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College Football's All Week 1 First-Team: Top Performers at Every Position

You never get a second chance to make a first impression, but for some players, why would they want to? The impression they made in the first week of the college football season was plenty good enough as it stands.

It was only the first weekend of a four-plus-month marathon, but a few of the standout performers from Wednesday-Saturday have put themselves on track to become household names (if they weren't already) or compete for major national awards.

This All-Week 1 team is a collection of those standouts, the ones at each position who got their season off to the best start. A large part of that criteria is statistical, but numbers are not the only factor at play.

Also considered (strongly) was the strength of opponent those numbers came against, and the way the players looked on film. If a defensive linemen consistently got into the backfield and forced bad throws that turned into interceptions, he deserves more credit than the defender who actually picked them off…right?

Sound off below and let me know whom I might have missed.

 

Note: This piece was published before the Sunday and Monday games. If anything happens to affect the All-Week 1 team, it will be edited.

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New Mexico State's Horse Mascot Runs into Student on Field

During New Mexico State Aggies football games, mascot Pistol Pete likes to ride around on a horse on the field.

Unfortunately, things didn't go as planned on Thursday night.

During the team's game against the Cal Poly Mustangs, Pistol Pete and the horse named Keystone ended up running right into a student standing on the field. She seemed shaken up, but she made light of it on 

Twitter after the incident occurred.

The Aggies ended up winning 28-10.

[YouTube, Twitter, h/t For The Win]

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Utah State vs. Tennessee: Live Score and Highlights

Tennessee 24, Utah State 0—Late 3rd Quarter

So begins year two of the Butch Jones era at Tennessee.  After a 5-7 finish to 2013 that included a number of close calls against conference opponents, the Volunteers will be working on winning more of the close games in 2014.

Today, the Vols host defending MWC-Mountain Division champion Utah State in front of the first Neyland sellout since 2007.

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Baylor Bears Immortalize Robert Griffin III with Statue at McLane Stadium

Robert Griffin III became the first Baylor Bears football player to win the Heisman Trophy back in 2011, and the school decided to honor their former quarterback.

The Bears officially unveiled a bronze statue of RGIII at McLane Stadium prior to Sunday's game against the SMU Mustangs. Before the statue was unveiled, Griffin spoke to the Bears fans in attendance.

Here's a close-up look at the back of the statue.

[Instagram]

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Tennessee Vols Unveil Orange Adidas 'NastyQuick' Cleats for Game vs. Utah State

The Tennessee Volunteers will play the Utah State Aggies on Sunday night at Neyland Stadium, and their players will have some pretty sweet cleats for the game.

Before the game, the Volunteers unveiled their orange Adidas NastyQuick cleats on the team's Twitter account. The game will be played at 7 p.m. ET on the SEC Network.

[Twitter, h/t College Spun]

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Florida State vs. Oklahoma State Football: Winners, Losers from Seminoles' Win

The Oklahoma State Cowboys came into Saturday's contest against the Florida State Seminoles as heavy underdogs. That made sense considering the Cowboys were replacing more talent than just about any other team in the nation and had to face last season's national champions in their opening game.

Many thought this would be an easy win for Florida State and reigning Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston. However, Oklahoma State quickly proved that, even in a rebuilding year, it's a team no one should overlook.

True, the Cowboys couldn't pull off the upset, losing 37-31, but they showed just enough to put a little fear into the defending titleholders. The Seminoles, on the other hand, found quite a few things they'll need to work on. At the end of the day, a win's a win, and FSU only needs 14 more to get that second consecutive national title it desperately wants.

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4 College Football Teams Who Jumped onto the Playoff Committee's Radar in Week 1

Week 1 of the 2014 college football season isn't even over yet and already the College Football Playoff picture has been picked up and given a good shake. 

That just goes to show that preseason rankings weren't 100 percent accurate.

Who knew, right?

Some of the usual teams are still very much at the forefront of the playoff conversation. Matt Hayes of the Sporting News, for example, has Oklahoma, Florida State, Oregon and Michigan State as his top four. 

But other teams are starting to open some eyes. Big victories by Texas A&M and Georgia have put the Aggies and Bulldogs in the discussion for Hayes. 

By comparison, ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit has both A&M and Georgia in his first top four of the regular season: 

Which teams jumped onto the selection committee's radar after this weekend's action? Here are four that either recorded big wins over Top 25 teams or showed up big despite off-field concerns and should be considered. 

 

Texas A&M (1-0)

Much like Texas A&M in 2012 in the team's inaugural SEC season, the '14 Aggies caught just about everyone (outside College Station) by surprise.

A 52-28 win over No. 9 South Carolina in Columbia was as convincing a victory as any team could claim in Week 1. If anything, it showed that head coach Kevin Sumlin's hurry-up, no-huddle offense didn't need the most electrifying quarterback in college football, Johnny Manziel, to run it. 

A young but talented defense led by defensive end Myles Garrett and defensive back Armani Watts still has room to improve. But if A&M's offense runs that smoothly every week, the defense won't need to be a shutdown unit. 

A&M's nonconference schedule should be a breeze, but the heart of SEC play will determine whether the Aggies really have what it takes to be one of the four best teams in the country. If South Carolina can right the ship and turn in a good-to-great season, it's only going to help A&M's resume. 

After Thursday's win, though, Sumlin's team should have everyone's attention. 

 

Georgia (1-0)

Piggybacking off of South Carolina's loss, fellow SEC East member Georgia had the next-most convincing win. The Bulldogs ran away from Clemson in a 45-21 pile-on. 

If nothing else, Georgia appears to have one of the most talented and deepest running back rotations in the country in Todd Gurley, Nick Chubb, Sony Michel and Keith Marshall. 

"Gurley was obviously as good as it gets," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said via Paul Newberry of The Associated Press (h/t The Atlanta Journal-Constitution). "Gurley, and all their backs, were special tonight."

As it so happens, Georgia plays South Carolina in two weeks following a bye. Winning the SEC East or the SEC isn't necessarily a prerequisite for getting into the playoff, but the Sept. 13 game remains important all the same. 

For one, South Carolina can get back into the SEC East discussion with a win over the Bulldogs. Similarly, the Bulldogs have a couple more high-profile games down the stretch against Missouri, Auburn and Florida. Beating the Gamecocks would be another notch on the resume. 

 

USC (1-0)

Scoff at Fresno State if you must, but the Trojans rarely, if ever, looked this good under former coach Lane Kiffin. In a 52-13 win over the Bulldogs, USC ran a blazing 105 offensive plays for 701 yards. 

What's more is that head coach Steve Sarkisian had his team running like a machine despite the separate situations with cornerback Josh Shaw and running back Anthony Brown, who quit the team and took to social media, calling Sarkisian a racist.

The Pac-12 is deep enough that the Trojans can't afford to overlook anyone, especially given their depth concerns. USC will be tested right out of the gate at Stanford in Week 2, and back-to-back games against Arizona State and Arizona in early October could be tricky. UCLA and Notre Dame present tough challenges at the end of the schedule at a time when injuries can pile up. 

Still, the Bruins' struggles against Virginia on Saturday, a 28-20 escape, opened some eyes. Meanwhile, UCLA's offensive line has a lot of work to do, which raises legitimate concerns about whether star quarterback Brett Hundley can stay healthy for the duration of the year. 

If the Trojans offense can come close to replicating the explosiveness and production it had during Week 1, this team will be in the playoff conversation late in the season. 

 

Notre Dame (1-0)

For one week at least, the academic suspensions involving five Notre Dame players didn't seem to hurt the Irish on the field. 

Notre Dame had no problem handling Rice in a 48-17 win. It may "just" be Rice—though the Owls won 10 games last season—but handling your business in the wake of suspensions so close to the season is a good sign. Furthermore, quarterback Everett Golson, making his first start back from his own academic suspension that cost him the 2013 season, looked sharp. 

The schedule gets tougher for Notre Dame, which faces Michigan, Stanford, Florida State, Arizona State and USC, among others, over the next few months. That will indicate whether Notre Dame is actually a playoff contender. 

The talent is there in South Bend to win a lot of games, but this team also showed it could stay together and play well despite a distraction. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand. 

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For Better or for Worse, Alabama Has Found Its Quarterback in Blake Sims

ATLANTA — From the moment Alabama walked off the field on Jan. 2 after losing the Sugar Bowl to Oklahoma, the program had a quarterback battle that featured, among others, senior Blake Sims and Florida State transfer Jake Coker.

That battled ended on Saturday afternoon in the Georgia Dome in Alabama's 33-23 win over West Virginia.

Sims set program records for completions (24) and attempts (33) for an Alabama quarterback in his starting debut, throwing for 250 yards in the process. It wasn't the most creative game plan from offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, but it was safe.

That's important.

Four of Alabama's six plays on its opening drive were passes, and Kiffin got Sims into a good rhythm in his first career start with an abundance of short passes throughout the game. Head coach Nick Saban said after the game that he told Coker to warm up after Sims called some formations wrong in the huddle, but Sims picked it back up after he and Kiffin decided to simplify the offense and go no-huddle.

"When we did that, he sort of got it back together and then he was fine after that," Saban said. "That one little stretch in the second quarter where we got a little bit out of sync was the only time, but I thought Blake did a really good job. He had a couple of guys open that he missed, but he also had a couple guys who dropped balls that he delivered."

On top of that, Sims sidestepped rushers coming in untouched on several occasions, keeping his eyes downfield when appropriate and also tucking it and running for a total of 42 rushing yards.

Saban's comments regarding Sims rebounding and Coker warming up indicate that Sims and Coker weren't battling for the job going in. Sims was the No. 1 and Coker was the No. 2, and nothing that happened inside the Georgia Dome on Saturday should change that.

Coker was there. Here's video of him unleashing two 60-yard bombs in warm-ups with relative ease.

Sure, he had his left leg wrapped heavily and walked out to warm-ups with a slight limp, but he was available and ready to go if Saban and Kiffin needed him.

They didn't—at least, not until mop-up duty on the final drive of the game.

Whether it's because of Coker's knee injury, the reported ineffectiveness in fall camp—Bleacher Report's Ray Glier reported that he completed just 30 percent of his passes and threw three picks on the Aug. 16 scrimmage, or the combination of the two, it appears that he has been relegated to a backup role.

Sims is clearly the guy.

Does he have some limitations? The coaching staff apparently thinks so.

Rarely did Sims try to stretch the field, and his one glaring mistake—a fourth-quarter interception—was up the seam to tight end O.J. Howard, who was double-covered.

But with running backs T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry back there as insurance policies and Amari Cooper outside, all Sims needs to be for Alabama to win is a game-manager.

At least, for now.

The biggest issue facing Alabama, as Bleacher Report's Alabama lead writer Marc Torrence noted in his postgame story, is at cornerback. Bradley Sylve was picked on early and often by Mountaineer Clint Trickett, and Cyrus Jones wasn't much better. Several Mountaineer second-half drops prevented them from staying in it for a full four quarters, but Alabama can't count on that on a weekly basis.

If Alabama's corners continue to struggle and the Crimson Tide get forced into shootouts, we don't know if Sims can keep up. He didn't have to against West Virginia, but considering the offenses Texas A&M and Auburn are capable of producing and the jury being out on several offenses on the Crimson Tide schedule, that's a reasonable possibility.

Sims needs to progress as a passer, and Kiffin needs to open up the playbook over the next two games against Florida Atlantic and Southern Miss to see what Sims can handle in game settings.

They may need him to be a difference-maker if the Crimson Tide is going to make the inaugural College Football Playoff.

 

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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Freshmen Power Rankings of the Week: Top 5

Welcome to college football, young freshman. Now, go out there and be somebody.

Week 1 of the 2014 season was further proof that freshmen are in a position to not only play right away but be key contributors as well. 

That trend started on Thursday in Texas A&M's convincing 52-28 win over South Carolina. The Aggies had multiple freshmen, including receiver Ricky Seals-Jones, defensive back Armani Watts and defensive end Myles Garrett, act as key playmakers. 

Thus, the Bleacher Report freshman power rankings were born. 

The freshmen on this list didn't technically have to start—as in, they didn't have to be the first player on the field at their respective position—but they did have to play at least a complementary or rotational role with at least one recordable stat. 

So which freshmen stood out in Week 1? Which ones had the most jaw-dropping highlights? Which ones underwhelmed? The answers are in the list below. 

Of course, there are countless freshmen playing in college football today. Is there someone being overlooked who deserves more credit? Sound off in the comments below. 

 

The Standout:  Arizona Quarterback Anu Solomon 

The redshirt freshman shined in his first start for the Wildcats in an easy 58-13 win over UNLV. Solomon threw for 425 yards, a school freshman passing record, and four touchdowns. Perhaps more importantly, however, he didn't throw a pick or fumble the football.

Even against a winnable opponent at home, taking care of the football had to have been one of the biggest takeaways.

Additionally, Solomon added another 50 yards on the ground, including a 31-yard rush.

The Rebels may not be the most formidable opponent, but Solomon looks like he'll be a great fit in Rodriguez's offense. 

 

 

Best Highlight: Georgia running back Nick Chubb

Running back and Heisman contender Todd Gurley was the superstar in Georgia's 45-21 win over Clemson, rushing for a career-high 198 yards and three touchdowns.

But Gurley's effort was complemented by freshman Nick Chubb, who finished second on the team with 70 yards—on just four carries. 

Chubb's highlight came on a monster 47-yard touchdown in which he powered through arm tackles and made Clemson defenders look like they were bad at football. 

Gurley is the show in Athens, but the future at running back for the Dawgs looks blindingly bright with Chubb in the backfield. 

To steal a quote from head coach Mark Richt

 

Who’s Rising: Texas A&M Defensive End Myles Garrett

The focus of Texas A&M's 52-28 win over South Carolina will be on sophomore quarterback Kenny Hill, who threw for a program-best 511 yards in his debut. 

But how about a little love for an A&M defensive player? Freshman defensive end Myles Garrett didn't exactly light up the stat sheet, but he did have a sack in his first game. 

While the Aggies' defense still has issues to iron it out, it also looks promising. Garrett (and Watts) is a big reason for that. He's a physical freak at 6'5" and 255 pounds, so he's still learning how to use his talent at the college level, but the tools are there. 

 

Who’s Falling: LSU running back Leonard Fournette.

The Tigers came back Saturday to beat Wisconsin 28-24 in Houston, but the debut for Fournette, the former No. 1 overall recruit according to 247Sports, was more underwhelming: 8 carries for 18 yards. 

Give Wisconsin's defense credit. Other than a late-game meltdown in which the Tigers' ground game took control with Kenny Hilliard, the Badgers generally did a nice job stopping the run. Fournette is obviously a talented player, but even the best running backs struggle when there's nowhere to run. 

Fournette is capable of bouncing back and could still have a banner year. But his preseason Heisman expectations have been put on hold. 

 

Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. 

Read more College Football news on BleacherReport.com

Kentucky Wildcats Have Locker Room Dance Party After 1st Win of Season

The Kentucky Wildcats haven't had the best football team over the years, struggling in the SEC. However, they were able to get the 2014 season off on the right track with a 59-14 blowout win against UT-Martin.

After the game, some of the players had a dance party in the locker room. The Wildcats haven't had a winning season since 2009, so they've learned to appreciate a win any time they can get one.

[Instagram, h/t College Spun]

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A Healthy Georgia Backfield Is the Best Offensive Weapon in College Football

When healthy, Georgia running back Todd Gurley is the best running back in college football.

He proved it between the hedges on Saturday afternoon vs. Clemson, rushing 15 times for 198 yards and three touchdowns, scoring a touchdown on a 100-yard kickoff return and setting a Georgia single-game record with 293 all-purpose yards.

Gurley struggled with an ankle injury for the final two months of last season, but he looked like he was 100 percent in the 45-21 win over the Tigers. 

It was enough to vault Gurley to the No. 3 spot in B/R's weekly Heisman rankings—an award that's typically reserved for quarterbacks.

"Todd Gurley is obviously as good as it gets," Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said in quotes released by Georgia. "He is a great, great football player. If you give him the ball in the position that we gave them he is going to do great things. Gurley, and all their backs, were special tonight."

They were indeed.

Junior Keith Marshall still looked slowed from last season's ACL injury, but freshman Nick Chubb (four carries for 70 yards and a touchdown) looked like a star-in-the-making, and fellow freshman Sony Michel (six carries for 33 yards) has the moves to be a dangerous weapon for quarterback Hutson Mason in a variety of ways.

Not only does Georgia have the best back in college football, they have quality depth, which makes the Bulldogs backfield the most dangerous weapon in college football.

"[Gurley] makes it easy for us," Mason said, according to Georgia's postgame quotes. "You just have to give him the ball every chance you get. We have some pretty good backups too. Sony and Nick Chubb are both really great. We knew Nick's skill set coming into the game today and he ran well. He reminds me a lot of Todd."

Talk about a "rich man's problem" for head coach Mark Richt and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo.

The abundance of talent in the backfield allows the coaching staff so much flexibility with how they mix and match their running backs.

If they want to hold Gurley back in the first half like they did against Clemson—he had four first-half carries for 44 yards and a touchdown—use him on special teams and conserve his energy to shut the door in the second half, they can.

If they want to control the clock early and put the game on his shoulders to take pressure off Mason, they can.

If they want to get him out of the game a little earlier than normal and give some of the backups some meaningful carries to protect their star, they can.

That's not just a luxury for the coaching staff, it's a luxury for Mason—a redshirt senior who's in his first year as the full-time starting quarterback.

With only one shot for glory, Mason may have the urge to try to do it all himself—especially when receivers Justin Scott-Wesley and Malcolm Mitchell get back to full speed and join Michael Bennett and Chris Conley in that receiving corps.

He doesn't have to, thanks to the running, and it was clear in the opener that he knows it.

If the Bulldogs want to play ball control, the running game allows them to do it. If they want to put their best at more of an injury risk on special teams, the depth allows them to. If they want to mix in different looks with two star tailbacks in the same play, they can. If they want to open it up in the passing game, the threat on the ground will make the passing lanes for Mason the size of the Grand Canyon.

Georgia's top-end talent, depth and versatility at tailback makes the running back position between the hedges the most dangerous weapon in college football.

There isn't a close second.

 

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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Eastern Michigan's Cinder Block Wall Entrance Ends Poorly

The Eastern Michigan Eagles came up with a creative way to run out of their tunnel in their season opener against the Morgan State Bears on Saturday, but things didn't quite work out according to plan.

While most of the players waited in the tunnel, several Eagles players were given hammers to smash down a cinder block wall. Unfortunately, knocking the wall down proved to be far more difficult than they might have imagined, as you can see above. 

It wasn't all bad for the Eagles, though. Despite the entrance fiasco, they went on to beat the Bears, 31-28.

[YouTube, h/t The Big Lead]

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ESPN College GameDay to Attend Michigan State vs. Oregon Next Week

ESPN's College GameDay is heading to one of its favorite locations—Eugene, Oregon—for next week's game between the Oregon Ducks and the Michigan State Spartans.

The show's official Twitter account broke the news:

That GameDay will be in Eugene next week should come as a shock to no one. Oregon and Michigan State are both consensus Top 10 teams, and they're both among the five most popular expert picks to make the College Football Playoff. Even with USC at Stanford on the table, how could this not have been the Week 2 location?

Outside of its major CFP implications, Michigan State at Oregon is appealing for its contrast in styles. It's hard to find a more perfect collision between an unstoppable force and an immovable object.

Can Pat Narduzzi's big, strong, angry defense replicate what Stanford has done the past few seasons and stymie the Oregon attack? Or will Marcus Mariota and the speed of those around him "Win the Day?"

The Ducks and Spartans are both coming off easy Week 1 wins over FCS opponents: Oregon's a 62-13 triumph over South Dakota, Michigan State's a 45-7 win over Jacksonville State. Neither team had to play its starters long into the second half.

In theory, that should mean both squads are healthy and rested. However, Oregon is still breaking in Jake Fisher at left tackle after Tyler Johnstone tore his ACL in spring camp, and the Spartans are not the ideal opponent for a jumbled offensive line.

Can Fisher hold up on the left after playing so long on the right? Can Andre Yruretagoyena hold up in Fisher's old spot?

"Andre has come along," said offensive coordinator Scott Frost, per Chantel Jennings of ESPN.com. "I think he was really raw when he got here. He has grown up a lot."

He'll need to play like he's grown up Saturday when Shilique Calhoun, Marcus Rush, Demetrius Cooper, Lawrence Thomas, Malik McDowell and the rest of Michigan State's defensive line come bearing down on him.

As has been the case against Stanford the past few seasons, Oregon's ability to win—or at least mitigate how much it loses by—in the trenches should be what ultimately decides the outcome.

Either way, this will be the sixth consecutive season that GameDay has packed up for Eugene. It's the first non-Pac-12 game in that stretch.

 

Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT

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Texas' Stout Defense in Week 1 Perfect Start for Charlie Strong Era

For the last several months, head coach Charlie Strong has promised Longhorn faithful that he would bring toughness back to Texas football.

The Longhorns delivered with a dominant defensive performance that produced four interceptions in a 38-7 victory over North Texas on Saturday night. 

North Texas' lone touchdown came on a David Ash end-zone fumble that the Mean Green defense recovered. 

In other words, the Longhorns defense shut out its opponent's offense. The defense held the Mean Green to 94 total yards of offense, and the longest play it gave up was eight yards. 

"You have to be very pleased with that on defense," Strong said of the defense not giving up a play longer than 10 yards. "If you're ever going to win a championship, you have to play great defense. And the defense kind of sets a tone for the whole game."

Some critics will look at this game and say the defense was only good because North Texas' offense had a lot of holes. But when was the last time a Texas defense held a Division I offense to 15 passing yards?

Better yet, when was the last time Texas held an opponent to less than 100 yards of total offense?

No matter who the opponent is, Texas' defense deserves a lot of credit for the performance it put up Saturday night.

"Keeping a team under 100 yards and shutting out its offense is what we are looking for," senior linebacker Jordan Hicks said. "They had just as much time to prepare for us as we had to prepare for them. They're Division I college football players as well, so I think we played well."

This increased toughness is something the Longhorns defense has lacked since 2011. Let's not sugar coat it: Texas' defensive performances in 2012 and 2013 were downright atrocious at times. And giving up big plays was a constant issue.

But the defense came out of the tunnel with fire in its eyes and will need to maintain that fire moving forward.

Next week, Texas will face a BYU team which embarrassed the defense in stunning fashion last season.

"I told them to enjoy this one, be ready and come back to work tomorrow," Strong said. "We are going to face a team that played well in their opener. And they are a team that embarrassed us last season with a quarterback who ran the ball all over our defense."

The Cougars return junior quarterback Taysom Hill, who was responsible for 259 yards of BYU's 550 total rushing yards against the Longhorns in 2013. Hill led the Cougars with 97 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns in a win over Connecticut on Friday night.

But the Texas defense is determined to shut down the talented quarterback and has been preparing to seek redemption since last year.

"It's one of those games that will go down in history," defensive end Cedric Reed said of last year's BYU performance. "We've had BYU marked on our calendars." 

The Longhorns will be able to silence any critics if they keep this momentum going, which is something Texas desperately needs to do to shed the "soft" label that has haunted the Longhorns defense since 2012.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.

Taylor Gaspar is Bleacher Report's featured columnist covering the Texas Longhorns. Follow her on Twitter: @Taylor_Gaspar.

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Anthony Jennings Shows He Is Capable Leader for LSU with Gutsy Second Half

HOUSTON, Texas—LSU quarterback Anthony Jennings is clutch.

Jennings' showed character in his performance against Wisconsin on Saturday, which was not the prettiest. He was 9-of-21 through the air and was sacked twice.

But Jennings got the job done when it mattered the most.

Jennings was 4-of-6 for 119 yards in the second half, leading LSU to a 28-24 come-from-behind victory against the Badgers. The Tigers scored 21 unanswered points to close the game, thanks in large part to clutch throws from the sophomore gunslinger.

Jennings said after the game he addressed his team when they were down by 24-7 in the third quarter. 

"I just kinda talked to them and told them to calm down," said Jennings. "We are going to execute. With the backs we have and our offensive line, I knew we were going to get on a roll."

LSU head coach Les Miles gave a stamp of approval to his sophomore quarterback's performance. 

"I felt like Jennings managed the game pretty well," said Miles.

Jennings won the starting job against Wisconsin after an offseason battle with freshman early enrollee Brandon Harris. Harris played one series against Wisconsin that resulted in a three-and-out. Miles said after the game he would like to have given him more snaps. 

The question remains if Jennings can continue his success that will probably keep the freshman primarily on the sidelines. He said after the game he is willing to do whatever it takes for his team win, even if that means splitting more time with Harris. 

But Jennings made it clear he can be the guy that leads LSU to continued success.

"I believe I can be this team's leader. I am a leader now," said Jennings. 

Jennings has the backing of his teammates after his career-high 239-yard performance against the Badgers. Receiver Travin Dural, who hauled in a personal best 151 of those yards, said he has seen it all offseason from his quarterback. 

"He (Jennings) has grown a lot as a leader, as a quarterback and as an individual. From fall camp to now, he is a totally different person," said Dural. "He's more mature. He is taking football a lot more serious. Just watching film. All day. Every day."

Running back Kenny Hilliard, who rushed for 111 yards and a touchdown against Wisconsin, feels the same way. 

"He's (Jennings) vocal. He has a voice that catches everybody's attention. That's what a quarterback is supposed to do," Hilliard said. "I feel like he is going to lead this team to where we want to be."

LSU's locker room believes Jennings has the leadership skills needed to win at the highest level. Yet he must play better if he wants to cement his status as the lone quarterback for the Tigers. 

"We have great expectations for this season. We must continue to work hard and get better everyday" said Jennings. 

Intangibles, though, are impossible to quantify. Harris could be the more talented of the two and win the job.

But there is one stat that is hard to argue against, which is Jennings' record as a starter.

Two. And. O. 

And that is music to Miles' ears. 

 

Stats, rankings and additional information provided by cfbstats.com and LSU Sports Information. Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow me on Twitter @CarterthePower  

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Cody Kessler Will Lead USC to Top of Pac-12 South

USC starting quarterback Cody Kessler could do little wrong on Saturday against the Fresno State Bulldogs. His performance should be a welcome sight for Trojan fans, as it appears the teams has the calm, competent signal-caller it needs to restore the program to its former glory.

While Oregon and Stanford duke it out for supremacy in the Pac-12 North, Kessler displayed the type of poise and telepathic rapport with his wide receivers that could lead the Trojans to a shocking appearance as the top team in the Pac-12 South.

USC dominated Fresno State in Week 1, rolling to a 52-13 victory. Kessler was superlative, completing 25 of 37 passes for 394 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions. There were few misfires, and even fewer miscues.

Kessler completed passes to 10 different Trojan players on the day, with true freshman Juju Smith emerging as his favorite target (four catches, 123 yards).

Junior standout Nelson Agholor caught two touchdown passes during the game, and Kessler got freshman Adoree' Jackson his first touchdown as a Trojan during the contest.

In fact, Kessler kicked off the scoring by carrying the ball into the end zone himself, as if his arm wasn't going to be enough to beat Fresno State.

ESPN's Arash Markazi noted Kessler looked very comfortable on Saturday:

It's just one game, and Kessler will have to come back down to earth—which could be as early as next week against Stanford. However, those stats against Fresno State aren't misleading, even if they are unlikely to be duplicated.

Kessler confirmed that he has a firm grasp of what head coach Steve Sarkisian and offensive coordinator want out of him in this new, no-huddle offense. ESPN.com's Garry Paskwietz noted that Kessler does have some experience with this type of system:

When transitioning to a new system, it’s always good to have an established veteran at quarterback, and the Trojans have that in Cody Kessler. The no-huddle, shotgun elements of the offense are familiar to Kessler after playing in that system in high school. He has made a smooth transition through spring ball and fall camp.

Kessler is well aware the offense is predicated on speed to keep defenses off balance.

"That's a huge emphasis, first and foremost, pretty much of this offense," he said in early August, via Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times. "Make sure you're lined up right, but at the same time be fast and get the ball off."

The Trojans came into Week 1 with a No. 15 ranking in the preseason AP poll, and they should get bumped up a couple of spots after this performance.

This is despite the fact that they featured nine true freshmen against the Bulldogs, per the team's official Twitter account:

Youth will carry the team, placing the onus on Kessler to become a commanding leader and an example for the younger players.

The pressure Kessler will face this season could be a breeze compared to the onslaught of chaos he faced during 2013. The Trojans went through three different head coaches last season, and yet Kessler still managed to guide his team to a 10-4 record. He threw just 20 touchdowns against seven interceptions last year but should easily surpass the former total.

Kessler won't be the sole reason for USC's rise. The Trojans return several key players on defense, including defensive end Leonard Williams and safety Su'a Cravens.

If he can avoid the (mostly) uneven performances he put up in the team's three conference losses from last season, the Trojans should be all set to surprise many observers and re-establish their dominance in the Pac-12.

Of course, for Kessler to take the Trojans to the top of the Pac-12 South, he will (almost certainly) have to beat UCLA. The Bruins are in the midst of a resurgent period with head coach Jim Mora at the helm and have featured a number of defensive stars over the years.

The UCLA secondary will be one of the toughest Kessler faces in the Pac-12, and the team as a whole is a strong bet to finish atop the Pac-12 South, if not the entire conference. In fact, it was this very unit that led the Bruins to their opening win over Virginia. Eric Kendricks and Ishmael Adams both returned interceptions for touchdowns in that contest.

Luckily for Kessler and company, they don't face the Bruins until November, and by then freshmen like Smith and Jackson will look much more like experienced collegiate threats.

Finishing atop the Pac-12 South will be a Herculean task in and of itself under a first-year head coach. A run at the conference championship or the newly installed playoffs are likely well out of reach for the Trojans this season, especially with the Ducks' explosive offense lurking and talented teams like Florida State and Alabama set for their usual winter success.

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Cody Kessler Will Lead USC to Top of Pac-12 South

USC starting quarterback Cody Kessler could do little wrong on Saturday against the Fresno State Bulldogs...

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South Dakota vs. Oregon: Game Grades, Analysis for the Ducks

Oregon has developed a reputation as an offensive juggernaut.  After the Ducks' performance against the South Dakota Coyotes, it's clear that the reputation is set to continue for at least another season.

Marcus Mariota was everything we expected him to be in Oregon's opener, especially against an FCS opponent.  The Oregon ground game also added nearly 300 yards and four touchdowns, helping to propel the Ducks to a 62-13 victory with 672 yards of offense.

Box score via NCAA.com

Oregon Game Grades Positional Unit First-Half Grade Final Grade Pass Offense A A Run Offense A- A- Pass Defense C C+ Run Defense C+ C+ Special Teams B+ A Coaching B+ B

Pass Offense

We could pick apart every little thing about Oregon's passing performance against South Dakota, but it's more than adequate to boil it down to a couple of stat lines.

First, Mariota was his usual spectacular self, completing 14 of his 20 pass attempts for 267 yards and three touchdowns in two quarters of work.  Jeff Lockie played the second half, and completed 11-of-12 for 113 yards and one touchdown.

Neither quarterback threw an interception.

We also saw 11 Ducks combine for 380 receiving yards and four scores.  Without question, the passing offense deserves a straight "A."

Run Offense

 

When five guys combine for 292 rushing yards and four touchdowns, you might think it's an automatic "A," right?

Ordinarily you'd be correct.  But we can't help but deduct a little for one of the more bone-headed plays we've seen in quite some time.  Junior Byron Marshall looked to be waltzing into the end zone for a touchdown when he decided he didn't need to take the ball all the way with him.  He dropped the ball nonchalantly, as many players do.  The problem was that Marshall hadn't quite crossed the goal line.

South Dakota was awarded the ball after a touchback.

Sure, Oregon recovered a fumble on the very next play, but it's still worth mentioning.  This kind of mental error can't be ignored, and deserved the half-grade deduction we've given it.

Pass Defense

Somehow, we expected the Ducks to completely overpower the Coyotes—even on defense.  That didn't happen, as two South Dakota quarterbacks combined for 198 passing yards.

That's not too bad, so why the low "C+" grade?

The Ducks had a difficult time defending the short and medium passes, and there were plenty of opportunities for big stops or interceptions that simply weren't exploited.  Against South Dakota, that's not such a big deal.  Against a quarterback like Connor Cook, who was named both the Big Ten Championship Game and Rose Bowl Game MVP last season, it could be a very big deal.

We did upgrade the Ducks a bit from a "C" to a "C+" in the second half, mainly because the secondary made a few adjustments that kept South Dakota out of the end zone (from a pass game standpoint), and that deserves some recognition.

Run Defense

The Ducks run defense hasn't been the center for attention in Eugene, and after giving up 172 yards to FCS South Dakota, we all can understand why.

Despite being overmatched, South Dakota's offensive line did a great job of opening up holes for the Coyotes running backs to exploit.  With a much more physical Michigan State team coming to Eugene next week, we're understandably concerned.  MSU is much more physical and much more talented than South Dakota.

Clearly, there's a lot of work to be done, and that's why we're giving the Ducks' run defense a "C+."

Special Teams

The Ducks can score at any time, and almost at will.  We saw that with special teams against South Dakota.

Oregon averaged a perfectly mediocre 11.5 yards per punt return, but the 50 touchdown return by Charles Nelson easily gives the Ducks enough extra credit to earn an "A."

Coaching

We gave the coaching staff a "B+" in the first half, mainly because South Dakota was able to take advantage of some systemic holes in Oregon's defense.

We downgraded the coaches to a straight "B" as a final grade because we're extremely concerned that many of the issues Oregon had in the first half were not fixed for the second half.  South Dakota was able to run between the tackles, and the intermediate passing game was only derailed when South Dakota shot itself in the foot.

Mark Helfrich is a good enough coach to straighten a lot of things out over the course of a week, but since we're talking about this game, and this game alone, we have to stick with our "B" grade for the coaching staff. 

Unless otherwise noted, quotes or references to quotes were obtained firsthand by the writer.

Follow Bleacher Report's National College Football Featured Columnist David Luther on Twitter!

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South Dakota vs. Oregon: Game Grades, Analysis for the Ducks

Oregon has developed a reputation as an offensive juggernaut. After the Ducks' performance against the South Dakota Coyotes, it's clear that the reputation is set to continue for at least another season...

Read the full article on Bleacher Report...

College Football's Confounding Week 1, Gives Fans More Questions Than Answers

We know nothing.

When you signup for college football and are granted access to this peculiar, passionate club, you have to come terms with this before you’re allowed access. You agree, reluctantly, because you have no other choice. 

It won’t prevent you from loading up on knowledge to feel like you know something, although resistance is futile. As much as you obsess over depth charts, “bold predictions” and conference previews, the games and moments will take the knowledge you acquired, jumble it up, and tell you politely to start over.

So you do. And you did again in Week 1.

Overall, the Jenga topple never came. The teams you expected to hold serve—excluding South Carolina, and we’ll get to that—did what we thought they would. Upsets were sprinkled here and there, although they didn’t come in bunches.

And yet, despite the expected notches in the win and loss columns, Week 1 provided some valuable evidence on what could be coming. More specifically, it answered our questions with more questions, opening the door to plenty of scenarios that were not thought possible just a few days prior. 

Not all of these questions trended toward the negative, either. Some did, while others opened up the door for big seasons that could be brewing before our eyes.

 

Stumbling Out of the Starters Gate

Florida State

Was Oklahoma State a better opponent than we initially thought? Was FSU feeling the impact of a title hangover? Or is the nation’s preseason No. 1 simply vulnerable?

Perhaps it’s a solid serving of all three.

There were plenty of positives to take away from the Seminoles’ 37-31 over Oklahoma State. For starters, and most importantly, it was a win. That’s all that matters at this time. But the invincibility surrounding the program is at least, for the moment, wobbly.

Quarterback Jameis Winston looked human for the second game in a row, tossing two interceptions and nearly a third. He also finished with 370 yards passing and sprinkled in some gorgeous throws, but there were lapses in his game.

The Seminoles can get right against The Citadel Bulldogs next week and then use the bye to their advantage. They are still the team to beat until proven otherwise, although the daunting task seems slightly more manageable after only four quarters.

Reminder: There are many more quarters to be played.

Thankfully.

 

Alabama

Take the invincibility paragraph from above and copy and paste it here. Obviously Alabama’s invincibility comes with success over the past five years rather than the past nine months, although the program still carries a giant-like feel each time it steps on a field.

Although a double-digit win over a Power 5 conference team should by no means be considered a failure, Alabama’s expectations are far different than those pinned to any other team. 

After the Crimson Tide’s 33-23 win over West Virginia, there are still questions. Quarterback Blake Sims looked very capable throughout much of the game, which could be an answer to one problem. We need to see it over the course of a few games (and against improved competition) but it's certainly a start. Perhaps more concerning, the secondary still has obvious holes and was picked to pieces at times.

There is an abundance of talent in place to fix almost any issue Alabama may have, although assuming a quick fix is just a week away can be dangerous as well. There’s no reason to panic after one week—especially when Alabama averaged nearly six yards per carry—but the offseason did not provide an all-encompassing cure.

Stay tuned.

 

Other Slow Starts...

Ohio State

Without Braxton Miller, you knew there might be some growing pains for Ohio State as it adjusted to J.T. Barrett under center. That was certainly the case, although no one expected one of the nation’s most gifted defensive lines to be gashed the way it was.

A 34-17 victory over Navy—arguably a top 50 team—isn’t exactly disappointing. The way the game played out, however, didn’t exactly tip the hand of one of the nation’s most intriguing favorites. There is so much more to learn about the Buckeyes. The good news is that there are incredible areas for growth.

 

UCLA

If the Bruins are going to compete for a Pac-12 Championship or claim a spot in the College Football Playoff, the offensive line has to improve. It’s that simple. This group struggled mightily in UCLA’s 28-20 victory in Virginia, which featured three defensive touchdowns for the Bruins. Offensively, outside of a few positive moments for quarterback Brett Hundely, UCLA had issues moving the ball.

The good news? The defense scored three touchdowns and is clearly one of the nation’s best. That’s not going to change anytime soon. Whether the offensive line can solve its issues will likely dictate the Bruins’ season.

 

And Away We Go...

Georgia

Not all questions are necessarily negative. In fact, Georgia delivered the most intriguing performance of anyone in Week 1, leaving us with more to think about than with any other team.

Mark Richt’s opening statement said it all.

Richt opening statement: “That was fun.” #UGA

— Logan Booker (@LoganBooker_BI) August 31, 2014

The Bulldogs suffocated Clemson after a slow start, thanks in large part to an active front seven and running back Todd Gurley. Gurley showcased his wealth of abilities, running for 198 yards on 15 carries. He also returned a kickoff.

The end result was a 45-21 victory and pure domination of almost every statistic imaginable. For the game, Georgia averaged eight yards per carry. Clemson, meanwhile ran the ball 44 times for 93 yards.

Of all the teams in Week 1, no one left an impression quite like Georgia. It looked dominate in all facets, and it has a chance to add onto these positive first impressions with a game against South Carolina on deck.

 

Texas A&M

In time, we’ll figure out this team. For now, we’re still processing how Texas A&M replaced quarterback Johnny Manziel and wideout Mike Evans without an ounce of struggle.

Forget about simply replacing one of the most exciting players of our lifetime. Quarterback Kenny Hill grabbed the baton and ran with it. More specifically, he threw it—and a plethora of gifted wideouts caught it and kept running.

Notes from #TAMUvsSC win: Soph, QB Kenny Hill, 511 yards broke program record of 464 by Johnny Manziel against Alabama in '13 #12thMan

— TAMU Gameday (@TAMUGameDay) August 29, 2014

In the end, Texas A&M went on the road and torched South Carolina 52-28. Does this tell us more about A&M’s offense or South Carolina’s growing pains of switching schemes on defense?

The answer, quite frankly, is probably yes. Texas A&M is clearly much more equipped to handle these changes than many realized, and South Carolina might have a longer road to the SEC Championship than many believed.

This was a fascinating result that should look even more interesting as the sample size increases for both teams.

 

USC

Steve Sarkisian’s first game as USC head coach ended with a record thanks to his team's extreme offensive output. In a conference known for pace, plays and offense, the Trojans set the Pac-12 record for total plays in one game in their 52-13 blowout win against Fresno State.

USC ran 104 plays against Fresno State - setting a new Pac-12 record. #FightOn

— USC Trojans (@USC_Athletics) August 31, 2014

Quarterback Cody Kessler threw for 394 yards and four touchdowns. Wideout Nelson Agholor hauled in two of these scores, while freshman JuJu Smith caught four passes for 123 yards. Freshman tight end Bryce Dixon also caught a touchdown. 

Given the negativity and turmoil that have engulfed the program over the past week, you couldn't have asked for a better start. Now it’s a matter of figuring out what it means in the bigger picture. The Trojans are immensely gifted, particularly when it comes to their starters. It would also appear that the youth is ready now.

Thankfully we’ll learn a lot more about this team when it heads to Stanford next weekend. This will be a fitting (and telling) Week 2 obstacle indeed.

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