Articles By Steven Lassan
Ole Miss lost a critical piece of its offense on Saturday night. Receiver Laquon Treadwell suffered a fractured fibula and dislocated ankle on a tackle late in the game by Auburn linebacker Kris Frost.
Just one look at the stat sheet shows how important Treadwell is to the Rebels’ offense.
Through nine games, Treadwell led the team with 48 receptions and 632 yards. He also tied for first with five touchdown catches.
Vince Sanders, Cody Core and tight end Evan Engram are a capable trio for quarterback Bo Wallace, but Treadwell was easily the team’s No. 1 target and likely the best receiver in the SEC outside of Alabama’s Amari Cooper.
True freshman Markell Pack has seven receptions for 70 yards and is listed as a backup to Core in the slot. However, Pack should see a bigger role in the offense moving forward. Redshirt freshman Trey Bledsoe was listed as Treadwell’s backup on the depth chart prior to Saturday night’s game against Auburn and will join Pack as a bigger contributor moving forward as well.
While Treadwell can be replaced in terms of another receiver stepping in, his impact is going to be felt in the Rebels’ passing game.
And Treadwell’s absence the rest of the year underscores how critical it will be for Ole Miss to develop a rushing game this offseason. The Rebels don’t have a traditional ground attack and average only 3.9 yards per carry. This is one area coach Hugh Freeze will have to work on in spring practice, which should also improve as the team improves its offensive line.
In Saturday’s game against Auburn, Treadwell was one of the best players on the field, catching 10 passes for 103 yards and a score.
And in Ole Miss’ 23-17 win over Alabama in early October, Treadwell caught five passes for 55 yards and one touchdown.
Despite back-to-back losses, the Rebels still have plenty to play for this year. Ole Miss should have no trouble with Presbyterian next Saturday and has a bye before closing out 2014 with a matchup at Arkansas and then the home finale against Mississippi State.
If Ole Miss manages to finish 10-2, it could be enough to claim a spot in one of college football’s top bowl games. And of course, finishing 10-2 assumes a win over Mississippi State – so the opportunity to play spoiler is out there.
Treadwell will be missed, and Ole Miss will have to regroup on offense. Young players will have to step up, and quarterback Bo Wallace may target tight end Evan Engram more often. Despite the huge absence in the receiving corps and the back-to-back losses, there’s plenty still at stake for the Rebels over the last three regular season matchups and postseason game.
With a 6-3 overall record and a 3-2 mark in conference play this year, it’s hard to say Miami has made significant progress in coach Al Golden’s fourth year. The Hurricanes are just 16-13 under Golden’s watch in ACC games, but there’s optimism for the program after the last three games.
Miami stayed within striking distance of Duke in the Coastal Division with a convincing 47-20 win over North Carolina on Saturday. The win over the Tar Heels was the Hurricanes’ third in a row and ensured the program would go bowling in 2014.
While the three-game winning streak is a positive sign, there’s a huge showdown looming for Miami on Nov. 15 against Florida State. Forget about the Nov. 22 game against Virginia and the Nov. 29 matchup against Pittsburgh. The true barometer of Golden’s tenure is the upcoming game against the Seminoles.
Miami is 0-4 in its last four matchups against Florida State and has won just one out of the last six matchups in this series. And it’s not just a loss, as the Hurricanes lost by 27 points last season and was easily handled by the Seminoles 45-17 in 2010.
Considering Miami’s three-game winning streak consisted of two fringe bowl teams and a 5-3 Cincinnati team, it’s easy to poke holes in the resume and think another blowout loss to Florida State is coming.
However, there are reasons to believe the Hurricanes are poised to threaten the Seminoles run to the playoff.
Florida State’s rush defense has allowed at least 156 rushing yards in each of its last three games. That’s not awful, but it also represents an opportunity for Miami running back Duke Johnson to control the pace of the game and keep the Seminoles’ explosive offense on the sidelines. Johnson has rushed for 588 yards over his last three games this year.
Quarterback Brad Kaaya has not tossed an interception in three games and completed at least 64 percent of his passes in two out of the last three contests.
Miami’s defense was the target of criticism after giving up 6.8 yards per play against Nebraska and 318 rushing yards in a loss to Georgia Tech.
But over the last three games, the Hurricanes have been stingy against opposing rushing attacks (2.1 ypc), and the defense has recorded 18 tackles for a loss in that span. In Football Outsiders’ Defensive S&P ratings, Miami ranked No. 18 prior to the victory over North Carolina.
Again, the recent play by an injured offensive line, quarterback Brad Kaaya and running back Duke Johnson is an encouraging sign for Miami. And the defense seems to be playing better, albeit against weak competition.
With two weeks to prepare, Miami should be at full strength against Florida State on Nov. 15.
The Seminoles have dominated this rivalry in recent years, continue to out-recruit Miami and are the better team on paper. With that in mind, this might be the biggest game in Golden’s tenure. There’s some positive momentum with a three-game winning streak for the Hurricanes and this year’s matchup is in Coral Gables (with a healthy Florida State contingent expected). Can Miami capitalize off some of Florida State’s weaknesses and make this a competitive game?
Nov. 15 is shaping up to be a huge barometer game for Miami. There are reasons to believe the Hurricanes will be able to be competitive against one of the top teams in the nation, and Golden needs a big win to answer some of the critics.
Despite the positive momentum, it’s also easy to doubt how wins over Virginia Tech, North Carolina and Cincinnati are enough for Miami to breakthrough against the Seminoles.
Only time will tell.
Either way, Nov. 15 should be an interesting moment for Al Golden’s tenure at Miami.
Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs shined in the Volunteers’ 45-42 overtime win over South Carolina. Dobbs was the catalyst in a furious fourth-quarter rally, guiding Tennessee’s offense 21 points – including the game-tying touchdown with just 11 seconds remaining.
Whether it was on the ground or through the air, South Carolina’s defense simply had no answer for the talented sophomore. Dobbs earned Athlon Sports National Player of the Week honors for Week 10 by passing for 301 yards and two scores and leading the team with 166 yards and three touchdowns on the ground.
The Volunteers are rebuilding under second-year coach Butch Jones, and the program has found a spark on offense in the last two games with Dobbs under center. Against Alabama, Dobbs rushed for 75 yards and passed for 192 yards. One week later, Dobbs took another step forward in his development, leading Tennessee to an overtime win over South Carolina.
Dobbs played in the final five games of last season but clearly looks more comfortable in Tennessee’s offense after a full offseason to work with the coaching staff. And with an offensive line that’s also rebuilding, Dobbs’ mobility has been a huge asset. The sophomore’s emergence should give Tennessee a chance to win each of its remaining three games and reach a bowl for the first time since 2010.
Defensive Player of the Week: Erick Dargan, S, Oregon
The Ducks snapped a two-game losing streak to Stanford with a 45-16 victory on Saturday night. Both sides of the ball delivered in the win, as the offense posted 45 points and averaged 6.8 yards per play, while the defense held the Cardinal to just three second-half points. Dargan was one of the leaders for Oregon’s defensive effort, pacing the team with 12 tackles (nine solo) and recording one interception. The senior also forced fumble on Stanford’s opening drive for the fourth quarter. Saturday’s game was just another standout performance for the senior, as he leads the team in tackles and has five interceptions through nine games.
Coordinator of the Week: Dave Aranda, Wisconsin
Aranda entered the season with just three returning starters and a host of questions about the defense. But after eight games, Aranda has found plenty of answers to his preseason concerns, and Wisconsin’s defense is performing at a high level over the last two weeks. The Badgers held Maryland to seven points on Oct. 25 and pitched a shutout against Rutgers (37-0) on Saturday. Since allowing 6.5 yards per play against USF on Sept. 27, Wisconsin’s defense has held opponents to a lower per-play mark in four consecutive games. The Terrapins managed only 3.1 yards per play last weekend, while the Badgers held Rutgers to 2.5 mark in Week 10. In just two seasons at Wisconsin, Aranda has emerged as one of the Big Ten’s top coordinators and is a big reason why the Badgers could sweep their final four games (at Purdue, Nebraska, at Iowa and Minnesota) on a path to a West Division title.
Freshman of the Week: Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State
Cook received only nine carries in Thursday night’s 42-31 win over Louisville, but the true freshman made the most of his opportunities. Cook recorded 110 yards and two scores on nine attempts and caught four passes for 40 yards. The true freshman averaged 12.2 yards per carry, with his big-play ability showcased on touchdown runs of 38 and 40 yards. Cook’s 38-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter gave Florida State the lead for good against the Cardinals. After the five-star true freshman delivered in the clutch on Thursday night, it’s a safe bet he will be a bigger part of the offense in future weeks.
Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday suffered a broken fibula in Saturday’s loss to USC and will miss the remainder of the 2014 season.
The senior was hit after a pass in the first half and was transported from the field on a cart.
Halliday passed for 40 yards and one pick on nine attempts in limited action against USC on Saturday.
For the season, Halliday passed for 3,833 yards and 32 scores.
Backup Luke Falk completed 38 of 57 passes for 370 yards and two scores after Halliday’s injury.
Washington State was eliminated from bowl contention after the loss to USC, as coach Mike Leach’s team is 2-7 and 1-5 in the Pac-12. The Cougars won’t have an easy finish to the season with road trips to Oregon State and Arizona State up next, followed by the Apple Cup finale against Washington.
Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah left Saturday’s game against Purdue due to a knee injury. Abdullah was injured early in the first half against the Boilermakers and was replaced by Imani Cross and Terrell Newby.
Prior to the knee injury, Abdullah rushed for just one yard on six carries.
According to coach Bo Pelini, Abdullah will not return in the second half.
However, Abdullah’s knee injury is not believed to be serious, and the senior will have two weeks to get ready for the Nov. 15 showdown against Wisconsin.
Pelini tells Jeanine Edwards that Abdullah is unlikely to return, but "I think he's going to be fine ... We're going to be really cautious."— Mitch Sherman (@mitchsherman) November 1, 2014
New rivalries are a part of any league as expansion has changed the outlook of all of the Power 5 conferences in recent years.
In their first meeting as Big Ten foes, Maryland and Penn State attempted to jumpstart a new rivalry with some pregame fireworks between the two teams.
Only time will tell if this actually becomes a rivalry, but these two teams wasted no time showing their dislike for each other.
Here are the two teams exchanging some pleasantries in warm-ups:
Maryland trying to start a rumble. pic.twitter.com/9WwKATriei— Ben Jones (@Ben_Jones88) November 1, 2014
And here’s the best part: Maryland refused to shake hands with Penn State’s players prior to the coin toss:
Please do not touch the ref, Stefon Diggs. http://t.co/dBxIs4zhg7— SB Nation GIF (@SBNationGIF) November 1, 2014
The annual meeting between Stanford and Oregon has played a key role in shaping the Pac-12 championship in recent seasons. Over the last four years, the winner of the Stanford-Oregon matchup won the conference title.
And barring a significant change of events in November, this game will significantly shape the conference title once again. Stanford is 3-2 in conference play and has to beat Oregon to keep its Pac-12 title hopes alive. On the other sideline, the Ducks need to win to rank among the nation’s best in next week’s playoff poll. A two-loss Oregon team could get left out of the playoff, so every week is essentially an elimination game for coach Mark Helfrich’s team.
Stanford holds a 43-30-1 series edge over Oregon. The Cardinal has won three out of the last five meetings in this series, including two in a row and the most recent meeting in Eugene.
Stanford at Oregon
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: Oregon -8
Three Things to Watch
1. Marcus Mariota Versus Stanford’s Defense
Stanford has been Mariota’s biggest nemesis in his three years as Oregon’s starting quarterback. The junior is 0-2 and completed 57.8 percent of his throws – a drop from his normal 66.5 percent career mark – against the Cardinal. Stanford sacked Mariota three times last year and held the Ducks scoreless until the fourth quarter. Will this year be any different? Despite a new coordinator (Lance Anderson) and a few new faces, the Cardinal hasn’t missed a beat on defense. Stanford is limiting opponents to 3.7 yards per play and only one offense managed more than 17 points so far this year. The success of the Cardinal defense starts up front, as senior Henry Anderson (35 tackles) anchors the line and the 3-4 attack. Anderson will have to do more of the heavy lifting on Saturday night with tackle David Parry out due to injury. With Parry sidelined, Oregon may look to attack the middle of Stanford’s defensive front. The linebacking corps is Stanford’s deepest and most-talented collection of players on defense. Junior Blake Martinez is having a breakout year, and redshirt freshman Peter Kalambayi leads the team with 5.5 sacks. If the Cardinal is able to generate pressure on Mariota, this defense will have a chance to control the pace of the game. It’s critical Stanford wins the battle at the line of scrimmage to have a chance to win on Saturday.
2. Stanford’s Offense
Even if Stanford’s defense finds a way to slow down Oregon’s offense, can the Cardinal generate enough points to pull off the upset? Coach David Shaw promised to tweak the offense after a sluggish showing against Arizona State, and the one-week results against Oregon State were promising. Stanford scored 38 points against the Beavers and averaged 6.7 yards per play – its best mark in Pac-12 games this year. But winning at home against Oregon State and beating Oregon on the road is a different challenge. Sure, the Ducks have struggled on defense this year, allowing 5.7 yards per play and is last in third-down defense in the Pac-12. But what is Stanford’s identity on offense right now? With a rebuilt offensive line and no clear go-to back, the Cardinal need to ask more from quarterback Kevin Hogan. The junior is completing 62.6 percent of his throws but tossed two interceptions in a 17-14 loss to Notre Dame. Hogan also completed only 48.7 percent of his passes in a 26-10 loss to Arizona State. The bottom line for Stanford’s offense is clear: Hogan has to play better and needs to get the ball to the team’s playmakers. Receivers Ty Montgomery and Devon Cajuste will have opportunities for big plays on Saturday night. And if Hogan has success through the air, it should allow the rushing attack to find lanes against the Ducks – ranked 10th in the Pac-12 against the run. Time of possession is an overrated statistic. But Stanford needs to control the pace of the game and limit Mariota’s opportunities on offense.
3. Oregon RB Royce Freeman and Stanford WR Ty Montgomery
Freeman and Montgomery are this game’s biggest x-factors. Freeman has been a breakout player for Oregon in his true freshman campaign, rushing for 748 yards and 13 touchdowns on 136 attempts. The true freshman has three consecutive 100-yard efforts and gashed Washington for 169 yards and four scores. Stanford is limiting opponents to 2.6 yards per carry and has held three Pac-12 opponents to less than 100 yards on the ground. Without tackle David Parry, will Freeman find room to run against this stingy defense? On the other sideline, Montgomery is one of the nation’s top all-purpose threats. The senior leads the team with 1,163 total yards, averaging 13.1 yards per touch. Considering how dangerous Montgomery is with the ball in his hands, it’s important for coach David Shaw to get the senior 10-15 touches in a variety of ways.
This game was pegged by most in the offseason to be one of the biggest games of the year in the Pac-12. While this is still an intriguing matchup, this game has lost some of its appeal due to Stanford’s 4-3 record. Even though the Cardinal isn’t as highly ranked as most anticipated, there’s still plenty at stake for both teams. Stanford has controlled this rivalry over the last two years, but it’s also worth considering Mariota was not at full strength in last season’s meeting. With Mariota back at full strength and capable of running, Oregon’s offense should be more dynamic on Saturday night. Stanford will move the ball on the Ducks’ defense, but Mariota delivers with the game on the line to snap a two-game losing streak to the Cardinal.
Prediction: Oregon 34, Stanford 24
The SEC West dominated the first release of college football’s playoff rankings, but there’s a chance for a shake up in the top four with Auburn and Ole Miss meeting in Oxford on Saturday night.
It’s too early to call this an elimination game in the SEC West, but both teams need this game. Ole Miss suffered its first loss of the season last Saturday at LSU, while Auburn won a 42-35 shootout against South Carolina. The winner of this game will keep pace with Mississippi State and Alabama as the main contenders in the West and should stay among the top four in next week’s playoff poll.
Auburn owns a 28-10 series edge over Ole Miss. The Tigers won last year’s matchup 30-22 and have defeated the Rebels four out of the last five times in this series. Ole Miss won the last meeting between these two teams in Oxford, edging the Tigers 41-20 in 2012.
Auburn at Ole Miss
Kickoff: 7 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Ole Miss -2
Three Things to Watch
1. Ole Miss QB Bo Wallace
Prior to last week’s game against LSU, Wallace was playing mistake-free ball in the SEC. The senior started conference play by tossing zero interceptions through his first four games but played his worst game of the year in Baton Rouge. Wallace threw for just 176 yards on 14 completions (33 attempts) and tossed a costly last-minute interception to lose 10-7. For Ole Miss to get back into the win column this week, Wallace has to play better. The Rebels don’t have a traditional rushing attack, and the senior will have opportunities to make plays against an Auburn secondary that allowed five touchdowns and 416 passing yards to South Carolina last week. Wallace has a solid group of receivers at his disposal, but the offensive line is a concern with recent injuries to center Ben Still and tackle Laremy Tunsil. Considering the firepower on Auburn’s sideline, it’s tough ask Ole Miss’ defense to hold the Tigers in check all four quarters. Can Wallace bounce back after a rough outing in Baton Rouge? The Tigers defense should provide a good opportunity for the senior to get back on track and keep Ole Miss in contention for a playoff spot.
2. Auburn’s Rushing Attack
Ole Miss’ rush defense took a pounding in Baton Rouge last Saturday. The Rebels allowed 264 yards – a season high – to LSU and gave up 4.8 yards per carry. Additionally, the defense was on the field for 36 minutes. Time of possession isn’t necessarily important in the outcome of a game, but it’s noteworthy Ole Miss just played a 60-minute battle against a run-first team. Can the Rebels regain their pre-LSU form and recharge for another 60-minute battle against a run-first team? Auburn will test Ole Miss’ rush defense, as the Tigers averaged 8.4 yards per carry against South Carolina last week and have recorded at least 232 rushing yards in six out of their first seven games. Cameron Artis-Payne leads the team with 831 yards, but quarterback Nick Marshall is equally as dangerous with the ball in his hands, rushing for 581 yards on 85 attempts this year. Auburn’s offensive line is not as dominant as it was in 2013, but the Tigers are still one of the best in the nation on the ground. In order to stop Marshall and Artis-Payne, Ole Miss needs defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche and safety Cody Prewitt at full strength. Both players were banged up in last week’s loss, and this defense will have trouble containing the Auburn offense if either is forced to miss a chunk of Saturday’s game. After taking a pounding in Baton Rouge, the front seven of Ole Miss will be under fire once again. In order to beat the Tigers, the Rebels have to stop the run on first and second downs, forcing Auburn to take to the air to win. Which team wins the battle at the line of scrimmage is critical to the outcome on Saturday night.
3. Timely stops by Auburn?
Auburn’s defense struggled on the stat sheet last year, but the Tigers were known for getting stops at critical times on third downs and in the red zone. This year, Auburn is statistically better, holding opponents to 25.3 points per game (SEC-only games) after allowing 29.6 in 2013. Also, the Tigers have limited opponents to just 5.7 yards per play – an improvement from the 6.4 mark in SEC games last season. While those numbers are good news for coordinator Ellis Johnson, it’s also important to note Auburn leads the SEC (conference-only games) in third-down and red zone defense. Across the board, improvement seems evident for the Tigers. However, this unit just allowed 35 points to South Carolina and has allowed 32 plays of 20 yards or more in 2014. Will that trend continue on Saturday night? Ole Miss isn’t as explosive as the Auburn on offense and needs to get seven points when they get in the red zone. If the Tigers can limit the Rebels’ big plays – especially to receiver Laquon Treadwell – and limit Ole Miss to field goals, Auburn can counter with touchdowns and break out to an early (and potentially commanding lead).
This matchup features an interesting contrast in styles, as the Rebels own one of the SEC’s top defenses, while the Tigers rank near the top of the conference in scoring. Ole Miss would prefer for this game to not turn into a 45-40 type of shootout and needs to rely on its defense once again. However, the Rebels have to find more answers on the ground and need a flawless effort from Wallace. Ole Miss could be more aggressive with its play-calling, allowing Wallace to take advantage of a suspect Auburn secondary. Asking the Rebels to shut down the Tigers’ offense is simply too tall of an order. However, Ole Miss can limit Auburn’s big plays, and force Malzahn’s offense to drive the length of the field. If the Rebels revert back to their pre-LSU form against the run, Ole Miss will knock off Auburn and remain squarely in the top four of college football’s playoff. If the Tigers establish their tempo and get out to a 14-0 or 14-3 start on offense, that might be too much to overcome for the Rebels.
Prediction: Ole Miss 31, Auburn 27
The ACC’s Week 10 slate isn’t filled with top 25 matchups, but there’s plenty of intrigue in games that should help determine which team wins the Coastal Division in 2014. Miami took a step forward in the division with a win over Virginia Tech last Thursday, and Georgia Tech stayed alive by beating a turnover-prone Pittsburgh team on Saturday.
Miami hosts an improving North Carolina team this Saturday, while Duke travels to Pittsburgh. Georgia Tech hosts Virginia, and Virginia Tech plays a crossover game with Boston College. Needless to say, after this weekend, there should be some separation at the top of the Coastal.
And of course, we can’t forget about the huge showdown on Thursday night between Florida State and Louisville. The Seminoles ranked as the No. 2 team in college football’s first playoff committee poll and will be challenged by the Cardinals, who feature one of the nation’s top defenses.
Week 10 Previews and Predictions:
Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC
ACC Week 10 Game Power Rankings
1. Florida State (-4) at Louisville
7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN (Thursday)
Remember the last time Louisville hosted Florida State? The Cardinals upset the Seminoles 26-20 on Thursday night in 2002. Fast forward 12 years later, the stakes are even higher on Thursday night in Louisville, as Florida State hopes to remain among the nation’s best with a win over the Cardinals. This matchup won’t be easy for the No. 2 ranked Seminoles, as Louisville’s defense is holding opponents to 3.9 yards per play and 14.6 points per game. Quarterback Jameis Winston will be throwing against a secondary that ranks second nationally with 15 interceptions. However, this is by far the best offense the Cardinals have played in 2014. Winston’s supporting cast at receiver has improved over the course of the season, but the rushing attack (3.9 ypc) has struggled at times and won’t have running back Mario Pender due to injury. Louisville’s front seven is active around the line of scrimmage, recording 28 sacks and 60 tackles for a loss. If Florida State can establish the run, it will slow down the Cardinals’ pass rush and allow Winston to test the secondary. Louisville needs to get pressure on Winston and force the Seminoles into third-and-long situations. Offensively, the Cardinals aren’t as prolific as most expected in coach Bobby Petrino’s first year. But there are signs of life, as running back Michael Dyer is coming off a 173-yard effort against NC State, and receiver DeVante Parker is back from injury. Florida State is allowing 5.1 yards per play and has given up at least 156 rushing yards in three out of its last four games. Louisville’s offensive line is struggling, but the Seminoles aren’t as dominant in the trenches as they were in 2013.
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2. Duke at Pittsburgh (-4)
Noon ET, ESPNU
Last week’s performance against Georgia Tech was one to forget for coach Paul Chryst. The Panthers never had a chance to get on track thanks to five fumbles in their first five possessions. After all of the bad luck last Saturday, is Pittsburgh due for some good luck this week? Duke has quietly returned to the top of the Coastal Division and plays arguably its toughest remaining games (North Carolina and Virginia Tech) at home. But this week’s road trip to Heinz Field won’t be easy, especially with the Blue Devils struggling to stop the run (193.4 ypg). Pittsburgh running back James Conner averaged 12 yards per carry (10 attempts) against Georgia Tech last Saturday and should eclipse the 100-yard mark for the sixth time this year. Duke has allowed only three passing scores this year, so it’s critical for the Panthers to get Conner on track to open up the passing game for quarterback Chad Voytik and receiver Tyler Boyd. The Blue Devils aren’t flashy on offense, but this might be one of the nation’s most-balanced attacks. Duke has 1,526 yards on the ground and 1,412 yards through the air this year. In a tight game, turnovers could be the deciding factor. Pittsburgh ranks last in the ACC at a -6 margin, while Duke is first at +8.
3. North Carolina at Miami (-17)
12:30 p.m. ET, ACC Network/ESPN3
The arrow on both teams is pointing up after key victories in Week 9. North Carolina upset Virginia 28-27 in Charlottesville, while Miami won 30-6 in Blacksburg. The victories by both teams keeps them alive in the Coastal Division title picture, with both teams a game behind Duke with a month to go. Considering the Tar Heels nearly defeated Notre Dame in early October and have won two games in a row, it’s a surprise to see coach Larry Fedora’s team a 17-point underdog. But in order to pull off the upset in Miami, North Carolina has a major challenge ahead on defense. Running back Duke Johnson gashed Virginia Tech for 249 yards last week, and the Tar Heels rank at the bottom of the ACC against the run (210.6 ypg). In addition to stopping Johnson, North Carolina has to get pressure on quarterback Brad Kaaya and disrupt a passing game that has hit on 13 plays of 30 yards or more. Of concern for Miami is the offensive line, which is expected to be without starting tackle Ereck Flowers. When the Tar Heels have the ball, quarterback Marquise Williams has to carry this team once again. Williams has recorded 500 yards of total offense in two out of its last three games and will be challenged by a Miami defense allowing just 18.8 points a game in ACC play. Both teams will score, but which defense will step up with a key play at a critical moment late in the second half?
4. Virginia at Georgia Tech (-3.5)
3:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU
With both teams having two losses in conference play, this week’s meeting could be an elimination game in the Coastal Division. Virginia has lost two ACC games in a row after a 2-0 start in conference play, while Georgia Tech rebounded from back-to-back losses to trounce Pittsburgh 56-28 last Saturday. Turnovers will be critical in this game, as the Cavaliers have lost 17 this year, and the Yellow Jackets are +7 in margin. Georgia Tech could be shorthanded at running back this week, as Zach Laskey is not expected to play due to a shoulder injury, and Charles Perkins is dealing with a knee injury. Injuries have dwindled the options in the backfield, but the Yellow Jackets’ option attack will continue to thrive as long as quarterback Justin Thomas is healthy. But Thomas will have his hands full on Saturday, as Virginia ranks third in the ACC against the run and limits opponents to 3.0 yards per carry. When the Cavaliers have the ball, expect running back Kevin Parks to test a Georgia Tech defense that ranks 12th in the ACC against the run. The Yellow Jackets have won four out of its last five games against Virginia.
5. Boston College at Virginia Tech (-3)
12:30 p.m. ET, ACC Network/ESPN3
After last week’s loss to Miami, Virginia Tech sits at the bottom of the Coastal Division and is in jeopardy of missing a bowl for the first time since 1992. While the Hokies are struggling to generate consistent production on offense, the defense ranks last in the ACC (conference-only games) against the run (237.3 ypg). That’s a huge concern for coordinator Bud Foster this week, as Boston College has a veteran offensive line and averages 277 yards per game on the ground. Quarterback Tyler Murphy leads the team with 843 yards, but Jon Hilliman and Myles Willis each average over four yards per carry. The Eagles average only 135.8 passing yards per game, so expect to see Virginia Tech crowd the line of scrimmage to force Murphy to win this one through the air. When the Hokies have the ball, this offense has to find a spark after scoring just 22 points over its last two games. Mark Leal moved the offense late against Miami, but Michael Brewer is expected start at quarterback. While Brewer has struggled recently, he’s not the sole problem for Virginia Tech. The rushing attack is averaging just 3.1 yards per carry in ACC games, and the offensive line has allowed 15 sacks in eight games. Boston College’s defense ranks as one of the best in the conference, limiting opponents to 4.7 yards per game (conference-only matchups) and recording 22 sacks in eight contests.
6. NC State at Syracuse (-3.5)
3 p.m. ET, RSN/ESPN3
This matchup won’t garner much national interest, but the meeting between the Orange and Wolfpack is critical for both team’s bowl hopes. Syracuse is 3-5 and 1-3 in ACC play, while NC State is 4-4 and winless in conference action (0-4). With the upcoming schedules for both teams, a victory on Saturday could be enough to hit six wins. Additionally, the Wolfpack are still searching for their first ACC win under second-year coach Dave Doeren. In last year’s meeting, Syracuse recorded 362 rushing yards (9.1 ypc) and won 24-10. Stopping the run will be a challenge for NC State once again, as the defense ranks 11th in the ACC and has allowed five yards per carry in conference games. The Wolfpack needs to counter with a rebound game for quarterback Jacoby Brissett. Since throwing for 359 yards and three scores against Florida State, Brissett is completing just 45 percent of his throws and has not topped 225 yards in each of his last three games. Syracuse has allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 69.8 percent of their throws in ACC games this year.
ACC Week 10 Predictions
|FSU (-4) at UL||FSU 21-17||FSU 28-24||FSU 27-24||FSU 28-17|
|Duke (+4) at Pitt||Duke 35-21||Duke 31-30||Pitt 27-24||Pitt 31-20|
|UNC (+17) at Miami||Miami 42-28||Miami 34-27||Miami 38-30||Miami 33-20|
|UVa (+3.5) at GT||GT 31-21||GT 30-27||GT 27-24||GT 36-31|
|BC (+3) at Va. Tech||BC 24-21||VT 24-23||BC 24-20||BC 17-14|
|NC State (+3.5) at Syracuse||NC State 17-14||Cuse 30-27||NC State 31-27||Cuse 21-20|
Florida State puts its 23-game winning streak on the line on Thursday night, as the Seminoles travel to Louisville for a key ACC showdown. The Cardinals are 6-2 in their debut season in the ACC, but Florida State is easily their toughest opponent so far this year.
The Seminoles are not as dominant – at least right now – as this team was last season. However, coach Jimbo Fisher’s team continues to win and has recorded solid victories over Clemson, Oklahoma State and Notre Dame this year. And Florida State ranked as the No. 2 team in the first release of college football’s playoff committee rankings, so there’s plenty at stake in Louisville on Thursday.
On the other sideline, Louisville is looking to score a breakthrough win in its ACC debut, and Thursday night’s game is the start of a difficult four-game stretch to close out the 2014 season. The return of coach Bobby Petrino was supposed to transform the Cardinals into one of the ACC’s best offenses, but Louisville has been winning with its defense so far this year.
Florida State owns an 11-1 series edge over Louisville. However, the Cardinals’ won 26-20 in the last meeting between these two teams (2002).
Florida State at Louisville
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. ET (Thursday)
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Florida State -4
Three Things to Watch
1. Louisville’s Front Seven
Despite a change in scheme, Louisville’s defense has been one of the best in the nation through the first nine weeks of the season. The Cardinals are limiting opponents to just 14.6 points per game and 3.9 yards per play. Additionally, Louisville’s front seven creates a lot of havoc at the line of scrimmage. Through eight games, the Cardinals have recorded 60 tackles for a loss and 28 sacks. Florida State’s offensive line was expected to be one of the best in the nation this year but has struggled through the first seven games. The Seminoles also lost center Austin Barron due to injury, leaving redshirt freshman Ryan Hoefield to anchor the starting line. The Cardinals are aggressive and have enough experience up front to give Florida State’s offense plenty of headaches. End/linebacker Lorenzo Mauldin leads the team with six sacks, while end Sheldon Rankins has five. Not only is Louisville’s front capable of causing problems in pass rush situations, but this front seven will make life difficult for the Seminoles’ ground game. Florida State has struggled to establish a consistent push on the ground all year, and running back Mario Pender is unavailable to play due to injury. Dalvin Cook and Karlos Williams will handle the workload on the ground on Thursday and will find limited running room against the Cardinals No. 1 ranked run defense in the ACC. Florida State doesn’t need 200 rushing yards, but it needs to have success to take some of the pressure off of Jameis Winston’s shoulders.
2. Jameis Winston Against Louisville’s Secondary
At the beginning of the 2014 season, Florida State’s receiving corps was a question mark. Sure, the Seminoles had Rashad Greene and tight end Nick O’Leary, but would a No. 2 or No. 3 receiver emerge early in the season? Those fears have subsided in recent weeks, as Jesus Wilson, Travis Rudolph and Ermon Lane have each contributed, and Winston has more weapons available at his disposal. Louisville’s secondary (largely at safety) entered the year with its own share of question marks, and much like Florida State’s receivers, this unit is no longer a concern. The Cardinals have allowed only seven passing touchdowns and have picked off 15 passes. Additionally, opposing quarterbacks are completing just 54 percent of their throws against this defense. Winston has been sharp most of this season, completing at least 62 percent of his throws in five of his six appearances. The sophomore has only four games of more than one interception in his career and was nearly flawless in the second half of the 31-27 win over Notre Dame. With the pressure Louisville gets with its front seven, it should limit Winston’s time to scan downfield and find Greene, Wilson or Rudolph for big plays. However, this is the best offense the Cardinals have played this year. If Florida State’s line gives Winston time to throw, will Louisville’s secondary struggle to stop Greene, O’Leary and the other Seminole receivers? Or can the Cardinals provide the necessary support in pass defense if the pass rush is stymied?
3. Louisville’s Offense
Is Louisville’s offense ready for a breakout performance on Thursday night? In the 30-18 win over NC State, the Cardinals regained the services of receiver DeVante Parker, while running back Michael Dyer recorded 173 yards on just 24 carries. With Parker and Dyer playing at a high level, combined with Will Gardner growing more comfortable at quarterback, Louisville’s offense could be peaking at the right time. Florida State’s defense is not as dominant as it was last season, largely due to injuries in the front seven and lack of depth at defensive tackle. With Timmy Jernigan no longer the anchor at the point of attack, the Seminoles have slipped to sixth in the ACC against the run and have generated only 11 sacks in seven games. Even though Louisville’s offensive line has struggled this year, expect coach Bobby Petrino to give Dyer several opportunities to test the Florida State front seven. And when Gardner looks to pass, having the big-play ability of Parker on the outside should open up opportunities for receivers James Quick and Eli Rogers and tight end Gerald Christian to attack the middle of the field. Despite a lackluster pass rush on the stat sheet, the Seminoles should bring pressure on Gardner, as the Cardinals have allowed 27 sacks through eight games. If Louisville doesn’t get its ground game on track, this game may not be close in the fourth quarter.
Florida State’s last trip to Louisville did not go well. The Seminoles lost 26-20 in overtime to the Cardinals in 2002. This year’s matchup is a dangerous spot for Florida State as well. Injuries on both lines of scrimmage have dwindled the team’s depth, and the offense won’t have running back Mario Pender. However, the Seminoles still have arguably the best quarterback in the nation – Jameis Winston – and keep finding ways to win games this year. This game will be a good barometer test for the Cardinals' defense, especially since it has yet to play an offense with the talent level Florida State will bring to Papa John's Cardinal Stadium on Thursday night. Louisville’s offense should benefit from having over a week to prepare, along with the return of receiver DeVante Parker to full strength. Dyer should find room to run, allowing Gardner and Parker to connect on a couple of big passing plays on play-action opportunities. But even if Florida State's defense gives up yards, it should hold its own in the red zone, limiting Louisville's scoring opportunities throughout the game. The Cardinals may ride the home crowd to early momentum, but Florida State edges out another victory and remains near the top of next week’s college football playoff rankings.
Prediction: Florida State 27, Louisville 24
Georgia running back Todd Gurley will be eligible to return to the lineup on Nov. 15, after the NCAA handed down its ruling into his reinstatement case. Gurley was suspended from the team prior to the Oct. 11 contest against Missouri due to autographed memorabilia and has missed the Bulldogs’ last two games. In addition to a four-game suspension, Gurley was ordered to repay a portion of the received money and must complete 40 hours of community service.
The announcement from the NCAA indicated Gurley accepted more than $3,000 from multiple individuals over the last two years in exchange for autographing memorabilia.
Gurley has already missed two games due to suspension, leaving the junior with two more contests to sit out until he is eligible to return. Gurley is slated to return to the Georgia lineup on Nov. 15 against Auburn.
Until Gurley returns, the Bulldogs will rely heavily on freshman running back Nick Chubb. Over the last two games, Chubb has rushed for 345 yards and three scores and will continue to handle the bulk of the workload with Nick Marshall and Sony Michel expected to miss Saturday’s game against Florida.
Georgia ranked No. 11 in the first release of the college football playoff committee standings. If the Bulldogs win the rest of their regular season games, coach Mark Richt's team should have a shot to rank just outside of the top four before the SEC Championship. Gurley's return would be a huge boost for Georgia's SEC title hopes, and the junior would be returning at a critical time against Auburn on Nov. 15.
According to the NCAA release, Georgia plans to appeal the decision.
Texas A&M hopes to rebound from a 59-0 loss to Alabama with an easy win over ULM this Saturday.
And to help the Aggies win in style, the program has unveiled throwback uniforms for Saturday’s game against the Warhawks.
These uniforms are a tribute to the 1939 Texas A&M team and feature an awesome leather-like helmet design.
Check out Texas A&M’s uniforms for this Saturday:
The race to claim one of college football’s four playoff spots is officially in the home stretch. Week 10 is the first Saturday in November, leaving little time for teams to solidify their case as a playoff contender.
The playoff committee releases its first set of rankings on Tuesday, Oct. 28, but there will be plenty of changes over the next month.
Consider this: There are 16 one-loss teams from the Power 5 conferences. Over the next six weeks, 11 games are scheduled where both teams currently have one loss. And that doesn’t count showdowns between Mississippi State and Alabama and Ole Miss versus Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl.
Needless to say, much of college football’s rankings and playoff picture is going to be shaped by what happens in November.
With nine weeks in the books, let’s rank the top 15 one-loss teams heading into the first weekend in November. Keep in mind: These rankings reflect what has happened on the field so far and no projection into future weeks.
Ranking College Football’s One-Loss Teams
1. Ole Miss
Pick a team from the SEC as the No. 1 spot in this list. The case for Alabama is strong, as the Crimson Tide may end up as the best team in the SEC by the end of the year. But that’s a month away, and Ole Miss defeated Alabama 23-17 in Oxford on Oct. 4. The strength of coach Hugh Freeze’s team is a defense allowing just 4.4 yards per play. Linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche was lost for the year due to an ankle injury, but the defense should remain one of the best in the SEC. With an elite defense, Ole Miss doesn’t necessarily need an explosive offense. However, the Rebels need better production from their ground attack (3.9 ypc) and turnover-free play from quarterback Bo Wallace.
Games Remaining Against One-Loss Teams: Auburn (Nov. 1)
Games Remaining Against Undefeated Teams: Mississippi State (Nov. 29)
As mentioned above, a compelling case can be made the Crimson Tide is college football’s best one-loss team. The Rebels get the nod over Alabama – for now - since they won the head-to-head matchup. Since losing 23-17 to Ole Miss, Alabama has rebounded by winning three games in a row, including a 59-0 blowout over Texas A&M. The Crimson Tide average 218.6 rushing yards per game, and receiver Amari Cooper has grabbed 71 catches for 1,132 yards. And here’s an interesting stat in Lane Kiffin’s first season calling the plays in Tuscaloosa: Alabama’s offense leads the SEC by averaging 6.96 yards per play. As usual in Tuscaloosa, the defense is strong. Alabama is holding opponents to 4.5 yards per play and 14 points per game. Pass defense is the Crimson Tide’s biggest concern, but this team will have a chance to climb in the playoff poll with remaining matchups against LSU, Mississippi State and Auburn.
Games Remaining Against One-Loss Teams: Auburn (Nov. 29)
Games Remaining Against Undefeated Teams: Mississippi State (Nov. 15)
Auburn’s ranking here demonstrates just how crowded the SEC West is in 2014. The Tigers rank No. 4 in the latest Associated Press poll, yet rank as the third-best one-loss team. Similar to last season, Auburn is winning games with its offense. The Tigers average 6.91 yards per play and 39.3 points per game. The defense has improved since last year, but there’s plenty of work to do on this side of the ball. Auburn needs better play from its secondary (eight touchdowns allowed in SEC play) and a better pass rush (12 sacks). A daunting schedule is still ahead for the Tigers over the next few weeks, starting with a road trip to Ole Miss this Saturday, followed by a home date against Texas A&M and then road dates at Georgia and Alabama to finish SEC play.
Games Remaining Against One-Loss Teams: at Ole Miss (Nov. 1), at Georgia (Nov. 15), at Alabama (Nov. 29)
If Oregon is going to reach college football’s playoff, it will have to do so on the strength of its offense. The Ducks lead all Power 5 teams by averaging 7.5 yards per play and average 45.5 points per game. Quarterback Marcus Mariota is one of the frontrunners to win the Heisman, and he’s surrounded by a talented group of weapons, along with an offensive line that has benefitted from the return of tackle Jake Fisher. Defensively, Oregon is allowing 5.7 yards per play and ranks last in the Pac-12 in opponent third-down conversions. The Ducks also rank 10th in the Pac-12 against the run, and opposing quarterbacks are completing 62.8 percent of their passes. The remaining schedule for Oregon features a home date against Stanford this Saturday, followed by a road trip against a dangerous Utah team on Nov. 8.
Games Remaining Against One-Loss Teams: at Utah (Nov. 8)
5. Michigan State
The Spartans are the favorite to win the Big Ten, but their position within the rankings could be determined on where Oregon falls at the end of the year. If the Ducks make the playoff, a one-loss Big Ten champion would have to be in the conversation for a spot among the top four. However, if Oregon stumbles to 9-3 and doesn’t win the North, how would the committee view Michigan State? The Spartans have won six in a row and are on bye before a huge showdown against Ohio State on Nov. 8. Pat Narduzzi’s defense isn’t as dominant as it was in 2013, but Michigan State is averaging 40.8 points per game in Big Ten play.
Games Remaining Against One-Loss Teams: Ohio State (Nov. 8)
6. Notre Dame
The Fighting Irish came up just short in their upset bid against Florida State, but an 11-1 final record would give Brian Kelly’s team a chance to make the four-team playoff. Notre Dame has played six Power 5 opponents this season and still has games remaining against Navy, Arizona State, Northwestern, Louisville and USC. Quarterback Everett Golson’s return has been huge for the offense, and the Fighting Irish are holding opponents to just 19.1 points a game.
Games Remaining Against One-Loss Teams: at Arizona State (Nov. 8)
The Bulldogs are quietly flying under the radar at 6-1, and coach Mark Richt’s team has the inside track to win the SEC East. Georgia has won its last two games (Arkansas and Missouri) without running back Todd Gurley, but true freshman Nick Chubb has 345 yards and three touchdowns in his absence. Quarterback Hutson Mason has tossed only three picks in SEC play and has been efficient in his last two games (32 of 45). The defense seems to be improving with each snap under new coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, limiting opponents to 20 points a game and just 4.7 yards per play. Georgia plays rival Florida in Jacksonville this Saturday, with a Nov. 15 home date against Auburn its toughest remaining game this year.
Games Remaining Against One-Loss Teams: Auburn (Nov. 15)
8. Kansas State
The only blemish on K-State’s resume so far this year is a 20-14 loss to Auburn. The Wildcats knocked off Oklahoma in Norman on Oct. 18 and will have a chance to play their way into the playoff conversation with remaining games - all on the road - against TCU, West Virginia and Baylor. Coach Bill Snyder’s team is holding opponents to 19.3 points a game, while the offense is tied for seventh nationally in third-down conversions and has lost only six turnovers. Quarterback Jake Waters has not thrown an interception since Sept. 18.
Games Remaining Against One-Loss Teams: at TCU (Nov. 8), at Baylor (Dec. 6)
The Bears’ playoff hopes took a hit in Morgantown with a 41-27 loss to West Virginia. But with only one defeat so far, Baylor still has time to play its way back into the playoff discussion. The Bears play at Oklahoma on Nov. 8 and host Kansas State on Dec. 6. The offense is averaging 49 points a game, but the primary concern for coach Art Briles is the line, which has recently lost two starters to season-ending injuries. Baylor also ranks last in the Big 12 in red zone defense.
Games Remaining Against One-Loss Teams: Kansas State (Dec. 6)
Much like the Ole Miss-Alabama debate, we have to give the nod to Baylor over TCU since the Bears won on Oct. 11. However, the Horned Frogs are one of the nation’s most-improved teams and can take a step forward in the Big 12 title hunt with a win over West Virginia this Saturday. Quarterback Trevone Boykin has thrived under first-year coordinators Sonny Cumbie and Doug Meacham, throwing for 21 touchdowns to only three interceptions. As expected under coach Gary Patterson, TCU is strong on defense. The Horned Frogs are allowing only 4.9 yards per play and lead the Big 12 in third-down defense.
Games Remaining Against One-Loss Teams: Kansas State (Nov. 8)
11. Ohio State
Urban Meyer’s team was dealt a significant setback in August, as quarterback Braxton Miller was lost for the year due to a shoulder injury. Redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett has filled in admirably for Miller, throwing for 1,689 yards and 21 scores while rushing for 458 yards and six touchdowns. Considering Barrett’s development over the last few weeks, the outcome of the Ohio State-Virginia Tech game would likely be much different if it was played in Week 10. Through seven games, the Buckeyes have showed slight improvement on defense, holding opponents to 20.7 points a game and 4.6 yards per play. While there is plenty of optimism about Ohio State, strength of schedule isn’t on its side. The Buckeyes have wins over Navy, Kent State, Cincinnati, Maryland, Rutgers and Penn State – a combined 23-23.
Games Remaining Against One-Loss Teams: at Michigan State (Nov. 8)
Arizona probably has the best conference win of any Pac-12 team, defeating Oregon 31-24 in Eugene on Oct. 2. But outside of that win, the Wildcats have played a relatively soft schedule and will be tested by a November schedule with trips to UCLA and Utah, along with home games against Washington and Arizona State. Arizona’s offense averages 40.6 points per game behind redshirt freshman quarterback Anu Solomon, but the defense ranks near the bottom of the Pac-12 (No. 8) in points allowed per game in conference play (33.5).
Games Remaining Against One-Loss Teams: at Utah (Nov. 22), Arizona State (Nov. 28)
13. Arizona State
Arizona State has won five of its six games by at least 14 points, with its only loss coming to UCLA (62-27) without quarterback Taylor Kelly. The senior is back in the lineup, and led the Sun Devils to a win over Washington last Saturday, but backup Mike Bercovici is a capable option if Kelly is sidelined again this year. A rebuilt defense was coach Todd Graham’s biggest concern this season. So far, Arizona State's defense has been inconsistent, allowing 62 points to UCLA and 34 to USC but holding Stanford and Washington to just 20 combined points.
Games Remaining Against One-Loss Teams: Utah (Nov. 1), Notre Dame (Nov. 8), at Arizona (Nov. 28)
The Utes are quietly one of the nation’s most-impressive teams through Week 9. Utah’s only loss was a one-point decision to Washington State, and coach Kyle Whittingham’s team is coming off a huge win over USC. The identity of Whittingham’s team is clear this season, as the rushing attack – led by Devontae Booker – ranks third in the Pac-12. The defense ranks second in the Pac-12 by holding opponents to 21.6 points per game and is first in sacks (35).
Games Remaining Against One-Loss Teams: at Arizona State (Nov. 1), Oregon (Nov. 8), Arizona (Nov. 22)
The November slate will determine whether or not Nebraska wins the Big Ten West or loses four games for the sixth consecutive season. The Cornhuskers travel to Wisconsin and Iowa - arguably their biggest competition in the West Division - and host Minnesota. Running back Ameer Abdullah is one of the nation’s best, but quarterback Tommy Armstrong is still developing in his first full season as the starter. Nebraska is holding opponents to 20.5 points per game in Big Ten play.
Games Remaining Against One-Loss Teams: None
College football’s playoff committee will release its first set of rankings on Tuesday, Oct. 28. After months of intrigue and waiting, this release should give the college football world some insight into what the committee values in its first season.
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. 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 9 Playoff Projection
Takeaways From Expert Poll Results
* Mississippi State and Florida State are the clear frontrunners in this week’s playoff vote. The Seminoles are 42 points ahead of No. 3 Alabama.
* Mississippi State received 17 first-place votes to just four to Florida State.
* Alabama received three second-place votes and received 107 total points. That’s a significant advantage in comparison to Ole Miss – the team the Crimson Tide lost to earlier this year.
* Oregon rejoins the top four after dropping out following a loss to Arizona.
* Five SEC teams received votes, with four of those programs ranking inside of the top six.
* Mississippi State and Florida State did not rank lower than third in this week’s poll.
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
Despite a sluggish showing against UConn, the Pirates remain in the driver’s seat for the Group of 5 spot. East Carolina defeated the Huskies 31-21 last Thursday and play three of its next five games on the road. The Pirates play at Temple on Saturday, followed by a date at Cincinnati on Nov. 13.
The Thundering Herd used 21 unanswered points in the second half to defeat FAU 35-16 on Saturday. Marshall is on bye this Saturday and ends the year with matchups against Southern Miss, Rice, UAB and Western Kentucky. Expect the Thundering Herd to be a double-digit favorite in all four of their remaining games.
3. Boise State
Colorado State might be the hottest team in the Mountain West, but let’s give Boise State an edge for the No. 3 spot in the Group 5 of rankings due to its head-to-head victory on Sept. 6. The Broncos won their third consecutive game by defeating BYU 55-30 on Friday night and have a bye this Saturday before taking on New Mexico on Nov. 8.
4. Colorado State
The Rams have not lost since their Sept. 6 trip to Boise State, and coach Jim McElwain’s team is on the cusp of being ranked in the Associated Press poll (No. 26 – 29 votes). Colorado State plays at San Jose State this Saturday, followed by games against Hawaii, New Mexico and Air Force to close out 2014. The Rams need a little help to reach the Mountain West title game, as a Week 2 loss to Boise State is the tiebreaker for the top spot in the Mountain Division.
Key Games With Playoff Implications in Week 9
Florida State at Louisville
7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Remember Florida State’s last trip to Louisville? The Cardinals won 26-20 in 2002. The chess match between the Seminoles’ offense and Louisville’s defense should be an intriguing affair. The Cardinals also seem to be finding their stride on offense, especially with a healthy Michael Dyer at running back and DeVante Parker at receiver.
East Carolina at Temple
Noon ET, ESPNEWS
Can the Owls slow down East Carolina’s high-powered offense? Temple has allowed only seven passing touchdowns this year, but its offense has lost 17 turnovers.
Duke at Pittsburgh
Noon ET, ESPNU
Are the Blue Devils the frontrunner in the Coastal Division? Pittsburgh needs to win this one to stay alive in the division after struggling with turnovers against Georgia Tech last week.
North Carolina at Miami
12:30 p.m. ET, ESPN3
Believe it or not, North Carolina controls its destiny in the Coastal Division.
Florida vs. Georgia (Jacksonville)
3:30 p.m. ET
The Bulldogs hope to add to the Gators’ misery with a win in the annual neutral site matchup in Jacksonville. Georgia also hopes to add running back Todd Gurley back into the mix after he missed the last two games due to a suspension.
TCU at West Virginia
3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2
The Big 12’s newest members meet in a critical matchup for positioning within the conference. The Mountaineers and Horned Frogs are a combined 12-3 after finishing 8-16 last year.
Auburn at Ole Miss
7 p.m. ET, ESPN
Ole Miss’ rush defense was pounded by LSU for 264 yards in last week’s loss. This defense will be pressured again on the ground by Auburn’s offense (281 yards per game) and won’t have standout linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche (fractured ankle). Is it possible this game is an elimination match for playoff hopes?
Arkansas at Mississippi State
7:15 p.m. ET, ESPN2
With a matchup against Arkansas, followed by a home date against Tennessee-Martin on Nov. 8, Mississippi State should be 9-0 headed into a Nov. 15 road trip to Alabama.
Notre Dame at Navy
8 p.m. ET, CBS
The Fighting Irish won by just four points last season, but Brian Kelly’s team should benefit from having two weeks to prepare for the Midshipmen.
Oklahoma State at Kansas State
8 p.m. ET, ABC
Wildcats emerging as favorite in wide-open Big 12 race? Oklahoma State has lost its last two games by a combined score of 76-19.
Arizona at UCLA
10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
An elimination game in the Pac-12 South? Expect plenty of points between two offenses averaging over 35 points a game.
Utah at Arizona State
11 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1
The Utes nearly knocked off Arizona State (20-19) last season but it won’t be easy going into Tempe and winning on Saturday night. A rebuilt Sun Devils’ defense has allowed only 20 points over the last two games.
With nine weeks in the books, college football’s bowl and national title picture is starting to clear. The playoff committee will release its first projection on Tuesday this week, which should give fans, coaches and players a better idea of what the committee values heading into the final full month of the season.
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.
With nine 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 9 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 nine weeks of action. Expect several changes over the next few weeks.
Teams just missing the projections: ULM, Texas State, Oregon State, Akron, USF, Arkansas, San Jose State and California. Remember: It’s only Week 9. 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 9 Bowl Projections
|New Orleans||Dec. 20||Sun Belt vs.|
| UL Lafayette vs.|
|New Mexico||Dec. 20||C-USA 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.|
| Central Michigan vs.|
|Miami Beach||Dec. 22||American vs.|
|Boca Raton||Dec. 23||C-USA vs. |
| UAB 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.|
| Virginia Tech vs.|
|St. Petersburg||Dec. 26||ACC vs. |
| Boston College vs.|
|Military||Dec. 27||ACC vs.|
| Virginia vs.|
|Sun||Dec. 27||ACC vs. |
| North Carolina vs.|
|Independence||Dec. 27||ACC vs.|
| Pittsburgh vs.|
|Pinstripe||Dec. 27||ACC vs.|
| Georgia 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.|
|Music City||Dec. 30||ACC/Big Ten vs.|
| Iowa vs.|
|Belk||Dec. 30||ACC vs.|
| Louisville vs.|
|San Francisco||Dec. 30||Big Ten 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.|
| Baylor vs.|
|Cactus||Jan. 2||Big 12 vs.|
| Stanford 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.|
| Kansas State vs.|
|Orange||Dec. 31||ACC vs.|
| Clemson vs.|
|Cotton||Jan. 1||At-large vs.|
|Related: Projecting the Playoff Teams After Week 9|
| Florida State vs.|
| Mississippi State vs.|
|National Title||Jan. 12||Semifinal Winner vs.|
| Mississippi State vs.|
* Indicates an at-large selection. Conference not projected to have enough bowl-eligible teams to fulfill the conference alignment.
There’s a good chance the fate of Florida coach Will Muschamp was sealed in Florida’s 42-13 loss to Missouri on Oct. 18. But if it wasn’t, the next five games are a make-or-break stretch in Gainesville for the fourth-year coach.
Realistically, Muschamp has to get to a bowl to save his job. Even then, that might not be enough.
To get to six wins, Florida has to win three out of its next five games: Georgia (Jacksonville), at Vanderbilt, South Carolina, Eastern Kentucky and at Florida State.
The Gators will be favored in two of those games (Vanderbilt and Eastern Kentucky), but where is the third win? Can a struggling Florida offense take advantage of South Carolina’s porous defense? Will the rivalry against Florida State bring out the best in the Gators? Can the same theory hold true against Georgia this week?
Keeping in mind Florida’s quest to get to six wins, don’t forget this team had to cancel a game against Idaho due to weather on Aug. 30. That win would come in handy for Muschamp by the end of November.
In order for Florida to have a shot at a bowl, improvement has to start on offense. The Gators are averaging just 4.3 yards per play in SEC games – that’s lower than the 4.7 mark posted in 2013.
The switch from Jeff Driskel to Treon Harris at quarterback is the right call and should pay dividends for the offense. Harris (a true freshman) is going to make mistakes, but his upside is also higher. It’s a small sample size, but Driskel is averaging just 9.6 yards per completion (97) this year. Through three games and 12 completions, Harris is averaging 21.9. Again, that’s not sustainable over the course of the season, but the true freshman has more talent and already has half (3) of the touchdown passes Driskel (6) has thrown all season.
Fixing the offense would provide more protection for a defense that’s not as dominant as it was in previous years.
Florida’s defense has allowed 30.6 points per game in SEC contests. That’s a bad sign for Muschamp (a defensive coach) with a limited offense.
An area to note in the Gators’ defensive struggles has been the secondary. After allowing just eight passing touchdowns from 2012-13, Florida has allowed nine passing touchdowns in SEC play this season.
Florida’s defense also ranks 11th in the SEC in third-down defense (conference-only games).
Muschamp was squarely on the hot seat entering 2014, and he’s done little to suggest the program is headed in the right direction this year. Yes, the schedule has been difficult. But it’s also hard to ignore Florida just squeaked by Tennessee and Kentucky and could easily be 0-5 in the conference.
If Muschamp isn’t toast already in Gainesville, this is final shot. Coming off a bye and having two weeks to prepare for Georgia should bring out the best in Florida. If the Gators defeat the Bulldogs, South Carolina or Florida State and win their other two remaining games, it will be enough to go bowling.
Even if Muschamp finds a way to get Florida back in a bowl, 6-5 is not the standard in Gainesville. With the recruiting area and tradition, this program is capable of competing for national championships on a yearly basis.
With that in mind, it’s easy to see why progress over the next five games and a 6-5 final record probably won’t be enough for Muschamp to return in 2015.
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.
Listen to the Week 9 recap podcast:
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.