NCAA Football News

Missouri vs. South Carolina: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time and More

Even though fans are not soon to forget the double-overtime classic put on by Missouri and South Carolina last season, the two programs are set to go at it again Saturday in one of the SEC schedule's biggest matchups.

Last year, South Carolina rattled off 17 fourth-quarter points and then got a field-goal miss from the opposition in the waning moments of the second overtime period to secure the massive upset.

Some of the heroes from that epic encounter have since moved on to other ventures, but the now-ranked No. 13 Gamecocks are hoping a home contest against an unranked Tigers squad produces a comfortable win this time around.

As if. The SEC East rivals are bound to put on another show to remember, as a visit from ESPN's College GameDay suggests.

 

The Hunt for a Rebound

These are two angry teams, to say the least.

Gary Pinkel's Tigers are a team in transition that still managed to sneak into the realm of the ranked to start the season. Three dominant wins later, the most notable being a triumph over UCF, the squad had worked its way up to No. 18 overall.

Then Indiana came for a visit last weekend. Indiana, a program that has not won more than five games in a season since 2007. A program that has not strung together back-to-back winning seasons since the 1993 and 1994 campaigns.

That Indiana went to Columbia and compiled 493 yards of total offense, converted just one third down on 14 tries and escaped with a 31-27 win.

Not that things have been much better for Steve Spurrier's Gamecocks. The team got blown away by Texas A&M to start the season. It then only scored a 10-point victory over East Carolina. A three-point upset of Georgia. Last week, Spurrier's team bumbled its way to a victory against an overmatched Vanderbilt squad.

Spurrier said, per The Associated Press, via ESPN.com:

We still believe we have a chance to have a good team this year. We're 3-1 and have won some close ones. We've played some pretty good teams. We didn't think Vandy was going to be that good, but they played their hearts out. Probably out-played us. Probably out-hustled us in a lot of areas.

Considering a win Saturday would put either team's SEC fate in its own hands the rest of the way, it makes sense the men in charge are none too thrilled. Whether the teams were overlooking last week's games in favor of this one or not, both sides have a ton of work to do.

 

An Unheralded QB Battle

In a game such as this, the praise or blame will fall on the man under center.

For South Carolina, that is Dylan Thompson, who left last year's game against the Tigers in favor of injured starter Connor Shaw, who proceeded to lead the Gamecocks to the epic comeback. Looking back, Thompson has managed to (impressively) find the silver lining, as captured by Matt Connolly of the Spartanburg Herald-Journal:

Now a senior, Thompson has thrown for 1,140 yards and 11 touchdowns to three interceptions. In the loss to the Aggies, he completed just 50 percent of his passes but managed to get 366 yards and four touchdowns on the day.

Sophomore Maty Mauk is at a bit of a disadvantage in the quarterback showdown given his limited experience, but he has shined so far with 978 yards and 14 scores to four picks while completing 61.6 percent of his passes.

Mauk has looked increasingly confident under center each week and is clearly having no issues with the leadership role, as one can glean from his comments after the upset at the hands of Indiana.

"When was the last time we faced adversity?" Mauk asked, per ESPN.com. "Obviously, you don't want that, but we're going to bounce back and I have no doubt everybody's going to get healthy and we're going to come out ready to play Saturday."

Here is more adversity for Mauk to overcome on the road—senior guard Anthony Gatti is out with an injury, as is the team's No. 2 receiver, Darius White (15 catches for 230 yards and three scores).

 

When: Saturday, September 27, 7 p.m. ET

Where: Williams-Brice Stadium, Columbia, South Carolina

Television: ESPN

Live Stream: WatchESPN

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 62.5
  • Spread: South Carolina (-6)

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports via USA Today.

 

Prediction

Neither of these teams inspire on the defensive side of the football, whereas both offenses have managed to post impressive offensive numbers through a handful of contests thus far.

Mauk is one of the conference's better passers already, but on the road in a hostile environment against his first true SEC test without a few key members of the offense, it is difficult to see him posting enough points to win this one.

Once South Carolina establishes a lead, it can ride tailback Mike Davis and others against a Missouri defense that surrendered 241 rushing yards to Indiana a week ago.

The home team grinds it out in the end.

 

Prediction: Gamecocks 38, Tigers 35

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Arkansas vs. Texas A&M: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time and More

The Arkansas Razorbacks and No. 6 Texas A&M Aggies are not shy about how they go about winning games.

Now in his second year at the helm, Arkansas coach Bret Bielema has his power-based attack looking like a serious threat to any team in the SEC, including the Aggies.

Kevin Sumlin's aerial-based attack is no slouch, though, making a star out of its newest captain, Kenny Hill. The Aggies have not skipped a beat despite a new face under center, and an SEC title and spot in the inaugural playoff are certainly possibilities.

As College GameDay reveals, both have the look of SEC powers thanks to prolific offenses:

Something has to give Saturday.

 

War of Strengths

Bielema is content to run the ball down the opposition's throat, control the pace of the game and walk away with an emphatic win.

“This is Arkansas football, hog-ball, hog-strong, whatever you want to say it, this is what we are,” Bielema said, per ESPN.com's Sam Khan Jr. “I know at times it ain't that pretty, but it's a heck of a lot of fun.”

Behind the churning legs of runners such as Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams, the Razorbacks have rattled off three consecutive wins with a minimum of 49 points in each. The numbers themselves are rather eye-opening:

It all makes sense when taking into account a nugget from Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee—the Arkansas offensive line averages 328.4 pounds per player. In other words, bigger than a big handful of NFL lines.

Now contrast that with the Aggies, a team that already has 1,359 yards and 13 scores to one interception from Hill, an impossible-to-ignore Heisman candidate.

The system flat-out works, with few areas of the field being off-limits, as ESPN CollegeFootball visualizes:

Interestingly enough, on the flip side of the ball, Arkansas struggles against the pass and Texas A&M has its issues against the run.

Both attacks have the ability to control the game and keep the other off the field. In turn, this makes one key facet of the contest all too critical.

 

Turnovers Matter

It sounds obvious, right? 

Well, one would not know it given the Aggies' track record so far. The team started off on the right foot with no turnovers against South Carolina. A 73-3 win over Lamar saw the team turn it over three times. There was another in a 38-10 win over Rice. Yet another in a 58-6 thrashing of SMU.

Eventually, this habit of carelessness with the rock will hurt the Aggies in a bad way.

Perhaps as soon as this weekend.

"Two weeks in a row we lost the turnover battle," Sumlin said, per USAToday.com. "The things we are continuing to work on are our penalties, our turnover margin and third downs. We accomplished some things but have areas to improve on."

Now, the Razorbacks have turned it over four times, but the brutal, clock-grinding ground game is more conducive to making opponents pay for letting go of the ball.

We are talking about a Razorbacks team that threw the ball just 12 times in a 49-28 thumping of the high-flying Texas Tech Red Raiders. A total of 68 rushes produced 438 yards and seven touchdowns, not to mention gave Arkansas the ball for better than 40 minutes of play.

If the Aggies give the ball away, a similarly lopsided box score is not out of the question.

 

When: Saturday, September 27, 3:30 p.m. ET

Where: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas

Television: CBS

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 70
  • Spread: Texas A&M (-9)

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports via USA Today.

 

Prediction

The mettle of the Texas A&M defense has yet to be truly tested, and the contest against South Carolina is not a reliable judge considering the Gamecocks were in a period of transition under center and at other spots.

Arkansas is a stout test, and that ground game will make this one closer than most would have predicted beforehand.

That said, the Razorbacks defense is not exactly on par with its offense. The unit will surrender plenty of points to Hill, while the offense will settle for field goals on a few critical drives. That will make the difference above all else.

Prediction: Aggies 38, Razorbacks 30

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Tennessee vs. Georgia: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time and More

Forget SEC East implications, Tennessee and No. 12 Georgia have something to prove Saturday.

The visiting Volunteers fell flat on the road in Week 3 against No. 4 Oklahoma and have yet to prove that second-year head coach Butch Jones has made serious headway after a 5-7, two-conference-win season a year ago.

Meanwhile, Georgia beat up on Troy in what amounted to a bye week, but the sting of a three-point loss to South Carolina two weeks ago has the Bulldogs on the hunt to prove themselves worthy in the SEC, not to mention in the hunt for the inaugural College Football Playoff.

There is clearly plenty at stake in one of the week's marquee matchups, and not just within the confines of this season. On the field, programs in transition will need key performances to gain serious momentum before a deeper dive into SEC play.

 

Demons of the Past

Mark Richt and the Bulldogs understand better than anyone what a trap game this may turn out to be.

The team is angry over the loss to the Gamecocks, but last year's contest against the Volunteers should weigh heavily on those still on the roster. Georgia won by a field goal in overtime against Jones' lowly team but lost running back Keith Marshall and receiver Justin Scott-Wesley for the season in the process.

The Bulldogs finished the rest of the season at 4-4.

A more desirable result this time around means the Bulldogs must heavily lean on junior back Todd Gurley. He owns 402 yards and four scores on a ridiculous 9.8 yards-per-carry average already, and those numbers would be higher had the staff not pulled him in the game against Troy to preserve his health.

Gurley's 131 yards and a score on 20 totes in the loss to South Carolina speaks volumes to his ability against top defenses. It also sounds as if his eyes have been set on this matchup for a few weeks now, as captured by Anthony Dasher of UGASports.com:

Tennessee is quite the test, too. Against Oklahoma, the Volunteers limited top Sooners backs Keith Ford and Alex Ross to a 3.7 yards-per-carry average or less although Samaje Perine (who broke out for huge numbers a week later against West Virginia) did find room for 67 yards on nine carries.

At home, the ground game needs to prove capable once again because Tennessee has a habit of not going down easily.

 

Undercover Problems

Tennessee just so happens to have a few strengths in areas many would consider weaknesses for Georgia.

That is what makes the spread here so strange and perhaps explains why it has started to shift in the visitors' direction after opening, as illustrated by Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee:

Bad news for the Bulldogs—Tennessee has the pure athletes to take advantage of the team's propensity to give up deep passing plays. The numbers for the Volunteers' top three receivers—especially the per-catch averages—show that the iffy Bulldogs secondary will get a major test:

Considering the Bulldogs gave up 271 yards and three scores to Dylan Thompson, Marquez North (who caught a touchdown pass against Georgia last year) figures to give the secondary fits.

That works on the opposite end of the spectrum, too. Gurley figures to get his on the ground, but senior Hutson Mason may prove to be a liability once again. Look at it this way: South Carolina allowed 832 passing yards in its first two games, but Mason failed to cash in on a weak unit and managed just 191 yards.

Tennessee touts a strong pair of corners in Cameron Sutton and Justin Coleman. Also remember that Tennessee has had two weeks to prepare for this matchup in particular.

Jones has done an incredible job in a short amount of time by turning the tides in the recruiting war. It has yet to truly show in the win column, but it will sooner or later. That may begin Saturday if Georgia cannot mask its weaknesses at home.

 

When: Saturday, September 27, 12 p.m. ET

Where: Sanford Stadium, Athens, Georgia

Television: ESPN

Live Stream: WatchESPN

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 55.5
  • Spread: Georgia (-17)

 

Team Injury Reports

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

 

Prediction

As always seems to be the case between these two, it is safe to presume this one will be hotly contested throughout.

A few timely big plays from the Tennessee offense are to be expected, but a star player such as Gurley usually takes control in such a contest. Last week was essentially practice for the real thing this week, and if he takes more than 20 handoffs, Tennessee will eventually fold.

The Volunteers are certainly on the right path and already strong in two areas that are critical to success in the current era at the top of college football. But right now, especially on the road, Jones' team does not have the overall balance that suggests it can overcome the Bulldogs.

Prediction: Bulldogs 34, Volunteers 30

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Oregon Football: What Marcus Mariota Must Do to Win 2014 Heisman

Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota is the favorite to win the 2014 Heisman trophy; however, there’s a lot to be done by Mariota and the Ducks if he’s going to take home the statue. 

There’s no doubt that Mariota has carried the Ducks so far this season. On the year, the Ducks quarterback is completing 74 percent of his passes, has thrown for 1,135 yards and 13 touchdowns, and has rushed for 214 yards and another three scores. He’s also yet to turnover the ball.

But winning the Heisman isn’t just about pure stats. Your team has to be one of the best in the nation and you have to unequivocally be the leader and face of the program. It also helps if you create that “Heisman Moment,” which voters will remember when it’s time to submit their ballots.

Here’s what Mariota and the Ducks have to do the rest of the season to ensure that Oregon secures its first Heisman Trophy winner.

 

Throw for 3,500 yards and Score 35+ Touchdowns 

The Heisman Trophy is an award that has been given to quarterbacks in nine of the last 11 seasons—including Reggie Bush’s win in 2005.

The quarterbacks who’ve won the award in the past 11 seasons—Jason White, Matt Leinart, Troy Smith, Tim Tebow, Sam Bradford, Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III, Johnny Manziel and Jameis Winston—have averaged 3,625 passing yards, 35 touchdown passes and 10 rushing touchdowns.

Here’s a breakdown:

Let’s say that Mariota plays 13 games this season before the Heisman ceremony takes place in December, including a potential Pac-12 Championship game. Currently he is on pace for 3,688 passing yards, 42 passing touchdowns and 10 rushing touchdowns. If he keeps up with that pace, Mariota will have equaled or bettered the averages of the past nine quarterbacks to win the Heisman trophy.

Of course, statistics don’t tell the entire story. Wins do.

 

Beat Stanford

Stanford has been Mariota’s Achilles' heel. The Ducks redshirt junior quarterback is in his third year as starter for the program and has a nearly flawless record of 27-3. However, two of those losses have come at the hands of the Cardinal.

If the Ducks are to win the Pac-12 North title and advance to the Pac-12 Championship game on Dec. 5, they are going to have to beat Stanford. In order for Mariota’s Heisman candidacy to be taken seriously, he has to lead the Ducks to a victory over Stanford on Nov. 1.

Without a victory over Stanford, Mariota could still theoretically win the Heisman; however, it would be a much tougher road and that road would be filled with a lot more questions than answers.

When the Heisman voters go to cast their ballots you don’t want there to be any room to ask questions. The race needs to be over before it had even started. By beating Stanford and overcoming his Achilles heel, Mariota will have proved that he’s the best candidate for the prestigious award.

 

Win the Pac-12 Championship

Despite the fact that Mariota is the best quarterback in the history of the Oregon program, as evidenced by his school records including most touchdown passes thrown and total offense, he has never won a Pac-12 Championship.

While it’s not a prerequisite for a Heisman winner to win their conference championship, in fact only five of the past nine quarterbacks to win the Heisman have, Mariota is going to need to accomplish this feat in order to secure his place on the ballot. Mariota needs to win the Pac-12 championship because not only will it highlight his accomplishments on one of the best teams in the nation, but also because it will alleviate concerns that Mariota can’t win the big game and get past Stanford in the Pac-12 North division.

Can Marcus Mariota win the Heisman trophy if the Ducks go 11-1 in the regular season and fail to reach the Pac-12 title game? Yes, it’s possible. However, if Mariota is to lead the Ducks to a Pac-12 title, it would cement his legacy at the University of Oregon and propel his Heisman trophy candidacy.

 

Earn a Spot in the College Football Championship

Six of the past nine quarterbacks to capture the Heisman trophy have gone on to play in the national championship game, though only three winners have captured the title—Matt Leinart in 2004, Cam Newton in 2010 and Jameis Winston in 2013. 

It's possible to have a remarkable season and capture the Heisman without making it to the national championship game; however, the trophy is usually presented to the best player on one of the best teams in the country. While Tim Tebow, Robert Griffin III and Johnny Manziel all won the Heisman without their teams being in serious contention for the national title, it's the road less traveled.

With the new College Football Playoff allowing four teams to compete in a playoff for a national title, it should open up the door for more Heisman trophy candidates.

This is where Mariota fits in. The Ducks, currently ranked second by the Associated Press, have a very realistic shot at reaching the inaugural College Football Playoff. If Mariota can lead the Ducks into the playoff, he should be one of the top contenders for the Heisman trophy.

He can win the trophy without reaching the playoff, but, as we said, it’s the road less traveled. With a playoff berth, Mariota can capture the Heisman trophy.

 

Create The “Heisman Moment”

While the Heisman trophy is a reward based on individual statistics and team results, the voters also award “style points.” Most of the past winners have not only succeeded individually, but they’ve provided theatrical moments on the field that are remembered and immortalized forever.

When we think about the Heisman trophy, we often don’t think of the entire resume of the winner. What we—and the voters—think about is that one moment, that one play that separates a college football player from the pack and leaves a mark on history.

Think about Reggie Bush in 2005 cutting back across the field against Fresno State or Desmond Howard striking the Heisman pose in 1993 after a punt return against Ohio State. How about Johnny Manziel’s scramble, fumble, scramble some more touchdown pass against Alabama in Tuscaloosa in 2012? These are moments we’ll never forget.

In order to win the Heisman trophy a candidate needs to have one of these moments and usually they come in high-pressure moments against a top opponent.

Has Mariota already had his Heisman moment for the Ducks this season? It’s possible.

We could talk about Mariota’s “Flyin’ Hawaiian” rushing touchdown against Wyoming. While that’s a moment, it’s not “the moment.”

However, Mariota’s flip pass against Michigan State may qualify.

With the Ducks down 27-18 and struggling mightily on offense against the tough Spartans defense, Oregon faced a third-and-11. Mariota felt pressure in the backfield, as he had all day. With defenders barreling down on him, Mariota miraculously escaped the pocket and cut to the left. He could have run for a first-down; however, he was beginning to trip.

Out of the corner of his eye, Mariota spotted true freshman running back Royce Freeman. Mariota flipped a gorgeous little pass to Freeman as he was falling to the turf that resulted in a 17-yard gain and a first down. That play changed the entire momentum of the game. The Ducks would go on to score on that drive, as well as the subsequent three drives. That moment, which we've dubbed "the flip," will go down in Oregon lore. 

Was the Mariota's Heisman moment? Only time will tell.

In order for Marcus Mariota to capture the Heisman trophy, he’s going to need once again provide that indelible moment with the game on the line. It’s imperative to his Heisman candidacy.

Mariota has an incredible shot to win the first Heisman trophy in the history of the University of Oregon. If Mariota succeeds individually, beats Stanford, leads the Ducks to a Pac-12 title and Oregon earns a spot in the inaugural College Football Playoff, he will be crowned as the winner of the 2014 Heisman trophy.

 

Jason Gold is Bleacher Report’s lead Oregon writer. Follow Jason on Twitter@TheSportsGuy33.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Pac-12 Football: Ranking the Conference's Top Freshman Classes Through September

We're over a month into the college football season, and while a pecking order has been established in the Pac-12, no team looks head-and-shoulders above the rest.

One thing we do know, however, is that as talented as the conference is at present, the future looks even brighter.

Freshmen on nearly every team have made an instant impact, and that experience early on should turn the group into leaders, playmakers and top-notch NFL talent down the road.

From a running back in the desert to wide receivers all over the place and even a few defenders, the Pac-12 has no shortage of freshmen who've arrived on the college scene and delivered immediately.

But which teams have the best freshman classes through the month of September?

Let's take a look at the top five through the first four weeks of the season. Will this be a sign of who's set to dominate over the next few years?

 

All stats via CFBStats.com. Redshirt players included. Just missed: UCLA, Colorado.

Begin Slideshow

Big 12 Football: Predicting Bowl Appearances for Big 12 Teams

We're already past the quarter pole of the 2014-15 college football season. But is it ever too early for bowl projections? 

We don't think so. 

The Big 12 has already had some major shakeups this season, from the dismissals at Texas to the emergence of West Virginia as a dark-horse contender, this conference is up for grabs. 

The two teams in the league that aren't projected to make a bowl game are Iowa State and Kansas—both failed to earn bowl eligibility last season. 

With that, let's check out the bowl projections for the rest of the eight teams in the Big 12.

Begin Slideshow

NCAA College Football Picks: Week 5 Against the Spread

It’s been an unpredictable betting season so far, but that won’t stop the predictions!

There is only one game this week between Top 25 teams, on Thursday night with Arizona State hosting UCLA. But, have no fear, as there are many big conference games this week, especially in the Pac-12.

Let’s check it out, with lines brought to you by CoopersPick.com

 

No. 11 UCLA vs. No. 15 Arizona State

Betting Odds: UCLA (-4)

UCLA, like Arizona State, is at 3-0, but while the Bruins are favored in their Pac 12 matchup, they won’t run away with this. Speaking of running, the Sun Devils rank seventh in the nation in rushing yards per game, and RB D.J. Foster has 510 yards with five TD, averaging 9.4 yards per carry.

The Bruins are 8-3 ATS in their last 11 games against ASU, according to CollegeFootballPicks2014.com (subscription required), and the favorite is 5-2 in the last seven games between the two conference rivals.

Pick Against the Spread: Take that last stat and run with it. UCLA wins a cover, as QB Brett Hundley will be the key.

 

No. 1 Florida State vs. North Carolina State

Betting Odds: FSU (-23)

Florida State needed OT to beat Clemson without reigning Heisman winner Jameis Winston under center, but he is back for this game. The Seminoles are a huge betting favorite, even on the road, but they have not covered the spread so far on the season. NC State is at 4-0, and while it has not played a tough schedule, the team did put up 49 points on South Florida last game.

NC State is 13-3-1 ATS in its last 17 games against FSU, according to Wise Owl Sports, and the Seminoles have not covered the spread in their last six games at NC State.

Pick Against the Spread: FSU will win but take NC State to cover.

 

Missouri vs. No. 13 South Carolina

Betting Odds: South Carolina (-5.5)

Missouri was shocked in a home loss to Indiana, while South Carolina has won three straight, including beating a Top 10 Georgia team. The Gamecocks are giving up an average of 36 points per game, but they face a Mizzou squad that has only played one team from a major conference—and the Tigers lost that one.

Mizzou has covered the spread in six of its last seven on the road, while South Carolina is 6-1 ATS in its last seven games facing a team with a winning record.

Pick Against the Spread: South Carolina will win and cover at home.

 

No. 16 Stanford vs. Washington

Betting Odds: Stanford (-6.5)

Stanford is on the road, has a loss already and faces an undefeated Washington team. However, the Huskies have only covered in one of their four games this season. Stanford’s stifling defense is the best unit in the nation, only giving up an average of 4.3 ppg.

Stanford is 4-1 ATS in its last five road games facing Washington.

Pick Against the Spread: There is a “D” in “Stanford” for a reason. Take them for the win and cover.

 

Oregon State vs. No. 18 USC

Betting Odds: USC (-11)

Oregon State is 3-0, but it has not played one team so far from a big conference. Meanwhile, after beating a Top 20 Stanford team, USC was shocked last week by Boston College.

The underdog is 4-0 ATS in the last four games between these two, and the home team is 5-2 ATS.

Pick Against the Spread: USC is welcomed back home with a comfortable victory that covers.

 

Cincinnati vs. No. 22 Ohio State

Betting Odds: Ohio State (-14.5)

Cincinnati is undefeated and has a passing offense that ranks ninth in the nation in passing yards per game. However, the Bearcats are the big underdog on the road facing Ohio State. The Buckeyes lost their only contest against a legit team so far, and Cincy will give them a test.

Pick Against the Spread: OSU should win, but Cincy will cover.

 

Arkansas vs. No. 6 Texas A&M

Betting Odds: Texas A&M (-10.5)

Arkansas got over its season-opening loss to Auburn by winning three straight, led by two solid running backs, each with over 390 rushing yards. However, the Razorbacks are on the road to face an undefeated Texas A&M team that has won every game in a blowout and ranks in the top 10 in the nation in overall defense and passing yards per game.

Arkansas is 4-1 ATS in the last five games against Texas A&M, but it has only covered the spread in four of the last 17 games on the road.

Pick Against the Spread: The Aggies will roll in this one, easily winning and covering.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Buckeyes Will Dominate the Bearcats and Head into Conference Play with Momentum

After an early-season bye, Ohio State is back in action this Saturday taking on in-state rival Cincinnati at 6 p.m. ET in Ohio Stadium. This is the Buckeyes' last chance to make a good impression in nonconference play.

Ohio State’s season is at a defining point. It has had two weeks to work out the kinks with the offensive line, clean up the sloppiness on special teams and figure out a way to start games with better efficiency. The Buckeyes don’t just need to win this game; they need to dominate the Bearcats to create a buzz around the program again.  

A blowout certainly won’t erase the embarrassing loss to Virginia Tech on September 6, but it will show that the team is progressing. With many of the top teams looking mortal last week and the Big Ten finally showing a pulse, the Buckeyes have a good opportunity to get back into the playoff discussion with a decisive performance.

Here are the keys to the win:

 

Pass Defense

There were signs of improvement by the secondary against Virginia Tech, but several third-down miscues revealed that there is some work left to be done. The good news is sophomores Eli Apple and Vonn Bell both look as good as advertised. They just need more experience, and they will get it from Cincinnati.

While the Hokies were balanced on offense, the Bearcats are a pass-dominant team. They will provide the first real test in determining how good Ohio State’s pass defense is this year.

Cincinnati is led by quarterback Gunner Kiel, a 6’4”, 210-pound redshirt sophomore. The former 5-star recruit is on fire this season, passing for 656 yards with 10 touchdowns and two interceptions in just two games. He is demonstrating why he was a coveted prospect by most major programs three years ago, and Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer agrees, telling Patrick Maks of Eleven Warriors, “Like most really good quarterbacks, he has really good personnel around him. Really good. I see one of the top quarterbacks in the country.”

Kiel likes to spread the ball around, but his favorite target so far is Mekale McKay, who has 12 receptions for 215 yards with three touchdowns. At 6’6” and 195 pounds, McKay is a big target who will threaten the Buckeyes back line all night. Ohio State safety Tyvis Powell is looking forward to the challenge, telling Doug Lesmerises of Northeast Ohio Media Group:

For the secondary, this is big. Because this is like the best quarterback with the best wide receiver group we're going to see all season. So this is the best time to show the fans that the pass defense has improved.

 

Pass, Pass, Pass

Bearcats head coach Tommy Tuberville has a long history of creating elite-level defenses while coaching at the University of Miami, Texas A&M, Ole Miss and Auburn. He has yet to find similar success at Cincinnati.  

The Bearcats defense ranks No. 106 in the FBS in total defense, allowing 463.5 yards per game. They are also allowing 29 points per game. These statistics might be fine if Cincinnati was playing teams like Oregon, but it has played Toledo and Miami University. This defense stinks, and the Buckeyes will light it up.

Quarterback J.T. Barrett was terrific against Kent State two weeks ago, passing for 312 yards and six touchdowns. He is ready to show that his inexperience is no longer a weakness. Barrett cannot do it alone against Cincinnati, but he will be the catalyst. He will have a career night against the lowly Bearcats secondary.

 

Swagger

It is time for this team to play with swagger. The Buckeyes have an abundance of talent and some of the best coaches in the business. Cincinnati is a decent team, but it is not remotely close to the level of Ohio State. The Buckeyes must own the field and send their little cousin back home wishing it never stepped inside of the Horseshoe.

The Bearcats' strategy is hardly a secret. Without a legitimate run threat, Kiel and his legion of receivers are going to try to carve up Ohio State’s defense to win the game. The secondary has a perfect opportunity to prove last year’s ills are a distant memory. Co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash is going to dial up the heat on Kiel, and the back seven will show that they can handle the pressure.

On offense, Barrett and the skill players will get the ball down the field because the line is ready to play up to its capabilities. Averaging 6’4" and 303 pounds, these guys are all model linemen. What’s been lacking is the prototypical nastiness that Buckeye linemen traditionally possess. Their mean streak is about to be unleashed, and this offense is going to explode on the Bearcats.

 

Analysis

There are obvious grumblings coming out of Central Ohio since Ohio State has underperformed this year. Expectations are always high, and Buckeye Nation is getting a little anxious for a return on the Meyer investment. Don’t worry, it is about to get it.

The rest of this season Meyer is going to deliver the best coaching job of his illustrious career. This is the game where the pieces of the puzzle come together on both sides of the ball. The Buckeyes will trounce Cincinnati 45-17 and, with the win, put the Big Ten on notice that they intend to bring home Meyer’s first conference championship.

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Ranking the 5 Best Moments from the Georgia-Tennessee Rivalry

It’s Tennessee week for the Bulldogs, and no matter what the record is for each team, this game is always closely contested.

And when they’re closely contested games, there are memorable moments. Both teams have had their share in the 43 times they have met.

But what moments stand out for fans? What are the ones that everyone talks about and will talk about for years to come?

Here are the five most memorable moments for the Georgia-Tennessee rivalry.

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

Week 5 brings a changeup in the Bleacher Report expert picks, as our panel will now be picking against the spread for Saturday's top games. 

We’re spicing things up around here, just as the Tennessee Volunteers must do if they’re to win on the road against a stout Georgia Bulldogs team. Butch Jones will need to get creative to hang with Todd Gurley and the Bulldogs’ prolific offensive attack.

Missouri will travel to South Carolina, hoping to get the edge in the SEC East race and show the college football world it's better than the team that lost to Indiana a week ago.

Arkansas is on the upswing, but the Razorbacks will have their hands full trying to shut down Kenny Hill and the potent Texas A&M offense. 

The late-night showdown this Saturday pits a hungry Oregon State team out to prove it is a legit player in the Pac-12 race against a USC team fresh off of a bye. 

And the final game our experts will pick is Jameis Winston’s return as starting quarterback for Florida State. Will the Seminoles trip up at North Carolina State like the last time they traveled to Raleigh?

Ben Kercheval still holds the top spot among our experts, but will the new challenge of picking against the spread result in a new leader? Barrett Sallee is picking Tennessee straight up. 

What are your picks against the spread and straight up? Let us know in the comments below!

Spread lines via Odds Shark’s opening lines.

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Oklahoma State Cowboys vs. Texas Tech Red Raiders: Complete Game Preview

The No. 24 Oklahoma State Cowboys are coming off of an early bye week and will surely be looking to begin Big 12 play with a bang in a Thursday matchup against the Texas Tech Red Raiders.

Speaking of Texas Tech, Kliff Kingsbury's boys were embarrassed last weekend by the Arkansas Razorbacks and their potent rushing attack.

Truth be told, the Red Raiders haven't started the year well at all, almost losing to Central Arkansas and UTEP before the Arkansas game mentioned above, and they could struggle to regroup in a hostile environment Thursday night in Stillwater.

This has always been one of the Big 12's more intriguing games, and this year should be no different.

Oklahoma State may seem to have TTU's number, considering they're playing at home and have won five straight against the Red Raiders. However, you can never count out an aerial attack as deadly as Texas Tech's.

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UCLA Football: What the Bruins Can Do to Slow Down Explosive Sun Devils Offense

In a huge Pac-12 South showdown, Jim Mora and the No. 10 UCLA Bruins football team (3-0) will be tasked with trying to slow down the explosive offense of Todd Graham and the No. 12 Arizona State Sun Devils (3-0) on Thursday night. 

ASU averages 47.0 points per game—good for seventh-best in the entire nation. While the first three games weren't against overly tough competition (Weber State, New Mexico, Colorado), the Bruins have their hands full with the likes of Jaelen Strong, D.J. Foster and others. 

It will be fascinating to see how reserve quarterback Mike Bercovici does in place of the injured Taylor Kelly. Conventional wisdom suggests UCLA will come after the backup signal-caller with pressure early and often. 

Here are three keys to aid in the Bruins' task of keeping the Sun Devils offense in check.  

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Clemson Football: 5 Players Who Have Surprised Us in 2014

With the departure of superstars such as Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins, we knew players would have to step up for the Clemson Tigers this season. Some guys have thrived and run away with the opportunity to play, and some guys who are performing well are players fans didn’t necessarily expect to after the preseason.

I have put together a list of five guys who have been good surprises for the Tigers so far in 2014. I ranked the players according to how important their individual efforts have been in helping the team.

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BYU Football: 4 Things the Cougars Need to Improve During Their Bye Week

For the first time in six years, BYU has started the season with an impressive 4-0 record. The Cougars moved up to the 20th spot in the AP Poll this week and could potentially make another jump with losses from the teams ahead of them. 

With a bye week ahead, the Cougs will have the chance to make needed adjustments and improvements. Despite being undefeated, there is still a lot of room for refinement.

But what do Bronco Mendenhall and his staff need to work on? Here are four things that the Cougars need to improve during their bye week.

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Stock Watch for Class of 2015 Top Wide Receivers

Nearly a month into the high school football season, we've had an opportunity to study a sizable sample size of performances from premier college prospects across the country. The 2015 recruiting class is packed with impressive pass-catchers who can stretch the field and snag contested throws.

These athletes could be running routes on campus near you next year, but for now, they're concentrated on making the most of senior seasons. Based on what we've witnessed so far this fall, here's a peak at players who've piled up positive momentum.

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Shea Patterson Visiting USC: How Would 5-Star 2016 QB Fit in Trojans' Offense?

USC has been a haven for top-flight quarterbacks in recent history, and Trojans head coach Steve Sarkisian is hoping that trend continues in his quest to land 2016 5-star quarterback Shea Patterson.

As Scott Shrader of FightOn247 reports, the Shreveport, Louisiana, native is scheduled to visit USC this weekend for its game against Oregon State.

The visit out west follows trips to Notre Dame on Sept. 6 and Oklahoma last weekend. The Irish and home-standing LSU are a couple of the other primary suitors for the former Arizona commit. 

With the Trojans fighting to get in the mix, how would he fit in Sarkisian’s offense?

Judging by Sarkisian’s recent history with the quarterbacks he’s coached, the 6’2”, 195-pound Patterson has the skill set to effectively run his offense.

Dating back to his days as an assistant at USC and his previous stint as Washington’s head coach, the last five quarterbacks Sarkisian has coached had an average size of 6’3”, 219 pounds. With Patterson having at least 15 months before he enrolls in college, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he can gain a few more pounds of muscle.

On the field, Patterson—who passed for 2,655 yards with 34 touchdowns and four interceptions as a sophomore last season—isn’t a dual-threat passer. However, he is an efficient passer who has enough mobility to make plays happen when things break down in the pocket.

Those traits are similar to the tools possessed by Jake Locker and Keith Price, whom Sarkisian tutored when he was at Washington from 2009-13. 

This weekend will mark Patterson's second trip to USC’s campus this year, as he made an impromptu stop in the spring after visiting California for a training session with quarterback coach Steve Clarkson. 

"I hadn't hardly even been in contact with USC, but he thought it would be a good idea to take a visit,” Patterson told Schrader (subscription required) last month. “I met Coach Sark, met with Coach (Clay) Helton, and I really thought they were cool. Then I toured the campus with Coach Sark and Coach Helton, loved it and I just love the West Coast. I actually think I'm a West Coast guy. So, yeah, I can definitely see myself playing at USC."

While it will be tough to pull Patterson out of the Pelican State, Sarkisian has helped the Trojans land a highly touted passer out of Louisiana before. In 2003, serving as USC's quarterback coach, he was part of Pete Carroll’s staff that plucked former mega-recruit John David Booty out of Shreveport.

Another plus for USC’s shot at landing the nation’s No. 26 overall prospect in the 2016 class is Sarkisian’s history with grooming quarterbacks and the fact that he played the position in college. Patterson mentioned to Schrader that one of his chief requirements when looking for a school is to be close to his position coach.

"I want to have a great relationship with my quarterback coach, I want to feel comfortable at the school and being far from home is not an issue, and I want to have a shot at the starting job at some point," Patterson said.

Considering that this trip is an unofficial visit—meaning that he’s traveling to Los Angeles on his own dime—Patterson’s interest level in USC seems to be high.

Judging by his requirements in looking for a home on the next level and Sarkisian’s background in mentoring and developing talented quarterbacks, USC appears to be a great fit for one of the nation’s elite junior passers.

 

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

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Notre Dame Academic Investigation Has Dragged on Long Enough

Over the past few weeks, football fans have gotten a legal crash course from the unlikeliest of places: football.  

San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh has lectured us on constitutional law. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has been baffled by evidence-gathering protocols. And Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti denied his organization's involvement in Ray Rice's quick acceptance into an Atlantic County pretrial intervention program.

The whole month has required either a year inside a Tier 1 law school or a box set of Law & Order episodes.

But meanwhile in South Bend, Indiana, Notre Dame football players DaVaris Daniels, Eilar Hardy, Kendall Moore, KeiVarae Russell and Ishaq Williams remain withheld from football activities, nearly two months after the university's compliance office was alerted to "suspected academic dishonesty" surrounding submitted papers or homework that may or may not have been written by somebody else. 

At an academic institution like Notre Dame, these charges are serious. They may feel akin to close-talking with coffee breath after getting your fill of Ray Rice, Greg Hardy and Ray McDonald these past few weeks, but Notre Dame president Rev. John Jenkins adequately described the grave nature of these charges in the school's mid-August press release:

"Integrity is at the heart of our mission and academic misconduct will not be tolerated at Notre Dame," Jenkins said in the statement.

That message has been sent, with Brian Kelly ruling out the five players for Saturday's game against Syracuse, the fourth they'll miss as the wheels of justice slowly churn under the Golden Dome.

But at this point, the university's grasp of the moral high ground is quickly eroding. Especially considering the student-athletes are essentially stuck in justice's waiting room as the university meanders through its Honor Code process.

The school's official investigation has been complete since late August. That means it's taken four weeks to form a committee. Even the South Bend DMV thinks this is taking too long. 

Notre Dame officials will not comment on the Honor Code process, nor the timeline that this particular case has moved along. But by declining comment, they've forced Kelly to be the one to deal with the mess, a relatively innocent bystander in these proceedings with this decision far outside the football coach's purview.

The university has a variety of good reasons not to do so. FERPA, the federal law that protects students' privacy, being the main one. But as Rev. Jenkins mentioned in his comments to the school's faculty, the university made the curious decision to name the five suspended players under investigation.

"In order to deter unfounded speculation about individuals not involved, we made an exception to our policy of not releasing the names of students involved in such a process and confirmed the identities of implicated students who had already been named in the public forum," Jenkins explained, according to The Observer

That move may have protected the rest of the Irish football team, but it also hung a "presumed guilty" tag on the five student-athletes that Notre Dame has taken great pains to avoid calling suspended. And while the football players remain on scholarship and attend classes, they've been held out of team activities until the process is complete. 

The idea of any exemption for student-athletes likely makes the Notre Dame brass bristle. This is a school that doesn't believe in athlete dorms or majors designated for "jocks." But the common-sense exemption that Jenkins made for the greater good—and to combat the multiple erroneous reports that had the athletes already dismissed—certainly should be used again as the Frozen Five hang in limbo. 

At this point, it's a worthy endeavor to do our own bit of legal educating. This isn't a situation that's governed by law. It's also complicated by potential NCAA rules violations.

Just as important, this isn't an innocent until proved guilty situation. This never-ending circus is occurring because something happened that's not in accordance with Notre Dame's Honor Code, a document that the university posts openly on its website. 

But therein lies the rub.

The document is posted online. So are the guidelines, violation reports and sanction process. But what's the point of all that efficiency if the university won't get out of its own way and utilize it?

At an institution like Notre Dame, academic integrity might be the only thing that trumps football. This investigation has proved it. So there's a real chance that if the Honor Committee finds a violation grave enough, all five of these student-athletes have played their final snap for Notre Dame.

But there's also the chance that all five will be back on the field as soon as this process is complete, especially if the committee finds these violations only minor. 

Let's just get it over with already. 

 

*Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand.  

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Updated College Football All-American Team Projections for 2014

Four weeks into the college football season, we have a four-weeks better idea about whom the best players in the country are at each position.

Much of this aligns with what we thought before the season, but some of it does not. Certain players have broken out past the point anyone expected (see: Kenny Hill and Kevin White), while others have regressed inexplicably (see: Cameron Erving).

This updated All-America projection takes everything that's happened this season into account, but it also projects forward for how teams and players will perform the next three months. It is not what the All-America team would look like after four weeks of the season.

Instead, it is based on a combination of what we have seen thus far and what we knew before the season. It's a projection of how the All-America team will look come December, which is slightly but not massively different than what we thought four weeks ago. 

Sound off below, and let us know what you think.

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Tennessee vs. Georgia: Vols' Pass Game Key to Huge Upset vs. Dawgs

The Tennessee Volunteers have a prolific passing attack while Georgia has a questionable secondary. Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder discusses how Tennessee can take down the AP Top 25 Poll's 12th-ranked Bulldogs through the air.

Will Tennessee pass all over the Bulldogs?

Watch the video and let us know!

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Alabama Football: Reasons Behind Nick Saban's Latest Press Conference Rant

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — In what has otherwise been a slow bye week for the Alabama football team, on Tuesday Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban decided to add a little bit of excitement to it, lighting his first press conference fireworks of the season over a five-minute exchange about his new offensive coordinator.

To be sure, this was not the fiery-rage Saban that we saw before the Tennessee game in 2011 or the appreciate-your-interest-in-the-game after the D.J. Fluker story dropped right before Texas A&M last season.

This was Saban seeing a window and taking it, raising his voice a little and sprinkling in some humor to drive a couple of points home that emerged after Alabama’s resounding 42-21 win over Florida, one that had many giddy over the Crimson Tide’s explosive offense and some suggesting that offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin could someday become Saban’s heir.

I won’t reproduce the full text of Saban's comments from Tuesday night here, but I would encourage you to watch the video of it to get the full context and body language of what Saban said.

Saban’s motives here were twofold.

The first one was to fight offensive complacency among his team after its biggest offensive output of the season and fourth-most in school history. The second was Saban seeing a window to take a jab at everyone who questioned his hiring in the offseason.

If this wasn’t like his 2011 pre-Tennessee or 2013 pre-Texas A&M rants, it was more similar to one early in the 2012 season on the Saban rant-o-meter, as Andrew Gribble of AL.com noted:

Alabama was coming off its 2011 national title and squashed some offseason complacency concerns with an emphatic 41-14 win over Michigan to start the year. Saban noted a lack of humility after that game, especially preparing to face Western Kentucky, and took exception to what was being written after a very impressive win.

Saban turned out to be right, as Alabama slogged out an uninspiring 35-0 win over the Hilltoppers the next week.

That’s very similar to what’s going on here.

Yes, Alabama’s performance against Florida was outstanding, on paper.

But as Saban has been quick to point out twice now this week, the team took nine penalties on that side of the ball, including several “administrative” penalties, as Saban called them—avoidable mistakes like false starts and illegal formations that occur before the ball is snapped.

It also had four turnovers, three of which resulted in Florida touchdowns, the Gators’ only points of the day.

“In my opinion, we have not arrived as an offense, and (Kiffin) would be the first to tell you that. And I will tell you that too,” Saban said. “I've already said a lot of things that we did in the last game would get you beat. You turn the ball over four times and have nine penalties on offense, you're not going to win very many games. Now, we won that game, but they didn't generate any points on their own, only off of turnovers.

“And we made a lot of explosive plays and we controlled the ball, especially in the second half. There's a lot of things we need to do better.”

Unlike in 2012, Alabama doesn’t get Western Kentucky next.

It will travel to Ole Miss, ranked No. 10 in the AP Poll and No. 11 in the Coaches. The Crimson Tide will have to play much cleaner against an opponent like the Rebels to come out on top.

That’s not Saban lashing out at a particular writer or the media as a whole. The main audience for that message is his team, who might have it sink in a little more if they see it on ESPN or all over Twitter.

The same can’t be said for the second part, though.

When the reporter followed up about Saban’s relationship with Kiffin getting better—implying, fair or not, that it’s had some rough patches—Saban took that opportunity to do a little I-told-you-so about hiring Kiffin.

The question was a fair one. We’ve all seen the pictures...

...and the memes.

Saban, of course, denied there ever was a rift.

“It's never been bad,” he said. “Whoever said it was bad, so why does it need to get better? I thought something had to be bad before it needed to get better. So why do you ask me has it gotten better? That assumes it was bad, that it was worse at one time. So now we're in love, we fell out of love and now we're back in love.”

Saban is right to feel validated after making a much-scrutinized hire. Kiffin has, to this point, turned Alabama’s offense from a steady, efficient machine into a juggernaut. And he has avoided all of the off-field noise that haunted him at his previous stops.

The hire is starting to look like one of the best Saban’s made at Alabama.

“I got beat up like a drum for doing it, and now all of a sudden it's great,” Saban said.

“You guys (the media) don't have any consequences for what you say and do. Our stuff ends up out there on the field on Saturday, and if it ain't done right there's consequences in front of a whole bunch of people, however many people watched the game. How many people watched the last game? What was the rating, like 5.1? How many is that? And however many was in the stadium. It's a different kind of scorecard than you all have got to live with.”

Overall, Saban’s comments Tuesday night were not nuclear like they have been in the past. But when the Alabama coach speaks up, people listen.

He picks his spots carefully, only once or twice a year. This time, like most times, it wasn’t really true anger or directed at anyone in particular.

Saban uses the media to get through to his team when he otherwise can’t. And sometimes it’s just for a victory lap when a criticized hire turns out to be a brilliant move.

 

Marc Torrence is the Alabama lead writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

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