NCAA Football News

Ohio State Football: 5 Ways the Buckeyes Must Improve in 2015

Ohio State is unbeaten and currently stands atop the national rankings, but its title defense hasn't started as seamlessly as most envisioned before the season kicked off.

After kicking off the 2015 campaign with an impressive 42-24 victory on the road against Virginia Tech, the Buckeyes have looked sluggish and sloppy in four consecutive victories over highly outmatched foes. And because of that, their once-firm grasp on the country's No. 1 ranking is starting to loosen as teams such as Baylor, TCU and Utah surge. 

If Urban Meyer expects his team to win the Big Ten and make another run at the College Football Playoff, he'll need to see marked improvement in these areas. 


Improve the Passing Attack 

The biggest storyline of the offseason surrounded Ohio State's intriguing quarterback quandary between Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett, the two talented signal-callers who fueled the Buckeyes' run to (and through) the first College Football Playoff. Both bring a championship pedigree to the position and are so talented that it didn't feel it was possible to go wrong either way. 

But through five games, neither Jones nor Barrett looks like the quarterback we saw in 2014. Jones, who's getting the nod to start, is struggling with his accuracy and progressions. Barrett looks like a shell of the player who set the Big Ten record for total touchdowns in a season last year, completing just 55.3 percent of his passes for 193 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.

The receiving corps, which has lost two players in Noah Brown and Corey Brown to season-ending injuries, is struggling to replace deep threat Devin Smith and perimeter-blocker Evan Spencer.

"Timing and execution of the quarterback, wideouts, that hasn’t been our strength," Meyer said, according to Tim Shoemaker of Eleven Warriors. "Last year one of the top teams in the country with it."

With elite defenses such as Penn State, Michigan State and Michigan looming, the Buckeyes have to find a rhythm in their passing attack.  


Limit the Turnovers

Committing too many careless turnovers is the easiest way to keep an overmatched opponent in the game, and that is something Ohio State has done with regularity this season.

The Buckeyes have only won the turnover battle once this season—when they turned Hawaii over four times in a 38-0 win. In the last three games against Northern Illinois, Western Michigan and Indiana, the Buckeyes have turned the ball over 10 times while only generating three takeaways defensively. 

“The turnovers have to change right now,” Meyer said, according to Patrick Murphy of the Ozone. “I mean right now.”

Against better teams, that ratio will put a strike in the loss column for the Buckeyes.

Jones seems to be trending in the right direction, throwing two interceptions in his last 60 pass attempts after throwing three in his first 46 to open the season. But the Ohio State ball-carriers need to tighten things up—namely Jalin Marshall, who fumbled twice last Saturday against Indiana. 


Improve in the Red Zone

The Buckeyes have struggled mightily in the red zone, scoring touchdowns on just six of their 16 trips inside the opponent's 20-yard line, which ranks 121st in the country. That inefficiency has turned an offense that's racking up yards into one that isn't converting that production into points on the scoreboard. 

Ohio State has been so bad that Meyer has considered using Barrett as a situational red-zone quarterback, according to Bill Landis of the Northeast Ohio Media Group.

"We've thought about it," Meyer admitted, via Landis. "We've had that conversation. At this time we haven't made any decisions on that right now."

Barrett's mobility and decision-making in the run-option game could lead to a higher conversion rate in the red zone, but it's unclear how that decision would disrupt the flow of the offense and, more importantly, affect Jones' confidence. 

Whether the Buckeyes choose to insert Barrett into the game in scoring situations or alter the play-calling, something needs to change, because the current inefficiency will cost them dearly at some point in the season. 


Improve on 3rd Down

Down the stretch of its championship run in 2014, Ohio State was winning on third down at an incredible rate. 

In the playoff against Alabama and Oregon, the defense was nearly flawless, coming up with stops on 21 of 25 third-down situations. The offense was superb as well, converting on 54.5 of its third downs.

But the Buckeyes haven't been as good on the money down this year. Defensively, they're getting off the field on 33.3 percent of their third downs, which is tied for 46th nationally. But it's the offense that's really bogged down, converting on just 34.8 percent of them, which ranks 103rd. 

The offense was particularly bad against the Hoosiers, who got the Buckeyes off the field on 12 of 14 third downs last Saturday. 

"Not taking anything away from their defense, because they did play really well, but penalties, missed communications, missed blocks, things like that," offensive tackle Taylor Decker said when diagnosing what went wrong against Indiana, according to Ralph Russo of the Associated Press. "It's killing us." 


Feed Zeke 

Ezekiel Elliott is one of the most lethal running backs in college football. That notion was reinforced on his first carry of the season when he took a handoff, broke a tackle and raced 80 yards for a touchdown against Virginia Tech.

After getting just 11 carries against the Hokies, the coaching staff made a concerted effort to feature Elliott, and he averaged 22 carries against Hawaii, Northern Illinois and Western Michigan. But the offensive line and second-level blocking were subpar in those games, and although he averaged a hair over five yards per carry, he only had one rush that went for more than 20 yards.

The coaching staff continued to get him the ball, though, and that paid off in a big way against Indiana. After a relatively quiet first half when he rushed for 31 yards on 10 carries, Elliott ran wild against the Hoosiers, ripping off touchdown runs of 55, 65 and 75 yards on his way to a career-high 274 rushing yards. 

Despite the struggles at the quarterback position, the Buckeyes know what they have in Elliott, and they need to consistently get him the ball even when the running game isn't producing. Because as he showed against Indiana, he's only one broken tackle away from breaking a close game wide open. 


David Regimbal is the Ohio State football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.

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College Football Week 6 Predictions: Picking Top 25 Games Against the Spread

Another tough week has dropped my against-the-spread record below 50 percent, but I return for Week 6 undeterred.

This is only slightly here and there, but with handicapping experts such as Todd Fuhrman sitting at 6-14 in the Las Vegas Hilton NFL SuperContest, I feel much better about my own struggles in the college game.

This happens to the best of us (and also, apparently, to me).

As always, feel free to chime in below with your opinions or questions about the picks. I'll explain my rationale beneath each game, but we can always dive deeper. Just remember to keep it civil and that no one here hates your team.

The line is our only enemy.

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Would Upset Win over Florida State Save Miami's Al Golden from Hot Seat?

Say this for embattled Miami head coach Al Golden: He's fully aware how important the next game is. It's Florida State week, and Golden's never defeated the Seminoles. He'll likely have to break that streak this year to save his job.

"It's a big game, right?" Can't act like it's not," Golden said about playing Florida State, per Matt Porter of the Palm Beach Post.

Of course, Golden's to the point where one game can define his future. One month into his fifth season with the Hurricanes, Golden is 31-23. For reference, Golden's predecessor, Randy Shannon, went 28-22 before being let go.

Golden's last two games haven't exactly helped the hot-seat chatter, either. The Hurricanes blew a 23-point lead against Nebraska in Week 3, needing overtime to survive with a 36-33 win. Last Thursday, Miami lost 34-23 on the road to Cincinnati.

And as NBC Cincinnati's Matt Edwards and Fox 19's Jeremy Rauch noted, the "Fire Al Golden" banners were out in full force, too:

Despite Miami being 3-1, Golden's margin for error is undeniably thin. There have been more wins than losses, yes, but few of any real substance, as Linda Robertson of the Miami Herald opined last month:

Golden has yet to illuminate his tenure with a spotlight win. There have been victories over Ohio State, Florida, Georgia Tech and Duke, but all those teams finished with unimpressive records. None of the ranked teams he’s beaten finished ranked. He’s 30-22 overall, 18-20 against FBS Power 5 conference teams and 0-12 against teams that finished ranked in the AP poll. He’s 0-4 against Florida State (but don’t forget that Butch Davis was 1-5 vs. FSU). UM has never won the ACC crown.

The chance for a quality win starts with Florida State. It might not completely save Golden from the hot-seat talk, but it would cool it immensely.

For that matter, it doesn't end there. Miami gets Clemson at home later in the month of October. Going 2-0 against the ACC's top two teams? That'd definitely take Golden's hot-seat chatter from hot to practically nonexistent.

However, a bad loss to the Seminoles this weekend could mean Golden's job next week. Right now, Golden's living week-to-week.

What continues to ail Miami is finishing—or the inability to finish. Among the primary problems is the offense's inability to sustain drives. The Canes rank 127th—out of 128 Football Bowl Subdivision teams—in third-down conversion percentage (24.53). That has to improve in what could very well be a defensive struggle against Florida State on Saturday.

Last year against Florida State, Miami jumped out to a 23-7 lead before being outscored 23-3 in the final two-and-a-half quarters, losing 30-26.

That would be the first of four straight losses, including the Independence Bowl to South Carolina, to end the 2014 season. Before playing FSU, Miami was 6-3 and in the running for the Coastal Division title.

Finishing. It's what Golden knows his team has to do in Week 6 and beyond:

What does finishing mean for Golden in 2015? A Coastal Division Championship? At least. An ACC Championship? Perhaps. Otherwise, it might be Golden who's finished, a win over Florida State be damned.


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

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Bowl Projections 2015: Predictions, Updated College Football Playoff Outlook

The second edition of the College Football Playoff is well down the road, as the first such rankings for the postseason picture won't be released until November 3.

It's still, nevertheless, far enough into the season to gauge which programs have a chance to participate in the marquee bowl games. Three such contests comprise the CFP, but numerous other quality teams are going to take the field before then in high-stakes showdowns.

Check out some updated projections and predictions for the best bowl games, including the College Football Playoff. 


CFP Projections and Predictions

TCU 34, Clemson 24

These two teams field the two quarterbacks who have, perhaps, the best chance of capturing the Heisman Trophy at the moment in TCU's Trevone Boykin and Clemson's Deshaun Watson.

Given Boykin's superior experience and the agonizingly close call the Horned Frogs experienced when they were frozen out of the inaugural College Football Playoff, TCU deserves the edge here.

Horned Frogs receiver Josh Doctson is one of the most dynamic playmakers in the country. The Tigers had a similar difference-maker in Mike Williams, who unfortunately suffered a neck injury in the season opener and is unlikely to play the rest of the year, per The Post and Courier's Aaron Brenner.

Clemson's defense is no joke—it forced Notre Dame into three second-half turnovers in a 24-22 victory. Sloppy conditions played a part, so did the Tigers players, who've managed to put together a productive unit that lost 2015 NFL first-round draft picks Vic Beasley and Stephone Anthony in the front seven.

But had Notre Dame not given the ball away so often late, perhaps Clemson wouldn't still hold an undefeated record and would be dealing with the aftermath of a defeat in Death Valley. It stands to reason under more suitable conditions, Boykin and Co. could give the Tigers some serious problems.

That's not to disrespect what Watson can do. He'd be able to capitalize on TCU's young defense that has seen 13 players make their first college starts this year.

"Teaching the game plan on Sunday — for SMU and Texas Tech — it was like they were in a cloud," said TCU coach Gary Patterson after a 50-7 win over Texas, per the Star-Telegram's Carlos Mendez. "It's like, 'It's simple, fellas.' But this Sunday it was like, 'Got it.'"

Further reason for hope is on the horizon for the Horned Frogs defense, as they've returned three seniors on the defensive line recently.

Boykin has already thrown 19 touchdowns to only three interceptions. With a capable senior ball-carrier in Aaron Green to complement him, it's difficult to envision TCU being a one-and-done if it does beat Baylor in its regular-season finale and qualify for the College Football Playoff.


Ohio State 23, LSU 17

As cool as the duel between Boykin and Watson would be, this scenario infers that Ohio State will remain atop the rankings, with LSU getting in and having a mortal lock Heisman winner in Leonard Fournette.

The battle for bragging rights between Fournette and Buckeyes star running back Ezekiel Elliott would set one of the most electrifying scenes in recent college football history. With all the emphasis on quarterbacks in the modern game, Fournette and Elliott are two transcendent talents in the backfield.

If not for Fournette's SEC record of three consecutive 200-yard rushing games, perhaps the Tigers would already have a blemish on their record. It's a near certainty OSU would have lost at Indiana last week without Elliott's three touchdown runs of 55, 65 and 75 yards.

ESPN's Mike Greenberg believes that trio of explosive bursts to paydirt contribute to Elliott being better than Fournette and the other top-tier back in the country in Georgia's Nick Chubb:

LSU has managed to remain respectable on defense despite the departure of longtime coordinator John Chavis for Texas A&M. Thanks to numerous returning starters from last year's national championship team, Ohio State is stout on defense as well.

Bleacher Report's Matt Miller provides an idea of just how loaded coach Urban Meyer's team is across the board:

What swings this hypothetical game  for the Buckeyes is Cardale Jones. The former third-string QB, who's struggled to get out in front of J.T. Barrett as the team's starter this year, came in for Barrett last year to win the Big Ten title game and two playoff games to lead OSU to college football's pinnacle.

Experience goes a long way here again. To be frank and objective, it'd actually be fun, to a degree, to see Fournette fall short. Imagine how angry he might run in 2016. With his NFL draft eligibility on the horizon and a loss to fuel him to work at his craft, Fournette would figure to be driven as ever to deliver a national title to Baton Rouge.

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Arkansas at Alabama Complete Game Preview

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — University of Alabama coach Nick Saban waited until near the end of his Monday press conference before he let loose, after fielding a question about what he tells his players about the perception of his team.

"Well, I'll say the same thing as when you all buried us last week,” he said. “It really doesn't matter what you think. It really doesn't matter what you say. And I'm hoping that nobody on our team is playing for you. I hope they're playing for each other and their team and what they want to accomplish and not what you think. But that's certainly not what I'm doing.

"I'm coaching and working for our players and our team to be as good as it can be, and if that's not pleasing to someone else it's not pleasing to somebody else. I said before, I believe in our team. I do believe in our team, and we're going to work hard to make our team better and I hope the players respond the right way. And it's not going to be for you. The fans, yes. Because if it was up to you, we were six foot under already. We're dead and buried and gone. Gone.

"So if that was the case, we'd have to get some respirators out or something there to put the life back in people."

Although Saban had a point because a lot of people did write off No. 8 Alabama (4-1 overall, 1-1 SEC) after the narrow 43-37 loss to Ole Miss on Sept. 19, his real message was to his players.

With Arkansas (2-3 overall, 1-1 SEC) getting off to a slow start and a trip to face No. 9 Texas A&M looming, the coach doesn’t want Saturday to turn into a trap game. The Razorbacks began the season ranked and played the Crimson Tide tough at home last year before losing 14-13.

Last week Arkansas snapped two important 10-game losing streaks with a 24-20 victory at Tennessee: games decided by seven points or less and consecutive SEC road games.

However, this will also be the Razorbacks’ third tough Saturday on the road, all against teams ranked in the preseason polls, before they enjoy their bye.

Here’s everything you need to know for Saturday’s game


Date: Saturday, October 10

Time: 7 p.m. ET (6 p.m. CT)

Place: Bryant-Denny Stadium


Radio:Crimson Tide Sports Network, IMG Razorbacks Sports Network, Compass Media Networks, Sirius 83, XM 190

Spread: Alabama -16 according to

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Miami vs. Florida State Complete Game Preview

After four lower-profile games each for Miami and Florida State, this weekend is when things really start to heat up in the Sunshine State.

No. 12 Florida State is coming off another underwhelming ACC road win in which the Seminoles remained undefeated by holding off a late charge by Wake Forest. Now Jimbo Fisher's team returns to Doak Campbell Stadium with some positives, some negatives and, most importantly, some injured players who may need to be replaced.

A 3-1 Miami team, on the other hand, has had an extra couple of days to reflect on its Thursday night loss at Cincinnati, where some familiar issues cost the Hurricanes against a Group of Five opponent. The embattled Al Golden must lead his team into its first, biggest and perhaps its toughest ACC matchup of the season.

While Florida State has won five straight in this series, things tend to be close between these two Florida rivals, as 11 of the last 14 meetings have been decided by a touchdown or less. Will Miami be able to hold onto a lead this year against Florida State under the bright lights of prime-time action?

Before heading into the full breakdown of this ACC rivalry clash, take a look at the basic info for the 2015 edition of Miami vs. Florida State:

Date: Saturday, October 10

Time: 7 p.m. ET

Location: Doak Campbell Stadium (Tallahassee, Florida)


Radio: Miami Hurricane Radio NetworkSeminole IMG Sports Network

Line: Florida State -9.5, according to Odds Shark

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Charlie Strong and Texas Football's Identity Crisis

Five hundred miles to the northwest of Austin in the great state of Texas lies, not far off the highway, the famous Cadillac Ranch.

Although it is quite a distance from the capital, the art installation could double as a telling metaphor for the state’s flagship football program. There, just outside Amarillo in the middle of a windswept plain, lie several colorful Cadillacs planted face-down in the dirt.

For nearly two decades and even long before that, the Longhorns football team has been driving a fully loaded Cadillac. Twelve straight seasons of at least nine wins, one national title and a trip to play for another, some of the winningest quarterbacks in NCAA history and the general tradition of college football’s biggest moneymaker have all contributed to this.

It is no wonder that former athletic director DeLoss Dodds famously quipped that Texas doesn’t keep up with the Joneses; the Longhorns were the Joneses.

That brash attitude turned off many who resented Texas’ success, but it was very telling as to the state of the program and those who bought into the Burnt Orange and White.

As we approach the halfway point of the 2015 season, however, the Cadillac is planted in a field of dirt, and that attitude of being the Joneses is long gone. The Longhorns are in an identity crisis, and have been for some time. There has been plenty written about the team’s struggles on the field, but that is only part of this winding, twisting journey the team is on now.

Texas knows who it wants to be; it’s just not sure where it is now or how to get where it needs to go.

The roots of this issue can likely be traced back to the fifth play of the 2010 BCS National Championship Game. Even as an injured Colt McCoy slumped to the turf at the Rose Bowl, the future still appeared bright for Texas. But as we all know now, that marked the turning point in the Longhorns' fortunes.

They went 5-7 the following season to miss out on a bowl game for the first time in forever and were beaten by in-state rivals Texas A&M and (gasp) Baylor for the first time in a decade. Then head coach Mack Brown fanned the flames of this identity crisis by letting offensive coordinator Greg Davis go (a few years too late) and bringing in Boise State wonder boy Bryan Harsin to spice up the offense.

The experiment didn’t last too long, and while Brown kept the team afloat the next two years, eventually the school moved on to what it thought was a new era. The brash Steve Patterson replaced Dodds as athletic director and then promptly replaced Brown with Charlie Strong in a move that came a few years too late.

In his introductory press conference, Strong immediately made it a point to say that he was going to correct one of the biggest ills the program had since losing that title game a few years prior.

“You have to build your program on toughness. That's where all the successful programs, that's what they do,” Strong said at the time, just 21 months ago. “It's all about toughness. Players understand that. If you are a disciplined program and you prepare them the right ways and they have the right focus, that won't be an issue.”

In the face of Texas A&M’s successful move to the SEC and the rise of Baylor in the Big 12, Strong set out to instill the one attribute that everybody from fans to NFL scouts thought the program lacked. In the face of spread offenses around the state and around college football, the Longhorns would be more like Alabama and Stanford (with top recruits) than their uptempo in-conference peers.

It worked in turning around Louisville; why wouldn’t it work with the vast resources at Texas? That toughness was going to be the team’s identity… until it wasn’t.

Strong brought in offensive coordinator Shawn Watson and a number of other staff members from his previous stop and set about trying to recreate success. Only this time, the Longhorns would no longer be allowed to drive a Cadillac but would instead be shuttle around in a pickup truck.

It was a sea change for many Longhorns, but in the era of instant gratification, it was not received quite as intended. The dispirited fanbase still has not bought in, and the football team itself is just 7-11 in the past two seasons, with little chance of reaching .500 anytime soon. Including their most recent game, seven of those troubling 11 losses have been by at least three touchdowns.

Perhaps the most disconcerting part of Saturday’s 50-7 loss to TCU wasn’t that the team failed to beat the Horned Frogs, but rather how they went about losing.

It was 30-0 before the first quarter was over, and it marked the second straight season they were handed a humiliating defeat at the hands of a school Texas itself helped bring into the Big 12. Once again, the offense was unable to do much of anything outside of a few broken plays, and the defense hardly slowed down Trevone Boykin and the TCU offense. 

Texas looks lost on the field and shows no signs of finding a map anytime soon.

Strong has exacerbated the identity crisis by not knowing himself what the team wants to do, especially on offense. Texas wasn’t quite built to run the ball in a pro-style offense and play tough defense in his first year. Seeing this error, Strong later chose to move to a spread offense, but without hiring any coordinators who were deeply ingrained in an offense which has become the norm across college football.

The results were predictable.

Watson was fired after just one game this year, and current play-caller Jay Norvell has not been in a similar position since 2007. That's not exactly a recipe for success, no matter how many 4- and 5-star recruits wind up in Austin.

This identity crisis has played out for other coaches before. Will Muschamp hired Charlie Weis to install a more pro-style offense in his first season at Florida. That misstep, which ended in Weis’ departure to Kansas, was never really corrected, what with a revolving door of coordinator hires and the team's inability to figure out what it wanted to be offensively.

Even Red River rival Oklahoma has been through a similar transition. Bob Stoops won a national title early in his tenure after first bringing in the Air Raid offense to Norman and later saw the team add a few Heisman Trophies to the team room. The Sooners experimented with a more pro-style attack, but last season’s 8-5 record (and fears of backsliding even further) prompted Stoops to go back to what worked.

He ended up hiring coordinator Lincoln Riley—somebody who has been ingrained in the Air Raid since he was a player—in a savvy move that has paid off, as the Sooners look like a championship-caliber team.

Can Strong pull the Cadillac out of the ditch and get it back on the road to greatness? Only time will tell, but first things first, Texas needs to figure out who it wants to be in this day and age before it calls for AAA.

With an interim athletic director focused on mending fences and heated calls already coming for Strong’s job, it appears there will be a long and difficult road for Texas to get back to being the Joneses.

Stuck face-down on the side of the road, perhaps the only saving grace for the Longhorns is that rock bottom is already here. For Strong and his team, no matter how long a leash they get, at least there’s only one direction to go from here.

You can follow Bryan Fischer on Twitter at @BryanDFischer.

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Why Texas A&M vs. Florida Is Now Most Likely SEC Championship Game

In August, if you would have told somebody that the most likely matchup in the 2015 SEC Championship Game is Texas A&M vs. Florida, people would have told you that you were crazy.

You don't know football.

You're clearly a fan of either the Aggies or the Gators (or both).

You need to do a little more research.

Yet here we are five weeks into the season, with that being the most likely matchup for the annual event held the first week of December at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

For Florida, the reason is simple. It's the most complete team in the SEC East, and there isn't a close second.

The Gators are giving up just 304.2 yards per game, are giving up just 16.6 points per game (third in the conference), have a front seven that can shut down the run and one of the best secondaries in college football.

The surprise for the Gators this year—and what makes them so dangerous—is that all of the offseason questions we had about the offense have been answered. 

Quarterback Will Grier has thrown 10 touchdowns and only three picks, proved that he can come up big in key spots in the dramatic 28-27 fourth-quarter comeback win over Tennessee in Week 4 and tore up Ole Miss' defense—which is loaded with talent—in a 38-10 home win in Week 5.

He's been the beneficiary a lot of help too.

Once a sore spot, the Gator offensive line dominated the line of scrimmage against the Rebels. Think about that for a second. It wasn't a directional Sun Belt school or an FCS foe, this was Ole Miss. Whether you think the Rebels as a team are overrated as a whole, their front seven led by defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche certainly is not.

"Obviously, the influx of the new guys has been fantastic. Let's not downplay the fact [tackle] Mason Halter's been doing a great job at a lot of different spots," head coach Jim McElwain said, according to quotes emailed by Florida. "Getting [guard] Trip [Thurman] back has been great. Obviously, the young guys have been doing a pretty darn good job in there. I would say the biggest thing I see there is they're starting to understand the value of communication."

Plus the wide receiver trio of Demarcus Robinson, Brandon Powell and Antonio Callaway has brought much-needed balance to the Gators.

"I really think it's a credit to that position group that they're actually investing into how you go about your work schedule," said McElwain. "How you are held accountable to be in the right spot. When you're in the right spot something good usually happens. I like that. I think that's good. What I also, I think, shows is that the quarterback's not like, 'hey, I gotta throw it to this guy,' it's 'let me go through my action and reaction and number three.'"

With a win over Tennessee on its resume and a front seven that's capable of at least slowing down Georgia's Nick Chubb and LSU star Leonard Fournette in their cross-division matchup, Florida is going to be tough to beat in the East.

Out West, there are no complete teams.

LSU's passing offense (95.5 yards per game) is ranked 124th out of 128 FBS teams—three spots behind Georgia Tech, a team that runs the triple option. Ole Miss has a loss and hasn't been able to run between the tackles like it needs to. Alabama has a loss, and we don't know if quarterback Jake Coker can match a team score for score if the Crimson Tide get into a shootout.

Plus, the emergence of running back Tra Carson (430 yards and four touchdowns) coupled with new offensive line coach/running game coordinator Dave Christensen's increased focus on the power rushing attack has given the offense much-needed balance.

The Aggies draw LSU at the end of the year in Baton Rouge, which isn't ideal. But the Tigers will be coming off of a big road trip to Ole Miss, while Texas A&M will have Vanderbilt in Nashville on the next-to-last weekend of the season.

The toughest test for Texas A&M might be against Alabama. But that will be the seventh game in as many weeks for the Crimson Tide, while Texas A&M has a bye week this week leading up to the showdown next weekend in College Station.

Plus, we now know that if the Aggies force their style of football on an opponent, defensive ends Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall can and will tee off on opposing quarterbacks. Simply put, its high-octane offense puts Texas A&M's defense in prime position for success.

Is Texas A&M perfect?

Of course not.

The run defense ranks next-to-last in the SEC (182.60 yards per game), but that puts it at the back end of a group of five teams that are separated by just 12 rushing yards per game. 

But Ole Miss and Alabama have losses, and it's hard to trust LSU at this point due to its woeful passing attack. 

Texas A&M vs. Florida in Atlanta. Write it down (in pencil), because it's the most likely SEC Championship Game matchup through the first five weeks of the season.


Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports. Statistics are courtesy of

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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5-Star Mecole Hardman Jr. Details Timeline for College Decision

With national signing day rapidly approaching, 5-star athlete Mecole Hardman Jr. has mapped out a plan on how he will make his decision.

“I want to know what school I am going to by the end of November, or somewhere around there,” Hardman told Bleacher Report. “That way, I can start focusing on that team. I will still announce it on signing day like I originally planned. I don’t plan on telling anyone before signing day. Hopefully, I’ll know where I’m going by the end of November.” 

In August, Hardman revealed a top 10 that included Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Miami, Michigan, Oklahoma, Ole Miss, Stanford and Tennessee.

The nation’s top-rated athlete and No. 21 player overall in the 2016 cycle was on hand last week for Georgia’s deflating loss at the hands of Alabama. However, the trip did nothing to hurt the Bulldogs' chances with him.

“Georgia lost, but it doesn’t change anything,” Hardman said. “It just shows how good ‘Bama is and that they came in ready to play. You can make excuses for a lot of things like the rain and weather, but it was still a good game to come to. I enjoyed every part of it.”

Hardman has been a regular on campus, which isn’t surprising considering the Georgia campus is roughly 30 minutes away from his hometown of Elberton, Georgia.

If the Bulldogs hope to keep him close to home for college, they will have to fend off a number of powerhouse programs from around the country.

In fact, Hardman’s schedule may take him to several different campuses in the coming weeks. 

“I may go to FSU vs. Miami this weekend, but I don’t know. I have to see how it works out,” Hardman said. “If not, I could go to Georgia vs. Tennessee this weekend. The Georgia vs. Missouri game the week after that. Then, FSU vs. Syracuse, I think I will go to that one. I will also take official visits to Ole Miss and Michigan in November. I might also go to the LSU vs. Alabama game.”

Of that group, it’s the Rebels that seem to be making the strongest push for the Peach State standout.

“I think Ole Miss is coming at me the hardest right now. Of all the teams, they are just really on it right now,” Hardman said. “Georgia is coming after me pretty hard. Tennessee has always been on me. ‘Bama is starting to step it up too. Michigan is doing a great job of keeping up with me. They are all on me.”

If Hardman has his way, he will still be involved with the game of football long after his playing days are over. 

As smooth as he is on the field playing quarterback, receiver or corner, the 5’10”, 175-pounder hopes to transition from making plays to breaking them down as a broadcaster when his career concludes. 

“Something to do with sports broadcasting,” Hardman told Bleacher Report of his preferred field after he hangs up his cleats. “I’ll probably major in communications or some type of program like that. I’d like to be on TV as a broadcaster. I think I’d like to do that later on in life even if football doesn’t work out. I feel like that’s something I’d like to do as a job.”

In fact, Hardman said he looks up to one former star player-turned ESPN broadcaster in particular. 

“I kind of like David Pollack,” Hardman said. “I watch him because he kind of goes against teams that you would think he wouldn’t go against. He gets a lot of attention for his picks, but he’s not afraid to go against the grain. I like David Pollack a lot.”

While he is fond of the former Georgia All-American defensive lineman, Bulldogs fans are hoping that he follows in his footsteps to Athens.

Still, his visit schedule is proof that there’s a long way to go before he’s ready to make a decision. 

With a number of important visits on tap, Hardman is taking a business-minded approach with each trip. In fact, he’s outlined the criteria that will eventually help him arrive at a decision.

“I’m looking at how each school is playing and how they will look at the end of the season,” Hardman said. “I want to see the schools in my top group, the schools that I’m interested in, I want to see how they play and experience what it’s like on game day and just go from there. Every school, or most top schools, you can get a good education wherever you go. They all have great coaching staffs. It’s just going to come down to where I feel most comfortable at and where I feel like I can come in and make a great impact early in my career.”


Sanjay Kirpalani is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand and all recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

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College Football Playoff Preview: Good Luck with This Mess, Selection Committee

Dear College Football Playoff Selection Committee member, 

I hope this message finds you well. The last time we spoke, I was writing you from Indianapolis hours after Ohio State’s magnificent demolition of Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game last December. My message at the time, with an impossible task directly in front of you, was simple: Drop everything and run from it all as fast as you can.

As it turns out, including Ohio State in the College Football Playoff was brilliant. Well done. I hope you took a much-deserved victory lap and enjoyed a nice vacation. You earned it.

"Generally, we think last year went very well, and we were very pleased with the reaction from fans across the country," selection committee chairman Jeff Long told earlier this offseason. "Our goal, really, is to build upon that success."

Things did go shockingly smooth even with some last-minute chaos. Now that college football is back in our lives, I have only one other piece of advice to offer before you unveil your first College Football Playoff standings Tuesday, Nov. 3: Drop everything if you haven’t already and run from it all as fast as you can. 

The season at hand is madness. It’s unpredictable. It’s strange. It’s wildly entertaining from a distance, although soon there will be no boundary between you two. The bedlam is coming, and it will be up to you to separate four teams in a sea of mediocrity and volatility.

Forget about separating a top four at this point. How about just one team? 

Sure, there’s a lot of time for things to sort themselves out. Perhaps it will all be sorted nice and neat by Dec. 6, the day the final College Football Playoff standings are released. Perhaps there will be four defined teams and zero controversy to speak of. Perhaps this is all pre-emptive panic with the first standings still weeks away. 

But given everything we’ve seen, all the bizarre turns that only seem to be gaining momentum, perhaps it’s best you just run regardless.

As for a look at the teams on the rise, squads losing ground, the team we penciled right into the playoff and other developments, let’s have a look.


Arrow Pointing Up

Utah: By not playing in Week 5, Utah drastically improved its playoff standing. With four Associated Press Top 10 teams suffering losses, the Utes inched closer to the top by sitting on the couch. It was a good week for a bye. Now, with a week light on major matchups and a prime-time game with Cal on deck Saturday, No. 5 Utah can further assure the masses it belongs in the College Football Playoff conversation.

Clemson: Sure, Notre Dame was dealing with a slew of injuries and the Tigers' monstrous lead nearly came undone. But in beating the Irish 24-22—or better yet, not losing—Clemson kept its clean resume intact. The schedule is by no means easy, although the toughest regular-season road game might be against Miami or NC State. As long as the Tigers keep winning, regardless of what happens with the rest of the conference, Clemson will stay in the conversation.

Oklahoma: The team that was drastically overhyped heading into last season suddenly looks exceptionally dangerous one year later. Oklahoma’s 44-24 victory over a quality West Virginia opponent showcased just how balanced this team has become. There’s a legitimate chance that the Sooners will be unbeaten as they head to Baylor on Nov. 14. If that’s the case, look out.

Status: Quietly Making Up Ground


Arrow Pointing Down

Ole Miss: Losing to Florida in spectacular fashion, 38-10, is by no means a deathblow. It’s not ideal, but now is the time to lose. There is still time to repair resumes, and the Rebels will have ample opportunities to showcase their worth. Ole Miss draws undefeated Texas A&M and LSU at home in the next six weeks, which will be more than enough to climb back up. The Rebels still have to win those games, though. The room for error is gone.

Georgia: On the topic of SEC teams looking completely overwhelmed in Week 5, here’s Georgia. The Bulldogs’ soggy 38-10 loss to Alabama was incredibly disappointing, and it certainly puts a halt to their College Football Playoff run for the time being. Now, there’s no shame in losing to Nick Saban, even at home. It’s how Georgia lost—looking inept in pretty much every phase—that was deeply concerning. Like Ole Miss, there’s still time to pick up the pieces. But Georgia best start now.

UCLA: Week 5 didn’t feel like the time for UCLA’s season to take a turn—not when the Bruins manhandled Arizona seven days earlier. Arizona State, however, placed C4 in Jim Mora’s mailbox and blew the thing up in the middle of the night. Now, with a defense that has endured a slew of meaningful injuries, the Bruins will have to bounce back. Even with the losses, there’s still talent to do just that. But the schedule doesn’t get any easier from this point on, which makes things rather tricky.


How Will the Committee View Ohio State? How Should We?

The parallels to 2014 Florida State are already being drawn, and in many ways, they feel somewhat appropriate in the early going.

National championship, check. Loads of NFL talent still on the roster, check. Incredible expectations coming in, check. Unimpressive (but still undefeated) against inferior competition, check.

Yes, the invincible Ohio State has looked quite vulnerable. The Buckeyes got 274 yards rushing from running back Ezekiel Elliott against Indiana—a Herculean effort—to stay unbeaten. And they needed every single yard.

Outside of Elliott, the offense really has never looked comfortable. While Cardale Jones will get the brunt of the blame, the offensive line, wide receivers and play-calling have also been spotty. Turnovers have plagued this group, too, as the Buckeyes' 13 giveaways have them tied at No. 117 in the nation. 

"We're turning the ball over at an alarming rate," Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer told reporters following the 34-27 win. "That's obviously a difference in the game. And at some point, that's going to bite you. We have to fix that."  

There’s still time for Ohio State to repair the broken machine. The committee won’t have to put its thoughts on paper for another few weeks, and by then the Buckeyes could look like their bulldozing selves. The talent is there. The defense is still dominant. The dormant giant might finally wake up. Or, maybe it won’t.

Ohio State will play Maryland, Penn State and Rutgers before the first standings are released. While no game should be considered a sure thing at this point, the timing of these three winnable contests doesn’t hurt.

If the picture remains hazy and Ohio State’s sloppy play continues—even in victories—the committee will have a difficult time assessing the Buckeyes. But while Ohio State’s struggles are noteworthy, there’s not exactly a long list of teams passing by it.


Is the Playoff Ready to Embrace Non-Power Brands? 

Year one of the College Football Playoff was a brilliant reality, and the unprecedented television ratings told a tremendous tale.

Ohio State, Florida State, Oregon and Alabama—four of the nation’s most watched and followed programs—made up the first postseason tournament. Oh, the money was falling from the sky.

What happens, however, when the playoff includes a Utah? Or a Northwestern? Or an Iowa? Or what about a Toledo? The Rockets, with wins over Arkansas and Iowa State, have an opportunity to go undefeated with a schedule that is serviceable enough.

If that is the case—and the madness plays out accordingly for the teams near the top—will they be given a shot? 

"There's obviously the big brand names out there that carry the weight just by name recognition alone," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham told Heather Dinich of "For good reason. Those programs have been successful and on the radar for a lot of years, that's why they have a name brand. We just have to keep doing our thing. It all boils down to getting the job done on the field. That is the bottom line."

He’s right. But that can’t eliminate the natural bias that has been building up for decades. With a room full of human beings now picking the playoff—a room that has celebrated college football’s defined hierarchy for longer than most of us have been alive—will the “little guys” truly ever get a fair shake?

Maybe it won’t come to that. Maybe the power brands will rally and converge Dec. 6, just like they did last year. Or maybe, in such a strange, unpredictable season, the College Football Playoff will welcome a batch of unfamiliar faces to the fold.

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Which 1-Loss Team Has Best Shot of Making College Football Playoff?

Oh, how easily we forget. 

This time last year, Ohio State was officially out of the College Football Playoff conversation after losing to Virginia Tech (so, too, was the Big Ten following an abysmal Week 2). Except, the Buckeyes weren't out of the playoff race. They never were. And, well, you know how the rest of the season worked out. 

But when Stanford lost to Northwestern 16-6 in Week 1, did fans and media alike collectively shut the Cardinal out of the playoff discussion prematurely as well? Recall that Stanford was ESPN college football analyst Desmond Howard's pick to win the national championship: 

Not long after Stanford's loss to the Wildcats, Howard made light of his own pick on Twitter. He also took a considerable amount of heat for it: 

However, maybe Stanford deserves more credit. 

Entering Week 6, Stanford has life again and its path to the playoff as a one-loss team is still clear. For that matter, the parallels between Stanford and Ohio State are undeniable. That's not to say Stanford will win the national title or is as stocked with NFL-caliber talent as Ohio State, but there are similarities. Losing wasn't the end for the Buckeyes, and it's not the end for Stanford or any one of the one-loss teams ranked in the Associated Press Top 25

Both were surprisingly outmatched in an early-season game they were expected to win. Both, when counted out, began improving. The Ohio State everyone saw in the playoff wasn't the same team everyone saw lose to the Hokies. 

Similarly, the Cardinal looked lifeless against Northwestern. Maybe it was a matter of traveling east combined with an early kickoff time, but head coach David Shaw's team was a mess. The single most surprising part was that Stanford was getting blown up in the trenches.

Win or lose, the Cardinal have prided themselves on being a physical football team. No matter what, teams playing Stanford were going to feel it the next day. That wasn't the Stanford on display in Evanston, though. If anything, it was the other way around. 

But, like Ohio State in 2014, Stanford is getting better. If the playoff selection from last year has taught us anything, it's that the committee takes season-long improvement into consideration. We're nowhere near the end of the '15 season, but according to F/+ rankings from, the Cardinal are one of the top four teams in college football, along with Alabama, Clemson and LSU: 

Since losing to Northwestern—who are proving to be anything but a fluke, by the way; the Wildcats might win the Big Ten West Division with its defense alone—the Cardinal are averaging more than 42 points per game and have beaten USC. Quarterback Kevin Hogan has turned things around after a poor opening-week performance. The senior currently has the third-best passer rating (169.77) and the second-most yards per attempt (9.6) in the Pac-12 despite attempting only 24 passes per game.'s David Lombardi, who ranked Hogan atop his Pac-12 quarterback power rankings list, wrote the following: 

He delivered a virtually flawless performance on a bad ankle in the Cardinal's 55-17 romp over Arizona. Hogan's 89.4 completion percentage (17-of-19) was the best of his career, and several of his throws popped on film. One dart down the seam to Devon Cajuste really stood out: Hogan evaded pressure by moving forward in the pocket and rifled a precise laser downfield while shuffling.

It helps tremendously that the running game is working, and Stanford's offense is nothing without the running game or an every-down back. Running back Christian McCaffrey leads the Pac-12 in all-purpose yards per game (229.8) and the Cardinal ground attack ranks in the top third of the conference. 

The defense is second in the Pac-12 behind only Washington in yards per play allowed (4.78). In short,  Stanford is playing like one would expect it to play. It's playing like a team with an identity.

That's good news for Shaw's team moving forward because its next big test comes right away in Week 6 against UCLA. The Bruins might be coming off a loss, but they're still considered one of the top teams in the Pac-12. However, Stanford has UCLA's number, having won their last seven games against Bruins dating back to 2009.  

The rest of the schedule sets up well. In a statement no one thought they'd ever make, the Cardinal won't face Utah out of the Pac-12 South in the regular season. The Utes, following their 62-20 win over Oregon, are the toast of the conference: 

So long as Stanford can navigate through the next month unscathed, it gets its toughest stretch on paper in the month of November: versus Oregon, Cal and Notre Dame. All three games are at home, however. Oregon has numerous problems in pass defense and at quarterback. Notre Dame has lost several key starters to injury. Part of making a run is getting the right breaks. Potentially catching Oregon in a down year and a snake-bitten Notre Dame could be huge for Stanford. 

And, in theory, if Stanford really is turning itself around, it should be playing its best football against its toughest opponents in November (and presumably the first week of December). There's no better time to catch the eye of the selection committee than at season's end. 

But what happens if Stanford loses another game? For all we know, it could happen this Saturday. Playoff access would then depend on the entire college football landscape. 2015 might be the year a two-loss conference champion gets into the field. 

There's a lot of football left to be played. Which teams emerge in the playoff conversation could, and likely will change multiple times in the coming weeks and months. It looks like it's shaping up to be that sort of season

If we've learned our lesson from 2014, though, it's that teams change. Some for the better, some not. Over the last month, Stanford has changed for the better. If it keeps winning, the right people will begin to notice. 


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

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Steve Spurrier's Final Act Is Getting Ugly

Every legend deserves the right last act. Going out with a bang, or at least a soft landing. Just not a crash.

Is it too late for Steve Spurrier to avoid that crash?      

Spurrier's controls his own job security, as South Carolina owes him for pretty much every positive thing about its football image. He will never be fired. Never. And people talk about job security as the goal. But for guys like Spurrier, it isn't one. In fact, sometimes that only makes it harder to figure out how or when to walk away.

You want to put it off as long as possible, but often, you're looking for the end, waiting for it, trying to outflank it, and then it pops up and hits you right in the nose somehow.

Spurrier's coaching career is getting smacked in the face right now. It's too bad. I'd say this is the beginning of the end for his career, glorious as it was, but it's already mid-crash-landing now. And there's no way out safely.

He used to say that he'd never want to stay forever, the way Joe Paterno and his great rival, Bobby Bowden, did. But it's too late now: At 70 with a collapsing team, Spurrier is the oldest head coach in SEC history.

"He is a Hall of Fame coach," Tommy Bowden, longtime Clemson coach and son of Bobby Bowden, told me Monday. "My father was a Hall of Fame coach who stayed a little too long. Joe Paterno was a Hall of Fame coach who stayed a little too long. Mack Brown stayed a little too long at Texas.

"I would think [Spurrier] would look at those examples and make a wise decision."

Yes, but what decision is that? To leave now with a team that's undoing what you built or wait to see if you can turn it around again by your 75th birthday?

The message sent by Paterno and Bowden was that you can be trapped while making that decision. They stayed into their 80s and wanted more. Bobby Bowden told me last year he wanted just one more season because he thought the team would be good. It was going to be his soft landing.


"It's just respect that the Bowdens have for Spurrier," Tommy Bowden said. "He was winning so much at South Carolina and then he had a bad year, eight wins [actually seven]. They'd be doing cartwheels in Tennessee for eight wins. Coach Spurrier set the standard at South Carolina at 11 wins, and unfortunately they're going to hold him to that standard."

The best thing for Spurrier to do now is to name his replacement and bring him in for a few years as Head Ball Coach in Waiting. That tells potential recruits there will be continuity no matter what. And maybe it buys Spurrier time to piece together one more decent year for his soft landing.

The problem is, you can never get the last drop out of something. And even if you could, you'd always wonder if there's another drop in there somewhere. Spurrier had three 11-win seasons in a row at South Carolina and surely figured he'd go on to win an SEC title at some point and then walk off.

Instead, they went 7-6 last year when some media—wishfully thinking—had picked them to contend for a spot in the College Football Playoff. And this year, after being crushed by Georgia and then losing to usually lowly Kentucky, they'll be lucky to win five games. So now when should he leave? He needs an exit strategy.

Spurrier has lost the state's recruiting battle to Clemson's Dabo Swinney. Bowden said the state of South Carolina isn't in the best spot to easily get to top recruits (tell that to Utah). Spurrier, of all people, doesn't have a quarterback.

He's searching for answers, changing lineups, moving in and out younger players. The answers aren't there. The program needs to be rebuilt, and Spurrier, as young as any 70 year old, is still, in fact, 70 years old.

Can't someone rebuild in his 70s?

"It can be done in your early 70s," Bowden said. "But not too many people are doing it. Bill Snyder [at Kansas State]. He's the only one."

It's not that he can't coach anymore. It's just that his old school, Florida, has passed him by again after last week's blowout win over Ole Miss. Ole Miss has passed him, Auburn. Georgia is ahead of him, even though Mark Richt can't win the big game. Alabama.

The SEC has reshaped itself without Spurrier.

"I breezed right through age 60, I breezed through 65 and I'm going to try my best to breeze right on through 70," Spurrier said at the SEC media days this summer. He pointed out that the Democratic and Republican front-runners for president are in their late 60s—Hillary Clinton (67) and Donald Trump (69). You can lead a country in your 70s but not an SEC football program?

Spurrier has always fought off age. He wears 70 well, and should be an example to modern day coaches that you can love football but don't have to spend every second thinking about it, obsessing over it and raising it to some level of social importance.

In the old days, Spurrier was all fun in the USFL. He was the cocky big mouth, calling Bobby Bowden's Florida State "Free Shoes University." Florida was a national power. He failed with the Washington Redskins. This is his 11th year at South Carolina, one less than he spent at Florida.

Somehow, Spurrier has managed to stay colorful while transforming from cocky to statesman. He has pushed for athletes to be paid. Any player who assaults a woman is kicked off his team. He pushed to have the Confederate flag taken down.

But it got ugly last year. There was an embarrassing loss to Tennessee, and then Spurrier cut out on his press conference in under 60 seconds. He was entitled to one of those every few decades, but the media, who have grown used to having Spurrier quips to fill their stories, tore into him angrily.

Mostly, though, he just looked worn out. He later said he just wanted two or three more years, and that was a huge mistake: How do you sell high school recruits, looking for a five-year college career, on the idea of playing for a guy who is leaving?

Everyone used it against Spurrier in recruiting. He tried to backtrack. This summer he held a press conference to throw a temper tantrum about some criticism he'd taken. It has gotten ugly. And even this weekend, he complained about officiating and, according to The State's Josh Kendall, took it to the SEC office:

"Nothing ever really happens too much to make referees accountable except maybe at the end of the year some of them are not rehired," Spurrier told the newspaper. "They are kind of told to retire if they have too many bad calls."

At least someone is telling them. No one will even do that much for Spurrier.


Greg Couch covers college football for Bleacher Report.

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Why Texas Is Still Relevant to Top College Recruits

The Texas Longhorns have a 1-4 record, the worst record for the program since 1956, and a 50-7 dismantling by TCU is still fresh in the team's mind. Additionally, bowl hopes are in jeopardy, a very uncommon situation for the Longhorns.

As if Texas needed any other distractions, a report of a potential locker room divide surfaced Monday. Are there issues between the upperclassmen and the freshmen?

Whatever the case, the combination of lackluster, on-the-field performances and off-the-field dissension is the last thing Charlie Strong and his coaching staff needs right now. Fortunately for the Longhorns staff, as bad as everything is now, the light at the end of the tunnel is what many recruits and targets are focused on.

In fact, 4-star wide receiver commit Reggie Hemphill-Mapps described Texas' current state of affairs with three words.

"It's a process," Hemphill-Mapps said.

There are a few reasons why Texas is still a contender to many targets and still the future home to nine athletes in the 2016 class.


Strong still has respect of recruits

For starters, recruits are still big fans of Strong and his character. Strong's record is a dismal 7-11 in his first two seasons as head coach, but recruits like the idea that he brings a level of discipline to the program.

"We're looking for more leadership, do a better job of coaching ... we've got to get this turned around," Strong said during his postgame press conference. "We have no choice."

Strong is building from the ground up, and that's not a microwave process—even at Texas. Having that light turn on is what the recruits are waiting on. Texas was a couple of plays here and there from being 3-2 instead of 1-4. The Longhorns let potential victories get away from them against Cal and Oklahoma State.

"They're just young, and with youth comes first-time experiences," 4-star defensive tackle Jordan Elliott said. "I feel that over the course of this season, things will change tenfold. Next year will be a different story for Texas."


The youth movement is blossoming

Watching the Longhorns may be painful in some situations now, but the Longhorns of the immediate future could be quite intriguing. As many as 10 freshmen—true or redshirt— are currently seeing starter's minutes, including starting quarterback Jerrod Heard. The depth chart also features four sophomores starting for Strong.

Names like linebackers Malik Jefferson and Anthony Wheeler, receiver John Burt and offensive linemen Patrick Vahe and Connor Williams are freshmen who have done a good job in being thrown to the fire.

Early playing time is possible for 2016 and 2017 recruits. As for this year's talent, there's still time for everyone to turn things around. It wouldn't be a surprise if the freshmen and sophomores led the charge.

"If everything clicks," Hemphill-Mapps said, "it's going to be a scary sight then."


Being a part of the turnaround

There's a silver lining for all recruits who watch the team they're either committed to or interested in. Most recruits are competitive and want immediate game time, and the idea of playing early in an effort to turn a program around can play a huge role.

"They have a great coaching staff," 4-star cornerback Eric Cuffee said. "[It's] just taking some time for them to get rolling."

Cuffee and targets such as 5-star safety Brandon Jones, 4-star offensive tackle Jean Delance and 4-star linebackers Jeffrey McCulloch and Dontavious Jackson are among the many keeping an eye on Texas for reasons outside of a current winning record.

Strong spoke of playing with pride after the TCU game. How a team bounces back from adversity is key to a lot of recruits, and one in particular is 4-star commit Shane Buechele, who is expected to run the offense in a couple of years.

"Texas will be fine," said Buechele, the nation's No. 2 dual-threat quarterback in the 2016 class. "They are in the middle of a process, and people need to understand that."

"I told [the team] we're not going to give up, and we're not going to give in," Strong said during the postgame interview. "We have to learn how to compete."

Strong said before he first coached a game for the Longhorns that he wanted to "put the 'T' back in Texas." And while the process isn't happening overnight, Strong has to be pleased that recruits are recognizing the steps taken.

Which recruits Strong signs in February will determine exactly how much they believe in him.


Damon Sayles is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings. Follow Damon via Twitter: @DamonSayles

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Miami Hurricanes vs. Florida State Seminoles Betting Odds, College Football Pick

Florida State owns five straight victories in the Sunshine State rivalry with Miami, including three covers. The Seminoles shoot to extend that winning streak to six when they host the Hurricanes Saturday night in Tallahassee.


Point spread: Seminoles opened as nine-point favorites, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark. (Line updates and matchup report)

College football pick, via Odds Shark computer: 21.6-19.1 Hurricanes


Why the Miami Hurricanes can cover the spread

After three straight wins to begin this season, averaging 42 points per game, the 'Canes just suffered their first defeat, a 34-23 decision at Cincinnati last Thursday. Miami pulled to within four points at 27-23 with over eight minutes to go but gave up a score on the ensuing Bearcats drive and couldn't recover.

Miami totaled 427 yards of offense, ran for 146, held the ball for almost 35 minutes and committed zero turnovers but managed just a field goal in the second half.

Three weeks ago, the Hurricanes built a big lead on Nebraska, coughed it up but beat the 'Huskers in overtime 36-33.

Miami is running the ball for 175 yards per game while getting some good play from sophomore quarterback Brad Kaaya, who now owns a career 31-to-13 touchdown-to-interception ratio. If they can avoid the lapses on defense, the 'Canes could keep this one close.


Why the Florida State Seminoles can cover the spread

FSU is off to a 4-0 start to this season, after last week's 24-16 win at Wake Forest. The Seminoles, despite losing leading rusher Dalvin Cook to a hamstring injury in the first quarter, got within one score of covering the spread as 18-point favorites when they took a 24-10 lead midway through the third quarter, went cold from there but survived a late Deacons rally to avoid the upset.

Florida State opened this season with a 59-16 romp over Texas State, then beat South Florida 34-14, then blanked Boston College 14-0. So the Seminoles have allowed a total of 46 points through their first four games.

FSU is 5-0 in the last five meetings with Miami, with three of those victories coming by at least 13 points. If they win by 13 Saturday, the 'Noles will cover.


Smart pick

Florida State is playing at home, which means the spread is probably inflated a bit, and so far this college football betting season, ranked teams are just 38-50 ATS versus unranked teams. Also, Cook is still questionable with that hamstring. The smart money here rides with Miami.


Betting trends

Miami is 2-6 ATS in its last eight games.

Florida State is 29-1 SU in its last 30 games.

Florida State is 10-0 SU in its last 10 games at home in October.


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

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Why Ohio State's QB Competition Won't Die

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The final question of Urban Meyer's Monday press conference seemed innocuous enough, a suggestion more likely to gain traction on an Ohio State message board than inside the mind of a three-time national champion head coach.

But when Meyer didn't immediately shut down the idea of using backup quarterback J.T. Barrett as a situational signal-caller in relief of starter Cardale Jones, it raised more than just a few eyebrows in the room.

"That's a good point," Meyer said of the suggestion that Barrett's dual-threat ability could cure the Buckeyes' recent red-zone woes. "We've thought about it. We've had that conversation. At this time we haven't made any decisions on that right now."

And with that, another day of quarterback controversy in Columbus was born.

Not that it wasn't already going to exist anyway, with Jones' performance in the 2015 season thus far having been inconsistent at best. In five games, the redshirt junior has completed 63 of his 106 pass attempts for 867 yards, five touchdowns and five interceptions, and has twice been benched mid-game for Barrett as No. 1 Ohio State has accumulated a 5-0 record.

But while Jones' encore to his national championship run from a season ago has been far from perfect, the 6'5", 250-pounder has shown improvement in the past two weeks, having completed a combined 62.2 percent of his passes for 535 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions in wins of Western Michigan and Indiana.

That's what made Meyer admitting that he's considered increasing Barrett's playing time all the more strange, as it came moments after he defended Jones' 18-for-27, 245-yard, one-touchdown, one-interception showing in the Buckeyes' 34-27 win over the Hoosiers.

"He's getting better," Meyer said of Jones. "He had one of his better days."

But apparently it may not have been good enough to put an end to the quarterback conundrum that's been brewing in Columbus ever since Barrett and Jones each helped co-op Ohio State's run to last season's College Football Playoff championship. While Meyer has stood steadfast in sticking with Jones as his starter to this point, cries for Barrett can be found from no shortage of Buckeye fans, with tweets from the lunatic fringe of those displeased with Jones' play having gone viral over the weekend.

"It's frustrating on our end, especially when I see tweets being thrown at Cardale. It's not pretty," Ohio State guard Billy Price said of the attacks from fans on Monday. "Fans, you have no idea what's going on, unfortunately."

That's not to say that Meyer would be one to cave to pressure from outside forces—far from it—but the new expectation for Barrett to potentially see increased playing time could make for an interesting atmosphere inside of Ohio Stadium on Saturday. Especially if the struggles of the Ohio State offense in the red zone—which have been one of the primary critiques of Jones' play—persist against a 2-3 Maryland team that ranks 60th in the country in red-zone defense.

Because as opposed to a year ago, when the Buckeyes converted on 85 percent of their opportunities inside of their opponent's 20-yard line, including a 71 percent touchdown rate, red-zone offense has suddenly become a surprising weakness for this year's Ohio State squad. The Buckeyes offense currently ranks 108th in the nation inside of the red zone, with OSU having scored on 75 percent of its opportunities, with just half of its 12 scores inside the opponent's 20 having been touchdowns.

Perhaps more alarming is the fact that the Buckeyes quarterbacks are yet to have thrown a touchdown inside the red zone through the first five games of the 2015 season, with Jones missing on three first-half attempts in the Buckeyes' win over Indiana on Saturday.

"We misfired on three in a row, which is awful," Meyer said. "But if you hit three of those passes you're over 70 percent completion."

That's where the idea of increased playing time for Barrett comes in, with the idea being that his ability as a more mobile quarterback could help increase Ohio State's options when it comes to playing on a shorter field. With the reigning Big Ten Quarterback of the Year taking the bulk of the Buckeyes' snaps, Ohio State scored on 83.3 percent of its 60 red-zone opportunities in the first 12 games of the 2014 season, 43 (71.7 percent) of which came by way of touchdown.

"J.T. [ran] a lot. And then Cardale, not much at all," Meyer said. "You'd like to have that. The threat of that cleans up defenses for you. That's the extra component that you have in an offense."

Only the numbers don't necessarily back up the idea that more Barrett would mean more red-zone success, as in an admittedly smaller sample size, Jones helped lead the Buckeyes to a 92.8 percent red-zone conversion rate in his three postseason starts last season, including 10 touchdowns on 14 tries (71.4 percent). It also wouldn't be fair to pin all of the OSU offense's shortcomings in the red zone on Jones, who hasn't received much help from a relatively young crop of wide receivers.

"It's not just him, it's just the timing of the wideouts and the quarterbacks," Meyer said. "And I've addressed that."

If that's the case, one would imagine the Buckeyes would benefit from continuity, not the implementation of a situation-based two-quarterback system.

Which makes one wonder why Meyer would even admit to toying with the idea, which would seem to be counterintuitive when it comes to achieving consistency for his starting quarterback.

It used to seem that there were only two men in Columbus capable of bringing Ohio State's quarterback controversy to an end. But five weeks into the season, neither Meyer with his words or Jones with his play have yet to do just that.


Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Big Ten lead writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand. All statistics courtesy of Recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports.

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B/R Exclusive: 5-Star Ben Davis Reveals Top 5, Official Visit Plans

The nation's top-ranked inside linebacker prospect is ready to focus on five favorite universities.

Ben Davis, a 5-star recruit who carries dozens of scholarship offers, told Bleacher Report he places Alabama, Auburn, Florida State, Georgia and LSU atop his list. Davis will spend official visits at each school, setting the stage for a highly publicized announcement on national signing day in February.

"I've got a great relationship with the coaching staff at all five schools. They're all recruiting me very hard," Davis said. "I've visited each of those schools, and now I'm eager to get back to them this fall."

The 6'3", 240-pound playmaker previously placed four of these programs—Alabama, Auburn, Georgia and LSU—in an initial top-seven list he unveiled last winter. Florida, Ole Miss and USC also appeared in that collection.

Now midway through his senior season at Gordo High School in Pickens County, Alabama, Davis is prepared to work through a frenzied recruiting path en route to an ultimate landing spot. He expects to pay close attention to several elements during multiday official visits with family, focusing particularly on personnel dynamics within programs.

"The most important thing for me is to see coaches' relationships with the players, how they treat players and how those players react to the coaches," Davis said. "I'll put myself in those players' positions. Could I see myself living and playing there for the next three or four years? That's how I'll break it down."

His first opportunity to explore this facet is scheduled for the weekend of Oct. 17 at Georgia. Davis will attend the Bulldogs' game against Missouri. 

Though he's traveled to Athens in the past, it's set to be his first game-day experience at the school.

Davis began to establish a solid rapport with Georgia defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt last year when the assistant coach attended a seven-on-seven tournament in Birmingham, Alabama. He also credits linebackers coach Kevin Sherrer for playing a pivotal role in his recruitment.

Davis' second official visit—likely his last in-season trip—will take him to LSU on Nov. 14 when the Tigers host Arkansas. He made it a priority to attend his first game at Death Valley and hopes he'll have a chance to see LSU square off against the Razorbacks in a nighttime setting.

"I really like Baton Rouge. I went down there one time and fell in love with it," Davis said. "LSU would probably be one of my top three choices if I had to decide today."

Tigers defensive coordinator Kevin Steele originally targeted Davis in Tuscaloosa, where he served as a Crimson Tide assistant last season. Head coach Les Miles has made it a point to sell early playing time during conversations with the top target.

"Coach Miles tells me all the time there's a need for linebackers there," Davis said.

In fact, that's another commonality shared by each of his five favorites. They all envision him as a potential immediate-impact defender, which is exactly the expectation he's set. 

"That's how I see myself. I think I can start and contribute as a freshman. That's a big factor why these teams are in my top five," Davis said.

Official visits to in-state Alabama and Auburn will occur after the season, along with another trip to Florida State. He traveled to Tallahassee earlier this year for the Seminoles' spring game.

"As soon as I got down to Tallahassee, I felt comfortable," Davis told Bleacher Report afterward. "I loved every minute of it. I could really see myself playing down there."

Like his other top contenders, team track record plays a pivotal role with the Florida State intrigue. 

"They're always winning down there. They're always a contender for a national championship with [head coach] Jimbo Fisher," he said. "I want to go to a winning program, and they told me I'll have a really good chance of playing early."

Auburn and Alabama are undoubtedly the least-surprising members of Davis' top-five list. His father, Wayne Davis, is the Crimson Tide's all-time tackles leader, and the Tigers have played a key factor in his recruitment since its conception.

Neither SEC powerhouse started the season in dominant fashion, though he already senses improvement at each school. 

"Both teams are getting better each week," Davis said. "I think they've found their quarterbacks. [Auburn defensive coordinator Will] Muschamp is working hard to get his defense where he wants it to be, and [Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby] Smart is doing the same thing for the Tide. I can't wait to see them compete in the Iron Bowl."

He will attend the Iron Bowl at Auburn in an unofficial capacity, allowing him to return to campus later for the benefits of a full official visit experience. Though Davis isn't yet sure who he'll sit alongside in the bleachers at Auburn, there's certainly someone he has in mind.

"That's probably one my dad doesn't want to miss," he said.

Despite strong family ties to the Tide, Davis has made it clear he's going to reach a decision that makes long-term sense for him.

"My dad will support whatever decision I make 110 percent," Davis told Bleacher Report in February. "He hasn't really pushed me toward one school or another. He just wants to make sure I'm comfortable with the situation wherever I go."

Meanwhile, close friend and fellow 5-star recruit Marlon Davidson continues to push Davis toward Auburn. The dominant defensive end committed to the Tigers last month.

"As soon as he committed, Marlon told me, 'You're next.' He wants me to come down there with him. We talk all the time," Davis said.

Another component to monitor moving forward is his relationship with Lyndell "Mack" Wilson, the country's top-ranked outside linebacker. Several teams are attempting to secure a package deal with this promising duo, and three of Davis' favorites match teams on Wilson's recently released top-eight list.

Florida State, LSU and Alabama each made the cut as mutual possibilities.

"We might end up linking up together for a visit. He's been talking with me about playing together all the time, but we'll see how it goes," Davis said.

There are still four months and five official visits separating the sensational linebacker from a final choice. For now, his focus is fixated on helping Gordo remain unbeaten in his last high school campaign. 

"I'm trying to close things out strong for my team," Davis said. "I'm definitely excited to get to some of these games on different campuses and find the right fit for me. I really like all these schools, so there's a lot to consider."


Quotes obtained firsthand by Bleacher Report National Recruiting Analyst Tyler Donohue. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings. Follow Tyler via Twitter: @TDsTake. 

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TCU Horned Frogs vs. Kansas State Wildcats Betting Odds, Analysis, Football Pick

Texas Christian is a solid road outfit, winning six of its last seven and 31 of its last 39 away from home. But the Frogs are also only 5-7 against the spread over their last dozen road games and 3-10 ATS the last 13 times they've been favored on the road. TCU is favored on the road for Saturday night's clash with Kansas State in Manhattan.


Point spread: Horned Frogs opened as seven-point favorites, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark. (Line updates and matchup report)

College football pick, via Odds Shark computer: 40.7-23.4 Horned Frogs


Why the TCU Horned Frogs can cover the spread

The Frogs are 5-0 this season and hitting on all cylinders, following last week's 50-7 trouncing of Texas. TCU led 30-0 after the first quarter and probably could have put up 70 on the beleaguered Longhorns. The Frogs outgained Texas 604-313, ran for 228 yards, and quarterback Trevone Boykin continued his Heisman run by throwing five touchdown passes.

Two weeks ago, TCU scored 55 points in topping Texas Tech; just before that, it put up 56 in a win over SMU; and just before that, it piled 70 points on Stephen F. Austin.

Texas Christian is chasing a berth in the College Football Playoff and not only needs wins, but they have to be convincing. A close victory is almost considered a loss, and as the Frogs learned last year, there's very little room for error.


Why the Kansas State Wildcats can cover the spread

After three straight victories to begin this season, the Wildcats just suffered their first loss, a 36-34 decision at ranked Oklahoma State. Kansas State led almost the entire game, fell behind late, regained the lead, then lost on a field goal with 30 seconds to go. But on the day, the 'Cats out-rushed the Cowboys 144-49, held the ball for almost 35 minutes and covered as seven-point road dogs.

Kansas State won its first three games this season by a combined score of 103-36 and has out-rushed every opponent by an average of 95 yards per game. Usually winning the ground battle by margins like that leads to wins and covers.

The Wildcats under head coach Bill Snyder are always a dangerous outfit because they're usually so fundamentally sound and well-coached. Kansas State is also 5-1 ATS its last six times out as a home dog.


Smart pick

TCU is the better team in this matchup, playing on the road, where the spread is more amenable. So despite the recent trends, the smart money here is giving the points with the Frogs.


Betting trends

TCU is 13-0 SU in its last 13 games.

TCU is 5-0 ATS in its last five games in October.

Kansas State is 6-0 ATS in its last six games at home in October.


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

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Auburn Football: Will Tigers Really Miss WR D'haquille "Duke" Williams?

The roller-coaster career of Auburn wide receiver D'haquille "Duke" Williams has come to an end.

The 6'2", 224-pounder was dismissed from the Auburn program late Monday night, according to a release emailed by Auburn.

"When individuals fail to meet the expectations of our program, there has to be consequences," head coach Gus Malzahn said in a statement emailed by Auburn. "I gave D'haquille the chance to prove himself. I am disappointed that it did not work out."

Williams was suspended for Auburn's Outback Bowl matchup against Wisconsin following last season, and again for a week during fall camp for an unspecified violation of team rules. According to Jay G. Tate of, Williams' third strike came over the weekend when he was allegedly involved in an incident at a night club.

Will Auburn miss its senior star receiver?

Because of his his physical ability and potential, the easy answer would be "yes." 

After all, he caught a team-high 45 passes for 730 yards and five touchdowns last year and was one of the most consistent third-down machines as a junior. 

But during his senior season, things have changed, which makes the answer a resounding "no."

While Auburn has undergone an offensive shakeup with Sean White taking over at quarterback for an ineffective Jeremy Johnson, Williams has been missing in action. He has just 12 catches for 147 yards and one score on the season. Williams hasn't served as the all-purpose weapon for an offense that desperately needed him to be and has underwhelmed to a point where ESPN NFL draft analyst Todd McShay is down on his future at the next level:

It's not a leap to suggest that McShay is right about Williams' "inflated sense of self" after he's been suspended three times without an arrest or any suggestion of a failed drug test.

If he's a problem in the locker room and with the coaches and isn't producing much on the field, what's the point of even having him on the roster?

Malzahn's quick hook from Johnson to the redshirt freshman White is a clear sign that Auburn is trying to salvage the present while building toward the future in 2015.

Williams was evidently not part of either equation based on his lack of production this year, so Auburn is better off without him.

There are plenty of talented receivers on the roster who have produced on the Plains. 

Ricardo Louis (6'2", 215 pounds) leads the Tigers with 19 catches for 193 yards and a touchdown, Melvin Ray (6'3", 215 pounds) is a senior who has nine catches for 84 yards and two scores and junior Tony Stevens (6'4", 205 pounds) was behind Williams on the depth chart, although Ray could be a better option to slide over to Williams' old role in the slot. All of those players are big enough to be the possession force Williams was supposed to be but didn't become in 2015.

Add in smaller targets like veteran junior Marcus Davis, redshirt freshman Jason Smith and versatile running backs Roc Thomas and Kerryon Johnson out of the backfield, and there are plenty of weapons for White to grow with.

Auburn has experienced wide receivers to fill the void left by Williams now, and younger ones that will help the offense evolve moving forward.

The Williams experiment has come to an end. For Auburn, it was probably two months too late. 

Auburn's motto this year is "count on me."

It was clear that Malzahn couldn't count on Williams on the field or off of it.


Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports. Statistics are courtesy of

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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Maryland Terrapins vs. Ohio State Buckeyes Betting Odds, College Football Pick

Defending national champion Ohio State owns an 18-game winning streak, but its reputation is making it a bad bet as the Buckeyes have lost their last four games against the spread. OSU is big chalk, again, for Saturday's Big Ten bash with Maryland at the Horseshoe.


Point spread: The Buckeyes opened as 28.5-point favorites, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark. (Line updates and matchup report)

College football pick, via Odds Shark computer: 51.9-19.7 Buckeyes


Why the Maryland Terrapins can cover the spread

Maryland started this season 2-1 both straight up and ATS but has lost its last two, including a 28-0 decision at Michigan last week. The Terps, as two-touchdown dogs, only trailed the Wolverines by six points well into the third quarter, as the defense did what it could to keep things close, but it got no help from the offense and faded.

UM is having a real problem at quarterback, and it's affecting the whole team. The Terps can't convert on third down, and it's putting too much pressure on the defense. If Maryland could just get better play from the quarterback position and move the chains a few times, its defense could help it stay in games.

Finally, the Terps are catching an Ohio State team that isn't quite clicking at the moment. And so far this college football betting season, unranked teams are 50-38 ATS against ranked teams. If they could just put up 14 to 17 points the Terrapins could take the cash Saturday.


Why the Ohio State Buckeyes can cover the spread

OSU is 5-0 on the season after holding off Indiana last week 34-27. The Buckeyes spotted the Hoosiers the first 10 points of the game, but slowly took control, as running back Ezekiel Elliott went off for 274 yards on the ground and three touchdowns. Ohio State got within one score of pushing the spread as 21-point road chalk with 10 minutes to go but couldn't quite finish the deal.

The Buckeyes outgained Indiana 517-402, while overcoming three turnovers.

Ohio State opened this season with a victory/cover at Virginia Tech, and while it's still undefeated, something seems to be missing. But the Buckeyes are still probably the best team in the country and could explode at any moment.


Smart pick

With Ohio State playing at home, this spread is probably about a touchdown too much, but Maryland has scored a total of six points over its last two games and might not top that figure Saturday. And even with mediocre play at quarterback the Buckeyes are capable of putting up 40. The smart money here resides with OSU.


Betting trends

Maryland is 2-5 SU and ATS in its last seven games.

Ohio State is 18-0 SU in its last 18 games.

Ohio State is 0-5 ATS in its last five games at home.


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

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Northwestern Wildcats vs. Michigan Wolverines Betting Odds, Football Pick

Even as it's struggled over recent seasons, Michigan has retained the upper hand in the series with Northwestern, winning nine of the last 10 meetings straight up. But the Wildcats have been grabbing the cash, going 5-2 against the spread over the last seven meetings.

In an interesting game in the Big Ten, Michigan and Northwestern hook up for Homecoming at the Big House Saturday afternoon.


Point spread: The Wolverines opened as 10-point favorites, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark. (Line updates and matchup report)

College football pick, via Odds Shark computer: 30.3-16.6 Wolverines


Why the Northwestern Wildcats can cover the spread

Northwestern is 5-0 this season, 4-1 ATS, after blanking Minnesota last week 27-0, easily covering as a four-point home favorite. The Wildcats led 10-0 at the half and 20-0 after three quarters, then put the cherry on top with a fumble return for a score early in the fourth. On the day Northwestern outrushed the Gophers 184-74 and won time of possession by a 34-26 margin, and those are usually good ways to cover spreads in college football.

The Wildcats opened this season with an upset of Stanford, and in their only road game so far, won at Duke. So they already own two victories over quality foes.

After losing three close contests to Michigan the last three seasons, Northwestern is probably itching for a shot at revenge.


Why the Michigan Wolverines can cover the spread

The Maize and Blue are 4-1 SU and 3-2 ATS through their first five games under new head coach Jim Harbaugh, including a 28-0 blanking of Maryland last week. The Wolverines only led 6-0 at the half but pulled away from there, eventually outgaining the Terrapins 378-105, racking up 198 yards on the ground and holding the ball for over 34 minutes. And as mentioned above those are excellent prerequisites for covering spreads, which Michigan did as a two-touchdown road favorite.

So since that season-opening loss at Utah, which doesn't look too bad right now considering what the Utes have done, the Wolverines have allowed just 14 points over their last four games, pitching back-to-back shutouts.

Michigan seems to have the voodoo on the Wildcats; three seasons ago the Wolverines connected on a late Hail Mary and kicked a field goal to force overtime, where they won 38-31; two seasons ago they kicked a field goal at the buzzer to again force overtime, where they won 27-19; and last season they stopped a Northwestern two-point conversion with three seconds left to preserve a 10-9 victory. And things like that play on teams' minds.


Smart pick

The last three meetings in this series have been very close, and there's little reason to believe Saturday's game won't play out along similar lines. The smart money in this spot resides with the underdog Wildcats.


Betting trends

Michigan is 9-1 SU in its last 10 games against Northwestern.

Northwestern is 7-2 SU and ATS in its last nine games.

The total has gone under in Michigan's last six games at home.


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

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