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College Football Rankings 2014: Updated Outlook on Top Week 4 Polls

What had the look of a boring week with little college football rankings implications on paper provided the wildest week of movement yet.

Go figure.

Last week, just one game featured a matchup between ranked teams. Of course, it wound up being the biggest upset of the week in a slate that featured several en route to a new-look set of rankings that may or may not stand the test of time.

Here is a look at the Amyway Coaches Poll and The Associated Press Top 25 after the dust settled on the unexpectedly entertaining week:

It was Boston College taking down USC that wound up as the biggest upset of the weekend, technically at least. ESPN Stats & Info provides the justification for the label: 

Regardless of the magnitude, the upset was a tad easy to see coming. Fresh off an upset of their own at The Farm over Stanford by just three points, Steve Sarkisian's team had to travel across the nation and somehow avoid an upset at the hands of a criminally underrated team.

The Eagles quietly flew under the radar into the matchup as one of the nation's most dangerous teams thanks to dual-threat quarterback Tyler Murphy. After two outstanding games before the Trojans came to town, the senior used the spotlight to throw for 54 yards and lead the team in rushing with 191 yards and a score on just 13 carries.

Known for his offense, Sarkisian notes that his defense has some work to do in the coming weeks, as captured by Scott Wolf of the Los Angeles Daily News:

Arguably the biggest upset in layman's terms was South Carolina taking care of business at home when Georgia, now formerly of the Top 10, came to town.

After a rocky start to the season in a blowout loss to Texas A&M, the Gamecocks got a titanic effort from quarterback Dylan Thompson (271 yards, three touchdowns) to get the 38-35 upset.

Yet the polls are the subject of much controversy on this very matter, as the Bulldogs remain ahead of the Gamecocks despite the loss. Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports describes this with emphasis:

Both teams get a shot at a ranked Missouri squad in the coming weeks, so both are teams to watch, as the current ranks could change in dramatic fashion.

Two teams fans should immediately note as absent after digesting the biggest upsets are Louisville and Virginia Tech.

Louisville was on the fringe at No. 21 last week and a rather large favorite on the road against Virginia, but Mike London's team once again proved defensively stout and got the two-point upset.

Virginia Tech, of upsetting Ohio State fame to ruin the polls, suffered a letdown and lost by a touchdown to an offensive-minded East Carolina team.

As far as a broad outlook goes, the grand meaning behind polls continues to be a topic of much debate now that the four-team playoff is set to change the landscape of the sport. As Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports points out, the impact a single loss can have on a team's playoff chances is difficult to discern, but we are surely going to find out:

The best part? Things will only get more complicated as the season continues.

Look at next week. Big dogs such as Florida State are back in action, with a matchup against Clemson in the cards. Auburn and Kansas State collide in a battle of ranked foes, and Oklahoma will have somewhat of an interesting test on its hands at West Virginia.

In other words, perhaps this week's unexpected shakeup on an unheralded slate was just a way to whet the appetite of fans when it comes to the rankings—things are just getting started.

To what end, nobody knows.

 

Stats via ESPN. Amyway poll via USA Today. AP poll via The Associated Press.

 

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Keith Ford Injury: Updates on Oklahoma RB's Foot and Return

Oklahoma running back Keith Ford has a foot injury that could cost him to miss time for the Sooners in the coming weeks.

Jake Trotter of ESPN reported the difficult news for Oklahoma:

David Ubben of Fox Sports Southwest offered his thoughts on the situation:

Through three games, the sophomore back has exploded for the Sooners. Along with his 194 rushing and 100 receiving yards, Ford has registered multiple touchdowns in each game this season with five on the ground and one through the air in total.

The loss of Ford for multiple weeks will hurt the ground game, but Samaje Perine proved he's a reliable backup. Perine has already compiled 177 rushing yards and a touchdown with Ford carrying much of the load.

Sooners coach Bob Stoops noted Perine's ability following the Tennessee game, per Ryan Aber of The Oklahoman.

"Samaje gets in there in the second half, and again he’s fresh,” Stoops said. “He gets in there and he is pounding it. He is a strong, physical player. He has a great base to him. He does everything you want. He catches the ball. He was a big boost there in the second half."

Heading into a huge matchup with West Virginia, a lot more of the load will be on Perine's shoulders if Ford does miss time. Luckily, it appears he's comfortable in the backfield and reliable for the Sooners.   

Trevor Knight and the passing game will also be asked to do more with Ford missing time. He has six total touchdowns this year (four passing, two rushing) and will have to repeat that success against the Mountaineers and potentially TCU on the road Oct. 4.         

 

Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter.

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The SEC's Secondary Crisis

Birmingham, we have a problem.

The SEC, headquartered in Birmingham, has been known for decades as a conference that is driven by defense. Since 2012, however, things have changed.

An injection of creative offensive coaches combined with big, physical receivers and secondaries that struggle to keep up have transformed the league into the "Pac-12 East," where "just enough" defense is all a team needs to win at an elite level.

The secondary crisis has become even more apparent this season, as 12 of the 14 teams are giving up more than 200 yards per game through the air and six or more yards per attempt.

Never was that more prevalent than during Week 3 in Columbia, South Carolina, when Georgia's secondary—which is coordinated by Jeremy Pruitt, a secondary coach (and teacher) by trade—was lit up by South Carolina quarterback Dylan Thompson.

His stat line wasn't a video game line that jumps off the page, although it was solid. He completed 21 of 30 passes for 271 yards and three touchdowns. What was very concerning for Pruitt was the room South Carolina's wide receivers had to work with.

Nick Jones, Shaq Roland, Rory Anderson and the rest of the Gamecocks got so open that, at times, there wasn't a Bulldog within 15 yards of them.

"There were a myriad of issues for the Dawgs against South Carolina," said Michael Felder, Bleacher Report's lead college football video analyst and former defensive back at North Carolina.

"The general thing I noticed with the secondary was players a step or two away from where they needed to be to impact the play. As Jeremy Pruitt institutes his pattern-matching heavy schemes, that's to be expected at times. Players are pushing to get to landmarks in coverages and not relating to the players in front of them."

South Carolina's pass defense hasn't been much better, although it certainly looked improved in Game 3. The Gamecocks have still been lit up this year through the air, first by Texas A&M (511 yards) and then by East Carolina (321 yards).

Alabama's problem at cornerback was one of the hot-button topics of the offseason, and it popped back up again in the opener when West Virginia quarterback Clint Trickett threw for 365 yards. Eddie Jackson replacing Bradley Sylve in the starting lineup and Cyrus Jones' improvement between Weeks 1 and 2 has helped the Tide look better lately, but that could be as much—if not more—a product of weak competition than a sign of actual improvement.

"Eddie Jackson looks to be in midseason form which is amazing coming off a major knee surgery," said Felder. "Cyrus Jones has been night and day from not only the West Virginia game, but the entire 2013 campaign. This team is addressing its major issue, and that will help the rest of the defense click as they play tougher teams. Of course, FAU and Southern Miss make it easy for Jones to be more aggressive; it has to translate against the Ole Miss' and Texas A&M's of the world."

Auburn's pass defense has been on the express to struggle-town since Ellis Johnson took over as defensive coordinator prior to the 2013 season, Texas A&M's might as well run for mayor and the rest of the SEC's "elite" have been hit-or-miss over the last few years.

What's the issue?

The game has changed.

New, creative coaches have revolutionized the game in the SEC. It's no longer a "three yards and a cloud of dust" conference—it's a conference loaded with diverse offensive schemes with coaches who know the weaknesses of the defenses and choose proper times exploit those holes.

The dirty little secret is that it's not that much of an issue at all.

Back in the day, a common phrase was that "the best defense is a ball-control offense." That's changed a bit nowadays, because the best defense is a dynamic offense.

"The offenses put more pressure on everybody playing defense. The secondaries' issues just are more glaring because they are what a casual fan notices most," said Felder. "Georgia's linebackers jumping routes in a 'no cover' zone instead of hitting the top of their drops makes safeties appear clueless. Giving teams 'five Mississippi' to throw the ball makes safeties seem incapable of covering."

The SEC has also evolved into an "offense first" conference, for the most part.

Take Auburn, for example. 

The Tigers are nothing to write home about on defense. In fact, if you did write home about Auburn's offense, the letter would probably get lost in the mail. The offense, though, is so efficient, so dangerous and so consistent that it forces opposing teams to come off their game plan offensively. At that point, all it takes is one or two big plays at the right time to turn a close game into a blowout.

Times have changed. Half of the conference finished in the top 20 nationally in pass defense in 2008. Right now LSU and Ole Miss are the only two teams that appear in the top 20, and really are the only SEC teams in that neighborhood.

That's OK, though, because the definition of what makes a team elite has changed over the last few seasons, which means some of the secondary "issues" that have popped up lately are easily overcome.

 

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and video analyst for Bleacher Report and 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

Samuel Chi's Mock College Football Playoff Standings

With the advent of the College Football Playoff, the BCS and its standings have been consigned to the ash heap of history. The 13-member selection committee will make all the decisions. Polls and computer rankings (supposedly) will no longer matter. There will be no more standings and no more projections.

But that just can't be. College football has always been about rankings, from the preseason to the postseason. There's no way we should have to wait until the last week of October to find out where everyone stands. And there is a lot at stake here. 

Besides the four teams that will advance to the Playoff, there are eight other slots up for grabs for the New Year's Six bowl games. The highest-ranked champion of the non-power Group of Five conferences is guaranteed one of the spots.

Back in the spring, we experimented and tinkered to come up with a methodology that will generate a rankings system similar to what the committee might produce. Beginning this week, we will unveil our rankings every Monday morning to show you where everybody stands.

 

The Rankings 

(See methodology of standings

 

The Playoff Teams

1. Florida State—The Seminoles barely edged Oregon for the top spot, and they have an inviting path to repeat as national champions. All of their toughest remaining opponents—Clemson, Notre Dame, Boston College and Florida—are at home. And even with the addition of Louisville, the ACC doesn't look like it will provide much of a challenge. 

2. Oregon—The Ducks really have looked the most impressive so far among the top teams, especially with the second-half destruction of a good Michigan State team two weeks ago. The Pac-12 will not be a cakewalk, but with USC and Arizona State absent on the schedule, it enhances Oregon's chances to run the table.

3. Oklahoma—The Sooners defeated a pedestrian Tennessee team to wrap up their non-conference schedule without a blemish. Because there isn't a Big 12 title game, Oklahoma will have less margin for error than other power-five conference contenders. For OU, it could be one (loss) and done.

4. Auburn—The top four teams have separated themselves from the rest, which means there's a significant gap between No. 4 Auburn and No. 5 Alabama. But the Tigers have a brutal schedule ahead, with seven teams currently in the top 25 of our rankings on tap, beginning with this Thursday's non-conference game at Kansas State.

 

First Four Out 

5. Alabama—Don't fret, Tide fans, your team can easily play its way into the Playoff, but first and foremost it must win the Iron Bowl. Alabama's schedule isn't nearly as challenging as Auburn's, as it will play neither South Carolina nor Georgia, likely the two best teams in the SEC East.

6. Texas A&M—The Aggies shot up the rankings with their season- and SEC Network-opening rout at South Carolina and have been flying under the radar for a bit with a cupcake-y tour through Texas' lesser teams (Lamar, Rice and SMU). If A&M can somehow win the SEC West by getting by Auburn, Alabama and LSU, it'll be in the Playoff. 

7. LSU—Four teams in the SEC West are among the top seven teams in our rankings, which is what makes this the most competitive division in college football. The Tigers opened the season with a resounding win over Big Ten power Wisconsin, but most of their work is still ahead.

8. Baylor—Nobody really knows how good the Bears are after they rolled through their first three opponents by a cumulative score of 178-27. But this joke of a non-conference schedule might come back to haunt Baylor unless it can run through the Big 12 unscathed.

 

Other Fun Facts

* The SEC is dominating the standings, with five teams in the top nine and eight in the top 15. But that does not necessarily mean that it will land multiple teams in the Playoff, as the intra-conference fratricide will soon kick into full gear.

* After the second Saturday debacle, the Big Ten's chances of making the Playoff field looks pretty bleak. Michigan State, the highest-ranked B1G team at No. 13, might be the only one with a slim shot if it can win the conference. No other Big Ten team is higher than No. 20.

* Notre Dame is currently 10th, and with a remaining schedule that includes Stanford, Florida State, Arizona State and USC, it has a chance to crash the Playoff field if it can go undefeated. 

* BYU, at No. 18, might earn one of the New Year's Six bowl slots, though nothing is guaranteed for the independent team. Though they have a benign schedule that gives the Cougars a great shot at going undefeated, it remains unlikely that they can earn a spot in the Playoff.

* As has been the case since the latter years of the BCS, conference realignment has sucked almost all the oxygen out of the lesser conferences. Of the 44 teams ranked in our standings, only three come from the Group of Five conferences and just one in the top 25: No. 24 East Carolina (American), No. 34 Cincinnati (American) and No. 44 Marshall (C-USA).

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Kevin Olsen Arrested: Latest Details, Mugshot and More on Miami Hurricanes QB

Miami quarterback Kevin Olsen continued a tumultuous start to his tenure with the Miami Hurricanes.

WSVN-TV announced Olsen was arrested, while also providing his mugshot: 

Andy Slater of 940-AM WINZ and Manny Navarro of the Miami Herald passed along more information:

WPLG 10 News shared an image of Olsen leaving jail:

Miami was quick to discipline Olsen following the arrest, according to ESPN's Joe Schad:

Olsen started the offseason with hopes of playing a crucial role on the team, but was suspended for the season opener. Brad Kaaya earned the starting nod and has led the Hurricanes to a 2-1 record thus far.

Prior to the recent arrest, Olsen was improving in the eyes of coach Al Golden. Susan Miller Degnan of the Miami Herald provided a statement from Golden discussing Olsen last month:

Kevin has made a lot of progress this summer, he really has. He grew a lot as a person, so I’m anxious to see that [Tuesday]. That’s what I want to see, just how much he’s grown.

Just being in meetings, I can hear him. He’s more vocal, he’s more confident, understands the system a lot better and has had a lot of opportunities to grow since the spring.

With Kaaya still the starter and improving over the last two games, this shouldn't impact Miami on the field. While Olsen may have provided more depth, the position is set with others behind Kaaya looking for snaps.

As for Olsen, the former 4-star quarterback's career is now up in the air. Even if he can recover from the recent arrest, overtaking Kaaya and others for a role on the team seems like a tall task for the redshirt freshman.

 

Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

LSU Fans Topple over While Necking at Death Valley

Love is patient. Love is kind. Love does not envy or boast, but it will force its whisky breath upon you before taking you on a 50-50 rail slide down the stadium bleachers.

Two LSU fans are likely icing their bruises and loins after a sloppy public makeout session ended in a tumble down the stands at Death Valley on Saturday.

Ostensibly bored with the Tigers’ 31-0 trouncing of Louisiana-Monroe, the couple decided to while away the time with an aggressive game of tonsil hockey.

Busted Coverage’s Joe Kinsey spotted footage of the saliva-swapping, which ended in an unceremonious tumble onto fans in the seats below.

As video evidence suggests, Bromeo might have overestimated his balance and strength in this endeavor. Despite his undoubtedly noble intentions, the young man’s attempt to sweep his partner off her feet ended shortly after hair-wrestling her face into his.

Fortunately, our knight in shining Polo managed to soften the young damsel’s landing, effectively cushioning their fall with his body and those of the fans below.

One day, decades from now, they’ll look back at this moment and laugh as their grandchildren tinker by the hearth.

“You know, kids, your grandfather used to be quite the tongue-jouster,” this woman might say. “I’ll never forget our first public makeout. We fell for each other so hard.”

 

Follow Dan on Twitter for more sports and pop culture news.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Betting: Odds Open for Week 4 Action

The No. 5 Auburn Tigers are a perfect 13-0 against the spread over their last 13 games.

They'll look to add another win and cover to their streak on Thursday night when they visit the No. 20 Kansas State Wildcats as nine-point road favorites.

Auburn is 3-0 and has covered in its last three regular-season road games. Kansas State has failed to cover the spread in each of its last three home games but is 15-3 straight up in its last 18 games at home.

In the only other game featuring two ranked teams this week, the No. 22 Clemson Tigers are 19.5-point underdogs, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark, on the road against the No. 1 Florida State Seminoles.

Florida State is a perfect 18-0 SU over its last 18 games but is 0-3 ATS over its last three games after going 6-0 ATS in its previous six. The total has gone UNDER in four of Florida State's last five games.

The No. 2 Oregon Ducks are 24-point road favorites visiting the Washington State Cougars. Washington State is 5-2 SU and ATS over its last seven home games and 4-0 ATS in its last four games against the Oregon Ducks despite an 0-4 SU record over that stretch.

The Cougars have played to four straight OVER results in their last four games at home.

Something has to give when the No. 3 Alabama Crimson Tide host the Florida Gators as 14.5-point home favorites. The Crimson Tide are 0-5 ATS in their last five games as a betting favorite but are also 5-0 ATS in their last five home games against SEC opponents.

One of those streaks will come to an end this Saturday at home against Florida.

The No. 4 Oklahoma Sooners have one of the toughest tests among the nation's top teams this week visiting the West Virginia Mountaineers as an 11.5-point road favorites, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark.

West Virginia pushed Alabama hard in a 33-23 loss as a 22-point underdog in Week 1 and is off to a 2-1 SU and 3-0 ATS start to the season. Oklahoma is 9-1 SU and 7-3 ATS over its last 10 road games.

 

Week 4 Opening college football lines, gathered by Odds Shark.

Auburn at Kansas State 6.5   Connecticut at South Florida -2.5   Troy at Georgia -35.5   Georgia Tech at Virginia Tech -6   Idaho at Ohio -13   Eastern Michigan at Michigan State -45   Southern Illinois at Purdue OFF   Old Dominion at Rice -10   Bowling Green at Wisconsin -17   Iowa at Pittsburgh -4   Western Illinois at Northwestern OFF   Tulane at Duke -17.5   Maryland at Syracuse -1.5   Delaware St at Temple OFF   Maine at Boston College OFF   Marshall at Akron 12.5   Hawaii at Colorado -7   Army at Wake Forest -3   Central Michigan at Kansas OFF   Virginia at BYU -13.5   Florida at Alabama -16   North Carolina at East Carolina 2   Norfolk St at Buffalo OFF   Nicholls State at North Texas OFF   Louisville at Florida International 27   Texas A&M at Southern Methodist 28   Rutgers at Navy OFF   Utah at Michigan -6.5   San Jose State at Minnesota -6.5   Texas State at Illinois -14   Massachusetts at Penn State -30   Indiana at Missouri -16   Florida Atlantic at Wyoming -3.5   Bethune-Cookman at Central Florida OFF   Presbyterian at North Carolina State OFF   Georgia State at Washington -36.5   Northern Illinois at Arkansas -8   Middle Tennessee at Memphis -7.5   Ball State at Toledo -9   Murray State at Western Michigan OFF   Northwestern State at Louisiana Tech OFF   Miami (Ohio) at Cincinnati -32   Utah State at Arkansas State OFF   Appalachian State at Southern Miss -4   Mississippi State at LSU -7   Ga Southern at South Alabama -2.5   South Carolina at Vanderbilt 20.5   Oklahoma at West Virginia 11   Miami at Nebraska -8   Clemson at Florida State -20.5   New Mexico at New Mexico State OFF   UNLV at Houston OFF   California at Arizona -16   S. Utah at Fresno State OFF   Louisiana-Lafayette at Boise State -17   Oregon at Washington State 19.5   San Diego State at Oregon State -8.5  

Stats and odds courtesy of Odds Shark.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Auburn vs. Kansas State Complete Game Preview

AUBURN, Ala. — After a pair of big home wins, here comes the first major test of many for the Auburn Tigers.

Auburn's first road trip of the 2014 season is destined for unfamiliar territory: a non-conference opponent—and a ranked one at that—on a Thursday night.

No. 20 Kansas State, the first of what is currently seven ranked opponents in Auburn's next 10 games, presents an interesting matchup for the defending SEC champions.

Longtime head coach Bill Snyder consistently puts out a veteran team filled with experienced JUCO players and returning starters who rarely make big mistakes and excel in run defense. Offensively, quarterback Jake Waters is a dangerous dual threat with designed runs and big-time passes, usually to star wide receiver Tyler Lockett.

Auburn's high-powered offense will matchup with a disciplined defense that consistently faces up-tempo attacks in the Big 12. With this nationally televised showdown marking just the second time Kansas State has faced a ranked non-conference opponent under Snyder, former Kansas JUCO star Nick Marshall and Co. will have to face a loud and hostile Manhattan, Kansas, crowd amped for one of its biggest home games in recent years.

Before we get into the details of this highly anticipated matchup between SEC and Big 12 powers, here are all the basics:

Begin Slideshow

Georgia vs. Troy Complete Game Preview

After a brutal two-game opening stretch that began with a big win over Clemson and concluded with a disappointing loss to South Carolina, the Georgia Bulldogs will get a chance to iron out a few wrinkles against the Troy Trojans on Saturday.

While this game is rightfully expected to be a win for head coach Mark Richt's Dawgs, plenty can be learned and accomplished against less formidable opposition.

Here's what you need to know about this game:

Date: Saturday, Sept. 20

Time:  12 p.m. ET

Place: Sanford Stadium, Athens, Georgia

TV: SEC Network

Radio:  Georgia Bulldog Radio Network, Troy Sports Radio Network

Spread: Georgia by 35.5 per Odds Shark

  

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

Begin Slideshow

Notre Dame Football Recruiting: Latest Updates on 2015 Commits, Visits, Targets

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — After a strong summer stretch of landing commitments, it has been a bit more than two months since Notre Dame football landed its last pledge.

But the Irish have been active on the recruiting circuit. Their class of 2015 stands at 17 members, and they’ll be looking to continue to fill out the group as the season progresses.

Notre Dame hosted arguably its biggest recruiting weekend of the season when it faced Michigan two weeks ago under the lights at Notre Dame Stadium.

You know its a big @NDFootball recruiting weekend when the candy store is in full effect... pic.twitter.com/epLS4fXQTE

— Dave Peloquin (@dpeloqu1) September 4, 2014

The Irish followed that up with a trip to Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis to square off with Purdue in the Shamrock Series—a matchup replete with new Under Armour uniforms specially made for the occasion for Notre Dame.

Getting packed up for the #ShamrockSeries, who's coming to Indy? https://t.co/cyVOXGT7w1

Notre Dame Football (@NDFootball) September 11, 2014

Stopped by @NDFBEquipment office to see the #ShamrockSeries helmets up close with some contact marks set in place. pic.twitter.com/SKX4T0DVZl

— Dave Peloquin (@dpeloqu1) September 10, 2014

Three weeks into the regular season and with the Irish heading into their first bye week, let’s check in on some of the happenings in Notre Dame’s class of 2015.

Begin Slideshow

Meet 2016 Monster Running Back Elijah Holyfield, Evander Holyfield's Son

Elijah Holyfield is a 4-star running back in the 2016 class. Son of heavyweight boxing legend Evander Holyfield, Elijah has the size and strength to dominate on the field.

The Atlanta-based ball-carrier recently took some time to talk with Bleacher Report about everything from his father's influence to his future plans. 

How well do you think he will do at the collegiate level?

Watch the video and let us know!


Star rankings via 247Sports.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

AP College Football Poll 2014: Official Top-25 Rankings, Week 4 Projections

We are another week into the 2014 NCAA college football season, and a few more contenders have seen their title aspirations dashed with a loss that shoved them down the AP poll.

Throughout the early college football season, marquee schools have slipped down the rankings, mostly as a result of falling to other premier programs. Georgia continued that trend with a close loss to SEC foe South Carolina, but USC and West Virginia plummeted down the rankings after getting stung by teams outside the AP Top 25.

This week, ranked opponents collide in pair of pivotal bouts. The Clemson Tigers can avenge their Week 1 loss to Georgia and soar back up the hierarchy by defeating top-ranked Florida State. 

A year after conquering the SEC, Auburn will make or break its College Football Playoff candidacy Thursday night against Kansas State. Currently ranked No. 20, their preseason slotting, the Wildcats can climb up the order with an upset.

Let's take a look at those two showdowns. But first, here's an estimation of how the AP rankings will change in Week 4.

 

Week 4 Preview

Through two games, the Seminoles haven't quite looked like the nation's top team in line to repeat as champions. Although they're 2-0, their plus-31 point differential doesn't befit the best squad in the world.

In college football, where the nation's serious inequality issues are reflected on the gridiron, winning is often not enough to get elite. Nebraska scored 55 points for the second time in three games last Saturday, and it needed that duplicate performance to sneak into the AP Top 25.

Oregon is hot on Florida State's heel in pursuit of the No. 1 spot. If the Seminoles want to keep looking down at everyone else, they'll make a statement against Clemson this weekend.

Georgia used Clemson as a stepping stool into the Top 10, accruing 459 total yards during a 45-21 Week 1 victory. The Bulldogs found themselves perched at No. 6 before squandering that good will with a loss against the Gamecocks.

ESPN Stats & Information identified defense as the main reason FSU's margin of victory has dipped from last year's 39.5 points to 15.5 early in 2014.

According to ESPN’s defensive efficiency, which measures how many points a defense contributes to its team’s net scoring margin and adjusts for the strength of opposing offenses, Florida State has been a below-average defense (85th in the FBS) this season after leading the FBS in defensive efficiency in 2013.

Clemson saved some face with a 72-7 annihilation of South Carolina State, during which it gained 735 total yards to its mismatched opponent's 44. It served as a reminder of how dangerous Dabo Swinney's squad can be, but it also won't matter if a brutal schedule relegates the program to a 1-2 start.

If the Jameis Winston who completed 22 of his 27 passes for 256 yards against Citadel shows up, Florida State should hold on to the top spot with a notable victory under its belt.

Auburn has shown no such sluggishness in its opening two games, compiling 104 combined points behind a brutish rushing offense that has churned out 660 yards on the ground. The leader of that rushing prowess is senior Cameron Artis-Payne, who has already amassed 289 rushing yards and four touchdowns on 42 carries.

Head coach Guz Malzahn compared him to former back Tre Mason, whom the St. Louis Rams selected in the third round of April's NFL draft.

"There's probably more similarities than there are differences," Malzahn told AL.com's Brandon Marcello. "Tre was such an exceptional between-the-tackles runner and I think Cameron has some of those same traits. Cameron also has gotten a little quicker, a little faster from this time last year."

Through two games, Kansas State has allowed 174 rushing yards, but it hasn't faced a back like Artis-Payne. Bill Snyder's squad will need another big game from quarterback Jake Waters, who added 138 rushing yards to his 239 yards through the aerial assault in the team's 32-28 victory over Iowa State.

As relayed by The Wichita Eagle's Kellis Robinett, Snyder doesn't understand why Waters' legs caught people off guard.

After needing a late rally to fend off the Cyclones, the Wildcats could lose their real estate in the AP poll with a loss Thursday night.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Recruiting Offers of the Week

Back in 2010, Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio struck gold when he plucked a little known 3-star cornerback from the heart of Georgia named Darqueze Dennard.

Fast forward four years later, and Dantonio is once again heading south in looking for talented athletes to plug into his secondary unit. 

The Spartans offered a trio of 2016 defensive backs last week in 4-star Georgia product Nigel Warrior, 4-star Florida native Trayvon Mullen and his teammate, 3-star corner Malek Young.

The 6'2", 180-pound Warrior, who recorded 61 tackles and an interception as a sophomore last season, was pleased with his newest offer.

"It was a great feeling getting an offer from Michigan State," Warrior told Sean Scherer of SpartanTailgate (subscription required). "It feels good to get an offer from one of the best defensive programs in the nation." 

The Spartans join the likes of Georgia, Tennessee, Clemson and Ohio State as contenders for one of the top defensive backs in the Peach State.

Meanwhile, Mullen and Young form of one of the nation's finest corner tandems at Coconut Creek High School in Pompano Beach, Florida. 

Mullen, who is ranked as the nation's No. 6 corner and the No. 49 player overall in the 2016 class, landed offers from in-state powers Florida State and Florida last week. Among other schools in the chase for the 6'2", 175-pounder are Alabama, Clemson, Kentucky, LSU and Ohio State.

The 5'10", 175-pound Young also holds offers from FSU, Clemson and Cincinnati.

Given the Spartans' growing reputation for producing standout defensive backs, it's not surprising to see them gain traction in their pursuit of some of the top safeties and corners in the 2016 class.

 

Ohio State, Virginia Tech Offer 2017 Standout RB

Virginia Tech scored one of the young season's most surprising upsets of the season when they knocked off Ohio State on Sept. 6.

Last week, the Hokies and the Buckeyes found themselves paired up once again on the recruiting trail, as Frank Beamer and Urban Meyer became the latest two coaches to offer 2017 4-star running back Anthony McFarland.

According to Steve Wiltfong of 247Sports, McFarland will get a chance to see the Buckeyes on Oct. 4 when they travel to face Maryland.

The Hokies became the seventh school to offer the explosive McFarland, who is rated as the nation's sixth-best running back and the No. 49 player overall in the 2017 class.

The Hokies and Buckeyes join the likes of Clemson, Florida State and Wisconsin as schools who are in hot pursuit of one of Maryland's top athletes.

 

USC Enters the Race for 2016 Stud DE

Two years ago, USC went across the country to land coveted 5-star defensive end Kenny Bigelow from Delaware.

Last week, Steve Sarkisian and the Trojans were the latest power to throw its hat in the ring for 2016 4-star Maryland pass-rusher Rahshaun Smith

The 6'3", 225-pound Smith is ranked as the nation's third-best weak-side defensive end and the No. 51 player overall in the 2016 class. He also holds offers from schools such as Alabama, Florida, Florida State, Ohio State, Oklahoma and Virginia Tech among others.

With the heavy presence of upperclassmen in the Trojans front seven defensively, adding a talented pass-rusher such as Smith will be a priority moving forward with the next two classes.

 

2016 QBs Highly Coveted

A handful of the top quarterbacks in the 2016 class picked up more offers last week.

Headlining the group is 5-star California passer Malik Henry, who is rated as the top junior quarterback prospect in the country.  

Gus Malzahn and the Auburn Tigers pulled the trigger on offering Henry—who recently announced a final four of Florida State, Notre Dame, Ohio State and UCLA. Whether or not this offer can get the Tigers in the mix for Henry remains to be seen.

Maryland 4-star dual-threat quarterback Dwayne Haskins added an offer from Syracuse. The 6'2", 185-pounder is believed to be leaning heavily toward Ohio State.

N.C. State is the latest school to offer New Jersey 4-star quarterback Jarrett Guarantano, according to Ryan Bartow of 247Sports. Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Oklahoma are among the 6'4", 200-pounder's top choices.

Indiana jumped in the race for in-state 4-star quarterback Brandon Peters, per Wiltfong. Virginia Tech and Iowa are the other two schools who are the primary suitors for the 6'5", 203-pound pro-style passer.

 

Best of the Rest

  • Bartow reports that Mississippi State is the latest offer for 2016 4-star receiver Binjimen Victor—who is teammate of Mullen and Young at Coconut Creek High School in Florida.

 

Sanjay Kirpalani is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

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Ohio State Football Recruiting: Latest Updates on Commits, Visits and Targets

Recruiting at Ohio State has operated at a consistently high level since Urban Meyer was hired in November of 2011. The Buckeyes have signed three consecutive top-five recruiting classes, and with 16 commitments already in the fold for 2015, there's a chance that streak could continue this year.

The Ohio State coaching staff will have to be selective down the stretch, though, as the Buckeyes only have a handful of remaining scholarships available.

Where do the Buckeyes stand with their top remaining targets? 

Here's a quick look at Ohio State's recent activity on the recruiting trail.

 

Commits

The Buckeyes went nearly a month without a commitment until A.J. Alexander—a 3-star wide receiver out of Burke, Virginia—gave Meyer his verbal pledge last Friday.

The Buckeyes were looking for a tall outside receiver after missing out on Van Jefferson, who committed to Georgia two weeks ago. At 6'4" and 220 pounds, Alexander is the exact kind of playmaker Ohio State's 2015 class needed.

Meanwhile, his future quarterback is putting up huge numbers.

Dual-threat 3-star quarterback Joe Burrow—who committed to the Buckeyes last May—is picking up right where he left off last year.

Through three games, Burrows has completed 80.4 percent of his passes for 939 yards and 14 touchdowns (and no interceptions), according to Jeremy Birmingham of Eleven Warriors. This, on the heels of a junior season that produced 4,321 total yards and 56 touchdowns, should have Buckeyes fans excited for the under-appreciated prospect.

 

Visits

The Virginia Tech game was Ohio State's biggest recruiting night of the season, as it attracted some of the nation's top prospects to Columbus. Included in that group was No. 1 overall prospect and 5-star defensive end Josh Sweat as well as 5-star running Damien Harris.

Sweat and Harris are two of the Buckeyes' top remaining targets, and they had a great time in Columbus despite the Hokies coming out on top.

”It definitely helped Ohio State,” Sweat said of his visit, according to Scout's Michael Clark. “Even though they lost, they didn’t blame each other. They just went back out to practice and started working. It was an all-around great visit.”

Harris, who has been a frequent visitor, continued to grow more comfortable at Ohio State.

"I had an amazing time in Columbus, just like I have had every other time I've been there, and it wasn't just being at the game," Harris said, according to Birmingham of Eleven Warriors. "Just getting a chance to be in the city was a great feeling by itself." 

Following the Buckeyes' bye week, Meyer will play host to another elite prospect. Kendall Sheffield, a 5-star cornerback out of Missouri City, Texas, will make the trip north to watch Ohio State take on Cincinnati under the lights in the 'Shoe. 

The Buckeyes are a long shot—Texas A&M is the considerable favorite, with Alabama trailing—but Meyer and Ohio State could change that with a great visit next Saturday.

 

Targets

Even with Burrows in the fold, the Buckeyes are still going hard after 4-star dual-threat quarterback Torrance Gibson.

The Buckeyes got Gibson up from Fort Lauderdale, Florida in July for their Friday Night Lights football camp, which changed the momentum of his recruitment. Ohio State had become an afterthought, but the trip vaulted the Buckeyes to the top of his list.

Meyer was hoping to get Gibson in town for the Virginia Tech game, but due to scheduling complications, he wasn't able to make the trip. According to Ari Wasserman of The Plain DealerGibson is hoping to visit for the Michigan game on November 29, which is six weeks after he plans on announcing his commitment.

That bodes well for the Buckeyes, who are hoping to secure the depth they need at quarterback with this year's class. And if Meyer can land Gibson and bring in Harris as a potential running mate in the backfield, Ohio State could secure one of the most dangerous one-two punches in the country.

The star running back out of Berea, Kentucky is destroying his high school competition. 

With Harris and Gibson in the same backfield, Meyer would have the tools to make his already potent offense even more dangerous.

 

Unless otherwise notes, all recruiting information and stats via 247Sports.

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

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NCAA Football Rankings 2014: Week 4 Standings and Analysis for Latest Polls

Not much changed atop the Associated Press Top 25 after the third Saturday in the 2014 college football season. However, a few teams with dreams of rising to the status of the elite hit major speed bumps.

Both the USC Trojans and the Georgia Bulldogs saw their hopes of an undefeated season go by the boards. The Trojans and Bulldogs weren't the only teams bitten by the upset bug. The Louisville Cardinals and Virginia Tech Hokies were toppled by Virginia and East Carolina, respectively.

The losses bounced both teams from the Top 25.

If this trend continues, it's going to be a wild and fun season. Here's a look at the most recent poll, per ESPN.com.

 

RankTeamRecordPoints 1 Florida State (37) 2-0 1,466 2 Oregon (17) 3-0 1,424 3 Alabama (1) 3-0 1,346 4 Oklahoma (2) 3-0 1,325 5 Auburn 2-0 1,252 6 Texas A&M (3) 3-0 1,195 7 Baylor 3-0 1,134 8 LSU 3-0 1,114 9 Notre Dame 3-0 917 10 Ole Miss 3-0 840 11 Michigan State 1-1 832 12 UCLA 3-0 807 13 Georgia 1-1 729 14 South Carolina 2-1 718 15 Arizona State 3-0 680 16 Stanford 2-1 560 17 USC 2-1 459 18 Missouri 3-0 446 19 Wisconsin 1-1 414 20 Kansas State 2-0 326 21 BYU 3-0 246 22 Clemson 1-1 209 23 Ohio State 2-1 204 24 Nebraska 3-0 172 25 Oklahoma State 2-1 126

 

Biggest Losers

Georgia

After looking sharp in its season opener, Georgia fell to the South Carolina Gamecocks by the smallest of margins. It wasn't just the three-point deficit in the 38-35 loss that we're referring to.

Late in the fourth quarter the Bulldogs couldn't find the end zone despite a 1st-and-goal situation on the Gamecocks' 4-yard line.

Matters became worse when Marshall Morgan missed a 28-yard field goal that would have tied it.

The Bulldogs subsequently couldn't stop the Gamecocks from converting a clutch fourth down on the next drive, and South Carolina got the win.

Clearly the Gamecocks defense isn't as bad as some believed after it was lit up by the Texas A&M Aggies in Week 1.

While it did surrender 35 points to Todd Gurley and the Bulldogs offense, the Gamecocks defense stiffened when it needed to. The loss leaves Georgia in a rough position. This was not a gimme, but most would have expected the Bulldogs to win this one.

With games against Missouri and Auburn still on the schedule, it's going to be difficult for the Bulldogs to escape the dreaded second loss of the season. The way things are shaping up, another loss could leave Georgia outside of the four-team playoff at the end of the season.

 

USC Trojans

Fresh off a huge win over the rival Stanford Cardinal, the Trojans did exactly what they didn't want to do on Saturday: have a letdown.

Facing an unranked Boston College Eagles team that most would have expected USC would handle easily, Steve Sarkisian's squad suddenly couldn't stop the run or find its own success on the ground.

Led by dual-threat quarterback Tyler Murphy, the Eagles racked up 452 yards rushing and limited the Trojans to just 20 on the ground. That's a far cry from the performance on both sides of the ball against the Cardinal.

In Week 2, USC held Stanford to just 3.4 yards per carry. The Trojans' feature back, Javorius Allen, punished the Cardinal for 154 yards on the ground.

This loss showed the Trojans' immaturity on defense and lack dominance on the offensive line. You'll be hard-pressed to find anyone who sees USC beating UCLA or Oregon head to head after this one.

 

Biggest Winners

South Carolina

Despite the fact that the Gamecocks didn't look especially good in Week 1 vs. Texas A&M or in Week 2 against East Carolina, the win over the then No.6-ranked Bulldogs put the Gamecocks in a new light.

Having lost Jadeveon Clowney to the NFL draft, most didn't see the Gamecocks as having a solid defense. The 52 points it allowed to the Aggies in Week 1 seemed to support that notion.

Allowing 35 points can't be considered shutting a team down, but South Carolina's defense proved it was clutch. The win keeps the team at just one loss for the season with three more major tests on the horizon.

Missouri, Auburn and in-state rival Clemson will all represent a significant threat. While running the table from here on out might be a stretch, the Gamecocks could still wind up with a favorable bowl selection outside of the college football playoff.

 

Texas A&M

The Aggies' schedule is brutal after Oct. 4. Four of their last six games are against teams currently ranked in the top 10. All Texas A&M did in Week 3 was beat a Rice team 38-10 that everyone expected it should defeat handily.

That win isn't what helped to move the needle. The Aggies became big winners this week because of the aforementioned Gamecocks win.

As of right now, the only big win Texas A&M has came over South Carolina in Week 1. With the Gamecocks beating the Bulldogs, it makes the Aggies' season-opening win look more impressive.

The final story will be told once Texas A&M gets into the heart of its SEC schedule, but for now, the team is looking really good.

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College Football Picks Week 4: Predictions and Odds for Top 25 Schedule

Three weeks of surprising results in college football have produced some early-season shakeups in the polls. Preseason hype has made way for reality with teams rising and plummeting in the rankings with big wins and dramatic losses.

But as with every college football season, nothing is determined after three weeks of play. Ahead of the first-ever College Football Playoff following the year, every week is important for programs looking to remain in the chase.

The early odds for the fourth week of the season are set, including ranked teams facing stiff tests. Here is a look at the odds and predictions for the Week 4 slate.

All game odds courtesy of Odds Shark.

The AP poll can be viewed at CollegeFootball.AP.org.

 

Picks Breakdown

No. 5 Auburn at No. 20 Kansas State

One of the lone matchups between top-20 opponents comes before the weekend ever arrives.

The Thursday night game marks a chance for Auburn to solidify its program as one of the top five in the country. On the other hand, it gives Kansas State the opportunity to prove it's worthy of being ranked.

Auburn is used to the big stage after winning the Iron Bowl and SEC Championship last season before falling short in the BCS National Championship. But for the Wildcats, it's unfamiliar territory, as Bryan Fischer of NFL.com notes:

The Tigers offense runs through Nick Marshall, who has started the season just as consistent as his 2013 campaign. Marshall hasn't been asked to pass with regularity, but he has been nearly flawless when doing so, compiling a passer rating of 114 or higher in both games.

He is a huge part of what makes Auburn one of the best teams in the country, as Paul Finebaum of ESPN notes:

His strength is clearly in the running game, where Marshall compiled 103 rushing yards and a touchdown against San Diego State. But the cupcakes are over on Thursday night when Auburn takes on K-State.

Equipped with a stout defense and an offense capable of running the ball against anyone, expect War Eagle to fly to 3-0. Oh, and they'll also keep those College Football Playoff hopes alive for another week.

 

No. 22 Clemson at No. 1 Florida State

Despite a 51-14 demolition of Clemson last season, Florida State's home game against the Tigers will feature the cast of College GameDay prior to the contest. But Clemson plans to do things slightly different this time around.

Mistakes hurt the Tigers last season, as turnovers led to several scoring drives for the Seminoles in the blowout. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney referenced the issues, per 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.

We've got to play a clean game – take care of the football and give ourselves a chance to win the game in the fourth quarter.

There is plenty on the line for both teams coming into the conference matchup. For Florida State, the stakes are obvious, as the team works toward making the College Football Playoff after going 14-0 last season.

Clemson, on the other hand, is simply hoping to remain in the rankings. The Tigers have a chance to break a school record for the most consecutive weeks of being in the polls, per the Clemson Football Twitter page:

Beating the Seminoles is easier said than done, especially with the team not losing a game in the last two years. In order to remain in the polls, Clemson will likely need a victory or to avoid a blowout.

Currently, the odds are stacked against the Tigers in the form of being a 20.5-point underdog. Anything close to that will surely leave Clemson on the outside looking in for both of the polls.

 

Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter.

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Meet College Football's 2014 Dark Horse Group of 5 Playoff Contenders

When you mention Cincinnati, Marshall or BYU, do you say Football Final Four in the same sentence?

And in this new era of the College Football Playoff system, can you find any of those schools on any watch lists of contenders?   

No, you can't.   

None of them are from a Group of 5 power conference. BYU is barely in the latest AP rankings at No. 21, and Cincinnati and Marshall are in that dreaded "also receiving votes'' cast-off bin.

But with a collective 7-0 mark, the trio of playoff wannabes may all have much better credentials than their rankings.

BYU, led by another vintage BYU quarterback in Taysom Hill and a quality running back in Jamaal Williams, is 3-0 for the first time since 2008 following a 33-25 win over Houston on Saturday.   

Marshall is also 3-0 and has outscored its opponents by a combined score of 134-48. Quarterback Rakeem Cato, who comes from the tough Liberty City section of Miami, has already thrown nine touchdown passes in three games. Coach is Doc Holliday brings an approach not too unlike that of his bold namesake and has guided the Thundering Heard from the mediocrity of a 5-7 mark two seasonsago to a 10-4 record last season to the current role of favorite in the Conference USA race.

And Cincinnati opened its season on Friday with a 58-34 win over Toledo. Notre Dame transfer Gunner Kiel impressed at quarterback in his Bearcats debut by tying a school record with six touchdown passes.

Still, the task of making into the Final Four semifinals will be difficult, if not impossible for all three schools, who will have to turn in perfect or (at the most) one-loss seasons to fight their way through a list of contenders such as UCLA, Georgia, South Carolina, Stanford, and USC.

Cincinnati and Marshall have decent chances of playing in one of the three non-contract bowls (Cotton, Peach Fiesta), who have reserved one spot for the best team from the non-Power Five conferences. BYU, though, has no such guarantee as an independent.

Breaking through the Power Five barrier will be tough, yet both Cincinnati and BYU have lived in the neighborhood before. BYU even has a national championship (1984) as part of its resume. Cincinnati  finished third in the BCS rankings in 2009 while posting a 12-1 record, which got them to the Sugar Bowl but not the BCS title game. Marshall, for all of its history both tragic and uplifting (e.g. Randy Moss) is still writing its football legacy.

Recent history has not been kind to non-Power Five schools. Dating back to 2004, the record books are littered with unfulfilled dreams.

Boise State went 13-0 in 2006 and finished 8th in the final BCS standings.  In 2007, Hawaii went 12-1 and finished 10th. In 2008, Boise went 12-1 and finished 9th and went 14-0 in 2009 and finished 6th.

So who among these three teams has the best chance of emerging?

BYU's independent status has put the Cougars in a state of limbo in some ways.

The Cougars have been a well-established program for more than 30 seasons, but life as an independent in football if you are not named Notre Dame is a slippery slope.

The Cougars have flirted with joining the Big 12, but nothing has developed. Of late, the Big East and the American Athletic Conference have become regular suitors over the last few years. American Athletic Conference commissioner Mike Aresco has made it clear that the door to the AAC remains open to BYU if the Cougars change their mind.

"Our lines of communication remain open with them," Aresco told Bleacher Report, "but we respect their wishes to remain independent."

What happens this season could create a change of heart in Provo. Scheduling is part of the problem. A year ago the Cougars had Texas, Wisconsin and Notre Dame on their schedule. They have already beaten Texas and Houston this season, but there isn't a Top-25 team remaining on their schedule. It is possible the Cougars could finish 12-0, but end up ranked only No. 5 by the playoff committee and be left out of the major bowl mix.

The schedule will also be an issue for Marshall, which has breezed to its three wins, but the victims have been Miami (Ohio), Rhode Island and Ohio. Their next five games are against Akron, Old Dominion, Middle Tennessee, FIU and Florida Atlantic.

See any game there that will draw the attention of the voters or the committee? There's no one after that as well.  That looks like 12-0. But Marshall could win each game by 50 points or more and still not draw much attention since there wouldn't be one quality win on the entire schedule.

And then there is Cincinnati, which will get its spotlight dance chance in a few weeks when it takes on Ohio State in Columbus and then travels to the University of Miami two weeks later. If the Bearcats can come out of their first five games 5-0, they have a chance of becoming contenders for more than the AAC title.

Cincinnati coach Tommy Tuberville is not dancing in his first big time rodeo. Tuberville has an SEC pedigree, with stops at Mississippi and Auburn, as well as some time spent at Texas Tech in the  Big 12. He also knows about the inequities of the system. In 2004, he guided his Auburn team to a 13-0 record and a Sugar Bowl berth but was not part of the BCS championship game because the computers came up with USC and Oklahoma, which started the season ranked No. 1 and No. 2 and never lost or dropped  behind the unbeaten SEC champions.

The one-sided victory over Toledo was a nice start for the Bearcats, including the performance by Kiel, a sophomore transfer who originally committed to Notre Dame.

"He exceeded my expectations," Tuberville told reporters after the game. "I didn't think he'd play that well."

Kiel, who threw for 418 yards as well as the six TDs, conceded he had some butterflies, but had a point to prove. "For me, I think I silenced the critics," said Kiel. "People were bashing me."

If the Bearcats can beat Ohio State in Columbus, they will climb into the Top 25 and have the edge over Marshall, which is the only remaining unbeaten team in Conference USA. Northern Illinois  is the only unbeaten team left in the MAC and has no Top-25 opponents remaining and neither the Sun Belt nor the Mountain West has any unbeaten teams remaining.

The opening is there, but it won't be easy to squeeze through.

 

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

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College Football Rankings 2014: Latest Standings and Predictions for Week 4

We've already seen upsets, top plays and Heisman-worthy performances over the past three weeks, but the 2014 college football season could see its most exciting slate of games yet in Week 4.

The rankings heading into Week 4 indicate that a drastic shakeup in the standings could occur at the close of play next Saturday. Several ranked teams are scheduled to square off, while the Oregon Ducks will hit the road for the first time during this young season.

Should the lesser-ranked teams knock off the higher-ranked teams, the polls will most certainly change drastically. Then again, there's a reason those teams are ranked as high as they are.

Below are predictions from two of the most compelling matchups of Week 4.

 

Auburn at Kansas State

Kansas State can be a deceptively strong opponent for Auburn, as the Tigers could easily drop this game if quarterback Nick Marshall misses similar throws to ones he muffed against San Jose State and Arkansas.

Overall, Marshall has looked pretty good during his senior season. He is 14-of-25 for 277 yards and two touchdowns through the air to go along with 142 yards and two scores on the ground. He hasn't been perfect, but he has definitely been dynamic enough to lead this team.

Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee knows that Marshall, along with the rest of the offense, will have to play better than they did against San Jose State, via Charles Goldberg of AuburnTigers.com

We look at what can be better? He knows, playing Kansas State, that he’s got to play better, the wideouts have to play better, the line, the running backs, everybody. We’re going to have to make a lot of plays in the passing game. We feel like we can do it. We just have to go out and prove it.

Because Kansas State is a legitimate candidate to pull off an upset, Auburn's entire offense needs to be in sync and firing on all cylinders. They scored a touchdown on each of their first six drives against San Jose State, but some inconsistencies came about later on in the contest. Those will have to go away to be successful at Kansas State.

This won't be a blowout either way, but Auburn should be able to pull out a close win.

Prediction: Auburn 28, Kansas State 23

 

Clemson at Florida State

Florida State may have only played one game against a quality opponent (Oklahoma State), but the result wasn't great. Sure, the Seminoles grabbed the win, but it wasn't an easy one.

They had a 10-point lead heading into the fourth quarter before the Cowboys stormed back to score 14 in the fourth. The defense's inability to hold the Cowboys in that quarter should concern the coaching staff. A team like Clemson—one that is much better than Oklahoma State—could exploit that defense.

Jameis Winston will be expected to light it up against the Tigers, as it could become a shootout. Of course, Winston is a great guy to get behind in a shootout.

Winston is still a top candidate for this year's Heisman, so the Seminoles are in good hands. Even if it's ugly, they should pull out the hard-fought win.

Prediction: Florida State 33, Clemson 20

 

Follow Kenny DeJohn on Twitter: @KennyDeJohn_BR

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Texas Football: Most Important Adjustments That Need to Be Made During Bye Week

Sitting at 1-2 heading into their early-season bye week, the Longhorns have plenty of adjustments to make and issues to address.

Above all, Charlie Strong and the coaching staff need to work on their relationship with the team.

Until the offensive line can come together, the Longhorns are going to have to work on getting explosive plays from their passing offense. The line needs to be reassessed after two tough weeks, but the Horns can help themselves by getting more playmakers involved in the offense while building on quarterback Tyrone Swoopes' success outside of the pocket.

As for the defense, which has suffered through two second-half letdowns, it's all about attitude and buying into the one Charlie Strong is trying to instill.

Any degree to which he can accomplish that during the extra week will go a long way toward turning this team around.

Begin Slideshow

Week 3 College Football Superlatives from Kramer's Korner

When Steve Spurrier’s voice met microphone moments after South Carolina’s 38-35 upset victory over Georgia—a game that will be remembered for the Gamecocks’ 4th-and-inches pickup by quarterback Dylan Thompson with only a minute remaining—he was asked about the decision to go for it rather than punting.

We are all well aware of this ritual by now. Someone asks the Ol’ Ball Coach a question, he responds with dry, hilarious truth—perhaps even a jab at a familiar football fixture—and then we proceed to laugh in unison. 

This response, however, was somehow above and beyond the typical Spurrier encounter. It was a dismissive shoulder shrug, a facial expression that required the cooperation of hundreds of muscles and raw, overwhelming confidence.

Lost in the chaotic nature of the win—along with the various pieces of wreckage left in Week 3—was the fact that South Carolina beat a Top 10 team only weeks after being dismantled and sold for parts against Texas A&M.

We assumed that recovery was impossible. Given what we saw, it was hard not to. But the Gamecocks bounced back, and one of the best football magicians to ever walk the Earth worked one of his most amazing tricks yet in just under three weeks. 

In doing so, the Ol’ Ball Coach reminded us he’s more than Stephen King-sized book of catch phrases. (Although he still delivered on that end, too, and you just knew he would.)

Is South Carolina perfect? Not by any means. In a way, however, it makes the performance on Saturday even more impressive.

As for awards and observations from Week 3, here they are.

 

Offensive Player of the Week: Gunner Kiel, Cincinnati

Remember this guy? Once at Notre Dame, once verbally committed to Indiana—no, really—and now at Cincinnati, Gunner Kiel appears to have landed in the right place. In his first start for the Bearcats, Kiel completed 25 of 27 passes for 418 yards. He also ran for 24 yards and found the end zone six times as Cincinnati beat Toledo 58-34.

Kiel threw for more than 200 yards and three touchdowns in the first quarter, and although Toledo made an interesting second-half push after being down early, it didn’t last long.

His debut was years in the making, although it was indeed worth the wait.

 

Dominant Defender: Shaq Thompson, Washington

For the second consecutive week, Washington takes home Dominant Defender honors. Defensive lineman Danny Shelton was selected after his four-sack performance in Week 2. This week, we’re moving back one level and highlighting Shaq Thompson, who is quickly becoming a superstar if he’s not there already. 

Thompson found the end zone twice, once on a 36-yard interception return and the other on a 52-yard fumble recovery. Linebackers are really not supposed to move as quickly as he does.

He also finished with four tackles in Washington’s 44-19 win over Illinois. Oh, and last week he found the end zone as a running back. (That doesn’t factor into this weekly award, but it serves as a reminder that you should be watching him.)

 

Video Game Box Score: 

-The entirety of West Virginia-Maryland was a video game. It featured 1,141 total yards, 795 passing yards and 77 points. The most glaring items to stand out on this game, however, came courtesy of the Mountaineers. Quarterback Clint Trickett threw for 511 yards and WVU ran 108 plays. 108!

-Coming into its game against Texas Tech, Arkansas had run the ball 69 times. On Saturday, the Hogs ran it 68 (!!!) times for 438 yards. Yes, Bret Bielema’s team finished with more running plays than passing yards (61). You should get a plaque or something for that.

 

Anti-Video Game Box Score:

-It took USC—one of the nation’s more potent rushing attacks—29 carries to reach 20 yards on Saturday against Boston College. Flipping sides, the USC rushing defense allowed 452 yards rushing on 54 carries. Yes, college football is weird. (More on that in a bit.)

-Alabama’s O.J. Howard is arguably the nation’s most talented tight end. Through three games, however, he has zero catches. This is absolutely baffling and the most shocking stat through three games this season. Someone throw him a ball, please.

 

Biggest Surprise 

We expected USC to be mildly hungover after beating Stanford. We expected the Trojans to be somewhat sluggish due to jetlag. But we did not expect to see a talented USC defense allow 37 points and 506 yards... to Boston College. (I’m sorry, Boston College, but this part is important.)

Behold the power of an unpredictable sport and the difficulty that is the week-to-week grind. On paper, it always looks so easy, especially after we watched BC crumble to Pitt only a week earlier. And in reality, we gave the Trojans a win here long before that.

Then the season came and the unexpected showed up at our house with a six-pack. Kudos to Steve Addazio and the rest of the Eagles on the upset.

 

Best Moment

Rick Neuheisel did not expect for his son Jerry to see the field for UCLA on Saturday. After an injury to quarterback Brett Hundley, however, the redshirt sophomore was thrown into action against Texas. And he played well. His pump-and-go touchdown late in the fourth quarter secured the win for the Bruins.

Dad, who works as an analyst for the Pac-12 Network, watched anxiously. The network recorded him doing so—along with his joy, anger, stress and every possible emotion you could imagine—along the way.

We're certainly glad it did.

Well done, Jerry. Well done, Rick. 

 

For the Highlight Reel

The entire sequence looked far too easy and natural for Josh Doctson, which is why the TCU wideout is receiving appropriate highlight-reel love. 

Against Minnesota, Doctson ran a fade and the pass was all but certain to be heading out of play. Thanks to his Stretch Armstrong-like maneuver, however, he was able to haul in the pass with relative ease and make an arduous grab look somewhat simple.

 

If the College Football Playoff Started Today... (or Why I Hate Your Team)

Reminder: If you’re team is not included, it’s because I have a personal vendetta. There can be no other reasonable explanation.

Georgia and USC are out; Oklahoma and Texas A&M are in. There feels like some separation between the top two teams with our limited sample size, although that could change this weekend with bigger games looming.

1. Oregon

2. Oklahoma

3. Florida State

4. Texas A&M

 

Five Leftovers to Chew on 

1. James Franklin won’t receive dramatic applause for beating Rutgers in his first Big Ten game, but I was impressed. Yes, it came against a turnover-happy Scarlet Knight team, and this is a game PSU should win. But with so much attention on the NCAA’s decision last week, you expected the focus to be off. This was a huge, impressive victory given the bizarre circumstances.

2. How about a little love for Bret Bielema and Arkansas? Bielema, of course, has been an easy target this year, but it’s obvious to see how much better Arkansas has gotten in one offseason. It’s not flashy, but when you run for 438 yards and score 48 points on the road, it doesn’t have to be. Good luck stopping those two backs.

3. On the topic of improving teams, let’s talk Colorado. After watching the Buffs and Arizona State in its entirety, I’ll say this: Colorado still has a long way to go before they’re a team the Pac-12 has to be worried about, but the progress is both impressive and obvious. Mike MacIntyre is doing an underrated job there; I hope he stays around long enough to see it through.

4. Bold uniform attempts, particularly with historic programs, typically fail. But the Shamrock Series uniforms Notre Dame wore against Purdue on Saturday night were absolutely lovely. The game itself wasn’t all that watchable, but at least both teams looked nice. Bright side, indeed.

Notre Dame uniforms😻🍀🔥 pic.twitter.com/dGhsVUkMDN

— Daquan Davis (@ShowtimeQUAN_) September 14, 2014

5. Myles Garrett is already must-see television for Texas A&M, and the true freshman has only played in three games. His five-and-a-half sacks are second in the country overall, and he has quickly become one of the more dynamic defensive ends in the SEC. With Arkansas, Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Alabama coming up, it will be fascinating to see what he does next.

 

Fan of the Week: This Guy

This game is attracting all types of fans. This guy put tape on and then went to the beach. 90 minutes later: voila pic.twitter.com/9av2AfI7h2

— Dan Duggan (@DDuggan21) September 13, 2014

Wait, there’s more.

Guys, I didn't even tweet out that fan's back earlier: pic.twitter.com/cfUILqrTWz

— Dan Duggan (@DDuggan21) September 13, 2014

I have only one complaint, and it’s not the hat. If anything, the head accessory adds to this scene.

With that said, sir, you have to take that “I” and make it a “1.” I understand you might be new at this—it was taken at Rutgers, after all—but we take our pointless conference abbreviations seriously and you look like a serious man.

 

Your “Weird Football” Game of the Week

Thursday nights oftentimes deliver weird, entertaining games. These are not necessarily “good” games, but you will likely see something you've never seen before. If you watched BYU beat Houston on Thursday—staying with it beyond BYU-s 23-0 lead—you were treated to a luxury spread of weird. 

There was a Madden-like glitch from a Houston cornerback. I hate it when you press the triangle button too early.

There was an ejection for a punch that landed air.

Air punch http://t.co/xr3DHSuRix

— Michael Shamburger (@mshamburger1) September 12, 2014

There was this extra-point attempt.

And yes, there was a Hail Mary.

As always, thank you, weird football.

 

The Best, Worst Incompletion of the Year

Kent State's performance against Ohio State on Saturday could be summed up in one play. Colin Reardon will undoubtedly have better passes than this, although I feel like this should come with bonus points for creativity.

 

The Best, Worst Touchback of the Year 

East Carolina delivered an enormous upset on Saturday against Virginia Tech. It also gave its special teams coach a blunder that he can hang on his bathroom wall for guests to see. It's actually quite hypnotic.

 

Sometimes You Just Need a Hug

Kicking is football’s most unappreciated trade. When you make a kick, you are patted on the head and then forgotten. When you miss, you are the world’s largest goat in a spotlight the size of a swimming pool. 

UMass kicker Blake Lucas had the opportunity to tie Vanderbilt late in the game with a short field. Unfortunately, he was unable to deliver. As the spotlight kicked on, however, Lucas got a kind embrace from an expected place. Vanderbilt’s Adam Butler cut his celebration short to offer up a hug.

Sometimes, especially times like these, we could all use one.

 

Let's Play a Game: What is Will Muschamp Saying?

1. "I hate goat spit."

2. "Goals, kids!"

3. "Mulch it!"

4. "I feel like I'm doing a good job and there's no need for the hot seat talk."

 

From the Peanut Gallery (Best Tweets of the Weekend)

We are still waiting for the UK team to find the stadium. Other teams are usually here by now. Wonder if they will be as lost on the field.

— Gainesville Police (@GainesvillePD) September 13, 2014

What did Holgorsen say to Lambert before game-winning kick? "I haven't talked to Josh Lambert since he got on campus."

— Allan Taylor (@AllanTaylorWVU) September 13, 2014

@mitch54@CorkGaines@daynperry omg pic.twitter.com/AiV4kkdtLK

— nick pants (@nick_pants) September 13, 2014

So is this good or nah? pic.twitter.com/SQGLyxqoMe

— Austin Steele (@AustinSteele) September 15, 2014 

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