NCAA Football News

How Houston Cougars Can Salvage 2014 Season After Abysmal Loss to UTSA

The University of Houston opened its brand-new stadium the worst way possible last Friday night. The Cougars were shellacked by the University of Texas at San Antonio Roadrunners in front of the largest home-campus crowd in UH history.

The Cougars were soundly whipped in all facets of the game. Down 14-0 after the first half, UTSA put Houston away on the opening drive of the second and went on to coast to a 27-7 victory at TDECU Stadium.

Despite the devastating loss, Houston fans remain hopeful head coach Tony Levine and the Coogs can work out the kinks—and they were plentiful—before Houston begins American Athletic Conference play in October against defending champion Central Florida.

Here are three critical elements Levine and company must greatly improve.

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Ohio State Buckeyes vs. Virginia Tech Hokies Complete Game Preview

After escaping its season opener in Baltimore with a closer-than-the-final-score-indicated 34-17 win over Navy, the Ohio State football team heads home to Columbus for one of its premiere games of the 2014 season.

Virginia Tech may not be of the Michael Vick/Bryan Randall/Tyrod Taylor variety this season, but as an opponent from the ACC, the Hokies do possess perhaps the most talent the Buckeyes will face until they begin Big Ten play. Add in that Ohio State itself still faces several questions following its meeting with the Midshipmen, and the intrigue of this Saturday's game in Ohio Stadium is obvious.

How will redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett fare in the second start of his college career? What will Virginia Tech look like against a big-time Division I program after beating subdivision opponent William & Mary last weekend? How will Ohio State's revamped pass defense perform against the Hokies' pass-heavy offense?

All of these questions—and more—will be answered on Saturday, when two power conference teams meet in what could be a season-defining game for each. Until then, here's everything you need to know heading into the Buckeyes' prime-time matchup with Virginia Tech. 

 

Date: Saturday, Sept. 6

Time: 8 p.m. ET

Place: Ohio Stadium in Columbus, Ohio

TV: ESPN

Radio: Ohio State Football Radio NetworkVirginia Tech IMG Sports Network

Spread: Ohio State (-11), via Odds Shark

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Notre Dame Fighting Irish vs. Michigan Wolverines Complete Game Preview

Notre Dame welcomes Michigan to South Bend in the last scheduled matchup between college football's two most winningest programs. In a series that's been filled with close games—and mostly heart-breaking losses for the Irish—of late, Notre Dame set a rare primetime kickoff for this "final" battle. (Final, at least, until the two schools kiss and make up.)

With that reconciliation not coming any time soon, this is all we'll be getting in a rivalry that may not fit the definition in terms of familiarity but certainly does in contempt. 

Michigan coach Brady Hoke may have opened 2014 on the hot seat, but he's beaten Brian Kelly in three out of four, including last year's 41-30 win in Ann Arbor in front of a record crowd of 115,109. Wolverines quarterback Devin Gardner and receiver Jeremy Gallon carried the day, torching the Irish secondary. 

To add a little salt in the wound, the "Chicken Dance" blared over the stadium sound system, a less-than-subtle jab at Notre Dame, who Hoke accused of "chickening out" of the series during the summer booster club circuit. That hasn't been forgotten in South Bend. 

Let's get you ready for Notre Dame-Michigan.

 

Date: Saturday, Sept. 6

Time: 7:30 p.m. ET

Place: Notre Dame Stadium in Notre Dame, Indiana 

TV: NBC

Radio: IMG College Sports, SiriusXM Channel 129

Spread: Notre Dame by 4.5, according to Odds Shark.

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Melvin Gordon Injury: Updates on Wisconsin Star's Hip and Return

Melvin Gordon was mysteriously absent for most of the second half of Wisconsin's loss to LSU Saturday, and coach Gary Andersen says an injury is to blame.       

A preseason Heisman favorite, Gordon finished the game with 16 carries for 140 yards and a touchdown with a cool 8.8 yards-per-carry average, but Andersen now says he came up limp on a 63-yard scamper, as captured by Jesse Temple of Fox Sports Wisconsin:

Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman points out that Gordon was still in on passing downs at one point:

Andersen went on to speak critically as to the questions surrounding Gordon's usage:

Gordon, who came back to school in order to pursue a Big Ten title and perhaps a berth in the inaugural College Football Playoff, is obviously a major loss. Last season when finally given the reins, he rushed 206 times for 1,609 yards and 12 scores.

The good news for Wisconsin to counteract the loss of a player and major game is twofold. For one, the upcoming schedule is rather easy thanks to encounters with Bowling Green and South Florida in the coming weeks.

Secondly, Wisconsin is known for churning out quality pro offensive linemen and posting gaudy rushing totals. There is little doubt that Corey Clement (45 yards and a touchdown Saturday, 547 and seven on an 8.2 average last year) and versatile quarterback Tanner McEvoy (six carries for 40 yards Saturday) can produce on the ground in Gordon's absence.

Speaking of McEvoy, Feldman's earlier point makes sense as Gordon is the team's best pass-blocker, so that is where the staff will miss him most as the team breaks in a new starter under center.

While the severity of the injury is unknown, the program is built to thrive despite injuries at the position. The staff would prefer if Gordon returns before the Big Ten opener against Northwestern in early October, but either way the offense should move right along.

 

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Miami Hurricanes Fan Paints School Logo on His Lawn

Some people show their team allegiance with wedding cakes, others just use their yard.

A Miami Hurricanes fan showed just how much he loved the school by painting a humongous "U" on his lawn.

[Twitter

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How Week 1 College Football AP Poll Would Look If There Weren't a Preseason Poll

The first regular-season edition of the 2014 Associated Press Top 25 poll is set to be released on Tuesday, encompassing the results of the first week of action in relation to how teams were rated in the preseason poll.

But just like George Bailey wondered how things would be different if he were never born in It's a Wonderful Life, we can't help but speculate how the AP Top 25 would shake out if this first in-season ranking was, indeed, the actual first ranking of the season.

Pretty darn different, for sure.

Without a preseason poll, voters would be forced to base more on the opening week's results and not have the backup of a baseline ranking. There would likely still be a bias toward teams who were good the year before and received lots of offseason hype, but at the same time a perceived power who struggled in its first game wouldn't automatically remain high in the poll just because it won.

It would almost be like a poll put together by a committee of people whose job is to determine which teams are the best in the country, not the most well-regarded. Such a ranking could maybe be used to select, say, a four-team playoff?

With all of that in consideration, here's how we think the Week 1 AP poll would look if it didn't have a preseason version to build from:

Looks quite different, huh?

That's because this first poll would be truly a result of first impressions, how those opening-week results made the teams look. Consideration would be made for the opponent, but with so many high-profile schools opening against cupcakes, a runaway victory wouldn't hold as much weight as a solid win over a quality foe.

Because of that, some teams' spot in the poll would be much different than in the actual poll, the one influenced by a preseason ranking:

 

Georgia

The No. 1 team in the country should be the team that's considered the best in the land. And based on the first week of 2014, it's hard to argue that Georgia wouldn't be deserving of that spot if outside influences weren't involved.

The Bulldogs were masterful on offense and surprisingly dominant on defense in their 45-21 win over Clemson, particularly in the second half when they limited Clemson to just 15 yards and one first down.

But even without that defensive effort it would be hard not to be high on Georgia with the way it ran the ball and with how absolutely electrifying junior running back Todd Gurley (198 rushing yards, 100-yard kickoff return TD, four total touchdowns) looked.

While Georgia coach Mark Richt might not be convinced after one game, telling Marc Weiszer of the Athens Herald-Banner, "I don't know how good we are, quite frankly," the voters would say otherwise. Several national experts have the Bulldogs in the College Football Playoff after Week 1, Weiszer noted, and voters would likely follow suit with that nod.

 

Texas A&M

When scanning through resumes, it's often the first and last ones read that make the most lasting impressions. Texas A&M was part of the season's first big game back on Thursday night, but we're still talking about that runaway 52-28 win at South Carolina.

Much like how Florida State had an untested quarterback heading into its season opener the year before—which happened to be the final game of the first week, for the record—A&M came in with a big offensive question mark regarding how sophomore Kenny Hill would fare as the successor to Johnny Manziel.

The answer? Quite well, thank you very much.

Hill threw for a school-record 511 yards and four touchdowns, looking nothing like a guy making his first career start, let alone one doing so on a national stage in a stadium where a visiting team hadn't won in nearly three years. Throw in a seemingly unlimited supply of skill weapons and a defense that at least has a clue how to slow a team down, and after one week the Aggies will have gone from an enigma to a legitimate contender.

 

Florida State

In the real world, the preseason No. 1 tends to stay in that spot until it loses. But in a land without early projections, even the defending champs have to put up a good result in their opener to be worthy of the top spot.

Florida State did not look like the best team in the country in its 37-31 win over Oklahoma State, not with a suspect running game and a quarterback whose late-game exploits were almost overshadowed by his early miscues. And because of that, the Seminoles wouldn't be No. 1 in the first poll.

Yahoo Sports' Pat Forde wrote that "the defending national champions escaped with the desired result but some undesirable play that will keep them grounded going forward," a fancy way of saying that a win is a win. Improvement will be needed, and voters will echo that opinion with their ballots. 

 

Alabama

The Crimson Tide weren't expected to be tested much in their opener game against West Virginia, but instead had themselves a tight game that sparked more questions than it did provide answers. While the closeness of the 33-23 win will no doubt help Alabama in the long run, in the short term it will mean having its lowest ranking in several years.

There were so many standout team performances during Week 1 that voters will be hard-pressed to put the Tide in the Top Five, where they've more or less gone in on a timeshare under Nick Saban. But no team that was abused in the secondary as much as 'Bama, which allowed West Virginia's Clint Trickett to throw for 365 yards, is deserving of a high ranking this early.

 

Texas

After one game, many voters will already be convinced that Charlie Strong's will has been imposed at Texas. Ignoring the fact that it was against North Texas, a box score that shows the opponent had 94 total yards and the Longhorns registered six sacks and four interceptions will hold more weight than whom it was against.

Texas might end up a little lower, though, depending on how voters take Monday's news that quarterback David Ash would once again miss time because of a head injury, according to Jim Vertuno of The Associated Press. Not having Ash available for Saturday's visit from BYU could impact that result, but since this opening poll would reflect how teams have looked to this point rather than how they'll end up, it might not have an effect yet on their ranking.

 

Michigan

The blue bloods of college football tend to get the benefit of the doubt at the start of each season, regardless of how they performed the year before. It's likely why Florida nearly opened 2014 in the preseason rankings, despite a 4-8 record last season, and why Michigan had 19 voters in that initial poll despite looking very bad down the stretch in 2013 en route to a 7-6 record.

 

And with that in mind, a runaway win in Week 1 by a traditional power will tend to be given far more weight than a strong effort by a lower-profile team, no matter whom it was against.

Michigan looked great in crushing Appalachian State, but odds are most teams would have beat the FCS-newcomer Mountaineers as convincingly. Why the Wolverines will get extra credit for the performance, though, is because of how it compared to results in 2013 when their offense sputtered and stalled more often than it excelled.

Temple

It's the power conferences that get most of the attention—and by definition, most of the accolades—but voters who pay attention to all of the results might use those final spots in their ballot to reward teams who surprised with how great they looked in their openers.

Teams like Arizona, Temple and UTSA all had big wins in Week 1, earning them enough nods to crack the first Top 25. Of that trio, though, Temple would draw the most attention because of how superior it looked in its 37-7 win at Vanderbilt and because the Owls were 2-10 a year ago.

That 30-point margin might be more an indication of how bad Vandy is than how improved the Owls are, but that doesn't mean they wouldn't be worthy of a token ranking.

 

Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.

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Tennessee Football: Justin Worley Proves Butch Jones Made the Right Choice at QB

Tennessee head coach Butch Jones went with the safe pick this summer when he tabbed senior Justin Worley as the starting quarterback for the Vols in 2014.

A funny thing happened on Sunday night in the 38-7 win over Utah State, though. Worley didn't look just like a game manager, he looked like a difference-maker.

Sure, he made the smart throws and checked down when he should, but he also dropped balls in buckets downfield, tossed three touchdowns and at one point completed 13 straight passes—the fourth-best mark in program history, surpassing some guy named "Peyton Manning."

He finished the day 27-of-38 for 273 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions, adding 14 yards on the ground.

"Justin was calm and collected and he acted like he had been there before," head coach Butch Jones said in quotes released by Tennessee. "He was kind of a calming presence on the sideline. I thought our receivers, for the most part, did a good job of catching the football. They made some really good catches to extend drives and we haven't had that in the past, so it was great to see as well."

What's more impressive from Worley is that he spread his 28 completions around to 11 different receivers, including three to junior college transfer Von Pearson and two each to freshmen Josh Malone and Jalen Hurd.

"We have some playmakers across the board, from a tight end standpoint to receivers and running back," Worley said in quotes released by Tennessee. "You can't focus on one guy. There are several guys that we can attack you with."

Worley showed poise in the pocket, spreading the ball around to different receivers and consistently making the right decision, not the risky decision.

Those sound like veteran moves, and it proves that Jones made the right decision when he chose Worley over sophomores Joshua Dobbs and Nathan Peterman.

Tennessee is going to have great moments—like Sunday's demolition of the clearly undermanned Aggies. They also played 21 true freshmen in the opener, which suggests that they're going to have some inconsistency—particularly when you have five new starters on the offensive line.

We saw glimpses of that early against Utah State.

Protection breakdowns happen, but he didn't force risky passes, bought time with his legs and ran when appropriate.

"He did have a good feel for the rush," Jones said in the postgame quotes. "We always talk about having a high-vision quarterback when the protection breaks down and I thought he kept some plays alive with his legs, whether it was a scramble on the perimeter or picking up some valuable yardage with his legs."

Does that mean Tennessee is back? 

That remains to be seen. While Utah State has been a solid program recently, they did have just eight total starters returning combined on offense and defense, and quarterback Chuckie Keeton didn't exactly get a lot of help around him.

What it does mean for the Vols, though, is that Worley won't make boneheaded decisions and help dig the offense a hole.

That's a good sign for the future, and it could be enough to get the Vols back to a bowl game.

With a roster littered with youth, getting those extra bowl practices would add a lot of bricks to that foundation Jones has been laying since taking over prior to the 2013 season.

Baby steps.

 

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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College Football Picks: Pittsburgh Panthers at Boston College Eagles Odds

The Pittsburgh Panthers and the Boston College Eagles are both coming off lopsided victories in their season openers, and this Friday night at Alumni Stadium they will clash in this ACC opener for both teams. The game is set to kick off at 7 p.m. (ET), and it will be broadcast nationally on ESPN.

Pitt stumbled down the stretch last season, with just three straight-up wins in its last seven games, but it got this season going in the right direction with a 62-0 rout of Division IAA Delaware as a 24-point home favorite. The total went “over” the 59.5-point line in that game (all lines from previous weeks or years came from Covers.com).

The Eagles faced the Massachusetts Minutemen out of the MAC East in their season opener and blew a tight game open in the second half to come away with a 30-7 victory as 17-point road favorites. The total in that game stayed “under” the 49-point closing betting line.

 

Pittsburgh at Boston College Betting Storylines

Pittsburgh did an excellent job establishing the run in its opener with a total of 409 yards on the ground. James Conner led the way with 153 yards and four rushing touchdowns on just 14 carries. Rachid Ibrahim also did a good job with 91 total yards on 14 runs.

Quarterback Chad Voytik put the ball in the air only 13 times, but he did complete 10 throws for 84 yards and two more scores. You get the feeling that the Panthers are going to have to take to the air a bit more against BC.

The defense pitched a shutout for the first time in nine seasons, and the Panthers out-gained Delaware 501-64 in total yards. Kick returner and wide receiver Tyler Boyd made an immediate impact with a 34-yard punt return and a 12-yard touchdown reception in the first quarter, but he did not play the second half after dislocating a finger in his left hand. He is listed as “probable” for Friday night.

The Eagles lost their final two games of the 2013 season, both SU and ATS, but they gained some positive momentum in a big way against UMass. They will return home, where they are 4-1 SU and a perfect 5-0 ATS in their last five home games. BC also relied heavily on its running game in this past Saturday’s win with a total of 338 yards on the ground, but most of that production came from quarterback Tyler Murphy. He completed 17-of-24 passes for 173 yards and a touchdown while adding another 118 yards and a score with his legs.

Give credit to BC’s defense for the win as well by pitching a shutout in three of the four quarters. The game actually remained tight heading into the second half, but the Eagles put things away with a 43-yard scoring strike to wide receiver Josh Bordner and a 21-yard field goal in the final quarter. Bordner ended the day with four receptions for 81 yards, and Dan Crimmins had seven catches for 52 yards.

 

Pittsburgh at Boston College Betting Odds and Trends by Doc’s Sports

Point Spread: Pittsburgh -4.5

Total Line: OFF

The Panthers are 5-2 ATS in their last seven games, and they have covered the spread in their last three road games. The total has stayed under in four of their last five games on the road.                                                       

The Eagles have gone 5-2 SU in their last seven games overall, including a 5-1 SU record in their last five games at home. The total has gone “over” in six of their last seven games.

Head-to-head in this ACC matchup, Pittsburgh is 4-1 SU in the last five meetings, and the total has stayed under in four of the last six games between these two.

 

College Football Picks: Pittsburgh at Boston College Betting Predictions

Both of these teams came into the new season as long shots to compete for their respective division title in the ACC, so in my opinion the gap in talent is not wide enough to justify the 4.5-point spread favoring the road team. BC may not get the SU win on its home field this Friday night, but I am betting that the Eagles play well enough to cover with the points.

 

Take: # 304 Boston College (+4.5) over Pittsburgh- 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 4

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David Ash Injury: Updates on Texas QB's Concussion and Return

The Charlie Strong era at Texas got off to an excellent start with a 38-7 victory over North Texas on Saturday, but the Longhorns will have to put on an encore with a new quarterback under center.     

According to Strong, junior David Ash, who threw for 190 yards and a touchdown in the opener, will miss next week's game against BYU. OrangeBloods.com's Anwar Richardson and ESPN.com's Max Olson relayed some of the details:

The Austin-American Statesman's Kirk Bohls noted that this particular scenario could open a whole new can of worms:

This is obviously an extremely concerning development for Ash, who missed most of the 2013 season after suffering a concussion. Both Strong and onlookers from the outside, such as NFL.com's Bryan Fischer, expressed worry about the young signal-caller's future:

Safety is priority No. 1, especially with head injuries, and hopefully Ash is able to make a quick and full recovery. 

On the field, Strong is confident in his team's depth, per ESPN.com's Travis Haney:

He will turn to sophomore Tyrone Swoopes as his starting quarterback:

Swoopes attempted just 13 passes last season, tallying 26 yards, and was sacked twice. The dual-threat QB showed glimpses of his potential during the team's spring game while Ash sat out with an ankle injury, but he's still considered fairly raw. 

Fortunately, Texas has a strong run game to fall back on. Johnathan Grey and Malcolm Brown lead a balanced attack that should help the Longhorns tread water while figuring things out at quarterback. 

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Grading New College Football Starting QBs' Week 1 Performance

You only get one chance to make a first impression.

For a number of FBS quarterbacks, that time was this past weekend.  In the Power 5 conferences, 13 quarterbacks started their first collegiate game, with two more programs (Louisville and Miami) breaking in new quarterbacks Monday night.

Their performances ran the gamut. Some excelled, while one didn’t even make it out of the first half.

Here’s an attempt at grading the new quarterbacks’ first starts. We only looked at the Power 5 conferences and did not include any transfer quarterbacks who had made starts elsewhere (like Wes Lunt at Illinois, Jacoby Brissett at NC State or Tyler Murphy at Boston College).

Quarterbacks were evaluated on the quality of their statistics, with the caliber of opponent also taken into consideration in the final grade. Evaluations for Louisville starter Will Gardner and Miami starter Brad Kaaya will be included following tonight's game.

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College Football Rankings 2014: Updated Outlook Before Week 2 Polls

The opening week of the college football proved well worth the wait. With the weekly ritual of football back in our lives, so follows the release of those pesky polls to tell us how the top schools stack up.

Offenses ran wild in an opening week full of shootouts and blowouts. A select few defenses even showed up to play, but every team ranked in the preseason AP poll scored at least 20 points during their first contests of the 2014 NCAA season.

After an eventful Week 1, especially out in the SEC, how will the rankings shake up for Week 2? Let's take a look at how they might unfold.

 

Stock Up/Down:

Up: Texas A&M

With a huge performance in his first start, Kenny Hill has the Aggies primed for a seismic climb up the rankings.

The sophomore quarterback amassed 511 passing yards and three touchdowns during a scintillating debut against South Carolina, which entered the SEC clash with a No. 9 preseason ranking. As shown by ESPN's Numbers Never Lie, he already eclipsed many of predecessor Johnny Manziel's personal bests.

Five different Texas A&M wideouts registered at least 55 receiving yards, with Malcome Kennedy's 137 yards leading the way. The Aggies finished Thursday night's stampede with a 52-28 victory that should spring Kevin Sumlin's squad up a few spots.

Although the secondary showed some holes amid Dylan Thompson's 366 passing yards and four touchdowns, the Aggies' offensive steamrolled an early SEC favorite, which is good enough to place them comfortably in the teens.

 

Down: South Carolina

On the other end of the shocking SEC rout, South Carolina must suffer the consequences for Hill's coming-out party.

The Gamecocks allowed an unconscionable 680 total yards during the loss, a rare humiliation for decorated coach Steve Spurrier. ESPN Stats & Info piled on with some interesting tidbits regarding the coach's rough night.

As expected, he was livid with his team's defensive performance, per NBC 26's Brendan Robertson.

Their schedule doesn't get particularly easier, either. This Saturday they'll play the East Carolina Pirates, who opened the season with a 52-7 victory over North Carolina Central. Then it's on to No. 12 Georgia, which will likely vault into the top 10 after thrashing Clemson last weekend.

Ole Miss is waiting at the end of September, and don't forget about Auburn to close out October. South Carolina has a rough road to redemption after its disappointing start to 2014.

 

Up: Texas

No. 25 Washington didn't quite shine during a 17-16 victory over Hawaii. Afforded no wiggle room perched in the final spot, the Huskies should get expelled from the AP Top 25.

Expect Texas, which looked much better in a 38-7 win over North Texas, to reap the rewards.

In Charlie Strong's coaching debut with the Longhorns, the passing defense declared a full embargo on anything through the air. Texas's secondary caught more passes from North Texas' quarterbacks than its own receivers, collecting four interceptions to just three completed passes.

The Mean Green finished with 94 total yards, which made a humdrum offensive outing from the Longhorns (354 total yards) more than enough. Considering Texas started the season placed No. 24 in both the USA Today poll and ESPN Power Rankings, this victory should provide the nudge needed to gain AP inclusion.

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Texas Football: Report Card Grades for Every New Texas Starter

There was a lot to like in the Texas Longhorns' 38-7 romp over North Texas. The defense was impenetrable, both Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown looked spry and new starter John Harris had a career night at wideout.

In a 31-point win with so many positives, the hope is the rest of the new starters can catch up with Harris before too long.

The Horns entered the night with seven new first-teamers, including three up front on the offensive line. This group struggled as much as anyone, allowing several hits on David Ash and serving up spotty run blocking for most of the night.

Harris gets the highest marks after his dominant night, while the majority of the group must still figure out how to turn their significant talent into on-field success.

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Wisconsin vs. Western Illinois Complete Game Preview

After a heartbreaking Week 1 loss to the LSU Tigers in Houston, Texas, the Wisconsin football team looks to rebound against the Western Illinois Leathernecks, who rolled to victory against Valparaiso in their opening contest.

Going into halftime against LSU, everything seemed to be going right for the Badgers after the injury to defensive end/nose guard Konrad Zagzebski.  They were up 17-7 with the ball coming to them first after the break, and their defense held the Tigers to virtually no yards, save one 80-yard pass.

When the second half came, Melvin Gordon opened things up with a 63-yard run, capping off the drive with a touchdown plunge by Corey Clement.  From that point, the Badgers scrounged up nary a positive play, looking out of sorts on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball while sieving away their lead en route to a 28-24 defeat.

Returning to the friendly confines of Camp Randall Stadium, a place that has seen the Badgers dominate nonconference opponents, the Badgers look to get back on track as their schedule becomes considerably more favorable for the coming weeks.

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Notre Dame Football: Report Card Grades for Every New Starter

SOUTH BEND, Indiana — A young and inexperienced Notre Dame football team debuted 15 new starters Saturday in its 48-17 trouncing of Rice at Notre Dame Stadium.

The Irish had their share of breakdowns and miscues, but, all things considered, Notre Dame put together a complete performance against the Owls.

Let’s go through each of Notre Dame’s new starters and analyze their performances. We’ll define new starters as those who weren’t at the top of the depth chart last year—even if they may have made a few starts or earned consistent reps.

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LSU Tigers vs. Sam Houston St. Bearkats Complete Game Preview

LSU is lucky to be 1-0. 

Head coach Les Miles performed one of his patented comebacks Saturday night against Wisconsin. The Tigers were down by 17 in the third quarter to Wisconsin, but a fake punt sparked 21 unanswered points and a 28-24 victory. 

The Tigers will open their home season against Sam Houston State on Saturday. The Bearkats notched their first victory in their home opener last weak against Alabama State. 

  

What You Need to Know

Time: 6:30 p.m. CT 

Place: Tiger Stadium, Baton Rouge, Louisiana

TV: SEC Network

Radio: LSU Sports Radio Network, KSAM 101.7  

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Players Who May Have Ruined Their Heisman Trophy Chances in Week 1

You can't win the Heisman in the first week of the season, and realistically, you can't lose it either. But you can definitely come closer to the latter than the former.

A small group of players who were listed on the final preseason Heisman odds board at Bovada (via Odds Shark) sought to prove that this weekend, starting their 2014 seasons with less-than-stellar performances. Some of them turned a small uphill battle into a huge one, and others turned a huge one into Everest.

There is time for (most of) them to compensate, but after getting off on the wrong foot in Week 1, the following players no longer have the buffer of a margin for error to work with. Heisman Trophy winners do not struggle for consecutive weeks in August and September.

It's almost time to rip up their tickets.

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Georgia Football: Dawgs' Win vs. Clemson Best Season Opener of Richt Era

The Georgia Bulldogs opened their 2014 campaign with the best possible scenario—a blowout win over the Clemson Tigers. To be sure, the 45-21 victory bears great significance for head coach Mark Richt and his team's aspirations for the season.

But equally impressive is how staggeringly unique the season-opening thrashing of the Tigers was within a historical context.

The Dawgs' win vs. Clemson was the best season opener of the Richt era.

That's saying something for Richt, who has now coached in 14 season openers as the leader of the Bulldogs.

 

A Lesson in Recent History

By practically any statistical measure, Saturday's win ranks among the best.

Against major conference opposition, only a 30-0 victory at Clemson in 2003 was more lopsided. Against ranked foes, only a 35-point margin of victory over Boise State in 2005 was larger.

Numbers don't tell the whole story, though. What stands out about Saturday's win was the bold statement made in the face of unknowns, as the Bulldogs turned question marks into exclamation marks.

Certainly, Richt was a bit of an unknown quantity when he took over the reins as head coach in 2001, and any new coach brings a degree of concern. But Arkansas State, the Bulldogs' debut opponent that season, entered the year hoping to merely improve on a 1-10 2000 season. Little was learned from the Bulldogs' 45-17 win over the Red Wolves.

From 2002-2004, the Bulldogs perennially contended for SEC Championships thanks to stars like David Greene and David Pollack. However, it helped that the Dawgs opened those three campaigns against unranked opponents Clemson (twice) and Georgia Southern.

The 2005 team broke in a new full-time starter at quarterback in D.J. Shockley, who—like Hutson Mason—was known by fans for his proficiency as a backup but was new to the spotlight as a first-teamer.

Much like this year, the Bulldogs transitioned to a new defensive coordinator in 2005 and opened the year at home against a ranked opponent in Boise State.

In that game, a 48-13 Georgia win, it was evident from the outset that the Broncos from Idaho were outmatched. The talent differential was exceedingly clear and a host of returning defensive stars for Georgia made the afternoon very long for Boise State.

On Saturday, there was no overwhelming gap in the quality of personnel, as both Georgia and Clemson recruit extremely well. As demonstrated by the first half, the game could have been a close contest.

A well-rounded second-half effort by the Bulldog coaching staff and players resulted in holistic domination of the Tigers. A lot more was learned about the Bulldogs in this year's win over Clemson than from the team's 2005 win over Boise State.

Beginning in 2009, Georgia's early-season scheduling increased in difficulty.

After taking on just one ranked opponent in an opener over his first eight seasons, Richt has now started four of the Bulldogs' last six seasons against a ranked foe.

Obviously, losses to Oklahoma State and Boise State in 2009 and 2011, respectively, don't merit consideration relative to this weekend's victory. Similarly, a heart-breaking, narrow loss on the road to Clemson last season missed out on this conversation by three points.

 

Significance Moving Forward

Of course, isolated single games—regardless of when they occur—mean very little within the grander scale of a full season.

Case in point: A convincing win over Western Kentucky did not carry over to prolonged success as the Bulldogs lost four games over a five-game stretch in 2006. Conversely, an embarrassing loss to Boise State in 2011 did not doom the Dawgs, who rallied back for a trip to the SEC Championship Game.

Perhaps the most important statistic for Bulldog fans to remember at this time is 8.33. As in, Georgia is only 8.33 percent through the regular-season gauntlet.

Richt acknowledged this notion in his weekly teleconference by saying, "I think we've played one game and we've got a long way to go."

Though Richt is not ready to celebrate, it helps that Georgia addressed concerns on Saturday, and there's great encouragement to be found in the momentum that comes with what Tony Barnhart of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution called the Bulldogs' "most complete" game since 2007.

But this is a long season.

So while it can be said that this was the best season opener of the Richt era, the Dawgs want this game to ultimately leave a different legacy.

For Georgia, the hope is that this win—one defined by mistake-free offense, sound defensive adjustments and clean special teams play—will later be viewed as a game that accurately reflects the entire 2014 season.

That would be an accomplishment worth celebrating.

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San Jose State vs. Auburn Complete Game Preview

With a fantastic second-half performance and an important conference win now in the rearview mirror, the Auburn Tigers will begin a trio of nonconference games this Saturday with a home matchup against San Jose State.

Auburn's offense was back to its impressive ways in the season-opening victory against Arkansas, compiling 45 points and almost 600 yards while giving a half to both quarterbacks Nick Marshall and Jeremy Johnson. The Tigers defense turned the tie game into a convincing Auburn win by shutting out the Razorbacks after halftime and showing signs of improvement in several areas.

This weekend, head coach Gus Malzahn and Auburn will focus on improving its overall game with a visit from a team that isn't expected to trigger any upset alerts. 

The Spartans were a .500 team last year out of the Mountain West and had to replace several key players from a team that struggled with superior teams away from home. A commanding 42-10 season-opening win against FCS-level North Dakota will give Ron Caragher and Co. some momentum heading into Jordan-Hare Stadium, but it appears that a lot of things will have to fall their way in order to pull off the shocker.

Before we get to the breakdown of Auburn's first nonconference game of the season, here are all of the game's basics you need to know:

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Jameis Winston, Florida St. May Find Path to Keeping Title as Hard as Winning It

Unbeaten? Very possible.   

Invincible? Not so fast, my friend.   

When preseason No. 1 and defending national champion Florida State opened its season against Oklahoma State on Saturday night, the Seminoles were poised to parade a variety of assets for the world of college football to view.

• A 16-game winning streak—the longest in FBS football.

• A national championship trophy won last January in Pasadena.

• A returning Heisman Trophy winner in quarterback Jameis Winston.

• Fifteen returning starters.

Though they entered their game against Oklahoma State an 18-point favorite, the Seminoles seemingly wanted to show everyone they were just as good and just as mean and just as hungry as last season. Players even noted that the site of the game, AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, will be the site of the first championship game in the new College Football Playoff, adopting the slogan "Dallas to Dallas" as a way to frame the season ahead.  

Well, coach Jimbo Fisher's team might indeed make it back to Texas in January, but if anything was proven in FSU's 37-31 win over Oklahoma State, it was that this season will not be a leisurely stroll back to Dallas for the Seminoles.

They certainly played like it would be, taking a 17-0 lead that seemed to leave the 'Noles satisfied they had established themselves as the best team. Winston got sloppy, throwing a pair of interceptions to open the door for Oklahoma State. It wasn't enough of a let-down to lose, but it was far from the razor-sharp performance Winston had in demolishing Pittsburgh a year ago in his debut game, which made him and FSU a factor from the start.

Fisher had tried to put some space between last season's success and this season's goals with words of warning for his players before the game.

"Don't eat the cheese" Fisher told his team. "It means don't buy into everything everybody's telling you'," Fisher explained to reporters. "How great you are, how this, how that, don't eat the cheese."

After a win that wasn't assured until Winston's final clock-killing pass bounced on the stadium turf, Fisher conceded that his team may have been nibbling on the cheese.

"I think they felt the pressure of being No. 1," Fisher said in his postgame press conference. "I really do. Now I think we can relax and play football."

Yes, they can, since FSU will host The Citadel on Saturday in their home opener next week and has a bye week before returning to regular-season business with its ACC conference opener against Clemson on Sept. 20.

Being No. 1 is hard enough. Staying No. 1 is even tougher. In the 16-year BCS era, only two teams managed to put back-to-back national championship seasons together—USC in 2003 and '04 (but that accomplishment has an asterisk next to it since USC was forced by the NCAA to vacate the '04 championship because of improper benefits given to Reggie Bush) and Alabama with a repeat effort in '11 and '12.

Miami came within a delayed and questionable penalty of pulling off a repeat in '01 and '02.

Before that, you have to look back to Nebraska in 1994 and '95 and Alabama in '78 and '79 to find repeat national champions. (Although Alabama split the '78 crown with USC).

With the steady drain of players leaving for the NFL before their eligibility expires, more and more teams are having difficulty maintaining continuity in their programs, even for only a two- or three-year period.

Auburn used a one-and-done Cam Newton to win the national championship in 2010 and then tumbled out of site until it put together another dream season last year, which took the Tigers to the BCS title game against Florida State.

Even the vaunted Crimson Tide have found it difficult to retain the crown. In the fall of '10, Alabama entered the season as the overwhelming favorite to defend a championship they had won the prior year thanks to quarterback Greg McElroy and a 14-0 record. A total of 54 (out of 60) first-place AP votes were cast for 'Bama, which won its first five games before losing at South Carolina on Oct. 9 and dropping to No. 8 in the polls. 

The Tide finished the season No. 10 with a 10-3 record.

A year ago, Alabama again started the season as defending national champions and ranked No. 1 with 58 of the 60 first place AP votes. Even with a sluggish win over Virginia Tech in their opener, the Crimson Tide held onto the No. 1 spot through 14 weeks of polling, before their last-second loss to Auburn in the Iron Bowl dropped them to No. 4. With a Sugar Bowl loss to Oklahoma, the Tide finished at No. 3 in the final rankings.

Indeed, Winston and FSU have company on the road they face. Nor were they alone in their opening week struggles. No. 2 Alabama, No. 5 Ohio State, No. 6 Auburn and No. 7 UCLA all experienced some tense moments into the second half before taking control of the proceedings.

And No. 9 South Carolina never got out of the box, getting routed by No. 25 Texas A&M, 52-28.

The early trouble wasn't completely unexpected.

Alabama was breaking in a new QB. So was Ohio State, which also had to deal with an always-feisty Navy team and its tricky option offense. Auburn was playing an SEC opponent in Arkansas, and UCLA was playing a noon Eastern start game on West Coast body time. Still, everyone but South Carolina figured it out.

While there might be some gloom and doom among the poll leaders after bumpy efforts in the first week of the season, consider the "challenges" ahead next week:

Florida State faces The Citadel at home.

Alabama faces Florida Atlantic at home.

Auburn faces San Jose State at home.

South Carolina faces East Carolina at home.

Florida State can and will improve in Week 2, but who'll notice against a team FSU likely could beat with its scout team.

No. 3 Oregon and No. 5 Ohio State will need to pay attention in facing No. 8 Michigan State and Virginia Tech, respectively, but on the whole, next week should bring a lot of bounce-back performances.

But the championship won't be won on a September Saturday against The Citadel. It will be won against the likes of Clemson on Sept. 20, in back-to-back games against Notre Dame and at Louisville in October, at Miami in November and in the regular-season finale against Florida.

Maybe the Saturday night scare against Oklahoma State was just a matter of scraping off the rust. Winston again proved he is still a Heisman-caliber quarterback by matching every mistake he made with a Heisman-worthy play which kept the Seminoles in control. Despite the two picks, Winston also had 370 passing yards, while running and passing for a touchdown each.

The Seminoles aren't short on confidence. They know who they are and what they have done. As Fisher said in his post-game press conference, "It's not about being great, it's about playing great."

FSU has the players to do just that. Now all they have to do is do it while playing with the target on their back that is part of the No. 1 team's wardrobe.

 

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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Week 2 Is a Great Example of Why SEC Should've Gone with 9-Game Schedule

It seems like every offseason for the last three or four years, one of the hot-button issues has been the future SEC schedule—which became a pressing issue when the conference added Texas A&M and Missouri, extending the time it takes to get through the opposite division.

The conference put to bed any discussions in the near future in April by announcing its long-term scheduling format through the year 2025. That format keeps the "6-1-1" structure, which means each teams will play their six divisional opponents, one rotating cross-division opponent and one permanent cross-division rival. There is also a requirement to play at least one team from a power-five conference each year.

Week 2 of the 2014 season is clear evidence that the eight-game conference schedule was a bad choice.

There's only one conference matchup in Week 2—Ole Miss vs. Vanderbilt at LP Field in Nashville—and none of the out-of-conference matchups are against teams from power-five conferences.

This isn't the exception, it's the rule.

Ten of the 14 teams in the SEC will play teams from the power-five conferences in 2014 even without the mandate in place.

Sure, there are some teams that have two or more "power five" games set up in the future, including Georgia's intra-state rivalry game with Georgia Tech coupled with a home-and-home series with Notre Dame in 2017 and 2019. That's no different than life without the mandate. Georgia just wrapped up a home-and-home with Clemson, while keeping its rivalry with Georgia Tech intact.

Weeks like this—with no compelling matchups on the slate—are likely to continue in the future.

The SEC isn't just an athletic conference anymore. It's a television programming department. The programming this week on its shiny new network leaves a lot to be desired.

Take a look at the SEC Network schedule of games on Saturday. Anything of interest?

@SEC_Chuck We DirectTV customers are in a quandary. We have no alternate channels. Suggestions? pic.twitter.com/7Ub5Gy16Jt

— Brad Logan (@BradLoganCOTE) September 1, 2014

Unless you're a fan of a specific team, that's a weak schedule with the exception of the Eastern Michigan at Florida game—which will be the debut of new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper's offense in Gainesville following last week's rainout.

What would have been good this weekend?

Alabama vs. South Carolina would have been fun. How about Auburn vs. Florida? LSU vs. Tennessee, perhaps?

Any game that would have determined the landscape of either division would have been fine. Any game of importance would have been fine. Any game worth watching would have been fine.

Instead, the encore of the SEC Network's Week 1 splash echoes with a resounding thud.

As it stands, there are 56 SEC games each year on the schedule.

A nine-game schedule would bump that number up to 63. At least a few of those seven additional SEC games would fall on weeks that are typically devoid of compelling matchups, and they'd, at the very least, have an impact on some aspect of the SEC standings.

Would it impact the college football playoff? There would be pluses and minuses. There would be more changes for top teams in the hunt for the playoff to lose, sure. But a ninth conference game would eliminate criticism from coaches in other conferences—which has already begun.

With nine of the top 10 distributors on board, the SEC Network's launch will go down in history as one of—if not the—most successful launch of a cable network in television history.

It'd be great if some the early-season games made it worth watching in Week 2.

 

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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