Articles By Steven Lassan
At the midpoint of the 2014 season, familiarity reigns in the ACC. Florida State is clearly the No. 1 team in the league, and uncertainty overshadows the Coastal Division.
The Seminoles are likely to be favored by at least 10 points in every game the rest of the way and should be a heavy favorite over the Coastal Division champion in Charlotte. Barring an upset loss, Florida State will be one of the four teams in college football’s inaugural playoff.
Clemson is the ACC’s No. 2 team, but the Tigers suffered a setback with a hand injury to quarterback Deshaun Watson in Saturday’s win over Louisville. The talented true freshman will miss a couple of games but could return by early November. Assuming Florida State makes the playoff, Clemson – assuming it wins out or finishes 9-3 – would be the favorite to take the Seminoles’ spot in the Orange Bowl.
While there’s clarity on the Atlantic side, the Coastal is anyone’s guess. Virginia was projected by most to finish last in the Coastal this year. But the Cavaliers are 2-0 and sit atop the Coastal with six conference games remaining. Georgia Tech, Duke, Virginia Tech and Pittsburgh all have one loss in ACC play after Week 7. Miami and North Carolina – two preseason favorites – are in the basement with two conference losses.
Midseason Reviews and Second-Half Predictions
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2014 ACC Midseason Review and Second-Half Predictions
Coach of the Year: Mike London, Virginia
London was squarely on the hot seat entering this season, but the fifth-year coach has the Cavaliers in the mix for the Coastal Division title at the midpoint of 2014. Virginia is 4-2 overall, and at 2-0 in conference play, is the only unbeaten team left in the Coastal. The Cavaliers still have to play Duke, Florida State, Miami and Virginia Tech, but London has the program on the right track and poised to return to the postseason for the first time since 2011.
Newcomer of the Year: Tyler Murphy, QB, Boston College
Tough call for this award at the midway point. Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya, NC State quarterback Jacoby Brissett, Virginia safety Quin Blanding and Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson all deserve a mention, but Murphy gets the award after six games. The Florida transfer has thrived in Boston College’s run-first offense, averaging 118.5 rushing yards per game and 8.3 yards per carry. Murphy ranks third in the ACC in rushing yards (711). The senior is a work in progress as a passer (3 TDs, 6 INTs), but his emergence is a big reason why Boston College is on track to earn another bowl appearance in coach Steve Addazio’s second year.
Offensive Player of the Year: Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State
Yes, Winston missed a game due to suspension, but he’s clearly the best player in the conference. With a struggling offensive line and rushing attack, the sophomore has even more of the offensive load on his shoulders, and Winston has responded with a strong first half. The sophomore is completing 70 percent of his passes (three points higher than 2013), has passed for 1,605 yards and 11 scores. Winston has completed at least 62 percent of his passes in four out of the five games he’s played in, and threw for 370 yards in the opener against Oklahoma State. And Winston’s passing numbers are even more impressive when you consider Florida State had to replace two of its top four receivers from last year.
Defensive Player of the Year: Vic Beasley, DE, Clemson
Beasley entered 2014 as one of the top defensive players in the nation, and the senior has picked up where he left off. In six games, Beasley has 15 tackles – nine for a loss – recorded eight sacks, two pass breakups, three quarterback hurries and one forced fumble. Beasley’s eight sacks rank third nationally, and the senior has recorded at least one in every game this year. One of Beasley’s best games of 2014 took place in Tallahassee, as he recorded two sacks and two tackles for a loss against Florida State’s veteran offensive line.
Midseason Disappointment: North Carolina
Miami is a possibility for this spot, but North Carolina gets the nod after a 2-4 overall and 0-2 start in ACC play. The Tar Heels were not impressive in season-opening wins over Liberty and San Diego State and have dropped four in a row since. North Carolina lost three of its four games by 15 points or more but played well in a 50-43 defeat to Notre Dame on Saturday. Problems on both sides of the ball have contributed to the 2-4 start, as the Tar Heels are allowing 6.2 yards per play on defense, and the offense has lost 12 turnovers and is averaging just 3.5 yards per carry in ACC games. Youth has attributed to a chunk of North Carolina’s problems, especially on the defensive side and on the offensive line. The young talent is promising for 2015 and beyond, but the thoughts of North Carolina contending for a division title in 2014 were probably premature.
Midseason Surprise: Georgia Tech/Virginia
As we mentioned earlier, the Coastal Division favorite is anyone’s guess. Virginia is the only undefeated team in conference play, but the Cavaliers’ schedule will increase in difficulty over the next two months with a trip to Tallahassee to play Florida State, along with a road date at Virginia Tech in the finale. Virginia was considered the easy pick for No. 7 in the Coastal this preseason, but the Cavaliers are in the mix to win the division behind a stellar defense. Georgia Tech also entered 2014 with uncertainty, and coach Paul Johnson was on the hot seat after a 7-6 mark in 2013. The Yellow Jackets have jumped out to a 5-1 start this year and have already played Miami, Virginia Tech and Duke. The Coastal Division is unpredictable, and even though Georgia Tech and Virginia are flawed teams, both have emerged as frontrunners after being picked near the bottom in the preseason.
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Three Things to Watch in Second Half
1. Florida State’s Repeat Bid
The Seminoles have dropped in the polls due to the emergence of Ole Miss and Mississippi State, but Florida State is still a heavy favorite to make college football’s playoff. The path to another unbeaten season is favorable, especially if the Seminoles can navigate their next two games: Notre Dame and at Louisville. Finishing with an unbeaten record in back-to-back years is not easy, but Florida State has the talent and personnel to win it all once again. Quarterback Jameis Winston is getting more comfortable with his revamped receiving corps, and the offensive line – tagged as one of the best in the nation this preseason – can play better. On defense, the Seminoles are young and still adapting to new coordinator Charles Kelly. This unit should improve over the course of the season, especially if young players like defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi and end Lorenzo Featherston continue to emerge as options on the defensive line. Additionally, the return of linebacker Matthew Thomas should help bolster Florida State’s front seven.
2. The Coastal Division
Good luck picking a frontrunner. Is it Virginia? Georgia Tech? Miami? Virginia Tech? Pittsburgh? Duke? You get the picture. North Carolina is 0-2 and probably the biggest longshot of winning the Coastal, but any of the six teams ahead of the Tar Heels in the standings have a chance to win. This should be an entertaining race over the next half of the season, and a 5-3 record might be enough to win the division.
3. Development of Young QBs
While Florida State’s quest for a repeat and the Coastal Division are intriguing national storylines, the development of young quarterbacks in the conference is something to watch over the second half. Clemson’s Deshaun Watson is out a couple of weeks due to a hand injury, but the freshman was off to an impressive debut. Will Louisville find an answer between Will Gardner or Reggie Bonnafon under center? NC State’s Jacoby Brissett played well against Florida State but struggled against Clemson and Boston College. Can Brissett work his way back into the mix for All-ACC honors? And with Terrel Hunt sidelined, keep an eye on true freshman A.J. Long at Syracuse. On the Coastal side, Miami’s Brad Kaaya, Virginia Tech’s Michael Brewer and Pittsburgh’s Chad Voytik are all quarterbacks with an opportunity to develop over the second half of the season. There’s a lot of quarterback uncertainty in the conference after Florida State’s Jameis Winston. Which passers will emerge in the final half of the season?
Top Five Games in Second Half
1. Notre Dame at Florida State (Oct. 18)
Two of college football’s top programs meet in Tallahassee for the first time since 2002. And it’s a battle of two of the nation’s top quarterbacks in Florida State’s Jameis Winston and Notre Dame’s Everett Golson. No shortage of intrigue in Doak Campbell Stadium on Oct. 18.
2. Florida State at Miami (Nov. 15)
What was once a great rivalry has been a one-sided affair in recent years. Florida State has won four in a row over Miami, including a 41-14 blowout against the Hurricanes last year. This could be a critical spot for Miami coach Al Golden, as he needs to have a good showing against the No. 1 team in the ACC.
3. Georgia Tech at Clemson (Nov. 15)
This rivalry has produced a few entertaining matchups and high-scoring affairs. Last year’s game alone produced 86 points and Clemson has won three out of the last four in this series. This game could be a critical one for Georgia Tech’s Coastal Division title hopes.
4. Virginia Tech at Duke (Nov. 15)
Could this game decide the Coastal Division? The Hokies lost 13-10 to Duke last year, but Virginia Tech won the previous 12 games in this series.
5. Virginia at Virginia Tech (Nov. 28)
The Commonwealth Cup is on the line, but this game also could have ACC title implications. Virginia Tech has won 10 in a row over its in-state rival.
Next up: Florida State at Louisville (Oct. 30), Florida at Florida State (Nov. 29), Miami at Virginia Tech (Oct. 23), Clemson at South Carolina (Nov. 29)
Projecting the Final 2014 ACC Standings
Washington’s Pac-12 North title hopes took a hit after the 20-13 loss to Stanford on Sept. 27, but there’s renewed optimism about Chris Petersen’s team after a 31-7 win over California.
The 31-7 victory over the Golden Bears could be Washington’s best all-around performance from 2014. Sure, California is still progressing under second-year coach Sonny Dykes and finished 1-11 last year, but the Huskies were an underdog entering Saturday’s matchup.
Washington’s offense struggled mightily against Stanford, averaging just 2.6 yards per play and finishing with just 98 passing yards. California’s defense isn’t one of the best in the Pac-12, but the Huskies showed signs of life on Saturday. The 5.7 yards per play (just 67 plays) mark against the Golden Bears is the third-highest total of the season. That may seem like a small feat, but the highest totals came against Eastern Washington and Illinois.
Quarterback Cyler Miles benefited from the bye week and responded with his best effort of the season. Again, California’s defense isn’t one of the best in the Pac-12 and was dealing with injuries to a couple of key players, but Miles threw for a season-high 273 yards and added three scores. The sophomore also recorded a solid 12.4 yards per completion mark and did not throw an interception for the fifth consecutive game.
The offensive line gave up four sacks in the loss to Stanford but allowed Miles to be sacked just twice on 29 pass attempts. And the line’s solid play translated to the rushing attack as running backs Lavon Coleman and Dwayne Washington each averaged 4.4 yards per carry.
Washington’s offense is far from a finished product, but the performance against California is a good sign before a key stretch on the 2014 schedule. And a timely one.
The Huskies are still in the mix for the North Division title but need a win over Oregon this Saturday to stake their claim in the race.
After Saturday’s game against the Ducks, Washington hosts Arizona State, followed by a road date against Colorado, a home matchup against UCLA and then game at Arizona.
There are simply no breaks in the Pac-12 schedule, and a two-loss team likely wins the conference title.
Washington’s defense is already one of the best in the conference. Did its offense turn a corner in Saturday’s win over California? Perhaps. But a better gauge of where the Huskies stand in Petersen’s first year is coming next Saturday with a trip to Eugene. California was a positive step. Now, let's see if Washington's offense takes a big step forward against the Ducks.
Indiana quarterback Nate Sudfeld suffered a separated shoulder in Saturday’s loss to Iowa, clouding the bowl hopes of a program that hoped to breakthrough in coach Kevin Wilson’s fourth season.
It’s uncertain how long Sudfeld will be sidelined, but his absence will be felt if he cannot play on Saturday against Michigan State.
Following the Hoosiers’ matchup against the Spartans, there’s a bye before finishing the year on a challenging five-game stretch.
Sudfeld was expected to be one of the Big Ten’s top quarterbacks in 2014, but the junior has only one game of more than 252 passing yards. A transition at receiver has slowed the development of Indiana’s offense, which averaged 38.4 points per game. After six games, the Hoosiers are down to a 32.3 mark in 2014.
Perhaps Sudfeld will only miss a game or two, but any absence by the junior quarterback is a setback to Indiana’s bowl hopes.
Backup Chris Covington switched from linebacker to quarterback in the fall and completed only 3 of 12 passes for 31 yards and two interceptions in the 45-29 loss to the Hawkeyes.
Running back Tevin Coleman is one of the nation’s best, but the junior doesn’t have much help in the passing department if Sudfeld is sidelined.
At 3-3 and still searching for their first Big Ten win of 2014, the Hoosiers need Sudfeld back in the lineup as soon as possible. Covington has good athleticism, but he’s developing as a passer. Having a quarterback make his first career start against Michigan State’s defense is a nightmare scenario for Wilson.
The schedule simply isn’t going to get any easier for Indiana. If Sudfeld returns by November, games against Penn State, Rutgers and Purdue are winnable, giving hope that Wilson can provide a breakthrough season in 2014. But in addition to Sudfeld's health, Indiana needs more from its defense, which has allowed 30 or more points in three games this year.
If Sudfeld is sidelined for an extended period of time, Indiana will be outside of the bowl picture once again. Wilson shouldn't be on the hot seat, but he could be facing a make-or-break year in 2015 if the Hoosiers finish 4-8 or 5-7 this year.
Texas coach Charlie Strong won’t celebrate a moral victory, but the first-year coach has to be encouraged with the play of quarterback Tyrone Swoopes. In the 31-26 defeat to Oklahoma, Swoopes delivered arguably his best performance of 2014.
Swoopes completed 27 of 44 throws for 334 yards and two scores. The sophomore’s 61.4 completion percentage is his best mark in Big 12 play from 2014, and he added a season-high of 50 yards on the ground.
Both of Swoopes’ touchdowns came after Oklahoma went up 31-13, but the sophomore had an all-around solid effort against a good Oklahoma defense.
The Sooners’ defense allowed 33 points to West Virginia and 37 to TCU, but that’s life in the Big 12. High-scoring games are the norm, and life as a defensive coordinator or player isn't easy. Oklahoma’s defensive front was projected to be one of the best in the nation this year, and its secondary is headlined by potential All-American Zack Sanchez.
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Swoopes’ performance and growth under center is a huge positive for Strong’s rebuilding effort. Coordinator Shawn Watson was a key player in the development of Teddy Bridgewater at Louisville, and the veteran assistant is working to mold the offense into Swoopes' strengths. And the mobility of Swoopes will help with a struggling offensive line, while the young quarterback seems to be developing a rapport with receivers John Harris and Jaxon Shipley.
Texas is 2-4 at the midway point of 2014 and needs four wins to get bowl eligible. That’s not going to be easy, as the Longhorns could be underdogs West Virginia, Oklahoma State, TCU and Kansas State.
But with a defense holding opponents to 21.2 points a game and just 4.3 yards per play, any development on offense will give Texas a shot at reaching 6-6 or 7-5 in Strong’s debut.
Just recording six or seven victories certainly isn’t the standard or acceptable at Texas, but Strong needs to build momentum in the win column and off-the-field for recruiting.
Swoopes is far from a finished product, but provided Texas can surround its young quarterback with more help in the trenches and at receiver, the sophomore can help Strong get the program back in the mix for Big 12 titles. And if nothing else, Swoopes' development over the next six (or seven with a bowl) will give Texas momentum heading into 2015.
Oregon has a Heisman frontrunner in quarterback Marcus Mariota, but left tackle Jake Fisher might be the team’s most valuable player. That’s right, an offensive lineman might be the key to the Ducks’ playoff hopes and position in the national title picture over the next two months.
As an offensive lineman, Fisher doesn’t get much recognition playing a less-than-glamorous position.
However, just take a look at the stat sheet for the last three games and it’s apparent just how valuable Fisher is to Oregon.
After the offensive line allowed five sacks to Arizona last Thursday and gave up seven sacks to Washington State on Sept. 20, the Ducks did not give up a sack to UCLA on Saturday.
The result: Oregon won 42-30 and Mariota threw for 210 yards and two scores in a key rebound game for the Ducks. Oregon also averaged 6.9 yards per play - almost a full yard improvement from the 6.0 mark posted against Arizona.
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After last week’s loss to Arizona, Oregon had little margin for error. A loss to UCLA likely would have ended the Ducks’ playoff chances. And it’s not outlandish to think a poor performance from Oregon on Saturday would have ended Mariota’s Heisman hopes.
But Fisher’s return brought stability and a much-needed anchor to the offensive line.
Fisher earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors in back-to-back seasons (2012-13) and was picked by Athlon Sports to be one of the top linemen in the conference for 2014.
With Fisher back in the lineup, Oregon has more stability and a chance to develop chemistry at a critical time.
Next week, the Ducks host Washington and play Stanford on Nov. 1. The Huskies and Cardinal own two of the best front sevens in the nation, so it’s critical for Oregon to have Fisher back and operating at full strength to protect the blindside of Mariota.
Despite a setback to Arizona, the Ducks are still in the mix for a playoff spot. After an injured line limited the offense against Washington State and Arizona, the return of Fisher is a good sign for Oregon as it hopes to climb back in the playoff discussion.
There’s no doubt Mariota is one of the nation’s best players. But don’t forget about how valuable offensive linemen – especially a standout tackle like Fisher – are to a high-powered offense.
Baylor’s unbeaten record and place atop the Big 12 appeared to be over early in the fourth quarter. Quarterback Bryce Petty threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown, and TCU led 58-37 with less than 12 minutes to play. Against the Horned Frogs' defense, a comeback wasn’t going to be easy.
However, behind Petty's right arm, Baylor rallied from a 58-37 deficit in the fourth quarter to claim a 61-58 victory over TCU to remain unbeaten and the team to beat in the Big 12.
After the interception return by TCU linebacker Marcus Mallet, the senior was sharp the rest of the way and finished with 510 yards and six scores. The 510 yards and six passing scores were both career highs for Petty, and the senior is Athlon Sports National Player of the Week.
Petty guided the Bears to scores on five of the team’s final six drives, including the game-winning field goal as time expired. None of Baylor’s last six drives lasted more than 2:51 and three spanned at least 70 yards.
Baylor finished with 782 total yards, which was the most allowed by TCU under coach Gary Patterson.
After suffering a back injury against SMU, Petty’s was thought to be on the outside of the Heisman picture. But Saturday’s performance could vault the senior back into Heisman discussion, especially if Baylor remains among the nation's best and in discussion for a spot in college football's playoff.
National Defensive Player of the Week: Shaq Thompson, LB, Washington
Thompson led a strong defensive effort for Washington in a 31-7 victory over California. The junior led the Huskies with 11 tackles, broke up one pass and returned a fumble 100 yards for a score in the first quarter. Thompson’s score against California was his fourth defensive touchdown of 2014.
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National Coordinator of the Week: Jeremy Pruitt, Georgia
With the absence of running back Todd Gurley, there was extra pressure on Georgia’s defense on Saturday. The Bulldogs delivered with their best effort of the season in a 34-0 shutout against Missouri. The Tigers managed only 10 first downs, averaged just 3.4 yards per play, forced five turnovers and generated three sacks. Missouri’s offense had only two drives end in Georgia territory. Pruitt was brought in to elevate Georgia’s defense among the nation’s elite, and he’s clearly on the right path halfway through his first season in Athens.
National Freshman of the Week: Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia
Chubb averaged only 3.8 yards per rush, but he stepped into a difficult spot and delivered on a big stage for Georgia. The true freshman was pushed into a starting role with Todd Gurley suspended and recorded 143 yards and one touchdown on 38 attempts in Saturday’s 34-0 win over Missouri.
Week 7 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 7
Miami-Cincinnati at kickoff. pic.twitter.com/YNVKe1s1fe— Matt Porter (@mattyports) October 11, 2014
What Bret Bielema is wearing on national TV> pic.twitter.com/k7CWITX6Mk— D.C. Reeves (@_DCReeves) October 11, 2014
The new UM Hall of fame class was just introduced in front of this pic.twitter.com/alqIeP64r8— Adam Clarke (@aclarke90) October 11, 2014
I'm not sure if I have ever seen up close a more imposing looking athlete. pic.twitter.com/EsP3RCGBAH— Ralph D. Russo (@ralphDrussoAP) October 11, 2014
Whoa. UCLA's D Coordinator handed Mora his headset after a huge argument.— Michael Bishop (@michaelbish) October 11, 2014
3rd and 10, exactly how they drew it up https://t.co/vttH61DzDb— Big Cat (@BarstoolBigCat) October 11, 2014
Nick Saban has a police escort AND a personal umbrella holder. pic.twitter.com/jWix1c1Ine— Thomas Murphy (@TomMurphyADG) October 11, 2014
Even yogurt places in Athens are making a statement. pic.twitter.com/nsd79pGagI— Marc Weiszer (@marcweiszer) October 11, 2014
Still can't get over that Mississippi State ran this while leading 21-0 in the first quarter. http://t.co/wfYugnkgz8— Dr. Saturday (@YahooDrSaturday) October 11, 2014
So Hollywood. pic.twitter.com/X0FbtsCg8P— Kyle Bonagura (@BonaguraESPN) October 11, 2014
SPORTSMANSHIP: West Point cadets slap hands with Owls players after Army falls to Rice. pic.twitter.com/vRYkplF9jc— NCAA Football (@NCAAFootball) October 11, 2014
This is how far Bielema ran on the field to try and get a TO before that Alabama TD: pic.twitter.com/rhKZ4QZEF1— Paul Myerberg (@PaulMyerberg) October 12, 2014
I told you to bring the car back in one piece pic.twitter.com/SgEbnPXFsz— Brian Floyd (@BrianMFloyd) October 12, 2014
Who was offside? pic.twitter.com/ggJaUyyi7h— Tom Fornelli (@TomFornelli) October 12, 2014
LSU QB Anthony Jennings tackled by his own offensive lineman. https://t.co/VlSPhobUey— Barrett Sallee (@BarrettSallee) October 12, 2014
Travin Dural one-handed TD catch. https://t.co/ek199xWFGW— Barrett Sallee (@BarrettSallee) October 12, 2014
SO WE CHEATIN NOW? VIDEO: Clemson sits someone behind louisville defensive huddle http://t.co/qI6w6nUq3y— G Smooth™ Durant (@KingGeorge_34) October 11, 2014
Texas linebacker Steve Edmond had a massive fail on his celebration attempt in Saturday’s game against Oklahoma.
Instead of exchanging a high-five with defensive end Caleb Bluiett, Edmond slapped one his fellow defender in the face.
Yes, that’s correct. Massive fail on Edmond’s part.
Kentucky receiver Javess Blue led a huge effort from the Wildcats’ offense in Saturday’s 48-14 victory over ULM.
Blue led the team with 108 receiving yards and two scores on just three catches.
One of Blue’s catches was an awesome one-handed grab that is one of the top plays of Week 7:
UCLA coach Jim Mora and defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich had a bit of a disagreement during the first half of Saturday’s game against Oregon, and the two coaches got into a heated discussion after a touchdown by the Ducks.
Mora appeared to be upset with the defensive playcalling after an Oregon touchdown. And Ulbrich was not happy with the criticism, handing Mora the playsheet and taking off his headset.
Ulbrich returned to his role on the next defensive series for UCLA, but you can bet this sideline disagreement will be a topic of conversation after the game.
Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson suffered a hand injury in Saturday’s game against Louisville and will not return to the game. Watson’s injury is to his throwing hand and the freshman will be replaced by senior Cole Stoudt.
Coming into Saturday’s game against NC State, Watson completed 73 of 106 passes for 1,181 yards and 12 scores. Watson had tossed only on pick in 106 attempts and rushed for 137 yards and three touchdowns.
Prior to his injury against the Cardinals, Watson had two completions and tossed a pick.
Stoudt began the year as the starter but was replaced by Watson after the loss to Florida State.
In five games, Stoudt completed 42 of 69 passes for 487 yards and one touchdown.
It’s uncertain if this is a long-term injury for Watson or if he will be able to return in Week 8 at Boston College.
Stoudt is a capable option for coach Dabo Swinney and coordinator Chad Morris, but Watson is clearly the better quarterback.
RT @schadjoe: Clemson QB DeShaun Watson has a hand injury and it out for game— Ralph D. Russo (@ralphDrussoAP) October 11, 2014
#Clemson star freshman QB Deshaun Watson is out for the rest of the game vs. Louisville (hand injury).— Dave Miller (@Miller_Dave) October 11, 2014
Texas A&M and Ole Miss enter their Week 7 showdown in College Station with a different mindset following last Saturday’s action. For the Aggies, the matchup against the Rebels represents an opportunity to get back on track after both sides of the ball were dominated in a loss to Mississippi State. On the Ole Miss sideline, this game is another opportunity to prove this team is a SEC West title contender, and the Rebels have a chance to land a potential knockout blow to Texas A&M’s hopes of contending in the SEC West.
Texas A&M is 6-0 in the overall series against Ole Miss. These two teams have met only twice as SEC opponents, with the Aggies winning both games by just three points.
Ole Miss at Texas A&M
Kickoff: 9 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Texas A&M -2
Three Things to Watch
1. Ole Miss’ Secondary
It’s hard to find a weakness on Ole Miss’ defense. The Rebels have allowed only one passing touchdown in five games and limit opposing quarterbacks to just a 53.6 percent completion percentage. And throwing on the secondary means you have time to pass, which is no easy task trying to block a defensive line that’s among the nation’s best. Texas A&M quarterback Kenny Hill started the season by throwing for 511 yards and three scores against South Carolina, and the sophomore tossed just two picks through his first five games. But Hill has struggled (relatively speaking) in his last two outings. The sophomore is completing 56 percent of his throws over his last two contests – a drop from a 69.8 mark through the first four games. And Hill has tossed four picks over his last two matchups and averaged only 5.9 yards per attempt against Mississippi State. Hill’s supporting cast needs to give its young quarterback help, as the receiving corps has struggled with dropped passes. With a talented defensive line and secondary, Ole Miss has the necessary pieces to contain Texas A&M’s offense. Can Hill get back on track against the SEC’s top pass defense? Or will the passing game struggle to take off once again?
2. Texas A&M’s Defense
There has been some improvement from Mark Snyder’s defense in 2014, but Texas A&M is still allowing 6.9 yards per play and 34.7 points per game through three SEC contests. On the bright side, the Aggies lead the conference in sacks (19) and have generated 39 tackles for a loss. With the young talent and depth concerns, it’s going to take time for Texas A&M to build an elite defense. But once again this Saturday, the Aggies are going to have their hands full with another explosive offense. Ole Miss averages 35.8 points per game and is third in the conference in third-down conversions. The Rebels can be careless with the ball (10 turnovers), but coach Hugh Freeze has an offense that’s capable of scoring 35-40 points each week. Texas A&M’s defense has allowed at least 28 points in each of its three SEC games. Will that trend continue on Saturday? And if the Aggies give up a lot of yardage to Ole Miss, can Snyder’s defense force enough turnovers or get stops on third down to limit the damage on the scoreboard?
3. Ole Miss QB Bo Wallace
In order for Ole Miss to knock off Alabama, quarterback Bo Wallace needed a perfect performance. Mission accomplished. The senior completed 58.1 percent of his throws and did not throw an interception on 31 attempts. Will the good Bo Wallace make another appearance this Saturday? Texas A&M’s secondary has been prone to allow big plays this year, giving up eight plays of 30 yards or more through six games. The Aggies have forced only six turnovers this year, and in order to win on Saturday, this unit has to create a few short fields for their offense. If Texas A&M doesn’t get pressure on Wallace and fails to force a turnover, the Rebels’ receiving corps will have plenty of opportunities for big plays.
Can Ole Miss avoid a major letdown in College Station? That’s the key question on Saturday night. Texas A&M desperately needs a win to stay alive in the West Division title picture, but it’s hard to pick the Aggies to win this game if the defense struggles once again. The Rebels may not open this game particularly sharp on either side of the ball, but Wallace and his receivers hit on a few big plays in the second half to allow Ole Miss to remain unbeaten.
Prediction: Ole Miss 34, Texas A&M 27
The suspension of running back Todd Gurley has significantly altered the outlook of Georgia’s backfield for Saturday’s game against Missouri. Freshman Nick Chubb is expected to be Gurley’s replacement this week, and the true freshman is an intriguing player to watch in a critical matchup.
Chubb was a five-star recruit for coach Mark Richt, ranking as the No. 34 overall prospect in the 247Sports Composite in the 2014 signing class. The Georgia native was regarded as a top-five recruit at running back and wasn’t expected to have a significant role in the backfield this year.
But at least for Saturday, the future is now in Athens, as Chubb is the Bulldogs’ best option at running back.
Junior Keith Marshall is dealing with a sprained knee and ankle and won’t be available, and fellow freshman Sony Michel is out due to a shoulder injury.
Chubb has rushed for 224 yards and two touchdowns on 31 attempts in 2014 but has not attempted more than 11 rushes in a game this year.
Expect that to change on Saturday, as Chubb is now Georgia’s featured rusher and needs to be ready to handle 25-30 carries.
Missouri’s rush defense ranks No. 8 in the SEC and allowed 241 carries to Indiana on Sept. 20. Needless to say, the opportunities are there for Chubb to find running lanes.
It’s a lot to ask Chubb to completely replicate Gurley’s production, as the junior was arguably the leader for the Heisman and was a first-team All-America selection at the midpoint of the season.
But Chubb has the skill-set to be an every-down back for coordinator Mike Bobo. The 5-foot-11 rusher has good speed and size and is capable of handling a full workload in the SEC.
So far, the limited sample size suggests Chubb is capable of living up to his recruiting hype. Now, it’s time for the true freshman to deliver. Georgia doesn’t have any other options on Saturday, and the Bulldogs somehow need Chubb to fill Gurley’s shoes.
Gurley’s overall production and value to the team won’t be replaced, but Chubb is a future star in Athens and is capable of performing at a high level in this situation. With the spotlight on the true freshman on Saturday, he will be one of the most intriguing players to watch in Week 7.
Not having Gurley for a critical game in the East Division standings isn’t ideal, but as long as Chubb stays healthy on Saturday, he’s got the talent to keep Missouri’s defense off balance for quarterback Hutson Mason.
Chubb wasn’t expected to start in 2014. However, it’s his time to shine on Saturday. Even though Gurley leaves big shoes to fill, everything suggests the true freshman is up to the task. Can Chubb help keep Georgia's SEC East title hopes alive?
For the second week in a row, Mississippi is the epicenter of Saturday’s slate. But after Oxford grabbed the spotlight last week, the focus shifts south to Starkville, as Mississippi State hosts Auburn in a meeting of two top-five teams. The Bulldogs easily handled Texas A&M last week, while Auburn cruised to a 41-7 victory over LSU. Considering the brutal SEC West provides few breaks, a loss on Saturday doesn’t necessarily end the hopes of either team to win the conference. However, it certainly doesn’t help, as Mississippi State and Auburn both have to play Alabama and Ole Miss, while the Tigers catch Georgia in one of their crossover games with the East Division.
The message is pretty simple: Win on Saturday and take control of the SEC West – at least for now. And brace for a brutal second-half schedule.
Auburn has dominated the overall series against Mississippi State. The Tigers own a 58-26-3 edge over the Bulldogs and won last year’s game 24-20. However, three of the last four meetings between these two teams have been decided by a touchdown or less. Mississippi State’s last win over Auburn was in 2012 (28-10).
Auburn at Mississippi State
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Auburn -3
Three Things to Watch
1. Auburn’s Defense
As expected in the second year under coordinator Ellis Johnson, Auburn’s defense has taken a step forward on the stat sheet. The Tigers are allowing just 4.6 yards per play – No. 13 nationally after ranking No. 95 in 2013. Auburn’s defense also ranks second in the SEC by limiting opponents to just 14.4 points per game, second in the SEC in red zone defense and has generated 35 tackles for a loss. That’s the positive side of the numbers. On the downside, the Tigers have yet to play an offense with the explosive ability of Mississippi State. The Bulldogs are incredibly balanced, averaging 267.4 passing yards per game and 274.4 rushing yards a contest. Auburn’s defense will bend, but Johnson has put the clamps on opposing offenses on third downs and in the red zone. No defense has found the right answer to stopping quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Josh Robinson. Will the Tigers find the right formula on Saturday?
2. The Quarterbacks
Saturday’s huge showdown is a chance for both quarterbacks to stake their claim in the Heisman conversation. Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott averages 335.6 yards per game (8.2 yards per touch) and has accounted for 20 touchdowns through five contests. In last year’s game, Prescott passed for 213 yards and rushed for 133 yards and two scores in the Tigers’ 24-20 victory. Considering Prescott’s success last season and his offseason improvement, the junior presents a unique challenge to an Auburn defense that has played better so far in 2014. With all of the hype surrounding Prescott, it’s easy to forget how successful Nick Marshall has been for Auburn. The senior has passed for 755 yards and eight touchdowns and rushed for 392 yards and four scores so far in 2014. Marshall has tossed only one pick on 95 attempts and has three 100-yard rushing games over his last four contests. If you had to rank SEC quarterbacks, most would agree Prescott ranks ahead of Marshall in 2014 performance. And Prescott ranks ahead of Marshall in Heisman expert polls. Can the senior (Marshall) who is flying under the radar upstage the rising star in Prescott?
3. The Battle in the Trenches
Prescott and Marshall, along with skill talent in running backs Josh Robinson (Mississippi State) and Cameron Artis-Payne (Auburn) and receivers Jameon Lewis (Mississippi State) and Sammie Coates and Duke Williams (Auburn) should steal the show on Saturday. But don’t forget about the battle in the trenches, where it’s strength versus strength for both teams. Mississippi State’s front seven on defense has been tough to penetrate in 2014, limiting opponents to just 2.9 yards per carry and only two rushing scores. Marshall, Artis-Payne and speedster Corey Grant will test the effectiveness of the rush defense for the Bulldogs, and if they have success, Auburn’s playmakers on the outside will have opportunities to make plays against Mississippi State’s secondary. When the Bulldogs have the ball, they could struggle to find running room on the ground against the No. 3 rush defense in the SEC. Prescott and Robinson combined for 184 rushing yards against Texas A&M. Can Auburn’s rush defense – which has not allowed an opponent to record more than 138 yards in each of its last four games – hold strong at the point of attack?
Mississippi State has arrived as a SEC title contender under coach Dan Mullen. Winning in Starkville is not easy, but Mullen has stayed the course, recruited and developed the right talent, and the Bulldogs are on the doorstep of owning the No. 1 ranking in most national polls. Just as Mississippi State is Auburn’s biggest challenge this year, the Bulldogs are facing their best opponent of 2014. The home-field advantage is huge a plus for Mullen, along with the return of receiver Jameon Lewis from injury and center Dillon Day from suspension. Offensive fireworks are expected with two offenses averaging over 40 points per game. However, don’t be surprised if this game is a lower-scoring matchup than most expect. Picking a winner isn’t easy. These two teams are relatively even.
Prediction: Auburn 34, Mississippi State 31
Georgia running back Todd Gurley has been suspended indefinitely as a result of a NCAA investigation. The junior is under investigation for exchanging his autograph and use of likeness in exchange for compensation.
Gurley’s suspension is indefinite, so it’s hard to gauge how long the junior running back will be sidelined. However, make no mistake: Gurley is one of the nation’s best players and was considered the frontrunner for the Heisman Trophy. This is a huge loss for the Bulldogs.
In five games this year, Gurley has recorded 773 yards and eight rushing scores on 94 attempts. Gurley averaged 8.2 yards per carry in 2014 and added a kickoff return for a touchdown against Clemson.
There’s no doubt Georgia is going to miss Gurley. But how big of a loss is the junior? Let’s dive into the implications and what it means for the Bulldogs.
Impact of Gurley's Suspension on SEC East
The favorite for the SEC East is really anyone’s guess. Missouri is the only unbeaten team within the division (1-0), and Georgia, Florida and Kentucky all sit at 2-1 after three conference games.
While it’s possible Gurley could return after just a couple of games, his absence this Saturday will be felt. Georgia travels to Missouri to take on the Tigers, in what should be one of the SEC’s marquee games. The winner of Saturday’s matchup should take an early lead in the East Division.
The schedule for Georgia doesn’t get any easier next week, as the Bulldogs travel to Little Rock to take on Arkansas, and play Florida on Nov. 1.
Again, it’s possible Gurley is back in a couple of games, but if Georgia has two or three SEC losses, it’s tough to see this team getting back in the mix for the conference title.
Even though Gurley is out, the Bulldogs aren’t in major trouble against Missouri. This roster still has plenty of talent, starting with a stout front seven on defense, and the passing attack should improve with receiver Malcolm Mitchell returning.
Outside of Vanderbilt, it’s too early to eliminate any team in the East Division conversation. But Georgia’s division title hopes look grim without Gurley in the lineup.
Who Replaces Gurley?
Georgia’s backfield was touted as one of the best in the nation in most preseason unit rankings. But injuries have altered the outlook for this unit. Junior Keith Marshall is dealing with a sprained ankle and knee and will miss his third consecutive game. Freshman Sony Michel ranks third on the team with 223 yards and averaged 9.7 yards per carry, but he’s dealing with a shoulder injury and is likely to be out until November.
With the injuries to Marshall and Michel, a backfield that was overflowing with depth is down to freshman Nick Chubb. The Georgia native ranked as the No. 5 running back in the 2014 signing class by 247Sports and has 224 yards and two scores on 31 attempts.
Chubb is clearly set to become the No. 1 back for coach Mark Richt, with Brendan Douglas also expected to work into the backfield.
It’s a longshot, but freshman all-purpose threat Isaiah McKenzie could see more snaps in the backfield. Depth is limited, so McKenzie and Douglas will be the top options to spell Chubb.
Considering the Bulldogs are down on depth at running back, this is where the offense needs a big effort from quarterback Hutson Mason to compensate for a rushing game that won’t be as potent.
Heisman Hopes Over?
In Athlon’s expert poll following the games from Week 6, Gurley ranked as the favorite for the Heisman. The junior recorded 59 points to Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott’s 55, while Gurley had an eight to five edge on first-place votes.
Barring a last-minute turnaround, Gurley won’t play against Missouri and his Heisman hopes are likely finished.
If Gurley’s Heisman hopes are indeed over, it’s a wide-open race for the No. 1 spot. Prescott would slide into the favorite spot by default, but this opens the door for Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, Notre Dame signal-caller Everett Golson and Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon.
The halfway point of the college season officially arrives after Week 7. And if Prescott and Mississippi State loses to Auburn, it’s fair to say there is no clear frontrunner and the Heisman is really up for grabs in the final eight weeks.
Georgia did not receive a vote in Athlon’s playoff projection following the games from Week 6.
However, the Bulldogs were squarely on the radar as a team that could play their way into contention with just one loss.
But as we mentioned above, it’s going to be significantly tougher to go into Missouri and win without the best player in the SEC.
If Georgia loses this Saturday, it seems likely Mark Richt’s team won’t be able to make the playoffs.
Georgia running back Todd Gurley has been suspended indefinitely as a result of an investigation into a violation of NCAA rules.
According to ESPN, Gurley is under investigation for the use of his likeness and money for memorabilia.
Gurley is the leading candidate for the Heisman Trophy and has rushed for 773 yards and eight touchdowns in five games.
With Gurley sidelined, Georgia is expected to lean on true freshman Nick Chubb at running back.
Gurley’s suspension is a huge loss for a team entering a critical stretch of the season. The Bulldogs play at Missouri this Saturday and travel to Arkansas next Saturday.
BREAKING: Todd Gurley has been indefinitely suspended during investigation into alleged violation of NCAA rules. pic.twitter.com/gtLIopv1ez— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) October 9, 2014
Wonder if Todd Gurley's suspension will be as long as Cam Newton's was.— Radi Nabulsi (@RadiNabulsi) October 9, 2014
Hearing the investigation into #UGA star Todd Gurley is for possibly accepting extra benefits for his likeness w memorabilia brokers.— Bruce Feldman (@BruceFeldmanCFB) October 9, 2014
Louisville and coach Bobby Petrino is winning with defense. Yes, that’s right. One of college football’s top offensive minds has turned to the dark (defensive) side to win games in 2014.
Petrino’s arrival was expected to keep Louisville’s offense among the best in the ACC this year, but the Cardinals rank seventh in its new conference in scoring (33.3 ppg) and average 5.2 yards per play.
But if you remove the non-conference slate, Louisville’s offense ranks in the middle of the ACC.
The Cardinals are averaging just 4.8 yards per play through four conference contests and have scored above 25 points only twice in the ACC.
A struggling offensive line is largely to blame for Louisville’s problems on offense this season. Despite having four starters, the Cardinals have allowed 19 sacks – including 14 in four ACC games. That’s on pace to easily shatter last year’s mark (26), while rushers are averaging only 3.8 yards per play.
In addition to the offensive line, the increased competition, coaching change and quarterback carousel have all factored into Louisville’s offense not taking off in 2014.
While the offense is struggling, Louisville’s defense has carried this team through the first six games.
The Cardinals lead the ACC by holding opponents to 12.7 points per game and have allowed just four touchdowns in four conference games. New coordinator Todd Grantham’s defense is also allowing just 3.8 yards per play after giving up 4.2 in 2013. Total yardage can be a misleading statistic, but Louisville has not allowed an opponent to reach 300 yards in a game this year.
The Cardinals have been aggressive around the line of scrimmage, ranking fourth in the ACC with 44 tackles for a loss, third in the conference in sacks (21), and the defense has forced 15 turnovers (second-most in ACC).
Adding to the impressive start for Louisville’s defense is the unit had to transition to a 3-4 scheme after operating out of a 4-3 under Charlie Strong.
Despite four returning starters, this unit has managed to build off a strong finish to 2013. Rush end linebacker Lorenzo Mauldin is off to a fast start (26 tackles, 9 TFL, 4 sacks), but the senior has help from sophomore Keith Kelsey (37 stops), junior lineman Sheldon Rankins (three sacks), while James Sample, Gerod Holliman and Terell Floyd have solidified the safety position, which was arguably the biggest concern for the defense entering 2014.
Grantham’s hire was met with some skepticism after Georgia allowed 29 points per game in 2013. However, Grantham has been able to blend the returning personnel to his 3-4 fit and has Louisville’s defense ranked near the top of the ACC in key defensive categories.
But there’s a key challenge coming for Louisville and Grantham: The schedule. After playing just one offense ranked inside of the top 55 of Football Outsiders S&P offensive ratings, the Cardinals will play six the rest of the year. Louisville will play three potential All-ACC quarterbacks in Jameis Winston, Deshaun Watson and Jacoby Brissett in October.
There’s no doubt the competition and quarterback play will increase over the second half of the season. But so far, Grantham and Louisville appears to be up for the challenge, especially if the defense can continue to create havoc at the line of scrimmage and force turnovers.
Also, Louisville’s offense should improve through the final six games. The Cardinals’ offensive line remains a concern, but freshman Reggie Bonnafon or sophomore Will Gardner are capable quarterbacks for Petrino’s offense. Bonnafon and Gardner also have additional help in the form of receiver DeVante Parker potentially returning to the lineup this week against Clemson.
The Cardinals are off to a 5-1 start in their first year of ACC play and are set to finish the year with a challenging six-game slate, including a road trip to Clemson this Saturday, followed by games against Florida State, Notre Dame and rival Kentucky in the finale.
In an odd twist, Louisville’s defense is carrying this team through the first six games. The Cardinals need their defense to keep performing at the current pace, while getting more from the offense if they want to knock off Florida State or Clemson in ACC play in 2014.
Petrino will eventually get the offense on track. But until that happens, Louisville is poised to use its defense to navigate a difficult schedule in the second half of the season.
NC State hopes to earn its first ACC win under second-year coach Dave Doeren this Saturday, as the Wolfpack host Boston College.
And to help NC State’s victory hopes, the program unveiled a new helmet for Saturday’s game.
The helmet features a logo of Tuffy (the name of the school’s mascot) instead of the normal power “S” on the side.
Check out NC State’s new helmet for Week 7:
Another week, another huge slate of action in the SEC. Seven ranked teams play this Saturday, with Mississippi State’s showdown against Auburn taking the spotlight in Week 7. The huge matchup in Starkville is a contest with national title implications, and quarterbacks Dak Prescott and Nick Marshall hope to make a Heisman push with a big performance.
Outside of Starkville, the SEC East title race could come into focus with Missouri hosting Georgia. If the Tigers can knock off the Bulldogs, Gary Pinkel’s team would have wins over the preseason favorites in the East (Georgia and South Carolina).
Florida hosts LSU in a critical game for two struggling teams, while Ole Miss travels to Texas A&M in another key SEC West showdown. Following up last week’s win against Alabama won’t be easy. Can the Rebels avoid a letdown in College Station?
Week 7 Previews and Predictions:
ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12
SEC Week 7 Game Power Rankings
1. Auburn (-3) at Mississippi State
3:30 p.m. ET, CBS
For the second week in a row, Mississippi is the epicenter of Saturday’s SEC slate. But after the focus was in Oxford last week, the scene shifts to Starkville. Mississippi State has arrived as a SEC title contender, while Auburn can stake its claim for the No. 1 overall ranking nationally with a win on Saturday. On the stat sheet, there are a lot of similarities between the two teams. Mississippi State and Auburn average over 500 yards per game in SEC play, average 5.6 yards per carry on offense, both have dynamic Heisman contenders at quarterback, and defenses that hold opponents to less than 20 points per game. With two similar teams, what could be the deciding factor on Saturday? Keep an eye on Mississippi State’s secondary. The Bulldogs held their own against Texas A&M, but this unit leads the SEC by allowing 23 passing plays of at least 20 yards. Can Nick Marshall hit on big plays to Sammie Coates and Duke Williams? Auburn’s defense has improved since 2013, but how much has this unit progressed? The Tigers allow just 4.6 yards per play, but the Bulldogs – with quarterback Dak Prescott leading the way – are the toughest opponent they will play so far this year. This series has been one-sided recently, as the Tigers have won 11 out of the last 13 games against the Bulldogs. Mississippi State’s last victory against Auburn came in 2012, defeating the Tigers 28-10 in Starkville.
Listen to the Week 7 preview podcast:
2. Georgia (-3) at Missouri
Noon ET, CBS
The favorite in the SEC East is anyone’s guess. However, Saturday’s game between Missouri and Georgia could provide some clarity. The Bulldogs are still in the mix for the East despite a loss to South Carolina, while Missouri’s win over the Gamecocks has Gary Pinkel’s team atop the East – for now. The Tigers won in Athens last season but are a slight underdog on Saturday. The outlook for this game has changed significantly since Wednesday, as running back Todd Gurley has been suspended indefinitely due to a NCAA investigation. With Gurley out, backup Nick Chubb is expected to see the bulk of the Bulldogs' carries on Saturday. Missouri quarterback Maty Mauk struggled against South Carolina, but he should have more weapons at his disposal with the return of Jimmie Hunt and Darius White from injury. If the Tigers can protect Mauk, he will have opportunities to make plays against a Georgia secondary that has allowed 23 plays of at least 20 yards in 2014. Missouri needs to stop the run, but Georgia’s passing offense is set to improve with the return of receivers Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley. Quarterback Hutson Mason is averaging only 153 passing yards in SEC play, and his performance will be critical to the outcome of Saturday’s game.
3. Ole Miss at Texas A&M (–3.5)
9 p.m. ET, ESPN
Life in the SEC West isn’t easy. Just ask Ole Miss. A week after beating Alabama, the Rebels have to travel to Texas A&M. The Aggies are coming off a loss to Mississippi State and need a win to stay alive in the West Division title picture. Can Ole Miss avoid a letdown? Or was Texas A&M’s 5-0 start a mirage? The Rebels need another flawless effort from quarterback Bo Wallace on Saturday, as the senior delivered against Alabama with no interceptions on 31 attempts. Wallace should have opportunities for plays against a Texas A&M secondary allowing 278.3 yards per game. The Aggies lead the SEC with 19 sacks, but this unit is allowing 6.9 yards per play in conference games. If Texas A&M doesn’t get pressure on Wallace, the receiving corps of Ole Miss will be tough to contain. The Aggies averaged only 5.7 yards per play against Mississippi State last Saturday, which was its lowest mark of the season. Getting back on track will be a challenge for quarterback Kenny Hill, as Ole Miss is holding opponents to just 4.1 yards per play and has not allowed a passing touchdown since the opener. The last two games in this series were decided by three points. Expect another close one in College Station on Saturday night.
4. LSU (-1.5) at Florida
7:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network
For the first time since 1989, both Florida and LSU enter their annual matchup unranked. The Tigers are 0-2 in SEC play, while the Gators survived an ugly 10-9 win over Tennessee last Saturday to move to 2-1 in the conference. Both teams enter this game with major question marks under center. Florida will turn to Jeff Driskel after Treon Harris’ suspension, while LSU’s quarterback situation is unsettled with Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris vying to start. Quarterback play isn’t the only problem for LSU, as its defense is allowing 37.5 points through two SEC contests. Florida’s defense has struggled stopping the pass, but the Gators rank fourth in the SEC against the run. With two teams struggling to generate anything on offense, turnover margin and special teams will be critical. LSU has won three out of the last four meetings in this series.
5. Alabama (-9.5) at Arkansas
6 p.m. ET, ESPN
Last week, Ole Miss and Mississippi State scored breakthrough wins in the SEC. Is it Arkansas’ turn on Saturday? The last two meetings in this series have been a one-sided affair. Alabama has crushed Arkansas 104-0 over the last two years, and the Razorbacks have not defeated the Crimson Tide since 2006. Arkansas has significantly improved since 2013, so a 52-0 blowout would be a surprise. But for the Razorbacks to knock off Alabama, a perfect effort is needed. The Crimson Tide lead the SEC in rush defense (2.6 ypc) and only one opponent has managed more than 100 yards this year. The strength of Arkansas’ offense is on the ground, but running room could be limited on Saturday. With Alabama focused on stopping the ground attack, the Razorbacks need an efficient effort from quarterback Brandon Allen. The junior has passed for 751 yards this year and needs to have success on early downs to keep Alabama’s defense on its heels. As if that task wasn’t difficult enough, Arkansas needs its defense to slow down the Crimson Tide ground attack (5.3 ypc) and dynamic receiver Amari Cooper. Catching Alabama after a loss is never an enticing proposition, but Bret Bielma’s team has showed marked improvement since 2013. This is a good barometer game for Arkansas, and an opportunity for the Crimson Tide to exercise some of the frustration from last week’s loss.
6. ULM at Kentucky (-21.5)
Noon ET, SEC Network
The Wildcats are one of the SEC’s biggest surprises through the first six weeks. Kentucky defeated South Carolina last Saturday, and a win over ULM would place Mark Stoops’ team just one victory away from bowl eligibility. The Warhawks are 1-1 this year against Power 5 conference teams, losing to LSU 31-0 on Sept. 13 and defeating Wake Forest 17-10 in the opener. ULM’s offense is averaging only 18.2 points per game, but the strength of Todd Berry’s team is on defense. The Warhawks limit opponents to 24 points per game and 5.1 yards per play. Those numbers will be tested on Saturday, as Kentucky has scored at least 30 points in two of its three SEC games and rank second in the conference with 16 plays of 30 yards or more.
7. Chattanooga at Tennessee
4 p.m. ET, SEC Network
Tennessee steps out of conference play for the final time this year, hosting Chattanooga (No. 13 in the FCS poll) for the first time since 1969. As evidenced by close losses to Florida and Georgia, the Volunteers are improving under second-year coach Butch Jones, but a tough schedule leaves little margin for error to get to a bowl. Chattanooga’s strength is on defense (16.6 ppg), but quarterback Jacob Huesman headlines an offense that has scored at least 38 points in its last three games. The Mocs played Central Michigan tough in the opener and possess a solid defensive line that could create a few headaches for Tennessee quarterback Justin Worley. And after playing in Tuscaloosa last November, Chattanooga is no stranger to big-time SEC environments. However, it’s a lot to ask the Mocs to keep this one close. The Volunteers should have plenty of motivation after back-to-back SEC losses, and this matchup is a good way for Tennessee to fix some of its mistakes and work on a few things before playing Ole Miss and Alabama in the next two weeks.
8. Charleston Southern at Vanderbilt
7:30 p.m. ET, Fox Sports Net
Vanderbilt’s still has faint bowl hopes, but the Commodores need a win on Saturday to stay alive in their postseason quest. Charleston Southern is 5-0 and ranked No. 24 in the FCS Top 25 poll, but this is easily the Buccaneers’ toughest game of 2014. Charleston Southern’s defense is holding opponents to just 17.6 points per game, and a triple-option attack on offense is not easy to prepare for during the heart of SEC play. First-year Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason is looking for a spark on offense, as the Commodores are averaging only 17 points per game and 4.6 yards per play. With Patton Robinette recovering from a concussion, freshman Wade Freebeck will start at quarterback for the Commodores. Freebeck – a true freshman – is completing only 44.6 percent of his throws. Charleston Southern’s numbers on defense are solid, but this matchup should help Freebeck and Vanderbilt’s offense build confidence before resuming SEC play on Oct. 25 against Missouri.
SEC Week 7 Predictions
|Auburn (-3) at Miss. State||Auburn 38-35||MSU 31-27||Auburn 34-31||Auburn 34-24|
|Georgia (-3) at Missouri||Mizzou 24-21||Mizzou 34-31||Mizzou 27-24||UGA 27-21|
|Ole Miss (+3.5) at TAMU||Ole Miss 35-27||TAMU 34-33||Ole Miss 34-27||Ole Miss 34-30|
|LSU (-1.5) at Florida||LSU 14-10||Florida 24-17||Florida 20-17||Florida 17-14|
|Alabama (-9.5) at Arkansas||Alabama 35-14||Alabama 30-21||Alabama 30-13||Alabama 30-21|
|ULM (+21.5) at UK||UK 38-14||UK 45-14||UK 38-10||UK 37-10|
|Chattanooga at Tennessee||UT 31-13||UT 38-13||UT 45-13||UT 41-10|
|C. Southern at Vanderbilt||Vandy 24-10||Vandy 34-17||Vandy 34-10||Vandy 28-10|
West Virginia cornerback Daryl Worley has been reinstated to the team after reaching a plea agreement from an incident that occurred in September. Worley pleaded no contest to misdemeanor assault and will serve no jail time.
Worley was originally charged with misdemeanor battery from a nightclub incident.
However, after reaching the plea agreement, Worley was placed on probation and was reinstated to the team on Tuesday.
The sophomore is West Virginia’s top defender and is one of the Big 12’s top shutdown cornerbacks. Worley has missed West Virginia's last two games, and his return is critical for the entire defense.
Worley’s return also comes at a key time for the Mountaineers, as they travel to Texas Tech this Saturday, followed by a matchup against Baylor in Week 8.
#WVU cornerback Daryl Worley officially reinstated to the football team after legal situation wrapped up earlier today.— Garrett Cullen (@GarrettCullen) October 8, 2014
WVU Cornerback Daryl Worley Fully Reinstated http://t.co/9f64veLM8Q— Smoking Musket (@SmokingMusket) October 9, 2014
Each college football season, a handful of new players become household names. Most of the breakout players start the year as unknowns or as hyped recruits by a fanbase, but by the end of a year, those players are on the radar for college football fans across the nation.
Athlon tries to project the breakout players every offseason, but each person has a different take on how to define or categorize breakout players.
With six weeks in the books, it’s time to evaluate the breakout players as the second half of 2014 approaches.
Whether it’s quarterbacks like NC State’s Jacoby Brissett, Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett or Pittsburgh running back James Conner, there are handful of players emerging as superstars as the season hits the halfway point.
Here are 20 names to know, along with a handful of others so far in 2014:
20 College Football Breakout Players After Week 6
Devon Allen, WR, Oregon
Despite a lot of turnover in the receiving corps this offseason, Oregon’s high-powered offense hasn’t missed a beat. Allen emerged as quarterback Marcus Mariota’s go-to receiver, catching 19 passes for 377 yards (19.8 ypc) and six scores. The redshirt freshman’s elite speed is valuable for the Ducks to stretch the field, and Allen has two receptions of at least 70 yards in 2014.
J.T. Barrett, QB, Ohio State
Losing Braxton Miller was a huge early-season setback for Ohio State’s offense, but the Buckeyes are starting to fire on all cylinders at the right time. Over the last three games, Ohio State’s offense is averaging 623.7 yards per game and has scored at least 50 points in each contest during that span. Barrett’s play has been critical to the development of the Buckeyes’ offense, as he has 14 touchdowns over the last three games and has tossed only one pick on his last 67 passes. And in another positive sign of Barrett’s development: He’s completed at least 72 percent of his throws in three straight games.
Trevone Boykin, QB, TCU
As long as Gary Patterson is on the sidelines in Fort Worth, it’s safe to assume TCU is going to have one of the Big 12’s best defenses. However, the Horned Frogs struggled to find consistency on offense in recent years and lost four games by three points in 2013. Needing to inject a quick fix for the offense, Patterson turned to Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie as his new coordinators. And the Meacham/Cumbie hires are proving to be huge for the Horned Frogs, as TCU ranks second in the Big 12 by averaging 42.8 points per game. Boykin wasn’t guaranteed the starting job this offseason, but the junior has been nearly flawless through four games. Boykin has completed 61.5 percent of his throws and has 1,176 passing yards and 10 touchdowns in 2014. Boykin is clearly one of the nation’s most-improved passers this year.
Jacoby Brissett, QB, NC State
Brissett nearly guided NC State to an upset over Florida State, but the Florida transfer is off to a fast start in his Wolfpack debut. The junior ranks third among ACC quarterbacks with 1,399 yards and is tied with Miami freshman Brad Kaaya for the conference lead (13) in touchdown passes. Brissett completed over 66 percent of his passes through his first four games and has just one interception on 185 attempts.
James Conner, RB, Pittsburgh
Conner finished 2013 on a tear, rushing for 229 yards on 26 attempts in the bowl victory over Bowling Green. The sophomore carried that momentum into 2014, gashing his first four opponents for at least 153 yards in each contest. Opposing defenses in the last two games has slowed Conner and the Pittsburgh rushing attack, as the sophomore has not topped 100 yards in either outing. However, Conner’s 873 yards ranks second in the nation, while his nine rushing scores are tied for third nationally.
Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M
Garrett was one of the top incoming recruits for the 2014 signing class and hasn’t disappointed for Texas A&M. The true freshman is physically ready for the challenge of playing in the trenches in the SEC, recording 30 tackles (eight for a loss) and 6.5 sacks. By recording two sacks over the next six games, Garrett will set a SEC record for the most sacks by a true freshman.
Jared Goff, QB, California
Injuries and coaching transition equaled a disappointing 1-11 start to Sonny Dykes’ tenure at California last year. But the Golden Bears have showed marked improvement in 2014, as they lead the Pac-12 North with a 2-1 mark in conference play after six weeks. In addition to better luck with injuries, combined with improvement on defense, California’s offense is a big reason why this team could be the nation’s biggest surprise in 2014. Goff has thrown for 1,875 yards and 22 scores through five games, and his 375 yards per game mark ranks second in the Pac-12.
Eddie Goldman, DT, Florida State
Goldman started 13 games in 2013, but the junior is playing at an even higher level in 2014. Through five games, the defensive tackle has 15 stops (3.5 for a loss) and two sacks. Goldman also forced a fumble with less than two minutes to go against Clemson, preventing the Tigers from getting into scoring range and winning in Tallahassee earlier this year. Goldman won’t post huge numbers, but he’s ready to live up to the hype as a five-star high school recruit.
Samaje Perine, RB, Oklahoma
“Optimus Perime” has emerged as Oklahoma’s No. 1 back this year. A leg injury sidelined Keith Ford after the third game, and Perine has rushed for 329 yards and seven scores over the last two contests. The true freshman will likely relinquish some carries when Ford returns, but at 243 pounds, Perine is tough to keep off the field when Oklahoma wants to establish its ground attack.
Shane Ray, DE, Missouri
Replacing standouts on the defensive line is nothing new for coordinator Dave Steckel and line coach Craig Kuligowski. And despite losing Michael Sam and Kony Ealy to the NFL, Missouri’s defensive line is just as effective as it was in 2013. The Tigers rank third in the SEC with 17 sacks and are tied for fourth with 35 tackles for a loss. Ray has a sack in four consecutive games, including two in Missouri’s road win at South Carolina.
Josh Robinson, RB, Mississippi State
We could list quarterback Dak Prescott here, but Robinson fits our “breakout” criteria better since he never rushed for at least 500 yards in a season – until 2014. The junior has emerged as a perfect complement to Prescott this year, averaging 7.5 yards per carry on 79 attempts. Robinson has three 100-yard efforts in his last five games, including 197 in a huge road win at LSU.
Dan Skipper, OT, Arkansas
The improved play in the trenches is a big reason why the Razorbacks are showing progress in coach Bret Bielema’s second year. Skipper worked his way into the starting lineup as a true freshman last season, starting the final eight games of 2013. The sophomore anchors the left tackle spot in 2014 and is a big reason why Arkansas leads the SEC with five runs of 50 yards or more and ranks seventh nationally by recording 316.6 rushing yards per game.
Jaylon Smith, LB, Notre Dame
Notre Dame’s defense hasn’t played a gauntlet of elite offenses so far in 2014, but the Fighting Irish are holding opponents to just 12 points a game and just 4.7 yards per play. Despite personnel losses up front, new coordinator Brian VanGorder has managed to keep the Fighting Irish’s defense among the nation’s best. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have a standout linebacker like Smith. The sophomore leads Notre Dame with 45 tackles (6.5 for a loss) and has two sacks through five games. Smith could be an All-American by the end of 2014.
Anu Solomon, QB, Arizona
Arizona began spring practice with seven quarterbacks vying for the starting job. After an extended battle into the fall, Solomon emerged as the No. 1 quarterback. So far, the redshirt freshman has not disappointed. The Wildcats are 5-0 and the only undefeated team in the Pac-12 South. Solomon has passed for 1,741 yards and 14 scores and has tossed only four picks on 206 attempts. He also has 167 rushing yards on 51 attempts. Solomon has completed at least 64 percent of his throws in three consecutive starts.
Nelson Spruce, WR, Colorado
No Paul Richardson? No problem. Spruce has emerged as a capable replacement for Richardson and is the favorite target for Colorado’s rising star quarterback Sefo Liufau. Spruce leads the nation with 62 receptions and ranks third with 732 receiving yards. The junior also leads the nation with 10 touchdown receptions and has caught at least 10 passes in three games this season. Coming into 2014, Spruce had just seven career touchdown catches.
Justin Thomas, QB, Georgia Tech
At 5-0, Georgia Tech is probably the biggest surprise from the nation’s 10 remaining unbeatens. The Yellow Jackets’ option attack has operated smoothly with Thomas at the helm, as the sophomore has rushed for 470 yards and three rushing scores. Thomas also has seven passing scores and averages 18.4 yards per completion. As long as Thomas executes the necessary reads to run the option, and utilizes his legs to make plays on the ground, the sophomore should have Georgia Tech squarely in the mix to win the Coastal this year.
Kemoko Turay, DL, Rutgers
Turay is a key cog in Rutgers’ defensive line, as the redshirt freshman leads the team with 5.5 sacks and ranks second with 5.5 tackles for a loss. Turay also leads the nation with three blocked kicks (including one to preserve the win over Michigan) and has 12 tackles through the first six games.
More Breakout Players from 2014
Budda Baker, S, Washington
Promising true freshman is a future star in Seattle. Baker has 26 stops and three pass breakups through Washington’s first five games.
Quin Blanding, S, Virginia
Blanding has lived up to the hype as a five-star recruit early in his career. The true freshman leads Virginia with 61 tackles and has recorded four pass breakups and one interception.
Devontae Booker, RB, Utah
Booker has provided a spark for Utah’s ground attack, averaging 5.8 yards per carry on 88 attempts this year. The junior college recruit has 513 yards (No. 5 in Pac-12) and four rushing scores.
KD Cannon, WR, Baylor
Standout true freshman averages 21.9 yards per reception. Leads Baylor with five touchdown tosses through five games.
Senquez Golson, CB, Ole Miss
Golson made 10 starts last year, but the senior is off to arguably the best start in his career. Through five games, he has 17 stops and four interceptions, including the game-winning pick to beat Alabama in Week 6.
DaeSean Hamilton, WR, Penn State
Hamilton – a redshirt freshman – leads the team with 36 receptions for 502 yards in 2014.
Tyreek Hill, RB/WR, Oklahoma State
Hill is the definition of a true all-purpose threat. The junior college recruit has 196 rushing yards, 131 receiving yards on 14 catches, 15 punt returns and averages 23.4 yards per kickoff return.
Xavien Howard, CB, Baylor
Howard headlines Baylor’s revamped secondary, as the sophomore has recorded 16 tackles, two interceptions and 10 passes defended through five games.
Jojo Kemp/Braylon Heard, RB, Kentucky
Heard and Kemp are two of Kentucky’s rising stars at the skill positions, and both players have energized a rushing attack that ranked near the bottom of the SEC in 2013. Heard averages 8.1 yards per carry, while Kemp boasts a 5.7 mark on 50 carries.
Justin Jackson, RB, Northwestern
True freshman has emerged as a capable replacement for Venric Mark. Leads the team with 396 yards on 89 attempts.
Brad Kaaya, QB, Miami
The talent is there – the true freshman just needs more snaps. Has tossed at least two picks in four out of Miami’s six games in 2014.
Peter Kalambayi, LB, Stanford
Stanford’s defense hasn’t missed a beat under new coordinator Lance Anderson, and Kalambayi (16 tackles, 5 TFL, 4 sacks) has been a key cog in the pass rush.
William Likely, CB, Maryland
Likely has been one of Maryland’s top defenders through its first six games, helping the Terrapins to hold their first two Big Ten opponents to just four passing scores on 61 attempts. The sophomore has recorded 42 stops, one sack and three interceptions. Likely also has one forced fumble and averages 22 yards per punt return.
Cam Serigne, TE, Wake Forest
Serigne has been one of the few bright spots from Wake Forest’s offense this year. The freshman has 29 catches for 282 yards and one score.
Vincent Valentine, DT, Nebraska
Valentine helps to anchor Nebraska’s rush defense, which is holding opponents to 3.8 yards per carry. The sophomore has 16 tackles (four for a loss) and two sacks through five games.
D’haquille Williams, WR, Auburn
Williams was considered one of the top junior college recruits in the nation and hasn’t disappointed through five games. The junior has 25 receptions for 385 yards and three scores so far this year.
Shaun Wilson, RB, Duke
Only has 36 attempts but has made the most of his opportunities (12.1 ypc).
With six 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 six 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 6 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.
Teams just missing the projections: California, Maryland, Oregon State, Wyoming, Texas State, ULM, USF, Western Kentucky. Remember: It’s only Week 6. Several changes are coming, and it’s impossible to project all of the wins and losses the rest of the way considering how much changes week-to-week in college football.
College Football's Post-Week 6 Bowl Projections
|New Orleans||Dec. 20||Sun Belt vs.|
| UL Lafayette vs.|
|New Mexico||Dec. 20||C-USA vs.|
| North Texas vs.|
|Las Vegas||Dec. 20||Mountain West vs.|
| Boise State vs.|
|Famous Idaho Potato||Dec. 20||MAC vs.|
| Bowling Green vs.|
|Camellia||Dec. 20||MAC vs.|
| Ohio vs.|
|Miami Beach||Dec. 22||American vs.|
|Boca Raton||Dec. 23||C-USA vs.|
| Marshall vs.|
|Poinsettia||Dec. 23||Mountain West vs.|
| Colorado State vs.|
|Bahamas||Dec. 24||C-USA vs. |
|Hawaii||Dec. 24||C-USA vs.|
|Heart of Dallas||Dec. 26||Big Ten vs. |
| Rutgers vs.|
|Quick Lane||Dec. 26||ACC vs.|
| Boston College vs.|
|Bitcoin St. Petersburg||Dec. 26||ACC vs.|
| Pittsburgh vs.|
|Military||Dec. 27||ACC vs. |
| Duke vs.|
|Sun||Dec. 27||ACC vs. |
| Virginia vs.|
|Independence||Dec. 27||ACC vs.|
| NC State vs.|
|Pinstripe||Dec. 27||ACC vs.|
| Miami vs.|
|Holiday||Dec. 27||Big Ten vs.|
| Wisconsin vs.|
|Liberty||Dec. 29||SEC vs.|
| Tennessee vs.|
|Russell Athletic||Dec. 29||ACC vs.|
| Georgia Tech vs.|
|Texas||Dec. 29||Big 12 vs.|
| West Virginia vs.|
|Music City||Dec. 30||ACC/Big Ten vs.|
| Iowa vs.|
|Belk||Dec. 30||ACC vs.|
| Virginia Tech vs.|
|San Francisco||Dec. 30||Big Ten vs. |
| Northwestern 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.|
| Louisville vs.|
|Alamo||Jan. 2||Big 12 vs.|
| TCU vs.|
|Cactus||Jan. 2||Big 12 vs.|
| Texas vs.|
|Birmingham||Jan. 3||American vs.|
| Memphis vs.|
|GoDaddy||Jan. 4||MAC vs.|
| Toledo vs.|
|New Year's Bowls|
|Peach||Dec. 31||At-large vs.|
| East Carolina vs.|
|Fiesta||Dec. 31||At-large vs.|
| Baylor vs.|
|Dec. 31||At-large vs.|
| Clemson vs.|
|Cotton||Jan. 1||At-large vs.|
| Michigan State vs.|
|Related: Projecting the Playoff Teams After Week 6|
| Florida State vs. |
| Auburn vs.|
|National Title||Jan. 12||Semifinal Winner vs.|
| Auburn vs.|
* Indicates conference not projected to have enough bowl-eligible teams.
The new college football playoff format has added even more intrigue to the 2014 season. Instead of figuring out the top two teams in early December, the focus has shifted to finding four teams to play in the first FBS postseason playoff format.
To help select the four playoff teams, a 13-person committee was picked, which includes names like Barry Alvarez, Oliver Luck, Pat Haden and Jeff Long, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former coach Tyrone Willingham.
Each week, Athlon Sports hopes to replicate the playoff committee’s work by asking some of college football’s top media members to vote on their top eight teams. The official playoff committee will release its rankings starting on Oct. 28, but this poll will attempt to project how the playoff picture stacks up after each week until the end of the year.
Bobby Bowden (@TheBobbyBowden), Legends Poll
Gene Stallings, (@LegendsPoll), Legends Poll
Don Nehlen (@LegendsPoll), Legends Poll
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven), Athlon Sports
Braden Gall (@BradenGall), Athlon Sports
Zac Ellis (@ZacEllis), Sports Illustrated
David Fox (@DavidFox615), Athlon Sports
Mark Ennis (@MarkEnnis), CardChronicle.com
Teddy Mitrosilis (@TMitrosilis), Fox Sports
Matt Brown (@MattBrownCFB), SportsonEarth.com
Rich Cirminiello (@RichCirminiello), Campus Insiders
Brad Crawford (@BCrawfordSDS), SaturdayDownSouth.com
Allen Kenney (@BlatantHomerism), BlatantHomerism.com
Chris Anderson (@CMAnderson247), Eersports.com
Kyle Kensing (@kensing45), CFBHuddle.com
Adam Powell (@ACCSports), ACCSports.com
Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch) Athlon Sports
Josh Ward (@Josh_Ward), MrSEC.com
Kevin McGuire (@KevinonCFB), CollegeFootballTalk.com
Mark Ross (@AthlonMarkR), Athlon Sports
Post-Week 6 Playoff Projection
Takeaways from Expert Poll Results
* Auburn received 12 of the first-place votes. Florida State received seven, and Mississippi State claimed one first-place vote.
* According to the voting panel, Auburn, Florida State and Mississippi State clearly rank as the top three teams in the playoff projection. The Tigers did not receive a vote lower than third. The Seminoles did not receive a vote lower than fourth.
* Alabama ranks as the highest one-loss team from the voting panel. The Crimson Tide’s position is critical, as Nick Saban’s team still has to play two teams ranked higher in this week’s results (Mississippi State and Auburn).
* Looking ahead from this week’s results, more clarity in the top 10 should come after Saturday’s games. Auburn plays Mississippi State and Baylor hosts TCU.
* The Pac-12 is arguably college football’s No. 2 power conference behind the SEC. But the Pac-12’s first team in the rankings checks in at No. 10 Arizona. Yes, that’s right: Arizona. The Wildcats make their first appearance in the poll after beating Oregon, and no other Pac-12 team received consideration in this week’s vote. Is the Pac-12 setup to have too many good teams with not enough wins to be in the conversation for a spot in the playoffs?
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
After games against South Carolina, Virginia Tech and North Carolina, it’s easy to see why East Carolina had a sluggish effort against SMU on Saturday. The Pirates won 45-24 but retain the top spot in the Group of 5 rankings. East Carolina travels to USF in Week 7, with back-to-back road trips against Temple and Cincinnati coming in early November.
The Thundering Herd’s quest for an unbeaten season continued with an easy 56-14 victory over Old Dominion in Week 6. Marshall has won every game by at least 15 points this year. With a soft schedule, the Thundering Herd needs to win impressively to pass East Carolina for the Group of 5 spot.
The Tigers replace Cincinnati as East Carolina’s biggest threat from the American Athletic Conference this week. Memphis has two quality losses (Ole Miss and UCLA) and defeated Cincinnati 41-14 in Week 6.
4. Boise State
A week after a surprising loss to Air Force, Boise State rebounded with a key road win at Nevada. The remaining schedule for Bryan Harsin’s team is favorable, as the Broncos play four games at home in the final two months, including key showdowns against Utah State, BYU and Fresno State.
5. Colorado State
Jim McElwain’s team cruised to an easy win over Tulsa in Week 6 (42-17), which comes a week after a solid road victory at Boston College. The Rams play at Nevada this Saturday and host Utah State in Week 8. Colorado State needs a little help to jump Boise State in this ranking after losing to the Broncos in Week 2.
Key Games With Playoff Implications in Week 7
Texas vs. Oklahoma (Dallas)
Noon ET, ABC
Sooners look to get back on track against rival Texas in a neutral site affair in Dallas.
Georgia at Missouri
Noon ET, CBS
Winner of this game should take control of the SEC East.
Auburn at Mississippi State
3:30 p.m. ET, CBS
Another SEC West showdown with national title and Heisman implications.
TCU at Baylor
3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2
Can the Horned Frogs take control of the Big 12 with an upset win in Waco?
Oregon at UCLA
3:30 p.m. ET, FOX
Both teams need a win after losing last Saturday. And this one could be a preview of the Pac-12 Championship game.
Alabama at Arkansas
6 p.m. ET, ESPN
Expect an angry Crimson Tide team in Fayetteville this Saturday.
Penn State at Michigan
7 p.m. ET, ESPN2
Brady Hoke needs a win to quiet the hot seat talk.
LSU at Florida
7:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network
Points could be at a premium with two teams struggling to generate offense.
Ole Miss at Texas A&M
9 p.m. ET, ESPN
Can Ole Miss avoid a letdown after beating Alabama? Aggies need a win to stay in the SEC West race.
USC at Arizona
10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2
After allowing 510 passing yards to Arizona State last week, can the Trojans stop Arizona quarterback Anu Solomon?
Northwestern is set to unveil a new alternate uniform for its Oct. 18 showdown against Nebraska.
On Monday, the Wildcats unveiled a gothic-style uniform for the upcoming matchup.
Check out Northwestern’s new look for 2014:
Florida’s offense has hit another speed bump, as true freshman quarterback Treon Harris has been indefinitely suspended from the team due to an off-the-field incident. With Harris suspended, the Gators are expected to start Jeff Driskel in Saturday night’s game against LSU.
According to an official statement from the school, Harris is accused of sexual assault on Sunday morning.
Harris was one of the few bright spots for the Gators in Saturday’s ugly 10-9 win over Tennessee. The true freshman completed 2 of 4 passes for 17 yards and added 24 yards on four carries.
While the final numbers weren’t overly impressive, Harris led Florida’s offense on its only scoring drives of the day.
Harris is expected to remain indefinitely suspended from the team pending the outcome of the investigation.
New coordinator Kurt Roper has struggled to get the Gators’ offense on track this year, as Florida is averaging just 5.2 yards per play and ranks 12th in the SEC in scoring.
Quarterback play has been a problem for Florida since Tim Tebow departed, as Florida has ranked 10th or worse in the SEC in scoring since 2012.
Roper was hired to install an offense that maximized the talents of Driskel, but the junior is completing just 54.7 percent of his throws and has tossed six picks to just five touchdowns.
Driskel started the year by posting big numbers (248 yards, 1 TD against Eastern Michigan and 295 yards and 3 TDs against Kentucky), but he has five interceptions and just 20 completions over the last two games.
If Driskel continues to struggle, Florida may have to turn to true freshman Will Grier.
With the struggles under center and limited offense, the Gators need a big effort from their defense and rushing attack against LSU on Saturday night.
Despite Florida’s win over Tennessee, coach Will Muschamp is squarely on the hot seat and needs to get the Gators back in a bowl to save his job for 2015.
With Harris indefinitely suspended, combined with a struggling Driskel expected to start, Muschamp’s long-term outlook isn’t improving with Florida’s continuing question marks at quarterback.
Florida's statement on Treon Harris: pic.twitter.com/NWLvW91SQE— Barrett Sallee (@BarrettSallee) October 6, 2014