NCAA Football

College Football Week 2 Predictions: Picking Top 25 Games Against the Spread

Week 1 of the college football season reminded us that handicapping games with point spreads is a difficult proposition. Oklahoma dominated Louisiana Tech as a 33.5-point favorite, looking the part of a hefty chalk in all four quarters. Then, with the starters long departed, the Bulldogs scored a meaningless touchdown with roughly a half-minute remaining.

This end-zone trip pushed the final score to 48-16, and like that, Louisiana Tech secured a cover against the Sooners’ backups’ backups’ backups. The tickets that looked so promising for so long were sent to the wastebaskets.

The season had returned.

After a .500-ish debut our picks against the spread in Week 1, we’re turning our focus to Week 2. We have a new AP poll, which will be used to outline the teams being targeted, along with a few fabulous matchups. 

Oregon and Michigan State, we welcome you with open arms and full koozies.

The only difference this week, however, is games featuring Top 25 teams taking on FCS opponents—which includes Florida State, Texas A&M, Baylor, LSU and others—will not be picked. At the time this post was being crafted, there were no point spreads available for these matchups. (Don’t blame the sportsbooks; blame these dreadful early schedules.)

As for those that are being handicapped, here are the Week 2 picks.

 

All spreads are courtesy of Oddshark.com unless noted otherwise.

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Week 2 College Football Conference Power Rankings

The SEC was the best conference of the BCS era, but now that phase is over, and with an ACC team (Florida State) sitting on the throne as we transition into the College Football Playoff, perhaps a changing of the guard is in store?

Or perhaps it's not. The SEC did look pretty good in Week 1, after all, coming out victorious in high-profile games against the ACC (Georgia over Clemson) and the Big Ten (LSU over Wisconsin).

Was that enough for the SEC to retain its rightful spot at No. 1? Or did Alabama's struggles, for example, set the stage for another league to power through? Below that, how do all the group-of-five leagues stack up as we cross into an uncharted, playoff-having terrain?

There's only so much we can tell after the first week, but based on our preseason predictions and our early observations, here is a fluid ranking of the 11 FBS conferences in 2014. We'll keep you updated with a new list every week throughout the season.

Sound off below and let me know where you disagree.

 

Note: All ranking info refers to the Week 2 Associated Press Poll

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College Football Opening Odds: Pittsburgh, Stanford Early Favorites

The Pittsburgh Panthers are early four-point road favorites against the Boston College Eagles in college football Week 2 action Friday night.

The game is the first meeting in a decade between the former Big East rivals, with the Panthers hoping to pick up where they left off as winners in four of their last five against the Eagles.

Entering their second season in the ACC, Pittsburgh sits in the middle of the pack with 40-1 odds to win the ACC championship—well ahead of the Eagles, who are currently 200-1 long shots.

Pittsburgh is coming off a lopsided 62-0 win over Delaware in Week 1 as 24-point favorites, single-handedly going over a total that was set at 59.5.

The Eagles dominated local rivals Massachusetts 30-7 in Week 1, easily covering the 17-point spread and ending a two-game losing streak straight up (SU) and against the spread (ATS).

The Stanford Cardinal are early 3.5-point favorites in college football betting when they welcome their oldest rivals, the USC Trojans, to Stanford Stadium Saturday afternoon.

The Trojans have struggled in recent meetings with Stanford, winning just one of their last five and covering just two of their last seven against the Cardinal. Interestingly, when they have had success against Stanford, it has been on the road, posting a 4-2 record at Stanford Stadium.

Another classic matchup is on the Saturday schedule as the Notre Dame Fighting Irish play host to the Michigan Wolverines. The Irish are five-point favorites after dominating Rice, 48-17, as 19.5-point favorites in Week 1.

Notre Dame is currently riding a 20-5 SU run and is 5-2 SU and ATS in its last seven home meetings with the Wolverines.

Michigan has provided mixed returns to sports bettors in its most recent outings, going 4-1 ATS in its last five but just 2-5 SU in its last seven overall.

The Oregon Ducks are solid 13-point favorites against the visiting Michigan State Spartans Saturday evening. The Ducks started the season as a college football futures betting favorite to win this season’s championship, with odds of 9-1. MSU is 8-0-1 ATS as a road underdog and hasn’t been a double-digit underdog since 2009, according to the college football database at Odds Shark.

In other Week 2 action, the South Carolina Gamecocks are 14-point favorites at home against the East Carolina Pirates, while the Ohio State Buckeyes are favored by 12 over the Virginia Tech Hokies.

 

Stats, odds courtesy of Odds Shark.

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Michigan Football: Trust, Communication Key for Wolverines vs. Notre Dame

In order to reach past levels of success, Michigan must reestablish a few core values.

Judging by recent statements from Ann Arbor, the Wolverines aren’t only doing that, they’re excelling at it, which was evident during Week 1’s 52-14 hammering of Appalachian State.

Players had “trust” in one another.

They “communicated.”

In other words, improved dialogue and confidence in the guy next to them caused Team 135 to play as one. A repeat will be necessary Saturday if the Wolverines want to leave South Bend with a series-finalizing victory over Notre Dame.

“We’re obviously very excited about the next challenge; and I know we have a lot of things that we can get better at, and our guys will work very, very hard to do that,” said defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, who later added that he could “communicate better” with his team. “But we’re also very excited about some of the things we saw Saturday out there on that field.

“Now we’ve got to move on to the next one.”

 

Enough Trust To Go Around

Take a moment to view Devin Gardner, Devin Funchess, Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith—four of the top players—through a different lens. Instead of looking at them as big-time athletes, try seeing them as a group of guys doing what they love alongside great friends.

Smith and Green have referred to each other as brothers, which, to an extent, is probably true for most of Team 135. The general feeling this season is that everyone is on the same page, and everyone agrees that the 2014 Wolverines are chemistry majors.

Of course, it takes more than just a common interest in a sport to establish the types of bonds they have. It takes something deeper across the board, something away from the huddle, screaming practices, agonizingly long film sessions and workouts.

Guys have to like each other.

During Monday’s press conference, it was plain to see that Gardner and Funchess are more than just a quarterback-receiver tandem—they’re pretty close. Their jokes—and subsequent bursts of laughter—about a failing microphone and headphones, their grinning while answering questions and their gesturing toward one another was more than enough to draw that conclusion.

It was "The Devin and Devin Show: Part II."

But on a serious note, Gardner dropped a line that caught the room’s full attention: “[Funchess could] probably be the best receiver to ever play here.”

Did he really say that?!

Yes, he did say that.

It took confidence to say that, lots of it. But it also took trust. Gardner, a fifth-year senior, doesn’t seem like the type who’d purposely mislead the public or outright lie about his opinion of Funchess, who enters his second season with a legend’s number on his back.

Gardner trusts him. And they communicate well.

Conversely, it’d be wise to assume that Funchess feels the same way about Gardner, who completed seven passes for 95 yards and three touchdowns to the 236-pound junior during the first half against Appalachian State.

The coaching staff also has to trust that Gardner and Funchess can lead the final charge against the Irish, who’ll do everything in their power to make sure that Michigan’s “new math” of “98+1=6” doesn’t add up Saturday.

“We’re playing an offense with Gardner and Funchess, a 1-2 combination that is very dynamic,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said, per NBC Sports’ Keith Arnold (also of B/R). “Funchess being on the perimeter is a matchup problem, and he will be a matchup problem for everybody he plays this year. We will have to find ways obviously to slow him down, and he’s going to be difficult, and Gardner has played great against us."

 

Talk More, Make Less Mistakes

Had it not been for a pair of late touchdowns—an eight-yard reception by Simms McElfresh and a one-yard rush by Marcus Cox—the Wolverines defense would have blanked Appalachian State, which fell short of 100 total yards while facing starters in the first half.

However, the Mountaineers capitalized on the Wolverines’ lapses of judgment and timing in the third and fourth quarters. 

That can't happen this weekend; Everett Golson just threw for 295 yards, accounting for five touchdowns (three rushing), during Notre Dame's 48-17 plowing of Rice. The Irish know how to put points on the board. 

“[The App. State game] wasn't perfect, so we went over the mistakes [Sunday]," said Raymon Taylor, a senior DB. "We know this week, we really have to get our communication down. Like I said, it wasn't perfect, we missed a couple plays out there. But this week we know it's going to be a challenge. 

"We have to get everything down pat. We've got to be perfect this week if we want to win." 

 

Follow Bleacher Report’s Michigan Wolverines football writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes and references to were obtained firsthand by the writer via post-game/practice and weekly press conferences

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College Football 2014 Week 2: Locks of the Week

Week 2 of the 2014 college football season is just around the corner, and Bleacher Report's College Football Analyst Adam Kramer is here to discuss the locks of the week.

Which teams do you think will cover the spread in Week 2?

Check out the video, and let us know.

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Predicting College Football's Biggest Headlines for Week 2

Heading into Week 2 of the 2014 college football season, Bleacher Report's College Football Analysts Michael Felder, Barrett Sallee and Adam Kramer throw out their biggest headlines following this week's matchups.

What headlines do you think we will be seeing after Week 2?

Watch the video, and let us know.

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College Football Week 2 Schedule: TV and Live Stream Info for Every Game

Although Week 2 of the 2014 college football season lacks the volume of Top-25 showdowns from the opening week, fans are in for a couple of titanic clashes.

With the advent of the four-team playoff, teams in power-five conferences are growing more and more wary of scheduling easy warm-up games before conference season begins. As a result, you're seeing fewer and fewer of those one-sided 76-0 blowouts that usually litter the early stages of the campaign.

While a handful of those matchups still remain, it feels like the sporting public is getting more and more spoiled as the best regular season in sports continues to get better.

Here's a look at the slate of games for Week 2, following by two of the biggest contests.

 

Schedule (via ESPN.com)

Note: For games without national or regional coverage on a major network, check local listings.

 

Games to Watch

No. 14 USC at No. 13 Stanford

When these teams met last year in Los Angeles, the Trojans pulled off the massive upset, 20-17. It was quite the contrast from when the Cardinal knocked off heavily favored USC in 2007, which signaled the upswing of the program under then-head coach Jim Harbaugh.

Steve Sarkisian couldn't have asked for a better way to lay a marker down in his first Pac-12 game as head coach at USC. If the Trojans go on the road and beat the Cardinal, then it would say a lot for where the program is headed under its new head coach.

Sarkisian couldn't have hoped for a stronger start to the 2014 campaign. Fresno State may not be a great team, but trouncing the Bulldogs 52-13 is no easy feat. Cody Kessler looked great, going 25-of-37 for 394 yards and four touchdowns. Javorius Allen added 133 yards and a touchdown on the ground.

Stanford looked strong as well against UC Davis. While the Cardinal weren't really tested, they also never needed to move much faster than second or third gear.

This game looked to have an undercurrent of loathing between Sarkisian and Stanford head coach David Shaw after the former accused the latter of faking injuries during a game between Washington and Stanford last year.

"We're in a good place," said Sarkisian of his relationship with Shaw, per Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times. The two coaches met last spring. "It was in the heat of the moment. David and I addressed it over the next couple of days and we moved on."

While a coaching feud would've added a nice wrinkle to this game, the fight for Pac-12 supremacy will be all the stakes necessary.

 

No. 7 Michigan State vs. No. 3 Oregon

The one team that's given Oregon the most trouble over the past two years is Stanford. The Cardinal do a great job of slowing the tempo and shutting down the Ducks running game.

Since Michigan State plays a style similar to Stanford, the Spartans will largely be following the same blueprint.

As a result, Fox Sports analyst Charles Davis believes that beating MSU would signal that Oregon's prepared to handle the Cardinal and prove itself the class of the Pac-12, via USA Today's Joe Rexrode:

Their nemesis, their kryptonite in recent years has been Stanford. What's Stanford's style of play? Heavy-duty running the ball on offense, being extremely physical, excellent tackling team on defense, which makes you run more plays. All those yards after catch, yards after contact, open-field plays that Oregon's used to getting, that hidden yardage, they weren't getting against Stanford.

So for Oregon to win the Pac-12, they have to beat Stanford. They know that, they have to get past that hump. For Oregon to clearly get into that playoff consideration and have the chance to be an undefeated team, they have to beat Stanford twice this year. And what I mean by that is, Michigan State is Stanford.

While this game might not be as thrilling and offensive as most Oregon games, the tactical chess match between both teams will be more than enough to keep things interesting.

This could also be the kind of signature win Marcus Mariota will eventually need if he wants to book his place in New York City for the Heisman Trophy presentation. The junior quarterback threw for 267 yards and three touchdowns in addition to rushing for 43 yards and a touchdown against South Dakota in Week 1.

Mariota is second in ESPN's Heisman Watch, per College GameDay:

Nobody will judge Mariota's candidacy by his performance against South Dakota. Games like this are where Heismans are won or lost.

On the other side, whether it's fair or not, the Spartans are representing the Big Ten as a whole in this game. Many view the conference skeptically, and Wisconsin's late collapse against LSU only strengthened the negative perception surrounding it.

Beating Oregon would not only give Michigan State the kind of win necessary to crack the final playoff, but it would also be striking a blow for the Big Ten.

With so many storylines, swirling around this game, it should be one of the most captivating battles all season long.

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Everett Golson's Redemption Story Riding on Michigan Game

The recent memories of 2012 shouldn't feel fuzzy quite yet. But as often happens with the lore of yesteryear, memories blur. That magical autumn evening when Michigan visited South Bend? For Irish fans, it's likely etched into your memory as the game linebacker Manti Te'o and the Irish defense finally solved Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson. 

When told within the narrative of Notre Dame's historic defensive season, the Irish's 13-6 victory feels like one of the crowing achievements in a season filled with defensive heroics. But when looked at as an offensive performance, it stands alone as the worst football game quarterback Everett Golson has ever played. 

Go ahead and dig. Find a contest Golson played where he struggled more with a game that he manages to play so naturally. Turn back the clock to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Even as a 152-pound freshman, Golson never struggled the way he did before head coach Brian Kelly pulled the plug and inserted Tommy Rees into the game. 

For as tough of an evening as Robinson had—and four interceptions on 13-of-24 passing is mighty tough—Robinson's 31.0 QBR was roughly twenty times better than the number Golson put up. That's what happens when everything seems to go wrong on the biggest night of your career.

And while the win ultimately removed Golson's place from the memory banks of even the most ardent Irish fans, you can bet the game still serves as motivation for a quarterback not shy on fuel these days.

Before we focus on the quarterback that we saw last Saturday serving as a one-man wrecking crew, we need to take a look at the gory details of Golson's first effort against a Greg Mattison defense. While Irish fans hope the scar tissue wears like character, it's a worthy exercise to examine just how wrong things went. 

It starts from the very beginning. On Golson's first snap with the team pinned inside its own 10-yard line, he stares down wide receiver Chris Brown and underthrows a pass that finds Michigan cornerback Raymon Taylor's arms. Flustered, Golson commits a 15-yard facemask penalty, setting up the Wolverines for a perfect scoring opportunity they couldn't cash in on. 

On his next dropback, Golson doesn't pull the trigger on a quick slant to tight end Tyler Eifert and scrambles for nothing instead. Given an easier throw, Golson sails a quick hitch over wideout DaVaris Daniels' head, nearly pegging an unsuspecting student manager manning the Gatorade bucket. 

The Irish survived another Michigan drive, taking the ball back after a halfback pass ended up in safety Nicky Baratti's arms in the Notre Dame end zone. Four straight runs led to an Irish 3rd-and-4, with offensive coordinator Chuck Martin calling the highest-percentage throw in the playbook: a quick screen. Golson's first completion of the evening comes almost 18 minutes in but falls well short of a first down. 

Michigan's next drive lasted just three snaps, with Robinson hitting Te'o in the No. 5 as the Maxwell Award winner returned the interception inside the Wolverines 20. But dropping back on a play-action pass, Golson misses Eifert, who had three steps on his defender in the end zone. Then he tried to thread a pass to tight end Troy Niklas in a sea of maize and blue defenders. The Irish settle for a field goal, and the lone score of the game at that point pushes Notre Dame ahead 3-0. 

Michigan's next play was Robinson's second straight interception. It also gave Golson another chance to build some momentum. He hits running back Theo Riddick on a designed checkdown that goes for 13. He throws a strike over the middle to Daniels for 16 more. 

But inside the red zone, Golson's final mistake is one of the worst of his career. On 2nd-and-goal, he's flushed right, and an offensive holding flag is thrown as he escapes. But instead of throwing the ball away, Golson tries to feather an ill-advised pass toward a flock of jerseys, missing T.J. Jones and Daniels but finding the arms of Michigan safety Thomas Gordon. 

Golson's totals for that evening: 3-of-8 for 30 yards, two interceptions, a QBR of 1.6 and a spot on the bench in the middle of the second quarter. 

"I've been there," Rees told me on Monday night.

Irish fans have reminded him enough, especially after throwing 22 interceptions in his first two seasons in South Bend. 

"Those games happen, and luckily for me and for the team, we had two quarterbacks who had experience and that played that year and were able to help us win." 

Notre Dame doesn't have that luxury this year. And if the Irish are going to win, they're going to need Golson to redeem himself against an opponent Irish fans have come to despise over all others.

Last Saturday's statistical assault was fine and dandy. But for Golson's redemption story to be complete, he needs to help Kelly slay a dragon that's taken three of four from him since he arrived in South Bend. 

That means beating a Mattison defense that TKO'd Golson in the second quarter. The Wolverines' veteran coordinator understands that the quarterback stepping on the field Saturday to lead the Irish hardly shares the same DNA as the one who let the moment define him that cold September night.

"To me, watching him on tape, I don't remember three years ago," Mattison said this week. "He has a really strong arm. I mean, he has thrown so many deep passes in this last game, more than you usually would, that were on the money.

"I see a guy that's not only mobile but has a really strong arm, and he's becoming a real complete quarterback in my mind."

How Golson became that quarterback has been fairly well established. A semester away from campus after a university-imposed suspension put Golson in San Diego, 2,000 miles away from a football program that expected its rising star quarterback to lead it in 2013. 

But instead, Golson worked on his game in exile, rebuilding a skill set that came naturally with the help of quarterback coach George Whitfield. 

"When you watched him, and he was young, he would just go out there and compete and then just try to make plays," Whitfield said this winter. "He's a playmaker, and he's a competitor, and those are the two things he was going out and winning games with."

Golson returned to school for the spring semester armed with an advanced knowledge of the game. That meant knowing what he didn't know the season before. 

"He recognizes that in his first year here at Notre Dame, he had training wheels on, and we played to the strength of our defense," Kelly told SiriusXM's College Sports Nation (h/t NBCSports.com). "He certainly has so much more developing to do. And I think that's what he recognized. This isn't just getting back to where I was. This is, 'Boy, I need to get so much better.'"

Golson returned to a program with a new offensive leader. With Martin gone to run the Miami RedHawks program, Kelly reclaimed play-calling duties while handing over the coordinator job to trusted lieutenant Mike Denbrock. 

Returning to the spread attack that Kelly insisted upon installing from the moment he arrived in South Bend, he hired his first quarterback coach at Notre Dame, tabbing former Redskins quarterback coach Matt LaFleur to run the position group. 

Having just worked with a fairly well-known dual-threat quarterback in Robert Griffin III, LaFleur came armed with firsthand knowledge of what it takes to make it on Sundays. That he coached the 2013 Offensive Rookie of the Year didn't go unnoticed by his new pupils. 

"I show them film that I've acquired from the NFL all the time. I think those guys like to see that," LaFleur said this August. "They like to watch RGIII, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees. They also, like watching a guy like Russell Wilson because they are both running and throwing quarterbacks."

It's Wilson that LaFleur thinks Golson has the chance to be the most like.

"The guy that he's most similar to is Russell Wilson," LaFleur told me. "Everett is exceptionally quick, there's a reason why he got scholarship offers to play Division I basketball. He can cut on a dime. When you combine that with his ability, he's got a live arm."

That live arm was on display last Saturday, especially on the 60-yard laser Golson threw for a touchdown to receiver C.J. Prosise before the half. Golson did so on the move, rolling left, being hit and slightly off-balance. It's the type of play that Golson can just do naturally.  

"The things where he's doing Everett and buying time and making a great throw down the field for a touchdown, that's always kind of been in his repertoire," Rees said. "But those are tough throws."

The true measurement of a quarterback is his ability to win. Golson has shown a knack for doing that, teaming with Kelly to do a fairly prolific job. Beginning his fifth season at Notre Dame, Kelly is 12-1 when Golson plays. He's 26-14 when he doesn't. 

Now, the quarterback needs to be the reason why the Irish win, with Kelly quipping that Golson "rode the bus" in 2012, a redshirt freshman doing anything he could to survive.

Golson's the only one capable of driving the bus, not just by scoring touchdowns by the bushel, but by understanding that this team needs him as one of its leading voices. 

"One thing that I've noticed is his leadership," LaFleur said of Golson. "He took control right from the get-go, not only with the offense, but also with the team. I feel like the guys look to him as a leader." 

On Saturday night, Golson will need to carry the Irish, putting to the back of his mind his last attempt at beating the Wolverines, a victory snatched from the jaws of defeat thanks to some defensive heroics and missed Michigan opportunities. 

In a proud football program that wants nothing more than a return to glory, Golson has that opportunity, with his off-field mistakes in the past and his best football ahead of him. 

"There's a confidence that he carries with him that is starting to emanate," Kelly said after the victory over Rice. "That's going to only get better and better as he gains more confidence." 

Doing it against the Owls is one thing. Doing it against Michigan? Now you're talking. 

 

*Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand.

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Tennessee Football: Report Card Grades for Every New Starter

Team 118 of the Tennessee Volunteers kicked off the 2014 season with a resounding 38-7 win over the Utah State Aggies Sunday night. 

The Vols had no problem limiting quarterback Chuckie Keeton and completely shutting down the Utah State offense. In fact, they were well on their way toward a shutout before a busted coverage in the fourth quarter allowed the Aggies to finally put seven points on the board. 

What makes the blowout all the more impressive is the fact that Tennessee started an incredible 15 newcomers on offense, defense and special teams.

In a night with that many newcomers, there are bound to be serious mistakes. However, Tennessee's coaches did a fantastic job of managing their young players, keeping their emotions in check and limiting penalties and mental mistakes.

Here's a report card breakdown of every new Tennessee starter who took the field Sunday night. 

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Is USC Finally Ready to Take Back the Pac-12?

Southern California’s season-opening thrashing of Fresno State was a great coming-out party for new coach Steve Sarkisian, but now the real work starts.

If 14th-ranked USC truly is headed back to the top of the Pac-12, the proof will come on the road Saturday against No. 13 Stanford, the conference's two-time defending champion.

But for the Trojans this isn’t just about positioning themselves for a run at a playoff spot.

It’s also about avenging two defeats to Stanford that epitomized USC’s downward spiral in recent years: the 55-21 embarrassment in 2009 that included then-Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh going for a two-point pile-on conversion in the late going and an early-season defeat in Matt Barkley’s senior year of 2012 that exposed USC as a fraudulent preseason No. 1.

Clearly, the Trojans now have the weapons they need to accomplish exactly that against a Stanford team that has won five of the last seven meetings in a rivalry that dates back to 1905.

USC’s offensive attack is no Trojan horse this season, operating on the sly with a hidden plan. Instead, it’s an overt stampede, a nonstop no-huddle system that makes football’s traditional breaks for communication look vastly overrated.

It’s also really fun stuff that should help grow USC’s already dominant brand around the nation and make it even easier to get marquee players at a school that has always had plenty of them.

In the 52-13 dismantling of Fresno State, the Trojans rattled off a Pac-12 record 105 plays from scrimmage. But the test of whether the hurry-up Trojans are as potent as they seem will come against Stanford, which in recent years has owned a formula for killing tempo by dominating in the trenches.

USC didn’t huddle once during its first three possessions while racking up 21 points and 238 yards. But Sarkisian says it’s a mistake to think the game will hinge entirely on whether his guys can maintain their helter-skelter pace.

Instead, Sarkisian said during a Tuesday conference call with reporters, this early-season showdown likely will be decided by three key components:

“Which team can really run the ball, which team can utilize that running game to create some explosive plays in the passing game and who can convert on third down to extend drives. Because as fast as we want to go, if we don’t convert third downs then we’re standing on the sidelines and not going very fast, and the same can be said for Stanford.”

Besides the fast start, USC’s other gaudy numbers included 37 first downs and 701 yards of total offense. The main cog in all that production was quarterback Cody Kessler, who was 24-of-37 for 394 yards and four touchdowns while connecting with 10 different receivers.

On the Tuesday conference call Sarkisian said he liked everything he saw from his quarterback:

"I loved the way Cody played Saturday. Cody I thought played really tough, gritty, smart … He really handled the game, playing in a new system, really well. I don’t know if we could have asked any more from him."

Kessler also served notice he’s capable of running as strong of a Heisman Trophy campaign as the player who was widely believed to be the strongest candidate in Los Angeles—UCLA QB Brett Hundley. But just as importantly for the launch of the Sarkisian era, the Trojans showcased a stable of young talent that should be able to restore their dynastic ways in the Pac-12.

USC played 11 freshmen against Fresno State, the most by any Pac-12 team in this season’s openers. And most of those frosh performances were the real deal, not just cameo mop-up appearances in a blowout.

Both starting offensive guard spots were manned by freshmen, with Damien Mama on the right side and Toa Lobendahn on the left. When Mama needed a break, the understudy who came on was another freshman, Viane Talamaivao.

It was the first time since World War II (when such records became official) that USC started a pair of freshmen on the O-line in an opener, according to USCTrojans.com.

USC freshmen had an equally big impact as Kessler’s targets. JuJu Smith caught four passes for a game-high 123 receiving yards. Tight end Bryce Dixon appeared to present a solution to USC’s woes at tight end, where Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick has been ruled academically ineligible, and Chris Willson suffered a broken foot Saturday.

But it was Adoree’ Jackson who set himself apart as USC’s most exciting and versatile newcomer. The combination receiver-cornerback-returner wounded Fresno State in all three phases of the game while appearing on 13 offensive plays, 25 defensive ones and 14 on special teams.

Jackson’s three catches included an 18-yard score, and Sarkisian said he’d like to see even more of him.

"I'd like to see his role increased more," on offense and defense Sarkisian said during a Sunday teleconference with reporters (via the Los Angeles Times). "I think he can handle it. He showed he can handle doing all three phases."

And though the final score made Saturday’s outcome look easy, the Fresno State game also demonstrated this crew can maintain focus if USC continues to be a lightning rod for distractions and controversy.

The fast start erased any notion that USC would be affected by the Josh Shaw fiasco that saw the cornerback suspended because of his fable about injuring his ankles while rescuing a nephew from drowning. Also pushed aside was the Instagram rant from running back Anthony Brown, in which the ex-Trojan accused Sarkisian of being a racist.

Maybe such disruptions are old hat at a school where Reggie Bush handed back his Heisman and Lane Kiffin was fired around midnight in midseason. Or maybe Sarkisian simply has an unyielding grasp on a program on the rise.

After the win Sarkisian acknowledged the week’s difficulty but didn’t gloat about overcoming it.

"There's nowhere in the coaching manual where you go to section 13.2 and it tells you how to handle what we went through this week," Sarkisian told reporters. "We handled it the way we handled it, then we went out and played a football game, and it went well."

And if it goes equally well on Saturday, one guesses that USC will have plenty to say about how nice the view is, back atop the Pac-12.


Tom Weir covered college football as a columnist for USA Today.

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NCAA College Football Picks: Week 2 Against the Spread

It was a first week of college football which provided several spread surprises, with a handful of ranked teams either losing or forced to sweat out a narrow victory. That may not be the case this time around, as there are not many games in Week 2 of the college season between top-25 teams—but the two that are have major BCS implications.

The marquee matchup of the week is Oregon hosting Michigan State, both 1-0 and both residing in the top 10. In another key game out west, one team will go 0-1 in Pac 12 play when Stanford plays host to its old rival USC.

A few ranked teams have big tests this weekend with Notre Dame hosting Michigan, Oklahoma hitting the road to play Tulsa, Ohio State hosting Virginia Tech, and South Carolina looking to avoid going 0-2 facing East Carolina.

Without further ado, let's get to the picks, with the lines again courtesy of CoopersPick.com:  

 

Pittsburgh (-4.5) vs. Boston College

In an ESPN Friday night contest, there is an early-season ACC battle between a couple of 1-0 teams with Boston College playing host to Pitt. Both teams had easy wins last week and the Panthers were especially impressive on both sides of the ball, rushing for 410 yards and not giving up any points on D.

Pick Against the Spread: Pitt is the better all-around team and will win while easily covering the spread.

 

No. 7 Michigan State vs. No. 3 Oregon (-13)

Both teams played cream puffs in their openers and both won in blowouts. Michigan State does have a good defense, but they will not be able to keep up with a Ducks offense that had 380 passing yards and 293 rushing yards in their first game. Oregon QB Marcus Mariota will add to his Heisman buzz in this game after his great start last week when his stats read 14/20 for 267 yards with 3 TD and 0 INT.

 

Pick Against the Spread: Take Oregon in this one at home while ignoring that it has only covered in one of its last five home games. In their openers, Oregon covered and MSU did not.

 

No. 4 Oklahoma (-24.5) vs. Tulsa

Oklahoma is on the road, but a big betting favorite facing a squad that did win its opener against Tulane, but took OT to do so. The Sooner pass defense will tame a Tulsa team that had 438 passing yards in its first game. On top of that, there are just too many weapons on offense that should rain golden showers on top of the Golden Hurricanes' sketchy defense.

Pick Against the Spread: Feel comfortable going with OU in this one, as it has legit championship aspirations and have covered the spread in four of its past five.

 

Virginia Tech (+12) vs. No. 8 Ohio State

The Buckeyes are legit at home, but it's a different story when taking the spread into account, covering in just one of their last five in their house. Meanwhile, the Hokies have a lot of young talent that looked solid in their blowout opener win. Last week, Freshman Shai McKenzie rushed for over 100 yards on only nine carries and should have another solid game in Columbus.

Pick Against the Spread: Take Tech in this one to at least cover the spread, and maybe even pull off the upset. The betting trends for them do not point to it, but the budding young talent will give the Buckeyes a game.

 

East Carolina vs. South Carolina (-13.5)

South Carolina (as well as many oddsmakers) was embarrassed at home in its season opener, giving up 52 points in the loss to Texas A&M. However, you have to think of these games as an investment—not a gamble—when the season is so early. East Carolina also put up 52 points in its season opener facing North Carolina Central, but they will be facing a Gamecocks team that will take out their frustrations on them. This game may get ugly with South Carolina easily winning in a blowout. 

Pick Against the Spread: No way USC will start the season 0-2, crushing ECU at home.

 

No. 14 USC vs. No. 13 Stanford (-3)

The Pac 12 rivalry starts early this season, with Stanford the betting favorite taking on USC in a matchup of two top-25 teams. Both teams were impressive on both sides of the ball in their opening-game blowouts; maybe more so the Trojans, who played a better opponent in Fresno State. But now they face a legit Stanford defense.

Pick Against the Spread: While USC won and covered last season beating the Cardinal, they will not be so fortunate this season. With the luxury of home field advantage, Stanford will prevail.

 

Michigan (+4.5) vs. No. 16 Notre Dame

Both teams easily won their openers, but the big question is, can Notre Dame and its D deal with a Michigan squad that had 350 rushing yards in their first game? Michigan should be able to continue its rushing success against the Irish, which gave up 141 yards on the ground to Rice in Week 1. 

Pick Against the Spread: The Wolverines are unranked, but perhaps not for long. They head to South Bend with confidence and will cover this one.

 

Last Week's Picks : 2-5-1

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Nebraska Football: Report Card Grades for Every New Starter

Nebraska football fans got to see their Cornhuskers get off to a good start, beating Florida Atlantic 55-7 in Lincoln. In that game, a number of starters got their first chance to shine under the spotlight.

A first game is always a scary time for a player, as live-game conditions are a very different thing than practice. So a player's performance in that first game can tell you a lot.

On a classic A-F grading scale, here’s how Bo Pelini's new starters graded out.

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Michigan State vs. Oregon Preview: NFL Draft Prospects to Watch

Michigan State travels to Oregon in one of the most highly anticipated matchups of the college football season. 

While the game will have significant national title implications, the stadium will also be filled with NFL scouts checking out a wide range of talent on both sidelines. 

The following slideshow highlights 10 of the most highly touted prospects who will be featured in this game, and details how they will have a chance to impact their draft stock in Saturday's showdown in Eugene.

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What Georgia Can Learn from Texas A&M on How to Beat South Carolina

Undeniably, Week 1 was kind to the Georgia Bulldogs. A 45-21 win over the Clemson Tigers showcased a much improved defense, vaulted star running back Todd Gurley into the Heisman conversation and propelled the Dawgs up the polls.

But not all the good news came out of the friendly confines of Sanford Stadium. Texas A&M's thrashing of the South Carolina Gamecocks in Columbia, South Carolina, was also cause for optimism for Georgia.

As the Aggies proved in Week 1, South Carolina can be beaten, and here's what Georgia can learn from that game.

 

Conquering the Crowd

The fans in Williams-Brice Stadium are so rabid that they respond to Darude's 1999 hit "Sandstorm" like it's brand new every time it comes on. The scene is equal parts maddening and dizzying, and for opposing teams it can be downright intimidating. And that's before kickoff.

Prior to last Thursday, the Gamecocks had ridden the wave of that raucous crowd to 18 consecutive home wins, the longest such streak in the nation.  

To be sure, the loss to Texas A&M won't dull the enthusiasm of the crowd when the Bulldogs come to town on September 13, and it would be a disservice to the South Carolina faithful to expect anything short of deafening volume, "Sandstorm" and all. But for a young Georgia team, it helps to know that Williams-Brice Stadium can be conquered.

The last time Georgia traveled to Columbia (in 2012), the Dawgs were overwhelmed by a ferocious defense, the magnitude of the game (both teams were ranked in the Top 10) and the hostile environment. The end result: South Carolina 35, Georgia 7.

Just knowing that South Carolina can be defeated at home—even by a team plagued with question marks early in the season, like Texas A&M—should be a confidence booster.

 

Spreading the Football

Watching Gurley run against Clemson was a beautiful sight. Every time he touched the ball, he was a threat. More than half of his runs resulted in first downs or touchdowns.

But Gurley is always good. What made him great on Saturday (in addition to incredible offensive line play) was offensive coordinator Mike Bobo's patience and game-planning. Those qualities may vest themselves in different ways next Saturday.

As Texas A&M and new star quarterback Kenny Hill demonstrated clearly last week, South Carolina's defensive backs and linebackers are not adept at covering one-on-one in isolated space. Hill's 511 passing yards against the Gamecocks was a testament to his ability to get the ball out quickly and accurately. However, the fact that five of the Aggie receivers accounted for at least four catches and more than 50 receiving yards is a testament to South Carolina's inability to cover in space.

Georgia showed glimpses of the short passing game on Saturday against Clemson as well, but expect that facet of the game to be utilized more regularly against the Gamecocks. In particular, look for shifty playmakers like Reggie Davis, Sony Michel and Isaiah McKenzie to turn relatively short routes into big gains.

On Saturday, Georgia relied on a number of big offensive sets. It was not uncommon to see a tight end (often freshman Jeb Blazevich), a true fullback (Taylor Maxey) and an H-back (Quayvon Hicks) on the field at the same time as Gurley, Keith Marshall or Nick Chubb in the backfield. That formation will likely be less prevalent against a Gamecock defense that has such a demonstrably established weakness against the passing attack.

Georgia won't ignore its powerful running game, but the Dawgs would be foolish not to exploit South Carolina's coverage deficiencies. 

 

Setting Up the Run

Georgia's offense won't run away from the run. If anything, the short passing game will keep any defense honest and in doing so open up the running game. Though less spoken of, Texas A&M also had success running the football against South Carolina as the Aggies racked up 169 yards on the ground to go with four rushing touchdowns. Trey Williams and Brandon Williams each accounted for over 50 yards and more than five yards per carry.

And neither of those backs are Gurley. As the Heisman candidate showed on Saturday, he doesn't need tons of carries to take over the game. Expect Gurley to be Gurley when he gets his opportunities.

Some well-timed draws and continued reliance on the toss sweep should keep the Georgia running game in a good position to finish the game late—especially if the passing game can take the wind out of the Gamecock defense early.

 

Defensive Confusion

South Carolina running back Mike Davis was a non-factor in the season opener as he continued to battle back from injury. If he's not back fully healthy in time for the Georgia game, the South Carolina offense could be in trouble.

For Georgia, putting pressure on the quarterback must remain a point of emphasis. Gamecock receivers like Nick Jones, Pharoh Cooper and Damiere Byrd are more than capable of making big plays and quarterback Dylan Thompson is an experienced passer who won't go down easily in such a big game. But it's hard to complete passes with Leonard Floyd and Amarlo Herrera in the backfield all day—just ask Clemson.

As defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt continues to develop his youthful defensive backfield, a premium will be placed on pressuring the quarterback. If Thompson struggles to get comfortable and fails to find a rhythm, the secondary will likely acquit itself quite nicely and overcome small miscues. However, if a strong Gamecock offensive line controls the battle in the trenches, Georgia's cornerbacks and safeties may be depended on to make some big plays.

 

Embrace the Moment

This Georgia team seemed keenly aware of the opportunity a win against Clemson presented. Accordingly, that same mentality should be carried over to the South Carolina game, which is even more important given SEC East implications. Players and coaches alike need to feed off of the game's magnitude and not shy away from it.

South Carolina is the team with its back in the corner. For the Gamecocks, a loss to Georgia means two conference losses and a setback against the prohibitive favorite in the division. Losing to the Bulldogs all but eliminates South Carolina from clear division contention just three games into the season. It's Steve Spurrier's squad that should be tense coming into this game, not Mark Richt's.

On Monday, Richt confessed to Tim Tucker of the Albany Herald, "You're probably never as good as you think after a win and never as bad as you think after a loss."

That sentiment translates to both Georgia and South Carolina in very different ways at this juncture. Georgia needs to prepare for a Gamecock squad that is much better than its season-opening loss may have implied. Similarly, the Dawgs need to focus on their own weaknesses. Fortunately, Georgia has an extra week to do so.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand. All stats courtesy of NCAA.com.

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USC Football: How Steve Sarkisian's History vs. Stanford Will Help Trojans

No. 13 Stanford and No. 14 USC do not have much time to study game film on the other in preparation for Saturday's Pac-12 contest at Stanford Stadium. 

But one need not refer to the game tape to know what to anticipate. 

"Two really good football teams with playmakers...and great defenses, too," Stanford head coach David Shaw said on Tuesday's Pac-12 coaches teleconference call. "The games are tight and exciting and are fun to watch." 

When the Cardinal and Trojans get together, the result is a competitive game. Each of the last four outcomes were decided by single digits. 

The same has been true when Shaw and first-year USC head coach Steve Sarkisian meet. In their last two encounters while Sarkisian was at Washington, each claimed a single-digit-point decision. 

In fact, losses to Sarkisian and USC account for two of the Cardinal's three Pac-12 blemishes over the course of their two-year reign as conference champions. 

USC ended a four-game losing skid to Stanford last November in a 20-17 thriller at the Coliseum. In 2012, Sarkisian's Huskies beat the Cardinal in a similar defensive struggle, 17-13. 

Stanford is a team known for its defensive prowess, and low-scoring contests would seemingly be right in the Cardinal's wheelhouse. However, the last few seasons proves Stanford is at its most vulnerable when scoring is dragged down into the teens. 

The Cardinal may not run a spread system, and they will huddle after most plays. But Tuesday, Sarkisian described an offense that is anything but vanilla. 

"The one thing that makes Stanford difficult [to prepare for] is that I think they're a little bit more multiple [in their formations] than people give them credit for," he said. "Everyone wants to focus on the makeup of their big package and they bring in the [extra] offensive linemen. 

"But they still do the traditional pro-set. They do stuff out of two-tight end sets. They do stuff out of three-wide receiver sets. They give you a lot of different looks and they execute well." 

 

Turnover Battle 

On his Sunday conference call, Sarkisian discussed a "simple formula" to game-planning for an opponent of Stanford's caliber. Execution was one part of his equation, and that's been plainly evident in the history both the coach and his new team have with the Cardinal. 

More specifically, lack of execution has opened windows of opportunity that both Sarkisian and USC have successfully exploited against the two-time Pac-12 champions. 

Mistakes were critical in each of the last four combined meetings between USC and Stanford, and Sarkisian and Stanford. 

The 2013 classic between USC and Stanford saw the Trojans defense intercept Cardinal quarterback Kevin Hogan twice, including once in the red zone. USC also recovered a Stanford fumble. 

Winning the turnover battle proved equally key to Sarkisian's teams efforts against the Cardinal as well.

With Josh Nunes playing quarterback, the Cardinal failed to score an offensive touchdown and coughed up two turnovers against the Huskies in 2012. 

"The challenge this week is prominent," Shaw said. "We can't make mistakes." 

Landing on the other side of the turnover coin plays into Stanford's game plan, and Sarkisian has experienced it firsthand. 

In Washington's visit to Stanford last October, the Huskies gave up just one turnover, but it proved costly in a 31-28 loss.

Quarterback Keith Price's fourth-quarter interception was the unceremonious end to an 18-play, five-minute-and-37-second drive that led Washington to the Stanford 7-yard line.

Washington was also plagued by special teams mishaps in that game, allowing a 99-yard touchdown return from Stanford wide receiver Ty Montgomery. Montgomery set up another Cardinal score with a 68-yard return. 

The Trojans will see Montgomery on Saturday.  

Containing the speedy Montgomery is paramount for the Trojans special teams, and generating pressure is key to the Trojans defense forcing Stanford into mistakes. 

USC's kickoff return team accomplished the former last season, holding Montgomery to 17.8 yards per return. 

As for the latter, former Washington and current USC coordinator Justin Wilcox's defenses have applied more pressure to Stanford's quarterbacks in the last two years than most Cardinal opponents. The Huskies recorded two sacks in each of the two meetings. 

USC's ability to apply pressure on Hogan Saturday will play a crucial role in the outcome. 

 

Line vs. Line

Perhaps no other Pac-12 contest will attract quite as much attention for its line play. USC's defensive front against the Stanford offensive line takes top billing—specifically, defensive lineman Leonard Williams and offensive tackle Andrus Peat. 

Shaw praised Williams as "a difference-maker," while Sarkisian credited both Peat's individual talent as well as Stanford's recent tradition of line play. 

"[The Stanford coaches] continued to develop him, like they have with lineman in the past," Sarkisian said. "If [he is] not the leader, then [he'ls one of the leaders of that offensive unit, and it shows in his play." 

The two may not see much of each other head-to-head—Williams will often line up on the interior—but their individual performances will set the tone in one of the game's most crucial elements. 

"They're two of the better players in our conference," Sarkisian said. 

 

Picking Up the Pace

Outstanding line play is nothing new for either program. The significant, new dynamic USC brings to The Farm for this year's installment in the series is its implementation of a no-huddle offense. 

Last season was Sarkisian's first in such a system, and Washington had success with it against Stanford's ballyhooed defense. 

The Huskies accrued 489 yards of total offense with 350 through the air. 

That's promising for USC quarterback Cody Kessler's outlook on Saturday, particularly given how comfortable he looked operating in the new scheme against Fresno State.

Kessler won the first Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week nomination of 2014 for his career-high 394-yard, four-passing touchdown performance against Fresno State. 

Shaw said some offenses excel in their efficiency and others in their explosiveness, but USC showed both qualities.  

Stanford's staked its claim to the Pac-12 championship each of the last two years at the expense of uptempo offensive foes, however. 

Breaking the near-stalemate between these teams is exceedingly difficult, no matter how much time Sarkisian or Shaw had to game plan. 

But Shaw did express confidence in one component of this matchup—where it falls on the schedule, on Week 2. 

"I don't think either of us would have chosen this," he said. 

 

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise cited. Statistics compiled via CFBstats.com.

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USC Football: How Steve Sarkisian's History vs. Stanford Will Help Trojans

No. 13 Stanford and No. 14 USC do not have much time to study game film on the other in preparation for Saturday's Pac -12 contest at Stanford Stadium. But one need not refer to the game tape to know what to anticipate...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Steven Manfro Injury: Updates on UCLA RB's Knee and Return

A mere days removed from a scare against unranked Virginia to start their 2014 college football season, the No. 11 UCLA Bruins lost a critical rotational player when running back Steven Manfro went down with a knee injury in practice.     

According to Jack Wang of the L.A. Daily News, the redshirt junior's injury is of the "serious" variety upon first analysis by head coach Jim Mora:

Manfro was set to see an uptick in usage this year for the Bruins, having only recorded 32 total carries over the course of his first two years with the team.

Last year he took 24 of those and looked promising as they translated to 107 yards and a touchdown. Two of his eight attempts in 2012 went for touchdowns.

In the aforementioned scare against the Cavaliers, Manfro dropped a pass and took just two carries for negative yardage, although that sort of output was to be expected against a school that annually touts a defensive powerhouse.

Mora had big plans for Manfro in a committee approach, as one can glean from his response to being asked who he wants to see lead the team in rushing, as captured by Chris Foster of the Los Angeles Times:

"'Jordon James, Paul Perkins, Steven Manfro,' Mora said. He even mentions, with a smirk, linebacker Myles Jack, a part-timer on offense."

Notice the lack of quarterback Brett Hundley there, which is surely Mora's goal with the committee approach. With Manfro out an unknown amount of time, the offense will lean on the other two names for production.

Senior Jordon James took five carries for three yards against Virginia, while sophomore Paul Perkins led the team in rushing with 16 carries for 80 yards. The latter figures to see an uptick in usage one season removed from taking 134 carries for 573 yards and six touchdowns.

Manfro is a major loss for the time being that restricts the former strategy Mora sought to employ, but the good news is that the Bruins will not encounter the Cavaliers again on their hunt to make the College Football Playoff.

 

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Kenny Hill Destroys South Carolina for College Football's Top Performance

Texas A&M's starting quarterback, Kenny Hill, put on a performance like no other against South Carolina this past week. Completing 44 of his 60 passes for 511 yards and three touchdowns, Hill absolutely dominated during his first career start. How well do you think this stud will do in the future?

Watch the video and let us know.

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Florida A&M vs. Miami: Complete Game Preview

The Miami Hurricanes (0-1) will look to rebound from an 18-point loss when they host in-state Football Championship Subdivision opponent Florida A&M (0-1) at Sun Life Stadium on Sept. 6.

Last week, the Rattlers fell to Jackson State 22-17 on a 50-yard prayer as time expired, starting the 2014 season on a rather deflating note.

Miami leads the series 8-1, winning each of the last eight meetings—including a 45-0 victory in 2010.

The game kicks off at 7:00 p.m. ET and will be streamed on ESPN3.

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Todd Gurley's Impressive Performance vs. Clemson Spawns Commemorative Graffiti

Georgia running back Todd Gurley put on a show against Clemson on Saturday, and his performance inspired an interesting work of art.

Gurley ran for 198 yards and three touchdowns on just 15 carries against the Tigers, and he also had a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the game.

It's those types of numbers that have Bulldogs fans believing Gurley could take home the Heisman Trophy this season. With this graffiti art, the "Gurley for Heisman" campaign has begun.

[Instagram, h/t Dr. Saturday and Todd Gurley]

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