NCAA Football News

College Football Picks Week 3: Final Predictions on Odds for Top 25 Matchups

College fantasy football may not be the most popular thing on the planet, but fans can still get their fix on Saturdays and make the most meaningless contest and even garbage-time touchdowns important by throwing some coin on the table in the odds department.

Spreads at the collegiate level are much more volatile than the pro game, too. This certainly applies to the Top 25 this week, as only a single game between ranked opponents resides on the slate.

The other top programs in the country (for now at least) have mostly booked uninteresting matchups made noteworthy thanks to massive spreads that may or may not turn out to be accurate.

Below, let's look at the entire slate and break down a few of the lesser-known games.

 

2014 College Football Week 3 Top 25 Odds

Note: All odds, updated as of 8 p.m. on Sept. 12, are courtesy of Odds Shark. AP poll via The Associated Press.

 

Breaking Down Underrated Matchups

No. 20 Missouri Tigers (-9) vs. UCF Knights

One of the closer spreads this week is laid out as such for good reason.

Missouri has been explosive through two games this season, but question marks remain as Gary Pinkel's side gets ready for a potential run in the SEC.

Maty Mauk seems comfortable under center as the starter, throwing a total of eight touchdowns in Missour's first two wins against South Dakota State and Toledo. Pinkel is impressed with his sophomore signal-caller, to say the least.

"He's a very poised guy," Pinkel said, per STATS LLC, via ESPN.com. "Plus he's a great competitor and that's what great quarterbacks are made of. He's only going to get better and better with more experience."

The concern for the Tigers, then, comes on the defensive side of the football. The unit gave up 365 total yards to the Jackrabbits, then turned around and gave up 410 and 24 points to the Rockets.

Luckily for Pinkel's team, UCF has questions of its own.

The Knights are 0-1 to start the season, mostly because a matchup against Penn State was a bad draw and—more importantly—the team had to travel a ridiculous amount, the game being in Dublin and all.

Pete DiNovo was the starter for the Knights before getting benched in the eventual 26-24 loss. Justin Holman is now the man under center, and his versatility—he threw for 204 yards and added a score with two more touchdowns on the ground—is enough to give a shaky Tigers defense fits.

The saving grace for Missouri is that this contest comes at home and there is now plenty of film to digest when it comes to Holman. Without his surprise entrance that the Nittany Lions had to deal with, Mauk should be able to help his side cover the spread.

Prediction: Missouri 42, UCF 23

 

Stanford Cardinal (-27.5) vs. Army Black Knights

David Shaw's teams have never been known as offensive juggernauts. He loves to employ a dominant defense and control the pace of the game in gritty, low-scoring affairs. So the spread here is worthy of skepticism.

Especially given the circumstances.

Last week, at home no less, the Cardinal were downed by USC, 13-10. Shaw's team struggled to get going on the ground, averaging just 3.4 yards per carry, and his offense gave the ball away twice and missed two field goals.

The potential for a letdown is obvious, especially with Army coming to town. Jeff Monken's team will surely give any and all programs fits because of a potent triple-option attack. Last week the approach willed Army to a 47-39 victory over Buffalo, racking up 466 yards in the process—341 of which came on the ground.

To his credit, Shaw seems well aware of the task at hand despite the potentially season-crippling loss less than a week ago. Andy Drukarev of Rivals.com captured his feelings on the matter early in the week:

We have to get ready for the triple option,.We have to get ready for the ball going a bunch of different directions. Last year's experience I think helps us but this is a different coaching staff, it's kind of a different deal offensively for them. They've added some things, they've subtracted some things. It's going to be a good week for the defense to really prepare for these guys.

Army rushed for 284 yards on a 4.7 per-carry average last season but still lost 34-20. 

Bettors should worry a bit about the wealth of blown opportunities that ruined the Cardinal last season. If Army can run that effectively again this time around, plus get a few breaks from Shaw's relatively young squad, the spread is out of the question.

Prediction: Stanford 38, Army 20

 

Stats and information via ESPN.com unless otherwise specified.

 

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College Football Rankings 2014: Final Overview of Week 3 Standings

The heart of the Week 3 college football schedule is finally upon us, and fans of the sport are looking to check the rankings one last time before the top teams take the field.

With many of the best programs in the nation going to battle on Saturday like Oregon, Alabama and Georgia, college football fans will be treated to a day full of marquee matchups.

Here are the full Amway coaches', Associated Press and Bleacher Report Top 25 polls, followed by a breakdown of the matchup fans can’t miss in Week 3.

 

 

Game of the Week: Georgia vs. South Carolina

There are several intriguing matchups in Week 3, but none will be as entertaining as or more important than the SEC battle between the Georgia Bulldogs and the South Carolina Gamecocks at Williams Brice Stadium.

Both teams are ranked in all three polls.

The official Twitter of the Bulldogs revealed the vital viewing information for this game:

Georgia is the betting favorite to win this matchup, according to OddsShark.com, and for good reason after beating Clemson in decisive fashion in Week 1.

Bulldogs senior quarterback Hutson Mason was not asked to do much in the first game due to the elite play of junior running back Todd Gurley, who ran the ball 15 times for 198 yards and three touchdowns.

South Carolina has a much tougher run defense than Clemson, and Georgia will be forced to air the ball out more on Saturday. With a wide receiver like Michael Bennett healthy and ready to make an impact, Mason should be able to make big plays down the field.

Add in the animosity these two SEC East rivals have, and the winner of the Week 3 matchup will have serious momentum heading into the remainder of the regular-season schedule.

When asked about the rivalry, Gamecocks head coach Steve Spurrier told Ralph D. Russo of the Associated Press (via ABCNews.com) “We don't have a whole lot of rivals. We haven't beaten anybody enough to have rivals.”

While the betting favorite is Georgia, Fox College Football believe two players could help lead South Carolina to a victory, according to a post from their official Twitter account:

The players Fox mentioned in the photo above are running back Mike Davis and wide receiver Shaq Roland, but the team has the depth to challenge the Bulldogs for the win.

Not only is Davis one of the top running backs in the country, but the team also has Brandon Wilds as another threat out of the backfield.

Roland is also not alone in the wide receiver group, either. He has help from talented players like Pharoh Cooper and Nick Jones, and the trio gives quarterback Dylan Thompson the chance to shine. After the QB only threw for 266 yards and one touchdown against East Carolina in Week 2, expect a bounce-back performance from the senior.

As talented as South Carolina is on the offensive side of the ball, the edge in this matchup goes to Georgia. The Bulldogs have a superior rushing attack and will be able to control the pace of the game and the clock.

The Gamecocks have a serviceable defense, but after allowing 52 points to Texas A&M and 23 points to East Carolina, Georgia should be able to put up big points in Week 3.

Ride with the Bulldogs on Saturday.

Predicted Winner: Georgia 40, South Carolina 30

 

*Stats via ESPN.com.

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Baylor vs. Buffalo: Game Grades, Analysis for the Bears

It wasn't much of a game.  As expected, the Baylor Bears jumped out to a big first quarter lead and never looked back.  The Buffalo Bulls were completely over-matched and the Bears were able to put up 63 points on the scoreboard.

Despite an impressive offensive display, there are still things head coach Art Briles will want to work on before Big 12 conference play gets underway in a couple of  weeks.  We'll also be taking a look at Baylor's performance here, grading each segment of the Bears' team to try and determine where those improvements need to be made.  

Box score via NCAA.com

 

Pass Offense

There's not much here that should surprise anyone.  Bryce Petty threw for 416 yards and four touchdowns.  His backup, nearly equally impressive Seth Russell, went just 2-of-3 for 64 yards, but added another touchdown.

K.D. Cannon?  Yeah, he's the real deal.  He had six receptions for a whopping 189 yards and a touchdown.  Still rocking that 30+ yard per catch average, and a lot of it is coming in yards after catch.

A few drops are enough for us to give the pass offense an "A-," but still very impressive. 

 

Run Offense

The run game isn't always the mark of a Baylor offense, but the Bears kept the Bulls honest with some strong runs tonight.  Shock Linwood had 97 yards on 20 carries along with two touchdowns.  Johnny Jefferson and Seth Russell also added ground scores.

Overall, 189 yards and four touchdowns in more than enough to earn an "A," but some early shaky play from the Baylor offensive line—an often overlooked but important part of the run game—convinces us that the run offense only deserves an "A-" tonight.

 

Pass Defense

The pass defense held Buffalo to 255 yards and two scores through the air, but some of that lackluster output from the Bulls had nothing to do with the Bears' secondary.  Dropped passes were the bane of the Bulls all evening.

Still, the Bears weren't bad, necessarily, and there were some great defensive plays made from some role players (particularly backups late in the game).  We'll settle on a very solid "B+."

 

Run Defense

The Bears gave up 139 yards on the ground, and most of that came in the second half with two's and three's on the field for the Bears.  As halftime neared, the Bulls were struggling to reach 100 total yards of offensive output, and the run defense played a major role in that.

Shawn Oakman and Jamal Palmer were all over the field, keeping the Buffalo run game at bay, freeing up the Baylor secondary to do its thing in the pass game.  This one's pretty simple: an "A."

 

Special Teams

Here is where it could get ugly for Baylor.

Can no one kick on this team?  No wonder Baylor goes for it on fourth down.  Missing a 36-yard field goal from the middle of the field with no rain, no wind, no nothing is absolutely inexcusable.  Kicking a kickoff out-of-bounds is also inexcusable.

The return game wasn't given an opportunity to show its stuff as the Bulls smartly kicked away from the returners.  Baylor averaged just 0.5 yards on two punt returns and nine yards on four kick returns.

We can't give extra credit simply because the stars in the return game didn't get a chance to shine.  So we think we're being generous with a "D+."  The only reason this grade isn't worse is the fact that Baylor's two kickers combined for 9-for-9 on extra points (and a few were just barely good).

 

Coaching

The only complaint we have with Art Briles and his staff is the fact that he left Bryce Petty in the game a bit longer that we would have thought, given the fractured back bones and all.

Still, when a team wins 63-21, it's hard to harp on the coach too much.  A solid "A-" for the coaching staff here.

 

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

Follow Bleacher Report's National College Football Featured Columnist David Luther on Twitter!

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Gunner Kiel vs. Toledo: Stats, Highlights, Twitter Reaction

Making his Cincinnati debut on Friday night, Gunner Kiel ended any trace of a quarterback controversy by carving up Toledo's defense during a 58-34 victory.

The Notre Dame transfer, getting the nod for the Bearcats' season debut, went off for 418 passing yards and six touchdowns. 

According to SportsCenter's Twitter handle, his total of six TD passes sets a college football record among debuting quarterbacks.

He also tied a school record in the process, courtesy of ESPN Stats & Info.

The sophomore displayed remarkable accuracy, completing 67.6 percent of his passes. He also mixed in a few long completions, including a 52-yard catch-and-run to Mekale McKay and a 41-yarder to Johnny Holton.

At one point during the opening half, he had more touchdowns than incompletions, per SportsCenter.

ESPN College Football's Twitter page shows his fourth touchdown of the evening, an 11-yard strike to Nate Cole.

And to think Kiel engaged in a battle for the starting job with senior Munchie Legaux and junior Jarred Evans. After Sunday's practice, he told the Cincinnati Enquirer's Tom Groeschen that he's not overly concerned about who starts games, but rather who ends them.

"I know it's a competition, but all three of us have the same goal in mind, and that's to play," Kiel said. "For us it doesn't matter who starts; it's who's going to finish the game for us. We're all friends, we all get along, we all watch tape. It's all positive."

After Friday's rousing performance, he'll certainly do both going forward, pending another blowout.

Next on the schedule, Cincinnati has 0-2 Miami (Ohio), which surrendered 261 yards and three touchdowns to Marshall's Rakeem Cato two weeks ago. Then Kiel will receive the first significant test of his career against the Ohio State Buckeyes, who have slipped down the rankings after losing injured quarterback Braxton Miller for the season.

As of now, the former 247Sports 5-star recruit looks well worth the wait.

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College Football Picks Week 3: Odds to Avoid from Top 25 Slate

Parity seems to be sweeping the world of college football by the year.

It sure isn't in the Vegas odds department.

No, college lines are as difficult to figure out as the ludicrous, thankfully extinct BCS system. It applies to most games in most weeks, but this week seems to be worse than most thanks to the big schools of the Top 25 choosing to beat up on the little guys.

For those who straight-up pick games, it's an easy affair. For those who bet spreads and have to deal with the eye-popping margins, it can be an exercise in patience and stress management.

Below, let's nail down a few games to ignore outright after a look at the entire weekend lineup.

 

2014 College Football Week 3 Top 25 Odds

Note: All odds, updated as of 8 p.m. ET on Sept. 12, are courtesy of Odds Shark. AP poll via The Associated Press.

 

Odds to Avoid

No. 9 USC Trojans (-20) vs. Boston College

The Steve Sarkisian era is underway in full force after the USC Trojans did what most figured they couldn't last week by rolling into The Farm and taking down the then-ranked No. 13 Stanford Cardinal, 13-10—essentially beating David Shaw at his own game.

For bettors who have been around the block, alarm bells just went off in a major way. Why? A couple of reasons:

  • Letdown potential after a season-defining win.
  • A first-year coach just nailed that season-defining win and has to stay the course in the aftermath.
  • All of that taken into consideration, trips across the country are never easy.

Feel free to add in the fact that Boston College is not that horrible.

Sure, Matt Ryan isn't under center, but the Eagles have the firepower to hang around if Sarkisian's widely heralded attack made famous at Washington slips up.

Dual-threat quarterback Tyler Murphy threw for 173 yards and a touchdown in a 30-7 win over Massachusetts to start the season but added another 118 yards and a score on the ground. It was much of the same in a 30-20 loss to Pittsburgh, as Murphy went for 134 yards and a score through the air and 92 yards and a score on the ground.

As Michael Lev of OCRegister.com notes, Sarkisian is all about containing Murphy this week:

Of course, the schools before him attempted to plan against Murphy as well, and it clearly didn't work out so hot.

Look, nobody is suggesting USC is going to lose outright, but a wealth of factors say a borderline three-touchdown spread is a bit much. For at least one week, steer clear of the Trojans when it comes to the spread—even if they made a certain segment of fans a large amount of coin last week via an upset.

Prediction: USC 38, Boston College 21

 

No. 21 Louisville (-10) vs. Virginia

On one hand, this seems to be a perfect spread.

Sans Teddy Bridgewater, Louisville still has a pretty potent offense that put up 66 points against Murray State (for what it's worth) and took down Miami (Fla.) to start the season, 31-13.

In that contest, quarterback Will Gardner misfired just eight times and threw for 206 yards and pair of scores. Running back Dominique Brown, otherwise known as a superb workhorse, took 33 totes for 143 yards and a score.

But be careful to not simply dismiss Virginia, especially at home.

The Cavaliers are known for strong defense, as always, and put that on full display against Richmond last week in a 45-13 drubbing (again, for what it's worth, although seven takeaways is mightily impressive). But what should really catch the eye of bettors is the job the defense did to start the season against then-ranked No. 7 UCLA.

In that game, Mike London's team held a prolific Bruins offense to 358 total yards and a 7-of-18 mark on third downs. Most impressive of all was the job done to Heisman contender Brett Hundley, who threw for just 242 yards and no scores.

Louisville coach Bobby Petrino is well aware of the problems the unit can cause.

"They have two really active defensive ends and a couple good guys inside that push the pocket, so most of their turnovers have come as a result of pressuring the quarterback and either the quarterback fumbling the ball or having to throw under pressure and have an interception," Petrino said, per STATS LLC, via ESPN.com.

It's concerning, then, that Gardner remains a work in progress, as Jeff Greer of The Courier-Journal in Louisville illustrates:

Like I said above, Gardner's had a couple of good-not-great performances so far. He hasn't thrown a pick, but he has missed a few throws. His inside-his-own-10 fumbles were cause for concern against Miami, and I'm not ready to declare Murray State anything other than a glorified practice, so his progress will be evident on Saturday.

So the Cardinals hit the road with a developing player under center and encounter a great defense. Again, it is not to suggest that Louisville will lose outright, but is the spread really worth a significant investment when gains in this sort of pursuit are based on smart risks?

Probably not.

Prediction: Louisville 30, Virginia 24

 

Stats and information via ESPN.com unless otherwise specified.

 

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Amari Cooper and Alabama Teammates Get Stuck in an Elevator

Alabama is scheduled to do battle with Southern Miss on Saturday at 6 p.m. ET.

Hopefully, all the Crimson Tide players will be accounted for.

According to an Instagram post by Alabama WR Amari Cooper, some team members got trapped in an elevator.

WARNING: Some language is NSFW

Let's hope everyone makes it to tomorrow's game.

[Amari Cooper, h/t College Spun]

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Baylor vs. Buffalo: Live Score and Highlights

Baylor 28, Buffalo 0—Early 2nd Quarter

The No. 10 Baylor Bears travel to the University of Buffalo to take on the Bulls.  The Bulls are coming off of a 47-39 loss to Army and come into the contest at 1-1.  Baylor, which defeated FCS Northwestern State last week, has started 2-0 for the fifth consecutive season.

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Oklahoma State Cowboys vs. UTSA Roadrunners: Complete Game Preview

On September 6, the Oklahoma State Cowboys lost J.W. Walsh early on in their contest against the Missouri State Bears. Luckily, Walsh's backup, Daxx Garman, was able to shake off the rust from not playing a snap since 2009 very quickly and lead the Pokes to a 40-23 victory.

Garman looked excellent last weekend, and he'll have the chance to prove that performance was no fluke with Walsh possibly out for the season, according to Jake Trotter of ESPN.com. However, Garman has a much tougher test in front of him this week in the UTSA Roadrunners.

UTSA boasts a stout defense and took the Arizona Wildcats to the wire in their matchup last week. They'll be looking to do the same against the Cowboys and should be a solid test for Oklahoma State's young offensive line.

This game looks like it could be much closer than a casual fan might assume. The Cowboys will need to earn this one.

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Noah Spence Failing Another Drug Test Huge Blow to Already Down Ohio State

When Braxton Miller went down for the season with a torn labrum, he became the seventh first-team All-Big Ten media selection that Ohio State lost from a year ago.

Now an eighth Buckeye standout could be joining that list.

After failing his second drug test in a year, reports Tim May of The Columbus Dispatch, defensive end Noah Spence's return to college football was put on hold on Friday when Ohio State confirmed that he will be ineligible for Saturday's contest between the Buckeyes and Kent State.

It's unclear how long Spence's presumed second suspension will last—ESPN's Adam Rittenberg reports that Big Ten rules would dictate that a second failed drug test would result in the permanent end of his eligibility—but this much we do know: For the foreseeable future, the Buckeyes will be without their all-conference defensive end.

“We are hopeful that Noah can get healthy and, at some point, resume his career with the Buckeyes," Spence's parents told The Dispatch.

Another day, another blow for the Buckeyes, who were already licking their wounds following last week's 35-21 loss to Virginia Tech.

With the struggling Golden Flashes coming to town and a bye week to follow, Ohio State was hoping to head into its week off with positive momentum, but no blowout victory on Saturday will be able to overshadow the news that one of the Buckeyes' best defensive players has had his college career again put on hold.

On the one hand, the loss of Spence isn't as crippling to Ohio State's championship aspirations as Miller's injury was, given that the Buckeyes are plenty deep on the defensive line and have already spent two weeks preparing and playing without the 6'3", 252-pounder. But on the other, talent is talent, and Spence has plenty of it.

A former 5-star prospect, per 247Sports, Spence came to Columbus in 2012 as the nation's top-ranked defensive end. He saw playing time in spot duty as a true freshman during Ohio State's run to a 12-0 record, before breaking out with 50 tackles, 14 tackles for a loss and 7.5 sacks in his sophomore season.

Ineligible to play in the Orange Bowl due to his first failed drug test, Spence's family claimed he had been unknowingly slipped Ecstasy at a party and even contemplated suing the Big Ten. At Big Ten media days in July, Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer said that he was "shocked" when he heard that his star defensive end had tested positive for the drug.

"It hit him really hard," Meyer said. "I believe him. His story is that he's been nothing but a good student and a model citizen."

At the very least, Meyer was duped by Spence's story that his drink was spiked, as were his parents, who told The Dispatch that their son has a "medical illness." What's most important for the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, native now is getting his personal life back on track, before attempting a return to the football field—whenever and wherever that may be.

From an Ohio State standpoint, what could have been the greatest defensive line in school history becomes a little less great now that it no longer knows how long it will be without its most productive member.

Steve Miller has been solid in Spence's absence and Joey Bosa, Michael Bennett and Adolphus Washington make for an already dominant trio at the other spots on the line, but there's still no making up for the Spence, who has been projected as a first-round pick in next May's NFL draft.

"Noah's a very talented player," Ohio State defensive coordinator Chris Ash said earlier this week. "He fits well in our scheme. He has a tremendous ability to get after the quarterback, and I think [his return is] going to help us a lot."

But it now appears that help may never come. And for a team already at a crossroads early in its season, the Buckeyes could certainly use all the help that they can get.

 

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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Oregon Football: Ducks Only Scratching the Surface of Their Potential

It’s hard to get off to a better start to a season than the Oregon Ducks have in 2014. The desecration of South Dakota in the season opener was expected. A follow-up performance against Michigan State, especially in the second half, was not. 

The Ducks are riding high after a 28-3 post-halftime performance against the Spartans. While the final box score will show that Oregon took home a 19-point victory, it is a fact that the point differential does not tell the entire story.

What we do know is this: The Oregon Ducks are one of the finest college football teams in the nation, and they have a real shot at claiming a national title this season. What we don’t know is how much better this Oregon team can be. Or do we?

The Oregon Ducks, in my opinion, are just scratching the surface of their potential. Here’s why:

 

The Youth Movement

Despite the fact that the Ducks are considered one of the best teams in the nation, and rightfully so, they are inexperienced on both sides of the ball.

The defense was forced to replace six starters from the 2013 team, while the offense had to replace its top four receivers from last year. On top of that, Oregon’s offensive line has been hit by the injury bug, pressing the team to use inexperienced replacements, such as true freshman Tyrell Crosby.

While the Ducks may lack experience at some key positions, the young guns have made an imprint on the program and established themselves as not only effective but also dynamic.

The stars of the youth movement have been mostly on the offensive side. True freshman running back Royce Freeman, who has only carried the ball 23 times, is already Oregon’s most explosive running back and may be the featured back as soon as this week.

While sophomore Thomas Tyner and junior Byron Marshall have played decently, especially Marshall, Freeman has made the most of his opportunities, scoring four touchdowns already this season, including two game-changing scores in the second half against Michigan State.

The young wide receivers, Devon Allen and Darren Carrington, have been impressive as well.

Carrington has proved to be an excellent downfield receiver with strong hands. His 69-yard catch-and-run against Michigan State proved that he is capable of getting separation from the secondary.

However, Oregon’s most impressive receiver so far this season has been Allen, who caught three balls against Michigan State for 110 yards and two touchdowns, including a 70-yard catch-and-run touchdown that was simply jaw-dropping.

Allen, who won the NCAA’s 110-meter hurdle title as a freshman last year, may be the fastest receiver in the entire country. Mark Helfrich quipped that Allen’s performance in the 110-meter hurdles “might have been too fast” in his weekly teleconference.

Oregon’s inexperienced players will only get better as the season moves forward. That’s a scary proposition for Pac-12 opponents.

 

Defensive Cohesion 

The Ducks came into the season with questions on defense. Not only were they only returning five starters from the 2013 team but they were also bringing in a new defensive coordinator in longtime assistant coach Don Pellum.

While Oregon’s defense was downright horrendous in the second quarter of the Michigan State game, the other seven quarters so far this season have been nothing short of fantastic.

In the second quarter against the Spartans, the Ducks gave up 24 points, failed to put any pressure on quarterback Connor Cook and couldn’t stop Michigan State in 3rd-and-long situations. However, take out that second quarter and you’re left with the fact that the Ducks have only allowed 16 points, and a single touchdown, in the other seven quarters this season.

The young defense, led by All-American cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, rose to the occasion and blitzed Michigan State’s offense after halftime. It won the turnover battle for the second-straight game and finally got consistent pressure in the backfield. Dan Woike of the Orange County Register commented on the defense's performance:

Players such as defensive tackle Arik Armstead, defensive end DeForest Buckner, linebackers Tyson Coleman and Joe Walker, and cornerback Troy Hill played like four-year starters in the second half.

The defense is only going to grow and get better as the season goes along. Pellum, only in his second game as defensive coordinator, proved that he is extremely apt at making halftime corrections. He too is only going to get better as the season progresses.

Sure, there are mistakes to be corrected and concerns with some of the young defenders. However, if the first two games are a baseline for Oregon’s defensive prowess, it’s going to be a long year for opposing offenses.

 

Mark Helfrich 

Helfrich, who is in his second year as head coach, was questioned relentlessly in the media for his performance in 2013. Yes, he went 11-2, and the Ducks finished the season ranked ninth in the country. However, a loss to Stanford last November cast a cloud over his ability to prepare his team mentally and physically for premiere matchups.

Then came the Arizona game. That game didn’t just cast a cloud over Helfrich’s abilities; it created a thunderstorm.

That loss in Tuscon, by the egregious score of 42-16, led to serious questioning of Helfrich and whether or not he was the right choice to succeed the indomitable Chip Kelly as head coach of the Ducks was asked ad nauseam.

Helfrich took those losses in stride. Now, two games into his second year, Helfrich has proved he can not only coach the Ducks in high-pressure situations, but he is also fully capable of getting the best out of his team in moments of chaos.

The Ducks, down 27-18 early in the third quarter to Michigan State, could have folded as they’ve done before against Stanford, Arizona, LSU and Boise State, to name a few.

However, Helfrich led his guys onto the field in the second half with the knowledge they were the better team and were fully capable of not only beating the Spartans, but they could also dominate the game on both sides of the ball. Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports spoke favorably about the Ducks under Helfrich's leadership:

No one knows outside of the Ducks' locker room what Helfrich said at halftime, though he called his halftime speech “Gettysburg Addressish.” But the second half results speak for itself.

Helfrich is only growing as a head coach. There’s no doubt he’s learning on the job and adapting to the position. But he’s heading in the right direction. That’s a great sign for the Ducks going forward.

Just remember that Chip Kelly’s first year began with a loss to Boise State and ended with a loss in the Rose Bowl to Ohio State. In his second year he took the Ducks to their first-ever trip to the national championship. A repeat second-year coaching performance may be in the cards for Helfrich.

It also helps that he has one of the best players in the nation leading his team.

 

The Contender

Great teams usually take on the identity of either their head coach or their star player. In this case, the 2014 Oregon Ducks have assumed the personality and identity of their best player, Heisman Trophy front-runner Marcus Mariota.

While Mariota is a cerebral person who doesn’t like the spotlight on him, he is one of the most fiercely competitive athletes on the planet, just ask his mom about his video-game fits as a child.

"As a kid he would throw controllers in his room," Alana Mariota said in a 2012 interview with Aaron Fentress of The Oregonian. "I would tell him, 'You dent my wall, and you're in big trouble.'"

While he’s likely done throwing video-game controllers at the wall, his competitive spirit remains.

The 2014 Ducks, at least so far, have assumed that maniacal competitiveness, while simultaneously focusing on the team and the future rather than basking in the individual spotlight. ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit tweeted about Mariota embracing the "team concept":

While there is a lot of football left to be played, Mariota is off to a fantastic start. The scary part for Pac-12 teams and the rest of the nation is that he has a ton of room to grow and is only going to get better as his young offensive line develops into a stronger unit, pending injuries, and his inexperienced wide receivers mature.

Mariota has played incredibly well this season and put on a show in the second half against Michigan State. It was his finest hour. However, outside of two long throws he hit, he struggled in the first half against the Spartans' strong defense.

Mariota’s ability to think critically in high-pressure situations and make plays with his arm and legs while chaos surrounds him is what sets him apart.

The Ducks are the second-ranked team in the nation right now, according to The Associated Press, and they already have the best nonconference win in the country under their belts. But these Ducks are just scratching the surface of their potential.

If the Ducks reach their potential this season, something they’ve failed to do in years past, there could be a parade in Eugene come mid-January.

 

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

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Tennessee vs. Oklahoma: How the Sooners Can Avoid Being Upset

The Oklahoma Sooners may be the favorites when they host the Tennessee Volunteers on Saturday (8 p.m. ET on ABC), but college football doesn’t always stick to the plan.

Coming in as 21-point favorites, the Sooners appear poised to run away with this one. However, don’t tell that to the Vols, who are looking to solidify their rise back to respectability this Saturday.

Here’s how Oklahoma can avoid the upset.

 

Bully That Young Offensive Line

If the Vols have a major deficiency, it would be the inexperience of the offensive line.

Thus far, the unit has struggled to assert itself, and the rushing attack has suffered. Through two games, Tennessee ranks No. 90 in rushing (139 YPG) while only averaging 3.3 yards per carry.

You’ve got to believe the Sooners' defensive line is currently licking its chops.

While the Vols may struggle to run the ball, Oklahoma has had no issue stopping it. Arguably one of the best front sevens in the nation, the unit is allowing just 74 rushing yards per game on a meager 2.3 yards per carry.

As Volquest.com notes, even Tennessee head coach Butch Jones understands the difficulties at hand:

Playing a ranked opponent on the road, Tennessee would love to be able to establish the run game early. Making sure the team is unsuccessful will be a priority for the Sooners’ defensive line.

If the unit can do that, the Vols will be forced to play right into Oklahoma’s hands.

 

Don’t Let Tennessee Hang Around

Most upsets in college football follow a similar formula.

First, the underdog makes enough plays to remain in the game by halftime. Second, the underdog finds a rush of momentum that helps propel it to the unlikely upset.

This is a scenario the Sooners must stomp out quickly.

Over the last four years, Tennessee has faced six Top Five opponents. In four of those games, the team has managed to remain within two scores by halftime:

Sure, the Vols wound up getting crushed in all but one of those games. However, all streaks eventually come to an end.

Oklahoma doesn’t want to be the one to break it.

 

Keep Marquez North in Check

There’s no doubt that Tennessee’s passing attack has been surprisingly better than a year ago. A big reason for that is the play of wide receiver Marquez North.

Through two games, the sophomore has hauled in eight catches for 106 yards and two touchdowns. Both scores came just last weekend.

North’s importance will only grow with the news that second-leading receiver Von Pearson will miss Saturday’s game, per The Associated Press:

If anyone can handle the pressure, it’s North.

Only a freshman last year, North made some key plays in big games, including a 39-yard reception late in the fourth quarter to help the Vols upset then-No. 11 South Carolina. He finished with three receptions for 102 yards in that game.

Given North’s penchant for big plays, it’s imperative that the Sooners' secondary shuts him down.

 

All stats and betting information used in this article are courtesy of cfbstats.com and Odds Shark.

For complete coverage and everything Oklahoma football, you can reach Sebastian on Twitter and via email at Sebastian.LenaBR@gmail.com.

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Miami Football: Where the Hurricanes Turn Without Star Receiver Stacy Coley

The Miami Hurricanes will be without star receiver Stacy Coley against Arkansas State during a nonconference meeting Saturday afternoon.

A few players will be called upon to replace the sophomore's contributions, and the 'Canes fortunately have sufficient depth outside. Granted, it's not an endless supply of reserves, but unlike every other position on offense, wide receiver is one spot where Miami could afford a second injury.

Miami is relying on a true freshman quarterback, running back would be awfully thin without Duke Johnson, tight end Beau Sandland transferred and the offensive line is the weakest link as it stands.

When the Hurricanes take the field at 3:30 p.m. ET on Saturday, three backup receivers will be forced to enter the spotlight.

 

Herb Waters

Though Herb Waters is currently the team's leader in both receptions and yards, that stat is somewhat deceiving. The junior has hauled in nine passes, but six came on the final drive of Miami's season-opening loss to Louisville and he nabbed another in garbage time against Florida A&M.

That needs to change Saturday. Since Rashawn Scott is also sidelined, Waters and Phillip Dorsett will be the top receivers.

The Hurricanes are expected to open up the playbook, and Waters has a history of explosive plays. Of his 47 career catches, 10 have gone for 20-plus yards.

Dorsett is undoubtedly the superior downfield threat, but QB Brad Kaaya should look for Waters in the intermediate range.

 

Malcolm Lewis

Before the season, I labeled Malcolm Lewis the team's X-factor, and it's definitely time for him to become that in Coley's absence.

After overcoming a pair of tough injuries himself, the wideout is back to full strength this season.

Christy Cabrera Chirinos of the Sun Sentinel noted that Lewis said, "I feel like I can break any guy down now. I don't have anything holding me back. I can just be full speed at everything. Play every play like it's your last."

The sophomore receiver has only caught two passes this season, being targeted a single time on a snap called back by a holding penalty.

Since Lewis can line up both on the outside and in the slot, he is a prime candidate for bubble screens, hitches and other quick throws—Coley's main routes.

 

Braxton Berrios

Through two games, freshman Braxton Berrios has made his presence known with seven catches for 62 yards and three punt returns for 21 yards.

According to Susan Miller Degnan of The Miami Herald, head coach Al Golden said the receiver is "trustworthy, which is important for the quarterback."

Prior to arriving at Miami, Kaaya and Berrios had already established a connection, something the duo is demonstrating on a weekly basis. According to David Lake of 247Sports (subscription required), Berrios said it now comes naturally:

We are kind of pulling each other along. We are getting early playing time and we are in the same boat with pressure and coming out as true freshmen. We are feeding off each other and talking to each other throughout the whole thing on and off the field. We are around each other a lot and it just comes naturally now.

Kaaya will be looking in Berrios' direction throughout the game because they are clearly comfortable on the field.

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Georgia Football: How Latest Injuries Will Impact Bulldogs vs. South Carolina

The Georgia Bulldogs will be a little shorthanded when they take on the South Carolina Gamecocks this Saturday (3:30 p.m. on CBS).

Injuries plagued the Bulldogs for much of 2013. But as The Athens Banner-Herald’s Marc Weiszer notes, it appears that bad luck has crept its way into this season as well:

That’s not all, as wide receiver Jonathan Rumph will also be joining the pair on the sidelines, per The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’sChip Towers.

All together, these losses will greatly impact Georgia’s game plan on Saturday.

 

How It Affects the Passing Attack

Quarterback Hutson Mason could have used a few more weapons.

Although the Bulldogs won the season opener, Mason was nothing more than a game manager. The senior threw for just 131 yards on 18-of-26 passing. Not exactly the kind of numbers that Georgia is accustomed from getting out of its quarterbacks.

To his credit, though, the injuries have depleted a wide receiving corps that even head coach Mark Richt knows could use help.

“It’s a little shaky right now,” Richt said of his wide receiver depth, per Towers’ report. “We better keep recruiting, I can tell you that."

Bulldawg Illustrated’s Logan Booker believes the cavalry is on its way:

The freshman duo of Sony Michel and Isaiah McKenzie combined for just five catches for 31 yards in Week 1. A 5-star and 4-star recruit, respectively, expect the pair to only keep getting better with each game played.

Mason will be hoping that holds true, as the Bulldogs offense will be traveling to their personal house of horrors in Williams-Brice Stadium—the unit has failed to top 20 points in Columbia since 1994.

Being without a trio of talented and experienced receivers for this trip was not what Georgia had hoped for. Especially with Mason making his first true start in a hostile environment.

 

How It Affects the Rushing Attack

Everyone in their right mind knows the Bulldogs will try to run the ball down their opponent’s throat.

Running back Todd Gurley is one of the best, if not the best, running backs in the nation. The junior staked his claim for the Heisman Trophy in the season opener, rushing for 198 yards and three touchdowns on 15 carries. He also added another score off of a kickoff return.

However, if Mason can’t keep the passing attack at a respectable level, then Gurley’s production could be in jeopardy.

All it takes is a couple interceptions or a string of incompletions for the Gamecocks secondary to lose confidence in Mason’s ability to beat them. If that were the case, don’t be surprised if the unit completely loads the box against the run.

Granted, Gurley could run through a brick wall if necessary, it’s an unnecessary hurdle for the talented running back.

Needless to say, it’s important for Mason to make the most with the receivers he does have playing.

 

All stats, recruiting information and rankings used in this article are courtesy of CFBStats.com and 247Sports.

For complete coverage and everything Oklahoma football, you can reach Sebastian on Twitter and via email at Sebastian.LenaBR@gmail.com.

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Texas Football: How Longhorns Can Upset UCLA Bruins

It's difficult to predict a winner from the Texas-UCLA battle in the Advocare Cowboys Showdown in part because neither team is sure of its identity just yet.

One week, they'll play stout defense. The next week, not so much. Even though the Bruins are likely to leave Arlington with a third consecutive win, poll voters and oddsmakers are dubious.

Despite wins over Virginia and Memphis, UCLA dropped to No. 12 after opening seventh in the preseason AP poll. After being 18-point favorites against the Cavs and 22.5-point favorites over Memphis, the Bruins opened as just six-point favorites over the Longhorns.

Sure, UCLA might blow out the Longhorns, but don't discount the upset. Texas might not be the better team, but it could expose UCLA's issues on the two-deep package.

 

UCLA Offense vs. Texas Defense

UCLA has a preseason Heisman Trophy candidate under center with quarterback Brett Hundley. His 422-yard and three-touchdown showing against Memphis was only one of many outstanding performances he has had since last season.

But the team's overall offensive performances should leave UCLA fans feeling uneasy.

The starting offensive line has 54 career starts but has somehow allowed the second-most sacks (nine) and more tackles for loss (21) than any other Division I football team thus far.

The unit did little to help the offense against Virginia, but it didn't have starting center Jake Brendel in the mix. Brendel returned for the home opener against Memphis, which helped, but the line still struggled to protect Hundley.

The Longhorns' front seven could pose a threat to the Bruins offense.

Texas' defense held its first opponent to 95 total yards of offense.

However, the defense's split personality was more present than ever against BYU.

Texas had an unbelievable first half against the Cougars and kept BYU's explosive offense out of the end zone. The second half was one to forget for the fans. Texas gave up 28-points in the third quarter alone to finish the game with a 41-7 loss.

If the Longhorns defense can produce a performance similar to the one it had in Week 1, UCLA's offense—most notably its offensive line—could be in trouble.

 

UCLA Defense vs. Texas Offense

The Bruins defense is the reason why the team was not upset in Week 1 against Virginia. The defense was responsible for three of UCLA's four touchdowns in the game.

Last week a different story.

UCLA gave up 469 yards and 35 points to unranked Memphis.

The defense has only accumulated one sack this season, compared to the nine sacks the offense has allowed.

Texas' offensive line is easily the weakest link on the team. The Longhorns entered the season with a very young line, but it had fifth-year senior center Dominic Espinosa to make up for the lack of experience.

Espinosa suffered an ankle injury in Week 1 and is no longer on the two-deep depth chart. Add in the suspensions of Desmond Harrison and Kennedy Estelle, and the offensive line is basically held together with bubble gum.

The good news for Texas is that UCLA's defense has not been very successful in tackles for loss.

If the Longhorns' O-Line can somehow find a way to control the line of scrimmage and allow for running backs Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray to do their jobs, Texas could fare well against UCLA.

 

Team with the Most Complete Game Plan Could Leave Arlington with a "W"

After last week's atrocious performance, most people are not giving the Longhorns a chance against the Bruins.

That is probably the logical way to approach Saturday's game.

It's unlikely that Texas will pull off the upset, but it isn't completely out of the question. If Texas can put forth a total attack against UCLA, there's a chance for an upset.

Just don't bet your house on it.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand. Betting information courtesy of Odds Shark.

Taylor Gaspar is Bleacher Report's featured columnist covering the Texas Longhorns. Follow Taylor on Twitter @Taylor_Gaspar.

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UCLA: The Bruins Head to Texas with a Lot of Question Marks

Apparently Jim Mora is channeling his inner Norman Dale.

According to reporting via the Los Angeles Times, Mora plans to take his charges on a field trip to visit AT&T Stadium the day before the Bruins play Texas.  And just like in Hoosiers, he will presumably point out that even though the palatial appointments of the stadium are larger than life, the actually playing field is regulation, no different than the one they call home in Pasadena. (The article is silent on whether they will get to meet Jerry Jones.) 

All smart aleckiness aside, I think this is a good move. Reduce the distraction of the glamor location and refocus on playing the actual game. 

I hope it yields results, because something doesn’t look right. Is it just me? That’s the question I keep turning over and over in my mind. UCLA football spent the summer enjoying all kinds of sports media love, everything from Heisman candidacy speculation for quarterback Brett Hundley to a preseason No. 7 national ranking by USA Today.

The new season looked to be full of promise. And then UCLA opened against unranked Virginia and barely pulled off a win against a backup Cavaliers squad playing with a backup quarterback. If it wasn’t for the stellar second quarter play of its defense—it scored three defensive touchdowns—UCLA would have lost. 

But "a win is a win" Bruin Nation told itself: The home opener against Memphis will be different.

Except it wasn’t. This time the team traded personalities. The offense looked okay in the team's 42-35 win over the Tigers, but where was the playmaking defense of the previous week? I can’t put my finger on it but this team just looks...out of sorts. 

I think the raised expectations have taken a toll, whether they want to admit it or not. Think about it:  When Jim Mora showed up in Westwood two years ago, he took a struggling program and remolded it into a tough, physical unit. The decision to hold training camp in San Bernardino in scorching August was brilliant. Get away from distractions, and let the heat temper this team into something gritty and united. 

It worked. UCLA molded an identity: We will be tougher and more physical than you. We may be underdogs, but we will not shy away from any challenge. Sometimes they reminded me of an old saying Pat Hill used to use when he was the coach at Fresno State. His teams were unafraid and declared their willingness to play “anybody, anywhere, anytime.” Great slogan. 

If you had to sum up the Bruins right now what would you say? I think the last couple of years they relished their underdog status. But you can’t really play the “no one respects us” card when you start the season ranked in the Top 10.

So, who are they?

Right now, what the Bruins are for unranked opponents like Virginia, Memphis and Texas, is an opportunity. 

UCLA hasn’t really spent a lot of time lately being a favorite—at least perception-wise. But once that perception changes, every opponent, even the lowliest underdog, is dangerous. An upset is always in play because in a game that can so often turn on effort and execution, what better path to glory for a Bruins opponent then to triumph over the team that all the pundits expect to defeat you handily.  

I think UCLA is struggling with this new status. They don’t want to get cocky, but they don’t really have any swagger either.

Sticking with the Texas theme, this is where Jim Mora needs to channel his inner Coach Eric Taylor.  Remember him and his fictional Dillon Panthers from the television series Friday Night Lights?” Coach Taylor, just like fictional Hoosiers coach Norman Dale, was terrific at motivating his young charges to tune out distractions and come together as a team.

Texas is going to bring everything it has. This is a proud, legacy franchise that would like nothing more than to take the Bruins down on national television. This is about mindset as much as it is about execution. 

In practical terms what does that mean? 

The Bruins look tight to me and maybe even a little overcoached. If I was giving the pregame speech I’d say the keys to winning the game are to play smart situational football, with an emphasis on avoiding dumb penalties. Each man must win his physical matchup. Quit overthinking it. Know your position and do your job. 

And quit looking ahead. That goes double for Bruin Nation. It’s the middle of September; stop thinking about rankings and playoffs. The only focus right now should be defeating the Longhorns.

This season is going to be a grind. The only path to victory is play by play, quarter by quarter, game by game.

The Bruins can take the next step Saturday with a quality win over Texas.

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Lane Kiffin's Bio on Alabama's Website May Have Been Hacked

It appears Lane Kiffin's bio on Alabama's website was briefly hacked Friday morning, if you believe the screenshot being passed around on Twitter. 

The prankster switched in an old photo of the Crimson Tide's offensive coordinator from his USC days and changed his position to "Coaching Idiot," among other things.   

The changes no longer appear on Alabama's website

[Twitter, h/t College Spun]

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Ohio State Football: Checking in on Progress of Buckeyes' Top Freshmen

This year will be different.

That was the vow that Urban Meyer made on national signing day—and again on the first day of Ohio State's fall camp—while simultaneously lamenting the lack of immediate production that he received from the Buckeyes' 2013 class. The 2014 crop of freshmen wouldn't be that way, Meyer insisted, but through the first two games of the season, that's beginning to look like a broken promise.

In Ohio State's opener against Navy and subsequent loss to Virginia Tech, a total of four true freshmen played, with the majority of their playing time being spent on special teams. Meyer said this week that there were other first-year players who were pushing for playing time, but as we've learned in his three years in Columbus, that should be taken with a grain of salt until we actually see the players on the field.

With a loss already on the Buckeyes' record and tomorrow's game against Kent State expected to be a lopsided one, this weekend should give us a good idea of who's going to contribute and who could be headed for a redshirt for the remainder of the year. Until then, here's a look at how Ohio State's top freshmen have progressed thus far.

 

Curtis Samuel

Raved about more than any other OSU freshman in fall camp, Curtis Samuel came to Columbus expected to play wide receiver, but he now finds himself listed as one of three starting running backs on the Buckeyes depth chart.

A 4-star prospect by way of Brooklyn, New York, Samuel is the lone member of the 2014 class to see extended playing time on the Ohio State offense, which shouldn't be all that surprising given Meyer's comments about him in the summer.

“I love that kid, and man oh man, does he go hard," Meyer said. “He’s talented, and he will play this year."

So far, that's one promise that Meyer has made good on, although circumstances have made it so that Samuel hasn't played as much as most have expected him to. In two games, Samuel has taken 12 carries for a total of 71 yards, adding one reception for four yards to his stat line.

Those numbers, however, don't tell the entire story of Samuel, who has shown the most impressive burst of anybody in the Buckeyes backfield in the first two games of the season. As Ohio State running backs coach Stan Drayton explained, the 5'11", 196-pounder sure doesn't play like a true freshmen, which has made him the Buckeye staff's go-to first-year player thus far.

“You do feel comfortable putting him in the game, really in pretty much any situation," Drayton said. "He’s got some toughness to him, he’ll block a linebacker in the A-gap, and he can definitely do some dynamic things with the football when he gets in space. So, there’s no hesitation about putting him in the game.”

Against Virginia Tech, the Hokies' 46 Bear defense didn't allow Ohio State to get much going in the run game, which is why Samuel only received five carries—one of which he took for 16 yards. Unlike his other classmates—at least so far—Samuel has been given the chance to shine in his freshman campaign, an opportunity that he seems to have made the most of.

 

Raekwon McMillan

Arguably the most heralded member of the Buckeyes freshmen, Raekwon McMillan arrived on campus in January as a 5-star prospect and the top-ranked inside linebacker in the 2014 class. And given Ohio State's inefficiency at linebacker a year ago, the 6'2", 240-pounder was expected to immediately push senior Curtis Grant for his starting spot at middle linebacker.

McMillan did that, spending the Buckeyes' spring game alongside Ohio State's two other starting linebackers, Joshua Perry and Darron Lee. But at the end of fall camp, it was Grant who was still atop the Buckeyes depth chart and taking most of the reps in the season opener.

McMillan, meanwhile, was relegated to kickoff coverage duty, although he did see some action in Ohio State's base defense when Grant briefly left the game against Virginia Tech with an injury. The lone tackle of his college career thus far was an impressive one, as he downed Hokies wide receiver Isaiah Ford for a three-yard loss on a reverse.

Although Grant seems to have a firm hold on Ohio State's middle linebacker job—he leads the Buckeyes with 20 tackles on the year—don't be surprised if McMillan begins to get more runs as the season wears on. Although his playing time has been limited, McMillan has already shown flashes, but he will need more opportunities to live up to substantial hype that accompanied him from Hinesville, Georgia.

 

Erick Smith

While his more highly touted high school teammate, 4-star cornerback Marshon Lattimore, redshirts due to a hamstring injury, Erick Smith has been one of the few Ohio State freshmen to play in the first two games of the season, although all of his playing time has come on special teams.

A 4-star prospect from Cleveland Glenville, Smith is listed as a third-stringer on the Ohio State depth chart at safety, where he currently sits behind Tyvis Powell and Ron Tanner. But Meyer described the 6'0", 198-pounder as nipping at the heels of the Buckeyes starters throughout the preseason, and Smith could play if an injury necessitated so.

Although his playing time thus far has been limited to special teams, it's telling that of all of the players in Ohio State's freshmen class, he's one of the few who's been trusted enough to have already been put on the field. That shows that the Buckeyes staff believes that he'll be contributing sooner rather than later, as the hard-hitting safety's duties could be expanding in the near future.

 

Johnnie Dixon

He's yet to take a snap in his college career, but given the ineffectiveness of the Ohio State wide receiving corps thus far, it shouldn't be long until Johnnie Dixon finds himself on the field. In fact, Meyer hinted at as much on Wednesday when asked if his six-man receiver rotation—which didn't previously feature Dixon—was set in stone.

"I'll tell you, Johnnie Dixon and Noah Brown are very close to getting involved in this thing," Meyer said of the two freshman wide receivers.

While playing time could be harder to find for Brown, who's listed behind Dontre Wilson and Jalin Marshall at H-back on the OSU depth chart, it could quickly become readily available for Dixon.

With both Corey Smith and Evan Spencer—the two players ahead of Dixon on the wide receiver depth chart—struggling in the Buckeyes' loss to the Hokies, the former 4-star prospect could be the next man up should their issues persist.

Given the way that Virginia Tech's dare-you-to-throw defense neutralized Ohio State last Saturday, it's clear that Meyer is now eyeing all of his options in the Buckeyes passing game. That includes Ohio State's true freshmen, where Dixon stood out during the preseason, but has yet to translate that into playing time in the regular season.

 

Sean Nuernberger

The title of Ohio State's most impactful freshman so far this season belongs to kicker Sean Nuernberger, and that's not necessarily a good thing. After connecting on his two field-goal attempts against Navy—including one from 46 yards—Nuernberger struggled against the Hokies, missing each of his two field-goal attempts, including a chip shot from 27 yards.

Nuernberger's shoddy showing obviously didn't sit well with Meyer, who has placed an extra emphasis on special teams since arriving in Columbus.

“The two field goals were major, especially when it was a young player who did really good the first game,” Meyer said. “That’s big, to come away with those drives with nothing.”

With backup kicker Kyle Clinton having issues of his own on kickoffs—he's kicked two out of bounds in two games—the Buckeyes will likely ride with Nuernberger when it comes to place-kicking duties for the remainder of the season. After following his first impressive outing with an ugly one, it will be worth watching how the 6'1", 230-pounder bounces back this weekend.

 

Other Freshmen To Keep An Eye On

  • Linebacker Dante Booker was listed on each of Ohio State's first two depth charts but suffered a cut on his foot in the first week before falling ill in the second.
  • In addition to Dixon, Brown and Smith, Sam Hubbard has also been mentioned by Meyer as a first-year player on the cusp of receiving playing time, although it's still unclear whether the Buckeyes will use the Cincinnati product at tight end or linebacker.
  • After the departure of Chad Lindsay caused a reshuffling on Ohio State's second-team offensive line, Jamarco Jones found himself listed as Taylor Decker's backup at left tackle. Meyer said that the former 4-star product had been dealing with a sprained ankle in fall camp, but he is now full-go and could be called on at a moment's notice.
  • Meyer also noted that freshman guard Demetrius Knox had a good week of practice in the days leading up to the Buckeyes' matchup with Kent State, and could soon be pushing for playing time on an offensive line that has thus far been ineffective.

 

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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College Football Week 3: Previews and Predictions for the Top 5 Games

Week 3 of the 2014 college football season will be headlined by an SEC East Division rivalry game between Georgia and South Carolina. 

The Dawgs and Gamecocks will battle it out in Columbia in a game that could determine who represents the division in the SEC Championship Game in December. Tennessee will also be out to prove it’s capable of competing in the SEC when it travels for a Saturday night nonconference game at No. 4 Oklahoma.

Brett Hundley and the UCLA Bruins will hope to finally put a solid performance together against Texas in Arlington, while Penn State will play its first game as a bowl eligible team since 2011 against Rutgers.  

As we look forward to another week of the college football season, here are the top five games to watch on Saturday.

Begin Slideshow

Notre Dame Football: A Year of Change for Amir Carlisle

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — In just one year Amir Carlisle has gone from an oft-used running back to a seldom-used running back to an intriguing slot receiver.

It was just this time last year—heading into a Week 3 matchup with Purdue—that the then-junior sat in front of the media and fielded questions about the running back rotation and about opposing his father, Duane, Purdue’s director of sports performance and the head strength and conditioning coach for the football squad.

But after falling out of the rotation last season following the win over the Boilermakers and switching positions in the spring, Carlisle finds himself with a new opportunity this year.

“It is different,” Carlisle said. “It’s just another opportunity to go out there and get a win for the team. I’m approaching it the same way I always approach things.”

For the ever-positive and detail-oriented Carlisle, that means striving for excellence and focusing on his practice habits. It’s that sort of focus, he says, that has allowed him to make the shift from running back to slot receiver.

Carlisle had announced his presence emphatically last season as a running back, galloping 45 yards on Notre Dame’s first play from scrimmage in the season opener against Temple. Carlisle averaged roughly 12 touches in each of the first three games last season. But he coughed up a fourth-quarter fumble against the Boilermakers, and Carlisle had just 17 more touches the rest of the season—never more than three in a game.

“I learned from that,” Carlisle said of the fumble. “It was a learning experience and I put it in the past.”

In the same way he’s been tested by ankle and collarbone injuries since transferring to Notre Dame from USC, Carlisle was tried by the lack of the playing time.

“Throughout the injuries there was times I could’ve gotten down, and last season didn’t really go how I planned for it go, but I really got on my Bible and prayed about things and talked to my mom,” Carlisle said. “I have to be positive and approach everything with excellence.”

On-field, in-game excellence started to ooze through for Carlisle on Saturday against Michigan, when the 5’10”, 190-pounder snatched seven receptions for 61 yards and two touchdowns. Carlisle’s first two touchdowns in an Irish uniform were solid, but his standout play came five snaps before the second touchdown.

Carlisle nimbly toe-tapped his way along the sideline and grabbed a 21-yard strike from Everett Golson, looking like anything but a converted running back who had never played wide receiver before, save for a couple plays in high school.

“I thought this was a statement game for him,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said afterward.

Carlisle showed an ability to produce from the slot, a position typified by more questions than answers since Kelly took over.

“I think really what put him over the top was his concentration on catching the football with his hands,” Kelly said Tuesday. “Once that really became something that he felt comfortable doing, I think it really allowed him to progress quickly.”

Back at home during the offseason, Carlisle worked with Mike Johnson, a former NFL and collegiate assistant coach who is now the head coach at Carlisle’s high school, The King’s Academy, in Sunnyvale, California. Together, Carlisle and Johnson did a lot of cone work, focusing on accelerating in and out of breaks. They discussed how to attack various coverages.

“He did an awesome job of really just teaching me the finer details of the wide receiver position,” Carlisle said.

Carlisle has continued to focus on those same areas with Irish offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach Mike Denbrock. For Carlisle, it’s a daily process of feeling increasingly comfortable as a wide receiver.

It also helps when aspects of the running back position overlap with working in the slot. Take Carlisle’s second touchdown against Michigan, for example. Kelly dialed up a tunnel screen to the left side for Carlisle.

“When the call came in from the sideline, my eyes lit up,” Carlisle said.

“Screens just give me the opportunity to get in space, and I like to think that I operate well in space, and it’s just really fun when you can catch the ball and you have a whole bunch of blockers and a whole bunch of green grass out in front of you,” he added.

Carlisle breezed untouched into the end zone from 12 yards out to make it 28-0.

“I just had to run straight, basically,” Carlisle said of the score.

Not much else about Carlisle’s path has been straightforward.

 

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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

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4-Star WR Drake Davis Giving Up Football to Focus on Soccer

Coveted wide receiver prospect Drake Davis has elected to invest his talents in another sport.

The 4-star 2016 recruit who holds offers from the likes of Alabama, Miami, Virginia Tech and Florida State is focused on furthering his soccer career and won't play football this fall, according to Ryan Bartow of 247Sports.

Davis, a Louisiana native who attends Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia, is rated 10th nationally among 2016 receivers in 247Sports' composite rankings. Despite lofty expectations in football, he's opted to follow a different path that will certainly surprise several college coaches across the country.

“This is a decision he made in the spring, and he’s stuck with it,” Fork Union football coach Brian Hurlocker told Bartow.

You won't see Davis running routes this autumn, but he flashed evidence of his impressive skill set during a successful underclassman career.

Davis was a 2013 Louisiana Sports Writers Association Class 2A All-State honorable mention last season. He played for Dunham High School in Baton Rouge and also gained accolades following performances in camp settings.

It didn't take long for Davis to gain a reputation as one of the true athletic freaks in his class. He broke down those abilities during an August conversation with Mark Clements of NOLA.com: "I honestly don't think there's anyone like me. No one. I can do a whole bunch of things. There aren't many 6'5" receivers that run a 4.35. I'm very fast and agile. I can play any position, really. There's not many receivers that can do that."

Davis certainly has the talent to still pursue a career in college football, and with another year of high school ahead of him it would be foolish to rule out a possible return next fall. However, his opportunities won't exactly dwindle if he sticks with soccer.

He is also viewed as a Division I soccer recruit, per Bartow.

Though his attention is currently turned away from the gridiron, don't be shocked if Davis does indeed end up signing with a college football program in February 2016. You can be sure recruiting departments will continue to keep tabs on him, and new scholarship offers could arrive despite his absence from the field.

For now, the elite receiver has decided he doesn't need to use his hands in order to excel in athletics.

 

Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.

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