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Brady Hoke, Devin Gardner and the Decline of an NCAA Football Powerhouse

Navigating out of a downward spiral is tricky business. Michigan football has endured them before, most recently during the forlorn Rich Rodriguez era of 2008-2010.

Three down years is about all you get in Ann Arbor, and Brady Hoke is in the advent of his third after the listless goose egg Team 135 put up in South Bend. For the record, Rich Rod went 2-1 against Notre Dame (but just 0-1 against Toledo, at The Big House, no less).

Perhaps Hoke was the victim of too much, too soon, having slayed a few dragons in his 2011 debut campaign (11-2).

The Wolverines, behind junior quarterback Denard Robinson, had an inspired season: from an amazing comeback victory over Notre Dame in the first-ever night game at the Big House, to a 45-17 dismantling of Nebraska in the Cornhuskers' first season in the Big Ten, to culminating in Big Blue's first win over (an albeit-depleted) Ohio State since 2003.

Hoke and the Wolverines capped off that season with a BCS bowl win over Virginia Tech. Not too shabby.

The start of the 2012 season proved to be a bridge too far, as Hoke's preseason No. 8 Wolverines got their comeuppance at the hands of Nick Saban's Alabama, 41-14, in the Cowboys Classic. Robinson's duck performance (four INT, one fumble) in South Bend three weeks later seemed apropos. 

The wheels hadn't fallen off just yet for Michigan football, as the team responded by posting three consecutive wins to start the Big Ten season, including the squad's first victory over Michigan State since 2007.

The tipping point for the program came the following week in Michigan's first visit to Nebraska since 1911. Robinson's all-purpose style finally undid him in the first half of that game as he fell awkwardly to the turf after taking a hit on a run for first down.

Wolverines fans knew the reality of a Denard-less Michigan was coming, but the middle of his senior season seemed premature. With the coaching staff having converted touted backup quarterback Devin Gardner to wide receiver at the beginning of the 2012 season, Michigan fans were forced to endure 30-plus minutes of Russell Bellomy in that fateful Nebraska loss.

Despite having no reps at quarterback, surely Gardner could have done better than the embarrassing Bellomy. Hoke scrambled Gardner into place at QB for the next three games, and the team responded with three nice wins.

Michigan would close the season with losses to Ohio State and an Outback Bowl defeat to South Carolina. An 8-5 record to finish the season smacked of the Rich Rod era, but all hope was not lost as Hoke's recruiting efforts were cause for optimism. Furthermore, Hoke would finally have his system in place for the 2013 season and his hand-picked players would start to fill up the depth chart.

A 5-0 start, including a largely dominant performance over Notre Dame (41-30), proved to be misleading after Michigan dropped six out of its last eight games to finish the 2013 season at a virtually unacceptable 7-6. 

That brings us to the here and now. A starting quarterback that seems to have regressed, a head coach that continues to look befuddled on national TV and a program that has ended up No. 1 on USA Today's Misery Index.

The knives are on the table in Ann Arbor, and the program's ever-impatient fanbase and scribes are sharpening the cutlery. Reasonable ultimatums are flying in on the heels of the debacle in South Bend.

TheDetroit News' Terry Foster makes a compelling argument for firing Hoke, and it's hard to make a case for his sustainability unless his team manages to beat Michigan State or Ohio State (preferably both) this season.

Ohio State is there for the taking without Braxton Miller, but both those aforementioned rivalry games will be on the road, where Michigan is just 7-12 under Hoke, including bowl games, as per Foster.

It's safe to say, Hokeamania has ceased to run wild in Maize and Blue Nation—Michigan will essentially need to run the table this season for the coach's tenure to not be permanently labeled the Brady Joke era. 3-8 against Notre Dame, Michigan State and Ohio State will not be tolerated.

Maybe the good folks at Notre Dame were right, Michigan football is an empire in decline. A team that juggernauts need to take off their calendar to improve their strength of schedule. 

After watching Devin Gardner sputter his way through four quarters against Notre Dame and Hoke's dumbfounded expressions on the sideline throughout, it's fair to argue that Michigan isn't much of a football school at the moment.

The polar vortex continues to hover over Michigan's football program. If a warm front doesn't move in soon, it will be permanent winter for Brady Hoke as a Michigan Man. 

John Beilein's boys may have to pick up the slack once again. Apologies to Bo Schembechler, Michigan is more hardwood than gridiron in 2014.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Tennessee RB Jalen Hurd Maturing at the Right Time for Butch Jones' Vols

Tennessee survived the tricky early part of their season, going 2-0, but now things get interesting. The Vols will head to Norman, Oklahoma, on Saturday night to take on the Oklahoma Sooners in a game that will serve as a gauge for this year's Vols.

Are they back? Can this team be competitive? Just how far off are they?

On the ground, they're close. A big reason why—quite literally—is 6'3", 227-pound true freshman running back Jalen Hurd. The Hendersonville, Tennessee, native only rushed for 29 yards in the season-opening win over Utah State but picked it up in the win over Arkansas State, rushing 23 times for 83 yards and a touchdown en route to SEC Freshman of the Week honors.

Hurd's improvement between Weeks 1 and 2 was noticeable.

"Jalen's progressed a lot," quarterback Justin Worley said in quotes released by Tennessee. "You may not see the yards per carry that he wants [and] that we want as an offense, but he gets those tough yards. He's done a great job of really embracing his role in protections and understanding week in, week out, where the different pressures are coming from."

Hurd's head coach Butch Jones agreed, which is why Hurd received the majority of the carries vs. the Red Wolves last week.

"We just play who is running the ball well, and we thought Jalen gave us a great opportunity," Jones said in the postgame quotes. "I thought Jalen got some tough yardage. I thought he hit the hole. Jalen runs hard."

The time between the first and second game of the season is when players improve the most, and Hurd is a prime example of that. So much so that Jones had no qualms about letting Hurd set the tone for the Vols.

That's great timing not only for Hurd, but for the Vols.

Tennessee's running game is still rather inconsistent—it ranks 11th in the SEC (139 YPG)—but there's some momentum building as the team prepares for its showdown with the Sooners Saturday night. That's big because, while tempo is part of Tennessee's goal on offense, pounding the rock and maintaining possession is probably a good idea—especially on the road.

Oklahoma has racked up a whopping 508 yards and 50 points per game in its first two games of the season, and Jones knows that their balance makes them difficult to stop.

"It's very difficult," he said during Monday's press conference. "They do a great job of balance, and also within that balance their scheme presents you problems because all of a sudden they go from an internal run to a play action deep post to all of a sudden a perimeter screen and you couple that with their athletes and their tempo and their size. It's a great challenge."

Hurd, and the Vols running game, can make it less challenging for the Vols' defense.

The Vols have weapons at wide receiver, but the absence of wide receiver Von Pearson—who's out with a high ankle sprain—takes away one of the primary weapons in that loaded receiving corps. That may shift more emphasis to the running game, and Hurd proved in his second college game that he can handle more responsibility. 

Tennessee will need it this week in Norman because Oklahoma is no joke.

 

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

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Rankings 2014: Week 3 Standings and Top 25 Team Records

While Week 2 only featured a few big-time matchups, many of the results will play a big role going forward in the college football season.

As the top teams in the nation all look to earn a spot in this year's College Football Playoff, every game is important. A loss can change the entire perception of a conference, while even a narrow win might not be good enough to earn a top-four spot.

There will be questions about the polls throughout the season, but here is the latest look at each set of rankings, courtesy of USA Today, The Associated Press and Bleacher Report.

 

Florida State is the top name on each list, but there is certainly plenty of debate about what comes next.

It is hard to argue against Oregon being the most impressive in this young season. The Ducks had an easy win over South Dakota to open the year, but the latest victory over Michigan State is what really turned heads.

Oregon ended the game with 28 unanswered points to earn a 46-27 win over what was then the No. 7 team in the country. The squad made a normally elite Spartans defense into just another victim for the high-powered attack.

ESPN.com's Chris Low felt this should propel Oregon to the top of the polls:

While Florida State, Alabama, Oklahoma and Auburn all had big wins in Week 2, none of them were against even an average opponent, making the results much less impressive. There will be a chance for each squad to showcase what it can do down the line, but Oregon already has a marquee win under its belt.

On the other side of the coin, Michigan State's loss highlighted a miserable day for the Big Ten. Ohio State represented the only ranked team to lose to a squad outside of the Top 25, while Michigan lost a high-profile matchup against Notre Dame by a score of 31-0. 

Some analysts believe this could kill any chance for any school from the conference to get a bid to the playoffs, but commissioner Jim Delany thinks it is too early to make that determination. He told Adam Rittenberg of ESPN.com:

Big games matter on big stages with big ratings and a lot of attention. In the three primetime games, we didn't win any. That's disappointing. I would say this: I said they would be disproportionately impactful but I didn't say they would be dispositive. We're not feeling very good but the facts are the facts. I would just say with 50 percent of the nonconference games and 100 percent of conference games remaining, it's premature to make any judgments.

With Wisconsin's Week 1 loss to LSU and Nebraska's narrow home win against McNeese State, nothing has been too impressive about the Big Ten so far this year.

The other notable game of the weekend was USC against Stanford, which featured a lot of great defense in a 13-10 win for the Trojans. Brett Edgerton of ESPN.com provided a big reason the Cardinal could not pull out the win:

None of the possessions were worse than the last one, which featured Stanford getting into field-goal range, only to fumble the ball—and the game—away with just seconds remaining on the clock.

This was a strong win for USC to prove it is a legitimate contender in both the Pac-12 and for the national title. Of course, tough games against Arizona State, UCLA and Notre Dame loom on the schedule.

The good news for fans is that the season is just getting started. There have been a few conference showdowns, but most of the most important matchups are still ahead.

We are free to debate which team is the best over the next few months, but in the end, it will all be decided on the field.

 

Follow Rob Goldberg on Twitter for the latest breaking news and analysis.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Michigan Wolverines vs. Miami (Ohio) RedHawks Complete Game Preview

Prior to last week’s matchup versus Notre Dame, head coach Brady Hoke said that the game was a measuring stick. After being demolished 31-0, there wasn’t very much to measure. The shutout snapped Michigan’s NCAA record of scoring in 365 consecutive games, going back nearly 30 years, and was yet another disappointing road loss to a key rival under Hoke's tenure.

Hoke is holding firm to his goal of winning the Big Ten title. But his team has a lot of work to do to prepare for division rivals Michigan State and Ohio State for a berth in the Big Ten Championship Game.

This game is a gut check for Michigan. Last year the Wolverines struggled to beat lowly Akron 28-24 after beating the Irish. Now, Hoke faces the task of keeping his team motivated after an embarrassing loss.

Miami coach Chuck Martin was previously Notre Dame’s offensive coordinator, and he’s well-acquainted with how his previous team exploited Michigan’s defense. Michigan will need to come out sharp to get its season back on track.


Date: Saturday, September 13, 2014

Time: 3:30 p.m. EDT

Place: Michigan Stadium (109,901), Ann Arbor, Michigan

Series vs. Miami (Ohio): Michigan leads series 5-0

Television: Big Ten Network

Radio: Michigan Sports Network, Sirius (113), XM (195)

Spread: Michigan by 31.5, via Odds Shark

Live Stats: MGoBlue.com GameTracker

Last Meeting vs. Miami (Ohio) 2008: Michigan 16, Miami (Ohio) 6

Michigan held Miami (Ohio) without a touchdown, repelling two drives inside the U-M 10-yard line, while the offense scored a pair of quick-strike touchdowns to begin the first and fourth quarters, helping the Wolverines earn a 16-6 decision on Sept. 6, 2008 at Michigan Stadium. A 50-yard pass on the first play of the game from freshman starting quarterback Steven Threet to wide receiver Martavious Odoms set up Threet’s nine-yard touchdown run. In the fourth, quarterback Nick Sheridan led Michigan on an 87-yard drive, capped by Brandon Minor’s 15-yard touchdown run.

*Information according to University of Michigan Wolverine Football game notes.

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20 Statistics That Will Surprise You After Week 2

Can anything about college football really shock you?

Come on—you are a fan who remembers 2012, when five-loss Wisconsin waltzed into the Big Ten title game and put up 539 yards of rushing on the No. 14 Nebraska Blackshirts defense.

And you sat there with the rest of us last season, mouths all agape, and watched in awe as Auburn’s Chris Davis returned Adam Griffith’s 57-yard field-goal attempt 100 yards for the most improbable 34-28 win in the history of the game.

Yeah, you’ve seen two freshmen win the Heisman, Vince Young ice USC in the BCS National Championship Game and Terry Bowden take the Akron job; what could possibly surprise you?

Well, take a look at a mere 20 numbers from the first 14 days of the 2014 season. This is why we love college football.

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College Football: Week 2 Recap, Pick Results and Final Thought

Week 2 of the college football season did not disappoint with a Top 10 matchup in Eugene, Oregon, and unexpected outcomes that no one could have seen coming.

No. 7 Michigan State and No. 3 Oregon played an intense game that went back and forth in the first half. The Ducks were up 18-7 until the Spartans went on a 17-0 run to take a 24-18 lead into the half. Michigan State would convert an early field goal in the third quarter, but it would be the last time the Spartans would score for the rest of the game.

Heisman hopeful Marcus Mariota and the Oregon offense went on to score 28 unanswered points with the help of speedy wide receiver Devon Allen and highly touted freshman running back Royce Freeman, who got into the end zone on the Ducks’ final two scores. All-American cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu also could potentially have had one of the best defensive plays of the season when he intercepted a Connor Cook pass midway through the fourth quarter at the Oregon 4-yard line. 

Mark Helfrich came away with the biggest win in his two-year tenure with a critical 46-27 victory. It was the most points Michigan State has surrendered since 2011, when it lost to Alabama 49-7 in the Capital One Bowl. 

The biggest surprise of the day came when an underrated Virginia Tech team went into No. 8 Ohio State Saturday night and pulled off a 35-21 upset. A 63-yard interception return for a touchdown by Hokie cornerback Donovan Riley with less than a minute left silenced an Ohio Stadium record crowd of 107,517. In Virginia Tech's first win over a ranked nonconference opponent since 2009, it sacked quarterback J.T. Barrett seven times and gave Ohio State its first home-opener loss since 1978. A Frank Beamer squad, which lost a combined 11 games the last two seasons, could be a factor in the ACC this season. 

The final matchup between Michigan and No. 16 Notre Dame did not live up to the hype, as Fighting Irish quarterback Everett Golson passed for 226 yards and three touchdowns in a 31-0 blowout win. Texas was also steamrolled by BYU for a second consecutive season, as quarterback Taysom Hill rushed for 99 yards and three touchdowns in a 41-7 victory. 

The Pac-12 saw a high-profile matchup between No. 14 USC and No. 13 Stanford, which consisted of USC athletic director Pat Haden going down to the sideline to confront the referees, as well as other drama in a much-anticipated defensive ballgame. The Cardinal blew scoring opportunities with two missed field goals and turned the ball over three times in scoring position. For a second consecutive year, USC won on an Andre Heidari field goal. This time it was a career-long 53-yard field goal with 2:30 left in the fourth quarter. The Trojans snapped Stanford’s 17-game home winning streak with a 13-10 win, which was the longest home winning streak among FBS teams. In his first season at the helm, USC head coach Steve Sarkisian could have his team contending for a Pac-12 title. 

Nebraska likely had the most dramatic finish of the day against FCS McNeese State. After the Cowboys scored 10 unanswered points to knot things up at 24, potential All-American Ameer Abdullah pulled off a sensational 58-yard reception for a touchdown to give the Huskers the go-ahead score with 20 seconds remaining in regulation. Nebraska survived a potential huge upset, 31-24.

 

Game Attended: Michigan 0 at No. 16 Notre Dame 31

What figured to be another exciting game between the two winningest programs in their final matchup for the foreseeable future became the most lopsided victory in the history of the series. The closest Michigan came to scoring was on two field goals, one which was blocked. Notre Dame manhandled the Wolverines on both sides of the ball in a 31-0 win.

Senior quarterback Everett Golson had a second solid showing since returning to the team, as he was 23-of-34 for 226 yards and three touchdowns. On defense, the Fighting Irish made sure Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner was pressured in the pocket and managed to cause three interceptions. The only success Gardner had was getting the ball to wide receiver Devin Funchess, who accounted for 109 yards. 

Fourth-year Michigan head coach Brady Hoke is currently sitting on the hot seat after his offense failed to score for the first time since 1984. The Wolverines had previously led the nation with 365 consecutive games without being shut out, until Saturday night. While the offense couldn’t produce drives and had costly penalties, the defense had difficulty containing Golson and stopping Notre Dame from converting on third down. 

Notre Dame jumped to No. 11 in the AP Top 25 Poll and could have the opportunity to be a national title contender if Golson stays healthy and the defense continues to keep opponents off the scoreboard.  

 

Pick Results

Overall Record: 5-5

Week 2 Record: 1-4

Note: Team in bold indicates author’s pick

 

Prediction: Stanford 24, USC 20

Result: USC 13, Stanford 10

 

Prediction: Oregon 31, Michigan State 27

Result: Oregon 46, Michigan State 27

 

Prediction: Michigan 34, Notre Dame 28

Result: Notre Dame 31, Michigan 0

 

Prediction: Texas 20, BYU 17

Result: BYU 41, Texas 7

 

Prediction: Ohio State 28, Virginia Tech 20

Result: Virginia Tech 35, Ohio State 21

 

Final Thought

The Big Ten Conference was embarrassed in Week 2, especially for teams looking to contend for a spot in the inaugural College Football Playoff. Heavily talented Michigan State couldn’t hang with a speedy Oregon squad once the fourth quarter began, and Ohio State suffered a shocking home loss to Virginia Tech. Michigan was also run over by Notre Dame 31-0. 

Purdue and Northwestern went down to MAC schools at home, as Central Michigan defeated the Boilermakers 38-17 and Northern Illinois outlasted the Wildcats 23-15.    

There were also close calls, as Nebraska survived FCS McNeese State, 31-24, and Iowa managed to get a late touchdown to hold off Ball State 17-13.    

Regardless of how bad of a showing the Big Ten had this past Saturday, there is still a chance that one team could advance to the College Football Playoff. At this point, Michigan State is still in the running if it wins out and clinches a Big Ten Championship. Wisconsin is another team that could be a major player because of its favorable schedule down the stretch. 

It was also confirmed on Monday that Penn State would be eligible to play in a bowl game this season as well. The Nittany Lions are a dark-horse candidate to win the Big Ten title now with sophomore quarterback Christian Hackenberg leading the way. James Franklin’s team, much like Wisconsin, has a favorable schedule with its difficult games being only at Michigan on Oct. 11 and at home against Ohio State (Oct. 25) and Michigan State (Nov. 29).  

It’s way too early to count out the Big Ten Conference, which consists of teams that can compete with some of the best in the country. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Re-Ranking the Pac-12 Order of Finish After Week 2

We're two weeks into the Pac-12 football season and a pecking order has already been established, enough so that the preseason projected order of finish now looks different.

While each team's destiny isn't set in stone just yet, it's safe to say that both Oregon and USC are the class of the conference. Stanford may still have something to say about that, and despite an ugly-looking 2-0 start, the UCLA Bruins should not be counted out.

Other squads, like the Arizona schools and Utah, have yet to play challenging opponents, though we should learn a lot more before the end of September.

The following list is based mostly on how teams have played thus far, although you can't take overall talent out of the equation. UCLA has looked much worse than Cal, but it would be foolish to think that the Bruins will finish lower than the Bears after only two games.

Let's re-rank the Pac-12 order of finish after two weeks of play, knowing full well that the picture we see today will continue to be edited as the weeks go on.

 

All stats via cfbstats.com

Begin Slideshow

Re-Ranking the Pac-12 Order of Finish After Week 2

We're two weeks into the Pac-12 football season and a pecking order has already been established, enough so that the preseason projected order of finish now looks different...

Begin Slideshow

Tennessee Football: What You Should and Shouldn't Be Concerned About

Stop me if you've heard this before: The Tennessee Volunteers are 2-0 and appear improved over last year, but now they're about to square off with one of the best teams in the country with a roster full of question marks. 

Just like the 2011, 2012 and 2013 seasons, Tennessee managed to take care of their two out of conference games to open the season.

Despite the strong start, a quick glance at the Vols' schedule shows that additional wins will be hard to come by—particularly if the team doesn't show improvement in a few key areas.

Although it's clear this Tennessee squad is one of the fastest in recent years, the team's deficiencies could cost the Vols yet another bowl game.

However, not all is lost. The youth and inexperience on the roster will grow up in a hurry, and head coach Butch Jones should see vast improvement in his team between now and a three-game stretch in November consisting of Kentucky, Missouri and Vanderbilt. 

All three of those games are must wins for Tennessee to have a chance to go bowling. Not only do Tennessee's talented freshmen need to be ready to make plays by then, but the team's veterans also must continue to play sound football.

This season may be the most interesting since 2009 for Tennessee, as there's enormous potential for the team to either overachieve or to fall flat on their face.

Here's what you should and shouldn't be concerned about for the remainder of the Vols' 2014 season if you hope to see the team play in December. 

Begin Slideshow

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

After a week off, the Bulldogs are gearing up to take on the South Carolina Gamecocks in Columbia. With a strong win against Clemson, the Bulldogs are coming into the game with a lot of momentum.

They did a lot of things well in the first game of the season, and they will look to build on that when they face their first SEC opponent of the year. But there were also a few things the Bulldogs didn’t do well and will look to improve on this week.

Here are some things you should and shouldn’t be concerned about after Week 2.

 

Airing It Out

Hutson Mason had a solid game against Clemson. He went 18-of-26 passing for 131 yards. He did not have any interceptions, but he also did not throw any touchdowns.

It was clear that Mason was not the focal point of the offense because the rushing attack was more than enough to carry the Bulldogs to victory. But there will be a time where Mason will need to make plays with his arm. He was able to do some of that last year against Georgia Tech and Nebraska, but can he do it against SEC opponents?

Hutson Mason expects South Carolina and other defenses to stack the box. "I hope they do it. We're gonna throw it." http://t.co/366YbOqK7A

— Seth Emerson (@SethEmerson) September 4, 2014

 

Keep on Defending

Another thing to be concerned about is the defense. It pitched a shutout in the second half of the Clemson game thanks to a dominating pass rush, but it did give up 21 points in the first half and had a hard time dealing with the two quarterbacks Cole Stoudt and Deshaun Watson.

The defense is a work in progress and will have to continue to improve moving forward. Defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt has worked hard to get his players in the right position to make plays. It worked in the second half against Clemson, but can it work against SEC opponents?

 

Run, Run, Run

One of the things the Bulldogs and the fans don’t have to worry about is the run game. We all know what Todd Gurley can do, and if he stays healthy, he can be a legit Heisman finalist.

But the real concern for opponents is the other three running backs who played in Week 1. Keith Marshall is still recovering from a knee injury, but the more reps he gets during the season, the more confident he will be. Marshall will be back to 2012 form sooner than later.

Sony Michel made freshman mistakes, but he showed glimpses of what he can do, rushing for 33 yards on six carries. Michel also was effective in the passing game, catching three passes for 20 yards.

And then there’s Nick Chubb. If there was another player more impressive than Gurley in the Clemson game, it would be the freshman from Cedartown, Georgia. Chubb rushed for 70 yards on four carries, and he was running over defenders while doing it. He will see more carries as the Bulldogs get into the thick of the SEC schedule.

 

Protecting the Offense

And the reason the run game was effective was the play of the offensive line, which is another area fans should not be concerned about. There were some questions about the line after losing three starters last year, but Brandon Kublanow, John Theus, David Andrews, Greg Pyke and Kolton Houston worked well as a unit and should only get stronger each time they are on the field.

Even the reserves are guys who can come in and make plays. Isaiah Wynn, Watts Dantzler and Mark Beard all saw action against Clemson, and the offense did not miss a beat. It should only get better for the offensive line, which will make the offense more dangerous.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Texas Football: Update on the State of Longhorns' QB Position

The ride on the "struggle bus" will continue for Texas Longhorns quarterback David Ash.

Head coach Charlie Strong announced Monday that Ash is out indefinitely while the medical staff continues to evaluate him for concussion symptoms. 

Unfortunately for the redshirt junior, this is all-too-familiar territory.

Ash sustained a concussion versus BYU in 2013, missed the following game, then returned in time to start conference play. But his return did not last long, as he suffered a second concussion in his first game back on the field.

He missed the remainder of the year.

Ash was cleared to play the 2014 season, but his playing time may be short-lived.

During fall camp, Ash joked that it felt good to be off the "struggle bus" and expressed how blessed he felt to be given another opportunity to play the game he loves.

That was until North Texas came to Austin.

The quarterback took a handful of hard hits—all of which he got up from. However, he started to experience concussion-like symptoms following the season opener and will not return to the field in the near future.

The Longhorns' quarterback woes have been an issue since 2010. Meanwhile, other in-state programs seem to have mastered the art of signing and developing solid quarterbacks, but that's a topic for a later date.

With Ash's future up in the air, the time has come for the Longhorns to put their trust in a new starting quarterback: sophomore Tyrone Swoopes.

Swoopes received his first career start against BYU in Week 2 of the season. He did as well as the game plan allowed him to, completing 20 of 31 passes for 176 yards and one touchdown in the 41-7 loss to the Cougars.

"(Swoopes) played unbelievable," Strong said following the loss to BYU. "I know he threw an interception there late, but for him to be a first-time starter and come out and compete the way he did was unbelievable."

A lot of people have compared Swoopes' talents to those of Vince Young, claiming the two have similar measurables and powerful arms to sling the ball down the field.

With that said, comparing Swoopes to Young is extremely premature.

The reason is simple: Swoopes has not shown the public anything other than running a vanilla game plan.

"I wasn't really sure of what to expect with it being my first start," Swoopes said. "This Saturday, I will be more confident and ready to go. It's my responsibility to stay ready for when the team needs me."

The 6'4", 243-pound sophomore was decent in his first start, but was restricted from making many big plays.

The offensive game plan was not successful against BYU and will need to change in order for Texas to move the chains and score more than one touchdown against upcoming opponents.

Swoopes is a very talented athlete, but until the public sees more from him than simply handing off the ball or completing short passes, the questions about his talent will continue.

Swoopes is from Whitewright, Texas—a small town of 1,607 people, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. He has never been on this high of a pedestal, nor has he been in a situation to receive the hefty amount of criticism that comes with being the starting quarterback for the Longhorns.

He also has very little time to adjust to the attention that will soon follow his career.

The Longhorns face No. 12 UCLA, No. 8 Baylor and No. 4 Oklahoma in three of the team's next four games. If Swoopes remains the quarterback for those contests, he has to grow up at a speedy pace and silence the critics.

Bleacher Report NFL analyst and former Texas quarterback Chris Simms understands the pressures that come with being the leader of the Longhorns.

His advice to Swoopes is simple: Take it slow.

"Don't listen to all of the outside noise, and realize that you don't have to do it yourself. You have a good coach, you have other people on the team who are capable of moving the ball, so don't try to overdo it or try to make tough plays. Those are some mistakes that I made early in my career," Simms said.

"You have to be a leader and work hard. When you work hard, and put in the time and effort, teammates will respect it and jump on the train with you."

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.

Taylor Gaspar is Bleacher Report's featured columnist covering the Texas Longhorns. Follow Taylor on Twitter @Taylor_Gaspar.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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

Nebraska football fans got a huge scare in Week 2 against FCS opponent McNeese State. The Cornhuskers were tied with the Cowboys 24-24 with 20 seconds left, and the FCS squad had all the momentum before Ameer Abdullah took a checkdown pass from Tommy Armstrong, made five tacklers miss and ran 58 yards for the winning touchdown.

Predictably, Nebraska fans were in varying stages of panic after the near miss to a second-tier team.

 

Dear McNeese State Cowboys, Please go undefeated the rest of the year and win the FCS Championship. Love, Every Nebraska Fan

— Shane Johnston (@shanetjohnston) September 7, 2014

 

WHAT IS YOUR POINT DARREN RT @darrenrovell: Athletic department budgets: Nebraska ($103 million) vs. McNeese State ($9.5 million)

— Fake Bo Pelini (@FauxPelini) September 6, 2014

But with the benefit of a little time to reflect, let’s think about what Nebraska fans should—and should not—worry about as a result of this “win.”

 

Don’t Be Concerned About Nebraska’s Physical Play

There’s no doubt Nebraska’s contest against McNeese State was a strange sight to behold. Nebraska dominated its FCS opponent in the first half, with the score remaining close only because of a 98-yard interception return for a touchdown. Some second-half adjustments and Nebraska’s superior talent and depth should win out, right?

Right?

Obviously that didn’t happen, and the second half was truly the more frightening. The Cowboys had 19:56 time of possession in the second half, as opposed to Nebraska’s 10:04. Nebraska was one of seven on third-down conversions. Prior to the “Ameeracle” play where Abdullah went 58 yards for the game-winning touchdown (yeah, I’m willing to go with the building meme), Nebraska had run 23 plays in the second half.

For 52 yards. Which is an average of 2.26 yards per carry. Against an FCS opponent.

As Brandon Vogel from Hail Varsity observed, it appeared that “Nebraska’s offensive line appeared to get handled by an FCS front.” And given the statistics above, it’s hard not to come to that conclusion.

So is that true? Was McNeese State’s line really physically stronger and able to push Nebraska’s line around?

Clearly not. If that was the case, then there’s no way Nebraska could have averaged 7.37 yards per play in the first half. Nor could Nebraska have averaged 8.52 yards per play against Florida Atlantic last week, an FBS program (although, admittedly, probably an inferior team to McNeese State).

So, if the problem isn’t physical, what is it?

 

Be Concerned About Nebraska’s Mental State

Sure, there were some X's and O's reasons as to why McNeese State was able to be successful against Nebraska. The Cowboys stuffed the box, daring Nebraska to throw, and Nebraska never challenged that single coverage. Abdullah only had 17 carries, meaning McNeese State was able to scheme Nebraska away from its best offensive weapon.

But that alone doesn’t explain the near upset. And given how Nebraska performed earlier, it’s almost impossible to avoid the conclusion that Nebraska wasn’t right mentally against the Cowboys.

Abdullah said it himself, as quoted on Huskers.com.

“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. I have to assist that as the week goes on, but I was reluctant to say something, and I promise that it is the last time that will happen."

So there’s your answer in black and white. Nebraska didn’t “respect the game” enough during the week, meaning that the Huskers' preparation for an FCS opponent wasn’t sufficient. Couple that with injuries to key contributors like Randy Gregory, Kenny Bell and Jamal Turner, as well as quarterback Tommy Armstrong getting tentative after the pick-six, and you get an anemic performance that almost led to the biggest upset in Nebraska’s modern history.

Does that mean Nebraska fans shouldn’t worry? In the short term, perhaps. Nebraska, under head coach Bo Pelini, has a history of bouncing back and performing well after a subpar showing. Even with the travel and the strange start time (9:30 p.m. CT), Fresno State is nowhere near the 11-2 BCS buster of a year ago. A committed performance from Nebraska should be more than enough to take care of business next week.

But for the rest of the season? When Nebraska yet again falls prey to mental lapses causing the team to underperform, as it has done throughout Pelini’s tenure? We got the answer to that question from senior cornerback Josh Mitchell, as reported by Steven M. Sipple of the Lincoln Journal-Star.

“I see 9-4 all over again.”

For a different look at Nebraska football, check out The Double Extra Point.

Or you can use the Twitter machine to follow @DblExtraPoint

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Oregon Ducks vs. Wyoming Cowboys Complete Game Preview

Fresh off what may be the program's most important victory in three seasons, the Oregon Ducks will host the Wyoming Cowboys at Autzen Stadium in their last tune-up before Pac-12 play begins.

Last Saturday in Eugene, the Ducks took down a very impressive Michigan State team by the score of 46-27. With the win, the Ducks simultaneously proved to themselves and the country that they are no longer the “soft” program that they had been previously labeled as.

The newly minted “tough” Ducks will have to quickly shift their focus to the Cowboys, who come in sporting a 2-0 record of their own.

Here’s what you need to know for this game:

Date: Saturday, Sept. 13th

Time: 11:00 AM Pacific Time

Place: Autzen Stadium (Eugene, OR)

TV: Pac-12 Network

Spread: Oregon -43 according to oddsshark.com.

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Oregon Ducks vs. Wyoming Cowboys Complete Game Preview

Fresh off what may be the program's most important victory in three seasons, the Oregon Ducks will host the Wyoming Cowboys at Autzen Stadium in their last tune-up before Pac -12 play begins...

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East Carolina vs. Virginia Tech: Complete Game Preview

Welcome back to national relevance, Virginia Tech. After last week's upset win at No. 8 Ohio State, the Hokies find themselves back in the Top 25, debuting at No. 17 this week. 

Now, the Hokies head back to Blacksburg and play host to East Carolina. The Pirates, at 1-1, are coming off of a disappointing loss at South Carolina last week. ECU was in control of the game throughout the first half, but two second-half turnovers ruined any chance of the Pirates pulling off an upset win over the Gamecocks. 

This has become an annual rivalry of sorts in recent years, as the teams have met six times over the past seven years, with the Hokies winning five of those matchups. ECU's lone win in that span was a 2008 season-opening win over the then-No. 15 Hokies in Charlotte. 

Virginia Tech leads the all-time series 22-5. The last two meetings were close, as Tech won 15-10 in 2013 and 17-10 in 2011. 

  • When: Saturday, September 13, 2014
  • Where: Lane Stadium, Blacksburg, Virginia
  • Time: Noon ET
  • TV: ESPN
  • Radio: Virginia Tech IMG Sports Network. Here is a complete list of stations by area.
  • Spread: The Hokies are currently listed as 11-point favorites. 

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The State of College Football's Blue Bloods

Two weeks into a college football season isn't enough to accurately project where a program is headed, but it does give a snapshot. 

So, two weeks into the 2014 season, where do some of college football's premier programs stand? Some, like Alabama and Florida State, sit atop the totem pole.  

Others, like Michigan and Texas, have a lot of work to do to climb up that pole. 

The following slides contain 10 college football "blue bloods" and their current state. We take into account recent success (or failure), recent games, recruiting and what needs to change, if anything. 

How are college football's top-tier programs performing? Click through to see the answers.

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Ted's Takes: Pac-12 a Big Winner in Wake of Tumultuous Weekend for Big Ten

College football experienced a seismic shock Saturday night and the Pac-12 emerged as the big winner in the national playoff picture.

Big Ten prestige was battered by Michigan State and Ohio State losses leaving that conference in search of a national playoff contender. On the same day, three Pac-12 teams performed at playoff levels. By nightfall, one could envision a playoff with two teams each from the Pac-12 and SEC, and a Big Ten shutout.

Confirmed in the second half of a late Eugene afternoon was Marcus Mariota's place atop the QB ladder. Oregon seemingly won twice Saturday, as Stanford was a dealt a big conference loss. But the game in Palo Alto displayed a brand of football skeptics doubted the Pac-12 could play.

Stanford and USC fought their battle at the line of scrimmage. This was not about sideways passing, bubble screens or finding "space" for small fast men. This was retro football…to run and stop the run. It was reintroduced at Stanford by Jim Harbaugh and reinforced by David Shaw.

In the second quarter, Stanford twice aligned with no wide players and ran straight at the Trojans. Then USC adopted its no-huddle offense with yard splits between offensive linemen. Was this really USC?

Yet, the game was decided by USC winning that line of scrimmage battle on two plays: a Stanford 4th-and-1 from the USC 3 late in the third quarter, and the end-of-game strip sack of Kevin Hogan by J.P. Tavai.

A 13-10 game was Stanford's style, and USC beat Stanford at its own game. Nothing could be of greater help to the Pac-12's national perception.

Oregon's national stance was saved by four touchdowns in its final five possessions of a 46-27 victory over Michigan State. Mariota's Heisman hope was enhanced by one sparkling play. It came on a 3rd-and-10 midway through the third quarter with Oregon's offense stalled and the Ducks staring at a nine-point deficit.

Mariota was pressured and Spartans coach Mark Dantonio thought his team had a sack. But Mariota escaped to his left. There was open field ahead but he chose to flip a shovel pass to Royce Freeman. A 17-yard play resulted from Mariota's improvisation. Mere mortals would never have escaped the rush, let alone generate that result.

"We had to stop the momentum and we had him dead to right and he got out. We had him. I even said, 'He's sacked.'" Dantonio told reporters. "You have to credit him, that's why he's the player he is."

On the next drive, Mariota ran for a first down on 3rd-and-9. He does not often show his speed, but when he does, Mariota's stride and acceleration evoke an image of a younger Colin Kaepernick.

Mariota had a quality passing day…17-of-28 for 318 yards and three touchdowns. The Ducks had a national credibility win. And Mariota landed squarely atop the Heisman ladder in mid-September.

 

 

Why So Early for USC-Stanford?

Stanford could not afford a home loss facing a road gauntlet (Washington, Notre Dame, Arizona State, Oregon, UCLA).

Why did Stanford and USC play in Week 2? The catalyst was not TV, but Notre Dame. Both schools play the Irish during the conference season. Thus, both must play a conference game in September. The Pac-12, with its schedule disrupted, decided USC and Stanford, creators of the issue, would simply play each other.

 

Bruin Questions

UCLA was out of the spotlight for one week, although their home opener Saturday was surprisingly tight. Memphis ran a diverse offense that had 14 plays of 10 or more yards. Defensive problems kept UCLA from securing the 42-35 win until the final minute.

Better news for the Bruins was the return of center Jake Brendel. His presence stabilized the offensive line. Afforded better protection, Brett Hundley completed 33 passes for 396 yards. It was the performance Hundley needed to restore his Heisman presence.

I left the Rose Bowl believing UCLA to be a very good team. National contender? That takes us back to retro football: Can UCLA run the ball? Leading by seven with seven minutes to play, the Bruins could not summon a ground game to run out the remaining time. As an NFL GM said to me over the weekend, "You can win games throwing the ball all over the field, but you can't win championships without a run game."

 

UCLA Scene Thrives with Mora 

The Rose Bowl was electric Saturday night, with an announced crowd of 72,098 providing a lively buzz.

The pre-game sideline was jammed. Jim Mora has created a vibe around UCLA football. Strange perhaps in that Mora was born and bred in the NFL at the feet of his father.

Jim Mora Sr. was on the sidelines Saturday night, and offered his son's recruiting success as the big surprise of his successful adjustment to college. His son's living room connection with parents, the lifeblood to recruiting, has impressed Mora the Elder. And dad confirmed what his son told me last week: "I am a college coach. I love it."

 

Ted Robinson has been around the Pac-10 and Pac-12 for 30 years as the voice of Stanford football and now the Pac-12 Networks. He also is the San Francisco 49ers' radio play-by-play man, as part of his wide-ranging broadcast work on national and international sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ted's Takes: Pac-12 a Big Winner in Wake of Tumultuous Weekend for Big Ten

College football experienced a seismic shock Saturday night and the Pac-12 emerged as the big winner in the national playoff picture...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

NCAA Sending Wrong Message to Victims by Repealing Penn State's Sanctions

There was no reason to feel sorry for Penn State football. No reason to feel that the punishment was too much. No reason to reward Penn State for doing the things it should have been doing all along.

So it's hard to find any reason, actually, that the NCAA decided to let Penn State out on good behavior or, in this case, on a change from monstrous behavior to decent human behavior.

The NCAA announced Monday that it will lift Penn State's bowl ban and recruiting restrictions immediately, two years earlier than the original punishment for the Penn State scandal.

Meanwhile, the dozens of boys who were sexually assaulted will live with it for the rest of their lives.

The message supposedly is that Penn State is doing all the right things now. Jerry Sandusky is in prison forever where he can't hurt anyone else. Coaching staffs have changed twice. Joe Paterno is gone too. So why punish the players and coaches on this year's team when they had nothing to do with what happened?

The thing is everyone there now could have left or didn't have to come at all. They knew what the punishments were.

The real message here is that football is still society's king. That's exactly what caused the problem in the first place. It didn't turn Sandusky into a sexual predator, but it did create a culture—or actually a cult—that allowed Paterno and the university to turn into the great enablers.

Can we just all say this together? In Penn State's case, football doesn't matter. It shouldn't anyway.

Those men who were sexually assaulted as children are more important than football. The punishments placed not only on Sandusky, but also on the school were meant to send that message.

It was a good message. A just message. And the NCAA just cut it in half. 

The mission of a university is to take care of our kids, to help them to grow. It is not to play bowl games. Penn State didn't do what it was supposed to do.

If it has fixed itself up and is now representing some form of virtue, then good for Penn State. Serve your time, and then go about your future, knowing that everyone will be watching.

The key words: Serve your time.

The school still has to pay a $60 million fine. And 112 of Paterno's wins are still forfeited.

The NCAA acted after Sen. George Mitchell's second annual report on Penn State, which said the school was fostering an "ethical culture" and a system that placed oversight of the football team outside the athletic department.

Meanwhile, Paterno's son, Scott, issued a statement saying (via Pennlive.com) that "this is one more step in correcting the unjust and irresponsible penalties imposed on the university."

Scott Paterno also said this about his father:

See, this is the problem. It's not just Paterno's family either. It's the cult that still can't grasp what has happened.

That in itself is evidence that it's not time for this team to be celebrating bowl games.

The Paterno family's desire to try to clear Joe's name is understandable. It was a name that stood for all the right things for decades and then turned to mud just before he died. But how cold is it that anyone is talking about Paterno's vacated victories today?

Sandusky's victims aren't getting their sentences reduced. Imagine what they must think seeing Penn State's punishments reduced, momentum turning and the Paterno family already calling, on this day, for the victories to be reinstated.

It just seems the actions in this case are always only a response to public pressure, not about what was right for the victims.

The program, the cult, the system let them down in the first place, and Penn State was rightly penalized. Now that the public pressure is off, that doesn't mean it's time to let Penn State off the hook.

 

Greg Couch covers college football for Bleacher Report. He also writes for The New York Times and was formerly a scribe for FoxSports.com and The Chicago Sun-Times.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Arkansas State vs. Miami: Complete Game Preview

Fresh off their first victory of the 2014 college football season, the Miami Hurricanes welcome the Arkansas State Red Wolves to South Florida for an afternoon tilt on Saturday, Sept. 14.

Duke Johnson and Phillip Dorsett propelled Miami (1-1) to a 34-point win over Florida A&M, and freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya looked much better in his second career start.

Arkansas State (1-1), the three-time defending Sun Belt champions, dropped a hard-fought game to Tennessee last weekend, falling 34-19 at Volunteer Stadium.

Kickoff between the 'Canes and Red Wolves is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. ET, and ESPNU will carry the nonconference matchup. In 1997, Miami defeated Arkansas State 42-10 in the series' only meeting.

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