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Opening Weekend in NCAA Is About Learning the Questions, Not the Answers

With the excitement and freshness and optimism going into every…single…college football season, the hardest thing to learn about the season opener is this: You didn't learn anything. You have no conclusions.

The first game of the college football season isn't a crowning moment. It isn't even a day about starting to find answers. It's about identifying the questions. That's it.      

The season started Thursday night, and we didn't get the explosion it was set up to be. We got the start of a process. It was Jim Harbaugh's first game as Michigan's savior-coach, and in another game on another channel, TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin's first night in his run as the Heisman Trophy favorite. Two of the game's most-hyped superstars on the first night. What a treat!

"Everything that happens from here," Harbaugh told reporters after Michigan lost at Utah 24-17, "is what matters most."

Harbaugh wore his magical khakis, as did so many Michigan fans to channel their hero and forget about the bumblings of Brady Hoke. Instead, there was no magic. Michigan lost in pretty much the same way Hoke's teams lost, with a quarterback throwing interceptions and an offensive line being pushed backward, leaving running backs nowhere to run.

And Boykin? Well, TCU won at Minnesota, barely. Boykin didn't throw for 400 yards or run for 200. He was good at times, and he overthrew open receivers at times. And he didn't lead TCU to 50 or 60 points, but just 23.

"I have to have a short memory," Boykin said in his postgame press conference, making almost exactly the same point Harbaugh did.

By the end of the night, there were more questions than there were at the beginning. There simply isn't anything sexy about a process, but that's what a season is, not a collection of highlight moments.

Teams just aren't sure what they have the first day. All they'd done until now is arm wrestle with themselves, unsure how much of each victory was actually a sign of another weakness.

The questions did become clearer Thursday for Michigan. Do the Wolverines have a quarterback? Harbaugh kept it a mystery all the way until the first snap whether the quarterback would be Jake Rudock, who transferred from Iowa, or Shane Morris. It turns out, maybe Harbaugh didn't wait to produce the element of surprise. Maybe he just couldn't decide. He went with Rudock, who was known for protecting the ball but instead threw three interceptions, including one that was returned 55 yards for, basically, a game-winning touchdown with eight minutes left. Only on the next drive, for a touchdown, did Michigan's offense look like something Harbaugh might have drawn up.

"I thought that was outstanding," Harbaugh said. "Jake shook that play off and came back fighting on the next play."

The other question we learned in seeing Harbaugh: Who is that guy? This was not your San Francisco 49ers Harbaugh, who left last year with the label of a nutcase who mistreated players and broke apart his own team.

In his postgame press conference, he was not only all-positive, all-the-time, but also calm and sort of soothing in a quiet monotone. He was barely louder than a whisper. During the game, he put his arm around Rudock after the killer mistake, slapped players on the backsides, patted them on the head, stepped onto the field and clapped.

"A lot of things to build on, a lot of things to grow from in a lot of areas," he said.

Dare I say it? He was nurturing. And maybe that was different from his days in the NFL, because pros will defy you and college players will listen and absorb everything. At least, they will with Harbaugh.

Maybe he has learned how not to have such a short shelf life. Maybe he just takes the alpha male thing only as far as he needs to. A guy known for nearly starting fights in the postgame handshake, or for saying outlandish and cocky things, was all calm and poise.

Or maybe he realizes what a season opener is all about. Now he knows what he has to answer.

Somehow, he's going to have to figure out how to run the ball. And he will. Harbaugh is known for his power game; the Wolverines averaged 2.6 yards per rush. He said the coaches coached during the game and the team improved.

TCU coach Gary Patterson wasn't quite as sweet after his game. After all, he barely missed the College Football Playoff last year but started this year No. 2 and with probably the top Heisman candidate. TCU is supposed to be a continuation, not a miracle transformation.

"Trevone's got to hit," Patterson said. "We had three open guys for touchdowns, and he overthrew. You can't play like that and win the big ballgames."

The opener isn't a big ballgame? Fans might want ESPN highlights and something to tweet home about. But it's just a starting point.

And that's a good warning for the college football world going into its first big weekend of the season. Everett Golson might not be the next Jameis Winston for Florida State. Wisconsin will try to make a statement for the Big Ten against Alabama, which still hasn't named a quarterback. But it might not stick.

Even defending champ Ohio State might struggle with some new parts and a new attitude as the champ, not the challenger. (Nah, probably not them.)

"Our team was growing in confidence," Harbaugh said.

That's not exactly what the preseason Harbaugh watch was all about. But it's reality.


Greg Couch covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Marlon Davidson to Auburn: Tigers Land 5-Star DE Prospect

Marlon Davidson, the star defensive end from Carver High School in Montgomery, Alabama, made a decision about where he will play college football Friday, committing to the Auburn Tigers.

The SEC's official Twitter account confirmed the news. 

Davidson is the No. 2 strong-side defensive end and 24th-ranked player overall in the 2016 recruiting class, according to 247Sports. Growing up in Alabama, it's not hard to see why the site had Auburn, Alabama and Georgia listed as his top three choices. 

According to the site's Crystal Ball rankings, which featured predictions from 25 recruiting experts, Auburn was the heavy favorite after receiving every vote.

In February, Davidson was non-committal about his choice despite acknowledging his ties to Auburn during an interview with Drew Champlin of AL.com:

"Everybody thinks that (I'm going to Auburn)," Davidson said. "I'm looking to go anywhere in the country. If it's all the way in Washington, D.C., I'll be ready to go."

Scheme and system fit are crucial factors for any recruit, as it determines everything from ability to play right away to how they can develop. The good news is Davidson has shown plenty of growth potential throughout his high school career. 

The transformation that Davidson has gone through heading into his senior year has been remarkable, and it pushed him into the top tier of prospects for next season. He's a 6'4", 260-pound monster already, and he should get bigger as his frame continues to fill out. 

While it's not wholly indicative of Davidson's skills, Keith Niebuhr of 247Sports tweeted a Vine video of the defensive end at the Under Armour Elite 50 Experience in January:

Finding an elite edge-rusher is something that every college coach dreams about. Davidson will have to prove himself at the college level, but everything about him physically and mentally suggests that he's a special talent Auburn fans will love for the next few years. 

Davidson is the kind of talent who can also shape a recruiting class. He's got the kind of clout in his area, if not the whole country, to draw other top players to Auburn to play alongside him. The Alabama native can be the face of a Tigers defense that wins a national championship in the near future. 


All recruiting rankings and information courtesy of 247Sports.

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The Redemption of Alabama's Former Can't-Miss Prospect, Alvin Kamara

Tennessee running back Alvin Kamara is still familiar with the long, dark road.

He remembers that it takes a little less than an hour to drive from Wichita Mid-Continent Airport to Hutchinson Community College, how there’s very little between them and how Kansas' K-96 state highway is mostly straight and flat with very few traffic lights—more simply aren’t needed.

“It was weird at first,” he said. “It caught me by surprise.”

Highway 96 was also the crossroads of Kamara's football career, if not his life.

Alabama, the school he initially signed with in 2013, was already in his rearview mirror, along with an arrest. 

Ahead was a small-town football team that had a weight room smaller than the one he used at Norcross High School in Georgia, where he had rushed for 2,264 yards and 26 touchdowns, averaging 7.5 yards per carry on the way to a Mr. Football Award in his senior season.  

You can use whatever cliche you want, "wake-up call" or "saw the light," but Kamara certainly did. Instead of dwelling on “How did I end up here?” he made the most of the opportunity and is now looking forward to doing the same with his second chance as a key part of the Volunteers offense.

“It definitely changed me,” he said.

Although Norcross is located just northeast of Atlanta, and on the way from Athens and the University of Georgia, Kamara had always wanted to blaze his own trail, his way. Instead of the hometown Bulldogs he chose Alabama, the school that boasted the last Heisman Trophy winner at his position and had once accidentally sent him 105 recruiting letters in one day.

“Initially, I just felt like that was the fit for me, and then one thing led to another,” Kamara said.

At the time, Alabama was looking to bulk up the position, because even though T.J. Yeldon had rushed for 1,108 yards as a freshman, Eddie Lacy was entering the NFL draft early, and the rest of the running backs were a bunch of question marks like Dee Hart, who was coming off his second ACL injury.

So it signed four top running backs, which was considered a bit of a recruiting coup but also made people wonder how the Crimson Tide could keep all of them content. Most of the buzz surrounded one player in particular, Derrick Henry, who had just broken Ken Hall's 51-year-old national high school rushing record with 12,124 yards after rushing for 4,261 yards as a senior.

Henry was the only one of the four to get a head start by enrolling early. He was rated the No. 12 prospect in the nation by 247Sports, followed by Kamara (42), Altee Tenpenny at (51) and Tyren Jones at (66). Its composite rankings had Kamara last of the four at No. 66.

“To me, to have really good depth at running back you need five really good players,” coach Nick Saban said at the time. “I think a lot of these guys are going to have a good opportunity to contribute next year."

Kamara thought so too but ended up only being a spectator. Midway through training camp he suffered a knee injury that would require arthroscopic surgery. It would mark the beginning of his descent and eventual exit from Tuscaloosa.

“He was doing extremely well,” Saban said. “He’s going to be a really good player, and this is not something that would supersede us continuing to try to use him this year if he can come back and learn while he’s not out there and be able to continue to develop by learning from other people’s mistakes, watching film. Sometimes you can see the big picture better that way than you can when you’re out there right in the middle of it.”

Kamara’s frustration grew as the season progressed. When Alabama was preparing to face LSU after the bye week in early November, Saban announced that he had been suspended for "behavior reasons.” A second suspension was handed down for the Sugar Bowl with no reason given.

Things boiled over during a high-stakes recruiting weekend just before national signing day, which depending on whom you talk to, Kamara might have cost the Crimson Tide a shot at flipping defensive back C.J. Hampton from Ole Miss, and fans treated him accordingly on message boards and through social media.

He subsequently asked to be released from his scholarship, and Saban accepted. 

Kamara’s career took another huge hit when he was arrested in his hometown a few weeks later on Feb. 16, 2014, and charged with driving on a suspended license. 

The 19-year-old spent about eight hours in jail.

To some he was damaged goods, but not to everyone. Tennessee had been one of the schools to contact him almost immediately after his release from his scholarship, and Kamara was determined to get back to the SEC.

Yet first he had to attend a junior college. Some of his high school teammates had gone the Hutchinson route, as had former Volunteers wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson. So he signed on to "The Hutch" and wore No. 1 for the Blue Dragons.

In nine games, Kamara ran for 1,211 yards and scored 21 touchdowns (18 rushing, three receiving) en route to being named the Kansas Junior College Offensive Player of the Year. More than that, though, the experience made him grow up some and realize that he had to really work for and appreciate the things that he wanted.

“Alvin was just a super-dynamic player for us,” Hutchinson head coach Rion Rhoades said. “That’s probably an understatement. I appreciated the way he played. He just enjoyed playing the game.

“He was a positive force. I really liked the way he carried himself on game day in particular. There are ebbs and flows of the game, and he always handled them.”

Kamara ended his second round of recruiting by tweeting in June that he would be attending Tennessee, and upon signing in December coach Butch Jones immediately told reporters that he was a “great, great recruiting get for us.”

"He has the ability to make you miss at the second level but also has a toughness to run in between the tackles,” Jones said.

“You talk about being a complete running back; we feel he is a complete running back. He can catch the football, he can do a lot with the ball in his hands and he is a tough, competitive young man."

While Tennessee fans started to envision the “scary” backfield combination of Kamara and 6’3,” 227-pound Jalen Hurd, who rushed for 899 yards as a freshman, the coach continued to rave as the junior college prospect continued to do everything asked of him and more.

For example, in the spring the players had to “earn” their uniforms with the players voting on who would have the excessive black stripe removed from his helmet. Kamara was the first among the running backs.

Moreover, during training camp the coach called Kamara "the voice of the offense."

“Alvin has been a great edition to our football family, and to his credit, from day one, all he’s done is work,” Jones said during this week’s SEC coaches teleconference. “He’s built that credibility among his peers, and he’s one of our team leaders.”

“That means a lot,” Kamara said about the praise. “I think that comes from the respect I have of my teammates, the offensive unit.”

His comeback complete, Kamara says there are no hard feelings with Alabama. He’s looking forward to returning on Oct. 24 and finally playing in a game at Bryant-Denny Stadium.

Since his departure, Henry has become Alabama’s leading rusher, but Tenpenny transferred and Jones was dismissed from the team. One can only speculate where Kamara might fit in if still on the roster, but he was a popular player on the Crimson Tide and still keeps in touch with a number of his former teammates.

“It’s going to be fun,” he said. “It’s crazy because I was just thinking about that last night. On the field we’re all going to be trying to kill each other, but after the game it’s going to be all handshakes and hugs.”

Alabama players said the same thing, including the friend who will have the primary responsibility of trying to stop him, senior interior linebacker Reggie Ragland, who likes to call Kamara a “little brother.”

“He’s a good dude on and off the field,” Ragland said. “He had his little issues here, but it is what it is, and I think when we play them it’s going to be a friendly meeting with one another, because there are others on the team who have love for him, and I have love for him regardless.

“Whenever we meet, before the game, after the game, whenever, I’m always going to show love to him, I’m always going to have love for him, even though his time here was short. Either way, if he needs something he can call on me, and if I need something from him I can call on him.”

However, the first time they collide on the field, Ragland said he’ll help him up and say, “What’s up, little bro?”

“I’m going to say ‘What’s up, big bro?’ and keep it moving,” Kamara said.


Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Rankings courtesy of 247Sports' composite rankings.

Christopher Walsh is a lead SEC college football writer. Follow Christopher on Twitter @WritingWalsh.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Colorado-Hawaii Game Ends After Referees Don't Spot the Ball in Time

With the way their season opener against the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors ended on Thursday night, the Colorado Buffaloes may feel like they got robbed of a chance to avoid a loss.

It's hard to blame them.

Trailing 28-20 with just under 15 seconds to play, Colorado was able to get the ball inside the Hawaii 10-yard line, seemingly giving them a legitimate chance to tie the game before time ran out. However, the Buffaloes would not get another snap off.

It wasn't because they weren't ready for one final play. It was because the referees couldn't get the ball set in time. 

After making the catch and getting tackled, Colorado's Phillip Lindsay quickly flipped the ball to the line judge to get things moving for the next play. The referee was then tossed a football, but the exchange between the ref and the center judge was completely flubbed.

The ball hit a Hawaii player and bounced away from the line judge, who then had a hard time picking the ball up and getting it to the line of scrimmage. By the time the ball was spotted, time had run out.

Game over.

Colorado players were understandably frustrated. Unfortunately for them, there was nothing they could do about it.

To be fair, it's not like this one play was the difference between a win and a loss. The Buffaloes would have had to score a touchdown, convert the two-point conversion and then win the game in overtime. It's just a tough loss to swallow, given the way it ended 

[Twitter, h/t Dr. Saturday]

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Corey Clement Set to Step out of Melvin Gordon's Shadow, Become Star of His Own

The spotlight Corey Clement has longed for is directly in front of him—three feet away, to be exact. Cameras and tape recorders hum in unison. A crowd gathers, anxiously waiting to hear what Melvin Gordon’s replacement has to say.

In present time, this is what he’s known as: the guy replacing the superhuman who casually destroyed box scores with unspeakable grace.

After patiently waiting his turn, it has arrived for Clement. The depth chart has been conquered. Finally.

And yet, the group huddled around him in the McCormick Ballroom in Chicago can’t avoid saying Gordon’s name. Once. Twice. I lost count. He is the most popular man in the room, even though he is nowhere to be found.

Finally, after being peppered about his former teammate and friend for more than 15 minutes, Clement has heard enough.

“It sucks,” Clement says, sprinkling in transitory laughter before redirecting to a more attentive tone. “I am tired of it. I can only be Corey Clement.”

When he takes the football out of his quarterback’s hand against Alabama on Saturday evening, the pendulum will start to swing back. Gordon’s replacement will have a name, face and running style—one unique from all of the great backs who have terrorized box scores over the past two decades.

The nation may not be able to separate Clement from the greatness that came before him, although that hasn’t hindered his confidence one iota. There is an edge to this 219-pound back—a good edge, the kind of edge that can be harnessed and put to good use.

This is his team—an opportunity to finally reach what he came to Madison for in the first place. It took a little longer to arrive at a point where this was possible, but he’s made it.

That edge transforms into unwavering confidence before our eyes. The junior naturally distances himself from those that came before him.

“No less than 2,000. And winning the College Football Playoff,” Clement offers up without hesitation when asked about his goals. “I don’t like to get caught up in the individual accolades, because that’s not what gets you to that next level.”

Had he gone elsewhere, Clement could have been an established commodity by now. The next level would have been a conversation out in the open.

After prolific junior and senior rushing seasons in high school, the Glassboro, New Jersey, native had offers in his backyard. He could have been a star at Boston College, Rutgers, Syracuse or Connecticut out of the gate. Notre Dame, Ohio State and Penn State wanted him, too.

“I was looking for a place to get away,” Clement said. “All the east coast teams I could have gone to were just too close to home. Just too close to mom and dad. I needed that drive to be a two-day drive. I saw this as a way to grow into being a man.”

His arrival at Wisconsin was accompanied by second thoughts. During his first day of workouts, the coaches laced into Clement for not moving fast enough during a tempo run—a drill that wasn’t necessarily about speed.

Clement wasn’t dogging it by any means. He was anxious to make a good first impression. Even so, he simply couldn’t keep pace with Gordon, whose half-speed movements translated to a sprint. Reality instantly set in. Clement started to question whether he belonged. Soon after, he turned these reservations into fuel.

“Not to sound cocky, but I could have gone to a different school and tried to start right away,” Clement said. “But I was just thinking that if I work with the best in the country, when my turn comes I will be ready. I have battled with the best of them.”

Over the two years that followed, Clement spelled Gordon in a reserve role. He went over 100 yards in his first two games, seeing action against Massachusetts and Tennessee Tech. He added another 100-yard game against Indiana later in the year, although he only saw action in games where the score was decided.

Last season was different. Serving as Gordon’s primary backup, Clement nearly eclipsed 1,000 yards. He finished the year with 949 yards on only 147 carries. He scored 11 touchdowns.

Gordon, of course, put forth a year few running backs have ever approached. After running for 2,587—second all time for FBS backs—the Heisman runner-up decided the NFL was next. He left a void that was easy to fill.

This wasn’t the only question that prompted an easy answer. When head coach Gary Andersen left Wisconsin for Oregon State, the Badgers wasted little time bringing back former offensive coordinator Paul Chryst—a man already familiar with his new feature back. Before Chryst left to coach Pitt, he recruited Clement in high school while wearing his current logo.

“I have had some great conversations with Corey and that he knows who he is and he knows that he doesn't have to be Melvin [Gordon], doesn't have to be James [White],” Chryst said. “I like where he's at right now. I think he's excited for this next step in his progression.”

To help aid this growth, Clement spent the offseason tearing down his own game to build it back up. He’s put on three pounds and seen his body-fat percentage dip below nine percent. He worked on lengthening his strides and did other “unorthodox” workouts—including hauling logs around—in an effort to improve his speed.

Wait, hauling logs?

“Speed kills,” he added, cracking a smile.

Wisconsin quarterback Joel Stave has seen this speed up close. In fact, during his time at the school, Stave has handed the ball off to Clement, Gordon, White and Montee Ball. He’s had a front-row seat to a running renaissance.

This offseason, he’s seen the necessary steps were taken to ensure that we see Clement for who he is and who he can become—not the man he’s replacing.

“He’s put in a lot of work and stepped into his role of being the premier running back of our team,” Stave added.

That title—premier running back—is a badge of honor at the program. It’s an identity Wisconsin celebrates with great pride, vaunting a system that celebrates its running backs regardless of the linemen, running back or opponent.

The next opponent will be one of the biggest tests this system has seen in some time. With a front seven seemingly constructed to slow down offenses of this nature—a colossal collection of linemen and some vintage Alabama linebackers—Nick Saban’s team is hoping to delay Clement’s rise by at least one more week.

It’s a fitting next step for a young man who has had to scratch and claw to arrive here—to the opportunity to be Melvin Gordon’s replacement.

But soon, perhaps as soon as Saturday night or Sunday morning, Clement might just trade in his old title for something a bit more fitting. Something...more him.

“I understand the process,” Clement said. “Now it’s my turn.”


Unless noted otherwise, all quotes obtained firsthand.

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Montana State Linebacker Destroys Fort Lewis RB Who Never Had a Chance

College football is back, which means another year of young quarterbacks learning lessons about the importance of ball velocity—usually to the detriment of their receivers.

Fort Lewis quarterback Jordan Doyle appears to have learned his first hard truth of the season after wobbling out a weak pass during the second quarter of Thursday night's season opener against Montana State.

The throw was soft and late and left running back PJ Hall taking a monumental walloping from Bobcats linebacker Mac Bignell.

NFL.com's Chuck Smith tweeted out video of the hit:

Montana State cinematographer Jack Murrey also caught field-side video of the hit. Let it serve as a reminder that clean hits can also erase people from existence:

I...I don't even know how you survive that. My limbs would be scattered throughout the surrounding counties like treasure on a pirate's map after a hit like that.

Montana State went on to win 45-14, and Doyle has probably since discovered that he and Hall are no longer friends on Facebook.

Dan is on Twitter, shuddering visibly.

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5 Adjustments Michigan Football Must Make After Season-Opening Loss to Utah

Once the hype cleared and dust settled on Michigan football's 2015 season-opening loss to Utah, it was clear a handful of adjustments must be made.

Under first-year coach Jim Harbaugh, the Wolverines will battle through a trial-and-error period while adapting new offensive and defensive schemes, and those growing pains were clearly evident during the Utes' 24-17 win.

Most importantly, Michigan needs to address what is supposed to become the offense's bread and butter: the running game.

Perfection isn't expected in the first game of the season, but win or lose, it provides a starting point for the weaknesses that must be corrected.

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The Curse of Preseason No. 1: History Is Against Ohio State

You couldn't annoy Pete Carroll by proclaiming his team No. 1 in August.      

Some coaches will shake their fists at you for complicating one particular facet of their job, which is to tell their players during the preseason that they suck and need to get better. Carroll, on the other hand, held the door wide open for the proclamations and plaudits. He rolled out the red carpet, which is the Hollywood thing to do.

He wasn't pretending, either. USC as preseason No. 1? Fine with Carroll.

"He loved it," said Sam Baker, a former offensive lineman and All-American for the Trojans. "It was the big stage. He wanted that. We definitely embraced it.

"There was no one better at dealing with the noise of something like No. 1 than Coach."

How many times have you read, "The polls don't matter"? How many times have coaches and players tried to shrug off being No. 1 when you know they would rather walk through a graveyard at midnight than be placed at the top of the pile in college football before a game is played? Coaches loathe No. 1, because with it, their players lose their sense of urgency. They might as well get "Fat" and "Happy" stitched to the back of their jerseys the way No. 1 feeds egos.

Nick Saban, the Alabama coach, said Fat and Happy were his two key players on the 2010 team, which was ranked No. 1 to start the season. Bama lost three times.

Preseason No. 1s usually do not ask to be put at the top of the menu to be devoured. Baker said Carroll sharpened the knife with No. 1.

"Coach would say 'Guys, now that we're No. 1, we're going to get everybody's best shot,' " Baker said. "He would say, 'That's the way it should be in this game.' And then you would hear teams say, 'We're going to shock the world and beat SC,' and Coach would say to us, and we would say to each other, 'Let them bring it on.' Everybody was going after No. 1."

It figures then that USC is the last preseason No. 1 to win a national championship (2004). Every other preseason No. 1 this century has come up short.

So here comes defending national champion Ohio State, the unanimous No. 1 in the 2015 preseason AP poll. Somebody tell the Buckeyes there is nothing above the penthouse. There is only the elevator shaft.

You might feel uneasy for Ohio State, but its coach, Urban Meyer, has danced with preseason No. 1 before. Like Carroll, Meyer holds it close.

"He would tell us, 'This is why you come to a place like Florida,' " said Duke Lemmens, who was a defensive end on the 2008 team that won a title and the 2009 team that lost that one game to Alabama. " 'Every game is a big deal.' You know why? Because the Gators were in the big game. We made it a big deal because we're No. 1.

"We built a culture here of being in the big game and playing to the moment. We enjoyed being in the limelight."

Florida was coming off a 2008 national championship when it was ranked No. 1 to start 2009. Some teams sweat, because expectations can weigh on a team. Lemmens said Meyer prepared his team for success. He was not wary of it.

"He had the video staff create these videos of champions celebrating, like the Celtics or the Steelers," Lemmens said. "There would be clips of guys putting on the championship rings and celebrating a championship. It was great stuff.

"Bobby Knight came and spoke to us about winning championships. Billy Donovan won back-to-back national championships with the Gators [in basketball]. He talked to us about repeating."

The Gators were still No. 1 and 12-0 when they lost to Alabama 32-13 in the 2009 SEC Championship Game. They did not lose because No. 1 got inside their heads. They lost because the team on the other sideline had a Hall of Fame coach and six players who would be first-round draft picks in 2010 and 2011.

So can being No. 1 outlive its usefulness as incentive and become a distraction? Can it hurt a team? Does the team get placed on the mountaintop and stay out too late?

Here is what's key and what young athletes are being taught these days by the better sports psychologists.

"The path is the goal," said Dr. Ed Etzel, a sports psychologist at West Virginia University and Olympic gold-medal winner in shooting.

The goal is not the championship. The goal is the spirit of the journey.

"What one does with his/her moments along the way is what is essential," said Etzel, whose rifle teams at WVU won four national championships. "What are the Seahawks apparently doing [under Carroll]? Mindfulness practice. Stay in the moment, accepting the good/happy, bad/uncomfortable, boring, and be committed to the path wherever it may lead."

So what about the mountain you have been placed on, or the mountain you have climbed?

"There is no mountain," Etzel said.

"A lot of people get influenced by the media. It's a matter of how much you want to identify with it [being preseason No. 1]."

Etzel said the top of the mountain offers a nice view for a while. Then what?

"The sun goes down," he said.

There is an anonymous quote that speaks to the whole issue.

"If you take care of your now, your later on will take care of itself."

It is essential advice for a preseason No. 1.

Richard Samuel is a strength and conditioning coach in Lawrenceville/Athens, Georgia. He was a running back on the 2008 Georgia team that featured quarterback Matthew Stafford and running back Knowshon Moreno. Georgia crushed Hawaii 41-10 in the Sugar Bowl to close the 2007 season, and it had a lot of talent returning from an 11-2 team.

The 2008 Bulldogs were preseason No. 1.

Yep, it was a can't-miss UGA team. Except the Bulldogs did miss. They lost 41-30 to Alabama, 49-10 to Florida and 45-42 to Georgia Tech. That Georgia team was smothered in NFL draft picks. Thirteen of those players are still playing in the NFL.

Somebody just put the wrong price tag on the package, right?

"No, we earned that preseason No. 1; it wasn't given to us," said Samuel, whose sweat shop is called Richard Samuel Performance Training. "We had a lot of talent. I thought we were going to have a great year. No. 1 was a fair accolade for that team."

So what happened?

"Sometimes, No. 1 just doesn't play well," Samuel said. "We beat ourselves in those games. Honestly, we did."

In his mind's eye, Samuel flips back to 2008 searching for those clues that revealed a team that had a little too much strut. He never saw it, he said.

"Mark Richt wasn't the kind of coach who let a team get cocky," Samuel said. "Like I said, we just beat ourselves. We didn't play well."

As he trains athletes for their shot at being No. 1, or their shot at playing college football, or just plain being a better athlete, Samuel is skilled at increasing strength and endurance and flexibility. What he also does is motivate. Strive for a seat on that pedestal, he said. When you get there prove yourself again and again.

Another lesson for No. 1.

Stuff happens in football. Big stuff and little stuff hits you from the blindside. Hiccups. A tipped pass, a wrong read, a missed tackle. All the stuff adds up and becomes a loss—or two or three. Frank Alexander was a senior defensive end on Oklahoma's 2011 team that started the season No. 1. OU ran into the bad stuff. What happened?

Football happened.

The Sooners started 6-0, waxing Texas 55-17 and beating Kansas 47-17. Then came the hiccups, the bad stuff. OU was missing three defensive starters to injury for the October 22 game against Texas Tech. Also, the game with Tech in Norman started about an hour late because of a storm.

"We went back to our nice, comfortable locker room and relaxed; it was luxury," Alexander said. "They went back to their cramped, small locker room and stayed mad."

Tech zipped out to a 31-7 lead. OU made a furious rally but fell short, 41-38.

"The better team won," Alexander said. "We were not the better team that game."

Injuries hurt the Sooners against Tech, but so did attrition. To combat overconfidence, a No. 1 needs leadership, lots of it. Alexander said his recruiting class was down to seven seniors by 2011.

"Here is the thing with Oklahoma: There is a tradition there because of a lot of winning over the years, and people expect you to be flawless," Alexander said. "It's a game of football, and you expect to win all of 'em, but you're not going to win all of 'em. You can lose for a lot of reasons, even if you have the talent to be No. 1."

In 2013, Alabama received 58 of 60 first-place votes and did not win a national championship. In 2009, Florida received 58 of 60 first-place votes and did not win a national championship.

Sam Baker is looking at No. 1 Ohio State, and he understands the Buckeyes are in the crosshairs. It's the same challenge that was in front of the Trojans in three of his four years: 2004, 2005 and 2007, the same challenge that has confronted Alabama and Florida.

"There are going to be some up-and-down teams in the Big Ten this season," Baker said. "Some of those down teams are going to say, 'Hey, we can save our season by beating Ohio State.' When you're No. 1, you know their best shot is coming."

Good luck, Bucks.


Ray Glier covers college football for Bleacher Report.

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Predicting Final Order of Finish for 2015 Heisman Trophy

As the 2015 college football season begins, it’s fun to take a look at the Heisman Trophy preseason odds. While we think we know the elite players in the game, odds are we’ll feel differently when the stiff-arm trophy is handed out in Manhattan in December.

Players will fall off the list due to injury or poor production, replaced by others who were well off the board when the season began. Think otherwise? Look at Bovada’s 2014 preseason odds. Players like Georgia’s Todd Gurley, Auburn’s Nick Marshall and Oklahoma’s Trevor Knight were among the top contenders who didn’t sniff a trip to the Heisman ceremony.

The same will be the case this year, but that doesn’t mean we won’t have fun trying to determine who’ll hoist the trophy even before the first Saturday of the season. Here’s our best guess at the finishing order for the 2015 Heisman Trophy. Players were ranked by virtue of their expected 2015 performance, their skills flashed in prior seasons and how we expect the national scene to unfold this fall. 

Begin Slideshow

After Receiving 129 Notre Dame Letters, 4-Star CB Ambry Thomas Talks Recruiting

There are college football recruits who are ecstatic about getting one piece of mail.

Ambry Thomas came home to 129. From the same school.

Talk about showing love to a recruit.

Thomas, Detroit's standout 2017 athlete and the No. 2 player in the state of Michigan, was surprised with a postal gift of 129 pieces of mail from Notre Dame on Wednesday. Each document focused on the same message: "Team 129," as the 2017 class will be the Fighting Irish's 129th class overall.

"The mailman rung the doorbell, and he gave them all to me," Thomas said. "All 129 said the same thing. When he saw it was Notre Dame, he said, 'Good job,' and smiled.

"But I was looking like, 'Why would they send me all this mail?' At first, I thought it was a mistake because they all said the same thing."

The full message on each flier Thomas received: "At Notre Dame we know that 'Culture Beats Scheme.' In 2015 our 127th team will add to the rich tradition of Notre Dame. The winning culture will continue to the 2017 recruiting class. Your legacy starts today with 129 pieces of mail."

The mail was perfectly timed, as Thomas is scheduled to take an unofficial visit to Notre Dame this weekend. He will be at the game against Texas, and he said the overabundance of postal love boosted his interest in the program.

"It feels really good, and they're a top school for me," Thomas said. "I like their tradition and how they maneuver. You've got to like the school's history. I just want to build the relationships with the coaches. That's my priority when I get there."

According to Tyler James of NDInsider.com, "dozens of top targets and prospects" in the 2017 class received the same gift in the mail from the Irish coaching staff. Head coach Brian Kelly, recruiting coordinator/linebackers coach Mike Elston and the rest of the Notre Dame staff are at full throttle in landing the best talent for that class.

Currently, the 2017 class is three strong, featuring 4-star tight end Brock Wright, 4-star offensive tackle Joshua Lugg and 3-star tackle Dillan Gibbons. The 2016 class has 14 pledges, but Notre Dame is hoping to add to its future.

Thomas, who is being recruited to Notre Dame by defensive line coach Keith Gilmore, would be a great addition, as he's a 5'11", 165-pound athlete who, although listed as a cornerback, can play wide receiver and safety. Thomas has been clocked in the 40-yard dash at 4.41 seconds, and his efforts have been rewarded with 20 scholarship offers.

Thomas likes Notre Dame, but he stressed the fact that he's wide-open with his process and has a few schools in mind at this point. Among those are LSU, Michigan State, Michigan, Arkansas, Pittsburgh and Tennessee.

He said he's going to continue monitoring teams and doing research on schools. He added that he's looking at upcoming unofficial visits to Michigan State and Pitt.

Notre Dame, however, is hoping to take over front-runner status full time with Thomas' weekend visit.

"I'm still open," he said, "but I'm looking at the schools' histories. I want to see how they play and how they can recover from a loss. If they have a down period, how do you recover? That's important to me."


Damon Sayles is a National Recruiting Analyst for Bleacher Report. All quotes were obtained firsthand. All player ratings are courtesy of 247Sports' composite ratings. Follow Damon via Twitter: @DamonSayles

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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...