NCAA Football News

Is Florida Still a Lock to Win SEC East?

It took the Mad Hatter himself to set Florida's dream season back ever so slightly. It took a kicker, whose bio lists him at 170 pounds—and that's probably with his pads—to hand the Gators their first loss of the year. 

In other words, LSU was LSU, Les Miles was Les Miles and a fake field goal was the difference in the Tigers' 35-28 win over Florida. 

That doesn't mean, though, that Florida's magical season has come to a grinding halt. It doesn't mean that Jim McElwain's team will lose the rest of its games or somehow come back down to reality. LSU needed to reach into its bag of tricks to beat the Gators, who were playing their second-string quarterback, Treon Harris.

That's not a criticism, by the way. LSU could very well be on its way to a playoff appearance, and sometimes, you have to pull out some trickery along the way.

Before that, Florida had overcome two double-digit deficits in one of the toughest environments in college football. The defense slowed LSU running back Leonard Fournette as much as any team possibly could. The Heisman front-runner rushed for 180 yards and two touchdowns but averaged 5.81 yards per carry. For context, that was his second-lowest total of the year. 

If anything, Saturday's loss was the most telling game about Florida under McElwain. 

Now, it's time for McElwain to refocus. The Gators' path to winning the SEC East, which would have been nearly unthinkable six weeks ago, is still clear. Is Florida a lock to win the East? If this season has proven anything, nothing is a lock, not even handling a punt, but the hurdles are few.

As McElwain said after the LSU game, the Gators are still in control of their own divisional destiny: 

The East title race could very well come down to the Halloween game against Georgia. Both teams have a bye before meeting in Jacksonville, Florida, for the annual rivalry. Without Nick Chubb, however, Georgia's offense has taken a noticeable step back. In its first game without Chubb, who has a season-ending knee injury, the Bulldogs rushed for 2.7 yards per carry in a 9-6 win over Missouri. 

It might not be realistic to think that Georgia's running game will be stuffed forever, but there are bigger-picture concerns, as B/R colleague Barrett Sallee noted: 

Georgia currently ranks 12th in the SEC in red-zone scoring percentage (80.77 percent), 10th in red-zone touchdown percentage (50 percent) and 12th in third-down conversion percentage (33.33 percent).

...

[Quarterback Greyson] Lambert is currently 10th in the SEC in passing yards per game (182.3) and tied for ninth with six passing plays of 30 or more yards with Florida's Treon Harris and South Carolina's Perry Orth—both of whom started the season as backups and have been thrust into action due to starters being out of the lineup.

Georgia's offense hasn't taken off under first-year offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. Florida's offense, meanwhile, has improved dramatically under McElwain and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier. Inserting Harris back into the starting lineup—Will Grier will miss the year for a positive PED test—leaves some question marks, but there's no doubt that this team is getting coached up. One of the best examples of this is along the offensive line, a dangerously thin and inexperienced group: 

Keep in mind, too, the strength of this Florida team still resides on defense. So long as Harris can keep the offense moving, the drop-off from Grier shouldn't be that dramatic. 

If the Gators can get past Georgia, their path to Atlanta becomes even clearer. All that would remain are games against Vanderbilt and a road trip to South Carolina. However, the Commodores can be tricky because of their defense, and you never know if or how a coaching change can invigorate a team like the Gamecocks. 

The point being, there are some potential challenges to consider, but Florida should be in a position to get past all of them. Any one of three, or even four, teams could realistically still win the East mathematically speaking, but Florida has shown the most and has the best remaining path. 

 

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

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Newsman Says Michigan Beat Michigan State While Reporting Outside the Big House

Anybody who turned off the Michigan State-Michigan game a minute or two early probably thought the Wolverines had wrapped up a win.

But as we saw, the game isn't over until the final whistle blows.

Michigan State pulled out an unbelievable 27-23 victory when Michigan punter Blake O'Neill was unable to handle a long snap and fumbled at his own 38-yard line on the final play of the game. The Spartans' Jalen Watts-Jackson was in position to grab the football and run to the end zone for a walk-off touchdown.

It was as stunning a finish as you will ever see.

That wild ending led to an unfortunate moment for one Michigan reporter. After the game, Jamal Spencer of Grand Rapids' WZZM 13 was reporting from outside the Big House. On live TV, Spencer said the Wolverines had beaten the Spartans—which, of course, they had not.

To his credit, Spencer—a Michigan State alum—owned up to his mistake:

It was an embarrassing error, no doubt. However, mistakes happen. Spencer took responsibility for his, and WZZM 13 even acknowledged the error. Now, everyone involved can chalk it up as a learning experience.

[vidme, Twitter; h/t Deadspin]

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Michigan Football: How Wolverines' Top Commits Performed This Weekend

The third weekend of October 2015 is one Michigan Wolverines fans will never forget or fondly recall. 

A stunning last-second loss to Michigan State in Ann Arbor is bound to sting for a long time, immediately assuming a significant spot in the history of this heated rivalry. For Wolverines fans, a slight silver lining can be found while taking a look at prospects who will someday attempt to help Michigan exact revenge against the Spartans. 

High school action across America further illustrated the level of talent head coach Jim Harbaugh has assembled in a 2016 recruiting class that rates ninth overall nationally in composite rankings. Several members of an impressive haul headlined weekend action, delivering tremendous efforts for their respective squads.

Brandon Peters, a 6'5", 205-pound passer from Avon High School in Indiana, continues to decimate defenses on his way to career-best single-season statistical totals.

The Elite 11 finalist tossed two more touchdowns Friday night in a 46-14 victory over Noblesville, per Brian Stumpf of Student Sports. He's led Avon to six consecutive wins, suffering his last loss Sept. 4.

Peters, rated seventh nationally among pro-style quarterbacks in composite rankings, enjoyed a multi-score game each week throughout this streak. He's thrown for 19 touchdowns during the stretch, pushing his senior season total to 29 scores through the air, per MaxPreps.

It's quite a spike in production for Peters, who committed to Michigan in April while on campus, after tossing 21 touchdowns in each of his past two seasons. This improvement is further indication of the work he put in during Elite 11 action and throughout an eventful offseason.

"My focus is on getting better in every phase of the game," Peters told Bleacher Report this summer. "By the time I get to Michigan, I want to be prepared to compete."

Ahmir Mitchell also represented the Wolverines' 2016 class in quality fashion. The 6'3", 206-pound New Jersey product secured six receptions for 130 yards Friday night in a 40-14 victory over Oakcrest High School, per Mike McGarry of the Atlantic City Press.

The 4-star Cedar Creek High School standout has dealt with constant defensive schemes geared toward slowing him down this season. Mitchell, who could compete at wide receiver or safety in college, took advantage of his latest opportunity to wreak havoc.

"Throughout the week coach focused on getting me the ball a little bit more and putting me in the action," Mitchell told McGarry. "Some of the defenses (in past games) played triple coverage and double coverage. (Oakcrest) didn't play over the top of me so much, so I was able to open up a little bit."

Among the most vocal members of this Wolverines class, Mitchell is an ardent peer-recruiter. He's pushing for other players from the Garden State to join him in Ann Arbor, including top-ranked running back and Ohio State commit Kareem Walker:

He's also focused on fellow New Jersey stars Jordan Fuller, a two-way talent, and Rashan Gary, a defensive tackle who is the nation No. 1 overall prospect:

Mitchell is building off a junior campaign that included 1,419 all-purpose yards, 37 tackles and 20 touchdowns, per MaxPreps.

"Ahmir is a very aggressive player and one of those dogs I'm really glad we've got in our class," 4-star Michigan defensive end commit Ron Johnson told Bleacher Report last week. "He does some really good stuff at receiver, but I also think he can be a special guy on defense."

Johnson's Camden High School (New Jersey) teammate, wide receiver Brad Hawkins, is another Wolverines pledge who excelled during the weekend. He reeled in a touchdown toss and also picked off an opponent's pass for his fourth interception since 2014, per Bill Evans of NJ.com.

Hawkins now has 28 touchdown receptions since his sophomore season.

 

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

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