NCAA Football News

College Football Picks Week 8: Odds and Spread Predictions for Top 25 Teams

After a few surprising weeks of college football, fans should be ready for anything in Week 8.

Mississippi State has climbed to the No. 1 spot in the polls, but the Bulldogs will get a well-deserved week off after beating three Top 10 teams in a row. The good news is most of the Top 25 will be in action in a number of highly anticipated battles.

Saturday will feature five games between ranked teams, including Florida State and Notre Dame. Both are looking to remain undefeated. 

This is certain to create some difficult decisions for those looking to bet on the games, but here is a breakdown of picks against the spread with a deeper look at some of the tougher calls.

 

Best Games

No. 5 Notre Dame at No. 2 Florida State

It is truly unfortunate that the big story heading into this game is the status of Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston. Between Winston facing the school's judicial board and allegedly being paid for autographs, there are questions about whether the reigning Heisman Trophy winner will even play this weekend.

Looking at the game itself, though, the battle appears to be a good one when both teams are at full strength. Chris Fowler of ESPN noted how successful the quarterbacks have been throughout their careers:

Everett Golson led the Irish to the national title game two years ago but was little more than a game manager at that point. This year, however, he is making big-time plays with both his arm and his legs and is a big reason the squad is 6-0.

The only question is whether he can hold on to the ball, as both interceptions and fumbles have been an issue lately. Stewart Mandel of FoxSports.com notes that the team is working to solve this issue:

If Golson can avoid turnovers, Notre Dame has a chance to put up points against a Florida State defense that has been inconsistent this year. Meanwhile, the Fighting Irish rank eighth in the country in points allowed, even after giving up 43 points to North Carolina last week.

Florida State should be able to win this game at home, but it will be close throughout, and Notre Dame should be able to do enough to cover the large spread.

 

No. 21 Texas A&M at No. 7 Alabama

There was a lot of criticism following Alabama's one-point win over Arkansas, but the Crimson Tide found a way to win when they needed it. Most importantly, it once again showcased the team's strong defense, which has held opponents to 23 or fewer points in every game.

Meanwhile, Texas A&M's offense, which seemed unstoppable a few weeks ago, was held to just 20 points against Ole Miss. Kenny Hill is still one of the most dynamic players in the nation, but he made mistakes, and the rest of the team did not pick up the slack, losing for the second week in a row.

With Alabama's talent in the front seven, the squad has a chance to once again keep the Aggies offense from running up the score. Head coach Nick Saban has another plan as well:

Controlling the clock should be easy against a Texas A&M defense that has struggled lately. The squad ranks 71st in the country in total defense and holds possession for an average of just over 27 minutes, which ranks 114th in FBS.

Alabama will utilize a lot of Derrick Henry and T.J. Yeldon on the ground to move the ball before going deep to Amari Cooper when the defense falls asleep. The Tide should be able to control the game, keep the opposing offense off the field and secure a relatively easy win.

 

No. 14 Kansas State at No. 11 Oklahoma

While Oklahoma is 5-1 on the season, there are serious questions surrounding the offense—specifically, Trevor Knight.

The sophomore quarterback was playing well through the first four games but has struggled mightily in the last two. College Football Talk jokes that it might have something to do with a certain pop star:

Regardless of the reason, the Sooners will not have too much success as long as the quarterback continues to make bad decisions with the football. His efficiency rating of 128.7 ranks 75th in the country among 125 qualified players. That does not sound like the person who was considered a Heisman candidate earlier in the year, according to Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports:

On the other hand, Jake Waters has carried Kansas State with his ability to make plays with his arm and his legs. If he can avoid turnovers, he can help the Wildcats put up a lot of points this weekend.

Over the last three weeks, Oklahoma has allowed West Virginia's Clint Trickett, TCU's Trevone Boykin and Tyrone Swoopes of Texas to each throw for over 300 yards with two touchdowns. Waters has the arm to continue this stretch and help his team pull off the upset on the road against the Sooners.

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Big 12 Football: Ranking the 10 Most Exciting Conference Games so Far in 2014

Last week delivered one of the greatest Big 12 games of all time—a thrilling comeback victory from the Baylor Bears over the TCU Horned Frogs, then one of college football's hottest teams after upending Oklahoma. 

But that's not the only exciting game this season has delivered us. 

From TCU's upset of Oklahoma to Kansas State's come-from-behind win over Iowa State, the Big 12 has already delivered plenty of drama. 

With that, let's check out the top 10 Big 12 games so far in 2014-15. 

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Michigan Football: Grading Each Positional Unit at Halfway Point of the Season

The storm clouds are swirling in Ann Arbor as Brady Hoke tries to salvage Michigan’s season and save his job. The gridiron turmoil has been dwarfed by off-the-field drama as Hoke and athletic director David Brandon are under fire for mishandling Shane Morris’ head injury.

Both Michigan’s season and Hoke’s tenure hang in the balance as Michigan (3-4, 1-2 Big Ten) prepares to face in-state rival Michigan State.

After last season’s 7-6 finish, Hoke hired Doug Nussmeier to replace offensive coordinator Al Borges and shuffled his defensive staff. Now it’s time to see how each position group has fared midway through the season.

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Storm Woods Injury: Updates on Oregon State RB's Knee and Return

As the Oregon State Beavers attempt to topple the 20th-ranked Utah Utes, they'll be without the services of running back Storm Woods.

Lindsay Schnell of Sports Illustrated reported that Woods injured his right knee:

Before exiting the game, the junior rusher had nine carries for 46 yards. He entered the game as Oregon State's second-leading runner, with 342 yards and three touchdowns on 59 carries.

The Beavers will undoubtedly hope that Woods makes a quick recovery. They play No. 23 Stanford on the road next Saturday and then meet a resurgent California a week after that.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Texas Football: Grading Tyrone Swoopes Through 5 Games as a Starter

Following a poor showing at home against Baylor, Tyrone Swoopes lost his luster. Texas' sophomore quarterback looked uncomfortable, unsure of himself and unready to usher the Longhorns into a new era.

What a difference a week makes.

Swoopes busted out for a career day in Texas' 31-26 loss to Oklahoma, accounting for three touchdowns and setting career highs with 334 passing yards and 50 yards on the ground. 

The 384 total yards were the most in Red River Showdown history, per Texas associate athletic director John Bianco, and Swoopes' performance has rewritten the outlook for the rest of the Horns' season. That is, as long as the 243-pounder can build upon the impressive showing.

For as good as Swoopes played against the Sooners, he is far from a finished product. But by showing improvement, grading out higher and higher as he continues to log starts, the sophomore is on the verge of a strong second half of the season.

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Ezekiel Elliott's Emergence Fueling Ohio State's Offensive Explosion

While quarterback J.T. Barrett has Ohio State flying high, it's the play of running back Ezekiel Elliott that's fueling the offense's recent surge. 

The 13th-ranked Buckeyes (4-1) have posted a trio of consecutive blowouts over Kent State, Cincinnati and Maryland. During that stretch, Ohio State has averaged 56 points and 623.7 total yards per game. 

Barrett is garnering worthy attention for his fantastic play—the redshirt freshman has been named to the Maxwell Award watch list, according to Ohio State's team spokesperson—but Elliott has taken his game to a higher level. 

Because of that, the Buckeyes have bounced back from their upset loss to Virginia Tech and are climbing up the national rankings.

Here's a closer look at Ohio State's breakout sophomore ball-carrier. 

 

Finding a Groove

After losing Carlos Hyde and his record-setting production to the NFL, Meyer and the Buckeyes were tasked with filling an enormous hole in the backfield.

Elliott put himself in position to fill that hole with a solid freshman campaign, and he capitalized during spring practice, emerging as the team's top back

Despite having surgery to repair a broken wrist in early August, he returned to the field in two short weeks and locked down the starting spot late in fall camp.

Once the season kicked off, though, it took Elliott a few weeks to find a groove. He struggled against Navy and Virginia Tech—Ohio State's first two opponents—averaging just 3.8 yards per carry. 

It didn't help matters that the Buckeyes' offensive line, working to replace four multi-year senior starters from a season ago, got off to an equally slow start. But backup running back (and true freshman) Curtis Samuel averaged 5.9 yards per carry during that same span—behind the same shaky offensive line—which highlighted Elliott's struggles.

After a Week 3 bye, the Buckeyes hosted a severely overmatched Kent State team, providing Elliott with an opportunity to gain some confidence. He did just that, piling up 117 total yards (65 rushing, 52 receiving) on just 11 touches. The only thing Meyer would have changed about the performance was giving Elliott more opportunities. 

"I have mixed emotions," Meyer said, according to Ari Wasserman of The Plain Dealer. "Zeke is our starting tailback, but he only had seven carries." 

When Samuel suffered a leg injury against Cincinnati, Elliott saw his workload increase, and he rewarded Meyer with an explosion of production.

Over the Buckeyes' last two games (Cincinnati and Maryland), the sophomore averaged 160.5 rushing yards and 26 carries per game. He also added six catches for 61 yards.

 

Balancing the Offense

Elliott's emergence has been huge for Ohio State because it gives Meyer the balance he's looking for in his offense.

After the Maryland game, when the Buckeyes ran for 269 yards and threw for 264, Meyer talked about the importance of a diversified attack.

"Yeah, it’s a very balanced offense,” Meyer said, according to Eric Seger of The Ozone. “I’m very involved in the play calling, myself and Tom (Herman). There’s a lot of opportunities to make plays because we’re confident. We weren’t that way in the first game.”

Pairing Elliott's improvement on the ground with Barrett and a dynamic passing attack has made Ohio State's offense very dangerous.

 

All stats via Ohio State's official website

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Nebraska Football: Grading Each Positional Unit at the Season's Halfway Point

Now that the Nebraska football season has reached its halfway point, it’s time to think about grades for each positional unit. Six games in, we have enough data now to reach at least some preliminary conclusions about how each unit has performed and what to expect for the season’s second half.

So, on a standard A-F grading scale, here’s how each unit has graded out for the first half of the 2014 season.

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Grading Each Florida State Positional Unit at Halfway Point of the 2014 Season

Less than 48 hours away from a game that will make or break No. 2 Florida State’s 2014 season, let’s look back at how the reigning national champions got here—position by position.

A season after obliterating its competition en route to the third national championship in program history, this year’s FSU squad has had to fight for all six of its wins. With a showdown against Notre Dame set for 8 p.m. ET Saturday at Doak Campbell Stadium, here’s a look at how each spot on the Seminoles’ roster has fared through the first half of the regular season.

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Where Have You Gone, Coach O?

The drive between Northwestern State and Mandeville, Louisiana is roughly four hours. It’s an unassuming trek—with two roads doing the majority of the heavy lifting—although Ed Orgeron isn’t concerned with when he’ll finally make it home. For the first time in his professional life, there is nowhere he has to be.

Even through his thick, unmistakable Cajun drawl, you can hear the joy in Orgeron's voice as he navigates the familiar terrain. After a picture-perfect weekend—one that centered around football, albeit in a much different capacity than what he’s accustomed to—the former Ole Miss and USC head coach is embracing his newfound freedom as a free agent, dad and husband.

On Friday night, Orgeron watched his son Parker, a junior, lead Mandeville past rival St. Paul’s with two second-half touchdowns. The very next day, Orgeron was inducted into the Northwestern State Athletic Hall of Fame, the university where he played his college football.

“It was a great honor,” Orgeron said. “If I was coaching, I would not have gotten a chance to do any of this.”

As he makes his way back toward Mandeville—the city the Orgerons decided to call home when he latched on with the New Orleans Saints back in 2008—one can’t help but wonder why he would want to come back to a sport that has not always been reciprocal with its love.

He was chewed on and spit out at Ole Miss. At USC, his reward for bringing an unresponsive program to life was time off. He has logged thousands of nights in hotel rooms away from his family, a product of his magnificent recruiting track record. And then there’s the profession itself, a cutthroat and cruel way to make a buck, albeit a lucrative one.

For the first time in forever, Orgeron can say “home” and mean it. There’s no disclaimer attached, no strings that require discussing. He’s not living out of a suitcase, and the anguish of USC is more of just a bad scar than an emotional drain.

He sounds at peace with where he is and what he’s doing, and yet, his coaching itch has never been this strong. For reasons we couldn’t possibly understand, Orgeron is ready to trade in this stress-free life for a headset.

“It never stopped,” Orgeron said. “I didn’t leave because I didn’t have the coaching itch, that’s for sure. It was something we felt like we needed to do. But we’re ready to coach more than ever right now. I promise you.”

 

A Weekend with Ed Orgeron 

Like your college football Saturdays, Ed Orgeron’s game days revolve around food, the great outdoors and football. Before he leaves the house, he wakes up his son, makes him breakfast and takes him to football practice. As soon as he’s where he needs to be, Orgeron heads to the gym.

Even at the age of 53, Orgeron is a fitness junkie. He can still bench press 325 pounds comfortably and squats 315 pounds for reps, which probably isn’t far off from many of the players he has coached in his weight class.

After lifting and running, Orgeron heads home to cook for the second time. He prepares another meal that he and his wife enjoy by the pool and patio. They relax together, a Saturday ritual that is still somewhat foreign to both. When the first games come on, the day takes a different tone.

At that point, Orgeron is a coach again. He spends his Saturdays exactly like you do, bouncing from station to station and soaking in as much football as he can.

“We watch as many games as we possibly can on Saturday, sometimes watching games until early in the morning the next day,” Orgeron said. “We get up on Sunday, go to church and then come back and do the same thing with the NFL. It’s kind of cool; I’ve never had a chance to do this.”

He doesn’t just tune in because he loves the sport, although the baseline for his obsession begins there. Orgeron, like the rest of us, is watching to see each chapter of the season unfold. But he’s also watching to perfect his craft, a never-ending process for a coach.

“I really watch No. 1 as a coach, especially to see all the spread offenses,” Orgeron said. “I want to see who’s doing well and just keep up with it. I’m trying to get as much as I can out of it.”

When USC plays, the situation changes some. His consumption of the game reaches a more personal level that he won’t find anywhere else. There are no hard feelings—at least none that he cares to share—and he’s more focused on the people he’s spent a great deal time with, from family rooms to the practice field.

“It’s never going to be like watching any other team,” Orgeron said. “I don’t watch every play, but I’m obviously very interested in the well-being of those young men. We’re tied to them and we wish them the best.”

 

A Time for Reflection

One of the best lessons Orgeron has taken with him over time—through success and failure—could be summed up in a delicious item.

Cookies.

One of Orgeron’s first orders of business when he was handed the reins to the USC head coaching position was to bring the team together. To do that, he appealed to taste buds.

He brought in chicken and waffles, although that wasn’t enough. After talking to a handful of players who wanted their sweet-tooth options returned to the cafeteria, Orgeron also brought the cookies back that were lost in the Kiffin era. The players responded accordingly.

“I think they ate 500 the first night,” Orgeron said.

Cookies, of course, are only a small portion of the bigger picture. What has made Orgeron valuable as a coach is the way he manages people.

He’s not a chalkboard wizard. That's not to say he doesn’t know the game and the areas he teaches, but Orgeron’s value—the thing that separates him from just about any other coach in the country—comes in the way he manages personalities. It's his natural ability to get an entire team to run through a brick wall at the snap of a finger.

It’s about compromise and, more importantly, understanding the pulse of your team. For Orgeron, it was about taking his experiences at Ole Miss—a situation he struggled with—and tweaking the margins.

“When you have five years to think about what you would do as a head coach again, there are a lot of thoughts that you write down,” Orgeron said. “I told myself that when I got my chance again, these are the things I wanted to do. So I did them.”

Orgeron was granted this opportunity after the Trojans lost 62-41 against Arizona State. He was named interim coach follow Kiffin’s removal, and the team responded to the change, winning six of the next seven games.

It set up a matchup against rival UCLA, a game that many felt was Orgeron’s opportunity to turn the interim tag into something far more official with a win.

Regardless of the circumstances or whether this scenario was considered within USC walls, the Trojans lost to the Bruins and Orgeron was removed as coach, making way for the hiring of Steve Sarkisian. Although there were conversations about keeping Orgeron on the staff, it didn’t transpire.

Having bonded through difficult times, through small, meaningful actions and his overall inviting style, the players didn't hide their emotions when Orgeron wasn't given the job.

USC player showing his respect to Coach Orgeron in the @LasVegasBowl: pic.twitter.com/DVeN6KlXOr

— RedditCFB (@RedditCFB) December 21, 2013

You're not going to find a better recruiter, coach, or father figure that is anything remotely like Ed Orgeron!

— Kenny Bigelow (@_mcmxcv__) December 1, 2013

Words can't explain how I'm feeling right now....just lost a father. Way more than a coach #coachO

— Leonard Williams (@LWtrojan94) December 2, 2013

How hard will Sark's job be? Players openly crying after Orgeron's departure. #USC

— Ryan Abraham (@insidetroy) December 2, 2013

“You look at the overall body of work, and we had a lot of success there,” Orgeron said. “We’re very appreciative of the time with the USC family, and they were very good to us.”

The offseason came and Orgeron processed the past season and the path in front him. As he dealt with the disappointment of not getting the head-coaching position at USC, he processed his next move at home.

Although he had conversations with teams about various positions, none of them ever developed into something serious.

“I never really entertained anything, and I wasn’t really looking for anything to be honest with you,” Orgeron said. “After looking back, we feel that taking this year and spending it with my family off was one of the best things we did.”

 

What’s Next for Coach O

The Silly Season is on the horizon. Soon, your Twitter feeds and bottom tickers will be flooded with rumors of coaches being fired, coaches being hired and other strange, newsworthy developments regarding vacant positions.

Scott Roussel, who has turned this maddening time into a profession at FootballScoop.com, believes this upcoming Silly Season could be an active one for Orgeron.

“Ed has been very clear that he will return to coaching, and the respect that the coaching community has for him allows him some flexibility to investigate potential head coaching opportunities,” Roussel said. “Meaning, a lot of head coaches would love to have Ed on their staff and will hold a position for him a few weeks, and possibly longer, while he checks for the perfect fit out there.”

Head-coaching vacancies have already started to open. Kansas, in need of a recruiting boost, would make quite a bit of sense for both parties. Other opportunities will undoubtedly follow, and Orgeron—if granted a platform to state his case—could put himself in prime position.

“If Ed is invited to interview for a head coaching position, he is the type of guy whose personality can instantly win over an athletic director and university president,” Roussel added. “He’s lightning in a bottle. He just needs the right opportunity.”

At this moment in time, that right opportunity has not presented itself. Orgeron has yet to really get a serious look, although that will undoubtedly change once the calendar hits November and searches ramp up.

“It’s still early, but I’m sure there will be some options that will come and some things we’re going to like,” Orgeron said. “I just haven’t gotten a serious call from anyone yet.”

For him, in this place in time, this isn’t the worst thing. As he braces for the next chapter of his life and a return to his beloved, grueling profession, there are still high school football games he wants to see.

There is still breakfast to be made and other meals to be cooked. There is still pool and patio time to be shared with his family in a home that he can finally call home with no strings attached.

“I do believe I will be a head coach again. I do believe that,” Orgeron said. “When that’s going to happen, I don’t know. Maybe it will be next year, maybe not. We’re going to keep all options open.”

 

Adam Kramer is the College Football National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Unless noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.

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Which Top NFL Prospects Would You Rather Have on Your Team?

Bleacher Report analysts Michael Felder and Matt Miller decide to play a classic game of "Would You Rather," NFL prospect edition. Duke Williams, Vic Beasley and Randy Gregory are just few names mentioned. Which NFL prospects would you rather have on your roster?

Watch the video and let us know!

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Tennessee Football: How the Volunteers Can Pull the Upset at Ole Miss

The Tennessee Volunteers enter Saturday's contest with the Ole Miss Rebels as 16-point underdogs. To pull off the upset and minimize the weakness of the offensive line, the Vols will need to open up the playbook and take some big risks. 

The last time Tennessee faced off against Ole Miss in 2010, freshman quarterback Tyler Bray threw for 323 yards and three touchdowns as the Vols routed the Rebels 52-14. 

A lot has changed in four years.

The Rebels hired former Tennessee high school football coach Hugh Freeze in December 2011, and he has quickly transformed Ole Miss into an elite SEC West team. 

Meanwhile, the Vols are still experiencing growing pains under second-year head coach Butch Jones, who is rapidly improving the team's talent level but also feeling the frustration of a depleted offensive line left by his predecessor.

Quarterback Justin Worley is having a solid year, but Ole Miss' defensive front will give him even less time than usual to make his reads and deliver catchable balls.

If Tennessee offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian utilizes a conservative game plan similar to the one he used against the Florida Gators two weeks ago, the Vols won't stand a chance.

Instead, he needs to draw inspiration from Tennessee's consecutive near-upsets of Georgia in 2013 and 2014 to keep the offense moving.

Here are four keys to the Vols' chances of pulling a huge upset on Saturday. 

 

 

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USC Football: Grading Each Positional Unit at Halfway Point of the Season

Think of the midway point in the college football season a bit like midterm exams for USC. A considerable portion of the Trojans’ final grades are in the books, but enough opportunity remains from this part to improve upon current marks.

Head coach Steve Sarkisian said on his Sunday conference call after the Trojans’ 28-26 win over then-No. 10-ranked Arizona that the Trojans were a Hail Mary away from potentially cracking the top five of the polls.

While there are no retakes in college football, USC is positioned to contend for the Pac-12 South Championship and berth in the conference title game by leading the division in the win column.

“It’s good to control your own destiny,” running back Justin Davis said of the Trojans’ position through six games.  

For USC to fulfill a championship destiny, the Trojans must grade out the rest of the way with honors.

"It's only going to get harder," Sarkisian said. "Our conference is really good." 

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6 Most Important College Football Recruiting Visits of Week 8

Another busy weekend of action awaits college football teams across the country and America's premier prospects will be in attendance at several locations. From SEC country to Pac-12 territory, top high school players are expected to spend time on campuses and watch their potential future teams compete.

Through the first two months of this season, Bleacher Report has placed the spotlight on recruits who are hitting the road to visit marquee programs on game day. Here's our latest look, with an eye on the VIP attendees you need to know about.

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Insider Film Breakdown: Don't Blame Alabama's Struggles on Lane Kiffin

Much has been made of Alabama's offensives struggles over the past few weeks. After falling to Ole Miss and only scoring 14 points vs. Arkansas, some are starting to doubt the Crimson Tide's big play capabilities.

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder breaks down what exactly is ailing the Tide's offense by taking a look at their game film.

Will the Crimson Tide offense get it going this week vs. Texas A&M?

Watch the video and let us know!   

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Beating Ole Miss Would Help Vols Curb Rebels' Recruiting Success in Tennessee

With one flip of an Ole Miss lid onto Drew Richmond's head, the Rebels unofficially declared war on Tennessee for the state's suddenly, surprisingly fertile recruiting grounds.

The state of Tennessee's top-ranked player and major priority for the Volunteers at offensive tackle chose Hugh Freeze's team, which is closer to his home in Memphis.

While UT will continue to recruit Richmond, the lineman's pledge to Ole Miss was the most important of a recent string of battles Freeze has won for Tennessee prospects.

Not only would a UT upset of the third-ranked Rebels in Oxford on Saturday night be a major boost to Butch Jones' program, it would give him another recruiting selling point against a new nemesis.

"Ole Miss always has made West Tennessee and the Memphis area in particular a high priority in recruiting because of its proximity to Oxford and the amount of talent there," GoVols247's Ryan Callahan told Bleacher Report. "But with the Nashville area now putting out more Division I prospects than anywhere else in Tennessee, the Rebels are one of several teams who are starting to put a lot of effort into recruiting Middle Tennessee, too."

Ole Miss successfully reaching its recruiting efforts into the mid-state is becoming a major problem for UT.

In the past, the Vols have been forced to stave off rivals such as Alabama and Georgia for in-state kids, and James Franklin experienced success while at Vanderbilt. But Ole Miss is the newest rock in Jones' sneaker.

The Rebels currently have four commitments from the state in their 2015 recruiting class—Richmond, Nashville cornerback Ugo Amadi, Pulaski defensive back Cameron Ordway and Nashville offensive lineman Alex Givens.

All of those players at one point or another had Vols offers. UT is still heavily recruiting Richmond and Amadi, and would love to flip either.

The biggest remaining in-state prize—4-star strong-side defensive end Kyle Phillips of Nashville—is still on the market. According to Callahan (subscription required), "some believe the Rebels and Vols might be the two teams to beat." Mid-state JUCO cornerback Justin Martin is considering both, too.

Ole Miss isn't going away anytime soon, either. The state's top-ranked player for the 2016 class is linebacker Daniel Bituli, a teammate of Givens whom Callahan said has the Rebs and Vols as his top two teams.

Cornerback Joejuan Williams and defensive tackle Emmit Gooden are other huge 2016 in-state prospects Freeze is going head-to-head with Jones to try to land. The list goes on and on.

Freeze, who used to coach at Briarcrest Christian High School outside Memphis, spoke on this week's SEC teleconference about how improved the talent pool in Tennessee is compared to when he coached.

Drastically, actually. I don't remember when I was there as a high school coach, and it could be because I wasn't in this world, but I believe it has increased. It seems to be increasing every year. There's tons of kids, of course the Memphis and the Nashville area, but now there's starting to be some high-profile prospects in those areas. I think it's going to continue to increase with the jobs that the high schools are doing there.

With the talent getting better, the Rebels aren't going to quit poaching. If it's going to stop, the Vols have to stop it by winning—and Saturday is an excellent place to start.

Given the way Freeze has quickly built that program and its current lofty status, Ole Miss is a rising power that gained major national headlines with its wins over Alabama and Texas A&M.

Jones is looking for his young team's program-defining win, and Saturday would certainly qualify.

There are a lot of similarities between the two programs, Freeze noted on the teleconference. When he looks at how the young Vols are playing, he sees a reflection of his young team a season ago—staying in games, learning how to turn immense talent into wins:

The first thing I see is they've recruited extremely well. We can sit here all day and none of us are great coaches without players that can make plays. Coach Jones and his staff has certainly done that. They've got tremendous young talent. That's kind of the way we were after our first full recruiting class, we played a ton of freshmen just like they're doing. And those freshmen are scary. They're obviously young and make mistakes sometimes, just like ours did and still do. They're so talented. It's a scary talent because not only have they recruited well, but they're playing with a deal of hunger and passion which I think we did in our first couple years also and were in game that maybe we didn't stack up as well, but we were in a lot of games with those teams. I think that's exactly what they're proving this year. It's only a matter of time before they break through.

Until the Vols do, Freeze has something to sell that Jones can't: a winning program.

Last year, Jones lived up to his decree upon being hired in Knoxville that UT would own the state, signing 10 players from the Volunteer State. He reiterated that to ESPN.com's Chris Low after this year's national signing day when he said, "We've got to own this state."

UT signed nine of the top 11 players in the state in last year's class, according to the 247Sports composite rankings, an unbelievable haul that is paying immediate dividends.

This season, the Vols have commitments from just three of the top 14, and the Rebels have the same number.

"Tennessee is still recruiting well in the Nashville area and getting a good number of the in-state players it really wants, but Ole Miss is one of the teams that's making things a bit more difficult for the Vols," Callahan said. "UT and Ole Miss often are two of the first teams to offer prospects from Tennessee, and the Vols now are battling the Rebels for several of the state's top prospects."

Though Jones has put together another incredible class anyway that is currently ranked third nationally, supplementing it with guys such as Richmond and Phillips would be massive.

To do that, Tennessee will have to hold off Freeze, who is coming after Jones' state with a highly ranked team and a ton of momentum.

The Vols can squelch some of that this weekend. Asking for a win is a tall order, but getting one could pay dividends both immediately and in the future.

 

All quotes gathered firsthand and all recruiting information taken from 247Sports, unless otherwise noted.

Brad Shepard covers SEC football and is the Tennessee Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow Brad on Twitter @Brad_Shepard.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

The 10 Most Uncoverable College Football Wide Receivers

To the defensive backs lined up opposite these guys on Saturdays this fall, we have a message for you: good luck.

Offensive numbers in college football continue to tick upward, with CBS Sports' Dennis Dodd noting Wednesday that this season is on pace to break numerous collective records. Passing proliferation is a huge part of that, and not just because quarterbacks are becoming better and more accurate.

We're in a golden age of big-play wide receivers, and the current crop terrorizing college secondaries could be the best ever. But it's not all about putting the ball up and hoping someone with great hands comes down with it, it's also about getting open and beating coverage.

In other words, to be unguardable.

Looking at the current FBS leaders in receptions and yards, while also accounting for the number of times they're thrown to and how often they haul in those targets, we've picked the 10 most uncoverable wide receivers in college football today. They're listed in alphabetical order, but we'd like to hear your thoughts on how they rank (or who else is deserving of such a label) in the comments section.

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Texas A&M Football: 4 Realistic Goals for the Remainder of the 2014 Season

The Texas A&M football team is 5-2 with a 2-2 record in the SEC and the No. 21 national ranking. The coaches need to reassess where they are at as a program and come up with a few specific goals to accomplish during the last five games of the regular season.

A realistic look at the remaining schedule would have the Aggies going 3-2 to finish the regular season with an 8-4 record. Texas A&M will likely lose games at Alabama and Auburn, but there are possible wins against Louisiana-Monroe, Missouri and LSU. 

The 2014 version of the Texas A&M football team seems to have lost its confidence on offense. The Aggies struggled on defense in 2013 and again in 2014, but the offense has always been there to give the team a boost. 

The offense has struggled to consistently move the ball in consecutive losses against Mississippi State and Ole Miss. Questionable play-calling and poor execution has resulted in an offense that struggles to put sustained drives together. 

There are problems on this team that need to be addressed through recruiting and possible coaching changes. This is a look at what the Aggies' goals should be during the last five games of the 2014 season. 

 

 

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10 Best Coaching Jobs for First Half of 2014 College Football Season

One look at the current Associated Press rankings says almost everything you need to know about some of the coaching jobs being done in college football this season.

The No. 1 team in the country was unranked in August. So too were the Nos. 12, 15, 16, 18 and 20 teams. Two other teams in the top five were ranked outside of the preseason top 15.

But it's not just head coaches turning around teams that has stuck out from the first seven weeks. It has also been the impressive number of coordinators doing well to turn around units.

This list sought to highlight such coaches, ranking the 10 who have done the best job during the first half of the year. Where performance exceeds expected performance, this list sought to give recognition.

Sound off below with anyone we might have missed.

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College Football Week 8: Top 25 Upset Alert

With Week 8 approaching, could the college football world be in store for a Saturday full of upsets? Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Adam Kramer dishes out who he thinks will play the role of Cinderella this weekend. 

Which top team will fall in Week 8?

Watch the video and let us know!

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Mike Slive's SEC Legacy

Former United States president Teddy Roosevelt's foreign policy was best described by the phrase "speak softly, and carry a big stick."

SEC commissioner Mike Slive's style is governing the SEC in a similar fashion. 

Slive announced on Tuesday that he will retire on July 31, 2015, after 13 years of service.

"I have been blessed in more ways than I can count and I will have as much passion for this job on my last day as I did on my first," said Slive in a statement. "I consider my health situation a temporary detour in a remarkable road that has allowed me to meet amazing people, experience incredible events and celebrate historic victories. I will relish my final year in this position and look forward to being the biggest fan of the SEC for many years to come."

Once he hangs up the briefcase, Slive will leave a legacy of success, grace and prosperity that won't be easily matched in the world of college athletics.

 

Thoughtful and Deliberate

As a lawyer and judge by trade, Slive previously served as the commissioner of Conference USA (1995-2002) and the Great Midwest Conference (1991-1995). The soft-spoken man from Utica, New York, brought that experience in the legal world to the SEC which, prior to his arrival, was led by Roy Kramer. 

Kramer, a former head coach at Central Michigan, is widely known as "the father of the BCS."

Slive's style was different, and when he first got introduced to people familiar with the SEC, he was met with some doubt, including from SEC Network analyst Tony Barnhart.

"Can this guy, with an Ivy League education, worked at the Pac-10, has been a lawyer and a district court judge—is he ready for the rough and tumble world in the SEC? That was my first thought about Mike Slive when I met him," Barnhart told B/R.

That changed in a hurry.

"After I talked with him for the first time," Barnhart noted, "I thought 'OK, this guy is persuasive.'"

Persuasive he is.

Slive's ability to rally the conference together, create peace behind the scenes and get the entire conference believing that a rising tide floats all boats is a big reason why the SEC is now regarded as the most successful conference in sports, and Slive is known as one of—if not the—most powerful figures in college sports.

It wasn't without challenges.

Slive famously sat former Florida head coach Urban Meyer and former Tennessee head coach Lane Kiffin down at SEC spring meetings in Destin, Florida, in 2009 after the two had engaged in an offseason of public sparring.

"I'll never forget, he brought them into the coaches meeting room in Destin, and basically read them the riot act," Barhnart said. "He told them, in so many words, that they need to quit yappin' in public, because it was bad for the conference and he wasn't going to put up with it."

That's not to say those things don't happen anymore. They do. Most recently, old-school and new-school coaches sparred publicly over the failed "10-second rule," which was something that popped up seemingly out of nowhere. That, though, is now the exception, not the rule.

"Those kind of things still happen," SEC director of communications Chuck Dunlap noted. "But they're not good for anybody to take place in a public forum. I think that those things, for the most part, don't happen in a public forum, is another testament to commissioner Slive and the respect that our coaches have for him."

 

A Visionary

Slive's 13 years as commissioner will be viewed as an unquestioned success, but his real impact will be felt long after he retires.

The four-team College Football Playoff exists largely due to Slive's push, long ago, for what then was termed as a "plus-one." According to the Orlando Sun-Sentinel, Slive and ACC commissioner John Swofford proposed a four-team playoff at the BCS meetings in the spring of 2008, just two championships into the SEC's remarkable run of seven straight national titles.

"There was really no support for it back then," explained Dunlap. "And that was really early in our string of titles, so it wasn't like he was doing that as an SEC move. He's somebody who is good for college athletics, good for college football and somebody who listened to fans and certainly wasn't tone-deaf to their desires."

It was all part of the plan.

Slive didn't go into that meeting expecting a four-team playoff to be adopted. He was laying the groundwork, which, as we see in 2014—this first season of the playoff—paid off.

"He was the guy who wanted to put it on the table at the BCS meetings, knowing the first time he did, he knew full well that it was going to get shot down," Barnhart said. "Mike Slive never went into a room where there was going to be a vote where he didn't already know how the vote was already going to go, just like a great lawyer who never asks a question that he doesn't already know the answer to."

What's more, Slive has been instrumental in the push for player welfare reform from the outset.

His 2011 "state of the SEC" speech at SEC media days in Hoover, Alabama, became known as the "agenda for change." In it, Slive laid out four primary goals (via: ASAPSports.com):

  • Redefine the benefits available to student-athletes.
  • Strengthen academic eligibility requirements for incoming freshmen and two-year transfers
  • Modernize the recruiting rules
  • Continue to support the NCAA's efforts to improve the enforcement process

Fast-forward three-and-a-half years, and these goals are a big part of power-five conferences' push for legislative autonomy. Full cost-of-attendance stipends, enhanced medical coverage, a pared-down rule book and multiyear scholarships are all either available now or likely to become available through autonomy in the near future.

Slive deserves credit for that.

"There's a lot that he was a part of and did through the years that fans, not just part of the SEC, should be grateful for," Dunlap said. 

 

Coaching Diversity 

Mississippi State hired Sylvester Croom prior to the 2004 season to replace Jackie Sherrill as the head coach of the Bulldogs, marking a first in the SEC. Croom was the first African-American head coach in the SEC and blazed a trail for others to follow in his footsteps.

Croom's story was featured by ESPN Films' SEC Storied franchise, and Slive commented on just how important Croom's career was to his legacy in a press release from ESPN.

"It was a story not about sport, but it was story about us," Slive said in a statement in 2012. "It was a story about society. It was a story about the South. And I don’t believe there’ll be a more pivotal event that will occur in my tenure no matter how long I stay here."

Since 2004, Kentucky hired Joker Phillips, former Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin led the Commodore program to unprecedented success and Derek Mason was hired to replace Franklin after Franklin left for Penn State.

The fact that subsequent hires didn't receive as much attention speaks volumes to Slive's push for coaching diversity within the SEC.

"Dealing with compliance and the fact that, in 2014, a minority football coach being hired in the SEC is no longer news. Those are the two things that, if you pressed him, are the things he'd be most proud of," Dunlap noted.

 

A Windfall 

College athletics is big business, and under Slive's leadership, the SEC has generated a windfall for its member institutions.

Since taking over for the 2002-2003 school year, Slive has been at the forefront as the conference has more than tripled its annual total payout to schools. The conference paid out a total of $101.9 million to its member institutions after his first year on the job, according to AL.com, but the best was yet to come.

Groundbreaking television contracts, success on the football field and basketball court, the addition of Texas A&M, Missouri and its television markets and the development of the SEC Network—which he referred to as the "most successful launch of a new cable network in all of cable history," according to AL.com—helped the total conference payout jump to $309.6 million.

This, as FoxSports.com Clay Travis noted in the spring, is without the benefit of money generated from the SEC Network, which launched on Aug. 14, 2014.

Whoever steps in for Slive will undoubtedly credit him for what's coming because tripling revenue in just over decade will look like a baby step in a road paved with gold.

 

Slive will go down as one of the kindest, smartest and transformative leaders in the history of college athletics. 

"He's the most powerful man in intercollegiate athletics, but he's never acted like it," Barnhart said.

His grace, ability to keep the peace and foresight has ushered in a new era of SEC football, college football and college athletics, with the best yet to come.

 

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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