LSU fans need to stay on the Buga Nation bandwagon.
The college football world was promised miracles from LSU freshman sensation Leonard Fournette. But in Fournette's first game against Wisconsin, he was below average.
Check that. He was bad.
Fournette carried the ball eight times for 18 yards and returned five kicks for a paltry 117 yards. The 5-star recruit failed to make defenders miss to gain extra yardage. He also had a case of butterfingers, dropping a screen pass late in the third quarter and mishandling a pitch to the left in the fourth.
LSU head coach Les Miles defended Fournette's stale game against the Badgers.
"I think his first game is certainly not to be compared with his 30th game,” Miles said, per The Advocate. “I think expectations are unrealistic. Can you imagine that somebody would comment how you made your first game as a true freshman? We needed for him to come in and contribute, which he did."
Credit should be given to Wisconsin's defense. Its 3-4 front gave the LSU offensive line problems, and the Badgers linebackers attacked the line of scrimmage effectively.
Fournette, nor running back Terrence Magee, could find any daylight. But senior Kenny Hilliard was successful, rushing for 110 yards and a touchdown.
Yet Hilliard's numbers are a tad deceiving.
Hilliard raked in nearly half of his yards in only three plays on LSU's game-winning drive. The Badgers were in their nickel defense and were without nose tackle Warren Herring due to injury, which weakened the group up the middle.
Fournette and Magee would have had similar success carrying the football if given the same blocking.
On his second run, a similar hole was created. Hilliard could have gained more yardage, and possibly scored, if tight end Dillon Gordon had made a simple block on the back side of the play. The senior was shoe-string tackled at the line of scrimmage yet still fell forward for eight yards.
The touchdown scamper to cap off the drive was the biggest hole I've ever seen opened by an LSU offensive line. All that was left for Hilliard to do is beat the safety to score a touchdown, which he did with relative ease. But that is expected when given that clean of a run in the open field.
Hilliard was undoubtedly LSU's best back, but Fournette would have produced similar results. The New Orleans prodigy still has the highest ceiling of the backs on the Tigers roster.
Miles is going to give his prized freshman plenty of touches against LSU's cupcake opponents to boost his confidence, beginning with Sam Houston State on Saturday. The Tigers will need him when Mississippi State comes to Baton Rouge in two weeks.
Fournette will still be the guy for the Tigers. Just give him a little time.
Buga Nation wasn't built in a day.
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The picture appeared as if out of textbook describing Notre Dame football.
An October weekend in South Bend. Warm sun. Cool breezes. The campus filled with people. Situated in the press box of Notre Dame Stadium, this reporter looked down to the quad area surrounding the stadium and noticed a gaggle of people creating a stir around the latest sports/cable, radio/television celebrity. They took pictures. They wanted autographs.
A few feet away was a couple, enjoying the day and talking. People passed by without stopping or looking. Joe Montana and his wife, Jennifer, went about their business quietly.
Times have indeed changed, but Notre Dame still wants to be...well, Notre Dame, with the Golden Dome, Touchdown Jesus and all of the mystique.
Can it be?
As the Fighting Irish prepare to bring a close to their series with Michigan this Saturday night, there is an underlying feeling of uneasiness about the way the Irish are doing their business of competing for the national championship these days that goes far beyond what coach Brian Kelly's team does on the field.
Notre Dame has always been different. The school wants to do the right thing. It also wants to tell you about it, often making it seem like other schools, dealing with similar problems, do not do it as well because they are not Notre Dame.
That's why the way they have dealt with issues on and off the field—incidents that have not cast a favorable light on the Golden Dome—have been puzzling in some instances.
In the past two years, the Notre Dame administration has had to deal with academic fraud issues, which last season cost them the services of starting quarterback Everett Golson and this season five football players.
Before that, it was the embarrassment of linebacker Manti Te'o's relationship with what turned into a fictitious girlfriend; an accusation of sexual assault made against a Notre Dame football player (an incident for which the county prosecutor did not file charges) which ended with the suicide of the accuser, a St. Mary's College student; and a 2010 accident in which a student was killed after the tower from which he was filming practice collapsed during a storm that produced winds reportedly as strong as 51 mph.
This is not to suggest that Notre Dame was to blame in all or any of these incidents. Stuff happened, just like it has at other places around the country, such as Miami, USC, Alabama and North Carolina. Notre Dame wants to do the right thing, and indeed when something bad happens the people in charge will gather, make a pronouncement that they will deal with it, and sound as if they will do a better job of fixing it than anyone else because they are...well Notre Dame.
Such goings on...at South Bend?
By design or circumstance, Notre Dame has chosen to portray itself differently. It might happen at other places, but not at Notre Dame was the prevailing wisdom.
They were better than that.
Well, it did and it has and it will continue to happen.
But that hasn’t stopped Notre Dame from trying to make the world believe it was better.
Take, for example, the scene on campus in 1997 the weekend before the newly renovated and expanded Notre Dame Stadium was going to host its first game, against Georgia Tech. On the day before the game, a convoy of trucks arrived, each with a fully-grown tree ready to be transplanted outside of the newly expanded stadium. In a few hours, the area around the stadium was transformed from a stark, tree-less environment to an almost pastoral setting.
Or the conversation this reporter had sitting in former Irish coach Charlie Weis' office in the spring before his first season as the head coach. As a former ND student, Weis seemed to be the coaching equivalent of Rudy Ruettiger, who has taken on mythical proportions as a walk-on football player.
When the comparison to Rudy was made, Weis almost came out of his seat in anger, stating that he was a seasoned coach, nothing like Rudy, whom he felt was as much a media creation as anything.
Only a few months later, Weis, at the traditional pre-game pep rally before his coaching debut, could be found sitting and smiling next to Rudy himself, an honored guest and one of the featured speakers.
There is a sort of arrogance that comes across on many levels at Notre Dame in many areas. Of course, on the football field, that attitude has been tempered by the national-championship drought, which now dates back to 1988.
There seems to be a disconnect between what has always been the Notre Dame way of doing things and the reality of competing and succeeding at the level expected of Irish football, which remains the No. 1 school in college football history in terms of winning percentage.
That fact is still worth its numbers in ratings, as will be clear this weekend when Michigan visits South Bend.
Central casting couldn't have come up with a better set of storylines for NBC to kick off its 2014 coverage of Notre Dame football than a curtain call (for the foreseeable future) of the historic series with Michigan, the all-time leader in total victories: Prime-time television. Saturday night. Sellout crowd. Traditional rival. Touchdown Jesus and the Golden Dome.
But things aren't as they always were.
The 2014 college football season is already a week old and Notre Dame football hasn't been more than a quick sound bite or a video clip. Further, neither the Irish nor Michigan is regarded as a serious threat to make it into the playoffs. Even the hallowed turf at Notre Dame Stadium is changed, covered for the first time with artificial turf.
This is Notre Dame football?
Truth be told, it's not that big a deal anymore. Now the talk is about the SEC. Or the Pac-12. Or Michigan State and Wisconsin and Oklahoma and Texas and Florida State.
No. 16 Notre Dame vs. an unranked Michigan team is still a huge game. But it's different. Instead of being the leader of the pack, Notre Dame football is part of the pack.
Mediocrity has been more the norm than excellence in recent times. Two years ago, the Irish went 12-0 and played for the national title. A year later, they dropped back to 8-4 and gladly accepted a bid to play Rutgers in the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium. Once there was a time when an 8-4 Notre Dame team would refuse the invite to a second tier bowl. Once there was a time Notre Dame refused to play in any bowl game for 45 years because the administration felt the games required too much of a disruption in the academic schedule.
But the world of college football has caught up and bypassed the Irish in many instances.
For one, the exposure advantage Notre Dame seemingly created with having its own television network in NBC has dissipated with the spread of top-20 games throughout the cable and satellite landscape.
For another, the draw of playing for the Irish has lost much of its magnetism. At one time, if you were a blue-chip football player from a Catholic high school, Notre Dame was at the top of your list. Now, Notre Dame might not even be on the list. The academic restrictions are severe, and quite frankly, South Bend is not the hub of Party Central for college kids. There are more choices at equally attractive places, both academically and socially.
In comparison, Alabama ranked No. 1 all three seasons and Ohio State was in the top three in all three seasons.
The issues don't end there.
Notre Dame, although still maintaining independent status in football, is committed to playing five games each season against teams from the ACC, which has embraced the Irish in many other sports, including basketball.
But it is a prime reason why Michigan is not on the schedule in future years. Kelly, who suggested a year ago—for a short time, before he recanted—that the Michigan rivalry wasn't all that big a deal, tried to spin the story toward the future in his weekly media press conference.
"I'm not going to go so far as to categorize not playing anyone anymore as a good idea," Kelly said. " I will say this: Given the complexities of our schedule, in not being able to play Michigan, it opens up many more exciting opportunities for us. The Texas opportunity, Georgia. We understand the great tradition and the rivalry of the Michigan game and if it could have worked out, it would have worked."
Indeed, this is new territory for Notre Dame.
The now-defunct BCS system detailed the school's unique financial and competitive arrangement in the system's bylaws. No other school received such preferred treatment.
The newly formed College Football Playoff selection committee has had three separate meetings and Notre Dame has yet to be discussed.
Kelly maintains that while school officials are dealing with the off-the-field issues, his job is to make good things happen on the football field, no matter what that field looks like.
"You want to be part of the national conversation," Kelly said before the season. "At Notre Dame, that's where we want to be. Now the structure is different. It's how do you get into the playoffs? That's the mark for us, to compete for a playoff position. [But] there are a lot more teams now, and we want to be one of those teams that are considered. There are only four of them. We have to get a serious shot at getting one of those four."
For all the adjusting, this has been a special week in South Bend, and if the Irish win it will seem like old times for a little while at least.
But this is a different era. The perception of Notre Dame is changing. The audience in the social media world is constantly changing. What happened as recently as two years ago is quickly forgotten.
There likely will be more highlight moments. The Irish might even make it to the Football Final Four. But a string of double-digit win seasons, national championships, a seat at the head of the table as the best of the best?
It's hard to see that scenario any time soon.
Here come the University of Texas-San Antonio Road Runners, who made Arizona earn every bit of its 26-23 victory in the Alamo Dome on Thursday night.
Coached by former Miami coach Larry Coker, who won a national championship at Miami in 2001, UTSA has been playing football since 2011 and is eligible to play in a bowl game as an FBS member for the first time this season.
UTSA surprised some by beating Houston in its opener last week. After falling behind 10-0 in the first few minutes against Arizona, UTSA played the Wildcats dead even the rest of the way. The Road Runners will face another tough test next week when they travel to Oklahoma State.
Following that matchup, don't count on UTSA losing many more games this season. Coker has a veteran, Texas-recruited—94 players on the roster are from Texas—lineup, which includes 19 senior starters.
The final countdown has begun
Officially, 128 FBS teams are eligible for college football's final four in January. We also know that is a false number. Realistically, it's the 65 teams from the Power Five conferences, and actually about half of that those are really in the mix.
One loss (unless you are a super elite team) means that you are pretty much done.
Right now, my final four would be: Florida State, Oregon, Georgia and Oklahoma.
Each week, we'll offer a strictly subjective count of the schools that likely have been eliminated from the playoff hunt.
Here's the list after Week 1:
1. UCF; 2. Virginia; 3. Navy; 4. Western Michigan; 5. Troy; 6. Ga. Southern; 7. UMass; 8. West Virginia; 9. Miami (Ohio); 10. Rice; 11. Florida Atlantic; 12. Arkansas; 13. Kent State; 14. Louisiana Tech; 15. FIU; 16. So. Miss.; 17. Fresno State; 18. New Mexico; 19. North Texas; 20. Wake Forest; 21. Boise State; 22. Tulane; 23. Washington State; 24. Vanderbilt; 25 UConn; 26. Bowling Green; 27. Colorado; 28. Houston; 29. UNLV; 30. Hawaii; 31. SMU; 32. Appalachian State; 33. Northwestern; 34. Utah State; 35. Miami (Fla.); 36. Iowa State; 37. UTSA
Total teams: 128
Eliminated this week: 37
Total eliminated: 37
You've got to be kidding
1. Baylor's new on-campus stadium, which opened on Sunday for the Bears' game against SMU, had a price tag of $266 million.
Renovations to Texas A&M's Kyle Field had a price tag of $450 million
Renovations to Oklahoma's Owen Field is said to be approximately $400 million
That's $1.1 billion for three stadium projects.
2. Florida Atlantic was pounded by Nebraska 55-7 last week but was paid $1 million for taking the beating in Lincoln. This week it will travel to Tuscaloosa to face Alabama—and be paid another $1 million. Once again, money trumps fair competition. Is it worth $2 million for the Owls to be used as tackling dummies for two weeks? To be embarrassed for two weeks? At the FCS and lower depths of the college football landscape, that is still a rhetorical question.
3. When Charlie Strong was hired as Texas' new football coach last winter, Red McCombs, one of UT's biggest boosters, publicly criticized the hire on a San Antonio radio station, calling it a "kick in the face" and saying Strong would make a great position coach or coordinator.
McCombs quickly apologized. In Texas' home opener last week against North Texas, McCombs served as the Longhorns' honorary captain. It just goes to show that even school as rich as Texas needs a booster with McCombs' deep pockets on its side, especially if times are tough, as Strong has suggested they might be for awhile.
4. North Dakota State, an FCS school, has beat an FBS opponent in each of the last five seasons, including last week's 34-14 win over Iowa State. The Bison are coming off a 15-0 season, have a 25-game winning streak and won the last three FCS national titles. If you were an FBS school, why would you schedule the Bison any more?
5. Florida coach Will Muschamp reinstated three players who had been suspended for the Gators' opener against Idaho—which lasted 10 seconds before the game was postponed because of weather. Wide receiver Demarcus Robinson and defensive linemen Jay-nard Bostwick and Darious Cummings have obviously learned their lesson and will be available for the Gators' game on Saturday against Eastern Michigan--weather permitting, of course.
Game of week
Michigan at Notre Dame—Remember when this was the game of the week? It's still on in prime time (7:30 p.m. ET Saturday night) because Notre Dame has NBC as its primary outlet. But Michigan is unranked, Notre Dame is ranked No. 16 in the AP poll and Irish coach Brian Kelly had the audacity to say that it wasn't a rivalry game last year, for a few hours at least.
Well, it still is and even though the rankings won't dramatically be affected by the outcome, the winner will inch closer to a seat at the adult table in the playoff discussion.
The pick: Notre Dame 28, Michigan 17
Quote of the week
Here's what former Baylor quarterback and Heisman winner Robert Griffin III said to a group of reporters before Baylor's 45-0 pounding of SMU in its opener at its new on campus stadium said.
"I feel like Baylor is the powerhouse in Texas now," said Griffin. "But I don't know if anyone wants to admit that. Baylor has owned Texas for awhile and is No. 10 in the nation and has a chance to compete for the national championship."
Think about that quote. Baylor? Not Texas, Not Texas A&M (although Aggie fans will debate that one).
The road taken
Georgia Tech and Tulane will meet this week for the first time in 32 years. Both teams are founding members of the Southeastern Conference. Imagine the world today in college football for both schools if they had stuck with the SEC.
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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Mario Pender's journey could have been sidetracked a few times. There was a season lost to injury and another to academics, and a shooting involving his half-brother and a Florida State teammate.
He could have quit the team or transferred. Pender could have left Tallahassee, Florida, in the rear-view mirror, never having played a down of college football.
Instead, his close bond to his teammates and conversations with coach Jimbo Fisher helped encourage him to stay.
So the journey continued. More than 30 months after arriving on campus, Pender was finally set to make his college debut on Saturday night when No. 1 FSU played Oklahoma State.
FSU running backs coach Jay Graham didn't have to look far on the sideline for Pender. That's because Pender had been on Graham's hip during the entire first quarter. Graham turned to Pender in the middle of the second quarter and said, "Get ready."
After two years of waiting, after missing 2012 with a sports hernia injury and 2013 because he was academically ineligible, Pender didn't need to wait any longer to hit the field for the first time in a college football game.
"Coach, I'm already ready," Pender told Graham.
Pender took his first college carry, started left, cut back to the right and then barreled forward into the end zone. The 11-yard touchdown put FSU up 17-0, and it was one of three carries for Pender, who ran for 31 yards in the Seminoles' 37-31 win.
"It's a blessing, you know? First game, first carry, first touchdown," Pender said. "I wish I can describe the feeling."
Pender's journey from 4-star prospect at Cape Coral (Florida) Island Coast to playing time at FSU has been circuitous. In running back parlance, he's spent years going east-west before finally going north-south.
He had 49 touchdowns in his final two years at Island Coast, enrolled early at FSU in January 2012 and appeared that he would make an impact quickly.
However, the opposite turned out to be the case.
Pender suffered a sports hernia injury during preseason camp in 2012, forcing him to take a medical redshirt. He returned strong in the spring of 2013 but was declared academically ineligible before the 2013 season.
In December, Pender was involved in an off-field incident in which his half-brother, Tim Pruitt, was shot. According to the Palm Beach Post's Tom D'Angelo, offensive lineman Ira Denson stole Pender's debit card. Pender then stole Denson's shoes as collateral. When the two met up, an argument ensued.
Denson's friend, Tarron Addison, shot Pruitt.
Addison has been charged with attempted murder and is awaiting trial, according to Leon County court records. Denson was dismissed from the team by Fisher in March. Pender was not charged in the matter.
Pender is reluctant to talk about the incident but admitted to making poor decisions.
"I wouldn't say it was that tough but I felt like I wasn't doing what I was supposed to be doing," Pender said. "Now that I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing, just keep my faith in God and strive from there."
Pender is trying to make up for mistakes and lost time. He said he never thought about quitting or transferring and stated that his relationships with former FSU running backs Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr. as well as Fisher were reasons for him to improve in the classroom and as a person.
"He's actually been a big part of the reason I'm who I am today," Pender said of Fisher. "I never once thought about quitting or transferring."
One year after missing a season due to academics, Pender's grades are up dramatically. He was named an "academic warrior," a distinction given to an FSU student-athlete who has a grade-point average of 3.0 or higher.
"There's a lot more inside that guy than people ever give credit," Fisher said.
Pender has also adapted to fatherhood. In the first few days of August, Pender drove six hours from Tallahassee to Cape Coral to be at the hospital for the birth of his daughter. He returned to Tallahassee exhausted, not sleeping or eating before taking part in a grueling two-a-day practice in searing heat.
"Grinded through it," FSU running back Karlos Williams said. "I was there with him all the way through it. Me and Dalvin (Cook) looked at him like he was crazy."
Pender's dedication and performance on the field have caught the attention of players and Fisher. After Pender's touchdown Saturday, he was swarmed by FSU's offensive linemen to celebrate the run.
"Seeing him get in the end zone was amazing for him and what he's been through," guard Tre Jackson said. "Knowing the obstacles that the guy has faced, just the mind set that he has and still there pushing and wanting to get better, it makes it that much better."
After two years of waiting, it was the first of what could be many carries.
Fisher loves a running-back-by-committee approach, and while Pender is the No. 2 back behind Williams, he has earned more opportunities.
"I was extremely pleased with the way Mario played," Fisher said. "The look in his eye on the sideline. You didn't see a guy who was in his first game. You saw a guy who was out there competing. Just very composed and poised. I am so proud of him. What he has overcome. What he has went through."
Bob Ferrante is the Florida State Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand. Stats are courtesy of FSU game notes and the Seminoles' 2014 media guide. All recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.
Follow Bob on Twitter.
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The Michigan State Spartans head to Eugene to take on the Oregon Ducks in one of the biggest matchups in Week 2.
Who do you think will win? Watch the video and let us know.
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A storm rolled through Provo, Utah on Sept. 7, 2013, and not the one that caused a two-hour rain delay. This storm was much bigger.
What followed caused one of the biggest shake ups in recent Texas football history.
Dismantled is an accurate word to describe what BYU did to Texas on that Saturday evening. But the destruction was not only seen on the gridiron.
The Texas football program was demolished from top to bottom in 2013.
And it all began on that stormy night in Provo.
Embarrassing, shocking and disappointing are three words the Texas Longhorns have used to describe what occurred last season against BYU.
No. 15 Texas was a 7.5-point favorite against unranked BYU, according to Oddsshark.com. But even the experts in Vegas couldn't predict what would play out on the field.
BYU quarterback Taysom Hill had a field day against the Longhorns defense, and finished the game with 259 rushing yards and three touchdowns. The defense gave up 550 rushing yards and 679 total yards of offense to the Cougars.
"I'm still embarrassed about it," defensive back Quandre Diggs said of last season's loss. "You can probably tell in my demeanor that I'm embarrassed and don't really want to talk about it."
Bleacher Report NFL Analyst and former Texas quarterback Chris Simms summed up the performance in one word: "Wow."
"It was quite alarming to watch that game unfold," Simms said. "I have great love for Mack Brown and Texas, but that game was a big red flag showing there were a lot of issues down there in Austin. I was worried before the game, but that performance brought me to a whole new level. Any time you see a team physically and schematically dominated like that, there's more than just one issue at hand. It certainly showed me there were issues on the talent level of the players, and a lot of concerns with the coaching."
Brown eliminated one issue when he fired defensive coordinator Manny Diaz following the loss, but it was not enough. The damage was done, and the structure holding up the football program started to crumble.
The Texas-BYU game was a major factor in Brown's demise, but the issues the public saw on the field were not a fluke. Somewhere along the line, Texas lost its ability of finding talented football players and did not develop the talent once it arrived in Austin.
"The biggest difference in Texas football now is the type of people on the field," Simms said about the difference in Texas football from when he was on campus to present day.
"I came to Texas after the Ricky Williams era. We didn't have great depth on our roster, but we had stars in the starting 22. And that continued after I left with Vince Young, Brian Orakpo and Earl Thomas. That's not just NFL talent, it's top-tier Pro Bowl, All-Pro talent. Certainly none of that has happened recently at Texas. Quarterback play falling off after Colt McCoy was huge as well. Those were the biggest changes in Texas football between 2010 and 2013 and before that."
Texas is often regarded as one of the top college football schools in the country, so there should never be an issue in finding talented athletes. Unfortunately for Longhorn fans, it was a major problem toward the end of the Brown era.
"I was concerned for the last few years. I would watch games and think what's going on here? We don't have any players, we had no speed and we didn't have the stud defensive and offensive linemen anymore," Simms said. "Another thing that concerned me is: look at Marquise Goodwin. He has unbelievable speed and explosion, and made a name for himself his first year in the NFL, but we couldn't find a way to get him the ball in college."
Following the embarrassing loss to BYU, the Longhorns went on a six-game winning streak in conference play, and had the chance of claiming the Big 12 title.
Simms credited the Longhorns for being able to bounce back after the 1-2 start of the season. But the standard of winning changed in recent years, and that was unacceptable to Simms and other former Longhorns.
"Our acceptance level lowered. We were happy to beat the Iowa States of the world recently," Simms said. "When I was at Texas, we were disappointed if we didn't beat them by 30 points. I feel like expectations had fallen off, and that bothered me."
Texas lost three of its final four games of 2013, and saying goodbye to the coach who brought pride and national recognition back to Texas football.
Strong Restructuring Made in Austin
The powers that be put its faith in former Louisville head coach Charlie Strong to rebuild the Longhorns into the college football powerhouse it was once recognized as. The head coach has a long, rocky road ahead of him, and the rebuild will not be done in his first season.
But Simms, who was recruited by Strong when he was at Florida under Steve Spurrier, believes Strong is the perfect guy to lead his alma mater.
"The program is in a bit of a rebuilding process right now, but I think it's in really good hands in Charlie Strong. For whatever reason, the program has veered off course, but I do think Charlie is the right guy to get everything back on track.
"He's a true football guy, an X's and O's football coach. He has done a tremendous job of hiring good coaches and coordinators around him. And he has shown an unbelievable ability not only to do things the right way, but also in getting really good players and doing it the right way.
"If you can recruit at Louisville, then he's certainly going to be able to recruit at Texas. He's going to get everybody focused on the true details of football and will be able to get the best players back in there once again."
Strong said he doesn't expect Texas to be a national title contender in his first season, which did not sit well with some fans. But it's the truth.
Longhorn fans were spoiled by the nine or more win teams Brown put on the field for 12-straight seasons. Texas is nowhere near that standard present day.
But it has a chance of returning to it under Strong. It will take time, so Texas fans will need to use something they doesn't always want to use: Patience.
"I think you will see improvements in the players right away. Now does that mean they're going to go 11-2? No, I don't think so. I hope so, but I don't know if that's totally realistic," Simms said. "You have to give him a few years to let his recruiting kick-in, and that's a major point."
Coaches don't get fired over having a great program; they get fired over putting the program in a bad situation.
And the Texas football program was worse off than ever before when Strong was hired.
"When Mack took over, the talent at Texas was better than than it is," Simms said. "My freshman year had Casey Hampton at defensive tackle, Shaun Rogers at defensive tackle, Quentin Jammer, Leonard Davis and Mike Williams on the offensive line. We had a lot of big-time, future NFL players on our roster when I got there. I'm not so sure Charlie Strong has that right now."
Football games are often won or lost in the trenches. Texas has not had an offensive lineman drafted since 2008, and for the first time since 1937, the Longhorns did not have a single player drafted in 2014. And as seen in last season's BYU game, the Longhorns defensive line or run defense was not going to win any games for the team.
But Strong is one of the best defensive minded coaches in college football. His team is coming off of a week where it held its opponents to 94 total yards of offense. Now the Longhorns have a chance to rewrite the story around the Texas defense Saturday.
The Rocky Road Starts Saturday
The first difficult opponent on the Longhorns schedule just so happens to be the same team that changed the future of the football program.
It's safe to say Texas, under no circumstances, should schedule games against BYU moving forward, because history has shown bad things happen when the Longhorns face the Cougars.
Texas barely edged BYU in 2011, which marked the end of former five-star quarterback Garrett Gilbert's career in Austin. The abomination on defense last season cost the jobs of Brown and his staff, and was also the beginning of the end of quarterback David Ash's season after he suffered a concussion.
Strong will face the Cougars with first-time starting quarterback Tyrone Swoopes under center, first-time starting center Jake Raulerson and an offensive line that has five-career starts protecting the rookie QB.
Last year's game was the beginning of the end of the previous regime. This year's game gives Texas a chance to prove it has made a step in the right direction.
"We have another game," Diggs said. "We play BYU Saturday and I guarantee we will be ready to go."
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.
Taylor Gaspar is Bleacher Report's featured columnist covering the Texas Longhorns. Follow Taylor on Twitter: @Taylor_Gaspar.
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Saturday for college football fans is like a weekly holiday that is almost never a letdown. While the days leading up are wonderful and build excitement, there's nothing like being glued to the TV starting at noon and watching huge matchups.
It might only be Week 2, but there are several games that have fans salivating. After tough openers, programs like No. 1 Florida State and No. 2 Alabama have cupcakes this week and will likely keep their ranking.
But for teams such as Oregon, Michigan State, USC and Stanford, this week will mark a true test. With the Ducks facing the Spartans and the Trojans traveling to take on the Cardinal, there is sure to be a shake-up in the rankings.
Must-Watch Game: Michigan State vs. Oregon
Don't let the rankings fool you. Both of these teams have the same goals this season. After outstanding 2013 seasons, the Ducks and Spartans both want to be one of the first four teams in the College Football Playoff.
Both teams blew past their Week 1 matchups, but come into the Saturday showdown knowing that what happens could shape the entire rest of the season. With their hopes hanging in the balance, this game will likely come down to the two quarterbacks.
For Oregon, Marcus Mariota might just be one of the best in the country. After a breakout 2013 season, Mariota comes into this year with plenty of expectations and Heisman hype, as Adam Kramer of Bleacher Report notes:
As for the other quarterback, Connor Cook came into his own at the close of last season. The junior signal-caller won both the Big Ten title and Rose Bowl MVP awards and turned into one of the brightest stars in the conference.
Prior to the season, Brock Huard of ESPN (subscription required) ranked Mariota and Cook in his list of top college quarterbacks. Here's what Huard wrote about Cook, who he ranked No. 6 overall:
Cook, like many on this list, spent time away from campus honing his fundamentals and technique. By all accounts, he has returned to East Lansing bigger, stronger, smarter and more determined than ever to prove he belongs in the top tier among his peers. While Cook will never put up the numbers of other spread QBs in stat-hungry systems, his rating of 135.5 (61st in FBS in '13) will have to improve for Sparty to repeat as Big Ten and Rose Bowl champs.
With both signal-callers preparing for the first matchup between Top 10 teams this season, the pressure for each is unbelievable. But with the experience both have in big games, this midday contest promises to be an enthralling one.
During his three years as a starter, Mariota has lost just three games. Cook, on the other hand, has a 14-1 record heading into Oregon. Needless to say, both are prepared for the moment, but only one can come away with a resume-building win early in the season.
Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter.
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There are a lot of college football coaches who care about being mentors to their players. There are plenty more who lose sleep at night trying to figure out ways to help their players succeed on and off the field. However, there’s no coach who exemplifies these traits better than Stanford’s David Shaw.
Shaw, who is entering his fourth season as head coach of the Cardinal, is far more than a football coach, though he’s done a pretty good job with that gig so far. Under his leadership, the Cardinal have gone 35-7, made it to three straight BCS Bowl Games and haven’t won fewer than 11 games in a season. To put that into perspective, Stanford has only won 11 or more games four times. Unsurprisingly, Shaw was on the staff in each of those four campaigns.
It’s premature to call Shaw the most successful coach in the history of Stanford football—after all he’s only been running the place for three plus years. But he’s moving in that direction, and it’s not like Stanford has employed mediocre coaches.
Stanford has seen Hall of Fame coaches lead the school onto the field. Names like Walter Camp, Pop Warner and Bill Walsh are synonymous with the game of football. Jim Harbaugh, Shaw’s predecessor and former boss, is one of the best coaches in the NFL.
The NFL will undoubtedly come calling for Shaw’s services, if teams haven’t already. No one would blame Shaw if he left, but college football would be losing a great asset.
Shaw is a coach who's committed to mentoring young men first and football players second. In a day where money trumps all, Shaw is focused on building children—which is what some players are when they enter his program as freshmen—into grown men with bright futures.
When asked about how he intends continue Stanford's success on the field going for the foreseeable future, he de-emphasizes the football part of the equation and instead focuses on the human element.
“… It’s about people, first. Having the right coaches and recruiting the right guys. Not just great football players, but tough kids, smart kids, kids that understand the game, kids that get it on and off the field."
Shaw feels a personal responsibility to impact his players at a deeper level. Sure, he can coach them on the field and extract their best when they don the Stanford uniform. However, he's compelled to have an impact on their lives beyond the field because he received that sort of mentorship growing up.
“It’s huge the impact that we have on these young people and so much about what is being talked is about money and what they can get and all those things; but the biggest thing I think they can get through team sports, but also coaching, is preparing these guys for life, preparing these guys for the challenges that are going to arise,” Shaw said. “People did that for me growing up, my dad, of course, and Bill Walsh were mentors to me early on, and I want to be mentors to our guys going forward."
Shaw is one the best football minds at the collegiate level, molded by the likes of Walsh and his father Willie, a longtime assistant coach in the NFL and at Stanford. He also has an incredible grasp of the college football landscape, but his focus continues to be on the students and not the business.
The NCAA recently instituted the “autonomy” rules, thus giving the power five conferences control of how they operate, which will at some point mean increased benefits for players, including full-cost scholarships, four-year scholarships and educational trusts, at the very least. When asked about the new rules, Shaw stayed on message and said while the new rules are great for student-athletes, the coaches and athletic departments must remember they are mentors first and foremost.
“I think [the autonomy rules] are going to be really good for college football players. But at the same time, I think the emphasis still has to be on us being mentors, being teachers and preparing these guys for life. This can’t be just about the money they get to put in their pocket. People need to decide what kind of impact college coaches, but all coaches have on these young people."
There’s a little bit of John Wooden in Shaw’s persona, although you have to tread cautiously when using the Wizard of Westwood as a point of comparison.
Wooden, who won 10 national titles as head coach of the UCLA basketball team, once said about life, “You can't live a perfect day without doing something for someone who will never be able to repay you." Well, I don’t know how many perfect days David Shaw has had, but you can bet he’s focused on doing something for someone who will never be able to pay him back. Not that he’d admit it. Shaw, in his mind, is just trying to pass on what was given to him.
Yes, Shaw is focused on winning Pac-12 titles and national championships. Every coach in the conference is. He knows that he’s in for the toughest battle of his head coaching career this year. The Pac-12 returns 10 starting quarterbacks and, according to Shaw, is even with the SEC in terms of competitiveness and might be deeper overall.
“I think [the SEC and Pac-12] are even, for the most part. I think maybe the Pac-12 has more depth. I think what you’ll see in the Pac-12 also is some the teams you’d say are ‘lower teams’ are going to beat the ‘upper teams.' That doesn’t happen in most of the other conferences. You know every week in our conference there’s a good chance someone is going to get knocked off. That’s what makes our conference so tough."
Indeed, the Pac-12 is going to be as competitive as it has ever been from top to bottom this season. It’s not like Shaw has a lot of time to prepare his young team for the battle. The USC Trojans, fresh off a 52-13 victory over Fresno State, come to Palo Alto, Calif. this weekend.
But the opponent doesn’t necessarily concern Shaw because he’s more interested in making sure his team is ready and motivated for every game, every week. When asked about Stanford’s goals for the 2014-15 season, Shaw said that he wants his players to “de-emphasize the end goal and focus on what we can control and what we can control is our effort and our execution."
Wooden once said, "Success comes from knowing that you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming." Shaw agrees, suggesting that by controlling effort and execution and doing everything in your power to achieve your goal, you'll be successful regardless of the result.
It’s another life lesson from a coach who is more interested in the future success of his players than the spotlight for himself. Shaw is a mentor first, a teacher second and a football coach third.
That’s the way college football coaches should operate, isn’t it?
Stanford head coach David Shaw has partnered with Dove Men+Care Deodorant to promote the “Care Always Wins” campaign, which honors coaches who foster a caring environment on and off the field. Share the story of a caring coach in your life at Dovemencare.com, and you could win a trip to Atlanta, Ga. and be honored by the College Football Hall of Fame.
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Jason Gold on twitter @TheSportsGuy33.
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The Tusculum College (Tennessee) Pioneers didn't have much problem beating the College of Faith Saints Thursday night, but not even the score tells the whole story of just how dominant the Pioneers were.
Tusculum (Division II) opened its season with a 71-0 victory, but the record-setting performance could have been much worse. This game was essentially over after the opening kickoff, which the Pioneers' Justin Houston took 65 yards for the score. That was just the start of things.
The score was 23-0 less than six minutes into the game and 55-0 at halftime.
As dominant as the offense was, it was the team's defense that set NCAA records in the game.
Tusculum limited the College of Faith to minus-100 total yards, which obliterated the previous record of minus-69 yards set by Division II Fort Valley State against Miles in 1993. The Pioneers set that record while holding the Saints to minus-124 rushing yards, which bested the minus-112 rushing yards that Division III Coast Guard "allowed" against Wesleyan in 1989. The Pioneers defense recorded three safeties in the game, tying the Division II record set by Fort Valley in the same game against Miles.
Although Tusculum only came up with one turnover, its defense had no problem stopping the Saints. College of Faith failed to convert on any of its 13 third-down attempts and officially went 0-of-6 on fourth down.
It was just one game, but it was a night that none of the Pioneers—or the Saints—will ever forget.
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Michigan has been blaring music this week during practice, trying to prepare for a raucous road environment Saturday night. But it was Notre Dame football that turned up the volume early in the week, aiming to improve its communication in the secondary.
After Notre Dame allowed five explosive plays (four passes), three of which Irish head coach Brian Kelly attributed to poor communication, in its season-opening 48-17 win over Rice, defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder increased the decibels in the meeting room.
“I was in the quarterback meeting room and I could hear our safeties communicating very well during film study,” Kelly said Tuesday with a knowing smile.
“Coach VanGorder … made it clear during the meetings how he wants those guys to communicate,” Kelly added.
VanGorder and Kelly want the defensive backs—the safeties, in particular—to be more demonstrative and to take control. Irish graduate student safety and captain Austin Collinsworth typically handles that communicative role, but Collinsworth has been sidelined with an MCL injury.
Senior S Austin Collinsworth will miss today's season opener vs. Rice with an injury. Elijah Shumate will start in his place.— Michael Bertsch (@NDsidBertschy) August 30, 2014
“Austin was very good at [the communication aspect],” Kelly said Tuesday. “It was part of his DNA. That was his strength of who he was.”
With Collinsworth on crutches, junior safety Elijah Shumate hopped into the starting spot against the Owls, joining sophomore starter Max Redfield. Shumate had less than 48 hours to prepare for his start, and Redfield was forced to play without his running mate Collinsworth, who had been handling much of the quarterback-like preparations and communications.
“These are things that Max and Elijah are going to have to continue to get better at,” Kelly said of the communication. “These guys are going to have to take control as if they have that same kind of ability [as Collinsworth], and they're going to have to do it right now. Michigan is on them, and it's going to have to happen immediately.”
Michigan is on them, and Wolverines junior wide receiver Devin Funchess will be looking to blow by them. The 6’5” 230-pounder terrorized Appalachian State in Michigan’s season-opening 52-14 win. Funchess reeled in seven receptions for 95 yards and a career-high three touchdowns.
Devin Funchess with 3 TD in 1st game wearing #1. Last time Michigan WR wore #1 was Braylon Edwards on Jan. 1, 2005 (also had 3 TD in game)— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) August 30, 2014
Asked about his talented wide receiver two days after the victory, Michigan graduate student quarterback Devin Gardner made a clear yet bold statement.
“He can probably be the best receiver to ever play here,” Gardner said simply.
Now, whether Funchess ends up better than former Michigan greats Braylon Edwards, David Terrell and Desmond Howard is another story. The point, though, is Notre Dame has its hands full with Funchess.
“Funchess being on the perimeter is a matchup problem, and he will be a matchup problem for everybody he plays this year,” Kelly said. “We will have to find ways obviously to slow him down, and he's going to be difficult, and Gardner has played great against us.”
Notre Dame’s secondary will have to communicate well to at least be in position to slow down Funchess and the Michigan aerial attack.
Otherwise, it could get quiet quickly in Notre Dame Stadium.
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
Mike Monaco is a lead Notre Dame writer for Bleacher Report. Follow @MikeMonaco_ on Twitter.
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Georgia fans weren't the only ones to take note of the Bulldogs' convincing victory over the Clemson Tigers in Week 1.
The message that Mark Richt's squad sent was heard loud and clear by experts around the country, and they reacted accordingly, voting Georgia higher in major polls and including the Dawgs in playoff projections.
This early-season hype, merited as it may be, could be a stumbling block for Georgia.
This time last week, Georgia had as many unknowns as knowns. Hutson Mason was still a relatively new starter at quarterback, the offensive line was still looking to replace several longtime starters and the entire defense was in the midst of renovation. To be sure, the talent level in Athens was obvious and optimism surrounded the coaching staff.
But there were a lot of question marks heading into the 2014 campaign.
A strong game—and a stellar second half in particular—against Clemson was more than enough to address concerns, at least as far as national pundits were concerned.
Individual playoff prognostications were equally fond of Georgia's big win, as a host of analysts moved the Dawgs into their projected four-team playoff bracket.
Even Bleacher Report's own Adam Kramer put the Bulldogs in the playoff as the fourth seed.
Trouble with the Top
Richt and his coaching staff have been disciplined in tempering expectations for his team this week.
Earlier this week, the head coach told Tim Tucker of the Albany Herald: "I'm not going to get too excited yet. We've got a long way to go." He added that the team probably looked better in the win than it actually is at this point in the season.
Offensive coordinator Mike Bobo was equally unimpressed by the newfound spotlight on the program and playoff projections. "You've just got to ignore the noise and continue to work," he told Marc Weiszer of the Athens Banner-Herald.
Defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt was also unenthused by the national attention his team received this week. "We've still got a long ways to go," he told Seth Emerson of The Telegraph. "I mean, basically all we've done is guarantee that we can go 1-11. That's all we've done."
Though the coaches have been coy to an extent that almost seems scripted, there's sound reasoning behind the downplaying of accomplishments. The sample size for this Georgia team—and the opponent the Dawgs dismantled in Clemson for that matter—is extremely small. And, the only thing worse for a developing team than hearing praise all week is hearing praise for two weeks. In that regard, the off week may have yielded too much down time for players.
But Georgia knows, all too well, the perils of early-season hype.
In 2008, the Bulldogs entered the year as the top-ranked team in both the AP and Coaches Poll. A slow decline (despite winning) was accelerated by a September loss to Alabama that sent the Dawgs falling down the ranks. The team finished the season raked 15th in the BCS standings.
In 2012, a hot five-game winning streak against five unranked opponents propelled Georgia to the fifth spot in both the AP and Coaches Poll before an embarrassing 28-point loss to South Carolina sent the Dawgs tumbling.
As recently as last season, when a rash of untimely injuries struck down a formidable Bulldogs team, Georgia reached the No. 6 spot in the AP Poll by Week 6 of the season, only to disappear from contention after a slew of losses.
Avoiding the Letdown
Perhaps the most important thing for Georgia players and fans to remember at this juncture is that the Bulldogs haven't accomplished anything yet. Pruitt alluded to this with his 1-11 comment, but even more tangibly: Georgia is no closer to winning the SEC East than it was before the season began.
While it's not remotely realistic to think the Dawgs will go 0-8 in conference play this year, it's certainly not out of the realm of possibility for Georgia to lose on the road to South Carolina next week. And a loss to the Gamecocks puts Georgia behind the curve in the SEC East.
From there, the trickle-down effect is significant. Failing to win the SEC East, after all, eliminates Georgia from SEC Championship contention and most likely makes the playoff dream a fantasy.
In that regard, the win over Clemson truly was nothing more than a nice start. But that beautiful beginning could be negated as soon as next Saturday if Georgia doesn't remain focused on the task at hand.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand.
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The treacherous, unforgiving college football season does not often dole out second chances. None of the nation's top-ranked schools can afford an early slip-up with four precious College Football Playoff spots hanging in the balance.
Last week, three teams included in the AP Top 25 kicked off the season in the losing column, all against fellow ranked adversaries. Including these marquee matchups early in the season produces madness in the polls, and that chaos won't subside this Saturday.
Two premier bouts bless the schedule, both of which will shape the Pac-12 outlook. Oregon and Michigan State will up the ante with a showdown carrying championship implications.
Before I break down those games, here's a full look at every ranked team's upcoming opponent.
*Spreads unavailable at time of publishing.
Note: All odds, updated as of early Friday morning, are courtesy of Odds Shark.
No. 14 USC at No. 13 Stanford (-3)
Putting all childish coaching controversies aside, Stanford's David Shaw said something about the Cardinal and Trojans' rivalry that should net everyone's approval.
"When both teams have been ranked, when one team has been ranked, it hasn't mattered," Shaw said during a conference call, per the Los Angeles Times' Gary Klein. "The games are tight and the games are exciting. They're fun to watch."
Last year's meeting was as close as could be. USC escaped with a win on a last-minute field goal, but Stanford finished the four quarters with 26 more total yards. A year after proving evenly matched, the Pac-12 enemies stand back to back in the AP poll, foreshadowing another nail-biter this weekend.
Steve Sarkisian sure started his USC coaching tenure in style. The Trojans celebrated his debut by accumulating 701 total yards in a 52-13 blowout over Fresno State. Warmly welcomed to Sarkisian's spread offense, Cody Kessler quickly generated career highs with 394 passing yards and four touchdowns.
Stanford dazzled on the other side, limiting UC Davis to a measly 115 total yards during last week's 45-0 shutout. One of college football's toughest defenses has stifled stronger offenses, ruining Oregon's title hopes twice in the past two years.
Per ESPN Stats & Info, the Cardinal haven't lost lately at Stanford Stadium, the site of Saturday's showdown:
Playing at home gives Stanford the slight edge over USC, but it wouldn't be surprising to see this contest once again decided on a late field goal.
Prediction: Stanford 23, USC 20
No. 7 Michigan State at No. 3 Oregon (-11)
Games like this usually don't come around this early in the season. A loss could prove fatal to either school's playoff chances, and a victory bolts the winner way up the rankings.
Here we have yet another battle between an offensive machine and a defensive powerhouse. Last year, Oregon ranked second in yards amassed, while Michigan State placed second in yards allowed.
Once again, home-field advantage factors prominently into this game's outlook. Oregon has not suffered a loss at home since falling to Stanford in overtime during the 2012 season. Memories of the Ducks' last two losses to the Cardinal naturally come up, as they maintain the offense vs. defense narrative.
Fielding questions about the comparison during Tuesday's press conference, head coach Mark Helfrich resented those past shortcomings shaping a negative perception of his team's ability to survive against a defensive-minded club.
"That’s the media’s job," he said. "If one loss happens, we have to totally rebuild our program. It’s kind of that unfair situation to our guys, to a certain extent, that Stanford loses to Utah and it’s just an aberration, but we lose to Stanford and we have to totally blow everything up and start over."
A win this weekend would earn some temporary silence, at least until Oregon faces Stanford later in the season. Before that, however, Oregon would vault up to No. 2, possibly even No. 1 if Florida State doesn't play any better.
Betting against the spread, Michigan State's stringent defense should keep the score within single digits, which would enable the Spartans to cover with ease. Unfortunately, beating the spread doesn't count in the win column.
Look for Marcus Mariota to pass this huge test, proving his legitimacy as a top college quarterback and an NFL prospect with a strong effort against Michigan State's physical secondary.
Prediction: Oregon 31, Michigan State 27
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We're only two weeks into the college football season, but that's all it took for a marquee matchup to grace ESPN's College GameDay that has serious College Football Playoff implications both ways.
Oregon and Michigan State will do battle in a Week 2 affair that has more of the feeling of a Rose Bowl, and the implications couldn't be higher. The third-ranked Ducks and seventh-ranked Spartans will both have a chance to add a season-altering win, but a defeat will make it an uphill climb for a top-four finish at the end of the season.
Heisman favorite Marcus Mariota got his campaign off to a strong start against South Dakota last weekend, but his quest to become the fifth straight quarterback to lift the Heisman Trophy will be soon forgotten if the Spartans pull off the upset in Eugene.
Take a look at everything you need to know for Saturday night's matchup.
Date: Saturday, September 6, 2014
Time: 6:30 p.m. ET
Where: Autzen Stadium, Eugene, Oregon
Live Stream: Fox Sports Go
Oregon Player to Watch: Marcus Mariota, QB
The amount of speed and talent on the outside for Oregon's offense goes without saying, and it tends to recreate itself season after season to give the team one of the most formidable attacks in college football.
But there's only one Marcus Mariota.
After two dominant seasons manning the Ducks offense in 2012 and 2013, Mariota opted to return for his junior season despite throwing 66 touchdowns to just 10 interceptions in his career. From ESPN to Bleacher Report, the quarterback has seen his name crop up on Heisman watch list after Heisman watch list.
In sparse action, as you'd expect against FCS opponent South Dakota, Mariota played just one half but was spectacular. He finished with 14-of-20 passing for 267 yards, throwing three touchdowns and rushing for another.
But he'll be hard-pressed to post a similar performance against the hard-hitting Spartans defense.
Michigan State finished 2013 with the second-best total defense in all of FBS, holding opponents to just 252 yards per contest. The Spartans have lost seven defensive starters from the team that beat Stanford in the Rose Bowl, though.
"They're a great defense," Mariota told ESPN.com's Chantel Jennings. "They're really good at what they do. They put their players in good positions to make plays. We'll have to communicate up front and make sure we're good in our protections. And try to take our shots."
Bleacher Report's Matt Miller sees it as a crucial test for the Oregon quarterback:
Taking care of the ball will be key for Mariota. He's only tossed 10 career interceptions, third fewest for a player with 20 career starts over the last three seasons, according to ESPN.com's Brian Shalvoy. But as impressive as his four picks on the season were last year, each of them came in the final two games—one a loss.
Michigan State beat Stanford in last year's Rose Bowl by winning the turnover battle and dominating the passing game. To beat Oregon, it will need Mariota to struggle in order to get an advantage in both of those categories.
Michigan State Player to Watch: Jeremy Langford, RB
In Mark Dantonio's punishing offense, with a burly offensive line and a pro-style scheme, having an elite running back with the right skill set is crucial to the team's success.
Enter Jeremy Langford.
Langford has been picking up where Le'Veon Bell and Javon Ringer left off in the Spartans backfield, namely making waves as one of the nation's top running backs. 2013 marked his first season taking over for Bell in the backfield, and he dazzled with 1,422 yards and a ridiculous 19 total touchdowns (18 rushing) on nearly five yards per carry.
The 6'1", 208-pound senior was a workhorse in the Rose Bowl against Stanford, carrying 23 times for 84 yards and a score.
As for this season, Langford has been watched closely with a nagging injury and split carries in the season opener, but Brian Calloway of the Lansing State Journal reported he's a full go in practice and for the game.
Langford can make his impact even against the best of defenses, but the Statesman Journal's Gary Horowitz captured why he might be even more excited than usual about Saturday's game:
With a downhill running style and behind a strong offensive line, Langford could really pose problems for Oregon's defense—a unit that prides itself on speed and versatility more than lining up and hitting you in the mouth.
Connor Cook has emerged as a big-time quarterback with playmaking ability for Michigan State, and that only makes Langford's chances of breaking out even greater. Oregon better have some defensive tricks up its sleeves to deal with Michigan State's dynamic offense.
Michigan State offers too much on offense to not make this one interesting, but defensive holes won't be enough to overcome a machine-like Oregon offense and a raucous Autzen Stadium crowd.
Having last year's No. 2 defense is great and all, but it's just that—last year. With seven new starters on defense, the Spartans might return to their elite level on defense, but it won't be early in the season and it won't come against the high-powered opponents they face Saturday.
Oregon has struggled in recent seasons to go through its Pac-12 schedule undefeated, but a marquee nonconference game at home early in the season shouldn't deter the Ducks' chances of an unbeaten season.
Prediction: Oregon 38, Michigan State 30
Note: All stats courtesy of CFBStats.com unless otherwise noted.
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The UCLA football team has three players capable of not only competing for but potentially winning national awards by the end of the season.
Quarterback Brett Hundley is the obvious name on this list. Aside from the Heisman Trophy, he could be in the running for multiple awards this season. The other two names mentioned in this piece both play the same position.
Of course, these hypotheticals will hinge upon a strong season by the Bruins. Not only will the trio be a direct cause of victories, but a very successful season will likely mean enhanced notoriety in the national eye.
Here's a look at the Bruins with the best chance of winning a national award in 2014.
Watching Jalen Reeves-Maybin roam the field from sideline to sideline Sunday night was like opening a time portal into the glory days of Tennessee's defense.
The 6'1", 230-pound linebacker finished his first career start in Neyland Stadium with a team-high 10 tackles against Utah State, including credit for half a tackle for loss.
Reeves-Maybin—or "JRM," as he's known at UT—personified the Volunteers' speed revival throughout coordinator John Jancek's unit, and his play drew plenty of praise from high places.
Though it was just one game against hardly SEC-caliber competition, Reeves-Maybin's performance was still impressive.
He was one of the players who helped UT neutralize drives, smothering USU Heisman hopeful quarterback Chuckie Keeton before he got to the edges.
The speed and athleticism he displayed will translate well when the big boys come up on the schedule, and Vols fans have every reason to believe the sophomore from Clarksville, Tennessee, has all the trappings to be the next great linebacker on Rocky Top.
When asked about his breakout performance, Reeves-Maybin displayed the type of mentality you want in any player. He is eager to improve and hungry to do more.
Reeves-Maybin has been preparing himself for this opportunity to break out since committing to former UT coach Derek Dooley over Ole Miss and others, arriving in Knoxville as a mid-term enrollee prior to the 2013 season.
As a recruit, 247Sports listed JRM as a 200-pound safety. He carved a niche as a special teams dynamo as a true freshman in 2013, leading the team with 11 tackles in that role, according to his official bio.
A flair for the highlight-reel play followed him, too. Reeves-Maybin was the player whose rousing punt block against Georgia helped UT surge into a late lead against the Dawgs.
A move to linebacker midseason in 2013 gave Reeves-Maybin the clearest path to playing, and he added 20 pounds this offseason to get into his peak physical condition to start at weak-side linebacker in UT's defense.
Against Utah State, he looked comfortable in the scheme and confident in his playmaking ability. At times, he shook off the shackles of inexperience and looked downright dynamic.
He has come a long way since a season ago.
Nine of those tackles came in the first half before UT began rotating in backups, so he was at his best when he was surrounded by UT's defensive stalwarts.
Reeves-Maybin's performance hearkened back to the days when current LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis led the Vols defense that was pepped with elite athletes.
It was common in the late 1990s and early 2000s for UT to take safeties and bulk them up into linebackers. Players such as Kevin Burnett, Eddie Moore and Eric Westmoreland made the move, and it translated into all-conference careers in orange and white.
They parlayed that position change into NFL careers, too.
JRM could be on his way to the same type of future if he continues to develop.
It's only one game, but the Vols have been high on his potential since he arrived on campus. In his first start, he certainly looked the part.
Even his hard-to-impress position coach, Tommy Thigpen, had high praise for Reeves-Maybin when he was talking with Volquest.com's Rob Lewis and Paul Fortenberry (subscription required):
He communicated the way he needs to, played really well in space…It's easy to forget sometimes that he's a sophomore and just made his first start at linebacker. Came in as a safety, moved to linebacker midseason…I'm pleased with where he's at. When he moved over last year he was kind of a fish out of water but now when he comes in he's one of the leaders in our room.
That translated to being a leader on the field, and showing out is something difficult to do when you're lined up beside tackle-gobbling middle linebacker A.J. Johnson.
When the live bullets started flying around, so did Reeves-Maybin.
As debuts go, it couldn't have gone much better.
Unless otherwise noted, all statistics gathered from CFBStats.com and quotes as well as observations obtained firsthand.
Brad Shepard covers SEC football and is the Tennessee Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow Brad on Twitter here:
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Saturday night, one of college football’s great rivalries comes to an end, at least for now.
When Michigan and Notre Dame meet at Notre Dame Stadium, it will mark the final scheduled game between the longtime rivals until at least 2020.
CBSSports.com's Jon Solomon says the rivals are preparing to say goodbye, at least for right now.
Two years ago, the Fighting Irish opted to end the series with Michigan, citing the need for greater scheduling flexibility, including an agreement which will see as many as five ACC teams per year come onto the Irish’s schedule, beginning this fall.
That ends what has been one of the game’s more tightly contested rivalries. Since the series was renewed following a 35-year hiatus in 1978, Michigan holds a 15-14-1 edge, with a number of the games featuring big performances and thrilling finishes.
There have been a number of impressive individual efforts since the series resumed, afternoons that captured fans’ attention for one reason or another—depending on who you were rooting for.
Here’s a look at the top 10 players of the Michigan-Notre Dame rivalry. Players were evaluated by their statistical performances and contributions to their team’s efforts.
It was late in the third quarter when Devin Smith—hoping to make a game-changing play—split wide against Navy.
Ohio State was off to a sluggish start in its season opener, trailing 14-13 late in the third quarter. The Buckeyes offense had only produced two field goals, with the sole touchdown coming via Darron Lee's fumble recovery and 62-yard return.
When the ball was snapped, J.T. Barrett faked a hand-off to Ezekiel Elliott, which caused a split-second hesitation from Navy's deep safety.
That was all Smith needed.
Barrett launched an underthrown ball and the senior wideout adjusted, hauled it in and shook the Midshipmen defender for the go-ahead 80-yard touchdown.
According to John Kampf of The Morning Journal, Smith knew it was only a matter of time.
“I knew once [Meyer] called my number, I was going to make a play.”
With Frank Beamer and the Virginia Tech Hokies coming to town this Saturday, the Buckeyes will need Smith to deliver in a similar fashion.
Loads of Potential, Fits of Inconsistency
Smith has come up with a number of big plays during his time in Columbus.
Facing the eventual Big Ten champion Wisconsin Badgers as a freshman, Smith got behind the defense in the final 30 seconds for a game-winning 40-yard touchdown.
Throughout his career, Smith has made a habit of scoring big touchdowns. The senior is averaging 41.7 yards per touchdown reception, and a big part of that is because of his blazing speed.
Even with his explosive playmaking ability, Smith hasn't found a way to be a consistent threat for the Buckeyes. The coaching staff feels that Smith struggles when the matchup isn't right.
“He’s great when things are great, and when things are hard that’s when he needs to shine,” wide receiver coach Zach Smith said, according to Kyle Rowland of Eleven Warriors. “He’s been inconsistent in that.”
Things will certainly be hard this Saturday when the Buckeyes go up against Virginia Tech's stingy defense.
Making the Hokies Pay
Virginia Tech has one of the nation's most talented cornerback tandems in Kendall Fuller and Brandon Facyson. The pair combined for 11 interceptions, 19 pass breakups and 30 passes defended in 2013, according to the school's official website.
With that talent in the secondary, defensive coordinator Bud Foster will freely load the box to stop the run and send a variety of exotic blitzes at Barrett. Fuller and Facyson will press Ohio State's receivers at the line of scrimmage to limit the easy plays, such as bubble screens or quick slants.
That's why Smith will be key this Saturday.
Will Smith be able to get behind Virginia Tech's defense? With Foster's defensive scheme, there will certainly be plenty of opportunities. It will come down to whether Ohio State's deep threat is strong enough to get past the bump at the line of scrimmage.
If Smith can't do that, it could be a rough night for the Buckeyes.
Unless otherwise notes, all stats viaOhioStateBuckeyes.com.
David Regimbal covers Ohio State football for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.
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Saturday evening, Notre Dame and Michigan will play the final scheduled game of a rivalry defined by contentious stops and starts.
What started with something as serious and vile as anti-Catholic blackballing by former Michigan athletic director Fielding Yost has turned into a rather petty "he said, he said" between athletic directors Dave Brandon and Jack Swarbrick.
Brandon claimed to be shocked when Swarbrick hand-delivered a letter on the sidelines before the 2012 game, declaring Notre Dame's decision to opt out of the automatic contract renewal.
While he won't talk about it publicly, fill Swarbrick with truth serum and his true feelings for Brandon would likely be revealed, unappreciative of the Brandon and head coach Brady Hoke's characterization of the Irish as "chickens"—something boldly broadcast to the 115,000 strong in Michigan Stadium last year.
But with the talking almost over and the football just a day away, the jousting now turns to the field, where several very important battles will determine whether Notre Dame or Michigan finishes this chapter of the rivalry victorious.
Let's take a look at five keys to an Irish victory.
Stopping Taysom Hill has been on the Longhorns' minds since the BYU quarterback shredded them for 259 rushing yards in last season's backbreaking 40-21 defeat.
Now that the offense will be down four starters, containing him and the rest of the BYU offense will be the only shot Texas has at avenging their humiliation on Saturday.
"Revenge, being amped up—I'm not into all of that," defensive coordinator Vance Bedford said at his Wednesday press conference. "I'll go back to years ago when I played here," the former Longhorn later added. "We walked on the field and we were supposed to win because we were The University of Texas and that's why we came here."
No matter the approach Bedford and the rest of Charlie Strong's staff takes, this is one of the three most important games of their entire season. And if they're going to win it, they will have to do it with their defense that the Cougars exposed a year ago.
David Ash is out indefinitely with a concussion, per multiple reports, forcing raw athlete Tyrone Swoopes to make his first start at quarterback. Making matters worse, the sophomore will be doing so behind an offensive line without its leader, Dom Espinosa (broken ankle), while starting tackles Desmond Harrison and Kennedy Estelle sit out for violating team rules.
With those four starters out, Texas' defense will have to buckle down on the unit that gashed it for the most rushing yards, first downs and offensive plays run in the program's history (per ESPN.com's Max Olson).
To do that, the Horns will have to slow down quarterback Hill, who rushed for 259 yards and three scores last time around, by keeping him inside, forcing him to make mistakes in the passing game and, quite simply, finishing tackles.
Keep Him Inside
Whether Texas wants to spy Hill on most downs or designate players to keep him from breaking runs to the outside, it has several options thanks to its unique personnel.
As SB Nation's Wescott Eberts points out, the goal with the 232-pound Hill should be to keep him contained between the tackles on runs. Furthermore, a member of the front seven needs to at least be slowing him down before he can bear down on any member of Texas' smaller secondary.
That means Texas is going to lean on athletic linebackers Demarco Cobbs and Jordan Hicks extensively in this game. Both have sideline-to-sideline ability along with the size to bring Hill down one-on-one. Watching Cobbs on his 28-yard interception return for a touchdown, don't be surprised to see him outright spying Hill throughout the night.
The other player that will have to step up here is junior defensive end Shiro Davis. The Cougars will test him so long as it means running away from Cedric Reed, so Davis must make good on his reputation as a run-stuffer to keep Hill in check.
Force Him into Mistakes as a Passer
If there is one obvious flaw in Hill's game, it's his accuracy as a passer and his knack for throwing it to the other team. By getting pressure in his face, the Horns can keep the pick party rolling.
Though he was sharp against Connecticut, which gave up 7.6 yards per attempt in 2013 (per cfbstats.com), there's no doubting that Hill is mistake-prone. He posted a 19-14 touchdown-to-interception ratio in 2013, throwing multiple picks in six games.
Reed will provide consistent pressure, but the entire defensive line is capable of getting hits on Hill. Malcom Brown had 12 tackles for loss last season, and third-year sophomore Hassan Ridgeway is coming off a career night as one of the team's most impressive physical talents.
Simply put, this group is far more talented than the Connecticut one that got one sack and two pressures on Hill a week ago. These guys will get into the backfield, and the back seven is licking its chops after a four-interception debut against North Texas.
Simply Finish Tackles
The biggest thing that Texas can do to stop Hill, and the rest of the BYU offense, should also be the simplest—finish tackles.
For each of the three touchdowns Hill ran in against Texas' "defense," there are at least three missed tackles due to some combination of bad angles and poor effort.
Bedford noticed this as well:
You know what, I've seen the game on television and I've seen the video numerous times, that's tough. I grew up in a wishbone era – Oklahoma, Alabama – and 300 yards rushing back in those days was something special. When you look at that, it's somewhat disappointing and shocking. If you look at the video, a few plays here and there and a guy makes a tackle or a guy does an assignment the right way, you can cut those numbers in half.
This inability to finish plays is a big reason why the last regime collapsed, and fixing it alleviates a massive portion of the team's defensive woes. The Horns have the size and the speed on paper but have lacked the results to match it.
Based on last week's performance in which they held North Texas under 100 yards of offense, the Longhorns look like they're finally ready to get guys on the ground.
Considering that Strong has only given up 600 rushing yards to quarterbacks over the last 10 years (per Olson), that should be enough to keep Hill in check and give Texas a chance to slug out a victory.
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