NCAA Football News
LSU is lucky to be 1-0.
Head coach Les Miles performed one of his patented comebacks Saturday night against Wisconsin. The Tigers were down by 17 in the third quarter to Wisconsin, but a fake punt sparked 21 unanswered points and a 28-24 victory.
The Tigers will open their home season against Sam Houston State on Saturday. The Bearkats notched their first victory in their home opener last weak against Alabama State.
What You Need to Know
Time: 6:30 p.m. CT
Place: Tiger Stadium, Baton Rouge, Louisiana
TV: SEC Network
You can't win the Heisman in the first week of the season, and realistically, you can't lose it either. But you can definitely come closer to the latter than the former.
A small group of players who were listed on the final preseason Heisman odds board at Bovada (via Odds Shark) sought to prove that this weekend, starting their 2014 seasons with less-than-stellar performances. Some of them turned a small uphill battle into a huge one, and others turned a huge one into Everest.
There is time for (most of) them to compensate, but after getting off on the wrong foot in Week 1, the following players no longer have the buffer of a margin for error to work with. Heisman Trophy winners do not struggle for consecutive weeks in August and September.
It's almost time to rip up their tickets.
The Georgia Bulldogs opened their 2014 campaign with the best possible scenario—a blowout win over the Clemson Tigers. To be sure, the 45-21 victory bears great significance for head coach Mark Richt and his team's aspirations for the season.
But equally impressive is how staggeringly unique the season-opening thrashing of the Tigers was within a historical context.
The Dawgs' win vs. Clemson was the best season opener of the Richt era.
That's saying something for Richt, who has now coached in 14 season openers as the leader of the Bulldogs.
A Lesson in Recent History
By practically any statistical measure, Saturday's win ranks among the best.
Against major conference opposition, only a 30-0 victory at Clemson in 2003 was more lopsided. Against ranked foes, only a 35-point margin of victory over Boise State in 2005 was larger.
Numbers don't tell the whole story, though. What stands out about Saturday's win was the bold statement made in the face of unknowns, as the Bulldogs turned question marks into exclamation marks.
Certainly, Richt was a bit of an unknown quantity when he took over the reins as head coach in 2001, and any new coach brings a degree of concern. But Arkansas State, the Bulldogs' debut opponent that season, entered the year hoping to merely improve on a 1-10 2000 season. Little was learned from the Bulldogs' 45-17 win over the Red Wolves.
From 2002-2004, the Bulldogs perennially contended for SEC Championships thanks to stars like David Greene and David Pollack. However, it helped that the Dawgs opened those three campaigns against unranked opponents Clemson (twice) and Georgia Southern.
The 2005 team broke in a new full-time starter at quarterback in D.J. Shockley, who—like Hutson Mason—was known by fans for his proficiency as a backup but was new to the spotlight as a first-teamer.
Much like this year, the Bulldogs transitioned to a new defensive coordinator in 2005 and opened the year at home against a ranked opponent in Boise State.
In that game, a 48-13 Georgia win, it was evident from the outset that the Broncos from Idaho were outmatched. The talent differential was exceedingly clear and a host of returning defensive stars for Georgia made the afternoon very long for Boise State.
On Saturday, there was no overwhelming gap in the quality of personnel, as both Georgia and Clemson recruit extremely well. As demonstrated by the first half, the game could have been a close contest.
A well-rounded second-half effort by the Bulldog coaching staff and players resulted in holistic domination of the Tigers. A lot more was learned about the Bulldogs in this year's win over Clemson than from the team's 2005 win over Boise State.
Beginning in 2009, Georgia's early-season scheduling increased in difficulty.
After taking on just one ranked opponent in an opener over his first eight seasons, Richt has now started four of the Bulldogs' last six seasons against a ranked foe.
Obviously, losses to Oklahoma State and Boise State in 2009 and 2011, respectively, don't merit consideration relative to this weekend's victory. Similarly, a heart-breaking, narrow loss on the road to Clemson last season missed out on this conversation by three points.
Significance Moving Forward
Of course, isolated single games—regardless of when they occur—mean very little within the grander scale of a full season.
Case in point: A convincing win over Western Kentucky did not carry over to prolonged success as the Bulldogs lost four games over a five-game stretch in 2006. Conversely, an embarrassing loss to Boise State in 2011 did not doom the Dawgs, who rallied back for a trip to the SEC Championship Game.
Perhaps the most important statistic for Bulldog fans to remember at this time is 8.33. As in, Georgia is only 8.33 percent through the regular-season gauntlet.
Richt acknowledged this notion in his weekly teleconference by saying, "I think we've played one game and we've got a long way to go."
Though Richt is not ready to celebrate, it helps that Georgia addressed concerns on Saturday, and there's great encouragement to be found in the momentum that comes with what Tony Barnhart of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution called the Bulldogs' "most complete" game since 2007.
But this is a long season.
So while it can be said that this was the best season opener of the Richt era, the Dawgs want this game to ultimately leave a different legacy.
For Georgia, the hope is that this win—one defined by mistake-free offense, sound defensive adjustments and clean special teams play—will later be viewed as a game that accurately reflects the entire 2014 season.
That would be an accomplishment worth celebrating.
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With a fantastic second-half performance and an important conference win now in the rearview mirror, the Auburn Tigers will begin a trio of nonconference games this Saturday with a home matchup against San Jose State.
Auburn's offense was back to its impressive ways in the season-opening victory against Arkansas, compiling 45 points and almost 600 yards while giving a half to both quarterbacks Nick Marshall and Jeremy Johnson. The Tigers defense turned the tie game into a convincing Auburn win by shutting out the Razorbacks after halftime and showing signs of improvement in several areas.
This weekend, head coach Gus Malzahn and Auburn will focus on improving its overall game with a visit from a team that isn't expected to trigger any upset alerts.
The Spartans were a .500 team last year out of the Mountain West and had to replace several key players from a team that struggled with superior teams away from home. A commanding 42-10 season-opening win against FCS-level North Dakota will give Ron Caragher and Co. some momentum heading into Jordan-Hare Stadium, but it appears that a lot of things will have to fall their way in order to pull off the shocker.
Before we get to the breakdown of Auburn's first nonconference game of the season, here are all of the game's basics you need to know:
- Date: Saturday, Sept. 6
- Time: 7 p.m. ET (6 p.m. local)
- Place: Jordan-Hare Stadium, Auburn
- TV: ESPN2
- Radio: Auburn IMG Sports Network
- Spread: Auburn -29.5, according to AL.com's Danny Sheridan
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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