NCAA Football News

Predicting Todd Gurley's Stats for Each Remaining Georgia Bulldogs Game

Everyone in the college football world knows how good Todd Gurley is. Last Saturday proved that Gurley can be even better, despite already being considered by many as the best running back in the country.

Walter Football and CBSSports.com currently list him as the No. 1 running back in their 2015 NFL draft rankings.

In the win against Clemson, Gurley rushed for 198 yards and three touchdowns on 15 carries, but he also returned a kickoff 100 yards for a score. His 293 all-purpose yards—he lost five yards on a reception—broke a single-game school record.

If he keeps this up, he will run away with the Heisman Trophy as well as the Doak Walker Award. However, the question is, will Gurley play at the same level all season long or will teams finally find a way to slow him down?

Here are projected stats for Gurley’s 11 remaining games of the season:

Odds Shark has the over/under for Gurley’s rushing yards set at 1,260.5. It also has his over/under for rushing touchdowns set at 13.5.

Based on what he did in the game against Clemson, he should have no issues getting more than 1,300 yards and 14 touchdowns. Gurley has scored three touchdowns in two other games in his career. He did it in 2012 against Tennessee and again in 2013 against Georgia Tech.

With that said, he has never started a season the way he did on Saturday, tying his personal best in touchdowns and setting it in rushing yards.

Gurley will have his best year to date because of the other three running backs on the roster.

Keith Marshall has the same explosion as Gurley, but he will be eased into action because he’s coming off ACL surgery. Meanwhile, true freshmen Sony Michel and Nick Chubb could be called "Gurshall Jr." because they are very similar.

Chubb runs tough between the tackles and Michel is good at running off the edge and using his speed to blow past defenders. Not only will opposing defenses have to account for Gurley, they will have to make sure they can slow down Marshall, Chubb and Michel, which will lead to more opportunities for Gurley to make explosive plays.

He is not going to have a game like he had against Clemson every time he steps on the field this year, but expect him to put up big numbers because there is not one team he will face this season that can stop him.

Florida and Vanderbilt are the two best rushing defensive teams the Bulldogs will face, but Gurley has rushed for over 100 yards the two times he has faced the Gators. When he played against the Commodores in 2012, he rushed for 130 yards and two touchdowns in a blowout win.

Based on what Gurley did against Clemson and what he’s done in the last two years, there is not a running back in the country like him.

If he’s able to stay healthy, there is no reason he won’t lead the SEC in rushing and end the 2014 season and as a finalist for a number of awards.

 

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LSU Football: Tigers Secondary Key to Run at SEC Title

The LSU secondary's filthy performance against Wisconsin was Patrick Peterson approved.

"It's 'DBU.' It's what we do," Peterson said.

Peterson, a former LSU cornerback, was was an All-American during his time in Baton Rouge and is now an All-Pro with the Arizona Cardinals. He was in attendance on Saturday and served as an honorary captain for The Tigers in 28-24 victory over the Badgers. 

LSU defensive back Jalen Mills said Peterson's presence provided extra motivation for the Tigers to perform at a high level, especially in the secondary. And the next wave of Tiger ball hawks did not disappoint. 

LSU's suffocation of the Badgers passing attack was astonishing. Quarterback Tanner McEvoy was 8-of-24 for 50 yards and two interceptions.

To put those numbers into perspective, the Tigers allowed at least 100 passing yards to every opponent they faced last year. The 33 percent completion percentage was the best since LSU's dismantling of Kentucky in 2011, where the Wildcats only completed 28 percent of their passes.

LSU's defense, as a whole, did not perform at a high level. Wisconsin had its way on the ground, rushing for 268 yards on 39 carries. The most LSU allowed in a game last year was 216.

 

The Comeback

The Badgers were in control of the football game in the third quarter with a 17-point lead. But when the Tigers cut the deficit to three, Wisconsin began throwing the football with more frequency. And that is where the game turned in LSU's favor.

Both of the Tigers' fourth-quarter interceptions came on consecutive drives, with the first resulting in the game-winning touchdown. 

Mills snatched the first with a mixture of athleticism and guile. McEvoy thought he had an open tight end running down the sideline, but Mills shrunk the gap and caught the ball at its highest point. The junior said after the game he "baited" McEvoy into the throw, which was also a regular move of Peterson's.

LSU's next interception stopped what started to be a promising drive for the Wisconsin.

After two first downs, the Badgers found themselves near midfield. Offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig decided to pass on first down.

Ludwig's call was not a bad one. He chose to attack Dwayne Thomas, who was playing a traditional cornerback role for the injured Jalen Collins. But Thomas out-muscled receiver Reggie Love to knock the football away. True freshman defensive tackle Davon Godchaux did a nice job using a "rip move" to create some pressure up the middle.

For the next two plays, things would only get worse for Wisconsin. 

The incomplete pass forced 2nd-and-10, which allowed defensive coordinator John Chavis to bring in his 3-2-6 "Mustang" package. The package includes six defensive backs on the field at once.

The biggest benefit of the Mustang package are the variations that can come from it. Chavis' creativity for the next two plays is defensive genius. 

 

Film Study

The Tigers crowd the line of scrimmage with seven players, which is what they normally do in this defense. Chavis loves to blitz at least the Nickel, which is Mills (JM), or the dime, which is true freshman Jamal Adams (JA).

Wisconsin understands it is unlikely all seven blitz, but protection calls must account for each of the players. Mills said after the game it is tough for offenses to call correct protections because they do not know which edge player is blitzing. This creates unblocked defensive backs attacking the quarterback at high speed. 

On this play, Mills looks locked in man coverage on the slot receiver. Because of that, McEvoy's personal protector, which in this case is Gordon, believes Adams is the likely blitzer.

Here is another look of the play pre-snap from behind the play. Notice Gordon eying down Adams, who looks as if he is going to come on a blitz. 

The key to blocking the Mustang is to have strong one-on-one blockers across the offensive line. The left tackle, center and right tackle's responsibility is to block the defensive lineman lined up in front of them. The guards must hold off blitzing backers if they choose to come. If not, they must help the others protect.

Adams, as expected, blitzes. He is stopped as Gordon does a superb job of crossing the face of McEvoy and making the tough block. But fortunately enough for the Tigers, linebacker Kwon Alexander blitzed as well and, despite being held, whipped the guard in front of him with his speed and power.

McEvoy, like he had done all night long, ran backwards and threw a prayer off his back leg. None of his receivers were open and the ball fell harmlessly out of bounds. 

Wisconsin made all the right decisions in protection on this play, but did not fully execute. Alexander blew by his one-on-one matchup against the right guard and created immense pressure. LSU's coverage was picturesque, which helped set up an ominous 3rd-and-10 for the Badgers. 

On the next play, Wisconsin predictably lines up in shotgun again and LSU in the Mustang. This time, though, Gordon is on the right of McEvoy instead of the left. Wisconsin knows the Tigers love blitzing either Adams or Mills, but not both, in this defense. Adams, again, is the more likely blitzer. 

But this time, Wisconsin is fooled by Mills. He is the blitzer and Adams sinks into coverage. 

Mills did a phenomenal job pre-snap disguising his blitz. He looked as if he would be locking up in man coverage like he did the play before. Because of it, the left tackle, nor Gordon, account for him.

But because Mills blitzed, somebody must cover Love, the slot receiver. Alexander, a linebacker who dominated a guard on a blitz the previous play, takes over Mills' responsibility. Notice all the ground he must make up to catch Love, who is running a corner route away from him.

Mills takes a precise, sharp angle towards the unblocked run towards McEvoy, who read the play correctly. He would expect a receiver against a linebacker on a corner route to be open. Instead, Alexander's sublime pass coverage skills swallows Love's route. 

Across the board, LSU is playing precise coverage. The smartest throw would have been to the underneath crossing patters, but that would have been well short of the first down if completed. Instead, he fires up a hopeful prayer to Love.

Mills hits McEvoy as he is releasing the football. The ball is floated up in the air for an easy interception for free safety Ronald Martin, who was shading over the top of Alexander in case he needed help defending Love. Even if the ball was thrown accurately, it still would have been a tough reception for Love after failing to create space from a linebacker. 

Wisconsin blocked the play admirably with the omission of Mills. Chavis' creativity forced a turnover that helped lead to victory. 

 

Causes of Concern

McEvoy and Wisconsin's receivers are below average, so it is important to not get carried away with LSU's dominance. The Tigers will run into some issues when facing the elite SEC receiving corps of the SEC West. 

LSU's pass rush form its defensive line could have been better. The Tigers had plenty of one-on-one opportunities, but rarely created havoc. There will be times LSU will need to get pressure with four traditional rushers. If that does not improve, the secondary could be exposed.  

LSU must do a better job of stopping the run. Gordon is just one of many future NFL running backs the Tigers will face this season. An effective running game usually opens up the pass, but that was not the case this time around. Next time, they may not be so lucky. 

Before the season began, the projected defensive backs in the Mustang package were White and Rashard Robinson as the traditional corners, Martin and Rickey Jefferson as the safeties, and Mills and Thomas as the nickel and dimebacks. 

Robinson did not make the flight, per The Advocate. His replacement, Jalen Collins, who split first team reps with Robinson this offseason, had suffered an injury previous to the illustrated plays above.  Even without those two key pieces, the LSU defense still dominated. 

Chavis has tough personnel decisions to make with the embarrassment of riches he possesses at defensive back.

Collins is healthy and will continue to start over Robinson according to James Moran of Tiger Rag. This also means Thomas will move back inside on the nickel and dime Mustang packages. But for that to happen, Chavis must bench Adams, whose presence on the field was noticeable. 

  

Conclusion

Allowing only 50 yards passing is an astonishing feat. That might not be matched again this season by the Tigers, if not ever. 

What Chavis can do schematically relies solely on the athletic ability of his players. If LSU's defenders can play man-to-man, bump-and-run coverage all season long, the Tigers will be tough to beat through the air.

Cornerback Tre'Davious White's performance was similar to that of Morris Claiborne, who was LSU's best cover corner on the famed 2011 SEC Championship team. White looks bound to be an All-SEC performer. 

Alexander also deserves credit for his versatility. Neither of the illustrated plays Alexander made above will show up on the stat sheet, but were of the highest difficulty. Outside of a few mental errors early, he led LSU in tackles and played special teams effectively. The junior emphasized after the game he is willing to play any role in order for the defense to succeed.  

The interchangeable parts in the secondary over the years are what has made LSU "Defensive Back University." Coaches across the country would do anything to have the Tigers backups. This is what makes Peterson being at the game somewhat ironic. 

Mills, who has played every position possible in the LSU secondary, said he looks up to Tyrann Mathieu and Ron Brooks. Mathieu and Brooks played the nickel and dime on the 2011 SEC Championship team, which featured the best LSU defensive backfield ever. That defense did not include Peterson, who left early for the NFL.

LSU's secondary might not have the potential this season of that 2011 group, which included two first-team All-Americans. But they can lead LSU to being the best defense in the country if the front seven improves during the season. 

Just ask Peterson. 

"I believe if the defense stops the run, they can be special," said Peterson. "As of right now, the passing defense looks pretty good. I know it's a long season, but if they go in there with a stout front, I believe they have a really good chance to winning it all." 

 

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

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Pac-12 Football: Predictions for Every Week 2 Game

Week 2 of the 2014 college football season is devoid of a plentiful feast of exciting games, but the Pac-12 has two such contests that will serve as a main-course extravaganza to fans throughout the country.

Then there's the matter of upholding the conference's growing reputation in the other nine games, each of which you'd expect the Pac-12 school to emerge victorious from.

The action begins on Thursday and will conclude just as the sun begins to set over the Pacific Ocean Saturday evening. Here are predictions for every Week 2 matchup in the Pac-12.

Begin Slideshow

Kennedy Estelle and Desmond Harrison Reportedly Dismissed from Texas Longhorns

Add another pair to the ever-growing list of players Texas head coach Charlie Strong has dismissed from his roster. Offensive linemen Kennedy Estelle and Desmond Harrison were the latest given their walking papers, as reported first by Dustin McComas and Anwar Richardson of OrangeBloods.com:

Texas has not yet confirmed either dismissal, but Chuck Carlton of the Dallas Morning News confirms that the two have been suspended for this week's game against BYU:

Chip Brown of Hornsdigest.com added:

Estelle and Harrison were expected to be the Longhorns' starting tackles this season. Estelle was in the lineup during the team's 38-7 victory over North Texas on Saturday. There has been no indication of why either player was dismissed; Estelle played and seemed in fine form as Strong got his first win in Austin. 

ESPN's Max Olson notes how this impacts the offensive line:

Estelle, a junior, was suspended by previous head coach Mack Brown for violation of team policy before last year's Alamo Bowl loss. It was later reported he was ruled academically ineligible for the game. When Strong began to look into players who might not fit the image of his program, Estelle was one of the players who received attention before making the roster.

Harrison, a senior, was initially suspended alongside wide receiver Daje Johnson and safety Josh Turner during the summer. He sat out Saturday's win and was reinstated to the program on Monday only to be kicked off two days later. Harrison was expected to be the team's starting left tackle.

"We have core values within this program. We expect our players to abide by those values," Strong told reporters when initially suspending Harrison. "You take away something that's important to them— and football is really important to a lot of these players—and you make sure that with the games taken away from them, they understand how important it is to represent this great university not only on the field but off."

The dismissal of Estelle and Harrison comes as merely the latest in what's become a purge at Texas. Strong, who took over for Brown after an elongated coaching search, arrived claiming he would clean up the program on and off the field. 

He's definitely done the former, dismissing numerous players, dishing out a ton of suspensions and taking a surprisingly hard-line approach. Players are being kicked off an suspended to the point where it's a legitimate concern whether Strong will be able to field a competitive team.

Without Estelle and Harrison, Texas is dangerously thin and inexperienced across its offensive line. Marcus Hutchins, who started for Harrison against North Texas, will likely wind up the full-time left tackle. Strong will have his choice of players to line up on the right side, but it'll be interesting to see which direction he goes. Some of his prospective options already moved inside during camp under the assumption Estelle and Harrison would be on the outside. 

Texas will also be without senior center Dominic Espinosa, who suffered a broken ankle in Week 1 and will miss the remainder of the season, per Jeff Howe of 247Sports

With only a handful of days to prepare for BYU, Strong again has a bit of a mess on his hands. Texas can survive with a makeshift offensive line against the likes of North Texas, but BYU is no joke and the Longhorns are about 10 days away from a clash with No. 11 UCLA. 

Strong has said time and again that his most important goal is changing the culture. He's inarguably made massive headway in doing so. It'll just be interesting to see if he'll be able to mix a culture change with a solid win-loss record in 2014.

 

Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

San Jose State Spartans vs. Auburn Tigers: Betting Odds, Analysis and Prediction

The San Jose State Spartans and the Auburn Tigers will both be looking to improve to 2-0 after each turned in similar dominant performances in their season openers.

The Spartans and the Tigers are riding impressive streaks against the spread (ATS) as well, with the former covering nine straight games on grass and the latter going 8-0 ATS in their past eight against teams with winning records.

 

Point spread: The Tigers opened as 29-point favorites; the total was 65 at Jordan-Hare Stadium, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark. (Line updates and matchup report)

 

Odds Shark computer prediction: 46.9-19.5 Auburn

 

Why the San Jose State Spartans can cover the spread

The Spartans are 4-0 ATS in their last four after allowing less than 20 points in their previous game, although it remains to be seen whether or not beating North Dakota 42-10 last week will give the defense any major confidence before going up against a very good Auburn offense.

San Jose State had given up 34 points or more in five of the team’s previous six games, so at least it’s a good place to start. The Spartans are 12-2 ATS in their last 14 road games and 17-8 ATS in their past 25 overall, which also bodes well heading into Jordan-Hare Stadium.

 

Why the Auburn Tigers can cover the spread

The Tigers have covered their last 12 games, including five in a row at home after crushing Arkansas 45-21 last week. Auburn did not need to see much of quarterback Nick Marshall against the Razorbacks either, as he threw for just 50 yards in relief of Jeremy Johnson after being benched for disciplinary reasons.

Running back Cameron Artis-Payne followed nicely in the footsteps of the departed Tre Mason with 177 rushing yards and one touchdown while Corey Grant also added 87 yards and a score on the ground.

If the Tigers can continue to get that kind of production from their offensive backfield, they will have no problem covering the spread.

 

Smart Pick

Auburn has not been favored by this many points since beating Western Carolina 62-3 in Week 7 last year to cover the 41.5-point spread. But the Tigers know what it takes to beat a big number like that and have not shown any signs of letting up, averaging nearly 45 points in their last 10 games.

The over has cashed in each of Auburn’s last five games, although San Jose State has seen the total stay below in its last two road games. The Spartans do not want this to be a high-scoring game since it will be difficult for them to keep up with the Tigers.

Either way, look for Auburn to take care of business at home and cover its 13th straight game.

 

Trends

  • San Jose State is 12-2 ATS in its last 14 games on the road.
  • Auburn has covered 12 straight games.

 

Note: All point spread and lines data courtesy of Odds Shark; all quotes gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted. Check out Twitter for injury updates and line-move updates and get the free odds tracker app.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Mississippi Rebels vs. Vanderbilt Commodores Betting Odds: Analysis, Prediction

The Ole Miss Rebels and the Vanderbilt Commodores could not have turned in more different performances in their season openers last week, likely making for a much bigger spread than most bettors expected for the first SEC game of the year for both teams.

The Commodores saw the biggest line move of the week go against them in a 37-7 home loss to Temple, while the Rebels blew out Boise State 35-13 in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic at the Georgia Dome.

 

Point spread: The Rebels opened as 14-point favorites, but they were laying 20 points by Wednesday; the total was 49.5 at LP Field, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark (line updates and matchup report). 

 

Odds Shark computer prediction: 41.6-14.0 Rebels

 

Why the Mississippi Rebels can cover the spread

Ole Miss is one of the sleepers in the SEC this season, and with good reason. With so many powerhouse teams in the conference, the Rebels tend to get overlooked, and the best way for them to serve notice is to simply go out and win football games.

They did just that in the rout of the Broncos last week. Quarterback Bo Wallace threw for 386 yards and four touchdowns, and the team’s defense stepped up with four interceptions. Ole Miss has covered the spread in six of nine now and has won six of eight straight up as well.

In last year’s 39-35 win over Vanderbilt, Wallace completed 31 of 47 passes for 283 yards and rushed for 48 yards on 18 carries with two TDs to snap a three-game losing streak in the series.

 

Why the Vanderbilt Commodores can cover the spread

There’s no doubt the Commodores played terribly against the Owls after seeing bettors back Temple all the way from the opening line of +16.5 down to the close of +8.5.

But that was just one game, and Vandy has enjoyed past success against the Rebels, winning five of the last seven meetings straight up and going 10-3 against the spread in the past 13 games between the teams.

The public has likely already forgotten that the Commodores ended last season riding a five-game winning streak with a 4-1 ATS mark during that stretch.

Neither team converted well on third down last week, with the Owls somehow managing to win easily despite going 2-for-17 (12 percent). Vanderbilt is still adjusting to new head coach Derek Mason, who was formerly Stanford’s defensive coordinator and thrived there limiting pass-happy QBs like Wallace.

 

Smart Pick

This week’s spread is a very typical overreaction number based mainly on what we saw last week. The Commodores lost some key playmakers from last season—most notably, wide receiver Jordan Matthews, who is now with the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles.

But they should not be home underdogs of so many points in this spot. Likewise, Ole Miss should not be this big of a road favorite. Sure, the Rebels blew out Boise as 9.5-point favorites a week ago, but they have not beaten Vandy by more than 16 points in any of the the past 10 meetings.

In fact, Ole Miss has not won two straight meetings in the series over that same period. The Commodores may be down this year under Mason, but they should be able to stay within the number here.

 

Trends

  • Mississippi is 2-5 SU in its last seven games when playing Vanderbilt.
  • Vanderbilt is 4-26 SU as a home underdog since 2004.

 

All point-spread and lines data courtesy of Odds Shark. All quotes gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted. Check out Twitter for injury updates and line-move updates, and get the free odds tracker app.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Colorado State Rams vs. Boise State Broncos Betting Odds: Analysis, Prediction

The Colorado State Rams are one of the hottest teams in the country and will try to avoid cooling off against the Boise State Broncos in one of the nation’s toughest places to play.

The Rams are coming off a 31-17 victory against rival Colorado last week in their season opener to win their fifth in six games both straight-up and against the spread.

But Boise State has caused them problems recently in winning the last three meetings over the past three years.

 

Point spread: Broncos opened as eight-point favorites, which had been bet up to -10.5; the total was 57.5 at Bronco Stadium, according to sportsbooks monitored by Odds Shark. (Line updates and matchup report)

 

Odds Shark computer prediction: 35.2-31.9 Rams

 

Why the Colorado State Rams can cover the spread

Despite losing three straight times to Boise, the Rams have at least narrowed the gap each of the last three years, falling by 50 points in 2011, 28 in 2012 and 12 last season. Two of those meetings came at home, but Colorado State has performed very well on the road, covering eight of their last nine in that situation.

The team’s most recent game away from home took place last week in Denver against the Buffaloes, and the Rams used a strong running game to prevail as senior Dee Hart and junior Treyous Jarrells combined for 260 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Another performance like that could keep Colorado State within single digits.

 

Why the Boise State Broncos can cover the spread

The “Smurf Turf” in Boise remains one of the top home-field advantages in the country, and you can bet the Broncos are excited to be back there playing in front of their fans after losing 35-13 to Ole Miss in Atlanta last week.

Boise did not even score a TD against the Rebels until there were less than five minutes remaining in the game, and the team should have a lot more confidence in a building where opponents have gone 4-21 straight-up in the last 25 games there.

 

Smart Pick

Did the mystique of Boise State leave with former head coach Chris Petersen, who is now in Washington? That question will continue to be answered throughout the season, and the Rams may very well be the next team to upset the Broncos there—or at least give them a scare.

Colorado State is 8-1 ATS in its last nine road games while Boise is just 1-4 versus the line in its past five at home. Keep in mind, the Rams just need to stay within a couple of scores to give their backers a chance to cash on them. And they have also won five of their last six on the road.

 

Trends:

  • Colorado State is 7-18 SU in its last 25 games on the road
  • Boise State is 18-7 SU in its last 25 games
  • Colorado State is 8-1 ATS in its last nine road games

 

Note: All point spread and lines data courtesy of Odds Shark. All quotes gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted. Check out Twitter for injury updates and line move updates and get the free odds tracker app.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Creating the Ultimate College Football Fantasy Team for Week 2

The first week of the 2014-15 college football season featured its fair share of outstanding individual performances, great kicking efforts and dominant defensive accomplishments. Most were by the usual suspects, but plenty of surprises were out there as well.

Here's the thing, though: One week doesn't make a trend. Just because someone had a good first game doesn't mean they're in line for a big year, and vice versa for expected stars who struggled in the opener. Using fantasy stats from the first week to dictate who to play in Week 2, while seemingly a good approach, doesn't ensure success.

That means picking the ultimate college football fantasy team for this weekend is as much of a crapshoot as it was for the opening set of games. It's a guessing game for at least a few more weeks, until patterns emerge.

But that won't stop us from trying to put together the best lineup, taking into account how players and teams performed last week but also considering the circumstances of those first games as well as the opponent and venue for this weekend. Take a look at our choices, then give us your feedback in the comments section.

Begin Slideshow

Stanford Football: A Timeline of a Football Powerhouse

The final dark days of Stanford football began and ended with former coach Walt Harris. 

In his first home game with the Cardinal in 2005, Harris allowed his team to blow a 17-point lead to UC Davis and give up a go-ahead score with eight seconds left. Stanford lost 20-17, and the Aggies became the first non-Division I Football Bowl Subdivision team ever to beat Stanford. The Cardinal would win just five more games with Harris in control before he was subsequently, and rightfully, fired in December of 2006. 

Fast forward eight years, and it's a completely different story. Stanford opened its home schedule with UC Davis but handled the game with absolute ease, winning 45-0. The fact that there was no news was good news. That's what one should expect from a program that has won back-to-back Pac-12 championships. 

The quest for a third straight conference title is approaching in earnest. A Saturday game against No. 14 USC in Los Angeles has early season playoff implications...as does an October road trip to Notre Dame...and an Oct. 18 visit to Arizona State...and a Nov. 1 road game at Oregon...and a season-ending game at UCLA.

This is what Stanford is now: a program whose weekly goal is to win in order to satisfy a realistic goal to be one of the four teams playing for a national championship. 

Here's how it happened.

 

Jim Harbaugh

A bad hire can set a program back just as much as a good hire can launch it forward. Stanford made a bad hire with Harris, who went 6-17 in two years. 

Then Jim Harbaugh happened, and he put Stanford on the national map because he of it.

Harbaugh came to Stanford from the University of San Diego two weeks after Harris was let go. The hire was applauded, with Michelle Smith of the San Francisco Chronicle writing that Harbaugh was "young, energetic and charismatic. He has impressive college and NFL resumes as a player, name recognition and success at running a college football program."

It wasn't just lip service, either. It took just five games before Harbaugh recorded his first signature win: a 24-23 stunner over No. 2 USC, to which Stanford was a 41-point underdog, in the Coliseum. 

2007 was a year unlike any other in recent college football history. It was a time when the sport apparently turned 21 in human years and partied too hard. While nothing may top Appalachian State-Michigan on the surreal upset meter, Stanford-USC was up there among the wildest endings that season. 

If nothing else, it brought about the end of a 35-game home win streak while simultaneously ushering in a new era at Stanford. As it turned out, beating USC by one point was only the beginning. Stanford toppled the Trojans again in 2009, 55-21, one week after beating Oregon, 51-42, for the first time since 2001. 

For those keeping track, that means Harbaugh recorded wins over Pete Carroll, who is coming off a Super Bowl win with the Seattle Seahawks, and Chip Kelly, an innovator in every aspect of the game. By the time Harbaugh left for the San Francisco 49ers in 2011, the Cardinal had won the Orange Bowl with a 12-1 record.

 

Recruiting

Harbaugh took a program that hadn't had a winning season since 2001 and started beating the nonsense out of opponents. That requires a massive attitude adjustment, but just as importantly, a recruiting boost. In a time when offenses want to spread the field, Stanford opted to run over defenses. 

Defensively, the Cardinal built itself to handle spread offenses like Oregon's. 

Tight end Coby Fleener, wide receiver Doug Baldwin and fullback/linebacker Owen Marecic, all of whom are playing, or have played, in the NFL, were the highlights of Stanford's 2007 class

The 2008 class is the group that really got things rolling. Quarterback Andrew Luck was the prize recruit, but offensive linemen David DeCastro and Jonathan Martin were part of that class, as was receiver Chris Owusu. 2009 brought in linebacker Shayne Skov and defensive ends Trent Murphy and Ben Gardner. 

Stanford recruited players who wanted to fight in a phone booth. 

It began up front. Stanford has had four offensive linemen and three defensive linemen drafted since Harbaugh took over the program, according to NFL.com. Tackle Andrus Peat could be one of the first offensive linemen taken in next year's draft if he declared early. 

According to head coach David Ashaw, Peat is a a rare talent, via Bryan Fischer of NFL.com

I don't know if there's been anybody else in our conference, in the last eight years, that is as good as Andrus Peat has been and can be. In my entire career, nine years in the NFL, the only offensive lineman that was a step above of where Andrus can be is Jonathan Ogden -- one of the best tackles to ever play. 

Everything the Cardinal have wanted to do offensively and defensively, including leading the Pac-12 in points allowed in 2013, has started up front. 

 

David Shaw

All the toughness that Harbaugh embodied at Stanford has been kept alive by David Shaw, who has a 35-7 record as the current head coach. According to the Wall Street Journal, Shaw has a 14-4 record against Top 25 teams in his three years at Stanford. 

As Ted Miller of ESPN.com tweets, it's not just that Shaw has a 14-4 record—it's that he's won 14 games against top-25 teams in a short amount of time. 

Shaw's biggest win to date easily came on a cold November night in 2012 when Stanford upended Oregon 17-14 in overtime. The Ducks averaged nearly 50 points per game that season, but they could barely get in the end zone against Shaw's defense. 

At the very least, it marked a changing of the guard in the Pac-12 North. 

While other Pac-12 programs were trying to find an answer to Oregon's uptempo spread offense, Stanford already had it figured out. With the best defensive front seven in recent memory, the Cardinal were able to disrupt Oregon's offense up front while providing the speed on the back end that they needed. 

Stanford had Oregon's number again in 2013 with a 26-20 win, cementing itself as the class of the Pac-12. But with the departures of Skov, Murphy and Gardner, not to mention defensive coordinator Derek Mason, the longevity of Stanford's defensive prowess remains to be seen. 

 

Built For The Future

Think that Stanford is on the decline? Don't be so sure. 

The Cardinal pulled in the No. 13 recruiting class nationally in February, according to 247Sports.com, highlighted by 5-star defensive end Solomon Thomas and 4-star quarterback Keller Chryst. 

As Thomas showed in his live commitment on signing day on ESPN, there's a certain "cool" factor in committing to Stanford. What started as an impressive turnaround has morphed into a program with staying power. No matter the result between Stanford and USC on Saturday, the Cardinal have a national brand that appeals to elite high school prospects. 

It's a far different program than the one that lost to UC Davis. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Connor Cook vs. Oregon: MSU'S Passing Attack Will Be Able to Keep Up with Ducks

After a 45-7 victory over Jacksonville State this past weekend, Michigan State and quarterback Connor Cook are ready to build off their strong showing and prove their passing attack can keep up with Oregon's high-powered offense this Saturday when the two square off in Eugene, Oregon.

Despite taking a low hit on his left knee early in the first quarter, Cook finished last week's game going 12-of-13 through the air for 285 yards and three touchdowns.

He did not miss any significant time because of the hit but did tell Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports he thought it was a cheap shot:

With the Jacksonville State game in the rear-view mirror, Cook and the Michigan State offense now have their sights set on keeping pace with Oregon.

While much of the focus will be placed on whether or not the Michigan State defense can slow down Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota and an offense that averaged nearly 46 points per game last season, Cook and the Michigan State offense showed in the opener that they have the ability to put points on the board.

Despite attempting fewer than 15 passes against Jacksonville State, Cook finished the game with the highest QBR in the past 10 seasons:

Cook had some early struggles last season before finishing the final seven games—including the team's Rose Bowl victory over Stanford—with 13 touchdowns and just four interceptions.

He appears to be more comfortable in the offense, and his defense knows how important the high-powered offense is to the team's success.

"When you have an explosive offense like that clicking, it's dangerous for any team to be playing against," Michigan State safety Kurtis Drummond told The Associated Press. "Seeing them come out there clicking early like that is getting us more confidence and allowing us to play more at ease."

While Jacksonville State has nowhere near the same talent level as Oregon, Cook showed great awareness, accuracy and decision-making on the field last Saturday.

Michigan State scored on five of its first six drives against Jacksonville State, with the majority of them going for more than 50 yards.

With a dependable target like wide receiver Tony Lippett and an emerging deep threat in junior AJ Troup, Cook has all of the tools in place to keep up with Oregon's high-powered offense.

Oregon’s offense is known for its uptempo style and ability to put points on the board quickly. In its opener against South Dakota last Saturday, the offense scored 62 points. However, after averaging 55.6 points per game in their first eight games last season, the Ducks averaged just 29.2 in their final five contests when matched up against tougher competition.

Cook and Michigan State proved against Jacksonville State last Saturday just how efficient they can be on offense, but they will likely need to score at least 40 points to beat Oregon on Saturday night.

As long as Cook's knee injury from last week does not resurface, do not dismiss the Spartans' chances of keeping with Mariota and the Oregon offense.

 

All stats courtesy of Sports-Reference.com.

Follow @MattEurich 

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Is Sophomore QB Tyrone Swoopes Ready to Lead the Texas Longhorns?

Tyrone Swoopes will get the start for the Texas Longhorns in Week 2 vs. BYU. Bleacher Report's College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Barrett Sallee break down how he will do in his first start of his collegiate career. How well do you think Swoopes will do?

Watch the video and let us know.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Clemson Football: Report Card Grades for Every New Starter

The Clemson Tigers weren’t able to come away victorious against the Georgia Bulldogs last Saturday, but how did the new starters perform in that contest? For a team that had question marks going into the season, the contributions of these new starters are very important.

*Tavaris Barnes and Reid Webster, who started for suspended players Corey Crawford and David Beasley, weren't included because those two guys should claim their starting roles again moving forward.

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Inside Evander Holyfield's Son's Monster 7-TD Game

Elijah Holyfield is a four star running back in the 2016 class, according to 247Sports Composite. Holyfield is also the son of former heavyweight world champion Evander Holyfield. Elijah took time to talk with Bleacher Report about his stellar performance in the first game of his junior season at Woodward Academy in College Park, GA.

How well do you think he can do at the next level?

Watch the video and let us know.

 

Rankings courtesy of 247Sports Composite

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Marcus Mariota vs. Michigan State: Why Balanced Attack Is Key for Oregon Victory

The Oregon Ducks have one of the most prolific offenses in college football. This week against Michigan State, it will need to be firing on all cylinders in order for the team to come out victorious.

The key for Oregon’s offense and Heisman-hopeful quarterback Marcus Mariota is balance.

Mariota’s Ducks finished second in the nation in yards last season behind only the Baylor Bears. The biggest reason they were so successful and consistent was the balance they showed on the offensive side of the ball.

Unlike some schools that strictly rely on the passing game, the Ducks and head coach Mark Helfrich like to attack in a variety of ways. In 2013, the team averaged 565 yards per game, with 291.5 coming through the air and 273.5 on the ground.

By moving the ball on teams through both the pass and run, defenses have a very difficult time stopping the Ducks. There isn’t one facet teams can focus on to shut down because almost everything Oregon does offensively works.

They also often run an uptempo offense to take defenses out of their comfort zone.

A balanced offense would be huge for Oregon against Michigan State because the Spartans are typically very hard to move the ball against.

They love to crowd the line of scrimmage and blitz players throughout the game. If Oregon becomes too one-dimensional, the Spartans and coach Mark Dantonio will try to capitalize by bringing even more pressure.

Even though many teams try to emulate what the Ducks offense can do, they simply can’t because they don’t have a superstar like Mariota.

In order to beat the stingy Michigan State defense, Mariota will have to play one his better all-around games.

Last season, the Ducks quarterback ranked second in the nation in adjusted QBR with a score of 88.0. The only player to do better was Heisman winner Jameis Winston.

Mariota is almost impossible to scheme for defensively because he’s so talented in different ways. We all know he can beat people with his legs, but he’s surprisingly accurate with his arm as well. He threw for more than 3,600 yards in 2013 with a completion percentage of 63.5. He also added 31 touchdowns and just four interceptions.

In the season opener against South Dakota, Mariota recorded 267 yards and three touchdowns on 14-of-20 passing. He also rushed six times for an additional 43 yards and another score.

These statistics would be impressive for any quarterback in a game. Mariota accomplished this in just the first half.

Now don’t get me wrong, Michigan State’s defense will pose much more of a threat to Oregon than South Dakota's unit. However, Mariota is a special player who will surely look to duplicate his performance.

A major factor in the game will be Mariota’s ability to make good decisions and throw the ball consistently.

Michigan State likes to press its cornerbacks right in the faces of receivers to disrupt timing. If he can beat the corners over the top on a few occasions, the secondary will be forced to back up and respect his arm. This will open up the running lanes.

According to Mike Griffith of MLive.com, ESPN’s Rece Davis recently had a fair deal of praise for Mariota. “He's got blinding speed, we've seen that, but I think he has a really smooth, nice delivery, and the demeanor he has is that he can pull Oregon along with him,” he said.

When Mariota is playing well, I don’t think there’s a defense in the country that can slow him down.

The main reason things went south for the Ducks last season was because their leader wasn’t healthy. If he can play every game at full strength, Oregon shouldn’t have any problems scoring points.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Utah Kicker Comes Up with Perfect Way to Introduce the World to Newborn Son

Like father, like son.

Maximus Phillips is only a day old but is already looking like he will be a Utah Ute some day. Utes sophomore kicker Andy Phillips introduced the world to his newborn son on Wednesday in a very appropriate way.

Even Utah welcomed the newborn to the family.

The kicker started his season by making all eight of his extra-point attempts in a win over Idaho State last week, but that strong opener takes a back seat to the birth of his son.

[Andy Phillips, h/t ESPN]

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

USC vs. Stanford: Cody Kessler Must Be Highly Proficient to Upset Cardinal

It hasn’t taken the Pac-12 schedule long to give the college football world a marquee matchup, with No. 14 Southern California and No. 13 Stanford facing off Saturday in Palo Alto.

And for the Trojans to pull off an upset, it will take a top-notch performance from a slightly hobbled Cody Kessler.

USC’s starting signal-caller underwent a small procedure earlier this week to fix what is believed to be a toe injury, per a report from ESPN.com. Not much has been said publicly about the injury, but Kessler is expected to be ready for Saturday afternoon’s game:

There were early reports that Kessler was treated for a staph infection, but that has since been reported as false, according to the Orange County Register's Michael Lev:

The Trojans were able to knock off Stanford last year at home, but it took an early touchdown and a field goal in the final minute against the Top Five team to do so. Kessler attempted a season-high 37 passes and completed 25 of them for 288 yards and a touchdown, and it will certainly take a similar performance on the road this week for USC to take an early advantage in the Pac-12 standings.

While Kessler isn’t known as a top-rated passer or Heisman Trophy candidate, he manages the game well and is not prone to turnovers, which is always key in matchups against a formidable opponent. He tossed seven interceptions last season (none against Stanford) and only had one two-pick game in 2013—at Arizona State in a 62-41 loss.

Kessler’s success is also a high priority for the Trojans because of Stanford’s historical success against the run. The Cardinal only allowed 23 yards on the ground last year against USC and return seven starters on defense. They have three seniors on their defensive line and two at linebacker.

The Trojans offensive line lost three starters, including center Marcus Martin to the NFL, which isn’t very conducive for a high-functioning rushing game against an experienced defense.

But USC is talented enough at wide receiver with Nelson Agholor, who was an All-Conference player in 2013, to make things happen with the passing game if Kessler can find time to throw and do so accurately.

Freshman JuJu Smith and sophomore Darreus Rogers are also threats through the air. Rogers caught 22 balls last season and had five against Fresno State to begin the 2014 season. Smith led the Trojans last week with 123 yards on four catches.

USC had 10 different players record a catch against Fresno State in the 52-13 win, and Kessler completed 25 passes for nearly 400 yards. One can’t expect those numbers to be that high against Stanford, but the same proficiency from the junior quarterback and vast distribution is a must again this week.

One has to expect Stanford to keep a close eye on Agholor, which means Kessler will need to keep his eye out for whoever is open and not depend on his top receiver to be available in crunch-time situations.

Kessler’s confidence should be high after a strong performance to begin the season, and that confidence will need to translate into a lot of yards and completions this week for USC to win.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Picks: Week 2 Predictions for Every Game

Not a bad opening week, huh?

The 2014 college football season gave us six days' worth of exciting games, beginning with Georgia State's first FBS victory and ending with Louisville's successful debut in the ACC. In between there were shootouts, defensive struggles, laughers, upsets and even a game at The Swamp canceled because the field resembled...a swamp.

Can Week 2 match or surpass what we've just gone through?

This week's slate features 72 games, including 29 pitting FBS teams against FCS competition. That's down from 47 from the opening week, when North Dakota State (at Iowa State) and Bethune-Cookman (over Florida International for the second straight year) continued the tradition of the little guys knocking off the big boys.

Scroll through to see our selections for Week 2, then give us your thoughts in the comment section.

Week 1 record: 70-14

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Miami Football: 5 Corrections Hurricanes Must Make Against Florida A&M

The Miami Hurricanes have plenty to correct after the 2014 season opener, despite the sample size being admittedly small. Florida A&M enters Sun Life Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 6, so "The U" doesn't have much time to prepare.

Superior teams can sometimes win on talent alone, which is certainly the case for this coming Saturday. Miami is expected to rout the Rattlers, but the final box score may not be indicative of the way Al Golden's team truly performs.

While first-game nerves contributed to mistakes in Kentucky, Miami needs to correct its early problems before future ACC play.

Fortunately, the meeting with Florida A&M provides the 'Canes an excellent opportunity to recover from a disappointing performance at Louisville.

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Trey DePriest's Return Is the Spark Alabama's Defense Needs

Alabama's defense didn't exactly look like itself on Saturday afternoon in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game against West Virginia when the Crimson Tide gave up 365 yards through the air in a 33-23 win over the Mountaineers.

The absence of senior linebacker Trey DePriest was a big reason why.

DePriest sat out the opener with what head coach Nick Saban termed a "minor NCAA infraction," and the absence of the quarterback of the defense caused confusion in the back end of the unit.

"We made a lot of errors," Saban said after the game. "When you have leadership out there, you know, a guy who calls the defenses and everybody's really confident in the call that they're making and directing the whole thing just like a quarterback. We didn't have that in this game. We didn't have anybody who's every played before."

Saban announced on Wednesday that the quarterback of his defense is back.

"He's back on the team," Saban said on the SEC coaches teleconference. "He wasn't suspended by me, so he made a mistake, he paid for it, and he's available to play. And we're looking forward to him having the opportunity to play and hopefully affect our team in a positive way as well as him performing like he's capable of."

That's big news for the Crimson Tide because while inconsistency in the secondary was the most glaring issue for the defense on Saturday, Saban consistently brought up the absence of a leader on defense in the postgame press conference when discussing what the problem was.

DePriest finished third on the team last season with 65 tackles and was being counted on to fill the leadership role vacated by superstar C.J. Mosley, who exhausted his eligibility after last season.

Assuming DePriest is healthy—he has been dealing with a minor knee injury during fall camp—the confusion that reigned supreme on Saturday won't be there this weekend when the Crimson Tide host Florida Atlantic in the home opener in Tuscaloosa.

Will the execution be there, though?

DePreist's return is coupled with the possibility of cornerback Eddie Jackson moving into the starting lineup in favor of Bradley Sylve, who was picked on by the Mountaineers. Jackson practiced with the first team opposite Cyrus Jones on Tuesday, according to AL.com, but that doesn't necessarily mean he'll start this week.

"He has practiced, he has done well, and I feel like we'll play him some in this game in some kind of way trying to ease him back into what he has to do to become a player at his position, which he's totally capable of," Saban said on Wednesday. "A very good player who we're anxious to get back in the lineup, but certainly not at the expense of putting him at any risk."

Whether the secondary issues are fixed or not, getting DePriest back is a huge boost for the Tide. Saban specifically referenced the importance of having a veteran linebacker making the calls against today's exotic offenses, which are prevalent on the schedule.

Alabama's next four opponents run some variation of the spread. Florida Atlantic is veering more toward a run-based spread, Southern Miss head coach Todd Monken's offense thrives with tempo, Florida offensive coordinator Kurt Roper was brought in specifically to pick up the pace, and Ole Miss has been playing "fastball" since Hugh Freeze was hired prior to the 2012 season.

The quarterback of the defense is back, and if all goes according to plan, DePriest will bring some stability to the Crimson Tide prior to the start of the SEC schedule.

 

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and video analyst for Bleacher Report and co-host of the CFB Hangover on Bleacher Report Radio (Sundays 9-11 a.m. ET) on Sirius 93, XM 208. Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.

 

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Grading the Top 5 College Football Offenses Heading into Week 2

Typically, Week 1 is a cupcake-fest for the best teams in college football, allowing the top offenses to post numbers that (even by their standards) seem a little over-the-top.

This year, however, four of the five best projected offenses in the country (per the F/+ projections at Football Outsiders) matched up with an FBS opponent, three matched up with a power-conference opponent and one even matched up with a ranked opponent.

This allowed a better early look than usual at the state of the nation's top offenses, an assessment of how quickly they've come together. And the one that was toughest to gauge because it didn't play an FBS opponent (Oregon) will provide us the best glance of all when it hosts Michigan State this Saturday.

The season is still in its infant stages, and every unit has places where it can (and probably will) improve, but based on a fairly telling slate of Week 1 games, here is how the top projected offenses grade out. 

 

A Note About the Five Offenses Included (and the Countless Offenses Not)

One quick reminder before we proceed. 

The offenses graded below were projected as the top five offenses in the country before the season, per the F/+ projections at Football Outsiders. We are grading how they performed relative to preseason expectations. We are NOT grading the five most impressive offenses from the first week of the year.

The reason for doing it this way is simple: The five most impressive offenses from the first week of the year would inherently grade out well. This whole list would be A's and (more likely) A-pluses. It would be like grading the five highest-grossing movies of 2013 based on how high-grossing they were. It wouldn't make any sense.

Please bear this in mind before you take to the comments section and complain about your team's exclusion. It's not because we don't like your team or think its offense is overrated. It just didn't fall within the framework of this article.

 

 

5. Alabama Crimson Tide

Points per Game: 33.0 (60th)

Yards per Game: 538.0 (30th)

Yards per Play: 6.56 (46th)

Blake Sims got the start and threw 8.2 solid innings against West Virginia, giving way to Jake Coker for the final out. His final stat line (24-of-33 passing, 250 yards, no touchdowns, one interception; six carries for 42 rushing yards) paints a fair depiction of his performance: solid but unspectacular.

Alabama doesn't need anything more than "solid but unspectacular," however, which is ostensibly why Sims got the start. You'd like to see him eliminate plunging ducks such as this first-quarter pass to DeAndrew White, but for the most part, his job is just not to screw up.

To call an Alabama quarterback a "game manager" is reductive, but it's not altogether untrue. Especially with champion-of-the-bubble-screen Lane Kiffin at offensive coordinator, a big part of Sims' job on Saturday was getting the ball into his playmakers' hands early and watching them go.

Here, for example, is the first offensive snap of the season: a 24-yard gain on a quick pass to Amari Cooper:

One of Sims' other major jobs was even simpler than throwing bubble screens: handing the ball off to T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry.

I ranked Alabama's running backs the top position group in the country before the season, and its two bell-cows did nothing to confute that in Week 1. Each back rushed for more than 110 yards, averaged more than five yards per carry and found the end zone at least once.

Alabama was certainly one of the biggest disappointments of Week 1, but more of that had to do with the secondary than the offense. Sims was underwhelming compared to late-period AJ McCarron, but he was no worse than early-period McCarron or all-periods Greg McElroy. The offense still posted 538 yards and averaged more than 6.5 yards per play against a defense that was underrated when healthy in 2013.

According to Marc Torrence of Bleacher Report, head coach Nick Saban said he still doesn't "hesitate to say that there’s a quarterback competition," which is fine given some of the reviews we've heard on Coker. There's a chance he can bring this offense to a new level; he certainly has the rocket arm to stretch the field.

If Sims remains the starter, though, it shouldn't be cause for panic in Tuscaloosa, at least based on what he showed in Week 1. This was a solid B-plus debut for him and Kiffin's Alabama offense.

Final Grade: B+

 

4. Florida State Seminoles

Points per Game: 37.0 (51st)

Yards per Game: 479.0 (49th)

Yards per Play: 6.70 (38th)

Jameis Winston was the Heisman Trophy winner, Kelvin Benjamin was the first-round NFL draft pick and Devonta Freeman is the Year 1 NFL fantasy sleeper, but the true heart and soul of Florida State's offense last year was the lineman, not the skill players.

The group was supposed to be even better in 2014, despite the loss of perhaps its best player, center Bryan Stork. The other four starters returned—as seniors—and a game-worn senior in Austin Barron was replacing Stork up the middle. Tackle Cameron Erving and guard Tre' Jackson were supposed to be All-America candidates.

All of which made what happened against Oklahoma State disconcerting. We'll have to see how the Cowboys' front seven looks against other opponents, but for one night, it made the Seminoles' big uglies look bad. Especially in the running game, where Florida State averaged just 3.42 yards per carry, they were outmuscled.

"On run blocking, I don’t think we were as physical as we needed to be," admitted head coach Jimbo Fisher, per Brendan Sonnonoe of the Orlando Sentinel, "And I think they will say the same thing. We played well enough to create space and make plays, but not up to our potential."

In the passing game, Winston looked alright for the most part but made a few uncharacteristic mistakes. His QB rating of 138.45 was the second-lowest of his career, leading only his second-most-recent game, the BCS National Championship against Auburn.

The pair of interceptions Winston threw were particularly jarring, both coming as the result of a poor decision. In 2013, he didn't throw his second interception until his 91st attempt of the season.

This year, he threw it on attempt No. 22:

The biggest bright spot for the Seminoles was wide receiver Rashad Greene, who is a safe bet to the lead the team in receiving for a fourth consecutive season. His 11 catches for 203 yards bailed FSU out of a tight spot, especially during the fourth quarter, when he took a tightly threaded pass 50 yards for a game-clinching touchdown.

Without Benjamin and Kenny Shaw on the roster, Winston looked Greene's way even more often than usual, which is cause for concern going forward. Along with dominant offensive line play, last year's offense was so good because of balance, because opponents didn't know who to defend. It could beat you in so many different ways.

This year's offense looks a little more predictable, or at least it does after one game. Tight end Nick O'Leary needs to become a bigger part of the passing game plan, and freshman receivers Travis Rudolph and Ermon Lane need to expedite their game-readiness.

Otherwise, the 'Noles might be in trouble.

Grade: C+

 

3. Baylor Bears

Points per Game: 45.0 (26th)

Yards per Game: 574.0 (17th)

Yards per Play: 5.92 (62nd)

It's difficult to give Baylor a complete offensive grade after quarterback Bryce Petty, the second-most efficient passer in the country last season, was forced to leave the game with a back injury.

According to Shehan Jeyarajah of The Dallas Morning NewsPetty plans to play against Northwestern State in Week 2, and even if he doesn't, the injury (two cracked transverse processes in his lower back) is not one that should jeopardize his season, so there's no cause for serious panic in Waco. Nonetheless, watching their star player leave the game in the first half was not how Baylor fans had hoped to open McLane Stadium.

Before Petty was forced to the locker room, he was 13-of-23 passing for 161 yards and two touchdowns. The Bears didn't get out to the same indomitable start as they did in last year's nonconference games, but once they got rolling, they looked sharp.

Petty's 46-yard touchdown pass to 5-star freshman KD Cannon, in particular, was something to feel good about: 

Seth Russell looked decent—not great, not awful—in relief of Petty, and the running game flashed its depth by giving 16 carries to Shock Linwood and 12 to Johnny Jefferson. Neither back topped the 90-yard mark, but once Petty returns to the lineup to keep defenses more honest against the pass, they should find more room to run.

Baylor was by no means the juggernaut we saw against Louisiana-Monroe and Buffalo last season, which is reflected in its sub-six yards per play, but that it still put up 574 yards of offense on a night where it didn't fire on all cylinders is good enough to salvage a B.

With room to improve going forward—not to mention a defense that earned an A-plus-plus on opening night—the Bears still have to feel great about their prospects in 2014.

Grade: B

 

2. Oregon Ducks

Points per Game: 62.0 (3rd)

Yards per Game: 673.0 (7th)

Yards per Play: 9.61 (3rd)

Tom Fornelli of CBSSports.com put it best on the Eye on College Football podcast this weekend, referring to what Oregon does to inferior teams in the first few weeks of a season as "empty calories."

Delicious as it looks to rank in the top eight of points per game, yards per game and yards per play, the Ducks get no substance from beating up on the likes of South Dakota. It comes sizzling out of the kitchen, but there's not enough nutrition in those numbers for an offensive reputation to subsist upon.

Sensible judgement on Oregon's offense will be withheld until after Week 2, when it hosts a formidable, Pat Narduzzi-coached Michigan State defense, but for now, based on what we have to work with, this unit looks just as good as one would expect. Marcus Mariota coasted to 310 offensive yards on 20 passes and six carries, looking healthy and confident on the left knee that ailed him last year.

The most important takeaway from Saturday's win was the utilization of Byron Marshall, last year's leading rusher, in the role of a "taser" hybrid. After Bralon Addison tore his ACL during spring camp, the Ducks were left dangerously thin at receiver, but with Thomas Tyner (a sophomore) and Royce Freeman (a freshman) appearing to be the future in the backfield, they had running back depth to spare.

And this was their decision on what to do with it:

The role Marshall occupied in Week 1 was similar to the one De'Anthony Thomas occupied the past few seasons, and although their skill sets are not completely congruent, it should be interesting to see how he fares in that role against Michigan State on Saturday.

Chris Brown of Grantland published a thorough breakdown of the Spartans defense Tuesday, highlighting their adherence to one basic set, the 4-3 Over, a man-zone hybrid that relies on linebackers to cover the middle of the field against inside receivers and running backs.

If Marshall looks as good flexed out wide against the Spartans as he did in the tuneup (which he finished with eight catches for 138 yards and two touchdowns) and the offensive line can overcome not having left tackle Tyler Johnstone (torn ACL), Oregon might be able to give Michigan State a rare bout of trouble.

Based on what we saw in Week 1, there is no reason to think that it can't…but what we saw in Week 1 was admittedly not much.

Grade: A (but incomplete)

 

1. Texas A&M Aggies

Points per Game: 52.0 (15th)

Yards per Game: 680 (6th)

Yards per Play: 6.87 (32nd)

Texas A&M was bar-none the biggest story of opening weekend, obliterating South Carolina for 680 yards of total offense and 52 points in Williams-Brice Stadium, and doing it on national TV.

For adherents of the F/+ ratings, however, that did not come as a total surprise. Despite the losses of quarterback Johnny Manziel, receiver Mike Evans and left tackle Jake Matthews (all first-round picks in the 2014 NFL draft), the system at Football Outsiders projected the Aggies as the top offense in college football.

But not even F/+ could have predicted the magnitude of A&M's success. Quarterback Kenny Hill completed 44 of 60 passes, a wide array of throws at every level of the field, and finished with more passing yards (511) than Manziel had in any single game of his career.

Hill was (and is) just as light as Manziel on his feet, but unlike his forerunner, he doesn't look to tuck and run as soon as he leaves the pocket. He extends the play rather than transmuting it, keeping his eyes downfield for open receivers on broken/adjusted routes:

In this regard, Hill might be the perfect quarterback for a Texas A&M team with myriad pass-catching options.

Senior Malcome Kennedy is a savvy route-runner with an advanced understanding of Kevin Sumlin's offense, Speedy Noil was a top-10 recruit in 2014 and projects as the ideal shifty slot weapon and Ricky Seals-Jones (6'6"), Edward Pope (6'4"), Josh Reynolds (6'4") and Cameron Clear (6'6") are football players in basketball players' bodies who are always technically open (sort of) thanks to their physical gifts.

Combine all this with the rest of A&M's offensive weapons, and you have a unit that deserves to be called the best in the country. Especially in the trenches, this did not look like a one-game fluke.

Cedric Ogbuehi looked just as good as Luke Joeckel and Matthews at left tackle, and Germain Ifedi looked just as good as Matthews and Ogbuehi on the right. Matthews' younger brother, Mike, is no slouch starting at center, the position their father, Bruce, enjoyed a Hall of Fame career playing in the NFL.

Save the inexperience, there is nothing not to like about this offense. And if inexperience were ever going to be a problem, one would think a prime-time road game in Week 1 against a Top 10 team would be the framework that exposes it, right?

Suffice it to say that wasn't the case.

Grade: A+

 

Note: Recruiting info refers to the 247Sports composite rankings

Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

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