NCAA Football News

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.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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.  

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Florida Football: Gators Have No Choice but to Stick with Jeff Driskel at QB

Florida head coach Will Muschamp's seat went from hot to scorching on Saturday, as Alabama throttled the Gators 42-21 in a game that wasn't as close as the score indicated.

In that game, quarterback Jeff Driskel completed just nine of his 28 passes for 93 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. For the season, Driskel has averaged just 5.5 yards per attempt (worst among qualifying SEC QBs) and has a passer rating of 111.14 (worst among qualifiers).

Time to make a change to true freshman Treon Harris?

Not yet, according to Muschamp.

"Jeff gives us the best opportunity to win right now,” he told reporters on Wednesday afternoon.

An endorsement, sure, but earlier in the day, Muschamp didn't offer the most ringing endorsement of his quarterback.

"He's frustrated and he needs to play better," Muschamp said on Wednesday's SEC coaches teleconference. "There's no question that he pressed and forced some throws into coverage. He needs to take the checkdown in those situations. He knows he needs to play better and he will."

Not only is it the right move to keep Driskel in there, he should stay there for the duration of the season as long as he stays healthy.

He is the best shot for Florida to turn things around offensively.

Yes, I know how that sounds. 

Driskel, a redshirt junior, has been average at best during his career—even while leading Florida to a Sugar Bowl berth following the 2012 season. He has been running the first team all offseason and through the first three games, and there have been some positives during that time.

He has established a connection with sophomore wide receiver Demarcus Robinson and helped him top the 100-yard mark in the first two games of the season—wins over Eastern Michigan and Kentucky.

That is something to build off of, even if construction is being delayed by Driskel's inconsistency.

What's the alternative?

Turn to Harris, a 4-star dual-threat quarterback in the class of 2015?

While he has tremendous dual-threat capability, he's a true freshman who is going to make freshman mistakes.

He could be good and possibly great, but Muschamp doesn't have any margin for error anymore, and tying his livelihood to a true freshman is more than a desperation move—it'd be the move of a coach whose fate is already sealed. 

Will Grier is also a highly touted true freshman who could redshirt, and Skyler Mornhinweg played late last season after Driskel and former Gator (current Boston College Eagle Tyler Murphy) went down with injuries.

Bottom line: There are no good options right now in Gainesville.

Each one is incredibly risky, and Driskel, while inconsistent, is still the best of the bad options for Muschamp.

What's likelier? Driskel finally "getting it" or Florida catching lightning in a bottle midseason with a true freshman who hasn't taken first-team snaps at any point during his career?

Neither scenario is realistic, but the former is still likelier.

For better or worse, it's Driskel's job to save Muschamp's.

No pressure, kid.

 

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

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

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UCLA, Arizona State Set for Another Unpredictable 'Game of the Year'

College football coaches like to treat every game with the same importance, at least as far as the media is concerned. So last week when No. 15 Arizona State head coach Todd Graham called Thursday's Pac-12 South matchup with No. 11 UCLA "the biggest game of the year," it resonates. 

Typical build-up for any opponent is more akin to UCLA head coach Jim Mora's observation on Tuesday's Pac-12 coaches conference call. 

"We try to treat them all the same. The way you develop consistency in your program is to treat every game the same," he said. 

Nevertheless, last week when I mentioned to Mora the intensity of the previous two meetings with Arizona State, he laughed and agreed. 

There's no denying that since Mora and Graham arrived on the Pac-12 scene in 2012, the Bruins and Sun Devils have combined to produce fireworks. The winner of this game claimed the divisional title each season, and both games were not decided until the final possession. 

The two could have a third such finish with similar implications in store this time around. The atmosphere coming in is certainly conducive to a wild game. 

First and foremost, both offenses could have reserves captaining them. Arizona State definitely will, as Graham announced that Mike Bercovici would start in place of team captain Taylor Kelly at quarterback. Kelly injured his foot in the Sun Devils' Week 3 win at Colorado. 

Bercovici is a redshirt junior in his fourth year in the program. Though his playing time has been limited—he's attempted just 30 career passes—he has the confidence of his teammates. 

Certainly the magnitude of facing UCLA is emphasized to Bercovici. Graham's assessment that Thursday was "the biggest game of the year" was in direct reference to the new starter's preparation during Arizona State's bye week. 

Meanwhile, around the same time Arizona State lost Kelly, UCLA saw quarterback Brett Hundley come out with an elbow injury against Texas.

The Bruins' own fourth-year junior back-up, Jerry Neuheisel, led them to a 20-17 win

Mora has been noncommittal about his quarterback situation. However, Graham said the Sun Devils are preparing for Hundley. 

"There's no doubt in mind he's going to play," Graham said of Hundley.  

Still, these two offenses that have been among the conference's most explosive in recent years could have a feeling-out period Thursday. That could benefit UCLA, which fell behind by at least two touchdowns in each of the previous affairs with Arizona State. 

The Sun Devils' 35-13 first-half lead in 2013 gave them enough cushion to endure a second-half offensive drought.  

"Last year they kinda ran us out of the stadium early," Mora said.

This year, the Bruins defense must be prepared for an initial barrage from running back D.J. Foster. 

Arizona State's versatile junior scored a touchdown in both the 2012 and 2013 meetings with UCLA—one rushing and one receiving. That two-way production is a microcosm of Foster's skill set, as Sun Devils offensive coordinator Mike Norvell lines up the multi-talented Foster both in the backfield and at wide receiver. 

"He’s the best football player I’ve ever coached…and that’s saying something," Graham said. "I’ve never coached a guy who can be explosive...[playing] wide receiver and equally explosive at running back."

UCLA's own multi-purpose standout, sophomore linebacker Myles Jack, will play a key role in the Bruins' efforts to slow the Sun Devils offense. That's an important deviation from a year ago. 

In last November's matchup, the two-way star Jack was used exclusively at running back. It's a decision Mora said in the offseason he regretted, and the head coach didn't back away from that opinion when talking to Everett Cook of the Los Angeles Times this week. 

"Looking back on it, I think it was a huge mistake on my part," Mora said.

The back-and-forth nature of these recent UCLA-Arizona State games magnifies any such miscues. Thursday's encounter should be no different.

The stakes have indeed proven to be higher when these teams face off, but there is one crucial facet in which this game will be just like any other week, as Mora explained. 

"Whatever team plays better and executes better and makes less mistakes and capitalizes on their opportunities, that’ll be the team that wins," he said. 

 

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise cited. Statistics compiled via CFBstats.com

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Texas Tech Red Raiders vs. Oklahoma State Cowboys Betting Odds Analysis, Pick

The Texas Tech Red Raiders have covered the spread just once in nine games, and they visit Oklahoma State on Thursday, a place where they have struggled in recent years.

Can the Cowboys extend their 5-0 straight-up run at home against Tech in this Big 12 clash? Or can the Raiders turn it around after a trio of lame efforts to start the season?

 

Point spread: The Cowboys opened as 14-point favorites at Boone Pickens Stadium, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark. The total was hovering near 70.5 in mid-week wagering. (Line updates and matchup report)

 

Odds Shark computer prediction: 49.0-35.5 Cowboys

 

Why the Texas Tech Red Raiders can cover the spread

Texas Tech is 2-1 but has not hit its stride yet. But Oklahoma State’s defense is one that the Red Raiders could breach.

The Raiders have failed to cover in eight of nine games but are due here in the Big 12 opener for both teams.

 

Why the Oklahoma State Cowboys can cover the spread

Texas Tech gave up 438 rushing yards against Arkansas, proving they are ripe for the picking on defense. And Oklahoma State, which hung tough in a toss to Florida State three weeks ago, is certainly the team with an offense to do it.

While the Raiders were eking out wins over lightweights Central Arkansas and UTEP, OSU was handling a pair of lightweights themselves in Missouri State and UTSA. But this is a spot to get the Cowboys rolling up the Top 25, and they should take full advantage of a suspect Texas Tech team.

 

Smart Pick

Oklahoma State has scored 177 points in its past three wins over Texas Tech, and the whopping total of 70.5 indicates that oddsmakers see lots of scoring in the forecast Thursday night.

The Cowboys do not boast the top defense in the land, but their offense should be able to drop 50+ points again and cover two TDs easily.

 

Trends:

  • Texas Tech is 1-8 ATS in its last nine games
  • Oklahoma State is 5-0 SU in its last five games when playing at home against Texas Tech

 

Note: All point spread and lines data courtesy of Odds Shark, all quotes gathered first-hand unless otherwise noted—check out Twitter for injury updates and line move updates and get the free odds tracker app.

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Taylor Martinez Opens Up on Life After Football, Current State of Nebraska

Taylor Martinez’s senior year at Nebraska didn’t go exactly as planned, and neither did his first shot at the NFL.

During Nebraska’s 2013 home opener against Wyoming, Martinez tore a ligament in his left foot that he continued to play on the next week against Southern Miss. By the time UCLA rolled into town, Martinez was in pain.

Martinez did his best to keep the specifics out of the media. In doing so, most fans were unaware that he had also separated his non-throwing shoulder against Wyoming.

The Philadelphia Eagles' medical staff, on the other hand, discovered both. His three-year free-agent deal with the Eagles was voided, leaving the quarterback to wonder what was next.

"I'm not ruling out playing football, if I heal," Martinez told Bleacher Report.

As a result, Martinez has no plans to rush back until he's 100 percent healthy. He wants to make sure he heals properly before giving it another shot.

In the meantime, he does have a plan. "I'm going to become a real estate agent here in Orange County," Martinez confirmed.

Additionally, Martinez is busy creating smartphone apps. While a student at Nebraska, he began developing apps. It was during the March before his senior season when his hobby was first made public, per CBSSports.com's Jeremy Fowler.

Developing apps has been a way to make the best of a bad situation for Martinez. It has also given the 24-year-old the opportunity to combine his love of football with his passion for developing apps.

“I’ve always been interested in computers,” Martinez said. “I learned to code websites and did that in high school. I don’t know how to code apps, so I outsource those, but I come up with the ideas."

One of those apps is Stupid FAST, which Martinez describes as a game for football enthusiasts. Players have an opportunity to win real life rewards, which are all backed by companies such as Hobby Town, Sol Republic, Hail Varsity, Juice Stop and more.

The inspiration for Stupid FAST came from the same question being asked over and over: "When are you going to develop a football game?"

Alongside his younger brother Keaton, Martinez took the disappointment from the Eagles and made the game so many had been requesting. After months of hard work and programming, it finally became available for download in early September.

While Martinez is looking forward to his future, he does miss Nebraska and remains invested in the team. He's excited by the potential the new team has.

“I feel the Huskers are doing really well this year," Martinez said. "I’m excited to see how far they can go. I’m also really proud of how [the offense] is doing.”

When it comes to the person leading the offense now, Martinez acknowledged how happy he is for Tommy Armstrong.

"He had to step up last year when I got injured and he did well," Martinez said. “I'm very excited that he's grown even more and is the starting quarterback this year. The future is bright for Tommy.”

As for Ameer Abdullah? Martinez said he's always known how talented the I-back would be.

“I knew the first time I saw him as a true freshman at practice," Martinez said. "I went home and called my dad. I said he was going to be the next Reggie Bush. I feel I recognize talent pretty well and I knew that he would be good enough to win the Heisman one day."

Now that the time has come, can Abdullah win the Heisman Trophy? "Yes, he can. He's a special player."

While the future is still uncertain for Martinez, he does plan to eventually get back to Nebraska for a game. This time, though, he plans to just be a fan. "I've never seen a game from that perspective. I'm kind of looking forward to it," he said.

Whether or not Martinez ever steps back on a football field as a player is another story. Only time will tell.

However, the former Husker is making the best of it all. He plans to keep developing apps and even teased about the future of Stupid FAST. "If it's popular, I may consider an update for basketball season," he said.

One thing is for certain, though. Football will always be a part of Martinez's life.

"Maybe I'll coach kids, or my future kids, if [playing again] doesn't work out. We'll see."

 

All quotes were obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted.

To learn more about Martinez's latest app and to watch the trailer, check out the Stupid FAST website. To download the app directly for iPhone, click here.

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LSU Football: The Brandon Harris Era Needs to Begin Now

LSU head coach Les Miles needs to hand the keys of the offense to Brandon Harris.

Harris showed flashes of excellence against Mississippi State. He was inserted into the game in the fourth quarter and led LSU on a magnificent comeback to make a rough scoreline respectable. The true freshman finished with 140 yards and two touchdowns through the air.

Sophomore starter Anthony Jennings had his chance against an average secondary but underperformed. Jennings was a paltry 13-for-26 for 157 yards and made some questionable decisions in the red zone that cost LSU touchdowns.

Miles said Harris' stellar play warranted more snaps going forward:

Miles: I enjoyed Brandon Harris coming into the game and the fact he gave us a tremendous lift. He earns more playing time without question.

LSU Football (@LSUfball) September 22, 2014

Miles shouldn't base his decision off Harris' one quarter of play against a conservative defense. Jennings had played admirably previous to last Saturday night, and his supporting cast did not do him any favors against Mississippi State either.

Jennings' intangibles are off the charts. He is a proven clutch performer and is beloved by his teammates.

Nevertheless, Miles should name Harris the starter because he is a better football player than Jennings. The freshman's passes have more zip and he is a more dynamic runner.

ESPN's National Recruiting Director, Tom Luginbill, has raved about Harris since he first reviewed his tape years ago. Luginbill, a former quarterback at Georgia Tech, believes he is the best the Tigers have to offer.

"In terms of pure physical tools, he is more talented than what LSU has," said Luginbill. "He can make all the throws."

Harris' ability to connect with fellow freshman Malachi Dupre gives a boost the LSU offense desperately needs. Four of Dupre's six catches on the season have come from Harris, three of which for touchdowns.

The duo worked extensively with each other during the offseason, which has shown on the field.

The worst thing for Miles to do is run a two-quarterback system. Harris and Jennings have similar skill sets, so rotating the two makes little sense.

Bulldogs quarterback Dak Prescott is the best example of why having one quarterback is the best option. Prescott rotated with Tyler Russell last season, who was an inferior player. Mississippi State could have won more games if it had just played Prescott in 2013.

Prescott told SEC Network's Peter Burns on SEC Now that being the lone signal-caller this season has progressed his development. He proved it last Saturday with 373 combined yards and three touchdowns.

Harris has Prescott's potential, but he needs the same freedom.

He is not only the future but the now at quarterback. Miles needs to make him the guy for LSU to reach its full potential in 2014 and beyond.

 

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

Follow me on Twitter @CarterthePower.

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Ohio State Football: Why Buckeyes Fans Should Be Terrified of Gunner Kiel

COLUMBUS, Ohio — There will be a 5-star quarterback inside of Ohio Stadium when Ohio State takes the field for its showdown with Cincinnati this Saturday.

But he won't be playing for the Buckeyes.

Because contrary to tradition, it will be the Bearcats with the talent edge at signal-caller in this weekend's Buckeye State battle. Thanks to the arrival of Gunner Kiel, UC possesses what Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer believes to be one of the best quarterbacks in college football, and a player plenty capable of handing the Buckeyes their second loss of the young 2014 season.

"I see a strong guy, he looks big. A big, strong arm. A very courageous player that throws into the oncoming pass rush," Meyer said of the 6'4", 208-pound Kiel. "I see one of the top quarterbacks in the country."

That was always the expectation for Kiel, a former 5-star prospect by way of Columbus, Indiana. Originally committed to his home state Hoosiers, Kiel was once slated to face Ohio State on a more regular basis but switched his verbal pledge to LSU before ultimately signing with Notre Dame.

Kiel's career in South Bend would be short-lived, however, as the writing for him appeared to be on the wall when fellow freshman Everett Golson was named the Fighting Irish's starter in 2012. And before he could stick around to see Golson suspended for the 2013 campaign due to an academic violation, Kiel opted to take his talents elsewhere, transferring to Cincinnati in April 2013.

After sitting out a season due to NCAA transfer rules, Kiel's college career finally got off to the start that many imagined it would on Sept. 12, when he threw for 418 yards and six touchdowns in the Bearcats' 58-34 win over Toledo. Sitting in his team hotel room on that Friday night, awaiting the next day's matchup with Kent State, Meyer took notice of the Buckeyes' future foe.

"You'd think there'd be more first-game mistakes with a new quarterback," Meyer said of Cincinnati's season opener. "But they were outstanding."

The same could be said for Kiel in his Cincinnati encore, a 271-yard, four-touchdown outing in the Bearcats' 31-24 win over Miami (Ohio) last weekend. Facing Ohio State, of course, will be a taller task than taking on the Rockets and RedHawks, but the challenge in this weekend's I-71 showdown appears to be mutual.

Especially when you take into account that, of the number of questions that the Buckeyes still find themselves facing after the first fourth of the 2014 season, the status of their unproven pass defense tops the list. A year ago, Ohio State saw its national championship chances dashed thanks in large part to a passing defense that ranked 118th in the nation out of 125 teams, and this season, the Buckeyes are yet to truly be tested in that facet.

"Here we go," Meyer said, cutting off a reporter's question as soon as the words "pass defense" left his lips during his weekly press conference on Monday. "This is the test, this is the one that we're all shooting for and they're really good at throwing the ball, and it will be a challenge for us. I can't make that evaluation yet after the first three games."

That's a sentiment that's shared by the Ohio State defensive backs, who are excited to finally put defensive coordinator Chris Ash's newly installed press coverage scheme on full display. After facing a triple-option opponent in Navy, a run-oriented offense in Virginia Tech and an overmatched Kent State squad, the Buckeyes' secondary will truly have its work cut out against a Cincinnati team that ranks ninth in the nation with 353.5 passing yards per game.

"For the secondary, this is big because this is the best quarterback with the best wide receiving group that we're going to see all season," said sophomore safety Tyvis Powell. "This is the best time to show the fans that the pass defense has improved."

Of course, saying such is one thing, while proving themselves is a whole other challenge in and of itself for the Buckeyes. As Powell said, the best quarterback that Ohio State will face all season could very well be Kiel, who's listed as NFLDraftScout.com's No. 4 quarterback in the 2017 draft class, behind Florida State's Jameis Winston, Penn State's Christian Hackenberg and Texas A&M's Kenny Hill.

Which is all the more reason why Saturday's matchup will be the best way to gauge how far the Buckeyes' highly criticized pass defense has truly come. After 2013 came to a close with Michigan State's Connor Cook and Clemson's Tajh Boyd shredding Ohio State, the Buckeyes are well aware that walking away from this weekend with a win won't be possible without containing Kiel.

"Us with the 'W,'" OSU cornerback Doran Grant answered when asked what will constitute a passing grade for the Buckeyes' pass defense against the Bearcats. "'Cause I know by us getting a 'W,' that means we did our job on the back end."

 

Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Ohio State Lead Writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes obtained firsthand. All recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

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