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The first weekend of college football season delivered in all the ways we hoped it would.
Clemson gave us a legitimate party-crasher for the SEC’s dominance and raised the bar for a Tigers fan base used to having their dreams crushed in the unlikeliest of ways.
LSU and TCU delivered on gamesmanship early as neither suspended stars, Jeremy Hill and Devonte Fields, played, but both TCU quarterbacks did. And a series of wild sequences from the end of the first half to a key turnover to a kickoff return kept things interesting for TCU.
In the personality department, Johnny Manziel was Johnny Manziel and he did so efficiently in less than a half of play.
And then there was the ongoing story of FCS teams rising up to defeat FBS program. The day Saturday ended with eight FBS teams losing to lower-division programs.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL WEEK 1 RECAP: THREE AND OUT
THREE THINGS WE LEARNED FROM CLEMSON 38, GEORGIA 35
Stop us if you’ve heard this before: Clemson could be in for a special season. The offense is special, no doubt: Tajh Boyd (right) can get the big play, but he also picked up third downs on the ground late in the game, Sammy Watkins flashed his 2011 form, and Roderick McDowell picked up where Andre Ellington left off. The defense needs work, but few teams will be able to stress Clemson like Georgia did. The Tigers have proven they can go toe-to-toe with SEC teams with three wins in four matchups in the last year, but can Clemson get through the ACC unscathed?
The Clemson secondary is still a question. Todd Gurley rushed for a 75-yard touchdown on his first carry of the game, but Georgia averaged 3.6 yards per carry thereafter. That’s a good sign for the Clemson front seven. However, this looks like the same old Tigers’ secondary. Aaron Murray completed 20-of-29 passes for 322 yards, signaling Clemson’s pass defense could be a liability for yet another season.
Georgia could be in trouble next week. Georgia was gassed at times in the second half in the humidity as the defense spent 76 plays on the field against Clemson. Now the Bulldogs have to turn around from a deflating loss to face South Carolina. The Bulldogs potentially will be without starting receiver Malcolm Mitchell, who suffered a knee injury early in the game.
THREE THINGS WE LEARNED FROM LSU 37, TCU 27
The LSU offense: We don’t want to know how the sausage is made. The Tigers have to love the end result with 401 yards and 5.6 yards per play against the stout TCU defense, but there were still signs of the same old LSU offense. Zach Mettenberger (right) made a beautiful behind-the-shoulder throw to Odell Beckham in the second half, but Mettenberger also completed fewer than half of his passes (15 of 32). At the end of the first half, LSU turned a third and goal from TCU’s 2 to a third down at the 12 when the Tigers were called for a delay of game after their own timeout and then were flagged for a false start. And later, Alfred Blue fumbled inside the Tigers' 10 to set up a TCU touchdown — a rare fumble by an LSU running back, but a momentum-changing fumble nonetheless.
TCU is still going to contend in the Big 12. The Horned Frogs lost, but they don’t look like they’re eliminated from Big 12 contention by any means. TCU closed the deficit to a field goal with 8:44 remaining despite playing without its top defensive player Devonte Fields. Meanwhile, the rest of the Big 12 looked far from perfect.
Crazy things happen. LSU brought us the wildest sequence of the weekend at the end of the second half and that was after LSU was called for a delay of game after its own timeout. Then, the Tigers moved back another five yards on a false start. LSU risked letting the clock run out on a scoring attempt when a player lost a helmet, resulting in a 10-second runoff, on a third down play before the presumptive field goal. The officials at first ruled the end of the half thanks to the helmet removal (there were 5 seconds remaining at the time). Nearly the entire TCU team made it off the field before officials reversed the call, noting LSU’s incomplete pass stopped the clock to negate the runoff. After TCU retook the field, LSU kicked a field goal to end the half.
MOVING THE CHAINS
Maryland’s C.J. Brown. The Terrapins finally got a look at what their offense could be when the quarterback position isn’t a revolving door. Even if it was against FIU, C.J. Brown gave Maryland the quarterback play it had been lacking in his first start since missing all of last season with a torn ACL. Brown completed 20-of-24 passes for 276 yards with three touchdowns while rushing for 105 yards and two touchdowns. For better or worse, Maryland’s best playmaker, Stefon Diggs, had only six touches on offense, most of which after the 43-10 win had been decided.
Northwestern without Kain Colter. Northwestern played most of its week 1 game without Kain Colter, who was out with an “upper body injury,” and Venric Mark contributed little. Their absence was felt, particularly in the red zone, but Northwestern still managed to defeat plucky Cal 44-30 on the road. A big heap of the credit goes to Collin Ellis, who had two interceptions returned for touchdowns.
Allen Robinson’s second half. Robinson was suspended for the first half against Syracuse for reasons Bill O’Brien says are between the receiver and the coach. In any event, Robinson transformed a stagnant Penn State offense in the second half. Robinson caught seven passes for 127 yards with a touchdown in Penn State’s 17-point second half in the Nittany Lions’ 23-17 win. Robinson’s return was boost for freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg, who completed 22-of-31 passes for 278 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions in his debut.
Texas A&M’s defense. Johnny Manziel’s first-half suspension was not the biggest concern for the Aggies. Not even close. Texas A&M allowed Rice to put up 508 yards as the defense stayed on the field for 86 plays. Rice averaged 6.1 yards per carry and pushed the Aggies’ defensive line around early in the game. Some of the issues were due to suspensions as nose guard Kirby Ennis, safety Floyd Raven and cornerback Deshazor Everett were suspended for the first half due to offseason arrests. Linebacker Steven Jenkins, defensive end Gavin Stansbury and cornerback De’Vante Harris — all starters — were also suspended for the first two games. Everett returned for the second half, enough time to pick up another suspension after being flagged under the new targeting rule. All those absences will either help build experience among the backups or could end up being a liability when the SEC schedule starts.
Nebraska’s defense. Bo Pelini is having trouble selling his bona fides as a defensive coach these days with Nebraska. The Cornhuskers were shredded at the end of last season by Wisconsin and Georgia. The opener, though, was a new low. Wyoming, a team that went 4-8 last season and ranked 70th in total offense last season, amassed 602 yards and averaged 8.1 yards per play against the Huskers in the 37-34 loss. Making Wyoming’s outburst most puzzling, the Cowboys went 1 of 8 on third down. Nebraska faces UCLA in two weeks.
Boise State. The Broncos have had heartbreakers and losses to inferior teams, but Boise State has never had a performance this bad during the Chris Petersen era. The Broncos lost 38-6 to Washington, giving Boise State its first loss of more than four points since a 39-27 loss to Hawaii in 2007 and its worst loss since 48-13 to Georgia in the 2005 opener.
Tajh Boyd, Clemson. Five total touchdowns in the marquee game of the weekend is enough to put Boyd near the top of the conversation if he wasn’t there already.
AJ McCarron, Alabama. McCarron will have opportunities to make up ground to make voters forget his forgettable performance against Virginia Tech. Receivers dropped passes, the offensive line struggled — Cyrus Kouandjio in particular — and Virginia Tech cornerback Kyle Fuller had a standout game with an interception and two pass breakups. But McCarron’s stat line will stick out as he finished 10-of-23 for 110 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
Jordan Lynch, Northern Illinois. A loss to Iowa won’t be on the NIU resume this season. And if Lynch is going to make a bid to be a Heisman finalist, he needed a game like he had against Iowa — even if he played little role in the dramatic finish. Lynch completed 25-of-41 passes for 273 yards with three touchdowns while rushing for 55 yards on 23 carries.
2. Return game touchdowns for Alabama’s Christion Jones. It takes a special effort to do something that’s never been done at Alabama, but junior receiver Christion Jones managed that. He took the first touch of Alabama’s season back for a touchdown on a punt return. Then he added a 94-yard kickoff return for a score in the second quarter to become the first player since at least 1944 (that’s how far complete records go back) to return a punt and a kickoff for a score for the Tide. Oh, and he added a 38-yard touchdown catch.
5. FCS teams defeating major conference teams. To put that in perspective: No more than four FCS teams have defeated major conference teams in a season since 1985, according to footballgeography.com. The action started Thursday when Towson defeated Connecticut 33-18 for the most lopsided FCS-over-FBS win since 2000. That mark was crushed Saturday when McNeese State defeated USF 53-21. Two-time FCS champion North Dakota State defeated Kansas State 24-21 on Friday, Eastern Washington defeated Oregon State 49-46, and Northern Iowa defeated Iowa State 28-20.
6-13. Iowa’s record in one-score games since 2010. Iowa’s signature ability to win close games is a distant memory. With 1:24 remaining in a tie game, Jake Rudock threw an interception to set up Northern Illinois at the 30-yard line. After two run plays, NIU kicked a 36-yard game-winning field goal for a 30-27 win. Iowa has lost seven in a row and has lost six games decided by one score since the start of the 2012 season.
THREE OBLIGATORY MANZIEL POSTS
BURIED ON THE DEPTH CHART
Khalil Mack, Buffalo. A name to remember around the NFL Draft: Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack. He was the best defensive player on the field in Ohio State’s 40-20 win over Buffalo. Mack returned an interception 45 yards for at touchdown to go with 2.5 sacks and nine tackles. The MAC isn’t all about offense.
Southern Miss’ losing streak goes on. The nation’s longest losing streak hit 13 games and figures to go a bit longer. Southern Miss lost 22-15 to Texas State in Hattiesburg, a game that was the Eagles’ best chance for a win until at least October. Southern Miss rounds out September at Nebraska, at Arkansas and at Boise State.
Louisville’s schedule got worse. Everyone knew the Cardinals’ schedule was going to be a liability for their perception and their postseason. Before the Cards even played a game it got worse: Louisville’s opponents went 4-7 in the first week, and the most impressive by a wide margin win was Cincinnati’s 42-7 victory over Purdue. Louisville’s opponents’ other three wins were over Akron, Southern and Robert Morris. Meanwhile, USF and Connecticut lost decisively to FCS teams. Rutgers had the best chance for meaningful win for the American Athletic Conference, but the Scarlet Knights lost 52-51 in overtime to Fresno State.
|THREE CLOSE CALLS|
Nebraska 37, Wyoming 34
West Virginia 24, William & Mary 17
Illinois 42, Southern Illinois 34
|WHO SAYS COLLEGE HAS NO PRESEASON?|
Baylor 69, Wofford 3
Oregon 66, Nicholls State 3
Michigan 59, Central Michigan 9
|BEST THREE GAMES NEXT WEEK|
Florida at Miami
Georgia at South Carolina
Notre Dame at Michigan
J.W. Walsh, Oklahoma State. Clint Chelf spent all of two possessions as Oklahoma State’s primary quarterback, but it’s tough to argue with Mike Gundy sticking with J.W. Walsh, no matter what Chelf’s family members may say. Once inserted into the lineup, Walsh gave the Cowboys offense a lift running the zone read out of a diamond formation late in the first half. Walsh completed 18 of 27 passes for 135 yards and led Oklahoma State in rushing with 125 yards and a touchdown ion 13 carries. Gundy left little room for controversy by saying Walsh would start the Cowboys’ next game against UTSA.
Jordan Hall, Ohio State. The Ohio State offense isn't all Braxton Miller. With power backs Carlos Hyde and Rod Smith suspended for the opener, Hall took over. The senior rushed for 159 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries in the 40-20 win. Hall missed most of all of last season with a foot injury and then a knee injury. He’s expected to occasionally play the H-back role when Hyde and Smith return to the lineup, but this day will be tough to ignore.
Mack Brown, Florida. Thanks to suspensions and injuries, the Gators were shorthanded throughout the offense. Running back Mack Brown adequately provided the power run game attack Will Muschamp prefers. With Matt Jones out with a viral infection since July, Brown rushed for 112 yards with two touchdowns on 25 carries in the 24-6 win over Toledo. The Gators had been hoping for Brown to take on a greater role in recent years, but entering Saturday, the senior had only 40 carries in three seasons.
|THREE PLAYERS EJECTED UNDER NEW TARGETING RULE|
Deshazor Everett, Texas A&M
Chris McCain, Cal
Terrance Mitchell, Oregon
|THREE GREAT DEBUTS|
Bret Bielema, Arkansas
Gus Malzahn, Auburn
Bobby Petrino, Western Kentucky
|THREE DUBIOUS DEBUTS|
Darrell Hazell, Purdue
Skip Holtz, Louisiana Tech
Willie Taggart, USF
THREE INJURY CONCERNS
Denzel Nkemdiche, Ole Miss. The Rebels defeated Vanderbilt 39-35 in a thrilling Thursday night opener, but all is not well in Oxford. Star linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche is out for four to six weeks after suffering a torn meniscus. Meanwhile, starting offensive lineman Aaron Morris is likely done for the season after a torn ACL. Ole Miss has a brutal start to the season after facing Southeast Missouri State next week. The Rebels are at Texas (Sept. 14), at Alabama Oct. 28), at Auburn (Oct. 5), vs. Texas A&M (Oct. 12) and vs. LSU (Oct. 19).
Brandon Mitchell, NC State. If first-year coach Dave Doeren didn’t have enough challenges in turning NC State into an ACC contender, he was dealt another blow with an injury to starting quarterback Brandon Mitchell. The senior was 3-for-3 for 93 yards before leaving the opener with a broken bone in his foot. The Wolfpack still defeated Louisiana Tech 40-14, but NC State rounds out September with Richmond, Clemson and Central Michigan.
Tyler Russell, Mississippi State. The Bulldogs quarterback walked off the field in a daze after a shot to the head in the second half against Oklahoma State. Even if Russell is held out of the next week, the Bulldogs might not be in serious trouble against Alcorn State.
Fans need to prepare for a wild season out west if the first weekend was any indication. Sure, division contenders Stanford and Arizona State were on bye while Oregon, UCLA and Arizona rolled to typically one-sided wins against over-matched opponents. But the rest of the league was in a dog fight.
Cal lost a tough one to Northwestern. Oregon State got upset at home against regional FCS opponent Eastern Washington. Utah barely scraped by an in-state rival. Washington State showed marked improvement on the road against an SEC blueblood. And the Washington Huskies made a bold statement that the rest of the Pac-12 better take notice of. Welcome back, college football.
Here are your Pac-12 Week 1 Awards and Superlatives:
Offensive Player of the Week: Marcus Mariota, Oregon
1. Atlanta Motor Speedway is NASCAR’s “raciest” track
The newest version of Bristol Motor Speedway again produced a memorable NASCAR Sprint Cup Series performance last week after several years of uninspired shows. If all goes well and Atlanta Motor Speedway follows its recent trend, Sunday night’s race should be a notable, too.
It’s a testament to the well-aged surface of the 1.54-mile track.
“It's a track that races really well and it's a lot of fun, especially with it now being a night race,” said Paul Menard. “The race track itself has older pavement, which makes it hands down the raciest track we go to on the schedule. It's kind of a throwback track that we all enjoy racing."
The old pavement—it’s the second oldest surface in the Sprint Cup Series, dating to 1997—grinds tires much like the Darlington Raceway of old. That translates to wildly different lap times during the course of a fuel run, thanks to changed handling. Those change often result in more passing, side-by-side racing and riskier pit road decision-making.
Essentially, it makes everything a bit “racier.”
“You want the asphalt to be worn out,” said Menard’s teammate Kevin Harvick. “I don't know why so many tracks keep repaving without any rocks in them. Rocks wear the tires out and everyone likes to watch the cars slide around when the tires fall off."
There may be bad news on the horizon at Atlanta, however. Talk started in 2012 from speedway officials discussing the need for the track surface to be replaced thanks to general deterioration from water freezing and thawing under the surface in the winter.
Enjoy it while you can.
2. Goodyear rolls new tire to Atlanta to address Gen-6 concerns
The largest overhaul of the racing tire used in NASCAR since teams were forced to switch fully from bias play-constructed tires to radial tires in 1992 is occurring this weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
After tire tests at the track with the Gen-6 car revealed significant concerns in the tire used for Atlanta’s 2012 race, Goodyear went to the drawing board to find an appropriate solution. The result: A dual-tread tire designed to both handle the high outer temperatures while also adding more grip. The hope is that drivers will turn the extra grip into better racing without fear of a tire failure.
On Twitter, defending series champion Brad Keselowski called the tire revolutionary. Clint Bowyer says it’s a proverbial curveball in the important race weekend.
“Atlanta is going to be a wild card race heading into the Chase. Goodyear is bringing new tires and I don’t know if anyone knows what exactly to expect,” Bowyer said. “Martin Truex and the No. 56 team took part in the Goodyear tire test at Atlanta in June and we think we have a pretty good handle on it, but you never know until you get there and unload how that will work out exactly.”
3. Chase picture wildly in flux with two races left
Keselowski won’t be defending his title. Jeff Gordon won’t be in the Chase for the first time since 2005. And Kurt Busch’s dreams of bringing the No. 78 team to an improbable Chase berth are dashed. Martin Truex Jr., Ryan Newman and Greg Biffle all breathe a sigh of relief as they’re in. And Joey Logano makes his first Chase.
That’s the reality of NASCAR’s postseason picture as it stands right now. Unfortunately for Truex, Newman, Biffle and Logano, two races remain in the regular season stand before those positions are cemented. That’s fortunate for the likes of Busch, Gordon and Keselowski.
Amid the dash for Sunday’s race win will be the story of who will and won’t be in contention for title after Richmond. It’s a tight race, too: Keselowski needs to beat Logano by five points over the next two races (96 points available) to earn an outright, top-10 bid. Busch needs seven points. Gordon needs 12.
Truex and Newman—currently the wildcard qualfiers—have to hope they don’t lose more ground while Keselowski, Busch or Gordon win a race.
Confused yet? It’s no problem if you are. Just remember Sunday night’s race will have some major implications over each and every position for these six drivers.
4. Injuries beset numerous Sprint Cup Series drivers
Between Bristol and a bicycle, an unusual number of NASCAR drivers came down with injuries this week.
Truex, already under enough pressure thanks to his shaky Chase position, heads to Atlanta ready to battle with a blue cast—it’s NAPA blue, according to the Michael Waltrip-trained Truex—on his right wrist. He broke a bone in his shifting hand as part of the late multi-car crash at Bristol that left the No. 56 with a DNF.
Truex still plans to race in the critical event to help his title hopes.
Fellow Toyota driver Denny Hamlin also suffered a hand injury in the same crash, caused when Hamlin’s right-front tire was cut after contact with Brian Vickers. Hamlin revealed that injury during a radio interview Thursday night and said it was causing pain his thumb. Hamlin, the defending Atlanta winner, is wearing a splint but fully expects to race Sunday night.
Last, Bobby Labonte—scheduled to drive for Phoenix Racing in Sunday night’s race—suffered a crash on his bicycle Wednesday and spent the night in the hospital for treatment of three broken ribs. Labonte opted to miss Sunday’s start as he recovers.
Follow Geoffrey Miller on Twitter: @GeoffreyMiller
Photo: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel spent the first half of Saturday’s game on the sidelines due to a suspension from the offseason autograph scandal. However, Manziel didn’t let that slow him down against Rice, completing 6 of 8 passes for 94 yards and three touchdowns in the second half.
But the postgame chatter about Manziel wasn’t due to his performance. Instead, the sophomore was in the spotlight due to his money gestures after scoring a touchdown, an unsportsmanlike penalty and his jabs with Rice defenders while making an autograph gesture. Coach Kevin Sumlin wasn't happy with Manziel after the game, as the sophomore did not play after his penalty in the fourth quarter.
Check out the reaction from the web compiled in storify by @DavidFox615:
NC State opened the Dave Doeren era with an impressive 40-14 win over Louisiana Tech. However, victory came at a heavy price. Quarterback Brandon Mitchell suffered a foot fracture against the Bulldogs and will be out four to six weeks.
Mitchell transferred to NC State from Arkansas this offseason and was off to a good start, throwing for 93 yards on three completions.
With Mitchell out, NC State will turn to Colorado State transfer Pete Thomas. Against Louisiana Tech, Thomas threw for 212 yards on 15 completions.
Although Mitchell will miss at least four weeks, NC State has favorable matchups against Central Michigan and Richmond in September. Assuming the Wolfpack loses to Clemson, they should be 3-1 in case Mitchell returns to play Wake Forest on Oct. 5.
Michigan State defensive back Kurtis Drummond had quite the game in the opener against Western Michigan. Drummond returned an interception 21 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter and later followed up that play with a crazy one-handed interception.
It’s only Week 1, but Drummond’s interception might be one of the best defensive plays we see in college football this year.
It’s the first week of the college football season, so coaches and players are bound to have some rust.
However, FAU committed a silly blunder against Miami on Friday night, which is simply the result of not paying attention to the down marker or scoreboard.
With the Owls trying to score late in the fourth quarter, quarterback Jaquez Johnson was tackled around the 26-yard line with 19 seconds left to play on third down. And instead of trying to get one more play, FAU forgets its fourth down and proceeds to spike the ball. The best part? Watching FAU coach Carl Pelini give the spike symbol to his quarterback.
Alabama begins its national title defense with a trip to a familiar destination – Atlanta. The Crimson Tide played and won two out of the last four SEC Championships in the Georgia Dome, including last year’s 32-28 thriller over Georgia.
Nick Saban’s team won’t be playing for a berth in the national championship in this trip to Atlanta, and the hype for this matchup has been a subdued. The Crimson Tide is a listed as a three-touchdown favorite in some locations, and Virginia Tech is dealing with a myriad of issues on offense.
The Hokies are coming off a 7-6 season but needed three wins in overtime to get bowl eligible. As a result of the lackluster record, coach Frank Beamer made some changes to his coaching staff. Former Auburn and Temple assistant Scot Loeffler was hired as Virginia Tech’s offensive coordinator, Aaron Moorhead was brought aboard to coach the receivers and Jeff Grimes was appointed the new offensive line coach.
Virginia Tech and Alabama met in Atlanta to start the 2009 season, with the Crimson Tide earning a 34-24 victory. These two teams have played 12 times, and Alabama holds a commanding 11-1 series edge.
More Week 1 Previews: ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC
Three Things to Watch
A fresh start for Logan Thomas
After throwing for 3,013 yards and 19 touchdowns and rushing for 469 yards and 11 scores in 2011, Thomas was supposed to be the ACC’s next standout quarterback. Instead, Thomas regressed as a junior and finished with just 2,976 passing yards, 18 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. The blame for the struggles on Virginia Tech’s offense doesn’t rest solely on Thomas’ shoulders, especially since the rushing attack, receiving corps and offensive line had their own issues. But if the Hokies want to hang around, the senior passer has to have a big game. Mobile quarterbacks have given a few headaches to Nick Saban’s defenses in recent years, and Thomas’ ability to move on the run could be crucial to keeping drives alive. Considering Virginia Tech’s small margin for error, the senior quarterback cannot afford any turnovers.
Alabama’s offensive line against Virginia Tech’s defensive front
If there’s one unit Alabama is concerned about, it has to be the offensive line. With Barrett Jones, D.J. Fluker and Chance Warmack departing, it won’t be easy for the Crimson Tide to dominate opposing defenses like they did last year. However, this group should remain among the best in the nation, as left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio is a future first-round pick, and center Ryan Kelly played well in limited action last year. Virginia Tech’s defensive line is the strength of the team, led by senior end James Gayle and tackles Derrick Hopkins and Luther Maddy. With three new starters on the line, Alabama’s pass protection and run blocking will be tested by Virginia Tech’s active defensive line.
Who steps up at running back and wide receiver for the Hokies?
Although Logan Thomas needs to have a big game for Virginia Tech to pull off the upset, the performance of the running game and receiving corps is just as crucial. Last year’s leading rusher (J.C. Coleman) finished 2012 with just 492 yards and did not make the trip to Atlanta due to injury. With Coleman sidelined, the Hokies will turn to redshirt freshmen Trey Edmunds and Chris Mangus on the ground. Redshirt freshman Joshua Stanford and sophomore Demitri Knowles are listed as the starters at receiver for Saturday’s game and the duo combined for 20 catches last year. Tight end Ryan Malleck was ruled out for the year this week due to a shoulder injury, which puts even more pressure on the three key players in the receiving corps: Knowles, Stanford and senior D.J. Coles.
Key Player: Jonathan McLaughlin, OT, Virginia Tech
Starting a true freshman at left tackle is usually enough to give any coach nightmares throughout game week. However, it’s an even bigger concern against a defense like Alabama. McLaughlin was rated as a three-star recruit by Rivals.com and secured the left tackle job this fall. Not only will the true freshman have his hands full against Alabama’s 3-4 defense, but he is also protecting quarterback Logan Thomas’ blindside.
Even though this game has plenty of appeal in terms of name value, this is a huge mismatch. Virginia Tech just has too many new faces on offense to threaten Alabama. The Hokies could keep this one close in the first half, largely due to their advantage on the defensive line against the Crimson Tide’s offensive line. However, Virginia Tech’s offense will struggle to generate much production on the scoreboard, which allows Alabama to pull away in the second half.
Prediction: Alabama 38, Virginia Tech 13
It’s only Week 1 of the 2013 college football season, but the stakes are high for Georgia and Clemson in Death Valley on Saturday night. Both teams have national title aspirations, and while a loss won’t knock either out of the BCS Championship picture, it would be a pretty significant setback.
Clemson is a heavy favorite to win the ACC title, and the Tigers are coming off back-to-back double-digit win seasons for the first time since 1989-90. Coach Dabo Swinney’s team should be favored in all of its ACC games in 2013, but the success of the season could rest with how the Tigers perform in matchups against the SEC – Georgia (Aug. 31) and at South Carolina (Nov. 30)
Georgia fell just short of playing for the national championship last year, and even with key personnel losses on defense, coach Mark Richt should have the Bulldogs back in the mix to win the SEC.
This is the first meeting between these two schools since 2003. Georgia has a five-game winning streak over Clemson, which includes a 30-0 win over the Tigers in 2003. These two teams have plenty of history on the gridiron, as they have met 62 overall times, with the first meeting in 1897.
More Week 1 Previews: ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC
Three Things to Watch
The Bulldogs return only three starters on defense and will have their hands full against Clemson’s offense. Even though the front seven has been revamped and will miss linebacker Jarvis Jones and tackle John Jenkins, the secondary might be the biggest concern. Freshmen Brendan Langley and Tray Matthews are slated to start, while strong safety Connor Norman has played mostly on special teams over the last two years. After starting all 14 games in 2012, junior Damian Swann is the team’s most experienced defensive back and will be crucial to slowing down Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins.
The Tigers averaged 41 points a game and 512.7 yards per contest last season, with the catalyst being senior quarterback (and Heisman Trophy contender) Tajh Boyd. The senior has four offensive line starters at his disposal, and senior Roderick McDowell lining up at running back. With Georgia’s defense in rebuild mode, the opportunity is there for Boyd to make a statement on Saturday night.
Clemson’s run defense against Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall
If you aren’t familiar with Georgia’s backfield, it’s time to take notice. Gurley and Marshall combined for 2,144 yards and 25 scores on the ground last season and will be running behind an offensive line that has all five starters back. Considering the question marks residing on the Bulldogs’ defense, controlling the clock and keeping Boyd on the sidelines might be Georgia’s best chance to win. Clemson allowed 155.9 yards per game on the ground last season. However, six starts are back in the front seven, and the line held their own against LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl win over LSU. It’s impossible to control Gurley and Marshall for the full game. However, Clemson can’t afford to let the Bulldogs control the pace of the game by letting Gurley and Marshall chew up the clock.
The Tigers finished fall practice without a definitive answer at cornerback. The depth chart indicates Garry Peters and Bashaud Breeland will share one spot, with Darius Robinson and Martin Jenkins listed with an or on the other side. Clemson’s secondary ranked ninth in the ACC in pass efficiency defense and allowed 300 or more yards four times last year. Sophomore safety Travis Blanks is a future star, but the Tigers need more consistency from their cornerbacks. And this unit will be under fire on Saturday night, as Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray ranked second nationally in passing efficiency last year and will be throwing to a deep group of weapons, including Malcolm Mitchell and tight end Arthur Lynch.
Key Player: Roderick McDowell, RB, Clemson
Replacing Andre Ellington is no easy task, but Clemson feels confident in McDowell. The senior has waited his turn, spending the last three years as a backup and rushing for 674 yards on 129 carries. McDowell faces a rebuilt Georgia front seven on Saturday night, and with four starters back on Clemson’s offensive line, there should be running lanes for the senior to exploit. The Tigers don’t need 150 yards from McDowell, but with Georgia’s attacking 3-4 defense coming to Death Valley, his presence could be crucial on passes out of the backfield or blocking to keep defenders away from Boyd.
There’s not much separating these two teams. Clemson’s home-field advantage should be a huge asset on Saturday night, but the Bulldogs can lean on the experience of quarterback Aaron Murray to navigate the crowd noise on offense. The Tigers’ passing attack will be tough for Georgia to stop, especially with the injuries the secondary has dealt with this fall. The Bulldogs have to find a way to disrupt Boyd’s timing, which will be difficult with the new faces in the front seven. One x-factor that could come into play is special teams. Georgia kicker Marshall Morgan may not play, which leaves junior Adam Erickson or sophomore Patrick Beless as the No. 1 kicker. And both players have yet to attempt a field goal in a game in their career.
This one is a tossup. But let’s give Georgia a slight edge, as the combination of Gurley and Marshall could be the difference in the fourth quarter.
Georgia 38, Clemson 34
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Top 10 Games of Week 1
Week 1 of the college football season doesn’t have a ton of marquee matchups, but there should be plenty of intrigue when LSU and TCU meet in Arlington, Texas on Saturday night.
Adding to the interest level for Saturday night’s game is a little gamesmanship between the two head coaches. LSU’s Les Miles has refused to indicate whether or not running back Jeremy Hill will be suspended for an off-the-field incident. And after announcing a two-game suspension for defensive end Devonte Fields earlier in the offseason, TCU coach Gary Patterson has indicated he will dress and appear on the sidelines during the game. Fields isn’t expected to play, but the mind games for a huge non-conference matchup were in full effect this week.
For the second time in three years, LSU opens a season with a neutral site affair in Arlington. The Tigers defeated Oregon 40-27 in 2011, which helped to key a run to the national championship.
Three Things to Watch
Casey Pachall’s return to the starting lineup
TCU coach Gary Patterson has remained coy on his choice to start at quarterback on Saturday night, but all signs point to Casey Pachall returning to the lineup. The senior missed most of last year due to a suspension and was pushed by backup Trevone Boykin for the No. 1 spot this offseason. Pachall is the better passer, but Boykin’s mobility could be an asset against LSU’s defense. How rusty will Pachall be in his return to the starting lineup? With plenty of talent at receiver and running back, Pachall doesn’t need to throw for 300 yards. But with a fast and athletic defense like LSU waiting to pounce, the senior has to be smart and efficient in his return to the lineup.
TCU’s pass rush
Although Fields will be on the sidelines for this game, the sophomore is not expected to play. And there’s no question TCU will miss his presence off the edge. Stansly Maponga left for the NFL after 2012, and with Fields suspended, defensive tackles Davion Pierson and Chucky Hunter are the top returning sack men (3.5 last year) for the Horned Frogs. Senior Jon Koontz, junior Matt Anderson and sophomores James McFarland and Josh Carraway will have a lot of pressure on their shoulders as they try to generate a pass rush and replace Fields’ production for the first two games of 2013.
LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger
Mettenberger had his share of ups and downs in 2012, finishing the year with 2,609 passing yards and 12 scores. More is expected out of the senior in 2013, as former NFL coordinator Cam Cameron was brought aboard to improve the offense. Mettenberger showed signs of promise last year when he threw for 298 yards against Alabama but finished the year by throwing for just 120 yards in the bowl loss to Clemson. Mettenberger isn’t short on talent or capable playmakers at receiver, so there’s plenty of pressure on him to deliver in 2013. TCU’s pass rush will miss Fields, but the secondary is one of the nation’s best. Is Mettenberger ready to step up in 2013? Saturday night should give the LSU coaching staff a good idea of just how far along the senior has improved since last year.
Key Player: TCU’s offensive line
We will cheat just a bit here and list an entire unit instead of one player. TCU’s offensive line was shaky at times last year, allowing 2.2 sacks a game. Only two starters are back this season, and starting tackle Tayo Fabuluje decided to leave the team in fall practice. LSU’s defensive line will have four new starters but isn’t short on talent. Tackles Anthony Johnson and Ego Ferguson will be a handful, and ends Jermauria Rasco and Danielle Hunter are athletic and fast off the edge. Can TCU’s offensive line give Pachall time to throw and open up lanes for its running backs?
Despite the new faces stepping into the lineup, LSU is still one of the top 10-15 teams in college football. TCU is one of the frontrunners to win the Big 12, but the Horned Frogs might be a bigger mystery than the Tigers in Week 1. How will Pachall perform? Can the offensive line match up against LSU’s defense line? TCU’s defense will make life difficult for Mettenberger and the rest of the Tigers’ offense. However, LSU does just enough on that side of the ball to edge the Horned Frogs.
Prediction: LSU 27, TCU 20
UCF-Akron wasn’t much of a game on Thursday night, as the Knights rolled to an easy 38-7 win in the opener.
However, the game provided one of the weekend’s top plays, as UCF quarterback Blake Bortles had the ball slip out of his hand, then proceeded to throw a 39-yard touchdown to receiver J.J. Worton.
South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney didn’t make a huge impact on the stat sheet on Thursday night (three tackles), but the junior was around the line of scrimmage most of the night. Clowney’s presence altered North Carolina’s gameplan from the first snap, as the Tar Heels did their best to avoid No. 7.
North Carolina’s offensive line did a decent job of keeping quarterback Bryn Renner upright, but the Tar Heels draw a negative grade for this cheap shot on Clowney. Kiaro Holts appears to be the lineman in the SB Nation gif, as he dives at Clowney’s knees well after Renner has thrown the pass. The junior defensive end did not suffer an injury and stayed in the game after the shot from Holts.
FOX Sports sideline reporter Pam Oliver was the first to deliver the news. Only moments after the Vikings’ 2012 regular season ended, Oliver set about informing Adrian Peterson of his high-profile disappointment.
As Oliver stopped Peterson on his way off Mall of America Field, the final tallies were official, and the Viking star’s 2,097 rushing yards — including 199 in a playoff-clinching win over Green Bay that afternoon — had not surpassed the 2,105 yards Eric Dickerson amassed in 1984.
Nine yards shy of a new record. Nine measly yards.
“You played your heart out,” Oliver said. “Nine yards. Boy. That’s got to hurt.”
Peterson recoiled with surprise.
“Nine yards what?” he questioned. “Nine yards what? From breaking it?”
“That’s what I heard,” Oliver said.
Peterson shook his head.
“Oh. Well, ultimately, we got the ‘W.’ And that was my main focus coming into the game. I said, ‘If it happens, it happens. But don’t focus on it.’”
Still, Peterson’s initial shock was obvious. And for a moment — for the next couple weeks, really — his mind-boggling productivity in a comeback season for the ages was often footnoted by those nine yards he didn’t get.
Oliver was the first to ask. But fans would follow. Reporters, too.
And when Peterson was asked for the 328th time to summarize his deflation in not being able to topple Dickerson, he finally just shrugged, certain that those nine yards he didn’t gain were not more significant than the 2,097 he had churned out.
Those nine yards certainly weren’t more meaningful than the 861 he put up in December alone, including a clutch 26-yard dash on his final regular-season carry, the one that put a rookie kicker in position for a last-second game-winning chip shot.
Those missing nine yards weren’t more important than the Vikings’ 10 wins, their surprising playoff berth or the MVP award Peterson earned.
“It just shows me how people are never pleased,” Peterson says.
Yet as the thought of those nine yards twisted inside his hyper-competitive, ultra-ambitious mind, he quickly settled on a new number: 2,500.
Yep, this is Peterson’s rushing yardage wish for 2013. It’s the MVP’s new goal, outlandish and intriguing all at once.
Sure, 2,500 seems like a preposterous bar to set. After all, of the six running backs to previously rush for 2,000 yards in a season, only one topped 1,400 the following year. That was Barry Sanders, who had 1,491 yards in 1998 a year after gaining 2,053 with the Lions.
But with a goal system that Vikings coach Leslie Frazier labels as “name it and claim it,” Peterson asks that everyone view 2,500 yards as attainable, not impossible.
“All things are possible through God who strengthens me,” Peterson says. “That’s a mark I want to reach. No one has ever tried to accomplish something like that.”
Peterson has now begun this quest: The march toward 2,500.
This is what he has mapped out for his encore to a year in which he posted the second-greatest rushing season in history after overcoming major reconstructive surgery on his left knee.
And only two days after the Vikings bowed out of last season’s playoffs, Peterson had already started gathering believers.
“I really don’t feel like it’s out of reach,” Pro Bowl fullback Jerome Felton says. “You look at it and it’s what, around 155 yards per game? With him, that’s doable.”
Technically, Peterson will have to average 156.25 yards per game to reach 2,500. But last year, he topped 150 yards seven times in the final 10 games.
“With Adrian and the way he goes after things, if 2,500 yards is in his sights, there’s no reason to question it,” right guard Brandon Fusco says.
And then there’s Jared Allen, a five-time Pro Bowler who in 2011 fell just short of a prestigious NFL single-season record himself. Allen’s 22 sacks that season were 0.5 shy of Michael Strahan’s all-time record, a magnificent season with opponents always game-planning to limit him.
But then in 2012, Allen battled injuries, faced increased attention from offensive coordinators and wound up with only 12 sacks in his sequel season.
So, yeah, he knows the challenge of trying to better a career year. Still, Allen feels nothing but love for Peterson’s push toward 2,500.
“With that dude? It’s logical,” Allen says. “And yeah, that’s crazy. … But I think too, with the way the league is now as such a pass-dominant league, you’re seeing smaller fronts. You’re not having that 330-pound nose tackle anymore. You’ve got to have guys there who can rush the passer because of these spread offenses and these check-down systems. So you get a team like us that likes to run the ball with a back like Adrian and smaller (defenders) on the field, 2,500 might not be a stretch.”
OK, so maybe at this point Peterson should be granted the license to dream big. Or perhaps, more precisely, to strive big.
Just consider the 2012 calendar year. On New Year’s Day, he was still in an Alabama hospital bed, two days removed from what could have been a career-derailing operation.
Immediately following ACL and MCL surgery, Peterson’s 2012 return seemed iffy at best. Coming back from an injury that severe, logic said, meant that Peterson would be lucky to be back at full strength by October, fortunate to even make a push at 1,000 yards. Instead, by Dec. 31, Peterson was waking up in the Twin Cities with those 2,097 yards under his belt, the star who had taken his game to a new level while propelling his team into the postseason.
Peterson’s production never tailed off, either. Not after the Vikings lost top receiver Percy Harvin in Week 9 to a season-ending ankle injury. Not after second-year quarterback Christian Ponder malfunctioned into a maddening stretch of midseason inconsistency.
During the final eight games, Peterson actually accumulated more rushing yards (1,322) than Ponder had passing yards (1,192).
Oh, and that ridiculous finishing charge, an average of 172 yards per game and 6.4 yards per carry over the final five weeks? Turns out Peterson did all that with a sports hernia injury that required surgery after the season.
Not once over the final six weeks did Peterson deliver a full week of practice, limited most weeks to just a Friday cameo. Yet on Sundays, he never showed signs of pain or fatigue.
Said Frazier: “I’d talk to him on those Fridays when he would get in some practice time and say, ‘What do you think?’ He’d say, ‘Coach, I’ll be ready. I’ll be ready.’ But I couldn’t always tell if he was going to be ready. And you’d go through warm-ups in pregame, and it was like, ‘Man, he’s going to be OK.’
“But still in the back of your mind you’re just wondering if he can finish. And then he’d break a long run and you’re like, ‘He’s different.’”
Peterson’s path back to such an otherworldly level was paved by positivity in the wake of his knee injury. It started even before he left the hospital and was certainly evident when he met the media for the first time two weeks later.
It was then that he first vowed not only to be back for the season opener on Sept. 9 but also to return better than ever.
Peterson’s promises were not hollow, and he continued oozing optimism during his time working with physical therapist Russ Paine in Houston.
Paine marveled first at Peterson’s genuine friendliness and push to encourage other patients at the facility. Then Paine watched as Peterson attacked his own recovery with so much purpose.
People kept reminding Peterson he’d never be the same back he was before the injury. Which gave him two options: to come back a bit slower and less explosive, or to return better than he’d ever been.
Paine understood why Peterson, against all common sense, promised to be back starting on Sept. 9. Even with the Vikings reminding him that caution and patience were acceptable, Peterson craved the added pressure.
“It forced him to his ultimate,” Paine says. “When you have someone like him who’s an absolute superhuman and better than everyone else, he could be at 90 percent and still wow everyone. But when you’re in the top half of one percent of the world’s athletes and you then push yourself to focus and achieve at that level, then you become a freaking superstar.
“That’s what separates Adrian.”
Vikings strength and conditioning coach Tom Kanavy and head athletic trainer Eric Sugarman tapped into Peterson’s intensity in the early parts of training camp. The Vikings cautiously set Peterson aside on the Physically Unable to Perform list when camp opened.
But Peterson, while understanding the team’s logic, was agitated by the move and decided he’d attack his isolated rehab work in a manner where he’d finish each day having exerted himself more than any player who had engaged in the full practice.
Sugarman’s amazement only heightened when thinking back to the flood of thoughts he had when approaching Peterson immediately after the running back’s knee blew out on Christmas Eve 2011.
“I knew instantly the gravity of what had happened,” Sugarman says. “And I remember thinking, ‘Wow, these coming months are going to be filled with pressure and scrutiny. This wasn’t somebody nobody had ever heard of. This is the best running back in the National Football League. There were going to be a lot of eyes on him.”
Which is what Peterson wanted. After one particularly demanding rehab session in training camp, Kanavy asked Peterson to finish the day with a sequence in which he ran speed ladders, then immediately followed each set with a 40-yard dash. Peterson was torching the grass, so much so that Kanavy secretly timed several of the 40s. Not one registered above 4.8 seconds, with Peterson frequently dipping into the low 4.5s.
Says Kanavy: “When you have a genetic freak who had always kept himself in tip-top shape and then sets out to absolutely attack the rehab, that is what the result is. Everybody got a chance to see it. And it was at a level surprising to everyone other than Adrian.”
Week by week, Peterson’s odds-defying comeback gathered steam. He delivered the longest run of his career in Week 13 at Green Bay, bursting 82 yards for a touchdown on a day when he ripped off 210 yards on only 21 carries.
He then proceeded to match that 82-yard run two weeks later in St. Louis on his way to a season-best 212 yards. In all, Peterson tied an NFL record with seven runs of 50 yards or longer. No wonder that 2,500-yard landmark doesn’t seem as ridiculous as it should.
Granted, the Vikings know that as a team, they’ll be far better off if they can diversify their offense. The goal is to revive a passing attack that ranked 31st in the league last season, to not give opponents the luxury of knowing Peterson will touch the ball 24 times per game like he did last season.
Realistically, 1,700 or 1,800 yards would be marvelous.
But hey, if the MVP running back wants to make a push at 2,500, you give him the green light.
“I think it’s a good goal to have if you’re Adrian Peterson,” Frazier says. “He’s more than capable of getting it accomplished.”
Heck, look at what Peterson did last fall, gathering new acolytes week after week.
“I feel that a lot of people who doubted me became believers,” he says. “The rewards and accomplishments are good. But being able to change someone’s mindset, whether it’s a little kid or grown-ups, and make them believe differently and look at things in a different light, that’s the ultimate goal.”
Even Allen admits that Peterson’s positive energy had stimulated the entire team’s imagination, pushing them to dream bigger.
“Maybe I can get 2,000 sacks,” Allen jokes.
Hearing that, Peterson smiles. “That’s what I’m talking about,” he says. “He wasn’t talking about 2,000 sacks last year or the year before.”
So now, without skepticism, perhaps we should all begin talking about 2,500 yards.
Written by Dan Wiederer for Athlon Sports. Visit our online store to order your 2013 Pro Football preview magazine to get in-depth team previews and more analysis on the 2013 NFL season.
This is your daily link roundup of our favorite sports posts on the web for Aug. 30.
• Leading off the last Friday before college football's first weekend, here's a different spin on this week's Top 25 matchups: cheerleader vs. cheerleader.
• Okay, so Vandy-Ole Miss was bananas. Not a bad start to the season. Pat Forde has a nice recap of Jeff Scott's run to glory. Here's Jordan Matthews puking his guts out on the field (fair warning: it's pretty nasty). And here are five takeaways from Opening Night in the SEC.
• Twitter erupted a bit over Jadeveon Clowney's apparent lack of conditioning. Steve Spurrier even got in on the act.
• College football fandom displayed in terms of Facebook likes. Zuckerburg's always watching.
• Here at Athlon, we're rooting for Mark Sanchez to play as much as possible, purely for the entertainment value. Here's Sanchez's 2012 season in GIFs, including the immortal buttfumble.
• In 2013, the joy of football is always tempered by the dark concussion cloud. In the wake of the NFL settlement yesterday, Jim McMahon talked about his own dementia and thoughts of suicide. Sorry for the buzzkill; now back to our regular programming. Here are 20 great drunk moments in sports!
• Geography fail and anti-Southern bias rolled into one: The New York Post thinks North Carolina and South Carolina are in-state rivals.
• One of the highlights of USC's lackluster win over Hawaii: The Warriors quarterback absolutely lighting up a hapless Trojan defender.
-- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
With Michael Brewer nursing a back injury, Texas Tech had a difficult decision to make at quarterback with two inexperienced options vying for snaps. But according to ESPN’s Jake Trotter, Red Raiders have selected true freshman (and walk-on) Baker Mayfield to start on Friday night against SMU.
Coach Kliff Kingsbury had only two options to choose from, with neither quarterback having any experience on the FBS level. However, Webb and Mayfield had all fall to work with the top two units on offense, and both have impressive high school pedigrees.
Mayfield is a walk-on, but he led Lake Travis to a 25-2 mark as the school’s starting quarterback. The freshman threw for 3,788 yards and 45 scores in his first year as a starting quarterback in high school.
Webb joined the team in time for spring practice and completed 17 of 30 passes for 224 yards and one touchdown in Texas Tech’s spring game.
Brewer is out indefinitely with a back injury, so it will be Mayfield and Webb battling for snaps for the foreseeable future. Kingsbury is certainly capable of getting production from anyone under center, but the Red Raiders’ offense will be a work in progress with a freshman quarterback running the offense.
Filed to ESPN: Source says Texas Tech will start true freshman walk-on Baker Mayfield at QB Friday night vs. SMU. #wreckem— Jake Trotter (@Jake_Trotter) August 30, 2013
The disappointment that the Giants felt when they missed the playoffs last season, 11 months after winning the Super Bowl, was only matched by their shock and confusion. They were 9–7, which isn’t bad. Along the way they beat some of the NFL’s best teams. But they also lost to Atlanta and Baltimore in Weeks 15 and 16 by a combined score of 67–14.
Those shocking blowouts set the tone for an offseason of introspection in which the Giants tried to restock for another run in the Tom Coughlin/Eli Manning era. They know that the remaining players and coaches will be hungrier now, and that will certainly help.
But they knew they needed to find something else in the offseason, too. “We need to re-establish that toughness in front,” Giants co-owner John Mara says. “Teams ran the ball against us too easily last year. And the offensive line, that performance needs to get a little better, too.”
In other words, in an era that may very well be defined by speed and spread-option offenses, the Giants are going back to an old NFL truism: Games are won in the trenches. This season, they’re hoping that’s true.
Athlon Sports NFC Power Ranking: 2nd
As long as Manning stays upright — and he’s started 146 consecutive regular-season and playoff games — the Giants’ offense should be fine. He’s so good that a shaky offensive line allowed a league-low 20 sacks last season, and the Giants averaged 26.8 points — sixth in the league — despite a middling rushing attack and a star receiver (Hakeem Nicks) battling a knee injury all year.
Nicks had that knee repaired during the offseason, and the Giants are convinced that if he’s healthy, they’ll have one of the most explosive offenses in all of football. Victor Cruz is a sensational slot receiver, but Nicks is their most dynamic receiving talent. And with promising young receiver Rueben Randle, they’ve got a threesome as good as they had when Mario Manningham was in town. Randle's presence is even more important given Nicks' injury history and the fact that Cruz injured his heel in a preseason game. And free agent pickup Brandon Myers, who caught 79 passes for 806 yards in Oakland in 2012, should be at least as good at tight end as Martellus Bennett was last season.
As for the middling rushing attack, with the oft-injured Ahmad Bradshaw gone, things are in the sometimes-slippery hands of David Wilson, their uber-explosive first-round pick from last year. Wilson only rushed for 358 yards in 2012, but he averaged a healthy 5.0 yards on his 71 carries. The Giants were planning on complementing Wilson's speed with Andre Brown's power, but the team's second-leading rusher last season suffered a fracture in his left leg playing in the final preseason game. This marks the second straight season Brown has broken that leg, although this fracture won't require surgery and he reportedly could be back in less than two months. Until then, the Giants will look to seventh-round pick Michael Cox and veterans Da'Rel Scott and Ryan Torain to help Wilson carry the load.
The Giants return their entire offensive line from last year, but injuries and age are catching up to this veteran group. Three of the returning starters had offseason surgeries, while four of them are already over 30 years old. The talent is there, but the Giants are crossing their fingers that the old gang will be able to hold together for one more year before the rebuilding starts in 2014. The early results have not been promising, as center David Baas and right tackle David Diehl both got hurt during training camp. Baas injured his knee, but he's hopeful to be ready by Week 1. That's not the case with Diehl, who needed surgery on his right thumb and is expected to miss most, if not all, of the first month of the regular season. These injuries put even more pressure on first-round pick Justin Pugh, who could start the season in Diehl's spot.
Perry Fewell’s defense was a big reason for the Giants' Super Bowl XLVII run, and perhaps the biggest culprit for the 2012 collapse. It was a disaster from front to back. It couldn’t stop the run. The coverage at times was terrible. And what once was a fierce pass rush was filled with players who looked old, tired and done. That miserable combination had them ranked 31st in the league.
What’s different this year? Not much other than the losses of several key players, including pass-rush specialist Osi Umenyiora. The Giants did beef up the middle of their defensive line, signing ex-Eagles defensive tackles Cullen Jenkins and Mike Patterson. But other than plugging in ex-Cowboy Dan Connor at middle linebacker and bringing back Aaron Ross as the third or fourth corner, they didn’t do much. Losing starting strong safety Stevie Brown, who led the team with eight interceptions in 2012, to a season-ending ACL injury during the preseason certainly doesn't help either.
Despite Brown's loss, what the Giants' defense and coaching staff are counting on is that everyone will play better. They believe defensive end Justin Tuck, an aging warrior, has one last good season in him. They believe end Jason Pierre-Paul, after seeing his sack numbers fall off the cliff last year, can return to his dominant form, although his season debut could be delayed a game or two following June 4 back surgery. And they believe the defensive line will get a boost from Mathias Kiwanuka joining the fun after being miscast as a linebacker for several years.
From there, they pray that everything will fall into place. The Giants believe that everything starts up front — that if the defensive linemen can stop the run and rush the passer, their defense will be good again. Last year was a reminder of what can happen when their front line disappears.
The Giants have a solid, veteran pair of kickers, though it’s slightly different from a year ago. Gone is the clutch leg of kicker Lawrence Tynes, and in his place is veteran Josh Brown. If there’s a drop-off, it should be negligible. Steve Weatherford remains the punter and continues to be an underappreciated weapon who is a terrific directional punter and a master at handling the swirling Meadowlands winds.
The return game is a bit of an unknown, though. Wilson is a huge threat on kickoff returns — one of the most dangerous in the NFL. But with his increased role at running back, it’s unclear how much the Giants will use him on special teams. They don’t appear to have anyone else in his class. As for punt returns, Randle figures to get the first shot, though it depends on how he holds onto the ball. Coughlin values ball-security above all else. He’s not looking for a lot of yards — he just doesn’t want the ball to end up on the ground.
Final Analysis: 1st in NFC East
As bad as last year was — and it probably felt worse than it looked — the Giants were still 9–7 and in the playoff hunt until the final day. They haven’t gotten worse, so there’s no reason to believe they won’t be a contender again. They are going to score a lot of points, and probably will until Manning retires.
What separates this team from other contenders, though, is its defense. It was 31st last season and doesn’t look much better now. Unless Tuck can rediscover his youth, the pass rush can’t be better now that Umenyiora is in Atlanta. Pierre-Paul probably will return to form, but the defensive front doesn’t have the fear factor of the Giants’ last two Super Bowl teams.
So expect the Giants to be fun to watch. Expect them to beat some of the best teams in the NFL, and also to suffer some inexcusable losses. In other words, expect these Giants to look a lot like the confusing, maddening version from 2012. They are capable of great things — including the playoffs and a run to the Super Bowl — but it’s far from certain they’ll have enough consistency to reach their potential.
Order your 2013 New York Giants Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here
2013 Athlon Sports NFL Team Previews:
|AFC East||AFC North||AFC South||AFC West|
|NY Jets||Pittsburgh||Tennessee||San Diego|
|NFC East||NFC North||NFC South||NFC West|
|NY Giants||Detroit||Carolina||St. Louis|
|Philadelphia||Green Bay||New Orleans||San Francisco (9/3)|
The Patriots’ championship window, or at least the Tom Brady era, is approaching its end, but there is no reason to believe that another AFC East title isn’t on the way this season. The Bills, Jets and Dolphins do not appear ready to challenge the Patriots, setting up New England for its fifth straight playoff appearance. The Patriots lost one of the league’s most dangerous weapons in the offseason in wide receiver Wes Welker, and there are legitimate questions on defense. But this team is not ready to fall out of the league’s elite quite yet.
Athlon Sports AFC Power Ranking: 2nd
The Patriots’ recent regular-season dominance on offense has been nothing short of astounding. The Pats led the league in points in 2012 with 34.8 per game, scoring over 500 points for the third consecutive year (matched only by the 1999-2001 Rams). They also led in yards per game with 427.9, giving them six straight seasons in the league’s top 10. Brady led the team to six games of 40 points or more (including the playoffs), and the team matched a franchise record by scoring 59 against the Colts.
Will the success carry over into 2013? With Brady back for his 14th season, the prospects look good, but the biggest obstacle will be overcoming the loss of Welker, who signed a free agent contract with the Broncos in the offseason. Welker led the Patriots in receptions in each of his six seasons in New England, leading the league three times. Welker had 118 catches in 2012, which was 44 more than Pats’ No. 2 receiver Brandon Lloyd (who also is gone). Danny Amendola, signed from the Rams, is slated to fill Welker’s role in the slot, and he appears to be a good fit. The 27-year-old Amendola, however, has played in only 12 games the past two seasons due to injuries after a productive 2010 that saw him catch 85 passes. He must stay healthy if the Patriots hope to have him replace Welker’s productivity.
The rest of the receiving corps is also an unknown. The Pats drafted Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce, but it's undrafted rookie Kenbrell Thompkins who has made the most noise during training camp. One or more of the rookies will need to step up as Amendola and Julian Edelman, the lone holdover from the Patriots' receiving corps, are the only veteran options Brady has to lean on.
To make matters worse, tight end went from a position of strength for New England to a rather large question mark during the offseason. First it was Rob Gronkowski, who after undergoing multiple surgeries on a forearm that limited him late last season ended up having back surgery in early June. Then later that same month, Aaron Hernandez was released by the team following his arrest for murder and other gun-related charges. With Hernandez off the roster and Gronkowski's return up in the air, one of the Patriots' primary focuses during training camp was to identify other options. While veterans Jake Ballard, Daniel Fells and Michael Hoomanawanui were the most experienced, undrafted rookie Zach Sudfeld from Nevada was the one who made the strongest impression during camp and in preseason games. Sudfeld's performance not only netted him a roster spot, but the Patriots also released Ballard and Fells after the final preseason game, leaving the rookie, Hoomanawanui and Gronkowski as the only tight ends on the roster. Based on these moves, it's looking more and more likely that Gronkowski's not too far away from returning and that regardless of when he does return, Sudfeld should have some sort of role. It's no secret that the tight end position has been key to the Pats' passing attack in recent seasons, so it's entirely possible that Gronkowski and Sudfeld could both end up on the field at the same time, just like Gronk and Hernandez did last season.
The Patriots’ offensive line returns intact, led by five-time Pro Bowler Logan Mankins. Stevan Ridley is expected to lead the rushing attack after his 1,263-yard, 12-touchdown performance in 2012. He will be supported by Shane Vereen, who had just 62 carries in the regular season but exploded for 124 total yards and three touchdowns in the Pats’ 41–28 playoff win over the Texans. The Patriots added to their backfield depth by trading for former 1,000-yard rusher LeGarrette Blount.
The Patriots’ defense has been cited as the reason the team has not won a championship since 2004. The criticism has generally been fair, although in their two Super Bowl losses since 2004 the defense gave up only 17 and 21 points, respectively. Still, that side of the ball has lagged behind the offense, and efforts have been made to get it back to the championship-level unit it was in the early 2000s. The Pats jumped from 15th in the league in points allowed to tied for ninth in 2012, but they were 25th in yards allowed and need improvement in several areas.
That starts with defending the pass, where the Pats were 29th, allowing 271.4 yards per game. The re-signing of cornerback Aqib Talib to a one-year contract was critical. He immediately bolstered the beleaguered secondary after his midseason arrival last year, and the team clearly suffered when he went out early in the AFC title game against the Ravens. The Patriots also brought in veteran safety Adrian Wilson from the Cardinals and drafted cornerback Logan Ryan from Rutgers to improve the secondary. Second-round draft pick Jamie Collins is labeled an edge-rusher, acquired to complement defensive ends Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones, whose efforts helped the Patriots rank 15th in sacks last season.
The Patriots were better against the run last season, ranking ninth, thanks to the efforts of stalwart defensive tackle Vince Wilfork and the All-SEC linebacking crew of Jerod Mayo (Tennessee), Brandon Spikes (Florida) and Dont’a Hightower (Alabama). Most of the offseason acquisitions focused on the secondary, meaning that the staff is confident the front seven will improve with experience.
The Patriots were able to compensate for the poor ranking in total yardage last season by forcing 41 turnovers — en route to a league-leading plus-25 turnover margin — and scoring five defensive touchdowns.
Stephen Gostkowski enters his eighth season and is as solid as ever. Gostkowski has made 84 percent of his career field goals and was 11-of-15 from beyond 40 in 2012.
Punter Zoltan Mesko returns for a fourth season after seeing a dip in his net punting to 37.9 yards, although he was able to put 47 percent of his kicks inside the 20.
The Patriots added veteran return man Leon Washington to improve what had been a stagnant return game. Washington shares the NFL record for career kickoff returns for TDs with eight and averaged 29 yards per return with the Seahawks last season.
Final Analysis: 1st in AFC East
The keys for the Patriots to challenge for a Super Bowl title will be to get production out of a revamped wide receiver corps and for the pass defense to make major strides. Brady is still one of the most efficient and dangerous quarterbacks in the game, and the offensive line, running backs and tight end are all known quantities from last season’s dominating offense. If Amendola and Gronkowski can both stay healthy and one of the rookie wideouts can emerge, the Patriots should put up over 30 points per game again. Defensively, having Talib for a full season and starting Devin McCourty as a full-time safety rather than moving him around should stabilize what has been a glaring weakness for a few years. Adding a pass-rush specialist and two defensive backs in the early rounds of the draft demonstrates the team’s concern about its pass defense.
Can Brady and Belichick capture that elusive fourth Super Bowl ring? They will not be a preseason favorite, but they should be in the mix once again next January.
Order your 2013 New England Patriots Athlon Sports NFL Preview magazine here
2013 Athlon Sports NFL Team Previews:
|AFC East||AFC North||AFC South||AFC West|
|NY Jets||Pittsburgh||Tennessee||San Diego|
|NFC East||NFC North||NFC South||NFC West|
|NY Giants||Detroit||Carolina||St. Louis|
|Philadelphia||Green Bay||New Orleans||San Francisco (9/3)|
Ole Miss running back Jeff Scott ran 75 yards for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter to beat Vanderbilt 39-35 in an exciting season opener. Ole Miss fans reactions ran the gamut of emotions: stunned open-armed shock, mild clapping, and (our favorite) a guy dancing what appears to be a jig.
Washington has a huge game against Boise State on Saturday night, and it appears the Huskies will be without one of their top weapons. According to Adam Jude of The Seattle Times, tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins will be suspended for the opener.
The junior pled guilty to a drunk driving charge in July and was forced to pay a $695 fine and spend one night in jail. Seferian-Jenkins will be missed against Boise State, especially after he caught six passes for 61 yards and one touchdown in the bowl loss to the Broncos.
In his first two years at Washington, Seferian-Jenkins caught 110 passes for 1,390 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Seferian-Jenkins is the No. 1 tight end in college football, and his suspension is a huge blow to a Washington offense that hopes to get back on track after finishing ninth in the Pac-12 in scoring offense last year.
BREAKING: UW's Austin Seferian-Jenkins suspended for opener vs. Boise State, The Seattle Times has learned: http://t.co/zIJQfGJGX4— Adam Jude (@A_Jude) August 30, 2013
The new Big East has a leg up on other basketball leagues that don’t have major college football. That’s clear. Georgetown, Villanova, Marquette, St. John’s and even Butler and Xavier are established basketball brands.
The resumes of the league's coaches, though, may be a bit lacking compared to the ACC, Big Ten and Big 12.
Only two Big East coaches have a Final Four appearance, and neither claimed the top spot in our league coach rankings. That honor belongs to Buzz Williams.
The Marquette coach is accomplished as anyone during the last three seasons, but he has a grand total of eight NCAA Tournament wins in his career.
Beyond Williams and mainstays Jay Wright at Villanova and John Thompson III at Georgetown, there’s an interesting dynamic to watch in the reformed league. Steve Lavin and Ed Cooley have rebuilt their programs in the shadow of Louisville and Syracuse, and now could be poised to take a major step up in a league without a clear power program on top.
Doug McDermott and Chris Mack have accomplished much at the Missouri Valley and Atlantic 10 levels, but the day-to-day competition will be improved in their new conferences (at least on days when they’re not facing DePaul).
*A few things to note as we are ranking coaches: We are attempting to look at the whole package of gameday acumen, recruiting, player development, and regular-season and postseason success. We are also keeping in mind a coach’s career trajectory.
And now, on to the debate. Feel free to chime in at @AthlonSports on Twitter or Athlon Sports on Facebook.
Other conference coach rankings: ACC | American | Big 12
1. Buzz Williams, Marquette
Record at Marquette: 122-54 overall (.693), 60-30 Big East (.667)
NCAA Tournament: 8-5
Buzz Williams’ name keeps getting thrown out for other major jobs, but the stat-minded Texan is doing just fine in Milwaukee. Marquette is one of only four teams to reach the Sweet 16 in each of the last three seasons, joining Florida, Kansas and Ohio State. And he’s done this without the benefit of McDonald’s All-Americans. And despite the departure of Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom before last season, Marquette won a share of the Big East title.
2. John Thompson III, Georgetown
Record at Georgetown: 209-89 overall (.701), 99-57 (.635)
NCAA Tournament: 8-9, one Final Four
Thompson’s tenure at Georgetown has been marred by early NCAA Tournament exits, but consider three of the last five teams that knocked the Hoyas out of the Tournament: Florida Gulf Coast, a Final Four-bound VCU and a Stephen Curry-led Davidson. Thompson’s career shouldn’t be defined by those exits. Georgetown surprised last season by winning a share of the Big East title, the third time the Hoyas have won the regular-season championship under Thompson.
3. Jay Wright, Villanova
Record at Villanova: 257-144 overall (.641), 114-90 Big East (.559)
NCAA Tournament: 12-10, one Final Four
Villanova bounced back from a losing 2011-12 season by going 20-14 overall and 10-8 in the Big East last year. The Wildcats aren't competing at the same level as they were in the late 2000s, but they’re showing signs of getting back. Villanova defeated each of the Big East’s tri-champs (Louisville, Marquette and Georgetown) at least once last season plus Syracuse. Wright also has a point guard in Ryan Arcidiacono who is poised to be one of the league’s breakout stars. After reaching the NCAA Tournament in eight of the last nine seasons, 2011-12 was an aberration.
4. Chris Mack, Xavier
Record (all at Xavier): 90-44 overall (.672), 48-16 Atlantic 10 (.750)
NCAA Tournament: 4-3
This could be a critical season for Mack’s momentum at Xavier. A Cincinnati and Xavier product through and through, Mack led Xavier to A-10 titles in his first two seasons and to the Sweet 16 twice in his first three seasons. With a depleted roster, Xavier slipped to 17-14 last season. The Musketeers have a potential All-American in sophomore Semaj Christon, so Mack should expect to return to form in his fifth season.
5. Steve Lavin, St. John’s
Record at St. John’s: 51-47 overall (.520), 26-28 Big East (.481)
NCAA Tournament: 11-7
Lavin’s record technically includes the majority of the 2011-12 season when he missed all but the first four games while recovering from successful treatment for prostate cancer. The Red Storm’s record with Lavin on the bench is 20-17 in the Big East. Beyond the record, Lavin has brought momentum back to St. John’s. Lavin took a veteran team to the NCAA Tournament in 2011, but he has replenished the program with standout recruiting classes in recent years. St. John’s should be a consistent contender in the new Big East.
6. Greg McDermott, Creighton
Record at Creighton: 80-30 overall (.727), 37-17 Missouri Valley (.685)
NCAA Tournament: 2-5
McDermott may be best suited as a mid-major coach. There’s no shame in that, but it will be interesting to see how he and Creighton perform in the new Big East, especially once his son Doug McDermott is gone. Greg has an 86-58 all-time conference record as a Missouri Valley coach at Northern Iowa and Creighton compared to 18-46 against the Big 12 while at Iowa State. He’s the big question for McDermott: Will the level of competition in the new Big East be closer to the MVC or the Big 12?
7. Ed Cooley, Providence
Record at Providence: 34-32 overall (.515), 13-23 Big East (.361)
NCAA Tournament: None
The Rhode Island-born Cooley has coached in the Northeast most of his career, and may be the perfect fit in returning Providence to contention. The Friars improved from 4-14 in the Big East in his first to 9-9 in his second, and that was without one of his top recruits, Ricky Ledo. This season could end a decade-long absence from the NCAA Tournament for the Friars.
8. Kevin Willard, Seton Hall
Record at Seton Hall: 49-49 overall (.500), 18-36 Big East (.333)
NCAA Tournament: None
Willard’s rebuilding job at Seton Hall hit a snag last season as the Pirates went 3-15 in the league after an NIT appearance a season earlier. We know Willard can rebuild — Iona went 2-28 the year before he arrived and 21-10 four years later. He hopes he’s a point guard away from getting closer to .500 in the league.
9. Brandon Miller, Butler
Record: First season
Given Butler’s track record of hiring coaches, we wouldn’t be shocked if Miller quickly moved up the rankings, even if duplicating Brad Stevens’ run would be an impossible task. Miller took a year away from college basketball two seasons ago, but Butler knows what it’s getting in its new coach. He’s an alum who coached at Butler and under a former Bulldogs coach Thad Matta at Ohio State.
10. Oliver Purnell, DePaul
Record at DePaul: 30-64 overall (.319), 6-50 Big East (.107)
NCAA Tournament record: 0-6
Programs know what they get with Purnell. He’s taken over rough situations at Radford, Old Dominion, Dayton and Clemson. He’s made them competitive in their respective leagues. Then he takes the next rebuilding job. DePaul, though, may be a job too difficult to salvage. The only hope is that the new Big East will be more forgiving than the last one for the Blue Demons.
Like it or not, Las Vegas rarely gets it wrong, so tracking betting lines should always be a big part of each football weekend — even if there are no bets on the line.
Whether you condone gambling or not, think of it as becoming a more informed fan.
Week 1 of the college football season offers some unique opportunities, however, as the lines will be further “off” this weekend than at any other point of the season. This is the weekend to make moves — if done correctly.
2013 Record Against the Spread: 0-0
Week 1 Picks of the Week:
Florida State (-10) at Pitt
The Noles are breaking in a new quarterback in redshirt freshman Jameis Winston in primetime on Labor Day night. He will make mistakes, but this defense is BCS national title good and the skill around Winston on offense is elite. Pitt is headed in the right direction but Florida State is not just a cut above the Panthers, but maybe two or three tiers better. Take the Noles and end your weekend with victory. Pick: Florida State -10
Alabama (-19.5) vs. Virginia Tech
If your favorite team has a quarterback who is desperately lacking in confidence, an offensive line that is totally reworked, it lacks a true running game and has reworked the offensive coaching staff, what is the last thing you’d want to do on opening night? Yup, play the Alabama defense as the Crimson Tide begin to defend both of their BCS National Championships. Good luck, Hokies. Pick: Alabama -19.5
LSU (-4) vs. TCU
TCU might be the best-coached team in the Big 12. It might have the best quarterback in the Big 12. And it has the best defense in the Big 12. But that doesn’t mean it can compete with one of the SEC’s most physical and talented squads. And without the best player in its league, defensive end Davonte Fields, TCU will be hard-pressed to compete in the trenches for four quarters. This one is close for 45 minutes with LSU’s physicality extending the score in the final frame. Pick: LSU -4
Washington State (+14.5) at Auburn
Auburn was dead last in plays per game on offense last year nationally and fans can expect a huge increase with Gus Malzahn running the show now. Washington State struggles to run the ball and, while they should be improved across the board, will be badly outmatched in always-hostile Jordan-Hare Stadium. Look for Nick Marshall to have a coming out party against one of the Pac-12’s worst defenses. Pick: Auburn -14.5
FIU (+21) at Maryland
The Terps showed marked improvement last year in Randy Edsall's second season — and that was with their fifth-string QB starting. This team should be healthier and dramatically improved on both sides of the ball this year. FIU is missing some key playmakers and is picked to finish last in the C-USA East. Take the Terps to roll big. Pick: Maryland -21
Underdogs I like this weekend:
Ohio (+21) at Louisville
UL Monroe (+21) at Oklahoma
Toledo (+23) at Florida
UL Lafayette (+10.5) at Arkansas
Top 25 Picks Against the Spread:
Note: games with FCS opponents won't be included each week
|Top 25 Games||Mitch Light||Braden Gall||Steven Lassan||David Fox|
|No. 1 Alabama (-18.5) vs. Virginia Tech*|
|Buffalo (+34.5) at No. 2 Ohio State|
|No. 5 Georgia (-1.5) at (8) Clemson|
|Rice (+26.5) at No. 7 Texas A&M|
|Ohio (+21) at No. 9 Louisville|
|Toledo (+23.5) at No. 10 Florida|
|No. 11 Florida State (-10) at Pitt|
|No. 12 LSU (-4) vs. No. 20 TCU*|
|Mississippi St (+13) vs. No. 13 Oklahoma St*|
|Temple (+29.5) at No. 14 Notre Dame|
|New Mexico St (+42) at No. 15 Texas|
|UL Monroe (+21) at No. 16 Oklahoma|
|Central Michigan (+31) at No. 17 Michigan|
|Wyoming (+29) at No. 18 Nebraska|
|No. 19 Boise St (+3.5) at Washington|
|Nevada (+21) at No. 21 UCLA|
|No. 22 Northwestern (-5.5) at Cal|
|UMass (+44.5) at No. 23 Wisconsin|
* - neutral field
The NFL season is right around the corner, which means it’s almost time for everyone’s real favorite sport — fantasy football. It takes a strong draft, savvy free-agent eye and a little luck to win your league. But it just takes an off-color Aaron Hernandez murder trial reference or some other well-crafted joke to take the title belt for best fantasy football team name. Here’s our list of suggestions for 2013:
Dirty Sanchez Butt-Fumblers
Vladimir Putin’s Bling Ring
The Gronk Abides
Hernandez Hit Men
Duped by a Doper
Jersey Exchange Program
Zombie Al Davis
Smokin’ Jay Cutler
Purple Jesus Juice
All Day 2K
J.J. S.W.A.T.T. Team
Eli Looking at Things
Waka Flacco Flame
Butt-Fumbling Foot Fetishers
Jason Garrett’s Ginger Boys
Monte Kiffin’s 401K
Super Bowl Quadruple-Check
Don Beebe’s Hustle
Pray for Mojo
J-Ville RedZone Channel
12th Man Records
Mr. UGGs Boots
RG3’s Wedding Registry
RGIII 4 POTUS
No More Norv
Cry Me a Rivers
Peyton Manning’s 5-Head
Mile High Manning
52 Problems But Big Ben Ain’t One
The Real Chip Shady
Chip Let the Dogs Out
Injured Head & Shoulders
Rolando McClain Mugshots
What You Talkin’ Bout Patrick
Big P-Willie Style
Andy Retread Regime
Somewhere Over Dwayne Bowe
Suh Girls, One Cup
Boy Named Suh
More Bang For Lang’s Buck
Turn Your Head and Coughlin
Vince Young’s Steakhouse
Jeff Fisher’s Son’s Friends
How My Skittles Taste
Mr. Kerry Washington
Polk High Panthers
JaMarcus’ Purple Drank Diet
Jim Haslem’s Accountants
Illiterate Read Option
I Pitta the Fool
Forgetting Brandon Marshall
Ron Mexico’s Perro
It’s Always Runny in Philadelphia
Contact us on twitter with a link or a tip we should include each day. (@AthlonSteven)
College Football's Must-Read Stories Around the Web for Thursday, August 29th
Sports Illustrated's Andy Staples says the NCAA would be better off letting Johnny Manziel play than enforce the letter of the law.
Texas A&M may turn to Kenny Hill as its starting quarterback (at least for a half) over Matt Joeckel. Here's an interesting backstory on the freshman quarterback.
The Wall Street Journal has an awesome graphic on college football's grid of shame.
Saturday Down South looks at the most-improved players in the SEC for 2013. And a look at the SEC's toughest venues.
Alex Collins has garnered plenty of preseason attention, but Jonathan Williams is still the starter for Arkansas.
Miami has some intriguing options to rush the passer this year.
Bryce Petty is ready for assume the reins for Baylor's offense.
James White will start at running back for Wisconsin, but Melvin Gordon is going to receive plenty of carries. Bucky's 5th Quarter also takes a look at the Badgers' defense in 2013.
Nebraska plans to redshirt a running back that was in the mix for playing time this fall.
Maryland coach Randy Edsall isn't happy with his backup quarterbacks.
Ohio State has moved an offensive lineman to the defensive side to help with depth.
Cincinnati opens the Tommy Tuberville era with a tough matchup against Purdue. But the Bearcats will break out a new helmet for Saturday’s game, choosing to ditch their traditional black scheme for a white version.
Check out the helmets Cincinnati will wear this Saturday:
Cincinnati will wear this white helmet for Saturday's season opener: pic.twitter.com/T8662Rxs8j— Paul Lukas (@UniWatch) August 29, 2013
Mississippi State has a tough opener in Houston against Oklahoma State this Saturday. The Bulldogs are a double-digit underdog for this week’s game and need a big game from quarterback Tyler Russell to beat the Cowboys.
Mississippi State will wear a new helmet for Saturday’s game, which was unveiled through coach Dan Mullen’s twitter account this week: