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Notre Dame Football: Everything Irish Fans Need to Know About Syracuse

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Stats don’t tell the entire story as Notre Dame football prepares to face Syracuse, which amassed 589 yards of total offense last week against Maryland.

The Orange, despite outgaining Maryland by 220 yards, coughed up two turnovers, failed to convert twice in the red zone and surrendered three sacks in a 34-20 loss to the Terrapins at home Saturday.

“Certainly if you just looked at the statistics, you would wonder how they didn't win that football game,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said Tuesday.

The 3-0 Irish now face the 2-1 Orange at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, on Saturday night. Let’s analyze the Irish opposition and consider what prompted the gap between the squad that nearly touched 600 yards and the one that lost by 14 points.

 

Missed Opportunities Against Maryland

In addition to the aforementioned miscues against Maryland, Syracuse committed eight penalties for 69 yards, allowed a blocked punt and missed a 25-yard field goal.

“I think the biggest theme on both sides, including the kicking game, is finish,” Syracuse head coach Scott Shafer said this week in an interview with Matt Park of Cuse.com. "We have to finish better. We have to finish the play better.”

Syracuse failed to finish drives against the Terrapins. Most notably, Orange senior quarterback Terrel Hunt tossed an interception that was returned 88 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter. Syracuse had just used a monster 51-yard gain to power inside the red zone before the pick.

You can’t win games where you turn the ball over,” Shafer said to Cuse.com. “I felt like we really couldn’t be stopped unless we stop ourselves, and that’s exactly what happened.”

The misfire was Hunt’s first interception of the season. But the dual-threat quarterback has completed only 59 percent of his passes. If Notre Dame disguises looks and forces Hunt to be more of a thrower, the Irish could confuse the quarterback and create takeaways.

Notre Dame ranks eighth in the nation with its six interceptions, five of which have come in the last two games. Following the bye week, the secondary is resolidifying from the rash of injuries and an ejection that depleted the ranks against Purdue. With cornerbacks Cody Riggs and Cole Luke manning the perimeter and safeties Max Redfield, Elijah Shumate and, potentially, Austin Collinsworth flying around the center of the field, the athletic Irish secondary should be able to close quickly on the Orange receivers. If Notre Dame can find a pass rush, too, that could hurry Hunt to force throws with an attacking Irish defense waiting.

 

Prolific Rushing Ability

Hunt played the lead role in Syracuse’s 370-yard rushing outburst against Maryland. The senior gained 156 yards and notched two scores on 23 attempts, putting him in some elite company among Orange quarterbacks.

Through three games, Hunt has stockpiled 273 rushing yards. The Orange have 795 as a team—good for 265 per game.

“I think our offensive coaches have done a nice job staying with what we wanted to be on offense,” Shafer said to Cuse.com.

“I think our offense is starting to get a rhythm,” he later added.

Notre Dame, for its part, has looked stout against the run, especially in its last two games, as Michigan only mustered 100 yards on 35 carries and Purdue scratched out 26 carries for 56 yards. Can the Irish keep tabs on Hunt throughout the game?

The Irish handled dual-threat Rice quarterback Driphus Jackson (61 rushing yards) and Michigan signal-caller Devin Gardner (five yards). Hunt figures to get his share, but don’t expect him to gash the Irish. Notre Dame’s defense is too talented and has had too much time to prepare for Hunt and the Orange.

 

Bullough’s Defensive Scheme

In his weekly look at the opponent, Kelly heaped praise on Syracuse defensive coordinator Chuck Bullough.

“[He] does a very good job of mixing things up, gets you in third down. … They do a great job of bringing different pressures out of their third-down packages and confuse the quarterback and make it difficult for you,” Kelly said.

Kelly said Notre Dame must do a great job with its protections and ensure the downs and distances remain manageable. All of that seems doable, of course, for an offense that has scored at least 30 points in each of the first three games.

But with Bullough dialing up different pressures, it will be interesting to watch how Notre Dame’s offensive line responds. While no changes are finalized yet, Kelly said, this week’s depth chart revealed a shakeup along the line. Nick Martin could move from center to left guard, with Matt Hegarty stepping in at center, and Christian Lombard could swap outside to right tackle with Steve Elmer moving in to right guard.

Although the Irish did have the benefit of the bye week, a new-look line would still be developing its chemistry and comfort with protections on the fly, somewhat. If Bullough picks his spots, the Orange could find its way to quarterback Everett Golson. Notre Dame has already allowed six sacks this season after surrendering just eight in the entire 2013 season.

 

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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What We Learned About the Panthers from Pittsburgh Football vs. Iowa

Saturday's nonconference contest between the Panthers (1-0, 3-1) and Iowa lost luster because one team had been disappointing—and that team, for once, was not Pitt. However, it must live with and learn from disappointment after the Hawkeyes (0-0, 3-1) escaped Heinz Field with a 24-20 win, denying the Panthers their first 4-0 start since before the stadium was completed.

Nobody expected Iowa to make the inaugural College Football Playoff this year, but it was thought to have at least a coin-flip chance of reaching the Big Ten Championship Game. The Hawkeyes still have their full conference slate ahead, beginning Saturday at Purdue, and they can certainly feel better about their chances after shaking off that Cy-Hawk Trophy bungling and improving upon tepid performances against Northern Iowa and Ball State.

The Panthers, in contrast, entered this season with modest expectations that were raised early. They began by dominating Delaware and then took a conference win out of Boston College that gained quality when BC got up off the mat and shocked No. 9 USC. They, unlike Iowa, survived their Week 3 scare when they tapped Florida International on the shoulder and reminded them they're Florida International.

But is their confidence shaken after failing to put away the Hawkeyes?

Let's review what we learned about Pitt after it tasted defeat for the first time in 2014.

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College Football's Quarterback Free Agency Phenomenon

Some of you may remember the old college football tradition of the skydiver parachuting into the stadium to the roar of the crowd to deliver the game ball.

The new college football tradition is the quarterback parachuting into a college program to the roar of the crowd to deliver the goods—touchdowns, in other words.    

You may have noticed. There are pillowy chutes open all over college football as quarterback transfers drop into programs from here, there and everywhere. The NFL calls them free agents. Colleges might as well call them free agents, too.

I call it a market correction.

These quarterbacks have come from a you're-the-greatest-environment. They are sold by college coaches that they are The Man and they will be The Man and nothing will keep them from being The Man. The truth is some of them were the third, fourth, fifth, sixth guy on a school's quarterback list as a high school senior, and when the school didn't sign their top target or second target, they took No. 3 or No. 4.

The kid ends up transferring…and it's a good thing. They get a second chance and we all benefit.

Gunner Kiel left Notre Dame for Cincinnati. Michael Brewer left Texas Tech for Virginia Tech. Wes Lunt left Oklahoma State for Illinois. Jacoby Brissett left Florida for North Carolina State. Jacob Coker left Florida State for Alabama. Tyler Murphy left Florida for Boston College. Stephen Rivers, the brother of the Chargers' Philip Rivers, graduated from LSU and left for Vanderbilt … and on and on and on.

Two of the most exciting games this season have been engineered by the guy who was kicked to the curb.

Murphy ran for 190 yards as BC upset No. 9 USC two weeks ago. Brewer threw for 199 yards and two touchdowns as Virginia Tech stunned No. 8 Ohio State in Columbus.

Kiel has 10 touchdown passes in two games for Cincinnati. Brissett leads the ACC in completion percentage, and now he gets a shot at No. 1 Florida State on Saturday. Lunt has completed 65 percent of his passes for the Illini (3-1).

When one of these quarterbacks hits the ground at a new school, he bails out himself and sometimes his new coach. The coach didn't develop a quarterback, recruited poorly, and now his job is on the line, so he better find The Man … or hope The Man finds him.

Quarterback transfers have become so routine these days that transfers collide with one another on the same field. Kiel and Cincinnati played Andrew Hendrix and Miami of Ohio (Notre Dame) last Saturday. UC won 31-24 as Kiel threw for four touchdowns. Hendrix threw for two touchdowns.

So this QB roulette is win-win, right? Not always.

The guys hurt most are the second- and third-year guys who have toiled in the program and did what they were told and were loyal. They ran the scout teams, they carried clipboards. Take Mark Leal of Virginia Tech. He spent three years behind Logan Thomas. It looked like his turn. Then a chute opened up over Blacksburg. Here came Brewer dropping in from Lubbock.

Leal did not play well in relief of Thomas in the Sun Bowl last December, so maybe that was the flop that cost him. Still, it doesn't seem fair.

Cameron Coffman had the second-most passing yards in the Big Ten in 2012 for Indiana (2,734) and threw for 15 touchdowns. In 2013 he bumped down the depth chart to QB3 and transferred to Wyoming in spring 2014.

But, overall, it's a good thing, right? Yes, it is.

Tommy Tuberville, the Cincinnati coach, says the run of quarterbacks transferring—whether sitting out a year or playing right away as a graduate student—is a good thing because it protects quarterbacks when there is a coaching change.

"When a new coach comes in, who is the first guy he is going to look at as far as running his system: the quarterback," Tuberville said. "Gunner got caught up with that at Notre Dame. Brian (Kelly) had been a drop-back passing kind of coach, but with Gholson, he went to a more Quarterback Read offense. That didn't suit Gunner's style.

"These kids when they come out of high school have to find a system that suits them. That's the most important thing. A lot of them leave because coaches change and systems change."

Butch Jones, the Tennessee coach, has not had to assimilate a quarterback into his program, but his coaching intuition tells him it can go sweet or sour "depending on the competitive character of the individual."

"Any program you go into you have to earn the respect of your peers, especially at the quarterback position," Jones said. The drift: If a quarterback parachutes in feeling entitled, it could harm a team more than help.

What Tuberville is afraid of is the Power 5 schools trying to push through a rule that eliminates sitting out a season before transferring for undergraduates. Schools like Cincinnati could develop players, and then a Big Ten school could swoop in looking to fill a hole. They promise the spotlight of the 100,000-seat stadium to a UC player and whisk him away.

You think there are a lot of quarterbacks turning in walking papers? Just wait and see what happens if the one-year sit rule is erased. D-linemen, O-line, receivers, safeties, even kickers would spinning the turnstiles.

"We would be recruiting these kids every day to get them to stay," Tuberville said. "I hope nothing happens to get rid of the one-year rule. It would be a bad thing."

Of course, the kids get rapped as "selfish" for transferring. But coaches over-promise and then fall out of love with their quarterback. When the next big thing shows interest in the school, the coach can't resist.

"Coaches have got to win games, so they have to sell and sell," said Trent Dilfer, the quarterback guru who runs Elite 11 Camps for high school quarterbacks. "I get that. I'm not knocking that. They have to tell kids what they want to hear to get them on campus. I would do the same thing. I just don't like being around it.

"So here is what the kids need to remember. Go to a school where the coach wants to marry you, not date you. When a coach is married to a kid, the leash is long. It gives a kid a chance to fail. Make sure you see that coach trying to find out everything about your DNA, your family, your history. When they have devoted a lot of time to you, they are going to give you a chance to fail."

Jimbo Fisher told Jacob Coker 30 minutes after he saw him throw Coker was going to be a first-round pick, and Coker signed with FSU. Not long after that, Fisher found his next first-round pick, Jameis Winston. Since this is the week where everyone is piling on Jimbo, I will just go ahead and say it: Coaches put their best interests, which are the best interests of the program usually, ahead of the player.

Coker transferred to Alabama. Clint Trickett also left FSU and transferred to West Virginia, and he has played superbly. Both saw clearly that Jimbo treated Winston differently than he treated them. Jameis was coddled, which helps explain some, just some, of his behavior.

Coker is now a backup at Bama. He has been slow to regain a starter's sharpness, plus holdover Blake Sims worked incredibly hard and took the Bama job fair and square in a competition with Coker.

That's life in the big city, right? Well, it didn't use to be that way.

First, the NCAA passed a rule in 2006 that made it legal for players who had graduated from one school with eligibility remaining to transfer to another D-1 school without sitting out a season. That opened the spigot for a lot of these transfers. Russell Wilson fits that profile. He left North Carolina State—he was actually pushed out—and parachuted into Wisconsin and took the Badgers to the Rose Bowl.

Second, quarterbacks hunger for the big game and the game is bigger and more illustrious than ever. They want a chance to shine in the sport that is now second in popularity in the U.S. to the NFL. If they are blocked at one school, well, ego says they can go somewhere else and play. Years ago, the backup knew his place and was content with the degree.

It's changed immensely. Just beware QBs. Chutes may be opening overhead. It's why Dilfer stresses to his quarterbacks that life is full of hard knocks.

"Life is best when it is full of hard things," Dilfer said. "They have chosen probably the hardest thing in sports to pursue.

"To have a life full and rich there is going to be a ton of hard stuff. They are going to need the tools and ability to work through things like this (transferring). You have to brace them for the hard things. This is a hard thing."

 

Ray Glier covers college football for Bleacher Report. He has covered college football and various other sports for 20 years. His work has appeared in USA Today, The New York Times, CNN, The Washington Post and Al Jazeera America. He is the author of How the SEC Became Goliath (Howard/Simon & Schuster, 2013).

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College Football Rankings 2014: Official Week 5 Polls and Playoff Projections

Just when you think college football is going to settle into a short lull, something like last week happens that forces us to rethink where everything is headed. The top of the rankings didn't change, but virtually all of the top teams showed major flaws that open up the playoff spots. 

The most shocking thing that happened in Week 4, at least with real playoff implications, was LSU losing at home to Mississippi State in a thrilling game that nearly featured a miracle comeback by the Tigers. Les Miles' group went from eighth in both major polls to just inside the top 20. 

That was hardly the only game to shake up the polls, so we are going to examine where things stand and what it means for the College Football Playoff. 

 

College Football Playoff Projections

Looking at my playoff projections, the only shocking thing in the group is that Michigan State moves back into the top four after losing at Oregon. Things certainly looked grim for the Spartans after that loss, but a couple things have happened since that make their outlook brighter. 

First, because of upsets and other teams not playing well ahead of them, the Spartans have already moved back into the top 10, the only one-loss team able to make that claim. Even though everyone wants to dismiss Mark Dantonio's team because of the loss, let's not sell low on this club just yet. 

ESPN's Mel Kiper (Insider subscription required) commented on Michigan State's stock in a piece about the nation's most underrated teams, which will also lead into my second point:

We all know the Big Ten is down, and if the Spartans get wins over Ohio State (already has a loss to Virginia Tech) and Michigan (welp) and perhaps even in the Big Ten championship, you can just see the narrative: "Nice work, but beating Oregon was your chance, and you missed it." Except for this: First, Michigan State played Oregon really well and the margin in that game is inflated compared to how the game was played. Second, which team from any conference is going to go to Autzen Stadium as a clear favorite over the Ducks? That team just doesn't exist right now. None of the top teams in the country are without flaws. Florida State was in survival mode this weekend, Alabama's defense is definitely a concern for the Tide coaches.

No one likes the Big Ten because it's not sexy football to watch, nor is it often good, but the best thing that happened to anyone in the conference, including and especially Michigan State, was Indiana going on the road and beating Missouri (an SEC team) last weekend. 

Now, everyone in the conference that is able to get a win over the Hoosiers—the Spartans play them on October 18—doesn't have to hear about how it was a pointless victory. If that's the case, then nothing Missouri does the rest of the year matters. 

The Spartans are an excellent football team that hung with Oregon for 45 minutes in a true road game against a team currently ranked higher than anyone on the schedule for Oklahoma, Auburn, Alabama and Florida State. 

Speaking of the Seminoles, they get in basically by default because even though no one wants to talk about it like they do with the Big Ten, the ACC is terrible. After holding off Clemson without Jameis Winston, the only test before the conference title game is an October 18 home game against Notre Dame. 

While the Fighting Irish have won all three of their games, I'm not going to declare them a top team yet because their three wins are against teams who have combined for four wins against Appalachian State, Miami (Ohio), Western Michigan and Southern Illinois. 

That's the only game against a team currently ranked remaining on Florida State's schedule. 

Oregon seemed like as safe a bet as any team through three games, then it nearly lost on the road to Washington State. The Ducks' biggest flaw was exposed in that game, as Marcus Mariota was sacked seven times. 

Heather Dinich of ESPN noted that it was just a lot of simple mistakes against the Cougars that added up to big problems for the Ducks:

Back-to-back holding calls negated runs of 15 and 54 yards. There were three false starts, and the Ducks couldn't get a first down on third-and-one. Oregon is supposed to get that in its sleep. Injuries to three linemen have taken their toll. Jake Fisher's possible return against Arizona could help, but if the Ducks are going to stay in the top four, they've got to get better production from their rookie tackles up front.

Oregon's game at UCLA doesn't look nearly as dangerous now given how the Bruins have struggled thus far, but the November 1 clash against Stanford will determine how far the Ducks go. Last year, the Cardinal held the ball for more than 42 minutes to end Oregon's unbeaten season. 

If the Ducks are able to get by Stanford at Autzen Stadium, their path to the College Football Playoff is clear with no other ranked teams on the schedule. Utah and Oregon State are currently undefeated, but neither of those teams has really been tested yet. 

The No. 3 seed in this four-team projection is purely a guess based on the assumption that an SEC team is going to make the field. The main choices come down to Alabama, Auburn and Texas A&M. I'm not buying Mississippi as a top-10 team, regardless of its ranking, but if someone wants to say otherwise, it can't be disputed...yet. 

There's going to be one SEC team—likely in the West because that's where all the good teams are (Alabama, Mississippi, Mississippi State, Auburn, Texas A&M)—that finishes the season with just one loss. Considering the schedules those teams play, whichever one it is will have earned its spot in the College Football Playoff. 

Alabama and Mississippi will play on October 4. The Crimson Tide follow that with a home game against Texas A&M on October 18, back-to-back games against LSU and Mississippi State on November 8 and 15 and finish with Auburn on November 29. 

Texas A&M also has games against Mississippi, Mississippi State, Auburn and LSU. Auburn's schedule is impossible with virtually no letup when October begins, with games against LSU, Mississippi State, South Carolina, Mississippi, Texas A&M and Georgia. The only respite is a glorified scrimmage against Samford on November 22 that comes the week after going to Athens and the week before going to Tuscaloosa. 

Edward Aschoff of ESPN makes the case for two SEC teams making the playoffs that certainly wouldn't be out of line:

The FPI (Football Power Index) measures team strength that is meant to be the best predictor of a team's performance going forward for the rest of the season. Its top four teams are in the SEC: Alabama, Texas A&M, Auburn and Georgia. ...

Strength of schedule isn't going to be a problem for the West champ. For as tough as the West is, don't rule out an undefeated run or a one-loss run. We've seen it before ... 

Let's just say an undefeated Alabama beats an undefeated Texas A&M close at home on Oct. 18. Alabama runs the table and wins the SEC. A&M runs the table afterward and sits in the top 10. Chances are that if A&M has just one loss, it has won some pretty good games, so you're looking at a potential top-five finish. 

No one would be surprised or up in arms if two SEC teams got into the College Football Playoff. Well, fans outside of SEC country who are tired of hearing how great that conference is might gripe, but everyone else understands the caliber of competition is different there than any other conference in the country. 

In this particular scenario, where this is merely a projection of how things stack up right now, only one SEC team makes it in. The top two teams in the playoff aren't going to surprise anyone, but wanting to think outside the box, Michigan State seems like the best team that can crash the party. 

There are going to be great cases for teams as we move deeper into the season. For now, with less than a handful of games and some of those against lackluster competition, this is how the season is likely to play out. 

 

If you want to talk sports, hit me up on Twitter. 


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B/R CFB Committee: Playoff Predictions Heading into Week 5

Week 5 of the college football season is upon us, and our Bleacher Report Committee is ready to make its decision. College Football Analysts Adam Kramer, Barrett Sallee and Michael Felder unite to select their College Football Playoff if the season ended today. 

Who is in your top four?

Watch the video and let us know! 

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College Football Week 5 Predictions: Picking Top-25 Games Against the Spread

If you could categorize Week 5 of the college football season in one word, that one word would likely be “appetizer.”

By its lonesome it can be filling and delicious, although this course serves as only a precursor of greatness to come. That greatness is typically meat of some kind cooked medium rare, and Week 6—given the array of fascinating matchups on deck—is that fillet. 

There will be ample hours to give next week’s slate of games its due. For now, however, the focus is on Week 5. More specifically, the focus at this present moment is handicapping each game featuring teams in the Top 25 of the AP Poll and picking winners using point spreads. 

After hovering just a shade over .500 in back-to-back weeks, we finally broke through last Saturday. A solid 10-4 showing has given us the momentum we craved.

Let’s see if we can carry it forward for, oh, another 11 weeks or so.

All spreads are courtesy of Odds Shark unless noted otherwise.

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Keys to Arkansas Prematurely Ending Texas A&M's Dream Season

In August, not many people had Arkansas vs. Texas A&M at AT&T Stadium penciled in as one of the top matchups of Week 5. After Texas A&M stomped South Carolina on opening night and Arkansas rushed to a 3-1 record with a win at Texas Tech, though, the former Southwest Conference rivalry takes on a whole new meaning.

Is Texas A&M for real?

After that South Carolina win, the Aggies have sort of flown under the radar, beating up on cupcakes Rice, Lamar and SMU over the last three weeks.

What can Arkansas do this weekend in Jerry World to derail Texas A&M's dream season?

 

Come Right at Them

While the world gushes over new Texas A&M quarterback Kenny Hill, the real reason Texas A&M has become more of a contender than imagined over the first month of the season is a defense that, suddenly, looks fundamentally sound for the first time in head coach Kevin Sumlin's career in College Station.

Is it real, though?

The defense held Mike Davis and the vaunted South Carolina rushing attack to just 67 yards on the ground, but Davis was out, in and back out of the lineup that night in Columbia, South Carolina.

Arkansas can do what South Carolina planned to do, and do it better.

The Hogs' three-headed rushing attack featuring Alex Collins, Jonathan Williams and Korliss Marshall is punishing, deep and diverse. Collins' 490 rushing yards leads the SEC, Williams' seven rushing touchdowns leads the SEC and Marshall is a threat to take it to the house from just about anywhere on the field.

"They’re awfully good," defensive coordinator Mark Snyder said in quotes released by Texas A&M. "[Head coach] Bret [Bielema] knows what he’s doing. I spent 10 years in the Big Ten going against [former Wisconsin] coach [Barry] Alvarez, that’s where he got it from. We’ve got to build a wall and stop them."

A big reason Arkansas' offense has been so successful has been an offensive line that rivals most NFL teams in terms of size. The Hogs average 328.4 pounds in the trenches, which will present a big-time challenge to the Aggies' front seven.

"I saw a stat the other day in their press release where if their offensive line was in the NFL they’d be biggest in the league," head coach Kevin Sumlin said in quotes released by Texas A&M. "They are big guys. They run behind them and they create a lot of problems for you from a passing standpoint."

Arkansas' line is fundamentally sound, and its running backs are very patient and quick when the holes come open. That's going to put a ton of pressure on Texas A&M's linebackers Donnie Baggs, Jordan Mastrogiovanni and Justin Bass to fit in the right gaps, get off blocks and prevent those running backs from breaking big plays.

The Hogs lead the SEC in rushing plays of 20 or more yards (five). If Arkansas can force those fundamentals to go out the window, it will go a long way toward Bielema's crew springing the upset.

 

Get to Kenny Hill

Texas A&M's offensive line is no joke, but Arkansas can get after the quarterback itself.

The Hogs have eight sacks on the season and notched 26 tackles for loss. Hill—a true sophomore from Southlake, Texas in the Dallas suburbs—has looked incredibly polished through four games.

What if he gets pressure in his face, though? 

After all, he's still a relatively inexperienced quarterback in a big environment near his hometown, and Arkansas' front four—led by reigning SEC defensive lineman of the week Trey Flowers—is no slouch.

South Carolina's pass rush is more myth than reality these days—as its head coach Steve Spurrier so eloquently noted when asked about his team.

Lamar, Rice and SMU don't do a whole lot to instill fear in a quarterback, either.

This is the toughest challenge of Hill's career as the starting quarterback, and if Arkansas can force Hill into a mistake or two, it will help turn this into more of an "Arkansas-style" game and keep the ball out of Hill's hands.

"Time of possession, as long as you score, is a big factor," said running backs coach Joel Thomas in quotes emailed by Arkansas. "We have to make sure we make the most out of the time that we do have."

More time for Arkansas means Hill and the rest of that talented Aggies offense will spend more time on the bench, which is right where Bielema wants them.

 

Protect Brandon Allen

While Arkansas' three-headed rushing attack has dominated headlines, all quarterback Brandon Allen has done is quietly go about his business and do exactly what any quarterback for Bielema is asked to do. 

"We talk about their running backs, who are tremendous players, but I think Brandon Allen has really improved as a passer," Sumlin said in quotes released by Texas A&M. "You can’t score that many points running the ball all the time."

He's right.

Allen has tossed eight touchdowns and only one pick through four games, and he has only been sacked once. Something's gotta give, because Texas A&M leads the SEC with 16 sacks.

Arkansas isn't going to get too creative. The Hogs are a run-first team, which will limit Texas A&M's strength thus far on defense. When the Hogs do get into passing situations, though, they have to make sure Allen has time to keep those chains moving. 

If he does, Arkansas is absolutely capable of springing the upset.

 

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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Auburn Football: Inside the Tigers' Dramatic Defensive Turnaround

AUBURN, Ala. — Three days after Auburn's best defensive performance in three years, defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson was still frustrated.

Sure, the Tigers held then-No. 20 Kansas State to just 285 yards in a tight 20-14 road victory, but the veteran coach wasn't ready to crown his unit.

"There were some things on (the Kansas State film) that we have to clean up," Johnson said Sunday night. "We didn't play a real clean game from an assignment standpoint. A lot of times, if it wasn't a busted assignment, maybe it wasn't played as well as it could have been played."

Even after shutting down a Top 20 team on the road, Johnson still thinks Auburn's defense can improve by working on its technique and fundamentals.

Gone are the days of lamenting missed tackles and repeatedly blowing coverages. Auburn's staff is now worried about perfecting its gaps and assignments after its return to being a top-25 defense nationally.

"So there were some mistakes, alignments and things that could be better, but I thought they competed and had some production," Johnson said of his defense's performance in Manhattan.

"Some production," in this case, was Auburn's best defensive performance in three years.

For the first time since a 17-6 home win against Florida in 2011, Auburn held a power-conference opponent to fewer than 300 yards of total offense by shutting down the Wildcats running game and limiting their effectiveness through the air.

Auburn SID Kirk Sampson put the defense's standout play against Kansas State in even more perspective after the game:

While the offense struggled to get into its usual high-scoring form last Thursday night, the Auburn defense recorded two interceptions off Kansas State senior quarterback Jake Waters, forced three punts and set up three fourth-down plays that turned into three missed field goals.

"As the game went on, we were getting stronger and more confident," senior cornerback Jonathon Mincy said after the game. "We played together, trusted coach, and went out there and had fun. We saw what we were made of mentally tonight."

The Kansas State game was a snapshot of what has been a 180-degree turn from the Auburn defense through the first three games of the 2014 schedule.

Johnson has seen that turnaround especially in the area of run defense, where Auburn has shut down each opponent since the halftime break of the season opener against Arkansas.

"We're kind of an opposite of what we were last year," Johnson said. "Last year, we struggled with the run, controlling the box. At times, didn't hold point well, got gapped out, and then on third down, we could get to the quarterback. We had great edge guys. This year, we've played really good against the run, especially inside."

Despite a few personnel switches inside Johnson's 4-2-5 system—most notably the flip of linebacker spots between Kris Frost and Cassanova McKinzy—the Tigers have consistently slowed down opposing offenses with solid play down the middle of the field.

Frost recorded six tackles, including a game-high two sacks, against Kansas State, while McKinzy is near the top of the tackle charts once again for the team.

"[Frost] is, you know, at the right place at the right time," Johnson said. "One of the [sacks] he got credit for Anthony Swain was right there too and did a good job on it. Kris has got two of those this year. Cassanova is one of our better outside pass-rushers and has had some good ones."

Auburn has also seen improvement in its pass defense, even with a major personnel change right before last week's trip to Manhattan.

After starting free safety Jermaine Whitehead was indefinitely suspended for what was reportedly a confrontation with an assistant coach, versatile defensive back Josh Holsey made a move from cornerback, which he hadn't played prior to last Thursday night.

"The free safety has to cover a little more field than the boundary safety does," Holsey said. "You have a lot more space, and you have to talk to the Star and the field corner instead of in the boundary you just talk to the boundary corners. There's a little more communication as well."

Those differences didn't bother Holsey. He left Bill Snyder Family Stadium with a career-high 11 tackles and received the SEC Defensive Player of the Week award Monday.

"I didn't even know I had that many tackles at the end of the game when they told me," Holsey said Tuesday. "As the game went on, I really was just focused on trying to do my job and make sure we came out with the W."

Auburn did come out with the win, a classic defensive performance that showed how far the defense has come in the span of a year.

“We have definitely improved," head coach Gus Malzahn said in his Tuesday press conference. "We are very good right now at stopping the run. We are working on improving in all areas and putting more pressure on the quarterback in pass situations. I like the direction we are going, and I think we are improving."

But, of course, there's still a lot of work to do in Johnson's eyes.

For one, the current defensive reversal includes a downturn in an area Auburn excelled at last season: the pass rush.

Without the likes of Dee Ford and the injured Carl Lawson, Johnson doesn't think his defense is doing enough to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

The Tigers got a big-time sack against Kansas State from JUCO transfer DaVonte Lambert in his first career start, but the coaching staff will continue to go to the drawing board until a complete defensive improvement is made.

"We're still concerned we're not getting good pass rush out of our four-man rush," Johnson said. "We've got to look at who and we've got to look at how. We keep trying to give those guys some reps and develop a skill set to be able to do it. But we also have to get creative on some things and try to get pressure on the quarterback...we still need to improve a lot."

 

All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports. All stats courtesy of CFBStats.com.

Justin Ferguson is Bleacher Report's lead Auburn writer. Follow him on Twitter @JFergusonAU.

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Eddie Goldman's Rise Key to Florida State Repeating

With the loss of defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan, who entered the NFL draft a year early, FSU needed to find interior linemen who could disrupt plays. And Eddie Goldman has done just that.

Goldman, considered one of the nation's top defensive tackles by 247Sports in 2011, has quickly recovered from an ankle injury to elevate himself into one of the defense's top players as the Seminoles look to repeat as national champions.

His stat sheet didn't really tell the story of how much he contributed to FSU's 23-17 win over Clemson on Saturday. But in the final two minutes of regulation plus overtime, the junior defensive tackle had a hand on three plays that led to the Seminoles win.

"Eddie Goldman was wow," FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. "That's one of the more dominant performances we've had around here, and that was like how we had that other guy around here a year ago (Jernigan) that could really dominate inside and play with length and do some things."

With just five tackles this season, it doesn't look like Goldman has done much. Technically, 13 Seminoles have more tackles than Goldman.

Fisher, however, says he doesn't measure a defensive player's success in tackles or sacks. He looks back at the film and reflects on what effect he had—breaking up or altering a play, halting a drive or keeping points off the board. Goldman did just that on Saturday.

"He's always had the ability and done it in a solid way," Fisher said. "Now, he's starting to make exceptional plays."

It's the kind of exceptional plays that FSU will need week in and week out as they try to win a third straight Atlantic Coast Conference title and earn a spot in the College Football Playoff. No. 1 FSU (3-0) now prepares for a road game Saturday against North Carolina State, which is off to a 4-0 start.

What Goldman has done in the first three games quickly caught the attention of Wolfpack coach Dave Doeren.

"They have probably the best defensive tackle in college football in Goldman," Doeren said.

Goldman is an essential piece of the defensive puzzle as FSU moves past Clemson and deeper into its schedule. While N.C. State, Wake Forest and Syracuse won't be challenging games, the Seminoles will be tested by October games against Louisville and Notre Dame. And while still a long way off, November games with Miami, Boston College and Florida await.

Against Clemson, and without Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Jameis Winston, FSU needed Goldman and the defense to deliver.

After FSU's Sean Maguire was picked off by Jadar Johnson at the 50, the Clemson defensive back returned the interception 24 yards to the FSU 26 with 2:14 left in the game. All Clemson had to do was move a few yards closer and attempt a field goal to break the 17-17 tie and upset the No. 1 Seminoles.

But on second down at FSU's 18, Goldman pushed guard David Beasley backwards and used his left arm to strip the ball from tailback C.J. Davidson. Safety Nate Andrews recovered, and FSU was able to force overtime.

"I went for the tackle, but I felt my hand on the ball, so I tried to strip it," Goldman said.

Said defensive tackle Derrick Mitchell: "That's A-1, right there. You can't script it up any better."

Clemson had possession first in overtime. Goldman sacked Deshaun Watson on second down, and following a Watson-to-Adam Choice screen pass for 13 yards, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney opted to go for it on 4th-and-1.

Goldman was there again, pushing aside guard Jay Guillermo, penetrating through the line and getting a hand on Choice, altering the running back's desired path so that he ran into the hands of linebacker Reggie Northrup and defensive end Chris Casher.

Those three plays were crucial in the FSU win, but another goes unnoticed in the box score. Early in the fourth quarter, Clemson had the ball on the FSU 1-yard line. On 2nd-and-goal, Goldman tried to time the snap and was a split second too quick off the ball. He was called for offsides (Goldman respectfully declared that he wasn't offsides a few days later), but on the following play, Clemson's Ryan Norton airmailed the shotgun snap over Watson's head.

Clemson settled for a 40-yard field-goal attempt, but Ammon Lakip's kick sailed wide right.

Fisher said he felt Goldman's quickness caused Norton to concentrate more on his blocking assignment and less on a clean snap to Watson.

"He played a big role in the game," Northrup said.

Goldman's performance late in the game helped FSU, which went from a team that could have been upset in regulation and watched its national championship aspirations dwindle to a team enjoying new life and pulling out a victory in overtime.

Just two weeks ago, however, it looked like Goldman might not be able to play against Clemson. He suffered an ankle injury on the first drive of the win over The Citadel, the result of a cut block by an offensive lineman. But after weeks of rehabilitation, Goldman looked healthy and made an impact late in the game.

"It's feeling real good," Goldman said. "The trainers did a good job of rehabbing me."

Everyone on FSU's roster is happy to see Goldman on the field—and playing to his full potential.

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

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College Football 2014 Week 5: Locks of the Week

Week 5 is quickly approaching, which means it's time to get your picks in. Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Adam Kramer dishes out his "Locks of the Week."

Will a Top 10 team fall this week?

Watch the video and let us know!

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Each Conference's Most Over-, Underachieving Teams Through Week 4

As college football rounds the quarter pole and finishes up the first month of the 2014 season, trends have emerged. In the buildup to this season, college gridiron pundits made plenty of predictions, both big and small.

With virtually every team having played at least three games (and most teams four), we’re able to make better judgments about teams, seeing where we were right and wrong.

In every league, there are teams that are outperforming expectations, while others just aren’t living up to the hype surrounding them in August.

Here’s a look at teams in each college football league that are over-performing or underachieving. Teams were picked after taking a look at their results and their opponents, as well as the relative expectations with which they entered the season.

Begin Slideshow

Stock Watch for Class of 2015 Top Running Backs

While there isn’t a Leonard Fournette-type star in the 2015 class of running backs, the rising crop of senior rushers is filled with its share of dynamic talents. 

There are 11 running backs who are rated among the Top 100 players overall in the 247Sports Composite Rankings.

With the first month of the season in the books, there are a few backs whose stock is clearly on the upswing.

How are the nation’s top backs faring in the early part of the 2014 season?

Begin Slideshow

Georgia Football: Bulldogs Secondary Must Make Statement Against Tennessee

Saturday afternoon's game against the Tennessee Volunteers could mark a lot of firsts for the Georgia Bulldogs.  If things go according to plan, the Dawgs' first of seven straight conference games will also yield the team's first SEC win of the season.  Along the way, Georgia could cap off its first five-game winning streak against the Vols since the early 1900s.

But if the Dawgs continue struggling against opposing passing attacks, crossing into new terrain may be more theoretical than practical.  

The Bulldogs defensive secondary must make a statement against Tennessee.

 

Consistently Inconsistent

After a strong second-half performance against Clemson in Week 1, new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt was quick to dismiss the buzz surrounding his defense.  "For the first game, it's a starting point," Pruitt said according to Seth Emerson of the Ledger-Enquirer.  "We're not satisfied with how we played defensively at all."

While fans vehemently disagreed with such a macabre disposition following a shutout over the season opener's final two quarters, Pruitt was proved right—in the worst of ways—in Georgia's second game of the season.  

After holding Clemson to just 22 yards in the second half, Georgia was torched time and time again by South Carolina quarterback Dylan Thompson, as he racked up 240 passing yards and threw three touchdown passes in the first half.  With the front seven unable to push around the Gamecock offensive line, Thompson had time to exploit vast openings in the middle of the field as he found wide open receivers repeatedly.

Georgia's offensive play-calling was far from perfect against South Carolina, and special teams play was disastrous in Georgia 38-35 loss, but as Pruitt recognized to Gentry Estes of Dawgs247, "You score 35 points, you're supposed to win."

Georgia won big last week, outscoring Troy, 66-0.  But early on, the Bulldogs secondary struggled against the Trojans.  On the opening drive, Dontreal Pruitt, who started in place of an injured Brandon Silvers, completed four of his first five passes for 53 yards and drove an outmatched team to the 9-yard line before a field-goal attempt was unsuccessful. 

And yet, as bad as Georgia's secondary has been at times—allowing a team like Troy to march at will—it has also had its moments and shown flashes of improvement.  

South Carolina focused on the run in the second half, but the Gamecocks were still held to a meager 31 passing yards over that period.  Pruitt threw for 58 yards on his first five attempts, but Troy completed just 14 of its final 29 pass attempts while racking up 3.8 yards per attempt thereafter.  And again, the hype following the Clemson game was founded upon a stellar defensive performance to close out the contest.

Further, even when Georgia's secondary has struggled, stark contrasts are already on display under Pruitt's watchful eye.  

Most noticeable is the newfound emphasis on forcing turnovers.  Aggressive play against the pass and tackling in swarms has already paid off for Georgia—particularly the secondary.  Three of Georgia's four takeaways this season have been the result of opportunistic play by members of the defensive backfield.

Less obvious to observers may be Pruitt's ability to adjust schemes and alignments.  While it's apparent that teams are capable of having early success against Georgia's defense, it should not be overlooked that the pathways to that success are often blocked by game's end.

 

Put it All Together

At some point, however, Georgia's defense—its secondary in particular—needs to put everything together.  

Turnovers are welcomed by players, coaches, the Georgia offense and fans alike.  But the Bulldogs should not be dependent on turnovers as a bailout solution.  Nor should the Dawgs expect them as a reward for overly aggressive play.

Second-half adjustments are a fantastic calling card for this unit and a welcomed variation from what was seen under former coordinator Todd Grantham.  But, it's not always necessary that schematic alterations come at the expense of early drives.

And there is an element of timing that makes the need for a refined and complete effort by the secondary all the more urgent.  Georgia knows it's capable of stopping the run, but with the bulk of its conference schedule just around the corner, the Bulldogs must learn to consistently stop the pass.

Furthermore, Tennessee offers a perfect opportunity for this secondary to make a statement.  

Volunteer quarterback Justin Worley has been adequate at best this season.  The majority of his completions have come on shorter passes, and his six touchdowns in three games are not nearly as noteworthy as his three interceptions and nine sacks.  Worley, in other words, does not appear primed for a breakout game against Georgia.

He won't be helped by his offensive line, either.  Last year, with a veteran line in front of him, Worley was sacked just six times all season.  With an inexperienced unit playing in front of him, that number has already been surpassed in Tennessee's first three games.  If Georgia's secondary struggles, it won't likely be a result of a lack of pressure up front.  Bulldog pass-rushers like Leonard Floyd and Jordan Jenkins should have a field day on Saturday.

 

Expectations and Implications

Against Troy, a host of defensive backs saw significant playing time for Georgia.  For the most part, the on-field product looked similar regardless of who was on the field.  Accordingly, expect a lot of Bulldogs to see playing time against Tennessee.

With frequent substitution and relentless pressure up front, this secondary should remain fresh against the Vols, and if Worley plays as expected and remains under duress, this will be a big day for the cornerbacks and safeties.  To be sure, Tennessee has a slew of talented receivers led by Marquez North, but this improving Georgia secondary should be up for the task.

As senior safety Corey Moore told the media Tuesday, per GeorgiaDogs.com, the secondary is ready. Though he added: "It should be a challenge this week to make great plays on the defensive side against their offense."

With six more SEC opponents looming, that readiness could not come at a better time.  

Georgia's secondary will make a statement against Tennessee.  The hope for Georgia fans, however, is that this game is just another in a series of stepping stones on the way to something much, much better.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand, and all stats courtesy of Sports-Reference.com.

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Predicting College Football's Biggest Headlines for Week 5

The 2014 college football season is heading into Week 5. Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder, Adam Kramer and Barrett Sallee throw out their predictions for the biggest headlines after all the matchups this week.

Which team will look most impressive in Week 5?

Watch the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Jameis Winston's Attorney Reportedly Claims Extortion in Sexual Assault Case

Controversial Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston continues to be the subject of a sexual assault investigation by the university, but the Heisman Trophy winner is now reportedly claiming the accusations against him were made for monetary gain.

According to TMZ.com, Winston's lawyer, David Cornwell, wrote in a letter to Florida State University that the accuser demanded $7 million from Winston in exchange for keeping her allegations out of the media.

Cornwell alleges that the accuser's lawyer, Patricia Carroll, laid down the ultimatum, per TMZ.com.

"If we settle, you will never hear from my client or me again—in the press or anywhere." Cornwell notes he rejected the offer, and she went to the media four days later.

Winston ultimately was not charged with a crime in relation to the alleged sexual assault. In December 2013, which was one year after the alleged incident took place, state attorney Willie Meggs announced that there wasn't sufficient evidence with which to convict Winston, via ESPN.com's Mark Schlabach:

We've carefully examined all the evidence in this case and have concluded that no charges will be filed against anyone in this case. ... We have a duty as prosecutors to determine if each case has a reasonable likelihood of conviction. After reviewing the facts in this case, we do not feel that we can reach those burdens.

Despite the criminal case getting dropped, Winston has been the subject of an independent investigation by FSU. According to Matt Baker of the Tampa Bay Times, FSU's investigation relates to whether Winston has been in compliance with the school's code of conduct:

TMZ.com is reporting that Cornwell's letter to Florida State concluded with a word of warning regarding the nature of the investigation.

"Mr. Winston will cooperate with the investigation," Cornwell wrote. "He looks forward to clearing his name. But Mr. Winston will not walk into a honey trap. The investigation must be a legitimate investigation."

All of this comes with the Seminoles holding a 3-0 record and the No. 1 spot in the AP poll and the Amway Coaches poll. Winston was suspended for Florida State's victory over Clemson last week stemming from an incident when he yelled an obscene phrase in the student union.

Now that he has been reinstated, the focus shifts toward continuing to win games and making a push toward the College Football Playoff. Next up is a road game at NC State, followed by contests with Wake Forest, Syracuse, Notre Dame and Louisville.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter

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College Football Week 5 Schedule: TV and Live Stream Info for Every Game

College football fans are lucky. 

After a fireworks show over the course of the first few weeks thanks to brave scheduling, the past few weeks have appeared drab at best.

On paper.

The past few weeks have been the best to date thanks to jarring upsets, plenty of drama and downright competitive affairs defying the expectations of most. Games scheduled as practice sessions before conference play have proved anything but.

Now, conference play is in its budding stages too. It makes for yet another outstanding week of action. Below is a look at the full slate.

 

2014 College Football Week 5 Schedule

Schedule courtesy of ESPN.com. For games without national or regional coverage on a major network, check local listings.

 

Live Stream Resource

ESPN: WatchESPN

SEC: CBSSports.com

Fox: Fox Sports Go

BTN: BTN2Go.com

Pac-12: Pac-12.com

ABC: ABC Live

CBS: CBSSports.com

 

Matchups to Watch

Missouri at No. 13 South Carolina

The South Carolina Gamecocks are 3-1 and one of the best teams in the nation, but fans would not know it based on recent comments by coach Steve Spurrier, as captured by The Associated Press, via ESPN.com.

"We still believe we have a chance to have a good team this year," Spurrier said. "We're 3-1 and have won some close ones. We've played some pretty good teams. We didn't think Vandy was going to be that good, but they played their hearts out. Probably out-played us. Probably out-hustled us in a lot of areas."

Of course, Spurrier is upset about his team's 48-34 win on the road over Vanderbilt. That is what major programs that want a spot in the inaugural playoff do—get motivated by close wins littered with mistakes (two kickoffs returned for touchdowns) against beatable opponents.

Then again, Gary Pinkel has plenty to be upset about too.

His 3-1 Tigers rolled through a number of teams with relative ease to start the season but then welcomed unranked Indiana to town last week and suffered a 31-27 upset to fall from the realm of the ranked.

The Tigers are still in a transitional period, although sophomore quarterback Maty Mauk continues to look increasingly comfortable under center. To date, he has 978 yards and 14 touchdowns to four interceptions.

Steve Walentik of the Columbia Daily Tribune has a quote from a clearly concerned Spurrier on the topic:

The Gamecocks have had issues with strong quarterbacks. Kenny Hill out of Texas A&M went for 511 yards and three scores to start the season. East Carolina's Shane Carden threw for more than 300 yards. Georgia's Hutson Mason tossed two scores.

In other words, Missouri can certainly make this one a game, on the road or not. The idea is that Dylan Thompson, who has 1,140 yards and 11 passing touchdowns to three interceptions, and star back Mike Davis can score early and often.

Then again, South Carolina gave Missouri its only SEC loss last season in double overtime. Here's hoping for another competitive affair.

 

Arkansas vs. No. 6 Texas A&M

Speaking of those Aggies and Hill (not Johnny Manziel, folks), Kevin Sumlin's team is on upset alert this week.

Well, in theory. Texas A&M destroyed South Carolina to start the season, but dominant showings over Lamar, Rice and SMU should be taken with a grain of salt. Arkansas represents a serious test.

Bret Bielema's team is no joke on the ground, which means the Razorbacks could take control of the pace and never let Sumlin's offense on the field enough to make it a blowout. Peep the numbers so far:

Talk about wearing down a defense. ESPN CollegeFootball provides a deeper dive in visual form:

Texas A&M has inflated defensive numbers—it ranks No. 8 overall in points against at 11.8 per game—thanks to a soft schedule, which includes the opener against South Carolina, as it was technically Thompson's first real action as starter.

Still, behind the strong arm of Hill, who has 1,359 yards and 13 scores, Sumlin's offense figures to post big numbers once again. But we will soon find out if the Aggies defense is legit, as the Arkansas ground game is certainly capable of keeping pace.

If Arkansas can run, this will wind up as the week's most explosive contest.

 

Stats and information via ESPN.com unless otherwise specified.

 

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Ohio State Football: Keys to a Buckeyes Victory over Cincinnati

After a week away from the action, Urban Meyer and the No. 22 Ohio State Buckeyes (2-1) are set to host the Cincinnati Bearcats (2-0) under the lights in Ohio Stadium this Saturday.

Tommy Tuberville and his high-flying Bearcats will test the Buckeyes, who are looking to close out their nonconference slate on a high note before entering Big Ten play.

What does Ohio State need to do to notch a win against this week's in-state opponent? 

 

Limit Gunner Kiel and the Cincinnati Offense

Quarterback Gunner Kiel is off to a red-hot start this year. 

The redshirt sophomore torched Toledo in Cincinnati's season opener, completing 25 of 37 passes (67.6 percent) for 418 yards and six touchdowns against no interceptions. A week later against Miami (Ohio), he threw for 271 yards and four more touchdowns.

With Kiel triggering Cincinnati's pass-happy offense, Meyer knows his defense will need to be at its best.

“Here we go. This is the test," Meyer said of Cincinnati, according to Austin Ward of ESPN.com. "This is the one that we’re all shooting for."

The Buckeyes' new-look pass defense hasn't been truly challenged this season. Navy threw just four passes in the season opener, Virginia Tech was "uneven" offensively and Kent State was overmatched. Cincinnati will be the best indicator as to whether Ohio State has improved its pass defense, which ranked 110th nationally a season ago.

 

Protect J.T. Barrett

The Buckeyes are just two-and-a-half weeks removed from getting blitzed (in every sense of the word) by Virginia Tech. The Hokies piled up an unbelievable seven sacks against the Buckeyes, six of which came in the game's final nine minutes.

The offensive line protected Barrett much better against Kent State, but there will be a big spike in talent when the Bearcats visit Columbus.

Cincinnati's 5.5 sacks per game currently ranks No. 1 in the country, according to NCAA.com. The Bearcats attack from every angle—seven different players have recorded at least one sack.

The Buckeyes will need to be at their best to keep their quarterback on his feet.

 

Get Off to a Fast Start

In its losses to Michigan State, Clemson and Virginia Tech, Ohio State came out sluggish and fell behind early. Meyer recently lamented his team's slow starts offensively.

“We haven’t started particularly fast and we had a pretty good reputation for a while there coming out of the gates real fast, real hard and we haven’t done that yet,” Meyer said, according to Eric Seger of The Ozone. "So we gotta go take the lead and play Ohio State-style football.”

The Buckeyes can't afford another slow start Saturday night.

The Bearcats are averaging 44.5 points (which ranks 14th nationally) and 353.5 passing yards (ninth) per game this year.

If Ohio State starts slow against Cincinnati and falls into a big hole, it might not have enough offensive firepower to rally.

 

Unless otherwise noted all stats via Ohio State's official website.

David Regimbal covers Ohio State football for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Wisconsin Football: 4 Players Who Have Surprised Us in 2014

Coming into the 2014-15 season, Wisconsin football fans had just as many questions as they did answers at some positions.  Who was going to be the starting quarterback?  How would their totally rebuilt front-seven fare?  Who was going to catch the ball?

Through the first four weeks, those questions have been answered, kind of.

Tanner McEvoy has been really sharp at times with his arm, completing 17 passes in a row against Western Illinois—a school record—but has also been woefully inaccurate at times, going 8-of-24 against LSU.  

His legs have really helped the team as his 253 rushing yards on just 26 attempts have kept numerous drives alive, and his 158 yards on 11 carries against Bowling Green set a new school record for rushing yards by a quarterback.

The front-seven for the Badgers has been very good by and large, suffering a pair of critical injuries Week 1 against LSU, which caused them to fall apart as the game wound down.  Last week, against Bowling Green, the Badgers held the Falcons to 93 rushing yards on 29 carries, 95 of which came on two plays.

In terms of receiving options, outside of the backfield, two players have established themselves as go-to targets for McEvoy: wide receiver Alex Erickson and tight end Sam Arneson, who have combined for 23 of the team's 41 receptions.

But which players have surprised fans thus far this year?  Melvin Gordon averaging 9.4 yards per carry is hardly a surprise to those who have watched him, and Arneson was primed for a big season this year after scoring four touchdowns on his 10 career receptions coming into this season.

On the other side of the ball, Michael Caputo was the second leading tackler last season while linebackers Vince Biegel, Joe Schobert and Derek Landisch played quite a bit last season, and if the Badgers were going to give up less than triple digits, that trio of linebackers needed to be at least good if not great.

In this slideshow, let's take a look at four players, two on offense and two on defense, who have surprised me, and by extension, Badgers fans this season.  

Three of the four players listed started their careers as a walk-on or a gray shirt, showing the team's remarkable commitment to the walk-on program and the benefits for both the players and the team.

Without further ado, let's take a look at these four players, starting with the team's leading receiver.

Begin Slideshow

Jameis Winston Still Needs to Prove He's Truly Learned His Lesson

Now that Jameis Winston has served his two-half suspension, the Florida State Seminoles have the primary piece back in place to defend their national championship.

But the verdict is still out on whether FSU handled its quarterback’s latest misdeed correctly, and that’s something that should weigh heavily on school officials for however long Winston remains on campus.

FSU coach Jimbo Fisher assured the media this week that his guy has learned his lesson and that there will be no more shenanigans. Or shouts of gutter language inside the student union.

Fisher better be right, because if he isn’t it likely will unleash the biggest chorus of “told you so” that has ever engulfed college football.

One more misstep by Winston could derail a career that, in terms of raw talent, is every bit as promising as the ones Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Cam Newton are savoring.

The buzzards are circling over FSU’s Doak Campbell Stadium, just waiting for one more mistake to turn Winston’s career into so much roadkill.

SI.com reports it has been told by NFL scouts and executives that Winston is now so loaded with baggage that he should forget about the 2015 draft and instead commit to cleansing his image with an additional year in college. If he doesn’t, the SI.com report said, GMs will worry that drafting Winston could jeopardize their own careers.

TheNew York Timesreacted to the latest Winston mess by reminding its readers that while the 2012 rape accusation against him never led to charges, there also were no other football consequences. “Winston did not miss so much as a day of practice as a result of that accusation,” The Times’ Marc Tracy wrote this week.

And there can be no doubt that ESPN’s ever-bombastic draft analyst, Mel Kiper Jr., will be looking to loudly justify his decision to drop Winston 22 spots on his so-called Big Board, from No. 3 to No. 25 overall for the NFL draft.

Bobby Bowden also is deeply worried about the 20-year-old athlete who has become the face of the FSU program the coaching legend took to the top of college football. Interviewed by WYCW-TV in South Carolina, Bowden had this to say about his concerns:

Are you kidding me? Dang right I'm worried. Yeah. I don't think anybody likes what they have seen off of the field.  These instances, you know, you expect them to end because he keeps saying I've learned my lesson. I won't do it again and yet, they keep cropping up. So I hope he's learned his lesson now because he has as much talent as any boy we've had come through Florida State. How many times do you see a freshman win the Heisman Trophy? I would recommend to him, I've never met him, I would recommend, son, if I was you, I'd behave. I don't think Jimbo Fisher and Florida State University are going to put up with that forever.

But, as we wait to see whether Winston can mind his manners and avoid any more incidents with pellet guns or pilfered crab legs, by no means is this a one-sided argument.

Winston’s teammates have rallied around their star, but perhaps the most meaningful voice sticking up for Winston belongs to Kevin Maguire, the father of FSU backup QB Sean Maguire. We’ve all seen parents who would do anything to thrust their kid into the national sports spotlight, but the elder Maguire clearly isn’t one of them.

He went on record with Natalie Pierre of the Tallahassee Democrat to say just how dedicated Winston was to helping Sean get through last Saturday’s pressure-packed survival in overtime against Clemson.

Looking for some middle ground in the Winston debate, I phoned sports psychologist Mitch Abrams, author of Anger Management in Sport. Besides working with athletes, Abrams writes a "Sports Transgressions" blog for Psychology Today that the magazine’s website describes as focusing “on the social dynamics and clinical underpinnings of athletes’ behaviour that crosses the line.”

Abrams said Winston’s athletic gifts may be an integral part of what’s causing him problems out in society.

“In order to be successful in sports, you have to ignore your fears,” Abrams said. “If athletes were afraid, the things they do would be hard to do. The problem is that off the field it can be dangerous to themselves and other people around them.”

Winston’s continued bad decision-making, Abrams said, “Begs the question of whether he realizes how much is on the table, that he is skating perilously close to throwing away millions and millions of dollars.”

“What you’re seeing is a pattern that has not stopped,” Abrams said. “What you have to understand is that now there’s a bull's-eye on your back. And, at least from where I’m sitting, I’m not sure the consequences are severe enough to shake him. ... He has to know he could flush his entire career down the toilet.”

That’s the tightrope FSU is walking by reinstating Winston as its starting QB for Saturday’s game at North Carolina State.

If Winston has a big game and regains his hero’s status a week after his absence nearly cost FSU its No. 1 ranking, how will he react? Will he remember his one-game punishment, or will he think he’s more untouchable than ever?

WarChant.com blogger Ira Schoffel last week chronicled the many friendly, compelling and engaging sides he has seen from Winston while covering FSU sports. That includes seeing Winston sign tons of autographs and give fans genuine quality time while also often being the funniest guy in the room.

But Schoffel adds this telling look into Winston’s personality:

The problem with Jameis Winston is not that he's a bad person, as some in the media have tried to portray. The only serious offense he has ever been accused of ended without him being arrested or charged with a crime. (That doesn't make him innocent, but it surely doesn't make him guilty.) And he has had more of a positive impact, between community outreach and encouraging young children, in two years than many will have in a lifetime.

The problem is we don't really know who he is, other than a brilliant athlete with tremendous charisma and a desire to perform. We want to appreciate his great qualities, but we can't ignore the rest.

And the real problem with Jameis Winston is this: It seems there's always a problem with Jameis Winston.

And, if the folks at Florida State didn’t get it right, his next problem could be his last problem.

 

Tom Weir covered college football as a columnist for USA Today.

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Jeremy Cutrer to LSU: Tigers Land 4-Star Safety Prospect

While the LSU Tigers are coming off an upset at the hands of the Mississippi State Bulldogs over the weekend, they received some good news in the form of a commitment from junior college safety Jeremy Cutrer.

Zephaniah Powell, who coached Cutrer at Jewel M. Sumner in Kentwood, Louisiana, announced that the safety will head to Baton Rouge, via sports writer Will Weathers:

Cutrer was present for the Tigers' 34-29 loss to the Bulldogs on Saturday but tweeted out that "we will bounce back":

According to 247Sports' composite rankings, Cutrer is the No. 1 JUCO safety and seventh-best JUCO recruit in the country. With the Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College star on board, LSU sits 13th in 247Sports' team rankings for 2015.

As Geaux247's Nick Hollingsworth pointed out, this is the second time that Cutrer has signed with LSU:

In 2013, Cutrer was all set to join the Tigers, but he failed to have the necessary grades, which meant he needed to spend time at the JUCO level before jumping to FBS.

"I had to get used to the environment, but it's nice out there," he said of his time at Mississippi Gulf Coast, per James Smith of The Times-Picayune in New Orleans. "I'm pretty glad that I came to junior college, really. It gave me a chance to grow up and be a better man. I'm out here, but it's really helped me in a lot of ways and it was the best thing for me at the time. It let me grow up."

Cutrer is a heavy hitter over the middle who can also move up and help defend against the run. As a rangy ball-hawking playmaker, he'll fit right in on a Les Miles-coached defense.

At 6'2" and 170 pounds, Cutrer looks more like a wide receiver than he does a safety, though, so he'll need to add a little more muscle once he hits Baton Rouge.

While Miles obviously would've loved to have Cutrer two years ago, his time in junior college should help speed up his transition to the FBS level.

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