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Ohio State Football: What Could Have Been If Urban Meyer Had Landed Stefon Diggs

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Even for a recruiter as talented as Urban Meyer, Ohio State's 2012 class was nothing short of a miracle.

With just 15 prospects and not a whole lot of star power committed to becoming Buckeyes with two months to go until national signing day, Meyer certainly had his work cut out for him when he accepted Ohio State's head coaching position on Nov. 28.

But by the time Feb. 1 rolled around, 5-star prospects Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington signed on to be Buckeyes, as did big-name prospects such as Bri'onte Dunn, Taylor Decker, Se'von Pittman and Kyle Dodson.

And although Meyer's 25-man haul ranked an astounding fifth in the nation, per 247Sports, it appeared to be missing at least one key element. For a coach who had found so much success at Florida with offensive speed, Meyer's premiere patchwork class was short on playmaking skill players—3-star prospects Michael ThomasRicquan Southward and Frank Epitropoulos being the only wide receivers to sign with Ohio State in 2012.

Fortunately for the Buckeyes, Meyer's top target at the position remained uncommitted—at least for the time being. But nine days later, Stefon Diggs officially took his name off the market, when the Olney Good Counsel 5-star prospect opted to stay close to home and sign with Maryland.

"We had a good relationship with Stefon Diggs and his family," Meyer said on Monday. "I really thought we had a legitimate shot at him. I knew when we were watching him play that he was something special. Now that I see him, he’s as good as there is in America.”

The Buckeyes bounced back from Diggs' decision to take his talents elsewhere, reeling off 24 consecutive wins to start Meyer's career in Columbus. But in the two complete recruiting cycles since Diggs turned Terrapin, Ohio State is still yet to sign a prospect with the same type of talent as the class of 2012's second-ranked wideout.

This Saturday, the loss of Diggs for the Buckeyes could become twofold, when Ohio State squares off with its former target. As Meyer mentioned, the 6'0", 190-pounder has proven to be as good as advertised in his two-plus seasons in College Park, which could prove problematic for a Buckeyes secondary still struggling to find its footing this season.

"He's going to be a first-round draft pick," Meyer said of Diggs on his weekly call-in show on Thursday. "A real dynamic guy."

The numbers back up Meyer's assessment.

After accumulating 962 yards (848 receiving, 114 rushing) yards of total offense and eight touchdowns (six receiving, two returns) in 2012, Diggs' stats were stunted as a sophomore as a broken leg limited him to just seven games. Despite only playing roughly half a season, Diggs tallied 34 receptions for 587 yards and three touchdowns—numbers which would have made him Ohio State's third-leading receiver in 2013.

Back to full strength, it hasn't taken long for Diggs to prove that he's back on track, as in five games he's already racked up 29 receptions, 398 yards and two touchdowns. That comes as no surprise to Buckeyes cornerback and Massachusetts native Armani Reeves, who became plenty familiar with the Old Line State product on the northeast prep-camp circuit.

“He’s a great player. I remember going against him in high school at a lot of camps, and he’s a great guy, a great player and he’s going to be a workload for us," Reeves said. "But that’s why we came to Ohio State, to play against guys like that."

That's a sentiment shared by OSU sophomore safety Vonn Bell, a fellow 5-star prospect, who sees plenty of himself in Diggs when he watches the Maryland star on film. But rather than big hits, it's big plays that Diggs is dying to deliver, and if Diggs does, Bell knows he's going to hear about it.

“He has swagger. He’s very confident. If he gets a catch on me, I see that he’s gonna try to talk to me, but I’m gonna tell him that I coming the next play," Bell said of Diggs, seeking out a camcorder to emphasize his message. "Those type of guys like that—you gotta let them know you’re there.”

In order to better prep themselves for what they're about to face, the Buckeyes have called upon freshmen wideouts James Clark and Terry McLaurin.

Both 4-star prospects, each were highly touted players coming out of high school, but it's telling that Ohio State has needed two different players to emulate Diggs on this week's scout team, as no one single Buckeye possesses the same size and ability that their upcoming opponent does.

Capable of making plays down the field, off of screens, reverses and in special teams, it seems as though Diggs would have been a perfect fit to play the "Percy Harvin role" in Meyer's spread offense at Ohio State.

Bell compared the Maxwell Award and Biletnikoff Trophy preseason watch list member to Buckeyes H-back Dontre Wilson, which is somewhat of an understatement of what Diggs has already accomplished in his college career.

"He’s quick, but he’s very strong and very aggressive," Reeves said. "He has a lot of different tools. Especially in college, a lot of guys either have the speed or the strength. He’s a gifted athlete—he has both. That’s what makes him special."

It's also what made him so attractive to Meyer. And while the third-year Ohio State head coach insists that he moved on "quickly" from the failed recruitment of Diggs, it's hard to imagine that he won't find himself thinking "what could have been" when he finally sees him play in-person at the college level on Saturday.

Because for the Buckeyes to contain Diggs, it may just take another miracle.

 

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.

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SEC Extra Points with Barrett Sallee: Ole Miss Battles Distractions and Alabama

Uncharted Waters

Times, they are a-changin' at Ole Miss.

For the first time in history, ESPN's College GameDay will emanate from "The Grove" on Saturday morning prior to the 11th-ranked Rebels hosting third-ranked Alabama in a battle of unbeaten SEC West border rivals.

As if that spotlight wasn't bright enough, this week has also brought out distractions of other kinds.

Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports reported early Thursday morning that Ole Miss is under NCAA investigation. Granted, it's an investigation primarily focused on women's basketball and the only mention of football is under a previous staff.

Not to be outdone, USA Today dropped a feature on the evolution of Ole Miss' identity away from Colonel Reb and other elements of its past.

Timing is everything, right?

There are lots of distractions in Oxford this week, and the one that should concern Ole Miss football fans the most is the extreme exposure brought on by ESPN taking up real estate in "The Grove."

The meeting with Alabama could be labeled as the biggest Ole Miss home game in a generation, and certainly the biggest since LSU topped the Rebels in November of 2003 in what served as the SEC West title game. 

Saturday won't be unique for Alabama. In fact, it'll be par for the course. College GameDay has been on location at Alabama games 12 times since the start of the 2010 season and, according to Alabama's game notes, leads the nation with 20 GameDay appearances since 2007—head coach Nick Saban's first season in Tuscaloosa.

These are uncharted waters for Ole Miss.

Does that mean players will thrive under the intense spotlight? Some will. If things go south, though, you never know how players will react.

This is just "another Saturday" for Alabama, which is a good thing if you're a fan of the Crimson Tide.

 

Time for LSU's Defense to Shine

After giving up 570 yards and 7.81 yards per play against Mississippi State, it's safe to say defensive coordinator John Chavis didn't have his team prepared for Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen's multi-dimensional attack led by Dak Prescott.

Was that the exception or the rule?

It's likely the exception. Sure, the faces have changed, but Chavis has proven over his career that he knows how to shut down dual-threat quarterbacks—particularly those like Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall, who's much more of a home run threat than Prescott.

LSU held Auburn in check last year as its offense cruised out to a big first half lead, and then held off a late Auburn charge to hand head coach Gus Malzahn his only regular-season loss of the season. That same year, Chavis' defense held Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel in check, holding "Johnny Football" to just 54 rushing yards—one season after it held him to 27 yards on the ground.

LSU has the athletes to shut down Auburn's dynamic rushing attack. Outside linebackers Kwon Alexander and Lamar Louis are both fast and quick, which will allow them to get out in space and make tackles when Marshall and speed back Corey Grant get outside.

The big question for LSU is the interior of the defensive line, where sophomore Christian LaCouture and freshman Davon Godchaux are being counted on to grow up in a hurry. If the defensive tackles can come of age and slow down Auburn rushing between the tackles, Chavis' defense is more than capable of leading the Tigers from Baton Rouge to a big upset on the Plains.

 

Kenny Trill or Kenny Chill?

As was the case two seasons ago when Manziel burst onto the college football scene and eventually became the first redshirt freshman to ever win the Heisman Trophy, another young Texas A&M quarterback is doing the same.

True sophomore Kenny Hill leads the SEC with 349 passing yards per game, is third with 9.7 yards per attempt and has tossed 17 touchdowns—the second-most in the country. Is that a product of Hill's talent, the offense or weak competition?

Probably a combination of the three. Arkansas boasts the best pass defense of any of Texas A&M's FBS opponents, but it's not like the Hogs have been world-beaters. The Hogs rank 98th in the nation heading into Week 6, giving up 263.8 yards per game.

This week's opponent, Mississippi State, is another cupcake in the pass defense department. At least on paper, that is. The Bulldogs rank 124th in the nation (319 YPG). Those numbers lie, though.

They rank second in the SEC in opponent completion percentage (50.3), third in passes defended (6.75 per game) and are tied for third with six interceptions. Mississippi State's pass defense numbers are skewed by one bad game against UAB and LSU fighting back through the air against a prevent defense in a win in Death Valley.

"They’ve always been talented defensively, they have a big, athletic defensive line," Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin said in quotes emailed by the university. "The secondary is very, very good. They are one of the tops in the league in tackles for loss. Their defensive coordinator Geoff Collins likes to play football on your side of the line of scrimmage. They’re extremely aggressive."

This is by far the biggest challenge of Hill's young career. If he succeeds, he'll stay in the mix for the Heisman Trophy. One stumble, though, could prevent him from walking in Manziel's footsteps.

 

The X-Factor

When Florida takes the field in Knoxville on Saturday afternoon, it will be a make-or-break game for head coach Will Muschamp. Win it, and he'll still be fighting to save his job all year, but he will have preserved what will be a 10-game winning streak this time next week. Lose it, as I mentioned earlier this week, and Muschamp will be fighting to win his job back for the rest of the season.

A big factor on Saturday will be Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel.

The redshirt junior of the Gators currently ranks last in the SEC in yards per attempt (5.5) and passer rating (111.14) among qualifying quarterbacks. Despite his struggles, there's no quarterback change on the horizon for the Gators.

"He takes the heat and understands that comes with the territory," Muschamp said in quotes emailed by Florida. "[He's] about all the right things, and I think again, will continue to move forward this season and he'll make the Gator Nation proud. He's their quarterback."

That doesn't mean he's their only quarterback, though. True freshman Treon Harris has been Florida's primary backup and could see time on the road on Rocky Top in specific situations.

"We go into every game considering some situational things, especially the red zone, to put him in the game," Muschamp said. "If that opportunity presents itself, in the Kentucky game and the Alabama game it never did, we would do that."

Florida should hope that it doesn't all that much.

Muschamp and offensive coordinator Kurt Roper need the offense to click with Driskel and keep Harris as the change-up quarterback—even in the red zone. If he starts to become a crutch rather than a change-up, it's a sign that Florida's offense isn't clicking the way it should.

Driskel needs to take a step forward this week on the road at Rocky Top. If he doesn't, the Gators—and Muschamp—will be in big trouble.

 

Quick Outs

  • No, Georgia doesn't have a quarterback controversy. Hutson Mason hasn't been great, but getting receivers Justin Scott-Wesley and Malcolm Mitchell back will help. Of course, for Mason to really take the next step, it'd help if offensive coordinator Mike Bobo called more passing plays between the hash marks.
  • "Checker Neyland" is a real thing and should be spectacular. Tennessee fans, if your lucky shirt doesn't match the color you're supposed to wear, don't worry about it. After all, it's not like it has brought you a lot of luck over the last half-decade.
  • South Carolina is just over a field goal favorite on the road at Kentucky this week, according to Odds Shark. That's more of a sign that oddsmakers think Kentucky is better than it's getting credit for than a slight to the Gamecocks. I still don't see how Kentucky can hang for a full four quarters, though.
  • If you can't figure out what the most compelling part of Saturday is yet, it's Alabama's offense vs. Ole Miss' defense. If you miss everything else, don't miss that.

 

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

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Why Tennessee Running Back Jalen Hurd Is SEC's Best Freshman Offensive Player

Tennessee freshman running back Jalen Hurd's Twitter handle is "@MrHurd_1," appropriate considering the 18-year-old Volunteers star runs like a grown man.

Hurd's production has skyrocketed with each of his four games, more than doubling the production of senior Marlin Lane with his 328 yards on 72 carries thus far.

He also has seven catches for 59 yards and has accounted for three total touchdowns.

After earning his first career start in last week's 35-32 loss at Georgia, the 6'3", 227-pound runner finished with 119 yards on 24 carries.

That's the most yardage for a UT true freshman since Jamal Lewis in the 1997 SEC Championship Game.

In a league full of superstar freshmen, Hurd is emerging as the class of the 2014 class.

Because of all that success, Hurd's aforementioned Twitter account is filling up with praise from some of the biggest names in sports.

Everybody from his idol Eddie George to gold-medal Olympian Carl Lewis have chimed in with positive words.

The kind of feedback Hurd is getting for his play so far is unique, especially for a Vols team that hasn't been in the national spotlight in some time.

Headlines gravitate toward the dynamic freshman. Part of it is his strong start on the field, but he is also lauded for his maturity in front of cameras and handling of the press.

Though it's extremely early in his career, Hurd appears to have a touch of the same mixture of talent and charisma as Vol legends Peyton Manning and Eric Berry did before him. The Hendersonville, Tennessee, native already is treated with similar reverence and love throughout the Vol Nation.

Perhaps that's because a fanbase starved for something positive anointed him a star before he ever stepped onto the field, and all the hype wasn't overblown.

His early success has come in spite of the Vols' offensive line struggles. Not only does Hurd get tough yards between the tackles with defenders all around, UT offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian finds ways to get him the ball in space so he can have room to roam.

Georgia has some star freshmen such as Sony Michel, Nick Chubb and Isaiah McKenzie, but their supporting cast—and especially their offensive line—makes their success possible.

Texas A&M receiver Speedy Noil has made an impact, but it's the same story. Alabama's Cam Robinson is already one of the league's top left tackles. There are countless other impressive freshmen to mention.

But Hurd should get the early nod as making the biggest impact thus far.

No other running back in the league is hamstrung by such a young and inexperienced offensive line, yet Hurd continues to prove himself.

He's putting up better numbers than either of the first-year Georgia runners. Though LSU's Leonard Fournette is beginning to round into form after a tough start, Hurd has put up similar stats against stouter competition.

He has plenty of motivation coming from external entities as well. Perhaps that's why he runs so violently when he gets the football.

On national signing day when he officially signed with Tennessee, a voice from the USC war room said, "Jalen Hurd is so soft and terrible. I don't know why he (unintelligible)," reported Knoxville News Sentinel writer Evan Woodbery.

Anybody who's watched Hurd truck defenders and grind out extra yards after contact knows he's anything but soft.

Hurd has put to rest any concerns about his height so far as well, hitting holes with a vengeance and making himself a small enough target that he protects his lower body. Once he gets in the open field, Hurd's length and speed are to his advantage.

Even while Hurd produces, rivals talk.

Just this week, Florida linebacker Jarrad Davis stirred the pot a little more when he told GatorBait's Thomas Goldkamp that Hurd "can't hang" with the Gators.

Georgia was a big test for him, that's a physical team. But I feel like we have more to offer for him. We're going to come down, we're going to talk to him a little bit with the pads. We're not going to talk with our mouth, we're going to hit him and get back and get lined up. I don't think he can hang with us.

He's a good athlete, but we've got a whole defense coming for him.

Typical Florida smack talk. In one breath, Davis says the players won't talk with their mouth; in the next, he delivers the barb.

Davis later praised Hurd for being "physical" and "fast" but said that he "doesn't have top end speed."

"We have to welcome him to the SEC."

Hurd already stomped all over that welcome mat at Georgia and Oklahoma, which is another reason he is producing the best season by a true freshman in the league.

As the competition gets better, so does he.

The doubters will come, but Hurd takes it in one of those long strides.

Now, the spotlight will be firmly focused on Hurd entering the Florida game, but not just because of Davis' comments.

According to the Chattanooga Times Free Press' Patrick Brown, the Gators have outrushed Tennessee 181.5 to 52.6 yards per game in their current nine-game winning streak over UT.

The rushing advantage in this series goes even further.

The Vols must get a big game from Hurd. As if the jab from Davis and questions from all of the doubters weren't enough motivation, he wants to atone for his huge freshman miscue last week against the Bulldogs.

With UT backed up in the shadow of its own goal post, Hurd and quarterback Justin Worley fumbled a handoff exchange. Hurd took the blame for the fumble and is now ready to play in the game he's dreamed about since he was a little boy growing up in Middle Tennessee.

Hurd told Brown of the rivalry: "That's something that I was looking forward to all year when I was a kid and just growing up and being a Tennessee fan, and actually now playing in it, it's amazing."

If his progression throughout the first four games is any indication, Hurd won't just play; he'll star.

It's something most Tennessee fans expected when he committed to the Vols, giving UT its first blue-chip running back commit since Bryce Brown.

Now that he's actually on the field, the nation is getting a glimpse of what kind of monster Hurd can be with the ball in his hands. And this is only the beginning.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all statistics gathered from UTSports.com.

Brad Shepard covers SEC football and is the Tennessee Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow Brad on Twitter @Brad_Shepard.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Oklahoma vs. TCU Complete Game Preview

You know you’re in for a good one whenever the Oklahoma Sooners and TCU Horned Frogs match up.

This weekend’s tilt should be no different, as one of the top offenses in the Big 12 will go head-to-head with the best defense the conference has to offer. Not to mention four of the last five meetings between the Sooners and Horned Frogs have been decided by seven points or fewer.

With that said, prepare yourselves for another nail-biter.

Here’s everything you need to know.

 

Where: Amon G. Carter Stadium

When: Saturday, October 4, 3:30 p.m. ET

Watch: FOX

Live Stream: Sooner Sports

Listen: Sooner Sports Radio Network

Betting Line: Oklahoma (-5), per Odds Shark

Begin Slideshow

The Hype: Who Will Rise, Alabama vs. Ole Miss

The Alabama Crimson Tide and Ole Miss Rebels will battle it out in Oxford, Mississippi. With both teams heading into this SEC showdown undefeated, this game will attract everyone's attention. 

Can the Rebels dethrone the Crimson Tide?

Watch the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

USC Defense Has Opportunity to Erase Bitter Taste vs. Arizona State

There was a lot of talk floating around the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum last Saturday about washing away a bad taste following USC's 35-10 romp over Oregon State. The USC defense was coming off a loss to Boston College during which it allowed the Eagles to rush for 452 yards.

Both defensive lineman Leonard Williams and linebacker Hayes Pullard described holding the Beavers without an offensive touchdown as a palate-cleanser.

This week at the Coliseum presents the Trojans with a similar opportunity against Arizona State: the reigning Pac-12 South champion and a team that ran up 62 points on the USC defense a season ago.

That mark matched the single-game record for points that any USC defense has surrendered to an opponent. It was set just a season prior in a loss to Oregon.

The Arizona State loss set the wheels in motion for the arrival of current Trojans head coach Steve Sarkisian, who was then at Washington. USC athletic director Pat Haden fired Lane Kiffin just hours later and Sarkisian accepted the vacancy a little more than two months after that.

Sarkisian was adamant this week about USC not getting caught up in what happened a season ago.

"I wasn't here for all of that late. I know it was a relatively emotional sequencing of events," Sarkisian said on his conference call Sunday. "I'm sure there's a little bit of that in there, that they want to go out and redeem themselves to a degree. But that won't be a focus. We're going to be focused on fixing ourselves."

Fortunately for this year's Trojans, they have their turnaround after the Arizona State loss as a frame of reference for remedying the problems that hindered them in last year's contest.

USC rallied from the defeat to go 7-2 over its next nine games, and it lost just once more in the conference.

If the Boston College loss was comparable to last year's Arizona State game for USC, the Oregon State win is more akin to the Trojans' 2013 finish.

The Trojans held Beavers quarterback Sean Mannion to 15-of-32 passing for just 123 yards last week.

"The numbers don't say we had a bunch of sacks or those things, but we were aggressive up front," Sarkisian said on the Pac-12 conference call Tuesday.

USC's lone sack came from Williams, who brought down Mannion with a little extra oomph.

"It feels good to make a play, but even better after a loss," Williams said.

Applying similar pressure on Arizona State quarterback Mike Bercovici is crucial. Bercovici made his first career start last week at UCLA and slung the ball around Sun Devil Stadium at a Mannion-like rate.

Bercovici finished with 488 yards and three touchdowns in the Sun Devils' 62-27 loss. He's set to once again start behind center with Taylor Kelly out due to a foot injury sustained in Week 3 at Colorado.

Kelly's absence means a much different look from the Arizona State offense than what USC saw a season ago. Dual-threat QB Kelly burned the Trojans for 79 yards on just four carries, much in the same way Boston College's Tyler Murphy went for 191 yards against USC three weeks ago.

Bercovici won't tuck and run in quite the same fashion, but he will test USC's streak without allowing a passing touchdown.

He has a number of talented options to target, starting with wide receiver Jaelen Strong. Strong has 412 yards and two touchdowns on the season and went for 103 yards last year against USC.

"It's one of those games when me, Kevon [Seymour] and Adoree' [Jackson] have to step up," cornerback Chris Hawkins said. "Jaelen Strong is one of the best receivers in the country. He's big, physical, he's got decent speed but his hands are awesome. If he touches the ball, he's going to catch it.

"It's one of those games where we have to be prepared to knock balls down before they get to receivers' hands," Hawkins added.

Hawkins did so against Boston College with his first career interception. Jackson batted away a Mannion throw into the end zone last week, which safety Leon McQuay III came in to intercept.

Takeaways should continue to play an integral role for the USC defense this week—they certainly did for Arizona State in its loss last week, as UCLA used two interceptions by Bercovici to swing momentum.

There should be no shortage of opportunities for USC's defensive backs to make those plays if Bercovici's 68 pass attempts a week ago are any indication.

Although Arizona State figures to play a different style this week than it did against USC last year, Bercovici playfully projected a similar result for the USC defense, via AZCentral.com:

Should the Trojans have their way, the bad taste that lingered for them previously will be Bercovici's and the rest of the Sun Devils' to experience.

 

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise cited. Statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com unless otherwise noted.

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USC Defense Has Opportunity to Erase Bitter Taste vs. Arizona State

There was a lot of talk floating around the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum last Saturday about washing away a bad taste following USC's 35-10 romp over Oregon State...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

College Football Picks: Week 6 Predictions for Every Game

If the college football season is a full-course meal, consider the first five weeks to have been made up of appetizers and salad. That's because Week 6's slate has all the ingredients you'd find in the main dish.

All but one team currently ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 is playing this weekend—enjoy the rest, Missouri—and six pairs of ranked teams are squaring off, five in key conference matchups. Of the 57 games set for Week 6, 49 of them are in conference play.

Four games pit unbeaten schools against each other, and we even have a battle of winless teams trying to get on the board. The weekend has pretty much everything, including a clash of service academies.

Check out our predictions for every Week 6 game, as well as our experts' picks for the weekend's top clashes, and then give us your thoughts in the comments section.

Last week: 40-14 (.741)

Season record: 261-66 (.798)

Begin Slideshow

Winners, Losers from College Football Recruiting Trail for Month of September

Each month of the football season pushes programs one step closer to national signing day. Just four months separate teams from a pivotal February morning that will ultimately determine on-field fortunes for seasons to come.

September provided plenty of highs and lows for coaching staffs across the country. As we turn the page to October, it's an appropriate time to look back on those who shined and struggled on the recruiting trail over the past month.

Begin Slideshow

2014 Season Proving Fans Shouldn't Overreact to a QB's Spring Game Performance

Spring practice is a time for college football teams to develop young players and reshape their leadership hierarchies. When it's over, a live public scrimmage is often played, not unlike the talent show at the end of summer camp. The final score and stats have almost no bearing on the regular season.

Again: The final score and stats have almost no bearing on the regular season.

The first five weeks of the current regular season have been a lucid reminder of this—a reminder we probably shouldn't need at this point but do. They have chewed up and spat out our assertions from late April, especially when it comes to quarterbacks.

Consider, for example, this broad-stroke list of narratives that were gaining steam after the 2014 spring games:

  1. Blake Sims is not good enough to start at Alabama.
  2. Trevor Knight's Sugar Bowl performance was a fluke for Oklahoma.
  3. Malik Zaire should start over Everett Golson at Notre Dame.
  4. Hutson Mason can be just as good as Aaron Murray at Georgia.
  5. Cole Stoudt is the right man to lead Clemson's offense. 

Then consider all that's happened since:

*benched for a true freshman in Week 4

It feels dirty reading some of this in hindsight.

Why should it matter that Sims completed 13 of 30 passes with two interceptions in a scrimmage? It's a scrimmage! The only thing that separates A-Day from a blissfully anonymous afternoon of practice is the 73,000 butts in the stadium.

How one performs in front of fans should matter a little bit, but a one-day sample is still just a one-day sample. (Just go ask the NFL scouts who passed on Teddy Bridgewater because of his pro day.) The spring game matters more than any other day of spring camp but not so much that it erases the previous weeks.

The coaches, of course, tried to remind us of this. They begged us to look at the forest instead of the tree.

"Everybody needs to understand that in games like today we really limit what we do on offense, we really limit what we do on defense, and we really don't try to feature players," said Nick Saban after A-Day, per The Associated Press. "That may be a little bit of a disadvantage to our players. 

"Blake Sims did some things at quarterback that we really don't feature."

Some things that we don't really feature.

The spring game is like a science lab or a nuclear testing ground. It's a venue for experimentation, not execution. Especially at Alabama (and Notre Dame), where a new offensive coordinator was being broken in, we should have known better than to overreact.

We should have known that it was trial with error.

But we didn't. Of course we didn't. We read the box score, saw 13-of-30 passing, knew Jake Coker was transferring from Florida State—then anointed him the next Alabama quarterback.

On the flip side, we read the Georgia box score, saw Mason completed two-thirds of his passes for 241 yards, knew what kind of weapons he was surrounded by—then anointed him a capable starter.

Never mind that he's a fifth-year senior who's been working with the same offensive coordinator for half a decade. Never mind that Georgia's defense was stocked with underclassmen and converted offensive players and coached by a first-year coordinator. Never mind that Mason was decidedly average at the end of 2013.

The Bulldogs will be fine without the SEC's all-time leading passer!

Wanna know the craziest part about the list above?

It omits the most erroneous-in-hindsight narrative of the entire spring—i.e., that Kenny Hill's arrest/suspension for public intoxication meant a true freshman, Kyle Allen, would start at Texas A&M. The Aggies didn't have a public spring game, but we didn't need one.

Our decision had already been made.

Flash-forward to the start of October. Hill is the No. 2 favorite to win the Heisman Trophy, per the numbers at Odds Shark. Golson is ranked No. 3 right behind him, and Knight is in the top 15. If Sims plays well at Ole Miss in Week 6, he's a safe bet to join them.

All four of those players were trending downward during spring camp. Mason and Stoudt were trending up. The stories based around them and the hopes pinned upon them were based on the results of a glorified scrimmage. Based on numbers that amount to gobbledygook.

We all know this is true…except we don't. Or at least we don't remember to know it. We are blinded by three months of withdrawal, jonesing hard for a fix of football with meaningFor a box score that actually matters. And so, each spring, we are lured into the same recurrent fallacy, making assertions that will never come true based on games that aren't even really games.

And we'll do it all again in six months.

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College Station's Finest: The Ultimate Kenny Hill Hype Tape

Kenny Hill has been one of the most exciting and electric players of this college season thus far. He has catapulted himself right into the thick of the Heisman Trophy race. We take a look back at all of Kenny Hill's most thrilling moments of the 2014 season so far. 

Will Kenny Hill win this year's Heisman?

Watch the video and let us know!

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Tavon Austin's Warning to Steven Smothers on College: You Will Want to Quit

Maryland native and 4-star ATH Steven Smothers sits down with Bleacher Report to talk about his recruiting process.

Smothers, who has a special bond with former West Virginia Mountaineers stud Tavon Austin, discusses everything from his attributes to the city of Morgantown. 

Where do you think this big-time recruit will end up?

Watch the video and let us know!

 

Highlights courtesy of Hudl.

Rankings from the 247Sports composite

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Florida State Football: Seminoles' Improvement in Run Game Must Continue

Jameis Winston will keep putting up impressive numbers through the air, but if Florida State is going to compete for a national championship in 2014, the running game must continue to improve. Even though it took a handful of games, the Seminoles in their win at North Carolina State last week finally showed off the successful rushing attack that was supposed to be the backbone of the offense this year.

Sustaining that effort now becomes important for a team embarking on a make-or-break month of October.

FSU (4-0, 2-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) had a season-high 210 rushing yards in the Week 2 win over FCS foe The Citadel, but against power-five opponents Oklahoma State and Clemson managed just 106 and 13 yards, respectively—subpar efforts that had many in Tallahassee and around the country questioning an all-senior offensive line and could-be star tailback Karlos Williams.

The ’Noles entered the game against the Wolfpack with one of the worst rush offenses in the ACC and in desperate need of a ground-game turnaround. Instead, FSU fell behind NC State early and mustered just 16 rushing yards on 12 carries in the first half at Carter-Finley Stadium.

It was a nightmare scenario for a team with no apparent weaknesses on its offensive line or in a tailback rotation not lacking game breakers.

But then the Seminoles woke up.

Florida State’s second-half rallying effort featured a fair share of Winston heroics, but it coincided with a rebirth of the running game. FSU racked up 150 yards rushing in the final two quarters to finish with 166 on the ground for the game that helped avoid the upset. Showing sure signs of improvement from the first three contests, Williams earned co-player of the game honors for a performance in which he became FSU's first 100-yard rusher of the season.

“Karlos [Williams] is getting better and better; 100-yard game—126 yards,” FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said at his weekly press conference. “He ran the clock out at the end. That was another thing we did on offense too, we took that last drive and never gave them the ball back. We took the game away. That was extremely critical. He had a couple big runs and had three touchdowns on the night. 

“Karlos is pass blocking well, caught a couple passes out of the backfield. He keeps getting better and better.”

Williams has the athletic ability and speed to be a matchup headache for opposing defenses and should build off last week's game as he carries FSU’s rushing attack. After averaging 4.2 yards per carry in the first three games, he notched six yards per carry against the Wolfpack.

But Williams isn’t the only player in the rotation with the skills necessary to make the offense move as the season rolls toward the middle half of the schedule. Like he did against The Citadel, true freshman Dalvin Cook registered a nifty touchdown run in which he showed flashes of his 5-star 2014 prospect ranking.

Cook finished the game with 45 yards on just six carries.

“He is really coming on,” Fisher said about Cook. “He just needs at-bats. The more he gets in there the better he is going to be. He is a natural. He is a heckuva football player.”

Cook was the team’s No. 2 tailback at NC State while Mario Pender missed time following the concussion he suffered against Clemson. With Pender slated to return this week against Wake Forest, he and Cook will battle for those at-bats behind Williams. In limited action this year, the duo has warranted such opportunities as both already have two touchdowns apiece.

And then there’s FSU’s all-senior starting offensive line.

It’s no secret that Cameron Erving, Josue Matias, Austin Barron, Tre' Jackson and Bobby Hart didn’t live up to expectations through the first three games, but there were times when they looked like the dominant unit of 2013 (sans standout center Bryan Stork) against the Wolfpack.

For his play Saturday, Jackson earned ACC Offensive Linemen of the Week honors for the first time in his career.

A season ago, FSU’s record-breaking offense averaged 203.1 yards rushing per game with an average of 5.6 yards per carry. The 2014 offense is a world away from that mark at 123.8 yards per game with a 3.9 yards-per-carry clip, but last Saturday’s showing is a positive sign for a team hoping to resemble last year’s squad in as many ways as possible.

 

Brandon Mellor is a Florida State writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Statistics courtesy of Seminoles.com. All recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

Follow @BrandonMellor on Twitter.

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West Virginia Football Players Stage WWE Match in Locker Room

"Good God almighty! That killed him!"

A few West Virginia football players staged a WWE-style wrestling match in the locker room, and they certainly didn't hold anything back. 

(Warning: NSFW language used)

The match had props: 

Ankle locks:

And some high-flying moves:

[YouTube, h/t For The Win]

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Matthew McConaughey Gives Speech to Texas Longhorns, Pounds Chest with Players

Texas football (2-2) could use a pep talk these days, so, naturally, head coach Charlie Strong brought in the only man who can convince the players that life is a flat circle of futility.

Indeed, Matthew McConaughey made his triumphant return to the Longhorns sidelines this week, stopping by to watch his favorite team practice and give the players a good, old-fashioned inspirational speech.

Aired on the Longhorn Network, McConaughey’s speech included words about appreciating the game and—of course—a Wolf of Wall Street chest-pounding segment.

“I’m not gonna preach anything, not come tell you anything,” McConaughey said before preaching and telling them things.

McConaughey meandered a bit in his rhetoric, but it hardly matters. His heart rested in the right place and the actor once again proved why he’s probably one of the most genuine—and weirdest—people you could run into on a Hollywood set.

I would’ve liked to see a little more enthusiasm out of the Longhorns, who remained remarkably quiet throughout the semi-monologue.

You don’t get too many chances to pound your chest with Matthew McConaughey, guys. Don’t hold back.

 

Follow Dan on Twitter for more sports and pop culture news.

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Shane Morris Injury: Updates on Michigan QB's Concussion and Return

One week after suffering multiple injuries in a loss to the University of Minnesota, it looks as though Michigan sophomore quarterback Shane Morris will miss Saturday's game against Rutgers.

According to Nick Baumgardner of MLive.com, Morris is not expected to be active as he recovers from both a concussion and high ankle sprain.

Head coach Brady Hoke has yet to make an official announcement regarding Morris' status, but he was positive about his physical and mental state.

"He's doing great, he's doing wonderful," Hoke said. "I don't like to talk about injuries, but from a health point of view he's doing great. Attitude-wise he's fantastic."

As things currently stand, there isn't much incentive for Hoke to activate Morris for the Rutgers contest since he already named senior Devin Gardner as the starter under center, according to Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports:

The Morris situation has been a hot topic of discussion within college football circles due to the dangers of playing with a concussion. Morris was diagnosed with a "probable mild concussion," per Dan Murphy of ESPN.com.

It was initially thought, however, that Morris was only dealing with a leg injury, which is why he was allowed back in the game, according to a statement by Hoke shared via Nicole Auerbach of USA Today:

Even so, many have chastised Michigan for the handling of Morris, including ESPN's Chris Fowler:

One person who doesn't seem to be interested in the drama, though, is Morris. In the midst of controversy, he made his feelings known in a recent tweet:

While it doesn't look like Morris will be playing football this weekend, he is clearly ready to move on from the firestorm.

When Morris is fully healthy and able to return, it will certainly be interesting to see how Hoke deals with his muddled quarterback situation.

 

Follow @MikeChiari om Twitter.

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Will We Finally Know Who Is the SEC's Best Team After Week 6?

The standings won't reflect it since at least two and possibly more SEC teams will still be undefeated after this week, but we will know which team is the SEC's best following this weekend.

With No. 12 Mississippi State (4-0, 1-0 SEC) hosting No. 6 Texas A&M (5-0, 2-0 SEC), No. 11 Ole Miss (4-0, 1-0 SEC) hosting No. 3 Alabama (4-0, 1-0 SEC) and No. 15 LSU (4-1, 0-1 SEC) traveling to No. 5 Auburn (4-0, 1-0 SEC), Week 6 will serve as a "separation Saturday" for six of the seven SEC West teams.

Yes, that's a cheesy moniker that has been recycled just about every college football season at some point. This week, though, it's accurate.

We won't know who the eventual champions are after this week, but we'll certainly know the front-runners.

While ESPN's College GameDay heads to Oxford, Mississippi, for the first time ever and SEC Network's SEC Nation will be about 100 miles southeast in Starkville, the biggest game of the weekend will take place in Auburn.

This is an elimination game for LSU.

With one conference loss on the resume, it's unlikely that head coach Les Miles' Tigers can make it to Atlanta as SEC West champions with two conference losses considering the strength within the division this year. Miles is downplaying the importance of this game.

He's going to have to string together not just positive outings, but wins. Otherwise, the six-team race for the SEC West title will be diminished to five before the Bengal Tigers walk off the field at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

If Auburn drops that game, the cannibalization of the SEC West will be on in full force, and we could be looking at a giant mess in November.

That's not to say that Auburn still couldn't win it. It dropped this game to LSU last year and could certainly repeat the feat. One loss, coupled with what's going to be two more from teams playing games in the state of Mississippi on Saturday, will create a logjam in the nation's toughest football division.

Record-wise, there will be some separation. From the eye test, though, there will be plenty.

If Alabama's offense lights up Ole Miss' stout defense on the road, it'll be hard to argue that the Crimson Tide aren't the best team in the SEC—and possibly even the nation. Regardless of what happens in Starkville between Texas A&M and Mississippi State, that'll give the Crimson Tide bullet points on its resume that no team in the SEC can boast.

It's a bit premature to worry about the standings right now, though.

"We haven't lost a game yet, so we're going to go into every game and try to win it," Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze said in his weekly press conference. "As soon as we walk out onto the field, we're trying to get a victory. We haven't talked about [the division]. All we're talking about is trying to win this game."

Landscape-wise, this is the weekend that will set up the next two months of college football in the South, though.

We'll know the contenders, and we'll know the pretenders, with several teams fighting uphill battles instead of fending off upset-minded foes.

Get your popcorn ready.

 

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

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

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College Football Week 6: Top 25 Upset Alert

Week 6 of the college football season is shaping up to be one of the craziest of the season. With that, it's time to alert the masses on which powerhouse will be upended.

Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Adam Kramer highlights which underdogs have a chance. 

Which top-10 team will fall this weekend?

Watch the video and let us know!

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Good Guys Finish 1st: The Hugh Freeze Story

OXFORD, Miss. — They were alone together, driving through the summer twilight, aglow in the blush of love. It was July of 1992, and the bride and groom cruised away from the Baptist church in Independence, Miss., and into the first hours of their future, which now began on an endless expanse of road, rich with possibility.

What a couple they were, rolling through the backwoods of Mississippi and into the Tennessee Valley on their way to the Smoky Mountains of Gatlinburg, Tenn., where they would honeymoon. But Hugh Freeze, 22 and then a first-year assistant coach at Briarcrest Christian High in Memphis, had a surprise for his wife, Jill. He pulled off Interstate-40 at Knoxville and drove onto the University of Tennessee campus. He eased into the parking lot at Neyland Stadium. The gates were shackled, but husband and wife slipped through a small opening.

They walked into the empty stadium, the grandstands stretching up, up and up, seemingly to touch the basement of heaven. A whisper of wind feathering their cheeks, Hugh grabbed Jill's hand. They looked at each other, practically disappearing into each other's eyes. He had something to say, and it was almost as important as the vows he'd taken in the small white clapboard church topped with a steeple.

"I will be a head coach in the SEC one day," he said softly. "I will."

"I know," Jill replied. "I know."

In the growing darkness, the two kissed. And in this silent stadium, on this silent summer night, so began one of the most unlikely coaching journeys in college football history.

 

 

The last time Ole Miss clinched an SEC title was Nov. 30, 1963, eight days after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Since then, 10 head coaches have stalked the sideline at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium—and all 10 have failed to raise the Rebels into the realm of the elite. But the winds of change are strumming the magnolia trees in Oxford. On Saturday, No. 11 Ole Miss (4-0) hosts No. 3 Alabama (4-0) in what may very well be Mississippi's most significant home game since a freckled-faced Archie Manning was running around the field like his shoelaces were on fire in the late '60s.

Freeze, now 45, is in his third season at Ole Miss. A decade ago, he was a high school head coach in Memphis who feared he was destined to never advance to the college level, much less to the sport's power conference. But as he sits in his vast office inside the Rebel football headquarters—it's almost spacious enough to house the private plane he's been jetting across the nation in, sweet-talking 5- and 4-star recruits—he acts and sounds like a man who belongs in the SEC.

"We are ahead of schedule," he says. "When I got here, we'd won only one SEC game in two years. I thought it would take some time to get to a bowl game, but we made it to one in my first year. Now the challenge is stay sharp, on edge, act like we have to fight for everything and earn it. The big questions we have are how will our offensive line improve and how will [quarterback] Bo Wallace take care of the ball. Our defense can stand toe-to-toe with anyone. I like this team. I like it a lot."

Freeze rises from his chair, walks to a bookshelf and grabs a three-ring binder. Labeled The Journey, this phonebook-thick manuscript is his personal manifesto for how to construct a winning program, brick by brick. The nine chapters include his "Recruiting Plan," his "First 100 Days on the Job," his "Top 25 Things to Build," his ideas for "How to Engage the Fan Base" and his "Coaching Philosophy." It took Freeze two decades to write and refine these words. "Without this," he says, tapping the binder, "I'm not here today."

Fact is, on a long-shot team—remember that Ole Miss is less than three years removed from a 2-10 record, the school's worst season since 1946—Freeze is by far the biggest long shot of them all.

 

 

Little Hugh Freeze was consumed by football; the sport was nothing short of the sun in his solar system. His father, Danny Freeze, was a longtime assistant coach at Independence (Miss.) High and later at Senatobia (Miss.) High. The Freeze's family farm in Independence—a speck on the map in the northwest corner of the state that is marked by a four-way stop sign—sat on 1,000 acres of land and abutted the school's football field. Just out of diapers, towheaded Hugh would crawl to the fence and watch his dad's team practice, hypnotized by the hitting, the violence and the ball spiraling through the sky.

In grade school, Freeze, his older brother, Cary, and younger sister, Tammy, had strict routine: rise at 4:30 a.m., tend to the 320 head of cattle, carry pails into the barn to milk the cows, bale hay and do whatever else needed to be completed to keep the farm running. Then they were off to school. Once the final bell rang at the end of the day, Freeze would watch football practice and carry a water bottle to the players. On Friday nights, he wore khaki pants and a red shirt—just like the coaches on the sidelines—and for away games, he always helped pack the equipment onto the team bus.

Observant and preternaturally curious, young Hugh studied the practices and the games as if his dad would quiz him before his bedtime story. Independence ran the "Notre Dame Box" offense, a variation of the single-wing that can be traced back to Knute Rockne in the late 1910s. Danny Freeze's offense resembles the hurry-up spread that his son has installed at Ole Miss. "The principles of our offense come from the Notre Dame box," Freeze says, smiling at the memory of his dad's old teams. "It's not a coincidence."

Freeze attended Southern Miss, where he majored in math. At 5'10" and just over 150 pounds, he wasn't big or athletic enough to play college football, but he maintained his child-like fascination with the sport, keeping notebooks on his nightstand that he would fill with jottings deep into the night as he watched games that he had taped. He was particularly enchanted with Steve Spurrier and his high-flying Fun 'n' Gun offense that propelled Florida to six SEC titles between 1991 and 2000. When Freeze saw a play that he liked, he diagrammed it in his notebook in a careful, deliberate scrawl; he constantly hit pause and rewind on his VCR to make sure he got it right. Even today, he still refers to these spiral notebooks.

The first steps in Freeze's ascent of the coaching ladder were taken at Briarcrest Christian High in Memphis, where he landed a job as an assistant after he graduated from Southern Miss in 1992. It was far from glamorous—Jill Freeze tells the story of having pork skins and beef jerky from a gas station for two consecutive Christmas dinners—but Freeze became the head coach in '95. Implementing the offense he learned at the knee of his father, Freeze erected a high school powerhouse. In 10 seasons, he compiled a 99-23 record, made six trips to state titles games and won two state championships (2002 and '04).

In 2001, Freeze met Michael Oher, a Memphis teenager who bounced around homes and even had been homeless for stretches in his life. The Freeze family embraced him—Oher spent one to two nights a week at their house—and Jill tutored him. Oher became especially close to the Freeze's three young daughters: Jordan, Madison and Ragan. In 2006, the tale was documented in the best-selling book The Blind Side by Michael Lewis, which was made into a movie in 2009. The book elevated Freeze, a devout Christian, onto the national stage. With eloquence and power, the narrative captured his belief that athletics—and football in particular—can help save souls.

It was Oher's reputation that led to Freeze's first big break. After winning his second state title in '04, Freeze told his wife, a teacher, that he thirsted for something more in his career. "Hugh, you have to dream bigger," she told him. "Remember what you told me at Tennessee."

Paying for his own plane ticket, Freeze flew to Miami in January of 2004. Ed Orgeron had just been hired as the new coach at Ole Miss—the dream destination for Freeze, a Mississippi kid—but Orgeron was still an assistant for USC, which was preparing to play Oklahoma in the BCS National Title Game in Miami Gardens, Fla. Freeze knew where USC's team hotel was located, so for four hours he sat on a bench in the lobby, waiting to spot Orgeron, whom he had never met. When Orgeron appeared, Freeze bee-lined it to the coach. For three minutes, as the two walked to the idling team bus in front of the hotel, Freeze talked a blue streak, turning on his country charm. He told Orgeron about developing Michael Oher—Orgeron knew the young player well—and how he was willing to work 150 hours a week, if that's what it took. Orgeron merely smiled and said thanks.

On the plane home, Freeze was crestfallen. He met his wife at the airport. "That was a wasted trip," he said. But then two months later, as Freeze was coaching the girls basketball team at Briarcrest, he received a phone call: Orgeron wanted to know if he'd take a substantial pay cut to join the Ole Miss athletic department as the assistant athletic director for football external affairs. He wouldn't coach football, but it was a job in the SEC. "If I do this and bust my tail, will I have a shot at something on the field?" Freeze asked Orgeron.

"You'll have a chance to interview," the coach replied. That was good enough for Freeze. Days later, he left his family behind in Memphis and moved into a small apartment in Oxford.

 

 

He applied the lessons of the farm: Work hard, commit to the job and start at 4:30 a.m. every morning. At night, Freeze refused to leave the football facility if a light in a coach's office was still on. He watched tape of opponents like it was a divine duty, staying up into the small hours of every morning and delivering detailed analysis reports to the staff. He came up with a 12-month recruiting plan—he broke down, by the minute of each day of each month, what the coaches should be doing—and he shared the plan with Orgeron in 2006. Impressed, he hired Freeze to be his recruiting coordinator. Freeze immediately drove to Memphis to tell his dad he was finally an SEC assistant coach. They cried with joy. In his first year as recruiting coordinator, Freeze helped land the nation's ninth-ranked recruiting class.

In 2008, Freeze became the head coach at Lambuth University, an NAIA school in Jackson, Tenn. Every note he'd ever taken was poured into his playbook. For the first time in college, he was calling the plays, and what he constructed was an offensive machine that hummed with ruthless efficiency. In '09, he led the Eagles to their best season in school history (11-0) and his offense averaged more than 40 points a game. He moved to Arkansas State in 2010, where in his first year as offensive coordinator the Red Wolves broke nine offensive school records. He was named Arkansas State's head coach in '11. The pattern of his success continued: He became the 14th FBS first-year head coach in history to win 10 regular-season games. His offense finished 16th in the country in passing yards. Through it all, he never stopped consulting his notebooks.

 

 

Arms folded, his eyes bright with intensity, the coach walks among his players during practice at Ole Miss. He slaps the shoulder pads of defensive end Robert Nkemdiche (5-star recruit, 2013). He points at offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil (5-star recruit, 2013). He speaks to wide receiver Laquon Treadwell (the nation's top wide receiver prospect, 2013). He smiles at safety Antonio Conner (5-star recruit, 2013). This is what it looks like—a Thursday practice in September that is teeming with future NFL players—to build a program.

"Hugh is the total package," says Mississippi athletic director Ross Bjork, sitting in a cafeteria that overlooks the indoor practice facility. "He's personable, charismatic, he plays a style that kids love—fast on offense, aggressive on defense—and everything about him is family. He tells his assistants to bring their kids to work. No one does this in college football. But recruits see this family atmosphere he's created, and recruits see that Hugh has got an 'it' factor that few coaches possess."

Since Freeze was hired in Oxford on Dec. 5, 2011, his recruiting has been the stuff of legend. When you talk to Freeze, who could charm a snake with his honey-dripping drawl, he makes you feel like you're on the porch of his farmhouse on a tea-sipping afternoon dreaming aloud about the promises of tomorrow. This is his seductive allure, and it's resonating in living rooms across America. In '13, he landed the nation's seventh-best recruiting class, according to Rivals; Last year, the haul ranked 19th.  Freeze has been so effective on the recruiting trail that he has repeatedly had to defend his process.  On October 2, 2014 Yahoo reported that Ole Miss is under investigation for rules violations in multiple sports, however it is important to note 'Freeze and his staff reportedly aren't the subject of any potential major violations, and most of the football-related part of the investigation focuses on a previous staff.'

Freeze, smiling luminously, continues to stroll across the practice field. Alabama, the premiere college football program of the 21st century, is coming. The coach has been preparing for this hour of reckoning since he was two-feet high on the farm looking through that chain-link fence in Independence at his dad's practices. The notes in his right hand are a testament to that.

 

Lars Anderson is a 20-year veteran of Sports Illustrated and the author of six books, including The Storm and the Tide, which was published in August. He's currently an instructor of journalism at the University of Alabama. Follow him on Twitter @LarsAnderson71.

All recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports unless otherwise noted.

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Texas A&M vs Mississippi State: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time, More

There is no rest for the weary in the chaotic SEC West, which features six teams ranked 15th or higher, and this especially applies to No. 6 Texas A&M one week removed from a shaky performance.

Kenny Hill and the Aggies are on the road this time around to visit the No. 12 Mississippi State Bulldogs, a team coming off a bye week rightfully earned after an upset of LSU in Baton Rouge.

Not only do both teams tout quarterbacks who post eye-popping numbers, they also feature two of the nation's better defenses in a contest that is both the biggest test to date for each and one that will define the season on the whole.

In the SEC East, there is minimal wiggle room for error, so Saturday's early start in Starkville figures to begin the day's festivities with a boom.

 

Surpassed Expectations

The shadow cast by the legend of Johnny Manziel has quickly been lifted thanks to the stunning play of sophomore Aggies quarterback Hill, who has wasted little time throwing for 1,745 yards and 17 touchdowns to two interceptions.

While Hill's resounding success certainly earns him plenty of credit, the majority of it should go to the system and abilities of coach Kevin Sumlin. His offense ranks No. 2 in the land thanks to scoring 51.2 points per game on average, a number Bulldogs coach Dan Mullen is well aware of heading into Saturday.

"You know you're going to have to score," he said, per STATS LLC, via ESPN.com. "If they hit their average, it means we have to score 52. If you hold them just below the average, we'll have to score 50. Offensively, you know you're going to have to score points against them if you're going to beat them."

Mullen's team can certainly light up the scoreboard too, though. Junior quarterback Dak Prescott has been a pleasant surprise this season, completing 60.4 percent of his passes for 964 yards and an 11-2 touchdowns-to-interceptions ratio. He also has 378 yards and three scores on the ground.

Of course, the highlight for Prescott came on the road against LSU when he racked up 373 total yards and three scores.

As College GameDay puts into visual form, both unexpected elite performers are among the best in the nation in a number of facets:

As a result, what was once a notable matchup on the entire SEC slate before the season is perhaps one of the best quarterback showcases the season has to offer, not to mention one that will give a single team a serious leg up in the race for the SEC crown.

 

Getting Defensive

Understandably, the mostly strong defensive work from both teams gets swept under the rug.

The Bulldogs rank in the top 20 by allowing just 16.5 points per game. Outside of beating up on lesser opponents, the unit has made a name for itself thanks to that performance against LSU, where star linebacker Benardrick McKinney and his unit held the Tigers to a 2-of-13 mark on third downs.

Now, Mississippi State does struggle against the pass (LSU threw for 341 yards), but the Aggies are certainly not perfect, either.

While Texas A&M comes in at No. 13 overall thanks to an average of 15.0 points allowed, the defense was torched by Arkansas in a 35-28 overtime win to the tune of 285 rushing yards. While most teams are due to get roughed up by the Razorbacks' attack, the point stands that the Bulldogs have an attack that can replicate the ground production Arkansas found to great success.

Not only is Prescott a serious threat on the ground, running back Josh Robinson is third in the conference in rushing yards per game (121.3), averaging 7.8 yards per carry on the way to 485 yards and four scores.

Whichever defense blinks most often in the face of elite attacks will outright decide the game.

 

When: Saturday, October 4, 12 p.m. ET

Where: Davis Wade Stadium at Scott Field, Starkville, Mississippi

Television: ESPN

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 68
  • Spread: Mississippi State (-2)

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports via USA Today.

 

Prediction

On one hand, the easy pick seems the Bulldogs. At home, well rested off a bye and in possession of an attack ripe to exploit a wobbly opponent, it seems Prescott and Co. are in for another major day.

Then again, the test that was Arkansas for the Aggies cannot be overstated. Hill and the rest of the team were bent but in no way broken in what was akin to a serious growth spurt as halftime adjustments eventually saw the team to a win.

In fact, the Aggies outscore opponents by 59 points in the fourth quarter this year. Call it a slow start or give credit to Sumlin and his staff for the necessary adjustments. Either way, understand that Hill can keep the Aggies in the game before adjustments are made.

Expect this one to be close through three quarters and change, but when push comes to shove, the better coaching staff—and arguably, the better quarterback—wins out.

Prediction: Aggies 35, Bulldogs 30

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

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