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UCLA, Arizona State Set for Another Unpredictable 'Game of the Year'

College football coaches like to treat every game with the same importance, at least as far as the media is concerned. So last week when No. 15 Arizona State head coach Todd Graham called Thursday's Pac -12 South matchup with No...

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Texas Tech Red Raiders vs. Oklahoma State Cowboys Betting Odds Analysis, Pick

The Texas Tech Red Raiders have covered the spread just once in nine games, and they visit Oklahoma State on Thursday, a place where they have struggled in recent years.

Can the Cowboys extend their 5-0 straight-up run at home against Tech in this Big 12 clash? Or can the Raiders turn it around after a trio of lame efforts to start the season?

 

Point spread: The Cowboys opened as 14-point favorites at Boone Pickens Stadium, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark. The total was hovering near 70.5 in mid-week wagering. (Line updates and matchup report)

 

Odds Shark computer prediction: 49.0-35.5 Cowboys

 

Why the Texas Tech Red Raiders can cover the spread

Texas Tech is 2-1 but has not hit its stride yet. But Oklahoma State’s defense is one that the Red Raiders could breach.

The Raiders have failed to cover in eight of nine games but are due here in the Big 12 opener for both teams.

 

Why the Oklahoma State Cowboys can cover the spread

Texas Tech gave up 438 rushing yards against Arkansas, proving they are ripe for the picking on defense. And Oklahoma State, which hung tough in a toss to Florida State three weeks ago, is certainly the team with an offense to do it.

While the Raiders were eking out wins over lightweights Central Arkansas and UTEP, OSU was handling a pair of lightweights themselves in Missouri State and UTSA. But this is a spot to get the Cowboys rolling up the Top 25, and they should take full advantage of a suspect Texas Tech team.

 

Smart Pick

Oklahoma State has scored 177 points in its past three wins over Texas Tech, and the whopping total of 70.5 indicates that oddsmakers see lots of scoring in the forecast Thursday night.

The Cowboys do not boast the top defense in the land, but their offense should be able to drop 50+ points again and cover two TDs easily.

 

Trends:

  • Texas Tech is 1-8 ATS in its last nine games
  • Oklahoma State is 5-0 SU in its last five games when playing at home against Texas Tech

 

Note: All point spread and lines data courtesy of Odds Shark, all quotes gathered first-hand unless otherwise noted—check out Twitter for injury updates and line move updates and get the free odds tracker app.

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Taylor Martinez Opens Up on Life After Football, Current State of Nebraska

Taylor Martinez’s senior year at Nebraska didn’t go exactly as planned, and neither did his first shot at the NFL.

During Nebraska’s 2013 home opener against Wyoming, Martinez tore a ligament in his left foot that he continued to play on the next week against Southern Miss. By the time UCLA rolled into town, Martinez was in pain.

Martinez did his best to keep the specifics out of the media. In doing so, most fans were unaware that he had also separated his non-throwing shoulder against Wyoming.

The Philadelphia Eagles' medical staff, on the other hand, discovered both. His three-year free-agent deal with the Eagles was voided, leaving the quarterback to wonder what was next.

"I'm not ruling out playing football, if I heal," Martinez told Bleacher Report.

As a result, Martinez has no plans to rush back until he's 100 percent healthy. He wants to make sure he heals properly before giving it another shot.

In the meantime, he does have a plan. "I'm going to become a real estate agent here in Orange County," Martinez confirmed.

Additionally, Martinez is busy creating smartphone apps. While a student at Nebraska, he began developing apps. It was during the March before his senior season when his hobby was first made public, per CBSSports.com's Jeremy Fowler.

Developing apps has been a way to make the best of a bad situation for Martinez. It has also given the 24-year-old the opportunity to combine his love of football with his passion for developing apps.

“I’ve always been interested in computers,” Martinez said. “I learned to code websites and did that in high school. I don’t know how to code apps, so I outsource those, but I come up with the ideas."

One of those apps is Stupid FAST, which Martinez describes as a game for football enthusiasts. Players have an opportunity to win real life rewards, which are all backed by companies such as Hobby Town, Sol Republic, Hail Varsity, Juice Stop and more.

The inspiration for Stupid FAST came from the same question being asked over and over: "When are you going to develop a football game?"

Alongside his younger brother Keaton, Martinez took the disappointment from the Eagles and made the game so many had been requesting. After months of hard work and programming, it finally became available for download in early September.

While Martinez is looking forward to his future, he does miss Nebraska and remains invested in the team. He's excited by the potential the new team has.

“I feel the Huskers are doing really well this year," Martinez said. "I’m excited to see how far they can go. I’m also really proud of how [the offense] is doing.”

When it comes to the person leading the offense now, Martinez acknowledged how happy he is for Tommy Armstrong.

"He had to step up last year when I got injured and he did well," Martinez said. “I'm very excited that he's grown even more and is the starting quarterback this year. The future is bright for Tommy.”

As for Ameer Abdullah? Martinez said he's always known how talented the I-back would be.

“I knew the first time I saw him as a true freshman at practice," Martinez said. "I went home and called my dad. I said he was going to be the next Reggie Bush. I feel I recognize talent pretty well and I knew that he would be good enough to win the Heisman one day."

Now that the time has come, can Abdullah win the Heisman Trophy? "Yes, he can. He's a special player."

While the future is still uncertain for Martinez, he does plan to eventually get back to Nebraska for a game. This time, though, he plans to just be a fan. "I've never seen a game from that perspective. I'm kind of looking forward to it," he said.

Whether or not Martinez ever steps back on a football field as a player is another story. Only time will tell.

However, the former Husker is making the best of it all. He plans to keep developing apps and even teased about the future of Stupid FAST. "If it's popular, I may consider an update for basketball season," he said.

One thing is for certain, though. Football will always be a part of Martinez's life.

"Maybe I'll coach kids, or my future kids, if [playing again] doesn't work out. We'll see."

 

All quotes were obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted.

To learn more about Martinez's latest app and to watch the trailer, check out the Stupid FAST website. To download the app directly for iPhone, click here.

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LSU Football: The Brandon Harris Era Needs to Begin Now

LSU head coach Les Miles needs to hand the keys of the offense to Brandon Harris.

Harris showed flashes of excellence against Mississippi State. He was inserted into the game in the fourth quarter and led LSU on a magnificent comeback to make a rough scoreline respectable. The true freshman finished with 140 yards and two touchdowns through the air.

Sophomore starter Anthony Jennings had his chance against an average secondary but underperformed. Jennings was a paltry 13-for-26 for 157 yards and made some questionable decisions in the red zone that cost LSU touchdowns.

Miles said Harris' stellar play warranted more snaps going forward:

Miles: I enjoyed Brandon Harris coming into the game and the fact he gave us a tremendous lift. He earns more playing time without question.

LSU Football (@LSUfball) September 22, 2014

Miles shouldn't base his decision off Harris' one quarter of play against a conservative defense. Jennings had played admirably previous to last Saturday night, and his supporting cast did not do him any favors against Mississippi State either.

Jennings' intangibles are off the charts. He is a proven clutch performer and is beloved by his teammates.

Nevertheless, Miles should name Harris the starter because he is a better football player than Jennings. The freshman's passes have more zip and he is a more dynamic runner.

ESPN's National Recruiting Director, Tom Luginbill, has raved about Harris since he first reviewed his tape years ago. Luginbill, a former quarterback at Georgia Tech, believes he is the best the Tigers have to offer.

"In terms of pure physical tools, he is more talented than what LSU has," said Luginbill. "He can make all the throws."

Harris' ability to connect with fellow freshman Malachi Dupre gives a boost the LSU offense desperately needs. Four of Dupre's six catches on the season have come from Harris, three of which for touchdowns.

The duo worked extensively with each other during the offseason, which has shown on the field.

The worst thing for Miles to do is run a two-quarterback system. Harris and Jennings have similar skill sets, so rotating the two makes little sense.

Bulldogs quarterback Dak Prescott is the best example of why having one quarterback is the best option. Prescott rotated with Tyler Russell last season, who was an inferior player. Mississippi State could have won more games if it had just played Prescott in 2013.

Prescott told SEC Network's Peter Burns on SEC Now that being the lone signal-caller this season has progressed his development. He proved it last Saturday with 373 combined yards and three touchdowns.

Harris has Prescott's potential, but he needs the same freedom.

He is not only the future but the now at quarterback. Miles needs to make him the guy for LSU to reach its full potential in 2014 and beyond.

 

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

Follow me on Twitter @CarterthePower.

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Ohio State Football: Why Buckeyes Fans Should Be Terrified of Gunner Kiel

COLUMBUS, Ohio — There will be a 5-star quarterback inside of Ohio Stadium when Ohio State takes the field for its showdown with Cincinnati this Saturday.

But he won't be playing for the Buckeyes.

Because contrary to tradition, it will be the Bearcats with the talent edge at signal-caller in this weekend's Buckeye State battle. Thanks to the arrival of Gunner Kiel, UC possesses what Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer believes to be one of the best quarterbacks in college football, and a player plenty capable of handing the Buckeyes their second loss of the young 2014 season.

"I see a strong guy, he looks big. A big, strong arm. A very courageous player that throws into the oncoming pass rush," Meyer said of the 6'4", 208-pound Kiel. "I see one of the top quarterbacks in the country."

That was always the expectation for Kiel, a former 5-star prospect by way of Columbus, Indiana. Originally committed to his home state Hoosiers, Kiel was once slated to face Ohio State on a more regular basis but switched his verbal pledge to LSU before ultimately signing with Notre Dame.

Kiel's career in South Bend would be short-lived, however, as the writing for him appeared to be on the wall when fellow freshman Everett Golson was named the Fighting Irish's starter in 2012. And before he could stick around to see Golson suspended for the 2013 campaign due to an academic violation, Kiel opted to take his talents elsewhere, transferring to Cincinnati in April 2013.

After sitting out a season due to NCAA transfer rules, Kiel's college career finally got off to the start that many imagined it would on Sept. 12, when he threw for 418 yards and six touchdowns in the Bearcats' 58-34 win over Toledo. Sitting in his team hotel room on that Friday night, awaiting the next day's matchup with Kent State, Meyer took notice of the Buckeyes' future foe.

"You'd think there'd be more first-game mistakes with a new quarterback," Meyer said of Cincinnati's season opener. "But they were outstanding."

The same could be said for Kiel in his Cincinnati encore, a 271-yard, four-touchdown outing in the Bearcats' 31-24 win over Miami (Ohio) last weekend. Facing Ohio State, of course, will be a taller task than taking on the Rockets and RedHawks, but the challenge in this weekend's I-71 showdown appears to be mutual.

Especially when you take into account that, of the number of questions that the Buckeyes still find themselves facing after the first fourth of the 2014 season, the status of their unproven pass defense tops the list. A year ago, Ohio State saw its national championship chances dashed thanks in large part to a passing defense that ranked 118th in the nation out of 125 teams, and this season, the Buckeyes are yet to truly be tested in that facet.

"Here we go," Meyer said, cutting off a reporter's question as soon as the words "pass defense" left his lips during his weekly press conference on Monday. "This is the test, this is the one that we're all shooting for and they're really good at throwing the ball, and it will be a challenge for us. I can't make that evaluation yet after the first three games."

That's a sentiment that's shared by the Ohio State defensive backs, who are excited to finally put defensive coordinator Chris Ash's newly installed press coverage scheme on full display. After facing a triple-option opponent in Navy, a run-oriented offense in Virginia Tech and an overmatched Kent State squad, the Buckeyes' secondary will truly have its work cut out against a Cincinnati team that ranks ninth in the nation with 353.5 passing yards per game.

"For the secondary, this is big because this is the best quarterback with the best wide receiving group that we're going to see all season," said sophomore safety Tyvis Powell. "This is the best time to show the fans that the pass defense has improved."

Of course, saying such is one thing, while proving themselves is a whole other challenge in and of itself for the Buckeyes. As Powell said, the best quarterback that Ohio State will face all season could very well be Kiel, who's listed as NFLDraftScout.com's No. 4 quarterback in the 2017 draft class, behind Florida State's Jameis Winston, Penn State's Christian Hackenberg and Texas A&M's Kenny Hill.

Which is all the more reason why Saturday's matchup will be the best way to gauge how far the Buckeyes' highly criticized pass defense has truly come. After 2013 came to a close with Michigan State's Connor Cook and Clemson's Tajh Boyd shredding Ohio State, the Buckeyes are well aware that walking away from this weekend with a win won't be possible without containing Kiel.

"Us with the 'W,'" OSU cornerback Doran Grant answered when asked what will constitute a passing grade for the Buckeyes' pass defense against the Bearcats. "'Cause I know by us getting a 'W,' that means we did our job on the back end."

 

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

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Miami Football: Why 'Canes Cannot Afford Loss to Duke

The Miami Hurricanes are preparing for the reigning Coastal Division champion Duke Blue Devils, but there's more at stake than a simple conference win.

Although the 'Canes have yet to encounter any of their six Coastal foes, Miami cannot afford a loss to the Blue Devils. After stumbling at Louisville in the season opener and with top-ranked Florida State looming in November, falling short of a victory practically shatters any chance at the division crown.

It's not quite a doomsday scenario, but the Hurricanes would need some serious help otherwise.

In the 10 years the conference has been split into divisions, three losses in conference action have largely doomed a program's chances at clinching a spot in the ACC Championship Game. Just twice—Virginia Tech in 2007 and Georgia Tech in 2012—has five wins earned an extra weekend of football.

Now, fortunately for Miami, the Coastal Division is an absolute mess in 2014.

Georgia Tech was nearly beaten by Georgia Southern, yet managed to knock off Virginia Tech on the road. The Hokies were overpowered by a talented East Carolina roster, and the Pirates made North Carolina look terribly silly, too.

Virginia Tech is struggling to the point longtime head coach Frank Beamer said, per Mark Giannotto of The Washington Post, "We're not a good football team right now."

Additionally, Pittsburgh fell behind Florida International 16-0 before the Panthers realized they couldn't simply show up and trample an inferior opponent. Then, Pitt fell to a strictly mediocre Iowa unit searching for a starting quarterback.

As it stands, supposed bottom feeder Virginia has been the biggest surprise of the weak division. The Wahoos have already shocked Louisville—a team that beat the Hurricanes—and the victory was sandwiched between superb challenges of UCLA and BYU.

The Coastal has been flipped on its head, but the confusion completely favors Duke.

Sitting pretty at 4-0, the Blue Devils have surrendered a mere 11.5 points per game and easily handled Elon, Troy, Kansas and Tulane. While those four victories don't make Duke an elite squad, the wins do mean the Blue Devils are smashing lesser competitors as they should.

David Cutcliffe's crew is entering an extremely favorable ACC slate, playing its next two games on the road at Miami and Georgia Tech before the burden lessens considerably.

Pittsburgh's rushing attack poses a formidable test, but Duke hosts Virginia, Virginia Tech and North Carolina. Plus, the Blue Devils' pair of crossover games are against Syracuse and Wake Forest.

Since the Coastal is a disaster, tiebreakers are likely to play a decisive role in determining the division champion.

The most important one to hold is a head-to-head victory, and that advantage is ripe for the taking this weekend. However, Duke grabbing that advantage would severely hamper the Hurricanes' chances at dethroning the Blue Devils.

Hypothetical scenarios for crawling back into the Coastal picture exist, but those aren't worth discussing until a later date. The Hurricanes have a penchant for randomly collapsing in a conference game, and there's little reason to believe that tendency doesn't continue in 2014.

Considering the way Miami's defense played against Nebraska, how could the trend not? Regardless, those hypothetical ideas fall under the "cross that bridge when we come to it" idiom.

Duke could certainly have a lapse one or two weekends, but finding three losses after Miami in that schedule is difficult.

The 'Canes aren't totally dead with a loss, but the Blue Devils gain a clear-cut upper hand on them with a win. Miami must hand Duke its first "L" of the year, lest Duke Johnson, Brad Kaaya and Co. cede all control of their conference destiny before September concludes.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

5 Things College Football Playoff Committee Should Watch for in Week 5

September is almost over, and that means we're inching closer to more real games. The unfortunate trend over the past decade or so is the advent of an avalanche of "Body Bag" games, where power-conference teams pick on the Little Sisters of the Poor looking for a big payday.

A significant number of conference games are on the schedule this week, as we begin to whittle down the contenders for the four College Football Playoff slots and eight other CFP bowl berths. Twenty-five teams remain unbeaten, though that's guaranteed to drop by at least two, beginning Thursday night with a Pac-12 showdown between UCLA and Arizona State.

The selection committee needs to pay attention to that game, and many others. Here are five things the committee should watch for in Week 5:

 

1. Sorting out the Pac-12

The Pac-12 is making a claim as the best conference this year, with seven teams remaining unbeaten. But the process of elimination starts Thursday night, when UCLA goes to the desert to face ASU in a South Division showdown.

In the North, Stanford, already with a conference loss (to USC), is playing a must-win game at Washington. The Huskies have looked mostly unimpressive in their first year under Chris Petersen, yet they're 4-0 entering a potential statement game.

 

2. Is Florida State back on track?

Jameis Winston returns this week, and we'll see if FSU rebounds from its narrow escape against Clemson, a game it really should've lost. The 'Noles are involved in this week's only other matchup of unbeatens against NC State.

While the Wolfpack haven't played anybody of note, it's worth remembering that FSU's last visit to Raleigh was not a happy one: That 17-16 upset in 2012 knocked it out of the BCS title race and remains its most recent conference loss.

 

3. How good, exactly, is Texas A&M?

After romping South Carolina in the season opener, the Aggies barnstormed through Texas and rolled up ridiculous numbers against Lamar, Rice and SMU (just ask the Head Ball Coach).

Now they'll be playing their first SEC West foe, and from the looks of it, Arkansas won't be the same pork chop as it had been since Bobby Petrino fell off his bike. The Hogs gave Auburn a game in the season opener and might offer A&M a stern test

 

4. Notre Dame watch begins

Now that we know Michigan is brutally awful, it's safe to say the Irish haven't beaten anybody of substance in their 3-0 start. While Syracuse is no powerhouse, the game at the Meadowlands kicks off a four-game stretch in which Notre Dame will also face Stanford, North Carolina and Florida State. We will get an idea just where (and if) the Irish belong after these next four weeks.

 

5. The dwindling group-of-five ranks

Four weeks into the season, there are only two unbeaten group-of-five conference teams. East Carolina, with one loss, is in the driver's seat for the guaranteed New Year's Six bowl berth after back-to-back wins over ACC teams.

Cincinnati would like to have some say in this matter as it plays its biggest showcase game of the year Saturday with a visit to Ohio Stadium. A win over the reeling Buckeyes will immediately move the Bearcats to the front of the line.

 

Follow on Twitter @ThePlayoffGuru

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Brady Hoke at the End of His Rope: Dark Times for Michigan Football

At this point, it's beyond getting old. It's getting tired. Another bad loss for the Michigan Wolverines football team, this time 26-10 at home to an admittedly pretty good team (Utah) from a power conference (Pac-12), but the fallout remains the same.

Michigan coaches and players are saying the right things to the media. The things you're forced to say when your team has effectively not shown up for two games (the other, of course, being the 31-0 shellacking at the hands of Notre Dame).

At his Monday presser, head coach Brady Hoke told the media via ESPN that while he is aware of the mounting backlash that his coaching staff and team are facing: "It won't affect the course that we want to go, I can tell you that."

The course is presumably to challenge for the Big Ten title, which looks to be about as attainable as a sunny mid-80s day in Michigan by the time the Big Ten title game rolls around on December 6.

After inclement weather forced a game delay in the fourth quarter of Michigan's latest debacle, ABC College Football analyst and former Texas Longhorns head coach Mack Brown made some pithy remarks about the vitriol Michigan's fanbase and beat writers are piling on Hoke and his players, via ABC Sports:

Pull for the kids, pull for Brady (and) if you don't like what happens at the end of the year, then talk about it. But don't talk about all the bad things every week. Because it's not fair to the kids, it's not fair to the coaches, and you need to give your guy a chance to get it turned around when he starts Big Ten play.

It's true, all the negative talk surrounding the once-storied program is only adding to the defeatism plaguing Big Blue at the moment.

Student-athletes who don't perform up to potential don't necessarily deserve the level of anger they are getting from fans. But Brown's comments don't hold weight if he thinks the same level of restraint should be bestowed upon coaches (Brady Hoke, $3.25 million in salary 2014, offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, $830,000 salary in 2014) and administrators (athletic director David Brandon, $850,000 salary in 2013, as per the Detroit Free Press) who are making small mints.

Watching Michigan on offense is nearly insufferable. It's been a cavalcade of poor blocking, untimely penalties, uninspired route running and, worst of all, awful decision-making by the quarterback. Devin Gardner's time is up, no more excuses. He simply doesn't have the sand to play the position.

Gardner may be a tough all-around athlete, but Hoke's instincts to turn him into a receiver in 2012 were accurate. Gardner's propensity for interceptions has rendered him a limited passer, one who settles for short routes or checkdowns since most of his throws over 10 yards seem to end up in the hands of the opposition (six INTs versus five TD passes in 2014, he's also been sacked nine times; stats courtesy of ESPN).

Against Utah, Gardner at least showed more willingness to pull the ball the down and run when facing the onslaught of pass rushes that his naive offensive line allows.

Still, if Michigan has any hope of competing in 2015, it's best to try to bring Shane Morris along, who has also been abysmal in a limited role—he threw a pick and lost a fumble in relief of Gardner against Utah (Morris' stat line for 2014: 7-of-20, 79 yards, two INTs, as per ESPN).

Yes, sadly the 2014 season is nearly a wash just four games in. For those eternal optimists holding out hope that Michigan can salvage their season (and perhaps Hoke's job) with a win in East Lansing or Columbus, let's get real. This team, in its current state, will be lucky to finish .500 in the Big Ten.

Michigan is going to lose again in 2014, probably more than twice. It's most winnable remaining game may be this Saturday against Minnesota. Looking at the rest of the schedule, Michigan could conceivably become bowl eligible with wins over Northwestern, Indiana and Maryland. But in truth, every game could be a struggle for the underachieving Wolverines.

In the end, this is about a threshold of patience for losing and rebuilding a program that went to seed under Rich Rodriguez. Hoke is at his limit. His teams are failing to compete, which is inexcusable considering the budget that the University of Michigan earmarks for football ($23 million in 2012-2013 as per MLive's Kellie Woodhouse) and the revenue it generates for the university ($82 million as per the aforementioned MLive article).

Brady Hoke is a human being, and by all accounts a nice guy and reputable person. Only the most soulless troll wouldn't feel for him. None of us would care to be pilloried for every little thing we do at the workplace. But here's the difference between Hoke and the majority of the rest of us: The man is a millionaire.

The 99 percent generally need something to root for, and when that something becomes a source of discontent, the fans have the right to voice their displeasure.

Hoke apologists will tell you that he needs more time, that the constant waves of criticism are starting to get cruel and unusual. But it must be said, this ain't Ball State or San Diego State, Hoke signed on for this level of scrutiny when he took over the reins in 2011. Despite recent evidence to the contrary, Michigan is still the winningest college football program of all time.

Yes, the criticism can be heavy-handed, but perhaps Hoke and the athletic department should consider the alternative. Michigan fans are passionate, but with each embarrassing loss and the program's combative stance towards the displeasure, apathy starts to creep in (attendance at The Big House continues to trend down, for various reasons).

Barring a miraculous turnaround in 2014, it's time for Hoke to hit the bricks, and if that requires Mr. Brandon being put out to pasture as well, so be it.

If the Wolverines register more than four losses in 2014, it's time to cue up the swan song for Hoke and Brandon, courtesy of another notable Michigan Man (Bob Seger).

It's high time to "Turn The Page" in Ann Arbor.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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.

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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

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