Feed aggregator

5 Takeaways from Urban Meyer's Appearance on HBO Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel

Urban Meyer is a notoriously private person, so when it emerged that the Ohio State head coach was going to be the subject of a segment on HBO's Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel on Sept. 23, many were surprised.

In fact, Meyer himself can't recall exactly why he agreed to willingly appear on the show.

"Oh, I don't know. Good question. I don't know why I did that," Meyer responded Monday when asked why he conceded to the segment. "It came across my desk and I said, 'No, of course not,' and I got a couple of phone calls that said, 'Yeah, it would be good for people to see.' That's why."

Regardless of the reason why he agreed, Meyer will be featured on the monthly sports magazine show at 10 p.m. ET Tuesday in a 12-minute segment reported by Andrea Kremer. With a primary focus on the success and turmoil that he enjoyed and endured at Florida, as well as his career's revival at Ohio State, there is plenty to take away from the in-depth look at one of the most fascinating figures in college football history.

 

The Making of a Meyer

Before Meyer was ever a two-time national champion head coach, he was merely a minor league prospect cutting his teeth in the Atlanta Braves organization. Although Meyer's time on the diamond was short-lived from a professional standpoint, it helped provide plenty of insight into the upbringing that made the Ashtabula, Ohio, native the man that he is today.

Drafted at the age of 17 by the Braves in the 13th round of the 1982 amateur draft, Meyer struggled in his first season with the Gulf Coast League Braves, posting a paltry .170 batting average in 20 games. The lack of success found from the 6'2", 180-pound righty caused him to doubt his future in baseball, leading to a more than memorable conversation with his father, Bud Meyer.

"I'm the third-string shortstop. The manager keeps mispronouncing my name. So I call up my dad and I say, 'I'm out,'" Meyer recalls to Kremer. "And he says, 'OK, you're a grown man now. You make your own decisions. But you will never step foot in this household again. Is that clear? There are no quitters in the Meyer family.' Bang."

Meyer would stick it out with baseball for one more season, hitting .193 while splitting time between the Braves' Gulf Coast League and Rookie Class teams in 1983. And while baseball may not have ultimately been his calling, it certainly played a key role in shaping his future career.

"It was very clear, the message: Don't quit," Meyer said of his conversation with his father. "Fight through it."

 

Success Addict

Although success never came for Meyer on the football field, the same couldn't be said when it came to coaching football, a career that he delved into after serving as a walk-on at the University of Cincinnati. Following stints as an assistant at Ohio State, Colorado State and Notre Dame, Meyer became one of the sport's fastest rising stars, taking over as Bowling Green's head coach at the ripe age of 36.

A 17-6 record in his two-year stint with the Falcons led to two years at Utah, where Meyer led the Utes to a 12-0 season and Fiesta Bowl victory in 2004. But all of that paled in comparison to the success that Meyer found at Florida, where he captured a national title in his second season with a 41-14 thrashing of Ohio State in the BCS National Championship Game.

That may have been enough to satisfy most head coaches, but for the 42-year-old Meyer, it only increased his appetite for winning.

It wouldn't take long for Meyer to quench that thirst either, as the Tim Tebow-led Gators again captured college football's crystal ball in 2008. But despite being on top of the college football world, that's when it became apparent that Meyer was developing a problem, as evidenced by his postgame "celebration."

"I was in a panic situation and we just won it," Meyer said. "I closed the door and I started just recruiting. One of my friends came up to me and said, 'What are you doing?' and I said 'Well I gotta get this kid.' And he said, 'What's wrong with you? Enjoy this.' And I tried."

"Was he calling recruits?," Urban's wife, Shelley Meyer responds when asked by Kremer if she knew how her husband spent the moments following his second national title in three years, before admitting that Meyer's behavior had become obsessive.

As they'd soon find out, it was only the beginning.

 

"I thought I was dying."

The peak of the HBO Real Sports segment comes in 2009, when Meyer was polishing off two Ambiens a night with a beer just to get some sleep. Chest pains and weight issues soon followed, all the while Florida was still sustaining its success, carrying a 22-game winning streak into the SEC Championship Game.

"I go from 217 pounds to 180 pounds. I lose 37 pounds," Meyer says of his health in 2009. "And we're undefeated."

That perfection wouldn't last, however, with Nick Saban's Alabama getting the best of Meyer's Gators in the conference title game. That preceded what was the beginning of the end of Meyer's time in Gainesville, as just hours later he was rushed to the hospital as health issues became too much to handle.

"I remember a sharp pain in my chest. I was numb. That's all I remember," Meyer said. "I woke up in the hospital and they said, 'Well we don't believe it was a heart attack.' I said, 'OK, well what was it?' and they said, 'We don't know.' Then you start thinking, 'There's something wrong with me medically. What is going on here?'"

"Were you depressed?," Kremer asks Meyer.

"Absolutely," he responds. "Mentally, I was broke."

 

Florida Fiasco

So much so, in fact, that after leaving the hospital, Meyer opted to shockingly retire from coaching. But his hiatus would last less than a day, as he reneged on his decision to leave Florida fewer than 24 hours later.

"Did you pick work over your family in that sense?" Kremer asks.

"Probably," Meyer answers. "I'm not very proud of that."

The Meyers wouldn't have to wait long for Urban to return home, however, as he again stepped away from the Gators sideline following the 2010 season—this time for good.

Sure, Florida had just endured an 8-5 season, his worst as a head coach, but Meyer claims that the reasoning behind his second retirement in as many years delved deeper that. Watching his youngest daughter, Gigi, accept a scholarship to play volleyball at Florida Gulf Coast University, it finally hit Meyer how much in his life he had already missed.

"I get to the gym and this beautiful little girl stands up and says, 'Mom, I want to thank you, you were always there. And dad, you were never there, but I love you too," Meyer recalls. "And I remember I said, 'Oh my gosh, it happened.' I was the guy that wasn't there."

 

In a Better Place

In 2011, Meyer was there, parlaying his early retirement and expertise into a cushy analyst gig at ESPN that allowed him to spend plenty of time with his family. But as healthy and happy as Meyer was, coaching remained his passion, which is why Shelley was so heartbroken when she learned that Jim Tressel was resigning from his position as the Buckeyes head coach in May of 2011.

"If ever he would go back, it would be Ohio State," Shelley said. "When that news broke, I was devastated."

Shelley's fears come to fruition that November, when Meyer officially accepted OSU's offer to return to college football. But before signing his contract with the Buckeyes, he had to sign one with his family, pieced together by his oldest daughter, Nicki.

"I just started writing all of the things that he didn't do [at Florida]," Nicki said of her famous pink contract. "I made it very formal."

Meyer complied, beginning an Ohio State career that started with a 24-game win streak that lasted the entirety of the 2012 and 2013 regular seasons. But a span of three losses in four games—including defeats in the 2013 Big Ten Championship Game and Orange Bowl—tested how far Meyer's come, and have proven to both he and his family that he's in a better place now than he was five years ago.

"I don't feel that at all," Meyer said when asked if the Buckeyes' defeats have made him as miserable as the ones at Florida did. "I'll never get to that point again."

 

Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Ohio State Lead Writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand. All recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Alabama Football: What Needs to Happen for Amari Cooper to Win the Heisman?

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Amari Cooper is off to a torrid start in college football, and that’s putting it lightly.

He’s been well over 100 receiving yards in every game he’s played, caught double-digit balls in three of Alabama’s four games and has been the focal point of the Crimson Tide’s game plan week in and week out.

This explosive start to the season has put Cooper squarely in several pundits’ Heisman conversations. Odds Shark gives him 20-to-1 odds after this week.

Cooper is clearly one of the best players in the country, but he will be fighting against a tendency for voters to favor quarterbacks and running backs for the most prestigious individual award in sports.

So does Cooper have a chance?

Absolutely, he does. But he needs a lot to happen, and keep happening, to him and to the players around him.

Let’s look at what Cooper’s road to a Heisman Trophy would look like.

 

Continue at or around his current pace

This is easily the most important part for Cooper. If he can’t sustain this level of greatness all year, then the rest becomes a moot point. According to Andrew Gribble of al.com, if Cooper kept playing at this pace, he’d end the regular season with 129 catches, 1,965 yards and 15 touchdowns.

That’s similar stats to the two other wide receivers to win the Heisman Trophy.

The problem with comparing these stats for Cooper, though, is twofold.

For one, the game has changed. An emphasis on offense, specifically passing, has significantly inflated passing and receiving stats from their late-'80s, early-'90s levels when Tim Brown and Desmond Howard played. Last year, for example, there were 44 players who topped 1,000 yards receiving. In 1991, there were nine, and Howard wasn’t even one of them.

That brings us to our second problem. Cooper only catches passes.

He does not return kicks and punts, whereas Brown and Howard were also game-changing performers on special teams. Christion Jones solidified his position as Alabama’s kick returner, and the Crimson Tide don't really have a need to put Cooper back there, especially in terms of the injury risk it would pose.

So for Cooper to stay in the Heisman race until the very end, he’ll need to continue to put up those eye-popping receiving numbers—if not exceed them.

 

His team stay in the national championship picture

Fair or unfair, the Heisman is seen as an award that usually goes to the best player on the best team in college football instead of only just the best player.

It could, however, be a perception that ends up going in Cooper’s favor.

Alabama will stay in the national conversation largely because it’s Alabama. But the Crimson Tide look like one of the best teams in the country early on and will continue to get the extra attention that comes with that.

He’ll get multiple chances to show his talents on big stages, so Cooper will definitely stay in the spotlight this season, even if he plays at a position with a lesser profile than that of quarterback or running back.

That’s what’s going to hurt players like Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott and Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon. They may be great individual players, but it remains to be seen how long their teams can stay in playoff contention.

And that’s why it’s imperative for Alabama to keep winning.

We saw this happen last year with AJ McCarron. He was in the mix for the Heisman as the season went on, and even late in the Iron Bowl he hit several big plays to keep Alabama in the game that had voters all but convinced he was the right choice. We all know what happened next, though, and McCarron ended up a distant second to Florida State’s Jameis Winston.

It’s unfair, but it’s the college football world we live in.

 

Big performances in the biggest games

Cooper is already off to a great start in this department.

Against Florida—and more specifically, Vernon Hargreaves III, one of the country’s best cornerbacks—Cooper turned in his best game of the season. It also took place in a nationally televised game, which really helped stir up all of the Heisman talk surrounding Coop.

Having your biggest games at the right time is part of the equation, and Cooper has several more opportunities to do that.

Next week, Alabama takes on Ole Miss (kickoff @ 2:30 p.m. CT, CBS). The Rebels boast one of the best safety duos in the country in Cody Prewitt and Tony Conner. A trip to LSU and a rematch with Auburn are sure to draw similar, if not more, attention. And there’s always a potential SEC Championship Game as an encore.

Keeping up the pace is important, but making sure not to fall flat in one of those games is critical.

 

Lukewarm contenders around him

This is probably the second-most important factor, when considering whether Cooper has a legitimate shot at winning the Heisman. A few of the preseason favorites—especially at quarterback—have seen their Heisman stock take a hit, for one reason or another.

UCLA’s Brett Hundley is off to a fizzling start, checking at No. 50 in passing yards per game and No. 37 in quarterback rating. Florida State’s Jameis Winston is making headlines off the field, causing headaches for his coach and fatigue among Heisman voters reluctant to put him in a second time.

But other quarterbacks have emerged as viable contenders, like Texas A&M’s Kenny Hill and Notre Dame’s Everett Golson. Auburn’s Nick Marshall struggled against Kansas State but should play better in games later in the season as the Heisman voting draws nearer. Those players play for good teams with legitimate playoff hopes—and they could trump Cooper in Trophy conversations given the profile of the position they play.

If Cooper wants a chance at the Heisman, those kinds of players will need to struggle, leaving the door open for voters to choose a different type of player, one who contributes greatly to one of the nation's best teams.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Texas A&M vs. Arkansas: How the Aggies Can Avoid Being Upset by Razorbacks

The No. 6 Texas A&M football team will play the Arkansas Razorbacks on Saturday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The second conference game of the season for both teams should be a competitive affair that the Aggies will win if they play sound, fundamental football.

Texas A&M enters the game with a 4-0 record and a 1-0 mark in the SEC. Arkansas is 0-1 in the SEC with a 3-1 mark overall.

The game will feature a contrast of offensive styles. The Razorbacks want to run the ball, control the clock and grind the opposition into submission with physical play. The Aggie offense features a no-huddle spread attack that tries to push the ball down the field as fast as possible.

Arkansas head coach Brett Bielema is a staunch opponent of the no-huddle offense and has supported rules to slow it down. Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin is one of the innovators of the spread offense and has used it to set multiple offensive records at every school he has coached.

The contrast of styles is one extra narrative in a game featuring two teams vying for a leg up in the quest for the West division title in the SEC.

This is a look at what the Aggies must do in order to avoid being upset by Arkansas.  

Begin Slideshow

SEC Football Q&A: Will Muschamp Hot Seat, Stopping Amari Cooper

Nearly a month into the season, and the SEC is already dripping with storylines.

The West looks not only like the toughest division in college football, but the most competitive division at any level of football. Meanwhile, the SEC East is over there searching for answers, with every team that has played at least one conference game with at least one conference loss.

Florida head coach Will Muschamp's seat has become scorching, a legitimate Heisman Trophy contender has emerged at a non-traditional position, and a team left for dead emerges as a competitor in the wild, wild West.

Let's get you ready for Week 5 with a little SEC Q&A.

No, he won't, and he shouldn't.

Before the Alabama game, I would have said that a loss to the Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa wouldn't have much of an impact on Will Muschamp's job status at Florida. After watching Florida play defense—or not play defense—it clearly did. 

Florida has given up 1,095 yards over the last two games—a triple-overtime win over Kentucky and the loss to Alabama. During that time, the offense looks as inept as it has always been. Some speed bumps with the offense were to be expected, but the one strength of Florida's program during Muschamp's tenure has been defense. If he suddenly can't do that right, either, what's the point?

The road trip to Tennessee on Oct. 4 is critical. Even during Florida's downturn, the one constant has been Florida's domination of the Vols. Florida has won nine straight in the series, with its last loss coming in former head coach Ron Zook's final season in Gainesville.

If that ends, too, what else does Muschamp have to hang his hat on?

Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

Does former LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson have any eligibility left? No? Well, then, I don't think there's an answer out there.

Cooper has been the MVP of college football this year, giving new quarterback Blake Sims and new offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin a reliable target outside so both could ease into their new roles. Against Florida on Saturday, Kiffin opened up the offense, and Cooper was the biggest beneficiary, catching 10 passes for 201 yards and three touchdowns.

His 655 receiving yards on the season are more than the passing yardage for 31 FBS teams, including Georgia, Arkansas and Texas. He's dangerous after the catch, physical at the line of scrimmage and has the speed to take the top off a defense.

Kiffin uses him well, too. Against Florida, Cooper lined up all over the field—including in the slot on his 79-yard touchdown reception to tie the game vs. the Gators at 14.

The only person who can stop Cooper is Kiffin, and that doesn't seem like a possibility at the moment.

He's one of the most underrated quarterbacks in the SEC, that's for sure.

No, Brandon Allen isn't going to light up the stat sheet. Considering the strength of Arkansas' offensive line and three-headed rushing attack, if he did, that'd probably indicate a much bigger problem for Arkansas. His job is to play smart and take what the defense gives him when appropriate, and he has done a pretty good job of that. 

He has only thrown for 552 yards but has completed 61.4 percent of his passes (43-of-70), tossed eight touchdowns and only one interception. That's exactly the type of season this Arkansas team needed early on. He has limited his mistakes, done what he's been asked to do and—most importantly—not made unforced errors.

Head coach Bret Bielema wants to win at Arkansas the same way that he did at Wisconsin—with a punishing running game and effective defense. When that happens, all the quarterback needs to do is manage the game.

Allen has proved that he's capable of doing just that through four games, and if he keeps it up, Arkansas will get back to a bowl game for the first time since the 2011 season.

 

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.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Rankings 2014: Power Ranking All 128 Teams for Week 5

The wild and wacky nature of college football was present yet again last weekend, with numerous top-rated teams struggling in big games. While most ended up winning, the craziness of those contests contributed to some significant shakeup in our power rankings for Week 5.

Our power rankings are comprised of an average of five ratings: The Associated Press media and Amway coaches polls, Bleacher Report's Top 25, ratings guru Jeff Sagarin's computer ledger and my personal ranking.

Take a look at how the 128 FBS teams are ranked as we move into the fifth week of the 2014 season, then let us know your thoughts in the comments section.

Begin Slideshow

Heisman Trophy 2014 Stock Watch: Who Is Rising and Falling Post-Week 4

Week 4 of the college football season had a peripheral impact on the national title picture (Mississippi State beating LSU) but a central impact on the Heisman Trophy picture.

The front-runner entering the week, Marcus Mariota, maintained his spot by carrying Oregon to a tough road win at Washington State. But around him, other supposed favorites sunk, while burgeoning favorites took advantage of a national spotlight.

"Falling" on this list does not mean one's Heisman candidacy is over, just like "rising" does not mean it's assured. It is simply the direction each player's stock is trending after what happened in Week 4.

Most of that is individual-based, but some of it also has to do with team performance. If a player did well on a national stage, but his team lost a big game, his Heisman stock is affected. Whether that's fair is debatable, but it's how the voting process works.

Also bear in mind that this is not a ranking of overall Heisman favorites. Todd Gurley and Kenny Hill, for example, are holding steady after beating up on Troy and SMU, respectively. But blowout wins against two of the worst FBS teams did nothing to affect their stock.

This is about the players who actually moved.

 

Note: For the sake of reference, here are the current Bovada Heisman odds, per OddsShark.com. Scroll down that page for the preseason odds.

Begin Slideshow

Will Gragg Commits to Arkansas: What 4-Star TE Brings to Razorbacks

Arkansas continues to piece together the foundation for a formidable passing attack during the 2015 recruiting cycle. That effort was bolstered Tuesday morning when coveted tight end prospect Will Gragg  pledged to the Razorbacks:

The 6'4", 245-pound Dumas High School playmaker opted to stay in his home state after weighing offers from several SEC squads. Gragg, rated eighth nationally among tight ends in 247Sports' composite rankings, was heavily pursued by the likes of LSU, Alabama and Ole Miss.

His older brother, Chris, suited up for the Razorbacks in college and is now a member of the Buffalo Bills. A well-established relationship with the program helped set the stage for his announcement.

"Arkansas has been on me since the ninth grade," Gragg told Otis Kirk of 247Sports.com.

Rated second among 2015 Arkansas recruits, he emerged as a must-have for head coach Bret Bielema. The Razorbacks are aiming to fend off conference foes in the fight for in-state talent, and this commitment provides positive momentum in that department.

Gragg led Dumas in receiving as a junior, catching 31 passes for 321 yards and five touchdowns, per Hootens.com. He collected six receptions for 88 yards and two scores last Friday with coaches from LSU, Ole Miss and Texas in attendance, according to 247Sports.com.

His skill set was on full display this summer at The Opening, an invite-only high school football showcase held at Nike's world headquarters in Oregon. Gragg flashed quickness and precision as a route-runner, routinely beating top-tier defenders to the football downfield.

"I want to be a balanced tight end who can make big plays at different parts of the field," Gragg said at The Opening. "I've been working on my game to get ready for what's coming. I think there's been a lot of improvement."

He provides Arkansas with a promising pass target who carries potential for an early impact. Given his physique and fundamental polish, Gragg should contend for significant playing time as a true freshman in Fayetteville.

The Razorbacks gain an athletic specimen who brings balance to the position. When at his best, Gragg is a devastating blocker who can create rushing lanes along the outside edge and take on linebackers at the second level.

He adds to a stockpile of offensive talent set to arrive at Arkansas next season. Top-rated in-state prospect K.J. Hill is a dynamic wide receiver who chose the Razorbacks over Alabama, Florida and Notre Dame.

He and Gragg have formed a friendship and could form a dangerous duo for years to come. 

Their pairing is great news for Ty Storey, a 4-star quarterback who committed to Arkansas last summer. He threw for 4,200 yards and 52 touchdown passes last season.

A June commitment from Texas running back Rawleigh Williams III and multiple reinforcements on the offensive line make this a recruiting class that could rapidly reshape the identity of a Razorbacks offense searching for additional explosiveness. The group now rates 19th nationally in 247Sports' composite team rankings.

Bielema is fortifying his team with homegrown talent, and Gragg gives him one of the best available this year.

 

Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.

Quotes obtained firsthand by B/R national recruiting analyst Tyler Donohue unless otherwise noted.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Lane Kiffin Sued by Former USC Player: Latest Details and Reaction

Lane Kiffin's tumultuous tenure as USC's head football coach came to an end last season, but a potential transgression while with the Trojans could come back to haunt him.

According to Michael Lev of the Orange County Register, Kiffin and USC are being sued by former Trojans cornerback Brian Baucham for a 2012 incident.

Baucham alleges that Kiffin forced him to play against California on Sept. 22, 2012, despite being ill. Baucham says he had a 103-degree fever and other flu symptoms. He also claims that he suffered "cardiopulmonary damage" and "brain injury with neurocognitive deficits" as a result of being thrust into action.

Per Baucham's attorney, Bruce M. Brusavich, both Kiffin and the university are to blame for the alleged complications.

"USC and head coach Kiffin were clearly negligent and acted with conscious disregard for Brian's welfare and safety by forcing him to play...despite his verified medical history and seriously ill condition," Brusavich said.

Baucham, who was a fifth-year senior at the time of the incident, left the game in the fourth quarter and was transported to a hospital. Baucham claimed he was having trouble breathing. 

Baucham never played for the Trojans again and his suit alleges 'residual problems' have left him 'unable to compete in the open labor market.'

Kiffin, who is currently serving as Alabama's offensive coordinator, has yet to comment publicly on the matter. USC athletic director Pat Haden also declined to go into specifics, via AP's Greg Beacham:

It wouldn't be appropriate for us to comment on this lawsuit, and due to privacy laws we cannot comment on the specifics of this case. I will say that I am confident that we provide excellent medical treatment to our student athletes and that their health is always our primary concern ahead of any athletic competition.

Kiffin certainly has a history of controversy based on his stints as head coach at USC and the University of Tennessee, as well as his time with the NFL's Oakland Raiders.

Kiffin's tenure at USC was particularly maligned, as the Trojans went a disappointing 28-15 while he was at the helm. There are no documented cases of player mistreatment aside from Baucham's accusations, but sports injury litigator Paul D. Anderson believes Kiffin may have forced injured players to compete on more than one occasion:

Both sides of the story have yet to be told in the Baucham case, so it will be interesting to see how the legal process plays out.

Player safety is a major issue at all levels of football, but it is especially important in the college game since the players don't have salaries to fall back on.

Coaches are going to get paid regardless, so it creates a complex dynamic. It remains to be seen if Kiffin or USC were negligent, but Baucham clearly feels very strongly that he was wronged.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football 2014: Updated National Championship Odds

Heading into Week 5 of the college football season, the top teams continue to separate themselves from the pack. Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Adam Kramer discusses National Championship odds. 

Who is your pick for the National Championship?

 

Watch the video, and let us know! 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Rapid-Fire Predictions: Will J.T. Barrett, Dontre Wilson Go Nuts vs. Cincinnati?

Coming off their bye week, the Ohio State Buckeyes will tangle with the Cincinnati Bearcats at The Horseshoe. Quarterback J.T. Barrett and Co. will look to get things going early. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Barrett Sallee and Adam Kramer dish out their predictions for the game.

Will Ohio State pull out the win versus Cincinnati?

Watch the video and let us know!  

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Michigan Football: Surprises, Disappointments So Far for 2014 Wolverines

Michigan hasn't been the Michigan that followers of Team 135 expected to witness this fall.

Through four games, the Wolverines (2-2) haven't appeared to show much promise. The effort seems to be there. Brady Hoke, the head coach, has raved about his players' attitudes and work ethics. 

The same has been true for offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, who have each seen "great things" on their sides of the ball but have yet to see desired results. 

On Monday, the three coaches emphasized that this season isn't over. They know about the disappointed fans. They seem genuinely surprised that things have gone down this path too. They're just as uncomfortable as the fans in stand. 

They want more for their team, each of them said in one way or another Monday. 

 

Not-So-Dominant Doug (Nussmeier offense)

In its weekly stat packet given to the media, Michigan continues to boast about being 10-of-10 in the red zone. However, that doesn't tell the entire story. Six of those attempts came against Appalachian State—which the Wolverines beat 52-14 in Week 1—and the other four came against Miami (Ohio), which lost 34-10 at The Big House in Week 3.

During Week 4's loss to Utah, Team 135 didn't reach the red zone. It failed to do so during its 31-0 loss to Notre Dame in Week 2. The stat packet should read that Michigan has pierced the opponent's 20 in 50 percent of its games. That's more accurate and points to the true nature of the offense, which has yet to get the job done.

During the first half Saturday, Michigan reached the Utes 24- and 36-yard lines. In the second, it barely penetrated 10 yards into their territory.

Percentages and tendencies surrounding the offense could be discussed, sure. But there's not much to say. The running backs aren't contributing much at all, and the O-line appears to have regressed since 2013. The Wolverines are certainly feeling the rapture without Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield manning the tackle spots. 

A one-dimensional, Devin Funchess-exclusive passing game has Nussmeier running in place. Given the opportunity and resources, it's clear that receivers such as Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson can make the grade and produce.

But they need a quarterback who can precisely deliver the ball. 

That quarterback is not Devin Gardner. 

It seems as if Nussmeier, who once called the shots for a high-powered Alabama offense, will be forced to make hard decisions regarding personnel this week. Back on media day, Shane Morris said that he was "100 percent ready" to take on the starting role. Could the 6'4", 218-pound sophomore get the call against the Gophers? 

Yeah. It sounds like that could easily happen. 

 

Greg Mattison's Defense is Good, but...

Solid numbers back the defense, but it's overshadowed by a horrid offense. That was the case in 2013, and it appears as 2014 could be worse, making Mattison's defense all the more vital to success. 

Running on the Wolverines hasn't come easy. Opponents have broken just a pair of big gains on the ground, and that's something to build upon. Utah's Bubba Poole burst for 24, and Appalachian State's Terrence Upshaw gouged for 27. But Notre Dame's backfield was stopped, held to a paltry 54 yards on the ground. 

Mattison's unit has allowed just 1.83 yards per carry during the past three games. In terms of total defense, his guys are No. 1 in the Big Ten and No. 8 nationally. It even helped out Saturday, as all 6'3" and 293 pounds of Willie Henry produced a touchdown after a seven-yard interception. 

So what gives? 

Michigan's offense, that's what. 

It's disappointing to see so many solid defensive efforts go to waste. It's a surprise that the offense is this ineffective, and it's both to see the results on the field each weekend. 

 

Jake Ryan Looks Human

Devontae Booker juked Ryan out of his shoes (not literally) during the second half of Utah's 26-10 slamming of Michigan. Ryan's 13 tackles (seven solo) led the team, but he's yet to take firm command of his defense. However, the reliable senior is still familiarizing himself with his new position, middle linebacker, so he probably deserves a slight break. 

Still, though; he's not yet the Jake Ryan of old. Not yet, anyway. That's both a huge disappointment and a surprise. Most thought he'd be be one of the nation's elite linebackers at this stage of his career. As of now, he's trying to stay afloat while his teammates try to wind themselves a little tighter. 

 

Secondary Shock? 

At one point, cornerback Jourdan Lewis had dropped on the depth chart. He hasn't been perfect, but he's now playing like a true starter rather than an option.

Hoofing it from across the field and well behind the play, Lewis saved a sure six points on Saturday when he tackled Poole, who took a screen pass 67 yards to the left before being stopped at Michigan's 25.

Due to Lewis' incredible motor, the Wolverines held Utah to a field goal instead of giving up a 90-yard-plus touchdown. 

During his postgame presser Saturday, Hoke suggested that not writing about that play would be a disservice to Lewis. And Hoke's right. Lewis deserves credit for not only maintaining a high level of competition but, more simply, showing that he cares about the outcome regardless of circumstances. A lot of guys can't (or won't) make that tackle. 

Team 135's secondary isn't in a state of disrepair. It still has leaders such as cornerback Blake Countess to help guide the way. Due to strange luck and a couple of dings, Peppers has yet to make a real impact in the backfield, and that's been considerably more surprising than Lewis' recent rise. 

On Monday, Countess said he's confident in his teammates, which, of course, is a positive. He still believes the defensive backfield can be a strength for Michigan and expects more from himself and others as the Wolverines enter Big Ten play. 

Countess expressing confidence isn't a surprise, nor does it disappoint. He's supposed to confident. This year's secondary is easily the deepest Michigan's had in more than a decade. But given the circumstances, it's a surprise and disappointment that it's come to this: One of the best DBs in the nation reassuring an angry mob of fans that everything's going to be OK.

Follow Bleacher Report's Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81.

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and references to were obtained firsthand by the writer.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Will USC Get Back into Pac-12 Contention with Win vs. Oregon State?

The USC Trojans will look to bounce back from their shocking loss to Boston College in Week 3 when they welcome the Oregon State Beavers to town. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Adam Kramer predict how this game will go down. 

How will USC fare this weekend vs. Oregon State?

Watch the video, and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Will USC Get Back into Pac-12 Contention with Win vs. Oregon State?

The USC Trojans will look to bounce back from their shocking loss to Boston College in Week 3 when they welcome the Oregon State Beavers to town...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Rapid-Fire Answering College Football's Hottest Questions for Week 5

Week 5 of the college football season is right around the corner. With that, Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder, Barrett Sallee and Adam Kramer decided to play a classic game of "Would You Rather?"

Which wideout would you rather cover: Amari Cooper or Sammy Watkins? See this and more discussed in the video above.

Let us know your answers in the comments!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Florida State Football: Players Who Have Surprised Us in 2014

It's not a shock that Florida State is 3-0 and is still ranked No. 1 in the nation, but the way the first month of the season has gone has certainly been a surprise for the Seminoles.

After squeaking past Oklahoma State, beating FCS foe The Citadel and then weathering the storm of Jameis Winston's one-game suspension for what turned out to be a come-from-behind victory over Clemson, FSU heads to North Carolina State this weekend as its Atlantic Coast Conference schedule heats up.

The way the season has played out hasn't been the only surprising aspect of the year. Several 'Noles players have also surprised—both positively and negatively—through the team's first three games.

Begin Slideshow

SEC East Chaos Will Continue with Tennessee's Trip to Georgia

So far this season, the SEC East has been the land of the lost—as every team that has played at least one SEC game has at least one SEC loss.

Weird?

Maybe, but more chaos is yet to come.

If there's one thing we know about Georgia, it's that the Bulldog defense hasn't solved its issues in pass defense the way head coach Mark Richt and new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt would have liked. The Bulldogs are giving up 6.7 yards per passing attempt (10th in the SEC), and opposing quarterbacks are completing 59.4 percent of their passes against them (third-worst in the SEC).

Don't look now, but things are going to get worse before they get better.

The Tennessee Volunteers will roll into Athens this week as 17-point underdogs according to OddsShark.com, but with a corps of wide receivers that would make Lane Kiffin blush. Marquez North, Pig Howard and the rest of the Vols' crew is the most talented group of wide receivers Georgia has faced all year, despite the fact that two contributors—Von Pearson (out) and Josh Smith (day-to-day)—are hampered by ankle injuries.

That just means more responsibility for Josh Malone—a 6'3", 204-pound true freshman. The former 4-star prospect from Gallatin, Tennessee, chose Tennessee over Georgia and several others and once signed a financial aid agreement with the Bulldogs prior to this year's national signing day, according to Gentry Estes of Dawgs247.com 

"He's played consistently, every time he's gone in there, he's caught the football, he's advanced the football, he's blocked, he's done everything that we've asked of him," head coach Butch Jones said in quotes emailed by Tennessee. "He's been a quiet, consistent performer for us."

Add Malone into the mix with Howard—who could line up outside or in the slot—and North, a preseason third-team All-SEC performer, according to the league's coaches, and Tennessee has weapons aplenty to exploit Georgia's major weakness.

"We have capable players," Jones said in quotes emailed by Tennessee. "It's going to come down again, football is a game of one-on-one matchups whether it's up front or out on the perimeter. Again, we're going to have some one-on-one matchups Saturday."

Those one-on-one matchups outside will almost exclusively favor the Vols.

Who's going to keep quarterback Justin Worley upright?

Nobody, according to Georgia linebacker Leonard Floyd.

That may be the case against Georgia's fast and physical front seven. Worley has, however, made smart decisions with the football throughout this season, save for one 100-yard pick-six against Oklahoma. He doesn't force balls into tight coverage, has taken the checkdown when appropriate and has made great throws on the move when pressure forces him out of the pocket.

That trend will continue this week, which will lead to Tennessee not just hanging around, but winning the game outright.

Tennessee—with the help of Georgia's pass defense—will make this game a shootout. It'll force Georgia to put the ball in the hands of quarterback Hutson Mason, and while Mason has been solid, Georgia has yet to put the ball in his hands in any key situation this year.

Advantage: Tennessee.

End result: More chaos in the SEC East.

Get your popcorn ready.

 

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.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Rankings 2014: Week 5 NCAA Standings and Top 25 Team Records

The four weeks of the 2014 college football season have been interesting, to say the least. We've already seen once-promising teams fall swiftly down the rankings, and, in turn, others have risen from the ashes after several vastly impressive performances.

That trend was prevalent in Week 4, as LSU and Missouri plummeted after suffering brutal losses, Florida State and Oregon survived huge scares of their own and previously unranked teams surged into the Top 25 standings for the first time this season.

The AP Top 25 Twitter account relayed the changes just prior to the release of the new rankings:

Despite some struggles, the nation's top teams remained in their previous positions, but which squads were the biggest movers heading into Week 5? Here's a look at the full Top 25 standings, followed by an early outlook for the College Football Playoff.

 

College Football Playoff Outlook

(1) Florida State

Without Heisman-winning quarterback Jameis Winston in the fold on Saturday, Florida State just squeezed past Clemson in an overtime thriller. The Seminoles lucked out again, as Oregon struggled against Washington State soon after, solidifying Florida State atop the rankings for another week.

Winston will be back in action on Saturday against North Carolina State, but this matchup shouldn't be overlooked by the Seminoles. The Wolfpack's defense has been phenomenal this season, allowing an average of just 18.5 points per game. However, North Carolina State has yet to face a team near Florida State's caliber.

The Seminoles should be able to come away with a convincing win to maintain their No. 1 ranking, and with No. 8 Notre Dame being the only ranked team currently residing on the team's remaining schedule, we could expect to see Winston and Co. at the top seed entering the playoffs.

 

(2) Oregon

The Ducks have a much-needed bye in Week 5 after barely defeating Washington State by a score of 38-31. Marcus Mariota was terrific once again, passing for 329 yards and five touchdowns. Rob Moseley of GoDucks.com tweeted Mariota's impressive season statistics:

Unfortunately, the team's defense was rather suspect. Cougars quarterback Connor Halliday torched the secondary for 436 yards and four scores.

A lackluster effort in Week 4 didn't allow the Ducks to leapfrog the struggling Seminoles for first place; however, they didn't lose any ground, either.

A well-timed bye week is next up for Oregon, and the team will have plenty of time to get things in order before facing Arizona in Week 6. No. 11 UCLA and No. 16 Stanford remain on the Ducks' schedule, but if the team's secondary can get back on track, there's no reason to assume it will relinquish the No. 2 ranking.

 

(3) Alabama

Alabama also has a bye in store for Week 5; however, that may not be the most optimal timing, as this team has really started to jell over the past couple of weeks. The Crimson Tide trounced Florida in Week 4 by a score of 42-21 thanks to the efforts of Blake Sims and Amari Cooper.

Sims solidified himself as the team's quarterback with another strong performance. He completed 23 of his 33 passing attempts for 445 yards, four touchdowns and one interception against the Gators. Cooper reeled in 10 receptions for 201 yards and three scores.

ESPN College Football relayed Sims' historic performance:

Combine that lethal passing attack with the ground game of Derrick Henry and T.J. Yeldon, and you get a very dangerous offense. The Seminoles and Ducks should be looking over their shoulders, as the Crimson Tide continue to improve and gain ground.

Expect to see Alabama in the top four—or possibly higher—by season's end.

 

(4) Oklahoma

The Sooners emerged victorious once again in Week 4 after a back-and-forth contest against West Virginia. The Mountaineers have a solid passing attack—they almost upset Alabama in Week 1—and while they're unranked, they can't be overlooked.

Oklahoma's defense did allow 376 yards and two touchdowns to quarterback Clint Trickett, but the unit also picked him off twice and limited West Virginia's running game to just 3.4 yards per carry.

On the offensive side of the ball, the Sooners saw a blazing performance from Samaje Perine. The ball-carrier rushed 34 times, racking up 242 yards and four touchdowns. His breakout performance will help take pressure off quarterback Trevor Knight going forward.

The running back was given 247Sports' weekly award for true freshmen:

The Sooners will get their toughest test of the year in November when they face off against No. 7 Baylor. If Oklahoma can survive the high-flying Bears, it can be conceived it will remain in the top four up until the playoffs.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Freshmen Adoree' Jackson, Chris Hawkins Aim to Super-Power USC Secondary

A gleeful USC head coach Steve Sarkisian may have coined a new nickname for freshman phenom Adoree’ Jackson at the Trojans’ practice last Wednesday.

“No. 2 is the kryptonite of the offense,” Sarkisian shouted over the music blaring on the Loker Track Stadium PA system.  

The cornerback Jackson had just forced his third turnover of the scrimmage period. Sarkisian called him the “player of the day,” after the morning’s practice.

So, can we start calling the 5-star 2014 signee Jackson “Kryptonite” now?

“For the day, I guess,” he laughed. “I made a couple of good plays, but I’ve got to keep doing that from now on for the nickname to stick.”

Jackson will get ample opportunity to make plays this season. The freshman has already contributed in all three phases of the game: at cornerback on defense, wide receiver on offense and returning on special teams.  

His three-way play has produced four receptions for 32 yards and a touchdown; three kickoffs returned an average of 27 yards; and three tackles, two of which went for a loss.

USC’s Week 4 bye afforded Jackson the opportunity to work on all three facets of his game.

"[Playing in all three phases] doesn't get difficult at game time, because in practice you get a lot of reps," he said. Jackson added the practice time is dedicated to "getting mentally ready."

The freshman may need to focus much of his energy on unleashing some kryptonite on the passing Superman of the Pac-12, Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion.

Mannion set the conference’s single-season record with 4,662 yards through the air in 2013, and Oregon State’s 372.6 yards per game ranked third in the nation.

Jackson recognizes the challenge of facing the Beavers' pass-heavy attack, but he also sees the chance to earn the nickname Sarkisian inadvertently created at practice.

"It's a good chance for the [defensive backs] to get some pass deflections, some interceptions and if we can't get there in time, some tackles," Jackson said.

Mannion relies on multiple receivers to pile up his considerable statistics. Four Beavers have 10 catches or more this season. Thus, USC needs a superb team effort to ground Oregon State. 

Fortunately for Trojans defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox, the combination of Jackson and Chris Hawkins gives USC a potential dynamic duo.  

Like Jackson, Hawkins is a first-year contributor to the Trojans defense. However, Hawkins didn’t arrive at USC with the same fanfare. A 4-star prospect out of nearby Rancho Cucamonga, California, Hawkins redshirted the 2013 campaign to get up to speed with the college game.

The learning year paid off. Hawkins impressed during preseason camp, earning a spot atop the depth chart even before redshirt senior Josh Shaw’s indefinite suspension.

With Shaw out, Hawkins has stepped up as one of the leading playmakers in the secondary. He's made 11 tackles, deflected a pass and, against Boston College, grabbed his first career interception.

"It was something I worked toward for a long time, so I wasn't surprised when it happened," Hawkins said of his pick. "But I will say to get the win, I'd give my first college interception back."

Of course, the two things don't have to be mutually exclusive. Hawkins has plenty more interceptions ahead in his USC career, some of which should play a part in Trojans victories.

Perhaps then, Hawkins will get his own new nickname from the coaching. In the meantime, his presence in tandem with Jackson ensures a double-dose of kryptonite for Pac-12 offenses for years to come, starting with Oregon State.

 

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise cited. Statistics compiled via CFBstats.com unless otherwise noted. Recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports.com composite scores. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Freshmen Adoree' Jackson, Chris Hawkins Aim to Super-Power USC Secondary

A gleeful USC head coach Steve Sarkisian may have coined a new nickname for freshman phenom Adoree’ Jackson at the Trojans’ practice last Wednesday. “No...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

UCLA vs. ASU: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time and More

One of college football's budding rivalries takes center stage Thursday as the No. 11 UCLA Bruins meet the No. 15 Arizona State Sun Devils in a battle of unbeatens with massive Pac-12 implications hanging in the balance.

The two explosive programs figure to put on quite the show when one recalls that the last two encounters have come down to the final possessions and been decided by a total of seven points.

For Sun Devils coach Todd Graham, the showdown is beginning to dwarf other so-called rivalries.

"Our fans tell me: 'Hey, Coach, that's the game you got to win,' so that's the game we got to win," Graham said of the Territorial Cup, per Doug Haller of AZCentral.com. "But this is the game that determines the (Pac-12 South) champion every year, so heck yeah, there's no doubt."

While both teams enter this year's affair limping, the future impact of the end result assures it will still be entertaining throughout.

 

At Home Without a Leader

The Sun Devils enter the most wounded, as senior quarterback Taylor Kelly will miss the contest after he suffered a foot injury against Colorado.

ESPN CollegeFootball ‏noted the news:

Kelly is one of seven players in school history to surpass the 6,000-yard mark. To put the impact of his loss into perspective, here is a gander at his numbers over the course of his three years as a starter:

Three of those scores this season came against Colorado before the foot injury.

Left to pick up the pieces in one of his team's biggest games of the year is junior Mike Bercovici, who has all of 24 career passing attempts to his name. To his credit, he seems undeterred in the face of large expectations, as captured by Tyler Lockman of FoxSports.com:

I've been ready for this for a long time. I really do put the pressure and the constraint on myself that this is an opportunity I owe to my teammates. If I wasn't ready right now, it would be pretty obvious to the guys at practice. I think the guys felt confidence in me after this practice knowing there's no drop off.

The weapons are certainly in place for Bercovici to succeed.

Junior running back D.J. Foster averages a ridiculous 9.4 yards per carry this season thanks to 510 yards and five touchdowns on just 54 attempts. Junior receiver Jaelen Strong is a big-bodied target who already has 19 receptions for 266 yards and a pair of scores to his name.

Perhaps swinging the scales back to neutral a bit is the notion that UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley may not be at 100 percent, too. Still, there remains one rather large mountain to climb if the Sun Devils are to pull off the upset.

 

Unfulfilled Expectations

While it seems all gloom and doom for the hosts, it is not as if UCLA has lived up to its billing this season.

Sure, the team is 3-0. But a 28-20 victory over unranked Virginia to start the season—in which Hundley was held without a passing touchdown—seemed to signal a dismal forecast for what many thought would be one of college football's most dominant teams.

Memphis came to visit the week after, as in the Tigers from the AAC, a team that won all of three games last season. They gave UCLA all it could handle, as Hundley and Co. only escaped with a 42-35 win.

Then it was off to Texas, which saw the Bruins need 10 points in the final frame to emerge the winner against a reeling Longhorns team, 20-17.

Coach Jim Mora put it best after the win over Memphis, and it certainly still applies going into Thursday.

"Obviously, still a lot to work on," Mora said, per The Associated Press, via ESPN.com. "That's the game we play, though. We're happy to get a win, but there's no satisfaction yet in the way we're playing."

With UCLA's defense giving up entirely too many points, Thursday may not be the showdown most had envisioned between two great quarterbacks, but the propensity for the Bruins to make it interesting nonetheless is certainly present.

 

When: Thursday, September 25, 10 p.m. ET

Where: Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, Arizona

Television: Fox Sports 1

Live Stream: Fox Sports Go

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: N/A
  • Spread: UCLA (-3)

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports via USA Today.

 

Prediction

UCLA has been a disappointment and Arizona State is without its best player, but this is still one fans need to see in what is a rather boring overall week of action, on paper at least. 

Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports concurs: 

Losing a starting quarterback is never easy to overcome, but there are two factors that help to mitigate the impact.

One is a home contest. Another is a home contest after a bye week. Finally, and most importantly, is a bevy of talented players insulating the position in what is a quarterback-friendly scheme.

The Bruins have had one too many issues on the defensive side of the ball against beatable opponents to inspire confidence in this showdown. Kelly would have put things over the top, but even without him the Sun Devils will come away with a close one as key contributors rally around their new leader under center.

Prediction: Sun Devils 34, Bruins 30

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Pages