NCAA Football News
CLEMSON, S.C. -
Last week’s results:
No. 3 Clemson (5-0, 3-0 ACC) beat Syracuse 49-14.
Boston College (3-2, 1-1 ACC) beat Army 48-27.
Will Clemson look past Boston College?
You know it. I know it. Everyone knows it. One of the biggest games of the 2013 college football season is just over a week away. No. 6 Florida State is off this week, and with a win over Boston College Eagles, the No. 3 Clemson Tigers will set up one of the biggest showdowns in recent ACC history—a potential top-five matchup in prime time in Memorial Stadium. First, however, Clemson must beat Boston College. The Tigers are 24.5-point favorites, but the Eagles have already surpassed their 2012 win total (3-2). A year ago, that BC team gave Clemson a serious challenge, leading 21-17 late in the first half before falling 45-31.
"You turn this tape on, they get your attention," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. "This is a good football team we’re getting ready to play. This is a team that’s going to challenge us."
Swinney believes his team will hear that message this week.
"If we’re not fully focused on this team we get beat,” he said. “That simple. Our guys have done a good job, we have great leadership. We only have 10 scholarship seniors. Nine of them are fifth-year seniors.. Our guys understand this is the biggest game of the year. You don’t play well, lose this game, Florida State ain’t the story on Monday. It’s how bad you played against Boston College."
Can Clemson stop Boston College’s run game?
Clemson’s defense has improved in Brent Venables’ second season as defensive coordinator. The Tigers are 35th nationally in total defense, yielding 356.6 yards per game, and 16th nationally in scoring defense, allowing 16.6 points per game.
A year ago, the Tigers were 63rd nationally in total defense, allowing 396.6 yards per game, and 48th nationally in total defense, allowing 24.9 points per game. However, run defense has been a sore spot: Clemson allows 171.2 rushing yards per game, 79th nationally. That could be a problem since Boston College boasts senior tailback Andre Williams. Williams is the FBS’s leading rusher, averaging 153.6 yards per game.
"He is the heart and soul of what they do. He’s a very good player," Swinney said of Williams. "As good a guy as we’re going to play."
With a potent passing game showcasing senior receiver Alex Amidon (who had eight receptions for 193 yards and two touchdowns against Clemson last season), slowing Williams will be crucial.
Can Tajh Boyd keep his momentum?
Clemson’s senior quarterback and Heisman Trophy candidate has looked like a different player over the last two weeks. Boyd threw for 683 yards and six touchdowns against no interceptions in the first three weeks, but he kicked his production up a notch against Wake Forest and Syracuse.
He threw for 766 yards with eight touchdowns and two interceptions in those two games, including a Clemson single-game record 455 yards against Syracuse. His top quarterback rating in the first three weeks was 168.6. Against Wake Forest it was 220.9 and against Syracuse it was 261.9.
Time: 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday
Place: Memorial Stadium, Clemson, S.C.
TV: ABC/ESPN2 split-national broadcast
Radio: Clemson and Boston College radio networks (regional)
Spread: Clemson -24.5 via VegasInsider.com
*Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained by the author.
Connect with Greg on Twitter at @gc_wallace.
It's the beginning of the Ed Orgeron era at USC when the Trojans (3-2, 0-2) host Arizona (3-1, 0-1) on Thursday night in a Pac-12 Conference clash at the Los Angeles Coliseum.
Both teams are in dire need of a victory to remain in the hunt for the Pac-12 South Division title, but for USC, the game is doubly important because it's the first to be played since Lane Kiffin was pulled off the team bus and given the heave-ho following a 62-41 blowout loss at Arizona State on Sept. 28.
With Orgeron, the former Ole Miss coach who was responsible for USC's defensive line, now at the helm, there's a high level of uncertainty as to what to expect from the Trojans.
It's hard to imagine it can go much worse for a once-proud program which began the 2012 season ranked No. 1 in the nation only to go 10-8 since.
For Arizona, a win would be the team's first since Sept. 14 when it clubbed UTSA 38-13. Since then, the Wildcats have played just one game, a 31-13 rain-soaked loss at Washington, with bye weeks on both sides of that setback.
Arizona beat a then 10th-ranked USC team 39-36 in Tucson last season, doing so despite Trojans wide receiver Marqise Lee's Pac-12 record of 345 receiving yards.
Time: 10:30 p.m. ET
Place: Los Angeles (Calif.) Coliseum
TV: Fox Sports 1
Radio: Arizona IMG Sports Network, ESPN Radio (USC)
Spread: Despite the coaching turmoil USC is still listed as a six-point favorite, according to sports betting site Bovada.
The Red River Rivalry is unlike any atmosphere in all sports, with Texas and Oklahoma fans dividing at the 50-yard line to create a constant deafening environment.
The Texas Longhorns will look to end their three-game losing streak to the Oklahoma Sooners, Saturday, in the 108th Red River Rivalry. The Sooners have averaged 30-point victories over the last three years, but Texas looks to break the streak with backup quarterback Case McCoy calling the snaps.
In the past, when Texas entered the Cotton Bowl with a quarterback named McCoy, it usually meant success. Now, the Longhorns find themselves with a McCoy who is 0-3 against the Sooners and will be fighting to save Texas' season and, quite possibly, save Mack Brown's job.
When: Saturday, October 12, noon ET
Where: Cotton Bowl; Dallas, Texas
Austin radio: KVET 98.1/1300
SiriusXM satellite radio: XM 117; Sirius 202; Internet 969; Spanish 970
Spread: Oklahoma (-14), per VegasInsider.com
Last meeting: October 13, 2012, Cotton Bowl, Dallas, Texas
Last outcome: No. 13/10 Oklahoma 62, No. 15/15 Texas 21
With all the success of Oregon's record-breaking offense in recent years, there is one feat it had never accomplished until now. Led by quarterback Marcus Mariota, the Ducks have scored at least 55 points in a school-record five straight games.
Since Chip Kelly arrived in Eugene prior to the 2007 season, the Ducks have been among the top offenses in the country each year. Guys like Dennis Dixon, Jonathan Stewart, Jeremiah Johnson, LeGarrette Blount, Jeremiah Masoli, Ed Dickson, Jeff Maehl, David Paulson, Darron Thomas, LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner have led the way for the high-flying Oregon offense during that span.
Much has been made about how teams have failed to slow down the Oregon onslaught since the Ducks took the college football world by storm in 2007. They are 64-14 since then. That's just one of the many reasons the Ducks have earned a spot among the nation's elite.
The offensive numbers the Ducks posted during that span have also helped take Oregon football to the next level. The streak of four-straight BCS appearances is the only accomplishment that gives the Ducks more cache in the world of college football than their offensive prowess.
The video below features offensive gurus Chip Kelly and Urban Meyer discussing the Oregon offense on ESPN during the 2011 season. The two offensive gurus break down what Oregon does on offense and how it works so well. It's not as complex as one might think. Kelly does a great job of explaining the basic principles of the offense, which Mark Helfrich has seamlessly adapted to as Oregon's head coach.
Oregon's rivals had been hoping that the Ducks were headed for a fall with the threat of NCAA sanctions and Kelly's departure to the NFL hanging over the program. But things haven't quite worked out the way their foes were hoping they would.
This article from Oregonlive.com details the slap on the wrist Oregon received from the NCAA. With the NCAA issue behind them, the continued dominance on the field serves as proof that Oregon football is more than Chip Kelly. The Ducks have become a juggernaut that is here to stay.
Through the first five games of the season, the Ducks seem to have moved past both of those issues by looking as good as they ever have.
The Ducks are off to such a special start due in large part to the arsenal of weapons they have at every position. Despite losing workhorse running backs LaMichael James and Kenjon Barner in the last two NFL drafts, the Oregon rushing attack is even better in 2013.
What makes this edition even better than the Oregon teams from the Kelly era is its versatility across the board. Five games into the Mark Helfrich era, the Ducks are rushing for more yards than they ever did under Kelly.
Despite not needing to open up the passing game due to lopsided scores, the Ducks are passing for their second-highest average in yards per game since 2007. If they need to pass the ball more, they have just the man for the job.
A case can be made for quarterback Marcus Mariota as the best player in the country. The 6'4" sophomore is among the favorites for the 2013 Heisman Trophy due to his production in the passing game and on the ground.
Running back De'Anthony Thomas is also considered to be among the best players in the nation. If not the best, he is likely the most exciting.
Thomas had proven he could carry the load as the primary running back before suffering an ankle injury on the opening kickoff against Cal. In two games with Thomas on the sideline, sophomore RB Byron Marshall has filled in with back-to-back games of 100 or more rushing yards. Freshman RB Thomas Tyner has also helped to fill the void by rushing for 124 yards and two touchdowns in the past two contests.
TE Colt Lyerla might have been the biggest "freak" in all of college football before leaving the program over the weekend. Filling the void for Lyerla at tight end is freshman John Mundt, who exploded on the scene against Tennessee, with five catches for 121 yards and two touchdowns in his first college start.
With all the talent on the roster, the biggest improvement has come from the wide receiving corps. Senior Josh Huff has been an established star, but Bralon Addison's emergence has given the Ducks a formidable duo out wide. Neither player has the reputation as a dominant wideout, but both have the ability to produce big numbers when given the opportunity to make a play.
Huff and Addison can do everything from blocking downfield to springing big plays in the run game. They both can take a short pass and turn it into a big play or catch the deep ball down the sideline. Having a pair of big-play threats on the outside is the one thing the Ducks have not had during their dominant run. Adding that element to their high-powered offense makes them nearly unstoppable.
Since Dennis Dixon burst on the scene in 2007, the Ducks have benefited from a run of outstanding quarterback play. After Dixon came Jeremiah Masoli, who was unique in style but a success nonetheless. In 2009, Masoli helped the Ducks to a Pac-10 Championship and their first Rose Bowl appearance since the 1994 season. Masoli made his share of big plays, but his passing skills left a lot to be desired.
Darron Thomas took over for Oregon in 2010 and led the Ducks to their first appearance in the BCS National Championship Game. The following season, he helped guide the Ducks to their first Rose Bowl win in 95 years, a victory over Russell Wilson and Wisconsin.
Despite his long delivery, Thomas was much more of a passing quarterback than Masoli. Thomas could run when called upon, but not at the level of Dixon or Masoli.
In two seasons as the starter, he compiled a record of 23-3. Despite all of his success, Thomas couldn't match the athleticism or overall skills of Mariota, who was in his redshirt freshman year in 2011. With Mariota waiting in the wings, Thomas left the program after his junior season in an attempt to make it onto an NFL roster.
After beating out Bryan Bennett for the starting job prior to the 2012 season, Mariota took the reigns of the Oregon offense and has proven to be the most well-rounded Oregon quarterback since Dixon developed into a star in his final year in the Oregon program.
Mariota has the poise, the arm, the speed and the decision-making to match any of his predecessors. He is the complete package and looks as if he is well on his way to setting the bar as the prototype quarterback for Oregon's offensive system.
In 18 career starts, Mariota has compiled a 17-1 record and some gaudy statistics to go along with his impressive winning percentage.
Oregon's opponents have to try to keep up with an offense that averages 77.2 plays per game. That alone causes a lot of stress on the defense, so when the spread-option scheme forces opponents to guard against the run before anything else, it leaves Mariota with a number of options.
Through five games, the Ducks are averaging a whopping 335 yards per game. Stopping the run is almost always the first priority in football. Against the Ducks, slowing down the run game has proven to be the best way for a team to beat them.
The primary goal for the Oregon offense is to make everything difficult on its opponents. The Ducks' conditioning is legendary, and if they don't substitute, the opponent isn't allowed to run fresh legs out on the field.
It recent years it was sometimes possible to make the Ducks one-dimensional and minimize their effectiveness. That was before Mariota was handed the keys to the offense. His versatility causes fits for any team that tries to focus on the Oregon tailbacks. By choosing to go after the tailback instead of the quarterback, Mariota can keep the ball, avoid defenders and make something happen.
If the defense gets too aggressive and tries to check both Mariota and the tailback, Mariota has the ability to pick apart the defense with quick passes to any number of dangerous weapons.
If a defense chooses to sit back instead of trying to pressure the backfield, the Ducks will wear them out with a relentless rushing attack.
The only proven way to beat the Ducks is to have a defensive front that is disruptive enough at the line of scrimmage that it throws off the timing and continuity of the Oregon offense. Even then, the Ducks have proven to be a tough out.
Their four losses since the beginning of the 2010 season have come against Auburn (2010), LSU and USC (2011) and Stanford (2012). Three came by a field goal and one was in overtime.
Stanford's win over the Ducks in 2012 was a perfect example of how to hold down the Ducks. Don't expect that to happen to the Oregon offense again this season. In 2010 and 2011, Stanford was formidable up front, and the Ducks blasted the Cardinal by a combined score of 105-61. Stanford's biggest disadvantage against the Ducks is its comparative lack of speed.
The 2013 Ducks have more speed than ever and more weapons they can use to spread the field. Washington will provide a big test for the Ducks this weekend, but it doesn't look like anyone can slow down this Oregon team.
A BCS National Championship matchup with Alabama would be the ultimate test and the game everyone wants to see. The way the Ducks are rolling this season, a Nick Saban -oached team with six weeks to prepare, might be the only thing that can put an end to the runaway train that is Oregon's offense.
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
LSU against Florida is the SEC's best permanent cross-divisional rivalry. The game is also the center of controversy.
LSU head coach Les Miles has been vocal in his disdain of the permanent cross-divisional rival in the SEC. Miles says it is unfair LSU and Florida must play every season, while other SEC powerhouses have more favorable matchups.
The game is a must-watch with heavy BCS implications. Both LSU and Florida are one-loss teams fresh off a conference victory last week against Mississippi State and Arkansas, respectfully. LSU is looking to avenge its 14-6 loss last season in Gainesville.
Here's everything you need to know:
Time: 3:30 p.m. ET, 2:30 p.m. CT
Place: Tiger Stadium; Baton Rouge, La.
Spread: LSU by seven, via Scores and Odds
Boise State Broncos (3-2, 1-1 MWC) will travel to Logan, Utah this week to take on the Aggies of Utah State (3-3, 2-0 MWC). This game is a Mountain Division game for both of these teams, and the winner will have an inside track to the MWC title game in December.
The Aggies are reeling right now as they not only lost last week to in-state rival BYU, but they lost their incredible quarterback Chuckie Keeton in the process. Keeton will be out the remainder of the season with a knee injury.
However, don't count out the Aggies in this one. Utah State is a well coached team with considerable talent and heart. They are coming to play Saturday, and the Broncos must be ready.
Let's take a closer look at this game, what might transpire and the ramifications of its result going forward this season.
Last week's games led to the biggest leaderboard shake-up of the season. Through six weeks of play all the experts are separated by a mere two games.
In the early games we will see if Missouri can take advantage of a hobbled Georgia team and Texas can beat Oklahoma for the first time since Colt McCoy graduated.
Later in the day, SEC fans will watch with bated breath as LSU tries to keep its SEC title hopes alive, and the Ducks will fly north to take on a bruised, but dangerous, Washington squad.
Our night game will feature Michigan traveling to Happy Valley to lay their undefeated record on the line against freshman phenomenon Christian Hackenberg and Penn State.
All picks made straight up. Spread is not a factor.
Experts Picks for CFB Week 7 Games of the WeekGames
Missouri vs. UGA
Noon ET: ESPN
Oklahoma vs. Texas
Noon ET: ABC
Florida vs. LSU
3:30 p.m. ET: CBS
Oregon vs. Washington
4 p.m. ET: FS1
Michigan vs. Penn State
5 p.m. ET: ESPN
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
ESPN's College GameDay is the signature show of its kind. Nothing else compares to the comprehensiveness, allure, flair and buzz of this 26-year-old staple of college football preview content.
But that doesn't mean the old broad couldn't use a little makeover.
GameDay's last major update came in 1993 when it snuck out of the ESPN studios in Bristol, Conn., and temporary set up shop on the campus of Notre Dame, the site for a No. 1-vs.-No. 2 matchup between the Fighting Irish and Florida State.
That outward venture was a rousing success, and now pretty much every week of the college season involves Chris Fowler, Kirk Herbstreit, Desmond Howard and Lee Corso turning a piece of a college campus into a madhouse of signs, cheers, chants and big-game anticipation.
The formula, though has become just that: formulaic. It's pretty much the same each week, and even though that works, it can always get better.
To that end, here's our suggestions for some creative ways to spice up College GameDay.
South Carolina's offense has not been up to snuff to start out the season.
Sure, the Gamecocks are scoring 31.0 points game, good for 62nd in the country. South Carolina also possesses the 26th-ranked rushing offense and 44th-rated passing game.
But that just isn't good enough.
Part of the issue lies with the defense not getting the offense enough opportunities. Another part of the issue is with some injuries and disjointedness at the wide receiver position.
While 2013's offensive performance is good, it's still not great. And it is definitely not where this team could be.
The Gamecocks' offense has huge potential and will maximize it in 2014.
Here are the reasons why South Carolina's offense will be much improved in 2014.
1. Dylan Thompson is the official starter
It's rare to have such a talented backup quarterback in college football who plays regularly along with the normal starter. Dylan Thompson is that guy. He has a great deal of experience that will have him prepared for his redshirt senior season.
The offense will not have to jump between quarterbacks, which will allow for continuity with Thompson.
Beyond the consistency that Thompson can bring, the team can settle into a more pro-style offense. His gunslinger mentality combined with his pro-caliber arm should anchor the passing game quite well.
Thompson's ability to make throws all over the field will also open up the play-action pass and make defenses susceptible to the run, which will make Mike Davis' life a whole lot easier.
2. This year's young team will be experienced in 2014
South Carolina does not lack offensive talent. But, the team is young and it does show at times.
In 2014, there will be no more excuses of age and inexperience. One of the big benefits to having a young team is that the next season means the units will be almost the same. And that is the case with the Gamecocks.
Guys like Dylan Thompson, Mike Davis, A.J. Cann, Brandon Shell, Shaq Roland, Rory Anderson and Jerell Adams will have one more year of experience under their belts. All of these players are performing well when healthy, so next year will have high expectations.
The core units are all filled with great young talent.
Now it's time to turn the raw talent into experienced talent, and the sky is the limit for these players and the rest of the South Carolina offense in 2014.
3. All of the receivers return
Quarterbacks love to build chemistry with receivers. Though, in college football, it isn't too often that a quarterback gets to work with the entirely same corps of wide receivers for two seasons.
South Carolina gets lucky here.
Bruce Ellington, Shaq Roland, Nick Jones, Damiere Byrd and the tight ends aren't going anywhere.
This gives Thompson time to build a rapport with all of his receivers throughout the rest of 2013 and during the offseason leading up to 2014.
That much time with that good of a set of skill players bodes very well for South Carolina.
4. Mike Davis will be back and better than ever.
Mike Davis is having a monster season, and I saw it coming (to an extent.)
The beastly running back who is looking like one of the elite backs in college football as just a sophomore will be back to lead the offense in 2014.
Davis is a total workhorse, angry runner and skilled receiver. He is such a complete back that he can be the offensive focal point for the Gamecocks.
While it may be tough to match this season's performance, Davis is constantly improving and will be better in 2014. I know it's hard to imagine that he gets better, but trust me, he will.
If there is one thing South Carolina should be most excited about, it is Mike Davis in 2014.
South Carolina has been no slouch offensively in 2013, but it could be better.
The Gamecocks in 2014 will have a solid quarterback, experienced starters, a tightly knit group of receivers and, most importantly, an elite feature running back in Mike Davis.
Look out for the South Carolina offense in 2014.
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
Senior quarterback Keith Price has accomplished much in his three years as Washington’s starting quarterback, but beating the Oregon Ducks is not on his resume.
He’s not alone—dozens of Huskies and a few coaching regimes have come and gone since Washington last scored a victory in one of the Pac-12 Conference’s most bitter rivalries.
In what was an altogether trying junior season for Price, Oregon’s ninth straight win over Washington—a 52-21 rout—was a particularly tough game. He went 19-for-31 with no touchdowns and two interceptions.
Just over a year has passed since that night, and Price is playing with renewed confidence. He’s coming off one of the premier performances of his career in last week’s clash with Stanford, as he continues to flourish in a new offensive system.
“The uptempo stuff has really helped Keith,” Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian said on Tuesday’s Pac-12 coaches teleconference call. “He’s a guy who can really handle making quick decisions.”
Recognizing the need for change offensively, Sarkisian introduced a hurry-up, no-huddle offense in the offseason. One of the changes the new system brought was pulling Price out of his own head.
“[The scheme] minimizes some of the analysis for him. He’s such a bright guy…and at times he can overanalyze in the huddle,” Sarkisian said. “This forces him to play fast.”
Price has taken to the system well, and the veteran quarterback leads Washington’s best threat to ending Oregon’s reign of dominance in the series.
Along with Heisman Trophy-contending running back Bishop Sankey and playing behind one of the conference’s most veteran offensive lines, Price has Washington scoring 37.4 points per game.
Last week’s performance against Stanford set a new bar for Price despite the loss. He battled through a thumb injury late, and led four Husky scoring drives on the night.
He capped two with passing touchdowns.
Price has multiple passing touchdowns in each of the Huskies’ first five games. Conversely, the Oregon defense has yet to allow more than one passing touchdown by an opposing quarterback yet this season.
One streak will end Saturday. If it’s Oregon’s, two Duck streaks could very well snap.
The Oregon defense is built on generating turnovers, which the offense cashes in with quick scores. Oregon’s plus-nine turnover margin ranks second in the country.
“Taking care of the football is paramount, yet [Price]’s going to have to remain aggressive,” Sarkisian said. “He’s done a really nice job of taking care of the football for us this year. He’s making great decisions of throwing the ball away and when he’s running the ball, taking care of it.”
For all the ups and downs Price has endured in his time at Washington, a win over Oregon would be the ultimate peak. And with the senior captaining the offense, Saturday is Washington’s opportunity.
Kyle Kensing is the Pac-12 Lead Writer. All quotes were obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted. Follow Kyle on Twitter: @kensing45.
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
Six up, six down.
No. 4 Ohio State has reached the midway point of the season unblemished, and head coach Urban Meyer will take his 6-0 record into the bye week looking to rest, then gear up for the homestretch.
Although Ohio State has navigated the first half of its schedule unscathed, the season isn't unfolding the way many had envisioned.
What's trending upward for the Buckeyes? What's plummeting?
Here's Ohio State's midseason stock report.
The Wisconsin Badgers and the No. 19 Northwestern Wildcats, two teams that can't afford another Big Ten loss, will meet in another crucial early-season conference clash on Saturday.
With Wisconsin and Northwestern both already having a conference loss apiece, one more setback for either will all but eliminate them from Big Ten title contention. Each is coming off a game in which it lost to Ohio State. The Badgers fell by a touchdown on Sept. 28 while the Wildcats dropped their conference opener to the Buckeyes in Evanston, Ill., on Oct. 5.
What doesn't bode well for Northwestern is the fact that this game will take place at Camp Randall Stadium. The Wildcats haven't won a game at Wisconsin since the last millennium, most recently losing in Madison in 2010 by 47 points, but this is a much different Northwestern team that we're talking about three years later.
Playing on a national stage last Saturday night, Northwestern proved it has to be taken seriously after a seesaw battle with the No. 4 Buckeyes. This could be the biggest home game for the Badgers since 2010, when they knocked off top-ranked Ohio State.
So, with both teams coming off heartbreaking losses, which can respond better? Let's get you geared up for it with a preview of one of Week 7's most intriguing games.
Day, Time: Saturday at 2:30 p.m. CT
Place: Camp Randall Stadium in Madison, Wis.
TV: ABC or ESPN2
Spread: Wisconsin -10.5 (via Bovada.lv)
As Nebraska football heads into Big Ten conference play, fans will be looking for the breakout stars to lead NU back to the title game in Indianapolis. As a smart and particularly handsome analyst observed, I-back Ameer Abdullah looks ready to lead the line for Nebraska’s offense as it challenges for a second straight Legends Division title.
So as Nebraska gets ready for its first road trip of the season, let’s take a look at why Abdullah will be crucial for NU’s success in the B1G.
All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com unless otherwise noted.
The most compelling question about Notre Dame’s 4-2 start this season is what in the world has happened to its top-ranked defense from a year ago?
The Irish defense finished 2012 ranked No. 2 nationally in scoring, No. 11 against the run and No. 25 versus the pass. These numbers have taken a nose dive in 2013 with a No. 58 rank in scoring, a No. 29 rank against the run and a No. 87 rank versus the pass.
What it amounts to for Notre Dame is allowing opponents an additional 12.7 points per game. This is a huge deal for a team that, on average, beat opponents by 13 points last season.
So, what has happened to the Irish defense in 2013, a unit which gave up a whopping 76 points combined in its losses to Michigan and Oklahoma?
Is it a huge wave of personnel turnover, the departure of key leaders like linebacker Manti Te’o or instead, is the reason hidden somewhere in a pile of stats?
2012 vs. 2013
The first step in comparing the 2013 defense to its predecessor in 2012 is looking at the go-to guy at each position.
Given the drop in performance, it’s striking that the Irish only lost starters in four positions coming into this season. Of course, there have been swaps in terms of who is listed specifically where, but the net result is that the experience level is high.
Looking at the even bigger picture, according to Phil Steele’s calculations, Notre Dame returned 65 percent of its tackle earners in 2012 and 64.4 percent in 2013.
And remember that the guys coming back in 2012 had played for a unit ranked No. 24 in scoring in 2011 versus the 2013 returnees that had participated in the No. 2 national ranking.
All this adds up to a realistic expectation that the Irish defense would be comparable across the two seasons when in fact, it is not.
Since the attrition rates are low for the Irish on defense, it’s easy to argue that the loss of impact guys like Te’o and defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore are the real cause of the setback.
Think of it this way: Last season Lewis-Moore contributed 40 tackles, eight-and-a-half tackles for a loss, six sacks and two forced fumbles last season while Te’o racked up 113 tackles, five-and-a-half tackles for a loss, one-and-a-half sacks and seven interceptions.
Both these guys leaving Notre Dame in 2013 makes a huge difference to the bottom line…right?
Well, Lewis-Moore and Te’o’s combined 153 tackles accounted for 18 percent of Notre Dame’s 873 tackles in 2012, while their 14 tackles for a loss accounted for 20 percent of the teams’ 69 tackles for a loss.
Furthermore, Lewis-Moore’s six sacks accounted for 18 percent of the team total of 33, while Te’o’s seven interceptions accounted for 44 percent of the team total of 16.
So, while the loss of the two was substantial, the departure of 20 percent of the statistical output shouldn’t signal a 56-slot free fall in scoring defense.
What's more difficult to gauge is how much impact the loss of Te'o had from a leadership standpoint. Te'o was the inspirational guy the rest of the unit followed, a journey that led to the national championship.
Is it possible that the Notre Dame defense played over its head in 2012 because of Te'o's emotional leadership?
Well, even though this could be part of the explanation, it still falls short of completely accounting for how the Irish defense morphed into a different—much less effective—unit during the offseason.
So, if it’s not a lack of experience or the departure of a key guy that's entirely to blame, what else has signaled the decline of defense at Notre Dame?
The answer starts with considering how a team can give up 12.7 more points per game but only allow 70 additional yards.
This means that the Irish are allowing almost two touchdowns extra per game to opponents, who miraculously score these points with only 70 more yards of offense.
How does this work?
Well, your defense gets put into a bad position by an offense that has already given the other team the ball seven times in 2013.
Included in that number is six interceptions in six games, which is just two shy of the eight total picks Notre Dame suffered through 13 full games last season.
So, there you have it.
Te'o is gone, and so are his services as a playmaker and an inspirational leader. But, also gone, is a quarterback that didn’t put his defense behind the eight ball.
Here’s the collateral damage thus far this season.
Of Rees’ six interceptions, five of them led directly to a touchdown by the opposing team. This amounts to 35 total points, or six points per game.
To put a finer point on it, Notre Dame’s defense was charged with an average of 11.66 additional points per game in the three contests that Rees threw interceptions in.
While that doesn’t provide a complete explanation for the decline in defense, it does serve up a heaping healthy of food for thought.
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
Alabama enters the meat of its SEC schedule this week, traveling to Lexington for the first time since 2009.
The Crimson Tide will be looking to build off of their blowout win against Georgia State, while Kentucky will play its fourth straight AP Top 20 team.
Alabama looks like it will be without the services of Ha Ha Clinton-Dix for the second straight game. Clinton-Dix remains indefinitely suspended after reportedly taking money from a strength and conditioning coach.
Here's everything you need to know about the game:
Time: 6 p.m. CT
Place: Commonwealth Stadium, Lexington, Ky.
Radio: Crimson Tide Sports Network, IMG Sports Network
Spread: Alabama by 27-28 points, according to Vegas Insider.
The No. 9 ranked Texas A&M football team will play the Ole Miss Rebels in Oxford on Saturday night. The Aggies' defense will be prepared to dominate the Rebels because of their experience practicing against Johnny Manziel and the Aggie offense every day.
Both Texas A&M and Ole Miss run a hurry-up spread offense. The Aggies feature one of the best offenses in the nation, averaging 586 yards per game.
The Texas A&M defense has been practicing against that offense since the beginning of August. They have become accustomed to squaring off against the best football player in the country.
The Rebels were shut out by Alabama, then lost on the road at Auburn. They enter the game with a 3-2 record and a 1-2 record in the conference. Ole Miss needs to win this game in order to stay relevant in the SEC West.
The Aggies are 4-1 overall and 1-1 in conference. They need to beat Ole Miss in order to stay in contention for the SEC West title.
Ole Miss has a very good offense that averages 427 yards and 27 points per game. Their offense is led by quarterback Bo Wallace who averages 251 total yards per game.
Wallace is a solid college quarterback who is a threat with his arm and his legs. The Rebels use him effectively to run the ball out of the zone-read in their offense.
The Rebels also use senior quarterback Barry Brunetti as a running threat in their offense. They use him a lot in a wildcat formation and as a change of pace from Wallace.
Brunetti is the Rebels second leading rusher with 145 yards on the season. He is tied for the team lead with three rushing touchdowns.
If you added up Wallace's and Brunetti's numbers they would still not equal the 360 total yards of offense per game that Manziel produces. The Aggie defense has faced off against the most dynamic offensive playmaker in the country in practice every day.
Manziel is the most explosive offensive player in the country. He is capable of putting up huge offensive numbers against the top defenses in the nation.
Brunetti a very good runner, and Wallace is a solid passer, but they do not measure up to Manziel. The Texas A&M defense will not face a playmaker the caliber of Manziel in 2013 unless they play Ohio State, Clemson or Oregon in a bowl game.
The Texas A&M defense has struggled in 2013 as they have tried to overcome injuries and suspensions. The defensive coaches have put the right players in the right places with Darian Claiborne at middle linebacker and Deshazor Everett at free safety.
Claiborne already ranks third on the team in tackles with 26, despite the fact that he has only started one game out of the first five. Everett is the Aggies best defensive player. He is second on the team with 31 tackles and leads the team with two interceptions.
The Aggie defense has allowed an average of 476 yards per game. They will improve as they continue to get more experience playing with each other.
They will be prepared to shut down the Ole Miss offense because they face a better offense than the Rebels every day in practice.
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
The No.17-ranked Michigan Wolverines (5-0, 1-0 Big Ten Conference) head on the road to face the Penn State Nittany Lions (3-2, 0-1 Big Ten Conference) on Saturday.
Penn State lost last week to Indiana, 44-24, surrendering 23 fourth-quarter points.
Date: Saturday, October 12, 2013
Time: 5:01 PM ET
Place: Beaver Stadium (107,282), University Park, Pa.
Series vs. Penn State: 10-6
Radio: Michigan IMG Sports Network
Spread: Michigan by 3.5 TheSpread.com
Live Stats: MGoBlue.com
Last Meeting vs. Penn State: Penn State 41, Michigan 31 (Oct. 30, 2010)
Sophomore quarterback Denard Robinson set the Big Ten season record for rushing yards by a quarterback in U-M’s 41-31 loss at Penn State on Oct. 30, 2010 at Beaver Stadium. Robinson racked up 381 yards of total offense, completing 11 of 23 passes for 190 yards and one touchdown and rushing for 191 yards on 27 carries with three TDs.
* Information according to University of Michigan Wolverine game notes
Notre Dame turned in its most complete offensive performance of the 2013 season last Saturday night in a 37-34 win over No. 22 Arizona State at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The Irish gained over 450 yards, allowed no sacks and committed just one turnover.
How did the Irish succeed against an attacking Sun Devils defense that has yet to find a blitz it doesn't like? Let's look at the various formations the Fighting Irish used against it.
First, some background information. Notre Dame runs plays almost exclusively out of either the shotgun or pistol formation. The pistol differs from the classic shotgun in that, while the quarterback is not under center, a running back is lined up behind the quarterback.
Personnel groupings are identified by two-digit numbers such as "12" (one running back and two tight ends), "11" (one running back and one tight end) or "21" (two running backs and one tight end). With 12 and 21 personnel, there are two wide receivers. With 11, there are three. Make sense? OK.
Run vs. Pass
It doesn't take a playoff selection committee member to know that Notre Dame installed the pistol offense this offseason to boost its rushing attack. From rewatching the Arizona State game, however, it was noticeable just how infrequently the Irish threw the ball out of the pistol.
Conversely, the Irish passed out of the shotgun at nearly a 4-1 ratio. Of course, the empty set (no running backs), a Brian Kelly staple, is going to be strictly a passing formation with a quarterback like Tommy Rees. The history of Rees as a runner pretty much amounts to one touchdown on a designed quarterback draw in the 2012 Michigan game.
While not having a running back to help block can be risky, Kelly likes the luxury of having an additional pass option that the empty set provides. The Irish will run this formation with either three wide receivers and two tight ends or four wide receivers and one tight end.
With no threat of a run, this formation obviously requires Notre Dame to tip its hand before the snap. The Irish ran 20 plays out of this formation with Rees (and one with Andrew Hendrix), getting mixed results.
As evident in the completion-distance breakdown, the Irish are getting a lot of "chunk" plays out of the empty set, with four receptions of at least 20 yards last Saturday night. Rees' completion percentage has been low all season, as expected when the defense knows a pass is coming, but his yards-per-completion average against Arizona State was an impressive 19.0.
What constitutes an unbalanced formation can be murky. For the sake of this discussion, an unbalanced formation refers to the Irish lining up both tight ends on the same side of the ball.
When Notre Dame plays two tight ends, as it does frequently with Troy Niklas and Ben Koyack, they can either be on opposite sides of the ball or on the same side (duh), with Koyack generally slightly off of the line scrimmage when the formation is unbalanced.
This is a run-heavy formation, with the Irish throwing just once out of it Saturday night. On 15 carries, Notre Dame managed 76 yards, a respectable 5.1 yards per carry.
The more interesting result from Saturday night was the effectiveness of Cam McDaniel in it compared to George Atkinson III.
From a second viewing of the game, it was somewhat alarming to see the severity of the run/pass split out of the pistol formation. Rees completed two of his three pass attempts from the pistol, one going for a 19-yard touchdown to a wide-open Koyack.
There is a play-action element to the pistol due to the ability to carry out the fake much faster than with the quarterback under center. While a more mobile Everett Golson, who is better at throwing on the run than Rees, would be a better fit, I'd like to see Notre Dame throw more than 14 percent of the time out of the pistol.
Atkinson received eight of nine carries out of the shotgun, two going for at least nine yards. This is a testament to Atkinson's ability to change directions, a crucial element when running out of the shotgun and not already being in motion when receiving the ball.
The unbalanced formation allows Notre Dame to utilize its dominant left side of the line. Adding Niklas and Koyack to tackle Zack Martin and guard Chris Watt is an extremely difficult matchup for opposing defenses without significant backside pressure.
Notre Dame's offense was about as predictable as you can get on Saturday night. That's not necessarily a bad thing, especially with the Irish controlling the line of scrimmage against an overmatched Arizona State front seven. However, while Tommy Rees' physical attributes limit the capabilities of this offense, there is room for more diversity than what we saw Saturday night in Texas.
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
Michigan is on the brink of starting the season at 6-0 under coach Brady Hoke for the first time since 2011, the year he took over the program.
But if the No. 18-ranked Wolverines are to equal Hoke's best start thus far, they'll have to find a way to climb past coach Bill O'Brien's Penn State Nittany Lions (3-2) at the oh-so-unfriendly confines of Happy Valley.
Thanks to Week 6's 42-13 thrashing of Minnesota, Michigan, which is 10-6 against Penn State, finally appears to be a legitimate Big Ten contender—a status they held firm to prior to the start of this fall.
However, preseason hype turned into in-season disappointment after struggling against Akron and UConn. The time is now for Team 134's elite to step forward and take hold of what has been a wildly inconsistent 2013.
The good news is that they've recently shown signs of doing so, and that bodes well for Hoke's chances on Saturday.
This past weekend, Devin Gardner threw for 235 yards and a touchdown in the victory over the Gophers. But his biggest accomplishment was maintaining composure and, most importantly, possession of the ball; he was turnover-free for the first time this year.
Making himself known wasn't a problem for Devin Funchess, a sophomore receiver/tight end hybrid who reeled in seven catches for a career-high 151 yards and a touchdown in the homecoming triumph at The Big House.
There's a slight chance that star linebacker Jake Ryan could see action against Penn State. The junior suffered an ACL tear during the spring, but he's inching closer to full health, according to a report from CBS Sports' Tom Fornelli.
If the pieces fall together for Hoke, Michigan will reach 6-0 and bowl eligibility before trudging through the rest of its conference schedule. If the pieces fail to adhere to one another, well, it'll be a long October.
Avoiding a Letdown
In 2011, the Wolverines were ready to show that they were capable of moving past the Rich Rodriguez era. At 6-0, facing Michigan State was the perfect opportunity. But as fate would have it, the Spartans rattled off their fourth straight series victory, ending Michigan's streak of early-season perfection.
All wasn't lost after that 28-14 setback; Hoke's team went on to win the 2012 BCS Sugar Bowl and finish the year with 11 wins.
This fall is a bit different, though. Michigan needs to reach 6-0 for many reasons, but the No. 1 reason is to prove that they're indeed legit, not a bunch of undefeated frauds. Already questioned due to issues of inconsistency, the Wolverines didn't play up to par in 2012, creating more pressure to perform in this season, Hoke's third at the helm.
O'Brien's Nittany Lions stand in the way, but downing them on the road should help restore a bit of optimism toward Team 134. Sure, youth has been shown and mistakes have been made, but this is still a solid group of athletes who can win the Big Ten.
Let's repeat that: This is still a solid group of athletes who can win the Big Ten.
Those who feel differently are grossly underestimating the expertise of Hoke's staff, which includes defensive mastermind Greg Mattison and offensive guru Al Borges.
Penn State hasn't wowed as of late. Led by true freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg and junior wideout Allen Robinson, the Lions are struggling to find their niche after an embarrassing 44-24 loss to the lowly Indiana Hoosiers in Week 6.
Saturday is a crucial game for both sides. But Michigan has the most to lose. The Lions are rebuilding after being rocked by the Jerry Sandusky child molestation controversy. They're not expected to beat everyone and win their league; they're expected to put their chins up and go to work so that way they can compete in coming years.
The "coming year" is now for Hoke. He can't afford a loss; the Wolverines are in desperate need of a confidence-booster, and getting a conference win away from The Big House would serve as that.
The rest of the season hinges on this week being "lucky No. 7." Steve Heiser of the York Dispatch believes that Penn State has a fighting chance to capitalize on what could be a golden opportunity—and that's beating Hoke.
If Gardner Shines, Wolverines Roll
Gardner was noticeably more confident during the second half versus Minnesota. It probably helped that his team poured on 28 points, but that's beside the point.
Happy feet weren't as big of a problem as they were in previous weeks. Gardner couldn't get much done against Akron and UConn due to his inability to remain calm in the pocket.
When flushed out, he tends to force throws—and that's led to eight picks through six games.
Confidence may or may not be an issue, but his mindset has certainly gained a ton of coverage.
Some Wolverines fans may feel that Gardner isn't the right man for the job. That's fine; everyone has their opinion. Reasons have been given to doubt the 6'4", 210-pound former Inkster High phenom.
The same was true for Jason Campbell, who, after bumbling a bit, had a stellar career at Auburn while Borges called the shots on offense. Borges, now in his third year at Michigan, told the Detroit News' Angelique Chengilis that Gardner, is in a similar ordeal.
But it's not impossible to restore Gardner to the previous version that fans saw in 2012 while he ran the show for the injured Denard Robinson.
Borges successfully worked with Campbell. Per Chengilis' report, Borges claimed that he could do the same with Gardner:
I don't think it was any earth-shattering coaching [with Campbell]. All it was was making a kid believe that you still were convinced he was the answer when a lot of people might not have thought that. If the guy coaching you is the same way or starts scaring him, he will go out there and play so guarded you won't get anything out of him.
There has to be a delicate balance between keeping him aggressive and using good judgment and making sure he understands what you want—with not turning the ball over being at the top of the priority list.
Getting the second-half Gardner from Week 6 is imperative. Borges' experience speaks for itself, and if he still has the quarterback magic like he did while at Auburn, Gardner should be OK this Saturday.
Play Like It's The Big House
Beaver Stadium isn't as wild as Michigan Stadium, but it's not a welcoming place for visitors, especially at night. With a whiteout planned, more than 107,000 Penn State fans are expected to show up to boo the Wolverines.
How's that for taking a dose of their own medicine?
For the first time all year, Michigan faces a Big Ten crowd which reaches a level of crazy intensity just like the Maize and Blue followers do in Ann Arbor.
The chatter from the stands is a concern for senior All-American left tackle Taylor Lewan, who recently texted Hoke about the matter. Lewan said the following about the conversation, according to a report from Scout.com's Josh Newkirk.
... I think it's just different because we haven't played Penn State at Penn State since my redshirt freshman year and aside from me, Cam (Gordon), and maybe like one other guy; no one's really had significant snaps there. The noise isn't really that distracting, you have to be on your p's and q's—you have to know what your calls are going to be. Sometimes we will be standing face-to-face, and I won't be able to hear myself think or hear you talk. So it's a great atmosphere. I am sure it will be a white-out night game. Penn State's awesome; it's a fun place to play.
If anyone knows about the neighborhood that is the Big Ten, it's Lewan. The underclassmen stand to benefit by simply listening to Lewan's advice on how to faze out a hostile crowd. It's much more different than drawing inspiration from a stadium full of friendly supporters.
This time, everyone in the bleachers wants to see Michigan fail. Saturday will be an excellent learning experience for Team 134's youngsters.
The deck isn't stacked against Michigan's favor, but going to Happy Valley to challenge a developing team with a hotshot quarterback will be a monumental task for the secondary.
Conversely, facing Michigan's Blake Countess, who is tied for the national lead with four picks, will be quite the undertaking for Hackenberg, who was throwing to preps a year ago.
Hoke can get out of Pennsylvania with his perfect record intact if his team shows up in the way it did during the second half against Minnesota.
Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverines' football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
The Tennessee Vols had to replace virtually their entire passing offense and revamp their historically inept defense following Derek Dooley's final season.
Now, sitting at 3-3 midway through 2013, the Vols are exactly where most figured they'd be under first-year coach Butch Jones. They've lost to Oregon, Florida and Georgia. They've beaten Austin Peay, Western Kentucky and South Alabama.
UT nearly got upset by the Jaguars after a second-half letdown and nearly upset the No. 6 Bulldogs with a second-half surge.
Through it all, the Vols are within striking distance of a bowl game with a solid second half of the season, but they need to get production from new faces who've been playing all over the field. Eleven new regular starters dot the Tennessee lineup—some of which have been consistent and some that appear to be making strides and improving.
Let's take a look at all of those new players and assign them a mid-term grade.