NCAA Football

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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