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

Chaos reigns supreme in what is a historically stacked SEC West, but early Saturday, the attention shifts to the SEC East as the leaders of the division clash when No. 23 Missouri hosts No. 13 Georgia.

Mark Richt's Bulldogs have yet to drop a game since the fateful three-point loss to South Carolina in early September. Missouri, mere weeks removed from a strange loss to Indiana, enters Saturday with heads held high after a stunning 21-20 upset of that same Gamecocks team.

Georgia is similar to Arkansas in the West—the team lines up and does little to disguise the fact it wants to run the ball down the opposition's throat. But if there is an underrated defense that can stunt the attack, it would be Gary Pinkel's unit.

Expect a memorable encounter Saturday in a war of strengths.

 

No-Fly Zone

Who can blame Richt for having yet to call more than 26 passes in a game?

With a back like Todd Gurley, who is easily in front of the Heisman race at this juncture, the staff has to ask relatively little of senior quarterback Hutson Mason in his first year under center as the starter. 

As if having the best back in the land on the roster was not enough, Gurley is also quietly flanked by two superb talents in Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. The tandem forms a triple-headed monster of staggering production:

Perhaps scariest of all, there are those who feel that the No. 6 scoring offense in the land, which averages 45.0 points per game, is still warming up.

"We feel great about what we're doing," said wideout Chris Conley, per STATS LLC, via ESPN.com. "We feel good that we're getting better each week. In order to get back (to the SEC championship game) we have to get better each week and that starts in practice."

Keep in mind that, should the ground game happen to struggle Saturday, Richt and his staff toyed with putting freshman signal-caller Brice Ramsey in during a 44-17 win against Vanderbilt last week. That option appears to be on the table should Mason struggle in a hostile environment.

Then again, Richt would probably rather lean on his trio of backs. Such is the dilemma of a top program in the SEC.

 

Momentum and Standouts

Missouri has a couple game-changers of its own, and both happen to fall on the defensive side of the football.

Richt, of course, is well aware of the names Markus Golden and Shane Ray, as captured by Marc Weiszer of the Athens Banner-Herald:

The two lead a Missouri defense that surrenders just 20.6 points per game and has 18 sacks so far, good for the No. 2 rank in the nation. Ray himself has eight of those to go along with 11.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage.

Of note more than anything else is that Ray's defense held South Carolina to 338 total yards and a miserable 8-of-21 mark on third downs.

Speaking of that win, which came via two stunning rushing touchdowns by Russell Hansbrough within the final seven minutes of the game, the Tigers enter Saturday at home with a load of positive momentum.

That is a tough thing to overcome for the Bulldogs, although Gurley and Co. will surely put Ray's defense to its biggest test to date.

 

When: Saturday, October 11, Noon ET

Where: Memorial Stadium at Faurot Field, Columbia, Missouri

Television: CBS

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 59.5
  • Spread: Georgia (-3)

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports per Sports Network, via USA Today.

 

Prediction

As great as the Missouri defense can be at times, one has to wonder how well it will hold up against an elite ground game. 

Gaudy sack totals mean little if Gurley is free to run up the field consistently, which at this point seems a given no matter who he lines up against. If the Tigers do fall behind, it is tough to figure out how they score enough points in limited opportunities with Gurley killing the clock, either, not with quarterback Maty Mauk going 12-of-34 for 132 yards last week.

Georgia is a more complete team, and honestly, a player such as Gurley makes the difference in these sorts of encounters. Expect another resounding Heisman performance.

Prediction: Georgia 34, Missouri 30

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Texas vs. Oklahoma: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time and More

The 109th Red River Showdown between Texas and No. 11 Oklahoma remains one of the highlights of the 2014 season in general.

Texas is 2-3 and is limping into the contest after a 28-7 loss to Baylor. Oklahoma is doing much of the same after its College Football Playoff hopes were put in serious jeopardy after a four-point loss to then-ranked No. 25 TCU.

But as Kevin McGuire of CollegeFootballTalk muses, the historic rivalry is still an important part of each season:

Oklahoma heads to the Cotton Bowl angry, but it can in no way afford to take the bumbling Longhorns lightly. These encounters tend to bring out the absolute best from both sides, and this year will be more of the same no matter the paths traveled to Dallas.

 

Trumping History Recent and Beyond

Oklahoma has been down this path before. 

After beating up on five teams, the Sooners went to Dallas last year as the heavy favorite, only to get punched in the mouth and never recover on the way to a 36-20 loss at the hands of the Longhorns.

This year, the course has been anything but encouraging for Bob Stoops, who has never allowed the Sooners to lose back-to-back conference games.

Stoops' defense has been an absolute mess, allowing 33 points in each of its last two games. In a win against West Virginia, the defense yielded 376 passing yards and two scores along with 137 yards and two more scores on the ground.

Last week in that loss to TCU, it was much of the same story, as the Horned Frogs found 318 yards and two scores through the air and 151 yards and two more scores on the ground.

Stoops himself says the issues reside at a basic fundamental level, as captured by The Associated Press (via ESPN.com):

I believe a lot of it is easily correctable, and some of it's just discipline and fundamentals. I'm not going to detail it because then, you're calling out these young guys, and that's not the right thing to do. In the end, some of it is very fundamental in what we do, and for whatever reason, even guys with a lot of experience didn't do it very well, so we've got to do a better job coaching them and they've got to do a better job being mindful of their disciplines and what we're doing.

Texas struggles offensively, sure, but the Sooners are playing at a woeful level. The offense can score, as it averages 42.4 points per game to rank in the top 15. But a bad performance from the defense can have a ripple effect as seen last week when Trevor Knight threw for 309 yards with one touchdown to two interceptions.

Undisciplined football in this rivalry cost the Sooners last year. A repeat performance, even though the Longhorns are worse off, would produce a similar end result.

 

Hoping for a Breakout

"Hope" is the best way to describe things for Charlie Strong and the Longhorns. 

Anwar Richardson of Rivals.com puts things into perspective:

Strong has to hope that his offense, led by sophomore quarterback Tyrone Swoopes, can score better than the 13.2 points per game it has averaged in its last four showings.

Swoopes has been a liability this season, throwing for just 734 yards and five touchdowns to three interceptions while completing 59.4 percent of his passes. The staff seemed to unearth some value with his legs last week, though, as he rushed for 40 yards, although he threw no scores and two picks.

One thing the Longhorns can do on offense is rush the ball well thanks to the efforts of Johnathan Gray, who averages 4.9 yards per carry and has 301 yards and a score. It helps that the unit also has a star receiver in senior John Harris (370 yards, four touchdowns), who seems to be building a stronger rapport with Swoopes by the week.

Strong has to hope that, through studying how West Virginia and TCU hurt Oklahoma recently, he can uncover ways to get the offense going after brief flashes from the above players. The Sooners defense is ripe for exploiting again, but Texas has to hope for it all to come together at once.

 

When: Saturday, October 11, Noon ET

Where: Cotton Bowl, Dallas, Texas

Television: ABC

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 47
  • Spread: Oklahoma (-14.5)

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports per Sports Network, via USA Today.

 

Prediction

It is easy to overlook a Texas defense that ranks just outside of the top 20 by only allowing 19.2 points per game, but the offensive issues have overshadowed the unit's efforts on a weekly basis.

Those offensive obstacles are not going to evaporate all at once in a historic rivalry. The last thing Strong and Co. needed this week was an angry Sooners team coming off a loss.

Were this, say, a year from now, the game would be much more competitive. But Strong is operating with a number of pieces that were not his to begin with, and while he has coached in plenty of big games, the Red River Showdown has a way of overwhelming even the most veteran of names.

Not Stoops, whose team has its back against the wall in terms of the CFP. The offense will not be pretty for his side, either, but Stoops' team is more talented top to bottom and will emerge the winner this year.

Prediction: Oklahoma 28, Texas 17

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Picks: Week 7 Predictions for Every Game

If last week is any indication, there's almost no point in trying to pick games for the rest of the 2014 college football season. How can you possibly predict the unpredictable?

With seven unbeaten teams and 11 squads ranked in the The Associated Press Top 25 falling, Week 6 was one of the wildest schedules in college football history. And somehow this upcoming slate has the chance to be nearly as crazy, if not more. 

There are five matchups of ranked teams, including two pairings of unbeatens, so the list of perfect teams will include no more than eight after this weekend. The lineup also features plenty of key conference clashes, as for many schools the focus turns toward becoming bowl-eligible or fighting for a division title. 

Check out our futile attempt to predict Week 7's games (including a contest set for next Tuesday in the Sun Belt Conference) and our experts' picks on this week's top contests, then give us your selections in the comments section. 

Last week: 37-20 (.649)

Season: 298-86 (.776)

Begin Slideshow

Pac-12 Football: 10 Players Who Should Be Getting More National Acclaim

Heading into the Pac-12 season, a number of players have received plenty of national acclaim, and for the most part, they've backed it up.

Marcus Mariota, Brett Hundley, Nelson Agholor and Jaelen Strong are just a few of the names folks around the country are well aware of.

But who should be getting more attention? Who's been dominating week in and week out while still failing to turn heads east of the Mississippi? 

We're taking a look at 10 Pac-12 players who are flying a bit under the radar despite producing in a way that would add value to any team in the country.

If one of your favorite players is left off, it's probably because he's vaulted himself into the national discussion, like Washington State's Connor Halliday, who's no longer a West Coast secret.

Here are 10 more who ought to be joining him soon.

 

All stats via CFBStats.com.

Begin Slideshow

Pac-12 Football: 10 Players Who Should Be Getting More National Acclaim

Heading into the Pac-12 season, a number of players have received plenty of national acclaim, and for the most part, they've backed it up...

Begin Slideshow

Georgia Football: How the Bulldogs Must Handle Missouri's Pass Rush

The College Football Playoff does not start until the end of December, but the road to Dallas has begun for the Georgia Bulldogs.

They are 2-1 in the SEC and have a huge matchup against Missouri in Columbia on Saturday. The Tigers are coming off a bye week, and they are on the right path to be the favorites to win the SEC East following a big win against South Carolina.

One of the biggest things the Tigers have going for them is that they can rush the passer. Defensive linemen Shane Ray and Markus Golden are first and third in the conference in sacks, respectively, tallying 11 in five games.

Tackles for a Loss: 1) Shane Ray - 11.5 2) Myles Garrett - 7 3) Markus Golden - 6.5 4) Jalen Reeves-Maybin - 6 5) Caleb Azubike - 5.5

— SEC Country (@SEC_Country_) October 3, 2014

So how do the Bulldogs slow down the pass rush of the Tigers?

That’s a good question because both players are piling up sacks at an alarming rate. Golden has four sacks and is only two and a half away from matching his total last year. Ray has seven, which leads the SEC, and he has already surpassed his total of 4.5 last year.

Both players are not big, weighing in the 260-pound or less range, but they are quick off the ball and can move from sideline-to-sideline. So asking John Theus and Kolton Houston to block them one-on-one would be a difficult task, especially with this game being played at Missouri.

This is where the running game comes in.

The Bulldogs won’t be as deep as they were at the start of the season in terms of running backs, due to injuries to Keith Marshall and Sony Michel. But Todd Gurley and Nick Chubb will be more than enough to slow the pass rush of the Tigers.

Since Mark Richt has been the head coach for Georgia, the Bulldogs have been a team that likes to throw the football, but they also would do their share of running, as well.

This year, the Bulldogs are second in the conference in rushing offense, which has resulted in them being one of the better offensive teams in the SEC in terms of yards per game. So that's the biggest thing the Bulldogs can do to handle the pass rush.

It’s essential Gurley touches the ball at least 25 times, because Missouri’s defense is not going to completely stop him. From isolation plays to screen passes, the Bulldogs need to make sure that Gurley is getting the ball like he has the last two SEC games.

But they also need to get Chubb the ball more this week. Chubb rushed for 78 yards on nine carries and scored once in the win against Vanderbilt last week. He now has 224 yards and two touchdowns on 31 carries this season.

When Indiana defeated the Tigers earlier this year, Tevin Coleman and Devine Redding totaled 246 rushing yards and three touchdowns. Gurley and Chubb have the ability to put up those numbers against a run defense that ranks ninth in the SEC.

And if the running game gets going for the Bulldogs, that will give Hutson Mason an opportunity to make plays with his arm. He can work off of play action and find his receivers downfield without the worries of a pass rush.

The offensive line for Georgia has done a great job this year keeping Mason upright and giving the running backs holes to run. But facing the Tigers defensive front will certainly be a challenge for this group.

That being said, as long as the Bulldogs continue to run the ball like they have all season long, the pass rush for Missouri will not be a factor on Saturday.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

LSU Football: Will Tigers Finally Figure out Their QB Conundrum vs. Florida?

LSU has no clue what to do at quarterback. 

The Tigers are in another quarterback controversy under head coach Les Miles. Miles has not had one since 2011, as Zach Mettenberger had firm reins on the position for the last two seasons. 

LSU began the season with sophomore Anthony Jennings, who won his first three games as a starter in 2014. Jennings would subsequently wither against Mississippi State and collapse versus New Mexico State. 

Brandon Harris played spectacularly against the Bulldogs and Aggies in relief of Jennings. Harris was given the starting job last week before playing Auburn. The true freshman was a miserable 3-of-13 for 58 yards against his Tiger counterparts and was eventually pulled after suffering an ankle injury. 

The Tigers are now stuck between two players who have yet to perform admirably as starters in conference play. LSU travels to "The Swamp" this weekend to play Florida's talented defense. 

The good news for LSU is Florida's quarterback quandary is messier. Jeff Driskel has regressed this season and was yanked after three interceptions against Tennessee. Driskel was replaced by true freshman Treon Harris, who then led the Gators to victory. 

Harris was suspended indefinitely due to allegations of sexual assault, as reported by David Jones for the Pensacola News Journal. Driskel will remain the starter, which is a plus for the Tigers.  

Driskel is completing just over half of his passes and has been sacked five times. His six interceptions have outnumbered his five touchdown passes. Billy Gomila of AndTheValleyShook.com went even further to break down the junior's struggles.  

Late nite studying...Gator fans...#feels for y'all. Driskel's 5.0 YPA, that's a full yard lower than any of LSU's bad QBs in '10.

— Billy Gomila (@ATVS_ChefBilly) October 8, 2014

Florida's quarterback issues will be a sigh of relief for Miles as much on offense as they are on defense. Harris and Jennings forced the action and played with poor mechanics in an effort to keep up with Mississippi State's Dak Prescott and Auburn's Nick Marshall. Driskel will not perform to the level of Prescott or Marshall, so expect the young Tigers signal-callers to play with more comfort. 

Florida's defense is arguably the best in the SEC East. The Gators have future pros on all three levels of the defense, especially in the trenches. For LSU's quarterbacks to have success, they must have good pass protection and a successful running game. 

LSU's offensive line, which returned four of five starters from last year's team, has not played well in their five road SEC games since 2013. Florida pass-rushers Dante Fowler Jr. and Bryan Cox Jr. are as good as any the Tigers have faced. The Tigers will need left tackle La'el Collins and right tackle Jerald Hawkins to play at a high level for the offense to succeed.

LSU's receivers will also play a gifted Florida secondary. Vernon Hargreaves III could be the most talented corner in the country. But the group is penetrable, as Alabama and Kentucky amassed a combined 814 passing yards against the Gators.

The best positional unit on LSU's team has been the receivers. Travin Dural and Malachi Dupre both rank in the top 20 in yards and touchdowns. If Dural and Dupre have time, they will eventually get open. Both Harris and Jennings' best aspect of their passing game is the deep ball. Look for offensive coordinator Cam Cameron to give them ample opportunities to air it out.

Miles said he has seen good things from both his quarterbacks, per Ross Dellenger of The Advocate:

Les Miles, post-practice: "Both quarterbacks are improved. Throwing the ball well this week." #LSU

— Ross Dellenger (@DellengerAdv) October 8, 2014

Miles said it is likely both will play against Florida, per LSU Football on Twitter, but he still must make a decision over who will start. Harris has more potential, yet his minor ankle injury could give Jennings the upper hand. Either way, it is hard to believe either will play dominant football against an improved Gators defense at home. 

LSU's quarterback play will be better on Saturday, partially because it is not hard to beat how Harris and Jennings performed against Auburn. But that may not necessarily end the quarterback battle for the Tigers. 

 

Stats, rankings and additional information provided by CFBStats.com and LSU Sports Information. Recruiting information provided by 247Sports.

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow me on Twitter @CarterthePower.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Oklahoma's Blake Bell's Strange Journey from Gunslinger to Grunt

If Oklahoma's Blake Bell had been paying attention to the quarterback trend in college football, he would have woke up the morning after the Sugar Bowl he didn't play in and started getting his walking papers in order. He would have said, "Heck with you, OU," and started plotting to find another school. He was a cult figure, he was "The Belldozer" for crying out loud. He was the next Tebow, an over-sized quarterback with willpower. He was not going to be anybody's backup.    

That is how many quarterbacks think these days, and who can blame them?    

But this quarterback woke up the morning after the Sugar Bowl he didn't play in and had to ice his face because his grins had been so wide they had to hurt from the celebration the night before. Bell was in all the post-game pictures in the take down of mighty Alabama joyfully looking like he was the guy who threw for 348 yards and four touchdowns, not Trevor Knight, the guy who benched him.

Bell wasn't going anywhere.

The essence of Blake Bell is not as a quarterback, it is as a football player, it is as teammate, it is as a Sooner through-and-through. He wasn't going to be The Man at Oklahoma, so instead of transferring to make himself The Man somewhere else, he decided he change positions to something Man-lier: tight end.

He refused to transfer when he got dumped to second string. A lot of people thought Trevor Knight was only adequate as a quarterback—and still do—and Bell should at least try and take the job back in spring drills. Bell wasn't one of those people.

"The grass isn't always greener," Bell said outside the Sooners locker room after their 45-33 win over West Virginia. He wasn't going to transfer.

Perhaps that should be a lesson to some of the quarterbacks who parachute into new programs as transfers. The grass they plop down on isn't always greener. Sometimes it has needles. Alabama backup Jacob Coker, who left Florida State, comes to mind, but he still has another year to get his considerable talent on track.

Rob Bolden left Penn State for LSU and sat as a reserve and transferred to Eastern Michigan. Gunner Kiel committed to LSU, then Indiana, then enrolled at Notre Dame. He's now at Cincinnati. The list of unfulfilled quarterbacks on the move goes on and on.

Bell was hitched to the Sooners for the long haul. He wasn't there just to be the star. Sure, it was fun being the guy with the ball, the guy who quarterbacked the win at Notre Dame in 2013, the guy who rallied the Sooners past Oklahoma State for the Big 12 title with 19 seconds left.

But there is more to it than being the first name on the marquee, he said.

"I tell people I like playing quarterback, but I also tell them I really like being an Oklahoma Sooner," Bell said. "I have been here with them four years and I wanted to finish with them. That meant something to me."

In the December workouts before the Sugar Bowl, Bell went to see offensive coordinator Josh Heupel and asked for a chance to play tight end. Bell saw that Knight was going to be the quarterback, even after Bell's big hand in the big win over Oklahoma State. The "program" could have balked and said, "Dude, you are too valuable as a backup QB if Knight gets hurt; stay where you are."

Instead, Heupel said, "OK" to the position switch.

Bell admits he looked across the fence at the green grass other quarterbacks jump for when they are dumped to No. 2. He thought about leaving. Bell completed 60 percent of his passes in 2013 and had a quarterback efficiency rating of 132.2. He was more than a mule taking snaps. As a senior in high school in Wichita, Kansas, Bell passed for 2,792 yards and 32 touchdowns.

"I got a few phone calls about going to play quarterback somewhere else, and I was definitely considering it," Bell said. "There was an option to leave. But I wanted to stay here and win a championship and be with my friends."

Bell stayed and went through spring ball practicing as a tight end. He graduated in May with a degree in communications.

Mark Bell thinks it pretty slick that his son could be a quarterback for a top 10 team (2013) and also a starting tight end for a top 10 team. It's a quite a legacy, which adds to the family legacy. Mark played at Colorado State, was a fourth-round draft pick in 1979 and played six seasons in the NFL. Blake's uncle, Mike Bell, played at Colorado State, was a first-round pick of the Chiefs in 1979 and played 12 seasons as a defensive end.

Of course, not every quarterback is 6'6", 260 pounds and can just meander from the quarterbacks meeting room down to the tight ends meeting room. Bell could do it, but it has not been a smooth transition. He is not suddenly, magically Tony Gonzalez.

He has to learn how to block down, scoop block to find a linebacker and block in space. In the Sooners' 45-33 win over West Virginia, Bell could handle turning his shoulders left, then squaring up and blocking down on an offensive tackle. He had more trouble with the linebacker on the move, lunging several times and blocking just air in a whiff.

Bell has the right mentality, though. He is willing to work. And he has the right ride, too, for a lineman. It is a 2005 black Tahoe. It's tricked out like a lineman would do it. Big wheels, big tires. 140,000 miles. That's more fitting of a tight end than quarterback anyway. A quarterback would use wax for a smudge on the paint; Bell probably uses spit.

Bell has six receptions for 71 yards and one touchdown going into Saturday's game with Texas in the Cotton Bowl. He is playing nearly 90 percent of the snaps a game and has handled himself well as a blocker. He is lined up either as a tight end, or split out as part of three-wide as the middle receiver, or as an H-back.

And, oh yes, the Belldozer made a return. On a 3rd-and-2 play from the West Virginia 21-yard line and the Sooners ahead 31-27, Bell took a snap. WVU mucked it up with some penetration, but the Belldozer fell forward for two yards and the first down.

The next snap he was back out of the spotlight; he was back on the line.

For the record, Bell officially made the transition from quarterback to tight end when he lined up for the iconic Oklahoma Drill. Every college football team does this drill. It was invented by the legendary coach Bud Wilkinson. It is head to head in a confined space. You hear the whistle then try and run over the guy in front of you. Quarterbacks don't do the Oklahoma drill and had never done it.

Bell called his father the night before for some coaching. "First man off, wins," Mark Bell said. "Got to get your mean on."

Bell was lined up against a badass, Geneo Grissom, a 6'4", 252 pound linebacker. "Blake won big," his father said proudly.

It was official then. He had gone from the Belldozer, to the bulldozer, another grunt on the line. The Sooners replaced a cult figure with a different kind of hero, one simply named Bell.

 

Ray Glier covers college football for Bleacher Report. He has covered college football and various other sports for 20 years. His work has appeared in USA Today, The New York Times, CNN, The Washington Post and Al Jazeera America. He is the author of How the SEC Became Goliath (Howard/Simon & Schuster, 2013).

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Braxton Miller Injury: Updates on Ohio St. Star's Shoulder and Recovery

The Ohio State football team received some good news Wednesday, via star quarterback Braxton Miller’s Instagram account, where the player posted the accompanying message to his picture, "Finally out of the sling!"    

Miller reaggravated a shoulder injury that he suffered in last season’s Orange Bowl during preseason practice and will miss the entire season. Ohio State Athletics had originally released the news of the diagnosis in August:

Dr. James Andrews performed surgery on Miller, and it is clear from this latest update that the quarterback is recovering well. Head coach Urban Meyer shared the presumed recovery time, via Ozone Communications, in the immediate aftermath of the injury, so the removal of the sling appears to be the next step:

Miller’s injury was certainly a jarring one for an Ohio State team that had College Football Playoff aspirations, even after losing four starting offensive linemen and star running back Carlos Hyde.

Miller was a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate after throwing for 2,094 yards and 24 touchdowns and running for 1,068 yards and 12 more touchdowns in 2013.

It was clear that Ohio State missed its signal-caller in the early-season loss to Virginia Tech, but redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett has impressed in three straight dominating victories.

It will certainly be interesting to see if Barrett can lead Ohio State back into playoff consideration with so many upsets happening in college football, but Buckeyes fans are probably just relieved to see Miller on the road to recovery during a bye week for the team.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Cyrus Jones Is Alabama's Biggest Surprise so Far in 2014

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Cyrus Jones wouldn’t say one way or the other whether or not he grabbed I’tavius Mathers’ facemask on his strip-fumble returned for a touchdown.

“I mean, you could argue it both ways,” Jones said in a Tuesday media session. “I didn't even realize that I hit him in the facemask when I was going, it happened so fast, and I looked at it, you could have called it. Because I didn't really grab it, I just hit it and knocked my hand down. But I didn't get it, thankfully.”

Afterwards, Jones stood up and smiled, shaking his head saying, “I knew that question was coming.”

Whether Jones should have been flagged on the play or not is up for debate, but it’s that kind of instinct that has made him Alabama’s best cornerback this season.

The 5’10” Jones faced some adversity last season, getting thrown into the fire at times at cornerback. But he’s grown from it and now gone toe to toe with some of the best wide receivers in the country.

And his play has made him Alabama’s biggest surprise so far in 2014.

“Cyrus has been our most consistent corner, in my opinion,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “He's a lot more confident. He knows what to do. He's got a lot better discipline in terms of eye control and because of the experience he got playing last year, I think he's a lot more mature about how he approaches playing because he understands what it takes to play well.”

Jones, a junior, was credited with two pass break-ups against Ole Miss on Saturday. The official play by play only lists him in coverage for two completed passes, which went for a combined 28 yards.

One of those was a second-quarter, 16-yard completion to Laquon Treadwell, one of the SEC’s best wide receivers, that Jones was actually called for pass interference on. It was just a great play by Treadwell.

Later in the fourth quarter, Jones broke up a pass intended for Treadwell to get even.

Jones’ emergence at cornerback has been a welcome consistency, along with safety Landon Collins, in a secondary that has otherwise mixed and matched for various reasons all year. Jones and Collins are the only defensive backs who have started all five games so far for Alabama.

Saturday, when he held his own against Treadwell, may have been Jones’ best game of the season.

I think I definitely proved something, not really to myself, but a lot of people. Just because he's one of the better receivers we have in our conference. I know that the DBs on our team, we get kind of ridiculed a lot, so it was good to come out and play well against one of the best receivers in our conference and make plays. I was glad that I played well against him, but I'm definitely not satisfied because I know I can get better and we all can get better.

Jones initially played wide receiver when he came to Alabama. His freshman year (2012), he played receiver in garbage time and returned a few kicks and punts. Then he made the switch to cornerback as a sophomore.

His first major action was against Texas A&M, where he grabbed an interception in the end zone and had his ups and downs facing Mike Evans and Johnny Manziel. Jones ended up starting five games that year as Alabama struggled to find a No. 2 cornerback and Jones couldn’t really catch on either.

But this season, Jones is easily Alabama’s best cornerback. He plays in front of two fan favorites, Eddie Jackson and Tony Brown. When Brown came into his own and Jackson got healthy, most fans expected Jones to get bumped out of the starting rotation, but he got the start against Ole Miss and excelled.

He’s taken what he learned in his trial by fire and been better off for it in the end.

“How you prepare for a game, how you study the receivers, how you understand our game plan, understand what patterns and blocking schemes they're going to run in certain formations—all those things that we try to teach guys, they don't first of all have maybe sometimes the kind of appreciation or see the importance in it,” Saban said.

“But after they play some, they actually see where this could be very beneficial and I think it's just called competitive maturity. Cyrus has really played well, has been very consistent, he's a really good athlete, he's got good ball skills, can tackle well, he's tough and he's done a pretty good job of covering for the most part.”

Jones should start there the rest of the season, barring an injury. It’s been an unexpected emergence in a secondary that desperately needed one.

And the most pleasant surprise of 2014.

 

Marc Torrence is the Alabama lead writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Picks Week 7: B/R's Expert Predictions for Top 5 Games

College football fans can only hope Week 7 is anything close to the madness from a week ago. 

Saturday kicks off with Georgia traveling to Missouri, hoping to get revenge for last year’s loss and gain a solid lead in the SEC East race.

Immediately following that game (on the same network, CBS) is the biggest showdown of the day, with No. 3 Mississippi State hosting No. 2 Auburn. Can the Bulldogs continue their surprising surge to the top, or will the defending SEC champs spoil their run?

Out West, Oregon and UCLA are each coming off crushing losses, aiming to get back on the right track in the Pac 12.

In the Big 12, the top game this weekend is Baylor hosting TCU, not the Red River Rivalry. Crazy, right?
Will TCU continue on its hot streak, or will Baylor prove it truly is the team to beat?

And the final game our experts will pick is another SEC West matchup between Ole Miss and Texas A&M. The Rebels are riding high after a big win last week over Alabama. Will the Aggies bring them back down to earth? 

Ben Kercheval still holds the top spot among our experts, but this week he shares the lead with Adam Kramer.

Who will come out on top after Week 7?

Let us know your picks in the comments below!

 

Reminder that our experts are picking the top five Saturday games against the spread.

Odds via opening lines at Odds Shark

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Duck Dynasty: Oregon Football's Top 5 Quarterbacks of All Time

When you think of Oregon football, images of trailblazing boldness flash through one's mind. They're easily known as the front-runners in the future of college sports. Flashy, even. These thoughts stem from two basic entities: Nike, and offense.

Having a special relationship with sports apparel shah and alum Phil Knight has had an immense impact on the program in the past 20 years, as detailed by former Daily Emerald editor-in-chief Sam Stites. What has also helped is the athleticism and continued development of their skill-position players, with the quarterback position being the prime example.

Though not considered a traditional "Quarterback U" by college football pundits, the University of Oregon has had more than its share of elite players behind center. What stands out in this list of all-time top QBs is the chronological preference of the 200th decade (such as the ranking placement of Duck greats Joey Harrington and Dennis Dixon). Signal-callers from earlier generations weren't automatically penalized just for playing for Oregon farther from the present day, however. Here is a detailed look at the general criterion taken into consideration for selection:

  • Player is top five in QB career passing yards and/or top 10 in QB career rushing yards for UO
  • Quarterback's play remembered as trendsetting for future program prominence or was part of transcendent Oregon team
  • Played vital role in a signature win for Ducks

Notice the emphasis on rushing yards. This is key, because as the quarterback position has evolved in general on every level, the dual-threat ability of an athlete has changed the way we look at QBs—including those at Oregon. You can thank Chip Kelly and the innovative spread option offense he crafted while in Eugene for helping propel the development of the modern college QB.

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Duck Dynasty: Oregon Football's Top 5 Quarterbacks of All Time

When you think of Oregon football, images of trailblazing boldness flash through one's mind. They're easily known as the front-runners in the future of college sports. Flashy, even...

Begin Slideshow

Alabama Fan Disowns Team After Ole Miss Loss, Joins Mississippi State Bandwagon

Alabama football fans are still trying to deal with last week's loss to the Ole Miss Rebels, and some are dealing with it worse than others.

Some fans are so upset that they're apparently changing their allegiances away from a Crimson Tide team that's won three national championships under Nick Saban.

In the video above, one woman disowns Alabama, then proceeds to jump on the Mississippi State Bulldogs bandwagon. The Bulldogs are 5-0 and ranked No. 3 in the AP poll, but this woman's new allegiances will be tested when her new team plays Alabama on November 15.

[YouTube, h/t College Spun]

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

BYU Football: Can Cougs Survive Rest of 2014 Season Without QB Taysom Hill?

For BYU fans, Friday night was an evening that few will quickly forget.

Taysom Hill started the home game against Utah State by shredding the Aggies, completing eight of 11 passes for 99 yards. He hurdled over two defenders for the game's first touchdown and seemed to be on his way to a great game.

But when he got up after a seemingly normal tackle, everyone in the stadium knew something was wrong. He waved over a teammate and coach and was practically carried to the trainer's table. Within minutes, he had a blow-up cast on his leg and was sent on a cart out of the stadium.

BYU coach Bronco Mendenhall confirmed on Monday that Hill underwent surgery over the weekend, but his injury was worse than expected—he shredded every major ligament. He will not be able to play for the remainder of the season.

So, what is next for the Cougars? Senior quarterback Christian Stewart played the second half against USU after Hill was injured and will start against UCF on Thursday. He is primarily a pocket passer—he can run when needed, though—and has a strong arm. He definitely tended to overthrow his receivers in the Utah State game, but that may just be a lack of in-game experience. 

Stewart had this to say, according to the Deseret News' Jeff Call

It’s a terrible thing that Taysom went down. No one wanted to see that. But if there’s a guy ready to step up to the challenge, it’s me. That’s why I came here, that’s what I’m about. I’m a leader. I’m a confident guy in my ability and I know my teammates have that same confidence in me and I could feel it. ... Going forward, we’re going to do some special things this season.

Stewart has no shortage of confidence in himself and his team, which is a good thing coming from a quarterback. But is the upcoming schedule favorable enough for him to actually carry BYU to a double-digit season?

Central Florida is next up for the Cougs, who travel to Orlando for the game on ESPN. The Knights defense has allowed less than 230 yards per game on average and ranks in the top 20 in sacks.

UCF safety Clayton Geathers may be the best defensive back in the American Athletic Conference and is one of the most underrated in the nation. Statistically, Geathers and the Knight secondary is the best BYU faces for the rest of the season.

After the trip to Florida, BYU plays Mountain West teams Nevada and Boise State. The Broncos lead the nation in passes intercepted and have a feisty pass rush. Nevada's defense isn't as strong on paper, but they did hold the FBS leader in passing touchdowns, Wazzu's Conner Halliday, to only one score.

BYU's next three games aren't too dangerous—the Cougs travel to Middle Tennessee State and then host UNLV and Savannah State. MTSU could be the toughest of the three, but the latter duo should be fairly easy games for Stewart and the Cougar offense.

The season finale at Cal is arguably the biggest game remaining on the schedule. The Golden Bears would be 5-0 if it weren't for a miraculous game-ending touchdown by Arizona and are currently first in the PAC-12 South.

Despite its outstanding offense, Cal's passing defense isn't extraordinary. It ranks dead last in the FBS in passing yards allowed and has given up at least 400 passing yards to every team except Northwestern and Sacramento State. Heck, they gave up 734 yards to Halliday and Washington State, which is—by far—his best total of the season.

BYU's schedule definitely looks tougher now that Taysom Hill is out, but the Cougs could still have a strong finish to the year. UCF, Boise State and Nevada will pose the biggest problems for Stewart and the offense, but if they can overcome that, it will be up to the defense to secure games.

Cal, MTSU and Boise have high-powered offenses that BYU will need to stop, but when it comes down to it, the Cougars are still talented enough to win the majority of their remaining games. Should they reach six wins (which is very likely), they will play an AAC team in the Miami Beach Bowl. It will be tough, but the Cougs could reach double-digit wins.

Besides, if anyone is up for the challenge, it's Christian Stewart.

“A game is a night and day difference than a practice,” said Stewart, per Call. “I’m not making any excuses. … But I’m definitely encouraged and I feel confident that going into Thursday against Central Florida we’re going to put up big numbers, we’re going to score touchdowns, and we’re going to win games.”

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Big Ten Football Predictions for 2nd Half of 2014 Season

The Big Ten Conference hasn't gotten much love this season, and understandably so. With a shoddy record outside of the league, particularly against power opponents, the B1G has moved to the back of the line among the five major college football conferences.

But now that conference play is in full swing throughout the country, all focus turns inward, and the Big Ten's best will try to separate themselves from the pack and remain in the running for a major bowl bid or a spot in the first-ever College Football Playoff.

With as wild as this season has already been, though, it's hard to predict just what will happen over the final eight weeks and into the postseason. We'll try anyway.

Take a look at our predictions for Big Ten happenings for the remainder of 2014 and then let us know your guesses in the comments.

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Clemson Football: 5 Startling Statistics Through 6 Weeks

Through five games this season, things have been up and down for the Clemson Tigers, but overall it hasn’t been far off from what we expected. Some statistics have surprised us, though. In the preseason—especially with new leaders on offense—it was tough to predict how well those new faces would be able to contribute.

I have put together a list of five statistics that have been shocking through the early part of the season. I ranked each statistic by the level in which it should come as a surprise.

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Bowl Projections 2014: Picks for College Football Playoff Ahead of Week 7

College football fans have had a few days to catch their breath after a ridiculous Week 6 of the season, but enthusiasts are already preparing for another solid slate on Saturday for Week 7.

Five matchups include Top 25 teams, with two featuring teams ranked 10th or better. That guarantees even more shakeups in the rankings and even more controversy about who the top four are in the country.

The first ever College Football Playoff is set to take place in January, so the pressure to be at the top of the landscape is of the utmost importance. With several weeks remaining, even teams like Alabama, Oregon and Oklahoma remain in the hunt.

Prior to the start of Week 7, here's a look at the latest projections for the College Football Playoff.

 

Breakdown

Simply put, Baylor and Florida State have schedules that shape up well for a run to the semifinals.

If Baylor can pass tests against TCU and Oklahoma, it will be playing for a chance at a title. As for the Seminoles, even a potential loss to Notre Dame might not keep them out of the playoff. Despite a slow start for the 'Noles, the program is once again at the top of the Amway Poll, per USA Today:

A loss for Alabama on the road against Ole Miss was a significant one, but certainly not a nail in the coffin.

The Crimson Tide were limited offensively by the Rebels' stout defense in a 23-17 loss that saw Blake Sims limited to 228 yards passing, no touchdowns and one interception. Sims did contribute a rushing score, but that was the only offensive touchdown for Alabama.

It was an awful performance, but one the team can still recover from with their upcoming schedule. So maybe Phyllis was right during her rant about Alabama not being dead, per Bleacher Report:

Coming up for the Tide is a daunting schedule, but the toughest games will be played in Tuscaloosa.

Road games against Arkansas, Tennessee and LSU all look winnable, so it will come down to their performance at home. Offenses like Texas A&M, Mississippi State and Auburn will not only test the Tide, but also should propel them back into the playoff picture if they win every game.

Rather than looking ahead, however, Saban is of course focused now on Arkansas, via Barrett Sallee of Bleacher Report:

As for Notre Dame, surviving Stanford proves it is a national title contender. But with their remaining schedule, can a one-loss Irish team still make the playoff if they fall to Florida State?

Unlike Alabama, every tough test for Notre Dame will come on the road. Games against Florida State, Arizona State and USC will all be played away from South Bend and could result in the Irish dropping out of the playoff picture with a loss.

That schedule is nothing compared to what Ole Miss and Mississippi State have to face in the SEC West. If either of those teams falters, expect Notre Dame to rise into playoff talks and potentially earn a berth.

At this point, Notre Dame has proven it has a legitimate chance to make the Championship Game for the second time under Brian Kelly. But if they suffer more than one hiccup against a Pac-12 team or even Louisville, the Irish will be playing in a lower bowl yet again after the season.

 

Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

UCLA Football: Bruins' Season on the Line vs. Oregon

Saturday’s Pac-12 football clash between preseason conference favorites, No. 18 UCLA and No. 12 Oregon, has taken on a single-game elimination feel.

Both the Bruins and Ducks come into the highly anticipated cross-divisional affair with the fresh wounds of home losses. Oregon dropped a 31-24 decision to Arizona, and UCLA fell to Utah, 30-28.

UCLA and Oregon both came into the 2014 campaign with realistic designs on the College Football Playoff. And the dream is still very much alive for both, despite losing in Week 6.

They certainly weren’t alone in being bit by an insect. College football was swarmed by a veritable infestation that saw Oklahoma, Alabama, Texas A&M and playoff long shot Brigham Young all get stung.

Bruins head coach Jim Mora may have described the landscape in the wake of an upset-mad weekend best: “There are not many teams out there that don't have a wound,” he said.

Equally as astute was Mora’s followup.

“It’s how you respond,” he said.

To keep its championship hopes intact, UCLA must respond against an opponent that hasn’t lost back-to-back games in the same season since 2007. That year was also the last in which the Ducks failed to win at least 10 games.

If there’s a bar by which others in the Pac-12 are measured, it’s Oregon. Having to measure up against the conference’s measuring stick coming off a loss excites UCLA defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich.

“It’s a perfect game for where we’re at right now, because we’re disappointed with what occurred [against Utah],” Ulbrich said after Wednesday’s practice at Spaulding Field.

The disappointment comes from giving up 242 rushing yards to the Utes. Sixty came on their game-winning drive moments after UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley’s touchdown pass to wide receiver Eldridge Massington gave the Bruins their only lead of the night.

“It was a great learning moment for our guys,” Ulbrich said. “To me, being at your best when your best is required is all about understanding the moment.”

The moment’s presenting itself Saturday, as Oregon comes in with the nation’s ninth-most prolific scoring offense—par for the course in a program that has ranked in the top 10 for points scored each of the previous six seasons.

With Lou Spanos as its coordinator, the UCLA defense saw Oregon rack up 42 points in last year’s Ducks win in Autzen Stadium.

But coming off the loss, that’s exactly the kind of challenge Ulbrich said the Bruins want to see.  

“You want a worthy opponent,” he said. “And that’s what [Oregon is] across the board.”

Conference-wide recognition of Oregon as that worthy opponent—if not the preeminent Pac-12 opponent—means the Ducks are getting teams' best shots week after week.

That’s not necessarily anything different from the last few years, but what has changed, according to Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich, is how much better the Pac-12 is as a whole.

“There’s a ton of parity in this conference,” he said on Tuesday’s conference call. “You have to be ready to rock every single snap.”

Such is the “reality” of playing in the Pac-12, as Helfrich described it. And that reality is why a win Saturday is so critical to both teams' playoff outlook.

Another topsy-turvy day like Week 6—or just season-long attrition catching up to championship contenders—could open a backdoor into the College Football Playoff for a two-loss team.

But that’s relying on variables out of each team’s hands.

“I know it’s a lot easier if you [win out],” Helfrich said. “The only way that happens is if you handle your business.”

 

The Maligned Line

If the UCLA offensive line took a step forward in its 62-27 rout of Arizona State on Sept. 25, the unit took two big strides back in the Utah loss.

Utes defenders got to Hundley for 10 sacks on Saturday night. That’s a number haunting offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone’s dreams.

He said Wednesday after practice that preparing him for Oregon could be causing him to lose sleep. But if it’s not the Ducks keeping Mazzone awake?

“I can’t sleep at night because of the 10 sacks,” he said.

Mazzone said Utah exploited “poor technique” and beat the Bruins blockers in one-on-one situations.

Offensive line coach Adrian Klemm attributed the lack of execution to a lack of confidence among the unit’s younger players—of which there are plenty. UCLA started three true freshmen a season ago, all of whom are now true sophomores.

A third second-year player, redshirt freshman Kenny Lacy, is in the current rotation.

Klemm said the line has practiced well this week but did so in preparation for Utah as well. The difference against the Ducks has to be playing as the Bruins have practiced.

 “How you carry over [practice] to game, it’s no different,” Klemm said. “You can’t start second-guessing yourself…That comes with maturity.”

UCLA needs to demonstrate that maturity against an Oregon defense that got to Hundley for three sacks a season ago.

Ducks linebacker Tony Washington was a handful for tackle Caleb Benenoch rushing off the edge in last year’s contest. Washington beat Benenoch for a sack and a crucial strip of Hundley.

 

Stopping Marcus Mariota

When asked what in Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota’s game worries Ulbrich, the UCLA defensive coordinator said: “What doesn’t worry [me] about Mariota?”

Ulbrich cited Mariota’s ever-improving passing: The redshirt junior is completing 71.1 percent of his attempts and has 15 touchdowns with no interceptions on the season.

Of course, containing Mariota means having to be ready for as capable a runner as a passer.

Mariota has 215 rushing yards on the season and averages more than five yards per carry.

However, last week against Arizona, Ducks offensive coordinator Scott Frost opted to use Mariota as a ball-carrier sparingly. The result was just one yard gained on the ground.

I asked Ulbrich how much that impacted his defense’s prep for Mariota as a true dual-threat playmaker.

“Not much,” he said.

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

UCLA Football: Bruins' Season on the Line vs. Oregon

Saturday’s Pac -12 football clash between preseason conference favorites, No. 18 UCLA and No. 12 Oregon, has taken on a single-game elimination feel...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

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