NCAA Football News

More Impressive First-Year Coaching Job: Jim Harbaugh or Jim McElwain?

Last winter, two of college football’s best programs went through a tough process at the same time. Florida and Michigan both found themselves badly needing change. Will Muschamp’s leadership had left the Gators stagnant, while the Wolverines had regressed under Brady Hoke’s watch.

It was time to make a change, and both programs did that, firing their head coaches. The programs took different routes with their hires, with Florida plucking Jim McElwain from Colorado State and Michigan waiting until the NFL regular season wrapped to lure prodigal son Jim Harbaugh back to Ann Arbor.

As we hit midseason, it’s clear, at least initially, that both hires were a success. Florida is 5-1 and ranked No. 13 in the latest Associated Press Top 25, and Michigan is just behind at No. 15 with a 5-2 mark.

In fact, ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit told Justin Dacey of MLive.com recently that Harbaugh has righted a "lost" program.

"When he came back and decided to say, 'As a Michigan man, I'm going to bring Michigan back to being who they are—elite and special,'" Herbstreit said." 

Which raises the question: Who’s doing a better coaching job? Let’s take a look. This is an examination of what Harbaugh and McElwain have done, not what’s ahead, given that McElwain’s job could get a lot tougher without starting quarterback Will Grier, who’s serving a one-year NCAA suspension for a positive performance-enhancing drug test.

Both programs have been extremely competitive, and neither has a “bad” loss. Combined, their three losses came to No. 3 Utah, No. 5 LSU and No. 7 Michigan State, and none by more than seven points. Michigan lost Harbaugh’s debut at Utah, 24-17 and was on the verge of beating the Spartans before a bizarre mishandled punt led to a final-play touchdown and a 27-23 defeat. Florida played LSU off its heels in Baton Rouge before falling 35-28.

While the Utah loss looked poor at the time, it has gained value by the week as the Utes have emerged as a Pac-12 powerhouse. The Michigan State and LSU losses should have similar staying power.

What are these coaches working with? They didn’t exactly inherit empty cupboards. While neither Harbaugh nor McElwain had a top-20 2015 recruiting class, per 247Sports (Florida was No. 21, Michigan No. 37), the classes’ lower rankings can be explained by the turmoil that inevitably surrounds a coaching change.
Let’s look at the previous three classes, as rated by 247Sports. In 2012, Florida had the nation’s No. 3 class, and Michigan was No. 6. A year later, Florida had the nation’s No. 3 class again, with the Wolverines right behind at No. 4. In 2014, both teams slipped a bit: Florida was No. 9 and Michigan was No. 20.

Averaged out over three years, Florida’s classes were No. 5.3 nationally. Michigan’s were No. 10. Again, that’s not too shabby, but McElwain had slightly better talent to work with.

Both programs entered with quarterback questions. Florida returned sophomore Treon Harris, who started the final seven games last season, but Grier was the more polished pocket passer. Michigan returned one-time starter Shane Morris, but Iowa graduate transfer Jake Rudock proved himself a better game manager.

Senior Trip Thurman was the only returning starter on the Gators’ offensive line, and Florida starts a graduate transfer from FCS program Fordham, senior Mason Halter, at right tackle.

Despite those issues, the Gators offense has improved from a year ago. Last fall, the Gators were No. 93 nationally in total offense and No. 104 nationally in pass offense. Now, they’re No. 86 nationally in total offense with a significant improvement in pass offense, ranking No. 49 nationally.

Michigan returned five players with starting experience on the offensive line (which struggled a year ago) but had little experience in the receiving corps, returning just five touchdown catches from 2014. And that offense finished No. 112 nationally, and No. 110 in passing offense.

This fall, the Wolverines have shown some improvement, but not as much as the Gators. With Rudock running the show they are No. 90 nationally in total offense and No. 98 in passing offense, barely in the top 100 nationally.

However, Harbaugh did inherit a strong defense that ranked No. 7 nationally in 2014, and it has been strong again this fall, ranking No. 7 nationally through seven weeks. Muschamp left McElwain a strong defense, and he has largely maintained it. A year ago, the Gators ranked No. 15 nationally in total defense, and they’re No. 22 this season.

Look at all the numbers, and it’s close. Very close. Both programs began the season outside the Top 25, and both are solidly in it now, with an opportunity to win their respective divisions (Florida is in the SEC East driver’s seat, while Michigan remains in contention for the Big Ten East).

Which coach is doing the better job? Florida’s offensive improvement, given the lack of experience on the offensive line, gives McElwain the slightest of edges, at least for now.

Both programs, however, are clearly on the road back to national prominence. Ultimately, the story is far from over.

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Oluwole Betiku Decommits from UCLA: Latest Details, Comments and Reaction

A huge class of 2016 recruit put himself back in play Friday as defensive end Oluwole Betiku decommitted from UCLA.  

The Nigeria-born prospect made an official announcement via Twitter, citing a desire to take a deliberate, calculated approach to choosing his school:

According to 247Sports, Betiku is a 5-star prospect who ranks as the No. 11 overall recruit in his class and the top weak-side defensive end.

With a nearly 6'4", 240-pound frame to go along with speed, quickness and power to boot, the Junipero Serra High School (Gardena, California) standout has all of the makings of a future collegiate superstar.

Per Bleacher Report's Sanjay Kirpalani, Betiku has big-time aspirations moving forward as he hopes to provide for his family by making it to the NFL: "I came into the game of football just to make a way for my family. Make a way in my life and just to find a good situation. My mom and dad are still in Nigeria. My sister is over there and my brother. I want to be the breadwinner of the family one day. I feel like sports was going to be the way."

With Betiku's recruitment now wide open once again, Tom Loy of 247Sports tabbed Florida, Florida State, Notre Dame, Penn State and Texas A&M as potential landing spots.

UCLA and head coach Jim Mora may not be out of the running despite the decommitment, but the Bruins will have no shortage of competition in their efforts to bring Betiku back into the fold.

Mora has done a great job on the recruiting trail of late as UCLA's Class of 2015 ranks 12th in the nation, according to 247Sports, but Betiku may ultimately be viewed by Bruins fans as the one who got away for many years to come.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter.

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Daily Fantasy College Football Week 8: Top Sleepers and DraftKings Projections

Saturday is almost here, which means you don't have much longer to set DraftKings lineups for Week 8 of daily fantasy college football.

But don't worry. We've done a little research, too.

Everybody wants to find a couple of sleepers, and the following five players are priced at $5,000 or less. Plugging them into a lineup provides a high-upside, cost-efficient option that allows flexibility.

 

Eric Dungey, QB, Syracuse ($5,000)

Baylor's Seth Russell will be an immensely popular play, but his $9,400 price tag likely makes the second quarterback a low-salary guy.

Perhaps the most reliable option will be Eric Dungey, who has scored at least 18.7 DFS points as the Syracuse starter. Last week, he tallied a season-high 26.5 points despite losing two fumbles.

Syracuse hosts Pittsburgh on Saturday, and it's not an outstanding matchup overall. But the two dual-threat quarterbacks the Panthers have played—Iowa's C.J. Beathard and Georgia Tech's Justin Thomas—combined for a total of 498 yards and two touchdowns.

Dungey's ceiling isn't tremendously high, but his floor is appealing.

Projection: 172 pass YDS, 1 TD, 1 INT; 68 rush YDS, 1 TD

 

Raekwon James, RB, Kent State ($4,300)

While Trayion Durham received the first shot at the starting job when Nick Holley went down, a sub-3.0-yard average gave Raekwon James a chance in Week 7—and he didn't waste it.

The freshman running back logged 20 carries for 85 yards, adding eight receptions for 56 yards during a five-point victory over Massachusetts.

Kent State probably can't keep up with Bowling Green's high-powered offense, but that doesn't spell disaster in the slightest. James has proved he's a pass-catching threat, and that'll come in handy when his team is inevitably trailing Bowling Green.

Although he's averaged 12.9 DFS points over the last four weeks, James has yet to score a touchdown. But this week, James will finally reach paydirt.

Projection: 71 rush YDS, 1 TD; 5 REC, 42 YDS

 

Keith Harrington, RB, Washington State ($3,700)

Be careful not to get overly infatuated with Keith Harrington, but he's a weekly double-digit player who can provide salary relief—and he's entertaining, too:

Just once in six games has the running back tallied fewer than 10.5 points. That's mostly because Harrington regularly contributes as a receiver, considering he has 23 catches this season.

What's most intriguing, though, is Washington State will face an Arizona defense that has surrendered 177.4 rushing yards per game and allowed a total of 15 rushing touchdowns.

Harrington should break off a couple of big runs, snag a few passes and find his way into the end zone once during a high-scoring contest.

Projection: 43 rush YDS, 1 TD; 4 REC, 37 YDS

 

Quenton Bundrage, WR, Iowa State ($4,300)

When Baylor steps onto the field, everyone knows what's coming: points, points and more points. But the Bears offense executes so quickly that opponents will have plenty of snaps.

And, more importantly, a team like Iowa State will be forced to throw, throw and throw some more, because Baylor will almost certainly build an early lead.

Allen Lazard is the Cyclones' No. 1 receiver, but Quenton Bundrage can rack up targets. The senior wideout has steadily improved throughout the season, which was an expected development after Bundrage missed all of 2014 due to injury.

Over the last two weeks, he's snagged 10 passes for 161 yards and a touchdown. Expect Bundrage to continue his trend on Saturday.

Projection: 7 REC, 91 YDS, 1 TD

 

Canaan Severin, WR, Virginia ($4,100)

Similar to Bundrage and Iowa State, Canaan Severin and Virginia are bound to be trailing—probably right away, too.

The biggest difference, though, is Severin has established himself as the top receiver. Plus, North Carolina's secondary hasn't faced a player of the senior's caliber. Severin has scored a touchdown in three of his last four games.

Additionally, UNC is listed as 17.5-point favorites, according to Odds Shark. So, the Cavaliers are expected to be playing catch-up for most of the matchup, and Matt Johns really doesn't have options besides Severin and Taquan Mizzell.

Virginia won't win, but Severin will put up solid numbers.

Projection: 6 REC, 102 YDS, 1 TD

Head over to DraftKings and sign up for daily fantasy college football today. Assemble your lineup to participate in contests with big cash prizes.

Follow Bleacher Report CFB and DFS writer David Kenyon on Twitter @Kenyon19_BR.

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Tennessee Football: 5 Players Volunteers Will Rely on Most vs. Alabama

In order for the Tennessee football team to finally force the big crimson elephant in the room into the loser's column, the Volunteers are going to have to get some monumental individual efforts.

You can't just beat Bama with a pedestrian performance, and after eight consecutive losses to the rival, it's going to take some playmakers emerging with games that will be remembered in the UT record books. That's just the way it goes when you've got a program as sturdy as coach Nick Saban's.

Even so, there doesn't seem to be any fear on Tennessee's sideline.

"Is it going to be a great challenge?” Tennessee coach Butch Jones told ESPN.com's Alex Scarborough. "Yes, but it's all about being elite. We are working to be an elite football program. … Everything goes into that term 'elite.' Obviously, Alabama is elite, but I know our players are excited and looking forward to a great challenge and opportunity."

The Vols need to take advantage of the decisive edge they have on special teams, meaning Evan Berry, Cameron Sutton or Alvin Kamara needs a huge return (or more) to steal points. 

UT needs to be efficient on offense, keep the ball away from Alabama and sustain drives. Tennessee also has to be opportunistic on defense and force the Crimson Tide into mistakes the way Ole Miss did.

But several players need all-world efforts, too. Let's take a look at who must emerge with some of the biggest games of their lives in order for Tennessee to beat Alabama for the first time since 2006.

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College Football Picks Week 8: Latest Top 25 Odds and Final-Score Predictions

The changes keep sweeping through college football's top-25 rankings as a fresh crop of teams get ready to continue their rise toward the top of the polls. 

Of the seven teams ranked last week that lost, only three of them fell out of the rankings as we take a look at the updated polls headed into Week 8.

I'm not sure how many of you had the likes of Temple, Toledo and Memphis in the top-25 entering Week 8, but sure enough, a trio of less prestigious football schools are making their way up the ranks of college football. 

They look to be in pretty good shape this week, too, as they take on teams with a combined 8-11 record. 

Among the top of the rankings, a pair of top-5 teams went down despite winning. TCU went from No. 3 to No. 4 after defeating Iowa State by 24, and Clemson dropped from No. 5 to No. 6 after beating Boston College by 17. 

They have a chance to regain those lost spots this week, as you can see below the upcoming schedule, latest odds and my predictions for the upcoming games. All odds are courtesy of OddsShark.com

Game of the Week No. 9 Florida State at Georgia Tech

I know what you're thinking. It doesn't look like an attractive matchup on paper. An undefeated Florida State, ranked ninth in the nation, is meeting a Georgia Tech team that has struggled mightily to a 2-5 record. 

After winning their first two games against Alcorn State and Tulane, Georgia Tech has lost five-straight games, four of them to teams currently ranked in the top-25. 

They are reliant on their rushing attack, which averages a little over 285 yards per game. They have three rushers that have over 300 yards on the ground, led by Marcus Marshall, who is averaging over 10 yards per carry this season. 

His presence in the backfield is a welcome sight for Yellow Jackets quarterback Justin Thomas, as he spoke with Ken Sugiura of AJC.com.

"It’s fun," said Thomas. "Just a guy who you can hand the ball off to and he can break (big plays). It makes your job easier."

Their flexbone offense features three running backs on the field at the same time, and Georgia Tech runs the ball over 50 times per game. 

Florida State's run defense, which gives up around 110 yards per game, needs to hold Georgia Tech's rushing attack to around that mark if it wants to win comfortably. 

They know they'll be busy, too, as Seminoles cornerback Marquez White told Brendan Sonnone of the Orlando Sentinel:

They’re really good at what they do. [They've] got really elusive players. They do a lot of things that you’re not normally used to seeing, but it’s football. [You’ve] gotta be able to adapt and like I said, I’m looking forward to the challenge. Just coming up, just playing physical.

Florida State is going to want to avoid a shootout here. Georgia Tech hasn't scored under 30 points all season, including two games over 60. The Seminoles, on the other hand, have been held under 30 in three of the past four weeks.

If they let Georgia Tech run rampant on Saturday, this is going to be a very close game. It could even be the biggest upset of the week. 

Stats courtesy of ESPN.com

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ESPN College GameDay 2015: Week 8 Location Hosts, TV Schedule and Predictions

The SEC, Big Ten, Pac-12 and Big 12 can wait—the marquee game on Week 8 of the college football slate takes place in the Colonial Athletic Association in the Football Championship Subdivision.

The Richmond Spiders take their 5-1 overall record and perfect 3-0 mark in the conference on the road to battle the 7-0 James Madison Dukes for conference supremacy. The winner will be in complete control of the CAA standings and have the inside track for a postseason spot. 

As if there wasn’t already enough at stake, ESPN’s traveling pregame show, College GameDay, decided to set the stage in person. The show shared its decision to head to Harrisonburg:

College GameDay typically hits the road for power conference clashes that directly impact the College Football Playoff race, so this is a deviation from the norm. ESPN’s Sam Ponder, who is part of the show, shared her excitement for the switch:

Here is everything you need to know for the Week 8 version of College GameDay, as well as a prediction for the showdown on the field.

 

ESPN College GameDay: Week 8 Info

Date: Saturday, Oct. 24

Time (ET): 9 a.m. - 12 p.m.

Location: Harrisonburg, Virginia

Watch: ESPN  

Live Stream: WatchESPN

 

Preview and Prediction

The presence of College GameDay isn’t the only reason this is such an important battle. The Spiders and Dukes sit atop the CAA standings with undefeated conference records. The last time either program won the outright conference title in the regular season was in 2008, when James Madison took it, and Saturday’s winner will be in firm control of this year’s race.

Richmond holds the 17-15 historical advantage, but the Dukes won the past two meetings, including last year’s 55-20 blowout at Richmond. The battle shifts to James Madison for homecoming this year, and the crowd is planning a “purple out.”

The Spiders may be on the road, but they have plenty of momentum on their side.

They lost at Maryland to start the season but are undefeated since, with the last four wins coming by a combined 101 points. Quarterback Kyle Lauletta threw for a career-high 312 yards in Richmond’s 37-12 victory over Rhode Island in his last game, and wide receiver Reggie Diggs tallied 142 receiving yards.

Lauletta is the leader of the offense with 1,510 passing yards and 10 touchdowns, but the rushing combination of Seth Fisher and Jacobi Green is also dangerous. The two runners combined for 720 rushing yards and 10 scores this season and will test James Madison’s defense Saturday.

Richmond’s offense has been impressive, but it doesn’t hold up against James Madison’s. The Dukes are 7-0 for the first time ever and boast a 48-45 win at SMU on their resume. The other six wins came by a combined 191 points (an average winning margin of 31.83 points a game).

The Dukes don’t just win, they win big. They scored more than 50 points four times already, and their lowest point total was 38 against the Stony Brook Seawolves. They also topped 600 yards of total offense five different times, thanks largely to the presence of quarterback Vad Lee.

Lee was a highly regarded recruit who initially attended Georgia Tech, but he is now the favorite to win the Walter Payton Trophy as the best player in the FCS. Against SMU, he threw for 289 yards and three touchdowns and ran for 276 more yards and two additional scores.

Matt Walks of ESPN.com described the superstar:

Through seven games this year, they have one of the best and most efficient offenses in college football, regardless of division, and Lee keeps pillaging the record books. In JMU's 48-45 upset win over SMU, he set single-game marks for total offense (565) and rushing yards (276, to which he added 275 passing yards). Against Towson, he went 24-for-32 with five passing touchdowns. Last week, JMU blew out Elon 51-0, the biggest margin of victory in program history. At the midseason mark, he looks like a lock for the STATS National Player of the Year, essentially the MVP of the FCS.

Even if Richmond somehow finds a way to stop Lee, James Madison has three of the top four rushers in the CAA. Lee is one, but tailbacks Khalid Abdullah and Cardon Johnson are dominant forces as well. The Dukes ran for 440 yards against SMU behind an uptempo offense that has an FCS-high 220 first downs.

Richmond cornerback Jarriel Jordan discussed facing the potent James Madison offense, per John O’Connor of the Richmond Times-Dispatch: “Wrap up. That’s the big thing. We need to tackle and get them down. Watching film, they break a lot of tackles. They keep their feet moving. They’re determined to get to the end zone every time they get the ball.”

Jordan has the right idea, but recognizing the need to wrap up and actually doing it against the three-headed attack of the Dukes are two separate things. Richmond’s offense will keep it within striking distance throughout the game, but the defense will not be able to slow down Lee and company for all four quarters on the road.

Look for James Madison to pull away at the end with another explosive offensive performance.

Prediction: James Madison 51, Richmond 34

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Alvin Kamara's Return to Alabama Promises to Be Emotional on Many Levels

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — This isn’t the way it was supposed to happen.

Sure, former University of Alabama running back Alvin Kamara was looking forward to finally playing a game in Bryant-Denny Stadium, but not like this. Not with his former teammates and himself mourning the loss of a friend.

Kamara has been trying to treat this week like it was any other, even though it clearly isn't, but that became impossible after the death of Altee Tenpenny, one the running backs he practiced alongside for a year.

When asked about his former Crimson Tide colleague who died in a car accident on Tuesday, Kamara teared up.

"What was so sad is I talked to him actually yesterday," Kamara told reporters in Knoxville on Wednesday. "Just to wake up and get that news was heartbreaking. I know those guys over there are hurting, but it hurts me a lot, but I know he's resting easy now."

Regardless of the outcome, Saturday’s game against Tennessee figures to be an emotional one on many levels. The Volunteers are desperate for a big win while the No. 8 Crimson Tide can’t afford another loss in their pursuit of both the Southeastern Conference and national titles, and now a lot of the key participants are also dealing with a tragedy.

That’s all on top of it being the “Third Saturday in October” rivalry. It’s a lot for anyone to take in.

"Guys have been asking me about the mood over there or, more specifically, about certain guys, matchup-wise, kind of the demeanor of those guys as far as playing," Kamara said. "So, I've been kind of an insider, being able to give [Tennessee] some information about them. It comes down to Saturday, we've got to keep having great practices and put it on the field on Saturday."

Alabama is all too familiar with facing former teammates, including former Auburn running back Corey Grant—who is now one of T.J. Yeldon’s backups and a kick returner with the Jacksonville Jaguars but was placed on injured reserve this week due to a hip flexor tear—and tight end Corey McCarron at Middle Tennessee earlier this season.

Kamara was part of Alabama's 2013 recruiting class that was hailed by many as the nation’s best. It was especially notable for its additions in the backfield. Due to depleted numbers at the position, the Crimson Tide added four top recruits: Derrick Henry, Kamara, Tenpenny and Tyren Jones.

“When he was here he was cool,” said junior defensive end Jonathan Allen, who was also in that class. “Great guy to be around, great team player. I love the guy.”

The idea was that they would push each other only it didn’t quite work out that way. While Kamara redshirted, the others all played as freshmen, and it was Henry who established himself behind Yeldon on the depth chart during bowl practices.

One of the bright spots in the Sugar Bowl loss to Oklahoma, Henry had 100 rushing yards on eight carries and took his first reception for a 61-yard touchdown. The others either had to be patient and wait their turns or look elsewhere.

Some off-the-field factors came into play as well. Tenpenny transferred (initially to UNLV then to Nicholls State this season), Jones was eventually dismissed from his scholarship and Kamara spent a season at the “Hutch”—Hutchinson Community College in Kansas—before making his SEC return with Tennessee.

“There was no question about the fact that he was an outstanding player,” Saban said. “What happened here was he was doing extremely well for us and was probably going to play as a freshman, and he got his knee scoped and missed three or four weeks and really couldn't catch up. He was really frustrated with the fact that he wasn't playing, and it was difficult for him at that time in his career. 

“I've seen him play this year, and he's done extremely well, and we're happy for him.”

Kamara wasted no time in establishing himself with the Volunteers. As part of a dangerous backfield combination with running back Jalen Hurd and quarterback Joshua Dobbs, he’s tallied 255 rushing yards (42.5 per game), 15 receptions for 108 yards, and five punt returns for 84 yards (16.8 average).

He’s seen the end zone six times already in the same number of games for Tennessee (3-3, 1-2 SEC), and he's even completed a pass.

"This is a tough league, and for anyone to take a pounding as a running back play after play—and I'm not just talking about running the ball, I'm talking about pass-protection and things like that—it's tough," Tennessee offensive coordinator Mike DeBord said at a press conference on Tuesday. "Alvin has obviously come in and given us great depth at that position, great production."

Even though his future lay elsewhere, Kamara has kept in touch with a lot of his former teammates, and even more have continued to follow his career. Once the game starts he’ll just be No. 6, although senior linebacker Reggie Ragland has already said that he’ll make a point to say hello the first time they collide on the field.

“I ain’t talked to Alvin in a while,” Ragland said. “That’s my little brother. I can’t wait to see him.”

Henry said he’ll wait to “speak to him after the game.”

Regardless, Saturday will be an exercise in containing a wide range of emotions for both Alabama (6-1, 3-1 SEC) and Kamara. From the joy of reconnecting to the shared grief they’ll feel, there will be a lot more going on than a football game played roughly three hours after Tenpenny’s funeral in Arkansas. 

"When he was here, we played against him a lot on the scout team,” linebacker Denzel Devall said, “So it's gonna be interesting to be back out there with Alvin and competing against him.

“It's gonna be fun. I'm looking forward to it."

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Christopher Walsh is a lead SEC college football writer. Follow Christopher on Twitter @WritingWalsh.

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