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This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for September 2:
• Even after a relentless media campaign, 71 percent of Americans think the Redskins should stay the Redskins.
• All us hackers can take a little sadistic pleasure in Billy Horschel's ill-timed chunk at the Deutsche Bank.
• Grantland dissects the tabloid story of the weekend (no, not the celebrity nude photo hack).
• "Singer" Iggy Azalea, girlfriend to Laker Nick "Swaggy P" Young, shows that she's got a little game.
• The Phillies tossed a combined no-hitter yesterday and gave the game ball to the team president, who's battling cancer.
• Louisville's Corvin Lamb put an exclamation point on Week 1 in college football with an electrifying kickoff return against Miami.
--Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
The Seattle Seahawks may be the defending Super Bowl champions, but parity reigns supreme in the NFL. Don’t believe me? The past five Super Bowls have featured 10 different teams. Last season, 11 teams won 10 or more games, while 12 accomplished this feat in 2012. Only six teams reached the 10-win plateau in both seasons, meaning 17 different teams have posted double-digit victories in the past two years. There’s also this handy graphic from last season.
No matter how you define it, parity appears to be one of the factors that are shaping the league. So in the spirit of the NFL also meaning “Not For Long,” here are five teams that enjoyed success last season that could end up taking a step or two backwards this fall.
2013 Record: 10-6 (missed playoffs)
Green Bay won the NFC North with an 8-7-1 mark while a 10-6 Arizona team was left out of the playoffs. That’s what happens when you play in the NFC West, the NFL’s toughest division and home to the reigning Super Bowl champions. The Cardinals actually upgraded their offensive line in the offseason, a major need, but it’s what has happened on the other side of the ball that has me concerned about Bruce Arians’ team.
Linebacker Karlos Dansby, the team’s best defender, left as a free agent, while Daryl Washington was suspended for all of 2014 by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell for another violation of the league’s substance-abuse policy. John Abraham, another linebacker and the team leader in sacks in 2013, also could end up facing league discipline following another alcohol-related incident over the summer. The biggest blow of all, however, came in the middle of training camp when Pro Bowl defensive end Darnell Dockett tore the ACL in his right knee, ending his season before it started.
Dansby’s loss was going to be hard enough to overcome, but couple that with Dockett’s season-ending injury as well as Washington and Abraham’s off-field woes, and this defense looks considerably different than the one that finished sixth overall in yards allowed last season. Even though the offense may be improved, it doesn’t change the fact that Arizona is working with a short-handed defense, resides in the NFC West and must deal with a schedule that includes crossover games against the AFC West. All of this doesn’t bode well for a team that won 10 games last year and still missed the playoffs.
2013 Record: 12-4 (NFC South champions, lost to San Francisco 23-10 in Divisional Round)
Carolina went from 7-9 in 2012 to 12-4 and NFC South champions last season. The Panthers accomplished this impressive turnaround thanks to the league’s No. 2-ranked defense, an MVP-caliber performance from Cam Newton and an aggressive, risk-taking mindset that started at the top with head coach Ron Rivera. Despite the disappointing home playoff loss to the 49ers to end the season, the Panthers appeared to be a team on the rise. Then the offseason came.
Several key players departed as free agents and stalwart left tackle Jordan Gross retired. Carolina brought in some new faces through both free agency and the draft, but this still remains a team with plenty of question marks. Not a single wide receiver on the roster caught a pass for the Panthers last season, putting a ton of pressure on first-round pick Kelvin Benjamin and the veterans that were added. The offensive line also is in a state of flux and one of the stingiest defenses must replace two starters in the secondary.
There’s still plenty of talent on the roster, starting with Newton and linebacker Luke Kuechly, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, but in many ways this is not the same team that held off New Orleans for the top spot in the division last season. Speaking of the Saints, they should be among the NFC’s top teams yet again, while Atlanta figures to be better if for any other reason expected better health. And don’t forget about Tampa Bay, a team that’s made plenty of changes, starting with new head coach Lovie Smith.
Repeating as division champs was going to be a tough task for Carolina regardless. However, the personnel losses and the likelihood that the NFC South will be much more competitive this season only adds to the challenge that’s facing Rivera’s team. One-year wonder may not be a fair descriptor for the Panthers, but that’s how it could end up looking in the win-loss column.
2013 Record: 11-5 (AFC South champions, lost to New England 43-22 in Divisional Round)
Hear me out. I am not saying that Indianapolis will free-fall to the bottom of its division. Nor am I saying that the Colts won’t win their second straight AFC South crown. What I am saying, however, is that this is not a team without its share of warts and don’t discount the idea that the three other teams in the division won’t all be better this season.
Andrew Luck alone gives Indianapolis an enormous advantage over the rest of the AFC South. He’s proved that he belongs among the elite starting quarterbacks in the NFL and a worthy successor to Peyton Manning’s Colts legacy. Luck (just like Manning) can’t do it alone, however, and even with the healthy return of wide receiver Reggie Wayne and tight end Dwayne Allen, along with the addition of wideout Hakeem Nicks, this offense still has question marks when it comes to running back and the offensive line. Inconsistency has characterized the former position, while injuries have already impacted the latter. Don’t forget Luck was sacked 32 times last season.
Then there’s the defense. The Colts may have won 11 games last season, but the defense gave up 87 points and more than 900 yards in two playoff games. On top of that, Pro Bowl safety Antoine Bethea is now in San Francisco, All-Pro linebacker Robert Mathis is suspended for the first four games, and little impact should be expected from this year’s defensive draft class.
No one’s mistaking Houston, Jacksonville or Tennessee as Super Bowl contenders this season, but the Colts should expect more resistance from their divisional peers. That combined with a tough schedule that includes crossover games against the AFC North as well as matchups with Denver and New England could translate into a few less wins for Luck and company.
Kansas City Chiefs
2013 Record: (11-5, lost to Indianapolis 45-44 in AFC Wild Card)
All Andy Reid did was take a Kansas City team that went 2-14 in 2012 and turn it into an 11-5 playoff participant that featured dynamic playmakers on both sides of the ball. To that end, All-Pro running back Jamaal Charles signed a contract extension in July and the defense features a Pro Bowler on each level. So what’s not to like about the Chiefs this season?
For starters, the offensive line will be practically new, as three starters left in free agency, including left tackle Branden Albert. Eric Fisher, 2013’s No. 1 overall pick, remains, but injuries impacted his rookie campaign and the jury is still out on how effective he will be as a pro. Two other linemen will miss the first four games of the season due to NFL suspensions. With a lack of playmakers at wide receiver, Kansas City relies heavily on Charles and the running game and at best, the offensive line figures to be a work in progress.
The defense is largely intact, but after dominating the opposition the first half of the season, this unit regressed dramatically the rest of the way. The low point to the decline came in the form of the 45 points and 513 yards surrendered to Indianapolis in the one-point Wild Card loss in which Kansas City coughed up a 38-10 lead in the third quarter. Again, there’s plenty of talent in place, but is this unit the one that wreaked havoc early or gave up nearly 30 points per game over the final eight contests?
And last, but certainly not least, there’s the schedule. Last season, Kansas City feasted on the AFC South and NFC East, two of the weaker divisions. This fall, while the AFC East is still top-heavy with New England leading the way, the NFC West is another story entirely. That’s a big reason why the Chiefs are playing the seventh-toughest slate in the league and another reason why I think Reid’s team will be hard-pressed to get back to double-digit wins.
San Diego Chargers
2013 Record: 9-7 (Lost to Denver 24-17 in AFC Divisional Round)
Mike McCoy snapped San Diego’s three-year playoff drought in his first season at the helm, a turnaround fueled by an impressive bounce-back season from Philip Rivers. With Rivers re-establishing himself as a franchise quarterback and Chuck Pagano overseeing a young and improving defense, the Chargers have the appearance of a team on the upswing.
However, let’s not forget that San Diego needed a four-game winning streak in December and help from some other teams (and perhaps the officials depending on whom you ask) to sneak into the playoffs in the first place. The Chargers can’t count on the same lucky bounces and breaks, if you will, again this season. The defense also isn’t without its weaknesses, particularly stopping the pass and pressuring the quarterback. Remember, San Diego has to play Denver twice and also will face New England this fall.
And besides the Broncos and the Patriots, the Chiefs also have the 49ers, Cardinals, Rams and Seahawks on tap. So not only does San Diego have the privilege of playing the defending Super Bowl champions and the reigning AFC top dog, it also gets the two other teams that played in their respective conference title games, another that won 10 games last season and a team that should boast one of the NFL’s toughest defenses this season. And that doesn’t include the Chiefs (play twice), Ravens or Jets.
Hopefully McCoy and the Chargers enjoyed their honeymoon season, because Year 2 may not produce as many positive results, at least as far as the win column goes.
Every Saturday night, Athlon Sports’ Braden Gall hosts The Scoreboard Show on SiriusXM College Sports Nation, Ch. 91. Every Tuesday, Athlon Sports will feature his take on the national conversation from fans to players to coaches. Follow the conversation from College Sports Nation hosts on Twitter using the hashtag #section91.
Everybody is overrated.
Alabama and Florida State looked beatable. Ohio State looked average. UCLA has a nasty defense and a star QB but not much else.
Auburn looked like, well, Auburn. The Tigers were unstoppable on offense no matter who played quarterback but the defense still has some major holes, no matter how many miracles defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson works at halftime this year.
The first weekend of the year is an eye-opening experience for the college football world. True freshmen are thrown into the deep end against grown men and told not only to swim, but to excel. New coaches get their first taste of battle in a new zip code with totally new players. And, most especially, six months of media prognostication is erased with 60 minutes of football, right?
After all that, let's not go crazy after one weekend.
That doesn't mean we didn't learn a few interesting things: Does Wisconsin have major issues at quarterback — and apparently a lack of communication about injuries? Does UCLA need to address the supporting cast for Brett Hundley, the nation's most sacked QB the last two years? And South Carolina? What was that?
But when the final whistle blew on Week 1, what was different? Again, the only real change of expectations is for South Carolina and Texas A&M.
All those teams that, according to the commentary Saturday night and Sunday, you would have believed had lost by more than three touchdowns? They all won. Except South Carolina.
I will be the first to admit I was shocked by the performance of Steve Spurrier — the same Head Ball Coach who was 22-0 in season openers as an SEC coach — at home against a team missing three first-round draft picks, including the most productive player per game in SEC history. Something tells me, however, the Gamecocks are going to bounce back.
Georgia coach Mark Richt made clear after the 45-21 win over Clemson he is preparing for a different South Carolina team in two weeks.
"They are going to hear about all of their flaws and we are going to hear about how good we are for a couple of weeks.” Richt told me on SiriusXM Satellite Radio. “They are going to be mad."
But the Bulldogs were still Athlon Sports predicted winner in the SEC East and were ranked No. 8 in the nation. After one week, I'm not going to lie, we can't help but feel better about that pick.
SiriusXM's Eddie George is a believer now, too.
"Everyone looked beatable,” George said on air. “With the exception of one team: Georgia."
I don't disagree, but the basic assumption that Georgia is the only team that looked unbeatable seems comical since the season is less than six percent over. Although, the Bulldogs appear to have increased the list of SEC title contenders from two to three (Alabama, Auburn).
But other than that, what exactly is different after Week 1? How deep do we want to dig into the standings?
Vanderbilt has major issues. Tennessee looks solid. Oklahoma State might be more of a Big 12 threat than anticipated. Oregon State might be better than Washington. Arizona looks dangerous in the South.
But when it comes to the College Football Playoff, what has changed?
Alabama is still the frontrunner to win the SEC West as it got decent QB play and held West Virginia to 28 yards rushing. Florida State is still the frontrunner in the ACC as Jameis Winston still posted nearly 400 yards of offense.
Ohio State still looks a step behind Michigan State in the Big Ten East but appears to be developing a lot talented playmakers in Dontre Wilson, Curtis Samuel and Ezekiel Elliott. UCLA is still my pick to win the Pac-12 South. And Auburn could be so unstoppable on offense it might be the top rated non-league champ vying for a Playoff spot at the end of the year.
This speaks nothing of conference frontrunners and popular College Football Playoff favorites Oregon, Stanford, Michigan State, Oklahoma and Baylor — all of which dominated like true top 10 teams.
The lesson after Week 1 is don’t overact. Don’t try to project the most unpredictable 60 minutes of college football into grand sweeping philosophical changes about what the 2014 season will look like.
Each week, I get a chance to sit down with some of the day’s biggest names. Here is what our Saturday conversation sounded like this weekend:
JT Barrett, QB, Ohio State
The Ohio State passer was thrust into the fire and showed his inexperience at times. But he knew his role and that was to get the ball to the playmakers and “not do anything too crazy.”
Mark Richt, Georgia
The Bulldogs outlasted Clemson in impressive fashion on Saturday evening Between the Hedges. Richt attributed that to his team’s excellent conditioning and Jeremy Pruitt’s halftime adjustments.
Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama
The star wideout for Bama had a career day, catching 12 passes for 130 yards in the win over West Virginia. But how did he grade quarterback Blake Sims’ debut? “I’d give him an A-plus.”
Kenny Hilliard, RB, LSU
The burly tailback spearheaded a furious second-half comeback against Wisconsin late on Saturday night. He gives his offensive line and Anthony Jennings all of the credit.
Chris Klieman, North Dakota State
One of the more entertaining stories of Week 1 was the Bison’s upset of Iowa State on the road. Klieman, making his coaching debut, understands there is a tradition of winning at North Dakota State that he is trying to continue.
NASCAR’s new Chase format was designed to make the regular season finale a “can’t miss” on anyone’s calendar. With 16 postseason slots available, chances are at least one would be available at Richmond, and with any driver inside the top 30 Chase eligible under the rules, one upset victory is all it would take to shuffle up the final drivers in the field.
So why, in the moments following Kasey Kahne’s upset victory, did the balloon seem to pop on Sunday night? Kyle Larson said his Chase chances were “pretty much over… unless we win” at Richmond. Only two spots — currently held by Ryan Newman and Greg Biffle — are left available and either one would need a catastrophe, some type of flat tire or mechanical failure, to fall outside the 16-driver field. In fact, only two — Larson and Clint Bowyer — can overtake them on points this Saturday night.
Sure, some driver 24th in the standings can catch lightning in a bottle and win at Richmond. (Larson did take the pole in the spring). But do you really see a Casey Mears, where a top 10 is a good day for his single-car team, suddenly shocking the field? How about a Marcos Ambrose or a Paul Menard, neither of whom have won a short track race in their Cup careers?
Therefore, the best hopes to shake up the field lie with Larson and Bowyer. But Bowyer, on the one-year anniversary of “Spingate,” seems to have had karma come back around, as a broken shifter in Atlanta took him out of the Chase grid on points. So in a surprising turn of events, the field seems set — to the point Richmond could be … shall I say… run-of-the-mill?
It’s a short-term gain for NASCAR that Kahne’s thrilling two-lap dash to the finish at Atlanta raised eyebrows. Just don’t expect the ticket sellers at Richmond to be sending his team any thank you cards.
“Through The Gears,” post-Atlanta, we go …
FIRST GEAR: Kahne is able at Atlanta
Kasey Kahne has to be breathing easy just one week after his career low with Hendrick Motorsports. Screaming over the radio at Bristol, one of the longest driver-crew chief partnerships on the Cup circuit appeared to be broken to pieces. Handling problems, which doomed his Thunder Valley effort, despite leading a small chunk of the race, eventually put Kahne many laps down; a broken right front wheel sent him behind the wall. Losing valuable points to Clint Bowyer and others, it appeared the Chase was a long shot, at best. How does a team — one with just two top-5 finishes — with the backing of the strongest and deepest organization in the sport explain missing the postseason?
For Kahne to turn right around, putting together one of his finest performances at Atlanta was a gutsy effort. Crew chief Kenny Francis, with perfect strategy, got the No. 5 car out front at the race’s penultimate caution via fuel-only stop with fresh enough tires where clean air could hold off a dominant Kevin Harvick. Then, the driver had to take center stage, surviving not one but two green-white-checker finishes where one final pit stop left him stuck in traffic.
“I just kept telling myself, ‘Do not spin the tires. Whatever you do, coming up second and third gear, don’t spin the tires, just take your time on the throttle. And if you do that, you’re going to have a great opportunity here.’”
The first restart was fortuitous for Kahne, as Harvick got wrecked while the No. 5 Chevy slid to third in the running order using the inside line on a night where the outer groove was toast. He was able to build momentum from there, sneaking through the middle on a second G-W-C restart and wheeling door-to-door, pedal-to-the-floor, with Matt Kenseth until the No. 20 car finally relented.
“That was a race-winning move,” said owner Rick Hendrick, who now has all four cars in the Chase. “Just glad to see these guys have some good luck. They have had a tough year. … Something about Kasey when the sun goes down on a mile-and-a-half track.”
Whatever it is, the knack for intermediates has Kahne back in the playoffs once again. And while a Final Four slot may be a bit of a stretch, keep in mind his three HMS teammates are all favorites to win the series title. Can Kahne shock us all in November? Probably not. But I’d be shocked if he’s eliminated before the Elite Eight.
SECOND GEAR: Stewart’s roller coaster return
No mention of Atlanta could go by without discussing Tony Stewart’s return to racing. After three weeks off following the tragic death of sprint car driver Kevin Ward Jr., Stewart made a prepared statement on Friday, one in which he looked ready to burst into tears before stepping into his Sprint Cup machine. Multiple shows of support ensued, from random crew members hugging it out at the No. 14 hauler to a heartfelt, unrelenting show of written support from Bass Pro Shops owner Johnny Morris.
All those words may mean nothing when the Ontario County, N.Y., investigation concludes, a matter that’s not expected to subside for at least another two-to-three weeks. From that point on, the simple act of explaining himself allowed Stewart to return to racing. He had some special incentive, too, armed with a controversial special exemption from NASCAR that would allow him in the Chase with a victory at Atlanta or Richmond.
Unfortunately for the No. 14 bunch, Atlanta wasn’t the place to cash in, as contact from Kyle Busch was followed by a blown right-front tire which ultimately shelved his evening. Stewart’s quest for redemption must now wait for Richmond, but more than likely he’ll be on the outside looking in on the Chase.
“It’s really good to have him back,” crew chief Chad Johnston said, despite the 41st-place showing.
It was a sentiment felt by all.
THIRD GEAR: Danica’s career night
For some, a sixth-place effort is just another week. But for a slumping sophomore? It means the world, and then some. NASCAR’s “First Lady” of Sprint Cup navigated beautifully through a series of late wrecks, using track position, tires and a quick pit crew to work her way as high as fourth for the final restart. While missing out on a top-5 finish after sliding back, the run was still one of the most consistent Danica Patrick has put together all year.
“Man, that race felt like it was 700 miles,” she said afterwards. “Sometimes, when you are running well they feel like that because you are hoping it stays there, keeps going well, and you keep improving and don’t lose it.”
The run now gives Patrick two career top-10 Cup finishes on intermediate tracks. That bodes well for upcoming trips to Chicagoland, Charlotte and Kansas — all tracks where this run can translate. Team co-owner Stewart’s return was a boost to the program, along with Tony Gibson’s gentle push on the radio. While Patrick needed two “Lucky Dogs” early, she is developing a habit of being at her best during a race’s final segment. Should Patrick get better — say, within the first 100 laps — there’s a shot she’ll have plenty more finishes like these.
TALIAFERRO | Kahne grabs Chase bid; Richmond showdown set
FOURTH GEAR: Harvick’s troubling take
Kevin Harvick led 195 laps and dominated the race only to see it end in disaster. A late stop left him back in the pack, butchered by the fuel only strategy call that put Kasey Kahne out front. But a series of poor pit stops — compared to Joe Gibbs Racing — also cost the No. 4 car track position at every turn. It’s a phenomenon Harvick couldn’t keep quiet about as the TV booth buzzed (correctly) about the different, in-house manufactured air guns utilized by JGR that are saving its three-car operation up to a second’s worth of time on pit road.
“Our cars are really fast and doing all the things we need to do but we lost control every time we came to pit road tonight,” Harvick said. “I thought we had that better but we got just absolutely murdered on pit road every time we came down by the 11 (Denny Hamlin) and the 20 (Matt Kenseth). Those guys are obviously doing a good job and we have known that all year and need to fix it.”
Harvick’s momentum, so critical for a first-year team, suffered a major blow instead of a third win. While Richmond is historically one of Harvick’s best tracks (three wins, 11.3-place average finish in 27 Cup starts), is the Bob Knight coaching method necessary from a driver trying to “set his pit crew straight”? I still maintain that the crew itself, if not properly adjusted or set on the same page as Harvick, could rebel against its own driver at some point during the Chase.
Kyle Busch, whose incident with Martin Truex Jr. brought out the caution flag with two laps left, could not have had a worse month of August. In summary: blown engine, wreck, wreck, wreck, wreck. Tumbling to 17th in points, he obviously doesn’t believe in momentum pre-Chase and has made a lot of enemies in just the last few weeks. Truex, who he tangled with at Watkins Glen, leaned in Busch’s window after the race while several drivers who lost positions (and cars) on the green-white-checker ending could indirectly blame Busch. … Ty Dillon should be commended on a respectable Cup debut, running 25th, three laps off the pace. Future races this season have not been announced but owner Richard Childress envisions a limited Cup schedule in 2015. … Atlanta’s attendance appeared up from last year but that boost could be short-lived. NASCAR is moving the race date to its second weekend of the year in 2015, one where it could easily still be snowing in northern Georgia.
Follow Tom Bowles on Twitter: @NASCARBowles
Photos by Action Sports, Inc.
With today's announcement of the captains' picks, the teams are finalized, and the buildup to golf's most pressure-packed event can begin in earnest. After a miracle comeback at the Ryder Cup Matches at Medinah in 2012, Europe is the prohibitive favorite to retain the Cup on home turf, as Tom Watson takes a shorthanded American team to Scotland for the most pressure-packed event in golf. Can a U.S. team led by crafty veteran Phil Mickelson and young gun Rickie Fowler upset a European powerhouse led by four-time major champion Rory McIlroy and Ryder Cup maestro Sergio Garcia?
Today, European captain Paul McGinley put the finishing touches on his team with the selection of Ian Poulter, Lee Westwood and Scot Stephen Gallacher, a Ryder Cup rookie who will delight the partisans at Gleneagles. Tom Watson countered with Keegan Bradley, who had a successful pairing with Phil Mickelson in 2012 at Medinah, along with Barclays winner Hunter Mahan and 2012 U.S. Open winner Webb Simpson. So, at last, here are the respective 12-man teams making the trip to Scotland:
Tom Watson, Captain
Raymond Floyd and Andy North, Vice Captains
Ryder Cup Record: 3-1-0
Ryder Cup Record: 0-1-2
Ryder Cup Record: 9-17-4
Ryder Cup Record: 6-4-1
Ryder Cup Record: 3-2-2
Ryder Cup Record: 3-2-3
Ryder Cup Record: 14-18-6
Ryder Cup Record: First appearance
Ryder Cup Record: 2-2
Ryder Cup Record: First appearance
Ryder Cup Record: First appearance
Ryder Cup Record: 3-5
Paul McGinley, Captain
Des Smyth and Sam Torrance, Vice Captains
Ryder Cup Record: 3-2-1
Ryder Cup Record: First appearance
Ryder Cup Record: First appearance
Ryder Cup Record: First appearance
Ryder Cup Record: 16-8-4
Ryder Cup Record: 3-2
Ryder Cup Record: 5-5-2
Ryder Cup Record: 4-3-2
Ryder Cup Record: 12-3
Ryder Cup Record: 6-3
Ryder Cup Record: 2-3-2
Ryder Cup Record: 18-13-6
Missing in Action
The U.S. team, already an underdog, faces even longer odds with the absence of some key players:
• Tiger Woods
Ryder Cup Record: 13-17-3
Tiger's balky back is his latest physical impediment and caused him to shut it down for the year following a missed cut at the PGA Championship. Despite his lackluster Ryder Cup record, his experience and aura will be missed. Said one PGA Tour pro: "You can’t tell me at least half the European side would not be a little afraid if it came down to a singles match against Tiger on Sunday."
• Dustin Johnson
Ryder Cup Record: 3-3
Johnson is in golf exile, either self-imposed or Tour-imposed, while he deals with "personal challenges." The eight-time winner on Tour was a bright spot for a disappointing U.S. team in 2012, winning his singles match and posting a match record of 3-0. "As one of the longest hitters in the game with an undefeated record of 3-0 at Medinah in 2012, he has clearly been an asset for the United States team," said U.S. captain Tom Watson.
• Jason Dufner
Ryder Cup Record: 3-1
Like Johnson, Dufner was a stalwart for the 2012 U.S. team, posting a 3-1 record and winning his singles match against Peter Hanson amid a U.S. collapse. Dufner couldn't defend his 2013 PGA Championship title due to an arthritic condition in his neck.
It was a rather eventful first weekend of action for the Big 12.
Oklahoma, Baylor, Texas, Kansas State and TCU were picked to finish in the upper half of the league and each did nothing in Week 1 prove anything otherwise.
The same can't be said for Texas Tech or Iowa State. The Red Raiders still appear to have defensive issues, and Paul Rhoads - a coach respected by many despite a poor win-loss record - did nothing to help his case in Ames.
On the flip side of the coin, Oklahoma State and West Virginia went up against the top two teams in the nation and acquitted themselves very well.
Here is what we learned from the Big 12 in Week 1:
Rumors of Oklahoma State's demise premature
Glenn Spencer did a fantastic job with the Oklahoma State defense on Saturday night in Arlington. Yes, Florida State scored 37 points, 476 yards and averaged 6.7 yards per play. But Jameis Winston looked like anything but a former Heisman winner and national champion. Spencer's unit forced two Winston interceptions and never allowed Karlos Williams to get going (23 att., 66 yds). Offensively, key miscues by the quarterback cost the team a shot at a win, but J.W. Walsh played admirably for most of the contest, and Mike Gundy found himself a shiny new toy in do-everything dynamo Tyreek Hill. The junior college transfer set a school record for all-purpose yards with 278 (44 rush, 62 rec., 172 return) in his OSU debut and was operating on a different speed than everyone else in black and orange. After losing more than 30 players off last year's roster, a six-point loss to the defending champs in the opener could be a sign the Pokes are more of a contender than expected.
Ash, Espinosa injured in Strong's debut
Charlie Strong debuted in exactly the way fans likely wanted to see. Texas was physical on both lines of scrimmage, as the Longhorns thoroughly dismantled an overmatched North Texas squad. Strong's defense allowed eight first downs and an absurd minus-22.0 opponent passer rating (3-17, 15 yds), while the offense scored on five out of six trips into the redone. That said, Strong revealed on Monday that David Ash won't play against BYU due to concussion-like symptoms he suffered in the opener. This against a quarterback who posted more than 400 yards of offense and five total touchdowns in an easy road opener against UConn. Unfortunately for Strong, it's probably time for Ash to step away from the game before he inflicts long-term damage to himself. Equally as troubling, his starting center, Dominic Espinosa, will be out for the rest of the year with a broken ankle. It was a great debut in the box score for Strong but he may have lost his two most important offensive players in the process.
Listen to the Cover 2 college football podcast:
Clint Trickett ready for a big year?
Quarterback play was a huge issue for West Virginia in 2013. Dana Holgorsen's passing attack threw 16 touchdowns and 16 interceptions last fall and ranked No. 102 nationally in pass efficiency offense (115.52). But the veteran Trickett had arguably his best game as a Mountaineer, throwing for a career-high 365 yards on 29-of-45 passing. More importantly, he didn't throw the ball to Alabama one time while keeping his offense moving. There was no help whatsoever from the running game (28 yards on 24 attempts) so his performance against one of the nation's best defenses is even more impressive. If Trickett can repeat his play from Saturday, Holgorsen's squad could bounce back this fall.
Contenders hold serve
Oklahoma and Baylor both won in impressive fashion against overmatched opponents. The Bears christened a gorgeous new home venue in McLane Stadium with a 45-0 shutout of SMU behind a dominant defensive performance — try 64 total yards allowed and eight sacks. Bryce Petty cracked two vertebrae late in the game but it sounds much worse than it actually is (he should play). The Sooners were slightly less thorough on either side but still crushed Louisiana Tech by 32 points. TCU and Kansas State followed suit in similar fashion over Samford and Stephen F Austin. Texas Tech was the only "contender" who didn't play up to expectations by allowing 35 points and 406 yards of offense in a nail-biter against Central Arkansas.
Paul Rhoads inching toward hot seat
Charlie Weis' Jayhawks didn't play and Holgorsen's Mountaineers played valiantly in a 10-point loss. But after allowing 34 consecutive points in an ugly home loss to North Dakota State, many are ready to add Iowa State head coach Paul Rhoads to the hottest list in the Big 12. Most agreed that Rhoads entered the season with tremendous job security despite his current 27-37 record in five seasons in Ames. He is an affable guy who is respected by the power structure at Iowa State for a variety of reasons. Three bowl games in five years is a reasonable bar of success at a place like ISU. But while the Bison are a championship program and boast a five-game FBS winning streak, isn't giving up a two-touchdown lead to an FCS opponent at home in a 20-point blowout completely unacceptable?
Big 12 Power Rankings:
|Rk||Team||Record||Last Week||Week 2|
|1.||1-0||W, 48-16, La. Tech||at Tulsa|
|2.||1-0||W, 45-0, SMU||NW State|
|3.||1-0||W, 55-16, SFA||at Iowa St|
|4.||1-0||W, 38-7, N. Texas||BYU|
|5.||1-0||W, 48-14, Samford||Bye|
|6.||0-1||L, 37-31, Florida St||Missouri St|
|7.||1-0||W, 42-35, C. Arkansas||at UTEP|
|8.||0-1||L, 33-23, Alabama||Towson|
|9.||0-1||L, 34-14, N. Dakota St||Kansas St|
|10.||0-0||Bye||SE Missouri St|
The Pac-12 held serve in Week 1. But just barely.
Most of the contenders — Oregon, Stanford, Arizona State, USC, Arizona and Utah — crushed overmatched opponents to start the year. But UCLA had to fight to top Virginia, and Washington barely held on for a win over Hawaii. Both are considered disappointing showings despite each achieving victory. Oregon State also had to fight to beat FCS cellar dweller Portland State.
Washington State and Colorado also began the year in disappointing fashion as well. The Cougars were upset in Seattle by a Big Ten bottom feeder, while the Buffaloes fell to an instate rival.
This Pac-12's saving grace came from an unlikely source as Cal pulled off one of the bigger upsets of Week 1 over Northwestern.
Here is what we learned from the Pac-12 in Week 1:
There are a lot of new faces on the sidelines out West. Don Pellum debuted as Oregon's defensive coordinator by allowing 13 points and 370 yards to South Dakota. Lance Anderson debuted as Stanford's defensive coordinator by pitching a shutout and allowing just 115 yards against UC Davis. And Jeff Ulbrich's first game as UCLA's defensive coordinator netted three defensive touchdowns on the road against Virginia. But the two biggest debuts came in the form of two head coaches forever interwoven at USC and Washington. Steve Sarkisian's Trojans were masterful over Fresno State on both sides of the ball despite a short roster. Meanwhile Chris Petersen's Huskies barely topped a bad Hawaii team on the Islands. While fans in Los Angeles needed this type of showing after a rough week of news, those in Seattle are looking forward to the return of quarterback Cyler Miles in Week 2. Washington's Jeff Lindquist completed just 10-of-26 passes as UW mustered just 336 yards of offense. Cody Kessler, meanwhile, posted 422 yards of offense. The Trojans are clearly talented but will need to stay healthy to get into the Pac-12 title mix.
Listen to Cover 2 college footbll podcast:
Cal scores road upset
Sonny Dykes is a well-respected coaching mind but had an extremely rough first campaign in Berkeley. He's already matched his win total from last year by pulling off a big road upset over Northwestern. Cal opened up a 31-7 third-quarter lead before holding on for the seven-point upset. His Bears held the heavily favored Wildcats (-11) to just 354 yards of offense after allowing 529.5 yards per game last season. Jared Goff finished 21-of-34 passing for 281 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. Alongside Dykes in the 2013 Pac-12 head coaching narrative, Colorado's Mike MacIntrye didn't start his second season nearly as well in a disappointing 31-17 loss to instate rival Colorado State.
Arm race heats up
This league has the best signal callers in America but it might be even better under center out West than we expected. Kessler and USC posted 701 yards of offense and 37 first downs on a Pac-12 record 105 offensive plays. He finished with 394 yards passing and wasn't even one of the top two passers in the league. Washington State's Connor Halliday threw for 532 yards, while Arizona's Anu Solomon posted 425 in his first career game (more on him in a minute). Marcus Mariota also rolled up 310 total yards, while Sean Mannion posted 328 yards through the air. This deep and talented collection of passers might actually be deeper and more talented than believed. In fact, one of the few players who struggled in the season opener was UCLA's Brett Hundley. But was that really his fault...
Hundley's supporting cast not ready
Brett Hundley was the most sacked quarterback in the nation over the last two seasons (87). He was running for his life once again facing a team that lost 10 times last fall. Virginia isn't your average last place team as it does have some young talent on defense, but UCLA's lack of overall skill on offense was exposed. This team doesn't have a proven playmaker of any kind to support Hundley, and the offensive line was abused for four sacks. If UCLA wants to win the Pac-12 it will have to prove that it has the ability to slow the opposing pass rush or teams will simply pin their ears back and attack the star quarterback.
RichRod has found a QB
There was a lot of hype surrounding the debut of redshirt freshman quarterback Anu Solomon for Rich Rodriguez and the Wildcats. Against his hometown team, the first-time starter didn't disappoint. He used a barrage of big plays to roll up 425 yards passing and four touchdowns while adding 50 yards rushing on eight carries. In all, Arizona set a school record with 787 total yards of offense, breaking the previous mark of 691 set back in 1969 against New Mexico. Two different Cats (Terris Jones-Grigsby and Nick Wilson) topped 100 yards rushing but Solomon was the clear star of the show and appears to be the next big thing in RichRod's offense.
Pac-12 Power Rankings:
|Rk||Team||Record||Last Week||Week 2|
|1.||1-0||W, 62-13, S. Dakota||Michigan St|
|2.||1-0||W, 45-0, UC Davis||USC|
|3.||1-0||W, 28-20, Virginia||Memphis|
|4.||1-0||W, 52-13, Fresno St||at Stanford|
|5.||1-0||W, 45-14, Weber St||at N. Mexico|
|6.||1-0||W, 58-13, UNLV||at UTSA|
|7.||1-0||W, 17-16, Hawaii||E. Washington|
|8.||1-0||W, 29-14, Portland St||at Hawaii|
|9.||1-0||W, 56-14, Idaho St||Fresno St|
|10.||1-0||W, 31-24, N'Western||Sacramento St|
|11.||0-1||L, 41-38, Rutgers||at Nevada|
|12.||0-1||L, 31-17, CSU||at UMass|
Week 1 of the 2014 college football season brought plenty of surprises and disappointments, and the ACC was a mixed bag of success. Florida State had to sweat more than expected against Oklahoma State but still managed to win 37-31. Despite the close call, the Seminoles are still the clear No. 1 team in the conference. Clemson fell on the road at Georgia, while Virginia impressed in a home loss to UCLA. Syracuse needed two overtimes to beat Villanova, while Wake Forest lost to ULM. It’s only Week 1, so it’s important not to overreact to just a single game. However, there are a few things to know from the conference after a week of action.
Key Takeaways from the ACC in Week 1
Cole Stoudt or Deshaun Watson for Clemson?
In Cole Stoudt’s first career start, the senior completed 15 of 28 passes for 130 yards and one interception. It’s unfair to blame Stoudt for all of Clemson’s problems in Week 1, especially since Georgia’s defense found a way to contain the Tigers’ high-powered attack in the second half. But how long of a leash will Stoudt have in Week 2? True freshman Deshaun Watson threw for 59 yards and one score on two completions against the Bulldogs. Watson is clearly more talented and represents the future of the program. Could he see more time over the next few weeks?
Did Virginia Find a Quarterback?
Going into Week 1, there was no doubt Virginia had a defense capable of contending for a bowl in 2014. However, significant question marks existed on an offense that averaged only 19.8 points per game last season. The Cavaliers’ offense started slow against UCLA, managing only 163 yards (3.8 yards per play) through the first eight drives. Greyson Lambert was benched in favor of Matt Johns, and the sophomore responded by completing 13 of 22 throws for 154 yards and two scores. Prior to Saturday, Johns did not have a career pass attempt. Johns should get the start against Richmond and could be the answer for an offense that has struggled to get consistent quarterback play in recent years.
Listen to the Cover 2 Week 1 recap podcast:
Florida State Needs a Little Work
It’s only Week 1, so there’s no reason to panic in Tallahassee. The defending champs had to sweat a little more than expected against Oklahoma State, holding on for a 37-31 victory. The Seminoles are a team with few flaws, but coach Jimbo Fisher’s team needs to address a few things in order to repeat. Oklahoma State’s defensive line held its own at the line of scrimmage, limiting Florida State to just 106 rushing yards (3.4 ypc). And we are being nitpicky here, but will the Seminoles find another receiver or two to take some of the pressure off of Rashad Greene? The Cowboys’ 31 points was only the fifth time in 29 games that Florida State allowed more than 30 points. Keep in mind: It’s game one and the Seminoles have new faces stepping into roles on both sides of the ball. Sure, this one was closer than expected, but Florida State is still the team to beat.
Pieces Starting to Come Together for Pittsburgh?
It’s hard to read too much into some of the results from Week 1, but Pittsburgh’s 62-0 blasting of Delaware was impressive. The Panthers held the Blue Hens to just five first downs and 57 total yards, while coach Paul Chryst’s offense recorded 501 yards and punted only twice. Again, the competition was questionable, but it seems the pieces are starting to fall into place for Pittsburgh. Quarterback Chad Voytik was efficient (10 of 13), and running back James Conner is poised to challenge for All-ACC honors in 2014 (14 carries for 153 yards and four scores versus Delaware). Friday’s game against Boston College will be a better barometer test, but the Panthers appear poised to improve off last year’s 7-6 mark.
NC State is Still Developing Under Dave Doeren
After finishing 3-9 in coach Dave Doeren’s debut last season, the Wolfpack expected to use a favorable schedule to push for a bowl in 2014. That could still happen in Doeren’s second year, but it’s clear NC State is still a team under construction. The Wolfpack needed a late rally to defeat Georgia Southern 24-23, outscoring the Eagles 21-6 in the second half. Quarterback Jacoby Brissett started slow but completed 28 of 40 throws for 291 yards and three scores. The Florida transfer had plenty of help from freshman receiver Bo Hines (nine catches) and running back Shadrach Thornton (73 yards). Georgia Southern isn’t an easy team to prepare for, and the final result was closer than most expected. The Wolfpack are still under construction, but getting a victory in the opener is critical with a slim margin of error to get back to a bowl.
ACC Post-Week 1 Power Rankings
|Rank||Team||Record||Last Week||Week 2|
|1||1-0||W, 37-31, Okla. State||The Citadel|
|2||0-1||L, 45-21, Georgia||South Carolina State|
|3||1-0||W, 31-13, Miami||Murray State|
|4||1-0||W, 34-9, William & Mary||at Ohio State|
|5||1-0||W, 52-13, Elon||at Troy|
|6||1-0||W, 56-29, Liberty||San Diego State|
|7||1-0||W, 62-0, Delaware||at Boston College (Friday)|
|8||0-1||L, 31-13, Louisville||Florida A&M|
|9||0-1||L, 28-20, UCLA||Richmond|
|10||1-0||W, 38-19, Wofford||at Tulane|
|11||1-0||W, 30-7, UMass||Pittsburgh (Friday)|
|12||1-0||W, 27-26, Villanova||Bye Week|
|13||1-0||W, 24-23, Ga. Southern||Old Dominion|
|14||0-1||W, 17-10, Wake Forest||Gardner-Webb|
The first week of the SEC season saw the emergence of a new star at Texas A&M, the domination of a returning star at Georgia and the continued excellence of an Auburn offense that featured new players in starring roles.
The names change but Auburn’s offense doesn’t
There was a new cast of characters — especially with starting quarterback Nick Marshall sidelined for what ended up being a half-game suspension — but Auburn’s offense was as explosive as ever. With Jeremy Johnson at quarterback, the Tigers scored on drives of 75, 75 and 98 yards to start the 2014 season. Johnson averaged an impressive 15.2 yards on his 16 passing attempts and had two touchdowns and no interceptions. Cameron Artis-Payne, the new No. 1 tailback, averaged 6.8 yards on his 26 carries, and Duke Williams caught nine passes for 154 yards in his first game as a Tiger. The Auburn offense, as a unit, averaged 8.5 yards per play, the most by any team in the league that played an FBS opponent.
Hutson Mason doesn’t need to be a star for Georgia to win big
There were high expectations for Georgia’s rushing attack in 2014, but not even the most optimistic Bulldog fan could have expected 328 yards (on an 8.0-yard average) against Clemson in Week 1. The Georgia backs were obviously fantastic, but the offensive line deserves a ton of credit for its work against a very talented Clemson defensive line. The devastating running game took pressure off of quarterback Huston Mason, who threw for 131 yards on 26 attempts and — here’s the important stat — no interceptions. Going forward, that’s the type of performance Georgia will need from its senior quarterback to remain in the hunt for a spot in the CFB Playoff. Sure, there will be times when Mason will need to make a big throw in a key spot, but more often than not his job will be “manage” the offense and eliminate the negative plays.
Listen to the Cover 2 Week 1 recap podcast:
Texas A&M was the most impressive team in the nation
This isn’t to say that Texas A&M should be ranked No. 1 in the nation, but it would be hard to argue that any team in college football had a better first week of the season. Considering the quality of the opponent and the location of the game, it’s mighty impressive that A&M scored 52 points and rolled up 680 yards in the win against the South Carolina defense. Ten other teams had more than 600 yards, but those teams’ opponents were UNLV, FAU, Bowling Green, Fresno State, Arkansas-Pine Bluff, South Dakota, New Hampshire, UT Martin, Central Arkansas and Presbyterian. Fourteen other teams scored at least 50 points, but none of those teams played an opponent from a “Big 5” conference. You get the point.
Vanderbilt’s offense disappoints
With a new starting quarterback and 92 percent of its production from the wide receiver position gone from last year, Vanderbilt’s offense figured to be a work in progress. The early returns were not good. The Commodores managed only 278 yards in a disheartening 37–7 loss at home to Temple on Thursday night. Vanderbilt committed seven turnovers, only had one drive that went for more than 40 yards and did not have a snap in the red zone until the fourth quarter. In addition, the Commodores only had one play that went for 20 yards or more against a Temple defense that gave up 70 plays of 20-plus yards last season. The three quarterbacks who played — Patton Robinette, Stephen Rivers and Johnny McCrary — combined to complete less than 50 percent of their passes with no touchdowns and three interceptions.
South Carolina better gets its running game going
Steve Spurrier admitted that South Carolina was forced to abandon the running game because of his team’s early deficit. Still, the numbers were not promising. Brandon Wilds, Mike Davis and Shon Carson — the three tailbacks who played — combined to average only 3.9 yards on 16 rushing attempts. That won’t cut it for a team that is built to win with defense and its running game. And there’s extra cause for concern since those number came against a Texas A&M defense that allowed an average of 5.5 yards per carry against SEC opponents last season.
SEC Post-Week 1 Power Rankings
|Rk||Team||Record||Last Week||Next Week|
|1.||1-0||W, WVU, 33-23||FAU|
|2.||1-0||W, Clemson, 45-21||Bye|
|3.||1-0||W, Arkansas, 45-21||San Jose St.|
|4.||1-0||W, S. Carolina, 52-28||Lamar|
|5.||1-0||W, Boise St., 35-13||at Vanderbilt|
|6.||1-0||W, Wisconsin, 28-24||Sam Houston St.|
|7.||0-1||L, Texas A&M, 52-28||East Carolina|
|8.||0-1||Game cancelled||E. Michigan|
|9.||1-0||W, S. Dakota St., 38-18||at Toledo|
|10.||1-0||W, So. Miss, 49-0||UAB|
|11.||1-0||W, Utah State, 38-7||Arkansas St.|
|12.||0-1||L, Auburn 45-21||Nicholls St.|
|13.||1-0||W, UT Martin, 59-14||Ohio|
|14.||0-1||L, Temple, 37-7||Ole Miss|
The Big Ten will have to wait another week to have a good grip on its College Football Playoff hopes.
Perhaps that seems an obvious statement considering it’s Week 2. But imagine if Wisconsin hadn’t collapsed in the second half against LSU. The narrative, heading into a week in which Michigan State faces Oregon, would be that the Big Ten could have multiple Playoff contenders.
Instead, Wisconsin has more questions than answers, and the best hope for the Playoff remains a team that could be eliminated in Week 2.
Ohio State’s post-Braxton offense settled in
Facing the Navy triple option messes with a ton of teams, including those with a significant talent edge. No reason to panic unless Virginia Tech causes, problems, too. Instead, the first start for J.T. Barrett is the focus here. He went 8-of-11 for 96 yards with an interception in the first half but was flawless in the second. He settled in after halftime to go 4-for-4 for 130 yards with two touchdowns. He also rushed for 39 yards in the second half compared to 11 in the first. Barrett won’t have as much time to feel his way out this week against a stout Virginia Tech secondary.
Michigan State is ready
Jacksonville State is no one’s idea of a formidable defense for the Big Ten favorite and defending Rose Bowl champion. Still, Michigan State was impressive enough in this scrimmage, exhibition — whatever — to warrant mention heading into Oregon, arguably the most important game for the Big Ten in 2014. Connor Cook was 12-of-13 for 285 yards with three touchdowns, and Tony Lippett caught four passes for 167 yards with two touchdowns before the break. Michigan State will need that kind of explosiveness (TDs of 64 and 71 yards) to beat the Ducks.
Listen to the Cover 2 college football podcast:
Penn State’s offense is still a work in progress
Christian Hackenberg was fantastic, becoming the Penn State’s first 400-yard passer with 454 yards against UCF. Give credit to Geno Lewis (eight catches, 173 yards and a touchdown) and DaeSean Hamilton (11-165-0) for becoming playmakers in the absence of Allen Robinson. Expect Penn State to continue to be creative, though, to mask its thin offensive line. The Nittany Lions averaged just two yards per carry against UCF. Also, expect a lot of Hackenberg on first down: He averaged 10.9 yards on 22 attempts on first down (17 completions) while the run game averaged just 3.9 yards per carry.
Wisconsin could be in deep trouble
On paper — a phrase maybe we shouldn’t use after an eventful Week 1 — Wisconsin won’t need to do any of its heavy lifting for the Big Ten West until November. The Badgers will face only two 2013 bowl teams (Bowling Green and Maryland) between now and Nov. 15. The Wisconsin team that allowed 21 unanswered points in the second half against LSU, though, could be in trouble even against a mediocre opponent. Will that team show up again? The Badgers are hopeful defensive linemen Warren Herring and Konrad Zagzebski will be back within the next two games. Meanwhile, Melvin Gordon’s mysterious fourth-quarter absence now has been attributed to a hip injury. Even if all are healthy for the Big Ten season, Wisconsin needs more out of its dismal passing game (8-of-24, 50 yards, two interceptions).
Rutgers can be a tough out in the Big Ten
Rutgers’ 41-38 win over Washington State in Seattle was a surprise, but let’s wait a bit before making any more lofty projections. The Scarlet Knights had an almost identical game offensively in last year’s opener on the road against Fresno State. The Scarlet Knights again proved that as long as they’re not turning the ball over, this can be a formidable offense with Paul James and Leonte Carroo. A great start, for sure, but sustaining it through the course of a schedule that includes road trips to Ohio State, Nebraska, Michigan State and Maryland (plus home dates with Penn State, Michigan and Wisconsin) will be tough.
Big Ten Power Rankings
|Rank||Team||Record||Last Week||Week 2|
|1||1-0||W, Jax State 45-7||at Oregon|
|2||1-0||W, Navy 34-17||Virginia Tech|
|3||1-0||W, FAU 55-7||McNeese State|
|4||1-0||W, UCF 26-24||Akron|
|5||1-0||W, Appalachian St. 52-14||at Notre Dame|
|6||1-0||W, Northern Iowa 31-23||Ball State|
|7||0-1||L, LSU 28-24||Western Illinois|
|8||1-0||W, Eastern Illinois 42-20||Middle Tennessee|
|9||1-0||W, James Madison 52-7||at USF|
|10||1-0||W, Washington St. 41-38||Howard|
|11||1-0||W, Indiana State 28-10||Off|
|12||0-1||L, Cal 31-24||Northern Illinois|
|13||1-0||W, Youngstown State 28-17||Western Kentucky|
|14||1-0||W, Western Michigan 43-34||Central Michigan|
Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty suffered two cracked transverse processes in his back against SMU and is listed as day-to-day.
Petty played against SMU but was clearly limited after suffering the injury in the first half. The senior finished the opener by completing 13 of 23 passes for 161 yards and two touchdown passes. Petty also rushed for 21 yards and one score on two attempts.
While the injury sounds bad, Petty could play in Saturday’s game against Northwestern State on Sept. 6.
However, with winnable games against Northwestern State and Buffalo before Big 12 play begins versus Iowa State on Sept. 27, Petty’s game snaps could be limited over the next few weeks.
Numbers and statistics are a huge part of college football. Every Sunday, reading updated box scores and stats is like Christmas for fans and media members. Some stats like total offense and total defense are overrated but each help paint a picture for a team or particular game.
Whether the stats are historic, advanced or just an observation from a box score, Athlon Sports brings the most intriguing, important, historic and bizarre stats from around the weekend of college football action:
10 Amazing College Football Stats from Week 1
77.8: BYU QB Taysom Hill’s Completion Percentage vs. UConn
Without running back Jamaal Williams and the services of receiver Devon Blackmon, BYU’s offense needed a big effort from quarterback Taysom Hill. And the junior delivered by tying a career-best 77.8 in completion percentage, threw for 308 yards and three scores on 28 completions. Hill also added 97 yards on 12 carries. The junior’s numbers and film suggest he has made significant progress as a passer since the end of 2013. And with a manageable schedule, Hill’s development could equal a special season in Provo.
10-9: Record by New Coaches in 2014
Week 1 was a mixed bag of success for the new coaches. One coach (Todd Monken, Army) did not play, while 10 won their debuts at their new school. Penn State’s James Franklin picked up a big win in Ireland, and Washington’s Chris Petersen survived a trip to Hawaii to start his tenure 1-0. Vanderbilt’s Derek Mason and Bowling Green’s Dino Babers had disappointing debuts, but there’s plenty of time for both coaches to rebound. An under-the-radar debut: UAB’s Bill Clark. The Blazers thrashed in-state rival Troy 48-10.
422: Yards by Virginia Tech Newcomers Against William & Mary
The competition was weak, and we hate to put too much stock in total offense numbers, but it’s noteworthy how much of Virginia Tech’s offensive yardage came from newcomers. Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer threw for 251 yards, while freshmen running backs Shai McKenzie (106 yards) and Marshawn Williams (41) impressed. Freshman receiver Isaiah Ford finished second on the team with 43 receiving yards. The Hokies have plenty of young talent on the roster, and several new faces are stepping into key roles this year.
1: Texas A&M Drive that Went Less than 20 Yards
We are tossing out the one-play drive at the end of the first half for this stat, but Texas A&M’s offense clearly had South Carolina’s number on Thursday night. With the exception of a three-play drive late in the third quarter, the Aggies went at least 20 yards on every drive against the Gamecocks. The first two drives by Kevin Sumlin’s offense went at least 67 yards. Overall, eight drives went for at least 60 yards.
15: Clemson’s Second-Half Yards Against Georgia
Clemson’s offense started Saturday’s matchup against Georgia by going 70 yards on 12 plays for a touchdown. And the Tigers closed the first half strong, recording at least three drives of at least 60 yards or more. However, the second half was a different story. New Georgia defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt completely put the clamps on Clemson, holding Chad Morris’ offense to 15 yards in the final two quarters. The Tigers also did not have a drive of more than four plays in the second half.
32: Players Making Debut for Tennessee in Week 1
Of the 71 players that took a snap for Tennessee in its 38-7 victory over Utah State, 32 were making their debut for the Volunteers. And how’s this for a youth movement: 21 were true freshmen. Second-year coach Butch Jones is in the midst of a roster overhaul, so the significant amount of new faces seeing time isn’t a total surprise. With a tough schedule ahead, it’s a good idea for Jones and the Volunteers to get a few snaps under their belt before SEC play starts.
21.1: Notre Dame QB Everett Golson’s Average Yards Per Completion
After a year suspension, Golson showed no rust in Saturday’s 48-17 rout over Rice. Golson didn’t play a full game but completed 14 of 22 throws for 295 yards and two scores. He also added 41 yards and three scores on the ground. Most importantly, Golson averaged 21.1 yards per completion against the Owls. Even with top receiver DaVaris Daniels’ status still in limbo due to academics, Golson showed there was still plenty of big-play ability in this offense.
2: Teams that Ran At Least 100 Plays in Week 1
Northern Illinois and USC both eclipsed the 100-play mark in Week 1, as the Trojans ran 105 against Fresno State for an average of 6.9 yards per play. The Huskies led the nation with 109 plays against Presbyterian and recorded 5.8 yards per play. 11 teams ran at least 90 plays in Week 1, with 10 recording victories. The only team that ran more than 90 plays and lost was Hawaii (97).
2: Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon’s Carries in Second Half Against LSU
Until Monday, it was a mystery why Melvin Gordon only received two second-half carries against LSU. According to coach Gary Andersen, Gordon had a hip injury, which explains why one of the nation’s top running backs played sparingly in the second half of a winnable game. The junior recorded a 63-yard run on his first touch of the third quarter and was later stuffed on a first-down run at the end of the third. Gordon ended Saturday night’s game against the Tigers with 140 yards on 16 carries (8.8 ypc).
300: Alabama Allows Back-to-Back 300 Passing Yards for First Time Under Saban
Passing yards and total offense are often misleading, but it’s notable Alabama has allowed 300 passing yards in back-to-back games under coach Nick Saban. West Virginia quarterback Clint Trickett threw for 365 on Saturday, which comes on the heels of Trevor Knight throwing for 348 in the Sugar Bowl. The NCAA record book online goes back to 2001, and there’s not another instance of the Crimson Tide allowing 300 yards in back-to-back games. Again, these totals are often misleading, but Alabama appears vulnerable in its secondary once again.
Other Stats of Note:
* Wake Forest recorded only five first downs in its 17-10 loss to ULM. The Demon Deacons also managed only 1.9 yards per play.
* Georgia Tech quarterback Justin Thomas threw for 282 yards in Saturday’s win over Wofford. That’s the most for the Yellow Jackets since throwing for 365 yards against Western Carolina in 2011.
* Arkansas recorded only 51 yards on six drives in the second half. The Razorbacks had four drives of at least 40 yards in the first half, including three that resulted in touchdowns.
* After turning the ball over on downs and punting to open the third quarter, Ole Miss finished its Thursday night win over Boise State by scoring on four consecutive drives. Three of quarterback Bo Wallace’s touchdown passes went for at least 30 yards.
* Four teams – Arizona, Nebraska, Western Kentucky and USC – recorded at least 700 yards in Week 1.
* Western Kentucky quarterback Brandon Doughty set a school-record with 569 passing yards against Bowling Green.
* Missouri receiver Darius White caught two passes for 83 yards against South Dakota State. Both passes went for scores (41.5 yards per catch average).
* Two teams – Michigan and Kentucky – averaged at least 10 yards per play in Week 1.
* Rashad Greene caught 11 of quarterback Jameis Winston’s 25 completions against Oklahoma State.
* Texas quarterback David Ash will miss Week 2’s matchup against BYU. Sophomore Tyrone Swoopes is slated to replace Ash as the starter, with true freshman Jerrod Heard as the backup. Swoopes is just 5 of 13 for 26 yards in his career with the Longhorns.
* Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg threw for a school-record 454 yards against UCF on Saturday.
* For the first time in school history, Penn State had two receivers (DaeSean Hamilton and Geno Lewis) eclipse the 150 receiving yard mark. Hamilton recorded 165 yards on 11 receptions, and Lewis accounted for 173 yards on eight catches.
* LSU quarterback Anthony Jennings completed only nine of his 21 passes in the opener against Wisconsin. However, four of his completions accounted for 187 of his 239 yards, including two touchdowns (80 yards, 36 yards).
* USF ran for 294 yards in its 36-31 victory against Western Carolina. The 294 yards are the most in a game during the Willie Taggart era.
* Kentucky running back Braylon Heard recorded only two carries against Tennessee-Martin, but he made the most of his touches. Heard rushed for 116 yards and two touchdowns on two attempts.
* Temple defeated Vanderbilt 37-7, but the Owls greatly benefited from seven turnovers. Temple’s offense had only two drives of 50 or more yards. In contrast, the Commodores had only one drive that went more than 40 yards. Vanderbilt’s first three drives accounted for just one yard.
* All four of Baylor’s touchdown drives in the first half went four plays or less. Only two of the Bears’ drives in the first half went longer than 50 yards.
* Georgia recorded 201 of its 459 yards in the fourth quarter against Clemson.
* Rutgers averaged 7.1 yards per play against Washington State. That’s the first time the Scarlet Knights hit the seven-yard per play mark since last year’s opener against Fresno State.
* Arizona had three receivers (at least two receptions) average at least 25 yards per catch against UNLV. Austin Hill led the way with a 36.7 yards per catch average, while Samajie Grant caught four passes for 101 yards (25.3 ypc).
* Three teams finished Week 1 with negative rushing totals. Wake Forest recorded a -3 mark against ULM, SMU finished -24 in rushing offense against Baylor, while Houston was -26 against UTSA.
* Tulsa receiver Keevan Lucas caught 13 passes for 233 yards against Tulane. Lucas’ 233 yards are more than half of his 2013 total (442).
The bar had been set impossibly high for Todd Gurley for his junior season at Georgia.
Maybe not high enough.
Gurley earned Athlon Sports National Player of the Week honors in a 45-21 win over Clemson in perhaps the finest game of his career.
Thanks to a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, Gurley not only broke Clemson, as noted by SB Nation’s Bill Connelly, he shattered a personal record for all-purpose yards.
Gurley rushed for 198 yards and lost five yards on one catch to give him 293 for the game. His previous career high was 227 yards against Buffalo in his debut.
|Todd Gurley's Top All-Purpose Yards Games|
|Season||Opponent||AP Yards||Rush||Rec.||KO Ret.||Yds per play|
Here’s what else is scary:
• He could have been more of a factor in the passing game. Gurley had 53 career receptions in his first two seasons. In the last six games of 2013, Gurley topped 70 receiving yards four times, including 90-plus against Kentucky and Nebraska. Perhaps checking down to Gurley is a difference between the seasoned Aaron Murray and three-game starter Hutson Mason.
• Georgia may be the new Alabama or LSU in terms of running back depth. Freshmen Nick Chubb (four carries, 70 yards and one touchdown) and Sony Michel (six carries, 33 yards) probably should cut into Gurley’s carries given his injury history. And Keith Marshall, who rushed for 759 yards in 2012, is still lingering around. How many times will Gurley need to carry 20 times in a game during the season?
• Gurley is apparently returning kickoffs again, something he hasn’t done since the third game of his freshman season.
National Defensive Player of the Week: Eric Kendricks, UCLA
UCLA’s offense was a virtual no-show in an early kickoff at Virginia on Saturday. At least the linebacker corps remains one of the best in the nation.
Eric Kendricks led the way with 16 tackles and a forced fumble. Kendricks' 37-yard interception return for a touchdown in the second quarter helped to break open a 28-20 win against the Cavaliers.
National Freshman of the Week: Anu Solomon, Arizona
During the spring and preseason, Arizona had one of the most compelling quarterback battles in the country. The Wildcats had transfers and little separation.
Until Friday. Redshirt freshman Anu Solomon completed 25-of-44 passes for 425 yards with four touchdowns. Solomon also rushed for 50 yards on eight carries in a 58-13 rout of UNLV.
Solomon led an Arizona offense that shattered a 45-year-old school record for total offense. Arizona’s 787 yards of offense Friday was 98 more than the previous record against New Mexico in 1969,
National Coordinator of the Week: Ralph Friedgen, Rutgers
Perhaps we should recalibrate expectations for Rutgers in its first season in the Big Ten. Friedgen, the former Maryland coach, made that kind of an impact in his first game as offensive coordinator for Rutgers.
The Scarlet Knights amassed 281 passing yards, 215 rushing yards and 7.1 yards per play in a 41-38 win over Washington State in Seattle.
Most important, Rutgers lost “only” one turnover. The Scarlet Knights lost two turnovers or more in eight games in 2013.
Conference Players of the Week
ACC: Louisville running back Dominique Brown rushed for 143 yards and a touchdown on 33 carries in a 31-13 win over Miami on Monday.
Big Ten: Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg completed 32-of-47 passes for 454 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions in 26-24 win over UCF in Dublin.
Big 12: Baylor defensive end Shawn Oakman had two sacks, a forced fumble and a tackle for a loss in a 45-0 win over SMU on Sunday.
Pac-12: USC quarterback Cody Kessler completed 25-of-37 passes for 394 yards with four touchdowns in a 52-13 win over Fresno State. He also rushed for a touchdown and 28 yards on eight carries.
American: Tulsa wide receiver Keevan Lucas caught 13 passes for a Week 1-high 233 yards with three touchdowns in a 38-31 win over Tulane in double overtime.
Conference USA: Western Kentucky quarterback Brandon Doughty completed 46-of-56 passes for 569 yards with six touchdowns in a 59-31 win over MAC favorite Bowling Green on Friday.
MAC: Ohio quarterback Derrius Vick completed 18-of-24 passes for 262 yards with two touchdowns in a 17-14 win over Kent State.
Mountain West: Colorado State running back Dee Hart rushed for 139 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries in a 31-17 win over Colorado on Friday.
Sun Belt: ULM safety Mitch Lane had six tackles and an interception returned 31 yards for a touchdown in a 17-10 win over Wake Forest.
Independents: Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson completed 14-of-22 passes for 295 yards with two touchdowns in his return to the lineup. He also rushed for 41 yards and three touchdowns on 12 carries in a 48-17 win over Rice.
Starting Jan. 7, the task has been to try to figure out how the 2014 season is going to transpire.
It’s only natural after five days of actual, real-live data — sorry, games — to overreact.
After the first week, Alabama’s pass defense looks shaky, Ohio State’s run defense is suspect and Florida State’s run game is unspectacular. All of these and more are legit concerns, but we’re here to tell you how worried you should be for the remaining 11 (or more) games.
So take a deep breath, and figure out if you’re overreacting, underreacting or reacting appropriately.
1. Reaction: Alabama’s pass defense is a problem
Alabama’s performance against the no-huddle has been trending the wrong way the last two seasons. That continued through three quarters against West Virginia, which was able to move the ball with ease against the Tide. Quarterback Clint Trickett was on target all game, and the Mountaineers were within one score until the final 8:07.
Poor communication on defense was at play to some degree here. Alabama was without linebacker Trey DePriest, its quarterback on defense, against the no-huddle. Even then, Alabama allowed only 6-of-10 passing for 57 yards in the final quarter compared to 23-of-35 for 308 in the first three. Alabama has until at least Oct. 4 at Ole Miss to figure out how to sustain the no-huddle defense for four quarters.
2. Reaction: Ohio State can’t stop the run
Navy rushed for 370 yards and 5.9 yards per carry against Ohio State in a 34-17 loss that wasn’t sealed until the fourth quarter.
The option is Navy’s great equalizer, especially when the Midshipmen have an above-average quarterback (Keenan Reynolds) and an experienced line. Perhaps the greatest concern is that Ohio State had, in theory, the entire preseason to prepare for a Week 1 option opponent. Still, even 2011 Alabama gave up 302 rushing yards to an option team (Georgia Southern). That team turned out OK.
3. Reaction: Todd Gurley is the Heisman frontrunner
After rushing for 198 yards and three touchdowns and returning a kickoff 100 yards for a TD against Clemson, Gurley is topping a handful of Heisman watches after Week 1.
Verdict: Reacting appropriately
This has a caveat: This is only an appropriate reaction as far as Week 1 Heisman watches are appropriate. Gurley only had the game of his career with marks for all-purpose yards (298, a school record), rushing (beating his previous high by 44 yards) and yards per carry (13.2). He also tied his career high with four touchdowns.
4. Reaction: South Carolina should panic
South Carolina lost in spectacular fashion, falling 52-28 at home to Texas A&M. Sophomore quarterback Kenny Hill completed 44-of-60 passes for 511 yards with three touchdowns against the Gamecocks.
Verdict: Reacting appropriately
Even during its rise to SEC contender, South Carolina has been known to lose to opponents it shouldn’t (Tennessee last year, Auburn in 2011, Kentucky in 2010). This, though, was something different from playing down to an opponent as Hill put up the fifth-best passing day in SEC history. Running back Mike Davis continues to be hobbled — he’s doubtful for East Carolina. The Pirates have a standout passing game, so all eyes will be on South Carolina’s D this week. That’s not even taking into account a Sept. 13 date with Georgia.
5. Reaction: Florida State can’t run and Jameis Winston is human
Other than Rashad Greene, Florida State’s offense looked nothing the squad that rolled over opponents to the national title last season. Jameis Winston and the third multi-interception game of his career, and the Seminoles averaged only 3.4 yards per carry.
Verdict: Overreacting ... for now
Until he averaged 2.9 yards Saturday, Karlos Williams was a yards per carry machine. And Jameis Winston is Jameis Winston. Oklahoma State is young on defense, but coordinator Glenn Spencer is a name to watch. His group finished second in the Big 12 in yards per play and was outstanding in the red zone a year ago. Florida State may not play many defenses that good this season, especially if Clemson continues to struggle.
6. Reaction: Texas’ season is in jeopardy
Texas defeated North Texas 38-7 in Charlie Strong’s debut but lost two key players on offense in the process. Center Dominic Espinosa is out for the season with a broken ankle, and quarterback David Ash will be held out against BYU after exhibiting concussion symptoms.
Verdict: Reacting appropriately
Espinosa was the key piece of the offensive line, and Texas has limited quarterback depth behind Ash. The latter has had concussion issues in the past, so his career could be in jeopardy. Given that Oklahoma State and West Virginia look more formidable than expected, Texas could slide into the bottom half of the Big 12. Texas will hand the job to Tyrone Swoopes, but the Longhorns have to wonder what would have happened if Max Wittek was able to complete his transfer to Austin.
7. Reaction: Leonard Fournette was a non-factor
The debut for the superstar freshman was forgettable as he rushed 18 yards on eight carries while Kenny Hilliard took over in the second half at tailback. Fournette was still the primary kick returner at 23.4 yards on five returns.
In a come-from-behind game against a name team from the Big Ten, Les Miles went with experience in Hilliard. That’s one of the luxuries of coaching running backs at LSU. Nothing in Fournette’s background suggests he won’t be a success in his first season. Miles spent the offseason talking up his character and drive. Fournette will get his opportunity; LSU just doesn’t need it to happen right away.
8. Reaction: UCLA’s offense was no-show
UCLA needed three defensive touchdowns to salvage a lackluster effort by the offense in a 28-20 win over Virginia. The Bruins managed only 358 yards and 4.9 yards per play against the Cavs.
Let’s give Brett Hundley a chance to play later than noon Pacific time before indicting the UCLA offense. Strange things have happened in these early kicks at Virginia (BYU lost year in 2013, albeit in a torrential downpour).
9. Reaction: Iowa had trouble with Northern Iowa
Like a few Big Ten teams, Iowa needed all four quarters to put away an FCS opponent — the Hawkeyes at least can say they fared better than their in-state rivals Iowa State. Iowa pulled away with a 31-23 win thanks to a touchdown pass in the final seven minutes.
Here’s the overriding concern: Iowa, finally with a healthy backfield, couldn’t find ways to run the ball consistently. Wide receiver Tevaun Smith led the Hawkeyes in rushing thanks to a 45-yard reverse. Mark Weisman and Jordan Canzeri combined for 17 carries and 56 yards.
10. Reaction: Washington just barely escaped Hawaii
With projected starter Cyler Miles suspended, Washington beat Hawaii 17-16, amassing merely 336 yards in the process.
Maybe it was the late kickoff on a Saturday that started at 8 a.m. Eastern in Dublin, but Washington’s putrid offensive performance seemed to fly under the radar. Miles had better be the answer because there were none in Honolulu. Washington punted on eight consecutive possessions, including five three-and-outs, against one of the worst teams in the FBS. Outside of a 91-yard-touchdown, backup quarterback Jeff Lindquist didn’t complete a pass of longer than 20 yards.
Just when you think you've got it all figured out… the season starts.
Texas A&M, Rutgers and Temple got things started on Thursday evening in shocking fashion by pulling off huge upsets.
The madness continued on Saturday with a thriller in Dublin between Penn State and UCF before the top two teams in the nation struggled mightily with West Virginia (Alabama) and Oklahoma State (Florida State). Needless to say, it was an outstanding first weekend of action. What could Week 2 do for an encore presentation?
The Week Ahead: Sept. 4-Sept. 6
Michigan State at Oregon
When and where: 6:30 p.m., FOX
We’re watching because... we don't really know anything about either team after lopsided victories in Week 1. Sparty crushed poor Jacksonville State 45-7, while the Ducks routed lowly South Dakota 62-13. This is the ultimate contrast in schemes with Marcus Mariota leading one of the nation's most powerful spread attacks and Pat Narduzzi directing one the gnarliest defensive units in the land. Who wins at college football: Powerful up-tempo offense or physical, hard-hitting defense? And there is that small matter that the loser might be knocked out of the College Football Playoff two weeks into the season. This could be the biggest non-conference game of the entire 2014 season.
Vegas says: Oregon by 11
USC at Stanford
When and where: 3:30 p.m., ABC
We’re watching because... these two rivals always put on a show out West. Stanford got its Pac-12 title defense underway in workmanlike and boring fashion by defeating lowly UC Davis with ease to open the year. USC, a team with just 62 scholarship players, handled Fresno State with equally impressive ease behind elite play from Cody Kessler in Steve Sarkisian's debut. In Week 2, they get conference play started in style with an old-school California bout in Palo Alto. Look for quarterbacks Kevin Hogan (204 yds, 4 total TD) and Kessler (394 yds, 4 TD) to build on excellent Week 1 performances. Stanford is looking for revenge after a late-season upset at the hands of the Trojans in Los Angeles a year ago and the loser will fall a game behind higher ranked division contenders.
Vegas says: Stanford by 4
Virginia Tech at Ohio State
When and where: 8 p.m., ESPN
We’re watching because... we can't wait to see Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett thrust back into the fire against an always excellent Virginia Tech defense. Barrett had a slow start against Navy but finished with a solid line (12-15, 222 yards, 2 TD, INT) in a harder-than-the-score-looked win over the Midshipmen. Facing Bud Foster's Hokies is a bird of a totally different feather all together. If the Buckeyes offense can be modestly effective against Virginia Tech, then Ohio State should be able to get the win. Despite 488 yards in the opener, the Tech offense doesn't figure to have much room to work with in Columbus against one of the nation's best defensive lines.
Vegas says: Ohio State by 12
Michigan at Notre Dame
When and where: 7:30 p.m., NBC
We’re watching because... we may not see this game for a while. Doug Nussmeier's debut for Michigan couldn't have gone any better. Both Devin Gardner and Devin Funchess agree as the duo connected seven times for 95 yards and three first-half touchdowns. Gardner looked more comfortable under center than he did at any time last season. Some of that, of course, has to do with one of the best rushing outputs of Brady Hoke's tenure. Michigan ran for 350 yards at almost 10 yards per carry (9.7) in the easy revenge win over Appalachian State. Notre Dame, meanwhile, welcomed back Everett Golson with five total touchdowns in a resounding victory over Rice in the Irish's opener. Look for quarterback play to be the deciding factor when these two rivals meet for the last time (for now).
Vegas says: Notre Dame by 6
BYU at Texas
When and where: 7:30 p.m., ESPN
We’re watching because... of what happened last year between these two. Taysom Hill got his 2014 season started in style with over 400 yards of offense (308 pass, 97 rush) and five total touchdowns in a blowout win on the road over UConn. Meanwhile, Charlie Strong debuted in impressive fashion for the Longhorns with an easy win over North Texas — Texas held the Mean Green to just 94 yards of total offense. This was a record-setting meeting for both programs last year when BYU rolled up 550 yards and 40 points in a win over the Horns in Provo. With a new sheriff in town, however, how different will things be for Texas' defense down on The 40 Acres? Charlie Strong, though, may be in trouble due to his offense down a starting quarterback (David Ash, concussion) and center (Dominic Espinosa, ankle) perhaps for the remainder of the season.
Vegas says: Texas by 4.5
Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kevin Harvick had the field covered on-track at the 1.54-mile Atlanta Motor Speedway on Sunday night; Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth had it covered on pit road. But at the end of a grueling 335-lap affair, it was Hendrick Motorsports’ Kasey Kahne that walked away with the hardware — and a coveted spot in NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Kahne capitalized on a frantic final 12 laps in the Oral-B USA 500 to notch his first win of the 2014 season, and in the process assured that each of Hendrick Motorsports’ four teams would be represented in NASCAR’s 10-race playoff that begins in two weeks.
“I told a couple friends this week, ‘I have to win. I have to win Sunday night,’” said Kahne, who now owns 17 career Cup wins — 10 of which have come on NASCAR’s 1.5- and 2-mile intermediate tracks. “It was all that I could think about. I knew Atlanta was a better opportunity for myself to win at than Richmond.
“I just knew that tonight we needed it. When I came off Turn 4 and I could see the checkered, right there is the first time I knew I was in the Chase and it's such a relief. I have the best teammates and (team owner Rick Hendrick) gives us everything that we need.”
As with most of the intermediate tracks, being up front and in clean air was the order of the day. Harvick paced the field for 195 laps but was continuously beaten off pit road by JGR rivals Hamlin and Kenseth.
“We lost control every time we came to pit road tonight,” Harvick said. “I thought we had that (problem) better, but we got just absolutely murdered on pit road every time we came down by the 11 (Hamlin) and the 20 (Kenseth).”
Throughout the evening, Harvick was able to drive around his opponents within five laps of a restart, but the spots lost on pit road finally took their toll after a round of yellow-flag stops with 27 laps remaining. It was on the ensuing restart that Kahne took the lead, kept Harvick in his rearview mirror and appeared headed to victory lane. However, a caution with a pair of laps remaining sent the race into the first of two green-white-checker finishes.
In the first, Harvick lined up fourth and found his No. 4 Chevrolet playing bumper cars with Paul Menard and Joey Logano, then into the wall, before the field hit Turn 1. His shot at win No. 3 on the season had taken its conclusive blow.
On the second green-white-checker restart, Kahne, on four fresh tires, once again pounced from his inside-lane, third-place position, blowing by Hamlin and finally disposing of Kenseth at the white flag. He methodically clicked off the final lap, winning by .574 seconds.
Kenseth, Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards rounded out the top 5.
“Man, they just go,” Kenseth said of Kahne’s HMS engine. “I just don’t know how to defend that. We did everything we could — it was a great call by Jason (Ratcliff, crew chief), great pit stops that put us in position to win — I just couldn’t hold on.”
Despite not having won a race this season — after a sterling eight-win campaign in 2013 — Kenseth sits third in the Cup standings and locked his team in the playoffs by virtue of points with the Atlanta performance. In NASCAR’s reformatted Chase, the top 16 drivers with wins are slotted into the playoffs. In the absence of 16 winners, the highest ranked teams in the standings complete the card. Kahne was the 13th driver to score a win through 25 of 26 regular-season races.
Ryan Newman, ninth in the standings with a 42-point cushion, will likely claim the 15th spot, leaving a one-race showdown for the final position. Greg Biffle (plus-23 points), Clint Bowyer (-23) and rookie Kyle Larson (-24) are set to stage a three-car battle at Richmond International Raceway on Saturday for the final Chase berth. Paul Menard (-53) and Austin Dillon (-54) most assuredly would have to win the regular-season finale to leapfrog their competitors and sneak into the playoffs.
Follow Matt Taliaferro on Twitter: @MattTaliaferro
Photo by Action Sports, Inc.
NC State got its 2014 season off to a good start with a victory over Georgia Southern. The Wolfpack had to rally to beat the Eagles but getting into the win column was critical for second-year coach Dave Doeren.
NC State is favored to win its second game of the year against Old Dominion, and the Wolfpack plan to play Week 2 with an alternate uniform.
Check out the “Pack in Black” uniforms that NC State will wear against the Monarchs this Saturday:
It’s Week 1 of the college football season, so it’s no surprise each team has a few kinks to work out. Of course, that also extends into the gameday operations workers, as well as cheerleaders, mascots or anyone else around a college football program.
New Mexico State’s mascot Pistol Pete and his horse (Keystone) had an unfortunate incident prior to Thursday’s kickoff versus Cal Poly.
While on Keystone, Pete clipped a New Mexico State student in the endzone, knocking her to the ground.
Luckily, the student (Zaina Atyani) wasn’t injured.
Credit LSU for following the script.
The Tigers fell behind in the first half, rolled the dice successfully on a trick play and then let its plug-and-play run game and secondary take over.
Even down by 17 to Wisconsin, LSU was able to follow the Les Miles template for another non-conference win. By coming back to defeat Wisconsin 28-24, LSU improved two improbable marks: The Tigers are 23-22 when trailing at halftime under Les Miles and 45-0 in regular-season non-conference dating back to 2002.
Meanwhile, Wisconsin found another way to come up short in a major non-conference matchup.
Read and React: LSU 28, Wisconsin 24
Les Miles finds a way
Lucky Les strikes again. It’s one thing to run a fake punt to spark 21 unanswered points to win. It’s another to have the incorrect personnel grouping — as Miles told ESPN’s Todd McShay in a postgame interview — and running the fake anyway. The quick snap to linebacker to Kendell Beckwith. He converted the first down with a three-yard gain on fourth-and-2 from the LSU 45. Tough to find a more signature Les Miles moment than that.
Gary Andersen will have to answer for his backfield
Where Miles thrived by taking risks, the Wisconsin coach will have a long week thanks puzzling personnel groups in his backfield. Tanner McEvoy, named the starting quarterback at the end of camp, went 8-of-24 for 50 yards and two interceptions. Last year’s starter Joel Stave never even warmed up. Given the state of Wisconsin’s receiver group, maybe the quarterback wouldn’t have made a difference. Part of that is because of Melvin Gordon’s no-show. Gordon, who rushed for 138 yards on 17 carries, was held out of a series in the final 10 minutes. The idea that Gordon was hurt was dashed when he was in the game to pass protect on third down.
Depth is the difference
Want to know why LSU continues to be a national player while Wisconsin struggles to get over the hump outside of the Big Ten? The difference in depth couldn’t be more stark. LSU got five catches, 199 yards and two touchdowns from a pair of receivers — Travin Dural and John Diarse — who combined for seven catches and a redshirt last year. The Tigers were able to rotate defensive backs into a secondary that further disrupted the inept Wisconsin passing game. Meanwhile, Kenny Hilliard emerged as the LSU running back of the day. Meanwhile, Wisconsin lost two senior starting defensive linemen in Warren Herring and Konrad Zagzebski to injury and couldn’t have been more helpless on defense.
Leonard Fournette can wait
No doubt Fournette will have his moment. It just didn’t happen in Game 1 for the freshman. Fournette carried only nine times for 10 yards in his debut while Hilliard rushed for 111 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries. He was the only LSU running back with a run longer than seven yards.
ATLANTA — The Lane Kiffin-as-Alabama-offensive-coordinator is one game old, so let’s review it, shall we?
Of course this is way too early for a referendum on the most compelling assistant coaching hire in the SEC, but Week 1 is perfect for overreaction — one way or another.
And, wow, did Kiffin and Alabama coach Nick Saban give us plenty of fodder.
From the cheap seats:
Many offensive coordinators like to work in the press box with the ability to see the whole field.
Kiffin, however, worked from the sideline in his first game with the Tide. Saban wanted his first-year coordinator to be able to talk directly to his first-time starting quarterback rather than talk to him on the phone.
The Alabama head coach can bar his assistants from talking to the media, he can try to control the messaging, but he can’t control the body language of two — let’s say, expressive — coaches on the sideline.
I assume we'll see this often pic.twitter.com/5iLG28OOtr— Matt Brown (@MattBrownCFB) August 30, 2014
From Nick Saban:
Not surprisingly, Saban isn’t thrilled talking about Kiffin in a way he never had to talk about former coordinators Jim McElwain or Doug Nussmeier.
The implication from reporters — at least as Saban sees it — is that Saban hired a dud of an offensive coordinator.
“You know, the guy is a really good coach now, all right,” Saban said. “Y’all need to ‘fess up to that.
“And most places than don’t like him is because he left, and they were mad because he left. They weren’t mad about anything he did while he was there. Just do a little research on that.”
In the interest of research, the Oakland Raiders and USC may disagree on being “mad” about his departure. Saban’s right about Tennessee, though.
From the field:
This is what matters, right? After a quarterback competition that lasted until Friday — that’s when Blake Sims learned he’d start ahead of Florida State transfer Jacob Coker — Alabama put up 538 yards, 6.6 yards per play.
Granted, many coordinators could thrive with running backs like Derrick Henry and T.J. Yeldon and wide receivers like Amari Cooper and DeAndrew White.
The key moment, though, may have been the second quarter.
Tied at 10, Sims was rattled at the line. Saban said his quarterback called the wrong plays, called incorrect formations in the huddle and took too much time on the play clock. Saban told Coker to warm up.
Instead of making a switch, Saban told Kiffin to switch to a no-huddle look of its own.
“When we did that, he sort of got it back together and then he was fine after that,” Saban said.
True, the decision to go no-huddle may have been Saban’s call, but adding the up-tempo to the arsenal was part of the reason he hired Kiffin in the first place.
Could the no-huddle be a more regular part of Alabama’s plans? If Sims remains the quarterback, that seems possible.
He finished 24-of-33 for 250 yards with an interception and made plays on the move against Alabama in part of the no-huddle.
However, the no-huddle has become so prevalent that Alabama’s base pro-style offense is more of the outlier, even in the SEC.
“We’re one of the few teams in the world that still plays with regular people — a tight end, two backs and two wideouts,” Saban said. “And now we’re like the dinosaur age when it comes to that.”
Kiffin comes from the same background, but he’s incorporated elements of the hurry-up. If Alabama can change tempos on a dime — and as effectively as it did against West Virginia — the Kiffin hire may be a stroke of genius for a program that already has one of the top rosters in the country.
“People really have a tough time defending what we do because nobody does it, and it does allow us to to be more physical and it does allow us to play more players,” Saban said. "But we’ll certainly consider (the no-huddle). We have the capabilities of doing it.”
ATLANTA — Let the overreaction in Tuscaloosa continue.
The final product from Alabama’s opener against West Virginia will look great, especially given the circumstances.
An offense with a first-year starting quarterback and new coordinator rolled up 538 yards and 6.6 yards per play. The running back duo of T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry was as imposing as advertised, especially in the fourth quarter.
The defense played without senior preseason all-conference linebacker Trey DePriest yet allowed one only offensive touchdown. Even the first-time kicker went 4-for-4 on field goals.
But this is Alabama, where a two-game losing streak is cause for soul searching. A 33-23 win over West Virginia in a neutral site opener isn’t a reason to panic, but the path to the double-digit win did leave some questions.
The Crimson Tide spent much of the offseason talking about improving culture. Alabama could have just as easily talked about improving cornerbacks.
Against the up-tempo, against West Virginia’s variety of formations and without DePriest to lead adjustments on the field, Alabama’s defense looked ... ordinary.
“I know that we made a lot of mental errors,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “At times, the coordination between what the secondary was doing and what the linebackers were doing and what they were all supposed to do was not exactly what it should have been.”
The communications issues were pronounced enough that West Virginia could walk away from a 10-point loss to Alabama believing it could have won.
The Mountaineers moved the ball at will in the passing game, and the best defense against West Virginia receivers turned out to be drops, not any great play from the Alabama secondary.
Take one of the major plays of the game: A thundering hit from safety Landon Collins on West Virginia receiver Jordan Thompson in the middle of the field on third down. The hit brought oohs and aahs, but it was unnecessary. By the time Collins made contact, Clint Trickett’s pass had bounced off Thompson’s hands. As a result of the incomplete pass, West Virginia failed to capitalize on an interception in a one-score game — not because of a defensive stand, but because of one of a handful of drops.
For three quarters, West Virginia — a 4-8 team from a year ago that closed the season with losses to Kansas and Iowa State — had a chance to knock off a College Football Playoff contender.
West Virginia twice had first-and-goal at Alabama’s 6 or closer and came up with two field goals. One of the last chances came early in the fourth quarter but a fullback dropped a wide open pass short of the goal line on a bootleg on first down; Trickett and junior college sensation Kevin White failed to connect on a fade to the end zone on second down; and finally a bad snap on third down set up a 41-yard field goal.
West Virginia was able to march down the field at will early in the game. Trickett completed 13-of-22 passes for 168 yards and a touchdown in the first half.
“They came in with a lot of formations and things we hadn’t seen before,” Alabama defensive end Jonathan Allen said. “We had to recognize it, make the adjustment, communicate and see what we have to make changes.”
Perhaps this could be seen as a one-time issue. Indeed, Alabama didn’t have a full deck on defense, and West Virginia’s Dana Holgorsen is one of the game’s top offensive coaches despite his team's struggles last season.
Yet we can't ignore that Alabama had trouble with another no-huddle offense in the passing game. West Virginia averaged 8.1 yards per pass attempt against Alabama, becoming the 11th team since 2012 to top seven yards per attempt against the Tide. By comparison, only 10 teams topped that mark from 2008-11.
The good news for the potentially overreacting faction in Tuscaloosa is that Alabama has time to work it out.
If Ole Miss continues to struggle at did for stretches on Thursday, Alabama may not face a formidable hurry-up spread until Oct. 18 against Texas A&M.
“What you find out in your first game is where you are,” Saban said. “This is where we are.”
Illinois’ 28-17 victory over Youngstown State certainly wasn’t a thing of beauty, but neither was this punt executed by the Penguins.
Youngstown State’s punter rolled to his right to punt, and instead of bombing the ball downfield, the punt hit one of his blockers right in the butt. Yes, that’s right – directly in the backside.
Nebraska receiver Jordan Westerkamp made one of the best plays of Week 1 by making an acrobatic, behind-the-back catch.
Quarterback Tommy Armstrong’s pass was on target to be intercepted, but deflected off the FAU defensive back and into the hands of Westerkamp – behind his back.
Check out Westerkamp’s crazy catch:
Penn State and UCF kicked off the first Saturday of action in the 2014 season with a thriller in Ireland. The Nittany Lions won 26-24 on a last-second field goal, but the game got off to an interesting start.
A skydiver was slated to land inside of the stadium with a UCF flag. Instead, the skydiver completely missed the stadium and landed outside of Croke Park.
Check out the video of the skydiver landing outside of the stadium:
Jet lag will be much easier to bear for James Franklin, Christian Hackenberg and Sam Ficken when Penn State returns from Dublin.
The Nittany Lions won Franklin’s debut in dramatic fashion, getting the first college football Saturday to a thrilling start with a 26-23 win over UCF.
As many openers, the game wasn’t always pretty as UCF staged a second-half comeback with a backup quarterback, but Penn State had two familiar heroes in the final minutes.
Read and React: Penn State 26, UCF 23
Penn State’s season will come down to Hackenberg
Christian Hackenberg attempted 47 passes and threw for 453 yards for Penn State for a two-point win over UCF. Such efforts might need to be common during the season. The Nittany Lions may have know this from the start, but it was clear Saturday that James Franklin’s debut season rests on the shoulder of his sophomore quarterback. That’s not a bad thing. Hackenberg may be the best quarterback in the Big Ten with Braxton Miller out. But the offensive line and run game (two yards per carry) gave Penn State little. Bill Belton and Zach Zwinak are a fine running back duo, but the woefully thin line is going to be a season-long liability.
Sam Ficken gets some well-deserved hero time
Few kickers have been through the ups and downs more than Penn State’s Sam Ficken. The game in Dublin wasn’t his first victory lap, but may have been the most satisfying. He finished 4-for-4 on field goals, including the 36-yard game-winner as time expired. Remember, Ficken’s career got off to an inauspicious start when he missed four field goals and an extra point in a 17-16 loss at Virginia in his second career game in 2012.
Penn State may be on upset alert
Way too much happened in this game to make many definitive statements — the travel, the headset mishap that forced Penn State offensive coordinator to the sidelines, a better-than-advertised UCF. But still, Penn State’s early performance against Akron next week will be worth watching. The Nittany Lions did themselves little favors by scheduling a game against a MAC upstart seven days after playing in Ireland. The Terry Bowden-led Zips won four of their final five games and played one-score games against Michigan, Sun Belt champion UL Lafayette and MAC West champ Northern Illinois.
UCF found the replacement for Blake Bortles (for now)
This has to be maddening for any coach: Spend all spring and offseason trying to find a replacement for a first-round quarterback only to replace him after two quarters in the opener. George O’Leary never declared the competition over when he opted for Pete DiNovo, but the outcome may have been different if Justin Holman played the whole way. The sophomore from Snellville, Ga., completed 9-of-14 passes for 204 yards with three total touchdowns as UCF came back from a touchdown deficit at halftime to a lead with 1:47 to go.