NCAA Football News

Notre Dame Football: Everything Irish Fans Need to Know About North Carolina

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Nestled quietly between marquee matchups with Stanford and Florida State rests a potential trap game for Notre Dame football with North Carolina on Saturday.

The Tar Heels began the season ranked 23rd in the AP poll but are currently toiling through a three-game losing streak. Losses to Virginia Tech, Clemson and East Carolina have followed wins against Liberty and San Diego State to start the season.

So what should Irish fans expect from head coach Larry Fedora’s squad Saturday?

 

Struggling Defense

There could be points aplenty Saturday, at least with Notre Dame’s offense squaring off with North Carolina’s porous defense. The Tar Heels surrendered 34 points to Virginia Tech on Saturday after allowing 50 to Clemson and 70—yes, 70—to East Carolina. The rankings aren’t pretty.

As Andrew Carter writes in The News & Observer, Fedora has reiterated the importance of “small things” and “details.” Most notably, the Tar Heels secondary has had a propensity for allowing big plays. Against East Carolina, for instance, North Carolina surrendered eight passing plays of at least 20 yards.

One key area to watch, though, is turnovers. North Carolina has still managed to coax 12 turnovers this season, and Irish quarterback Everett Golson himself has committed six giveaways in the past two games alone. Expect Notre Dame to put quite a few points on the board Saturday, but only if Golson and the Irish take care of the ball.

 

Offensive Duality

The Tar Heel offense has been somewhat enigmatic of late. The same team that tallied 41 points against East Carolina and 35 more against Clemson notched just 17 against Virginia Tech.

“I'd love to tell you that Virginia Tech is a great defense and did something spectacular, but it was whatever we could do wrong, whatever could go wrong for us offensively, went wrong the entire first half,” Fedora said to reporters following Saturday’s game.

Three turnovers (and two other fumbles the Tar Heel offense recovered) proved costly.

There’s enough talent on the North Carolina offense. Quarterback Marquise Williams is one of just nine players in the country leading his squad in both passing and rushing yards. Wide receivers Quinshad Davis and Ryan Switzer boast big-play ability. But for some reason, the offense hasn’t found a groove of late.

Fedora and the Tar Heels have remained steadfast in getting backup quarterback Mitch Trubisky work throughout the games. Trubisky has come on for Williams on one of the first few drives in each game so far this season.

According to Powell Latimer of the Greensboro News & Record, Fedora said he doesn’t believe the quarterback shuffle has been the primary problem with the offense.

Assuming Notre Dame’s offense has no trouble scoring on the Tar Heels, North Carolina’s offense will need to develop quickly to keep pace with the Irish. That being said, it’s difficult to see North Carolina all of a sudden playing crisply enough to conquer Irish defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder’s aggressive, multiple looks.

Expect VanGorder to bring pressure for Williams in a similar way that he dialed up constant blitzes for Syracuse quarterback Terrel Hunt and, to a lesser degree, Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan.

 

Elijah Hood Returns to South Bend

Simmering quietly on the back burner is the story of North Carolina freshman running back Elijah Hood, a one-time Notre Dame commitment who reneged on his verbal to the Irish and stuck with his home-state Tar Heels.

As Brooke Pryor of Carolina Blue notes, Hood will be a part of his first game-day experience in South Bend.

Hood, who was ranked the No. 8 running back and No. 47 overall player in the class of 2014 according to 247Sports’ Composite Rankings, has been part of a crowded backfield in Chapel Hill. Outside of Williams, Hood has the most carries (39) and yards (166) on the squad. His marquee showing was a 13-carry, 71-yard, one-touchdown performance against Clemson.

Needless to say, the Tar Heels must find a way to do what Stanford couldn’t—rush the ball successfully against the Irish. With balance on offense, North Carolina can better set up Williams to find passing lanes to get the ball to the likes of Davis and Switzer. And, of course, the Tar Heels must keep the defense fresher by stabilizing the time of possession. Virginia Tech held the ball for 41 minutes, three seconds on Saturday.

That won’t be a winning formula against the Irish.

 

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Mike Monaco is a lead Notre Dame writer for Bleacher Report. Follow @MikeMonaco_ on Twitter.

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4 Sleeper Teams the College Football Playoff Committee Should Take Seriously

There is no question that the AP and coaches polls will exert influence on the selection committee. How could they not? Whether you're watching the games, reading the papers or checking out the scores online, many teams' names are attached to a number, signifying their rankings.

But the trouble with the polls is that, since they start in the preseason, perception bias is always built in. Voters don't rank their teams from scratch week to week—as they should—but only slide them up or down as if there are fixed pole position and starting grid.

That's why you have the current absurdities such as Oklahoma being ranked three spots ahead of TCU (in the coaches poll) even though the undefeated Horned Frogs just beat OU last week. Or Oregon two ahead of Arizona even after losing at home to the unbeaten Wildcats, also last week.

In the BCS era, how you started in the polls often mattered greatly in how you finished since the polls accounted for two-thirds of the standings for most of BCS's run. In 2004, Auburn never got to play for the national championship even though it was the undefeated SEC champion because it began the year at No. 17 in the AP poll and could never catch up to USC and Oklahoma, which started 1-2 and finished 1-2 at the end of the regular season.

In the College Football Playoff, the selection committee will not release its rankings until the last weekend of October. The 13 committee members theoretically should be able to keep an open mind, as they're not beholden to any outside rankings. 

If that's the case, then they should have these "sleeper teams" on their radar because while they're not at the top of the polls, they deserve every consideration for the four-team playoff field if they continue to perform the way they have been this season.

 

TCU (AP ranking: No. 9)

The Horned Frogs spent their first two years in the Big 12 in rebuilding mode after double-digit-win seasons in their final four years in the Mountain West. The expectations for this year's team weren't very high either, as they were 35th in the preseason AP poll.

But after last week's upset victory over Oklahoma, people are beginning to take notice. If TCU can shock another Top Five team—this week at Baylor—it'll be in the driver's seat for the Big 12 title. With Gary Patterson's typically stout defense restored and Trevone Boykin at quarterback, this team is very much a dark horse for a spot in the playoff field.

 

Ohio State (AP ranking: No. 15)

OK, the Buckeyes are not your typical sleeper, as they were ranked fifth in the preseason AP poll. But after losing quarterback Braxton Miller before the season began and losing to Virginia Tech in the second game of the season, they have vanished from the list of playoff contenders.

But Urban Meyer has quietly restored order, and J.T. Barrett is now up to speed running the OSU offense, putting up at least 50 points in his last three games. With the Big Ten mired in mediocrity, the Buckeyes have only one remaining game against a ranked opponent. And if they can win at Michigan State on Nov. 8, they should be able to take the Big Ten title with a 12-1 record and possibly crash the playoff field.

 

Georgia Tech (AP ranking: No. 22)

Of the nine unbeaten power-five conference teams, the Yellow Jackets are by far the lowest ranked. And that has little to do with their performance on the field and everything to do with the fact that they didn't receive a single vote in the preseason AP poll, when Florida, Texas and even Louisiana-Lafayette all did.

But Georgia Tech is very much a threat to run the table in the ACC Coastal, as it has already beaten Virginia Tech and likely won't face a ranked team until its season finale at Georgia. Of course, the Jackets have lost the Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate 12 of the last 13 years, and even if they get past that, they'll in all likelihood face Florida State in the ACC title game. But for now, the committee should keep an eye on them.

 

Notre Dame (AP ranking: No. 6)

The Fighting Irish can be considered a sleeper because few gave them much of a chance to replicate their 2012 success. While Everett Golson returned at quarterback after a one-year absence, they were ranked only 17th in the preseason AP poll, as they faced what appeared to be a daunting schedule.

But look again now, and Notre Dame might be just one victory away from locking up a playoff spot and possibly even crashing the playoff field with one loss. The Irish play at Florida State in two weeks, and after that, they might not face another ranked team the rest of the season. How well they play against the defending champs will be key, as style points may very much influence the committee's decision at season's end.

 

Follow on Twitter @ThePlayoffGuru

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College Football Rankings 2014: Official Week 7 Polls and Playoff Projections

After a crazy week of college football, there is a lot of uncertainty surrounding the College Football Playoff as the end of the season draws near.

Five of the top eight teams in the nation went down, and the teams that knocked them off are looking at their own bids to the postseason. Ole Miss, Mississippi State, TCU and Arizona might have earned surprise wins in Week 6, but they are all undefeated and have as much of a chance at reaching the playoff as any other FBS team.

The problem is there is a lot of football left to be played, as few teams have even reached the halfway mark of the season. A lot can change in the rankings, and conference matchups continue to get tougher.

Here is a look at the latest rankings heading into Week 7, although the projected playoff might seem a bit different as we predict what will happen for the rest of the season.

 

College Football Playoff Projection

If the season ended today, there would likely be two, if not three SEC teams in the College Football Playoff. Auburn, Ole Miss and Mississippi State remain undefeated, while Alabama and Texas A&M are not too far behind.

However, it is a long season in what is clearly the toughest division in the country. The top team will be lucky to come away with just one loss, while the others will probably end up with at least two defeats.

It might not take an undefeated record to get into the playoff based on all the losses we have seen around the nation, but it is hard to imagine a two-loss squad getting into the discussion over a team with a better record.

This forces us to choose the best team in the SEC, and that leaves Auburn after showing that it is really the best in all of college football to this point in the year. Bleacher Report's Barrett Sallee believes the Tigers should be ranked above Florida State:

Kirk Herbstreit of ESPN agrees and puts them as the top team:

While the Tigers might lose a game this season—something that could even come Saturday at Mississippi State—this is a great squad that was also unafraid to go out and schedule a non-conference road game against a very good Kansas State team. 

Auburn should be able to survive the SEC and earn a spot in the playoff while the rest of the conference struggles to stay consistent enough to earn a spot.

The path to the playoff would not be as difficult for either Florida State or Baylor. The Seminoles survived arguably their toughest conference foe in Clemson despite not having Jameis Winston for the entire game.

Notre Dame could end up pulling off an upset, but the game will be in Tallahassee. As long as Florida State walks away with a victory, it should be able to keep winning until it earns a spot in the playoff.

Baylor will have a tougher road in the Big 12, although matchups against TCU, Oklahoma State and Kansas State are all at home. This leaves just a road game at Oklahoma as the toughest test on the path to an undefeated regular season.

While the Bears have not faced the most difficult schedule to this point, they have an explosive offense that should be able to keep the team in the win column for the rest of the year.

As for Oregon, head coach Mark Helfrich knows the latest loss could be damaging but told reporters after the game that he believes there is an opportunity for redemption:

As soon as your record isn't hyphen zero you lose the con and so from that standpoint it's a little bit frustrating but we can't do anything about that now, just like we can't do anything about winning the previous game, you can't do anything about losing the previous game if you don't handle your business moving forward. I think there's going to be a ton of movement nationally as well as in our conference. This is a tough conference, as we've said for a long time, couple with the toughest path to the playoff.

Despite being behind four different one-loss teams in the latest Amway Coaches Poll, Oregon has a chance to end up with some good wins against UCLA, Stanford and whomever it will face in the Pac-12 Championship Game, not to mention the victory over Michigan State earlier in the season.

If the Ducks can run the table, they would be extremely difficult to keep out of the playoff. Luckily, they have the talent to pull off this feat and join the rest of the top squads for an exciting postseason.

 

Follow Rob Goldberg on Twitter for the latest breaking news and analysis.

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Predicting College Football's Biggest Headlines for Week 7

After Week 6, aka "Shakeup Saturday," it's becoming very difficult to forecast what will transpire on game day. Top teams are falling every weekend, and this is just the beginning. 

With that, Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder, Adam Kramer and Barrett Sallee throw out their biggest headlines for Week 7. 

Which team will impress the most?

Watch the video and let us know! 

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Answering College Football's Hottest Questions After Upset Saturday

With Week 6 in the books, the college football world turns its attention to another frantic slate of games.

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder, Barrett Sallee and Adam Kramer play a classic game of "Would You Rather."

Would you rather be Nick Marshall or Dak Prescott? 

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Day of Chaos Brings Ohio State Back into the College Football Playoff Race

When Virginia Tech pulled off its improbable upset last month, the Ohio State Buckeyes plummeted from their No. 5 ranking and became an afterthought in the College Football Playoff race. But after a trio of consecutive blowouts and a chaotic Week 6 that featured numerous upsets, Urban Meyer's squad has suddenly re-entered the fray.

That development is not lost on the Buckeyes head coach, who said he'll be discussing Ohio State's postseason prospects with the team because "everyone is talking about it," according to Todd Porter of The Repository.

If not for a wild week of upsets, college football's inaugural playoff would not have been a talking point in Meyer's "state of the union." 

No. 2 Oregon triggered the madness last Thursday when it fell to then-unranked Arizona. The next day, No. 18 BYU lost to a 2-2 Utah State team. On Saturday, No. 3 Alabama, No. 4 Oklahoma, No. 6 Texas A&M, No. 8 UCLA, No. 16 USC and No. 17 Wisconsin all fell to lesser-ranked or unranked teams. 

The Buckeyes also benefited from No. 15 LSU getting walloped by fifth-ranked Auburn and No. 19 Nebraska falling short against 10th-ranked Michigan State.

Despite the madness, Ohio State elevated just five spots in this week's polls and now sits at 15th nationally. Two teams jumped the Buckeyes (No. 9 TCU and No. 10 Arizona), while four of the teams that fell last week remain in the Top 14.

But an impressive performance against an overmatched Kent State team paired with blowout wins over quality Cincinnati and Maryland squads have Ohio State trending upward. 

Quarterback J.T. Barrett—who stepped in when Braxton Miller was lost for the season—looked lost (as did the rest of the offense) when the Buckeyes fell at home in Week 2 against Virginia Tech. But Barrett bounced back, and now he's guiding one of the most efficient offenses in the country.

The defense is surging as well. Outside of a few broken plays against Cincinnati, the unit is responding well to new co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash's aggressive 4-3 scheme. 

Tom Dienhart of the Big Ten Network believes that if Ohio State continues to improve, it will boast a solid resume for the College Football Playoff.

"I think if the Buckeyes run the table and win the Big Ten with just one loss, they would have a good shot to make the playoffs," Dienhart wrote on BTN.com. "This team is getting better and better. It’s scary."

The Buckeyes, now at 4-1 on the year, are entering their second and final bye week of the season. They'll host Rutgers the following week before traveling to Penn State for a prime-time game in Happy Valley. Then, the Buckeyes will tune up against Illinois before their biggest showdown of the season—a November night game on the road against Michigan State.

Ohio State will close out November with games against improved Minnesota and Indiana teams before hosting Michigan in the regular-season finale. It's a manageable slate for Meyer and his Buckeyes.

But will the Virginia Tech loss be too big of a blemish for the selection committee to overlook?

ESPN.com's Heather Dinich writes that Miller's injury would come into consideration when the group evaluates Ohio State's resume.

The selection committee can't ignore the injury to quarterback Braxton Miller, and it could lend to some leniency by the 13-member group when evaluating the Buckeyes' 35-21 home loss to Virginia Tech in Week 2. It's the lone blemish on Ohio State's schedule, and it has looked worse since the Hokies lost back-to-back games after their upset. The committee, though, has said it will factor in injuries. It was the first home game of J.T. Barrett's career -- and he threw three picks.

The Big Ten's perceived weakness could ultimately cost the Buckeyes, but it does pave the way for a potential run at the College Football Playoff. And if Ohio State continues to look as impressive as it has the last few weeks—along with a few more upsets of higher-ranked teams—that's exactly where Meyer's team could be headed.

 

Week 6 and Week 7 rankings per ESPN. 

David Regimbal covers Ohio State football for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.

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Former Alabama QB AJ McCarron Says Tide Lack 'True Leaders'

Former Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron went on the radio Tuesday and said a bunch of things to make Alabama fans angry, continuing a trend he started in the offseason. (Apparently, rehabbing his shoulder and backing up Andy Dalton and Jason Campbell in Cincinnati is not taking up too much of his time.)

Speaking his mind after the Crimson Tide lost their first game of the season at Ole Miss, McCarron questioned the leadership on the current roster.

"I think one of the things that this team is lacking that hurts them the most is not having the true leaders like we had last year and guys that, when things go bad, 'hey, let's calm everybody down, pick it back up and go back to work and get back on the right track,'" McCarron told Tuscaloosa's Tide 99.1 FM radio show, per Michael Casagrande of AL.com.

On the topic of wide receiver Amari Cooper, whose 52 receptions this season are 40 more than any other player on the team, McCarron wondered about the decision-making dichotomy between head coach Nick Saban and first-year offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin:

I don't know if that's Lane doing that or if coach Saban is kind of putting the handcuffs on Lane like I've known Coach to do in the past on his offensive coordinator and we're going to be very bland and run this play and do this and we'll throw it on third down if we have to. It's going to be interesting to see how they bounce back against Arkansas this week and what kind of offense comes out this week.

I understand Coop is an unbelievable player. He was that for us when I was there, but when you target somebody so much ... I think that was one of the best things we did while I was there. We spread the ball around to everybody. I mean, I think in numerous games ... where we had almost everybody on offense catch the ball that was eligible to catch the ball. Teams could never really pinpoint and play their defenses to cover Coop and I think that's one of the things they're struggling with right now.

McCarron led Alabama to back-to-back national titles after the 2011 and 2012 seasons and the Sugar Bowl after the 2013 season. After losing the Sugar Bowl to Oklahoma—the first season-ending loss of his career—McCarron said on TheJim Rome Show that the team was plagued by having too much success, which influenced the younger players.

His opinion holds weight in Tuscaloosa because of the legend he created the past three seasons, but at this point, McCarron is starting to become an unnecessary headache for the current players. Alabama lost a close road game against a team that is ranked No. 3 in the current Associated Press poll. Its offense is ranked No. 2 in the country according to the S&P+ ratings at Football Outsiders.

There is not exactly trouble in paradise. And even if there were, Saban—not McCarron—is the one who is best equipped to fix it.

On the point of Saban "handcuffing" his offensive coordinators—the point from McCarron's interview that will probably grab the most headlines—it is salient to look not just at Alabama's numbers but also at Michigan's. The Wolverines, after all, hired former Alabama coordinator Doug Nussmeier to run their offense this offseason, ostensibly unshackling him from the "binds" Saban had "tied."

In its first three games against power-conference teams (counting Notre Dame)Michigan gained 768 yards on 195 plays—an average of fewer than four yards per play. It didn't score an offensive touchdown against Notre Dame and Utah and looked even worse against Minnesota.

So much for Nussmeier's "liberation."

McCarron's comments will serve as a midweek distraction for the Alabama media and maybe even one or two players, but on the whole, the opinion of the former Crimson Tide quarterback has little to no bearing on the current team.

If Alabama loses at Arkansas this weekend, it will be because Arkansas is better than people realize. It won't be because the team "lacks true leaders," and it especially won't be because the team is distracted by what the Cincinnati Bengals' third-string quarterback had to say.

And rightfully so.

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How Far Away Is Texas A&M from Contending for the SEC West?

For the first two-plus years in the SEC, Texas A&M has been all sizzle but no steak.

The Aggies have become one of the most high-profile teams in the conference thanks to the emergence of 2012 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, a high-octane offense and a couple of signature wins along the way.

The elephant in the room is an SEC West title—or lack thereof. 

Despite incredible success over the first two seasons in the conference, the Aggies haven't truly contended for the division title. While not out of it in 2014, they're again fighting an uphill battle following the 48-31 loss to co-No. 3 Mississippi State on Saturday.

Just how far away from contending for the SEC West title is head coach Kevin Sumlin's crew?

The defense is soft and young in the middle, which is a big reason why Arkansas and Mississippi State gashed the Aggies with 574 total rushing yards over the last two games.

Nose guard Hardreck Walker is only a sophomore, defensive tackle Alonzo Williams has experience but has been inconsistent and seven players on the depth chart on the defensive line are underclassmen.

Middle linebacker Jordan Mastrogiovanni has been fighting through an ankle sprain this year, and senior strong-side linebacker Donnie Baggs has been bouncing around from strong- to weak-side while sophomore Shaan Washington recovered from a broken collarbone.

Washington's return has settled the starters back in their rightful home but hasn't helped the rush defense.

"From a depth issue that’s probably the one area on our football team where we don’t have as many players as we do at every other position," Sumlin said during Tuesday's press conference. "Those guys are playing more plays than anybody and the [ankle] injury to [linebacker] AJ [Hilliard] really pushed things back."

With so much youth on the depth chart in the front seven and a lack of depth at linebacker, this is a problem that's only fixable with time. Had defensive tackle Isaiah Golden not been dismissed from the program this spring, maybe the defense wouldn't be in this position. Unless Sumlin has a flux capacitor, he can't go back in time and get him back.

The struggles in the middle of the defense are widely known and are overshadowing some positive signs from the Aggie defense. Freshman defensive end Myles Garrett has 6.5 sacks on the season, 1.5 fewer than former South Carolina standout Jadeveon Clowney had when he set the SEC freshman sack record of eight in 2011. He's helped the Aggies lead the conference in sacks (19) and post the third-most tackles for loss (39).

Add in a back end of the defense—which, while not great, has a solid foundation for the future with freshman free safety Armani Watts—and there are some bright spots.

Ten of Texas A&M's 22 signees in last season's recruiting class—including Garrett—were defensive players with four stars or more, according to 247Sports.com. Five of Texas A&M's 19 commitments in the class of 2015, including 5-star defensive tackle Daylon Mack, are 4-star defenders. 

Help is coming, and the foundation that is being built this season will only lead to depth in the coming seasons.

That's all Texas A&M needs.

Sumlin has proven throughout his career that his offense is going to click regardless of the name on the back of the quarterback's jersey or his strengths and weaknesses. Quarterback Kenny Hill didn't have the best day on Saturday, tossing three picks against Mississippi State, but he is third in the nation with 21 touchdown passes, sixth in yards per game (351.7) and 12th in passer rating (161.80).

Of the Aggies top six receivers, only one—senior Malcome Kennedy—is an upperclassman.

The foundation is there for success at the highest level of the SEC, just not this season.

The potency and potential of Texas A&M's offense gives defensive coordinator Mark Snyder some wiggle room. His defense doesn't have to be great, it just has to be adequate. 

It has shown flashes of that this season, which is progress from last season. Not enough progress to handle Mississippi State's multi-dimensional rushing attack and contend for the division title, but certainly enough to build off of.

Baby steps.

 

Barrett Sallee is the Lead SEC college football writer and video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a co-host of the CFB Hangover on Bleacher Report Radio (Sundays, 9-11 a.m. ET) on Sirius 93, XM 208.

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of cfbstats.com, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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