Adam McLean picked Penn State in April, but Ole Miss, Tennessee and others haven't stopped recruiting him, and his high school coach knows exactly why. DeMatha Catholic's 2016 class is shaping up to be one of the best ever in school history, and that's saying a lot.
Notre Dame and the ACC announced their playing dates Tuesday through 2025, which rounds out the average of five league opponents a year for the Irish for 12 years.

"The football partnership between the ACC and Notre Dame is a terrific enhancement for all parties," ACC commissioner John Swofford said in a release. "Notre Dame not only adds to our league's already highly ambitious schedules, it also provides the opportunity for almost all of our student-athletes to play against Notre Dame during their careers. When you add in the excitement that it brings to our fans, there's no question that this partnership is significant."

Dates were finalized through 2019, with opponents and sites set up for the six years after that. The full 2015 and 2016 schedules had already been announced last December, when this season's schedule -- the first of the ACC football agreement for Notre Dame -- was released.

"Nine additional seasons of games against Atlantic Coast Conference opponents again adds both variety and quality to future University of Notre Dame football schedules," Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said in a release. "Over those nine years, four ACC programs that have never played in Notre Dame Stadium (Louisville, NC State, Virginia and Virginia Tech) will come to South Bend, and two others that have only played at Notre Dame one time (Wake Forest and Clemson) also will travel to our campus.

"On the other side of the coin, during that period we will take our team to four ACC campuses at which Notre Dame never has played football (Louisville, NC State, Virginia and Virginia Tech), plus three others (Clemson, Duke and Wake Forest) where our team has played only once."

Some notes on the Irish's future schedules:
  • Notre Dame will get its shot at redemption against Florida State in four years, when the Seminoles visit South Bend on Nov. 10, 2018 -- three days shy of the 25th anniversary of the 1993 "Game of the Century" between these two. The Irish will return to Tallahassee on Sept. 6, 2021, Labor Day, before the Noles go back to Notre Dame Stadium sometime in 2024.
  • That holiday date at FSU is actually the second of two Labor Day road games for the Irish, who travel to Louisville on Sept. 2 (Labor Day) in 2019. As of now, it does not look like Notre Dame will play any Thursday night games.
  • That 2019 opener at Louisville is the first of a strenuous slate of road games for the Irish in 2019: They also go to Georgia (Sept. 21), Georgia Tech (Oct. 19) and Duke (Nov. 9). They are also expected to travel to Stanford that year, since it is an odd-number year, though no official date has been set. You can bet the Irish staff will point out this year to Peach State recruits, who will get a pair of trips back to their home state in a span of a month.
  • Notre Dame gets six ACC games in 2019 and 2023, while playing just four in 2022 and 2024. The Irish, of course, have just four ACC games this year, but will play six next season.
  • Notre Dame will play seven of the ACC's 14 teams in consecutive years: Miami in 2016 and 2017 and 2024 and 2025; NC State in 2016 and 2017; Wake Forest in 2017 and 2018; Virginia Tech in 2018 and 2019; Duke in 2019 and 2020; UNC in 2021 and 2022; Clemson in 2022 and 2023.
  • There remains no clarity on Notre Dame's Shamrock Series game -- in which it moves a home game off-site to a metropolitan area -- beyond 2016, when it faces Army in San Antonio. Next year's game against BC is at Fenway Park.
  • Not pictured in the graphic (and not-ACC related): As of this past summer, Notre Dame and Michigan State had a verbal agreement for two games in the 2020s, though they have said they may look at a single neutral-site contest.
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Our crew of Big Ten reporters will occasionally give their takes on a burning question facing the league. They'll have strong opinions, but not necessarily the same view. We'll let you decide which one is right.

The Michigan-Michigan State series resumes on Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC), and the Spartans have been dominant of late in winning five of the past six meetings. But will it continue? Today's Take Two topic is: Which program will be in better shape five years from now?

Take 1: Brian Bennett

The real answer here is we have no idea. Things can change quickly in college sports, and nothing is guaranteed. Just look at Florida and Texas.

It's particularly hard to predict with any accuracy what Michigan will look like in the future, because we don't know who will be the coaching the Wolverines in five months, much less years. Of course, the Maize and Blue have all the resources to bounce back quickly, assuming they hire the right man. But they've missed on that two times in a row now, right?

That's why I'll pick Michigan State. Rivalries tend to go in cycles, and the Spartans' ownership of their in-state opponent likely won't continue at this rate. But stability has been a key to the success of Mark Dantonio in East Lansing, as so many of his coaches have been with him since the beginning. That probably won't stay the case -- Pat Narduzzi has to get a head-coaching gig this winter, and he is likely to take some other Spartans assistants with him when he does -- but Dantonio will keep sticking with what works.

He just coached his 100th game with Michigan State and is only 58. Dantonio figures to still be leading the Spartans five years from now, and the program continues to get better in all areas. Even if Michigan finally maximizes its potential, Michigan State isn't going away. I'll stick with the sure thing.

Take 2: Dan Murphy

Five years is a long time in the cyclical world of college football. As far ahead as Michigan State currently sits in just about every metric of a successful program, there's no reason to believe Michigan can't catch up and possibly pass the Spartans in the future.

There's a good chance Michigan is closing in on a clean slate with its athletic department leadership. Strong relationships between the head coach, athletic director and the university's big wigs is an essential part of creating a consistent winner on the football field. If things in Ann Arbor continue down this current path, the Wolverines will get a chance to start building those bounds from scratch before the 2015 season.

The resources -- money, facility, support and athletic talent -- have always tilted toward Michigan in this rivalry. The ingredients for a better product are there, Michigan just hasn't been able to put them together during the past couple years.

Meanwhile, in East Lansing, Dantonio is battling the high expectations and attrition that come with success. His coaching staff has remained largely intact during the Spartans' rise, but that can't continue forever.

Five years from now, Dantonio will be a 63-year-old coach that might be dealing with a new staff for the first time in a long time. It's not a foregone conclusion that the Goliath he's built will shrink, but history certainly points to the possibility that Michigan will be in a good spot to catch up, which is probably a good thing for Wolverines' fans to keep reminding themselves as this season's meeting plays out on Saturday.
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BATON ROUGE, La. -- A player can’t be considered a star when the average fan still reaches for a roster after he makes a play in order to make the connection between name and jersey number.

[+] EnlargeJamal Adams
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesLSU has already seen the impact Jamal Adams can have on and off the field.
 LSU’s Jamal Adams might be on the verge of making the transition from hyped newcomer to household name.

“That’s what’s kind of happening to him: ‘Who’s No. 33?’ and then they go look him up in the program because simply put, he’s making plays wherever you line him up at,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “That’s a great characteristic.”

The freshman safety’s name was already well known among recruitniks, as the No. 2 safety and No. 18 overall prospect on this year’s ESPN 300. He was the highest-rated defensive player to sign with LSU in February. He’s quickly gaining recognition among more casual fans -- and not just because of his dramatic flop against Florida after Gators punt returner Andre Debose lightly shoved Adams’ facemask.

That play, which went viral on the Internet and drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against Debose, has been a source of nonstop comedy in the LSU locker room, with several teammates comparing Adams’ antics to that of NBA superstar and noted flop king LeBron James.

“That was too funny. That was something I expect out of him,” safety Rickey Jefferson said. “Then he tweeted and said LeBron taught me.”

Linebacker Deion Jones agreed, adding, “It was hilarious. I laughed about it on the field.”

Running back Terrence Magee, who was only a few feet away when Debose’s attack occurred, also got a laugh out of the play.

“He’s been watching basketball too much,” Magee said.

Adams said the play exemplified his energetic on-field personality, which Miles has described as “electric.”

“I’m a character and I do whatever for the team,” Adams said. “That flop, everybody’s blowing it up, so it was just definitely something I needed to do at the time.”

His contributions of late are not limited to appearances on SportsCenter’s Not Top 10, however. Adams is getting significant playing time in LSU’s nickel and dime defensive packages and is one of the team’s most valuable special-teams performers. He leads the Tigers with nine special-teams tackles and delivered the key block that sprung Tre’Davious White for a 67-yard punt return touchdown last Saturday against Kentucky.

On White’s first return of the night, Adams noticed that his side of the field was wide open for a return and pleaded with White to bring the next punt his way. Sure enough, White ran toward the Kentucky sideline with his next return and Adams crushed Kentucky’s A.J. Stamps with the block that helped White sprint into the open field.

 “He’s put himself in a great position to make big-time blocks for us,” White said. “I went back and watched the first punt that actually I took [17] yards. It could have been another touchdown if I would have just went outside. He was right and I did it that time and he made a big block like he said I would and sprung me for a touchdown.”

It was Adams’ most notable play in what was probably his best night as a Tiger to date. He continued to shine on the coverage teams, posting two special-teams tackles and also made his biggest impact yet on defensive downs. Adams finished with a career-high eight tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and a sack.

“He has a motor that don’t stop,” White said. “He’s a guy that brings so much energy. He’s just not like that in games, he’s like that around practice. Very vocal, and he’s a young leader and we look forward to him making plays down the road for us.”

In truth, Adams is making plays now. Although he hasn’t started a game yet, he ranks fifth on the team with 37 tackles and is starting to live up to the preseason comparisons that LSU insiders made to former All-America safety Eric Reid.

Asked why he is becoming a more productive player, Adams fell back on the attributes that so many teammates cited while describing his game: He consistently shows great effort and energy.

“[LSU’s coaches have] been stressing how to be the player that you want to be,” Adams said. “They stress it hard in practice. It’s practice how you play, so every time in practice I’m going hard, I’m running hard, doing the little things. The little things separate you.”
Everybody is breathlessly anticipating the huge Big Ten showdown between Ohio State and Michigan State on Nov. 8.

But first, the Spartans must make sure they don't overlook their last game before that matchup: Saturday's contest against Michigan.

[+] EnlargeMark Dantonio
AJ Mast/Icon SportswireMark Dantonio and the Spartans have the upper hand in their rivalry with Michigan.
 That's a joke, of course. Michigan State will never take the Wolverines lightly, not unless there's some weird redrawing of the state's borders. This is a blood feud, one that helps the Spartans take measure of their own program and one that's talked about in office cubicles and family barbecues year round.

Michigan State, once infamously chided as "Little Brother" by former Michigan running back Mike Hart, will always approach this game with long knives drawn. Remember the "60 minutes of unnecessary roughness?"

"It's always really personal," linebacker Taiwan Jones told reporters on Tuesday. "Pretty much because we've always known every single game we play, we're never picked to be the favorites. It's always been about the school down the road instead of, I feel like, as much emphasis about us."

And yet ... you couldn't blame the Spartans if for maybe the first time ever vs. Michigan, the chip on their shoulders is more like a crumb. It's hard to fight for respect when you've so thoroughly stepped on your opponent's throats.

Michigan didn't even want to acknowledge the Paul Bunyan Trophy when it debuted in the early 1950s. Now, the Wolverines would love to see the little big man more often. Michigan State has won five of the past six meetings and is favored this week by 17 points, which is believed to be the largest spread on the Spartans' side in the rivalry's history.

Let's face it. This is a golden era to be rooting for the green and white.

Mark Dantonio's program is on a serious roll, having won 13 straight games against Big Ten opponents, building its College Football Playoff this year and still enjoying the glow from last season's Rose Bowl title. The only thing better than watching your team reach a crescendo is seeing your hated rival's drown. That's just what is happening at Michigan, as the Wolverines have wheezed to a 3-4 record while dealing with an angry fan base demanding heads on a pike.

Former Spartans quarterback Kirk Cousins famously said he and his teammates could "walk the streets" of Michigan proudly the rest of their lives after they completed a rare four-year sweep of the Wolverines in 2011. Right now for Michigan State supporters, it must seem like the streets are paved in gold (or perhaps more appropriately bronze, given the team's mascot).

There are only two comparable periods to this one: the early 1950s, when Clarence "Biggie" Munn turned the Spartans into a national powerhouse, and the early-to-mid 1960s, when Michigan State won two national titles as Michigan struggled under Bump Elliott. Michigan State went 14-4-2 against the Wolverines from 1950 to 1969, including a 9-1-2 mark from '56 through '67. Meanwhile, Michigan finished with losing records six times between 1958 and '67.

"Until now, that had pretty much been Michigan State's period of success," said Dr. David A. Young, author of Arrogance and Scheming in the Big Ten: Michigan State's Quest for Membership and Michigan's Powerful Opposition. "Otherwise, Michigan has been dominant in this rivalry."

Some other comparisons can be made between the eras.

Munn, Young said, "was known as intense and highly ethical, so you could say he's a lot like Mark Dantonio." Elliott had strong Michigan ties -- he'd played tailback at the school -- and was a well-liked man who just couldn't get the Wolverines over the hump, Young said. Sound familiar?

Dantonio is undoubtedly achieving legendary status at Michigan State. On Saturday at Indiana, he coached his 100th game for the Spartans and gained win No. 70. Tyler O'Connor and Kurtis Drummond presented Dantonio with game balls after the 56-17 victory.

Dantonio has certainly raised expectations in East Lansing. It's not just about beating Michigan and winning a Big Ten title now. The Spartans have their eyes on a national title, and as such, the game against Ohio State (coming after a bye week), looms as the biggest of their season. Still, Dantonio calls the Michigan game "the most important game on the schedule."

"When you compete day in and day out with them -- and that's what we do on recruits, for fans, for everything, it ... carries over to every sport here," he said Tuesday. "That still is a game that we have to point to and say, 'Hey, this goes beyond our schedule. This goes beyond the future.'"

The balance of power in this rivalry will likely change again in the future. But for right now, Michigan fans must be green with envy.

Hokies search for offensive answers

October, 21, 2014
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Shane Beamer walked into the door of his home at 2:45 a.m. Friday. He was up in time to drop his daughter off at school before getting to the office by 9. By lunchtime, he was through with film of Virginia Tech's 21-16 loss at Pitt from the previous night. It was on to Miami, on to another Thursday night ACC game, a schedule quirk that broke somewhat favorably for the Hokies, especially as the Hurricanes come off a bye week.

As for what awaits the Virginia Tech running backs coach in the lead-up to this game, well, that's where the breaks end. The Hokies have been down three running backs --- Trey Edmunds, Shai McKenzie and Marshawn Williams -- and have little experience around them. They mustered just 26 yards on the ground in the loss to the Panthers, putting plenty of pressure on quarterback Michael Brewer to deliver.

Problem is, of course, that most of the guys Brewer is throwing to are not as well-versed in the team's offensive lexicon as the staff would like them to be. And Brewer, of course, arrived just this past summer from Texas Tech, so his veteran presence can only go so far.

[+] EnlargeMichael Brewer
Peter Casey/USA TODAY SportsMichael Brewer and the Hokies hope to turn things around against Miami.
"I can't recall, not just at the running back position, but any position that I've been around. To lose your top three guys in the first six games of the season, that's tough," Beamer said. "It makes it tough when you feel like a guy's getting a feel for it and then gets hurt."

Williams could provide some reinforcements Thursday, as he is expected back after missing two games with a right ankle sprain. He remains the team's leading rusher with 337 yards. McKenzie, the man right behind him with 269 yards, suffered a season-ending ACL tear in his right knee in a Sept. 27 win, this after suffering an injury in the same knee last year as a prep senior. Edmunds, the leading rusher last year (675), broke his clavicle in the same game Williams went down in after battling back from his recovery from a leg fracture last season.

The elder statesmen of the trio as a sophomore, Edmunds will not be back for another month. Joel Caleb and J.C. Coleman were the go-to guys entering the Pitt game. They never gained much traction last Thursday but remain confident that they can turn things around.

"I think we had self-inflicted mistakes that hurt us a lot," Caleb said. "I feel like a lot of those thing we can correct, a few of them have been hurting us the last couple of weeks, just with like false-start penalties and things like that. So they're things that we can correct, and we've just got to go to work and fix them and go in the right direction."

The offense looked sharp in a Week 2 upset at Ohio State, with Brewer hitting seven different targets and looking like he would shake the unit out of the rut that played a large part in limiting Virginia Tech to just 15 total wins over the last two seasons.

Fast-forward to last Thursday, and Cam Phillips hauled in the Hokies' only touchdown, meaning 17 of the team's 23 touchdowns this season have come from freshmen. The starting receiver opposite him, Isaiah Ford, is also a freshman, while Virginia Tech's top two tight ends are Ryan Malleck, who missed all of last season with a shoulder injury, and Bucky Hodges, who is a redshirt freshman.

The offensive line has not been immune to change, either, as Wyatt Teller will get his first start at left guard Thursday and David Wang will shift to center in place of Caleb Ferris, adjustments that were made during the loss to the Panthers.

The future may be promising, but the present, at times, can be maddening.

"For all these guys, everything that you do as an offense, it's new to them," said Beamer, also the program's associate head coach. "It might be something that we did last year, that some guys have some familiarity with. For example, we put in something this week: Offensively, just a play that we had done last year. Well, it's the first time for the majority of our offensive guys to hear it -- Michael Brewer, all these guys. So you've got to be careful as far as what you're doing offensively from a scheme standpoint, it is a lot of new faces.

"And then when you add injuries it makes it tough, but at the same time we're over halfway done with season, we're almost into November. In our mind these young guys aren't freshmen anymore. They've played almost a full season of college football now and we've got to take another step."
It was midway through the first quarter, and Auburn found itself in a 21-0 hole on the road against Mississippi State. The Tigers needed a spark in the worst way, and so head coach Gus Malzahn called on freshman running back Roc Thomas.

It didn't matter that the only carries in his career had been in the fourth quarter with Auburn well ahead of its opponent. It didn't matter that the kid who had yet to play a true road game was facing the most hostile atmosphere in college football that day. All that mattered was when his number was called, he was ready.

[+] EnlargeRoc Thomas
Spruce Derden/USA TODAY SportsFreshman running back Roc Thomas provided a lift on three consecutive carries for the Tigers' offense in a tough divisional game at Mississippi State.
Thomas ran three straight times and picked up 11, 8 and 18 yards in succession. The drive would ultimately end with a missed field goal, but his appearance provided a lift to the Auburn sideline. It provided an extra hitch in the Tigers' step.

"I've just been trying to prepare myself the same way every week," Thomas said after the game. "Just trying to be patient and trying to wait until my name gets called."

The freshman finished with six carries for 42 yards, a stat line that would not typically stick out in a box score, but his performance not only swung the momentum, it also showed the coaches he's capable of playing a bigger role, regardless of the situation.

"I was proud of him," offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said. "I thought he looked fast. I thought he looked fresh. I thought he looked confident. He protected the football. He ran hard. When he was in there in protections, he knew what to do on the road, in a hostile environment.

"He didn't look like the moment was too big for him. That's what you look for as coaches. If you feel like they had a little bit then you're ready to give them more."

Before the season, Thomas was buried on the depth chart behind Cameron Artis-Payne, Corey Grant and Peyton Barber. The talent was there -- he was ranked No. 28 in the ESPN 300 -- but he would have to wait his turn.

As Auburn enters the second half of the season, his turn might be now.

"We do have a strategic plan for the second half," Malzahn said Tuesday. "And Roc will have a bigger role."

Don't expect the freshman to unseat Artis-Payne, who is fifth in the SEC with 664 yards rushing, but he might be used more to spell Artis-Payne down the stretch, similar to what he did against Mississippi State the last time out.

"We want to keep our running backs fresh," Lashlee said. "He's a true freshman, but things are slowing down and the talent he has is obvious. We just think that it's time to really start fusing him into things and trying to keep Cameron fresh throughout the game. It also adds that extra dimension to what we're trying to do."

Next up for Auburn is a home date with South Carolina this Saturday. The coaches have had an extra week to prepare, and Thomas has had an extra week to catch his breath and get that much more acclimated to the offense.

There's no telling how much he'll play against the Gamecocks, but he'll be ready when the coaches call on him.

"It's just a matter of being patient and waiting until my name gets called," Thomas said. "I'm just trying to play my part in the offense."
In our weekly Big 12 roundtable, we examine what the strongest position has been in the league so far, who has a better chance of going bowling between Texas and Texas Tech, and whether Oklahoma State should consider pulling the redshirt off quarterback Mason Rudolph:

What has been the strongest position in the league so far?

[+] EnlargeKevin White
AP Photo/Chris JacksonThrough seven games this season, Mountaineers senior receiver Kevin White has 69 receptions for 1,020 yards and seven touchdowns.
Brandon Chatmon: As we saw last week with our midseason All-Big 12 team, it's got to be the linebacker spot. The Big 12 is overflowing with all-conference worthy linebackers. Oklahoma's Eric Striker, Kansas' Ben Heeney, Baylor's Bryce Hager and Kansas State's Jonathan Truman entered the season among the Big 12's best at the position and haven't disappointed while other linebackers such as West Virginia's Nick Kwiatkoski, Texas' Jordan Hicks, Texas Tech's Pete Robertson, TCU's Paul Dawson and Iowa State's Jevohn Miller have emerged to join the fray. There are more teams with an all-conference worthy linebacker than without one.

Max Olson: I agree it's linebacker right now, but I think we'll be talking about this group of wide receivers as being special by the end of the season. West Virginia's Kevin White is playing at Biletnikoff Award level. Sterling Shepard is a potential All-American. You can make a case that KD Cannon, Tyler Lockett, Josh Doctson, Antwan Goodley, Jakeem Grant and John Harris are playing at an all-conference level or should be soon. Throw in underrated guys such as Mario Alford, Curry Sexton, Kolby Listenbee and Bradley Marquez and this position group looks deep and impressive in 2014.

Jake Trotter: Linebacker is a deep position in the Big 12. But I'm going with wide receiver. White has begun to generate Heisman buzz. Shepard has had an All-American season. And Lockett and Goodley are All-American-caliber players. It doesn't stop there. Doctson had 225 yards receiving over the weekend. Grant could break 100 receptions. Harris could pass 1,000 yards. And true freshmen Allen Lazard (Iowa State) and Cannon are budding stars. There's no better league for the position in the country.

At 3-4, both Texas Tech and Texas are holding out hope of qualifying for a bowl game. Of the two, who has the better shot?

Chatmon: Texas Fight! Or least that's what Charlie Strong's team looks like it will do for the remainder of the 2014 season. The Longhorns' defense is superb and Tyrone Swoopes is looking better and better with each game, surpassing my expectations for the sophomore quarterback. Even with three of its final five games away from Austin, I think Texas will find a way to go bowling in Strong's debut season.

Olson: That Texas Tech schedule just scares me too much. The Red Raiders go to TCU, host Texas, then a bye, home against Oklahoma, on the road at Iowa State and a meeting Baylor at AT&T Stadium to finish that run off. Are there two obvious wins on that slate? That's just a brutal ask. Texas doesn't have it much easier -- they'll probably have to beat Tech, West Virginia and Oklahoma State to win six -- but already having OU and Baylor out of the way at least gives them the upper hand here.

Trotter: Given their remaining schedules, it's possible -- if not probable -- that neither qualifies for a bowl. But even though the Longhorns have to go to Lubbock, I give them the better chance. Texas has been playing better than Tech as of late. The Longhorns have the decidedly superior defense. And Swoopes seems to be gaining confidence with every start. The Red Raiders will have to beat either No. 10 TCU, No. 17 Oklahoma or No. 12 Baylor, just to have a chance at a bowl. And they'll be heavy underdogs in all three.

[+] EnlargeDaxx Garman
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiDaxx Garman has led OSU's offense since starter J.W. Walsh went out in Week 2 with an injury.
In light of the recent struggles offensively, should Oklahoma State give redshirting freshman Mason Rudolph a crack at QB?

Chatmon: No. That just changes who will spend the game running for their life. Some Cowboys fans might point the finger at Daxx Garman, but the Cowboys' struggles are rooted in the problems up front with a inexperienced offensive line. OSU is averaging 3.69 yards per carry (96th among FBS teams) and has a 7.5 sack percentage (99th among FBS teams). It doesn't matter who is playing quarterback.

Olson: I'm with Brandon on this. No point in crossing that bridge unless Rudolph begins to consistently and seriously outplay Garman in practice. Mike Gundy says he's getting maximum reps during the week. That's a good start. But you can't throw the rookie in there, behind that offensive line, out of sheer curiosity of whether he's a little better than Garman. I get the whole build-for-the-future viewpoint, but isn't J.W. Walsh still the imminent future? The potential downsides still seem like they outweigh the marginal benefits, at least for now.

Trotter: Rudolph intrigues me. The ESPN recruiting scouts loved his skill set Insider, and he was a winner in high school. But with only five games remaining, I don't see the point in pulling his redshirt. This Oklahoma State team is not contending for a Big 12 championship, regardless, due to other issues, namely along the offensive line. The staff clearly feels he's not ready, or else they would have given him a shot early in the season after Walsh's injury in Week 2. Rudolph might very well be the Cowboys' QB of the future. But it's way too late to squander his redshirt for the last five games of a rebuilding season.

Video: Best Of The One-Loss Teams

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
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ESPN college football reporter Adam Rittenberg breaks down which one-loss college football team is the best of the lot.
AUSTIN, Texas -- The doubts about Tyrone Swoopes ever since his high school days at tiny Whitewright (Texas) High School weren’t unreasonable.

[+] EnlargeSwoopes
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesAfter his most recent performances, expectations are on the rise for Texas QB Tyrone Swoopes.
 Swoopes was raw. Special tools. High ceiling. Reaching it would require extensive work and time.

What a difference six starts can make. The Texas quarterback’s personal ascent in the past two months has occurred at a pace nobody could’ve predicted. In the process, the Longhorns discovered a quarterback who has defied all expectations.

“It's just so fun to watch the development of Tyrone and how he's getting better and better week by week,” coach Charlie Strong said. “Our offense is going to go as our quarterback goes.”

One year ago this week, Swoopes made his post-midnight debut in the final minutes of a blowout at TCU. That impromptu appearance serves as a reminder now that, once David Ash went down, Swoopes was never going to be afforded the luxury of time or patience. And the initial results warranted concern.

Last fall, Swoopes was barely trusted to pass the ball in his mop-up minutes. This year, after an erratic spring game performance, Strong wondered like everyone else whether Swoopes’ future was at quarterback. On Aug. 30, the head coach wasn’t sure his young quarterback would’ve been prepared to replace Ash against North Texas in the opener.

“You look at it, and good thing that [Ash] was able to complete that game,” Strong said, “because if we had thrown Tyrone in there in like the third or fourth quarter, would he be playing with the confidence he's playing with right now? And, actually, would he have been ready to go play and go into the game?”

All of those steps in this process raised valid questions. They also created myths: Swoopes has a big arm but no confidence, can’t read defenses, is only comfortable running, is too quiet and not leader-like and is generally years away from being a quality Big 12 starting quarterback.

He’s dispelled most of those notions in the past few weeks while exceeding even the most reasonable expectations. In this process of accelerated in-season development, he’s proven things not only to his doubters, but also to himself.

“Sometimes when you hear those kinds of things, you kind of second-guess yourself,” Swoopes said last week. “I’ve gone out there and showed myself that I really can do what the coaches think I can do and believe I can do.”

The turning point, his peers say, came against Oklahoma on Oct. 11 and the two touchdowns drives he led from down 31-13. His fourth-quarter heroics against Iowa State – a 39-yard bomb to Jaxon Shipley followed by a 29-yard dime to John Harris, all in the final 30 seconds, to set up the winning field goal -- showed off how far he’d come: The big arm, the newfound precision, the confidence to take deep shots with time ticking, the never-in-doubt mentality.

“In my eyes,” Harris said, “there’s no turning back for him.”

As Swoopes continues to figure out how good he can be, coaches are unpacking new wrinkles for Texas’ offense. Co-offensive coordinator Joe Wickline installed zone-read principles from his Oklahoma State playbook, which Swoopes used to rush for 100 yards (excluding sacks) against ISU.

 And yet, it’s his passing proficiency that’s more startling. He averaged 183.5 passing yards in his first four starts. Now he’s put up back-to-back 300-yard performances.

“When people see us play, they want instant success,” Swoopes said. “I knew that wasn’t going to happen, that wasn’t going to be the case. I knew it was going to take a little bit for us to get going as a unit. I feel like these last couple games, we’ve gotten a lot better. We’re going to a good place.”

The simplification process is over, and Texas has an offense unlike any it foresaw in preseason. The pass game now sets up the run. With a patchwork offensive line and inconsistent run game, Texas had no choice but to highlight its first-time starter. Everything now runs through Swoopes.

Shawn Watson has said he sees his pupil more as a freshman than a true sophomore, at least in this teaching process. But after weeks of molding and teaching and baby steps, he asked Swoopes to take the big step against Oklahoma.

“I said, ‘Dude, here's the deal: I see it in practice,’” Watson said last week. “‘Every day, I see it in practice. I see you doing this. Now stop thinking in a game -- play, react, see and react, see and react. Trust yourself.’”

He’s earned the Longhorns’ trust, too. Teammates aren’t ready to call Swoopes fast or a dual-theat yet -- “I’m going to say 1 ½ threat,” Malcolm Brown joked Monday -- but they can see how fast Swoopes has grown up.

“Every week that he plays better, our expectations get higher,” Harris said. “He can be that guy here. I don't understand why people doubt him.”

That could be the most improbable development of Swoopes’ rise, and the greatest compliment he can be paid: After four seasons of instability, Texas might’ve finally found its QB to build around for the next few years.

“There's never been any doubt in our minds,” Watson said. “There's been nothing but conviction that he's our guy. That's our starting quarterback. He's the guy [who] we need to develop.”
Two stats paint a bleak picture as Miami prepares to hit the road to play Virginia Tech on Thursday night.

The Canes are winless away from home this season; and they have not won in Blacksburg since 2005. In order to change that narrative and get back into the Coastal Division race, the objective seems pretty simple. Play better on the road.

[+] EnlargeBrad Kaaya
Brett Davis/USA TODAY SportsTaking care of the ball will be key for Brad Kaaya and Miami on Thursday night at Virginia Tech.
How do the Canes do that? Miami lost each of its games at Louisville, Nebraska and Georgia Tech for different reasons. Against Louisville, the Canes limited their playbook and ran a conservative offense, contributing to stalled drives; in Lincoln, Miami could not stop the run; in Atlanta, Miami ran less than 50 plays.

However, one common thread emerged in each -- close games turned into double-digit losses thanks to untimely turnovers that turned momentum the other way. Of the eight turnovers Miami has committed on the road, seven came in its opponents’ territory.

Among the costliest:

  • With the game tied at 7 against Louisville in the second quarter, Miami forced Will Gardner to fumble deep inside his own territory. The Canes faced a first-and-goal at the 7, the perfect opportunity to quiet the hostile road crowd. But Stacy Coley fumbled on the first play. Miami never got closer to the end zone.
  • Down 24-21 against Nebraska late in the third quarter, Duke Johnson fumbled inside Nebraska territory. The Cornhuskers picked up the ball and returned it 57 yards for a score.
  • With the game tied at 14 against Georgia Tech midway through the second quarter, Brad Kaaya threw an interception from the Jackets 27. Miami scored a field goal the rest of the game.

Turnovers always hurt, but giving the ball away in such critical situations is painful, especially with a freshman behind center. Kaaya has thrown nine interceptions, third worst among ACC quarterbacks who have started every game this season. He has not thrown an interception in two games this year -- his last two home games against Duke and Cincinnati.

The good news for Miami, though, is that Kaaya already has played in front of two electric prime-time crowds at Louisville and Nebraska. Virginia Tech is known for its wild Thursday night atmospheres, but there may not be a full crowd at Lane Stadium. Since he already has been road tested, Kaaya should not show many jitters.

Even better news rests with the Coastal Division, where every team has at least one loss. At 1-2 in ACC play, Miami is only one game behind Duke, Virginia and Pitt -- all 2-1. Miami already has a head-to-head win over the Blue Devils, which could help if there is a tiebreaker down the road.

“Maybe when we got back from Atlanta, we had some guys that maybe didn’t understand how early it was in the race,” coach Al Golden told reporters in Miami on Monday. “Based on what’s transpired since then, maybe they’re believing now. Maybe they have a little more faith that this thing is far from over. We’ve got to take care of our business and not worry about anything else. It’s a one-game season right now and when we get back from Blacksburg, it’ll be another one game season. That’s all that matters.”

Winning on the road matters, too. Miami will have a tough time winning the division if it keeps falling flat away from home.
Texas A&M’s 59-0 loss to Alabama on Saturday raised a lot of questions about the Aggies. The team was inferior to the Crimson Tide in all three phases of the game -- offense, defense and special teams -- and the loss brings into question the direction the Aggies are headed.

One of the many areas of concern is a theme that hasn’t drastically changed since last season: the struggles on defense.

Texas A&M’s 2013 defense was poor by any measure. This season began with some promise, but many of the reasons for optimism have gone by the wayside with recent performances. Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin, in discussing his team’s loss Saturday, noted the Aggies had to evaluate where they are in all three phases of the game and that changes could be in store.

[+] EnlargeT.J. Yeldon
AP Photo/Brynn AndersonThe Texas A&M defense has been behind the curve far too often in the past four games.
Defensively, the question is whether the changes need to be in personnel, coaching staff or both. The reasons for the struggles have been varied, but let’s take a look at each season and where the defense is under coordinator Mark Snyder, who is in his third season at the defensive helm.

The 2012 season was by far the Aggies’ best under Snyder. Though depth wasn’t ideal, the combination of experience and leadership in key areas in Texas A&M’s first-team defense is something the group hasn’t had since. Players like linebackers Sean Porter and Jonathan Stewart, safety Steven Terrell and defensive tackle Spencer Nealy (not to mention the pure pass-rushing production of defensive end Damontre Moore) are what the Aggies have been missing the last two seasons.

That season, the Aggies ranked in the top half or, in some cases, the top third nationally in several categories. They were 26th in scoring defense (21.8 points per game), 37th in yards per play (5.22), 31st in yards per rush (3.72), 43rd in yards per pass attempt (6.72) and 16th in third-down conversions (32.4 percent).

In other areas they weren’t as strong but still respectable, like yards per game (390.2, 57th nationally), rushing yards per game (139.5, 35th), red-zone efficiency (58.1 percent, 51st) and goal-to-go efficiency (71.4 percent, 46th).

The 2013 season, on the other hand, was easily the worst so far. With those aforementioned veterans moving on as graduated seniors (or in Moore’s case, early entry into the NFL draft), the Aggies plugged in a ton of youth and were a porous unit for virtually the entire season.

Last year’s defense ranked worse than 100th nationally in yards per game (475.8), yards per play (6.36), rushing yards per game (222.31), yards per carry (5.38) and red-zone efficiency (71.4 percent).

Their rankings in several other areas weren’t much better. Those included scoring defense (32.2 points per game, 95th), passing yards per game (253.46, 95th), yards per pass attempt (7.56, 91st), sacks (21, 84th) and third-down conversions (41 percent, 78th).

That brings us to 2014, where the Aggies have shown statistical improvement in every one of the above-mentioned statistical categories. A solid start in the first four weeks of the season against South Carolina and three non-Power 5 teams in nonconference play gave the illusion of marked improvement.

In addition, increased depth, particularly along the defensive line thanks to the 2014 recruiting class, has helped. A pass-rushing presence that was sorely missed last season has been found in a player like true freshman Myles Garrett, a four-star recruit who is closing in on Jadeveon Clowney's SEC freshman sack record.

Depth is still thin at linebacker, however, where the Aggies dismissed a starter this offseason (Darian Claiborne) and lost another to injury in the season opener (A.J. Hilliard). In the secondary, there’s a mix of veterans and youth, seemingly plenty of depth but much inconsistency in terms of performance.

While the start to this season was good, the past four games, which have all been against SEC opponents (Arkansas, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Alabama) have established an alarming trend. The Aggies’ defense is trending statistically worse in that four-game stretch.

In just the last four games, the Aggies have allowed 42.5 points per game, which ranks 119th nationally. Yardage numbers have been poor, too: yards per game (495.8, 110th), yards per play (6.96, 117th), rushing yards per game (255.75, 117th), yards per carry (5.78, 117th) and yards per pass attempt (8.89, 115th).

In key conversion areas, Texas A&M has also struggled. The Aggies' third-down conversion defense in the last four games (41.2 percent, 75th nationally) is about where it was a season ago. Similar traits apply for red-zone efficiency (68.2 percent, 103rd) and goal-to-go efficiency (76.5 percent, 72nd).

And while the numbers tell enough of a story, so do a layman’s eyes. It doesn’t take a genius to understand the Aggies are struggling defensively. Just look at Saturday’s game against Alabama and watch Crimson Tide quarterback Blake Sims evade about six Texas A&M defenders en route to a 43-yard touchdown run. Or Amari Cooper catch eight passes for 140 yards and two touchdowns. Or T.J. Yeldon run for 114 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries. The Aggies allowed 602 total yards -- poor any way you slice it.

Senior linebacker Justin Bass put it plainly after Saturday’s game.

“You can’t play defense if you can’t tackle,” Bass said. “It’s as simple as that. ... If you don’t tackle, you aren’t going to win games.”
The Magnolia State is home to the No. 1- and No. 3-ranked teams in the country.

If you haven't found time to let that fact soak in, you should do so. It's been a crazy football season, but nothing better illustrates how upside down things have gotten than the transcendence of Mississippi State and Ole Miss.

Don't let the novelty of the rankings fool you, though. Neither program is a fluke. Their rise hasn't been due to smoke and mirrors. These are two solidly built football teams.

[+] EnlargeDak Prescott
AP Photo/Rogelio V. SolisBehind QB Dak Prescott, Mississippi State's offense is something to behold in the SEC and nationally.
Which brings us to today's Take Two debate: Would you rather have Ole Miss' defense or Mississippi State's offense?

Alex Scarborough: Five years ago, this would have been a simple answer. I would have taken Ole Miss' Landshark defense and been on my merry way.

But this isn't years past. This is a new SEC that thrives on offense.

For that reason, give me Mississippi State's offense. Give me Dak Prescott's mobility and arm strength. Give me Ben Beckwith at guard, Josh Robinson at tailback and De'Runnya Wilson at receiver. I don't care who you have, that's a hard bunch to stop. And I didn't even mention Jameon Lewis, Brandon Holloway and Malcolm Johnson.

The Bulldogs might not have the brand-name cache of others in the SEC, but those guys can put up points in a hurry. They lead the league in yards per game (529.7) and rank second in points per game (41.9). They're balanced, too, with 5.5 yards per rush and 9.1 yards per pass attempt. More than 23 percent of their plays go for 10 yards or more.

And they have the one thing no defense can account for: a star quarterback.

As long as they have Prescott under center, they have a chance. He wears No. 15 for a reason, and like Tim Tebow, he can will his team to victory. I won't even bother with Prescott's eye-popping statistics (you can find a Heisman Trophy tracker if you must know) because it's his leadership that's the most invaluable part of his game. Good luck stopping that.

Sam Khan: I hear you, Alex. I hear you loud and clear. And honestly, it's hard for me to pick against Prescott and Mississippi State because I, too, believe in the power of a star quarterback, and nobody has been better than Prescott this season.

But Ole Miss' defense has a nickname (the Landsharks) for a reason. It's that good.

[+] EnlargeOle Miss
Joe Murphy/Getty ImagesThe Rebels' defense has held all seven opponents this season to 20 points or fewer.
The numbers speak for themselves. No. 1 in the nation in points allowed per game (10.6) and goal-to-go efficiency (25 percent). No. 3 nationally in yards per play (4.15) and red zone efficiency (33.3 percent). No. 5 in turnover margin (plus-10). No. 12 in third-down conversion rate (29.6 percent). I could go on, but you get the picture.

There's a reason for the old adage "defense wins championships." It's cliché and simplistic, but it's true. A team can't beat you if it can't score, and nobody's better at keeping opponents out of the end zone than the Rebels. And that scoring average should be lower, considering seven of those points are the result of an Alabama fumble return.

I'll take Robert Nkemdiche, C.J. Johnson, Marquis Haynes and that defensive front. I'll take the heart of a player like linebacker D.T. Shackelford. I'll take a secondary with players such as Tony Conner, Senquez Golson and Cody Prewitt. Speed, tackling, a good mix of youth and experience. Give me the Landsharks. Fins up.

Scarborough: Yeah, yeah, yeah. But here's the question I'd pose to you: When the Egg Bowl does roll around on Nov. 29, do you think Ole Miss will be able to stop Mississippi State offensively? Would the Rebs keep the Bulldogs under, say, 28 points? Because I'm not sure they will.

Wilson, at 6-foot-5, is a matchup nightmare. Pair that size with the speedy Lewis underneath and you're talking about a headache for any secondary. And it's not like you can focus on just the passing game, either. Robinson's ability to pound between the tackles would negate Ole Miss' pass-rush and demand a safety play closer to the line of scrimmage. He and Prescott running the read-option is dangerous because neither is easy to bring down.

While I think it would be a close contest and a ton of fun to watch, I think Prescott & Co. would put up points on the Rebs. Prescott's dual-threat ability and State's balance offensively is the difference, to me.

Khan: I do think the Rebels have what it takes to keep the Bulldogs' offense in check come Egg Bowl time. This defense is versatile enough to stop just about anything. They shut down a traditional offense, like Alabama's, save for one drive when the Crimson Tide mostly ran behind Cam Robinson. But that was the only touchdown the Rebels' defense yielded that day.

Against a talented spread team, like Texas A&M, the Rebels had answers there, too. The Aggies tried to run it and couldn't (1.5 yards per carry). They tried to throw it and couldn't do that either. And they put enough pressure on opposing quarterbacks to wreak havoc and force errant throws, which leads to turnovers. I think the Auburn game in a couple of weeks will be another good barometer for the Ole Miss defense.

Wilson is pretty talented. So is this guy -- you might have heard of him -- named Amari Cooper. When the Crimson Tide came to Oxford, he had a nice day (nine catches, 91 yards) but no touchdowns. T.J. Yeldon had 123 yards rushing, but again no touchdowns, and the Rebels kept Derrick Henry in check.

The Rebels haven't allowed more than 20 points in a game this season (that came on the road, to Texas A&M and, mind you, the final six came as time expired when the game was out of hand). I'd like their chances at keeping Mississippi State under that 28-point benchmark. When the time comes, it'll be entertaining to watch those two units go head-to-head, that's for sure.
The 43-yard touchdown connection between Devin Gardner and Devin Funchess in an 18-13 win over Penn State was a rare site for this year’s Michigan team.

The standout individual effort by Funchess gave the Wolverines their longest completion of the year and the longest play of any kind since a season-opening drubbing of Appalachian State. As much trouble as Michigan’s offense has had with turnovers and finding a steady run game this season, it’s had an equally difficult time coming up with the type of big plays that can mask those inconsistencies.

[+] EnlargeDevin Funchess
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsMichigan hopes to get more big plays from Devin Funchess and the offense.
 “There is no question we have to create more explosive plays,” head coach Brady Hoke said after an open week to mull over his team’s most glaring issues.

Michigan’s bye week after seven straight games provided Hoke and his 3-4 team with an overdue opportunity to get healthy and evaluate themselves. Beating Penn State the previous Saturday allowed him to go through that process with less pressure and fewer questions about his future.

With in-state rival Michigan State next on the schedule and Ohio State looming a month later, the recalibrations Hoke and his staff make this week have the potential to save their jobs in Ann Arbor or provide the final nail in the coffin of their Michigan coaching careers. This week Hoke is attempting to land on the right side of the fine line that separates making improvements and overwhelming your team by tinkering too much.

“At times you say, ‘We need to add this,’ and then you add too much. Then you have a real problem,” Hoke said. “For us, it’s going back to what we want to be identity-wise, and we want to run the football.”

The run, Michigan hopes, will set up its dynamic offensive players with more chances to produce game-changing plays. Through seven games, the Wolverines have picked up 30 or more yards on a single play six times, fewer than all but four teams in the bowl subdivision this season. The only offensive category where they’ve struggled more is in turnover margin, where they rank dead last.

Offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier said big chunk gains usually come from exploiting an opponent’s weakest points or putting your best playmakers in a position to excel. Three of those long plays came from sophomore running back Derrick Green, who is sidelined for the rest of the season with a broken collarbone. The onus in Green’s absence falls even more squarely on the shoulders of Funchess and Gardner, the senior quarterback who has looked like more of an offensive threat in his two most recent games.

“I get the ball every play so it’s pretty much all my responsibility,” Gardner said. “Even if it’s a big run play for our running backs, I’ve got to hand it to them. I feel like I’m a big part of that.”

Gardner has the potential to create a few of those plays with his feet, but his best bet is to connect with his favorite target, the 6-foot-5 Funchess. He leads the team with 36 receptions and four touchdowns, but three of those came against Appalachian State.

 Funchess battled a leg injury during most of September, making his highlight-reel return to the end zone against Penn State a beacon of hope that more spectacular efforts might be coming now that he’s healthy. Nussmeier knows Michigan has to find ways to get the ball in his hands.

“We’re always looking for ways to [create good match-ups],” he said. “Without giving away too much scheme stuff, we evaluated that very hard during the bye week and looked at ways to do that better.”

The Spartans, for all of their prowess on defense, have been burned by the long ball several times this season. They’ve surrendered at least 30 yards on 19 different plays this season, which ranks them 103rd in the nation in that category. The miscues have come against competition that ranges from Oregon to Eastern Michigan.

Michigan enters Saturday’s rivalry game as a double-digit underdog. The line against the Buckeyes later this season should be equally lopsided. The Wolverines likely need to win at least one of those games if Hoke is going to return in 2015. One tried-and-true way to pull off an upset -- especially with a defense that has held its own this season -- is with a few big plays.

Campaign trail: TCU Horned Frogs

October, 21, 2014
Oct 21
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Which teams will make the College Football Playoff? Ultimately, the selection committee will decide. Until then, there will be a lot of campaigning. Each week we'll unveil what we think one team's campaign message should be. Take a look at past posters here.

After losing a heartbreaker at Baylor in Week 7, it appeared that TCU's path to the playoff had hit a dead end. But the Horned Frogs bounced back in impressive fashion, throttling then-No. 15 Oklahoma State 42-9. Chaos in the conference has TCU on an upswing, but the road to the playoff is full of potential potholes: Dates with West Virginia and Kansas State lurk around the corner.

TCUIllustration by Sam Ho

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