents through the first three weeks but took down LSU in impressive fashion in Week 4. Don't sleep on this Bulldogs team against A&M.

Dak Prescott and Josh Robinson lead the offense on the ground, and it will be their ability to keep the chains moving that makes the A&M defense tired. By keeping the Aggies offense off the field, the Bulldogs have a chance.

That has proven hard to do, however. The predicted result could easily flip-flop, but it's hard to go against the grain.

Prediction: Texas A&M, 34-29

 

Follow Kenny DeJohn on Twitter: @KennyDeJohn_BR

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