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Archie Griffin Weighs in on Jameis Winston, State of Ohio State Football

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The only man in the history of the award to win it twice, Archie Griffin's name is synonymous with the Heisman Trophy.

So when he sees the the controversy that's surrounded the award's recent string of recipients—most notably Florida State's Jameis Winston—the Ohio State great unsurprisingly has an opinion.

Speaking to Bleacher Report as a part of his promotion of the Wendy's High School Heisman, Griffin touched on a number of topics, including his thoughts on Winston, the state of college football and the direction of his alma mater. One of the faces of college football history, Griffin has stayed in touch with the sport's happenings—both good and bad—and isn't shy to share his thoughts.

Per its official website, the Heisman Memorial Trophy annually recognizes the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence. But dating back to the NCAA's investigation into Cam Newton in 2010 and continuing with the autograph saga of 2012 winner Johnny Manziel, college football's most prestigious award seems to have coincided with controversy.

Most recently, it's been Winston who's found his name in the news for the wrong reasons, as the reigning Heisman Trophy winner was suspended for the Seminoles' Sept. 20 clash with Clemson after he shouted vulgarities while standing on a table at the FSU student union. This was just the latest incident in a string of bizarre behavior from Winston, who was accused but not charged in a sexual assault investigation in 2013, and cited for stealing $32.72 worth of crab legs from a local grocery store in the offseason.

Having met and interacted with Winston through a string of Heisman functions, Griffin admitted to being disappointed in the sophomore signal-caller's actions, but he also noted that it's not too late for him to bounce back from his indiscretions.

“I don’t like to see that. I’ve met Jameis. He’s a fun-loving guy," Griffin said. "He likes to have a good time—really, really likes to have a good time, have fun and he brings a smile to a lot of people’s faces and I hate to see those type of things going on in his life because he’s not a bad young man.

"You hate to see that happen. But things like that do happen and you’ve gotta move on, and I hope Jameis does that and really learns from the mistakes that he’s already made.”

Despite having won the award in 1974 and 1975, Griffin, like all other recipients, only gets one vote at the conclusion of each regular season. “Quite frankly, I wish I got two votes. I only got one vote. I shouldn’t be saying this, but I should be trying to get them to give me two votes because I do have two trophies," he joked.

But while Griffin's influence on the Heisman Trophy is limited to his annual vote, he does admit to taking character into consideration before casting his ballot. For somebody whose name is so closely associated with the trophy, the current president and CEO of The Ohio State University Alumni Association wants the winner to stand for more than just being a great football player.

"I do weigh that in when I’m looking for the winner of the trophy," Griffin said. "I want the person to be a good representative of the trophy. So yeah, I look at what they do on the football field, but at the same time, I look at how they’re conducting themselves in society, because they represent the trophy.”

With several other voters sharing the same belief, it appears as though Griffin's status as college football's only two-time winner of the Heisman is safe for at least another season. Nearing the midway point of the season, Winston's name is all but absent from both ESPN.com's and CBSSports.com's Heisman watch lists.

And although it's his defining achievement, Griffin claims that he doesn't root to remain the trophy's only two-time recipient. In fact, the Columbus, Ohio, native says that not only would he embrace company sharing his elite status, but he expects it sometime soon.

“I would welcome somebody. And quite frankly, I’ve always felt that if I can win it twice, I know there’s somebody else out there that’ll win it twice and I think it’ll be done. I don’t know when it will be done—I thought it would’ve been done by now," Griffin said. "I mean, when you think of the fact that the trophy’s been given to freshmen and folks who have to stick around for a while, there’s a real possibility that it’ll happen.”

Change in college football hasn't only been evident in the voting patterns of the Heisman, which has been awarded to five freshmen or sophomores since Tim Tebow became the first underclassman recipient of the trophy in 2007. With the College Football Playoff coming into effect this season and the verdict of the Ed O'Bannon lawsuit threatening the NCAA model, the sport looks a lot different today than it did when Griffin was running rampant on Big Ten defenses 40 years ago.

And that's just fine with him. Rather than wax poetic about back in his day, the only player to ever start in four Rose Bowls sees the evolution of college football as a positive, especially from his perspective as a fan.

"From an NCAA standpoint, they’re making some moves that should’ve been made a long time ago," he said. "I’m glad to see that players will be getting a stipend. I’m glad to see these schools are loosening up and trying to make these scholarships for the players a four-year deal and not having the players have to sign scholarships after every year and making them one-year scholarships. I think that’s good for the players and something that the players wanted and should have. 

"College football’s in good shape and now with the playoff system, a four-team playoff, it’s in even better shape because it’s giving people what they want to see, and that’s more of a true national champion.”

As for his beloved Buckeyes, Griffin finds himself encouraged by the direction of the program in its third season under Urban Meyer.

After enduring back-to-back losses to close 2013 and an early-season defeat at the hands of Virginia Tech this year, Ohio State appears to have found its footing offensively with freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett, which should bode well for the Buckeyes as they enter Big Ten play with this weekend's matchup against Maryland.

"We had a time in there the last couple of games of last season where we didn’t do well and then early this season we lost to Virginia Tech at home, which certainly was a downer. But I think the trajectory is up and this team is getting better every week," Griffin said.

"I’ve been impressed with J.T. Barrett, our quarterback, I think he’s done a fabulous job this year. He’s really, really adapted to this offense and I think he’s doing a great job of leading this offense. When you consider the fact that we replaced 80 percent of our offensive line, you gotta think this team is really on the move."

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Oregon's Loss to Arizona Doesn't Kill the Pac-12's Shot at Playoff Spot

I don't have all the answers. Neither do you. Actually, that's assuming that anyone has any answers for Arizona's stunning 31-24 victory over Oregon on Thursday night. There are guesses—well-reasoned guesses—about what this means in the bigger picture, but they're just that: guesses. 

And that's okay. 

It's Oct. 3, and no one, not even the College Football Playoff selection committee, knows how the Wildcats' upset over the Ducks, the preseason media Pac-12 favorite, is going to impact the four-team playoff field—at least not yet. 

So why would anything, or any team, be marked down as a certainty? That's what Dan Wolken of USA Today wants to know: 

If preseason polls are as meaningless as college football fans would have you believe—the Associated Press and coaches polls are not part of the playoff equation—then what happened Thursday night shouldn't signal the end of the Pac-12's playoff hopes.

Oregon could still win every game going forward and finish as the Pac-12 champ at 12-1. Problems in pass defense and along the offensive line would suggest this could be a hard feat to accomplish, but again, anything is possible.

So too is the idea that Arizona might actually be good. The narrative doesn't have to be that if Oregon doesn't get into the playoff no one from the Pac-12 will. The Wildcats are one of two undefeated teams remaining in the Pac-12, the other being a UCLA team that may have finally found its stride. 

Since Arizona and UCLA play in the Pac-12 South, it will be impossible for both to remain undefeated by season's end, but the larger point is that other teams besides the Ducks are capable of playing great football. 

When Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez took over the program in November 2011, he asked a simple question: "Why not Arizona? Why can't we win it all?" 

That's hardcore coach-speak uttered at every opening press conference, but it won't come to fruition without everyone buying into what the coach is selling. Early returns on the '14 Wildcats indicate that players are buying in. As Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports notes, some of the team's best players are just getting started: 

This speaks to the quality of depth the Pac-12 has. 

Does all of this mean Arizona is undefeated and playoff bound? Absolutely not. The Wildcats could lose next week to USC and every game after that. To take it a step further, maybe the Pac-12 cannibalizes on itself and the conference champion is a three-loss team. 

But the opposite—a playoff field that includes a Pac-12 team—is also a possibility. Technically, the Big Ten isn't out of the discussion yet.

We just don't know, but not everything has to be known on Oct. 3. College football is chaos because it is played by 18- to 23-year-olds who are unpredictable by nature. 

That's part of the fun. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Oregon's Loss to Arizona Doesn't Kill the Pac-12's Shot at Playoff Spot

I don't have all the answers. Neither do you. Actually, that's assuming that anyone has any answers for Arizona's stunning 31-24 victory over Oregon on Thursday night...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Big 12 Teams That Could Play Spoiler for the Conference's Playoff Hopefuls

As we get into the heart of the 2014 season, the debut of the College Football Playoff, we're also finally in Big 12 play. 

But even in the BCS era, sometimes the worst enemies of the Big 12 are on the home front. 

In 2011, with Oklahoma State undefeated and two games away from a berth to the national championship, a trip to Jack Trice Stadium and a loss to Iowa State spoiled the Big 12's hopes at reaching the ultimate stage. 

A year later, a late-season trip by the undefeated Kansas State Wildcats to Waco, Texas, and an upset loss to Baylor gave way to the SEC yet again. 

So which teams can be the 2011 Iowa State Cyclones or the 2012 Baylor Bears this season? 

Let's check out this season's biggest spoiler teams in the Big 12. 

Begin Slideshow

4-Star FSU Commit Calvin Brewton Previews Long-Awaited Notre Dame Visit

Before Calvin Brewton became a building block of the 2015 Florida State recruiting class, the 4-star defensive back knew his recruitment process would take him to South Bend, Indiana. That ambition comes to fruition this weekend when the Miami Central High School standout uses an official visit at Notre Dame.

"This is a trip I've wanted to make for a very long time," Brewton told Bleacher Report.

The 6'0", 185-pound playmaker plans to spend the entire weekend on campus, including a front-row seat to watch the Fighting Irish take on Stanford. Brewton, who committed to the Seminoles in January as a junior, is anticipating an excellent matchup.

"It's a great game to be at," he said. "Notre Dame versus Stanford is one of the best rivalries in football and both teams look like they have a chance to compete for a championship this season. South Bend will be rocking."

Of course, his stay on campus has a lot more to do with the future than simply how the game outcome affects next week's national rankings. Brewton wants to find out whether Notre Dame is the kind of place he could call home for the next stage of his life.

"It's an exciting opportunity to explore something that's completely new to me," he said. "It's been a goal of mine to get up there since I started picking up a lot of offers, before I even committed to Florida State. I'll be looking closely at everything, from the atmosphere to the facilities and how I get along with the coaches."

Brewton wasn't entirely definite on which Irish player will serve as his host for the weekend but believes it could be fellow Florida product Greg Bryant, a sophomore running back. He is being primarily recruited by Notre Dame assistant coach Tony Alford, who played an instrumental role in convincing him to set up a campus visit.

"It's something coach and I have talked about for a while, and it was just a matter of making it work," Brewton said. "He's a great guy and always stays in contact with me. He makes sure I know I mean a lot to them."

Brewton will keep a close eye on the Irish defense Saturday and has been impressed with what he's seen from the unit so far this season.

"Those guys are making plays, especially in the secondary," Brewton said. "That's great to see and I've had a chance to watch them pay this year because of the national television exposure. They totally shut down Michigan, which was great to see."

Though he has plenty of respect for the Notre Dame defense, his faith in Florida State's unit hasn't dissipated despite some shaky moments. The reigning national champions allow 25 points per game, ranked 66th nationally in that category.

"I don't think they've changed much on defense since (former coordinator Jeremy Pruitt left)," Brewton said. "They've made some minor mistakes at times, but I think they'll be fine with the talent and coaches that are there."

He said the Seminoles view him as a versatile athlete who draws comparisons to former star defensive back Lamarcus Joyner, another coveted Miami prospect who is now a St. Louis Rams rookie.

"They think there are similarities between the two of us because I can be anywhere they need me on the field," Brewton said. "They think I have the skills to play safety because of the way I hit and I can cover the pass as a cornerback or at nickel."

Notre Dame has a similar assessment of Brewton.

"Coach (Brian) Kelly and his staff like the way I can play different positions," he said. "They believe I can be a shutdown player in pass coverage."

Brewton, rated 17th nationally among safety prospects in 247Sports' composite rankings, also holds offers from the likes of Louisville, Wisconsin, Clemson and Georgia. However, it seems his recruitment is a two-team race at this stage.

"I'm still solid to the 'Noles," he said. "This Notre Dame visit is something I need to do, though. It's a place I need to check out for myself. Other than those two schools, I'm not really considering much else right now."

Florida State is also flirting with other options this weekend. The Seminoles are set to host committed 5-star defensive backs Kevin Toliver (LSU) and Minkah Fitzpatrick (Alabama).

The Irish have a golden opportunity to present Brewton with a sales pitch for why he should flip from Florida State. Interestingly enough, he plans to use an official visit to Tallahassee late this month when the Seminoles host Notre Dame.

This recruiting battle between two proud programs may just be beginning to brew.

 

All quotes obtained firsthand by B/R national recruiting analyst Tyler Donohue unless othwerwise noted. 

Recruit ratings courtesy of 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Auburn's Matchup vs. LSU Will Once Again Set the Tone for the Tigers' Season

AUBURN, Ala. — Look at Auburn's 2013 results and try to find a turning point for the team that would later become the SEC champion.

Your eyes would probably be drawn to the Oct. 19 game in College Station, Texas, when the Tigers upset a Top 10 Texas A&M in a dramatic 45-41 shootout.

Think about it. After the trip to the Lone Star State, Auburn immediately jumped to No. 11, recorded a pair of big conference wins on the road and pulled off back-to-back all-time great finishes against Georgia and Alabama. 

But if you give that same task to the Tigers coaches and players, they would point your attention toward a road game a few weeks before the road upset of the Aggies—a 35-21 loss to LSU in Baton Rouge.

Although it was the team's only loss before the BCS National Championship Game against Florida State, the 2013 "Tiger Bowl" put Auburn on the road to a conference title and the biggest turnaround in college football history.

"That was one of the defining moments of our entire year last year at halftime. And we got embarrassed in the first half," Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn said. "They got after us real good. Not a whole lot was good in offense, defense or special teams. Our guys decided at halftime that hey, they weren't going to shut her down. They were going to keep fighting. And we fought back, and it really gave us some momentum for the rest of the season."

Although the end result wasn't ideal, Auburn entered the game against LSU undefeated and left with momentum that eventually led to the national title game.

A little over one year later, Auburn finds itself in a similar situation heading into the matchup with the Bayou Bengals.

Even with a road victory against a ranked Kansas State team and a commanding win against an increasingly powerful Arkansas team, Malzahn's team sits just outside of a lot of the playoff discussion, behind teams such as Florida State, Oregon, Oklahoma and Alabama.

The high-powered offense isn't firing on all cylinders to start the season, and one of the country's most improved defenses hasn't gone through the rigors of a big-time SEC matchup yet.

But now Auburn has one, and its players say they are ready to get that important statement victory.

"It’s time to step it up," senior cornerback Jonathon Mincy said. "This is what we came to Auburn to do. We want to compete with the best, and we pride ourselves with going out there and staying consistent."

LSU might be down after its stunning home loss to Mississippi State two weeks ago, but the visiting set of Tigers seem to have more continuity among their offense with talented true freshman Brandon Harris leading the way.

While LSU has taken its lumps against opposing rushing attacks, its secondary continues to be one of the best in the country in both pass efficiency and yards allowed.

And then, of course, there is defensive coordinator John Chavis' impressive record against Malzahn and Co.

"John Chavis has done it for a long time," offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said. "They whipped us last year, especially in the first half. Our guys should be very motivated to play better in this game, and there's no question we've struggled a little bit against LSU in the past. It's a great credit to them and to coach Chavis. They do a really good job of what they do."

With or without Malzahn, Auburn has still struggled to win this important SEC West rivalry game in recent years. LSU has taken seven of the last 10 matchups, and Auburn's three victories were all nail-biters—10-9 in 2004, 7-3 in 2006 and 24-17 in 2010. 

The vast majority of Auburn's team has never defeated LSU, and several seniors have not ignored that frustrating bit of trivia.

"Our goal is to win number five, that’s the number," senior center Reese Dismukes said. "Obviously, in the back of your mind, I think that’s the only team in the SEC I haven’t beaten. That would be nice, but it’s not about that. It’s about being 5-0 and doing whatever you’ve got to do to help this team win and be 5-0."

Getting a victory against a rival that has been nothing but trouble in recent years would be extremely important for Auburn.

Even though LSU doesn't have an unbeaten record, it still is a divisional contender that will be the toughest test to date.

How Auburn passes—or fails—that test will go a long way in determining the outcome of the season. 

If Auburn can fix some of its execution issues against a young and hungry LSU team that will be fighting to stay alive in a brutal SEC West race, then it could be the momentum boost it needs to jump into the middle of the playoff picture.

Auburn will want to avoid the result of last year's meeting, but it will still want to get the same benefits ahead of another tough journey through the conference schedule.

"Last year, that game really turned our heads," senior running back Corey Grant said. "It made us realize what we were capable of."

 

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.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

How Worried Should Alabama Fans Really Be About Ole Miss?

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Everyone is vulnerable.

That looks like the theme for the 2014 college football season so far. The top teams in the country have, more or less, been standing on a rickety foundation.

Thursday night, that all came crashing down. Oregon lost a shocker to Arizona that sent the college football dominoes flying.

The old adage “any given Saturday” (or Thursday) is a cliche, but it’s a cliche because it’s true. For Alabama fans, that makes this week that much scarier.

The Crimson Tide are on the road in Oxford this weekend for their biggest game of the season against an Ole Miss team that looks dangerous. Should Alabama fans be worried about meeting Oregon’s fate Friday night?

There’s a lot to like about this Ole Miss team, and in some ways, it plays to Alabama’s weakness.

Bo Wallace has thrown the ball well this season, and Laquon Treadwell is as tough a matchup at wide receiver as they come in the SEC.

Wallace is No. 7 in the country in completion percentage (71) and No. 13 in yards per game (317.8). The Crimson Tide’s secondary, meanwhile, gave up 365 yards through the air to the only team it's played this year with a high-level passing game.

That’s why it’s make-or-break time for this Alabama secondary, which will look a little different than it did in the opener.

“They have a real good offense,” linebacker Denzel Devall said. “The scheme they run is run pretty good with their quarterback. It all starts with him. We'll have our hands full, but that's why we've been practicing.”

The Rebels have a defense built to rattle an inexperienced quarterback like Blake Sims.

Ole Miss does a terrific job of affecting the quarterback, as evidenced by its nine interceptions so far this year. And those nine interceptions were caught by seven different defenders. They can beat you in a variety of ways.

There’s also the challenge of the team’s first true road test of the season.

Sims has been terrific so far this season, but it’s largely been at home, save the season opener in Atlanta, where Alabama still had a majority in the crowd.

That won’t be the case this week.

“I think the big thing about playing on the road that you have to deal with is the noise factor offensively in terms of being able to manage the game—silent count, those kinds of things are a little different,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “I think that’s the biggest challenge, and we have to create some of those situations in practice so the players have to learn how to communicate and that we can execute with noise not affecting us.”

How Sims manages that hostile environment for the first time will go a long way in determining Alabama’s success.

There’s a lot that works in Alabama’s favor, though.

For one, the Rebels haven’t been able to run the ball consistently this season. They average 169.75 rushing yards per game, which puts them at just No. 75 in the country.

Neither of Ole Miss' top two backs—Jaylen Walton and I'Tavius Mathers—tops 6’0” or 200 pounds. Alabama’s massive front seven shouldn’t have much of a problem in that department.

The Crimson Tide, meanwhile, should be able to run the ball with a good amount of success. New offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin has maximized the talents of his three star running backs, T.J. Yeldon, Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake. They can showcase their skills in the right situations without getting worn down in the process.

If you ran a computer simulation of this game 1,000 times, Alabama would come out on top more times than not. But these games are not played on paper. That wouldn’t be very fun.

If Thursday night was any indication, every team is vulnerable. And could fall at any time.

 

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

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

SEC Football: Biggest Surprises, Disappointments so Far in 2014

We’re only five weeks into the college football season, and the SEC has already delivered us a season’s worth of entertainment.

From upsets, stellar performances and improbable finishes, the nation’s toughest conference has seen it all. It’s been enough to keep fans on the edge of their seats week in and week out.

But for every surprise in the SEC, there has also been a disappointment.

Join B/R as we take a closer look at some of both. 

 

Begin Slideshow

Who Is College Football's Real No. 1 Team?

Even before the 2014 college football season got underway, mock four-team playoffs were being formed.

It's a projection that's been drawn up every week since. Bleacher Report and USA Today are just two outlets that have weekly features with mock playoff committees.

Interestingly, there seems to be less emphasis on which team is actually No. 1. That likely comes down to it being merely the first week in October. There's a lot of football left to be played and no need to concentrate heavily on seeding just yet.

But the question remains: After one month, which team is the best in college football?

Oregon's stunning home loss to Arizona on Thursday night means it's safe to eliminate the Ducks from that conversation—for now. It's not even that the Ducks lost; as B/R's draft guru, Matt Miller, and Chris B. Brown of Grantland.com tweet, there's little help for quarterback Marcus Mariota:

There are 16 undefeated teams heading into Saturday, but obviously, not every undefeated team is created equally. There are also three games this weekend that pit undefeated Top 25 teams against one another. We're going to have a much clearer idea of who's rising to the top when Sunday rolls around.

In the meantime, who's No. 1? Based on the latest mock playoff rankings from B/R's playoff guru, Samuel Chi, Oklahoma, Auburn, Florida State and Alabama would make the field if the season ended today. There are certainly cases to be made for Texas A&M and a few other teams, but going off Chi's rankings, which team would be the top seed?

Below is a glance at each.

 

Oklahoma

The Sooners might be the most complete team in the country. There's no standout win on the resume, per se, though beating West Virginia on the road in a tough environment is solid.

Oklahoma's strength is in its defensive front seven, and the Sooners average three sacks and just under seven tackles for loss a game. And despite breaking in a mostly new group of wide receivers, Oklahoma ranks in the top 10 nationally in scoring offense. It helps that OU has incredible depth and talent at running back.

Oklahoma will be tested again Saturday at TCU, which appears to be a much-improved team on offense from a year ago. The Frogs defense is once again a formidable group. The good news for the Sooners going forward is that all of their toughest games on paper—against Kansas State, Baylor and Oklahoma State—are at home.

 

Auburn

It's hard to believe Auburn could be trucking along quietly after the miraculous season it had in 2013, but the Tigers have been somewhat low-key this season, aside from a Thursday night win at Kansas State.

That is going to change in earnest. The Tigers are coming up on a brutal stretch of games that extends, well, through the rest of the season. It starts this Saturday at home against LSU and continues with the following conference schedule: at Mississippi State, South Carolina, at Ole Miss, Texas A&M, at Georgia and at Alabama.

No big deal—the SEC West just has four other undefeated teams at the moment.

 

Florida State

The interesting thing about the Seminoles is that they appear to be in an opposite situation from a year ago. In 2013, Florida State was undoubtedly the most talented team in the country, steamrolling its way through a soft schedule.

This year, Florida State has shown far more weaknesses, but it already has two quality wins over Oklahoma State and Clemson. (The Tigers are much more dangerous now than they were in Week 1 thanks to a change at quarterback.) Plus, there's the come-from-behind win over North Carolina State, which showed a ton of leadership.

The chemistry isn't all there for the Noles. The offensive line is getting beat more regularly, and the defense isn't as stifling. However, head coach Jimbo Fisher still thinks (understandably) that his team should be No. 1.

"We ain't lost in 19 straight games, we're No. 1 until somebody beats us," Fisher said after beating Clemson without quarterback Jameis Winston and defensive end Mario Edwards (h/t Brendan Sonnone of the Orlando Sentinel).

 

Alabama

Just as Auburn is approaching a brutal stretch in its remaining schedule, so too is Alabama. The SEC West, as Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports opines, is the best in college football. There are five teams that think they're the best team in the country...in the same division.

The Tide travel to Oxford to take on Ole Miss on Saturday, a game that could say more about the Rebels. Still, the tough SEC West stretch means there's little room for error for Alabama.

The Tide found their quarterback in veteran Blake Sims, who has been a pleasant surprise. Young players in the secondary like Tony Brown are coming along nicely. Alabama doesn't look indestructible like it has in some recent years, but it also feels like this is a team that can (and will) get better as the season progresses.

 

Who's No. 1?

Of the four teams listed, Florida State has the best resume. But the Seminoles haven't looked like a No. 1 team. That leaves three other options whose toughest games have yet to be played.

Of Alabama, Auburn and Oklahoma, the Tide have a slight edge. All three teams have had good quarterback play, with Alabama getting the most out of Sims. Bama's offense also has arguably the best receiver in the country in Amari Cooper.

The defense hasn't been a shutdown unit, but it has been solid. Both Alabama and Oklahoma did a nice job with second-half adjustments against West Virginia, a team whose offense is much improved from a year ago.

The overall playmaking ability from Alabama's offense gives the Tide an oh-so-close edge over the Sooners, but trust that it was a close call.

It could also change in 24 hours. That's the beauty of college football.

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Arizona Celebrates Upset Win over No. 2 Oregon with "Duck Hunt" Photo

No. 2 Oregon was upset by the unranked Arizona Wildcats for the second consecutive season Thursday night, and the Arizona Athletics Twitter account had the perfect tweet to celebrate their big win.

As soon as the clock hit zero on the Wildcats' 31-24 victory, Arizona tweeted out the game-over screen from the famous Nintendo game Duck Hunt. This time, however, it's a Wildcat holding up a pair of downed ducks—not that stupid dog who laughed at you.

It didn't stop there, Matt Dudek, Arizona's Director of Player Personnel, got on twitter and started firing away at the Ducks.

 

After Thursday night's loss, Oregon fans would take a laughing dog over a bragging Wildcat any day.

[Twitter]

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Arizona Celebrates Upset Win over No. 2 Oregon with "Duck Hunt" Photo

No. 2 Oregon was upset by the unranked Arizona Wildcats for the second consecutive season Thursday night, and the Arizona Athletics Twitter account had the perfect tweet to celebrate their big win...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

LSU Football: Game-by-Game Predictions for the Month of October

LSU's schedule for the month of October is brutal, and that is putting it nicely. 

The Tigers will play four games this month, two of which are on the road. Head coach Les Miles must win at least two to have a chance of keeping his streak of 10-win seasons alive. 

LSU lost its conference opener against Mississippi State weeks ago. The Tigers were outclassed in every aspect of the game. This month, they will play two teams currently ranked higher than the Bulldogs. 

Here is a preview of the October slate of games for the Tigers. 

 

LSU at Auburn, October 4th

Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn's only conference loss last season was against LSU. Malzahn's Tigers have started 4-0 and do not want their unbeaten record broken by the Bayou Bengals for the second straight season. 

Miles will be starting true freshman quarterback Brandon Harris for the first time. Eight of the nine last offensive possessions Harris has led have resulted in touchdowns. He has the dual-threat playmaking tools to give Auburn some issues on defense. 

LSU allowed 302 rushing yards against Mississippi State. Auburn is more than capable of eclipsing that number in Malzahn's uptempo offensive spread, which has averaged 260 yards on the ground in 2014.

The SEC Network pointed out that history is on the line for Miles:

LSU has won 6 of its last 7 games vs. Auburn. If they win Saturday, it would be @LSUCoachMiles 100th W as LSU's head coach. #LSUvsAUB

— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) October 3, 2014

Unfortunately for Miles, the crowd at Jordan-Hare Stadium will be tough to deal with for Harris and the rest of LSU's young skill position players. But Auburn's advantage, albeit slight, on both lines of scrimmage will be the difference in the game. 

Score: Auburn 38 - LSU 21

 

LSU at Florida, October 11th

Florida head coach Will Muschamp has another mediocre offense in 2014.

Junior Jeff Driskel has shown little improvement under first-year offensive coordinator Kurt Roper. The Gators also have average playmakers that do not frighten opposing defenses.

Florida has had some surprising defensive struggles as well. Defensive end Dante Fowler, Jr. and cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III could be the two best players in the SEC at their respective positions, but they will need some help for their entire unit to improve. 

Both the Tigers and the Gators will be coming off conference road games, so do not be surprised if this game is an ugly slugfest. Miles' only win in The Swamp came in 2010, which required a magical bounce. With that said, LSU's offensive playmakers on the outside will make enough plays to win the game. 

Score: LSU 20 - Florida 14

 

Kentucky at LSU, October 18th

Kentucky has seen improvement under head coach Mark Stoops. The Wildcats came close to defeating Florida in The Swamp, but they were able to break through the next week against Vanderbilt for their first conference win since 2011. 

LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis carved up The Wildcats the last time they played in Tiger Stadium in 2011. Kentucky finished with only 66 yards passing in a blowout defeat. Times have changed since then under Stoops' leadership, but they must be more efficient through the air if they want to keep it close. 

LSU will likely be bruised and battered after two straight SEC road games. But the Tigers have too much talent at home for the Wildcats. 

Score: LSU 35 - Kentucky 20

 

Ole Miss at LSU, October 25th

Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze has coached his best against Miles. 

The Rebels were narrowly defeated by LSU in Tiger Stadium in 2012 with inferior talent. Last season, Ole Miss, despite missing a multitude of defensive starters, pulled off an impressive upset over Tigers. 

Freeze's squad this season is the most talented team he has ever assembled. They will be put to the test in October, as their schedule consists of Alabama, Texas A&M and Tennessee. It would not be a major surprise if they win or lose all three of those games leading up to LSU. 

Quarterback Bo Wallace has thrown for 656 yards in his past two meetings against LSU. But Wallace can be a turnover machine at times, which plays to the advantage of Chavis. 

LSU's defense will be up for the challenge this time around. The Tigers are soft up the middle, but the Rebels lack a bruising, between-the-tackles back that can hurt them. Miles should, and will, win this game.

Score: LSU 27 - Ole Miss 24 

 

Stats, rankings and additional information provided by cfbstats.com and LSU Sports Information. Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Follow me on Twitter @CarterthePower.

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What Nebraska Needs from Tommy Armstrong vs. Michigan State

It's no secret that Nebraska wants to defeat Michigan State. Doing so isn't going to be easy, though. It's even harder to accomplish that goal on the road in East Lansing.

The Huskers did it two years ago. In 2012, former quarterback Taylor Martinez rushed for 205 yards and two touchdowns, and Nebraska walked out of Spartan Stadium with a 28-24 victory.

Two years later, the responsibility falls on Tommy Armstrong. Can he lead the Huskers to another victory over East Lansing? The answer is yes, but there are specific things he will need to do to make that happen.

First and foremost, Armstrong is going to need to eliminate turnovers. In 2013, Nebraska racked up 392 yards on offense against the Michigan State defense. What killed the Huskers was the five turnovers that accompanied that.

Armstrong didn't have an awful day against the Spartans in 2013, either. He threw two big passes, both over 30 yards, to both Sam Burtch and Kenny Bell. He finished the day with 143 passing yards and two touchdowns.

That doesn't sound too bad until it's broken down a bit more.

Armstrong was also intercepted once, fumbled twice and only completed nine of his 21 attempts.

That's going to be the key for Armstrong and the Huskers. To win, turnovers cannot be an issue. In fact, it's exactly what will kill the Huskers from winning against Michigan State.

The trick for Armstrong will be to make smarter decisions. As reported by Josh Harvey of Big Red Report (subscription required), the sophomore quarterback is planning to do just that:

I’m a lot different. It was new to me. It was my first year actually starting as a redshirt freshman. I saw new things. I saw certain guys. It was just different. I think things have slowed down. I’m getting more physical when it comes to running. I’m trying to make smarter decisions and stuff like that, just putting my offense in the right position.

His decision-making has improved through the first five games of the season. Armstrong heads to East Lansing having thrown for 1,052 yards and 10 touchdowns. He has also had three interceptions, but he's making up for it on the ground. He's also rushed for 420 yards and two touchdowns, per ESPN.com.

Armstrong and the offense will also need to take advantage of a weaker Michigan State offense. Don't let that be too deceiving, though. Spartan head coach Mark Dantonio firmly believes his defense can be just as good in 2014 as it has been the past three seasons, as he told the Lansing State Journal.

“Our defense is not broke,” Dantonio said. “We gave up 14 whopping points last week (to Wyoming), but our defense is not broke.”

It's going to come down to leadership, though. If there are opportunities to exploit weaknesses on the MSU defense, Armstrong is going to need to step up and expose those.

He knows it.

"If our offensive line is getting to the next level and we've got to make the safety miss, that's what we want," Armstrong said, per the Detroit Free Press. "We want those guys to come down and try to make tackles. Because if that's the case, we're moving the ball 5 and 6 yards at a time."

Defeating Michigan State in East Lansing isn't impossible. The Huskers have done it before. In order to do it again, Nebraska is going to need the best from Armstrong.

That includes limiting turnovers, taking advantage of potential MSU defensive struggles and being a leader from start to finish. If Armstrong can accomplish those tasks, the Huskers have a good shot of being 6-0 for the first time since 2001.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

6 Coaches Who Struggle Most at Defending Spread Offense

Over the past decade or so, spread offenses have become all the rage in college football.

From Clemson to Washington State, Oregon to Auburn, various forms of spread systems have proliferated across the college gridiron scene, making the college game more exciting to watch and more aggravating for opposing coaches and defensive coordinators.

Its fast-paced, high-scoring schemes make college football more fun, but if you’re staring at its various fits, starts and wide-open movements, the spread offense can be difficult to combat from the opposite sideline. And sometimes, teams that move fast and struggle to contain the spread are one and the same.

Here’s a look at coaches who, for one reason for another, struggle to defend the spread offense.

Begin Slideshow

LSU vs. Auburn: Predictions, TV and Live Stream Coverage for Saturday Night

There are several intriguing matchups in Week 6, but none have the championship implications of Saturday night's battle between Southeastern Conference foes the No. 5 Auburn Tigers and the No. 15 LSU Tigers.

Both programs are widely considered two of the best in the country, and the resulting battle on national television will have hardcore and casual fans tuning in to see which team has the better shot at the college football playoffs.

Here is all of the vital viewing information for the Week 6 showdown and the full breakdown of the marquee matchup.

 

Where: Jordan-Hare Stadium, Auburn, Alabama

When: Saturday, October 4

Start Time: 7 p.m. ET

Watch: ESPN

Live Stream:WatchESPN

 

Breaking Down LSU vs. Auburn

There are few games thus far in 2014 that have captured the minds of college football fans the way Saturday night’s showdown between LSU and Auburn has over the last week. Not only are these two programs SEC foes, but they are also ranked teams looking to move up in the next top 25 poll.

Auburn enters the game as the betting favorite (the spread is -7.5, according to OddsShark.com), and it looks to be carrying as much momentum as any team in the nation. After losing the national championship to Florida State to finish last season, the program has strung together four wins to start the 2014 campaign, including wins over Arkansas and Kansas State.

While it is still early in the season, Saturday’s game against LSU is a must-win due to the upcoming schedule for Auburn. It is dangerous for a program to look ahead, but with upcoming games against Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Texas A&M, Georgia and Alabama, Auburn must dominate LSU on Saturday and set the tone for the next stretch of games.

If Auburn is unable to beat LSU, though, the wheels could come off very quickly.

Luckily for the team and the fans of the program, head coach Gus Malzahn is brimming with confidence and it’s rubbing off on his players. Auburn wide receiver Quan Bray talked to The Associated Press (via USA Today) about defending the SEC Championship and how LSU won’t hand the team a loss:

It's not going to be hard for us to win the SEC championship. We're the defending SEC champions, and we're going to try to defend that. And we're going to try to move on and be 13 seconds better. We're going to earn it. We put in the grind for that, so we're definitely going to come out and play ball. They're going to have to take it from us.

As good as Auburn is and as confident as the program is in its abilities, LSU has a roster full of talented players who would love to play spoiler and make a case that it should be one of the top contenders in the SEC.

ESPN’s College Football Twitter account pointed out that LSU has dominated Auburn recently:

A loss to Mississippi State was a devastating blow earlier this season, but LSU managed to beat the ranked Wisconsin Badgers in Week 1, and the team is coming off a huge 63-7 win over New Mexico State.

Both teams possess the stingy defenses that the SEC has become known for. LSU is currently ranked sixth in the nation, allowing only 13 points per game, but Auburn isn’t too far behind, ranking 15th and allowing 16.3 points per game. When it comes to the defensive matchup, it’s a push.

Auburn’s advantage comes on the offensive side of the ball. Led by dual-threat senior quarterback Nick Marshall, the offensive unit has been able to keep drives alive and control the clock using a run-first game plan accented by a succinct passing attack.

For LSU, the team has turned the reins over to freshman quarterback Brandon Harris and will give him his first career start, according to Randy Rosetta of NOLA.com. Malzahn understands the pressure on a freshman quarterback and will do everything in his power to get defenders in Harris’ face all game.

With pressure coming from every direction, Harris will make freshman mistakes and turn the ball over. If Auburn controls the clock and limits turnovers while forcing Harris to make mistakes, the program will take down LSU and continue its ascension toward the top of the polls.

Predicted Final Score: Auburn 36, LSU 27

 

Stats via ESPN.com.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Arizona vs. Oregon: How Wildcats' Win Reshapes Playoff Picture

For the third time in five games, Oregon found itself in a close battle deep into the second half. This time, however, the Ducks couldn't escape with a victory as Arizona scored a late touchdown to secure the upset and shake up the playoff picture.

It's a major blow to Oregon's chances of earning one of the four spots in the national semifinals. There's been a lack of high-profile upsets in the early going, something that will now need to change to shake things up before the selection committee makes its choices.

On the flip side, Arizona has inserted itself into the playoff conversation. The Wildcats were unranked in both major polls coming into the week, but the marquee victory should allow them to leapfrog a lot of teams, and they still have a couple more chances at statement wins.

Another big winner is the SEC. A conversation was already starting to heat up about whether the conference was going to deserve two spots in the final four. That talk is only going to get louder with the Pac-12's top-ranked team falling already.

So Oregon can't be totally eliminated as a playoff contender, but it will need to put together much better performances moving forward to run the table.

In terms of upsets, ESPN Stats and Info notes Thursday night's game just slides into the top 10 in terms of shock value based on the outlet's Football Power Index:

That said, it's fair to argue Arizona's triumph is the most important upset so far. It's the first game that provides a significant shake-up to a playoff picture that had remained relatively stable.

ESPN College Football provided some other notable tidbits about the result:

The biggest problem for Oregon was the offensive line. It failed to excel in either facet of the game plan, struggling to open holes for the running game and failing to keep a clean pocket for Marcus Mariota. The Heisman Trophy contender was under constant pressure all night.

Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated remarks that, along with a defense that gave up nearly 500 total yards and failed to get enough key stops, the O-line was a much bigger problem than the officials:

Bleacher Report's Adam Kramer states the defensive letdowns shouldn't come as much of a surprise, making the lack of explosiveness on offense the deciding factor:

Ultimately, the reason for the loss is insignificant to the playoff committee. It's a loss to an unranked team, which means Oregon now becomes fans of Arizona with hope both teams can run the table and meet again for the conference title.

That would take away most of the sting from the loss and create what would likely become a play-in game for the playoffs. Of course, it's easier said than done considering the high level of competitiveness around the Pac-12.

Aslan Hodges of WAPT says it's all good news for the SEC:

The question is whether the members of the Pac-12 will beat up each other so much they end up giving the committee little choice but to pick another SEC team.

Anne M. Peterson of the Associated Press passed along post-game comments from Mariota, who praised the Wildcats and the strength of competition in the conference.

"They're undefeated," he said. "It's obviously a testament to our conference. If you're not prepared each week, if you're not ready to play, you'll lose."

It's a storyline that's only going to get more intriguing in the weeks ahead.

As for now, it appears the Pac-12 remains safe. CBS Sports college football projection guru Jerry Palm moved UCLA into the playoffs following Oregon's loss. The Bruins are joined by Alabama, Florida State and Oklahoma.

Things should be a lot more clear in about three weeks. Arizona has a key stretch of games, including clashes with UCLA and USC. Oregon and UCLA will face off. And, on Saturday, Stanford looks to avoid its second loss in a nonconference game against Notre Dame.

Once the dust settles following all of that action, the Pac-12 race should be far more established heading into the stretch run. Furthermore, the SEC teams will know their chances of having an extra bid available at the conference's expense.

After Thursday night, the margin for error is greatly reduced for Oregon, and Arizona moved itself into the contender category.

While it's only Week 6, the playoff race is already getting interesting around college football.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Florida State Frustrated by Missed Tackles, Determined to Fix Problem

Missed tackles are part of the game of football as athletic, speedy running backs and receivers are able to elude defensive players.

But the number of missed tackles reached an alarming level for Florida State on Saturday. And despite FSU's 56-41 win over North Carolina State, the Seminoles missed "30-something" tackles in the game, safety Tyler Hunter said.

"I've never been a part of any team where we missed that many tackles," said Hunter, who was praised for his tackling and recorded 11 stops in the game. "You're in college now, so you should know how to tackle."

Jimbo Fisher, who said it was the worst tackling game at FSU since he took over as head coach in 2010, and the defensive players are frustrated but determined to fix the problem.

Players typically don't wear pads for Monday's practice, but they did this past Monday, and Fisher said that he was encouraged at how the defensive players performed in tackling drills this week as FSU (4-0) prepares for Saturday's game against visiting Wake Forest (2-3) at 3:30 p.m. ET.

"We had a lot of space-tackle drills," Fisher said. "Guys are athletically moving better and stepping on toes. We had some guys, too, that weren't as healthy in that game [against N.C. State] that I think will be healthier this game."

FSU played the N.C. State game without defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. (concussion) and Nile Lawrence-Stample, who suffered a torn pectoral muscle against Clemson and will miss the rest of the season.

But the injuries became even more of an issue against the Wolfpack, as the Seminoles also lost linebacker Terrance Smith, defensive tackles Derrick Mitchell and Eddie Goldman and defensive end Chris Casher to minor injuries that caused them to miss drives.

Fisher said after Thursday night's practice that he expects Edwards, Smith, Mitchell, Goldman and Casher to play against Wake Forest. And FSU expects to play linebacker Ukeme Eligwe for the first time in 2014 after he was sidelined in the spring with a Lisfranc (foot) injury.

Without so many key defensive players against N.C. State, especially in the front seven, backups were leaned on heavily, and some didn't play well. But Fisher also said veterans who normally were good tacklers instead displayed poor technique against N.C. State.

"Very uncharacteristic but inexcusable," Fisher said. "Tackling to me is a lot of 'want to,' being able to step on guys' toes and hit them in the mouth and get into position to do that. … We're physical enough, and other times we got ourselves out of position. [We] had bad eye discipline."

Hunter said watching the film was a sobering experience.

"I'm pretty sure it was difficult for those guys but film don't lie," Hunter said. "You just have to accept it and move on and work at it."

The missed tackles are an area of concern for FSU moving forward. While Fisher feels the techniques were corrected in practice, the Seminoles' schedule only gets tougher after upcoming games against Wake Forest and Syracuse.

FSU faces a likely Top 10 showdown against Notre Dame on Oct. 18, followed by a Thursday night matchup at Louisville on Oct. 30 (a bye week separates those games). November matchups against Virginia, Miami, Boston College and Florida will follow.

Fisher said part of the tackling problems that FSU suffered a week ago at N.C. State can be attributed to the Wolfpack's skill and athleticism on offense, but that can't be used as an excuse for poor tackling.

"They play hard, they’ve got good players," Fisher said. "But those are plays you have to make if you want to win big-time games."

 

Bob Ferrante is the Florida State Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Statistics are courtesy of Seminoles.com. All recruiting information is courtesy of 247SportsFollow Bob on Twitter

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Washington's Shaq Thompson Projects as 2015 NFL Draft's Most Versatile Prospect

It’s unclear what position Shaq Thompson will play in the National Football League, but it’s becoming increasingly evident that the Washington junior has the skills to make any team better and should be a first-round pick if he declares for the 2015 draft.

Traditional logic might suggest that Thompson, who has spent most of his Huskies career playing linebacker and is listed at 6’1”, 228 pounds by Washington’s official athletics website, is a “tweener” who is undersized at his natural position.

That logic, however, is becoming increasingly outdated by the year as speed and versatility have become keys to success—especially on the defensive side of the ball—in a sport being played at a faster pace and in more diversified schemes than ever before.

What role Thompson ultimately plays in the NFL will be determined by what team selects him in the draft, as it’s likely that there will be many different opinions between scouts, coaches and executives on where Thompson can make a team better.

The positive side of that unanswered question is Thompson can provide multiple solutions. His abilities to play numerous positions on defense, contribute in all three phases of the game and make big plays in every capacity are what make him one of the top NFL prospects in college football.

 

A Player Who 'Can Handle It All'

Learning to play new positions has been a staple of Thompson’s career in The Evergreen State.

A 5-star recruit out of Sacramento, California, who was ranked as the No. 3 overall player in his high school class by Scout.com, Thompson started every game of his freshman season as Washington’s nickelback and became an immediate playmaker. He recorded 74 total tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, three interceptions and recovered one fumble.

Since transitioning to linebacker prior to his sophomore season, Thompson has continued to be productive. He recorded 78 total tackles, four tackles for loss and intercepted one pass, which he returned 80 yards for a touchdown, in 2013.

Thompson has further raised his level of play in 2014, but Washington has not let him stay content with playing only the same role.

In Washington’s most recent game Saturday against Stanford, the Huskies decided to start Thompson at strong safety instead of weak-side linebacker. That did not stop Thompson from having one of the best games of his career by recording seven total tackles, one pass breakup and two forced fumbles, one of which he recovered and returned for a touchdown.

Saturday's game was a showcase of how effectively Thompson, who exhibits natural skills in coverage and the athletic range to make plays all over the field, can be moved to different spots in Washington’s defensive formation.

Thompson has shown over the course of his career that he can impact a game in a positive fashion as an off-ball linebacker, as a wide outside linebacker lined up on the edge or from the secondary.

Any NFL team that drafts Thompson will do so with the intention of exploiting that versatility to its advantage.

Thompson’s versatility extends beyond the defensive side of the ball. He has seen playing time at running back in three games this season, while he is also not only seen lining up on special teams units, but making plays in that capacity.

As Washington linebackers coach Bob Gregory told the media earlier this week (h/t Adam Jude of The Seattle Times), Thompson “can handle it all.”

“He can do a lot of different things and that gives us flexibility on defense,” Gregory said of Thompson. “He’s a smart player, he works very hard in practice.”

 

Big-play Ability

Thompson is to Washington what some what could call an X-factor. While his job doesn’t usually entail having the ball in his own hands, he’s a threat to hit paydirt any time he has the ball in his hands with some open space.

In just five games so far this season, Thompson has already scored four touchdowns.

Three of those scores have been defensive touchdowns. Two of them came in Washington’s Sept. 13 win over Illinois, a game in which Thompson took an interception 36 yards to the end zone in the first quarter, then got six points again in the second quarter on a 52-yard scoop-and-score, as shown in the clip below.

What might not be clear in that GIF is how quickly Thompson reacted to the ball hitting the ground, which enabled him to accelerate to the ball with a direct angle and grab it before any other player could get there. More noticeable in that clip above is Thompson’s speed, as he was able to outrun Illinois in a footrace to the goal line.

For his third defensive touchdown of the season, Thompson made an even bigger play. In the second quarter of Saturday’s game against Stanford, Cardinal running back Remound Wright was fighting for yardage when Thompson knocked the ball out of his grasp, scooped up the fumble he forced himself and then went all the way back for a 36-yard score.

Thompson uses his eyes like a seasoned pro to diagnose plays, and he has a tremendous closing burst. It’s the combination of those traits, along with his great ball skills, that have enabled him to become a playmaking machine this season.

Considering he possesses an ideal combination of size and speed for the running back position, it’s no surprise that he’s also displayed big-play ability in that capacity. Against Eastern Washington, on just the third carry of his career, he ran away from a host of Eagles defense to take a run 57 yards to the house.

NFL teams tend to target players who can be game-changers with their first-round picks. It’s likely that’s what the team who drafts Thompson will get.

 

What Should Thompson’s Role on an NFL Team Be?

At the least, Thompson should be an immediate fixture on the passing defense of the team who drafts him.

Thompson displays excellent fluidity when dropping back into coverage. He has demonstrated that he can have success in one-on-one matchups with tight ends, running backs and even slot receivers.

Looking far more like a typical defensive back than a linebacker athletically, Thompson has the smooth hips and quick feet to stay with pass-catchers downfield and on their route breaks.

Even when Thompson gives up receptions, he rarely allows big plays to happen. As an explosive, click-and-close upfield hitter, Thompson can rapidly bring down a receiver in front of him or, as was the case in the following clip from Washington’s 2013 game against UCLA, dislodge the ball from his opponent’s hands with a forceful hit.

Special teams should also be an immediate area of contribution for Thompson. His speed and ability to hit hard on the run makes him a terrific gunner to send downfield to track down a kickoff returner or chase down a punt.

As the following clip from the 2013 UCLA game shows, downing a punt close to the goal line is another area in which his ball skills become an asset.

Thompson’s limited size sometimes come into play as a run defender, as he can be driven away from runs that come his direction by bigger blockers whom he struggles to disengage from. He is also an occasionally sloppy tackler, largely because of his penchant for making big hits on the run, which sometimes leads to him being overly aggressive in pursuit and taking poor angles.

With that being said, Thompson’s athletic range could make him a key asset to an NFL team in all defensive situations.

Thompson’s physicality and ability to attack downhill enable him to make up for his lack of size as a run defender. His all-around athleticism could lead to an excellent career as a 4-3 weak-side linebacker or 3-4 inside linebacker.

His experience playing in the secondary and doing it well at Washington could also convince a team to draft him to play strong safety. At that position, Thompson projects comparably to another playmaker who currently stars in Seattle—that being Seahawks strong safety Kam Chancellor.

Like the 6’3”, 232-pound Chancellor, who is an authoritative hitter at all levels of the field but also has the range and ball skills to make plays in downfield pass coverage, Thompson would likely spend most of his time playing in the box and sometimes shift down to linebacker in nickel subpackages.

There’s little reason that Thompson shouldn’t continue to play and excel on defense in the NFL, but could a team also consider getting Thompson on the field at running back?

At least one NFL scout, according to NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah, Bucky Brooks and Charles Davis, thinks Thompson actually has more upside on the offensive side of the ball: "An AFC scout said Thompson is a more natural runner than (UCLA sophomore linebacker/running back Myles) Jack and thinks a full-time move to running back for Thompson would make a lot of sense. 'I'd make sure he touches it 25 times a game,' the scout said."

The NFL Media analysts acknowledged that a long-term move to running back would be a surprise, but it’s quite a testament to Thompson’s physical tools that even one scout employed by the NFL thinks he could excel as a ball-carrier, despite the fact that his times running the ball collegiately remains in the single digits.

 

How High Will Thompson Be Selected?

Among players eligible to declare for the 2015 draft, no player has shown more versatility or ability to make defensive plays in space than Thompson has. While there’s still time for that to change, it would be a surprise if Thompson doesn’t remain among the top defensive prospects in the draft class should he turn pro following his junior season.

A special physical specimen, Thompson should test very well at the NFL Scouting Combine and/or other predraft workouts. His weigh-ins will be an important step of the evaluation process, as it could determine whether he bulks up to play linebacker or drops back to play safety, but he should capitalize upon the chance to prove himself as a premier athlete in the predraft process.

The 2014 draft had a similar talent, Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier, go No. 15 overall to the Pittsburgh Steelers despite being only 6’1”, 237 pounds, according to NFL.com.

Thompson’s production at Washington has not been quite as consistent as Shazier’s was for the Buckeyes, but he brings even more versatility and playmaking ability to the table than Shazier. It should come as no surprise if Thompson, who Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller projected as the No. 11 overall pick to the Miami Dolphins in his most recent mock draft, ends up being a top-15 pick himself.

 

All GIFs were made at gfycat.com using videos from DraftBreakdown.com or Noonkick.se. All statistics courtesy of CFBStats.com unless otherwise noted.

Dan Hope is an NFL/NFL Draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Washington's Shaq Thompson Projects as 2015 NFL Draft's Most Versatile Prospect

It’s unclear what position Shaq Thompson will play in the National Football League, but it’s becoming increasingly evident that the Washington junior has the skills ...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

College Football Picks Week 6: Odds and Spread Predictions for Top 25 Teams

As if to apologize for the past few weeks, college football is back with a bang to kick off the month of October.

In a sense, the apology is unnecessary, as a lackluster slate on paper produced a number of high-quality affairs and shocking upsets in the infancy of conference play.

Imagine what the schedule has in store now, with plenty of must-see contests bunched into one week.

The action is particularly thick in the SEC and the Big Ten, and there's a Stanford-Notre Dame matchup for good measure. Let's take a look at the slate of odds for the Top 25 teams and break down a few in-depth.

 

Week 6 Top 25 Odds and Predictions

Note: All odds, updated as of 8 p.m. ET on Oct. 2, are courtesy of Odds Shark. AP poll via The Associated Press.

 

Odds to Avoid

No. 6 Texas A&M vs. No. 12 Mississippi State (-2)

Say hello to the king of must-avoid matchups.

On one side of the ring are the No. 6 Texas A&M Aggies. They have fully put the Johnny Manziel era behind them thanks to the stellar play of sophomore quarterback Kenny Hill, who has quickly ballooned his stat line to 1,745 yards and 17 touchdowns to two interceptions.

As a result, the Aggies rank No. 2 in the nation with an average of 51.2 points per game.

In the opposite corner, though, are the No. 12 Mississippi State Bulldogs, a budding national power that ranks just outside the top 20 in scoring thanks to 41.3 points per game on average. The leader is quarterback Dak Prescott, who has 964 passing yards and 11 touchdowns to two interceptions and another 378 yards and three touchdowns on the ground.

Oh, and he just led the Bulldogs to an upset of LSU in Baton Rouge.

The knee-jerk reaction seems to be with Texas A&M. That is how Vegas initially came out swinging, but things shifted to the Bulldogs' side as the week progressed. Perhaps the line is on to something, right?

As ESPN CollegeFootball notes, many would argue, and perhaps rightfully so, that the senior is more reliable in a matchup such as this:

Feel free to add the upset of LSU and a bye week to prepare, not to mention the fact that the Aggies needed overtime to down Arkansas (although that is not as horrible as it would have been in years past.).

This one could go either way. Superb halftime adjustments and the fact that the Aggies have outscored opponents by 59 points in the fourth quarter this year tilt things in their favor, but is this really a line to invest hard-earned cash on? Probably not.

Prediction: Aggies 35, Bulldogs 30 

 

No. 19 Nebraska vs. No. 10 Michigan State (-7)

Two teams that impose their will through the ground game and ground defense have a touchdown spread? Please.

No. 19 Nebraska may be the underdog, but Bo Pelini's team ranks No. 3 in the nation in rushing, as a number of names contribute an average of 354.8 yards per game:

Michigan State comes in at No. 20 thanks to 252.0 yards on the ground per game, led by reliable senior back Jeremy Langford, who has 340 yards and three scores on 5.5 yards per carry.

The Spartans are known for their defense, although that notion is being put to the test this year, as Mark Dantonio's team is surrendering an average of 20.3 points per game. The 46 points allowed to Oregon might skew the numbers, but the Spartans also surrendered 14 points to both Eastern Michigan and Wyoming. That's not what we are accustomed to seeing from the school.

Many will point to the fact that Pelini is 2-1 against Michigan State since 2011, but he is not buying into talk about past success, as he explained in a recent news conference: 

We've had some success, but they've had success, too. It's who executes on any given day. … I don't buy into, I don't worry about what's happened in the past or anything like that. It's about what's gonna happen Saturday night and how two football teams are gonna play Saturday night.

Coach speak is for coaches and players, though. That 41-28 Spartans victory last season was the team's first in eight attempts, and the 182 rushing yards allowed were the second most the unit has given up in the past two seasons.

In that game, Ameer Abdullah rushed for 123 yards. It stands to reason that he and the Cornhuskers as a whole are better this year. Meanwhile, the Michigan State defense has not lived up to expectations.

This one could go either way, and, as an added negative, the spread is too large. Steer clear despite the big-game allure.

Prediction: Cornhuskers 48, Spartans 44

 

Stats and information via ESPN.com unless otherwise specified.

 

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