Articles By David Fox
Oregon has done many things since it became the leading program in the country for the hurry-up spread offense.
Saturday, though, may be one of its finest moments.
The Ducks scored 46 points against a Michigan State/Pat Narduzzi defense. Consider this: Ohio State and Stanford didn’t put up 46 points combined against the Spartans at the end of last season. No team since Alabama in a 2010 bowl game scored this much against the Spartans.
Yet, offense is so commonplace for Oregon, sometimes it seems the big takeaway for the Ducks was the defense. Either way, even though the weekend wasn’t the prettiest for the Pac-12, Oregon is right where it needs to be.
Read and React: Oregon 46, Michigan State 27
Mark Helfrich Gets Much-Needed Validation
Perhaps it never was fair to doubt Oregon simply because second-year coach Mark Helfrich is not Chip Kelly — especially after Oregon won 11 games last season. Helfrich and his staff, including first-year defensive coordinator Don Pellum, can’t be doubted anymore. Oregon took Michigan State’s best shot, falling behind by nine in the third quarter before outscoring the Spartans 28-0 in the final 19:33. In many ways, this looked like a Chip Kelly effort — close for a stretch before Oregon turned on the jets in the second half for a lopsided win. And that's the best compliment we can offer Helfrich.
Oregon Rallied on Defense
Speaking of major coaching developments, Oregon won on the strength of its defense in the second half after key adjustments from the first year coordinator Pellum. Oregon ramped up the pressure on Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook in the second half. The Spartans moved the ball 10 total yards on 12 plays on three possessions after taking a 28-17 lead — and that was before a fourth-down stop and this interception from All-America cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu.
Marcus Mariota Made His Statement
Mariota almost made it look routine even if there was nothing routine about his second half against Michigan State. He went 7-of-12 for 128 yards with a pair of touchdowns and was finally able to break loose in the run game with 27 rushing yards. As Oregon plays without a full roster on offense — no Bralon Addison, no Tyler Johnstone, and only five carries for nine yards from Byron Marshall — Mariota moved the offense almost single handedly. And he did it against one of the most formidible defenses in the country.
Michigan State May Still be the Class of the Big Ten
That’s the kind of day it was for the Big Ten. A team that lost by 19 may still be the favorite in the league. Based on what we’ve seen so far, how many other Big Ten teams lead Oregon by 9 in the second half in Autzen? Certainly not Michigan, Ohio State or Wisconsin. Michigan State held Oregon’s run game in check for most of the first three quarters. Michigan State held Oregon to 3.4 yards per carry. Since 2011, only Stanford and LSU have done better. And while Michigan State’s offense couldn’t move late in the game, Connor Cook still finished 29-of-47 for 343 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.
USC’s upset of Stanford may have not been convincing enough to reset all of our expectations of the Pac-12, but it was a statement.
USC proved a week ago it can win with a dominating performance. Saturday proved the Trojans can win ugly.
Meanwhile, Stanford played an out-of-character game as the Cardinal missed scoring chance after scoring chance in a mistake-filled game from beginning to end.
Here’s what we learned from Sark’s signature win:
Read and React: USC 13, Stanford 10
USC Found a Way
Stanford spent much of the game self-destructing, but USC didn’t play a clean game, either. A week after running 105 plays against Fresno State, the Trojans were on the field for a mere 59 against Stanford. Stanford was able to keep the USC passing game in check as Cody Kessler went 15-of-23 for 135 yards with a touchdown. This wasn’t exactly a dominant effort by any means — particularly as the USC defense allowed Stanford to penetrate on every possession — but it’s tough to argue against a road win over the defending Pac-12 champion.
Still, Steve Sarkisian Gets an Early Signature Win
USC has established itself as a realistic Pac-12 South contender, and its credentials could improve even more over the next month. The Trojans visit Boston College next week and face Oregon State at home on Sept. 27. After that, USC gets the Arizona schools back to back with the Wildcats on the road. Navigate that stretch and stay healthy, and USC could play for the South against UCLA to finish this season. Considering the way the season started with the Josh Shaw fiasco, the ugly departure of Anthony Brown and a roster whittled to 57 scholarship players in Palo Alto, and Sarkisian has to be thankful to be 2-0.
Stanford Can’t Win the Pac-12 North with this Offense
Look at that drive chart for Stanford, nine trips inside the USC 40-yard line and 10 points. That’s 1.1 points per trip inside the 40, a metric considered to be more telling that red zone offense. Stanford averaged 4.1 points per trip inside the 40 last season. The Stanford offense moved the ball at will at times, but collapsed on USC’s side of the field. A team spending that much time in its opponents’ territory should have won easily, but Stanford walked away with three fumbles (two lost), two missed field goals and a loss. There were penalties, including two pre-snap penalties out of a time out, but Stanford playcalling with two punts inside the 35 didn't inspire confidence, either.
|QTR||Best Field Position||Drive Ended||Result|
|1||Second down, USC 21||USC 32||Missed FG (49 yards)|
|2||First down, USC 17||USC 29||Punt|
|2||Third down, USC 2||--||Touchdown|
|2||Third down, USC 7||USC 16||Made FG (33 yards)|
|3||Fourth down, USC 9||USC 9||Missed FG (26 yards)|
|3||Fourth down, USC 3||USC 3||Failed fourth down|
|3||First down, USC 32||USC 28||Fumble lost|
|4||Third down, USC 23||USC 32||Punt|
|4||Second down, USC 22||USC 25||Fumble lost|
Andre Heidari is USC’s MVP against Stanford ... Again
USC’s kicker is a senior. That’s the good news for Stanford. The bad news for the Caridnal is that he’ll leave with two long game-winning kicks against Stanford. Heidari kicked a 47-yarder in the final 19 seconds to beat Stanford last year and topped that with a 5e-yarder Saturday. He’s the BMOC in LA.
A school or an athletic director communicating on behalf of a coach with league officials regarding a dispute isn’t uncommon — days after the fact.
USC athletic director Pat Haden apparently couldn’t wait. At one point in the fourth quarter, Haden spoke with officials on the sideline, shortly after head coach Steve Sarkisian was assessed an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and linebacker Hayes Pullard was ejected for targeting.
An athletic director speaking with officials during the flow of a game is highly unusual.
It’s worth noting Haden is one of 13 members of the College Football Playoff selection committee. The recrusal policy for committee members is not at play here, it seems.
Pat Haden says on ABC he got a text to come down to the field because Sark wanted to talk to him.— Jon Solomon (@JonSolomonCBS) September 6, 2014
Pat Haden: "It's been a really frustrating quarter for penalties." Never seen this from an AD, much less a CFP committee member.— Jon Solomon (@JonSolomonCBS) September 6, 2014
Ameer Abdullah saved Nebraska from embarrassment with a wild 58-yard catch for the Cornhuskers’ game-winning score in a 31-24 over McNeese State of the FCS.
Abdullah broke five tackles on a short pass from Tommy Armstrong with 1:03 to go against a McNeese team that had defeated USF and Middle Tennessee in the last two seasons.
Take a look:
Abdullah scored after THIS: pic.twitter.com/DQRs2m1OsR— Will Brinson (@WillBrinson) September 6, 2014
The Nebraska running back had an otherwise quiet game with 54 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries as McNeese State gave Nebraska all it could handle. Nebraska never had a lead bigger than 10 points before McNeese tied the game with 4:21 to go.
Nebraska visits Fresno State next week.
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|
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.”
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 bar had been set impossibly high for Todd Gurley for his junior season at Georgia.
Maybe not high enough.
Gurley earned Athlon Sports National Player of the Week honors in a 45-21 win over Clemson in perhaps the finest game of his career.
Thanks to a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, Gurley not only broke Clemson, as noted by SB Nation’s Bill Connelly, he shattered a personal record for all-purpose yards.
Gurley rushed for 198 yards and lost five yards on one catch to give him 293 for the game. His previous career high was 227 yards against Buffalo in his debut.
|Todd Gurley's Top All-Purpose Yards Games|
|Season||Opponent||AP Yards||Rush||Rec.||KO Ret.||Yds per play|
Here’s what else is scary:
• He could have been more of a factor in the passing game. Gurley had 53 career receptions in his first two seasons. In the last six games of 2013, Gurley topped 70 receiving yards four times, including 90-plus against Kentucky and Nebraska. Perhaps checking down to Gurley is a difference between the seasoned Aaron Murray and three-game starter Hutson Mason.
• Georgia may be the new Alabama or LSU in terms of running back depth. Freshmen Nick Chubb (four carries, 70 yards and one touchdown) and Sony Michel (six carries, 33 yards) probably should cut into Gurley’s carries given his injury history. And Keith Marshall, who rushed for 759 yards in 2012, is still lingering around. How many times will Gurley need to carry 20 times in a game during the season?
• Gurley is apparently returning kickoffs again, something he hasn’t done since the third game of his freshman season.
National Defensive Player of the Week: Eric Kendricks, UCLA
UCLA’s offense was a virtual no-show in an early kickoff at Virginia on Saturday. At least the linebacker corps remains one of the best in the nation.
Eric Kendricks led the way with 16 tackles and a forced fumble. Kendricks' 37-yard interception return for a touchdown in the second quarter helped to break open a 28-20 win against the Cavaliers.
National Freshman of the Week: Anu Solomon, Arizona
During the spring and preseason, Arizona had one of the most compelling quarterback battles in the country. The Wildcats had transfers and little separation.
Until Friday. Redshirt freshman Anu Solomon completed 25-of-44 passes for 425 yards with four touchdowns. Solomon also rushed for 50 yards on eight carries in a 58-13 rout of UNLV.
Solomon led an Arizona offense that shattered a 45-year-old school record for total offense. Arizona’s 787 yards of offense Friday was 98 more than the previous record against New Mexico in 1969,
National Coordinator of the Week: Ralph Friedgen, Rutgers
Perhaps we should recalibrate expectations for Rutgers in its first season in the Big Ten. Friedgen, the former Maryland coach, made that kind of an impact in his first game as offensive coordinator for Rutgers.
The Scarlet Knights amassed 281 passing yards, 215 rushing yards and 7.1 yards per play in a 41-38 win over Washington State in Seattle.
Most important, Rutgers lost “only” one turnover. The Scarlet Knights lost two turnovers or more in eight games in 2013.
Conference Players of the Week
ACC: Louisville running back Dominique Brown rushed for 143 yards and a touchdown on 33 carries in a 31-13 win over Miami on Monday.
Big Ten: Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg completed 32-of-47 passes for 454 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions in 26-24 win over UCF in Dublin.
Big 12: Baylor defensive end Shawn Oakman had two sacks, a forced fumble and a tackle for a loss in a 45-0 win over SMU on Sunday.
Pac-12: USC quarterback Cody Kessler completed 25-of-37 passes for 394 yards with four touchdowns in a 52-13 win over Fresno State. He also rushed for a touchdown and 28 yards on eight carries.
American: Tulsa wide receiver Keevan Lucas caught 13 passes for a Week 1-high 233 yards with three touchdowns in a 38-31 win over Tulane in double overtime.
Conference USA: Western Kentucky quarterback Brandon Doughty completed 46-of-56 passes for 569 yards with six touchdowns in a 59-31 win over MAC favorite Bowling Green on Friday.
MAC: Ohio quarterback Derrius Vick completed 18-of-24 passes for 262 yards with two touchdowns in a 17-14 win over Kent State.
Mountain West: Colorado State running back Dee Hart rushed for 139 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries in a 31-17 win over Colorado on Friday.
Sun Belt: ULM safety Mitch Lane had six tackles and an interception returned 31 yards for a touchdown in a 17-10 win over Wake Forest.
Independents: Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson completed 14-of-22 passes for 295 yards with two touchdowns in his return to the lineup. He also rushed for 41 yards and three touchdowns on 12 carries in a 48-17 win over Rice.
Starting Jan. 7, the task has been to try to figure out how the 2014 season is going to transpire.
It’s only natural after five days of actual, real-live data — sorry, games — to overreact.
After the first week, Alabama’s pass defense looks shaky, Ohio State’s run defense is suspect and Florida State’s run game is unspectacular. All of these and more are legit concerns, but we’re here to tell you how worried you should be for the remaining 11 (or more) games.
So take a deep breath, and figure out if you’re overreacting, underreacting or reacting appropriately.
1. Reaction: Alabama’s pass defense is a problem
Alabama’s performance against the no-huddle has been trending the wrong way the last two seasons. That continued through three quarters against West Virginia, which was able to move the ball with ease against the Tide. Quarterback Clint Trickett was on target all game, and the Mountaineers were within one score until the final 8:07.
Poor communication on defense was at play to some degree here. Alabama was without linebacker Trey DePriest, its quarterback on defense, against the no-huddle. Even then, Alabama allowed only 6-of-10 passing for 57 yards in the final quarter compared to 23-of-35 for 308 in the first three. Alabama has until at least Oct. 4 at Ole Miss to figure out how to sustain the no-huddle defense for four quarters.
2. Reaction: Ohio State can’t stop the run
Navy rushed for 370 yards and 5.9 yards per carry against Ohio State in a 34-17 loss that wasn’t sealed until the fourth quarter.
The option is Navy’s great equalizer, especially when the Midshipmen have an above-average quarterback (Keenan Reynolds) and an experienced line. Perhaps the greatest concern is that Ohio State had, in theory, the entire preseason to prepare for a Week 1 option opponent. Still, even 2011 Alabama gave up 302 rushing yards to an option team (Georgia Southern). That team turned out OK.
3. Reaction: Todd Gurley is the Heisman frontrunner
After rushing for 198 yards and three touchdowns and returning a kickoff 100 yards for a TD against Clemson, Gurley is topping a handful of Heisman watches after Week 1.
Verdict: Reacting appropriately
This has a caveat: This is only an appropriate reaction as far as Week 1 Heisman watches are appropriate. Gurley only had the game of his career with marks for all-purpose yards (298, a school record), rushing (beating his previous high by 44 yards) and yards per carry (13.2). He also tied his career high with four touchdowns.
4. Reaction: South Carolina should panic
South Carolina lost in spectacular fashion, falling 52-28 at home to Texas A&M. Sophomore quarterback Kenny Hill completed 44-of-60 passes for 511 yards with three touchdowns against the Gamecocks.
Verdict: Reacting appropriately
Even during its rise to SEC contender, South Carolina has been known to lose to opponents it shouldn’t (Tennessee last year, Auburn in 2011, Kentucky in 2010). This, though, was something different from playing down to an opponent as Hill put up the fifth-best passing day in SEC history. Running back Mike Davis continues to be hobbled — he’s doubtful for East Carolina. The Pirates have a standout passing game, so all eyes will be on South Carolina’s D this week. That’s not even taking into account a Sept. 13 date with Georgia.
5. Reaction: Florida State can’t run and Jameis Winston is human
Other than Rashad Greene, Florida State’s offense looked nothing the squad that rolled over opponents to the national title last season. Jameis Winston and the third multi-interception game of his career, and the Seminoles averaged only 3.4 yards per carry.
Verdict: Overreacting ... for now
Until he averaged 2.9 yards Saturday, Karlos Williams was a yards per carry machine. And Jameis Winston is Jameis Winston. Oklahoma State is young on defense, but coordinator Glenn Spencer is a name to watch. His group finished second in the Big 12 in yards per play and was outstanding in the red zone a year ago. Florida State may not play many defenses that good this season, especially if Clemson continues to struggle.
6. Reaction: Texas’ season is in jeopardy
Texas defeated North Texas 38-7 in Charlie Strong’s debut but lost two key players on offense in the process. Center Dominic Espinosa is out for the season with a broken ankle, and quarterback David Ash will be held out against BYU after exhibiting concussion symptoms.
Verdict: Reacting appropriately
Espinosa was the key piece of the offensive line, and Texas has limited quarterback depth behind Ash. The latter has had concussion issues in the past, so his career could be in jeopardy. Given that Oklahoma State and West Virginia look more formidable than expected, Texas could slide into the bottom half of the Big 12. Texas will hand the job to Tyrone Swoopes, but the Longhorns have to wonder what would have happened if Max Wittek was able to complete his transfer to Austin.
7. Reaction: Leonard Fournette was a non-factor
The debut for the superstar freshman was forgettable as he rushed 18 yards on eight carries while Kenny Hilliard took over in the second half at tailback. Fournette was still the primary kick returner at 23.4 yards on five returns.
In a come-from-behind game against a name team from the Big Ten, Les Miles went with experience in Hilliard. That’s one of the luxuries of coaching running backs at LSU. Nothing in Fournette’s background suggests he won’t be a success in his first season. Miles spent the offseason talking up his character and drive. Fournette will get his opportunity; LSU just doesn’t need it to happen right away.
8. Reaction: UCLA’s offense was no-show
UCLA needed three defensive touchdowns to salvage a lackluster effort by the offense in a 28-20 win over Virginia. The Bruins managed only 358 yards and 4.9 yards per play against the Cavs.
Let’s give Brett Hundley a chance to play later than noon Pacific time before indicting the UCLA offense. Strange things have happened in these early kicks at Virginia (BYU lost year in 2013, albeit in a torrential downpour).
9. Reaction: Iowa had trouble with Northern Iowa
Like a few Big Ten teams, Iowa needed all four quarters to put away an FCS opponent — the Hawkeyes at least can say they fared better than their in-state rivals Iowa State. Iowa pulled away with a 31-23 win thanks to a touchdown pass in the final seven minutes.
Here’s the overriding concern: Iowa, finally with a healthy backfield, couldn’t find ways to run the ball consistently. Wide receiver Tevaun Smith led the Hawkeyes in rushing thanks to a 45-yard reverse. Mark Weisman and Jordan Canzeri combined for 17 carries and 56 yards.
10. Reaction: Washington just barely escaped Hawaii
With projected starter Cyler Miles suspended, Washington beat Hawaii 17-16, amassing merely 336 yards in the process.
Maybe it was the late kickoff on a Saturday that started at 8 a.m. Eastern in Dublin, but Washington’s putrid offensive performance seemed to fly under the radar. Miles had better be the answer because there were none in Honolulu. Washington punted on eight consecutive possessions, including five three-and-outs, against one of the worst teams in the FBS. Outside of a 91-yard-touchdown, backup quarterback Jeff Lindquist didn’t complete a pass of longer than 20 yards.
Credit LSU for following the script.
The Tigers fell behind in the first half, rolled the dice successfully on a trick play and then let its plug-and-play run game and secondary take over.
Even down by 17 to Wisconsin, LSU was able to follow the Les Miles template for another non-conference win. By coming back to defeat Wisconsin 28-24, LSU improved two improbable marks: The Tigers are 23-22 when trailing at halftime under Les Miles and 45-0 in regular-season non-conference dating back to 2002.
Meanwhile, Wisconsin found another way to come up short in a major non-conference matchup.
Read and React: LSU 28, Wisconsin 24
Les Miles finds a way
Lucky Les strikes again. It’s one thing to run a fake punt to spark 21 unanswered points to win. It’s another to have the incorrect personnel grouping — as Miles told ESPN’s Todd McShay in a postgame interview — and running the fake anyway. The quick snap to linebacker to Kendell Beckwith. He converted the first down with a three-yard gain on fourth-and-2 from the LSU 45. Tough to find a more signature Les Miles moment than that.
Gary Andersen will have to answer for his backfield
Where Miles thrived by taking risks, the Wisconsin coach will have a long week thanks puzzling personnel groups in his backfield. Tanner McEvoy, named the starting quarterback at the end of camp, went 8-of-24 for 50 yards and two interceptions. Last year’s starter Joel Stave never even warmed up. Given the state of Wisconsin’s receiver group, maybe the quarterback wouldn’t have made a difference. Part of that is because of Melvin Gordon’s no-show. Gordon, who rushed for 138 yards on 17 carries, was held out of a series in the final 10 minutes. The idea that Gordon was hurt was dashed when he was in the game to pass protect on third down.
Depth is the difference
Want to know why LSU continues to be a national player while Wisconsin struggles to get over the hump outside of the Big Ten? The difference in depth couldn’t be more stark. LSU got five catches, 199 yards and two touchdowns from a pair of receivers — Travin Dural and John Diarse — who combined for seven catches and a redshirt last year. The Tigers were able to rotate defensive backs into a secondary that further disrupted the inept Wisconsin passing game. Meanwhile, Kenny Hilliard emerged as the LSU running back of the day. Meanwhile, Wisconsin lost two senior starting defensive linemen in Warren Herring and Konrad Zagzebski to injury and couldn’t have been more helpless on defense.
Leonard Fournette can wait
No doubt Fournette will have his moment. It just didn’t happen in Game 1 for the freshman. Fournette carried only nine times for 10 yards in his debut while Hilliard rushed for 111 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries. He was the only LSU running back with a run longer than seven yards.
ATLANTA — The Lane Kiffin-as-Alabama-offensive-coordinator is one game old, so let’s review it, shall we?
Of course this is way too early for a referendum on the most compelling assistant coaching hire in the SEC, but Week 1 is perfect for overreaction — one way or another.
And, wow, did Kiffin and Alabama coach Nick Saban give us plenty of fodder.
From the cheap seats:
Many offensive coordinators like to work in the press box with the ability to see the whole field.
Kiffin, however, worked from the sideline in his first game with the Tide. Saban wanted his first-year coordinator to be able to talk directly to his first-time starting quarterback rather than talk to him on the phone.
The Alabama head coach can bar his assistants from talking to the media, he can try to control the messaging, but he can’t control the body language of two — let’s say, expressive — coaches on the sideline.
I assume we'll see this often pic.twitter.com/5iLG28OOtr— Matt Brown (@MattBrownCFB) August 30, 2014
From Nick Saban:
Not surprisingly, Saban isn’t thrilled talking about Kiffin in a way he never had to talk about former coordinators Jim McElwain or Doug Nussmeier.
The implication from reporters — at least as Saban sees it — is that Saban hired a dud of an offensive coordinator.
“You know, the guy is a really good coach now, all right,” Saban said. “Y’all need to ‘fess up to that.
“And most places than don’t like him is because he left, and they were mad because he left. They weren’t mad about anything he did while he was there. Just do a little research on that.”
In the interest of research, the Oakland Raiders and USC may disagree on being “mad” about his departure. Saban’s right about Tennessee, though.
From the field:
This is what matters, right? After a quarterback competition that lasted until Friday — that’s when Blake Sims learned he’d start ahead of Florida State transfer Jacob Coker — Alabama put up 538 yards, 6.6 yards per play.
Granted, many coordinators could thrive with running backs like Derrick Henry and T.J. Yeldon and wide receivers like Amari Cooper and DeAndrew White.
The key moment, though, may have been the second quarter.
Tied at 10, Sims was rattled at the line. Saban said his quarterback called the wrong plays, called incorrect formations in the huddle and took too much time on the play clock. Saban told Coker to warm up.
Instead of making a switch, Saban told Kiffin to switch to a no-huddle look of its own.
“When we did that, he sort of got it back together and then he was fine after that,” Saban said.
True, the decision to go no-huddle may have been Saban’s call, but adding the up-tempo to the arsenal was part of the reason he hired Kiffin in the first place.
Could the no-huddle be a more regular part of Alabama’s plans? If Sims remains the quarterback, that seems possible.
He finished 24-of-33 for 250 yards with an interception and made plays on the move against Alabama in part of the no-huddle.
However, the no-huddle has become so prevalent that Alabama’s base pro-style offense is more of the outlier, even in the SEC.
“We’re one of the few teams in the world that still plays with regular people — a tight end, two backs and two wideouts,” Saban said. “And now we’re like the dinosaur age when it comes to that.”
Kiffin comes from the same background, but he’s incorporated elements of the hurry-up. If Alabama can change tempos on a dime — and as effectively as it did against West Virginia — the Kiffin hire may be a stroke of genius for a program that already has one of the top rosters in the country.
“People really have a tough time defending what we do because nobody does it, and it does allow us to to be more physical and it does allow us to play more players,” Saban said. "But we’ll certainly consider (the no-huddle). We have the capabilities of doing it.”
ATLANTA — Let the overreaction in Tuscaloosa continue.
The final product from Alabama’s opener against West Virginia will look great, especially given the circumstances.
An offense with a first-year starting quarterback and new coordinator rolled up 538 yards and 6.6 yards per play. The running back duo of T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry was as imposing as advertised, especially in the fourth quarter.
The defense played without senior preseason all-conference linebacker Trey DePriest yet allowed one only offensive touchdown. Even the first-time kicker went 4-for-4 on field goals.
But this is Alabama, where a two-game losing streak is cause for soul searching. A 33-23 win over West Virginia in a neutral site opener isn’t a reason to panic, but the path to the double-digit win did leave some questions.
The Crimson Tide spent much of the offseason talking about improving culture. Alabama could have just as easily talked about improving cornerbacks.
Against the up-tempo, against West Virginia’s variety of formations and without DePriest to lead adjustments on the field, Alabama’s defense looked ... ordinary.
“I know that we made a lot of mental errors,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “At times, the coordination between what the secondary was doing and what the linebackers were doing and what they were all supposed to do was not exactly what it should have been.”
The communications issues were pronounced enough that West Virginia could walk away from a 10-point loss to Alabama believing it could have won.
The Mountaineers moved the ball at will in the passing game, and the best defense against West Virginia receivers turned out to be drops, not any great play from the Alabama secondary.
Take one of the major plays of the game: A thundering hit from safety Landon Collins on West Virginia receiver Jordan Thompson in the middle of the field on third down. The hit brought oohs and aahs, but it was unnecessary. By the time Collins made contact, Clint Trickett’s pass had bounced off Thompson’s hands. As a result of the incomplete pass, West Virginia failed to capitalize on an interception in a one-score game — not because of a defensive stand, but because of one of a handful of drops.
For three quarters, West Virginia — a 4-8 team from a year ago that closed the season with losses to Kansas and Iowa State — had a chance to knock off a College Football Playoff contender.
West Virginia twice had first-and-goal at Alabama’s 6 or closer and came up with two field goals. One of the last chances came early in the fourth quarter but a fullback dropped a wide open pass short of the goal line on a bootleg on first down; Trickett and junior college sensation Kevin White failed to connect on a fade to the end zone on second down; and finally a bad snap on third down set up a 41-yard field goal.
West Virginia was able to march down the field at will early in the game. Trickett completed 13-of-22 passes for 168 yards and a touchdown in the first half.
“They came in with a lot of formations and things we hadn’t seen before,” Alabama defensive end Jonathan Allen said. “We had to recognize it, make the adjustment, communicate and see what we have to make changes.”
Perhaps this could be seen as a one-time issue. Indeed, Alabama didn’t have a full deck on defense, and West Virginia’s Dana Holgorsen is one of the game’s top offensive coaches despite his team's struggles last season.
Yet we can't ignore that Alabama had trouble with another no-huddle offense in the passing game. West Virginia averaged 8.1 yards per pass attempt against Alabama, becoming the 11th team since 2012 to top seven yards per attempt against the Tide. By comparison, only 10 teams topped that mark from 2008-11.
The good news for the potentially overreacting faction in Tuscaloosa is that Alabama has time to work it out.
If Ole Miss continues to struggle at did for stretches on Thursday, Alabama may not face a formidable hurry-up spread until Oct. 18 against Texas A&M.
“What you find out in your first game is where you are,” Saban said. “This is where we are.”
Jet lag will be much easier to bear for James Franklin, Christian Hackenberg and Sam Ficken when Penn State returns from Dublin.
The Nittany Lions won Franklin’s debut in dramatic fashion, getting the first college football Saturday to a thrilling start with a 26-23 win over UCF.
As many openers, the game wasn’t always pretty as UCF staged a second-half comeback with a backup quarterback, but Penn State had two familiar heroes in the final minutes.
Read and React: Penn State 26, UCF 23
Penn State’s season will come down to Hackenberg
Christian Hackenberg attempted 47 passes and threw for 453 yards for Penn State for a two-point win over UCF. Such efforts might need to be common during the season. The Nittany Lions may have know this from the start, but it was clear Saturday that James Franklin’s debut season rests on the shoulder of his sophomore quarterback. That’s not a bad thing. Hackenberg may be the best quarterback in the Big Ten with Braxton Miller out. But the offensive line and run game (two yards per carry) gave Penn State little. Bill Belton and Zach Zwinak are a fine running back duo, but the woefully thin line is going to be a season-long liability.
Sam Ficken gets some well-deserved hero time
Few kickers have been through the ups and downs more than Penn State’s Sam Ficken. The game in Dublin wasn’t his first victory lap, but may have been the most satisfying. He finished 4-for-4 on field goals, including the 36-yard game-winner as time expired. Remember, Ficken’s career got off to an inauspicious start when he missed four field goals and an extra point in a 17-16 loss at Virginia in his second career game in 2012.
Penn State may be on upset alert
Way too much happened in this game to make many definitive statements — the travel, the headset mishap that forced Penn State offensive coordinator to the sidelines, a better-than-advertised UCF. But still, Penn State’s early performance against Akron next week will be worth watching. The Nittany Lions did themselves little favors by scheduling a game against a MAC upstart seven days after playing in Ireland. The Terry Bowden-led Zips won four of their final five games and played one-score games against Michigan, Sun Belt champion UL Lafayette and MAC West champ Northern Illinois.
UCF found the replacement for Blake Bortles (for now)
This has to be maddening for any coach: Spend all spring and offseason trying to find a replacement for a first-round quarterback only to replace him after two quarters in the opener. George O’Leary never declared the competition over when he opted for Pete DiNovo, but the outcome may have been different if Justin Holman played the whole way. The sophomore from Snellville, Ga., completed 9-of-14 passes for 204 yards with three total touchdowns as UCF came back from a touchdown deficit at halftime to a lead with 1:47 to go.
In what we hope will become a regular segment on ESPN’s College GameDay, four coaches read (and responded to) mean Tweets.
Alabama’s Nick Saban assures us he’s quite happy, Florida’s Will Muschamp talks about about a Gator fan he’d like to meet, and Michigan’s Brady Hoke doesn’t necessarily deny his choice in cologne.
The response from Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen was a real nice surprise.
ATLANTA — Believe it or not, Ole Miss walked out of the Georgia Dome with a trophy, or two pieces of one.
This is not the newly minted College Football Playoff trophy, by any means. It’s not even the Floyd of Rosedale.
The Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game awards an old-style leather helmet on a stand The trophy indeed comes in two pieces, so when linebacker Ryan Lewis walked into the locker room with the stand and receiver Laquon Treadwell followed with the leather helmet on his head, they did not break said trophy.
That was Ole Miss in its opener: Not quite together and looking a little ridiculous, but with a trophy and a win nonetheless.
The final score looked the way should have — Ole Miss 35, Boise State 13 — but the first game showed Ole Miss isn’t quite ready to hoist any other trophies.
Two bowl victories, a climb from two wins to seven to eight and a stud signing class maturing into sophomores seemed to have the Rebels on the move in the SEC. But the forward progress of Ole Miss’ program sputtered for three quarters in Atlanta.
The weight of expectations was apparent. Treadwell said he was more relaxed before last year’s opener, his debut as a freshman in an SEC road opener against Vanderbilt, than he was Thursday.
“I had jitters, too,” Ole Miss senior quarterback Bo Wallace said. “I got a little nervous, so I don’t know. Usually I’m cool. I don’t know what that was.”
Good thing Wallace eventually found his cool. Good thing Boise State was the uglier team Thursday. And the Broncos needed an effort to out-ugly Ole Miss in a game that featured seven total interceptions, 23 total penalties and an early ejection for targeting.
After Thursday night’s events, the team playing the role of SEC West usurper seems to be coming from College Station, not Oxford.
Ole Miss didn’t produce more scores (four) than turnovers (three) until the 7:45 mark of the four quarter. By that time, Boise State had thrown four picks of its own.
Now this is all before the first Saturday of the season, plenty of time for Ole Miss to find its stride, which it did after the final Grant Hedrick pick broke the will of Boise State in a 28-7 Ole Miss fourth quarter.
Certainly, Ole Miss showed flashes of brilliance. The No. 1 prospect from 2013, Robert Nkemdiche, is becoming the next great SEC mega-lineman, the back end of the defense played with an edge, and the 6-foot-2, 229-pound Treadwell proved to be a mismatch.
At the same time, Ole Miss made clear Thursday that one big-time recruiting class, a preseason ranking and two-years of buzz does not make a powerhouse program.
The most experienced quarterback in the SEC at times had coach Hugh Freeze grimacing on the sideline with three first-half interceptions.
“Two of the three interceptions just were a bit unbelievable because they weren’t even in his progression on the route,” Freeze said. “He’ll be the first to tell you that, and he knows that. It was a bit amazing.”
At one point late in the first half, Wallace overthrew Boise State’s safeties by five yards. The intended receiver — a term that generously appeared in the play-by-play — was Treadwell, who was at least 10 yards underneath the safeties.
Wallace was only a symptom of an Ole Miss offense barely ready for a Boise State game in its first game under Bryan Harsin.
The Rebels picked up seven false starts in the first half, exacerbated by Boise State shifting before Wallace went to a silent count at the line. The run game was a no-show as Ole Miss rushed for 30 yards on 23 carries in three quarters. The Rebels didn’t have a run longer than five yards until the final two carries of the third quarter.
The score sat at 7-6 for the Rebels until Wallace started to find Treadwell in man-to-man coverage on a critical drive capped by a 14-yard touchdown.
“We’ve got to be on the level where it’s understood where if they’re good, they can beat us,” Treadwell said. “That’s the difference in this team. The defense played well and didn’t underestimate them. The offense came out and tried to do too much.”
See if you can follow the Big Ten in Week 1: Rutgers and Maryland are in the league, and one of those teams will open the season in Seattle.
Meanwhile, the three best games for the league this week will take place in Houston, Baltimore and Dublin.
The Big Ten is going worldwide in Week 1. If you need help staying grounded, luckily there’s one MAC vs. Big Ten game taking place in West Lafayette.
Some traditions are forever.
Week 1 Preview and Predictions:
ACC | Big 12 | Pac-12 | SEC
All times Eastern.
Big Ten Week 1 Game Power Rankings
1. Wisconsin vs. LSU (Houston)
Saturday, 9 p.m., ESPN
Expect Wisconsin to rely heavily on Melvin Gordon against a reloading LSU defense in the top game of the week. Tanner McEvoy, though, may be the most interesting player in the field for Wisconsin. The Badgers made the bold move to bench incumbent Joel Stave for the more mobile McEvoy. LSU has a knack for shutting down running quarterbacks (see: Manziel, Johnny), and Wisconsin has no proven pass-catchers on the roster.
2. Ohio State vs. Navy (Baltimore)
Saturday, noon, CBS Sports Network
All eyes will be on J.T. Barrett as he takes over for Braxton Miller. Without Miller, rising star running back Ezekiel Elliott is the Buckeyes’ returning leader in total offense at just under 24 yards per game. From Bowling Green to Utah to Florida to Ohio State, Urban Meyer has rarely had subpar quarterback play, but getting the redshirt freshman Barrett ready to contend for the Big Ten may be Meyer’s toughest challenge yet.
Listen to Athlon's Cover 2 Podcast: Week 1 Preview
3. Penn State vs. UCF (Dublin)
Saturday, 8:30 a.m., ESPN2
After concerns that an eruption of a volcano in Iceland would alter travel plans, Penn State will start the James Franklin era without a hitch — assuming the Nittany Lions can handle the defending Fiesta Bowl champions. First-round draft pick Blake Bortles out-dueled freshman Christian Hackenberg in Happy Valley last season for UCF’s 34-31 win. Bortles is gone, and Penn State is hoping Hackenberg, a potential first-round pick himself, can hold his own behind a rickety Penn State offensive line.
4. Cal at Northwestern
Saturday, 3:30 p.m., ABC/ESPN2
Few coaches have had as trying a year as Pat Fitzgerald. An injury-ravaged Northwestern lost seven of its final eight games last season, voted on unionization during the summer and then lost running back Venric Mark to a transfer and receiver Christian Jones to an injury in the weeks before the season. A win over a troubled Cal team would go a long way to easing some of last year’s struggles.
5. Rutgers vs. Washington State (Seattle)
Thursday, 10 p.m., Fox Sports 1
Welcome to the Big Ten, Rutgers. Now hop on a flight to Seattle to test your shaky pass D against a Mike Leach offense. Washington State will look to feast in the passing game while Rutgers tries to figure out something — anything — on offense. New offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen opted with experience in quarterback Gary Nova, who has thrown 39 interceptions the last three seasons.
6. Appalachian State at Michigan
Saturday, noon, ESPN2
Don’t expect a replay of Appalachian State’s 34-32 win over Michigan from 2007, considered one of the biggest upsets in college football history. Appalachian State is coming off a 4-8 season. In 2007, Appy State was about to win its third consecutive FCS title. Michigan, though, isn’t an easy team to trust after losing five of its final six games last season.
7. FAU at Nebraska
Saturday, 3:30 p.m., Big Ten Network
Nebraska has the nation’s longest active winning streak in season openers at 28 in a row. That figures to continue against Conference USA contender FAU, a school that employed Bo Pelini’s brother until Oct. 31 last season. FAU quietly had a standout finish to last season. The Owls allowed 3.6 yards per play in November, second-best nationally, while recording six interceptions and no touchdown passes.
8. Western Michigan at Purdue
Saturday, noon, ESPNU
Darrell Hazell’s first season wasn’t pretty, but Purdue figured something out on offense in November. Purdue accounted for more offensive touchdowns in the last four games (11) than it did in the first eight (10). Western Michigan has gone from one of the more steady MAC teams to a 1-11 rebuilding project in one season under P.J. Fleck. Purdue will look to pick up its first FBS win since Nov. 24, 2012.
9. Eastern Illinois at Minnesota
Thursday, 7 p.m., Big Ten Network
Minnesota has increased its win total in each of its three seasons under Jerry Kill from three wins to six to eight, but Eastern Illinois will bring a remnant from a more forgettable time. Eastern Illinois features quarterback Andrew Manley, who passed for 288 yards and three touchdowns for New Mexico State in a 28-21 win over Minnesota in 2011.
10. Jacksonville State at Michigan State
Friday, 7:30 p.m., Big Ten Network
Michigan State will hope its defense of its most recent outright Big Ten title goes better than the last one. The Spartans followed their 1966 outright league title with a 37-7 loss to Houston to start the 1967 season. This time, Michigan State is more likely to get a warm up before facing Oregon in Eugene for a potential make-or-break game for the Big Ten in the College Football Playoff.
11. Youngstown State at Illinois
Saturday, noon, Big Ten Network
Wes Lunt returns to his home state after his transfer to Illinois from Oklahoma State. Offense doesn’t appear to be an issue for the Illini, but will the defense help save Tim Beckman’s job?
12. Northern Iowa at Iowa
Saturday, noon, Big Ten Network
Iowa returns its top passer, rusher and receiver for the first time since 2010. With that comes expectations of contending in the new Big Ten West. Iowa hasn’t always handled hype well. Will this season be different? Northern Iowa nearly knocked off Iowa in 2009 before losing 17-16. The Hawkeyes haven’t lost to Northern Iowa since 1898.
13. James Madison at Maryland
Saturday, 3:30 p.m., Big Ten Network
Maryland makes its league debut in the Big Ten Network against a James Madison team coached by Everett Withers, a former defensive coordinator at Ohio State and Minnesota.
14. Indiana State at Indiana
Saturday, noon, ESPNews
Indiana State (1-11 last season) will make Indiana look good. Even the Hoosiers’ defense could tee off on an offense that ranked 114th in the FCS last season.
|David Fox||Braden Gall||Steven Lassan||Mitch Light|
|Rutgers v. Wash. St. (-8)||Wazzu 52-14||Wazzu 42-21||Wazzu 45-31||Wazzu 41-17|
|Eastern Ill. at Minn.||Minn 35-14||Minn 31-17||Minn 40-14||Minn 30-27|
|Jax State at Michigan St.||MSU 38-7||MSU 34-3||MSU 38-7||MSU 37-0|
|Penn St. (-1) v. UCF||PSU 17-14||PSU 27-20||PSU 27-20||PSU 23-20|
|Ohio St. (-19) v. Navy||OSU 38-21||OSU 34-10||OSU 34-20||OSU 34-16|
|Appy St. at Michigan||Mich 42-14||Mich 38-17||Mich 38-13||Mich 34-13|
|Cal at Northwestern (-13)||NW 38-17||NW 31-21||NW 34-24||NW 31-24|
|FAU at Nebraska (-24)||Neb 31-13||Neb 41-7||Neb 40-13||Neb 31-24|
|Western Mich. at Purdue (-12)||Purdue 28-14||Purdue 27-23||Purdue 31-20||Purdue 23-13|
|LSU (-4 1/2) v. Wisconsin||LSU 28-21||LSU 31-14||LSU 30-20||LSU 27-24|
|YSU at Illinois||Illinois 35-28||Illinois 38-21||Illinois 40-13||Illinois 28-10|
|No. Iowa at Iowa||Iowa 31-10||Iowa 27-10||Iowa 30-20||Iowa 27-17|
|JMU at Maryland||Maryland 42-14||Maryland 38-10||Maryland 45-14||Maryland 38-11|
The college football offseason is long and, perhaps for many people, a little too eventful.
Lawsuits, court cases and conference realignment have all taken their time in the summer headlines in recent years. At least this summer, the sport had a little more excitement in its offseason — even if the NCAA itself was on trial at one point.
The College Football Playoff may be one of the most transformative events in the sport's history. While the Playoff itself was formed more than a year ago, the pieces started to take shape during the summer of 2014.
In a literal sense, the Playoff won’t start until Jan. 1, 2015, but the new postseason format will come to define the 2014 season. It’s a clear No. 1 in our look at all that’s new in college football even if it’s not the only fresh development fans will notice.
1. The College Football Playoff
By now, most fans — at least those likely to be reading this site — are aware the four-team playoff has replaced the BCS. The mechanism of how teams are selected and placed into the Sugar and Rose bowls (this year, at least) takes a bit of explaining. And much of the "who goes where" will change after this season. Long story short: The 13-person selection committee, using film study and a super-cool stat platform, will seed and place four teams into the Sugar Bowl and Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day for national semifinals. The two winners will face each other in a championship game at AT&T Stadium on Jan. 12.
2. The New Year’s holiday will be great again
The prestige of playing on New Year’s Day diminished during the BCS era as more high-profile bowls moved into the first week of January and lesser bowls moved into Jan. 1. This season and every year the Rose Bowl is involved, the semifinals will be played on New Year’s Day. The selection committee also will place top remaining teams in the rankings (more on those at No. 5) into the Orange, Cotton, Peach and Fiesta. Seven of those premier bowl spots likely will be taken up by the Power 5 and one spot is guaranteed to the top team from outside of the major conferences. Try to stick with us.
3. The Power 5
You’re going to start seeing that term a lot. Consensus has decided that’s what we’re calling the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC now. Sorry, AAC, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West and Sun Belt. Not to say those leagues are “powerless,” but then again...
4. Tuesday is all right for griping
No more BCS means we can stop overreacting to weekly polls, right? Wrong. In the name of transparency (and TV ratings!), the College Football Playoff selection committee will release a weekly top 25 on Tuesday nights starting Oct. 28. In theory, teams will know where they stand in the playoff picture, but we foresee plenty of excuses for coaches and fans to start howling if their teams move inexplicably.
5. Chris Fowler is the new voice of Saturday night
Every season features a handful of movement in the broadcast booth. None will be more significant than College GameDay’s Chris Fowler moving into the play-by-play role on ABC’s Saturday Night Football alongside Kirk Herbstreit. Where is our beloved Brent Musburger? Glad you asked...
6. The SEC Network
Musburger moves into a play-by-play role for the top game on ESPN’s SEC Network with analyst Jesse Palmer. Any misgivings about major providers carrying the network have been allayed, so now most fans have access to 24 hours of SEC-centric live games, pre-game shows, replays, analysis, debate and documentaries. While the Big Ten Network needed a few years to find its footing and distribution, the SEC Network launch was all but flawless. The Pac-12 Networks, without ESPN backing, is still struggling to get into homes. Not that this needed reinforcement, but ESPN tightened its grip on broadcast dominance. CBS still has the top SEC game of the week, but not the exclusive 3:30 p.m. Eastern window. Also, say farewell to Fox Sports 1’s pregame show and the old Jefferson Pilot/Raycom SEC game of the week.
7. The Big Ten realigns, still pleases no one
The Big Ten added Maryland and Rutgers and used the opportunity to ditch the Legends and Leaders divisions in favor of more geographically sound East and West divisions. While the divisions are more logical, they’re not necessarily balanced. Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State are all in the East while Iowa, Nebraska and Wisconsin will carry the banner for the West.
8. Other conference dominoes fall
Believe it or not, this is the last year of major conference movement for a bit (we think). Louisville is in a new league (the ACC) with an old coach (Bobby Petrino). The American is even more Conference USA-ish with East Carolina, Tulane and Tulsa. Conference USA adds Western Kentucky and Old Dominion, and the Sun Belt adds giant-killers Appalachian State and Georgia Southern and independent refugees Idaho and New Mexico State. The Football Bowl Subdivision is up to 128 teams.
9. Bitcoin and Popeyes are our new favorite bowl sponsors
Bowl season continued to blow up with four new games — five if you count the Playoff championship game. The Miami Beach (BYU vs. AAC), Bahamas (C-USA vs. MAC), Boca Raton (C-USA vs. MAC) and Camellia (MAC vs. Sun Belt) bowls have bumped us up to 39 bowls. As long we continue to see fanciful sponsors of fried chicken (the Popeyes Bahamas Bowl), duck calls/reality show subjects (the Duck Commander Independence Bowl) and virtual money (the Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl), we’re on board.
10. Other new odds and ends
Three teams have new stadiums — Baylor (McLane Stadium), Houston (TDECU Stadium) and Tulane (Yulman Stadium). ... Notre Dame replaced its sometimes-controversial and occasionally too tall natural grass with artificial turf. ... 20 teams hired new coaches. ... Dozens of teams will wear new helmets and uniforms at some point during the year.
Nebraska and Florida may have let down fans in recent years, but at least give the Cornhuskers and Gators credit for making them wait until Week 2 to complain.
In all likelihood, the two longest active season-opening win streaks will continue Saturday when Nebraska goes for its 29th consecutive season-opening win against FAU and Florida goes for No. 25 against Idaho.
Nebraska has won 28 season openers in a row since the Cornhuskers last Game 1 loss to Florida State in 1985. Florida isn’t far behind, winning 24 consecutive season openers starting with Steve Spurrier’s first win at Florida in 1990. The Gators haven’t started 0-1 since a 24-19 loss to Ole Miss in 1989.
After Nebraska and Florida, no other team has won more than 16 season openers in a row.
The key in recent years has been regular games against the likes of FAU, Western Kentucky, San Jose State and FCS programs — and certainly both schools have been guilty of warm-up games.
Nebraska’s last 28 opponents in season openers finished a combined 149-182-2 while Florida’s last 24 have gone 134-147-2.
That said, Nebraska hasn’t gone 28-0 on cupcakes alone.
Nebraska’s streak in season openers includes two appearances in the old Kickoff Classic in East Rutherford, N.J., in 1988 (Texas A&M) and 1994 (West Virginia).
Since 1986, the Cornhuskers have opened against Florida State (avenging the 1985 loss), opened twice on the road against major opponents (Iowa in 1999, Oklahoma State in 1995) and four times faced a team ranked in the preseason top 25. It’s worth noting, though, none of those four preseason top 25 teams finished the season ranked.
Florida’s season-opening schedule during the win streak has been, ahem, less ambitious.
The Gators haven’t faced a ranked team in during its 24-game season-opener stretch — even if 1997 Southern Miss finished 19th after starting the season with a 21-6 loss to the Gators.
Florida hasn’t played a season opener outside of Gainesville since a 31-4 loss to Miami in the Orange Bowl, the final game in the regular series with the Hurricanes. The Gators have also played only two major conference teams during its win streak and none in more than 20 years. Both teams — 1992 Kentucky and 1990 Oklahoma State — finished 4-7.
So when could either of these win streaks end? Nebraska’s next two season openers would figure to be more difficult than FAU, even if both are in Lincoln. The Cornhuskers open 2015 against BYU and 2016 against Fresno State.
Meanwhile, Florida may not be tested until 2017 when the Gators play their first season opener outside of Gainesville in 30 years. Florida will open 2017 against Michigan in Arlington, Texas, for Florida’s first regular season non-conference game outside of the Sunshine State since a 1991 loss at Syracuse. The Gators open the next two seasons with New Mexico State and UMass.
Bad News Broncos
As Nebraska and Florida are good bets to continue the two longest season-opening winning streaks, Western Michigan may soon stand alone with the longest active losing streak.
Memphis and Western Michigan are tied with the most consecutive 0-1 starts with nine in a row. Memphis, though, opens against Austin Peay, a team that went 0-12 last season. Western Michigan opens at Purdue.
Worth the Wait?
Think you’re having a long offseason? Take it up with Cincinnati coach Tommy Tuberville.
The Bearcats won’t start the season until Sept. 12 against Toledo due to a scheduling mishap that will leave Cincinnati with a schedule odd enough to make MAC teams blush.
Cincinnati canceled its Saturday opener against Stony Brook to add a road trip to Miami to the schedule Oct. 11, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer. Attempts by former athletic director Whit Babcock, now at Virginia Tech, to move a game into the first two weeks of the season failed.
This doesn’t mean Cincinnati has any extra practice before facing the Rockets in two weeks. NCAA rules limit teams to 29 preseason practices, so Cincinnati will actually have two fewer weeks of practice than Toledo.
“I’ve never been through a situation like this where we had so long off,” Cincinnati coach Tommy Tuberville said. “It is what it is. We’ll take it and get ready to run with it on Sept. 12. ... If there is (and advantage), I haven’t figured it out. The only advantage is that we won’t have as long a season as everyone else.”
Besides starting the season with two bye weeks, Cincinnati will play all of its home games at the Bengals’ Paul Brown Stadium while Nippert Stadium on campus undergoes renovations. After opening the season on a Friday, Cincinnati will go four weeks from Oct. 24-Nov. 13 without playing on Saturday, including two Friday games, a bye week and a Thursday game.
Quick question: Which team has the longest FBS winning streak?
Florida State is an easy call at 15 consecutive wins against FBS competition, not including last year’s win over Bethune-Cookman in September. Michigan State may be an intuitive answer with the second-longest win streak with 10 in a row since a 17-13 loss at Notre Dame on Sept. 21.
But who is tied for the ninth-longest win streak against FBS teams? The answer is defending FCS champion North Dakota State.
Granted, the win streak spans four seasons, but it’s a win streak nonetheless. North Dakota State has defeated an FBS team in each of the last four seasons and will look to extend that stretch Saturday against Iowa State.
Only eight of the 128 teams in the FBS have an active streak of five wins in a row against FBS competition: Florida State (15), Michigan State (10), UCF (nine), Louisville (six) and South Carolina, Navy, Vanderbilt and UTSA (five each).
North Dakota State’s four-game FBS win streak includes Kansas State (2013), Colorado State (2012), Minnesota (2011) and Kansas (2010). The Bison are 43-2 with three FCS titles in the last three seasons.
North Dakota State is No. 1 in the preseason FCS coaches’ poll, but the Bison are without 24 seniors from last season and coach Craig Bohl, who took the Wyoming job during the offseason.
The trick to keeping your composure — and your lunch — on those mid-summer stair runs is a sturdy meal.
Weeks before camp, Wisconsin offensive tackle Rob Havenstein watched as many of teammates ran the stairs at Camp Randall. Many gave out and ran to a garbage can. Not Melvin Gordon.
“It depends on what you eat,” Gordon said. “There are different things that play a factor. I try to hold it together.”
Havenstein says Gordon is just being modest. He’s watched Wisconsin’s star running back push himself to the brink in more places than just the stadium steps.
“You felt like he wasn’t satisfied,” Havenstein said.
Gordon isn’t satisfied with what his role can be for Wisconsin. For the last two seasons, he’s been a piece in Badgers’ ground game machine but not the complete focal point.
That will change Saturday against LSU.
A running back leading the way for Wisconsin isn’t a new development, but the Badgers will lean on Gordon in ways they haven’t in recent years.
When Gordon was a freshman, he was the third-leading rusher behind Montee Ball and James White. Last season, Gordon and White split carries essentially half and half. Gordon has only had to carry the ball 20 times in a game twice during the last two seasons. But now White is gone, and Gordon’s new running mate is sophomore Corey Clement, who carried 57 times for 547 yards last season.
At the same time, Wisconsin has a questionable situation in the passing game where former defensive back Tanner McEvoy is set to take over for incumbent drop-back passer Joel Stave. Either way, the Wisconsin quarterback does not have a returning receiver who caught more than 10 passes last season.
In other words, the Wisconsin offense may begin and end with Gordon.
“He’s said it many times: he wants to be a feature back on a great Wisconsin team,” second-year Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen said. “He’s the feature back, and let’s see if we’re a great team.”
Andersen will find out where Wisconsin stands in a hurry. The Badgers are Athlon Sports’ pick to win the Big Ten West, but their clout on the national stage will be determined by Saturday’s opener in Houston against LSU.
Though the Tigers generally have a stout defense, LSU’s front seven has been decimated by early entries to the NFL Draft in recent years. The Tigers replaced both defensive tackles and shuffled a linebacker corps that underachieved last season.
Even if the LSU defense is rebuilding, Gordon intends to be ready.
He rushed for 1,609 yards and 12 touchdowns on 206 carries last season and has been among the national leaders in yards per carry in each of the last two seasons. With fresh legs, Gordon has averaged 8.3 yards per carry in his career.
Without Ball, White or a consistent passing game, Gordon may need to retain that explosiveness even if he’s regularly hitting the 20-carry mark, something that’s never been required of him. He also hopes to be a more consistent presence on third down.
As a redshirt sophomore, Gordon could have left for the NFL in a draft that didn’t see a running back selected until the 54th pick. Even if Gordon would have left school early and been the first back selected, he had no guarantee of being a coveted first-round pick. That may have to wait.
“Melvin had a laundry list of what he wanted to get better at, and I completely agreed,” Andersen said. “A couple things are important him — grasping of pre-snap awareness, what’s out there on the defensive side of the football. And No. 2 Melvin wants to be a very good pass protector. He’s worked hard at that and he wants to be more involved in the throw game.”
While Andersen says he’s watched Gordon work with the passing machine after practice, he had to put a stop to Gordon’s work in the weight room.
The 510-pound squat was where he drew the line.
“Who cares how much more he can squat?” Andersen said.
Gordon, it seems, agreed.
“I have a problem sometimes,” Gordon said. “I worked really hard last year and every year I feel like I’m not working as hard as I worked last year. Sometimes it probably hurts me more than it helps. My strength coaches talked to me about it because you don’t want your body to fail you during camp.”
Gordon will be far too important to Wisconsin’s hopes in 2014 beyond just the opener against LSU. The Badgers will need Gordon fresh for a November stretch that could determine the division. Wisconsin’s final three regular season games will be against Nebraska, Iowa and Minnesota.
At least Andersen knows he won’t need to be a taskmaster for his key player before then.
“Some kids they walk out of the facility, you wonder how much do they really care about football,” Andersen said. “With that one you don’t have to worry about it.”
Braxton Miller’s season-ending shoulder injury may end up having the most impact of any departure all season, but it won’t be the only one. The Ohio State quarterback and Heisman contender is one of a handful of key players who saw their seasons end before it even started.
Every year, injuries, suspensions and departures put teams in a bind in the final weeks and days before the season. These are the top players who will be absent in 2014.
We’ve dubbed this the “All-Gone” team for 2014, though no player wants to find his name on this list. All the players listed will be out of action for the entire 2014 season. All have sustained their injuries or suspensions since the end of spring practice.
QB Braxton Miller, Ohio State
Reason: Shoulder injury
The Buckeyes’ Big Ten and College Football Playoff hopes were thrown into question after Miller re-injured his shoulder. Ohio State instead turns the quarterback position to redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett.
RB Venric Mark, Northwestern
Reason: Transfer to Division II West Texas A&M
The exact circumstances of Mark’s departure remain a mystery, but he would have been a key player in Northwestern’s bid to bounce back from a 5-7 season. Mark rushed for 1,366 yards and 12 touchdowns in his last full season in 2012.
RB Joe Mixon, Oklahoma
Oklahoma hoped Mixon, a five-star prospect, would become the kind of dynamic running back OU has lacked since DeMarco Murray in 2010. Instead, he’ll serve a season-long suspension after an alleged assault of a female Oklahoma student.
WR Christian Jones, Northwestern
Reason: Knee injury
After a cursed 2013, Northwestern got an early start to bad news in 2014. Jones, who led the Wildcats at 668 receiving yards last season, had his season-ending injury announced on the same day as Mark’s departure.
WR DaVaris Daniels, Notre Dame
Reason: “Removal” from team
Daniels is one of four casualties stemming from an investigation of academic fraud at Notre Dame (the school hasn’t gone so far as to say the players are suspended or dismissed). Daniels was the top returning receiver for the Irish after catching 49 passes for 745 yards and seven touchdowns last season.
TE Braxton Deaver, Duke
Reason: Torn ACL
Deaver was second on the Blue Devils last season in receptions (46) and yards (600). Jamison Crowder will be the only returning receiver with more than 30 catches and 300 yards.
OL Tyler Johnstone, Oregon
Reason: Torn ACL
Johnstone’s knee injury is the only thing preventing the Ducks from returning all five offensive line starters. His injury is also the second major setback for the offense after the Ducks lost receiver Bralon Addison in the spring.
OL Damien Robinson, Mississippi State
Reason: Torn ACL
The 6-8, 325-pound lineman was projected to start at tackle after Mississippi State lost standouts Gabe Jackson and Charles Siddoway.
OL Alex Kozan, Auburn
Reason: Back injury
Auburn hoped to go into 2014 with its interior offensive line intact. That won’t happen with back surgery for Kozan, the returning left guard who was an SEC all-freshman performer last season.
OL Moise Larose, Maryland
Offensive line has not been immune to Maryland’s rash of injuries and departures in recent years. Larose himself moved into a starting role at left tackle in the final four games last season when Mike Madaras left the program. Larose was suspended for a violation of the athletic department’s code of conduct
OL Drew Carroll, Rice
Reason: Kidney disease
Carroll had made 25 career starts for the defending Conference USA champions before a kidney condition ended his career. Carroll could face a kidney transplant or dialysis treatment.
DL Devonte Fields, TCU
Reason: Transfer to Stephen F. Austin
Fields earned Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2012 after recording 10 sacks and 18.5 tackles for a loss. Fields missed all but three games last season due to injury and ended his career at TCU after an arrest for misdemeanor assault stemming from an incident with his ex-girlfriend.
DL Carl Lawson, Auburn
Reason: Torn ACL
Lawson was expected to be a major cog in a pass rush that lost Dee Ford. Lawson had four sacks as an SEC all-freshman performer.
DL Jabari Hunt-Days, Georgia Tech
Reason: Academic ineligibility
Hunt-Days was declared academically ineligible after spring practice and headed to Georgia Military College. He was expected to start at defensive end in the new nickel defense after picking up 7.5 tackles for a loss as a linebacker last year.
LB Frank Shannon, Oklahoma
Shannon’s status has not been cemented yet, but Oklahoma’s leading tackler is appealing the university’s decision to suspend him for a year. Shannon is facing a Title IX sexual misconduct allegation.
LB Kelby Brown, Duke
Reason: Torn ACL
Brown returned from two ACL surgeries on his right knee to become an All-ACC performer for the Coastal Division champs. Now, he’ll miss the season after sustaining a torn ACL in his left knee.
LB Michael Rose-Ivey, Nebraska
Reason: Knee injury
Rose-Ivey would have entered 2014 with plenty of momentum after racking up 49 tackles in the final five games of last season. The middle linebacker’s 66 total tackles was a freshman record for the Huskers.
LB Darian Claiborne, Texas A&M
Claiborne was one of two defensive starters dismissed in June along with nose guard Isaiah Golden. Linebacker may have been a weak spot a year ago, but Claiborne’s departure dwindles the numbers.
DB KeiVarae Russell, Notre Dame
Reason: “Removed” from team
Russell was arguably the biggest loss among the four players Notre Dame removed from the roster. He was a rising star at cornerback who could have challenged for All-America honors. Projected starting defensive end Ishaq Williams also was lost due to the investigation.
DB Shaq Wiggins, Georgia
Georgia’s troubled secondary took another hit when Wiggins, who started eight games as a freshman, elected to transfer at the end of spring practice.
DB Rayshawn Jenkins, Miami
Reason: Back injury
One of the strengths of the Miami defense took a hit when Jenkins, a returning starter at strong safety, was lost for the season to a chronic back injury. He recorded 46 tackles and three interceptions last year.
DB Jered Bell, Colorado
Reason: Torn ACL
A fifth-year senior who already missed a year due to a torn ACL won’t have a chance to follow up his breakout season. Bell is a returning starter who had 71 tackles last year.
K Ross Krautman, Syracuse
Reason: Hip injury
Krautman, who hadn’t played since the second game of 2013, will end his career due to a chronic hip injury. Krautman was 49-of-63 on field goals in his career.
P Sean Covington, UCLA
Reason: Academically ineligible
Covington left the program due to eligibility concerns. He averaged 41.9 yards per punt last season
Dear college football, please don’t screw up this first weekend.
Week 1 features its fair share of power teams playing other power teams, but we’re not quite sure the first week is going to be the most competitive.
We’ve waited all summer for this, so please, college football, give us some drama.
Let’s pretend Alabama-West Virginia and Florida State-Oklahoma State aren’t going to be lopsided. Let’s pretend Clemson-Georgia and Texas A&M-South Carolina won’t be games where teams are trying to figure their way in some form or another.
We can dream, right?
The Week Ahead: Aug. 28-Sept. 12
LSU vs. Wisconsin (Houston)
When and where: Saturday, 9 p.m., ESPN
We’re watching because... we’re a little concerned the top games in Week 1 may end up lopsided, and this game has as much potential for drama as any. The running back of the present (Wisconsin junior Melvin Gordon) and the running back of the future (LSU freshman Leonard Fournette) could feast against rebuilding front sevens. Both teams also will try to find out if they can win their respective divisions with unsettled quarterback situations.
Vegas says: LSU by 4.5
Clemson at Georgia
When and where: Saturday, 5:30 p.m., ESPN
We’re watching because... two Southern powers will actually meet on a campus site instead of a neutral field. That said, this game will be hard-pressed to be a replay of Clemson’s 38-35 win at home last year. Two senior quarterbacks with parallel experiences — Cole Stoudt waited for three years behind Tajh Boyd, Hutson Mason behind Aaron Murray — will try to stay composed. Clemson defensive end Vic Beasley will make that tough on Mason, but the Bulldogs have a healthy Todd Gurley at running back.
Vegas says: Georgia by 8
Texas A&M at South Carolina
When and where: Thursday, 6 p.m., SEC Network
We’re watching because... we can’t say no to a Thursday night opener even if we have a suspicion South Carolina will roll in a game lacking Johnny Manziel and Jadeveon Clowney. The Aggies answered one question by opting for sophomore Kenny Hill in a heated QB competition with freshman Kyle Allen, but the Aggies may not have an answer for the South Carolina run game if Mike Davis is able to play. The A&M defense was last in the SEC at 5.4 yards allowed per carry before dismissing two front seven starters during the offseason. A banged up Davis may be A&M's only hope.
Vegas says: South Carolina by 10.5
Ole Miss vs. Boise State (Atlanta)
When and where: Thursday, 8 p.m., ESPN
We’re watching because... we’re still trying to figure out how seriously to take Ole Miss. The Rebels have momentum after back-to-back bowl wins, an eight-win season in 2013 and a standout signing class entering its sophomore season. Ole Miss’ opening three weeks against Boise State, Vanderbilt and UL Lafayette won’t put the Rebels in Playoff contention, but September is a tone-setter. That’s especially true of senior quarterback Bo Wallace, who is finally healthy enough to be confident in his arm.
Vegas says: Ole Miss by 10
Ohio State vs. Navy (Baltimore)
When and where: Saturday, noon, CBS Sports Network
We’re watching because... we’re intrigued by the Buckeyes without Braxton Miller. Ohio State may win this game convincingly — Navy’s option plays right into Ohio State’s strength in the front seven. Urban Meyer moves on from the Miller injury with freshman J.T. Barrett, who will face a tougher test against Virginia Tech’s secondary in Week 2.
Vegas says: Ohio State by 12.5
A year after Duke had one of the most versatile players in the country in No. 2 overall pick Jabari Parker, the Blue Devils will have a different kind of stud freshman who seems destined for a high draft pick.
Jahlil Okafor won’t be the jack-of-all-trades Parker was. That said, Okafor isn’t merely a classic center. He’s a throwback to an earlier era expected to be the best at the position in several seasons.
As decorated as Okafor may be by the end of the season, he’s not the only highly touted freshman in Duke’s class. The Blue Devils add a point guard (Tyus Jones) and small forward (Justise Winslow) in the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class.
Duke’s haul relegated Kentucky to No. 2 in the 247Sports Composite, but as usual the Wildcats will have their normal group of potential draft picks in the class. Kansas and Arizona, a year after having some of the best rookies in college basketball, again find their way near the top of the list of top freshmen in 2014-15.
Other Class Teams
2014-15 All-Freshman Squad
All-Freshman First Team
G Tyus Jones, Duke
One of three stud freshmen signed by Duke in 2014-15, Jones will push veteran Quinn Cook for minutes at point guard.
F Stanley Johnson, Arizona
At 6-7, 226 pounds, Johnson can play either the 2 or the 3 for Arizona in his first (and potentially only) season at Arizona. He steps in for Aaron Gordon, but Johnson may be more explosive offensive threat.
F Cliff Alexander, Kansas
Alexander is another Kansas freshman who can score down low. His toughness and rebounding ability, though, has been one of his key assets.
F Karl Towns, Kentucky
Towns arrives into a crowded frontcourt at Kentucky, but the seven-footer’s offensive game may set him apart. He should be able to stretch the floor in a way the Wildcats’ other star forwards can’t.
C Jahlil Okafor, Duke
Okafor will challenge for All-America and national freshman of the year honors in addition to being Duke’s best big man is several years. He’s a traditional back-to-the-basket center who will be among the top picks in the 2015 draft.
All-Freshman Second Team
G Tyler Ulis, Kentucky
G Kelly Oubre, Kansas
G/F Daniel Hamilton, UConn
F Trey Lyles, Kentucky
C Myles Turner, Texas
All-Freshman Third Team
G Isaiah Whitehead, Seton Hall
G Rashad Vaughn, UNLV
G/F Justin Jackson, North Carolina
F Abdul-Malik Abu, NC State
F Kevon Looney, UCLA
The College Football Playoff executive in charge of developing one of the key tools for his selection committee found his solution from a Tweet.
As the Playoff administrators assembled their group of 13 selectors during the last year-and-a-half, chief operating officer Michael Kelly knew he had to find a tool to keep the assemblage of college football luminaries informed.
The BCS computers were out. The polls would be of no use. No one wanted the rigid tools similar to the ones used by the basketball committee — RPI, strength of schedule and so on.
The Playoff executives wanted the selection committee to be the last word, and handing the selection committee opponent records or total offense and total defense wouldn’t suffice.
Lucky for Kelly, a Twitter follower stepped up.
Ex-college baseball players, brothers Stephen and Scott Prather and a third partner Drew Borland, once had aspirations of starting a data-driven coach search firm that leaned heavily on an extensive database they developed as a side project. (Stephen Prather and Borland both played at Vanderbilt from 1998-2000; Scott Prather played at Georgia Tech from 1996-98 and spent five years in the minor leagues for the Cardinals.)
They had trouble catching on in the search firm market, but athletic departments and coaches liked their database, dubbed Coaches By The Numbers. They went forward with an analytic platform called SportSource Analytics, culling play-by-play and season data from college football games going back to 2001.
A year-and-a-half ago, with the Coaches By The Numbers consulting business in full swing, Stephen Prather noticed Kelly’s conundrum, and he thought SportSource Analytics might be the solution.
"Data will play a part. Gut will be a part. Film will be a part. That's the way it should be."
The Playoff executive committee and SportSource Analytics team (which also came to include Marty Couvillon, proprietor of cfbstats.com) met several times over the course of 18 months, including at CFP headquarters in Dallas with the selection committee.
“That Twitter (interaction) led to an online demo of our product,” Prather said. “Over the next year-and-a-half it went from ‘this is pretty cool’ to ‘can we build something specifically for the committee.’”
Kelly and the selection committee needed a tool that would provide the committee a wealth of comparative data, from surface-level statistics to more in-depth metrics. The interface had to be simple enough for even the more tech-adverse members of the committee. And the committee members had to be able to access it at anytime, anywhere.
“We found this to be the most user-friendly and what we needed for our committee,” Kelly said. “What we liked was that there are hundreds and hundreds of categories of raw data, but also the ability to compare that to a certain number of teams. They even have great ways to go deeper.”
The College Football Playoff signed SportSource Analytics to a two-year contract to provide an exclusive platform for the selection committee. The team will be available through the selection process to provide tech support and answer questions about the tool, but both parties are clear that SportSource Analytics will not influence the committee on selection.
The platform will contain raw data on a per-play, per-possession, per-game and season-long basis but not a stand-alone metric similar to an RPI or Sagarin rating.
Prather and Kelly both said avoiding a “magic bullet” statistic was key. If the committee members can’t explain their reasoning, the data wouldn’t be useful, Prather said.
“We have nothing to do with the decision,” said Stephen Prather, who is a vice president for a commercial real estate company in Nashville. “We are building tools for them to look at data. ... We’re trying to give you ways of looking at data. We’re not trying to tell you what to look at.”
So what will the selection committee be able to access through the SportSource Analytics tool? That depends on the committee member.
The tool will allow committee members to compare teams in more than 60 statistical categories from the basic statistics — total offense and defense, turnover margin — but also more advanced metrics including yards per play, points per possession and detailed red zone success metrics.
The platform also will allow for detailed strength-of-schedule breakdowns including combined record of opponents, record of opponents’ opponents, record of conference opponents, records against ranked teams and teams with winning records.
Committee members also will be able to compare team performance in certain games, i.e. statistical data in games against winning teams. The platform will provide team sheets with data on all 128 teams, including detailed schedule analysis, statistical ranks and how they compare to the nationwide average.
The platform will allow committee members to dive as deep as they’d like, allowing them to customize more than 100 different rankings: How many points per possession did a team score against conference teams with winning records? That’s available.
How often are defenses holding top-25 opponents to three-and-outs? That’s available.
Which team has played the teams with the best cumulative conference record? That is available, too.
The tool also will be adaptive by request of selection committee members, so SportSource Analytics can add or create stat categories on demand.
“What we liked was that there are hundreds and hundreds of categories of raw data, but also the ability to compare that to a certain number of teams,” Kelly said.
Of course, there’s the possibility committee members won’t take a deep statistical stat dive, either.
That’s not going to hurt Prather’s feelings. For him, maybe the playoff spots shouldn’t be determined exclusively by red zone defense.
“Data will play a part. Gut will be a part. Film will be a part,” Prather said. “That’s the way it should be.”
For Athlon Sports, the offseason is one of our favorite times of the year.
Of course, we enjoy the season as much as any crazed college football fan, but the bread-and-butter for Athlon since 1967 has been helping readers prepare for the season, helping them get to know the teams and players they need to watch.
This is the time of year we get to share our preseason annuals, our national edition and regional previews for five conferences. Countless hours of study and work from dozens of individuals went into the 2014 editions, and we still have room for debate on the outlook for every team.
Of course, Athlon isn’t the only publication out there. And just like anyone we like to compare how everyone evaluates the season ahead. Here’s how the top 25 and conference champions shook out in the various publications.
We’ll continue to update the grid as more rankings are released through the offseason.
|2014 Preseason College Football Rankings|
Playing an iconic coach in a sports movie isn’t an easy task, especially if that coach happens to be in the audience.
Just ask actor Jim Caviezel, 45, who spent months in front of the camera capturing the emotions and dedication of legendary high school football coach Bob Ladouceur in the new movie “When the Game Stands Tall.”
From 1979 until his retirement in 2013, Ladouceur, now 60, built a machine at Concord (Calif.) De La Salle High School. Although Ladouceur stressed teamwork over winning, his teams achieved an astonishing national record of 151 consecutive wins from 1992 through 2004.
To get inside the coach’s mind, we made Caviezel — best known for portraying the title role in 2004’s “The Passion of Christ” — an honorary reporter for Athlon Sports and had him interview Ladouceur.
Here are the highlights from their conversation:
Jim Caviezel: You’re not the type of person to say you’re going to win this many games in a row. Winning games was not something you stressed. The world does it completely different. How did you form your approach to coaching?
Bob Ladouceur: I played on teams in high school and college that were good role models. They were team-oriented. I was trained by coaches who said this is a team sport and you shouldn’t be overly concerned about who is getting credit or if you’re the star. It’s mostly what can you contribute to a team.
Caviezel: When I talked about playing the De La Salle football coach, people said they remembered when the win streak happened. When did the win streak get to a point where you knew that people were tracking it week to week?
Ladouceur: I really blocked it out. I never talked about the streak to the kids. I rarely talked about winning to the kids. I did when we got close to the state record or the national record, maybe a couple of games before. There were probably only four weeks in the whole thing that I really paid attention to it.
Caviezel: How did you feel when you learned there was going to be a movie about your career and your life?
Ladouceur: I have to admit that I wasn’t really excited about it. I always preach to the kids about humility and not singling yourself out or not making a show of your accomplishments. I like the movie. Hopefully, it will be taken as, these guys approach (the game) in a different way. These guys are looking for more than wins. They’re looking for a band of brothers.”
Caviezel: The hardest movies to make are the ones where the guy you’re playing is alive because you know there’s a foundation outside (the film). There’s a script outside. The most important question I’m leading to is: Did I do OK?
Ladouceur: I always thought — in any sports movie — that whoever takes on the role of playing the coach has a lot of guts. That’s a tough role to play and to make it believable and not schmaltzy or choreographed. Everybody who has seen the film said you did a good job of playing me. They said you stayed true to the character. That’s a great compliment because I feel like I’m a hard guy to play. All coaches are complex in some way. They’re hard to figure. There’s a lot of angst and a lot of other things in a coach’s life in the way he does business. What a hard role to play, and I think you did a good job.