NCAA Football News
Unbeaten? Very possible.
Invincible? Not so fast, my friend.
When preseason No. 1 and defending national champion Florida State opened its season against Oklahoma State on Saturday night, the Seminoles were poised to parade a variety of assets for the world of college football to view.
• A 16-game winning streak—the longest in FBS football.
• A national championship trophy won last January in Pasadena.
• A returning Heisman Trophy winner in quarterback Jameis Winston.
• Fifteen returning starters.
Though they entered their game against Oklahoma State an 18-point favorite, the Seminoles seemingly wanted to show everyone they were just as good and just as mean and just as hungry as last season. Players even noted that the site of the game, AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, will be the site of the first championship game in the new College Football Playoff, adopting the slogan "Dallas to Dallas" as a way to frame the season ahead.
Well, coach Jimbo Fisher's team might indeed make it back to Texas in January, but if anything was proven in FSU's 37-31 win over Oklahoma State, it was that this season will not be a leisurely stroll back to Dallas for the Seminoles.
They certainly played like it would be, taking a 17-0 lead that seemed to leave the 'Noles satisfied they had established themselves as the best team. Winston got sloppy, throwing a pair of interceptions to open the door for Oklahoma State. It wasn't enough of a let-down to lose, but it was far from the razor-sharp performance Winston had in demolishing Pittsburgh a year ago in his debut game, which made him and FSU a factor from the start.
Fisher had tried to put some space between last season's success and this season's goals with words of warning for his players before the game.
"Don't eat the cheese" Fisher told his team. "It means don't buy into everything everybody's telling you'," Fisher explained to reporters. "How great you are, how this, how that, don't eat the cheese."
After a win that wasn't assured until Winston's final clock-killing pass bounced on the stadium turf, Fisher conceded that his team may have been nibbling on the cheese.
"I think they felt the pressure of being No. 1," Fisher said in his postgame press conference. "I really do. Now I think we can relax and play football."
Yes, they can, since FSU will host The Citadel on Saturday in their home opener next week and has a bye week before returning to regular-season business with its ACC conference opener against Clemson on Sept. 20.
Being No. 1 is hard enough. Staying No. 1 is even tougher. In the 16-year BCS era, only two teams managed to put back-to-back national championship seasons together—USC in 2003 and '04 (but that accomplishment has an asterisk next to it since USC was forced by the NCAA to vacate the '04 championship because of improper benefits given to Reggie Bush) and Alabama with a repeat effort in '11 and '12.
Miami came within a delayed and questionable penalty of pulling off a repeat in '01 and '02.
Before that, you have to look back to Nebraska in 1994 and '95 and Alabama in '78 and '79 to find repeat national champions. (Although Alabama split the '78 crown with USC).
With the steady drain of players leaving for the NFL before their eligibility expires, more and more teams are having difficulty maintaining continuity in their programs, even for only a two- or three-year period.
Auburn used a one-and-done Cam Newton to win the national championship in 2010 and then tumbled out of site until it put together another dream season last year, which took the Tigers to the BCS title game against Florida State.
Even the vaunted Crimson Tide have found it difficult to retain the crown. In the fall of '10, Alabama entered the season as the overwhelming favorite to defend a championship they had won the prior year thanks to quarterback Greg McElroy and a 14-0 record. A total of 54 (out of 60) first-place AP votes were cast for 'Bama, which won its first five games before losing at South Carolina on Oct. 9 and dropping to No. 8 in the polls.
The Tide finished the season No. 10 with a 10-3 record.
A year ago, Alabama again started the season as defending national champions and ranked No. 1 with 58 of the 60 first place AP votes. Even with a sluggish win over Virginia Tech in their opener, the Crimson Tide held onto the No. 1 spot through 14 weeks of polling, before their last-second loss to Auburn in the Iron Bowl dropped them to No. 4. With a Sugar Bowl loss to Oklahoma, the Tide finished at No. 3 in the final rankings.
Indeed, Winston and FSU have company on the road they face. Nor were they alone in their opening week struggles. No. 2 Alabama, No. 5 Ohio State, No. 6 Auburn and No. 7 UCLA all experienced some tense moments into the second half before taking control of the proceedings.
And No. 9 South Carolina never got out of the box, getting routed by No. 25 Texas A&M, 52-28.
The early trouble wasn't completely unexpected.
Alabama was breaking in a new QB. So was Ohio State, which also had to deal with an always-feisty Navy team and its tricky option offense. Auburn was playing an SEC opponent in Arkansas, and UCLA was playing a noon Eastern start game on West Coast body time. Still, everyone but South Carolina figured it out.
While there might be some gloom and doom among the poll leaders after bumpy efforts in the first week of the season, consider the "challenges" ahead next week:
Florida State faces The Citadel at home.
Alabama faces Florida Atlantic at home.
Auburn faces San Jose State at home.
South Carolina faces East Carolina at home.
Florida State can and will improve in Week 2, but who'll notice against a team FSU likely could beat with its scout team.
No. 3 Oregon and No. 5 Ohio State will need to pay attention in facing No. 8 Michigan State and Virginia Tech, respectively, but on the whole, next week should bring a lot of bounce-back performances.
But the championship won't be won on a September Saturday against The Citadel. It will be won against the likes of Clemson on Sept. 20, in back-to-back games against Notre Dame and at Louisville in October, at Miami in November and in the regular-season finale against Florida.
Maybe the Saturday night scare against Oklahoma State was just a matter of scraping off the rust. Winston again proved he is still a Heisman-caliber quarterback by matching every mistake he made with a Heisman-worthy play which kept the Seminoles in control. Despite the two picks, Winston also had 370 passing yards, while running and passing for a touchdown each.
The Seminoles aren't short on confidence. They know who they are and what they have done. As Fisher said in his post-game press conference, "It's not about being great, it's about playing great."
FSU has the players to do just that. Now all they have to do is do it while playing with the target on their back that is part of the No. 1 team's wardrobe.
Mark Blaudschun covers college football as a national columnist for Bleacher Report. He has more than three decades of experience covering sports at a variety of newspapers in New Jersey, the Dallas Morning News and the Boston Globe. Follow him on Twitter @blauds.
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It seems like every offseason for the last three or four years, one of the hot-button issues has been the future SEC schedule—which became a pressing issue when the conference added Texas A&M and Missouri, extending the time it takes to get through the opposite division.
The conference put to bed any discussions in the near future in April by announcing its long-term scheduling format through the year 2025. That format keeps the "6-1-1" structure, which means each teams will play their six divisional opponents, one rotating cross-division opponent and one permanent cross-division rival. There is also a requirement to play at least one team from a power-five conference each year.
Week 2 of the 2014 season is clear evidence that the eight-game conference schedule was a bad choice.
There's only one conference matchup in Week 2—Ole Miss vs. Vanderbilt at LP Field in Nashville—and none of the out-of-conference matchups are against teams from power-five conferences.
This isn't the exception, it's the rule.
Ten of the 14 teams in the SEC will play teams from the power-five conferences in 2014 even without the mandate in place.
Sure, there are some teams that have two or more "power five" games set up in the future, including Georgia's intra-state rivalry game with Georgia Tech coupled with a home-and-home series with Notre Dame in 2017 and 2019. That's no different than life without the mandate. Georgia just wrapped up a home-and-home with Clemson, while keeping its rivalry with Georgia Tech intact.
Weeks like this—with no compelling matchups on the slate—are likely to continue in the future.
The SEC isn't just an athletic conference anymore. It's a television programming department. The programming this week on its shiny new network leaves a lot to be desired.
Take a look at the SEC Network schedule of games on Saturday. Anything of interest?September 1, 2014
Unless you're a fan of a specific team, that's a weak schedule with the exception of the Eastern Michigan at Florida game—which will be the debut of new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper's offense in Gainesville following last week's rainout.
What would have been good this weekend?
Alabama vs. South Carolina would have been fun. How about Auburn vs. Florida? LSU vs. Tennessee, perhaps?
Any game that would have determined the landscape of either division would have been fine. Any game of importance would have been fine. Any game worth watching would have been fine.
Instead, the encore of the SEC Network's Week 1 splash echoes with a resounding thud.
As it stands, there are 56 SEC games each year on the schedule.
A nine-game schedule would bump that number up to 63. At least a few of those seven additional SEC games would fall on weeks that are typically devoid of compelling matchups, and they'd, at the very least, have an impact on some aspect of the SEC standings.
Would it impact the college football playoff? There would be pluses and minuses. There would be more changes for top teams in the hunt for the playoff to lose, sure. But a ninth conference game would eliminate criticism from coaches in other conferences—which has already begun.
With nine of the top 10 distributors on board, the SEC Network's launch will go down in history as one of—if not the—most successful launch of a cable network in television history.
It'd be great if some the early-season games made it worth watching in Week 2.
Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.
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Week 1 of the 2014 NCAA football season has already exposed the difficulty of making preseason rankings.
Wisconsin is in trouble at the quarterback position, UCLA and Alabama failed to look otherworldly, and it's very possible Georgia—led by sensational running back Todd Gurley—wasn't ranked high enough.
For the majority of teams, fans and pundits, the preseason polls are merely a soon-to-be-discarded signpost to frame early college football discussions. Yes, some powerhouses will validate their earliest positions in the college football pecking order, but the list will eventually become a relic.
However, it still works as a reference point for Week 2's action as some teams make a second run at showing why so many observers held them in high esteem before the action began.
The teams and rankings included here are from the AP preseason poll. There will, of course, be some movers and shakers after all the action that took place Saturday, but fans who want to keep track of the teams originally designated as the 25 best—and keep tabs on how ridiculous that list may look in a couple of weeks—should check out this schedule and these predictions.
Top Matchups To Watch In Week 2
Michigan State at Oregon
This is an excellent matchup in terms of pitting strength versus strength. Oregon's high-powered, scything offense takes on the nasty, brutish defense of the Michigan State Spartans. Neither team gave observers any reason to doubt its preseason ranking in Week 1.
Oregon rolled to a 62-13 victory over South Dakota State behind superlative play from quarterback Marcus Mariota. He played just one half of football and still managed to throw for three touchdowns and run for another. He also broke the school record for career touchdowns during the contest.
As SportsCenter noted, he's No. 2 on Mel Kiper Jr.'s big board for the 2015 NFL draft, to the surprise of absolutely nobody:
Michigan State has a highly touted defense, but even the crew led by star players such as defensive end Shilique Calhoun won't be able to slow down the Oregon offense enough for the Spartans to keep pace. Quarterback Connor Clay has plenty of experience, but he's not a particularly explosive player.
Oregon won't blow away the Spartans, but it will affirm its preseason ranking and win this contest rather handily.
Prediction: Oregon 38-24 Michigan State
USC at Stanford
USC hasn't been in the national title conversation for a couple of years now, as the NCAA sanctions against the program prevented it from developing deep rosters and may have driven away some wary top prospects.
For Trojan fans who can't wait to see their team return to dominance, quarterback Cody Kessler must look like a godsend. The junior passer threw for a career-high 394 yards and accounted for five total touchdowns in USC's 52-13 victory over Fresno State.
His favorite target was true freshman Juju Smith, who reeled in four catches for 123 yards on the afternoon.
Kessler noted that head coach Steve Sarkisian has made the new era of Trojan football an enjoyable one.
"His whole thing is we’re going to compete, we’re going to play hard, but at the same time we’re going to have fun," Kessler said of his head coach, via Vincent Bonsignore of the Los Angeles Daily News.
USC fans should know just how high to set their hopes after the team takes on Stanford, who played brilliantly in a 45-0 win over UC-Davis.
The new-look, no-huddle Trojan offense could prove to be problematic for Stanford, but the Trojans are apt to make more mistakes in this contest. The team racked up nine penalties for 76 yards against Fresno State and, as the team's official Twitter account noted, relied on a bevy of true freshmen:
This sets up USC for a bright future, and it could very well take control of the Pac-12 South behind Kessler. However, this game is Stanford's to lose. Head coach David Shaw will make sure there is no letdown in Stanford this weekend, although the final score will probably be much closer than he would prefer.
Prediction: Stanford 35-31 USC
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Texas A&M opened the 2014 season with a 52-28 thrashing of No. 9 South Carolina on the road. The Aggies' impressive victory was the talk of social media on Thursday night, as pundits and recruits wanted to see what life was like for head coach Kevin Sumlin and the 12th Man in the post-Johnny Manziel era.
One recruit in particular, 5-star running back Damien Harris, took notice of the high-octane offense. The Berea (Ky.) Madison Southern standout has a top five of Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Ohio State and Texas A&M. During the game, Harris tweeted this:
He shared with Bleacher Report, "I love Texas A&M and their fast-paced offense. I love the way they keep the defense on their heels. I feel like they proved they will be fine without Johnny. Although the offense has a pass-first mindset, it doesn't affect me with the Aggies."
Over the weekend, Harris unofficially visited Lexington to see the in-state Kentucky Wildcats. Kentucky has been working hard to keep Harris home and getting him on campus to start the season is a good move.
"I always have a great time when I'm on campus at UK. Its always a great atmosphere," added Harris. "Especially being an in-state kid. They show me a lot of love from the fans, coaches and players. My favorite part other than the game is being with Coach (Mark) Stoops and Coach (Chad) Scott. I love trying to develop a closer relationship with them."
When asked to rate the visit on a scale of 1-10? Harris replied, "It was a definite 10."
Next up, Harris will take his first official visit to Ohio State for the Buckeyes contest against Virginia Tech on Sept. 6. Harris checked Ohio State last spring.
Harris went on to say about the Buckeyes, "The running back tradition would be what I look forward to the most at OSU. Along with trying to become another great player Coach (Urban) Meyer has developed."
Skylar Diggins' Cousin Diggin' the Irish
Two-way 4-star D.J. Morgan was set to attend USC's home opener against Fresno State this weekend, but his plans fell through, forcing him to miss the Trojans' 52-13 romp over the Bulldogs. He grew up a fan of UCLA, USC and Texas—although he feels out of his childhood favorites that the Trojans are the closest to offering. The junior prospect reports two current offers from Utah and Vanderbilt.
"I've known Coach (Johnny) Nansen since his time at Washington," Morgan told Bleacher Report. "He is a real good guy. They recruited me when he was up there. I like SC a lot. They are recruiting me as a defensive back. After their win I feel they could be back to winning Pac-12 championships again."
Morgan said he is going to check his schedule to see when he can make a USC game during his bye week. The 4-star standout said he also wants to check out games at Cal, Notre Dame and Texas.
"Texas is known for sending guys to the NFL. They are a great program and they have a new coach," mentioned Morgan. "Charlie Strong did a great job at Louisville too. My cousin Skylar Diggins went to Notre Dame and now she's in the WNBA. I try to talk to her as much as possible, but she has a busy schedule. I stay in touch with her grandmother. I have family in South Bend, so that helps with Notre Dame."
The 6'2", 185-pounder said his mom prefers to stay close to home because she doesn't like to fly, but he said heading out of state won't be an issue when he decides. The Golden Bears provide another in-state option for Morgan with USC in the picture.
"Coach (Greg) Burns and Coach (Rob) Likens are recruiting me from Cal," stated Morgan. "One of the things that pulls me to Cal is the chance to play as a true freshman. I want to play early and Cal is a good school academically."
Morgan said even if Cal, Notre Dame, Texas or USC offer, he won't commit on the spot. He wants to take his time and enjoy the recruiting process because "it's a once in a lifetime opportunity."
Commonwealth Stars Check out UVA, Virginia Tech
This is a big season for Virginia head coach Mike London, who enters the year on the hot seat according to most media outlets. The Cavaliers turned in a strong effort in their 28-20 loss to No. 7 UCLA. Mechanicsville (Va.) Atlee 4-star outside linebacker Ricky Deberry was in attendance for the stout defensive performance. The Wahoos have done a great job keeping talent in the Commonwealth in London's tenure, landing Taquan Mizzell, Quin Blanding and Andrew Brown, among others.
On Aug. 4, Deberry tweeted his final four of Alabama, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Penn State, Tennessee, Texas A&M, Virginia and Virginia Tech. Deberry has set official visits to Alabama on Sept. 19 and Texas A&M on Oct. 10. He is still trying to figure out his remaining official visits.
Ryan Bartow of 247Sports weighed in on the chances of both stars staying home.
"The three schools that have been on Deberry the hardest are Virginia, Virginia Tech and North Carolina. He likely won't take official visits to those schools because he has been to all three so many times. Virginia feels good about him because of their proximity. In addition to the opportunity of early playing time. I feel Virginia and Virginia Tech will be right up there, but he is a long away from making a decision," explained Bartow.
Bartow feels Settle could be headed out of state despite this weekend's trip to Blacksburg, Va.
"You can't count out the possibility of him staying in state, but I think he went there to accompany Floyd. Tim goes on so many unofficial visits, so its hard to tell with him. I think Penn State, Tennessee and Clemson are the ones standing out right now," remarked Bartow.
Wideout Ryan Newsome Takes In Oklahoma State-Florida State
Athletic 4-star flanker Ryan Newsome was in Arlington, Texas on Saturday night for the Cowboys' showdown against the Seminoles. Oklahoma State came up short in a 37-31 hard-fought loss to the defending national champions, but Newsome came away impressed with the Pokes.
I watched the game, and the Cowboys are in need of some playmakers on the perimeter. Newsome would be an ideal fit in head coach Mike Gundy's uptempo spread offense and as a return man with his track speed.
"It was a great game. Honestly, Oklahoma State outplayed them, but they made a couple mistakes," Newsome told me on Sunday after the contest. "I noticed they need some weapons on offense. Tyreek Hill did his thing out there, but he was returning kicks, punts, and was the primary ball-carrier. That is a lot to ask. No. 13 (David) Glidden is scrappy and made some plays."
The 4-star receiver attended the contest with Oklahoma State commit and close friend, Ronald Jones II. Newsome says they text every other day and Jones is always in his ear about the Pokes.
"My five official visits are pretty firm, but don't count out Oklahoma State from the schools I'm considering," added Newsome. "I talked to all the coaches there and have a good relationship with them. Coach (Jemal) Singleton and Coach Jason Ray are great. Their track coach Diego (Flaquer) even hits me up about running for him and playing football there."
Speaking of track, Newsome said he will do both in college and he wants a strong program for both sports. That was an important factor for him when he decided he would take official visits to Oklahoma, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas and UCLA. His first visit will be this weekend to Oregon for the Ducks' marquee matchup against Michigan State.
"This summer I took a west swing to Oregon, UCLA and USC. I've seen the campus before, but I can't wait to see Autzen Stadium for a game like this against Michigan State. I predict a 28-21 win," stated Newsome. "The facilities are so far ahead of everyone else in terms of technology. I'm good friends with Bralon Addison, and I like how they use him and their players in space on offense. Plus there's no secret that Oregon is known as Track Town, USA. So they have some advantages, but everyone is still equal. I don't have a leader."
Newsome plans on making his college announcement at either the US Army All-American Bowl or the Under Armour All-America Game in January. He is being considered for both games. The 5'8", 168-pound speedster said distance will not be a factor in his decision.
Jacques Patrick Rolls with Aggies, Sets Up an Official Visit, Talks Ohio State Trip
Like Harris, Orlando (Fla.) Timber Creek 4-star running back Jacques Patrick took to Twitter to let his followers know he was rolling with the Aggies over South Carolina. Patrick currently doesn't have a list of top schools. However, talks between Texas A&M and the power back have heated up over the last few weeks, thus Patrick's comfort level to take to social media with his interest in the Aggies. The Florida native first reported to Bleacher Report that he would take an official visit to College Station in two weeks when A&M plays host to Rice.
"I'm taking a visit to A&M on Sept. 13. This will be my first time there. I'm trying to get a good feel for the place," Patrick told me exclusively. "A&M just started recruiting me. Coach (David) Beaty was the one that reached out to me. He had great things to say about my film and he told me he is very excited about me. Their offense is so explosive. What they've been doing on offense in the SEC appeals to me. They looked just fine without Johnny Manziel."
This weekend, Patrick will take his first official visit to Ohio State when the Buckeyes host Virginia Tech. OSU will have a star studded list of official visitors in Columbus for the prime-time game with the Hokies.
Look for Ohio State to put on the full-court press, with many experts having Florida State in front followed by Alabama. The 'Noles are the heavy favorite with the 247Sports Crystal Ball showing a 100-percent lock for Patrick's services. His mom has been a fan of FSU offensive line coach Rick Trickett for a long time. Ohio State has done a great job recruiting him since his sophomore year.
Patrick told me, "I've been building relationships with Coach (Urban) Meyer and Coach (Stan) Drayton for a long time. I've been up there twice already for unofficial visits. I liked it a lot. After my first time being there I knew it was a school that I would take an official visit during my senior year. This time I just want to get that home feeling when I'm there. I'm graduating early, so this will be another chance for me to interact with the coaches one last time."
Recently, Florida State and Ohio State offer Patrick's younger brother Peter Hayes-Patrick. Smart move by both schools, as Patrick will make his college announcement on his brother's birthday, Oct. 28.
Will K.J. Hill's Commitment to Arkansas Help with TE Will Gragg?
Last Friday, talented split end K.J. Hill committed to Arkansas over offers from Alabama, Florida, Notre Dame and Ohio State. Hill was a huge addition for head coach Bret Bielema and the Razorbacks staff. Arkansas fans are now expecting Dumas (Ark.) 4-star tight end Will Gragg to follow when he makes decision later this month.
The Natural State target told Dalton Person of Hawgs247 on Aug. 26 to expect a decision on Nov. 18 (subscription required). However, Gragg made headlines when he attended Hill's press conference and told reporters a decision could come earlier than the Nov. 18 date.
Gragg told me via text message, "I decided to move up my decision because I just felt that my birthday (Tues., Sept. 23) was the best date." The 247Sports Crystal Ball has him as a 72-percent lock to the 'Hawgs. His brother, Chris Gragg, spent his college career in Fayetteville, Ark. and is now a tight end for the Buffalo Bills.
"My brother played at Arkansas, so that helps them," Gragg added. "That along with KJ does have some influence on my decision. KJ wants me there with him very bad."
As of today, Gragg said he is still "open" despite the ties to his home state. He watched the Arkansas-Auburn game over the weekend and he told me he enjoyed watching the tight end production. Senior TE AJ Derby and freshman TE Hunter Henry each had receiving touchdowns.
"I really liked what I saw from them, they both scored," said Gragg. "I'm looking at schools that involve their tight ends as a big factor in my decision. My favorite tight end is Jason Witten."
Alabama, LSU, Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Texas are the other schools he is considering before his big announcement.
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.
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The 2014 college football season kicked off with a bang in Week 1.
Texas A&M lit up the scoreboard against South Carolina, Florida State staved off a physical Oklahoma State team and Ohio State was dominant against Navy. There's plenty more in store for Week 2.
Rankings don't mean a whole lot early in the season, as they are always subject to change as the season progresses. That said, there are two interesting matchups between ranked teams this week. Predictions for those two contests are below.
Before you look ahead to those two scintillating matchups, check out the college football standings after one week, courtesy of ESPN.
No. 15 USC at No. 11 Stanford
Ready for a one-possession game?
That's the only way this game will finish. Both USC and Stanford are destined to finish highly in their divisions, and this matchup serves as a litmus test for both the Trojans and Cardinal because of the intense competition.
The Trojans are coming off a 52-13 drubbing of Fresno State, while Stanford just shut out UC Davis, 45-0.
While it's difficult to deem one victory more impressive than the other, both Stanford and USC are quality teams destined to play a competitive matchup on Saturday.
One concern in regard to Stanford has to be the running game. The Cardinal cumulatively ran for 149 yards on 32 carries, but 10 different runners contributed to that mark. Barry Sanders led the charge with seven carries and 43 yards, but he'll have to do even better against USC.
The Trojans relied heavily on quarterback Cody Kessler and running back Javorius Allen. Kessler tossed four touchdowns and racked up 394 yards, while Allen notched a touchdown and 133 rushing yards.
This game could really go either way, but it's hard not to like the explosiveness of USC's offense.
Prediction: USC 31, Stanford 27
No. 8 Michigan State at No. 3 Oregon
It will be difficult to rival the matchup of USC and Stanford, but Michigan State and Oregon will certainly put on a show. The Ducks flash serious offensive potential, but Spartans play-by-play announcer George Blaha noted that the Spartans' talent can't be overlooked, via Bill Bender of the Sporting News:
I think flash vs. smash is the best way to describe it, and the Spartans are happy to be smash. Oregon definitely has the flash, but there is some flash in that Michigan State offense with Connor Cook at the controls, Jeremy Langford at running back and a loaded group of wide receivers. Michigan State can score enough to play with anybody, they have all kinds of depth and they're well coached. It's an awesome opportunity for the Spartans. I think it's a great opportunity to show the capability of Michigan State, especially on the defensive side of the ball.
Those players are definitely difference-makers, but Oregon's Marcus Mariota is destined to be one of the top players in college football this year.
The signal-caller has even been picked as a favorite for the Heisman Trophy, via ESPN College Football:
Look for Mariota to take over. The Spartans boast a strong defense, but Mariota should carve them up through the air. He'll also rack up his fair share of yards on the ground. He'll build his Heisman case with this one.
Prediction: Oregon 40, Michigan State 28
Follow Kenny DeJohn on Twitter: @KennyDeJohn_BR
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After coming out sluggish against a feisty Navy squad in Baltimore, Maryland last Saturday, No. 5 Ohio State surged in the second half to secure a 34-17 victory.
The Buckeyes' slow start was—in large part—the result of head coach Urban Meyer breaking in a number of new starters on both sides of the ball. Most notable among them was redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett, who has been tasked with filling in for star quarterback Braxton Miller this season.
How did Ohio State's new starters fare in their first game?
Finally, college football has returned. After the first week, we've already seen some teams struggle, some teams shine and even a few glimpses of greatness. While we've seen some great team efforts, here, we'll take a look at the best individual playmakers from the Big Ten in Week 1.
Playmakers can change the course of a game before you can blink. Often, it's these types of players that are the difference between a decent bowl game and a January bowl—or, in this year's case, a January bowl and a College Football Playoff berth.
So who made our top 10 list for Week 1? Which players stood out among the rest as one of the very best?
Let's have a look!
It's early, but the No. 11 Stanford Cardinal and No. 15 USC Trojans are set to meet in a pivotal Pac-12 matchup on Saturday at Stanford Stadium.
Both teams battered overmatched and unranked opponents in Week 1, but the going figures to be much tougher in this one. The winner of this game will likely position itself as the third-best team in the conference behind the Oregon Ducks and UCLA Bruins—provided both of those teams win their Week 2 games.
UCLA is expected to handle the Memphis Tigers at home, but Oregon will host the No. 8 Michigan State Spartans in what will be a major test for Marcus Mariota and the Ducks.
If Oregon loses, the winner of Stanford and USC could really make a significant jump in the rankings.
Last year, USC's then-junior kicker Andre Heidari made a 47-yard field goal with 19 seconds remaining to give the Trojans a hard-fought 20-17 win over Stanford. This year's game will likely be a close one as well.
Here's how you can watch.
When: Saturday, September 6, at 3:30 p.m. ET
Where: Stanford Stadium in Stanford, California
TV: ABC and ESPN3
Players to Watch
When Hogan plays well, it's very difficult to beat Stanford. The team is 16-0 when he completes 60 percent of his passes or better.
Stanford's success is based on its ability to run the ball and Hogan making the simple plays in the passing game. In last year's game against the Trojans, Hogan had the worst performance of his college career.
He threw for just 127 yards, no touchdowns and was picked off twice. Stanford had three turnovers in all. The team also turned the ball over three times on Saturday against the UC Davis Aggies. If the Cardinal are going to reverse their fortunes from last season, they'll have to take care of the ball.
That starts with Hogan.
Traditionally, it's very difficult to run the ball against Stanford. For the last three years, Stanford has ranked in the top five in the nation in rushing defense. For what it's worth, the Cardinal held the Aggies to just 61 yards on the ground in Week 1.
Even with that success in stuffing the ground game, USC can't become one-dimensional.
That's the reason Javorius Allen needs to have a solid game on the ground. Against Fresno State, he had 133 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries. Obviously, Fresno State doesn't boast the type of run defense that Stanford has, but Allen and the Trojans' offensive line were at least able to build some confidence in their ability to move the chains on the ground.
If USC can find success on the ground, it'll make the play-action pass a real weapon. With studs like Nelson Agholor and JuJu Smith spread wide and Cody Kessler coming off a four-touchdown performance in Week 1, Allen would give the team a complete attack and could help usher in another Trojans win over their conference rivals.
Stats per CFBStats.com.
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The Virginia Tech Hokies, fresh off a season-opening win vs. William & Mary in Week 1, head to Columbus, Ohio, this weekend to face No. 5 Ohio State. The Buckeyes, with new starting quarterback J.T. Barrett, had a tougher time than expected in a win over Navy last weekend.
When this game was agreed to a few years back, most expected it to be a duel between two of the nation's top teams. That isn't the case, however, with the Hokies coming off back-to-back disappointing seasons.
Both schools broke in new quarterbacks last week. Redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett was efficient, completing 12 of 15 passes for 226 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. The Buckeyes had an excellent game plan for Barrett, calling screen passes on six of his first nine attempts to ease him into the flow of the game.
Tech's new signal-caller, junior Michael Brewer, was also good. Brewer completed 23 of 30 passes for 251 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Brewer completed passes to nine different receivers.
The competition for both schools will take a big leap forward on Saturday. VT's defense held William & Mary to just 193 total yards, and Barrett may be overwhelmed, at least initially, going against the Hokies' aggressive front.
Can the Hokies finally win a big game against a national power in a hostile environment?
- When: Saturday, September 6, 2014
- Where: Ohio Stadium, Columbus, Ohio
- Time: 8 p.m. ET
- TV: ESPN
- Radio: Virginia Tech IMG Sports Network. Here is a complete list of stations by area.
- Spread: The Buckeyes are currently listed as 12-point favorites.
Before Michigan State became a violent, dominating football machine last year, it struggled to do much of anything against Western Michigan in Week 1. I know that seems like a strange place to begin, but hang with me.
The box score—which included only 26 points and 297 total yards in favor of Sparty—seemingly foretold a story about a Big Ten team that would be lucky to win eight games. The Spartans won the game 26-13, although the doom and gloom of the future set in. Over time, however, Mark Dantonio’s team took shape. There were bumps along the way—including a loss to Notre Dame with Tommy Rees steering the ship—but Michigan State inched closer to the finished product.
Against Stanford in the Rose Bowl, we witnessed the complete transformation. The same team that struggled against an inferior opponent in its opener became a power with time. This isn’t necessarily unusual, although it should serve as a valuable reminder following a tempestuous, reaction-generating Week 1.
What you see is not always what you’ll end up getting. Florida State, Alabama, UCLA and Ohio State could still very easily win the national championship despite looking quite vulnerable.
On the other end of the reaction spectrum, Georgia, which passed all eyesight tests with flying colors, might not be as good and dominant as it looked in the opener. Or, maybe this was just a taste of things to come and the Bulldogs will continue to run over and past everyone they play.
The sample size for one full season is incredibly limited. The sample size for one week really isn’t a sample size at all. But for the time being, it’s all we have to go off of.
It’s important that we use that information wisely and avoid etching our conclusions in stone right out of the gate. We know this routine, but we just can’t help ourselves. Let’s try harder or, better yet, try a little less hard. Now that's sound parenting.
As for other observations, awards and Instagrams of Stone Cold Steve Austin sharing cocktails with Lee Corso, let's get to it.
Outstanding Offensive Player: Kenny Hill, Texas A&M
Week 1 is a stat junkie’s visit to the chocolate factory. But given the circumstances, no player was more impressive on offense than Texas A&M quarterback Kenny Hill.
On that note, can we refrain from calling him “Kenny Football” for now? I understand the immediate desire to name everything, especially in this particular situation, but can't we just enjoy this 511-yard, three-touchdown performance for exactly what it was?
(The answer is no. No, we cannot.)
Hill was brilliant, and he was brilliant on the road in one of the nation’s most chaotic football environments. In beating South Carolina 52-28, Hill also set a single-game passing record for the program. And if you’re wondering whether Hill will keep up this production, here’s A&M’s schedule over the next month: Lamar, Rice, SMU and Arkansas.
That's horrible news if you were just mentioned.
Dominant Defender: Eric Kendricks, UCLA
It feels wrong not just handing this award over to the entire UCLA defense, although we’ll keep it to one of the three defenders to find the end zone against Virginia.
Although Eric Kendricks doesn’t get nearly the love fellow linebacker Myles Jack does, the senior is a fixture of what will end up being one of the nation’s premier defenses. His game-high 16 tackles (11 solo) along with an interception returned for a touchdown were crucial in the Bruins’ 28-20 win over Virginia.
Now, can he play offensive line?
Video Game Box Scores of Note
— Western Kentucky quarterback Brandon Doughty delivered this stat line against Bowling Green: 46-of-56, 569 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions. It’s time to up the difficulty, Brandon. Please go to the options menu immediately.
— Nebraska’s entire box score against Florida Atlantic was a work of art. Some of the highlights include: 784 total yards and 498 (!!!) yards rushing on 8.7 yards per carry. The team also went 8-of-12 on third downs.
Anti-Video Game Box Scores of Note
— Oh, Wake Forest. We’re going to be saying that a lot this season. The Demon Deacons finished with 94 yards of offense in their 17-10 loss to UL Monroe. And thanks to sacks, Wake finished with…drumroll please… 27 rushes for -3 yards total.
— This is the Holy Grail of “oh no” box scores, and it belongs to the team Kevin Sumlin coached not long ago. Houston had three players finish with negative rushing yards, highlighted by a 42-yard loss on a bad snap. This led to 23 rushes for -26 yards. No, the Cougars did not beat Texas-San Antonio (in case you were actually still wondering this).
It’s Texas A&M; there isn’t much debate here. Although we were close to a handful of upsets that would have warranted immediate entry, the Aggies demolished a preseason Top 10 team that many were excited about heading into the season.
Is Texas A&M this good? Is South Carolina this bad? The answer is probably somewhere smack dab in the middle. But this kind of performance on the road in Week 1 is an eye-opener. It doesn’t mean that Kevin Sumlin’s roster is suddenly perfect, but it might be closer to it than most (including myself) imagined.
If A&M can play any defense—and goodness, it looks like freshman defensive end Myles Garrett will do his part—then it can compete in just about every game.
Jameis Winston’s 28-yard touchdown run earns this honor for two reasons. For starters, it came at a critical point in the game when his team was on the ropes against Oklahoma State.
Also, this looked like a scripted run straight out of Varsity Blues. It had the cartoon juke, a picture-perfect hurdle and, of course, a suspense-packed dive for the end zone. The only thing missing was a Billy Bob cameo at the end and a frigid Bud Kilmer.
Chances are we’ll see Winston in this category again before the season’s up.
For the Highlight Reel
Jordan Westerkamp is a wizard. There can be no other explanation. You hate to be the one to toss around “Catch of the Year” in the first 48 hours of the season, so we’ll leave it at this.
Good to luck to those looking to dethrone him.
Sure, you tried this trick at baseball practice: Toss the ball up, catch it behind you, laugh when you miss it a few dozen times and then finally stop once you catch it or just lie and say you caught it while your friends weren’t looking. But you never did this with a football in a live game following a tipped ball on the sideline. You never did this because it is impossible.
Or so we thought.
If the College Football Playoff Started Today...
It doesn't, thankfully. But let's make a few fanbases angry anyway.
Keep in mind, this is not a projection. This is, given what we've watched, a look at how the selection committee might react to a limited portion of the sample size. With that out of the way, feel free to rage.
2. Florida State
3. Texas A&M
Five Leftovers to Chew On
1. Find time to watch Rutgers running back Paul James. There might not be a more underrated back in the country. His 173-yard, three-touchdown performance in the Scarlet Knights’ upset win over Washington State should help drive interest, but his play deserves even more eyeballs.
2. How about Larry Coker and Texas-San Antonio? Remember him? A few years ago, Texas-San Antonio didn't have a football program. Literally. Thanks to Coker, however, this team was seemingly constructed overnight. After beating up on Houston, the Roadrunners get Arizona on Thursday. They’re only a touchdown underdog. Heads up.
3. Is there anything more spectacular in college football than Todd Gurley in the open field? It’s spectacular from our perspective—as far away from tackling range as possible—and it’s rare to see such a large back move at such speeds. Speaking of which, his kick return against Clemson was art.
4. When it all clicks for Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg, he’s going to be terrifying. He’s utterly deadly as is, but there’s obviously room to grow. His offensive line will also have to do a better job protecting. But the ball just comes out of his hand differently than any other quarterback in college football. What an arm.
5. Speaking of Hackenberg, there should be a morning college football game each and every Saturday. They can play it on the moon for all I care, but waking up to football was a wonderful perk that should not be limited to opening weekends. Thank you, Penn State and Central Florida for getting us started in style.
Most Creative Use of an Email (to Avoid a Timeout Penalty Thanks to a Weird Uniform Rule)
Vanderbilt won. That’s not a sentence that applies whatsoever to the Commodores’ dumpster-fiery loss against Temple, but they did win back a few penalized timeouts because they had an email handy.
This all makes sense, I promise. Well, not the part where teams are penalized timeouts because of uniform infractions, but the fact that Vanderbilt had documentation to show to the officials that caused them to reserve the ruling.
There are some valuable life lessons to be taken from this: Always bring a doctor’s note, no matter where you go. And save your receipts, no matter how satisfying it is to toss them away with reckless abandon.
This Week in Genetically Engineered Ball Boys
Yes, Auburn wideout Melvin Ray scored a touchdown. But the Tigers' ball boy—who may or may not be returning kickoffs next week—was the highlight. The way Gus Malzahn produces 1,000-yard backs with relative easy, I have zero doubts this gentleman would carry that torch.
How to Not Enter a Stadium: Part 1
In production meetings, it was probably a brilliant idea. Have representatives holding Penn State and UCF flags skydive into the stadium before the game on Saturday. The only issue was that the skydiver holding the UCF flag, well, missed the stadium entirely.
(Everyone was fine! This means you’re allowed to laugh.)
How to Not Enter a Stadium: Part 2
Eastern Michigan was so excited about its opener that it ran through a wall. No, really. There were sledgehammers, large bricks, an awkward pause before the team could enter and everything.
I’ll give them an “A” for creativity and a “Please Don’t Do This Ever Again” for execution.
That One Time Stone Cold Steve Austin and Lee Corso Shared Beverages on Live Television
There’s nothing else to add, really.
Wait, there is one thing to add. If you did not see College GameDay's “College Coaches Read Mean Tweets” segment, please watch it. It's one the best segments the show has ever delivered. Hopefully there's more.
That One Time a Punter Hit His Own Lineman in the Back with a Punt
If you tuned in for the entire Illinois-Youngstown State game, you saw something you probably haven’t seen before. Also, you should talk to someone about this. It’s not healthy.
Youngstown State punter Joey Cejudo was in the middle of your run-of-the-mill rugby punt. He held the ball, held the ball, held the ball a little longer and then kicked it.
It landed right on a teammate's back roughly a foot in front of him.
You may now cross this off your bingo card.
Hey, Quick! Let’s Grade Steve Spurrier’s Headset Throw
Keep in mind, all headset-throwing grading scales are unique to the individual heaving the technology. Because Steve Spurrier has given us gems such as this in the past, he is judged differently—and tougher—than any other coach in the country.
Best Impersonation of a Head Coach Goes to…
Elliott Mealer, a former Michigan offensive lineman, delivered this masterpiece. Close your eyes and tell me this isn’t Brady Hoke.
From the Peanut Gallery (Best Tweets of the Weekend)
On the flight with Bobby Bowden. Asked me if I had any scores. Told him A&M has 50. "Boy...I don't believe you."— Russillo (@ryenarussillo) August 29, 2014
KENNY FOOTBALL!!! #GigEm— Johnny Manziel (@JManziel2) August 29, 2014August 31, 2014
Arkansas' assistant coaches were stuck in the elevator and couldn't visit the team during halftime.— THV Hog Zone (@HOGZONE) August 31, 2014August 30, 2014
And Finally, Reason 10,458 College Football Is the Best Sport on Earth
Rain played a role this weekend. Florida and Idaho couldn’t play because the rain came, it stayed and The Swamp took the appearance of an actual swamp. Auburn and Arkansas also had to stop play due to weather, which prompted a stadium of football fans to celebrate the delay in song.
Even the rain delays in college football are beautiful.
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Baylor Bears head coach Art Briles knows the college football season is a marathon, not a sprint. With Sunday's matchup against the SMU Mustangs already decided, Briles pulled his Heisman Trophy candidate and starting quarterback Bryce Petty after an injury to his lower back.
Petty could be seen showing the effects of the injury during the first half, especially after an option keeper late in the second quarter.
With the Bears already up 31-0 at the half, Briles made the decision to pull Petty for the rest of the game.
Petty had already thrown for 161 yards and two touchdowns and he'd run for another.
Baylor went on to hammer SMU 45-0. After the game was over, all of the attention and concern shifted to the health of the Bears' star. Per the program's official Twitter account, Petty assured everyone that the injury wasn't serious.
Perhaps in a more pivotal game that was still in doubt, Briles could have kept his star in the game and been more conservative with play-calling to protect him.
The luxury of a 31-0 lead created the opportunity to rest Petty.
This might seem like a bit of a no-brainer move, but not every coach makes the right decision in these situations. Some Chicago Bulls fans may never forgive head coach Tom Thibodeau for having Derrick Rose on the floor during the 2012 NBA playoffs when the star tore his ACL.
Rose had battled injuries all year and the Bulls were up 12 points with just over a minute left in the game. For all intents and purpose, the game had been decided.
As NBA analyst and Hall of Famer Reggie Miller mentioned in the video of the broadcast that is linked above, criticism of Thibodeau began almost immediately.
Sure, that's a different sport, but it's a similar concept.
Imagine what would have happened had Petty been put back on the field—even for one play—in game where his team led by 31 points with a half to play against an overmatched SMU team.
Briles would have been pelted with criticism, and deservedly so.
Because of Petty's competitiveness, there's no doubt he probably wanted to get back on the field, but this appears to be an example of a head coach and his staff making an executive decision in the best interest of the player and team.
With Petty saying the injury isn't serious, Bears fans can be optimistic about the quarterback being available for the team's next game against the Northwestern State Demons on September 6.
Truth be told, the Bears could probably afford to rest Petty in that game as well. The No. 10 team in the nation should be able to handle a squad from the Southland Conference without their No. 1 quarterback.
We should know more in the next few days about Petty's availability, but it seems clear Briles will make the right decision either way.
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Let's get this out of the way: The UCLA offense just didn't look good in the team's first game of the season against Virginia. The Bruins accrued 358 yards of offense and scored just one touchdown while they watched the defense take control of the game.
That is certainly concerning for a team ranked No. 7 in the nation, and if UCLA is to right the ship, quarterback Brett Hundley needs help from his supporting cast immediately.
After a 2013 season in which Hundley completed 67.2 percent of his passes for 3,071 yards and 24 touchdowns against nine interceptions, expectations were high entering his junior year. In fact, ESPN ranked the quarterback as its No. 12 player in the nation heading into 2014.
Well, things didn't exactly start out as planned. In the team's 28-20 victory over the Cavaliers, Hundley completed 20 of his 33 passing attempts for 242 yards and a rating of just 43.2. Those are very underwhelming numbers from the acclaimed signal-caller, but his performance wasn't exactly his fault.
Although, that won't stop early scrutiny like this tweet from Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times:
Plenty went wrong on the Bruins offense that Hundley couldn't control. Virginia's pass rush looked spectacular against UCLA's offensive line on Saturday. Some of that could be credited to the Cavaliers' great game plan and scheme, but most should be attributed to poor offensive line play.
Bruin Report Online tweeted an early-game observation regarding the team's interior line play:
Scott Quessenberry generally plays guard; however, the absence of Jake Brendel in the opener due to a sprained knee forced him to slide over to center. As you can see, the move didn't work out so well.
The line continued to struggle through the remainder of the contest, giving up four sacks and producing several false starts. This led to head coach Jim Mora Jr. answering concerns during a press conference, via Jack Wang of the Los Angeles Daily News:
I know there's going to be a lot of concern about our offensive line. It's warranted at this point. Anyone that watched that game will go, 'My goodness, what are we going to do about the offensive line?' For those of us that know, we know that we've got a good group. We've got to play better, and I know that we will.
This is something that must be cleaned up in very short order. After all, the Bruins certainly don't want Hundley to constantly take matters into his own hands—he showed his competitiveness when scrambling for a touchdown and dragging a defender into the end zone with him. That could be a very risky endeavor.
But it all comes down to the offensive line. The NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah tweeted his take of how UCLA could move the ball after Hundley's touchdown run:
While that may have worked, that can't be counted on as a go-to play this season.
UCLA is set to face off against Memphis and Texas over the next two weeks but faces a difficult test afterward in No. 17 Arizona State. If these issues aren't corrected by then, the Bruins stand little chance to retain their Top 10 ranking in 2014.
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This has to be more like what A.J. Johnson expected.
When the Tennessee Volunteers linebacker eschewed the NFL to return for his senior season on Rocky Top, part of the reason was to be around for better days. With a ton of talent being injected, Johnson wanted to play amid talent and youthful exuberance.
The new-look, freshman-heavy Vols looked the part Sunday night, flying around on defense and frustrating Heisman Trophy hopeful Chuckie Keeton and Utah State in a 38-7 rout at Neyland Stadium.
Tennessee wasn't perfect, but the Vols have plenty of talent to make some noise—especially in an SEC East that looks like Georgia and everybody else.
This 2014 edition of the Vols is totally different than that of a season ago, revitalized by a speedy, spunky bunch of newcomers who have elevated the play of the entire team and changed the program's trajectory.
And they were ready to go as soon as the ball was kicked off.
A slimmed-down version of Old Man Johnson was the centerpiece, leading the band in a pregame drill that got the crowd hyped and then leading a revamped defense that looked surprisingly salty.
Offensively, UT found its sea legs late and ended up with a mostly impressive performance, too. The Vols made up for their shortcomings with talent and playmaking ability that simply weren't present in 2013.
An offense that was stagnant in the first half got an injection of excitement when quarterback Justin Worley finally found some of his new toys in the open field.
First, he found junior college transfer Von Pearson on a short pass, and the shifty receiver juked a defender out of his cleats on a cut that capped a 13-play drive with a 14-yard, third-quarter touchdown.
Then, with the Vols in the midst of another methodical, dominant drive as that quarter closed, they sprinted from one end of the field to the other. All their teammates on the sideline met the offense, danced, called for chaos from the crowd and looked ready to play four more quarters.
That powder keg of emotion carried over on the field.
Worley found freshman running back Jalen Hurd on a screen on the fourth quarter's first play. The jewel of UT's freshman class corkscrewed a defender, turned on the afterburners and raced 16 yards for a touchdown.
The score made it 31-0 for the Vols and pushed Worley to 12-of-12 passing in the second half on his way to hitting his first 13 second-half passes. He finished with 273 passing yards, three touchdowns and distributed the ball to several of UT's youngsters.
Even though UT didn't always sustain drives, keep Worley off the ground and open big running holes, it still made big plays and flashed talent that only needs to be nourished with game reps to grow.
Players like receiver Josh Malone didn't always know what they were doing, but they still made some key plays. When they didn't, the defense shut things down.
For the first time since Eric Berry was in orange and white, there are potential playmakers all over the field, and they actually made plays Sunday.
It was that kind of night in Neyland—exactly the kind of start the Vols wanted.
The defense was incredible, disguising coverages and using multiple fronts and situational players to keep USU confused. The Aggies failed to cross midfield and amassed just 97 total yards in the first half.
It was a far cry from a defense that ranked 11th in the SEC last year and second-last in rush defense. The Vols allowed just 244 total yards and 100 rushing yards to the Aggies, and a share of those came with the game already decided.
Keeton essentially did nothing.
He was pressured by the waves of speed and talent UT threw in his direction. When Utah State pieced together two big plays that resulted in its only touchdown early in the fourth quarter, it was just a frustrating footnote to a big win.
So many young players like Hurd, Pearson, Malone, Ethan Wolf, Dillon Bates, Derek Barnett and Chris Weatherd had flashes of brilliance Sunday that give long-suffering UT fans plenty to be excited about for the future.
But on a night when the excitement was elevated by all the young stars on the field, it all came back to Johnson. In the fourth quarter, the senior linebacker jumped JoJo Natson's route and intercepted Keeton.
He broke on the ball with a scamper in his step not seen previously in his career and even took it 23 yards in the other direction for further proof that he was playing faster than he has in his four years as a Vol.
Maybe all those kids around him gave the old man some pep in his step.
Though several imperfections festered—such as UT averaging just 2.8 yards per carry and committing costly penalties at crucial times—all the young talent and its highlight-reel flashes helped hide the warts.
It was a glimpse of better future days in the present, a nice start with plenty upon which to build.
This team has questions to answer, sure, but in a division where South Carolina and Vanderbilt just got their doors blown off and Florida is trying to regroup from a four-win season, the Vols can make a considerable move.
On Sunday, at least, the talent looked as if it's in place to take a major step forward.
Unless otherwise noted, all statistics gathered from CFBStats.com and quotes as well as observations obtained firsthand.
Brad Shepard covers SEC football and is the Tennessee Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow Brad on Twitter here:
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One week of the 2014 college football season is in the books, and already the rankings have felt a shake-up.
And we're not just talking with the ranked teams who lost, as early impressions of some of the country's top-rated teams have led our voters to change their opinions of which team is the best in the land. As a result, we no longer have a unanimous No. 1 team, as was the case in the preseason poll.
Florida State's touch-and-go 37-31 win over Oklahoma State was just one of the games that had a major impact on the Week 2 rankings. Others that had a resounding effect included Georgia's convincing win over Clemson, Alabama's shaky victory against West Virginia and LSU's comeback rally to down Wisconsin.
The Bleacher Report Top 25 is voted on by 20 members of Bleacher Report's college football team: writers Keith Arnold, Ben Axelrod, Phil Callihan, Michael Felder, Justin Ferguson, Andrew Hall, Kyle Kensing, David Kenyon, Ben Kercheval, Adam Kramer, Brian Leigh, Brian Pedersen, Barrett Sallee, Brad Shepard, Erin Sorensen, Marc Torrence and Greg Wallace, as well as editors Eric Bowman, Hunter Mandel and Max Rausch.
Each voter submits their ballots based on observations made during the just-completed week's games. Teams receive 25 points for a first-place vote, all the way down to one point for being ranked 25th, and then the top 25 vote-getters are ranked in order of their point totals.
Check out Bleacher Report's Week 2 poll, then give us your thoughts in the comments section.
Tennessee had been developing a reputation as a doormat of the SEC's East Division. Those days may very well be fading into the fog of memory.
The Volunteers dispatched a very good Utah State team 38-7 on Sunday evening in front of the first Neyland Stadium sellout crowd in seven years. The 102,000 fans in attendance were treated to one of the best, most complete Vols performances in recent memory.
The success (or failure) of Tennessee in 2014 will likely start and end with quarterback Justin Worley. On Sunday night, Worley completed 27 of his 38 pass attempts for 273 yards. Three of those throws went for scores, and 10 Vols receivers combined to give Worley his 273 yards.
Our final grade, however, is just shy of a perfect "A" because of a few drops. Worley also took a little bit of time to settle in, underthrowing a number of passes. Were it not for these few miscues, the score could have been even more lopsided.
If there was one aspect of the Vols offense with which we were less than impressed, it had to be the run game. Seven Vols combined for 39 carries and just 110 yards, or a meager 2.8 yards per carry.
That came against a Utah State defense that lost its top linebacker during the evening, and they still couldn't find much room to run.
With the passing explosion, Tennessee didn't really need to lean on the running game. Against some SEC defenses, however, it will. This has to be a point of concern for the coaching staff moving forward.
Another bright spot for the Vols was the pass defense. Utah State quarterback Chuckie Keeton is no slouch, but the Vols were able to completely shut him down.
As the game wore on, dropped passes became the rule of the day as the Aggies receiving corps became acutely aware of any Tennessee defender closing in for the hit. The dreaded "alligator arms" took over, and Aggie receivers spent as much time looking in the direction of the next big hit as they did looking the football into their hands.
A.J. Johnson and Cameron Sutton both chipped in with an interception against Utah State, and Johnson had several more pass deflections.
The Vols secondary is fast. Really fast. Opposing SEC quarterbacks will have a difficult time fitting footballs into the brief holes that do appear, and points will be at a premium this season against Tennessee.
The young front seven for Tennessee was one of the more surprising groups of the evening. The Vols secondary looked so good all evening in part because it knew what was coming next; the passing game for Utah State was completely ineffective, thanks to some great, athletic play from the defensive line for Tennessee.
Utah State had just 100 yards rushing on the evening, averaging 4.2 yards per carry. The Vols were also successful at keeping the Aggies out of the end zone on the ground.
Special teams are sometimes hard to grade, especially when a team doesn't bother to return punts. Despite the number of punts Utah State kicked away (eight), Tennessee fair caught or allowed Utah State to down all of them.
Tennessee returned two kickoffs for 17 and 18 yards.
So, our relatively low mark comes thanks to Aaron Medley's field-goal attempts—if you can call the first one an honest attempt.
The miss was so bad, so horribly bad, it was almost comical. OK, we shouldn't be too hard on the young freshman kicking his first field goal of his collegiate career, but if Tennessee is going to recruit you as a kicker, you should be able to put it at least within the same ZIP code as the goalposts.
Luckily, Medley redeemed himself some with a made 36-yarder (and he was 5-of-5 on extra points).
At halftime, we had a difficult time coming up with a grade. We hadn't seen many major coaching decisions, and we really wanted to see how the Vols would adjust to a few passing hitches Utah State had thrown at them in the first half.
Needless to say, we were impressed. Butch Jones made adjustments on both sides of the ball, and the Vols were able to break open the game early in the second half while holding the Aggies in check.
After years of searching, it looks as if Tennessee may have finally found its head coach.
Unless otherwise noted, quotes or references to quotes were obtained firsthand by the writer.
Follow Bleacher Report's National College Football Featured Columnist David Luther on Twitter!
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Week 1 of the 2014 college football season is in the books, so it's high time the Heisman discussion starts, right? All right, so it's still a little bit early to pinpoint this year's outstanding player, but there is one name that must be recognized in any early conversation. That would be Texas A&M quarterback Kenny Hill.
Sure, it seems like a bit of a stretch to consider Hill part of the Heisman discussion considering he wasn't even solidified as a starter before the season began, but one game can change things rather quickly.
Hill led the No. 21 Aggies to a 52-28 rout of the No. 9 South Carolina Gamecocks on Thursday after completing 44 of his 60 passing attempts for 511 yards and three touchdowns for a rating of 91.5. His yardage broke a Texas A&M single-game record that was previously held by a guy named Johnny Manziel.
According to ESPN Stats & Info, the win is a pretty good omen:
The aforementioned Heisman Trophy winner was cheering on his successor during the game:
Although, Hill remained humble during a press conference with The Associated Press, via ESPN.com after the game, "I don't really like 'Kenny Football.'"
Hill successfully stepped out of Manziel's shadow in a big way in Week 1. In fact, there were NFL scouts in attendance who came away rather impressed with the sophomore signal-caller, according to Ryan McGee of ESPN.com (subscription required). Said one scout:
This was a perfect storm kind of deal tonight in that he had a lot of time to pick his spots, and the lanes in the secondary were huge. But he still had to drop it in there. I didn't see him make but one or two questionable decisions. Good quarterbacks take little openings and make them look huge with accuracy. He did that. That builds confidence. Now he has a month against second-tier competition to keep building that confidence.
That comment is a big reason why Hill should be mentioned in early Heisman discussions. Many analysts or causal onlookers could view his performance as a number-padding effort due to facing a very shaky defense and relying upon offensive weapons who do well with the ball in their hands.
Not so fast.
While Hill had plenty of time to work with in the pocket, he displayed nice velocity, placement, anticipation and poise in the pocket. Even more impressively, he wasn't rattled by the pressure of the limelight.
His first career start resembled that of another Heisman-winning quarterback:
This isn't to say the Texas A&M quarterback should be crowned after one performance. After all, early Heisman discussions include such enormous talent like Todd Gurley, Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston. But who's to say Hill won't remain among college's elite by season's end?
Fox Sports Live's Matt Leinart knows a thing or two about winning the Heisman, and he has Hill pegged as his dark-horse pick:
Yes, the season is very, very young. But there's every reason to think another Heisman could be headed to College Station much sooner than anticipated.
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The No. 8 Michigan State Spartans travel to Eugene to face the No. 3 Oregon Ducks in what promises to be the 2014 college football season's early marquee matchup. Both of these teams have plenty to gain with a win on Saturday—especially taking the Week 1 struggles of No. 1 Florida State and No. 2 Alabama into consideration.
Both the Spartans and Ducks surged out of the gate in Week 1. Jacksonville State fell victim to a well-rounded Spartans team by a score of 45-7, and South Dakota was trounced by the high-octane Ducks 62-13.
Each team was certainly impressive; however, those Week 1 contests will pale in comparison to what's in store on Saturday. Will Michigan State's stout defense prevail, or will Oregon continue to run over the competition? Let's begin to draw a conclusion by examining the matchups to watch when these squads hit the gridiron.
Byron Marshall vs. Michigan State's Front Seven
Junior running back Byron Marshall lit it up against the Coyotes in Week 1. An incredibly dynamic weapon, Marshall rushed eight times for 90 yards—an average of 11.3 yards per carry—and added eight receptions for 138 yards and two scores.
The Ducks offense is built around its speed and ability to get the ball to playmakers in the open field. Those qualities were on display each time Marshall received a touch against South Dakota.
Bryan Fischer of NFL.com tweeted his impression of Marshall's slot duties on Friday:
On the flip side, Michigan State prides itself on a stout defense with the capability to contain even the most prolific of offenses. While Jacksonville State may not fall into the prolific category, they were completely stymied by the Spartans gaining 222 yards through the air—while tossing three interceptions—and just 22 yards rushing.
After just one game, Michigan State picked up right where it left off from last season and is currently ranked fourth in the nation against the run.
Marshall is far shiftier than any of the Gamecocks running backs, and Oregon's uptempo offense will only enhance the degree of difficulty to contain him. Watch for the Ducks to look for mismatches against Michigan State by moving the playmaker all over the field.
Connor Cook vs. Oregon's Secondary
Junior quarterback Connor Cook burst onto the scene last season by passing for 2,755 yards and 22 touchdowns against six interceptions. He continued his stellar play in Week 1 and looked as efficient as ever in the process. Cook completed 12 of his 13 attempts for 285 yards and three touchdowns before leaving the game after only one half.
While Michigan State's defense will have its hands full with Marcus Mariota, Cook may be an even bigger concern for the Ducks entering their Week 2 clash.
ESPN Stats & Info tweeted exactly how impressive Cook's performance was:
Oregon fared nicely against South Dakota in Week 1, allowing opposing signal-callers to complete just 18 of 34 passing attempts for 198 yards. Although, All-American cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu suffered an ankle injury in the contest, further complicating things for Oregon's secondary.
Luckily, according to a press conference, via Molly Blue of The Oregonian, the cornerback said his ankle is "fine."
We'll see how close he is to 100 percent when these teams take the field on Saturday. He'll certainly be needed against Cook and Co.
Michigan State's Offensive Line vs. Oregon's Pass Rush
The Spartans are a little dinged up along the offensive line. Right guard Connor Kruse suffered a leg injury during camp, and there is no definitive timetable as to when he will return. To make matters worse, left guard Travis Jackson left the team's Week 1 contest with an apparent injury as well.
Jacksonville State was able to get a bit of pressure on Michigan State's quarterbacks in the second half of Friday's contest, and the Spartans were only able to average 4.2 yards per carry as a team.
Matt Charboneau of The Detroit News tweeted an update on Jackson's situation:
This could be something Oregon can take advantage of on Saturday. The Ducks showed a bit of a pass rush against South Dakota, as Juwaan Williams, Tyson Coleman and Alex Balducci all came away with sacks, according to CFBStats.com.
Even if Oregon's secondary has some trouble dealing with a red-hot Cook, the presence of a reliable pass rush could certainly pick up the slack.
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Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty left with a back injury during the Bears' season opener against SMU Sunday night. It leaves the Big 12 contenders in limbo while awaiting further details.
Bears head coach Art Briles told Fox Sports 1's Kris Budden that the senior star would likely ride the bench in the second half, via Fox College Football:
John Werner of the Waco Tribune-Herald reports Petty did not start the second half:
Chuck Carlton of The Dallas Morning News provides an update on Petty's injury:
Although the No. 10 team in the country carried a comfortable 31-0 lead into halftime against the Mustangs, Petty didn't look himself. He completed just 13 of his 23 pass attempts for 161 yards and two touchdowns.
Fox Sports Southwest's David Ubben noted that Petty was visibly favoring his back:
ESPNDallas.com's Tim MacMahon questioned some of Baylor's play-calling when it was clear that the Bears QB was less than 100 percent:
Petty entered the season as one of the most-hyped quarterbacks in the nation. He finally got his chance to start last year and delivered. He completed 62 percent of his throws for 4,200 yards along with 32 touchdowns and just three interceptions. He also added 14 rushing touchdowns.
His presence leading the offense made Baylor a major threat to win the Big 12. It went 11-2 last season and featured enough talent and experience on both sides of the ball to take another step forward.
The Bears were even a little surprised to see Oklahoma get the nod atop the conference's preseason poll. Brandon Chatmon of ESPN passed along Petty's response to the vote: "That's not up to us to vote, it's up to us to play. That tells us that we're not there yet, and that's fine with me. I don't think you're ever there. Once you think you've arrived, that's when you're in trouble."
Petty is a crucial piece of the championship puzzle, though. If he's forced to miss an extended period of time due to the ailment, the team's chances of winning the Big 12 take a major hit.
He also has something to prove before making the NFL jump after the campaign ends. Although he's put up outstanding numbers, there are always question marks when it comes to quarterbacks coming out of high-powered offenses like Baylor.
Bucky Brooks of NFL.com is among the skeptics after studying tape from last season despite numbers that would suggest Petty was among the best quarterbacks in the country:
Petty didn't exhibit the arm talent, accuracy and playmaking ability I would expect from a franchise quarterback; I would need to see dramatic improvements in his mechanics and overall play to place him in the conversation with Marcus Mariota, Jameis Winston and Brent Hundley as the top quarterback in the 2015 class.
Petty was working to prove he was more than a simple-system quarterback. Now, his efforts are on hold until further testing shows the severity of the injury. Baylor and its fans will hope it's nothing more than a scare, and he can make a relatively swift return.
Seth Russell will fill the void until the senior leader is set to return. The sophomore backup flashed some upside during limited playing time last season. He will need to cut down on his interceptions if he's forced to start for awhile with Petty sidelined.
Once more information is provided, the Big 12 outlook for Baylor could shift considerably.
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No. 13 LSU was on the verge of losing its first home opener in many years as it trailed the No. 14 Wisconsin Badgers, 24-7, in the third quarter on Saturday.
The Tigers went on to score 21 unanswered points to win the game. Afterward, a clearly excited Patrick Peterson sought out coach Les Miles for a selfie. Miles appeared flattered to see the love from the three-time Pro Bowler for the Arizona Cardinals.
Here's the result:August 31, 2014
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Welcome back, college football. You never disappoint.
The first game of the 2014 season ended on a last-second field goal, and the second saw a top-10 team lose by 20-plus points at home. The SEC brought the weird from start to finish, and so did the Croke Park Classic out in Dublin.
Week 1 was one of those quintessentially awesome debuts: the kind that has us tearing up our previous rankings, questioning our predictions and wondering why in the heck we do those things in the first place. It's not like we stand any chance of being right!
Accordingly, the Week 2 Associated Press poll should look much different than the preseason version. Unrecognizably different. And how could it not? With so many top teams looking less than dominant, the whole entire pecking order must be reconsidered.
Let's try to make sense of it all:
Note: Rankings reflect a prediction of the Week 2 AP poll—not how the author would rank the teams himself. Predictions made under assumption that all remaining Week 1 games finish as betting spread would indicate.
- South Carolina tumbles from the preseason Top 10 to outside of the Top 20. Last year, the lowest faller from the preseason Top 10 was Florida to No. 12. In fact, if South Carolina indeed falls below No. 20, it will be the first time that has happened to a preseason Top 10 team since Michigan in 2007…the year it lost to Appalachian State.
- Washington falls out of the poll despite starting 1-0, the result of a one-point win at Hawaii. A 1-0 team hasn't dropped from the poll since Auburn (four-point win over Utah State) and USC (two-point win over Minnesota) in 2011. The Tigers finished that season 8-5, but the Trojans went 10-2 and finished No. 6 in the final AP rankings.
Kenny Hill led the Aggies to a stunning upset of South Carolina in Williams-Brice Stadium—not just because of its occurrence, but because of the way it occurred. Hill broke Johnny Manziel's single-game passing record for an offense that hung 52 points (with ease).
According to Dan Wolken of USA Today, head coach Kevin Sumlin credited a story calling Texas A&M the "most overrated team in the nation" for giving his team the fuel it needed to come out and abuse the Gamecocks. Expect that the media has learned its lesson.
Now…let the wild, 10-hour rumpus start!
Todd Gurley was out of control, putting up roughly 300 all-purpose yards and four touchdowns on 16 touches, and the running game in general helped overcome a boring (if not safe and reliable) full-time starting debut from quarterback Hutson Mason.
More than that, the Bulldogs' defense held Clemson to 15 yards in the second half. Fifteen! Despite the embattled secondary, new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt had his group looking good.
With Gurley carrying the offense and the best group of linebackers in the country (Leonard Floyd, Jordan Jenkins, Ramik Wilson and Amarlo Herrera) carrying the defense, plus the apparent ineptitude of South Carolina as a rival in the SEC East, this team looks like a strong College Football Playoff contender.
The only new addition to the poll this week is Texas, which replaces a Washington team that struggled to beat Hawaii.
The Longhorns looked good in the first game of the Charlie Strong era, holding North Texas to 94 total yards and coasting to a 38-7 win.
Defense is the staple of every Strong-coached team, and this group has the talent to rank among the best he's ever had. The offense, though, looked a little bit rough, and things will only get rougher if center Dominic Espinosa is in fact out for the year with a broken ankle.
Touched upon earlier, but it would be remiss not to mention the Gamecocks again.
You can't get depantsed on your home field in front of a national audience and not free-fall down the poll.
Things started well in Athens, Georgia, Saturday evening, but Clemson's offense withered in the second half and eventually went AWOL. It was a profoundly un-Chad Morris performance.
More concerning than that, the defensive front seven—supposedly one of the strongest in the country—could not handle Gurley for the second consecutive season, despite having another full summer to prepare.
The Tigers are probably not as bad as they looked in the second half Saturday, but with a road trip to Florida State looming shortly, that might not matter. Starting 1-2 is a recipe for falling out of the poll.
Only part of this has to do with Ohio State's struggle against Navy. A big part of it also has to do with the Braxton Miller injury, which happened after the release of the preseason AP poll.
Still, the Buckeyes could have mitigated how far they fell with a more convincing Week 1 effort. Navy is a good team, and there is no shame in beating it by 17 points, but there was a long stretch of that game where it really looked like OSU would lose.
Urban Meyer's team still has some proving to do.
Of all of the curious curiosities from the first weekend of the season, Wisconsin's second-half disappearing act stands out.
The Badgers were so, so good in the first half, and their first drive of the third quarter—bolstered by a 63-yard run from Melvin Gordon—went for a touchdown. They were rolling toward a program-defining win.
Then, all of a sudden, everything changed. Gordon found himself on the bench because of something head coach Gary Andersen called "a scenario" that happened at halftime, per Brian Bennett of ESPN.com. And from there, things collapsed on both sides of the football.
And as a result, Wisconsin is dropping.
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