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Three Big Ten teams will be the center of the college football world in the second week of the season.
The league will hope it’s not the last time that’s the case in 2014.
This could be the week the Big Ten establishes its College Football Playoff credentials and national perception, one way or another.
Michigan State has a chance to continue its status as the Big Ten’s leading program against Oregon. If the Spartans — winners of the Big Ten title and Rose Bowl last season — beat the Ducks in Eugene, it would be tough to argue against Sparty as a Playoff contender.
Meanwhile, Ohio State and Michigan will face their toughest non-conference opponents of the season. Win all three, and the Big Ten is in a place it hasn’t been in several years.
That’s a double-edged sword. Losses in those games will hurt, for sure. At the same time, the Big Ten has four games against the MAC and two against Conference USA that aren’t gimmes.
All games Saturday. All times Eastern.
Week 2 Previews and Predictions:
1. Michigan State at Oregon
6:30 p.m., Fox
If Michigan State can defeat Oregon in Eugene, will anyone doubt the Spartans’ ability to compete on the national stage? Since the end of last season, Michigan State already has defeated an unbeaten Ohio State and Pac-12 champion Stanford on neutral fields. If Michigan State is going to pull of a win that could vault Sparty into Playoff contender status, the defense will have to contain the no-huddle spread.
Coordinator Pat Narduzzi’s defense has been among the best in the country in recent years, but it has rarely been tested against offense running at a high tempo. Michigan State has allowed opponents to run 75 or more plays only seven times since 2010. Oregon averaged 74.8 plays per game last season.
Meanwhile, Oregon has a little experience against a grinding, run-first offense by playing Stanford every season — it is worth noting Stanford won the last two matchups.
“We see quite a lot of spread offenses over the last four or five years, but just because you’re spread doesn’t mean you do the same things,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. “Oregon is certainly cutting edge in terms of offensive philosophy, but think we players not plays.”
Michigan State vs. teams running 75 or more plays
|2013||Western Michigan||W 26-13||75||204||2.72|
|2010||Notre Dame||W 34-31 (OT)||81||461||5.69|
|2010||Western Michigan||W 38-14||85||323||3.8|
Related: With Foundation Built, Mark Dantonio Can Loosen the Reins
2. Michigan at Notre Dame
7:30 p.m., NBC
Say goodbye to yet another rivalry. As Notre Dame begins its scheduling agreement with the ACC, the Irish are phasing out their Big Ten games. While Michigan State and Purdue games will continue, though not annually, the series with Michigan is on hold indefinitely. That’s a shame as both teams have returned to national relevance. The rivalry has been in Michigan’s favor at 4-1 in the last five meetings, but those games have been decided by an average of six points. Could this game be another shootout? The two teams combined for 1,136 yards of offense in their openers and continue to be limited on defense. Or not. Michigan coach Brady Hoke isn’t revealing much when it comes to star freshman cornerback Jabrill Peppers and veteran linebacker Desmond Morgan.
Listen to the Week 2 preview podcast:
3. Virginia Tech at Ohio State
8 p.m., ESPN
How much of the opener against Navy was an aberration? The Buckeyes certainly hope facing a more conventional defense will show a more true picture of what the Buckeyes can do on that side of the ball. “(Defensive end) Joey Bosa didn't come to Ohio State to squeeze down blocks and keep people off his ankles,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said as an example of the challenges of playing Navy. “That's what he had to do last week. He came to rush a quarterback and penetrate.”
The version of Ohio State Meyer hopes to see in Week 2 is the second half edition of first-year starting quarterback J.T. Barrett, who was 4-for-4 for 130 yards with two touchdowns after the break against Navy. Barrett and the Ohio State passing game will face a Bud Foster-coached defense with four returning starters in the secondary. Not an easy matchup.
4. Ball State at Iowa
3:30 p.m., ESPN2
Iowa needed the fourth quarter to pull away from Northern Iowa for a 31-23 win, so the Hawkeyes need to show signs of improvement against the MAC contenders Ball State. Iowa’s offense in particular needs to recover from a lackluster performance against the Panthers. Quarterback Jake Rudock passed for 250 yards and two touchdowns, but needed 41 attempts to get there (6.1 yards per pass). Meanwhile, Iowa’s top two tailbacks didn’t have a run longer than eight yards. Keep an eye on Ball State coach Pete Lembo, whose destined for a high-major coaching job. Lembo is 3-2 against Power 5 teams as coach at Ball State. The wins have been over Indiana twice and Virginia, the losses to Clemson and Oklahoma. This Iowa team is somewhere in between.
5. Akron at Penn State
Penn State makes a one-week turnaround after playing in Dublin a week ago, but Akron may not be the kind of opponent the Nittany Lions want to see after a nail-biting 26-24 win over UCF. In the midst of a turnaround under Terry Bowden, The Zips has won five of its last six. In addition, Akron returns starting quarterback Kyle Pohl and 10 starters to a team that lost one-score games to Michigan, UL Lafayette and Northern Illinois a year ago. Penn State had trouble running the ball against UCF, entrusting the game in Christian Hackenberg’s arm.
6. Northern Illinois at Northwestern
3:30 p.m., Big Ten Network
Northwestern’s nightmare 2013 carried into the 2014 opener with a 31-24 loss to a Cal team that went 1-11 last season. Northwestern was disjointed on a number of fronts, including a 23-of-44 with a touchdown and two interception game from Trevor Siemian. The Northwestern defense goes from an uncharacteristically balanced Cal team to an Northern Illinois team that carried 77 times of its 109 plays in its season-opening rout of Presbyterian.
7. Maryland at USF
3:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network
Maryland looked like one of Randy Edsall’s UConn teams in a 52-7 rout of James Madison. Other than the final score, that's not necessarily a great comliment. The run game was prolific (285 yards, five touchdowns) and the defense stifled former Georgia Tech quarterback Vad Lee. Starting quarterback C.J. Brown, though, went 11-of-24 for 111 yards. Brown called his own performance “unacceptable.”
8. Middle Tennessee at Minnesota
3:30 p.m., Big Ten Network
With seven returning starters on defense, Minnesota passed its first defensive test without Ra’Shede Hageman by shutting out Eastern Illinois before the Panthers tacked on three garbage-time touchdowns. The offense may be more of a question as Mitch Leidner, now the unquestioned starter, went 9-of-17 for 144 yards with a touchdown. David Cobb averaged 5.1 yards per carry in a vintage performance from the Minnesota run game.
9. Western Kentucky at Illinois
Noon, Big Ten Network
Tim Beckman is in for a long season — or perhaps short season — if the Youngstown State game is a preview of things to come. Illinois needed two touchdowns in the final 8:50 to beat the Penguins 28-17. Maybe Wes Lunt, an Oklahoma State transfer back in his home state, needed some time to warm up. He finished 24-of-38 for 285 yards with four touchdowns. Illinois’ struggling defense will need to find a way to stop a Western Kentucky pass game that threw for 569 yards and six touchdowns in a rout of MAC favorite Bowling Green last week.
10. Central Michigan at Purdue
Purdue escaped a dog fight with Western Michigan to win 43-34 last week, and now the Boilermakers must face the best of the directional Michigans. Central Michigan is no great rushing team, but neither was Western Michigan. The Broncos rolled up 213 yards on the ground and 6.7 yards per carry. Not a great start for Purdue.
11. Western Illinois at Wisconsin
Noon, Big Ten Network
This may be just the kind of game Wisconsin needs to recover from the last week. First came the collapse against LSU, then the miscommunication on the injury for star running back Melvin Gordon, then the revelation that the backup and former starting quarterback Joel Stave has a case of the “yips.” Gordon will be back, but a game against an FCS team with three consecutive losing seasons would be a good time for quarterback Tanner McEvoy to find his footing.
12. Howard at Rutgers
Noon, Big Ten Network
Rutgers will get a warm welcome after rallying in the fourth quarter to beat Washington State 41-38 in Seattle. Rutgers has outscored Howard 127-14 in three meetings since 2006. This is a warm up before the Big Ten opener against Penn State.
13. McNeese State at Nebraska
After Nebraska demolished FAU 55-7 last week, what will the Cornhuskers do against McNeese? FAU is a Conference USA team with bowl aspirations, and Nebraska put up 784 yards, including 498 rushing, on the Owls. Nebraska will play without Randy Gregory, the Big Ten’s sack leader in 2013. Gregory had minor knee surgery Sunday and is expected to return for Fresno State next week.
Big Ten Week 2 Picks
|Game||David Fox||Braden Gall||Steven Lassan||Mitch Light|
|Western Ky. at Illinois (-6)||WKU 35-27||Illinois 38-34||Illinois 38-31||WKU 37-34|
McNeese St. at Nebraska
|Neb 49-7||Neb 45-10||Neb 45-13||Neb 51-17|
|Akron at Penn State (-14 1/2)||Akron 24-21||PSU 37-21||PSU 31-24||PSU 37-21|
|Central Mich. at Purdue (-3 1/2)||CMU 17-14||Pur 37-31||Pur 27-24||Pur 31-30|
|Howard at Rutgers||Rut 42-10||Rut 31-10||Rut 48-13||Rut 37-10|
|Western Ill. at Wisconsin||Wisc 35-14||Wisc 45-7||Wisc 48-3||Wisc 49-7|
|Northern Ill. at Northwestern (-7)||NIU 35-31||NW 34-28||NW 31-24||NW 31-27|
|Middle Tenn. at Minnesota (-16)||Minn 28-17||Minn 34-21||Minn 31-17||Minn 27-13|
|Ball State at Iowa (-17)||Iowa 21-14||Iowa 30-14||Iowa 31-20||BSU 20-17|
|Maryland (-12 1/2) at USF||Md 28-10||Md 30-21||Md 34-20||Md 41-17|
|Michigan St. at Oregon (-12)||Oregon 35-28||Oregon 37-28||MSU 31-27||Oregon 30-24|
|Michigan at Notre Dame (-3 1/2)||Mich 38-31||ND 27-21||ND 27-24||Mich 27-21|
|Va. Tech at Ohio State (-11)||OSU 24-14||OSU 24-13||OSU 31-17||OSU 21-17|
Most of the Big 12 went about its business in Week 1.
All of the title contenders, with the exception of Texas Tech, won easily and looked good doing it. Unfortunately for Texas, however, their victory was far more costly than the rest of the Big 12 as the Longhorns lost two key offensive weapons.
Now, as most of the league looks to win easy (and possibly boring) games against overmatched competition, it’s those same Horns who have to battle in the biggest game of the weekend.
1. BYU at Texas
7:30 p.m., FS1
The numbers are simple. Texas is 12-4 when David Ash starts and 6-5 when he does not. The Longhorns, who also will be without starting center Dominic Espinosa for the rest of the year, will turn to Tyrone Swoopes (and maybe Jerrod Heard as well) this weekend against a BYU team that was very impressive in Week 1 and torched Texas for 679 yards last year. The Horns defense looked much improved in Week 1 but facing North Texas is totally different than having to slow one of the most dynamic weapons in college football. Cougars quarterback Taysom Hill threw for 308 yards and ran for 97 while scoring all five touchdowns for BYU in the road win over UConn to start the year. If Charlie Strong can’t slow down Hill, it may not matter who is playing quarterback for the Burnt Orange.
Listen to the Week 2 preview podcast:
2. Kansas St at Iowa St
What better way to recover from an ugly home loss to an FCS opponent than to face a Bill Snyder-coached team ranked in the top 20? Paul Rhoads has never beaten Kansas State in five tries and Week 1 did little to suggest that he can break through in 2014. Snyder used Tyler Lockett sparingly in Week 1 and instead gave the ball to seven different ball-carriers for 240 yards rushing. “A plus B equals C” is rarely accurate but if Iowa State can’t stop North Dakota State’s running game, why would it be able to stop the much more balanced Wildcats?
3. Texas Tech at UTEP
11 p.m., FS1
The seven-point win over Central Arkansas was a major disappointment despite Davis Webb throwing for 452 yards while completing 75 percent of his passes. Kliff Kingsbury won’t have any issues on offense this year but the questions raised in the preseason about his defense appear to be warranted after allowing 35 points and 406 yards in the opener. Tech will need to slow an offense that rushed for 330 yards — 237 by sophomore Aaron Jones — in the opener against New Mexico. This is the Miners' home opener so expect an inspired effort from the three-touchdown underdog.
4. Oklahoma at Tulsa
The Sooners did all of the things they needed to win easily in Week 1. These two in-state rivals have played 13 times since 1943 and Oklahoma has won all but once (Sooners fans don’t need any reminders of 1996). The Hurricane rolled up 592 yards of offense last week against Tulane but also allowed over 500 yards on defense. Trevor Knight and his stable of running backs should be able to produce big numbers in Week 2.
5. Northwestern St at Baylor
The most watched vertebrae in college football shouldn’t be asked to do much against Northwestern State this weekend. After a dominating performance by the Bears' defense — it doesn’t matter how bad SMU is, holding a June Jones offense to less than 70 yards is absurdly impressive — Art Briles isn’t likely to ask too much of quarterback Bryce Petty. Keep the QB upright, run the ball and play defense and Baylor should start 2-0.
6. Missouri St at Oklahoma St
Both Oklahoma State and West Virginia acquitted themselves admirably against the top two teams in the nation but neither got into the win column. Both should do so this weekend. Mike Gundy’s defense played well, J.W. Walsh was solid and Tyreek Hill announced his presence to college football. Look for a much lighter workload this week for Hill and for the Pokes to lean on Desmond Roland, Rennie Childs and their defense in what should be an easy win. Keep an eye on quarterbacks Daxx Garman and Mason Rudolph to see if Gundy gives either backup a look under center.
7. Towson at West Virginia
Much like Oklahoma State, West Virginia showed an improved defense and found a playmaker on offense in Clint Trickett in a Week 1 loss. And like Ok-State, the Mountaineers should be able to celebrate this week with a victory. Trickett should have no issues topping a team that lost to Central Connecticut State last week in the opener.
8. SE Missouri St at Kansas
7 p.m., ESPN3
The Montell Cozart era begins for Kansas this weekend in a must-win situation for head coach Charlie Weis. Other members of the Big 12 have lost to FCS opponents in season openers the last two years and Weis cannot afford to struggle against SEMO — a team that won its 2014 debut 77-0 last week.
Big 12 Predictions:
|Games||Braden Gall||Mitch Light||David Fox||Steven Lassan|
|BYU (+4) at Texas||BYU, 31-28||BYU, 24-17||BYU, 28-13||BYU, 24-20|
|Kan. St (-12) at Iowa St||KSU, 34-20||KSU, 30-17||KSU, 35-17||KSU, 38-20|
|T. Tech (-20) at UTEP||Tech, 48-23||Tech, 31-27||Tech, 42-28||Tech, 50-24|
|Okla. (-25) at Tulsa||Okla., 49-13||Okla., 47-17||Okla., 49-10||Okla., 45-7|
|NW St at Baylor||Baylor, 45-7||Baylor, 47-10||Baylor, 63-0||Baylor, 61-10|
|Mizz St at Okla. St||OSU, 34-7||OSU, 48-17||OSU, 42-14||OSU, 51-10|
|Towson at WVU||WVU, 44-17||WVU, 41-20||WVU, 35-10||WVU, 41-17|
|SEMO at Kansas||Kansas, 20-14||Kansas, 27-21||Kansas, 17-10||Kansas, 34-7|
All of college football should be watching the Pac-12 this weekend.
The two biggest games of the Week 2 slate will be played out West and will feature four teams ranked in the top 15 of the AP Poll. One of which will feature two top-10 teams.
In fact, over the last 10 years, only four times has a Pac-12 team ranked in the AP top 10 faced a non-conference foe also ranked in the AP top 10 during the regular season. USC won both legs of a home-and-home with Ohio State in 2008-09 while the Trojans also topped Notre Dame in the famed Bush Push in ‘05. The last such meeting was an Oregon loss to LSU to start the 2011 campaign.
This puts into perspective just how big Michigan State’s visit to Oregon will be this weekend.
1. Michigan St at Oregon
6:30 p.m., FOX
The hyperbole heaped upon this meeting may sound over the top, but it’s not. The loser of this contest could easily be knocked out of national title contention, as both teams could be vying for the same playoff spot at season’s end. Moreover, it’s a philosophical showdown between the fastest of up-tempo offenses and the stingiest of physical defenses. But while the Marcus Mariota-Pat Narduzzi chess match will be fascinating to watch on literally every play, it’s the other side of the ball that could determine the outcome. Connor Cook is developing into one of the best quarterbacks in the nation and the Ducks defense — now led by Don Pellum — will have to stop what has become an extremely balanced MSU attack. I won't bore you with Xs and Os schematic breakdowns (although, there are some great ones out there) but the bottom line is whichever defense stays disciplined and makes the fewest mistakes will be the victor. For what it’s worth, the home team has won all four meetings between these two programs (2-2).
Listen to the Week 2 preview podcast:
2. USC at Stanford
3:30 p.m., ABC
Conference play begins in style with what has developed into one of the best West Coast rivalries in the game today. Both USC head coach Steve Sarkisian and Stanford defensive coordinator Lance Anderson debuted in impressive fashion as the Trojans ran nearly as many plays (105) as the Cardinal allowed yards (115) in their openers last week. A year ago, USC used three Stanford turnovers and a game-winning field goal in the final half-minute to pull off the upset at home. It was the first win in the series for the Men of Troy since 2008 — the last time USC won in Palo Alto. This could be Cody Kessler's toughest test of the year and it comes in Week 2.
3. Arizona at UTSA
Thurs., 8 p.m., FS1
The Wildcats and Roadrunners come into this Week 2 primetime meeting after decidedly different showings in Week 1. Both won but how they won was totally different. Arizona, behind the debut of Anu Solomon at quarterback, rolled up a school-record 787 yards of offense and scored 58 points. UTSA struggled mightily on offense, averaging just 3.55 yards per play, but was stifling on defense. The once-powerful Houston offense was held to just 2.85 yards per play, minus-26 yards rushing and just seven points. This will be much closer than the experts think. Rich Rodriguez is attempting to move his non-conference record at Arizona to 10-0 with a win Thursday evening.
4. E. Washington at Washington
3:05 p.m., Pac-12 Net
Eastern Washington isn’t an average FCS opponent. Just ask Oregon State. Chris Petersen gets Cyler Miles (thankfully) back under center after the Huskies' abysmal showing against Hawaii. And this offense will have to be much better if it expects to beat the No. 2-ranked FCS team in the nation. Especially, one filled with players who likely grew up dreaming of playing in the Purple and Gold.
5. Washington St at Nevada
Fri., 10:30 p.m., ESPN
One Evergreen State school that needs to rebound in Week 2, Washington State must face an always tricky Nevada team in Reno. Both quarterbacks will be on display as Connor Halliday, fresh off a 532-yard performance, will battle with the dynamic Cody Fajardo (303 pass, 68 rush in Week 1). The Wolfpack, whose offense started slowly last week but finished with 547 yards, won’t be scared of the mighty Pac-12, as Nevada has played UCLA, Arizona and Cal in the last two years. The Wolfpack have gone 1-2 in these games, beating Cal and nearly upsetting Arizona. Needless to say, Mike Leach’s bowl hopes may hang in the balance Friday evening.
6. Fresno St at Utah
3 p.m., Pac-12 Net
Fresno State will face its third consecutive Pac-12 foe and is hoping for a better outcome than the first two after getting boat-raced by USC last weekend. Utah used three different quarterbacks, eight different ball-carriers and nine different receivers in an easy Week 1 victory over Idaho State. Look for Travis Wilson to play most of the game, however, after a triumphant return to the field (13-18, 265 yds, 2 total TDs). This is a must-win situation for Kyle Whittingham if he wants to get his Utes back into the postseason.
7. Oregon St at Hawaii
10:30 p.m., CBS Sports
Washington struggled mightily in their trip to the Islands last weekend and Oregon State didn’t exactly dominate Portland State as expected. Did Sean Mannion throw for more than 300 yards? Sure, but Mike Riley is looking for a more complete performance against a bad Hawaii team – although one that has traditionally been tricky to beat in Honolulu.
8. Memphis at UCLA
10 p.m., Pac-12 Net
Jim Mora’s bunch escaped with a win over Virginia but he couldn’t have been happy with the way his offensive line played. Memphis won its opener 63-0 but that was against Austin Peay. Fans should expect some aggression to be enacted upon the poor Tigers after what was likely a rough week of practice in Los Angeles.
9. Arizona St at New Mexico
7 p.m., CBS Sports
The Sun Devils have won three consecutive road games and New Mexico doesn’t figure to be much of a test for Todd Graham’s bunch. Taylor Kelly and D.J. Foster were excellent on offense and the totally reworked defense pitched a shutout deep into the third quarter. The Lobos, coming off a loss to UTEP in Week 1, should be easy fodder for ASU in Week 2.
10. Colorado at UMass
3 p.m., ESPN3
After a fast start last week, the Buffaloes allowed their in-state rival to roll off 24 consecutive points and it resulted in a crushing defeat. Mike MacIntrye’s bunch needs to improve on defense against both the running and passing games if Colorado wants to get into the win column this week against a Minutemen team that posted just seven points, nine first downs and 202 yards of offense against Boston College.
11. Sacramento St at Cal
3 p.m., Pac-12 Net
The Bears might have been the nicest surprise in the league last week when they upset Northwestern on the road. Now, against a totally overmatched Sacramento State squad, Sonny Dykes could improve on his win total from last year in just two games. This should be a fun home opener for the fans in Berkeley.
|Game||Braden Gall||Mitch Light||David Fox||Steven Lassan|
|Mich. St (+12) at Oregon||Ore., 31-27||Ore., 30-24||Ore., 35-28||MSU, 31-27|
|USC (+2.5) at Stanford||Stan., 24-17||USC, 27-24||Stan., 27-17||Stan., 27-24|
|Arizona (-7) at UTSA||Zona, 38-21||Zona, 40-20||Zona, 42-14||Zona, 34-20|
|E. Wash. at Wash.||Wash., 31-17||Wash., 41-20||Wash., 24-10||Wash., 38-24|
|Wazzu (-4) at Nevada||WSU, 45-28||WSU, 34-20||WSU, 41-21||WSU, 34-31|
|Fresno St (+10.5) at Utah||Utah, 31-21||Utah, 27-17||Utah, 28-14||Utah, 34-24|
|Ore. St (-10.5) at Hawaii||OSU, 34-13||OSU, 28-13||OSU, 35-10||OSU, 34-20|
|Ariz. St (-26) at N. Mexico||ASU, 54-10||ASU, 37-10||ASU, 49-14||ASU, 48-17|
|Memphis (+24) at UCLA||UCLA, 41-13||UCLA, 30-13||UCLA, 31-10||UCLA, 38-13|
|Colo. (-17) at UMass||Colo., 30-14||Colo., 27-13||Colo., 27-10||Colo., 40-13|
|Sacramento St at Cal||Cal, 35-17||Cal, 44-17||Cal, 35-14||Cal, 48-10|
There’s only one game involving a pair of SEC teams — Ole Miss makes the trip to downtown Nashville to play Vanderbilt at LP Field — but there are a few interesting non-conference games. South Carolina’s defense will be tested by ECU’s impressive passing attack; Mizzou coach Gary Pinkel returns to Toledo for the first time as a visitor; and Tennessee hosts another (potentially) dangerous mid-major opponent.
1. Ole Miss (-20) at Vanderbilt
3:30 ET, SEC Network @ LP Field
This game lost a bit of its intrigue after Vanderbilt dropped a 30-point decision to Temple at home on Thursday night. The Commodores 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, Vanderbilt 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. Rivers is the likely Game 2 starter, but don’t expect an official announcement. There is no such mystery at Ole Miss, where senior Bo Wallace will be under center for the Rebels. Wallace was intercepted three times in the first half of the Rebs’ win over Boise State, but he ended up with a solid stat line — 25-of-36 for 387 yards and four touchdowns. Ole Miss’ up-tempo attack, which is loaded with weapons, will be a huge challenge for the Dores’ new-look 3-4 defense.
Listen to the Week 2 preview podcast:
2. East Carolina (+16.5) at South Carolina
7 ET, ESPNU
One week after getting torched by Texas A&M for 511 passing yards, South Carolina hosts one of the nation’s most underrated pass-catch duos in East Carolina’s Shane Carden and Justin Hardy. Last year, Carden struggled in an early season loss to Virginia Tech, throwing for only 158 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions, but he combined to throw for 631 yards with six TDs and one interception in wins over North Carolina and NC State. South Carolina ended up with solid offensive numbers (7.0 yards per play) in the A&M loss, but the Gamecocks were forced to abandon the running game due to the early deficit. Expect that to change this week. South Carolina will look to punish ECU at the line of scrimmage.
3. Missouri (-4.5) at Toledo
12 ET, ESPN
It’s a homecoming for Missouri coach Gary Pinkel, who went 73–37–3 during a highly successful 10-year run at Toledo from 1991-2000. These two teams met last year in Columbia. Missouri won the game, 38–33, but had trouble slowing down the Rockets’ attack. Toledo outgained Mizzou 387-to-384 but lost the turnover battle, 3-to-1. The Tigers won their ’14 opener, 38–18 over South Dakota State but didn’t exactly dominate wire to wire. The score was 21–10 at the half, and the Jackrabbits gained a respectable 365 yards for the game. Toledo, with former Alabama quarterback Phillip Ely running the show, will cause some problems for the MU defense.
4. Arkansas State (+16) at Tennessee
12 ET, SEC Network
Tennessee was extremely impressive in its surprisingly easy win over Utah State. With the possible exception of the running game, not much didn’t go well for Butch Jones’ team. Week 2 brings another solid mid-major team to Neyland Stadium. Arkansas State has won outright or shared three straight Sun Belt titles, and has done so under three different head coaches. Junior quarterback Fredi Knighten was recruited to Arkansas State by then-head coach Gus Malzahn to run the Red Wolves’ up-tempo offense. Knighten is a true dual threat who threw for 200-plus and rushed for 100-plus in the Red Wolves’ 37–10 win over Montana State.
5. UAB (+27.5) at Mississippi State
2 ET, ESPN3
These two teams played very well in their respective debuts on Saturday. Mississippi State took care of business against an overmatched Southern Miss team, outgaining the Golden Eagles 550-to-283 en route to a stress-free 49–0 win. Meanwhile, UAB rolled past Troy 48–10 in Bill Clark’s first game as an FBS coach. This was a significant win for a program that won only two games last year and had lost three straight to Troy. This one could be tricky for Mississippi State.
6. Ohio (+13) at Kentucky
3:30 ET, ESPNU
No SEC team won with more ease in Week 1 than Kentucky, which jumped out to a 35–0 lead over UT Martin at the half. The level of competition was poor, but it was no doubt a good sign to see Patrick Towles so effective at quarterback (377 yards, no INTs) and the running game churn out yards with so much success. This week’s opponent will provide more resistance. Ohio is fresh off a solid 17–14 win at MAC East rival Kent State. The Bobcats lost the turnover battle 4-to-0 yet won the game thanks to a balanced offense that had 262 passing yards and 175 rushing yards. Quarterback Derrius Vick will be making his second career start.
7. Florida Atlantic (+40) at Alabama
12 ET, SEC Network
One week after giving up 784 total yards, including 498 on the ground, in a 55–7 loss at Nebraska, Florida Atlantic will make the trip to Tuscaloosa. This will not go well for the Owls. Alabama is still trying to figure things out at quarterback — Nick Saban says both Blake Sims and Jacob Coker will play — but FAU’s primary problem will be finding a way to slow down Alabama’s devastating group of running backs.
8. San Jose State (+31) at Auburn
7 ET, ESPN2
Few teams were as impressive on the offensive end as Auburn in Week 1. With a new cast of characters in leading roles, the Tigers ripped through Arkansas with incredible balance — 293 yards passing and 302 yards rushing. Nothing has been announced, but it’s assumed that Nick Marshall will be the starter at Auburn. San Jose State played well in its opener, beating North Dakota 42–10. The guess here is that Auburn has a few more weapons on offense.
9. Eastern Michigan (+37.5) at Florida
4 ET, SEC Network
Florida was scheduled to open the 2014 season against one of the worst FBS teams in the nation. That still will happen, but the opponent is Eastern Michigan, not Idaho. The Eagles won their opener, beating Morgan State 31–28 despite giving up 479 yards of offense. Chris Creighton, EMU’s first-year coach, has won a ton of games at the lower levels of college football. Winning in Ypsilanti is a huge challenge.
10. Nicholls State at Arkansas
4 pm ET, SEC Network
Arkansas' SEC losing streak was extended to 13 games on Saturday, but the Razorbacks did some good things despite losing by 24 points at Auburn. Brandon Allen, who played through injuries last season, looked comfortable at quarterback, completing 18-of-31 attempts for 175 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. And the running game delivered as expected, with Alex Collins, Korliss Marshall and Jonathan Williams combining to average 5.9 yards per carry. Nicholls State gave up 539 yards on the ground in its Week 1 loss at Air Force. Good luck, Colonels.
11. Sam Houston State at LSU
7:30 ET, SEC Network
LSU returns home for its first game in Baton Rouge after surviving a significant scare from Wisconsin in Houston. The Tigers trailed 24–7 midway through the third quarter before scoring the game’s final 21 points on their way to a 28–24 win. Quarterback Anthony Jennings completed less than 50 percent of his passes but averaged 11.4 yards on his 21 attempts and threw two TDs without an interception. Kenny Hilliard, not freshman Leonard Fournette, was the Tigers’ leading rusher, with 110 yards on 18 carries. There should be plenty of carries to go around this week. Sam Houston is a solid FCS program but should not pose too much of a threat to LSU.
12. Lamar at Texas A&M
7:30 ET, SEC Network
Kenny Hill, one of the breakout stars in Week 1, makes his first start in College Station. The Aggie offense looked unstoppable with the sophomore running the show in the win at South Carolina. Lamar won its opener, 42–27, over Grambling. It’s a safe bet that the Cardinals will be 1–1 after Saturday’s trip to A&M.
SEC Week 2 Predictions
|David Fox||Braden Gall||Steven Lassan||Mitch Light|
|Arkansas St at Tenn||UT 27-17||UT 34-17||UT 38-17||UT 31-14|
|Missouri at Toledo||MU 35-24||MU 41-24||MU 38-27||MU 30-20|
|FAU at Alabama||UA 42-10||UA 41-13||UA 45-3||UA 51-0|
|UAB at Miss State||MSU 34-17||MSU 38-10||MSU 38-13||MSU 34-24|
|Ohio at Kentucky||UK 28-14||UK 31-21||UK 34-20||UK 30-17|
|E. Michigan at Florida||UF 35-7||UF 45-7||UF 50-7||UF 51-7|
|Nicholls St at Arkansas||UA 42-10||UA 41-13||UA 48-7||UA 48-10|
|Ole Miss at Vanderbilt||UM 35-14||UM 35-21||UM 34-20||UM 30-17|
|E. Carolina at S. Carolina||USC 38-28||USC 38-28||USC 41-31||USC 37-24|
|San Jose St at Auburn||AU 56-7||AU 51-10||AU 48-17||AU 50-10|
|Lamar at Texas A&M||A&M 28-7||A&M 51-10||A&M 60-10||A&M 58-14|
|Sam Houston St at LSU||LSU 28-7||LSU 37-7||LSU 45-13||LSU 37-10|
It’s another light slate of games in the ACC in Week 2. Virginia Tech-Ohio State is the only game with national appeal, but there’s intrigue in the Friday night matchup between Pittsburgh and Boston College.
Most of the ACC’s top teams should win big in Week 2, as Florida State takes on Citadel, Clemson hosts South Carolina State, Miami plays Florida A&M and Louisville meets Murray State on Saturday.
It’s hard to learn much from lopsided non-conference games, but Week 2 is all about getting better and finetuning some of the mistakes from Week 1 for the top teams in the conference.
Week 2 Previews and Predictions:
ACC Week 2 Game Power Rankings
1. Virginia Tech at Ohio State (-11)
8 p.m. ET, ESPN
It’s easy to overreact after one game. However, it’s also easy to see why Virginia Tech’s offense could be better in 2014. Quarterback Michael Brewer was steady in his Hokies’ debut (23 of 30, 251 yards and two scores), while freshmen running backs Shai McKenzie and Marshawn Williams and pass-catchers Isaiah Ford and Bucky Hodges played a key role in the gameplan. Of course, Saturday’s game against Ohio State will provide a much better barometer test for Virginia Tech. The Hokies’ offensive line should have its hands full against the Buckeyes’ defensive line, which is arguably the best in the nation. With both teams breaking in a new starter at quarterback and youth at the skill positions, this one could be a low-scoring affair. When the Buckeyes have the ball, look for Virginia Tech’s defensive line to challenge Ohio State’s offensive line. The Buckeyes struggled up front in Week 1, and the Hokies recorded four sacks in the opener against William & Mary.
Listen to the Week 2 preview podcast:
2. Pittsburgh (-4.5) at Boston College
7 p.m. ET, ESPN
This is the first meeting between these two schools as members of the ACC. Boston College and Pittsburgh are former Big East rivals but have not played since 2004. Both schools picked up victories in Week 1, but considering the opponents (UMass for Boston College and Delaware for Pittsburgh), it’s hard to take too much away from those games. Expect both teams to lean heavily on the ground in this one, as the Panthers gashed Delaware for 409 yards, and the Eagles recorded 338 against UMass. Neither team should find as much running room this week as they did last Saturday, which should put more emphasis which quarterback can make the most plays (and avoid the big mistake). This game is also a good test for both defenses, as Pittsburgh continues to search for the right mix up front without Aaron Donald, and Boston College has five new starters in the front seven.
3. Georgia Tech (-10) at Tulane
4 p.m. ET, ESPNEWS
Three non-conference games to open the season is a good way for Georgia Tech to develop new quarterback Justin Thomas and find a few answers on the defensive line before ACC play starts. The Yellow Jackets averaged a whopping 8.6 yards per play in the opener against Wofford, with Thomas accounting for 353 total yards and two scores. Georgia Tech is a double-digit favorite in this one, but Tulane should be a tougher test than Wofford. The Green Wave is opening a new stadium on Saturday and averaged seven yards per play against Tulsa. The Yellow Jackets could be tested early, but Thomas’ playmaking ability will be too much for Tulane in the second half.
4. San Diego State at North Carolina (-15)
8 p.m. ET, ESPNEWS
The Tar Heels had a sluggish first half against Liberty but scored 35 second-half points to win 56-29. North Carolina will need a better effort on Saturday, as San Diego State is one of the top teams in the Mountain West. Quarterback Marquise Williams will get the start over Mitch Trubisky, and Williams is hoping to bounce back after tossing two picks last week. The Aztecs won their opener 38-7 over Northern Arizona and feature a talented trio on offense, headlined by quarterback Quinn Kaehler and receiver Ezell Ruffin. San Diego State could hang around for a while, but North Carolina’s explosive offense should get on track after averaging only 4.8 yards per play in the opener.
5. Old Dominion at NC State (-16)
6 p.m. ET, ESPN3
The Wolfpack narrowly avoided an upset in Week 1, scoring 21 points in the second half to beat Georgia Southern 24-23. Coach Dave Doeren’s team should be on upset alert once again, as Old Dominion’s passing offense – led by senior Taylor Heinicke – will be a tough matchup. Heinicke has passed for 11,764 yards in his career. The Monarchs allowed 50.4 points per game against FBS teams last season, which should allow the Wolfpack offense to build off their opening week performance (6.2 yards per play). Quarterback Jacoby Brissett completed 28 of 40 passes for 291 yards and three scores last week and faces an Old Dominion secondary that allowed 407 passing yards to Hampton in Week 1.
6. Duke (-19) at Troy
7 p.m. ET, ESPN3
After cruising to an easy 52-13 win over Elon in Week 1, Duke stays out of conference for another favorable matchup in Week 2. The Blue Devils make the nine-hour trek to Alabama to take on Troy – a team that’s reeling a bit after losing 48-10 to UAB last Saturday. The Trojans allowed 6.6 yards per play to the Blazers in Week 1, which should allow Duke’s offense to move the ball with ease on Saturday. Quarterback Anthony Boone was efficient in Week 1, completing 22 of 33 throws for 247 yards and four scores. The Blue Devils need Boone to play at that level to repeat as Coastal Division champions. Considering the injury to standout linebacker Kelby Brown in the preseason, it’s important for Duke’s defense to build confidence before ACC play starts in late September. The Blue Devils shouldn’t have to sweat much in this one, and the focus for coach David Cutcliffe is keeping everyone healthy and likely playing as many players as possible.
7. Richmond at Virginia
3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN3
Virginia surprised most by hanging around against UCLA in Week 1, and coach Mike London may have found a quarterback in the process. Sophomore Matt Johns completed 13 of 22 passes for 154 yards and two scores against the Bruins and should be the Cavaliers’ starter on Saturday. If Johns plays well once again this week, it would be a huge boost for a program that has struggled to find consistent quarterback play under London. Richmond ranked as the No. 17 team in this week’s FCS poll and is coached by former Virginia assistant Danny Rocco. Quarterback Michael Strauss is a Virginia transfer and threw for 3,808 yards and 26 scores last year.
8. Citadel at Florida State
7:30 p.m. ET, RSN
The Seminoles can basically pick their final score in this one. Citadel went 5-7 last year was pounded 52-6 by Clemson last November. Florida State wasn’t as dominant in the opener as some expected, but this week’s game should give coach Jimbo Fisher an opportunity to work on a few things.
9. South Carolina State at Clemson
12:30 p.m. ET, ACC Network
The Tigers should be an angry bunch on Saturday. Clemson was unable to contain Georgia’s rushing attack or generate any offense in the second half of last week’s loss in Athens, but Week 2’s matchup against South Carolina State should allow Dabo Swinney’s team to work out the kinks before ACC play begins against Florida State on Sept. 20. Senior Cole Stoudt is expected to start at quarterback, but true freshman Deshaun Watson will see plenty of snaps.
10. Florida A&M at Miami
7 p.m. ET, ESPN3
After stumbling at Louisville on Monday night, Florida A&M is the perfect rebound opponent for Miami. The Rattlers went 3-9 last season and lost their opener to Jackson State. This game should be a good opportunity for freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya to gain experience after an inconsistent debut against the Cardinals. Kaaya completed 17 of 29 throws for 174 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. His development is critical to Miami’s hopes of contending for the Coastal Division title.
11. Murray State at Louisville
7 p.m. ET, ESPN3
It’s a short turnaround for the Cardinals after playing on Monday night, but coach Bobby Petrino’s team shouldn’t have much trouble with the Racers. Quarterback Will Gardner was efficient (20 of 28) in his debut as Louisville’s starter, and the defense held Miami to just 4.4 yards per play. Gardner should have a huge performance against the Racers, and Petrino should be able to empty his bench on Saturday.
12. Gardner-Webb at Wake Forest
6:30 p.m. ET, ESPN3
As Thursday night’s loss to ULM showed, it’s going to be a long year for first-year coach Dave Clawson. Wake Forest managed only five first downs and 94 total yards against the Warhawks, with only one drive going more than 20 yards. Gardner-Webb opened its 2014 campaign with a loss to Furman and represents the Demon Deacons’ best shot at a win this year.
Week 2 ACC Predictions
|Va. Tech (+11) at Ohio St||OSU 24-14||OSU 24-13||OSU 31-17||OSU 21-17|
|Pitt (-4.5) at Boston College||Pitt 27-17||Pitt 33-21||Pitt 27-24||Pitt 31-17|
|Ga. Tech (-10) at Tulane||GT 35-21||GT 34-21||GT 34-20||GT 34-20|
|SDSU (+15) at UNC||UNC 28-17||UNC 41-28||UNC 38-24||UNC 30-20|
|ODU (+16) at NC State||State 28-21||State 34-21||State 41-30||State 38-28|
|Duke (-19) at Troy||Duke 42-21||Duke 41-21||Duke 45-17||Duke 37-17|
|Richmond at Virginia||UVA 24-10||UVA 27-10||UVA 31-13||UVA 21-20|
|Citadel at FSU||FSU 56-7||FSU 49-0||FSU 55-3||FSU 54-0|
|FAMU at Miami||Miami 28-10||Miami 38-10||Miami 45-7||Miami 38-10|
|Murray State at Louisville||Louisville 42-7||Louisville 34-7||Louisville 48-7||Louisville 44-7|
|SC State at Clemson||Clemson 35-14||Clemson 48-7||Clemson 52-10||Clemson 51-4|
|Gardner-Webb at Wake||Wake 21-10||Wake 24-13||Wake 30-13||Wake 17-7|
The Seattle Seahawks open defense of their Super Bowl crown at home against the Green Bay Packers tonight on NBC to kick off the 2014 NFL regular season. All eyes will be on CenturyLink Field, as the Seahawks take the first step in their attempt to become the first repeat Super Bowl champions since New England in 2003-04. The Packers have won the NFC North each of the past three seasons and enter this season with Super Bowl aspirations of their own.
Pete Carroll’s Seahawks have won 19 of their last 20 games at CenturyLink Field, a stretch that goes back to the last time these two teams met. Seattle defeated Green Bay 14-12 back in Week 3 of the 2012 regular season. Fortunately for Aaron Rodgers and company, there will not be a replacement referee anywhere in sight tonight.
Green Bay Packers at Seattle Seahawks
Kickoff: 8:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: NBC
Spread: Seattle -6
Three Things to Watch
1. Seattle’s Super Bowl Hangover?
The Seahawks thoroughly dominated the Broncos 43-8 in Super Bowl XLVIII in February and are a legitimate contender to get back to the big game this season. It’s been more than a decade since a team went back-to-back and only seven teams have ever accomplished the feat (Pittsburgh’s done it twice). Besides history, Seattle also will have to deal with the fac that this is not the same team that won the Lombardi Trophy seven months ago. Five starters and a couple of key reserves from the roster that manhandled the Broncos are gone, including the leading receiver and half of the defensive line. There’s still plenty of talent remaining and some “new” faces who should be immediate contributors, but depth, especially on defense, was one of Seattle’s hallmarks last season. With so much roster turnover and the added expectations of being the defending champions, one can’t help but wonder if it will take a game or two for this team to find its stride. Residing in the NFC West, the toughest division in the NFL, a game or two could be the difference between playing a playoff game at home or on the road. So if Seattle wants to increase its chances of playing in front of its “12th Man,” it can ill afford a flat performance out of the gates, especially against a quality opponent like Green Bay.
2. Green Bay’s re-Packaged Defense
While Green Bay’s offense was statistically superior to Seattle’s last season; there was no contest on the other side of the ball. The Seahawks were No. 1 in the NFL in total, scoring and passing defense, as well as interceptions and turnover differential. Everyone knows about the “Legion of Boom” secondary, but Seattle also was just as effective in rushing the passer and stopping the run. Contrast that to the Packers, who were 25th in the league in total yards allowed and rushing defense and not much better when it came to points and passing yards allowed. Green Bay won a third straight NFC North division title despite going just 8-7-1. Aaron Rodgers’ mid-season collarbone injury had a lot to do with this, but it’s no secret that the defense needs to a better job if the Packers want to be legitimate NFC contenders, let alone beat the Seahawks on the road tonight. The team addressed its defensive deficiencies in the offseason, signing free-agent pass-rush specialist Julius Peppers and using four of its seven draft picks on defenders, highlighted by safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, the No. 21 overall pick out of Alabama. Green Bay also is hoping for a full season from linebacker Clay Matthews and bounce-back campaigns from other key personnel. A strong statement from this beleaguered unit tonight would not only help the offense, which figures to have a tough assignment trying to move the ball against the NFL’s No. 1 defense on its own turf, but also help set the tone moving forward.
3. Dueling All-Purpose Wideouts
When healthy, Randall Cobb and Percy Harvin are among the most dangerous players in the NFL. Not only are both reliable targets in the passing game, they are both explosive return specialists capable of scoring any time they touch the ball. The problem is that both missed more games than they played last season. Cobb broke his leg against Baltimore in Week 6 and didn’t return until the final game of the regular season, while Harvin underwent offseason hip surgery and didn’t appear in a game until Week 17. His biggest contribution came in Seattle’s Super Bowl victory, when he led all rushers with 45 yards (on just two carries) and also took the second half kickoff back 87 yards for a touchdown. The impact Harvin had with those three touches underscores his importance to the Seahawks’ offense, especially now that fellow wide receiver Golden Tate, who was Russell Wilson’s favorite target the past two seasons, is now in Detroit. Meanwhile, a healthy Cobb gives Aaron Rodgers another target with which to attack Seattle’s vaunted secondary. With Cobb, Jordy Nelson, Jarrett Boykin and rookie Davante Adams at wide receiver and running back Eddie Lacy a capable pass-catcher out of the backfield, Rodgers has quality options to throw to, provided his offensive line gives him enough time in the pocket. Whether Cobb or Havin end up returning kickoffs or punts in this game remains to be seen, but the simple fact that they are options in the return game is yet another indicator why both will be a welcome sight on the field tonight for their respective teams.
Seattle is the defending Super Bowl champions playing at home, where it has been basically unbeatable (17-1, including playoffs) the past two seasons. Green Bay is certainly no slouch of an opponent, having won its division the past three seasons and nearly beating the Seahawks on their home turf the last time these two teams met. While Seattle has a distinct advantage on defense, Aaron Rodgers will show why he’s a perennial MVP candidate by keeping his team in this one. However, Seattle has its own Pro Bowl-caliber quarterback in Russell Wilson, and in the end the young signal-caller will make enough plays to lead the reigning world champions to victory. I expect there to be plenty of penalty calls due to the crackdown on illegal contact and the physical nature of the Seahawks’ “Legion of Boom.” But at least we can take comfort in the fact that tonight, the flags will be thrown by “real” referees.
Prediction: Seattle 27, Green Bay 23
The NFL is back, as the 2014 regular season kicks off Thursday night when Seattle opens defense of its Super Bowl crown at home against Green Bay. With the journey to Super Bowl XLIX set to begin, Athlon’s editors have made their predictions for how the upcoming season and postseason will play out.
The Seahawks are trying to do something that hasn’t been done in more than 10 years — win back-to-back Super Bowls — and as a whole, Athlon’s NFL’s pundits don’t seem to like their chances. Only two of the five editors polled even picked Seattle to make it back to the Super Bowl and even those two don't have them pullong off the rare repeat. On the other hand, three editors not only like Denver's odds of getting back to the Super Bowl, they also have the Broncos finishing the deal this time.
In addition to the predicted standings for every conference, Athlon’s editors also make their Wild Card (WC) picks as well as the respective conference championship game (CG) matchups and their best guess as to which teams will face off in Glendale, Arizona, on Feb. 1 with the Lombardi Trophy on the line.
Super Bowl XLIX
Mark Dantonio didn’t set out to be everyone’s favorite coach in the Big Ten.
Seven seasons after he arrived to fix a broken Michigan State program, there’s a sense he still wants to be seen as a full-time taskmaster.
The image, though, is becoming tougher to maintain. Just as Michigan State has shed it’s image of the second fiddle to Michigan, Dantonio has transformed his demeanor, though it’s been an incremental process.
At the conference media day, the Big Ten Network asked one player from each team for the coach — other than their own — for whom he’d want to play.
The leading contender wasn’t the coach with the national titles and name recognition, Ohio State’s Urban Meyer. It wasn’t the younger, effervescent Pat Fitzgerald or James Franklin. The winner, with five of 14 votes, was Dantonio, one more than Meyer.
At least Dantonio can claim he won a plurality of votes and not the majority, allowing Michigan State to continue to play the underdog card that has worked so well during the last four seasons.
That may change Saturday if Michigan State is able to topple Oregon in Eugene, a game that could allow the Spartans to carry the Big Ten banner for the first College Football Playoff while giving Michigan State wins over national powerhouses in its last four games.
The Dantonio coaching at Autzen Stadium, though, isn’t the same Dantonio who took the job in 2007 after a three-year stint at Cincinnati. For all the changes at Michigan State, including its rise to one of the powers of a changing Big Ten, the biggest transformation may have been Dantonio.
Quarterback Connor Cook is playing for a different coach than the one who signed him. And even more different from the one Dantonio’s first quarterback, Brian Hoyer, knew.
Like Cook, Hoyer played high school football in Cleveland, and the two have remained in contact, including when the now-Cleveland Browns quarterback during spring practice visited East Lansing for the first time since his pro day in 2008.
Much had changed for Hoyer since the last time he was here — including a $24.5 million renovation of the stadium’s north end zone, locker room and recruiting room — but there was another upgrade Hoyer noticed.
“The main difference wasn’t new facilities,” Cook said. “The main thing was Coach D and how he changed. He’s all business when he’s around the football field and he’s in meetings. When it’s time to have fun, he does have fun. Coach D is human.”
Dantonio brushed off the compliment with the characteristic dry wit.
“Brian’s just older now, but he knows me better,” Dantonio said.
The evidence speaks to itself, though.
Dantonio joined in the now-requisite locker room dancing video after a big win, in this case, a 26-9 win over Michigan.
The song, “Type of Way” by Atlanta rapper Rich Homie Quan, became the unofficial theme song of the season when cornerback Darqueze Dennard made popular among the team. By the time Michigan State won the Rose Bowl, Quan was in Pasadena and in the Spartans’ locker room after the game.
Before the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl in 2012, Dantonio rode into practice on a horse — and that was after a 6-6 regular season (7-6 after the bowl).
“He’s way more loose,” Cook said.
Maybe that’s because Michigan State has scaled the Big Ten, winning the school’s first outright league title since 1987 and first Rose Bowl since 1955.
Dantonio certainly couldn’t afford being light when he first took over at Michigan State.
The program had four losing seasons in five years under John L. Smith and Bobby Williams. The Spartans had been known for mystifying in-game collapses, falling apart in the second half season and media histrionics from the head coach in Smith.
“When I came to Michigan State in 2007, the culture needed to be changed,” Dantonio said. “I don’t want to say anything about anyone in the past, but we hadn’t been to a bowl game in a while. We needed to establish who we were and the parameters of our program.”
Re-making Michigan State wasn’t a smooth process. The most visible speed bump came in Dantonio’s second season in 2009 when several of his players were involved in an on-campus fight. Dantonio had given one of the players arrested in the brawl a second chance after a previous altercation.
After that season, Michigan State’s program turned a corner that’s included 10 or more wins in three of the last four years.
“I’m here for our players; I like to mentor them,” Dantonio said. “But I tell them when we have a discipline issue, you don’t want someone soft sitting behind the table. You have to establish discipline. That means treating everyone fairly and consistently.”
That’s the Dantonio that Cook first got to know, first through Hoyer and then through the recruiting process.
“Watching in him in high school when I was junior and sophomore to watch Brian Hoyer, I’d see Coach D on the sideline and there was never a smile. None. Not in an interview. Not on the sideline. When I was being recruited, I thought, Coach D is pretty freakin’ intense.”
While Dantonio says he hopes his freshmen now have the same impressions Cook did originally, odds are they don’t.
Perhaps it’s the Big Ten title that’s lightened his mood. Perhaps a mild heart attack in 2010 — a subject he’s still reluctant to address — has given him a sense of perspective.
Or perhaps by Year 8, the discipline is ingrained enough in the program, as safety Kurtis Drummond said. That leaves Dantonio a little wiggle room to enjoy himself.
“You’ve got to start off strong. You have to lay a foundation,” Drummond said. “The respect is definitely there. He doesn’t need to be as stern anymore because guys understand.”
This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for September 3:
• You're running out of time to choose a clever Fantasy Football team name. Let Athlon help.
• Ever wonder what today's quarterbacks would look like bald? Wonder no more.
• Athlon's Braden Gall and David Fox tell us what we should and shouldn't overreact to after Week 1. They should just acknowledge that it's impossible not to overreact.
• Longform read on the reinvention of RG3. Let's hope he's salvagable at this point.
• Mo'ne Davis threw a perfect two-seam first pitch at Dodger Stadium, and gave Yasiel Puig her autograph, as she continues to excel at life.
• Watch a fleet-footed, plus-sized ball girl snag a plastic bag out of midair at the U.S. Open.
--Email us with any compelling sports-related links at firstname.lastname@example.org
They say that hope springs eternal, but that’s really meant for baseball. In football, hope is false, more often than not. Parity in the NFL has made every team enter every season feeling like a contender, when the truth is that couldn’t be further from the truth.
So more than a few fan bases are in for a big fall – either immediately with a slow start, or slowly with a disappointing finish. There are only a few “power” teams left in the NFL. All the rest could go either way depending on a few factors. Sometimes it’s easier to see the truth from outside the fan base. So for those of you caught up in hope that your mediocre team is truly a contender, here’s a little reality check:
Here are five teams you think will be good, but they almost certainly won’t:
1. Carolina Panthers (12-4)
They had a brilliant, coming out party in 2013 and it looked like they had arrived, finally, as an NFC power and Cam Newton had taken a step toward being an elite quarterback. But now Newton is playing with a cracked rib and behind a shaky offensive line. And remember, they got rid of Steve Smith and pretty much all their wide receivers during the offseason.
Yes, their defense is terrific. They led the NFL with 60 sacks last season. And you can win a lot of games with a pass rush like that. But you can’t be a double-digit win team without scoring points. Also, defensive end Greg Hardy is staring at a suspension at some point, possibly as long as six games.
If he gets suspended for that long, and Newton’s injury lingers it could be a really long season. Even if everything works out, the Panthers could be in for a fall back to mediocrity, at least.
2. Kansas City Chiefs (11-5)
Everyone knew Andy Reid would turn around the Chiefs, but did anyone see 11 wins in his first season? Probably not, because it was unrealistic – as improbable, really as their 9-0 start. It’s also impossible, by the way, to ignore that their 9-0 start became a 2-5 finish, which may have been too big of a correction, but is still a sign of things to come.
This year they’re facing a brutal schedule and Reid will have to continue to make magic with quarterback Alex Smith and a surprisingly powerful running game behind an offensive line that lost three starters to free agency. That’s not usually a recipe for success. Also keep in mind that as the Chiefs swooned late, so did their pass rush which was as responsible as anything for their 9-0 start.
In a tough division where a lot of points are scored, it’s hard to imagine Reid can keep up with the roster he has – just like it was tough to imagine they could sustain it when they were undefeated in Week 10 last year.
3. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-8)
Back to back .500 seasons show they’re deep in mediocrity, but they always feel they have a chance because of the presence of Ben Roethlisberger. And maybe that’s true. But what else do the Steelers have? And shouldn’t everyone be at least a little alarmed by how awful the offense looked this summer?
The hope for more seems to hinge around the running back duo of Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount, assuming they don’t end up serving twin suspensions for their arrest on marijuana charges in August. It won’t help ease the burden that the loss of Jerricho Cotchery has thinned the wide receiver corps.
Unfortunately they’re going to need to score points just to get back to .500 again, because that defense, being rebuilt around youth, took a big step back last year and may be poised to step back again.
4. Chicago Bears (8-8)
Doesn’t it seem like every year the Bears are on the verge of contention and Jay Cutler is on the verge of being an elite quarterback? Yet the Bears haven’t been in the playoffs since 2010 and they’ve actually made it just once in the last seven seasons. So why all the optimism this year?
Jay Cutler is what he is, which is an erratic quarterback capable of elite play followed by mindless mistakes. Yes, they scored a lot of points last year (and Cutler was rewarded with a seven-year, $126 million extension). And they should again with the receiving duo of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffrey.
But a bad defense last year is now without Julius Peppers and Henry Melton along their defensive line. They brought in Jared Allen to help replace them, though he doesn’t exactly bring young legs. Their secondary isn’t getting any younger either. Yes, if the defense is better and the offense is just as good, this finally could be the year the Bears return to prominence.
But when is the last time everything worked out that well in Chicago? And haven’t we heard all this before?
5. Atlanta Falcons (4-12)
Arguably the biggest disappointment of 2013 was the fall of the Falcons from the best team in the NFC to the worst – a stunning fall for a team that was loaded with weapons (at least on the offensive side of the ball). Now, in 2014, everyone seems to assume that last year’s collapse was an anomaly, that the Falcons are poised to bounce back big.
Granted the return to health of Julio Jones could be big, but take a look at the lines along both sides of the ball. They’re trying to patch things together and hoping it will work, but it doesn’t appear as if they’ll be able to generate a pass rush or stop one. That’s a problem because that’s where games are won and lost.
Maybe they’ll be able to score some points – though it’s important to factor in the retirement (for real this time) of tight end Tony Gonzalez. Yet with a questionable defense – that may be switching from a 4-3 to a 3-4 – it’s hard to imagine they’ll be able to score enough to vault them back into contention in the NFC. Mediocrity may be their ceiling, and that would be a disappointment again.
—By Ralph Vacchiano
Athlon Sports has formed a Heisman Trophy committee. Each week, we will ask 13 members of the national college football media to rank their top candidates for the Heisman Trophy.
Each voter will rank their top five candidates, with each first-place vote getting five points and each last-place vote getting one point.
Stewart Mandel, FOX Sports
Dave Revsine, Big Ten Network
Adam Zucker, CBS Sports
Steven Godfrey, SBNation
Zac Ellis, Sports Illustrated
Bryan Fischer, NFL.com
Tom Dienhart, Big Ten Network
Barrett Sallee, Bleacher Report
Josh Ward, MrSEC.com
Mitch Light, Athlon Sports
David Fox, Athlon Sports
Steven Lassan, Athlon Sports
Braden Gall, Athlon Sports/SiriusXM
Listen to Cover 2 college footbll podcast:
The Top 3:
Todd Gurley, RB, Georgia
The Bulldogs' workhorse back was at his best in one of the biggest games of the week. He rushed for 198 yards and returned a kick 100 yards for a touchdown in the 45-21 win over Clemson. He scored from 100 yards, 51 yards, 23 yards and 18 yards, including two fourth quarter runs that sealed the win for UGA. Gurley now has two weeks to rest before heading to Columbia to take on South Carolina. He appeared on all 13 ballots.
Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon
The Ducks' signal-caller entered the season as the "front-runner" and did little to hurt his case in a blowout win over South Dakota. He completed 14 of 20 passes for 267 yards and three touchdowns while rushing six times for 43 yards and a fourth score. His Heisman campaign takes center stage as Oregon welcomes Michigan State to town in Week 2. He was left off two ballots.
Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State
Winston was one of only two players (Gurley) to land on all 13 ballots. This after what might be considered his worst game as a college player. He threw two early interceptions and forced bad throws all night, but eventually his highlight-reel run solidified the Seminoles' win. He finished with 370 yards passing and two total touchdowns over Oklahoma State. He gets The Citadel this weekend.
Week 1 is in the books and the entire world is overreacting. Hosts David Fox and Braden Gall recap the entire first weekend of action and tell you what they learned about each of the Big 5 conferences. Injuries, upsets, letdowns and analysis highlight this jampacked Week 1 edition of the Cover 2 podcast.
Welcome to the Athlon Rookie Report, where each week David Smith will evaluate the deepest crop of new NASCAR Sprint Cup Series talent since 2006. The Report will include twice-monthly rankings, in-depth analysis, Q&A sessions with the drivers and more.
Today, David analyzes a top rookie’s consistency and asks whether it matters.
With a finish deviation of 12.4, Kyle Larson is the most inconsistent rookie this year in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. This is something that’s been noted on NASCAR telecasts — “The key to him being in the Chase is he’s gotta be more consistent” — and a weakness about which I wrote in July.
It’s not something that will keep him from winning the Rookie of the Year award, though. The youngster tops all rookies in Production in Equal Equipment Rating (PEER) and ranks in the top 5 among all drivers in adjusted pass efficiency. Larson and his No. 42 team are also the best team with a rookie driver according to their 16th-place average finish, which is ultimately a better barometer for performance than consistency. In terms of consistency, Larson’s poor deviation — a perfect deviation is 0.0 — actually falls in line with some memorable rookie seasons as the chart to the right illustrates.
Among the aforementioned drivers, all of which had ballyhooed rookie seasons and went on to become household names within the sport, Dale Earnhardt and his Rod Osterlund-owned team were the most consistent with a finish deviation of 9.2. Compared to 2014’s roster of teams, that’d make a unit that captured one win and the fifth-best average finish in 1979 the 12th-most consistent series regular, directly behind Casey Mears, whose 20.8-place average finish holds a 7.7 deviation. Would you rather have a relative lightning rod like Earnhardt, or a “steady hand” like Mears? It’s a no-brainer, isn’t it?
Consistency, especially for rookies, is a bit of a crock.
It’s easy to confuse the definition of consistency and assume that it is exclusively synonymous with the act of being a good race team. Cole Whitt, with a 5.9 finish deviation, and David Ragan (6.0), are drivers for the most consistent teams in the Cup Series; however, their average finishes are 30.4 and 29.4, respectively, meaning that consistent mark equates to being consistently bad. Making room for hits and misses — the three worst deviations in the series belong to Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Jimmie Johnson — is practically mandatory when evaluating rookies. In baseball, a high strikeout rate can be tolerated if the home runs are abundant. With Larson, a high crash frequency (he averages 0.44 crashes per race) should be excused as long as the team is racking up a hearty helping of top-10 finishes; 44 percent of his results this year were within the top 10 positions. Earnhardt’s top-10 finish rate in that stellar ‘79 season was just under 41 percent. Tony Stewart’s rate in 1999 was 35 percent.
And no, “gotta be more consistent” isn’t, and never was, the key to Larson making the Chase. The key for him earlier this season was to amass as many good finishes as possible. The key now is to win at Richmond. As zany as Race No. 26 has been in recent seasons, the industry would be nonplussed if the rookie did, in fact, break through with a victory.
Consistency isn’t necessarily a sign of strength. Piecing together a race, an admitted early-season foible, helped in Whitt finishing in the bottom half of fields 92 percent of the time this season, creating a brand of consistency from which he’d be happy to escape.
Even the most successful rookies and teams have inconsistencies. Jeff Gordon hit the real and metaphorical rookie walls with great aplomb, while the brand-spanking new No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports team suffered 11 mechanical DNFs, four of which were directly caused by handling miscues by rookie crew chief Ray Evernham. Out of 21 races, Richard Petty suffered 11 DNFs and all but two were related to mechanical mishaps. Like Larson, Gordon and Petty marveled at various points during their maiden seasons.
Gordon opened 1993 by winning his Daytona 500 qualifying race and proceeded to score clean finishes of fifth, sixth, fourth, eighth, 11th, 11th and second in his first seven races without incident. In the 10 races Petty managed to finish, he scored nine top-10 results. Those flares helped make them Rookies of the Year and identified them as talents to watch in the foreseeable future. It’s safe to say that Larson’s first year in Cup stands on equal footing.
Would Larson and his Chris Heroy-led team like to iron out the wrinkles that plague them? Absolutely. But Chase or no Chase, it’s been a fine start to what will likely be a very successful career for the kid that was a full-time Dirt Sprint Car driver just three years ago.
Larson, as a rookie, is a terrific producer, highly efficient passer, efficient finisher and a plus closer. Being “more consistent” is a vague suggestion that isn’t entirely accurate.
Photos by Action Sports, Inc.
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@example.com
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.
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.
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.
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|
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|
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 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|
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|
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).