NCAA Football

Michigan State vs. Oregon: Matchups to Watch in Week 2 FBS Clash

The No. 8 Michigan State Spartans travel to Eugene to face the No. 3 Oregon Ducks in what promises to be the 2014 college football season's early marquee matchup. Both of these teams have plenty to gain with a win on Saturday—especially taking the Week 1 struggles of No. 1 Florida State and No. 2 Alabama into consideration.

Both the Spartans and Ducks surged out of the gate in Week 1. Jacksonville State fell victim to a well-rounded Spartans team by a score of 45-7, and South Dakota was trounced by the high-octane Ducks 62-13.

Each team was certainly impressive; however, those Week 1 contests will pale in comparison to what's in store on Saturday. Will Michigan State's stout defense prevail, or will Oregon continue to run over the competition? Let's begin to draw a conclusion by examining the matchups to watch when these squads hit the gridiron.

 

Byron Marshall vs. Michigan State's Front Seven

Junior running back Byron Marshall lit it up against the Coyotes in Week 1. An incredibly dynamic weapon, Marshall rushed eight times for 90 yards—an average of 11.3 yards per carry—and added eight receptions for 138 yards and two scores.

The Ducks offense is built around its speed and ability to get the ball to playmakers in the open field. Those qualities were on display each time Marshall received a touch against South Dakota.

Bryan Fischer of NFL.com tweeted his impression of Marshall's slot duties on Friday:

On the flip side, Michigan State prides itself on a stout defense with the capability to contain even the most prolific of offenses. While Jacksonville State may not fall into the prolific category, they were completely stymied by the Spartans gaining 222 yards through the air—while tossing three interceptions—and just 22 yards rushing.

After just one game, Michigan State picked up right where it left off from last season and is currently ranked fourth in the nation against the run.

Marshall is far shiftier than any of the Gamecocks running backs, and Oregon's uptempo offense will only enhance the degree of difficulty to contain him. Watch for the Ducks to look for mismatches against Michigan State by moving the playmaker all over the field.

 

Connor Cook vs. Oregon's Secondary

Junior quarterback Connor Cook burst onto the scene last season by passing for 2,755 yards and 22 touchdowns against six interceptions. He continued his stellar play in Week 1 and looked as efficient as ever in the process. Cook completed 12 of his 13 attempts for 285 yards and three touchdowns before leaving the game after only one half.

While Michigan State's defense will have its hands full with Marcus Mariota, Cook may be an even bigger concern for the Ducks entering their Week 2 clash.

ESPN Stats & Info tweeted exactly how impressive Cook's performance was:

Oregon fared nicely against South Dakota in Week 1, allowing opposing signal-callers to complete just 18 of 34 passing attempts for 198 yards. Although, All-American cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu suffered an ankle injury in the contest, further complicating things for Oregon's secondary.

Luckily, according to a press conference, via Molly Blue of The Oregonian, the cornerback said his ankle is "fine."

We'll see how close he is to 100 percent when these teams take the field on Saturday. He'll certainly be needed against Cook and Co.

 

Michigan State's Offensive Line vs. Oregon's Pass Rush

The Spartans are a little dinged up along the offensive line. Right guard Connor Kruse suffered a leg injury during camp, and there is no definitive timetable as to when he will return. To make matters worse, left guard Travis Jackson left the team's Week 1 contest with an apparent injury as well.

Jacksonville State was able to get a bit of pressure on Michigan State's quarterbacks in the second half of Friday's contest, and the Spartans were only able to average 4.2 yards per carry as a team.

Matt Charboneau of The Detroit News tweeted an update on Jackson's situation:

This could be something Oregon can take advantage of on Saturday. The Ducks showed a bit of a pass rush against South Dakota, as Juwaan Williams, Tyson Coleman and Alex Balducci all came away with sacks, according to CFBStats.com.

Even if Oregon's secondary has some trouble dealing with a red-hot Cook, the presence of a reliable pass rush could certainly pick up the slack.

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Bryce Petty Injury: Updates on Baylor Star's Back and Return

Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty left with a back injury during the Bears' season opener against SMU Sunday night. It leaves the Big 12 contenders in limbo while awaiting further details.

Bears head coach Art Briles told Fox Sports 1's Kris Budden that the senior star would likely ride the bench in the second half, via Fox College Football:

John Werner of the Waco Tribune-Herald reports Petty did not start the second half:

Chuck Carlton of The Dallas Morning News provides an update on Petty's injury:

Although the No. 10 team in the country carried a comfortable 31-0 lead into halftime against the Mustangs, Petty didn't look himself. He completed just 13 of his 23 pass attempts for 161 yards and two touchdowns.

Fox Sports Southwest's David Ubben noted that Petty was visibly favoring his back:

ESPNDallas.com's Tim MacMahon questioned some of Baylor's play-calling when it was clear that the Bears QB was less than 100 percent:

Petty entered the season as one of the most-hyped quarterbacks in the nation. He finally got his chance to start last year and delivered. He completed 62 percent of his throws for 4,200 yards along with 32 touchdowns and just three interceptions. He also added 14 rushing touchdowns.

His presence leading the offense made Baylor a major threat to win the Big 12. It went 11-2 last season and featured enough talent and experience on both sides of the ball to take another step forward.

The Bears were even a little surprised to see Oklahoma get the nod atop the conference's preseason poll. Brandon Chatmon of ESPN passed along Petty's response to the vote: "That's not up to us to vote, it's up to us to play. That tells us that we're not there yet, and that's fine with me. I don't think you're ever there. Once you think you've arrived, that's when you're in trouble."

Petty is a crucial piece of the championship puzzle, though. If he's forced to miss an extended period of time due to the ailment, the team's chances of winning the Big 12 take a major hit.

He also has something to prove before making the NFL jump after the campaign ends. Although he's put up outstanding numbers, there are always question marks when it comes to quarterbacks coming out of high-powered offenses like Baylor.

Bucky Brooks of NFL.com is among the skeptics after studying tape from last season despite numbers that would suggest Petty was among the best quarterbacks in the country:

Petty didn't exhibit the arm talent, accuracy and playmaking ability I would expect from a franchise quarterback; I would need to see dramatic improvements in his mechanics and overall play to place him in the conversation with Marcus Mariota, Jameis Winston and Brent Hundley as the top quarterback in the 2015 class.

Petty was working to prove he was more than a simple-system quarterback. Now, his efforts are on hold until further testing shows the severity of the injury. Baylor and its fans will hope it's nothing more than a scare, and he can make a relatively swift return.

Seth Russell will fill the void until the senior leader is set to return. The sophomore backup flashed some upside during limited playing time last season. He will need to cut down on his interceptions if he's forced to start for awhile with Petty sidelined.

Once more information is provided, the Big 12 outlook for Baylor could shift considerably.

 

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All-Pro CB Patrick Peterson Asks Les Miles for a Selfie After LSU's Comeback Win

No. 13 LSU was on the verge of losing its first home opener in many years as it trailed the No. 14 Wisconsin Badgers, 24-7, in the third quarter on Saturday.

The Tigers went on to score 21 unanswered points to win the game. Afterward, a clearly excited Patrick Peterson sought out coach Les Miles for a selfie. Miles appeared flattered to see the love from the three-time Pro Bowler for the Arizona Cardinals.

Here's the result:

Me and the Hatter after a big win. #geauxtigerspic.twitter.com/drWlborLjP

— Patrick Peterson (@RealPeterson21) August 31, 2014

[LSU Tiger TV, h/t College Spun]

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NCAA Football Rankings 2014: Predicting the Top 25 After Week 1

Welcome back, college football. You never disappoint.

The first game of the 2014 season ended on a last-second field goal, and the second saw a top-10 team lose by 20-plus points at home. The SEC brought the weird from start to finish, and so did the Croke Park Classic out in Dublin.

Week 1 was one of those quintessentially awesome debuts: the kind that has us tearing up our previous rankings, questioning our predictions and wondering why in the heck we do those things in the first place. It's not like we stand any chance of being right!

Accordingly, the Week 2 Associated Press poll should look much different than the preseason version. Unrecognizably different. And how could it not? With so many top teams looking less than dominant, the whole entire pecking order must be reconsidered.

Let's try to make sense of it all:

Note: Rankings reflect a prediction of the Week 2 AP poll—not how the author would rank the teams himself. Predictions made under assumption that all remaining Week 1 games finish as betting spread would indicate.

 

Fun Facts

- South Carolina tumbles from the preseason Top 10 to outside of the Top 20. Last year, the lowest faller from the preseason Top 10 was Florida to No. 12. In fact, if South Carolina indeed falls below No. 20, it will be the first time that has happened to a preseason Top 10 team since Michigan in 2007…the year it lost to Appalachian State.

- Washington falls out of the poll despite starting 1-0, the result of a one-point win at Hawaii. A 1-0 team hasn't dropped from the poll since Auburn (four-point win over Utah State) and USC (two-point win over Minnesota) in 2011. The Tigers finished that season 8-5, but the Trojans went 10-2 and finished No. 6 in the final AP rankings.

 

Teams Rising

Texas A&M

Kenny Hill led the Aggies to a stunning upset of South Carolina in Williams-Brice Stadium—not just because of its occurrence, but because of the way it occurred. Hill broke Johnny Manziel's single-game passing record for an offense that hung 52 points (with ease).

According to Dan Wolken of USA Today, head coach Kevin Sumlin credited a story calling Texas A&M the "most overrated team in the nation" for giving his team the fuel it needed to come out and abuse the Gamecocks. Expect that the media has learned its lesson.

Now…let the wild, 10-hour rumpus start

 

Georgia

Todd Gurley was out of control, putting up roughly 300 all-purpose yards and four touchdowns on 16 touches, and the running game in general helped overcome a boring (if not safe and reliable) full-time starting debut from quarterback Hutson Mason.

More than that, the Bulldogs' defense held Clemson to 15 yards in the second half. Fifteen! Despite the embattled secondary, new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt had his group looking good.

With Gurley carrying the offense and the best group of linebackers in the country (Leonard Floyd, Jordan Jenkins, Ramik Wilson and Amarlo Herrera) carrying the defense, plus the apparent ineptitude of South Carolina as a rival in the SEC East, this team looks like a strong College Football Playoff contender. 

 

Texas

The only new addition to the poll this week is Texas, which replaces a Washington team that struggled to beat Hawaii.

The Longhorns looked good in the first game of the Charlie Strong era, holding North Texas to 94 total yards and coasting to a 38-7 win.

Defense is the staple of every Strong-coached team, and this group has the talent to rank among the best he's ever had. The offense, though, looked a little bit rough, and things will only get rougher if center Dominic Espinosa is in fact out for the year with a broken ankle.

 

Teams Falling

South Carolina

Touched upon earlier, but it would be remiss not to mention the Gamecocks again.

You can't get depantsed on your home field in front of a national audience and not free-fall down the poll.

 

Clemson

Things started well in Athens, Georgia, Saturday evening, but Clemson's offense withered in the second half and eventually went AWOL. It was a profoundly un-Chad Morris performance.

More concerning than that, the defensive front seven—supposedly one of the strongest in the country—could not handle Gurley for the second consecutive season, despite having another full summer to prepare.

The Tigers are probably not as bad as they looked in the second half Saturday, but with a road trip to Florida State looming shortly, that might not matter. Starting 1-2 is a recipe for falling out of the poll.

 

Ohio State

Only part of this has to do with Ohio State's struggle against Navy. A big part of it also has to do with the Braxton Miller injury, which happened after the release of the preseason AP poll.

Still, the Buckeyes could have mitigated how far they fell with a more convincing Week 1 effort. Navy is a good team, and there is no shame in beating it by 17 points, but there was a long stretch of that game where it really looked like OSU would lose.

Urban Meyer's team still has some proving to do.

 

Wisconsin

Of all of the curious curiosities from the first weekend of the season, Wisconsin's second-half disappearing act stands out.

The Badgers were so, so good in the first half, and their first drive of the third quarter—bolstered by a 63-yard run from Melvin Gordon—went for a touchdown. They were rolling toward a program-defining win.

Then, all of a sudden, everything changed. Gordon found himself on the bench because of something head coach Gary Andersen called "a scenario" that happened at halftime, per Brian Bennett of ESPN.com. And from there, things collapsed on both sides of the football.

And as a result, Wisconsin is dropping.

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ICYMI: FSU Ball Boy 'Red Lightning' Is Back and Already in Midseason Form

Everyone's favorite ball boy is back, and he hasn't skipped a beat. 

Frankie Grizzle-Malgrat, known to the Internet as "Red Lightning," took the nation by storm last season when his highlight tape emerged.

It didn't take long for him to show his importance in Florida State's opener vs. Oklahoma State on Saturday, August 30. When Seminoles players and Cowboys players got in a scuffle, Red Lightning was there to attempt to diffuse the situation.

[Vine]

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College Football's All Week 1 First-Team: Top Performers at Every Position

You never get a second chance to make a first impression, but for some players, why would they want to? The impression they made in the first week of the college football season was plenty good enough as it stands.

It was only the first weekend of a four-plus-month marathon, but a few of the standout performers from Wednesday-Saturday have put themselves on track to become household names (if they weren't already) or compete for major national awards.

This All-Week 1 team is a collection of those standouts, the ones at each position who got their season off to the best start. A large part of that criteria is statistical, but numbers are not the only factor at play.

Also considered (strongly) was the strength of opponent those numbers came against, and the way the players looked on film. If a defensive linemen consistently got into the backfield and forced bad throws that turned into interceptions, he deserves more credit than the defender who actually picked them off…right?

Sound off below and let me know whom I might have missed.

 

Note: This piece was published before the Sunday and Monday games. If anything happens to affect the All-Week 1 team, it will be edited.

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New Mexico State's Horse Mascot Runs into Student on Field

During New Mexico State Aggies football games, mascot Pistol Pete likes to ride around on a horse on the field.

Unfortunately, things didn't go as planned on Thursday night.

During the team's game against the Cal Poly Mustangs, Pistol Pete and the horse named Keystone ended up running right into a student standing on the field. She seemed shaken up, but she made light of it on 

Twitter after the incident occurred.

The Aggies ended up winning 28-10.

[YouTube, Twitter, h/t For The Win]

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Utah State vs. Tennessee: Live Score and Highlights

Tennessee 24, Utah State 0—Late 3rd Quarter

So begins year two of the Butch Jones era at Tennessee.  After a 5-7 finish to 2013 that included a number of close calls against conference opponents, the Volunteers will be working on winning more of the close games in 2014.

Today, the Vols host defending MWC-Mountain Division champion Utah State in front of the first Neyland sellout since 2007.

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Baylor Bears Immortalize Robert Griffin III with Statue at McLane Stadium

Robert Griffin III became the first Baylor Bears football player to win the Heisman Trophy back in 2011, and the school decided to honor their former quarterback.

The Bears officially unveiled a bronze statue of RGIII at McLane Stadium prior to Sunday's game against the SMU Mustangs. Before the statue was unveiled, Griffin spoke to the Bears fans in attendance.

Here's a close-up look at the back of the statue.

[Instagram]

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Tennessee Vols Unveil Orange Adidas 'NastyQuick' Cleats for Game vs. Utah State

The Tennessee Volunteers will play the Utah State Aggies on Sunday night at Neyland Stadium, and their players will have some pretty sweet cleats for the game.

Before the game, the Volunteers unveiled their orange Adidas NastyQuick cleats on the team's Twitter account. The game will be played at 7 p.m. ET on the SEC Network.

[Twitter, h/t College Spun]

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Florida State vs. Oklahoma State Football: Winners, Losers from Seminoles' Win

The Oklahoma State Cowboys came into Saturday's contest against the Florida State Seminoles as heavy underdogs. That made sense considering the Cowboys were replacing more talent than just about any other team in the nation and had to face last season's national champions in their opening game.

Many thought this would be an easy win for Florida State and reigning Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston. However, Oklahoma State quickly proved that, even in a rebuilding year, it's a team no one should overlook.

True, the Cowboys couldn't pull off the upset, losing 37-31, but they showed just enough to put a little fear into the defending titleholders. The Seminoles, on the other hand, found quite a few things they'll need to work on. At the end of the day, a win's a win, and FSU only needs 14 more to get that second consecutive national title it desperately wants.

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4 College Football Teams Who Jumped onto the Playoff Committee's Radar in Week 1

Week 1 of the 2014 college football season isn't even over yet and already the College Football Playoff picture has been picked up and given a good shake. 

That just goes to show that preseason rankings weren't 100 percent accurate.

Who knew, right?

Some of the usual teams are still very much at the forefront of the playoff conversation. Matt Hayes of the Sporting News, for example, has Oklahoma, Florida State, Oregon and Michigan State as his top four. 

But other teams are starting to open some eyes. Big victories by Texas A&M and Georgia have put the Aggies and Bulldogs in the discussion for Hayes. 

By comparison, ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit has both A&M and Georgia in his first top four of the regular season: 

Which teams jumped onto the selection committee's radar after this weekend's action? Here are four that either recorded big wins over Top 25 teams or showed up big despite off-field concerns and should be considered. 

 

Texas A&M (1-0)

Much like Texas A&M in 2012 in the team's inaugural SEC season, the '14 Aggies caught just about everyone (outside College Station) by surprise.

A 52-28 win over No. 9 South Carolina in Columbia was as convincing a victory as any team could claim in Week 1. If anything, it showed that head coach Kevin Sumlin's hurry-up, no-huddle offense didn't need the most electrifying quarterback in college football, Johnny Manziel, to run it. 

A young but talented defense led by defensive end Myles Garrett and defensive back Armani Watts still has room to improve. But if A&M's offense runs that smoothly every week, the defense won't need to be a shutdown unit. 

A&M's nonconference schedule should be a breeze, but the heart of SEC play will determine whether the Aggies really have what it takes to be one of the four best teams in the country. If South Carolina can right the ship and turn in a good-to-great season, it's only going to help A&M's resume. 

After Thursday's win, though, Sumlin's team should have everyone's attention. 

 

Georgia (1-0)

Piggybacking off of South Carolina's loss, fellow SEC East member Georgia had the next-most convincing win. The Bulldogs ran away from Clemson in a 45-21 pile-on. 

If nothing else, Georgia appears to have one of the most talented and deepest running back rotations in the country in Todd Gurley, Nick Chubb, Sony Michel and Keith Marshall. 

"Gurley was obviously as good as it gets," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said via Paul Newberry of The Associated Press (h/t The Atlanta Journal-Constitution). "Gurley, and all their backs, were special tonight."

As it so happens, Georgia plays South Carolina in two weeks following a bye. Winning the SEC East or the SEC isn't necessarily a prerequisite for getting into the playoff, but the Sept. 13 game remains important all the same. 

For one, South Carolina can get back into the SEC East discussion with a win over the Bulldogs. Similarly, the Bulldogs have a couple more high-profile games down the stretch against Missouri, Auburn and Florida. Beating the Gamecocks would be another notch on the resume. 

 

USC (1-0)

Scoff at Fresno State if you must, but the Trojans rarely, if ever, looked this good under former coach Lane Kiffin. In a 52-13 win over the Bulldogs, USC ran a blazing 105 offensive plays for 701 yards. 

What's more is that head coach Steve Sarkisian had his team running like a machine despite the separate situations with cornerback Josh Shaw and running back Anthony Brown, who quit the team and took to social media, calling Sarkisian a racist.

The Pac-12 is deep enough that the Trojans can't afford to overlook anyone, especially given their depth concerns. USC will be tested right out of the gate at Stanford in Week 2, and back-to-back games against Arizona State and Arizona in early October could be tricky. UCLA and Notre Dame present tough challenges at the end of the schedule at a time when injuries can pile up. 

Still, the Bruins' struggles against Virginia on Saturday, a 28-20 escape, opened some eyes. Meanwhile, UCLA's offensive line has a lot of work to do, which raises legitimate concerns about whether star quarterback Brett Hundley can stay healthy for the duration of the year. 

If the Trojans offense can come close to replicating the explosiveness and production it had during Week 1, this team will be in the playoff conversation late in the season. 

 

Notre Dame (1-0)

For one week at least, the academic suspensions involving five Notre Dame players didn't seem to hurt the Irish on the field. 

Notre Dame had no problem handling Rice in a 48-17 win. It may "just" be Rice—though the Owls won 10 games last season—but handling your business in the wake of suspensions so close to the season is a good sign. Furthermore, quarterback Everett Golson, making his first start back from his own academic suspension that cost him the 2013 season, looked sharp. 

The schedule gets tougher for Notre Dame, which faces Michigan, Stanford, Florida State, Arizona State and USC, among others, over the next few months. That will indicate whether Notre Dame is actually a playoff contender. 

The talent is there in South Bend to win a lot of games, but this team also showed it could stay together and play well despite a distraction. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand. 

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For Better or for Worse, Alabama Has Found Its Quarterback in Blake Sims

ATLANTA — From the moment Alabama walked off the field on Jan. 2 after losing the Sugar Bowl to Oklahoma, the program had a quarterback battle that featured, among others, senior Blake Sims and Florida State transfer Jake Coker.

That battled ended on Saturday afternoon in the Georgia Dome in Alabama's 33-23 win over West Virginia.

Sims set program records for completions (24) and attempts (33) for an Alabama quarterback in his starting debut, throwing for 250 yards in the process. It wasn't the most creative game plan from offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, but it was safe.

That's important.

Four of Alabama's six plays on its opening drive were passes, and Kiffin got Sims into a good rhythm in his first career start with an abundance of short passes throughout the game. Head coach Nick Saban said after the game that he told Coker to warm up after Sims called some formations wrong in the huddle, but Sims picked it back up after he and Kiffin decided to simplify the offense and go no-huddle.

"When we did that, he sort of got it back together and then he was fine after that," Saban said. "That one little stretch in the second quarter where we got a little bit out of sync was the only time, but I thought Blake did a really good job. He had a couple of guys open that he missed, but he also had a couple guys who dropped balls that he delivered."

On top of that, Sims sidestepped rushers coming in untouched on several occasions, keeping his eyes downfield when appropriate and also tucking it and running for a total of 42 rushing yards.

Saban's comments regarding Sims rebounding and Coker warming up indicate that Sims and Coker weren't battling for the job going in. Sims was the No. 1 and Coker was the No. 2, and nothing that happened inside the Georgia Dome on Saturday should change that.

Coker was there. Here's video of him unleashing two 60-yard bombs in warm-ups with relative ease.

Sure, he had his left leg wrapped heavily and walked out to warm-ups with a slight limp, but he was available and ready to go if Saban and Kiffin needed him.

They didn't—at least, not until mop-up duty on the final drive of the game.

Whether it's because of Coker's knee injury, the reported ineffectiveness in fall camp—Bleacher Report's Ray Glier reported that he completed just 30 percent of his passes and threw three picks on the Aug. 16 scrimmage, or the combination of the two, it appears that he has been relegated to a backup role.

Sims is clearly the guy.

Does he have some limitations? The coaching staff apparently thinks so.

Rarely did Sims try to stretch the field, and his one glaring mistake—a fourth-quarter interception—was up the seam to tight end O.J. Howard, who was double-covered.

But with running backs T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry back there as insurance policies and Amari Cooper outside, all Sims needs to be for Alabama to win is a game-manager.

At least, for now.

The biggest issue facing Alabama, as Bleacher Report's Alabama lead writer Marc Torrence noted in his postgame story, is at cornerback. Bradley Sylve was picked on early and often by Mountaineer Clint Trickett, and Cyrus Jones wasn't much better. Several Mountaineer second-half drops prevented them from staying in it for a full four quarters, but Alabama can't count on that on a weekly basis.

If Alabama's corners continue to struggle and the Crimson Tide get forced into shootouts, we don't know if Sims can keep up. He didn't have to against West Virginia, but considering the offenses Texas A&M and Auburn are capable of producing and the jury being out on several offenses on the Crimson Tide schedule, that's a reasonable possibility.

Sims needs to progress as a passer, and Kiffin needs to open up the playbook over the next two games against Florida Atlantic and Southern Miss to see what Sims can handle in game settings.

They may need him to be a difference-maker if the Crimson Tide is going to make the inaugural College Football Playoff.

 

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.  


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Freshmen Power Rankings of the Week: Top 5

Welcome to college football, young freshman. Now, go out there and be somebody.

Week 1 of the 2014 season was further proof that freshmen are in a position to not only play right away but be key contributors as well. 

That trend started on Thursday in Texas A&M's convincing 52-28 win over South Carolina. The Aggies had multiple freshmen, including receiver Ricky Seals-Jones, defensive back Armani Watts and defensive end Myles Garrett, act as key playmakers. 

Thus, the Bleacher Report freshman power rankings were born. 

The freshmen on this list didn't technically have to start—as in, they didn't have to be the first player on the field at their respective position—but they did have to play at least a complementary or rotational role with at least one recordable stat. 

So which freshmen stood out in Week 1? Which ones had the most jaw-dropping highlights? Which ones underwhelmed? The answers are in the list below. 

Of course, there are countless freshmen playing in college football today. Is there someone being overlooked who deserves more credit? Sound off in the comments below. 

 

The Standout:  Arizona Quarterback Anu Solomon 

The redshirt freshman shined in his first start for the Wildcats in an easy 58-13 win over UNLV. Solomon threw for 425 yards, a school freshman passing record, and four touchdowns. Perhaps more importantly, however, he didn't throw a pick or fumble the football.

Even against a winnable opponent at home, taking care of the football had to have been one of the biggest takeaways.

Additionally, Solomon added another 50 yards on the ground, including a 31-yard rush.

The Rebels may not be the most formidable opponent, but Solomon looks like he'll be a great fit in Rodriguez's offense. 

 

 

Best Highlight: Georgia running back Nick Chubb

Running back and Heisman contender Todd Gurley was the superstar in Georgia's 45-21 win over Clemson, rushing for a career-high 198 yards and three touchdowns.

But Gurley's effort was complemented by freshman Nick Chubb, who finished second on the team with 70 yards—on just four carries. 

Chubb's highlight came on a monster 47-yard touchdown in which he powered through arm tackles and made Clemson defenders look like they were bad at football. 

Gurley is the show in Athens, but the future at running back for the Dawgs looks blindingly bright with Chubb in the backfield. 

To steal a quote from head coach Mark Richt

 

Who’s Rising: Texas A&M Defensive End Myles Garrett

The focus of Texas A&M's 52-28 win over South Carolina will be on sophomore quarterback Kenny Hill, who threw for a program-best 511 yards in his debut. 

But how about a little love for an A&M defensive player? Freshman defensive end Myles Garrett didn't exactly light up the stat sheet, but he did have a sack in his first game. 

While the Aggies' defense still has issues to iron it out, it also looks promising. Garrett (and Watts) is a big reason for that. He's a physical freak at 6'5" and 255 pounds, so he's still learning how to use his talent at the college level, but the tools are there. 

 

Who’s Falling: LSU running back Leonard Fournette.

The Tigers came back Saturday to beat Wisconsin 28-24 in Houston, but the debut for Fournette, the former No. 1 overall recruit according to 247Sports, was more underwhelming: 8 carries for 18 yards. 

Give Wisconsin's defense credit. Other than a late-game meltdown in which the Tigers' ground game took control with Kenny Hilliard, the Badgers generally did a nice job stopping the run. Fournette is obviously a talented player, but even the best running backs struggle when there's nowhere to run. 

Fournette is capable of bouncing back and could still have a banner year. But his preseason Heisman expectations have been put on hold. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. 

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Kentucky Wildcats Have Locker Room Dance Party After 1st Win of Season

The Kentucky Wildcats haven't had the best football team over the years, struggling in the SEC. However, they were able to get the 2014 season off on the right track with a 59-14 blowout win against UT-Martin.

After the game, some of the players had a dance party in the locker room. The Wildcats haven't had a winning season since 2009, so they've learned to appreciate a win any time they can get one.

[Instagram, h/t College Spun]

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A Healthy Georgia Backfield Is the Best Offensive Weapon in College Football

When healthy, Georgia running back Todd Gurley is the best running back in college football.

He proved it between the hedges on Saturday afternoon vs. Clemson, rushing 15 times for 198 yards and three touchdowns, scoring a touchdown on a 100-yard kickoff return and setting a Georgia single-game record with 293 all-purpose yards.

Gurley struggled with an ankle injury for the final two months of last season, but he looked like he was 100 percent in the 45-21 win over the Tigers. 

It was enough to vault Gurley to the No. 3 spot in B/R's weekly Heisman rankings—an award that's typically reserved for quarterbacks.

"Todd Gurley is obviously as good as it gets," Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said in quotes released by Georgia. "He is a great, great football player. If you give him the ball in the position that we gave them he is going to do great things. Gurley, and all their backs, were special tonight."

They were indeed.

Junior Keith Marshall still looked slowed from last season's ACL injury, but freshman Nick Chubb (four carries for 70 yards and a touchdown) looked like a star-in-the-making, and fellow freshman Sony Michel (six carries for 33 yards) has the moves to be a dangerous weapon for quarterback Hutson Mason in a variety of ways.

Not only does Georgia have the best back in college football, they have quality depth, which makes the Bulldogs backfield the most dangerous weapon in college football.

"[Gurley] makes it easy for us," Mason said, according to Georgia's postgame quotes. "You just have to give him the ball every chance you get. We have some pretty good backups too. Sony and Nick Chubb are both really great. We knew Nick's skill set coming into the game today and he ran well. He reminds me a lot of Todd."

Talk about a "rich man's problem" for head coach Mark Richt and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo.

The abundance of talent in the backfield allows the coaching staff so much flexibility with how they mix and match their running backs.

If they want to hold Gurley back in the first half like they did against Clemson—he had four first-half carries for 44 yards and a touchdown—use him on special teams and conserve his energy to shut the door in the second half, they can.

If they want to control the clock early and put the game on his shoulders to take pressure off Mason, they can.

If they want to get him out of the game a little earlier than normal and give some of the backups some meaningful carries to protect their star, they can.

That's not just a luxury for the coaching staff, it's a luxury for Mason—a redshirt senior who's in his first year as the full-time starting quarterback.

With only one shot for glory, Mason may have the urge to try to do it all himself—especially when receivers Justin Scott-Wesley and Malcolm Mitchell get back to full speed and join Michael Bennett and Chris Conley in that receiving corps.

He doesn't have to, thanks to the running, and it was clear in the opener that he knows it.

If the Bulldogs want to play ball control, the running game allows them to do it. If they want to put their best at more of an injury risk on special teams, the depth allows them to. If they want to mix in different looks with two star tailbacks in the same play, they can. If they want to open it up in the passing game, the threat on the ground will make the passing lanes for Mason the size of the Grand Canyon.

Georgia's top-end talent, depth and versatility at tailback makes the running back position between the hedges the most dangerous weapon in college football.

There isn't a close second.

 

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.  

 


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Eastern Michigan's Cinder Block Wall Entrance Ends Poorly

The Eastern Michigan Eagles came up with a creative way to run out of their tunnel in their season opener against the Morgan State Bears on Saturday, but things didn't quite work out according to plan.

While most of the players waited in the tunnel, several Eagles players were given hammers to smash down a cinder block wall. Unfortunately, knocking the wall down proved to be far more difficult than they might have imagined, as you can see above. 

It wasn't all bad for the Eagles, though. Despite the entrance fiasco, they went on to beat the Bears, 31-28.

[YouTube, h/t The Big Lead]

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ESPN College GameDay to Attend Michigan State vs. Oregon Next Week

ESPN's College GameDay is heading to one of its favorite locations—Eugene, Oregon—for next week's game between the Oregon Ducks and the Michigan State Spartans.

The show's official Twitter account broke the news:

That GameDay will be in Eugene next week should come as a shock to no one. Oregon and Michigan State are both consensus Top 10 teams, and they're both among the five most popular expert picks to make the College Football Playoff. Even with USC at Stanford on the table, how could this not have been the Week 2 location?

Outside of its major CFP implications, Michigan State at Oregon is appealing for its contrast in styles. It's hard to find a more perfect collision between an unstoppable force and an immovable object.

Can Pat Narduzzi's big, strong, angry defense replicate what Stanford has done the past few seasons and stymie the Oregon attack? Or will Marcus Mariota and the speed of those around him "Win the Day?"

The Ducks and Spartans are both coming off easy Week 1 wins over FCS opponents: Oregon's a 62-13 triumph over South Dakota, Michigan State's a 45-7 win over Jacksonville State. Neither team had to play its starters long into the second half.

In theory, that should mean both squads are healthy and rested. However, Oregon is still breaking in Jake Fisher at left tackle after Tyler Johnstone tore his ACL in spring camp, and the Spartans are not the ideal opponent for a jumbled offensive line.

Can Fisher hold up on the left after playing so long on the right? Can Andre Yruretagoyena hold up in Fisher's old spot?

"Andre has come along," said offensive coordinator Scott Frost, per Chantel Jennings of ESPN.com. "I think he was really raw when he got here. He has grown up a lot."

He'll need to play like he's grown up Saturday when Shilique Calhoun, Marcus Rush, Demetrius Cooper, Lawrence Thomas, Malik McDowell and the rest of Michigan State's defensive line come bearing down on him.

As has been the case against Stanford the past few seasons, Oregon's ability to win—or at least mitigate how much it loses by—in the trenches should be what ultimately decides the outcome.

Either way, this will be the sixth consecutive season that GameDay has packed up for Eugene. It's the first non-Pac-12 game in that stretch.

 

Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT

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Texas' Stout Defense in Week 1 Perfect Start for Charlie Strong Era

For the last several months, head coach Charlie Strong has promised Longhorn faithful that he would bring toughness back to Texas football.

The Longhorns delivered with a dominant defensive performance that produced four interceptions in a 38-7 victory over North Texas on Saturday night. 

North Texas' lone touchdown came on a David Ash end-zone fumble that the Mean Green defense recovered. 

In other words, the Longhorns defense shut out its opponent's offense. The defense held the Mean Green to 94 total yards of offense, and the longest play it gave up was eight yards. 

"You have to be very pleased with that on defense," Strong said of the defense not giving up a play longer than 10 yards. "If you're ever going to win a championship, you have to play great defense. And the defense kind of sets a tone for the whole game."

Some critics will look at this game and say the defense was only good because North Texas' offense had a lot of holes. But when was the last time a Texas defense held a Division I offense to 15 passing yards?

Better yet, when was the last time Texas held an opponent to less than 100 yards of total offense?

No matter who the opponent is, Texas' defense deserves a lot of credit for the performance it put up Saturday night.

"Keeping a team under 100 yards and shutting out its offense is what we are looking for," senior linebacker Jordan Hicks said. "They had just as much time to prepare for us as we had to prepare for them. They're Division I college football players as well, so I think we played well."

This increased toughness is something the Longhorns defense has lacked since 2011. Let's not sugar coat it: Texas' defensive performances in 2012 and 2013 were downright atrocious at times. And giving up big plays was a constant issue.

But the defense came out of the tunnel with fire in its eyes and will need to maintain that fire moving forward.

Next week, Texas will face a BYU team which embarrassed the defense in stunning fashion last season.

"I told them to enjoy this one, be ready and come back to work tomorrow," Strong said. "We are going to face a team that played well in their opener. And they are a team that embarrassed us last season with a quarterback who ran the ball all over our defense."

The Cougars return junior quarterback Taysom Hill, who was responsible for 259 yards of BYU's 550 total rushing yards against the Longhorns in 2013. Hill led the Cougars with 97 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns in a win over Connecticut on Friday night.

But the Texas defense is determined to shut down the talented quarterback and has been preparing to seek redemption since last year.

"It's one of those games that will go down in history," defensive end Cedric Reed said of last year's BYU performance. "We've had BYU marked on our calendars." 

The Longhorns will be able to silence any critics if they keep this momentum going, which is something Texas desperately needs to do to shed the "soft" label that has haunted the Longhorns defense since 2012.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.

Taylor Gaspar is Bleacher Report's featured columnist covering the Texas Longhorns. Follow her on Twitter: @Taylor_Gaspar.

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Anthony Jennings Shows He Is Capable Leader for LSU with Gutsy Second Half

HOUSTON, Texas—LSU quarterback Anthony Jennings is clutch.

Jennings' showed character in his performance against Wisconsin on Saturday, which was not the prettiest. He was 9-of-21 through the air and was sacked twice.

But Jennings got the job done when it mattered the most.

Jennings was 4-of-6 for 119 yards in the second half, leading LSU to a 28-24 come-from-behind victory against the Badgers. The Tigers scored 21 unanswered points to close the game, thanks in large part to clutch throws from the sophomore gunslinger.

Jennings said after the game he addressed his team when they were down by 24-7 in the third quarter. 

"I just kinda talked to them and told them to calm down," said Jennings. "We are going to execute. With the backs we have and our offensive line, I knew we were going to get on a roll."

LSU head coach Les Miles gave a stamp of approval to his sophomore quarterback's performance. 

"I felt like Jennings managed the game pretty well," said Miles.

Jennings won the starting job against Wisconsin after an offseason battle with freshman early enrollee Brandon Harris. Harris played one series against Wisconsin that resulted in a three-and-out. Miles said after the game he would like to have given him more snaps. 

The question remains if Jennings can continue his success that will probably keep the freshman primarily on the sidelines. He said after the game he is willing to do whatever it takes for his team win, even if that means splitting more time with Harris. 

But Jennings made it clear he can be the guy that leads LSU to continued success.

"I believe I can be this team's leader. I am a leader now," said Jennings. 

Jennings has the backing of his teammates after his career-high 239-yard performance against the Badgers. Receiver Travin Dural, who hauled in a personal best 151 of those yards, said he has seen it all offseason from his quarterback. 

"He (Jennings) has grown a lot as a leader, as a quarterback and as an individual. From fall camp to now, he is a totally different person," said Dural. "He's more mature. He is taking football a lot more serious. Just watching film. All day. Every day."

Running back Kenny Hilliard, who rushed for 111 yards and a touchdown against Wisconsin, feels the same way. 

"He's (Jennings) vocal. He has a voice that catches everybody's attention. That's what a quarterback is supposed to do," Hilliard said. "I feel like he is going to lead this team to where we want to be."

LSU's locker room believes Jennings has the leadership skills needed to win at the highest level. Yet he must play better if he wants to cement his status as the lone quarterback for the Tigers. 

"We have great expectations for this season. We must continue to work hard and get better everyday" said Jennings. 

Intangibles, though, are impossible to quantify. Harris could be the more talented of the two and win the job.

But there is one stat that is hard to argue against, which is Jennings' record as a starter.

Two. And. O. 

And that is music to Miles' ears. 

 

Stats, rankings and additional information provided by cfbstats.com and LSU Sports Information. Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow me on Twitter @CarterthePower  

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