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: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
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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.
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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.
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
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.
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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.
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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 247Sports. Follow Bob on Twitter.
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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.”
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.
Dan Hope is an NFL/NFL Draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.
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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
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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Week 6 in the 2014 college football season is going to be one of the most pivotal of the year. There are six games that pit two teams ranked in the Top 25 against each other.
Because of that, the choice of location for the ESPN College GameDay broadcast was not as easy as it has been in recent weeks. That said, the decision to take the crew to Oxford, Mississippi, can't really be disputed.
The No. 3 Alabama Crimson Tide will invade The Grove to take on the No. 11 Ole Miss Rebels. It's hard to quantify just how big this game is for both teams. Here's how you can watch:
When: Saturday, Oct. 4, 2014
Time: 9 a.m. - 12 p.m. ET (Game is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. ET on CBS)
Where: Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford, Mississippi
Watch: ESPN (CBS for game)
Live Stream: Watch ESPN
What's at Stake for Bama
Obviously, the Crimson Tide are undefeated, so there's the perfect record at stake first and foremost. Beyond that, a loss to Ole Miss would be a division defeat in the treacherous SEC West.
With so many quality teams in the division, an early loss will add significant pressure on the loser to be flawless against division opponents moving forward.
Bama still has dates with Texas A&M, Auburn, LSU and Mississippi State on its schedule. It seems unlikely the Tide emerges unscathed from this murderer's row, but head coach Nick Saban would probably prefer to hold strong for as long as possible.
In many ways, a head-to-head loss to a team ranked so close could be worse than a massive upset. If Bama and Ole Miss are up for the final spot in the first College Football Playoff, the winner of Saturday's matchup will obviously have the upper hand with voters.
What's at Stake for Ole Miss
All of the aforementioned details are also in place for Ole Miss, but there's another dynamic for the Rebels going into this humongous game.
Ole Miss is still fighting to obtain legitimacy in the SEC. It wants to be considered one of the premier programs in the nation. The seeds were planted when the program successfully recruited the likes of defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche and wide receiver Laquon Treadwell, among others.
Now it's time for those young prospects to prove themselves against the bully of the conference.
Winning on Saturday would mean staying undefeated, remaining tied for the best record in the nation's toughest conference and a higher ranking, but most of all, it would mean respect for the Rebels.
The game figures to be a low-scoring contest. Ole Miss is ranked fourth in the nation in total defense, while Alabama is fifth. Possessions will be critical; thus, running the ball effectively and protecting it will be paramount.
Neither Bama nor Ole Miss has lit teams up with its rushing attack. Bama is usually one of the top rushing teams in the nation, but as part of the modernization of its offense, it has leaned toward an aerial attack this season.
That explains why the team is just 19th in the nation in rushing yards per game. Ole Miss is even further down the list at 76th. Lane Kiffin has brought a more wide-open style to Bama's attack, but against Ole Miss, a smash-mouth approach is recommended and likely.
The Rebels have been one of the best in the nation against the pass. They rank sixth in passing yards allowed per game. Nkemdiche and Co. have eight sacks and a whopping nine interceptions on the season.
Neither Blake Sims nor Jacob Coker seem equipped to handle the pressure and ball hawks the Rebels have. Bama must protect the ball to win and keep from falling behind early. If it commits either of the two gridiron sins, the home crowd will make it difficult. An early deficit could force Bama to pass more, and that plays right into the Rebels' hands.
Expect Bama to play a throwback game, leaning heavily on its rushing attack. The defense will force Rebels quarterback Bo Wallace into two turnovers. He has six interceptions already this season.
In the end, Bama will win a close one, 17-13.
All stats per CFBStats.com
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Not like this, Oregon. Not like this.
A loss to UCLA on the road? Sure, that makes plenty of sense. Falling to Stanford for the third consecutive year? Considering recent history, no one would have argued. Losing to Arizona at home as more than a three-touchdown favorite after a bye week? Well, let’s proceed with caution before giving such nightmare scenarios realistic thought.
Or, perhaps not.
On late Thursday night—or perhaps early Friday morning is more appropriate—this became a reality. Oregon fell to Arizona, 31-24, in front of a silent, confused Eugene crowd, which was the expression shared with most television viewers tuning in for an unexpected thriller.
Mark Helfrich, Oregon's head coach, tried to find the appropriate answers following the game. Despite his reasonable explanation in a moment of utter confusion, perhaps it doesn't boil down to one item:
Mark Helfrich: "I thought we played hard, for the most part. We came out ready to play; we didn't play cleanly enough or smart enough."— Rob Moseley (@DuckFootball) October 3, 2014
You could blame injuries, particularly along the offensive line. You could point to the play-calling, which unquestionably played a role in the Ducks’ setback. You could zero in on the defense—it was gashed for the better part of the night.
You could also offer up a hearty "boo" for this Pac-12 officiating crew, if you hadn’t already, and no one would blame you.
Regardless, Oregon’s issues are far deeper than the spotlighted items above. And while the defeat could ultimately dismantle the College Football Playoff hopes for one of the nation’s biggest brands, it also provided an opening prior to the most jam-packed Saturday of the season.
Which teams, or divisions, were winners prior to their games? With chaos looming, let’s assess some of the beneficiaries before further madness.
We left this team for dead a few weeks ago. After unconvincing victories against Virginia, Memphis and Texas, we decided, even without a check mark in the loss column, that UCLA was in for a long season. Now, just a few weeks later, the Bruins find themselves in the driver’s seat for a Pac-12 championship and a College Football Playoff berth.
The offensive line still has issues, and poor tackling from the other sideline undoubtedly aided the 62-point output against Arizona State. But the Bruins, even at their worst, still have plenty of life in a congested, confusing conference.
With a game against the Ducks on Oct. 11, UCLA has to take care of matters against Utah before it can turn its attention to its next wobbly opponent.
But in a matter of seven days, the Bruins’ 2014 expectations have done a complete 180. A playoff berth is no longer just a possibility; it's there for the taking.
For the nation’s defending national champions—and perhaps more so for those eagerly wielding their scalpels—Oregon’s loss served as a critical reminder: Until you lose, nothing else matters. "Style points" is a term that we use because it’s far sexier than yelling "winning ugly" from the mountaintops.
As the Seminoles are dissected each week for performing below average, Oregon reminded us that there are far worse things than underperforming. More specifically, in a new postseason era built on resumes, reputation and performances, a new spot just opened up.
There are many games (and losses) to transpire, but a setback from the competition, even if it came out of conference, can’t hurt. Plus, even though it means little in the grand scheme, perspective was gained.
Now, just wait one minute. Your immediate assumption is that a loss from Oregon all but crushes Michigan State’s—and perhaps the Big Ten’s—College Football Playoff resume. You assume this because that’s what the narrative will tell you, and the narrative is always right.
In reality, Michigan State will gladly continue its move upward regardless of the teams it surges past. With the Ducks’ loss, Sparty will likely be ranked higher than the program it fell to just a few short weeks ago. And with chaos brewing, Michigan State could ultimately find itself just outside the College Football Playoff, knocking on the window, by the time the weekend ends.
Does an Oregon loss help the playoff resume? Not at all. But with plenty of season left, Sparty needs all the help it can get to creep back upward. The next step is beating Nebraska on Saturday—a taller order than most realize—and awaiting more carnage.
Over the past few seasons, the Bears have acquired the label of being "Oregon Lite," at least in football circles outside of the state of Texas. The tempo, the uniforms and the upgrade in facilities have prompted outsiders to connect these dots that really never existed. In reality, it’s the offensive output and the dramatic rise that have prompted these comparisons.
In this particular instance, however, Oregon has done Baylor a favor. Although Art Briles’ team has a fair amount of committee convincing to do over the next six weeks, one of its indirect competitors for a College Football Playoff spot just suffered an enormous blemish.
The matchup against Oklahoma on Nov. 8 will ultimately dictate its playoff fate more so than the Ducks' loss, although this "every man for himself" mantra holds true for all Top 10 teams looking for an edge. This new era of cutthroat football expands far beyond the teams on the schedule, and the Bears will gladly enjoy the advantage for the time being.
As the nation’s most diabolical division braces for a colossal weekend, it received an encouraging pat on the back before the carnage began.
It’s far too early to declare that a certain conference or division deserves multiple teams in the playoff. But if such feats are to be realized when this season has finally concluded, one can’t help but wonder how the SEC West could be impacted by this loss.
If strength of schedule is as important as the selection committee is selling it to be, then Oregon’s home defeat could prove to be one of a handful of dominoes to fall when it comes to getting two SEC teams in the College Football Playoff.
What happens if the SEC West champion wins the conference? Will the resume of the No. 2 team in the division watching the conference championship from home be superior to Oregon or a team in a similar position?
Much work has to be done to make this a reality, including plenty this weekend, although perception is as much a part of this process as anything. And given recent happenings, the perception of the SEC West will likely climb further by default.
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We knew the Oregon Ducks had flaws; however, those flaws turned fatal on Thursday night against the Arizona Wildcats. Again.
Oregon’s flaws were not only exposed tonight, they were as vivid and bright as their neon pink uniforms.
For the second year in a row, the Wildcats defeated the Ducks, this time by the score of 31-24. While the Ducks held a 7-3 lead at halftime—one they were gifted as Arizona fumbled right before half inside the Ducks 10-yard line—Arizona was in control for most of the game.
It was obvious that this version of the Ducks had seriously flaws that were likely bound to cost them a game at some point this season. The young and inexperienced offensive line had faltered significantly against Washington State. Oregon’s defense was ranked No. 119 against the pass and No. 95 in total defense. The Ducks almost ranked No. 88 in penalties committed, averaging 7.7 per game this season.
But against Arizona? Again? It happened. The Ducks flaws finally caught up to them and now leave them with a 4-1 record and may have potentially cost them a shot at the inaugural College Football Playoff.
Let’s begin with Oregon’s offensive line, which had come under serious fire after a disastrous performance against Washington State 12 days ago in Pullman. While the Ducks offensive line “improved” by only allowing five sacks of Mariota Thursday, as opposed to seven against the Cougars, the group was still downright putrid. There’s no way around it.
Oregon’s offense really couldn’t get anything going until their backs were against the wall late in the third quarter. The reason was because the offensive line simply couldn’t stop Arizona’s pass rush from getting in the backfield and disrupting Mariota and the running backs.
The Ducks offensive line, while young, is talented. However, they’ve yet to live up to their potential—especially tonight. While Mariota still managed to pass for 276 yards and two touchdowns, he was never really comfortable in the pocket, and the Ducks were unable to establish a rhythm at any point during the game.
Oregon’s running game also suffered due to the subpar play of the offensive line. On the night, the Ducks rushed the ball 41 times for 144 yards, an average of 3.5 yards per carry.
Without a rhythm and running game, the Ducks offense was handed to Mariota, who was essentially forced to try to win the game by himself. It wasn’t enough.
With the Ducks down by seven and less than two minutes to play, Mariota attempted a comeback that, if successful, would have vaulted him once again to the top of the Heisman race. However, Oregon’s offensive line let him down again.
After completing two consecutive passes to wide receiver Dwayne Stanford, Mariota stepped up in the pocket trying to find a man downfield; however, this time he was sacked and stripped by Arizona’s Scooby Wright.
Wright recovered in Ducks territory, and the game was over. While Mariota is partially to blame for being somewhat careless with the ball in that situation, Oregon’s offensive line broke down again and didn’t give Mariota the requisite time to dazzle us again.
The offensive line deserves part of the blame, but Oregon’s defense and penalties also significantly contributed to the Ducks' latest collapse.
Oregon’s defense, which has struggled mightily against the pass this season, faltered against the run tonight. That’s not to say that Arizona quarterback Anu Solomon didn’t play well; he did. But it was really Arizona’s running game that led the charge.
Arizona ran for 208 yards and three touchdowns en route to the victory. Freshman running back Nick Wilson scored three touchdowns, two of which came on the ground, and gained 126 total yards. However, he wasn’t Arizona’s best running back. Senior Terris Jones-Grigsby gained 210 total yards against the Ducks—115 rushing, 95 receiving—and scored a touchdown.
Jones-Grigsby played well, but it was really Oregon’s defense that beat themselves. The Ducks continually gave Arizona chances to score after putting the Arizona offense in difficult situations. The best example of this came late in the fourth quarter, with the score tied at 24, after Ducks linebacker Rodney Hardrick sacked Solomon for a 10-yard loss, forcing the Wildcats to gain 20 yards in order to convert the third down.
Instead of throwing the ball, Arizona’s offense ran a delayed handoff to Jones-Grigsby. There wasn’t a single Duck in sight. Jones-Grigsby went 24 yards untouched up the middle of the field to score a first down. The Wildcats would go on to score the game-winning touchdown four plays later. However, they were only granted that opportunity because of Oregon’s final fatal flaw: penalties.
On the night, the Ducks committed 10 penalties for 78 yards. Moreover, the Ducks committed mindless penalties over and over again at the worst possible moment. Oregon’s offensive line drew its fair share of penalties and is, again, partially to blame. But Oregon’s biggest penalties came defensively on back-to-back plays on Arizona’s game-winning drive.
After Jones-Grigsby’s 24-yard run to set up 1st-and-goal, the Ducks defense stepped up and seemed to have forced Arizona into kicking a field goal after a third-down sack by linebacker Tony Washington. It was not to be.
Following the play, Washington was headed to the sideline and decided to break out a celebration—a bow towards the Oregon sideline. Washington subsequently drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, which resulted in a penalty that gave Arizona an automatic first down from their own 4-yard line. On the very next play, cornerback Troy Hill drew a flag for pass interference on Arizona wide receiver Cayleb Jones.
Two plays later, Jones-Grigsby lunged into the end zone. Arizona would never relinquish the lead again.
The Ducks, quite obviously, were the more talented team on the field on Thursday night in Eugene. However, their fatal flaws finally caught up to them, and they may have cost the Ducks a shot at a national title.
Tonight’s loss could have been avoided. The Ducks simply shot themselves in the foot one too many times and couldn’t recover.
The real question is, did we see the end of an era in Oregon? It may be too soon to tell, but there are serious questions about the mental toughness of the Ducks football team and the aptitude of their coaching staff.
It’s getting hot in Eugene right now for all of the wrong reasons.
Jason Gold is Bleacher Report’s lead Oregon writer. Follow Jason on Twitter @TheSportsGuy33..
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For years, we've heard the mantra coming from South Bend and the Subway Alumni: schools strive to be like Notre Dame.
It used to make sense. All those wins, all those national championships, all those All Americans, all those Heisman Trophy winners. And a 93 percent graduation rate to boot. Who wouldn’t cast an envious eye towards South Bend?
But as Stanford comes to town on Saturday, might Notre Dame be staring across the field at a challenger that’s become the better version of what it aspires to be?
Yes, Stanford, the suddenly flourishing program that has beaten the Irish in four of the last five years, a span in which Notre Dame’s golden dome has been tarnished with incidents that are most un-Irish-like.
As recently as 2009, there was talk about the Cardinal de-emphasizing football on the heels of the ill-fated Buddy Teevens and Walt Harris eras (16-40 combined record, no winning seasons and no bowl games).
"There was a movement in that direction,'' Rod Gilmore, an ESPN college football analyst who played defensive back for the Cardinal in the 1980s, told Bleacher Report. “The feeling was that Stanford shouldn't get caught up in the arms race with new football facilities. Then Jim Harbaugh came in and changed the culture. Stanford started recruiting in the Southeast, which it had never done before. It started going after the same players that Notre Dame was going after.''
And it worked. Harbaugh set the tone and David Shaw has picked up the baton. In the past four years, Stanford has passed Notre Dame on the football field. Four straight top 10 finishes in the BCS rankings, compared to the Irish's one. Four consecutive BCS bowl games, to one for Notre Dame. And it hasn’t come at the expense of lofty academic standards, as the Cardinal mirror the Irish’s graduation rate.
During Stanford’s rapid rise to national prominence, Notre Dame has experienced its ups and downs. While the Irish played in the national title game two years ago, it has finished in the AP Top 25 just twice in the last four years. Meanwhile, a string of off the field incidents, including an ongoing academic fraud issue, have led to questions about the character of student-athletes the Irish have pursued.
So has Stanford has become the gold standard for not only Notre Dame, but all of college football when the total package is examined?
Pac-12 Network broadcaster Ted Robinson, a Notre Dame alum who spent 13 years as Stanford’s radio voice, isn’t so sure.
"There is no question that the past five years have been the best sustained period in Stanford history,'' Robinson told B/R. "And Notre Dame has not done as well. But Notre Dame is still my school and I think that while they truly have a common bond with Stanford, they have their own set of standards, which has nothing to do with competing with what Stanford has done.
“And there is also a difference. Football is part of the Notre Dame campus culture. At Stanford, I think football is just another sport.''
The state of the rivalry following Saturday’s game will be telling. For two programs with College Football Playoff aspirations, the showdown in South Bend has high stakes.
Recess is over for No. 9 Notre Dame, whose 4-0 start doesn’t include a win over a program with a winning record. With road games against Florida State and USC looming, a big Irish win to kick off the crunch part of their schedule would offer plenty of validation.
And Stanford, after an early 13-10 loss to USC, can ill afford another defeat. But the 14th-ranked Cardinal are surely bolstered by their recent successes against Notre Dame.
An Irish win would effectively eliminate Stanford from playoff contention and tilt the rivalry back East.
But if the Cardinal win? It’s time we give credit where credit is due.
Stanford would officially be the new Notre Dame.
This Week’s Grades
A—Arizona: With a 31-24 win over No. 2 Oregon on Thursday night, the Wildcats went from spoiler to predator. Rich Rodriguez' team can basically eliminate USC from title consideration next week in Tucson, and an Arizona win could set up a Pac-12 South showdown at UCLA on Nov. 1. In two-plus years, RichRod has steadily built a Wildcats contender which could be looking beyond a Pac-12 title sooner rather than later. Hmm. Why can't Michigan get coaches like that?
B—Baylor: The Bears have been impressive, averaging more than 50 points per game while racing to the No. 8 AP ranking. But could Baylor go 12-0 and be shut out of the College Football Playoff? The Bears don't have a quality win in their weak non-conference schedule (SMU, Northwestern State, Buffalo). And the lack of a Big 12 championship game could hurt them when their brethren in the Pac-12, Big Ten and SEC are facing tough opponents in their title games. First things first—the Bears need a double-digit win over Texas on Saturday to maintain their status. The guess here is that they get it.
C—Northwestern: The Pat Fitzgerald-led Wildcats had dropped out of sight for the past year, losing seven of their last eight Big Ten games last season and starting this year with losses to Cal and Northern Illinois. But last week, they got a satisfying boost with a 29-6 win at Penn State. Take the grade and run, guys. Big Ten bad boy Wisconsin is coming to Evanston this weekend.
D—Southern Methodist: SMU is 0-4 this season and has been outscored 202-12. Unbelievably, the Mustangs have not attempted one extra point this season. Even when they scored their only touchdown (in a 43-6 loss to North Texas), there was no respect. The TD came on the final play of the game and the officials waved the extra point as it did not affect the outcome. Ouch.
F—Brady Hoke and Dave Brandon: Come on, it's one thing for once proud Michigan to be inept on the football field. But how does letting quarterback Shane Morris back on the field with a concussion last weekend against Minnesota slip through the cracks? In his best Cool Hand Luke imitation, athletic director Brandon called it a "serious lack of communication.'' The people running the Big House need to clean house.
Picking the Playoff Teams
My Final Four ...
1. Oklahoma—OU has the easiest path to the final four; no championship game and all tough games at home.
2. Alabama—The SEC civil war starts this week with Ole Miss hungry for the Tide’s visit to Oxford.
3. UCLA—The Brett Hundley-led Bruins are looking Rose Bowl ready.
4. Florida State—The Seminoles flirted with disaster last two weeks and have lots of defensive holes.
On the Outside Looking in ...
5. Michigan State—Invincible other than one half vs. Oregon, but will be hurt by Ducks' loss to Arizona.
6. Auburn—LSU visits in the Battle of the Tigers, with winner moving on, loser dropping out.
7. Baylor—Great debate: who's the best team in Texas—the Bears or A&M?'
8. Oregon—Stunning loss to Wildcats may cost Ducks a playoff spot and Marcus Mariota the Heisman.
People of Interest
Mack Brown: Capable of rebuilding the reputation of the Maize and Blue if Brady Hoke is shown the door.
Charlie Weis: Please, no more head coaching gigs after his Kansas ouster.
Lane Kiffiin: Hot coach in waiting if Tide offense takes off and Alabama rolls into the playoffs.
Jeff Driskel: In desperate need of a big game against Tennessee to right the Gators and keep his job.
Brad Bate and Warde Manuel: Boston College and UConn ADs could soon get a call from their alma mater Michigan.
1. Alabama’s Amari Cooper becomes a Heisman front-runner with a 200-yard game in a one-sided affair against Ole Miss.
2. Greg Schiano joins the next Michigan coach rumor mill after former program Rutgers beats the Wolverines. But maybe he’s eying the NFL and the Raiders?
3. Michigan State thumps Nebraska to snuff out the Huskers as a playoff team and put Sparty back in prime position, especially with the SEC powers starting to beat each other up.
4. Baylor emerges as sheriff in the Lone Star state by putting up 50 points in beating Texas, while A&M is upset by Mississippi State.
5. Tennessee wins by three 3 TDs over Florida, sealing Driskel’s fate and increasing the heat on coach Will Muschamp.
Mark Blaudschun covers college football as a national columnist for Bleacher Report. He has more than three decades of experience covering sports at a variety of newspapers in New Jersey, The Dallas Morning News and The Boston Globe. Follow him on Twitter @blauds.
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A potential shootout against Arizona Thursday night was expected to help Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota increase the gap between himself and every other Heisman hopeful.
Instead, the perceived leader's candidacy took a significant hit in a 31-24 upset loss.
Mariota's final numbers weren't quite on par with his gaudy 2014 pace, but they weren't exactly pedestrian, either: 276 yards on 20-of-32 throwing, two passing touchdowns, nine rushing yards and a 26-yard touchdown reception.
However, there's one more important stat: two lost fumbles, including one in the final two minutes that sealed the win for the Wildcats.
As CBS Sports' Dane Brugler noted after Mariota coughed it up the first time, that has been a persistent problem for him:
For most of the opening three quarters, not much was going right for the junior quarterback. In a game in which the oddsmakers set the over/under in the 80s, Mariota and the Ducks had put just 14 points on the board through the first 45 minutes.
Among other things, he wasn't connecting on the downfield throws, per ESPN Stats & Info:
But it would be completely unjustified and lazy to place the blame entirely on Mariota. His offensive line, which has been an evident problem for much of the season, had him under pressure all night. ESPN.com's Ivan Maisel and the National Football Post's Dave Miller put it simply:
USA Today's Paul Myerberg added an apt comparison:
With the Ducks down by 10 points, Mariota finally began to take things into his own hands and move the ball, orchestrating two consecutive drives that went 138 total yards in less than six minutes. The first ended in a field goal, while the second resulted in a nine-yard touchdown throw to Keanon Lowe.
NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah praised the Honolulu native:
The comeback wasn't meant to be, though. Arizona responded with a touchdown drive, and as Mariota was driving back down the field for a potential "Heisman moment," a sack, strip and recovery from Scooby Wright ended the game.
Ultimately, while the loss shouldn't be placed anywhere near Mariota's shoulders, it's going to hurt his Heisman chances regardless. That's just the way it goes. Two turnovers in a home upset won't look good in the eyes of the voters, especially two months from now when details of the game aren't fresh on the mind.
That said, he's still firmly in the Heisman race. It's not impossible to win the prestigious award with a loss on his resume, especially if he continues to produce at the same level and the Ducks win the rest of their games.
With the way Mariota's offensive line is failing to provide adequate protection, though, there's reason for concern as Oregon moves through the Pac-12 schedule.
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The No. 2 Oregon Ducks could well have cost themselves a shot at the playoff after a 31-24 upset at the hands of Arizona Wildcats at home in Eugene on Thursday night. As a result, quarterback Marcus Mariota's Heisman Trophy chances are fading fast.
This result shouldn't come as a huge surprise, considering Arizona's recent record against the Ducks, per ESPN Stats and Info:
Oregon had a chance to at the very least tie the game in in the dying minutes of the fourth quarter. After surrendering the go-ahead touchdown, the Ducks had two minutes and 54 seconds to go 91 yards. Considering the nature of the Oregon offense, nearly three minutes was more than enough time to travel the length of the field.
What the Ducks didn't plan on was a turnover by Mariota. The Heisman contender fumbled the ball on the Oregon 35-yard line, and Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright III recovered with 2:11 to go.
Zack Rosenblatt of the Arizona Daily Star had Rich Rodriguez's thoughts after the game:
Mariota's fumble was a fitting way for Oregon to pick up its first loss of 2014. The Ducks have leaned on their starting quarterback quite a bit this year, asking him to almost single-handedly lift the team through close games.
Sooner or later, that was bound to backfire.
The offensive line has been one of the team's biggest problems, and the Arizona defense was constantly swarming Mariota in the pocket, per Sports IllustratedCollege Football:
ESPN.com's Ivan Maisel wondered how much the Ducks O-line affected Mariota's shot at the Heisman:
Mariota finished 20-of-32 with 276 yards and two touchdowns through the air. The lasting image of the game, however, will be his fumble in the fourth quarter.
Arizona quarterback Anu Solomon outshone the heavily hyped Mariota, throwing for 287 yards on 20-of-31 passing. Running backs Nick Wilson and Terris Jones-Grigsby combined to rush for 207 yards and three touchdowns.
Coming into the game, Arizona ranked 77th in points allowed (27.3) and 89th in total defense (430.5 YPG), while Oregon was fourth in scoring (48.5) and 10th in total offense (555.3 YPG). All signs pointed to an electric first half of football.
However, the first two quarters were anything but, with Oregon clinging to a 7-3 lead going into halftime. The Ducks' lone touchdown came via a gadget play and wasn't without controversy.
Running back Royce Freeman hit Mariota for a 26-yard halfback pass. Near the goal line, Mariota fumbled the ball, and Arizona recovered. The officials initially ruled the play a touchdown and upheld the call after a video review. None of the camera angles shown offered conclusive evidence that the ball didn't cross the plane before Mariota fumbled.
NFL.com's Bryan Fischer believes that the time has come for college football to adopt some sort of goal-line technology similar to that in other sports:
Although Arizona likely felt aggrieved by that call, the Wildcats had plenty of reason to be encouraged by their first-half performance. They held one of the most explosive offenses in the country to 210 yards of offense at home, per ESPN College Football:
The Arizona secondary, which has been one of the worst in the country, did a great job of eliminating Mariota's options down the field:
As if the general offensive sluggishness wasn't enough of a concern for Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich, recent history wasn't in the Ducks' favor when they failed to eclipse double digits in scoring before halftime:
The Wildcats started off the second half strong, with Wilson punching it in from three yards out and giving Arizona its second lead of the game, 10-7. According to Chantel Jennings of ESPN.com, that was the first TD the Ducks had surrendered in the third quarter this season:
Between Wilson, Jones-Grigsby and Solomon, 'Zona did a great job of eating up yards on the ground. Matt Moreno of GoAZCats.com tracked how much the Wildcats improved on the ground since their last trip to Eugene:
Stanford, Auburn and LSU have shown in the past that a steady running game is the best way to slow down Oregon's high-powered attack and throw the Ducks off their game.
Oregon offered a quick reply, however. Mariota found wide receiver Devon Allen for a six-yard touchdown reception, putting the Ducks on top once again, 14-10, with 9:58 to play in the third quarter. Although Oregon was helped by an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty during the drive, the quick TD illustrated that the Ducks offense doesn't need much time to get going.
The only problem was that the Ducks defense had no answer for Solomon or the Wildcats' rushing attack. Wilson recorded his second touchdown of the game, which put Arizona back in the lead, 17-14, and Solomon followed up with a 34-yard touchdown pass to Wilson two drives later, increasing the cushion to 10 points, 24-14.
The TD grab was a proper microcosm of how the game unfolded up until that point, with Wilson bowling over Oregon safety Ifo Ekpre Olomu, a first-team All-American in 2013, en route to the end zone:
On the Ducks' next drive, they got down to the Arizona 2-yard line for a 1st-and-goal after a 34-yard reception for wideout Dwayne Stanford. A touchdown would've cut the deficit to three points, but Oregon had to settle for a 21-yard field goal from Matt Wogan after failing to move the ball.
The defense held strong for the Ducks on Arizona's next possession, giving the offense a chance to tie the game. Mariota attempted seven passes on the nine-play drive, completing five. None was bigger than his nine-yard touchdown toss to wideout Keanon Lowe, bringing Oregon level, 24-24, with 8:21 to go in the game.
Suddenly, the Ducks were building momentum and bringing the Autzen Stadium crowd back into the contest. This looked like the moment that the No. 2 team in the country would awaken from its slumber.
On the contrary, Arizona embarked on a time-consuming 5:27 drive that went 71 yards and resulted in a one-yard touchdown run by Jones-Grigsby.
The Wildcats were helped out by a controversial unsportsmanlike penalty call on Oregon linebacker Tony Washington Jr., who celebrated after sacking Solomon on a 3rd-and-goal at the Oregon 8-yard line. That call gave Arizona an automatic first down and four more downs to score.
CBSSports.com's Tom Fornelli was less than complimentary about the officiating throughout the game:
Some might argue that Oregon got what it deserved after it had the Arizona offense dead to rights on a 3rd-and-20. The seas parted and Jones-Grigsby scampered 24 yards for the first down. As ESPN.com's Jared Shanker tweeted out, the Ducks never even considered the threat of a run:
Oregon also had a chance to tie the game at the end. So as much as the unsportsmanlike penalty hurt, it was far from the sole reason the Ducks lost.
With the defeat, Oregon's playoff chances are hanging by a thread. It must run the table just to have a shot, and looking at the schedule ahead, that will be extremely tough to do. Dates with Stanford and UCLA loom on the horizon.
Arizona remains unbeaten and has now positioned itself as one of the top teams in the Pac-12. The Wildcats still have USC and UCLA ahead. Their matchup with the Trojans next Saturday will serve as a barometer for how far this team can go.
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Beating Baylor requires an offensive attack that can put up a lot of points while eating enough clock to keep Art Briles' offense on the sideline.
In other words, to upset the No. 7 team in the country, Charlie Strong's Longhorns will have to do two things they haven't done all season—break into the 30s and sustain drives.
Through four games, Texas is averaging 21.2 points, 120.5 rushing yards and 195 passing yards per game, all of which are second-to-last in the Big 12. The Longhorns also rank last in yards per play and convert just 31.1 percent of their third downs, which is also dead-last in the conference.
Conversely, the Bears rank near the top in every single one of those categories, wearing out their opponents with a relentless all-around attack that's running almost 90 plays per game this season.
It takes a collective effort to beat that, which defensive coordinator Vance Bedford discussed with the media on Wednesday:
It takes a team to beat Baylor. You talk about Central Florida's Blake Bortles, first-round pick, offensively, they outscored them, their defense was physical for three quarters and the special teams were out-of-sight. You know at Oklahoma State, you take a 99-yard drive in five minutes, so you keep the offense on the sideline. So in order to have success against that team, it's going to take a team to beat them.
Bedford's unit figures to hold its own. But that Baylor offense, which has been held under 30 points just five times in the last three-plus seasons, will get its points, and Texas will have to answer.
Of course, that will be easier said than done behind Texas' patchwork offensive line, the primary cause of its woes on that side of the ball. This group is blocking for just 3.4 yards per carry, which is killing the offense's chances of sustaining the long drives needed to keep Baylor off the field.
If these problems persist, the Bears will run away with this game before halftime. No part of this Longhorn team is built to win 56-49, much less stage a multiple-touchdown comeback.
The simple answer is throw the ball downfield to pull defenders out of the box, but that also requires this struggling line to hold a pocket for quarterback Tyrone Swoopes. Not only will the incompletions stop the clock, but the Baylor defense ranks second in the nation with an average of 4.5 sacks per game.
A true freshman, Foreman got his first real action of the season against Kansas, turning his two touches into 37 yards. On those plays, a 30-yard end-around and short reception for a first down, he showed off his impressive lateral quickness as well as some deceptive power.
Warrick and Johnson are cut from the same cloth, capable of taking the short passes Swoopes has consistently put on target, then putting on a move and getting upfield.
It would seem like Johnson's absence would open the door for the other two, but Foreman and Warrick have combined for just five offensive touches this season. Thankfully, the staff is starting to acknowledge their value:
Utilizing these players as almost an extension of the running game will pull spread out the back seven while also allowing Swoopes to get the ball out before the pressure gets to him. That should open up at least some room for Brown and Gray, of which they've had none this season.
Swoopes will still have to hit his deep throws when they're open, but moving the ball efficiently to create a manageable down and distance has to be the priority. Giving touches to players like Foreman, Warrick and Johnson gives this offense a means of doing that with some bonus big-play potential included.
Unless the offensive line has suddenly jelled in the past week, their involvement gives Texas its best chance to hang around long enough for something crazy to happen.
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Coach Tony Levine has taken what used to be one of the nation’s most prolific passing attacks and turned it into one of the most boring, uninspired and dysfunctional offensive units in the country.
Or maybe it’s his offensive coordinator, Travis Bush.
Whatever the case, Houston’s offense doesn’t work, is only consistent in its inconsistency and has Cougar fans longing for days of yore, days that were only three years ago before Levine took over for the departing Kevin Sumlin.
Heck, some folks, such as John Royal of the Houston Press, believe fans would be stoked if they could only get last year’s coordinator, Doug Meacham, back in the fold:
Alas, Meacham remains at TCU, and Houston’s struggle to find its offensive identity continued on Thursday night at TDECU Stadium against UCF. Houston fell to 2-3 on the season and 0-1 in American Athletic Conference play after suffering a heartbreaking 17-12 loss.
It didn’t have to be this way.
Houston headed into the locker room at the half versus Central Florida down 7-6. It wasn’t that they didn’t have their chances to score. They did. Houston’s offense racked up 143 yards, and the ball-hawking Cougar defense gobbled up three turnovers.
But Houston didn’t score touchdowns when it had opportunities, and things didn’t change much in the second half, either.
Part of the problem seems to be Houston’s unwillingness to decide what it wants to be.
Is Houston a running team? It sure seems like they want to be sometimes. The Cougars rushed the ball 33 of their 76 total offensive plays. But Houston only managed 117 yards rushing, averaging a paltry 3.5 yards per carry.
Are the Coogs a passing team? That’s what they used to be, and most fans probably think that’s what they should be now. It wasn’t long ago that Case Keenum and the Coogs broke just about all passing records known to mankind, at least at the NCAA level.
But Keenum is long gone now, and the way Houston’s receivers drop the ball, one has to wonder if it’d even make a difference if he weren't.
Besides, the offense Keenum ran left with him. Oh sure, Levine’s offense lines up like the Air Raid, but it’s more of a “Field Goal Assault” than the prolific offensive scheme Sumlin took with him to Texas A&M.
And what about the most important position on the field? Is John O’Korn the quarterback? Should he be?
The sophomore’s second-year slump continued against UCF. O’Korn finished the game 12-of-26 passing for only 98 yards. He threw two interceptions and was replaced by sophomore Greg Ward in the middle of the third quarter.
If there was any silver lining to Houston’s effort on offense against UCF, it was Ward.
The former high school standout from Tyler, Texas came into the game and breathed new life into the offense. He doesn’t have the arm strength O’Korn possesses, but he has fast feet and he kept UCF’s defensive backs’ eyes on him a split second longer than they had to when O’Korn was in the game, freeing up receivers in the secondary.
Ward almost engineered the comeback. After a brilliant run to the end zone as time dwindled down to its final seconds, Ward had the ball knocked out of his hands just inches from the goal line as he dove forward for the win.
Tough luck, kid. Maybe things would have been different if you’d been in the game the whole time.
Ward finished 10-of-17 passing for 116 yards. He threw no interceptions and kept UH in the game with his scrambling ability.
But Ward couldn’t do it alone, and he won’t be able to do it alone if he gets the nod for the rest of the season, either. And it’s pretty clear he should.
Untimely drops, penalties and misguided play calls were too much for anyone to overcome against UCF. No matter how good the offense could be, it was nothing short of terrible against the Golden Knights. Ward replacing O’Korn might solve one problem, but how about the rest of them?
Levine has his work cut out.
It has to be frustrating for Cougar fans. There are glimpses here and there. At times, they look like a revved-up Lamborghini. They’re sharp, speedy and look like they can drive as fast as they want down the field of play whenever they so desire.
But inevitably, they turn into that lime green Pinto your grandma still totes herself around in for some reason. She has the money to do something different, but just doesn’t want to part with the thing.
That’s a shame.
Houston has talent on offense. It’s all over the field. The quarterback has a strong arm. His backup has fast feet and is accurate. The receivers are big and fast. They have both kinds of running backs: the strong and the shifty. The offensive line is huge.
But it doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do: score points. And that’s too bad, because as solid a defense as Houston has, one of the best in the AAC in fact, the anemic offense is sinking Houston’s 2014 hopes anyway.
And things don’t look like they’ll get better anytime soon.
Follow @KelseyMcCarson on Twitter.
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