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Tennessee Football: Why Vols Rushing Attack Needs to Dominate Bowling Green

During Tennessee's 38-7 season-opening dismantling of Utah State last year, an ugly reality was glossed over by such a commanding, dominating win.

The Vols could not run the football.

As it turned out, that 39-rush, 110-yard performance (not to mention the 2.8 per-rush average) was the only foreshadowing needed for a football season that wouldn't get going until far too late.

UT's revamped, makeshift offensive line went on to struggle all season; there were no viable running options other than true freshman Jalen Hurd, and the Vols couldn't consistently succeed in short-yardage situations.

Fast-forward to this season, and the biggest question mark on a team with much higher stakes than in 2014 entering Saturday's season opener against Bowling Green in Nashville remains the same as it was a season ago: the offensive line.

A mixture of experienced but less talented linemen grouped with a bunch of talented, inexperienced newcomers isn't the best formula for success.

But it's what Tennessee has, and if the Vols endure much the same results as they did against the Aggies a year ago, a season brimming with buzz may turn sour quickly.

In a game UT likely won't lose against the Falcons on Saturday, if you want to look for long-term indicators for this team, focus on two things: (1) the accuracy of quarterback Joshua Dobbs and (2) the performance of the offensive line, not only in pass protection but also in the holes it opens up for running backs Jalen Hurd, Alvin Kamara and Co.

By most accounts, despite the worrying and gnashing of teeth that have been caused by an inconsistent offensive line, the Vols feel much better about the running game now than they have in a long time.

At least that's what they're saying. 

UT offensive coordinator Mike DeBord isn't normally one to fire up the sunshine pump, but he told GoVols247's Wes Rucker this week that things are looking better with regard to the run game:

We've got great running backs with great speed and great quickness and things like that. We just talked to our offensive line, and we said, 'All we've got to do is get on guys and stay on guys.' That's the biggest thing, 'cause our backs are gonna make people miss and get extra yardage and things like that. Our backs add a lot to our run game. …

I like where our offensive line is, and I like that every day we've gotten better. Coach (Don Mahoney) has done a great job working with their footwork, their pad level, their leverage, all that. That group just gets better every day, and that's all we ask of them. We've said, 'Hey, just continue to push it,' and we’ve got guys that are doing that and getting better. I like where we’re at.

That's a different song than coaches were singing when they were concerned entering the season a year ago.

Those worries were realized in a rushing offense that, despite the addition of Dobbs' dynamic ability for the season's final five games, wound up just 92nd in rushing offense nationally with a 146-yard average.

Have the Vols improved? If not, it's going to be a long season.

Also, if there are any issues against a Bowling Green defense that finished last season 101st against the run, serious changes need to occur on the offensive front immediately.

The Falcons may wind up being a good mid-major team that wins a lot of games in the MAC, but they don't have the defensive players to match up with an SEC team. They wouldn't even if they were a quality defensive team (and they're not).

With several defenses on the early-season schedule that are expected to be stellar, such as Oklahoma, Florida, Arkansas and Georgia, how can UT be confident running the ball if it can't figure out Bowling Green?

The frustrating fact is that if the Vols dominate the Falcons running the ball, it's simply what they should have done, and not much can be drawn from it one way or another. If they struggle, well, that's another story.

Kamara brings an element to this offense the Vols haven't had in a long time. Likely, the last home run threat UT had was LaMarcus Coker. Kamara is the perfect runner for coach Butch Jones' system, and he could put up big numbers.

Along with the fast, powerful Hurd, there are plenty of reasons for excitement. But the Vols need holes to run through to be successful. Then, they can wind up doing some special things.

Tennessee's offensive line needs to come out with a chip on its collective shoulder after last season. Throughout the summer months, everybody has been talking about how it is the weakest link standing between the Vols and a 2015 run.

The first test against Bowling Green isn't a big one. The Vols need to go out and ace it, or they may have to find some creative ways to get their offense going again this year.


All recruiting information obtained from 247Sports unless otherwise noted. All stats gathered from cfbstats.com unless otherwise noted. 

Brad Shepard covers SEC football and is the Tennessee lead writer for Bleacher Report. Follow Brad on Twitter @Brad_Shepard.

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College Football Picks Week 1: Odds and Spread Predictions for Top 25 Teams

Forget the books, the lectures, the Bob Marley poster that one kid in your dorm would always put up and who gets to keep the microwave. The college football season is about to begin, and the nation's top teams are eyeing a top-four spot to make the playoff plateau. 

Before we get into the first matchups for the Top 25 teams, let's take a look at the first poll leading into the season:

The defending national champions, Ohio State, return to the top spot in 2015 and open their season against the only team they lost to last season, Virginia Tech. Sitting atop their perch, they look down at the explosive offenses of Texas sides TCU and Baylor at two and four, respectively, with traditional powerhouse Alabama sitting in between them. 

Starting in the top four was a good sign for teams in 2014, the first year of the college football playoff. Three of the four top preseason teams, Florida State, Alabama and Oregon, were among the final teams competing for the national championship.

There are at least another 21 teams behind that are looking to push their way into the championship picture, and the journey starts with that first game. Here is who the Top 25 teams are opening up their respective seasons against, with spreads courtesy of Odds Shark:

Upset of the Week

Virginia over No. 13 UCLA

If last year is any indication of how UCLA's opener will go against Virginia, there is cause for concern. Down in Charlottesville, UCLA needed three defensive touchdowns to escape with a 28-20 win over Virginia on August 30. 

Virginia's defense ran rampant, sacking Brett Hundley five times and holding the offense to one touchdown. This year, Virginia is without its top two pass-rushers and could rely on senior Mike Moore, who had 3.0 sacks last season, to lead the pressure.

But it is the Cavaliers secondary that holds the most talent with sophomore Quin Blanding being selected to the 2015 All-ACC preseason team after a three-interception freshman year. 

They'll be trying to shut down freshman quarterback Josh Rosen, who will be making his collegiate debut against a defense that has to be confident after its performance last season against the Bruins. But according to Chris Foster of the Los Angeles Times, the freshman is well beyond his years with a solid supporting cast around him:

There is a high ceiling on Rosen's abilities, and he is surrounded by nine returning starters on offense...UCLA coaches are confident that Rosen can perform in front of 70,000. They seem a little more worried whether he can handle a handful of reporters asking questions after a practice.

For Virginia, they will be returning Matt Johns at quarterback. A player that appeared in all 12 games, starting three in 2014, Johns is well-respected among the program, according to head coach Mike London, per Fox Sports' Jacquie Franciulli:

He does not have great speed or overpowering arm strength, which means that if Virginia is to pull off the upset, it is going to be a fairly low-scoring game. But UCLA's new man under center could help make that happen.

It's one thing to show promise in practice; it's another to do it in on a big stage with difficult opposition waiting on the other side of the line of scrimmage. Rosen could have his hands full with a team that is not even considered among the elite sides in the ACC. If the Bruins do stumble, they can kiss their playoff hopes goodbye after their first game.

There is a very good chance that there will be a number of upsets among the Top 25 teams this week, which can set up even more excitement in the FBS. While picking the spread or upset is usually a mystery, one thing is for sure: The 2015 college football season is going to be an unpredictable roller-coaster ride that will captivate the nation.

Stats courtesy of ESPN.com

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ESPN College GameDay 2015: Week 1 Schedule, Location, Predictions and More

The college football season kicked off Thursday evening, but it won’t feel official until Lee Corso, Kirk Herbstreit and the rest of ESPN’s traveling pregame show grace television sets across the nation. 

The first episode of College GameDay airs Saturday morning from Fort Worth, Texas, for the Big Ten-SEC showdown between Wisconsin and Alabama. The actual game takes place Saturday at 8 p.m. ET on ABC from AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

The show shared its decision to head to the Lone Star State:

Here is a look at all the essential information you need to watch the year’s first College GameDay episode, as well as a prediction for the contest.


ESPN College GameDay: Week 1 Info 

Date: Saturday, Sept. 5

Time (ET): 9 a.m. - 12 p.m.

Location: Fort Worth, Texas

Watch: ESPN   

Live Stream: WatchESPN


Preview and Prediction 

In case you weren’t fired up enough about this high-profile, interconference clash, Wisconsin football shared a hype video:

The Badgers may be ready, but if history is any indication, Corso will put on Alabama’s mascot head to end Saturday’s show, per College GameDay:

Picking Alabama would be a wise move for the commentator considering coach Nick Sabanhas never lost a season-opening contest as leader of the Crimson Tide.

There is still some uncertainty surrounding the 2015 version of Alabama, particularly at the quarterback spot. ESPN’s Brett McMurphy noted Saban would like two signal-callers ready and a third on standby for Saturday’s game, and he may even play more than one between Jake Coker, Alec Morris and Cooper Bateman.

The bottom line is not one quarterback has shown enough in camp to seize the starting reins, but that isn’t necessarily as crippling to the team’s chances as it sounds.

The Crimson Tide will likely rely on running back and preseason Heisman Trophy candidate Derrick Henry throughout Saturday’s contest regardless of who is under center. He racked up 990 rushing yards, 133 receiving yards and 13 total touchdowns behind 5.8 yards per carry in 2014 and is ready to take over as the workhorse with T.J. Yeldon in the NFL.

Matt Zenitz of AL.com described just how dangerous Henry will be in 2015:

The 6-foot-3, 245-pound Henry is likely one of the top pound-for-pound athletes in college football. The Yulee, Florida native also feels he has become a better and more complete running back since rushing for a team-best 990 yards and 11 touchdowns as a sophomore last season while sharing playing time with T.J. Yeldon, whom the Jacksonville Jaguars selected in the second round of this year's NFL draft.

That combination is why Henry — the clear centerpiece of a mostly inexperienced offense — could be poised for a breakout season nationally after seeing limited time as a freshman and then splitting time with Yeldon last season.

Henry should be licking his lips with anticipation for Saturday.

The last two times Wisconsin’s defense took the field it allowed a whopping 301 rushing yards to Ohio State in the Big Ten Championship Game (220 of which came from Ezekiel Elliott) and 219 rushing yards against Auburn in the Outback Bowl. It failed to consistently control the line of scrimmage, which will prove to be a problem against the physical Crimson Tide.

All Henry has to do is find the end zone a couple of times with Alabama’s defense in his corner.

The Crimson Tide finished fourth in the country in scoring defense last year, fourth in 2013 and first in 2012 and 2011. There are few units, if any, as consistent in all of college football as Alabama’s defense, and Wisconsin will learn that the hard way Saturday.

Even if the quarterbacks rotate and fail to establish momentum, the Crimson Tide have more than enough to win behind Henry and the defense.

That is not to suggest the Badgers will be a pushover.

After all, they stunned Alabama’s archrival Auburn in last season’s bowl game and are riding some conference momentum, as running back Corey Clement said, per Charlie Potter of 247Sports: "Who's to say we can't beat Alabama? They proved they can be beat. This conference can play with the best of them. I think (Ohio State's Sugar Bowl win) kind of gave Alabama a wake-up call."

Clement represents Wisconsin’s best chance at the upset after he finished with 949 rushing yards and nine touchdown runs in 2014 behind superstar Melvin Gordon. Like Henry, Clement will be the workhorse this season and has a golden opportunity to announce his presence to the college football world.

The problem for the Badgers is the inexperience up front. Multiple injuries left them scrambling along the offensive line during training camp, and Walker Williams, Hayden Biegel and Michael Dieter could all make their first career starts against the mighty Crimson Tide without many preseason reps together.

The Badgers make their living almost every season behind a strong rushing attack, physically imposing offensive line and a solid defense. The problem this time around is they face a team that uses the same method, only more effectively.

The Crimson Tide are 69-3 since 2008 when rushing for at least 140 yards, and that formula will lead to victory yet again.

Alabama will control the game up front on both sides on the way to a statement victory.

Prediction: Alabama 24, Wisconsin 10

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TCU Still Title Contender Despite Shaky Win, but Boykin's Heisman Hopes Take Hit

TCU’s 23-17 road win over Minnesota in front of a rowdy crowd at TCF Bank Stadium on Thursday night is going to wind up like a fine wine: It’ll age well.

Unfortunately for Heisman hopeful Trevone Boykin, his season-opening performance went down like a flat soda.

The fifth-year senior and front-runner for college football's top award had an aesthetically pleasing box score, accounting for 338 total yards and two touchdowns, but a deeper look showed he was extremely rusty.

While the award can't really be lost (or won, for that matter) in one game, Boykin did nothing to prove he was the nation's top player in a game everybody was watching on opening-night, prime-time television.

Instead, he sputtered along with the rest of TCU's offense against a better-than-advertised Minnesota team. Boykin misfired on at least six different occasions to wide-open receivers—two of which would have gone for touchdowns.

On the last one, Shaun Nixon made a sick double move on a Golden Gophers defender, and nobody stood within 10 yards of him as he raced unimpeded into the end zone. Boykin overthrew him by three feet.

The other time, Emanuel Porter found a seam in the zone, and Boykin—who finished 26-of-42 passing—threw high and behind his target. He immediately lowered his head, angry at himself for the squandered opportunity.

It was a night full of them, and not just for him. TCU's red-zone offense was forgettable.

Boykin had some moments of brilliance, such as a 19-yard touchdown run in the first half where he juked star cornerback Eric Murray on his way to an untouched score. Also, when given time to set his feet and read through his progressions, he delivered some Heisman-caliber throws.

But other times, he suffered from happy feet under pressure, tossing one poorly thrown interception and narrowly missing another one. He also fumbled a pitch under duress, but it was recovered by the Frogs.

The pick was especially a momentum-flipping mistake.

In a game that many folks wanted to see TCU dominate considering it doesn't play a schedule that will mount much resistance, coach Gary Patterson's team just kind of plodded along.

Even so, this has the makings of morphing into a quality win once some games flow by and we go deeper into the season.

Gophers coach Jerry Kill has built a pretty solid Big Ten team, and while the dearth of playmakers on the offensive side of the ball will keep them from being any kind of contender in the conference, it's not out of the question they could be the class of a weaker West division.

Everybody already knew they boasted a strong secondary, but the front seven really looked like a tough, physical group Thursday, too. 

Perhaps the biggest positive TCU should take from all this is how it battled respectably in a game that wound up tougher than many thought it would.

Did the Frogs look good winning? No. Did they earn any style points that will help them with the voters and, eventually, the committee? Unh-uh.

But this is a TCU offense that ran roughshod through the Big 12 a season ago, and it returns 10 starters. Though Boykin didn't look like a star against the Gophers, he is one, and he and that side of the ball will get things going.

Defensively, there were serious question marks after the Frogs lost six of their top seven tacklers off last year's team and were without sack leader James McFarland in the opener. But that young group rose to the occasion, thwarting Minnesota at nearly every turn.

The performance was spoiled somewhat by a frenetic fourth-quarter drive that the Gophers punctuated with a touchdown, but the TCU defense still impressed. That's a major building block for a season that could wind up being special despite a bit of a stumble over the first hurdle.

Around water coolers all over the country on Friday, people will be discussing how the Frogs are overrated, maybe not a serious title contender and how Boykin will have to play his way back into the Heisman conversation.

As for Patterson, he was just happy with a win in a difficult environment.

Games like this one will make a team battle-tested, build character and prepare it for major conference battles down the road much more so than a 50-point cakewalk over a cupcake. Teams such as Kansas State may force TCU to grind it out, and now it has experience doing so.

TCU and Boykin may not have impressed everybody on Thursday night, but they may have learned some things that will help them as they embark on this title run.

If that's the case, they may look back on this gritty brawl of a victory fondly.


Brad Shepard covers college football for Bleacher Report. Follow Brad on Twitter @Brad_Shepard.

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Michigan vs. Utah: Game Grades, Analysis for the Wolverines

The Michigan Wolverines entered Rice-Eccles Stadium with an upset on the brain, but the Utah Utes protected their home turf and earned a 24-17 victory.

Justin Thomas' 55-yard pick-six with eight minutes remaining in the fourth quarter effectively sealed the win for Utah.

Pass Offense: Jake Rudock's efficiency and decision-making are his biggest strengths, but they weren't evident against Utah. He tossed three interceptions, though one was the result of an incorrect route. Amara Darboh (8 REC, 101 YDS, 1 TD) and Jake Butt (8 REC, 93 YDS, 1 TD) helped Michigan stay competitive to the finish.

Run Offense: If there's a bright side to Michigan's rushing performance, it's that the running backs can hardly be less effective moving forward. Thursday was simply a dreadful outing for De'Veon Smith (17 CAR, 47 YDS) and the Wolverines, who stumbled to 2.6 yards per attempt. The offensive line reached the second level on a mere handful of snaps, and that's simply unacceptable.

Pass Defense: Though the secondary was never gashed for a big gain, Michigan didn't receive a game-changing play from the defensive backfield. Jeremy Clark's interception came at the end of the second quarter on a touchdown-or-bust heave by Travis Wilson.

Run Defense: The Wolverines shut down Devontae Booker on the ground last season, and they repeated the performance in 2014. Booker managed just 3.1 yards per carry. However, Wilson kept a few drives alive with his legs and scored a 14-yard touchdown.

Special Teams: Kenny Allen hammered home a 29-yard field goal, but he pushed a 44-yarder to the right. Blake O'Neill averaged 43.3 yards on three punts, blasting a long kick of 50.

Coaching: Michigan's struggles were mostly due to poor execution. With that being said, Jim Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Tim Drevno need to have the offensive line better prepared in future outings, because the Wolverines couldn't run the ball—at all. Fifteen of Michigan's 29 runs gained two yards or less.


Follow Bleacher Report college football writer David Kenyon on Twitter: @Kenyon19_BR.

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Notre Dame Football: Previewing Major Recruiting Weekend

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Unlike in past years when the Irish opened with run-of-the-mill afternoon games against Rice, Temple, South Florida and Purdue, Notre Dame football begins its 2015 season against a marquee opponent in a prime-time slot, paving the way for a high-profile recruiting weekend on campus.

This year’s opener against the Longhorns is one of the two night games at Notre Dame Stadium, with the October matchup with USC also shaping up to be a similarly important recruiting weekend. So the Irish start the season busy and are scheduled to welcome roughly 25 prospects—commits, targets and some recruits without offers in the classes of 2016, 2017 and 2018—according to Irish247.

“It’s huge,” Irish247’s Tom Loy said of the upcoming weekend. “You want to jump out of the gate right away with a big, convincing victory and show that all of the offseason hype surrounding the program and the talk of Notre Dame getting into the playoffs and competing for a national title is real.”

Notre Dame will have a chance to impress a host of top targets in the class of 2016. Defensive end Daelin Hayes is expected to take an unofficial visit, Loy reported Thursday. The USC commit is slotted as the No. 9 outside linebacker and No. 107 overall player in the country and could fill a major pass-rushing need for Notre Dame. Hayes has been committed to the Trojans since July 26, 2014, and is planning a return trip—an official visit—to South Bend for the Notre Dame-USC game in October, per Loy.

“It’s huge,” Loy said of getting Hayes on campus. “I’ve never hid the fact that I think he’s gonna end up at Notre Dame.”

Loy said the Irish will likely have stud linebacker Jaylon Smith spend time with Hayes, letting the 4-star prospect pick Smith’s brain on his own recruiting process and his time in South Bend. While Hayes is listed as an outside linebacker and has dropped down to 235 pounds, Loy still views him as a pass-rusher.

“At the next level, I’m confident he’s gonna end up being that defensive end, edge-rusher that Notre Dame really needs and that they kinda missed out on last year,” Loy said. “They really need a guy who can get to the quarterback, and that’s exactly what he does well.”

Along with Hayes, class of 2016 athlete Demetris Robertson headlines the weekend visitors. Robertson checks in as the No. 2 athlete and No. 39 overall recruit in his class. The Savannah, Georgia, product decommitted from Alabama in mid-April.

Loy said Robertson is the type of top-of-the-board talent Notre Dame simply looks to get on campus, pushing positional questions down the road. Robertson can be a difference-maker at both wide receiver and defensive back, Loy said.

“Speaking beyond just his football talent, he’s very much heavily considering academics in his decision,” Loy said. “There’s a reason it would be no surprise to anybody to see him end up at Stanford or Notre Dame. Academics are extremely important to Robertson and his family. And that played a factor in his decision to open things up from Alabama.”

Loy said Georgia, Stanford, Alabama and Notre Dame are all in the running for Robertson’s services.

Class of 2016 all-purpose back Melquise Stovall, a former USC commit, is set to visit South Bend, as well. Stovall, the No. 4 all-purpose back and No. 168 overall player, decommitted from the Trojans in early August. Like fellow California native and 2016 Irish target Damian Alloway, Stovall profiles into an all-purpose back, slot receiver role, Loy said. However, Notre Dame will likely only add one of the two at this point, Loy said, though that could change.

Class of 2016 wide receiver Donnie Corley is considered a Michigan State lean, but the No. 19 wideout in the nation is slated for a trip to South Bend this weekend.

“I thought [the Irish] were [a long shot],” Loy said. “The kid raved about Notre Dame and was very high on Notre Dame and so was his family. However, things started to move south after that, and less interest was there.

“It was a surprise to me to find out he was coming this weekend.”

On the other side of the ball, three class of 2016 defensive backs are set to arrive on campus: cornerback Donte Vaughn, cornerback Eric Cuffee and safety D.J. Morgan.

“I do like the group at defensive back,” Loy said. “I don’t think there’s an elite guy in that group.”

Loy praised Vaughn, the No. 27 corner and No. 299 overall prospect in the country, for his length and running ability and tabbed Notre Dame as the leader for the Memphis, Tennessee, native.

Among 2017 prospects, Illinois tight end Cole Kmet is expected in town. The No. 6 tight end in his class, Kmet camped at Notre Dame in June, received an offer 10 days later and stopped back on campus at the end of July. Loy said he expects Kmet’s recruitment to come down to the Irish and Ohio State.

Other top 2017 targets expected to visit for Saturday’s game include athlete Tyrell Ajian, the No. 190 player in the class, and defensive end Corey Malone-Hatcher, the No. 8 player at his position and a native of nearby Saint Joseph, Michigan.


Unless otherwise noted, all recruiting stats and information are courtesy of 247Sports.com, and all quotes were obtained firsthand. Star ratings reflect 247Sports composite rankings.

Mike Monaco is the lead Notre Dame writer for Bleacher Report. Follow @MikeMonaco_ on Twitter.

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Al-Quadin Muhammad, Miami DE, Suspended: Latest Details, Comments, Reaction

The Miami Hurricanes will be short-handed up front when they open their 2015 season Friday night at home against Bethune-Cookman University. 

According to the Associated Press' Tim Reynolds, edge-rusher Al-Quadin Muhammad has been suspended for the Hurricanes' season opener due to a violation of team rules.

However, the Miami Herald's Susan Miller Degnan reported Muhammad is expected to take the field for Miami's second game on the road against Florida Atlantic University. 

The redshirt sophomore was suspended for the entire 2014 season after getting into an altercation with a former Miami student. According to Degnan and the Miami Herald's Barry Jackson, the season-long suspension stemmed from a fight that resulted in a broken nose for his then-roommate. 

Over the course of his brief and bumpy career at Miami, Muhammad has tallied seven solo tackles while notching two sacks. 

Muhammad's collegiate offerings have been disappointing thus far, but he exuded confidence prior to the start of a new campaign. 

"I feel great," Muhammad said, according to the Palm Beach Post's Matt Porter. "I feel explosive. I’m moving pretty good. Everything is good."

But in order to prove he's capable of contributing on a regular basis, Muhammad will need to return from his suspension on his best behavior and thrive in the opportunities afforded to him by head coach Al Golden. 

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Utah Loss Shows Jim Harbaugh's 1st Season's Fate Lies on Jake Rudock's Right Arm

All things considered, there were plenty of positives to take away from Jim Harbaugh's debut as Michigan's head coach.

The Wolverines lost on the road to Utah, 24-17, but they showed a good amount of improvement from the disastrous 5-7 season that resulted in Brady Hoke's firing a year ago. Tight end Jake Butt looked like a star in the making, safety Jabrill Peppers showed flashes of his 5-star ability and the Michigan defense played as well as could have been asked of it, bottling up Utes star running back Devontae Booker for just 69 rushing yards and one touchdown on the night.

But for all that went the Wolverines' way Thursday, none of it was enough to overcome the play of Jake Rudock, who left plenty to be desired in his debut as Michigan's starting quarterback.

Seemingly yet to have developed a strong chemistry with his wide receivers, Rudock threw three costly interceptions—just two fewer than he recorded throughout the 2014 season.

The most crucial of his interceptions came in the fourth quarter when Utah's Justin Thomas picked one off and returned it for a touchdown to put the Utes up 24-10, just as it seemed Michigan was poised to complete a game-tying drive.

Rudock, who was revealed as the winner of an offseason quarterback battle with junior Shane Morris when he took the field for the Wolverines' opening offensive drive, also missed no fewer than three wide-open receivers on plays that appeared to be surefire touchdowns.

He also slipped on a costly QB sneak attempt on 3rd-and-1 in the fourth quarter on a drive that would ultimately result in a turnover on downs for Michigan one play later.

In essence, Rudock was the antithesis of what he was advertised to be when he arrived in Ann Arbor as a graduate transfer from Iowa this summer. With the Hawkeyes, the 6'3", 208-pound signal-caller built a reputation for being steady but unspectacular—a game manager who could take care of the ball and leave the fate of a contest in the defense's hands.

On Thursday, that would have been enough for the Wolverines to walk away from Salt Lake City with a win, thanks to a Michigan defensive effort that only allowed 337 total yards and held Utah to a 3-of-13 success rate on third down. But with both teams failing to muster any sort of momentum on offense in the second half, it was Rudock's pick-six that proved to be the most important play of the game.

We'll never know whether Morris would have fared any better had he gotten the starting nod. But Rudock's performance simply left too many points on the board and resulted in too many costly turnovers not to wonder.

That's not to say Rudock should bear all of the blame for the Wolverines' loss, especially with a rushing game anchored by De'Veon Smith (17 carries, 47 yards) providing just 76 yards on 29 carries and a long rush of seven yards in support. Rudock was also responsible for Michigan's two touchdowns on the night, although one came by way of a spectacular grab by Butt in triple coverage and the other was against a soft prevent defense late in the fourth quarter.

But with a two-year track record as a starter in Iowa City already on his resume, Rudock looked more like the player who threw 13 interceptions as a sophomore than the one who was only picked off five times in 2014. Given the shortcomings of the Wolverines' rushing game, a continued trend in that direction could make for another long season in Ann Arbor, even with Harbaugh at the helm.

The good news, however, is that the Utes are one of the better teams Michigan will face this season, and Rudock still has time to develop a chemistry with his new wide receiving corps—a bond that seemed nonexistent at times on Thursday.

Despite the aforementioned mishaps on deep balls that could have changed the course of the game, the Wolverine wideouts put together a solid game, as Amara Darboh led the way with eight receptions for 101 yards and a touchdown on the night.

It should also help that once the Big Ten season approaches, Rudock will find himself facing teams and schemes he's seen before. Aside from his ability to take care of the ball, it was Rudock's leadership and experience that seemed to give him an upper hand in Michigan's quarterback battle.

But if Rudock continues to squander defensive performances like the one his team gave him against Utah, he may not hold that advantage in Harbaugh's eyes for much longer.


Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Big Ten lead writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand. All statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com. Recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports.

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Scooby Wright Injury: Updates on Arizona Star's Knee and Return

Arizona Wildcats star linebacker Scooby Wright suffered a knee injury Thursday night against the University of Texas at San Antonio and did not return to action, according to the Pac 12 Network's Jill Savage. 

He will undergo a MRI, per Anthony Gimino of Tucson News Now. Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez is unsure how long Wright will be out, per Stewart Mandel of FOX Sports 1.

Continue for updates.

Wright Seen Walking With a Crutch Friday, September 4

ESPN.com's David Lombardi reported that Wright was hobbling with a "bad limp" on the Arizona sideline after changing into street clothes.

Savage later provided a look at Wright in street clothes on the sideline: 

After suffering the injury, the junior linebacker was seen with ice wrapped around his left knee, per Yahoo Sports' Dr. Saturday: 

Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports noted that head coach Rich Rodriguez does not believe the injury is ACL or MCL related because Wright recently suffered from shin splits.

Wright is arguably the most valuable defensive player in all of college football, and it would be a serious blow to Arizona’s season if he's forced to miss extensive time.

The superstar tallied 163 total tackles, 29 tackles for loss, 14 sacks and six forced fumbles (per Sports-Reference.com) last season on his way to the Bronko Nagurski Award, Chuck Bednarik Award, Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year and Vince Lombardi Award.

He even finished ninth in Heisman Trophy voting as a defender on an Arizona team that doesn’t get the national attention of other blue-chip programs.

It’s not just the raw talent that the Wildcats will miss during Wright’s absence, but his versatility. He frequently lines up at defensive end or on the outside as a pass-rusher and is more than comfortable occupying the middle linebacker position on most downs. He is a matchup nightmare for any offensive line.

This setback is even more problematic because linebacker Cody Ippolito tore his ACL and will miss the 2015 season. Arizona must now rely on a number of solid defenders in Jake Matthews, Derrick Turituri and DeAndre' Miller, among others, who can fill in for arguably its two best linebackers.

Truthfully, it is difficult to envision the Arizona defense in the same light without Wright on the field. He is one of the best playmakers in the entire country and provides an extra dimension as a pass-rusher and run-stuffer that nobody else can replicate.

If the Wildcats hope to compete in the Pac-12 and accomplish their 2015 goals, the others must step up in his absence. There are enough names to fill in at the various linebacker spots, and the fact that Arizona typically runs a 3-3-5 instead of a 3-4 means there is one less slot to occupy at the defense’s second level.

Still, Wright needs to be on the field for the Wildcats to be a complete defense.

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Scooby Wright Injury: Updates on Arizona Star's Knee and Return

Arizona Wildcats star linebacker Scooby Wright suffered a knee injury Thursday night against the University of Texas at San Antonio and did not return to action, according to the Pac 12 Network's Jill Savage...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Michigan vs. Utah: Score, Highlights and Twitter Reaction

The Michigan Wolverines made their highly anticipated debut under head coach Jim Harbaugh Thursday night, but Utah refused to let the Maize and Blue's new era get off to a prosperous start. 

While Michigan threatened to tie things up down the stretch, some shoddy quarterback play sent the Wolverines tumbling to a 24-17 defeat in enemy territory. 

According to B/R Insights, Michigan has now lost eight of its last 11 games against Pac-12 opponents, including six straight.  

"We're a dangerous team," Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said on the Fox television set after the game, according to Fox Sports' Stewart Mandel. "...You better play your best game if you're going to have a chance to beat us."

Senior quarterback Travis Wilson did a commendable job controlling tempo for Utah's offense, and he generally excelled when it came to keeping Michigan's disciplined defense on its toes.  

Wilson finished his 2015 opener by completing 24 of 33 passes for 208 yards and an interception while rushing for 53 yards and a touchdown, including a 14-yard third-quarter score

CFB on Fox provided a look at Wilson's touchdown scamper, which proved to be the game's decisive score: 

But when it came to Michigan's performance under center, the story differed. 

Harbaugh cloaked Michigan's quarterback situation in mystery all summer long, but as expected, fifth-year senior transfer Jake Rudock drew the start over junior Shane Morris. 

The former Iowa Hawkeye completed 27 of 43 passes for 279 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions, including a pick-six midway through the fourth quarter that put things out of reach for Michigan, as relayed by CFB on Fox: 

However, Rudock flashed some promise prior to the late turnover as the Wolverines settled down and worked the middle of the field throughout the third and fourth quarters.

His most complete second-half drive resulted in a pretty touchdown pass to tight end Jake Butt, per CFB on Fox: 

Butt was Rudock's preferred target all night long, and the junior finished with eight catches for 93 yards to go with the touchdown. Senior receiver Amara Darboh was also steady, hauling in eight receptions for a game-high 101 yards and a late score that helped mask some of Michigan's offensive deficiencies. 

And while Michigan was able to find sources of consistency through the air, the same can't be said for its ground game. The Wolverines gained just 76 yards on 29 carries, which resulted in a meager 2.6 yards-per-carry average against a stout Utah front. 

Conversely, Utah running back Devontae Booker—who told ESPN.com's David Lombardi in March that he's "planning on rushing for 2,000 yards and winning the Heisman"—finished the evening with 22 carries for 69 yards and a touchdown, and he added a team-high seven receptions for 55 yards.  

Sporting News' Eric Galko passed along a first-half observation regarding Booker's run-after-catch capabilities:  

CBS Sports' Dane Brugler joined in by marveling at Booker's soft hands out of the backfield: 

Michigan and Utah traded field goals for the game's only points over the first 16 minutes, but the Utes worked their way into a rhythm as the first half progressed.

Wilson proceeded to lead an 11-play, 75-yard drive that was punctuated by a one-yard touchdown plunge from Booker to give Utah a 10-3 lead just minutes into the second quarter. With the season's first touchdown drive under his belt, Wilson had completed nine of 11 passes for 100 yards as Utah consistently worked short and intermediate routes to get the offense rolling.  

A year after Wilson shredded Michigan's defense for 141 yards and a touchdown on 15 dropbacks faced while not under pressure, per B/R Insights, the senior picked up right where he left off as Utah struggled to get things going on the ground. 

The Wolverines stayed true to the Harbaugh way throughout the first half as they tried—and failed—to establish the power running game behind De'Veon Smith, Derrick Green and Ty Isaac. In fact, the first half came and went without Michigan converting a first down on the ground. 

And ultimately, Michigan’s offensive woes over the first 30 minutes were emblematic of the team’s inability to sustain drives throughout the evening.

Rudock missed throws high and outside that could have helped kick-start the Wolverines’ attack, and a plethora of downfield misses intended for open receivers didn't help matters.   

The Michigan offense will try to earn Harbaugh his first win next Saturday at the Big House in Ann Arbor, but Oregon State will be looking to defer that hope until a Sept. 19 clash with UNLV. 

Utah, meanwhile, is slated for an intrastate clash with Utah State next Friday at home at Rice-Eccles Stadium. With Wilson and Booker leading the charge, the odds should tilt heavily in the Utes' favor after successfully holding serve against Michigan.  

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Minnesota Uses 'Dramatic Chipmunk' to Distract Opposing Kicker

This is a different sort of ice tactic.

Minnesota is reportedly using footage of the "Dramatic Chipmunk" to distract an opposing kicker.

Yes, this little guy:

To be clear, the Golden Gophers are (fittingly) touting it as a gopher.

The strategy seems to have worked at least once on TCU kicker Jaden Oberkrom, who was 2-of-3 on field-goal attempts through the first three quarters of Thursday's season opener at TCF Bank Stadium.


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Shawn Oakman Suspended, Will Not Play in Baylor Season Opener vs. SMU

Baylor has suspended preseason All-American defensive end Shawn Oakman and All-Big 12 defensive back Orion Stewart for a violation of team rules, a source close to the program first told Bleacher Report late Thursday. 

Baylor has confirmed the report.

Neither player will suit up for the Bears when they take the field for Friday's season opener at SMU. According to the source, Oakman did travel with the team to Dallas on Thursday. Both players will return to the field in Week 2 when the Bears take on Lamar.

Stewart, a 6'2'', 200-pound junior, recorded 82 tackles and four interceptions in 2014. 

Oakman is a 6'9", 275-pound defensive end who is expected to anchor the defense for the No. 4 Bears. He recorded 51 tackles, 19.5 tackles for a loss and 11 sacks in 2014. 

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Ohio State Football: Are Buckeyes Ready for Hostile Virginia Tech Environment?

Since taking over in 2012, Urban Meyer has led Ohio State into some of the most hostile environments in college football.

In 2012 and 2014, there were treacherous trips to East Lansing and State College for matchups against Michigan State and Penn State. There was the unpleasant visit to Madison, Wisconsin, during Bret Bielema's last season as head coach of the Badgers. And unsurprisingly, the folks in Ann Arbor, Michigan, weren't all that pleasant when the Buckeyes came calling in 2013.

Each of those stadiums was at incapacitating levels of hysteria at kickoff, but when the final whistle blew, it was Ohio State that was making all the noise.

The Buckeyes haven't lost a true road game during the Meyer era, and that streak will be put on the line when they travel south for a prime-time matchup with Virginia Tech on Monday.

The secret to Ohio State's success on the road?

According to Meyer, it's pretty simple.

"There's no magical formula other than you recruit really well," Meyer said, according to Eric Seger of Eleven Warriors. "Motivate and push and go. I think recruit really well is probably the best way to win on the road."

That's certainly a simple logic to follow. If Meyer has great players, his chances of winning in any environment increase. And the Buckeyes have recruited incredibly well with Meyer at the helm, signing the Big Ten's best recruiting class in each of the last four years. 

But talent won't reach its full potential without the right leadership, and that's something the Buckeyes have in abundance right now. 

"Very, very good guys and very good leaders," Meyer said, via Seger. "That's probably the thing I love the most. Josh Perrys , Darron Lees, Adolphus Washington, Joel Hale, Decker, Elflein, Jacoby Boren, those guys. They're priceless as far as leadership and guys I trust."

Ohio State will need those leaders, because Virginia Tech is hyping the season opener in a big way. Inside Hokie Sports editor Jimmy Robertson relayed this from Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer:

"We’ve had a lot of big games at Lane Stadium. The more you win, the more a game becomes important," Beamer said in July, according to Chris Graham of Augusta Free Press. "So over the years, the last few years, we’ve had a lot of big games in there. But I think from an anticipation standpoint, it is big."

So big, in fact, that Virginia Tech cancelled all classes on Monday in anticipation of heavy "campus traffic loads."

The Buckeyes, of course, are hoping to avenge the lone defeat of their championship campaign. The Hokies made the trip to Columbus and beat Ohio State in its home opener last season, and players have been bracing for their shot at redemption all offseason. 

"Been grinding so what happened on Sept. 6, 2014 don't happen again on Sept. 7, 2015," starting safety Tyvis Powell tweeted in June. "Hope y'all been in the lab bc we COMING!"

The Buckeyes are certainly coming, but what awaits is one of the most difficult environments in the country. 


David Regimbal is the Ohio State football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.

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South Carolina vs. North Carolina: Game Grades, Analysis for Gamecocks

The South Carolina Gamecocks may have struggled in their season opener against border rival the North Carolina Tar Heels, but late heroics on both sides of the ball permitted the SEC representative to walk out of Charlotte's Bank of America Stadium the victor, 17-13. 

What was expected to be an offensive, back-and-forth affair quickly turned into a defensive slugfest, with both squads held to under 450 total yards and a combined 30 points. 


South Carolina Game Grades vs. North Carolina (Week 1)

Positional UnitFirst-Half GradeSecond-Half Grade Pass Offense B- C Run Offense B- A Pass Defense C+ B+ Run Defense B+ C- Special Teams A- B+ Coaching B B+








Pass Offense

Overall for the game, starter Connor Mitch and backup Perry Orth combined for 12-of-26, 140 yards and a single touchdown. Despite the much-anticipated return of wide receiver Pharoh Cooper, the stud junior failed to do more than just pull in the Gamecocks' lone passing TD. In the first half, South Carolina proved to be more deadly through the air, but a poor start by Mitch and a few drops lowered its grade. 

The second half only showed even more passing weakness, as the deep throw was essentially eliminated by UNC coverage and Cooper became less of a factor. By that point, though, the Gamecocks had converted to a more potent rushing attack.


Run Offense

The first half proved tough on the ground, as the UNC front held the Gamecocks to 122 rushing yards with no scores. Cooper's use of the wildcat, however, opened up the pass and led to the team's sole field goal. 

The second half, however, was a different story, as Shon Carson busted a 48-yard game-winner midway through the fourth quarter. The Gamecocks, as a whole, snared 132 yards on the ground in the latter half, but more option by Mitch and power running by Carson and Brandon Wilds wore down a tired UNC defense. 

Shon Carson's 48 yard touchdown run was the go-ahead score for the #Gamecocks tonight! 🐔🏈🏃💨🔥#HereSC #UNCvsSC

A photo posted by Gamecock Football (@gamecockfb) on Sep 3, 2015 at 7:07pm PDT


Pass Defense

A rough first half against UNC quarterback Marquise Williams and wide receiver Bug Howard gave the Gamecocks an early deficit, but three total interceptions throughout the game, including two by linebacker Skai Moore, led to a more positive game grade. 

Further, the fact that South Carolina was able to shut down the Tar Heels through the air in critical situations, such as a 4th-and-8 in the red zone late in the game, only proved the pass defense played an essential role in the Gamecocks' victory.

Tarheels intercepted AGAIN in the redzone by SCAR! #UNCvsSChttps://t.co/q6YbEBAPcz

— RedditCFB (@RedditCFB) September 4, 2015


Run Defense

Oppositely, the South Carolina run defense was much stronger in the first half and proceeded to crack during the second, letting UNC running back Elijah Hood create big plays on the ground on multiple occasions during the third and fourth quarters. Overall, Hood ran for 139 yards on just 12 carries, including an incredible 29-yard ricochet in the Tar Heels' final drive of the game.  


Special Teams

Outside of a long missed field goal to end the first half, the South Carolina special teams unit excelled throughout the game. With three touchbacks on each kickoff, a made field goal and a successful fake punt, the Gamecocks were solid on special teams with little room for improvement. 



As Steve Spurrier said following the half, his staff had been "outcoached" throughout the first two quarters of play. However, an obvious recovery in the second half spearheaded a more focused attack on power running, short passing and a traditional Spurrier approach. 

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Even in Ugly Win, South Carolina Shows Signs of Improvement for 2015

South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier offered a little perspective on his team's nosedive last year when he spoke at SEC media days in July.

"Listen, you ever lost four out of five, you had a chance to win, and two of them by two touchdowns? You've never lost the way we were losing. It wears on you a little bit," he said.

The season opener against North Carolina at the Belk College Kickoff Game in Charlotte, North Carolina, provided a little relief for the Head Ball Coach.

The Gamecocks topped the Tar Heels 17-13 on opening night, survived a late—and perhaps mismanaged—drive and closed the door.

Spurrier wasn't exactly pleased with how his team played in the win, according to Josh Kendall of the State:

It wasn't pretty.

First-year starting quarterback Connor Mitch had first-game jitters early, misfired on his first five passes and finished the day 9-for-22 for 122 yards and a touchdown before leaving the game with an injury. According to ESPN (h/t GamecockCentral.com's Chris Clark), the team was looking at Mitch's left hip.

In true Spurrier form, the head coach didn't hold back in the postgame press conference, according to Matt Connolly of the State:

The rush defense, which gave up a whopping 212.2 yards per game last year, allowed 208 on Thursday night (6.5 per carry). Elijah Hood accounted for 138 of those yards but was noticeably absent from the Tar Heel lineup when they got in the red zone down four with under five minutes to play.

Unlike last year, the Gamecock defense came up big when it mattered most. Skai Moore picked off Tar Heel quarterback Marquise Williams in the end zone for the second time in the game to seal the win.

It's a cliche, but it's appropriate for this particular South Carolina team: "A win's a win."

It was clear that South Carolina didn't have its A-game, and probably not its B- or C-games either. As Bleacher Report National Recruiting Analyst Sanjay Kirpalani noted on Twitter, the Gamecocks showed heart:

Mitch's inconsistency and subsequent injury prevented the offense from getting into a groove until running back Shon Carson caught fire late, starting with his 48-yard scamper for the game-winning touchdown.

The defense got some pressure at times, including from newcomers Marquavius Lewis and Dante Sawyer, which is certainly an improvement from the remarkable absence of a pass rush last year.

Things didn't go South Carolina's way—so much so that ESPN college football analyst Danny Kanell said at halftime on the broadcast that North Carolina was clearly in control of the game despite a minuscule 13-10 lead.

Last year, Spurrier's crew would have found a way to lose this game. This year's crew found a way to win.

That's great news for the future because South Carolina's season is going to be made or broken in the first half of the season.

The Gamecocks visit Georgia in Week 3, Missouri in Week 5 and host LSU in Week 6. Those are all tough opponents, and the two big division games on the road will be challenging.

But all of those teams are loaded with roster holes, and South Carolina just overcame some of its own roster deficiencies in a big out-of-conference, neutral-site game against a border rival.

Talk about a confidence boost heading into the meat of the schedule.

South Carolina survived, and that's a major change from last year's crew that became known for folding late in games.

That kind of progress is huge for a program that's loaded with questions in a division that's there for the taking.


Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports. Statistics are courtesy of cfbstats.com.

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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UNC vs. South Carolina: Score, Highlights and Twitter Reaction

The South Carolina Gamecocks sought a better start to 2015 than last year's debacle in Thursday's gridiron showdown with North Carolina at Bank of America Stadium. And coach Steve Spurrier's team overcame a rough start to begin its year in ideal fashion.

Tar Heels quarterback Marquise Williams threw three interceptions, including one with three minutes and 40 seconds left to Skai Moore on 4th-and-goal from the 8-yard line, to cost UNC as South Carolina emerged with a gritty 17-13 victory in Charlotte, North Carolina.

ESPN Stats & Info illustrated how careless Williams was with the ball so close to paydirt:

A combination of Gamecocks quarterback Connor Mitch's inexperience and the improved North Carolina defense under new coordinator Gene Chizik allowed the visitors to overcome their errors for the first 45 minutes of the game.    

Jonathan Jones of the Charlotte Observer praised the job Chizik did in his debut calling the shots—albeit with some hyperbole:

Everything changed on one play 2:11 into the final quarter. Gamecocks running back Shon Carson took off down the sideline for a 48-yard touchdown scamper to give South Carolina a 17-13 lead after the ensuing point-after attempt.

ESPN CollegeFootball provided footage of Carson's explosive run that turned out to be the game-winning jaunt:

The Gamecocks then relied almost exclusively on Carson and Brandon Wilds to ice the win, and the ball-carriers delivered in a big way. Carson registered 75 yards on four carries, while Wilds had 51 rushing yards on 14 attempts.

Spurrier acknowledged prior to Thursday's contest that he was rather uncertain about his team, implying a cautious approach as opposed to last season ahead of an eventual 52-28 loss to Texas A&M in the opener.

"Hopefully, we're not as overconfident as maybe we were last year," said Spurrier, per Sporting News' Jeff Owens. "We're not overconfident, I can say that for sure. Hopefully, we'll be anxious to show the country that we're a pretty good team."

The opening half of Thursday's game didn't inspire much confidence at all in the "Head Ball Coach," per College GameDay:

North Carolina marched down the field on its opening drive before Moore intercepted the talented but inconsistent Williams on 3rd-and-goal from the 6-yard line.

After a three-and-out to start, Spurrier dialed up a fake punt to avoid another brief possession. His sophomore signal-caller, Mitch, then misfired on three straight passes to trigger another punt.

Williams bounced back from the pick with three long completions capped by a 21-yard touchdown pass to Bug Howard to give UNC a 7-0 advantage. ESPN CollegeFootball had footage of the highlight:

To Mitch's credit, he rallied his side to even the score at 7-7 on an 11-play, 75-yard drive completed with a nine-yard TD strike on an underneath route to star Gamecocks receiver Pharoh Cooper. Two field-goal drives orchestrated by Williams allowed UNC to enter halftime up 13-10.

South Carolina responded to Spurrier, to say the least, in shutting out the Tar Heels in the last half.

Williams threw another interception in Gamecocks territory to Jordan Diggs in the third quarter; again South Carolina didn't transfer it into any points. ESPN's Danny Kanell lamented how Cooper couldn't clone himself for South Carolina's offense—though he did wear multiple hats as a Wildcat QB and receiver:

On Mitch's best throw, which could've led to at least a game-tying field goal on that next possession following Williams' second pick, he received a 15-yard unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty and ultimately stalled the drive.

Mitch finished 9-of-22 passing for 122 yards and the score to Cooper. Thankfully the defense and rushing attack picked up enough for the Gamecocks to come out on top.

South Carolina didn't even receive a top-25 vote in this year's initial Associated Press poll, though. The team faces an uphill battle to get into the national-rankings picture even after Thursday's win—especially in the difficult SEC.

The Gamecocks seem to be finding their footing in the post-Jadeveon Clowney era. The defense hasn't been the same since he left after 2013, but it appears South Carolina is turning a corner on that side of the ball to a degree. It will simply have to endure Mitch's growing pains under center and lean on the backfield on offense.

As for North Carolina, this is a tough defeat for the program. Still under fire from the NCAA amid an academic probe, the Tar Heels at least have some decent talent to work with in 2015.

If Williams can cut down on the turnovers and the defense holds form under Chizik, it stands to reason UNC can salvage a solid 2015 campaign.

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Meet the Man Set to Lead Jim Harbaugh's Offense

Given the standard Jim Harbaugh set for the position at his alma mater in the mid-1980s, it's not a surprise that so much of the speculation surrounding his first offseason as Michigan's head coach focused on who would be his first starting quarterback in his debut season in Ann Arbor.

And when the Wolverines offense took the field for its season opener against Utah on Thursday night, we finally received our answer, as it is Jake Rudock inheriting the same position that Harbaugh manned for the Maize and Blue 30 years ago.

But unlike his head coach, don't expect any guarantees from Rudock, who couldn't be more dissimilar from Harbaugh when it comes to both his playing style and personality.

Whereas Harbaugh's brash, in-your-face reputation has followed him throughout his coaching career and dates back to his playing days at Michigan, Rudock could be seen as shy and mild mannered. Asked to describe his strengths as a quarterback upon arriving in Ann Arbor this summer as a graduate transfer from Iowa, Rudock dodged the inquiry.

"I hate that question," Rudock said quietly. "The media loves that question."

Perhaps the reason Rudock isn't fond of discussing his playing style is because any compliments of it could be viewed as backhanded.

Rudock is safe but not spectacular, as evidenced by a 2014 campaign with the Hawkeyes that saw him complete 61.7 percent of his passes for 2,436 yards and 16 touchdowns while throwing just five interceptions.

The 6'3", 208-pounder's passer rating of 133.5 as a junior ranked fourth in the Big Ten but wasn't enough to prevent Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz from naming C.J. Beathard the Hawkeyes' quarterback of the future at the end of the season, paving the way for Rudock to wind up in Ann Arbor.

And while Rudock may not possess the same personality traits as his new head coach, it was clear that Harbaugh's presence was one of the primary factors that led to his landing at Michigan.

"He's competitive as hell," Rudock said of Harbaugh. "He likes to have fun. Very energetic. I think that's the biggest thing."

But just because he doesn't show it doesn't mean he doesn't have it in him, too, as Rudock has already been lauded by his new teammates for his leadership, despite the Weston, Florida, native having been on campus for just a few months now. Tight end Jake Butt said it's apparent that Rudock "has been there before" given the two seasons he spent as the starter in Iowa City.

"He's already established himself as a starter," Butt said. "He knows what it takes to win."

A record of 14-11 from 2013 to 2014, however, wasn't enough for Rudock to keep his job at Iowa, as Ferentz moved on to Beathard in hopes of getting more playmaking out of his quarterback position. But Rudock's safer, more efficient style of play should be a welcome addition in Ann Arbor after quarterback Devin Gardner threw 15 interceptions during the Wolverines' 5-7 campaign in 2014.

In fact, Rudock's ability to take care of the ball was likely one of the deciding factors in Harbaugh choosing him as his first starting quarterback at Michigan over junior Shane Morris, a gunslinger type who is more reminiscent of Harbaugh as far as playing style goes but has yet to live up to his 4-star billing coming out of high school.

"I definitely think Jake’s a guy that can come in and cement things offensively and with the team that could take them to play at the next level for a lot of guys," said Ken Mastrole, Rudock's personal quarterbacks coach who has worked with him since high school. "Maybe playing above what they’re used to from a push."

Having won the starting job—at least for now—Rudock will have the opportunity to do just that. He'll likely be more Alex Smith than Colin Kaepernick in Harbaugh's system, but as the former Michigan signal-caller proved during his time coaching the San Francisco 49ers, that can still win you a lot of games.

How many it will help the Wolverines win this season remains to be seen, but Harbaugh has finally named his man as the most anticipated Michigan season in recent memory is officially underway.


Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Big Ten lead writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand. All statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com. Recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports.

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Michigan vs. Utah: Cat Conti Becomes 1st Female Official in Power 5 Game

The start of the 2015 college football season on Thursday will also be a history-making night, with Cat Conti serving as an official during the Michigan vs. Utah game. 

According to Fox Sports' Stewart Mandel, citing colleague Mike Pereira, Conti will be the first female official to work a game featuring two teams from the Power Five conferences in college football.

Conti's star has been on the rise in the officiating ranks, though as she told Yahoo Sports' Graham Watson last year after she was assigned to a game between Southeast Missouri and Kansas in the Jayhawks' stadium, it didn't change much.

“Everyone saw the assignments, everyone saw I was assigned a Big 12 game,” Conti said. “It was a big deal, but it wasn’t.”

There has been a rise in the role women play in sports, as more opportunities are being made for them in roles traditionally filled by men. 

In April, the NFL made Sarah Thomas the first full-time female official after she spent eight years as an official in Conference USA.

Three months later, the Arizona Cardinals hired Jen Welter to be a training camp/preseason intern who worked with the inside linebackers. She is no longer with the team after her internship ended on Wednesday but did break ground as the NFL's first female coach.

In the NBA, Becky Hammon (San Antonio Spurs) and Nancy Lieberman (Sacramento Kings) have been hired as assistant coaches.  

These are small steps that will eventually lead to big, positive changes for everyone in sports. To echo Conti's statements, hopefully there will be a day when a female officiating games doesn't have to be a big deal because it's happening everywhere.   

Even though there is still a long way to go before women are getting the same opportunities as men in the sports realm, the work being done by Conti, Thomas, et al. is paving the way for future generations.

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College Football Picks: Predictions for Week 1's Top Matchups

Football is back!

Well, college football, at least, with a slew of excellent matchups to open the season. Let's break down the top games on the schedule and offer up some predictions for the opening weekend.


Louisville vs. No. 6 Auburn

Generally speaking, it's not a great situation for a team when there might be a three-way platoon at quarterback. Such is the case for Louisville, as Reggie Bonnafon, Will Gardner and Kyle Bolin could all potentially play against Auburn.

Yes, head coach Bobby Petrino has picked a starter. And yes, he's being cagey by not naming him, so Auburn doesn't know who to game-plan against. But no, he hasn't guaranteed that the starter will play the entire game, though he'd prefer that was the case. 

"That's how you'd like to have it play out," he told reporters, via Steve Jones of the Louisville Courier-Journal. "One guy goes out there, starts and has a great game, throws it all over, makes a lot of plays.. We do feel comfortable with the experience and the depth that we have at the position, but obviously we would just like it to play out that way."

Bonnafon is probably the front-runner, as he has been for most of the summer, but Auburn will have to wait until the game starts to know for sure. No matter who gets the start, Louisville's excellent offensive line should keep him protected. 

Auburn's starter at the position will be no surprise, as talented young quarterback Jeremy Johnson will lead the Tigers. He'll have excellent wideout Duke Johnson to throw to, though Auburn might find moving the ball on the ground tough against Louisville's excellent front seven. 

Ultimately, Auburn has too much talent for this Louisville team. But expect this game to be a very competitive contest nonetheless. 

Prediction: Auburn wins, 31-23


No. 15 Arizona State vs. Texas A&M

Arizona State's offense can score in bunches, led by talented, versatile playmaker D.J. Foster. The Sun Devils will find ways to get him into space, a dangerous proposition for the Aggies. 

The Aggies are no slouch on offense themselves, however, with the talented Kyle Allen at quarterback and wideout Ricky Seals-Jones moving the sticks.

Frankly, this one has all the makings of a shootout. Look for the Aggies to win a close, high-scoring affair and make the one or two key stops that the Sun Devils can't come up with.

Prediction: Texas A&M wins, 42-38


Texas vs. No. 11 Notre Dame

Malik Zaire turned a lot of heads when he finally earned the starting gig late last season. Tyrone Swoopes, at times, made Texas fans turn away with his mediocre play. Both quarterbacks will be the key players for their teams this season.

For Texas, though, the key against the more talented Fighting Irish will be running the ball successfully with Johnathan Gray. If they can control the clock and win the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball—forcing Zaire to beat them through the air on defense—they'll have a shot to pull off the win.

It's unlikely to happen, however. An inexperienced line will struggle against Notre Dame's solid defense, and Zaire and Notre Dame's solid running attack will make enough plays to get past Texas.

Prediction: Notre Dame wins, 35-21


No. 20 Wisconsin vs. No. 3 Alabama

This is, without question, the game of the week. Nick Saban's unit is as talented as ever, led by a talented front seven on defense and amazing athletes all over the field. Wisconsin will likely need to run the ball successfully this season, as running back Corey Clement looks to replace Melvin Gordon.

He's up for the task—he already has seven games with 100 rushing yards in his career. Whether a patchwork offensive line is up for the task is another matter entirely. 

Of course, Derrick Henry is no slouch for Alabama. Henry likely will be the focal point of an offense that thrives when it runs the ball successfully, per the Associated Press via Fox Sports:

The key stat for Alabama is 140 yards rushing. The Tide are 69-3 since 2008 when rushing for at least that total, with the losses coming against Auburn in 2013, and Mississippi and Ohio State in 2014.

Being able to depend on a strong running game again will be imperative for Alabama, which is still dealing with an unsettled quarterback situation. Saban has yet to name a starter, choosing between Jake Coker, Cooper Batemen and Alec Morris.

Win the line of scrimmage and you'll win this game. In that battle, Alabama will be favored over most teams.

Prediction: Alabama wins, 17-13


No. 1 Ohio State vs. Virginia Tech

Ohio State, on paper, is the most talented team in the country. Few people are going to argue otherwise. Ezekiel Elliott is a Heisman front-runner, Braxton Miller gives the Buckeyes one of the most unique offensive weapons in the country, Joey Bosa might be the best player in the country, period, and Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett would start for just about every team in the country. 


Ohio State lost exactly one game last year, and that was to Virginia Tech. This time, they go on the road to Blacksburg. Will history repeat itself?

Probably not.

Should the Buckeyes be taking the Hokies very, very seriously?


Prediction: Ohio State wins, 35-24


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