While this season has proven to look and feel different from years past in the SEC, one thing that hasn’t changed is that all eyes will be watching when Alabama and LSU tangle on Nov. 9.
LSU will present Nick Saban’s defense with a stiff test, particularly with its prolific offense (yep, sounds weird to me too) led by quarterback Zach Mettenberger and receivers Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr.
It was the same trio that enjoyed a strong performance against the Tide last season before ultimately falling 21-17. However, the Tide have three games in between to work out their kinks in the secondary.
What improvements does Alabama’s secondary have to make before the showdown against LSU?
Arkansas' season has been easy enough to follow thus far: Three straight victories over soft, non-conference competition followed by three consecutive losses once the competition got tougher.
Included in the three-game skid are conference losses to Texas A&M and Florida the last two weeks.
South Carolina, meanwhile, may be the most frustrated 4-1 team in the country. The Gamecocks' only loss came at Georgia, but closer-than-expected victories over the likes of Vanderbilt, Central Florida and Kentucky has led to a sense of general unease.
A porous defense and mistake-riddled special teams play are South Carolina's chief concerns heading into a critical three-game SEC road stretch that begins against the Razorbacks.
Arkansas holds a 5-1 edge over the Gamecocks in games played in Fayetteville, Ark.
Who: South Carolina (4-1, 2-1 SEC) at Arkansas (3-3, 0-2 SEC)
When: 12:21 p.m. (ET)
Where: Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium, Fayetteville, Ark.
Watch: SEC TV
Series history: Arkansas leads 13-8
The term "Catch of the Year" gets thrown around a lot in college football, and it seems like we have at least a new one every week.
We've just scratched the surface on the potential great catches from this season so far, but here are our picks for the best of 2013 so far.
Cal's Maurice Harris against Portland State
Nebraska's Kenny Bell against Illinois
Colorado's Paul Richardson against Oregon
Alabama's DeAndrew White against Georgia State
LSU's Odell Beckham against Georgia (on a kickoff)
SMU's Jeremy Johnson against Rutgers
More will be added throughout the season, so stay tuned and let us know your favorites in the comments!
Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com
The Texas Longhorns under Mack Brown were once synonymous with elite, tough football teams. Between 2001 and 2009, Coach Brown led the Longhorns to nine consecutive double-digit-win seasons and won three of four BCS bowl games. But somewhere along the road, Texas football lost its edge.
When Texas football was at its best, Brown had feared leaders around him.
Brown is a stereotypical good-cop coach, but every good cop needs a bad cop to balance things out. For a while, Brown's bad cop was former defensive coordinator Will Muschamp. At other times, upperclassmen like Roy Miller or Sergio Kindle played that role. The biggest difference between the BCS-bound teams and the post-2009 version of the Longhorns is the absence of any bad cops.
Much to the chagrin of their tough-minded fans, the Longhorns have become the entitled fat cat of college football.
Their 5-7 season in 2010 was the first visible sign of a decline. But after seven coaching-staff changes and spending the last two seasons under the microscope, Brown's high hopes of getting Texas back to the standard he set in 1998 appeared within reach in 2013.
"We have worked really hard over the last two years to put ourselves back in the mix," Brown said at Big 12 media days in July. "I think we're going to make another run. We're getting our depth, we're getting our ability back up, our recruiting is going well. I'm really excited about where we're headed."
After suffering two back-to-back losses early in the season and surviving a too-close-for-comfort 31-30 win over Iowa State, the criticism of Texas football is coming from all different directions, including from former players.
Brian Jones (Texas linebacker, 1989-1990) had this to say about the state of the program, per the Houston Chronicle:
Embarrassed once again. It's mystifying and bewildering that we keep meeting at this intersection of where we're supposed to be a better program, and yet we get embarrassed. It is disheartening to see that it keeps recurring. We've been told and led to believe over the years, especially the last four years, after an overhaul of the staff, that this team would get turned around. They can out-athlete a number of teams. That's what they've done in the past, because there has been a lack of development of these three-, four-, and five-star recruits everyone gets so excited about every February, which is just mind boggling.
It is the media's job to analyze the reasons behind Texas' issues, but it is a completely different scenario when former players start questioning the leadership of their alma mater.
How has this one-time college football powerhouse fallen so far from grace?
Chris Simms (Texas quarterback, 1999-2002) singled out recruiting, per the Austin American-Statesman:
I do think it's gone too far down the tracks. The recruiting has gone down. The first thing I look at as a red flag is you don't see too many people coming out in the NFL draft. That's the thing that jumps out to me.
Since 2002, Texas has continued to put together an average top-10 recruiting class every year, according to Rivals.com, which means the issues at Texas do not necessarily have to do with the talent the Longhorns are recruiting. Rather, the issue is Texas' recent inability to develop talent once the athletes arrive in Austin.
Texas and Oklahoma have historically gone after many of the same recruits, so why are these top recruits not developing at Texas, but are developing at schools like Oklahoma?
One word: complacency.
There are a lot of people to blame for the Longhorns' complacency in recent years, but it starts at the top of the food chain.
Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds and University of Texas President Bill Powers gave Mack Brown the benefit of the doubt to rebuild Texas football following the Longhorns' 5-7 season in 2010.
Brown hired six new assistant coaches and entered the 2011 season with a brick-by-brick mentality. But after the Longhorns finished the season 8-5 and were handed a 38-point loss by Oklahoma, speculation arose about Brown's future at Texas. To silence the critics, Dodds and Powers extended his contract through 2020. Apparently, mediocrity pays well in Austin.
Following the Longhorns' home loss to Ole Miss, five different Texas players said the loss was due to a "lack of focus" and a "lack of effort." This lack of "focus" and "effort" came seven days after the Longhorns' embarrassing loss to unranked BYU.
If Texas played with a sense of urgency, would the phrase "lack of focus" or "lack of effort" ever leave the players' mouths? Absolutely not.
In a radio interview last October, former Oklahoma defensive tackle Dusty Dvoracek was asked if OU players feared Bob Stoops. Dvoracek said:
"We feared all of the coaches. I played there from '01 to '05, and we walked on pins and needles around there. We were scared of our strength staff, scared of our coaching staff, scared of everyone. In the moment, I thought 'Man, this sucks. This is so tough.' But looking back now, I think that's why we were so good."
In his time in Norman, Dvoracek and the Oklahoma Sooners won two Big 12 titles and played in two BCS National Championship Games. But Bob Stoops was not the only Stoops Dvoracek and other players feared:
"You want to talk about the most intense, passionate man in football; that's [defensive coordinator] Mike Stoops. The defense had a level of accountability and a level of everyone must do his job and must do it right. If you don't do it right, [Stoops] will let you know about it so it strikes fear in you. The fear of 'Oh, my gosh. If I don't do this right, this man might kill me.' Obviously not really kill me, but you won't hear the end of it."
Dvoracek's apparent fear of his former coaches at Oklahoma is something that has not been discussed by Texas players, at least not since Muschamp was the Longhorns' defensive coordinator.
Muschamp was the first person to compliment his team for making great plays and the first to ride it when it made mistakes. He even picked up the nickname "Coach Blood" after he violently ripped off his headset and scratched his face during the first game of the Longhorns' 2008 season. In true Muschamp form, he ignored the blood running down his face and kept on coaching the defense.
"We love him to death." Brian Orakpo (Texas linebacker, 2004-2008) said in 2008, per ESPN.com. "He gets on us, but he praises us too. When we make a great play, he's out there chest-bumping us. Muschamp is the guy who carries the torch."
In his three seasons at Texas, the Longhorns defense picked up Muschamp's blue-collar mentality. "We're going to take our lunch pail to work every day and do a good job putting in an honest day's work," Muschamp said in 2008, per TexasSports.com. "That's what we're trying to identify our team with."
When Muschamp left Texas to take the head coaching job at Florida, Texas lost more than a coach; it lost its feared leader and the hard-hat mentality of working hard every day to earn a spot on the roster.
Does Texas have the feared leaders in Austin now?
One could argue offensive line coach Stacy Searels, who has been known to throw his hat at players when they make a mistake in practice, is a feared coach. But the constant struggles of the offensive line could lead some to believe the players may not take Searels' hat-throwing too seriously.
If Mack Brown's assistants are not filling the shoes of the feared leaders, then the bad-cop leadership needs to come from the Texas players.
Between 2004 and 2009, Texas' player leadership was astounding, with Vince Young, Kasey Studdard, Roy Miller, Brian Orakpo, Colt McCoy and Jordan Shipley, among others, stepping up. But since 2009, the player leadership has apparently dwindled.
Before his senior season in 2012, Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro described the differences in Texas his senior year compared to his freshman year in 2009:
People haven't really called anyone out since Sergio [Kindle] and Lamarr [Houston] were doing it. I was scared my freshman year. I had Lamarr and Sergio, "the Predator," and all of these dudes around me. I thought if I didn't make every tackle on kickoffs, they were just going to rip my head off.
I don't think guys have really talked since . You don't want to go overboard because nobody wants a guy that's on a power trip, but you need to say what needs to be said. There have been great leaders but there have not been those type of tough, feared guys in the locker room that everyone respects and nobody dare says anything back to.
When asked if Texas has the tough, feared guys in the locker room this season who could compare to a Houston and Kindle, junior defensive back Quandre Diggs said, "When something does go wrong, I look at myself as one of the guys who can get in somebody's face. We do have a couple of those guys, but Sergio and those type of guys are rare."
The feared leaders were not rare at Texas prior to 2010, so why are they rare now?
Vaccaro pointed to a lack of senior leadership, per NOLA.com:
I think those senior leaders have to get together and get this thing going because [the defense's performance against BYU] was ridiculous. ... I don't blame the coach. I blame the players, honestly. I think the mentality at Texas isn't where it needs to be right now.
On the Longhorn Network's weekly show, All Access, former Texas guard Kasey Studdard (2002-2006) talked to the Longhorns at practice in what appeared to be a desperate attempt by Brown to ignite a fire under his team:
I don't care if you win or lose, but if you're out there beating these other cats down, we'll be happy about that. But if you go out there and play soft football, and get beat, that really hurts us. ... This is football, you're supposed to play this game pissed off. Football is the only sport in America where you can go out there and get in a fight for 60 minutes and not go to jail.
Studdard was a member of the Longhorns' 2005 BCS National Championship team. In the weeks leading up to the national championship, quarterback Vince Young had one of the more infamous quotes from a Texas football player, per Sports Illustrated: "[USC] haven't seen the different guys on our team who are gangster."
An interesting remark to say the least, but it makes you wonder about the players at Texas today. Did Mack Brown veer away from recruiting the "gangster" players? Or has the complacency from the top dogs at Texas trickled down and changed the players' mentality?
People can pin the blame on a multitude of things, but at the end of the day, it all boils down to an inability to demand success.
Coaches can teach their players what and how to do things until they are blue in the face. But if there are no repercussions for poor play from the coaches or from the locker-room enforcers, Texas' nonchalant mentality will continue—at least until significant change is made in the Texas football program.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.
Follow Taylor on Twitter: @Taylor_Gaspar.
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The news of Jake Ryan going down with an ACL tear this spring was like a shot to the heart for those around the Michigan program, given the fact that Ryan was not only a great player, but the heart and soul of the defense.
It was feared Ryan would be gone for the season, but those that knew Ryan also knew he would work his way back sooner, rather than later.
Most didn't believe Ryan when he told reporters he would play in the 2013 season and was shooting for an October return.
Yet, on Tuesday, during the weekly Big Ten coaches teleconference we got confirmation that Ryan was indeed going to be back for the Maize N' Blue this season.
However, expecting Ryan back when Michigan takes on Penn State may be a bit much, despite rumors that he will indeed be on the field.
It sure sounds like Hoke is going to have to be convinced by Ryan and others to let him play, at least this week.
Sitting at 5-0 and getting their best defensive player back soon sure has to be appetizing to Wolverines fans.
But, that wasn't the only headline made during Tuesday's Big Ten coaches teleconference. So, let's dig into some of other interesting things to happen in the teleconference and around the conference on Tuesday.
Quarterbacks Moving to Safety Are All the Rage in the Big Ten
First it was Tanner McEvoy making a cameo appearance three weeks ago and playing more snaps against Ohio State than ever before at the safety spot, now comes the news that Rob Henry, the now-former Purdue quarterback is making the same transition.
According to Darrell Hazell it wasn't even his idea, but rather something that Henry was open to from the very beginning.
I can't remember the last time a quarterback made the transition to safety—running back or wide receiver have been popular spots to switch QB's to, but not manning the backfield of the defense.
However, at Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen sees McEvoy's understanding of the offense as something that has helped him already and is likely to continue doing so going forward.
The two quarterbacks are in vastly different situations though as Henry will be ending his time in West Lafayette after this year and McEvoy will re-enter the quarterback race in Madison this offseason. It appears a small hand injury may have also nudged McEvoy into this position to help his team.
He isn't some novelty act either as he is listed on the Badgers two-deep for their game this week against Northwestern. Could we see the same from Henry? Only time will tell.
Kill Still Not Back With Team, but Players Haven't Lost Focus
Jerry Kill suffered his fifth seizure in his two-plus year tenure as head coach at Minnesota on Saturday and I mentioned that the continuity of his staff has really helped out in this unique and scary situation.
However, Kill hasn't bounced back as quickly this time and is resting comfortably at home during the Gophers bye week so far.
"He's doing good," said defensive coordinator Tracey Claeys. "He's continuing to get the rest he needs and work with the doctors to do the best they can to get the situation under control with his medicine. They still believe they can do that."
In his place as head coach on game day and now throughout this week has been Claeys, who answered what seemed like 99 questions about Kill's health to the one about his actual football team on Tuesday.
The biggest takeaway from it all was how little this whole situation has affected the players, at least according to Claeys.
Claeys also said he has spoken to coach Anderson a few times since Saturday, but football has never been the topic of conversation and that Kill will come back to the program when he and his doctors feel it is best to do so.
It also helped that on Tuesday the University of Minnesota president, Eric Kaler, made a public statement of support for Kill (h/t to ESPN.com):
Where we are right now is hoping for and planning on Jerry getting better and being able to fulfill all of his duties. We're not looking at a Plan B. We're looking at Jerry Kill being our head football coach. He's got a great, great staff. It's really just an unbelievable team, and when he's not able to be there because of a seizure, they have a terrific plan and they execute on that. So that's where we are.
Minnesota as a school, athletics department and coaching staff have had very little problem with this situation, so perhaps the media can also take the opportunity to lay off the "coach should retire" rhetoric?
Ferentz Has Issues With Culture of 7-on-7 Football & Returning Punts?
Seven-on-seven football isn't really a "thing," so to speak, here in the Midwest. It is all the spring and summer rage in other parts of the country, but with weather issues and things of that nature it hasn't become this massive part of the football culture in the Midwest—yet.
In Florida 7-on-7 football has become its own subculture, if you will.
However, Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz is not a fan of what is going on around the budding talent circuit these days.
In fact, as a parent he wouldn't want his kids involved in 7-on-7, and not because of the competition level, but because of some of the shady things around the sport in places like Florida and California.
As interesting as that all was from Ferentz, it was what happened with the local media that really got me intrigued as to what is going on in Iowa City.
Following the game on Saturday, apparently Ferentz made a reference to not ever returning another punt again—something most took as a joke.
It was in response to the fake punt Michigan State ran on the Hawkeyes, the sixth successful one an opposing team has run since 2010, mind you.
Well, on Tuesday he reiterated his comments from Saturday and apparently wasn't kidding at all (from the Des Moines Register's Andrew Louge):
I think if you pressed me today, I’d say we may never return a punt again. Just because when you do that, to block guys you have to turn and go with those guys to shadow them.
When you do that, you open the door. And Michigan State did a good job of taking advantage of that. We (may) just fair catch it and try to keep it off the ground. I was being dead serious.
and cue Twitter's overreaction in three, two and one....
....yep, that just happened.
*Andy Coppens is the Big Ten Lead Writer. All quotes were obtained first-hand, unless otherwise noted. Follow Andy on Twitter: @andycoppens.
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The Nebraska football team is ready to hit the road.
In the first road game of the season, the Huskers will travel to West Lafayette, Ind. to face the Purdue Boilermakers. Nebraska enters the matchup at 4-1 on the season, while Purdue is 1-4.
This is only the second time the two programs have ever met. The Boilermakers defeated the Huskers 28-0 in 1958 in West Lafayette. As it currently stands, Purdue is the only Big Ten team Nebraska has never defeated.
The Huskers could change that on Saturday, though.
Will Nebraska take home the victory?
Where: Ross-Ade Stadium, West Lafayette, Ind.
When: Saturday, Oct. 12 at 12 p.m. EST
Watch: Big Ten Network and BTN2GO.com
Listen: Husker Sports Network
Betting Line: Nebraska (-14)
After delivering one of the most egregious cheap shots we've ever seen against Iowa State defensive back Deon Broomfield last Thursday, Texas wide receiver Mike Davis issued a public apology for his actions.
Chuck Carlton of the Dallas Morning News tweeted his statement, which can also be seen in video form here:
This is a big about-face for Davis, who, after the game, defended his actions by tweeting that he "plays through the whistle" and isn't dirty:
He took that lack of remorse one step further on Monday. "If we have another run-pass situation, I’d do the same thing," Davis said, according to Chris Hummer of the Dallas Morning News. "If the DB’s loafing, he deserves to get cut."
Those comments were almost worse than the hit itself, which caused a stir for its distance from the play and targeting of the knees. Take a look for yourself:
The Big 12 felt strongly enough to issue a public reprimand of Davis' actions but didn't, as some had hoped, opt to suspend him for any time:
In accord with the Conference’s Sportsmanship and Ethical Conduct policy, Mr. Davis’ action was in violation of the rule prohibiting physically abusive acts toward an opponent’s team members during a contest. Given the heightened emphasis on player safety, unnecessary and illegal acts such as this have no place in the game and are unacceptable. Mr. Davis is also put on notice that any future such behavior may result in a more serious penalty, including possible suspension.
Because of the timing of Tuesday's apology, one day after Davis said he'd make the hit again, it's hard to take his sentiment to heart. Something about it rings insincere, especially since it runs in direct contrast to everything else he's said since the play.
But the end of the day—thankfully—Broomfield emerged from the hit uninjured, which means we can start to put this saga in the past. Had he been forced to miss an extended period of time or undergo surgery, the upshots would have been cause for further review.
Instead, we can try to move forward and focus on football.
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Former Auburn coach Pat Dye became the latest to insert himself into the Condi Rice controversy by claiming all the former secretary of state "knows about football is what somebody told her. Or what she read in a book, or what she saw on television. To understand football, you've got to play with your hand in the dirt."
I happen to think the ability to understand a spreadsheet and make sense of it is pretty important, too.
Rice's apparent inclusion on the panel that will decide the College Football Playoff field beginning next season has been derided by many, who invariably trotted out the tripe adage that "you have to have played and/or coached football" to understand football.
If that utter nonsense is true, then someone who hasn't served in the military should not be allowed to run for president, since that person could become the next commander-in-chief. And many of the current baseball front office executives should be immediately fired since they barely played Little League ball, if at all.
The fact that Rice—and others whose names have surfaced—are on the committee is a good thing. It shows the forward-thinking nature of the people (Management Committee) who will be running the College Football Playoff. It's not BCS 2.0, but something better.
Since 2004, when the current formula was adopted to give decisive weight to the voters, the BCS has been nothing more than a beauty pageant dominated by groupthink. The 170-plus voters who took part in the Coaches Poll and Harris Poll typically were easily swayed by the media entities (read: ESPN and CBS) that have certain vested business interests. For example, the 2006, '07 and '11 SEC Championship games all served as infomercials for that conference and each achieved the desired effect.
The new committee is less likely to be under that kind of influence. The individuals on the committee have various backgrounds outside of football or athletics: Pat Haden was a lawyer and broadcaster before becoming USC's athletic director; Oliver Luck, an executive who developed Houston's new sports facilities; Michael Gould, with a distinguished career in the Air Force; Tom Jernstedt, a noted guru who ran the NCAA basketball tournament for 40 years; and a three-term congressman named Tom Osborne.
This committee essentially will be a jury, given certain rules to consider the merits of the case and, at the end, identify the four teams that should be in a playoff at the end of the season. Each member will be provided plenty of data as well as videos throughout the season. Don't think for a second that these people aren't football junkies, least of all Rice.
With all that information in hand, they'll render a considered decision; one that might still be controversial, but should be well-reasoned. They will have their own personal biases, but those should be mitigated with their collectively diverse backgrounds. They will argue fiercely for their points of view, but they also know the finer points of negotiations to reach the best consensus.
Rice's background, actually, is ideal in this—take it from someone who has somewhat of a similar background though nowhere close to her rarefied air. I have a post-graduate education in political science and co-founded the foreign policy news site RealClearWorld as part of my day job. My passion for poll number-crunching is only matched by my passion for football number-crunching. I never ran for office nor played football, though I've covered both as a journalist.
While Bismarck called politics the art of the possible, there's a very scientific element to it as well. The first course in many graduate PoliSci programs is often probability and statistics. Then come logic and game theory, as part of the effort to hone your skills in critical thinking. After that, you get to learn how to deal with irrational bad actors. In some ways, this kind of training is ideally suited for the NFL front office. In fact, baseball had a similar epiphany a decade ago and now teams frequently mine MBAs for general managers.
Football, at the professional level and at some colleges, is moving in that direction as well. A decade ago, there might've been only a QC guy or two breaking down data while fetching coffee at each team. Now, there are roomfuls of people doing just that, and growing. Whether these people have played football is basically irrelevant.
That brings us back to Dr. Rice. It'd be one thing if she's someone who couldn't tell a first down from a checkdown, but that's clearly not the case. This woman is the daughter of a coach who aspired to be the NFL commissioner. She might not have played football, but she knows plenty about evaluating performance, football or otherwise, and that's what she'll do on the committee.
So here we have a football nut who's helped to take down the Soviet Union and Saddam Hussein, but eagerly signed up for something several notches below her pay grade to work on this committee. If anything, the only question really should be: Who's a better choice?
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Penn State looks to bounce back from their 44-28 loss to Indiana last week when they host the 19th ranked Michigan Wolverines.
Michigan is coming off of a 42-13 win over Minnesota in the "Battle for the Little Brown Jug."
This will be the first contest between these two since Penn State defeated Michigan in 2010 by a score of 41-31 in front of a Beaver Stadium "White House."
The crowd this weekend will be similar as the Nittany Lions have declared this sold-out contest, the homecoming game, a full stadium whiteout.
Time: 5 p.m. ET
Place: Beaver Stadium, State College, Pa.
Radio: Penn State Network Affiliates
Spread: Michigan opened as a one point favorite, but the line quickly moved up to -3 Monday before settling at -2.5 on Tuesday, per VegasInsider.com.
Every week in college football is a chance for a major upset, but a few teams should be more alert than others in Week 7.
There is currently at least one undefeated team in eight different FBS conferences, and this number could remain high throughout the season. As a result, one loss could end a squad's chances of reaching the BCS National Championship Game.
This makes every game important for the top teams in the country. Unfortunately, a few squads could be in trouble with difficult matchups this week.
No. 2 Oregon at No. 16 Washington
Washington lost its first game of the year last week when it fell 31-28 on the road against Stanford. However, the team fought hard throughout the game and proved it belonged with a close loss against the No. 5 team in the nation.
As long as Bishop Sankey continues to get the ball, the Huskies will be in good shape.
The problem is that Oregon is as good as ever this season, ranking No. 2 in the nation in both scoring offense and scoring defense. No matter who is at running back, Marcus Mariota will help this high-powered offense post big numbers in each game.
While Washington has a good enough defense to slow down the Ducks, it is impossible to imagine them completely stopping them. Look for this game to be close at halftime before Oregon is able to pull away late.
Prediction: Oregon 41, Washington 28
No. 9 Texas A&M at Ole Miss
As long as Johnny Manziel is on the field, Texas A&M has the ability to beat anyone in the country. However, the defense clearly struggled in the last game against Arkansas, and these struggles could keep opponents in games.
One school that could pose a challenge is Ole Miss, who are looking to rebound at home after two road losses in a row.
The young Rebels hung with Alabama for most of the game before fading late, but it will be easier for Bo Wallace and company to put points on the board at home in this game.
Manziel should be able to pull out a win thanks to some miraculous plays, although it certainly will not be easy.
Prediction: Texas A&M 35, Ole Miss 31
No. 25 Missouri at No. 7 Georgia
Georgia is currently very shorthanded offensively. According to USA Today, Keith Marshall and Malcolm Mitchell are out for the year, while Todd Gurley, Michael Bennett and others might not play this week either.
As well as quarterback Aaron Murray has played this season, this seriously limits his ability to move the ball consistently, even with J.J. Green contributing at running back.
On the other side of the field will be Missouri, a team that is healthy, talented and hungry for a signature win. The Tigers have failed to establish themselves since entering the SEC last season, and this would be a good time to send a message to the rest of the league.
Additionally, James Franklin is one of the most underrated quarterbacks in the country as someone who can beat teams with his arm and his legs.
After Georgia has survived a few close calls this year, the Bulldogs will be upset on their home field.
Prediction: Missouri 24, Georgia 21
No. 12 Oklahoma at Texas
The rule with a rivalry game is that you throw records out the window when the two teams meet. Even though Texas is in rare territory as an unranked team, the Red River Rivalry will still be a great battle.
Texas got off to an awful start this season, but the defense has looked better in the past two weeks under new coordinator Greg Robinson. This is certain to only improve as the year progresses and the players get more comfortable.
Offensively, the team can count on sophomore running back Johnathan Gray to be productive whenever he gets the ball. While the quarterback situation remains unsettled, look for him to get more touches.
Oklahoma comes into the game with higher expectations as the No. 12 team in the country, but the Sooners have barely squeaked by in a few games this year. The Sooners only win away from home came against Notre Dame with the help of three Tommy Rees interceptions.
After seeing Blake Bell struggle against TCU, it would not be surprising to see Oklahoma drop its first game of the year against Texas.
Prediction: Texas 20, Oklahoma 17
Follow Rob Goldberg on Twitter for the latest breaking news and analysis.
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If some teams are bit by the injury bug, losing key pieces here and there throughout the season, Georgia's offense has been bit by the "injury whatever this thing is."
Among the Bulldogs' offensive casualties are running back Keith Marshall, receiver Malcolm Mitchell and receiver Justin Scott-Wesley, three key contributors who have all been ruled out for the season.
On top of that, Michael Bennett—another proven receiver—is dealing with a torn meniscus and has already been declared out for Saturday's game with undefeated Missouri.
In light of those losses, Georgia fans were hoping for the quick return of all-world running back Todd Gurley, who missed last week's game with ankle problems. But instead, on Tuesday afternoon, they were treated to this sobering news from head coach Mark Richt:
If Gurley is indeed forced out of action, quarterback Aaron Murray will be left on a veritable island against a Missouri team that might be better than everyone thinks.
Is that a situation that Georgia might botch?
Let's get this out of the way. No, Georgia does not need Gurley to beat the Tigers on Saturday. The only player it needs is healthy, taking snaps under center and playing the best football of his career.
But the Dawgs would be wise not to paper over this game. Even if Gurley isn't instrumental to beating Missouri, his presence would be a big help and his absence could be lethal.
Though Missouri hasn't been tested this year—unless you still, for some reason, think Vanderbilt is good—it's almost certainly better than it was in 2012. And that team, while 5-7 on the year, gave Georgia a genuine scare in Week 1:
The Bulldogs defense has done little to inspire confidence this season. It's made timely stops in a couple of important situations, but for the most part, even dreadful offenses like Tennessee have found some holes to exploit.
Missouri walks into Athens with a rejuvenated James Franklin at quarterback, a two-headed monster of Henry Josey and Russell Hansbrough in the backfield, and a pair of physical specimens in Dorial Green-Beckham and L'Damian Washington on the outside.
Home-field advantage be damned: If Tennessee can hang 31 points on Georgia, Missouri should be able to coast toward that number.
Which means that Georgia, in turn, will have to score some points of its own. That has never been a problem in the Murray era, but if Gurley gets tacked onto the injury report, there is reason to believe it might be.
As good as Murray looked on the game-tying drive last week, that entire series felt like pulling teeth. There was nothing smooth or aesthetically pleasing about how Georgia moved the ball; there was a palpable dread that it actually might not score.
How many times can the offense be expected to do that on Saturday? How many plodding drives can it string together and turn into points?
If freshman J.J. Green can't get going on the ground, and only Chris Conley exists as a true receiving threat, will UGA be able to keep up with such a talented offense?
Some fans would argue yes, pointing to the fact that Missouri has allowed 295 passing yards per game (11th-worst in the FBS) against quarterbacks far worse than Murray:
But those numbers are inflated. The Tigers have taken big, early leads in almost all of their games, forcing the opposition to throw more than it would like.
So yes, despite playing only five games, Missouri has given up the most passing yards in the SEC. That can't be denied. But it's also faced the most attempts.
In the first quarter of games this year—when the Tigers have yet to take their patented, commanding lead—Missouri has allowed just 290 passing yards on 59 attempts, a scant average of 4.9 yards per throw. Its opponent QB rating of 105.02 is second-lowest in the SEC, 10 points behind first-place Tennessee and 73 points ahead of last-place Georgia.
This won't be as simple as it seems.
Angry over a perceived lack of respect, Missouri will come out playing like it's the SEC Championship Game. Georgia, meanwhile, is coming off a string of hard-fought wins and emotionally taxing road trips.
To avoid a letdown, there is nothing better than having a guy like Gurley who can move the chains at will. Especially when the rest of the offense is missing, a strong running game is a quarterback's best friend.
Georgia is favored to win on Saturday, and if I had to pick, the Dawgs would still be my choice. Should Gurley stay out of the lineup, though, I wouldn't feel that good about it.
And neither should you.
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Passing numbers are up throughout college football, and for that, credit has logically been showered on the guys throwing the football.
But what about the players they're throwing it to?
Even the best quarterbacks are nothing without a great group of wide receivers, something that's become increasingly evident over the years. A guy who can beat coverage consistently is the best home-run threat and safety valve a passer can enjoy.
This year—a season dominated by offense—college football is littered with an embarrassment of blue-chip receivers of all shapes and sizes.
No one is actually impossible to cover. But these guys come pretty darn close.
These days, college football players seem to be making an impact for their respective teams earlier and earlier in their careers.
Case in point: Last season, the Heisman Trophy was awarded to a redshirt freshman for the first time in the sport's history, when Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel was honored as the nation's top college football player.
A certain redshirt freshman quarterback down in Tallahassee is trying to repeat the feat this year.
But Jameis Winston isn't the only stud rookie blossoming on your television screen Saturday afternoons. The future is flying around, making plays in the present at a football field near you.
From an unprecedented crop of freshman defensive backs to a stable of first-year offensive skill players making their marks, it's a strong year for freshmen. That's especially true in the ACC, where there is an impressive youth movement.
Some of these star freshmen have been stalwarts through the season's six weeks; some are just now emerging to make their mark.
All are the real deal.
Let's take a look at some top talent.
The LSU Tigers will need Jeremy Hill's physical presence this Saturday to defeat the Florida Gators.
After the Tigers' leading touchdown receiver suffered an apparent ankle injury against Mississippi State, LSU's best chance of victory might be to run the football against Florida's front rather than attack the secondary.
Landry walked out of the football facilities Monday evening on crutches and wearing a boot, so he might not be able to go Saturday afternoon.
Don't fret—the man who's tied for second in most rushing touchdowns in the nation (nine) can carry this team on his back.
What Makes Hill Special
The Gators are giving up 65 rushing yards a game, which is the best in the conference. However, Florida has yet to face a running back with Hill's frame and ability. Standing at 6'2", 235 pounds, Hill is a load.
“He’s a freak," said Anthony "Freak" Johnson at player interviews Monday afternoon. "He’s a 240-pound guy that can run a 4.4. When he gets separation it’s like, ‘Why is there nobody catching this big man?’”
His frame has allowed him to break tackles, his speed and agility has given him breakaway ability and his work ethic, yes, work ethic, has helped him record 21 career rushing touchdowns (three shy of Billy Cannon's career total) in just 15 games of action.
But it's his attention to detail that makes him the player he is today.
“He’ll find the littlest things to get better on, whether that’s coming out of his break or how he’s reading the defense,” said Kadron Boone. "He’ll grab us after a play and say, ‘Hey, who are you trying to block this play?' He’s getting a mental vision of the blocking scheme."
Breaking Down Hill's Gifts
So far this season, the home run balls have come mostly from Zach Mettenberger and the electrifying receivers, but Hill has had his fair share as well. Averaging 7.5 yards per carry, Hill is not only a chain mover, but he's a deep threat, as seen in his 69-yard touchdown run against Mississippi State.
One play—the longest play from scrimmage for the LSU Tigers this season—best illustrates Hill's strengths.
On this play, LSU runs its patented power dive play.
Hill follows a pulling Trai Turner and his fullback J.C. Copeland in a hole that's going to be filled by an unaccounted for Beniquez Brown. This should be a minimum gain at the most, but because of Hill's compact stature, Brown braces himself for impact.
“That’s a big dude,” said Corey Thompson, who started in place of injured safety Craig Loston against Mississippi State. “Tackling big guys like that you just have to buckle down and get ready.”
Brown does and takes out one of Hill's legs. Hill stumbles forward, but then his athleticism and speed kicks into play.
Hill regains his balance, makes a nice cut in the open field and causes Mississippi State defensive back Nickoe Whitley to take a bad angle.
This forces Whitley to barely grab Hill's leg, where Hill easily breaks an arm tackle.
Hill accelerates to the outside, captures the edge and races down the sideline, separating himself from the entire defense.
He's made a career at LSU creating these jaw-dropping runs.
Analyzing Hill against Florida
If you want to get an idea of how Hill will look against Florida, think of the Georgia game.
Remember how Georgia played run defense early and forced LSU to throw the football? Think the exact opposite for Saturday's contest.
I look for the Gators to defend the pass early because of Mettenberger's successful deep ball. The Tigers lead the NCAA in passing plays beyond 20 yards against FBS opponents with 35.
Football is all about countering your opponent's move, so this is where LSU's running game comes to play. Running the football against Florida's physical front early would be a great way to catch the Gators off guard.
That's where Hill will make his mark, but his greatest impact may come in pass protection and catching balls out of the backfield.
If Landry can't go, the Tigers will be missing a key piece in the passing game, so Hill's production from a receiving standpoint could be crucial.
Hill's versatility makes him one of a kind. His blocking, bruising running style, attention to detail and solid hands are why his teammate Johnson told me before practice that Hill has a greater impact than the SEC's best running back, Todd Gurley.
“I believe (his impact) is better because he can catch out of the backfield and block for our quarterback," Johnson said. "He does a lot, man, and the confidence he gives this offense is if Zach doesn’t complete a pass, he can just hand it off to Hill who will get five yards.”
That type of influence on a game will be needed against the SEC's stingiest defense.
Jake Martin is a Featured Columnist of Bleacher Report and a contributor for the The Sun Herald in Biloxi, Miss. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand or from official interview materials from The Sun Herald.
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Through six weeks of play, it's becoming more and more clear who the best offenses in college football are.
Some have the potency to light up the scoreboard again and again. On the other hand, some are capable of killing off the clock while moving the ball down the field with ease.
But the question is: Who currently has the best offense of them all?
Texas A&M made a strong case for the honor after lighting up Alabama for 42 points a couple weeks ago. Then there's Washington, who seemed to have no problem moving the ball against a tough Stanford defense.
Even LSU is surprisingly putting up points in bunches.
Without further ado, here are the 10 offenses that are setting the bar for the rest of the country.
Fresh off a 62-41 loss to Arizona State and the firing of head coach Lane Kiffin, USC looks to bounce back against Arizona on Thursday at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
Defensive line coach Ed Orgeron is now interim head coach. He's been quoted as saying, "This is my shot," according to the Associated Press, via ESPN.com.
Orgeron certainly has his work cut out for him. After being ranked to start the season, USC is 3-2, including brutal Pac-12 losses to Arizona State and Washington State. The Trojans allowed 612 total yards to the Sun Devils on Sept. 28, committing four turnovers on offense.
Meanwhile, Arizona has gone 3-1 (0-1 Pac-12) this season. The Wildcats are coming off a 31-13 loss in their first big test against then-No. 16 Washington on Sept. 28. Senior quarterback B.J. Denker struggled mightily in the loss, going 14-of-35 for 119 yards while tossing two interceptions.
Let's take a look at the Pac-12 clash on Thursday in Los Angeles.
*Statistics courtesy of CFBStats.com
When: Thursday, Oct. 10 at 10:30 p.m. ET
Where: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Los Angeles, Calif.
Watch: Fox Sports 1
Betting Line (via Covers.com): USC -6
Arizona Injuries (via USA Today)
Questionable: LB Jake Fischer (Ankle)
Probable: G Chris Putton (Knee)
USC Injuries (via USA Today)
Out: OL Zach Banner (Hip), DL Greg Townsend Jr. (Knee), CB Devian Shelton (Foot)
Questionable: WR Darreus Rogers (Ankle), CB Anthony Brown (Knee), RB D.J. Morgan (Knee)
Probable: WR Justin Davis (Ankle), WR De'Von Flournoy (Ankle), RB Silas Redd (Knee)
Top Storyline: How Will Ed Orgeron Fare as Interim Coach?
Ed Orgeron has a very different style of coaching than Lane Kiffin.
According to the Associated Press, via ESPN.com, running back Silas Redd, who is expected to play for the first time this season against Arizona, noted, "They're just two different types of people. Coach Kiffin is more strict. Coach O. is more loose."
Orgeron has already opened practice to the media after Kiffin closed practice to reporters to start the season, according to the AP report. He's also been open about injuries, something Kiffin was never comfortable with.
Will Orgeron's more laid-back approach benefit a program in turmoil, or will it be more of the same in Los Angeles? Orgeron's trial period starts now.
Prediction: USC 27, Arizona 17
I have to believe the putrid defensive display exhibited by a unit that was strong coming into the matchup with Arizona State was a sign of players quitting on Kiffin.
The Trojans hadn't allowed more than 285 total yards or 14 points before the Sept. 28 clash, but they looked horrible against the Sun Devils.
Arizona's 13-point outing against Washington doesn't bode well for the Wildcats if USC comes to play at home on Thursday. If Denker had enough pass attempts to qualify, he would rank dead last in yards per pass attempt (4.9). He's tossed two touchdowns to two interceptions this season. He can be dangerous with his legs (280 yards, six touchdowns on the ground), but that's about it.
Even after the Trojans' deplorable performance against Taylor Kelly and Arizona State, they still rank 15th in the nation in yards allowed per pass attempt. They rank 34th in yards allowed per carry.
I expect USC to rally around Orgeron, thankful that Kiffin is no longer with the team.
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The Arizona State football team has had its fair share of ups-and-downs through its first five games, and a quick look at the Sun Devils' stats can tell the story of why they are 3-2.
The Sun Devils were expected to have one of the best defenses in the conference coming into this year. Unfortunately for Sun Devil fans, they haven't been able to live up to the hype.
ASU has struggled mightily when it comes to stopping the run and recently they have had their secondary exposed as well.
It's not all doom and gloom in the desert though.
Jaelen Strong has emerged as one of the better receivers in the country and Marion Grice has continued his torrid scoring pace.
Now, here is a look at five stats that explain why the Sun Devils have succeeded and struggled thus far in 2013.
All stats, unless otherwise indicated, come from cfbstats.com or ESPN.com.