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College Football Playoff 2014: Updated Outlook After Release of Week 3 Rankings

After just two weeks of the 2014 college football season, we've already seen a bevy of movement among the top 25 teams. While some formerly underrated squads have surprised us with impressive performances, others have failed to live up to expectations and were sent spiraling down the rankings.

Several Week 2 contests were the biggest cause for shifts in the standings. J.T. Barrett and the Ohio State Buckeyes couldn't get out of their own way, falling to previously unranked Virginia Tech. The Michigan State Spartans collapsed in the second half, losing big to the Oregon Ducks. A close game between USC and Stanford sent the teams in opposite directions in this week's version of the Top 25.

With each contest now in the books, and another round of voting completed, the latest AP Poll has been released. Here's a look at the latest rankings followed by the current outlook for the first-ever College Football Playoff.

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

 

College Football Playoff Outlook

1. Florida State Seminoles

The Seminoles clung to their No. 1 ranking following a close contest against Oklahoma State in Week 1. After a 37-12 rout of Citadel on Saturday, the team's standing atop the rankings is secure once again.

Jameis Winston looked closer to his Heisman-winning form against the Bulldogs, completing 22 of his 27 passing attempts for 256 yards and two touchdowns. He was helped tremendously by a receiving corps led by Rashad Green that hasn't lost a step since the departure of Kelvin Benjamin.

ESPN College Football highlighted Winston's performance:

Florida State complemented its passing attack with a solid ground game featuring a time share between Dalvin Cook, Karlos Williams and Mario Pender. As a team, the Seminoles rushed for 210 yards and two touchdowns on 35 carries.

Stout on the defensive side of the ball as well, Citadel quarterbacks combined to complete five of their 14 passing attempts for 72 yards and a pair of late-game touchdowns. While the Bulldogs did rush for 250 yards as a team, it took 56 carries and quarterback scrambles to get there.

The Seminoles reaffirmed why they are the nation's top team, increasing their win streak to 18 games. Expect them to be well in the mix for the College Football Playoff for the remainder of the season.

 

2. Oregon Ducks

The Ducks were given the week's biggest challenge when Michigan State's stout defense rolled into town. The win didn't come easy for Oregon—it was down 24-18 at the half—but a surging Marcus Mariota led a brilliant second-half comeback to earn the 46-27 win and leapfrog Alabama to gain the No. 2 spot in the rankings.

Aside from a 70-yard touchdown strike to Devon Allen in the second quarter, Mariota took some time to figure out the Spartans defense. After some halftime adjustments, he lit up the scoreboard with four more touchdown drives.

Mariota continues to be well in the Heisman discussion after completing 17 of his 28 passes for 318 yards and three touchdowns—while adding nine rushes for 42 yards—against one of the nation's most feared defensive units.

Here's a good look at what the Ducks accomplished on Saturday, via ESPN College Football:

While Oregon's offense looked as prolific as ever, its defense was just as impressive. Erick Dargan and Ifo Ekpre-Olomu each came away with an interception against a usually efficient Connor Cook. The Ducks limited running back Jeremy Langford to average just 3.6 yards per carry on the game.

This team proved it can compete with some of the best in the nation. There's every reason to expect the Ducks in the College Football Playoff.

 

3. Alabama Crimson Tide

It didn't even take Alabama a full 60 minutes of playing time to rout Florida Atlantic. The game was called off due to lightning in the fourth quarter with the Crimson Tide already leading 41-0. While Alabama dropped a spot in the poll due to Oregon's big win, it did appear to solve a quarterback controversy in the process.

Blake Sims started the game, and while most of his early passes were simply bubble screens, he showed a nice release which resulted in a good amount of velocity and accuracy on his passes. He finished the game completing 11 of his 13 passing attempts for 214 yards and two scores.

Wide receiver Amari Cooper had a hand in the quarterback's success, via ESPN College Football:

As for Jake Coker, his passes didn't have the zip produced by Sims. This caused several to find their targets late and others to sail high. He completed 15 of his 24 attempts for 202 yards and one score against Florida Atlantic.

Alabama's defense only allowed a total of 145 yards to the Owls offense. Quarterback Greg Hankerson comlpeted 12 of his 19 attempts for 88 yards, and the team's running game produced just 57 yards on 24 carries.

Once again, the Crimson Tide proved to be one of the nation's most well-rounded teams. Despite falling one spot, it certainly doesn't look like this squad will be leaving the top four any time soon.

 

4. Oklahoma Sooners

After destroying Louisiana Tech in Week 1, the Sooners continued the trend, defeating Tulsa by a score of 52-7 on Saturday. Oklahoma's combination of a balanced offensive attack and stout defense helped secure its spot within the top four teams in the nation.

Quarterback Trevor Knight had a far better showing in Week 2, completing 21 of his 34 passing attempts for 299 yards and two touchdowns. Sterling Shepard was one big factor in Knight's success against Tulsa. He proved to be the real deal, racking up 177 yards and a score on eight receptions.

The Sooners were efficient on the ground as well. The team continued its committee approach and combined to rush for 261 yards and four scores on 31 carries—an average of 8.4 yards per rush.

Knight's dual-threat ability was a factor in the team's success on the ground, via Eye on College Football:

Tulsa quarterback Dane Evans found little success through the air. He did throw one touchdown pass, but was also picked twice and completed just 23 of his 42 passing attempts. Tulsa didn't fare much better on the ground, rushing 34 times for 94 yards—an average of 2.8 yards per carry.

This Oklahoma team showed its capability of dominating a game in all phases on Saturday. With a relatively easy Big 12 schedule remaining, it would take a major upset to knock this well-rounded team out of the top four and the College Football Playoff.

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Texas Football: Longhorns Must Grow Up, and Fast

The levee broke around 8:20 p.m. CT Saturday night. What resulted was the worst home loss since "Route 66"—otherwise known as the 66-3 smack down UCLA put on Texas in 1997.

Texas' defense somehow shut down BYU's explosive offense throughout the first half, but the Longhorns offense did nothing to help.

The defense was on the field for more than 11 minutes in the second quarter alone. And when it was off, its breaks lasted an average 55 seconds.

But the floodgates opened in the third quarter when BYU scored 21 unanswered points. The team's contributions to the defense during the third quarter included two three-and-outs and a special team's fumble to give BYU the ball on Texas' 24-yard line.

It was apparent the defense was worn down, and the rest of the team struggled to do anything to help the tired unit. The outcome was a 41-7 loss to BYU.

The performance the Longhorns offense showed Saturday made it more evident than ever that there are serious issues on the depth chart.

"College football isn't like pro football. We can't go to a waiver wire," quarterbacks coach Shawn Watson said. "We've got what we have got and we've got to work with it and find our way through it. There is a great life lesson, and there will be a championship down the road to look at that this had a lot to do with it. It builds character and that fire that you've got to go through."

The offense took a major step back when Texas announced offensive linemen Kennedy Estelle and Desmond Harrison would be suspended for Saturday's game for unspecified reasons. Add in the losses of quarterback David Ash (concussion) and center Dominic Espinosa (ankle), and the offense was basically pieced together with duct tape against BYU.

Texas started five offensive linemen with five career starts; three of those starts came in Week 1. First-time starting quarterback Tyrone Swoopes' playing experience from 2014 included kneeling twice to run out the clock in Texas' home opener Aug. 30.

When one factored in the losses to injury and suspensions, and the number of inexperienced players Texas would be forced to start, it was clear the Longhorns offense would struggle against the Cougars.

But what occurred Saturday night was shocking. 

Texas hasn't had an offensive lineman drafted since Tony Hills in 2008. And if Saturday's performance is any indication of the talent on the line, there's a possibility the Longhorns won't have an offensive lineman drafted for years to come.

The strength of the Texas offense is in running backs Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown. But the duo cannot do their jobs effectively unless the offensive line opens up holes to run through, which is something the line did not do against BYU.

And putting a quarterback at third-and-long 10 times in his first career-start is not a recipe for success.

There's no pardon for what occurred Saturday night. BYU embarrassed Texas for the second-straight year, but this embarrassment happened in front of the its home crowd.

And the thousands of fans who left in the third quarter was proof of how shameful the performance was to Texas faithful.

The Longhorns have to grow up, and need to do it fast with the tough schedule ahead.

Texas will face No. 12 UCLA, No. 8 Baylor and No. 4 Oklahoma in three of the next four games. If the offense cannot stay on the field long enough to give its defense time to rest, there's a possibility Texas could lose all three of those games.

Bouncing back and upsetting UCLA would be huge for the Longhorns' confidence heading into conference play. But it will require the team to mature and step-up to the challenge—something it failed to do against the Cougars.

"We are going to bounce back," senior cornerback Quandre Diggs said. "That’s what we’ve got to do and that’s what we will do. It’s game two. We’ve got another big one next week and we are just going to put our head down and continue to grind."

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.

Taylor Gaspar is Bleacher Report's featured columnist covering the Texas Longhorns. Follow Taylor on Twitter: @Taylor_Gaspar.

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AP College Football Poll 2014: Complete Week 3 Rankings Released

After another week of clashes between ranked teams and a few closer-than-expected results, Florida State remains the No. 1 team in the Associated Press Top 25. But the Seminoles are beginning to hear footsteps.

On the back of a second-half thrashing of Michigan State, Oregon leapfrogged Alabama to sit comfortably in the second spot, while the Crimson Tide dropped to No. 3. Nick Saban and Co. took a dive despite being in much finer form in their 41-0 win over Florida Atlantic. Oklahoma and Auburn, who scored 111 points combined in dominant wins, round out the Top Five.    

Here's a look at how the remainder of the rankings played out, along with Bleacher Report's Top 25:

The most talked-about result of the week came in Eugene, Oregon, where the Ducks outscored then-No. 7 Michigan State 28-3 in the second half en route to a 46-27 win. Marcus Mariota threw for 318 yards and three touchdowns while adding 42 yards on the ground, a dominant performance against what was considered arguably college football's best defense.

The Spartans, having scored 24 points in the second quarter to put themselves in position for a statement win, fell apart in the second half. Their defense proved unable to keep up with Oregon's speed, running back Jeremy Langford could not break free for long gains and signal-caller Connor Cook accounted for both the game's turnovers. His second interception of the game came deep inside Oregon territory, leading to an 11-play, 96-yard touchdown drive that effectively sealed the deal for the Ducks.

Bleacher Report's Michael Felder and Barrett Sailee broke down the Ducks' win and made the case for them being the best team in the country:

"Defensively, blowing two coverages, they hit us on another one on a blitz, too many big plays, too many explosive plays, but that's Oregon, we understand that's part of this,'' Spartans head coach Mark Dantonio, whose team fell from No. 7 to No. 13 in the rankings, told reporters. "Things started to snowball and we couldn't stop it from snowballing.''

Oregon, which spent most of its 2013 season at No. 2 before struggling down the stretch, is back to where it's comfortable. The win brought Ducks head coach Mark Helfrich to 3-1 against ranked opponents. The Ducks have opened the season scoring 108 points in two impressive wins. 

"We think we're physical," Helfrich told reporters. "Our style of play is different. … We believe very strongly in what we do."

Michigan State's loss, meanwhile, was part of a nightmare Saturday for the Big Ten. Ohio State and Michigan joined the Spartans in the loser's circle, while Nebraska narrowly escaped one of the most embarrassing upsets in school history against McNeese State. 

The Buckeyes found themselves overpowered in a 35-21 home loss to Virginia Tech. J.T. Barrett, in his second game taking over for Braxton Miller, threw three interceptions and completed only 9 of 29 passes. Barrett was also taxed with being the team's only option in the ground game, as running backs Ezekiel Elliott, Curtis Samuel and Dontre Wilson combined for 15 carries total.

Losing Miller seems to have been a death knell for Ohio State, which came into 2014 with national championship aspirations. 

"I still have confidence that we have enough skill on this football team to get by people," Ohio State coach Urban Meyertold reporters. "It didn't look like it (tonight). But we have to get by people or you're going to see what you saw today every week."

Virginia Tech's win sends the Hokies into the Top 25 at No. 17. Frank Beamer's program has gone through its worst stretch in two decades over the last couple seasons, going 15-11 and missing out on the Top 25 in both 2012 and 2013. A signature win like this should remove Beamer from any "hot seat" discussions for the time being. 

Sitting directly on the hot seat is Michigan's Brady Hoke, who saw his team get trounced 31-0 by rival Notre Dame. The No. 11 Irish got 226 yards passing and three touchdowns from Everett Golson in what will be the last matchup between these two historic programs until at least the 2020 season. Golson's return to the lineup has helped stabilize the Notre Dame offense and has Brian Kelly's team looking like a legitimate contender.

Losses from its most prominent programs—including Wisconsin last week—leave the Big Ten looking unlikely to earn a berth in the new College Football Playoff. Currently seven of the Top 10 teams come from either the SEC or Pac-12, which have separated themselves as the nation's top two conferences. The lone exceptions are Oklahoma, Baylor and Florida State, all three of which have more than enough firepower to compete with the nation's best.

The Sooners have scored 100 points in their two season-opening wins, led by a vastly improved Trevor Knight and a dominant ground game. Backs Keith Ford and Alex Ross are both averaging better than seven yards per carry.

Baylor stayed red hot despite missing Heisman contender Bryce Petty, as backup Seth Russell threw for five touchdowns in a 70-6 blowout of Northwestern State. Petty suffered a back injury in Week 1 and his status for Friday's trip to Buffalo remains up in the air.

Overall, the Big 12 has three teams in the Top 25, equivalent to the Big Ten behind the power two and the ACC. The SEC has a nation-high eight teams, while the Pac-12 comes in with five. The ACC has four, highlighted by the Seminoles. 

Dropping out of the rankings this week are North Carolina and Nebraska. The Tar Heels barely squeaked past San Diego State on Saturday, joining them with the Huskers in near-infamy. 

Taking their place this week are BYU and Virginia Tech. The Cougars ascend into the national conversation after a 41-7 thrashing of Texas. 

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter

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College Football Rankings 2014: Week 3 AP and Amway Standings Revealed

After yet another wild week of the 2014 college football season that featured several top seeds taking losses, the rankings have once again shifted drastically.

With Oregon beating Michigan State, Ohio State taking the loss against Virginia Tech and Notre Dame destroying Michigan, Week 2 exceeded expectations and made for one of the most entertaining Saturdays in a long time.

Here are the full Amway coaches', Associated Press and Bleacher Report Top 25 polls, followed by a breakdown of which programs are playing well and which are struggling heading into Week 3.

 

Breaking Down Week 2

College football fans were treated to an incredible show by the best teams in the nation this weekend, but there is plenty of turnover in the Top 25 polls.

Florida State maintained the No. 1 spot in the rankings by beating Citadel 37-12 and should hold on to the spot through next week as the program has a bye week. The Seminoles didn’t look perfect against a lackluster Citadel team, but Florida State pulled out the convincing win and proved the squad was worthy of the No. 1 overall spot. This was the program’s 18th straight win.

One team that made a serious case to overtake the Seminoles at No. 1 overall was the Oregon Ducks. Oregon had a huge meeting against Michigan State but managed a 46-27 win led by the elite play of quarterback Marcus Mariota. The Ducks square off with Wyoming next week.

Kevin Gemmell of ESPN.com spoke about what the win over the Spartans means for the program:

Explosive offense? Check. Heisman candidate quarterback? Check. Underappreciated but potentially stout defense? Absolutely. The Ducks put together the full package in their 46-27 win over No. 7 Michigan State. They now have a signature win (so does Mark Helfrich, for that matter) to put on their playoff résumé.

While Georgia didn’t hurt itself with a bye week before heading to South Carolina, SEC powerhouses like the Alabama Crimson Tide, Auburn Tigers, Texas A&M Aggies, LSU Tigers and Ole Miss Rebels all earned big victories and further proved their dominance in the conference.

The SEC wasn’t the only conference that saw success this week. The Big 12 stepped up in spectacular fashion as Oklahoma, Baylor and Kansas State all earned victories. The Pac-12 also played well as USC and Arizona State remained unbeaten.

Notre Dame made its case to be a playoff team by shutting out the Wolverines, 31-0.

Unfortunately for college football fans in the Big Ten, several of the schools in this conference struggled Saturday and faltered. Michigan State lost a heartbreaker to Oregon, but it was the lackluster performances from Ohio State, Michigan and Nebraska that made the conference look so weak.

Week 2 added another unpredictable chapter to the 2014 college football regular season, but there are plenty of exciting matchups next week as well.

With Georgia taking on South Carolina, UCLA battling Texas at AT&T Stadium in Arlington and a schedule full of action, Week 3 could be just as exciting as what fans witnessed this weekend.

 

*Stats via ESPN.com.

 

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

Michigan’s inability to win meaningful games on the road—or in general—certainly tops the list of concerns after Week 2’s disastrous 31-0 submarining Saturday night at the hands of Notre Dame.

And after a 2013 Devin Gardner rewind, the Wolverines absolutely have questions at quarterback. While effective in spurts, the fifth-year senior reverted to his mistake-prone ways by throwing three passes to the other guys. However, he was able to connect with Devin Funchess for 107 yards, which seems to be the only remotely positive takeaway from the loss. 

Is there enough to work with in No. 98, or should coach Brady Hoke reconsider personnel? Sure, technically, it was only one game, as Gardner said to MLive.com’s Nick Baumgardner and Brendan F. Quinn, but it was much more than that to everyone else.

It was an embarrassing way to close the chapter on the once-storied rivalry.

“You know what? Twelve games,” Jack Miller, the center, said to MLive.com. “Eleven-and-one is not too bad. That’s the goal now. As long as the leadership is on-point, I think we can keep that going for the young guys.”

Michigan won the series, 24-16-1, but the Irish had the last laugh. And it'll take more than "leadership" to win games. The consistent execution of play calls will have something to do with the outcome, too. 

 

Questions and Concerns Regarding Team 135                                     

Defending the Middle vs. Run

Just like in Week 1, Greg Mattison’s defense had difficulty plugging the middle. Given the talent and proclaimed development, that’s unacceptable. Mattison would probably be the first to say that. 

The linebackers looked lost, allowing for the Irish’s Cam McDaniel, Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston to set up Everett Golson’s passes to near perfection.

Rushing for just 54 yards, Notre Dame hit the Wolverines with McDaniel in the first quarter…

…up the middle for a one-yard game-opening touchdown. Effective strikes, as in quality, not quantity, reigned supreme for coach Brian Kelly's No. 16-ranked squad. 

Despite surrendering six points where it hurts, the defense held together during most of the first half. But shutting down the run only tempted Golson to go to the air, which he did well, and often.

The defense won't last long in the Big Ten if it can't absorb ground shots to the core. 

 

Can the O-Line Create for Gardner and RBs?

At times, the offensive line didn’t look all that bad.

Gardner faced a lot of pressure, but he was afforded plenty of time—in several cases—to make poor choices with the ball. Whether it was a careless handle on a fumble or an interception, Gardner’s ball security is again in question—just like it was in 2013, when he threw eight picks in his first 108 attempts.

He has three through 46 tries this season.

Wolverines running backs have failed to produce desired results against quality competition. Other than spurts against Ohio State in 2013, Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith just haven’t proved to be consistent. Of course, they combined for an outstanding 285 yards and three scores in Week 1 against Appalachian State.

But that was Appalachian State. They combined for 55 yards and 20 carries against the Irish. 

Team 135’s O-line is what it is. It’ll either find ways to create holes for backs and more protection for Gardner, or it’ll be a significant contributor to what could be a bumpy ride this fall.

 

No Worries Elsewhere?

It’s Week 2, and the entire team has taken a gigantic step backward. There isn’t anything that fans, coaches and players shouldn’t worry about. Worry about special teams: Matt Wile missed two field goals in the first half this past Saturday. 

Worry about Jabrill Peppers' condition, as it sounds like the coaching staff won't offer much in that regard. Also worry about Raymon Taylor and Funchess, who each left the game with bumps and bruises. 

It’s evident that Michigan’s Week 1 trouncing of the Mountaineers can be discarded as anything but a win over a lesser opponent. It didn't prove anything. It wasn't proof of progression. 

That was supposed to be Week 2 versus Notre Dame. Were your questions answered? Your suspicions confirmed? 

Michigan faces Miami (Ohio) this Saturday at The Big House in Ann Arbor. Which team will show up then? 

 

Follow Bleacher Report’s Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81

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Stubborn Schedule Renders SEC Irrelevant on Saturday for First Time Almost Ever

The SEC provides some of the most intriguing matchups in college football.

From smashmouth to the spread, from "fun 'n gun" to the wishbone, the varying styles of the SEC almost weekly provide fans with compelling matchups and diverse styles.

I say "almost weekly" because Week 2 was certainly the exception. 

When Ole Miss vs. Vanderbilt is not only your most compelling conference matchup, but your only conference matchup, something's wrong. We touched on how a nine-game conference schedule would have alleviated some of the Week 2 blues, but this was different. 

Even during typically scant weeks of years past, its hasn't been this bad.

Week 13 last year was littered with SEC teams playing FCS foes like Georgia Southern (which was FCS at the time), Chattanooga and Coastal Carolina, but at least there were meetings between ranked opponents, like Missouri at Ole Miss and Texas A&M at Missouri.

At least in Week 2 last year there was a big SEC East showdown between Georgia and South Carolina between the hedges, and a rivalry renewed between Florida and Miami.

The SEC basically followed up a Week 1 slate that featured some of the best conference and out-of-conference matchups of the weekend with an all-time snooze-fest that won't be easily topped. The average margin of victory on the weekend for the SEC teams was 38.75 points per game. 

That's mind-boggling and should be unacceptable.

A lot of these nonconference contracts were signed years ago, but when the SEC created the 2014 schedule in the summer of 2013, it had to see this coming—and had time to help its member institutions, television partners and own television network get at least one compelling matchup moved to Week 2.

As it stood, the SEC willingly followed up The Beatles with Milli Vanilli.

Michigan State at Oregon stole the spotlight (and probably would have unless the Iron Bowl was played on Week 2), but USC at Stanford, Michigan at Notre Dame and Virginia Tech at Ohio State should be nothing more than "good games" on average SEC Saturdays.

The absence of compelling games transformed them into marquee matchups and kept the SEC largely out of the spotlight in Week 2.

Not much will change in Week 3. 

Sure, Georgia will travel to South Carolina in what will define the early-season landscape in the SEC East, but aside from that and Tennessee's trip to Norman to take on Oklahoma, there's not much to the Week 2 schedule. 

Kentucky at Florida? Decent, at best.

Arkansas at Texas Tech? Moderately interesting.

UCF at Missouri? It's college football, so it's worth your time.

Maybe, one day, the eight-game schedule will go the way of the dodo bird and keep the SEC in the national discussion on a week-in, week-out basis.

Maybe.

 

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and video analyst for Bleacher Report and co-host of the CFB Hangover on Bleacher Report Radio (Sundays 9-11 a.m. ET) on Sirius 93, XM 208. Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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Amway College Football Poll 2014: Complete Week 3 Rankings Released

We learned a lot about a number of teams in an exciting Week 2 of the college football season, and the changes have been reflected in the latest polls.     

Three ranked teams lost on Saturday, two of which fell to others in the Top 25. Of course, things could have been much worse as a number of high-profile squads were pushed to the limit before narrowly avoiding upset bids.

While fans can expect a lot of changes over the next few months, here is a look at the latest Amway Coaches Poll from USA Today along with Bleacher Report's Top 25:

The big story of the weekend was the poor showing by the Big Ten.

Michigan State was in the most high-profile game of the day against Oregon and the Spartans played well to build up a 27-18 lead in the second half. However, 28 unanswered points gave the Ducks a win that was much closer than the final score of 46-27 suggested.

Meanwhile, Ohio State dropped its home opener against unranked Virginia Tech. J.T. Barrett—who is filling in at quarterback for an injured Braxton Miller—threw three interceptions to prevent the Buckeyes from getting a legitimate chance to win.

The latest Coaches Poll saw Michigan State drop to No. 13 while Ohio State is now No. 18.

While these were the two most notable defeats for the conference, ESPN's John Buccigross notes how bad things got:

With losses to Central Michigan and Northern Illinois, narrow wins over McNeese State and Western Kentucky, as well as Michigan's 31-0 defeat to Notre Dame, the Big Ten lost a lot of credibility.

Mike Greenberg of ESPN explains the impact this will have on the rest of the season:

Although the conference will have plenty of time to rebuild its image before the end of the year, it will be a long road back.

Another big matchup from Saturday was the Pac-12 battle between USC and Stanford. While the Trojans have become accustomed to high-scoring games, this was all about defense as the game remained 10-10 late in the fourth quarter.

USC kicker Andre Heidari nailed a 53-yard field goal with just over two minutes left, although the Cardinal had a chance to at least tie in the final moments. However, quarterback Kevin Hogan lost the ball on a sack and the Trojans recovered to clinch the win.

"I think it says a lot that we can come in against this team, in this environment, and the game not really going our way and not really in our favor, just for whatever reason, and find a way to win," USC coach Steve Sarkisian told reporters after the game.

The win helped USC move up to No. 10 in the newest poll while Stanford dropped to No. 16.

Of course, not every top team had trouble in Week 2. Florida State and Alabama cruised to victory against clearly overmatched opponents, while Oklahoma went on the road to defeat Tulsa 52-7. These teams remain in good position to keep winning and possibly earn a spot in the College Football Playoff.

Still, it is important not to get ahead of ourselves. Week 3 features a few intriguing battles like Georgia against South Carolina, Tennessee at Oklahoma and plenty more. Then again, you should never count out the possibility of a major upset against any team.

This just continues to set up what should be an exciting 2014 season.

 

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

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ESPN "College GameDay" to Headed to Fargo for North Dakota State Game in Week 3

ESPN's College GameDay will spend Week 3 in Fargo, North Dakota, where it will witness a FCS game between three-time defending national champion North Dakota State and Incarnate Wood.

The show's official Twitter account reported the news:

Heading to Fargo for a game with no bearing on the College Football Playoff or any of the 11 FBS conferences is sure to be met with mixed reviews. For what it's worth, though, the GameDay crew did head to Fargo in September last season, when it saw the Bison beat Delaware State 51-0 to extend its winning streak to 12 games.

Since then, NDSU has extended that winning streak to 26 games, including a season-opening, 34-14 win at Iowa State two weekends ago. Last year, it started the season with a 24-21 win at Kansas State.

"To think (GameDay will come) two years in a row, I don’t know what to say," Bison defensive end Kyle Emanuel told Jeff Kolpack of The Jamestown Sun. "It’s unreal. It’s more than a dream come true."

Despite losing legendary head coach Craig Bohl—who has since moved on to Wyoming and is 2-0 to start his career in the FBS—the Bison remain the biggest draw in the FCS and a team deserving modest recognition. Especially after seeing Iowa State nearly knock off Kansas State in Ames on Saturday, their thorough beatdown of the Cyclones in Week 1 looks all the more impressive.

Besides, where else is GameDay supposed to go? Georgia at South Carolina stuck out as an obvious Week 3 destination during the preseason, but an ESPN-affiliated crew (the folks at the SEC Network) travelled to Williams-Brice Stadium just two weeks ago, and the game it saw between the Gamecocks and Texas A&M was effectively over with 20 minutes left to play.

One can understand why it wouldn't want to go back.

Other bigger games on the Week 3 slate include Tennessee at Oklahoma and...um...Louisville at Virginia? It's not like the GameDay crew had a banner weekend of games to choose from.

Why shouldn't it pack up and head to Fargo?

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NCAA Football Playoff 2014: Latest Predictions After Week 2 Standings

Another week down in the NCAA means we're one week closer to the College Football Playoff in Arlington, Texas. Two games into the season, some early contenders for the championship have emerged.

Will the champion be an ACC team for the second straight year? Or will an SEC powerhouse, Pac-12 emerging talent or Big Ten underdog take the title?

Let's examine four early contenders for those final seeds and project which one will emerge as the national champion. 

 

No. 4 seed: Oklahoma

Oklahoma notched its sixth-straight victory over Tulsa Saturday to advance to 2-0 on the season and prove that it has a place among the top teams in contention for a College Football Playoff spot. 

Everything has been clicking for the Sooners so far this season, with the offense resembling a well-oiled machine. Against Tulsa, Trevor Knight was one yard shy of 300 yards passing. He threw for two touchdowns and rushed for a third. 

Wide receiver Sterling Shepard will be the Sooners' X-factor in their quest for a title in January. He set a career high of 177 receiving yards and tied his career high of eight receptions Saturday, via The Associated Press. He should continue to create a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses, who will have to decide whether they can risk not putting him in double coverage.

Tulsa didn't and paid the price, losing 52-7. 

Oklahoma owed 21 of its 52 points to running backs Alex Ross and Keith Ford, who finished with 90 and 87 yards, respectively, and combined for three touchdowns. 

The Sooners only play one more team that is currently ranked in the Top 25 in their remaining slate of matchups, and that's Baylor. Their strength of schedule (or lack thereof) will be factored into their rankings, but a winnable schedule should keep them within reach of the top four throughout the season and up until the playoff teams are voted in.

 

No. 3 seed: Oregon

Though Oregon faltered early Saturday against Michigan State, the Ducks got back to form as a top-three team when they buried the Spartans by scoring 28 unanswered points to end the game, 46-27, and advance to 2-0.

Marcus Mariota strengthened not only his Heisman standing but his team's chances of advancing to the College Football Playoff, passing for 318 yards and three touchdowns in the win. He set an Oregon record with 69 career touchdown passes. 

CBSSports' Dane Brugler noted that Mariota, who is currently the No. 1 quarterback prospect, will likely remain there by season's end. 

Oregon's young receivers have proved through two games that they can become viable weapons for Mariota. The Ducks, ranked No. 3 after Week 1, are legitimate contenders for the No. 3 seed.

Though Oregon lost two top targets from last season (Josh Huff to the NFL and Bralon Addison to a torn ACL in spring practice), it has created opportunities for up-and-comers like freshmen Devon Allen, who had 110 yards in the win, and Darren Carrington, who had a 64-yard reception to start the second quarter.

Toppling a stout defense like Michigan State's is one way to climb the rankings. Per ESPN Stats and Information, 46 points is the most the Spartans have allowed since their loss to Alabama in the Capital One Bowl in 2011. 

The knee injury Mariota struggled with in 2013 had a noticeable impact on the rest of his season, but he's been in Heisman form so far in 2014. If he can remain healthy this season, expect the Ducks to remain near the top of the rankings. 

 

No. 2 seed: Alabama

Alabama rolled to 2-0 Saturday with a 41-0 shutout of Florida Atlantic in a game that was halted due to lightning, demonstrating that Nick Saban's squad has what it takes to beat out conference rival Auburn for a spot in the College Football Playoff. 

Alabama's future at quarterback post-A.J. McCarron looks promising, with Jacob Coker and Blake Sims continuing to compete for the starting job. Saturday marked the first time two Alabama quarterbacks had thrown for 200 yards in the same game, per The Associated Press, with Coker finishing 15-of-24 for 202 yards and Sims 11-of-13 for 214. 

But Sims pulled away in the competition, throwing for two touchdowns and running for a third. He earned more snaps on the night.

Behind either Sims or Coker, Alabama's arsenal of weapons keeps the Tide elite. The running game should again be dominant in 2014 behind T.J. Yeldon, who rushed for 1,235 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2013 and has added another 169 yards and two touchdowns this season.

Amari Cooper hauled in a 52-yard touchdown catch from Sims Saturday and will be one of the players who carry this team into the playoff. His 13 receptions against Florida Atlantic tied DJ Hall's school record, per ESPN Stats and Information

 

No. 1 seed: Florida State

What Jameis Winston accomplished last season at Florida State is difficult to beat, which he demonstrated in the Seminoles' first game of the season.

Though Florida State beat Oklahoma State 37-31, Winston only completed 62.5 percent of his passes, going 25-of-40 for 370 yards, two touchdowns and a career-high two interceptions.

Compare that against his first game in 2013, in which he threw four touchdowns and zero picks. In the best freshman season by a college quarterback on record, Winston set single-season NCAA freshman records for passing yards (4,057) and touchdowns (40).

Still, Winston engineered his team to a win, and he did it with lesser receiving weapons than he had in 2013. Florida State lost receivers Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw to the NFL, but Winston still has Rashad Greene, while Isaiah Jones and Kermit Whitfield are options on the outside and in the slot.

Greene had 11 receptions for 203 yards and a score against Oklahoma State, but Winston was able to make a difference with his legs—a skill the Seminoles will rely upon on their road to the playoff. 

Oklahoma State was one of the tougher matchups Florida State had on the schedule this year, and though it wasn't always pretty, coming out with the win kept the Seminoles at No. 1 in the AP Top 25. Only three of their remaining opponents are currently ranked. 

 

National Championship Prediction: Oregon 

It's hard to see these Ducks exiting any earlier than the national championship, and if they continue at their current level, it's hard to imagine anyone who could beat them.

Mariota is arguably the best quarterback in college football currently, and Oregon's high-octane spread offense allows him to lead an aggressive aerial attack that even Michigan State's vaunted defense couldn't slow. 

His spot-on decision-making allows Mariota to decide when to use his legs to make a play and when to go to his receiving weapons, of which he has many. Combine that with a rushing attack that was ranked 18th heading into Saturday and an offense that is sixth in scoring, and the only place this team looks to be going is up—all the way up.

 

All rankings from AP Top 25 via ESPN.com.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

NCAA Football Rankings 2014: Week 3 Standings for College's Top 25 Teams

Upsets are one of the most compelling reasons to watch college football, and Week 2 delivered them. Teams that came into the season 1-0 and ranked in the Top 10, like Ohio State, will find themselves tumbling in the updated polls when they're released. The Buckeyes, ranked No. 8 heading into Saturday, fell to unranked Virginia Tech 35-21. 

Meanwhile No. 18 Wisconsin, which fell in its season opener to LSU, helped its cause Saturday. The Badgers defeated Western Illinois soundly, 37-3, and put themselves out of danger of falling out of the Top 25. 

Some teams benefited from others' follies. Texas A&M, which heading into Week 2 was ranked No. 9, will reap the rewards of Ohio State falling. 

Before the release of the updated polls, let's take a look at the most recent Bleacher Report rankings and a breakdown of how teams shifted in the standings.

 

Breakdown of Rankings

Florida State did nothing to endanger its No. 1 ranking Saturday as the Seminoles managed a 37-12 win over Citadel. Jameis Winston looked much-improved over his two-interception Week 1 debut, posting an incredibly accurate 22-of-27 passing for 256 yards and two scores.

Winston has now thrown a touchdown pass in 15 consecutive games. 

Oklahoma improved to 2-0 on the season with a win over Tulsa on Saturday, demonstrating that it can contend with the best teams in college football. As Florida State, Alabama and Oregon also won, Oklahoma will likely remain at No. 4. 

Against Tulsa, quarterback Trevor Knight was one yard shy of 300 passing and threw for two touchdowns while rushing for a third. 

Wide receiver Sterling Shepard shone for the Sooners with 177 receiving yards on eight receptions Saturday, which set and tied career-highs, respectively, as Ryan Aber of The Oklahoman noted. 

Oklahoma owed 21 of its 52 points to running backs Alex Ross and Keith Ford, who finished with 90 and 87 yards respectively and combined for three touchdowns. 

As previously noted, no matter how well Oklahoma performed Saturday, there is no way they're leapfrogging Oregon in the updated rankings.

Though the Ducks struggled early Saturday against Michigan State, Oregon soon buried the vaunted Spartans defense by scoring 28 unanswered points to end the game and advance to 2-0.

Marcus Mariota helped not only his Heisman positioning but Oregon's chances of advancing to the national championship, passing for 318 yards and three touchdowns in the win. He set an Oregon record with 69 career touchdown passes. 

It wasn't a good day for Big Ten conference leaders Ohio State and Michigan State. 

Though the top-ranked teams will likely remain the same, the big shifts in the rankings will come as a result of Ohio State's loss and Wisconsin's first win. Teams that were ranked lower than Ohio State, such as Texas A&M and Baylor, which blew out Northwestern State 70-6, will likely rise in the rankings. 

UCLA narrowly avoided an upset by Memphis, eking out the win 42-35. Memphis safety Fritz Etienne returned a pick 17 yards to tie the game up with 13:44 left in the fourth quarter, but quarterback Brett Hundley connected with Thomas Duarte on a 33-yard reception and the Bruins defense stepped up to stave off a comeback. 

Even though it won, the manner in which it did means UCLA likely will not crack the Top 10 in the updated polls. It was the second week in a row that the Bruins squeaked out a win, after winning 28-20 over Virginia in Week 1. 

National college football writer Bryan Fischer remarked that after their performance over the last two weeks, the Bruins won't even make his Top 25. 

 

All rankings from AP Top 25 via ESPN.com 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Notre Dame's Dominant Defensive Performance, What It Means

SOUTH BEND, Ind.—Notre Dame and Michigan first squared off in football in 1887. For the first 126 years of the rivalry, the Irish had never shut out the Wolverines. That changed Saturday night, as Notre Dame blanked Michigan, 31-0.

“It is very hard to comprehend,” Irish senior linebacker Joe Schmidt said of Notre Dame’s first shutout in the series history. “It hasn’t set in. But it is for sure fun.”

In many ways, Schmidt’s thoughts on Notre Dame’s historic performance can parallel the overall thoughts on this Irish defense. It’s somewhat difficult to comprehend how well they played—this early in the season, with this many young players and with a new defensive coordinator and a new scheme. The shutout has yet to fully sink in. And, yes, that’s a fun defense to watch.

The Irish limited the Wolverines to 289 yards of total offense and never allowed Michigan to reach the red zone.

Michigan HC Brady Hoke says Michigan didn't do itself any favors in the red zone. Know why? The Wolverines never reached the red zone.

— Douglas Farmer (@D_Farmer) September 7, 2014

“Obviously, shutting out any opponent in college football is an enormous task with offenses today,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said afterward. “A great performance by our defense.”

Kelly said stopping the run—Michigan averaged just 2.9 yards per carry on 35 attempts—was key to Notre Dame’s defensive success and set up the rest of the game plan. In slowing the ground attack, the Irish were able to force Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner into difficult third-down situations.

Given its top-notch performance, it’s somewhat easy to forget just how inexperienced and new this defense is. The Irish have already played eight true freshmen on defense through the first two games of the season. Of Notre Dame’s defensive starters Saturday, only sophomore linebacker Jaylon Smith and junior defensive lineman Sheldon Day were regular starters last season.

“[This team’s] success is really in its youth,” Kelly said.

So is Notre Dame’s defense ahead of schedule?

“I would say it really just ceases all the doubts about we're young, can we execute,” Smith said.

Smith, however, was quick to point out there’s plenty of room for improvement in communication and execution, in particular.

“There were a lot of mental errors out there that the crowd may not see, but we're going to get better,” Smith said.

There was already major improvement from Week 1 to Week 2 for safeties Max Redfield and Elijah Shumate, who played nearly every snap with graduate student captain Austin Collinsworth sidelined with an MCL injury. After the duo struggled at times with its communication last weekend against Rice, both players looked much improved against the Wolverines. Redfield notched six tackles and picked off Gardner, while Shumate tallied 10 tackles and added an exclamation point with his interception in the game’s final seconds.

Max Redfield and Elijah Shumate struggled last week. Complete 180 vs. Michigan. Huge for Irish defense.

— JJ Stankevitz (@JJStankevitz) September 7, 2014

“They knew that it was their time to step up and lead back there,” Kelly said. “They were put in that position by virtue of an injury, and the circumstances, and they were not going to let their teammates down.”

Redfield and Shumate played fast and free, closing in on ball-carriers and wrapping up.

“When they’re playing fast and they know what’s going on, they’re pretty, pretty good,” said graduate student cornerback Cody Riggs, who praised the safeties for their inherent raw ability.

There certainly appears to be untapped potential remaining in this Irish defense. If the Irish can continue to grow throughout the season, the defense could be a strong suit, as it was against Michigan.

Notre Dame’s defense is still settling in. But Saturday’s performance was an encouraging step.

 

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Mike Monaco is a lead Notre Dame writer for Bleacher Report. Follow @MikeMonaco_ on Twitter.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Mizzou Football Week 2 Wrap-Up: Tigers Still Need Improvement

Mizzou fans are thrilled to see the Tigers pull through their dangerous road test at Toledo as Mizzou was able to repeat the theme of starting strong on the road.

Any time we critique, it's always best to start off with praise, and without question the biggest not-too-unexpected surprise was the play of senior wide receiver Bud Sasser. Sasser is a guy who has patiently waited his turn behind the wide array of receiving talent the Tigers have had over recent years. He's come out and shown that it won't just be Darius White who will carry the team in the air.

Also of note was the interception by sophomore defensive back Aarion Penton out of St. Louis. The takeaway was the result of pressure by Markus Golden, a name that SEC offensive coordinators are going to need to be familiar with if they're not already. Golden, much like his predecessors on the defensive line, has found an NFL-level of success and has that innate ability to be around the ball.

Unfortunately, none of these things on their own are going to be good enough to carry Mizzou to certain victory in its deciding games against the likes of South Carolina, Georgia and possibly Florida as well.

Still suspect is the Tigers' rushing defense, which hasn't exactly impressed so far against sub-SEC talent. Toledo's Kareem Hunt averaged 9.9 yards per carry with a 148-yard day on the ground overall. If Mizzou are giving up numbers like this early, it could be devastating when players like Georgia's Todd Gurley gets a crack at them.

We also didn't get a real good look at Eddie Printz in action. He only attempted one pass, which was incomplete, but it will be interesting to see if Printz can maintain his success in practice on the field in a real game or even critical situation.

The Tigers will rest up Sunday and watch film before getting ready for a tough week of practice in preparation to host UCF. Game time is 12 p.m. ET, and it can be seen on the SEC Network.

Follow Dan Irwin on Twitter @irwinsports or on Facebook.

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Ohio State Football: Lack of Firepower Dooming Buckeyes Offense

COLUMBUS, Ohio—With 30 minutes to go until kickoff, four-time NBA MVP LeBron James came strolling out of the newly renovated entrance tunnel inside of Ohio Stadium. Moments later, two-time reigning Big Ten MVP and injured Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller followed, with The Horseshoe's student section chanting his name.

But unfortunately for the Buckeyes, that's where their star power stopped on Saturday night.

Because with Miller trapped in a neatly tailored navy suit thanks to a torn labrum that will keep him on the sideline for the entirety of the 2014 season—and James' eligibility having long expired—there would be no saving of an Ohio State offense that appeared impotent in the Buckeyes' 35-21 loss to Virginia Tech. Ohio State outgained the Hokies (327 yards to 324) but failed to move the ball consistently, as Virginia Tech employed a Cover 0 scheme that forced the Buckeyes to take shots downfield.

"Our opponent really did a good job preparing for us. They exposed us a little bit, some of the weaknesses on our team," Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer said after the game. "It was rather obvious what it is."

The inefficiency mentioned by Meyer was apparent in the stat line of redshirt freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett, who, in the second start of his college career, connected on just nine of his 29 pass attempts and threw three interceptions. For the second consecutive week, Barrett didn't find much help from an offensive line that's still in the process of replacing four starters from a season ago, but even more glaring issues were apparent for the Buckeyes on Saturday.

Particularly when it came to Ohio State's wide receiver corps, which saw just one player record multiple catches against the Hokies' dare-you-to-throw defense. While Michael Thomas tallied six catches for 98 yards and a touchdown, Barrett found few viable options outside of the redshirt sophomore wideout—something that clearly struck a nerve with Meyer in his postgame press conference.

"I don’t think our wide receivers played well," Meyer said. “I’m very disappointed.”

After drawing rave reviews from the coaching staff in the preseason, redshirt junior Corey Smith struggled on Saturday, dropping three big passes including a sure touchdown in the second quarter. Devin Smith and Dontre Wilson each added big plays with receptions of 58 and 40 yards, respectively, but Barrett and the Buckeyes never found the consistency to take advantage of VT's high-risk, high-reward approach.

“That was pretty unorthodox," offensive coordinator Tom Herman said of the Hokies defense. "We weren’t good enough tonight to make them pay for that."

Outside of Barrett, who rushed for 70 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries, Ohio State's running game was virtually nonexistent as Ezekiel Elliott, Curtis Samuel and Wilson combined for 53 yards on 15 carries. That again was a product of the Hokies scheme, which stacked the box and forced the Buckeyes to throw deep.

Ohio State attempted to—Herman admitted that it didn't really have a choice—but found itself limited to Thomas, who is more of a possession receiver than anything else. For a program that has spent three years placing an emphasis on recruiting speed at the skill positions, the Buckeyes had little to show for it on Saturday, even as Virginia Tech begged them to make the most of it.

"We’ve worked so hard and recruited so hard," Meyer said. "We gotta do better in isolating them and winning some matchups. That’s what it comes down to. Win a matchup."

Very rarely did Ohio State do just that, and as opposed to two seasons ago when opponents California and Purdue found success with the same defensive scheme, the Buckeyes no longer have Miller's legs to bail them out. The OSU wideouts may not be the "clown show" that Meyer called them when he first got to Columbus, but they certainly aren't ready for prime time either, as evidenced by Saturday's shaky showing when the Buckeyes needed them to step up the most.

And while Meyer's closing statements attempted to build belief in the unit, a bitter reality appeared to be sinking in for the third-year OSU head coach. The blueprint now is out on how to beat the Buckeyes, and it will be up to his unproven receivers to save this season.

And if they can't? Then there won't be any amount of star power on the sideline capable of of hiding how ugly 2014 could become in Columbus.

"I’m a little bit surprised. I thought our skills guys would perform better," Meyer admitted. "I still have confidence that we have enough skill on this football team to get by people. I know it didn’t look like it—but we have to get by people. Or you’re going to see what you saw today.

"You’ll see it every week."

 

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

 

 

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Houston's Offense Still Needs Work Despite Blowout Win over Grambling State

The Houston Cougars dominated Grambling State 47-0 on Saturday night at TDECU Stadium to get into the win column for the first time in 2014, but the Cougars offense still needs work.

Houston improved to 1-1 on the season. The Coogs thoroughly outclassed GSU from the opening kickoff. Houston needed just two running plays to march 80 yards in their first possession for the score, and the rout was on.

Houston ended the first quarter up 10-0 and never looked back.

The good news for Cougar fans is that Houston’s offense, which practically no-showed last week against the University of Texas at San Antonio, displayed viable signs of life against GSU.

Junior wide receiver Deontay Greenberry totaled 110 yards on five catches. Junior running back Kenneth Farrow bulldozed his way to 130 yards and one touchdown on just 13 carries, and Houston’s offensive line opened up running lanes and gave up zero sacks.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect, sophomore wide receiver Greg Ward showed why he might be the most versatile offensive player in the country. Ward caught a touchdown and rushed for one, too. He returned punts, kicks and played multiple snaps at the quarterback position.

Ward’s athleticism makes him hard to tackle in the open field, and he has enough speed to take it to the end zone any time he touches the ball. Head coach Tony Levine seems to know it, and that might be best thing of all.

Ward was “Mr. Everything” for Houston against GSU, something offensive coordinator Travis Bush might do well to remember as the Cougars march toward American Athletic Conference play.

But Houston also suffered several miscues on the night. Greenberry, as sure-handed and gifted as any receiver in the nation, dropped at least two passes in the game, one a sure touchdown from Ward in the end zone that hit him right on the hands.

Still, Greenberry is likely Houston’s premier offensive player, and if ever there was a team to drop a few passes against, it was GSU.

The Houston players were simply bigger, faster and stronger than the Tigers, and GSU committed six turnovers to make thing even worse for themselves. GSU lost three fumbles on the evening, and quarterbacks Stephen Johnson and D.J. Williams combined for three interceptions.

Yes, Houston did what it was supposed to do against GSU, but it would have almost been difficult not to.

Houston was in the red zone nine times on the night and came away with points seven times.

While that’s a sharp improvement over their abysmal seven-point performance against UTSA, Houston will need to improve greatly on offense if conference title hopes are to remain grounded in reality.

Sophomore quarterback John O’Korn played better than he did last week. O’Korn threw for 200 yards and one touchdown. Perhaps most importantly, O’Korn did not throw an interception and wasn’t sacked.

O'Korn threw four interceptions in the opener and was sacked four times. 

But O’Korn’s accuracy still leaves much to be desired. He completed just 14-of-25 passes, throwing many of his misses too wide for his receivers to even have a chance. 

The former Florida high school standout’s play was erratic. His cannon of an arm means little when he consistently misses open receivers. Against GSU, he forced the ball into coverage enough times to leave Cougar fans wondering if they’ll ever be allowed to exhale during an offensive series.

That isn’t to say O’Korn isn’t a smart, talented and hardworking player. By all accounts, he’s everything a coach would want in a young quarterback. O’Korn led all true freshmen last season with 28 touchdowns, and he has as high a ceiling as any signal-caller in the nation.

But O’Korn seems to lock into his favorite target, Greenberry, way too much. In fact, it seems Greenberry is O’Korn’s escape plan when the pocket collapses: No matter how covered Greenberry might be, O’Korn is throwing it to him.

Regardless, hopes remain high for the Cougar faithful. Seeing their team for just the second time this season in their brand new stadium, Houston fans have plenty of things to feel good about heading into next week’s game against BYU.

And, sure, fans should feel good about their offense, too. Houston racked up 477 total yards on the night and had most of its starters yanked before the end of the third quarter.

But fans shouldn’t feel great about it. Not just yet.

Levine, Bush and company still have plenty of work to do on the offensive side of the ball before Houston fans can start believing week one’s single touchdown effort was the exception in 2014 and not the rule.

 

@KelseyMcCarson covers University of Houston football for Bleacher Report.

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The Death of the Big Ten

If you flew cross-country on Saturday—gazing out your football-less window of sorrow—you would have seen ominous smoke hovering over various parts of the Midwest, painting the sky black.

Over South Bend, over West Lafayette, near Chicago and certainly above Columbus, where the sky seemed extra threatening, there was darkness, thick pockets of smoke foretelling distress below. Elsewhere, in Eugene, the sky turned a menacing color no sky has a right to be. And, when you finally touched down, you learned of the panic that afflicted the other areas you only recently passed over hours earlier.

There is no easy way to put this—even for a Midwesterner who has defended the Big Ten from the tired narratives that have dogged the conference—so let’s just call Saturday exactly it what it was.

This was a catastrophic day for Jim Delany’s baby, a 13-hour stretch that could seemingly crush the Big Ten’s College Football Playoff hopes while furthering the national criticism that has grown louder in recent years.

But before we dive into the rabbit hole of bad, let’s dispense the limited praise where it’s due.

Michigan State put forth an admirable fight against Oregon, and the 46-27 score wasn’t nearly indicative of the game, at least the first three-and-a-half quarters. At halftime, Sparty looked to be in control behind quarterback Connor Cook, and then Oregon fought back and took over.

There’s nothing to be ashamed of for losing to the nation’s best player in one of the nation’s most hostile environments, although it served as a valuable showcase for the conference to deliver. Michigan State, which still has the look and feel of a Top 10 team, was unable to take advantage.

Compared to the rest of the conference, however, this seemed worthy of mild applause. Well, Indiana did have a bye.

As for the B1G in its entirety, here was how it played out. The following should come with a disclaimer.

Let’s play a game—find the best win.

Was it Iowa, which had to fight and claw to victory at home against Ball State? How about Wisconsin, which scored in the first second—literally—and then struggled offensively before pulling away from Western Illinois, a Missouri Valley team? What about Minnesota? Or Penn State? Or Illinois? 

Nebraska needed a Herculean effort from running back Ameer Abdullah to get past McNeese State, a Southland team that nearly pushed the Cornhuskers to the brink and Bo Pelini to the volcano seat.

His 58-yard touchdown catch was the difference in the game, securing a 31-24 win for Nebraska. (It was also the most impressive play you’ll see all weekend.)

On the other side of the results spectrum, the losses were notable. Some of the Big Ten’s most noeteworthy brands—Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan—all lost on the same day for a first time in a long time. (I was three.)

Sept. 17, 1988: Last time Ohio State, Michigan & Mich. State all lost on the same day

— Brett McMurphy (@McMurphyESPN) September 7, 2014

The Wolverines’ 31-0 loss to Notre Dame in the final rivalry game (for now) served as perhaps the most disappointing showing all weekend. It’s not that Michigan lost on the road to the Irish, and more specially, a locked-in Everett Golson; it’s that it was kept off the scoreboard entirely.

When was the last time Michigan was shutout? I’m glad you asked. It’s been quite a while. (I was a year from being born.)

Via @ESPNStatsInfo: Michigan hasn't been shut out since 1984 at Iowa. Have four minutes to score or that streak is over.

— Brett Edgerton (@EditorEdge) September 7, 2014

Ohio State made history of its own in Week 2 against Virginia Tech, and not the kind you want to make. The inexperience at the offensive line served as the Buckeyes’ undoing, while quarterback J.T. Barrett threw three interceptions. In fairness to Barrett, he wasn’t given much of a chance.

The 35-21 loss to Virginia Tech was the first time the Buckeyes lost at home to an unranked, out-of-conference team in 64 tries. (I was three years from being born.)

The loss was OSU's first at home vs an unranked, non-conference foe since losing 34-17 to Florida State in 1982, snapping a 64-game streak.

— Eleven Warriors (@11W) September 7, 2014

Add in losses from Northwestern to Northern Illinois and Purdue to Central Michigan, and you cover the full spectrum of disappointment. It wasn’t just the top teams in the conference that fell short; it was, from the top down, a historically disappointing morning, afternoon and night.

Despite the horrendous nature of the day, the Big Ten should not be ruled out of the College Football Playoff. Not yet, at least. There is far too much football to be played to cast such blanket statements, so let’s leave those for later in the year.

When your likely playoff candidates all enter Week 3 with a loss, however, the siren should be warming up. One loss shouldn’t eliminate any team from contention, but the losses collectively are killing the perception of the conference and thus the candidacy any team will have once resumes are held side by side. 

Lost in the carnage of Week 2 was the fact that the Big Ten stepped up and played quality power-five opponents, which is more than most can say during a week where quality matchups were lacking. It’s noteworthy, but given the overall lackluster showing, sympathy will be hard to come by.

This is what the Big Ten is up against: not just the out-of-conference teams it struggled mightily with, but the image problems it has had all along.

It's slow.

It can't score.

It can't win big games.

Etc.

The jokes became a reality. The criticism was realized. The teams expected to carry the conference beyond these stigmas crumbled; the teams without expectations stayed the course.

Where the conference collectively goes from here will further shape the future, which suddenly feels far less promising than it did days ago. The sun will come out again, just like it always does, although the darkness still speeding toward the sky is making it hard to guess when exactly that will be.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Rankings Week 3: B/R's Official Top 25

How great was Week 2 of the college football season? It was so full of amazing games and awesome performances that our Top 25 poll has had to swell by one extra team.

In fact, the results from this past weekend's action combined with our voters' observations resulted in a pair of ties in the latest poll, one at the bottom and one at the top that was decided by first-place votes. Meanwhile, a couple of teams that were in the top 10 a week ago have tumbled down the rankings, while another two have dropped out and been replaced by some rising powers.

The Bleacher Report Top 25 is voted on by 20 members of Bleacher Report's college football team: writers Keith Arnold, Ben Axelrod, Phil Callihan, Michael Felder, Justin Ferguson, Andrew Hall, Kyle Kensing, David Kenyon, Ben Kercheval, Adam Kramer, Brian Leigh, Brian Pedersen, Barrett Sallee, Brad Shepard, Erin Sorensen, Marc Torrence and Greg Wallace, as well as editors Eric Bowman, Hunter Mandel and Max Rausch.

Each voter submits their ballots based on observations made during the just-completed week's games. Teams receive 25 points for a first-place vote, all the way down to one point for being ranked 25th, and then the top 25 vote-getters are ranked in order of their point totals.

Check out Bleacher Report's Week 3 poll, then give us your thoughts in the comments section.

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Is Ohio State Still in Contention for a College Football Playoff Spot?

The Ohio State Buckeyes are looking to bounce back from a disappointing loss against the Virginia Tech Hokies. Bleacher Report's College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Barrett Sallee discuss whether or not the Buckeyes still have a chance to make it to the College Football Playoff. What do you think?

Watch the video and let us know

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Everett Golson 2.0 Makes Notre Dame Legitimate Playoff Contenders

South Bend, Ind.—If Everett Golson could change one thing about Saturday night's 31-0 victory, it would've been the student section's song selection.

After the chorus of the annoyingly effective "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye" echoed on and on, Golson wishes the students would've paid tribute to his defense. 

"I was disappointed they didn't do the D-Boyz thing," Golson said with a laugh. "I don't know if they heard about that. Matthias had them doing the D-Boyz, but they didn't do it. But they definitely gave great effort all night. That kind of energized the team." 

Forgive the students for not being up to speed on the surprising strength of Notre Dame's young defense.

But they know quite well that they're watching the next offensive star in South Bend, with Golson the key to Brian Kelly's team. And the senior quarterback's play is a legitimate reason why the upstart Irish are College Football Playoff contenders, one year earlier than many expected. 

For the second consecutive Saturday, Golson sliced and diced a defense apart. That he did it against Brady Hoke and Greg Mattison's veteran unit took the college football world by surprise.

Golson played the worst game of his football-playing career against Michigan in 2012, a spectator for the second half as Notre Dame's defense led the Irish to a 13-6 victory. But Golson piloted the ship this season, throwing three touchdowns and completing 23 of 34 passes for 226 yards against Mattison's defense.

That he didn't finish the game this year was just fine, as he watched backup Malik Zaire close things down, as the Irish shut out Michigan for the first time in the history of the rivalry, breaking the Wolverines' NCAA-record shutout streak, which started during the Reagan administration.

After doing a lot of damage on the ground last week, scoring three rushing touchdowns against Rice, Golson picked Michigan apart from the pocket. As Mattison and Michigan stacked the line of scrimmage to take away the running game, Brian Kelly went to the air, with his strong-armed and accurate quarterback putting on a clinic.

"The way they decided to play the game, there was six, seven guys, it was just how they decided that they wanted to take those opportunities away from us, and we were gladly to oblige them and throw the football," Kelly said after the game. "So, if somebody is going to play the game so one‑sided defensively, we're going to throw the football."

Golson hooked up for two touchdowns with slot receiver Amir Carlisle, with the converted running back making a career-high seven receptions. And sophomore Will Fuller filled in just fine for DaVaris Daniels as the team's No. 1 receiver, catching nine passes for 89 yards, including a 24-yard touchdown that was a perfectly placed throw by Golson.

Two years after the moment seemed too big for his then-young quarterback, Hoke saw a completely different signal-caller running the Irish offense. 

"I think he's matured," Hoke said. "I think I said that this week coming in, he's a much better quarterback than he was two years ago. Just watching the Rice game, I would say the same thing after watching our game." 

Tonight's game continues Golson's second tour at Notre Dame, back after a semester-long academic suspension forced him to reapply to the university after missing the 2013 season. After working with George Whitfield on becoming a more complete quarterback, Golson took a moment to appreciate the opportunity to finish this historic rivalry, as the Irish set some records themselves. 

"I credit my family for all that," Golson said, after considering the road he traveled. "It all starts with God. Just to allow me to be here to keep my head on straight the whole time." 

After the darkest part of his life, Golson's glorious return had fans streaming out of Notre Dame Stadium happy.

And while it's still way too early to know for sure, Golson's emergence has turned the Irish into a dark-horse candidate for the first ever College Football Playoff. 

 

*Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand. 

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Lamar vs. Texas A&M: Game Grades, Analysis for the Aggies

The start of the game was delayed by two hours, but the end result was exactly what we expected it to be: a Texas A&M beatdown of FCS Lamar.

What we weren't expecting was the size of the beating.  The Aggies rolled up 73 points to the Cardinals' three in what was one of the most lopsided games of the young 2014 season.

We saw a lot from Texas A&M, and a lot of what we saw validated what we thought after last week's win at South Carolina.  So, just how good were the Aggies?  Let's take a look at their game grades.

Box score via NCAA.com

 

Pass Offense

To start the game, Kenny Hill was, well, Kenny Hill.  He came out and absolutely lit up the Lamar defense, leading A&M to a first-quarter lead that included over 200 yards of total offense.

But Kenny Hill isn't the only part of the passing game.  A few dropped passes kept the first-half performance from being absolutely perfect, but we're still willing to give the Aggies' passing game an "A-" grade.

In the second half, young Kyle Allen struggled a bit.  He only had two completions until well into the fourth quarter.  Some of those were drops, some were poor passes, but they all combined for a shaky performance, downgrading the overall passing offense grade for the day to a straight "B."

Kenny Hill: 17-of-26 for 283 yards, 4 TD, 2 carries, 6 yards

Kyle Allen: 12-of-16 for 122 yards, 2 TD, INT 

 

Run Offense

The run game was actually a pleasant surprise for A&M.  While the Aggies could lean on the passing game, the backs got into the action today, and piled up 225 combined yards and four touchdowns.

As Lamar's defense became more and more tired in the second half, the holes opened up.  Even better is the fact that the A&M running game took full advantage of the holes.

Texas A&M had three backs gain more than yards; it's encouraging to see a strong second facet of A&M's offense in 2014.

 

Pass Defense

The only way Lamar could move the ball was through the air—and even then, it wasn't all that great.  The pass defense didn't start off with its hair on fire, but it was certainly solid.

As the game wore on, the secondary began to swarm, and Deshazor Everett came away with the Aggies' lone interception of the evening.

All told, the Aggies held Lamar's Caleb Berry to 16-of-42 passing for 153 yards, no touchdowns and the aforementioned interception.  That's easily good enough for an "A."

 

Run Defense

There's not much to gripe about here.  Through four quarters, the Aggies gave up just 90 yards on the ground.  Lamar averaged just 2.4 yards per carry on the evening, and any ball-carrier was met almost immediately by a D-lineman or linebacker.

The longest run given up by the Aggies?  Just 13 yards.

Easy "A."

 

Special Teams

With all the punting Lamar did, you might have thought that A&M would have had more than three punt returns on the evening.  Still, the Aggies averaged 32.3 yards per return.  What's even more impressive about that number?  That includes one return with zero yards.

Josh Lambo connected on his only field-goal attempt of the night and nailed all 10 of his extra-point attempts.

The two kick returns A&M had on the day averaged 37 yards.

Another easy "A."

 

Coaching

To be honest, we didn't think Kevin Sumlin and his staff really needed to do much tonight.  Lamar was overmatched from the get-go, and the Aggies probably would have rolled on autopilot.

Still, the minor adjustments needed early were needed, and A&M began rolling before the first quarter was over.

The only markdown we have is for the second half when Kenny Hill returned to the game.  With A&M up big, Hill was still taking snaps.  What's wrong with that?  Oh, just the late hit he took that buckled his knee out of bounds.

Okay, so Hill wasn't hurt and nothing came of it (other than a 15-yard penalty against Lamar).  But what if something had happened?  Sumlin would have been pilloried for leaving Hill in so long.

Still, we're perfectly willing to give Sumlin and the coaching staff a healthy "A-" grade today.

 

Unless otherwise noted, quotes or references to quotes were obtained firsthand by the writer.

Follow Bleacher Report's National College Football Featured Columnist David Luther on Twitter!

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NCAA Football Rankings 2014: Predicting the AP Top 25 After Week 2

Outside of a couple of big games—Michigan State at Oregon, Stanford at USC—Week 2 of the college football season looked pretty drab on paper. But, as weekends that look drab on paper are wont to do, it ended up being a memorable one.

Both of those big games lived up to their billing, and behind them, a small group of big-name programs getting pushed to the limit by underdogs made for gripping entertainment from start to finish. 

With a few of those programs going down, next week's Associated Press rankings should take a much different shape than this week's.

Here is a prediction of the order we might see on Sunday:

Note: Rankings reflect a prediction of the Week 2 AP poll—not how the author would rank the teams himself. Predictions made under the assumption that all remaining Week 1 games finish as betting spreads would indicate.

 

Fun Facts 

• North Carolina was No. 21 last week but drops out of the rankings despite coming back to beat San Diego State in Chapel Hill, 31-27. Nebraska was No. 19 last week but incurs the same fate after needing some late-game heroics to beat an FCS team, McNeese State. If either team actually goes unranked Sunday afternoon—which is, of course, not guaranteed—they would be the first 2-0 teams to fall from the rankings since Missouri in 2009. That Mizzou team finished 8-5.

• After winning at Stanford, USC rises up to No. 9, its highest ranking since Week 3 of the 2012 season. The reason it dropped back then? A road loss at Stanford. Every time the Trojans play in Palo Alto, you can bank on a top-10 shakeup.

 

Teams Rising

USC

It wasn't always pretty, but USC-Stanford games never are. They're supposed to be low-scoring, painful, grind-it-out fistfights, and the team that lands the final punch is supposed to end up better in the long run because of it.

And that's exactly what USC should be after its 13-10 win on The Farm. One week after running 104 plays and gaining 700-plus yards against Fresno State, the Trojans proved they could win in multiple ways.

Even though they got outgained by more than 100 yards and benefited from a little bit of luck (David Shaw's coaching, ugly turnovers, terrible kicking), beating the Cardinal on the road is no small task.

It's deserving of a top-10 ranking.

 

Notre Dame

It's not clear what should be made of Michigan, a team that looked great against Appalachian State in Week 1 but could easily be the same type of train wreck as last year. Either way, though, the Wolverines were a far better test for Notre Dame than Rice, but the Irish looked roughly as dominant in a 31-0 win Saturday night.

In the process, Notre Dame snapped Michigan's NCAA record streak of 376 consecutive games since its last shutout.

"It only counts for one," said Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly, per The Associated Press (via ESPN.com), "[But] I'd be lying if I told you that it didn't feel great to shut out Michigan 31 to nothing."

Not a bad way for the Irish to end this rivalry (for now).

 

BYU

An easy way to rise early in the season: Beat somebody.

An easier way to rise early in the season: Beat somebody on the road.

BYU did both Saturday night, beating Charlie Strong's Texas Longhorns in Austin, 41-7. The margin of victory (34) was actually 15 points higher than that of last year's program-changing blowout: the one that effectively cost Mack Brown his job after 16 years.

Quarterback Taysom Hill couldn't match last year's ridiculous rushing numbers (17 carries, 259 yards, three touchdowns in 2013), but his improved passing accuracy was on display, and he still left a lasting image with his legs.

 

Virginia Tech

To quote the section above: 

An easy way to rise early in the season: Beat somebody.

An easier way to rise early in the season: Beat somebody on the road.

Virginia Tech did both Saturday night, beating an Ohio State team with severe offensive problems. JT Barrett couldn't complete a 10-question survey against the Hokies' secondary, and the offensive line was a human turnstile against the Hokies' front seven.

Still, Frank Beamer's team deserves credit for going into Columbus and leaving with a win—regardless of the flaws of the opponent. Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer played a great game at quarterback, overcoming a big interception to lead the game-winning touchdown drive in the middle of the fourth quarter.

Florida State does not want Virginia Tech to win the ACC Coastal.

 

Teams Falling

Ohio State

Are we sure that was an Urban Meyer-coached team?

The Buckeyes were outplayed, out-schemed, out-muscled, out-worked and altogether outclassed on their home field by Virginia Tech, losing by two touchdowns, 35-21. The final score was inflated—technically—by a pick-six at the end of the fourth quarter, but despite that, Ohio State was lucky to even keep it this close.

 

North Carolina

The Tar Heels were lucky to escape against San Diego State, looking shaky for the second consecutive week despite the 2-0 record.

They've now given up 340-plus yards in both of their 2014 games, first to Liberty and now to the Aztecs.

Larry Fedora's team should continue lighting up the scoreboard—something Fedora-coached teams have never had a problem doing—but it does not have an ACC-contender worthy defense, as some had quixotically hoped. Especially with Virginia Tech rising, its chances of winning the ACC Coastal are trending the wrong way.

 

UCLA

UCLA had a chance to prove that Week 1 at Virginia was a fluke—and in some ways, it did. The offense wasn't nearly as bad as it looked against the Wahoos, but the defense wasn't nearly as good.

Perhaps both units were a fluke.

The Bruins very nearly lost to Memphis at home Saturday, allowing 35 points and not taking the lead for good until late into the fourth quarter. The whole "9 a.m. kickoff on the west coast" excuse is no longer viable to bail them out. The most logical verdict on Jim Mora's team right now is perhaps it just isn't that good.

Expect it to tumble because of that.

 

Nebraska

Ameer Abdullah made the highlight of the season (so far) with less than a minute to go against McNeese State, putting the team on his back with a ridiculous, Super Mario Bros.-esque touchdown reception in a tied game to bail Nebraska out of an ugly upset.

That's the good news. The bad news is that…well, Nebraska needed to be bailed out of an ugly upset. If not for Abdullah, the Huskers would have had to take McNeese State to overtime on its home field.

That is not something a top-20 team would do.

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