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NFL Draft Stock for Underrated Top Performers in College Football

The top college football players are looking to show what they've got in hopes of making it to the next level. Bleacher Report's Michael Felder and Matt Miller discuss which underrated players have seen a rise in their draft stock.

Who do you think has seen a big rise in their draft stock?

Check out the video and let us know!

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Stud LB Tevon Coney Picks Notre Dame, What Commitment Means for Irish

Notre Dame continues to maintain momentum during the final stretch of what has been a fortuitous month for Fighting Irish recruiting efforts. The team landed a commitment from Florida linebacker Tevon Coney on Thursday morning, swiping the Sunshine State star away from a pair of nearby programs:

Coney, rated 10th nationally among inside linebackers in 247Sports' composite rankings, will head to South Bend after considering offers from fellow finalists Florida and Miami. The coveted defender announced his intentions during a ceremony at Palm Beach Gardens High School, providing another pivotal piece in an impressive 2015 Notre Dame class. 

He expressed certainty in the choice during a simulcast on ESPN's Recruiting Nation, though his decision wasn't made until two days ago. 

"One day, I feel like I should go to this school and one day, I feel like I should go to that school," Coney told Ryan S. Clark of the Sun Sentinel last week. "I'm still trying to decide where I want to go and what school I should feel comfortable with and where I want to get my degree. I want to make the right decision."

His deliberation ultimately centered on Notre Dame, a university he's visited twice since June. 

“I think I fit in well with the Irish,” Coney said during the announcement. “I got a chance to see the playbook...and I think I can have a big impact.”

Coney, a 6'1", 222-pound prospect, provides head coach Brian Kelly with his fourth October pledge. Notre Dame landed 4-star Indianapolis linebacker Asmar Bilal last week, just a few days after securing a commitment from promising New Orleans defensive end Bo Wallace

The addition of three intriguing defensive standouts would have made for a fine month, but quarterback Brandon Wimbush took things to another level. The New Jersey native flipped to the Fighting Irish from Penn State two weeks ago, giving Kelly a top-tier passer to develop.

Fellow 4-star Penn State flip Josh Barajas joined the class in May. Notre Dame has now matched him with Bilal and Coney, creating quite a trio of incoming linebackers.

Coney is a highly productive player who tallied 172 tackles in 2013. He added 14 sacks and two interceptions as a junior, exhibiting tremendous blitzing abilities.

Fighting Irish defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder acquires a prototypical inside linebacker capable of chasing plays along the perimeter and creating havoc in the box. Coney is a dominant run-stuffer who identified pass coverage as a focal point for improvement during his announcement.

Notre Dame now holds 21 commitments in a 2015 class that has suddenly jumped to 10th nationally in 247Sports' composite rankings. The team is likely done looking for linebackers but still has its sights set on several marquee members of this recruiting cycle, including Texas running back Soso Jamabo and California wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown.

 

Recruit ratings and stats courtesy of 247Sports.

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Beware of Nick Marshall Hijacking the Heisman Trophy Race

Down but not out?

That's likely how Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall feels after his Tigers fell on the road to Mississippi State and Heisman Trophy contender Dak Prescott two weeks ago in Starkville, Mississippi.

The loss leaves very little margin for error for the Tigers in the race to repeat as SEC West champions and leaves Marshall fighting a steep uphill battle for the Heisman Trophy.

Getting back into the mix for college football's most prestigious honor isn't out of the question, though. 

If Marshall gets hot down the stretch and either leads his team into the SEC Championship Game or makes it a strong option for the College Football Playoff as a one-loss, non-conference champion, it could elevate Marshall into a true Heisman contender.

It starts this week against a South Carolina team that boasts a defense that is softer than warm butter.

The Gamecocks rank 12th in the SEC in total defense (421.3 YPG), last in yards per play (6.21) and 13th in pass defense (239.6 YPG). Auburn has two weeks to prepare for the Gamecocks and fix some of the inconsistencies Marshall has displayed through the air.

"At times this year, he's played extremely well, and at times, he's missed something," Malzahn said on Wednesday's coaches teleconference. "This off week has been really good for us, and I think he's in a position where he can improve."

Not only is Marshall improving, but the game plan may be improving as well.

After the loss to Mississippi State, offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said that Auburn is changing the way it evaluates Marshall as a passer, according to Joel A. Erickson of AL.com.

"Things are changing," Lashlee said. "It may not be as much about the percentage of completions as it is the efficiency, and as long as we're throwing touchdowns, not interceptions, maybe getting chunk yardages and making the throws when we need them, then that'll probably be good enough."

To put it more simply, Auburn's going back to the future, to what worked last year when Marshall led the Tigers to the SEC title. That means more focus on the running game, more deep passes and more stress on the back end of defenses.

If it works against the Gamecocks—and there's nothing to suggest that it shouldn't—Auburn can capitalize on that momentum. 

A road trip to Ole Miss looms on Nov. 1, and generating momentum heading into that big-time matchup against Ole Miss' stout defense is imperative.

That's the statement game for Auburn. If Marshall can get things cooking this week and keep it up against the stingy "Landsharks" defense at Ole Miss, he'd be back in the Heisman mix with the porous Texas A&M defense coming to The Plains on Nov. 8.

Hello, Heisman.

This three-game stretch is huge for Auburn's title hopes and Marshall's Heisman hopes, and it could set the stage for what amounts to a national title elimination game on Nov. 15 in Athens against Georgia.

Get your popcorn ready.

 

 

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

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Alabama Football: Defensive Line's Resurgence Just What Secondary Needs

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — It’s not hard to figure out which of Alabama’s position groups is most improved from last year to now.

The Crimson Tide’s pass rush is night-and-day from where it was last year and has turned into one of this team’s strengths in 2014.

Alabama has registered 19 sacks so far this season. Last year, it notched just 22. If the Crimson Tide play only 13 games this year and maintain their pace, they would total about 35 sacks, which would tie a Saban-era high set by the 2012 team, which played 14 games.

They’ve registered a sack in every game except against Florida, when Gators quarterback Jeff Driskel completed just nine passes.

The unit is experiencing a resurgence from its lackluster 2013 season. It’s had a trickle-down effect on the secondary, seemingly one of the weaknesses on this 2014 defense. That group has improved as the season has worn on, thanks in some part to the rush.

“They’re big-time,” said safety Nick Perry. “If the quarterback doesn’t have time to throw the ball, then they can’t complete any passes. We know that our D-line’s going to get there and we just have to guard our receivers for two or three seconds and that’ll be it.”

If you’re looking for a reason for the improvement, you don’t have to look any further than a two-deep roster.

Alabama’s defensive line talent from top to bottom is stockpiled with former 4- and 5-star prospects. More importantly is the variety of skill sets that each player brings to the table.

Alabama still has the big, burly players it’s trademarked over the years like Brandon Ivory, A’Shawn Robinson and Jarran Reed. But an influx of speedy edge-rushers has given the group another dimension.

It’s a deep group that combines all of those talents into a terrifying machine.

Xzavier Dickson, an outside linebacker who almost always plays on the line of scrimmage, leads the team with 5.5 sacks. Ryan Anderson, a similar hand-in-the-dirt type, is next with three. Behind them are 10 players who have registered at least half a sack.

“I feel like we’re a very unique pass rush front,” defensive end Jonathan Allen said. “You really just can’t key in on one guy or what one guy does. We all do something a little bit different. We all come together to make a good pass rush unit.”

The group is also much more experienced. Robinson and Jonathan Allen were two who made an impact as freshmen last season.

Alabama also added JUCO transfers Reed and D.J. Pettway, who have a sack each so far and factor in to the regular rotation.

Combine that experience with the diversity of ability, and you have a recipe for a dangerous group.

“I think we have more diversity in types of players that we have this year. We also have more experience than we had a year ago. So, this year we’re more athletic inside plus we have more guys who are good as rushers,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said.

“We have more guys who have more diversity as players who can add to the pass rush in those types of games. And they have more experience too.”

The effect felt on the back end is very apparent too.

Alabama had a season-high six sacks against Texas A&M this weekend. The Crimson Tide harassed Kenny Hill all day and eventually chased him from the game. They allowed just 141 passing yards on the day, Alabama’s third-lowest total of the season behind the Florida Atlantic and Florida games.

“It takes a lot of ease off our back,” safety Landon Collins said. “We don't have to cover for so long. And then our keys and concepts and knowing what the offense is trying to do, you can really just pinpoint what they have to do. Because if you get them in 3rd-and-long or 2nd-and-long, they have to pass the ball or make a draw to get the yardage back, so I mean it just settles us down.”

Expect that trend to continue this week against Tennessee.

The Volunteers have given up 30 sacks this season, almost double what the next worst SEC teams have surrendered—Mississippi State, LSU and Kentucky all have given up 16.

Alabama’s rush has without question been the team’s biggest improvement, and it’s made a big impression so far this season.

 

Marc Torrence is the Alabama lead writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats come from cfbstats.com.

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

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Georgia Football: Early Odds for the Bulldogs' Team MVP

The Georgia Bulldogs are in a great spot right now at 6-1 and No. 9 in the AP Poll.

What’s even more important is that they are 4-1 in the SEC East and have sole possession of first place.

There are a lot of reasons the Bulldogs have had a lot of success during the first half of the season, but when it’s all said and done, the players that needed to step up have done so in a big way.

With a few injured players getting healthy as well as a possible suspended player returning for the Florida game, the Bulldogs are looking to do some big things at the end of the season.

If there is one player that has been the key reason for the team's success, who would it be?

Here are the early odds for the Bulldogs’ team MVP. 

Begin Slideshow

​Personal Ties Bringing 4-Star WR TJ Chase​ Closer to ​Florida State

Given the success Florida State has had on offense in recent years, it makes sense that Jimbo Fisher and the Seminoles would appeal to the nation’s top skill players on the recruiting trail.

A 4-star in-state junior wide receiver, Tavares “T.J.” Chase, is one of the ‘Noles' top targets in the 2016 class.

The 6’2”, 167-pounder plays at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida—which is also home to FSU 2015 quarterback commit Deondre Francois and fellow ‘Nole target and 5-star 2016 corner Saivion Smith

In fact, after he caught a touchdown pass from Francois in last week’s nationally televised win over Trinity Christian, the 4-star passer celebrated with his talented teammate by throwing up the tomahawk chop.

“He whispers (about) that in my ear all the time,” Chase told Bleacher Report. “I just shake it off because I’m not making a commitment yet. I’ll be thinking about it at times because Florida State, they in the top (group) with me right now. I can picture myself there.”

Chase—who, according to MaxPreps, has 21 receptions for 423 yards and four touchdowns through nine games this season—earned an offer from Fisher after he camped at FSU in the summer, according to Chris Nee of Noles247 (subscription required).

“Jimbo was just like he appreciated me coming up and he loves what he saw during camp,” Chase told Nee. “I don't [have any favorites] but FSU will definitely be in the top when it's all said and done.”

Other powers such as Auburn, Georgia, Florida, Miami, Notre Dame and Ohio State are among the schools who have offered and are actively pursuing the No. 144 overall player in the 2016 class.

While his offer list is lengthy, there are many reasons that Chase is comfortable with the Seminoles in the early stages of his recruitment. 

For starters, he was in attendance for the ‘Noles' big overtime victory over Clemson last month.

While both programs are among his early favorites, his familiarity with Fisher’s offense is a factor that bodes well for the defending national champions.

“I like the way both FSU and Clemson spread the ball around,” Chase told Josh Newberg of Noles247 in August (subscription required). “FSU runs a similar offense to what we do here (at IMG).”

Aside from Francois heading to Tallahassee, there are a few other links between the IMG program and FSU. 

His head coach at IMG—Chris Weinke—is a former FSU legend who won the 2000 Heisman Trophy and led the ‘Noles to a national title in 1999. Also, IMG's wide receivers coach—former NFL pass-catcher E.G. Green—starred at FSU in the late 1990s.

It doesn't hurt that the rapport he’s gaining with Francois this season could benefit him should he elect to sign with the Seminoles and reunite with his good friend in college.

“In practice, it’s a great atmosphere here at IMG,” Chase said. “We (he and Francois) have our mindset to go out and go hard every rep. Before practice and after practice, we just run routes and get comfortable with each other.”

Considering the number of elite schools who have offered Chase, it’s clear that he’s a talented and explosive pass-catcher who could find success in a number of different offenses.

However, Florida State seems to provide Chase with an opportunity to ensure the smoothest possible transition from the prep ranks to big-time college football.

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Charlie Strong, Texas Taking Page from Bill Snyder's Playbook on Molding Players

Charlie Strong and Kansas State head coach Bill Snyder are similar in more ways than one. So far, winning streaks aren't one of them, but that can change in time thanks to some lessons learned from Snyder.

Snyder has arguably done more with less than any other head coach in college football history. He doesn't get the 5-star recruits and oftentimes relies heavily on walk-ons and junior college transfers to start for his typically underrated teams.

But he finds a way to win, and his team's No. 11 ranking this season proves it.

Strong is looking to build his program at Texas in a similar way. When he took the job at Louisville, he called Snyder to get his advice on being a head coach.

"When I took over the program at Louisville, I called him because I wanted that program to be like the one he has built at Kansas State," Strong said. "It's a balanced attack. There's nothing fancy about what they do. They line up, play with good fundamentals and technique and are a very disciplined team. ... They play within themselves and that's what you really like about them and respect about them so much."

But the conversation wasn't all about X's and O's. The most important advice Snyder gave was for Strong to be himself.

"Coach Snyder said, 'You just have to be yourself. You're the coach, you know who you are, you cannot be anyone else. You can always take ideas and share ideas, but at the end of the day, it's how you run your program,'" Strong said. "That's what it's all about. Running your program the way you think it should be run."

It's obvious Strong is running Texas the way he wants it to be run, and him dismissing nine players for violating his rules proves just that.

However, the Longhorns head coach appears to be taking some pages from the Snyder playbook.

Strong and his staff look at Snyder as one of the great coaches in the game. Not just because he finds a way to utilize the talent he receives better than any other coach in history, but because he knows how to develop football players.

"You talk about a disciplined team, accountable players and dependable players, those are the things we're trying to bring to the University of Texas," defensive coordinator Vance Bedford said. "Coach Snyder has gotten that done at Kansas State. We're trying to get to where he is. I respect everything he has done, and he has done it for years."

Texas and Kansas State are two very different programs. The Longhorns reside in Austin, which is arguably one of the greatest cities in America. The Wildcats are in Manhattan, Kansas, which is not the easiest place to travel to.

There is not a lot of allure for the top athletes to want to go to Manhattan, which makes Snyder's job all the more difficult.

But he somehow finds the diamond-in-the-rough athletes whose goals reside around one major topic: playing football.

"You don't see a lot of 5-star guys on his football teams. A lot of times, you have to break a 5-star down to get him right. He doesn't worry about what the media says or what recruiting services rank his team. He really doesn't care. What he can say is, 'I have football players. They're going to do exactly what I ask them to do or they're not going to play.' So if you go into his program, you either do exactly what he tells you to do, or you're going to be on the sideline," Bedford said.

"That's the type of kids that he has. Guys who are hungry, who have a chip on their shoulder, who want to do the right thing, who go to class. You talk about the details of the game, that's what I see with Coach Snyder. Coach Strong and him are a lot alike."

Some critics questioned if Strong could recruit the state after he was announced as the head coach at the University of Texas.

The Longhorns have dropped some in the recruiting service rankings over the previous few years. Texas went from signing a No. 2-ranked recruiting class in 2012 to 17th in 2013 and 2014.

But it's not all about signing the 5-star prospects anymore.

Strong is looking for good athletes who want to develop into great football players and great men by the time they leave his program.

"Coach Stoops has built his program a lot like Coach Snyder, and that's what Coach Strong wants to do. He wants to get the type of guys in the program that love the game of football. Guys who are disciplined and work hard and buy into the team aspect of the game and not worry about their stats."

The Longhorns have a lot of things to be worried about this weekend against Kansas State, and the individual stats should be last on the team's mind.

Playing at Kansas State was not an easy task for the previous head coach at Texas. The Longhorns have only won one game in Manhattan, and it happened 12 years ago.

Strong and his team will look to end the losing streak in Bill Snyder Family Football Stadium, but the task will be one of the tougher challenges of the season.

"They're tough, smart and dependable. They're a very disciplined football team, they don't get many penalties, don't give up many turnovers and look at how hard they play. Look at the quarterback (Jake Waters)—he may not be the most talented guy, but when he takes the field, he has a presence about him. He directs the offense and makes plays," Strong said.

"That's a solid football team."

 

All quotes were obtained firsthand. Recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Week 9: Top 25 Upset Alert

If Week 9 plays out anything like this season has, there will likely be a fair share of upsets.

Where will these upsets be?

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Michael Felder warns the masses by highlighting which Top 25 teams could be on the losing side of things.

Which big-time program should be on upset alert?

Watch the video and let us know!

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ole Miss Running Game Can Make a Statement vs. LSU

To win championships, you have to run the ball and play defense.

Ole Miss has one part of that equation down. The Rebels currently boast the nation's eighth-best defense (290.6 yards allowed per game), are third-best in yards per play (4.15) and tied with Louisville for the most interceptions in the country (15), despite playing one fewer game.

The second part of that equation, however, has been more of a challenge.

Ole Miss ranks 11th in the conference in rushing yards per game (151.3), 12th in rushing yards per attempt (3.8) and has a noticeable inability to make anything work between the tackles. 

Saturday is the day to get things right on the ground for the Rebels.

While LSU's offense has been the brunt of a bad joke this year, its run defense has been a major problem as well. The Tigers are giving up 162.5 yards per game on the ground, and in two losses to Mississippi State and Auburn, they gave up an average of 300 rushing yards per game.

Ole Miss has been great thus far, and this is the chance to show the world—on the road in Death Valley—that it's a complete football team by pounding the rock.

Head coach Hugh Freeze knows that while LSU's defense has struggled in big games, it has evolved over the last two weeks and could present a challenge.

"Defensively, they’re changing some things around that you haven’t seen them do a lot of before," he said during Monday's press conference. "They’ve become very multiple the last two weeks, particularly last week. They’re doing more odd fronts."

Now's the time for Ole Miss' running game to make a statement.

The Tigers are still very young in the middle of that defense, with sophomore Christian LaCouture and freshman Davon Godchaux at defensive tackle, and sophomore Kendell Beckwith earning more time at middle linebacker.

Jaylen Walton and I'Tavius Mathers are the Rebels' two leading rushers this year but have done most of their damage off the edge on fly sweeps and zone reads.

As has been the case over the last two years, quarterback Bo Wallace has shouldered a lot of the load between the tackles, rushing 67 times for 122 yards and two touchdowns.

Somebody other than Wallace has to step up between the tackles for the Rebels. Whether that's Jordan Wilkins, Mark Dodson or one of the speed guys taking on more responsibility, doing it against an LSU defense that is young and has been soft in the middle is the perfect time for Ole Miss to prove it's a complete team.

It still has Auburn and Mississippi State around the corner, both of which can stop the run and force teams to be one-dimensional.

Momentum for the Rebels on the ground would be huge down the home stretch, and it can be generated this week down on the Bayou.

 

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

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Rapid-Fire Predictions for College Football's Biggest Matchups in Week 9

Week 9 is right around the corner, meaning it's time for another edition of this week's biggest headlines. 

Bleacher Report College Football Analysts Barrett Sallee and Michael Felder deliver some bold predictions for all the important upcoming matchups. 

What will be the biggest story come Monday morning?

Watch the video and let us know! 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Shawn Oakman Has Potential to Be 'One of the Most Dominant' Defensive Linemen

Baylor defensive end Shawn Oakman may be the most impressive specimen to stand on a football field.

At 6'9" and 280 pounds, Oakman is a major presence out on the field. He has shown flashes of greatness, but critics point to his inconsistencies in effort.

Bleacher Report Lead NFL Draft Writer Matt Miller and College Football Analyst Michael Felder discuss the potential of the brusing defensive lineman.

What is Oakman's ceiling?

Watch the video and let us know! 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Michigan vs. Michigan State: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time and More

This in-state rivalry between the No. 8 Michigan State Spartans and the Michigan Wolverines has taken a dramatic turn over the past several seasons. No longer are the Wolverines the dominant team in this matchup, as Mark Dantonio's squad has emerged as one of the nation's elite.

Regardless of where these teams currently rank or how they've fared so far this season, this contest is a gritty dogfight each and every year.

The Spartans are riding a five-game winning streak since losing in Week 2 to Oregon and have regained the potential to earn a berth in this year's College Football Playoff. The Wolverines snapped a three-game losing skid in Week 7 against Penn State and come into this game refreshed after a bye week. Michigan must win three of its last five to gain bowl eligibility.

Will a well-balanced Spartans team dominate its rival and continue its hopes of earning a spot in the Top Four, or will the Wolverines play spoiler? There's certainly plenty at stake for both teams on Saturday.

 

Offensive Questions

Both of these teams have been relatively good on the defensive side of the ball throughout the season. Michigan State is allowing an average of 21.6 points per game while Michigan is giving up just 21.4. It will take a productive offense to break through these sound defensive units.

The Wolverines have been wildly inconsistent on the offensive side of the ball this season. The team started with a promising performance against Appalachian State in Week 1, putting up 52 points and 560 yards en route to a blowout win. Unfortunately, that performance hasn't repeated itself.

Since then, Michigan has scored more than 18 points just twice. Quarterback Devin Gardner has been inconsistent, and the team's running game struggled against Penn State in Week 7 without Derrick Green in the fold.

Without a rushing attack to complement the passing game, this Michigan offense could continue to struggle against better defenses—like Michigan State's.

On the flip side, the Spartans offense has taken flight thanks to the efforts of quarterback Connor Cook. This team has been known for its defense, but Cook and Co. have gained nationwide notoriety as the third-ranked offense, averaging 47.0 points per game.

Cook torched Indiana in Week 8, throwing for 332 yards and three scores. He's been able to put up gaudy numbers due to defenses attempting to stack the box to stop the Spartans' vaunted rushing attack. Take a look at what Michigan State's two-headed rushing attack did to Indiana:

Delton Williams added another five carries for 55 yards and a score to those numbers. This will be a very intriguing matchup against a Michigan run defense that has been very good this season, ranking fourth in the nation by allowing just 93.6 yards per game.

 

Battle in the Trenches

Michigan State's rushing attack will be a great test for Michigan's stout run defense; however, the Wolverines must figure something out to get past the Spartans' eighth-ranked run defense.

We already touched on the fact that Gardner has been inconsistent this season, and if he doesn't have a complementary ground game, his passing woes could be extremely apparent on Saturday. The Wolverines need a far better performance from De'Veon Smith, who carried 12 times for just 24 yards against Penn State.

Michigan's rushing totals against the Nittany Lions were not impressive at all:

Here's why the Wolverines desperately need a balanced attack: They must keep the Spartans pass rush off balance. Michigan State is ranked fourth in the nation in sacks, accumulating an impressive 26 on the season. If the ground game isn't working for the Wolverines, this pass rush will be all over Gardner for the duration of the game.

Meanwhile, Michigan State's offensive line has been absolutely stellar this season. The team boasts the nation's top-ranked unit, allowing just four sacks so far this season. While Michigan's 18 sacks this season are nothing to sneeze at, the team's pass rush will have difficulty getting into the backfield.

Michigan State has a big advantage in the trenches and will benefit from playing in front of its home crowd. Michigan will be attempting to keep up while dealing with excessive crowd noise at the same time. That's not a recipe for success.

If the Wolverines can't figure out how to deal with Michigan State's big men, this one could get out of hand quickly on Saturday.

 

When: Saturday, October 25

Time: 3:30 p.m. ET

Where: Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, Michigan

Channel: ABC

Live Stream: WatchESPN

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 49.5
  • Spread: Michigan State -17

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports per The Sports Network, via USA Today.

 

Prediction

It sure does look as though Michigan State has practically all of the advantages heading into this one. The Spartans play at home, are more physical in the trenches and have a better running game, a more efficient passing game and a formidable defense.

As for the Wolverines, they must figure out how to get a ground game established without Green in the fold. We also have to keep our eyes on the availability of wide receiver Devin Funchess, who is questionable for the game.

Michigan's injury report is lengthy, and without several key players in the fold, the Wolverines just won't be able to hang with a very well-rounded Spartans team. This one ends with Sparty on top by a decent margin.

Prediction: Michigan State 38, Michigan 18

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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

Plenty of postseason implications will be on the line when the No. 4 Alabama Crimson Tide meet the Tennessee Volunteers on Saturday. Both teams have undergone roller-coaster seasons to this point, and each is searching for a late push in an effort to strengthen its position for a potential bowl game.

Although Alabama began the season slowly, a fantastic effort in Week 8 resulted in a 59-0 drubbing of Texas A&M and vaulted the Crimson Tide up the AP Poll to No. 4 and in the mix for the College Football Playoff. While Tennessee doesn't have a shot at the CFP, it can still become bowl eligible with three more victories.

Will Blake Sims continue to make the Crimson Tide look like an SEC powerhouse, or will Tennessee's defense be problematic for the red-hot quarterback? We'll have a much better idea of where these two teams stand in the wake of this impending contest.

 

Searching for Offensive Balance

Both the Crimson Tide and Volunteers must establish balanced offenses if they are to notch wins later in the year in colder weather. Alabama began to show its capability of doing just that in its huge victory over Texas A&M in Week 8.

Sims was astounding throughout the contest. He was pulled after the third quarter because the game was already well out of hand, but he managed to do plenty of damage to that point. He finished completing 16 of his 27 passing attempts for 268 yards and three touchdowns while adding four carries for 54 yards and another score.

His dual-threat ability created all sorts of problems for the Aggie defense, and we should expect to see more of the same from this versatile playmaker going forward.

One big reason why Sims was so efficient was the effort from running back T.J. Yeldon. He looked better than he had all season against Texas A&M, showing good burst and the ability to gain yards after contact. Yeldon finished the game rushing for 114 yards and two scores on 13 carries.

The Crimson Tide found offensive balance against Texas A&M, throwing 35 times and rushing 45 times for 602 yards of offense. Keeping that trend alive will not only get this team past the Volunteers in Week 9, but will also keep it well in the mix for a CFP berth.

Tennessee didn't exactly find that same kind of balance in Week 8 against the Ole Miss Rebels. The team's offensive line imploded, and quarterback Justin Worley suffered as a direct result. The signal-caller only mustered 191 passing yards and three interceptions on the day.

Making things worse for this offense was the line's inability to block for the run. The Volunteers never gave up on their ground game, but it was not effective whatsoever, accumulating exactly zero yards on 28 carries. This team runs a balanced offense, but it needs to see far more efficiency across the board to create success.

 

Defensive Prowess

Alabama is known for a stout defense. It has uncharacteristically given up more than 20 points in three of its contests this season, but it still ranks third in the nation, allowing an average of just 13.1 points per game.

Week 8 against Texas A&M may have been the best possible example of how dominant the Crimson Tide defense can be. Aggies' enigmatic quarterback Kenny Hill threw for just 136 yards and tossed one interception, while Texas A&M's ground game could only muster an average of 1.5 yards per carry—and that performance was from the nation's 21st-ranked team.

A look at the Aggies' running game in Week 8 really sums it up:

Considering Tennessee's recent offensive struggles, the Crimson Tide defense should be chomping at the bit to get its hands on the Volunteers offensive line.

Tennessee really isn't much of a slouch on the defensive side of the ball, either. The Volunteers defense is only allowing an average of 21.3 points per game, and despite giving up 34 to Ole Miss in Week 8, there were plenty of positive takeaways.

The Volunteers' pass rush proved to be a nightmare for quarterback Bo Wallace. He was sacked several times and pressured on a consistent basis. That shows in his final stat line, as he was only able to complete 13 of his 28 passing attempts.

Tennessee's run defense should be commended as well. Ole Miss attempted to pound the ball for the duration of the game, totaling 47 carries; however, the Volunteers held strong, allowing 3.8 yards per carry to a talented backfield.

 

When: Saturday, October 25

Time: 7:30 p.m. ET

Where: Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tennessee

Channel: ESPN2

Live Stream: WatchESPN

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 46.5
  • Spread: Alabama -17.5

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports per Sports Network, via USA Today.

 

Prediction

The Volunteers are catching the Crimson Tide at the wrong time. Alabama is red-hot after shutting down Texas A&M in Week 8, and we should expect that momentum to carry over into Saturday's contest.

Sims and Yeldon will continue to provide a balanced attack, while wide receiver Amari Cooper could prove too difficult to contain for Tennessee's secondary. The Volunteers defense won't allow the Crimson Tide to put up another 50-plus number on the scoreboard, but Worley and Co. just don't have the firepower to keep up—especially against one of the better defenses in the nation.

Another big win for Alabama is on the horizon, and Tennessee will continue searching for those elusive three wins to find itself in a bowl game.

Prediction: Alabama 38, Tennessee 16

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ole Miss vs. LSU: TV Info, Spread, Injury Updates, Game Time and More

This SEC showdown featuring No. 3 Ole Miss and No. 24 LSU has plenty of postseason implications. The Rebels are one of the last remaining undefeated teams and are deeply entrenched in a battle for a berth in the College Football Playoff. The Tigers may be out of the playoff picture, but winning out could produce a spot in a prestigious bowl game.

Week 9 will certainly be a tough win for LSU, but the Tigers are getting Ole Miss at the right time. After all, confidence is high after an impressive 41-3 drubbing of Kentucky in Week 8. Although, the Rebels are coming off a nice win of their own, defeating Tennessee 34-3 after a stellar defensive showing.

Neither of these teams is accustomed to giving up many points, so we should expect an all-out battle in the trenches as the Tigers and Rebels fight for field position. We'll soon find out if Ole Miss can remain among the nation's elite or if LSU can ride home-field advantage all the way to an enormous upset.

 

Defense Wins Championships

This may not be a championship game, but with so much on the line for each team, it may be played like one. Both of these teams feature some of the best defenses in the nation, and we should be expecting to see some aggressive play from each unit.

LSU enters the game ranked eighth in the nation, allowing 17.0 points per game. That number is impressive; however, it's been a roller-coaster ride to get there, as the Tigers defense has been a little inconsistent. Here's a look at points allowed per game this season:

The Tigers have allowed 136 total points this season. Only 10 of those points were allowed in four games; however, the other 126 were allowed in the other four.

LSU hasn't been a sack machine this season, totaling 13 through eight games, but it has been phenomenal against the pass anyway, allowing an average of just 156.3 yards per game, ranking fourth in the nation. That could be a huge benefit against the inconsistent Bo Wallace.

Ole Miss has been great on the defensive side of the ball this season. The team is ranked first in the nation, allowing an average of just 10.6 points per game. In fact, the Rebels didn't allow more than 20 points in any of their previous seven contests.

This is a very balanced defense, ranking 20th against the pass and sixth against the run while accumulating 18 sacks on the year. LSU has displayed its ability to get points on the scoreboard this season, but it hasn't faced a defense quite like this just yet.

 

Offensive Strengths

LSU doesn't have much of a passing game to speak of. After struggling in that department earlier in the season, this team has created a very run-oriented scheme. Quarterback Anthony Jennings only attempted 14 passes—completing seven of them for 120 yards and a score—against Kentucky. Meanwhile, the team ran the ball a total of 51 times.

While the Tigers' rushing attack was very efficient, racking up 303 yards and three touchdowns, the team simply can't expect that same result against the Ole Miss defense. Yes, LSU should continue to stick with what works, but the team will need some more balance to compete with the Rebels.

We'll see what Jennings, the sophomore signal-caller, is truly made of against Ole Miss, as the offense won't have the privilege of running 51 times.

Wallace continues to be the focal point of the Ole Miss offense, but if this team is truly ready to take down its remaining SEC opponents, the quarterback will need more consistent performances. Here's a look at his 2014 game log:

That's quite a variation in efficiency from week to week.

Ole Miss' running game only averaged 3.8 yards per carry against Tennessee in Week 8. In an effort to see more consistent play from Wallace, this offense must get Jaylen Walton going on the ground. A balanced offensive attack will be the way to get past a stingy LSU pass defense.

 

When: Saturday, October 25

Time: 7:15 p.m. ET

Where: Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Channel: ESPN

Live Stream: WatchESPN

Betting Lines (Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 44.5
  • Spread: Ole Miss -4

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports per Sports Network, via USA Today.

 

Prediction

We should be expecting a highly competitive defensive struggle in this one. The offense that can create a balanced attack to keep the opposing defense on its heels will have a huge advantage in the battle for field position and, ultimately, the game's outcome.

Due to an LSU passing game that hasn't been effective this season, the Tigers may have some difficulty establishing that balance against one of the nation's most talented defenses. Although, if Wallace can't get into a groove, the Rebels may not be able to take full advantage and pull away.

This one will remain close for the bulk of the game, but the Rebels are the more well rounded of these two teams, and that will be good enough to squeeze out a close win.

Prediction: Ole Miss 23, LSU 17

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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

Before the season began, this Week 9 showdown appeared likely to be a clash of SEC heavyweights. As it turns out, that won't exactly be the case when No. 5 Auburn takes on South Carolina.

The Tigers continue their roller-coaster season with an outside chance of earning a berth in the College Football Playoff despite suffering a loss to Mississippi State in Week 8. The Gamecocks quickly fell down the ranks after a Week 1 loss to Texas A&M, and two more losses to Missouri and Kentucky saw the team fall out of the Top 25 altogether.

South Carolina is still searching for wins to become bowl eligible, and Auburn can't be caught looking ahead at a brutal remaining schedule that includes games at Ole Miss, Georgia and Alabama. Will the Tigers roll, or will they be caught in a trap game?

SEC contests can be overwhelmingly unpredictable, and these teams' seasons hang in the balance.

 

Limiting Turnovers

Turnovers always play a crucial part in the success or failure of any team in any given week. Expect that statement to ring true on Saturday, as both of these teams were handed recent losses due to a lack of ball security.

South Carolina was upset by Kentucky in Week 6 due in part to quarterback Dylan Thompson's three interceptions. His third pick of the day was nabbed by Alvin Dupree deep in Gamecocks territory and returned for an easy touchdown. That score wound up being the difference-maker in a seven-point loss.

While the Gamecocks bounced back in Week 8 against Furman, losing two fumbles in that contest doesn't exactly provide plenty of confidence moving forward.

Auburn suffered its first loss to Mississippi State in Week 8 during a sloppy game in Starkville. The Tigers turned the ball over a total of four times, as quarterback Nick Marshall threw two interceptions and fumbles were lost by D'haquille Wilson and Jamoral Graham.

The Tigers lost by 15 points; however, that margin could have been significantly worse had the Bulldogs not accumulated four turnovers of their own.

Here's a look at turnovers by game for both teams:

The key to avoiding turnovers for both of these teams is to establish the running game early. South Carolina has a great two-headed attack with Mike Davis and David Williams, while Auburn has a mix of the versatile Marshall and Cameron Artis-Payne.

 

Stopping the Run

While both teams will look to establish the run in an effort to limit turnovers, they will also be attempting to stifle their opponent's ground game. However, that may be easier in theory for these defenses.

Take a glance at a side-by-side comparison of both teams' rushing offenses:

Auburn continues to be a run-first team. Marshall isn't the most developed passer, and he's of better use as a complement to the running game than the other way around. The Tigers have a handful of viable ball-carriers, and they could have a field day against the South Carolina run defense.

South Carolina is ranked 89th in the nation against the run, allowing an average of 181.7 yards per game. The team's struggles in that department were wildly apparent against Furman. Despite the lack of a passing game altogether, Furman was still able to generate 211 yards and a score on 39 carries—an average of 5.4 yards per rush—against the Gamecocks.

Furman's Hank McCloud is a good ball-carrier; however, the team isn't near as explosive or versatile as Auburn.

The Tigers have fared nicely against the run this season, ranking 25th in the nation, allowing an average of 120.7 yards per game. The team is coming off an uncharacteristic performance after giving up 223 yards on the ground to Mississippi State; however, 121 of those yards were racked up by quarterback Dak Prescott.

Without a running threat at the quarterback position, the Gamecocks may find it a little more difficult to get their ground game going against the Auburn run defense.

 

When: Saturday, October 25

Time: 7:30 p.m. ET

Where: Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Alabama

Channel: SEC Network

Live Stream: WatchESPN

Betting Lines (via Odds Shark):

  • Over/Under: 65
  • Point Spread: Auburn -17.5

 

Team Injury Reports

Injury reports per Sports Network, via USA Today.

 

Prediction

If establishing the run leads to eliminating turnovers and a victory in this SEC clash, the advantage most certainly goes to Auburn. The team's ability to use the option and get around a porous South Carolina run defense will allow the Tigers to control the ball and the clock for a vast majority of the game.

Meanwhile, South Carolina could be forced into throwing situations more often than it would like, and that could lead to some issues for Thompson against a solid defense.

Expect Auburn to get out to an early lead, forcing turnovers and defeating the Gamecocks by a substantial margin on Saturday evening.

Prediction: Auburn 45, South Carolina 20

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Ohio State vs. Penn State: TV Info, Live Stream and Preview for Big Ten Showdown

The Ohio State football team has a golden opportunity to make a loud statement on Saturday night. The only question is whether the College Football Playoff selection committee will be listening. 

The Buckeyes hit the road to take on Big Ten foe Penn State in front of as raucous of a crowd as you can find in college football and a prime-time audience on national television. As for the Nittany Lions, they have a chance to turn their season around with an upset after losing two straight to Northwestern and a struggling Michigan team.

Penn State probably also wants some revenge from last year’s embarrassing 63-14 loss in Ohio Stadium.

Here is a look at all the essential information for the Big Ten showdown as well as a preview.

 

Date: Saturday, Oct. 25

Time: 8 p.m. ET

Place: Beaver Stadium in University Park, Pennsylvania

TV: ABC 

Live Stream: Watch ESPN

 

Preview

Ohio State looks like a completely different team since its stunning loss to Virginia Tech back in early September, but it will be challenged by a stout Penn State defense. 

The Nittany Lions have the nation’s top run defense, which is allowing a measly 60.8 yards per game, and the sixth-best scoring defense at 15.2 points a game. However, Penn State has done its defensive damage against less-than-stellar competition and is now facing an Ohio State team that is rolling, as Adam Rittenberg of ESPN and Paul Myerberg of USA Today pointed out:

Ohio State is fresh off a game that saw it rack up an astonishing 324 rushing yards against Rutgers behind J.T. Barrett, Ezekiel Elliott and an array of other playmakers. It also tallied 269 yards on the ground against Maryland, 380 against Cincinnati and 284 against Kent State.

It’s safe to say something has to give between the Buckeyes’ rushing attack and Penn State’s stout run defense.

It’s not just the Ohio State rushing attack, though, that is steering an offense that just set a program record with four straight games of 50 or more points. The Buckeyes are fourth in the nation in scoring offense at 46.5 points a game, and Barrett is picking up some Heisman momentum with his arm and legs. 

In the last four games, Barrett has 1,170 passing yards, 17 passing touchdowns, one interception, a 68.3 completion percentage, 263 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns. Eleven Warriors noted that his raw statistics look awfully similar to Jameis Winston’s from his Heisman season in 2013:

Many people wrote Ohio State off when Braxton Miller went down with an injury before the season started, and this is a chance for Barrett to prove in front of a national audience that there is a new star quarterback leading the way for the scarlet and gray. The defending Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week could also butt his way into the Heisman discussion with an impressive performance.

Barrett’s counterpart in this matchup is the key to Penn State’s entire offense.

Quarterback Christian Hackenberg is third in the Big Ten with 1,637 passing yards, but he only has five touchdown passes to go with his seven interceptions. From a talent standpoint, Hackenberg is likely a future NFL quarterback, and he can put some points on the board quickly, especially at home, if the Buckeyes take this matchup lightly.

One of the men in charge of stopping that Penn State offense is Ohio State defensive line coach Larry Johnson. His presence on the sidelines is an interesting twist because he coached at Penn State for 18 years before joining Urban Meyer’s staff.

Johnson discussed the upcoming game, via Tim May of The Columbus Dispatch: "It will be different…You spend 18 years at one place, a long time, then you walk back in there, different sideline. But I’m looking forward to going back. I’m looking forward to going back with Ohio State University. I’m looking forward to going back and being excited to play in the stadium."

That Ohio State defense has 12 sacks, 23 tackles for loss and eight interceptions during a four-game winning streak. The Buckeyes are also in the top 25 nationally in scoring defense, passing yards allowed and first downs allowed.

To make matters worse from Penn State’s perspective, the Nittany Lions have a whopping 19 combined points the last two games. Scoring 19 points would be a productive quarter for the Buckeyes the way their offense has been rolling lately.

On paper, this really should not be that close. The one challenge for Ohio State will be the overall atmosphere, which should be electric under the lights. However, the Buckeyes can put a quick end to the noise level if they jump out to an early lead, and that is likely exactly what Meyer wants to do.

The Penn State offense is an abysmal 111th in the country in points per game (21.2) and doesn’t have the firepower to keep up with Ohio State. The red-hot Buckeyes offense and potentially underrated defense will simply overwhelm the Nittany Lions from a talent perspective.

This one will not be competitive into the final quarter. 

Prediction: Ohio State 41, Penn State 14

 

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Pac-12 Football: The Midseason All-Conference Team for the Pac-12

We're almost to the halfway point of the conference schedule in the Pac-12, which fortunately means a lot of exciting football is coming over the next six weeks.

But we've seen enough to know which players have already made an unforgettable mark on the 2014 campaign. When the season concludes, the best players at each position will find themselves on the exclusive all-conference team, and that group may look a little different in December than it does today.

Some of the notable players in the preseason have performed as expected, while several fresh faces have inserted themselves into the conversation at their position.

Talent is definitely being factored in here, but it's far outweighed by what a player has done in 2014. Wide receiver Austin Hill is talented and had a spectacular 2012 campaign, but that won't play into the all-conference selection for the current season.

Neither will NFL prospects, so while Oregon defensive end Arik Armstead may be a first- or second-day pick in the NFL draft when he chooses to declare, he probably isn't among the top players at his position in the conference to date.

Take a look at our midseason all-conference team and as always, feel free to point out who's missing and who could make a late-season push to merit inclusion at the end of the year.

All stats via CFBStats.com.

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Pac-12 Football: The Midseason All-Conference Team for the Pac-12

We're almost to the halfway point of the conference schedule in the Pac -12, which fortunately means a lot of exciting football is coming over the next six weeks...

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Clemson Football: Position-by-Position Midseason Grades for the Tigers

The Clemson Tigers have won four straight games after a 1-2 start early on. The chances of winning the conference are getting slimmer with every Florida State victory, but the opportunity for an 11-win season is still out there.

This team still has a lot to play for, and this group is playing about as well as anyone in the country right now defensively.

The offense has been shaky since the injury to quarterback Deshaun Watson, but things could get back on track this weekend versus Syracuse.

I have broken down each position and graded them accordingly. Most of the positional units have performed well this season, but a couple of them have a ton of room for improvement.

 

*Defensive statistics used in this article came from CFBStats.com.

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College Football Picks: Week 9 Predictions for Every Game

It's a relatively light week in college football, with only 48 games on the schedule between Thursday night and early Sunday morning. And at first glance it doesn't look like a particularly awe-inspiring slate, with only two games pitting ranked teams.

But we've been down this road before. No matter what things looked like going into a weekend, every one so far this season has been wonderful once it's gone down. That's what we're expecting this time around, too.

Four unbeatens, but two of them are on the road this week against five-win teams. And several other games will have major impacts on conference and division standings, not to mention all of the contests featuring teams a win away from bowl eligibility.

Check out our predictions for Week 9 of the 2014 season, then give us your guesses in the comments section.

Last week: 37-16 (.698)

Season: 371-121 (.754)

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