Articles By Steven Lassan
For the second week in a row, Mississippi is the epicenter of Saturday’s slate. But after Oxford grabbed the spotlight last week, the focus shifts south to Starkville, as Mississippi State hosts Auburn in a meeting of two top-five teams. The Bulldogs easily handled Texas A&M last week, while Auburn cruised to a 41-7 victory over LSU. Considering the brutal SEC West provides few breaks, a loss on Saturday doesn’t necessarily end the hopes of either team to win the conference. However, it certainly doesn’t help, as Mississippi State and Auburn both have to play Alabama and Ole Miss, while the Tigers catch Georgia in one of their crossover games with the East Division.
The message is pretty simple: Win on Saturday and take control of the SEC West – at least for now. And brace for a brutal second-half schedule.
Auburn has dominated the overall series against Mississippi State. The Tigers own a 58-26-3 edge over the Bulldogs and won last year’s game 24-20. However, three of the last four meetings between these two teams have been decided by a touchdown or less. Mississippi State’s last win over Auburn was in 2012 (28-10).
Auburn at Mississippi State
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Auburn -3
Three Things to Watch
1. Auburn’s Defense
As expected in the second year under coordinator Ellis Johnson, Auburn’s defense has taken a step forward on the stat sheet. The Tigers are allowing just 4.6 yards per play – No. 13 nationally after ranking No. 95 in 2013. Auburn’s defense also ranks second in the SEC by limiting opponents to just 14.4 points per game, second in the SEC in red zone defense and has generated 35 tackles for a loss. That’s the positive side of the numbers. On the downside, the Tigers have yet to play an offense with the explosive ability of Mississippi State. The Bulldogs are incredibly balanced, averaging 267.4 passing yards per game and 274.4 rushing yards a contest. Auburn’s defense will bend, but Johnson has put the clamps on opposing offenses on third downs and in the red zone. No defense has found the right answer to stopping quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Josh Robinson. Will the Tigers find the right formula on Saturday?
2. The Quarterbacks
Saturday’s huge showdown is a chance for both quarterbacks to stake their claim in the Heisman conversation. Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott averages 335.6 yards per game (8.2 yards per touch) and has accounted for 20 touchdowns through five contests. In last year’s game, Prescott passed for 213 yards and rushed for 133 yards and two scores in the Tigers’ 24-20 victory. Considering Prescott’s success last season and his offseason improvement, the junior presents a unique challenge to an Auburn defense that has played better so far in 2014. With all of the hype surrounding Prescott, it’s easy to forget how successful Nick Marshall has been for Auburn. The senior has passed for 755 yards and eight touchdowns and rushed for 392 yards and four scores so far in 2014. Marshall has tossed only one pick on 95 attempts and has three 100-yard rushing games over his last four contests. If you had to rank SEC quarterbacks, most would agree Prescott ranks ahead of Marshall in 2014 performance. And Prescott ranks ahead of Marshall in Heisman expert polls. Can the senior (Marshall) who is flying under the radar upstage the rising star in Prescott?
3. The Battle in the Trenches
Prescott and Marshall, along with skill talent in running backs Josh Robinson (Mississippi State) and Cameron Artis-Payne (Auburn) and receivers Jameon Lewis (Mississippi State) and Sammie Coates and Duke Williams (Auburn) should steal the show on Saturday. But don’t forget about the battle in the trenches, where it’s strength versus strength for both teams. Mississippi State’s front seven on defense has been tough to penetrate in 2014, limiting opponents to just 2.9 yards per carry and only two rushing scores. Marshall, Artis-Payne and speedster Corey Grant will test the effectiveness of the rush defense for the Bulldogs, and if they have success, Auburn’s playmakers on the outside will have opportunities to make plays against Mississippi State’s secondary. When the Bulldogs have the ball, they could struggle to find running room on the ground against the No. 3 rush defense in the SEC. Prescott and Robinson combined for 184 rushing yards against Texas A&M. Can Auburn’s rush defense – which has not allowed an opponent to record more than 138 yards in each of its last four games – hold strong at the point of attack?
Mississippi State has arrived as a SEC title contender under coach Dan Mullen. Winning in Starkville is not easy, but Mullen has stayed the course, recruited and developed the right talent, and the Bulldogs are on the doorstep of owning the No. 1 ranking in most national polls. Just as Mississippi State is Auburn’s biggest challenge this year, the Bulldogs are facing their best opponent of 2014. The home-field advantage is huge a plus for Mullen, along with the return of receiver Jameon Lewis from injury and center Dillon Day from suspension. Offensive fireworks are expected with two offenses averaging over 40 points per game. However, don’t be surprised if this game is a lower-scoring matchup than most expect. Picking a winner isn’t easy. These two teams are relatively even.
Prediction: Auburn 34, Mississippi State 31
Georgia running back Todd Gurley has been suspended indefinitely as a result of a NCAA investigation. The junior is under investigation for exchanging his autograph and use of likeness in exchange for compensation.
Gurley’s suspension is indefinite, so it’s hard to gauge how long the junior running back will be sidelined. However, make no mistake: Gurley is one of the nation’s best players and was considered the frontrunner for the Heisman Trophy. This is a huge loss for the Bulldogs.
In five games this year, Gurley has recorded 773 yards and eight rushing scores on 94 attempts. Gurley averaged 8.2 yards per carry in 2014 and added a kickoff return for a touchdown against Clemson.
There’s no doubt Georgia is going to miss Gurley. But how big of a loss is the junior? Let’s dive into the implications and what it means for the Bulldogs.
Impact of Gurley's Suspension on SEC East
The favorite for the SEC East is really anyone’s guess. Missouri is the only unbeaten team within the division (1-0), and Georgia, Florida and Kentucky all sit at 2-1 after three conference games.
While it’s possible Gurley could return after just a couple of games, his absence this Saturday will be felt. Georgia travels to Missouri to take on the Tigers, in what should be one of the SEC’s marquee games. The winner of Saturday’s matchup should take an early lead in the East Division.
The schedule for Georgia doesn’t get any easier next week, as the Bulldogs travel to Little Rock to take on Arkansas, and play Florida on Nov. 1.
Again, it’s possible Gurley is back in a couple of games, but if Georgia has two or three SEC losses, it’s tough to see this team getting back in the mix for the conference title.
Even though Gurley is out, the Bulldogs aren’t in major trouble against Missouri. This roster still has plenty of talent, starting with a stout front seven on defense, and the passing attack should improve with receiver Malcolm Mitchell returning.
Outside of Vanderbilt, it’s too early to eliminate any team in the East Division conversation. But Georgia’s division title hopes look grim without Gurley in the lineup.
Who Replaces Gurley?
Georgia’s backfield was touted as one of the best in the nation in most preseason unit rankings. But injuries have altered the outlook for this unit. Junior Keith Marshall is dealing with a sprained ankle and knee and will miss his third consecutive game. Freshman Sony Michel ranks third on the team with 223 yards and averaged 9.7 yards per carry, but he’s dealing with a shoulder injury and is likely to be out until November.
With the injuries to Marshall and Michel, a backfield that was overflowing with depth is down to freshman Nick Chubb. The Georgia native ranked as the No. 5 running back in the 2014 signing class by 247Sports and has 224 yards and two scores on 31 attempts.
Chubb is clearly set to become the No. 1 back for coach Mark Richt, with Brendan Douglas also expected to work into the backfield.
It’s a longshot, but freshman all-purpose threat Isaiah McKenzie could see more snaps in the backfield. Depth is limited, so McKenzie and Douglas will be the top options to spell Chubb.
Considering the Bulldogs are down on depth at running back, this is where the offense needs a big effort from quarterback Hutson Mason to compensate for a rushing game that won’t be as potent.
Heisman Hopes Over?
In Athlon’s expert poll following the games from Week 6, Gurley ranked as the favorite for the Heisman. The junior recorded 59 points to Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott’s 55, while Gurley had an eight to five edge on first-place votes.
Barring a last-minute turnaround, Gurley won’t play against Missouri and his Heisman hopes are likely finished.
If Gurley’s Heisman hopes are indeed over, it’s a wide-open race for the No. 1 spot. Prescott would slide into the favorite spot by default, but this opens the door for Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, Notre Dame signal-caller Everett Golson and Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon.
The halfway point of the college season officially arrives after Week 7. And if Prescott and Mississippi State loses to Auburn, it’s fair to say there is no clear frontrunner and the Heisman is really up for grabs in the final eight weeks.
Georgia did not receive a vote in Athlon’s playoff projection following the games from Week 6.
However, the Bulldogs were squarely on the radar as a team that could play their way into contention with just one loss.
But as we mentioned above, it’s going to be significantly tougher to go into Missouri and win without the best player in the SEC.
If Georgia loses this Saturday, it seems likely Mark Richt’s team won’t be able to make the playoffs.
Georgia running back Todd Gurley has been suspended indefinitely as a result of an investigation into a violation of NCAA rules.
According to ESPN, Gurley is under investigation for the use of his likeness and money for memorabilia.
Gurley is the leading candidate for the Heisman Trophy and has rushed for 773 yards and eight touchdowns in five games.
With Gurley sidelined, Georgia is expected to lean on true freshman Nick Chubb at running back.
Gurley’s suspension is a huge loss for a team entering a critical stretch of the season. The Bulldogs play at Missouri this Saturday and travel to Arkansas next Saturday.
BREAKING: Todd Gurley has been indefinitely suspended during investigation into alleged violation of NCAA rules. pic.twitter.com/gtLIopv1ez— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) October 9, 2014
Wonder if Todd Gurley's suspension will be as long as Cam Newton's was.— Radi Nabulsi (@RadiNabulsi) October 9, 2014
Hearing the investigation into #UGA star Todd Gurley is for possibly accepting extra benefits for his likeness w memorabilia brokers.— Bruce Feldman (@BruceFeldmanCFB) October 9, 2014
Louisville and coach Bobby Petrino is winning with defense. Yes, that’s right. One of college football’s top offensive minds has turned to the dark (defensive) side to win games in 2014.
Petrino’s arrival was expected to keep Louisville’s offense among the best in the ACC this year, but the Cardinals rank seventh in its new conference in scoring (33.3 ppg) and average 5.2 yards per play.
But if you remove the non-conference slate, Louisville’s offense ranks in the middle of the ACC.
The Cardinals are averaging just 4.8 yards per play through four conference contests and have scored above 25 points only twice in the ACC.
A struggling offensive line is largely to blame for Louisville’s problems on offense this season. Despite having four starters, the Cardinals have allowed 19 sacks – including 14 in four ACC games. That’s on pace to easily shatter last year’s mark (26), while rushers are averaging only 3.8 yards per play.
In addition to the offensive line, the increased competition, coaching change and quarterback carousel have all factored into Louisville’s offense not taking off in 2014.
While the offense is struggling, Louisville’s defense has carried this team through the first six games.
The Cardinals lead the ACC by holding opponents to 12.7 points per game and have allowed just four touchdowns in four conference games. New coordinator Todd Grantham’s defense is also allowing just 3.8 yards per play after giving up 4.2 in 2013. Total yardage can be a misleading statistic, but Louisville has not allowed an opponent to reach 300 yards in a game this year.
The Cardinals have been aggressive around the line of scrimmage, ranking fourth in the ACC with 44 tackles for a loss, third in the conference in sacks (21), and the defense has forced 15 turnovers (second-most in ACC).
Adding to the impressive start for Louisville’s defense is the unit had to transition to a 3-4 scheme after operating out of a 4-3 under Charlie Strong.
Despite four returning starters, this unit has managed to build off a strong finish to 2013. Rush end linebacker Lorenzo Mauldin is off to a fast start (26 tackles, 9 TFL, 4 sacks), but the senior has help from sophomore Keith Kelsey (37 stops), junior lineman Sheldon Rankins (three sacks), while James Sample, Gerod Holliman and Terell Floyd have solidified the safety position, which was arguably the biggest concern for the defense entering 2014.
Grantham’s hire was met with some skepticism after Georgia allowed 29 points per game in 2013. However, Grantham has been able to blend the returning personnel to his 3-4 fit and has Louisville’s defense ranked near the top of the ACC in key defensive categories.
But there’s a key challenge coming for Louisville and Grantham: The schedule. After playing just one offense ranked inside of the top 55 of Football Outsiders S&P offensive ratings, the Cardinals will play six the rest of the year. Louisville will play three potential All-ACC quarterbacks in Jameis Winston, Deshaun Watson and Jacoby Brissett in October.
There’s no doubt the competition and quarterback play will increase over the second half of the season. But so far, Grantham and Louisville appears to be up for the challenge, especially if the defense can continue to create havoc at the line of scrimmage and force turnovers.
Also, Louisville’s offense should improve through the final six games. The Cardinals’ offensive line remains a concern, but freshman Reggie Bonnafon or sophomore Will Gardner are capable quarterbacks for Petrino’s offense. Bonnafon and Gardner also have additional help in the form of receiver DeVante Parker potentially returning to the lineup this week against Clemson.
The Cardinals are off to a 5-1 start in their first year of ACC play and are set to finish the year with a challenging six-game slate, including a road trip to Clemson this Saturday, followed by games against Florida State, Notre Dame and rival Kentucky in the finale.
In an odd twist, Louisville’s defense is carrying this team through the first six games. The Cardinals need their defense to keep performing at the current pace, while getting more from the offense if they want to knock off Florida State or Clemson in ACC play in 2014.
Petrino will eventually get the offense on track. But until that happens, Louisville is poised to use its defense to navigate a difficult schedule in the second half of the season.
NC State hopes to earn its first ACC win under second-year coach Dave Doeren this Saturday, as the Wolfpack host Boston College.
And to help NC State’s victory hopes, the program unveiled a new helmet for Saturday’s game.
The helmet features a logo of Tuffy (the name of the school’s mascot) instead of the normal power “S” on the side.
Check out NC State’s new helmet for Week 7:
Another week, another huge slate of action in the SEC. Seven ranked teams play this Saturday, with Mississippi State’s showdown against Auburn taking the spotlight in Week 7. The huge matchup in Starkville is a contest with national title implications, and quarterbacks Dak Prescott and Nick Marshall hope to make a Heisman push with a big performance.
Outside of Starkville, the SEC East title race could come into focus with Missouri hosting Georgia. If the Tigers can knock off the Bulldogs, Gary Pinkel’s team would have wins over the preseason favorites in the East (Georgia and South Carolina).
Florida hosts LSU in a critical game for two struggling teams, while Ole Miss travels to Texas A&M in another key SEC West showdown. Following up last week’s win against Alabama won’t be easy. Can the Rebels avoid a letdown in College Station?
Week 7 Previews and Predictions:
ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12
SEC Week 7 Game Power Rankings
1. Auburn (-3) at Mississippi State
3:30 p.m. ET, CBS
For the second week in a row, Mississippi is the epicenter of Saturday’s SEC slate. But after the focus was in Oxford last week, the scene shifts to Starkville. Mississippi State has arrived as a SEC title contender, while Auburn can stake its claim for the No. 1 overall ranking nationally with a win on Saturday. On the stat sheet, there are a lot of similarities between the two teams. Mississippi State and Auburn average over 500 yards per game in SEC play, average 5.6 yards per carry on offense, both have dynamic Heisman contenders at quarterback, and defenses that hold opponents to less than 20 points per game. With two similar teams, what could be the deciding factor on Saturday? Keep an eye on Mississippi State’s secondary. The Bulldogs held their own against Texas A&M, but this unit leads the SEC by allowing 23 passing plays of at least 20 yards. Can Nick Marshall hit on big plays to Sammie Coates and Duke Williams? Auburn’s defense has improved since 2013, but how much has this unit progressed? The Tigers allow just 4.6 yards per play, but the Bulldogs – with quarterback Dak Prescott leading the way – are the toughest opponent they will play so far this year. This series has been one-sided recently, as the Tigers have won 11 out of the last 13 games against the Bulldogs. Mississippi State’s last victory against Auburn came in 2012, defeating the Tigers 28-10 in Starkville.
Listen to the Week 7 preview podcast:
2. Georgia (-3) at Missouri
Noon ET, CBS
The favorite in the SEC East is anyone’s guess. However, Saturday’s game between Missouri and Georgia could provide some clarity. The Bulldogs are still in the mix for the East despite a loss to South Carolina, while Missouri’s win over the Gamecocks has Gary Pinkel’s team atop the East – for now. The Tigers won in Athens last season but are a slight underdog on Saturday. The outlook for this game has changed significantly since Wednesday, as running back Todd Gurley has been suspended indefinitely due to a NCAA investigation. With Gurley out, backup Nick Chubb is expected to see the bulk of the Bulldogs' carries on Saturday. Missouri quarterback Maty Mauk struggled against South Carolina, but he should have more weapons at his disposal with the return of Jimmie Hunt and Darius White from injury. If the Tigers can protect Mauk, he will have opportunities to make plays against a Georgia secondary that has allowed 23 plays of at least 20 yards in 2014. Missouri needs to stop the run, but Georgia’s passing offense is set to improve with the return of receivers Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley. Quarterback Hutson Mason is averaging only 153 passing yards in SEC play, and his performance will be critical to the outcome of Saturday’s game.
3. Ole Miss at Texas A&M (–3.5)
9 p.m. ET, ESPN
Life in the SEC West isn’t easy. Just ask Ole Miss. A week after beating Alabama, the Rebels have to travel to Texas A&M. The Aggies are coming off a loss to Mississippi State and need a win to stay alive in the West Division title picture. Can Ole Miss avoid a letdown? Or was Texas A&M’s 5-0 start a mirage? The Rebels need another flawless effort from quarterback Bo Wallace on Saturday, as the senior delivered against Alabama with no interceptions on 31 attempts. Wallace should have opportunities for plays against a Texas A&M secondary allowing 278.3 yards per game. The Aggies lead the SEC with 19 sacks, but this unit is allowing 6.9 yards per play in conference games. If Texas A&M doesn’t get pressure on Wallace, the receiving corps of Ole Miss will be tough to contain. The Aggies averaged only 5.7 yards per play against Mississippi State last Saturday, which was its lowest mark of the season. Getting back on track will be a challenge for quarterback Kenny Hill, as Ole Miss is holding opponents to just 4.1 yards per play and has not allowed a passing touchdown since the opener. The last two games in this series were decided by three points. Expect another close one in College Station on Saturday night.
4. LSU (-1.5) at Florida
7:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network
For the first time since 1989, both Florida and LSU enter their annual matchup unranked. The Tigers are 0-2 in SEC play, while the Gators survived an ugly 10-9 win over Tennessee last Saturday to move to 2-1 in the conference. Both teams enter this game with major question marks under center. Florida will turn to Jeff Driskel after Treon Harris’ suspension, while LSU’s quarterback situation is unsettled with Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris vying to start. Quarterback play isn’t the only problem for LSU, as its defense is allowing 37.5 points through two SEC contests. Florida’s defense has struggled stopping the pass, but the Gators rank fourth in the SEC against the run. With two teams struggling to generate anything on offense, turnover margin and special teams will be critical. LSU has won three out of the last four meetings in this series.
5. Alabama (-9.5) at Arkansas
6 p.m. ET, ESPN
Last week, Ole Miss and Mississippi State scored breakthrough wins in the SEC. Is it Arkansas’ turn on Saturday? The last two meetings in this series have been a one-sided affair. Alabama has crushed Arkansas 104-0 over the last two years, and the Razorbacks have not defeated the Crimson Tide since 2006. Arkansas has significantly improved since 2013, so a 52-0 blowout would be a surprise. But for the Razorbacks to knock off Alabama, a perfect effort is needed. The Crimson Tide lead the SEC in rush defense (2.6 ypc) and only one opponent has managed more than 100 yards this year. The strength of Arkansas’ offense is on the ground, but running room could be limited on Saturday. With Alabama focused on stopping the ground attack, the Razorbacks need an efficient effort from quarterback Brandon Allen. The junior has passed for 751 yards this year and needs to have success on early downs to keep Alabama’s defense on its heels. As if that task wasn’t difficult enough, Arkansas needs its defense to slow down the Crimson Tide ground attack (5.3 ypc) and dynamic receiver Amari Cooper. Catching Alabama after a loss is never an enticing proposition, but Bret Bielma’s team has showed marked improvement since 2013. This is a good barometer game for Arkansas, and an opportunity for the Crimson Tide to exercise some of the frustration from last week’s loss.
6. ULM at Kentucky (-21.5)
Noon ET, SEC Network
The Wildcats are one of the SEC’s biggest surprises through the first six weeks. Kentucky defeated South Carolina last Saturday, and a win over ULM would place Mark Stoops’ team just one victory away from bowl eligibility. The Warhawks are 1-1 this year against Power 5 conference teams, losing to LSU 31-0 on Sept. 13 and defeating Wake Forest 17-10 in the opener. ULM’s offense is averaging only 18.2 points per game, but the strength of Todd Berry’s team is on defense. The Warhawks limit opponents to 24 points per game and 5.1 yards per play. Those numbers will be tested on Saturday, as Kentucky has scored at least 30 points in two of its three SEC games and rank second in the conference with 16 plays of 30 yards or more.
7. Chattanooga at Tennessee
4 p.m. ET, SEC Network
Tennessee steps out of conference play for the final time this year, hosting Chattanooga (No. 13 in the FCS poll) for the first time since 1969. As evidenced by close losses to Florida and Georgia, the Volunteers are improving under second-year coach Butch Jones, but a tough schedule leaves little margin for error to get to a bowl. Chattanooga’s strength is on defense (16.6 ppg), but quarterback Jacob Huesman headlines an offense that has scored at least 38 points in its last three games. The Mocs played Central Michigan tough in the opener and possess a solid defensive line that could create a few headaches for Tennessee quarterback Justin Worley. And after playing in Tuscaloosa last November, Chattanooga is no stranger to big-time SEC environments. However, it’s a lot to ask the Mocs to keep this one close. The Volunteers should have plenty of motivation after back-to-back SEC losses, and this matchup is a good way for Tennessee to fix some of its mistakes and work on a few things before playing Ole Miss and Alabama in the next two weeks.
8. Charleston Southern at Vanderbilt
7:30 p.m. ET, Fox Sports Net
Vanderbilt’s still has faint bowl hopes, but the Commodores need a win on Saturday to stay alive in their postseason quest. Charleston Southern is 5-0 and ranked No. 24 in the FCS Top 25 poll, but this is easily the Buccaneers’ toughest game of 2014. Charleston Southern’s defense is holding opponents to just 17.6 points per game, and a triple-option attack on offense is not easy to prepare for during the heart of SEC play. First-year Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason is looking for a spark on offense, as the Commodores are averaging only 17 points per game and 4.6 yards per play. With Patton Robinette recovering from a concussion, freshman Wade Freebeck will start at quarterback for the Commodores. Freebeck – a true freshman – is completing only 44.6 percent of his throws. Charleston Southern’s numbers on defense are solid, but this matchup should help Freebeck and Vanderbilt’s offense build confidence before resuming SEC play on Oct. 25 against Missouri.
SEC Week 7 Predictions
|Auburn (-3) at Miss. State||Auburn 38-35||MSU 31-27||Auburn 34-31||Auburn 34-24|
|Georgia (-3) at Missouri||Mizzou 24-21||Mizzou 34-31||Mizzou 27-24||UGA 27-21|
|Ole Miss (+3.5) at TAMU||Ole Miss 35-27||TAMU 34-33||Ole Miss 34-27||Ole Miss 34-30|
|LSU (-1.5) at Florida||LSU 14-10||Florida 24-17||Florida 20-17||Florida 17-14|
|Alabama (-9.5) at Arkansas||Alabama 35-14||Alabama 30-21||Alabama 30-13||Alabama 30-21|
|ULM (+21.5) at UK||UK 38-14||UK 45-14||UK 38-10||UK 37-10|
|Chattanooga at Tennessee||UT 31-13||UT 38-13||UT 45-13||UT 41-10|
|C. Southern at Vanderbilt||Vandy 24-10||Vandy 34-17||Vandy 34-10||Vandy 28-10|
West Virginia cornerback Daryl Worley has been reinstated to the team after reaching a plea agreement from an incident that occurred in September. Worley pleaded no contest to misdemeanor assault and will serve no jail time.
Worley was originally charged with misdemeanor battery from a nightclub incident.
However, after reaching the plea agreement, Worley was placed on probation and was reinstated to the team on Tuesday.
The sophomore is West Virginia’s top defender and is one of the Big 12’s top shutdown cornerbacks. Worley has missed West Virginia's last two games, and his return is critical for the entire defense.
Worley’s return also comes at a key time for the Mountaineers, as they travel to Texas Tech this Saturday, followed by a matchup against Baylor in Week 8.
#WVU cornerback Daryl Worley officially reinstated to the football team after legal situation wrapped up earlier today.— Garrett Cullen (@GarrettCullen) October 8, 2014
WVU Cornerback Daryl Worley Fully Reinstated http://t.co/9f64veLM8Q— Smoking Musket (@SmokingMusket) October 9, 2014
Each college football season, a handful of new players become household names. Most of the breakout players start the year as unknowns or as hyped recruits by a fanbase, but by the end of a year, those players are on the radar for college football fans across the nation.
Athlon tries to project the breakout players every offseason, but each person has a different take on how to define or categorize breakout players.
With six weeks in the books, it’s time to evaluate the breakout players as the second half of 2014 approaches.
Whether it’s quarterbacks like NC State’s Jacoby Brissett, Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett or Pittsburgh running back James Conner, there are handful of players emerging as superstars as the season hits the halfway point.
Here are 20 names to know, along with a handful of others so far in 2014:
20 College Football Breakout Players After Week 6
Devon Allen, WR, Oregon
Despite a lot of turnover in the receiving corps this offseason, Oregon’s high-powered offense hasn’t missed a beat. Allen emerged as quarterback Marcus Mariota’s go-to receiver, catching 19 passes for 377 yards (19.8 ypc) and six scores. The redshirt freshman’s elite speed is valuable for the Ducks to stretch the field, and Allen has two receptions of at least 70 yards in 2014.
J.T. Barrett, QB, Ohio State
Losing Braxton Miller was a huge early-season setback for Ohio State’s offense, but the Buckeyes are starting to fire on all cylinders at the right time. Over the last three games, Ohio State’s offense is averaging 623.7 yards per game and has scored at least 50 points in each contest during that span. Barrett’s play has been critical to the development of the Buckeyes’ offense, as he has 14 touchdowns over the last three games and has tossed only one pick on his last 67 passes. And in another positive sign of Barrett’s development: He’s completed at least 72 percent of his throws in three straight games.
Trevone Boykin, QB, TCU
As long as Gary Patterson is on the sidelines in Fort Worth, it’s safe to assume TCU is going to have one of the Big 12’s best defenses. However, the Horned Frogs struggled to find consistency on offense in recent years and lost four games by three points in 2013. Needing to inject a quick fix for the offense, Patterson turned to Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie as his new coordinators. And the Meacham/Cumbie hires are proving to be huge for the Horned Frogs, as TCU ranks second in the Big 12 by averaging 42.8 points per game. Boykin wasn’t guaranteed the starting job this offseason, but the junior has been nearly flawless through four games. Boykin has completed 61.5 percent of his throws and has 1,176 passing yards and 10 touchdowns in 2014. Boykin is clearly one of the nation’s most-improved passers this year.
Jacoby Brissett, QB, NC State
Brissett nearly guided NC State to an upset over Florida State, but the Florida transfer is off to a fast start in his Wolfpack debut. The junior ranks third among ACC quarterbacks with 1,399 yards and is tied with Miami freshman Brad Kaaya for the conference lead (13) in touchdown passes. Brissett completed over 66 percent of his passes through his first four games and has just one interception on 185 attempts.
James Conner, RB, Pittsburgh
Conner finished 2013 on a tear, rushing for 229 yards on 26 attempts in the bowl victory over Bowling Green. The sophomore carried that momentum into 2014, gashing his first four opponents for at least 153 yards in each contest. Opposing defenses in the last two games has slowed Conner and the Pittsburgh rushing attack, as the sophomore has not topped 100 yards in either outing. However, Conner’s 873 yards ranks second in the nation, while his nine rushing scores are tied for third nationally.
Myles Garrett, DE, Texas A&M
Garrett was one of the top incoming recruits for the 2014 signing class and hasn’t disappointed for Texas A&M. The true freshman is physically ready for the challenge of playing in the trenches in the SEC, recording 30 tackles (eight for a loss) and 6.5 sacks. By recording two sacks over the next six games, Garrett will set a SEC record for the most sacks by a true freshman.
Jared Goff, QB, California
Injuries and coaching transition equaled a disappointing 1-11 start to Sonny Dykes’ tenure at California last year. But the Golden Bears have showed marked improvement in 2014, as they lead the Pac-12 North with a 2-1 mark in conference play after six weeks. In addition to better luck with injuries, combined with improvement on defense, California’s offense is a big reason why this team could be the nation’s biggest surprise in 2014. Goff has thrown for 1,875 yards and 22 scores through five games, and his 375 yards per game mark ranks second in the Pac-12.
Eddie Goldman, DT, Florida State
Goldman started 13 games in 2013, but the junior is playing at an even higher level in 2014. Through five games, the defensive tackle has 15 stops (3.5 for a loss) and two sacks. Goldman also forced a fumble with less than two minutes to go against Clemson, preventing the Tigers from getting into scoring range and winning in Tallahassee earlier this year. Goldman won’t post huge numbers, but he’s ready to live up to the hype as a five-star high school recruit.
Samaje Perine, RB, Oklahoma
“Optimus Perime” has emerged as Oklahoma’s No. 1 back this year. A leg injury sidelined Keith Ford after the third game, and Perine has rushed for 329 yards and seven scores over the last two contests. The true freshman will likely relinquish some carries when Ford returns, but at 243 pounds, Perine is tough to keep off the field when Oklahoma wants to establish its ground attack.
Shane Ray, DE, Missouri
Replacing standouts on the defensive line is nothing new for coordinator Dave Steckel and line coach Craig Kuligowski. And despite losing Michael Sam and Kony Ealy to the NFL, Missouri’s defensive line is just as effective as it was in 2013. The Tigers rank third in the SEC with 17 sacks and are tied for fourth with 35 tackles for a loss. Ray has a sack in four consecutive games, including two in Missouri’s road win at South Carolina.
Josh Robinson, RB, Mississippi State
We could list quarterback Dak Prescott here, but Robinson fits our “breakout” criteria better since he never rushed for at least 500 yards in a season – until 2014. The junior has emerged as a perfect complement to Prescott this year, averaging 7.5 yards per carry on 79 attempts. Robinson has three 100-yard efforts in his last five games, including 197 in a huge road win at LSU.
Dan Skipper, OT, Arkansas
The improved play in the trenches is a big reason why the Razorbacks are showing progress in coach Bret Bielema’s second year. Skipper worked his way into the starting lineup as a true freshman last season, starting the final eight games of 2013. The sophomore anchors the left tackle spot in 2014 and is a big reason why Arkansas leads the SEC with five runs of 50 yards or more and ranks seventh nationally by recording 316.6 rushing yards per game.
Jaylon Smith, LB, Notre Dame
Notre Dame’s defense hasn’t played a gauntlet of elite offenses so far in 2014, but the Fighting Irish are holding opponents to just 12 points a game and just 4.7 yards per play. Despite personnel losses up front, new coordinator Brian VanGorder has managed to keep the Fighting Irish’s defense among the nation’s best. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have a standout linebacker like Smith. The sophomore leads Notre Dame with 45 tackles (6.5 for a loss) and has two sacks through five games. Smith could be an All-American by the end of 2014.
Anu Solomon, QB, Arizona
Arizona began spring practice with seven quarterbacks vying for the starting job. After an extended battle into the fall, Solomon emerged as the No. 1 quarterback. So far, the redshirt freshman has not disappointed. The Wildcats are 5-0 and the only undefeated team in the Pac-12 South. Solomon has passed for 1,741 yards and 14 scores and has tossed only four picks on 206 attempts. He also has 167 rushing yards on 51 attempts. Solomon has completed at least 64 percent of his throws in three consecutive starts.
Nelson Spruce, WR, Colorado
No Paul Richardson? No problem. Spruce has emerged as a capable replacement for Richardson and is the favorite target for Colorado’s rising star quarterback Sefo Liufau. Spruce leads the nation with 62 receptions and ranks third with 732 receiving yards. The junior also leads the nation with 10 touchdown receptions and has caught at least 10 passes in three games this season. Coming into 2014, Spruce had just seven career touchdown catches.
Justin Thomas, QB, Georgia Tech
At 5-0, Georgia Tech is probably the biggest surprise from the nation’s 10 remaining unbeatens. The Yellow Jackets’ option attack has operated smoothly with Thomas at the helm, as the sophomore has rushed for 470 yards and three rushing scores. Thomas also has seven passing scores and averages 18.4 yards per completion. As long as Thomas executes the necessary reads to run the option, and utilizes his legs to make plays on the ground, the sophomore should have Georgia Tech squarely in the mix to win the Coastal this year.
Kemoko Turay, DL, Rutgers
Turay is a key cog in Rutgers’ defensive line, as the redshirt freshman leads the team with 5.5 sacks and ranks second with 5.5 tackles for a loss. Turay also leads the nation with three blocked kicks (including one to preserve the win over Michigan) and has 12 tackles through the first six games.
More Breakout Players from 2014
Budda Baker, S, Washington
Promising true freshman is a future star in Seattle. Baker has 26 stops and three pass breakups through Washington’s first five games.
Quin Blanding, S, Virginia
Blanding has lived up to the hype as a five-star recruit early in his career. The true freshman leads Virginia with 61 tackles and has recorded four pass breakups and one interception.
Devontae Booker, RB, Utah
Booker has provided a spark for Utah’s ground attack, averaging 5.8 yards per carry on 88 attempts this year. The junior college recruit has 513 yards (No. 5 in Pac-12) and four rushing scores.
KD Cannon, WR, Baylor
Standout true freshman averages 21.9 yards per reception. Leads Baylor with five touchdown tosses through five games.
Senquez Golson, CB, Ole Miss
Golson made 10 starts last year, but the senior is off to arguably the best start in his career. Through five games, he has 17 stops and four interceptions, including the game-winning pick to beat Alabama in Week 6.
DaeSean Hamilton, WR, Penn State
Hamilton – a redshirt freshman – leads the team with 36 receptions for 502 yards in 2014.
Tyreek Hill, RB/WR, Oklahoma State
Hill is the definition of a true all-purpose threat. The junior college recruit has 196 rushing yards, 131 receiving yards on 14 catches, 15 punt returns and averages 23.4 yards per kickoff return.
Xavien Howard, CB, Baylor
Howard headlines Baylor’s revamped secondary, as the sophomore has recorded 16 tackles, two interceptions and 10 passes defended through five games.
Jojo Kemp/Braylon Heard, RB, Kentucky
Heard and Kemp are two of Kentucky’s rising stars at the skill positions, and both players have energized a rushing attack that ranked near the bottom of the SEC in 2013. Heard averages 8.1 yards per carry, while Kemp boasts a 5.7 mark on 50 carries.
Justin Jackson, RB, Northwestern
True freshman has emerged as a capable replacement for Venric Mark. Leads the team with 396 yards on 89 attempts.
Brad Kaaya, QB, Miami
The talent is there – the true freshman just needs more snaps. Has tossed at least two picks in four out of Miami’s six games in 2014.
Peter Kalambayi, LB, Stanford
Stanford’s defense hasn’t missed a beat under new coordinator Lance Anderson, and Kalambayi (16 tackles, 5 TFL, 4 sacks) has been a key cog in the pass rush.
William Likely, CB, Maryland
Likely has been one of Maryland’s top defenders through its first six games, helping the Terrapins to hold their first two Big Ten opponents to just four passing scores on 61 attempts. The sophomore has recorded 42 stops, one sack and three interceptions. Likely also has one forced fumble and averages 22 yards per punt return.
Cam Serigne, TE, Wake Forest
Serigne has been one of the few bright spots from Wake Forest’s offense this year. The freshman has 29 catches for 282 yards and one score.
Vincent Valentine, DT, Nebraska
Valentine helps to anchor Nebraska’s rush defense, which is holding opponents to 3.8 yards per carry. The sophomore has 16 tackles (four for a loss) and two sacks through five games.
D’haquille Williams, WR, Auburn
Williams was considered one of the top junior college recruits in the nation and hasn’t disappointed through five games. The junior has 25 receptions for 385 yards and three scores so far this year.
Shaun Wilson, RB, Duke
Only has 36 attempts but has made the most of his opportunities (12.1 ypc).
With six weeks in the books, college football’s bowl and national title picture is surrounded in uncertainty.
The new playoff format has added a new layer of intrigue, as four teams – instead of two – will have a shot at the national championship once the bowl pairings are announced in early December.
While only six weeks are in the books, it’s never too early to start looking at what the bowl picture might hold for each conference and team this year. The post-Week 6 bowl projections are a mixture between picks for the next few weeks, how things would look if the season ended today, and the results from the first five weeks of action. Expect several changes over the next few weeks, especially as the heart of conference play arrives in October.
Teams just missing the projections: California, Maryland, Oregon State, Wyoming, Texas State, ULM, USF, Western Kentucky. Remember: It’s only Week 6. Several changes are coming, and it’s impossible to project all of the wins and losses the rest of the way considering how much changes week-to-week in college football.
College Football's Post-Week 6 Bowl Projections
|New Orleans||Dec. 20||Sun Belt vs.|
| UL Lafayette vs.|
|New Mexico||Dec. 20||C-USA vs.|
| North Texas vs.|
|Las Vegas||Dec. 20||Mountain West vs.|
| Boise State vs.|
|Famous Idaho Potato||Dec. 20||MAC vs.|
| Bowling Green vs.|
|Camellia||Dec. 20||MAC vs.|
| Ohio vs.|
|Miami Beach||Dec. 22||American vs.|
|Boca Raton||Dec. 23||C-USA vs.|
| Marshall vs.|
|Poinsettia||Dec. 23||Mountain West vs.|
| Colorado State vs.|
|Bahamas||Dec. 24||C-USA vs. |
|Hawaii||Dec. 24||C-USA vs.|
|Heart of Dallas||Dec. 26||Big Ten vs. |
| Rutgers vs.|
|Quick Lane||Dec. 26||ACC vs.|
| Boston College vs.|
|Bitcoin St. Petersburg||Dec. 26||ACC vs.|
| Pittsburgh vs.|
|Military||Dec. 27||ACC vs. |
| Duke vs.|
|Sun||Dec. 27||ACC vs. |
| Virginia vs.|
|Independence||Dec. 27||ACC vs.|
| NC State vs.|
|Pinstripe||Dec. 27||ACC vs.|
| Miami vs.|
|Holiday||Dec. 27||Big Ten vs.|
| Wisconsin vs.|
|Liberty||Dec. 29||SEC vs.|
| Tennessee vs.|
|Russell Athletic||Dec. 29||ACC vs.|
| Georgia Tech vs.|
|Texas||Dec. 29||Big 12 vs.|
| West Virginia vs.|
|Music City||Dec. 30||ACC/Big Ten vs.|
| Iowa vs.|
|Belk||Dec. 30||ACC vs.|
| Virginia Tech vs.|
|San Francisco||Dec. 30||Big Ten vs. |
| Northwestern vs.|
|Outback||Jan. 1||Big Ten vs.|
| Nebraska vs.|
|Citrus||Jan. 1||Big Ten/ACC vs.|
| Ohio State vs.|
|Armed Forces||Jan. 2||American/Army vs.|
|Taxslayer||Jan. 2||ACC/Big Ten vs.|
| Louisville vs.|
|Alamo||Jan. 2||Big 12 vs.|
| TCU vs.|
|Cactus||Jan. 2||Big 12 vs.|
| Texas vs.|
|Birmingham||Jan. 3||American vs.|
| Memphis vs.|
|GoDaddy||Jan. 4||MAC vs.|
| Toledo vs.|
|New Year's Bowls|
|Peach||Dec. 31||At-large vs.|
| East Carolina vs.|
|Fiesta||Dec. 31||At-large vs.|
| Baylor vs.|
|Dec. 31||At-large vs.|
| Clemson vs.|
|Cotton||Jan. 1||At-large vs.|
| Michigan State vs.|
|Related: Projecting the Playoff Teams After Week 6|
| Florida State vs. |
| Auburn vs.|
|National Title||Jan. 12||Semifinal Winner vs.|
| Auburn vs.|
* Indicates conference not projected to have enough bowl-eligible teams.
The new college football playoff format has added even more intrigue to the 2014 season. Instead of figuring out the top two teams in early December, the focus has shifted to finding four teams to play in the first FBS postseason playoff format.
To help select the four playoff teams, a 13-person committee was picked, which includes names like Barry Alvarez, Oliver Luck, Pat Haden and Jeff Long, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former coach Tyrone Willingham.
Each week, Athlon Sports hopes to replicate the playoff committee’s work by asking some of college football’s top media members to vote on their top eight teams. The official playoff committee will release its rankings starting on Oct. 28, but this poll will attempt to project how the playoff picture stacks up after each week until the end of the year.
Bobby Bowden (@TheBobbyBowden), Legends Poll
Gene Stallings, (@LegendsPoll), Legends Poll
Don Nehlen (@LegendsPoll), Legends Poll
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven), Athlon Sports
Braden Gall (@BradenGall), Athlon Sports
Zac Ellis (@ZacEllis), Sports Illustrated
David Fox (@DavidFox615), Athlon Sports
Mark Ennis (@MarkEnnis), CardChronicle.com
Teddy Mitrosilis (@TMitrosilis), Fox Sports
Matt Brown (@MattBrownCFB), SportsonEarth.com
Rich Cirminiello (@RichCirminiello), Campus Insiders
Brad Crawford (@BCrawfordSDS), SaturdayDownSouth.com
Allen Kenney (@BlatantHomerism), BlatantHomerism.com
Chris Anderson (@CMAnderson247), Eersports.com
Kyle Kensing (@kensing45), CFBHuddle.com
Adam Powell (@ACCSports), ACCSports.com
Mitch Light (@AthlonMitch) Athlon Sports
Josh Ward (@Josh_Ward), MrSEC.com
Kevin McGuire (@KevinonCFB), CollegeFootballTalk.com
Mark Ross (@AthlonMarkR), Athlon Sports
Post-Week 6 Playoff Projection
Takeaways from Expert Poll Results
* Auburn received 12 of the first-place votes. Florida State received seven, and Mississippi State claimed one first-place vote.
* According to the voting panel, Auburn, Florida State and Mississippi State clearly rank as the top three teams in the playoff projection. The Tigers did not receive a vote lower than third. The Seminoles did not receive a vote lower than fourth.
* Alabama ranks as the highest one-loss team from the voting panel. The Crimson Tide’s position is critical, as Nick Saban’s team still has to play two teams ranked higher in this week’s results (Mississippi State and Auburn).
* Looking ahead from this week’s results, more clarity in the top 10 should come after Saturday’s games. Auburn plays Mississippi State and Baylor hosts TCU.
* The Pac-12 is arguably college football’s No. 2 power conference behind the SEC. But the Pac-12’s first team in the rankings checks in at No. 10 Arizona. Yes, that’s right: Arizona. The Wildcats make their first appearance in the poll after beating Oregon, and no other Pac-12 team received consideration in this week’s vote. Is the Pac-12 setup to have too many good teams with not enough wins to be in the conversation for a spot in the playoffs?
Group of 5 Rankings
(One team from the Group of 5 conferences - American Athletic, C-USA, MAC, Mountain West, Sun Belt - will play in one of college football's premier (New Year's Bowls) each season.
1. East Carolina
After games against South Carolina, Virginia Tech and North Carolina, it’s easy to see why East Carolina had a sluggish effort against SMU on Saturday. The Pirates won 45-24 but retain the top spot in the Group of 5 rankings. East Carolina travels to USF in Week 7, with back-to-back road trips against Temple and Cincinnati coming in early November.
The Thundering Herd’s quest for an unbeaten season continued with an easy 56-14 victory over Old Dominion in Week 6. Marshall has won every game by at least 15 points this year. With a soft schedule, the Thundering Herd needs to win impressively to pass East Carolina for the Group of 5 spot.
The Tigers replace Cincinnati as East Carolina’s biggest threat from the American Athletic Conference this week. Memphis has two quality losses (Ole Miss and UCLA) and defeated Cincinnati 41-14 in Week 6.
4. Boise State
A week after a surprising loss to Air Force, Boise State rebounded with a key road win at Nevada. The remaining schedule for Bryan Harsin’s team is favorable, as the Broncos play four games at home in the final two months, including key showdowns against Utah State, BYU and Fresno State.
5. Colorado State
Jim McElwain’s team cruised to an easy win over Tulsa in Week 6 (42-17), which comes a week after a solid road victory at Boston College. The Rams play at Nevada this Saturday and host Utah State in Week 8. Colorado State needs a little help to jump Boise State in this ranking after losing to the Broncos in Week 2.
Key Games With Playoff Implications in Week 7
Texas vs. Oklahoma (Dallas)
Noon ET, ABC
Sooners look to get back on track against rival Texas in a neutral site affair in Dallas.
Georgia at Missouri
Noon ET, CBS
Winner of this game should take control of the SEC East.
Auburn at Mississippi State
3:30 p.m. ET, CBS
Another SEC West showdown with national title and Heisman implications.
TCU at Baylor
3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2
Can the Horned Frogs take control of the Big 12 with an upset win in Waco?
Oregon at UCLA
3:30 p.m. ET, FOX
Both teams need a win after losing last Saturday. And this one could be a preview of the Pac-12 Championship game.
Alabama at Arkansas
6 p.m. ET, ESPN
Expect an angry Crimson Tide team in Fayetteville this Saturday.
Penn State at Michigan
7 p.m. ET, ESPN2
Brady Hoke needs a win to quiet the hot seat talk.
LSU at Florida
7:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network
Points could be at a premium with two teams struggling to generate offense.
Ole Miss at Texas A&M
9 p.m. ET, ESPN
Can Ole Miss avoid a letdown after beating Alabama? Aggies need a win to stay in the SEC West race.
USC at Arizona
10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2
After allowing 510 passing yards to Arizona State last week, can the Trojans stop Arizona quarterback Anu Solomon?
Northwestern is set to unveil a new alternate uniform for its Oct. 18 showdown against Nebraska.
On Monday, the Wildcats unveiled a gothic-style uniform for the upcoming matchup.
Check out Northwestern’s new look for 2014:
Florida’s offense has hit another speed bump, as true freshman quarterback Treon Harris has been indefinitely suspended from the team due to an off-the-field incident. With Harris suspended, the Gators are expected to start Jeff Driskel in Saturday night’s game against LSU.
According to an official statement from the school, Harris is accused of sexual assault on Sunday morning.
Harris was one of the few bright spots for the Gators in Saturday’s ugly 10-9 win over Tennessee. The true freshman completed 2 of 4 passes for 17 yards and added 24 yards on four carries.
While the final numbers weren’t overly impressive, Harris led Florida’s offense on its only scoring drives of the day.
Harris is expected to remain indefinitely suspended from the team pending the outcome of the investigation.
New coordinator Kurt Roper has struggled to get the Gators’ offense on track this year, as Florida is averaging just 5.2 yards per play and ranks 12th in the SEC in scoring.
Quarterback play has been a problem for Florida since Tim Tebow departed, as Florida has ranked 10th or worse in the SEC in scoring since 2012.
Roper was hired to install an offense that maximized the talents of Driskel, but the junior is completing just 54.7 percent of his throws and has tossed six picks to just five touchdowns.
Driskel started the year by posting big numbers (248 yards, 1 TD against Eastern Michigan and 295 yards and 3 TDs against Kentucky), but he has five interceptions and just 20 completions over the last two games.
If Driskel continues to struggle, Florida may have to turn to true freshman Will Grier.
With the struggles under center and limited offense, the Gators need a big effort from their defense and rushing attack against LSU on Saturday night.
Despite Florida’s win over Tennessee, coach Will Muschamp is squarely on the hot seat and needs to get the Gators back in a bowl to save his job for 2015.
With Harris indefinitely suspended, combined with a struggling Driskel expected to start, Muschamp’s long-term outlook isn’t improving with Florida’s continuing question marks at quarterback.
Florida's statement on Treon Harris: pic.twitter.com/NWLvW91SQE— Barrett Sallee (@BarrettSallee) October 6, 2014
Preseason predictions are never an exact science, but the Coastal Division was perhaps the Power 5 league with the most uncertainty and overall difficulty when trying to sort out the projections.
Six weeks into the season, the Coastal Division might have clarity in the form of Georgia Tech and Virginia.
Yes, that’s right. Georgia Tech and Virginia.
In most preseason predictions, the Yellow Jackets and Cavaliers were projected to finish near the bottom of the Coastal. Six weeks into 2014, Georgia Tech and Virginia are two of the three unbeaten (Florida State is the other) teams in the ACC.
There’s a long way to go, so who knows if either team can maintain its start or remain at the top of the Coastal.
However, with the overall unpredictability of the division, should we really be surprised?
The Cavaliers went 2-10 last year but still had one of the ACC’s most-talented rosters. Coach Mike London has signed four consecutive top 35 recruiting classes, and two five-star prospects in tackle Andrew Brown and safety Quin Blanding headlined the haul for 2014.
Quarterback play has been a primary culprit in Virginia’s offensive struggles, but the Cavaliers have nine touchdown passes through six games, which ties the mark this team posted in 2013.
There’s also progress on defense, as Virginia is allowing just 4.8 yards per play. That’s an improvement from the 5.7 mark the Cavaliers gave up in 2013.
For Georgia Tech, coach Paul Johnson ended 2013 on the hot seat after a 1-3 finish and a 7-6 record.
But Johnson has guided the Yellow Jackets back on track, and with wins over Miami and Virginia Tech, this team could be the favorite in the Coastal.
Quarterback Justin Thomas is a perfect fit for Georgia Tech’s option attack, and the turnover margin has been in this team’s favor (+5) after a negative mark (-4) last year.
In a division full of teams with flaws, it’s important to note both Georgia Tech and Virginia lead the ACC in turnover margin.
And with both teams getting better play from the quarterback position, it’s easy to see why Georgia Tech and Virginia have emerged as Coastal Division title contenders.
That’s right: Georgia Tech and Virginia. Coastal Division contenders. That’s not something most expected in the preseason, but the Coastal Division is up for grabs, and there’s not a dominant among the seven programs this year.
Miami and North Carolina are struggling on defense. Virginia Tech’s offense has struggled with turnovers. Pittsburgh needs to develop playmakers other than Tyler Boyd and James Conner. Does Duke have the necessary pieces on defense to repeat as Coastal champs?
Again, Georgia Tech and Virginia are far from perfect. But when you win the turnover margin and get better play from your quarterbacks, you start to see why the Yellow Jackets and Cavaliers are poised to easily exceed preseason expectations.
Miami took a step back in its quest to finally win the Coastal Division title, losing 28-17 to Georgia Tech on Saturday night. The loss to the Yellow Jackets dropped coach Al Golden’s team to just 1-2 in ACC play and put a serious dent in the Hurricanes’ hopes of playing in Charlotte in early December.
In Miami’s last 27 ACC games, the Hurricanes are a pedestrian 14-13 and only one season since 2010 has resulted in more than seven victories (2013). Golden doesn’t appear to be in any danger of losing his job this year, but it’s fair to wonder just how far Miami has progressed under his watch over the last three years.
The overall inconsistency and defensive struggles are the biggest problem for Golden moving forward. Quarterback Brad Kaaya is promising, and Duke Johnson is still one of the top running backs in the nation. The talent on defense seemed to be better this year, and there was some progress on that side of the ball through the first couple of games.
A win over Duke last Saturday breathed life into Miami’s division hopes and suggested this team addressed some of its defensive woes by limiting the Blue Devils to just 10 points and 3.5 yards per play. Holding Duke to just 3.5 yards per play was the fewest per-play average allowed by Miami since 2011.
Georgia Tech is not an easy team to prepare for, and new quarterback Justin Thomas has provided a spark for the offense. But Miami’s defense struggled to find answers for the Yellow Jackets, as Thomas guided an offense that never had a drive fewer than eight (until the last two plays – kneel downs). The Yellow Jackets gashed Miami – a team that annually recruits better talent than Georgia Tech – for 4.9 yards per carry and 318 overall yards.
In the last three seasons, the Hurricanes have allowed five games of at least 300 rushing yards. Again, for a team like Miami that recruits as well as it does, those numbers are hard to fathom.
Coordinator Mark D’Onofrio has been feeling the pressure from the fanbase, and the play-calling and overall schemes were a source of criticism on Saturday night.
It’s only Week 6, but there’s a glaring problem for Miami. Take a look at the schedule. Is it going to get any easier? Road trips to Virginia Tech and Virginia aren’t going to be easy, and the Hurricanes still have to play Florida State – arguably the No. 1 team in the nation – in November.
As Golden navigates through his fourth season in Coral Gables, the program is still trying to piece everything together and reclaim a spot among the ACC’s elite.
The Coastal Division certainly isn’t filled with elite teams, which is why Miami’s inability to breakthrough is puzzling.
With road trips to Virginia Tech, Virginia and a home date against Florida State remaining, the Hurricanes could be looking at a 7-5 final record.
Golden inherited a tough situation and is starting a true freshman quarterback (Kaaya), so some growing pains are expected.
But in a wide-open division, and with the talent on the roster, more should be expected of Miami.
The Hurricanes are 1-2 in league play, and with a likely loss to Florida State ahead, Golden’s team needs to sweep the rest of their ACC games to have a shot at the division title.
It’s not impossible, but it looks unlikely.
And while Golden inherited a tough situation due to a NCAA investigation, Miami is still trying to breakthrough in the Coastal. The next six games are critical for Golden, as he needs to show this program is on the right track, the defense is capable of moving forward, and Kaaya can develop under his coaching staff.
Week 6 of college football’s 2014 season is officially in the books. And as expected with every Saturday, there was plenty of excitement, big plays and last-minute wins among the FBS action.
In case you missed any action, we tried to capture the big moments of Saturday in one article. The viral wrap-up features key plays, interesting quotes/comments in tweets, uniform unveilings and any major injuries.
College Football's Most Viral Moments from Week 6
LOOK AT THAT MULLET pic.twitter.com/yTZ93Fz29A— Mark Ennis (@MarkEnnis) October 3, 2014
Um. Houston's sideline cards are interesting. pic.twitter.com/SY8Y4acb79— Ross Dellenger (@DellengerAdv) October 3, 2014
Week 6, you sweet bastard. Scooby Wright's sack-fumble + Arizona's W has set the tone. https://t.co/pFj0bSUuWX— Teddy Mitrosilis (@TMitrosilis) October 3, 2014
Syracuse drop so bad they still played the celebration horn: https://t.co/Lx5WYc0wjT— RedditCFB (@RedditCFB) October 4, 2014
Is that really the Little Caesars mascot talking trash? "Pizza, pizza!" pic.twitter.com/Ic4HcOw5ix— Matt Murschel (@osmattmurschel) October 4, 2014
Kickoff at Indiana. pic.twitter.com/WjJElSBgu9— Kyle Rowland (@KyleRowland) October 4, 2014
Meanwhile at UNC RT @HokiesJournal Larry Fedora: "There's not one single person out there who's done what they were coached to do this week"— SI College Football (@si_ncaafb) October 4, 2014
Ole Miss FIRED UP. http://t.co/cewhCWhwB1— VICE Sports (@VICESports) October 4, 2014
In case you didn't see Marques Gayot's bodyslam tackle on the fake punt: https://t.co/39o0Je5Pv7— Matt Porter (@mattyports) October 5, 2014
Excited Rutgers bro wanted to get to the camera and puzzled Kyle Flood as he was shoved away by an officer http://t.co/199NHfBN3N— Dr. Saturday (@YahooDrSaturday) October 5, 2014
Another week, another Hail Mary in the Pac-12. Arizona State used a Hail Mary touchdown pass from backup quarterback Mike Bercovici to receiver Jaelen Strong to defeat USC on Saturday night.
Last week, USC used a Hail Mary pass before halftime to help defeat Oregon State, but the Trojans were on the wrong end of pass defense this week.
Check out Strong’s touchdown catch (along with some bad pass defense from USC):
With the game clock running out, junior wide receiver Jaelen Strong catches a Hail Mary! Pic by: Rob Schumacher pic.twitter.com/vkCseTvTdL— 12News (@12News) October 5, 2014
Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson is one of the ACC’s rising stars, and the true freshman delivered a huge performance in Saturday’s win over NC State.
Watson completed 17 of 29 passes for 267 yards and two scores and added a highlight-reel touchdown run in the second quarter.
Check out Watson going airborne to score a touchdown in the second quarter of Saturday’s win over NC State:
Texas A&M suffered its first loss of the year on Saturday, dropping a 48-31 matchup in Starkville to the Bulldogs.
Receiver Speedy Noil was one of the team’s bright spots, catching three passes for 50 yards and two scores.
Noil’s touchdown catch in the third quarter was one of the weekend’s best receptions, as the freshman caught the ball just short of the goal-line and stretched to reach into the endzone:
BYU’s loss to Utah State on Friday night was costly, as the Cougars lost quarterback Taysom Hill due to a leg injury for the rest of the season, and its hopes of an unbeaten record and a spot in college football’s new four-team playoff are finished.
Hill was tackled and landed awkwardly on his leg at the end of the second quarter, and the junior was carted to the locker room just prior to halftime.
The junior suffered a fractured leg on the tackle and won’t return in 2014. Hill was a darkhorse Heisman candidate in the preseason and started to gain consideration for a spot among the top 5-10 in most rankings after a hot start to the year.
In five games, Hill threw for 975 yards and seven touchdowns this year and rushed for 463 yards and eight scores on the ground.
With Hill sidelined for the remainder of 2014, Christian Stewart will assume the No. 1 job under center. Stewart has completed 10 of 29 passes for 172 yards but also tossed three picks so far this year.
Hill wasn’t the only key injury suffered for BYU on Friday night, as safety Dallin Leavitt, offensive lineman Brayden Kearsley and linebacker Alani Fui left the game due to ankle ailments.
After a 4-0 start, BYU appeared to be on its way to an unbeaten season, as the schedule was favorable and there were few tossup games remaining on the schedule.
But the Cougars are a different team without Hill, and a loss to Utah State effectively ends any hope Bronco Mendenhall’s team had of making a run at college football’s four-team playoff.
It was a longshot for BYU to make the playoff, but an unbeaten season would have allowed the Cougars to at least push for a spot in one of college football’s elite bowl games.
Hill’s absence changes BYU’s outlook for the rest of the year, as games against UCF, Nevada, Boise State and California move into the tossup category or the Cougars even more to slight underdog status in a few. BYU still has enough on both sides of the ball to push for a 10-2 or 9-3 record, especially with running back Jamaal Williams capable of carrying the offense on the ground.
With Friday night’s loss, BYU is likely headed to the Miami Beach Bowl to take on an opponent from the American Athletic Conference on Dec. 22.
BYU quarterback Taysom Hill left the first half of Friday night’s game against Utah State with a significant ankle injury. Hill landed awkwardly on his ankle on a tackle against the Aggies, and the Heisman candidate was carted to the locker room prior to halftime.
Coach Bronco Mendenhall did not have an update at halftime, but BYU's Twitter account indicated Hill suffered a fractured leg and is out indefinitely.
Before the injury, Hill completed 8 of 11 passes for 99 yards and one score. He also added 35 yards and one touchdown on the ground.
Coming into the Friday night matchup against Utah State, Hill had 876 yards and six touchdowns through the air and rushed for 428 yards and seven scores.
Hill was considered among the top 10-15 candidates for the Heisman Trophy after a strong start to the season.
Hill’s backup is senior Christian Stewart. The Utah native has very little experience in his career, and BYU’s offense would clearly take a step back without Hill in the lineup.
Here’s the play where Hill was injured against Utah State:
Here's the play where BYU QB Taysom Hill injured his left leg. He was carted off the field. http://t.co/o7ihOhEAiZ— Dr. Saturday (@YahooDrSaturday) October 4, 2014
Ugly scene for Cougars as QB Taysom Hill suffering what appears to be a serious left leg injury http://t.co/35Y6uzOwwI— Vanquish The Foe (@VanquishTheFoe) October 4, 2014
BYU QB Taysom Hill has a left leg fracture. He will not return. Further evaluations will be carried out later.— BYU Game Notes (@BYUGameNotes) October 4, 2014
Oregon’s playoff and national title hopes suffered a significant setback in Thursday’s night’s surprise 31-24 loss to Arizona. The Ducks were unable to slow the Wildcats rushing attack in critical moments, and the offensive line once again showed major protection issues.
The win in Eugene is another huge moment in coach Rich Rodriguez’s rebuilding effort at Arizona. Dating back to last season, the Wildcats have won six in a row and followed up last year’s 42-16 thumping of Oregon with a win on the road this year.
Make no mistake: Arizona’s win on Thursday night was no fluke. The Wildcats were more efficient on third down (9 of 17, 4 of 14 for the Ducks), had more total yards (505 to 445) and held Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota to one rushing yard on nine attempts.
With the loss to Arizona, Oregon drops to 4-1 overall and 1-1 in Pac-12 play. Losing is never ideal in the national title picture, but the Ducks lost early enough to climb back into the playoff race.
What’s Wrong at Oregon?
The primary culprit in Thursday night’s loss is the offensive line. The Ducks suffered a couple of critical injuries at tackle this season, including Jake Fisher, Andre Yruretagoyena and Tyler Johnstone. With its top three tackles sidelined, Oregon has been forced to start Tyrell Crosby (a true freshman) and Matt Pierson (a walk-on) at tackle. Crosby and Pierson have struggled to protect Mariota from the edge rushers, but the line as a whole has not played up to its preseason expectation. Washington State recorded seven sacks on Sept. 20, and Arizona sacked Mariota five times – with two resulting in forced fumbles – and generated consistent pressure throughout Thursday night’s game. In addition to the pass rush allowed by the offensive line, this unit failed to open many holes for the ground attack. Oregon averaged just 3.4 yards per carry against the Wildcats. That’s the lowest mark by the Ducks’ rushing attack since a 2.6 mark against Stanford last season.
Oregon’s defense gave up 5.9 yards per play and allowed Arizona to score 31 points, but the Wildcats had plenty of success at the point of attack. Terris Jones-Grigsby rushed for 115 yards on 27 attempts, while Nick Wilson added 92 yards on 13 carries. The Ducks were unable to stop Arizona’s ground attack late in the fourth quarter, which would have allowed Mariota to have one more shot at getting a game-tying touchdown. The defensive front was shorthanded due to an injury to end Arik Armstead, but the Wildcats attacked the middle and had success.
Since replacing Chip Kelly, Mark Helfrich is 15-3 as Oregon’s head coach. Following a coach like Kelly isn’t easy, and Helfrich had to deal with an injury to quarterback Marcus Mariota last year that prevented the Ducks from contending for the national championship. But Thursday’s loss feels like the program has reached a critical juncture under Helfrich. The program has a huge win over Michigan State this season, and injuries are once again taking a toll on the offense. However, can Helfrich and this staff make the necessary adjustments to get Oregon back in the Pac-12 title picture? There’s no question the Ducks are a flawed team after five games. With matchups upcoming against UCLA, Stanford and Washington, Helfrich and his staff need to quickly regroup and find answers on both sides of the ball.
Depth of the Pac-12
Arizona’s win on Thursday night showcased the Pac-12’s depth. The Wildcats should be ranked after this victory, and their emergence adds to a brutal South Division, featuring UCLA, USC, Arizona State and Utah.
Simply, the top teams like Oregon, UCLA and Stanford have to show up with its “A” effort each week. The league’s depth has improved, and as a result, the Pac-12 may have too many good teams, which hurts the chances of getting a team into the playoffs.
Oregon’s Playoff Hopes
While Thursday night’s loss is a huge blow to Oregon, the Ducks aren’t totally out of the playoff race just yet. Certainly, Oregon’s playoff outlook is significantly less promising than it was on Wednesday. However, with remaining games against UCLA, Washington and Stanford in the regular season, if the Ducks can run the table the rest of the year and win the conference title game, Helfrich’s team will have strength of schedule on its side. Winning the rest of the way largely depends on an offensive line that has struggled mightily over the last two weeks and may be without tackle Jake Fisher for a couple more games.
It’s not going to be easy with the schedule and personnel concerns, but don’t write off Oregon out of the playoff picture just yet. If the Ducks lose at UCLA next week, then their hopes of making the playoffs will be finished. Again, it’s not over in Eugene. But it’s also not going to be easy to get back into the top four.
The Big Ten’s Playoff Hopes
Oregon’s loss indirectly hurts the Big Ten’s playoff hopes. Michigan State lost at Oregon in Week 2 and needed the Ducks to remain unbeaten and in the top four to have a shot at the playoffs. With Oregon slipping in the polls, it’s a setback to the Spartans’ strength of schedule and opportunity to claim a loss against one of the top teams in the nation. Even if the Ducks slip in the standings with another loss, Michigan State or the Big Ten champion isn’t completely out of the picture. However, the Spartans desperately needed Oregon to keep winning to improve its own playoff outlook.
The epicenter of college football is focused on the state of Mississippi on Saturday, as Alabama travels to Oxford to take on Ole Miss in a huge SEC West showdown. The Magnolia State features two key SEC West showdowns, but the Rebels-Crimson Tide matchup is arguably the game of the day in college football for Week 6.
Ole Miss has made steady gains under coach Hugh Freeze, and the momentum for the program is trending up. This preseason, the SEC West race was considered more open than in previous years, and a win over Alabama would place the Rebels squarely in the mix for the conference title and a spot in college football’s playoff. For Alabama, this game is the start of a difficult road stretch with four away games in their next five contests. The Crimson Tide has played like the best team in the nation at times this year. A huge win over Ole Miss would be enough for most to rank Alabama No. 1 on Sunday.
Alabama has won 10 in a row over Ole Miss. The Rebels’ last victory over the Crimson Tide was a 43-28 matchup in 2003. Alabama has won its last two meetings in Oxford by at least 19 points, including a 52-7 blowout in 2011.
Alabama at Ole Miss
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Alabama -6.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Ole Miss QB Bo Wallace
Which Bo Wallace will Ole Miss have on Saturday? Is it the good Dr. Bo? Or will the Rebels get the quarterback that tossed five interceptions in games against Memphis and Boise State? In his only SEC game this year, Wallace threw for 320 yards and one touchdown against Vanderbilt. Ole Miss needs a similar effort on Saturday, especially when it comes to keeping the zero in the turnover column. Wallace has no shortage of options in the passing game, starting with sophomore Laquon Treadwell (15.4 ypc) and continuing with Cody Core (16.3 ypc), Vince Sanders and a matchup nightmare at tight end Evan Engram. If Wallace can limit his mistakes, there will be opportunities to throw on Alabama. The biggest “question mark” on the Crimson Tide defense is the secondary, which allowed 365 yards to West Virginia in the opener. Eddie Jackson’s return adds more depth and talent to the defensive backfield, which held Florida to just 93 yards on nine completions in Week 4. Ole Miss will likely replicate West Virginia and Oklahoma’s gameplan for attacking the Crimson Tide’s secondary with tempo and quick passes, but Wallace has to avoid the big mistake and take his chances downfield when there are opportunities.
2. Alabama’s Rushing Offense
Ole Miss is allowing just 3.5 yards per carry and only one opponent (ULL) has recorded more than 135 yards on the ground this season. The Rebels have improved their depth and overall talent each year under coach Hugh Freeze, and the front seven is loaded with talent, depth and speed. Alabama’s offense will throw a lot of formations and different looks at Ole Miss, but the ground attack is still the focal point for coordinator Lane Kiffin. The Crimson Tide has recorded at least 190 rushing yards in every game this year. Running backs Derrick Henry and T.J. Yeldon have combined for 604 yards and four scores this season, while quarterback Blake Sims has pitched in 141. In last year’s meeting, Alabama recorded 254 yards on 40 attempts. Stopping the Crimson Tide is more than just slowing the ground game, but Ole Miss needs to get Alabama’s offense in third-and-long situations. The Crimson Tide leads the SEC by converting 61.8 percent of their third-down attempts. The Rebels have to get Alabama out of its comfort zone on offense and force the Crimson Tide to throw to open up the ground game.
3. Stopping Amari Cooper
It’s clear Cooper has greatly benefited from the arrival of Lane Kiffin as Alabama’s play-caller. In four games, Cooper has 43 catches – almost as many as he had in 2013 (45). The junior is averaging 15.2 yards per catch and has five receiving scores over the last three games. The Ole Miss secondary will have its hands full against Cooper, but the Rebels have allowed only one passing score against 135 pass attempts this year. The secondary is also limiting opponents to a completion percentage of just 51.9. Senior Senquez Golson and junior Mike Hilton are tasked with slowing Cooper, but safety Cody Prewitt is also one of the league’s best and has 10 picks over the last four years. How will Ole Miss defend Cooper? Will the defense shade extra coverage in his direction? The Crimson Tide has other weapons in the passing game in Christion Jones and DeAndrew White, while tight end O.J. Howard has largely been absent in the stat column. If the Rebels cheat too much coverage in Cooper’s direction, Howard could have a huge day.
This is arguably the biggest game for Ole Miss under Hugh Freeze. The SEC West is for the taking for the Rebels, as LSU is reloading, Auburn and Alabama suffered key personnel losses from 2013, and Texas A&M lost three first-round picks. Freeze has been slowly building Ole Miss into a West Division contender, and this team is worthy of a ranking among the top 10-15 teams in the nation. However, Alabama might be the No. 1 team in college football. Quarterback play is huge in this one, as Ole Miss needs a flawless effort from Bo Wallace, while Blake Sims will be pressed to continue his hot start to the season. If the Rebels slow the Crimson Tide’s rushing attack and win the turnover battle – combined with a raucous home crowd – the upset is there for Ole Miss to take. But beating Alabama requires a flawless effort in turnovers and penalties. The guess here is the Crimson Tide controls the pace of the game and wins in the fourth quarter.
Prediction: Alabama 30, Ole Miss 20
The SEC owns the spotlight in Week 6, but the marquee night matchup on Saturday resides in the Big Ten, as Nebraska travels to Michigan State. Considering how both teams have performed this year, this could be an early preview of the Big Ten Championship and an elimination game for playoff purposes.
Nebraska is off to a solid 5-0 start, scoring at least 40 points in four out of its five games. The Cornhuskers needed a last-minute escape to beat McNeese State, but Bo Pelini’s team defeated Miami by 10 and Illinois by 31 last Saturday.
Michigan State suffered a loss to Oregon in Week 2, but the Spartans have won by at least 38 points in their other three games. Saturday night’s game against Nebraska is the first Big Ten contest of the year for Mark Dantonio’s team.
Nebraska owns a 5-1 series edge over Michigan State, but the Cornhuskers lost last year’s meeting 41-28 in Lincoln. Nebraska won its last trip to East Lansing, a 28-24 matchup in 2012.
Nebraska at Michigan State
Kickoff: 8 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: ABC
Spread: Michigan State -6.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Michigan State’s Run Defense Against Ameer Abdullah
There are few players in the nation performing at a higher level than Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah. The senior ranks second nationally by averaging 166.6 yards per game and is tied with Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon for the Big Ten lead in rushing scores (eight). Abdullah has three 200-yard games, including 208 in last week’s 45-14 win over Illinois last Saturday. The senior also leads the nation with 29 rushes of 10 yards or more. But will Abdullah have success against Michigan State’s front seven? The Spartans rank second in the Big Ten against the run, limiting opponents to only 80.8 yards per game. Pat Narduzzi’s defense is allowing only 2.9 yards per rush, with Oregon (4.3 ypc) having the most success so far this year. Despite Michigan State’s strength in the trenches, Abdullah has posted back-to-back 100-yard games against the Spartans and averaged over five yards per carry in his two previous meetings. That’s a good sign for Abdullah on Saturday.
2. Michigan State’s Offense
After five games, Nebraska’s defense ranks seventh in the Big Ten in yards per play allowed. The Cornhuskers are giving up just 4.8 yards per play, but this unit allowed 6.7 to Miami and 5.5 to Illinois last week. Is this the week everything falls into place for Nebraska’s defense? Or will Michigan State’s offense score 40 points in a game for the third time this year? The Spartans’ offensive attack is headlined by quarterback Connor Cook (9 TDs, 2 INTs, 69.2%) and running back Jeremy Langford (340 yards). Langford gashed Nebraska for 151 yards (4.7 ypc) last season and appears to be healthy after battling an early-season ankle injury in 2014. If Langford has success on the ground, it will open up the pass for big plays from Cook and receiver Tony Lippett. How will the Cornhuskers defend the Spartans? Will Nebraska load the box to stop Langford? The Cornhuskers need to make Michigan State one-dimensional and put Cook in third-and-long situations. If Nebraska can get the Spartans off sequence, Nebraska’s pass rush (12 sacks) will have opportunities to get to Cook on passing downs.
3. The Turnover Battle
Nebraska lost five turnovers in last year’s meeting. With this season’s matchup in East Lansing, the Cornhuskers have little margin for error and a negative turnover margin would be too much to overcome. Michigan State leads the Big Ten with a +9 turnover margin and has forced 12 turnovers through four games. Nebraska is just +1 through five games and lost two turnovers in each of the last two contests. So far, quarterback Tommy Armstrong has limited his mistakes (just three interceptions on 115 attempts) for the Cornhuskers. Armstrong only completed 9 of 21 throws in last year’s matchup, and his development – and ability to limit his mistakes in the passing game – are critical for Nebraska’s hopes of winning. If the Spartans dominate the turnover department and finish with a +2 or +3 margin, Nebraska will have a hard time going into East Lansing and earning the victory.
Turnovers and the play of quarterback Tommy Armstrong are critical for Nebraska’s upset hopes. For Michigan State, it has to find a way to stop running back Ameer Abdullah. Had the Cornhuskers not recorded a negative turnover margin (-5) last year, the outcome would have been much closer (41-28). While Armstrong is better equipped to handle the challenge of playing the Spartans’ defense, and Abdullah is playing at a high level, this is a tough task for Nebraska to win in East Lansing against a top-10 team. Michigan State’s balance on offense, along with its stout defensive line, will be just enough for the Spartans to pull out the victory.
Prediction: Michigan State 30, Nebraska 20
The Week 6 slate is filled with marquee games in the SEC, and the action begins in Starkville with a matchup between Texas A&M and Mississippi State with major West Division title implications on Saturday morning. Both teams have passed their major tests so far, as Texas A&M defeated South Carolina in Columbia in its opener and rallied to beat Arkansas 35-28 in overtime last week. Mississippi State won its first three non-conference games with relative ease and won 34-29 at LSU on Sept. 20. While the final score was close, the Bulldogs dominated the Tigers and should have won by more than five points.
These two teams have played only seven times, with Texas A&M owning a 4-3 edge in the series. The Aggies have won the only two matchups with both teams as SEC members. Mississippi State’s last win over Texas A&M was in the 2000 Independence Bowl.
Texas A&M at Mississippi State
Kickoff: Noon ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Mississippi State -2.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Mississippi State’s Pass Defense
It’s tough to read too much into non-conference games as a clear indicator of what to expect in league action. But is Mississippi State susceptible to opposing teams through the air? The Bulldogs rank last in the SEC against the pass but are ninth in pass efficiency defense. Mississippi State has also allowed 10 passing plays of 30 yards or more (worst in the SEC) and seven of 40 yards or more. That’s not exactly the best news for a defense to read going into a matchup against Texas A&M. The Aggies lead the nation with 21 plays of 30 yards or more, and the big-play ability of the passing game could add to that total against Mississippi State’s pass defense. Texas A&M quarterback Kenny Hill isn’t as explosive on the ground as former signal-caller Johnny Manziel, but the sophomore leads the SEC with an average of 349 passing yards per game. Hill also has just two interceptions and is completing 65.6 percent of his passes.
2. Stopping Dak Prescott
Texas A&M’s defense has showed progress through the first five games of this season after a brutal 2013. Last year, the Aggies gave up 32.2 points a game and allowed 6.7 yards per play in SEC games. Texas A&M held South Carolina to 28 points in the opener and limited Arkansas to seven points in the second half of last week’s game. The Aggies are still allowing 6.7 yards per play, but opposing rushing attacks are managing just 3.8 yards per carry, a clear decrease from the 5.4 mark last year. The depth and overall talent is better for Kevin Sumlin’s defense, but Mississippi State is its biggest challenge so far this year. The Bulldogs feature a diverse attack, averaging 270.8 yards per game on the ground and 266.8 per contest through the air. Quarterback Dak Prescott gashed LSU for 373 yards on Sept. 20 and presents a unique challenge for Texas A&M. The Aggies showed last week they are better and have the talent necessary to compete in the trenches in the SEC. Prescott is the best quarterback this defense has played so far. With an ability to rush for 100 yards on the ground and throw for 300 through the air, Prescott won’t be easy to stop. Is the Texas A&M defense up to the challenge?
3. Offensive Standouts at RB and WR
With no shortage of points expected, keep a close watch on the playmakers outside of the two quarterbacks (Hill and Prescott). Mississippi State running back Josh Robinson is quietly averaging 7.8 yards per carry and leads the team with 485 yards on the ground. The Aggies feature three running backs with at least 158 rushing yards, with Trey Williams (234 yards) leading the way. Both teams are deep and talented at receiver, as Texas A&M has five players with at least 13 receptions, including standout freshmen Speedy Noil and Ricky Seals-Jones. On the Bulldogs’ sideline, Jameon Lewis is the clear favorite of quarterback Dak Prescott (15 receptions, 223 yards), but De’Runnya Wilson has provided big plays in 2014 (17.5 ypc) and Fred Brown (17.3 ypc) is also in the mix. A tight game is expected in Starkville. Which set of skill players will provide their quarterback with the most help?
Prepare for offensive fireworks. Vegas set the over/under at 70.5 and that total could be higher. While the offenses will have their way, it’s all about timely stops on defense. Both teams have had success getting after the quarterback (combined 30 sacks so far), while Mississippi State has been better at forcing turnovers (9 to Texas A&M’s 4). The Bulldogs won’t have center Dillon Day due to suspension, which is a significant loss for the offense. If Prescott can overcome Day’s absence, and Mississippi State’s rushing offense controls the flow of the game, the Bulldogs will score another huge SEC win this year. An up-tempo, high-scoring game would favor Texas A&M, especially if it can jump out to an early two-score lead and limit Prescott’s ability to have success on the ground. This one is tough to predict, but the home team gets a slight edge.
Prediction: Mississippi State 38, Texas A&M 34
The SEC West is home to three huge showdowns on Saturday, and after Ole Miss-Alabama and Texas A&M-Mississippi State carry the spotlight early in the day, LSU-Auburn is set to close out the SEC’s monster slate with a meeting at Jordan-Hare Stadium at night.
LSU and Auburn have experienced mixed success in SEC games in 2014. Auburn won its only conference matchup, defeating Arkansas 45-21, while LSU lost 34-29 to Mississippi State on Sept. 20. Considering the depth of the SEC West, there has to be some urgency on LSU’s part this weekend. An 0-2 deficit will not be easy to overcome in the West, and Saturday’s game against Auburn is a must-win situation for coach Les Miles.
LSU has won six out of the last seven meetings against Auburn. LSU’s defeated Auburn 35-21 last year, with Auburn’s last victory in the series coming in 2010 (24-17). LSU owns a 27-19-1 overall series lead over Auburn.
LSU at Auburn
Kickoff: 7 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Auburn -8
Three Things to Watch
1. LSU’s Rush Defense
In LSU’s loss to Mississippi State, the Tigers allowed 302 yards on 49 attempts (6.2 ypc). And LSU’s struggles on the ground aren’t a one-game fluke. The Tigers gave up 268 yards to Wisconsin and 172 to New Mexico State. Total yardage can be a misnomer, but LSU’s defensive front is a significant concern. Youth is largely to blame for the Tigers’ problems against the run, as seven freshmen are listed as contributors up front. LSU has to be tougher and more aggressive at the point of attack to stop Auburn. Gus Malzahn’s offense averages 260.5 yards per game on the ground, averaging 5.5 yards per touch. Malzahn has multiple weapons to choose from, starting with Cameron-Artis-Payne (5.4 ypc, 468 yards), Corey Grant (216 yards) and quarterback Nick Marshall (273 yards). Auburn’s offensive line isn’t as dominant as it was last year, but this unit is still one of the better groups in the SEC.
2. LSU QB Brandon Harris
Anthony Jennings started LSU’s first five games, but true freshman Brandon Harris is slated to take the first snap against Auburn. In last week’s win over New Mexico State, Harris led LSU to seven touchdowns on seven drives. The true freshman has been significantly more efficient than Jennings (smaller sample size of course), completing 73.3 percent of his passes and tossing six touchdowns on 30 attempts. Harris is the better quarterback and should spark a passing attack that was inconsistent under Jennings’ direction. Making your first start on the road in the SEC is no easy assignment, so while Harris has played well, this is by far his toughest opponent. Auburn’s secondary has limited its opponents to just three touchdowns on 138 attempts, and opposing quarterbacks are completing 58.7 percent of their throws. This is a tough spot for Harris, but the limited sample size suggests he is capable of rising to the occasion. Can Auburn’s defense give the young quarterback a few different looks to confuse him on Saturday night?
3. Auburn’s Defense
In Ellis Johnson’s second year as Auburn’s defensive play-caller, the Tigers – at least so far – are performing better on the stat sheet. Auburn is allowing just 4.6 yards per play, an improvement after giving up 6.0 last season. Johnson’s defense is also limiting opponents to 16.3 points per game. With Harris starting his first game for LSU, expect coordinator Cam Cameron to utilize the rushing attack to decrease the pressure on his freshman quarterback. So far, Auburn has been steady against the run, holding opponents to just 90.8 yards per game. Can that success continue on Saturday? LSU’s strength on offense is its rushing attack, and Auburn needs to stop the ground game and force Harris to win this one through the air. So far, the stats say Auburn’s defense is improving. Will that theme continue on Saturday night?
LSU’s backs are against the wall. An 0-2 deficit in SEC play is difficult to overcome for any team in the West, so Les Miles’ team should be motivated. LSU defensive play-caller John Chavis has coordinated successful efforts against Auburn, limiting Auburn to 24 points or less in all four meetings against Gus Malzahn’s offense. Despite Chavis’ past success, it’s tough to see LSU containing Auburn for all four quarters. Harris should provide a spark on offense, and the rushing attack will have success, but LSU’s defensive struggles against the ground show up once again in the second half. The development of Auburn’s passing attack (and quarterback Nick Marshall) only adds to the difficulty of defending Malzahn’s offense. LSU hangs around early, but Auburn pulls away in the second half.