NCAA Football

Baylor vs. SMU: Art Briles Wise to Use Caution with Bryce Petty's Injury in Rout

Baylor Bears head coach Art Briles knows the college football season is a marathon, not a sprint. With Sunday's matchup against the SMU Mustangs already decided, Briles pulled his Heisman Trophy candidate and starting quarterback Bryce Petty after an injury to his lower back.

Petty could be seen showing the effects of the injury during the first half, especially after an option keeper late in the second quarter. 

With the Bears already up 31-0 at the half, Briles made the decision to pull Petty for the rest of the game.

Petty had already thrown for 161 yards and two touchdowns and he'd run for another.

Baylor went on to hammer SMU 45-0. After the game was over, all of the attention and concern shifted to the health of the Bears' star. Per the program's official Twitter account, Petty assured everyone that the injury wasn't serious.

Perhaps in a more pivotal game that was still in doubt, Briles could have kept his star in the game and been more conservative with play-calling to protect him.

The luxury of a 31-0 lead created the opportunity to rest Petty. 

This might seem like a bit of a no-brainer move, but not every coach makes the right decision in these situations. Some Chicago Bulls fans may never forgive head coach Tom Thibodeau for having Derrick Rose on the floor during the 2012 NBA playoffs when the star tore his ACL.

Rose had battled injuries all year and the Bulls were up 12 points with just over a minute left in the game. For all intents and purpose, the game had been decided. 

As NBA analyst and Hall of Famer Reggie Miller mentioned in the video of the broadcast that is linked above, criticism of Thibodeau began almost immediately.

Sure, that's a different sport, but it's a similar concept.

Imagine what would have happened had Petty been put back on the field—even for one play—in game where his team led by 31 points with a half to play against an overmatched SMU team.

Briles would have been pelted with criticism, and deservedly so.

Because of Petty's competitiveness, there's no doubt he probably wanted to get back on the field, but this appears to be an example of a head coach and his staff making an executive decision in the best interest of the player and team.

With Petty saying the injury isn't serious, Bears fans can be optimistic about the quarterback being available for the team's next game against the Northwestern State Demons on September 6.

Truth be told, the Bears could probably afford to rest Petty in that game as well. The No. 10 team in the nation should be able to handle a squad from the Southland Conference without their No. 1 quarterback.

We should know more in the next few days about Petty's availability, but it seems clear Briles will make the right decision either way.

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Brett Hundley Needs Help from Supporting Cast to Keep UCLA in Contention

Let's get this out of the way: The UCLA offense just didn't look good in the team's first game of the season against Virginia. The Bruins accrued 358 yards of offense and scored just one touchdown while they watched the defense take control of the game.

That is certainly concerning for a team ranked No. 7 in the nation, and if UCLA is to right the ship, quarterback Brett Hundley needs help from his supporting cast immediately.

After a 2013 season in which Hundley completed 67.2 percent of his passes for 3,071 yards and 24 touchdowns against nine interceptions, expectations were high entering his junior year. In fact, ESPN ranked the quarterback as its No. 12 player in the nation heading into 2014.

Well, things didn't exactly start out as planned. In the team's 28-20 victory over the Cavaliers, Hundley completed 20 of his 33 passing attempts for 242 yards and a rating of just 43.2. Those are very underwhelming numbers from the acclaimed signal-caller, but his performance wasn't exactly his fault.

Although, that won't stop early scrutiny like this tweet from Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times:

Plenty went wrong on the Bruins offense that Hundley couldn't control. Virginia's pass rush looked spectacular against UCLA's offensive line on Saturday. Some of that could be credited to the Cavaliers' great game plan and scheme, but most should be attributed to poor offensive line play.

Bruin Report Online tweeted an early-game observation regarding the team's interior line play:

Scott Quessenberry generally plays guard; however, the absence of Jake Brendel in the opener due to a sprained knee forced him to slide over to center. As you can see, the move didn't work out so well.

The line continued to struggle through the remainder of the contest, giving up four sacks and producing several false starts. This led to head coach Jim Mora Jr. answering concerns during a press conference, via Jack Wang of the Los Angeles Daily News:

I know there's going to be a lot of concern about our offensive line. It's warranted at this point. Anyone that watched that game will go, 'My goodness, what are we going to do about the offensive line?' For those of us that know, we know that we've got a good group. We've got to play better, and I know that we will.

This is something that must be cleaned up in very short order. After all, the Bruins certainly don't want Hundley to constantly take matters into his own hands—he showed his competitiveness when scrambling for a touchdown and dragging a defender into the end zone with him. That could be a very risky endeavor.

But it all comes down to the offensive line. The NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah tweeted his take of how UCLA could move the ball after Hundley's touchdown run:

While that may have worked, that can't be counted on as a go-to play this season.

UCLA is set to face off against Memphis and Texas over the next two weeks but faces a difficult test afterward in No. 17 Arizona State. If these issues aren't corrected by then, the Bruins stand little chance to retain their Top 10 ranking in 2014.

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Brett Hundley Needs Help from Supporting Cast to Keep UCLA in Contention

Let's get this out of the way: The UCLA offense just didn't look good in the team's first game of the season against Virginia. The Bruins accrued 358 yards of offense and scored just one touchdown while they watched the defense take control of the game.

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Newfound Speed, Energy Show Tennessee Is Ready to Play with the SEC Big Boys

This has to be more like what A.J. Johnson expected.

When the Tennessee Volunteers linebacker eschewed the NFL to return for his senior season on Rocky Top, part of the reason was to be around for better days. With a ton of talent being injected, Johnson wanted to play amid talent and youthful exuberance.

The new-look, freshman-heavy Vols looked the part Sunday night, flying around on defense and frustrating Heisman Trophy hopeful Chuckie Keeton and Utah State in a 38-7 rout at Neyland Stadium.

Tennessee wasn't perfect, but the Vols have plenty of talent to make some noise—especially in an SEC East that looks like Georgia and everybody else.

This 2014 edition of the Vols is totally different than that of a season ago, revitalized by a speedy, spunky bunch of newcomers who have elevated the play of the entire team and changed the program's trajectory.

And they were ready to go as soon as the ball was kicked off.

A slimmed-down version of Old Man Johnson was the centerpiece, leading the band in a pregame drill that got the crowd hyped and then leading a revamped defense that looked surprisingly salty.

Offensively, UT found its sea legs late and ended up with a mostly impressive performance, too. The Vols made up for their shortcomings with talent and playmaking ability that simply weren't present in 2013.

An offense that was stagnant in the first half got an injection of excitement when quarterback Justin Worley finally found some of his new toys in the open field.

First, he found junior college transfer Von Pearson on a short pass, and the shifty receiver juked a defender out of his cleats on a cut that capped a 13-play drive with a 14-yard, third-quarter touchdown.

Then, with the Vols in the midst of another methodical, dominant drive as that quarter closed, they sprinted from one end of the field to the other. All their teammates on the sideline met the offense, danced, called for chaos from the crowd and looked ready to play four more quarters.

That powder keg of emotion carried over on the field.

Worley found freshman running back Jalen Hurd on a screen on the fourth quarter's first play. The jewel of UT's freshman class corkscrewed a defender, turned on the afterburners and raced 16 yards for a touchdown.

The score made it 31-0 for the Vols and pushed Worley to 12-of-12 passing in the second half on his way to hitting his first 13 second-half passes. He finished with 273 passing yards, three touchdowns and distributed the ball to several of UT's youngsters.

Even though UT didn't always sustain drives, keep Worley off the ground and open big running holes, it still made big plays and flashed talent that only needs to be nourished with game reps to grow.

Players like receiver Josh Malone didn't always know what they were doing, but they still made some key plays. When they didn't, the defense shut things down.

For the first time since Eric Berry was in orange and white, there are potential playmakers all over the field, and they actually made plays Sunday.

It was that kind of night in Neyland—exactly the kind of start the Vols wanted.

The defense was incredible, disguising coverages and using multiple fronts and situational players to keep USU confused. The Aggies failed to cross midfield and amassed just 97 total yards in the first half.

It was a far cry from a defense that ranked 11th in the SEC last year and second-last in rush defense. The Vols allowed just 244 total yards and 100 rushing yards to the Aggies, and a share of those came with the game already decided.

Keeton essentially did nothing.

He was pressured by the waves of speed and talent UT threw in his direction. When Utah State pieced together two big plays that resulted in its only touchdown early in the fourth quarter, it was just a frustrating footnote to a big win.

So many young players like Hurd, Pearson, Malone, Ethan Wolf, Dillon Bates, Derek Barnett and Chris Weatherd had flashes of brilliance Sunday that give long-suffering UT fans plenty to be excited about for the future.

But on a night when the excitement was elevated by all the young stars on the field, it all came back to Johnson. In the fourth quarter, the senior linebacker jumped JoJo Natson's route and intercepted Keeton.

He broke on the ball with a scamper in his step not seen previously in his career and even took it 23 yards in the other direction for further proof that he was playing faster than he has in his four years as a Vol.

Maybe all those kids around him gave the old man some pep in his step.

Though several imperfections festered—such as UT averaging just 2.8 yards per carry and committing costly penalties at crucial times—all the young talent and its highlight-reel flashes helped hide the warts.

It was a glimpse of better future days in the present, a nice start with plenty upon which to build.

This team has questions to answer, sure, but in a division where South Carolina and Vanderbilt just got their doors blown off and Florida is trying to regroup from a four-win season, the Vols can make a considerable move.

On Sunday, at least, the talent looked as if it's in place to take a major step forward.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all statistics gathered from CFBStats.com and quotes as well as observations obtained firsthand.

Brad Shepard covers SEC football and is the Tennessee Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow Brad on Twitter here:

@Brad_Shepard

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College Football Rankings Week 2: B/R's Official Top 25

One week of the 2014 college football season is in the books, and already the rankings have felt a shake-up.

And we're not just talking with the ranked teams who lost, as early impressions of some of the country's top-rated teams have led our voters to change their opinions of which team is the best in the land. As a result, we no longer have a unanimous No. 1 team, as was the case in the preseason poll.

Florida State's touch-and-go 37-31 win over Oklahoma State was just one of the games that had a major impact on the Week 2 rankings. Others that had a resounding effect included Georgia's convincing win over Clemson, Alabama's shaky victory against West Virginia and LSU's comeback rally to down Wisconsin.

The Bleacher Report Top 25 is voted on by 20 members of Bleacher Report's college football team: writers Keith Arnold, Ben Axelrod, Phil Callihan, Michael Felder, Justin Ferguson, Andrew Hall, Kyle Kensing, David Kenyon, Ben Kercheval, Adam Kramer, Brian Leigh, Brian Pedersen, Barrett Sallee, Brad Shepard, Erin Sorensen, Marc Torrence and Greg Wallace, as well as editors Eric Bowman, Hunter Mandel and Max Rausch.

Each voter submits their ballots based on observations made during the just-completed week's games. Teams receive 25 points for a first-place vote, all the way down to one point for being ranked 25th, and then the top 25 vote-getters are ranked in order of their point totals.

Check out Bleacher Report's Week 2 poll, then give us your thoughts in the comments section.

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Utah State vs. Tennessee: Game Grades, Analysis for the Volunteers

Tennessee had been developing a reputation as a doormat of the SEC's East Division.  Those days may very well be fading into the fog of memory.

The Volunteers dispatched a very good Utah State team 38-7 on Sunday evening in front of the first Neyland Stadium sellout crowd in seven years.  The 102,000 fans in attendance were treated to one of the best, most complete Vols performances in recent memory.

Box score via NCAA.com

PositionFirst-Half GradeFinal Grade Pass Offense   B+  A- Run Offense  B-  B- Pass Defense  A-  A- Run Defense  A- A Special Teams C  B- Coaching   Inc. A

Pass Offense

The success (or failure) of Tennessee in 2014 will likely start and end with quarterback Justin Worley. On Sunday night, Worley completed 27 of his 38 pass attempts for 273 yards.  Three of those throws went for scores, and 10 Vols receivers combined to give Worley his 273 yards.

Our final grade, however, is just shy of a perfect "A" because of a few drops.  Worley also took a little bit of time to settle in, underthrowing a number of passes.  Were it not for these few miscues, the score could have been even more lopsided. 

 

Run Offense

If there was one aspect of the Vols offense with which we were less than impressed, it had to be the run game.  Seven Vols combined for 39 carries and just 110 yards, or a meager 2.8 yards per carry.

That came against a Utah State defense that lost its top linebacker during the evening, and they still couldn't find much room to run.

With the passing explosion, Tennessee didn't really need to lean on the running game.  Against some SEC defenses, however, it will.  This has to be a point of concern for the coaching staff moving forward.

 

Pass Defense

Another bright spot for the Vols was the pass defense.  Utah State quarterback Chuckie Keeton is no slouch, but the Vols were able to completely shut him down.

As the game wore on, dropped passes became the rule of the day as the Aggies receiving corps became acutely aware of any Tennessee defender closing in for the hit.  The dreaded "alligator arms" took over, and Aggie receivers spent as much time looking in the direction of the next big hit as they did looking the football into their hands.

A.J. Johnson and Cameron Sutton both chipped in with an interception against Utah State, and Johnson had several more pass deflections.

The Vols secondary is fast.  Really fast.  Opposing SEC quarterbacks will have a difficult time fitting footballs into the brief holes that do appear, and points will be at a premium this season against Tennessee.

 

Run Defense

The young front seven for Tennessee was one of the more surprising groups of the evening.  The Vols secondary looked so good all evening in part because it knew what was coming next; the passing game for Utah State was completely ineffective, thanks to some great, athletic play from the defensive line for Tennessee.

Utah State had just 100 yards rushing on the evening, averaging 4.2 yards per carry.  The Vols were also successful at keeping the Aggies out of the end zone on the ground.

 

Special Teams

Special teams are sometimes hard to grade, especially when a team doesn't bother to return punts.  Despite the number of punts Utah State kicked away (eight), Tennessee fair caught or allowed Utah State to down all of them.

Tennessee returned two kickoffs for 17 and 18 yards.

So, our relatively low mark comes thanks to Aaron Medley's field-goal attempts—if you can call the first one an honest attempt.

The miss was so bad, so horribly bad, it was almost comical.  OK, we shouldn't be too hard on the young freshman kicking his first field goal of his collegiate career, but if Tennessee is going to recruit you as a kicker, you should be able to put it at least within the same ZIP code as the goalposts.

Luckily, Medley redeemed himself some with a made 36-yarder (and he was 5-of-5 on extra points).

 

Coaching

At halftime, we had a difficult time coming up with a grade.  We hadn't seen many major coaching decisions, and we really wanted to see how the Vols would adjust to a few passing hitches Utah State had thrown at them in the first half.

Needless to say, we were impressed.  Butch Jones made adjustments on both sides of the ball, and the Vols were able to break open the game early in the second half while holding the Aggies in check.

After years of searching, it looks as if Tennessee may have finally found its head coach.

 

Unless otherwise noted, quotes or references to quotes were obtained firsthand by the writer.

Follow Bleacher Report's National College Football Featured Columnist David Luther on Twitter!

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Kenny Hill Must Be Included in Early 2014 Heisman Discussion

Week 1 of the 2014 college football season is in the books, so it's high time the Heisman discussion starts, right? All right, so it's still a little bit early to pinpoint this year's outstanding player, but there is one name that must be recognized in any early conversation. That would be Texas A&M quarterback Kenny Hill.

Sure, it seems like a bit of a stretch to consider Hill part of the Heisman discussion considering he wasn't even solidified as a starter before the season began, but one game can change things rather quickly.

Hill led the No. 21 Aggies to a 52-28 rout of the No. 9 South Carolina Gamecocks on Thursday after completing 44 of his 60 passing attempts for 511 yards and three touchdowns for a rating of 91.5. His yardage broke a Texas A&M single-game record that was previously held by a guy named Johnny Manziel.

According to ESPN Stats & Info, the win is a pretty good omen:

The aforementioned Heisman Trophy winner was cheering on his successor during the game:

Although, Hill remained humble during a press conference with The Associated Press, via ESPN.com after the game, "I don't really like 'Kenny Football.'"

Hill successfully stepped out of Manziel's shadow in a big way in Week 1. In fact, there were NFL scouts in attendance who came away rather impressed with the sophomore signal-caller, according to Ryan McGee of ESPN.com (subscription required). Said one scout:

This was a perfect storm kind of deal tonight in that he had a lot of time to pick his spots, and the lanes in the secondary were huge. But he still had to drop it in there. I didn't see him make but one or two questionable decisions. Good quarterbacks take little openings and make them look huge with accuracy. He did that. That builds confidence. Now he has a month against second-tier competition to keep building that confidence.

That comment is a big reason why Hill should be mentioned in early Heisman discussions. Many analysts or causal onlookers could view his performance as a number-padding effort due to facing a very shaky defense and relying upon offensive weapons who do well with the ball in their hands.

Not so fast.

While Hill had plenty of time to work with in the pocket, he displayed nice velocity, placement, anticipation and poise in the pocket. Even more impressively, he wasn't rattled by the pressure of the limelight.

His first career start resembled that of another Heisman-winning quarterback:

This isn't to say the Texas A&M quarterback should be crowned after one performance. After all, early Heisman discussions include such enormous talent like Todd Gurley, Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston. But who's to say Hill won't remain among college's elite by season's end?

Fox Sports Live's Matt Leinart knows a thing or two about winning the Heisman, and he has Hill pegged as his dark-horse pick:

Yes, the season is very, very young. But there's every reason to think another Heisman could be headed to College Station much sooner than anticipated.

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

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

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

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

 

Byron Marshall vs. Michigan State's Front Seven

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Connor Cook vs. Oregon's Secondary

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Here's the result:

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

— Patrick Peterson (@RealPeterson21) August 31, 2014

[LSU Tiger TV, h/t College Spun]

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

Welcome back, college football. You never disappoint.

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

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

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

Let's try to make sense of it all:

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

 

Fun Facts

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

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

 

Teams Rising

Texas A&M

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

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

Now…let the wild, 10-hour rumpus start

 

Georgia

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

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

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

 

Texas

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

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

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

 

Teams Falling

South Carolina

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

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

 

Clemson

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

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

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

 

Ohio State

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

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

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

 

Wisconsin

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

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

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

And as a result, Wisconsin is dropping.

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

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

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

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

[Vine]

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Twitter after the incident occurred.

The Aggies ended up winning 28-10.

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

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Utah State vs. Tennessee: Live Score and Highlights

Tennessee 24, Utah State 0—Late 3rd Quarter

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

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

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Baylor Bears Immortalize Robert Griffin III with Statue at McLane Stadium

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

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

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

[Instagram]

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

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

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

[Twitter, h/t College Spun]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who knew, right?

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

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

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

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

 

Texas A&M (1-0)

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

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

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

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

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

 

Georgia (1-0)

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

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

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

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

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

 

USC (1-0)

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

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

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

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

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

 

Notre Dame (1-0)

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

That's important.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sims is clearly the guy.

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

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

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

At least, for now.

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

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

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

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

 

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


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