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Central Florida Knights vs. Missouri Tigers Betting Odds: Analysis, Prediction

The Missouri Tigers avoided an upset last week with a solid victory and surprisingly easy cover at Toledo.

Mizzou, now 13-2 straight up and 11-4 against the spread in its last 15 nonconference games, next heads home for an interesting matchup with the Central Florida Knights on Saturday afternoon in Columbia.

 

Point Spread

The Tigers opened as nine-point favorites, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark. The total was 54.5 midweek. (Line updates and matchup report)

 

Why the Central Florida Knights Can Cover the Spread

The Knights opened this season with a very tough 26-24 loss to Penn State in Dublin, Ireland two weeks ago. UCF fought from behind all day, finally taking a one-point lead with just over a minute to go. But the Knights fell victim to a Lions field goal at the buzzer.

Central Florida got out-gained in that game 511-246 but allowed just 57 yards on the ground and never seemed out of it. Sophomore quarterback Justin Holman, in relief of starter Pete DiNovo, sparked the Knights, throwing for 204 yards and one score, running for two more touchdowns and making a couple of big plays during the scoring drive that temporarily gave UCF that late lead.

If Holman can play like that all season, the Knights, who have nine starters back on defense, will again be tough.

 

Why the Missouri Tigers Can Cover the Spread

The Tigers only have eight starters back from last season, but they're off to a 2-0 start, including an impressive win over what should be a pretty good Toledo team.

Missouri jumped out to a 28-7 halftime lead last week, upped that to 35-7 early in the third quarter, then cruised from there, easily covering the spread as four-point road favorites.

The Tigers ran for 177 yards, held the ball for over 32 minutes and got five touchdown passes from sophomore QB Maty Mauk, who now owns a 19/4 career TD/INT ratio.

With its recent re-emergence, Mizzou is regularly chalked now, often by big numbers. But the Tigers have been a good bet with short spreads, covering four of their last five times out as single-digit chalk.

 

Smart Pick

Missouri is coming off a good win on the road but might be susceptible to a letdown in this spot. Meanwhile, Central Florida had last week off.

Also, the Knights are 3-1 SU and 4-0 ATS the last four times they've been lined as underdogs, including that shocker over vaunted Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl last January. So the smart pick here is with Coach O'Leary's boys plus the points.

 

Trends

  • Central Florida is 9-1 SU in its last 10 games
  • Missouri is 13-3 ATS in its last 16 games

 

Note: All point spread and lines data courtesy of Odds Shark, all quotes gathered first-hand unless otherwise noted—check out Twitter for injury updates and line move updates and get the free odds tracker app.

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Michigan Football: Is It Time for Brady Hoke to Play Shane Morris?

In the wake of another crushing road defeat, Brady Hoke needs to prepare Shane Morris to replace starting quarterback Devin Gardner. After Gardner’s performance versus Notre Dame, it’s time for Hoke and Doug Nussmeier to evaluate which quarterback is most likely to help Michigan compete for the Big Ten title this season.

At first glance, the choice seems obvious. Gardner has racked up impressive statistics since replacing Denard Robinson as starting quarterback, while Morris has only started a single game.

But looking beyond the stats, Gardner’s meltdown in South Bend was typical of his past performance in big games.

Gardner’s strengths include toughness, athleticism and a flair for the big play. His weaknesses include overconfidence in his arm strength, an inability to recognize defenders in pass coverage and a lack of ball security when running the football.

He was expected to improve under Nussmeier’s tutelage combined with a streamlining of the offense, but when pressured by Notre Dame’s defense, he reverted to his past form.

Nussmeier defended Gardner’s performance during the team’s weekly press conference.

"Devin [Gardner] did some things neither of us really wanted, and that happens,” said Nussmeier. ”It's all about the process of learning, going through reads and progressions—what did you see, where do your eyes and feet need to be.”

He also noted that Gardner was playing in his third offensive system in his career.

But that’s not an excuse for Gardner’s shortcomings—it’s more of an acknowledgement that after a decent playing career he’s reached the peak of his development.

Gardner’s development plateau was also noted by NFL draft analyst Bucky Brooks, via NFL.com:

The Wolverines' senior quarterback teases NFL scouts with his size, athleticism and talent, but it's hard to endorse his pro prospects when he continues to be a turnover machine from the pocket. Gardner committed four turnovers against Notre Dame and couldn't find a way to guide the Wolverines to a score. Sure, Gardner didn't get a lot of help from his teammates, but NFL evaluators expect elite quarterback prospects to find a way to get things done when others are struggling.

Hoke said during his weekly press conference that he never considered playing Shane Morris, even when the game appeared to be out of reach.

Loyalty to Gardner is admirable; there’s a lot to like about him. But if insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, Brady Hoke is certifiable for Devin Gardner.

With two huge road games versus Michigan State and Ohio State looming on the schedule and pressure building to deliver a signature victory, he needs to make a decision whether to ride with Gardner—flaws and all—or get Morris ready.

Gardner is a known quantity, he’ll play tough and roll up points on lesser opponents. But folks in Ann Arbor are getting tired of wins over cupcakes.

Morris has already gained significant practice reps filling in for Gardner at the end of last season, and he’s had the same amount of time to learn Doug Nussmeier’s new offense.

He also impressed coaches and teammates with his progress during spring camp. By all accounts he's pressed Gardner at every turn, and as a true pro-style quarterback, Morris may be a better fit for Nussmeier's system. There's also the reality that time spent developing Morris can benefit Michigan for the future (Morris is a sophomore), while this is Gardner's final season.

During fall practice Hoke has repeatedly said that, “If you’re good enough, you’re old enough.”

It’s time to find out how good Shane Morris can be.

 

All season statistics from MGoBlue.com, the official University of Michigan athletic department web site.

Phil Callihan is a featured writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations obtained firsthand.

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Nebraska Must Fix Mental Mistakes Before Big Ten Conference Play

The clock is ticking for Nebraska. With Big Ten conference play only a couple of weeks away, the Huskers are running out of time to fix crucial errors.

It's not that Nebraska is a poor team. In fact, when all the pieces come together, it's a team that proves it could win the Big Ten West (especially with how the rest of the division looks right now). However, the Huskers are going to have to get out of their own way to make that happen.

For example, early in the second quarter against McNeese State, quarterback Tommy Armstrong was intercepted by defensive back Aaron Sam. That interception was then returned 98 yards to become the second-longest interception return against Nebraska in school history.

Armstrong could have easily had a couple of other passes picked off, too. It's not like Armstrong had a bad day, either. Instead, the quarterback passed for 242 yards and two touchdowns, as well as rushed for 131 yards for one touchdown.

In those moments, age and experience definitely showed. He was also just making mental mistakes, which Armstrong has taken responsibility for. That interception by Sam, for instance? “Threw the ball right in his hands,” Armstrong said, per Jon Nyatawa of the Omaha World-Herald. “I’ve just got to make smarter decisions.”

It wasn't just Armstrong making those mistakes, though.

In the third quarter, for instance, Jake Cotton had a personal foul called against him for tripping. The worst part of that mistake? It negated a touchdown. The Huskers then settled for a field goal.

Even the linebackers had issues, which former Husker and NFL linebacker Jay Foreman pointed out.

For Nebraska to become a championship-caliber team, the mental mistakes need to be addressed and figured out. They have plagued the Huskers over the last few seasons, often making a difference in whether or not the team secures a victory.

That doesn't mean Nebraska isn't making strides in the right direction. As Hail Varsity pointed out, before the McNeese State matchup, Nebraska was turnover-free in a game for the first time since the 2012 season-opener against Southern Miss. Unfortunately, that statistic didn't last long.

Against McNeese State, Nebraska had a difficult time staying consistent. While the Huskers continued to deal with the temporary loss of Randy Gregory, it still wasn't enough reason to be such a close game. Armstrong was also quick to point out that the team isn't in a place to make those mistakes and expect to still win.

"Mistakes killed us," Armstrong said. "We went three-and-out a few times when we shouldn't have. We just didn't take care of the football. It's not good enough. We're not good enough to do that."

As for senior I-back Ameer Abdullah, he takes the mistakes personally. In the press conference following the McNeese State game, he wasn't quiet about what he felt the Huskers did wrong:

Football is a game that I love, that I have a lot of respect for, but the respect as a whole from the team needs to go up. Respect of the opponent, respect of our game plan, taking it seriously, and just executing. That all goes into respecting the game. I feel like our level of respect for the game this week was not good enough. It definitely showed. That's on me as a captain.

Going forward, Nebraska needs to learn from the mistakes they made against the Cowboys. Eliminating turnovers and penalties will make a significant difference. Respecting the game, as Abdullah put it, will help as well.

Nebraska doesn't have much time to get these issues figured out. Both Fresno State and Miami offer good opportunities to get back on track. Otherwise, the team is going to basically lose to itself against teams that can be defeated.

If the Huskers can't fix mental mistakes quickly, Big Ten play is going to be rougher than expected.

 

All quotes were obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted.

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Auburn Football: How Freshman RB Roc Thomas Can Exceed Expectations in 2014

AUBURN, Ala. — Months before he stepped onto campus for the first time, Roc Thomas had Auburn coaches and fans buzzing about his potential to play from day one in the SEC.

But with seniors Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant filling in the gap left by Tre Mason's departure to the NFL, Thomas watched his first conference game from the sidelines.

High expectations from many Auburn fans began to shift as Artis-Payne and Grant led the way against the Arkansas Razorbacks.

The former 5-star running back and 2013 Mr. Football winner for the state of Alabama didn't hang his head, though.

"I was just being patient, you know, waiting for my name to be called," Thomas said. "I was just sitting back, watching other players, and seeing what coach wanted to be done."

When his name was called, Thomas took full advantage.

After San Jose State fumbled a punt early in the fourth quarter and the Tigers took over on the Spartans' 3-yard line, Thomas took his first collegiate play in for six.

One carry, one touchdown.

"It was great," Thomas said. "We executed as a team, and we got the ball in the end zone."

Thomas finished with nine carries and 51 yards in the fourth quarter. His longest of the game was a 13-yarder that featured a nifty spin move past a San Jose State defender.

One of his fellow running backs said he had been waiting to see what the high-profile true freshman was going to do in his first collegiate action, and Thomas did not let him down.

"I've been looking forward to that coming up this week," Artis-Payne told AL.com's Joel A. Erickson. "I knew they'd get a chance to play...Roc and Peyton [Barber] didn't disappoint."

With two experienced seniors excelling in clearly defined roles ahead of him on the depth chart, carries started to look few and far between for Thomas—even after all the preseason hype turned to talk of a possible redshirt.

Throughout the lowered expectations placed on him after Week 1, Thomas showed against San Jose State that he has the talent to play an important role this season.

While redshirt freshman Barber strictly plays the between-the-tackles role Artis-Payne has already taken control of with back-to-back 100-yard games, Thomas said he could find his opportunities on the outside.

"I'm not trying to rush into anything," Thomas said. "I'm just trying to play my role and get involved in this offense. I think I'm pretty much a role player. I play the same role as Corey Grant, like a sweep guy."

Thomas has the speed and shiftiness to play that spot behind Grant, who is averaging 8.8 yards per touch to start the season.

When Gus Malzahn was asked about Thomas' abilities, the Ledger-Enquirer's Ryan Black reported that the Auburn head coach went with a video game analogy:

But Thomas also got a taste of the every-down role Artis-Payne has and Mason once had in the offense. He followed up his career-opening touchdown run with eight straight carries.

If you take away the fumble on his final carry, Thomas had a fourth quarter that showed he could do it all out of the Auburn backfield.

"He's kind of the in-between [back], but he definitely has good speed and great quickness," offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said Tuesday night. "He can do a lot of the things Corey can do. I think over time, he'll get in the weight room and he'll get bigger. He's still an every-down back right now, but at the same time, he's true freshman in the SEC."

Malzahn and Lashlee have said the Tigers want three or four running backs in the rotation this season, and Thomas has the versatility to be a solid No. 3 this season.

If the power or speed back go down for a few plays or a few weeks, Thomas can fill either spot and get more carries in one of the nation's best rushing offenses.

He doesn't have the in-game experience to be a key player just yet, but he has the motor, moves and motivation from his teammates.

"It’s great to have a great team behind me and tell me to just be ready for my time," Thomas said. "And I give 100 percent effort every play and every down. I try to make something happen every time I touch the ball."

 

All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports. All stats courtesy of CFBStats.com.

Justin Ferguson is Bleacher Report's lead Auburn writer. Follow him on Twitter @JFergusonAU.

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Notre Dame Football: Everything Irish Fans Need to Know About Purdue

SOUTH BEND, Ind. —Saturday's matchup with Purdue won't match the hype of last weekend's showdown with Michigan, but don't tell that to Notre Dame football head coach Brian Kelly.

As Kelly has said throughout the early weeks of the season, they all count the same.

Notre Dame will square off with Purdue in the sixth edition of the Shamrock Series, the off-site home game for the Irish, at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. Notre Dame will showcase its special Under Armour uniforms against the Boilermakers, adding buzz to an otherwise less-hyped atmosphere.

New kicks! Our guys are breaking in their new @underarmour cleats for this weekend's Shamrock Series in Indianapolis. pic.twitter.com/hd2I0EIXmE

Notre Dame Football (@NDFootball) September 9, 2014

Your thoughts??? #GoIrish#ShamrockSeriespic.twitter.com/YgYy2h1r3K

— Ryan Grooms (@NDFBEquipment) September 10, 2014

The Boilermakers enter this week’s contest at 1-1 following their 38-17 loss to Central Michigan on Saturday at home.

So what do Irish fans need to know about this Purdue squad heading toward the weekend?

 

Close Games

For whatever reason, the Boilermakers have played the Irish tough in each of the past two seasons.

Purdue went 6-7 in 2012 but found a way to take Notre Dame down to the wire in South Bend, Indiana, as Irish kicker Kyle Brindza needed to drill a 27-yard field goal with seven seconds remaining in regulation to lift Notre Dame to a 20-17 win. And despite a 1-11 mark in 2013, a season in which Purdue’s only victory came over Indiana State (FCS), the Boilermakers nearly clipped the Irish last season, carrying a lead into the fourth quarter before losing by seven.

So it should come as no surprise that Kelly is preaching focus and preparation despite the Irish being 29.5-point favorites, per Odds Shark, against Purdue.

“Coming off a very good victory against Michigan, you're always on guard the next week,” Kelly said Tuesday. “We began Monday talking about the games we've had against Purdue over the last couple years that have been really tough ones.”

Kelly went on to note the resolve and enthusiasm with which he expects Purdue to play in a nationally televised game at an NFL venue. Typically, that would appear to be standard coachspeak, aimed at ensuring Notre Dame doesn’t look past a lesser opponent.

In some ways, it sure is. Purdue is a lowly opponent.

#Purdue missed 17 tackles on Saturday and doesn't know who its starting QB is. That wraps us this week's #NotreDame opponent preview.

— Tyler James (@TJamesNDI) September 8, 2014

But at the same time, Notre Dame has struggled in each of the past two meetings. Irish fans shouldn’t simply write this game off.

 

Quarterback Indecision

Boilermakers head coach Darrell Hazell has yet to announce who will start at quarterback Saturday, according to Mike Carmin of the Lafayette Journal & Courier. Sophomore Danny Etling started each of the first two games, but sophomore Austin Appleby saw time in the second half against Central Michigan.

#Purdue QB update: Etling and Appleby will share 1st team snaps in practice.

— mike carmin (@carminjc) September 9, 2014

Hazell isn't considering playing 2 QB's in the same.

— mike carmin (@carminjc) September 9, 2014

Hazell said Etling is "processing too many things. Plant your left foot and let it fly"

— mike carmin (@carminjc) September 9, 2014

Kelly was asked Tuesday how Notre Dame’s preparation changes in planning for two possible quarterbacks.

“We've kind of vetted out both quarterbacks and got a chance to see a little bit of them later in the game against Central Michigan,” Kelly said. “They're both physical kids that can do some things. Neither one of them is a threat to run like [Rice quarterback Driphus Jackson], but both of them are capable of running.”

In some ways, preparing for two similar quarterbacks makes things easier on the Irish defense. Kelly has spoken this year about the simplicity of only preparing one game plan since Everett Golson and Malik Zaire have similar styles of play. The same logic can be applied here. Either way, the Irish will be facing a bigger-bodied signal-caller with an ability to run.

There are certainly differences between Etling and Appleby, but Notre Dame shouldn’t fret much over the unannounced quarterback situation in West Lafayette, Indiana.

 

Penalty Prone

For as disciplined as Notre Dame has been through the first two games of the season—the Irish have committed just five penalties, tied for the third fewest, per NCAA.com—Purdue has been nearly as undisciplined.

The Boilermakers have committed seven penalties in each of their first two games. In his press conference Tuesday, Hazell mentioned how some of Purdue’s seven penalties against Central Michigan proved particularly costly. A second-quarter targeting penalty led to a touchdown. A third-quarter personal foul spurred another touchdown drive for the Chippewas. Purdue also had 12 men on the field at one point, pulling back a potentially crucial conversion before halftime.

Purdue had converted a 4th and 2, but was wiped out for having 12 men on the field. It then misses a 47-yard FG. WAY to many mistakes.

— Pete DiPrimio (@pdiprimio) September 6, 2014

“Those are the things that defeat yourself,” Hazell said. “We always talk about, there’s one team on the schedule you never want to beat, and that’s yourself.”

So far, the Boilermakers haven’t helped themselves out. If that continues, the Irish should coast. It’ll be hard enough for Purdue to top the No. 11 team in the country.

 

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Mike Monaco is a lead Notre Dame writer for Bleacher Report. Follow @MikeMonaco_ on Twitter.

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College Football Rankings 2014: Official Week 3 Polls and Playoff Projections

Another exhilarating weekend of college football gave way to several more moves in the rankings. Week 1 shook up the the standings, but Week 2 saw one contender suffer a brutal loss that dropped it out of the Top 10.

Oregon dealt a crushing blow to Michigan State with a massive second-half comeback to earn a 19-point victory. While that was good enough to put the Ducks at No. 2 in the Associated Press poll, Alabama and Oklahoma are ahead of them in the Amway poll.

One team that climbed in both polls was an ACC team in the Virginia Tech Hokies, who trounced The Ohio State in the prime-time matchup. As a result, the two teams are headed in different directions in both rankings.

Before this week's slate of games gets underway, here's a look at the latest polls and playoff projections.

 

Playoff Projections Breakdown

If the playoff projections look a little dissimilar to the overall rankings, that's because Georgia started too low in both polls.

The Bulldogs had the week off but made a big enough statement in Week 1 that they actually moved up to No. 6 in the rankings. Sure, losses by two Big Ten schools hurt, but the supremacy of the SEC is clearly continuing thus far through Alabama and Georgia.

Much of their success and hype is due to Todd Gurley, who is currently one of the top contenders for the Heisman Trophy. As for his dominance on the field, Hall of Famer Fran Tarkenton compared him to one of the best running backs in NFL history, per Chip Towers of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

"I've never seen a running back dominate like he did," Tarkenton said. "I played against a guy named Jim Brown, the greatest running back that ever lived. There is no doubt about it. Todd Gurley can be as good as Jim Brown."

While a Heisman might be in his future, that's clearly not the limit for Gurley. But he's not the only weapon in the SEC that has people buzzing.

'Bama might have been overtaken by Oregon in the AP poll, but Amari Cooper is primed for a huge season with the Crimson Tide. He's already setting records through just two games, as ESPN College Football notes:

Meanwhile, the Ducks maintained their position in the College Football Playoff with a massive win over the Spartans. With Michigan State viewed as having an outside shot at making the playoff, it's clear that Oregon is for real.

Just like the Dawgs and Tide, the Ducks have a dynamic player in Marcus Mariota who is leading the way. But as Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports points out, the Ducks' success can also be contributed to second-year coach Mark Helfrich:

Last but not least, the Seminoles are still the clear front-runners as they remain the No. 1 team in both polls. Despite the rough opener against Oklahoma State, FSU has a week off after obliterating Citadel.

Thanks to an ACC schedule that has few true tests like Clemson, Notre Dame and Louisville, the 'Noles have a clear-cut path back to the national championship. But with the Irish and Cardinals looking strong early on, that road might not be as simple as once perceived.

Opinions will likely change as the season continues with some teams rising and falling in the rankings. After just two weeks of football, there's no way of telling exactly what will happen—but it promises to be packed with intrigue all season.

 

Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter.

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Big Ten Football: Embarrassing Losses Bury the Conference Again This Year

Let’s be honest. The Big Ten as a football conference did not die last Saturday. It was already dead, 10 years and counting.

From 2004-2013, the Big Ten won zero national championships, went 29-47 in bowl games, finished 7-11 in BCS bowls games and had a 69-70 nonconference record against BCS opponents. Try as we may to defend the conference, the performances on the field were mostly dreadful.

Only using results since 2004 is definitely arbitrary, but the sample data seems sizable enough to judge how the Big Ten has performed lately. Regardless, the strength of the conference 30 or 40 years ago is hardly relevant today.

Besides Michigan State’s Rose Bowl win over Stanford last January, I struggled to think of the last time a Big Ten team won a significant game. Michigan’s 23-20 win over Virginia Tech in the 2012 Sugar Bowl came to mind. Two noteworthy wins in three seasons is dismal.  

The lack of key nonconference wins is exactly why there was little respect for Urban Meyer’s 24-0 start at Ohio State. The teams the Buckeyes were beating were also getting trounced by Notre Dame, Arizona State, Washington, UCLA, Virginia, UCF, Alabama, Missouri, Navy, Oregon State, Northern Illinois, Iowa State and Cincinnati. The streak was nice, but there are probably six other teams that could have done it too.

Tragically, the Big Ten has become Charlie Brown and the rest of college football is Lucy. Every year begins with renewed optimism that quickly evaporates with a barrage of embarrassing nonconference losses and ends with another dismal bowl season. The conference slogan should be changed to “Aaugh!”

The Big Ten is a proud conference loaded with tradition, but it is in the cellar competitively right now. The SEC, Pac-12 and ACC are all significantly better from top to bottom and the Big 12 is about the same.

The steady climb out of the abyss was supposed to begin last weekend, but Notre Dame, Virginia Tech and Oregon killed any chance at a resurrection this year.

Little can be done to repair the Big Ten’s image this season. A perfect bowl record might help, but the chances of that are dire. Rebuilding the perception is going to take substantially longer than expected.

On the surface, it appears that the Big Ten is following the right path to becoming a premier conference again. The coaches are paid well, the facilities are plush and considerable money is being spent on recruiting. All three areas appear to be on par with the rest of the conferences. So why has the downfall lasted this long?

Like it or not, the problems are still rooted in brand promotion and talent. The SEC redefined the college football landscape over the last 20 years by pushing conference superiority. The SEC ensures that the whole is stronger than any one team. Administrators, coaches, players and fans all preach the same message. Every game is difficult, every week is a grind and the SEC prepares players for the NFL.  

This powerful message is appealing to elite high school players and translates into the conference routinely having several schools with top-10 recruiting classes every year.

The Pac-12 and Big 12 both attract high-quality offensive players in the talent-rich areas of Texas and California. Their message is "play in our conference if you want to score points," and the results reflect that it is working.

By comparison, the Big Ten’s image is stale and its teams are at a clear disadvantage right now because many of the best high school athletes live in areas outside of the Midwest and Northeast.

The conference changed geography a bit during expansion, but attracting more of the elite players will require the creation of a football brand that resonates nationally. The coaches also need to develop innovative strategies to pull more players from areas outside of their base recruiting territories. Until this happens, the Big Ten will remain the fifth-best FBS conference.

When the Big Ten realigned the divisions to accommodate Maryland and Rutgers, there was a sense that it imagined the East Division could become the equivalent of the SEC West within two years. This may seem laughable, but Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan State have the coaches, revenue, tradition and alumni footprint to be dominant. Maryland and Rutgers can be consistently good, and Indiana can pop in and out occasionally.

In the West Division, Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany should do everything possible to avoid the division becoming an annual contest between Wisconsin and Nebraska. This might be tough, but he needs to hold Northwestern, Illinois, Minnesota, Purdue and Iowa accountable for staying competitive. Being good one year out of five is not acceptable. He can’t force these schools to use the $31 million they receive in revenue sharing on football, but he should strongly encourage it.

The Big Ten is in a long slump, but comebacks are the spice of sports. The conference has to move on from last weekend, but the humiliation and disappointment should be the fuel that ignites the desire to get the Big Ten back on top where it belongs.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Predicting College Football's Biggest Headlines for Week 3

Heading into Week 3 of the 2014 college football season, Bleacher Report's College Football Analysts Michael Felder, Barrett Sallee and Adam Kramer throw out their biggest headlines that will follow the matchups.

What headlines do you think we will be seeing after Week 3? 

Watch the video, and let us know.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

7 Most Underrated 2015 QB Recruits

Three years ago, Marcus Mariota entered his senior season at St. Louis High School in Honolulu, Hawaii with little fanfare in recruiting circles. 

Of course, the current Oregon Ducks star quarterback is the current poster boy of college football. However, he was a 3-star recruit rated as the 19th-best dual-threat quarterback in the country in 2011, according to 247Sports' composite rankings.

The 2015 class is top heavy, with names such as Josh Rosen, Blake Barnett and Kyler Murray representing prospects who have captured the attention of analysts and fans alike.

However, a deeper look into this class shows a handful of talented passers who are being overlooked.

Which recruits represent the nation’s most underrated crop of passers for 2015?

*Players listed in alphabetical order.

Begin Slideshow

Iowa and Iowa State Campus Police Trade Jokes Ahead of Cy-Hawk Trophy Game

One college football game trumps all others in the state of Iowa this Saturday: the battle for the Cy-Hawk Trophy. And nothing gets fans more pumped up for the game than a bit of friendly smack talk, but more on that soon.

Iowacorncyhawkseries.com (the new sponsor) provides some background info on the series:

The Iowa Corn Cy-Hawk Series tracks the head-to-head matchups in each sport with each victory earning points toward the overall series championship. The Series also recognizes outstanding academic achievement by the school’s student-athletes. The Cy-Hawk Series dates back to 2004. In the Series, Iowa and Iowa State are currently tied at five titles each, with Iowa State winning the most recent series during the 2013–2014 school year. The Iowa State and Iowa football teams have been playing each other since 1894, with a 43-year break until 1977 when the annual football game was resumed.

The Iowa Hawkeyes (2-0) will host the Iowa State Cyclones (0-2) on Saturday. With bragging rights on the line, fans from each side are heavily invested in the game. Luckily for us, the school that won last year started game week off with a bang.

The University of Iowa campus police took to Twitter to zing Iowa State with this knock-knock joke:

Shots fired.

Iowa State's campus police weren't going to sit back and take it, however.

[Twitter, h/t The Big Lead]

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B/R CFB Committee: Playoff Predictions Heading into Week 3

Heading into Week 3 of the 2014 college football season, Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder, Barrett Sallee and Adam Kramer discuss which schools are pushing for those four playoff spots. 

Who do you think will make it to the playoffs? Which team is the most underrated in college football?

Watch the video and let us know.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Michigan Football: Greg Mattison's Defense Will Get Better

Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison didn't make excuses for his players' lapses during Saturday's 31-0 loss to Notre Dame, but he hit the nail on the head by saying Everett Golson "probably played the best game of his life."

The Irish quarterback didn't put up video game numbers, but his 24 of 36 passing, 226 yards and three touchdowns were certainly enough to sink the No. 13-ranked total defense from a year ago. Stocked from front to back, Team 135's defense, this year's defense, has the potential to be one of Mattison's best yet.

But that potential was washed out by the glare of Golden Domes and Golson this past weekend.

Despite having depth upon depth and talent upon talent in the secondary, Wolverines corners and safeties were exploited by Amir Carlisle and William Fuller, who accounted for 150 yards and the trio of aerial scores.

Michigan defensive backs were burned deep, along the sidelines and in the red zone, which Mattison says hurts the most.

However, he quickly dismissed the idea of the setback being some sort of "shock therapy" learning experience—his players don't need such a thing, he said. They're past that point.

 

Middle-Manning Running Backs

So far, the Wolverines have surrendered two rushing touchdowns, both of which were up the middle—Marcus Cox of Appalachian State got his in Week 1, and Cam McDaniel of Notre Dame grabbed his in Week 2.

Linebacker Jake Ryan nearly made the stop—"almost an unbelievable play," says Mattison—but McDaniel's timely "squat" and following lunge were a split second faster than he was.

"Am I worried about them up the middle? No. No. You know, that was a play, I think, that there were some gaps that we could have fit better," Mattison said, quickly mentioning that the two scores up the middle weren't due to lack of effort, skill or strength on the part of his core defense.

They were just two plays.

"Obviously, when a team scores on our defense, I'm saying that we didn't do something right—and we've got to shore that up," Mattison finished.

 

Persistently Pressuring the Passer

Michigan's D-line, fronted by Willie Henry, Ryan Glasgow, Brennen Beyer and Frank Clark—and enforced by Ryan—tried to apply the clamps to Golson. They didn't fail; Golson was hurried a lot of the time. But that didn't stop him from repeatedly stinging the Wolverines for 6.6 yards a pop.

He didn't have to lean on the knockout punch. The constant paper cuts did the job.

"You know, it's just something that we've got to work on, getting to the quarterback and creating havoc for that quarterback," Ryan said. "The run game, we played [it] pretty well. But we also need to focus on that passing game. Getting more blitzes in, getting more guys to that quarterback."

Michigan did that, but again, it fell just shy during the long haul. Had there been a sack or two, a deflection or forced fumble, Saturday's outcome could have been different. There is a very thin silver lining to all of this.

"At the end of the day, you can get there, but if you don't make the play, it means nothing," said Clark, a renowned quarterback hunter. "The pressure we got on Golson, we did a great job as far as that, but we didn't do enough. At the end of the day, if you don't get there, you don't make the play.

"Like I said, then it means absolutely nothing. I mean, you can take a couple of good things from it. ... But you've got to get him [the QB] down when you get there."

 

Putting It All Together 

Mattison was right. Golson probably did play the game of his life. He was a fraction quicker, just a hair more accurate and slightly better than expected. Clark was in the ballpark, too. His defense wasn't lazy or unmotivated; it just couldn't seal the deal.

Winning those on-the-spot confrontations are key to longevity. Clark knows his team is better than it showed. So does Ryan, and likewise for the defensive coordinator. 

That wasn't Mattison's "real" defense out there. That group didn't make the trip to South Bend.

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

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

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USC or Notre Dame: Which Team Has a Better Chance to Crash the CFB Playoff?

The USC Trojans and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish are two of the hottest teams in college football.

Bleacher Report's College Football Analysts Adam Kramer and Michael Felder discuss which program has a better chance of making the College Football Playoff. Who do you think will lock in a spot?

Watch the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Alabama Football: 3 Improvements Fans Need to See from Jake Coker and Blake Sims

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — If you liked seeing both Blake Sims and Jake Coker get meaningful quarterback snaps on Saturday, you’ll get a chance to see it again against Southern Miss.

Alabama’s quarterback competition will continue into at least the third game of the season and could go into the Florida game.

“We're making those evaluations on a day-to-day basis,” Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban said. “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.”

We’ve seen good and bad from both players through two games this year. Let's break down some improvements that both players could make in their game performance.

 

Blake Sims: Open it up

Sims has done an excellent job of running Kiffin’s offense successfully up to this point. For him, that’s meant a lot of screens and quick throws to take advantage of the defenses Alabama has faced so far. That’s all well and good, as the offense has moved efficiently under his watch.

What we haven’t seen from him is consistent accuracy on downfield throws.

TideSports.com’s D.C. Reeves tracked Sims' throws through two games and found that his passes traveled an average of 2.3 yards in the air against Florida Atlantic and 5.3 yards against West Virginia before receivers took over after the catch.

Again, that’s worked against the teams Alabama has played so far. But he hasn’t shown much in the way of medium- or long-range throws.

 

Jake Coker: Control arm strength

Coker’s advantage in this competition is arm strength, so he was no doubt eager to show it off Saturday.

Now, he needs to get it under control.

Coker overshot a deep ball to ArDarius Stewart and underthrew one to Amari Cooper on his second drive. He had a screen pass to 6’4” Cam Sims that sailed well over his head. And on a fade to Cooper from the five, he gunned it to Cooper's back shoulder for an incompletion instead of floating it over the defender. SEC Network cameras caught Cooper pointing up after that play as if to signal he wanted the ball thrown up.

Later in the game, Coker hit a 43-yarder to Cooper and a 40-yarder to Stewart. The arm strength is clearly there, but it’s just a matter of consistency now.

 

Both: Game management

“Game manager” is a label that gets slapped on every Alabama quarterback, often with a negative connotation. But Nick Saban expects his signal-callers to understand the offense situationally, limiting errors as much as possible, which shouldn’t be considered a weakness at all.

Coker had a golden opportunity to show those management skills in the second quarter and failed.

He led Alabama from its own 22 to the FAU 4-yard line in about 50 seconds. But with a timeout remaining and only a handful of seconds left to try one more shot to the end zone, he scrambled around trying to find an open receiver and took a sack after time had expired, rather than getting down and settling for a field goal.

That drew the ire of Saban and rightfully so. He’s not going to turn his offense over to a guy who can’t properly manage a situation like that and leave easy points on the field.

Sims had a similar goal-line outcome as Coker but with a different cause.

Early in the third quarter on the 1-yard line, Sims went to handoff to T.J. Yeldon. Only Yeldon wasn’t expecting it.

Yeldon appeared to be setting up to pass-block and the result was a lost fumble that cost points. Judging by Saban's reaction, it was Sims’ fault, whether it was a communication issue or otherwise.

That’s another management issue that makes Saban pull his hair out.

Taking care of the ball and maximizing offensive output, even if that means settling for a field goal or taking a punt, are two critical factors Saban looks for in his quarterback and could be what eventually settles this competition.

 

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.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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

Life is good for LSU fans.

The Tigers are a somewhat lucky 2-0 this season. Head coach Les Miles had one of his patented comebacks against Wisconsin in the season opener. Last week, the team dominated Sam Houston State in its first shutout since 2010.

Two games is a small sample size to judge how good the Tigers will be in 2014.

With that said, there are some clear causes of concern going forward Miles must address. On the other hand, there have been some bright spots Miles should feel comfortable about as well.

Here is what LSU fans should and shouldn't be concerned about going forward.

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College Football Week 3 Predictions: Picking Top-25 Games Against the Spread

There will be more glamorous weeks in the not-too-distant future. That’s an ominous way to preview Chapter 3 of the college football season, although it requires no real confirmation if you glanced at the slate of games. Chances are, you’ve done your homework. 

That’s not to say there aren’t impactful matchups. Take Georgia and South Carolina, for starters. The winner of this game will immediately vault to another level in the SEC; one could quickly become a national-championship contender, the other could continue its climb back upward.

And even if that game doesn’t tickle your fancy, there are point spreads in place to level the playing field in each and every Week 3 matchup. When you factor in these handicaps—some of which are substantial—all games become competitive. That’s one way to sell it. 

Using the most recent AP Top 25 Poll, all games featuring Top 25 teams have been picked. In our new format, the 10 most intriguing matchups of the week will have their own breakdown. The remaining games will be broken down, briefly, on the final slide.

Thanks to a rain-shortened Alabama-FAU game, we were above .500 in Week 2. The plan is to elevate the results as we go. So, let’s go.

 

All spreads are courtesy of Oddshark.com unless noted otherwise.

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College Football Rankings 2014: Projecting Week 4's Top 25 Teams

The first two weeks of the 2014 college football season brought significant shake-ups to the nation’s Top 25 polls. In this week’s Associated Press poll, the Top 10 features four teams—Georgia, Texas A&M, USC and LSU—that did not begin the season in such rarefied air.

While Week 1 and Week 2 generated plenty of headlines, Week 3 looks more like a table-setter for the weeks to come. There is only one matchup of Top 25 teams, with No. 6 Georgia traveling to No. 24 South Carolina.

Only three teams are less than double-digit favorites against their opponents, per OddsShark.com. ESPN’s popular College GameDay show is straying off the beaten path, making a stop at FCS power North Dakota State for the second consecutive year.

Odds are that when the Week 4 polls are released Sunday afternoon, they’ll look much the same as they do now. But that attitude could also portend a crazy week of upsets and strange finishes. Who knows?

Read on to find out the projected Top 25 for next week.

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Power Ranking the Top 50 Players in College Football After Week 2

There have not been wholesale changes to our (or anybody's) ranking of the best players in the country two weeks into the college football season. But enough has happened in the past 20 days to shake up the list here and there.

Specifically, we have gotten our first material look at who has improved and regressed this offseason. No more relying on beat reporters. No more unsourced tidbits out of camp. We finally get to see it with our own eyes and make our own, singular judgements.

This updated list is a reaction, but not an overreaction, to what we have seen through two weeks of the season. It doesn't stray too far from the lists you probably read in the preseason, because it, like those, is based mostly on the performances of last year.

But what of the high-upside sophomore who has finally put everything together? What of the breakout star who may or may not be for real? We can't pretend the first two weeks are a representative sample, but there's more data now than there was two weeks ago, right?

Here is your updated top 50.

 

Note: Recruiting information provided by 247Sports.

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UCLA Football: Run Game Crucial to Beating Texas, Winning Pac-12

Establishing a consistent and multidimensional run game is vital for UCLA football in its pursuit of the 2014 Pac-12 Conference championship. The No. 12-ranked Bruins can take a big step to that end Saturday in their final nonconference date, a showdown with Texas.

The multidimensional part of that equation is a given for UCLA heading into AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, as Bruins head coach Jim Mora explained on Tuesday's Pac-12 coaches teleconference.

"We go into every game with the plan of playing multiple backs," Mora said. "You have to be able to do that, just to take the load off guys."

Running backs Jordon James, Paul Perkins and Nate Starks factored into the plan in Week 2 against Memphis and will share the load in Week 3 against the Longhorns.

A diverse ground game is a proven road map for success against this Texas team. Its Week 2 opponent, Brigham Young, flourished employing multiple rushers. Six Cougars combined to rack up 248 yards on the ground.

A multifaceted and potent running attack is also a common theme for recent Pac-12 champions: Four of the conference's last five winners ranked No. 22 or better nationally in rushing offense.

Expect UCLA to bring its most varied approach of this season into action Saturday. 

Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone has certainly shown no qualms about throwing a variety of ball-carriers at opposing defenses. The Bruins had one of the most unique run games in college football a season ago—though more out of necessity than strategy.

James opened the 2013 campaign with three consecutive games of more than 100 yards on the ground, capably taking up the mantle UCLA's all-time leading rusher Johnathan Franklin left behind after 2012.

James has yet to duplicate that same level of production since injuring his ankle in Week 4 of 2013. His yards per carry in three games after the injury were 1.3, 1.8 and 3.4. This season, James has had outputs of three yards on five carries against Virginia and two yards on two carries against Memphis.

James will still see touches as the Bruins try to establish a multifaceted running attack.

"We want to still see Jordon James be productive," Mora said.      

But UCLA has had to adjust without him before. Last season, the Bruins filled the void James' injury left with quarterback Brett Hundley and linebacker Myles Jack, who led the Bruins in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns, respectively.

Both Hundley and Jack have had ball-carrying opportunities in 2014: Jack has a touchdown, and Hundley's 65 yards are second most among all Bruins through two games.

Hundley's running ability injected much-needed life into the UCLA offense in the Week 1 win over Virginia. He scored the team's only offensive touchdown that afternoon on a six-yard rush, carrying a Cavaliers defender with him into the end zone.

He showed off a blend of both straight-ahead power as well as a particular knack for misdirection via the zone read:

Look for Hundley to establish himself as a running threat much earlier in Week 3. The Texas defense is a week removed from surrendering 99 yards and three touchdowns to BYU quarterback Taysom Hill. The Longhorns also closed 2013 by allowing Hundley's Pac-12 counterpart Marcus Mariota 133 yards on the ground.

The designed Hundley runs that buoyed the Bruins in Week 1 can exploit deficiencies in the Longhorns front seven. Meanwhile, another Bruin who played a critical role in the second half at Virginia will again be central to Saturday's effort.

Perkins' helped jump-start UCLA at Virginia, with the bulk of his 80 yards coming in the second half.

"The start of the second half against Virginia, he just came alive," Mora said. "He's got that slashing style. He's got really good vision. He's got patience behind the line of scrimmage to let the hole open, and then when he sees it, he's able to put his foot in the ground and go.

"Paul's really stood out to us," he added.

The coaching staff's confidence in Perkins now is evident. Used primarily as a change-of-pace back in 2013, he was the Bruins' featured ball-carrier against Memphis.

Perkins capitalized on the opportunity with 98 yards and two touchdowns.

Perkins should head the Bruins rushing attack again at Texas, but Mora said they won't hesitate to give James and Starks carries, as well.

"If one of those guys gets hot, then we're going to work the ball to them," Mora said. He laughed and added: "Hopefully, in an ideal world, they'd all get hot."

Should UCLA go into Pac-12 play with more than one hot hand in the backfield, the Bruins could be running to a conference championship.

 

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise cited. Statistics compiled via CFBstats.com.

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UCLA Football: Run Game Crucial to Beating Texas, Winning Pac-12

Establishing a consistent and multidimensional run game is vital for UCLA football in its pursuit of the 2014 Pac -12 Conference championship. The No...

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