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4-Star DaMarkus Lodge Decommits from Texas A&M: Where Should He Turn Next?

Texas A&M suffered a rare setback on the recruiting trail Thursday when wide receiver DaMarkus Lodge decommitted from the Aggies after a three-month pact, per Taylor Hamm of 247Sports. The 4-star in-state recruit initially pledged in June but feels he may have limited his options too early.

“I still haven’t ventured out to everywhere I want to look at," Lodge told 247Sports. "This is all about me being able to go see other places.”

The 6'2.5", 190-pound Cedar Hill High School prospect rose to prominence as a junior. He stepped into a starring role for the perennial powerhouse program in 2013, catching 72 passes for 1,255 yards and 21 touchdowns.

Lodge landed offensive MVP honors in Cedar Hill's 5A Division II state championship victory over Katy High School. He punctuated a breakout campaign with two touchdowns in the title game.

Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin lost his grip on one of the region's premier prospects. Lodge is rated seventh overall in Texas and eighth among receivers in 247Sports' composite rankings.

The Aggies are deep at receiver but must now intensify efforts to secure a commitment from 5-star target Christian Kirk, who spent an official visit at College Station last weekend. Texas A&M signed top-ranked Class of 2014 receiver Speedy Noil and holds a verbal pledge from 4-star Houston pass target Kemah Siverand.

Lodge's decision to reopen his recruitment leaves a hole for Sumlin to fill moving forward. It also sets the stage for another frenzied pursuit of a player who ranks among the top uncommitted athletes in the Class of 2015.

Several programs could pique his interest as national signing day nears, though 247Sports identifies Oklahoma, Baylor and TCU as potential landing spots worth watching. The report cites his desire to stay home as a reason schools like LSU and Ole Miss face an uphill climb in the recruitment.

Lodge displays excellent body control downfield, utilizing strength and savvy to gain separation. He plucks the ball away from his body and is fearless across the middle when asked to come down with receptions in traffic.

His power and wingspan enable Lodge to contend for passes in press coverage. He is perhaps at his best in red-zone situations, where he does a lot of damage along the boundary and can climb the ladder for high targets.

"I think I've come a long way during the past year," Lodge told Bleacher Report this summer. "It's important to focus on improving every day."

Naturally, collegiate teams took notice of Lodge's skill set early and often. He holds more than two dozen offers from across the country, but we'll focus on the possibilities pointed out by 247Sports.

Baylor is a burgeoning Big 12 program that produces at an elite level on offense. Quarterbacks Robert Griffin III and Bryce Petty have orchestrated the attack with proficiency, helping enhance the program's national image under head coach Art Briles.

The team can certainly sell its willingness to use true freshmen early and often based on what we've seen from 2014 signee KD Cannon so far this season. The former 5-star recruit has 14 catches for 471 yards and five touchdowns through three games.

Cannon was added to the Biletnikoff Award watch list this week, putting him in the mix as America's top receiver. The Bears' vertical attack should continue to shine as more top prospects put their trust in the program, and Lodge could be the latest young playmaker to enjoy immediate success at Baylor.

TCU is still looking to make strides in the Big 12 Conference, and Lodge is exactly the kind of in-state talent who can take the team to another level. The Horned Frogs have done a quality job attracting capable recruits but haven't been able to consistently corral highly rated athletes while contending with the likes of Texas, Texas A&M, Houston and Texas Tech for top homegrown talent.

A commitment from Lodge could truly begin to reshape that narrative and present an opportunity for him to take over as an immediate go-to receiver.

Oklahoma presents an intriguing option beyond state borders. The Sooners have overcome a slow start this recruiting cycle to assemble a top-20 class that challenges for best in the conference.

Bob Stoops continues to secure Texas athletes splendidly, pulling in pledges from three 4-star 2015 prospects. Receiver is a position of need in this class at Oklahoma, as several other targets remain on the radar aside from Lodge.

The team will undoubtedly reciprocate interest and look to line up an official visit with Lodge. Oklahoma hosted several high-profile 2016 quarterbacks during last Saturday's game against Tennessee, and a receiver of Lodge's caliber would bolster sales pitches to those passers about the Sooners' offensive future.

It remains to be seen if Texas A&M can return to the forefront here or if other SEC squads could sneak in late to join the chase. Regardless, Lodge is clearly open to an array of possibilities, providing an intriguing and unexpected twist in the recruitment of one of Texas' finest.

Quotes obtained firsthand by B/R national recruiting analyst Tyler Donohue unless otherwise noted.

Recruit ratings and info courtesy of 247Sports.

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Throwback Thursday: Tom Brady Leads Michigan Past Alabama in 2000 Orange Bowl

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady decided to do a "Throwback Thursday" post this week, so here's one all about him to thank him for sharing his pre-NFL resume.

On January 1, 2000, Brady played in his final game as quarterback of the Michigan Wolverines in the Orange Bowl.

His opponent: the Alabama Crimson Tide.

Michigan fell behind 14-0 in the second quarter, but Brady was able to lead his team back and tie the game in the third.

Alabama answered right back with two touchdowns of its own, still in the third, before Brady once again brought his team back to see the game tied at 28-28 by the time the fourth quarter arrived.

However, neither team scored in the fourth, with Michigan blocking a 36-yard field-goal attempt as time expired to send the game to overtime.

On the first play of the additional period, Brady hooked up with Shawn Thompson for a 25-yard touchdown. The Wolverines went on to win the game when Crimson Tide kicker Ryan Pflugner's extra-point attempt in the first overtime missed wide right.

Brady passed for 369 yards and four touchdowns in the 35-34 win. A few months later, he would be drafted by the Patriots with the 199th overall pick in the 2000 NFL draft.

Michigan went 10-2 in Brady's final season and finished No. 5 in the polls. 

[ESPN

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Ohio State Football: Urban Meyer Reacts to Tumultuous State of Football

COLUMBUS, Ohio — With Ohio State enjoying a bye, Urban Meyer has had a little extra time to hit the gym this week. But what the Buckeyes head coach has typically used as a distraction during his daily treadmill trips hasn't been particularly enjoyable in recent days, as SportsCenter has showcased a steady stream of off-the-field football issues.

Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, Greg HardyJameis Winston and Jonathan Dwyer have dominated headlines in the sports world for the past two weeks, and for all the wrong reasons. Meyer, for his part, has taken notice, and claims to have used each case as a lesson for his team.

"They know it, they see it. How do you not see it? I go work out, and I put on the thing and I noticed today every one of them, for I want to say 20 to 30 minutes, was issues. Not just NFL—college. They’re all teachable moments," Meyer said on Wednesday. "I think everybody in the country is using it.”

Meyer and disciplinary issues have always seemed to go hand in hand, ever since he oversaw a Florida program that endured 31 player arrests from 2005-2010. In less than three full years at Ohio State, no fewer than 10 Buckeyes have been arrested since Meyer took over the program in 2012.

How Meyer has handled discipline since coming to Columbus from Gainesville has evolved, although a few of the current issues in the news have certainly hit home for the Ohio State head coach. Domestic violence was at the core of the arrest of Gators running back Chris Rainey in 2010, as well as a 2013 investigation of former Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde, which didn't result in any charges being filed.

“We had a couple issues that we had to evaluate, but yeah," Meyer responded when asked if he had a zero tolerance policy toward domestic violence. "That’s one of the core values."

The other core values can be found plastered across a wall inside the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, underneath bolded red letters that spell out "DECISIONS." It should be noted, however, that not all of the Buckeyes' core values carry a zero tolerance policy, as evidenced by Ohio State's decision to stick by suspended All-Big Ten defensive end Noah Spence following his second failed drug test in less than a year, per ESPN.com's Austin Ward.

Nevertheless, this week's bye, coupled with football's seemingly never-ending barrage of bad news, has created a perfect storm for Meyer to preach the importance of off-the-field conduct to his players. Additional meetings on the topic have been held according to Buckeye players, who, like Meyer, haven't been shielded from the negativity surrounding their sport in recent weeks.

"We had some sessions over it," said sophomore safety Tyvis Powell. "Just basically telling us to be smart and make the right decisions."

Seems simple enough, at least in a team meeting or press conference setting, where saying or doing the right thing is more of a formality than anything else. But when one gets away from the coaches and cameras, it can be a different story, which was the lesson that the Ohio State players took away from the latest incident involving Winston.

The reigning Heisman Trophy winner, Winston will be suspended for the first game of Florida State's clash with Clemson this weekend after the sophomore quarterback was caught shouting a vulgar phrase (link contains NSFW language) at an FSU dining hall. And while Powell maintains that neither he nor his teammates would ever put themselves in that predicament, he also noted that the spotlight rarely dims for high-profile figures.

"People just gotta be smart about what they're doing," Powell said. "With or without a camera in front of you, you should always try to live your life right and do the right things. The fame might be getting to them or they get caught up in the fame and they forget about who they really are and what they're trying to do with their lives."

That was the sentiment echoed by senior wide receiver Evan Spencer, who expressed disappointment, in particular, with the current ongoing domestic violence issues in the NFL. The son of former NFL running back and current Tampa Bay Buccaneers assistant Tim Spencer, the Ohio State wideout said that he believes that professionals should be held to a higher standard, given their status in society.

"So many people look up to them, when they go out and do something that's maybe not viewed as right or obviously not moral, they have to live up to the standard that they perpetuate on the field," Spencer said. "They have to take responsibility for what they've done."

But as Powell pointed out, society's problems aren't only persistent on the football field. In fact, a recent study conducted by FiveThirtyEight.com's Benjamin Morris showed that the arrest rate in the NFL for domestic violence is significantly lower than the national average.

"Although it seems like it's all football players that's doing it, it's not just football players," Powell said. "Everyone in society is doing it."

And while that may be true, Meyer is determined to prevent his players from becoming a part of that problem. Which is why the last image that the Buckeyes see before leaving their training facility is their head coach's list of values, a notice that their decisions affect more than just themselves.

"It’s a reminder every time that we leave the Woody [Hayes Athletic Center] that you have to represent something that's one, for yourself and two, that’s bigger than yourself," Spencer said. "When we look at it, we really try to set an image after we leave here that we are gonna be respectful and be trustworthy and honest and treat everybody with respect and just be a good citizen."

As football has shown us in the last few weeks, sometimes that's easier said than done.

 

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

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Showdown vs. Alabama a Make-or-Break Game for Florida QB Jeff Driskel

The arrival of new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper was supposed to be the cure for the downfield passing blues in Gainesville, but so far in 2014, the offense only looks like it has taken a half-dose.

Sure, the Gators offense is light years ahead of where it was last year from a statistical standpoint. After all, it is second in the SEC in total offense (593.5 YPG)—a stat that is partially skewed by the 72 yards it gained in the three overtimes against Kentucky.

Quarterback Jeff Driskel did, however, miss on quite a few shots deep despite hooking up with wide receiver Demarcus Robinson for 216 receiving yards and two touchdowns.

Driskel's head coach, Will Muschamp, agrees but noticed improvement as the game went on.

"You take a couple drops here and there in the game, a little off-kilter on the deep balls," Muschamp said in quotes emailed by Florida. "[Driskel] came back in the second half and really performed well."

There is a silver lining to Florida's passing game against Kentucky; Driskel developed a chemistry with a reliable receiver for the first time since Muschamp got the job in 2011, and despite being "off-kilter" on the deep balls, receivers were open.

Both are signs of progress for a Gators team that struggled in both departments for the better part of this decade. 

Saturday is a make-or-break game for Florida's offense.

Alabama was lit up to the tune of 365 yards by West Virginia's Clint Trickett in the opener due in large part to the connection Trickett had with Kevin White and apprehensive play from cornerbacks Bradley Sylve and Cyrus Jones.

Eddie Jackson slid in for Sylve for Week 2, and true freshman Tony Brown has been working with the first-team cornerbacks in practice this week in place of Jackson (quadriceps), according to Andrew Gribble of AL.com.

Alabama only gave up 147.5 yards per game over the last two games, but was that a product of weak competition—as was the case last year—in Florida Atlantic and Southern Miss, or has head coach Nick Saban and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart fixed the glitch?

Driskel needs to find out because he now knows that not only does he have a receiver he can trust but a scheme that he can rely on against a secondary that, while talented, is still very questionable.

On the ground, Driskel hasn't been the threat he was supposed to be. This offense was supposed to feature his ability to run more, but he only has seven carries through two games as opposed to the 9.8 carries per game he had in 2012.

"We had a couple keeps that I felt like he could've kept on some plays in the zone read that he didn't, and a couple that we don't want him to keep," Muschamp said in quotes emailed by Florida. "So a lot of that is by call in those situations, but we'll continue to work that as a week-by-week process as far as how many carries he's going to have."

All eight of Alabama's losses since 2008 have come against quarterbacks who can move. While not all had great games on the ground against the Tide, they did pose the threat, which puts stress on the defense.

If Driskel can pose that threat while staying in rhythm with his receivers—which is one of the "secrets" mentioned in this story from earlier this week—Florida has a great chance to spring the upset. It'd also signal that Driskel was written off way too early in his career and is finally in a scheme that fits his dual-threat abilities.

If he struggles, then it'll "business as usual."

For Driskel and the Gators, that'd be a bad thing.

 

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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Which SEC QB Could Play Himself into Heisman Contention in Week 4

The Mississippi State Bulldogs head to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to take on the LSU Tigers in a heated SEC West battle. Bleacher Report's College Football Analysts Adam Kramer and Barrett Sallee debate how each team's performance can set them up for success in the future.

Who do you have as the winner of this matchup?

Check out the video, and let us know.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Week 4 Predictions: Picking Top-25 Games Against the Spread

Every underdog has its day—or in this instance, week—and Week 3 was a celebration of the little guys. Size and expectations for these teams varied greatly in nature, although the overall performances were noteworthy. 

The underdog covered the spread in 12 of the 18 games featuring Top 25 teams. In a few of these matchups, these teams—Boston College, East Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia—did much more than simply cover the spread.

What do underdogs have in store for an encore? Week 4 is here, as is our weekly feature where we pick each matchup featuring a team from the AP Top 25.

We don’t just predict a winner and loser—that would be incredibly boring. Instead, all games are handicapped with the point spreads in mind. (Texas A&M and SMU, for example, requires this number for the sake of making it watchable. Even then it might not be enough.)

After a respectable 10-8 showing in Week 3, we’re hoping to add more winners this time around.

That movement begins...now.

 

All spreads are courtesy of Odds Shark unless noted otherwise.

Begin Slideshow

Which Under-the-Radar Powerhouse Will Crash the CFP?

The Baylor Bears are a team on the rise. Art Briles and his squad are off to a 3-0 start and are quickly entering the College Football Playoff debate. Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Adam Kramer and Barrett Sallee discuss just how far they can go.

Do you think Baylor will be a Top Four team at season's end?

Watch the video and let us know! 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

How Will Nation's Top WR Match Up Against Dominant SEC Defense?

Florida and Alabama square off this weekend in a key SEC showdown. Bleacher Report's College Football Analyst Michael Felder discusses how Alabama's wide receiver Amari Cooper will fare going up against a physical secondary in Florida. 

Will Florida's secondary have its hands full with Amari Cooper and company?

Watch the video and let us know! 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Georgia Insider: Coaches Limiting Todd Gurley's Carries for Late-Game Heroics

In wake of Georgia's stunning loss to South Carolina, the usage of star RB Todd Gurley has come under criticism. Bulldawg Illustrated beat writer Logan Booker joins Bleacher Report's Stephen Nelson to discuss the powerful back.

Is Georgia using Todd Gurley properly?

Watch the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

SEC Extra Points with Barrett Sallee: Blake Sims' Big Test vs. Florida

Time to Shine

Over the first three weeks of the season, one thing became abundantly clear in Tuscaloosa—Blake Sims is Alabama's starting quarterback.

This isn't a case of Sims being No. 1 and Florida State transfer Jake Coker being "1A," and it hasn't been from the moment toe met leather in the Georgia Dome in the season opener vs. West Virginia.

Sims is the man—regardless of what is said in press conferences—and is going to have to be "the man" this week with the vaunted Florida defense rolling into T-Town.

Sims has developed a chemistry with star wide receiver Amari Cooper over the first three games, helping Cooper vault to head of the pack with a nation's-best 33 catches for 454 yards and two touchdowns.

This week, though, lining up opposite Cooper will be third-team All-American cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III. Florida head coach Will Muschamp commented on Hargreaves' ability on Wednesday.

"He's got great instincts," Muschamp said. "He's very quick. He's got good long speed. He has natural ability to play with his back to the ball, which a lot of players really struggle with. The guy really has a lot of poise with his back to the football, and the way we play, we end up in those situations quite a bit."

Hargreaves might not win all the one-on-one battles with Cooper, but he'll win some.

That means Sims is going to have to look to spread the ball around more to his other receivers—something that he hasn't done enough of over the last three games.

Don't be fooled by the 369 passing yards Florida gave up last week in a triple-overtime win over Kentucky. The Wildcats run an air raid attack, and if all of quarterback Patrick Towles' weapons stay healthy, Kentucky is going to do that to a lot of teams—even those with top-notch defenses.

Sims has been solid thus far, but the inability to stretch the field and spread the love around to his other targets have been the only remaining points of contention.

Solve one or both against the Gators, and Sims will suddenly look more like a difference-maker than just a game manager.

 

Double Standard

When is a flaw not a flaw? When one team belongs to a traditional SEC power and the other belongs to a traditional SEC doormat.

That's exactly what's going on ahead of the LSU-Mississippi State game, where perception doesn't seem to equal reality.

The reality is this: LSU has struggled with consistency in the passing game—quarterback Anthony Jennings is completing just 51.9 percent of his passes—while Mississippi State has struggled in pass defense, giving up 311.7 yards per game through the air.

One unit (LSU's passing offense) seems to be considered the exception because Jennings has shown a knack for hitting the deep pass, while the other (Mississippi State's pass defense) seems to be considered the rule despite the fact that the numbers are more due to one bad game (UAB rolled up 435 passing yards against the Bulldogs in Week 2).

Look beyond that.

Led by cornerbacks Jamerson Love and Taveze Calhoun, Mississippi State's pass defense has only allowed opponents to complete 48.9 percent of their passes on the season. The Bulldogs have also forced five interceptions on the season, which is tied for the second-best mark in the SEC.

Mississippi State's "awful" pass defense is as much—if not more—of an anomaly as LSU's inconsistency in the passing game.

With a stellar front seven that will not only stop the run, but force Jennings to make quick decisions—something he has struggled with in the past—this could be the breakout game for Mississippi State's defense.

 

West Is Best

There's a recurring theme in this week's AP Top 25 poll, as five of the top 10 teams in the country reside in the SEC West.

That's right, 71.4 percent of the division is in the top 10, with No. 3 Alabama, No. 5 Auburn, No. 6 Texas A&M, No. 8 LSU and No. 10 Ole Miss.

Fair? Appropriate? Absolutely.

The last team in that group may shock you. After all, Ole Miss looked sloppy in its season opener against Boise State and then beat up on two cupcakes in Weeks 2 and 3.

Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze assessed the situation during a press conference:

If you look in our half alone all seven teams should be ranked in the top 25. The SEC West is that strong. I just want to be sure our kids and everyone hears the message that it is great and awesome, and we’ve come a long way in a short amount of time, but let’s not lose sight of enjoying the journey and keeping our eyes focused on the process and not so much the results.

There have to be 10 teams in a top 10, so if you take out Ole Miss, who slides in?

The Rebels boast a top-20 defense (296 YPG), a top-20 offense (44 points per game) and a quarterback in Bo Wallace who leads the nation in completion percentage (75.5 percent).

Does Wallace's success shock you? It shocks me. I was very critical of his performance against the Broncos in Week 1, and whether his gaudy completion percentage is a result of Dr. Bo becoming "Captain Checkdown" or not, it's still impressive.

The Rebels are undefeated, statistically impressive and boast one of the most fearsome defenses in the nation. What more do you want?

 

South Carolina Back? 

South Carolina's performance against Georgia on Saturday night in what was a must-win game was nothing short of impressive, but there's still work to be done.

The Gamecocks are back in the SEC East discussion, but don't tell head coach Steve Spurrier that.

"We're not talking about division championships or anything around here," he said. "I can assure you of that. I don't know, and none of us know what kind of a team we have yet. If we can show improvement and play the game a little smarter at times, maybe we will have a chance at a big season."

After the blowout loss in Week 1 to Texas A&M, that's all South Carolina wanted. A chance.

With Auburn and Florida both on the road and Missouri coming to Williams-Brice Stadium next week, it's still a rocky road for the Head Ball Coach and the Gamecocks.

He may not want to talk about it, but he can at least think about it now—which is progress from where the program was seven days ago.

 

Quick Outs

  • No, Arkansas won't struggle with NIU. The Hogs' offensive line will control the line of scrimmage, help produce another big day for the running backs and lead to a Hogs runaway. Arkansas imposed its will on the road at Texas Tech, and doing the same at home against a Middle Atlantic Conference team shouldn't be much of an issue.
  • What's that sound? It's Kenny Hill lighting up the stat sheet vs. SMU.
  • Tennessee is off this week, and it's the perfect time for it. The Vols played Oklahoma tough before being worn out by grown men on both lines of scrimmage. Despite that, the defense forced five straight three-and-outs in the game and only allowed 75 yards following the first drive of the second half. Moral victory? Yes, which is important for a team as young as Tennessee.
  • Missouri announced a home-and-home series with UConn. No, Missouri, SEC teams aren't supposed to go to UConn. Ever.
  • Yep, Kenny Hill just torched SMU again.
  • Vanderbilt is going to start Patton Robinette at quarterback this week. At least for a play. Then, who knows?
  • Kenny Hill may toss "eleventy" billion touchdown passes against SMU. No, that's not a real number. Hill's about to make it real—or "trill"—though. I'll show myself out.

 

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

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

JUCO Standout Wesley Collins Adjusting Comfortably at the Collegiate Ranks

Independence Community College running back Wesley Collins was asked recently to assess his relationship with the Pirates coaching staff.

"Me and the coaches on staff here at ICC have a great relationship," Collins told Bleacher Report on Wednesday. "But as for the running back coach, I couldn't have asked for a better mentor and coach. He's the type of coach you will go out there and fight for."

Collins, a redshirt freshman, was alluding to Independence running backs coach VanDyke Jones II. Now in his second season as a member of the ICC coaching staff, Jones II also serves as the Pirates strength and conditioning coordinator as well as works intensely with a number of players on the Pirates special teams.

Jones II has played a pivotal role in helping Collins become acclimated to the team's potent rushing attack, particularly after the former Field Kindley High standout made the transition from Butler Community College.

To his credit, it's safe to assume that Collins has taken heed to the advice Jones II has passed along to him considering he has emerged as the team's top rusher.

Heading into Saturday's home game against cross-state rival Coffeyville, Collins leads the Pirates with 180 yards on 36 carries through three games. His longest run, a 28-yard scamper, came in last week's home loss to Dodge City.

Collins' 36 rushes are first on the team, ahead of fellow back Courtney Allen, who has generated 34 carries through three outings.

Add to the fact that Collins appears to be adjusting comfortably to his new team, and it's no wonder many believe the sky's the limit for a speedy back who's finally fulfilling his dream of playing collegiate football.

Also, Collins doesn't shy away from the fact that he's still somewhat fazed over the Butler coaching staff electing to release him after last season.

How else is there to explain why he labeled ICC's season opener a "statement game"?

"With my debut being against Butler, I wanted to make a statement," said Collins, who finished with a team-best 80 yards on 18 carries in a 57-16 loss to the Grizzlies. "I played well, and I definitely felt I left a sour taste in their mouths about my release. Versus Iowa Central, I didn't have the game I strived to have, but I didn't play bad. Versus Dodge City, I played well again, very similar to Butler, but definitely not as good as I would have wanted to play."

For Collins and Co., there is still much more football to be played to erase the memory of ICC's 0-3 start. The Pirates have seven regular-season games remaining, more than enough time to regroup, let alone get more stellar performances from Collins, their featured back. He was recruited by a host of major Division I colleges while at Field Kindley, most notably Tulsa, Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State, Missouri Southern, Northern Iowa and Southern Illinois, among others.

Now that he is starting to flourish in this, his first full season of college football, the possibility exists that these schools could continue their pursuit of the Pirates' featured back.

"Personally, I felt that my performance during the spring was good even with the mistakes, especially during the spring game where I led the team in rushing yards," Collins said. "Through (spring practices), I felt really good. I felt I blossomed into my own."

That’s quite evident given how quickly he's becoming acclimated at the collegiate ranks.

 

Andre Johnson is a regular contributor for Bleacher Report. Based in Dallas, Texas, Johnson covers the NFL and the NBA's Southwest Division. To reach Johnson, send an email to andre@memphisport.net. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.

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Miller: Off-the-Field Issues Not Keeping Jameis Winston from Being a Top Pick

Florida State QB Jameis Winston has seen some ups and downs during his collegiate football career. The redshirt sophomore is currently suspended for the first half of FSU vs. Clemson this Saturday.

The reigning Heisman Trophy winner is looking to bring back-to-back national championships to Tallahassee, Florida. Bleacher Report's College Football Analyst Michael Felder and NFL Draft Lead Writer Matt Miller discuss his potential as a future NFL quarterback.

How well do you think Winston will translate into the NFL?

Watch the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

USC Defense Emphasizing Basics to Shut Down Zone Read

Temperatures at Loker Track Stadium Wednesday morning crept into the 90s, but the sweltering Southern California sunshine paled in comparison to the heat Boston College's zone-read offense put on the USC defense Saturday.

The Eagles put up a blistering 452 rushing yards, and the resulting 37-31 loss had USC defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox going back to the basics.

"I obviously didn’t do a good job preparing us, so I’ll take that [responsibility] 100 percent,” he said following Wednesday's practice.

USC is emphasizing the elementary components of defending the zone read because that's what Boston College quarterback Tyler Murphy was able to most effectively exploit. The Trojans were off-balance even before the snap because of misalignment and missed assignments.

Safety Su'a Cravens put it thusly: "When teams run the zone read, and you don’t really know what you’re doing or what your assignment is, that’s the result you’re going to get."

That's a result the Trojans certainly don't want repeated, but the problems leading up to it must be remedied before they return to Pac-12 Conference play. USC's South Division rivals Arizona, Arizona State and UCLA all run schemes similar to that of Boston College, with mobile quarterbacks akin to Murphy.

A fourth Pac-12 South team, Utah, has integrated more zone-read principles into its offense since the arrival of coordinator Dave Christensen last offseason.  

Put simply, USC's conference championship aspirations hinge on its ability to shut down the zone read.

The good news for the USC defense, according to cornerback Chris Hawkins, is that the system's nuances should not take the Trojans quite as much by surprise.

"I'm feeling good about it because now we’ve seen it," he said. "It’s not going to be new to us."

One of the more unexpected facets of Boston College's zone read was that it actually allowed USC preseason All-American defensive tackle Leonard Williams to dictate the play.

"They were zone-reading off of Leonard—not blocking him, and just seeing where he goes, then taking it the opposite [direction]," Hawkins said. "He’s our best player on defense and they just took him out of the game. It was something we’re not used to."

Williams made 11 tackles the week prior in USC's 13-10 win at Stanford. He was limited to five at Boston College.

With USC's most disruptive playmaker taken out of his element, the rest of the Trojans defense was thrown out of balance. Murphy and Co. took advantage of USC's confusion to the tune of 8.4 yards per carry.

The quarterback in particular used the Trojans' misalignment to average nearly 15 yards on his 13 rushes.

According to Hawkins, Boston College's plan may become a blueprint for future zone-read opponents facing the Trojans. The difference going forward?

USC will be anticipating it.

"If Arizona State or Arizona watches the [Boston College game] film, I expect they’ll try to do the same thing to Leonard," he said. "So it’s something we have to practice and be ready for, and I think we will be.” 

The Trojans will have to be ready for it or risk giving up the home run plays that doomed them Saturday. Wilcox attributed those to more basic miscues the coaching staff is emphasizing in the practices to come.

"The explosive plays showed up, whether it was due to technique error [or]…we had eyes in the wrong spot. We had a lot of missed tackles," he said.

Seven runs accounted for 268 yards of Boston College's total rushing output, via USCTrojans.com. Sixty-six came on Murphy's fourth-quarter touchdown, which effectively slammed the door on USC.

Murphy's career-high night is hardly the first time the USC defense has struggled against a mobile quarterback operating out of the zone read. The issue predates the current coaching staff and actually spans three defensive leaders.

In 2013, Wilcox's predecessor, Clancy Pendergast, saw Arizona State's Taylor Kelly and UCLA's Brett Hundley gash the Trojans out of the zone read.

In 2012, Monte Kiffin's 4-3 base formation looked outdated against opponents like Arizona and Oregon, a defense that B/R lead national writer Michael Felder examined.

Shutting down the zone read is a recurring problem for the USC defense, but 2014 is a new season and new opportunity to remedy its woes.  And it just might be a lot more simple than a major overhaul, as Cravens described.

"Discipline," he said. "Knowing your assignment, and do your own job. That’s what we need to do."

 

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

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USC Defense Emphasizing Basics to Shut Down Zone Read

Temperatures at Loker Track Stadium Wednesday morning crept into the 90s, but the sweltering Southern California sunshine paled in comparison to the heat Boston College's zone-read offense put on the USC defense Saturday...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

College Football Athletes Most Likely to Explode in Week 4

College football Saturday is full of hidden gems. Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Barrett Sallee, Adam Kramer and Michael Felder predict their players to explode in Week 4.

Which player will impact his team the most?

Watch the video, and let us know! 

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College Football Week 4: Top 25 Upset Alert

With Week 4 upon us, could we be in store for another slate of wild upsets? Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Adam Kramer previews some of the interesting matchups.

Will college football be on upset alert?

Watch the video, and let us know! 

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Georgia Football: How the Bulldogs Can Exploit Tennessee's Young Team

After a tough loss to South Carolina last week, Georgia will look to bounce back against Troy on Saturday. This is good for the Bulldogs to face a team like the Trojans because this will give them time to fix some things they need to correct before they get back into the thick of the SEC schedule.

And the Bulldogs’ next opponent will be Tennessee. The Vols started the season with solid wins against Utah State and Arkansas State. But when the Vols went to Norman, Oklahoma, to face the Sooners, they struggled in all phases of the game and ended up losing 34-10.

But the Vols have a bye week before facing the Bulldogs, so they will have time to prepare for a team that is looking to get back in the SEC East race. What the Sooners were able to do against the Vols is exploit them on both sides of the ball due to their youth. Can the Bulldogs do the same thing?

Let’s start with the Tennessee offense. We all know that the Vols are a young team, but they are really young at key positions on offense. The offensive line has been the Achilles' heel for the Vols in the early stages of the season. There are no senior starters on the line and there are two freshmen in the starting rotation.

The interior defensive line, led by Mike Thornton, will have to get after guard Jashon Robinson, who is a true freshman, and Leonard Floyd, who is the Bulldogs’ best edge-rusher. Left tackle Brett Kendrick will be instrumental as well all game long.

Tennessee's allowed nine sacks through three games this season after allowing just 15 all of last season.

— Patrick Brown (@patrickbrownTFP) September 15, 2014

But even with the freshmen starters, there are zero starters returning from last year. That is one of the main reasons quarterback Justin Worley was sacked five times in the Oklahoma game, which led to him making mistakes down the stretch.

The Bulldog defense also needs to make sure it hits tight end Ethan Wolf every snap. The true freshman has eight receptions for 46 yards and zero touchdowns this season. Linebackers Amarlo Herrera and Ramik Wilson need to attack him any time he’s in the middle of the field.

As far as the Tennessee defense goes, the defensive line consists of a sophomore defensive end (Corey Vereen), a sophomore nose tackle (Danny O’Brien) and a freshmen defensive end (Derek Barnett). One of the things Oklahoma was able to do well against the Vols is run the football because the Sooners were able to attack the Vols defensive line with a bigger and more experienced offensive line.

What the Bulldogs should do is what they have done the last two games: feed the ball to Todd Gurley as much as they can.

The offensive line has done a solid job in the run game this season, and that should not change when the Dawgs go up against the Vols. No matter if it is isolations, toss sweeps or stretch plays, Gurley should have no issues getting past the first wave of defenders and get a ton of yards.

And if that happens, that should open the door for Hutson Mason to make timely throws. He has looked solid so far this season, but with a young team like the Vols coming to Athens, they will do whatever it takes to rattle him, which is why running the football an attacking the young defensive line is crucial especially in the early stages of the game.

Make no mistake about it—the Bulldogs have a tough task ahead of them. Tennessee will be coming into the game hungry and well-rested. The Vols know they can come into Athens and beat the Bulldogs because head coach Butch Jones will have them ready to play.

But if the Bulldogs get off to a fast start, control the clock and get their star players in position to make plays, they should earn their first conference win of the year with no issues.

 

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College Football Week 4 Schedule: Breaking Down Weekend's Most Intriguing Games

If the first few weeks of the college football season have proven anything, it's that no one is safe from an upset.

Two Top 10 teams have lost in each of the last two weeks, creating plenty of uncertainty as fans look ahead to the College Football Playoff at the end of the year. Although one loss does not necessary eliminate a team from national title contention, it definitely makes it more difficult.

The result is that every single game becomes vital for the top teams to survive with an undefeated record. This will not be easy thanks to a few intriguing matchups highlighting an action-packed week in college football.

 

No. 5 Auburn at No. 20 Kansas State

It took a long time for people to respect Auburn as a national title contender last season, but the squad has been firmly in the Top Five all year. Still, ESPN's Paul Finebaum believes the squad is even better than people think:

The Tigers are building off their No. 1 rushing attack from 2013 with the No. 7 unit this time around. This has helped lead a team that has scored an average of 52 points per game through two weeks.

That being said, the squad has not dealt with an opponent anywhere near Kansas State's ability to this point in the year. The Wildcats held Iowa State to just 2.8 yards per carry in the last game, which was a big reason the team was able to come back after going down 15 points in the first half.

With dual-threat quarterbacks Jake Waters and Nick Marshall going head-to-head, this is certain to be an exciting battle from start to finish.

 

No. 22 Clemson at No. 1 Florida State

Florida State embarrassed Clemson 51-14 the last time these two teams met, a showdown that seemed to legitimize the Seminoles' standing as a national title contender. They kept up their strong play with an undefeated season and a BCS championship.

However, things could be a little difficult for Florida State this time around without the reigning Heisman Trophy winner in the first half. According to ESPN's Joe Schad, Jameis Winston will be suspended for the start of the game:

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney is certainly not taking this matchup any more lightly, via Manie Robinson of The Greenville News:

Sean Maguire will get the start, and while there is a lot of offensive talent, he could have a hard time against an aggressive Clemson defense. If the Seminoles fall far enough back, even Winston could end up struggling to lead a comeback.

This is one of the toughest games on Florida State's schedule, and a poor performance without the starting quarterback could end up ruining the season.

 

No. 4 Oklahoma at West Virginia 

Although West Virginia is not ranked, the squad has been extremely impressive in the first three games.

The Mountaineers started the year off with a respectable 10-point loss to Alabama on a neutral field before showcasing the offense with 94 combined points in games against Towson and Maryland. Matt Zenitz of The Baltimore Sun notes how well quarterback Clint Trickett performed last game:

Trickett currently ranks third in the FBS with 1,224 passing yards, while top target Kevin White ranks second in the nation with 460 receiving yards.

While Oklahoma ranks eighth in the nation with just 11 points allowed per game, the defense is going to have its hands full in this matchup.

Fortunately, the Sooners offense has been playing well with Trevor Knight leading a balanced attack alongside running backs Keith Ford, Samaje Perine and Alex Ross.

This is certain to be a high-scoring battle, and it might come down to which team gets the ball last.

 

Follow Rob Goldberg on Twitter for the latest breaking news and analysis.

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College Football Week 4 Predictions: Picking Winners of Top 25 Matchups

At face value, Week 4 of the 2014 college football season is pretty easy to digest.

Well, maybe.

Conference play is getting underway around the nation, but on paper, it looks like a bunch of great teams set to beat up on lesser teams before things get serious. Then again, last week was pretty similar in its appearance as a ho-hum slate, but then Boston College took down USC and other such shenanigans.

So really, this week is not one to skip. Below, let's take a look at the full Top 25 slate and identify a few games to watch closely, as things may not be all that they seem on paper.

 

2014 College Football Week 4 Top 25 Predictions

Note: AP poll via The Associated Press.

 

Breaking Down Notable Games

No. 22 Clemson vs. No. 1 Florida State

Really, Clemson's return to prominence in recent years has been fully overshadowed by Florida State figuring things out at the same pace.

Then winning a title.

Oh, and dismantling the Tigers 51-14 at Memorial Stadium last season. Meanwhile, the Tigers just lost names such as Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins to the NFL and started the season in a not-so-hot manner before making the trip to Doak Campbell Stadium.

So what can save the Tigers?

Jameis Winston, last year's Heisman winner, of course. Florida State announced Wednesday that the signal-caller will be suspended for the first half of Saturday's showdown, ever so slightly opening the door for an improbable comeback.

This means Clemson, 1-1 after a season-opening humbling at the hands of Georgia, will need to get production from senior quarterback Cole Stoudt in a hurry—he has thrown for just 446 yards, one touchdown and an interception.

That, and not turn the ball over, as coach Dabo Swinney told Natalie Pierre of the Tallahassee Democrat:

The biggest things is, we've got to take care of the ball. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure that out. We turned it over four times last year and just put the ball on the ground on one of them, in just a scoop and score. Those are things where you just don't have that type of room for error when you're playing a great, great football team like Florida State.

When Winston does make his appearance after the break, elite Clemson end Vic Beasley and a few others will have something to say to him about this tweet from a few months back: 

Not that it will matter all that much.

Historically speaking, Florida State rarely loses to Clemson at home. Sans Boyd and Watkins, the Clemson offense does not have the firepower to match Winston, even for a half. Forcing a few turnovers may throw a wrench in things, but that's assuming the Tigers can turn down their own issues in that area at the same time.

On the road, that's a lot to ask a team still finding its footing.

Prediction: Seminoles 35, Tigers 14 

 

No. 4 Oklahoma vs. West Virginia

For a team that is ranked No. 4 overall and has outscored its first three opponents by a combined total of 134-33, Oklahoma sure does not get a ton of love.

Perhaps that is because the wins came against Louisiana Tech, Tulsa and Tennessee.

Alright, that last school is not horrible, but there are questions as to Bob Stoops' team's legitimacy, which will get answers against West Virginia—a team that gave Alabama all it could handle to start the season in a 10-point loss before going on to blow out Towson 54-0 and win in Maryland 40-37.

As Bleacher Report's Adam Kramer muses, even Vegas is getting nervous about the showdown:

In a word, the Mountaineers are explosive and rank No. 5 overall in the nation in terms of passing yards per game (410.3). The culprit under center is senior Clint Trickett, who has 1,224 yards and seven touchdowns to one interception.

The numbers are not fluff, either. Trickett stood tall against the Crimson Tide and completed 64.4 percent of his passes for 365 yards and a score. Flanked by running back Rushel Shell (207 yards, two scores), the Mountaineers can score on any defense in the nation.

Oklahoma quarterback Trevor Knight has not been as impressive, throwing for 860 yards and four touchdowns to two interceptions. Even worse, he will miss star back Keith Ford, who is out with an injury.

"That'll be a week-to-week," said Stoops, per Cliff Brunt of The Associated Press. "That could be two weeks, three weeks, it's always a little bit hard to tell, depending on how it heals, so we'll just have to wait and see how that goes. For sure, he won't be able to play this week."

Traveling to Morgantown without a top running back and encountering an offense that ran more than 100 plays last week and scored effectively on Alabama is a recipe for disaster.

Upset alert is fully engaged for this one

Prediction: Mountaineers 38, Sooners 35

 

Stats and information via ESPN.com unless otherwise specified.

 

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Clemson vs. FSU: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time and More

No. 1 Florida State and No. 22 Clemson are ranked for the fourth straight time going into their head-to-head encounter, this time Saturday at Doak Campbell Stadium.

The Seminoles have had few issues dispatching the Tigers in recent years, but keep in mind that of those four matchups, the lesser seed has won two of the last three.

Clemson, now led by senior quarterback Cole Stoudt, stumbled out of the gate to a 1-1 record, but Florida State has been anything but dominant in two games thus far and will be without last year's Heisman winner, Jameis Winston, for the first half of the contest, per Dan Wolken of USA Today.

It certainly adds another layer of intrigue to an already important showdown considering the winner has gone on to win the ACC in each of the past three years, which this year is even more important when one remembers playoff implications.

Don't blink Saturday night.

 

Adaptation and Evolution

Clemson stood little chance at home last season in an eventual 51-14 loss to Florida State and now must pick up the pieces without Tajh Boyd.

To his credit, Stoudt has seemingly improved with each start so far. After a debacle against Georgia, he completed 71 percent of his passes for a touchdown against South Carolina State. For him, the key is mistakes on the road, as noted by Clemson football's Twitter account:

Really, the Tigers are seemingly brand new at all of the critical spots on offense. Wideout Sammy Watkins is gone, as is Martavis Bryant and guard Brandon Thomas. Artavis Scott, a freshman, has stepped into the void at wideout and caught eight balls for 205 yards and two scores, with sophomore Mike Williams along for the ride with seven for 171.

Florida State faces adaptation questions of its own, too. Gone is Kelvin Benjamin, a problem only made worse for a half come Saturday with Winston out of the picture. The next man up is sophomore Sean Maguire, who has attempted all of 16 career passes.

It is even more concerning when one remembers that the Winston-led offense has not been without struggles. He has thrown three touchdowns to two interceptions, and the Seminoles were almost upset by Oklahoma State, 37-31.

A 37-12 win over Citadel seems nice, but Coastal Carolina posted pretty much the same line the week prior. Florida State's defense gave up 250 rushing yards to the Bulldogs—and remember, Citadel is a school that has posted a record better than .500 just twice since 2000.

 

Fueling the Fire

It is not as if this contest needed any additional ammunition thanks to the aforementioned implications, but the Clemson staff is making sure its players understand the atrocities suffered one year ago.

"We've tried to remind these guys that we did get embarrassed out here, make no mistake about it," Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris said, per The Associated Press, via ESPN.com. "Yes, we've definitely talked about it."

Even if the anger due to that loss began to fade over the offseason, Winston himself seemed to reignite the fire back in March in a Twitter post that included a picture of Memorial Stadium:

"It's going to be in the back of our minds," Clemson safety Robert Smith said, per NFL.com's Mike Huguenin. "I'm never going to forget that. He apologized and all that, but you're going to have it in the back of your mind."

The feud is given life through personal on-field beefs, too. Clemson defensive end Vic Beasley and Florida State offensive tackle Cam Erving—two surefire first-round NFL picks, as of now, at least—squared off last year and saw Winston's blind-side protector win. Who wins Round 2 is anybody's guess.

"Oh, yeah, I've been waiting on that opportunity," Beasley said, per Aaron Brenner of The Post and Courier. "I love going against the best. He did pretty well on me last year. So, definitely, I'm looking forward to that matchup."

Undoubtedly, so is the rest of the nation and the watchful eye of the pro game.

 

When: Saturday, September 20, 8 p.m. ET

Where: Bobby Bowden Field at Doak Campbell Stadium, Tallahassee, Florida

Television: ABC

Live Stream: WatchESPN

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 60.5
  • Spread: Florida State (-20.5)

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports via USA Today.

 

Prediction

The first two games of the season have not exactly seen the Seminoles earn that No. 1 rank, with the Winston news only potentially further throwing things for a loop.

While Florida State does not have a back such as Georgia's Todd Gurley (who does?), the fact Clemson gave up 328 rushing yards to the Bulldogs should reassure the Seminoles that a run-first approach will get the job done without Winston under center to start the game.

Granted, Winston seems due for one horrific game each season, and the Tigers return seven defensive starters from a year ago. But with Erving nullifying Beasley, Winston will have time to carve through the defense at home.

Florida State has won 10 of 11 at home against Clemson by a combined score of 425-167. There is no reason to believe a Clemson team in transition on offense can outgun the Seminoles offense and turn that trend around.

Prediction: Seminoles 35, Tigers 14

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

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