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Opening Night Demolition Shows Kevin Sumlin More Valuable Than Johnny Manziel

Johnny who?

Remember when Texas A&M was a flash in the pan and wouldn't have staying power in the SEC West after quarterback Johnny Manziel moved on early to the NFL?

Yeah, about that.

Manziel's replacement, sophomore Kenny Hill, was phenomenal in his debut as the Aggies' starting quarterback, completing 44 of 60 passes for 511 yards and three touchdowns in a 52-28 rout over No. 9 South Carolina on the road in a hostile environment in Columbia, South Carolina. The 511 yards and 60 passing attempts were both school records.

The performance vaulted Hill, who was a virtual unknown prior to Thursday night, right into the early-season conversation for the Heisman Trophy, according to Todd Fuhrman of Fox Sports 1.

It was a statement performance not just by Hill, but by head coach Kevin Sumlin—who proved that, even without the most dynamic college football player in recent history, his system works at an elite level.

Over the last six years, covering stints as the head coach of Texas A&M and Houston, Sumlin's offenses have finished no worse than 11th in the country in total offense. The only reason Sumlin's Houston offense finished in "lowly" 11th in 2010 was because quarterback Case Keenum was lost for the season after three games and David Piland had to step in on the fly.

Sumlin came out to prove a point, and he did it.

Sumlin doesn't fit quarterbacks to his system, he fits his system to quarterbacks. When he was at Houston, Keenum lit up opposing defenses in an offense that resembled the Air Raid. With Manziel at Texas A&M, it was a nice blend of Air Raid, zone read and Manziel's improvisational skills. Speaking of, a certain someone took notice of Hill's performance tonight as well. 

Hill only rushed for five yards against the Gamecocks, but why mess with success?

He has the ability to be a dual-threat quarterback, and his breakout performance through the air on the road on opening night will only open up the offense more for Sumlin moving forward.

So what does this do to the landscape of the SEC West? 

Any inclination that the Aggies might suffer a drop-off post-Manziel went out the window as soon as Hill led the Aggies on their first touchdown drive—a 67-yarder to open the game. The poise Hill showed on the road in his first career start really solidifies the A&M offense as one that's incredibly dangerous.

We already knew about the veteran offensive line, the solid stable of running backs and the talented and versatile wide receiving corps. Now we know the new "running quarterback" isn't too shabby through the air.

Are the Aggies still searching for answers defensively?

The jury is still out. South Carolina racked up 433 total yards, but that's still 48.5 yards better than A&M's 2013 average on defense. 

That's not just a baby step; that's a giant leap.

Defense doesn't win championships anymore, just enough defense wins championships. If Hill's debut is any indication, the definition for "just enough defense" for this particular Texas A&M defense is simply one that can force pressure with four players and capitalize on mistakes.

That's not a lot to ask.

This Texas A&M team may not miss a beat in the post-Manziel era. At the very worst it's a team that can be disruptive within the division and have a big say in who plays in the SEC Championship Game. If the Aggies play like they did on Thursday night, they may be playing in the Georgia Dome themselves.


Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports. 

 

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Texas A&M vs. South Carolina: How Early Upset Shakes Up SEC Landscape

The South Carolina Gamecocks quickly saw their championship aspirations dampened after suffering a 52-28 loss to Texas A&M to kick off the 2014 NCAA college football season. Just like that, the SEC looks much different after Thursday night's rout.

Steve Spurrier's squad looked to cement itself as a legit SEC contender. Instead, Texas A&M came out smelling like roses following a magnificent outing from Kenny Hill, who quickly has fans at College Station renaming their old quarterback "Johnny Who?"

According to ESPN Stats & Info, Johnny Manziel never completed so many passes in any start, let alone his first. 

That number, by the way, soared all the way up to 44 before the night ended. Hill finished the evening with 511 passing yards and three touchdowns. 

"We were ready to prove everyone wrong," Hill said after the game, according to anAssociated Press report, via ESPN. "We were ready to show we could play without Johnny."

The lesson here: Kenny Hill is really good, and the Aggies still must be feared after losing Manziel and wideout Mike Evans to the NFL. The team didn't miss a beat without that duo, either. If anything, the Aggies look stronger.

Without Evans grabbing jump balls, senior Malcolme Kennedy played first fiddle, reeling in 14 catches for 137 yards. A year after catching 97 passes for 1,083 yards, the senior looks poised for a monster season.

Josh Reynolds, Edward Pope and Ricky Seals-Jones all added a touchdown each to the cause. Bruce Feldman of CBS Sports argued this batch of wideouts is even better than last year's.

Texas A&M should enjoy a healthy boost up the AP rankings into the teens. If the Aggies keep this up, they could find themselves in the top 10 soon enough. There is, after all, a spot up for grabs once No. 9 South Carolina falls.

While Texas A&M didn't miss Manziel, their foes looked lost without defensive behemoth Jadeveon Clowney. Per ESPN Stats & Info, their defensive ineptitude in the season opener set a dubious record.

South Carolina suffered a similar blow early last year, losing 41-30 to then-No. 11 Georgia. While the Gamecocks bounced back to win 10 of their final 11 games, the margin for error proved small in college football's toughest conference. Despite falling short to South Carolina in double overtime, the Missouri Tigers advanced to the SEC Championship Game at 11-1.

After going into the Georgia game ranked No. 6, South Carolina fell to No. 12. Expect a similar fall outside the top 10 this week. If No. 12 Georgia can fend off No. 16 Clemson, the Bulldogs become the SEC East's team to beat.

South Carolina and Texas A&M, however, cannot be pleased with their defensive showings. The two squads combined to amass 1,113 total yards, 877 of which came through the air. 

In a losing effort, Dylan Thompson poled holes into Texas A&M secondary, with two deep bombs during the first half. While Thompson only completed half of his passes (20-of-40), he found Nick Jones for 69 yards and connected with Damiere Byrd for a 46-yard score to momentarily keep things close. 

A year after allowing 32.2 points per contest, Kevin Sumlin can't be happy to see his defensive backs exposed so early. He can't count on Hill to rattle off 500 yards every game.

If this inaugural game is any indication, the SEC is going to be fun to watch and tough to predict this season. 

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Johnny Manziel Congratulates Kenny Hill After Win, Relinquishes 'Football' Name

The Johnny Football era is over at Texas A&M.

Sophomore quarterback Kenny Hill threw for 511 yards and three touchdowns Thursday night, leading the Aggies to a dominant 52-28 season-opening win against the South Carolina Gamecocks.

After the game, Johnny Manziel tweeted to congratulate Hill, bestowing upon him the nickname "Kenny Football."

While the tweet was obviously meant to congratulate Hill, Gabe Bock from TexAgs radio tweeted that the new Aggies quarterback isn't a fan of the "Football" nickname. 

If he keeps playing like he did against the Gamecocks on Thursday, he'll earn a new nickname soon enough—hopefully one that he actually likes.

[Twitter, h/t College Spun]

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Blake Sims Reportedly Will Start Alabama's 2014 Season Opener vs. West Virginia

The No. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide enter Saturday's college football season opener against West Virginia with some uncertainty at the quarterback position.

Head coach Nick Saban has reportedly elected to go with a roster incumbent in fifth-year senior Blake Sims over talented transfer Jacob Coker, according to CBSSports.com's Jeremy Fowler.

Sims has stuck with the program in Tuscaloosa for years awaiting his turn to take the reins of the offense, but Coker has been gathering momentum ever since his arrival. Jameis Winston beat out Coker last year in a competition for Florida State's starting QB job, and Winston went on to win the Heisman Trophy and a national title.

That led to Coker transferring to threaten Sims' potential dream shot. Fowler notes in his report that the two signal-callers will both be used versus the Mountaineers, so this is in no way an indication that Sims will be the No. 1 for the rest of the 2014 campaign.

ESPN.com's Alex Scarborough observed recently how back-and-forth the competition has been between Sims and Coker:

It hasn't taken brilliance under center for Alabama to succeed in recent years. Marginal talents such as Greg McElroy and AJ McCarron have made smart decisions, relying on a strong defense and punishing running game to carry the Tide to the top of the SEC on a consistent basis.

The following are some of Saban's comments on the heated quarterback battle from his radio show on Thursday. They hinted that Sims could be the guy, at least for the West Virginia game, via AL.com's Andrew Gribble:

My job is to play the best players and the guys that have done best the job for this game. For this game. That does not mean that it's going to stay that way. It does not mean that if you're the starting pitcher that you're going to pitch for nine innings. The manager sometimes comes in and takes the guy out. All these things are options that are available.

We have faith, trust and confidence in Blake Sims. We're not going to evaluate Blake and he doesn't have to look over his shoulder while he's playing. I think there may be some occasion where the other guy deserves an opportunity at some point in time this season to show what he can do.

As more of a dual threat, Sims brings that different dimension to the offense that Alabama has lacked.

The Tide have seen playmaking QBs who can run such as Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel and Oklahoma's Trevor Knight light them up under the national spotlight, which may enhance Sims' odds of starting in the future.

Coker is more of a prototypical pocket passer that the Tide have deployed to great success in the Saban era. There's a chance that Coker could show off superior passing ability and unseat Sims as the starter right away.

Having a two-quarterback system is not often a recommendable strategy, but with how stacked the rest of Alabama's roster is, perhaps Saban can make it work if he elects to go that route. At some point in the season, one player will likely take command of the huddle and earn all of the snaps. 

But Saban is being fickle as to who that will be. This flip-flopping situation could bring out the best in Sims and Coker—or it could backfire and leave the Tide with an unexpected down year.

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Kenny Hill Explodes out of Johnny Football's Shadow with Record-Breaking Debut

The Texas A&M Aggies went into Columbia and left with a 52-28 win over the South Carolina Gamecocks.

Bleacher Report college football analyst Michael Felder breaks down Kenny Hill's performance during his first start. How well do you think the sophomore quarterback will do this season? Could he make a surprise run at the Heisman Trophy like former Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel did two years ago?

Watch the video and let us know.

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Has South Carolina's Steve Spurrier Missed Window for Another SEC Championship?

The No. 9-ranked South Carolina Gamecocks welcomed Texas A&M to Columbia in both teams' season-opener Thursday, but the night ended in misery for head coach Steve Spurrier and Co.

The Aggies thrashed the Gamecocks, 52-28, exposing some major holes for the Ol' Ball Coach to patch up before South Carolina's next game against East Carolina. 

In the aftermath of the upset, Bleacher Report's College Football Analysts Michael Felder and Adam Kramer discuss if Spurrier will ever be back on top of the SEC. Do you think the Gamecocks will command the conference in the future?

Watch the video and chime in below.

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Texas A&M Players and Kevin Sumlin Go Nuts After Upsetting South Carolina

The Texas A&M Aggies simply dominated the South Carolina Gamecocks with a 52-28 win after coming in as underdogs thanks to a terrific night from Kenny Hill.

With the dominant win to prove that they're still one of the best teams in the SEC, the team had a right to celebrate.

After the win, head coach Kevin Sumlin came into the locker room and started getting his players fired up. It didn't take long before everyone in the locker room was going crazy.

[YouTube, h/t College Spun]

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College Station Furniture Store Offers Refunds After Aggies Upset Gamecocks

Heading into Thursday night, the Texas A&M Aggies were double-digit underdogs against the South Carolina Gamecocks, per OddsShark. The Aggies proved the doubters wrong, however, trampling the Gamecocks in a dominant 52-28 win.

Unfortunately for one furniture store in College Station, that result ended up being rather costly.

According to Robert Cessna of The Eagle, a local Ashley Furniture HomeStore offered to pay customers the amount of their furniture purchases between Aug. 16 and Aug. 27 if the Aggies beat the Gamecocks by 10 or more points.

According to ESPN.com's Darren Rovell, the store owes customers more than $1 million total. Luckily, the store purchased insurance that will ease the financial burden. 

[TheEagle.com, h/t Yahoo Sports]

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Texas A&M vs. South Carolina: Game Grades, Analysis for Aggies and Gamecocks

The 2014 college football season's first full day of action already gave us what may end up being one of the year's biggest shockers.

Not so much that Texas A&M was able to win Thursday night at South Carolina, but in just how dominant the Aggies were in doing so in cruising to a 52-28 victory.

It was the first loss South Carolina has suffered at Williams-Brice Stadium since October 2011, a span of 18 games.

The 52 points were also the most the Gamecocks have allowed at home in 11 years and the most given up in any game since they lost 56-17 to Auburn in the 2010 SEC championship game.

Texas A&M was one of the most enigmatic teams heading into this fall, with experts split on whether it would be able to continue to perform well without quarterback Johnny Manziel and with a young defense.

But Kenny Hill and his Aggies teammates made a major statement that will likely sway a lot of skeptics into their corner.

Final stats from the game can be found here.

Check out our first-half and final game grades for both A&M and South Carolina, along with analysis of both teams' different position units and their overall team performances.

 

 

Texas A&M Aggies Game Analysis

Pass Offense: Johnny Manziel who? Quarterback Kenny Hill made Aggies fans forget quickly about their previous quarterback, as the sophomore had one of the best debuts of a quarterback in the past 20 years.

Hill completed 44 of 60 passes for a school-record 511 yards and three touchdowns, connecting with 12 different receivers. After beating out true freshman Kyle Allen for the starting job, Hill needed only one game to become the early darling of the 2014 season.

 

Run Offense: When A&M went with the run, it nearly always worked. Whether it was Trey Williams (12 carries, 75 yards, one TD), Brandon Williams (11 carries, 57 yards) or Tra Carson (three TDs on seven rushes), the running back group methodically churned out 169 yards behind a dominant offensive line.

 

Pass Defense: There were some bombs given up in the first half, and the numbers overall won't look great, but improvement was definitely seen from a year ago.

True freshman safety Armani Watts had a breakout performance, making big plays all game that included a third-quarter interception when South Carolina was trying to make a late comeback.

 

Run Defense: A&M benefited from South Carolina's Mike Davis being limited, but its defensive line also looked solid for the first time playing together.

True freshman defensive end Myles Garrett was about as good as advertised, and all told Aggies allowed just 3.0 yards per carry.

 

Special Teams: Punter Drew Kaser showed why he will be a finalist for the Ray Guy Award, averaging 48 yards on his two kicks. Josh Lambo had 10 points thanks to seven extra points and a 33-yard field goal.

 

Coaching: Are people still doubting Kevin Sumlin's system? Even with Manziel and top receiver Mike Davis gone, the new players performed the same as their predecessors.

Sumlin and offensive coordinator Jake Spavital drew up a near-perfect game plan.

 

South Carolina Gamecocks Game Analysis

Pass Offense: On many nights, Dylan Thompson's numbers (366 yards, four touchdowns) will have made him a candidate for player of the game. Instead, he was a distant second to A&M's Hill.

The senior quarterback's fourth career start included some big plays, but also a lot of overthrows. He finished 20-of-40 passing, and an underthrow of a deep ball in the third quarter was picked off to all but seal the loss.

 

Run Offense: Running back Mike Davis hardly played, only running six times for 15 yards, and substitute Brandon Wilds (45 yards on nine carries) didn't get enough touches to do much with South Carolina trailing from the outset.

 

Pass Defense: This was an area of concern coming into the season, and all of the fears were realized. The secondary was carved up for 511 yards and three scores, yielding 8.5 yards per passing attempt.

 

Run Defense: Carolina couldn't get any push on the Aggies' offensive line, which made it impossible for the front seven to do any damage to the run game. The loss of three defensive linemen from 2013 was very noticeable.

 

Special Teams: Elliott Fry missed a 54-yard field goal late in the first half, but that attempt was nine yards longer than any kick he made in 2013 as a freshman.

Punter Tyler Hull averaged 44 yards per kick, and the coverage team managed to contain Speedy Noil on returns.

 

Coaching:Steve Spurrier doesn't have much to do with South Carolina's defense, but even he might not have been able to call plays to slow down A&M the way his team's defenders played.

Spurrier tried to be tricky at times, like with an onside kick early in the second half, but nothing worked.

 

Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.

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Boise State vs. Ole Miss: Game Grades, Analysis for Broncos and Rebels

The meeting between the Boise State Broncos and the Ole Miss Rebels on Thursday night featured two teams heading in very different directions.

The Broncos entered the 2014 season without longtime head coach Chris Petersen, who left Boise State for Washington after eight seasons and 92 wins .

Ole Miss, on the other hand, hoped to improve upon an already positive trajectory under head coach Hugh Freeze.  The Rebels won seven and eight games, respectively, in Freeze's first two seasons in Oxford; that marked quite an improvement from a 2 -10 season in 2011.

Despite a full offseason of expectation, the first three quarters of this game left much to be desired as turnovers and an on-going punting contest defined the battle.

Ultimately, however, a struggling Ole Miss offense woke up and gave way to a high-scoring Rebel fourth quarter and a 35-13 victory over the Broncos.

Check out the game's final stats here and take a look at first and second half game grades and analysis below.

 

 

Boise State Broncos Grade Analysis

Pass Offense: It's hard to move the ball against a defense as talented as the Rebels'—especially when turnovers limit drives like they did for the Broncos on Thursday.  Quarterback Grant Hedrick was under pressure for most of the game and his receivers had very few opportunities to get loose thanks to smart, physical play by the Ole Miss secondary.  Four interceptions by this unit kept the Broncos out of contention in their season opener.

Run Offense: Boise State found some success early running the football by getting outside the tackles.  Jay Ajayi proved to be a hard-nosed runner and earned his keep with his ability to break tackles.  Unfortunately, the Broncos struggled to establish the run in the second half.  And after falling behind, the running game became less and less effective.

Pass Defense: The Broncos' defensive secondary was able to come up with three interceptions of its own in the first half, and in doing so kept the game close.  Opportunistic play by cornerbacks and safeties kept things interesting early, but Ole Miss receivers (Laquon Treadwell and Cody Core in particular) were able to get open in the secondary far too often.  All in all, the secondary's efforts were not attrocious, but an inability to consistently pressure Bo Wallace put the pass defense in a bind repeatedly as the game wore down.  Four of five Ole Miss scores came through the air.

Run Defense: Early on, it seemed as if Ole Miss had no interest in establishing the run game.  As the game progressed, however, it became clear that the Rebels were unable to do so.  Boise State's run defense forced the Rebels to throw the ball, which seemed like an ideal scenario at half-time.  Unfortunately for the Broncos, Wallace was sharper in the second half and shutting down the run game yielded minimal benefit.

Special Teams: With Boise State's first two scores coming on field goals, it's hard to knock the unit's efforts.  No large returns were surrendered and no major breakdowns occurred.  Overall, it was a solid evening for Boise State's special teams.

Coaching: Bryan Harsin will always remember his first game as Boise State's coach, but it won't be for his team's heroics.  In the second quarter, he left four points on the board after getting inside the five-yard line and having to settle for a field goal.  While it's hard to question many of his other decisions as Ole Miss clearly possessed a talent advantage, the offensive play-calling seemed generally bland—which was particularly surprising late in the game as the Broncos fell behind big.

 

Ole Miss Rebels Grade Analysis

Pass Offense: This was a first half that Wallace will hope to soon forget.  Based on his play in the game's final two quarters, he already has.  His three first half interceptions were countered by four  touchdowns through the air (three in the second half) and nearly 400 passing yards.  To be sure, first halves like the one tonight won't bode well for Wallace against better competition, but his ability to refocus and gain composure in the fourth quarter made the difference in this game.

Run Offense: Ole Miss struggled establishing a running game for most of the game.  No player on the Rebels' roster accounted for more than 30 yards on the ground and runs—both designed and improvised—were consistently snuffed out by a feisty Bronco defense.  This will certainly be an area of concern for the Rebels as they move into conference play.

Pass Defense: Much like Boise State, this Ole Miss defense established itself as extremely opportunistic.  However, consistent pressure on the quarterback combined with sound open-field tackling showed that this pass defense is stellar—even when not forcing turnovers.  The turnovers were certainly there, but the big hits by defensive backs and consistent pass rush were equally impressive.

Run Defense: Boise State had success on the ground early with outside runs.  But as the game progressed, the Rebels did a nice job of adjusting lanes of pursuit and keeping opposing running backs from bouncing outside for extra yardage.  There was certainly no cause for alarm on this unit, especially as the defense seemed more focused on stopping the pass.

Special Teams: Ole Miss placed one punt on the 1-yard line, but outside of that produced very little activity of note on special teams—which is probably a good thing.  Kick and punt coverage was solid and an onside kick attempt by Boise State was recovered cleanly by the Rebels late in the fourth quarter.

Coaching: Hugh Freeze had a talent advantage, but he also made better adjustments than his counterpart from Boise State.  Most noticeably, outside containment against the run was greatly improved as the game progressed.  Perhaps his best coaching move, however, was sticking with something that seemed to not be working—the passing game.  Wallace's strong second half showed that Freeze's confidence was not misplaced.

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Texas A&M vs. South Carolina: Score and Twitter Reaction

Kenny Hill isn't the "next Johnny Manziel." He's the "first Kenny Hill."

The Texas A&M sophomore quarterback threw for 511 yards and three touchdowns in a scientific decimation of the No. 9 South Carolina Gamecocks Thursday night in Columbia. The No. 21 Aggies dominated from start to finish, winning 52-28.

ESPN's Brett McMurphy reports Kevin Sumlin's thoughts on his team, despite the gaudy offensive numbers:

Willie Smith of the Greenville News had Steve Spurrier's thoughts:

Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin didn't sound like somebody whose team upset a top-10 opponent on the road, though, per Pete Roussel of CoachingSearch.com:

Hill broke Ryan Tannehill's school record for most passing yards in a debut start and Jerrod Johnson's passing record in a season-opener, per Aggie Football:

Hill also has bragging rights on Manziel in one area already, per Fox Sports' Stewart Mandel:

Some were surprised during the summer to see Hill beat out freshman phenom Kyle Allen for the starting job.

"I thought both guys really competed in a great way," said Sumlin, per ESPN.com's Sam Khan Jr. "There's not really one deciding factor; I think it's a body of work and a feel that you have through practice and with your team."

Whereas the competition was once extremely close, it now looks like Allen might want to choose new surroundings if he desires playing in the next year or two, as Newy Scruggs of NBC 5 in Dallas/Fort Worth half-jokingly tweeted out:

Hill needed all of nine plays to lead Texas A&M on its first scoring drive. He went 4-of-5 through the air, helping get the ball down to the South Carolina 1-yard line. Junior running back Tra Carson punched it in from there.

The biggest play of the drive was a 22-yard reception by freshman wideout Ricky Seals-Jones, via ESPN College Football. He and Hill formed a fruitful partnership on the night:

What often helps any debutant under center is making a couple of easy throws in order to build some confidence and comfort in the pocket. ESPN's Tom Luginbill praised Sumlin for setting up Hill for success with his play-calling in the first quarter:

After shutting down South Carolina on its next drive, the Aggies added a 33-yard field goal from Josh Lambo with five minutes and two seconds left in the first quarter to take a 10-0 lead.

Although the game was still very early, the Gamecocks were in need of an adrenaline shot, and they received one in the form of a 69-yard touchdown pass from senior QB Dylan Thompson to senior wide receiver Nick Jones.

Now, with 3:44 left in the first quarter, SC was down only 10-7 and slowly grabbing back the momentum. However, in what became one of the narratives of the game, the Gamecocks defense failed to give the offense any support.

On the Aggies' first drive of the second quarter, Hill completed six of his seven passes and moved the ball 85 yards, hooking up with Seals-Jones for a three-yard touchdown pass. ESPN's Louis Riddick felt that South Carolina had no answer for the wideout:

The Gamecocks quickly answered back with a 46-yard touchdown pass from Thompson to senior WR Damiere Byrd with 9:47 left in the half, making it a three-point game once again, 17-14.

The SC defense broke down again, giving up back-to-back touchdowns to Texas A&M, and all of a sudden, the Gamecocks were down, 31-14, at halftime in their home stadium. Not since 2009 had they surrendered that many points in a first half, per ESPN Stats and Info:

One of the biggest storylines coming into the game was how Texas A&M would replace Manziel, Jake Matthews and Mike Evans, all of whom were selected in the first round of the 2014 draft. Losing talent like that can set a program back at least a year or two.

As the best are wont to do, though, the Aggies simply reloaded, as Bleacher Report's Matt Miller pointed out:

Hill was a revelation in the passing game, often looking to Seals-Jones for the big play, while Cedric Ogbuehi opened up holes for the running game and neutralized the Gamecocks pass rush.

By the end of the first half, Hill completed 27-of-35 passes for 299 yards and two touchdowns. Mandel joked that Hill was nearly ahead of former Clemson QB Tajh Boyd already:

What also bears mention is the performance of the A&M defense. Last year, the unit was a massive liability. The Aggies almost had to score 30-40 points in order to just scrape by. Texas A&M won't be relying on its defense to win games this year, but no longer is the group an anchor holding the team back.

As NFL.com's Bryan Fischer tweeted out, a showing like the defense had in the first half takes a ton of pressure off the offense:

In the first half, South Carolina was held to 216 total yards. Star running back Mike Davis was a complete non-factor.

Knowing that a touchdown to start the second half would all but kill whatever spirit was left in the SC players, Texas A&M held the Gamecocks to a three-and-out on the first drive of the third quarter and followed with another Hill TD pass, this time going to sophomore wideout Josh Reynolds.

Fans inside Williams-Brice Stadium came to life again after Thompson made it a 38-21 game with 7:33 in the third quarter with his third touchdown pass.

Sensing a small window of opportunity, Steve Spurrier opted for a surprise onside kick; however, Texas A&M recovered, shutting the door on any comeback attempt.

Matt Connolly of the Spartanburg Herald-Journal figured Spurrier had little to lose since his defense probably would've given up a touchdown even with the Aggies offense backed up deep:

Working with a short field, Texas A&M quickly padded their lead to 24 points, 45-21, with a little over five minutes to go in the third.

The two teams exchanged touchdowns in the third and fourth quarters, with South Carolina never getting closer than 17 points for the rest of the game. Sumlin was content to let his running game wear the clock down until the end of the game.

With such a decisive win on the road, Texas A&M could crack the top 15 by the time next week's rankings are unveiled. The Aggies head home for their next game, welcoming in Lamar on Sept. 6.

South Carolina could be in line for a precipitous drop in the polls. The Gamecocks looked well off the pace on Thursday night. Luckily for them, they have another opportunity soon to prove themselves. In a little over two weeks, the No. 12 Georgia Bulldogs come to Columbia.

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Kenny Hill's Record-Breaking Win vs. South Carolina Ushers in New Texas A&M Era

Let's just get this out of the way: Kenny Hill is not Johnny Manziel. 

And it doesn't matter.

The latter may be one of the most electrifying players in the history of Texas A&M—and possibly even college football—but the former is built to run head coach Kevin Sumlin's offense. 

He proved exactly that on Thursday night, going into a raucous Williams-Brice Stadium and trampling No. 9 South Carolina. After throwing for a silly 299 yards and a pair of scores in his first half as a starter, Hill finished 44-of-60 for 511 yards and three touchdowns in the Aggies' 52-28 win, rewriting the record books in the process: 

Texas A&M entered the game as a 10-point underdog, per OddsShark, and while that seemed a little harsh for a team that has thrived under Sumlin, the spread was understandable. The Aggies lost a great deal of talent in the offseason, most notably Manziel and wide receiver Mike Evans, while South Carolina had won 18 in a row at home and was expected to be in the mix at the top of the SEC East. 

Yet Hill and this offense made Steve Spurrier's defense look like Abilene Christian. Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman put it simply after Hill's incredibly easy-looking first-half performance: 

It was the perfect game plan from Sumlin because, for the most part, it was simple. A number of Hill's completions came on quick throws and short pitch-and-catches, allowing his wide receivers and running backs to do the rest. 

That seemed to help get him into an early groove. Hill's first drive went 67 yards on nine methodical plays, resulting in an emphatic statement that quieted a crowd that was absolutely electric just minutes earlier. 

ESPN's Sam Khan Jr. summarized that drive, while the nickname jokes already began surfacing, via CBS Sports' Dennis Dodd:

Hill's unforgettable starting debut was not just the result of conservative play-calling, though. He looked incredibly poised and confident. When he had time, he threw lasers out of the pocket. When he was pressured, he showed the quickness to escape easily, but instead of tucking the ball and running, he kept his eyes downfield and delivered accurate throws.

“You can tell he was raised in a spread, no-huddle system,” Texas A&M quarterbacks coach Jake Spavital said before the game, per Khan. “That comes pretty much second nature to him.”

Clearly. He moved the ball flawlessly, surgically cutting up the defense at a breakneck pace. 

He looked nothing like an inexperienced sophomore, let alone one playing on the road against a quality SEC opponent. 

You can say what you want about South Carolina's young defense, but this performance should put the rest of the conference—and the country, and the Heisman voters—on notice. Bleacher Report's Adam Kramer offered his assessment of A&M's showing:

With the size and talent of Ricky Seals-Jones, the electrifying quickness of Speedy Noil, the reliability of Malcome Kennedy, the three-headed rushing attack and the dominant offensive line, Hill doesn't have to be perfect. 

He just has to push the pace, take what the defense gives him, play with poise and know when to make plays with his legs. 

Judging by just four quarters of scintillating play Thursday night, he clearly knows how to do all of those things. This is a special offense, and it's being led by a special player with a special blend of physical gifts and mental aptitude. 

Again. 

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Maryland to Sell Massive 1.5-Pound Pretzels at Byrd Stadium

That's one big pretzel.

The Maryland Terrapins are planning on selling this massive 1.5-pound pretzel at Byrd Stadium during the football season. Named the "Chessie," this is a gigantic soft-baked pretzel that's baked with melted cheese and crab dip. The pretzel serves four people and can be bought for $17.50 at the stadium.

[Washington Post, h/t Deadspin]

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Rebels' Keith Lewis Levels Boise State's Jay Ajayi with Big Hit in Open Field

Ole Miss senior linebacker Keith Lewis looks like he's pumped to be back on the field for the Rebels.

In the first quarter of their opener against the Boise State Broncos, Lewis made a big hit in the open field on running back Jay Ajayi to force a fourth down.

The hit was an early statement for Lewis and the rest of the defense as they look to help Ole Miss make a run in the SEC this year.

[Vine

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Twitter Reacts to Kenny Hill's Breakout Performance vs. South Carolina

Johnny Football? Try Kenny Football.

The Texas A&M Aggies may be without Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, but their offense appears to be just fine under the guidance of succeeding quarterback Kenny Hill.

During Thursday's college football season opener, Hill torched the No. 9 South Carolina defense through the air in a 52-28 victory.

Hill completed 27-of-35 passes for 299 yards and two scores in the first half. That would be a respectable full-game stat line against a top-10 SEC foe, much less 50 percent of a day's work.

But Hill wasn't finished there. Far from it.

The sophomore signal-caller kept the Aggies rolling on the road, finishing 44-of-60 passing for 511 yards and three scores. ESPN Stats & Info observed just how amazing Hill was in his electrifying first start:

Twitter had plenty to say throughout Hill's breakout performance against the Gamecocks, which supplied the 21st-ranked Aggies with a wave of optimism in the post-Manziel era.

SEC Sports highlighted the elite company Hill already joined:

ESPN Radio's Ian Fitzsimmons opted for a Manziel reference in light of recent events:

Todd Fuhrman of Fox Sports 1 put Hill's numbers in excellent context:

Bleacher Report's Matt Miller opted for a different Hill nickname than the one in this story's lede:

ESPN's College GameDay captured a fitting quote from commentator Brent Musburger:

Check out this number from ESPN Stats & Info:

NFL.com's Bryan Fischer observed how Texas A&M's relentless energy was too much to handle even in the friendly confines of Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia:

Fox Sports' Bruce Feldman alluded to the Gamecocks' stellar home record:

Jason King of Bleacher Report added an interesting anecdote:

CBSSports.com's Dennis Dodd—along with others who become privy to this knowledge, to be sure—was perplexed as to how Hill's counterpart, Dylan Thompson, technically fared better in the opening half:

Thompson had a fine, explosive game himself (20-of-40, 366 yards, four touchdowns and one interception), but it paled in comparison to the heights Hill reached. As for the comparisons between Hill and Manziel, how about this one from SportsCenter:

Former Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy knows what it takes to succeed in the SEC, and he praised Texas A&M's entire offensive unit:

As TAMU Gameday put forth, all contributors on the Aggies side did indeed warrant credit—even with Hill as the clear tone-setter:

The Aggies actually wound up with 680 total yards after that tweet.

South Carolina lost No. 1 overall NFL draft pick Jadeveon Clowney this last year, though it likely wouldn't have fared much better even with him.

An uptempo, air raid offense coveted by Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin has produced prolific passing attacks in both his stints at the helm of the Houston Cougars and now in College Station. Hill, the son of a former MLB pitcher (h/t Brendan Wilhide on Twitter) drove Texas A&M down the field at will.

Save for one three-and-out on the last first-quarter possession and one play just before the halftime intermission, the Aggies scored every time they possessed the ball in the first half, putting the game out of reach early. With a rather weak defense supporting him and the Gamecocks producing plenty of big plays of their own, there was no lack of composure from Hill, who looked like a veteran despite the immense pressure he was under to replace Manziel.

Perhaps another Texas A&M QB will be striking the Heisman pose soon enough if this electric debut by Hill is any sign of what's to come. However, the hype will only increase, along with the expectations. It remains to be seen if Hill can handle that, particularly after Manziel, a larger-than-college-life personality.

Since the Aggies held on to win this one in such dominant fashion, they ought to receive quite a boost in the rankings. A similar springboard effect should hold true for the surprising Hill's Heisman stock.

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South Carolina's Abysmal First Half Has Steve Spurrier and Fans Devastated

The South Carolina Gamecocks were excited to open the college football season at home against the Texas A&M Aggies, but things didn't quite go according to plan.

At halftime, the Gamecocks were down 31-14, and fans were clearly devastated. Actually, fans weren't the only ones upset, as head coach Steve Spurrier vented his frustrations by throwing off his headset.

[Vine, h/t SB Nation]

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Jacob Coker Should Start Season as Alabama's Full-Time Quarterback

As the Alabama Crimson Tide look to return to the championship spotlight this season, they should end the charade of a quarterback controversy and trust Jacob Coker with regular snaps from the get-go.

The Florida State transfer is the clear superior talent who will take the reins under Nick Saban's offense before the season ends. Yet Coker will have to work longer before winning the job outright. According to CBS Sports' Jeremy Fowler, fifth-year senior Blake Sims is the top candidate to start, although the junior will receive snaps as well.

Alabama's early-week plan is to play two quarterbacks on Saturday against West Virginia , with fifth-year senior Blake Sims the current favorite to start, CBSSports.com has learned.

Touted Florida State transfer Jacob Coker will play in the Georgia Dome, but he failed to create significant separation in Bama's quarterback race, and is expected to come off the bench.

Such a decision likely boils down to experience and familiarity. Sims spent the last three years sitting behind former signal-caller A.J. McCarron. He rarely played, but he made a strong showing for himself during a rout over overmatched Georgia Tech, completing 14 of 18 passes for 130 yards and a touchdown.

While Coker is learning the ropes, Sims knows Saban's system well. The Tuscaloosa News' Aaron Suttles also noted that Sims has support throughout the squad.

Those factors make it easy to defer to Sims, even if just for the first few games. Coming off a 4-8 season, West Virginia exists this weekend with the sole purpose of taking a beating from the Crimson Tide. Such is often the ugly nature of college football.

The No. 2 Crimson Tide should win games either way, but Coker puts the better product on the field. He could have started at most schools last season, but he found himself stuck behind eventual Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston. According to USA Today's Paul Myerberg, Florida State's quarterback position was far from an open-and-shut case last season.

He didn't win the job, but the 6'5", 230-pound passer certainly opened some eyes at FSU. Last January, in a story published on CBS Sports the day after Winston led the Seminoles to a BCS National Championship, quarterback coach Ricky Sanders compared Coker's arm favorably to his champion leader.

"Coker's arm is kind of at a different level," Sanders told Bruce Feldman. "Jameis has a very special arm, and this isn't any knock against Jameis, but Jake's probably the best I've seen in 25 years at throwing it."

Former Florida State running back Devonta Freeman, who will now suit up for the Atlanta Falcons, also sung Coker's praises to Bleacher Report's Ray Glier.

I will not be surprised if Coke-boy is in the middle of the Heisman thing before the season is over. He’s my guy, will talk about Coke-boy all day. If Jameis Winston is a first-round pick of the NFL, then Jake is a first-round pick. If they came out next year, they would be the top two quarterbacks. I tell you no lie.

With Lane Kiffin joining the Crimson Tide to call plays, Simms sees his familiarity advantage dissipate. Last year's playbook has undoubtedly experienced serious renovation, and they'd be remiss not to consider what they could achieve with Coker slinging the ball around.

Coker is the obvious future, so why waste time during the fall when he could compile critical reps that will serve him well later? Saban can bide his time with a two-quarterback approach, but that's merely a stalling tactic that could create a divide while robbing everyone of clarity.

The top case for easing in Coker comes from a fictional television show, which isn't the best guideline to making important decisions. In Friday Night Lights, Matt Saracen constantly led Coach Taylor's Dillon Panthers to miraculous victories on grit and heart.

Then freshman quarterback J.D. McCoy came along with a magical arm that forced the reluctant coach to make the obvious move. Sure, the arrogant McCoy crumbled during the state championship game, but the Panthers didn't have Saban's army of 5-star recruits roaming the field.

In the real world, skill beats out seniority. Coker is ready to dazzle in Tuscaloosa now, so why keep delaying the inevitable?

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NCAA College Football Picks: Week 1 Against the Spread

The collegiate football season's kickoff has officially launched. And if two schools that I probably couldn't find even with a GPS can make the inaugural game thrilling, it can only mean that a fascinating fall awaits!

Adding to the excitement is the return of an occasion that we have not experienced since the madness of March: betting on games!

And there are indeed some killer matchups.

Although some top teams chose a creampuff dessert as their first meal, there are three games between ranked teams in Week 1: No. 9 South Carolina vs. No. 21 Texas A&M, No. 12 Georgia vs. No. 16 Clemson and No. 14 Wisconsin vs. No. 12 LSU at a neutral site in Houston.

Earlier this week, I discussed Week 1's previews. Now let's take a look at these same matchups against the spread, as listed on CoopersPick.com.

 

No. 21 Texas A&M vs. No. 9 South Carolina

South Carolina (-10), Over/Under 58

Pick Against the Spread: The Gamecocks are home and will cover in their house in the season opener. Why? Their defense is simply too good, and Texas A&M has failed to cover the spread in its last four games on the road. And, well, it's South Carolina's house in a season opener. 

 

Boise State vs. No. 18 Ole Miss

Ole Miss (-10), Over/Under 54.5

Pick Against the Spread: Ole Miss will show who's the ranked team with a win and also cover. The offense has too many weapons, and the D will keep the Broncos from racking up the rushing yards. On top of that, Boise State is only 2-5 in its last seven games, while Ole Miss is a legit 19-7 in its last 26 nonconference games.

 

No. 1 Florida State vs. Oklahoma State

Florida State (-17.5), Over/Under 63 

Pick Against the Spread: Florida State wins big and covers, as it will dominate on both sides of the ball. In their last six nonconference games, the Seminoles have covered five times.

 

West Virginia vs. No. 2 Alabama

Alabama (-26.5), Over/Under 55.5

Pick Against the Spread: A spread of 26.5 points is a lot to give, but add T.J. Yeldon plus the Tide defense, and Alabama will win and cover. WVU has failed to do just that in its last six nonconference games.

 

Arkansas vs. No. 6 Auburn

Auburn (-21), Over/Under 57.5

Pick Against the Spread: Auburn will extend its streak of covering the spread in its last eight SEC games. Last season, the Tigers beat Arkansas by 18 points, and that game was on the road.

 

No. 16 Clemson vs. No. 12 Georgia

Clemson (+7.5), Over/Under 57.5

Pick Against the Spread: Interesting betting trends pick Clemson to win this game, which it will. The Tigers have covered the spread in eight of their last 11 road games, while Georgia is only 1-4-1 ATS in its last six home games. Vegas Insiders' conference betting odds for Georgia to win the SEC is 7/2 this year, but how it plays in the first four weeks will be telling to how the season will pan out for the Bulldogs.

 

No. 14 Wisconsin vs. No. 13 LSU

LSU (-4), Over/Under 50

Pick Against the Spread: While it has only covered the spread in two of its last seven nonconference games, LSU's new talent will carry the squad to a win against Wisconsin and cover the narrow spread to boot.

 

SMU vs. No. 10 Baylor

SMU (+33), Over/Under 73

Pick Against the Spread: To the surprise of few, SMU will not win, but it will cover. The Mustangs are 0-4 ATS in their last four nonconference games, but last season they lost by 29 points against Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M. In perhaps a slight moral victory, expect a similar result against Baylor. 

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South Carolina's Dylan Thompson Finds Nick Jones for 69-Yard TD vs. Texas A&M

The South Carolina Gamecocks faced an early 10-0 deficit in the college football season opener against the Texas A&M Aggies on Thursday, but senior quarterback Dylan Thompson helped his team get back into the game.

With less than four minutes remaining in the first quarter, Thompson found senior wide receiver Nick Jones for this 69-yard bomb, pulling the Gamecocks within three points of the Aggies.

[YouTube, h/t Saturday Down South]

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Boise State vs. Ole Miss: Live Score and Highlights

 

Early Third Quarter

Ole Miss 7, Boise State 3

Turnovers have held both teams back thus far.  This game may come down to which team plays the cleaner second half.

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