NCAA Football News

Wisconsin Football: Report Card Grades for Every New Starter

During Week 1, the Wisconsin football team held a 24-7 lead early in the third quarter.  From that point, the Badgers totally fell apart, going on to lose 28-24 after untimely injuries coupled with hyper-conservative turned hyper-aggressive play-calling led to their demise.

With a brand-new quarterback, new receivers on the outside and a pair of new tight ends, the Badgers passing offense sputtered badly.  Technically, Melvin Gordon wasn't a starter last season, but he played as much as anyone and thus wasn't included in this.  Furthermore, both Dan Voltz and Dallas Lewallen started numerous games last season and weren't included in here either.

On defense, the Badgers looked really good for the first 35 or so minutes, save one first-half blown coverage, which led to an 80-yard pass.  The Badgers are breaking in a brand-new front seven to go with a new free safety in true freshman Lubern Figaro.

On special teams, the Badgers trotted out a true freshman kicker, who may have been the most impressive player on the field for either team—or at least his dance moves were.

Let's take a look at all 14 new starters for the Badgers with grades on their performance against LSU and a breakdown of how they've played so far this season.

Begin Slideshow

Michigan vs. Notre Dame: Wolverines Run Game Key to Victory over Fighting Irish

The Michigan Wolverines put on an offensive demo against an Appalachian State Mountaineers team that was woefully outmatched on both sides of the ball.

This week will be different, going up against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. 

Their program is ranked 16th in the nation and put on a similarly impressive showing in Week 2, defeating Rice 48-17. In that game, senior quarterback Everett Golson threw for two touchdowns and ran for three more, showcasing his ability both in the running and passing game.

The rivalry has historically produced a number of close games and dramatic finishes, in which the Wolverines have a 24-16 advantage.

Considering this is the last time the two teams will play each other for the foreseeable future (since Notre Dame has exercised its option to discontinue the rivalry) and that the Fighting Irish left Ann Arbor last year after coming up short 41-30, they're going to be extremely motivated.

The "Chicken Dance" song should still be fresh in their minds.

The Wolverines also come into Notre Dame stadium with an abysmal road record under head coach Brady Hoke, going 6-8 away from Michigan Stadium.

If the Wolverines are going to buck that trend, they'll need to continue doing what they did last week against Appalachian State: Run the football.


Michigan's Rushing Attack

Senior QB Devin Gardner threw only 14 passes, but completed 13 of them for three touchdowns to wide receiver Devin Funchess against Appalachian State. But what made Michigan's offense so strong was the sophomore rushing tandem of Derrick Green and De'Veon Smith.

The two running backs combined for 285 rushing yards and three touchdowns.

In total, the Wolverines put up 350 yards on the ground with 210 passing yards to complement. With such a strong tandem at running back, coach Hoke would do well to build his game plan around those two players and establish the running game as early as possible against Notre Dame.


Freeing Up the Passing Game

Once the running of Smith and Green has impacted head coach Brian Kelly's defensive game plan for the Fighting Irish, the Wolverines will have an opportunity to use play action and get Funchess open down the field.

Despite the fact that Notre Dame is going to be without cornerback KeiVarae Russell, it is still a far more skilled and versatile secondary than what Funchess and Gardner were dealing with when they played Appalachian State.

On the interior, Notre Dame will also be without defensive end Ishaq Williams and linebacker Kendall Moore, making them more vulnerable to the running game.

The Wolverines will need to exploit that weakness before they let Gardner start chucking the ball down the field.

But if the success of their rushing attack continues, freeing up the passing game will be a quick process.


Sticking with the Rushing Attack

Even though the yards per attempt will be lower, the Wolverines should keep handing the ball off to their playmakers. The same rushing attack that allowed them to dominate an over-matched Appalachian State squad should allow them to keep pace with Notre Dame.

It'll also give them the opportunity to keep an already fractured Fighting Irish defense on the field with a possession-based game plan.

If they can keep the score close, the play of Gardner and Funchess will be enough to outscore a tired Fighting Irish defense in the second half of the game.

Bobby Kittleberger writes about fantasy football for The FF White Papers. You can get in touch with him via Twitter.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Miami Football: 5 Key Reserves to Watch Against Florida A&M

When the Miami Hurricanes return to conference play later this month, top reserves will be asked to fill in seamlessly for starters.

Some backups are important than others, and those are key players to watch against Florida A&M on Saturday, Sept. 7 at 7 p.m. ET.

Despite a mediocre opening to the 2014 campaign, the Canes are clear favorites heading into the meeting. After all, the Rattlers are a subpar FCS team and cannot be expected to hang around for long.

Barring a completely unexpected result, Miami reserves will see significant playing time Saturday night, which is crucial for the Hurricanes moving forward.

Begin Slideshow

Washington State's Infamous 'Popcorn Guy' Gets a '30 for 30' Trailer

Nobody will ever forget about "Popcorn Guy" from last year's Stanford-Washington State game. His story is so invigorating that he now has his own ESPN 30 for 30 trailer.

There have been some interesting 30 for 30 documentaries in the past, but this feature seems like it would be an instant hit. That's why ESPN's Colin Cowherd has taken the first step in making it happen.

It's just a spoof, but we'd all love to hear what was going through Popcorn Guy's mind at the time.

[ESPN, h/t GameDayr]

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

George Campbell Commits to FSU: Where LSU, Florida Turn After Missing on 4-Star

LSU and Florida’s pursuit of bringing in elite talent at wide receiver hit a snag on Friday afternoon.

After months of deliberation, 4-star wide receiver George Campbell announced his decision to commit to Florida State, per ESPN.com’s Derek Tyson. That left the Tigers and Gators—two teams strongly considered by the nation’s No. 7-ranked receiver—in a bit of a hole.

But while losing out on Campbell certainly hurts, all hope is not lost for these two SEC squads.

 

Where Does Florida Go Now?

With a class that includes just one receiver—3-star Kalif Jackson—the Gators are in desperate need to zero in on a couple of more targets at the position.

A name that immediately comes to mind is that of Ryan Davis. The 4-star athlete is currently ranked No. 26 at his position and has the chops to make a splash at receiver at the next level.

Already having made three trips to Gainesville since August, Davis is expected to make a fourth visit shortly, per 247Sports’ Luke Stampini. That can only be a good sign for Florida.

Bleacher Report’s Sanjay Kirpalani thinks Antonio Callaway should also be in the discussion:

A 3-star receiver out of Miami’s Booker T. Washington High School, Callaway is quickly gaining steam and would make a great addition for any team. What he may lack in size (5'11", 175 lbs) he more than makes up for with great ball skills and the ability to make plays in the open field.

He’s exactly the kind of receiver Florida needs to add.

 

Where Does LSU Go Now?

For head coach Les Miles and LSU, they now turn their attention toward bigger fish to fry.

Hometown product Tyron Johnson, a 5-star receiver out of New Orleans, should be the team’s top priority right now. The 6'1", 191-pounder is ranked as the No. 24 overall prospect and No. 3 among wide receivers.

An early Tigers lean, Johnson has since named Texas Tech a leader back in June, per 247Sports’ Taylor Hamm (subscription required). Still, LSU found itself included in his official top 10, per Johnson’s Twitter page:

The loss of Campbell only increases the pressure on the Tigers to snag the top receiver in the state. Failing to do so could be a significant blemish on the 2015 recruiting class.

Another name the team should focus in on is 4-star receiver Carlos Strickland.

Hailing from Dallas, the 6'5", 194-pounder has the size and hands that have impressed scouts across the country. He’s currently listed as the No. 15-ranked receiver in the country.

According to 247Sports’ Sonny Shipp, LSU already has its eye on Strickland: 

Strickland would give any quarterback a great target in the passing game and is a threat to take it the house any time he touches the ball.

 

All recruiting information and rankings used in this article are courtesy of 247Sports.

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Rivalries We Miss the Most

Forget Yankees-Red Sox, Packers-Bears, Celtics-Lakers. Nothing tops a good ol’ fashioned college football rivalry.

Forget records; the most important thing is bragging rights over a bitter enemy. But conference realignment and budget cuts have kiboshed some of the best matchups. 

Just this weekend we'll see the end of one of the better rivalries in the sport when Michigan and Notre Dame line up opposite one another. Saturday's showdown will mark the end of a rivalry that has spanned 41 contests dating back to 1887. 

That got us thinking, what other college football rivalries would we not mind seeing again?

Here are five rivalries we miss.

Begin Slideshow

Can Notre Dame Stop Michigan's Most Explosive Player?

The Michigan Wolverines are taking on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish this week for a showdown like no other. Bleacher Report's College Football Analyst Michael Felder breaks down exactly how Michigan wide receiver Devin Funchess fits into the game plan.

Who do you think will win this matchup?

Watch the video and let us know.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Alabama Football: What to Watch for from Blake Sims and Jake Coker in Week 2

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — If you’ve been waiting for Jake Coker to play a meaningful snap of football, Saturday is your day.

By all accounts, the Florida State transfer will get to throw his first passes in a Crimson Tide uniform when Alabama faces Florida Atlantic on Saturday in Bryant-Denny Stadium. This, after watching much of the West Virginia game from the sidelines and coming in for only two handoffs to run out the clock.

Coker will split reps with Blake Sims, who played much of that West Virginia game and had a solid debut as a starter. It will be just about everyone’s first time to see the two side by side and will add more fuel to the fire that is Alabama’s quarterback competition (and it is still very much a competition).

So what should we be on the lookout for this weekend?

First, how the reps are actually split.

Saban said on Monday that he hadn’t decided how he would do so (and joked that even when he did, he wouldn’t reveal it). On his radio show Thursday night, he still seemed like he hadn’t made a decision on exactly when Coker would enter the game.

"Now I haven't decided when that's going to be in this game but I'd rather decided that this is how we're going to do it before we ever go out there because that's really the only way you give a guy a fair opportunity,” Saban said, according to Michael Casagrande of al.com. “He knows when he's going to go out there and he can be ready to go out there and we can go from there."

When Coker takes his first snap is still a big question.

The last time Alabama had a situation like this, against Kent State in 2011, AJ McCarron and Phillip Sims alternated every three drives. McCarron got the start in that game and ended up actually winning the job.

Coker could come in sooner rather than later. The staff got a whole game’s worth of film out of Sims last week and have yet to see anything from Coker. They also, though, don’t want to shake Sims’ confidence by playing Coker the majority of the time after Sims had a worthy debut.

The other question, obviously, is how Coker will actually look when he plays.

It’s one thing to look good in practice, which Coker has, displaying his vaunted arm strength and zip. But it’s another to combine that with understanding the playbook and being able to lead an offense in a game.

That was the big thing that Sims showed, more or less, in the season opener. He may not necessarily have all of the measurables that Coker has, but he knows the offense and can operate effectively.

Saban saw some of that in 2011, too.

"Really, sometimes in practice, Phillip looked like he would be the best guy," Saban said, per Casagrande. "Then we played them both in the game and AJ played better in the game, so that is what ultimately made our decision to make AJ the starter."

The relative strength, or lack thereof, of the opponent means everything will need to be taken with a grain of salt.

FAU allowed 55 points and 785 yards of offense last week to Nebraska. Alabama should be able to have its way with the Owls (just don’t tell Saban that). It won’t exactly be an accurate barometer for how one or the other would play once SEC competition starts.

But it’s also the reason Alabama has the luxury of being able to play two quarterbacks. Against West Virginia it went with the guy that Saban trusted the most in a power-five game. He got Alabama through and played well in the process.

With a lower-level team up next on the docket, though, the real quarterback competition can begin.

 

Marc Torrence is the Alabama lead writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats come from CFBStats. All recruiting information comes from 247Sports.

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

What Alabama Must Fix to Continue Success in the SEC

The Alabama Crimson Tide are looking to prove that they are still a top team in college football. Bleacher Report's College Football Analyst Michael Felder discusses where they need to improve the most. How well do you think they will do this year?

Watch the video and let us know.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Florida State's Plan to Improve the Offensive Output

Jameis Winston and the Florida State Seminoles are looking to repeat in 2014. After a shaky start against Oklahoma State last week, FSU is looking to prove that it is still the top team in college football. Bleacher Report's Stephen Nelson talked to The Associated Press' Kareem Copeland about what is expected from this offense. How well do you think it will do this year?

Check out the video and let us know.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

George Campbell to Florida State: Seminoles Land 4-Star WR Prospect

One of the most dynamic athletes in the class of 2015 has officially committed to  Florida State. George Campbell, an athlete that plays both wide receiver and defensive back, announced that he would be playing with the Seminoles, per ESPN's Tom VanHaaren:

Standing at 6'3", 184 pounds, Campbell is a 4-star player, the No. 7 wide receiver and the 17th-best overall recruit in the nation, according to 247Sports' composite rankings. His 769 receiving yards on 31 receptions and seven touchdowns made him a hot commodity, but his speed is what shines through for college coaches.

His agility was on full display during the Under Armour Combine, running a 4.36 40-yard dash, as Derek Tyson of ESPN and Recruiting Nation points out:

Campbell has also shown physicality off the line against some of the best defensive back prospects in the country:

Earning a commitment from Campbell is a huge get for Florida State. Back in December, Campbell was ready to suit up for Michigan before deciding to leave his recruitment open. Tom VanHaaren of ESPN reported Campbell's decommitment from the Wolverines on Dec. 17:

What fans will love about Campbell is not only his speed but also his explosiveness and ability to high-point the football. Most highlights of Campbell show him in open space, but he's also shown flashes of athleticism as both a corner and receiver.

The Seminoles have already found replacements for the losses of Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw in Ermon Lane and Travis Rudolph, but Campbell is a multi-tool athlete that will come in the year following and bolster the roster yet again.

With the likelihood of Jameis Winston being gone after the 2014 season, having Campbell along with Lane and Rudolph will make the transition to a new quarterback much easier for Florida State. 

Follow R. Cory Smith on Twitter:

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

George Campbell Commits to Florida State: What 4-Star WR Brings to the Seminoles

George Campbell is a 4-star wide receiver out of Florida, according to 247Sports. He has officially made his commitment to the Florida State Seminoles.

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Barrett Sallee break down exactly how he fits into this high-powered program.

How well do you think he will do at the next level? Watch the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Oregon vs. Michigan State: Which Teams Needs the Win More, Ducks or Spartans?

Standing out in a largely unappealing slate of Week 2 games is a gem: Michigan State at Oregon. 

There have already been big games in Week 1—Clemson at Georgia, LSU vs. Wisconsin—and there will be equally big games later this month, like Auburn's trip to Kansas State on Sept. 18. Additionally, USC heads to Stanford on Saturday in a battle of top-15 teams. 

But this one in Eugene has the College Football Playoff's fingerprints all over it.

Take preseason rankings with a large grain of salt, but Michigan State-Oregon is the first game of the 2014 season that puts two top-10 teams against one another. Because it's a nonconference game, it already has a semifinal feel to it. 

It's also a fascinating matchup of styles between Oregon's high-tempo, spread 'em out offense vs. Michigan State's stout defense. 

So which team needs the win more?

The short answer is Michigan State, but not because Sparty is fighting some arbitrary uphill battle for respect. This program should already have that respect, having defeated Ohio State in last year's Big Ten championship before toppling Stanford at its own game in the Rose Bowl. 

No, Michigan State doesn't need a win on the road against the Ducks—to which it is a double-digit underdog*, according to oddshark.com—to "arrive." 

(*Spreads are not necessarily based on what oddsmakers think the difference in score will be. Rather, they're based on how oddsmakers feel they can get 50 percent of the public to bet on one side and 50 percent to bet on the other.) 

Michigan State doesn't need this win to boost a supposedly laughable Big Ten schedule, either. The narrative is that the Pac-12 is the overall stronger conference.

However, a glance over Oregon's schedule shows that the Ducks have just two opponents, not including Michigan State, currently ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 (UCLA and Stanford). That's the same number of ranked opponents left on the Spartans' schedule. 

Those numbers, of course, are subject to change. For that matter, schedules can't be fully evaluated until the end of the year. The point being, Oregon and Michigan State's respective schedules are on generally equal footing right now. There's a mix of good teams and bad teams. 

Rather, A Spartans win would be an important moment for a reloaded defense. The 2013 group was special, ranking in the top five nationally against the run, the pass, in total yards allowed and points allowed, according to cfbstats.com.

Among the players gone from that defense include linebackers Denicos Allen and Max Bullough, cornerback Darqueze Dennard and safety Isaiah Lewis and defensive tackle Micajah Reynolds. 

To tab those losses as anything other than significant would be downplaying them. They're losses that defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, widely respected as one of the best in college football, must overcome. 

Sparty isn't void of talent, though. Defensive end Shilique Calhoun is a pass-rushing force. Freshman defensive lineman Malik McDowell is already contributing as well. 

"We're a pressure team, but we're getting better pass rush collectively from four guys," head coach Mark Dantonio said last year to Adam Rittenberg of ESPN.com

To win on the road in a tough environment against Oregon, one of the top offenses in the country, would be a major confidence boost for this defense (and for the entire program). Even a solid performance by the Spartan defense would be a win in its own right. 

In many ways, winning or losing does rest on the defense. Michigan State likely isn't going to win a shootout against Oregon. That's not who the Spartans are.  

Chris B. Brown of Grantland has a perfect explanation of how Michigan State plans to slow Oregon's attack. In short, keep it simple, but keep it malleable: "Rather than trying to call the right defense and maybe being right or maybe being wrong, Dantonio and Narduzzi have responded to this challenge by building a responsive defense that mutates into the right alignment depending on what the offense does."

That's easier said than done.

Above all else, Michigan State has to stay disciplined in the face of misdirection, fakes and pre-snap motion. With future games against the likes of Michigan, Maryland, Ohio State and Penn State, the best preparation for future offenses could come from the Spartans' most difficult opponent. 

The good news for State is that it has one of the best head coach-defensive coordinator combos in the country in Dantonio and Narduzzi. Getting outclassed would be nothing short of surprising. A close loss for either team wouldn't necessarily bump them out of the playoff discussion, either. 

If we're fortunate enough, we'll get that close game. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand.  

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Auburn Football: Tigers' Offense Still Has Room for Improvement

AUBURN, Ala. — To some coaches, putting up close to 600 yards of offense and scoring 45 points against a conference opponent would be an A+ day.

But to Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee, it's a B- day at best.

"I just think from the O-line to the receivers to running backs to quarterbacks, the whole, we were a little above average," Lashlee said, per AL.com's Brandon Marcello. "C+, B-. We played well. We did not have a lot of busts. At the same time we could have executed at a better level."

After Lashlee handed out his grade of the offense Monday night, his head coach echoed him in his Tuesday morning press conference.

"Overalll, we are happy that we won," Malzahn said. "We are 1-0 in the SEC, but we have a lot of areas to improve. We made some mistakes, and we will work very hard this week on correcting them." 

Upcoming opponents, you have been warned—the Tigers aren't satisfied after a game in which they went 4-for-4 with four touchdowns on red-zone scoring chances and averaged 8.5 yards per play.

"Compared to last year, we made fewer mistakes, but there are still so many things that need to be tweaked," Malzahn said. "We have to make sure our alignments are correct and the things that allow you to execute a play."

Here are three main areas that the two Auburn coaches say need "tweaking" as the Tigers head into game No. 2:

 

Third Down and Short Conversions

Judging from a quick look at the box score, Auburn performed well on third downs against Arkansas. The Tigers converted nine of their 14 chances, good enough for the 11th-best average nationally and the second-best average in the SEC on college football's opening weekend.

But two of the ones the Tigers missed stood out to Lashlee after his review of the film.

"The most disappointing part of the first half was probably the third and shorts," Lashlee said, per Marcello. "That's something we were really good at last year, so we've really got to be better in that area moving forward. We had chances with the lead to stay on the field and maybe try to extend our lead."

Auburn missed a pair of 3rd-and-short conversions in the first half, and the momentum Arkansas gained from those failures helped turn a two-touchdown lead into a tie game heading into halftime.

A blitz from the Arkansas defense stopped senior running back Cameron Artis-Payne for a loss of one yard on 3rd-and-1 midway through the third quarter, which led to a Daniel Carlson punt. The Razorbacks scored on the ensuing drive to tie the game at 21.

The Tigers couldn't muster a response after Artis-Payne was stopped for no gain on another 3rd-and-1, once again coming off a strong Razorback blitz.

"Honestly, we didn't execute," Lashlee said, per Marcello. "They showed us some blitz looks that we were ready for, and we just didn't get it cut off on the back side in both situations."

The two stops were surprising, especially for a team that grabbed a first down on the ground 79 percent of the time last season when it was facing third down and three yards or less.

But once Auburn got adjusted to the blitzes, Artis-Payne was much more effective in moving the chains. The Tigers finished the second half 5-for-7 on third-down conversions, and the senior running back had 177 yards on 26 carries.

 

Fumbles

With all the extra plays and drives Auburn had through its hurry-up, no-huddle offense last season, ball security was a major issue.

The Tigers fumbled the ball 30 times last season, third-most nationally. However, they were fortunate to recover 19 of those times, giving them the nation's 12th-lowest fumble loss percentage and the SEC's best at 36.7 percent.

Auburn let the ball go only twice during last Saturday's game against Arkansas, with debuting wide receiver D'haquille Williams getting a fumble to bounce out of bounds on the last drive of the second quarter and Artis-Payne turning it over near midfield early in the third quarter of a close game.

"We protected the football in the passing game, and that’s always very important, too," Malzahn said. "I know we had the one turnover with Cameron, but we'll work on getting that corrected."

Auburn's coaching staff put a big emphasis on ball security this offseason, and Lashlee said the two fumbles in the season opener were "not acceptable."

The Tigers are not going to rely on having one of the nation's best rates at getting those fortunate bounces off fumbles, so look for improvement in that area as the season continues.

 

Penalties

Auburn's offense avoided the dreaded whistle before the snap against Arkansas—but after the ball was in play, it was a different story.

The Tigers had six penalties for 61 yards against the Razorbacks, a mark that was above their game average from last season, when they finished fourth in the SEC and 30th nationally in avoiding the yellow flags.

Auburn had two big plays called back in the first half on offensive penalties—a holding call on Sammie Coates and a face-mask call on Patrick Miller.

Lashlee was glad the Tigers recovered from those fouls to find the end zone on those drives, but he marked those down as other areas to improve on the average offensive grade.

"Fortunately, in both cases, we were able to convert the third down and still score the touchdown, and usually that doesn't happen," Lashlee said, per the Montgomery Advertiser's James Crepea. "The statistics will tell you that most times when you have a touchdown called back it won't end well. We've got to clean that up."

Anything that slows down the high-powered Auburn offense, even penalties that don't affect the end result of the drive, are getting highlighted and corrected by Malzahn and Lashlee.

Even though the Tigers are favored by 30 points against San Jose State this weekend, Malzahn wants to see a lot of improvement from his offense starting this Saturday.

"The great thing about a first game is you usually improve more from the first game to the second game than you do all year, and that is what we have to do," Malzahn said.

 

Justin Ferguson is Bleacher Report's lead Auburn writer. Follow him on Twitter @JFergusonAU. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports. All stats courtesy of CFBStats.com.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

How Texas A&M's Kenny Hill Can Improve on Record-Setting Performance

Kenny Hill lit up the field in his debut start last week vs. South Carolina.

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder breaks down his attributes and what to expect from him in the future.

How well do you think Kenny Thrill will do this year? Watch the video and let us know. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Pressure on Michigan WR Devin Funchess to Deliver Epic Performance vs Notre Dame

Minutes before Michigan’s season opener, the move that began in desperation last season become complete. Devin Funchess officially switched jerseys from No. 87 to No. 1 and then went out and made Brady Hoke look like a genius for making a him a full-time wide receiver.

But big games versus foes like Appalachian State are quickly forgotten when you play at a program like Michigan.

At Michigan you make your bones against your bitter rivals—Notre Dame, Michigan State and Ohio State.

And next up for Michigan is a night game that will mark its last scheduled meeting with Notre Dame.

Funchess announced his presence on the landscape of college football with a resounding performance versus Appalachian State. Wearing the hallowed No. 1 jersey he caught everything thrown in his general direction (seven receptions for 95 yards, three touchdowns) and looked like he might be the next great player to star for the Maize and Blue. 

Quarterback Devin Gardner said it best.

“He [Funchess] can probably be the best receiver to ever play here” as per the Detroit Free Press.

Some of the greats in Michigan history have had top performances versus Notre Dame. In 2010 Denard Robinson gashed the Irish for 502 yards (258 yards rushing with two touchdowns, 244 yards passing with one touchdown) in a 28-24 victory in South Bend. The game jump-started his Heisman Trophy campaign and he finished sixth in the voting.

In 1991 Desmond Howard began his Heisman Trophy march with “the catch,” an amazing touchdown reception which became an epic moment in Michigan football history.

Now, Funchess has an opportunity to showcase his talent in a primetime contest before a national audience with dire implications for his team and his coach.

For the first time in 135 years, Michigan will play all three of its key rivals on the road. A win versus Notre Dame would propel the team back into the national rankings and put it on a collision course with Michigan State at the end of October. A loss would not only damage the team’s prospects of returning to the rankings but spur speculation that head coach Brady Hoke is on the hot seat.

Even larger than the implications of a win or a loss is how Hoke will be viewed as the arbiter of Michigan tradition by deeming Funchess worthy of the number. Former coach Rich Rodriguez got himself into hot water by ignoring the minutiae of Wolverine football culture.

"The young man asked me about it [wearing the No. 1 jersey], and I said that's fine," said Michigan coach Brady Hoke after Funchess’ first game. “…And believe me I asked him who has worn No. 1, and he started with Anthony Carter and went down the list, so I think that he earned it,” via ESPN.

A big game for Funchess coupled with a Michigan victory would evoke talk of Wolverine tradition and would be a powerful statement supporting Hoke’s rebuilding efforts. It would also give Hoke a signature victory on the road where his teams have struggled.  

Funchess definitely has the talent to be a playmaker versus Notre Dame.

Devin Gardner has acknowledged that via MLive, “[Jabrill Peppers] and [Devin] Funchess are probably the top two athletes on the team…I used to always like to think I was the top athlete on the team. But these two guys…they’re pretty elite.”

Funchess (6’5”, 230 pounds) will also have favorable matchups versus Notre Dame. He towers over the players who will be tasked with covering him.

The circumstances are right for him to leave an indelible mark on the last game (for now) of this classic rivalry.

Notre Dame will do everything in its power to stop Devin Funchess. But Devin Funchess might be unstoppable.

 

Phil Callihan is a featured writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations in this article were obtained via Press Conferences or in person.

Follow
@PSCallihan

All season statistics from mgoblue.com, official University of Michigan athletic department web site.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

LSU Football: Tigers Fans Don't Panic, Leonard Fournette Will Be Just Fine

LSU fans need to stay on the Buga Nation bandwagon.

The college football world was promised miracles from LSU freshman sensation Leonard Fournette. But in Fournette's first game against Wisconsin, he was below average.

Check that. He was bad. 

Fournette carried the ball eight times for 18 yards and returned five kicks for a paltry 117 yards. The 5-star recruit failed to make defenders miss to gain extra yardage. He also had a case of butterfingers, dropping a screen pass late in the third quarter and mishandling a pitch to the left in the fourth. 

Buga Buzzkill. 

LSU head coach Les Miles defended Fournette's stale game against the Badgers. 

"I think his first game is certainly not to be compared with his 30th game,” Miles said, per The Advocate.  “I think expectations are unrealistic. Can you imagine that somebody would comment how you made your first game as a true freshman? We needed for him to come in and contribute, which he did." 

Credit should be given to Wisconsin's defense. Its 3-4 front gave the LSU offensive line problems, and the Badgers linebackers attacked the line of scrimmage effectively. 

Fournette, nor running back Terrence Magee, could find any daylight. But senior Kenny Hilliard was successful, rushing for 110 yards and a touchdown. 

Yet Hilliard's numbers are a tad deceiving.

Hilliard raked in nearly half of his yards in only three plays on LSU's game-winning drive. The Badgers were in their nickel defense and were without nose tackle Warren Herring due to injury, which weakened the group up the middle.

Fournette and Magee would have had similar success carrying the football if given the same blocking. 

Below is a photo of Hilliard's 17-yard run on the first play of the drive after a Jalen Mills interception. Right guard Hoko Fanaika opened up a crater so big it could barely fit in the picture.

On his second run, a similar hole was created. Hilliard could have gained more yardage, and possibly scored, if tight end Dillon Gordon had made a simple block on the back side of the play. The senior was shoe-string tackled at the line of scrimmage yet still fell forward for eight yards.

The touchdown scamper to cap off the drive was the biggest hole I've ever seen opened by an LSU offensive line. All that was left for Hilliard to do is beat the safety to score a touchdown, which he did with relative ease. But that is expected when given that clean of a run in the open field. 

Hilliard was undoubtedly LSU's best back, but Fournette would have produced similar results. The New Orleans prodigy still has the highest ceiling of the backs on the Tigers roster. 

Miles is going to give his prized freshman plenty of touches against LSU's cupcake opponents to boost his confidence, beginning with Sam Houston State on Saturday. The Tigers will need him when Mississippi State comes to Baton Rouge in two weeks. 

Fournette will still be the guy for the Tigers. Just give him a little time.

Buga Nation wasn't built in a day.  

 

Stats, rankings and additional information provided by cfbstats.com and LSU Sports Information. Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow me on Twitter @CarterthePower 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Mark Blaudschun's Blitz: Notre Dame's Future May Leave Program Changed Forever

The picture appeared as if out of textbook describing Notre Dame football.   

An October weekend in South Bend. Warm sun. Cool breezes. The campus filled with people. Situated in the press box of Notre Dame Stadium, this reporter looked down to the quad area surrounding the stadium and noticed a gaggle of people creating a stir around the latest sports/cable, radio/television celebrity. They took pictures. They wanted autographs.

A few feet away was a couple, enjoying the day and talking. People passed by without stopping or looking. Joe Montana and his wife, Jennifer, went about their business quietly.

Times have indeed changed, but Notre Dame still wants to be...well, Notre Dame, with the Golden Dome, Touchdown Jesus and all of the mystique.

Can it be?

As the Fighting Irish prepare to bring a close to their series with Michigan this Saturday night, there is an underlying feeling of uneasiness about the way the Irish are doing their business of competing for the national championship these days that goes far beyond what coach Brian Kelly's team does on the field.

Notre Dame has always been different. The school wants to do the right thing. It also wants to tell you about it, often making it seem like other schools, dealing with similar problems, do not do it as well because they are not Notre Dame.

That's why the way they have dealt with issues on and off the field—incidents that have not cast a favorable light on the Golden Dome—have been puzzling in some instances.

In the past two years, the Notre Dame administration has had to deal with academic fraud issues, which last season cost them the services of starting quarterback Everett Golson and this season five football players.

Before that, it was the embarrassment of linebacker Manti Te'o's relationship with what turned into a fictitious girlfriend; an accusation of sexual assault made against a Notre Dame football player (an incident for which the county prosecutor did not file charges)  which ended with the suicide of the accuser, a St. Mary's College student; and a 2010 accident in which a student was killed after the tower from which he was filming practice collapsed during a storm that produced winds reportedly as strong as 51 mph.

This is not to suggest that Notre Dame was to blame in all or any of these incidents. Stuff happened, just like it has at other places around the country, such as Miami, USC, Alabama and North Carolina. Notre Dame wants to do the right thing, and indeed when something bad happens the people in charge will gather, make a pronouncement that they will deal with it, and sound as if they will do a better job of fixing it than anyone else because they are...well Notre Dame.

Such goings on...at South Bend?

By design or circumstance, Notre Dame has chosen to portray itself differently. It might happen at other places, but not at Notre Dame was the prevailing wisdom.

They were better than that.

Well, it did and it has and it will continue to happen.

But that hasn’t stopped Notre Dame from trying to make the world believe it was better.

Take, for example, the scene on campus in 1997 the weekend before the newly renovated and expanded Notre Dame Stadium was going to host its first game, against Georgia Tech. On the day before the game, a convoy of trucks arrived, each with a fully-grown tree ready to be transplanted outside of the newly expanded stadium. In a few hours, the area around the stadium was transformed from a stark, tree-less environment to an almost pastoral setting.

Or the conversation this reporter had sitting in former Irish coach Charlie Weis' office in the spring before his first season as the head coach. As a former ND student, Weis seemed to be the coaching equivalent of Rudy Ruettiger, who has taken on mythical proportions as a walk-on football player.

When the comparison to Rudy was made, Weis almost came out of his seat in anger, stating that he was a seasoned coach, nothing like Rudy, whom he felt was as much a media creation as anything.

Only a few months later, Weis, at the traditional pre-game pep rally before his coaching debut, could be found sitting and smiling next to Rudy himself, an honored guest and one of the featured speakers.

There is a sort of arrogance that comes across on many levels at Notre Dame in many areas. Of course, on the football field, that attitude has been tempered by the national-championship drought, which now dates back to 1988.

There seems to be a disconnect between what has always been the Notre Dame way of doing things and the reality of competing and succeeding at the level expected of Irish football, which remains the No. 1 school in college football history in terms of winning percentage.

That fact is still worth its numbers in ratings, as will be clear this weekend when Michigan visits South Bend.

Central casting couldn't have come up with a better set of storylines for NBC to kick off its 2014 coverage of Notre Dame football than a curtain call (for the foreseeable future) of the historic series with Michigan, the all-time leader in total victories: Prime-time television. Saturday night. Sellout crowd. Traditional rival. Touchdown Jesus and the Golden Dome.

But things aren't as they always were.

The 2014 college football season is already a week old and Notre Dame football hasn't been more than a quick sound bite or a video clip. Further, neither the Irish nor Michigan is regarded as a serious threat to make it into the playoffs. Even the hallowed turf at Notre Dame Stadium is changed, covered for the first time with artificial turf.

This is Notre Dame football?

Truth be told, it's not that big a deal anymore. Now the talk is about the SEC. Or the Pac-12. Or Michigan State and Wisconsin and Oklahoma and Texas and Florida State.

No. 16 Notre Dame vs. an unranked Michigan team is still a huge game. But it's different. Instead of being the leader of the pack, Notre Dame football is part of the pack.

Mediocrity has been more the norm than excellence in recent times. Two years ago, the Irish went 12-0 and played for the national title. A year later, they dropped back to 8-4 and gladly accepted a bid to play Rutgers in the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium. Once there was a time when an 8-4 Notre Dame team would refuse the invite to a second tier bowl. Once there was a time Notre Dame refused to play in any bowl game for 45 years because the administration felt the games required too much of a disruption in the academic schedule.

But the world of college football has caught up and bypassed the Irish in many instances.

For one, the exposure advantage Notre Dame seemingly created with having its own television network in NBC has dissipated with the spread of top-20 games throughout the cable and satellite landscape.

For another, the draw of playing for the Irish has lost much of its magnetism. At one time, if you were a blue-chip football player from a Catholic high school, Notre Dame was at the top of your list. Now, Notre Dame might not even be on the list. The academic restrictions are severe, and quite frankly, South Bend is not the hub of Party Central for college kids. There are more choices at equally attractive places, both academically and socially.

Look at the last three Rivals' recruiting rankings. In 2012, the Irish were ranked No. 20. In '13, they jumped to No. 3. In '14, they dropped back to No. 11.

In comparison, Alabama ranked No. 1 all three seasons and Ohio State was in the top three in all three seasons.

The issues don't end there.

Notre Dame, although still maintaining independent status in football, is committed to playing five games each season against teams from the ACC, which has embraced the Irish in many other sports, including basketball.

But it is a prime reason why Michigan is not on the schedule in future years. Kelly, who suggested a year ago—for a short time, before he recanted—that the Michigan rivalry wasn't all that big a deal, tried to spin the story toward the future in his weekly media press conference.

"I'm not going to go so far as to categorize not playing anyone anymore as a good idea," Kelly said. " I will say this: Given the complexities of our schedule, in not being able to play Michigan, it opens up many more exciting opportunities for us. The Texas opportunity, Georgia. We understand the great tradition and the rivalry of the Michigan game and if it could have worked out, it would have worked."

Indeed, this is new territory for Notre Dame.

The now-defunct BCS system detailed the school's unique financial and competitive arrangement in the system's bylaws. No other school received such preferred treatment.

The newly formed College Football Playoff selection committee has had three separate meetings and Notre Dame has yet to be discussed.

Kelly maintains that while school officials are dealing with the off-the-field issues, his job is to make good things happen on the football field, no matter what that field looks like.

"You want to be part of the national conversation," Kelly said before the season. "At Notre Dame, that's where we want to be. Now the structure is different. It's how do you get into the playoffs? That's the mark for us, to compete for a playoff position. [But] there are a lot more teams now, and we want to be one of those teams that are considered. There are only four of them. We have to get a serious shot at getting one of those four."

For all the adjusting, this has been a special week in South Bend, and if the Irish win it will seem like old times for a little while at least.

But this is a different era. The perception of Notre Dame is changing. The audience in the social media world is constantly changing. What happened as recently as two years ago is quickly forgotten.

There likely will be more highlight moments. The Irish might even make it to the Football Final Four. But a string of double-digit win seasons, national championships, a seat at the head of the table as the best of the best?

It's hard to see that scenario any time soon.

 

Beep, beep  

Here come the University of Texas-San Antonio Road Runners, who made Arizona earn every bit of its 26-23 victory in the Alamo Dome on Thursday night.

Coached by former Miami coach Larry Coker, who won a national championship at Miami in 2001, UTSA has been playing football since 2011 and is eligible to play in a bowl game as an FBS member for the first time this season.

UTSA surprised some by beating Houston in its opener last week. After falling behind 10-0 in the first few minutes against Arizona, UTSA played the Wildcats dead even the rest of the way. The Road Runners will face another tough test next week when they travel to Oklahoma State.

Following that matchup, don't count on UTSA losing many more games this season. Coker has a veteran, Texas-recruited—94 players on the roster are from Texas—lineup, which includes 19 senior starters.

 

The final countdown has begun

Officially, 128 FBS teams are eligible for college football's final four in January. We also know that is a false number. Realistically, it's the 65 teams from the Power Five conferences, and actually about half of that those are really in the mix.

One loss (unless you are a super elite team) means that you are pretty much done.

Right now, my final four would be: Florida State, Oregon, Georgia and Oklahoma.

Each week, we'll offer a strictly subjective count of the schools that likely have been eliminated from the playoff hunt.

Here's the list after Week 1:

1. UCF; 2. Virginia; 3. Navy; 4. Western Michigan; 5. Troy; 6. Ga. Southern; 7. UMass; 8. West Virginia; 9. Miami (Ohio); 10. Rice; 11. Florida Atlantic; 12. Arkansas; 13. Kent State; 14. Louisiana Tech; 15. FIU; 16. So. Miss.; 17. Fresno State; 18. New Mexico; 19. North Texas; 20. Wake Forest; 21. Boise State; 22. Tulane; 23. Washington State; 24. Vanderbilt; 25 UConn; 26. Bowling Green; 27. Colorado; 28. Houston; 29. UNLV; 30. Hawaii; 31. SMU; 32. Appalachian State; 33. Northwestern; 34. Utah State; 35. Miami (Fla.); 36. Iowa State; 37. UTSA

Total teams: 128

Eliminated this week: 37

Total eliminated: 37

Remaining: 91

 

You've got to be kidding

 

1. Baylor's new on-campus stadium, which opened on Sunday for the Bears' game against SMU, had a price tag of $266 million.

Renovations to Texas A&M's Kyle Field had a price tag of $450 million

Renovations to Oklahoma's Owen Field is said to be approximately $400 million

That's $1.1 billion for three stadium projects.

2. Florida Atlantic was pounded by Nebraska 55-7 last week but was paid $1 million for taking the beating in Lincoln. This week it will travel to Tuscaloosa to face Alabama—and be paid another $1 million. Once again, money trumps fair competition. Is it worth $2 million for the Owls to be used as tackling dummies for two weeks? To be embarrassed for two weeks? At the FCS and lower depths of the college football landscape, that is still a rhetorical question.

3. When Charlie Strong was hired as Texas' new football coach last winter, Red McCombs, one of UT's biggest boosters, publicly criticized the hire on a San Antonio radio station, calling it a "kick in the face" and saying Strong would make a great position coach or coordinator.

McCombs quickly apologized. In Texas' home opener last week against North Texas, McCombs served as the Longhorns' honorary captain. It just goes to show that even school as rich as Texas needs a booster with McCombs' deep pockets on its side, especially if times are tough, as Strong has suggested they might be for awhile.

4. North Dakota State, an FCS school, has beat an FBS opponent in each of the last five seasons, including last week's 34-14 win over Iowa State. The Bison are coming off a 15-0 season, have a 25-game winning streak and won the last three FCS national titles. If you were an FBS school, why would you schedule the Bison any more?

5. Florida coach Will Muschamp reinstated three players who had been suspended for the Gators' opener against Idaho—which lasted 10 seconds before the game was postponed because of weather. Wide receiver Demarcus Robinson and defensive linemen Jay-nard Bostwick and Darious Cummings have obviously learned their lesson and will be available for the Gators' game on Saturday against Eastern Michigan--weather permitting, of course.

 

Game of week

Michigan at Notre Dame—Remember when this was the game of the week? It's still on in prime time (7:30 p.m. ET Saturday night) because Notre Dame has NBC as its primary outlet. But Michigan is unranked, Notre Dame is ranked No. 16 in the AP poll and Irish coach Brian Kelly had the audacity to say that it wasn't a rivalry game last year, for a few hours at least.

Well, it still is and even though the rankings won't dramatically be affected by the outcome, the winner will inch closer to a seat at the adult table in the playoff discussion.

The pick: Notre Dame 28, Michigan 17

 

Quote of the week

Here's what former Baylor quarterback and Heisman winner Robert Griffin III said to a group of reporters before Baylor's 45-0 pounding of SMU in its opener at its new on campus stadium said.

"I feel like Baylor is the powerhouse in Texas now," said Griffin. "But I don't know if anyone wants to admit that. Baylor has owned Texas for awhile and is No. 10 in the nation and has a chance to compete for the national championship."

Think about that quote. Baylor? Not Texas, Not Texas A&M (although Aggie fans will debate that one). 

Baylor.

 

The road taken

Georgia Tech and Tulane will meet this week for the first time in 32 years. Both teams are founding members of the Southeastern Conference. Imagine the world today in college football for both schools if they had stuck with the SEC.

 

Mark Blaudschun covers college football as a national columnist for Bleacher Report. He has more than three decades of experience covering sports at a variety of newspapers in New Jersey, the Dallas Morning News and the Boston Globe. Follow him on Twitter @blauds.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Florida State Football: Mario Pender Delivers Results After Long Journey

Mario Pender's journey could have been sidetracked a few times. There was a season lost to injury and another to academics, and a shooting involving his half-brother and a Florida State teammate.

He could have quit the team or transferred. Pender could have left Tallahassee, Florida, in the rear-view mirror, never having played a down of college football.

Instead, his close bond to his teammates and conversations with coach Jimbo Fisher helped encourage him to stay.

So the journey continued. More than 30 months after arriving on campus, Pender was finally set to make his college debut on Saturday night when No. 1 FSU played Oklahoma State.

FSU running backs coach Jay Graham didn't have to look far on the sideline for Pender. That's because Pender had been on Graham's hip during the entire first quarter. Graham turned to Pender in the middle of the second quarter and said, "Get ready."

After two years of waiting, after missing 2012 with a sports hernia injury and 2013 because he was academically ineligible, Pender didn't need to wait any longer to hit the field for the first time in a college football game.

"Coach, I'm already ready," Pender told Graham.

Pender took his first college carry, started left, cut back to the right and then barreled forward into the end zone. The 11-yard touchdown put FSU up 17-0, and it was one of three carries for Pender, who ran for 31 yards in the Seminoles' 37-31 win.

"It's a blessing, you know? First game, first carry, first touchdown," Pender said. "I wish I can describe the feeling."

 

Long Journey

Pender's journey from 4-star prospect at Cape Coral (Florida) Island Coast to playing time at FSU has been circuitous. In running back parlance, he's spent years going east-west before finally going north-south.

He had 49 touchdowns in his final two years at Island Coast, enrolled early at FSU in January 2012 and appeared that he would make an impact quickly. 

However, the opposite turned out to be the case.

Pender suffered a sports hernia injury during preseason camp in 2012, forcing him to take a medical redshirt. He returned strong in the spring of 2013 but was declared academically ineligible before the 2013 season.

In December, Pender was involved in an off-field incident in which his half-brother, Tim Pruitt, was shot. According to the Palm Beach Post's Tom D'Angelo, offensive lineman Ira Denson stole Pender's debit card. Pender then stole Denson's shoes as collateral. When the two met up, an argument ensued.

Denson's friend, Tarron Addison, shot Pruitt.

Addison has been charged with attempted murder and is awaiting trial, according to Leon County court records. Denson was dismissed from the team by Fisher in March. Pender was not charged in the matter.

Pender is reluctant to talk about the incident but admitted to making poor decisions.

"I wouldn't say it was that tough but I felt like I wasn't doing what I was supposed to be doing," Pender said. "Now that I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing, just keep my faith in God and strive from there."

Pender is trying to make up for mistakes and lost time. He said he never thought about quitting or transferring and stated that his relationships with former FSU running backs Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr. as well as Fisher were reasons for him to improve in the classroom and as a person.

"He's actually been a big part of the reason I'm who I am today," Pender said of Fisher. "I never once thought about quitting or transferring."

 

Academic Warrior

One year after missing a season due to academics, Pender's grades are up dramatically. He was named an "academic warrior," a distinction given to an FSU student-athlete who has a grade-point average of 3.0 or higher.

"There's a lot more inside that guy than people ever give credit," Fisher said.

Pender has also adapted to fatherhood. In the first few days of August, Pender drove six hours from Tallahassee to Cape Coral to be at the hospital for the birth of his daughter. He returned to Tallahassee exhausted, not sleeping or eating before taking part in a grueling two-a-day practice in searing heat.

"Grinded through it," FSU running back Karlos Williams said. "I was there with him all the way through it. Me and Dalvin (Cook) looked at him like he was crazy."

 

Overcoming Obstacles

Pender's dedication and performance on the field have caught the attention of players and Fisher. After Pender's touchdown Saturday, he was swarmed by FSU's offensive linemen to celebrate the run.

"Seeing him get in the end zone was amazing for him and what he's been through," guard Tre Jackson said. "Knowing the obstacles that the guy has faced, just the mind set that he has and still there pushing and wanting to get better, it makes it that much better."

After two years of waiting, it was the first of what could be many carries.

Fisher loves a running-back-by-committee approach, and while Pender is the No. 2 back behind Williams, he has earned more opportunities.

"I was extremely pleased with the way Mario played," Fisher said. "The look in his eye on the sideline. You didn't see a guy who was in his first game. You saw a guy who was out there competing. Just very composed and poised. I am so proud of him. What he has overcome. What he has went through."

 

Bob Ferrante is the Florida State Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand. Stats are courtesy of FSU game notes and the Seminoles' 2014 media guide. All recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.

Follow Bob on Twitter.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Will Michigan State Control Marcus Mariota and Oregon's High-Powered Offense?

The Michigan State Spartans head to Eugene to take on the Oregon Ducks in one of the biggest matchups in Week 2.

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Adam Kramer and Michael Felder break down the hot topics heading into this battle.

Who do you think will win? Watch the video and let us know.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Pages