NCAA Football News

Ohio State Football: Report Card Grades for Every New Starter

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?

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Big Ten Football: Ranking the 10 Best Playmakers from Week 1

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!

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USC vs. Stanford: Analyzing Huge Early-Season Pac-12 Matchup

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

Kevin Hogan

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.

 

Javorius Allen

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.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Virginia Tech vs. Ohio State Complete Game Preview

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

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Week 1 College Football Superlatives from Kramer's Korner

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).

 

Biggest Surprise

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.

 

Best Moment

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.

1. Georgia

2. Florida State

3. Texas A&M

4. USC

 

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

Style: B-

Emotion: D

Execution: C+

Overall: C-

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, 2014

Miles, Texas Ranger RT @MichaelCauble: pic.twitter.com/6QDpwDHpmL

— Pod Katt (@valleyshook) August 31, 2014

Arkansas' assistant coaches were stuck in the elevator and couldn't visit the team during halftime.

— THV Hog Zone (@HOGZONE) August 31, 2014

I'm not mad, I'm just disappointed RT @MattBrownCFB: I assume we'll see this often pic.twitter.com/rFPXpd6g3n

— Chip Patterson (@Chip_Patterson) August 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.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Baylor vs. SMU: Art Briles Wise to Use Caution with Bryce Petty's Injury in Rout

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.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Brett Hundley Needs Help from Supporting Cast to Keep UCLA in Contention

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.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Newfound Speed, Energy Show Tennessee Is Ready to Play with the SEC Big Boys

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:

@Brad_Shepard

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Rankings Week 2: B/R's Official Top 25

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.

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Utah State vs. Tennessee: Game Grades, Analysis for the Volunteers

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.

Box score via NCAA.com

PositionFirst-Half GradeFinal Grade Pass Offense   B+  A- Run Offense  B-  B- Pass Defense  A-  A- Run Defense  A- A Special Teams C  B- Coaching   Inc. A

Pass Offense

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. 

 

Run Offense

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.

 

Pass Defense

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.

 

Run Defense

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

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).

 

Coaching

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.

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