If you’ve watched any Arizona football this year, you might have noticed that the Wildcats have a penchant for the dramatic.

Sure, the last game comes to mind. And the fact that Arizona scored 36 points in the fourth quarter and needed a 47-yard Hail Mary as the clock expired to beat Cal certainly qualifies as dramatic.

But it wasn’t just that game. After a blowout win in their opener against UNLV, the last three for the Wildcats have been nip-and-tuck. Coach Rich Rodriguez said he’s not sure if there’s a common denominator between this team and being able to win close games. But he’s glad they do.

“I hope it’s the fact that our guys don’t worry or don’t get too concerned about the scoreboard and just play 60 minutes,” Rodriguez said. “Every coach talks about it. We talk about it quite a bit. In fact we talk about it before every game. No matter what happens, we’re going to play for 60 minutes and then we’ll look up and see what the score is.”

As the Wildcats prep for a huge showdown with No. 2 Oregon Thursday night, it’s worth taking a look at the fourth quarter of Arizona’s past three games to see just how tight things got.

Arizona-UTSA win probabilityESPN Stats and Info
Game analysis: At one point, UTSA had a 74 percent probability of winning this game. That was in the second quarter after taking a 14-13 lead. But the Wildcats battled back and took a 26-16 lead into the fourth quarter.

Fourth-quarter analysis: Things got dicey halfway through the final frame. Though Arizona’s probability of winning never dropped below 50 percent, it did dip down to 59.8 when UTSA took over at their own 20 trailing 26-23 with 5:09 left to play.

Tipping point: With the score still at 26-23, UTSA picked up a first down at its own 31. But on second down, Tucker Carter was intercepted by Jared Tevis. UTSA’s win probability dropped to 3 percent.

Arizona, NevadaESPN Stats & Infomation
Game analysis: Despite jumping out to a 3-0 lead, Nevada never had better than a 43.6 percent chance of winning this game. The metrics account for Arizona being at home and the fact that the Wildcats can score a silly amount of points. They built a 21-6 lead in the second quarter, but Nevada came back to tie things up in the third, making things a little more uncomfortable than the home team probably would have liked.

Fourth-quarter analysis: Of the three games we’re examining here, this was the easiest fourth quarter for the Wildcats. Even after Nevada pulled to within a touchdown with 6:01 to play, its odds of winning never reached above 16.9 percent.

Tipping point: After Anu Solomon connected with Cayleb Jones on a 24-yard touchdown strike five seconds into the fourth quarter, Arizona’s win probability shot up from 63 percent to 94.4. But as the next graphic will show us, every second counts.

Arizona, CalESPN Stats and Info
Game analysis: By virtue of being home, Arizona started with a 62.5 percent chance of winning. But as Cal scored point after point, that probability dropped down to the 3- and 4-percent range. Then, wackiness ensued.

Fourth quarter analysis: Even as the Wildcats began their march toward erasing a 31-16 deficit, their win probability rarely spiked. The closest they got was a 41.6 probability when Solomon and Jones hooked up for 15 yards with 2:44 left to play, cutting Cal’s lead to 45-43. That dropped almost seven percentage points after the failed two-point conversion.

Tipping point: Just before the "Hill Mary," Cal’s chances of winning were 87.9 percent. One play changed it all. Solomon and Austin Hill wrote themselves into Arizona lore with an iconic play that will fill highlight videos for years to come.
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Malcome Kennedy lay on the turf, trainers tending to his injured left shoulder.

[+] EnlargeEdward Pope & Malcome Kennedy
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsTexas A&M receivers Malcome Kennedy and Edward Pope have combined for 49 receptions and six touchdowns through Week 5 this season.
With 57 seconds left in the fourth quarter, the Aggies trying to march downfield and complete a scoring drive to cap off a come-from-behind win against Arkansas, something was wrong with Texas A&M's senior receiver after he landed squarely on his left side and quickly reached for his shoulder. It was separated.

"I thought he was done," Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said afterward.

Kennedy hadn't come this far -- all the way from Cayuga, a small East Texas high school that played in the state's smallest 11-man classification, Class 1A, when he was there and from being a reserve receiver who waited his turn to become a featured target and a senior leader -- to allow shoulder pain to keep him from finishing.

"I felt like I had to go," Kennedy said. "I popped it out of place and the trainers came over, calmed me down and popped it back in. They asked me if I was all right and if I was done. I said 'No. I've got to go.' I just had a lot of adrenaline so it didn't hurt. I still was ready to go."

Moments later, he proved as much, catching a dart from Kenny Hill for the game-winning 25-yard touchdown in Texas A&M's 35-28 overtime win against the Razorbacks.

In many ways, Saturday was a snapshot of what Kennedy means to the Aggies. He usually isn't the first name outsiders think of when discussing Texas A&M receivers. For the past two seasons, that distinction belonged to Mike Evans, a 2014 first-round NFL draft pick who now plays for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

This season, Kennedy is the elder statesman of the Aggies' deep, young receiving corps, but some were more interested in discussing the bigger (sophomore Ricky Seals-Jones) or faster (true freshman Speedy Noil) young, new toys that the Aggies had to play with.

Meanwhile Kennedy, the dependable "Y" receiver in the Aggies' Air Raid-inspired offense, simply catches footballs -- lots of them -- does his work and speaks up when necessary, leading his group and the offense forward.

"Malcome is the vocal leader of our offense," offensive coordinator Jake Spavital said.

He's also the leading receiver currently. Through five games, he tops the Aggies in catches (33) and receiving yards (378) to go with two scores. His catch total is more than double of the next-best receivers, Edward Pope and Josh Reynolds, who each have 16.

And those who miss the days of Evans, the freakishly-athletic former basketball player who could seemingly catch everything in his stratosphere? Kennedy even showed he has the ability to do that, going up and leaping over an SMU defender on a jump ball on third-and-13 in the first quarter of the Aggies' win against the Mustangs last month. It is the kind of catch few associate with Kennedy, who does the majority of his work across the middle of the field. He has been invaluable to the development of Hill, the Aggies' sophomore sensation quarterback.

"He has helped a lot because he is an easy target to find," Hill said. "He's always getting open. That helps a lot. ...On a third down, he's a guy you can lean on and go to."

For a team that starts two freshmen (Noil and Seals-Jones) and a sophomore (Reynolds) alongside him at receiver, Kennedy is the heart of the receiving corps. He displayed as much Saturday when the Aggies' trailed the Razorbacks by 7 points at halftime and he delivered an inspired speech to his teammates in the locker room.

"At halftime, I walked in with something I was going to say," Sumlin said. "When I got to the door, I'm the last guy there, but Malcome Kennedy was standing at the door, talking to everybody as we're going in. And then he looked at me and said 'I have something I've got to say.' So we went back in, I listened to him for about 30 seconds and I said 'Yeah, that's better than anything I can say.' So we started looking at adjustments offensively for the second half."

Kennedy, a member of the team's leadership council, also has a knack for making big catches. His first such one came in one of biggest games in recent Texas A&M history, the 2012 upset of Alabama. With the Aggies clinging to a six-point lead midway through the fourth quarter, Johnny Manziel launched a pass toward the front left corner of the end zone where Kennedy beat Dee Milliner and hauled in the final points the Aggies would score in their 29-24 landmark victory.

So it's no surprise that when the Aggies need a big catch to move the chains or change the game, he's the one they turn toward.

"When the game's on the line," Spavital said, "Malcome's the guy we're going to."

He knows that. That's why two plays after the shoulder injury, he subbed himself in on third down before the clock expired in regulation. When the Aggies got the ball first in overtime, Spavital called a play that he said he woke up thinking about, one that they called earlier in the game, but didn't work.

Kennedy manned his spot at the "Y" receiver, saw what he liked and the rest is history.

"It was finally the look we wanted," Kennedy said. "The two high safeties; they were playing pretty far off the hash and the linebackers were tucked in the box and they were ready to stop the run so I went in there like I was blocking and I came out full speed and Kenny hit me."

Said Spavital: "I knew that play was going to eventually score for us in this game and it was the perfect opportunity to get it in there to Malcome. ...He made a great misdirection and made a big-time play and won the game for us."

Video: Class rankings Oct. 1 update

October, 1, 2014
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National recruiting coordinator Craig Haubert breaks down updates to the ESPN class rankings for 2015 football recruiting. Two top-10 classes from the SEC East added ESPN 300 prospects Friday.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Four plays haven’t changed anything for Urban Meyer, but they certainly got his attention.

The Ohio State coach hasn’t lost any faith in the players he has recruited, the coaches he hired or the system he had installed to fix a broken pass defense. But a handful of busted coverages and lost individual battles Saturday against Cincinnati at least concerned Meyer enough that he had to spend part of his Sunday grading the defense himself.

Meyer came away still convinced the plan in place and the personnel on hand is capable of reaching a championship level. But there’s no question it wasn’t there yet last weekend, which might be a troubling sign with another set of dangerous wide receivers waiting for the No. 20 Buckeyes this Saturday at Maryland.

“I hear someone say just take away those four plays,” Meyer said. “You can't just take away those four plays. That's part of the game. ... We played a very good throwing offense and we had four really bad plays that we have to get corrected -- have to get corrected.

“I'm satisfied with the direction we're going. We've just got to get them corrected.”

The Buckeyes don’t have any time to waste making those corrections with Stefon Diggs and Deon Long on deck this weekend, and Meyer hasn’t really bothered to hide his disappointment coming out of a game he touted as the first real test for a rebuilt, revamped secondary.

Twice already he’s publicly gone through the details of the four critical mistakes that produced four touchdowns and 240 yards through the air, in the process making it clear just how closely he was inspecting the film and searching for answers after Ohio State had worked so diligently to correct the issues that essentially cost it a shot at the national championship last season.

There was a one-on-one battle safety Vonn Bell couldn’t win despite tight coverage. A missed assignment against a screen pass. The coaching staff was on the hook for dialing up a coverage Meyer didn’t appear to be a big fan of just before halftime. And finally, perhaps a momentary lapse in technique and recognition that led to one more deep strike that at least for a moment turned a blowout into a tight 33-28 battle with the Bearcats.

There are elements of risk with the more aggressive schemes the Buckeyes have installed this season, increasing the amount of press coverage, attacking quarterbacks with different blitzes and challenging players across the board to win individual matchups. The gambles aren’t always going to pay off, but Ohio State is well aware it can’t afford to go bust as often as it did last Saturday if the Buckeyes are going to climb back into contention for the College Football Playoff.

“I think that’s what we’re going to put on our shoulders as coaches,” defensive coordinator Luke Fickell said. “We want our guys to have confidence in what they’re doing. I told them and we’re going to keep repeating it: I’d rather bet on myself, I’d rather bet on my guys and put them in position to go ahead and know that we have confidence in them, that we don’t have to make wholesale changes and knee-jerk and do some things.

“There are some things we can do better, but we’re still going to bet on ourselves.”

In turn, Meyer is going to keep backing some of the most decorated recruits in the country at cornerback and safety. He may spend a little extra time watching the defense and offering a bit more input, but he trusts the staff to get the job done. And he’s definitely not planning to scrap the vision he has for his defense in favor of a conservative, bend-but-try-not-to-break defense.

And if the pieces are truly all in place, the message is pretty clear.

“When you do what we do, you’re going to put yourself in one-on-one battles,” co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash said. “We’ve got to win some of them.”

The alternative is going flat broke.
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"We can put points on them. I think we can put points on anybody.”

Those were the words of Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace prior to last year’s Alabama game. The only problem was the Rebels didn’t score any points, not a one. They were shut out by the Crimson Tide to the tune of 25-0.

[+] EnlargeBo Wallace
AP Photo/John BazemoreBo Wallace has been locked in this season since a rough first half against Boise State, leading Ole Miss to a No. 11 ranking.
It wasn’t all on Wallace, who finished 17 of 31 for 159 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions. Ole Miss failed to convert twice on fourth down in Alabama’s red zone, and then there was the lack of a rushing attack. The Rebels only rushed for 46 yards, mustering a measly 1.8 yards per carry.

But none of that mattered after the game. The loss and the shutout came back on Wallace because of the “guarantee” he made beforehand. He took a lot of heat, and it didn’t help that the Rebels proceeded to lose their next two games to Auburn and Texas A&M. It was a difficult stretch for Ole Miss and Wallace.

The senior quarterback has grown up since then. He’s a different player, both on and off the field, as he heads into Saturday’s rematch with No. 3 Alabama.

“I’ve come a long ways,” Wallace said. “I never felt great at all last year, and this year I feel good. Obviously I made a bad decision last week, but other than that, I feel good. I’m confident going into this game. I’m confident in our guys, and we know it’s going to be a big test for us.”

The proof is in the numbers through the first four games. Since a first half against Boise State he’d rather forget, Wallace has thrown for 1,123 yards, 11 touchdowns and three interceptions. He’s completing 71 percent of his passes, and he’s third in the SEC in passing yards.

Impressive stats, but Ole Miss hasn’t played anybody nearly as talented as Alabama. How will Wallace fare against the team that shut down him just a year ago?

“Honestly, I’m just going into it like any other week,” he said. “I’ve been here for two years. I’ve played against top-10 teams -- never with the opportunity that we have right now and being undefeated -- but I can’t think about that too much, especially being the quarterback. I have to be the one that’s even-keeled the whole time and when guys get riled up, settle them down.”

That’s the new-found maturity talking. Instead of running his mouth about how many points Ole Miss is going to score Saturday, Wallace is more concerned with keeping his team focused.

A big part of that comes with experience. The former junior college transfer is now in his third season with the Rebels, and he’s made more starts than any other quarterback in the SEC. He’ll be starting his 31st game this weekend, whereas his counterpart, Blake Sims, will be making only his fifth start for Alabama.

“I just think the experience is something that you can’t instill,” UA coach Nick Saban said when asked about Wallace this week. “It’s something that you have to go through and learn, and it’s a tremendous advantage.”

Wallace has accomplished a lot in his time at Ole Miss. He’s led the Rebels to back-to-back bowl games. He’s won the Egg Bowl against rival Mississippi State. He’s knocked off a top-10 team. But there’s one thing he’s yet to do, and that’s beat Alabama.

The last Ole Miss quarterback to accomplish that feat was Eli Manning in 2003, but Wallace is hoping to join that list this Saturday. It’s a chance to put last year’s game behind him.

“Those that know Bo, his mindset really never changes,” Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said. “He’ll be as confident as any kid on the field entering Saturday’s game. He’s always that way. It’s a really good quality about him. He’s very resilient. He’ll be looking forward to this game.”
Leonard FournetteAP Photo/Jonathan BachmanLSU freshman running back Leonard Fournette was criticized for striking the pose.

BATON ROUGE, La. -- All of his life, Leonard Fournette has been ahead of the athletic curve, so naturally he was disappointed when his first college game didn't go according to plan.

In LSU's season-opening win against Wisconsin, Fournette ran eight times for 18 yards and returned five kickoffs for 117 yards, while senior Kenny Hilliard instead carried the Tigers' running game. It was an OK debut for a typical freshman running back, but not for the player who was ESPN's No. 1 overall prospect in the 2014 recruiting class, whom many college football analysts had compared to the greatest college running backs of the last 20 years.

"I was kind of hard on myself because I was so used to having 200-plus rushing yards in a game and I didn't have that, so I was kind of disappointed," Fournette said. "But I talked to Coach, talked to my father and my mother and they were like, ‘This is college now. It's not going to happen [in college] like it used to happen.' "

Maybe that early disappointment also made Fournette want to fast forward his collegiate development. A week later came Fournette's most memorable college moment to date -- one that brought more criticism than praise.

After a 4-yard touchdown run against Sam Houston State, Fournette's first college score, he struck the Heisman Trophy pose in the end zone. LSU coach Les Miles immediately gave Fournette an earful over the freshman's me-first moment and he later apologized to his teammates for what could easily be called a premature celebration.

All of a sudden, he was the subject of national ridicule -- a rude awakening for a player who had been roundly praised since middle school.

"I prayed on it, my parents talked to me, Coach Miles talked to me and just told me, ‘Don't worry about it,' so I got over it," Fournette said of the Heisman backlash.

Ever since then, Fournette has quietly shown steady improvement. Other SEC freshmen like Tennessee's Jalen Hurd and Texas A&M's Myles Garrett have made bigger national splashes, but last Saturday's win against New Mexico State marked the fourth straight game that Fournette led No. 15 LSU (4-1, 0-1 SEC) in rushing.

Each week since the Wisconsin game, Fournette has averaged at least 5 yards per carry, which he believes is a result of improved patience.

"We'll be in the meeting room and watching practice and I'll be seeing [senior running back Terrence Magee] making cuts like I used to make in high school," Fournette said. "I'll just be like, ‘Man I wonder why I can't do that?' I'm always rushing, so I feel like I've just got to be patient, slow down. I've been taking all that to heed and I've been slowing it down and the cuts will be there for me."

Running room and cutback space were certainly available last weekend against New Mexico State, when Fournette broke the 100-yard barrier for the first time at LSU. He finished with 122 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries, all career highs, and credited his offensive line and seniors Magee and Hilliard afterward -- exemplifying another lesson in humility that he learned from the Heisman hoopla.

"Thanks to Kenny, thanks to Terrence, like they're really my mentors. Anything I have a problem with, I come to them," Fournette said. "I never really had a big brother on the football team. I always was the big brother, so I have them and they help me a lot."

The veterans, in turn, credit the rookie for his personal growth. Making the transition from high school legend to SEC freshman can be difficult, but Magee said Fournette adjusted his expectations to fit what LSU has asked of him thus far.

"Every game you're not going to go out and rush for 200 yards, 100 yards, so I think he's a lot more comfortable than what he [was] now and starting to relax and just play his game," Magee said.

That said, Fournette has not fully tapped into his massive potential yet. As Fournette mentioned, he hasn't hit holes decisively at times and, for a player listed at 230 pounds, he has been surprisingly ineffective at breaking tackles.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Fournette ranks 11th in the SEC and 59th nationally with 3.48 yards per carry before making contact with a defender. And yet he's fourth among regulars in his own backfield in yards after contact. Freshman Darrel Williams (3.64 ypc after contact) and Magee (3.18) both rank in the SEC's top 10, but Fournette's average of 2.27 ypc also ranks behind Hilliard (2.53) among LSU regulars.

His game remains a work in progress, but it is easy to envision a game-breaking finished product on the occasions when Fournette accelerates past defenders or leaves one in the dust with a well-placed stiff-arm, as he did on his first touchdown run against NMSU.

Those brief flashes are signs that Fournette is coming along fine, even if he didn't achieve instant superstardom like some expected.

"That's hard, especially with those expectations," center Elliott Porter said. "I don't think nobody in the last 10 years faced quite that much hype."

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LINCOLN, Neb. -- You’ve heard it all before about Nebraska, the program that wants more than any other in the country to reclaim a lost identity.

You’ve heard about how the Cornhuskers have not defeated a top-10 team on the road since 1997.

You’ve heard about how now is the moment, about how the chance sits front and center to make a statement.

Yet every time over the past decade-plus, that moment ended in disappointment -- against USC, Texas, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, UCLA, even Michigan State last year in Lincoln.

[+] EnlargeAmeer Abdullah
Eric Francis/Getty ImagesAmeer Abdullah has three 200-yard rushing games this season.
When Nebraska beat the Badgers, Ohio State and Michigan in recent years, none was ranked higher than 20th. Georgia, last year in the Gator Bowl, was rated No. 23. The wins felt good, sure, but did little to distinguish Nebraska as a real contender.

Opportunity is here again as the Huskers visit No. 10 Michigan State on Saturday night (8 ET, ABC), one win from a 6-0 start for the first time since 2001. With a victory, Nebraska, barring a big upset, would go to Wisconsin on Nov. 15 at 9-0 as a legitimate player in the race for the College Football Playoff.

“We all understand what’s at stake,” Nebraska defensive coordinator John Papuchis said.

The Huskers’ 5-0 start has been met nationally with a collective eye roll. There’s the mediocre competition, the ugly Big Ten reputation, the four-loss-a-year history of coach Bo Pelini and, well, this program’s penchant to fall flat in moments like the one before it on Saturday.

Theories abound in Nebraska on what makes it different this year. The Huskers on defense are solid up front. They’re committed to the running game. The leadership is improved.

Here’s what I know is different: At nearly every key moment on Saturday night in East Lansing, with apologies to the Big Ten’s top QB, Connor Cook, the best player on the field will be wearing a Nebraska uniform. That matters.

I-back Ameer Abdullah and defensive end Randy Gregory give the Huskers a chance. In Abdullah and Gregory, Nebraska has arguably the best offensive and defensive players in the Big Ten.

They demand attention from the Spartans. Both are extraordinary talents, though somewhat unintroduced to the nation, which doesn’t believe that it wants to invest again in Nebraska football.

They offer reason to believe. Abdullah and Gregory change games in ways not seen at Nebraska since Eric Crouch and Ndamukong Suh, one of whom won the Heisman Trophy and the other who came close as a defensive tackle.

Nebraska had a special talent in former quarterback Taylor Martinez. When healthy, he was just as electric as Abdullah. But Abdullah, a rare two-time captain, inspires hope among teammates like so few players.

And old coaching axiom says when a team’s best player is also its hardest working, you’ve got something special. That is Abdullah defined. He carried Nebraska to victory against Miami and thwarted a major upset against McNeese State with perhaps the most incredible individual effort in college football this season.

Abdullah leads the nation in rushing this fall with 833 yards through five games, on pace to break the career mark of Mike Rozier, long considered unattainable. Behind Abdullah, Nebraska has carved an identity for its offense: In the past two games, the Huskers have rushed the football 124 times, tops nationally, for 801 yards.

On Abdullah, Pelini cautions that it’s the beginning of October.

“I don’t know how it’s going to go,” the coach said, “but I can tell you one thing. Right now, he is playing at an extremely high level.”

Gregory is an even more unusual specimen. After missing the first two games with a knee injury, he eased into action at Fresno State on Sept. 6, then exploded with 4.5 sacks in the past two games.

But his impact far exceeds the numbers. Gregory baffled Illinois last week by lining up at multiple spots among the front seven.

“By moving him around,” fellow defensive end Greg McMullen said, “it only adds more attention.”

Offensive linemen search for him before every snap. Imagine the mindset of a quarterback.

“He’s a missile going through there,” Papuchis said. “He reads people. He reads it fast and hits it hard.”

At 6-foot-5 and 245 pounds, he runs more like a safety than a lineman. After Nate Gerry's third-quarter interception against Illinois, in fact, Gregory delivered a devastating block 20 yards down field of Illini receiver Malik Turner.

The Huskers will continue to use Gregory in creative ways.

Until Nebraska breaks through in a game like this, reasons exist to doubt it. Abdullah and Gregory offer hope that it ends differently this time.
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- It’s a familiar storyline by now, Alabama attempting to defend the hurry-up, no-huddle.

You know, Nick Saban’s supposed Achilles' heel?

Texas A&M started the talk with Johnny Manziel running laps around the Tide. Then Auburn got on board, punctuated by its last-second miracle on the Plains. Finally, Oklahoma pushed the tempo and won last season's Sugar Bowl, racking up 429 yards of offense. And if you thought it would get better with another offseason to prepare, then the season-opener wasn’t for you. All West Virginia did was march up and down the field in Atlanta, barely missing out on 400 yards of offense thanks to a handful of untimely drops.

[+] EnlargeLaquon Treadwell
Spruce Derden/USA TODAY SportsOle Miss receiver Laquon Treadwell presents a difficult matchup for the Alabama defense.
Saban has defended himself against the less-than-flattering narrative, albeit with mixed results. Because until we see Alabama’s defense actually stop an above-average offense that employs the HUNH (sorry, Florida), we can’t say with any certainty that the riddle has been solved.

That’s what makes this week so important. Against Ole Miss, Alabama will either put the talk to bed or add further fuel to the fire.

The No. 11-ranked Rebels are an up-tempo program, through and through. Hugh Freeze and Gus Malzahn are buddies, former high school coaches who both believe time spent is time wasted. Bo Wallace, Freeze’s senior quarterback, is in his third year running the HUNH system. With so much familiarity, he can throttle the offense high and low at will. And with the talent surrounding him, there’s no question that Ole Miss’ offense is as dynamic as any Alabama will face this season.

Running back Jaylen Walton is tough to get a hand on, as evidenced by his 6.9 yards per carry coming into this weekend.

Tight end Evan Engram is a matchup nightmare with the size to overpower defensive backs and the speed to run past linebackers.

All wide receiver Cody Core seems to do is catch touchdowns.

Then there’s Laquon Treadwell, arguably one of the top-five receivers in the country. He alone can wreck a secondary.

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“He’s, obviously to me, an outstanding player,” Saban said of the much-heralded sophomore on Monday. “He’s got really good size. He’s a really good athlete. He’s got a big catch radius. He can get in and out of breaks. He plays with a lot of toughness, very physical blocker. So he’s the complete package.”

Said Alabama safety Landon Collins: “He's a very quick receiver, explosive. You get the ball in his hands and he can do basically anything with it. We have a lot of respect for him and we're definitely going to look to him and not turn our backs to him because he can be a game-changer.”

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But does Alabama have anyone who can actually cover him? That’s the real question.

Cyrus Jones might be up for the task, but he gives up four inches and 25 pounds. Eddie Jackson is the more physical option, but his health is a concern. Then there’s Tony Brown, who is a five-star talent but lacks experience as a true freshman.

To make matters worse, given the way Ole Miss goes without huddling, Alabama doesn’t have the option to put one man on him.

“We went through this last year in a couple of games when we tried to put a guy on a guy in a game of no-huddle and it really is difficult for the corners to get lined up, so you really can’t,” Saban explained. “I think whoever is on him is going to have to study him and play him and play him well and keep him cut off. ... He’s an outstanding player and that’s a difficult task.”

Whether it’s the unenviable job of stopping Treadwell or the much-talked-about issues with the hurry-up, no-huddle, Alabama is used to a challenge. After so many wins and so many national titles, doubters come with the territory.

According to Collins, it’s just motivation.

“Everybody is going to doubt how we play or how we come out or any aspect of our game,” he said. “We're always going to have that. That's Alabama. We just take that into consideration and use that to push us and motivate us moving forward.”
All week, we're discussing Saturday's terrific slate of games in the SEC West. We looked at which games we'd pay the most to see. We debated which team has the most to prove. Now it's time to talk about the quarterbacks.

The question is simple. With the game on the line, which quarterback would you want leading your team? The answer? Not so easy, but our SEC writers take a stab at it anyway.

[+] EnlargeDak Prescott
AP Photo/Gerald HerbertIf the Bulldogs were to find themselves behind in a game, QB Dak Prescott is the player many would prefer to see leading the charge.
Edward Aschoff: I'm taking Mississippi State's Dak Prescott. If I need plays made late in the game, I'm going with someone who can not only fire the ball around but can take off and get plenty of yards with his feet. I'm so new-school in that respect. Give me a mobile quarterback any day over a statue pocket passer. Look at what Prescott did against LSU, in Baton Rouge no less. You're telling me I can have someone who strutted into the intimidating confines of Tiger Stadium and got a win with 373 total yards and three touchdowns? Yeah, sure. Sign me up.

David Ching: There are some good choices here, but I'll take Mississippi State's Prescott. Kenny Hill is an impressive talent with a bunch of weapons at his disposal at Texas A&M. Nick Marshall makes some incredible plays while leading Auburn's prolific offense. Blake Sims and Bo Wallace aren't bad, either. Give me Prescott. I had a front-row seat to watch his improvisational skills occasionally embarrass LSU's defense two weekends ago and came away impressed. He's got his work cut out on Saturday to keep up with Hill and Texas A&M's high-scoring offense, but I'll take my chances with Prescott any time.

Alex Scarborough: What if I say Sims and have him throw screen after screen to Amari Cooper -- the equivalent of an extended handoff? No? That's cheating, you say? OK, fine. If I'm forced to choose, give me Prescott. Something about his intangibles tells me he can win a close game for me. He's a better pure passer than Marshall, he's a more explosive and physical runner than Hill, and he's less Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde than Wallace when it comes to turning over the football. Sims, on the other hand, has never played a meaningful snap on the road, and that gives me pause.

Jeff Barlis: Hands down, Auburn's Marshall is the best clutch quarterback in the SEC. Coach Gus Malzahn said it himself last week: "If you compare him to all the other quarterbacks around the country when the game's on the line, we've got the best guy." Marshall proved it time and time again during the Tigers' miracle run last season, but that was done mostly with his legs. This season, he's shown improvement as a passer as evidenced by the Tigers' huge road win at Kansas State when he started 5-of-13 passing for 56 yards and closed out the game by going 12-of-18 for 175. Marshall will have to come through one more time for Auburn to beat LSU.

Greg Ostendorf: Don't sleep on Wallace. He's much better at home. I was at the LSU game last season when he went 8-of-11 for 71 yards on the final drive to set up Ole Miss for the game-winning field goal. With that said, I'm going to have side with Jeff on this one. Marshall isn't the best quarterback in the SEC. He might not even be in the top three. But when the game is on the line, nobody is better. He orchestrated game-winning drives against both Mississippi State and Texas A&M last season; he threw the touchdown to Sammie Coates that made the kick-six possible in the Iron Bowl; and more recently, he made the clutch third-down throw to put away Kansas State on the road. The kid is as cool as the other side of the pillow.

Sam Khan: I don't think there are very many wrong choices here. I like Prescott and Marshall a lot. Heck, I even like LSU freshman Brandon Harris, though he'll need some more experience before I can fully trust him in that situation. Today, give me Hill. He's as cool a customer as they come and that's what you need with the game on the line -- someone who is poised. Hill showed those characteristics last week, with his team down by 14 points in the fourth quarter. After struggling through three quarters, Hill made every throw he had to make and compiled 204 passing yards and three touchdowns in the fourth quarter and overtime, including a perfectly-thrown dart for the game-winner to Malcome Kennedy in OT. He has come up big in A&M's two biggest games so far. You have to be darn good to earn the tag of "Trill" in Texas.

Points could be scarce in South Bend

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Two years ago in South Bend, Stanford and Notre Dame matched up in a defensive struggle that ended with the Irish making a goal-line stand in overtime in which they stopped Stepfan Taylor on four consecutive attempts from inside the 4-yard line.

We might see a similar a game Saturday. Stanford and Notre Dame are two of the three FBS teams that have not allowed more than 17 points in a game this season. The other is Ole Miss.

Although both teams rank in the top five of the FBS in scoring defense, they used different methods to get their results. Stanford has conceded almost nothing this season, whereas Notre Dame has taken more of a bend-but-don-t-break approach.

Stanford
Despite losing several starters from last season, including Trent Murphy, Shayne Skov, Josh Mauro and Ben Gardner, Stanford might be better on defense. The Cardinal are allowing the fewest points per game (6.5) in the FBS, including shutouts against their two non-Pac-12 opponents.

They have allowed 0.39 points per drive, second-fewest in the FBS behind TCU (0.31). For some perspective, the fewest points per drive allowed by a defense in the previous 10 seasons was 0.54 by Alabama in 2011.

How good has Stanford’s defense been? Well consider these stats:

" The Cardinal are the only FBS defense allowing less than 200 yards per game and are on pace to allow the fewest passing yards per game (74.0) of any team in the last 15 seasons.

" Opponents have failed to gain a first down or score a touchdown on 55 percent of their drives against Stanford this season. Only TCU (60 percent) and Louisville (59 percent) have been better.

" Stanford has allowed the fewest plays (5) and completions (2) of 20 yards or more in the FBS this season.

" Stanford has allowed a Power Five-low 36 yards after the catch per game and has allowed three receptions of 10 or more yards after the catch, which is three fewer than any other Power Five defense.

Notre Dame
Notre Dame also appears to have reloaded on defense after some key departures. The Irish lost Stephon Tuitt, Louis Nix III, Prince Shembo and Bennett Jackson to the NFL Draft and their coordinator, Bob Diaco, to UConn as head coach. Yet, they are allowing 11.5 points per game, fourth fewest in the FBS and became the first team since 1984 to shut out Michigan.

The Irish have bent this season, but rarely broke. They rank 49th in the FBS in yards per play (5.2), but sixth in points per drive (0.8). Opponents have scored on 20 percent of their drives after gaining an initial first down against the Irish, fourth best in the nation and 23 percentage points lower than the FBS average.

What has made the Irish successful?
Forcing turnovers
The Irish have forced 2.5 turnovers per game this season, tied for 16th most in the FBS.

Getting off the field on third down
Notre Dame is holding opponents to a 33 percent third-down conversion rate, down from 42 percent last year.

No penalties
Notre Dame has committed five defensive penalties this season, tied for 10th fewest in the FBS. Of those five penalties, three resulted in a first down, which is seventh-fewest.

TCU will stun the Big 12, and soon 

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Trevone BoykinAP Photo/LM OteroTrevone Boykin has exceeded expectations under center for the TCU Frogs.
Mark it down. One of the next two weekends, TCU is going to wreck the marquee November game that everyone believes will decide the Big 12.

The Frogs are going to beat either Oklahoma this weekend or Baylor next weekend, giving one of those conference favorites an early-season L. (Personally, I believe it’ll be Baylor.)

Here’s why.

They’ve been close

The Frogs lost eight games in 2013 by an average of 8.5 points per loss, including four in conference by two or three points in each game. Think about that. A field goal, #collegekickers and all, decided half their losses.

Two of those games were, you guessed it, Baylor and Oklahoma.

And here’s the takeaway: If you’re continually in games, you’re bound to win games.

SEC playoff tracker: Oct. 1

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October has arrived and most teams have played a third of their regular-season schedule. One team has fallen off our playoff tracker (South Carolina) but the rest remain from last week. Let's dive in and see where the College Football Playoff contenders from the SEC stand as of today:

Alabama Crimson Tide
Record:
4-0
AP rank: No. 3
Next big obstacle: Oct. 4 at Ole Miss
Reason for optimism: The bye week came at the right time for Alabama. It needed Blake Sims, Jarrick Williams and DeAndrew White healthy for Ole Miss on Saturday. And if it needed any extra motivation, Rebs safety Cody Prewitt delivered, telling reporters that, "We don't think Bama has really been as good as they have been."
Cause for concern: Survive Ole Miss and things don't get any easier. You thought that Oct. 11 trip to Arkansas would be a cake walk? Ha! You thought Texas A&M would be an easier out without Johnny Manziel? That's a good one. That schedule you thought was littered with SEC cupcakes like Tennessee now looks more like a minefield.
Who they’ll be rooting for this week: Mississippi State over Texas A&M. If the Bulldogs can upset Texas A&M and Auburn the next two weeks, the West might loosen up some. --Alex Scarborough

Auburn Tigers
Record:
4-0
AP rank: No. 5
Next big obstacle: Oct. 4 vs. LSU
Reason for optimism: Nick Marshall continues to look more and more like his old self. On Saturday, he passed for 166 yards and three touchdowns, and he also rushed for 105 yards. His new favorite target? OK, it’s still D'haquille Williams, but fellow wide receiver Quan Bray has emerged as a playmaker on both offense and special teams for the Tigers.
Cause for concern: There are a lot of question marks as to who’s going to play this Saturday against LSU. Linebackers Cassanova McKinzy and Kris Frost are day-to-day with injuries, and starting right tackle Patrick Miller is questionable with an ankle injury. It also looks like Auburn will be without safety Jermaine Whitehead for the third straight game.
Who they’ll be rooting for this week: Ole Miss over Alabama --Greg Ostendorf

Texas A&M Aggies
Record:
5-0
AP rank: No. 6
Next big obstacle: Oct. 4 at Mississippi State
Reason for optimism: The Aggies passed a big test by showing that their run defense -- while still having a lot of room for improvement -- can do just enough to help them win after being tested thoroughly against Arkansas, the best rushing team in the SEC. The offense also showed it can win when it’s not at its best and Kenny Hill responded to adversity emphatically, showing poise in fourth quarter and overtime. Health-wise, the Aggies are in relatively good shape, which is critical considering what lies ahead.
Cause for concern: The schedule gets only tougher in the next few weeks. This weekend it’s a trip to Starkville to meet undefeated Mississippi State. They return home the following week to host Ole Miss. Then on Oct. 18 they go to Tuscaloosa for a showdown with Alabama. These are all teams and places the Aggies have won before, but now they’re doing it with a team that has a lot of young players in key positions, like quarterback, free safety, defensive end and receiver. This three-week stretch is a monumental test for Texas A&M.
Who they’ll be rooting for this week: LSU over Auburn. (This would help the Aggies jump Auburn in the national rankings and gain an advantage in the standings) --Sam Khan Jr.

Ole Miss Rebels
Record:
4-0
AP rank: No. 11
Next big obstacle: Oct. 4 vs. Alabama
Reason for optimism: The defense ranks first in the SEC and fourth nationally, allowing 248 yards per game and has 11 takeaways on the season. QB Bo Wallace is also spreading his passes around very nicely. Even with depth an issue at receiver, the Rebels already have five players with double-digit receptions.
Cause for concern: The West is easily the toughest division in college football. There really isn’t a major weak link when it comes to teams on this side of the division, and Ole Miss still has to go through everyone. We’ll find out if Ole Miss has the depth needed to make a real SEC run.
Who they’re rooting for this week: LSU over Auburn --Edward Aschoff

Mississippi State Bulldogs
Record:
4-0
AP rank: 12
Next big obstacle: Oct. 4 vs. Texas A&M
Reason for optimism: With an open date between their dismantling of LSU and this Saturday’s showdown with Texas A&M, the Bulldogs have had time to rest and scheme to face perhaps the best opponent they’ve played to date. It had to help their confidence to see A&M struggle against Arkansas the way it did, too.
Cause for concern: Mississippi State’s secondary has been one of the team’s few weaknesses, and that’s a bad weakness to have against a high-flying offense like Texas A&M’s. It also doesn’t help that veteran center Dillon Day will miss the A&M game while serving a one-game suspension for unsportsmanlike play against LSU.
Who they’ll be rooting for this week: Alabama over Ole Miss (because why not?) --David Ching

Georgia Bulldogs
Record:
3-1
AP rank: No. 13
Next big obstacle: Oct. 11 vs. Missouri
Reason for optimism: The SEC East is still a mess, and South Carolina’s loss to Missouri means the Bulldogs once again control their own destiny in the division. Just win, baby, and the Dawgs are headed back to Atlanta. Also, Todd Gurley seems like he’s getting better and better with each week.
Cause for concern: Passing, whether it’s by the Bulldogs or against them. Hutson Mason admitted Saturday that the chemistry between himself and his receivers isn’t where it should be, especially when it comes to throwing the deep ball. Right now, Georgia’s defense can’t stop any sort of passing over the middle of the field.
Who they’re rooting for this week: Tennessee over Florida --Edward Aschoff

LSU Tigers
Record:
4-1
AP rank: 15
Next big obstacle: Oct. 4 at Auburn
Reason for optimism: It seems unlikely that anyone in the SEC West will finish undefeated, so the Tigers can stick around in this race if they start winning. A win in Saturday’s game at Auburn could potentially jump-start LSU’s chances, especially if Brandon Harris goes off as the new starting quarterback.
Cause for concern: Auburn’s running game has to scare LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis a bit after Mississippi State had so much success against the Tigers two Saturdays ago. LSU might be able to stick around in the SEC West race with two division losses, but a playoff bid would almost be out of the question if the Tigers fall again.
Who they’ll be rooting for this week: Texas A&M over Mississippi State --David Ching

Grantland: The Quiet Genius

October, 1, 2014
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Out on the dangling elbow of the Oregon coast, in a port town set against the Coos River, a teacher named Bruce Bryant sometimes points to a photograph affixed to a bulletin board in his classroom. “Hey,” he’ll ask his students. “Do you know who that is?”

The quarterback in the photo is wearing the bright purple no. 14 jersey of Marshfield High, the institution most of Bryant’s eighth-grade students will attend. Twenty-two years after graduating from Marshfield, the player in the photo occupies perhaps the most high-profile job in the state; he was endowed with more hair back in those days, but even if he’d suffered from male-pattern baldness as an adolescent, Bryant isn’t sure he’d be any more recognizable. None of his students has ever correctly named the passer.

“That,” they say, when Bryant reveals the answer, “is the coach at Oregon?”

To read the full story, click here.

How Lane Kiffin improved Bama's offense

October, 1, 2014
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Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesOffensive coordinator Lane Kiffin has brought a new philosophy to Alabama this season.
Monday marked the one-year anniversary of Lane Kiffin’s infamous firing by USC at the Landmark Aviation Terminal at Los Angeles International Airport.

Twelve months later, Kiffin is in charge of perhaps the best unit in college football and leading it to unprecedented success.

Alabama's offense has produced 2,377 yards this season, breaking a 41-year-old school record for most yards through four games. This, despite starting a quarterback (Blake Sims) who had attempted 39 passes in the first three years of his career.

There are two ways in which Kiffin has changed the offense for the better: his use of the no-huddle offense and the use of receiver Amari Cooper.

Going no-huddle
Alabama has run 138 plays without a huddle this season, almost as many as in the previous three seasons combined. Nine of Alabama’s touchdowns have come out of no-huddle plays, more than in the previous two seasons combined. Alabama has run 14.5 more plays per game than it did last season.

Increasing tempo, however, is not necessarily the goal of the no-huddle offense. It was implemented largely to make things easier for Sims.

As coach Nick Saban told AL.com after Alabama’s Week 1 win over West Virginia: “It's easier to communicate when you're going no-huddle because you just have code words and short words for plays and passes and that kind of stuff. It eliminates the communication in the huddle, it makes it easier for the quarterback, so that's the reason that we went to it to settle Blake [Sims] down in the game.”

Alabama has increased the number of plays run out of the no-huddle every week this season. Over their last two games, the Tide have run more plays without a huddle than with one.

The offense has relied on short passes in the no-huddle, as Sims averages 5.4 air yards per attempt on such plays.

But he has been efficient with those passes, as his 77.8 completion percentage and his 95.3 QBR are both second among Power 5 quarterbacks with at least 20 passes.

Using Amari Cooper
Kiffin has also learned to exploit receiver Amari Cooper. After an injury-plagued start to his 2013 season, Cooper has started 2014 on fire, leading the nation in receiving yards per game (163.8). Cooper averages 14 targets per game this season.

In his first two years, he had one game with more than 11 targets: last season’s Sugar Bowl loss to Oklahoma. Cooper leads FBS receivers with 6.3 first-down targets per game.

Kiffin has varied the target distance. Twelve of Cooper’s 25 first-down targets have come on passes within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage, and the other 13 have come on longer throws. On both target distances, quarterbacks average more than 10 yards per attempt when targeting Cooper.

The early-down success has helped the Tide on third downs. Alabama leads the FBS in third-down conversion rate (61.8 percent), due in large part to needing an average of 5.1 yards to convert on third down. That’s the second-shortest average distance in the FBS and 1.4 yards less than last season.
WACO, Texas -- Goliath wasn't the one slinging stones. Nor had he much need for trash talk.

That's what makes the blossoming feud between Baylor and Texas so bemusing. Who would've ever thought the once-powerless Bears could someday provoke contempt from these once-gigantic Longhorns?

Their relationship has never felt more different than in 2014. David is faster and more confident than ever, his arsenal of weapons expanded well beyond the slingshot. Goliath, well, he's working through some issues right now.

Baylor players got heated in April when Texas linebacker Steve Edmond, in relatively unprovoked fashion, declared: "I really don't like Baylor. I still think they're trash." This week, when Texas receiver John Harris made a similarly dismissive comment, those players couldn't help but laugh.

"It's a sign of something…I just can't put my finger on it," Baylor lineman Pat Colbert said.

It's mostly disrespect. Texas players see no reason to bow down to the Big 12 champions in advance of their rematch on Saturday in Austin. No. 7 Baylor has beat the Longhorns three of the last four years, but can't quite seem to humble them.

If the Bears expect deference, they're looking in the wrong place.

"They're still Baylor," Harris said Monday. "Just because they started playing better in this era, that's good for them. We're still Texas."

Baylor coach Art Briles didn't quite know how to respond to that statement on Monday.

"I mean, what am I supposed to say?" Briles said. "We're still Baylor, TCU is still TCU, Oklahoma is still Oklahoma. I'm not sure what it means."

Why'd Harris say it? He was asked if Baylor was snatching control of the state of Texas away from his program. Briles says he doesn't look at things that way, that this is a "week-to-week business."

But anyone suggesting Baylor is still Baylor hasn't been paying too much attention, including to the scoreboard, over these past few seasons.

"We're a completely different team than we were five years ago," Bears linebacker Bryce Hager said. "We're a nationally contending team. Eventually, people are just going to have to accept it."

When Edmond's comments hit Twitter, Colbert was one of the first to react, vowing that the Bears would "kick our feet straight through his teeth AGAIN!!" Fellow lineman Troy Baker posted a photo of their Big 12 title trophy with the caption, "I love this trash too."

When asked Tuesday how he'd respond to being called trash, Colbert paused before offering: "You're trash for saying that."

Edmond has spoken to reporters just once since his post-spring game smack talk. When asked if he wanted to say anything more on the subject, he quickly said no. Teammate Quandre Diggs joked this summer that Edmond's comments weren't surprising because, simply put, he's gonna say what's on his mind.

"Steve is country. That's just how it is," Diggs said. "When you're raised in the country, you don't really care. You don't care about hurting people's feelings."

What made Edmond's diss so silly is the fact he didn't even play against Baylor last season while recovering from a lacerated liver. He'll get a chance to back up (or pay for) his words on Saturday.

"We'll keep an eye out for him," Colbert said.

Baylor receiver KD Cannon said he considers Texas' disrespect a sign of weakness. The freshman star, who did turn down an offer from UT, noticed Monday that Diggs said he'd never heard Baylor considers itself "Wide Receiver U."

"Texas is going to be Texas," Cannon said. "They have a good program. It's just trash talk. It's just something we've got to shut up."

There's a little more to the "trash" talk, too: Remember, Texas and Baylor were tied 3-3 at halftime last December. The Big 12 trophy and a Fiesta Bowl trip were on the line. And Texas flopped in the second half, getting outscored 27-7 and walking off the Floyd Casey Stadium field in silence as Baylor fans filled the field.

"It still haunts us that we were 30 minutes away from winning a Big 12 championship," Texas defensive end Cedric Reed said.

That heartbreak was the true source of Edmond's negativity and the reason why this bickering began. But if Texas can't appreciate the all-time high Baylor is riding right now, that's just fine with the Bears. They'd rather come down to Texas' house on Saturday and prove their point there.

"Of course they're not going to like us," Colbert said. "We're winning. They're down. We're up. We'll get ‘em back."

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