Articles By David Fox
The ramifications of a South Carolina-Georgia game remain as unpredictable as ever. At least we know the SEC East matchup can still deliver the goods.
South Carolina defeated Georgia 38-35 to keep the Gamecocks in the SEC East race following the Week 1 blowout against Texas A&M.
What does the win mean? The winner of this game doesn’t necessarily win the East, more often than not in recent years, the opposite has been true. And in the new Playoff era, we don’t know yet if this is a game that pushes South Carolina in the conversation or pulls Georgia out of the running.
For sure, though, South Carolina couldn’t afford to fall to 0-2 in the league. The SEC East as a result, literally and figuratively, is separated by the slimmest of margins.
Read and React: South Carolina 38, Georgia 35
The SEC East is as wild as ever
One picture tells it all. As South Carolina ran a quarterback sneak at midfield. One chain link kept South Carolina’s possession and clinched the game. Preseason favorites Georgia and South Carolina now have one league loss apiece while defending division champion Missouri still looms.
UNREAL pic.twitter.com/rmdwaF5PMb— The SEC Logo (@SEC_Logo) September 14, 2014
If you gave up on South Carolina, you shouldn’t have
Texas A&M gouged South Carolina’s defense in the opener, and the Gamecocks needed a long drive in the fourth quarter to put East Carolina away last week. South Carolina looked more like the team we expected against Georgia. No, the defense wasn’t great as Georgia amassed 406 total yards and 6.8 yards per play. But the Gamecocks had an answer for everything Georgia brought on defense. Dylan Thompson flourished early in the passing game, completing 21-of-30 attempts for 271 yards with three touchdowns and an interception. As the rain started to fall, South Carolina rode its offensive line as Brandon Wilds and Mike Davis combined for 159 yards on 31 carries.
Georgia’s coaches staff are going to hear about this one
Georgia has the top running back in the country and perhaps the deepest group of backs, but Mark Richt and offensive coordinator Mike Bobo may have been too cute in using Todd Gurley as a decoy. Fullback runs paid of in a scoring drive in the fourth quarter. Other gambles didn’t. Most egregious was a first-and-goal after a turnover. The call for a pass play resulted in an intentional grounding penalty. A missed field goal meant Georgia went from four yards to a lead in the final five minutes to South Carolina preserving a three-point edge. It's worth worth noting all of Georgia's top three tailbacks averaged at least 6.6 yards per carry.
Kicking is not fun
Maybe kickers deserve more credit. After all, no reasonable person would sign up for this. Georgia’s Marshall Morgan made an SEC record 20 consecutive field goals, including his first two attempts. Morgan missed a 44-yarder in the second quarter and then a 28-yard attempt that would have tied the game on Georgia’s final possession. He may escape scorn because of questionable play calling, but this is an unenviable position nonetheless.
The top of the American Athletic Conference coaches brings two coaches who reached the pinnacle of the college game 26 years apart.
One is in the twilight of a 35-year career that has included titles in the NBA and college. The other is just getting started.
Oddly enough, Larry Brown and Kevin Ollie also coach at two programs that couldn’t differ more in status, though Brown is coaching the upstart while Ollie is at the established power.
Brown and Ollie aren't the name coaches to watch in the ever-changing AAC. Mick Cronin, Josh Pastern and Fran Dunphy have all led successful programs while Frank Haith and Kelvin Sampson are veteran newcomers to the league.
As usual, a handful of factors go into ranking the coaches — career accomplishments, career momentum, gameday acumen, player development, recruiting, conference records and postseason success.
Want to tell us how wrong we are? Tweet us at @AthlonSports or talk to us on Facebook.
1. Larry Brown, SMU
Record at SMU: 42-27 (.609)
NCAA Tournament: 19-6, three Final Fours, one championship
Number to note: The Mustangs missed the NCAA Tournament but went 2-0 against eventual national champion Connecticut.
Why he’s ranked here: After only two seasons, the 73-year-old Brown has done what no SMU coach has done since Doc Hayes — make the Mustangs relevant.
2. Kevin Ollie, UConn
Record at UConn: 52-18 (.743)
NCAA Tournament: 6-0, one Final Four, one championship
Number to note: Ollie won a national title only four years into coaching career — two seasons as an assistant and two seasons as a head coach.
Why he’s ranked here: The future is limitless for a 42-year-old who took over for a legendary coach (Jim Calhoun) and recovered from NCAA sanctions a year earlier to win a title.
3. Mick Cronin, Cincinnati
Record at Cincinnati: 162-107 (.602)
NCAA Tournament: 3-6
Number to note: Cincinnati has ranked in the top 25 in adjusted defense on KenPom in each of the last four seasons.
Why he’s ranked here: With 101 wins and four NCAA Tournament appearances in the last four seasons, Cronin brought Cincinnati back from hitting the reset button 10 years ago.
4. Kelvin Sampson, Houston
Record at Houston: First season
NCAA Tournament: 12-14, one Final Four
Number to note: Sampson’s teams have reached the NCAA Tournament in 14 of his last 15 seasons in college coaching at Washington State, Oklahoma and Indiana.
Why he’s ranked here: He may be a risk to ignore NCAA rules, but he’s proven he can thrive in adverse situations at OU and Wazzu.
5. Fran Dunphy, Temple
Record at Temple: 167-97 (.633)
NCAA Tournament: 3-15
Number to note: Before the bottom fell out in Temple’s first season (9-22) in the AAC, the Owls averaged 24.3 overall wins and 12.3 wins in the Atlantic 10 the previous six seasons.
Why he’s ranked here: Only Temple predecessor John Chaney (516) has more wins in Philadelphia Big 5 history than Dunphy at Temple and Penn (477).
6. Josh Pastner, Memphis
Record at Memphis: 130-44 (.747)
NCAA Tournament: 2-4
Number to note: Pastner ended a 12-game losing streak against ranked teams last season by going 5-5 against top 25 teams after an Oklahoma State loss in November.
Why he’s ranked here: Pastner’s not John Calipari, but he’s come into his own as a head coach the last two seasons.
7. Frank Haith, Tulsa
Record at Tulsa: First season
NCAA Tournament: 1-3
Number to note: Since winning the Big 12 Tournament in 2012, Missouri under Haith lost to a No. 15 seed and a No. 9 seed in the NCAA Tournament before missing the Big Dance altogether.
Why he’s ranked here: Haith escaped Missouri ahead of the hot seat talk to start fresh at Tulsa.
8. Ed Conroy, Tulane
Record at Tulane: 65-65 (.500)
NCAA Tournament: None
Number to note: Progress has been incremental at a tough job: Conroy went 3-13 in Conference USA his first two years, followed by 6-10 then 8-8.
Why he’s ranked here: Conroy also supervised major improvement at The Citadel, but his Tulane program has been dinged by transfers (Josh Davis to San Diego State, Ricky Tarrant to Alabama).
9. Orlando Antigua, USF
Record at USF: First season
NCAA Tournament: None
Number to note: A top recruiter for Kentucky the last six seasons where no class ranked either No. 1 or No. 2 in the 247Sports Composite.
Why he’s ranked here: Though he’ll be associated with Kentucky and Calipari, Antigua helped Jamie Dixon establish his program at Pittsburgh with a five-year stint with the Panthers.
10. Jeff Lebo, East Carolina
Record at East Carolina: 73-61 (.545)
NCAA Tournament: None
Number to note: Lebo brought East Carolina its first 20-win season in school history at 23-12 in 2012-13.
Why he’s ranked here: At four stops (Tennessee Tech, Chattanooga, Auburn and East Carolina), Lebo has coached 501 games without an NCAA Tournament appearance.
11. Donnie Jones, UCF
Record at UCF: 76-52 (.594)
NCAA Tournament: None
Number to note: NCAA sanctions hit Jones with a show cause and stalled momentum for the program. UCF won 20 games in three consecutive seasons before falling to 13-18.
Why he’s ranked here: The former Florida assistant has never finished higher than fourth in the conference in his seven years at UCF and Marshall.
If Virginia Tech gets back to the ACC Championship Game, the Hokies should thank Clemson.
More specifically, the Hokies will need to thank Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris for tipping them off to his high school quarterback.
Virginia Tech went into 2014 knowing it needed a quarterback to replace the departed Logan Thomas. The Hokies were going to enter the season with a veteran backup, a sophomore who hadn’t attempted a pass and three freshmen on an inexperienced offense.
A meeting between associate head coach Shane Beamer and Morris at the Senior Bowl provided the answer.
Morris noted that his former quarterback at Austin (Texas) Lake Travis, where Morris coached two state champions in two years, had just received his release from Texas Tech.
The quarterback had run nothing but no-huddle spread since high school and never lived outside of the state of Texas, but he was a quick study, Morris said. Beamer and quarterback coach Scot Loeffler called the QB, Michael Brewer, visited him Austin and brought him to Blacksburg, Va., for an official visit.
By March, Michael Brewer signed with Virginia Tech. By September, he gave the Hokies a signature win to establish the Hokies’ ACC title credentials.
Brewer completed 23-of-36 passes for 199 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions in Columbus, giving Brewer the kind of moment he’d been seeking for three years.
“The whole time I’ve been in college football I’ve been waiting for that one chance,” Brewer said. “It was one of those deals where I’ve waited for so long for one chance, I wasn’t about to let anyone take it away from me.”
Brewer signed with Texas Tech and coach Tommy Tuberville in 2011, redshirting his first season and seeing minimal playing time his second year behind veteran Seth Doege. Tuberville then left for Cincinnati, but Brewer seemed appeared ready to take the starting job under new coach Kliff Kingsbury.
Brewer, though, suffered a fractured vertebra in his lower back that derailed his season. By the time he was healthy, Baker Mayfield and then Davis Webb eventually supplanted him as Texas Tech’s quarterback. Mayfield also transferred.
With a degree in hand, though, Brewer was eligible to play immediately upon his transfer, but Texas Tech blocked him from going to his first-choice destinations of Texas or TCU.
Virginia Tech, with help from Morris, eventually stepped up — and with little time to spare for the Hokies. Six weeks after Brewer announced his transfer to Virginia Tech, Clemson dismissed quarterback Chad Kelly, freeing up a roster spot that could have been claimed by Brewer.
“The numbers weren’t there for them at the time,” Brewer said. “We joke about that, that I could have ended up there, but he’s really happy that I’m here.”
Ending up at Virginia Tech and in an offense not steeped in the spread may be a positive for Brewer as well.
Instead, Brewer joins Loeffler, who had moved from a pro-style offense at Michigan to the spread at Florida and Auburn.
“I think this is good for Michael’s development, just like when I had the opportunity to go to Florida with coach (Urban) Meyer,” Loeffler said. “It was completely different from what I did at Michigan. It was the best experience I had in coaching. It was out of my comfort zone.”
That’s not to say it’s easy.
Brewer had only June and July to prepare in the offense before training camp, during that time NCAA restrictions limited him to an hour or two of film study with coaches during the week.
In other words, not a ton of time for a quarterback to unlearn a style of offense that Brewer has run since high school.
“We use a lot of pro terminology, pro protections and pro concepts,” Loeffler said. “We asked all the questions if he can handle it, and (Chad Morris) said he can learn.”
This has been a two-way street, though, as Virginia Tech has adopted elements of the spread to use in the shotgun so the offense isn’t completely foreign.
“They did a good job of bringing it along easy for me and doing things that I’m comfortable with in the shotgun and making things similar to what I was used to do,” Brewer said. “That’s a credit to them.”
At the same time, the offense isn’t a finished product. Brewer threw the two interceptions against Ohio State, not the best sign for a team whose last starting quarterback had 39 career picks. Brewer averaged a pedestrian 5.5 yards per play, and the offense averaged 4.2 yards per snap.
The numbers weren’t overwhelming, but he did enough for the upset in Columbus.
“His escapability was really good I thought,” Meyer said. “We had him bottled up a couple of times, and he got out of there and extended drives. He’s an accurate thrower, but the best thing he did was escape pressure.”
The bright side is that Virginia Tech’s offense is full of new faces — two freshman tailbacks, a freshman starting receiver and a highly touted tight end, Ryan Malleck, who didn’t play last season due to a shoulder injury.
The presence of a veteran quarterback with experience running no-huddle spread and an Air Raid combined with the possibilities of personnel groupings could lead to an interesting season for the Virginia Tech offense, as noted by SB Nation’s Ian Boyd in a breakdown of Loeffler’s no-huddle spread attack with pro personnel.
Virginia Tech had a feeling Brewer would be ready to tackle such a task in a short period of time. The question was if he could lead and take a hit.
The Hokies learned about both against Ohio State as Brewer was knocked around several times against the Buckeyes only to get back up.
“You learned everything you needed to learn in that Ohio State game,” Loeffler said. “Those quarterbacks take a beating in that game, and he took a beating. He came back and never flinched and never put his eyes on the rush. He learned a lot.
“Any time you’ve got a good person who’s smart and tough you’ve got a chance.”
After two weeks, the top of the Big Ten has lost to Oregon, Notre Dame, Virginia Tech and LSU. At the same time, the bottom of the league has lost to Central Michigan and Northern Illinois.
Seven teams are 2-0, but only one was in the AP preseason top 25 (Nebraska). This is a league grasping for solutions before third week of the season. Simply put, many of the coaches are at a loss.
“Keep recruiting,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. “There’s no easy answer.”
The Big Ten won’t be able to repair all the damage to its Playoff hopes in one week, but it can save face. Even without a game against an Oregon, Notre Dame or LSU this week, Big Ten teams have key non-conference games that may be must-win territory just to avoid complete embarrassment.
Conference newcomer Maryland draws a West Virginia team that put pressure on Alabama in the passing game. After narrow wins over Northern Iowa and Ball State, Iowa faces its in-state rival. And Minnesota takes its stout running game to Fort Worth to face a formidable TCU defense.
At the same time, one Big Ten program has reason for optimism after Penn State learned the NCAA and Big Ten lifted postseason restrictions just in time for its league opener against Rutgers.
Week 3 Previews and Predictions:
ACC | Big 12 | Pac-12 | SEC
Week 3 Big Ten Game Power Rankings
All games Saturday. All times Eastern
1. West Virginia at Maryland
Noon, Big Ten Network
With a group of healthy playmakers, Maryland hoped its offense would be the most dynamic of the Randy Edsall era. That hasn’t happened quite yet. Edsall says quarterback C.J. Brown last is trying to be perfect and wide receiver Stefon Diggs is navigating “unfair expectations,” as Edsall says. Brown turned the ball over three times against USF last week, and Diggs is averaging just 8.6 yards per catch. Maryland probably can’t afford another six-turnover game as the Terrapins had against USF last week. West Virginia will test a veteran Maryland defense that has allowed 3.6 yards per play against overmatched competition.
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2. Penn State at Rutgers
8 p.m., Big Ten Network
Few games have become more intriguing thanks to the last two weeks — Penn State now has the possibility of a bowl game and conference championship game this season, and Rutgers proved it has a pulse with a win over Washington State in Seattle in Week 1. In a wild turn of events, Penn State may have the best Playoff profile of any team in the Big Ten with wins over UCF and Akron. The Nittany Lions, though, have yet to put together a complete game on offense, averaging 2.8 yards per carry this season. This could be an important series in the Big Ten as Penn State aims to recruit New Jersey with regularity, but the two programs haven’t faced each other since 1995. Penn State is 22-2 all time agains the Scarlet Knights.
3. Iowa State at Iowa
3:30 p.m., ESPN
After two weeks, Kirk Ferentz probably didn’t envision quarterback Jake Rudock leading his team in rushing (53 yards) and needing 93 pass attempts to beat Northern Iowa and Ball State. The Hawkeyes offense is a major concern against rival Iowa State, especially with uncertainty surrounding star offensive tackle Brandon Scherff. Asked directly if Scherff had knee surgery as reported by KCRG in Cedar Rapids, Ferentz did not offer a definitive answer. Scherff returned to play and spoke during postgame interviews. Defensive end Drew Ott, who had 13 tackles and 2.5 tackles for a loss against Ball State, was involved in a scooter accident but is expected to play against the 0-2 Cyclones.
4. Minnesota at TCU
4 p.m., Fox Sports 1
Who would have thought the odd Minnesota-TCU game would have storylines besides the namesake of two individual postseason awards (Bronko Nagurski of Minnesota vs. Davey O’Brien of TCU)? Minnesota coach Jerry Kill was TCU coach Gary Patterson’s best man, and Gophers defensive coaches routinely visit with the Horned Frogs during the offseason. “I didn’t want to play it.” Kill said. “No question about that and I think he had the same feeling. ... But I’m not the boss. I’m the football coach.” From an on-field standpoint, this will be an intriguing matchup of running back David Cobb (291 rushing yards in two games) against a traditionally stout TCU defense.
5. Nebraska at Fresno State
10:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network
Nebraska heads West after a close call with McNeese State in which the Cornhuskers needed a wild catch-and-run by Ameer Abdullah to seal the win. Where to start? Nebraska’s defense gave up two fourth-quarter touchdowns on a pair of extended drives. The Cornhuskers need defensive end Randy Gregory to return from a knee injury to improve a pass rush that has recorded two sacks this season. Nebraska will try to get its other star player, Abdullah, more involved. Before his game-winning TD, Abdullah had accounted for 92 yards from scrimmage on 19 touches. Fresno State might not be a vintage Bulldogs squad — they’ve been outscored 111-40 in two games this season.
6. Indiana at Bowling Green
Is this a new era for the Indiana defense or the product of a weak opponent in Week 1? Probably the latter, but the Hoosiers have to be encouraged by holding Indiana State to 3.0 yards per play and recording four sacks. Indiana also attempted only 18 passes, the fewest of the Kevin Wilson era, while rushing for 455 yards. Meanwhile, preseason MAC favorite Bowling Green is playing without starting quarterback Matt Johnson, who is out for the season.
7. Illinois at Washington
4 p.m., Fox
For the third week in a row, a Big Ten team goes to the Pacific Northwest where Rutgers defeated Washington State and Michigan State lost to Oregon. The seasons for Illinois and Washington have played out in similar fashion, each with a close win over an FCS and a non-Power 5 opponent. That probably says more about Washington, a team picked third in the Pac-12 North, compared to Illinois, picked near the bottom of the Big 12. Illinois will hope for a shootout, putting in the game in the hands of Wes Lunt. The Oklahoma State transfer has passed for 741 yards and seven touchdowns while completing 67 percent of his passes. Washington’s may be happy to oblige after giving up 52 points in a win over Eastern Washington last week.
8. Kent State at Ohio State
Ohio State’s start against Kent State will be worth watching after the Buckeyes have come up empty on opening drives in the first two games of the season. Ohio State went four-and-out against Navy and three-and-out against Virginia Tech, contributing to a 28-13 combined deficit at halftime this season. “Maybe it’s the way we practice,” Meyer said. “I’m looking at everything. Maybe it’s the play calling. Maybe I’ve conservative with who we have in there right now, but we’re beyond that now.” Ohio State also expects Noah Spence back after he was suspended for three games dating back to the Orange Bowl due to a positive drug test.
9. Miami (Ohio) at Michigan
3:30 p.m., Big Ten Network
Miami (Ohio) may be just the opponent Michigan needs to see for a confidence boost after a 31-0 loss to Notre Dame. The RedHawks have lost 18 in a row, the longest active losing streak in the country. Michigan’s roster is in flux. Raymon Taylor left the Notre Dame loss with injuries, so did star receiver Devin Funchess, who tried to re-enter the game for a series after a leg injury. Five-star freshman cornerback Jabrill Peppers was on the sideline in uniform but did not play. Michigan also is working tight end Jake Butt back into the lineup after a torn ACL ended his 2013 season. He should be a boost to an offense that didn’t reach the red zone against the Irish. Starting linebacker Desmond Morgan has also been sidelined.
10. Purdue at Notre Dame
7:30 p.m., NBC
Purdue coach Darell Hazell re-opened the quarterback competition after Danny Etling went 17-of-32 for 126 yards with two interceptions in a 38-17 loss to Central Michigan. Sophomore Austin Appleby could get an extended look, but it might not make a major difference against a Notre Dame team that has won eight of the last nine meetings.
Off: Michigan State, Northwestern, Wisconsin
Week 3 Big Ten Staff Picks
|David Fox||Braden Gall||Steven Lassan||Mitch Light|
|West Va. at Maryland (-4)||WVU 35-24||Md 34-31||WVU 34-31|
|Indiana (-7) at Bowling Green||IU 35-17||IU 38-31||IU 48-24||IU 41-33|
|Kent State at Ohio State (-32)||OSU 28-10||OSU 38-17||OSU 45-7||OSU 30-10|
|Miami U at Michigan (-31)||Mich 35-7||Mich 41-10||Mich 41-13||Mich 34-10|
|Iowa State at Iowa (-10)||Iowa 21-17||Iowa 31-21||Iowa 27-17||Iowa 21-10|
|Minnesota at TCU (-15)||TCU 17-10||TCU 27-20||TCU 30-20||Minn 24-21|
Illinois at Washington (-12)
|Wash 42-28||Wash 44-24||Wash 45-31||Wash 33-27|
|Purdue at Notre Dame (-29)||ND 42-7||ND 44-13||ND 45-10||ND 34-13|
|Penn State at Rutgers (-4)||PSU 28-17||PSU 34-31||PSU 27-24||PSU 23-20|
|Nebraska at Fresno State (-11)||Neb 31-10||Neb 44-24||Neb 45-20||Neb 44-20|
Clint Trickett is a new quarterback, his West Virginia teammates say.
The redshirt senior doesn’t necessarily agree. Instead, he says they’re just seeing someone who is finally of sound mind and body.
Just as Trickett ascended to the starting quarterback job last season after his transfer from Florida State, he sustained a shoulder injury in his first start of the season.
That start, a 30-21 win over a ranked Oklahoma State team, was memorable, but the injury ensured West Virginia would never see a complete picture of Trickett. West Virginia won the game thanks to two late scoring drives by Trickett, but he also completed only 24-of-50 passes and threw two interceptions.
He left the game with a lead and a shoulder injury.
As the season went on, Trickett learned how to run West Virginia’s up-tempo Air Raid, but the lingering shoulder injury meant his arm couldn’t catch up to his knowledge of the offense.
“The only healthy guy these guys saw last year was a guy who had no clue what he was doing in the offense,” Trickett said. “Now they see a guy who is healthy and has a good understanding of what’s going on.”
If West Virginia is going to be more competitive in the Big 12 than it has been the last two seasons, the Mountaineers need Trickett’s shoulder and knowledge of the offense to close the gap.
West Virginia challenged Alabama in a 33-23 loss in the opener in Atlanta, and the Mountaineers will get another barometer of where they stand against Maryland in College Park on Saturday.
West Virginia moved the ball consistently against Alabama for three quarters as Trickett finished 29-of-45 for 356 yards with a touchdown. Was the game the product of lapses by the Alabama defense? The Crimson Tide had trouble communicating on defense with linebacker Trey DePriest out, and a spring injury to starter Eddie Jackson left Alabama exposed at cornerback.
Or is the West Virginia offense ready to bounce back after a forgettable 2013?
“We left some plays out there on the field,” Trickett said. “The outsider view of it was these guys showed they could compete, but we kind of knew that. We had a sense that we have something going right here. We were able to prove that we can compete with those guys. Now we have to be able to show we can beat those guys. That’s the next challenge.”
Beating a team like Alabama may be a long way off. Avenging a 31-0 loss to Maryland from last season, though, might be more attainable thanks to the improvement by Trickett.
“He continued to learn what we wanted to do,” West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said. “He’s communicating well and understands what to do with the ball. He’s running the offense the way we want him to run the offense.”
Squeezed out of the Florida State quarterback position by eventual Heisman winner Jameis Winston and Jacob Coker, Trickett transferred to West Virginia, where his father was formerly the offensive line coach, before the 2013 season.
Trickett graduated from Florida State in three years and took a redshirt, making him eligible immediately at West Virginia for two seasons. Now a fifth-year senior, Trickett realizes that sitting out a year would have had its benefits.
“It’s tough pick up an offense just in the summer,” Trickett said. “It’s damn near impossible.”
A year ago, Trickett had trouble getting signals from the sideline, forcing coach Dana Holgorsen to call in plays verbally or calling timeouts on mixups. Offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson has praised Trickett’s mental makeup, but also referred to working with the new quarterback as “programming.”
Spread offenses have become very common at the high school and college levels, but Trickett spent the last three years in the pro-style attack under Jimbo Fisher in Tallahassee.
Trickett said he didn’t understand the “whys” of the offense early on. By the time he started to figure it out, his balky shoulder wasn’t his only issue. He was knocked out of the Texas game Nov. 9 after a possible head injury. He missed the Kansas game a week later before returning for the season-ending loss to Iowa State.
The spring was a chance to reset everything. He had surgery to repair his shoulder in January. The recovery kept him out of spring, allowing him to catch up mentally.
“The spring I was able to find out why (Holgorsen) wanted certain things, certain plays and certain looks, why he wanted to push tempo,” Trickett said. “It kind of got down to why, and that’s a very big part of it. You can understand what he wants, but then (understanding) the why is when you get the whole grasp of it.”
The offense, though, has been more than just Trickett through two games. Wide receiver Kevin White, who had a disappointing season after his transfer from junior college, is already more than halfway to his catch total from 2013.
A solidified offensive line may help Trickett achieve one of his other directives from Holgorsen: Stay healthy. Trickett has proven willing to take contact. Offensive line protection or not, the quarterback needs to keep himself from suffering another injury that may derail his and West Virginia’s season.
“He has to make sure he doesn’t put his body in harm’s way,” Holgorsen said. “He’s got to continue to get the ball out of his hands and to the skill guys around him. That’s part of what his job is.”
Perhaps by the end of the season, part of Trickett’s job will be to help West Virginia achieve its first winning record in Big 12 play. The Mountaineers are 6-12 in the league, first due to a struggling defense in 2012 and then to an offense that sputtered almost all season in 2013.
“It’s his first opportunity and his last opportunity in the same breath,” Holgorsen said. “He didn’t get in until game (five) last year and got hurt in the same game he started in. His sense of urgency has been big.”
Even in years before conference realignment, the charter members of the ACC more often than not could boast the best roster of coaches in the country.
Now that the league has ballooned to 15 basketball members, this is almost an unfair contest.
The ACC coaching roster includes four Hall of Fame coaches, two 900-win coaches, 31 Final Four appearances and nine national championships. When Buzz Williams, arguably the top coach in last year’s version of the Big East, comes in at No. 8 in this league, that should be a startling reminder of the coaching power in the ACC.
In that case, it’s fitting Athlon Sports will begin its series counting down the top basketball coaches of 2014-15 with the ACC.
As usual, a handful of factors go into ranking the coaches — career accomplishments, career momentum, gameday acumen, player development, recruiting, conference records and postseason success.
Want to tell us how wrong we are? Tweet us at @AthlonSports or talk to us on Facebook.
1. Mike Krzyzewski, Duke
Record at Duke: 910-247 (.787)
NCAA Tournament: 82-26, 11 Final Fours, four championships
Number to note: The Blue Devils ended a streak of 121 consecutive weeks in the AP top 10 last season.
Why he’s ranked here: Forget about a loss to Mercer in the NCAA Tournament, Krzyzewski will reach 1,000 career wins this season.
2. Rick Pitino, Louisville
Record at Louisville: 341-117 (.745)
NCAA Tournament: 50-17, seven Final Fours, two championships
Number to note: The Cardinals are 22-2 in conference and NCAA Tournament games the last three years.
Why he’s ranked here: Pitino’s teams are consistently among the toughest defensive squads in the country.
3. Jim Boeheim, Syracuse
Record at Syracuse: 948-320 (.748)
NCAA Tournament: 53-30, four Final Fours, one championship
Number to note: Syracuse has declined in adjusted tempo in each of the last seven seasons. The Orange were the ninth-slowest team in the country in KenPom last season.
Why he’s ranked here: Syracuse has six 30-win seasons all time. Half have come in the last five seasons.
4. Tony Bennett, Virginia
Record at Virginia: 106-60 (.639)
NCAA Tournament: 5-4
Number to note: Bennett led Virginia to its first sweep of the ACC regular season and tournament titles in 2013-14.
Why he’s ranked here: In eight seasons as a head coach, Bennett ended a 19-year Sweet 16 drought at Virginia and gave Washington State its deepest Tourney run in 67 years.
5. Roy Williams, North Carolina
Record at North Carolina: 306-89 (.775)
NCAA Tournament: 63-22, seven Final Fours, two championships
Number to note: The Tar Heels are 25-11 in the ACC, 12-11 on the road and 1-3 against Duke in the last two seasons.
Why he’s ranked here: The career achievements may demand a higher ranking, but schools like Virginia and Miami have been closer to Carolina territory than Carolina during the last two seasons.
6. Jamie Dixon, Pittsburgh
Record at Pittsburgh: 288-96 (.750)
NCAA Tournament: 12-10
Number to note: Pitt has never ranked lower than 45th in adjusted offensive efficeincy on KenPom in 11 seasons under Dixon. The Panthers have been ranked in the top 20 in that category six times in the last eight years.
Why he’s ranked here: The 2011-12 season marked the only time in Dixon’s career he failed to reach the NCAA Tournament or win 10 conference games.
7. Jim Larranaga, Miami
Record at Miami: 66-36 (.647)
NCAA Tournament: 7-6, one Final Four
Number to note: Masterful coaching job in 2013-14 preserved a streak of 16 consecutive winning seasons. At Bowling Green, George Mason and Miami, he’s had one losing season since 1993.
Why he’s ranked here: Larranaga had a nice career by the time he was 55. Then he took George Mason to the Final Four and swept the ACC regular season and tournament titles at Miami.
8. Buzz Williams, Virginia Tech
Record at Virginia Tech: First season
NCAA Tournament: 8-5
Number to note: From 2011-13, Marquette reached the Sweet 16 twice and the Elite Eight once.
Why he’s ranked here: Williams proved he could go toe to toe with Syracuse, Louisville and Pittsburgh. Can he compete against those three, plus Duke and North Carolina, at Virginia Tech?
9. Mike Brey, Notre Dame
Record at Notre Dame: 300-159 (.654)
NCAA Tournament: 6-11
Number to note: Notre Dame has one NCAA win since 2008.
Why he's ranked here: Notre Dame averaged 11.6 conference wins from 2006 through 2013 before falling to 6-12 in its first season in the ACC.
10. Leonard Hamilton, Florida State
Record at Florida State: 241-157 (.606)
NCAA Tournament: 6-7
Number to note: Florida State hasn’t had a losing ACC record since 2006-07, though the Seminoles went 9-9 the last two years.
Why he’s ranked here: The Seminoles have reached the NCAA Tournament four times and the NIT five times in the last nine seasons. Not a bad stretch for FSU.
11. Mark Gottfried, NC State
Record at NC State: 70-38 (.648)
NCAA Tournament: 8-10
Number to note: Gottfried’s first three seasons (70-38, 29-23 ACC) have been remarkably similar to Herb Sendek’s final three (64-34, 28-20 ACC).
Why he’s ranked here: Talented offensive teams have topped out at 11-7 in the league.
12. Brad Brownell, Clemson
Record at Clemson: 74-58 (.561)
NCAA Tournament: 1-4
Number to note: Brownell has had only one losing ACC season in four at Clemson.
Why he’s ranked here: The Tigers quietly improved from 5-13 to 10-8 in the league last season.
13. Danny Manning, Wake Forest
Record at Wake Forest: First season
NCAA Tournament: 0-1
Number to note: Manning ended an 11-year NCAA Tournament drought for a proud Tulsa program.
Why he’s ranked here: After two seasons as a head coach, the former Kansas star gets an ACC job with potential.
14. Brian Gregory, Georgia Tech
Record at Georgia Tech: 43-52 (.454)
NCAA Tournament: 1-2
Number to note: The Yellow Jackets are 16-36 in the ACC under Gregory.
Why he’s ranked here: Gregory’s teams have been capable on defensive end of the court, but struggled to score.
15. Jim Christian, Boston College
Record at Boston College: First season
NCAA Tournament: 0-2
Number to note: Christian went 186-81 at Kent State and Ohio, 56-73 at TCU.
Why he’s ranked here: Christian is a perfectly capable MAC coach. Boston College is not in the MAC.
The period from National Signing Day through the preseason may as well be the season of optimism in college football.
After two weeks of the season, no doubt Big Ten fans would like to revisit those happier times of late August.
The Big Ten’s hopes for a spot in the inaugural College Football Playoff are faint after a disastrous second week of the season. We’ve already detailed those reasons.
The question now is what’s next and what’s the payoff. Perhaps there’s a slim chance a Big Ten team finds its way back into contention, but either way, the old carrot of the Rose Bowl, this year a Playoff semifinal, is gone.
The Big Ten title is still out there, and few teams look ready to claim it. Here’s what we learned out of the Big Ten after a dismal Week 3:
Few Big Ten teams will be able to challenge Michigan State like Oregon did
It’s been said several times since Michigan State lost 46-27 to Oregon: The Spartans still feel like the Big Ten favorite. Part of that is the lackluster showing by most of the powers in the league. But there are also few reasons to think the Big Ten will be able to threaten the Michigan State defense the way Oregon did, especially as the Spartans have a bye week, Eastern Michigan and Wyoming to adjust. The Spartans had their breakdowns in the secondary, and Shilique Calhoun was quiet Saturday. Nebraska and Indiana may be the only major tests of the Michigan State defense between now and November, especially if Michigan and Ohio State remain as dysfunctional as they were this week.
Listen to the Week 2 recap podcast:
The problem at Ohio State isn’t the redshirt freshman backup QB
J.T. Barrett’s final line is dismal. He finished 9-of-29 for 219 yards with a touchdown and three interceptions in the loss to Virginia Tech. He accounted for 289 yards of Ohio State’s 327 yards and 53 of the Buckeyes’ 69 plays. That’s way too much for a player in his situation. The receivers were dismal against Virginia Tech’s secondary, allowing the Hokies to crowd the box. That contributed to seven sacks and 53 yards on 15 carries for Ohio State tailbacks.
Michigan’s offense is moving backward
The Wolverines had their most futile offensive day of the Brady Hoke era, which is saying something considering last year’s issues. Michigan never advanced further than Notre Dame’s 29-yard line and never got into field goal range after the second possession of the game. The line still looks like the weak link, but Devin Gardner hasn’t helped the cause with three picks.
Where’s the offense in this league?
Sensing a theme here? Ohio State and Michigan aren’t aberrations. Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon (2.2 yards per carry against Western Illinois) continues to struggle with a hip injury. Iowa’s run game is mystifyingly stagnant. Northwestern has scored one first-half touchdown in two games. Maryland’s passing game is limping along against James Madison and USF despite two stud receivers. Turnovers and a limited run game hindered Penn State against Akron. Give credit to teams like Minnesota and Illinois, who at least have an established identity on offense thanks to running back David Cobb and quarterback Wes Lunt, respectively.
It’s too early for panic at Nebraska
Nebraska escaped with a win thanks to Ameer Abdullah’s 58-yard catch. Other Big Ten teams would only like to be so lucky. Receivers Kenny Bell and Jamal Turner both left the game with injuries and defensive end Randy Gregory sat out the entire game. Now, even a shorthanded Nebraska shouldn’t need late-game heroics to beat McNeese State, but a road trip to Fresno State should give the Huskers a good chance to rebound.
Big Ten Week 3 Power Rankings
|Rank||Team||Pvs||Record||Last Week||This Week|
|1||1||1-1||L, Oregon 46-27||Off|
|2||4||2-0||W, Akron 21-3||at Rutgers|
|3||3||2-0||W, McNeese State 31-24||at Fresno State|
|4||6||2-0||W, Ball State 17-13||Iowa State|
|5||7||1-1||W, Western Ill. 37-3||Off|
|6||2||1-1||L, Virginia Tech 35-21||Kent State|
|7||5||1-1||L, Notre Dame 31-0||Miami (Ohio)|
|8||8||2-0||W, Middle Tenn. 35-24||at TCU|
|9||10||2-0||W, Howard 38-25||Penn State|
|10||9||2-0||W, USF 24-17||West Virginia|
|11||11||1-0||Off||at Bowling Green|
|12||13||2-0||W, Western Ky. 42-34||at Washington|
|13||12||0-2||L, Northern Ill. 23-15||Off|
|14||14||0-2||L, Central Mich. 38-17||at Notre Dame|
The third week of the season will either be a good chance to finish some chores or a chance to see some major upsets.
After the excitement of Week 1 and the overload of primetime games in Week 2, the third week of the season brings lighter fare.
For most teams, conference seasons have yet to start, and for others the major non-conference tests are in the rearview mirror, for better or worse.
Thankfully, Georgia and South Carolina lead the way in a classic SEC showdown, provided the Gamecocks look nothing like the team that opened against Texas A&M.
The Week Ahead: Sept. 13
All times Eastern. All games Saturday.
Georgia at South Carolina
When and where: 3:30 p.m., CBS
We’re watching because... this game always seems like it determines the SEC East, even though it really doesn’t. Seriously, the last time the winner of Georgia-South Carolina played in the SEC championship game was 2010. Twice in the last three years the loser won the East. South Carolina bounced back from its embarrassing loss to Texas A&M to beat East Carolina, but the Gamecocks are settling for field goals. Georgia had a week to rest Todd Gurley. Be afraid.
Vegas says: Georgia by 2 1/2
UCF at Missouri
When and where: Noon, SEC Network
We’re watching because... a Fiesta Bowl winner against the defending SEC East champ should be compelling, right? Missouri again two things well, no matter the changing personnel — pass the ball and rush the passer. UCF is starting Justin Holman, who quarterbacked the Knights to a 21-16 edge in the second half against Penn State in the opener.
Vegas says: Missouri by 9
Tennessee at Oklahoma
When and where: 8 p.m., ABC
We’re watching because... we want to see just how improved Tennessee actually is. The Volunteers have taken care of Utah State and Arkansas State. Faring well in Norman is a different story. Oklahoma hasn’t been tested much, either, but Trevor Knight has been solid in routs of Louisiana Tech and Tulsa.
Vegas says: Oklahoma by 21
UCLA vs. Texas (Arlington)
When and where: 8 p.m., FOX
We’re watching because... we have no idea what to make of this game. In an ideal world, this would be a matchup between ascendant powers in the Pac-12 and Big 12. Instead, both are searching for answers. UCLA’s defense went dormant in a close call against Memphis only a week after the D had to bail out Brett Hundley and Co. at Virginia. Charlie Strong is trying to clean house in Year 1 at Texas, but results like a 41-7 loss to BYU will rankle fans.
Vegas says: UCLA by 6
West Virginia at Maryland
When and where: Noon, Big Ten Network
We’re watching because... one of these teams is on the way up, but we’re not sure which one. Clint Trickett is looking the part of a Big 12 gunslinger, completing 64-of-85 passes for 713 yards with three touchdowns in two games this season. Maryland could have one of the better passing attacks in the Big Ten with its two star receivers, but quarterback C.J. Brown has yet to deliver a complete game, even against the likes of James Madison and USF.
Vegas says: Maryland by 4 1/2
College football has become so infatuated with new that sometimes it takes an effort to put in perspective the greatness of a familiar name.
Marcus Mariota has been in the college game longer than Johnny Manziel and Jameis Winston, so it’s too easy to gloss over another 300-yard passing game in a three-score win for the Ducks.
Mariota, though, did more than just add another notch to ridiculous numbers for Oregon. He did it against one of the top defensive programs and coaches in the country during the last four years.
In completing 17-of-28 passes for 318 yards with three touchdowns, Mariota led a comeback against a stout Michigan State defense and earned Athlon Sports National Player of the Week honors.
“I should have to pay to watch that guy play,” Oregon coach Mark Helfrich told reporters. “It’s just unbelievable to watch him train, to watch him prepare, and then to see him come to fruition in this game.”
Not only did Mariota lead the Ducks to 28 unanswered second-half points in 46-27 win, he led arguably the best passing performance against a Pat Narduzzi-coached defense since 2010.
He’s only the second quarterback to top 300 yards against Michigan State during the last five seasons. At the same time, the third-highest efficiency rating against the Ducks the last five seasons.
Opposing passers vs. Michigan State since 2010
|Most Passing Yards|
|369||Dayne Crist, Notre Dame||Sept. 18, 2010 (OT)|
|318||Marcus Mariota, Oregon||Sept. 6, 2014|
|295||MarQueis Gray, Minnesota||Nov. 5, 2011|
|292||Chase Coffman, Indiana||Oct. 13, 2012|
|288||Aaron Murray, Georgia||Jan. 2, 2012 (3OT)|
|Best efficiency rating|
|230.38||Ricky Stanzi, Iowa||Oct. 30, 2010|
|195.94||McElroy/McCarron, Alabama||Jan. 1, 2011|
|191.47||Marcus Mariota, Oregon||Sept. 6, 2014|
|185.18||Russell Wilson, Wisconsin||Dec. 3, 2011|
|168.28||Russell Wilson, Wisconsin||Oct, 22, 2011|
National Defensive Player of the Week: Brian Walker, North Carolina
Cornerback Brian Walker helped North Carolina avoid a home upset with a pair of interceptions in a 31-27 win over San Diego State. Walker started the game with a 100-yard pick six of Quinn Kaehler in the first quarter. He added an interception in the final 5:44 to set up Carolina field goal — a three points that came in handy as San Diego State drove to the Tar Heels’ 3 before a turnover on the Aztecs’ final play.
National Freshmen of the Week: Royce Freeman/Devon Allen, Oregon
Oregon needed playmakers beyond Mariota to beat Michigan State, especially with a quiet day from running back Byron Marshall. Royce Freeman rushed for 89 yards and the final two touchdowns on 13 carries while receiver Devon Hall caught three passes for 110 yards and two scores.
National Coordinator of the Week: Bud Foster, Virginia Tech
The Hokies turned in a vintage performance against the passing game in a 35-21 win over Ohio State in Columbus. Boosted by a dominant fourth quarter, Foster’s defense made J.T. Barrett’s second career start a nightmare. The Hokies had seven sacks, two interception and held Ohio State to 9-of-29 passing.
Conference Players of the Week
ACC: Pittsburgh running back James Conner rushed for 213 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries in a 30-20 win over Boston College.
Big 12: Kansas State quarterback Jake Waters completed 16-of-29 passes for 239 yards and rushed for 138 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries in a 32-28 win over Iowa State.
Big Ten: Minnesota running back David Cobb rushed for 220 yards and two touchdowns on 29 carries in a 35-24 win over Middle Tennessee.
SEC: Missouri wide receiver Bud Sasser caught five passes for 121 yards with two touchdowns and forced a fumble on an interception return in a 49-24 win over Toledo.
American: Memphis linebacker Tank Jakes had 12 tackles, four tackles for a loss and two sacks in a 42-35 loss to UCLA.
Conference USA: Louisiana Tech running back Kenneth Dixon rushed for 184 yards and two touchdowns on 12 carries in a 48-20 win over UL Lafayette.
MAC: Central Michigan running back Thomas Rawls rushed for 155 yards and two touchdowns on 31 carries in a 38-17 win over Purdue. He also caught three passes for 50 yards.
Mountain West: Boise State running back Jay Ajayi rushed for 219 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries in a 37-24 win over Colorado State.
Sun Belt: South Alabama running back Jay Jones rushed for 102 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries in a 23-13 win over Kent State.
Independents: Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson completed 23-of-34 passes for 226 yards with three touchdowns in a 31-0 win over Michigan.
The Heisman race is the only sports award that determines its field of contenders before the season actually starts. As such, we’ll keep track of all the contenders (and pretenders) for the award here.
In Week 2, the potential frontrunner Marcus Mariota had perhaps the most impressive game against the Michigan State defense in four seasons, but he wasn’t the only one to make noise on the big state.
Here’s how the field performed in the second week of the year:
Mariota had the best passing day against a Michigan State defense since 2010. His 318 yards was the most since Penn State’s Matt McGloin’s 312 and his efficiency rating (191.5) and yards per attempt (11.4) were the best against Sparty since Alabama in the Capital One Bowl that year.
Hill picked up a nice highlight with this hurdling of a Texas defender. More important, the Cougars quarterback has become much more sound a passer, completing 73 percent of his passes this season. He’s also rushed for 196 yards and five touchdowns in a pair of road games.
Welcome back, Everett. The Notre Dame quarterback continued to show command of the Irish offense by completing 23-of-34 passes for 226 yards with three touchdowns in a rout of Michigan. He’s completing 66.1 percent of his passes this season compared to 58.8 in 2012.
|Bryce Petty||Rest assured, Petty would have done awful, horrible things to Northwestern State if he were healthy. Instead, he sat out to rest his back. That may turn out to be a boost for his season, but for now it’s a very minor setback. Seth Russell completed 16-of-25 passes for 438 yards with five touchdowns in Petty’s absence.|
|Jake Waters||Waters turned in a Collin Klein-like effort against Iowa State, especially running the ball on third downs. He was 16-of-29 for 238 yards passing while rushing for 138 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries in a second-half comeback against Iowa State.|
|Shaq Thompson||Playing on a defense that allowed 52 points and 573 yards to Eastern Washington should sting, but Chris Petersen lived up to his promise to play Thompson on offense. He rushed for a 57-yard touchdown for one of his three carries. He also finished with 14 tackles and a sack.|
|Christian Hackenberg||Shouldering the load for Penn State is tough. A week after setting a school record with 454 passing yards against UCF, Hackenberg threw two interceptions against Akron. He finished with 319 yards and three touchdowns, but it wasn’t pretty.|
In two weeks, the Big Ten is doing its part to make sure the College Football Playoff selection committee doesn’t have to address one of its fundamental issues.
As of Sept. 6, the dilemma of picking potential representatives of five power conferences for four playoff spots seems to be a moot point. After only two weeks, Big Ten teams will have trouble making a compelling argument for Playoff inclusion.
Among the only teams still undefeated in the Big Ten are the two new arrivals (Maryland and Rutgers), a team serving a postseason ban (Penn State) and Minnesota, Illinois and Indiana. In other words, none of the programs the Big Ten expected to carry the banner for the league in the first year of the Playoff.
In some ways, a team that lost by 19 still looks like the top team in the league.
That’s how bad the Big Ten’s most critical weekend in years transpired.
In a week when Big Ten teams lost to Northern Illinois and Central Michigan, went toe-to-toe with Ball State and McNeese State, and lost in a historic rout to Notre Dame, Michigan State’s back-and-forth against Oregon at Autzen is respectable by comparison.
The narrative of a potential Big Ten bounce-back year, starting with Wisconsin’s 24-7 lead over LSU in the third quarter a week ago, has dissipated into another season of limited relevance for the league on a national scale.
Here’s a step-by-step look at how the Big Ten has bigger problems than missing out on the Playoff:
Wisconsin’s moment evaporates
LSU came back from a 17-point deficit in the top game of Week 1 to defeat Wisconsin 28-24. Wisconsin’s Heisman contender Melvin Gordon was limited by a hip injury, and quarterback Tanner McEvoy proves incapable of moving the ball in the passing game. A week later, Wisconsin led Western Illinois 9-3 in the first half before rallying for 28 unanswered points in the second.
Pelini’s blood pressure is not improving
With defensive end Randy Gregory sidelined for the entire game and receiver Kenny Bell out for the second half, Nebraska needed running back Ameer Abdullah to save the day with a late touchdown catch in a 31-24 win. Even considering Nebraska’s 55-7 win over FAU in the opener, this isn’t the look of a potential top-10 team.
Not the easiest 2-0, but it will do
Limited by scholarship sanctions and banned from the postseason, Penn State pulled away away from Akron to win 21-3 after a 14-point second half, a week after a game-winning field goal as time expired against UCF in Dublin. Three turnovers and a lackluster running game don’t inspire confidence for Penn State.
Hey, at least Illinois saved face
Two weeks and two big fourth quarters saved Illinois from a winless start. Illinois trailed Youngstown State 9-7 going into the fourth and trailed Western Kentucky 27-21 before pulling away for a pair of wins. Quarterback transfer Wes Lunt is helping Illinois save face.
Iowa’s gonna Iowa
After missing three field goals and turning the ball over twice, Iowa overcame a 10-point deficit against Ball State in the fourth quarter to win 17-13. A week earlier, Iowa needed the fourth quarter to pull away from Northern Iowa for a 31-23 win.
The MAC strikes back
A week after losing to Cal, a team that went 1-11 in 2013, Northwestern lost 23-15 to Northern Illinois. Northwestern lost 2.5 yards per carry in two games. The Wildcats, whose top running back transferred and top receiver was injured shortly before the season, have lost nine of their last 10 games. At Northwestern was competitive against a MAC foe. After dodging a home loss to Western Michigan, Purdue lost 38-17 to Central Michigan.
The Big Ten’s moment slips away
For a time, a Big Ten looked to be on the verge of a headlining win for the conference as the Spartans take a 27-18 win at Autzen Stadium against Oregon. The Ducks adjusted on defense while Marcus Mariota led four scoring drives against a stout Michigan State defense. The Spartans lost 46-27. No Big Ten team will have a better opportunity to impress the selection committee this season.
Michigan embarrasses itself
It’s one thing to lose a rivalry game on the road to a ranked team. What happened to Michigan was humiliating — a 31-0 loss to Notre Dame in a game that featured four turnovers and two missed field goals. New offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, hired to fix Michigan’s run game and consistency issues, has now presided over the Wolverines’ first shutout since 1984.
The Big Ten's last hope loses the fourth quarter
The final team in action Saturday, Ohio State clung to a chance to salvage the day for the Big Ten with a 21-21 fourth quarter with Virginia Tech. The Hokies’ pressure, though, was relentless with seven sacks and three interceptions of redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett. The offensive line was leaky, and Ohio State tailbacks contributed 53 rushing yards on 15 carries. The question, then, is if even Braxton Miller could have saved this team.
After Saturday night, Notre Dame and Michigan both should have good reason to want to continue a rivalry that ended with a 31-0 Irish win.
Notre Dame certainly would want to continue to embarrass Michigan in perpetuity. Michigan would likely want to play this one again.
Instead, the Wolverines will have to deal with the trash talking until a bowl game or resumption of the series brings the two programs together. In the long history of the series between college football’s two winningest program, no game between the two has featured a Wolverines shutout.
The win is one that gives us a new perspective on a shorthanded Notre Dame and its quarterback while giving Michigan coach Brady Hoke a new host of problems just two weeks into the season.
Read and React: Notre Dame 31, Michigan 0
This Notre Dame Team Can’t Be Ignored
After an academic fraud issue cost Notre Dame its best corner, defensive lineman and receiver, Notre Dame seemed destined for a mediocre season. That’s not going to happen, it seems. The Irish have defeated their first two opponents by a combined score of 79-17 and should be 4-0 when they face Stanford on Oct. 4. And if Stanford continues to play the way it did against USC, Notre Dame may be favored by the time the Cardinal plays in South Bend.
Everett Golson has Blossomed
Golson’s return from a year-long absence has been nothing short of triumphant. He was 23-of-34 for 226 yards with three touchdowns against Michigan. Compare his performance Saturday to the last time we saw Golson in 2012. Could Golson as a redshirt freshman have won a game without his top receiver and a run game that managed just 1.7 yards per carry? Not likely. Golson as a junior led that team to a 31-0 rout.
The Michigan Offense Hasn’t Changed
Sure, the scheme is different and the coordinator is new, but the results are painfully similar. The run game was ineffective at 35 carries for 100 yards (2.9 yards per carry). And Devin Gardner was as mistake-prone as he was a year ago with three interceptions. Take away receiver Devin Funchess, and Michigan had only 82 yards through the air.
Brady Hoke is in for a Long Season
Hoke seemed to have the same uncomfortable expression for most of the second half, which isn’t surprising since the game was out of reach in the second quarter. For a coach who has put a premium on rivalry games, this one will haunt the rest of the year. He’s replaced his offensive coordinator and brought in two top 10 signing classes in the last three seasons. Michigan is running short on answers If the honeymoon wasn’t over before, it is now.
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.