When you think Bobby Petrino, you immediately think offense.

But that has not been the case for Louisville this season, and that could be a good thing for the Cards as they prepare to host No. 2 Florida State next Thursday night.

Defense has to take priority in this matchup.

Defense is exactly how the Cards have won this season.

Time to embrace that defensive mentality, Louisville fans.

[+] EnlargeGerod Holliman
Robert Mayer/USA TODAY SportsGerod Holliman and the Louisville secondary will face a strong Florida State offense.
Louisville ranks No. 1 in the nation in total defense, but that is not a stat that gets defensive coordinator Todd Grantham going.

What has him most encouraged is the way his defense has limited scoring opportunities. That has jumped out at Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher, too. When asked for his first impressions on the Louisville defense, Fisher said, "Not many people get points and not many people get yards."

In the six ACC games Louisville has played, the Cards have held all their opponents to below their scoring average. In all but one game, they have held their opponents below their total offense average.

They are aggressive, they are stingy, and they can easily set the tone against a Florida State offense that has struggled to move the ball at times throughout the course of the season.

"Any time you're in big games, you’ve got to be able to play a balanced game, offensively and defensively, but at the same time, anytime you can be sound on defense and hard to score on, it gives your offense a chance to stay on track and not have to abandon the game plan," Grantham said in a phone interview this week.

"So as long as the score’s in a low number and it’s a one-possession game, then everybody can stay with the game plan. The issue that always occurs is when you get down multiple points and people have to abandon what they do. So our job is to be hard to score on and keep that number to a low number."

Florida State has not faced a scoring defense quite as good as this one. While Clemson and Notre Dame might have presented the strongest challenge to the Seminoles up front, Louisville has the stronger secondary, a group that has thrived playing a pattern-match scheme that is predicated on defensive backs truly understanding receiver routes.

The Cards also stress having players win one-on-one matchups not only in the secondary but in the front seven as well. They have been able to do so a majority of the time this season. As an example, Louisville has safeties Gerod Holliman and James Sample, along with cornerback Charles Gaines -- in the top 11 in the ACC in passes defended. That’s more than any other team.

Louisville also has three players ranked in the top 11 in the ACC in sacks -- Lorenzo Mauldin, Sheldon Rankins and Keith Kelsey. That’s tied for the most with Virginia.

"I felt we had individuals who could be really good at their positions, so we talk about that as winning your one-on-one matchups," Grantham said. "As you go through the day and you work, try to be the best at your position and if you’re the best at your position, and we can get you in one-on-one situations, you’re going to affect the game, which is good for our team. We’ve been able to get some matchups that are positive for us and those guys have made some plays."

Controlling what happens in the pass game could be critical for Louisville, considering how big a threat Jameis Winston is to take over at any moment. If the Cards can take away options like Rashad Greene and Bobo Wilson, their chances improve greatly.

No team has held Florida State to fewer than 30 points with Winston as the starter; nobody has scored 30 on Louisville this season.

It is obvious that Louisville will have to hold the score down to win. At least the Cards have practice doing that.

Cannot ask much more than that headed into the biggest challenge of the season.
Stanford has lost three games in a regular season for the first time since 2009.

[+] EnlargeDavid Shaw
AP Photo/Tony AvelarDavid Shaw and Stanford have their backs against the wall -- again.
 On the way, its offense has dropped to the very bottom of the Pac-12's statistical rankings. Its vaunted defense has suffered a pair of critical injuries at the position where they hurt most -- the defensive line.

And for the first time in 72 weeks (that dates back to early 2010), the two-time defending Pac-12 champion is not ranked in the Top 25.

Are we witnessing the end of this program's magical four year run, a stretch during which Stanford was the only team in the nation to qualify for a BCS bowl in each season?

"The sky is falling every single year," coach David Shaw contends. "Coaches and players don't [buy into that]. Fans can do that. Talking heads can do that. We go back to work and we try to solve our problems."

There are plenty of those on The Farm right now.

Perhaps Stanford can take comfort in its recent history during these trying times: The Cardinal did also hit rocky points on their way to those consecutive Pac-12 titles the past two seasons, after all. The 2012 campaign featured the anemic offensive performances of losses at Washington and Notre Dame, while the 2013 journey saw maddening red-zone struggles deliver gut punches at Utah and USC.

The Cardinal regained their footing both of those times. In 2012, renewed balance came thanks to a quarterback change that introduced Kevin Hogan to the starter's role. In 2013, outside help -- coming in the form of Arizona's upset over Oregon -- was Stanford's saving grace.

In both instances, though, Shaw's team maintained its championship trajectory thanks to a core of fiery veteran players, the experienced bodies who had been staples around The Farm throughout the program's entire resurgence. Shayne Skov's raspy 2012 locker room speeches came when the team's back was against the wall, and they became the stuff of Stanford legend. Ben Gardner became a rallying point for the 2013 squad after a torn pectoral muscle ended his career. Trent Murphy may not have been as outwardly vocal as Skov, but he too had a penchant for inspiring stability and constant work in the locker room.

"Just keep chopping wood," Murphy repeated after the Cardinal's 2013 loss to USC, a setback that looked like it had knocked the team out of Pac-12 title contention. "Good things will happen."

Sure enough, he was right: Good things did happen. Stanford found themselves back in (and dominating) the Pac-12 championship game just three weeks after their moment of greatest despair.

'A fascinating team'

Well, Stanford's annual pilgrimage to the land of adversity is back, 2014 style this time. And the hole to escape certainly seems deeper than the previous two. Three losses saddle the Cardinal this time. A struggling offense is again the culprit, but unlike 2012, there is no shocking salvation-via-quarterback change on the horizon. The fiery veteran leadership of players like Skov, Gardner, Murphy, and Tyler Gaffney has graduated.

 For pundits, those losses were a source of major preseason concern, with potentially trying situations like the current one being the primary source of worry. Shaw, meanwhile, agrees that his team's leadership make-up is different, but he thinks it can still be effective.

"This is a fascinating team," Shaw said. "We don’t really have [fiery players like Skov]. But our guys work like crazy. We may not have the guy who goes up there and does all the speeches and gets everybody all fired up and motivated, but we came out here Monday, Tuesday, and now Wednesday on our goal line day, and guys were hitting hard and hustling. It was as physical as it was in training camp."

Shaw exuded unbridled optimism at practice Wednesday, the day after he took blame for his team's offensive ineptitude by suggesting he needs to do a better job scheming to put Stanford's dangerous playmakers in a position to succeed.

"I don’t worry about that speech-making and that obvious leadership stuff," he said. "But I love the way that Jordan Richards, A.J. Tarpley and Kevin Hogan get back to work. The players are always more resilient. ... All the fans have seven days to lament. These guys have to work."

The public can begin to judge the fruits of that labor this Saturday, when Stanford has its chance to rebound at home against Oregon State. The Holy Grail -- err, the Oregon game -- awaits at Autzen Stadium the week after that. While the Cardinal's three losses have eliminated the team from College Football Playoff contention, Stanford still controls its own destiny in the Pac-12 title chase. So Shaw's team has the rather odd opportunity of playing spoiler (at least two of its remaining opponents, Oregon and Utah, are very much alive in the Playoff chase) while simultaneously chasing a conference championship.

Given the team's offensive struggles, such success certainly seems like a long shot today. But Stanford's squad is making it no secret that they're still shooting for that Pac-12 three-peat. Fittingly, Usua Amanam, their retired 2012 Rose Bowl champion, swung by Wednesday's practice, preaching the same sense of urgency that his own Stanford team had embraced to rise from the dead two years ago.

"No matter what happens," Amanam told the team. "Don’t waste one day, because at one point, you can't play anymore."

Video: Best Coach in Mississippi?

October, 23, 2014
Oct 23
1:00
PM ET
video

Who’s the best coach in the Magnolia State? Adam Rittenberg makes his pick between Ole Miss’ Hugh Freeze and Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen.

Breaking down the Power 5 races

October, 23, 2014
Oct 23
12:47
PM ET
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The College Football Playoff selection committee will emphasize conference championships as a factor in selecting its four playoff teams. Eight weeks into the season, what teams are in control of their conference races, and which ones are best positioned to take home a conference title?

In a "man vs computer" breakdown, we will use ESPN's Football Power Index and the takes of various conference reporters to handicap the races in the five power conferences.

To see the breakdown of each conference race, click here Insider.
Christian Hackenberg was the big name as a Big Ten freshman in 2013. Now, that torch has been passed to Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett.

The Buckeyes' redshirt freshman appears to be on the rise, while Penn State's sophomore has struggled to repeat the success from his first season. They’ll meet Saturday night in Beaver Stadium. So, in the meantime, here’s a look at both quarterbacks -- the good, the bad and the ugly.

Barrett

The good: He’s performed so well since Week 3 that he’s started to enter the Heisman conversation. Just take a look at the numbers in his last four games: 86-of-120 (71.7 percent), 1,170 yards, 17 touchdowns and one interception. He’s recorded a QBR of at least 75.8 in the last four games, and he posted a 98.8 QBR in his last game, against Rutgers. His improvement has been well-documented, whether it’s in the running game, his poise or his ability through the air. Said Penn State linebacker Mike Hull: “He doesn’t turn the ball over, he makes smart throws, he’s a great runner -- so he really has been the whole package for them so far.”

The bad: Barrett has been praised for his production in the last four games, but his opponents haven’t exactly been challenging. Kent State currently ranks No. 97 in total defense, Cincinnati is No. 120, Maryland is No. 99 and Rutgers is No. 82. The two best defenses he’s played -- Navy (No. 70) and Virginia Tech (No. 20) -- both came in his first two starts when the playbook was limited. And that’s where he fared his worst. So at this point, there’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg argument. Barrett is undoubtedly talented, but just how much did his opponents’ bad defenses influence his numbers?

The ugly: There’s very, very little from Barrett that can be classified as “ugly.” Really, only one game -- and that was the loss against the Hokies. Virginia Tech blitzed mercilessly, and Barrett just couldn’t adjust. He finished 9-of-29 with three picks and took seven sacks. Statistically, Barrett will face only one better pass defense this regular season than Virginia Tech: Michigan State.

Hackenberg

The good: Going back to last season, Hackenberg has had a penchant for the comeback. In his last 13 games, he’s engineered four last-minute game-tying or game-winning drives: Illinois and Michigan in 2013 and UCF and Rutgers this season. He is widely regarded as a future first-round NFL draft pick -- if not the No. 1 pick overall -- and several Big Ten coaches have sung his praises. Michigan’s Brady Hoke and Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald both said this season that he’s one of the best quarterbacks in the country. Said Ohio State coach Urban Meyer: “Obviously, we got a lot of respect for that big quarterback, Hackenberg.”

The bad: By any measure, this season has been a disappointment for Hackenberg so far. He’s thrown more interceptions (7) than touchdowns (5). But a lot of his struggles can be traced back to a patchwork offensive line that features one returning starter and two former defensive tackles at offensive guard. He’s been sacked 20 times so far this season -- the most in the Big Ten -- while he was sacked just 21 times all of last year. He also has little run support, as only seven teams in the nation are averaging fewer rushing yards per game. He’s starting to develop bad habits, and frustration appears to be setting in.

The ugly: There’s a lot more to write under this section than for Barrett. For one, Hackenberg’s QBR this season right now sits at 38.0 -- a decrease in 18.6 points from last season, the largest decrease for any Big Ten quarterback. And there have been quite a few other lowlights. Early in the season, Hackenberg's frustrations boiled over on TV and resulted in a gif that made the rounds on sports blogs. As was mentioned before, his offensive line also hasn’t done him any favors, and they made national headlines when one blocker closed his eyes and mistakenly blocked a teammate. And James Franklin can’t seem to make up his mind as to whether to have offensive coordinator John Donovan in the booth or on the field.

Best and worst losses for 1-loss teams 

October, 23, 2014
Oct 23
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For all of the debate about who should be ranked No. 1 among the three undefeated, power-conference teams, the far greater challenge right now when filling out a ballot is ranking the teams with one loss.

There are 15 once-beaten teams in this week's AP Top 25, and eight or nine of them could probably make a legitimate claim to being No. 4. That number of one-loss teams is sure to dwindle in the next few weeks, but there's still a good chance that the selection committee will face the difficult decision of which two or three of those teams to put into the playoff.

Obviously, there's much more to any team's résumé than a single loss, but if the BCS era is an indicator, the nature of that loss could become a major topic of discussion when distinguishing among the once-beaten teams. Perhaps that's because in a sport where there is so little common ground on which to compare top teams, having exactly one loss is the trait they all share.

So, recognizing that this could be a factor in determining which teams get into the playoff, here are the best and worst losses by current Top 25 teams that have only one defeat. The losses are ranked by Game Score, which is a metric developed by ESPN Stats & Information that takes into account quality of the opponent, location of the game, flow of the game and final score. It's important to note that opponent quality adjusts as more games are played, so these Game Scores will also change from week-to-week. (All Game Scores can be seen by clicking team links on the FPI page.)

The anticipation builds throughout the week. Students around campus start talking about it. Coaches start preaching about it, busting out some hype videos to truly get the players amped up and ready.

Then Thursday rolls around. The team bus nears Lane Stadium, and players can see the lights already on. Tailgate lots are full. When players walk off the bus, they can feel the buzz in the atmosphere even though Lane Stadium sits mostly empty.

"There's just something about playing underneath the lights and know it's Thursday night," senior Virginia Tech receiver Willie Byrn said. "You feel it in pregame. You feel it on the walk in. It's special. You get riled up for it."

[+] EnlargeFrank Beamer
Ivan Pierre Aguirre/USA TODAY Sports"They're great for your program," coach Frank Beamer said of Thursday night games. "If you can be successful, it's great for recruiting."
Virginia Tech has become synonymous with ESPN Thursday night football, so tonight's game against Miami comes with more anticipation than most. After a one-year hiatus, the Hokies resume their Thursday night home tradition. And as always, the stakes are high.

Both Miami (4-3, 1-2) and Virginia Tech (4-3, 1-2) need a win to stay in the hunt for the Coastal Division title. A loss would not eliminate them from contention, but it would make their efforts to win the division much more difficult.

Since the ACC championship game began in 2005, the Coastal champ has finished 5-3 just twice. Every other season, the division rep had a better record than that.

"I don't think I would pick anyone over Miami to play Thursday night here," Byrn said. "Both teams are in dire need of a win. We did a good job last year. We played them Saturday night at their place. We played pretty well and made them a little mad, so I know they're going to want some payback. We all want to get their best shot and they're going to get ours."

Virginia Tech has more appearances than any ACC team on Thursday night, going 11-4 at home in those games. For 11 straight seasons, the Hokies made it a habit of hosting Thursday night games, but that changed in 2013. Then-athletic director Jim Weaver asked the league not to schedule a home Thursday night game, as a way to help fans who cannot travel to games midweek.

But an outcry ensued, because this was one tradition fans were not willing to give up. Weaver asked the ACC to give Virginia Tech a Thursday night home game this season.

"They're great for your program," coach Frank Beamer said. "If you can be successful, it's great for recruiting. Those recruits are watching, and your fan base, if they're not in the stadium they're watching. We like Thursday night games."

Running backs coach Shane Beamer said Virginia Tech will have a large number of recruits at the game even though it is in the middle of the week because "they want to attend a game in Blacksburg on Thursday night."

"I know as soon as the schedule came out, there was a lot of excitement around Virginia Tech and Hokie Nation about this game, so the atmosphere will be awesome," Shane Beamer said.

Byrn said there was excitement from the players, too, when the schedule came out in January. Though Virginia Tech is young this season, with freshmen contributing the majority of the scoring on offense, Byrn can share his Thursday night home experiences with his teammates.

During his redshirt freshman season in 2010, Byrn was on the sideline when David Wilson returned a kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown with 2:23 remaining to give the Hokies a 28-21 win.

"The place went absolutely haywire. It was ridiculous," Byrn said. "Then they played 'Enter Sandman' and 'Zombie Nation' and everyone was rocking. I was freaking out. I was going nuts celebrating with my teammates. It was pretty insane, probably top three loudest I've ever heard it."

Virginia Tech must be hoping to top that later Thursday night.

Kickoff Show (1 ET)

October, 23, 2014
Oct 23
10:15
AM ET
Join ESPN.com reporters Edward Aschoff, Heather Dinich, Adam Rittenberg and host Chantel Jennings as the discuss who should be in the top four when the College Football Playoff committee's first rankings come out next week. They will also preview Week 9's best games and take your questions.

FORT WORTH, Texas -- A high-five, a glove, a photo, a hug, whatever. If TCU’s youngest fans want something from Horned Frogs receiver Josh Doctson, he can’t say no.

He knows what those moments mean. Ten years ago, Doctson was one of them.

He and his brother Jeremiah were proud members of the Bleacher Creatures club back then, just two of the hundreds of kids who ran onto the Amon G. Carter Stadium field each week before kickoff. For three or four years, the Doctson brothers made that dash and watched from the stands and dreamed.

"I can recall it vividly," Doctson said. "Getting on the field. The horn blowing. Sprinting as fast as we can to the other goal line. We looked forward to every Saturday. We were here every Saturday. I’m at a loss for words now when I see those kids running on the field or hanging over the railing after the game. I was in their shoes."

[+] EnlargeJosh Doctson
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsHorned Frogs receiver Josh Doctson had 225 receiving yards, including TD receptions of 77 and 84 yards, against Oklahoma State.
You better believe all those dashes crossed his mind last Saturday. He ran wild like 11-year-old Josh against Oklahoma State, sprinting untouched for 77- and 84-yard touchdowns on the first two receptions of a career-best day in No. 10 TCU’s 42-9 blowout of the Cowboys.

Doctson surpassed 100 yards for the first time in his TCU career. Then he went over 200. He finished with 225 -- just 1 yard shy of the best pass-catching performance in school history. After coming home in 2012, Doctson is doing things today his younger self never could have imagined.

"I texted my brother after the game and was just like, 'Wow, I don’t even know where that came from today,'" Doctson said. "My mother was in shock. It’s really unreal. I sit back and I don’t even know where all this came from."

This all started with Tracy Syler-Jones, an unemployed single mother of two who moved with her boys from Birmingham, Alabama, to Texas in 1999 despite no promise of a job. TCU took a chance on her -- as an assistant communications director -- when her family sorely needed a chance.

Doctson didn’t know just how much his mother had sacrificed and survived when he and Jeremiah were young. But he knew nobody worked harder. Tracy taught her sons to never be satisfied. Today she’s TCU’s vice chancellor of marketing and communications, and her sons’ constant inspiration.

"She’s the only reason I am where I’m at," Doctson said.

But Doctson didn’t start at TCU. He played his freshman season at Wyoming. His first TD? A 7-yard reception against, yep, TCU. He even beat former Horned Frogs cornerback Jason Verrett to make that play, one of his 35 catches as a true freshman. Dream come true, he thought at the time.

But by the end of his first semester, Doctson needed to get back home. His grandfather, who has since died, had been diagnosed with a brain tumor. Living 750 miles away, knowing he couldn’t help, was too unbearable for Doctson.

"We were going through a lot as a family, myself especially," Doctson said. "I was really hard on myself and just a little bit distracted. That’s really what brought me back to Texas. Family was the No. 1 thing in my life. I couldn’t see myself spending four years apart from my brother and mom."

TCU took a chance on him, too. The 6-foot-4, 190-pounder has rewarded head coach Gary Patterson’s faith ever since.

"Josh is one of those guys that is very mature for his age," Patterson said. "Ever since he got here he’s run great routes, he’s blocked, he’s tenacious. Team is very important to him. He’s not going to be a guy who’s a true burner, but he has enough speed, he’s deceptive and he can go up and get the ball."

Oh yes he can. Against Minnesota this season, Doctson leaped so high for a one-handed touchdown catch, his right knee nearly brushed the poor defensive back's facemask. Thanks to this new high-flying offense, the Horned Frogs’ leading receiver already has more yards in six games than he put up in 11 games a year ago. The highlight reel got a bit longer Saturday.

Nobody told Doctson he was a yard short of the record until the final seconds of the win. He would be lying if he said he didn’t want one more catch. But days later, he still can’t believe what he did.

Knowing where he started, he says, makes all this -- the big plays, TCU's top-10 ranking, the opportunity this team has -- seem a little too unthinkable. The kid from the Bleacher Creatures still can’t believe he gets to play with the big boys now.

"I look at those plays now and it’s just like, 'Wow, I don’t even know who that is. That wasn’t me,'" Doctson said. "I’m just so happy to be out here and see where this team is heading and be a part of this. There’s an amazing vibe in the locker room, on campus, everywhere. I’m living in this moment right now."
video
Enough, already.

It’s been more than four years now. Move on.

To those at Tennessee still clinging to their hatred of Lane Kiffin, get over it. Blaming him for years of mediocrity is foolish. It’s operating on the lowest common denominator, and you’re better than that.

Put it on Phillip Fulmer for leaving the cupboard bare. Put it on Derek Dooley for limping to a 15-21 mark. Put it on Butch Jones for not laying his coveted bricks fast enough, if you’re that impatient.

[+] EnlargeLane Kiffin
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesLane Kiffin is still a lightning rod in Tennessee four-plus years after leaving the Vols to take over for Pete Carroll at USC.
You can blame Kiffin for his one season there and for leaving early, but understand you’re talking about 13.5 months in the span of nearly a decade in which the Vols haven’t been competitive in the SEC -- or nationally for that matter.

We get it, he done you wrong. But don’t be that guy. Don’t be head over heels for your significant other one minute, only to be broken up with and make an about-face the next. Don’t completely rewrite the history of your relationship. You loved Kiffin’s antics. He was foolish, brash and incompetent at times -- but you didn’t see it that way. You saw him as affable, your rogue coach fighting fire with fire.

You cheered him on when he accused Urban Meyer of recruiting violations.

You practiced singing "Rocky Top" all night long when he all but guaranteed a win over Florida.

You snickered and laughed with approval when you heard he told Alshon Jeffery that he’d end up pumping gas if he went to South Carolina.

He was wrong on all three counts. The rest of the SEC loathed him, but golly he was your man. He went 7-6, reached a bowl game and nearly beat eventual champion Alabama in Tuscaloosa. He had Tennessee headed in the right direction, you said. You didn’t care if he ruffled a few feathers so long as he won football games.

Until he left.

Then everything changed. Then he became the villain and you repainted The Rock from "Hail Kiffin" to something less salutatory.

But you should have known better. When the USC job came open, it was obvious he might go. It was home. He didn’t surprise you or anyone else when he eventually confirmed the news. Though his final news conference didn’t go well, at least he stuck around to try to explain himself.

In fact, if anyone has room to hate Kiffin, it’s Southern Cal. He was crushed under Hollywood-sized expectations, in spite of limited scholarships, and ended up the scapegoat of the post-Pete Carroll era. Under Kiffin's watch, USC's aura of dominance fell hard. But at Tennessee, he was only trying to help resurrect a once proud program. While it's true he left abruptly, the flames from those riots on Jan. 12, 2010, should be long extinguished by now. But judging by the vitriol this week, it doesn't appear that anyone's moved on.

When Kiffin returns to Neyland Stadium on Saturday as offensive coordinator of No. 4-ranked Alabama, don’t hold back. You can boo and heckle him all you want, but have some perspective. Tennessee has gone 24-32 since he left. The Vols were 5-7 the season before he arrived.

Taunt him because he’s wearing crimson. Jeer him because he failed at USC. Wave $14 at him for an unpaid haircut because it would be too funny not to.

Just don’t waste your energy hating someone who left more than four years ago, was fired from his last job unceremoniously and was rescued from the trash heap only to go back to being an assistant.

Think about it: knowing what we know now, where do you think the program would be had he stayed? He might have done everyone in Knoxville a favor by eventually paving the way for Butch Jones, who seems to be building a solid foundation for the future.

Saturday’s game shouldn’t be about Tennessee beating Kiffin. It should be about trying to beat Alabama. It should be about where Tennessee is heading now, not where it’s been in the past.

ACC Week 9 predictions

October, 23, 2014
Oct 23
9:00
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Fortuna: UNC's confidence is extremely high, coming off a close loss at Notre Dame and a last-second shootout win over Georgia Tech. Marquise Williams is playing the best ball of his life, hoping to turn the Heels' season around in the second half like he did a year ago. Virginia's defense will be challenged by the UNC tempo, and if that defense can't create scoring opportunities for itself, the Cavaliers' offense may not have the weapons to keep up if this contest turns into a shootout. Williams and the offense bail the Heels' defense out once again, signaling a recovery not unlike last year's for UNC.
North Carolina 42, Virginia 31

Hale: Yes, North Carolina got up off the mat last week to eek out a last-minute win over one of the most generous defenses in the ACC, but let's not assume all the Tar Heels' woes are behind them. They still allowed Georgia Tech to rack up 611 yards of offense, and they won't find nearly as many yards of their own against Virginia's stout D. The Hoos' pass rush should play havoc against UNC's work-in-progress O-line (remember what Virginia did to UCLA?). Virginia's improving passing attack threw for 325 yards last week against a good Duke secondary. What do you think the Hoos might do against those struggling UNC defensive backs? Kevin Parks has been waiting for a breakthrough performance, and North Carolina has nearly 600 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground in its past two games. Add a home-field advantage for the Hoos, and last week's momentum for UNC won't last long. Virginia 30, North Carolina 24


Adelson: The Jackets match up much better against Pittsburgh than they did against North Carolina a week ago. The Tar Heels did a majority of their damage offensively through the air, as Williams threw for 390 yards on the Jackets' D. Pitt does not have the same type of passing-game threat, and there will be room to run on the Pitt defense. Though the Panthers shut down Virginia Tech's ground game a week ago, the Hokies are the worst rushing team this group has faced. As long as Georgia Tech holds on to the football, the Jackets should be able to gain yards on the ground and hold on to the ball long enough to win. Georgia Tech 24, Pitt 21

Shanker: At least on paper, the Panthers look as if they could be Georgia Tech and the option offense's kryptonite. The Panthers get off the field on third downs (No. 7 nationally), stop the run (18) and limit the number of long rushes by an opponent. Pittsburgh is a ball-control offense, too, relying on James Conner to move the chains and wear out defenses. The Yellow Jackets are 95th in run defense, too. Pittsburgh has an average time of possession of 33:09, which should keep its defense fresh against Georgia Tech.
Pitt 28, Georgia Tech 27

Unanimous picks

Miami at Virginia Tech: Duke Johnson is a beast, and the Hokies will be without Luther Maddy and Chase Williams. Brad Kaaya has been a magician with the deep ball, and Virginia Tech has allowed 24 pass plays of 20-plus yards. The Hokies are used to Thursday night magic, but this offense might need more than that to get going. Miami 27, Virginia Tech 17

Syracuse at Clemson: Clemson's offense has been stuck in neutral since Deshaun Watson went down with a hand injury, but its defense has more than made up for it. Now, Syracuse sends true freshman AJ Long to deal with that dominant pass rush, and it could get ugly. Clemson 20, Syracuse 7

Boston College at Wake Forest: The Deacons have scored just one offensive touchdown and averaged just 2.2 yards per play in ACC games so far, with more than half their drives failing to garner a first down. Wake won't be able to keep Tyler Murphy and the BC offense off the field, and that's going to lead to a long day for the Deacons' defense. Boston College 31, Wake Forest 10

Current standings
Shanker: 48-10
Adelson: 46-12
Fortuna: 45-13
Hale: 44-14

SEC Week 9 predictions

October, 23, 2014
Oct 23
9:00
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There's not much disagreement among our reporters this week. OK, there's not any disagreement among our reporters. But they don't necessarily agree on how competitive those games will be. And as everyone knows, the weeks that look boring are always anything but. Let's get on with the picks:



Why Mississippi State wins big: Kentucky’s defense has already surrendered 282 rushing yards to South Carolina and 303 to LSU last week. That doesn’t bode well for Saturday’s game, when Mississippi State will bring the SEC’s top offense (and No. 2 rushing offense at 264.3 yards per game) to Lexington. The Wildcats are improving, but they don’t have the firepower to hang around in this one. Mississippi State 42, Kentucky 17 -- David Ching

Why Kentucky keeps it close: Mississippi State should be rested after having last week off, while Kentucky is still smarting from its 41-3 loss at LSU. The Bulldogs should roll, but it won't be easy. The Wildcats have been a different team at home and have the firepower at defensive end to keep Dak Prescott on his toes. Mark Stoops has instilled the right kind of pride in his team, which means the Wildcats will bounce back and make this a second-half game. Mississippi State 31, Kentucky 27 -- Chris Low



Why Ole Miss wins big: Anthony Jennings has struggled enough throwing the football for LSU, and he'll find it even more difficult against Ole Miss' vaunted secondary. If Jennings turns the ball over and makes Cam Cameron's game plan too one-dimensional, the Rebels will feast. Ole Miss 31, LSU 17 -- Alex Scarborough

Why LSU keeps it close: Ever since getting blown out by Auburn, the Tigers have steadily improved. From barely surviving a trip to Florida to handling upstart Kentucky, LSU's offense and defense have gotten better. Ole Miss' defense presents a supreme challenge, but with senior Terrence Magee and true freshman Leonard Fournette, LSU has the backs to establish a running game and battle the Rebels to the end. Ole Miss 23, LSU 20 -- Jeff Barlis



Why Alabama wins big: This game screams blowout. Alabama’s defense is on fire and the offense just exploded, hanging nearly 60 on Texas A&M. Tennessee hasn’t hit 400 yards since the end of September. Hey, Lane Kiffin is back in Knoxville, so I can only imagine what he has cooked up for Tennessee’s defense -- and those Vols fans. I bet there are more anti-Kiffin signs than Tennessee points in Knoxville on Saturday. Alabama 41, Tennessee 10 -- Edward Aschoff

Why Tennessee keeps it close: Lane Kiffin would love nothing more than to put up a big number on his former team, but this Alabama offense has struggled on the road this season. In their two road games, the Tide have failed to break 20 points. They might reach that number Saturday, but it won’t be easy against a Vols defense that looked inspired in the first half last week. Alabama 24, Tennessee 14 -- Greg Ostendorf

More unanimous picks:

Auburn over South Carolina: Auburn is 12-0 at home under Gus Malzahn and won those by an average of more than 23 points per game. Interesting side note: South Carolina hasn't beaten Auburn since 1933 (though the teams didn't play each other again until 1996); Auburn is 7-0 since then. Auburn 42, South Carolina 21 -- Sam Khan Jr.

Arkansas over UAB: UAB can move the ball (had 548 yards against Mississippi State and kept it close at the half), but slowing down the Razorbacks' elite rushing attack is a tall task. Arkansas 45, UAB 20 -- Sam Khan Jr.

Missouri over Vanderbilt: Mizzou has actually been better on the road than at home, but Vanderbilt has yet to win away from home or an SEC game, period. The Tigers' defense and special teams are coming off great performances at Florida. The offense will join in on the fun Saturday. Missouri 41, Vanderbilt 10 -- Sam Khan Jr.

Standings:
Edward Aschoff: 59-10
Greg Ostendorf: 59-10
Jeff Barlis: 58-11
Chris Low: 58-11
David Ching: 57-12
Alex Scarborough: 56-13
Sam Khan Jr.: 52-17

Big 12 Week 9 predictions

October, 23, 2014
Oct 23
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Why Kansas State will win: In case you haven't noticed, the Wildcats have been playing good football all season. It took three missed field goals and a pair of untimely turnovers for Auburn to escape Manhattan last month. Behind QB Tyrone Swoopes, the Longhorns have been getting better. And they should be able to hang tough, as they did against Baylor and Oklahoma. But they ultimately won't be able to run the ball well enough or contain dual-threat QB Jake Waters enough to also escape with a win. Kansas State 29, Texas 21 -- Jake Trotter

Why West Virginia will win: The Mountaineers are playing great, physical defense that complements the fireworks of QB Clint Trickett, receiver Kevin White and all of their skill-position talent. Oklahoma State will get its chances -- WVU has a minus-six turnover margin during its three-game win streak -- but its offensive line is in brutal shape and the Pokes showed no resilience in the second half last week at TCU. This just isn't a good time to play the Mountaineers. West Virginia 38, Oklahoma State 17 -- Max Olson

Why TCU will win: The Horned Frogs will simply overwhelm the Red Raiders with an active defense and relentless offense. Tech will have its share of big plays but TCU and quarterback Trevone Boykin should have plenty of big plays of their own against a Red Raiders defense that ranks No. 114 among FBS teams with 36.9 points per game allowed. TCU 49, Texas Tech 31 — Brandon Chatmon

Season records:
  • Trotter: 45-4
  • Chatmon: 43-6
  • Olson: 43-6

Big Ten Week 9 predictions

October, 23, 2014
Oct 23
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Is it a full moon or something? First, we have three people -- Brian Bennett, Josh Moyer and Mitch Sherman -- who notched perfect weeks last week. And now, all of our experts agreed on the games this week. Yes, strange days indeed.

Anyway ... here are the breakdowns:

Unanimous selections

Minnesota 31, Illinois 20: The Big Ten's worst run defense will get a heavy dose of David Cobb, the nation's carries leader (189) and No. 4 rusher (1,013). Like Purdue, Illinois will try to attack Minnesota with its speed and will have some success, but Minnesota remains perfect in league play.

Wisconsin 38, Maryland 30: Expect a ton of handoffs from Wisconsin's quarterbacks, who should want no part of Will Likely. But Maryland allows nearly 200 rush yards per game, which doesn't bode well against a rested Melvin Gordon.

Nebraska 41, Rutgers 27: Can the Huskers avoid a slow start? If so, they should be able to pull away from a Rutgers team that had no answers for Ohio State's offense. Quarterbacks Tommy Armstrong Jr. and Gary Nova both put up big numbers in this one.

Michigan State 24, Michigan 13: The Wolverines' points totals against MSU have dropped every year since 2004. They exceed last year's woeful production but can't stop the Spartans' Connor Cook and Tony Lippett, who connect for two touchdown strikes.

Ohio State 27, Penn State 16: J.T. Barrett won't go nuts against an improved Penn State defense that can shut down the run. But his counterpart, Christian Hackenberg, could be in real trouble if he's not protected from Joey Bosa and Ohio State's fearsome defensive line.

Our records:

Mitch Sherman: 62-13 (.827)
Brian Bennett: 60-15 (.800)
Austin Ward: 59-16 (.787)
Adam Rittenberg: 58-17 (.773)
Josh Moyer: 56-19 (.747)
Dan Murphy: 28-10 (.737)

Pac-12 Week 9 predictions

October, 23, 2014
Oct 23
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Why Washington State will win: Washington State has been so, so close in so many games. The Cougars' record doesn't really speak to what kind of a team they are, and if the defensive line can get some pressure on Anu Solomon and limit Nick Wilson, then I think Connor Halliday is going to be able to put up enough yards to have the Cougars come away with this win. Halliday has been so sharp recently. In the last four games he has completed 173 of 263 passes (66 percent) and thrown for 1,879 yards, 16 touchdowns and just three interceptions. That's 7.1 yards per attempt for Halliday. He's going to be able to get one of these wins if he does enough and the ball bounces their way just one or two times more. My bet is that day comes Saturday. -- Chantel Jennings

Why Arizona will win: Mike Leach and Rich Rodriguez know how to engineer an efficient offense, so I think this game will be a close shootout. That’s why Arizona has the edge here. Aside from one missed field goal attempt to end their game against USC, the Wildcats have been absolute nails in the fourth quarter, while the Cougars have been the exact opposite. Since Washington State is desperate, this game will come down to its final few possessions, but Solomon is developing a reputation as a quarterback who comes through in those spots. -- David Lombardi

Why Washington will win: After losing their eleventh straight to the Ducks, the Huskies are certainly thrilled to be playing anyone but Oregon this weekend. Chris Petersen’s squad preys on turnovers; they can get back to forcing them in the electricity of their home environment. And although Washington’s offense ranks near the bottom of the Pac-12, I’m not yet sold on ASU’s defense. We need to see more than one solid performance against a struggling Stanford offense to believe the Sun Devils have turned the corner. Washington will move the ball enough to win. -- David Lombardi

Why Arizona State will win: Arizona State is going to go with the Oregon blueprint to beat the Huskies. Taylor Kelly or Mike Bercovici is going to be accurate and efficient in the air, and D.J. Foster is going to get work done on the ground. Defensively, the Sun Devils will frustrate Cyler Miles and force him into a turnover or two. Another road win is coming for ASU, and with it, look for the Sun Devils to sneak into the top 15 come Sunday. -- Chantel Jennings

Unanimous Pac-12 picks

Why Oregon wins: While I think Cal has the offense and receivers to tax the Oregon secondary a bit, the defense isn’t there (especially sans Brennan Scarlett) to slow the Ducks down. Oregon is getting healthier, while Cal is starting to lose some key players. Really like the improvement we’ve seen from the Bears. But I don’t see them at Oregon’s level yet. -- Kevin Gemmell

Why Utah wins: At some point, home field has to count for something, right? Rice-Eccles is a hostile environment and the MUSS will be out in force. If the Utes can get even marginal quarterback play -- enough to give Devontae Booker more six-man boxes than seven -- then they’ll have the offense and defense to control the tempo and dictate the game. -- Kevin Gemmell

Why Stanford wins: This is going to be a low-scoring affair, but expect Oregon State's score to be lower than Stanford's, because the Cardinal defense is going to be swarming. With three losses already, the Cardinal are going to want to show the conference what's up and that even though they might not be perfect, they're still competitive and know how to win games. They'll get the job done at home. -- Chantel Jennings

Why UCLA wins: UCLA turnovers are the only way this game stays remotely close. The Bruins just have too much explosive firepower on both sides of the ball, so this will be a struggle for the Buffs. Of course, UCLA kept Cal in the game with three costly turnovers last week. But they still won because of Brett Hundley’s explosiveness, and that’ll again be a nice safety cushion in Boulder. -- David Lombardi

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