NCAA Football News
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Despite Blake Sims’ solid showing in his full-time Alabama quarterback debut, the Crimson Tide’s quarterback race is far from over.
Sims played every meaningful snap against West Virginia, throwing for 250 yards and rushing for 42 more in the win while managing Alabama’s efficient, ball-control offense that had possession for nearly 38 minutes and produced 538 total yards.
However, Alabama coach Nick Saban said on Monday that there is still very much a competition under center.
“I still don’t hesitate to say that there’s a quarterback competition,” Saban said. “And in some way, we’ll probably try to play both quarterbacks in this game. I don’t know how. When I figure it out, I’m probably not going to tell you. But I don’t know that it’s that important, to be honest with you.”
That’s a far cry from his strategy against West Virginia, where Sims played all but the final two snaps. Jacob Coker handed to Kenyan Drake twice once the game was out of reach.
Now, it looks like Coker will get his chance to prove what he can do in the offense before a final decision is made on the full-time starter.
So what to make of this new revelation?
For one, Sims playing just about the entire season opener was likely more about the short than the long term.
Saban wanted to go with the guy he knew he could trust at that moment in time. That was Sims, who has been in the system for four years going on five. Sims got to work through spring practice essentially as the starter and knows what’s expected of quarterbacks under Saban.
That, combined with his teammates’ trust and confidence in him, gave him the nod for that game.
“Blake Sims is a very good leader, he’s a very big part of what we have,” guard Arie Kouandjio said on Monday. “We have a lot of older guys on this team, Blake being one of them, and when you’ve been here for a while, sometimes you have to step up. I feel like Blake does his part.”
When it turned out that the game was close for much of the contest—and it wasn’t exactly the offense’s fault—the signal-caller role stayed with Sims. That, as much as anything, showed which guy Saban trusts at this point in time.
To Coker’s credit, fullback Jalston Fowler said he handled watching from the sidelines well.
“He didn't complain,” Fowler said. “Just kept a straight face and kept moving.”
The decision to extend the competition, though, is about the long term.
Alabama’s next two games are at home against Florida Atlantic and Southern Miss. As much as Saban won’t admit it, these are games that give a coach a little more leeway in terms of personnel management and trying new things.
In 2011, when AJ McCarron and Phillip Sims went toe-to-toe for the starting job, Alabama had the luxury of a home opener against Kent State before traveling to Penn State for the first truly competitive game of the year.
In that Kent State game, McCarron and Sims split reps pretty evenly before Saban settled on McCarron in a game where he needed someone he could trust.
It’s almost the opposite of what’s happening now.
The Crimson Tide now have two games where they can sit back and better evaluate Sims and Coker without the added stress of having to worry too much about actually having to win the game. That likely won't come until September 20, when Florida visits Bryant-Denny Stadium.
This benefits Coker, who still hasn’t taken meaningful game snaps since high school. It’s hard to truly analyze Alabama's quarterback competition without having seen him play, and any speculation on how Coker would have performed on Saturday is just that.
He’ll get his chance on Saturday, though. At this time next week, Alabama’s quarterback race could look markedly different.
Follow on Twitter @marctorrence.
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The University of Houston opened its brand-new stadium the worst way possible last Friday night. The Cougars were shellacked by the University of Texas at San Antonio Roadrunners in front of the largest home-campus crowd in UH history.
The Cougars were soundly whipped in all facets of the game. Down 14-0 after the first half, UTSA put Houston away on the opening drive of the second and went on to coast to a 27-7 victory at TDECU Stadium.
Despite the devastating loss, Houston fans remain hopeful head coach Tony Levine and the Coogs can work out the kinks—and they were plentiful—before Houston begins American Athletic Conference play in October against defending champion Central Florida.
Here are three critical elements Levine and company must greatly improve.
After escaping its season opener in Baltimore with a closer-than-the-final-score-indicated 34-17 win over Navy, the Ohio State football team heads home to Columbus for one of its premiere games of the 2014 season.
Virginia Tech may not be of the Michael Vick/Bryan Randall/Tyrod Taylor variety this season, but as an opponent from the ACC, the Hokies do possess perhaps the most talent the Buckeyes will face until they begin Big Ten play. Add in that Ohio State itself still faces several questions following its meeting with the Midshipmen, and the intrigue of this Saturday's game in Ohio Stadium is obvious.
How will redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett fare in the second start of his college career? What will Virginia Tech look like against a big-time Division I program after beating subdivision opponent William & Mary last weekend? How will Ohio State's revamped pass defense perform against the Hokies' pass-heavy offense?
All of these questions—and more—will be answered on Saturday, when two power conference teams meet in what could be a season-defining game for each. Until then, here's everything you need to know heading into the Buckeyes' prime-time matchup with Virginia Tech.
Date: Saturday, Sept. 6
Time: 8 p.m. ET
Place: Ohio Stadium in Columbus, Ohio
Spread: Ohio State (-11), via Odds Shark
Notre Dame welcomes Michigan to South Bend in the last scheduled matchup between college football's two most winningest programs. In a series that's been filled with close games—and mostly heart-breaking losses for the Irish—of late, Notre Dame set a rare primetime kickoff for this "final" battle. (Final, at least, until the two schools kiss and make up.)
With that reconciliation not coming any time soon, this is all we'll be getting in a rivalry that may not fit the definition in terms of familiarity but certainly does in contempt.
Michigan coach Brady Hoke may have opened 2014 on the hot seat, but he's beaten Brian Kelly in three out of four, including last year's 41-30 win in Ann Arbor in front of a record crowd of 115,109. Wolverines quarterback Devin Gardner and receiver Jeremy Gallon carried the day, torching the Irish secondary.
To add a little salt in the wound, the "Chicken Dance" blared over the stadium sound system, a less-than-subtle jab at Notre Dame, who Hoke accused of "chickening out" of the series during the summer booster club circuit. That hasn't been forgotten in South Bend.
Let's get you ready for Notre Dame-Michigan.
Date: Saturday, Sept. 6
Time: 7:30 p.m. ET
Place: Notre Dame Stadium in Notre Dame, Indiana
Radio: IMG College Sports, SiriusXM Channel 129
Spread: Notre Dame by 4.5, according to Odds Shark.
Melvin Gordon was mysteriously absent for most of the second half of Wisconsin's loss to LSU Saturday, and coach Gary Andersen says an injury is to blame.
A preseason Heisman favorite, Gordon finished the game with 16 carries for 140 yards and a touchdown with a cool 8.8 yards-per-carry average, but Andersen now says he came up limp on a 63-yard scamper, as captured by Jesse Temple of Fox Sports Wisconsin:
Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman points out that Gordon was still in on passing downs at one point:
Andersen went on to speak critically as to the questions surrounding Gordon's usage:
Gordon, who came back to school in order to pursue a Big Ten title and perhaps a berth in the inaugural College Football Playoff, is obviously a major loss. Last season when finally given the reins, he rushed 206 times for 1,609 yards and 12 scores.
The good news for Wisconsin to counteract the loss of a player and major game is twofold. For one, the upcoming schedule is rather easy thanks to encounters with Bowling Green and South Florida in the coming weeks.
Secondly, Wisconsin is known for churning out quality pro offensive linemen and posting gaudy rushing totals. There is little doubt that Corey Clement (45 yards and a touchdown Saturday, 547 and seven on an 8.2 average last year) and versatile quarterback Tanner McEvoy (six carries for 40 yards Saturday) can produce on the ground in Gordon's absence.
Speaking of McEvoy, Feldman's earlier point makes sense as Gordon is the team's best pass-blocker, so that is where the staff will miss him most as the team breaks in a new starter under center.
While the severity of the injury is unknown, the program is built to thrive despite injuries at the position. The staff would prefer if Gordon returns before the Big Ten opener against Northwestern in early October, but either way the offense should move right along.
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The first regular-season edition of the 2014 Associated Press Top 25 poll is set to be released on Tuesday, encompassing the results of the first week of action in relation to how teams were rated in the preseason poll.
But just like George Bailey wondered how things would be different if he were never born in It's a Wonderful Life, we can't help but speculate how the AP Top 25 would shake out if this first in-season ranking was, indeed, the actual first ranking of the season.
Pretty darn different, for sure.
Without a preseason poll, voters would be forced to base more on the opening week's results and not have the backup of a baseline ranking. There would likely still be a bias toward teams who were good the year before and received lots of offseason hype, but at the same time a perceived power who struggled in its first game wouldn't automatically remain high in the poll just because it won.
It would almost be like a poll put together by a committee of people whose job is to determine which teams are the best in the country, not the most well-regarded. Such a ranking could maybe be used to select, say, a four-team playoff?
With all of that in consideration, here's how we think the Week 1 AP poll would look if it didn't have a preseason version to build from:
Looks quite different, huh?
That's because this first poll would be truly a result of first impressions, how those opening-week results made the teams look. Consideration would be made for the opponent, but with so many high-profile schools opening against cupcakes, a runaway victory wouldn't hold as much weight as a solid win over a quality foe.
Because of that, some teams' spot in the poll would be much different than in the actual poll, the one influenced by a preseason ranking:
The No. 1 team in the country should be the team that's considered the best in the land. And based on the first week of 2014, it's hard to argue that Georgia wouldn't be deserving of that spot if outside influences weren't involved.
The Bulldogs were masterful on offense and surprisingly dominant on defense in their 45-21 win over Clemson, particularly in the second half when they limited Clemson to just 15 yards and one first down.
But even without that defensive effort it would be hard not to be high on Georgia with the way it ran the ball and with how absolutely electrifying junior running back Todd Gurley (198 rushing yards, 100-yard kickoff return TD, four total touchdowns) looked.
While Georgia coach Mark Richt might not be convinced after one game, telling Marc Weiszer of the Athens Herald-Banner, "I don't know how good we are, quite frankly," the voters would say otherwise. Several national experts have the Bulldogs in the College Football Playoff after Week 1, Weiszer noted, and voters would likely follow suit with that nod.
When scanning through resumes, it's often the first and last ones read that make the most lasting impressions. Texas A&M was part of the season's first big game back on Thursday night, but we're still talking about that runaway 52-28 win at South Carolina.
Much like how Florida State had an untested quarterback heading into its season opener the year before—which happened to be the final game of the first week, for the record—A&M came in with a big offensive question mark regarding how sophomore Kenny Hill would fare as the successor to Johnny Manziel.
The answer? Quite well, thank you very much.
Hill threw for a school-record 511 yards and four touchdowns, looking nothing like a guy making his first career start, let alone one doing so on a national stage in a stadium where a visiting team hadn't won in nearly three years. Throw in a seemingly unlimited supply of skill weapons and a defense that at least has a clue how to slow a team down, and after one week the Aggies will have gone from an enigma to a legitimate contender.
In the real world, the preseason No. 1 tends to stay in that spot until it loses. But in a land without early projections, even the defending champs have to put up a good result in their opener to be worthy of the top spot.
Florida State did not look like the best team in the country in its 37-31 win over Oklahoma State, not with a suspect running game and a quarterback whose late-game exploits were almost overshadowed by his early miscues. And because of that, the Seminoles wouldn't be No. 1 in the first poll.
Yahoo Sports' Pat Forde wrote that "the defending national champions escaped with the desired result but some undesirable play that will keep them grounded going forward," a fancy way of saying that a win is a win. Improvement will be needed, and voters will echo that opinion with their ballots.
The Crimson Tide weren't expected to be tested much in their opener game against West Virginia, but instead had themselves a tight game that sparked more questions than it did provide answers. While the closeness of the 33-23 win will no doubt help Alabama in the long run, in the short term it will mean having its lowest ranking in several years.
There were so many standout team performances during Week 1 that voters will be hard-pressed to put the Tide in the Top Five, where they've more or less gone in on a timeshare under Nick Saban. But no team that was abused in the secondary as much as 'Bama, which allowed West Virginia's Clint Trickett to throw for 365 yards, is deserving of a high ranking this early.
After one game, many voters will already be convinced that Charlie Strong's will has been imposed at Texas. Ignoring the fact that it was against North Texas, a box score that shows the opponent had 94 total yards and the Longhorns registered six sacks and four interceptions will hold more weight than whom it was against.
Texas might end up a little lower, though, depending on how voters take Monday's news that quarterback David Ash would once again miss time because of a head injury, according to Jim Vertuno of The Associated Press. Not having Ash available for Saturday's visit from BYU could impact that result, but since this opening poll would reflect how teams have looked to this point rather than how they'll end up, it might not have an effect yet on their ranking.
The blue bloods of college football tend to get the benefit of the doubt at the start of each season, regardless of how they performed the year before. It's likely why Florida nearly opened 2014 in the preseason rankings, despite a 4-8 record last season, and why Michigan had 19 voters in that initial poll despite looking very bad down the stretch in 2013 en route to a 7-6 record.
And with that in mind, a runaway win in Week 1 by a traditional power will tend to be given far more weight than a strong effort by a lower-profile team, no matter whom it was against.
Michigan looked great in crushing Appalachian State, but odds are most teams would have beat the FCS-newcomer Mountaineers as convincingly. Why the Wolverines will get extra credit for the performance, though, is because of how it compared to results in 2013 when their offense sputtered and stalled more often than it excelled.
It's the power conferences that get most of the attention—and by definition, most of the accolades—but voters who pay attention to all of the results might use those final spots in their ballot to reward teams who surprised with how great they looked in their openers.
Teams like Arizona, Temple and UTSA all had big wins in Week 1, earning them enough nods to crack the first Top 25. Of that trio, though, Temple would draw the most attention because of how superior it looked in its 37-7 win at Vanderbilt and because the Owls were 2-10 a year ago.
That 30-point margin might be more an indication of how bad Vandy is than how improved the Owls are, but that doesn't mean they wouldn't be worthy of a token ranking.
Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.
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