NCAA Football News

Can Michigan State Save Football in America's Heartland?

Not to pressure Michigan State, but Saturday's game at Oregon will define the Spartans' entire year. It will set the Big Ten on the course for its future, whether it's going to be taken seriously for years to come in this new world of college football—of conflicts of interest, billions of dollars and a season-ending playoff.

Not to pressure Michigan State, but this game will validate, or invalidate, a team, a conference, Midwest football in general and even—not to pressure—the way of life in the heartland, white picket fences and mom's apple pie.

As a Midwesterner, I might have gone a little overboard there.

But while the focus of this weekend is on whether the Pac-12 has surpassed the SEC as the nation's top conference (it has), the truth is, this game means more to the Big Ten. Best, second best—it doesn't matter when four teams are going to the College Football Playoff.

What matters is fourth best, fifth best. The bullies of the Power Five conferences have all but kicked out the little guys so they don't have to share the new TV money. But do the math: There are four spots in that playoff and five bullies. Not to mention, the SEC will be lobbying for two of the four golden tickets.

So at the end of the year, the playoff selection committee is going to have to kick out the weakest bully.

Not to pressure Michigan State, but at this point, that's the Big Ten. And this game is the league's best—maybe only—chance to change that.

"I'm comfortable. We're in a great conference," Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said on the Big Ten coaches' teleconference this week. "I'm sure there are people who want to say if we win, the Big Ten is strong and the Pac-12's weak or vice versa. But I don't really buy into that philosophy."

He doesn't have to.

It's about public perception and finding a reasonable excuse for the playoff selection committee to jettison someone. These are all new dynamics in college football, new politics that will come with the playoff. One current athletic director from each power conference—and none from the weaklings—is on the committee, making decisions that will affect the finances of the leagues.

Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, possibly the sharpest and shrewdest of the conference leaders, can already see what this game means. He told Sports Illustrated this week that Saturday's game could be "disproportionately important" for how people will view the Big Ten: "I don't downplay the game. It takes on an added dimension."

But what happened to the Big Ten, anyway? There is no one answer, of course. But a lot of the shift has to do with style. The Big Ten has traditionally been a smashmouth league, and tradition has left the conference a little slow to modernize. Maybe Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler just had too much success for too long, and everyone has followed. Fans like to see football played that way.

Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez was an offense guru at West Virginia, and he tried to bring that to Michigan, but fans never warmed up to him. Now, he's at Arizona, and he's a guru again. I asked him about that last year in his office, and he made a face and said in a mocking voice that he wasn't a "Michigan Man."

Now, Brady Hoke, a Michigan Man, is in place, and fans were thrilled to get him. Problem: It doesn't appear that he's the coach Rodriguez is.

Michigan is also in a statement game for the Big Ten this weekend, though to a lesser extent, against Notre Dame.

The truth is, so many traditional Midwest powerhouses—Michigan, Nebraska—have dropped at least a level. So Ohio State, which recruits heavily in the South with former Florida coach Urban Meyer, might be the only one still perennially near the top. Notre Dame is trying.

"Since I've come to Notre Dame, I don't know that our Midwestern roots have really shown themselves here," Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly told Bleacher Report. "Just in last year's class, I think we were 18 states. I think we signed 23 players. Their representation went from New Jersey to California to Texas. Certainly Florida and Texas, California are three big states for us."

None of those places is in the heartland.

"I think the demographics have shown a move to certain areas of the country now that are hotter recruiting," Kelly said. "The Carolinas are strong just because of the shift in demographics. Because of that, we're stronger in that area—Virginia, North Carolina on the East Coast."

If he went on much longer, he might have named every state outside the heartland. So much of the problem is that teams from the Rust Belt have been built on hardscrabble kids who came from blue collar families. And when the factories close or move, that cuts into these teams.

"I mean, just take a look at Pennsylvania, the great high school teams that used to be in that area," Kelly said. "Now, because of the steel town, the exodus of so many jobs in that area, that high school football is not what it once was. I think that's happened in a lot of these industrial cities throughout the Midwest as well."

Most people expect Oregon to speed right past Michigan State. But in the Rose Bowl last season, Michigan State outmuscled Stanford, which has outmuscled Oregon two years in a row. The Spartans, playing Midwest football, are actually just the kind of team that beats Oregon, with hard-hitting defenses that are fast and suffocate spread teams.

The prediction here is that Michigan State will win. Mom's apple pie depends on it.

Not to pressure Michigan State.

 

Greg Couch also writes for The New York Times. He was formerly a scribe for FoxSports.com and The Chicago Sun-Times.

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Virginia Tech vs Ohio State: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time and More

A week removed from a rocky start to the season, Urban Meyer's No. 8 Ohio State Buckeyes play host to a perennial defensive stalwart when they welcome Frank Beamer's Virginia Tech Hokies to Ohio Stadium Saturday night.

The Buckeyes, sans former Heisman hopeful Braxton Miller, have a lot of questions in need of answers sooner rather than later, so a nonconference encounter with a team on the rise comes at a bad time.

For the Hokies, a second-place finish in the ACC Coastal division last year can be improved upon via a major upset despite a wealth of new faces in critical places.

Below, let's take a look at the info to have down pat before the game gets underway.

 

When: Saturday, September 6, 8 p.m. ET

Where: Ohio Stadium, Columbus, Ohio

Television: ESPN

Live Stream: WatchESPN

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 47
  • Spread: Ohio State (-12)

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports via USA Today.

 

New Faces Under Center

With Miller out of the picture, the signal-caller tasked with getting the Buckeyes to the playoff is freshman J.T. Barrett, who did well enough against Navy in a 34-17 victory last week.

The problem is, "well enough" won't get the job done against a Beamer defense. That 12-of-15 mark for 226 yards and two touchdowns to one interception, as well as a team-high 50 yards rushing, looks good but figures to be dramatically reduced against the Hokies.

Luckily for the Buckeyes, the Hokies also have a new face under center this season in junior Michael Brewer. He misfired on just seven passes and threw for 251 yards and two touchdowns to one interception in his team's 34-9 win over William & Mary in which the Hokies outgained the opposition, 488-193.

Known for defense, the numbers may come as a surprise, but much of Brewer's efficiency has to do with the weapons around him. ESPN.com's KC Joyner explains this best (subscription required):

Virginia Tech isn't thought of as having a potentially dominant aerial attack, but the Hokies were one of only three ACC teams to have three wide receivers with at least 40 receptions last season (Clemson and Florida State being the others) and all three of those wideouts (Willie Byrn, Demitri Knowles and Joshua Stanford) returned this year.

Pass catching volume wasn't the only positive among this group. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Hokies' 2013 wide receiver corps ranked 29th nationally in yards per reception (14.4).

While the quarterbacks will get most of the spotlight come Saturday, the situation around Brewer actually speaks to the larger theme of the contest. There are other issues that may very well dictate the outcome of the game.

 

Potential Pitfalls Mire the Buckeyes

While the Hokies were a pleasant surprise to start the season—a clear indication that Beamer's run is far from over despite winning all of 15 games the past two seasons combined—Ohio State turned some heads with its struggles.

Simply put, more was expected of the Buckeyes, Miller or not.

The defense allowed Navy to roll for 390 yards, of which only 20 came through the air. Virginia Tech is no slouch, either, with Beamer—who personally oversees running backs—promoting the freshman duo of Shai McKenzie and Marshawn Williams after they combined for 147 yards and a score on 21 carries last week.

More concerning is the Buckeyes secondary and how it can counter the aforementioned trio of receivers, especially with Bradley Roby now in the NFL. Doran Grant has the look of a star, but safeties Tyvis Powell and Cam Burrows have little game experience.

Above all else, though, is the ragged state of the offensive line in front of Barrett. Meyer himself put this issue into perspective, as captured by Doug Lesmerises of Cleveland.com:

Concern number one is offensive line. We're facing (what) will be one of the top one or two defensive lines we'll face all year. Our offensive line did not play like an Ohio State offensive line. The second half we played pretty good. But pretty good is not what we expect. You play pretty good this week you won't win that game. So we have to get much better fast in the offensive line.

With losses to the NFL such as Jack Mewhort and Corey Linsley, it is no wonder the Buckeyes struggled in the trenches, even if the unit gets to regularly practice against one of the best defensive lines in the country.

"It's not just J.T. When we say expand the play book, it's for J.T. and it's for the offensive line," Meyer said, via ESPN.com. "Once those two groups come together, which I'm expecting that to happen rather quickly … well, it better or we won't win this (Virginia Tech) game."

The line better take a serious jump in a short amount of time if Barrett's second half from last week is to translate to Saturday. If it does not, Meyer's words might sound quite prophetic indeed.

 

Prediction

As much as Virginia Tech seems to have an advantage, especially with the Buckeyes' misstep a week ago, it is hard to go any other way with the game taking place in Columbus.

It helps that Beamer's regime has been gashed with a streak of horrific performances when it matters most, but more important is the fact Ohio State is simply a deeper, more talented team. Even if Barrett falters against a great line, he has backs such as Curtis Samuel and Ezekiel Elliott to fall back on—not to mention his legs when things break down in the pocket.

Now, the provided spread is a tad ridiculous. Virginia Tech can keep this a low-scoring affair, but the offense will struggle to find ways to produce points consistently. Regardless, the Buckeyes will pull away late.

 

Prediction: Buckeyes 23, Hokies 17

 

Statistics courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

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Michigan vs. Notre Dame: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time and More

Saturday, a fading rivalry between two legendary programs has one last gasp for the foreseeable future when the Michigan Wolverines make the trip to South Bend to take on No. 16 Notre Dame.

No future installments of the showdown that annually kicks off the serious portion of the season are on the schedule for future years, so fans might want to set anything and everything aside to catch this one.

As Sporting News' Bill Bender illustrates, recent history says the final clash will be a classic:

The game, however, continues to produce dramatic finishes to the present day. Since the programs resumed the rivalry on an almost-annual basis in 1978, the Wolverines have a 15-14-1 advantage. Four of the last five meetings have been decided by a TD or less, and close to 20 points per game were scored in the fourth quarter in those games.

Below, let's take a look at all of the game's pertinent info, factors to take into account beforehand and a prediction to boot.

 

When: September 6, 7:30 p.m. ET

Where: Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Indiana

Television: NBC

Live Stream: NBC Sports Live Extra

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 56
  • Spread: Notre Dame (-6)

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports via USA Today.

 

The End of a Series and What's at Stake

Last year, the Fighting Irish made the trip to Ann Arbor and left with bowed heads after a 41-30 loss. Coach Brian Kelly took a hit in more ways than one, as before the contest he had downplayed the credibility of the rivalry itself. 

He sure isn't making that mistake twice.

Kelly clearly doesn't care too much for the series, but he put it in a more kind manner this year when speaking to the press about the doors now open for his team with Michigan out of the way, as captured by Nick Baumgardner of MLive.com:

I'm not going to go so far as to categorize not playing anymore is a good idea, because that's going to come back to me. So I'm going to stay away from that. I will say this: Given the complexities of our schedule, in not being able to play Michigan, it opens up so many more exciting opportunities for us.

Those opportunities are a major reason Kelly's side simply cannot afford to lose at home Saturday. In fact, it would be easier to list off the unranked teams Notre Dame encounters the rest of the way.

The Fighting Irish, as the ranks stand currently, have dates with No. 13 Stanford, No. 21 North Carolina, No. 1 Florida State, No. 17 Arizona State, No. 25 Louisville and No. 14 USC on the schedule this year, making the path to the playoff seemingly impossible.

Of course, the game is important to Michigan as well, but the Wolverines appear to have an easier ride after Saturday's encounter.

 

The Quarterback Spotlight

Like many collegiate contests, this one will come down to who produces better under center.

On Michigan's side is Devin Gardner once again, who threw four touchdowns and led the Wolverines in rushing last season in that triumph against the Fighting Irish. Just last week, Gardner was back to that form in a 52-14 win over Appalachian State, throwing for 173 yards and three touchdowns.

Kelly himself admits that Gardner is a player who forces his staff's hand unlike most.

“I would think we would have a little bit more and a variety of schemes for Gardner because he can hurt you obviously running the football and throwing the football,” Kelly said, per Keith Arnold of NBCSports.com. “We’re going to have to have a comprehensive plan for him.”

It will not be as easy for Gardner to be the best signal-caller on the field this time around, though, especially now that Everett Golson is back under center for Notre Dame.

In Notre Dame's 48-17 rout of Rice last week, the senior threw for 295 yards and two scores while complementing that output with 41 yards on the ground and another three touchdowns. As ESPN's George Whitfield Jr. notes, not only has Golson taken a step up in a development sense, those around him have received an upgrade, too:

It all equates to a thrilling showdown between two of the collegiate landscape's more entertaining quarterbacks, and who knows? Maybe a marquee victory with some gaudy stats propels one of the two into the Heisman conversation.

 

Prediction

At first glance, there are issues that could doom either side.

Michigan has been miserable on the road under coach Brady Hoke, going 6-8 away from Michigan Stadium over the course of his tenure.

On the flip side, Kelly's defense looks to be without cornerback KeiVarae Russell, defensive end Ishaq Williams and linebacker Kendall Moore yet again, per the injury report.

That last bit, above all else, will decide the contest.

The Notre Dame defense was already a work in progress. Gardner is sure to get his one way or another, but it is wideout Devin Funchess (seven catches for 95 yards and three touchdowns last week) who will really break the Fighting Irish's back late in the contest.

In a battle between two of the winningest programs in NCAA history, one player can decide it all. Push comes to shove Saturday, that will be Funchess.

 

Prediction: Wolverines 35, Fighting Irish 28

 

Statistics courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Michigan State vs. Oregon: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time and More

One team will hit the fast lane to the inaugural College Football Playoff, but neither will emerge unscathed from Autzen Stadium Saturday when the No. 3 Oregon Ducks host the No. 7 Michigan State Spartans.

Oregon, the Pac-12 favorite and perennial offensive powerhouse, meets Michigan State, arguably the Big Ten favorite and perennial defensive powerhouse, in a bout that is not only one of the 2014 season's best, but a refreshing callback to when home-and-home arrangements were the norm, rather than the new trend that is neutral-field meetups.

The whole "something has to give" spiel does not do this one justice, either. ESPN Stats & Info offers a digestible way of pointing out that two more evenly matched programs are difficult to find:

Below, let's run through all the critical info surrounding the heavyweight bout before nailing down a prediction for one of the most unpredictable games in recent history.

 

When: Saturday, September 6, 6:30 p.m. ET

Where: Autzen Stadium, Eugene, Oregon

Television: Fox

Live Stream: Fox Sports Go

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 55.5
  • Spread: Oregon (-11)

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports via USA Today.

 

War of Contrasting Styles

Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi has done a splendid job since 2007, but even he has perhaps never been tasked with such a daunting feat—shutting down Oregon and its bevy of skill players, not to mention Heisman hopeful Marcus Mariota.

He knows it, too.

"They are a lot faster than we are, if you watch the tape," Narduzzi said, per Joe Rexrode of the Detroit Free Press. "We will have our hands full."

Indeed. In fact, Narduzzi's unit rarely has to deal with the type of attack the Ducks bring to the table. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Ducks have run the zone read on 44 percent of their rushing attempts since the beginning of last season—the Spartans have only faced that wrinkle 12 percent of the time in that same period.

The ground game is clearly how Oregon wants to primarily operate this season. In last week's 62-13 trouncing of South Dakota, four players rushed for 40 or more yards, and the team as a whole generated 7.7 yards per carry and four scores on the ground.

Heck, it was a running back—junior Byron Marshall—who led the team in receiving with eight grabs for 90 yards.

The sliver of hope for Michigan State is that, despite giving up 273 yards on the ground against Ohio State in the Big Ten title game last year to a similar attack, Stanford already wrote the blueprint on how to shut down the Ducks.

Last year, David Shaw's team pulled off the upset and held Oregon to 62 rushing yards and a 2.6 average. To pretend the Spartans cannot do the same is downright ignorant.

The numbers speak for themselves, but understand that Narduzzi's blitz-heavy, run-oriented attack will give Mariota some pause in the pocket. More importantly, that hidden yardage the Ducks are so accustomed to racking up—missed tackles, overpursuits and the like—won't be there Saturday against a disciplined unit, the same way it wasn't there against Stanford last season.

Oregon coach Mark Helfrich surely understands the task his explosive offense faces, and he has one player in mind to key on—end Shilique Calhoun, who racked up 7.5 sacks last year and has one already this season.

Something that won't get enough attention leading up to the contest is just how well the Spartans offense has progressed under the guidance of quarterback Connor Cook. In a 45-7 win over Jacksonville State last week, Cook misfired on just one attempt and went for 285 yards and three scores.

Cook and the offense now get to go against a sloppy Ducks defense that missed a wealth of tackles and allowed South Dakota to rack up 370 total yards, 172 of which came on the ground. Even worse, star corner Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is hobbled, as Andrew Greif of The Oregonian explains to Mike Griffith of MLive.com:

He's the All-American who is the glue of the secondary but he limped off after changing direction early in the second quarter Saturday evening. He did not return after getting the ankle re-taped, but said he tried to play before coaches told him he wasn't needed. He didn't seem in obvious pain afterward as he walked to the training room, but had a limp. Ekpre-Olomu at less than 100 percent is still better than most college corners, but it's a concern.

If Cook and star back Jeremy Langford (who also hobbled off the field a week ago) can produce against a defense that may not be operating at 100 percent this early in the season, the game may turn out much closer than most would have anticipated—just look at the odds.

 

Prediction

The reality is, Mariota is a Heisman favorite and future NFL draftee for good reason, and he returned to the collegiate landscape for contests such as this.

While the offense will surely have its hiccups against a physical defense, Mariota should help the Ducks to jump out to an early lead. Cook and the Michigan State offense are not a unit built to score in droves, let alone do so in a hurry, so expect the Ducks to force the Spartans out of their comfort zone quickly.

When these two meet in East Lansing in 2015, it may very well end up a different result. But this season, with Mariota under center in a venue the program has gone 92-17 at since 1997, the Ducks are the pick, albeit a close one.

 

Prediction: Ducks 27, Spartans 24

 

Statistics courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

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USC vs. Stanford: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time and More

One of the 2014 college football season's early surprises is the first Pac-12 showdown of the season, as well as the first conference game between top-15 teams, when the No. 13 Stanford Cardinal welcome the No. 14 USC Trojans to The Farm Saturday.

There, David Shaw's team will look to extract a semblance of revenge after a shocking upset at the hands of the erratic Trojans one season ago, while Steve Sarkisian will hope to continue the fruitful beginning of his era as the man in charge.

As seems to typically be the case between the two rivals, Saturday's affair will feature a war of contrasting styles and plenty of season-long implications.

Let's take a look at the most important details surrounding the game and come up with a prediction as to how things shake out.

 

When: Saturday, September 6, 3:30 p.m. ET

Where: Stanford Stadium, Stanford, California

Television: ABC

Live Stream: WatchESPN

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 55
  • Spread: Stanford (-4)

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports via USA Today.

 

Tea Leaves and Injuries

Given the fact both schools beat up on lesser programs in Week 1, it is hard to fathom just how much from those end results will translate to the field Saturday night and impact the game.

Shaw's team predictably ranks No. 5 in total defense already thanks to a 45-0 win over UC Davis out of the Big Sky Conference. Quarterback Kevin Hogan misfired on just four passes and threw for 204 yards and three scores, while his defense held the Aggies to a 1-of-13 mark on third downs.

USC was the opposite in a 52-13 win over Fresno State, racking up 701 total yards to rank No. 4 in the country in total offense. Freshman wideout JuJu Smith had himself a breakout game with four receptions for 123 yards, while Javorius Allen led the team in rushing with 133 yards and a score on 22 totes.

Normally, this sort of dynamic would inspire a "So what does all of this mean?" charade, but to be frank, it is entirely too early in the season to pull that card, especially when last season the two fought their battle much later in the season.

One thing we do know is that USC did not emerge unscathed. While quarterback Cody Kessler threw for 394 yards and four touchdowns, an injury casts a shadow over his potential production on the road against an elite defense.

Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times has the scoop from Sarkisian:

He had a deal with his toe that had been bothering him throughout the ballgame. We felt like we wanted to take care of it sooner rather than later.

This morning was the first chance we could to have a procedure done to get it, in our opinion, cleaned up.... It obviously didn't affect his play Saturday.

While the issue does not sound all that concerning as of now, it is certainly something to monitor Saturday night if the Trojans offensive line cannot keep Kessler's jersey clean.

After all, USC has very little in the way of options behind him on the depth chart.

 

Controversy Surrounds the Game's Deciding Factor

Not often do fans get such a two-for-one deal, so bask in this one.

Both Shaw and Sarkisian say there is no beef between them, but remember that the latter was the coach at Washington last season when Stanford emerged with a 31-28 victory, and after the game, the then-Huskies coach accused the Cardinal of faking injuries to slow down his no-huddle attack.

"It was over," Shaw said, via ESPN.com. "It was in the past. He and I sat together at lunch and breakfast a couple times and talked about a bunch of other things. Our wives are getting to become good friends; they know each other well so there's no animosity whatsoever."

Sarkisian also made it a point this week to downplay the issue:

I think, first of all, I have a great deal of respect for David as a coach and as a person. We had a disagreement in the heat of the moment and I think both of us have moved on. We've seen each other on different occasions since then. We were actually in Hawaii together at an event. We haven't spoken on it and I think our relationship is fine. We've moved on.

Regardless of whether or not fans want to buy the talk, the subject will be very much put to the test Saturday—that no-huddle is the key to the game for both sides.

Kessler's health will obviously decide whether the attack is potent. But for Stanford, those left behind after Shayne Skov and Trent Murphy, among others, moved on will decide if the unit can slow what has the look of a vicious, quick-twitch attack.

 

Prediction

For USC, a loss Saturday would be a crushing blow despite the underdog status, as Steve Mason of ESPNLA 710 illustrates:

Unfortunately for the new-look Trojans, this one has the look of a loss. While Shaw has lost a few critical starters, his systems have routinely had to duel high-profile attacks such as what Oregon brings to the table and have done so with efficiency—last year, his defense held the No. 2 Ducks to 20 points.

The timing of this matchup simply does not favor USC, especially with Kessler and star defensive end Leonard Williams not locks to be 100 percent. Don't forget a patch of off-field distractions, either.

Also remember that the Cardinal have won 17 in a row at home. Expect that number to climb to 18 after time expires Saturday.

 

Prediction: Cardinal 24, Trojans 23

 

Statistics courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Predicting Todd Gurley's Stats for Each Remaining Georgia Bulldogs Game

Everyone in the college football world knows how good Todd Gurley is. Last Saturday proved that Gurley can be even better, despite already being considered by many as the best running back in the country.

Walter Football and CBSSports.com currently list him as the No. 1 running back in their 2015 NFL draft rankings.

In the win against Clemson, Gurley rushed for 198 yards and three touchdowns on 15 carries, but he also returned a kickoff 100 yards for a score. His 293 all-purpose yards—he lost five yards on a reception—broke a single-game school record.

If he keeps this up, he will run away with the Heisman Trophy as well as the Doak Walker Award. However, the question is, will Gurley play at the same level all season long or will teams finally find a way to slow him down?

Here are projected stats for Gurley’s 11 remaining games of the season:

Odds Shark has the over/under for Gurley’s rushing yards set at 1,260.5. It also has his over/under for rushing touchdowns set at 13.5.

Based on what he did in the game against Clemson, he should have no issues getting more than 1,300 yards and 14 touchdowns. Gurley has scored three touchdowns in two other games in his career. He did it in 2012 against Tennessee and again in 2013 against Georgia Tech.

With that said, he has never started a season the way he did on Saturday, tying his personal best in touchdowns and setting it in rushing yards.

Gurley will have his best year to date because of the other three running backs on the roster.

Keith Marshall has the same explosion as Gurley, but he will be eased into action because he’s coming off ACL surgery. Meanwhile, true freshmen Sony Michel and Nick Chubb could be called "Gurshall Jr." because they are very similar.

Chubb runs tough between the tackles and Michel is good at running off the edge and using his speed to blow past defenders. Not only will opposing defenses have to account for Gurley, they will have to make sure they can slow down Marshall, Chubb and Michel, which will lead to more opportunities for Gurley to make explosive plays.

He is not going to have a game like he had against Clemson every time he steps on the field this year, but expect him to put up big numbers because there is not one team he will face this season that can stop him.

Florida and Vanderbilt are the two best rushing defensive teams the Bulldogs will face, but Gurley has rushed for over 100 yards the two times he has faced the Gators. When he played against the Commodores in 2012, he rushed for 130 yards and two touchdowns in a blowout win.

Based on what Gurley did against Clemson and what he’s done in the last two years, there is not a running back in the country like him.

If he’s able to stay healthy, there is no reason he won’t lead the SEC in rushing and end the 2014 season and as a finalist for a number of awards.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

LSU Football: Tigers Secondary Key to Run at SEC Title

The LSU secondary's filthy performance against Wisconsin was Patrick Peterson approved.

"It's 'DBU.' It's what we do," Peterson said.

Peterson, a former LSU cornerback, was was an All-American during his time in Baton Rouge and is now an All-Pro with the Arizona Cardinals. He was in attendance on Saturday and served as an honorary captain for The Tigers in 28-24 victory over the Badgers. 

LSU defensive back Jalen Mills said Peterson's presence provided extra motivation for the Tigers to perform at a high level, especially in the secondary. And the next wave of Tiger ball hawks did not disappoint. 

LSU's suffocation of the Badgers passing attack was astonishing. Quarterback Tanner McEvoy was 8-of-24 for 50 yards and two interceptions.

To put those numbers into perspective, the Tigers allowed at least 100 passing yards to every opponent they faced last year. The 33 percent completion percentage was the best since LSU's dismantling of Kentucky in 2011, where the Wildcats only completed 28 percent of their passes.

LSU's defense, as a whole, did not perform at a high level. Wisconsin had its way on the ground, rushing for 268 yards on 39 carries. The most LSU allowed in a game last year was 216.

 

The Comeback

The Badgers were in control of the football game in the third quarter with a 17-point lead. But when the Tigers cut the deficit to three, Wisconsin began throwing the football with more frequency. And that is where the game turned in LSU's favor.

Both of the Tigers' fourth-quarter interceptions came on consecutive drives, with the first resulting in the game-winning touchdown. 

Mills snatched the first with a mixture of athleticism and guile. McEvoy thought he had an open tight end running down the sideline, but Mills shrunk the gap and caught the ball at its highest point. The junior said after the game he "baited" McEvoy into the throw, which was also a regular move of Peterson's.

LSU's next interception stopped what started to be a promising drive for the Wisconsin.

After two first downs, the Badgers found themselves near midfield. Offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig decided to pass on first down.

Ludwig's call was not a bad one. He chose to attack Dwayne Thomas, who was playing a traditional cornerback role for the injured Jalen Collins. But Thomas out-muscled receiver Reggie Love to knock the football away. True freshman defensive tackle Davon Godchaux did a nice job using a "rip move" to create some pressure up the middle.

For the next two plays, things would only get worse for Wisconsin. 

The incomplete pass forced 2nd-and-10, which allowed defensive coordinator John Chavis to bring in his 3-2-6 "Mustang" package. The package includes six defensive backs on the field at once.

The biggest benefit of the Mustang package are the variations that can come from it. Chavis' creativity for the next two plays is defensive genius. 

 

Film Study

The Tigers crowd the line of scrimmage with seven players, which is what they normally do in this defense. Chavis loves to blitz at least the Nickel, which is Mills (JM), or the dime, which is true freshman Jamal Adams (JA).

Wisconsin understands it is unlikely all seven blitz, but protection calls must account for each of the players. Mills said after the game it is tough for offenses to call correct protections because they do not know which edge player is blitzing. This creates unblocked defensive backs attacking the quarterback at high speed. 

On this play, Mills looks locked in man coverage on the slot receiver. Because of that, McEvoy's personal protector, which in this case is Gordon, believes Adams is the likely blitzer.

Here is another look of the play pre-snap from behind the play. Notice Gordon eying down Adams, who looks as if he is going to come on a blitz. 

The key to blocking the Mustang is to have strong one-on-one blockers across the offensive line. The left tackle, center and right tackle's responsibility is to block the defensive lineman lined up in front of them. The guards must hold off blitzing backers if they choose to come. If not, they must help the others protect.

Adams, as expected, blitzes. He is stopped as Gordon does a superb job of crossing the face of McEvoy and making the tough block. But fortunately enough for the Tigers, linebacker Kwon Alexander blitzed as well and, despite being held, whipped the guard in front of him with his speed and power.

McEvoy, like he had done all night long, ran backwards and threw a prayer off his back leg. None of his receivers were open and the ball fell harmlessly out of bounds. 

Wisconsin made all the right decisions in protection on this play, but did not fully execute. Alexander blew by his one-on-one matchup against the right guard and created immense pressure. LSU's coverage was picturesque, which helped set up an ominous 3rd-and-10 for the Badgers. 

On the next play, Wisconsin predictably lines up in shotgun again and LSU in the Mustang. This time, though, Gordon is on the right of McEvoy instead of the left. Wisconsin knows the Tigers love blitzing either Adams or Mills, but not both, in this defense. Adams, again, is the more likely blitzer. 

But this time, Wisconsin is fooled by Mills. He is the blitzer and Adams sinks into coverage. 

Mills did a phenomenal job pre-snap disguising his blitz. He looked as if he would be locking up in man coverage like he did the play before. Because of it, the left tackle, nor Gordon, account for him.

But because Mills blitzed, somebody must cover Love, the slot receiver. Alexander, a linebacker who dominated a guard on a blitz the previous play, takes over Mills' responsibility. Notice all the ground he must make up to catch Love, who is running a corner route away from him.

Mills takes a precise, sharp angle towards the unblocked run towards McEvoy, who read the play correctly. He would expect a receiver against a linebacker on a corner route to be open. Instead, Alexander's sublime pass coverage skills swallows Love's route. 

Across the board, LSU is playing precise coverage. The smartest throw would have been to the underneath crossing patters, but that would have been well short of the first down if completed. Instead, he fires up a hopeful prayer to Love.

Mills hits McEvoy as he is releasing the football. The ball is floated up in the air for an easy interception for free safety Ronald Martin, who was shading over the top of Alexander in case he needed help defending Love. Even if the ball was thrown accurately, it still would have been a tough reception for Love after failing to create space from a linebacker. 

Wisconsin blocked the play admirably with the omission of Mills. Chavis' creativity forced a turnover that helped lead to victory. 

 

Causes of Concern

McEvoy and Wisconsin's receivers are below average, so it is important to not get carried away with LSU's dominance. The Tigers will run into some issues when facing the elite SEC receiving corps of the SEC West. 

LSU's pass rush form its defensive line could have been better. The Tigers had plenty of one-on-one opportunities, but rarely created havoc. There will be times LSU will need to get pressure with four traditional rushers. If that does not improve, the secondary could be exposed.  

LSU must do a better job of stopping the run. Gordon is just one of many future NFL running backs the Tigers will face this season. An effective running game usually opens up the pass, but that was not the case this time around. Next time, they may not be so lucky. 

Before the season began, the projected defensive backs in the Mustang package were White and Rashard Robinson as the traditional corners, Martin and Rickey Jefferson as the safeties, and Mills and Thomas as the nickel and dimebacks. 

Robinson did not make the flight, per The Advocate. His replacement, Jalen Collins, who split first team reps with Robinson this offseason, had suffered an injury previous to the illustrated plays above.  Even without those two key pieces, the LSU defense still dominated. 

Chavis has tough personnel decisions to make with the embarrassment of riches he possesses at defensive back.

Collins is healthy and will continue to start over Robinson according to James Moran of Tiger Rag. This also means Thomas will move back inside on the nickel and dime Mustang packages. But for that to happen, Chavis must bench Adams, whose presence on the field was noticeable. 

  

Conclusion

Allowing only 50 yards passing is an astonishing feat. That might not be matched again this season by the Tigers, if not ever. 

What Chavis can do schematically relies solely on the athletic ability of his players. If LSU's defenders can play man-to-man, bump-and-run coverage all season long, the Tigers will be tough to beat through the air.

Cornerback Tre'Davious White's performance was similar to that of Morris Claiborne, who was LSU's best cover corner on the famed 2011 SEC Championship team. White looks bound to be an All-SEC performer. 

Alexander also deserves credit for his versatility. Neither of the illustrated plays Alexander made above will show up on the stat sheet, but were of the highest difficulty. Outside of a few mental errors early, he led LSU in tackles and played special teams effectively. The junior emphasized after the game he is willing to play any role in order for the defense to succeed.  

The interchangeable parts in the secondary over the years are what has made LSU "Defensive Back University." Coaches across the country would do anything to have the Tigers backups. This is what makes Peterson being at the game somewhat ironic. 

Mills, who has played every position possible in the LSU secondary, said he looks up to Tyrann Mathieu and Ron Brooks. Mathieu and Brooks played the nickel and dime on the 2011 SEC Championship team, which featured the best LSU defensive backfield ever. That defense did not include Peterson, who left early for the NFL.

LSU's secondary might not have the potential this season of that 2011 group, which included two first-team All-Americans. But they can lead LSU to being the best defense in the country if the front seven improves during the season. 

Just ask Peterson. 

"I believe if the defense stops the run, they can be special," said Peterson. "As of right now, the passing defense looks pretty good. I know it's a long season, but if they go in there with a stout front, I believe they have a really good chance to winning it all." 

 

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

Pac-12 Football: Predictions for Every Week 2 Game

Week 2 of the 2014 college football season is devoid of a plentiful feast of exciting games, but the Pac-12 has two such contests that will serve as a main-course extravaganza to fans throughout the country.

Then there's the matter of upholding the conference's growing reputation in the other nine games, each of which you'd expect the Pac-12 school to emerge victorious from.

The action begins on Thursday and will conclude just as the sun begins to set over the Pacific Ocean Saturday evening. Here are predictions for every Week 2 matchup in the Pac-12.

Begin Slideshow

Kennedy Estelle and Desmond Harrison Reportedly Dismissed from Texas Longhorns

Add another pair to the ever-growing list of players Texas head coach Charlie Strong has dismissed from his roster. Offensive linemen Kennedy Estelle and Desmond Harrison were the latest given their walking papers, as reported first by Dustin McComas and Anwar Richardson of OrangeBloods.com:

Texas has not yet confirmed either dismissal, but Chuck Carlton of the Dallas Morning News confirms that the two have been suspended for this week's game against BYU:

Chip Brown of Hornsdigest.com added:

Estelle and Harrison were expected to be the Longhorns' starting tackles this season. Estelle was in the lineup during the team's 38-7 victory over North Texas on Saturday. There has been no indication of why either player was dismissed; Estelle played and seemed in fine form as Strong got his first win in Austin. 

ESPN's Max Olson notes how this impacts the offensive line:

Estelle, a junior, was suspended by previous head coach Mack Brown for violation of team policy before last year's Alamo Bowl loss. It was later reported he was ruled academically ineligible for the game. When Strong began to look into players who might not fit the image of his program, Estelle was one of the players who received attention before making the roster.

Harrison, a senior, was initially suspended alongside wide receiver Daje Johnson and safety Josh Turner during the summer. He sat out Saturday's win and was reinstated to the program on Monday only to be kicked off two days later. Harrison was expected to be the team's starting left tackle.

"We have core values within this program. We expect our players to abide by those values," Strong told reporters when initially suspending Harrison. "You take away something that's important to them— and football is really important to a lot of these players—and you make sure that with the games taken away from them, they understand how important it is to represent this great university not only on the field but off."

The dismissal of Estelle and Harrison comes as merely the latest in what's become a purge at Texas. Strong, who took over for Brown after an elongated coaching search, arrived claiming he would clean up the program on and off the field. 

He's definitely done the former, dismissing numerous players, dishing out a ton of suspensions and taking a surprisingly hard-line approach. Players are being kicked off an suspended to the point where it's a legitimate concern whether Strong will be able to field a competitive team.

Without Estelle and Harrison, Texas is dangerously thin and inexperienced across its offensive line. Marcus Hutchins, who started for Harrison against North Texas, will likely wind up the full-time left tackle. Strong will have his choice of players to line up on the right side, but it'll be interesting to see which direction he goes. Some of his prospective options already moved inside during camp under the assumption Estelle and Harrison would be on the outside. 

Texas will also be without senior center Dominic Espinosa, who suffered a broken ankle in Week 1 and will miss the remainder of the season, per Jeff Howe of 247Sports

With only a handful of days to prepare for BYU, Strong again has a bit of a mess on his hands. Texas can survive with a makeshift offensive line against the likes of North Texas, but BYU is no joke and the Longhorns are about 10 days away from a clash with No. 11 UCLA. 

Strong has said time and again that his most important goal is changing the culture. He's inarguably made massive headway in doing so. It'll just be interesting to see if he'll be able to mix a culture change with a solid win-loss record in 2014.

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

San Jose State Spartans vs. Auburn Tigers: Betting Odds, Analysis and Prediction

The San Jose State Spartans and the Auburn Tigers will both be looking to improve to 2-0 after each turned in similar dominant performances in their season openers.

The Spartans and the Tigers are riding impressive streaks against the spread (ATS) as well, with the former covering nine straight games on grass and the latter going 8-0 ATS in their past eight against teams with winning records.

 

Point spread: The Tigers opened as 29-point favorites; the total was 65 at Jordan-Hare Stadium, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark. (Line updates and matchup report)

 

Odds Shark computer prediction: 46.9-19.5 Auburn

 

Why the San Jose State Spartans can cover the spread

The Spartans are 4-0 ATS in their last four after allowing less than 20 points in their previous game, although it remains to be seen whether or not beating North Dakota 42-10 last week will give the defense any major confidence before going up against a very good Auburn offense.

San Jose State had given up 34 points or more in five of the team’s previous six games, so at least it’s a good place to start. The Spartans are 12-2 ATS in their last 14 road games and 17-8 ATS in their past 25 overall, which also bodes well heading into Jordan-Hare Stadium.

 

Why the Auburn Tigers can cover the spread

The Tigers have covered their last 12 games, including five in a row at home after crushing Arkansas 45-21 last week. Auburn did not need to see much of quarterback Nick Marshall against the Razorbacks either, as he threw for just 50 yards in relief of Jeremy Johnson after being benched for disciplinary reasons.

Running back Cameron Artis-Payne followed nicely in the footsteps of the departed Tre Mason with 177 rushing yards and one touchdown while Corey Grant also added 87 yards and a score on the ground.

If the Tigers can continue to get that kind of production from their offensive backfield, they will have no problem covering the spread.

 

Smart Pick

Auburn has not been favored by this many points since beating Western Carolina 62-3 in Week 7 last year to cover the 41.5-point spread. But the Tigers know what it takes to beat a big number like that and have not shown any signs of letting up, averaging nearly 45 points in their last 10 games.

The over has cashed in each of Auburn’s last five games, although San Jose State has seen the total stay below in its last two road games. The Spartans do not want this to be a high-scoring game since it will be difficult for them to keep up with the Tigers.

Either way, look for Auburn to take care of business at home and cover its 13th straight game.

 

Trends

  • San Jose State is 12-2 ATS in its last 14 games on the road.
  • Auburn has covered 12 straight games.

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Mississippi Rebels vs. Vanderbilt Commodores Betting Odds: Analysis, Prediction

The Ole Miss Rebels and the Vanderbilt Commodores could not have turned in more different performances in their season openers last week, likely making for a much bigger spread than most bettors expected for the first SEC game of the year for both teams.

The Commodores saw the biggest line move of the week go against them in a 37-7 home loss to Temple, while the Rebels blew out Boise State 35-13 in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic at the Georgia Dome.

 

Point spread: The Rebels opened as 14-point favorites, but they were laying 20 points by Wednesday; the total was 49.5 at LP Field, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark (line updates and matchup report). 

 

Odds Shark computer prediction: 41.6-14.0 Rebels

 

Why the Mississippi Rebels can cover the spread

Ole Miss is one of the sleepers in the SEC this season, and with good reason. With so many powerhouse teams in the conference, the Rebels tend to get overlooked, and the best way for them to serve notice is to simply go out and win football games.

They did just that in the rout of the Broncos last week. Quarterback Bo Wallace threw for 386 yards and four touchdowns, and the team’s defense stepped up with four interceptions. Ole Miss has covered the spread in six of nine now and has won six of eight straight up as well.

In last year’s 39-35 win over Vanderbilt, Wallace completed 31 of 47 passes for 283 yards and rushed for 48 yards on 18 carries with two TDs to snap a three-game losing streak in the series.

 

Why the Vanderbilt Commodores can cover the spread

There’s no doubt the Commodores played terribly against the Owls after seeing bettors back Temple all the way from the opening line of +16.5 down to the close of +8.5.

But that was just one game, and Vandy has enjoyed past success against the Rebels, winning five of the last seven meetings straight up and going 10-3 against the spread in the past 13 games between the teams.

The public has likely already forgotten that the Commodores ended last season riding a five-game winning streak with a 4-1 ATS mark during that stretch.

Neither team converted well on third down last week, with the Owls somehow managing to win easily despite going 2-for-17 (12 percent). Vanderbilt is still adjusting to new head coach Derek Mason, who was formerly Stanford’s defensive coordinator and thrived there limiting pass-happy QBs like Wallace.

 

Smart Pick

This week’s spread is a very typical overreaction number based mainly on what we saw last week. The Commodores lost some key playmakers from last season—most notably, wide receiver Jordan Matthews, who is now with the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles.

But they should not be home underdogs of so many points in this spot. Likewise, Ole Miss should not be this big of a road favorite. Sure, the Rebels blew out Boise as 9.5-point favorites a week ago, but they have not beaten Vandy by more than 16 points in any of the the past 10 meetings.

In fact, Ole Miss has not won two straight meetings in the series over that same period. The Commodores may be down this year under Mason, but they should be able to stay within the number here.

 

Trends

  • Mississippi is 2-5 SU in its last seven games when playing Vanderbilt.
  • Vanderbilt is 4-26 SU as a home underdog since 2004.

 

All point-spread and lines data courtesy of Odds Shark. All quotes gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted. Check out Twitter for injury updates and line-move updates, and get the free odds tracker app.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Colorado State Rams vs. Boise State Broncos Betting Odds: Analysis, Prediction

The Colorado State Rams are one of the hottest teams in the country and will try to avoid cooling off against the Boise State Broncos in one of the nation’s toughest places to play.

The Rams are coming off a 31-17 victory against rival Colorado last week in their season opener to win their fifth in six games both straight-up and against the spread.

But Boise State has caused them problems recently in winning the last three meetings over the past three years.

 

Point spread: Broncos opened as eight-point favorites, which had been bet up to -10.5; the total was 57.5 at Bronco Stadium, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark. (Line updates and matchup report)

 

Odds Shark computer prediction: 35.2-31.9 Rams

 

Why the Colorado State Rams can cover the spread

Despite losing three straight times to Boise, the Rams have at least narrowed the gap each of the last three years, falling by 50 points in 2011, 28 in 2012 and 12 last season. Two of those meetings came at home, but Colorado State has performed very well on the road, covering eight of their last nine in that situation.

The team’s most recent game away from home took place last week in Denver against the Buffaloes, and the Rams used a strong running game to prevail as senior Dee Hart and junior Treyous Jarrells combined for 260 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Another performance like that could keep Colorado State within single digits.

 

Why the Boise State Broncos can cover the spread

The “Smurf Turf” in Boise remains one of the top home-field advantages in the country, and you can bet the Broncos are excited to be back there playing in front of their fans after losing 35-13 to Ole Miss in Atlanta last week.

Boise did not even score a TD against the Rebels until there were less than five minutes remaining in the game, and the team should have a lot more confidence in a building where opponents have gone 4-21 straight-up in the last 25 games there.

 

Smart Pick

Did the mystique of Boise State leave with former head coach Chris Petersen, who is now in Washington? That question will continue to be answered throughout the season, and the Rams may very well be the next team to upset the Broncos there—or at least give them a scare.

Colorado State is 8-1 ATS in its last nine road games while Boise is just 1-4 versus the line in its past five at home. Keep in mind, the Rams just need to stay within a couple of scores to give their backers a chance to cash on them. And they have also won five of their last six on the road.

 

Trends:

  • Colorado State is 7-18 SU in its last 25 games on the road
  • Boise State is 18-7 SU in its last 25 games
  • Colorado State is 8-1 ATS in its last nine road games

 

Note: All point spread and lines data courtesy of Odds Shark. All quotes gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted. Check out Twitter for injury updates and line move updates and get the free odds tracker app.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Creating the Ultimate College Football Fantasy Team for Week 2

The first week of the 2014-15 college football season featured its fair share of outstanding individual performances, great kicking efforts and dominant defensive accomplishments. Most were by the usual suspects, but plenty of surprises were out there as well.

Here's the thing, though: One week doesn't make a trend. Just because someone had a good first game doesn't mean they're in line for a big year, and vice versa for expected stars who struggled in the opener. Using fantasy stats from the first week to dictate who to play in Week 2, while seemingly a good approach, doesn't ensure success.

That means picking the ultimate college football fantasy team for this weekend is as much of a crapshoot as it was for the opening set of games. It's a guessing game for at least a few more weeks, until patterns emerge.

But that won't stop us from trying to put together the best lineup, taking into account how players and teams performed last week but also considering the circumstances of those first games as well as the opponent and venue for this weekend. Take a look at our choices, then give us your feedback in the comments section.

Begin Slideshow

Stanford Football: A Timeline of a Football Powerhouse

The final dark days of Stanford football began and ended with former coach Walt Harris. 

In his first home game with the Cardinal in 2005, Harris allowed his team to blow a 17-point lead to UC Davis and give up a go-ahead score with eight seconds left. Stanford lost 20-17, and the Aggies became the first non-Division I Football Bowl Subdivision team ever to beat Stanford. The Cardinal would win just five more games with Harris in control before he was subsequently, and rightfully, fired in December of 2006. 

Fast forward eight years, and it's a completely different story. Stanford opened its home schedule with UC Davis but handled the game with absolute ease, winning 45-0. The fact that there was no news was good news. That's what one should expect from a program that has won back-to-back Pac-12 championships. 

The quest for a third straight conference title is approaching in earnest. A Saturday game against No. 14 USC in Los Angeles has early season playoff implications...as does an October road trip to Notre Dame...and an Oct. 18 visit to Arizona State...and a Nov. 1 road game at Oregon...and a season-ending game at UCLA.

This is what Stanford is now: a program whose weekly goal is to win in order to satisfy a realistic goal to be one of the four teams playing for a national championship. 

Here's how it happened.

 

Jim Harbaugh

A bad hire can set a program back just as much as a good hire can launch it forward. Stanford made a bad hire with Harris, who went 6-17 in two years. 

Then Jim Harbaugh happened, and he put Stanford on the national map because he of it.

Harbaugh came to Stanford from the University of San Diego two weeks after Harris was let go. The hire was applauded, with Michelle Smith of the San Francisco Chronicle writing that Harbaugh was "young, energetic and charismatic. He has impressive college and NFL resumes as a player, name recognition and success at running a college football program."

It wasn't just lip service, either. It took just five games before Harbaugh recorded his first signature win: a 24-23 stunner over No. 2 USC, to which Stanford was a 41-point underdog, in the Coliseum. 

2007 was a year unlike any other in recent college football history. It was a time when the sport apparently turned 21 in human years and partied too hard. While nothing may top Appalachian State-Michigan on the surreal upset meter, Stanford-USC was up there among the wildest endings that season. 

If nothing else, it brought about the end of a 35-game home win streak while simultaneously ushering in a new era at Stanford. As it turned out, beating USC by one point was only the beginning. Stanford toppled the Trojans again in 2009, 55-21, one week after beating Oregon, 51-42, for the first time since 2001. 

For those keeping track, that means Harbaugh recorded wins over Pete Carroll, who is coming off a Super Bowl win with the Seattle Seahawks, and Chip Kelly, an innovator in every aspect of the game. By the time Harbaugh left for the San Francisco 49ers in 2011, the Cardinal had won the Orange Bowl with a 12-1 record.

 

Recruiting

Harbaugh took a program that hadn't had a winning season since 2001 and started beating the nonsense out of opponents. That requires a massive attitude adjustment, but just as importantly, a recruiting boost. In a time when offenses want to spread the field, Stanford opted to run over defenses. 

Defensively, the Cardinal built itself to handle spread offenses like Oregon's. 

Tight end Coby Fleener, wide receiver Doug Baldwin and fullback/linebacker Owen Marecic, all of whom are playing, or have played, in the NFL, were the highlights of Stanford's 2007 class

The 2008 class is the group that really got things rolling. Quarterback Andrew Luck was the prize recruit, but offensive linemen David DeCastro and Jonathan Martin were part of that class, as was receiver Chris Owusu. 2009 brought in linebacker Shayne Skov and defensive ends Trent Murphy and Ben Gardner. 

Stanford recruited players who wanted to fight in a phone booth. 

It began up front. Stanford has had four offensive linemen and three defensive linemen drafted since Harbaugh took over the program, according to NFL.com. Tackle Andrus Peat could be one of the first offensive linemen taken in next year's draft if he declared early. 

According to head coach David Ashaw, Peat is a a rare talent, via Bryan Fischer of NFL.com

I don't know if there's been anybody else in our conference, in the last eight years, that is as good as Andrus Peat has been and can be. In my entire career, nine years in the NFL, the only offensive lineman that was a step above of where Andrus can be is Jonathan Ogden -- one of the best tackles to ever play. 

Everything the Cardinal have wanted to do offensively and defensively, including leading the Pac-12 in points allowed in 2013, has started up front. 

 

David Shaw

All the toughness that Harbaugh embodied at Stanford has been kept alive by David Shaw, who has a 35-7 record as the current head coach. According to the Wall Street Journal, Shaw has a 14-4 record against Top 25 teams in his three years at Stanford. 

As Ted Miller of ESPN.com tweets, it's not just that Shaw has a 14-4 record—it's that he's won 14 games against top-25 teams in a short amount of time. 

Shaw's biggest win to date easily came on a cold November night in 2012 when Stanford upended Oregon 17-14 in overtime. The Ducks averaged nearly 50 points per game that season, but they could barely get in the end zone against Shaw's defense. 

At the very least, it marked a changing of the guard in the Pac-12 North. 

While other Pac-12 programs were trying to find an answer to Oregon's uptempo spread offense, Stanford already had it figured out. With the best defensive front seven in recent memory, the Cardinal were able to disrupt Oregon's offense up front while providing the speed on the back end that they needed. 

Stanford had Oregon's number again in 2013 with a 26-20 win, cementing itself as the class of the Pac-12. But with the departures of Skov, Murphy and Gardner, not to mention defensive coordinator Derek Mason, the longevity of Stanford's defensive prowess remains to be seen. 

 

Built For The Future

Think that Stanford is on the decline? Don't be so sure. 

The Cardinal pulled in the No. 13 recruiting class nationally in February, according to 247Sports.com, highlighted by 5-star defensive end Solomon Thomas and 4-star quarterback Keller Chryst. 

As Thomas showed in his live commitment on signing day on ESPN, there's a certain "cool" factor in committing to Stanford. What started as an impressive turnaround has morphed into a program with staying power. No matter the result between Stanford and USC on Saturday, the Cardinal have a national brand that appeals to elite high school prospects. 

It's a far different program than the one that lost to UC Davis. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Connor Cook vs. Oregon: MSU'S Passing Attack Will Be Able to Keep Up with Ducks

After a 45-7 victory over Jacksonville State this past weekend, Michigan State and quarterback Connor Cook are ready to build off their strong showing and prove their passing attack can keep up with Oregon's high-powered offense this Saturday when the two square off in Eugene, Oregon.

Despite taking a low hit on his left knee early in the first quarter, Cook finished last week's game going 12-of-13 through the air for 285 yards and three touchdowns.

He did not miss any significant time because of the hit but did tell Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports he thought it was a cheap shot:

With the Jacksonville State game in the rear-view mirror, Cook and the Michigan State offense now have their sights set on keeping pace with Oregon.

While much of the focus will be placed on whether or not the Michigan State defense can slow down Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota and an offense that averaged nearly 46 points per game last season, Cook and the Michigan State offense showed in the opener that they have the ability to put points on the board.

Despite attempting fewer than 15 passes against Jacksonville State, Cook finished the game with the highest QBR in the past 10 seasons:

Cook had some early struggles last season before finishing the final seven games—including the team's Rose Bowl victory over Stanford—with 13 touchdowns and just four interceptions.

He appears to be more comfortable in the offense, and his defense knows how important the high-powered offense is to the team's success.

"When you have an explosive offense like that clicking, it's dangerous for any team to be playing against," Michigan State safety Kurtis Drummond told The Associated Press. "Seeing them come out there clicking early like that is getting us more confidence and allowing us to play more at ease."

While Jacksonville State has nowhere near the same talent level as Oregon, Cook showed great awareness, accuracy and decision-making on the field last Saturday.

Michigan State scored on five of its first six drives against Jacksonville State, with the majority of them going for more than 50 yards.

With a dependable target like wide receiver Tony Lippett and an emerging deep threat in junior AJ Troup, Cook has all of the tools in place to keep up with Oregon's high-powered offense.

Oregon’s offense is known for its uptempo style and ability to put points on the board quickly. In its opener against South Dakota last Saturday, the offense scored 62 points. However, after averaging 55.6 points per game in their first eight games last season, the Ducks averaged just 29.2 in their final five contests when matched up against tougher competition.

Cook and Michigan State proved against Jacksonville State last Saturday just how efficient they can be on offense, but they will likely need to score at least 40 points to beat Oregon on Saturday night.

As long as Cook's knee injury from last week does not resurface, do not dismiss the Spartans' chances of keeping with Mariota and the Oregon offense.

 

All stats courtesy of Sports-Reference.com.

Follow @MattEurich 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Is Sophomore QB Tyrone Swoopes Ready to Lead the Texas Longhorns?

Tyrone Swoopes will get the start for the Texas Longhorns in Week 2 vs. BYU. Bleacher Report's College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Barrett Sallee break down how he will do in his first start of his collegiate career. How well do you think Swoopes will do?

Watch the video and let us know.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Clemson Football: Report Card Grades for Every New Starter

The Clemson Tigers weren’t able to come away victorious against the Georgia Bulldogs last Saturday, but how did the new starters perform in that contest? For a team that had question marks going into the season, the contributions of these new starters are very important.

*Tavaris Barnes and Reid Webster, who started for suspended players Corey Crawford and David Beasley, weren't included because those two guys should claim their starting roles again moving forward.

Begin Slideshow

Inside Evander Holyfield's Son's Monster 7-TD Game

Elijah Holyfield is a four star running back in the 2016 class, according to 247Sports Composite. Holyfield is also the son of former heavyweight world champion Evander Holyfield. Elijah took time to talk with Bleacher Report about his stellar performance in the first game of his junior season at Woodward Academy in College Park, GA.

How well do you think he can do at the next level?

Watch the video and let us know.

 

Rankings courtesy of 247Sports Composite

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Marcus Mariota vs. Michigan State: Why Balanced Attack Is Key for Oregon Victory

The Oregon Ducks have one of the most prolific offenses in college football. This week against Michigan State, it will need to be firing on all cylinders in order for the team to come out victorious.

The key for Oregon’s offense and Heisman-hopeful quarterback Marcus Mariota is balance.

Mariota’s Ducks finished second in the nation in yards last season behind only the Baylor Bears. The biggest reason they were so successful and consistent was the balance they showed on the offensive side of the ball.

Unlike some schools that strictly rely on the passing game, the Ducks and head coach Mark Helfrich like to attack in a variety of ways. In 2013, the team averaged 565 yards per game, with 291.5 coming through the air and 273.5 on the ground.

By moving the ball on teams through both the pass and run, defenses have a very difficult time stopping the Ducks. There isn’t one facet teams can focus on to shut down because almost everything Oregon does offensively works.

They also often run an uptempo offense to take defenses out of their comfort zone.

A balanced offense would be huge for Oregon against Michigan State because the Spartans are typically very hard to move the ball against.

They love to crowd the line of scrimmage and blitz players throughout the game. If Oregon becomes too one-dimensional, the Spartans and coach Mark Dantonio will try to capitalize by bringing even more pressure.

Even though many teams try to emulate what the Ducks offense can do, they simply can’t because they don’t have a superstar like Mariota.

In order to beat the stingy Michigan State defense, Mariota will have to play one his better all-around games.

Last season, the Ducks quarterback ranked second in the nation in adjusted QBR with a score of 88.0. The only player to do better was Heisman winner Jameis Winston.

Mariota is almost impossible to scheme for defensively because he’s so talented in different ways. We all know he can beat people with his legs, but he’s surprisingly accurate with his arm as well. He threw for more than 3,600 yards in 2013 with a completion percentage of 63.5. He also added 31 touchdowns and just four interceptions.

In the season opener against South Dakota, Mariota recorded 267 yards and three touchdowns on 14-of-20 passing. He also rushed six times for an additional 43 yards and another score.

These statistics would be impressive for any quarterback in a game. Mariota accomplished this in just the first half.

Now don’t get me wrong, Michigan State’s defense will pose much more of a threat to Oregon than South Dakota's unit. However, Mariota is a special player who will surely look to duplicate his performance.

A major factor in the game will be Mariota’s ability to make good decisions and throw the ball consistently.

Michigan State likes to press its cornerbacks right in the faces of receivers to disrupt timing. If he can beat the corners over the top on a few occasions, the secondary will be forced to back up and respect his arm. This will open up the running lanes.

According to Mike Griffith of MLive.com, ESPN’s Rece Davis recently had a fair deal of praise for Mariota. “He's got blinding speed, we've seen that, but I think he has a really smooth, nice delivery, and the demeanor he has is that he can pull Oregon along with him,” he said.

When Mariota is playing well, I don’t think there’s a defense in the country that can slow him down.

The main reason things went south for the Ducks last season was because their leader wasn’t healthy. If he can play every game at full strength, Oregon shouldn’t have any problems scoring points.

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Utah Kicker Comes Up with Perfect Way to Introduce the World to Newborn Son

Like father, like son.

Maximus Phillips is only a day old but is already looking like he will be a Utah Ute some day. Utes sophomore kicker Andy Phillips introduced the world to his newborn son on Wednesday in a very appropriate way.

Even Utah welcomed the newborn to the family.

The kicker started his season by making all eight of his extra-point attempts in a win over Idaho State last week, but that strong opener takes a back seat to the birth of his son.

[Andy Phillips, h/t ESPN]

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