Articles By Steven Lassan
North Carolina is at it again. The Tar Heels won six out of their last seven games last season to finish 7-6, and coach Larry Fedora’s team is on the same path in 2014. North Carolina edged Virginia 28-27 on Saturday to improve to 4-4 overall and 2-2 in the ACC.
The Tar Heels opened 2014 by recording wins over Liberty and San Diego State, but Fedora’s team wasn’t particularly impressive in either victory.
Following the 2-0 start, North Carolina dropped four straight games, largely due to a defense that allowed 51 points per contest in that stretch.
However, over the last two weeks, there have been signs of life for Fedora’s team.
Sure, North Carolina gave up 43 points to Georgia Tech, but quarterback Marquise Williams outshined the Yellow Jackets’ Justin Thomas to pull out the close win.
Against Virginia, the defense stepped up in the clutch for Fedora.
Yes, the Tar Heels allowed 443 yards, but the defense forced two second-half turnovers and forced the Cavaliers go three-and-out twice in the final two quarters.
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Additionally, North Carolina intercepted Virginia quarterback Greyson Lambert with less than seven minutes remaining, which allowed the Tar Heels to score the game-winning touchdown.
By no means was Saturday’s win a perfect effort from North Carolina, and this team still has plenty of flaws to address moving forward.
The defense is allowing 6.4 yards per play (13th in the ACC) and ranks last in points allowed (41.3 ppg).
While the offense is scoring 37.4 points per game, its rushing attack is averaging just 3.7 yards per carry, and the offensive line has allowed 12 sacks in four ACC games.
While the flaws of North Carolina are evident, it’s worth pointing out there is no dominant team in the Coastal.
The Tar Heels’ midseason improvement is a good sign for Fedora, especially as his team is filled with youth and promise for 2015.
Looking ahead, road trips to Miami and Duke will determine just how high North Carolina can climb in the division, with home dates against Pittsburgh and NC State likely deciding whether or not this team can get bowl eligible.
The Tar Heels are still a flawed team – much like the rest of the Coastal – but the two-game winning streak is a needed sign for a coaching staff that was starting to feel a little heat after a 2-4 start.
Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah continued his attack on the Nebraska record books with a huge performance in the 42-24 win over Rutgers. The senior – and a leading candidate for the 2014 Heisman Trophy winner – earned Athlon Sports National Player of the Week honors for Week 9 by gashing the Scarlet Knights for a school-record 341 all-purpose yards.
Abdullah recorded 225 of his 341 yards on the ground, including two touchdown runs longer than 40 yards in the first half. He caught two passes for 26 yards and added 90 on kickoff returns.
Abdullah’s 341 all-purpose yards are the most in college football by a player this year. He needs just 825 yards over Nebraska’s next five games to break the Big Ten record held by former Wisconsin running back Ron Dayne.
Additionally, the senior has four 200-yard games in 2014 and needs one additional 200-yard performance to surpass the Nebraska single-season record held by Mike Rozier.
Nebraska is 3-1 in conference play and still has to face Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota in November. If Abdullah continues to perform at a high level, the senior could elevate the Cornhuskers to the Big Ten Championship in early December.
Defensive Player of the Week: Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State
Bosa led a suffocating defensive effort for Ohio State on Saturday night. The Buckeyes held Penn State to just 240 total yards (3.0 yards per play), and the Nittany Lions failed to record a drive longer than 37 yards until the fourth quarter. Bosa finished third on the team with six tackles (2.5 for a loss) and recorded 2.5 sacks. One of Bosa’s sacks came at a critical point of the game, as the sophomore sacked Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg in overtime to clinch the victory for the Buckeyes.
Coordinator of the Week: Doug Meacham/Sonny Cumbie, Co-Offensive Coordinators, TCU
The first-year combination of Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie has provided an instant boost in production for TCU’s offense this year. The Horned Frogs defeated Texas Tech 82-27 on Saturday, with the offense recording 785 total yards, 32 first downs and five consecutive scoring drives to open the game. Meacham and Cumbie were brought in to revamp an offense that ranked eighth in the Big 12 in scoring last season. Through seven games, the Horned Frogs are averaging 50.4 points per game, and quarterback Trevone Boykin has jumped into the Heisman mix. Boykin is one of the most-improved players in the nation, and he threw for 433 yards and seven scores against the Red Raiders on Saturday. Coach Gary Patterson knows how to develop championship caliber defenses in Fort Worth. With the arrival of Meacham and Cumbie, TCU now has the offense to go with an elite defense.
Freshman of the Week: Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU
Fournette’s numbers weren’t huge, but the LSU freshman delivered on a big stage Saturday night en route to an upset win over Ole Miss. Fournette and the Tigers’ rushing attack recorded 264 yards on 55 attempts against a Rebels’ defense that entered Week 9 holding opponents to just 97.1 yards per game. Fournette headlined the LSU ground game, rushing for 113 yards on 23 attempts. The freshman also caught two passes for 41 yards. Fournette has three 100-yard performances over his last five games.
Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah had a huge day against Rutgers, and the senior continued to stake his claim in the Heisman picture by recording over 200 yards on the ground.
Abdullah put the Cornhuskers up 14-7 early in the second quarter with this touchdown run, which was highlighted by a ridiculous juke move to embarrass the Rutgers defense.
In Saturday’s game against UAB, Arkansas dipped into the playbook and scored when its offensive lineman Sebastian Tretola threw a touchdown pass in the first half.
Yes, that’s correct – an offensive lineman threw a touchdown pass against UAB.
Tretola is a mammoth lineman – 6-foot-5 and 350 pounds. And for a big guy, his pass was impressive.
Without question, this is going to be one of the best plays of the 2014 season:
Fat Guy TD PASS!!! https://t.co/p1sPPOXiDw— Matt Smith (@MattSmithCFB) October 25, 2014
Pittsburgh is going retro for the rest of the year. The old “Pitt script” helmets are popular among its fanbase, and the Panthers plan to break out the logo for their design the rest of the year.
Pittsburgh will wear the “Pitt script” helmets for the remainder of 2014, and judging by the fan reaction today, it wouldn’t be a surprise if these make a return in 2015.
A big thumbs up to Pittsburgh for the script logo on the helmet:
There’s plenty at stake on Saturday night when LSU hosts Ole Miss in a critical SEC West game with national title and conference championship implications. The Rebels and Tigers enjoy a heated rivalry, with the winner on Saturday night hoisting the Magnolia Bowl trophy.
When Ole Miss and LSU play, the Tigers are usually the one in the mix to win the national title, but the script has reversed in 2014. The Rebels are ranked as one of the nation’s top teams and have one of the best wins in 2014 of any team (Alabama), while LSU is likely out of the West Division title picture with a 2-2 conference record. An elite defense leads the way for Ole Miss, and quarterback Bo Wallace has been efficient in SEC play.
LSU leads the overall series against Ole Miss by a 56-37-4 margin. The Rebels snapped a three-game losing streak to the Tigers by winning 27-24 in Oxford last year. However, this series has been dominated by LSU in recent years. The Tigers have lost only four games to Ole Miss since 2000.
Ole Miss at LSU
Kickoff: 7:15 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Ole Miss -3.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Ole Miss’ Rush Defense
Why has LSU won two games in a row? Take a look at the rushing attack. The Tigers gashed Kentucky for 303 yards last Saturday and recorded 195 in a 30-27 win over Florida. True freshman Leonard Fournette leads the team with 544 yards and seven scores, but Kenny Hilliard (353 yards), Terrence Magee (344 yards) and Darrel Williams (249 yards) will see carries. With an inconsistent passing attack, combined with youth and inexperience at quarterback and receiver, LSU needs a big day from its running backs. Of course, that’s easier said than done against an Ole Miss defense allowing only 97.1 yards per game. The Rebels hold opponents to just 2.9 yards per carry and have allowed only three rushing scores in seven games. LSU’s offensive line was pegged as one of the best in the SEC this preseason and has played up to that standard against Kentucky and Florida. Can the Tigers replicate that production against one of the toughest defensive fronts in the nation?
2. Improvement by LSU’s Defense?
After allowing at least seven yards per play in its first two SEC games, LSU’s defense held Florida to a 5.4 yards-per-play average and limited Kentucky to 3.4. Is that a sign of things to come? Or a sign of playing mediocre teams from the East Division? The Tigers’ defense is filled with youth, and the transition on the defensive line hasn’t been easy. Running teams like Wisconsin and Mississippi State had no trouble moving the ball on LSU. However, a team with more spread tendencies (Kentucky) was unable to consistently move the ball. With all of the young talent on defense, the Tigers will improve over the course of the season. LSU leads the SEC in pass defense (156.3 ypg), but the front seven is the bigger concern. Ole Miss doesn’t have a traditional ground attack like Wisconsin or Mississippi State, but the Rebels average 6.0 yards per play.
3. The Quarterbacks
Both quarterbacks in this game have received plenty of criticism for their performances over the last two years. LSU sophomore Anthony Jennings led the Tigers to a win over Arkansas in the regular season finale last season but struggled in the bowl win over Iowa. Jennings was locked into a tight battle with Brandon Harris for the starting job in fall practice and is off to a slow start. The sophomore is completing only 50 percent of his throws and has not passed for more than 120 yards in his last four appearances. Considering Ole Miss’ ability to stop the run, Jennings has to have his best game of the year to give LSU a shot at the win. On the other sideline, Bo Wallace has experienced an up-and-down career in Oxford, but he is having a career season. The senior is completing 65.6 percent of his throws, and most importantly, has not tossed a pick in SEC play. With an elite defense, Wallace does not have to win games on his arm. Instead, Wallace can play more conservatively. As a result, the senior is off to a good start. Will that continue in a tough road environment like LSU?
Winning in Baton Rouge is never easy – especially when it’s a night game. But can LSU’s offense consistently move the ball against the SEC’s best defense? The Rebels match the Tigers strength in the trenches, and the secondary has been active with 15 takeaways. Ole Miss may not post huge numbers on offense, but Wallace does just enough to keep LSU out of reach in this game. The Tigers may keep it close on the scoreboard. However, the Rebels control the overall flow and pace of the game and pull away in the second half to improve to 8-0.
Prediction: Ole Miss 27, LSU 13
It’s a light slate of college football action this week, but Saturday night features a few intriguing matchups in the SEC, including South Carolina traveling to Auburn for a potential high-scoring affair.
This matchup was pegged in August as a potential showdown of division title contenders or an early preview of the SEC Championship. But eight weeks into the season, this contest has a different feel, as Auburn is looking to rebound following a loss to Mississippi State, while South Carolina is just 4-3 and likely out of the East Division title picture with a 2-3 mark in conference play.
Auburn owns a 9-1-1 series edge over South Carolina. The Tigers have not lost to the Gamecocks with both teams as members of the SEC. South Carolina’s last win over Auburn occurred in 1933.
South Carolina at Auburn
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: SEC Network
Spread: Auburn -19
Three Things to Watch
1. South Carolina’s Defense
The Gamecocks’ defense has been one of the biggest disappointments in the SEC this year. Through seven games, South Carolina is allowing 6.2 yards per play and 31.4 points per game. That’s a significant increase from last year’s totals, as the Gamecocks ranked No. 2 in the SEC by holding opponents to 20.3 points per game and limited offenses to 5.5 yards per play in conference games. Youth and roster turnover have contributed to South Carolina’s defensive struggles this year, and it’s unlikely this unit will get drastically better until 2015. The Gamecocks have allowed at least 30 points in four out their five SEC games this season. And the problems extend deeper into the stat sheet, as South Carolina is last in the SEC in sacks per game and near the bottom in third down defense. Considering its playmakers on offense, Auburn should have no trouble eclipsing that mark on Saturday. But can the Gamecocks get timely stops to give their offense a chance to keep pace with the Tigers? Whether it’s on the ground or through the air, opposing offenses have provided a lot of headaches for coordinator Lorenzo Ward. Stopping Auburn is a huge challenge for a young South Carolina defense.
2. Mike Davis Against Auburn’s Front Seven
Under the direction of veteran coordinator Ellis Johnson, Auburn’s defense has made strides on the stat sheet this season. The Tigers ranked near the bottom of the SEC in yardage and scoring defense last year but made timely stops on third downs and in the red zone. This year, Auburn is holding opponents to 22 points per game in SEC contests (29.6 in 2013). And after giving up 5.9 yards per play in 2013, the Tigers are limiting opponents to just 4.8 yards per play. Both of those numbers showcase the impact Johnson has made on the defense, along with the development of some of the players within the system. This unit held LSU to seven points and limited Kansas State to 14 on Sept. 18. However, the Tigers allowed 38 in a loss to Mississippi State – the best offense they have played this year – so there will be room for South Carolina to have success. The Gamecocks feature a veteran offensive line and one of the SEC’s top running backs in Mike Davis. Auburn allowed Arkansas and Mississippi State to average over five yards per carry, and Davis could easily eclipse that mark on Saturday night. The junior needs to have success on early downs, allowing quarterback Dylan Thompson to take a few shots downfield. Getting Davis on track is critical, as South Carolina would like to limit Auburn’s overall possessions and keep Gus Malzahn’s offense on the sidelines.
3. Auburn QB Nick Marshall
As we mentioned above, it’s going to be a challenge for South Carolina to completely stop Auburn. Instead, the Gamecocks have to make timely stops and force field goals instead of touchdowns when the Tigers get into the red zone. Achieving that goal starts with finding a way to slow down quarterback Nick Marshall. The senior has passed for 964 yards and 10 touchdowns so far this season and has 492 yards and four scores on the ground. With the arrival of receiver Duke Williams, Marshall now has two legitimate All-SEC threats on the outside. South Carolina’s secondary has been prone to giving up big plays – nine plays allowed of 30 yards or more in seven games. Even though Marshall has more weapons this year, his completion percentage has declined from 59.4 to 55.4. On paper, this should be a good matchup for Auburn’s offense, and Marshall should have a huge outing. However, against Mississippi State, the senior tossed two picks. Even though the Tigers are a heavy favorite, they can’t afford turnovers to help keep South Carolina in this game.
Auburn is nearly a three-touchdown favorite for Saturday night. That seems a bit much, but the Tigers are loaded with weapons on offense, starting with two potential All-SEC receivers, along with standouts at running back in Cameron Artis-Payne and Corey Grant. Quarterback Nick Marshall played well against LSU but struggled against Mississippi State. The senior needs to play another mistake-free game, and if he does, he should have a huge statistical outing against a struggling South Carolina defense. While the Gamecocks need a perfect effort to win, quarterback Dylan Thompson and running back Mike Davis should be enough to at least keep the pressure on Auburn’s defense deep into the second half. However, Auburn simply has too many weapons and pulls away in the fourth quarter.
Prediction: Auburn 41, South Carolina 27
The ACC owned the spotlight last Saturday night, as the Florida State-Notre Dame matchup was one of the best - and highest viewed - games of the 2014 college football season.
This week, there’s a different flavor of games in the conference. Instead of a national spotlight matchup, Week 9’s games are all about finding clarity in a wide-open Coastal Division.
Virginia Tech hosts Miami on Thursday night, and the Hokies look to rebound after losing to Pittsburgh last week. Is this an elimination game in the Coastal?
Elsewhere, Georgia Tech heads to Pittsburgh after losing at North Carolina last Saturday. The Yellow Jackets have dropped two in a row after opening the year 5-0. Virginia hopes to keep pace with Duke for the No. 1 spot in the Coastal with a home date against North Carolina.
Boston College (against Wake Forest) and Clemson (versus Syracuse) should score easy wins on the Atlantic side this Saturday.
Week 9 Previews and Predictions:
ACC Week 9 Game Power Rankings
1. Miami (-2.5) at Virginia Tech
7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN (Thursday)
At the beginning of the season, this game was tagged as a potential showdown for first place in the Coastal. Fast forward to Week 9, and it’s simply a battle of two teams trying to stay alive in the division. Virginia Tech and Miami are just a combined 8-6 overall and 2-4 in ACC play. The Hokies desperately need a spark on offense, averaging just 4.8 yards per play and 24.7 points per game in ACC contests. Quarterback Michael Brewer has been inconsistent this season, but he hasn’t had much help from a young receiving corps, injured running backs and a struggling offensive line. Miami’s defense could be the good remedy for the Hokies’ offense, as the Hurricanes have struggled on this side of the ball recently and allow 4.5 yards per play. Helping Virginia Tech’s cause on Thursday night will be the return of running back Marshawn Williams, who should help coordinator Scot Loeffler find more overall balance in the gameplan. When Miami has the ball, expect running back Duke Johnson to test the Hokies’ defense. Johnson did not play in last year’s game but recorded 100 yards in 2012. Virginia Tech won’t have standout linebacker Chase Williams for this game, which is a concern for a defense that has allowed 335 rushing yards in its last two contests. Miami freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya ranks second in the ACC with 258 passing yards per game but has tossed six picks in three road games. The Hurricanes should have the edge on offense. But can Miami’s offense (16 turnovers in seven games) limit its mistakes in a tough road environment?
2. Georgia Tech at Pittsburgh (-4)
3:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU
It sounds like a broken record, but this is a critical game for Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh for positioning with the Coastal Division. The Panthers took a step forward with a win over Virginia Tech last week and a victory over the Yellow Jackets would setup a huge showdown with Duke on Nov. 1. Georgia Tech started 5-0 but has lost two straight games. With a matchup against Clemson remaining, it’s critical the Yellow Jackets get back on track this week. Georgia Tech’s option offense – 306.3 yards per game on the ground – is a difficult matchup on a short week, but Pittsburgh has some extra time to prepare after playing on Thursday last week. The Panthers rank fifth in the ACC against the run but allowed 225 yards to Virginia on Oct. 4. Keep an eye on the ground attack on the other sideline, as Georgia Tech should expect a heavy dose of running back James Conner. The sophomore has not rushed for 100 yards in three games, but he recorded 5.3 yards per carry against the Hokies. He could find plenty of rushing lanes against the Yellow Jackets front seven, which is allowing 187.9 yards per game. Even though both teams want to establish the run, quarterback play is critical. Will it be Georgia Tech’s Justin Thomas or Pittsburgh’s Chad Voytik delivering in the clutch? In a tight game such as this, keep an eye on the turnover battle.
Listen to the Week 9 predictions podcast:
3. North Carolina at Virginia (-6.5)
Noon ET, ACC Network
North Carolina snapped a four-game losing streak by defeating Georgia Tech 48-43 in Chapel Hill last Saturday. The Tar Heels – even at 1-2 in the ACC – aren’t out of the Coastal Division title picture. However, every Saturday is essentially a must-win game for coach Larry Fedora’s team. Virginia was picked at the bottom of the Coastal Division by most this preseason, but the Cavaliers are 2-1 in conference play and need to pickup a win on Saturday before a tough upcoming stretch of games: at Georgia Tech, at Florida State, Miami and at Virginia Tech. This matchup could simply come down to offense versus defense. North Carolina leads the ACC by averaging 38.7 points per game, while Virginia has allowed just 20 points per game in conference play. The Cavaliers also rank fourth in the ACC in sacks (22) and lead the conference with 19 takeaways. The Tar Heels need quarterback Marquise Williams to pickup through the air where he left off the last two weeks (693 yards and six scores), while taking advantage of his scrambling ability (4.9 ypc, 4 TDs). When Virginia has the ball, expect the Cavaliers to test a North Carolina defense ranked last in the ACC against the run. Running back Kevin Parks has 244 rushing yards over his last two games and should find plenty of room against the Tar Heels. Matt Johns has started the last three games at quarterback for Virginia, but Greyson Lambert could return this week.
4. Syracuse at Clemson (-14.5)
7 p.m. ET, ESPNU
Saturday is only the third time Syracuse and Clemson have met on the gridiron. And much like last season’s result (49-14), everything suggests another one-sided game is likely. The Orange snapped a four-game losing streak last week, defeating Wake Forest 30-7. But beating Wake Forest and winning on the road at Clemson is a different challenge. Syracuse is expected to turn to true freshman quarterback A.J. Long once again, which is a tough scenario for the first-year player, as Clemson is allowing just 4.4 yards per play and has held four of its seven opponents under 20 points in 2014. The Tigers are averaging under 30 points (29.6) in ACC play for the first time since 2010. Cole Stoudt is back under center with Deshaun Watson nursing a hand injury, and the senior played well in last week’s win over Boston College (29 of 45, 285 yards). Clemson’s defense – led by an aggressive front seven and defensive end Vic Beasley – should be able to keep in check Syracuse’s offense (22.6 ppg), allowing Stoudt to turn in its second solid start and guide the Tigers to an easy win.
5. Boston College (-12) at Wake Forest
3:30 p.m. ET, RSN/ESPN3
Both teams enter Saturday’s matchup looking to rebound after losses in Week 8. Boston College nearly upset Clemson, falling 17-13 after its last drive fell short of the goal line. Wake Forest jumped out to a 7-0 lead against Syracuse, but the Demon Deacons lost quarterback John Wolford to injury and gave up 30 unanswered points in a 30-7 loss. Getting consistent production from the offense has been a challenge for Wake Forest’s first-year coach Dave Clawson. But the strength of this team is on defense, as the Demon Deacons are allowing 4.9 yards per play and has 53 tackles for a loss so far this year. Boston College’s rushing offense presents an interesting challenge for Wake Forest, as quarterback Tyler Murphy leads the team with 766 yards and is a dangerous runner on option reads. And Murphy has plenty of help, as three other players have recorded at least 225 yards this year. Statistically, the Demon Deacons are allowing 175.1 rushing yards per game. However, eliminate the game against Army (341), and the total allowed per game becomes more respectable (3.8 ypc, 147.5 ypg). Wake Forest’s defense can keep it in this game, but Boston College has an edge in the trenches and offensive playmakers.
ACC Week 9 Predictions
|Miami (+2.5) at VT||VT 24-14||VT 23-21||VT 24-23||VT 24-20|
|Ga. Tech (+4) at Pitt||GT 28-21||GT 34-33||Pitt 34-31||Pitt 31-24|
|UNC (+6.5) at Virginia||UVa 35-28||UVa 30-24||UVa 31-27||UVa 33-27|
|Cuse (+14.5) at Clemson||CU 41-14||CU 30-13||CU 40-17||CU 41-24|
|BC (-12) at Wake||BC 35-14||BC 30-13||BC 31-13||BC 30-10|
The ACC Coastal is the biggest mystery among the Power 5 conferences heading into Week 9. Sure, there is some uncertainty in the other conferences, but the Coastal features seven teams that still have a chance to win the division. No other league features that much uncertainty.
Considering the overall mysterious nature of the Coastal, Thursday night’s Virginia Tech-Miami game is just one of several key contests remaining this year. But is it fair to call this an elimination game?
Virginia Tech lost last week against Pittsburgh, dropping its record in ACC play to 1-2. The Hokies play their next two (Miami, Boston College) at home, before making road trips to Duke and Wake Forest and then returning for the finale in Blacksburg against in-state rival Virginia.
Frank Beamer’s team has won four out of the last five against Miami, with the Hurricanes' last victory in that span coming in 2012.
The recent trend in this series favors the Hokies, but this team has to find a spark on offense after managing only 291 yards and converting only 2 of 14 third-down attempts in last week’s loss to Pittsburgh.
Virginia Tech’s offense will have some much-needed help on the ground with the return of freshman running back Marshawn Williams, who missed last week’s game due to an ankle injury.
With two losses in conference play, every week has to be a must-win situation for the Hokies. And looking at the upcoming schedule, it’s easy to see why Beamer’s team needs this one to stay alive in the Coastal. A loss to Miami would put Virginia Tech at 1-3 in the conference, with a road trip against Duke (the likely favorite at this point) still ahead. A 4-4 champion of the Coastal Division isn’t out of the question, but if you assume the Hokies will be underdogs (and lose) against the Blue Devils, there’s no margin for error the rest of the way. Finishing 5-3 at least gives them a shot to win the division.
There’s a similar theme on the Miami sideline. The Hurricanes also stand at 1-2 in conference play but their schedule is more challenging than Virginia Tech’s.
Miami still has to play defending national champion Florida State, a team the Hurricanes have defeated only once since 2008.
Assuming the Hurricanes lose the matchup against the Seminoles, that’s three losses in conference play. And Al Golden’s team still has to play at Virginia and hosts Pittsburgh in the regular-season finale.
Freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya is off to a promising start, and running back Duke Johnson is one of the best players in the ACC. But despite the potential on offense, the defense has struggled once again in Miami's losses. The Hurricanes allowed over 300 rushing yards in games against Nebraska and Georgia Tech.
Considering a loss against Florida State is likely, with a tough road trip to Virginia, Miami also has zero margin for error the rest of the way.
As we mentioned earlier, the Coastal is up for grabs and a 4-4 or 5-3 champion is still very possible.
So while it’s tough to officially say Virginia Tech-Miami is an elimination game, once you take a peek at the upcoming schedules for both teams, it’s easy to see why this matchup is going to factor prominently into the hopes of either program winning the Coastal in 2014.
Here are a couple of storylines to watch on Thursday night:
Return of RB Marshawn Williams
In last week’s loss to Pittsburgh, Virginia Tech recorded 26 rushing yards on 22 attempts. Williams missed last week’s game due to an ankle injury, but he’s the Hokies’ leading rusher at 337 yards. With Shai McKenzie out for the year, Williams needs to carry the load and keep some of the pressure off of quarterback Michael Brewer.
Virginia Tech has lost at least two turnovers in five out of its seven games this season. The Hokies have been better in recent weeks, losing just one against North Carolina and Pittsburgh. Considering Virginia Tech’s struggles on offense, the Hokies cannot afford to give Miami any possessions on short fields. Of note: the Hurricanes are -2 in turnover margin this year.
Test the Virginia Tech Run Defense
With defensive tackle Luther Maddy (for the season) and linebacker Chase Williams out due to knee injuries, this is one area Miami can look to exploit on Thursday night. The Hokies rank sixth in the ACC against the run and allowed 210 yards to Pittsburgh last week. Miami running back Duke Johnson did not play in last year’s meeting between these two teams, but the junior rushed for 100 yards on 11 attempts against the Hokies in 2012.
Pressure on Virginia Tech QB Michael Brewer
Virginia Tech’s offensive line has allowed 13 sacks this year, including three in last week’s loss to Pittsburgh. Miami’s pass rush isn’t dominant, but the Hurricanes have 16 sacks through seven games, including four against Louisville in the opener and three against Cincinnati on Oct. 11. Brewer has at least one interception in six out of his seven games this year. Getting pressure on Brewer could force the junior to make even more mistakes.
College football’s coach carousel has been active this season, as four FBS programs have already announced their intentions to have a new coach in place for 2015.
And that list is expected to grow over the next few weeks, as a handful of coaches will be under pressure to win in November.
Florida coach Will Muschamp is on shaky ground after an awful showing against Missouri, while Michigan’s Brady Hoke needs a strong finish to the year to have any chance to return in 2015.
The pressure isn’t just limited to Michigan and Florida, as Illinois’ Tim Beckman and Tulsa’s Bill Blankenship are squarely on the hot seat.
College Football’s Top 10 Coaches on the Hot Seat After Week 8
1. Will Muschamp, Florida
2014 Record: 3-3
Career Record at Florida: 25-19 (4 years)
It seems almost certain Muschamp won’t be back at Florida next year. Athletic director Jeremy Foley’s statement after the Gators’ loss to Missouri did nothing to cool Muschamp’s seat. Florida is just 3-3 after six games and faces an uphill battle to bowl eligibility. The Gators should beat Vanderbilt and Eastern Kentucky, leaving Muschamp’s team one win short of the postseason. However, knocking off Florida State, Georgia or South Carolina does not appear likely this year. The biggest problem for Muschamp remains on offense. Florida is averaging just 4.3 yards per play and 21.4 points per game in SEC play. Muschamp’s defense – supposed to be a strength – allowed 30 points to Kentucky, 42 to Alabama and 30 to LSU.
2. Brady Hoke, Michigan
2014 Record: 3-4
Career Record at Michigan: 29-17 (4 years)
Much like Will Muschamp at Florida, the clock on Brady Hoke’s tenure at Michigan is ready to strike midnight. The Wolverines have regressed since an 11-2 mark in 2011, with the win total trending in the wrong direction (eight in 2012 and seven in 2013). Hoke changed offensive coordinators in the offseason, hoping to find a spark for a unit averaging 5.2 yards per play (eighth in Big Ten last year). Michigan also averaged only 3.3 yards per rush in 2013, but the changes haven’t worked so far. New coordinator Doug Nussmeier is dealing with many of the same problems as Al Borges (offensive line, rushing attack and quarterback play), and the Wolverines have not scored more than 20 points in four out of their five games against Power 5 opponents. Games against Indiana, Northwestern and Maryland should allow Michigan to make a run at the postseason. But in Ann Arbor, getting to 6-6 isn’t good enough. Of course, the ongoing debate regarding athletic director Dave Brandon’s status may cloud Hoke’s future – at least temporarily – at the conclusion of the Ohio State game on Nov. 29.
3. Bill Blankenship, Tulsa
2014 Record: 1-6
Career Record at Tulsa: 23-23 (4 years)
Blankenship began his tenure at Tulsa with a 19-8 overall mark and a solid 14-2 record in conference play. But since 2013, the Golden Hurricane is 4-15 and won just two games in Conference USA last season. Blankenship’s initial success were largely due to a solid core of players returning from the Todd Graham era, but Tulsa has slipped over the last two years and cannot afford to fall too far behind in its new conference home (American Athletic). Blankenship’s job prospects certainly weren’t helped in Week 8, as the Golden Hurricane blew a 27-7 halftime lead against USF to lose 38-30.
4. Tim Beckman, Illinois
2014 Record: 3-4
Career Record at Illinois: 9-22 (3 years)
After a 3-1 start, Illinois has lost its last three games and won’t have starting quarterback Wes Lunt for a couple of weeks due to a leg injury. Needless to say, that’s bad news for Beckman. The Fighting Illini has to play Minnesota and Ohio State over the next two weeks – a combined 11-2 this season – followed by games against Iowa, Penn State and Northwestern. It’s unlikely Illinois will be favored in any of its remaining games, especially with a defense allowing 7.6 yards per play in Big Ten contests. Getting to 6-6 likely saves Beckman’s job, but the Fighting Illini are likely to fall short of that mark.
5. Norm Chow, Hawaii
2014 Record: 2-5
Career Record at Hawaii: 6-25 (3 years)
Chow was a popular hire in Honolulu in 2012, but success has been hard to come by for the 68-year-old coach. Hawaii went 3-9 in Chow’s debut and won just one game in 2013. The Warriors are off to a 2-5 start and have already equaled their conference win total (one) from 2012-13. The upcoming schedule isn’t very forgiving, as Hawaii still has to play Nevada, Utah State, Colorado State and Fresno State this year. Chow is trying to transform the Warriors’ offense into more of a pro-style attack from a spread approach. However, while transitioning schemes takes time, Hawaii is only averaging 21 points this year and ranked near the bottom of the Mountain West in scoring offense from 2012-13.
6. Kevin Wilson, Indiana
2014 Record: 3-4
Career Record at Indiana: 13-30 (4 years)
Indiana is one of the toughest jobs in the Big Ten. The Hoosiers have only one winning season since 1995 and have lost seven games in six consecutive seasons. Wilson has the program on the right track, as Indiana increased its win total from one (2011) to four (2012) and five (2013). But the progress will be limited in 2014, as starting quarterback Nate Sudfeld is out for the rest of the year due to a shoulder injury. But even with Sudfeld out, the Hoosiers are still searching for answers for a suspect defense, and with a tough Big Ten East Division, this program cannot afford to fall behind Maryland and Rutgers in the overall landscape. Considering the injuries and youth on the team, Wilson should not be in any danger of being fired. However, 2015 could be a make-or-break year for his tenure in Bloomington.
7. Ron Turner, FIU
2014 Record: 3-5
Career Record at FIU: 4-16 (2 years)
Turner was a surprising hire at FIU after spending 2005-12 out of the college ranks. Additionally, Turner had no coaching experience in college in the state of Florida and went 35-57 from 1997-2004 at Illinois. In two seasons, this hire has panned out as expected. Turner is 4-16 and has two losses to FCS opponent Bethune-Cookman. The Panthers won only one game last year but have recorded three through eight weeks, largely due to an unsustainable +9 in turnover margin in games against FAU and UAB. FIU has some promising young players (quarterback Alex McGough, running back Alex Gardner and tight end Jonnu Smith) to build around for the future. How long will Turner have to develop that talent?
8. Bobby Hauck, UNLV
2014 Record: 2-5
Career Record at UNLV: 15-43 (5 years)
Hauck is one season removed from a breakthrough year, as the Rebels went 7-6 and played in their first bowl game since 2000. However, will that momentum be a short-lived boost? UNLV is 2-5 through seven games and are expected to be underdogs in upcoming games against Utah State, Air Force, BYU and Nevada. Prior to last year’s 7-6 record, the Rebels were 6-32 under Hauck’s watch. Was 2013 an aberration? Or does Hauck need more time to upgrade the talent and build the depth in the program?
9. Paul Haynes, Kent State
2014 Record: 1-6
Career Record at Kent State: 5-14 (2 years)
Haynes is a Kent State alum, so he’s familiar with the challenges of the job. The Golden Flashes won their last two games in 2013 but lost their first six in 2014. Kent State defeated Army 39-17 last Saturday to break into the win column and face a challenging slate the rest of the year. The Golden Flashes play at Miami (Ohio) this Saturday, followed by games against Toledo, Bowling Green, Buffalo and Akron. Haynes will get more than just two years (especially at his alma mater), but it’s important for this team to show progress, especially since Akron and Miami (Ohio) have shown improvement in 2014. The Golden Flashes simply can’t fall too far behind its East Division foes.
10. Larry Fedora, North Carolina
2014 Record: 3-4
Career Record at North Carolina: 18-14 (3 years)
It’s tough to list Fedora here, but there aren’t many glaring candidates on the hot seat. And let’s make this clear: Fedora is in no danger of getting fired this season. But it’s important for Fedora and his staff to show this team is trending in the right direction over the next five games. North Carolina finished 8-4 in Fedora’s first year and needed five wins over its final six games last season to make a bowl. The Tar Heels are off to a slow start once again, sporting a 3-4 record after seven contests. Making a bowl will be a challenge for North Carolina, as road trips to Virginia, Miami and Duke remain. Scoring points hasn’t been a problem for Fedora’s teams, but the defense ranks last in the ACC by allowing 43.3 points per game in 2014. The Tar Heels are a young team, so there’s promise for 2015 in what could be a make-or-break year for Fedora in Chapel Hill.
Notre Dame and the ACC (and its 14 teams) have announced future dates for matchups until 2025.
The Fighting Irish will play five ACC opponents most seasons, but there are some seasons with four or six matchups.
Of note: Notre Dame won’t play Florida State again until 2018, while the Fighting Irish play at Clemson in 2015.
1. Notre Dame at Virginia, 9/12
2. Georgia Tech at Notre Dame, 9/19
3. Notre Dame at Clemson, 10/3
4. Notre Dame at Pitt, 11/7
5. Wake Forest at Notre Dame, 11/14
6. Notre Dame vs. Boston College (Fenway Park), 11/21
1. Duke at Notre Dame, 9/24
2. Notre Dame vs. Syracuse (MetLife Stadium), 10/1*
3. Notre Dame at NC State, 10/8
4. Miami at Notre Dame, 10/29
5. Virginia Tech at Notre Dame, 11/19
1. Notre Dame at Boston College, 9/16
2. Notre Dame at North Carolina, 10/07
3. NC State at Notre Dame, 10/28
4. Wake Forest at Notre Dame, 11/04
5. Notre Dame at Miami, 11/11
1. Syracuse at Notre Dame, 9/22
2. Notre Dame at Virginia Tech, 10/13
3. Pittsburgh at Notre Dame, 10/20
4. Florida State at Notre Dame, 11/10
5. Notre Dame at Wake Forest, 11/17
1. Notre Dame at Louisville, 9/2 (Labor Day)
2. Virginia at Notre Dame, 9/28
3. Notre Dame at Georgia Tech, 10/19
4. Virginia Tech at Notre Dame, 11/02
5. Notre Dame at Duke, 11/09
6. Boston College at Notre Dame, 11/23
1. Notre Dame at Wake Forest
2. Notre Dame at Pittsburgh
3. Duke at Notre Dame
4. Clemson at Notre Dame
5. Louisville at Notre Dame
1. Notre Dame at Florida State, 9/6 (Labor Day)
2. Notre Dame at Virginia Tech
3. North Carolina at Notre Dame
4. Notre Dame at Virginia
5. Georgia Tech at Notre Dame
1. Notre Dame at North Carolina
2. Notre Dame at Syracuse
3. Boston College at Notre Dame
4. Clemson at Notre Dame
1. Notre Dame at NC State
2. Notre Dame at Duke
3. Notre Dame at Louisville
4. Wake Forest at Notre Dame
5. Notre Dame at Clemson
6. Pittsburgh at Notre Dame
1. Miami at Notre Dame
2. Notre Dame at Georgia Tech
3. Florida State at Notre Dame
4. Virginia at Notre Dame
1. Notre Dame at Miami
2. NC State at Notre Dame
3. Notre Dame at Boston College
4. Notre Dame at Pittsburgh
5. Syracuse at Notre Dame
* - Designated ‘home’ game for Syracuse
@ - Designated ‘home’ game for Notre Dame
The new college football playoff format has added even more intrigue to the 2014 season. Instead of figuring out the top two teams in early December, the focus has shifted to finding four teams to play in the first FBS postseason playoff format.
To help select the four playoff teams, a 13-person committee was picked, which includes names like Barry Alvarez, Oliver Luck, Pat Haden and Jeff Long, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former coach Tyrone Willingham.
Each week, Athlon Sports hopes to replicate the playoff committee’s work by asking some of college football’s top media members to vote on their top eight teams. The official playoff committee will release its rankings starting on Oct. 28, but this poll will attempt to project how the playoff picture stacks up after each week until the end of the year.
Bobby Bowden (@TheBobbyBowden), Legends Poll
Gene Stallings, (@LegendsPoll), Legends Poll
Don Nehlen (@LegendsPoll), Legends Poll
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven), Athlon Sports
Braden Gall (@BradenGall), Athlon Sports
Zac Ellis (@ZacEllis), Sports Illustrated
David Fox (@DavidFox615), Athlon Sports
Mark Ennis (@MarkEnnis), CardChronicle.com
Teddy Mitrosilis (@TMitrosilis), Fox Sports
Steven Godfrey (@38Godfrey), SBNation.com
Matt Brown (@MattBrownCFB), SportsonEarth.com
Rich Cirminiello (@RichCirminiello), Campus Insiders
Brad Crawford (@BCrawfordSDS), SaturdayDownSouth.com
Allen Kenney (@BlatantHomerism), BlatantHomerism.com
Chris Anderson (@CMAnderson247), Eersports.com
Kyle Kensing (@kensing45), CFBHuddle.com
Adam Powell (@ACCSports), ACCSports.com
Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch) Athlon Sports
Josh Ward (@Josh_Ward), MrSEC.com
Kevin McGuire (@KevinonCFB), CollegeFootballTalk.com
Mark Ross (@AthlonMarkR), Athlon Sports
Post-Week 8 Playoff Projection
Takeaways From Expert Poll Results
* Mississippi State, Florida State and Ole Miss are the clear frontrunners in this week’s playoff poll. Only 20 points separate the Bulldogs and Rebels from the No. 1 spot, and Florida State edged Ole Miss by just three points.
* Alabama jumps from No. 8 to No. 4 this week. The Crimson Tide rank as the highest one-loss team in the playoff projection.
* Four of the top five teams in this week’s committee vote are from the SEC.
* After losing to Florida State 31-27 on Saturday, Notre Dame only dropped three spots to No. 8. The Fighting Irish are still alive for a playoff bid, especially since coach Brian Kelly’s team has opportunities to earn quality wins against Arizona State and USC.
* In addition to the committee agreeing on a clear trio at the top, there’s a significant drop after the top six teams. Oregon ranks No. 6 with 68 points, with Michigan State checking in at No. 7 with 29 points.
* Mississippi State did not rank below second in this week’s committee vote.
* Florida State picked up three first-place votes (6) after recording only three last week.
Group of 5 Rankings
One team from the Group of 5 conferences - American Athletic, C-USA, MAC, Mountain West, Sun Belt - will play in one of college football's premier (New Year's Bowls) each season.
1. East Carolina
The Pirates were on bye last Saturday and return to action on Thursday night against Connecticut. East Carolina’s toughest remaining games follow this week’s matchup against the Huskies, as a date at Temple is ahead on Nov. 1, followed by a Nov. 13 road trip to Cincinnati.
Another week, another blowout victory for Marshall. The Thundering Herd crushed FIU 45-13 to improve to 7-0. Marshall’s remaining schedule is favorable, but there’s not an opportunity to earn a victory against a ranked opponent. Doc Holliday’s team needs help to pass East Carolina in the Group of 5 rankings.
3. Boise State
Broncos used another monster effort from running back Jay Ajayi (158 yards, 2 TDs) to knock off Fresno State. Boise State takes on a BYU team riding a three-game losing streak this Friday.
4. Colorado State
Rams picked up a solid win over Utah State (16-13) on Saturday and host rival Wyoming in Week 9. Colorado State plays only one opponent (Air Force) with a winning record over the final five weeks of 2014.
Key Games With Playoff Implications in Week 9
Miami at Virginia Tech
8 p.m. ET, ESPN
Is this an elimination game in the Coastal Division?
BYU at Boise State
9 p.m. ET, ESPN
Broncos need to win this one to stay alive for Group of 5 New Year’s Bowl spot.
California vs. Oregon (Santa Clara)
10 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1
Showdown with Stanford looming next week for the Ducks. California’s defense should be a good opportunity for quarterback Marcus Mariota to improve his Heisman stock.
Texas at Kansas State
Noon ET, ESPN
Wildcats positioned to be a Big 12 title contender thanks to win over Oklahoma last Saturday.
Mississippi State at Kentucky
3:30 p.m. ET, CBS
Bulldogs should be healthy after bye week, while the Wildcats look to bounce back after disappointing performance at LSU. After giving up 41 points to the Tigers, can Kentucky find a way to slow down Dak Prescott?
Michigan at Michigan State
3:30 p.m. ET, ABC
Spartans have won five out of the last six meetings in this series. Michigan desperately needs a win to reduce the pressure on coach Brady Hoke.
West Virginia at Oklahoma State
3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
The Mountaineers are one of the nation’s most-improved teams this year, and a win over Oklahoma State would setup an interesting showdown with TCU on Nov 1. Does Oklahoma State have an answer for West Virginia receiver Kevin White?
Arizona at Washington State
5 p.m. ET, Pac-12 Network
If you like offense, this is the game to watch on Saturday evening.
Ole Miss at LSU
7:15 p.m. ET, ESPN
The Rebels are just a small favorite (3.5) on Saturday night. Was LSU’s performance in the last two games a sign of things to come? Or was that just feasting on teams from the East Division?
Alabama at Tennessee
7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2
Crimson Tide shouldn’t have much trouble with a Tennessee offense that has scored just 12 points in its last two games against FBS opponents.
South Carolina at Auburn
7:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network
Surprisingly, these two teams have met only seven times since 1996. And interestingly enough, Auburn has won all seven matchups.
Ohio State at Penn State
8 p.m. ET, ABC
Penn State’s offensive line will have its hands full against Ohio State’s aggressive defensive line. Buckeyes have two more opportunities to improve before the showdown in East Lansing against Michigan State on Nov. 8.
USC at Utah
10 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1
Don’t count out Utah in the Pac-12 South title picture. Utes are quietly 5-1 and have a chance to take a step forward in division race with USC this Saturday, followed by games against Arizona State, Oregon, Stanford and Arizona.
Arizona State at Washington
10:45 p.m. ET, ESPN
Taylor Kelly is expected to start at quarterback for Arizona State on Saturday night, but he will have his hands full against a tough Washington defense.
With eight weeks in the books, college football’s bowl and national title picture is surrounded in uncertainty.
The new playoff format has added a new layer of intrigue, as four teams – instead of two – will have a shot at the national championship once the bowl pairings are announced in early December.
While only eight weeks are in the books, it’s never too early to start looking at what the bowl picture might hold for each conference and team this year. The post-Week 8 bowl projections are a mixture between picks for the next few weeks, how things would look if the season ended today, and the results from the first eight weeks of action. Expect several changes over the next few weeks.
Teams just missing the projections: ULM, Texas State, USF, Syracuse, North Carolina, Western Michigan, Central Michigan, Wyoming, Fresno State, UTEP, San Jose State, California and Texas. Remember: It’s only Week 8. Several changes are coming, and it’s impossible to project all of the wins and losses the rest of the way considering how much changes week-to-week in college football.
College Football's Post-Week 8 Bowl Projections
|New Orleans||Dec. 20||Sun Belt vs.|
| UL Lafayette vs.|
|New Mexico||Dec. 20||C-USA vs.|
| UAB vs.|
|Las Vegas||Dec. 20||Mountain West vs.|
| Boise State vs.|
|Famous Idaho Potato||Dec. 20||MAC vs. |
| Bowling Green vs.|
|Camellia||Dec. 20||MAC vs.|
| Akron vs.|
|Miami Beach||Dec. 22||American vs.|
|Boca Raton||Dec. 23||C-USA vs.|
| FAU vs.|
|Poinsettia||Dec. 23||Mountain West vs.|
|Colorado State vs.|
|Bahamas||Dec. 24||C-USA vs.|
| Marshall vs.|
|Hawaii||Dec. 24||C-USA vs.|
| MTSU vs.|
San Diego State
|Heart of Dallas||Dec. 26||Big Ten vs. |
| Rutgers vs.|
|Quick Lane||Dec. 26||ACC vs. |
| Boston College vs.|
|St. Petersburg||Dec. 26||ACC vs.|
| NC State vs.|
|Military||Dec. 27||ACC vs.|
| Pittsburgh vs.|
|Sun||Dec. 27||ACC vs. |
| Virginia vs.|
|Independence||Dec. 27||ACC vs.|
| Georgia Tech vs.|
|Pinstripe||Dec. 27||ACC vs.|
Virginia Tech vs.
|Holiday||Dec. 27||Big Ten vs.|
| Wisconsin vs.|
|Liberty||Dec. 29||SEC vs. |
| Tennessee vs.|
|Russell Athletic||Dec. 29||ACC vs.|
| Duke vs. |
|Texas||Dec. 29||Big 12 vs.|
| Oklahoma vs.|
|Music City||Dec. 30||ACC/Big Ten vs.|
| Minnesota vs.|
|Belk||Dec. 30||ACC vs.|
| Louisville vs.|
|San Francisco||Dec. 30||Big Ten vs. |
| Iowa vs. |
|Outback||Jan. 1||Big Ten vs.|
|Citrus||Jan. 1||Big Ten/ACC vs.|
| Ohio State vs.|
|Armed Forces||Jan. 2||American vs.|
| Houston vs.|
|Taxslayer||Jan. 2||ACC/Big Ten vs.|
| Miami vs.|
|Alamo||Jan. 2||Big 12 vs.|
| Kansas State vs.|
|Cactus||Jan. 2||Big 12 vs.|
| Oklahoma State vs.|
|Birmingham||Jan. 3||American vs.|
| Memphis vs.|
|GoDaddy||Jan. 4||MAC vs. |
| Toledo vs.|
|New Year's Bowls|
|Peach||Dec. 31||At-large vs.|
| East Carolina vs.|
|Fiesta||Dec. 31||At-large vs.|
| Oregon vs.|
|Orange||Dec. 31||ACC vs.|
| Clemson vs.|
|Cotton||Jan. 1||At-large vs.|
| Michigan State vs.|
|Related: Projecting the Playoff Teams After Week 8|
| Florida State vs. |
| Mississippi State vs.|
|National Title||Jan. 12||Semifinal Winner vs.|
| Mississippi State vs.|
* Indicates conference is not projected to fill its available bowl slots. At-large team will be selected to fill spot.
Texas A&M’s 59-0 loss to Alabama on Saturday was easily the worst of Kevin Sumlin’s three seasons in College Station. The Aggies had little margin for error coming into Tuscaloosa and were simply dominated in every facet of the matchup with the Crimson Tide.
The numbers and box score are not something most Texas A&M fans want to revisit this week – on both sides of the ball.
In Saturday’s loss, quarterback Kenny Hill turned in his third straight subpar outing. The sophomore has seven interceptions over his last three games and threw for just 138 yards against Alabama. The Crimson Tide’s defense had a lot to do with the lack of offensive production, but in the last two meetings against Nick Saban’s defense, Texas A&M scored 71 points.
Hill isn’t solely to blame for all of the offensive issues. The rushing attack has just 85 yards on 59 attempts over the last two weeks. That’s a paltry 1.4 yards per carry.
Getting more production on the ground would help to alleviate some of the pressure on Hill’s shoulders, but the sophomore needs better protection from a touted offensive line (15 sacks), and a receiving corps dealing with inconsistent performances and drops.
While the offense shares blame for managing only two drives of more than 21 yards and punting on its first six possessions, Texas A&M’s defense is once again a major concern.
The Aggies were dominated by an Alabama offense that scored just 14 points in the win over Arkansas last Saturday and scored 17 on Oct. 4 against Ole Miss. The Crimson Tide scored on their first eight possessions and averaged 7.5 yards per play on 80 snaps.
Alabama’s domination on the stat sheet was showcased on the ground (298 yards, 6.6 yards per carry) and through the air (304 yards, four touchdowns).
It’s hard to find positives for Texas A&M’s defense after Saturday’s game, especially when you consider the Crimson Tide’s first punt came almost midway through the third quarter.
After five SEC games, the Aggies are giving up 6.9 yards per play. That’s a small increase from the 6.7 mark last year. Also, conference opponents are scoring 39.6 points per game in 2014. Last season, Texas A&M allowed 37.9 per contest.
Improvement on defense has been somewhat noticeable in the trenches, as true freshman Myles Garrett leads a pass rush that has generated 22 sacks (one more than all of 2013) through eight games. Additionally, it’s hard to expect this unit to be a shutdown group with the quick-strike offense in place.
After picking up the pieces from Saturday’s loss to Alabama, Texas A&M’s overall record stands at 5-3 and 2-3 in the SEC. An upcoming bye week is critical to fixing some of the areas that have plagued this team through the first half of 2014. After the open date, the Aggies host ULM and end the season with a road trip to Auburn, followed by home games against Missouri and LSU.
Considering the upcoming schedule is favorable, Texas A&M still has a legitimate shot to finish 8-4 and hit .500 in SEC play. But this post-Alabama moment is arguably one of the biggest in Sumlin’s three-year stint in College Station.
Transitioning to the SEC wasn’t supposed to be easy. The Aggies exceeded initial expectations due to emergence of quarterback Johnny Manziel, and now have to continue to recruit and develop elite talent to compete with Alabama, Arkansas, LSU, Auburn, Ole Miss and Mississippi State in the SEC West. 2014 wasn't supposed to be Texas A&M's year to contend. Most expected that would be 2015 or 2016.
After going 11-2 in Sumlin’s debut (2012), Texas A&M is poised to see a reduction in its win total for the second consecutive year.
By all sources, recruiting is going well. Momentum within the state of Texas has shifted College Station – for now. There’s plenty of young talent – Garrett, safety Armani Watts, receiver Speedy Noil and linebacker Shaan Washington – waiting to develop.
That’s the good news.
The bad news? To some degree, Texas A&M is a team in transition. The Aggies are trying to recruit at a higher level to compete in the rugged SEC West and are having success. But with the attempts to upgrade the roster come moments like there was on Saturday. Right now, Alabama is simply on a different level than Texas A&M. In order for the Aggies to go higher, recruiting, player development and coaching all have to improve.
With a plethora of young players getting snaps on both sides of the ball, there should be noticeable improvement next year. The key word in that sentence: Should.
But what changes will Sumlin make over the next few weeks? Will he give true freshman Kyle Allen an extended look under center? Will defensive coordinator Mark Snyder still have a job in College Station next year? Why has the offense regressed despite returning one of the nation’s top offensive lines and receiving corps?
Beating South Carolina in the opener changed some of the 2014 expectations for Sumlin’s team. But after eight games, it's clear there are question marks that must be answered – and potentially some difficult coaching staff decisions this offseason.
Texas A&M ran into a buzzsaw known as Alabama on Saturday, and the Aggies were simply no match in 2014. But in 2015? A more-experienced roster and improved depth on defense should help Sumlin’s team take another shot at the top teams in the SEC West.
Again, the key word: Should. The talent and pieces are there to improve.
The rest of the SEC will be watching Sumlin and this team’s development over the last four games. Winning the West title isn’t going to be easy in the current climate of the division. After three consecutive losses, it’s fair to say Texas A&M’s is reeling just a bit headed into the bye week.
Can Sumlin and his staff evaluate both sides of the ball and find answers before the next game?
Momentum isn’t easy to define. But after three consecutive losses, Texas A&M’s momentum in the SEC West seems to be up in the air heading into a critical bye week.
Despite the return of coach Bobby Petrino, Louisville’s offense wasn’t incredibly prolific in the first half of the season. While the Cardinals weren’t meeting lofty preseason expectations for the offense, it’s easy to understand why this unit was averaging only 5.0 yards per play and ranked eighth in the ACC in scoring offense. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is taking snaps for the Minnesota Vikings, and the offensive line struggled mightily through the first half of the year.
But in Saturday’s win over NC State, Louisville’s offense got a spark from the return of receiver DeVante Parker.
The senior was regarded as one of the top receivers in the ACC this preseason but was sidelined by a foot injury through the first seven weeks.
Parker made his debut against the Wolfpack and caught nine passes for 132 yards (14.7 ypc), which places the senior fifth on the team after eight games in receptions (nine).
With Parker back in the lineup, Louisville averaged 5.4 yards per play, which was its highest total in an ACC contest this year.
The Cardinals also scored 30 points – one off their top mark of 2014 in ACC games (31).
Quarterback Will Gardner also responded with one of his better performances of 2014, completing 21 of 36 passes for 203 yards and two scores. Gardner’s 203 passing yards ranked just three yards behind his season best mark of 206 (Miami).
A struggling NC State defense certainly has something to do with Louisville’s offensive improvement, but it’s a notable improvement for a team that is still a work in progress in Petrino’s first year.
Now, the Cardinals have a bye before taking on Florida State on Thursday, Oct. 30.
After taking on the Seminoles, Louisville plays at Boston College and Notre Dame and ends the season against Kentucky.
The offense is still developing for Petrino but getting Parker for the final four games is a huge positive and should help Gardner’s performance.
With a defense holding opponents to just 3.9 yards per play, Louisville needs more from its offense to have a shot at beating Florida State and Notre Dame.
With Parker back in the lineup, the Cardinals have one of the nation’s top 10-15 receivers in the mix, giving the offense another weapon to a unit that already features running backs Michael Dyer (238 yards, 1 TD) and Brandon Radcliff (5.2 ypc).
Louisville is set to embark on arguably its toughest stretch of the season. But the Cardinals now have a No. 1 receiver to pair with improving quarterback Will Gardner. Assuming the defense continues to perform at a high level, the offensive improvement – at a critical time – will be enough for Louisville to potentially play spoiler against Florida State or Notre Dame.
West Virginia is a Big 12 title contender. That seems strange to say after the Mountaineers finished 4-8 with losses to Iowa State and Kansas last year, but Saturday’s win over Baylor showed coach Dana Holgorsen’s team will be a factor in the conference race over the second half of the season.
West Virginia played one of the nation’s toughest schedules in the first half of 2014, and the Mountaineers fell short in upset bids against Oklahoma and Alabama. But on Saturday, the Mountaineers delivered to earn a key conference victory over Baylor.
Quarterback Clint Trickett continued to make his case as one of the top quarterbacks in the Big 12 this year, throwing for 322 yards and three scores on 35 attempts against a Baylor secondary that allowed only five passing touchdowns through its first six games.
Trickett’s favorite target was receiver Kevin White, and the senior extended his streak of 100-yard receiving games to seven by catching eight passes for 132 yards. The senior had one of the weekend’s top catches by scoring on a 12-yard pass from Trickett to give West Virginia the lead for good in the fourth quarter.
While the offense deserves plenty of accolades, the performance by Mountaineers’ defense shouldn’t go overlooked.
Sure, Baylor recorded 318 yards and scored 27 points. But a closer look at the numbers suggest coordinator Tony Gibson and assistant coach Tom Bradley deserve a ton of credit for the performance on Saturday.
The Bears’ 318 total yards were the least since a 2010 matchup against TCU. And Baylor’s offense averaged only 4.0 yards per play, which is only the third time since 2010 Art Briles’ high-powered attack has averaged below five yards per play.
West Virginia unleashed FCS transfer Shaq Riddick against a banged up Baylor offensive line, and the senior responded with five tackles (four for a loss) and three sacks.
In addition to Riddick’s production, the Mountaineers constantly pressured Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty in the second half and held the Bears to just seven points over the final two quarters.
Also, only one Baylor drive in the second half lasted longer than 32 yards.
And here’s a critical note: West Virginia had to play without starting cornerbacks Daryl Worley and Terrell Chestnut for a good chunk of the game.
After seven games, West Virginia’s overall record stands at 5-2 and 3-1 in the Big 12.
It’s clear this Mountaineer team has exceeded preseason expectations, as most predicted Holgorsen’s team would struggle to make a bowl.
However, a healthy Trickett at quarterback, combined with the emergence of receiver Kevin White has helped West Virginia average 6.2 yards per play and 37.3 points per game, and the defense has made strides and timely stops under new coordinator Tony Gibson.
Since West Virginia has already played two of the preseason favorites (Baylor and Oklahoma), don’t overlook this team in a wide-open Big 12 title picture. The Mountaineers host TCU and Kansas State – arguably two of the contenders now – and still have to play Iowa State. Road trips to Texas and Oklahoma State won’t be easy, but it’s clear West Virginia will have an impact on the Big 12 title picture.
Behind a solid defense and a timely offense, Utah has emerged as a contender in the Pac-12 South. The Utes took a step forward in the division race with an overtime victory over Oregon State on Thursday night, improving to 2-1 in conference play with a huge showdown against USC ahead next Saturday.
Leading the way in Utah’s victory was running back Devontae Booker, who earns Athlon Sports National Player of the Week honors for Week 8. The junior college transfer gained 229 of Utah’s 315 yards in the win, averaging 7.2 yards per rush on 32 attempts.
Booker scored three times on Thursday night, including twice in overtime. The junior’s 19-yard run in the second overtime gave the Utes a 29-23 victory and put coach Kyle Whittingham’s team just one win away from earning bowl eligibility.
But with Booker’s tough running and a defense holding opponents to just 21.7 points per game, Utah has its sights set on something bigger – a Pac-12 South title – than just bowl eligibility over the next few weeks.
Defensive Player of the Week: Shane Ray, DE, Missouri
Missouri’s defense was simply dominant on Saturday night in the Swamp. The Tigers held the Gators to 13 points and 283 total yards, while forcing six turnovers in a 42-13 rout. Ray was the headliner for Missouri’s defense, recording six tackles (1.5 for a loss), one forced fumble and two sacks. Ray’s forced fumble resulted in a touchdown return by Markus Golden, which gave the Tigers a commanding 35-0 lead in the second half. In seven games this year, Ray has recorded 10 sacks and forced two fumbles.
Coordinator of the Week: Tony Gibson, West Virginia
Gibson and West Virginia’s defense had the right answers to stop Baylor’s high-powered offense in Saturday’s 41-27 upset victory. The Mountaineers held the Bears to just 318 yards (lowest mark for a Baylor offense since 2010), and Gibson’s defense limited Baylor to 4.0 yards per play (lowest since 2009). West Virginia also recorded four sacks and pressured quarterback Bryce Petty throughout the second half. The Mountaineers allowed only one touchdown in the final two quarters, while five of Baylor’s seven second-half drives traveled just 32 yards or less. The performance on defense was a big reason why West Virginia knocked off the Bears on Saturday.
Freshman of the Week: Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia
Chubb is the Athlon Sports’ freshman of the week for the second week in a row. With Todd Gurley sidelined once again, Chubb handled the bulk of the workload in Georgia’s backfield and rushed for 202 yards and two scores on 30 attempts in the 45-32 win over Arkansas. In two games as the Bulldogs’ No. 1 back, Chubb has 345 yards and three scores.
Week 8 of college football’s 2014 season is officially in the books. And as expected with every Saturday, there was plenty of excitement, big plays and last-minute wins among the FBS action.
In case you missed any action, we tried to capture the big moments of Saturday in one article. The viral wrap-up features key plays, interesting quotes/comments in tweets, uniform unveilings and any major injuries.
College Football's Most Viral Moments from Week 8
At 250 pounds, Pitt running back James Conner isn't easy to bring down. Here's his 15-yard TD run. GIF: http://t.co/3XFBjvoq4P— Dr. Saturday (@YahooDrSaturday) October 17, 2014
Our quarterback's heads are falling off. http://t.co/8liNX6nVgl— Tom Fornelli (@TomFornelli) October 18, 2014
Haven't seen a crowd this sparse since West Lafayette. pic.twitter.com/zIAimsdZG9— Nate Mink (@MinkNate) October 18, 2014
The USC “crowd” pic.twitter.com/WG5TKePwtK— Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer) October 18, 2014
This one-handed TD grab by Ohio State's Evan Spencer might be today's best. GIF: http://t.co/wphThatbB1— Dr. Saturday (@YahooDrSaturday) October 18, 2014
Not what you want to see, Mauldin leaving the field pic.twitter.com/cEDgx451pT— Spencer Kietzman (@SKietz680) October 18, 2014
Just to confirm, A-Rod is in Tuscaloosa. pic.twitter.com/H3f9352nCB— Matt Scalici (@MattScalici) October 18, 2014
Alright, alright, alright. pic.twitter.com/BLplw1rE5N— Cork Gaines (@CorkGaines) October 18, 2014
Textbook: https://t.co/CUTUSY5XPG— LostLettermen.com (@LostLettermen) October 19, 2014
Smokey looks sad in this pic: pic.twitter.com/GcGDTOnYoo— RedditCFB (@RedditCFB) October 19, 2014
Kenyan Drake had Oatmeal Creme Pies in the basket of his scooter during the game today. Can we be friends? pic.twitter.com/jMwvryea25— Anna Montgomery (@annaelizabeth12) October 19, 2014
With 5:57 left in the third after two Mizzou defensive scores fans started chanting, "Fire Muschamp.'' #Gators— David Jones (@DaveJonesUFbeat) October 19, 2014
Not a face you want to see your quarterback make... https://t.co/fbeyLMokAu— LostLettermen.com (@LostLettermen) October 19, 2014
BREAKING: Police in riot gear in Morgantown, WV. People rioting after WVU win vs Baylor. Pic from twitter pic.twitter.com/jrK8MQvlCD— Dave Bondy (@WPXI_DaveBondy) October 19, 2014
Fresno St and Boise St playing for a large milk jug pic.twitter.com/Y3X6YiKBVb— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) October 18, 2014
California has significantly improved in Sonny Dykes’ second year, and the offense behind quarterback Jared Goff is one of the best in the Pac-12.
Goff and Chris Harper have developed a nice rapport over the last two years, and Harper kept California’s offense on track against UCLA by catching this ridiculous one-handed touchdown pass in the first half.
Check out Harper’s touchdown catch from Week 8:
West Virginia shook up the Big 12 standings by defeating Baylor 41-27 on Saturday. The Mountaineers knocked off the Bears thanks to the prolific combination of quarterback Clint Trickett and receiver Kevin White.
Trickett threw for 322 yards, while White caught eight passes for 132 yards and two scores.
White has topped 100 receiving yards in every game this year and is clearly one of the nation’s top receivers.
Check out the senior’s awesome one-handed grab to give West Virginia a 34-27 lead in the fourth quarter:
Quarterback Nick Montana and the Tulane coaching staff had a massive fail in the first half of Saturday’s game against UCF.
The Green Wave were attempting to get a field goal before the end of the quarter, and with time winding down, Montana spiked the ball to give his team a chance for points. However, there's just one problem: Montana spiked the ball on fourth down, ending any hope Tulane had of getting points.
Remember FAU doing this last year against Miami?
Running back Mike Davis helped to lead an easy win for South Carolina against Furman on Saturday, and the junior topped 100 yards and reached the endzone twice in the first half.
Davis also delivered a highlight-reel run in the first half, which included a monster stiff arm to a Furman defender.
Washington and Oregon are technically rivals, as less than five hours and 300 miles separate the two Pacific Northwest campuses. But the recent history of this rivalry has been significantly in favor of the Ducks. Oregon has won 10 in a row over the Huskies, with Washington’s last win in this series coming in 2003.
With the recent series in mind, it’s no surprise Oregon is almost a three-touchdown favorite over Washington. However, Saturday’s game represents an opportunity for both teams to make a statement. The Ducks can solidify their place at the top of the Pac-12 with a convincing win, while the Huskies can score a statement victory in coach Chris Petersen’s first year with an upset in Eugene.
And with a win on Saturday, Washington can bring some spark to a rivalry that has been significantly one-sided in favor of the Ducks.
Washington at Oregon
Kickoff: 8 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: Fox Sports 1
Spread: Washington -20.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Oregon’s Offensive Line vs. Washington Front Seven
Did the Ducks fix their issues on the offensive line last week? In the 42-30 win over UCLA, the offensive line was bolstered by the return of tackle Jake Fisher, as the Bruins did not register a sack, and Oregon’s rushers averaged 6.3 yards per carry. Was that a one-game fix or a sign of things to come? Fisher is a valuable addition to the lineup to protect quarterback Marcus Mariota’s blindside, but UCLA’s pass rush ranks near the bottom of the Pac-12. Washington’s defensive front has recorded 24 sacks through six games and is headlined by linebacker Shaq Thompson (46 tackles, 1 INT, 3 FF), defensive tackle Danny Shelton (49 tackles, 7 sacks) and defensive end/linebacker Hau’oli Kikaha (10 sacks). Stopping UCLA’s defensive front is one challenge, but Washington has one of the best defensive line and linebacking corps in the nation. Is Oregon’s improvement up front a one-week mirage or a sign of things to come? This matchup should provide good insight into the Ducks’ offensive line.
2. Washington QB Cyler Miles
It’s no secret which quarterback will garner most of the nation’s attention on Saturday night. Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota is one of the frontrunners to win the Heisman, and the junior has yet to throw an interception on 155 attempts in 2014. But a quick check of the Pac-12 passing stats shows there is one more starter in the Pac-12 with zero interceptions: Washington’s Cyler Miles. The sophomore missed the opener due to suspension but has passed for 896 yards and nine touchdowns over the last five games. Miles has made steady improvement in his first year as a starter and threw for a season-high of 273 yards against California last week. The Golden Bears aren’t one of the Pac-12’s elite defenses, but Miles seems to be getting more comfortable with each snap. Oregon’s defense will bend (470.3 ypg, 5.8 ypp) and ranks last in the Pac-12 in third-down stops. Don Pellum’s defense has also been opportunistic (12 forced turnovers and 18 sacks), but the Ducks will allow opposing offenses to move the ball. Can Miles play another mistake-free game? In a hostile environment, Washington needs Miles to play his best game to win on Saturday night.
3. Oregon’s Explosive Offense
Even if Washington’s front seven has success against Oregon’s offensive line, can the Huskies cover the Ducks’ big-play threats at receiver? Michigan State is the best defense the Ducks played this year, and the Spartans gave up 7.2 yards per play and 46 points. That's concerning for Washington, as Michigan State’s secondary is better than the Huskies and quarterback Marcus Mariota gashed the Spartans for 318 yards. Washington’s secondary features standout corner Marcus Peters, but two freshmen starters (Sidney Jones and Budda Baker) will be tested on Saturday night. The Huskies did not allow a touchdown pass to California last Saturday and gave up seven against Eastern Washington. The numbers are skewed slightly due to one game, but opposing quarterbacks are completing 64.1 percent of their throws against Washington’s defense. Getting pressure on Mariota is step No. 1 in stopping the Oregon offense. However, when he is able to deliver on time, can the Huskies slow down a group of explosive playmakers, starting with running backs Royce Freeman and Thomas Tyner and at receiver with Devon Allen (19.6 ypc)?
A 21-point spread seems too much for this game. Oregon is tough to beat at home, and a healthy offensive line should bolster Mariota’s Heisman bid over the next two months. The Ducks’ explosive offense sputters early against the Huskies’ defense, but Mariota and his receiving corps eventually makes enough plays to pull away in the fourth quarter. First-year Washington coach Chris Petersen has his team prepared for the challenge, but Oregon simply has too much on offense.
Prediction: Oregon 38, Washington 27
College football’s premier matchup for Week 8 takes place in Tallahassee, as Florida State hosts Notre Dame in a meeting of two teams with national title and playoff aspirations. Off-field issues have surrounded both teams since the opener, as quarterback Jameis Winston is under the spotlight once again for the Seminoles, while the Fighting Irish finally learned the fate of the five players suspended due to academic issues earlier this week.
While neither team will be able to completely close the door on discussing the off-field issues over the next two days, the 60-minute matchup should at least turn the attention back to the field and the quest to finish unbeaten and earn a spot in the playoff.
The Seminoles enter Saturday night’s game on a 17-game winning streak, while the Fighting Irish are off to a 6-0 start and defeated their first four opponents by at least 16 points in each contest.
Florida State and Notre Dame have met only seven previous times. The Seminoles own a 5-2 series edge against the Fighting Irish and have won the last two games in this series. Notre Dame’s last win over the Seminoles occurred in 2002.
Notre Dame at Florida State
Kickoff: 8 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: ABC
Spread: Florida State -11.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Stopping Jameis Winston
In the first five games of the year, the Fighting Irish allowed 60 points. In last Saturday’s win over North Carolina, Notre Dame allowed 43 points and gave up 6.1 yards per play. With that in mind, which is the real Fighting Irish defense? The college football world should have a good idea by Saturday night, as Florida State’s offense is the best this defense has played in 2014. The Seminoles are averaging 39 points per game and 6.6 yards per play, and coach Jimbo Fisher’s team has a talented core of skill players, headlined by receiver Rashad Greene and tight end Nick O’Leary. At running back, Karlos Williams, Mario Pender (out for Saturday due to injury) and Dalvin Cook are all big-time talents with the threat to score each time they touch the ball. Notre Dame defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder likes to be aggressive in his play-calling, which will allow Winston and his receivers to hit on big plays – assuming the offensive line can handle the blitz packages. If Winston has time to throw, that’s a bad sign for a Fighting Irish secondary that was torched for 326 yards against North Carolina last week. But if VanGorder can generate pressure and get Winston out of rhythm, Notre Dame’s defense will have a chance to force three-and-outs, giving the offense good field position early and often.
2. Everett Golson vs. Florida State’s Defense
Everett Golson is 16-0 as Notre Dame’s starting quarterback during the regular season. Golson’s only loss with the Fighting Irish was a loss to Alabama in the 2013 BCS Championship. And after missing all of last season due to academic issues, Golson has showed little rush through the first six games. The junior has passed for 1,683 yards and 16 touchdowns and is completing 62.5 percent of his throws in 2014. While those numbers are impressive, turnovers have been a problem for the junior. Over the last three games, Golson has lost nine turnovers, including an interception in three consecutive contests. Winning in Tallahassee requires a flawless effort from Notre Dame – but there will be plays available against Florida State’s defense. The Seminoles owned one of the top defenses in the nation last year, but injuries and a turnover in personnel in the front seven have contributed to some early-season struggles. But even though Florida State is not as dominant on the defensive side as it was last year, the Seminoles are still holding opponents to 20.7 points a game and rank third in the ACC in red zone defense. Golson has a solid receiving corps at his disposal, including William Fuller (14.4 ypc, 7 TDs) and Corey Robinson (13.7 ypc). Can Golson limit his mistakes and attack a Florida State secondary that has already allowed two teams to throw for 300 yards this year?
3. Which defense steps up?
As we mentioned in the previous sections of the preview, both teams have experienced their share of problems – and success – on defense this season. Florida State’s biggest concern is the defensive tackle spot, as replacing Timmy Jernigan is no easy assignment, and starter Nile Lawrence-Stample was lost for the year due to injury. The Seminoles are eighth in the ACC against the run and are allowing 5.0 yards per play – almost a full yard increase from last season. But Florida State has made stops when it matters, ranking third in the ACC in red zone defense. Notre Dame has options at running back, but Tarean Folston is the team’s leading rusher at just 263 yards. If the Fighting Irish is going to win, quarterback Everett Golson has to have a huge game. Of course, that means Golson also has to limit his mistakes, and Florida State has forced 11 turnovers in six games. Can the Seminoles force a couple of turnovers? When Florida State has the ball, will Notre Dame’s defense hold its own at the point of attack and limit the Seminoles’ ground game? If the Fighting Irish can limit Florida State on early downs on rushing attempts, Winston will have third-and-long situations to navigate on offense, allowing VanGorder to send extra pressure or drop more into coverage to limit the big-play ability of Greene or Jesus Wilson.
Florida State has yet to play a complete game this year. That’s a scary thought for the rest of the teams on the Seminoles’ schedule, starting with Notre Dame on Saturday night. Injuries and suspensions slowed Florida State’s development early in the year, but this team should get better over the second half of 2014. As long as Jameis Winston is in the lineup, the Seminoles should win this matchup. The Fighting Irish need a perfect effort to win on Saturday, including zero turnovers from Golson and better play from a secondary that was torched by North Carolina last week. Notre Dame tacks on a late touchdown to cover the spread, but Florida State controls this one from the opening kick.
Prediction: Florida State 34, Notre Dame 27
It’s another critical week of action on Saturday for the SEC West, as Alabama looks to get back on track against a Texas A&M team that comes to Tuscaloosa on a two-game losing streak. The Crimson Tide had an uninspired 14-13 win over Arkansas last week, while the Aggies were defeated 35-20 against Ole Miss.
The SEC West is the best division in college football, leaving little margin for error for the teams in the mix for a spot in the playoff. That pressure also extends to teams like Texas A&M, as the road won’t get any easier with games against Auburn, LSU and Missouri still remaining. If Kevin Sumlin’s team wants to have any shot at contending for the division title or playing in one of college football’s top bowl games in December, it has to win this game.
Meanwhile, Alabama needs this game to get back on track. Coach Nick Saban has a lot of work to do in order to transform the 2014 version of the Crimson Tide into a national title contender. The talent is still there for Alabama, but this team has holes in the secondary, offensive line and in the passing attack. Penalties, a lack of a pass rush and turnovers are other concerns for Saban and the coaching staff to address over the next few weeks.
Alabama and Texas A&M have played six previous times, with the Crimson Tide owning a 4-2 edge. These two teams have played only twice as SEC members, and two of the six meetings occurred in bowl games.
Texas A&M at Alabama
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Alabama -13.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Texas A&M’s Rush Defense
Stopping Alabama starts in the trenches. With center Ryan Kelly sidelined due to a knee injury, the Crimson Tide’s rushing attack was stuck in neutral last week. On 32 attempts against Arkansas, Alabama managed only 66 yards. And against Ole Miss on Oct. 4, the Crimson Tide recorded only 3.8 yards per carry. Texas A&M’s rush defense is allowing 174.9 yards per game (4.2 ypc) through all seven games, with the numbers a bit higher in SEC play (198.0). Even though Kelly won’t play this Saturday, Alabama should have an edge in this matchup. Will Texas A&M find an answer to stop T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry? In last year’s meeting, the Aggies allowed 6.3 yards per carry. If Alabama repeats that number on Saturday, it’s tough to see this matchup being close in the fourth quarter.
2. Alabama’s Secondary
Even though this may not be one of Nick Saban’s best Alabama teams, it’s hard to find many weaknesses. But if there’s one area the Crimson Tide seem to struggle more than any in recent years, it’s a secondary that gave up 365 yards to West Virginia in the opener and 251 to Ole Miss on Oct. 4. Texas A&M has the talent on offense to take advantage of Alabama’s secondary, starting at quarterback with Kenny Hill and a receiving corps that features youth and a world of talent. Hill has 23 touchdown passes this year but has tossed five interceptions – both losses by the Aggies – in the last two games. Hill has to be more careful with the ball this week, and he needs more help from an inconsistent receiving corps. The sophomore will have some additional help in the receiving department, as veteran Malcome Kennedy is back in the mix after missing the last two games due to injury. Alabama’s secondary will improve over the course of the season, especially as Eddie Jackson returns to full strength from an offseason ACL tear. If Texas A&M has success through the air, it can turn this game into a high-scoring affair and get Alabama out of its comfort zone on offense.
3. Alabama QB Blake Sims
Through the first four games, Sims completed 73.1 percent of his passes and threw eight touchdowns to just two interceptions. But over the last two contests, Sims has tossed one interception and his completion percentage has slipped to 58.8. Playing a stout Ole Miss defense has something to do with Sims’ numbers, but Alabama needs more from its passing game this week. Texas A&M’s secondary should allow the Crimson Tide opportunities to stretch the field through the air. The Aggies have allowed nine passing scores this year, and opposing quarterbacks in SEC play are completing 61.1 percent of their throws. Texas A&M has also allowed 22 passing plays of 20 yards or more.
The outcome of this game largely depends on two areas: Alabama’s secondary and Texas A&M’s rush defense. If the Aggies stuff the Crimson Tide ground attack and force Sims and receiver Amari Cooper to win this one through the air, Sumlin’s team will have an opportunity to steal a win in Tuscaloosa. And when Texas A&M has the ball, can Alabama defend the pass? Expect plenty of up-tempo and quick passes to the receiving corps from the Aggies to take advantage of their speed and athleticism on the edge. Since winning in Tuscaloosa in 2012, Texas A&M is just 7-6 in its last 13 games. Make it 7-7 as Alabama’s offense gets back on track, and the defense makes just enough stops to keep the Aggies from pulling off the upset.