Remember when the Big Ten was unofficially out of the playoff picture? It wasn't that long ago.
The death of the Big Ten, as Bleacher Report's Adam Kramer lamented, happened in Week 2. That's when Nebraska needed a miracle from running back Ameer Abdullah to beat McNeese State. That's when Michigan was shut out 31-0 by Notre Dame. That's when Ohio State was stunned by Virginia Tech in The Horseshoe and Michigan State found itself unable to beat Oregon on the road.
The conference is 5-11 against fellow power-five schools heading into Week 6, with its best win easily being Indiana's upset over Missouri on the road.
For the most part, though, there have been sweeping narratives about how lowly the Big Ten has been.
However, the Big Ten's playoff chances also rest partially on what happens in Week 6—not solely on what happened in early September.
The first fact that should be addressed is that many of the bad losses and close calls came from teams that aren't realistically in the playoff picture—or aren't anymore, at least.
Sure, Purdue was pummeled by Central Michigan, but it's also fair to wonder whether the Boilermakers will win three games this year. Iowa, which had a close call against Ball State, is looking more and more like a middle-of-the-road conference team.
The top of the Big Ten is what matters.
The likes of Michigan State and undefeated Nebraska shouldn't be counted out just yet. In fact, Bleacher Report's resident playoff guru, Sam Chi, has the Spartans and Huskers in his latest mock playoff standings at No. 13 and No. 16, respectively.
As it happens, the marquee Big Ten game in Week 6 is Nebraska's trip to Michigan State.
There's a lot on the line beyond just another win. Abdullah, second in the nation with 833 rushing yards, could continue his ever-growing Heisman Trophy campaign against a defense that allows fewer than three yards per rushing attempt.
A win on the road against Michigan State would look great for Nebraska's playoff resume. It would also remove much of the bad taste left over from the win over McNeese State. The season is still young, but a road win in East Lansing would undoubtedly launch Nebraska into a greater postseason discussion.
Conversely, the Spartans can ill afford to lose another game. A win over Oregon in Week 2 could have bought some forgiveness. By itself, there's nothing wrong with Sparty's road loss against a quality opponent. Anyone who watched that game knows Michigan State hung with Oregon in a way the box score simply doesn't show.
If the selection committee is going to punish teams that lose quality games, what's the point of scheduling them?
Still, a two-loss team is going to have a steep hill to climb to even think about a playoff spot.
If Spartans coach Mark Dantonio had it his way, only conference champions would make the playoff. That's likely Michigan State's only path now—and that's if it wins every game going forward.
"My vision is you should be a champion of your league before you can be a champion of the country," Dantonio told reporters. "That would be my vision, if I was doing it. Might not happen like that. But that would be my vision."
Do top Big Ten teams need help getting into the playoff? Possibly, but that's why there are two full months of college football left. Let everything play out.
No one in the discussion for one of the four coveted spots is truly out of the running yet.
Reports of the Big Ten's death in regard to the playoff picture may have been greatly exaggerated.
Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand.
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Tradition, geography and on-field performance are just a few of the factors that help programs build a successful recruiting class.
Also, anytime a new coaching staff is brought in, that new blood and energy can help boost a program that has been searching for a shot of energy on the recruiting trail.
However, there are some programs that struggle despite possessing at least one or more of the elements listed above.
Which programs fall under the category of schools who struggle in recruiting and have room to improve in that area?
*Teams listed in alphabetical order.
The Kansas Jayhawks football team has been hapless for a few years now, prompting most fans to assume that it has always been like that. But actually, it hasn’t.
Only six years ago, in early 2008, the Jayhawks beat Virginia Tech to win the Orange Bowl. That year they went 12-1, Mark Mangino won national coach of the year and the Kansas program looked toward the future with promise.
But then the university administrators made their first big mistake. They ousted Mangino amid reports that he had mistreated his players. One specific report claimed he grabbed a player and put his finger in his chest, and some former players called Mangino insensitive and said he made embarrassing remarks about them during games or practice.
Is it that serious of an issue?
Personally, I don’t think it is. The kid was probably being disrespectful and causing a disturbance, and Mangino got angry. But the way our society has changed, it is understandable that so much emphasis was put on that type of infraction.
Should Mangino have been fired?
No way. He did a fine job of turning things around in Lawrence, and he had a plan firmly in place for more future success.
However, Kansas made their decision. I think it was the wrong move, but they could have easily made up for it by hiring a better coach. They then hired Turner Gill, a former Nebraska quarterback. He could never get anything going, and he was canned after two terrible seasons.
Still, they had a chance to get it right. They had a host of names on the market to replace Gill.
Then-Houston coach Kevin Sumlin, then-Connecticut coach Randy Edsall, and former Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn were reportedly the top targets, but Kansas went a different direction.
Instead of hiring an up-and-coming star to pace the sidelines, they opted to go with someone who did nothing but lose in his prior college coaching stop. Kansas handed the reins to Charlie Weis, who somehow found a way to lose at Notre Dame despite having abundant talent at his disposal.
Weis was revered as a terrific offensive mind during his tenure as an NFL offensive coordinator, winning four Super Bowls in the process, but the Jayhawks were never able to move the ball in his tenure. Weis only won six games in two-and-a-half seasons, including a horrid 1-18 record in Big 12 play.
And after a 23-0 loss to Texas where the offense once again was hapless, Weis was fired.
Now, Kansas is back to where they were in 2009 when they fired Mangino. Except this time, it is worse.
Then, at least they were coming off some winning seasons and there was some talent on the roster for the new coach to inherit. Now, the team is in absolute shambles.
Meanwhile, the batch of coaches whom Kansas could have had is thriving. Sumlin has Texas A&M as one of the premier teams in the SEC, Malzahn resurrected the Auburn program into a championship contender and Edsall is still overseeing a rebuilding effort at Maryland.
It is ludicrous to think that the Kansas athletic department picked Charlie Weis over those hot names, but then again, there is a reason why Kansas has been really bad for so long.
Not surprising, the list of potential replacements is not nearly as favorable as it was three years ago. Former Ole Miss head coach and USC interim coach Ed Orgeron, Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables and Nebraska offensive coordinator Tim Beck are rumored to be in the conversation, but they all have their negatives.
Orgeron floundered at Ole Miss, and the other two have zero head coaching experience.
Keep in mind that Kansas is not exactly a place that everyone wants to go. For a young coach, it is probably not very high on any list of dream destinations.
It is out in the middle of nowhere, the program has been awful recently and the Big 12 is loaded with solid teams, meaning it is going to be a long road to becoming even bowl-eligible. Also, Kansas is known as a basketball school, so anything that happens on the gridiron will always be overshadowed by what happens on the hardwood.
KU defensive coordinator Clint Bowen will take over as the interim head coach, but once this regular season is in the books, it will be time to make a decision regarding the next coach.
Nobody knows whom they will decide to hire, but their track record does not bode well for future success. The athletic department has come up empty on its last two hires, so they are either due to find a gem this time around or are doomed for another bad one.
I think they need to branch out a bit in their search. There are a huge crop of coaches who need to be in the conversation. Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris is one of the best around, Baylor offensive coordinator Philip Montgomery has overseen one of the best collegiate offenses in history and knows how to exploit Big 12 defenses. Whether or not those two would even be interested in to be determined, but they should at least get an interview.
Either way, Kansas might currently be the hardest job in America. Things can’t get any worse in Lawrence, but the university and its fans are going to need a ton of patience if they ever want to see a competitive team again.
Kansas has made bad decision after bad decision, and whomever they name as the new coach is going to feel the burden of all those mistakes.
And after every loss, check box scores from around the country, because chances are Kevin Sumlin and Gus Malzahn led their respective teams to victory.
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Two televisions will not suffice.
To truly appreciate the depth and overall brilliance of Week 6 of the college football season, you’re going to need more. Grab that credit card and take that SUV to the nearest electronics hub, fit as many flat screens in the back as you possibly can and worry about the credit card bill when it arrives.
After a relatively slow start to the season, we have patiently—or perhaps impatiently—waited for a slate of games just like this. From top to bottom, there might not be a more compelling lineup of matchups all year.
Because of this, you must treasure every moment on the seven to 10 flat screens you are soon to purchase.
In the world of point spreads, Week 6 presents plenty of intriguing stances made by oddsmakers. And as is tradition, we’re picking winners for all games featuring teams in the current AP Top 25.
After three winning weeks in a row, Week 5 served as a bit of a setback. Not to fear; we’re simply loosening up our arm. Monster week, ahoy.
All spreads are courtesy of Odds Shark unless noted otherwise.
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Never shy to interact with his fans (and media members) on Twitter, it's no secret to Joey Bosa's 20,000-plus followers that the Ohio State defensive end is a fan of music and video games.
That was apparent on Saturday, when the super sophomore couldn't stop smiling following the Buckeyes' 50-28 win over Cincinnati. After all, it was Bosa's first-quarter sack-turned-safety of Bearcats quarterback Gunner Kiel that played a key role in Ohio State jumping out to a 30-7 lead in the first half.
“It’s pretty much why I play the game,” Bosa said of the play. “It’s why I play football, to go out there and have fun with my friends and hit the quarterback in the face.”
If that's the case, then his college career has already been a blast for Bosa.
Breaking into the Buckeyes' starting lineup as a true freshman a season ago, the Fort Lauderdale, Florida, native made an immediate impact, recording 44 tackles, 13.5 of which came for a loss and 7.5 sacks en route to being named a Freshman All-American by Sporting News and the Football Writers Association of America.
And thus far, the 6'5", 278-pounder has avoided a sophomore slump, tallying 10 tackles, 4.5 of which have come for a loss and 2.5 sacks through Ohio State's first four games of 2014.
When he lured the former 5-star prospect from storied St. Thomas Aquinas High School a year ago, Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer figured he was getting something special in Bosa. But even he's been surprised by how quickly the Sunshine State product has made his presence felt.
"I thought we'd have a guy that would be pretty much game-ready because he went to a really quality high school program," Meyer said. "I didn't imagine he'd be this ready. He's extremely strong and quick and relentless. And on top of that he loves and understands the game.”
It doesn't hurt that football runs in the bloodline of Bosa, the son of former Boston College defensive tackle John Bosa and nephew of Ohio State linebacker Eric Kumerow. But while both his father and uncle were selected by the Miami Dolphins with first-round picks in 1987 and 1988, respectively, Joey has a chance to be the best of the bunch, as evidenced by Meyer's preseason proclamation that Bosa "is as good a defensive end as anybody in America."
That's obviously high praise from the third-year Buckeyes head coach, but it's not a coincidence that CBSSports.com analyst Dane Brugler is already projecting Bosa to potentially be the top overall pick in the 2016 NFL draft. Adding to Bosa's reputation as well has been OSU linebacker and ESPN analyst Chris Spielman, who has compared him to Houston Texans star J.J. Watt.
But despite all of the praise that's already been heaped on Bosa, Buckeyes co-defensive coordinator Luke Fickell believes that he's yet to scratch the surface of his potential. A defensive tackle at Ohio State from 1993-96, Fickell played alongside arguably the greatest defensive lineman in Buckeye history in Mike Vrabel and sees similar traits in the young Ohio State star.
“The sky’s the limit for that guy with his abilities...he is a very dominating force. He’s tough. He’s a guy that’s got the speed that’s able to get the edge, but he’s got the power to do some things inside. It’s an unbelievable combination," Fickell said. "I haven’t seen a whole lot of guys like it, but we’re still going to expect him to continue to grow. Joey’s got a lot of growth he can continue to do."
That's bad news for the rest of the Big Ten, which has already felt the wrath of a player who's not even at the halfway point of his second college season yet. As for his teammates, they're just glad that they get to reap the benefits of Bosa's game-changing hits, as opposed to having them come against their own offense.
"He changed the whole course of the game by hitting Gunner Kiel like that and forcing that safety," said senior defensive tackle Michael Bennett. "It gave us incredible momentum, and Gunner was kind of looking for him from that point on. I love the kid. He makes plays for us.”
"He’s a freak," added junior nickelback Armani Reeves. "He does things that some D-ends, you’re just like, ‘Wow.’ He’s a great player and when you see his hits like that, you’re looking at greatness. You’re watching greatness. He’s a great player and I’m just happy he’s on our side.”
Having already accomplished so much so soon in his college career, it's not unrealistic to think that Bosa will one day leave Columbus as the greatest defensive lineman in school history. He likely won't stick around long enough to eclipse the 36 career sacks that Vrabel—the man who recruited him to Ohio State as a position coach—set as the program standard, but that hasn't stopped Meyer from comparing him to another Buckeye great, and then some.
“I think John Simon," Meyer answered when asked if Bosa reminds him of any other player he's coached. "He's a little more talented than John, a little longer. But John Simon had that same—you watch those two play in practice and compete and there's a mindset.
"Everybody knows how we all feel about John Simon. But to even mention someone in that same vein, who is a few inches taller and a little longer, that's pretty rare air."
Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Ohio State Lead Writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes obtained firsthand. All recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.
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College football Week 6 is gearing up to be a special one. Many are referring to it as "Survival Saturday" because of the heavy volume of high-ranking teams squaring off.
What will be the biggest surprise this weekend?
Watch the video and let us know!
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Well, September is officially behind us, and we’re through a month of the college football season.
Every team in the Football Bowl Subdivision has had multiple opportunities to impress us, or, in some cases, make their teams long for the beginning of basketball practice.
We might not know everything about college football (and we’ll find out plenty more this weekend), but now we can evaluate teams at least a little better than we could before.
So this is an excellent opportunity to project the winners of every FBS conference. Projections are based on performance thus far, schedules and observations made over the course of September.
No matter how you slice it, it's hard to be overwhelmed with the fruits of Georgia's labors in the passing game this season. Though the prolonged absence of key playmaking receivers Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley has hurt, it's still difficult for some to reconcile the general mediocrity of the Bulldogs' aerial assault.
Senior quarterback Hutson Mason is completing 69 percent of his passes—a perfectly respectable number—but through four games, he's thrown for a meager 566 yards. And his two-interception performance against Tennessee has some calling for a change.
A change may in fact be necessary for the quarterback position in Athens, but it may not necessarily be regarding personnel. As it stands, the huge dilemma the Dawgs offense now faces is more philosophical.
It should be noted, perhaps first and foremost, that Georgia's offense is not broken. For every fan clamoring for offensive coordinator Mike Bobo's head, there are a handful of defenses praising his unit's execution.
The fact that Georgia is averaging over 45 points per game through four contests—all of which have come against FBS opposition and two of which came against ranked foes—is overlooked all too often. And ironically, fans are quick to laud junior running back Todd Gurley as a Heisman Trophy candidate and demand that he be fed while failing to recognize that his workload will decrease efforts in the passing game.
And to both of those ends—Georgia's ability to score and run the ball effectively—it should be hard to question what Bobo is doing with his personnel. After all, Georgia ranks eighth in the nation in scoring thanks to a ground attack that is also in the top 10.
To date, Georgia has recognized its strength, relied upon it and (for the most part) won football games. Sure, the South Carolina loss was bitterly disappointing, and perhaps play-calling during that contest was situationally bizarre, but was that loss squarely on the shoulders of Bobo and Mason? Defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt didn't think so.
"They ought to be raking me over the coals," Pruitt told Chip Towers of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution after the loss to South Carolina. "You score 35 points, you're supposed to win."
What Could Come
As long as Georgia does score at least 35 points—something the Bulldogs have done in every game this year—victory will be expected. But at some point, Georgia's impressive ground attack is going to meet its match. It's just not feasible for this team to average seven yards per carry throughout the entire season.
The question when that time comes will be, how will Georgia's offense respond? The question right now is, how does Georgia prepare for that day?
On paper, Vanderbilt is a fairly innocuous opponent. Sure, the Commodores upset an injury-riddled Georgia team last year, but there's no tangible reasoning that would suggest Vandy keeps this game too close.
And that's where the dilemma sets in. Against Vanderbilt, Georgia will have two options on offense—both of which will likely yield a lopsided victory for the Dawgs. Bobo could continue to rely on Gurley and a host of capable running backs to wear the Commodores down into submission. Or he could place an emphasis on developing the passing game.
On one hand, why would he dilute a winning formula? On the other, shouldn't this team prepare for a scenario in which a passing game is necessary to garner victory?
Ultimately, the latter seems the more viable solution—at least for this game against an outmatched opponent. Putting an emphasis on the passing attack may irk fans, but it will also give Mason and his receivers (potentially even Mitchell and Scott-Wesley) a chance to stretch the field in a relatively low-risk environment. Further, such a game plan minimizes injury risk to the team's greatest asset, Gurley.
If things along these lines go well against Vanderbilt, fans and players alike will have more confidence heading into road showdowns with Missouri and Arkansas. If the emphasis on moving the ball through the air doesn't pan out, then the team is back at square one—relying on a stable of running backs.
But don't forget that square one has been pretty impressive this season.
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Flash in the pan or staying power?
That will be what's on the line on Saturday afternoon in Starkville, Mississippi, for the No. 12 Mississippi State Bulldogs, who host the No. 6 Texas A&M Bulldogs in one of three enormous Week 6 SEC West games.
After a 34-29 upset of LSU two weeks ago, this is the game that can solidify the Bulldogs not only as a competitive team in the nation's toughest division but a contender for the division title.
They'll prove it on Saturday afternoon against the Aggies.
Cracks emerged last weekend for Texas A&M in the overtime win over Arkansas, particularly in its rush defense, which gave 285 yards on the ground to the potent Hogs rushing attack.
Sure, cornerback Deshazor Everett was named SEC Defensive Player of the Week with 16 tackles, but when a corner plays that much of a factor in the running game, it isn't a good thing. A&M's linebackers were caught out of position often and missed several tackles, which was a problem that plagued the Aggies last season.
While it looks much different, Mississippi State can exploit Texas A&M's defense in a similar way that Arkansas did. Even without center Dillon Day—who was suspended this week for stomping on two LSU players last week—the Bulldog offensive line is fast, physical and is a big reason why Mississippi State's multidimensional rushing attack is so successful.
Running back Josh Robinson is third in the SEC in rushing yards per game (121.25), and quarterback Dak Prescott leads all SEC quarterbacks with 94.5 rushing yards per game.
"You’ve got a completely different attack," Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin said in quotes emailed by the university. "Spread attacks get lumped into the same group and that’s not necessarily the case. There’s no doubt these guys like to run the ball from this attack. The quarterback is part of the run game."
That offense will replicate the success that Arkansas had last week and will force Texas A&M into a shootout.
This time, though, quarterback Kenny Hill won't be able to keep up.
Lighting up South Carolina is nice. Doing the same in a big win over Arkansas is, too. Neither of those defenses come anywhere close to comparing to the one Mississippi State will trot out at Davis-Wade Stadium on Saturday.
The defensive line rotates up to nine or 10 players for a full four quarters, generates relentless pressure and the back end of that defense, while statistically not up to par (it's skewed by one bad performance), is loaded with talented cornerbacks like Jamerson Love and Taveze Calhoun.
"Jamerson is a real speed player for us," Mullen said during last week's teleconference. "Where [former Bulldogs] Johnthan [Banks] and [Darius] Slay also had some size. I think he's up there with those guys as that type of player. He's still improving, and there are some things he can get better at, but he certainly has the talent to play at the next level."
Everything is coming together for Mississippi State. The Bulldogs have a dynamic, veteran-laden offense combined with a defense that's loaded with depth and big-game experience.
This not only will help the Bulldogs top the Aggies in a game in which Mississippi State has gone from a slight home underdog to a 2.5-point favorite, according to OddsShark.com, but will help them stay in the mix for the SEC West title.
Does that mean the Bulldogs will win it?
It'll still be an uphill battle. A road trip to Alabama in mid-November will be a tall order, and they'll have to stay hot next week when the defending SEC champion Auburn Tigers roll into town.
They already have played a big role in who will win the division with their road win in Death Valley two weeks ago and will repeat the feat with a big win over Texas A&M on Saturday.
The LSU game was no fluke.
Mississippi State has staying power, and the team will prove it Saturday afternoon in Starkville.
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.
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Still, coach Jimbo Fisher and the players have chosen to ignore the rankings and the changes.
"We can't control the polls," Fisher said. "All we have to do is keep winning. If we keep winning and doing what we do, we'll be fine."
One starter, tailback Karlos Williams, said Monday night that he didn't even know about the drop in the coaches poll until the topic was brought up by a reporter.
"It's about playing football," Williams said. "It's about wins and losses. We don't pay attention to it. It's called clutter."
Fisher loves to use the word "clutter" to describe what he considers unnecessary chatter about the program. He prefers to focus on improving his team and the program while preparing for Saturday's opponent.
FSU has been able to survive a challenging first month of the season, which has included "clutter" from the suspensions of wide receiver Jesus "Bobo" Wilson for the season opener and Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Jameis Winston for the Clemson game.
The Seminoles' 4-0 start has extended FSU's winning streak to 20 games. But a year after winning 12 of 14 games by 30 or more points, FSU escaped with a six-point win over Oklahoma State at Arlington, Texas, held off Clemson for a six-point overtime win and trailed 24-7 at North Carolina State before rallying to win 56-41.
FSU has won all three of its games against Football Bowl Subdivision teams while short-handed. Along with the suspensions of Wilson and Winston, three key Seminoles—defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. (concussion), defensive tackle Nile Lawrence-Stample (torn pectoral) and tailback Mario Pender (concussion)—missed the NC State game with injuries. Lawrence-Stample is out for the season.
Players feel like their mettle should be rewarded. Instead, it's been met by doubt.
"I don't have no doubts about Florida State," Williams said.
Some voters, however, do have doubts. Voters like style points, and FSU hasn't been winning like the 2013 team. FSU's win over the Wolfpack required a second-half rally, and despite putting up 535 total offensive yards and eight touchdowns, voters have adjusted their ballots.
FSU received 26 first-place votes in the coaches poll, a drop from the 36 first-place votes from the Sept. 21 poll. The Seminoles are still winning, but they are lacking when it comes to style points, a measure that is intangible but also clearly essential to voters.
"People can put us at 25; I really don't care," safety Tyler Hunter said. "We're still undefeated. We have to go out this week and play the game."
The polls don't hold quite the weight they once did. The BCS standings are now a thing of the past, and the four teams that earn spots in the College Football Playoff will be picked by a selection committee following the conference championship games on Dec. 7. The committee's first picks will be released on Oct. 28.
Up next for FSU is a home game with Wake Forest and then a road trip to Syracuse on Oct. 11. A potential top-10 showdown with Notre Dame (4-0) on Oct. 18 in Tallahassee, Florida, looms—a game that could feature two unbeaten teams that will have a tremendous impact on the national championship picture.
Bob Ferrante is the Florida State Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bob on Twitter. All statistics are courtesy of seminoles.com. All recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.
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With conference games starting in full swing, Week 6 of the college football season will be the first chance for many top teams to truly prove themselves.
Saturday features six games between ranked teams, including four between squads in the Top 15. Obviously, there will be a lot of shake-up in the polls Sunday no matter what happens.
Just as importantly, the top teams looking to show they deserve a spot in the College Football Playoff will have to come through with strong performances this weekend.
Here is a guide to help you watch every game either on television or online.
Schedule courtesy of ESPN.com. For games without national or regional coverage on a major network, check local listings.
Live Stream Info
Many of the games are also available online at one of these locations, although some need subscriptions:
Fox: Fox Sports Go
ABC: ABC Live
NBC:NBC Live Extra
Top Games to Watch
No. 3 Alabama at No. 11 Ole Miss
Ole Miss has not fared well against Alabama in recent memory, as noted by ESPN Stats & Info:
However, this time can be different. Safety Cody Prewitt explained it well, via Brandon Speck of FoxSports.com:
We understand that we haven't played a team that's going to be as good as Bama. But we don't really think Bama is as good as they have been. And we're better than we have been. We're looking forward to getting to the game plan and really nailing down all the tweaks and stuff that we're going to have to put into Bama.
This was not his way of taking a shot at Alabama or creating bulletin-board material, but it is true that this is Ole Miss' best chance at knocking off the Tide.
The Rebels have been great on defense this season, holding opponents to just 8.5 points per game to rank third in the nation. With senior quarterback Bo Wallace spreading the ball around, he has a chance to attack the Alabama defense in ways few others have done in the past.
The Tide allowed 21 points to a struggling Florida offense, so it's clear this unit can be beaten.
Still, the game will likely come down to turnovers. Wallace has already thrown six interceptions this year, something he has gotten away with so far but will not against an elite opponent. If he can take better care of the football, though, Ole Miss should be able to put points on the scoreboard.
With a relatively inexperienced offense trying to deal with the screaming fans in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, there is certainly potential for an upset.
No. 14 Stanford at No. 9 Notre Dame
While there are a number of other big-time matchups, including various SEC battles and Oklahoma going on the road against TCU, the game between Stanford and Notre Dame could end up being the most important for the entire country.
It will be extremely difficult for the committee to decide which teams are the four best at the end of the season, mostly because it is tough to judge the conferences against one another. The good news is Notre Dame is here to bring everyone together.
With multiple opponents in the Big Ten, the Pac-12 and the ACC on the schedule, the Irish can help judge how the conferences stack up against one another. For example, a dominant win over Stanford on Saturday followed by a blowout loss at the hands of Florida State in a few weeks could seriously hurt the Pac-12's standing, especially if the Cardinal play well in conference.
However, Stanford has a chance to carry its entire conference with a strong performance, and it can do that with the No. 1 scoring defense in the country. The unit was elite last season but lost many key players. Still, Dave Fleming of ESPN believes it is even better:
Everett Golson has played well this season, but he will face a serious challenge in the upcoming game. If he struggles, this could end up being an easy win for the Cardinal.
Follow Rob Goldberg on Twitter for the latest breaking news and analysis.
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The Oregon Ducks have had to live with that final score in their heads for the past 313 days.
In order to avoid another upset at the hands of the Arizona Wildcats, the Ducks must do a better job of protecting quarterback Marcus Mariota, containing Arizona’s potent offense and winning the turnover battle.
The Ducks lost to Arizona last year in Tuscon for a plethora of reasons. While it’s obvious that Oregon was still torn up about a loss against Stanford two weeks prior and it’s easy to blame Mariota’s sprained MCL, those issues still should have been easy enough to overcome against a less-talented Arizona team.
However, Oregon was simply manhandled on both sides of the ball by the Wildcats. The Ducks quit on the game and didn’t even bother competing in the second half.
Let’s examine what the Ducks need to do better against Arizona this time around in order to keep their undefeated season alive.
Protect Marcus Mariota
Despite the fact that Marcus Mariota passed for 308 yards and two touchdowns against the Wildcats last year, it was one of the worst performances of his Oregon career. Through 10 games last season, Mariota had yet to throw an interception; however, against Arizona he threw two picks. In fact, up until last year’s matchup against Arizona, Mariota had only thrown six interceptions as Oregon’s quarterback.
"It hurts," Mariota said of the loss at the time, according to The Associated Press. "I haven't been blown out like this in my life."
Of course, Mariota was playing on a sprained MCL, limiting his ability to make plays outside of the pocket. In order to avoid another upset to Arizona, Mariota is going to have to be protected by Oregon’s offensive line, something that didn’t happen in Oregon’s last game against Washington State.
We know Oregon’s offensive line has been decimated by injuries. It appears as though the Ducks will start the same front five as they did against the Cougars 12 days ago, which is cause for concern. The Ducks allowed Mariota to be sacked seven times on the night and committed numerous penalties along the way.
The Ducks need for Mariota to be at his best against a hungry Arizona team that will be looking to pounce on Oregon’s supposed weakness. The goal for the offensive line shouldn’t be to prevent Arizona’s aggressiveness, it should be to keep Mariota upright and give him enough time to make plays with both his arm and his legs, something he was not able to do last year against the Wildcats.
As long as Mariota is able to escape the pocket and make plays down the field, the Ducks should be able to take down Arizona and make a statement along the way.
Contain Arizona’s Offense
While the Ducks actually out-gained Arizona last year 506-482, the Wildcats ran all over Oregon’s defense and controlled the time of possession. Yes, time of possession doesn’t matter to the Ducks; however, it was a factor as the Wildcats continually ran for first downs and didn’t give the Ducks an opportunity to launch a comeback.
Running back Ka’Deem Carey, now with the NFL’s Chicago Bears, gained 206 yards on 43 carries and scored four touchdowns. In total, the Wildcats ran for 308 yards against the Ducks. Oregon couldn’t contain the run game, and it cost them a shot at the Pac-12 conference title and an appearance in the Rose Bowl.
This year, the Wildcats offense has turned into an aerial attack akin to Washington State’s “Air Raid” offense. Redshirt freshman quarterback Anu Solomon has already attempted 175 passes this season, converting 111 of them for 1,454 yards and 13 touchdowns. While the running game is still in good hands with freshman Nick Wilson, who has gained 482 yards on 77 carries and scored four touchdowns, Arizona’s offense has lived and died by the pass this season.
Arizona offense is ranked No. 6 in the NCAA in terms of total offense. The Wildcats have gained 2,375 yards in four games this season—1,463 passing and 912 on the ground.
Meanwhile, Oregon’s defense is ranked No. 95 in the NCAA in terms of total defense, having yielded 1,744 yards this season. The Ducks have given up 1,261 yards through the air, which ranks No. 119 in the NCAA.
In order for the Ducks to avoid another loss to Arizona, Oregon’s defense is going to need to limit Arizona’s passing yards and force the Wildcats to make big plays on third downs, something they did very well against the Ducks last season when they converted 11 of 16 on third down.
What’s the solution to containing Arizona’s wildly successful passing game? Get pressure on the freshman quarterback Solomon and make him feel uncomfortable in the pocket. Oregon’s secondary, though they’ve struggled as a unit so far this season, has two of the best playmakers in the Pac-12 in cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and safety Erick Dargan.
If Oregon is able to contain Arizona’s passing attack, the Ducks should be able to come away with a solid conference victory. Of course, it also would help to get the ball back to Marcus Mariota as much as possible. In other words, the Ducks defense needs to force some turnovers.
Win the Turnover Battle
Oregon rarely loses the turnover battle, especially with Marcus Mariota under center. However, against the Wildcats last season, the Ducks committed three turnovers, two of which were interceptions by Mariota, and the Ducks defense failed to force a turnover. You’re not going to win many college football games when you’re minus-three in the turnover battle.
If the Ducks are to defeat the Wildcats on Thursday night, they’re going to need to have a positive turnover margin.
We know Mariota is going to protect the football. The Ducks junior quarterback has only thrown 10 interceptions on 818 pass attempt in his college career. Oregon’s offense has only committed one turnover so far this season, which ranks first in college football.
That means that, unless something out of the ordinary happens, it will be on the Ducks defense to force the issue and take the ball away from Arizona’s pass-happy offense.
If the Ducks can win the turnover battle, they will beat Arizona and avenge their loss to the Wildcats last season.
The Ducks will be ready to go come Thursday night. While they may not talk about the R-word (revenge), they’ll certainly be thinking about it before kickoff. This isn’t just about grabbing another conference win and moving on to next week’s game against UCLA. This game means something more. It is head coach Mark Helfrich’s first opportunity to avenge a loss. It’s bigger than just another Pac-12 game.
Plus, the Ducks will be styling in their new breast cancer awareness uniforms.
Is there a better way to exact revenge than to do it while wearing pink duds for a good cause?
Jason Gold is Bleacher Report’s lead Oregon writer. Follow Jason on Twitter @TheSportsGuy33.
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Michigan (2-3) desperately needs a victory to stop a slide that began last November. The team’s free fall has put coach Brady Hoke's future in doubt.
But problems on the field were dwarfed by a media firestorm that erupted regarding the handling of quarterback Shane Morris.
Morris was the target of a vicious hit versus Minnesota and had to lean on an offensive lineman to stay upright before returning to the huddle. The television commentators and many in the stadium thought that Morris suffered a concussion.
Hoke has faced numerous questions about whether he should have pulled Morris from the game. Michigan’s poor game performance and negative publicity in the wake of Morris' injury have put the program under intense national scrutiny.
From the University of Michigan Wolverine Football game notes: "Michigan faces its first conference road game of the season this week at Rutgers. The game is the first meeting between the two oldest non-Ivy League football programs in the country. Rutgers fielded its first team in 1869, and Michigan first competed in 1879."
Date: Saturday, October 4, 2014
Time: 7:00 p.m. ET
Place: High Point Solutions Stadium (52,454), Piscataway, New Jersey
Series vs. Rutgers: First meeting ever
Radio: Michigan Sports Network, Sirius (113), XM (195)
Spread: Rutgers by 3.5 via Odds Shark
Live Stats: MGoBlue.com GameTracker
Not so long ago, conventional wisdom dictated that college football coaches couldn’t compare to those who guided teams in the NFL. Anyone with a coaching resume that was assembled in the pros, the thinking went, was way ahead of the guys who earned their living on college campuses.
Weis, despite being Bill Belichick’s offensive coordinator for three Super Bowl-winning teams in New England, also failed at Notre Dame before getting his exit papers from the Jayhawks.
He joins a list of notable former NFL coaches who didn’t find winning easier at the college level, including Mike Sherman, Bill Callahan, Dave Wannstedt, Chan Gailey, Bobby Ross, Jerry Glanville and, of course, Lane Kiffin. But more on them later.
In the meantime, I’m a big believer that winning at the college level today takes every bit as much blood, sweat and tears as the NFL requires, even if the College Football Playoff doesn't have the same magical sound as Super Bowl.
Recruiting for blue-chip talent against the entire nation is much tougher than getting exclusive rights to a player via exercising a draft pick.
Reducing scholarships has leveled the playing field some in college, but the goal of parity is a central part of the NFL business plan.
The NCAA, with all of its regulations, is a tougher watchdog than Roger Goodell will ever be.
The college game is more creative these days, as the exploding point totals demonstrate.
And an NFL team can usually reach the playoffs with a 10-6 record and have a shot at the Lombardi Trophy, but two losses in college sends national championship hopes straight to the graveyard.
College chancellors certainly have recognized the value of men who can take their football programs to the top, especially with some studies, as detailed by Elise Young of Inside Higher Ed, finding that gridiron victories translate to increased alumni donations and can even boost a school’s academic reputation.
That is part of why the money—and the accompanying pressure—is getting bigger every year in the college game. When USA Today compiled college football coaches’ salaries for the first time in 2006, it found 42 were earning $1 million or more, up from just five in 1999. In 2013, the total-compensation packages for nearly 90 had crossed the million-dollar threshold.
NFL coaches still get paid more than their collegiate counterparts, but the gap appears to be narrowing. And two of the highest-paid NFL coaches are making hefty salaries in part because of the reputations they made at the collegiate level.
Former USC coach Pete Carroll, according to CoachesHotSeat.com, is tied for the highest NFL salary with $8 million in Seattle. Former Oregon coach Chip Kelly is tied for fourth on the same list, earning $7 million in Philadelphia.
Texas, according to a book written by Paul Finebaum of the SEC Network, was willing to hand Saban a $100 million deal to jump to the Longhorns.
Unable to land Saban, Texas found another way to spend big. It gave Charlie Strong $5 million a year to coach plus another $4.375 million in 2014 to buy out his Louisville contract, for a whopping $9.375 million deal that USA Today says is the largest one-year amount ever paid to a coach at a public university.
With money like that to spend, Texas could have gone after the NFL’s biggest coaching names, but the Longhorns’ decision-makers didn’t. And if you believe that money talks, in this case it shouted that sticking with a coach who had proven ability with college-age players was the wisest course.
An overwhelming majority of colleges agree. Look through USA Today’s most recent salary survey of college coaches, from 2013, and there isn't one whose first head coaching job was in the NFL until No. 25, Lane Kiffin.
Kiffin was fired during the 2013 season, and the year before he became the first coach in 48 years to have a team voted No. 1 in The Associated Press preseason poll only to have it finish unranked, according to RealClearSports.com.
The belief that college coaches couldn’t handle the rigors of the NFL surged when Steve Spurrier resigned from the Washington Redskins with a 12-20 record in 2003. He had been the league’s highest-paid coach, with a five-year, $25 million deal. But owner Daniel Snyder’s team hasn’t exactly wowed the league since then.
Adding fuel to the fire later was Saban’s failure in Miami, where he was doomed when the Dolphins decided to trade for Daunte Culpepper instead of signing Drew Brees as a free agent.
But what about those former NFL coaches who were mentioned up top, the ones who found that big wins don’t come easily in the college ranks?
Mike Sherman once was at the helm of the Green Bay Packers but went only 25-25 at Texas A&M.
Bill Callahan, a former Oakland Raiders coach, got the axe at Nebraska in 2007 after going 0-7 against top-10 opponents.
Dave Wannstedt, who had 11 total years as an NFL coach in Chicago and Miami, resigned under pressure at Pitt in 2007, after failing to get the Panthers into a marquee bowl game in six seasons.
Chan Gailey, once the coach of the Dallas Cowboys, was dumped at Georgia Tech in 2007 after losing six straight.
Bobby Ross took the San Diego Chargers to a Super Bowl appearance, but his final coaching job ended badly in 2007 after a 9-25 run at Army.
And what about Jerry Glanville, forever famous for telling an errant ref that NFL stands for “Not for long” while coaching the Houston Oilers? He too was not around for long at Portland State, where he went 9-24 before quitting in 2009.
Try telling one of those guys that the college game is easy.
Tom Weir covered college football as a columnist for USA Today.
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The producer's voice was strong: "We need to record billboards." Give me just a minute. Then came the next surge: "We need to rehearse." Hang on. Let me watch this play. "Come on. We have to go. Now."
Problem was, every time I looked at my iPad, Jared Goff was making a terrific throw, leading Cal down the stretch of a crazy, entertaining game against Colorado.
I was in Salt Lake City, and the Washington State-Utah game was an hour away. Goff delivered a perfect strike to Chris Harper with two minutes, 29 seconds remaining, staking Cal to a 49-42 lead. Defense is still very much a work in progress for the Bears, so before I could finish recording, Colorado had pushed the game into overtime.
My next glance at the tablet saw Goff rip a post throw to Bryce Treggs for a first overtime score. Here was Goff, passing with touch and accuracy and taking the deep shot. He was making all the throws required of a top-tier quarterback. And his passing was quality: 458 yards and seven touchdowns on just 24 completions. Any fan who remembers football when passes were routinely forward rather than sideways loves this Cal attack.
In the first half, Goff struggled to find a rhythm. He was intercepted on his first attempt and ended the half having completed just eight of 16 passes. But he turned his game, and the Bears' fortunes with it, around in the second half.
Cal's 59-56 win was significant. On the heels of a fourth-quarter meltdown in Arizona, the Bears snapped a 15-game conference losing streak. Cal fans will be teased by the temptation of saying, "If we could have defended a Hail Mary, we would be undefeated." After going 1-11 in 2013, that dreaming is allowed.
Sure, the Bears haven't been tested against a top-tier conference team. They haven't posted a signature win in the Sonny Dykes era. But they have a blossoming quarterback in a conference that demands quality play at that position. Jared Goff gives Cal what it most needs: hope.
Another Emerging QB
In a midweek conversation, I asked Washington State coach Mike Leach what trait he felt quarterback Connor Halliday had most improved over their three years together in Pullman. Drawing on the standard coach speak, Leach talked about finding checkdown receivers, reading progressions and avoiding negative plays. Then, as an afterthought, he talked about Halliday's maturation. He explained that Halliday no longer shows his frustration on the field, now playing with the composure needed by a team learning how to win.
Utah punched Washington State in the first quarter with a pick-six, a punt return for a score and a 76-yard touchdown run. Trailing 21-0 in rain and whipping wind on the road, the Cougars could hardly have been blamed if they had been looking toward next week.
Any thought of that ended early in the third quarter. I looked at the Cougars bench as they forced a Utes punt. Their players were engaged, boosting each other's efforts and exuding a belief they were still in the game. I believe in body language and mentioned thus on the Pac-12 Networks telecast.
Little did I think that scene would change what felt inevitable. Utah led 24-7, and Halliday's first half had been erratic. Ninety minutes later, the Cougars had rallied for a 28-27 win, as impressive a conference win as Leach has enjoyed in Pullman (yes, I include last year's USC victory.)
This was a great credit to Leach. He called a first-quarter timeout after Utah took the 21-0 lead. The coach gathered all the Cougars at midfield and delivered a talk he said was "intended to avoid" overreactions. Couple that with an obvious halftime regrouping, and the second half was a "big step forward" for Washington State.
Leach said that step was about his defense, a group that smothered Utah's Travis Wilson most of the night. But I felt this was as much about Halliday. He played a superb final 30 minutes, displaying the poise Leach had talked about three days earlier. Sophomore River Cracraft was the third-down target, Halliday finding him for six first-down conversions.
The turning point, though, was pure Leach. Down 27-14 early in the fourth quarter, the Cougars faced 4th-and-14 from the Utah 20. This was Leach. No field goal. He went for it all. Halliday stood in the pocket and ripped a shot to Dom Williams in the back of the end zone for a touchdown. The next possession, Halliday threw a slant to Vince Mayle that, after a Utes defensive back slipped, became an 81-yard score. It gave the Cougars a win that could resonate all year.
Halliday was 22-27 in the second half for 267 yards and three touchdowns. Often, his passing seems to be more about quantity, but this was sheer quality. He could end his career as only the second Pac-12 quarterback to throw 100 touchdown passes, joining former USC signal-caller Matt Barkley.
But this night was about Leach. His persona clearly emerged through his team. It played without fear and was rewarded. Can it continue?
Stanford won another Cardinal-type game. Lacking red-zone punch, the Cardinal survived their miscues to beat Washington. Kevin Hogan used his legs, as effective a threat as his arm this year, to engineer the game-winning drive.
But a bigger takeaway was Washington's offense being exposed. Much should be made of Chris Petersen's fake-punt call, but the Huskies' season will be defined by Cyler Miles, rather than a single ill-timed decision.
Washington averaged less than three yards per play. Its offensive line couldn't protect, and Miles didn't handle the pressure.
The Huskies totaled just 179 yards. Washington has to answer a fundamental question: Was this a result of its offense? If Stanford's defensive front seven is that good, then the Cardinal should still factor in the conference and national races.
Can Arizona repeat its stunning upset of Oregon from last November? The Wildcats' best hope would be to get Ka'deem Carey back from the Chicago Bears. Oregon's lack of resilience along the defensive front was never more exposed than by Carey on a wet and cool afternoon at Arizona Stadium.
Of his 206 rushing yards that day, 84 came after initial contact (my count after tape study of that game). Oregon could barely slow, let alone stop, Carey with the first defensive hit. So the Wildcats kept feeding him the ball, and the Ducks were thoroughly pounded into defeat.
Now, Carey is in the NFL, Marcus Mariota is healthy (a knee injury suffered two weeks earlier against Stanford hampered him), and Oregon has been stouter along the defensive line. The difference in those elements should lead to a different outcome this week.
Ted Robinson has been around the Pac-10 and Pac-12 for 30 years as the voice of Stanford football and now the Pac-12 Networks. He also is the San Francisco 49ers' radio play-by-play man, as part of his wide-ranging broadcast work on national and international sports.
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The Tennessee Volunteers turned in an impressive performance in Athens against the No. 13 Georgia Bulldogs on Saturday, and it's clear that the team is rapidly improving with each game. That progress will need to continue if head coach Butch Jones wants his team to escape the month of October with a 2-2 or better record.
Last year's contest against Georgia in Knoxville was close, but the Bulldogs were significantly banged up and missing several key players, including the best running back in the country in Todd Gurley.
This year, however, Tennessee went toe-to-toe with a relatively healthy Georgia team on the road, and were it not for a brief injury to Justin Worley and a few untimely fumbles, it may have pulled off a major upset victory.
Although the Vols didn't leave with a win, the team can build on the performance starting this Saturday at home against the Florida Gators.
Here's a game-by-game analysis of how Tennessee will fare facing off against its next four opponents in October.
The month of October is a big one for Jim Mora and the No. 8 UCLA Bruins.
A home matchup versus a stingy Utah team precedes a monumental clash against the Oregon Ducks at the Rose Bowl. Should the Bruins and Ducks remain undefeated, it could be potentially the biggest game of the college football season to date.
UCLA will then take to the road—facing a suddenly dangerous Cal team and an improving Colorado squad.
This piece will attempt to make game-by-game predictions for the upcoming quartet of contests.
The 2015 quarterback class is packed with talented prospects and future college stars. A strong crop of California passers places this group among the strongest we've seen this decade.
Through one month of their senior seasons, we've been able to develop a stronger sense of how these playmakers are trending in terms of development. After extensive film review and previous discussions with many of the top recruits, here's how we rank the top 10 quarterbacks in this class.
We place a premium on potential and promise, favoring refined fundamentals over high school statistics.