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Auburn's Struggle with Kansas State Shows Cracks in the SEC Elite

Auburn’s football team won a hard-fought game on the road against a tough Kansas State team Thursday night, but it may have dealt its Southeastern Conference compatriots a figurative loss.

This is the reality of the expectations that now rest on the shoulders of the SEC’s eight ranked teams. When a conference has eight members in the Associated Press top 20 and seven in the top 15, the burden of proof weighs a little heavier.

If indeed Auburn is the nation’s No. 5 team and second only to Alabama in the SEC then the Tigers should have rolled into Bill Snyder Family Stadium and stomped the Wildcats flatter than the Kansas prairie. Anything less, and the schoolyard bully suddenly doesn’t look so fearsome.

Such was the disappointing case for Auburn while winning 20-14 against No. 20 Kansas State. The slash-and-burn attack that had scored at least 30 points in 12 consecutive games appeared to have missed the flight.

Auburn did a lot of things right while playing in front of the biggest crowd in K-State history, but it also bared some considerable flaws in its first major test of the season.

The Auburn ground game that averaged 330 yards in season-opening victories against Arkansas and San Jose State was painfully slow to find its footing, with only 55 yards in the first half.

The final count was 45 totes for 128 yards, a 2.8 average that contributed heavily to the Tigers failing to convert on third down until just three minutes, 29 seconds were left in the first half.

More telling is that Kansas State managed to turn that trick without overloading the box. It played with six men up front most of the way and still kept Auburn groping for traction. That’s going to make this game film a must-see commodity for Auburn’s future opponents.

All of those things that made Auburn’s offense so formidable last season—the relentless tempo, the confounding shifts and motions—either were missing or simply had zero impact against Kansas State.

Auburn looked quicker and more athletic, but Kansas State showed that patience and scheme can be great equalizers.

SEC proponents will say heck, Snyder’s disciplined team creates problems like that for nearly everyone. That’s true, but it’s not the point.

The fact is that the rest of the nation can be expected to howl long and loud anytime an SEC team fails to register a blowout in a quality non-conference game, and 20-14 falls far short of that standard. And voters on the College Football Playoff panel can expect constant reminders of that from those who have suspicions about the ballot box getting unfairly stuffed.

Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, the self-appointed top critic of what he calls SEC “propaganda,” certainly can be counted on to make that case. And Stoops will have no trouble putting together a chorus to back him up from schools in the Big 12, ACC, Big Ten, Pac-12 and elsewhere.

Yes, Auburn’s win ups the SEC’s record to 28-2 against non-conference teams this season, but that feast has included several servings of cupcakes. 

More importantly, No. 3 Alabama still needs to prove its struggles with West Virginia were a fluke. And No. 13 LSU needs to erase the memory of escaping Wisconsin by only a four-point margin.

That might seem like nitty-gritty nit-picking. But that's the way college football works these days. Style points count. And it’s not an unfair onus to put on the SEC when there are continued rumblings about putting two SEC teams in the College Football Playoff, including from the powerful voice of ABC’s Kirk Herbstreit.

As for Auburn, its defense was nothing short of awesome, holding Kansas State to 40 rushing yards on 30 carries. But the legion of SEC fault-finders will say Auburn got off cheap because of K-State’s self-inflicted wounds.

Quarterback Jake Waters threw an early end-zone interception when he was parked near the Auburn goal line, and the compass of kicker Jack Cantele was horribly off as he missed three field goals, including a gimme from 22 yards.

That led Snyder to say the outcome had a lot more to do with his team’s shortcomings than Auburn’s superlatives.

Yes, the result of this one easily could have flipped. And then the noise from the SEC critics would have been absolutely deafening.

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Texas Football Recruiting: Latest Updates on 2015 Commits, Visits and Targets

One commit has been flipped and four offers are out for the Texas Longhorns, who have used their bye week to catch up on the recruiting trail.

Following Texas' 20-17 defeat at the hands of UCLA, Charlie Strong and his staff went right back to work on Tuesday. The Horns have put out four offers to 2015 recruits since Tuesday, landing one commit with two more likely to follow.

Despite these recent successes, Strong still has plenty of work to do. Three major recruits who have yet to pledge to a program saw his Horns fall to 1-2 in person, while one more has begun shortening his list as he prepares to take visits.

The next month looks like a crucial one for Strong's first full recruiting class.

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Mark Blaudschun's Blitz: Jameis Winston Trouble Leaves Florida State Vulnerable

They are the defending national champions. They have won 28 of their last 30 football games and 18 consecutive games. They have not lost a since Nov. 24, 2012. They have last year's Heisman Trophy winner. They carry the swagger that great teams wear as comfortably as their uniforms.   

And yet the perception exists that Jimbo Fisher's Florida State Seminoles may not be this year's best team. Perhaps, instead, it is Oregon, which has won its first three games by a combined 156-54 score. Or maybe the SEC, after having its string of seven consecutive national championship snapped last season, will re-establish itself on top after starting the season with seven teams in the AP's top 15 after three weeks.   

Is the burden of being the defending national champion too much for the Seminoles?

Or are they simply not as good as they were a year ago?

Certainly, with the latest Jameis Winston escapade resulting in the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback being benched for the first half of Saturday night's game against Clemson, Florida State's road back to the title game has already hit a bump. And if the 'Noles aren't careful, an entire season's dream could disappear before halftime.

What's at stake is considerable. The winner will have essentially a two-game edge over the loser (via the head-to-head win), as well as history on its side as the victor of this game has also won the last three ACC championships.

Even before Winston was suspended for yelling a sexually explicit comment in the Florida State student union earlier this week, the Seminoles did not seem nearly as intimidating. A team that beat 12 of its 14 opponents by an average of 45 points last season (only Boston College, which lost by 14 during the regular season, and Auburn, which lost by three in the BCS title game, could stay with the Seminoles through an entire game) has looked beatable this year.

An opening matchup with Oklahoma State resulted in a 37-31 win that wasn't decided until the final seconds. One week later, a supposed cream puff game versus FCS opponent The Citadel saw Florida State win, but not dominate, in a 37-12 final that would have been a halftime score last season.

Even if the Seminoles beat Clemson, there are potential axle-busting potholes the national championship bus must avoid. A back-to-back meeting with Notre Dame (at home) and Louisville (two weeks later) awaits in October and then there are annual meetings with in-state rivals (at) Miami and Florida, sandwiched around a potentially tricky meeting with Boston College in November.

And then there are the unknown factors: Is FSU still motivated? Are the 'Noles prepared for the chore of being every opponent's "game of the season?" How much have Winston's off-the-field problems affected what the Seminoles do on the field?

Former Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy, who quarterbacked the Crimson Tide for two seasons (including a 2009 national title), and is now working for the SEC television network, knows the burden of playing games in the season after a 14-0 run.

 

"It's always extremely difficult to navigate the schedule when you are getting every team's best shot,'' McElroy told Bleacher Report in a text message. "We would show up to play on Saturday and have a game plan that is designed to beat man-to-man coverage, and then sure enough, they would play zone the whole game.

"The pressure remains the same and the expectations aren't that different, especially playing at Alabama, but the way teams prepare for you changed significantly in the year following the national championship."

Playing without its best player for a half will add to Florida State's challenge against a team desperate to avoid an 1-2 start following its season-opening loss to Georgia. With the added spice of a rivalry developing into SEC-type of feud, the Seminoles are traversing some risky ground that could see their season take a fall.

 

Trouble Ahead For The Tigers?

In surviving for a 20-14 win at Kansas State Thursday night, Auburn revealed more about what is isn't than what it is.

More specifically…

Auburn is not close to being the best team in the country.

Auburn may not be the best team in the SEC.

And Auburn may not even be the best team in the highly regarded (for now) SEC West.

True, the Tigers did what a No. 5 team had to do against a school ranked 15 spots lower—win. But look a little closer and you'll see a game in which Kansas State squandered 19 points, including three missed (but makeable) field goals, a fumble that put Auburn in position for a field goal of its own and a lost touchdown on a pass that bounced off of Kansas State wide receiver Ty Lockett's shoulder pads into the arms of Auburn defensive back Jonathan Jones.

And that vaunted Auburn running game, which had rushed for more than 200 yards in each of its last 13 games—the longest such streak in the FBS—was held to 128 yards.

In short, Auburn looked very beatable.

Still, the Tigers got through, in large part because quarterback Nick Marshall proved he could make clutch throws.

Other than the win, that may be the best news Auburn gets for some time, as the Tigers face a minefield of a schedule ahead.

No. 8 LSU looms on Oct. 4 before a date with No. 14 South Carolina on Oct. 25. Then the schedule really gets tough with back-to-back-to-back games against No. 10 Ole Miss (on the road), No. 6 Texas A&M and No. 13 Georgia (on the road) before the regular season finale at No. 3 Alabama.

Auburn needs to root for Kansas State to win the remainder of its games and finish with no worse than a 10-2 record, with one of those 10 wins coming against either Oklahoma or Baylor.

Here's why.

Give Auburn the benefit of the doubt and say the Tigers only lose two of its remaining games. If K-State can finish first or second in the Big 12 race, the win on Thursday night will look much more impressive to the selection committee than it does right now.

And as well all know, perceptions matter when it comes to the selection process.

 

Countdown to the Final Four

It's never too early to gaze into the crystal ball and predict how the playoff matchups will shake out were the Final Four to be set today.

Last Four In
Oregon: May be the best team in the country.
Florida State: Jameis or no Jameis, until someone beats them the Seminoles are a force.
Alabama: Best team in the SEC?
Oklahoma: How can the Sooners be a sleeper?

Last Four Out
Auburn: Can stake a claim to being the best team in SEC West, but the schedule may speak louder.
Georgia: You can argue the Bulldogs were better than South Carolina, but played dumber.
Michigan State: 12-1 gets the Spartans in the playoffs.
Baylor: Paper Bears thus far, but wins over Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas would make them Final Four tough.

 

Race to the Playoffs

We are only three weeks into the college football season and we are down to 41 teams (out of 128) who have legitimate chances of making it into college football's Final Four.

Teams: 128
Teams eliminated: 87
Teams remaining: 41—Cincinnati, Florida State, N.C. State, Syracuse, Clemson, Pittsburgh, Georgia Tech, Duke, North Carolina, Kansas State, Baylor, Oklahoma, TCU, Oklahoma State, Penn State, Michigan State, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Marshall, BYU, Notre Dame, Oregon, California, Washington, Oregon State, Stanford, Arizona State, USC, Utah, Arizona, UCLA, Florida, South Carolina, Missouri, Georgia, Ole Miss, Auburn, Texas A&M, Mississippi State, Alabama, LSU.

 

You've Got To Be Kidding

1. So FSU is sitting Jameis Winston down for one half of a game. Come on. It's about time FSU stepped up and really took a stand. How about an entire game suspension against a big time rival? What do you think the reaction will be if FSU falls behind Clemson in the first half and Winston comes off the bench to lead FSU to victory? Suddenly, the punishment becomes a prelude to Winston being carried off the field in celebration. 

2. Five teams in the top 10 from one division? That's the SEC West, where Alabama, Auburn, Texas A&M, LSU and Ole Miss all checked in among the nation's 10 best AP teams heading into Week 4.

How good is the division? Going into this Saturday's games, the SEC West had a combined record of 20-1, with Arkansas the only division team to lose a game.

The division will lose some of its punch as teams play each other, but it would not be a stunner to see three SEC West teams in the final top 10 and even two in the Final Four. 

3. In the latest FBS quarterback efficiency rankings put out by the NCAA, Seth Russell led the likes of Marcus Mariota (No. 4), Texas A&M's Kenny Hill (No. 9) and FSU's Jameis Winston (No. 28). Who's Seth Russell? Baylor's backup quarterback. But the Bears have skated over SMU, Northwestern State and Buffalo so easily that Russell is getting as much playing time, and doing as much with it, as the starter, Bryce Petty.

4. Remember when Nebraska and Miami used to be a really big game with a lot at stake. Well, the two teams will meet on Saturday for the first time since they played for the national championship in the 2002 Rose Bowl. Since '04, neither team has won a conference championship or been ranked in the top 10 in the final polls.

Think about that. Miami and Nebraska haven't been relevant in the national title conversation for the past 10 seasons.

The future may be brighter, but it will take awhile. Nebraska has been caught in a cycle of nine- and 10-win seasons under Bo Pelini, which is good, but not good enough to become a player in the Big Ten or nationally.

Miami, on other hand, is just emerging from the fog of NCAA sanctions and is going to need time for Al Golden to have a fair shot at recreating the magic at the U. 

5. I know teams have bye weeks. But what about leagues? The Big 12, which has 10 teams, will see six schools sitting this week. The two non-conference games: Auburn at Kansas State and Central Michigan at Kansas. Oklahoma travels to West Virginia in the Big 12 opener for the Sooners.

All conferences have weeks in which some of their teams take byes. USC and UCLA are both idle this week in the Pac-12. The SEC has three teams—Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee—off. But to have the majority of the conference idle is just strange. 

Extra Points

So who's going to play quarterback when Alabama opens its SEC season against Florida on Saturday? If you listen to Tide Coach Nick Saban, does the phrase "fence sitting" come to mind. "We're going to play Blake [Sims] and we'll always evaluate and see how it goes," said Saban at his mid-week press conference. "We have a lot of confidence in Jake (Jacob Coker). If we need to play Jake, we'll certainly have no problems putting him in there and allowing him to play."...The ACC has had a solid season of upsets thus far, highlighted by Virginia Tech's win at then-No. 8 Ohio State and Boston College's win over then-No 9 USC. The last time that two unranked ACC teams beat two ranked teams in the same season was in 1981, when Georgia Tech upset No. 1 Alabama and Clemson downed No. 4 Georgia...

Game of the Week

Oklahoma at West Virginia: At the start of the season, this is looked like a walk-over game for the Sooners. Now? With the game in Morgantown, West Virginia may prove ready for prime time.

The Mountaineers are dangerous at home and can play with anyone (witness their close loss to Alabama). Also, Oklahoma might have a letdown after its SEC showdown with Tennessee last week.

The pick: West Virginia 28, Oklahoma 24

 

Mark Blaudschun covers college football as a national columnist for Bleacher Report. He has more than three decades of experience covering sports at a variety of newspapers in New Jersey, The Dallas Morning Newsand The Boston Globe. Follow him on Twitter @blauds. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Auburn vs. Kansas State: Game Grades, Analysis for Tigers, Wildcats

It wasn't easy by any stretch, but the No. 5 Auburn Tigers managed to labor through a tough 20-14 victory over the rugged No. 20 Kansas State Wildcats. 

Give a ton of credit to Kansas State's defense in this contest. Auburn entered the game averaging over 330 rushing yards per contest. The Wildcats held the Tigers' vaunted rushing attack to 128 yards on 45 attempts (which equates to 2.8 yards per carry). 

With the ground game stalling, Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall took it upon himself to win the game with his arm. Huge throws to Duke Williams and Ricardo Lewis ultimately won the game for the Tigers. 

Kansas State was beset by a horrid kicking game and untimely turnovers. Without these uncharacteristic flubs, Bill Snyder's team likely would have won. 

Final stats from the game can be found here at NCAA.com.

Check out the first-half and final grades for both the Tigers and Wildcats. Additional analysis for different position units will also be addressed.

 

Auburn Tigers Game Grades

Passing Offense

The grade for this category would be higher, if Marshall wasn't victimized by a series of drops. Williams in particular didn't do his signal-caller any favors. He dropped a would-be touchdown in the first half. 

Marshall's prowess as a passer was impressive throughout the night. He isn't a pure thrower in the sense of the term. However, he stepped up and threw darts down the field. Marshall also was able to convert at a high clip on third-down attempts.

Auburn went 2-of-7 on third down in the first half. For the game, the Tigers finished 10-of-18. A big reason was Marshall's ability to engineer strong drives in the second half. 

 

Pass Defense

K-State signal-caller Jake Waters was sustaining some success in the first half. The absence of veteran captain Jermaine Whitehead was especially evident. Jonathan Jones was flagged for two pass-interference penalties on one drive. 

As the game progressed, the unit settled. Trovon Reed had a nice diving interception in the second half. More than anything, the unit kept stud wide receiver Tyler Lockett from beating them deep. Lockett had six catches for only 45 yards. 

 

Rushing Offense

Perhaps the biggest shock of the contest was Auburn's lack of effectiveness in running the ball. To be fair, K-State had a wonderful scheme for Malzahn's offense. 

Although Auburn did rush for 145 yards on the night, it came on 28 carries. The Tigers rushing attack is one of the most prolific in all of college football (as evidenced by 330.0 yards a game on the ground). For this reason, the grade is very low. 

 

Run Defense

On the flip side, the Tigers defensive front, led by Gabe Wright, Angelo Blackson and Montravius Adams, was stout all night. The unit limited Waters' effectiveness as a runner, holding the K-State signal-caller to minus-7 yards rushing. 

On the night, Kansas State rushed for 40 yards on 30 carries. The paltry 1.3 yards per carry total is directly related to the outstanding effort by Auburn's defensive line. Linebacker Kris Frost also was very active in penetrating the gaps and making plays. 

 

Special Teams

Auburn was solid in all phases of the kicking game. Kicker Daniel Carlson connected on both of his field-goal attempts. If there was one area to improve in, it'd be punt coverage. Lockett did average 23.7 yards per return. This statistic kept Auburn from receiving an "A."

 

Coaching

Malzahn didn't call a poor game by any stretch. Most of the ineffectiveness in the run game did stem from Kansas State's strong defensive effort. 

In the second half, Malzahn rolled Marshall out more, and he was able to find greater success in the passing game. As the game progressed, Malzahn pushed the tempo considerably. The offense was able to get into a rhythm, and put points on the board. 

 

Kansas State Wildcats Game Grades

Passing Offense

Jake Waters got off to a nice start early. Throwing for 157 yards in the first half, he found receiver Curry Sexton early and often. Sexton led the team with 11 catches for 121 yards. As the game progressed, Auburn's pressure up front hindered Waters' ability to attack downfield. 

Waters threw two picks on the night, one coming on a play in which he was flushed from the pocket and threw an errant pass. The other interception was a drop in the end zone by Lockett. Although he didn't throw a touchdown pass, he managed the game well.

Waters finished 24-of-40 for 245 yards.

 

Pass Defense 

K-State's secondary was solid in the first half. Marshall wasn't able to find success throwing deep to Williams or Sammie Coates.

The second half was a different story. 

A 40-yard touchdown toss from Marshall to Lewis opened up Auburn's offense. Williams also proved to be a handful most of the night. He would have had a second touchdown, if not for a drop. On a 3rd-and-9 attempt with two minutes remaining in the game, Marshall found Williams for a 39-yard gain—a play that ultimately ended K-State's chance at a comeback. 

 

Rushing Offense

The Auburn defensive front posed problems all night for K-State's offensive line. Simply put, there weren't many holes for Waters, Charles Jones and Demarcus Robinson to run through. 

Robinson and Jones did get rushing touchdowns, but the unit only rushed for 40 yards on 30 carries. A big part of the K-State ground game is Waters running the football on read-option plays. He was held to minus-7 rushing on 11 carries.

 

Run Defense

This was the most impressive unit on the night, perhaps for either team. K-State did a masterful job of plugging up the lanes up front. The defensive line also did a terrific job of keeping containment and not allowing Marshall to have a big game operating the zone-read option. 

Auburn entered the matchup averaging 330.0 yards per game on the ground. K-State held the Tigers to 128 yards on 45 carries. The lack of a consistent rushing attack hindered the ability of Auburn's offense to function at a high level. 

 

Special Teams

K-State generally prides itself on having strong special teams play. Tonight was a completely different story.

Kicker Jack Cantele missed all three of his field-goal attempts. He also started the game by kicking the ball out of bounds. The misses by K-State's kicker often thwarted any sort of momentum the team had. Things got so difficult that walk-on kicker Matthew McCrane was put into the game to kick the extra-point attempt at the end of the fourth quarter. 

It was an absolute nightmare game for the K-state kicker.

 

Coaching

Snyder and his staff comprised a great game plan for this contest. K-State's goal was to slow the tempo way down, and that's exactly what happened. Auburn never fully got comfortable on offense. 

In terms of stopping the run, Wildcats defensive coordinator Tom Hayes did a great job of putting his defenders in a place to succeed. Holding Auburn's offense to 359 yards is a pretty impressive feat, considering the Tigers entered tonight averaging well over 500 yards of total offense per game.

 

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Michigan Football: Devin Funchess Key to Keeping Wolverines Alive in Big Ten

Brady Hoke’s refusal to discuss injuries keeps both the public and future adversaries guessing about whom quarterback Devin Gardner may be targeting this weekend.

It also prevents him from having to face questions about the grim reality of Michigan’s Big Ten title hopes if Devin Funchess doesn’t soon return.

Hoke likes to repeat the old coaching adage “the most important game is the next game,” but Michigan’s nonconference slate has already been spoiled by its 31-0 whipping to Notre Dame.

Michigan faces several obstacles to make its first appearance in the Big Ten title game, but none are more daunting than road games versus Michigan State and Ohio State.

Michigan’s best chance to compete in those games hinges on Devin Gardner and Devin Funchess lighting up the scoreboards in East Lansing and Columbus.

Without Funchess, the offense stumbled in the second quarter in Week 3 when Miami of Ohio managed a brief run sparked in part when one of his replacements, Amara Darboh, fumbled the ball. Hoke also blamed Gardner’s interception as being tipped at the line of scrimmage and sailing over the intended receiver. Funchess' imposing size (6’5”) and long reach make him a hard target to miss even when Devin Gardner is under fire.

Take a look at this Funchess highlight reel. Count how many times he makes a play using either his leaping ability or by using his frame to create space to make a catch—and hurdling an Ohio State defender is just a bonus.

Now look at the play he makes versus Jabrill Peppers in this drill.

Michigan may be able to beat other teams with his backups, but Hoke needs Funchess to have a shot at beating Michigan State or Ohio State.

Utah is a dangerous opponent, averaging the third-most points per game in the country (57.5). A loss to the Utes would put the Wolverines at .500 heading into the Big Ten slate, and the heat would undoubtedly be on Hoke.

But make no mistake, Michigan’s Big Ten hopes, and perhaps Hoke’s future, depend on Gardner and Funchess playing pitch and catch against conference opponents.

Michigan needs Funchess to start dominating Big Ten rivals and being the topic of SportsCenter tweets again as soon as possible.

 

Phil Callihan is a featured writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations obtained firsthand.

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Sure, Auburn Won, but Is It Better Than Alabama and Texas A&M?

Yes, Auburn defeated Kansas State 20-14, but it was a sloppy performance. The Tigers will have a tough time beating Alabama or Texas A&M if they come out sluggish on offense again.

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Adam Kramer discuss where Auburn stands in the SEC West. 

Do you think Auburn is still the top team in its division?

Watch the video, and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Head-to-Head College Football Matchups to Watch for in Week 4

Make no mistake. College football is a team game. It’s 11-on-11, my guys against your guys, and the best team wins.

One player can’t beat an opponent all by himself. Victories typically go to the most talented teams that make the fewest mistakes.

That said, games can be swung by the most important one-on-one matchups. One false move, one bad coverage, and it can mean six points the other way or a big-yardage play.

Mano-a-mano showdowns are crucial, and Week 4 of the college football season is full of them.

From coast to coast, talented, high-profile players will square off in important matchups that will play major roles in game outcomes.

Here’s a look at the most important among them. 

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Ranking the 5 Best Moments in the Nebraska-Miami Rivalry

For most fans of a certain age, the Nebraska-Miami rivalry holds a very special place in history. Nebraska helped put Miami on the national stage with the Hurricanes’ amazing 31-30 victory in the 1984 Orange Bowl. Nebraska’s humblings at the hands of Miami in Orange Bowls of 1989 (23-3) and 1992 (22-0) led Tom Osborne to a wholesale change in his recruiting and defensive schemes. And that, as a result, led to Osborne’s first national championship—fittingly, against Miami in the Orange Bowl—in 1994.

Overall, Miami and Nebraska have split, playing each other 10 times, with each team winning five. So in looking back through history, here are the five best moments (from a scarlet and cream perspective) of the Nebraska-Miami rivalry.

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Auburn vs. Kansas State: Score and Twitter Reaction

There were plenty of tense moments for the Auburn Tigers in their Thursday night test at Kansas State, but a combination of mistakes from the Wildcats and timely plays from the Auburn offense was enough to seal the 20-14 victory.

SportsCenter pointed out just how notable the win was for the Tigers:

Kellis Robinett of The Wichita Eagle had Bill Snyder's thoughts on the loss:

Nick Marshall led the way for Auburn with 231 passing yards and two touchdowns, but it was his third-down throw to D'haquille Williams in the final two minutes that put the game on ice. Williams finished with 110 receiving yards and a touchdown.

Kansas State was right in the game for the entirety of the contest, but three missed field goals, two interceptions and a lack of production in the red zone proved to be its undoing. 

The Wildcats have not exactly been dominant against ranked teams and were certainly looking to change that Thursday. Kansas State writer D. Scott Fritchen shared the details:

The Wildcats seized the early momentum, but mistakes cost them dearly. They fumbled on a promising drive in the first quarter, as Alex Byington of the Opelika-Auburn News pointed out, and then Tyler Lockett dropped a touchdown pass that bounced up and turned into an interception in the end zone.

Brandon Marcello of the Alabama Media Group described that brutal turnaround for Kansas State:

Kansas State also missed a field goal at the end of the first quarter. It is incredibly difficult to pull off an upset over a top-five SEC team with miscues like turnovers and missed scoring opportunities.  

At least the Wildcats had some famous fan support in the form of Rob Gronkowski, whose younger brother, Glenn, plays for K-State:

Even with so many Kansas State mistakes, Auburn only led 3-0 after a quarter. SI College Football noted that Auburn was once again finding strange ways to win:

Kansas State seized some momentum in the second quarter with an interception but did not turn it into points despite the favorable field position. It did pin Auburn at its own 1-yard line with an impressive punt, but the Tigers would have finished a 99-yard drive with a long touchdown pass had Williams not dropped a perfect strike from Nick Marshall.

Marcello described the play:

The Wildcats finally made Auburn pay and marched down the field to take a 7-3 lead, as CBS Sports noted:

Still, that lead didn't last long, as Auburn answered with a Ricardo Louis 40-yard touchdown catch. It was certainly set up by some poor tackling on Kansas State's part, as Joel A. Erickson of AL.com said. 

ESPN SEC had a highlight of the play:

The Wildcats had a chance to take the lead or tie it up at the half, but Jake Waters took a sack. The team missed the subsequent field-goal attempt, and Auburn led 10-7 at the half.

Neither offense got much of anything going at the start of the third quarter. In fact, Auburn had a familiar problem, as War Eagle Extra of the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer pointed out:

Perhaps the best offensive factor all game for the Wildcats was the field position they would get every time Auburn punted to Lockett. War Eagle Extra seemed to be frustrated with the proceedings:

Kansas State took the favorable field position after yet another impressive punt return and nearly found the end zone. Instead, it settled for a chip-shot field goal to tie the game.

Or at least that's what the Wildcats had in mind.

Jack Cantele missed his third field goal of the game, which was very unusual, as Kellis Robinett of The Wichita Eagle and The Kansas City Star noted:

Paul Finebaum of ESPN had a very poignant question:

Kansas State likely wanted to avoid making such crippling mistakes heading into this game because of the overall talent disparity that head coach Bill Snyder discussed before the game, via AL.com's Erickson.

"We don't have the personnel to work against that emulates the speed and the quickness and the strength and the size that they present," Snyder said. "I don't know (what's most difficult to defend). Take your pick."

The Tigers held on to a narrow 10-7 lead after three quarters, largely because of Kansas State's mistakes.

Eventually, all those missed opportunities were going to come back to haunt the underdog, and that is exactly what happened in the beginning of the fourth quarter. CBS Sports and Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports described Auburn's backbreaking touchdown, while Ralph D. Russo of The Associated Press thought that falling behind 17-7 was the final straw for the Wildcats:

The next drive would be critical for Kansas State as it tried to avoid the wrong kind of history for its conference, according to Fritchen:

However, Kansas State did the exact opposite of score—it turned the ball over. SI College Football and ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit both thought that was the nail in the coffin:

To Kansas State's credit, it held Auburn to a field goal on the subsequent drive, which stretched the lead to 20-7. LostLetterman.com pointed out that the defense did its part against an explosive Auburn attack that frequently lights up the scoreboard:

Mandel added to that notion:

As the fourth quarter wound down, Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports pointed out that Auburn was entering some uncharted territory if it could hold on for the win:

For all the discussion about this game being over, the Wildcats marched all the way down the field and scored with just less than four minutes remaining to cut the lead to 20-14. All of a sudden, we had a game again.

Russo certainly didn't think the touchdown changed anything:

Unfortunately for Kansas State, Russo was exactly right. Williams hauled in a deep pass on 3rd-and-9 with less than two minutes remaining to put the contest on ice.

It was one of the most impressive throws of Marshall's career and sealed a critical nonconference victory for the Tigers. 

Chris B. Brown of Smart Football took note of the gutsy play call:

Auburn won 20-14.

 

What's Next?

Auburn gets a warm-up game against Louisiana Tech after this nail-biting win before jumping back into SEC play with a showdown against LSU. The Tigers still have games against Alabama, Georgia, Texas A&M and South Carolina remaining on the slate as well, so this victory was critical in terms of their postseason chances.

You simply don't want to lose in nonconference play with so many challenges coming up within the league.

Kansas State also has something of an easy game against UTEP next before starting conference play. The Wildcats will have opportunities to pick up the marquee win they narrowly missed out on Thursday against Baylor, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State later in the year.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Virginia Tech Football Recruiting: Latest Updates on Commits, Visits and Targets

This weekend is shaping up to be one of the biggest recruiting weekends in Virginia Tech football history. The Hokies are set to host a number of talented high school players, including three 5-star recruits, per 247Sports (subscription required). 

Since new athletic director Whit Babcock took over earlier this year, Virginia Tech has amped up its recruiting efforts. Two new positions were created: Chuck Cantor was hired as the program's first director of player personnel, while Thomas Guerry was later hired as the director of high school relations. 

So far, the Hokies have gotten off to a modest start for the class of 2015. They currently stand at 15 verbal commitments, some of whom were 2014 signees and are in prep school for the fall semester. According to 247Sports, Tech is currently ranked No. 34 nationally in recruiting. 

The Hokies' big win over Ohio State almost two weeks ago was even bigger in terms of recruiting. Some of the nation's top talent was present at the game, including the nation's No. 1 overall player, Josh Sweat of Chesapeake, Virginia. 

Here's a look at how Tech presently stands with some of its biggest remaining targets and current commitments. 

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BYU Football: 3 Keys to Beating Virginia

While riding an impressive 3-0 record, BYU will host Virginia on Saturday (1:30 p.m. MDT, ESPN). The Cougars and Cavaliers played last season, and after a bizarre lightning delay, UVa squeaked by with a 19-16 win.

This will be BYU's second home game of the season, as they beat Houston last week in Provo. Virginia is also coming off of an impressive win after upsetting then-No. 21 Louisville a week ago.

The Cavaliers will definitely be a tough team for BYU to beat, but what must the Cougs do to pull off a win? Here are four keys to a BYU victory against UVa.

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Alabama Dining Hall Serves Gator Bread During 'Beat Florida' Week

The Alabama Crimson Tide will be taking on a big SEC rival in the Florida Gators on Saturday, and their campus is coming up with some creative ways to get excited for the game.

People will be eating these gator-shaped bread loaves at the dining hall on the Alabama campus during "Beat Florida" week. 

[Twitter, h/t College Spun]

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Parents of FSU Backup QB Sean Maguire Gave Away Tickets Before 1st Start

After Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston was suspended for the first half of Saturday's game against the Clemson Tigers, Sean Maguire found out that he'll be getting his first career start in a big conference showdown.

Unfortunately, it doesn't look like his parents are going to be there.

According to Brendan Sonnone of the Orlando Sentinel, Maguire's parents already sold their tickets to relatives, assuming that there was no way their son would start ahead of the Heisman-winning quarterback.

Maguire will have his hands full against the Tigers, but the Seminoles are hoping he can keep them in it until Winston returns for the second half.

[Twitter, h/t College Football Talk]

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Tennessee Football: What the Volunteers Must Do to Upset Georgia

The Tennessee Volunteers are enjoying a week of rest before traveling to Athens, Georgia, on Sept. 27 to take on the No. 13 Bulldogs—the first of many opportunities for the team to score an SEC upset this season. 

As odd as it sounds, the Vols are renewed following a blowout 34-10 loss to No. 4 Oklahoma last Saturday. Most teams that lose by 24 points find few positives in their performances. But for Tennessee, three plays were the difference between a resounding loss and giving the Sooners a run for their money well into the fourth quarter.

Tennessee fans, coaches and players are fed up with moral victories, but when a team is forced to rely on brand-new offensive and defensive lines and one of the youngest rosters in college football, you take what you can get.

And in this case, what you get is a surprisingly stout defense, a vastly improved quarterback and, most importantly, a team that doesn't give up. 

For Tennessee to pull off a win between the hedges two Saturdays from now, it'll need all of the above—and then some. 

Here are the team's four keys to victory. 

 

Establish the running game

Tennessee has no chance against the Bulldogs if the offensive line can't open up running room for Jalen Hurd and Marlin Lane. Georgia's defense, while not elite, is still upper-echelon in the SEC.

And while Justin Worley is vastly improved over last season, he's not at a level where he can pick apart the Bulldogs secondary if the defense doesn't respect the ground game.

Getting manhandled by the Sooners may have done the Vols' young offensive line a big favor, as the Bulldogs' defensive front isn't nearly as fast and disruptive and should be slightly easier to contain. 

Meanwhile, Jalen Hurd, who is looking more and more like the Vols' marquee running back, needs to continue running hard and getting tough yards after contact.

In fact, Hurd's 48 carries so far is third in the SEC behind only Vanderbilt's Ralph Webb (58) and Arkansas' Alex Collins (50), according to Ben Frederickson of the Knoxville News-Sentinel

Despite his number of touches per game, the offensive line simply doesn't have the experience and push to allow him to reach the second level untouched, and he'll need to break tackles to move the chains and set the offense up for 3rd-and-short conversions.

 

Contain Todd Gurley and Sony Michel

Injuries have made Georgia's unbelievable depth at running back a little less terrifying for Tennessee defensive coordinator John Jancek.

Freshman running back Nick Chubb just had surgery on his thumb, according to The Atlanta-Journal Constitution's Chip Towers, while junior tailback Keith Marshall is still battling knee issues from an injury suffered against Tennessee last season.

Unfortunately for the Vols, that still leaves Georgia with Sony Michel, one of the top running backs in the 2014 class, and Todd Gurley, the top running back in the country.

Tennessee's defensive front isn't the anemic and inexperienced group many thought it would be prior to the season, but it also hasn't been tested by an athlete of Gurley's caliber. 

Unlike previous seasons, the Vols have enough speed to mostly contain Gurley on the perimeter, but where he excels is breaking tackles and gaining huge yardage straight up the middle.

Luckily for Tennessee, the interior defensive line will have a familiar face for that test, as redshirt junior Trevarris Saulsberry is back from a knee injury, according to GoVolsXtra's David Cobb

The Vols will need Saulsberry in order to keep fresh legs on the field and prevent Gurley from breaking long runs and putting the Bulldogs offense in scoring position. 

 

Get the ball to Marquez North

Marquez North is simply Tennessee's best player on offense. He runs excellent routes, makes defenders miss and is athletic enough to come down with tough, contested catches.

While Worley has been great at spreading the ball around to multiple wide receivers this season, North should always be his main target. Georgia's defensive backs aren't as small as some in the SEC, but North's 6'4", 225-pound frame gives him a huge advantage both at the line of scrimmage and in the air when fighting for jump balls.

Last season, North hauled in his only touchdown catch of the year against the Bulldogs. I expect him to add at least two more to that tally in two weeks.

And while North isn't quite the same caliber player as former Vols wide receiver/kick returner/freak athlete Cordarrelle Patterson, it wouldn't surprise me to see the coaches use him similarly in a few packaged plays just to get the ball in his hands. 

 

Keep the crowd out of the game

The Vols caught a break when it was announced the matchup against Georgia is scheduled for a noon kickoff. Playing under the lights is almost always bad news for the away team, especially against a conference rival eager to claw its way back into the hunt for a divisional title. 

While the Bulldogs' loss to South Carolina last week means there's no way they'll overlook the Vols, Tennessee can take advantage of the early start time and surprise Georgia with a quick score. 

If that fails, the Vols really can't afford to get behind early and let the Bulldogs feed off the crowd and gain momentum. If Jones needs any inspiration, he need look no further than Tennessee's disastrous trip to Athens in 2010, where nearly everything that could go wrong for Tennessee did go wrong that day.

 

Final thoughts 

Tennessee has the talent to steal a win in Athens in two weeks, and Jones scored the biggest win of his career last season against South Carolina coming off a similarly tough loss and bye week. 

Plus, there's no doubt Jones, his staff and his players—especially Pig Howard—want revenge for last year's devastating overtime loss to Georgia in front of a sellout Neyland Stadium crowd. 

While the Vols will likely be heavy underdogs heading into this contest, the team has all the pieces to get its first upset win of the season and begin building a resume for claiming its first SEC East crown since 2007. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

UCLA QB Jerry Neuheisel Has Fan in Bruins Head Coach Jim Mora

The outpouring that UCLA teammates showed for quarterback Jerry Neuheisel after the Bruins’ 20-17 over Texas last Saturday was a testament to the respect he has in the locker room.

Neuheisel evidently has his fans within the UCLA program, and perhaps none more so than head coach Jim Mora.

“I was so excited him for Saturday,” Mora said Tuesday on the Pac-12 coaches teleconference.

Neuheisel filled in for third-year starter Brett Hundley in the first quarter after Hundley injured his non-throwing elbow, landing awkwardly on a run. Playing the first meaningful snaps of his college career, the redshirt junior Neuheisel went 23-of-30 passing for 178 yards with two touchdowns.

His second score—a 33-yarder to wide receiver Jordan Payton—put the No. 12-ranked Bruins ahead for good late in the fourth quarter.

The excitement Mora felt was shared among the team, as Neuheisel’s fellow Bruins lifted him into the air at the end game and broke into chants of “Jerry! Jerry!”

The cinematic ending in AT&T Stadium is part of a potential bigger climax this season. Neuheisel may not face another situation like this again in 2014—Hundley’s status for the Bruins’ next game, Sept. 25 at No. 15 Arizona State, is unclear—but with the spotlight on him for this one night, Neuheisel delivered.

For Mora, that came as no surprise.  

“Jerry is always prepared. He’s a very smart young man,” Mora said. “Whenever he steps in at practice and gets his reps, he’s very prepared. And I think we were all very confident we could go in and run our entire offense with him and that he’d be able to produce for us.”

Mora may have not been surprised by Neuheisel’s success with the opportunity he was given on Saturday. However, the quarterback being with the Bruins to have that opportunity defies convention.

Neuheisel had every reason to transfer. He trailed Hundley on the depth chart and perhaps could have seen more playing time elsewhere, which was motivation for former Bruins quarterback T.J. Millweard to exit in August 2013.

Neuheisel had also committed to a different coaching staff—one his own father headed. 

Rick Neuheisel was UCLA's head coach from 2008 through 2011. He was fired after finishing 6-8 his final season, but he left behind the foundation on which Mora has gone 22-8. 

Himself a veteran of the coaching carousel, Mora said he relished Neuheisel's performance Saturday in part because the coach feels a sort of kindred bond with the quarterback.

"I don’t think there’s anyone who could understand his situation more so than me," Mora said. "My dad’s been fired. I was on his staff when he resigned in New Orleans."

Jim E. Mora coached for five decades, five of which were spent with his son as an assistant for the New Orleans Saints. 

"I understood exactly what it was like for Jerry to feel the way that he felt," Mora said.

Both for that reason and because of his "respect for Rick," Mora said he is mindful of emphasizing the current staff's goals without slighting the work of the previous staff. 

"I say a lot of things I regret. I have that tendency," he said. "Right out of the gate, I think I said I wanted to change the culture, and that always bothered me because really, what I wanted to do, was create our own culture."

Neuheisel has helped contribute to the establishment of that new culture, and Saturday was his opportunity to put an especially prominent signature on it. 

Watching from the Pac-12 Networks studios, where he's now an analyst, Neuheisel's father watched proudly. 

And he wasn't the only one happy to see that game-winning drive. 

"I’m so happy he stayed with the program," Mora said. "It says so much about him, and it says so much about Rick and Susan as well and the type of kid they raised."

 

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise cited. Statistics compiled courtesy of CFBstats.com 

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UCLA QB Jerry Neuheisel Has Fan in Bruins Head Coach Jim Mora

The outpouring that UCLA teammates showed for quarterback Jerry Neuheisel after the Bruins’ 20-17 over Texas last Saturday was a testament to the respect he has in the locker room...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Auburn vs. Kansas State: Live Score and Highlights

Auburn 10, Kansas State 7 ; Early 4th Quarter

A massive nonconference tilt takes place Thursday night, as the Associated Press' No. 5 Auburn Tigers travel to take on the No. 20 Kansas State Wildcats at Bill Snyder Family Stadium in Manhattan, Kansas. 

The game takes place at 7:30 p.m. ET. It can be seen on ESPN. 

Per Odds Shark, Auburn is favored by seven points. A full box score of tonight's game can be found here at NCAA.com. 

 

Bleacher Report appreciates you tuning in with us tonight. Stay here for score updates, social media, analysis and much more! 

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7 Most Important College Football Recruiting Visits of Week 4

The fourth weekend of 2014 college football action is nearly upon us. As usual, programs are set to welcome coveted prospects to campus for game-day festivities with an opportunity to take strides toward crucial commitments.

The recruiting trail that leads these athletes to national signing day is long and winding, featuring stops at various universities along the way. Several talented prospects will make another step in the process before Sunday by spending personal time with collegiate coaches, players and, of course, frenzied fanbases.

Here's a look at key campus visits to keep an eye on this weekend and how they could impact various recruiting classes.

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The 14 Biggest Disappointments from the 2014 College Football Season so Far

We're not mad, we're just disappointed.

Using the royal "we" to represent college football fans as a whole, we had certain expectations of players, teams and coaches heading into the 2014 season. Big numbers, great performances, utter dominance. You know, the usual embellishments and conjecture that percolate during the way-too-long offseason.

The hype machine built up these figures, made us believe they were going to considered among the best ever at their position, or rank up there with the best coaches or teams in college football history.

Instead, through three weeks we've just been left with a lot of dissatisfaction.

Taking into account past results and preseason hyperbole, we've identified the season's biggest disappointments to this point. Disagree with our choices, or think we've left someone out? Please let us know in the comments section.

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Why College Football Fans Should Prepare for Chaos in Week 4

College football fans, get your ice packs and ointment ready for all the jaw-dropping that will happen this weekend.

Not even a quarter of the way through the season and we’ve already had a year’s worth of craziness, chaos and wild action.

What have we learned from all this? Expect the unexpected. Not just this weekend, but for every Saturday until December...when it becomes a daily expectation thanks to bowl season.

 

Expect GIF-worthy moments

Expect ridiculous penalties called, such as for phantom punches that don't land. That's what happened when BYU center Tejan Koroma tried to swing at a Houston blocker but ended up getting only air, yet he was ejected.

Expect players, coaches and fans to act and react in ways that only a few of us will notice in real time but thanks to the beauty of the Internet will get captured (and looped into an animated GIF, or a Vine) for posterity so that we can all enjoy it over and over again.

Like this awesome display of ball boy speed:

Or footage from one of the worst fake punts in college football history, but will forever be remembered for one player executing the "fainting goat" in an effort to trick the defense:

The big touchdowns and long runs will get plenty of views on TV and online in video form, but it's the little, off-the-wall moments that stick with us.

 

Expect the skies to open up

Through three weeks there have been more than a dozen games delayed by lightning and rain, including one cancellation with Florida's opener against Idaho washed out Aug. 30 after The Swamp became a, well, swamp and too many bolts hit too close to Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville.

And with the remnants of a hurricane that hit Mexico and rolled into the Southwest U.S. expected to impact weather throughout the Midwest on Saturday, storm delays are possible.

 

Expect a major upset. Or several

There weren't many people who predicted Virginia Tech to go to Ohio Stadium and beat Ohio State in Week 2, and even fewer who picked Boston College to rise up and run past USC in Week 3. Some backed Texas A&M at South Carolina in Week 1, but to project the Aggies would not only win but dominate, that wasn't part of anyone's expectations.

That means teams like Oregon (at Washington State), Oklahoma (at West Virginia) and Wisconsin (vs. Bowling Green), among others, should be on upset alert.

It also means the 11 FBS schools playing FCS teams this week shouldn't be surprised if that team that got paid a lot of money to come in and (presumably) lose big decides to actually put up a fight. Five FCS teams have won already this season, and though North Dakota State's win at Iowa State counted as the most significant there were several other close calls.

Purdue is hosting a 3-0 Southern Illinois team, and could join that infamous list this Saturday.

 

Expect to be entertained

Even with nearly 20 percent of FBS teams on a bye this week, including nine ranked in the Associated Press Top 25, there are only a handful of big-time matchups on the schedule. One of those kicks off the slate on Thursday night, between Auburn and Kansas State, while on Saturday we'll see four conference games pitting unbeaten teams against each other.

But if the first few weeks have taught us, the best games don't have to be the most anticipated ones. Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee went three overtimes last week, as did Florida and Kentucky, while last Friday a quarterback who was top-rated passer in the 2012 recruiting class went out and had the kind of debut—Gunner Kiel threw for 418 yards and six touchdowns in Cincinnati's 59-38 win over Toledo—that made it hard to believe he had to sit out two seasons before getting into a game.

What will wow us this weekend? We can't say for certain, but we do know this: when it happens, we should have been expecting it.

 

Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.

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