Articles By Steven Lassan
Following Saturday’s overtime loss to Florida State, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney announced true freshman Deshaun Watson supplanted Cole Stoudt as the team’s starting quarterback.
While Stoudt could be a solid quarterback for the Tigers and certainly hasn’t been awful through the first three games, starting Watson is clearly the right call for Clemson.
In three games of his career, Watson has showed the moment is not too big for him.
Against Florida State – the defending national champion – and in Tallahassee, Watson completed 19 of 28 throws for 266 yards and rushed for 30 yards on 12 attempts.
In the opener against Georgia, Watson led the Tigers on an impressive touchdown drive and finished with 59 yards and a score on two completions.
As with any true freshman quarterback, Watson is going to have his share of ups and downs. But Watson is ready for the spotlight and the opportunity to handle the full controls for Clemson’s offense.
The 2014 season is still young, but with two losses – and one in ACC play – the Tigers are unlikely to make a splash on the national scene.
No, Clemson isn’t rebuilding or already looking ahead to 2015, but at this point, why not play Watson and have him fully entrenched in the job by November? When two quarterbacks are performing at a similar level, why not play the one with more upside. In that case, the answer for Swinney and offensive coordinator Chad Morris is clear: Deshaun Watson.
Deshaun Watson vs. Cole Stoudt Through Three Games in 2014
|Deshaun Watson||Cole Stoudt|
|Yards Per Completion||16.5||11.8|
|Yards Per Attempt||11.7||7.5|
|Passing Plays of 20+ Yards||9||9|
|Passing Plays of 30+ Yards||6||6|
As the stats show, Watson offers more big-play ability for the Clemson offense and nearly has more passing yards than Stoudt on 24 less attempts.
A favorable schedule awaits the Tigers, including four of their next five in Death Valley. The only road trip until November is an Oct. 18 date at Boston College.
There’s simply no downside for Clemson in this scenario. With two losses and Florida State a heavy favorite to win the Atlantic Division, a look to the future (without a drop in production) is the right move. Watson has outplayed Stoudt, the schedule is favorable for a change under center, and the Tigers can start building momentum with a young core on offense.
Clemson loses three starters on the line at the end of 2014, but the receiving and running back corps are filled with talented youngsters. Mike Williams, Artavis Scott and Charone Peake headline a deep group at receiver, while C.J. Davidson, Wayne Gallman and Adam Choice are slated to return at running back in 2015.
With the young core of skill players, and Watson having a full season to develop, Clemson’s offense will once again be one of the best in the ACC in 2015. While it's early to be breaking down depth charts for next season, an explosive offense is needed for the Tigers next year with a plethora of losses on defense.
Stoudt waited his turn behind Tajh Boyd and earned the right to start in the opener. But after three games, it’s clear Watson is Clemson’s best quarterback and option to win in 2014 - with a slight look ahead to 2015.
Louisville’s Thursday night showdown against Florida State on Oct. 30 is one of the top remaining games in the ACC this year.
And the Cardinals will attempt to upset the Seminoles with an alternate uniform, which the school is calling “Showtime.”
The uniforms have an overall gray scheme and feature camo accents and chrome red logos.
Louisville will wear these uniforms vs. FSU on Oct. 30 pic.twitter.com/X7ZthGBfZa— Brett McMurphy (@McMurphyESPN) September 22, 2014
Side view of helmet & shoulder pad of Louisville uniform for 10/30 game vs FSU pic.twitter.com/ms6GCnlYUz— darren rovell (@darrenrovell) September 22, 2014
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 4
6: Consecutive Games Where Virginia Tech Loses At Least 2 Turnovers
After Virginia Tech’s 35-21 win at Ohio State in Week 2, most expected the Hokies would emerge as the clear frontrunner in the Coastal Division. Two weeks later, it’s probably time to re-evaluate the Hokies. Virginia Tech has lost back-to-back games, largely due to the turnover battle. The Hokies have lost at least two turnovers in six consecutive games, including two contests in 2014 by giving away three turnovers. In Saturday’s loss to Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech lost three and only forced one. Dating back to 2008, the Hokies have only streak longer than three games of losing at least two turnovers in a single contest.
47: Missouri’s Streak of Forcing Turnovers in Consecutive Games Ends
Missouri’s 31-27 loss to Indiana was one of the most surprising results of Week 4. The Hoosiers were coming off a loss to Bowling Green, while the Tigers looked impressive in three consecutive victories to open the season. But Missouri couldn’t stop Indiana’s ground attack (241) yards and failed to force a turnover for the first time in 47 games. Coming into Week 4, the Tigers created at least two turnovers in five consecutive contests. However, Missouri’s defense struggled without end Markus Golden and did not force a turnover for the first time since Oct. 16, 2010 when the Tigers won 30-9 at Texas A&M.
374: ECU QB Shane Carden’s Average Passing Yards Against Last 4 ACC Opponents
The Pirates have emerged as the top team from the Group of Five this year. East Carolina has defeated Virginia Tech and North Carolina to key a solid 3-1 start to 2014. Quarterback Shane Carden headlines an offense averaging 43.3 points per game and 7.5 yards per play. In Carden’s last four games against ACC opponents (all victories), he’s thrown for 1,496 yards and 16 touchdowns to just four interceptions. Carden also threw for 300 yards in a 33-23 loss to South Carolina in Week 2.
3: Wisconsin Rushers With At Least 100 Yards Against Bowling Green
Question marks remain about Wisconsin’s passing attack, but the rushing game is in midseason form. The Badgers gashed Bowling Green for 644 yards in Saturday’s 68-17 victory, averaging a monstrous 10.7 yards per carry. Wisconsin’s 644 yards were a school record, and three players – Melvin Gordon (RB), Tanner McEvoy (QB) and Corey Clement (RB) all finished with more than 100 yards. After Saturday’s game, the Badgers lead the nation by averaging 7.8 yards per rush attempt in 2014.
570: Most Total Yards Allowed by LSU Since 2001
The final score was misleading (34-29), as Mississippi State dominated LSU in Baton Rouge. The Bulldogs recorded 570 total yards against the Tigers (most in Les Miles era), the most allowed by the Tigers defense since giving up 632 to Florida in 2001. The 570 yards were also only the fourth time LSU has allowed at least 500 yards in a game over the last four years. Total yardage totals are often misleading, but a deeper look shows just how dominant the Bulldogs were. Mississippi State averaged 7.8 yards per play and 6.2 yards per rush and had two scoring plays of at least 50 yards. LSU’s defense is young and will improve over the course of the season. However, the Bulldogs dominated in the trenches – a place where the Tigers are usually strong.
0: Florida Points Not Scored Off Alabama Turnovers
Similar to the Mississippi State-LSU game, the Alabama-Florida final score was deceiving. Sure, 42-21 is a one-sided affair, but the Gators struggled mightily on offense outside of three Alabama turnovers that were converted into scores. None of Florida’s drives lasted longer than seven plays or 31 yards. The Gators also had five three-and-outs, completed just nine passes and went 2 of 13 on third-down attempts. Offense was a hot topic in Gainesville this offseason, and new coordinator Kurt Roper was brought in to utilize the talents of quarterback Jeff Driskel. Alabama’s defense is one of the best in the nation, but the Gators still have major question marks to address on offense as the heart of SEC play approaches.
432.5: Rushing Yards Averaged by Boston College in Last 2 Games
Total yardage can be deceiving. But don’t be fooled when looking at the box scores for Boston College over the last two weeks. The Eagles returned only three new starters on offense but have already established their identity as a power running team once again. Boston College recorded 452 yards against USC in Week 3 and 413 yards on the ground against Maine last Saturday, giving the Eagles a 432.5 average over the last two weeks. Steve Addazio’s team has rushed for at least 338 yards in three games this year and has 13 of the 16 offensive touchdowns on the ground. Quarterback Tyler Murphy leads the team with 500 yards, but there’s a host of talented young rushers contributing, including Jon Hilliman (241 yards) and Myles Willis (208 yards).
0: Michigan Drives Against Power 5 Teams to Reach Redzone in 2014
Brady Hoke’s future in Ann Arbor hinges on how far new coordinator Doug Nussmeier can develop the offense this year. So far, the results aren’t encouraging. Michigan is averaging just 24 points per game and recorded just 4.3 yards per play against Notre Dame and 4.1 against Utah. The Wolverines are a -10 in turnover margin, with six interceptions coming from quarterback Devin Gardner. The rushing attack has struggled against Power 5 opponents (218 yards on 71 attempts), but an even bigger concern is Michigan’s inability to get into the redzone. Against the Utes and Fighting Irish, the Wolverines did not advance into the redzone and scored a combined 10 points in those two contests.
36: Points Scored by Arizona in Fourth Quarter Against Cal
Plenty of points were expected in Saturday’s California-Arizona game, so it was somewhat of a surprise when the Golden Bears only led the Wildcats 31-13 at the end of the third quarter. So much for offense, right? One quarter later, the shootout everyone expected finally started. The Wildcats and Golden Bears combined for 50 points in the fourth quarter, with Arizona recording 36 in a crazy 49-45 victory. Quarterback Anu Solomon connected with receiver Austin Hill on a 47-yard pass on the final play to win.
2: Alabama QBs to Throw for 400 Yards in a Game
In Saturday’s 42-21 victory over Florida, Blake Sims became just the second quarterback in Alabama history to record 400 passing yards in a game. Sims completed 23 of 33 passes for 445 yards and four scores and averaged 19.3 yards per completion. The strong performance by the senior should end any question marks about who should be the starting quarterback in Tuscaloosa. Scott Hunter (1969) is the only other quarterback in Crimson Tide history to throw for 400 yards in a game.
Other Stats to Know
* Auburn recorded 359 total yards in Thursday night’s win over Kansas State. That’s the lowest mark in Gus Malzahn’s two seasons as the Tigers’ head coach.
* Oklahoma freshman running back Samaje Perine rushed for 242 yards in Saturday’s 45-33 win over West Virginia. He’s the first Sooner to rush for 200 yards in a game since DeMarco Murray in 2010.
* Florida’s struggles weren’t limited just to its offense against Alabama. The Gators allowed 645 yards to the Crimson Tide – the most in school history.
* Tulane attempted six fourth-down conversions in Saturday’s loss to Duke. That’s more than Florida State had all of last season (four).
* Georgia averaged nine yards per play in Saturday’s 66-0 win over Troy.
* 226 of LSU’s 430 yards came in the fourth quarter in Saturday’s loss to Mississippi State. The Tigers also averaged 2.5 yards per carry. That’s the second time this year that LSU has averaged less than 2.8 yards per carry in a game.
* Penn State rushed for 228 yards in Saturday’s win over UMass. The one-game total against the Minutemen topped Penn State’s season total prior to Week 4 – 227 yards.
* North Carolina’s defense allowed a school-record 789 yards in Saturday’s 70-41 loss to East Carolina.
* After a slow start, Washington’s defense stepped up in the second half of Saturday’s win against Georgia State. The Huskies allowed 219 yards through the first two quarters but held the Panthers to just 44 in the second half.
* Receiver Tyler Boyd has accounted for 21 of Pittsburgh’s 51 receptions in 2014.
* Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya has passed for 300 yards in back-to-back games.
* Syracuse outgained Maryland 569 to 369 but lost 34-20. Why? The Orange lost two turnovers, missed field goal, had a punt blocked, and the Terrapins returned an interception for a score.
* Cincinnati recorded eight sacks in Saturday’s 31-24 win over Miami (Ohio).
* Kansas receiver Tony Pierson is averaging 16.3 yards per touch (15) this year.
* Colorado receiver Nelson Spruce set a school record with 13 catches in Saturday’s win over Hawaii.
* Virginia Tech has lost back-to-back home games for the first time since 1995.
* Eastern Michigan had more turnovers (6) than first downs (5) in Satudray’s 73-14 loss to Michigan State.
* Virginia recorded 35 first downs in Saturday’s loss to BYU. That’s the most the Cavaliers have posted in a single game under coach Mike London.
* Cal averaged 8.0 yards per play against Arizona – yet still lost 49-45 to the Wildcats.
* Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon fumbled for the first time in 322 attempts in Saturday’s win over Bowling Green.
* Marshall scored on five of its first six possessions against Akron.
* Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion threw for 275 yards in Saturday’s 28-7 win over San Diego State. Mannion now has 11,339 career passing yards, ranking No. 1 in school history.
* Indiana converted only one third-down attempt in Saturday’s win over Missouri (1 of 14).
* Georgia Tech quarterback Justin Thomas accounted for 290 of the 375 yards by the Yellow Jackets in the 27-24 win over Virginia Tech.
* Temple set a school record with a 59-point margin of victory in Saturday’s win against Delaware State.
* Vanderbilt averaged 6.9 yards per play in Saturday’s 48-34 loss to South Carolina. That’s the highest per play average for the Commodores in SEC play since averaging 9.3 yards per play against Kentucky in 2006.
* West Virginia receiver Kevin White has at least nine catches in every game this year.
* Georgia Southern running back Matt Breida has averaged at least eight yards per carry in four straight games. Breida has 454 yards (ranks No. 1 in Sun Belt) and seven scores for the Eagles in 2014.
* Minnesota quarterback Chris Streveler completed just one pass in Saturday’s win over San Jose State. Streveler also completed one pass to the other team (1 INT).
* Thanks to a 47-13 win over Tulane, Duke is 4-0 for the first time since 1994.
* UConn’s offense struggled mightily in Friday night’s loss to South Florida. The Huskies went 0-9 on third-down conversions, finished with 145 total yards and had eight drives that lasted just three plays. 75 of UConn’s yards occurred on the final drive of the game.
* Alabama tight end O.J. Howard finally caught his first pass of the 2014 season against Florida. The sophomore finished with two catches for 22 yards in the 42-21 win.
* Northwestern defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo forced three fumbles in Saturday’s win over Western Illinois.
* 242 of Wyoming’s 334 yards came on its three scoring drives. The Cowboys used a 91-yard drive with less than two minutes remaining to defeat FAU.
* 121 of Northwestern’s 166 rushing yards came via true freshmen Justin Jackson and Solomon Vault.
* ODU won its C-USA debut by hitting a last-second field goal to defeat Rice. The Monarchs averaged 8.3 yards per play on just 64 plays.
* Texas A&M averaged 9.8 yards per play in Saturday’s easy 58-6 win over SMU.
* Western Michigan true freshman running back Jarvion Franklin has at least 163 rushing yards in all three games this year.
* Washington quarterback Cyler Miles has not thrown an interception in 71 attempts this season.
Florida State’s 23-17 victory over Clemson without quarterback Jameis Winston wasn’t pretty. In fact, one could make a compelling argument that the Tigers outplayed the Seminoles on Saturday night.
Florida State was outgained 407 to 318, averaged only 4.8 yards per play, lost the turnover battle (2 to 1), allowed five sacks and finished with just 13 yards on the ground.
Even if Clemson outplayed Florida State, the Seminoles picked up the only thing that mattered: The Victory.
College football’s new playoff format has created plenty of uncertainty in how the final four teams will be selected, but it’s safe to say – just like previous years – teams just need to survive and advance in order to be in a position to have a shot at a championship.
Florida State accomplished that goal on Saturday night, but coach Jimbo Fisher has plenty of work to do in the coming weeks.
An offensive line with five senior starters was expected to be the best in the nation. But through three games, Florida State is averaging just 3.5 yards per carry and has allowed seven sacks. The Seminoles played two solid defensive fronts (Oklahoma State and Clemson), but the offensive line has underachieved.
Along with fixing the offensive line, Florida State needs more from its rushing attack. Karlos Williams was projected to be a breakout player in the preseason and has just 177 yards through three weeks. Williams, Mario Pender and Dalvin Cook are a capable trio, but the offensive line has to clear the way for the rushers.
Seniors Rashad Greene and Nick O’Leary have dominated the stat sheet, catching 38 of the team’s 71 passes. In order for Florida State’s offense to reach last year’s levels, it needs more help from the No. 2 and No. 3 options at receiver. Will Jesus Wilson or Christian Green emerge? Or could talented freshmen like Ermon Lane and Travis Rudolph work their way into more time as the season progresses?
Florida State’s defense stepped up late in Saturday’s game against Clemson, but this unit has clearly regressed since 2013.
New coordinator Charles Kelly had holes to fill at each level this preseason, and so far, the defense is a work in progress. The Seminoles are allowing 5.1 yards per play – a full yard increase from 2013.
The defense has recorded just two sacks and 15 tackles for loss, while opponents are converting 48.9 percent of their third downs.
Of course, getting Winston back immediately solves some of the offensive issues that popped up against Clemson.
But is the defense going to improve with time? What’s wrong with the offensive line?
The Seminoles aren’t the same team they were in 2013, and this squad looks more vulnerable. Over the course of the next nine games, Florida State should improve, and it’s unlikely the offensive line will continue to struggle.
Fisher and his staff already navigated a huge speed bump to a repeat by winning without the Heisman Trophy winner under center. Can Fisher find the right fixes on the line and on defense to keep the Seminoles in the hunt to repeat?
Three games into the 2014 season and it’s apparent North Carolina’s defense is still a major question mark. And in the Coastal Division where all seven teams exist with little separation, the Tar Heels’ struggles on this side of the ball is enough to prevent this team from making a trip to Charlotte in early December.
In Saturday’s loss to East Carolina, North Carolina’s flaws on this side of the ball were exposed.
The Pirates scored at least 14 points in every quarter, averaged 8.1 yards per play, recorded 39 first downs and 789 overall yards.
The defensive struggles aren’t just limited to Saturday’s loss to East Carolina. The Tar Heels gave up 29 points to Liberty and 27 to San Diego State. The pass rush has been largely invisible (four sacks in three games), which exposes a secondary that is filled with youth.
The numbers posted by East Carolina’s offense should be no surprise, but this effort by North Carolina’s defense was worse than last year’s effort in the 55-31 loss to the Pirates in Chapel Hill.
Several issues are at the core of the Tar Heels’ defensive issues, including youth in the starting lineup. North Carolina has just five seniors on the defensive two-deep, and the line features one freshman starter (Dajuan Drennon), while two sophomores (Brian Walker) and Des Lawrence) anchor the cornerback spots.
Youth is a huge issue that will only be solved with time and snaps.
But North Carolina doesn’t have time for its defense to grow. Take a look at the upcoming schedule: at Clemson, Virginia Tech, at Notre Dame, Georgia Tech, at Virginia, at Miami, Pittsburgh, at Duke and NC State.
Is there a guaranteed victory in that stretch?
By the Numbers on North Carolina's Defense
|Rush Defense||222.7 (5.5 ypc)||14|
With any team running an up-tempo offense, it's tough to ask the defense to be a shutdown unit. However, North Carolina's defense simply has to be better for this team to take the next step.
While the numbers have been awful for the Tar Heels’ defense so far, this team has yet to play an ACC game.
North Carolina’s offense is explosive enough for this team to remain in contention for the Coastal crown. But when will the defense turn a corner in Chapel Hill?
Every unit has to improve, and some of the issues will require patience as some of the younger players get acclimated to a full season of FBS play. There’s plenty of hope for the future, but North Carolina’s Coastal Division title hopes could rest on how far this defense improves over the last nine games of the season.
Week 4 provided its share of last-minute finishes, including the Florida State-Clemson showdown in Tallahassee. And if you went to bed early, you certainly missed the ending of Arizona-California.
The Golden Bears appeared to be in control of this game, leading at halftime 28-6 and held a 45-30 lead with five minutes to go in the fourth.
However, Arizona rallied behind redshirt freshman quarterback Anu Solomon, scoring three touchdowns in the final five minutes.
Solomon’s best play occurred with no time remaining, as he connected with Austin Hill on a 47-yard touchdown toss to win.
Week 4 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 in Week 4
Four Plays You Need to See
Arizona Connects on Hail Mary to Beat California
Utah WR Kaelin Clay Strikes Heisman Pose After Punt Return
EMU Fails Horribly on Snap Attempt
Iowa WR Damond Powell Makes a Nifty One-Handed Catch Against Pitt
that's good punting https://t.co/8x2E39XiXy— martin rickman (@martinrickman) September 18, 2014
USF crowd at kickoff. They should give them lifetime season tickets for showing up in this pic.twitter.com/DmpyT9BuLl— Brett McMurphy (@McMurphyESPN) September 20, 2014
#B1GCats Football (@NUFBFamily) September 20, 2014
If you're wondering how it's going for Eastern Michigan OH GOD. pic.twitter.com/rqiNxyx76F— Isaac (@WorldofIsaac) September 20, 2014
For those curious, that was Melvin Gordon's first fumble on a rushing play in his entire career. 322 carries. Wow. #Badgers— Jesse Temple (@jessetemple) September 20, 2014
pretty one-handed catch by bowling green https://t.co/gZpUQX2hNH— martin rickman (@martinrickman) September 20, 2014
Mark Dantonio, you’re up 56-0, at least look somewhat pleased: pic.twitter.com/wJhdv8rvzE— Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer) September 20, 2014
Melvin Gordon (WIS):13 carries,career-high 253 Rush yds & ties school record w/ 5 Rush TD. Fewest carries in a game to reach 250 since 2000.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) September 20, 2014
fumble scoop and touchdown for michael brewer https://t.co/6Q3Ty6aJNH— martin rickman (@martinrickman) September 20, 2014
Keith Marshall on crutches with right leg injury. pic.twitter.com/dprx4m3rR2— Marc Weiszer (@marcweiszer) September 20, 2014
Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon now tied for NCAA career record 8.26 yards/carry w/Army’s Glenn Davis (8.26 yds/carry, 1943-46)— Brett McMurphy (@McMurphyESPN) September 20, 2014
fumble scoop and touchdown for michael brewer https://t.co/6Q3Ty6aJNH— martin rickman (@martinrickman) September 20, 2014
Travis Wilson OUCH https://t.co/59q3bRRH6C— Matt Smith (@MattSmithCFB) September 20, 2014
Paul James is leaving the field with a brace on his right knee, walking on crutches. Not good.— Steve Politi (@StevePoliti) September 20, 2014
YAKETY https://t.co/wFUlSt5XMZ— Timothy Burke (@bubbaprog) September 20, 2014
Jameis Winston with the team coming off the FSU bus pic.twitter.com/BRTYczQBta— Jared Shanker (@JShankerESPN) September 20, 2014
Michigan's end zone starts to flood as lightning continues to strike. pic.twitter.com/RUzpP0BAIS— Dan Murphy (@DanMurphyESPN) September 20, 2014
RT @rustindodd: Charlie Weis says he went into a bunker after the Duke loss: "I barely know what’s going on with ISIS."— David Ubben (@davidubben) September 20, 2014
Meanwhile 50 miles outside of Pullman, this kid is waving a flag on the side of the road... Four hours before kick. pic.twitter.com/OxxpzQlsl7— Chantel Jennings (@ChantelJennings) September 20, 2014
And so it begins ... RT @EmmittSmith22: Put Jeff Driskel on the bench please, I have seen enough.— Edward Aschoff (@AschoffESPN) September 20, 2014
Stay on your feet... pic.twitter.com/3h0Jgt5EtF— UteDaddy (@utedaddy) September 21, 2014
May be the first time ever Nebraska fans have booed an opposing team as it exits the field.— Brian Rosenthal (@HuskerExtraBR) September 21, 2014
"Oh my god we got the ball back." The reaction from Sean Maguire after the fumble recovery was priceless. https://t.co/miaBI2jcBv— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) September 21, 2014
Hoke: "Get off the f*cking field!" Mattison: "Grab some burritos and get the heck outta town!!!" https://t.co/DHjK1PXTlM— LostLettermen.com (@LostLettermen) September 20, 2014
Utah receiver Kaelin Clay has quickly emerged as one of the Pac-12’s most dangerous return men in 2014.
And Clay had a huge punt return for a touchdown during the first half of Saturday’s game against Michigan, and the senior decided to add a little flair by striking the Heisman pose.
Credit Clay for an awesome return – but let’s hold off on the Heisman:
Utah player strikes Heisman pose after scoring touchdown at the Big House - http://t.co/IiQkehevhe— For The Win (@ForTheWin) September 20, 2014
As expected, Michigan State handled Eastern Michigan without too much trouble on Saturday.
The Spartans rotated several players into action and were able to rest the starters thanks to a huge lead.
The Eagles are rebuilding under first-year coach Chris Creighton, and this is a program that ranks near the bottom of the FBS in most preseason projections.
EMU provided one of the low-lights of Week 4 with this failed snap. Major, major fail here by the Eagles.
Virginia Tech’s upset win over Ohio State looks more and more like a fluke after the Hokies’ 27-24 loss to Georgia Tech.
Virginia Tech’s overall performance against the Yellow Jackets was sloppy, but there was an unusual highlight by the offense in the second half.
Running back Marshawn Williams rushed for 10 yards but lost control of the ball.
However, quarterback Michael Brewer happened to be in the right place at the right time, picking up the fumble for a touchdown.
Strange day in Blacksburg:
fumble scoop and touchdown for michael brewer https://t.co/6Q3Ty6aJNH— martin rickman (@martinrickman) September 20, 2014
Iowa’s offense got a spark in the second half from backup quarterback C.J. Beathard, which included this bomb to receiver Damond Powell.
Powell is one of Iowa’s fastest receivers and clearly beat the defense on this route.
While Powell’s speed and Beathard’s throw were nice, neither were as awesome as Powell’s one-handed grab to give Iowa a huge momentum boost in the third quarter.
Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston has been suspended for the entire game against Clemson on Saturday night. Earlier in the week, Winston was suspended for the first half of the Week 4 showdown against the Tigers, but the school released a statement on Friday night with an updated suspension. According to the statement from interim president Garnett S. Stokes and athletic director Stan Wilcox, this is the result of the ongoing investigation into Winston's use of inappropriate language on campus.
Sophomore Sean Maguire will start in place of Winston, and this will be his first taste of extended action with the Seminoles.
Maguire has completed 16 of 26 passes for 144 yards and two touchdowns in his career in Tallahassee. However, Maguire has never started a game or played a meaningful snap.
Winston’s suspension is a potential game-changer for Saturday night’s matchup. Florida State was a heavy favorite (around 20 points) prior to the suspension, but most still considered the Seminoles at least a two-touchdown favorite with Winston sidelined for a half.
With Winston sidelined for the full game, Florida State’s margin for error is considerably smaller.
Maguire is capable of winning this game, especially if the offensive line and rushing attack (Karlos Williams and Mario Pender) can control the pace of the game.
Clemson’s defensive line is among the best in the nation, but the Tigers are allowing 167.5 yards on the ground per game through two contests.
Although coach Jimbo Fisher seems comfortable with Maguire at the helm, expect a different approach on offense for the Seminoles.
Maguire doesn’t need to go out and win the game for Florida State. With a strong defense and capable talent around him, Maguire just needs to manage the game and limit his mistakes.
For Clemson, this is a huge chance to score an upset win. The Tigers were considered the biggest challenger to Florida State in the Atlantic this preseason, and coach Dabo Swinney’s team can steal a victory in Tallahassee.
Clemson’s chances of winning have increased with Winston out for the full game, but the Tigers still have to overcome a team that features one of the nation’s top pass defenses, along with a front seven that is healthy with the return of tackle Eddie Goldman and Nile Lawrence-Stample.
Clemson-Florida State is arguably the biggest game in the ACC this year. And with Winston sidelined, the matchup went from likely being a one-sided affair to a toss-up. Can the Tigers capitalize? Or will the Seminoles win and remain the No. 1 team in the nation?
And Winston’s suspension brings up an interesting scenario. What if Florida State loses to Clemson but still wins the division and finishes 12-1? Would that be enough to get into college football’s playoff? How will Winston’s suspension factor in the committee’s evaluation of the Seminoles?
Jameis Winston will not play at all tomorrow vs. Clemson, FSU just announced. Full statement: pic.twitter.com/i6Rt0UgPMU— Natalie Pierre (@Natalie_Pierre) September 20, 2014
Alabama opens SEC play with a visit from a Florida team that needed overtime to knock off an improving Kentucky squad last Saturday. These two programs are two of the SEC’s best jobs, and the Gators and Crimson Tide combined for five national titles during the BCS era. And with the level of recruiting at Alabama and Florida, there’s plenty of four and five-star athletes and players on display in Tuscaloosa. Even though both teams recruit at a similar level, the on-field production in recent years is slanted in favor of Alabama. Florida needs a big win - and Saturday's game is a big opportunity - to erase some of the bad memories from last year's 4-8 record.
We can’t mention Florida and Alabama and overlook the coaching matchup. It’s a matchup of the teacher versus the pupil, as Nick Saban squares off against former assistant Will Muschamp. Saban is 1-0 against Muschamp, and this year’s matchup has extra importance for Florida after a disappointing 4-8 record last year. Muschamp sits squarely on the hot seat in 2014 and a win over Alabama would be huge for his future and overall momentum of the program.
Alabama leads the all-time series against Florida 22-14. The last meeting between these two teams was Oct. 1, 2011, with the Crimson Tide winning 38-10.
Florida vs. Alabama
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Alabama -14
Three Things to Watch
1. Florida’s Run Defense
The Gators haven’t played a gauntlet of offenses in 2014, but the defense has yet to allow a rushing score or 100-yard game. Kentucky’s backfield was limited to just 81 yards on 33 carries, while Eastern Michigan was held to 80 yards on 34 attempts. Good numbers, but what do they mean? Saturday should provide the answers for Florida, as Alabama owns one of the nation’s deepest backfields and ranks No. 18 nationally by averaging 270.3 rushing yards per game. Crimson Tide rushers are averaging 6.2 yards per rush, with T.J. Yeldon (225) and Derrick Henry (209) a tough thunder-and-lightning combination. The Gators allowed 142.4 rushing yards per game in 2013 and return six starters from last year’s front seven, including standout rush end Dante Fowler and lineman Jonathan Bullard. Florida’s defensive front is the best Alabama has played so far this year. If the Gators can find a way to slow down Henry and Yeldon, the emphasis on the offense shifts to quarterback Blake Sims.
2. Amari Cooper vs. Vernon Hargreaves III
Individual matchups are always difficult to watch from the couch, but this game features the No. 1 receiver in the nation (Cooper) against arguably the No. 1 cornerback (Hargreaves III). Cooper leads the nation with 33 receptions and has 454 yards and two scores so far this year. As a true freshman last year, Hargreaves III recorded 38 tackles, three interceptions, 11 pass breakups, while earning third-team All-American honors from the Associated Press. Hargreaves III has broke up five passes this season and will challenge Cooper (assuming these two players are matched against each other). If Hargreaves III shadows Cooper, which receiver steps up for Alabama? Will tight end O.J. Howard record his first catch of the year? Or will the Crimson Tide ask more of Christion Jones and DeAndrew White (if he’s healthy and able to play)?
3. The Quarterbacks
Quarterback play is always under the spotlight, but the performance of Florida’s Jeff Driskel and Alabama’s Blake Sims is under extra scrutiny on Saturday. Driskel missed nearly all of 2013 due to a leg injury, and his performance in 2014 could be the difference in the Gators winning the SEC East or finishing fourth. In two appearances this year, Driskel is completing 63.6 percent of his throws and has four touchdowns to just one interception on 88 attempts. The junior’s mobility was expected to be utilized under new coordinator Kurt Roper, but Driskel has just seven carries so far. Could that change on Saturday? Sims edged Jacob Coker for the starting job in August and has performed well so far. The senior is completing 75 percent of his throws and has tossed four touchdowns on 48 completions. Sims has tossed only one pick and has 102 rushing yards through three games. Considering Alabama’s strength on defense and deep stable of running backs, Sims won’t need a huge effort for the Crimson Tide to win. However, Sims can’t afford to make mistakes and allow Florida to hang around. The mindset under center has to be different for the Gators: Driskel needs to have a big game in order to leave Tuscaloosa with the victory.
A low-scoring game should be expected on Saturday. Both teams average over 33 minutes in time of possession, so the drives and overall opportunities for the offenses will be at a premium. Florida’s up-tempo attack could give Alabama’s defense fits after the struggles of the Crimson Tide against Oklahoma and West Virginia. However, Nick Saban’s secondary will benefit from a healthy Eddie Jackson at cornerback, and the sophomore has a good one-on-one battle ahead against Florida receiver Demarcus Robinson. Expect Florida to challenge Alabama’s rushing attack and force Blake Sims to win this one through the air. The Crimson Tide’s passing game may not have a huge day in terms of statistics, but Sims and Cooper hit on enough plays to keep the Gators’ defense from loading up the box. Alabama controls the pace and flow of the game from the first snap, with Florida tacking on a late score to cover the spread.
Prediction: Alabama 27, Florida 17
Mississippi State and LSU open SEC play with an intriguing and critical conference matchup in Baton Rouge on Saturday night. This game likely will be overshadowed nationally by Florida-Alabama and Florida State-Clemson, but the meeting between the Bulldogs and Tigers could end up being one of the best games of Week 4.
One game should never define a coach’s tenure at a program, but Saturday’s game is a huge opportunity for Mississippi State and coach Dan Mullen. In six seasons, Mullen is 39-28 and has guided the Bulldogs to four consecutive bowl appearances. Expectations are always high at a SEC program. But realistically, it’s tough to consistently win big at Mississippi State – especially with Alabama, LSU, Auburn and Texas A&M are top 10 teams. Mullen is doing a good job at one of the SEC’s toughest jobs, but the Pennsylvania native has yet to beat a team ranked in the top 10. Again, expectation levels for each fan are different, but while Mullen is doing a good job in Starkville, it’s time to take the next step as a program and beat one of the top programs in the SEC.
Players depart, new starters emerge and LSU doesn’t miss a beat. That’s the theme in Baton Rouge under Les Miles, as the Tigers have won at least 10 games in four consecutive years. Even though the win over Wisconsin was a solid non-conference victory, how much did we learn about LSU against a one-dimensional offense? And it’s hard to read too much into the Tigers’ blowout wins over ULM and Sam Houston State.
LSU has not lost to Mississippi State since 1999. But the Bulldogs have not won in Baton Rouge since 1991.
Mississippi State at LSU
Kickoff: 7 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: LSU -9.5
Three Things to Watch
1. MSU’s Front Seven vs. LSU’s Rushing Attack
Mississippi State’s upset hopes likely rest on its ability to stop the run. LSU’s offensive line is a veteran group that ranks among the best in the SEC. The Tigers boast a solid yards per carry (4.3), and the offense is averaging 226.3 rushing yards per game. Also, LSU is tied for third in the SEC with seven rushes of 20 or more yards. Five Tigers have at least 20 rushes, with Kenny Hilliard and Leonard Fournette leading the way as the team’s top options. Hilliard and Fournette will test a Mississippi State defense that has allowed just one rushing score on 103 attempts. The Bulldogs rank No. 2 in the SEC against the run and are holding opponents to 2.3 yards per carry. Additionally, Mississippi State leads the SEC with 29 tackles for a loss, and there’s no shortage of depth up front, headlined by end Preston Smith and tackles P.J. Jones and Chris Jones. If the Bulldogs can stop LSU’s power (and run-first offense), then this forces extra pressure on quarterback Anthony Jennings.
2. LSU’s Big-Play Passing Offense
Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris were locked into a tight battle for the starting quarterback job in the preseason, and both players were expected to play early in the year to sort out the No. 1 spot. But after three games, Anthony Jennings has seized control of the starting job. So far, Jennings has produced a mixed bag of results. The good: Averaging 20.9 yards per completion. The bad: Completing only 51.9 percent of throws. If LSU establishes its ground attack, Jennings will have ample opportunities to hit big plays downfield to top target Travin Dural (30.8 ypc). However, what if the Tigers can’t get anything going on the ground and Jennings has to win it through the air? Is he ready to do that in his fifth career start? Big plays are always a positive for any offense. Can Jennings show consistency to move the ball downfield in smaller chunks if the Bulldogs play deep to prevent the big play?
3. LSU’s Defense vs. Dak Prescott
The growth of LSU’s defense is something to monitor over the course of 2014. The Tigers lost a couple of key players from last year’s unit, including both starting defensive tackles. But so far, this defense hasn’t missed a beat. LSU has not allowed a point in 147:24 minutes of game action and is limiting opponents to just 3.5 yards per play. This defense is young (only three projected seniors in the lineup) but incredibly talented. Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott will be the best quarterback the Tigers have played this year, so this is a much tougher test than the Wisconsin, Sam Houston State and ULM offenses. Prescott is the catalyst for the Bulldogs’ offense, averaging 323 yards per game and has scored 11 touchdowns in three contests. The junior isn’t the only weapon on offense for Mullen, as receiver Jameon Lewis and running back Josh Robinson provide plenty of big-play ability.
LSU has been impressive so far this year, but this is the first real test for Les Miles’ team. Mississippi State’s offense has more balance than Wisconsin, and quarterback Dak Prescott will test the Tigers’ stout run defense and secondary. If the Bulldogs are going to break through with a big win, this is the perfect opportunity. However, even though Mississippi State’s rush defense should be able to hold its own against LSU, the Tigers will find a way to win this game in the fourth quarter.
Prediction: LSU 27, Mississippi State 20
Florida State’s ACC title defense begins on Saturday night, as the Seminoles host Clemson in one of the conference’s emerging rivalries. Coach Jimbo Fisher’s team opened the year with a closer-than-expected win over Oklahoma State and cruised to an easy win over Citadel in Week 2.
A win over Clemson would give Florida State an early commanding lead in the Atlantic Division, and allow Fisher and his team to cross one of the few hurdles on a schedule that is considered one of the most favorable in the nation.
Fisher would prefer the focus of Week 4 to be strictly on Clemson-Florida State, but instead, he’s dealing with a controversy surrounding quarterback Jameis Winston. The sophomore was suspended for the first half of Saturday’s game due to inappropriate comments made on campus earlier in the week. And on Friday night, the defending heisman winner was suspended for the entire game. Sophomore Sean Maguire will start in place of Winston, but the Seminoles are still a 16-point favorite over the Tigers.
Florida State has won three out of the last four meetings against Clemson. The Tigers have not won in Tallahassee since 2006.
Clemson at Florida State
Kickoff: 8 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: ABC
Spread: Florida State -16.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Sean Maguire's Debut
With Jameis Winston suspended for the entire game, how will coach Jimbo Fisher approach Sean Maguire’s first start? Will the Seminoles attempt to use up as much clock as possible in order to limit Clemson’s opportunities without Winston in the lineup? Or will Fisher allow Maguire to have the full playbook at his disposal? Maguire has been solid in limited action (16 of 26 for 144 yards and two scores), but this is the biggest test of his career. Luckily for Maguire, he has one of the nation’s top supporting casts at his disposal. Karlos Williams and Mario Pender headline a deep backfield, receiver Rashad Greene is averaging 18.9 yards per reception, and the offensive line features five senior starters. Maguire doesn’t need to win this game on his own, as simply managing the offense and limiting mistakes would be enough for Florida State.
2. Florida State’s Defense
Without Winston, every other unit on Florida State’s team has to step up. The defense held an explosive Clemson offense to just 14 points last year, and the Tigers will have their hands full with the Seminoles once again. Coordinator Chad Morris is breaking in a new quarterback (Cole Stoudt), has a committee of options at running back, and no longer has Sammy Watkins or Martavis Bryant at receiver. But Morris is one of the nation’s best play-callers, and Clemson is averaging 6.1 yards per play through two contests. Stoudt threw for 302 yards against South Carolina State but struggled against Georgia (16 of 29, 144 yards). Freshman Deshaun Watson will also see time under center and could see more snaps if Stoudt struggles early. Freshman Artavis Scott is emerging as one of the top targets at receiver, while four running backs have at least 10 carries in 2014. Florida State’s defense is under the direction of a new coordinator (Charles Kelly), but this unit returns a good chunk of its core from last year’s title team. Can Clemson’s offense pickup where it left off against South Carolina State? Or is this unit closer to the offense that struggled to get on track against Georgia? Defensive tackle was arguably the biggest concern for the Seminoles this preseason, and injuries hit the position hard against Citadel. However, all signs point to Eddie Goldman and Nile Lawrence-Stample playing on Saturday night, which is bad news for a suspect Clemson offensive line.
3. Florida State’s OL vs. Clemson’s DL
This is a matchup of strength versus strength. Florida State’s line features five senior starters, while Clemson’s starting four on the defensive front is also comprised of seniors. In last year’s matchup, the Tigers recorded six tackles for a loss and three sacks against the Seminoles. If Clemson wants to pull off the upset, it needs to up those totals in 2014 and limit the pressure on its secondary. Winston torched the Tigers for 444 yards last year, and regardless of who is under center for Florida State, a similar theme could play out if end Vic Beasley and tackle Grady Jarrett don’t win the battle at the point of attack.
Will Florida State be aggressive or play it safe with Maguire under center? As long as Maguire doesn’t make a huge mistake and put the Seminoles in a deficit, the Seminoles should cruise in the second half to a convincing win. Clemson has the necessary talent to pull an upset but several factors have to go its way. The Tigers were a better team last year and was easily handled by the Seminoles in Death Valley. Without Winston, the door is open for Clemson to hang around in this game. Even with Maguire making his first start, Florida State has simply too much talent to lose on Saturday night.
Prediction: Florida State 30, Clemson 20
There’s plenty of history between Miami and Nebraska, but when these two teams play on Saturday night, the focus will shift to 2014 and two programs that are looking to reclaim their place among college football’s elite.
After going 9-3 in back-to-back years from 2004-05, Miami is just 57-44 since 2006 (and 72-50 if you include 2004-05). Nebraska saw its share of ups and downs since 2004, including a 5-6 mark ('04) and a 5-7 record in 2007. However, the Cornhuskers have fared much better in its overall mark, recording an 84-46 mark since the start of the 2004 season.
A win on Saturday night won’t move Miami or Nebraska back to the top of college football’s elite. But this game has plenty of importance for both programs as a key non-conference matchup, as well as a good barometer test before conference play begins in full.
The all-time series is tied at five between Nebraska and Miami. The last meeting was in the 2001 Rose Bowl, with the Hurricanes winning 37-14.
Miami at Nebraska
Kickoff: 8 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN2
Spread: Nebraska -7.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Quarterback play
As simple as it sounds, this is where the game could be won or lost. Miami’s Brad Kaaya and Nebraska’s Tommy Armstrong are two quarterbacks with bright futures. However, both quarterbacks are still developing, and with a tight game expected, a mistake or two could be magnified. Kaaya – a true freshman – has thrown for 693 yards and seven touchdowns on 45 completions. Kaaya is coming off his best performance of 2014 (342 yards, four scores) and faces a Nebraska secondary that has allowed just two passing touchdowns. Of course, the Cornhuskers haven’t exactly faced the gauntlet of quarterbacks, but the secondary is limiting opponents to just 9.4 yards per completion. On the other sideline, Armstrong is off to a fast start, completing 43 passes for 773 yards and seven scores. The sophomore has only one interception and has been an effective runner (258 yards, 9.6 ypc). Considering Armstrong’s experience and growth from 2013 to 2014, the edge at quarterback should go to Nebraska. Can Kaaya pickup where he left off against Arkansas State? Or will the Cornhuskers’ defense simply be too much?
2. Improvement for Miami’s defense?
The Hurricanes struggled mightily on defense last year. But through three games, there’s some optimism in Coral Gables for some improvement on the stat sheet in 2014. Miami is allowing only 19.3 points per game through three weeks, a significant step forward after giving up 26.8 in 2013. The Hurricanes are also allowing 3.7 yards per play, a major improvement after allowing 5.8 last year. And Mark D’Onofrio’s group has been tougher against the run so far, giving up just 2.0 yards per rush after giving up 4.4 last year. Considering Miami was big favorites in two out of its three games, it’s tough to read too much into these stats. However, the addition of junior college recruit Calvin Heurtelou, along with the steady play of senior linebacker Denzel Perryman has made Miami’s front seven a tougher matchup for opposing offenses. But will that hold true on Saturday? Nebraska’s offensive line and rushing attack will be the best Miami has played this year. Can running back Ameer Abdullah find rushing lanes? Or will the Hurricanes hold the Cornhuskers to less than three yards per carry?
3. Ameer Abdullah vs. Duke Johnson
Normally, we would devote one of the three keys to breaking down a matchup, but let’s give some attention to the battle at running back on Saturday night. Ameer Abdullah and Duke Johnson were both popular selections on preseason All-America teams, and neither have done anything to dispel the notion they will finish with high accolades this year. Johnson is returning from a leg injury that ended his 2013 season early, but the junior has yet to show any rust. In three games, Johnson is averaging 6.4 yards per carry and has scored twice. Abdullah has already provided one of the year’s highlight plays by taking a short reception for a 58-yard score to beat McNeese State. The senior ranks second among Big Ten rushers by averaging 132.0 yards per game and leads the conference with 17 runs of 10 or more yards. Watching two of the nation’s top 10 running backs makes the Nebraska-Miami matchup one of the key reasons to tune in on Saturday night.
In terms of name value, it doesn’t get much better than Nebraska and Miami. While both programs have dropped in national hierarchy in recent years, this game still has plenty of intrigue. The battle between Duke Johnson and Ameer Abdullah will produce plenty of highlights, but quarterback play and defense will decide this one. Can Kaaya be trusted to win a huge road test? Will Miami’s defense revert to its old form against a good offense? For the Cornhuskers, can Armstrong continue his solid start to the season? With this game in Lincoln, combined with an edge at quarterback, Nebraska should win this one by a touchdown or 10 points.
Prediction: Nebraska 31, Miami 24
It’s unusual to see changes in the coordinator ranks just three weeks into the season, but Texas Tech has decided to fire co-defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt.
Wallerstedt was fired one week after the Red Raiders’ defense was gashed for 438 rushing yards in the 49-28 loss to Arkansas.
However, according to reports, Wallerstedt’s firing isn’t related to Texas Tech’s on-field performance.
ESPN’s Jake Trotter reported on Thursday that Wallerstedt was fired after being under the influence of an unknown substance in the school’s football building.
Wallerstedt shared the defensive play-calling with Mike Smith, and Smith is going to call the plays for the remainder of the 2014 season.
Most of Smith’s experience as a coach is in the NFL ranks, including three years with the Jets.
Smith played linebacker at Texas Tech from 2001-04 and recorded 104 tackles during the 2012 season.
With only three returning starters, Texas Tech’s defense was expected to be a work in progress in 2014. And so far, the Red Raiders have struggled on that side of the ball.
The Red Raiders are allowing 5.2 yards per play and ranked last in the Big 12 by giving up 36.7 points per contest.
An infusion of junior college recruits was slated to help the defensive line, but Texas Tech has just three sacks in three games and was dominated by Arkansas last Saturday – a week after struggling against UTEP.
Smith will have three tough opponents to open his tenure as the defensive coordinator, starting with the Sept. 25 date at Oklahoma State, followed by games against Kansas State and West Virginia.
Breaking: Texas Tech DC Matt Wallerstedt has been dismissed from the staff. Details coming on http://t.co/VP1ldkYydJ— Pete Roussel (@coachingsearch) September 18, 2014
Mike Smith will be #TexasTech's seventh defensive coordinator since the start of the 2007 season.— Aaron Dickens (@AaronDickens) September 18, 2014
The college football world is focused squarely on the Little Apple on Thursday night, as Auburn visits Kansas State in a high-profile non-conference matchup and one of the top games of Week 4. Tough non-conference matchups usually aren’t the norm under coach Bill Snyder, and the Tigers are the highest ranked non-league opponent to visit Manhattan since Penn State (ranked No. 2) played there in 1969.
The Wildcats are 2-0 after defeating Stephen F. Austin and Iowa in the first two weeks of the season. As expected, K-State easily defeated SFA 55-16. However, the Wildcats struggled in a 32-28 win over Iowa State – a week after the Cyclones lost to FCS opponent North Dakota State.
On the other sideline, Auburn has picked up where it left off last season. The Tigers offense is predicated on tempo and speed, and Gus Malzahn’s attack is averaging 52 points a game so far in 2014.
Auburn leads the all-time series against Kansas State at 3-0. The last meeting between these two teams occurred in 2007, with the Tigers winning 23-13 in Auburn.
Auburn at Kansas State
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. ET (Thursday night)
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Auburn -9
Three Things to Watch
1. K-State’s Rush Defense Against Auburn’s Offense
This battle is where the game could be won or lost for Kansas State. Auburn’s offensive line was one of the best in the nation last year, but the Tigers lost standout left tackle Greg Robinson to the NFL, and guard Alex Kozan suffered a back injury in the offseason and won’t play in 2014. Auburn’s revamped line has performed well through two games, allowing just one sack and paving the way for rushers to average 6.7 yards per carry. But the Wildcats’ defensive line is the best unit the Tigers will see until the LSU matchup on Oct. 4. Kansas State’s line is led by senior end Ryan Mueller and tackle Travis Britz, and both players need to win the one-on-one matchups at the point of attack. If Mueller and Britz can disrupt the Auburn rushing attack and prevent the Tigers from getting out in space, the Wildcats can limit the damage on the ground and force quarterback Nick Marshall to win this one through the air. When Marshall doesn’t run or looks to hand it off, expect senior Cameron Artis-Payne (289 yards, 6.9 ypc) and Corey Grant (8.8 ypc) to shoulder most of the load.
2. Auburn’s Defense vs. K-State’s Offense
Much of the preseason hype for this game should revolve around how Kansas State will handle Auburn’s pace on offense. While stopping the Tigers’ up-tempo attack is a huge task for the Wildcats, let’s also not forget about the Auburn defense against Kansas State’s offense. The Wildcats average 6.3 yards per play this year and scored 33.2 points per game in 2013. There’s no question Kansas State can put up enough points to keep pace with Auburn, but it’s how the Wildcats plan to attack the Tigers that is worth monitoring. Time of possession can be overrated when judging teams or using to predict the outcome of a game. However, Kansas State leads the Big 12 in time of possession in 2014 and ranked first or second in the Big 12 from 2011-13. Ball control against Auburn is critical, as limiting the possessions of Malzahn’s offense is a good (and simple) way of slowing the Tigers down. Quarterback Jake Waters isn’t flashy, but he’s quietly off to a good start this year (462 yards, 61.4%) and is an effective runner (193 yards in two games in 2014). Waters leads the team in rushing attempts, but Charles Jones and DeMarcus Robinson will anchor the carries from the running back spot. Auburn’s defense gave up its share of yards and points last year but was at its best on third downs and in the red zone. Can Kansas State control the tempo or will the Tigers control the line of scrimmage?
3. K-State WR Tyler Lockett
Even though Tyler Lockett received a mention on several preseason All-America teams, it’s still possible the senior might be one of the nation’s most underrated players. Lockett is an explosive athlete with the ability to score anytime he touches the ball. On offense, the Oklahoma native averages 15.6 yards per reception and has 19 career touchdown catches. Lockett is also a dangerous weapon on special teams, averaging 31.1 yards per kickoff return and has four career scores. Auburn’s secondary allowed 257.7 yards per game last year and gave up 19 touchdown tosses in 14 games. The Tigers have played two suspect passing teams this season, so it’s hard to gauge whether or not this unit has improved. But late Wednesday night, reports indicated safety Jermaine Whitehead – 41 career games – won’t play on Thursday night. Whitehead’s absence is critical against Lockett and a K-State passing attack that ranked third in the Big 12 last season by hitting on 13 passing plays of at least 40 yards. Expect the Wildcats to take a few deep shots against Auburn’s suspect secondary.
This should be one of the better Thursday night games of the season. Kansas State’s offense has just enough firepower to hang with Auburn’s high-powered attack. And as long as Bill Snyder roams the sidelines in Manhattan, the Wildcats will have a chance to win a game like this one.
Expect plenty of points, and both teams could hit on their share of big plays. Auburn’s defense struggles to stop Jake Waters and Tyler Lockett, but the Tigers have too many playmakers and too much firepower to lose.
Prediction: Auburn 38, Kansas State 30
After a week of surprises in non-conference action, the focus in the ACC shifts slightly to league play. Clemson-Florida State and Virginia Tech-Georgia Tech headline a solid slate of games for Week 4. And in non-conference matchups, East Carolina looks to knock off another ACC opponent with a home date against North Carolina, and Miami visits Nebraska.
Due to suspension, Florida State won’t have quarterback Jameis Winston available for the first half of Saturday’s game against Clemson. But the Seminoles are loaded with talent on both sides of the ball, which should allow Jimbo Fisher’s team to hold their own in the first half.
Elsewhere in the ACC, Virginia travels to BYU and Pittsburgh hosts Iowa in other top games around the league for Week 4.
Week 4 Previews and Predictions:
Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC
ACC Week 4 Game Power Rankings
1. Clemson at Florida State (-20)
8 p.m. ET, ABC
The outlook for this game has changed drastically since last week. On Wednesday, Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston was suspended for a half due to inappropriate comments made on campus. Winston’s absence leaves inexperienced Sean Maguire as the Seminoles’ No. 1 quarterback. While Winston will return to action in the third quarter, Florida State’s task of beating the Tigers is tougher without the Heisman Trophy winner under center. Clemson’s defensive line is among the nation’s best and has registered 19 tackles for a loss in two games. If the Tigers can get pressure on Maguire and force the sophomore into a mistake or two, Florida State’s margin of error gets smaller. Can Clemson take advantage of a Winston-less offense in the first half? Or can Maguire keep the Seminoles’ offense moving, while the defense contains the Tigers’ attack?
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2. Miami at Nebraska (-7)
8 p.m. ET, ESPN2
In terms of name value, it doesn’t get much better than this. Two of college football’s iconic programs square off for the first time since the 2001 Rose Bowl on Saturday night. And for both teams, this game is a good opportunity to build momentum before the bulk of conference play starts. Nebraska pounded FAU and Fresno State by a combined score of 110-26 but needed a last-minute miracle to beat McNeese State 31-24. Miami lost its opener to Louisville and rebounded by beating Florida A&M and Arkansas State. Considering the light non-conference schedules for both teams, it’s hard to gauge where both programs are entering Week 4. Running backs Duke Johnson (Miami) and Ameer Abdullah (Nebraska) are two of the best in the nation and will test the opposing defensive lines. But while the spotlight is on Abdullah and Johnson, it’s likely the battle between young quarterbacks Tommy Armstrong (Nebraska) and Brad Kaaya (Miami) will determine which team emerges victorious.
3. Georgia Tech at Virginia Tech (-8)
Noon ET, ESPN
Considering how tight the Coastal race is expected to be, this is a critical showdown for positioning within the division. Virginia Tech has won six out of the last seven matchups against Georgia Tech, and the Yellow Jackets have lost three consecutive games in Blacksburg. As expected, Georgia Tech’s rushing offense (306 ypg) ranks as one of the best in the ACC. But in addition to his role in the ground game, quarterback Justin Thomas has added a big-play (19.4 yards per completion) component to the passing attack. Thomas and Georgia Tech’s rushing attack will test Virginia Tech’s defensive line, as tackles Luther Maddy and Corey Marshall are dealing with injuries. On offense, the Hokies need to limit their turnovers (seven in three games), but they should have the upper hand against Georgia Tech’s defense – a unit allowed 6.6 yards per play. Expect Virginia Tech’s offense to use a lot of freshmen backs Shai McKenzie and Marshawn Williams against the Yellow Jackets’ rush defense, which ranks as the worst in the ACC.
4. North Carolina at East Carolina (-2)
3:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU
Can East Carolina go 2-0 against the ACC? The Pirates knocked off Virginia Tech last weekend 28-21 and are a slight favorite against the Tar Heels after winning in Chapel Hill last year. With that in mind, North Carolina won’t take East Carolina lightly, but the Tar Heels will have to overcome a few matchup problems. North Carolina’s secondary is allowing 265 yards per game, and the pass rush has struggled (two sacks in two games). That’s bad news against a Pirates’ offense that is led by quarterback Shane Carden (343.7 ypg) and a dynamic group of playmakers, headlined by receiver Justin Hardy and running back Breon Allen. Considering the Tar Heels’ concerns on defense, they may need to score over 30 points to win this one. Quarterback Marquise Williams is off to a solid start (67.2%), and coach Larry Fedora has recruited well at the skill positions. North Carolina’s offensive line is a concern without guard Landon Turner, especially against an active defensive front from ECU. If you like offense, this should be the highest-scoring game in the ACC this week.
5. Iowa at Pittsburgh (-6.5)
Noon ET, ESPNU
There are some similarities between the Iowa and Pittsburgh programs, but heading into Saturday’s game, it seems the two teams are headed in opposite directions. The Panthers have looked impressive in a 3-0 start, including a 30-20 road win at Boston College. Iowa is 2-1, but the Hawkeyes won by eight against Northern Iowa and by four to Ball State and lost 20-17 to Iowa State last week. Despite a veteran core returning, Iowa’s offense is averaging only 21.7 points per game. The Hawkeyes have also struggled to establish their ground attack (3.6 ypc). Turning those numbers around this week will be tough, as Pittsburgh is allowing just 15 points per game and ranks second in the ACC against the run. Stopping the run has been a strength of Iowa’s defense (2.3 ypc), which is a good barometer test for the running back James Conner (181 ypg). Quarterback Chad Voytik hasn’t been asked to do much this year, but he’s been efficient (58%) and has tossed just two picks on 50 attempts. The Hawkeyes’ defense is good enough to pull off an upset. However, can Iowa’s offense get anything going on Pittsburgh’s defense?
6. Virginia at BYU (-14)
3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Can Virginia pull off another upset? The Cavaliers knocked off Louisville 23-21 last Saturday, and a win in Provo, combined with a victory over Kent State on Sept. 27 would allow Virginia to be 4-1 heading into the heart of ACC play. Saturday’s game is a matchup of strength (BYU’s offense) versus strength (Virginia’s defense). The Cavaliers are allowing just 4.8 yards per play and holding opponents to 20.7 points per contest. BYU will test those numbers behind dynamic quarterback Taysom Hill (348.3 ypg) and running back Jamaal Williams. Even if Virginia’s defense finds a way to contain Hill, can the Cavaliers get something going on offense? BYU is allowing just 14 points per game, while Virginia is averaging just 21.5 points per contest against FBS opponents this year.
7. Maryland at Syracuse (-1.5)
12:30 p.m. ET, ACC Network
For the second consecutive season, Maryland and Syracuse meet on the gridiron – only these two teams meet as non-conference foes in 2014. The Terrapins and Orange played last year as ACC members, with Syracuse winning 20-3 in College Park. It’s tough to read too much into that game, as Maryland was without top receivers Stefon Diggs and Deon Long. The Terrapins have both back in the lineup this year, and quarterback C.J. Brown threw for a season-high 241 yards in last week’s loss to West Virginia. Syracuse looked sharp in last Saturday’s 40-3 win over Central Michigan, a clear improvement after struggling against Villanova in the opener. Expect the Orange to challenge the Terrapins’ defensive front, which has allowed 142.3 rushing yards per game. Linebacker play is a unit to watch for Maryland, especially with injuries limiting Cole Farrand, Matt Robinson and Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil this year.
8. Tulane at Duke (-17)
12:30 p.m. ET, RSN
The Blue Devils look to continue their hot start to the season with a win over Tulane. With a victory over the Green Wave, Duke will have its first 4-0 start since 1994. Tulane’s defense allowed 38 points in back-to-back games to open the year and gave up 20 in a win against SE Louisiana last Saturday. This unit will be tested once again, especially with the emergence of running back Shaun Wilson (245 yards last week) and steady play of quarterback Anthony Boone. The Green Wave’s offense is led by talented freshmen Tanner Lee (QB) and Sherman Badie (RB), but a young line (six sacks) will be tested by a Duke defense that leads the ACC in fewest points per game allowed in 2014 (11.0).
9. Army (-2.5) at Wake Forest
3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN3
Brighter days and better years are ahead for Wake Forest’s Dave Clawson and Army’s Jeff Monken, but both first-year coaches have a tough job in 2014. The Demon Deacons are starting four freshmen in 2014, including quarterback John Wolford. Army went 8-28 in Rich Ellerson’s final three years and is 1-1 through Monken’s first two games. Wake Forest’s rush defense has allowed only two scores and is allowing just 2.7 yards per carry. But that will be tested against the Black Knights’ option offense, averaging 269.5 yards per game. With a tight game expected, keep an eye on the turnover margin. The Demon Deacons are -2 through three games, while Army is even through two contests.
10. Louisville (-27) at FIU
3:30 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1
Pittsburgh started slow last week but eventually had no trouble putting FIU (42-25) away in the second half. Louisville dominated the Panthers 72-0 in the infamous running clock game last season. The Cardinals shouldn’t have much trouble with FIU once again, and this game is a good opportunity for this team to work out the kinks after a 23-21 loss to Virginia last week. Quarterback play is under the spotlight after Louisville’s loss last Saturday, but freshman Reggie Bonnafon won’t make the trip due to a death in his family. Coach Bobby Petrino should be able to build Will Gardner some confidence in an easy win for the Cardinals.
11. Maine at Boston College
1 p.m. ET, ESPN3
After last week’s 37-31 victory over USC, Boston College could be in for a small letdown in Week 4. Of course, the Eagles are big favorites over Maine, so even a sluggish start shouldn’t be a concern. With a punishing ground attack, quarterback Tyler Murphy hasn’t been asked to make too many plays through the air. The senior ranks second in the ACC with 133.7 rushing yards per game. However, in his last two games, Murphy has completed only 15 of 41 throws. This week’s matchup against Maine should allow the Eagles a chance to work on their passing game, along with getting some of the younger players valuable reps.
12. Presbyterian at NC State
6 p.m. ET, ESPN3
The Wolfpack close out non-conference play as huge favorites in Saturday’s game against Presbyterian. With a win over the Blue Hose, NC State would surpass its win total from 2013 and take another step towards bowl eligibility. Quarterback Jacoby Brissett is off to a fast start for the Wolfpack, completing 70.4 percent of his throws and seven touchdowns to just one interception. Presbyterian lost 55-3 to Northern Illinois in its opener in 2014 and lost to Wake Forest 31-7 last year. This should be a one-sided matchup in favor of NC State.
Week 4 ACC Predictions
|Ga. Tech (+8) at Va. Tech||VT 24-14||VT 27-20||VT 30-20||VT 28-24|
|Iowa (+6.5) at Pittsburgh||Pitt 27-10||Pitt 27-20||Pitt 27-20||Pitt 27-17|
|Maryland (+1.5) at Syracuse||Cuse 17-14||Cuse 34-30||MD 27-24||MD 24-20|
|Tulane (+17) at Duke||Duke 35-10||Duke 40-17||Duke 41-17||Duke 34-16|
|Maine at Boston College||BC 42-7||BC 34-10||BC 41-7||BC 37-10|
|UNC (+2) at ECU||ECU 31-24||UNC 31-27||ECU 38-34||ECU 34-30|
|Virginia (+14) at BYU||BYU 42-28||BYU 27-24||BYU 30-20||BYU 28-20|
|Army (-2.5) at Wake||Army 28-10||Wake 21-20||Wake 24-20||Wake 20-13|
|Louisville (-27) at FIU||UL 35-14||UL 38-13||UL 52-7||UL 31-0|
|Presbyterian at NC State||NC State 42-14||NC State 45-7||NC State 48-3||NC State 34-10|
|Clemson (+20) at FSU||FSU 35-21||FSU 45-20||FSU 38-24||FSU 34-13|
|Miami (+7) at Nebraska||Nebraska 38-14||Nebraska 41-31||Nebraska 31-24||Nebraska 27-21|
Florida State has suspended quarterback Jameis Winston for the first half of Saturday’s game against Clemson due to inappropriate comments made on Tuesday on campus.
In a statement from the university, Florida State also indicated Winston will undergo internal discipline.
With Winston missing the first two quarters, the Seminoles will turn to backup Sean Maguire.
Maguire completed 13 of 21 passes for 116 yards and two scores last season and has attempted just five throws in 2014.
Maguire has not started a game during his Florida State career and was rated as a three-star prospect in the 2012 signing class.
Prior to Winston’s suspension, Florida State was considered at least a 20-point favorite on Saturday.
While the Seminoles are still likely to be picked to win by most, the margin for error for Jimbo Fisher’s team has narrowed.
Maguire has experience but none against a first-team defense. Clemson’s defensive line is one of the best in the nation and features All-American end Vic Beasley.
Expect a limited gameplan for Maguire, and Fisher will likely place the bulk of the offense on the shoulders of running backs Mario Pender and Karlos Williams.
Also, Florida State’s defense can help its offense by creating a few turnovers. The Tigers’ offense struggled in the second half against Georgia and is a work in progress with new quarterback Cole Stoudt.
Jameis Winston will miss 1st half vs Clemson (school discipline). FSU is 16-0 since he became starter at beginning of last season #CLEMvsFSU— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) September 17, 2014
Offensive line play is often overlooked when analyzing and predicting a college football season. Outside of quarterback play, the five players in the trenches are the most important position on offense. Good skill players won’t go far with a limited offensive line, and a passing game won’t get on track if there’s no protection.
In Athlon’s predicted top 25 offensive lines for 2014, five of the units hailed from the Pac-12. Stanford, Oregon, Washington, Arizona and UCLA ranked among the nation’s best, with the Cardinal grabbing the No. 1 spot in the conference.
While optimism ran high at those schools in the preseason, some teams are still searching for the right answers three weeks into 2014.
|Oregon's Post-Spring Projected OL|
|LT||Tyler Johnstone||26 career starts|
|LG||Hamani Stevens||16 career starts|
|C||Hroniss Grasu||43 career starts|
|RG||Cameron Hunt||9 career starts|
|RT||Jake Fisher||25 career starts|
Each team has a different story in the trenches, but for Oregon, injuries have limited a unit that returned all five starters and was poised to be one of the best in the nation.
Improving the production from the guards and overall physicality of the line was a priority in the offseason, and so far, it appears Oregon’s offensive line has answered the call. The Ducks have scored on 93.3 percent of their red zone trips in 2014. Oregon rushers are averaging 6.3 yards per carry through three weeks and that includes a solid (4.3 ypc) performance against one of the best defenses in the nation (Michigan State).
But will those numbers hold over the course of the season? The Ducks’ line has been thinned by injuries, as Tyler Johnstone was lost for the year due to a knee injury in the preseason, and tackles Andre Yruretagoyena and Jake Fisher have been injured in the last two weeks.
|Oregon's Projected OL for Week 4|
|LT Matt Pierson/Jake Fisher||Fisher's Status Uncertain|
|LG Hamani Stevens||Started all 3 games in 2014.|
|C Hroniss Grasu||Best center in nation?|
|RG Cameron Hunt||Started 2 games in 2014.|
|RT Tyrell Crosby||True freshman pressed into duty.|
Oregon is secretive with injury updates, so there’s no long-term diagnosis on Fisher or Yruretagoyena.
With Fisher and Yruretagoyena sidelined, the Ducks will rely on junior Matt Pierson and freshman Tyrell Crosby to handle the tackle duties. Crosby ranked as the No. 401 recruit in the 2014 signing class and started the Week 3 contest against Wyoming. Crosby started on the right side and is expected to stay there, even with Fisher’s absence in Week 4. Pierson is a walk-on but has game experience by playing in six contests in 2013 and three games in 2012. He also filled in against Wyoming, helping a line that did not allow a sack last Saturday.
But if either player is out for an extended period of time, the Ducks could go into the heart of their schedule (at UCLA – Oct. 11, Washington – Oct. 18 and Stanford – Nov. 1) without their top three tackles from the preseason.
Matchups against the Bruins and Cardinal will be huge for Oregon’s playoff hopes and could decide whether or not the Ducks or Stanford represents the North in the Pac-12 title game.
Will Oregon’s offensive line woes derail the offense against Washington State or Arizona? Probably not, but a thin offensive line could create more pressure on quarterback Marcus Mariota.
The Cougars have just four sacks in three games and have allowed 28.7 points per game so far this year. Washington State’s defensive line is underrated, headlined by tackle Xavier Cooper. The Cougars also sacked Mariota three times in 2013.
The Wildcats have allowed 21.3 points per game and 5.2 yards per play through three weeks. Oregon’s matchup against Arizona is more favorable, as the Wildcats are breaking in two new starters on the line.
But the reality for Oregon is simple. Good luck and injuries are required to win a national title. Not having three of your top tackles from the preseason is something that will be difficult to overcome. Of course, having a quarterback like Mariota certainly alleviates the concerns up front. And the Ducks can use their spread to get rid of the ball and allow their athletes to make plays in space.
If Fisher and Yruretagoyena return soon, Oregon’s offensive line should be fine. However, if these two miss the rest of the year, the Ducks’ depth up front could be a huge issue, especially against physical defenses like Stanford, UCLA and potential matchups in the playoffs.
On the other side of the division, UCLA is also dealing with uncertainty on its offensive line.
In the opener against Virginia, the Bruins allowed 11 tackles for a loss and five sacks. Center Jake Brendel (All-Pac-12 candidate) did not play against the Cavaliers due to a knee injury, which clearly attributed to some of UCLA’s struggles up front.
|Game||YPR||Sacks Allowed||TFL Allowed|
|at UVA||3.0||5 (33 att)||11|
|Memphis||3.5||4 (44 att)||6|
|Texas||4.6||3 (34 att)||3|
Brendel returned in Week 2 against Memphis, and the Bruins allowed four sacks on 44 pass attempts, gave up six tackles for a loss and improved their yards per carry average from 3.0 in the opener to 3.5 against the Tigers.
UCLA’s line took a step forward in Week 3, recording a 4.6 yards per rush against Texas – the best defensive front the Bruins have played in 2014 – and gave up only three sacks on 34 pass attempts.
The good news for coach Jim Mora and quarterback Brett Hundley is the line seems to be improving with each game. However, tackle Malcolm Bunche was injured against Texas and his status for next week’s Thursday night showdown against Arizona State is uncertain.
If Bunche can’t go in Week 5, redshirt freshman Conor McDermott is listed on the backup on the depth chart, but UCLA could shuffle its line to move someone else to the left side.
Losing Bunche for an extended period of time would be a huge setback for a line that is still developing and thin on proven options off the bench. While that’s ominous for the Bruins, Bunche does have a week to get healthy before playing Arizona State (Sept. 25).
Assuming UCLA is able to win in Tempe, an aggressive Utah defense awaits on Oct. 4, followed by a date against Oregon on Oct. 11. Getting Brendel fully entrenched at center once again, along with Bunche back to full strength is critical in a key stretch run for the Bruins.
However, there’s one major caveat to UCLA’s title hopes that won’t revolve on the offensive line. Is quarterback Brett Hundley healthy and capable of returning soon? The early reports suggest Hundley’s elbow injury isn’t serious, but the Bruins need their signal-caller and No. 1 quarterback at full strength.
UCLA was Athlon’s pick to win the South Division this preseason. Even if the wins haven’t been impressive or as dominating as some may have anticipated in the preseason, the Bruins are still squarely in the mix for the division and conference title. And if UCLA wins the Pac-12 title with one loss or remains unbeaten, Jim Mora's team is going to be in college football's playoff.
The stats from the first three games suggest the offensive line is improving. But what type of impact could a long-term injury to Bunche hold for this group? And assuming Bunche does return to full strength, can this unit jell and continue to improve after a sluggish start to the season?
With its strong defense and quarterback Brett Hundley leading the way, UCLA is capable of pushing for a playoff spot. However, much like Oregon, the Bruins’ title hopes depend on the five blockers leading the way in key games against the Ducks, Sun Devils, along with late-season matchups against Washington, USC and Stanford.
It's early, but the development (and health) of offensive lines at UCLA and Oregon are going to play a huge role in determining the Pac-12 champion in 2014.
Arkansas has experienced its share of highs and lows since joining the SEC in 1992. The Razorbacks have won at least 10 games three times since 2006 but also bottomed out with an 0-8 record in conference play in 2013.
Finishing 0-8 in SEC play in 2013 was the result of several factors, but the winless season is largely attributed to the coaching carousel that transpired in Fayetteville.
Bobby Petrino’s four-year stint in Fayetteville was successful, which included 21 wins from 2010-11 and an appearance in the Sugar Bowl after the 2010 season. But Petrino’s tenure ended on a motorcycle ride in the spring of 2012, forcing the Razorbacks into uncertainty after the best two-year stint since Arkansas joined the SEC.
Athletic director Jeff Long’s options were limited in replacing Petrino and he chose familiarity by selecting former assistant John L. Smith to serve as a one-year option.
But that one year was surrounded in uncertainty in numerous ways, and the Razorbacks slipped to 4-8 overall and just 2-6 in SEC play.
Long’s hire of Bret Bielema from Wisconsin was a surprise, and Bielema endured a rough debut in 2013. Arkansas finished 3-9 overall and recorded its first winless season in conference play since joining the SEC.
While Bielema shouldered much of the criticism from the 2013 campaign, the Razorbacks’ problems were bigger than a coach.
Three coaches in three years, changes in scheme, personnel departures – including quarterback Tyler Wilson – and uncertainty in recruiting all compounded Arkansas’ issues.
Switching from Petrino’s high-powered offense to Bielema’s ground-and-pound attack required time and adjustments, but the Razorbacks started to show signs of life late in the 2013 season.
After being outscored by 139-24 against South Carolina, Alabama and Auburn, Arkansas lost by 10 to Ole Miss, lost by seven in overtime to Mississippi State and nearly upset LSU in Baton Rouge to close out 2013.
Those signs of life late in the season have carried over into 2014. Arkansas battled defending SEC champion Auburn for a half, losing 45-21 after the Tigers scored 24 unanswered points over the final two quarters.
The Razorbacks thoroughly dominated FCS opponent Nicholls State in Week 2 and gashed Texas Tech’s defense for 438 yards in a huge 49-28 road victory for Arkansas.
The Red Raiders may end 2014 as an overrated team based on the preseason rankings, but the Razorbacks are clearly improving under Bielema.
Why has Arkansas improved? Outside of the rushing attack and dynamic duo of running backs Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams, here are three reasons why the Razorbacks are improving in Bielema’s second season:
A healthy Brandon Allen at QB
In his first two starts of 2013, Allen completed 24 of 39 throws for 355 yards and five scores. After a shoulder injury against Southern Miss, Allen wasn’t the same quarterback. He finished 2013 by throwing just nine touchdowns over the final eight games and a lackluster 49.6 completion percentage. Allen is off to a good start once again, completing 28 of 48 passes for 353 yards and six scores. The Razorbacks will always lean on the run, but Allen’s health (and development) should keep opposing defenses honest.
Arkansas will always have trouble attracting five-star talent, but Bielema and his staff inked the No. 23 class in 2013 and the No. 30 haul in '14. And the Razorbacks are targeting another top 20-30 class this year, which is ranked No. 26 by 247Sports. The 2015 class already includes five four-star players. Bielema and his staff have done a good job of quickly developing talent, as eight players from the 2013 class are listed as starters. And nine players from the 2014 class are listed on the depth chart for Week 4, including nose guard Bijhon Jackson, center Frank Ragnow and cornerback Henre’ Toliver.
Reviewing Arkansas' Recruiting Over the Last Five Years
|Year||3-Stars Signed||4-Stars Signed||5-Stars Signed||SEC Class Rank||National Rank|
|Rankings compiled from 247Sports|
In the Trenches
This is one area Bielema has made an immediate difference. In a short time, Arkansas’ offensive line went from a question mark to a strength. Sophomores Dan Skipper and Denver Kirkland headline a unit that bulldozed Texas Tech’s defensive line and leads the way for a rushing attack that ranks No. 2 nationally with an average of 7.9 yards per carry. The future for the offensive line looks bright with freshmen Frank Ragnow and Brian Wallace already appearing on the depth chart. Defensively, Arkansas has six freshmen or sophomores listed up front. It sounds cliché, but winning in the SEC starts in the trenches. The Razorbacks have the makings of a solid offensive and defensive line over the next few seasons.
Obstacles to Overcome
Brutal SEC West
|Arkansas 2014 Schedule|
|Sept. 6||Nicholls State|
Sure, Arkansas – yes it’s a small sample size – looks to be improved in 2014. But realistically, what’s the win total for this team by December? The SEC West is unforgiving, hosting two national title contenders in Alabama and Auburn, teams on the rise in Texas A&M, Ole Miss and Mississippi State, while LSU appears to be on track to quickly reload after a rash of personnel departures. Winning a game against an opponent from the West will be tough, and the Razorbacks play Missouri and Georgia in crossover play with the East. Ouch.
Developing the Passing Attack
A healthy Brandon Allen at quarterback will solve some of the Razorbacks’ passing game, but this offense averaged only 148.5 yards passing per game last year. Through three games, Arkansas is averaging just 141.7 yards per game through the air, but quarterbacks have already tossed six touchdowns after tossing a total of 15 in 12 games in 2013. In addition to Allen, the Razorbacks need more help from the receiving corps. Can Bielema and coordinator Jim Chaney develop a gamebreaker or two here?
Talent at Linebacker/Defensive Back
The Razorbacks will miss defensive end Trey Flowers next year, but the depth chart up front is mostly comprised of sophomores and freshmen. Sophomore Darius Philon is one of the SEC’s rising stars, and sophomore nose guard Taiwan Johnson has 3.5 sacks in 2014. Despite the optimism up front, the back seven is still a work in progress. Arkansas’ linebacking corps and defensive backfield ranked near the bottom of most SEC unit rankings in the preseason. If the Razorbacks are going to take a step forward on defense, secondary and linebacker play has to improve.
Looking Ahead to 2015
Arkansas is slated to lose 19 seniors this offseason. However, just nine are listed as starters on the depth chart.
Next season's schedule also is more favorable, featuring a rebuilding Tennessee team from the East and a home date against Mississippi State.
With most of the core returning, 2015 should be a better gauge of how far the Razorbacks have come in Bielema’s tenure.
Regardless of the final record in 2014, Arkansas is on the right track. The Razorbacks are building a ground-and-pound offense that resembles Bielema’s offenses at Wisconsin, and there’s young talent to build around on defense.
Winning a SEC game with a difficult schedule is going to be a challenge in 2014. However, Bielema and this staff won’t have to have wins to show progress, especially if the Razorbacks are competitive in every conference game.
Patience is required with a coaching change, especially in Fayetteville – in a brutal SEC West – after going through a messy end to Petrino’s tenure and the tumultuous one-year stint under Smith.
Bielema has plenty of work to do and by no means is Arkansas a finished product. But with a talented (and youthful) core in place, combined with the improvement at the end of 2013 and start to '14, the Razorbacks are turning a corner and appear to be deepening what is already college football’s toughest division.
West Virginia cornerback Daryl Worley has been suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules. Worley’s suspension comes at a critical point for the Mountaineers, as a showdown against Big 12 title favorite Oklahoma is ahead on Saturday.
There’s no question Worley’s absence will be felt on West Virginia’s defense. Oklahoma’s passing attack is averaging 293.3 passing yards per game, and receiver Sterling Shepard has caught 17 passes for 335 yards and two scores in three contests. Individual matchups always change throughout the game, but there was a good possibility Worley and Shepard would have squared off several times on Saturday.
Shepard is one of the Big 12’s top targets, and Knight has made progress as a passer since gashing Alabama for 348 yards in the Sugar Bowl. Needless to say, keeping Knight and Shepard under wraps just got a lot tougher for West Virginia on Saturday.
With Worley anchoring the secondary, West Virginia was holding opponents to just 204.7 yards per game through the air. And the Mountaineers allowed only two passing touchdowns through their first three games.
Worley is the top cornerback for Tony Gibson’s defense, but there’s experience in place with junior Terrell Chestnut and senior Travis Bell at cornerback. Also, senior Ishmael Banks is slated to return after a three-game academic suspension to begin 2014.
Banks, Chestnut and Bell have to step up on Saturday, but the secondary could use more help from the front seven. The defensive line is averaging two sacks per game in 2014 and getting more pressure on Knight would help compensate for Worley’s absence on the back end.
Worley is already regarded as one of the top cornerbacks in the Big 12 and has forced the Mountaineers’ only turnovers (two) this year.
In three games, Worley has recorded 17 tackles (two for a loss) and two interceptions.
In 11 appearances last year, the Philadelphia native recorded 45 tackles and one interception.
The length of Worley’s suspension is uncertain. But assuming he’s out of the lineup on Saturday night, it’s a huge loss for a West Virginia team that appears to be one of the most improved squads in the nation this year. And looking farther down the road on the Mountaineers’ schedule, matchups against Texas Tech and Baylor will certainly test the secondary.
West Virginia was already facing an uphill battle against Oklahoma. Without Worley, that task on Saturday night just got a lot tougher.
I'm interested to see what this ends up being. Daryl Worley would have been one of the last kids on the team I'd pick to get in trouble.— Chris Anderson (@CMAnderson247) September 16, 2014
Arizona State quarterback Taylor Kelly left the Week 3 victory over Colorado due to a foot injury, and the senior is not expected to play in the Sun Devils’ upcoming showdown against UCLA on Sept. 25.
With Kelly sidelined, Mike Bercovici is slated to take the first snap against the Bruins.
Bercovici played in Kelly’s absence during the second half against Colorado and completed 2 of 4 passes for eight yards.
While Kelly will be missed, Bercovici does have experience, throwing 24 passes over the last three seasons.
Bercovici is not as strong of a runner as Kelly, but the Sun Devils can lean more on D.J. Foster and freshmen Kalen Ballage and Damario Richard to carry the offense on the ground.
It’s uncertain when Kelly will be able to return to the lineup, but his absence comes at a critical time for Arizona State. Arizona Sports reported Kelly suffered a broken foot and will be out at least a month.
The Sun Devils play UCLA on Sept. 25, then travel to USC the following Thursday. If that wasn’t difficult enough, games against Washington and Stanford round out the month of October. Considering Arizona State's difficult schedule, Kelly's injury and how well Bercovici plays will determine whether or not the Sun Devils are still a threat to repeat as Pac-12 South champs.
UCLA's offensive line has struggled, and quarterback Brett Hundley was injured in Saturday's win over Texas. USC lost at Boston College and was outplayed in a win at Stanford.
Who should be the favorite in this division? As always, it's a matter of survival. UCLA continues to win close games, and USC still has depth concerns.
It's tough to count out Arizona State with explosive playmakers like Foster and receiver Jaelen Strong, but the defense featured several new faces stepping into the starting lineup.
Can Bercovici and a rebuilt defense hold the Sun Devils' title hopes together for the next few weeks? Or will Kelly's injury doom Arizona State's title hopes? For now, it's easy to assume the latter, but the rest of the struggles in the Pac-12 South suggest this race is far from over - even with Kelly sidelined.
Arizona State QB Taylor Kelly (foot) is not expected to play against UCLA on Sept. 25 due to a foot injury, per source.— Joe Schad (@schadjoe) September 15, 2014
I'm told as of now ASU has no plans to offer an official update on Taylor Kelly today. No Todd Graham presser tomorrow due to bye week.— Tyler Lockman (@TylerLockman) September 14, 2014
Week 3 was supposed to be a quiet one in the ACC. With a slate of so-so matchups, Florida State, Clemson and North Carolina on bye, there wasn’t a ton of intrigue around the conference.
However, Week 3 brought several interesting games to the ACC, including East Carolina’s 28-21 upset over Virginia Tech and Virginia’s 23-21 win over Louisville. Boston College used its punishing ground game to shock USC 37-31, and Georgia Tech needed a late fumble recovery and touchdown on offense to rally against Georgia Southern.
Miami, NC State, Duke, Syracuse and Pittsburgh scored relatively easy victories on Saturday.
Key Takeaways from the ACC in Week 3
Virginia Tech…Letdown or a Reason to be Concerned?
After pulling off a surprise win at Ohio State last Saturday, Virginia Tech fell victim to East Carolina’s upset bid in Week 3. Was it a letdown? Or is Frank Beamer’s team still dealing with concerns on both sides of the ball? It’s probably a little bit of both, but there’s no question the Hokies are a work in progress on offense. Quarterback Michael Brewer tossed two interceptions on 56 attempts, the rushing attack managed only 2.8 yards per carry, and the offensive line allowed three sacks. Virginia Tech’s woes from Week 3 also extend to the defense, giving up an uncharacteristic 427 passing yards to East Carolina’s Shane Carden. While the loss is damaging for the Hokies' playoff hopes, Virginia Tech is still unbeaten in conference play and remains the favorite in a wide-open Coastal.
Listen to the Week 3 recap podcast:
Boston College’s Offense Finds its Stride
Behind a punishing rushing attack, Boston College scored one of the biggest upsets in Week 3 by defeating USC 37-31. Quarterback Tyler Murphy completed only five passes for 54 yards, but the Eagles gashed the Trojans for 452 yards and five scores on the ground. That’s right: 452 yards. Coming into Saturday’s game, USC allowed just 285 yards on the ground in its first two games. Murphy’s ability to make plays with his legs played a huge role in Boston College’s upset win, but Boston College’s five senior starters on the line also deserve credit. Even without Andre Williams, coach Steve Addazio isn’t hurting for options in the backfield. Sophomores Myles Willis and Tyler Rouse, along with freshman Jon Hilliman have proved capable of handling the duties on the ground. There will be games where Murphy has to throw for Boston College to win. However, it’s clear the Eagles are going to win their share of games by pounding opponents with their ground attack.
Progress for Brad Kaaya
Before we dive into the statistics, let’s add a disclaimer: Miami played Arkansas State in Week 3 and was a heavy favorite. With that out of the way, it’s fair to say Miami freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya took a step forward in his third career start. Kaaya was efficient (16 of 24), threw for 342 yards and tossed four touchdown passes. The freshman averaged 21.4 yards per completion and two of his touchdown scores went more than 60 yards. Again, we don’t want to overreact to one game against an overmatched opponent, but Miami has to be pleased with Kaaya’s development, especially with games against Nebraska, Duke, Georgia Tech, Cincinnati and Virginia Tech coming up next.
Virginia Will be a Factor in the Coastal
Heading into the 2014 season, the Coastal Division favorite was anyone’s guess. Six teams were considered by most for the No. 1 spot, with Virginia slated for the basement at No. 7. However, it’s clear after three weeks it’s time to adjust that thinking. Sure, it’s only three games are in the books, but let’s place the Cavaliers in that same class as Miami, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, Pittsburgh, Duke and North Carolina. Virginia’s offense is still a work in progress, but the defense is holding opponents to 4.8 yards per play and contained Louisville to just 21 points on Saturday. Quarterback Greyson Lambert still has to play better in big games (13 of 24, 162 yards against the Cardinals) for the Cavaliers to threaten for the division. However, Virginia is no longer a guaranteed win for the rest of the Coastal. With home dates against Pittsburgh, North Carolina and Miami, the Cavaliers will have a chance to factor into the division mix and should push for a bowl.
Does Louisville have a QB Battle?
In Saturday’s loss to Virginia, Louisville coach Bobby Petrino made the switch from Will Gardner to true freshman Reggie Bonnafon to help spark an offense that managed just 282 total yards. Bonnafon’s mobility helped counter the Cavaliers’ aggressive defense and compensate for the Cardinals’ struggling line, but the true freshman only finished with 39 passing yards on six completions. Gardner’s numbers weren’t much better (14 of 34, 164 yards and two picks), especially when you consider he started 4 of 4 for 49 yards and one score on the opening drive. Both quarterbacks should see time over the next few games, but Petrino is expected to turn to Gardner to start in Week 4. Regardless of which quarterback takes the first snap in Saturday’s game against FIU, they need more help from the offensive line and receiving corps.
ACC Post-Week 3 Power Rankings
|Rank||Team||Record||Last Week||Week 4|
|2||1-1||Bye Week||at Florida State|
|3||3-0||W, 42-25, FIU||Iowa|
|4||3-0||W, 41-3, Kansas||Tulane|
|5||2-1||L, 28-21, ECU||Georgia Tech|
|6||2-1||W, 23-21, Louisville||at BYU|
|7||2-1||W, 37-31, USC||Maine|
|8||2-1||L, 23-21, Virginia||at FIU|
|9||2-0||Bye Week||at ECU|
|10||2-1||W, 41-20, Ark. State||at Nebraska|
|11||2-0||W, 40-3, Syracuse||Maryland|
|12||3-0||W, 49-17, USF||Presbyterian|
|13||3-0||W, 42-38, Ga. Southern||at Va. Tech|
|14||1-2||L, 36-24, Wake Forest||Army|