NCAA Football News

Be Ready Texas A&M, Arkansas' Rushing Attack Isn't Slowing Down Anytime Soon

The Texas A&M Aggies are looking ahead to their game in two weeks vs. the Arkansas Razorbacks. Bleacher Report's college football analysts Barrett Sallee and Adam Kramer discuss how they believe this A&M defense will do against debatably the best running back duo in the country.

Who do you think will dominate this match up?

Watch the video and let us know.

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With Trip to Tuscaloosa Calling, Florida Searching to Rekindle Feud with Alabama

Once upon a time, Alabama and Florida had the throne to themselves in the SEC. The Crimson Tide and Gators replenished their NFL stockpiles year to year and then jousted to become not only the best team in the SEC—one from the West, the other from the East—but the best team in the country. The rest of college football would eat their dust.

It seemed it would be Nick Saban vs. Urban Meyer, both relentless recruiters, swapping the crystal back and forth for a decade or so. They would own the fertile recruiting grounds in their respective states, raid Georgia as they needed and then become the new Notre Dame by hooking up national recruiting bases.

It was 2008-09. Florida had spent $28 million on its football facility with the seed of an $7 million gift from Bill Heavener, the college roommate of Bob Tebow, Tim's dad. Alabama was in the process of taking Bryant-Denny Stadium over that magical 100,000-seat threshold. Both programs were paying their head coaches startling salaries.

Bama vs. Florida, as long as Saban was dueling Meyer, would fetch $500 for a seat halfway to the moon in the corner of the upper deck end zone. Bama vs. Florida would have to be played the morning of the Super Bowl just to satisfy the hype. Bama vs. Florida would be colossal.

The colossus collapsed after two seasons.

The last time we saw the Florida dynasty, it was leaving the Georgia Dome in tears on Dec. 5, 2009. Tebow and the defending national champion Gators, ranked No. 1, had just been struck down by the No. 2 Crimson Tide in the SEC title game, 32-13.

Tebow wept as he left the field after his final SEC game. The next season, Florida was 8-5.

Meyer suddenly had health issues—or burnout, or something—and disengaged from recruiting and then resigned. Bama fans insist Saban scared off "Urban Legend" with the Tide's 14-0 season in 2009.

But Saban didn't scare off Auburn. The Tigers popped up out of the bushes in 2010. They pummeled teams with a better version of Tebow, Cam Newton, and bamboozled defenses with the slot machine-like offense of Gus Malzahn that seemed to spit out random plays. The Tigers beat Alabama in the Iron Bowl—now that is an enduring rivalry—and won the national title.

So, after back-to-back tussles in the SEC title game in 2008 and '09—the Gators won one, the Tide won one—Alabama's dynasty was interrupted; Florida's dynasty was blown up. The game didn't matter as much anymore.

The Crimson Tide (3-0) and Gators (2-0) meet Saturday in Tuscaloosa, and while both teams may be unbeaten, this is still not a game that leaves Main Street deserted like it did five years ago. It will be expensive to watch in person, but not a which-way-to-the-poor-house expensive. Alabama vs. LSU is a bigger game now than Bama-Florida. Georgia vs. South Carolina is bigger. Auburn vs. LSU is about to be bigger. Alabama vs. Auburn was always bigger.

Alabama and Saban are still intimidating. They won national titles in '11 and '12 and were one play from possibly playing for the title in '13, until Auburn struck again. The Tide are revved up once more in '14 with their bottomless corps of running backs and formidable linemen.

It's Florida that lags.

The Gators struggled with Kentucky last week. That's probably enough said right there. When the Gators were rolling from 2006 to 2009, they beat the basketball school 63-5 in one meeting. In overtime Saturday night, a moving truck likely was idling somewhere. If Florida had lost to the Wildcats, it would have been dispatched to coach Will Muschamp's house, no doubt.

It has been a bumpy four-year ride for Muschamp. The last time the Gators played Alabama, they lost 38-10 in '11. That happened in The Swamp, no less. After starting last season 4-1, Florida lost seven straight to close the campaign, including a 26-20 decision against Georgia Southern. The fanbase was outraged.

While the Gators may be undefeated going into Saturday's game at Alabama, they still haven't recovered from December 2009.

"After Meyer stepped down and Muschamp was hired, instability at the the coordinator and quarterback positions, along with numerous injuries, created an almost impossible situation for offensive success," said Alabama color analyst Phil Savage, the CEO of the Senior Bowl and former NFL GM. "Now, with offensive coordinator Kurt Roper on board, you can see some of the natural ability emerging at running back and wide receiver with Jeff Driskel playing the best football of his career."

Tom Lemming, the Chicago-based recruiting analyst, told B/R that he had the last four Muschamp recruiting classes ranked 12th, fifth, fourth and eighth, respectively. There has been a replenishing of the roster, but not like the job done by the other Saban disciple, Jimbo Fisher, who replenished Florida State post-Bobby Bowden and won the national title in '13.

The Gators have some NFL-style talent, including wide receiver Demarcus Robinson and cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III, among others, but it is hard to win consistently with so much quarterback instability. The school that has produced three Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks just can't get the position in order, and some of that has to do with the Gators trying to figure out who they want to be on offense.

Jeff Driskel was hurt last season and is back in '14. It remains to be seen whether he is going to get himself to another level. Driskel had issues finding the open receiver when Kentucky brought extra-man pressure last week, so you can imagine what Alabama is thinking for this week: Squeeze the Gator with the ball and see if he will throw it to us.

The good news for Driskel is the Crimson Tide just don't look as threatening on defense as they did in a four-year stretch from 2009 to 2012, when they had an astonishing 77 interceptions. This season, they have forced one turnover (fumble) and haven't grabbed a single interception in three games. When one wonders why talented Alabama defensive back Eddie Jackson, just five months removed from knee surgery and with a contraption locked to his knee for support, is on the field, now the reason is clear.

It is a stretch to think Driskel is going to restore this rivalry with a monumental performance Saturday, especially on the road and especially because he looked so disjointed against UK. But there is some intrigue.

Alabama has Amari Cooper, its preseason All-American receiver, while the Gators have Hargreaves at defensive back, and he is a star. The Gators have a terrific running back in Matt Jones, who gained 156 yards against Kentucky, while Alabama has the best defensive back in the country, safety Landon Collins, who will play closer to the line in this game and see Jones face-to-face on the second level.

But what the Gators really need is the next Carlos Dunlap or Ray McDonald or Derrick Harvey on the defensive line, or throwback linebackers such as Brandon Siler or Brandon Spikes. They were stars when Florida was on its roll, and indeed a heavy-handed defense is what might rekindle this rivalry to its fullest.

For now, it is just another SEC game in which Alabama is favored by at least two scores. Gators fans will tell you it shouldn't be that way. Ever.


Ray Glier has covered college football and various other sports for 20 years. His work has appeared in USA Today, The New York Times, CNN, The Washington Post and Al Jazeera America. He is the author of How the SEC Became Goliath (Howard/Simon & Schuster, 2013).

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Texas A&M Football: Will Myles Garrett Be Named an All-American in 2014?

The Texas A&M football team has an improved pass rush in 2014 because Myles Garrett has lived up to his recruiting ranking on the field. Garrett will make it three years in a row that the Aggies have had an All-American on their team. 

The ranking of recruits is an inexact science. Every year there are "can't miss" recruits who fail to live up their billing while recruits who were overlooked by various sporting websites and news outlets develop into stars and first-round draft picks. 

Garrett was the No. 1 recruit in the nation in the 2014 class, according to 247Sports. The 6'5", 255-pound athlete registered 20.5 sacks as a senior at Martin High School in Arlington, Texas. 

He has not let up since arriving in College Station. Garrett leads the Aggies with 5.5 sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss on the season. The sack total tied the school record for sacks by a freshman. Jadeveon Clowney holds the SEC freshman record for sacks in a season at eight, and with nine games left in the 2014 schedule, that record is within reach. 

Garrett has an extremely rare combination of size, speed and strength. He is a true freshman who has split double-teams on the way to sacking the quarterback. A lot of young defensive linemen have one skill that is at a very high level but need to develop the others. 

Some are fast and need to get stronger, while some have strength but need to develop pass-rushing moves. Garrett has it all and has displayed it on the field during the Aggies' first three games.  

He can bull rush an offensive lineman on one play and bend a blow by him on the next. Garrett is a rare kind of pass-rusher college fans need to enjoy for the next three years because if he stays healthy, he will be paid a lot of money to chase quarterbacks on Sundays. 


A Popularity Contest

In order to be named to an All-American team, it is not enough to simply be great on the field. It has become somewhat of a popularity contest where being named to a preseason All-American team is almost as important as how a player performs on the field. 

The media likes to be right, and it's going to name its preseason selections as All-Americans as long as they put up the requisite numbers to earn the selection. If a player wants to be named an All-American and was not one of the media's darlings before the season started, then that player needs to set the college football world on fire, much the same way that Johnny Manziel and Jameis Winston have the previous two seasons. 

Garrett currently ranks No. 2 in the nation in sacks behind Washington defensive tackle Danny Shelton. If Garrett wants to beat out the Vic Beasleys of the world, then he is going to have to put up a big number. 

If Beasley and Garrett were to each get 12 sacks on the year, then Beasley would be named to the All-American team because of the preseason hype he received. It would not matter that 12 sacks would set an SEC record for freshmen—Garrett would get passed over. 

He is going to have to put up a monster number—like 15 sacks—that the media cannot ignore. Garrett is also going to have to make some big plays in big games.

It is great that he got 2.5 sacks against Rice, but 2.5 sacks against Alabama would be the equivalent of double that number against Rice or SMU. If Garrett wants to be named an All-American, then he is going to have to stand out on the field when the Aggies play Alabama, Auburn and LSU.

Luckily for Aggie fans, Garrett has the kind of talent and drive to have that kind of impact. He is the best freshman defensive player to set foot on the A&M campus in over 20 years. Garrett will be the first freshman defensive lineman to be named an All-American since Sam Adams pulled off the feat in 1991.  

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Tennessee Football Recruiting: Latest Updates on 2015 Commits and Targets

Although the final score didn't reflect it, the Tennessee Volunteers game against the No. 4 Oklahoma Sooners on Saturday proved that head coach Butch Jones' recruiting prowess has the team on the right track. 

Running back Jalen Hurd and defensive end Derek Barnett, both freshmen, made big impacts on the game, with Hurd breaking two long runs and Barnett creating major headaches for the Sooners offensive line throughout the evening.

As Jones has pointed out time and time again, Tennessee is young and lacking depth at nearly every position, and the only way to remedy that situation is by recruiting top-notch athletes.

Thanks to Jones' tenacity, the Vols' 2015 class is shaping up to be every bit as good as the 2014 edition, with two five-star commits and several four-star prospects already on-board. 

While there's certainly a long way between now and national signing day, Jones and his staff will continue pursuing every recruit on their board, including those already committed to Tennessee and those who have pledged to play elsewhere.

Here's a recap of the latest news on Tennessee's 2015 recruiting targets and commitments. 

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Wake Forest Sends Recruit Photoshopped Kim Kardashian West Magazine Cover

Who knew that Kim Kardashian West was a Wake Forest fan?

That may not actually be true, but the Demon Deacons coaching staff will hope that this creative, Photoshopped magazine cover impresses 2015 recruit Kengera Daniel. 

Update: Sept. 16 at 1:25 p.m. ET

As it turns out Daniel wasn't the only Wake Forest recruit to get a Photoshopped magazine cover to try to woo him to Winston-Salem.

Class of 2015 recruit Marcus Marshall's also received a Photoshopped cover, featuring the talented Selena Gomez.

--End of Update--

Earlier this year, the Tennessee Volunteers sent recruit Shy Tuttle a Photoshopped Rolling Stone cover of him and Beyonce. That appeared to go over well—the Vols are among Tuttle's most likely destinations, per 247 Sports—so the Demon Deacons decided to borrow a page out of the their book.

[Twitter, h/t SB Nation]

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FSU Football Recruiting: Latest Updates on 2015 Commits, Visits and Targets

No. 1 Florida State has consistently been atop the national recruiting rankings ever since Jimbo Fisher took over the program, and the 2015 class has the potential to be one of the program's best.

FSU enters Saturday's game against rival Clemson with the nation's No. 2 recruiting class thanks to 20 verbal commitments from some of the country's best prospects. 

With a class already highlighted by the nation's top safety prospect, a trio of elite quarterbacks and recent pledges from one of the top wide receiver and tailback recruits in the country, the 'Noles are rolling on. A win Saturday over the Tigers could give them even more momentum heading into the middle part of the regular season as they battle Alabama for recruiting supremacy.

With several 5 and 4-star uncommitted prospects on their board, Fisher and his staff still have the chance to make an already great class even better.

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NCAA Football Rankings 2014: Full List of Week 4 College Standings and Polls

Gone is the evil BCS and in its place is the playoff, although what the means for NCAA football rankings is a good as anyone's guess.

Especially with how this wild season is already playing out.

Whether it is brave scheduling or downright season-ruining upsets in what had the look of a boring week, the first three weeks of the 2014 season have been anything but kind to the Top 25. Look at data provided by Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports for proof:

Things only figure to get crazier as conference play gets underway.

Beforehand, here is a look at the Week 4 polls and a deeper dive on some big movers.


Amway and AP Week 4 Top 25 Rankings


Breaking Down Notable Movers


In a way, this was easy to see coming.

The Steve Sarkisian era at USC got off to a wild start, as his young team took a trip to Stanford and emerged with a 13-10 win, really beating David Shaw's team at its own game in the process.

Then the letdown happened.

Tasked with traveling across the country to take on a sneaky-good Boston College team led by dual-threat quarterback Tyler Murphy, the Trojans gave up 37 points and 506 yards in an ugly upset that moved them down 11 spots in the Amyway poll alone.

"As much as I'm evaluating every player right now in the bye week, I'm evaluating myself," Sarkisian said, per's Rahshaun Haylock. "And part of myself is the play-caller and what gives us the best chance to be successful."

Yeah, that is not a good sign. Sarkisian, known for his quick-twitch offense last perfected at Washington, is even questioning himself in that area. Good thing USC is on a bye.

There is a semblance of hope that the Trojans can rebound, but it will have to come against a brutal schedule. A visit from Oregon State after the bye followed by a visit from No. 15 Arizona State is a stretch only overshadowed by a date at UCLA and against Notre Dame to close the season.

The Trojans needed that win at Boston College dearly.


Ole Miss

The team from the SEC nobody seems to be talking about continues to surge forward. 

Now 3-0, the Ole Miss Rebels rank in the top 10 in passing yards per game (364.7) and overall defense (10.3).

As College GameDay notes, a four-spot rise in The Associated Press Top 25 and three spots in the Amyway are not the only accomplishments the Rebels continue to pile up:

Critics will point out that the wins are against Boise State, Vanderbilt and Louisiana-Lafayette. Then again, each of those teams have at least one win on the season already and one has two (Boise State).

Led by senior quarterback Bo Wallace, who has 1,023 passing yards and nine touchdowns to four interceptions in three games, the Rebels are a serious threat in the SEC. Two of the three wins have seen the offense rack up 180 or more yards on the ground, and the defense is clearly a force.

The hype train will end soon, though, as the first game of October sees No. 3 Alabama come to town. Then it's off to No. 6 Texas A&M. The end of that month is a trip to No. 8 LSU followed by a visit from No. 5 Auburn.

We will find out quickly if the sudden rise in all areas is warranted.


South Carolina

As quickly as they fell after an opening-week loss to the Aggies, the South Carolina Gamecocks are back to the realm of relevancy after an upset over previously ranked No. 6 Georgia, 38-35.

As Kirk Herbstreit notes, though, the shocking upset was not enough in the minds of pollsters:

Apparently, we should have seen the upset coming, though. The AP's Pete Iacobelli points out that Steve Spurrier has a habit of making this sort of thing happen:

When rumblings began in 2010 that an aging Spurrier had lost his edge, his players responded with a victory over then-No. 1 Alabama that jump-started a run to the SEC Eastern Division.

In 2012, when consecutive mid-season road defeats to LSU and Florida derailed a 6-0 start, the Gamecocks won their final five games for a second straight 11-win season.

Behind 271 yards and three touchdowns from Dylan Thompson and 176 total rushing yards, Spurrier's side seemed to find itself at just the right moment once again.

It was very much a season-saving win, although tests against Missouri, Auburn, Florida and Clemson still loom large on the schedule.


Stats via ESPN. Amyway poll via USA Today. AP poll via the Associated Press.


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Answering College Football's Biggest Questions Heading into Week 4

Week 4 of the 2014 college football season is just around the corner. Bleacher Report's College Football Analysts Michael Felder, Adam Kramer and Barrett Sallee play a classic game of "Would You Rather." 

Which offense would you rather go up against?

Watch the video, and let us know!

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Florida vs. Alabama: Will Big-Time Matchup Determine SEC Playoff Fate?

The Florida Gators head to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, to take on the Alabama Crimson Tide on Saturday. Bleacher Report's College Football Analysts Barrett Sallee and Adam Kramer break down exactly what this matchup could mean for the SEC's future in the College Football Playoff.

What do you think the final score between these two SEC programs will be?

Watch the video and let us know.

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Which Freshman Running Back Is Poised to Be the Next Todd Gurley?

Oregon freshman running back Royce Freeman has burst onto the scene. Bleacher Report's College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Adam Kramer discuss his true potential.

How dominant do you think Freeman can be in college football?

Watch the video and let us know!

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Michigan Football Expectations for 2014 and Beyond: Curbside Enthusiasm

Michigan football continues to be a source of consternation as summer fades to brisk autumn air. Coming off a disheartening shutout in South Bend, the Wolverines lacked luster in the first half against the lowly Miami (Ohio) RedHawks.

Yes, Michigan picked up the slack in the second half and managed to beat a team that hasn't won since October 27, 2012, 34-10. Brady Hoke and his fellow spin doctors will tell you the team is improving, that the goal every season is to compete for the Big Ten title (an imprint that began in the Bo Schembechler era and continued through Lloyd Carr's tenure). But these refrains never sit well with Michigan's crotchety fanbase.

Drew Sharp of the Detroit Free Press does well to explore the fragile psyche of the Michigan football fan and challenges the notion that "Michigan needs to get back to its glory years." For Sharp and others like him, Michigan's recent gridiron greatness is the stuff of fable.

One half national championship (1997-98), two outright Big Ten titles (1997, 2003), three shared conference titles (1998, 2000, 2004) and a 7-9 record in Bowl games since 1997 does not a modern juggernaut make.

Former Michigan standouts like wide receiver Braylon Edwards are chiming in on the argument. Speaking to 105.1's Matt Dery (h/t MLive), Edwards asserted: "Michigan football has lacked an identity over the last couple years. So when you say 'we have to get back to Michigan football,' what are we getting back to would be the real question."

Granted, the pressure in athletics, at any level, is tremendous, and with a brand like Michigan's it has to be unbearable at times for coaches and players alike. Fans get caught up with results in college sports and tend to forget that for every Charles Woodson there are countless other scholarship athletes who are still finding their way on the playing field.

But for a program with Michigan's considerable resources and declining stature, the decisions of its athletic directors, past and present, must be questioned. Most fans and writers point to the end of the Carr era and the search for his replacement as a fumble in the red zone.

In 2008, then-Michigan athletic director Bill Martin tried to fill a round hole with the square peg that was Rich Rodriguez, an offensive mastermind who was highly regarded for his work at West Virginia at the time. But the due diligence in that hire was far from extensive, as a team that played little or no defense would never have staying power in the Big Ten.

Jim Harbaugh was the fish that got away during that coaching search. As noted by The New York Times' Pete Thamel, while former assistant coach and Michigan alum Les Miles was being vetted, Martin never really allowed the former Michigan quarterback into the applicant pool because of Harbaugh's comments about Michigan's admission policies and education approach as they pertained to student athletes. 

Martin retired in 2010, and when new AD Dave Brandon fired Rich Rod in 2011, the door opened once again for Harbaugh, who was taking the Stanford Cardinal to lofty heights under his guidance at the time. But Harbaugh had other ideas; a Michigan Man who could have been easily courted in 2008, got comfortable in the Bay Area and, well, the NFL came calling (Harbaugh is back in the conversation again for the job, in some hopeful sectors).

Hoke was next on the depth chart and, after a rather fantastic 2011 debut season as coach, Michigan has been mediocre at best. 

When Hoke first arrived in Ann Arbor, he seemed to be a jovial motivator, adept at fielding hardball questions from the media, and he forged a ready-made team concept that had instant results on the field; Team 132 beat Ohio State for the first time since 2003 and Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl.

These days, Hoke bristles at the media and has incurred the wrath of the fanbase with comments like this one after the Notre Dame loss, as per The Associated Press (via USA Today): "If they're truly fans, they'll believe in these kids and what they've done and the hard work they've put in. If they're not, they won't."

While you can't blame Hoke's sour attitude towards a fanbase that has turned on him, a man making an average $3.25 million a year in salary (as per the Ann Arbor News) will need to develop better coping mechanisms to criticism, constructive or otherwise, of his team and coaching efforts, which resemble a rebuilding project at this point.

The rest of 2014 will be about damage control for Hoke and his less-than-awe-inspiring team. Michigan faces a tough test immediately as the high-scoring Utah Utes, coming off a bye week, visit Ann Arbor next. Michigan is getting some respect from oddsmakers this week, as the Wolverines are an early 5.5- to six-point favorite, according to Odds Shark.

But if Big Blue comes out flat like they did against Miami, Utah has the weapons to put Michigan in a deep hole; Utah is third in the nation in scoring with 57.5 points per game after two games. If Devin Gardner is anything more than a stopgap quarterback, he will need to start with a commanding performance against Utah. 

In the end, this is a story about expectations. For most Wolverines alumni and fans, nothing less than challenging for the national championship will ever do. While Brandon, Hoke and his cronies will tell you the Big Ten title is always their top priority, those seem like delusions of grandeur at the moment as well. 

It's hard to rally around a coach, who, when asked by 97.1 The Ticket (via MLive's Nick Baumgardner, h/t SB Nation) if he would change anything about his preparation for Notre Dame, responded with: "I wouldn't change anything."

While many Michigan fans would prefer to have Hoke on a short leash, he seems to have Brandon's support, and the argument that Michigan can't afford another start-from-scratch scenario by hiring a new head honcho continues to proliferate around message boards and Great Lakes State water coolers.

For now, Michigan fans will have to accept mediocrity as the new normal. Should Hoke's Team 135 improve dramatically in the coming months and manage to beat either Michigan State or Ohio State, maybe fans will start thinking Michigan is "back to playing Michigan football."

In September 2014, Michigan is a middling college football program. Check your enthusiasm at the door, until otherwise notified.

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How 2014's Top Freshman QBs Compare to Johnny Manziel, Jameis Winston

Johnny Manziel and Jameis Winston have ruined the curve for freshman quarterbacks the past two seasons, combining to win 25 games, one national title and two Heisman Trophies.

Especially these next few seasons, every freshman who starts at a major program will be compared with that precocious duo, even though their success is an unfair precedent to compete with.

This year, only four freshman quarterbacks are starting at major programs, two redshirts and two trues. The two trues—Jon Wolford of Wake Forest and Brad Kaaya of Miami—have struggled a bit, but the two redshirts—Anu Solomon of Arizona and J.T. Barrett of Ohio State—have looked the part of quality contributors.

Since Manziel and Winston also took a redshirt before starting, it seems fair to give Wolford and Kaaya a pass from the comparison. Playing in one's actual first year is a difficult mountain to climb.

But Solomon and Barrett got to learn for a year before starting, and they, like Manziel and Winston, are playing under renowned offensive coaches (Rich Rodriguez and Urban Meyer, respectively).

Let's see how they stack up to their predecessors:

*Measured the average of the first three QBR scores (via, not necessarily the QBR after three games. 

Barrett has thrown five interceptions in three games, which sticks out next to Manziel's zero and Solomon and Winston's one.

To be fair, a large part of that can be attributed to preparedness, since Barrett didn't think he would be starting until Braxton Miller's shoulder injury late in camp. It can also be attributed to having to play Virginia Tech, one of the best secondaries in America. Both of those things might have skewed the turnover results against him.

At the same time, Manziel played Florida in his first career game, and he didn't implode by turning the ball over. The defenses each QB played must be taken into account—and they will be—but there is no good excuse for Barrett's carelessness through three games.

That is very un-Manziel and -Winston of him.

A second thing of note from Table 1 is Solomon's volume yardage. He has posted more than 1,000 total yards through three games, easily the most of all four players and almost 300 more than Winston in 2013.

Ostensibly, numbers like that helped inform Danny Kanell of ESPN when he ranked Solomon way too high (No. 6; above Winston and Connor Cook) on his early season quarterback Stock Watch a couple weeks ago. But how much do they really mean?

It's important to look at these numbers in context. Solomon's raw yardage is great, but his usage far exceeds that of Winston, whose team won its first three games in blowout fashion. Whereas Winston got to exit after roughly three quarters, Solomon has been locked in 60-minute games, working hard to score points throughout.

Here is how each QB has done on a per-play basis:

The numbers here validate how Winston started last season, clarifying one way he'd been better than Solomon despite smaller raw numbers. He was involved in almost 50 fewer offensive plays, averaging close to 10 yards per play that he was involved in.

There's a reason FSU could afford to pull him late in those games.

Table 2 brings up an interesting point, however, with regard Manziel, who finished fourth with 7.3 yards per play.

That seems backward considering all that we know about Manziel, especially after looking at Table 1. After three games, was he actually the least efficient of these QBs on a per-play basis?

Absolutely not.

This is where the strength of opponent thing comes into play. Manziel finished first (by a wide margin) in the bottom row of Table 1, the one that measured average QBR. Although QBR is a young stat, it is useful because it weights (a) context, (b) rushing stats and (c) strength of defense faced. It is far from being perfect, but in 2014, it is one of the best quantifiable metrics of quarterback performance.

Despite his lesser per-play numbers, Manziel finished first in adjusted QBR because he played Florida, which in 2012 was one of the best defenses in the country. Unlike Barrett in his game against Virginia Tech, he did not throw any crippling interceptions. He gave his team a chance to win, and even though it didn't, he played well.

On the whole, QBR is where Winston and Manziel had the biggest advantage over Solomon and Barrett, giving credence to the assertion that this year's freshman QBs have not been quite as good:

*Measured the average of the first three QBR scores, not necessarily the QBR after three games. 

According to ESPN (the site that compiles QBR), the scale ranges from 0-100, where a perfect game scores a 100, an average game scores a 50 and the worst game imaginable scores a 0.

Solomon and Barrett each logged a below-average performance in their second game, something neither Winston nor Manziel did at any point as freshmen. Manziel came close against LSU (51.2), but other than that, neither even flirted with going sub-50.

That is not to say that Solomon and Barrett cannot turn things around. They can. Neither is on par with Manziel after three games, but Winston is not far ahead of them. It wasn't until the second quarter of the regular season that he began playing like a Heisman candidate (and eventual winner) on a weekly basis:

*Measured the average of the first three QBR scores, not necessarily the QBR after three games. 

**Finished with the No. 1 QBR score in the country.

Using this logic, the next three games are a watershed stretch for Solomon and Barrett's development. If they play well, each would be following the same rough path as Winston (Solomon in particular, since his team is undefeated). If they don't play well, the comparisons with previous star freshman will end.

Solomon starts his second quarter with a home game against Cal, but he follows that with a road trip to Oregon and a home game against USC. Despite (and in some ways, because of) how the Trojans looked at Boston College Saturday, those second two games will pose a stiff test and teach us a lot about Solomon's immediate future.

Barrett starts his second quarter with a home game against Cincinnati, following that with a road trip to Maryland and a home game against Rutgers. The Bearcats, Terps and Scarlet Knights all have offenses that can score but questionable defenses, which should set Barrett up for success if he seizes the opportunity.

"We're still...figuring out exactly how we're going to be moving the ball as an offense once we start getting to the Big Ten season," said Meyer after Barrett threw for six touchdowns against Kent State, per Ben Axelrod of Bleacher Report.

Whether he should keep spreading out the offense with five receivers, he doesn't know. If the precedents are any indication, however, Meyer and his staff are running out of time to tinker.

The training period is supposed to be done.

Like Solomon, Barrett is a dual-threat player who's had modest success after three starts. He has weapons around him to help him do well, and even if that doesn't result in a Heisman (it won't), it can still result in a good first season and an auspicious future.

However, he and Solomon have both been slightly worse than Winston and Manziel were as freshmen, which is nothing to be ashamed of but also nothing a player should resign himself to. There is still a way for them to match their forerunners' success, but it needs to start immediately, in the next triad of games.

After three weeks, all four freshman seasons are in the same ballpark, but Manziel's is in the first row behind home plate, Winston's is a few rows back on the third base-line, Solomon's is at the front of the second deck and Barrett's is in the outfield bleachers.

They all got admitted to the game, but if Solomon and Barrett are going to upgrade seats, that movement must start now.

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Ohio State Football: What Bye-Week Adjustments Do the Buckeyes Need to Make?

COLUMBUS, Ohio — In each of his first two seasons at Ohio State, neither of Urban Meyer's bye weeks with the Buckeyes landed until November. And with his teams' weeks off not coming until the final quarter of the season, the OSU head coach had just one matter on his mind each time: health.

It also didn't hurt that in each of the Buckeyes' previous two bye weeks, Ohio State was still unbeaten and on the cusp of perfect regular seasons. Little had to change for the Buckeyes from a game-planning standpoint, as Meyer used the late weeks off to get the likes of Braxton Miller, John Simon and Carlos Hyde back to full strength.

But 2014 has dealt Meyer and Ohio State a different hand, with the Buckeyes receiving their first of two bye weeks on the year in just the fourth week of the season. And with a 2-1 record, Ohio State, and its relatively healthy roster, has taken a new approach into this week's bye, as it looks to build on the momentum that it gained in its 66-0 win over Kent State last weekend.

"We're going to practice hard this week," Meyer said on Saturday. "A lot of what you do in a bye week is dependent on what kind of team you have. But our guys need repetitions."

With those repetitions are sure to come adjustments for a Buckeyes team that has been inconsistent at best through its first fourth of the regular season. With a pivotal game against Cincinnati looming, Ohio State's development over the next week will be crucial and could play a key role in defining the remainder of its 2014 season.

With that in mind, here's a look at the adjustments that the Buckeyes will attempt to make during their earlier-than-usual bye this week.


Use the Youth

With its game against the Golden Flashes out of hand before the start of the second quarter, Ohio State used its most recent outing as an opportunity to burn some redshirts and get several true freshmen the first playing time of their careers.

Outside of Curtis Samuel, Sean Nuernberger, Raekwon McMillan and Erick Smith—all of whom had already made their OSU debuts—Jalyn Holmes, Damon Webb, Johnnie Dixon, Noah Brown, Dante Booker, Jamarco Jones and Marcelys Jones each received their first playing time as Buckeyes in the team's blowout victory.

Add in the number of redshirt freshmen and true sophomores that Ohio State had already been counting on, and there was no shortage of youth to be found on the field for the Buckeyes last Saturday. That's not something that will change moving forward, either, as the makeup of Ohio State's roster has dictated this year's team to be an inexperienced one.

"I'm really excited about our young skill," Meyer said after the Kent State game. "I am trying to get our players as many reps as possible by the time we get to the Big Ten season, and this was a great opportunity for that."

The same can be said for the bye week, which will provide ample opportunities for the Buckeye youngsters to continue to get their feet wet. Perhaps no player will be more important in that process than McMillan, who saw a plethora of playing time at middle linebacker last Saturday in place of Curtis Grant.

A former 5-star prospect, McMillan made the most of his time too, recording a team-high seven tackles and two sacks against the Golden Flashes. After playing just sparingly and on special teams in Ohio State's first two games of the season, the Hinesville, Georgia, native certainly lived up to the hype in what was the most significant playing time of his young career.

"Coach Meyer’s philosophy, he always says to be ready when your number is called,” McMillan said after the game. “So, mental reps, even when you’re not in practice or even when you’re not in games, are important."

But with his impressive outing last week, look for McMillan's mental reps to decrease as the Ohio State staff adds more actual reps to his workload. The same could be said Samuel, Holmes, Dixon and Jamarco Jones, all of whom could find themselves playing significant roles for the Buckeyes by season's end.


Form a Front Five

Of all of the Ohio State offense's inefficiencies thus far this season, many can be traced back to its ineffective offensive line, which is still in the process of replacing four multiyear starters from a season ago.

With three games under their belt, the Buckeyes appear to have settled on a starting five for the unit, with Taylor Decker, Pat Elflein, Jacoby Boren, Billy Price and Darryl Baldwin taking the majority of the significant snaps for Ohio State this season.

But setting a starting five and being comfortable with it are two different stories. Which is why, while the Buckeyes were quick to put in most of their second-teamers against the Golden Flashes, they stuck with several starting offensive linemen, as Meyer is well aware of how important experience will be to their development.

"Even players that are considered starters here, there are just so many guys out there from the Billy Price's to the Darryl Baldwin's, just want to get them a lot of reps," Meyer said. "We did that today."

That trend will continue through the bye, which will give Ohio State two more full weeks of practice to continue to develop its line before its battle with the Bearcats. In between the Buckeyes' loss to Virginia Tech and dismantling of Kent State, Price saw positive momentum across his unit, which he expects to continue throughout the bye and beyond.

"We have to get better as a whole. From last week to this week, I feel that we got better," Price said. "We're a lot more in sync."

How much more in sync will the Ohio State offensive line look with two more weeks of practice under its belt? We're about to find out.


Grin And Barrett

When Braxton Miller went down for the season with a torn labrum two weeks before the season opener, the Buckeyes' national title hopes took an understandable hit. And while we'll never know whether or not Ohio State would have defeated the Hokies in Week 2 with the reigning two-time MVP in the lineup, quarterback J.T. Barrett has played admirably in his absence.

So much so, in fact, that in the first three weeks of his college career, the redshirt freshman signal-caller has earned two Big Ten Freshman of the Week awards and is the current reigning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week.

After a shaky showing against Virginia Tech, Barrett bounced back in the Buckeyes' blowout win over Kent State, tying a school record with six touchdown passes and becoming the first OSU quarterback to throw for 300 yards in a single game since Troy Smith in 2006.

And while the Buckeyes offense may have a significantly lower ceiling with Barrett behind center instead of Miller, Ohio State appears to finally be finding an offensive identity with its new starting quarterback. Against the Golden Flashes, eight Buckeyes caught balls by the end of the first quarter, and five tallied receiving touchdowns by the end of the game, indicative of a pass-happy approach that plays to Barrett's strengths as a "distributor."

"At this point, I think we have a lot of speed, and you can tell we're trying to get guys in open space to see what they can do," Meyer said on Saturday. "We're still, once again, figuring out exactly how we're going to be moving the ball as an offense once we start getting to the Big Ten season."

Albeit against an undermanned opponent, last Saturday appeared to be a big step in that process for the Buckeyes. Gone were the quarterback runs that Miller excelled with for two seasons under Meyer, replaced with swing passes out of the backfield and shorter passes to a work-in-progress wide receiving corps.

With two weeks to prepare for Cincinnati, look for Meyer and his staff to only expand their Barrett-centric playbook, in order to continue to better feature his ability moving forward.

With three games—and three conference honors—now on his resume, the first-year quarterback is only just now getting comfortable and could make a big leap between now and Ohio State's upcoming Buckeye State showdown.


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

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Michigan Football: What to Expect from Wolverines vs. Utah

Michigan is three games into the 2014 season, and it’s yet to put together a solid four-quarter effort.

But somehow, and perhaps somewhat luckily, the Wolverines find themselves at 2-1 heading into this Saturday’s home date with Utah, which has averaged 52 points while coasting to a 2-0 record.

Team 135 won’t see 3-1 with another Notre Dame-esque offering, and it won’t calm the masses if it comes out flat on offense or breaks on defense.

In short, if the Wolverines want to take down coach Kyle Whittingham’s Utes, something that Brady Hoke hasn’t done in two attempts, they’ll have to be as close to perfect as possible.

They’ll have to make field goals. They’ll have to minimize turnovers.

They’ll have to finally show their mettle.


Expect a Quick Start on “O”?

The Wolverines scored 17 points during the first half of their 34-10 win over the Red Hawks, who entered the day with 18 consecutive setbacks and nothing else to lose but No. 19. They hung around for three quarters until Michigan decided to distance itself.

Prior to that, Nussmeier’s offense scored zero in Week 2 against Notre Dame.

Through three games, the former Alabama coordinator’s scheme and personnel have failed to strike fear into opponents. Michigan hasn’t appeared powerful enough to quickly build a lead, sustain it and run away with games as it should.

The lack of steady production has been frustrating for fans, but not for Nussmeier. He’s expecting more, and soon.

“No, I’m not frustrated at all,” he replied when asked if he was. Then he cited young receivers and running backs, and the fact quarterback Devin Gardner, a fifth-year senior who’s had three OCs, is “in his third game of a new system.”

Sophomores Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith have the potential to carry the load from the backfield, but they’re slow starters. Without Devin Funchess, who’ll return when he returns, the passing game has suffered, leaving outcomes to be juggled in the hands of guys with few reps. 

“You just look at the youth out there, and there is going to be a growth process,” Nussmeier said. “Our kids have worked extremely hard and take pride in doing things right.

“Now, has it been perfect? No. Do we have a long way to go? Yes. But the attention is there, the focus is there, the want to is there and we’ve just got to continue to improve.”

A week ago, he said the offense was in its “infancy” stage.

Will the fourth game be enough to get Gardner acclimated to the “new system”? Apparently four years of college ball haven’t been enough.

Will it continue to serve as part of the “growth process”? Or will it be another that prompts the same questions next week?

Saturday is the one-third mark of the season. Thirty-three percent. Michigan can’t continue crawling like an infant. It has to get up and run like a big boy.

“We took another step. We took a step in the right direction [versus Miami],” insisted Nussmeier. “Still, we know as a group, that consistency has got to be better. But, at times, you see us do some things very, very well.”


Sharper Image

Hoke admitted that his team was less than keen this past weekend versus the Red Hawks, who caught the Wolverines on their heels before and after the break.

“We had five minutes in the second quarter that would be five minutes that we would like to have [back],” he said, referencing Amara Darboh’s 29-yard catch-turned-fumble and Gardner’s interception. However, he said he was pleased with the overall effort and “hard work” attitude.

Any miscue, and we’re talking any, could be the difference versus the Utes, who won’t be as forgiving as prior opponents Appalachian State and Miami. Another pick thrown by Gardner, especially late, would turn out the lights in Ann Arbor. With four interceptions thus far, he ranks No. 15 nationally in terms of frequency and needs two more to be No. 1.

Another turnover could break the bank, not to mention the hearts of the (probable) 100,000-plus in the stands. The Wolverines’ eight giveaways lead the Big Ten, with three fumbles and five interceptions.

A performance like that against Utah could send them hobbling to another so-so finish and tumultuous offseason. 

Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81

Unless otherwise noted, quotes were obtained firsthand by the writer.

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Power Ranking the Top 25 College Football Freshmen Through 3 Weeks

College football’s beauty is in its turnover.

Each winter, a large group of junior and senior stars depart the game, through graduation and early entry into the NFL draft.

Each spring and summer, they’re replaced by fresh, talented faces. One of the joys of each football season is watching new talents emerge across the college gridiron landscape, thrill fans and earn their place in college football lore.

Three weeks into the 2014 college football season, some of the top freshmen and redshirt freshmen are emerging as stars. We took a stab at power ranking the top 25 across college football—picked for the stats they have piled up as well as the overall impact they have made on their teams already.

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What Could Have Been for Nick Marshall at Kansas State

What if I told you Kansas State quarterback Nick Marshall was gearing up his Wildcats for a big out-of-conference game against No. 5 Auburn in the hopes of not only launching his Heisman campaign in tiny Manhattan, Kansas, but in also making a statement that his team is a legitimate contender for the Big 12 and national titles?

That almost happened.

Marshall—the senior signal-caller for the Auburn Tigers—was pursued heavily by Kansas State as a dual-threat quarterback out of Garden City (Kansas) Community College in the class of 2013.

So much so that Kansas State head coach Bill Snyder wanted Marshall over then-Iowa Western Community College and current Kansas State starting quarterback Jake Waters, according to Jay G. Tate of

"He definitely wanted me there," Marshall told Tate in May of 2013. "They were cool, but that's not what I wanted. I came to Kansas to get away; I didn't want to stay in Kansas. That's the last thing on my mind."

Except that it wasn't.

Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee were hot on the trail of Marshall at Arkansas State but knew other programs—bigger programs—would come calling. Kansas State was already there, Indiana got into the mix and then the big one came—Texas.

"I was going to go with Texas," he said.

But Case McCoy was reinstated to the program in January 2013, and Marshall's Texas offer was pulled, according to Tate. Instead of heading to Austin for an official visit, Marshall told Auburn's coaches he'd instead visit Kansas State that weekend. Malzahn and Lashlee convinced him to commit instead of taking the trip, despite the best efforts of Snyder.

"He didn't waver at all," Garden City offensive coordinator Matt Miller told Tate. "Even with Bill Snyder writing hand-written letters every day saying: You're my guy; you're my quarterback. They knew Nick was better than the guy they had coming in. They saw Nick being their starter."

What would that have been like for Kansas State?

Instead of rotating quarterbacks last season with Waters and former Wildcat Daniel Sams, Marshall would likely have won the job outright in the summer for the then-defending Big 12 co-champion Wildcats. 

Would that have prevented Kansas State from losing four of their first six games of the 2013 season?

He certainly would have made the North Dakota State game to open the season easier, as well as Texas, Oklahoma State and Baylor. Couple Marshall with wide receiver Tyler Lockett and then-senior running back John Hubert—a 1,000-yard performer—and Kansas State's rebuilding year would have been more of a reloading year.

A dynamic dual-threat quarterback with a tremendous deep threat and capable running back in an offense that knows how to properly utilize running quarterbacks?

That sounds familiar. You know, sort of like Auburn's 2013 season?

That's not to say that Kansas State would have been 13 seconds away from a national title with Marshall, but it wouldn't be a dark-horse title contender this year, either. Marshall showed a tremendous ability to pick up an offense on the fly in 2013 at Auburn, leading the Tigers to a 12-2 record despite only two-and-a-half weeks at starting quarterback before taking his first snap.

His ability to grasp the offense and go would have made the transition away from Collin Klein easier for Snyder and kept the Kansas State program in the national discussion.

Instead, though, Marshall got out of Kansas, landed in Auburn and the rest is history.

When the Tigers take the field on Thursday night in the Little Apple, though, it will hold special meaning for Marshall. Kansas State was one of the few willing to give him a shot at quarterback. Had Malzahn not been hired by Auburn, Marshall might have been leading the Wildcats into this big out-of-conference showdown on Thursday night instead of the Tigers.

Oh, what might have been.


Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and video analyst for Bleacher Report and 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, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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Watch out College Football, Expect Nick Marshall at the Heisman Ceremony

The Auburn Tigers take on the Kansas State Wildcats in Week 4. Bleacher Report's College Football Analysts Adam Kramer and Barrett Sallee discuss how Tigers quarterback Nick Marshall can explode onto the scene. Do you think Nick Marshall deserves to be in the Heisman talks?

Watch the video and let us know!

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College Football Rankings 2014: Week 4 Standings and Top 25 Team Records

Upsets. Heisman candidates. Conference rivalries. Memorable plays. Intriguing matchups to come.

Ah, the college football season is in full swing. Is there anything better?

No, probably not. Below, we'll take a look at the Associated Press poll, Bleacher Report poll and the records of each team before previewing this week's most intriguing games on the schedule. You can practically feel the pageantry from here.



Previewing Top Games on Schedule

Let's call a spade a spade—Week 3 offered fans looking for premier matchups a pretty weak slate of options. South Carolina beating Georgia was a highlight, sure, and there were plenty of intriguing upsets, but in general, Saturday wasn't the type of day that had you glued to your couch.

This week should be more compelling, however.  

Things will get started off in brilliant fashion on Thursday night, as No. 5 Auburn and No. 20 Kansas State will clash in a matchup of two of the more dynamic offenses in college football. The Tigers have the No. 7 rushing offense (330 yards per game) and the No. 5 scoring offense (52 points per game), while the Wildcats have rushed for 236 yards a game (32nd in college football) and have put up 43.5 points per contest (21st). 

It may be early in the year for these teams, but it's one heck of a test for both. Auburn, at least, should be pretty healthy, and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee has a better idea of his team's identity already, per Brandon Marcello of

It's big early in the year because you play one or two games, so you've got a good feel for the new personnel; you've kind of a feel how this team is coming together. It gives us a chance to have everybody as healthy as they can be, even though we've only played two games. We can really work on the direction we think we're going to go.

The only star player with an injury is receiver Sammie Coates, the Tigers' top threat in 2013. Coaches expect his knee to be ready for the 6:30 p.m. kickoff Thursday at Kansas State.

Dual-threat quarterback Jake Waters and the Wildcats will be tough to top at home, but Auburn's ability to not only run the ball at will on opponent's but also play excellent defense will make them quite formidable, even on the road. This one should have plenty of fireworks.

There will be plenty of other intriguing matchups throughout the week, but the other big doozy on tap is No. 22 Clemson traveling to face defending national champions and No. 1 team in the nation Florida State on Saturday night.

At home, Jameis Winston and company are going to be tough to beat. Then again, we were saying something similar before their opener against Oklahoma State, and they squeaked by in that one, winning 37-31. 

Still, the defending champions are loaded. But are they so loaded they are upset-proof?

Andrea Adelson of ESPN doesn't think so, and one of the main reasons is Deshaun Watson:

Though coach Dabo Swinney does not want to incite a quarterback controversy, we have seen first-hand just how dynamic Watson is when he gets into the game. Cole Stoudt does remain the starter, but Watson is effective when he gets his turn. Of the six drives Watson has led, Clemson has scored a touchdown on five of them. Granted, most came against South Carolina State, but it is hard to ignore how much more dynamic the Clemson offense is when Watson is in the game. His mobility makes him a tremendous asset, and Clemson should use that to its advantage. Plus, he is averaging 16.4 yards per pass attempt and 21.3 yards per completion. The bye week gave Clemson coaches the opportunity to figure out how they want to use him, and when they want to use him.

That's going to give the Seminoles an extra threat to game-plan for and take up a decent chunk of their preparation. Could that give Clemson enough of an edge to pull off the upset?

Perhaps. Perhaps not. Winston remains one of college football's most dangerous, most talented weapons, and he'll be expected to bring his A-game in prime time. This one is going to be fun regardless of the outcome. 



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Top 25 College Football Teams Guaranteed to Lose More Than 1 Game

Are Georgia and USC out of the College Football Playoff hunt after losing in Week 3?

What about Michigan State, South Carolina, Stanford, Wisconsin, Clemson and Ohio State? Is a good bowl game all 2-1 teams have left to play for?

Though there are plenty of unknowns in the new era of college football, we know this for sure:  If fewer than four teams go undefeated this season, the programs that finish with one loss will fight over the remaining playoff spots.

This makes the one-loss season almost as valuable as running the tables, and it means that if you haven’t lost more than one game yet, you’re still in the mix.

On the flip side, if you lose again, earning the dreaded, dastardly second loss, you really are just playing for a decent bowl game.

Here’s a look at teams with the biggest risk—because of a weakness on the field or a tough upcoming schedule—of suffering a “something-and-2” mark this season. 

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Auburn vs. Kansas State: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time and More

If No. 5 Auburn is to make the College Football Playoff, the journey officially starts at No. 20 Kansas State Thursday.

One of the week's lone matchups between Top 25 teams and one that comes under a national microscope kicks off a brutal path for Gus Malzahn's Tigers. For the Wildcats, the visit offers not only the biggest game ever played at Bill Snyder Family Stadium, but a chance to build an impeccable playoff resume.

Thanks to a pair of talented, versatile offenses, this showdown figures to be a high point of the week, as intended. Whether the Big 12 or SEC emerges in a better position for the playoff is a tough guess based on the matchup at hand.


Keeping Pace

As most unfortunately realized too late last season, Malzahn's offense has a way of controlling the pace of the game no matter what the opposition attempts to do about it.

In a way, Kansas State can do much of the same.

The Wildcats have dual-threat senior Jake Waters under center to thank for that. Through two games, he has led the team in passing and rushing, going for 223 passing yards and 55 rushing yards with four total scores against SF Austin before 239 through the air and 138 on the ground with two scores against Iowa State.

"It's rare, but Jake's a rare quarterback," running back Charles Jones said, per STATS LLC, via "He's excellent in running and passing, and I saw that when he first came here. I saw how well he runs and just how good of a passer he is. To a lot of people it might be a surprise, but to us, we expect him to do stuff like that."

While Auburn is no stranger to running threats under center, the team has yet to encounter a talent like Waters. Last year, the only teams able to beat the Wildcats held him to 50 rushing yards or fewer.

Of course, Auburn signal-caller Nick Marshall is a bit more well-known thanks to his role as the leader of last year's improbable run while rushing for more than 1,000 yards and completing nearly 60 percent of his passes for 1,976 yards and 14 scores through the air.

But keep in mind that the Wildcats are more than accustomed to dances with prolific offenses thanks to their status as a member of the Big 12.

It equates to a war of strengths in which an additional emphasis will be placed on the turnover battle. Whichever team gives way in that regard will be forced to give up its preferred approach and surrender a stranglehold on the game's pace in order to catch up.

For two senior quarterbacks, it can very much be chalked up to a game of chess.


The Path Less Traveled

It is difficult to find two teams with a more difficult path to the playoff, a journey that coincidentally begins Thursday night.

Why Thursday? Auburn athletics director Jay Jacobs wanted the world—including the College Football Playoff selection committee—to be paying close attention.

"The other thing, too, is it’s on Thursday night, so everybody in the nation will be watching," he said, per's Greg Ostendorf. "We didn’t have a competitive disadvantage whatsoever—us or Kansas State—and it put Auburn versus Kansas State on Thursday night, ESPN."

Capture their imagination now, because the road ahead is littered with mines.

The Wildcats still have to take on No. 4 Oklahoma, No. 25 Oklahoma State and No. 7 Baylor, the highest ranks of those being away contests. Visits to TCU and West Virginia are no laughing matters, either.

Ditto for the Tigers, a team that encounters schools such as No. 8 LSU, No. 14 South Carolina, No. 10 Mississippi, No. 6 Texas A&M and No. 13 Georgia before a trip to take on No. 3 Alabama to close the season.

It is critical for both teams to get off to a hot start as they get into the teeth of their respective schedules. The wherewithal to even book Thursday's showdown knowing full and well the conference responsibilities that lie ahead speaks volumes as to how competitive each program is.

For one, the gamble creates perhaps a playoff-ending loss.


When: Thursday, September 18, 7:30 p.m. ET

Where: Bill Snyder Family Stadium, Manhattan, Kansas

Television: ESPN

Live Stream: WatchESPN

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: N/A
  • Spread: Auburn (-6.5)


Team Injury Reports

Injury reports via USA Today.



While both sides agreed to have this showdown in Manhattan, and the Wildcats are 130-31-1 at home since 1990, the favorite seems to be the safe way to go with this one.

Both teams enter the game coming off a bye, and for Auburn, that means another week of Marshall getting his feet back under him before he takes on an inexperienced Wildcats secondary that allowed a minimum of 200 passing yards in each of their first two games against mediocre competition.

Expect to see Marshall get back to his 2013 form when it comes to the passing attack. Auburn's prowess on the ground will open things up, and as long as the Tigers can keep the turnovers down, the offense will eventually wear down an iffy defense and pile on the yardage and points.

Prediction: Tigers 38, Wildcats 24


Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.


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