Articles By Steven Lassan
The SEC owns the spotlight in Week 6, but the marquee night matchup on Saturday resides in the Big Ten, as Nebraska travels to Michigan State. Considering how both teams have performed this year, this could be an early preview of the Big Ten Championship and an elimination game for playoff purposes.
Nebraska is off to a solid 5-0 start, scoring at least 40 points in four out of its five games. The Cornhuskers needed a last-minute escape to beat McNeese State, but Bo Pelini’s team defeated Miami by 10 and Illinois by 31 last Saturday.
Michigan State suffered a loss to Oregon in Week 2, but the Spartans have won by at least 38 points in their other three games. Saturday night’s game against Nebraska is the first Big Ten contest of the year for Mark Dantonio’s team.
Nebraska owns a 5-1 series edge over Michigan State, but the Cornhuskers lost last year’s meeting 41-28 in Lincoln. Nebraska won its last trip to East Lansing, a 28-24 matchup in 2012.
Nebraska at Michigan State
Kickoff: 8 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: ABC
Spread: Michigan State -6.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Michigan State’s Run Defense Against Ameer Abdullah
There are few players in the nation performing at a higher level than Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah. The senior ranks second nationally by averaging 166.6 yards per game and is tied with Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon for the Big Ten lead in rushing scores (eight). Abdullah has three 200-yard games, including 208 in last week’s 45-14 win over Illinois last Saturday. The senior also leads the nation with 29 rushes of 10 yards or more. But will Abdullah have success against Michigan State’s front seven? The Spartans rank second in the Big Ten against the run, limiting opponents to only 80.8 yards per game. Pat Narduzzi’s defense is allowing only 2.9 yards per rush, with Oregon (4.3 ypc) having the most success so far this year. Despite Michigan State’s strength in the trenches, Abdullah has posted back-to-back 100-yard games against the Spartans and averaged over five yards per carry in his two previous meetings. That’s a good sign for Abdullah on Saturday.
2. Michigan State’s Offense
After five games, Nebraska’s defense ranks seventh in the Big Ten in yards per play allowed. The Cornhuskers are giving up just 4.8 yards per play, but this unit allowed 6.7 to Miami and 5.5 to Illinois last week. Is this the week everything falls into place for Nebraska’s defense? Or will Michigan State’s offense score 40 points in a game for the third time this year? The Spartans’ offensive attack is headlined by quarterback Connor Cook (9 TDs, 2 INTs, 69.2%) and running back Jeremy Langford (340 yards). Langford gashed Nebraska for 151 yards (4.7 ypc) last season and appears to be healthy after battling an early-season ankle injury in 2014. If Langford has success on the ground, it will open up the pass for big plays from Cook and receiver Tony Lippett. How will the Cornhuskers defend the Spartans? Will Nebraska load the box to stop Langford? The Cornhuskers need to make Michigan State one-dimensional and put Cook in third-and-long situations. If Nebraska can get the Spartans off sequence, Nebraska’s pass rush (12 sacks) will have opportunities to get to Cook on passing downs.
3. The Turnover Battle
Nebraska lost five turnovers in last year’s meeting. With this season’s matchup in East Lansing, the Cornhuskers have little margin for error and a negative turnover margin would be too much to overcome. Michigan State leads the Big Ten with a +9 turnover margin and has forced 12 turnovers through four games. Nebraska is just +1 through five games and lost two turnovers in each of the last two contests. So far, quarterback Tommy Armstrong has limited his mistakes (just three interceptions on 115 attempts) for the Cornhuskers. Armstrong only completed 9 of 21 throws in last year’s matchup, and his development – and ability to limit his mistakes in the passing game – are critical for Nebraska’s hopes of winning. If the Spartans dominate the turnover department and finish with a +2 or +3 margin, Nebraska will have a hard time going into East Lansing and earning the victory.
Turnovers and the play of quarterback Tommy Armstrong are critical for Nebraska’s upset hopes. For Michigan State, it has to find a way to stop running back Ameer Abdullah. Had the Cornhuskers not recorded a negative turnover margin (-5) last year, the outcome would have been much closer (41-28). While Armstrong is better equipped to handle the challenge of playing the Spartans’ defense, and Abdullah is playing at a high level, this is a tough task for Nebraska to win in East Lansing against a top-10 team. Michigan State’s balance on offense, along with its stout defensive line, will be just enough for the Spartans to pull out the victory.
Prediction: Michigan State 30, Nebraska 20
The Week 6 slate is filled with marquee games in the SEC, and the action begins in Starkville with a matchup between Texas A&M and Mississippi State with major West Division title implications on Saturday morning. Both teams have passed their major tests so far, as Texas A&M defeated South Carolina in Columbia in its opener and rallied to beat Arkansas 35-28 in overtime last week. Mississippi State won its first three non-conference games with relative ease and won 34-29 at LSU on Sept. 20. While the final score was close, the Bulldogs dominated the Tigers and should have won by more than five points.
These two teams have played only seven times, with Texas A&M owning a 4-3 edge in the series. The Aggies have won the only two matchups with both teams as SEC members. Mississippi State’s last win over Texas A&M was in the 2000 Independence Bowl.
Texas A&M at Mississippi State
Kickoff: Noon ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Mississippi State -2.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Mississippi State’s Pass Defense
It’s tough to read too much into non-conference games as a clear indicator of what to expect in league action. But is Mississippi State susceptible to opposing teams through the air? The Bulldogs rank last in the SEC against the pass but are ninth in pass efficiency defense. Mississippi State has also allowed 10 passing plays of 30 yards or more (worst in the SEC) and seven of 40 yards or more. That’s not exactly the best news for a defense to read going into a matchup against Texas A&M. The Aggies lead the nation with 21 plays of 30 yards or more, and the big-play ability of the passing game could add to that total against Mississippi State’s pass defense. Texas A&M quarterback Kenny Hill isn’t as explosive on the ground as former signal-caller Johnny Manziel, but the sophomore leads the SEC with an average of 349 passing yards per game. Hill also has just two interceptions and is completing 65.6 percent of his passes.
2. Stopping Dak Prescott
Texas A&M’s defense has showed progress through the first five games of this season after a brutal 2013. Last year, the Aggies gave up 32.2 points a game and allowed 6.7 yards per play in SEC games. Texas A&M held South Carolina to 28 points in the opener and limited Arkansas to seven points in the second half of last week’s game. The Aggies are still allowing 6.7 yards per play, but opposing rushing attacks are managing just 3.8 yards per carry, a clear decrease from the 5.4 mark last year. The depth and overall talent is better for Kevin Sumlin’s defense, but Mississippi State is its biggest challenge so far this year. The Bulldogs feature a diverse attack, averaging 270.8 yards per game on the ground and 266.8 per contest through the air. Quarterback Dak Prescott gashed LSU for 373 yards on Sept. 20 and presents a unique challenge for Texas A&M. The Aggies showed last week they are better and have the talent necessary to compete in the trenches in the SEC. Prescott is the best quarterback this defense has played so far. With an ability to rush for 100 yards on the ground and throw for 300 through the air, Prescott won’t be easy to stop. Is the Texas A&M defense up to the challenge?
3. Offensive Standouts at RB and WR
With no shortage of points expected, keep a close watch on the playmakers outside of the two quarterbacks (Hill and Prescott). Mississippi State running back Josh Robinson is quietly averaging 7.8 yards per carry and leads the team with 485 yards on the ground. The Aggies feature three running backs with at least 158 rushing yards, with Trey Williams (234 yards) leading the way. Both teams are deep and talented at receiver, as Texas A&M has five players with at least 13 receptions, including standout freshmen Speedy Noil and Ricky Seals-Jones. On the Bulldogs’ sideline, Jameon Lewis is the clear favorite of quarterback Dak Prescott (15 receptions, 223 yards), but De’Runnya Wilson has provided big plays in 2014 (17.5 ypc) and Fred Brown (17.3 ypc) is also in the mix. A tight game is expected in Starkville. Which set of skill players will provide their quarterback with the most help?
Prepare for offensive fireworks. Vegas set the over/under at 70.5 and that total could be higher. While the offenses will have their way, it’s all about timely stops on defense. Both teams have had success getting after the quarterback (combined 30 sacks so far), while Mississippi State has been better at forcing turnovers (9 to Texas A&M’s 4). The Bulldogs won’t have center Dillon Day due to suspension, which is a significant loss for the offense. If Prescott can overcome Day’s absence, and Mississippi State’s rushing offense controls the flow of the game, the Bulldogs will score another huge SEC win this year. An up-tempo, high-scoring game would favor Texas A&M, especially if it can jump out to an early two-score lead and limit Prescott’s ability to have success on the ground. This one is tough to predict, but the home team gets a slight edge.
Prediction: Mississippi State 38, Texas A&M 34
The SEC West is home to three huge showdowns on Saturday, and after Ole Miss-Alabama and Texas A&M-Mississippi State carry the spotlight early in the day, LSU-Auburn is set to close out the SEC’s monster slate with a meeting at Jordan-Hare Stadium at night.
LSU and Auburn have experienced mixed success in SEC games in 2014. Auburn won its only conference matchup, defeating Arkansas 45-21, while LSU lost 34-29 to Mississippi State on Sept. 20. Considering the depth of the SEC West, there has to be some urgency on LSU’s part this weekend. An 0-2 deficit will not be easy to overcome in the West, and Saturday’s game against Auburn is a must-win situation for coach Les Miles.
LSU has won six out of the last seven meetings against Auburn. LSU’s defeated Auburn 35-21 last year, with Auburn’s last victory in the series coming in 2010 (24-17). LSU owns a 27-19-1 overall series lead over Auburn.
LSU at Auburn
Kickoff: 7 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Auburn -8
Three Things to Watch
1. LSU’s Rush Defense
In LSU’s loss to Mississippi State, the Tigers allowed 302 yards on 49 attempts (6.2 ypc). And LSU’s struggles on the ground aren’t a one-game fluke. The Tigers gave up 268 yards to Wisconsin and 172 to New Mexico State. Total yardage can be a misnomer, but LSU’s defensive front is a significant concern. Youth is largely to blame for the Tigers’ problems against the run, as seven freshmen are listed as contributors up front. LSU has to be tougher and more aggressive at the point of attack to stop Auburn. Gus Malzahn’s offense averages 260.5 yards per game on the ground, averaging 5.5 yards per touch. Malzahn has multiple weapons to choose from, starting with Cameron-Artis-Payne (5.4 ypc, 468 yards), Corey Grant (216 yards) and quarterback Nick Marshall (273 yards). Auburn’s offensive line isn’t as dominant as it was last year, but this unit is still one of the better groups in the SEC.
2. LSU QB Brandon Harris
Anthony Jennings started LSU’s first five games, but true freshman Brandon Harris is slated to take the first snap against Auburn. In last week’s win over New Mexico State, Harris led LSU to seven touchdowns on seven drives. The true freshman has been significantly more efficient than Jennings (smaller sample size of course), completing 73.3 percent of his passes and tossing six touchdowns on 30 attempts. Harris is the better quarterback and should spark a passing attack that was inconsistent under Jennings’ direction. Making your first start on the road in the SEC is no easy assignment, so while Harris has played well, this is by far his toughest opponent. Auburn’s secondary has limited its opponents to just three touchdowns on 138 attempts, and opposing quarterbacks are completing 58.7 percent of their throws. This is a tough spot for Harris, but the limited sample size suggests he is capable of rising to the occasion. Can Auburn’s defense give the young quarterback a few different looks to confuse him on Saturday night?
3. Auburn’s Defense
In Ellis Johnson’s second year as Auburn’s defensive play-caller, the Tigers – at least so far – are performing better on the stat sheet. Auburn is allowing just 4.6 yards per play, an improvement after giving up 6.0 last season. Johnson’s defense is also limiting opponents to 16.3 points per game. With Harris starting his first game for LSU, expect coordinator Cam Cameron to utilize the rushing attack to decrease the pressure on his freshman quarterback. So far, Auburn has been steady against the run, holding opponents to just 90.8 yards per game. Can that success continue on Saturday? LSU’s strength on offense is its rushing attack, and Auburn needs to stop the ground game and force Harris to win this one through the air. So far, the stats say Auburn’s defense is improving. Will that theme continue on Saturday night?
LSU’s backs are against the wall. An 0-2 deficit in SEC play is difficult to overcome for any team in the West, so Les Miles’ team should be motivated. LSU defensive play-caller John Chavis has coordinated successful efforts against Auburn, limiting Auburn to 24 points or less in all four meetings against Gus Malzahn’s offense. Despite Chavis’ past success, it’s tough to see LSU containing Auburn for all four quarters. Harris should provide a spark on offense, and the rushing attack will have success, but LSU’s defensive struggles against the ground show up once again in the second half. The development of Auburn’s passing attack (and quarterback Nick Marshall) only adds to the difficulty of defending Malzahn’s offense. LSU hangs around early, but Auburn pulls away in the second half.
Prediction: Auburn 34, LSU 24
For the second week in a row, the Pac-12 takes center stage on Thursday night with Oregon and Arizona set to meet in a high-scoring showdown in Eugene. The Ducks are the favorite to win the Pac-12 title and have a marquee win over Michigan State on their resume. But Oregon struggled in its last outing, only winning 38-31 at Washington State. Of course, winning on the road in the Pac-12 is never easy, and the Ducks were shorthanded on the offensive line. Arizona swept its non-conference slate with a 3-0 mark and used a last-second Hail Mary touchdown pass to beat California on Sept. 20.
There’s a revenge factor for Oregon in this game, as the Ducks were thoroughly dominated by Arizona 42-16 in late November last year. But prior to last season’s game, Oregon dominated the series over the Wildcats. The Ducks won five straight from 2008-12 and have claimed 12 victories in the last 15 games between these two programs.
Arizona at Oregon
Kickoff: 10:30 p.m. ET (Thursday)
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Oregon -24
Three Things to Watch
1. Oregon’s Offensive Line
This unit garnered the most attention in Oregon’s 38-31 win over Washington State. Injuries have taken a toll on the starting lineup, and the Ducks allowed seven sacks in the victory against the Cougars on Sept. 20. Quarterback Marcus Mariota’s mobility alleviates some of the concern on the offensive line’s protection issues, but this unit will play a large role in determining how far Oregon can go this year. The Ducks are secretive regarding their injuries, so no one has any idea if tackles Jake Fisher or Andre Yruretagoyena will return for this game – or even at all in 2014. In their place, Oregon has turned to true freshman Tyrell Crosby and walk-on Matt Pierson to start at tackle. Will the line perform better than it did against Washington State? Arizona’s defensive front has forced nine sacks in four games, with most of their pressure coming from the linebackers. This is a key opportunity for the Ducks to work on some of the offensive line concerns, especially with a matchup against UCLA next Saturday.
2. Arizona QB Anu Solomon
Winning in Eugene isn’t easy, but Arizona at least has a shot behind quarterback Anu Solomon and an offense that is averaging 42 points per game in 2014. Solomon, a redshirt freshman, ranks second in the Pac-12 by averaging 363.5 yards per game and has thrown for at least three touchdowns in every contest in 2014. Solomon isn’t just limited to the air, as he is averaging 4.3 yards per carry and has 167 rushing yards this season. The redshirt freshman has yet to play in a hostile environment like Autzen Stadium, so this game is easily the toughest of his young career. How will Solomon respond? The Ducks rank 11th in pass defense in the Pac-12, but that stat can be overrated since it factors just yards allowed. However, opposing quarterbacks are completing 61.6 percent of their passes against Oregon, and the Ducks allowed Washington State to throw for 436 yards on Sept. 20. The opportunities will be there for Solomon to make plays in the passing game.
3. Arizona’s Defense
We mentioned Oregon’s offensive line earlier, but can Arizona’s defense find a way to slow down the Ducks’ high-powered attack? Stopping Oregon starts in the trenches, and the Wildcats have to find a way to get pressure on Mariota. But the Ducks aren’t a one-man show. Three running backs have at least 175 yards, with freshman Royce Freeman (261 yards) leading the way, and the receiving corps has gamebreakers, including freshman Devon Allen (21.4 ypc). Arizona has allowed at least 5.1 yards per play in three out of its four games this season. Will the Wildcats be able to get enough pressure on Mariota to disrupt the offense? Or can Jeff Casteel’s defense force a couple of turnovers to give their offense a short field to work from? Based on the first four games, the Wildcats have some work to do on this side of the ball, and if they can’t get stops, Oregon is going to have no trouble scoring points (as usual) in Eugene.
Expect plenty of points on Thursday night. Oregon has to be careful to avoid peeking too far ahead to Arizona, but that shouldn’t be a problem for the Ducks. The Wildcats are getting better under coach Rich Rodriguez, and the offense has enough firepower to at least push Oregon into the second half. However, Arizona’s defense won’t have the answers to slow down the Ducks, as Mariota posts another huge effort to bolster his lead in the Heisman race.
Prediction: Oregon 48, Arizona 24
It’s all about conference play this week in the ACC. Six league games are scheduled for Week 6, with two intriguing matchups in the Coastal Division leading the must-watch menu.
Virginia Tech-North Carolina and Georgia Tech-Miami should provide some clarity in a tight Coastal Division, while on paper, NC State-Clemson looks like a shootout in Death Valley.
Florida State won’t have much trouble with a struggling Wake Forest offense, as the Seminoles look to avoid another close call after surviving last week’s upset bid against NC State. Louisville travels to Syracuse, and Pittsburgh visits Virginia to round out the ACC slate.
ACC Week 6 Game Power Rankings
1. Virginia Tech (-1.5) at North Carolina
12:30 p.m. ET, ACC Network
Both teams entered 2014 with high expectations, but as the calendar turns to October, the Tar Heels and Hokies are fighting to stay alive in the Coastal Division. Both teams followed a defeat against East Carolina with losses in conference play, so there’s plenty of pressure to win to avoid an 0-2 start in the ACC. Virginia Tech’s offense has showed promise at times under new quarterback Michael Brewer, but the Hokies are also tied for last in the ACC in turnover margin (-3). Brewer and freshman running back Marshawn Williams will have opportunities for big plays against a North Carolina defense that’s giving up 44 points per game and has allowed 29 plays of 20 yards or more. While the defense has struggled, the Tar Heels lead the ACC in scoring offense (40.8 ppg). Quarterback Marquise Williams has been steady (8 TDs, 4 INTs), and true freshman Elijah Hood leads the way on the ground (163 yards). Oddly enough, Virginia Tech’s defense has allowed 32 plays of 20 yards or more (124th nationally) this season, which should open the door for Williams and North Carolina’s skill players to have success. Despite the big plays allowed, the Hokies are limiting opponents to 20.4 points per game. And the Virginia Tech defensive line – even without tackle Luther Maddy – is a tough matchup for a young Tar Heel offensive line.
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2. Miami (-1.5) at Georgia Tech
7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2
It’s hard to call any conference contest an elimination game in September, but Miami had to beat Duke last Saturday in order to keep its Coastal Division hopes alive. Georgia Tech already has a win over Virginia Tech, so a win over the Hurricanes would be huge for its division title hopes. The Yellow Jackets are just 1-5 under coach Paul Johnson against Miami. For Georgia Tech to reverse that trend, it has to win the turnover battle and slow down the Hurricanes’ rushing attack. The Yellow Jackets are allowing 194.3 yards per game on the ground, while Miami running back Duke Johnson gashed Duke for 155 yards last Saturday. Expect coordinator James Coley to give Johnson plenty of carries and allow freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya to ease into the game. Georgia Tech’s option offense is tough to prepare for, and quarterback Justin Thomas has been dynamic on the ground (6.8 ypc) and through the air (19.1 yards per completion). Miami’s defensive front has improved since last season, and only one opponent so far has managed more than 3.4 yards per carry (Nebraska). Both teams want to establish the run, but there’s also pressure on Kaaya and Thomas to limit their mistakes in a game with little margin for error.
3. Pittsburgh at Virginia (-6.5)
7:30 p.m. ET, RSN
It’s tough to pinpoint or know if momentum really means anything over the course of a season, but Saturday’s Pittsburgh-Virginia matchup is critical for the outlook of both teams. The Panthers started 3-0 but have lost two consecutive games, including a surprise 21-10 defeat at the hands of Akron last week. The Cavaliers are clearly improved (3-2) after a 2-10 mark last year. Virginia’s offense is a work in progress, but the defense is allowing just 4.8 yards per play and ranks third in the ACC with 18 sacks. Points could be a premium on Saturday, as both teams are experiencing their share of growing pains on offense. Pittsburgh running back James Conner was held under 100 yards for the first time this year in last Saturday’s loss to Akron, and the sophomore could find limited running room against a Virginia defense holding opponents to just 2.6 yards per carry. With the strength of the Cavaliers in the trenches, Pittsburgh needs quarterback Chad Voytik to have success through the air to open up opportunities on the ground. Virginia also leans on its ground attack to help alleviate the pressure on quarterbacks Matt Johns and Greyson Lambert. There’s not much separating these two teams. Which team gets the most out of its quarterbacks and can win the turnover battle is likely to come out on top.
4. NC State at Clemson (-14.5)
3:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU
With an over/under of 67, Vegas clearly expects plenty of points in Death Valley. And it’s hard to dispute the good folks in Vegas with the emergence of the two quarterbacks in this game. NC State’s Jacoby Brissett nearly guided the Wolfpack to an upset win over Florida State last Saturday, while Watson threw six touchdown passes in a 50-35 win over North Carolina. Clemson’s offense has struggled to establish its ground attack (3.1 ypc), but NC State’s defense is allowing 160 yards per game on the ground and ranks 12th in the ACC in points allowed. Watson may not equal his touchdown total from last week, but all signs point to the freshman having another huge day. Brissett needs another monster performance to help the Wolfpack have a shot at the upset, and the spotlight will be on his offensive line to provide protection against an active Clemson defensive front (13 sacks, 38 TFL). Both teams will have their moments on offense, but the Tigers have an edge on defense, which is more than enough to give Clemson its 10th win over NC State in its last 11 games.
5. Louisville (-2.5) at Syracuse
(Friday) 7 p.m. ET, ESPN
In a scheduling quirk, this will be Louisville’s fourth ACC game, while Friday night’s matchup in the Carrier Dome is Syracuse’s first conference matchup of the year. While the Orange has yet to play an ACC game, Scott Shafer’s team has been tested with non-conference games against Maryland and Notre Dame. Louisville’s defense ranks among the best in the ACC, limiting opponents to just 14 points a game and 3.7 yards per play. The Cardinals also lead the conference against the run, which is the strength of Syracuse’s offense (232.5 ypg). The Orange lean heavily on quarterback Terrel Hunt (299 yards) on the ground, but the junior needs to be more consistent through the air (11.8 YPC, 2 INTs). Quarterback play is also under the microscope for Louisville, as Will Gardner is nursing a knee injury and is questionable to play on Friday night. True freshman Reggie Bonnafon started last week against Wake Forest and completed 16 of 32 passes for 206 yards. Bonnafon will have opportunities to make plays against a Syracuse pass defense that ranks 13th in the ACC and is allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete 65.1 percent of their passes.
6. Wake Forest at Florida State (-39)
3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2
The Seminoles survived another close call last Saturday, rallying from a 24-7 deficit to beat NC State 56-41. Florida State shouldn’t need a fourth-quarter rally this week against a struggling Wake Forest offense. The Seminoles are a 39-point favorite against the Demon Deacons, which is the largest point spread among Power 5 matchups in Week 6. Wake Forest’s offense is averaging just 18.2 points per game and a paltry 3.6 yards per play. The Demon Deacons also have negative rushing yardage in three out of their five games. Florida State’s young defense struggled in the first half against NC State but performed better over the final two quarters. This game is a good opportunity for the Seminoles to build confidence on defense. Wake Forest’s defense is the strength of this team but will struggle to stop Jameis Winston and a receiving corps that is starting to jell after last week’s win in Raleigh.
ACC Week 6 Predictions
|Va. Tech (-1.5) at UNC||VT 35-21||VT 26-25||VT 31-24||VT 31-13|
|Miami (-1.5) at Ga. Tech||GT 35-14||Miami, 24-21||Miami 30-27||GT 27-20|
|Pitt (+6.5) at UVa||UVa 17-14||UVa 27-14||UVa 24-20||Pitt 20-17|
|NC State (+14.5) at Clemson||CU 35-31||CU 34-20||CU 41-31||CU 37-30|
|Louisville (-2.5) at Syracuse||SU 21-20||UL 27-24||UL 27-24||UL 24-20|
|Wake Forest (+39) at FSU||FSU 52-10||FSU 45-10||FSU 52-7||FSU 41-0|
Utah State quarterback Chuckie Keeton will miss the remainder of the 2014 season due to a knee injury. Keeton suffered a torn ACL in 2013 and returned in time for the 2014 opener but injured his knee again versus Wake Forest on Sept. 13.
With Keeton sidelined, Utah State will turn to sophomore Darell Garretson under center. The sophomore started seven games in 2013 and threw for 1,436 yards and 10 scores.
Keeton’s status for 2015 is uncertain, as there’s a possibility he can get a medical redshirt and return next year. Or Keeton may choose to go to the NFL – assuming he’s 100 percent.
Keeton was one of the nation’s top quarterbacks from outside of the Power 5 conferences and is a huge loss for Utah State. Garretson has experience, but he is not as mobile as Keeton was throughout his career.
Utah State announces QB Chuckie Keeton is likely out for the season after re-injuring his surgically repaired left knee.— Ralph D. Russo (@ralphDrussoAP) October 2, 2014
College football’s 2014 season is only five weeks old, but it’s clear some teams are already showing improvement from their 2013 performance.
Arkansas, West Virginia, California and NC State highlight just a few of the teams from Power 5 conferences taking a step forward in their development after each recorded a losing record last year.
There’s a long way to go this year, and this list could look significantly different by December. Injuries, coaching changes, emergence of quarterbacks and other various elements of surprise will create more chaos across college football. It’s always tough to put too much stock in teams that have played a weak schedule in the first month of the season, but after examining each team’s record through September, here are 12 teams we think are significantly improved from 2013.
College Football's Top 12 Most-Improved Teams in 2014
Power 5 Conference Teams
It may seem odd to call Arkansas improved at just 3-2, but the Razorbacks are making significant progress in coach Bret Bielema’s second year. Arkansas held its own against Auburn in the first half and led Texas A&M 28-14 in the fourth quarter. While both were losses, it’s a clear sign Bielema has the program on the right track – he just needs more talent. The rushing attack leads the way for Arkansas on offense, averaging 316.6 yards per game, with Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams both ranking among the top five backs in yards per game in the SEC. There’s also progress on defense, where first-year coordinator Robb Smith helped Arkansas lower its points allowed per game to 25.8 after giving up 30.8 in 2013.
What’s Next: The SEC West is challenging, so Arkansas has an uphill battle to make a bowl in 2014. The defense and passing attack are Bielema’s biggest areas to improve over the next seven games, and the development of both units will decide whether or not the Razorbacks can get to six wins in a brutal SEC West.
The Golden Bears slumped to 1-11 in Sonny Dykes’ first season, but due to better luck in the injury department and improvement on both sides of the ball, California is off to a 3-1 start. And if it wasn’t for Arizona’s Hail Mary connection on Sept. 20, the Golden Bears would be 4-0. Quarterback Jared Goff is off to a fast start (17 TDs, 3 INTs), guiding the offense to an average of 7.1 yards per play. Injuries hit the defense hard last season, but new coordinator Art Kaufman was a needed addition after Andy Buh’s struggles in 2013. California is allowing only 35.8 points per game after giving up 45.9 in 2013.
What’s Next: Improving the second-half defense is a priority. 71 of the 143 points allowed by the Golden Bears occurred over the final two quarters and in overtime. Scoring points shouldn’t be a problem, but California will only go to a bowl if its defense continues to show progress over the next eight games. The Golden Bears have a shot at a bowl, especially if they can beat Washington State this Saturday and beat Washington on Oct. 11.
With a 3-1 record, Kentucky is off to its best start since 2010. The Wildcats have made considerable progress under second-year coach Mark Stoops, snapping a 16-game SEC losing streak by defeating Vanderbilt 17-7 and nearly winning at Florida (36-30 3 OT) on Sept. 13. Stoops’ recruiting efforts are paying off with an upgraded roster, and the offense features a handful of young players poised to make an impact over the next couple of years. After scoring over 20 points only three times in 2013, the Wildcats have already reached that total in two games in 2014. Kentucky’s offense is averaging 31.5 points per game – a clear improvement from last season’s 20.5 mark.
What’s Next: Kentucky was picked by most to finish last in the SEC East, but with a win over Vanderbilt, the Wildcats now have an outside shot at a bowl. The schedule doesn’t provide many favors with four consecutive games against ranked foes (LSU, Mississippi State, Missouri and Georgia) in October/early November. Even if the Wildcats fall short of postseason eligibility, the program is trending in the right direction going into 2015.
The Wolfpack nearly shocked the college football world with an upset over Florida State last Saturday. Even though NC State’s upset bid fell short, second-year coach Dave Doeren has the Wolfpack on track to make a bowl after a 3-9 record last season. The key cog in the turnaround has been the play of quarterback Jacoby Brissett. After sitting out 2013 due to transfer rules, Brissett has thrown for 13 touchdowns to just one interception and is completing 68.9 percent of his passes.
What’s Next: NC State is a young team, and most of the core from this year’s squad is set to return in 2015. Getting to a bowl game would be a huge step in the right direction for Doeren. And of course, beating North Carolina on Nov. 29 wouldn’t hurt Doeren’s rebuilding effort. Brissett should be in the mix for All-ACC honors, and the offense needs to carry this team with a defense giving up 26 points per game so far in 2014.
Considering the three opponents on TCU’s schedule (Samford, Minnesota and SMU), this team is still a mystery. However, for a team that lost six games by 10 points or less last year, there are positive signs the Horned Frogs have turned things around and can contend for eight wins in 2014. After scoring just 25.1 points per game last year, TCU is averaging 44.7 through three contests. Of course, competition is a question, but quarterbacks Trevone Boykin and Matt Joeckel have combined for 10 passing touchdowns, which nearly equals the team’s total from 2013 (14). And as usual, Gary Patterson’s defense is slated to be one of the best in the Big 12.
What’s Next: We should find out just how good TCU is over the next two weeks. The Horned Frogs host Oklahoma this Saturday and play at Baylor on Oct. 11. After losing its share of close games last year, TCU is bound to have better luck in the win column in 2014. If the offense continues to progress under new co-coordinators Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie, the Horned Frogs can finish 8-4 or even 9-3.
Mike London entered 2014 squarely on the hot seat with an 18-31 record over the last four years. So far, London is on track to save his job, as the Cavaliers are 3-2 through the first month of the season. Virginia lost to UCLA by eight in the opener and fell by eight on the road at BYU. The Cavaliers have already exceeded their win total from last year and are squarely in the mix to compete in a wide-open Coastal Division.
What’s Next: Virginia has its share of flaws, but there’s no perfect team in the Coastal Division. Quarterback play and the offensive line are two units to watch over the next few weeks if the Cavaliers are to make a serious push for the division title. London has recruited well, so talent certainly isn’t an issue in Charlottesville. Can the Cavaliers continue to progress enough for London to reach six wins and save his job for 2015?
A tough schedule and quarterback uncertainty led many to project West Virginia to finish at the bottom of the Big 12 this year. The tough schedule remains, but the Mountaineers found an answer at quarterback in senior Clint Trickett, and coach Dana Holgorsen’s high-scoring offense is back in Morgantown. Trickett has thrown for nine touchdowns and 1,600 yards through four games, while the emergence of Kevin White has provided the passing attack with a go-to target. West Virginia’s defense still needs some work, but after playing Oklahoma and Alabama tough, Holgorsen’s team has showed it is ready to easily surpass last year’s 4-8 record.
What’s Next: The next barometer test for West Virginia is an Oct. 18 date against Baylor but most of the remaining games on the schedule are winnable. Road trips to Texas and Oklahoma State, along with home dates against TCU and Kansas State certainly aren’t easy, but if the Mountaineers can hang with Oklahoma and Alabama, they certainly have a shot to win any of those contests.
Group of 5 Teams
The Zips made a four-game improvement from 2012 to 2013 and could make a similar jump in 2014. Akron is 2-2 after beating Pittsburgh and hosts preseason MAC East favorite Bowling Green on Nov. 4. Road tests at Ohio, Ball State and Buffalo are challenging, but Terry Bowden’s Zips rank No. 1 in the MAC scoring defense, and this team has improved its overall talent and depth over the last three years.
Just four games into the season and Air Force has already exceeded its win total from 2013 (2). Victories over Nicholls State and Georgia State didn’t move the needle nationally, but the Falcons knocked off Boise State 28-14 last Saturday. Troy Calhoun’s team will have a chance to take a lead for the Commander-in-Chief’s trophy with a win over Navy on Oct. 4. With games against UNLV, New Mexico and Army remaining, Air Force should have a good chance to return to the postseason.
Coming off a 4-8 season, Louisiana Tech didn’t garner much consideration to be picked near the top of Conference USA’s West Division. But five weeks into the season, the Bulldogs have to be one of the frontrunners in a wide-open division. After a rocky debut, coach Skip Holtz seems to have the program pointed in the right direction, as Louisiana Tech has scored road wins over UL Lafayette and North Texas. Challenging non-conference games against Oklahoma and Auburn has skewed the stats, but new coordinator Manny Diaz has made a difference on defense, and quarterback Cody Sokol has already matched the team’s touchdown total (10) from all of last year.
Memphis was a program in disarray after the failed two-year stint under Larry Porter, but Justin Fuente has transformed the Tigers back into a bowl team in three seasons. Memphis has won nine games over the last three years and is off to a 2-2 start in 2014. The Tigers gave UCLA all it could handle on Sept. 6 and played Ole Miss tough in a 24-3 loss. Defense is leading the way for Memphis, as the Barry Odom’s group ranks third in the American Athletic Conference by allowing just 20.8 points per game – and that’s after playing UCLA and Ole Miss. With winnable conference games against Tulane, USF, UConn, Tulsa and SMU remaining, the Tigers should go bowling for the first time since 2008.
Temple finished 2-10 last year, but a deeper look at the Owls’ schedule shows this team was more competitive over the second half of the season and was just a couple plays away from winning four games. In Matt Rhule’s debut season, Temple lost its last four games by 10 points or less. The Owls are successfully building off last year’s improvement, jumping to a 3-1 start through the first four weeks. A huge road win at Vanderbilt got the momentum rolling, while the Owls defeated Delaware State and UConn by a combined score of 95-10. Quarterback P.J. Walker ranks second in the conference with a 65.1 completion percentage, and Temple’s defense is allowing just 4.6 yards per play.
Oregon is no stranger to alternate uniforms and designs, and the Ducks have unveiled a different look for Thursday night’s game against Arizona.
The uniforms feature pink accents, which are designed to help support breast cancer awareness.
Oregon also wore a similar design last season.
The new college football playoff format has added even more intrigue to the 2014 season. Instead of figuring out the top two teams in early December, the focus has shifted to finding four teams to play in the first FBS postseason playoff format.
To help select the four playoff teams, a 13-person committee was picked, which includes names like Barry Alvarez, Oliver Luck, Pat Haden and Jeff Long, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former coach Tyrone Willingham.
Each week, Athlon Sports hopes to replicate the playoff committee’s work by asking some of college football’s top media members to vote on their top eight teams. The official playoff committee will release its rankings starting on Oct. 28, but this poll will attempt to project how the playoff picture stacks up after each week until the end of the year.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven), Athlon Sports
Bobby Bowden (@TheBobbyBowden), Legends Poll
Braden Gall (@BradenGall), Athlon Sports
Gene Stallings, (@LegendsPoll), Legends Poll
Don Nehlen (@LegendsPoll), Legends Poll
Zac Ellis (@ZacEllis), Sports Illustrated
David Fox (@DavidFox615), Athlon Sports
Mark Ennis (@MarkEnnis), CardChronicle.com
Teddy Mitrosilis (@TMitrosilis), Fox Sports
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
Kevin McGuire (@KevinonCFB), CollegeFootballTalk.com
Mark Ross (@AthlonMarkR), Athlon Sports
Post-Week 5 Playoff Projection Results
Takeaways from Expert Poll Results
* According to the voting panel, the top four teams are clear. Alabama, Oklahoma, Oregon and Florida State are a step above Auburn at No. 5. And there’s a 30-point gap from the Tigers to Texas A&M at No. 6.
* Alabama received eight of the 19 first-place votes. Oklahoma ranked second with seven first-place votes.
* Oregon has one of the best wins of the 2014 season (Michigan State) and accumulated only one first-place vote. The Ducks recorded three votes for No. 2 and nine for No. 3.
* Five of the 14 teams receiving votes are from the SEC. Three come from the Pac-12.
Related: Everything You Need to Know About the CFB Playoff
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
Key Wins: at Virginia Tech, North Carolina
Pirates are the clear frontrunner for the Group of 5 spot in one of college football’s premier bowl games. East Carolina may not be tested over the next three weeks (SMU, at USF and UConn), but October matchups against Cincinnati and Temple will be the toughest remaining games on the schedule – until the finale against UCF.
2. Cincinnati (2-1)
Key Wins: Toledo
Bearcats lost to Ohio State on Saturday and rank behind East Carolina due to its lack of wins against Power 5 teams. Has opportunity to climb with remaining games against Miami and East Carolina.
Related: Post-Week 5 Bowl Projections
3. Marshall (4-0)
Key Wins: at Akron
Thundering Herd has favorable path to 12-0 regular season mark, but weak strength of schedule will hurt this team.
Key Results from Week 5
UCLA 62, Arizona State 27 (Thursday)
Best performance of the year by the Bruins.
Northwestern 29, Penn State 6
Longshot playoff hopes by Nittany Lions ended by Wildcats.
Georgia 35, Tennessee 32
Bulldogs avoid upset. SEC East title hopes improve with South Carolina loss.
Florida State 56, NC State 41
Seminoles avoid upset in Raleigh to remain unbeaten.
Texas A&M 35, Arkansas 28 (OT)
Aggies keep pace with Alabama and Auburn in SEC West.
Stanford 20, Washington 13
Cardinal avoids second Pac-12 loss with road win in Seattle.
Missouri 21, South Carolina 20
Tigers take a step forward in SEC East title race.
Air Force 28, Boise State 14
Broncos eliminated from contention for Group of 5 bowl spot?
Notre Dame 31, Syracuse 15
Fighting Irish remain unbeaten before showdown against Stanford.
Key Games With Playoff Implications in Week 6
Arizona at Oregon (Thursday)
One more tune-up for Ducks before showdown against UCLA next Saturday.
LSU at Auburn
An 0-2 hole won’t be easy to overcome in the SEC West for LSU.
Nebraska at Michigan State
Ameer Abdullah versus Michigan State’s defense is a must-see matchup.
Alabama at Ole Miss
Can the Rebels score a breakthrough win in the SEC West?
Texas A&M at Mississippi State
Another test for Texas A&M’s defense. Can it stop Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott?
Baylor at Texas
Can the Longhorns find a way to slow down Baylor’s high-scoring offense?
Oklahoma at TCU
Horned Frogs lost by only three points to Oklahoma last season. This year’s matchup is in Fort Worth.
Stanford at Notre Dame
Last two meetings have been decided by a touchdown.
Utah at UCLA
Bruins can’t afford to look past Utes.
With five weeks in the books, college football’s bowl and national title picture is surrounded in uncertainty.
The new playoff format has added a new layer of intrigue, as four teams – instead of two – will have a shot at the national championship once the bowl pairings are announced in early December.
While only five 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 5 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 five weeks of action. Expect several changes over the next few weeks, especially as the heart of conference play arrives in October.
College Football's Post-Week 5 Bowl Projections
|New Orleans||Dec. 20||Sun Belt vs.|
| Nevada vs.|
|New Mexico||Dec. 20||C-USA vs.|
| UTSA vs.|
|Las Vegas||Dec. 20||Mountain West vs.|
|Boise State vs.|
|Famous Idaho Potato||Dec. 20||MAC vs.|
| Air Force vs.|
|Camellia||Dec. 20||MAC vs.|
| ULL vs.|
|Miami Beach||Dec. 22||American vs.|
|Boca Raton||Dec. 23||C-USA vs.|
| FAU vs.|
|Poinsettia||Dec. 23||Mountain West vs.|
|Colorado State vs.|
|Bahamas||Dec. 24||C-USA vs.|
| Marshall vs.|
|Hawaii||Dec. 24||C-USA vs.|
|Heart of Dallas||Dec. 26||Big Ten vs.|
| Rice vs.|
|Quick Lane||Dec. 26||ACC vs. |
| North Carolina vs. |
|Bitcoin St. Petersburg||Dec. 26||ACC vs.|
| UCF vs. |
|Military||Dec. 27||ACC vs. |
| Temple vs.|
|Sun||Dec. 27||ACC vs.|
| Duke vs.|
|Independence||Dec. 27||ACC vs.|
| Virginia 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.|
|West Virginia vs.|
|Texas||Dec. 29||Big 12 vs.|
| TCU 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.|
| Nebraska vs.|
|Citrus||Jan. 1||Big Ten/ACC vs.|
| Ohio State vs.|
|Armed Forces||Jan. 2||American/Army vs.|
|TaxSlayer||Jan. 2||ACC/Big Ten vs.|
| Miami vs. |
|Alamo||Jan. 2||Big 12 vs.|
|Kansas State vs.|
|Cactus||Jan. 2||Big 12 vs. |
|Texas vs. |
|Birmingham||Jan. 3||American vs.|
| Florida vs. |
|GoDaddy||Jan. 4||MAC vs.|
| Arkansas State vs.|
|New Year's Bowls|
|Peach||Dec. 31||At-large vs.|
| Auburn vs.|
|Fiesta||Dec. 31||At-large vs.|
| UCLA vs. |
|Dec. 31||At-large vs.|
|Cotton||Jan. 1||At-large vs.|
|Rose||Jan. 1||Playoff |
| Florida State vs. |
| Alabama vs. |
|National Title||Jan. 12||Semifinal Winner vs.|
| Alabama vs.|
* Indicates conference not projected to have enough bowl-eligible teams.
Numbers and statistics are a huge part of college football. Every Sunday, reading updated box scores and stats is like Christmas for fans and media members. Some stats like total offense and total defense are overrated but each help paint a picture for a team or particular game.
Whether the stats are historic, advanced or just an observation from a box score, Athlon Sports brings the most intriguing, important, historic and bizarre stats from around the weekend of college football action:
10 Amazing CFB Stats from Week 5
8.0: Michigan’s Average Points Per Game Against Power 5 Opponents
Doug Nussmeier was hired to provide a quick fix for Michigan’s offense, but the Wolverines are still stuck in neutral after five weeks. The Wolverines are averaging just eight points a game against Power 5 opponents (Minnesota, Notre Dame and Utah), and the offense recorded just 171 yards on 53 plays against the Golden Gophers. If you take into account all five games, Michigan ranks last in the Big Ten by averaging just 22 points a game. Barring a major turnaround by the offense, Nussmeier and coach Brady Hoke will both be looking for new jobs at the end of 2014.
1.9: Purdue’s Yards Per Play on Final 10 Drives
Purdue’s upset hopes against Iowa got off to a good start in Week 5, as the Boilermakers jumped out to a 10-0 lead. But it was all downhill from there. Purdue’s offense managed just 70 yards on its final 37 plays and no drive in the second half lasted more than seven plays. During the final 10 drives, the Boilermakers averaged just 1.9 yards per play.
14: Passing TDs in California-Colorado’s 59-56 Shootout
If you like offense, Saturday’s California-Colorado matchup was the game to watch. The two teams combined for 64 first downs, 1,215 yards and 115 points. The passing game for both teams thrived, as Colorado quarterback Sefo Liufau completed 46 of 67 attempts for 455 yards and seven touchdowns. California’s Jared Goff matched Liufau, completing 24 of his 42 passes for seven scores and 458 yards. How impressive are the 14 passing touchdowns in a game? Only six teams in the nation have more than 14 all season.
119: Yardage by Missouri on Final Two Drives
Let’s throw out the two-play drive Missouri used to run out the clock and focus on the Tigers’ final two possessions to score a huge win at South Carolina. Missouri’s first two possessions of the game went for 102 yards on 18 plays, but the Tigers managed just 69 yards until the last two drives of the game. Missouri went 68 yards on three plays to cut the Gamecocks’ deficit to 20-14 and went 51 yards on nine plays to take a 21-20 lead. The Tigers didn’t have a particularly prolific day on offense, but the offense delivered in the clutch with the game on the line.
7: TD Drives Led by LSU Freshman QB Brandon Harris Against NMSU
The quarterback controversy in Baton Rouge should be over. If coach Les Miles starts Anthony Jennings in Week 6, he’s making the wrong decision. Sure, New Mexico State's defense was the toughest opposition on Saturday, but the Tigers’ offense has operated better in 2014 with Harris at the controls. Against the Aggies on Saturday night, Harris guided the offense to seven touchdowns on seven drives. The true freshman completed 11 of 14 throws for 178 yards and three scores and rushed for 36 yards and two touchdowns on five attempts. In five games, Harris has completed 22 of 30 passes for 394 yards and six scores. It’s pretty clear who is the better quarterback at LSU right now.
1: Touchdown Scored by SMU Through Four Games
SMU’s offense has been dreadful in 2014. The Mustangs have scored only 12 points through four games, with the only touchdown coming on the final play against North Texas on a 33-yard Hail Mary pass. SMU’s offense has been plagued by struggling options at quarterback, a ground attack that is averaging just 1.4 yards per rush, and an offensive line that has allowed 29 sacks through four games. Coach June Jones resigned after the loss to the Mean Green, and the road for SMU isn’t going to get any easier with Cincinnati, East Carolina and Memphis up next. To put in perspective how bad SMU's offense has struggled so far, UCLA's Ishmael Adams scored more touchdowns in one game (Arizona State) than the Mustangs have all year.
42.3: OSU QB Daxx Garman’s Average Pass TD Length Against TTU
With J.W. Walsh sidelined indefinitely, it’s Daxx Garman’s show at Oklahoma State. And Garman isn’t shy about attempting deep passes. In Thursday night’s win over Texas Tech, Garman averaged 42.3 yards on his four touchdown passes. Garman connected on a 33-yard score in the first quarter, a 39-yard touchdown toss in the second quarter and scoring plays of 47 and 50 in the third quarter. Garman completed only 17 passes and averaged 21.8 yards per completion on Thursday night.
2: Touchdowns Allowed by Stanford’s Defense in Pac-12 Games
Four new starters and a coordinator haven’t slowed Stanford’s defense through its first four games of the season. The Cardinal has allowed only two touchdowns in two Pac-12 games and limited Washington to just 179 total yards in Saturday’s 20-13 win. Stanford has also pitched two shutouts (UC Davis and Army) and has recorded 11 sacks this year. So far, the 2014 version of the Cardinal defense is shaping up to be as dominant as the one that allowed just 4.8 yards per play last season.
3: 200-Yard Games by Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah in 2014
Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah continued his hot start to the season by gashing Illinois for 208 yards and three scores on 22 attempts. And if the Cornhuskers weren’t leading by a huge margin at halftime, Abdullah would have recorded a monster stat-line with a full game of opportunities. The senior has three 200-yard efforts in five games in 2014, rushing for 232 against FAU and 229 against Miami. Abdullah’s toughest test of 2014 takes place next Saturday against Michigan State.
2.7: Arkansas Yards Per Play on Final Six Drives
The Razorbacks are clearly improved in coach Bret Bielema’s second year. However, there’s no doubt Arkansas let a win slip away on Saturday against Texas A&M. But the Razorbacks had a little help, as the Aggies stepped up on defense after falling behind 28-14 in the third quarter. Over Arkansas final six drives, Texas A&M allowed just 92 yards on 34 plays (2.7 yards per play). The Aggies forced four punts over the Razorbacks final six drives, with the only other possessions resulting in a missed field goal and a turnover on downs to end the game. Texas A&M’s defense has been heavily criticized over the last two years, but the Aggies made plays at the right time on Saturday.
Other Stats to Know
* Georgia running back Todd Gurley set a career high by rushing for 208 yards in Saturday’s win over Tennessee.
* Ohio State’s pass defense continues to be a problem in 2014. The Buckeyes allowed four passing scores, averaging 60 yards per touchdown toss in the 50-28 win over the Cincinnati.
* Ole Miss has allowed just two touchdowns through four games.
* Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson completed 25 consecutive passes in Saturday night’s win over Syracuse.
* Georgia Southern running back Matt Breida ranks fourth nationally with eight rushing scores through five games. Breida has four touchdown runs of at least 56 yards and averages 33.5 yards per rushing score in 2014.
* NC State averaged 6.9 yards per play in the first half against Florida State. But the Seminoles tightened up on defense in the second half, allowing just 4.4 yards per play over the final two quarters.
* Temple has scored a defensive touchdown in all four games this year.
* UCLA averaged 10 yards per play in Thursday night’s win over Arizona State.
* Quarterback Brett Hundley recorded 427 total yards against Arizona State. The 427 total yards rank second in Hundley’s career for most total yards in a single game.
* Georgia quarterback Hutson Mason is averaging just 9.8 yards per completion in 2014.
* Wake Forest has recorded negative rushing yards in three out of its five games.
* Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson threw for six touchdowns against North Carolina on Saturday. Watson is the first quarterback in Clemson history to throw for six touchdowns in a game.
* Ohio State recorded 710 yards and 45 first downs in Saturday’s 50-28 win over Cincinnati.
* North Carolina’s defense has allowed at least 500 yards in three out of its four games in 2014.
* Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon has rushed for 434 yards over his last two games.
* Vanderbilt recorded only eight first downs and averaged just 3.0 yards per play in a 17-7 loss to Kentucky on Saturday.
* Cincinnati quarterback Gunner Kiel has tossed at least four touchdowns in each of the Bearcats’ three games this year.
* UMass recorded 638 yards in Saturday’s 47-42 loss to Bowling Green. The 638 yards are the most by the Minutemen since they moved to the FBS level.
* USC is the only team in the nation to not allow a passing touchdown through Week 5.
* TCU quarterbacks Trevone Boykin and Matt Joeckel have thrown 10 touchdown passes through three games this year. The Horned Frogs had just 14 passing scores in 2013.
* Texas Tech committed 16 penalties in Thursday night’s loss to Oklahoma State. The Red Raiders have committed at least 10 penalties in three out of their four games in 2014. Additionally, Texas Tech is one game of 10 penalties away from matching last year’s total (four) of games with double-digit penalties.
* Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova now owns the school record for most passing touchdowns in a career with 61. Nova threw four scores in Saturday’s 31-6 win over Tulane. That’s the second game for Nova with four passing touchdowns in 2014.
* The 24 points allowed by Florida State in the first quarter were the most allowed by the Seminoles in an opening quarter in school history.
* After throwing for 2,523 yards and 21 scores as Indiana’s part-time quarterback last year, Nate Sudfeld is off to a slow start in 2014. Sudfeld has two games of throwing for less than 130 yards and has just two scores through four contests.
* Boston College freshman running back Jon Hilliman has scored two rushing scores in three consecutive games.
* Virginia Tech quarterback Michael Brewer has tossed at least two picks in four consecutive contests.
* On five drives in the first quarter, Iowa ran 13 plays and registered just 10 yards.
* Louisville’s Brandon Radcliff rushed for 129 yards on 17 attempts against Wake Forest. Radcliff had just 91 yards on 17 carries last season.
* Kansas State averaged 8.1 yards per play in Saturday’s win over UTEP. That’s the highest mark for the Wildcats since a 9.3 mark on Oct. 16, 2012 against Kansas.
* Army averaged 8.1 yards per play and won the turnover battle (2 to 0) over Yale, but the Black Knights lost 49-43 in overtime.
* Kentucky defeated Vanderbilt 17-7 despite recording just 100 yards in the second half.
* Penn State freshman receiver DaeSean Hamilton has at least four receptions in every game and has three 100-yard efforts through five games.
* Bowling Green and UMass combined for 1,306 yards, 89 points and 59 first downs in Saturday’s 47-42 shootout. The Falcons also had three receivers eclipse the 100-yard mark.
* Indiana running back Tevin Coleman has scored in 13 consecutive games.
* Georgia converted only one third-down attempt in Saturday’s 35-32 win over Tennessee.
* By defeating Kent State 45-13 on Saturday, Virginia has already surpassed its win total (3) from last season (2).
* UAB committed six turnovers and gave up two defensive scores in Saturday’s loss to FIU on Saturday.
* Louisville true freshman quarterback Reggie Bonnafon completed 16 of 32 passes for 206 yards and added 46 yards in his first career start on Saturday.
* Colorado ran 110 plays in Saturday’s loss to California.
* Wyoming has played two of college football’s top 10 teams in 2014, but the Cowboys averaged 5.9 yards per play against Oregon and 5.6 against Michigan State. That’s a good sign for coach Craig Bohl’s team as it moves deep into Mountain West play.
* Boise State lost seven turnovers in Saturday’s 28-14 loss to Air Force. That’s the most turnovers the Broncos have lost in a game since 1992.
* Ohio State recorded 710 yards against Cincinnati in Saturday’s 50-28 victory. That’s the first performance for the Buckeyes over 700 yards of offense since Aug. 27, 1986.
* Seven of LSU’s nine touchdowns scored against New Mexico State were scored by true freshmen (Brandon Harris and Leonard Fournette).
* Nevada was outgained 446 to 256, lost the turnover battle (3 to 0) and went 0-9 on third-down attempts against San Jose State. However, the Wolf Pack won 21-10.
* Wake Forest defensive end Tylor Harris set a FBS record by recovering three fumbles in Saturday’s loss to Louisville.
Defense hasn’t necessarily been a strength for Miami under Al Golden, but the Hurricanes delivered with a clutch performance in Saturday night’s 22-10 win over Duke.
Miami held the Blue Devils to its lowest output of the 2014 season, allowed just 3.5 yards per play and forced three turnovers. The 3.5 mark is the fewest yards per play allowed in an ACC game by the Hurricanes since 2011 (Georgia Tech).
Improving the defense was a priority for Golden after an embarrassing effort in 2013. Miami allowed 26.8 points per game (10th in the ACC) and 5.7 yards per play (12th in ACC).
The early returns were positive, as the Hurricanes held their first three opponents to 4.7 yards or fewer per play.
However, in last week’s 41-31 loss to Nebraska, Miami was dominated at the line of scrimmage, allowing the Cornhuskers to rush for 343 yards and score 41 points.
Shades of last year’s defense against Nebraska prompted criticism once again for Miami coordinator Mark D’Onofrio, and the matchup against Duke was critical to establish the direction of this unit in the heart of ACC play.
In addition to holding the Blue Devils to just 10 points and 3.5 yards per play, Miami forced punts on seven of Duke’s first eight possessions and held David Cutcliffe’s offense to just two third-down conversions on 16 attempts. Only two drives for the Blue Devils lasted longer than 50 yards, and the rushing attack was limited to 3.4 yards per carry.
Perhaps Duke isn’t as good on offense as it showcased through the first four games, and the Hurricanes still have to play Georgia Tech, Cincinnati, North Carolina and Florida State, so the defense doesn’t have an easy path the rest of the year.
D’Onofrio entered 2014 on the hot seat, and if this coaching staff is going to succeed in Coral Gables, the defense has to take a step forward. So far, so good. But the upcoming schedule is certainly going to test the defense, especially against Florida State and Cincinnati.
Listen to the Week 5 recap podcast:
Week 5 wrapped up the first month of the college football season, but Saturday night’s
game against Duke was a critical one for Miami. The Hurricanes already lost to Louisville and an 0-2 hole in the Coastal Division is tough to rebound from.
There’s very little margin for error among the Coastal Division teams, and Miami’s improving defense is a good sign for its hopes of finally winning the division and playing for the conference title in December.
After Saturday’s win in Raleigh against NC State, it’s clear Florida State is not as dominant of a squad as coach Jimbo Fisher’s national championship winning team from 2013. However, in a season that’s lacking a clear No. 1 team, the Seminoles are still very much in the mix to factor into college football’s new four-team playoff.
And this is a team poised to improve as the season progresses, especially on defense where Florida State needed the most help on Saturday against NC State.
After a slow start against the Wolfpack, the Seminoles’ defense stepped up when it mattered.
After allowing 24 points in the first quarter, Florida State held NC State scoreless in the second quarter and limited the Wolfpack to just three points in the final period.
First-year coordinator Charles Kelly dialed up the right adjustments after the first quarter, holding the Wolfpack to three consecutive punts before the end of the first half. After NC State converted 5 of 9 third-down attempts in the first two quarters, the Wolfpack went just 2 of 7 over the final two periods.
NC State averaged 6.9 yards per play during the first half, but Florida State held Jacoby Brissett and the red-hot Wolfpack offense to just 4.4 yards per touch in the second half.
In addition to tightening the defensive scheme, the Seminoles forced three second-half turnovers, resulting in 14 points for the offense.
The defense certainly didn’t play its best game for Florida State, but in a matchup that was decided by a 15-point margin of victory, the Seminoles got two key turnovers that resulted in 14 points. Not bad.
Listen to the Week 5 recap podcast:
Some of Florida State’s defensive struggles have to be shared by the offense, as the Seminoles committed four turnovers and gave NC State a short field on drives that resulted in 13 points.
While winning a national championship has raised the expectation level for Fisher and this team in 2014, it’s important to consider this defense did not have a senior starter in Saturday’s win. And standout defensive end Mario Edwards Jr. did not play due to a concussion.
Sure, depth at defensive tackle and tackling are concerns, but Florida State picked up key performance from freshman defensive lineman Lorenzo Featherston (1.5 TFL, 1 FF), freshman linebacker Jacob Pugh (three tackles, 1 FR) and sophomore safety Jalen Ramsey (two forced fumbles).
Clearly, the youth and depth in certain positions are two issues to watch as the season progresses, but the talent is there to improve over the course of 2014. And with an explosive offense, Florida State’s defense doesn’t necessarily have to be a shutdown unit – at least right now.
Fisher’s team has delivered in the clutch in its three games against Power 5 opponents, starting with a defensive stand against Oklahoma State, a win without Jameis Winston versus Clemson and rallying from a 24-7 deficit against NC State.
The final numbers on defense won’t be pretty, but the second half performance against the Wolfpack is something Fisher and Kelly can build on over the next few weeks.
After a disastrous 6-22 record in three seasons, Charlie Weis was fired as Kansas’ head coach on Sunday. Weis went 1-18 in three years during Big 12 play in Lawrence, and the Jayhawks finished last in the conference in back-to-back years. Defensive coordinator Clint Bowen will serve as the interim coach for the final eight games of the year.
Kansas is not an easy job, and the last two coaches only got less than three years to show on-field progress.
And looking at the candidates, there’s not a natural fit for arguably the No. 10 job in the Big 12.
12 Coaching Candidates to Replace Fired Charlie Weis at Kansas
David Beaty, wide receivers coach, Texas A&M
Beaty has never worked as a head coach on the collegiate level, but he’s regarded as an excellent recruiter and worked as an assistant at Kansas from 2008-09 and in the 2011 season. Beaty’s ties to the Texas area would be huge for recruiting purposes, but he would need a strong staff to offset his lack of head coaching experience.
Willie Fritz, head coach, Georgia Southern
Fritz was a home-run hire by Georgia Southern. The Eagles are just 3-2 in 2014, but both losses came at the hands of ACC opponents (NC State and Georgia Tech), and Fritz’s team lost by a combined five points. Prior to taking over at Georgia Southern, Fritz went 40-14 at Sam Houston State and 97-47 at Central Missouri. Fritz was born in Kansas and has experience in the area from his time at Coffeyville College. Is Fritz willing to jump after one year at Georgia Southern? With his ties to the area and being a proven winner at different levels, Fritz would be an excellent fit in Lawrence.
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Scott Frost, offensive coordinator, Oregon
Kansas fans are certainly familiar with Frost from his days as a Nebraska quarterback, but the Nebraska native is a rising star in the coaching ranks. After working as a graduate assistant at Nebraska and Kansas State, Frost landed a job at Northern Iowa for two years (2007-08) and left for Oregon in 2009 to coach receivers. After Chip Kelly left for the NFL, Frost was promoted to offensive coordinator. The Ducks averaged 45.5 points per game last year and lead the Pac-12 with a 48.5 average in 2014. Frost does not have any prior head coaching experience.
Justin Fuente, head coach, Memphis
Don’t be fooled by Fuente’s 9-19 overall record at Memphis. The third-year coach clearly has the Tigers moving in the right direction and would be an excellent fit in Lawrence. The Oklahoma native spent five years in the Big 12 as an assistant at TCU and landed at Memphis to clean up a disaster left by previous coach Larry Porter. In three years, the Tigers have made significant progress. Memphis went 4-8 in 2012 and finished 3-9 in a tougher conference in 2013 (American Athletic Conference). And the Tigers are off to a 2-2 start with losses over Ole Miss and UCLA. Fuente’s experience in rebuilding a program at Memphis could be valuable in Lawrence. Does he want to aim higher than Kansas?
Tom Herman, offensive coordinator, Ohio State
Herman has worked as a play-caller on the collegiate level for 10 years and is a member of Mensa. The Ohio native is a young coach (39) with a lot of energy and is ready to take on the challenge of being a head coach at a Power 5 program. Herman does not have any experience as a head coach, but he’s worked under good coaches in Paul Rhoads and Urban Meyer.
Mark Hudspeth, head coach, ULL
Hudspeth is off to a slow start in his fourth season at ULL, as the Ragin’ Cajuns record stands at 1-3 after four games. But from 2011-13, Hudspeth went 28-15 and and guided ULL to three consecutive bowl games. Hudspeth’s success isn’t just limited to the Ragin’ Cajuns, as he recorded a 66-21 mark at North Alabama from 2002-08. The Mississippi native also has experience as an assistant at Mississippi State and Navy. Kansas seems like an odd fit for Hudspeth, but he’s ready for the opportunity to lead a bigger program.
Pete Lembo, head coach, Ball State
Lembo deserves a mention in this space, but he seems more apt to take a job in the Big Ten or in the ACC. In four years at Ball State, Lembo has guided the Cardinals to a 26-16 record. And prior to taking over in Muncie, Lembo went 35-22 with a playoff appearance at Elon. Lembo also went 44-14 from 2001-05 at Lehigh with two playoff trips. It’s only a matter of time before Lembo jumps at an opportunity to coach at a Power 5 conference. Is it Kansas? Or will a five-year contract extension signed in the spring keep him in Muncie another season?
Jim McElwain, head coach, Colorado State
McElwain’s stock continues to rise after Colorado State’s upset win at Boston College in Week 5. The Rams are 15-15 under his watch, with an 11-7 mark after the 2012 season. Prior to taking over in Fort Collins, McElwain worked as the offensive coordinator at Alabama and Fresno State and served as a quarterbacks’ coach with the Raiders in 2006. Whether it means anything or not, McElwain inked a contract extension (with a hefty buyout) with Colorado State prior to the season.
Ruffin McNeill, head coach, East Carolina
McNeill is a graduate of East Carolina, so leaving his alma mater won’t be easy. McNeill paid his dues for over 20 years as an assistant before landing the head coach job at East Carolina. During his time as an assistant, McNeill worked at Clemson, North Alabama, Appalachian State, UNLV, Fresno State and Texas Tech. In five years at East Carolina, McNeill is 32-23 and guided the Pirates to a 10-3 mark in 2013. Could McNeill and offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley be a package deal for Kansas? Unlikely, but worth a shot for the Jayhawks.
Chad Morris, offensive coordinator, Clemson
It’s only a matter of time before Morris takes a job as a head coach. However, Morris can be patient and choose the right opening, as he’s one of the highest paid assistants in college football. Morris would seem to be the perfect fit for a program like Kansas, as he would provide a much-needed spark on the offensive side and knows how to recruit the Texas area. Morris is a Texas native and worked as a head coach on the high school level from 1994-2009. Under Morris’ direction, Clemson has averaged (including 2014) at least 40 points per game in each of the last three years.
Mike Norvell, offensive coordinator, Arizona State
Norvell is another young assistant primed to take a head-coaching job in the near future. But Norvell isn’t in any hurry to jump from his current position at Arizona State, as he’s compensated well and can have his pick of jobs in the future. Under Novell’s watch, the Sun Devils ranked in the top three of scoring in the Pac-12 in each of the last three years. Norvell has worked for Arizona State coach Todd Graham at three consecutive jobs (Tulsa, Pittsburgh and Arizona State) and spent one year as a graduate assistant at Central Arkansas.
Brent Venables, defensive coordinator, Clemson
Venables has ties to the Kansas area and is one of the highest-paid coordinators in the nation. The Kansas native played at Kansas State for two seasons (1991-92) and worked in Manhattan from 1993-98. Venables also has prior Big 12 experience from a stop at Oklahoma (1993-2011) before landing the defensive coordinator job at Clemson. Under Venables’ direction, the Tigers have finished No. 3 in the ACC in scoring defense in back-to-back years.
Tim Beck, offensive coordinator, Nebraska
Beck is a former Kansas assistant and has served under Bo Pelini as Nebraska’s offensive coordinator since 2011. The Ohio native has the Cornhuskers averaging 45.4 points per game through the first five games of 2014. Beck does not have any head coach experience on the collegiate level.
Craig Bohl, head coach, Wyoming
Bohl is the best head coach in the Mountain West, but he’s in Year One at Wyoming. Don’t expect Bohl to leave after 2014, but he’s a name to watch for BCS jobs in the future.
Matt Campbell, head coach, Toledo
Rising star in the coaching ranks is 20-11 entering his third full season with the Rockets. Campbell is one of the youngest head coaches in the nation (34) and is a name to file away for BCS jobs 2015 or 2016.
Lane Kiffin, offensive coordinator, Alabama
You never know…
Jim Leavitt, 49ers assistant
Leavitt’s tenure at USF’s head coach did not end on a good note, as there were allegations of player abuse that resulted in his termination at the end of the 2009 season. From 1997-2009, Leavitt recorded a 95-57 mark as the Bulls’ head coach, including five consecutive bowl appearances once the program joined the Big East. Leavitt has ties to the Texas and Kansas areas.
Pat Narduzzi, defensive coordinator, Michigan State
Narduzzi passed on the opportunity to be UConn’s head coach last year. It’s likely he will do the same to Kansas, as he can land a higher-profile job in the future.
Ed Orgeron, former USC interim coach
Orgeron’s name popped up on Sunday in the early rumor mill for the vacancy. Orgeron struggled in his previous stint as a head coach at Ole Miss but rebounded in an interim role at USC last year. Unlikely fit.
Lincoln Riley, offensive coordinator, East Carolina
Riley is young (31) and one of the bright offensive minds in the nation. Is it too soon to make a jump to a Power 5 program?
Ed Warinner, Co-OC/OL coach, Ohio State
Warinner is a former Kansas assistant, working from 2003-04 and 2007-09 under Mark Mangino’s staff in Lawrence. The Ohio native has never been a head coach but has 20 years of experience as an assistant. Warinner is regarded as an outstanding recruiter.
Kansas fired coach Charlie Weis after Saturday’s 23-0 loss to Texas. Weis was just 6-22 in three seasons as the Jayhawks’ head coach and had only one win in Big 12 play.
Defensive coordinator Clint Bowen will serve as the interim head coach. Through four games, Kansas is 2-2 with wins over Central Michigan and SEMO.
Weis was an odd hire for athletic director Sheahon Zenger and was a questionable move for a program that has struggled to show consistent on-field progress in the Big 12.
And in Weis’ three seasons, it was hard to find progress, as Kansas continued to rank as the worst team in the Big 12.
Weis took over at Kansas after serving as Florida’s offensive coordinator for one season (2011), which came on the heels of a one-year stop with the Chiefs.
Prior to the 2011 season in the NFL, Weis went 35-27 as Notre Dame’s head coach, which included two losing seasons over his final three years.
Week 5 of college football’s 2014 season is officially in the books. And as expected with every Saturday, there was plenty of excitement, big plays and last-minute wins among the FBS action.
In case you missed any action, we tried to capture the big moments of Saturday in one article. The viral wrap-up features key plays, interesting quotes/comments in tweets, uniform unveilings and any major injuries.
College Football's Most Viral Moments from Week 5
The Sheriff and the Brick Mason. pic.twitter.com/mk7F4Vscic— Football Time in TN (@FootballTimeMag) September 27, 2014
That's a fox running through the stands of Ford Stadium at SMU. pic.twitter.com/xSeqYj4BuE— Greg Tepper (@Tepper) September 27, 2014
Sparse really doesn't capture the, uh, crowd for TCU at SMU this morning. pic.twitter.com/Wdi6fxjJHS— Chuck Carlton (@ChuckCarltonDMN) September 27, 2014
Florida fans! You are no longer alone! pic.twitter.com/3QL80nCcSK— Tom Fornelli (@TomFornelli) September 27, 2014
Todd Gurley hurdle. https://t.co/2B129Ht12u— Barrett Sallee (@BarrettSallee) September 27, 2014
Jacoby Brissett's wild TD vs. Florida State if you missed it. That's a strong dude. VIDEO: https://t.co/QFLiy3ui4P— Teddy Mitrosilis (@TMitrosilis) September 27, 2014
Bill Snyder says he switched wind-breakers today because the Big 12 asked him to stop advertising the now defunct BWW Bowl. Not kidding.— Kellis Robinett (@KellisRobinett) September 27, 2014
Another Orange-out in Miami pic.twitter.com/eBjHbUX54m— Danny Kanell (@dannykanell) September 27, 2014
… Meanwhile at FAU, Jeff Driskel is tailgating. pic.twitter.com/7cETwCEccO— Andrew Ivins (@andrewrivins) September 27, 2014
Announcer during UMASS game: "The video board just fell." pic.twitter.com/OA0LSc2lnM— Chris Hassel (@hasselESPN) September 27, 2014
The look Steve Spurrier gives Maty Mauk after this: "Son, I'll whoop your ass." https://t.co/0z4rQM57Wf— Teddy Mitrosilis (@TMitrosilis) September 28, 2014
Bryce Petty wow https://t.co/LFPXfx1Z8p— PlannedSickDays (@PlannedSickDays) September 28, 2014
Look at this photo and tell me he is not concussed, TELL ME. (Photo Credit: Leon Halip, USA TODAY) pic.twitter.com/FNR75YG2Sv— Joshua Henschke (@JoshuaHenschke) September 28, 2014
Missouri’s offense was stuck in neutral for most of the game, but the Tigers eventually got on track and upset South Carolina 21-20.
The top play of the game had to be Missouri’s late touchdown to go ahead 21-20 on the scoreboard.
However, a close second has to be quarterback Maty Mauk running into South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier in the second half.
Needless to say, Spurrier didn’t look very happy after this one:
The look Steve Spurrier gives Maty Mauk after this: "Son, I'll whoop your ass." https://t.co/0z4rQM57Wf— Teddy Mitrosilis (@TMitrosilis) September 28, 2014
Ohio State assistant strength and conditioning coach Anthony Schlegel recorded one of the top plays (and hits) of Week 5 by leveling a fan that ran onto the field during Saturday night’s win over Cincinnati.
Schlegel – a former linebacker at Ohio State – bodyslammed the fan that ran onto the field and promptly escorted him off after the hit.
Best tackle of the weekend?
Washington and Stanford need to keep pace with Oregon in the Pac-12 North Division, and Saturday’s showdown in Seattle should provide an early glimpse into which team could challenge the Ducks for the top spot in the North.
Despite a 4-0 start, Washington might be the biggest mystery in the Pac-12. The Huskies struggled to beat Hawaii and trailed at halftime against Georgia State but also hammered Illinois 44-19. Chris Petersen was one of the top hires of the offseason coach carousel, and it’s possible Petersen and his staff have been holding back a few tricks until Pac-12 play starts. Can Petersen deliver the big results at Washington like he did at Boise State? Saturday’s game against Stanford is a huge opportunity for Petersen in his first season.
Stanford lost its only Pac-12 matchup of the year – 13-10 against USC – but defeated UC Davis and Army by a combined score of 80-0. Saturday’s game against Washington headlines a tough upcoming road schedule for coach David Shaw’s team, as a trip to Notre Dame awaits next week, followed by games at Arizona State, Oregon and UCLA later this year.
Washington owns a 41-38-4 series edge over Stanford. The Huskies have won only one of the last six meetings in this series. Washington claimed a 17-13 victory over Stanford in 2012.
Stanford at Washington
Kickoff: 4:15 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: Stanford -7.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Stanford OL vs. Washington DL
The strength of Stanford’s offense in recent years has been its offensive line. But coach David Shaw is dealing with transition up front, as four new starters are in place for 2014. This unit has a ton of potential and is headlined by future stars in left tackle Andrus Peat, guard Joshua Garnett and tackle Kyle Murphy. So far, it hasn’t been an easy transition for Stanford. The Cardinal averaged only 3.4 yards per carry against USC and has allowed six sacks in three games. In time, this unit will be a strength. But entering Saturday’s game against Washington, the Cardinal could have their hands full. The Huskies have a veteran front, featuring four senior starters and two potential All-America candidates in tackle Danny Shelton and end Hau’oli Kikaha. Shelton – almost unheard of from a defensive tackle – leads the team with 40 stops and has registered seven sacks. Washington leads the Pac-12 with 19 total sacks and ranks third in its conference against the run.
2. Stanford’s Passing Game
With the turnover in the trenches and at running back, Stanford needed to lean more on quarterback Kevin Hogan in 2014. The junior has been steady in his career, but his completion percentage dipped by 10 points from 2012 to 2013. Hogan has one of the Pac-12’s top receiving corps at his disposal, which should create a favorable matchup for the Cardinal with an inexperienced Washington defensive backfield. The Huskies have allowed 11 passing scores so far and two true freshmen – Sidney Jones and Budda Baker – will start on Saturday. Can Hogan take advantage of a struggling Washington secondary? Or will the Huskies’ pass rush neutralize some of the concerns on the back end?
3. Washington QB Cyler Miles
Miles was suspended for the opener due to an off-the-field incident in February, and the sophomore is just starting to get comfortable in the new offense. Through three games, Miles has passed for 525 yards and five scores and has added 114 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. While Miles still needs more snaps to get acclimated to coordinator Jonathan Smith’s offense, this is his biggest test of the season. Stanford’s defense returned seven starters from last year’s unit that limited opponents to just 19 points a game. Each level of the Cardinal defense can present problems for Washington’s offense, and Miles needs to have his best game of the season to lead the Huskies to a win. Stanford's rush defense has been vulnerable through the first three games, so Miles needs help from his ground attack to prevent a heavy pass approach against the Cardinal pass rush.
This game is full of mysteries and question marks. How far has Washington progressed under first-year coach Chris Petersen? Can the Cardinal bounce back after outplaying – but losing – to USC earlier this year? Winning on the road in the Pac-12 is never easy, and the Huskies should rise to the challenge and play their best game of 2014. Stanford’s offense does just enough, with receiver Ty Montgomery and running back Barry Sanders making a few plays in the fourth quarter to give the Cardinal a slight win over Washington.
Prediction: Stanford 27, Washington 24
With the East Division lacking a clear frontrunner, Saturday night’s matchup between South Carolina and Missouri should provide some early clarity into the pecking order at the top. The Gamecocks have played more SEC games than any other team (three) and already defeated Georgia. The Tigers have yet to play a conference game and finished their non-conference play with a 3-1 mark.
Prior to last Saturday’s game, this matchup was on track to be one of the top games in Week 5. Considering how light of a slate this week is, this matchup is still one of the better games on Saturday. However, Missouri’s surprising loss to Indiana dissipated some of the intrigue.
South Carolina and Missouri have met four times. The series is tied at two wins apiece, but the Gamecocks have won the only two meetings as SEC members.
Missouri vs. South Carolina
Kickoff: 7 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: South Carolina –5
Three Things to Watch
1. Missouri’s Offensive Line
If you want to figure out why Missouri lost to Indiana last Saturday, the Hoosiers’ defensive stats paint an interesting picture. Indiana’s struggling defense recorded two sacks and 11 tackles for a loss. The 11 tackles for a loss are the highest for the Hoosiers since recording 12 on Oct. 27, 2012. And in addition to the tackles for loss and sacks, Indiana was able to generate consistent pressure on Missouri quarterback Maty Mauk. Can South Carolina follow a similar gameplan on Thursday? The Gamecocks have registered just four sacks in four games, and the defense is in transition with the departures of end Jadeveon Clowney and tackle Kelcy Quarles. The Tigers will have a new look on the offensive line, as guard Anthony Gatti was lost for the season due to a knee injury last Saturday. Conner McGovern will slide from right tackle to right guard, Taylor Chappell steps into the lineup at right tackle, while Brad McNulty is slated to start at left guard. Will this group give Mauk time to throw? Or will a struggling South Carolina pass rush get on track?
2. South Carolina’s Ground Attack
Missouri’s rush defense is off to a slow start, ranking No. 10 in the SEC against opposing ground attacks. The Tigers are giving up only 3.9 yards per carry this year. However, Indiana and Toledo both averaged 4.8 yards per rush. Defensive end Markus Golden is one of the SEC’s top defenders, but he was sidelined against Indiana due to injury. Having Golden back in the lineup is critical for Missouri’s ability to rush the passer and should help with the Tigers’ ability to disrupt South Carolina’s rushing game at the point of attack. The Gamecocks average 4.6 yards per rush and have two backs – Mike Davis and Brandon Wilds – over the 200-yard mark. Davis is the team’s leader on the ground (264 yards) and will test a Missouri defense that was torched by Indiana’s rushing attack (241 yards) last week. Can the Tigers handle the run better this week? If they can’t, Davis will have a huge game on the ground, opening some easy shots for quarterback Dylan Thompson and the receiving corps.
3. Maty Mauk vs. South Carolina’s Secondary
Total yardage allowed on pass defense is often misleading, but it’s noteworthy South Carolina ranks No. 13 in the SEC in most passing yards allowed in the SEC. Opposing quarterbacks are completing 69.9 percent of their throws on this defense, and the Gamecocks have allowed 17 passing plays of 20 yards or more in 2014. Missouri quarterback Maty Mauk spent most of last Saturday running to escape Indiana’s defensive front. But when Mauk is able to stand in the pocket and deliver, the sophomore has quickly emerged as one of the SEC’s top quarterbacks. Mauk is completing 61.6 percent of his throws and has tossed 14 scores to just four interceptions. The Gamecocks’ secondary has struggled mightily through four games, so opportunities will be there for Mauk and the Tigers’ receiving corps.
Despite Missouri’s surprising loss to Indiana last week, the Tigers are only a five-point underdog on the road against South Carolina. Interesting, isn’t it? With both teams dealing with flaws on defense, this one could be a shootout. Missouri needs to protect Mauk and allow its receivers to make plays downfield. Expect South Carolina to use its rushing attack to protect its defense, but coach Steve Spurrier will take a few shots downfield too. Both teams land a few big plays. However, the Gamecocks are tough to beat at home.
Prediction: South Carolina 34, Missouri 27
The Week 5 slate is light on top 25 must-see matchups, but Texas A&M-Arkansas is perhaps the most intriguing game on Saturday. The SEC West is college football’s toughest division, and the strength of the West is underscored by the emergence of the Aggies as a top 10 team, while the Razorbacks are clearly headed in the right direction in coach Bret Bielema’s second year.
Arkansas lost its SEC opener to Auburn but has rallied with three consecutive victories. Bielema’s ground-and-pound offense is taking shape, as evidenced by the Razorbacks 49-28 win at Texas Tech. With a victory over Texas A&M, Arkansas will surpass its win total from last year.
For Texas A&M, this matchup is an opportunity to build on its early momentum and start the SEC play with a 2-0 mark for the first time in school history. The Aggies won a 52-28 showdown at South Carolina in the opener and have cruised to easy wins over Lamar, Rice and SMU over the last three weeks.
Arkansas owns a 41-25-3 series edge over Texas A&M. The Aggies have won the only two matchups between these programs as SEC members. However, the Razorbacks have won three out of the last five meetings in this series.
Arkansas vs. Texas A&M (Arlington, Texas)
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Texas A&M -9.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Texas A&M’s Rush Defense
So far, so good for Texas A&M’s rush defense. The Aggies have yet to allow a rushing touchdown and rank fifth in the SEC in rush yards allowed through four games. Texas A&M is also limiting opponents to just 3.2 yards per carry, a clear improvement off last season’s 5.4 mark. But here’s the bad news for coordinator Mark Snyder: The competition has been iffy. Lamar, Rice and SMU aren’t going to tell much about how far this defense has improved since last year, although it has to be encouraging for Snyder that the Aggies held South Carolina to just 67 yards in the opener. Of course, the Gamecocks had only 22 attempts and abandoned the run after an early lead. With the addition freshmen Myles Garrett, Qualen Cunningham, Zaycoven Henderson and Jarrett Johnson, Texas A&M’s defensive line has more depth than it has in the last few years. Is this unit up to the challenge? Because…
2. Arkansas’ Rushing Attack and QB Brandon Allen
Bret Bielema had to deal with plenty of growing pains in his first season at Fayetteville, but his vision of Razorbacks’ identity to be is starting to take shape. Arkansas has developed a punishing ground attack, averaging 7.1 yards per carry and 324.5 yards per game. Alex Collins – 7.5 yards per carry and 490 yards – headlines the backfield, but Jonathan Williams (391 yards) and Korliss Marshall (5.2 ypc) also factor into the gameplan. Even though Collins is the backfield’s most-talented player, there’s little drop in production with Williams or Marshall in his place. In addition to the talent at running back, Arkansas’ offensive line has emerged as one of the best in the SEC. Left tackle Dan Skipper and guard Denver Kirkland are two rising stars on the line, and the front five has allowed just one sack through four games. Bielema has built the offense from the inside, adding mauling linemen to companion with a power rushing attack. But a key question still remains for the Razorbacks: Can they throw it if needed? Quarterback Brandon Allen has been efficient (8 TDs, 61.4%), but this offense does not want to get behind and eliminate the threat of the run from the gameplan.
3. Texas A&M’s Explosive Offense
Even without quarterback Johnny Manziel, receiver Mike Evans and tackle Jake Matthews, the Aggies haven’t missed a beat on offense. Texas A&M is averaging 55.3 points per game and 8.1 yards per play. Quarterback Kenny Hill has been nearly perfect in replacing Manziel (13 TDs, 1 INT) and has already proved himself in a hostile environment in the opener (South Carolina). Hill is the triggerman for the high-powered offense, but Texas A&M is loaded with talent at the skill positions and has one of the top offensive lines in the nation. Make no mistake: The Aggies are going to score. But can Arkansas limit their big-play opportunities? Texas A&M has 18 plays of 30 yards or more in 2014 and will test a Razorbacks’ defense that held their last three opponents to at least 353 yards. Arkansas limited Texas Tech’s high-powered offense to just 252 yards through the air, largely due to the strength of the rushing attack and limiting the Red Raiders to just three second-half possessions. As strange as it may sound, stopping Texas A&M’s offense isn’t just a problem for the Razorbacks’ defense. Instead, it also requires a huge day by the offense, limiting the Aggies’ possessions and opportunities to make plays on offense.
This matchup is similar to Arkansas’ victory over Texas Tech. The Razorbacks need to control the pace and flow of the game to prevent the Aggies from jumping out to a big lead. Arkansas needs to have success on early downs with its rushing attack, then allow Allen and his receivers to hit on plays via play-action passes. Texas A&M’s defense has improved since last year, but expect the Razorbacks to still have success on the ground. If the Aggies score and jump out to a big lead, Arkansas is in trouble. If the Razorbacks limit Texas A&M’s possessions, and Collins, Williams and a talented offensive line control the tempo, the Aggies would be fighting an uphill battle in the second half. Expect Arkansas and Texas A&M to trade punches for four quarters, but the Aggies have too much firepower in the passing attack to keep the Razorbacks from pulling off the upset.
Prediction: Texas A&M 38, Arkansas 34
Clemson and North Carolina head into Week 5 with two totally different vibes surrounding both programs. Sure, the Tigers lost at Florida State, but there’s plenty of excitement with freshman Deshaun Watson ready to takeover as the starting quarterback. On the North Carolina sideline, question marks and uncertainty are hanging over the program after last week’s 70-41 loss to East Carolina. The Tar Heels have plenty of young talent and promise for the future, but coach Larry Fedora has to find answers now to avoid a repeat of last year’s 6-6 regular season record.
Clemson owns a 34-18-1 edge in the series against North Carolina. The Tigers won the last meeting 59-38 in 2011. The Tar Heels won 21-16 in Chapel Hill in 2010.
North Carolina at Clemson
Kickoff: 7 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: ESPNU
Spread: Clemson -14.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Deshaun Watson
Watson’s career is only three games old, but it’s hard to ignore how impressive he has been in that stretch. The true freshman is averaging 16.5 yards per completion, 11.7 yards per attempt and passed for 479 yards and four scores on just 29 completions. Barring a huge regression in talent or a departure by coordinator Chad Morris, Watson is going to thrive at Clemson over the next three seasons. And the freshman has a good opportunity to post huge numbers in his debut, as North Carolina’s secondary has allowed the most passing yards per game in the ACC (325.3) and opposing quarterbacks are completed 57.7 percent of their throws. With the Tar Heels struggling to stop the pass, Watson could have a monster debut in his first start with the Tigers.
Related: Week 5 ACC Previews and Predictions
2. North Carolina’s Offense
Scoring points certainly hasn’t been a problem for North Carolina in 2014. The Tar Heels rank No. 2 in the ACC by averaging 42.7 points per game and rank fifth in the conference in passing yards per game (264). With the troubles on defense, the Tar Heels have to score at least 30 points to win on Saturday night. Quarterback Marquise Williams has been sharing some snaps with Mitch Trubisky, and the two passers have combined for eight touchdowns and a completion percentage of 62 percent. In addition to Williams, North Carolina has talent at the skill positions, headlined by Ryan Switzer and Quinshad Davis at receiver, along with T.J. Logan and Elijah Hood at running back. The pieces are in place to match Clemson score-for-score. But there’s just one problem…
3. Clemson’s Defensive Line
In addition to the play of Deshaun Watson, the other bright spot for Clemson in last week’s loss to Florida State was the defensive line. The Tigers’ defensive front dominated the Seminoles’ offensive line, recording five sacks and 10 tackles for a loss. North Carolina’s offensive line returned three starters from 2013, but this unit is young and could be without standout guard Landon Turner and tackle Jon Heck this Saturday. Considering Clemson’s strength in the trenches - headlined by standout end Vic Beasley and tackle Grady Jarrett – can the Tar Heels’ front five provide enough protection for quarterback Marquise Williams?
Both teams should have plenty to prove after last week’s losses, but unless North Carolina can solve its defensive concerns, this game is shaping up to be a Clemson blowout. The Tigers should have no trouble moving the ball on the Tar Heels’ defense, and quarterback Deshaun Watson delivers a huge performance in his debut. If North Carolina’s offensive line provides ample protection for quarterback Marquise Williams, the Tar Heels can have success moving the ball. Expect plenty of points, but Clemson’s defense gets enough stops for a runaway win by the Tigers in the fourth quarter.
Prediction: Clemson 45, North Carolina 20
Texas Tech quarterback Davis Webb suffered a shoulder injury in Thursday night’s loss to Oklahoma State and did not return to game action. Webb was injured at the beginning of the fourth quarter and was taken to the locker room for examination. The injury affected Webb's non-throwing shoulder.
Coach Kliff Kingsbury did not have an update on Webb’s status following the game, and the sophomore’s status for Texas Tech’s Oct. 4 matchup against Kansas State is uncertain.
Prior to leaving the game, Webb threw for 371 yards and four touchdowns.
If Webb is out for next week’s game, true freshman Patrick Mahomes will get the start. Mahomes was a three-star recruit in the 2014 signing class, and Thursday night’s snaps against Oklahoma State was the first extended action of his career.
Mahomes finished with 20 passing yards, one interception and one touchdown and completed just two of five passes. He also rushed for 16 yards on seven attempts.
Texas Tech has two games in a row after a 2-0 start. Losing Webb for a period of time would be a huge loss for the Red Raiders, as a road trip to Kansas State is up next week, followed by a home game against West Virginia on Oct. 11.
Webb’s potential absence isn’t the only problem for Texas Tech to worry about over the next week, as the defense remains a major concern after allowing at least 26 points in every game this year.
More about Webb’s status for next week should be known early next week.
No immediate word on extent of Davis Webb's injury, but Kliff Kingsbury was open to talking about how he'd prepare Mahomes if Webb's out.— Don Williams (@AJ_DonWilliams) September 26, 2014
Kingsbury on QB Davis Webb's status: "I just know they didn't feel like he could come back in tonight, but I'm not sure of his status."— Don Williams (@AJ_DonWilliams) September 26, 2014
Oklahoma State and Texas Tech’s Thursday night showdown had plenty of offense, but much of the pregame focus was on the attire for the both teams.
The Cowboys and Red Raiders unveiled alternate uniforms for the Thursday night conference game, and both teams hit a home run with the different uniforms and helmets.
Two Pac-12 South heavyweights square off on Thursday night, as Arizona State hosts UCLA in a battle of two teams surrounded in mystery. The Bruins and Sun Devils are both dealing with injuries at quarterback, but the situation differs for each team. Arizona State starter Taylor Kelly is not expected to play due to a foot injury, while UCLA starter Brett Hundley is a gametime decision due to an elbow ailment suffered against Texas. With both teams dealing with injuries at quarterback, it’s hard to know what to expect from either offense or how the overall aspect of the game has changed.
The last four meetings in this series have been split evenly at two victories apiece for both teams. Arizona State won 38-33 in Pasadena last year, while UCLA won in Tempe 45-43 in 2012. The Bruins lead the overall series 18-11-1 over the Sun Devils.
UCLA at Arizona State
Kickoff: 10 p.m. ET (Thursday)
TV Channel: Fox Sports 1
Spread: UCLA -4
Three Things to Watch
1. Unsolved Mysteries at QB
As we mentioned in the opening, both teams have unsettled quarterback situations. Well, at least that’s what the coaches are telling the media. Arizona State does not expect Taylor Kelly to play, which is a huge loss for coach Todd Graham’s offense. Kelly averaged 264.3 total yards per game through the first two contests and accounted for eight scores. Backup Mike Bercovici is expected to start in place of Kelly, and the junior has completed 9 of 17 throws for 79 yards and a score in 2014. Bercovici has attempted 24 passes in his Arizona State career but is not as mobile or dynamic as Kelly on the ground. How much will the Sun Devils’ offense change without Kelly’s mobility?
On the other sideline, UCLA coach Jim Mora has been coy about the status of quarterback Brett Hundley. The junior suffered an elbow injury against Texas and practiced in a limited capacity over the last week. If Hundley can’t go, backup Jerry Neuheisel will start. Neuheisel completed 23 of 30 passes for 178 yards against Texas, but the offense would not be as dynamic with the sophomore under center. Although Mora hasn’t said if Hundley will play as of Wednesday, most around the Pac-12 expect the junior to start. Hundley is completing 70.4 percent of his throws this year but needs more help from a struggling offensive line.
2. Arizona State RB D.J. Foster
Considering the injuries at quarterback, both teams need their skill players to take on a bigger role within the offensive gameplan on Thursday night. Bercovici has a standout receiver in Jaelen Strong to target in the passing attack, but running back D.J. Foster is the player to watch on Thursday night. Foster is one of the nation’s top all-around running backs and averages 9.4 yards per carry (54 attempts). The junior also has 11 receptions (No. 2 on the team) for 139 yards and one score and leads the Pac-12 with 10 plays of 20 or more yards. UCLA’s rush defense is averaging just 3.8 yards per carry and held two of its three opponents to 126 yards or less on the ground. The Bruins own one of the nation’s top defensive fronts, which will test an Arizona State offensive line that has allowed the fewest sacks in the Pac-12 and has paved the way for rushers to average 7.1 yards per carry. Big plays are needed from Foster. Can he continue to deliver against an active and aggressive front?
3. UCLA’s Offensive Line
Protecting Hundley has to be UCLA’s No. 1 priority on Thursday night. The Bruins have struggled to get consistent protection from their offensive line in the passing game and there hasn’t been much room to run created for the rushers. With Hundley (potentially) playing at less than full strength, UCLA has to keep Arizona State defenders out of the pocket. The Sun Devils have a rebuilt front seven and have generated just six sacks through three games. Even if Arizona State’s defensive front is in transition, it’s still a dangerous matchup for a Bruins’ offensive line giving up 3.7 sacks per game. Of concern for Mora on the offensive line is the health of tackle Malcolm Bunche. The senior suffered a leg injury against Texas. His status for Week 5 is uncertain.
This game is surrounded by question marks. Kelly won’t play for Arizona State, so all eyes in pregame warm-ups will be on UCLA and Hundley. If Hundley plays, this game swings in favor of the Bruins. If Hundley doesn’t go, Neuheisel is a capable replacement, but the Sun Devils would have the upper hand. Even though Bercovici doesn’t have Kelly’s mobility, he’s had nearly two weeks to prepare as the starter and should be comfortable in his first start. If Bercovici plays well, it will open up even more opportunities for big plays from Foster. Considering all of the question marks and mysteries surrounding this matchup, it’s tough to make a prediction. But here’s a guess: Hundley plays and is just enough for UCLA to move to 4-0.