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Purdue vs. Notre Dame: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time and More

On the hunt for a sixth consecutive win over rival Purdue to retain the Shillelagh Trophy for the foreseeable future, No. 11 Notre Dame hits the road Saturday for Lucas Oil Stadium in the last of one of the sport's longstanding series.

One week removed from ending its series with Michigan—in dominant fashion, by the way—Notre Dame now looks to come out on top as a 68-year streak comes to a close.

The finality of the rivalry for the time being adds a layer of intrigue to this matchup that would otherwise be absent given the trajectories of both teams at this point. Desperation is a surefire motivator, so expect the Boilermakers to go down swinging Saturday. 

Then again, many thought the same for Michigan last week. With any luck, this one will turn out to be a much more entertaining affair between heated rivals. 

 

Questions and Answers...Or Lack Thereof

The return of senior quarterback Everett Golson has provided the Fighting Irish with a spark most could not have fathomed before the season.

Really, it's as if he never left. Through two games, Golson has thrown for 521 yards and five touchdowns with another three scores on the ground. It's not as if Golson is doing it against strictly bad competition, either, with three of those passing touchdowns coming against the Wolverines. In that game, he completed 67.6 percent of his passes.

Not only is Golson suddenly a Heisman contender, he has the attention of those at the next level, such as Bleacher Report's Matt Miller:

As it stands, the questions as to how quickly the Notre Dame offense could be effective have been met with a resounding answer.

That is, of course, a bit of bad news for the Boilermakers. Darrell Hazell's team actually started the season on the right foot, beating Western Michigan 43-34. Sophomore quarterback Danny Etling went for 181 yards and two scores. Running back Raheem Mostert tallied 146 yards and a score on 22 carries.

It all turned bad the week after, though. Etling threw two picks in a 38-17 loss to Central Michigan while Mostert gained all of 53 yards with a 2.8 average. As Tyler James of NDinsider.com humorously notes, the defense did not exactly show up, either:

The up-and-down play of the entire team has done nothing short of raise more questions than answers. Hazell hinted to the press in the week leading up to the game that neither quarterback is technically the starter (the other being Austin Appleby, who attempted 17 passes against Central Michigan).

"We'll let you know here in a couple of days," Hazell said, per Mike Carmin of IndyStar.com. "I'm not going to say it's a competition. We'll make the decision here as we go forward, come out of (Tuesday's) practice and see where we are and go from there."

Barring an epic turnaround, Saturday's contest will be a continued search for an identity for Purdue.

 

The Notre Dame Effect

This is one ugly contest set to unfold—on paper.

The thing is, even when the Boilermakers are at their worst, they still pull a great performance out of the hat against Notre Dame. Kelly understands this, as captured by Irish Illustrated:

He's certainly not exaggerating.

Last year, a Purdue team that wound up 1-10 welcomed then-ranked No. 21 Notre Dame to town and held a lead going into the final frame before the Fighting Irish rattled off 21 points to win, 31-24.

The year before that, the Boilermakers rolled into Notre Dame Stadium and about ruined the Fighting Irish's perfect season before a late field goal ended the game at 20-17.

So yes, things look bleak for Purdue. But the program does its finest work in even downtrodden years against Notre Dame, so there is an outside chance Saturday turns out to be a competitive affair.

 

When: Saturday, September 13, 7:30 p.m. ET

Where: Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, Indiana

Television: NBC

Live Stream: NBC Sports Live Extra

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 56.5
  • Spread: Purdue (-29.5)

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports via USA Today.

 

Prediction

There is a slim, slim chance Notre Dame has a bit of a hangover as it rides high into the matchup thanks to the upset over Michigan.

But in reality, the Fighting Irish are simply too talented to suffer an epic letdown against a Purdue team that can't even decide on a starter under center two games into the season. That reeks of an ugly offensive performance, especially against a defense that picked off Michigan's Devin Gardner three times.

Expect this one to get out of hand by the half. This is Kelly's most talented squad since 2012, and he is sure to apply lessons learned in that debacle against Purdue to great success.

The Shillelagh Trophy is set to reside with the Fighting Irish for a long time.

 

Prediction: Fighting Irish 35, Purdue 7

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Georgia vs. South Carolina: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time and More

The lone contest this weekend between ranked teams stands tall as one of the season's most critical when No. 6 Georgia hits the road to take on No. 24 South Carolina.

Thus far, the tale for two SEC powerhouses has been as polar opposite as possible. The Bulldogs are one of the nation's biggest surprises thanks to a win over then-ranked No. 16 Clemson to start the season, 45-21.

Steve Spurrier's Gamecocks are arguably the biggest disappointment of all, a season-opening loss to then-ranked No. 21 Texas A&M and a struggle against East Carolina doing much to eliminate the team in the minds of fans just two games into the season.

We won't be able to tell the difference Saturday when these two step into the ring. Despite being the favorite, Georgia coach Mark Richt understands this best.

“I got a feeling this game could get a little bloody,” Richt said, per ESPN.com's Alex Scarborough. “I think both teams are tough, physically. … Before it’s over, it may get down to a bit of a fistfight.”

Tension and implications run deep in this one, to say the least.

 

The Scramble for Balance

At Williams-Brice Stadium, the Gamecocks defense has held the Bulldogs to a total of just 27 points in their last three encounters.

The problem is, Jadeveon Clowney is gone, and with him went any semblance of respectable defense so far this season for Spurrier's side.

Against the Aggies to start the season, the South Carolina defense allowed Kenny Hill to throw for 511 yards and three scores, while back Trey Williams took 13 totes for 78 yards and a score. Three Aggies backs recorded a per-carry average of 4.3 or greater.

The lack of a pulse for Spurrier's defense did not change much against East Carolina, either. It was a 33-23 win, but Pirates signal-caller Shane Carden still threw for 321 yards, and that same big-play leakage from the Gamecocks defense was present, as one can glean from the final box score of notable rushers:

A performance like that against Georgia back Todd Gurley, a surefire Heisman candidate, will have South Carolina fans leaving for the exits early come Saturday.

This season, Gurley has just 15 totes—which went for 198 yards and three touchdowns. Look at it this way, via Trent Smallwood of Bulldawgillustrated.com:

The struggle has been about the same for the South Carolina offense. Star back Mike Davis looked his usual self against East Carolina with 18 carries for 101 yards and two scores, but senior quarterback Dylan Thompson has struggled with the reins in his hand, totaling 632 yards and five touchdowns to two picks—completing just 50 percent of his throws against the Aggies.

None of this is to suggest Georgia is without work to do, but South Carolina is littered with issues at exactly the wrong time.

 

Seasons on the Line

With so many star players, notable coaches and more featured in this matchup, it is easy to forget just how much it means for both sides.

The winner of this clash has not won the SEC East since 2010, but the point stands—seasons will be defined Saturday based on past events and how the rest of the schedule sets up.

Believe it or not, all is not lost for South Carolina. The schedule is rather simplistic in the coming weeks, and Georgia might slip in a brutal division. ESPN.com's Edward Aschoff explains this in an apt manner:

South Carolina's schedule sets up very nicely. After Georgia, South Carolina travels to struggling Vanderbilt, hosts Missouri, goes to Kentucky, takes a bye, and then hosts Furman before a trip to Auburn. During that time, Georgia has three straight home games against Troy, Tennessee and Vandy, before going on the road to play Missouri and Arkansas. Those road games won't be easy, especially if Arkansas' running game stays hot.

If the Gamecocks can find a productive balance as mentioned, a win Saturday can be parlayed into quite the streak before a trip to Auburn in October and a trip to Gainesville in November.

Conversely, Georgia cannot afford to hit a speed bump now if the conference title game and a playoff berth are to be in serious consideration late in the season.

 

When: Saturday, September 13, 3:30 p.m. ET

Where: Williams-Brice Stadium, Columbia, South Carolina

Television: CBS

Live Stream: CBSSports.com

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 60
  • Spread: Georgia (-3)

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports via USA Today.

 

Prediction

Things look bad for the Gamecocks. That's putting it lightly.

Ponder this—the Aggies ran up more yardage on the road against the Gamecocks than they did at home against Lamar.

Davis will continue to get his, and Thompson should get more comfortable as the weeks progress, but that defense is in for a world of hurt against Gurley, and it doesn't help that Hutson Mason seems comfortable under center after taking over for the departed Aaron Murray.

It may be a road contest, but the Bulldogs are catching the Gamecocks at the perfect time. Expect Gurley and the offense to produce enough for a gritty, perhaps bloody, victory.

Prediction: Bulldogs 27, Gamecocks 23

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Tennessee vs. Oklahoma: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time and More

In another Big 12-SEC showdown Saturday, Tennessee hits the road to take on No. 4 Oklahoma and hopes it fares better than conference compatriot Alabama did in last year's Sugar Bowl.

Both teams have ran up undefeated marks through two contests apiece while breaking in new faces at important spots, but in terms of postseason aspirations, the schools are very much on different trajectories.

Now in his 16th season at the helm, Bob Stoops seems to have a roster on hand that can push for a berth in the inaugural playoff, especially given the rather simplistic overall schedule as long as his side can avoid an upset Saturday.

Despite major progress on the recruiting trail, Butch Jones' debut as coach of the Volunteers last year fell flat at 5-7, but his inexperienced team continues to grow each week and figures to make this is an exciting bout, should his young roster not crumble under the pressure in a hostile environment.

 

Getting Defensive

Tennessee's best chance Saturday comes down to the defensive side of the football, with all due respect to senior quarterback Justin Worley (520 yards, five touchdowns and one interception through two games) and his team's non-existent running game (average of 139 yards per game and a meager 3.3 yards per carry against mediocre competition).

In an 38-7 triumph over Utah State in the opening week, the Vols defense gave up just 244 total yards and allowed just three third-down conversions. The following 34-19 win over Arkansas State saw the unit give up 331 total yards and four chain-moving plays.

"Our defensive line is getting tremendous pressure up front and just impacting the quarterback," cornerback Cam Sutton said, per The Associated Press (h/t ESPN.com). "That makes our jobs easier covering receivers downfield."

The only problem for Tennessee, then, is the fact the Sooners have been just as great.

Oklahoma has allowed no more than 330 total yards and six third-down conversions in each of its first two contests, which have been won by a total tally of 100-23.

Run defense has been a particular strong suit for the Sooners. Louisiana Tech as a whole averaged 1.9 yards per carry, and Tulsa trumped that with a 2.8 average. Against an offense that has had issues getting going on the ground in what amount to warm-up contests, these numbers are obviously a serious concern for Tennessee going into Saturday.

 

Experience Matters

Also of concern is the experience gap, a factor that in a large amount of cases will decide contests between top teams outright.

Jones has done a superb job in carving out a niche in the tough SEC recruiting market. But his classes are not that of USC—the young players are not going to come in and excel right away against top-tier competition such as Oklahoma.

Still, Stoops appears to have done his due diligence and respects the sheer athleticism Jones has been able to add on both sides of the football.

“We recognize it as another big challenge, an exciting challenge,” Stoops said, per ESPNDallas.com's Jake Trotter. “I know they’ve recruited really strong in the last couple of years. When you watch them on tape, you see a lot of speed running around, you see a lot of big guys. They’ve really got a great-looking team.”

ESPN CollegeFootball does a great job of breaking down just how much the advantage rests in Oklahoma's favor where it matters most come Saturday—in the trenches:

So while Tennessee has shined against lesser competition, that young defensive line now has to deal with sophomore Sooners quarterback Trevor Knight, who has 552 yards and three scores through the air and another 52 yards and a touchdown on the ground.

Don't forget about sophomore backs Keith Ford and Alex Ross, either. The two have combined for 264 yards and seven touchdowns already to balance out the offense.

The ever-present factor that is a road game plays a part, too.

 

When: Saturday, September 13, 8 p.m. ET

Where: Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium, Norman, Oklahoma

Television: ABC

Live Stream: ABC Live

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 56
  • Spread: Oklahoma (-21)

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports via USA Today.

 

Prediction

Were this contest in Tennessee, it would be a tad more difficult to judge.

Unfortunately for Jones, his program is still a few years out from being able to pull off a dramatic upset against a school such as Oklahoma.

The lack of a ground game is a serious problem. The aforementioned Worley was miserable away from home last year, too, completing less than 50 percent of his passes against ranked opposition. Forced into a one-dimensional attack against a great defense, the Volunteers will be able to do little in the way of scoring.

For Stoops and the Big 12, it is sure to be another feather in the cap.

Prediction: Sooners 35, Volunteers 14

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

UCLA vs. Texas: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time and More

"What could have been" seems to be the theme Saturday night when No. 12 UCLA hikes to the Lone Star State for a clash with the Texas Longhorns.

On paper, this was one of the year's best overall matchups. A rejuvenated UCLA squad with a Heisman contender under center encounters a rebuilding Texas program infused with fresh blood at head coach. What could go wrong just two games into the season?

Everything, obviously.

The Longhorns are a hobbled mess with seemingly little left in the tank already, while the Bruins have done their best fish-out-of-water impression, flopping and wailing in matchups designed to act as warm-ups before the schedule gets serious.

Yet, the encounter remains interesting, at least on some levels.

 

Grand Expectations…Squashed

After an 8-5 season and the departure of Mack Brown, Charlie Strong was supposed to breathe some life into a hapless program in need of direction on both sides of the football.

Instead, Strong has dealt with issues within the organization, a lack of productivity on the field and an inability to avoid the injury bug.

The Longhorns started the season with a 38-7 win over North Texas, but starting quarterback David Ash suffered a concussion in the process and is out indefinitely. So sophomore Tyrone Swoopes took the reins against BYU the week after—Strong suspended offensive tackles Kennedy Estelle and Desmond Harrison beforehand—and threw for 176 yards, a touchdown and an interception and was sacked three times.

On the flip side, BYU ran up 429 total yards, 248 of which came on the ground, and won the possession battle by nearly 10 minutes. The Longhorns defense allowed its adversary to score on all six of its trips to the red zone.

"It is an embarrassment," Strong said, per The Associated Press, via ESPN.com. "It is an embarrassment to this program and an embarrassment to the university."

UCLA coach Jim Mora understands the feeling all too well.

Preseason favorites to perhaps push for a playoff berth thanks to the presence of Heisman contender Brett Hundley under center, UCLA took to the road and escaped with a 28-20 victory over Virginia to start the season.

There, Hundley was quiet with 242 yards, and the defense gave up 386 total yards. The week after, UCLA returned home and scored a 42-35 win over Memphis, which saw Hundley somewhat get back to form with 396 passing yards and three touchdowns, although his lone interception was returned for a touchdown.

Great, but the team needed to break a fourth-quarter tie at 35 apiece against a team that went 3-9 last season.

“I’ll tell you again, there’s no satisfaction yet in the way that we are playing,” Mora said, via UCLABruins.com.

Hence the whole "Why they play the game" spiel. What was once viewed as a major, season-defining game is now merely a blip on the radar.

 

The Tale of Intertwined Programs

Interestingly enough, this one has storylines that span the off-field spectrum, too.

It was not too long ago that Mora was making the rounds as a possibility for major programs before he wound up putting ink to paper on an extension with the Bruins.

Texas was, of course, one of the top suitors.

ESPN.com's Chris Low documents the extent of the program's pursuit in great detail, but the highlight is certainly this nugget:

During those conversations, Texas offered to send a private jet to pick up Mora's parents, and anybody else he wanted, and bring them to all of the Longhorns' games.

"I'm like, 'Is there a bottom to your bucket?'" Mora said he remembers thinking at the time.

So Texas wound up spurned. Mora is happy as is for familial reasons as much as football reasons, which is respectable in its own right. Of course, one has to think that Strong, if he didn't already, now understands that he was not the first option.

Call it a layer of much-needed intrigue for a game that features a diminished on-field product to the surprise of most.

 

When: Saturday, September 13, 8 p.m. ET

Where: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas

Television: Fox

Live Stream: Fox Sports Go

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 49.5
  • Spread: UCLA (-6)

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports via USA Today.

 

Prediction

A downtrodden, limping Texas squad against a severely underperforming UCLA team is a combustible recipe.

"Combustible" as in, this one should be a stinker.

UCLA is easily the better team. The defense can play well enough to shut down a shaky sophomore under center, and Mora and his staff have done a good job of mitigating issues along the offensive line by drawing up designed runs and rollouts for Hundley. 

Remember, Strong's defense struggled against another mobile quarterback in BYU's Taysom Hill, who threw for 181 yards and added another 99 and three touchdowns on the ground.

As he should be, Hundley is the difference in this matchup. If he can single-handedly make it an entertaining affair remains to be seen.

Prediction: UCLA 38, Texas 24

 

Statistics and info courtesy of ESPN unless otherwise specified.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Pac-12 Football: Which Team Is Most Likely to Pull an Upset in Week 3?

Despite several games that were closer on the scoreboard than they appeared to be on paper, the Pac-12 had a successful Week 2 with the exception of Washington State dropping their game at Nevada.

Call that a wash, however, because Oregon notched a major victory for the conference in beating the reigning Rose Bowl champion Michigan State Spartans by 19 points.

Once again, the conference heads into a weekend where every team is favored to win, many by double digits. The only matchup between two Pac-12 teams is Arizona State at Colorado, yet another game that doesn't look very even.

Out of all the games scheduled for Saturday, which ones will result in an upset? We're taking a glance at every game on the slate for Week 3 in the Pac-12 and determining which program has the best chance of getting upset. 

Begin Slideshow

Pac-12 Football: Which Team Is Most Likely to Pull an Upset in Week 3?

Despite several games that were closer on the scoreboard than they appeared to be on paper, the Pac-12 had a successful Week 2 with the exception of Washington State dropping their game at Nevada...

Begin Slideshow

Georgia Football: What the Bulldogs Must Do to Control Gamecocks RB Mike Davis

The Georgia-South Carolina game could be the most physical game on the SEC schedule. Both teams are expected to run the ball often, which could lead to a low-scoring battle in which both defenses play at a high level.

South Carolina has the daunting task of taking on Todd Gurley, who rushed for 198 yards in the Clemson game nearly two weeks ago.

However, the Bulldogs will have the tough task of trying to stop Mike Davis, who torched UGA last year with 149 rushing yards and one touchdown.

As everyone should know, the Gamecocks were dominated by Texas A&M nearly two weeks ago in Columbia, but one of the reasons they lost as badly as they did was the fact that Davis was hampered by a rib injury suffered in the game.

He was able to bounce back against East Carolina with 101 yards and two touchdowns in the 33-23 win.

In order for the Bulldogs to come away with the win, they will have to contain Davis, just like South Carolina did to Gurley two years ago. But how do the Bulldogs go about doing that?

@gifdsports: Mike Davis 36 yard td run https://t.co/Xh6GV4QvDv@Mike28davis turn up!

— Brandi Mills (@BrandiCMills) September 7, 2014

When the Bulldogs played against Clemson in the season opener, they limited the Tigers to 102 rushing yards on 44 carries.

They were able to play the run effectively because all four linebackers (Amarlo Herrera, Ramik Wilson, Leonard Floyd and Jordan Jenkins) were able to get off their blocks and make tackles near of behind the line of scrimmage. The reason they were able to do that was the defensive line taking on the blocks and eating up space.

As such, nose guard Mike Thornton will play a big role in the South Carolina game, as he, James DeLoach and Sterling Bailey will go up against a veteran offensive line.

With that said, Thornton will go up against redshirt freshman center Alan Knott. Don’t be surprised if Thornton is lined up against Knott for the majority of the snaps, which could lead him to make some plays behind the line of scrimmage.

Like Gurley, Davis is a guy who gets better during the game. Therefore, the key for the defense is to attack Davis early and often—especially with his health issues.

Georgia's front seven will have to do what it did against Clemson in the second quarter, which is swarm to the football and not miss tackles. Davis is tough to bring down, but if the Bulldogs play fundamental football and don't over-pursue, they should be able to slow down Davis. In turn, that should lead to a win.

Because the Bulldogs have not scored more than 20 points in Columbia in 20 years and have not thrown a touchdown pass there in 10 years , the defense will have to play at a higher level than it did against Clemson.

Davis, who is an Atlanta native, will be amped up for this game and will not let the nagging injuries get to him. He is expecting a big game from himself.

If the Bulldogs want to be the favorite in the SEC East, the defense will need to have a dominant performance. That starts with shutting down South Carolina’s best offensive weapon.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

BYU vs. Houston: 4 Players to Watch in Thursday Night Showdown

BYU will have a great chance to gain national recognition this Thursday when they host Houston (7 p.m. MDT, ESPN). The BYU Cougars are coming off of a huge road win against Texas, but get another big test against UH.

Houston bounced back last week, putting up 47 points in a shutout win over Grambling State. They lost their season opener but will seek revenge after last year's 47-46 defeat to BYU.

Both teams will field talented playmakers, but who should you keep your eye on? Here are four players that will definitely make a difference in Thursday's game.

Begin Slideshow

Texas vs. UCLA Complete Game Preview

The Texas Longhorns have a chance to quiet the critics after the embarrassing loss it suffered to BYU in Week 2.

But bouncing back against No. 12 UCLA will not be an easy task.

The 2-0 Bruins have yet to play a complete game this season, but they have a chance to rectify that against the young, injury-plagued Longhorns.

Can Texas change the direction of the season by upsetting UCLA, or will the Longhorns rollover and finish nonconference play with a losing record? 

Let's take a look.

 

When: Saturday, Sept. 13, 8:00 p.m. ET

Where: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas

TV: Fox

Austin radio: KVET 98.1/1300

SiriusXM satellite radio: XM 202; Sirius 117; Internet 969; Spanish 550

Last meeting: Sept. 17, 2011, Rose Bowl, Pasadena, California

Last meeting outcome: Texas 49, UCLA 20

Spread: UCLA (-7.5), per OddsShark.com

Begin Slideshow

Georgia Football: Can Todd Gurley Match Herschel Walker's Legacy?

Todd Gurley, the Georgia Bulldogs’ Heisman candidate at running back, has only played one game this season, but he’s already having himself a year.  

And if he maintains his current trajectory, he's going to chase down the legacy of the uncatchable Herschel Walker.

Gurley's record-setting performance in Week 1 against the Clemson Tigers was nothing short of legendary.  He ran for 198 yards and three touchdowns.  He notched a 100-yard kickoff return for another score.  He set a school record for all-purpose yardage in a single game.  And he did all this against what was supposed to be one of the stouter defenses in the country. 

Oh, and Gurley touched the football only 17 times.

In fairness to Gurley, this magnificent effort wasn’t entirely unexpected.  Since arriving on campus in 2012, the talented running back has had a knack for big performances in the biggest of games. 

The 2012 SEC Championship Game is remembered for Georgia’s last-minute drive that came up five yards short against Alabama.  Lost in that furious and frustrating finish, was Todd Gurley’s 122 rushing yards—the most garnered by any runner against the Crimson Tide’s vaunted national championship defense that season.

Last year, Gurley ran for 154 yards (on just 12 carries) in a close loss to Clemson.  He accounted for 132 yards in a big win over South Carolina and burned LSU for 73 yards on just eight carries before going down with an injury.  Hobbled all year long, Gurley accounted for more than 155 yards of offense in each of his final five games of the 2013 season. 

Over that stretch he scored 10 touchdowns and averaged over 170 yards of offense per outing.

With those performances serving as a backdrop and good health providing further context, Gurley’s game against Clemson was hardly a breakout performance.  To the contrary, it was more of the same for the junior running back.

Somewhat less used, however, are the comparisons to Georgia legend Herschel Walker.  To be sure, Walker is perhaps unmatchable measuring stick by which all Bulldog running backs are measured.  That’s not new by any means.  What’s surprising is just how merited the Gurley/Herschel parallels have become.  More unanticipated still is the fact that some such comparisons actually favor Georgia’s current running back—not the Heisman winner from the early 1980s.

Who would have thought that another Georgia running back would ever threaten Herschel's place atop the Bulldog hierarchy?

 

The Shadow of Herschel Walker  

Herschel.

If one is talking Georgia football, the surname is superfluous. 

One of the most highly recruited football players of all time, Herschel was Herschel before he even arrived in Athens.  As a freshman he somehow surpassed impossibly high expectations and ran for over 1,600 yards and 15 touchdowns.  Not to be outdone, he ran for 1,891 yards the following season and won the Heisman trophy as a junior thanks to a 1,752-yard performance in 1982.

Herschel Walker spent three years torturing opposing defenses as a Bulldog, and Georgia running backs have spent the last 30 years chasing his ghost.

Rodney Hampton was fun to watch, but he wasn’t Herschel.  Garrison Hearst was great, but he wasn’t Herschel.  Musa Smith was a fine running back, but he wasn’t Herschel.  Knowshon Moreno could electrify a crowd, but he wasn’t Herschel.

Isaiah Crowell was hailed by the 247Sports Composite as the nation’s best running back in the Class of 2011.  He played one season as a Georgia Bulldog and heard Herschel comparisons before he even put on the red and black.  When reflecting on his lone season as a Dawg this spring, Crowell said he “really tried to minimize” the comparison to Herschel.  But his efforts were fruitless. 

“People compare every running back that comes through Georgia to Herschel Walker,” insisted Crowell, who was honored as SEC Freshman of the Year in 2011.  But he wasn’t Herschel.

Though I’m sure it was not the very first, I heard one of the initial Gurley/Herschel comparisons in Sanford Stadium on Sept. 1, 2012.  After Gurley ran a kickoff back for a 100-yard score and his second touchdown of the first quarter of his first collegiate game, it was apparent that he was a special talent.  He just wasn’t Herschel special—at least not according to the season ticketholder behind me.

“You know, he’s big and fast,” the man began.  “But he’s not as big as Herschel or as fast as Herschel.  Herschel was at least 30 pounds heavier and a whole lot faster as a freshman.”

Somehow, the passing of time has made Herschel Walker even bigger physically than his eye-popping numbers.  Truth be told, Herschel did not play football at a weight 30 pounds heavier than Gurley, who was listed at 218 pounds as a freshman.  Herschel played at 225 pounds.

But Walker, to the credit of the amateur analyst seated behind me in Section 126 that day, may have been faster than Gurley.  Yet even that judgment is hard to declare definitively. 

Both Walker and Gurley boast significant accomplishments on the track, but while Walker focused on short sprints at the collegiate level, Gurley committed his efforts as a freshman to hurdles.  Walker’s sprint debut saw him post a 6.32 second time on the 60-yard dash (just under 55 meters) according to the The New York Times.  In 2013, Gurley ran the 60-meter hurdles in a time in 8.12 seconds (the seventh-fasted time in Georgia history per GeorgiaDogs.com).

On the football field, the two look fast and faster—in no particular order.

 

Opposing Defenses

Comparisons to Herschel aren’t merely difficult to measure of because of hyperbole or the exaggeration that is sure to add to a legend over time.  Instead, comparisons are confounded by the altered nature of the game.  Put curtly, football was different when Herschel played at Georgia in the early 1980s.

Radi Nabulsi, the publisher of UGASports.com and a Georgia Insider for NBC’s Atlanta affiliate, has covered Georgia football for years and tempers any comparison by observing clear-cut differences in opposing defenses. 

“Defenses have caught up with faster, stronger players on the defensive side of the ball,” Nabulsi says.

Such an observation is not hypothesized conjecture.  Both running backs opened their junior seasons with games against Clemson, but the physical makeup of the two Tiger defenses is both staggering and indicative of a generation-long evolution of athletes.

In 1982, Herschel’s junior season, 26 defensive linemen and linebackers were on Clemson’s roster.  The average weight of these athletes was 230.5 pounds.  Only two players in that group were listed at a weight greater than 265 pounds.

The 32 defensive linemen and linebackers on this year’s Clemson roster weigh an average of 253.13 pounds.  Eleven of these players weigh in excess of 265 pounds.

Competition as a whole also confuses direct comparisons.  Gurley is playing during what is arguably the toughest era in Southeastern Conference football history.  For comparison’s sake, two SEC teams finished ranked in the final AP Poll in Walker's sophomore season of 1980 and three teams were ranked at the end of 1981. 

In both 2012 and 2013, seven SEC teams were ranked in the final AP Poll.

Walker played against the same six SEC opponents (Tennessee, Ole Miss, Vanderbilt, Kentucky, Florida and Auburn) in each of his first two seasons.  Those six teams combined to go 26-41 (a .388 winning percentage) in 1980 and only one of those teams (Florida at 8-4) finished in the top half of the conference.  The following season those schools combined for a 31-36 record (a .463 winning percentage).

During Gurley’s freshman campaign, Georgia played nine SEC opponents, who accounted for a combined 66-48 record (.579 winning percentage).  Last year, Georgia’s eight conference foes combined for 65 wins and 38 losses (.631 winning percentage).

As dominant as Herschel may have been in the early 1980s, it’s hard to make the case that the defenses he faced were more stifling than those Gurley has seen.

 

Offensive Styles

Of course, Gurley has been aided tremendously by Georgia’s offensive style.  Until this season, he played in the same backfield as the most prolific passer in SEC history, Aaron Murray.  At its most rudimentary nature, the balanced attack orchestrated by coordinator Mike Bobo is designed to keep defenses—bigger and faster though they may be—much more off guard.

Case in point, last year Georgia averaged 34.8 pass attempts per game and 38 rushes per contest.  That balance is distinct, particularly relative to Georgia’s offense in the early 1980s. When Walker won the Heisman Trophy in 1982, he carried the ball 335 times.  That year, Georgia attempted just 155 passes. 

Furthermore, the running load has been distributed somewhat equally during Gurley’s tenure.  As a freshman, Gurley accounted for just 222 of Georgia’s 513 carries.  Last year, Gurley carried the ball 165 times while other Bulldogs toted the rock a combined 310 times.  In one contest this season, Gurley notched just 15 of Georgia’s 40 rushes.

Walker, on the other hand, was much more depended upon by the Bulldogs offense, and as a result, the game plans of opposing defenses focused almost exclusively on him.  As Nabulsi summarizes:

Gurley enjoys a strong passing game that softens defenses; Walker didn’t have that luxury (no offense to my man Buck [Belue]).  Opposing defenses knew Walker was going to get the ball. Gurley has also shared the backfield with some talented running backs, allowing him to keep his legs fresh for later in the game.

 

Should the Comparison Even Exist?

Barrett Sallee, Bleacher Report’s Lead SEC Football Writer, says it’s unfair to compare any running back—other than Bo Jackson—to Herschel Walker.  But he recognizes the similarities between Gurley and Walker.  “Both came in as grown men who can run over, around and through opposing defenders,” he observes.

Nabulsi does differentiate between the styles of the two backs, writing “Walker appeared to run with more power and strength.  Yes he was a fast guy, but watching the tapes, he ran north-south, breaking tackles at the line of scrimmage then in the second level.”

“Gurley on the other hand has better vision and sees cutback lanes and cracks the line,” Nabulsi counters.  “Gurley is more elusive, his hips sway out of reach, he stiff arms and slides behind blocks better.”

But it’s hard to argue with the production of either player.

Walker’s 5,259 rushing yards won’t be touched by Todd Gurley.  That much is all but guaranteed.  But even with significantly fewer offensive touches, Gurley could catch several Walker milestones.

Walker scored 52 total touchdowns over a three-year college career.  Already, Gurley has scored 38.  If he can stay healthy for the remainder of this season, that school record will likely topple.

Gurley also could threaten Walker’s all-purpose yards mark if the Bulldogs make it to the SEC Championship Game and at least one additional postseason contest.  Walker finished his career with 5,749 all-purpose yards.  Gurley currently stands at 3,468.  If he gets 13 additional contests, he’ll need to average just over 175 total yards per game.  For context, he’s averaged 190.7 all-purpose yards per game over the course of his last six outings.

 

Who Wins Out?

“Sure, Gurley is great,” Sallee acknowledges.  “But Walker was on an entirely different level.”

That sentiment is likely the consensus among Bulldog fans, as the uniqueness that defined Herschel is hard to counter.

“Herschel posted one of the most amazing careers in college football history, finishing in the top three of the Heisman Trophy voting all three years at Georgia,” Sallee recounts.  “That’s not supposed to happen to a running back, or a player at any position.”

But there’s something to be said for what Gurley might still accomplish.  And before that, there’s tremendous value in what he’s already done.

Comparing Gurley and Walker on a game-by-game basis is as futile as it is foolish.  Walker averaged more than 30 carries per game throughout his collegiate career.  Gurley has averaged just north of 16 rushes per contest and carried the ball 30 times on exactly one occasion (against South Carolina last season).

Where things get interesting, however, is when the two studs are compared at the same point—as measured by total carries—in their careers.  To date, Gurley has carried the ball 402 times in 25 games.  Walker carried the ball 403 times over the course of his first 15 games.

Though the argument can be made that Gurley was fresher for the 400 or so carries in this sample, it’s hard to refute the statistical advantage he holds over Walker within these parameters.  The first 402 carries of Gurley’s career resulted in 2,572 yards and 30 touchdowns.  Herschel’s first 403 carries yielded 2,231 yards and 18 scores.

Obviously, more of those carries occurred for Herschel when he was younger—nearly 68 percent of the touches in question occurred during his first season at Georgia.  But Herschel’s most productive year on a per-carry basis was his freshman campaign.

And on a per-carry adjustment, Gurley’s statistical advantage within this sample is decisive.

And these numbers do not include Gurley’s production as a receiver or his special teams prowess. 

Currently, Gurley claims 553 career receiving yards and six receiving touchdowns to go with two scores on special teams play.  Herschel’s three-year career resulted in 243 career receiving yards, three receiving touchdowns and no special teams scores.

 

The Legacy Gurley Can Leave

Earlier this week, Georgia head coach Mark Richt hinted at the seemingly obvious notion that Gurley will forgo his senior season as a Bulldog and enter the NFL draft.

Undoubtedly, the junior will be atop most draft boards at his position if he does in fact leave.  What remains to be seen is where he’ll fit in the Georgia record book.

From a theoretical standpoint, Gurley could chase down Walker’s all-purpose yards and touchdown marks and he could do so with higher per-touch averages in just about every major category.  But would that be enough to put him at the upper echelon of Bulldog lore? 

Most likely not—at least not without a national championship. 

And even if the Dawgs were to win the inaugural College Football Playoff, Gurley is fighting an uphill battle.  Thirty long years of Herschel talk have made Walker insurmountable as a legend.  And to Walker’s credit, he’s added to his own legacy by conquering professional football (in two leagues), the Olympics (he finished seventh at the 1992 Winter Games in the two-man bobsled) and even mixed martial arts.

Accordingly, numbers, highlights and even championships may not be enough to win over the Georgia faithful as the long-established predisposition of Bulldog fans is that there will never be another Herschel Walker.

As Nabulsi summarizes, “Gurley is the man, but Walker was a once in a lifetime talent.”

Nevertheless, at some point—maybe sooner than later—Georgia fans will realize a given lifetime doesn’t see too many talents like the one who currently wears number three in the backfield for the Bulldogs, either. 

Maybe then, we’ll spend the next 30 years looking fruitlessly for the next Todd Gurley.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand.  All statistics pertaining to Herschel Walker accessed via GeorgiaDogs.com.  All statistics pertaining to Todd Gurley and team and conference records accessed via Sports-Reference.com.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Breaking Down Amari Cooper's Early-Season Success

Alabama junior Amari Cooper entered the season as one of the top wide receiver prospects in the nation and even debuted at No. 6 overall on ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr.'s big board (insider subscription required). 

Despite the preseason hype, few could have predicted the record-setting start to Cooper's 2014 campaign. 

Through two games, Cooper has hauled in 25 passes for 319 yards and one touchdown in Alabama's victories over West Virginia and Florida Atlantic. 

At his current pace, Cooper looks like a good bet to leave early for the 2015 NFL draft, so let's take a look at what he has done to establish himself as one of the top prospects and what weaknesses may still hold him back from living up to the current hype at the next level.

 

Footwork at the Line of Scrimmage

Cooper doesn't have elite breakaway speed, but his quick feet allow him to create separation at the line of scrimmage. 

Take a look at this play against West Virginia in which Cooper uses his footwork to shake press coverage from Mountaineers sophomore cornerback Daryl Cooper. 

 

Blocking Skills

An underrated aspect of Cooper's game is his ability to contribute without the ball in his hands. 

Poor blocking skills rarely factor into a wide receiver's scouting report these days, but a receiver like Cooper can certainly elevate his stock by putting forth a quality effort to contribute as a blocker. 

As Matt Waldman alludes to in the tweet below, Cooper is still refining his blocking skills, but the effort and willingness to deliver a big hit is already there—and that's half the battle with skill-position players. 

 

Inconsistent Hands

The biggest concern in Cooper's game is his hands, which have already been an issue this season with a dropped pass in the end zone against Florida Atlantic. 

While Cooper has showed a knack for coming down with some acrobatic catches, it's often the easy ones that bite him—an issue which may indicate a lack of focus.

Cooper's shaky hands were on display last year at the Sugar Bowl, as he let a potential first down bounce off his hands in the third quarter. 

 

Limited Physical Tools

Much of Cooper's success is due to his technical skills rather than his raw physical talent. As a result, it's fair to wonder if he may already be near his ceiling.

Cooper is listed at 6'1", 210 pounds—certainly not small, but far from the size NFL teams prefer in No. 1 receivers. 

To make matters worse for Cooper, he lacks the breakaway speed to make up for his limited size. While he has made some plays after the catch this season, a closer look at those runs, such as the one highlighted below, shows how he greatly benefited from blocking and poor defense.

On this particular play, Cooper catches the ball with roughly a seven-yard cushion from the nearest defender and has a block already in place. While the play went for 24 yards and significantly boosted his yards after the catch, it's tough to give Cooper any credit for the play.

These modest physical tools can certainly be overcome, and many of the game's most productive receivers have similar measurements to Cooper. But it is worth noting that the vast majority of top-10 picks are blessed with the size-speed combination of guys such as Julio Jones or A.J. Green, and Cooper will never be confused with those types of receivers. 

 

Where Does His Draft Stock Stand?

Despite the fact that he's not a perfect prospect, Cooper clearly has starter potential. A high-end comparison for Cooper would be potential Hall of Famer Marvin Harrison, while a more modest evaluation might compare him Greg Jennings. 

Either way, Cooper has a bright future, and his impressive start has certainly caught the attention of any NFL personnel who hadn't already been tuned in to his performance for the Crimson Tide. 

Cooper appears to be headed toward a consensus first-round grade, with a mid-second-round landing spot likely being on the floor for his draft stock, barring any injuries or off-field issues in the coming months. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

NCAA College Football Picks: Week 3 Against the Spread

While there are some good games this week, there is only one between ranked teams, with South Carolina hosting Georgia. Meanwhile, there are many nonconference teams in action this weekend facing ranked ones from bigger conferences.

Are any big names being taken down this weekend? (Here's a hint: It should be your "favorite" week.)

Let's get to the front of the lines, courtesy of CoopersPick.com:

 

Tennessee vs. No. 4 Oklahoma

Betting Odds: Oklahoma -21  

Both of these teams are 2-0, and while neither team has played an opponent from a major conference, OU has been very impressive, outscoring its opponents 100-23. The Sooners are loaded with talent on both sides of the ball, and the big question is can Tennessee keep up with the Sooners? Not likely.  

Pick Against the Spread: Have to go with OU in this one, even given 21 points, as it is at home, and Tennessee only beat a mediocre Arkansas State in last week by 15 points. The Sooners are 5-1 against the spread in their last six nonconference games.  

 

No. 6 Georgia vs. No. 24 South Carolina

Betting Odds: Georgia -6.5  

Oh, how the mighty have fallen. The Gamecocks were embarrassed in their home opener and, now back in their house, are a 6.5-point betting favorite facing Georgia. Hard to imagine, but if South Carolina loses again, it will likely already be out of the BCS playoff picture. 

On the flip side, the Bulldogs not only looked very impressive in their 45-21 win over a ranked Clemson team in their opener, but they will have had two weeks rest to get ready for this big SEC game. That said, Georgia is 1-5-1 ATS in its last seven conference games. 

Pick Against the Spread: Have to go with Georgia in this one, as Todd Gurley leads a great rushing attack, and the defense is solid as well.  

 

No. 12 UCLA vs. Texas

Betting Odds: UCLA -7  

Texas was stunned in its last game, getting crushed at home 41-7 to an unranked BYU team. And with Heisman candidate Brett Hundley and a rejuvenated head coach leading the 2-0 Bruins, the Longhorns defense will be in for a long game.

UCLA will win because of offense and in spite of its suspect D, which has been less than impressive thus far. UCLA is 7-3 ATS in the last 10 nonconference games, and Texas has only covered the spread in one of its past five nonconference games.  

Pick Against the Spread: UCLA will win and cover in this game.  

 

No. 16 Arizona State vs. Colorado

Betting Odds: ASU -14.5  

Arizona State is 2-0—both blowouts—and will win this game because of a rushing attack that is averaging 345 rushing yards (no, not a typo) per game. Colorado lost its opener to Colorado State and then barely handled a UMass squad that may be one of the weakest in Division 1. ASU will take advantage big time of a Colorado defense that has given up 69 points combined so far this year. 

Pick Against the Spread: The Sun Devils are legit. Plus, they have covered the spread in their last five against Colorado. That trend will continue, and bank on an easy win and cover on the road.  

 

No. 21 Louisville vs. Virginia

Betting Odds: Louisville -6.5  

Louisville beat up on a cream puff in its season opener but then beat a solid Miami team. On the other side of the coin, UVA had an easy win in its last game and only lost to a ranked UCLA by eight points before that.

The Cavaliers defense needs to step up in this game, and while at home, they will not get blown out— but don’t expect the win either. Both teams are 4-0 ATS in their last four, but Louisville tops that stat at 19-7 ATS in its last 26 road games. 

Pick Against the Spread: The momentum continues for the Cardinals, with a victory margin of at least a touchdown.

 

No. 9 USC vs. Boston College

Betting Odds: USC -19.5  

Is the dynasty back? USC is coming off a HUGE upset win over Stanford and is a major betting favorite on the road facing Boston College. USC has a balanced offense and will be facing a BC defense that allowed Pitt’s James Conner to rush for over 210 yards in its last loss.

Can the Eagles score on a USC D that only gave up 10 points to a ranked Stanford squad and ranks 14th in the nation? USC is 7-2 ATS in its last nine games overall, and BC is 0-5 ATS in its last five versus Pac-12 teams. 

Pick Against the Spread: The Trojans dominate the Eagles on both sides of the ball and more than cover the 19.5 spread.  

 

East Carolina vs. No. 17 Virginia Tech

Betting Odds: Virginia Tech -10 

Virginia Tech came up with the nation's biggest upset last week (though one picked first here!), beating then-top 10 Ohio State. The Hokies laid 35 points on the Buckeyes, but they cannot take East Carolina for granted.

The Pirates played well in losing to a ranked South Carolina team by just 10, and they rank in the top 20 in the nation in passing yards per game. However, Tech has a decent secondary that will be facing an ECU passing offense that ranks top 15 in the nation.  

Pick Against the Spread: Favorites all the way in this one, as Tech will show last game was no fluke by easily winning and covering.  

 

Last Week's Picks: 4-3

Season: 6-8-1

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Oregon Ducks: What You Should and Shouldn't Be Concerned About After Week 2

The Oregon Ducks' season couldn’t have gotten off to a better start. The Ducks, ranked No. 2 by the Associated Press and No. 4 by the Amway USA Today Coaches Poll, crushed South Dakota in the opener 62-13 before taking down then seventh-ranked Michigan State 46-27. 

Not only has the Ducks offense looked fantastic, but the Ducks defense, forgetting about the second-quarter collapse against the Spartans, has looked strong as well.

While everything is looking up for the Ducks this season, concerns remain for Oregon, a team that is now expected to play in the inaugural College Football Playoff.

The Ducks have gotten off to a quick start, but the coaches and players know there’s a lot of work to be done and a number of tough games still to be played.

With that in mind, let's take a look at three things fans should be concerned about and three things they shouldn't be concerned about from the Ducks’ first two home wins.

WHAT YOU SHOULD BE CONCERNED ABOUT

1. The Offensive Line

Oregon’s offensive line, a line that was supposed to return all five starters from last year’s 11-2 team, has been decimated by injuries so far this season. Not only did the Ducks lose starting left tackle Tyler Johnstone to a torn ACL in fall camp, but they’ve now likely lost starting right tackle Andre Yruretagoyena, who was injured in the third quarter against Michigan State, for the rest of the season due to a knee injury. 

Yruretagoyena will be replaced on the line by true freshman Tyrell Crosby. While Crosby did an admirable job in the second half against Michigan State, he was also aided by the fact that Marcus Mariota was doing his best Michael Jackson impersonation while dancing out of what would be tackles.

Still, Johnstone analyzed the Michigan State tape and said of Crosby, to The Oregonian's Andrew Greif, "Tyrell held his own and the other guys didn't panic having a true freshman in there with that caliber of game. They dominated the second half, in my opinion."

While Johnstone believes that Crosby played well and that the offensive line “dominated” in the second half, there are still concerns due to the injuries. Oregon’s offensive line is very thin at this point. Another injury or two could be devastating to the program.

The good news is that having Mariota playing behind you is always going to make the offensive line look better than it actually is. The bad news is that you have to keep Mariota upright and healthy for him to make the offensive line look good.

 

2. The Second Quarter versus Michigan State

We all know about the second quarter against Michigan State. The Ducks came into the second quarter leading 8-0, then jumped out to an 18-7 lead following a 70-yard touchdown catch by freshman wide receiver Devon Allen.

Following that touchdown, something changed. The Ducks defense would go on to give up 17 straight points to the Spartans and 24 total for the quarter. Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook had all day in the pocket, converted multiple 3rd-and-longs, and the Spartans defense all but shut down Marcus Mariota and company.

The Ducks made some great adjustments at halftime and ended up winning by a large margin. However, the Ducks cannot soon forget about that second quarter. It needs to motivate them going forward and must not be cast away as an aberration.

In the second quarter the Ducks defense fell apart. New defensive coordinator Don Pellum couldn’t draw up a scheme to put pressure on Cook, which meant he was able to sit in the pocket and throw darts to his receivers all over the field. That led to open running lanes for running back Jeremy Langford. One thing led to another and the Spartans were off to the races.

On offense, the Ducks couldn’t convert third downs and the running game completely stalled out, forcing 3rd-and-longs that Mariota couldn’t convert. It looked a lot like the Ducks were playing against Stanford, which isn't exactly a breezy proposition.

The good news here is that the Ducks finally bounced back in a game where things weren’t going their way. The “bad” news is that the second quarter exposed flaws on both sides of the ball. Oregon must learn from those mistakes and grow as a team.

 

3. Pressure on Opposing Quarterbacks

While the Ducks defense was great in the second half, only allowing three points, the first half was an unmitigated disaster, mostly due to the fact that the Ducks couldn’t get anywhere near Connor Cook.

Yes, Oregon managed to get to Cook in the second half. Yes, the Ducks forced two interceptions by Cook. However, when Oregon’s defense couldn't create pressure, the back seven wasn't strong enough to hold up for four or five seconds at a time. That has to be a concern going forward for Don Pellum and his defense. 

Pellum did a good job of switching to more of a 4-3 attack against Michigan State in order to create more pressure. It worked. However, the Ducks will run a 3-4 defense for most of the season, which means they are going to need to get more production out of defensive ends DeForest Buckner and Alex Balducci, as well as defensive tackle Arik Armstead.

 

WHAT YOU SHOULDN’T BE CONCERNED ABOUT 

1. The Kids

There was a significant amount of concern going into the season that the Ducks’ inexperience at key positions would hurt them in games against opponents like Michigan State, UCLA and Stanford. However, the young kids look battle tested and ready to go so far.

Wide receiver Devon Allen and running back Royce Freeman have not only been two of the most impressive freshmen for the Ducks, but they’ve been among the most impressive freshmen in the nation.

While Allen didn’t see a ton balls come his way against Michigan State, he made the three that did count. Allen scored two touchdowns, one a 70-yarder, on three receptions. He also solidified his place as one of the fastest players in the nation. Mark Helfrich joked with reporters at his weekly teleconference that Allen is so fast that they almost lost him to track full time: “(Offensive coordinator) Scott Frost and I were joking about that right after he won the (110-meter hurdles) national championship. I looked at him and I said, “That might have been too fast.’”

Meanwhile, Allen has not been Oregon’s most impressive freshman. That would be “Rolls" Royce Freeman. In two games so far this year, Freeman has run the ball for 164 yards on 23 carries, including four touchdowns.

Against Michigan State, one of the best defenses in the country, Freeman rushed for 89 yards on 13 carries, including two game-changing, second-half touchdowns. In short, Freeman has been Oregon’s best running back so far this season. We should mention that he shares the backfield with Thomas Tyner and Byron Marshall, who rushed for a combined 1,749 rushing yards in 2013. 

Oh yeah, he also caught Mariota’s flip pass in the third quarter of the Michigan State game that completely changed the entire momentum of the contest. The kid is good.

 

2. Oregon’s Secondary 

Despite the fact that the Oregon secondary gave up 29 completions for 343 yards and two touchdowns to Connor Cook, you shouldn’t be too concerned about the back four.

The Ducks secondary held Michigan State to 125 passing yards in the second half, despite the Spartans being behind in the game and attempting to throw the ball to catch up.

While there is certainly room for improvement, the Ducks did intercept two of Cook’s passes, one in the first half by safety Erick Dargan and a game-clincher in the fourth quarter by All-American cornerback Ifo-Ekpre Olomu.

Pellum knows he has a couple of young players who are in the process of maturing as athletes. But he likes what he’s seeing on tape so far.

When asked about Troy Hill, who started over senior Dior Mathis last Saturday, Pellum said, “With both Joe (Walker) and Troy it was really reassuring to the coaches. We thought they were progressing, though we actually saw the evidence on the field.”

The Ducks also have an interesting battle going on at safety between freshman Tyree Robinson and sophomore Reggie Daniels. Pellum said that both Robinson and Daniels are improving and creating great depth among the secondary.

“I think our young secondary has come along pretty well” said Pellum, to the Daily Emerald. “They’re both continuing to make plays. They’re growing with their communication, growing with their eyes. And its a great situation for us to have both those young men where we can move them around and Ifo can play everywhere, Dargan can play everywhere. It’s creating some depth with those guys.”

While the secondary may be inexperienced, it is coming along quickly and has already proved it can slow down one of the best quarterbacks in the nation. When the Ducks secondary gets a little help from the defensive line, watch out.

 

3. Toughness

In past years the Ducks have folded in big games against tough opponents. Losses to Stanford, LSU, Auburn, Boise State and others quickly come to mind.

However, the Ducks proved something to themselves, to their fans and to the country in the second half against Michigan State. They proved that this year, and this team, is different.

Despite being down by nine points in the third quarter, the Ducks did not get scared of the moment or the opponent. They just improved upon what they were doing, hunkered down and took over the game.

While the Ducks' toughness was a point of contention in years past, it shouldn’t be going forward this year. Cross it off the list of things Ducks fans should be concerned about.

It’s no longer a relevant point.

 

Jason Gold is Bleacher Report’s lead Oregon writer. Follow him on twitter @TheSportsGuy33.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Oregon Ducks: What You Should and Shouldn't Be Concerned About After Week 2

The Oregon Ducks' season couldn’t have gotten off to a better start. The Ducks, ranked No. 2 by the Associated Press and No...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Biggest Recruiting Positional Needs for Every Top 10 Team

The pieces have come together quite nicely during 2015 recruiting class efforts for many of the country's top-ranked teams. Success on the field typically translates to momentum with key prospect targets, as the rich get richer by stockpiling talent throughout the roster.

Successful foundations for national signing day may already be in place, but programs are still five months shy of the finish line and it's time to step things up for the final stretch of this cycle. Official visits and game-day events enable coaches to establish and strengthen personal relationships with players and their families.

Crucial uncommitted recruits remain up for grabs and some have the ability to elevate a class from good to great. Their decisions could ultimately shape the college football landscape for years to come, making the difference in conference title chases and postseason contention.

Here's a look at pivotal positions that must be addressed by top-10 programs, per the Week 3 AP Poll, in order to round out impressive prospect hauls on signing day.

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Tennessee Volunteers to Wear Gray Uniforms with Checkered Shoulders

The Tennessee Volunteers will debut a new look against the Florida Gators this weekend, and it involves their usual smoky gray with a checkered twist.

The uniforms, which are made by Adidas in the final year of its contract with the team, feature a gray-and-orange checkered shoulder as well as a checkered pattern within the orange numbers.

What do you think?

[Uniform Nation]

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Picks Week 3: B/R's Expert Predictions for Top 5 Games

Week 3 of the 2014 college football season will provide fans with great out-of-conference matchups as well as one epic SEC showdown between two rivals.

South Carolina will play host to Georgia, hoping to gain some ground in the SEC after losing to Texas A&M in Week 1. Of course, the Gamecocks will have their hands full trying to shut down Todd Gurley and the rest of the Bulldogs' potent offensive attack.

Texas and UCLA will duke it out on a neutral field in AT&T Stadium. The Longhorns will look to prove that Week 2’s embarrassing loss to BYU was just a fluke, whereas the Bruins aim to show a national audience that they’re deserving of their No. 12 ranking.

Another great out-of-conference matchup pits Oklahoma against Tennessee. The Vols have a great chance to gain some respect on the national stage, but beating the Sooners in Norman won't be easy.

Penn State’s postseason ban is now over, and the Nittany Lions have an excellent opportunity to let the Big Ten know they’re for real this weekend when they battle Rutgers, the newest member of the conference.

Speaking of new Big Ten teams, Maryland gets the chance to show what it can do against a quality opponent in West Virginia. 

Mark Blaudschun, Adam Kramer and Ben Kercheval are all tied for first at the moment, but Barrett Salle and Michael Felder aren’t that far behind. Who will come out on top this week?

Let us know your picks in the comments below.

*All picks made straight-up. Spread is not a factor.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Clemson Football: What You Should and Shouldn't Be Concerned About After Week 2

Week 2 is in the books for the Clemson Tigers, and it ended in style with a 73-7 win over South Carolina State on Saturday.

In the first two weeks, we have seen some positives but also some negatives. Which of these issues should be a concern moving forward, and which ones are being overblown at this point?

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Miami Football: What You Should and Shouldn't Be Concerned About After Week 2

Like all programs around the nation, the Miami Hurricanes have a few concerns to deal with following the opening weekends of the 2014 college football season.

Not every issue is a major problem worth worrying about because some wrinkles work themselves out as the season progresses.

Then again, some must be corrected before they continue affecting the team during conference action, the most important part of the year.

Miami doesn't have much time to spare, since the remainder of its ACC matchups begin in two short weeks.

 

Should: 3rd-Down Efficiency

Through two games, the first-string offense is only 3-of-19 on third down, and that hasn't been helped by an average of 7.94 yards to go during those situations.

Offensive coordinator James Coley has done well to avoid predictability by calling 29 runs compared to 25 passes on first down.

The overall problem is Duke Johnson has averaged just 2.3 yards per carry on second down, excluding a 21-yard burst against Louisville. The 'Canes can definitely clean up earlier plays, but it starts with better blocking.

Until the offensive line improves, however, Miami will be forced to overcome 3rd-and-long situations and not let its superstar pick up the final yards on the ground.

 

Should Not: Coaching

It's been two games, yet a few emotionally overcome observers are petitioning for Al Golden to be fired and commenters across the Internet are unhappy.

It's been two games. What's gone so horribly wrong that an early-season pink slip is a legitimate course of action? In reality, very little.

During the opener, Golden and Coley admittedly eased Brad Kaaya into game action, but then the Hurricanes were in the midst of a short week. Consequently, per Matt Porter of the Palm Beach Post, Golden said the same playbook was used against Florida A&M:

Freshman Kaaya will have greater control of the offense moving forward, which is exactly what has been demanded. Coley's play-calling certainly must be refined, but he's only controlled 16 games on his own.

Players on defense have been markedly better tacklers and improved pass-rushers under much-maligned coordinator Mark D'Onofrio.

Plus, if Golden, Coley or others on the Miami staff are canned like a scattered number on social media demand, the recruit exodus is sure to follow. But that's another story for another day.

 

Should: Place-Kicking

After missing a 45-yard attempt against Florida A&M, it's clear Matt Goudis' offseason back surgery has restricted his power. He only connected on two of five attempts from beyond 40 yards last season, and his lessened range does not help that trend.

Christy Cabrera Chirinos of the Sun Sentinel notes Golden said his kicker saw a doctor and should be ready for the remainder of the season:

Matt encountered some issues on Saturday that, I think have been resolved. He's gone to the doctor on Sunday or Monday, we think the discomfort part of that has been resolved and he's been kicking really well, so, Lord willing, he'll be able to get past that. He needs a little luck here, but as you know, Matt's a real good kicker. He just had some discomfort that was hard to deal with for him on Saturday night.

It seems possible Goudis' condition will improve, but the kicking game is still a concern until he proves otherwise. The 'Canes are very likely to be locked in numerous tight battles, and Goudis might be the pivotal part of earning the victory.

 

Should Not: Thin Linebacking Corps

Heading into the season, Miami had top-shelf NFL prospect Denzel Perryman, relatively experienced Thurston Armbrister and unproven players behind the duo at linebacker.

In two short weeks, Armbrister has emerged as a smart, versatile player who spends the majority of his time on the strong side. The junior has been a constant force in the backfield, increasing the level of disruption on opposing quarterbacks.

Additionally, D'Onofrio has been impressed with sophomore Jermaine Grace, who is now pushing Raphael Kirby for the weak-side starting role.

"I thought Jermaine stepped up with his preparation and how he played fast," D'Onofrio told David Lake of 247Sports (subscription required). "He really put his time in and you could see his talent come out. He made a lot of plays around the ball."

Kirby is best suited as Perryman's eventual replacement anyway, so Grace stepping up gives the Hurricanes another reliable option at outside linebacker while freshman Darrion Owens continues to develop.

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LSU Football: Tigers Who Must Step Up If Travin Dural Sits out with Injury

Travin Dural's fast start to the 2014 season took an unfortunate detour Wednesday afternoon, when it was reported that he had suffered minor head injuries in a car accident and is being held out of practice.

Ross Dellenger and Ryan Broussard of The Advocate spoke to sources who described the details of the accident:

Dural needed stitches to his forehead. He has not been practicing with the team this week because he’s unable to wear a helmet with the stitches, another source confirmed. He is 'day to day.'

Dural was the driver of the vehicle. He was heading north on Nicholson Drive and made a left turn onto Bob Pettit Blvd. without having a green arrow, Baton Rouge Police spokesman Cpl. Don Coppola said. A Chevy Avalanche collided with Dural’s vehicle. No citations were issued.

Paramedics responded to the corner of Nicholson and Bob Pettit Blvd. at 3:16 a.m. Sunday, EMS spokesman Mike Schustz said. LSU beat Sam Houston State 56-0 on Saturday, a game that ended at about 10 p.m. Dural was transported to Baton Rouge General Medical Center-Mid City for the injury, a source said.

According to the report, an LSU team spokesman declined to make a comment. Head coach Les Miles is scheduled to speak with the media after Wednesday's practice—as he does every week—and will likely provide an update on Dural's status at that time.

It doesn't appear like Dural will miss an extended period of time, but even a short to medium amount of time could be troubling. The Louisiana-Monroe game this week and the New Mexico State game in three weeks should both easy wins for the Tigers regardless, but the Mississippi State game in two weeks and the Auburn game in four weeks would both be difficult without Dural, LSU's leading receiver and the current FBS leader in yards per reception (48.5).

Here are three guys that would have to step up in his absence.

 

WR Malachi Dupre

Malachi Dupre has not made the quick impact most folks expected, sitting out the Wisconsin game with an injury before playing in the fourth quarter of Week 2's win against Sam Houston State.

When he got into the game against the Bearkats, though, he quickly made a reassuring impact, catching two passes for 23 yards and a touchdown on his first drive. The touchdown was slightly overthrown to the corner of the end zone, and Dupre had to use his long arms to reach out and haul it in.

If Dural is forced to miss time, Dupre is his most logical replacement, which would mean an extended trial with the first-team offense. Or at least that's what Dellenger predicts will happen:

Dupre was the No. 17 overall player and No. 2 wide receiver in the 2014 recruiting class, and unlike LSU's other star freshman, Trey Quinn, he projects best as an outside threat. Quinn is capable of getting down the field as well, but he does his best work as a run-blocker (something that has earned him early playing time) and catching passes in the middle third.

Assuming Dural does not miss the Mississippi State game, his minor bang-up might actually be a blessing in disguise.

Dupre is LSU's future No. 1 receiver, and he could use the early reps.

 

QB Anthony Jennings

Losing Dural would be a stiff—but potentially illuminating—test for quarterback Anthony Jennings, who has established an obvious rapport with Dural in the first two games of the season.

Throwing a wrench into that comfort zone puts Jennings in a difficult position: If he doesn't play as well against UL-Monroe as he did against Sam Houston State, the obvious deduction will be that Dural was making him look good (instead of vice versa). 

Jennings has a QB rating over 200 after two games this season, but those numbers are a little inflated from the Sam Houston State game, and there is still a vociferous faction of the LSU fanbase that wants freshman Brandon Harris to see more first-team reps.

Losing Dural would give Jennings a chance to prove he can overcome adversity—but also a chance to prove he cannot.

The Warhawks, for what it's worth, held Wake Forest under 100 total passing yards in their season opener and have three interceptions through two games. They're a team LSU should, in theory, carve up, but they are just talented enough to provide a good litmus test.

 

WR Trey Quinn

Quinn was intentionally saved for the bottom of this list, mentioned after Dupre—whom he's been playing over—for a reason.

That reason is not because Dupre is better than him, necessarily. It's because Dupre has more to prove. Quinn has already been running with the first-team offense, so he's a slightly more well-known commodity.

However, as mentioned above, Quinn has been used in a mostly dulled-out role through two games, making his biggest contributions as a blocker. That will always be something he excels that, and the coaching staff will always give him playing time because of it, but it's time to see what Quinn can do with the ball out in space.

Quinn caught a two-point conversion against Wisconsin and a third-down pass against Sam Houston State, but with Dural potentially out, he will have to emerge as a weapon on standard downs. That's especially true if Dural can't play against Mississippi State—a team with a great front seven but questions in the secondary—LSU will need one of their three freshman receivers (Dupre, Quinn and John Diarse) to play well beyond his years and get down the field.

According to Dellenger, Miles said Quinn is playing "almost every set in the offense," which puts him ahead of Dupre and Diarse in terms of knowledge. He can run Cam Cameron's plays with the highest degree of confidence, which is what Jennings and/or Harris need.

They need the guy they know they can count on.

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