NCAA Football

Ohio State Football: Realistic Expectations for JT Barrett in His Buckeyes Debut

Discussing what he expects to see from J.T. Barrett in the first start of his college career, Ohio State offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tom Herman used a mixed metaphor to explain the responsibilities of the quarterback in the Buckeyes' spread offense.

"We don’t do a whole lot on offense, despite what some think we may or may not do,” Herman said. “We don’t ask the quarterback to be a rocket surgeon by any stretch of the imagination."

But while Barrett won't be playing the role of "rocket surgeon" when Ohio State takes the field for the Buckeyes' season opener against Navy on Saturday, the redshirt freshman won't be without responsibility. No matter how much the OSU coaching staff downplays Barrett's role, the fact remains that he's the player tasked with replacing two-time Big Ten MVP Braxton Miller, who was sidelined for the season a week ago with a torn labrum.

And while it's far-fetched to think that Barrett could replace the 263.5 total yards per game that Miller averaged a season ago right away, there's no denying that a large burden of the Ohio State offense has been placed on the Wichita Falls, Texas, native's shoulders. 

So how does Herman plan on reconciling Barrett's obvious inexperience with his undeniable responsibility? It starts with a simple game plan that won't require a rocket surgeon to employ.

"You want to make sure that you call plays that maybe you guys might say are conservative, but yet don't have all the ifs, this's and thats attached to them," Herman told reporters. "We kind of live in that world anyways, especially with our tempo."

Keeping the X's and O's simple is one thing, but keeping Barrett's nerves intact? There's no accounting for that.

Just a month ago, Barrett was little more than the Buckeyes' third-string quarterback, a break-glass-in-case-of-emergency option at football's most important position. Now? That emergency has happened, and the redshirt freshman finds himself preparing for the first start of his college career—and on the road nonetheless.

To a certain degree, ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit knows exactly what Barrett is experiencing. An Ohio State quarterback from 1989-92, Herbstreit knows what it's like to be preparing for one's first start with the scarlet and gray—and all of the feelings that come along with it.

But asked by B/R what Barrett needs for a successful week, Herbstreit didn't add pressure to the second-year signal-caller. Rather, the College GameDay analyst said that this is where Herman and OSU coach Urban Meyer will earn their money as they get Barrett prepped for every possible predicament.

"If you’re worried about, ‘I’ve never seen this coverage last week in practice, I didn’t see this front with this coverage,’ if you get into that, that’s a slippery slope," Herbstreit said. "So, I think it’s really up to Urban and Tom Herman to put these guys in as many difficult situations as they can. If they do a good job of that, then you can just go out and kind of react to the game."

And if Barrett can do that, then surely Herman will feel much more secure with such an inexperienced player directing his offense. Right?

Wrong.

Not because Herman isn't confident in Barrett's ability—he's actually had nothing but praise for the former 4-star prospect this past week—but rather because there are certain situations Herman himself is rarely comfortable in. Asked if he's ready to see Barrett face his first third-down conversion attempt, the OSU offensive coordinator admitted he's not, but that would still be the case if it were Miller taking snaps for the Buckeyes.

"I haven't felt OK in 12 years in that scenario," Herman said with a smile. "It's no different than any other time."

So with so much unknown about both Barrett and the OSU offense heading into his first start, what are realistic expectations for both the Buckeyes and their new quarterback on Saturday? It's tough to tell. But Herman certainly likes what he has in his new starter, rocket surgeon or not.

"He's a grown man. He's a grown dude. And I know the enormity of the moment may or may not hit him at some point," Herman said. "I know there's a lot of schools that would take our scenario over what they got."

 

Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Ohio State Lead Writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand. All recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.

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Mark Blaudschun's Blitz: Braxton Miller Loss May Not Sink Buckeyes' Title Hopes

To hear most pundits, Ohio State's season is over before it begins.   

The Final Four?

Forget about it.

A conference crown?

Doubtful.

A top-10 ranking?

If they're lucky.   

That's largely been the chatter following the season-ending shoulder injury suffered by starting quarterback Braxton Miller last week.

I'm not buying the premise.

The boys in Las Vegas dropped the odds of Ohio State winning the national championship from 12-1 to 50-1.

I'll take those odds.  Apparently, lots of people did as well since the Buckeyes have now been slotted at a more reasonable 20-1.

There is little doubt that last week was a tough day for many football fans in Columbus.

"A devastating blow," said Yahoo Sports' highly respected columnist Pat Forde. A similar sentiment was expressed by former Ohio State QB and current ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit, who picked OSU to win the national championship, but then backed off after the injury to Miller.

It's an awfully long limb to go out on to predict a national championship for the Buckeyes with unproven redshirt freshman QB J.T. Barrett (Yes, I know what Jameis Winston was.) at the helm, but the landscape is different this season.

With a four-team playoff, the Buckeyes do not need to climb to No. 1 or No. 2 to be in the mix.

Even so, it's not difficult to see that by Halloween, the Buckeyes could be 7-0 and sitting very comfortable in the No. 5 slot they occupied in the AP pre-season rankings before Miller's injury.

Look at the OSU schedule. Navy (in Baltimore) Virginia Tech, Kent State, Cincinnati (in Columbus) at Maryland, Rutgers (in Columbus), at Penn State. See any monsters?

And ponder this: When was the last time anyUrban Meyer-coached team didn't pay attention, especially in the first game of the season. That's a rhetorical question.

Despite the loss of Miller, the Buckeyes still have as much talent as any team in the Big Ten, thanks to three straight Rivals top-five recruiting classes, a revamped defense led by returning linebacker Joshua Perry and defensive end Noah Spence and a coach with two national titles to his credit.

Oh, they might struggle a bit as they get used to an offense being run (for now) by the untested Barrett. And there might be some shaky moments against Navy at the start, but this upset is not going to happen on Saturday, even with the Midshipmen riding a season-ending five-game winning streak and the Buckeyes trying to erase the memory of a loss in the Big Ten title game and the Orange bowl.

After what could be a somewhat ugly win, Ohio State is likely to get better each week as the experience factor kicks in. If they are undefeated at Halloween, the Buckeyes will be very much in contention to be playing in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1 and in Dallas two weeks later.

The secret lies in Urban Meyer's track record with quarterbacks.

At Utah, he inherited a young QB named Alex Smith, who had thrown only four career passes when Meyer arrived. With Meyer running the show, Smith piled up 5,200 passing yards and 47 touchdowns, while only throwing seven interceptions.

At Florida, Meyer helped sign nine QBs in six seasons with the Gators, including Tim Tebow, who would win a Heisman and is in the discussion as one of the greatest college quarterbacks in history.

Meyer won a national championship with Tebow at QB. He also won at national championship with Chris Leak as the Gators' QB.

In short, where Meyer goes, quarterbacks prosper.

At his first weekly press conference this week, Meyer talked about the future—Barrett—rather than the past (for now) Miller.

"[Barrett]'s a calm guy," said Meyer. "He's not someone you have to watch to see their demeanor because it's the same as it was two weeks ago. We all know what's coming down the barrel at him but he's handled it all very well.''

So has Meyer, many times before. For three years, he has upgraded the talent at Ohio State. With or without Miller, Ohio State will be a factor in the national championship derby.

Tale of two programs

It was the best of times and the worst of times for two SEC programs in their season-opener.

A year ago, South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney eliminated himself as a serious contender for the Heisman Trophy with a lackluster performance in the Gamecocks' 27-10 pre-Labor Day win over North Carolina.

Fast forward to Thursday night in Columbia, S.C. The Gamecocks, boosted by three consecutive 11-win seasons, kicked off the 2014 season against a Johnny Manziel-less Texas A&M team as 10.5-point favorites.

They came into the game ranked ninth (in the AP poll) with visions of an SEC title dancing in their heads. The Aggies were ranked 21st.

Final score: Texas A&M 52, South Carolina 28.

Say goodbye to the Gamecocks as national championship contenders. The Gamecocks could well win the rest of their games, but the memory of this beating—and it was very much that—will stick. Oh, they could still make the Final Four with 11 wins during the regular season and a victory in the SEC title game, but there were few indications defensively against A&M that the Gamecocks were capable of making such a run.

A year ago, the Gamecocks gave up more than 31 points only once all season—a 41-30 loss to Georgia. On Thursday night, they allowed 31 by the end of the first half.

Say hello to the Aggies as a dark horse contender in the same way Auburn emerged a year ago when the Tigers went from unranked to SEC champion, before barely losing to FSU in the BCS title game.

Texas A&M redshirt sophomore quarterback Kenny Hill made his debut as Johnny Football's replacement and immediately replaced him in the Aggies record book for most passing yards in a game (511) as he connected on 44 of 60 attempts, including three touchdowns.

The Aggies likely will see a boost in their rankings over the next four games before hitting the road at Mississippi State and beginning a three-game stretch that includes Ole Miss and Alabama. They also have to deal with Auburn and LSU in November.

For all the Aggies' win could mean for both schools, the immediate lesson is clear regarding the SEC, which had a record eight teams ranked in the AP pre-season top 25. When voters cast their ballots, they should merely put in SEC-1 or SEC-5 or SEC-8 instead of a school name because every team in this conference seems interchangeable.

And in the wild SEC, anything seems possible.

Milestone victory

In case you missed it, Georgia State opened its season Wednesday night with a 38-37 win over transitional FCS opponent Abilene Christian.

What's the big deal? The win snapped a 16-game losing streak and was Georgia State's first victory ever at the FBS level. The Panthers were 0-12 in their transitional season to the FBS level.

And in the "whatever happened to" department, former Green Bay Packers offensive coordinator and former Boston College head coach Jeff Jagodzinski started his second season as the Georgia State offensive coordinator in fine fashion, as the Panthers piled up 560 yards in total offense.

"Watch Out" game for FSU?

Recent history suggests the defending national champions had better be careful in their season-opener against Oklahoma State on Saturday night in Arlington, Texas.

If you don't believe me, here's what Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said in his media conference call this week.

"We have to play a great Oklahoma State team. Mike Gundy is a great football coach. He's been there for nine years and has done a great job. He's won 41 games the last four years. He had a 10-win season last year. A couple of years ago he was a game away from playing for it all. They have great players."

That's four "greats," which is a lot this early in the season, even for Fisher.

Let's look at reality. The Vegas odds list No.1-ranked FSU as an 18-point favorite. The OSU defense only returns four starters from last season to deal with Heisman Trophy-winning QB Jameis Winston and his friends.

Still, this will not be a Cupcake U game for FSU; that comes next week against The Citadel. But it doesn't look like all that much heavy lifting for the Seminoles. The game also will give them a chance to get used to the surroundings in the stadium where the national championship will be held in January.

Of course, if Florida State doesn't win, a return visit to Texas will be much more problematic.

 

Easing into the season?

If you are Clemson Tigers fan, take a long look at that No. 16 AP pre-season ranking and cherish it. The team that won 32 games over the past three seasons is gone. Also missing are the starting quarterback, running back and wide receivers. And those weren't just any starting QB or WR, but the heart of the Tigers offense the past few years in Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins. Boyd set a career ACC record for touchdown passes; Watkins was a first-round pick (No. 4) of the Buffalo Bills.

The new Tigers won't have the luxury of easing into the season. After Saturday's opening game at No. 12 Georgia, a trip to Tallahassee to play No. 1 FSU awaits two weeks later.

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, who is rebuilding with lots of talent—their top three recruits are Rivals five-star QB Deshaun Watson and four-star wide receivers Artavis Scott and Trevion Thompson—took an optimistic view of a tough schedule.

"You play Georgia every year, you play South Carolina every year and you play your conference schedule," Swinney said in the ACC teleconference this week. "Hey, you can get through that; nobody is going to say you don't play anybody."

 

Game of the Weak

Western Michigan at Purdue—Bet you missed this one, didn't you? No it's not South Carolina vs. Texas A&M, nor is it Miami-Louisville. But here's the fun part. Purdue anchored the Big Ten—and we do mean anchor—last season with a 1-11 record. Western Michigan co-anchored the MAC—which had its share of bottom feeders with Miami of Ohio (0-12), UMass (1-11) and Eastern Michigan (2-10)—last season with a matching 1-11 mark.

For entertainment purposes only, Purdue is an 11-point favorite.

Pick: Purdue 35, Western Michigan 31.

 

You've got to be kidding

1. Success in college football is based on a lot of things, including what is known as the "arms" race—facilities and amenities. But as our buddy Chris Dufresne of the Los Angeles Timespointed out this week, Oregon—backed up by Phil Knight's money—is the runaway leader.

Consider some of the features of the $68-million, 145,000 square foot Hatfield-Dowlin Complex, which go above and beyond normal

• Barber shop

• German-made lockers, which cost $26,000 each

• A locker room ventilation system that purifies the air of all smells associated with a football locker room.

• Wallpaper made of real football pigskin.

A barbershop? Wonder why the traditional red and white pole is not green and yellow

2. USC wide receiver Josh Shaw leaps from a second-floor balcony, injures both of his ankles as he saves his seven-year old nephew who cannot swim and has fallen into a swimming pool.

Wow. Great story, right? Only problem is it was just that: A story that Shaw made up. 

Here's a more embarrassing part for USC. The "story'' was not generated by any news outlet. It came from USC's own website, which obviously didn't do much of a vetting process.

USC coach Steve Sarkisian has suspended Shaw from all team activities as the team, and police, investigate what really happened.

3. Tennessee is recruiting a defensive tackle named Shy Tuttle and photoshopped a cover of Rolling Stone with a picture of Tuttle and pop star Beyoncé walking together.

4. Tulane opened its season on Thursday night against Tulsa with a freshman long snapper named Aaron Golub on the depth chart who is…legally blind. Golub was born with no vision in his right eye and limited vision in his left eye.

 

Mark Blaudschun covers college football as a national columnist for Bleacher Report. He has more than three decades of experience covering sports at a variety of newspapers in New Jersey, the Dallas Morning News and the Boston Globe. Follow him on Twitter @blauds.

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Will Georgia's RB Todd Gurley Be Enough to Defeat Clemson?

The Georgia Bulldogs take on the Clemson Tigers in the first week of the 2014 season. Bleacher Report College Football Analyst Michael Felder discusses which factors will determine the outcome of this big-time matchup.

Who do you think will win? Watch the video and let us know. 

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Florida Chalk Talk: Why Kurt Roper's New Offense Will Save Will Muschamp's Job

The Florida Gators take on the Idaho Vandals in the first week of the 2014 season. Bleacher Report's College Football Analyst Michael Felder discusses Kurt Roper's new offense and its personnel. Will Florida be able to bounce back from the 2013 season?

Watch the video and let us know.

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The Legend of Leonard Fournette

Leonard Fournette is considered one of the most polished recruits in the last decade. Now an LSU freshman, Fournette is looking to show the world what he has to offer.

How well do you think this freshman will do this year?

Watch the video and see how the legend of Leonard Fournette developed. 

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5 Bold Predictions for LSU's 2014 Season

LSU head coach Les Miles has been remarkable.

Miles has won 95 games in nine seasons, which is eight more than any other SEC program in that span. LSU has gone to a bowl game and finished in the AP Top 25 in each of those years as well. 

This season could be Miles' toughest. LSU enters 2014 with much uncertainty, especially on offense. But a talented class of freshmen could lead the Tigers back to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game.

Here are five bold predictions for the Tigers this season. 

 

LSU Wins 10 Games

LSU will finish 2014 with a final record of 10-3, making it five straight years the Tigers will have accumulated double-digit wins.

A win to start year No. 10 of the Miles era will not be easy. Saturday, LSU will face Wisconsin in the 2014 AdvoCare Texas Kickoff in Houston, Texas. The Tigers and Badgers were ranked No. 13th and 14th respectively in the preseason AP Top 25

LSU's SEC West slate will be brutal. Alabama and Auburn are the popular picks to top the conference, but emphatic wins from Texas A&M and Ole Miss on Thursday night showed they will be in the mix. Arkansas and Mississippi State are no pushovers either, as both teams return experienced starters on both sides of the ball. 

The Tigers have rough patches throughout their schedule, highlighted by back-to-back road contests against Auburn and Florida. Nevertheless, expect LSU to find a way to make it to 10 wins. 

 

Leonard Fournette Rushes for Over 1,100 Yards

LSU running back Leonard Fournette will captivate the college football world in 2014. 

Fournette is LSU's most talented running back despite never having played a college down. Seniors Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard will still get carries, mainly though to give the 5-star talent from New Orleans a breather.

Quarterback Brandon Harris and receivers Trey Quinn and Malachi Dupre are other true freshmen that will get their opportunity to shine. But expect Fournette, Miles' most prized recruit ever, to lead the way. He accumulates over 1,100 yards and scores eight touchdowns. 

 

DeSean Smith Scores Five Touchdowns

LSU has not had a tight-end catch a touchdown pass in the past two seasons. Sophomore DeSean Smith will look to change that trend in 2014. 

Smith's 6'5'', 242-pound frame will give defenses nightmares in the red zone. He has great hands and displayed better separation skills in his route-running this spring. 

A tight end can be a young quarterback's best friend. Whether it is freshman Brandon Harris or sophomore Anthony Jennings under centre, expect them to target Smith often. 

 

LSU's Secondary Will Be the SEC's Best

Class will be back in session for "Defensive Back University" in 2014.

Sophomore cornerbacks Tre'Davious White and Rashard Robinson will form the best duo in the conference. White and Robinson's ability to play man coverage will open up the playbook for innovative defensive coordinator John Chavis. Backups Jalen Collins and Ed Paris will also contribute. 

Chavis must find the two safeties that work together the best. Jalen Mills, Corey Thompson, Rickey Jefferson and Ronald Martin all return with starting experience, but 5-star freshman Jamal Adams has created buzz at fall camp for his playmaking ability. 

Mills and Dwayne Thomas will be effective blitzers when Chavis' runs his 3-2-6 "Mustang" package. The Mustang was the most effective formation for the Tigers' 2011 SEC Championship Unit.

LSU's defense will lead the conference in interceptions and passing yards allowed in the SEC. 

 

Kwon Alexander Makes First Team All-SEC

It is time for LSU linebacker Kwon Alexander to shine. 

Alexander started last season at strongside linebacker and averaged five tackles per game. He moved to weakside this offseason to replace leading tackler Lamin Barrow.

The position switch will free up Alexander to make more plays. In the spring game, he returned an interception for a touchdown.

Alexander's athleticism allows him to play both the run and pass effectively. Chavis will use this to his advantage next season when calling plays. 

 

Stats, rankings and additional information provided by cfbstats.com, 247Sports.com and LSU Sports Information. Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow me @CarterthePower  

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College Football Picks Week 1: Odds and Spread Predictions for Top 25 Teams

The 2014 college football season kicks off this week. Foundations will be set by the Top 25 teams in the nation as they embark on the pursuit of the inaugural NCAA playoffs.

Several ranked matchups are on tap, but the first of those already occurred Thursday. No. 21 Texas A&M upset ninth-ranked South Carolina 52-28 in the Aggies' debut without Heisman Trophy quarterback Johnny Manziel.

A pair of marquee games highlight Saturday's slate, along with several other contests to keep an eye on at the dawn of what should be a sensational year. Some other ranked teams are expected to walk over far inferior opponents, to the point where odds aren't even listed.

Here is a look at the odds and spread predictions available for the games featuring Top 25 teams in Week 1, along with breakdowns of the top games.

Note: Statistics are courtesy of NCAA.com.

 

 

Predictions for Top Week 1 Games

No. 1 Florida State vs. Oklahoma State

Seminoles quarterback Jameis Winston will commence his quest for a second consecutive Heisman Trophy and national title, leading the defending champions against Oklahoma State at AT&T Stadium.

The home of the NFL's Dallas Cowboys ought to be well-attended by the Cowboys from Stillwater, Oklahoma, but it likely won't make much of an impact on Saturday's outcome. Despite losing several key contributors to the pros, Florida State is still stacked and has the super sophomore Winston on its side.

As if the hype surrounding Winston isn't enough entering this grand stage, ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. anointed Winston No. 1 on his first 2015 NFL draft big board, per SportsCenter:

Junior J.W. Walsh will start at QB for Oklahoma State after being benched in favor of Clint Chelf last season. ESPN College Football offered a graphic outlining what to perhaps expect from Walsh as he attempts to keep the Cowboys competitive:

Since Oklahoma State returns only four defensive starters and the Seminoles have four seniors on the offensive line, the favorites ought to control time of possession.

Winston will continue operating coach Jimbo Fisher's complex passing game with efficiency, while powerful ball-carrier Karlos Williams will set the tone with punishing runs. That will be enough for Florida State to secure a comfortable victory and a healthy shot of momentum to begin its Coaches' Trophy defense.

Prediction: Florida State 42, Oklahoma State 20

 

No. 13 LSU vs. No. 14 Wisconsin

This is going to be quite a doozy, featuring a battle of wills in the trenches to establish rushing attacks.

Melvin Gordon spearheads Wisconsin's ground game. No longer sharing time with departed star James White, it's Gordon's show, so it will be interesting to see if his explosiveness keeps pace with an increased workload.

The redshirt junior doesn't lack any ambition, and he shouldn't, as he's averaged 8.1 yards on 288 career carries without a single fumble.

"You hear a lot of things about running backs not being as important anymore," said Gordon, per ESPN The Magazine's Chris Low. "Some people in the NFL may think they don't need backs early in the draft. I want to change that."

Gordon very well may, but he'll have to navigate through a tough LSU defense and many other opponents aiming for him before making the leap to the pros. Tigers defensive coordinator John Chavis, one of the best in the business, believes his defensive ends Danielle Hunter and Jermauria Rasco are up to the task of stuffing Gordon and Wisconsin's massive offensive line, per the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Jeff Potrykus:

Those guys are mature and they're proven veterans. Both of them played well last year...It's always exciting when you've got guys on the edge that can play, that have already proven they can play on this level. And it has been said before ... I feel very strongly that we may have as good a pair of defensive ends as anybody in the country.

Freshman phenom Leonard Fournette figures to get a lot of work for the Tigers, along with Terrence Magee, a more seasoned back Dane Brugler of CBSSports.com thinks highly of:

Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron is plenty excited to turn Fournette loose, though, per ESPN.com's David Ching:

There's nothing that he's done that we hadn't seen on tape. He's like a lot of guys here and a lot of guys in the state of Louisiana: They don't get tired. Most 235-pound running backs get tired. This guy can run all day. ... I knew he was smart, and he's smart. I knew he was tough, and he's tough. I knew he loved football, and he loves football. But I didn't know that he could just run all day.

The superior speed and athleticism the SEC tends to breed more so than the Big Ten will likely show up in this one. However, a number of experts said that before the Badgers rolled over South Carolina for 293 yards on the ground in last year's Capital One Bowl.

But Chavis knows how to scheme against the very best, as evidenced by his shutdown of Manziel in 2013. Also, a tight game is bound to rest on a bold coaching decision, something LSU's Les Miles is known for and will likely parlay into a landmark win.

Prediction: LSU 31, Wisconsin 21

 

No. 12 Georgia vs. No. 16 Clemson

NFL teams have opted not to draft a running back in the first round over the past two years. That might change should junior Bulldogs star Todd Gurley declare following the season.

ESPN Stats & Info highlighted the prowess Gurley has flashed in his first two years in Athens—even with injuries slowing him down in 2013:

The key for Clemson at Sanford Stadium will be containing Gurley, but that's far easier said than done.

This is a rematch of last year's season opener, where Gurley amassed 154 yards and two touchdowns on just 12 carries against the hapless Tigers defense in Death Valley, though Georgia still lost 38-35.

Defensive end Vic Beasley will be leading the charge for Clemson's front four to thwart Gurley, and he isn't backing down from the challenge, per The State's Brandon Rink:

I see a good opportunity for our defense to really make a statement with a big opening game. It's going to be tough to shutdown Todd Gurley and that offensive line, but our plan is to do so. [...] I know a lot of teams will be scheming for me, but I feel like I have the ability to affect the opposing team's offense by helping my other defensive players get to the quarterback. Make plays in the backfield.

Clemson is trying to replace some serious offensive firepower in receivers Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant. Prolific passer Tajh Boyd was a dual-threat stud who accounted for all five of the Tigers' touchdowns in their last win over the Bulldogs.

In what should be a hotly competitive contest, revenge will be on Georgia's mind, and it will have the edge offensively with Hutson Mason under center. The following quotes from coach Mark Richt and Mason himself drive this point home, per Georgia Football and 247Sports' Gentry Estes, respectively:

Mason has experience filling in for his injured predecessor, Aaron Murray, last year, while the Tigers' Cole Stoudt has yet to prove himself in a starting capacity.

Injuries plagued the Bulldogs last season, so even with the departure of Murray, Mason will be eager to prove himself and should create the balance Georgia needs to contend in the SEC. The defense is still a bit of a question mark, but it ought to build on some confidence generated by a big early-season victory over Clemson.

This may not be Saturday's closest outcome, but it will be the only ranked matchup that doesn't take place on a neutral field. That should create the best atmosphere among all the exciting games, and the vengeance factor makes Clemson-Georgia all the more entertaining.

Although the Tigers will have a tough start, they will find a way to bounce back and rally around Stoudt, who will play better than expected on the road and help Clemson contend in the ACC.

Prediction: Georgia 27, Clemson 24

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Melvin Gordon Can Jump into Heisman Discussion with Strong Showing Against LSU

Melvin Gordon might not be a household name just yet, but the Wisconsin running back has a chance to put himself in the spotlight in Week 1.

The junior posted impressive numbers last season, totaling 1,609 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns as part of a terrifying rushing attack alongside James White. With his teammate now with the New England Patriots, Gordon has a chance to be even more productive in 2014.

This makes it unsurprising to see him already on a few Heisman watch lists. According to Tom Fornelli of CBS Sports, the running back is listed at 12-1 odds to win the prestigious award.

Nicole Auerbach of USA Today quotes a player ready to take over:

Still, there is a big difference between getting early hype and actually winning a Heisman Trophy. Gordon is a running back in a sport that has put quarterbacks in a brighter spotlight than ever before.

In the past 14 years, 12 different quarterbacks have been named the most outstanding player in the nation compared to just two running backs. One of those players was Reggie Bush, who was forced to vacate his award.

For Gordon to be a legitimate contender to win the Heisman, he will need to either be on a legitimate contender or put up stats you cannot ignore. He has a chance to do both of those this season.

The running back already has all the tools to make him one of the best players in the country at his position. ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. (subscription required) considers him the No. 2 running back in the 2015 draft class behind only Todd Gurley of Georgia. His speed is constantly on display, while his size even impressed Bleacher Report's Adam Kramer:

After averaging a ridiculous 7.8 yards per carry last season, the running back is also expecting a bigger role this season, via ESPN Big Ten:

In a run-heavy system with a great line in front of him as well as elite fullback Derek Watt paving the way, the only thing that can stop him is injury. If he gets enough touches, it would not be surprising to see him run for close to 2,000 yards this season. 

Even with these numbers, though, Heisman voters want to see success against elite teams. In reality, the first week against LSU could be the best opponent Wisconsin plays all season. A strong performance in this game would be enough to prove he can do the same against anyone.

Gordon already has bulletin-board material to get him ready for LSU. Jim Kleinpeter of The Times-Picayune quoted linebacker Lamar Louis, who had nice things to say about the running back but noted he was not afraid of the competition:

He's a good back, speedy back. He makes good cuts, good decisions. I think he's up for the Heisman Trophy.

But I'm going to say what Chief said, tells us all the time, he's not someone we haven't faced in these past years. He's not someone we don't practice against (like) Terrence Magee, Leonard Fournette, Jeremy Hill. 

We'll be ready. We're not taking him lightly. He's a great back.

On Saturday, Gordon will get a chance to show he is better than all of the LSU running backs or anything else the SEC has to offer.

Still, the most important thing for Wisconsin this weekend is to come away with a win. This neutral game at NRG Stadium in Houston could be an opportunity for the Badgers to prove they are a great team. A win over an SEC school to start the season would certainly turn some heads.

Beyond that, Wisconsin only faces one more ranked team all season in Nebraska. A win in this opening game could give the squad a serious shot to run the table and earn a spot in the College Football Playoff.

An elite running back on a national title contender would certainly be enough to gain Heisman votes. This all starts with a strong performance in the first game against LSU.

If Gordon can put up over 100 yards and a touchdown or two in a winning effort, you can officially start his bid for the biggest individual award in the sport.

 

Follow Rob Goldberg on Twitter for the latest breaking news and analysis.

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ESPN College GameDay 2014: Week 1 Schedule, Location, Predictions and More

Time to rejoice. On Saturday, college football will be back in our lives. 

OK, so technically it returned to our lives on Wednesday with Abilene Christian vs. Georgia State, and then there were a bunch of other good games on Thursday. But not until Saturday will it really start feeling like college football season again. 

Sixty games in total. Nineteen of the Top 25 teams in action. And, of course, College GameDay

Led by defending Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston and an explosive offense, top-ranked Florida State begins its quest for back-to-back titles on national television against Oklahoma State, a team that went 10-3 last season but is dangerously inexperienced on defense, especially in the back. 

Let's take a closer look at one of the most captivating matchups of college football's opening week. 

 

Date: Saturday, August 30, 2014

Time: 8 p.m. ET

Where: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas

TV: ABC

Live Stream: ESPN3

 

Florida State Player to Watch: Jameis Winston

The 'Noles have a wealth of talent all over the field.

Offensively, Rashad Greene had more receptions and yards than first-round pick Kelvin Benjamin last season, while running back Karlos Williams averaged a silly 8.0 yards per carry and found the end zone 11 times on just 91 totes. Defensively, Mario Edwards, P.J. Williams, Ronald Darby and several others look like locks to be playing on Sundays in the future.

But Jameis Winston, though. 

There is no player in America who will be scrutinized more than the polarizing Winston. The dynamic quarterback had a freshman season reserved for dreams, taking home the Heisman Trophy and leading the 'Noles to a thrilling national championship victory. 

Is it possible to improve, or at least live up to expectations, after a season like that? He certainly thinks so, via Bleacher Report's Peter Kerasotis:

I'm going to be good. I'm going great. Even better than I was last year. I'm going to be myself. I love football. I love this game. I haven't set any individual goals, just team goals. First goal is to win the national championship.

Winston has an opportunity to get off to a great start against this Oklahoma State secondary. 

It's not that the Cowboys aren't talented in the back. They're just inexperienced. After losing top-10 pick Justin Gilbert, as well as playmaking safeties Daytawion Lowe, Lyndell Johnson and Shamiel Gary, the only returning starter in the secondary will be cornerback Kevin Peterson. 

Winston and his abundance of speedy weapons could be partying like it's 2013. 

 

Oklahoma State Player to Watch: Tyreek Hill, RB

Let's see, how to explain Tyreek Hill…

“Everybody I talk to,” wide receiver David Glidden said, via The Oklahoman's John Helsley, “they ask me about him and I say, ‘You’re just going to have to wait and see. It’s something you can’t really describe.’”

The junior college transfer is an unfair kind of fast. He won the 200-meter dash at the Big 12 Championships, and according to Helsley, he ran a 20.14 in high school, which would have put him sixth at the 2012 London Olympics.

Head coach Mike Gundy even offered this comparison:

Whoa. 

Hill isn't going to be a workhorse. Best-case scenario, he'll probably see 10-15 touches. But he's going to line up all over the field, and OSU will do whatever it can to get him in space as much as possible. Because when that happens, he's going to do special things. 

If the Cowboys are going to keep up with FSU on offense, they are going to have to get creative against a team that finished fourth in total yards allowed per game in 2014. The electrifying Hill, a strong candidate for Big 12 Newcomer of the Year, will be a major part of that. 

 

Prediction

Oklahoma State, which was picked to finish fifth in the Big 12, is underrated. But they aren't that underrated.

Florida State has arguably the best quarterback in America behind a stout offensive line, an array of playmakers at the skill positions and an extremely talented defense. There are some questions about the interior of the defensive line and the young receiving corps, but overall, Jimbo Fisher's team is just too good.

While it's tough to predict how teams will look out of the gate, the Seminoles' talent wins out. 

Florida State 38, Oklahoma State 21

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Vanderbilt Uniforms Cause Confusion vs. Temple with 'Anchor Down' on Nameplate

Vanderbilt's unique football jerseys caused quite the stir Thursday night.

As part of the jersey, Vandy opted to forgo having player names on the back and instead used the slogan "Anchor Down." The game referees believed this to be illegal and initially ruled that the team would lose a timeout for every quarter the offending jersey was worn.

CBS Sports' Eye on College Football captured a snapshot of the supposed problem:

However, officials from Vanderbilt provided a valid email from the NCAA that ruled the uniforms had been pre-approved, thus dodging any punishment, via SportsCenter:

The NCAA has general rules in place regarding the changing of the back nameplate on uniforms, per The Associated Press, via ESPN.com:

NCAA rules say a jersey may only contain a player's name, the school name, the NCAA logo, sleeve stripes, an American flag, a state flag or a logo for a school, conference, mascot, postseason game, memorial or the military.

It was certainly one of the more surreal moments you'll see this college football season:

If anything can be taken away from this, it's that you always want to save your important emails. One wrong click, and the Commodores could've lost the only proof that exonerated them.

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QB Bo Wallace's Continued Struggles Mean Ole Miss Will Have to Win with D

ATLANTA — It wasn't pretty for Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace. 

In fact, it was downright ugly.

Sure, he threw for 387 yards and four touchdowns in a 35-13 victory over Boise State, but those stats lie.

That score lies.

Wallace threw three picks, as the slow release that has haunted him for two years was still present. Perhaps most importantly, he didn't play within the structure of head coach Hugh Freeze's offense inside the Georgia Dome on Thursday night.

"I'm looking forward to breaking the film down and seeing. Two of the three interceptions were a bit unbelievable to us, because they weren't even in his progression on the route," Freeze said. "He'll be the first to tell you that and he knows that. It was a bit amazing. He was a little out of sync."

Despite the three first interceptions in the first half, or more likely because of them, Ole Miss carried only a four-point lead into halftime with a score of 7-3. 

That didn't really matter to offensive coordinator Dan Werner.

"There's no way we could have played any worse, and we're still ahead," he said.

Why was Ole Miss ahead? That defense was stifling.

Defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche paid mortgage in the Boise State backfield, the Rebels had three of their four interceptions of Boise State QB Grant Hedrick in the first half, and they laid the wood on Broncos players early and often.

The most impressive player of the bunch commonly known as the "landsharks" was sophomore safety Tony Conner, who finished the day with six tackles, one tackle for loss and an interception.

"Tony's a really good football player who has a really good football IQ," Freeze said. "To be a second year player, we're definitely glad we have him. He played a solid game. He had a great pick and on a couple of powers they ran on the goal line, he did a good job with his assignment."

It seems that is what Ole Miss will have to be in order to be successful this season — a group that wins with defense.

It's not going to be much different with Wallace as the quarterback. This is what he is. He's a guy who will throw his fair share of touchdown passes and gets some yards on the ground, but also make some mind-numbingly poor decisions, improvises in the worst possible ways and forces his defense to come up big time and time again.

He's now thrown 44 touchdown passes during his two-plus years in Oxford, but also has 20 interceptions. 

Can Ole Miss win big in spite of its quarterback?

Maybe. The defense certainly looked up to the task in the opener, but that's a tall order for any defense in this day and age of exotic offenses and creative play-callers.

It'd be really helpful if Wallace could play within the system and cut down on the mistakes.

It didn't look like he could do that on Thursday night in the Georgia Dome.

 

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

 


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Miami Football: Brad Kaaya Must Not Be 1-Game Experiment

The opening game of the Miami Hurricanes' 2014 season has been highly anticipated for months—specifically, the eight months that have passed since a dreadful loss capped the once-promising 2013 campaign.

As if Monday's rematch against Louisville wasn't already an exciting night, the fanbase's collective eagerness rose following the announcement that true freshman Brad Kaaya would be the quarterback.

The 4-star QB from California is heralded as someone who can turn around the program, and he very well might be. But Miami is just hours from officially burning Kaaya's redshirt season, and that's an important long-term decision.

Football is like a business; the 'Canes have immediately invested in their future. Now, there's no looking back. The Miami Herald's Manny Navarro reports comments from Miami head coach Al Golden:

Through the ups and downs sure to come, the Miami coaching staff cannot turn away from their young quarterback even if he struggles at Louisville.

Replacing with Kaaya with transfer Jake Heaps this early would just be terribly silly, to put it nicely. Kaaya earned the role, and he deserves multiple chances to prove he can lead the team.

Following the ACC tilt with the Cardinals, the 'Canes host Florida A&M and Arkansas State on successive weekends. Giving Kaaya two additional opportunities to prepare for a prime-time showdown on Sept. 20 is extremely valuable, both for the 2014 season and his future.

That night, Miami enters Memorial Stadium to take on the Nebraska Cornhuskers, a team that is arguably the Hurricanes' toughest non-Florida State competition.

Kaaya will certainly be forced to overcome mistakes during his first three outings, but Bo Pelini's squad is a heightened level of competition. With Nebraska's D-line led by first-team All-Big Ten defensive end Randy Gregory, USAToday's Paul Myerberg believes it could be "the Big Ten's most pleasant surprise."

How will Kaaya ultimately react to the intensified pressure? The 'Canes need to see if he can handle it.

Granted, by all accounts, the freshman has appeared mature beyond his class standing. Coaches and teammates alike have taken notice of his poise throughout the fall, including junior cornerback Tracy Howard, as noted by Manny Navarro of The Miami Herald:

He has great footwork in the pocket. He has a natural feel, does a great job stepping up and avoiding defenders in the pocket. He makes great decisions. You can't beat a guy who makes great decisions. Instead of forcing it and throwing an interception, he'll throw it away. And he moves the sticks.

Should Kaaya continue making good decisions and moving the sticks, he will keep his starting position. But yes, if Kaaya flat-out struggles every game, there is an undeniable chance Golden will elect to bench the freshman.

Still, if anyone is taking Kaaya out, it's Ryan Williams—not Heaps. The injured senior is continuing to improve health-wise, but he was not healthy enough to return for Week 1, per ThePalm Beach Post's Matt Porter:

The largest variable in the quarterback discussion remains the medical clearance of Williams, who was obviously disappointed he's not available, per Christy Cabrera Chirinos of the South Florida Sun Sentinel: "I tried my hardest to be ready for this game," Williams said. "I guess it wasn't physically possible. I'm just going to take it week by week and when I can come back, I will."

However, Williams' readiness is a bridge that will be crossed upon arrival. According to The Associated Press' Tim Reynolds, "Golden said it's too early to predict if the race will re-open when Williams is able to play again."

For the foreseeable future, Kaaya is the Hurricanes' quarterback, and that must not change until he has been given multiple opportunities and his in-game performance compels a switch.

Miami is betting heavily on a start-up, absorbing the risk and waiting for dividends. Shying away from the venture after a single outing is not a smart decision.

Otherwise, the 'Canes will have wasted a season of someone they hope re-establishes the program as a national power. And that's just not worth it.

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College Football Uniform Watch for Week 1

New year. New threads.

Remember the first day of school, when everyone and their brother broke out their shiniest, newest clothes, dressing to impress? That’s basically what this weekend is in college football fashion.

The 2014 college football season kicked into gear Thursday night with 14 games, including Texas A&M’s surprising evisceration of South Carolina, breaking the Gamecocks’ 18-game home winning streak.

Saturday will bring the first full day of college gridiron action, and with it, a number of new and different looks for college football uniforms across the nation.

This is the first opportunity for teams to display their new duds before huge crowds, and they’re ready for the opportunity.

Here’s a look at the best and brightest (and strangest) among new college football uniforms for Week 1.

 

Vanderbilt

Vanderbilt broke out new black jerseys for coach Derek Mason's debut against Temple, but the Commodores probably should've checked with the NCAA rulebook first. In Thursday night's game, VU had "Anchor Down" above the numbers where a player's last name normally goes. But putting a slogan there is illegal under NCAA rules, and the 'Dores were charged a team timeout each quarter that they wore the illegal uniform.

But at the beginning of the second quarter, per CBS Sports' Jerry Hinnen, VU obtained a letter from SEC coordinator of officials Steve Shaw that reversed the decision and restored the timeout that had been stripped. It was a bizarre way to start the year in uniform watching. 

 

Louisville

Louisville will enter the ACC with an ESPN-televised showdown against Miami Monday night, and the Cardinals will do so in style. Louisville has a new league, a new-old coach in Bobby Petrino and a new uniform look.

Louisville is holding a “Blackout” at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium, and the Cardinals themselves are setting the tone with all-black uniforms that feature red numerals and a red shoulder stripe. The Cards will also have shiny black helmets with red logos on the side, and they’ll look plenty sharp for their ACC debut.

 

Miami

Meanwhile, the Hurricanes have not released their uniform combo for Monday, but they have a number of options, including new green and orange helmets.

 

N.C. State 

Speaking of black, ACC rival N.C. State has unveiled a “Pack In Black” uniform combination that features a black helmet with a red lower half and, most notably, wolf eyes on the back of the shell. It’s pretty sharp, really.

 

Illinois

Illinois has completely new uniforms that feature the same primary uniform colors (blue, orange and white jerseys) but have a sleeker, more modern look with new numerals and new orange, white and black helmets. The Fighting Illini will wear the white helmets this weekend with orange jerseys and white pants for the season opener against Youngstown State.

 

Iowa State 

Iowa State is hoping for a new look offensively under new coordinator Mark Mangino, and the Cyclones’ lids will look sharp with new red matte helmets.

 

South Florida 

In the American Athletic Conference, South Florida will sport new green and gold helmets. The green helmets feature a matte finish and a larger version of the USF logo, while the gold helmets are a chrome motif and a smaller version of the logo.

 

Southern Miss

In Conference USA, Southern Miss hopes for better fortunes after breaking a 23-game losing streak in the 2013 season finale. The Golden Eagles made a slight change to their helmets, changing the “Southern Miss” lettering on the sides from black to white, providing a nice contrast against the yellow background.

 

Florida International

Miami isn’t the only South Florida team making uniform changes: Florida International is bringing back gold pants to wear with its blue uniform tops.

 

UAB 

Meanwhile, UAB has perhaps the best new helmets in college football with a giant, fire-breathing dragon covering the side of the helmet. The Blazers haven’t had much success on the field lately, but they’re winning with these new lids.

 

Akron

Akron and coach Terry Bowden have sharp new uniforms and helmets this fall. The Zips have new black uniforms and also have white chrome and gold chrome helmets with a huge ‘Z’ emblazoned on the side.

 

Toledo

In-state MAC rival Toledo has updated its look, with a smaller “Toledo” across the chest of its black uniforms and yellow stripes covering the uniforms’ shoulders.

 

 

Northern Illinois 

Northern Illinois played Thursday night against Presbyterian, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the Huskies’ corn-themed uniforms. DeKalb, Illinois, is set smack in the middle of northern Illinois’ rolling corn fields, and NIU paid tribute to the local landscape with black “Cornfest” uniforms that were corn-kernel themed across the shoulders. They were…something.

 

Mississippi State 

Mississippi State is celebrating the 100th anniversary of Scott Field this fall, and the Bulldogs will do so in updated uniforms, per Gamedayr. This week, they’ll wear maroon helmets and jerseys with “Hail State” emblazoned across the front and white pants with the M-State logo wrapped around the left thigh.

 

Wyoming

Wyoming has a new head coach in Craig Bohl, but the Cowboys are going back to the future with their helmets. Wyoming is bringing back the classic white helmet with a gold stripe and the bucking cowboy logo. Pretty nice.

 

UCLA

UCLA made a small but welcome change: This week, the Bruins will bring back the classic Clarendon lettering on their jerseys. With the Bruins poised for historical success this fall, it makes sense that they’d embrace history on their uniforms.

 

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Ohio State Football: 3 Things Buckeyes Must Do to Avoid Navy Upset

With less than three minutes remaining in the fourth quarter of Ohio State's 2009 season opener, Navy's offense lined up for a game-tying two-point conversion. A successful attempt would have likely forced overtime, something the Buckeyes desperately wanted to avoid after surrendering 13 consecutive points and all of the game's momentum.

Instead of keeping it on the ground—where a majority of Navy's success had come from—quarterback Ricky Dobbs dropped back and threw an errant pass into the end zone. That pass was intercepted by linebacker Brian Rolle, who took it the other way for two points to preserve a Buckeyes victory.

Five years ago, Ohio State learned how difficult it is to beat a disciplined and dangerous Midshipmen team. As another opener against Navy looms, what do the Buckeyes need to do to avoid an upset?

 

Limit the Run, Contain Keenan Reynolds

Under the direction of head coach Ken Niumatalolo, Navy has maintained one of the most dangerous rushing attacks in the country. The Midshipmen piled up 325.4 rushing yards per game a season ago, which ranked No. 2 in the country behind Auburn.

Quarterback Keenan Reynolds—who has been tabbed as a dark-horse Heisman contender—triggers the vaunted triple-option attack.

Shutting Reynolds and the rushing attack down will be the Buckeyes' top priority this Saturday.

That's easier said than done. Reynolds set an NCAA single-season record for quarterbacks with 31 rushing touchdowns last year—and his playmaking ability could lead to a special season.

According to Doug Lesmerises of The Plain DealerUrban Meyer knows that Navy's signal-caller is special.

"Some people I've talked to think that he's the best that they've ever had," Meyer said. "That takes your breath away a little bit."

So how does Ohio State plan to stop the Midshipmen? Linebacker Joshua Perry knows that it's all about playing assignment football, because if the Buckeyes are out of position, Navy will make them pay.

"It's all about assignment football," Perry said, according to Ari Wasserman of The Plain Dealer. "One mistake can lead to a really big play." 

 

Win Third Down

A key element to defending the triple option is to win on third down. The offense is designed to create manageable third-down situations, and according to SB Nation's Bill Connelly, Navy executes that strategy to perfection.

Navy has been so consistently strong at pecking away at the middle of a defense with the quarterback and fullbacks; the style of offense is conducive to converting third-and-2 with ease, and Navy will endlessly pound away at you with the fullbacks until you adjust. 

It will be pivotal for Ohio State to limit Navy's 3rd-and-short opportunities defensively. On the other side of the ball, the Buckeyes must avoid three-and-outs at all cost.

"You can't three-and-out against this team," Meyer said this week, according to Patrick Maks of Eleven Warriors. "That's when you've got problems."

 

Win the Turnover Battle

Navy's defense isn't dominant—it ranked 57th in the country in total defense last year after allowing 394.8 yards per game.

The Midshipmen don't have a lot of size defensively, so defensive coordinator Buddy Green utilizes a bend-but-don't-break 3-4 defense in an effort to prevent the big play.

That style works against impatient offenses, but something Navy is consistently good at is winning the turnover battle.

The Midshipmen don't force a lot of turnovers, but they don't give the ball away that much, either. Even though they only had 22 takeaways in 2013, they still ranked 12th overall in turnover margin.

That's the sign of a disciplined football team. If the Buckeyes can take care of the ball and prevent big momentum swings, they should leave Baltimore with their first victory of the season.

 

All stats via NCAA.com.

David Regimbal covers Ohio State football for Bleacher Report. 
Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.

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Opening Night Demolition Shows Kevin Sumlin More Valuable Than Johnny Manziel

Johnny who?

Remember when Texas A&M was a flash in the pan and wouldn't have staying power in the SEC West after quarterback Johnny Manziel moved on early to the NFL?

Yeah, about that.

Manziel's replacement, sophomore Kenny Hill, was phenomenal in his debut as the Aggies' starting quarterback, completing 44 of 60 passes for 511 yards and three touchdowns in a 52-28 rout over No. 9 South Carolina on the road in a hostile environment in Columbia, South Carolina. The 511 yards and 60 passing attempts were both school records.

The performance vaulted Hill, who was a virtual unknown prior to Thursday night, right into the early-season conversation for the Heisman Trophy, according to Todd Fuhrman of Fox Sports 1.

It was a statement performance not just by Hill, but by head coach Kevin Sumlin—who proved that, even without the most dynamic college football player in recent history, his system works at an elite level.

Over the last six years, covering stints as the head coach of Texas A&M and Houston, Sumlin's offenses have finished no worse than 11th in the country in total offense. The only reason Sumlin's Houston offense finished in "lowly" 11th in 2010 was because quarterback Case Keenum was lost for the season after three games and David Piland had to step in on the fly.

Sumlin came out to prove a point, and he did it.

Sumlin doesn't fit quarterbacks to his system, he fits his system to quarterbacks. When he was at Houston, Keenum lit up opposing defenses in an offense that resembled the Air Raid. With Manziel at Texas A&M, it was a nice blend of Air Raid, zone read and Manziel's improvisational skills. Speaking of, a certain someone took notice of Hill's performance tonight as well. 

Hill only rushed for five yards against the Gamecocks, but why mess with success?

He has the ability to be a dual-threat quarterback, and his breakout performance through the air on the road on opening night will only open up the offense more for Sumlin moving forward.

So what does this do to the landscape of the SEC West? 

Any inclination that the Aggies might suffer a drop-off post-Manziel went out the window as soon as Hill led the Aggies on their first touchdown drive—a 67-yarder to open the game. The poise Hill showed on the road in his first career start really solidifies the A&M offense as one that's incredibly dangerous.

We already knew about the veteran offensive line, the solid stable of running backs and the talented and versatile wide receiving corps. Now we know the new "running quarterback" isn't too shabby through the air.

Are the Aggies still searching for answers defensively?

The jury is still out. South Carolina racked up 433 total yards, but that's still 48.5 yards better than A&M's 2013 average on defense. 

That's not just a baby step; that's a giant leap.

Defense doesn't win championships anymore, just enough defense wins championships. If Hill's debut is any indication, the definition for "just enough defense" for this particular Texas A&M defense is simply one that can force pressure with four players and capitalize on mistakes.

That's not a lot to ask.

This Texas A&M team may not miss a beat in the post-Manziel era. At the very worst it's a team that can be disruptive within the division and have a big say in who plays in the SEC Championship Game. If the Aggies play like they did on Thursday night, they may be playing in the Georgia Dome themselves.


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

 

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Texas A&M vs. South Carolina: How Early Upset Shakes Up SEC Landscape

The South Carolina Gamecocks quickly saw their championship aspirations dampened after suffering a 52-28 loss to Texas A&M to kick off the 2014 NCAA college football season. Just like that, the SEC looks much different after Thursday night's rout.

Steve Spurrier's squad looked to cement itself as a legit SEC contender. Instead, Texas A&M came out smelling like roses following a magnificent outing from Kenny Hill, who quickly has fans at College Station renaming their old quarterback "Johnny Who?"

According to ESPN Stats & Info, Johnny Manziel never completed so many passes in any start, let alone his first. 

That number, by the way, soared all the way up to 44 before the night ended. Hill finished the evening with 511 passing yards and three touchdowns. 

"We were ready to prove everyone wrong," Hill said after the game, according to anAssociated Press report, via ESPN. "We were ready to show we could play without Johnny."

The lesson here: Kenny Hill is really good, and the Aggies still must be feared after losing Manziel and wideout Mike Evans to the NFL. The team didn't miss a beat without that duo, either. If anything, the Aggies look stronger.

Without Evans grabbing jump balls, senior Malcolme Kennedy played first fiddle, reeling in 14 catches for 137 yards. A year after catching 97 passes for 1,083 yards, the senior looks poised for a monster season.

Josh Reynolds, Edward Pope and Ricky Seals-Jones all added a touchdown each to the cause. Bruce Feldman of CBS Sports argued this batch of wideouts is even better than last year's.

Texas A&M should enjoy a healthy boost up the AP rankings into the teens. If the Aggies keep this up, they could find themselves in the top 10 soon enough. There is, after all, a spot up for grabs once No. 9 South Carolina falls.

While Texas A&M didn't miss Manziel, their foes looked lost without defensive behemoth Jadeveon Clowney. Per ESPN Stats & Info, their defensive ineptitude in the season opener set a dubious record.

South Carolina suffered a similar blow early last year, losing 41-30 to then-No. 11 Georgia. While the Gamecocks bounced back to win 10 of their final 11 games, the margin for error proved small in college football's toughest conference. Despite falling short to South Carolina in double overtime, the Missouri Tigers advanced to the SEC Championship Game at 11-1.

After going into the Georgia game ranked No. 6, South Carolina fell to No. 12. Expect a similar fall outside the top 10 this week. If No. 12 Georgia can fend off No. 16 Clemson, the Bulldogs become the SEC East's team to beat.

South Carolina and Texas A&M, however, cannot be pleased with their defensive showings. The two squads combined to amass 1,113 total yards, 877 of which came through the air. 

In a losing effort, Dylan Thompson poled holes into Texas A&M secondary, with two deep bombs during the first half. While Thompson only completed half of his passes (20-of-40), he found Nick Jones for 69 yards and connected with Damiere Byrd for a 46-yard score to momentarily keep things close. 

A year after allowing 32.2 points per contest, Kevin Sumlin can't be happy to see his defensive backs exposed so early. He can't count on Hill to rattle off 500 yards every game.

If this inaugural game is any indication, the SEC is going to be fun to watch and tough to predict this season. 

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Johnny Manziel Congratulates Kenny Hill After Win, Relinquishes 'Football' Name

The Johnny Football era is over at Texas A&M.

Sophomore quarterback Kenny Hill threw for 511 yards and three touchdowns Thursday night, leading the Aggies to a dominant 52-28 season-opening win against the South Carolina Gamecocks.

After the game, Johnny Manziel tweeted to congratulate Hill, bestowing upon him the nickname "Kenny Football."

While the tweet was obviously meant to congratulate Hill, Gabe Bock from TexAgs radio tweeted that the new Aggies quarterback isn't a fan of the "Football" nickname. 

If he keeps playing like he did against the Gamecocks on Thursday, he'll earn a new nickname soon enough—hopefully one that he actually likes.

[Twitter, h/t College Spun]

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Blake Sims Reportedly Will Start Alabama's 2014 Season Opener vs. West Virginia

The No. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide enter Saturday's college football season opener against West Virginia with some uncertainty at the quarterback position.

Head coach Nick Saban has reportedly elected to go with a roster incumbent in fifth-year senior Blake Sims over talented transfer Jacob Coker, according to CBSSports.com's Jeremy Fowler.

Sims has stuck with the program in Tuscaloosa for years awaiting his turn to take the reins of the offense, but Coker has been gathering momentum ever since his arrival. Jameis Winston beat out Coker last year in a competition for Florida State's starting QB job, and Winston went on to win the Heisman Trophy and a national title.

That led to Coker transferring to threaten Sims' potential dream shot. Fowler notes in his report that the two signal-callers will both be used versus the Mountaineers, so this is in no way an indication that Sims will be the No. 1 for the rest of the 2014 campaign.

ESPN.com's Alex Scarborough observed recently how back-and-forth the competition has been between Sims and Coker:

It hasn't taken brilliance under center for Alabama to succeed in recent years. Marginal talents such as Greg McElroy and AJ McCarron have made smart decisions, relying on a strong defense and punishing running game to carry the Tide to the top of the SEC on a consistent basis.

The following are some of Saban's comments on the heated quarterback battle from his radio show on Thursday. They hinted that Sims could be the guy, at least for the West Virginia game, via AL.com's Andrew Gribble:

My job is to play the best players and the guys that have done best the job for this game. For this game. That does not mean that it's going to stay that way. It does not mean that if you're the starting pitcher that you're going to pitch for nine innings. The manager sometimes comes in and takes the guy out. All these things are options that are available.

We have faith, trust and confidence in Blake Sims. We're not going to evaluate Blake and he doesn't have to look over his shoulder while he's playing. I think there may be some occasion where the other guy deserves an opportunity at some point in time this season to show what he can do.

As more of a dual threat, Sims brings that different dimension to the offense that Alabama has lacked.

The Tide have seen playmaking QBs who can run such as Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel and Oklahoma's Trevor Knight light them up under the national spotlight, which may enhance Sims' odds of starting in the future.

Coker is more of a prototypical pocket passer that the Tide have deployed to great success in the Saban era. There's a chance that Coker could show off superior passing ability and unseat Sims as the starter right away.

Having a two-quarterback system is not often a recommendable strategy, but with how stacked the rest of Alabama's roster is, perhaps Saban can make it work if he elects to go that route. At some point in the season, one player will likely take command of the huddle and earn all of the snaps. 

But Saban is being fickle as to who that will be. This flip-flopping situation could bring out the best in Sims and Coker—or it could backfire and leave the Tide with an unexpected down year.

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Kenny Hill Explodes out of Johnny Football's Shadow with Record-Breaking Debut

The Texas A&M Aggies went into Columbia and left with a 52-28 win over the South Carolina Gamecocks.

Bleacher Report college football analyst Michael Felder breaks down Kenny Hill's performance during his first start. How well do you think the sophomore quarterback will do this season? Could he make a surprise run at the Heisman Trophy like former Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel did two years ago?

Watch the video and let us know.

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Has South Carolina's Steve Spurrier Missed Window for Another SEC Championship?

The No. 9-ranked South Carolina Gamecocks welcomed Texas A&M to Columbia in both teams' season-opener Thursday, but the night ended in misery for head coach Steve Spurrier and Co.

The Aggies thrashed the Gamecocks, 52-28, exposing some major holes for the Ol' Ball Coach to patch up before South Carolina's next game against East Carolina. 

In the aftermath of the upset, Bleacher Report's College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Adam Kramer discuss if Spurrier will ever be back on top of the SEC. Do you think the Gamecocks will command the conference in the future?

Watch the video and chime in below.

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