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What Georgia Can Learn from Texas A&M on How to Beat South Carolina

Undeniably, Week 1 was kind to the Georgia Bulldogs. A 45-21 win over the Clemson Tigers showcased a much improved defense, vaulted star running back Todd Gurley into the Heisman conversation and propelled the Dawgs up the polls.

But not all the good news came out of the friendly confines of Sanford Stadium. Texas A&M's thrashing of the South Carolina Gamecocks in Columbia, South Carolina, was also cause for optimism for Georgia.

As the Aggies proved in Week 1, South Carolina can be beaten, and here's what Georgia can learn from that game.

 

Conquering the Crowd

The fans in Williams-Brice Stadium are so rabid that they respond to Darude's 1999 hit "Sandstorm" like it's brand new every time it comes on. The scene is equal parts maddening and dizzying, and for opposing teams it can be downright intimidating. And that's before kickoff.

Prior to last Thursday, the Gamecocks had ridden the wave of that raucous crowd to 18 consecutive home wins, the longest such streak in the nation.  

To be sure, the loss to Texas A&M won't dull the enthusiasm of the crowd when the Bulldogs come to town on September 13, and it would be a disservice to the South Carolina faithful to expect anything short of deafening volume, "Sandstorm" and all. But for a young Georgia team, it helps to know that Williams-Brice Stadium can be conquered.

The last time Georgia traveled to Columbia (in 2012), the Dawgs were overwhelmed by a ferocious defense, the magnitude of the game (both teams were ranked in the Top 10) and the hostile environment. The end result: South Carolina 35, Georgia 7.

Just knowing that South Carolina can be defeated at home—even by a team plagued with question marks early in the season, like Texas A&M—should be a confidence booster.

 

Spreading the Football

Watching Gurley run against Clemson was a beautiful sight. Every time he touched the ball, he was a threat. More than half of his runs resulted in first downs or touchdowns.

But Gurley is always good. What made him great on Saturday (in addition to incredible offensive line play) was offensive coordinator Mike Bobo's patience and game-planning. Those qualities may vest themselves in different ways next Saturday.

As Texas A&M and new star quarterback Kenny Hill demonstrated clearly last week, South Carolina's defensive backs and linebackers are not adept at covering one-on-one in isolated space. Hill's 511 passing yards against the Gamecocks was a testament to his ability to get the ball out quickly and accurately. However, the fact that five of the Aggie receivers accounted for at least four catches and more than 50 receiving yards is a testament to South Carolina's inability to cover in space.

Georgia showed glimpses of the short passing game on Saturday against Clemson as well, but expect that facet of the game to be utilized more regularly against the Gamecocks. In particular, look for shifty playmakers like Reggie Davis, Sony Michel and Isaiah McKenzie to turn relatively short routes into big gains.

On Saturday, Georgia relied on a number of big offensive sets. It was not uncommon to see a tight end (often freshman Jeb Blazevich), a true fullback (Taylor Maxey) and an H-back (Quayvon Hicks) on the field at the same time as Gurley, Keith Marshall or Nick Chubb in the backfield. That formation will likely be less prevalent against a Gamecock defense that has such a demonstrably established weakness against the passing attack.

Georgia won't ignore its powerful running game, but the Dawgs would be foolish not to exploit South Carolina's coverage deficiencies. 

 

Setting Up the Run

Georgia's offense won't run away from the run. If anything, the short passing game will keep any defense honest and in doing so open up the running game. Though less spoken of, Texas A&M also had success running the football against South Carolina as the Aggies racked up 169 yards on the ground to go with four rushing touchdowns. Trey Williams and Brandon Williams each accounted for over 50 yards and more than five yards per carry.

And neither of those backs are Gurley. As the Heisman candidate showed on Saturday, he doesn't need tons of carries to take over the game. Expect Gurley to be Gurley when he gets his opportunities.

Some well-timed draws and continued reliance on the toss sweep should keep the Georgia running game in a good position to finish the game late—especially if the passing game can take the wind out of the Gamecock defense early.

 

Defensive Confusion

South Carolina running back Mike Davis was a non-factor in the season opener as he continued to battle back from injury. If he's not back fully healthy in time for the Georgia game, the South Carolina offense could be in trouble.

For Georgia, putting pressure on the quarterback must remain a point of emphasis. Gamecock receivers like Nick Jones, Pharoh Cooper and Damiere Byrd are more than capable of making big plays and quarterback Dylan Thompson is an experienced passer who won't go down easily in such a big game. But it's hard to complete passes with Leonard Floyd and Amarlo Herrera in the backfield all day—just ask Clemson.

As defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt continues to develop his youthful defensive backfield, a premium will be placed on pressuring the quarterback. If Thompson struggles to get comfortable and fails to find a rhythm, the secondary will likely acquit itself quite nicely and overcome small miscues. However, if a strong Gamecock offensive line controls the battle in the trenches, Georgia's cornerbacks and safeties may be depended on to make some big plays.

 

Embrace the Moment

This Georgia team seemed keenly aware of the opportunity a win against Clemson presented. Accordingly, that same mentality should be carried over to the South Carolina game, which is even more important given SEC East implications. Players and coaches alike need to feed off of the game's magnitude and not shy away from it.

South Carolina is the team with its back in the corner. For the Gamecocks, a loss to Georgia means two conference losses and a setback against the prohibitive favorite in the division. Losing to the Bulldogs all but eliminates South Carolina from clear division contention just three games into the season. It's Steve Spurrier's squad that should be tense coming into this game, not Mark Richt's.

On Monday, Richt confessed to Tim Tucker of the Albany Herald, "You're probably never as good as you think after a win and never as bad as you think after a loss."

That sentiment translates to both Georgia and South Carolina in very different ways at this juncture. Georgia needs to prepare for a Gamecock squad that is much better than its season-opening loss may have implied. Similarly, the Dawgs need to focus on their own weaknesses. Fortunately, Georgia has an extra week to do so.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand. All stats courtesy of NCAA.com.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

USC Football: How Steve Sarkisian's History vs. Stanford Will Help Trojans

No. 13 Stanford and No. 14 USC do not have much time to study game film on the other in preparation for Saturday's Pac-12 contest at Stanford Stadium. 

But one need not refer to the game tape to know what to anticipate. 

"Two really good football teams with playmakers...and great defenses, too," Stanford head coach David Shaw said on Tuesday's Pac-12 coaches teleconference call. "The games are tight and exciting and are fun to watch." 

When the Cardinal and Trojans get together, the result is a competitive game. Each of the last four outcomes were decided by single digits. 

The same has been true when Shaw and first-year USC head coach Steve Sarkisian meet. In their last two encounters while Sarkisian was at Washington, each claimed a single-digit-point decision. 

In fact, losses to Sarkisian and USC account for two of the Cardinal's three Pac-12 blemishes over the course of their two-year reign as conference champions. 

USC ended a four-game losing skid to Stanford last November in a 20-17 thriller at the Coliseum. In 2012, Sarkisian's Huskies beat the Cardinal in a similar defensive struggle, 17-13. 

Stanford is a team known for its defensive prowess, and low-scoring contests would seemingly be right in the Cardinal's wheelhouse. However, the last few seasons proves Stanford is at its most vulnerable when scoring is dragged down into the teens. 

The Cardinal may not run a spread system, and they will huddle after most plays. But Tuesday, Sarkisian described an offense that is anything but vanilla. 

"The one thing that makes Stanford difficult [to prepare for] is that I think they're a little bit more multiple [in their formations] than people give them credit for," he said. "Everyone wants to focus on the makeup of their big package and they bring in the [extra] offensive linemen. 

"But they still do the traditional pro-set. They do stuff out of two-tight end sets. They do stuff out of three-wide receiver sets. They give you a lot of different looks and they execute well." 

 

Turnover Battle 

On his Sunday conference call, Sarkisian discussed a "simple formula" to game-planning for an opponent of Stanford's caliber. Execution was one part of his equation, and that's been plainly evident in the history both the coach and his new team have with the Cardinal. 

More specifically, lack of execution has opened windows of opportunity that both Sarkisian and USC have successfully exploited against the two-time Pac-12 champions. 

Mistakes were critical in each of the last four combined meetings between USC and Stanford, and Sarkisian and Stanford. 

The 2013 classic between USC and Stanford saw the Trojans defense intercept Cardinal quarterback Kevin Hogan twice, including once in the red zone. USC also recovered a Stanford fumble. 

Winning the turnover battle proved equally key to Sarkisian's teams efforts against the Cardinal as well.

With Josh Nunes playing quarterback, the Cardinal failed to score an offensive touchdown and coughed up two turnovers against the Huskies in 2012. 

"The challenge this week is prominent," Shaw said. "We can't make mistakes." 

Landing on the other side of the turnover coin plays into Stanford's game plan, and Sarkisian has experienced it firsthand. 

In Washington's visit to Stanford last October, the Huskies gave up just one turnover, but it proved costly in a 31-28 loss.

Quarterback Keith Price's fourth-quarter interception was the unceremonious end to an 18-play, five-minute-and-37-second drive that led Washington to the Stanford 7-yard line.

Washington was also plagued by special teams mishaps in that game, allowing a 99-yard touchdown return from Stanford wide receiver Ty Montgomery. Montgomery set up another Cardinal score with a 68-yard return. 

The Trojans will see Montgomery on Saturday.  

Containing the speedy Montgomery is paramount for the Trojans special teams, and generating pressure is key to the Trojans defense forcing Stanford into mistakes. 

USC's kickoff return team accomplished the former last season, holding Montgomery to 17.8 yards per return. 

As for the latter, former Washington and current USC coordinator Justin Wilcox's defenses have applied more pressure to Stanford's quarterbacks in the last two years than most Cardinal opponents. The Huskies recorded two sacks in each of the two meetings. 

USC's ability to apply pressure on Hogan Saturday will play a crucial role in the outcome. 

 

Line vs. Line

Perhaps no other Pac-12 contest will attract quite as much attention for its line play. USC's defensive front against the Stanford offensive line takes top billing—specifically, defensive lineman Leonard Williams and offensive tackle Andrus Peat. 

Shaw praised Williams as "a difference-maker," while Sarkisian credited both Peat's individual talent as well as Stanford's recent tradition of line play. 

"[The Stanford coaches] continued to develop him, like they have with lineman in the past," Sarkisian said. "If [he is] not the leader, then [he'ls one of the leaders of that offensive unit, and it shows in his play." 

The two may not see much of each other head-to-head—Williams will often line up on the interior—but their individual performances will set the tone in one of the game's most crucial elements. 

"They're two of the better players in our conference," Sarkisian said. 

 

Picking Up the Pace

Outstanding line play is nothing new for either program. The significant, new dynamic USC brings to The Farm for this year's installment in the series is its implementation of a no-huddle offense. 

Last season was Sarkisian's first in such a system, and Washington had success with it against Stanford's ballyhooed defense. 

The Huskies accrued 489 yards of total offense with 350 through the air. 

That's promising for USC quarterback Cody Kessler's outlook on Saturday, particularly given how comfortable he looked operating in the new scheme against Fresno State.

Kessler won the first Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Week nomination of 2014 for his career-high 394-yard, four-passing touchdown performance against Fresno State. 

Shaw said some offenses excel in their efficiency and others in their explosiveness, but USC showed both qualities.  

Stanford's staked its claim to the Pac-12 championship each of the last two years at the expense of uptempo offensive foes, however. 

Breaking the near-stalemate between these teams is exceedingly difficult, no matter how much time Sarkisian or Shaw had to game plan. 

But Shaw did express confidence in one component of this matchup—where it falls on the schedule, on Week 2. 

"I don't think either of us would have chosen this," he said. 

 

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise cited. Statistics compiled via CFBstats.com.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

USC Football: How Steve Sarkisian's History vs. Stanford Will Help Trojans

No. 13 Stanford and No. 14 USC do not have much time to study game film on the other in preparation for Saturday's Pac -12 contest at Stanford Stadium. But one need not refer to the game tape to know what to anticipate...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

Steven Manfro Injury: Updates on UCLA RB's Knee and Return

A mere days removed from a scare against unranked Virginia to start their 2014 college football season, the No. 11 UCLA Bruins lost a critical rotational player when running back Steven Manfro went down with a knee injury in practice.     

According to Jack Wang of the L.A. Daily News, the redshirt junior's injury is of the "serious" variety upon first analysis by head coach Jim Mora:

Manfro was set to see an uptick in usage this year for the Bruins, having only recorded 32 total carries over the course of his first two years with the team.

Last year he took 24 of those and looked promising as they translated to 107 yards and a touchdown. Two of his eight attempts in 2012 went for touchdowns.

In the aforementioned scare against the Cavaliers, Manfro dropped a pass and took just two carries for negative yardage, although that sort of output was to be expected against a school that annually touts a defensive powerhouse.

Mora had big plans for Manfro in a committee approach, as one can glean from his response to being asked who he wants to see lead the team in rushing, as captured by Chris Foster of the Los Angeles Times:

"'Jordon James, Paul Perkins, Steven Manfro,' Mora said. He even mentions, with a smirk, linebacker Myles Jack, a part-timer on offense."

Notice the lack of quarterback Brett Hundley there, which is surely Mora's goal with the committee approach. With Manfro out an unknown amount of time, the offense will lean on the other two names for production.

Senior Jordon James took five carries for three yards against Virginia, while sophomore Paul Perkins led the team in rushing with 16 carries for 80 yards. The latter figures to see an uptick in usage one season removed from taking 134 carries for 573 yards and six touchdowns.

Manfro is a major loss for the time being that restricts the former strategy Mora sought to employ, but the good news is that the Bruins will not encounter the Cavaliers again on their hunt to make the College Football Playoff.

 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Kenny Hill Destroys South Carolina for College Football's Top Performance

Texas A&M's starting quarterback, Kenny Hill, put on a performance like no other against South Carolina this past week. Completing 44 of his 60 passes for 511 yards and three touchdowns, Hill absolutely dominated during his first career start. How well do you think this stud will do in the future?

Watch the video and let us know.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Florida A&M vs. Miami: Complete Game Preview

The Miami Hurricanes (0-1) will look to rebound from an 18-point loss when they host in-state Football Championship Subdivision opponent Florida A&M (0-1) at Sun Life Stadium on Sept. 6.

Last week, the Rattlers fell to Jackson State 22-17 on a 50-yard prayer as time expired, starting the 2014 season on a rather deflating note.

Miami leads the series 8-1, winning each of the last eight meetings—including a 45-0 victory in 2010.

The game kicks off at 7:00 p.m. ET and will be streamed on ESPN3.

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Todd Gurley's Impressive Performance vs. Clemson Spawns Commemorative Graffiti

Georgia running back Todd Gurley put on a show against Clemson on Saturday, and his performance inspired an interesting work of art.

Gurley ran for 198 yards and three touchdowns on just 15 carries against the Tigers, and he also had a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the game.

It's those types of numbers that have Bulldogs fans believing Gurley could take home the Heisman Trophy this season. With this graffiti art, the "Gurley for Heisman" campaign has begun.

[Instagram, h/t Dr. Saturday and Todd Gurley]

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

2015 Recruits Who Could Start on College Football Teams Right Now

College programs are already counting down the days for premier 2015 prospects to arrive on campus. Though early enrollees are still four months away from making the leap, several standouts certainly seem capable of contributing this season if given an opportunity to forgo their senior campaigns.

No, we won't see top-ranked defensive end Josh Sweat chase down reigning Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston or coveted California quarterback Josh Rosen carve up Pac-12 opponents this fall. Still, it's interesting to imagine college football's stars of tomorrow making an impact beyond high school fields today.

The transition requires polished fundamentals, a motivated mindset and refined physical tools. We examined eight members of the 2015 class who already appear to be college-ready at this stage of their careers.

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College Football Rankings 2014: Power Ranking All 128 Teams for Week 2

One week of the 2014 college football season is in the books. Though a single game doesn't dictate how the entire year will go, we are able to make some early assessments of the top teams. As a result, a lot of movement has taken place in the Bleacher Report power rankings since the preseason list was published.

Several high-profile opening-week games left us with some perceived powers already saddled with a loss, while some big names that came out victorious didn't fare as well as expected. That is reflected in their current standing.

Our power rankings are comprised of an average of five ratings: the Associated Press media and Amway coaches polls, Bleacher Report's Top 25, ratings guru Jeff Sagarin's computer ledger and my personal ranking.

Scroll through to find where your favorite (and most hated) teams sit, then let us know your thoughts in the comment section.

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Rapper Bun B Thinks Texas A&M QB Kenny Hill Should Earn 'Kenny Trill' Nickname

Texas A&M quarterback Kenny Hill has made only one start, but he put up such sensational numbers in it that he has earned himself quite a few nicknames already.

Shortly after Hill threw for 511 yards and three touchdowns in a 52-28 victory over South Carolina on Thursday, he started getting a lot of hype. Former Aggies quarterback—and 2012 Heisman Trophy winner—Johnny Manziel quickly dubbed Hill "Kenny Football" after the impressive performance. 

Another nickname that is out there is "Kenny Trill." It has a natural sound to it, but not everyone believes the nickname should be thrown out there so quickly. Former UGK member Bun B, aka "Trill OG," needs to see more of the quarterback before he is ready to get on board with the nickname.

It was a very good game by Hill, but he needs more than just one great game to show everyone he is for real.

[Twitter, h/t Black Sports Online]

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

UCLA Football: Report Card Grades for Every New Starter

In UCLA's 28-20 victory over Virginia, nine players assumed new roles as starters. 

Some of those appointments were due to injuries suffered by other members of the team. The others were based on both overall development and strong play during fall camp.

The sluggish effort by the team this past Saturday definitely permeated throughout the roster. As a result, it was a general mixed bag when it came to potential report card grades.  

This piece will include the statistical output for the following players, as well as speaking to the impact each athlete had during the game. A final grade will follow. 

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UCLA Football: Report Card Grades for Every New Starter

In UCLA's 28-20 victory over Virginia, nine players assumed new roles as starters. Some of those appointments were due to injuries suffered by other members of the team...

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College Football Polls 2014: Comparing Week 2 AP and Coaches Polls

The Week 2 editions of the Associated Press and Amway Coaches Polls dropped Tuesday afternoon, and despite closer-than-expected games against Oklahoma State and West Virginia, respectively, Florida State and Alabama remained the consensus No. 1 and No. 2 teams in America.

There was plenty of movement behind the top two, however, especially as a result of Texas A&M's 52-28 win at South Carolina. The Aggies started outside the Top 20 of both polls, and the Gamecocks started inside the Top 10 of both polls, but now those spots have largely reversed.

I say "largely," though, because they have not reversed entirely. In one poll, they have; in the other, they have not. But deciding what to do with Texas A&M was just one of many variations between the media poll and the Coaches poll, which always seem to deviate from each other in minor but notable ways.

Let's look at how they contrast from start to finish.

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Jacob Gilliam's Injury Exacerbates Tennessee's Run Game Issues

As if the Tennessee Volunteers offensive line wasn't already riddled with question marks after some season-opener struggles, head coach Butch Jones delivered a round of gut-shot news Tuesday:

Starting left tackle Jacob Gilliam will miss the remainder of the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered against Utah State.

Gilliam's injury only worsens issues UT knows it must address immediately along the offensive front. Despite a rousing 38-7 domination of Utah State, the Vols' line performance—particularly in the run game—was a big, hairy mole on an otherwise supermodel start to the season.

Senior quarterback Justin Worley was sacked twice and pressured on numerous other occasions. Most glaring was the run game inefficiency, however. Tennessee averaged just 2.8 yards per carry, finishing with 110 yards on 39 rushes.

Though UT continued to run throughout the game, offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian leaned heavily on the short passing game to cover the blemishes.

It's the kind of start that wasn't difficult to predict, considering UT lost all five of its starting linemen.

Jones didn't bother sugarcoating the line's performance at his weekly press conference Tuesday. Though he noted he doesn't really look at the yards-per-carry metric, it was clear the Vols' revamped group didn't pass its first test. 

There were about eight incidences where we were running the football, and we were one block away from a big play. A lot of times it's your backside cutoffs, your lineman not being on the proper defender. You have to be disciplined and stay low with your pad level. It's not just the offensive line. Sometimes, it may be the tight end on a combination block. It could be the back not making the proper read or the quarterback keeping it. There were a lot of single breakdowns. We are working to get that corrected.

The good news for UT is the issue is common for young lines learning to play together. The bad news is the Vols don't have a lot of time to get it fixed with a road trip to Oklahoma looming in two weeks, followed by an SEC gauntlet.

Now, they must correct those miscues without Gilliam, a hardworking, former walk-on, fifth-year senior who earned a scholarship for the first time this summer. The lineman from nearby Farragut High School went from feel-good story to line anchor when he solidified his starting role during camp.

With Gilliam gone, UT most likely will turn to redshirt freshman Brett Kendrick, another Knoxville product who reportedly came on toward the end of camp and more than held his own in Gilliam's stead Sunday.

At 6'6", 316 pounds, Kendrick has the ideal size for a tackle in Jones' power-spread system, but the athleticism is a work in progress.

Jones told Volquest.com's John Brice and Brent Hubbs (subscription required) that Kendrick would battle true freshman Coleman Thomas and Blair for the job:

[Kendrick has] continued to develop. He's done a good job of it. Now it's for real. He's taking coaching. He's listening to [offensive line coach Don] Mahoney. I'm starting to see a different mentality with them. He's not there yet, but I'm excited to see where he can take this. It's a concern from an overall depth standpoint, but the great thing is Brett Kendrick, Coleman Thomas and Dontavius Blair all have gotten some first-team reps.

The fallout from the Gilliam injury might not be as bad as it seems on the surface.

Though the Vols get much younger, they don't lose a lot in the way of experience or athleticism. Gilliam won the job for a reason, and that's his hard work and consistency—attributes that will be difficult to replace.

Kendrick has plenty of ability, as do Thomas and Blair. The latter two of the trio were the tackle starters on the first day of spring drills.

But Blair struggled to adjust to the offensive scheme and tempo, and Thomas' grasp on the starting job loosened when fellow freshman Jashon Robertson's play demanded his insertion into the first team, bumping guard Kyler Kerbyson to Thomas' spot.

In an ideal world, Thomas and Blair would be able to develop throughout a redshirt season. Tennessee's offensive line situation is anything but ideal.

One positive, Jones told GoVols247's Wes Rucker (subscription required) is whoever wins the job will be starting alongside UT left guard Marcus Jackson.

Despite the positive spin, Rucker told Bleacher Report there's no denying losing Gilliam stings.

"This definitely is a big blow for Tennessee, but it hurts the Vols more from a consistency and chemistry standpoint than it does from a pure talent standpoint, and more than anything, it really hurts their depth," Rucker said.

"They just don't have a lot of numbers there, and Gilliam had earned that position fair and square."

Football isn't fair, and now all Gilliam worked for was shredded with the twist of a knee. But, as Jones said, "that is football." Now, the Vols are forced to move on.

A bunch of star veterans are not going to run through the "T" in Neyland Stadium on Saturday. Jones and Mahoney have to patch-work that group and find a group of five that can get the job done.

With Gilliam a glorified cheerleader for the remainder of the season, that task just became a whole lot more difficult.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all statistics gathered from CFBStats.com and quotes as well as observations obtained firsthand.

Brad Shepard covers SEC football and is the Tennessee Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow Brad on Twitter here:

@Brad_Shepard

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Big 12 Football: 5 Head-to-Head Matchups to Watch for in Week 2

Week 1 of the new college football season is in the books, and there have already been some huge developments in and around the Big 12.

The biggest news surrounds the Texas Longhorns. Quarterback David Ash's career could now be in jeopardy after it was announced that he will miss the team's Week 2 contest against BYU with a concussion.

Other developments include the emergence of West Virginia after hanging in against Alabama, as well as the fall of Iowa State following its embarrassing loss to North Dakota State.

The only Big 12 matchup in Week 2 features Kansas State traveling to Ames to face the Cyclones. TCU has a bye week, while the rest of the conference faces opponents outside the league.

With so many intriguing games, from BYU-Texas to the lone Big 12 contest, there are sure to be some interesting head-to-head matchups on the field. Let's check out the top five in Week 2.

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Oklahoma vs. Tulsa Complete Game Preview

The Oklahoma Sooners are hoping this Saturday’s contest against the Tulsa Golden Hurricane will be a perfect opportunity to build some momentum heading into a key September showdown.

If there was any doubt that the Sooners were true national title contenders, they certainly put that talk to rest following their win in the season opener. Conversely, the team’s opponent—the Golden Hurricane—also proved they’re a tough out, rallying from a two-touchdown deficit to win in two overtimes.

Although a pivotal matchup against Tennessee on September 13 awaits Oklahoma, this is no time to look ahead.

Here’s everything you need to know about Saturday’s matchup.

 

Where: Chapman Stadium, Tulsa, Oklahoma

When: Saturday, September 6 at noon ET

Watch: ABC/ESPN2

Live Stream: Sooner Sports

Listen: Sooner Sports Radio Network

Betting Line: Oklahoma (-24), per Vegas Insider

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Ted's Takes on the Pac-12: Cal Overshadows USC and UCLA in Week 1

USC had the most impressive win of the first Pac-12 weekend, while UCLA wracked the most nerves. 

But the most important win belonged to California. A program not far removed from Aaron Rodgers and DeSean Jackson was buried under a landslide last year.

The fallout from low football player graduation rates that then-athletic director Sandy Barbour (now at Penn State) cited upon firing coach Jeff Tedford, wobbly recruiting and player defections resulted in a disastrous 2013: 1-11, 551 points allowed.

Nothing helps Cal's financial battle to pay off refurbished Memorial Stadium more than football success. In this area in 2013, a coach hired for his offense fielded a woeful defense.

No coach in America needed a win more than Sonny Dykes.

Cal delivered. On defense, it allowed only one play of over 25 yards and made a final stand in the closing minutes.

There wasn't one moment last season when you looked at the Bears and envisioned their defense making any stand, anywhere, at any time.

New defensive coordinator Art Kaufman is the star conference assistant of Week 1.

No coach in America enjoyed a win more than Dykes.

Was anyone shocked to see Steve Sarkisian on College GameDay Saturday morning? Hours before his first USC game, Sark did a satellite interview that, to no one's surprise, had nothing to do with the game.

Trojans supporters had to smile as Sark calmly answered the ritual questions about Josh Shaw and Anthony Brown. Who among us could be so poised when addressing being labeled a racist on Twitter?

Later that afternoon, the Trojans mimicked Sark. They hammered Fresno State, showing not one sign of "distraction."

USC operated at a fierce tempo and, most importantly, looked like it loved playing, something that's been missing the last few years.

Depth issues will continue to hover over USC this fall, but positive first impressions of the Sarkisian era will linger.

UCLA, meanwhile, needs an eraser. The Bruins couldn't protect Brett Hundley. And Hundley did not react well to pressure.

The 2014 hype has focused on Hundley more so than Oregon's Marcus Mariota. It is Hundley on the SI cover. It is Hundley, calmly but firmly, telling an ESPN interviewer recently on SportsCenter that he believes himself to be the country’s best QB.

At Virginia, Hundley tucked the ball and fled the pocket at first pressure. The Cavaliers fed on that and ramped up their rush. Bruins fans had to have memories of Arizona State sacking Hundley nine times last year.

ESPN's Matt Millen zeroed in on Hundley's lack of pocket presence during the TV broadcast. Not until the third quarter did Hundley step into the pocket and deliver a pass with pressure in his face.

For Hundley and UCLA to reach their goals, he must deliver on the very QB trait he worked on most to improve.

More notes from around the Pac-12:

 

Five "New" Impact Faces

ASU's Jaelen Strong could be this year's impact receiver in the conference. He was good last year (1,122 YDS) despite not having a full offseason to prepare. His 2014 start is more impressive given he only played the first half.

Arizona's Austin Hill missed 2013, but his return gives freshman quarterback Anu Solomon an experienced wideout.

Utah's Travis Wilson, a medical question after last year, was accurate and consistent. USC's Cody Kessler looked as if he had been born to run the fast-paced offense.

The Bruins' Eric Kendricks is a rock for this year's UCLA defense, which needs to replace Anthony Barr, Cassius Marsh and Jordan Zumwalt in the front seven.

 

Continuing Trend

The Pac-12 ran the most plays per game in 2013. Week 1 shows that is unlikely to change:

Also of note: Stanford ran the fewest plays in the conference last year and in Week 1 of 2014 (62).

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Michigan State vs. Oregon: Players to Watch in Saturday's Tilt

The Michigan State Spartans and Oregon Ducks may have both cruised to victory in Week 1 of the college football campaign, but Week 2 will provide no such comfort for two of this year's best in the nation.

The Spartans and Ducks square off Saturday in Oregon, in the week's premier college football matchup.

As Ryan Field of Fox Sports 1 points out on Twitter, these two programs are separated by just two spots in this week's USA Today poll:

With both teams in the hunt early on for a "Final Four" berth and a shot at the national championship, a win of this magnitude would go a long way to bolstering either side's resume.

With so much on the line, there are a few players who could make or break their clubs' chances of picking up a crucial early-season victory:

 

Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon

If the Ducks have any chance at holding off Sparty this week, they're going to need Marcus Mariota to keep one of the nation's top offenses firing on all cylinders.

Last year, only one team finished with more yards per game than Oregon, and just two other programs wrapped up the season with more points per game, per Yahoo! Sports.

Mariota's expected to be in the Heisman Trophy race once again in 2014, as Barrett Sallee and Adam Kramer discuss on B/R Video's Team Stream Now:

Mariota threw for more than 3,600 yards and 31 touchdowns a season ago, while also posing a threat on the ground, where he ran for more than 700 yards and nine touchdowns, per ESPN.com.

In his first contest this season, Mariota got off on the right foot, completing 70 percent of his passes for 267 yards and three scores. He added 43 yards of rushing and a touchdown on six attempts before coming out against Jacksonville State.

His leadership, versatility and ability to guide Oregon's zone-read offense will all be crucial in breaking down a Michigan State defense that ranked 11th against the pass and second against the run, per Yahoo! Sports.

 

Prediction

As one of the best players in the country, Mariota is bound to have a good game, even if he's playing against a tough defense. His track record, per ESPN.com, indicates that even against tough teams Mariota will throw for around 270 yards and two touchdowns.

While he'll need to keep the Spartans run defense honest, don't look for him to challenge them too often on the ground. Mariota's final line should be around a 60 percent completion rate, 275 yards and two scores through the air, with another 40 yards on the ground.

 

Tony Lippett, WR, Michigan State

For the Spartans, being able to score points to keep up with a Ducks offense playing at home is an absolute must if they hope to win and crack the top five heading into Week 3.

With the team's leading rusher in Jeremy Langford returning and veteran Connor Cook taking the snaps, there's a good chance that the Spartans can put some points on the board and hold the football against Oregon's defense.

The potential X-factor for the team's offense will be senior wideout Tony Lippett.

The team's top returning receiver from a year ago, per College Football Reference, Lippett will look to build on a Week 1 performance in which he went for more than 160 yards and a touchdown, per ESPN.com's box score.

Furthermore, he'll be one of Connor Cook's primary weapons through the air against a very young Oregon secondary.

According to rivals.com's depth charts, half of the Ducks' starting four defensive backs are freshmen:

Throw in the fact that one of the two upperclassmen in the secondary, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, has been battling an ankle problem, per Chantel Jennings of ESPN.com, and you have a recipe for success for Lippett and the Michigan State passing game:

If Lippett can't find a way to get going on Saturday against a young and banged-up secondary, it could spell big trouble for the boys from East Lansing.

 

Prediction

All things considered, the case can be made that Lippett will have a big week on the west coast. As one of Cook's top targets and a beneficiary of Langford potentially opening up the passing game by running well, Lippett should see his fair share of passes. I'd expect the senior receiver to haul in seven passes for 105 yards and a touchdown.

 

Tony Washington, DE, Oregon

With the team's secondary concerns comes added pressure on the big boys up front.

If Cook does look to pass more against a less-experienced—and potentially hurt—core of defensive backs, Oregon will need to apply more pressure up front as a countermeasure.

Enter Tony Washington, the Ducks' athletic senior defensive end.

Washington led all Oregon players last year in tackles for loss as well as sacks, per College Football Reference.

He will have to be instrumental in not only applying pressure to Cook, but also in being a force in the run-stopping department against Langford.

With Ekpre-Olomu also being a key cog in the team's blitz setups, as Jason Quick of The Oregonian pointed out on Twitter, Washington's ability to get into the backfield is that much more important if Ekpre-Olomu is limited by that injury this week:

 

Prediction

Despite the expectation that Ekpre-Olomu will play this weekend, Washington may have a tough time finding lanes into the backfield if Michigan State game-plans for Oregon's sack leader well. Still, his athleticism should see him pick up plenty of tackles. Expect Washington to make six tackles, one for a loss.

 

This one should be a great battle between one of the country's top defensive schools and one of the most prolific offenses of recent memory in college football.

With both teams having been so dominant since the beginning of last year, the winner of this contest should be determined by whose top players step up and which team can better exploit key matchups.

With potential Final Four ramifications, Michigan State vs. Oregon is this week's must-see college football matchup.

 

Follow Jon Reid on Twitter, @JonReidCSM

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

College Football Rankings 2014: Twitter Reacts to AP and Amway Week 2 Polls

Insanity in Week 1 of the college football season saw multiple teams make statements about where they stand. Some statements were positive, while others were so negative that they plummeted in the most recent polls.

With the latest Associated Press and Amway polls now released, there were plenty of shake-ups in the rankings. The full AP poll can be found via AP.org, and the Amway Coaches Poll is listed via USA Today.

Here's a look at the rankings:

South Carolina went from No. 9 in both polls to No. 21 heading into Week 2. In the Amway poll, Wisconsin dropped from No. 16 down to No. 19 after a tough loss. As for their opponents, both Texas A&M and LSU climbed up to Nos. 13 and 12, respectively.

Another big mover in the polls was Georgia after a blowout win over Clemson. The Bulldogs jumped all the way up to No. 8 in the Amway poll, as Radi Nabulsi of UGASports.com notes:

As for the AP poll, Brett McMurphy of ESPN was candid about putting UGA at No. 1 on Twitter:

While Georgia was narrowly inside the Top 10, the team was just one of four teams to receive a first-place vote, as Nabulsi points out.

The Bulldogs might have been surprised by the result, while Alabama was likely befuddled that it didn't receive a first-place vote.

After the close win over West Virginia, the voters clearly took note of the Crimson Tide's struggles. But still in the Top Four of the poll, they remain one of the top programs in the country moving forward.

The close matchup also helped WVU in the rankings, as Bob Hertzel of TimesWV.com points out:

One team that is also catching the eye of voters for the right reasons is Oklahoma State. On the heels of a surprisingly close contest against Florida State, the Cowboys narrowly missed out on making it into the Top 25 in the Amway poll.

Trey Scott of 247Sports shared his thoughts on the slight snub:

Despite not making it into the poll, Oklahoma State still received 106 votes. With Texas having 150 votes and Clemson sitting on 155, the Cowboys certainly have a chance to make some noise in Week 2.

Though it barely missed out, George Schroeder of USA Today believes Oklahoma State should have been in:

Following a difficult victory for Ohio State over Navy, the Buckeyes also dropped one place in the Amway poll. Though they remained ahead of the Bulldogs and others, the Buckeyes were one of the few teams to lose a place in the poll after a win.

UCLA also dropped after a win to No. 11 in the Amway poll, but OSU fans live and breathe college football.

Rob Kunz of Time Warner Cable reminded Buckeyes faithful that the poll doesn't mean much in the scheme of the season:

Prior to the release, the rivalry for the best team in South Carolina took a strange turn. The two normally dominant teams both suffered blowout losses at the hands of ranked opponents who skyrocketed in the rankings.

But Aaron Brenner of The Post & Courier noted the potential shake-up in the polls:

Ultimately, the Gamecocks would be ranked ahead of the Tigers, but just barely by dropping 12 spots in the Amway poll. After a disappointing loss in Week 1, the team will need to quickly recover against an impressive ECU team to remain in the polls.

One of the most common themes, of course, was Texas A&M making a huge jump after the blistering win over South Carolina. Harold Gutmann of The Durham Herald-Sun shared his poll on Twitter:

In his latest rankings, Gutmann thrusts the Aggies all the way up to No. 15 after not having the program in his initial poll.

Texas A&M is now ranked inside the Top 15 in both polls—No. 9 in AP poll—but still has plenty of room to move up with Kenny Hill under center.

Moving forward, there are myriad teams that still have plenty to prove. Florida State and Alabama stumbled out of the gate, but they have cupcakes this week to remain as two of the best programs in the country.

As for Oregon, a stiff test at home against Michigan State will prove just how dynamic this offense is during the 2014 season.

With Marcus Mariota and Connor Cook facing off—both of whom were ranked in ESPN's Brock Huard's top-10 quarterback list in the preseason (subscription required)—the showdown will be the one to watch.

Whichever team comes out as the victor will easily jump into the conversation for the College Football Playoff. While the Ducks are already in those talks, the Spartans could make a massive statement with a victory.

 

Follow @RCorySmith on Twitter.

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

NCAA Football Rankings 2014: Hits and Misses from Week 1

The first Associated Press poll and Amway coaches poll of college football's regular season have been released, and the results are understandably varied. Compared to the respective preseason polls, 19 teams in each Top 25 are in different spots Tuesday.

(You can also check out Bleacher Report's latest Top 25 to compare.)

The voters in these polls should be open to change, which begins with acknowledging that some teams were inaccurately ranked in the preseason—for better or worse. For all anyone knows, those teams could still be incorrectly ranked.

Preseason rankings are guesses and really just meant to be fun talking points. Let's come to terms with the fact that Top 25 lists will be all over the place for the next few weeks as teams build up their resumes.

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