Michigan Wolverines: Michigan Wolverines

When Michigan kicker Matt Wile struggled in his first two games this season, he said it helped that his teammates were behind him.

That’s not quite as cliché as it may sound.

Sure, Wile’s fellow Wolverines told him not to worry when he missed three of four kicks from that dastardly right hash to start the season. They had his back after he went 0-for-2 in a shutout loss to Notre Dame in the metaphorical way good teammates should. They told him he was still their guy and he’d get the next one, and certainly that steadied the senior’s shaken confidence. What really helped, though, was when they got behind him in a more literal sense.

Michigan’s field goal practice this season has included a chorus of hecklers who stand a few feet behind Wile every time he lines up for a kick. They do their best to distract him, chirping the type of things they hope will make the buzz of 100,000 screaming fans fade in comparison. Dennis Norfleet, the team’s top punt returner/on-field break dancer, is usually the ring leader.

“Norfleet likes to be pretty loud,” Wile said. “They only ever succeed if they can make me laugh. ... They talk about my nonexistent hamster. I apparently have a hamster. I don’t know where that came from.”

Fictional hamsters aside, the wheels inside Wile’s head are now spinning at the right pace when he lines up for a kick. He's made seven of his eight attempts since losing to the Irish. He said the biggest adjustment during that stretch has been not psyching himself out. His only miss in the last five games was a 56-yard attempt that Rutgers freshman Kemoko Turay needed moonshoes to block.

“The guy from Rutgers made a great play,” Wile said. “I definitely would’ve liked to see how that turned out otherwise. I thought I hit it pretty well.”

In his last outing, an 18-13 win over Penn State, Wile made all three of his field goals, including a 42-yarder to tie the game in the third quarter and a 37-yarder to take the lead for good in the fourth. The game-tying kick was the closest Wile came to the right hash -- his mental sticking point earlier in the season -- against the Nittany Lions.

Michigan coach Brady Hoke said he starts the special-teams portion of practice by sending Wile down the right hash attempting kicks at different lengths. He didn’t claim to be Sigmund Freud in straightening out Wile's approach but said he’s made it a point to get the kicker to stop pressing if he starts to struggle in practice.

“If he misses a couple in a row, I’ll just tell him don’t overthink it,” Hoke said. “Sometimes he just flat-out overthinks it instead of just going up there and swinging your leg. I don’t know if you want to call that psychology.”

Wile does use a few tricks to keep himself mentally centered. If he feels doubt creeping in on the sideline, he visualizes the referee raising his arms after a successful kick. While he’s lining up, he’ll crunch his upper body into an awkward stance to remind himself to stay compact when he strikes the ball.

He has worked with a kicking specialist back in his hometown of San Diego to remove some kinks from his form. Most importantly, he says, he knows he has his teammates standing behind him.

“Now I don’t care where I kick from,” Wile said. “If I’m on the field, in my mind I’m going to make the kick.”

Michigan helmet stickers: Week 7

October, 13, 2014
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Michigan had a reason to celebrate this weekend for the first time in more than a month. The Wolverines beat Penn State 18-13 on Saturday to avoid the program’s first 0-3 start in conference play in more than four decades.

The atmosphere at the Big House has been lacking excitement this season, but Michigan can still put on a good show in primetime. The Wolverines are now 3-0 when they play at night on their home field. Here are some of the players who shined brightest under the lights:

PK Matt Wile: A week after having a game-winning attempt blocked at Rutgers, Michigan’s Matt Wile connected in the fourth quarter on a field goal that wound up clinching the victory. Wile was 3 for 3 on Saturday, splitting the uprights from 45, 42 and 37 yards out. He buoyed a struggling offense by providing 10 of the team’s 18 points. The senior has made seven of his last eight kicks since missing two against Notre Dame. The only unsuccessful attempt in that stretch was the 56-yarder that Rutgers blocked a week ago.

Gardner
QB Devin Gardner: Gardner showed his growing leadership on the sideline by barking at this team regularly in the second half. He showed it on the field by returning to the game with a hobbled ankle and completing two passes to set Wile up for his fourth-quarter field goal. He also hooked up with wide receiver Devin Funchess for a 43-yard touchdown pass on the opening drive of the game. Gardner has completed 63 percent of his pass attempts since regaining his starting spot against Rutgers.

DE Brennen Beyer: Two of Michigan’s six sacks came from Beyer, who had a dominant day against the Penn State tackles. He finished with four total stops. Beyer’s biggest contribution came late in the third quarter when he and fellow end Frank Clark pinned Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg in the pocket on a third-down play. Hackenberg panicked under pressure and tossed an interception across his body to cornerback Jourdan Lewis. Michigan tied the game with a field goal four plays later.

Michigan helmet stickers: Week 6

October, 6, 2014
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Michigan has had to settle for moral victories for most of 2014, and even those have been few and far between for the 2-4 Wolverines. Saturday’s 26-24 loss at Rutgers was Michigan’s most competitive game against a Power 5 conference opponent this year.

An offense that struggled throughout September produced three touchdowns and remained perfect in the red zone. The defensive front kept Rutgers under 50 rushing yards and remains a team strength. The leaders of those efforts win our helmet stickers for this week's performance at the midway point of the regular season.

QB Devin Gardner: Head coach Brady Hoke hoped that a week on the sideline would help his veteran quarterback get a new perspective on the mistakes that were holding him back. Gardner returned to the starting lineup Saturday, and while he wasn’t his best self, showed definite signs of improvement. He scrambled for two rushing touchdowns and completed 13 of his 22 passes for 178 yards. The offense demonstrated signs of life that it hadn’t in two previous losses.

LB Joe Bolden : The junior led Michigan with 10 tackles Saturday night, his third double-digit total of the season. Bolden emotionally defended his coaches after losing to Minnesota at home a week earlier. He put the blame on himself and his teammates for failing to execute. He executed well in New Jersey, helping to hold Rutgers to 2.5 yards per carry on the ground.

P Will Hagerup: Specials teams took its lumps against Rutgers with a costly blocked field goal from 56 yards out late in the game. Hagerup did his job well, though. He averaged 47.5 yards on his four punts and kept Rutgers from returning any of them. His 61-yard boot in the second quarter flipped field position and Michigan took advantage on the next possession to take a 17-12 lead, its last of the day.

Picks to click: Week 5

September, 26, 2014
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Michigan starts the Big Ten portion of its schedule this weekend with a rivalry game they have dominated during the last quarter-century. The Wolverines are looking at Saturday’s meeting with Minnesota as a chance for a clean slate.

Since 1986, Minnesota has beaten Michigan once. The Gophers come to Ann Arbor with one of the top rushers in the nation in David Cobb and the second-most takeaways among FBS teams. Michigan remains a double-digit favorite, but Saturday might be Minnesota’s best chance to upset a reeling Wolverines team since its victory in 2005. Here are a few players who could play a big role in making sure that Michigan retains possession of the little brown jug Saturday:

LB Jake Ryan: The fifth-year senior is settling into his role in the middle of the defense after playing outside linebacker earlier in his career. He made a team-high 13 tackles in a 26-10 loss to Utah last week. He’ll get another chance to shine against a one-dimensional Gophers offense and a workhorse back like Cobb. Another double-digit tackle performance from Ryan could turn him into an all-conference candidate on a team that hasn't had many bright spots so far this season.

TE Jake Butt: Michigan coach Brady Hoke promised changes were coming to a dismal offense this week. One possible new direction could include a bigger role for his sophomore tight end. Butt is still climbing back toward full health after offseason ACL surgery. Hoke said he wants to use the big, versatile pass-catcher as much as his healing knee will allow. After three catches and a touchdown in a win over Miami (Ohio), Butt didn’t see much action last week. He should be getting closer to playing a full role and opening up some options for whoever winds up starting at quarterback.

WR Dennis Norfleet: Michigan’s return specialist and speedster in the passing game gave a passionate defense of his head coach earlier in the week. He has emerged as one of the team leaders in his junior year. Norfleet’s emotion, if he can translate it to the field, could help provide a big special-teams play to spark a Michigan team that will take points any way it can get them.

Picks to click: Week 4

September, 19, 2014
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Heading into their Big Ten slate with a 3-1 record won’t be an easy task for the Wolverines. Michigan will need some of its young players to step up this weekend to get past a Utah team that is averaging 57.5 points per game so far this season. On the other side of the ball, the Utes defense leads the nation in sacks(5.5 per game) and tackles for loss(10.5).

Here are a few players who could make a difference with breakout performances:

 WR Amara Darboh: The sophomore made his first career start in a 34-10 win over Miami(Ohio) last week after missing all of last season with a foot injury. He caught six passes for 88 yards and his first career touchdown against an overmatched RedHawks' defense. Michigan will probably have to take to the air at some point to hang with the high-tempo Utah offense. If senior Devin Funchess (leg injury) can’t play again this week, Darboh becomes a primary target in the passing game.

LT Mason Cole: True freshmen starters on the offensive line are a rare species. At left tackle, they are almost unheard of. Cole has impressed teammates and coaches with his poise so far this season, but he’ll face the stiffest test of his career this weekend. His respect in the locker room will take a big leap if he can hold off Utah defensive ends Nate Orchard and Hunter Dimick. That duo has upheld Utah's recent history in the defensive trenches by picking up 2.5 sacks each through two games, an impressive stat line even if two of them came against a woefully inept Fresno State offensive live.

Michigan’s secondary: The Wolverines' defense heads into the weekend tied for dead last among FBS teams (with Utah and a dozen other schools) with only one takeaway. That’s been an emphasis for defensive coordinator Greg Mattison all week in practice.

“Coach Mattison keeps pounding it in our head that we need to create turnovers,” said sophomore safety Jeremy Clark. “I think if we keep playing hard and keep hustling to the ball, we’ll get our turnovers.”

Clark, a first-year starter, and true freshman Jabrill Peppers, who played an expanded role at cornerback last weekend, continue the theme of young players who can make a difference against the Utes. Both have the athletic ability to be playmakers in the secondary if they get themselves in the right spots. Eventually, Michigan’s turnover rate has to progress toward the mean. This could be a good week to start.
1. Anyone else find it interesting that the NCAA agreed to pay $20 million in the EA Sports case to current and former Division I student-athletes on the day before USC comes off probation? The cases are indicative of how the world of intercollegiate athletics has shifted since the Trojans went on probation four years ago. The enforcement process has lost what respect it had. The NCAA model is being forced to remodel because members and the Indianapolis bureaucracy weren’t smart enough to do it on their own.

2. A few days after I wrote about the Curse of Bo (Michigan is 50-41 since Schembechler died in Nov. 2006), author John U. Bacon wrote about a more serious picture of the Wolverines' athletic department. Bacon wrote that pro-style marketing bent on maximizing revenue has cost Michigan at the ticket window with students and long-time ticket holders. Bacon made a compelling point:Treat college fans like customers, they’ll start acting like customers instead of people with emotional ties to the product.

3. The Pac-12 might be the next "it" conference on the field, but the conference doesn’t carry the emotional resonance with its fans that the Big Ten and the SEC do with theirs. The latest example: the Big Ten’s announcement that the league championship will remain in Indianapolis through 2021. That’s an NFL town in a state where football is second, yet the game is a success. The Pac-12 is trying the neutral-site championship this season at the 49ers' new stadium. I am skeptical that league fans will fill it up.

Getting to know: CeCe Jefferson 

June, 2, 2014
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — CeCe Jefferson is one of the top defensive ends in the country, ranked No. 9 in the ESPN 300. Yet the 6-foot-3, 248-pound, five-star prospect found himself playing middle linebacker, defensive end and even fullback in his team's spring football game.

That’s exactly how Jefferson likes it.

"I like moving around because it shows the coaches at the next level that I’m versatile enough to do it,” Jefferson said. "I don’t mind playing multiple positions in college. Linebacker is probably what I’m going to be because I’m not really that big to play defensive end against 300-pounders all night. So moving around is definitely not a problem to me. I feel like I’m versatile enough to do it, so if a coach asks me to do it, I’m going to do it.”

It’s Jefferson’s versatility and ability to cause so much disruption for opposing offenses that has college coaches from across the country flocking to Glen St. Mary, Florida, to try to land the talented defender from Baker County High School.


The new College Football Playoff is supposed to encourage schools to schedule better nonconference games, as teams try to beef up their schedule strength to earn one of the playoff’s coveted four spots at season’s end.

On Thursday, Texas A&M and UCLA announced that they’ll play each other during the 2016 and 2017 seasons.

Other schools have announced future marquee nonconference opponents, including Texas A&M vs. USC, Notre Dame vs. Texas, Alabama vs. Michigan State and LSU vs. Oklahoma.

Here are five other nonconference games I’d like to see in the future:

[+] EnlargeNick Saban, Urban Meyer
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesUrban Meyer and Nick Saban have faced off for SEC titles, but their current teams, Ohio State and Alabama, have played only three times in history.
1. Alabama vs. Ohio State: Alabama’s Nick Saban and OSU’s Urban Meyer dominated the SEC when Meyer was coaching at Florida, combining to win five BCS national championships from 2006 to 2012.

When Meyer was still coaching at Florida, the Crimson Tide and Gators played in two of the most anticipated SEC championship games. The No. 2 Gators beat the No. 1 Tide 31-20 in 2008, and then the Tide turned the tables on No. 1 UF with a 32-13 win in 2009.

Alabama and Ohio State have played only three times in history, with the Tide winning each time, most recently in a 24-17 victory in the 1995 Citrus Bowl.

2. Texas vs. Texas A&M: Perhaps the biggest casualty in conference realignment, Texas and Texas A&M haven’t played each other since the Aggies bolted the Big 12 for the SEC after the 2011 season. Sadly, there are no plans for the in-state rivals to play again in future regular seasons.

The Aggies and Longhorns played each other 118 times from 1894 to 2011, with their annual meeting traditionally being played on Thanksgiving Day. UT won nearly twice as many games as the Aggies (76-37-5), including nine of the last 12 meetings.

With former Louisville coach Charlie Strong taking over at Texas, and Kevin Sumlin building the Aggies into an SEC powerhouse, the game would also pit two of the sport’s best African-American coaches against each other.

3. Oregon vs. Baylor: Two of the game’s most explosive offenses -- and two of its best-dressed teams -- would undoubtedly light up the scoreboard if they ever played. In fact, the contest would probably look more like a track meet.

Under coach Art Briles, the Bears have become the Ducks of the Southwest, with their hurry-up, spread offense and myriad flashy uniforms closely resembling what Chip Kelly and then Mark Helfrich built at Oregon. The Bears and Ducks follow the same blueprint on offense: play fast and score fast.

We hoped to see this matchup in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl last season, but alas, it didn’t happen. Oregon and Baylor have never met on the gridiron.

4. Michigan vs. USC: Two of the sport’s traditional heavyweights have faced each other eight times in the Rose Bowl Game Presented by Vizio, but only twice during the regular season -- in 1957 and 1958.

The Trojans won the last three meetings in the Rose Bowl, 32-18 in 2007, 28-14 in 2004 and 17-10 in 1990. USC has won six of the past seven meetings overall and holds a 6-4 advantage all-time.

We might have seen this matchup during the regular season if a Big Ten/Pac-12 scheduling partnership hadn’t fallen apart in 2012.

5. Georgia vs. Florida State: UGA coach Mark Richt was a longtime assistant under legendary FSU coach Bobby Bowden before taking over the Bulldogs, and he recently poached defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt off the Seminoles’ staff.

The Bulldogs and Seminoles go head-to-head for a lot of recruits every year, and Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher upgraded his roster by effectively recruiting South Georgia and Atlanta.

The Bulldogs and Seminoles have played 11 times and only once since 1984 -- UGA defeated FSU 26-13 in the 2003 Sugar Bowl. Georgia leads the all-time series, 6-4-1.

Big Ten lunchtime links

December, 19, 2013
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Six shopping days left.

3-point stance: Fresno State lurking

November, 4, 2013
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1. It’s not smart to delve deeply into BCS what-ifs. The season has five remaining weeks -- a full third of the schedule. Besides, the top of the BCS standings will sort itself out. It has every year since the FBS went to a 12-game schedule. But the race at the other end of the BCS is worth keeping an eye on. Fresno State has reached No. 16, the minimum threshold a BCS buster needs to secure a bid as long as it’s ahead of an AQ champion. Louisville and UCF of the American are No. 20 and No. 21, respectively.

2. No. 1 Alabama and No. 3 Oregon turn their heads toward their biggest conference nemeses. Nick Saban is only 4-3 against No. 13 LSU while since taking over as coach of Alabama. He’s 72-10 against everyone else. No. 5 Stanford is the only team to beat Chip Kelly’s Ducks twice in his four seasons. Last season’s 17-14 overtime loss cost Oregon a berth in the BCS Championship Game. Suffice to say it left a mark. Expect coach Mark Helfrich to have something in his game plan this week. The Ducks kept it pretty vanilla last year, and it cost them.

3. When Michigan State defeated Michigan four consecutive times from 2008-11, it didn’t quite feel as if the Spartans owned the rivalry. This wasn’t the real Michigan -- coach Rich Rodriguez didn’t fit the Wolverine mold. Michigan State took advantage of Michigan, but so did a lot of teams. That’s not the case any longer. Michigan has its own (Brady Hoke) running the program. He is in Year Three. Yet Michigan State just beat Michigan 29-6, the Spartans’ biggest margin in their 5-1 run against the Wolverines. The rivalry belongs to Sparty as securely as it did in the mid-1960s run of Duffy Daugherty.
1. Michigan’s feuds with Ohio State and Notre Dame always drew more attention than its games with Michigan State. But that has changed, and not, Wolverines coach Brady Hoke said Wednesday on the ESPNU College Football Podcast, because the Spartans won four in a row from 2008-11. “I think some of the changes with the divisional races puts a little more emphasis on this football game,” Hoke said. “But from a passion standpoint … it’s always been a very physical game. It’s always a game that been played through the whistle. The intensity of the rivalry is there. It’s real.”

2. Florida Atlantic head coach Carl Pelini and defensive coordinator Pete Rekstis resigned, a source told my colleague Brett McMurphy, because they attended a party where people used marijuana. I guess the coaches picked the wrong state in which to attend the party. According to Governing magazine, 21 states and the District of Columbia have legalized some form of marijuana usage. No, Florida is not one of them. But still this story, in 2013, is a stunner. Maybe FAU wanted Pelini (5-15 in two seasons) out?

3. Stanford senior defensive end and team captain Ben Gardner's season-ending pectoral injury means that the Cardinal will have started only two games with their preseason starting defensive line. Senior Henry Anderson hurt his knee in the second game against Army. That the line has remained a strength for the Cardinal is a credit to fifth-year senior Josh Mauro, who pretty much turned Anderson into Wally Pipp. But it’s a shame that the three seniors will have played together so little in their final season.
1. Michigan fans couldn’t get Rich Rodriguez out of town fast enough. But it’s worth noting that Brady Hoke’s best offensive players are fifth-year seniors recruited by Rodriguez. That includes Saturday’s record-setters, quarterback Devin Gardner (503 passing yards, 584 yards of total offense) and receiver Jeremy Gallon (369 receiving yards), as well as Fitzgerald Toussaint (four rushing scores Saturday) and starting tackles Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield. Then again, offense wasn’t RichRod’s problem at Michigan.

2. There’s the speculation at the top of the BCS standings, where No. 2 Florida State and No. 3 Oregon may leapfrog one another the next three weeks as their schedules ebb and flow. Then there’s the battle at the other end, where No. 17 Fresno State and No. 18 Northern Illinois are jockeying with one another and both trying to stay in front of No. 20 Louisville and No. 23 UCF from the AAC. If one of the former finishes ahead of one of the latter, that will guarantee a BCS bid. The BCS ratings always provide fodder.

3. Senior quarterback Clint Trickett left Florida State after spring ball when he realized that he wouldn’t beat out redshirt freshman Jameis Winston. On Saturday, Winston threw for 444 yards at Clemson and became a Heisman frontrunner. Trickett started at West Virginia and threw for 254 yards and a touchdown against Texas Tech. But the Red Raiders outscored the Mountaineers 21-0 in the last 20 minutes to win, 37-27. Over the last five possessions, Trickett completed 6 of 11 passes for 19 yards. The offense made one first down.

Week 4: Wake-up calls

September, 24, 2013
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Byron JonesDavid Hahn/Icon SMIMichigan survived a nail-biting game against what was supposed to be a pushover team.
For four months, ESPN The Magazine will follow the march to the Vizio BCS National Championship, moment by moment, culminating in our Story of the Season double issue Dec. 27. Every Tuesday, Mag senior writer Ryan McGee will pick the previous week’s biggest moments and tell you why they’ll have the most impact on potential BCS title matchups. If you disagree, send a tweet to @ESPNMag and tell us why your moment matters more, using the hashtag #StoryoftheSeason. Who knows? Your moment (and tweet) might just end up in our issue.


"WELL, it was a win ... that’s about all I’ve got."

You can't blame Michigan coach Brady Hoke for being speechless at his postgame news conference, as if he’d just gotten off a roller coaster. UConn certainly wasn't billed as the Top Thrill Dragster, but the Huskies shook up the Wolverines like an old, half-broken down ride that isn’t supposed to knock the breath out of you -- except that it does.

It didn't help that Hoke had to survive a nail-biter over what should have been a pushover opponent just one week earlier. On Sept. 14, Michigan needed a stop on the game’s final play to hold off lowly Akron 28-24. Then college football’s winningest program barely made it out of East Hartford alive, edging the Huskies 24-21. Yes, the same UConn that opened the season with a loss to Towson, an FCS opponent, by 15.

“You can’t give the ball away,” Hoke said, speaking of his team’s eight turnovers in two weeks. “We’ve got a major league problem and we’ve got to fix it, because that’s not going to win you championships.”

Ah yes, championships. By the time an overwhelmingly underwhelming fourth stanza of the 2013 season had finished late Saturday night, no fewer than three would-be BCS contenders nearly had their championship dreams crushed.

How close did they come?

Three yards, one finger and one toe.


  • At jam-packed Rentschler Field, where UConn welcomed Ray Allen and Derek Jeter and had to bring in more than 2,000 temporary seats to meet ticket demand, the Huskies hassled Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner all night. He threw two interceptions (one tipped) and fumbled away a snap. During one ridiculous five-minute stretch that ended the first quarter and started the second, UConn tied the score 7-7, recovered a botched punt that hit the leg of a member of Michigan’s return team, took the lead at 14-7 and then took the Gardner fumble 34 yards for a TD that made it 21-7.



  • The Wolverines clawed back to take the lead 24-21, but in the closing two minutes, UConn still had a chance to set up overtime or win in regulation. On fourth-and-29 from the Huskies' 33, quarterback Chandler Whitmer had receiver Deshon Fox tracked. The up-and-down Whitmer flicked a beautiful pass and hit Fox in the middle of tight coverage with a safety sliding over in a hurry. That safety, Jarrod Wilson, provided just enough help to drop Fox less than 3 yards short of a first down, which would have put UConn at Michigan's 41 with 1:43 remaining.

    Three plays prior to that pass, UConn already had been across midfield, but a pass for minus-2 yards, a false start penalty and a sack for a 12-yard loss had driven Whitmer back into his own territory. Reverse any of those plays, and that fourth down becomes a first down.

    “We’ve got an off week to work this out,” Hoke said as he departed for the bus and then the airport. “We’ll take 4-0. But we can’t keep counting on the breaks to go our way.”

  • Hoke didn’t know it, but he looked and sounded an awful lot like Georgia coach Mark Richt had earlier in the day, lumbering into a postgame presser as though he had sandpaper in his pants.


  • Anyone who has made a trip to Denton, Texas, recently knows that the North Texas football program has all the potential in the world. It's in a recruit-rich area with sparkling new facilities. But even the staunchest supporter of the Mean Green will tell you that coach Dan McCarney’s players still have a lot of work to do to meet that potential.

    Yet there they were, between the hedges, tied 21-21 with the No. 9 Bulldogs in the middle of the third quarter. The rain was beginning to pour. The Mean Green was a team ready to believe and the Dawgs appeared to be a team ready to go home. Then quarterback Aaron Murray led his team on an eight-play, 53-yard drive that he capped with a keeper for the go-ahead score.

    “Hey, we’re fine,” he told his teammates. “Just play ball and have fun.”

    And they did. In fact, the next drive (12 plays for 95 yards) was even prettier. But it nearly ended in disaster. On second-and-goal from the 4-yard line, receiver Chris Conley ran a picture-perfect, inside-to-outside route and was headed to the right-front pylon as Murray turned and flicked the ball toward the corner. North Texas’s Zac Whittlefield is a great athlete, a converted running back who is now an All-Conference USA candidate at cornerback. He hadn’t bit on Conley’s fake. In fact, he’d used it to set up a great inside move that put him on the goal line between Murray and his target.

    Whittlefield had a read on the ball floating toward him and actually appeared to take a quick glance downfield to see the open lane for what could be a 100-yard pick-six. He timed his leap and extended his left arm upward. He swiped and made contact. It wasn’t going to be a pick, but it was definitely going to be batted down. The pass hit three of Whittlefield's fingers -- he needed it to hit one more.

    Instead of being slapped to the turf, the ball dropped straight down … and into Conley’s hands. Whittlefield, assuming he'd broken up the pass, was stunned when the Georgia crowd erupted and he turned to see Conley celebrating. Down two scores, the wind out of its sails, the Mean Green lost 45-21 and Georgia’s one-loss title hopes kept floating.

  • Two nights prior, the coach who pinned that loss on Georgia, Clemson’s Dabo Swinney, had also arrived to his postgame Q&A looking as worn out as Hoke and Richt. The Tigers had just survived an unquestionably ugly, 26-14 Thursday night win at NC State.


  • The initial volley of questions didn’t center on Heisman hopeful Tajh Boyd’s accuracy issues (his season-best 64.9% completion rate looked good on paper but not in person) or even the importance of earning the team’s first ACC win and avoiding, for a week anyway, talk of "pulling a Clemson." Instead, reporters immediately asked about one specific play.

    Down 13-7, Wolfpack receiver Brian Underwood electrified Carter-Finley Stadium with an 83-yard touchdown reception, setting up a chance to lead the third-ranked Tigers by a point (or more) with 7:31 remaining in the third. But line judge Richard Misner ruled that Underwood had stepped out of bounds at the Clemson 47-yard line. When the whistle was blown, the play was instantly dead, meaning that it couldn’t be reviewed from the replay booth.

    Within minutes, ACC coordinator of officials Doug Rhoads had vanished from the NC State press box. He was off to the instant replay booth so he could see all angles of the play. The former back judge knew that, regardless of whether the play could be officially reviewed, he needed to know exactly what it looked like, especially as the ESPN TV booth continued to question the call and NC State fans kept booing every scoreboard replay.

    It was a rare instance when freeze frames and replays contradicted one another. Multiple shots seemed to prove that Underwood had stayed in bounds. But at least one appeared to show the right side of his foot barely over the line. In the end, Rhoads explained, even if the whistle hadn’t blown, there wouldn’t have been enough evidence to overturn the on-field ruling.



    Just three plays later, NC State quarterback Pete Thomas fumbled. Five plays later, Clemson went up 20-7. The Pack never recovered, physically or mentally.

    As Swinney took his seat in the press room, he unknowingly spoke for many of his fellow coaches, not to mention thousands of fans, when it came to summing up a gross, sloppy Week 4 filled with mismatches, miscues and malaise from coast to coast. Yes, in the end nearly all of the teams that were supposed to win did. But like Clemson, most of them seemed uneasy, unsatisfied and anxious for Week 5.

    “Glad to get that one over," Swinney said. "We can’t load up the buses soon enough.”

    ESPN The Magazine

    Video: Notre Dame vs. Michigan

    September, 5, 2013
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    Notre Dame's prime time visit to Michigan is the Big Ten game of the week, as the Wolverines' young interior offensive line goes up against Louis Nix III, Stephon Tuitt and Notre Dame's elite defense.

    Video: Jabrill Peppers crazy TD run

    August, 28, 2013
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    Highlight of Michigan recruit Jabrill Peppers (Paramus, N.J./Paramus Catholic), the No. 2 overall player in the ESPN 300, breaking tackle, after tackle, after tackle in an incredible touchdown run.

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    Michigan To Take Long View On AD, Program
    ESPN Big Ten reporter Dan Murphy discusses how Michigan's governing board and university president will review the performance of athletic director Dave Brandon and the school's football team.
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