NCAA Football

Ted's Takes on the Pac-12: Cal Overshadows USC and UCLA in Week 1

USC had the most impressive win of the first Pac-12 weekend, while UCLA wracked the most nerves. 

But the most important win belonged to California. A program not far removed from Aaron Rodgers and DeSean Jackson was buried under a landslide last year.

The fallout from low football player graduation rates that then-athletic director Sandy Barbour (now at Penn State) cited upon firing coach Jeff Tedford, wobbly recruiting and player defections resulted in a disastrous 2013: 1-11, 551 points allowed.

Nothing helps Cal's financial battle to pay off refurbished Memorial Stadium more than football success. In this area in 2013, a coach hired for his offense fielded a woeful defense.

No coach in America needed a win more than Sonny Dykes.

Cal delivered. On defense, it allowed only one play of over 25 yards and made a final stand in the closing minutes.

There wasn't one moment last season when you looked at the Bears and envisioned their defense making any stand, anywhere, at any time.

New defensive coordinator Art Kaufman is the star conference assistant of Week 1.

No coach in America enjoyed a win more than Dykes.

Was anyone shocked to see Steve Sarkisian on College GameDay Saturday morning? Hours before his first USC game, Sark did a satellite interview that, to no one's surprise, had nothing to do with the game.

Trojans supporters had to smile as Sark calmly answered the ritual questions about Josh Shaw and Anthony Brown. Who among us could be so poised when addressing being labeled a racist on Twitter?

Later that afternoon, the Trojans mimicked Sark. They hammered Fresno State, showing not one sign of "distraction."

USC operated at a fierce tempo and, most importantly, looked like it loved playing, something that's been missing the last few years.

Depth issues will continue to hover over USC this fall, but positive first impressions of the Sarkisian era will linger.

UCLA, meanwhile, needs an eraser. The Bruins couldn't protect Brett Hundley. And Hundley did not react well to pressure.

The 2014 hype has focused on Hundley more so than Oregon's Marcus Mariota. It is Hundley on the SI cover. It is Hundley, calmly but firmly, telling an ESPN interviewer recently on SportsCenter that he believes himself to be the country’s best QB.

At Virginia, Hundley tucked the ball and fled the pocket at first pressure. The Cavaliers fed on that and ramped up their rush. Bruins fans had to have memories of Arizona State sacking Hundley nine times last year.

ESPN's Matt Millen zeroed in on Hundley's lack of pocket presence during the TV broadcast. Not until the third quarter did Hundley step into the pocket and deliver a pass with pressure in his face.

For Hundley and UCLA to reach their goals, he must deliver on the very QB trait he worked on most to improve.

More notes from around the Pac-12:

 

Five "New" Impact Faces

ASU's Jaelen Strong could be this year's impact receiver in the conference. He was good last year (1,122 YDS) despite not having a full offseason to prepare. His 2014 start is more impressive given he only played the first half.

Arizona's Austin Hill missed 2013, but his return gives freshman quarterback Anu Solomon an experienced wideout.

Utah's Travis Wilson, a medical question after last year, was accurate and consistent. USC's Cody Kessler looked as if he had been born to run the fast-paced offense.

The Bruins' Eric Kendricks is a rock for this year's UCLA defense, which needs to replace Anthony Barr, Cassius Marsh and Jordan Zumwalt in the front seven.

 

Continuing Trend

The Pac-12 ran the most plays per game in 2013. Week 1 shows that is unlikely to change:

Also of note: Stanford ran the fewest plays in the conference last year and in Week 1 of 2014 (62).

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Michigan State vs. Oregon: Players to Watch in Saturday's Tilt

The Michigan State Spartans and Oregon Ducks may have both cruised to victory in Week 1 of the college football campaign, but Week 2 will provide no such comfort for two of this year's best in the nation.

The Spartans and Ducks square off Saturday in Oregon, in the week's premier college football matchup.

As Ryan Field of Fox Sports 1 points out on Twitter, these two programs are separated by just two spots in this week's USA Today poll:

With both teams in the hunt early on for a "Final Four" berth and a shot at the national championship, a win of this magnitude would go a long way to bolstering either side's resume.

With so much on the line, there are a few players who could make or break their clubs' chances of picking up a crucial early-season victory:

 

Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon

If the Ducks have any chance at holding off Sparty this week, they're going to need Marcus Mariota to keep one of the nation's top offenses firing on all cylinders.

Last year, only one team finished with more yards per game than Oregon, and just two other programs wrapped up the season with more points per game, per Yahoo! Sports.

Mariota's expected to be in the Heisman Trophy race once again in 2014, as Barrett Sallee and Adam Kramer discuss on B/R Video's Team Stream Now:

Mariota threw for more than 3,600 yards and 31 touchdowns a season ago, while also posing a threat on the ground, where he ran for more than 700 yards and nine touchdowns, per ESPN.com.

In his first contest this season, Mariota got off on the right foot, completing 70 percent of his passes for 267 yards and three scores. He added 43 yards of rushing and a touchdown on six attempts before coming out against Jacksonville State.

His leadership, versatility and ability to guide Oregon's zone-read offense will all be crucial in breaking down a Michigan State defense that ranked 11th against the pass and second against the run, per Yahoo! Sports.

 

Prediction

As one of the best players in the country, Mariota is bound to have a good game, even if he's playing against a tough defense. His track record, per ESPN.com, indicates that even against tough teams Mariota will throw for around 270 yards and two touchdowns.

While he'll need to keep the Spartans run defense honest, don't look for him to challenge them too often on the ground. Mariota's final line should be around a 60 percent completion rate, 275 yards and two scores through the air, with another 40 yards on the ground.

 

Tony Lippett, WR, Michigan State

For the Spartans, being able to score points to keep up with a Ducks offense playing at home is an absolute must if they hope to win and crack the top five heading into Week 3.

With the team's leading rusher in Jeremy Langford returning and veteran Connor Cook taking the snaps, there's a good chance that the Spartans can put some points on the board and hold the football against Oregon's defense.

The potential X-factor for the team's offense will be senior wideout Tony Lippett.

The team's top returning receiver from a year ago, per College Football Reference, Lippett will look to build on a Week 1 performance in which he went for more than 160 yards and a touchdown, per ESPN.com's box score.

Furthermore, he'll be one of Connor Cook's primary weapons through the air against a very young Oregon secondary.

According to rivals.com's depth charts, half of the Ducks' starting four defensive backs are freshmen:

Throw in the fact that one of the two upperclassmen in the secondary, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, has been battling an ankle problem, per Chantel Jennings of ESPN.com, and you have a recipe for success for Lippett and the Michigan State passing game:

If Lippett can't find a way to get going on Saturday against a young and banged-up secondary, it could spell big trouble for the boys from East Lansing.

 

Prediction

All things considered, the case can be made that Lippett will have a big week on the west coast. As one of Cook's top targets and a beneficiary of Langford potentially opening up the passing game by running well, Lippett should see his fair share of passes. I'd expect the senior receiver to haul in seven passes for 105 yards and a touchdown.

 

Tony Washington, DE, Oregon

With the team's secondary concerns comes added pressure on the big boys up front.

If Cook does look to pass more against a less-experienced—and potentially hurt—core of defensive backs, Oregon will need to apply more pressure up front as a countermeasure.

Enter Tony Washington, the Ducks' athletic senior defensive end.

Washington led all Oregon players last year in tackles for loss as well as sacks, per College Football Reference.

He will have to be instrumental in not only applying pressure to Cook, but also in being a force in the run-stopping department against Langford.

With Ekpre-Olomu also being a key cog in the team's blitz setups, as Jason Quick of The Oregonian pointed out on Twitter, Washington's ability to get into the backfield is that much more important if Ekpre-Olomu is limited by that injury this week:

 

Prediction

Despite the expectation that Ekpre-Olomu will play this weekend, Washington may have a tough time finding lanes into the backfield if Michigan State game-plans for Oregon's sack leader well. Still, his athleticism should see him pick up plenty of tackles. Expect Washington to make six tackles, one for a loss.

 

This one should be a great battle between one of the country's top defensive schools and one of the most prolific offenses of recent memory in college football.

With both teams having been so dominant since the beginning of last year, the winner of this contest should be determined by whose top players step up and which team can better exploit key matchups.

With potential Final Four ramifications, Michigan State vs. Oregon is this week's must-see college football matchup.

 

Follow Jon Reid on Twitter, @JonReidCSM

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College Football Rankings 2014: Twitter Reacts to AP and Amway Week 2 Polls

Insanity in Week 1 of the college football season saw multiple teams make statements about where they stand. Some statements were positive, while others were so negative that they plummeted in the most recent polls.

With the latest Associated Press and Amway polls now released, there were plenty of shake-ups in the rankings. The full AP poll can be found via AP.org, and the Amway Coaches Poll is listed via USA Today.

Here's a look at the rankings:

South Carolina went from No. 9 in both polls to No. 21 heading into Week 2. In the Amway poll, Wisconsin dropped from No. 16 down to No. 19 after a tough loss. As for their opponents, both Texas A&M and LSU climbed up to Nos. 13 and 12, respectively.

Another big mover in the polls was Georgia after a blowout win over Clemson. The Bulldogs jumped all the way up to No. 8 in the Amway poll, as Radi Nabulsi of UGASports.com notes:

As for the AP poll, Brett McMurphy of ESPN was candid about putting UGA at No. 1 on Twitter:

While Georgia was narrowly inside the Top 10, the team was just one of four teams to receive a first-place vote, as Nabulsi points out.

The Bulldogs might have been surprised by the result, while Alabama was likely befuddled that it didn't receive a first-place vote.

After the close win over West Virginia, the voters clearly took note of the Crimson Tide's struggles. But still in the Top Four of the poll, they remain one of the top programs in the country moving forward.

The close matchup also helped WVU in the rankings, as Bob Hertzel of TimesWV.com points out:

One team that is also catching the eye of voters for the right reasons is Oklahoma State. On the heels of a surprisingly close contest against Florida State, the Cowboys narrowly missed out on making it into the Top 25 in the Amway poll.

Trey Scott of 247Sports shared his thoughts on the slight snub:

Despite not making it into the poll, Oklahoma State still received 106 votes. With Texas having 150 votes and Clemson sitting on 155, the Cowboys certainly have a chance to make some noise in Week 2.

Though it barely missed out, George Schroeder of USA Today believes Oklahoma State should have been in:

Following a difficult victory for Ohio State over Navy, the Buckeyes also dropped one place in the Amway poll. Though they remained ahead of the Bulldogs and others, the Buckeyes were one of the few teams to lose a place in the poll after a win.

UCLA also dropped after a win to No. 11 in the Amway poll, but OSU fans live and breathe college football.

Rob Kunz of Time Warner Cable reminded Buckeyes faithful that the poll doesn't mean much in the scheme of the season:

Prior to the release, the rivalry for the best team in South Carolina took a strange turn. The two normally dominant teams both suffered blowout losses at the hands of ranked opponents who skyrocketed in the rankings.

But Aaron Brenner of The Post & Courier noted the potential shake-up in the polls:

Ultimately, the Gamecocks would be ranked ahead of the Tigers, but just barely by dropping 12 spots in the Amway poll. After a disappointing loss in Week 1, the team will need to quickly recover against an impressive ECU team to remain in the polls.

One of the most common themes, of course, was Texas A&M making a huge jump after the blistering win over South Carolina. Harold Gutmann of The Durham Herald-Sun shared his poll on Twitter:

In his latest rankings, Gutmann thrusts the Aggies all the way up to No. 15 after not having the program in his initial poll.

Texas A&M is now ranked inside the Top 15 in both polls—No. 9 in AP poll—but still has plenty of room to move up with Kenny Hill under center.

Moving forward, there are myriad teams that still have plenty to prove. Florida State and Alabama stumbled out of the gate, but they have cupcakes this week to remain as two of the best programs in the country.

As for Oregon, a stiff test at home against Michigan State will prove just how dynamic this offense is during the 2014 season.

With Marcus Mariota and Connor Cook facing off—both of whom were ranked in ESPN's Brock Huard's top-10 quarterback list in the preseason (subscription required)—the showdown will be the one to watch.

Whichever team comes out as the victor will easily jump into the conversation for the College Football Playoff. While the Ducks are already in those talks, the Spartans could make a massive statement with a victory.

 

Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter.

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NCAA Football Rankings 2014: Hits and Misses from Week 1

The first Associated Press poll and Amway coaches poll of college football's regular season have been released, and the results are understandably varied. Compared to the respective preseason polls, 19 teams in each Top 25 are in different spots Tuesday.

(You can also check out Bleacher Report's latest Top 25 to compare.)

The voters in these polls should be open to change, which begins with acknowledging that some teams were inaccurately ranked in the preseason—for better or worse. For all anyone knows, those teams could still be incorrectly ranked.

Preseason rankings are guesses and really just meant to be fun talking points. Let's come to terms with the fact that Top 25 lists will be all over the place for the next few weeks as teams build up their resumes.

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College Football Rankings 2014: Week 2 AP and Amway Standings Revealed

A wild amount of movement was to be expected in the Week 2 Associated Press and Amway standings after the inaugural week of the 2014 college football season saw a number of contenders put everything on the line.

Jameis Winston and Florida State were not among those at first glance, although a close call against Oklahoma State has given those behind in the polls some momentum. Georgia and Texas A&M are fast risers after marquee wins, while South Carolina and Clemson take a nosedive.

For those on the move down, there is still hope with the inaugural playoff on the distant horizon. That in no way negates the importance of the polls, though, so let's take a look at how the top polls feel about the collegiate football landscape heading into Week 2.

 

Amway and AP Top 25 Rankings

 

It's not a major surprise to see the Seminoles remain on top, although those 57 first-place votes in the Amway poll are a bit noteworthy after the team barely escaped with a 37-31 victory over the Cowboys.

Winston was shaky with 370 passing yards and one touchdown to two interceptions, but more concerning is that Oklahoma State—which lost 28 seniors and 13 starters in the offseason—piled on 364 total yards and an 8-of-16 mark on third downs.

Alright, so perhaps the Cowboys are better than advertised. Or as ESPN.com's Gene Wojciechowski writes, the Seminoles better buckle the seatbelts:

But truth is, as the regular season stretches its legs and the Seminoles face Clemson, Notre Dame, travel to Louisville and Miami, and finish with Florida, the Seminoles' nerve will be tested again and again. They will get every opponent's best shot -- just like the solid punches Oklahoma State landed a couple of nights ago.

One slip is all Alabama or Oregon needs at this point. Nick Saban's Crimson Tide did not wind up exactly impressive in Week 1, either, but the ground-and pound approach with T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry will work wonders in the SEC. 

Yeldon brutalized the West Virginia defense in the 10-point victory for 126 yards and two touchdowns on 23 totes, while Henry was not far behind with 113 yards and a score on 17 carries. Dual-threat quarterback Blake Sims did well enough with 350 passing yards and 42 more on the ground. Crimson Tide radio analyst Phil Savage put it best: 

The Ducks get two first-place votes in the Amway after a 62-13 shellacking of South Dakota out of the MVFC, as does Oklahoma after a 48-16 win over Louisiana Tech thanks to five rushing touchdowns on the ground from three different players.

Auburn interestingly hangs around and does not move up despite a gritty, 45-21 SEC win over Arkansas. It is important to point out that, while Auburn coach Gus Malzahn is accredited as an offensive guru, he seems to want to play with fire via a two-quarterback system this year.

"He's too good a player and he can help us," Malzahn told Tiger Talk, via Brandon Marcello of AL.com. "So, each week we'll have different packages for him. At the same time, he can run the entire offense, so that's a good thing moving forward."

Jeremy Johnson did throw for 243 yards and two scores, while Marshall came in late and provided a spark with a 4-of-6 mark for 50 yards and another 19 yards and a score on the ground. Malzahn gets one more week to tinker with the lineup against San Jose State before his team's standings in the polls go up for grabs against Kansas State.

It seems the polls are finally ready to give Michigan State the respect it deserves, too. While a 45-7 win over Jacksonville State is not something to write home about, losses on the defensive side of the football have clearly been over exaggerated (the Gamecocks rushed for all of 22 yards) and Connor Cook's upward trajectory and offseason hype was on display in full force thanks to his 285 yards and three scores with one incompletion.

It should be noted, though, that Cook and the Spartans will undergo a serious trial by fire in the marquee matchup of Week 2 when they travel to take on the Ducks.

Other notables from the release include the rise and first-place vote gifted to Georgia as a result of a critical 45-21 victory over Clemson in a rivalry showdown. Running back Todd Gurley is back on the Heisman hunt and piled up 198 yards and three scores on 15 carries—for an average of 13.2 yards.

More importantly, senior quarterback Hutson Mason finally got his shot with Aaron Murray now in the NFL and did well as a game manager who took care of the football and let his backs do the dirty work.

As for notable fallers, the UCLA Bruins were apparently exposed and hardly scored a 28-20 victory against 21-point underdog Virginia. It is right for the naysayers to exercise caution as the bad showing came against a perennial defensive powerhouse, as Pro Football Focus' Steve Palazzolo illustrates:

Wisconsin takes a similar free fall after a late four-point loss to LSU in which Heisman contending running back Melvin Gordon was held out of a large chunk of the second half due to an injury. Les Miles' Tigers did not gain much upward traction as a result, although that lone first-place vote in the AP poll is certainly of note.

Joining Clemson in the "major nosedive" category this week is South Carolina. Apparently the loss of Jadeveon Clowney to the NFL is bigger than anyone could have anticipated—the Gamecocks got four passing touchdowns from Dylan Thompson but the defense surrendered 680 total yards and held strong on just five third downs in the 52-28 upset.

One could argue South Carolina should not be ranked at this juncture, but those of that mindset may not have to wait long with a date against Georgia on the slate in two weeks.

Obviously the end result makes the Aggies—a team with two first-place votes in the AP poll—one of the top risers. One Johnny Manziel is already an afterthought at this point as Kenny Hill went out and threw for 511 yards and three scores to place himself firmly in the Heisman conversation.

Early-season polls will not have a major impact on the playoff down the road, but it is hard to take major issue with the initial batch of offerings here. There is a wealth of football yet to sort things out, but for now, these polls are a great first take at how the best of the best compare.

 

Stats via ESPN. Amyway poll via USA Today. AP poll via The Associated Press.

 

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What Should Florida State Really Be Ranked After Week 1 Win over Oklahoma State?

No matter how you evaluate Florida State's season-opening performance against Oklahoma State, the Seminoles should still be considered the No. 1 team in college football.

The defending national champs should be the top-ranked team until—or if—they lose. And the polls, which were released on Tuesday afternoon, reflected that. FSU is No. 1 in the AP poll (with 46 of 59 first-place votes) and in the coaches' poll (with 57 of 62 first-place votes). 

A few voters opted to cast votes for other schools, and that's understandable—although it's bizarre that six programs besides FSU received first-place votes in the AP poll. FSU is still the heavyweight champion of college football. Did the Seminoles get knocked down Saturday? Yes. Did they get up and finish off their opponent? Yes. So how can a heavyweight champ be ranked No. 2?

FSU won the title in 2013, but the case for the Seminoles at No. 1 is clear. The Seminoles are missing plenty of pieces from last season, but many of the key parts are back. FSU has a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback in Jameis Winston, a preseason All-American receiver in Rashad Greene, one of the nation's top tight ends in Nick O'Leary and a senior-laden offensive line.

The defense clearly misses tackle Timmy Jernigan. But end Mario Edwards Jr. caused problems up front for Oklahoma State. And the nation's best secondary forced two turnovers.

Some of the nation's other top teams can make arguments for receiving first-place votes. Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota is fun to watch. Georgia tailback Todd Gurley was electric. Alabama has a dynamic running game in T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry, and quarterback Blake Sims may be the answer for the Crimson Tide.

But the fact remains that FSU has Winston along with more talent and depth than any other program at the moment. The Seminoles also have fewer question marks than the other top-10 programs.

FSU's win on Saturday was far from a work of art. But it was gritty. And it showed the Seminoles' resolve.

The 37-31 win over the Cowboys was a good example of a Week 1 game. The Seminoles were sloppy and sluggish at times. There was a lot for fans to dissect, and there are plenty of concerns about the interior of the defensive line and the depth at receiver.

"We're still a work in progress," FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said on Monday. "We have a lot of things to work on, but I think most everybody in America has at this time."

There were also plenty of positives, including a 203-yard performance from receiver Rashad Greene and a dazzling touchdown run from Jameis Winston. Nate Andrews' interception return for a touchdown was a significant play early in the game, and P.J. Williams forced Oklahoma State quarterback J.W. Walsh to fumble in the fourth quarter.

This wasn't a stellar game by Winston, but he still completed 25 of 40 passes for 370 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. And, really, even on a day when he was hit-and-miss, he helped lead FSU to six scoring drives (three Roberto Aguayo field goals, Mario Pender's touchdown run, Winston's run and Greene's 50-yard catch and run).

Former FSU coach Bobby Bowden used to talk about how a program was built. He said the transition began with losing games badly to losing games by a small margin. Then teams learned how to make a play or two here and there and turn close games that could go either way into wins. And then those narrow wins would become double-digit wins.

This was true during Bowden's early years in the 1970s. And it is true of how Fisher rebuilt the program in his first few seasons before FSU won the title last season.

FSU, which had to replace 10 starters, isn't nearly the powerhouse that the 2013 team showed last fall. But it says plenty about a team that the Seminoles played at a neutral site (although Stillwater, Oklahoma, is far closer to Arlington, Texas, than Tallahassee, Florida) and fought through a win.

This week's matchup against The Citadel isn't a marquee game. But FSU has plenty of challengers ahead with Clemson (Sept. 20), Notre Dame (Oct. 18) and Louisville (Oct. 30).

Only time will tell if FSU remains unbeaten. But it should be clear that the Tigers, Fighting Irish and Cardinals will be trying to unseat the nation's top team.

Bob Ferrante is the Florida State Lead Writer for Bleacher Report, all quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow Bob on Twitter. All recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.

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College Football Playoff 2014: Updated Outlook After Release of Week 2 Rankings

Week 1 of the 2014 college football season is officially in the books, and fans of the sport have already turned their attention to the Week 2 rankings and the updated outlook for the new playoffs system.

With several vaunted programs earning big victories and other lower-ranked teams taking hard-fought losses early in the season, the rankings have already undergone some changes.

Here are the full Amway Coaches, Associated Press and Bleacher Report Top-25 polls and the latest college football playoff outlook.


 

Updated College Football Playoff Outlook

After a wild start to the regular season, the college football playoffs are already coming into focus for many fans unsure of how the postseason will shake out.

The No. 1 team in the nation is still the Florida State Seminoles. Despite being pushed to the limit by Oklahoma State in a thrilling 37-31 battle, the team proved it can pull off the big wins in close moments. While former Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston was a shell of the star he was last season (just one touchdown and two interceptions through the air), the program’s defense stepped up big when needed and bailed Florida State out of a jam.

College football reporter Kevin McGuire helped talk many fans off the ledge:

Another playoff contender who struggled in Week 1 was the vaunted Alabama Crimson Tide.

Alabama was supposed to roll over West Virginia in the opening game of the season, but only could manage a 33-23 victory. It was clear from the yardage allowed that the pass defense for the Crimson Tide needs major work (365 of West Virginia’s 393 total yards came through the air), but amassing 288 yards and three touchdowns on the ground should be enough to keep them in every game this season.

Former NFL star Joey Galloway is not sold on Alabama, though:

Two postseason threats who didn’t falter in the opening games of the season were the Oregon Ducks and the Oklahoma Sooners. With Oregon winning by 49 points against South Dakota and Oklahoma winning by 32 points over Louisiana Tech, the hype that surrounded both programs heading into the season looks to be warranted.

Programs like Georgia, LSU and Texas A&M deserve to be mentioned after Week 1 due to their ability to knock off other ranked programs, but it’s too early to consider them legitimate postseason contenders right now.

On the other hand, teams like Michigan State, Stanford and Baylor, who are right on the cusp of entering college football playoff consideration, made a strong case for Week 2 and beyond with huge victories.

The lack of a BCS system ruling the college landscape has taken a weight off the shoulders of the fans. It will be easy to see as the season progresses which programs are the best, and selecting the top four should come naturally after a full season.

 

*Stats via ESPN.com.

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AP College Football Poll 2014: Complete Week 2 Rankings Released

On the heels of an interesting opening week to the 2014 college football season, the new Associated Press poll features some notable movement, but leaves most of the top teams where they started.

Here is a full rundown of the AP's Top 25 poll:  

Upsets were at a minimum in Week 1, and many of the best programs in the country began their campaigns against obviously lesser opponents. Even so, the landscape has a different feel than it did just one week ago.

Defending national champion Florida State was considered to be head and shoulders above the rest of the field prior to the start of the season, but that may no longer be the case. The Seminoles survived a tough challenge from Oklahoma State with a 37-31 win and maintained the top spot in the rankings. However, they certainly look vulnerable to some degree.

Reigning Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston struggled at times against the Cowboys as he threw a pair of interceptions, although he ended the game with 370 passing yards and had a highlight-reel rushing touchdown to boot.  

Oklahoma State wasn't quite able to pull off the upset, but it did something against the Seminoles that no team was able to do last season, according to ESPN Stats & Info:

Florida State fans aren't used to such a close encounter after the Noles blew out almost all of their opponents last year. This is a totally new season, though, and head coach Jimbo Fisher made that clear after the narrow victory, per Garry Smits of The Florida Times-Union:

As a team, we are a work in progress. We have some good players. But we still have to play good. I have to coach better. We all have to look at ourselves in all three phases of the game ... and hopefully we'll make improvements in the next week and keep getting better. Last year is over. So now I think we can relax and realize we have to play football.

Aside from Florida State, Alabama presented voters with an interesting conundrum. The Crimson Tide had their hands full in a 33-23 win against West Virginia, and they are seemingly still undecided about their quarterback situation.

Bama is stacked with talent on both sides of the ball, but Blake Sims was average at best under center. With that in mind, Alabama head coach Nick Saban intends to give Jacob Coker an opportunity to stake his claim to the job when the Tide face Florida Atlantic in Week 2, according to John Zenor of The Associated Press.

"I still don't hesitate to say that there's a quarterback competition," Saban said. "In some way, we'll probably try to play both quarterbacks in this game. I don't know how and when I figure it out I'm probably not going to tell the media. And I don't know that it's that important, to be honest with you." 

As much as Saban has tried to downplay the quarterback controversy and Bama's life after AJ McCarron, its resolution promises to have a major impact on the rankings moving forward.

Two top teams that don't have many question marks after the first week are Oregon and Oklahoma as they both clobbered cupcake opponents in routine fashion to kick off their campaigns.

On team that wasn't so convincing, though, was UCLA. The Bruins were ranked higher than many expected them to be entering the season due largely to the presence of quarterback Brett Hundley. While the Bruins were able to hold off Virginia 28-20, Hundley struggled mightily.

UCLA's defense scored three touchdowns to spur it to victory, but ESPN's Mike Greenberg is worried about the offense:

The biggest movers this week are Texas A&M and South Carolina after their surprising contest to open the season. The underdog Aggies destroyed the Gamecocks 52-28 behind 511 passing yards and three touchdowns from quarterback Kenny Hill.

Texas A&M proved it is still a force to be reckoned with even without Johnny Manziel, while South Carolina could struggle in a stacked SEC this season.

It is tough to differentiate many of the teams ranked in the AP poll through just one week of action, but that will certainly change as more games are played.

The implementation of the College Football Playoff makes these rankings more intriguing than ever, and there is little doubt that they will fluctuate greatly in the weeks to come.

Things are only going to get tougher for the top teams, but perhaps the challenges that some of them faced in Week 1 will set them up for success moving forward.

 

Follow @MikeChiari on Twitter

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South Carolina Needs RB Mike Davis to Hit the Ground Running vs. East Carolina

Let's get this out of the way first: Running back Mike Davis' early absence and nagging rib injury wouldn't have helped South Carolina beat Texas A&M on opening night. After all, he's neither a defensive lineman nor a defensive back, which were South Carolina's two biggest problems last Thursday night.

Davis had only six carries for 15 yards against the Aggies, and his status this week has been up in the air a little bit.

After first saying that he's "sort of doubtful" for Saturday's matchup against East Carolina with a nagging rib injury, head coach Steve Spurrier said Tuesday that his star running back should be ready to go against the Pirates, according to Josh Kendall of The State:

Steve Spurrier says he now believes Mike Davis will be available against East Carolina.

— Josh Kendall (@JoshatTheState) September 2, 2014

That's good news, because not only does South Carolina need Davis this season, it needs him in this particular game.

East Carolina is no pushover.

Senior quarterback Shane Carden threw for 283 yards and three touchdowns vs. N.C. Central, and threw for a total of 7,255 yards in his first two seasons as the starter in 2012-13. I know, I know; N.C. Central isn't exactly tough and East Carolina's schedule isn't tough.

Spurrier knows how good this Pirate team is. At South Carolina's media day prior to fall camp, he praised them while throwing a little jab at the Big Ten (via: 247Sports).

"Playing East Carolina is maybe a little bit better than playing one of those bottom-tier Big Ten teams," he said.

FoxSports.com's Bruce Feldman put Spurrier's quote into perspective earlier this summer:

Re: Spurrier's comments abt #ECU beating some BigTen teams. I think ECU & Shane Carden could probably beat half the teams in Big 5 leagues.

— Bruce Feldman (@BruceFeldmanCFB) August 3, 2014

Was there anything to suggest that South Carolina's front four and back four could shut down even an average FBS offense? If there was, I didn't see it.

Davis needs to be the guy who takes the pressure off the Gamecocks defense.

By pounding the rock and controlling the tempo, it will keep the South Carolina defense fresh and, perhaps more importantly, keep Carden and Co. off the field. 

For the future, Davis' success this week is huge. Davis needs to hit the ground running this week, because waiting in the wings is a showdown with No. 8 Georgia, whose front seven looked pretty solid against Clemson when it allowed just one second-half first down and a mere 15 yards in the final 30 minutes.

Does South Carolina really want to face off against the Bulldogs with a star running back who's still knocking the rust off? Not a chance.

Davis' presence this week would help get him back in the flow and, ideally, contribute to his defense staying fresh and building some much-needed confidence.

All is not lost in Columbia, but the Gamecocks need their Heisman Trophy contender at running back to hit the ground running this week, because the margin for error in the SEC East is now razor-thin with a big game lurking in Week 3.

 

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and video analyst for Bleacher Report, and co-host of the CFB Hangover on Bleacher Report Radio (Sundays 9-11 a.m. ET) on Sirius 93, XM 208. 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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Alabama Crimson Tide vs. Florida Atlantic Owls Complete Game Preview

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — After an opening game against a power-five opponent, the Alabama football team opens a stretch of two games against lower, group-of-five teams. This weekend it’s Florida Atlantic, which is fresh off of a 55-7 blowout loss to Nebraska.

It’ll give the Crimson Tide a chance to settle down and work on some areas of improvement before Florida comes to town to open SEC play.

Just don’t tell Alabama coach Nick Saban that.

“Why does the external factor of who you're playing have anything to do with how you play?” Saban said. “That means if we're playing against Michael Jordan, we play our best game, if we're playing against another old basketball player, then we play just like another old basketball player? Is that your thinking on this? Because it's not mine. If it's our players' thinking, I can tell you right now I'm going to be pretty pissed about it.”

Here’s everything you need to know:

Date: Saturday, Sept. 6

Time: 11:00 a.m. CT

Place: Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Alabama

TV: SEC Network

Radio: Crimson Tide Sports Network, ESPN 106.3 FM

Spread: Alabama by 40-41, according to Vegas Insider.

Begin Slideshow

Best Head-to-Head Battles in CFB This Week

College football is a team game, but one made up of numerous individual efforts.

While the ultimate goal is for one team to outperform the other, at the grass-roots level the outcome is determined by players' abilities to get the better of those they're matched up against. It's 11-on-11, and each player on defense has someone on the offensive side that they are responsible for, and vice versa.

Whether it's to guard them, block them, get past them or get them on the ground, football is full of head-to-head battles. This upcoming week of the 2014 season features plenty of great individual matchups, each of which will have a big impact on the overall result of the game they're a part of.

Begin Slideshow

SEC Football Q&A: South Carolina's Woes, Texas A&M's Defense and Florida's Debut

Week 1 is in the books, and several lingering questions in the SEC have been answered.

South Carolina's defense has major issues, Texas A&M's defense got overlooked in the Kenny Hill bonanza, and Florida unexpectedly has to wait a week before kicking off its season.

Let's get you in the mood for Week 2 with a little SEC Q&A.

 

@BarrettSallee Can Spurrier and South Carolina turn it around in time to actually test Georgia? (And what are the implications of that game)

— Say Say (@WarDamnEagle_) September 2, 2014

The implications of that game are huge. If Georgia beats South Carolina, that'd be two SEC losses for the Gamecocks—both coming at home. It would essentially eliminate any margin for error for the rest of the season, which includes road trips to Auburn and Florida.

Lose, and the Gamecocks are done in the SEC East race.

As for what they can do to turn it around, they're going to have to figure things out up front, because Texas A&M pushed them around quite a bit en route to 169 rushing yards. 

Georgia can do a lot of the same things. You saw Georgia's offensive line getting to the second level in a hurry particularly off the edge, which is a big reason why running back Todd Gurley had a great day. That front four needs to come together in a hurry and stop Gurley before he gets going, otherwise it could be a long afternoon in Week 3 when the Bulldogs come to town.

Even if the Gamecocks do the impossible and stop Gurley, it might not matter.

Quarterback Hutson Mason played more of a game manager role in Week 1 but has the arm and understanding of the offense to be a difference-maker even if receivers Justin Scott-Wesley and Malcolm Mitchell aren't ready to go (according to Gentry Estes of Dawgs247) in Week 3. Michael Bennett and Chris Conley are difference-makers at wide receiver and will certainly test that young and inexperienced Gamecock secondary.

Simply put, I don't think South Carolina can turn it around. The combination of an inexperienced defensive line and secondary was a big reason why I thought they were getting too much preseason hype going in, and experience isn't something that develops overnight.

This is who the Gamecocks are.

 

@BarrettSallee Will TAMU's defense keep the team from reaching the SEC championship game again?

— maub (@earlmaub) September 2, 2014

Not if it continues to play the way it played against South Carolina.

Defense doesn't win championships anymore, just enough defense wins championships. Texas A&M didn't have enough over the last two seasons, but they "held" the Gamecocks to 433 yards on opening night. That number, 433 yards, doesn't sound great, but if the offense keeps producing at the level it did in the opener, that's certainly enough to keep the Aggies competitive.

Texas A&M's rush defense was solid, giving up just 67 yards to a team that has not only a Heisman Trophy contender at running back in Mike Davis but one of the best offensive lines in the conference. Sure, Davis' absence and injury played into that state quite a bit, but it's certainly something for the Aggies to build on.

If quarterback Kenny Hill plays the way he did, and perhaps adds a running game element that was noticeably absent from his game Thursday, the Aggies certainly have "enough defense" to contend.

The trick is doing it consistently, which is not something Texas A&M's defense is used to doing.

 

@BarrettSallee Fearless forecast on Florida's record at the end of the regular season?

— Marco J. (@pinoygator) September 2, 2014

I predicted the Gators to go 9-3 and finish second in the SEC East prior to the season, and even though the Idaho game got cancelled due to lightning, that prediction seems more realistic after Week 1. 

South Carolina's defensive holes were exposed, Missouri didn't exactly set the world on fire against South Dakota State, and it looks like Vanderbilt's transition to new head coach Derek Mason may be a little tougher than Mason anticipated.

We didn't get to see new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper's offense in action, but he's the perfect fit for quarterback Jeff Driskel, knows how to get the ball to playmakers in space and has the luxury of having one of the best defenses in America across the practice field. That's the beauty of Florida this year—the offense doesn't have to be great, it has to be adequate.

That shouldn't be difficult for these Gators.

I'm sticking to my three loses that I predicted in August: Alabama, Georgia and Florida State, with the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party deciding the SEC East title.

 

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and video analyst for Bleacher Report, and co-host of the CFB Hangover on Bleacher Report Radio (Sundays 9-11 a.m. ET) on Sirius 93 XM 208. 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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Joel Stave Injury: Updates on Wisconsin QB's Shoulder and Return

Wisconsin quarterback Joel Stave did not start in the season-opening loss to LSU, and an explanation for the surprising start for Tanner McEvoy might have been due to a shoulder injury for Stave.     

Ralph D. Russo of The Associated Press reported the apparent shoulder injury for Stave on Tuesday:

Last season, Stave compiled 2,494 passing yards, 22 touchdowns and 13 interceptions along with a 138.1 passer rating. He also led the Badgers to a 9-4 record, losing the last two games of the season to Penn State and South Carolina, the latter being the Capital One Bowl.

Brian Bennett of ESPN provides comments from coach Gary Andersen on the injury:

While Stave certainly wasn't phenomenal for the Badgers, he provided stability under center in 2013. With the quarterback out indefinitely, McEvoy will have to step up more than he did against LSU in the opener, where he went just 8-of-24 passing for 50 yards and two interceptions in a losing effort.

The announcement also comes on the heels of a hip flexor for Melvin Gordon, per Chip Patterson of CBS Sports. It appears Gordon will still be on the field for Week 2, but will need better quarterback play moving forward to succeed.

Bill Bender of Sporting News believes the quarterback play was the difference for LSU and Wisconsin:

Tanner McEvoy, who finished 8-of-24, threw two costly interceptions in the fourth quarter. Jennings had about the same luck through the air (9-of-21), but took advantage of playmakers on the outside in Travin Dural and Diarse. That led to a 188-yard difference in passing yards. 

Needless to say, the Stave injury is a crucial one for the Badgers.

Luckily, the schedule moving forward isn't exactly as daunting as the opener against LSU. Wisconsin now has three straight home contests against Western Illinois, Bowling Green and South Florida before traveling to take on Northwestern.

If McEvoy can settle in and Gordon can thrive in the backfield, this might still be a successful season for the Badgers. But with the timetable on Stave unknown, quarterback play will certainly be a question mark moving forward.

 

Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter.

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Amway College Football Poll 2014: Complete Week 2 Rankings Released

The opening week of the 2014 college football season came and went without any massive upsets. Several elite teams, including top-ranked reigning champion Florida State, were pushed to the limit by their first challengers of the year, though.  

Now that the dust has settled, let's check out the updated Amway Coaches Poll from USA Today as well as Bleacher Report's Top 25 for Week 2:

The Seminoles jumped out to a 17-0 lead by the middle of the second quarter against Oklahoma State. But the Cowboys fought back, twice cutting FSU's advantage to three points during the second half. The underdogs' defense just couldn't get enough stops to complete the comeback.

It was still a major wake-up call for Florida State. It may be a cliche, but the national champions are going to get every team's best shot this season. Tom Spousta of The New York Times provided remarks from head coach Jimbo Fisher, who admitted his team felt the pressure.

"As a team, we're a work in progress, and I think we all know that now," Fisher said. "Last year's over. And tonight will help us get over that. I think the pressure of being No. 1 was on them; I really do. Now we can relax and be the team we can be, play better and coach better."

Next up in the Seminoles' quest to repeat is a clash with the Citadel Bulldogs.

The rest of the Top Five in the Amway preseason poll (Alabama, Oklahoma, Oregon and Auburn) also picked up wins.

The Crimson Tide were never able to pull away from West Virginia, who was tied with Alabama deep in the second quarter and within one score midway through the fourth. The dynamic rushing duo of T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry ensured it wouldn't turn into a shocker.

Auburn was tied with Arkansas at halftime before scoring 24 unanswered points in the second half. The Tigers' offense has no shortage of firepower, but their defense will need to step up like it did after the break to emerge as a championship threat.

There were a couple of other notable results from the opening week.

Ohio State's offense got off to a sluggish start against Navy. The Buckeyes trailed at halftime, but they outscored the Midshipmen 28-10 in the second half to pull away. J.T. Barrett made the necessary adjustments as the game went on, which is a good sign for a young quarterback.

Mike Greenberg of ESPN doesn't think they have anything to worry about despite the close call:

Georgia and Clemson were tied at 21 before the Bulldogs scored 24 straight points to get a marquee victory under their belt right away. Todd Gurley lived up to the Heisman hype with 198 yards and three touchdowns on the ground in the win.

In another Top 25 battle, LSU completed a fourth-quarter comeback to edge Wisconsin. Down by 17 midway through the third, the Tigers rattled off 21 consecutive points to stun the Badgers.

Of course, all of that came after Texas A&M got things started with a surprising blowout of South Carolina on Thursday night. The Aggies moved up seven spots in the rankings as a result.

Looking ahead, there are some intriguing battles on tap for Week 2. The biggest one of them all features Michigan State taking on Oregon in a Top 10 encounter. It will be a nice resume-builder looking toward the College Football Playoff for the winner.

Elsewhere, Virginia Tech should provide another solid test for Ohio State, USC will face off with Stanford and Notre Dame will take on rival Michigan. Perhaps the season's first major upset could be on the horizon, as well.

 

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Meet David Beaty: Kevin Sumlin's Ace Recruiter Locking Up Lone Star State Talent

David Beaty doesn’t have a key to the city of Dallas.

However, to fans and rivals of Texas A&M—where Beaty currently serves as wide receivers coach—it certainly seems that way.

As a former head coach on the prep level in the Dallas/Fort Worth metro area, Beaty’s ties in the area have helped him reel in multiple blue-chip athletes to College Station over the last three seasons.

Those connections are part of the reason he’s currently atop the 247Sports Recruiter Rankings for the 2015 cycle.

Adding Beaty to his staff paid immediate dividends for Kevin Sumlin, as he helped the Aggies land stud recruits and Dallas-metro products such as defensive tackle Justin Manning and defensive end Myles Garrett in the last two classes.

This year, five of the six Aggies commitments whom Beaty has been the primary or secondary recruiter of record are from Dallas-area schools.

Joey McGuire, who is the head coach at DFW juggernaut Cedar Hill High School, has two players—4-star receiver Demarkus Lodge and 3-star linebacker Richard Moore—who are a part of the Aggies' current class.

McGuire said that Beaty is easy to work with because of his attention to detail.

“He’s extremely organized,” McGuire said.”Whenever he comes into a building, he knows what he’s looking for. He knows who he wants to see, film-wise.” 

McGuire has known Beaty dating back to his days coaching in the prep ranks. It’s that experience, McGuire said, that has allowed him to transition into Sumlin’s ace recruiter.

“I think that’s one thing that makes him an effective recruiter,” McGuire said. “He’s been a coach on this level, so he relates to the kids on this level very well.”

Beaty was the primary recruiter of record on both Lodge and Moore, as well as 5-star quarterback Kyler Murray, 4-star defensive end James Lockhart and 4-star offensive tackle Trevor Elbert.

Claude Mathis, who is the head coach of another Dallas-area power at DeSoto High School, notes that the Aggies have enjoyed a strong history with his school pulling in the likes of Von Miller, Cyrus Gray and Tony-Jerod Eddie.

However, he praises Beaty’s willingness to trust the high school coaches in the area and factor their opinions into his evaluations. As Mathis points out, it doesn’t hurt that Sumlin and his staff have shown a willingness to play freshmen.

“But I think the thing that is happening, why A&M is getting so many players from this area, they are letting the kids play,” Mathis said. “They are giving them a chance to play early and have success early.”

Beaty’s success in Dallas is a big part of why Texas A&M has risen to prominence at home and nationally.

The Aggies currently have the No. 2 class in the country. Also, Beaty has already landed a pledge from Allen 5-star offensive lineman Gregory Little—the No. 1 overall prospect in the 2016 class. 

“A bonus with him is that most of the coaches in the metroplex know him," McGuire said of Beaty. "They know what kind of reputation he has, and that kind of bleeds over with the kids whenever they see him interact with their coaches. I think that kind of gives him a leg up on some of the other coaches.” 

While his familiarity with the territory, both geographically and as a former prep coach, helps his recruiting efforts, Beaty’s built his reputation as a straight shooter and an effective communicator.

“He’s just a genuine guy,” McGuire said. “I think he’s a guy that when he says something, he means what he says and he sticks by it. I think the parents see that, and I think the kids see that. He’s one of these guys that has an infectious passion for the game and for what he’s doing. People really seem to gravitate toward him.”

 

Sanjay Kirpalani is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand and all recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports. 

  

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Are College Football Playoff Committee Members Set Up for Failure?

ATLANTA — I watched games Saturday from the sidelines and then from the couch. In doing so, I gained a better understanding of the problem facing the College Football Playoff Selection Committee. 

These 13 fine people are too far away.

They have too many other things to do.

They are not set up for success.

I watched from 20 yards away in the Georgia Dome as the left side of Alabama's offensive line mauled two WVU defenders at the point of attack—just knocked them to the ground—and second-string running back Derrick Henry ran 19 yards for a touchdown. West Virginia had players down all over the field in the first half Saturday. TV does not capture the physical nature of that.

I watched from 20 yards away as WVU's Rushel Shell went 14 yards because Bama backup linebacker Reuben Foster and new starting linebacker Reggie Ragland were influenced by a man in motion in the WVU backfield and froze. The play came back opposite the motion, and the flat-footed linebackers were sealed off. Lined up in a nickel defense to combat the spread, the Tide were missing veteran linebacker Trey DePriest (suspended).

Both Henry's run and Shell's were double-digit gains, so they showed up on the stat sheets and the broadcasts. But the view from the ground revealed much more about the differences between the two teams. Alabama was more physical and deeper, which helped explain how the Tide could roll up 538 yards using a scat-back quarterback, a new starter, whose passes were no more than 10 yards down field (run-after-catch effect). The final score was 33-23, but the talent on the two sides, and who was playing and who wasn't, suggested the difference between the teams was much wider.

The committee's view—for most games—is from 20,000 feet, or the 10 feet to their television, or the 10 inches from their noses to their iPad screen, or from the skybox to the field.

"We are not sending committee members to games; they will be watching games on television and watching video replays," said Gina Lehe, Senior Director of Communications and Brand Management for the playoff committee.  "We do not have any information about what they did Saturday."

The fact that just three members of the committee are former coaches doesn't bother me like it bothers Barry Switzer or Pat Dye. What bothers me is these people are not on the ground at these games.

They are too far away, too detached, too part-time. They have other jobs. We're talking about a multi-million dollar enterprise, and we have 13 people involved who are all very smart but are not grinding full-time on this endeavor of picking the four best teams in college football. If you are going to pick four teams, you have to have intimate knowledge, especially when it comes to the big decision, which is not "Who's No. 1?" but "Who's No. 4?"

Think back to 2011. Alabama and Oklahoma State were one-loss teams, and one had to be picked to play LSU for the title. The Crimson Tide edged out the Cowboys in the BCS rankings, and everyone outside the SEC footprint howled. I talked to scouts who had seen both teams up close, and they said there was a considerable difference in talent between the teams and Alabama would win by three scores over the Cowboys. Alabama would be the better match for LSU.

The Crimson Tide ended up winning the national title, 21-0, over LSU.

Think back to Oregon in 2012 and 2013. Stanford controlled the offensive line in back-to-back wins over the Ducks, who were being labeled invincible because of the offense. The TV showed the Ducks to be a great team. It's something you have to see up close.

Here is something else, the committee, or most of them, are missing by watching so much replay. They miss the visceral feel of the action. By the time they watch some games, they know what's coming. The Wow is gone. They have a tape. They've heard about it.

While chairman Jeff Long was watching his Arkansas team wilt in the third quarter at Auburn, he was missing Georgia's Todd Gurley gash Clemson.

While Clemson athletic director Dan Radakovich was watching his Tigers cave against Georgia, he was missing Florida State's uneven performance against Oklahoma State.

While Barry Alvarez, the Wisconsin athletic director, was busy with the Badgers loss to LSU, FSU was on its way to a win, but without the same ferociousness as 2013.

While Oliver Luck, the West Virginia AD, was watching WVU try and hold off Alabama's vast talent, Ohio State was finally putting away Navy.

There are too many games to watch at once, at least until later in the season when the contenders are thinned out. How do you impress somebody when the shock value has been extracted by "I knew that was coming"?

You have to hand it to Long, though. This is a lot of work for an AD who oversees a $100 million budget. He watches games on TV in his hotel room prior to departure for Hogs' away games, then he is on to mobile devices. Conferences offices send him every game in the form of coach's video, both sideline and end zone views of all plays.

Long, who was a graduate assistant football coach at Michigan under offensive line coach Les Miles, has 20 prime TV games made available to him per week without commercials or time in between plays, according to a member of his staff. Long and other committee members have access to Sports Source Analytics, which is the granular version of the game on the TV.

Here's the problem with not being closer to the action. Anybody see a great team out there the first week? Texas A&M—on one side of the ball. Auburn—on one side of the ball. Florida State—for a quarter.

If there is not a great team, or two great teams, there are going to be some one-loss teams. Maybe not this year, but as schools beef up strength of schedule to build their resume for the CFP and bow to TV, we are going to have one-loss teams galore.

It's why this committee should have been scouts, former NFL GMs, retired coaches in their 50s and 60s who could still travel and work 50-60 hours a week. It would have been a little harder to argue with them over the biggest looming debate in college athletics—who is No. 4, who is No. 5? There is plenty of money to pay for people's time.

It's a little late for this, but I would have called Bill Polian, the former NFL general manager, and asked for some names. Of course, the scouts and former GMs are not part of the college club. Their names were not pushed forward by the National Football Foundation or the Autonomous 5 Commissioners. I asked selection committee executive director Bill Hancock last year if he would consider the idea and he said no.

I am not going where Dye went, about stacking the committee with coaches and players who have "put their hand in the dirt." Switzer, the former Oklahoma coach, mimicked Dye recently about committee member Condi Rice not being qualified. Switzer probably made the same comments about reporters as he did about Rice. You haven't been there, you know nothin'.

Dr. Rice's analytical skills would embarrass me. Her judgment is off the charts; she won't be swayed by emotion. I would be fine having somebody with her credentials on the committee if she went to enough games, saw more teams in person, stood next to a 6'9" offensive lineman who can't move his feet to block and a 6'4" lineman who can. If she saw it up close, I'm sure Condi could tell me who the better player is.

It's not too late to tell the people on this committee to get out to some Thursday night and Friday night games.

The caretakers of college football have left themselves open to criticism because they chose administrators and people connected to the money game to make sure there is a sharing of the wealth, instead of choosing pure football people, or people not in the "club", who might be more likely to put two SEC teams or two Pac-12 teams in the Final Four.

I'm not questioning the integrity of somebody like Tom Jernstedt. This is questioning the judgment of the College Football Playoff Management Committee and the Autonomous Power 5 commissioners.

The big takeaway here is that this committee chosen by politics is bound to get slammed for prejudice. Then the squawking about who gets left out eventually leads to talk of an eight-team playoff. How about that? We will be a year into a 12-year deal, and already there will be backroom plans being made to get more money from the fans via television with an eight-team playoff under the guise "we have to include more worthy teams."

More teams, more injury risk, more missed class time. Why not squash some of the debate with more time on the sidelines or in the huddle for the 13.

 

Ray Glier has covered college football and various other sports for 20 years.  His work has appeared in USA Today, The New York Times, CNN, The Washington Post and Al Jazeera America. He is the author of How the SEC Became Goliath (Howard/Simon & Schuster, 2013)

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Florida State Football: Report Card Grades for Every New Starter

Florida State officially kicked off its title defense this past Saturday by holding off Oklahoma State in a 37-31 victory, and several new starting Seminoles played integral roles in the opening-weekend win.

With several former players off to the NFL, FSU had multiple starting positions to fill this offseason, and their replacements had mixed results against the Cowboys at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

Click the slideshow to see what each of FSU's new starters did in game No. 1 and a grade of their performances.

Begin Slideshow

Grading Bobby Petrino's Return to Big-Time College Football

With apologies to the one-year stint with Western Kentucky in 2013, Monday night marked the return of Bobby Petrino to big-time college football.

Now in the first year of his second stint as the head coach of the Louisville Cardinals, the former Arkansas head coach pounded the Miami Hurricanes 31-13.

It was about what you'd expect from a Petrino-coached team.

The Cardinals established the running game, got efficient play in the passing game and leaned on the Hurricanes late to pull away in the second half of what was not only Petrino's first game back, but the first game for Louisville as a member of the ACC.

How did his encore grade out?

 

Offense: B

It wasn't the kind of performance that Petrino's teams are accustomed to, with the quarterback slinging the ball all over the field and the scoreboard lighting up with crooked numbers.

It was efficient. It was smart. It was effective.

Quarterback Will Gardner completed 20 of 28 passes for 206 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions, which is certainly good enough. However, two fumbles—including one in the red zone—helped keep the game unnecessarily close early.

“Other than the turnovers, I mean a couple fumbles. Other than that I am but there is always room to improve and get better and just come out next week, work hard and get ready for the next event,” Gardner said.

While ball security was an issue, Petrino suggested some of Garnder's issues can be fixed with pass protection.

"A lot of the hits were caused of making the wrong call, we didn’t block the right guy," Petrino told reporters. "He still has to get the ball against his body. You talk about poise and competitive spirit, the way he came out and played after those mistakes, I’m very proud of him."

On the ground, the Cardinals were fine.

Without an injured Michael Dyer, Dominique Brown took over against a Miami defense that has some run-stuffers in the front seven, including Denzel Perryman. Brown had 33 carries for 143 yards and a touchdown in the win, and he took a ton of pressure off Gardner.

“It’s a great feeling," Brown said following the game. "You know when you’ve got the offensive line behind you—especially with the head coach calling the plays to me, just telling me to stay out there and 'we’re gonna keep feeding you'—it's a great feeling.”

The protection issues and Gardner's ball security are concerning and what prevented this grade from being an "A."

 

Defense: A

I'll be honest, I was shocked at Louisville's defense against Miami on Monday night.

After four years of confusion, ineptitude and inconsistency in Athens, Petrino paid Todd Grantham $1 million per year to coordinate the Cardinals defense. It looked comfortable, properly taught and fundamentally sound against the 'Canes.

Grantham's defense forced three turnovers, held Miami to 1-of-13 on third-down conversions and forced running back Duke Johnson to cut behind the line of scrimmage early and often, limiting his effectiveness.

This put too much pressure on true freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya.

"I think we did a good job of being gap-sound and our guys using their hands to get off blocks," Petrino said. "I like the way our linebackers played coming downhill and our secondary was involved in being where they needed to be."

Was that hefty contract to Grantham worth it?

So far, so good.

 

Special Teams: A

The Cardinals were good in essentially every aspect of special teams.

Corvin Lamb had a 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, showing off blazing speed and quickly shifting momentum back to the home team after Miami had taken a 10-7 lead. Lamb showed off tremendous speed and elusiveness on the return, which makes him a dangerous weapon for the Cards moving forward.

"He’s a guy whose speed shows up every day in practice," Petrino said. "I think we’ve just got to find a way to get him the ball and get him involved in our offense as well as special teams."

John Wallace hit all four of his extra points and his only field-goal attempt (28 yards), while Ryan Johnson averaged 44 yards per punt.

Can't get much better than that from a special teams perspective.

 

Overall: A-

There are some issues to work out, particularly with Gardner's ball security and the protection up front. But make no mistake, Louisville made a statement on Monday night that it is a contender in the ACC Atlantic.

Is it better than Florida State or Clemson?

That remains to be seen, but each of those two front-runners showed its fair share of weaknesses as well—plus Louisville gets the 'Noles at home on a Thursday night on Oct. 30.

The Cardinals are in the discussion, and that's about as good as it could possibly get after Week 1.

 

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and video analyst for Bleacher Report, and co-host of the CFB Hangover on Bleacher Report Radio (Sundays 9-11 a.m. ET) on Sirius 93 XM 208. 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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NCAA Football Playoff 2014: Latest Predictions After Week 1 Standings

From the looks of college football's opening week, the NCAA picked the perfect season to institute the College Football Playoff.

There's no powerhouse that looks poised to run away with the top ranking. If the newly instituted postseason began today, any of the participating squads would enter the melee with a solid chance of coming out on top.

While South Carolina saw its CFB chances vanish, the top-seeded teams all exited Week 1 with a victory. That's enough to keep them in the top four for now, but it might not stay that way for long in a deep pool of contenders.

Note, these rankings reflect my predictions for the next AP poll. I have the No. 2 and 3 squads swapping places for now, but don't be surprised if bigger changes ensue later in the season.

 

Projected College Football Playoff Matchups:

No. 1 Florida State vs. No. 4 Oklahoma

Florida State came dangerously close to ruining its title defense just as it began. Oklahoma State pushed the Seminoles to the brink in a 37-31 loss.

Jameis Winston compiled 370 passing yards, but he also coughed up two interceptions that kept the Cowboys hopeful. He told Yahoo Sports' Pat Forde that the team needs to play better after surviving a close call.

"We got to get better," Winston said. "I told the guys, 'Hey, that’s an eye opener.' [The Cowboys] played their tails off. So we got to go higher."

The defending Heisman Trophy winner hardly deserves all of the blame. The team averaged 3.4 yards per carry while allowing three opposing scores through the ground.

Since they're the defending champions, expect the Seminoles to receive the benefit of the doubt for now. They should return to normalcy with a convincing victory over The Citadel on Saturday night.

Oklahoma took a positive in proving it belongs among the nation's top squads. Bob Stoops' squad outgained Louisiana Tech by 191 yards during a 48-16 Week 1 victory.

The Sooners imposed their will on the ground, gaining 183 rushing yards and five touchdowns with Samaje Perine leading the brigade. While they would have been considered a sizable underdog against Florida State a week ago, the Sooners may feel a bit more optimistic about their chances now. 

 

No. 2 Oregon vs. No. 3 Alabama

The Crimson Tide better watch themselves if they don't want to fall any further. 

Yes, they best West Virginia last weekend, but a 33-23 victory won't garner them championship praise. Clint Trickett kept the Mountaineers alive with 365 passing yards, exposing a once feared secondary.

Quarterbacks Blake Sims and Jacob Coker were expected to enter the opener in a timeshare, but the fifth-year senior instead played every snap. Sims held his own, going 24-of-33 with 250 yards passing and 42 rushing, but he also surrendered an interception during the fourth quarter. 

Sports Illustrated's Zac Ellis wonders how this game will affect Alabama's quarterback controversy going forward.

Now, fans must wait and see whether the Blake Sims show has truly taken over in Tuscaloosa. Coker remains a highly touted option, but perhaps Saban and offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin will embrace one simple mantra: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The real question is whether Sims can perform similarly against Alabama’s SEC schedule.

If last weekend's game is any indication, Alabama will eventually need a signal-caller who can do more than tread water. Alongside a mortal-looking defense in a loaded SEC, Nick Saban should eventually turn to the Florida State transfer if he wants to keep this playoff spot.

No such dilemma exists in Oregon, where Heisman hopeful Marcus Mariota scored four touchdowns in Oregon's 62-13 opening win over South Dakota. In the process, he broke Joey Harrington's school record for touchdowns, as noted by assistant athletic director Andy McNamara.

A year removed from finishing second in total offensive yards and third in points scored, the Ducks are showing no signs of slowing down this season. They'll face arguably their toughest challenge of the year this Saturday in No. 8 Michigan State, an early showdown with major CFB implications.

While a loss clouds the playoff picture, a win over the Spartans puts Oregon in No. 1 consideration.

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NCAA Football Rankings 2014: Week 2 Standings for College's Top 25 Teams

A wild Week 1 in college football is likely to produce some huge shakeups when the updated rankings are released. But prior to the polls being released, it's time to take a look back at where each team started the season.

With the updated rankings set to be announced after the first games were played, several teams helped their case. Meanwhile, other programs took a step back during their season openers.

After impressing the voters in Week 1, teams like Georgia and Baylor will likely see a jump in the standings. As for South Carolina and Clemson, a drop in the rankings is likely after disappointing losses.

Before the updated polls are released, here's a look at the most recent Bleacher Report rankings and a breakdown of how teams shifted in the standings.

 

Breakdown of Rankings

A record-breaking performance and resounding victory in Week 1 was enough to thrust Texas A&M up the rankings.

The Aggies' 52-28 win over South Carolina proved that the team is ready to move forward without Johnny Manziel. While the defense still allowed 28 points to the Gamecocks, it was the phenomenal offense that made waves around the college football landscape.

In particular, Kenny Hill more than emerged from the shadow of Manziel in his first college start. Numbers Never Lie takes a look at the signal-caller's first game compared to the previous field general:

Not only is the Texas A&M program now back in the spotlight, but Hill appears to have Heisman hopes. Following a season in which Jameis Winston unexpectedly won the award, Hill has a good shot if he continues putting up huge numbers.

Speaking of Winston, the sophomore struggled slightly in his opener. But with the win over Oklahoma State, Florida State remains atop the Bleacher Report rankings and will likely stay on top of both the AP and Amway polls when they are released.

But with a favorable schedule that includes just one potential test against Clemson before facing Notre Dame on Oct. 18, the Seminoles will likely remain at No. 1 moving forward. While Winston wasn't flawless, he showed flashes of brilliance with a huge run, as SportsCenter notes:

As for those who took a dive in the standings, Wisconsin was likely the one team that is the most befuddling. Not because of the result against LSU but how the program got there.

Melvin Gordon is the clear star for the Badgers, but he was limited to just four carries in the second half against the Tigers. With only 16 touches, he still produced 140 yards and a touchdown on the big stage.

Head coach Gary Andersen spoke about the disappearance of Gordon in the second half, per Zach Heilprin of ESPN Wisconsin:

Yes, that is the head coach saying he didn't know why his biggest playmaker only toted the ball twice in the fourth quarter. Meanwhile, LSU scored 15 unanswered points in the final frame to win—something that Wisconsin fans won't soon forget.

Along with Wisconsin, both South Carolina and Clemson are sure to slide down in the polls. But as the season goes on, the focus will likely be on the top teams with hopes of making the College Football Playoff.

Whether some of the early surprises emerge into the top four will be something to watch moving forward. Given the way the first week shaped up, the 2014 season is guaranteed to be an unpredictable one with plenty of surprises in store.

 

Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter.

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