It all started with Minnesota on Thursday night, their jerseys emblazoned with a single word on the back. Then, on Friday, it was Michigan State taking it to a scrappy Jacksonville State squad. Then it was Wisconsin on Saturday, hanging tough with the SEC. It was Penn State in Dublin, and Rutgers playing in the stadium of the Super Bowl champions. The Big Ten came out of this weekend looking stronger, deeper, and healthier than it had before. And that was the most ordinary part of Week 1.
It was a crazy weekend, and plenty of teams we thought were impervious hinted that they were not. Other teams that we had ignored demanded attention. In the Big Ten, there was no better example of this than Rutgers, who took out a Pac-12 team that went 6-7 a year ago, and in the process held WSU to 0.4 yards per rush. "Rutgers, physically, is taking it to this Cougars team," said Joel Klatt. "They look like a Big Ten team." Paul James also looked like an upper-echelon Big Ten runner, going for 173 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Then, there was Indiana, which somehow upended its standing as a passing-first squad. Tevin Coleman ran for 247 yards on 23 carries, and Indiana's 3-4 defense held Indiana State to 1.3 yards per rush. Against a defense trying to take away the pass, Nate Sudfeld threw for 111 yards.
Yes, strange days are a-comin'. Perhaps it's only fitting, then, there's already a new #1 in our poll.
Sunday Morning Brews Poll - Preseason
Well, let's get this out of the way: Bulldogs at #1. There were a number of concerns raised when I ranked the Bulldogs 8th in last week's poll: running back depth, special teams, offensive line, the secondary. The Bulldogs had answers for every single one of these. They had resounding answers.
The TV announcers were praising Georgia's special teams by the end of the night, thanks to a 100-yard kickoff return by Todd Gurley, a 24-yard punt return, and a 44.0-yard punt average. Clemson's quarterbacks went 17/34, with 5.9 yards per pass. The backup running backs, true freshmen Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, combined for 103 yards on 10 carries. The offensive line gave up a single sack, while Huston Mason looked poised, accurate and in control of the Georgia offense.
This is on top of their other assets, like superstar linebackers, Todd Gurley, and one of the best defensive coordinators in the game. Georgia gets a bye to prepare for the Week 3 showdown with South Carolina.
Whether Jameis Winston would trust targets other than Rashad Greene is still an unresolved issue. Far too many times Winston overlooked much more open, unproven targets, in favor of Greene, of which directly resulted in an interception. Not unexpectedly, it looked at times like Florida State missed receiver Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw, both of whom are now in the NFL.
The dropoff in play at defensive tackle... was also noticeable, as Oklahoma State found success in the middle repeatedly, especially in the second half.
The Seminoles will bounce back. OSU showed a lot of grit tonight and had a subtle but powerful thing that can only be described as leverage - Florida State wasn't expecting a punch that strong, and it took them a while to respond. Oklahoma State just didn't have enough punches in store to match FSU's raw talent.
The pass defense looks worrisome, but this team had an energy similar to what Michigan took the field with at the Big House, and Sparty also fielded a similarly potent offense.
The problems in the secondary continue for the Tide, allowing almost 400 yards to the West Virginia Mountaineers, who are probably one of the three worst teams in the Big 12. The Tide allowed just 1.2 yards per rush... and 8.1 yards per pass. There may be no team in the country able to stop the run like them, but the Tide, just like the LSU Tigers, are missing something.
A 28-20 victory over Virginia left Brett Hundley answering questions afterward about what went wrong. "Sometimes a game like this might be good to get our team understanding that every game we have to come with it," said Brett Hundley. "We have a lot of stuff to work on."
South Dakota could not touch Oregon's passing, and they could not touch Byron Marshall (11.1 ypc). Outside of a three-yard scamper in the second quarter, they also could not touch the endzone.
The Bears are one of two teams on this list who haven't played a game yet. Until they do play, I will keep them frozen at the same spot as last week.
Projected F/+ rankings project Oklahoma's opponent from today, Louisiana Tech, as one of the fifteen or so worst in FBS - and the Sooners did not manage to outgain them by 200 yards. We knew Oklahoma was young offensively, and it showed in their two turnovers and 5-13 third down efficiency. This team will get better, and they'll have time. They don't face a dangerous opponent (Tennessee doesn't count) until October.
The Cardinal's new line and stable of backs were perfectly adequate, but the 45-0 win they enjoyed was due to 3 touchdown passes of 40 yards or more and a 60-yard punt return by Ty Montgomery. We will know more about the Cardinal by Week 2, after their USC showdown.
So.... first, about that talent that A&M was saving up on the defensive line. It seems they've been maturing a little faster than anticipated, given the Aggies' beatdown of #9 South Carolina on Thursday, which included limiting Carolina's run game to a paltry 67 yards on 22 carries. That Carolina team, with almost all the same pieces, ranked fifth in the SEC last year in yardage, as well as eighth in yards per carry. Carolina's offensive line looked big, but A&M's looked big and athletic. They gave Kenny Hill time to make throws, but even when Hill did feel pressure, he showed mobility and accuracy on the run.
Another interesting point about the game is that the Gamecocks did outperform the Aggies in yards per play. A&M was trumped as an explosive team, which is easy to see with those playmakers. But the secret to those 677 yards was running off 37 more plays than South Carolina.
Auburn's backup quarterback, Jeremy Johnson, started the first half and promptly hit his first 9 completions, en route to a 12/16, 243 yard night. This obviously gives Gus Malzahn a security blanket as well as the potential for some more wrinkles if he feels the team needs it. Auburn's defensive line allowed 5.3 yards per rush to Arkansas, but the secondary allowed 5.5 yards per pass while the offense featured a heavy dose of explosive plays. What does all this say about Auburn? Nothing that hasn't been said already. They will lean on the offense and the coaches.
I predicted Cody Kessler would be one of the top quarterbacks in 2014, and he's on pace for that after this Week 1 performance: 25/37, 394 yards, 4/0. The Trojans accumulated 701 yards on 105 plays.
The Badgers ran the gamut during a thrilling and ultimately disappointing loss to LSU. There was explosiveness, a throttling control of the game, heartbreak, and the unique bravery of Konrad Zagzebski as he gave a thumbs up to the crowd while being carted off the field in a stretcher. And, speaking of...
Happy to report that senior DL Konrad Zagzebski has been released from the hospital & will travel home with us on the plane. #Badgers— Badger Football (@BadgerFootball) August 31, 2014
Badgers fans were livid at the coaching staff afterward for the disappearance of Melvin Gordon in the second half.
Also, there is no logical explanation at all for leaving Wisconsin unranked last week, ranking them now after a loss, and not only that, but putting them ahead of the team that beat them, and dropping the team that beat them after the win against a now-better ranked team. I'm probably crazy, but it feels right. LSU has a problem with no easy answer (quarterback) and a strength, in their heavy offensive line, that is stumbling against more athletic and smaller defenses. Plus, Wisconsin showed a lot of good things in the loss, and have an easy path from here to 10 wins.
Wisconsin came up short, but they ultimately looked like a more impressive team than the Tigers. The offensive line underwhelmed, which is the second time this weekend that an SEC line of 320-pound linemen simply looked slow and gratuitous. Les Miles looked a little bothered in his half-time interview, which I had never seen before. And Leonard Fournette, who had gotten just as much hype out of Tigers camp as Jabrill had gotten out of Michigan's, got only 18 yards. Even more worrisome, Anthony Jennings looked hardly better than he did against Iowa.
Ole Miss surrendered 399 yards to Boise State, but it was at a rate of only 4.8 yards per play. Mississippi also had 14 penalties and 3 interceptions. Let's wait and see how they fare this Saturday against Vanderbilt before we assume this is how a young team will look all year.
Without an O-line or Jabrill Peppers, and with a young team's demeanor that checked out of the game in the third quarter, UM hung a 52-14 loss on Appalachian State this weekend. This team is flawed, and it's certain to show up eventually in clear lights on a scoreboard, but there is still a lot to like. First, the problems: the line, once a better run defense than a pass defense, is now better at getting a push on passing downs than they are at gap integrity, shedding blocks and stopping runners. Our offensive line still allows penetration into the backfield, though at least now Gardner has options other than "tuck and run" when that happens. When it does happen, it tends to be one person breaking into the backfield, instead of three. Progress!
Finally, it's tough to know anything about our safeties or the larger structure of our pass defense. There may be problems down the road with allowing big plays. Combined with our struggles stopping the run game (Terrence Upshaw got 109 yards on 6.1 ypc), this makes us potentially vulnerable. There is simply no way around that.
Now, for the positives: let's not let this detract from the larger picture, that these are Michigan Problems, not normal team problems. We're complaining about a running defense that allowed 153 yards (below FBS average) on 4.3 yards per carry. We're complaining that our safeties are not lights out. We're complaining about an O-line after Michigan ran 36 times for 350 yards and 3 touchdowns. These are Michigan problems. And it's good to have Michigan problems.
These Longhorns are a work in progress, but not on defense: a tough North Texas squad did not get 100 yards in the game. North Texas had more pass attempts than passing yards.
Some of the reaction from Urban Meyer following OSU's 34-17 win over Navy: "We didn't resemble what we expect to be. Whether it's lack of Carlos Hyde, lack of offensive line.... We were very disappointed [in the offensive line] ... and it didn't resemble an offensive line at Ohio State the first two quarters... We wanted to open it up a little bit more in the first half. It wasn't because of [J.T. Barrett], it was because of our offensive line [not performing]." The inside was particularly vulnerable, and the running game was much more effective with their speedy players than their physical backs.
Since there really isn't anything new to say, here is a recent SI article on Bobby Petrino in case you want some more Louisville reading.
Well, well. Oklahoma State taught a lesson similar to what Bob Stoops and Oklahoma taught Alabama and the country a year ago. Despite a lack of media coverage (and losing more lettermen than any other team in the Power 5), Oklahoma State is not to be forgotten. In 2013, OSU went 10-3. From 2010-12, they went 31-8. The players came ready to play against the national champs, and in the process caused at least some damage to FSU's resume. However, can this young team maintain that intensity throughout, and will they have the depth to withstand injuries? We'll see.
The Hokies performed well in a non-descript game, defeating William & Mary 34-9 and outgaining them 488 yards to 193. They had suffered the biggest losses on defense along the line, but held W&M to 2.7 yards per carry and 5.1 yards per pass attempt. Michael Brewer went 23/30 for 251 yards, but the star was Shai McKenzie - 106 rushing yards on 9 carries. Next up is Ohio State.
Missouri's Maty Mauk and Carolina's Dylan Thompson are very similar players, but Mauk had help from a very nice running attack to take down South Dakota State. All told, Missouri scored 5 touchdowns and allowed no turnovers against an elite FCS team (ranked #10 for this game in the FCS polls).
Trevone Boykin led TCU's passing attack, and he did so very effectively: 29/41, 320 yards, 2/0 TD ratio. The running game was mediocre, but all told TCU gained 555 yards and limited their foe to 143 (at 2.13 yards per play). Next up - Minnesota.
The Tigers suffered a difficult loss in Athens, but there were some positives to take away from the 24-point road loss. C.J. Davidson provided a measure of productivity at running back, and there are options at receiver, as nine players caught passes. These are incredibly small consolations, and the story of the game was how Clemson's offensive line looked overmatched to Georgia's front seven.
A smaller but still important point of concern is the lack of depth on the defense, as Georgia came out respecting Clemson's defensive line by getting rid of the ball quickly and easing Mason in with the help of his playmakers, and the Clemson defense seemed to tire as the game went on. The Tigers will hope that they can show improvement over the next two weeks (a game versus S. Carolina State and a bye week), before a road visit to the defending champs. After that, the schedule lightens up considerably until a season-ending game against in-state rival South Carolina.
Clemson is smarting right now, and it'd be an easy call to drop them from the rankings. But they lost to a very good Georgia squad that, at times, had to work hard to earn their points. Swinney will re-tool and get this team pointed back toward a 9- or 10-win season.
Nebraska rolled Florida Atlantic 55-7, but it was more than that. They outgained the Owls 784 to 200, and those 784 yards were a single-game Big Ten record ... but it was more that, even. It was all the fundamentals: no turnovers, almost 500 rushing yards, allowing 3.2 yards per pass. It was in the emergence of Terrell Newby, giving the Huskers a three-headed demon at tailback (said demon got 371 yards and 4 touchdowns), and also the emergence of Jordan Westerkamp, which gives Tommy Armstrong another option next to Kenny Bell. This was a very good looking team Saturday afternoon - 'Red Storm' indeed.
USC vs. Stanford, 3:30 pm
Rarely does such an important conference game come so early in the season, but the Pac-12 North and South foes will go toe to toe at Stanford Stadium.
Michigan State vs. Oregon, 6:30 pm
The Big Ten and Pac-12 get a showdown for the second straight week. Shortly after SI had an episode of SI Now with the headline, Can the Pac-12 Overtake the SEC?, the Big Ten has a chance to look very good against the Pac-12 in back-to-back weeks. Especially if you manage to ignore Northwestern losing to Cal.
Michigan vs. Notre Dame, 7:30 pm
Jadeveon Clowney is gone from the - oh, that was the Gamecocks. Not the Chickens.
Virginia Tech vs. Ohio State, 8:00 pm
Ohio State could be in for a surprise. Noah Spence will be out for this game as well, as he continues to serve a suspension.