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Former LSU Player 'Wouldn't Have Had a Problem' with Fournette's Heisman Pose

The LSU Tigers have one of the most talked about freshmen in college football. Bleacher Report's Stephen Nelson talks with Former LSU player T-Bob Hebert about Leonard Fournette's recent actions and future production for the Tigers.

How well do you think Fournette will do the rest of 2014?

Watch the video and let us know!

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Tennessee Football: How Latest Injuries Will Impact Vols vs. Oklahoma

The Tennessee Volunteers were already in for a challenge with Oklahoma's vaunted front seven. But the potential loss of two key playmakers would put the Vols in perhaps an insurmountable hole.

UT head coach Butch Jones told the media this week that electrifying junior receiver Von Pearson won't play Saturday night after suffering an ankle sprain while blocking downfield against Arkansas State.

Freshman tight end Ethan Wolf's outlook is a little more favorable after he suffered a knee bruise against the Red Wolves, though he hasn't exactly received a clean bill of health.

For the Vols' sake, Wolf needs to play and play well.

Not having either of those integral offensive cogs at full strength could significantly alter UT's offensive attack against the Sooners. With their wounded weapons, the Vols' biggest supposed strength—pass-catching depth—will be tested.

"Well, the great thing is that's one position where we do have some depth," Jones said. "But anytime you take an individual with the likes of Von Pearson out of your lineup, that's a setback for you."

Despite the seemingly dire injury news, the Vols are actually fortunate.

Both Wolf's and Pearson's injuries looked worse than the prognosis, and not having them for a short amount of time is a small price to pay considering visions of "season-ending injuries" danced through the heads of UT fans as they were helped off the field.

The news on Wolf has gotten significantly better throughout the week, with Vols tight ends coach Mark Elder telling the media Wednesday afternoon that he believed Wolf would be "ready to go."

An already cloudy forecast for points will become even more in question if neither player can perform at a high level. Here's where the Vols will miss them most.

 

Run Game Replacement

As vital as Pearson is to Tennessee's ability to change games on the perimeter, getting Wolf healthy in time for Oklahoma is just as important.

That's why the news that he's progressing is huge for a UT team needing every weapon it can salvage against the Sooners.

The 6'5", 240-pound freshman tight end is UT's best all-around player at the position, and through the first game-and-a-half during which he was on the field, the sure-handed Wolf caught eight balls for 46 yards.

Those are modest numbers until you dig a little deeper into the catches. Two of them went for first downs, and three more were on first-down plays to set the Vols up in favorable down-and-distance situations.

Once Wolf left in the third quarter of the ASU game with an injury, quarterback Justin Worley didn't target a tight end for the rest of the game.

With the run game struggling (3.3 yards per carry), the Vols have been forced to compensate with a short passing game. Wolf is a big piece of that puzzle, and if he can't go, the offense will suffer.

Another place where Wolf excels is blocking.

He's much better than fellow freshman Daniel Helm and senior Brendan Downs in that aspect of the game, and with UT scuffling to generate positive yardage on the ground, it needs Wolf.

Despite all the positive vibes surrounding Wolf's status on Wednesday, Patrick Brown of the Chattanooga Times Free Press reported he was still hobbled, so there is at least some uncertainty about the level of his availability:

Helm will have a "tremendous opportunity" and see his role expanded if Wolf can't go, Jones told GoVols247's Ryan Callahan.

He's got plenty of talent, too, but it's in the best interest of UT's offense for Wolf to play because of the various strengths that only he can bring to an offense needing difference-makers—especially against a powerhouse like the Sooners.

 

Missing 1 Game-Breaker

Anybody who doubts what kind of game-changing speed and talent Pearson has needs only watch his 56-yard catch-and-run against Arkansas State.

Though Worley hasn't had enough time to let plays develop much downfield, and his accuracy has been off when he has had time, he threw a deep crossing route to UT's 6'3", 188-pound receiver last week that Pearson hauled in with space in front of him.

After sprinting toward the sideline, he changed direction on a defender and squeaked out a few more yards.

It wasn't the kind of play UT fans got used to seeing with another former great JUCO receiver—current Minnesota Vikings dynamo Cordarrelle Patterson—but it wasn't that far off athletically.

Pearson is special with the ball in his hands, and that can't be replicated.

Marquez North is the Vols' best all-around receiver and NFL prospect, but Pearson can make so much more happen in the open field.

Tennessee has other players such as Josh Malone and Josh Smith who are capable of making defenders miss, and they have to realize that potential immediately with Pearson watching from the sideline. Smith, for instance, needs more of this:

Schematically, not much will change for the Vols without Pearson.

They can still go into three- and four-WR sets with anybody in the country. Having a stable that features North, Smith, Malone, Pig Howard, Jason Croom, Johnathon Johnson and Vic Wharton, among others, allows you to do that.

But because the impact of those weapons has been muted by a struggling offensive line that allows pass-rushers through to Worley before plays develop, that strength has been neutralized so far this year.

In order for Tennessee to pull a stunning upset over Oklahoma, it has to block better and run better above all. The Vols also have to get huge games from Worley and at least a pair of his targets.

Tennessee's receivers have star potential, and they have to show it right now with one of the team's biggest weapons being forced to watch.

Injuries are part of football, but with Pearson not playing and Wolf possibly limited, opportunity abounds for some of Tennessee's other talented youngsters to help fill the void.

If they don't, the Vols are going to be flying back home saddled with only a lopsided loss to show for their trip to Norman and prime-time jaunt back into national limelight.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all statistics gathered from UTSports.com and observations obtained firsthand. All recruiting information from 247Sports.

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

@Brad_Shepard

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Georgia vs. South Carolina: Which SEC Powerhouse Will Dominate the Trenches?

The Georgia Bulldogs take on the South Carolina Gamecocks in Columbia, South Carolina. Bleacher Report's College Football Analyst Michael Felder breaks down which areas are key for success in this SEC battle. Who do you think will win this matchup?

Watch the video and let us know

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15 College Football Freshmen Who Are the Real Deal

The first two weeks of college football season are behind us, which means every freshman* in the country has had at least one and probably two chances to get on the field.

It's impossible to make fixed judgements after only two weeks, in no small part because the level of competition varies from team to team, providing some players a better stage than others. But despite this, certain guys have stuck out for the way they have started their careers. And for that, they deserve to be commended.

This is not a conclusive list of the 15 best freshmen in the country. Rather, it's a list of the 15 most impressive so far—the ones we feel most confident saying are "for real" based on how they've performed through two weeks.

Mainly, what we're looking for is production against quality opponents. In some cases, the level of production against inferior opponents was too good to ignore, but that was rare. If there was big production in one game against substandard competition but small production in one game against solid competition (*cough* Leonard Fournette), that means we need to see more.

Sound off below, and let us know (respectfully) whom we left out.

 

*Unless he plays for Cincinnati

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Florida State Football: What the Noles Learned About Clemson During the Bye Week

Before Florida State and Clemson square off in the Sept. 20 showdown at Doak Campbell Stadium, both programs get the well-timed benefit of a bye this weekend.

For No. 1 FSU, the off weekend allows the Seminoles to improve on overall lackluster performances in the opening two games while rehabilitating and resting a growing list of injured players. Just as importantly, though, the extra preparation time—just like it does for the Tigers—allows the Noles to study and learn more about a Clemson program transitioning from the Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins era.

Here are a few things FSU has learned this week about its Week 4 foe.

 

The Tigers have a new quarterback(s) but are still effective under center

Boyd's graduation left Clemson with a massive void at quarterback this offseason. The record-setting signal-caller was the face of the Tigers' march to a place among the ACC's elite over the last several years, and replacing his impact within the program is no easy task.

But the Tigers are giving it their best shot with veteran Cole Stoudt and rookie Deshaun Watson.

"I don't see a lot of big difference, I really don't," coach Jimbo Fisher said this week about Clemson's quarterback play. "I think they are throwing the ball extremely well. I think Stoudt makes great decisions with the ball, drives the ball down the field, is a very good passer. I still see a very dynamic team. They may change a route or two, that could be because a receiver or you expanding your offense, but I don't see a huge, huge change in everything they are doing."

The Tigers are averaging 335 yards passing per game and 47.0 points through the first two contests of the season. 

As the team's starter, Stoudt has thrown for 446 yards with one touchdown and an interception, while Watson has come in for specific packages and tossed four touchdowns with just three incompletions. Watson is clearly the quarterback of the future at Clemson, but the coaching staff have wisely decided to bring him along slowly while relying on Stoudt's leadership and poise to carry the offense.

FSU will certainly see both quarterbacks orchestrating a dynamic offense on Sept. 20.

"They are still just as effective [at quarterback]," Fisher said. "They throw the ball extremely well. I think their receivers—they are very dynamic at wideout. I think they have good backs, and I think their line has done a good job. And I think Stoudt has done a really good job. You go back, he's still running the ball down in different situations and running their counters and powers and quarterback runs and pulling it; and Deshaun when he comes in and he has his package and the things he does."

 

Artavis Scott is not Watkins, but Clemson's freshman receiver has star potential

He's got a long way to go before being mentioned in the same breath as Watkins, but fellow Florida native Artavis Scott is already doing his best to help replace the Tigers' superstar pass-catcher.

Scott, an early enrollee true freshman, currently leads the team in receiving yards and is tied for the most touchdown receptions with two.

Against an FCS foe a week ago, Scott set the Clemson freshman single-game record with 164 yards receiving in a blowout victory over South Carolina State.

 

Clemson's defense is still really good up front

Florida State thrust itself into the national championship spotlight with last season's 51-14 victory in Death Valley thanks to a dominating defense and an offensive explosion. The Tigers simply had no answer for Winston, his trio of tailbacks and a wide receiver group that featured playmakers Kenny Shaw, Rashad Greene and Kelvin Benjamin, and on offense the home team couldn't protect the football.

FSU's offensive line did a great job protecting Winston and the defensive line did a great job of harassing Boyd, but it was the skill-position players who made the difference. FSU's pass-catchers couldn't be covered, and its defensive backs forced turnover after turnover. 

One year later, Fisher is quick to point out that those skill-position plays were key to counteract the impact Clemson's defensive front can have.

"They made plays up front on [the] defensive side," Fisher said. "It was a great battle, if you really watched when we created some turnovers. But we were physical and they were physical, and they won some and we won some. I think you had a bunch of good players going at it. But we were able to be very consistent in that game. We played hard, and I think our quarterbacks made good decisions with the ball and helped in that situation.

"But I thought our line was very physical last year, because they are extremely good up front."

It hasn't been true in recent years, but Clemson's defense may be stronger than its offense this season. 

Coordinator Brent Venebles has steadily decreased the Tigers' allowed points per game each season he's been at the helm of the defense. With personnel that features star Vic Beasley, Stephone Anthony, Tony Steward, Shaw Lawson and several more, Clemson's defense could be the difference.

The sting of the season-opening loss to Georgia now in their rearview, the Tigers also benefit from the learning experience of an early loss to an elite opponent—the type of outcome that helps teams identify and improve their shortcomings.

 

Brandon Mellor is a Florida State writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Statistics courtesy of Seminoles.com and ClemsonTigers.com. All recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

Follow @BrandonMellor on Twitter.

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Mapping Out Ohio State's Plan to Stay in Contention with Michael Felder

The Ohio State Buckeyes are looking to get back on track after a very disappointing loss to Virginia Tech.

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder breaks down what Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes must do to succeed.

Will the Buckeyes turn it around in 2014? Watch the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Insider Film Breakdown: Defense Is Key to Victory in UCLA vs. Texas

The UCLA Bruins take on the Texas Longhorns this week in Arlington, Texas. Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder breaks down how these two teams match up and what we should expect to see. Who do you think will win this battle? 

Watch the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

SEC Extra Points with Barrett Sallee: Alabama's QBs and Nick Marshall's Progress

It's Not Over Quite Yet

Alabama's quarterback battle between senior Blake Sims and junior Jake Coker is still technically ongoing after Coker passed for 202 yards and a touchdown last week against Florida Atlantic. Fans will get to witness another audition this week when the two split time against Southern Miss.

“We're making those evaluations on a day-to-day basis,” Alabama head coach Nick Saban said on Monday, according to B/R's Marc Torrence. “We're not really ready to make any kind of prediction on what we should do in the Florida game when we're playing Southern Miss this week. That's really kind of what we're focused on right now.”

With only one more tuneup before the Florida Gators' stingy defense rolls into town, it's imperative that Saban and offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin figure out who's "the guy" this week against the Golden Eagles.

What's the holdup? 

The explanation on why the battle is still ongoing actually begins with the defense.

Alabama's cornerback problems have been hanging around since the beginning of the 2013 season and were largely masked due to weak competition. That same problem popped up in the season opener against West Virginia when Clint Trickett racked up 365 yards through the air against the Crimson Tide. Last week, though, things changed. Eddie Jackson came back from his torn ACL and looked good, and Cyrus Jones played tough.

Was that a sign that things have been fixed, or was it a product of weak competition?

It's probably a little of both. With another tuneup on the schedule, patience is a virtue.

So what does that have to do with the quarterbacks?

Saban and Kiffin know that Sims can manage a game very well. He has completed 76.6 percent of his passes (36 of 47) for 478 yards, two touchdowns and one pick this year; and—most importantly—he has proven that he can consistently move the offense and get in position to score.

But what if that suddenly becomes "not good enough" and the Crimson Tide are forced into a shootout due to shaky secondary play?

That's why Coker is still in the mix. He has the arm and big-play potential but doesn't have a firm grasp of the offense quite yet. At some point, though, he may be called on to stretch the field.

There are 60 more minutes to figure out the right recipe because the last thing Alabama needs is both quarterbacks looking over their shoulders against Florida's defense.

 

Room to Grow?

Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall was hit-or-miss through the air in his first start of the season last weekend, a 59-13 win over San Jose State. Head coach Gus Malzahn believes that there's still room for his senior quarterback to grow.

"From a coach's standpoint, there were two or three times in the game where it wasn't the quarterback's fault," Malzahn said. "From the casual eye, it may have looked that way. There was one concept where we put him in a bind because they had a perfect defense for it and just didn't do a good job of throwing it away. We feel very good about where he's at."

What has become abundantly clear during Auburn's first two games is that it really doesn't matter.

Auburn has proven through two games that it can replicate the same offensive production on the ground that helped the Tigers win the SEC title last year. Cameron Artis-Payne has topped the century mark in both games, Marshall joined him last week and Corey Grant is averaging 8.8 yards per carry on 20 carries.

Marshall's progress through the air isn't a necessity, it's a luxury. 

Waiting in the wings is sophomore Jeremy Johnson, who can always stretch the field if needed.

If Marshall continues to do what he does on the ground, it won't be needed. Auburn's offense clicks at an elite level with him at the helm, and more consistency to the passing game would only serve as fuel additive to the high-octane Tigers.

 

A Big Test

Tennessee has looked like the Tennessee of old, posting two convincing wins to start the season inside the friendly confines of Neyland Stadium.

Now things have changed a little bit.

Through the first two games, 34 of the 74 Vols (46 percent) who have played were playing their first game in the orange and white, and 22 of those players (30 percent) are true freshman. Head coach Butch Jones knows that his team will have to grow up in a hurry.

"It's a little bit different when you go on [the] road with the road focus and concentration that's involved with it," he said. "It's going to be a great learning experience and teaching opportunity for our football team."

The one player who needs to provide stability in the face of a hostile environment and ferocious front seven is senior quarterback Justin Worley. Worley has completed 64.5 percent of his passes (49 of 76) for 520 yards, five touchdowns and one interception; and he has shown the poise in the pocket and on the run that's needed for Tennessee to handle what's coming in Norman, Oklahoma.

"He's managing the football game and making great decisions with the football," Jones said. "He's been extremely accurate. We had a couple of touchdown passes in the red zone last week where he put the ball where only one player could make the catch. He's playing with a lot of confidence right now, and we're going to need that going on the road."

It's going to be tough for Tennessee to spring the upset, but if Worley helps the young roster stay calm and the Vols can keep the game close, it'll be a great sign for the future of the program.

 

Taking a Game Off?

One of the biggest early-season surprises in the SEC has been the emergence of LSU receiver Travin Dural. The sophomore has burst onto the scene, catching six passes for 291 yards and four touchdowns for a national-best 48.5 yards per catch.

After last week's game, though, Dural was involved in a car accident early Sunday morning that resulted in 15 stitches on his forehead. Despite the injury, head coach Les Miles said that Dural will play this weekend against ULM.

"He had a little accident, and it was one where he sustained a very minor injury, and he'll be fine," Miles said according to Glenn Guilbeau of Gannett Louisiana. "So, he'll play in this game. He was at practice today (Wednesday) with his helmet on and flying around."

Whether Dural plays or not, it's important for quarterbacks Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris to find some other targets to take some pressure off of Dural. John Diarse is second on the team with four catches, Trey Quinn has two and Malachi Dupre—who missed the season opener—had two last week versus Sam Houston State. 

One of these guys needs to step up and provide the quarterbacks another option, because Dural has proven through two weeks that he has what it takes to be a difference-maker outside in place of Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr.

 

Bulletin Board Material

Kentucky running back Jojo Kemp is no stranger to smack talk. He famously said that his team would score on Alabama's defense last year (it did...once...in a 48-7 rout), and he's at it again. 

With no lack of confidence, Kemp told Kyle Tucker of The Courier-Journal that his team would walk out of Gainesville with a win on Saturday over the Florida Gators.

"A couple of my (high school) teammates actually went to Florida, so I'm familiar with a lot of those guys," Kemp said. "It's going to be fun walking out with a victory and rubbing it in their faces."

Predictably, Florida turned it into motivation.

Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops wasn't pleased with Kemp.

"I was furious," Stoops said on the coaches teleconference on Wednesday. "I was outraged. I talked to him about it. The thing is, he was trying to make light of some friends that he has on the program. But like I told him, 'You think they're gonna hear all that? They're gonna hear the last five seconds of what you said.'"

Stoops was right. The context of Kemp's quote really doesn't matter. Florida likely knows he was messing with former teammates, but that part of the story will always get willfully ignored in the public relations game. 

Joke with your teammates after the game, Jojo, not before. Otherwise, posters happen.

 

Quick Outs

  • Don't expect Alabama wide receiver DeAndrew White back this week. Head coach Nick Saban said Wednesday that he's still dealing with a shoulder injury suffered in Week 1 and will be re-evaluated next week.
  • What's a college football season without a Texas A&M quarterback trademarking his nickname? Evidently new Aggies quarterback Kenny Hill's parents have applied to trademark the "Kenny Trill"—as they should. Hill has become one of college football's brightest stars over the last three weeks, and that hype can't go to waste.
  • We told you this spring that Georgia may go more uptempo with quarterback Hutson Mason, and it looks like we'll see it versus South Carolina. Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that the Bulldogs could go more uptempo, which should sit well with Mason—who featured as Georgia's X-Factor earlier in the week.
  • Vanderbilt now has four quarterbacks bracketed with "or" on its depth chart. The old saying goes, "when you have two quarterbacks, you don't have any." When you have four, you still don't have any.

 

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

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

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Oklahoma Football: What You Should and Shouldn't Be Concerned About After Week 2

Two weeks into the college football season, we're really able to get a good grasp of what to expect from the Oklahoma Sooners.

Thus far, the team has dominated its two opponents and has looked the part of a national title contender. Even still, there are some areas on the field that have some Sooners fans worrying.

It all raises the question: Should we be concerned or not?

Here is the breakdown on five of those issues.

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Texas A&M QB Kenny Hill's Parents File for 'Kenny Trill' Trademark

As their son begins to make a name for himself as the quarterback of Texas A&M, Kenny Hill's parents are trying to make sure that they own their son's popular nickname, "Kenny Trill."

One Twitter user revealed that Hill's parents, Kenneth and Lorrie Hill, recently filed for a trademark on the nickname.

It may not be a bad move by the parents. If Hill continues his hot start, his nickname is going to be just as popular as "Johnny Football" was over the past two seasons.

Hill has thrown for nearly 800 yards and seven touchdowns and has yet to throw an interception through two games this season. The sophomore has led his team to two blowout victories and has the Aggies ranked No. 7 in the nation.

[Twitter, h/t College Spun

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NCAA Football Rankings 2014: Latest Week 3 Standings and Playoff Predictions

The inaugural College Football Playoff does not entirely stick a fork in the NCAA rankings.

Now more than ever, the polls act as a guideline to get a pulse on the state of the college football landscape and a potential glimpse at the four lucky teams that will make it to the playoff.

Week 3 of the season itself is a bit of a downer in terms of high-profile matchups after a dynamite opening two weeks, but the playoff picture is as clear as day when one takes into consideration how the top teams look and what the rest of the schedule looks like.

Here is a look at the latest batch of polls and some predictions.

 

Associated Press and Amway Week 3 Top 25 Rankings

Let's take a look at the four surest bets to make the CFP before the week's action gets underway:

For a brief second, Florida State looked like it was perhaps in for a season full of struggle. In a 37-31 win over Oklahoma State to start the season, even last year's Heisman winner Jameis Winston looked a bit off the mark, going for 370 yards and a score, but with two interceptions.

Call it rust.

It'd be nice if the Seminoles defense had not allowed the Cowboys to convert on 50 percent of their third-down attempts, but Winston was back in form the very next week, misfiring on only five passes and throwing for 256 yards and a pair of touchdowns in a blowout over Citadel.

It's clear the Seminoles have reloaded well for a second title push, although not nearly as well as the squad Oregon touts this season.

Really, it had been easy to write off the Ducks. Lots of flash, but it had been easy to pigeonhole them as a team that would lose to elite competition late in the season.

Not anymore.

After a 62-13 ho-hum victory over South Dakota, Heisman contender Marcus Mariota and the Ducks welcomed an elite defensive team in then-No. 7 Michigan State to town.

As nobody would have been brave enough to suggest beforehand, Oregon abused the perennially stout unit for 491 total yards while Mariota threw for 318 yards and three touchdowns. ESPN CollegeFootball documents the historic carnage quite well:

The schedule lines up well for the Ducks, too. Dates against UCLA and Stanford, the lone remaining ranked opponents, are no longer as scary since both have already collected losses.

Alabama is a mainstay in this sort of conversation, like it or not. Those who want to see the dynasty fall seemed set to get their wish, as Nick Saban's Crimson Tide stumbled out of the gate with a 33-23 win over West Virginia.

There the quarterback controversy ended, as Blake Sims did well enough with 250 yards and a pick. Running back T.J. Yeldon was his usual elite self, going for 126 yards and a pair of scores. Despite this, it was his quarterback Saban was impressed with after the fact.

"But all in all for him to throw for 250 yards, he did a pretty good job of executing all in all and I'm happy with his progress," Saban told reporters.

Again, quarterback was really the only thing stopping the Crimson Tide from getting to the Playoff. Sims went out in Week 2 in a 41-0 rout of Florida Atlantic and threw for 228 yards and a pair of touchdowns before taking a seat.

With that glaring weakness out of the way, it is quite clear the machine will continue to roll. Dates with Ole Miss, Texas A&M, LSU and Auburn loom large in the future, but a one-loss SEC team likely won't miss out.

Rounding out the bunch is an Oklahoma team that has yet to be truly tested this season, but fans will recall the triumph for Bob Stoops' team over Saban's last year in the Sugar Bowl.

Through two games, the Sooners have outscored the opposition by a tally of 100-23. The run defense has been nothing short of elite, and quarterback Trevor Knight is still protected by a strong running game—this time the duo of Keith Ford and Alex Ross, who have already combined for seven rushing touchdowns this year.

As Grant Ramey of The Daily Times illustrates, Stoops is thrilled with his dual-threat quarterback:

The schedule is not so kind for the Sooners, though. Dates with Kansas State, Baylor, Texas Tech and Oklahoma State will stress the defense and put more pressure on Knight to win games with his arm.

At this juncture, though, it is hard to roll with anyone else but the Sooners when it comes to CFP predictions. Sure, Notre Dame and Georgia have been major surprises so far, as has Texas A&M (don't forget Auburn hanging around either), but right now the top four are the only logical choices until proven otherwise.

 

Stats via ESPN.com. Amyway poll via USA Today. AP poll via The Associated Press.

 

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Alabama Football: Rashaan Evans Headed for Early Stardom?

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Rashaan Evans tore off the edge as if shot out of a cannon, his sights set on Florida Atlantic quarterback Greg Hankerson. Right tackle Eric Minemyer just watched as Evans sprinted past him.

Evans left his feet, almost going horizontal, as Hankerson fell to the ground. Evans, the freshman from Auburn, Alabama, stood up and celebrated his first of likely many sacks.

But as he came to the sideline, defensive coordinator Kirby Smart put his arm around Evans’ shoulder and pointed up at one of the four replay screens in Bryant-Denny Stadium. Evans hadn’t wrapped up in his tackle, and while that may work against FAU, it won’t against shiftier quarterbacks like Auburn’s Nick Marshall.

“He did a great job on the rush, but he didn’t wrap the quarterback up,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said Wednesday. “Even though the guy’s knee happened to be down on that play, there may be a play some day when you don’t wrap the guy up where maybe he’s not down.

“We were just trying to teach him that it was a great rush, he did a great job, but you have to wrap up the quarterback.

Evans, a 5-star linebacker whose recruitment between Alabama and Auburn came right down to the wire and was the Crimson Tide’s biggest steal in the 2014 recruiting cycle, is still learning as a freshman who’s only been on campus since May. But, even on a team loaded with pass-rushers, his time could be coming sooner rather than later.

It’s not often that Alabama’s players heap extravagant praise on their teammates. Especially when it’s a freshman—where half the battle is keeping their egos under control since most of them were so highly rated out of high school.

So reporters perked up when junior linebacker Reggie Ragland offered up this assessment of Evans on Monday:

“Rashaan is a freak,” Ragland said, matter-of-factly. “And when you’re a freak, you deserve to be on the field. He’s putting that time in to be that player that coach Saban and coach Smart and (outside linebackers) coach (Lance) Thompson want him to be.”

Evans didn’t wait long to announce himself to the college football world.

He was in on special teams for the opening kickoff against West Virginia. He burst down the field and was the first one to the ball, making Alabama’s first tackle of the 2014 season.

Evans’ size and strength was evident from the get-go.

At early fall practices, the 6’3”, 225-pound Evans was very noticeable. It was going to be hard to keep him off the field.

The Crimson Tide, though, don't lack for edge-rushers.

Denzel Devall and Xzavier Dickson are the veterans at outside linebacker, and while their production hasn’t exactly been eye-popping, they know the defense inside and out, which is just as, if not more, important to Saban.

Ryan Anderson, a redshirt sophomore, has seen more playing time this season. And sophomore Tim Williams has all the talent in the world but has been in Saban’s doghouse after being suspended for most of fall camp.

In Evans, Alabama now has an explosive option that it can presumably use in its rotation. And he already has his first sack under his belt.

“Oh, that’s big for confidence,” sophomore defensive lineman Jonathan Allen said. “I feel like the first sack is probably the hardest one to get. So now he knows what it feels like, he’s been there, so he knows what he has to do to get there. I really think it’s good for his confidence and I feel like he can really help us out on the defense.”

Because the referee had a bad angle on the play, he didn’t see Hankerson’s knee initially touch the ground and didn’t blow his whistle. Evans, though, got up to celebrate while Hankerson got up and started running again, and Williams brought the quarterback down, this time in view of the official.

The ability is clearly there. And while Evans is impressing his coaches and teammates, he’s still learning what it takes to play at this level.

“Yeah, Coach Kirby wasn’t too happy about that,” Allen said. “We just try to learn to let our play do the talking. You don’t want to bring any unwanted or any negative attention. It’s really a team thing.

“It’s just a learning experience.”

 

Marc Torrence is the Alabama lead writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats come from CFBStats. All recruiting information comes from 247Sports.

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

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USC Football: Talk of Title Hopes Are Trojans' New Distraction

Thanks to a marquee road win and a Top 10 AP ranking, USC football is no longer just associated with drama and distractions. Now the Trojans can be called title contenders.

Talk of a College Football Playoff berth has replaced headlines about cornerback Josh Shaw's suspension and former running back Anthony Brown's messy departure at outlets like Yahoo! Sports and USA Today. But now there's a new distraction: expectations.

“I don’t think that exists here,” first-year head coach Steve Sarkisian joked on Tuesday’s Pac-12 coaches teleconference call when asked if he wanted a week free from drama or possible distraction.

Sarkisian may not have anticipated the off-field spotlight would be cast on him before his first game. Championship expectations, on the other hand? Those he was prepared to face.

“My expectations were that I was choosing to take this job at USC because it was one of, if not the best job in America,” he said. “There’s a long line of history and tradition here of winning football championships, accolades, all those sort of things. That’s the expectation level here at USC.

“If you take this and that’s not what you have in mind, this probably isn’t the right job for you,” he added.

As those expectations start to become reality, the Trojans have generated so much outside buzz for so long, the chatter is becoming white noise.

“We’ve learned a lot about our team,” Sarkisian said. “We learned a lot about the maturity and leadership on our team. These are great examples for us that we can hold onto to for the future...regardless of the distractions that are going on outside.”

One of those leaders for USC is defensive lineman Leonard Williams. He made 11 tackles and a sack en route to Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Week recognition—and he did it on an injured ankle.

After practice Wednesday, Williams explained a mindset in the Trojans locker room that remains consistent through both praise and criticism.  

"Coach Sark always tries to tell us to stay out of the hype, whether it's negative hype or positive," he said.

If Williams is a fitting leader in USC’s collective effort to block distractions, it may be because he has experience with it. His play was a constant for USC through a tumultuous 2013 season that included a 3-2 start, the midseason firing of Lane Kiffin and a highly publicized coaching search.

Williams is now the face of the mounting praise coming USC’s way after the win at Stanford. His play through his ankle injury validates NFL draft pundits, like B/R's Matt Miller, who project him to be one of the first selected next May.

But Williams has also seen how fleeting the positive hype can be. He was a Freshman All-American on the 2012 USC team that opened the season atop the AP Poll and finished unranked following a 1-5 finish.

The risk these Trojans run with getting caught up in their own hype is similar to what that team endured: losing its edge. Holdovers like Williams and the new coaching staff are working to ensure that title talk won’t be a distraction.

“In the beginning of the [2014] season, people weren’t really talking that highly of us,” Williams said. “Now that they are, [Sarkisian] wants us to keep ignoring all of that and just keeping like we’ve been working. Keep acting like we’re at the bottom, because that’s what got us here.”

 

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise cited. Statistics courtesy of CFBstats.com

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USC Football: Talk of Title Hopes Are Trojans' New Distraction

Thanks to a marquee road win and a Top 10 AP ranking, USC football is no longer just associated with drama and distractions. Now the Trojans can be called title contenders...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

College Football Athletes Most Likely to Explode in Week 3

The 2014 college football season is heading into week 3 with some players just itching to show they are the best of the best. Bleacher Report's College Football Analysts Adam Kramer, Barrett Sallee, and Michael Felder discuss who they believe will explode onto the scene in week 3.

Who do you think we should look out for?

Watch the video and let us know!

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College Football Rankings 2014: Latest Look at Week 3 Polls and Standings

Remember Week 2 of the college football season, when games such as Michigan State vs. Oregon, Ohio State vs. Virginia Tech, USC vs. Stanford and Michigan vs. Notre Dame populated the schedule?

Week 3 will be nothing like that.

There likely won't be many significant changes in the polls this week, because only one game features two ranked opponents (Georgia vs. South Carolina). What’s more, the argument can be made that South Carolina doesn't even belong in the Top 25 after getting blown out by Texas A&M and struggling to pull away from East Carolina. 

It is still worth glancing at the two polls before a rather lackluster slate of games in Week 3, but they will probably look awfully similar in Week 4.

 

Game to Watch: Tennessee at Oklahoma

South Carolina has given us no reason to think it can hang with a Georgia team that already beat Clemson handily, so we are looking toward a nonconference tilt between Tennessee and Oklahoma for the game to watch this week.

There will be playoff implications for any squad that plays an SEC team out of conference, even if Tennessee is not exactly Alabama or LSU. The general consensus is that the Big 12 is a notch below the SEC and even the Pac-12, so an Oklahoma win in prime time against a recognizable program will certainly help the league as a whole.

It would also continue the Sooners' momentum against the SEC after they manhandled Alabama in the Sugar Bowl to end last season.

Linebacker Geneo Grissom suggested as much, according to The Associated Press, via ESPN.com: "Oh yeah. It’s a nice SEC matchup. It’s going to be a big game, lot of people there. Hopefully a sellout crowd, so we're going to come ready."

There is also some novelty here, as Oklahoma and Tennessee have never played in the regular season and split two Orange Bowls, with the Volunteers winning in 1939 and the Sooners winning in 1968.

This kicks off a crucial stretch for Tennessee. After the trip to Oklahoma, the Vols go to Georgia and then return home to face archrival Florida. Tennessee is 2-0, but the season could go off the rails rather quickly. Of course, the glass-half-full approach would suggest that Tennessee has a chance to announce to the country that it is ready to be on the national stage again with a victory in Norman.

It would certainly be an incredible way to kick off Butch Jones’ second year.

As for Oklahoma, the Sooners travel to West Virginia, play at TCU and then have a showdown with hated Texas in the three games following Saturday. Both teams need a win, as crucial portions of the season are on the horizon.

If Tennessee plans to walk out of Oklahoma with a monumental victory, it needs to get off to a fast start.

The Sooners allowed a meager three points in the first half against Louisiana Tech and then shut out Tulsa before intermission in the second game. In fact, Oklahoma holds a massive 62-3 advantage over its opponents before halftime.

The Volunteers have also impressed on defense at times this year and held Utah State to 244 yards and 3-of-14 on third-down conversions. Arkansas State was only 4-of-17 on third-down conversions in the second game.

However, Oklahoma represents a much more formidable opponent, and the Trevor Knight-Sterling Shepard combination will be difficult to contain. Knight threw for 299 yards and two touchdowns against Tulsa, while Shepard hauled in a touchdown catch and 177 receiving yards.

Outside of the action on the field, another storyline is Bob Stoops versus the SEC. The Oklahoma coach has suggested that the widespread vision of the SEC as the best conference is merely propaganda, and his squad certainly backed him up when it was destroying the mighty Crimson Tide in the Sugar Bowl. 

ESPN Stats & Info noted that Oklahoma has matched up rather evenly with the SEC since Stoops took over in 1999:

Stoops will add to his resume against the SEC in this one. Oklahoma will get off to a fast start, like it has every week, behind a raucous crowd and will gradually pull away from Tennessee. The Volunteers look improved over last year’s 5-7 team, but they aren’t quite on the Sooners’ level yet.

It will be nearly impossible for Tennessee to overcome a slow start on the road against an elite team. This one will be over by the third quarter. 

Prediction: Oklahoma 34, Tennessee 17

 

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College Football Week 3: Top 25 Upset Alert

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Adam Kramer throws out some of his upset alerts for Week 3 of the 2014 college football season.

Which teams do you think have a chance to fall this week?

Watch the video and let us know!

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Ohio State Football: Did Virginia Tech Unveil Buckeyes' Kryptonite in Week 2?

Inside the halls of the Woody Hayes Athletic Center—the de facto headquarters of the Ohio State football team—motivational mantras line the walls.

"POINT A TO POINT B AS FAST YOU CAN GO!" says one sign.

"4-6 SECONDS OF RELENTLESS EFFORT AND FOCUS," reads another.

But in the week following the Buckeyes' 35-21 loss to Virginia Tech, it's been a different cliche that's been the overarching theme of Ohio State's practices.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

Urban Meyer doesn't like being fooled, period, but that's exactly how the third-year Buckeyes head coach felt last Saturday when the Hokies stifled the Ohio State offense with a 46 Bear defense that employed a Cover 0 coverage. Meyer and his staff had not previously seen Virginia Tech use such a scheme while reviewing the Hokies on film, and as a result the ill-prepared Buckeyes struggled to move the ball on a consistent basis.

"The start of the game I remember on the headsets I said, 'Wow, I've never seen them do that,'" Meyer said on Monday. "They made a decision to take away the tailbacks and there were nine guys within six yards of the line of scrimmage, and you have to make someone pay a price."

Ohio State's shock was apparent in the box score, with quarterback J.T. Barrett completing just nine of his 29 pass attempts and throwing three interceptions in the second start of his college career. The redshirt freshman quarterback didn't get much help from the rest of his offense either, as the line struggled to protect him and wide receivers routinely dropped balls.

If ever there was a blueprint for beating the 2014 Buckeyes, this appeared to be it. Load the box to take away Ohio State's run game and force the inexperienced—and thus far, inefficient—passing attack to try to beat you over the top.

And given the success that the Hokies found with that plan on Saturday, why wouldn't future Buckeye opponents try a similar approach? It's not a coincidence that in the days leading up to Ohio State's matchup with Kent State, the Buckeyes have remained focused on the defense they just saw, as Meyer is well aware of how ineffective it made his offense look on film.

"Oh definitely, that's something we've been practicing against," OSU running back Ezekiel Elliott said. "We've got a couple of answers for it."

Finding those answers didn't require much work for the Buckeyes, who made in-game adjustments but just didn't execute properly in their loss to the Hokies. After all, there's a reason that the 46 defense isn't used more regularly in football, as it leaves one's cornerbacks on an island and susceptible to giving up big plays.

The Ohio State staff realized that early enough in the game to call for more shots down the field, but the Buckeyes never found the consistency to make Virginia Tech truly pay for its dare-you-to-throw approach. For Meyer, it's not a matter of knowing how to defeat such defense, but more of an issue of whether or not his team can.

"I thought we've improved at wide receiver, and we just didn't get open enough. When we did, it was a protection flaw," Meyer said. "If they're going to play zero coverage, you have to make those shots. And we haven't had a lot of that."

Which is why until the Buckeyes prove otherwise, they can expect a steady serving of the same defense that handed them their first loss of the season. The good news for Ohio State is that very few future opponents possess the defensive talent that Virginia Tech does, although Meyer knows that the toughest team left on the Buckeyes' schedule this season will certainly be taking a hard look at last weekend's game film.

"I don't know if people have the personnel [to play 46 defense]. I know one of them does. The team that won the Big Ten last year does," Meyer said, referencing Michigan State. "I don't know. That's risky stuff."

Risky? Sure. But as the Hokies proved last Saturday, it can be just as rewarding if Ohio State allows it to be.

 

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.

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Purdue vs. Notre Dame: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time and More

On the hunt for a sixth consecutive win over rival Purdue to retain the Shillelagh Trophy for the foreseeable future, No. 11 Notre Dame hits the road Saturday for Lucas Oil Stadium in the last of one of the sport's longstanding series.

One week removed from ending its series with Michigan—in dominant fashion, by the way—Notre Dame now looks to come out on top as a 68-year streak comes to a close.

The finality of the rivalry for the time being adds a layer of intrigue to this matchup that would otherwise be absent given the trajectories of both teams at this point. Desperation is a surefire motivator, so expect the Boilermakers to go down swinging Saturday. 

Then again, many thought the same for Michigan last week. With any luck, this one will turn out to be a much more entertaining affair between heated rivals. 

 

Questions and Answers...Or Lack Thereof

The return of senior quarterback Everett Golson has provided the Fighting Irish with a spark most could not have fathomed before the season.

Really, it's as if he never left. Through two games, Golson has thrown for 521 yards and five touchdowns with another three scores on the ground. It's not as if Golson is doing it against strictly bad competition, either, with three of those passing touchdowns coming against the Wolverines. In that game, he completed 67.6 percent of his passes.

Not only is Golson suddenly a Heisman contender, he has the attention of those at the next level, such as Bleacher Report's Matt Miller:

As it stands, the questions as to how quickly the Notre Dame offense could be effective have been met with a resounding answer.

That is, of course, a bit of bad news for the Boilermakers. Darrell Hazell's team actually started the season on the right foot, beating Western Michigan 43-34. Sophomore quarterback Danny Etling went for 181 yards and two scores. Running back Raheem Mostert tallied 146 yards and a score on 22 carries.

It all turned bad the week after, though. Etling threw two picks in a 38-17 loss to Central Michigan while Mostert gained all of 53 yards with a 2.8 average. As Tyler James of NDinsider.com humorously notes, the defense did not exactly show up, either:

The up-and-down play of the entire team has done nothing short of raise more questions than answers. Hazell hinted to the press in the week leading up to the game that neither quarterback is technically the starter (the other being Austin Appleby, who attempted 17 passes against Central Michigan).

"We'll let you know here in a couple of days," Hazell said, per Mike Carmin of IndyStar.com. "I'm not going to say it's a competition. We'll make the decision here as we go forward, come out of (Tuesday's) practice and see where we are and go from there."

Barring an epic turnaround, Saturday's contest will be a continued search for an identity for Purdue.

 

The Notre Dame Effect

This is one ugly contest set to unfold—on paper.

The thing is, even when the Boilermakers are at their worst, they still pull a great performance out of the hat against Notre Dame. Kelly understands this, as captured by Irish Illustrated:

He's certainly not exaggerating.

Last year, a Purdue team that wound up 1-10 welcomed then-ranked No. 21 Notre Dame to town and held a lead going into the final frame before the Fighting Irish rattled off 21 points to win, 31-24.

The year before that, the Boilermakers rolled into Notre Dame Stadium and about ruined the Fighting Irish's perfect season before a late field goal ended the game at 20-17.

So yes, things look bleak for Purdue. But the program does its finest work in even downtrodden years against Notre Dame, so there is an outside chance Saturday turns out to be a competitive affair.

 

When: Saturday, September 13, 7:30 p.m. ET

Where: Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, Indiana

Television: NBC

Live Stream: NBC Sports Live Extra

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 56.5
  • Spread: Purdue (-29.5)

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports via USA Today.

 

Prediction

There is a slim, slim chance Notre Dame has a bit of a hangover as it rides high into the matchup thanks to the upset over Michigan.

But in reality, the Fighting Irish are simply too talented to suffer an epic letdown against a Purdue team that can't even decide on a starter under center two games into the season. That reeks of an ugly offensive performance, especially against a defense that picked off Michigan's Devin Gardner three times.

Expect this one to get out of hand by the half. This is Kelly's most talented squad since 2012, and he is sure to apply lessons learned in that debacle against Purdue to great success.

The Shillelagh Trophy is set to reside with the Fighting Irish for a long time.

 

Prediction: Fighting Irish 35, Purdue 7

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

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Georgia vs. South Carolina: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time and More

The lone contest this weekend between ranked teams stands tall as one of the season's most critical when No. 6 Georgia hits the road to take on No. 24 South Carolina.

Thus far, the tale for two SEC powerhouses has been as polar opposite as possible. The Bulldogs are one of the nation's biggest surprises thanks to a win over then-ranked No. 16 Clemson to start the season, 45-21.

Steve Spurrier's Gamecocks are arguably the biggest disappointment of all, a season-opening loss to then-ranked No. 21 Texas A&M and a struggle against East Carolina doing much to eliminate the team in the minds of fans just two games into the season.

We won't be able to tell the difference Saturday when these two step into the ring. Despite being the favorite, Georgia coach Mark Richt understands this best.

“I got a feeling this game could get a little bloody,” Richt said, per ESPN.com's Alex Scarborough. “I think both teams are tough, physically. … Before it’s over, it may get down to a bit of a fistfight.”

Tension and implications run deep in this one, to say the least.

 

The Scramble for Balance

At Williams-Brice Stadium, the Gamecocks defense has held the Bulldogs to a total of just 27 points in their last three encounters.

The problem is, Jadeveon Clowney is gone, and with him went any semblance of respectable defense so far this season for Spurrier's side.

Against the Aggies to start the season, the South Carolina defense allowed Kenny Hill to throw for 511 yards and three scores, while back Trey Williams took 13 totes for 78 yards and a score. Three Aggies backs recorded a per-carry average of 4.3 or greater.

The lack of a pulse for Spurrier's defense did not change much against East Carolina, either. It was a 33-23 win, but Pirates signal-caller Shane Carden still threw for 321 yards, and that same big-play leakage from the Gamecocks defense was present, as one can glean from the final box score of notable rushers:

A performance like that against Georgia back Todd Gurley, a surefire Heisman candidate, will have South Carolina fans leaving for the exits early come Saturday.

This season, Gurley has just 15 totes—which went for 198 yards and three touchdowns. Look at it this way, via Trent Smallwood of Bulldawgillustrated.com:

The struggle has been about the same for the South Carolina offense. Star back Mike Davis looked his usual self against East Carolina with 18 carries for 101 yards and two scores, but senior quarterback Dylan Thompson has struggled with the reins in his hand, totaling 632 yards and five touchdowns to two picks—completing just 50 percent of his throws against the Aggies.

None of this is to suggest Georgia is without work to do, but South Carolina is littered with issues at exactly the wrong time.

 

Seasons on the Line

With so many star players, notable coaches and more featured in this matchup, it is easy to forget just how much it means for both sides.

The winner of this clash has not won the SEC East since 2010, but the point stands—seasons will be defined Saturday based on past events and how the rest of the schedule sets up.

Believe it or not, all is not lost for South Carolina. The schedule is rather simplistic in the coming weeks, and Georgia might slip in a brutal division. ESPN.com's Edward Aschoff explains this in an apt manner:

South Carolina's schedule sets up very nicely. After Georgia, South Carolina travels to struggling Vanderbilt, hosts Missouri, goes to Kentucky, takes a bye, and then hosts Furman before a trip to Auburn. During that time, Georgia has three straight home games against Troy, Tennessee and Vandy, before going on the road to play Missouri and Arkansas. Those road games won't be easy, especially if Arkansas' running game stays hot.

If the Gamecocks can find a productive balance as mentioned, a win Saturday can be parlayed into quite the streak before a trip to Auburn in October and a trip to Gainesville in November.

Conversely, Georgia cannot afford to hit a speed bump now if the conference title game and a playoff berth are to be in serious consideration late in the season.

 

When: Saturday, September 13, 3:30 p.m. ET

Where: Williams-Brice Stadium, Columbia, South Carolina

Television: CBS

Live Stream: CBSSports.com

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 60
  • Spread: Georgia (-3)

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports via USA Today.

 

Prediction

Things look bad for the Gamecocks. That's putting it lightly.

Ponder this—the Aggies ran up more yardage on the road against the Gamecocks than they did at home against Lamar.

Davis will continue to get his, and Thompson should get more comfortable as the weeks progress, but that defense is in for a world of hurt against Gurley, and it doesn't help that Hutson Mason seems comfortable under center after taking over for the departed Aaron Murray.

It may be a road contest, but the Bulldogs are catching the Gamecocks at the perfect time. Expect Gurley and the offense to produce enough for a gritty, perhaps bloody, victory.

Prediction: Bulldogs 27, Gamecocks 23

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

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