NCAA Football News

Derrick Henry Deserves to Be Lead Running Back in Nick Saban's System

Alabama clearly has an embarrassment of riches at running back, with Derrick Henry and T.J. Yeldon all set to dish out plenty of punishment to college defenses in 2014. The pair combined for 239 yards and three touchdowns in the Crimson Tide's 33-23 victory over West Virginia University on Saturday.

Head coach Nick Saban always seems to have two exemplary running backs under his command to take turns mowing down opposing defenses. It's a strategy that has brought Alabama three national titles since 2009.

Based on the evidence from the victory over West Virginia, this trend is set to continue. It's a fine strategy that gives offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin plenty to work with, but the scheme would be at its best with the 6'3", 241-pound Henry, not Yeldon, in the lead role. 

This is to take nothing away from the extraordinary ability of running back T.J. Yeldon, but when you have a revolutionary combination of size and speed at running back, it's in the best interest of the team to make sure that force of nature is on the field as often as possible. Yeldon will still get his carries, but Henry should get the lion's share.

Henry has apparently already displaced Kenyan Drake, who tallied 694 rushing yards and nine total touchdowns in 2013 and yet carried the ball just three times for seven yards against West Virginia.

Jacksonville Jaguars radio play-by-play man Frank Frangie believes Henry is Alabama's best back:

It is still tempting to take the consistency of Yeldon, who carried the ball 23 times for 123 yards and two touchdowns against West Virginia, while continuing to utilize Henry as a freakish change-of-pace weapon—similar to the way UCLA used linebacker Myles Jack as a part-time halfback last season.

However, Henry doesn't have defensive responsibilities to worry about. He could easily be the throwback, workhorse rusher who can make mincemeat of college defenses behind a behemoth Crimson Tide offensive line. In fact, he already dresses the part of an old-school player, via Bleacher Report's own Barrett Sallee:

When—okay, if—Alabama fans think back to the disappointing Sugar Bowl defeat to Oklahoma last year, Henry is likely the only part of the contest they recall with any true fondness.

The then-freshman made a statement, putting up 161 yards of offense on just nine touches. It became increasingly clear he is a dynamic back just waiting to be unleashed.

Henry has the ability to make game-breaking plays at any moment with his athleticism, but those opportunities are mitigated if he isn't on the field enough. Henry needs to be in the game more often to best maximize his game-altering potential.

He also could be useful if Alabama speeds up its normally plodding offense. CBS Sports' Jeremy Fowler noted that Saban sped up the team's offense in order to suit the needs of quarterback Blake Sims, a fifth-year senior making his first start for the Crimson Tide:

But then Saban had another thought. He told Kiffin to dial up a faster pace. 

Sims (24-of-33 for 250 yards and an interception) was at his best when the Tide offense fired off six plays in 1:27 to end the half, an average of 14.5 seconds per play, twice the per-play pace of the previous drive. 

During that span, Sims completed all four of his passes for 28 yards and ran for another 21 to set up a 41-yard Adam Griffith field goal.

If Alabama continues to utilize hurry-up packages, it could limit substitution opportunities in the backfield. Henry is the best fit for these situations with his ability to make big plays. If he's designated as the lead back, the Crimson Tide are more likely to have him on the field in these pivotal, fast-paced situations.

He showed off his ability to scamper down the sideline for big gains against West Virginia:

Fox Sports Southwest's David Ubben watched Henry play and questioned the football legality of his presence on the gridiron:

The ability to catch the ball out of the backfield is a non-factor in this contest. Henry had that 61-yard touchdown catch in the 2013 Sugar Bowl, but that was his first of the season. Yeldon tallied just 20 receptions in 2013, and had all of one catch for a single yard against the Mountaineers on Saturday.

Clearly, Henry would do well to refine this aspect of his game, but he could get into the flow of things if he sees more snaps. Yeldon hasn't set the bar very high in this aspect of the game, which should keep the opportunities coming for Henry as a possible decoy on obvious passing downs.

He also spoke about making a concerted effort to improve as a pass-blocker this offseason.

"I’ve just really been focusing in the meetings and in practice, making sure I’m paying attention to [pass blocking and picking up the blitz] because that’s really big in college," said Henry, via ESPN.com's Alex Scarborough. "There are a lot of defenses, different defenses, so you’ve got to know the blitzes if you want to play."

It would be tough to take away Yeldon's status as the top back at Alabama, but as the season wears on the Crimson Tide can use a rusher who will dish out plenty of punishment to tired defenses that may be quick to tip back on their heels with a rampaging rusher heading straight toward them.

Henry narrowly edges out Yeldon in this regard, although both backs will need plenty of carries for Alabama to pull out victories without a bona fide star—or even starter, for that matter—at quarterback.

Blake Sims was serviceable against West Virginia, and transfer signal-caller Jacob Coker is lurking in the background. But neither of those players will light up SEC defenses. That is a task designed specifically for Yeldon and Henry, but best left to the latter player.

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LSU's Anthony Jennings Finds Travin Dural for 80-Yard Touchdown vs. Wisconsin

The LSU Tigers were dealing with an early 10-point deficit on Saturday against the Wisconsin Badgers when quarterback Anthony Jennings stepped up big.

In the first quarter, Jennings found Travin Dural on a beautiful pass that resulted in a massive 80-yard touchdown on the very first play of the drive. The touchdown gave the Tigers their first points of the year, but they were still down 10-7 in the game.

[Twitter]

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Konrad Zagzebski Injury: Updates on Wisconsin DT's Status and Return

Wisconsin nose guard Konrad Zagzebski suffered what looked to be a head injury during the Badgers' Top-25 clash with LSU on Saturday.

Andy Baggot of the Wisconsin State Journal reported that the senior may have been kneed in the head while trying to bring down Tigers running back Kenny Hilliard:

Zagzebski was then stretchered off the field, per Jim Kleinpeter of The Times-Picayune:

ESPN.com had more details:

The senior had motion in his extremities -- he gave a thumbs-up sign as he was taken off the field -- and ESPN's Todd McShay reported that Zagzebski was accompanied by his father to Methodist Hospital in Houston.

Jeff Potrykus of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel has more:

In his first three years at Madison, Zagzebski recorded 25 total tackles, including two tackles for loss. He'd carved out a role on the line at defensive end, but Badgers head coach Gary Andersen decided to move him inside for 2014, per ESPNWisconsin.com's Zach Heilprin:

I don't know if (Zagzebski) really does anything different at the nose guard position, but it's just the natural ability, and where those two kids are sitting in their progression in their college career. It's just the best spot for them to be at this point. (Zagzebski) excited about it.

Zagzebski's absence will leave a hole in the Wisconsin defensive line, but that certainly takes a back seat to his health at the moment. Watching a player carried off on a stretcher is never a good sign.

The team will be hopeful that the he'll make a full return at some point this year.

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Grading Performances of Suspended Notre Dame Players' Backups

SOUTH BEND, Indiana—Academic issues have surrounded Notre Dame football of late, with quarterback Everett Golson making his return and a quintet of players being held out of practice and competition.

And while Golson stole the show Saturday with 336 yards of total offense and five touchdowns (two passing, three rushing), it’s worth analyzing how Notre Dame fared without cornerback KeiVarae Russell, wide receiver DaVaris Daniels, defensive end Ishaq Williams, linebacker Kendall Moore and safety Eilar Hardy in its 48-17 demolition of Rice.

Irish head coach Brian Kelly praised his team’s resolve in focusing on the task at hand without those five.

“They have been really focused on their job and going out there,” Kelly said following the victory. “They have been really purposeful every single day. They have not been a distracted group and that says a lot about them. I've got good leaders, and I've got young guys that have really followed the lead here.”

We’ll take a look here at how the Irish replacements performed in place of Russell, Daniels and Williams. Moore was not expected to have a major role, and Notre Dame’s depth at safety mitigates Hardy’s absence.

 

Cole Luke and Devin Butler

The absence of Russell might be the biggest setback for the Irish, but cornerback is a deep position. Cody Riggs held down one side, and sophomore Cole Luke started on the other.

Luke tallied two tackles and a pass defensed, providing steady play. Notre Dame had some breakdowns in the secondary, but the majority of those were blunders by safeties.

Great close by Cole Luke to blow up that screen

— Irish Sports Daily (@ISDUpdate) August 30, 2014

Great coverage by Cole Luke, Jackson wanted to throw to Parks, but Luke had him locked down. Forced coverage sack

— Irish Sports Daily (@ISDUpdate) August 30, 2014

Fellow sophomore Devin Butler saw time in certain sub-packages. Butler’s biggest play was forcing a fumble by Rice wide receiver Cameron Decell late in the fourth quarter.

All things considered, Notre Dame held its own in the secondary without Russell. Riggs has become an even more important cog in the Irish defense now that he has been elevated to the top spot. If Riggs continues to play like a No. 1 corner and Luke and Butler continue to develop, the Irish can at least weather Russell’s absence.

Still, you don’t replace Russell.

Grade: B+

 

Receivers

It’s tough to pinpoint one wide receiver who stepped in for DaVaris Daniels. Kelly and Irish offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock have said since the spring that multiple wide receivers will be utilized as Notre Dame spreads the ball.

That balance and variety was evident Saturday, as four different Irish pass-catchers reached at least 50 yards receiving. Sophomore Will Fuller tallied four grabs for 85 yards—75 of which came on the first-quarter touchdown pass from Golson—to lead the group. Senior Amir Carlisle added two receptions for 54 yards, and junior C.J. Prosise hauled in the 53-yard touchdown strike with five seconds remaining in the first half.

“I don't think we are going to have one particular guy that's going to eat up all the catches,” Kelly said. “There's not one guy. It's going to spread all the way across the board. Everybody is going to get touches.”

While Daniels is likely Notre Dame’s most complete receiver, the Irish have an intriguing crop of youngsters. Kelly commended Fuller’s “elite” speed, junior Chris Brown’s reliability and sophomore Corey Robinson’s “great matchup” ability.

No one receiver can match Daniels’ package of skills, but Notre Dame should be able to get good performances from a host of targets.

Grade: A-

 

Isaac Rochell

Sophomore defensive end Isaac Rochell didn’t boast an impressive stat line—one tackle—but he delivered a solid outing in place of Williams.

Kelly has raved about Rochell’s strength in recent weeks, and the second-year end mostly held the point of attack Saturday. “Isaac Rochell has been extremely physical and difficult to move with our offensive line,” Kelly said after the Rice game.

Asked if Notre Dame’s defense surprised him at all, Kelly lauded the line:

No, I thought as we progressed into camp and had settled into the past week or so, I like the physical play of our front four...I just really thought that we were going to be able to hold up very well, and Joe Schmidt with Jaylon [Smith] were outstanding. You've got those six guys; if they can hold up against the run, we're going to be from pretty good shape, and I thought that was going to be the case and it ended up being it today.

With more consistent play and continued development, Rochell can lessen the impact of the loss of Williams.

Grade: B

 

All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

Mike Monaco is a lead Notre Dame writer for Bleacher Report. Follow @MikeMonaco_ on Twitter.

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James Franklin Shows Joe Paterno-Style Football Never Coming Back to Penn State

What does new Penn State coach James Franklin have in common with Joe Paterno? Well, they both won their first game as head coach of the Nittany Lions. But the comparisons stop there.

That was made clear Saturday as Franklin bet all his chips on the arm of sophomore quarterback Christian Hackenberg and had his faith rewarded with a game-winning drive and the first 400-yard passing game in school history.

Playing in Dublin, Ireland, on a hacked-up rugby field, Hackenberg squeaked out a 26-24 victory over Central Florida while also closing the book on Penn State’s days as Linebacker U.

The bad news for Penn State fans is that if the Nittany Lions are to have more joyous days like this, it will all be on Hackenberg. Penn State rushed for only 57 yards on 28 totes, a 2.0 average.

But the great news for Penn State is that it appears Hackenberg has plenty more where this came from. He finished an eye-popping 32-of-47, for 454 yards, 114 more than he had ever amassed in a college game. Hackenberg probably established himself as the Big Ten’s best quarterback now that Ohio State has lost Braxton Miller to shoulder surgery.  At the very least, he is the most clutch. 

Down, 24-23, with just 1:13 left after a go-ahead UCF touchdown, Hackenberg directed a seven-play drive that moved Penn State from its 26-yard line to the UCF 19. Besides his throwing, Hackenberg also generated a crucial first down with an eight-yard run on fourth down.

That march positioned Sam Ficken for his fourth field goal of the day.

"There was only a minute or so left in the game, and I looked across the sideline and there wasn't doubt in anybody's eye,” Franklin said (via The Associated Press). “Everybody believed. They believed in Hack. They believed in Ficken."

And don't be surprised if Hackenberg enters conversations about being Penn State’s second-best quarterback ever before this season ends.

Right now, that top spot belongs to Kerry Collins, who threw for more than 40,000 NFL yards. But after that, Hackenberg is up against only the likes of Todd Blackledge, Michael Robinson, Chuck Fusina and a whole lot of other guys who millennials never heard of. They’re part of what largely was a no-name legacy of quarterbacks at Penn State under Paterno.

Paterno didn’t obsess over the three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust game quite as much as Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler, but he was always content to win without airing out his offensive attack.

That definitely won’t be the case for Franklin. And as the 42-year-old Pennsylvania native shoulders the task of cleansing his program of the remaining wreckage from the Jerry Sandusky scandal, he couldn’t ask for a better recruiting tool than Hackenberg.

His Saturday stats show Penn State is going to play 21st-century football. Despite entering the season without a proven go-to receiver, Hackenberg anointed two of them against UCF, hitting Geno Lewis with eight passes for 173 yards and finding DaeSean Hamilton for 11 catches and 165 yards. Lewis’ receptions included a 79-yard touchdown strike.

And Hackenberg’s big game can’t be diminished with any talk of opening against a so-so opponent, as so many teams do. UCF has nine defensive starters back from the team that went 12-1 last season, including the entire secondary, according to the Shannon Owens-Green of the Orlando Sentinel.

UCF also finished 26th in the initial Associated Press rankings and was 23rd in ESPN’s Power Rankings heading into the season.

According Mark Wogenrich of The Morning Call, Hackenberg is the youngest Penn State team captain in 70 years, one more sign that Franklin’s program is rapidly distancing itself from old-school mentality.

Wogenrich also points out that the 6’3” Hackenberg beefed up some in the offseason, to 234 pounds, in hopes of becoming “bulletproof.” As for his play-calling burdens, the difference between playing for Bill O’Brien last season and now is that Franklin’s system has more multiple sets and formations that call for quick shifts.

"He's pretty far ahead for a kid who is a true sophomore," Franklin told The Morning Call.

He's a conceptual learner, and that's the way I like to teach...When you bring in someone that runs a completely different system, that's hard, especially when a kid has had success in one and believes that's the right way to do it. But Hack has adjusted well.

While it’s too early to assess Franklin as a sure thing at Penn State, it is worth noting what has happened at his previous place of employment, Vanderbilt. In that school’s season opener, at home no less, Vandy was shelled, 37-7, by lowly regarded Temple.

That simply isn’t supposed to happen to a Southeastern Conference team. And if Vanderbilt’s fall continues, it will make Franklin’s three bowl games in three seasons with that traditional doormat look even more impressive. Before Franklin, Vanderbilt had never made it to bowl games in consecutive seasons.

Franklin also never had a household-name quarterback at Vanderbilt, unless you count Jordan Rodgers, who had a slight measure of fame for having a big brother in the NFL named Aaron.

But if Hackenberg keeps having Heisman-caliber games, Franklin will be able to make his case to the next generation of tier-one quarterbacks. And who knows? Linebacker U might even become Quarterback State.

 

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

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Clemson vs. Georgia: Score and Twitter Reaction

For the second consecutive year, Clemson and Georgia battled in the first game of the 2014 season for both teams. Much like the 2013 version, the Tigers and Bulldogs put on an entertaining show, but this time it was the SEC team coming out on top, 45-21. 

This was a strange game to watch, as it turned into a tale of two halves. In the first half, both teams were lighting up the scoreboard, going into the break tied at 21. The second half turned into a defensive battle early before Georgia pulled away in the fourth quarter behind its power running game that finished with 328 of the team's 459 total yards. 

We've got all the details and instant reaction from Georgia's big win, but first here's a look at the scoring breakdown:

Since the conversation around this game is going to start with Georgia's running game, you have to begin with Todd Gurley. During some moments the Heisman hopeful seemed lost in the first half, only carrying the ball four times with five total touches. But when he did get the ball, it counted. 

In the first 30 minutes, Gurley had two touchdowns. One came on a 23-yard run in the first quarter to tie the game at seven. The second one came on a 100-yard kickoff return to tie the game at 21, embedded below. 

Gurley's dynamic performance in the first half prompted this response from Bleacher Report Lead College Football Writer Adam Kramer on Twitter:

As impressive as the first half was, even with a limited number of touches, Gurley was just getting started. Georgia head coach Mark Richt finally remembered what he had in the backfield, giving his horse exponentially more work in the second half. 

Needless to say, it paid off. Gurley finished with a career-high 198 rushing yards and ran for two more touchdowns in the fourth quarter to turn a close game into a blowout. Including his kickoff return (and a minus-five-yard reception) Gurley finished with 293 yards combined. Tom Fornelli of CBSSports.com noted the similarities between the current running back and a former Georgia star:

Gurley may or may not end up being Herschel Walker, but Saturday was a clear statement to the rest of college football that he's a bad man. 

It wasn't all about the offense for Georgia, though. The Bulldogs defense kicked things into gear in the second half against Clemson quarterbacks Cole Stoudt and Deshaun Watson. Georgia linebacker Leonard Floyd had a great game, particularly the fourth quarter with two sacks, a forced fumble and fumble recovery.

Floyd seemed like he was on the cusp of a breakout season after a 2013 campaign that saw him record 9.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks. He told Edward Aschoff of ESPN.com before this game that his growth came from a poor freshman season:

I should be better than what I was as a freshman. I’ll do anything to make a play. I’ll run sideline to sideline 100 times just to make a play. I’m trying to be the best player possible, so I’ll do whatever it takes.

On the other side of the field, Clemson came out firing on all cylinders with a touchdown on its opening drive and some solid plays made by Stoudt in his first career start. ESPN's College GameDay Twitter account even noted that it was a perfect beginning for the Tigers:

However, when you are replacing all the talent Clemson has, there are going to be some growing pains. According to ESPNU's official Twitter feed, the Tigers entered 2014 without 73 percent of their offensive production from last season:

Eventually, the youth started to show, and Georgia's offense wore down the Tigers defense. Clemson had just 291 yards of total offense, including just 15 in the second half. All six of the Tigers' possessions in the final 30 minutes consisted of four plays or fewer. 

This was exactly the start that Georgia needed, especially coming off an injury-plagued 2013 season and considering it's breaking in Hutson Mason at quarterback. The running game was dominant, and the defense came out in full force when it needed to. 

Clemson deserves credit for sticking with a good team for 30 minutes, but Dabo Swinney's group had to play a perfect game to win with so many new pieces. It looked the part for a while, just not long enough. 

 

If you want to talk sports, hit me up on Twitter.

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South Dakota vs. Oregon: Live Score and Highlights

Oregon 41, South Dakota 13—Early 3rd Quarter

Year 2 of the Mark Helfrich era gets underway Saturday evening in Eugene as the Oregon Ducks host the South Dakota Coyotes from the Missouri Valley Football Conference.

As the Ducks prepare for a visit from Michigan State in Week 2, we'll be looking for some development from the young Oregon receivers and continued development from the running game sans De'Anthony Thomas.

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Cole Stoudt Debuts for Clemson: Final Stat Line, Analysis and Twitter Reaction

After three seasons of sparse but impressive quarterback play, senior Cole Stoudt finally got his chance to begin the season as Clemson's starting signal-caller. Unfortunately, things didn't go as swimmingly as he would have wanted.

Stoudt finished the game completing 15 of his 28 passing attempts for 130 yards, zero touchdowns and one interception in a less-than-spectacular performance during the Tigers' 45-21 loss at the hands of the Georgia Bulldogs. He entered the game with lofty expectations surrounding him—much like this tweet from former Cleveland Browns general manager Phil Savage:

While Stoudt certainly didn't appear to live up to the hype, he didn't have much help from his supporting cast. Early in the game, the quarterback looked impressively accurate; however, his receivers simply couldn't seem to hang on to anything.

David Hale of ESPN.com tweeted his thoughts on the game's early action:

Despite some mishaps from the receiving corps, Stoudt was erratic at times during the first quarter. This led head coach Dabo Swinney to bring freshman Deshaun Watson into the game—as expected—early in the second quarter.

Well, it didn't take long for Watson to cause some disruption by leading an immediate touchdown drive. Jon Solomon of CBS Sports tweeted a statistics comparison to that point in the game:

Travis Haney of ESPN.com weighed in as well:

Stoudt came back into the game later, but just couldn't get any kind of momentum going, as Georgia ran away with the game.

We'll see if Stoudt keeps a firm grip on the starting position going forward. While his performance wasn't stellar, it may not warrant a change just yet. Although, we can expect a forthcoming debate on the matter.

Clemson doesn't have much time to tinker around with its lineup, as tough contests against No. 1 Florida State and No. 23 North Carolina are on the horizon after the Tigers' home opener against South Carolina State next week.

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Todd Gurley vs. Clemson: Final Stat Line, Highlights and Twitter Reaction

The incredible hype coming into the season for Todd Gurley did not do him justice. 

In the first game of the year against a tough Clemson defense, the Georgia running back finished with 198 yards on 15 carries with three rushing touchdowns on Saturday. He also added a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.

Seth Emerson of The Macon Telegraph provided a note on the historic performance:

His effort helped the Bulldogs earn an impressive 45-21 win over the Tigers.

Nicole Auerbach of USA Today put it lightly:

ESPN's Kevin Negandhi described what type of a player the running back has become:

Gurley was hardly used in the first half, getting only five total touches. Of course, this did not stop him from making a huge impact in the game.

Down 7-0, the running back put Georgia on the scoreboard for the first time with a 23-yard touchdown run while showcasing his speed on the corner:

Jonathan Jones of the Charlotte Observer was already able to see how well the junior is able to separate himself from others at his position:

Meanwhile, head coach Mark Richt continued to limit the superstar's touches, including on a big 3rd-and-1 chance in the first half. Jason McIntyre of The Big Lead provided his opinion:

Even Atlanta Falcons receiver Roddy White got involved:

After Clemson took a 21-14 lead, Gurley finally got another touch in the ensuing kickoff, which he took all the way back for a touchdown:

Emerson provided this incredible stat:

Despite the two touches, fans were upset the running back only had four carries at halftime.

The amazing thing is Gurley was just getting started. With the Tigers defense starting to get tired, Richt unleashed his best weapon.

At the start of the fourth quarter with Georgia leading 24-21, the running back broke off a 38-yard run into Clemson territory. He then finished off the drive with an 18-yard touchdown right up the middle.

Bomani Jones of ESPN provided this analysis:

After Nick Chubb did his part with a 47-yard touchdown run, Gurley went right back onto the field and scored a 51-yard touchdown. 

Bleacher Report's Adam Kramer was speechless:

This ended up being his last rushing attempt in a memorable performance for the Bulldogs.

Earlier in the day, ESPN's Desmond Howard predicted the running back would move into Heisman consideration with a strong performance:

Hours later, Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports agreed:

When asked about the potential of bringing home the sport's most prestigious individual trophy, Gurley explained that he is more concerned about team success, via Marc Weiszer of the Athens Banner-Herald: "You have to be on a great team. You can’t be on an 8-5 team and expect to win the Heisman. That’s definitely not going to happen. If I was able to reach that goal, I would definitely love it because of my teammates."

Looking beyond this season, his performance also keeps him on the radar for the NFL draft. Chase Goodbread of NFL.com discussed his potential:

This is obviously just one game, and it is important not to get ahead of ourselves, but it is clear Gurley is a star in the making for Georgia.

 

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

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Alabama vs. West Virginia: Forget the QBs, Tide's Real Problem Is Still at CB

ATLANTA — This game was always going to be about quarterbacks.

When AJ McCarron announced he would come back to Alabama for the 2013 season, this 2014 West Virginia game was marked on the calendar as a starting-over point under center. So a majority of the attention was on Blake Sims (and the lack of Jake Coker) and understandably so.

Sims’ debut was solid, but that shouldn’t be at the top of any Alabama fan's worry list at this point in time. The team got less-than-stellar play from its cornerbacks—who allowed West Virginia to move the ball with ease at times and keep the game close in a 33-23 win for the Crimson Tide—and that should be the point of focus from this game.

The Mountaineers, as expected, came flying out of the gate with an uptempo attack and finished with 393 yards, including 365 through the air. Quarterback Clint Trickett was efficient, completing 29 of 45 passes for 365 yards and a score. Kevin White had a monster game, catching nine passes for 143 yards and a touchdown.

West Virginia matched up well on the outside and took advantage of Alabama’s undersized starting corners—Bradley Sylve and Cyrus Jones both check in less than 6'0"—and had success on quick screens and one-on-one jump balls.

Sylve in particular missed several tackles on screen passes and was one-on-one with the 6’3” White on a fade route on the Mountaineers’ lone offensive touchdown of the game.

“He knows he’s going to be beat playing some of the best wide receivers in the game,” junior safety Landon Collins said of Sylve. “He was cutting them off. He had great position, but his man just came down with the ball. That’s what good receivers do.”

Collins is right about the touchdown.

Sylve could be faulted for not turning back to find the ball, but he was stuck on White like glue (and probably could have been called for pass interference). White used his size to his advantage to go up over Sylve, and Trickett threw him a perfectly placed ball.

Sylve, though, missed several tackles in the open field that led to big chunks of yards given up on screen plays.

“It happens sometimes,” linebacker Denzel Devall said. “I told him, ‘Just play the next play. Don’t worry about it. We got you.’ And that’s what we do. We look out for each other and pick each other up. Things happen like that. It’s football. You move on to the next play and get back to it.”

Alabama knew that cornerback was going to be a concern heading into this season. It lost Deion Belue—the Crimson Tide’s only consistent corner last year—to graduation, and Eddie Jackson was hurt in spring practice and isn’t quite recovered yet. Alabama signed two 5-stars in Tony Brown and Marlon Humphrey, but it remains to be seen how far either of those two are from playing.

The tackling can be corrected. That’s a matter of technique and repetition. But the size difference should be a concern, especially going into SEC play.

“I think we showed that we have each other’s back,” safety Nick Perry said. “We know if one guy gets down, we have to go and lift him up. That’s going to be a big thing for us this season. We have to play as a team, play as a unit, and we have to have each other’s back.”

Sylve’s teammates were supportive of the beleaguered corner and even sympathetic.

“We go up against the best receivers, I think, in the country every day in practice with Amari Cooper, Christion Jones, DeAndrew White,” Perry said. “Those guys make plays on us all the time. So as a DB, you’ve got to have a short-term memory. I think Bradley has that. He was just going—playing the next play.”

There’s not an immediate sense of urgency at the cornerback position, with games coming up against Florida Atlantic and Southern Miss. But Alabama opens up SEC play with Florida and Ole Miss, two teams with physical wide receivers. It can’t survive all season with the cornerback play it got Saturday night.

Even if the quarterbacks are more fun to talk about.

 

Marc Torrence is the Alabama lead writer for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats come from CFBStats. All recruiting information comes from 247Sports.

Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.

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Watch Georgia RB Todd Gurley's Sick 100-Yard Kickoff Return

Georgia's Todd Gurley is considered one of the top running backs in the country.

The Bulldogs took on the Clemson Tigers in Week 1 of the 2014 season, and Gurley put on a highlight-reel performance, including this monster run on special teams.

Watch Gurley tear up the field on this 100-yard kickoff return.

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West Virginia vs. Alabama: Mountaineers Show They're Legit Contenders in Big 12

The West Virginia Mountaineers were supposed to go to Atlanta and get thrashed by the dynastic Alabama Crimson Tide. 

Clint Trickett was supposed to have problems all day against the Tide's defense, and head coach Dana Holgorsen's spot on the hot seat was supposed to be solidified. 

But that's not the story that ended up being told. 

Instead, the Mountaineers gave fans in Tuscaloosa a shock to their system. The Crimson Tide struggled to put away a team that lost to Kansas—yes, Kansas—last year before finally walking away with a 33-23 win. For Trickett, he proved that he's the man for the job in Morgantown as he racked up 365 yards through the air with a touchdown and no interceptions. 

But more importantly, the Mountaineers proved that they will be contenders in the very competitive Big 12 this season. 

West Virginia entered this season ranked just eighth in the Big 12 preseason poll, ranking above only Iowa State and Kansas, the former of which just lost to North Dakota State this week. In the poll, the the team received just 170 points, 127 less than seventh-place TCU. 

Much of the doubt was based of WVU's performances last year, when the Mountaineers went just 4-8 overall and a horrid 2-7 in Big 12 play, with losses to both Kansas and Iowa State.

With not much talent coming in, 2014 was thought to be much of the same.

But what nobody anticipated was that, although they were a year late, Trickett and his receivers are finally starting to replace Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey.

Not only did Trickett—who split starts with Paul Millard while struggling last season—put up impressive numbers, but five receivers had 50 or more yards catching against the Tide, highlighted by a nine-catch, 143-yard showing by Kevin White.

Now that the Mountaineers know that they can hang with the best college football has to offer, they can go into their next two games at home against Towson and on the road against rival Maryland with a real expectation that they can win. 

That'll set up a Big 12 opener at home against Oklahoma, the team picked to win the league. And that game could very well set the tone for the entire conference. 

Each of the last three Big 12 champions (Baylor in 2013, Kansas State in 2012 and Oklahoma State in 2011) have one thing in common—beat the Sooners.

It's no secret that the road to a Big 12 title goes through Norman each and every year. But the last two seasons, West Virginia's first two in the league, the Mountaineers have given the Sooners problems.

In 2012, a shootout in Morgantown ended in a thrilling 50-49 win for the Sooners. Then last season, Oklahoma squeaked by at home against WVU 16-7.

The fact that West Virginia looks like they can hang with Oklahoma isn't all that's working in their favor. As LostLettermen.com points out, all of the toughest games left for WVU are at home.

There are a few issues the Mountaineers need to address, but avoiding Alabama's NFL-caliber defensive line may be enough of a cure. For starters, WVU finished Saturday's loss with just 28 rushing yards on 24 carries. 

Granted, four of the carries were from Trickett, and he netted negative-11 yards. But even in Holgorsen's high-flying spread offense, you have to have some sort of rushing threat to counter the pass. 

The Mountaineers also allowed 288 yards on the ground. But as a whole, the Big 12 is a passing league and the team will likely not see an offensive line or a running back as high caliber as Alabama's the rest of the way. 

However, Alabama was also going through growing pains and still won the game by double digits. Blake Sims was starting his first-ever game for the Crimson Tide under a new offensive coordinator in Lane Kiffin, so to judge the Alabama team that showed up on Saturday to what it has been the past half-decade is unfair. 

Other concerns that surround the Mountaineers include their lack of depth at some key positions, including the offensive line and the secondary.

The blown series inside the 10-yard line to start the fourth quarter, including two bad passes from Trickett and a snap over the quarterback's head wasn't necessarily a sign of good things to come either. But if enough guys step up, just like they almost did against the Tide, anything can happen this season. 

The Big 12 is known for having champions rise from the ashes. Baylor was picked fifth in the league last year, the year of its first-ever Big 12 title. A year prior, K-State was picked sixth before Bill Snyder won his second Big 12 title.

This season, with West Virginia proving on Saturday that it can hang with the elite, could very well see the Mountaineers be the Big 12's phoenix in 2014.

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Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah Announces Heisman Candidacy with Insane Week 1 Showing

Ameer Abdullah doesn't want you to forget his name.

During the Nebraska Huskers first game of the 2014 season, the senior I-back made it clear that he's a force to be reckoned with. In doing so, he subsequently announced his Heisman candidacy.

It's not that anyone was really doubting that he wouldn't be great. Instead, fans were mostly curious if his numbers would be limited with the solid depth behind him. Abdullah made it clear that's not the case.

In fact, it's quite fitting that the very first play of the year was Abdullah rushing for eight yards. He didn't stop there.

By the end of the day, Abdullah racked up 232 yards on 21 attempts. He also had one touchdown. He's on his way to not only surpassing that 1,000-yard-season benchmark but also ending closer to a total of 2,000 yards.

That would make him a Heisman candidate, wouldn't it? According to Odds Shark, Abdullah currently has a 33-1 chance of winning. The running backs listed with greater odds at winning the coveted award are currently Alabama's T.J. Yeldon (20-1), Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon (12-1) and Georgia's Todd Gurley (14-1).

It seems likely that Abdullah's odds may increase after his performance against Florida Atlantic, though. When it comes to his talent, Bo Pelini isn't shy regarding talking about what the I-back brings to the table.

"He's special. I've been saying that he's really good," Pelini said. "He can run inside; he can run outside. He's a special player. He's a really good back."

Pelini isn't the only one singing Abudllah's praises. Quarterback Tommy Armstrong was quick to say Abdullah's talent and potential reach far beyond his current rankings, both in the Big Ten and nationally:

[He wants to prove] that he is the best running back in the nation. I truly believe that. I believe they have him as the No. 1 or 2 back in the Big Ten. I just think he is taking that to heart and he is going out there and proving to everyone why he should be one of the contenders for one of the best running backs in the country.

From a perspective outside of the program, Florida Atlantic's head coach Charlie Partridge also saw just how special Abdullah is:

He is a tremendous back. He is a back that is going to break tackles against any defense in the country. Whether it is someone in the Big Ten or someone in Conference USA, it doesn’t matter.

He is one of the best backs in the country. At times he was certainly what I expected today, and that is what he has been here for several years now. He was a class player today.

After only one game, Abdullah is well on his way to gaining national attention. The senior boasted his 18th 100-yard rushing game for the Huskers. He was also only one yard shy of breaking the most yards gained in a season opener for Nebraska and is now only 120 yards shy of the top five on Nebraska's career-rushing list.

At this point, the sky is truly the limit for Abdullah. What the rest of the season holds has yet to be determined, but one thing does hold true.

Abdullah is ready to make his name known in the Heisman-candidacy race.

 

All quotes and player stats were obtained firsthand via the Huskers postgame press conference, unless otherwise noted.

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Arkansas vs. Auburn: Score and Twitter Reaction

No. 6 Auburn entered the season with big aspirations after last year produced a national championship appearance. The team earned a 45-21 victory against Arkansas on Saturday, but it certainly didn't come easy out of the gate.

The Tigers offense looked different with Jeremy Johnson under center. The 6'5" sophomore padded his stats quickly, completing a short pass to Melvin Ray, who dodged a tackler, turned upfield and raced down the sideline for a 49-yard score.

Here's a look at the play that put Auburn up 7-0, via Auburn's Twitter account:

The Razorbacks didn't take long to respond.

Thanks to a punishing running game, Arkansas quickly marched down the field, and quarterback Brandon Allen capped off the drive by completing a 14-yard strike to Hunter Henry to even the score at seven.

Razorback Football enthusiastically followed along:

The even game soon shifted back into Auburn's favor. On the following drive, Johnson led his team 75 yards in six plays, and running back Cameron Artis-Payne plunged into the end zone from one yard out to finish it off.

Early in the second quarter, the Tigers kept up the pace. After starting on his own 2-yard line, Johnson marched down the field in just seven plays, completing a very impressive 98-yard drive with an 18-yard touchdown pass to D'haquille Williams.

Former Auburn running back Tre Mason chimed in:

Williams proved to be Johnson's go-to guy, as he compiled seven receptions for 138 yards and a score in the first half. Johnson showed his ability as a legitimate starting quarterback, completing 12 of his 16 attempts for 243 yards and two touchdowns.

In fact, Johnson's first-half performance was so impressive that he received plenty of praise from Twitter. Former Florida quarterback Tim Tebow weighed in:

ESPN Stats and Info compared the signal-caller to a former Auburn quarterback who was also pretty darn good:

That led Bleacher Report's Benjamin Allbright to ask this question:

While Auburn was impressive on offense, Arkansas matched the sixth-ranked squad after two quarters of play.

Allen responded to a 14-point deficit by driving down the field and completing his second touchdown pass of the day—this one a 17-yard strike to AJ Derby. Later in the half, Arkansas got its running game going, as a long drive was capped off with a six-yard touchdown run from Jonathan Williams.

At the break, Allen's numbers looked solid. He completed nine of his 14 attempts for 116 yards and two touchdowns. ESPN SEC was singing his praises during the first half of the game:

The teams returned to action in the third quarter all knotted up at 21 with one big difference: Nick Marshall entered the game at quarterback for Auburn.

Marshall quickly displayed his dual-threat ability, completing all three of his passes and rushing for a 19-yard touchdown on his first drive of the game. College GameDay helped make his presence known:

Auburn's defense began to contribute later in the third quarter. Allen was hit in the backfield as he was releasing the ball, and it fell into the waiting arms of Jermaine Whitehead, who promptly turned upfield and completed the pick-six.

Here's a look at the play, via ESPN College Football:

Marshall continued at quarterback into the fourth quarter, but the Arkansas defense responded nicely to his ability to run. He didn't find much room on the ground, but things opened up for Artis-Payne, who helped lead the team down the field to put up a field goal and increase its lead to 17 with just less than 10 minutes remaining.

Auburn quickly shifted gears after the field goal, getting away from its uptempo offense in favor of a clock-killing ground attack. Artis-Payne continued to dominate the game late in the fourth quarter, twisting and turning for chunks of yards at a time.

Ryan Black of the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer tweeted his thoughts on the running back's late-game heroics:

Artis-Payne paved the way for Corey Grant to clean up the drive with a nice three-yard touchdown scamper to put Auburn up by 24. That would turn out to be the team's final margin of victory.

Arkansas looks to be a far improved team from a year ago. The start to its opener in hostile territory is something to build upon. The Razorbacks have a great chance to get on track next week when they play their home opener against Nicholls State.

It appears as though Auburn is worthy of its No. 6 preseason ranking. This win puts the Tigers in great position in the SEC, and they have a great chance to keep their early momentum going next week against San Jose State.

However, one question must be asked: Who should start at quarterback for the Tigers going forward? A case could easily be made for both Johnson and Marshall. This will surely become a big storyline in the very near future.

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5 Takeaways from Lane Kiffin's Debut at Alabama

ATLANTA — So far, so good for new Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin.

The Crimson Tide survived a scare from West Virginia, topping the Mountaineers 33-23 in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game.

Kiffin's offense racked up 538 yards and 6.6 yards per play under the direcion of quarterback Blake Sims, who played the entire game as Florida State transfer Jake Coker stood with his helmet in hand on the sideline.

"You know, the guy's a really good coach now," head coach Nick Saban said. "You guys need to fess up to that. Most places that don't like him, it's because he left, and they were mad because he left. They weren't mad because of anything he did while he was there."

What were the five biggest takeaways in Kiffin's debut? Our list is in this slideshow. 

Begin Slideshow

Everett Golson's Return, New Weapons Give Notre Dame Pop It Needs on Offense

After consecutive three-and-outs, Brian Kelly's hunch that his rebooted spread offense was ready to score points by the bushel looked like wishful preseason thinking.

The explosive run game? Went backwards on series one. That dynamic passing game? Golson looked slow to pull the trigger on series two. 

But after trading punts early in Saturday afternoon's game, the Irish put their foot on the gas pedal and blew away Rice with 576 total yards in a 48-17 victory in rain-soaked Notre Dame Stadium. 

After sitting out the 2013 season following a highly publicized academic transgression, Golson did his best to make up for lost time. The veteran quarterback produced five total touchdowns, throwing for two and running for three in the blowout victory. 

"Obviously, the story was that Everett Golson was electric," Kelly said after the game. 

Golson's three rushing touchdowns put him in elite company, joining Jarious Jackson and Heisman Trophy-winner Paul Hornung as the only Irish quarterbacks to run for three scores in a game. And to think, his 41 yards on 12 carries was fairly modest compared to the numbers he put up in the passing game.

Golson completed 14 of 22 throws for 295 yards and two touchdowns. The big play potential that Irish fans had hoped to see with Golson behind center was everything Kelly advertised, with Will Fuller scoring on a 75-yard bomb and C.J. Prosise scoring on a 53-yard heave. (Prosise dropped another 50-plus yard touchdown pass, the ball bouncing off his chest after an impressive scramble by Golson.)

"Golson's just an amazing, amazing quarterback," Rice head coach David Bailiff said after the game, comparing the quarterback he saw on the field Saturday to the one who played in 2012. "You can tell he’s matured. You can tell he’s studied the game."

That work off the field was probably what made Kelly the happiest. After playing with happy feet in the spring game and looking a little bit uncomfortable early Saturday, Golson showed complete mastery of the offense, able to keep things alive with his feet while looking downfield to attack.

"I was happy to see him have success," Kelly said. "He had a great confidence about him for the last four to five days, and he carried himself with a great deal of confidence...There's a confidence that he carries with him that is starting to emanate, and that's going to only get better and better as he gains confidence." 

The same can be said for Golson's diverse set of weapons. Even without DaVaris Daniels, the receiving corps provided more than a few big plays. Fuller showcased the speed that makes him an elite vertical weapon while also making three catches on underneath balls. 

Five different receivers made catches of 25 yards or longer. Senior tight end Ben Koyack got down the field. Slot receiver Amir Carlisle's 32-yarder looked natural after his transition from running back. Even with a fractured thumb, Corey Robinson got loose for a 25-yard catch. 

That kind of pick-your-poison passing game makes it tough for opposing defenses to key in on any one receiver. 

"I kind of alluded to it. I don't think we're going to have one particular guy eat up all the catches," Kelly said. "The identity of this team is that it's not one guy, it's going to spread all across the board."

That certainly applies to the ground game that was unleashed. Looking to find a balance for a three-headed depth chart, Cam McDaniel, Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston each averaged over five yards a touch, with Bryant leading the way with 71 yards and a touchdown. 

Add in 58 yards by Malik Zaire on his first collegiate snap, and the Irish ended up running for 281 yards on 42 carries, their best output since running all over Miami in 2012. 

For one week, all seem happy in a crowded depth chart where everyone deserves playing time. 

"We're trying to figure that out," Kelly said of his balance in the backfield. "We don't have an exact science, I wish I was that smart. We're really trying to figure out how to get them the carries they all deserve, but also keep them in the flow of the game." 

Jumping out to a big lead is a good way to do that. Outside of Rice tying the game in the first quarter at 7-7, the Irish offense led the charge, scoring double-digit points in every quarter, possessing the ball for over 30 minutes while keeping remarkable balance with 281 yards rushing and 295 passing. 

As the young Irish defense learns on the job, the Irish offense showed an ability to pace this team. After one impressive win, it looks like Notre Dame will finally play to the blueprint many expected when Kelly was hired to come to South Bend. 

What a difference a quarterback makes. 

 

*Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand. 

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Rice vs. Notre Dame: Game Grades, Analysis for Fighting Irish

Everett Golson had 600 days off between games. Instead of spending a week shaking off the rust, he stepped onto the field at Notre Dame Stadium in Week 1 and instantly looked to be in midseason form.

The Fighting Irish easily dispatched the Rice Owls, 48-17, on Saturday. With a lopsided score like that, it's easy to point out all the good things the Irish did. But it wasn't all puppy dogs and rainbows. As with any Week 1 game, the Irish have some things to work on before they host Michigan next week.

We'll point out all the good, the bad and everything in between from Notre Dame's Week 1 victory over Rice.

Box score via NCAA.com

Notre Dame Game Grades Positional Unit First-Half Grade Final Grade Pass Offense A- A- Run Offense B+ A- Pass Defense C+ B- Run Defense B- B+ Special Teams B- A- Coaching A A-

Pass Offense

This was the one area most people were chomping at the bit to see. Could Golson get over his 60-day layoff between games? How would the older Golson handle his return to Notre Dame? Pretty well, it turns out.

He threw for 295 yards and two touchdowns in three quarters of work. He also distributed his passes to seven different receivers.  

What kept us from giving Notre Dame's passing offense a straight A? Perfect passes that were dropped by receivers.

 

Run Offense

Golson made his mark on the running game too, with 41 yards and three more touchdowns on 12 credited attempts. As the game progressed, Notre Dame began showcasing its amazing depth at the running back position. Solid showings in the first half were easily enough for a B-plus mark, but the running game really began to shine in the second half.

When it was all said and done, Notre Dame had piled up 281 total rushing yards spread among five players. Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston both had 71 yards, while sophomore quarterback Malik Zaire broke open for 56 yards on his first-ever play from scrimmage. All five rushers for Notre Dame had at least 40 yards.

Good luck to any team trying to stop that.

Pass Defense

With five suspensions in the wake of an investigation into alleged academic fraud, the Notre Dame secondary was depleted enough. Add in an injury to defensive captain Austin Collinsworth, and all of a sudden, there are some major questions.

The inexperienced defense acquitted itself decently enough to earn an overall B-minus on the afternoon. After a shaky first half that saw Rice score 10 points directly off broken Notre Dame coverages, the secondary stiffened enough to bump up the grade a bit in the second half.

Still, we're talking about a Rice offense that was clearly overmatched in nearly every aspect of the game. If Notre Dame can't improve quickly on defense, the combination at Michigan of Devin Gardner and Devin Funchess will have a field day picking apart the Irish next Saturday in South Bend.

 

Run Defense

Rice was able to put up 141 rushing yards on the Notre Dame defense. There were also enough solid run plays for the Owls, particularly on third down, to frustrate more than a few Notre Dame fans.

The defensive line did a decent job of plugging up holes, but on the occasion that an Owl did make it past the line, linebacker support was lacking at times. Covering a scrambling quarterback was also a problem, as Driphus Jackson averaged 5.5 yards per carry for 61 yards and a long of 19.

In the end, however, Notre Dame kept Rice's running game out of the end zone. That's worth enough extra credit to earn a B-plus on the day.

 

Special Teams

Notre Dame was particularly bad on special teams last season. As just one example, the Irish ranked 80th in the nation in punt returns in 2013.

But it's a new year, and clearly special teams was a point of emphasis this past offseason. The Irish averaged 24.5 yards on two kick returns and 16 yards on five punt returns. The special teams unit also set up the offense with short fields early in the game, giving Golson several perfect opportunities to build on some early successes.

Kyle Brindza's badly missed field goal in the first half, however, keeps the grade for special teams lower than it otherwise would have been. Brindza did make up some ground in the second half, finishing 2-of-3 on the day with a long of 36 yards.

 

Coaching

What is there to say about Brian Kelly and his staff? Pretty much everything went according to the script. New offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock and new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder did everything right—or at least didn't do anything glaringly wrong.

The staff quickly found holes in the Rice defense, and adjustments were made to counter some of the early offensive successes from the Owls.

As the game got out of hand in the second quarter, we would have liked to see Golson come out a little earlier. After all, there was no need to risk an injury, and everyone was anticipating Zaire's first action in relief. Kelly and staff got away with it, so we won't penalize them too much.

 

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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Is Notre Dame a Top 10 Team?

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish came out with a 48-17 win over the Rice Owls in Week 1 of the 2014 season. Quarterback Everett Golson made his return to the field firing on all cylinders. Bleacher Report college football analysts Michael Felder and Adam Kramer discuss how good this team really is. How well do you think this program can do this year?

 

Watch the video and let us know.

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Oregon Ducks Reveal Uniforms for Game vs. South Dakota

The Oregon Ducks are always releasing new uniforms for their players, and they've done exactly that for their season opener.

For Saturday night's game against the South Dakota Coyotes, the Ducks will wear these uniforms with white helmets, white jerseys and apple green pants.

[Twitter]

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LSU vs. Wisconsin: Live Score and Highlights

Wisconsin 7, LSU 0 ; Early 1st Quarter

Perhaps the biggest nonconference game in Week 1 takes place Saturday night in Houston, as the No. 13 LSU Tigers take on the No. 14 Wisconsin Badgers. 

A full box score for tonight's game can be found here, courtesy of NCAA.com.

The game in its entirety can be seen on ESPN at 9:15 p.m. ET. 

Bleacher Report appreciates you tuning in with us. Stick around for game updates, analysis, social media and much more! 

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