Early Offer: What a win for Wilson 

September, 22, 2014
Sep 22
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Missouri and Indiana often tangle on the recruiting trail, but now Hoosiers coach Kevin Wilson has a big victory to recruit against the Tigers with. Plus, UCLA and Notre Dame are locked in a battle for the nation's top tight end prospect.

[+] EnlargeKevin Wilson
AJ Mast/Icon SportswireKevin Wilson and Indiana hope to get a recruiting boost from Saturday's 31-27 win against Missouri.
1. Indiana's 31-27 victory against No. 18 Missouri this past Saturday is the type of win that can go a long way on the recruiting trail. Because of its location, Missouri is one of the few SEC schools that actively targets players in the Midwest, and it is quite common for the Hoosiers and Tigers to tangle over players in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and even in St. Louis. For the most part, Mizzou has had its way with IU, but now Hoosier coach Kevin Wilson has a breakthrough win to recruit with. As one Big Ten recruiter told me on Monday, "that's the type of win that can change recruits' minds."

2. On Monday RecruitingNation released the latest edition of the Recruiter Power rankings and UCLA’s Adrian Klemm came in at No. 2 on the list. A big reason why Klemm is ranked so high is because he was able to land ESPN 300 tight end Alize Jones, the No. 1 tight end in the country. However, there’s some legitimate concern in Westwood that Jones could end up at Notre Dame. A source indicated the Bruins are doing everything they can to "fight off Notre Dame's advances." Jones continues to say he’s still with the Bruins and is only looking around at the Irish as a security blanket, but insiders believe the interest is much more than just that.

3. What an interesting few days it’s been for Draper (Utah) Corner Canyon offensive tackle Branden Bowen. On Saturday, Bowen, the No. 5 player in Utah, committed to the Utes to give Kyle Whittingham a nice in-state recruiting victory. Then hours later on Sunday, he tweeted he had picked up an offer from Ohio State, a school he admitted he was hoping to receive an offer from earlier in the process. It will be interesting to see if the Utes can keep Bowen on board, or if the Buckeyes' offer is too tempting to pass up.

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Social Studies

Often players link their highlight videos on their social media accounts, but you almost never see them posting their grades or test scores. So give Alabama commit Christian Bell a whole lot of credit for posting his ACT score for everybody to see. It's the type of highlight that also should be cheered.

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AUSTIN, Texas -- After three difficult weeks of contemplation, David Ash is ready to move on from football and begin the rest of his life.

The former Texas Longhorns quarterback held a 25-minute news conference Monday and offered his first public comments since his concussion symptoms returned after an Aug. 30 win against North Texas.

He explained why, after consulting with Texas coach Charlie Strong and team doctors, he knew he needed to stop playing in the interest of his health and future.

"I'm at peace with that. God has given me a peace," Ash said. "I have a lot of hope and a lot of belief that there's still awesome days ahead for me."

Ash said he experienced headaches for seven or eight days after the 38-7 victory over North Texas, his first game since Sept. 2013. That painful week brought some needed closure.

"At the core of my heart of hearts," Ash said, "I knew I shouldn't be playing."

To read the full story, click here.

Questions and answers for Pac-12 South

September, 22, 2014
Sep 22
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With the Pac-12 schedule beginning in earnest Week 5, we at the Pac-12 blog identified one question that each team has answered thus far in a satisfactory way, and one that still needs to be figured out. Next up: The Pac-12 South.

Arizona

One question that has been answered: Will the offense be OK with freshman QB Anu Solomon?

The Wildcats rank No. 5 in the country in total offense (593.5 yards per game) and are averaging 42 points per game. Yeah, that’ll work.

One question that hasn’t been answered: Will early-season success translate against better teams?

At 4-0, Arizona is where it wants to be, but close games against UTSA, Nevada and Cal make it tough to gauge where the Wildcats stack up with the upper echelon of the Pac-12.

Arizona State

One question that has been answered: This is a difficult one because the question answered already has a new question posed and it relates to the offense.

The question answered was that the Sun Devils will have one of the most prolific offenses in the Pac-12 this season. Then QB Taylor Kelly got hurt and we've yet to see how his backup, Mike Bercovici, will fare. Still, we can say for sure that RB D.J. Foster is proving to be a more than adequate replacement for Marion Grice.

One question that hasn’t been answered: How good will the defense be?

We still don’t know if the Arizona State defense will be any good, at least whether it will be good enough to support an A-list offense and get the Sun Devils back to the top of the South Division. With the conference schedule ahead, starting with UCLA on Thursday, this question should get answered fairly quickly.

Colorado

One question that has been answered: Will Colorado find a viable replacement for the explosive and departed Paul Richardson?

Yes, yes, 1,000 times, yes. Nelson Spruce went from being a solid possession receiver alongside Richardson last year to a bona fide star in the Pac-12. He already has 37 receptions and seven touchdowns -- which matches the seven he had for his career coming into this season. He’s averaging 14 yards per catch and has posted 100-plus yards in three of four games this season.

One question that hasn’t been answered: Can the defense make plays in the red zone?

Heading into Saturday’s game against Hawaii, the Buffs were last in the league in red zone defense and the only Pac-12 team to not record a red zone stop. Teams are now 17 of 17 in trips to Colorado’s red zone -- and 12 times those drives have ended in touchdowns. The good news is Hawaii made three trips inside the CU 20, but came away with three field goals. Pac-12 teams won’t be as forgiving. The Buffs' D needs to find a way to make a stand.

UCLA

One question that has been answered: How will the Bruins' defense cope with the losses of coordinator Lou Spanos and linebacker Anthony Barr to the NFL?

So far so good. While the sack numbers haven’t been there post-Barr the defense has bailed out the struggling offense, though the Memphis game was pretty forgettable.

One question that hasn’t been answered: Will the offensive line improve?

If it continues to struggle as it has through three games, the Bruins won’t win the South Division. Simple as that.

USC

One question that has been answered: Is Cody Kessler the right fit for Steve Sarkisian’s offense?

You can’t argue with the results. Right now Kessler is completing 71 percent of his passes (71-of-100) for 846 yards, eight touchdowns and zero interceptions. He’s fourth in the Pac-12 with an adjusted QBR of 83.9 -- which is 14th nationally. There aren’t many coaches who wouldn’t take those numbers through three games.

One question that hasn’t been answered: Will the zone-read defense be a season-long issue?

Boston College crushed the USC defense with it to the tune of 452 rushing yards. While there are some identity issues the Trojans need to work out offensively, opposing coordinators have to be looking at what BC did and wondering how they can exploit this. They’ll see read-option from ASU, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Cal (with Luke Rubenzer) and UCLA -- plus a balanced attack from Oregon State this week and Air and Bear raids in consecutive weeks. There is a lot of offense coming up against a defense that suddenly looks unstable and leaky.

Utah

One question that has been answered: Who would be the player (or players) to step up in the pass rush in the absence of a graduated Trevor Reilly and an injured Jacoby Hale?

Reilly had accounted for 8.5 sacks and 16 tackles for a loss last season while Hale registered 6.5 sacks and 10 TFL, but the Utes have replaced them on a committee basis -- Nate Orchard 4.5 sacks, 5 TFL), Jared Norris (2 sacks, 4 TFL) and Hunter Dimick (2.5 sacks, 3 TFL).

One question that hasn’t been answered: Can the Utes sustain this nonconference momentum through Pac-12 play?

A 3-0 start, especially with such an impressive win over Michigan in Ann Arbor last weekend is nothing to short change. However, Utah has had good starts before -- 3-1 in 2013, 2-1 with a win over No. 25 BYU in 2012 -- but the wheels have always started to fall off in conference play. In 2012 the Utes finished the conference schedule with a 3-6 record and in 2013 they finished with a 2-7 Pac-12 record. The 2014 league season isn’t exactly kind but will this momentum carry over? Could they pick up three wins in conference play and find themselves bowl eligible?

No easy fix coming for Michigan offense

September, 22, 2014
Sep 22
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The problems with Michigan’s offense are clear. The solutions, for a group that needs to get itself turned around in a hurry if coach Brady Hoke is going to keep his job after the 2014 season, are not.

The easiest symptom to diagnose for the Wolverines (2-2) through four games is their turnover margin, which is the worst in the nation at minus-10. Senior quarterback Devin Gardner has played at least some role in seven of the 12 times the offense has coughed up the ball. His second interception in Saturday’s 26-10 loss to Utah cost him a chance to finish the fourth quarter. It might end up costing him his starting job. Hoke said he’ll decide Tuesday whether Gardner or sophomore Shane Morris will start this weekend.

Cutting down on turnovers won’t be as simple as changing the quarterback, though. Morris has struggled in that department, too. He has been at the root of three turnovers in limited time as a backup this season. In his three drives of relief work against the Utes, he threw one interception, fumbled once and narrowly avoided a safety on the game's final series.

[+] EnlargeDevin Gardner
Matt Cashore/USA TODAY SportsProtecting quarterback Devin Gardner has been a major issue for Michigan this season.
“I think they both know what they need to do better, and they will,” Hoke said Monday. “I think both competed and made some good decisions, also.”

Gardner isn’t the only player in jeopardy of losing playing time Saturday when Michigan opens its Big Ten schedule at home vs. Minnesota. Hoke said all 11 starters on offense will be evaluated this week during practice, and the Wolverines might rethink the personnel groups they are using in order to get the best possible combinations on the field.

Inexperience throughout the offense, and particularly on the offensive line, has led to an inconsistent attack. Against Utah, Michigan’s offense moved the ball regularly on its own half of the field but appeared to run into a brick wall as soon as it crossed the 50-yard line.

The Wolverines reached Utah territory seven times. On four of those drives, the offense went backward the play after it crossed midfield. In all, Michigan ran 24 plays on Utah’s half of the field and gained 44 yards, 25 of which came on one passing play that was immediately followed by Gardner's first interception of the day.

“It’s been a reoccurring thing,” offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier said. “Consistency in performance is where we’ve got to improve. Coaches and players, we’re all in this together, and it’s all of us getting it corrected.”

Drive-killing plays -- turnovers, sacks and penalties -- kept Michigan from establishing an offensive rhythm Saturday and two weeks earlier in its 31-0 loss to Notre Dame. That doesn’t appear to be an easier fix than the turnover woes.

Hoke and Nussmeier talked about continuing to harp on technique and fundamentals. When asked what needed to change on offense, Nussmeier talked about the overall youth and needing a better look from the scout team. Hoke didn’t bend from his stance that Team 135 in Ann Arbor will be a good one. When he asked what evidence he has to support that claim, though, he could cite only hard work and faith in his players.

The team, to its credit, has battled. The offense charged forward under Morris after a two-hour, 24-minute rain delay Saturday night. Then the same old problems bit them again. Morris fumbled after scrambling for 3 yards on the drive’s first play in Utah territory -- a reminder that these aren’t issues that can be willed away with grit and determination.

Michigan center Jack Miller, the lone representative of the offense to speak to the media after Saturday’s loss, said, frankly, that he didn’t have an answer for how to fix their problems. Hoke and Nussmeier took a more circuitous route Monday afternoon, but after two days of watching film they didn’t have much to add.

Questions and answers for the Pac-12 North

September, 22, 2014
Sep 22
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With the Pac-12 schedule beginning in earnest Week 5, we at the Pac-12 blog identified one question that each team has answered thus far in a satisfactory way and one that still needs to be figured out. First up: the Pac-12 North.

Cal

One question that has been answered: Will Cal be competitive? The Bears have taken the biggest step forward in the conference and can no longer be written off as an automatic win for teams looking up and down their schedule. Saturday's loss to Arizona was a heartbreaker, but the progress is obvious.

One question that hasn’t been answered: Can the defense hold up for four quarters? In its two games against FBS teams, Cal has allowed 13 total points in the first half and 60 points in the second half. That disparity needs to be rectified.

Oregon

One question that has been answered: Will Oregon be OK without Josh Huff, Bralon Addison and De'Anthony Thomas? The answer is yes, yes, yes -- a resounding yes. And that’s nothing against those three players, because they’re all very talented. But between the Ducks’ three-headed monster at running back (Royce Freeman, Thomas Tyner and Byron Marshall) and their small army of receivers led by Devon Allen and Keanon Lowe, the Ducks are doing just fine for themselves.

One question that hasn’t been answered: Can the offensive line pull it together and protect Marcus Mariota? The Heisman hopeful was sacked seven times Saturday night in Pullman, Washington. SEVEN. TIMES. It is a little more understandable when you consider a true freshman was starting a left tackle and a former walk-on was starting at right tackle. Now, we know the mantra that every backup prepares like a starter, but it’s clear the Ducks are struggling after losing Tyler Johnstone, Andre Yruretagoyena and Jake Fisher. Mariota won’t be 100 percent by the end of the season if he’s sacked seven times a game. That falls on the offensive line.

Oregon State

One question that has been answered: How will the Beavers try to replace Brandin Cooks? “Try” is the key word here, as it’ll be nearly impossible to completely replace Cooks' 128-catch, 1,730-yard, 16-touchdown virtuoso performance of 2013. But in its attempt to pick up the slack, Oregon State is running the ball more effectively (Storm Woods and Terron Ward are averaging more than six yards per carry) and Sean Mannion has a new favorite target: Victor Bolden, who has 18 catches after only grabbing nine all of last season.

One question that hasn’t been answered: Will Oregon State’s rushing defense be better than last year’s? Mannion-to-Cooks was great in 2013, but the Beavers floundered to a .500 regular-season record when their defense didn’t hold up its end of the bargain. The unit gave up 5.1 yards per rush last season, and the results haven’t been particularly promising so far in 2014 (allowing 4.7 yards per carry against Portland State, Hawaii and San Diego State), but a veteran-heavy front seven still has a chance to post significant improvement. USC’s Buck Allen will provide a hefty challenge this week.

Stanford

One question that has been answered: Will the losses of key contributors on defense, including coordinator Derek Mason, hurt Stanford’s defense? So far, a resounding “no.” The Cardinal are proving that nasty defensive success is more about scheme and cohesion than it is about star power. A finally healthy defensive line duo of David Parry and Henry Anderson has spearheaded a suffocating unit with no glaring weakness: Stanford has already pitched two shutouts and is surrendering only 4.3 points per game. The Cardinal are also leading the nation by registering a sack on 12.5 percent of opponents’ passing attempts.

One question that hasn’t been answered: Who is Stanford’s go-to running back in the post-Tyler Gaffney era? David Shaw is still going with the four-man committee approach, and receiver Ty Montgomery has even received some carries because he’s the only one big enough to replicate the 220-plus-pound size Stanford used to enjoy at the position. The Cardinal would probably like to establish an identity soon because their lack of a go-to weapon has contributed to enormous problems in the red zone (No. 124 nationally in scoring efficiency there).

Washington

One question that has been answered: Will the Huskies be fine at quarterback in the post-Keith Price era? Cyler Miles has been solid, though the level of competition ratchets up considerably Saturday with Stanford’s vaunted defense paying a visit. Miles has completed nearly 68 percent of his passes and has yet to throw a pick. Meanwhile, the Huskies have introduced a new offensive wrinkle that’s allowed backup Jeff Lindquist to rush for a pair of touchdowns.

One question that hasn’t been answered: How will Washington’s relatively young defensive backfield hold up? Again, so far, so good -- though Georgia State racked up 233 yards of total offense while Washington slept through Saturday’s first half. But freshman Sidney Jones and the rest of this unit will be tested against the dangerous aerial threats of the Pac-12 North. It does look like veteran Marcus Peters is ready to make plays for the Huskies on the back end. He recorded two picks this past week. Washington’s nation-best 19 sacks have certainly made life easier for the team's defensive backs, too.

Washington State

One question that has been answered: Could Connor Halliday be smarter with the ball? Now, he hasn’t had a flawless season, but if Saturday’s close loss against Oregon told us anything, it’s that Halliday can really excel in this offense when he, his receivers and his offense line key in. He threw for 436 yards and four touchdowns while completing 68 percent of his passes and not throwing a single pick (just the third time that has happened since the start of the 2012 season) against the No. 2 team in the nation.

One question that hasn’t been answered: Can the Washington State team that showed up against Oregon show up for every game the rest of the season? If the team that challenged Oregon -- the one that sacked Mariota seven times, doesn’t throw interceptions, rushes the ball with enough success -- shows up every game, the Cougars will be competitive and have winnable games against Utah, Arizona, Oregon State and Washington. Could they pick up a win over Stanford, USC or Arizona State and still be bowl eligible after their 1-3 start?
Hutson MasonAP Photo/Rainier EhrhardtThe Volunteers' secondary will be a good test to see whether Hutson Mason can stretch the field.

Georgia's showdown with Tennessee on Saturday is the perfect test for the Bulldogs at this point in the season. The Vols (2-1, 0-0 SEC) pose the exact threat that Georgia needs in order to take the next step in its 2014 progression.

We know the 12th-ranked Bulldogs (2-1, 0-1) can run for days (they're second in the SEC averaging 304 rushing yards per game and lead the league with 7.7 yards per rush), but the jury is still out on whether quarterback Hutson Mason can consistently throw down field. We also need to see Georgia's secondary step up and show that it can start limiting the big plays in the passing game.

Look, the East is an absolute mess right now. There is no dominant team, but even though the Dawgs are looking up at South Carolina in the division after a head-to-head loss in Columbia, they still might have the best path to Atlanta. Having running back -- and Heisman Trophy contender -- Todd Gurley gives Georgia a chance in any game. And did I mention that the East is a total crapshoot?

But if the Dawgs are going to avoid another loss or slogging through conference play, they have to be able to throw the ball and stop the pass.

Mason knows this offense backward and forward. No one is debating that, but what we haven't seen from him is any sort of down-field threat. The longest pass Mason has completed this year is a 36-yarder to Isaiah McKenzie on the first play from scrimmage for the Dawgs against South Carolina. After that, Mason was reduced to intermediate passes against a defense that wanted Mason to try and win the game, meaning they were more concerned with Georgia's running game.

Think about this: South Carolina's defense, which had allowed 832 passing yards in its first two games allowed Mason to throw for just 191 yards.

You have to take advantage of a defense like that, and Mason didn't.

I totally get that not having Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley on the field takes away two huge big-play threats, but Chris Conley is a vertical monster and you can't sit there and tell me that no one else is able to run some deeper passing routes in that receiving corps. Whether there's a confidence issue there with the receivers or Mason, if Georgia's offense is going to take some heat off of Gurley, it needs to be able to spread the field more with its passing game, and Tennessee's secondary provides a nice challenge for Mason.

Tennessee cornerbacks Cameron Sutton and Justin Coleman and safety Brian Randolph pose the biggest threat to Georgia's passing game so far. The Vols had yet to allow 200 yards passing until Oklahoma's Trevor Knight threw for 308 two Saturdays ago, but with two weeks to prepare, you have to think that this secondary will be polished for the Dawgs. but here's something that should perk Mason's ears: Tennessee surrendered five passing plays of 20-plus yards to Oklahoma.

Saturday could prove to be a real turning point for Mason, as a passer, if he performs well against Tennessee's secondary. The Vols won't make it easy, but it's a great way to boost his confidence if he can start to get into rhythm throwing down field.

As for Georgia's secondary, the combo of quarterback Justin Worley (721 yards, six touchdowns and three interceptions) and receiver Marquez North (14 catches, 173 yards and two touchdowns) is a challenge for anyone. Worely has mad some fantastic throws during the early part of the season, while North continues to show why he needs to be in the conversation with the league's top receivers.

You also can't forget about Alton "Pig" Howard or Josh Smith, who have combined for 23 catches this year. Smith is still nursing a high-ankle sprain, but he hasn't been ruled out of Saturday's game.

Need a dynamic weapon to take some pressure off of North, well, the Vols have one in freshman receiver Josh Malone, who seems to be improving each week.

Georgia's secondary looked good against Troy, but so has everyone else this year. It didn't look good against South Carolina when Dylan Thompson torch the Dawgs over the middle of the field and finish with 271 yards and three touchdowns.

There has been a lot of rotation in Georgia's defensive backfield, and defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt has made it clear that he's going to challenge his secondary and put them in more man-to-man situations.

Well, this is a great game to see how far those guys have come.

Take Two: B1G's best receiving tandem

September, 22, 2014
Sep 22
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Our crew of Big Ten reporters will occasionally give their takes on a burning question facing the league. They'll have strong opinions, but not necessarily the same view. We'll let you decide which one is right.

Today's Take Two topic: Who has the best receiving tandem in the Big Ten?

[+] EnlargeGeno Lewis
Matthew O'Haren/USA TODAY SportsPSU's Geno Lewis has the stats and intangibles to make a case for one of the Big Ten's best WRs.
Take 1: Josh Moyer

Dan, Dan, Dan -- let's not overthink this. Michigan has the Big Ten's best receiver in Devin Funchess, but there's really no No. 2 there. Stefon Diggs is an elite talent, but Deon Long hasn't made a huge impact this season. So, let's not get cute with this pick. The answer is really simple: Penn State's Geno Lewis and DaeSean Hamilton.

Now, before the season, I wouldn't have guessed this. Lewis was inconsistent last season, and Hamilton missed his true freshman season with an injury. But you can't argue with their production this season. Only four receivers in the Big Ten are averaging at least 100 yards a game, and Lewis and Hamilton are two of them. Lewis leads the conference in receiving yards (462) and is second in receptions (25); Hamilton leads the conference in receptions (30) and is second in receiving yards (402). How's that for complementary?

But you know what, Dan? Let's forget about the stats. You want a deep threat with great focus and athleticism? Lewis has made several highlight-worthy catches, including a tipped ball he pulled down for a 41-yard gain against UCF. You want consistency and a target on more underneath routes? Hamilton caught a pass in 13 of this season's first 14 quarters. You want clutch plays? Well, on PSU's game-winning drive against Rutgers, Lewis accounted for 76 yards on the Nittany Lions' 80-yard drive. You want a guy who has the potential to grow a lot more just this season? Hamilton was called "one of the biggest sleepers in the Big Ten" in the preseason by his receivers coach and, despite an 11-catch performance in Week 1, Hamilton said he didn't feel 100 percent.

This is a young tandem -- Hamilton is a redshirt freshman, Lewis a redshirt sophomore -- but their ability is not in doubt. We'll probably see these guys a few times on "SportsCenter"'s top 10 plays, and it certainly doesn't hurt that they have Christian Hackenberg throwing to them. So the answer here is an easy one: It has to be Penn State's tandem.

Take 2: Dan Murphy

[+] EnlargeTony Lippett
Phil Ellsworth/ESPN ImagesThrough three games this season, Spartans WR Tony Lippett has 18 receptions for 345 yards and 5 TDs.
Michigan State veteran Tony Lippett played less than a half on Saturday in Sparty's blowout 73-14 win against Eastern Michigan, but he still had time to add to his league-leading total of five receiving touchdowns. Getting to the end zone was the main thing missing from Lippett's game in past years. Now he's on track to contend for the conference's best receiver and a shot at the Biletnikoff Award short list.

To make this list, though, he'll need a partner. That's where junior MacGarrett Kings Jr. comes in. The 5-foot-10 speedster has only four catches through three games this season, but he has the physical skills to complement Lippett when he reaches his potential.

Kings missed the majority of spring practice after a DUI arrest and has been playing catch up ever since. Spartans coach Mark Dantonio made Kings scrape his way back toward the top of the depth chart during fall camp. His day against Eastern Michigan was short as well, but he did flash his big-play ability with a 43-yard punt return to set up the first of many scores.

Lippett is averaging six receptions and 115 yards per outing after three games, one of which came against a talented Oregon team that boasts one of the best cornerbacks in the country in Ifo Ekpre-Olomu. He has reached the end zone in every game this season, more than doubling his career touchdowns after starting the year with only four to his name.

Penn State's Lewis owns the Big Ten passing play of the year so far with his 53-yard catch-and-run to help take down Rutgers two weeks, but we're only four weeks (and one league game) into the season. Lewis and Hamilton rank among the top three receivers in the conference in catches per game and yards per game, but small sample sizes make it hard to extrapolate in September.

Lippett and Kings should be able to pass Lewis and Hamilton as the conference's top receiving tandem once they get up to full speed.

The battle for wide receiver duo supremacy is likely to remain between these two programs this season for one main reason -- both pairs have the luxury of a quality quarterback. The league has other talented receivers such as Diggs, Funchess, and Kenny Bell and Jordan Westerkamp in Nebraska, but no one from that group has a proven consistent passer to feed them the ball.
DALLAS — One of the most asked questions by Texas A&M fans after the Aggies' 38-10 win over Rice on Sept. 13 surrounded the health of true freshman receiver Speedy Noil. When a five-star recruit who comes in with the kind of hype and expectation that Noil did gets injured, the concern is understandable.

Noil, who was carted off the sideline during the Rice game, missed the Aggies’ most recent victory -- a 58-6 rout of SMU -- because of an undisclosed injury and his status for Texas A&M’s upcoming game against Arkansas isn’t yet publicly known. But if Saturday’s game was any evidence, he can take all the time he needs.

[+] EnlargeJeremy Tabuyo
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsSophomore receiver Jeremy Tabuyo, No. 19, had a breakout game for Texas A&M last Saturday.
The Aggies have plenty of receiver depth.

Without their starting “X” receiver, the Aggies were just fine in the passing game as seven different receivers (and one running back) caught passes in the win and a few lesser-known names stepped into the spotlight. Case in point: Jeremy Tabuyo.

The true sophomore from Hawaii made the most of his opportunity, catching two passes and turning them into catch-and-run touchdowns, evading SMU tacklers to the tune of a 30-yard score and a 50-yard score. They were the first two touchdowns of his career.

“It was pretty big for me, just to get my confidence level up,” Tabuyo said Saturday. “Today was a good day for me.”

Boone Niederhofer, a walk-on receiver who won a spot in the two-deep during preseason training camp, also had a solid day against the Mustangs, catching six passes for 73 yards. Only senior Malcome Kennedy (six catches, 73 yards) had as many catches as Niederhofer last Saturday.

That’s life in the Aggie receiving corps these days. Starting quarterback Kenny Hill is not discriminatory when distributing the football and it showed from his first start of the season, when he connected with 12 different players -- eight receivers, one tight end and three running backs. A dozen receivers and tight ends have recorded at least one catch this season.

“Our receiver position is good but we play all of them,” coach Kevin Sumlin said Saturday. “They like playing. Just like running back. Our guys understand that to play the way we play, in an uptempo style and try to get as many plays as we can, those guys are running like crazy. So we have to be eight deep to play games. I think right now we're pretty close to that.”

Kennedy leads the team with 30 catches this season, but after him no other Aggie has more than 16 receptions. Six Texas A&M receivers (Kennedy, Noil, Niederhofer, Joshua Reynolds, Ricky Seals-Jones and Edward Pope) all have double-digit catches this year.

So the Aggies’ quest to going eight deep at the receiver position is closer to coming to fruition. They continue to recruit the position at a high level (the decommitment of 2015 ESPN 300 prospect Damarkus Lodge notwithstanding) and if they continue to haul in talent at the pace they have in recent recruiting classes, the Aggie quarterbacks will continue to enjoy the numerous options afforded them.

Does anybody have more wide receivers in the country to throw to than Hill? When the question was posed to him Saturday, Hill took a deep breath, allowed a sly smile to emerge and answered definitively.

“No,” Hill said. “Nobody in the country has more receivers than we do.”
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TEMPE, Ariz. -- On Jan. 6, 2012, Mike Bercovici was chilling with some friends when he got a call from then-Arizona State receiver Aaron Pflugrad. There was some big news for the Sun Devils' backup quarterback. In a surprise to many, junior Brock Osweiler, the team's starting quarterback, had decided to enter the NFL draft.

And that is how an article began in advance of ASU spring practices in March 2012. Thirty-three months later, Bercovici can still recall exactly how he felt upon hearing the news of Osweiler's departure.

“It was an opportunity I had been waiting for my entire life," he said this week.

In 2011, Bercovici had beaten out Taylor Kelly for the backup spot. That made him a slight favorite to win the job over Kelly and redshirt freshman Michael Eubank in advance of the 2012 season. When spring practices ended, Bercovici was viewed as slightly ahead of Eubank, with Kelly a fairly distant third option.

Things changed. Dramatically. Kelly won the job -- coach Todd Graham even admitted at the time that it was a surprise -- and has played his way onto Arizona State's all-time top QB list over two-plus seasons. Bercovici has had to settle for being considered one of the conference's more talented backups, not that Bercovici ever got comfortable viewing himself that way.

“My hunger to be a starting quarterback hasn’t changed since I lost that competition," he said.

Just as the vice president is a heartbeat from the Oval Office, so a backup quarterback is an unfortunate play away from taking over an offense. The backup quarterback is the irrelevant mop-up guy with a backward baseball cap on the sideline -- until he becomes a team's most important player. For Bercovici, that transition happened when Kelly hurt his foot on the Sun Devils' last possession of the third quarter Sept. 13 at Colorado.

[+] EnlargeMike Bercovici
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsMike Bercovici will make his first career start against No. 12 UCLA Thursday night.
Bercovici, who has thrown 24 career passes, will therefore make his first career start next week. As if that isn't big enough, it will be Thursday night against No. 12 UCLA.

So, yeah, big stage for a first start. Of course, the relentlessly upbeat Graham said he's completely comfortable with Bercovici starting.

“We feel like we’ve got one of the best one-two quarterback combinations in the country," Graham said.

“He’s one of the last guys I’m worried about," he added later. "If this happened to any other team -- or any other team I’ve had -- it would be devastating to you.”

There's a significant distance, however, between being theoretically good and proving it on the field. While Bercovici is well-versed with the Sun Devils' offense and has an undeniably strong arm, he remains an unknown commodity. The chief concern with him is he too often believes he can use that strong arm to fire a pass through a window in the secondary that isn't much larger than a key hole. He knows this just as well as his coaches. In fact, he recalls how it might have cost him the job during 2012 preseason camp.

“At the start of camp, something in the minds of every quarterback is not turning the ball over," he said. "That’s what we stress here at Arizona State. If you go back and look at film, I threw two interceptions. I knew, from there I was playing catch-up. Taylor didn’t throw any interceptions.”

Said offensive coordinator Mike Norvell, “That’s huge. That’s part of his development. Obviously, he has a tremendous arm. He can make every throw on the field that needs to be made. But it’s also understanding progressions and getting to when it’s time to go to that next progression and taking what the defense gives you.”

Bercovici can't try to overcome two-plus years of frustration on every pass, on every drive. Against UCLA, he needs to distribute the ball to his playmakers, of which he has plenty, and not force the action. Although he might get a few more shots downfield -- and fewer runs -- than Kelly, his first priority is to protect the football. Considering the past two games between these two teams have come down to the last possession, every miscue figures to be as critical -- if not more so -- as every big play.

It's probably a good sign, then, that Bercovici doesn't sound like a guy looking for personal vindication.

“I feel like it is my duty to have no setbacks with me at quarterback," he said. "It’s my duty to make sure we’re still undefeated when [Kelly] comes back. I owe that to him, and I owe that to the team.”

Such thinking shouldn't be too surprising, considering Bercovici's decision not to transfer already revealed him to be an unselfish guy. While many college quarterbacks quickly go looking for starting jobs after losing a competition -- Eubank is now the starting quarterback at Samford in Birmingham, Alabama -- Bercovici opted to stick it out. Yes, he thought about leaving, but those thoughts lost.

“Obviously, those thoughts race through your head, but it [would have been] a bitter taste to put on different colors," he said.

While the present is big enough for the 15th-ranked Sun Devils, there also is the future. Bercovici stuck around because he saw himself as the starter in 2015, when Kelly heads to the NFL. If anyone knows that's not a given, though, it's Bercovici. For one, there's a potential challenge from touted incoming freshman Brady White.

Playing well and winning while Kelly is out for what might be a month or more would, obviously, significantly bolster his case for next year. Bercovici knew that question was coming.

“In theory, it would," he said. "But for these seniors, these guys I’ve been around for four years, it’s their time right now. My 100 percent focus is I want to be the best quarterback I can be on Thursday night for those guys.”

In other words, the future is now for Bercovici. It's not how he envisioned things 33 months ago. But he's got too much on his plate this week to quibble with the whims of fortune.
Scott Stricklin, Mississippi State’s athletic director of four years, took to Twitter Sunday, following the Bulldogs’ upset on the road of No. 8-ranked LSU. The photo he posted from his personal account was from outside the football locker room back home in Starkville. In big block letters it read: “THE WEST”

“To be the best, you have to beat the best,” a portion of the statement read. “And there’s no better place to do that than in the western division of the toughest, most elite conference in the country.”

 

Truer words have never been written.

The SEC West is an absolute gauntlet this season. The ranking bear that out. Four West teams are in the top 10: Alabama (No. 3), Auburn (No. 5), Texas A&M (No. 6) and Ole Miss (No. 10). Mississippi State comes in at No. 14 in the AP Top 25 and LSU is No. 17. There are no pushovers. The only team that isn’t ranked, Arkansas, is 3-1 with a signature win at Texas Tech under its belt.

In other words: Mississippi State can feel good about its own statement against LSU, but it better not stay satisfied for long.

Because, as Stricklin so aptly put it in his tweet, the photo is a “great reminder of what lies ahead.”

“It’s the best division in college football,” Auburn coach Gus Malzahn said of the West last week, “and I don’t think it’s even close.”

Malzahn’s Tigers and Kevin Sumlin’s Aggies just so happen to be next for Mississippi State.



But first, Mississippi State gets a break -- and a much-needed one at that -- in the form of a bye week.

[+] EnlargeDak Prescott
Wesley Hitt/Getty ImagesQB Dak Prescott and Mississippi State proved they belong in the SEC West discussion after a big road win over LSU.
The same “mental fortitude” Dan Mullen said it would take to beat LSU is going to be needed to move forward and keep building.

After all, that’s what Mississippi State is: building.

LSU was the first step. After the bye comes Texas A&M. Then Auburn. A few weeks after that, hang on tight for a trip to Alabama.

Mississippi State, armed with a deep and talented defense, is capable of keeping those games close. If Dak Prescott continues his Heisman Trophy campaign with LSU-like numbers (268 yards passing, 105 yards rushing, three total touchdowns) and Josh Robinson can rush for more than 100 yards consistently, watch out.

The Bulldogs broke through their glass ceiling against LSU on Saturday.

Now the question becomes how high they’re able to climb.

“We’re 1-0 in the SEC West, which is still a daunting task to get to the top of,” Mullen said. “I think going and doing that really does give our guys the confidence they need. That first SEC game can go a long way in your season.

“We always knew we could compete with anybody,” he continued. “But I think getting that win there’s a confidence of not just that we can compete with anybody, but that we can win those games now.”



Stricklin stood on the field at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge and took the scene in as best he could.

“It’s kind of a validation that these are the kind of wins that special years are built off of,” he said early Monday morning. “Whether this is a special year or not remains to be seen, but it’s a validation that Dan has the program going in the right way.

“I think we all knew that, but you hear a lot people on the outside questioning a signature win. I’m happy for Dan and our players that they can stop that talk for now.”

Stricklin caught Mullen smiling after the win because, as Stricklin said, “He wanted to win a game like that.” Mullen’s record against ranked opponents had been well discussed, after all.

But Stricklin didn’t see anything in the neighborhood of satisfaction from the team itself.

“They didn’t act like they’d just won the championship or anything,” he said. “They didn’t act like we shocked the world. They came in the locker room and were like, ‘Let’s get on the bus and go. We did what we came here to do.’”

Whether this does go down as a special season for Mississippi State depends greatly on how the next two games go.

“The great thing about the SEC -- and I say that tongue-and-cheek -- is we’re rewarded by knocking off the No. 8 team on the road by coming home and hosting the No. 6 and No. 5 team in the nation,” Stricklin said. “There’s no time to revel in it. We’ve got big games ahead of us.”

Beating LSU put the Bulldogs on the right path. Beating Texas A&M and Auburn would put the Bulldogs ahead in the hotly contested race to win the West.

Division rankings: SEC West way ahead

September, 22, 2014
Sep 22
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The top of the conference power rankings remained relatively unchanged with the SEC holding a 12-point lead over the Pac-12, which has an eight-point advantage over the Big 12.

After a dismal start to the season, the Big Ten was the biggest mover of the week, rising four points and leapfrogging the ACC for fourth in the rankings. The Big Ten went 12-1 against non-conference opponents in Week 4, including 4-1 against other Power Five teams. Indiana (at Missouri), Maryland (at Syracuse) and Iowa (at Pittsburgh) all took care of business on the road against solid competition.

Besides the Big Ten’s rise and ACC’s minor fall, there was not a lot of movement in the conference power rankings.

Instead of delving into many of the same storylines as in weeks past, we decided to take another angle: What conference division is the strongest and weakest in the nation?

Using the same methodology for the conference power rankings (equally weighing The Associated Press Poll and FPI), we ran the numbers for our inaugural Power Five divisional power rankings. Since the Big 12 is the only Power Five conference without divisions, we decided to treat it as one large division, as the formula accounts for the number of teams in each.

Not surprisingly, the SEC West dominated the division power rankings. The SEC West recorded a rating of 99.3 on a 0-100 scale, which is 33 points more than any other division.

Consider the stats below on the SEC West:

• The SEC West is 22-0 against teams not in the SEC West and is winning those games by an average margin of 34 points.

• All seven of the SEC West’s teams rank in the top 20 of the Football Power Index, which is more teams than the Big 12, Big Ten and ACC have combined.

• Six of the SEC West’s seven teams are ranked in the top 20 of the AP Poll. Arkansas is the only team that is not ranked, and the Razorbacks have won their past three games by 41.7 points per game.

The two divisions in the Pac-12 are basically neck-and-neck in the divisional rankings. The Pac-12 North has two teams ranked in the AP Top 25 (Oregon and Stanford), while the Pac-12 South has three (UCLA, Arizona State, USC). A team from the Pac-12 North has won the conference in each of the past five seasons, but the Pac-12 South appears to be catching up this season.

The most surprising result might be that the SEC East ranks fifth behind both Pac-12 divisions and the Big 12. The SEC East is the only division from a Power Five conference without an undefeated team. The division is 12-6 against opponents not in the SEC East, including 0-3 against the SEC West.

The ACC Coastal is the weakest of the Power Five conference divisions. The Coastal division is the only Power Five division without a team ranked in the top 25 of the AP Poll, and its top team in FPI is Pittsburgh at No. 31. The stark difference between the ACC Coastal and ACC Atlantic is similar to the divide in the Big Ten.

The Big Ten West is 17.4 points below the Big Ten East, as the bottom five Big Ten teams in FPI all come from the Big Ten West. As a reminder, Wisconsin and Nebraska are the favorites in the West, and Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State are the favorites in the East. By virtue of having the easiest path to the Big Ten Championship game because of its division, Wisconsin has the best chance to win the Big Ten (40 percent), according to FPI.

This week there will be plenty of divisional battles with the chance to shape the conference championship races. Texas A&M takes on Arkansas in the SEC West, UCLA travels to Arizona State in the Pac-12 South, Stanford faces Washington in the Pac-12 North, and Missouri tries to bounce back against South Carolina in the SEC East.


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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- It was the first question Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher was asked after the game. He greeted it with a face worn and weathered, insight into a stressful week. His joy during a five-minute opening statement was tempered, drained from a volatile week of fluctuating punishments and constant character-questioning columns.

[+] EnlargeSean Maguire
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesWith a strong team effort, Sean Maguire and Florida State showed they're still No. 1 until somebody beats them.
Minutes earlier the fifth-year championship coach, in a rare moment of vulnerability, wept in front of his team, besieged with emotion while expressing the pride he felt watching FSU pull off what seemed unimaginable minutes earlier -- a win against ACC rival and No. 22 Clemson in overtime.

"Do you think Florida State should remain No. 1 after this performance?" the reporter asked.

It was a superfluous detail in a game with layers of juicy plotlines that easily filled the four-hour telecast. And frankly, Fisher's answer can be tossed into the circular file with the rest of the minutiae from Saturday's game, which includes every page of team statistics and numbers with the exception of the final score.

Florida State won. It did it without its best player, Jameis Winston, for the entire game, and arguably its second-best player, Mario Edwards Jr., for the final half.

The Seminoles were tested this weekend, but the grades from the coaches and AP pollsters don't matter. We learned more about them Saturday than what any poll with waning belief in the reigning national champions could ever indicate.

"We challenged our guys to find out who we are," an emotional Fisher said. "We're not where we want to be, but we do know who we are."

The Seminoles know they're a group with the fundamental resolve required to earn one of the four College Football Playoff bids. On Saturday, they looked like a pumpkin instead of the horse-drawn carriage driven by a Heisman winner, but this is the fall season, the time when carved, misshapen pumpkins are celebrated.

The team was distracted. After the game, Fisher and his players copped to falling victim to the unavoidable lapses in focus that accompany a suspension (and a second one) to the star player for standing on a table in the busiest intersection of campus and unloading an obscene and profane outburst.

The backup quarterback completed six passes in the first half. Yet in the fourth quarter, he unleashed a 74-yard pass to the tie the score. Hero might be a strong word to frame Sean Maguire's performance, but only in the sense that the word is incessantly used to overstate the contributions of a player in a glorified game. Considering the pressures dropped onto Maguire's shoulders days before potentially the biggest game of FSU's season, he exceeded expectations.

The defense that has been under fire for mediocre early returns and already deemed unfit to succeed 2013's No. 1 national unit allowed 249 first-half yards. Yet in the second half, they lined up inches from national irrelevance only to hold Clemson out of the end zone and scoreless on that drive. When the Tigers tested the defensive line on fourth-and-inches in overtime, the maligned unit disrupted the play in the backfield. The only reason they were in overtime was because defensive tackle Eddie Goldman stripped C.J. Davidson of the ball as the Tigers bled the clock before setting up for a game-winning score.

The running backs had 38 yards in regulation. Yet in overtime, Karlos Williams ran the final 25 yards to ignite the celebration.

The punter, who has received the harshest criticism from fans, had his first kick go 37 yards; that was a half yard longer than his season average entering Saturday. Yet over his final seven punts, Cason Beatty pinned four of them inside Clemson's 20-yard line.

This wasn't a rag-tag group of players -- the Seminoles have possibly the country's most talented roster -- but it was a rag-tag performance driven by star efforts rather than star ratings. Certainly Clemson punctuated its #Clemsoning trademark with a comedy of errors, but they were often forced by Florida State. Two goal-line tackles before the bad snap. Davidson didn't just drop the ball. Adam Choice didn't trip on the 16-yard line and fall inches short of the first-down marker.

Before the game, we wondered if the top-ranked Seminoles, which looked beatable in their first two games, were a suitable No. 1 or a product of the country's best player calling the shots under center and rising to the situation weekly.

But it was the definition of a team win, and a gutty one at that. It was something we did not see at all during the regular season from the Seminoles last year, if only because they rewrote the handbook on dominance. It might be the prettiest Florida State win over the last two seasons considering the pregame Winston malady.

Maybe Florida State didn't look like the No. 1 team Saturday. But they looked like a championship-caliber team, and an undefeated one at that, which means they can still lay claim to the No. 1 ranking.

"We ain't lost in 19 straight games," Fisher said, answering the reporter's question. "We're No. 1 until somebody beats us."
Nick Marshall is tired of hearing the criticism. He’s tired of hearing that he can’t throw the ball or that he’s not cut out to be a quarterback at the next level. Sure, he’s only completing 55 percent of his passes through the first three games, but when Auburn needs to make a big throw, Marshall is the man to do it.

He proved that last year against Mississippi State when he threw the game-winning touchdown to tight end C.J. Uzomah. He proved it against Alabama when he had the sense to throw it to a wide-open Sammie Coates just before crossing the line of scrimmage. And he proved it again Thursday night in Auburn’s 20-14 win at Kansas State.

On 3rd-and-9 with two minutes left and the Tigers clinging to a six-point lead, Gus Malzahn didn’t play it safe and hand the ball off. He trusted his quarterback to make a throw, and like he always does, Marshall delivered.

The Auburn quarterback pumped once and then connected with D'haquille Williams over the top for 39 yards and a first down.

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"He has that knack for when the game is on the line," Malzahn said afterwards. "He did it all last year, and he did it tonight. He helped find a way to help our team win the game."

"I just think it’s something you expect," added offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee. "He’s our leader. He’s our quarterback. You expect him to come through in those situations. It’s why he ended up winning the job last year. It’s something he’s got a knack for and he’s really good at. That’s why our guys believe him."

In what was a homecoming of sorts, Marshall finished 17 of 31 for 231 yards with two touchdowns and one interception against Kansas State, but he struggled early. After connecting on his first pass, he threw three straight incompletions, and at one point in the second quarter, he was 3 of 9 for 29 yards and an interception.

Marshall didn’t let it bother him, though. He kept slinging it, and on the touchdown drive that turned the game late in the third quarter, he converted three of four third downs with his arm.

"You know Nick is always level-headed, and he keeps his spirits up no matter what," Auburn running back Cameron Artis-Payne said. "Whether he completes three passes in a row or he gets ten drops in a row, he is our leader and we look to him."

The Tigers have now won 12 of the past 14 games with Marshall at quarterback (excluding the season opener when he only played a half), and he will have to continue to make throws like he did Thursday night when the Tigers get into the heart of their SEC schedule.

"We got some (tough road games) in the SEC, too, and we know how to respond from here on out," Marshall said.

After Thursday, nobody’s making the case for Marshall as the SEC’s best passer, but if you need a clutch throw late in the game, it’s hard to argue against the Auburn quarterback.
Everett GolsonMatt Cashore/USA TODAY SportsA young Notre Dame offense now looks to Everett Golson as the team's leader.
Ivan Simmons is the cousin who gives Everett Golson tough love, the guy who hosted Golson in Chicago two summers ago before the quarterback flew to San Diego to work with position guru George Whitfield Jr.

But with a 3-0, turnover-less start from Golson that has generated some early Heisman talk, Simmons is finding it harder and harder to nitpick.

"Sometimes I talk to him about just body language, the way you carry yourself on the field," Simmons told ESPN.com. "He's had some bad throws here and there. Just more telling him how proud I am. He's made some good steps in the right direction, and [he needs] to keep going forward. There's no going backward."

That demeanor, ironically enough, may be the area Golson has improved the most since his last stint as Notre Dame's starting quarterback. The 780 passing yards and 11 total touchdowns speak for themselves. But Golson's assertiveness as the Irish's leader is a big reason why coach Brian Kelly thinks this team has the highest ceiling of any of the five he's coached in South Bend, Indiana.

Take last week in Indianapolis, with the Irish slogging through the first half against an overmatched Purdue team. Golson saw an opportunity to establish his footing as the director of the offense, bringing the unit together on the sideline and telling his teammates to stay on-course when things weren't coming as easily as they did in the previous two weeks.

"Just really try to encourage them, make sure everybody had a sound mind, make sure everybody wasn't dropping off the bandwagon," Golson said of the impromptu gathering. "So just making sure everybody was good."

Said receiver Corey Robinson: "It turned the game around. We were down and he pulled us together and said, 'Look, guys, we need to pull together, not for anyone else, for us as a team.' … It really does help having a central, focused leader telling us to come together and fight for each other."

Golson said he understands that role better now. Notre Dame has accommodated that, making him available for post-practice interviews every week so far this season, a far cry from his last stint as starter, when Kelly had said that he was not ready to put Golson out in front as the face of the program.

Now? Kelly laughed off a Heisman Trophy question following a Week 2 win with a "why-not" approach. He reiterated later that week that he has no worries about his quarterback possibly becoming suffocated by the extra attention.

"It's been the journey that he's on and that journey started when he was a freshman," Kelly said. "Obviously when he got his opportunity to come back here, he wanted to obviously take control of his destiny on offense and that means be a leader. Since he's been here, he's gradually been more assertive every single day, and as he's become more comfortable with who he is, he's holding others accountable."

Kelly said there is still room for growth in that department, as he hopes to see Golson speak up even more.

Robinson's first experience with Golson had come after the receiver enrolled early in the spring of 2013, right before Golson's suspension. Though Robinson admits he was just trying to get his feet under him at that point, even he can see a noticeable difference in Golson since then.

"I didn't really have time to think about what Everett was doing," Robinson said. "But just looking at him then, looking at the tape, he's more comfortable out there. He's more of a natural leader. Whatever he says, everyone's going to listen because everyone respects Everett and everyone respects the work he does off the field and the work he produces on the field."

Simmons, Golson's 34-year-old cousin, sees it all coming together at once for Golson, who had enrolled at Notre Dame just days after his 18th birthday and admittedly struggled with schoolwork while redshirting during his freshman year in 2011.

Now the 21-year-old redshirt junior has returned from exile and improved his career mark to 13-1, the guy everyone looks to on a young offense.

"You have to step up and be that man at that time, and that's what he's trying to do," Simmons said. "You've got to watch your body language; you want your teammates to see that you're confident and they're going to thrive off of you, so you lead by showing examples."
Treon Harris, Brandon HarrisDerick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsCould it be time for Treon Harris, left, and Brandon Harris to see more time on the field?
Let me preface by saying that I'm not calling for anyone to be permanently benched, but as we dive into the heart of SEC play, it might be time for Florida and LSU to take a look at their quarterback situations and give those youngsters more time. Their offenses are drowning in inconsistency and a lot of that has to do with the quarterback play.

Florida's Jeff Driskel, a redshirt junior, and LSU's Anthony Jennings, a true sophomore, have been too inconsistent to start the year to not try some new things at quarterback. That means true freshmen Treon Harris (Florida) and Brandon Harris (LSU) need more quality reps in practice and games.

Against good defenses, Florida and LSU watched their offenses back-peddle on Saturday because of nonexistent passing games. It might be good for both schools to ease their freshmen quarterbacks onto the field a little bit more going forward because there are obvious issues under center.

This was supposed to be a brand new year for Driskel with new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper installing a spread offense that would fit with his skill set more, but the last two weeks have raised the same questions about Driskel's composure. He had a troubling Jekyll-and-Hyde performance in that triple-overtime win against Kentucky and then looked flat and had zero rhythm in the blowout loss to Alabama. Driskel was off on just about every one of his down-field passes against a shaky Alabama secondary that gave him plenty of good looks in the first half and he couldn't get the ball out fast enough. He finished a paltry 9 of 28 passing for 93 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions.

Driskel's confidence was shot, as the struggles that have plagued his college career returned in Tuscaloosa. With the bye week here, Florida's coaches have two weeks to prepare for Tennessee and get things right with their offense. And that should include more quality reps from Treon Harris.

Benching Driskel for Treon Harris right now would be a mistake, but keeping the frosh off the field is too. His first two college passes went for 148 yards and two touchdowns against Eastern Michigan. That will never happen again, but there have to be plays in Roper's playbook for him to make. He's at least a change of pace for the Gators at quarterback, and some sort of change has to come.

Coach Will Muschamp hinted at some quarterback re-evaluation in the next two weeks.

“The execution is not where it needs to be,” Muschamp told reporters Saturday. “We missed a deep ball to (Demarcus Robinson) early in the game where he got on top of a guy. We had a dropped third down.

“Against a team like that, you have to make plays when you have the opportunities, and we didn't do that. We need to go back and evaluate the decisions we made going into the game and during the game.”

One Florida great, Emmitt Smith, even tweeted his unhappiness with Driskel.


Ouch.

At LSU, Jennings went from hero in the comeback win over Arkansas last year to a wildly inconsistent gunslinger. To his credit, he made some big throws in that valiant comeback over Wisconsin, but against a Mississippi State defense that is the best he's seen to date, Jennings threw for 157 yards and missed too many passes that were there. Granted, the Bulldogs frustrated him all night with pressure, but Jennings just wasn't efficient enough to win the game for the Tigers. He had no composure.

Jennings has been more of a game manager than anything for the Tigers to start the year, as LSU has spent more time running the ball. When the Tigers had to throw down field against Mississippi State, which held LSU to 89 rushing yards, they couldn't.

Until Brandon Harris came in late and delivered touchdown passes for 30 and 31 yards to almost pull the dramatic comeback win. Harris completed 6 of 9 passes for 140 yards in relief duty.

The thing about this situation is that it looked like Jennings got hurt in the Mississippi State game, so Brandon Harris might have no choice but to see more time. But he's also a better down-field passer and appears to be the more talented option. He really struggled against Wisconsin, but delivered some beauties against Mississippi State. Let him play. Build his confidence.

The seasons aren't over for either of these programs, but they will be soon enough if they don't create a passing threat. It might not be time for a changing of the guard for either school, but there's no point in keeping some talented guys on the bench.

Let the kids play.

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