USC, Utah among most underrated units 

October, 22, 2014
Oct 22
11:36
AM ET
Cody Kessler and Utah defenseIcon Sportswire/USA Today SportsStatistics show the battle between USC's offense and Utah's defense will be one to watch.
One of the more intriguing matchups of the weekend takes place in the Pac-12 South, a showdown Saturday night between the USC Trojans and the Utah Utes. With a victory, USC would be the first Pac-12 team in either division to five conference wins. Utah looks to remain undefeated against the Pac-12 South division as it begins a brutal five game stretch against the league’s best.

The game is intriguing from an advanced stats view as well, a head-to-head battle between one of the nation’s best offenses against one of the best defenses. Traditional box score statistics might not recognize the matchup as particularly remarkable. USC’s offense ranks 28th nationally in points per game and 31st nationally in yards per game. Utah’s defense ranks 35th in points allowed and 55th in yards allowed per game. But those raw numbers don’t account for the strength of opposition faced or the context of play and drive efficiency.

Michigan's block 'M' painted Spartan green

October, 22, 2014
Oct 22
11:34
AM ET
Let's face it: It's a good time to be a Spartans fan in the state of Michigan. As Brian Bennett detailed on Tuesday, "Little Brother" has owned the Wolverines lately -- and is a huge favorite to continue that domination when the two schools meet on Saturday.

Just how thorough is that Michigan State domination?

Even the iconic block "M" on Michigan's campus has been painted green.

Yes, it appears some MSU fans decided they would sneak into Ann Arbor overnight and not only cover the "M" in green paint, but also add the letters "S" and "U" to the end of it. According to the student newspaper, The Michigan Daily, the block "M" has been in place since 1953 and is highly visible to students walking to and from classes.

As if walking to an early-morning class wasn't bad enough already...

Michigan VandalismTwitter/@ByAZuniga
Michigan VandalismTwitter/@ByAZuniga
video

Offenses are getting harder and harder to defend.

Big receivers are becoming common, slot receivers are as quick as ever and quarterbacks can use their arm or their feet to create nightmares for defensive coordinators. Add the creative game-planning from Big 12 offenses and it can leave opposing coordinators at a loss for words.

Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops is not at a loss for words but he is looking for answers, sounding off against the rule that allows offensive linemen to block three yards downfield even when the ball is thrown.

Several teams have done a great job of putting defenses in lose-lose situations by utilizing the rule with creative schemes used by multiple offensive systems from “Air Raid” offenses to run-based spread attacks. He never referenced any team specifically but Stoops clearly remains frustrated with how to defend teams that use run-pass plays that include offensive linemen past the line of scrimmage after OU’s 31-30 loss to Kansas State, a team that has used the rule to create chaos for opposing defenses during the past few years.

“The linemen running down the field and trying to throw a pass when they’re five yards down the field, to me is ridiculous,” Stoops said on Tuesday evening. “Football has gotten to where it is stupid, letting guys run [running] plays then throw the ball. I’m just not a big fan of it -- it’s lenient and all of a sudden it’s three, four, five yards.

“Once you get to a certain point it’s not even fair.”

OU’s disappointing loss to Kansas State included a Wildcats touchdown pass to Glenn Gronkowski (see below), so Stoops' words sound like sour grapes that lingered into OU’s bye week even though he never referenced the Wildcats or any specific team while expressing his frustration with how the rule has been interpreted in recent years.



Rule 7, article 10 in the NCAA rulebook states:
Ineligible Receiver Downfield
ARTICLE 10. No originally ineligible receiver shall be or have been more than three yards beyond the neutral zone until a legal forward pass that crosses the neutral zone has been thrown.
PENALTY—Five yards from the previous spot.

“We’re having a hard enough time [stopping it] and it just keeps expanding,” Stoops said. “It’s not supposed to be more than three yards but it seems like a very lax three yards.”

The architect of the Sooners’ defense is adamant about his hopes that the rule and issue will be revisited in the offseason as several different teams have been able to use the three-yard rule to their advantage in recent years, including Auburn in 2013, which ran a similar play to tie Alabama before the Tigers’ field goal return that shocked the Crimson Tide.

The run-pass option package that K-State and quarterback Jake Waters uses to stress defenses creates a lose-lose scenario for safeties and linebackers, who must choose to stop the run with Waters or cover the pass while Waters simply reads the defender and choses whatever option the defender leaves free.

Stoops admitted there’s not much any defense can do to stop the creative schemes like the ones KSU and Auburn built upon the rule and used with success.

"Complain … until they do something about it,” Stoops said when asked how to stop it. “What is the gray area? They’re allowed to be down there three yards but at three there should be a flag, that’s how I look at it. It can’t be gray, it’s black or white.”
ShackelfordJason Getz/USA TODAY SportsStarting middle linebacker D.T. Shackelford is the unquestioned leader of the Ole Miss defense.

OXFORD, Miss. -- Deterrian 'D.T.' Shackelford sat in one of the Ole Miss football offices Monday and talked about all the things he had done since he arrived at Ole Miss in 2009. He also talked about all the things he still wanted to do.

Shackelford, a rare sixth-year senior, has already received his undergraduate degree in liberal arts and his Master's degree in higher education. He's been on mission trips to Panama and Haiti. He eventually wants to get his Ph.D. and become a college athletic director, but not before he tries his luck in the NFL.

"There's a lot of different stuff I want to do, but I do still want to put on my cleats," the veteran linebacker said with a laugh.

There was a time, though, when some thought Shackelford would never put on his cleats again.


Determination and hard work have always come second-nature to Shackelford.

Former Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt still remembers the first time he ever visited Shackelford's high school. The coach told Nutt that this was the hardest-working player he's ever had. Nutt heard that from a lot of high school coaches, but when he saw Shackelford go through a workout, he thought to himself, "my goodness, this guy is something else."

"It's real simple," Nutt said. "I think anybody will tell you. There's not going to be one that gives more effort. There's not going to be one that cares about his teammates, about his school, more than D.T. Shackelford."

[+] EnlargeMississippi's D.T. Shackelford
AP Photo/Rogelio V. SolisD.T. Shackelford, above watching Ole Miss' 2011 spring game, missed two seasons with a torn ACL.
The Alabama product eventually signed with the Rebels, and in his first two years, he was one of the better players on their defense. He earned freshman All-SEC honors and led the team in sacks as a sophomore.

That next spring, Shackelford's playing career took a wrong turn. He was doing simple position drills in practice when he tore his ACL. It wasn't part of the plan. He'd have to sit out at least five months, which means he wouldn't be back until the middle of the season.

"It was crazy because I had never been injured," Shackelford said. "I had never really faced an injury, especially an injury of that magnitude. All the time in football, you get nicked and bruised up. 'I'm alright. I'm alright. Put some dirt on it, you'll be alright.' But that one I wasn't alright."

"He was down, but he just kept telling me, 'Coach, you know I'm going to be back,'" Nutt said. "I said 'Oh yeah, there's no doubt in my mind that you'll be back.'"

The only problem is that Shackelford didn't come back, at least not under Nutt. He re-tore the same ACL five months later and wouldn't play in a game until 2013. He missed two full seasons with the injury.

"Of course you question it," Shackelford said. "You wonder, 'What is going on?' But I've always been assured that when God has his hands on you, he has the plan, not me. I was able to get to a point where I accepted the situation for what it was and was able to move on."

It was at that point when he realized that football can be taken away at any time. It's temporary.

But rather than sulk and feel sorry for himself, Shackelford made it a point to help his teammates. He never missed a practice. He never missed a game. He became a leader off the field with what he said, how he acted and how he carried himself.

"Nobody really looked at me as D.T. Shackelford the football player then," he said. "It was D.T. Shackelford the person."


When Hugh Freeze arrived at Ole Miss in December 2011, Shackelford had just reinjured his knee. The first-year coach didn't know Shackelford, but when it came time to award the Chucky Mullins Courage Award the next spring, Freeze knew who he was giving it to.

[+] EnlargeD.T. Shackelford's knee
Greg Ostendorf/ESPND.T. Shackelford is left with a permanent reminder of the two seasons he lost due to a pair of torn ACLs.
In fact, in the three years Freeze has handed out the award, Shackelford has made history twice. In 2012, he was the first junior to receive the honor, and this past spring he became the first repeat winner.

"We could talk all day about the qualities that should be represented with wearing that jersey that Chucky wore and what qualities make up the right guy." Freeze said Monday. "But one thing I know about the right kind of people is that they finish. I don't think anybody can debate that one. That doesn't mean they don't fall off cliffs, fall down or make mistakes. But you get up and you finish. I think D.T. models that pretty dang well."

It wasn't easy, but Shackelford will finish his football career at Ole Miss. And it's only fitting that he's wearing Mullins' No. 38 his last season. It's also fitting that the Rebels are having one of their best seasons in school history.

Shackelford is the starting middle linebacker and the unquestioned leader for a defense that ranks top five in almost every category. His nicknames may range from "no knees" to "grandpa" to "old head," but his teammates understand how important he is to that unit.

"Shack's our emotional leader," cornerback Mike Hilton said. "He's the one that keeps us going. Even if he doesn't make a play, he's the first one to come over, jump and get rowdy. He's a crowd favorite, so I'm happy to have him on this side."

Ole Miss is currently ranked No. 3 and one of only three Power 5 unbeaten teams left, but when Shackelford sat in the office and talked Monday about the things he still wanted to do, winning a national championship didn't come up.

It's not because he doesn't want to win one or because he doesn't think the Rebels can. He's just focused on the next game and thankful to be playing in it.

And after what he's been through, how can you blame him?

ESPN 300: Five who could flip 

October, 22, 2014
Oct 22
10:44
AM ET
video
The Class of 2015 has seen more than 35 prospects in the ESPN 300 flip or decommit during the cycle. As many as 30 more prospects in the ESPN 300 could flip between now and national signing day. With that possibility in mind, here are five to keep tabs on less than four months away from national signing day.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

SEC playoff tracker: Oct. 22

October, 22, 2014
Oct 22
10:30
AM ET
There were no major changes made to this week’s playoff tracker. Ole Miss, Alabama and Georgia all proved why they are contenders with big wins this past Saturday while Mississippi State and Auburn enjoyed the week off.

Here’s a look at where the five remaining SEC contenders stand heading into Week 9.

Mississippi State
Record: 6-0 (3-0)
AP rank: No. 1
Next big obstacle: Nov. 1 vs. Arkansas

Reason for optimism: The Bulldogs seem to be in good shape in coming off a bye week and facing Kentucky, which fell back to Earth with a 41-3 loss to LSU on Saturday. Mississippi State should cruise to a win that would help its remaining Western Division games against Arkansas, Alabama and Ole Miss grow increasingly important in the divisional and national title pictures.

Cause for concern: If their record remains spotless and their Western Division title hopes hinge on a win against Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl, the Bulldogs will have to win that pivotal game on the road. Mississippi State has a 1-6 record in Oxford in the 2000s. The Bulldogs’ lone win came in 2010, when No. 25 MSU edged Ole Miss 31-23.

Who they’ll be rooting for this week: LSU over Ole Miss.

-- David Ching

Ole Miss
Record: 7-0 (4-0)
AP rank: No. 3
Next big obstacle: Oct. 25 at LSU

Reason for optimism: The Rebels are on an absolute role right now. They’re second in the SEC in total defense (290.6 yards allowed per game) and have held opponents under 200 yards three times this season. Quarterback Bo Wallace is averaging 271 yards per game and has thrown 17 touchdowns to six interceptions.

Cause for concern: The Rebels are still in the SEC West, and road trips to LSU and Arkansas loom. Oh, and Ole Miss ends the season at home with No. 1 Mississippi State. The running game hasn’t been very explosive at all this season, ranking 11th in the league (151.3 yards per game).

Who they’re rooting for this week: Kentucky over Mississippi State.

-- Edward Aschoff

Alabama
Record: 6-1 (3-1 SEC)
AP rank: No. 4
Next big obstacle: Nov. 8 at LSU

Reason for optimism: After hearing all week how they were slipping following a loss to Ole Miss and a narrow win at Arkansas, the Crimson Tide came out Saturday on fire, throttling Texas A&M 59-0. It was a complete performance that said Alabama is right in the thick of the playoff conversation.

Cause for concern: Consistency is going to be the biggest challenge for this young Alabama team. Playing well at home is good, but now it must prove it can take the show on the road. First up its a trip to Tennessee and two weeks later it's on to Death Valley and LSU.

Who they’ll be rooting for: It's a bit of a double-edged sword for Alabama seeing as you never want to face an LSU team with growing confidence, but it would do the Tide some good to see the Bayou Bengals upset Ole Miss this weekend.

-- Alex Scarborough

Auburn
Record: 5-1 (2-1)
AP rank: No. 5
Next big obstacle: Oct. 25 vs. South Carolina

Reason for optimism: Despite losing to Mississippi State its last time out, Auburn is still the No. 1 team in ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI). The Tigers will enter the second half refreshed after having this past weekend off, and they also get back safety Jermaine Whitehead who was reinstated to the team Tuesday.

Cause for concern: We won’t know if the bye week fixed all of Auburn’s problems until we see the Tigers in action this Saturday, but they need to play much better than they did against Mississippi State if they expect to win out. The other bad news is that winning out might be their only option for making the playoff.

Who they’re rooting for this week: Auburn would love to see LSU take Ole Miss down a notch before it travels to Oxford a week from Saturday.

-- Greg Ostendorf

Georgia
Record: 6-1 (4-1)
AP rank: No. 9
Next big obstacle: Nov. 1 vs. Florida (in Jacksonville, Fla.)

Reason for optimism: Well, there really doesn’t seem to be a true competitor in the East. The Dawgs embarrassed Missouri in Columbia and Kentucky got trounced in Baton Rouge. Nick Chubb has been an absolute star in place of Todd Gurley, rushing for 345 yards and three touchdowns as the starter in the last two games.

Cause for concern: Chubb has been great, but you still have to wonder how durable the freshman really can be if he keeps carrying the ball as much as he has (68 carries in two games) with Gurley still sidelined. Also, the East is just bad, so what happens when the Dawgs face a team from the West? Hello, Auburn on Nov. 15.

Who they’re rooting for this week: South Carolina over Auburn

-- Edward Aschoff

Top trap games remaining for contenders 

October, 22, 2014
Oct 22
10:15
AM ET
Oregon didn't see Arizona coming. Baylor was blindsided by West Virginia. Now those teams' playoff hopes are damaged, if not totaled.

It's often the surprising losses -- the trap games -- that derail promising seasons. Just ask Oklahoma State (Iowa State) in 2011 or USC (Oregon State) in 2008.

As for 2014, here are the most perilous traps remaining down the stretch for the top six in the AP poll. That includes Mississippi State, FSU and Ole Miss, the three remaining undefeated Power 5 teams.

1. Ole Miss
Trap game: at Arkansas (Nov. 22)
When they go to Fayetteville, the Rebels will essentially be coming off two open dates (they play Presbyterian on Nov. 8). But Arkansas still presents a classic look-ahead scenario, because Ole Miss has the Egg Bowl against Mississippi State the following week. The "biggest Egg Bowl ever" chatter is buzzing now; just imagine what it will be like a week before the game. If the Rebels' focus is waning, Arkansas is good enough to punish them for it. Mark it down: The Razorbacks are going to end their 16-game SEC losing streak this season, and it wouldn't surprise me if it happened in an impactful game. Mississippi State (Nov. 1) also should be on high alert. Arkansas will slow down the game. Even if Ole Miss isn't running as much up-tempo this season, pace is still something the Rebs want to dictate. The timing and matchup are as dangerous as it gets.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

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.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

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.
video
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.
video
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
Oct 21
3:12
PM ET
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.

SPONSORED HEADLINES