WIS

The Fifth Quarter: Week 1 Rewind

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As is the case each and every season, each and every week, any omission below is not on purpose, it’s merely intentional.

WACK-12
The Pac-12 came into the 2015 season looking to challenge the SEC for conference football supremacy.  While that may end up still being the case, it was a rough Week 1 in myriad regards for the Left Coast league, particularly its northern division.

First and foremost, No. 21 Stanford went into Evanston as heavy favorites only to be upended and upset by Northwestern.  And it wasn’t just that one of the preseason favorites in the North was beaten, it was that they were roughed up by the Wildcats and seemed to play timid on both sides of the ball.  More embarrassingly, a couple of hours later Washington State lost to FCS Portland State, which came into the game a 30-point underdog.

The South contributed to the first-week malaise as No. 15 Arizona State, viewed by some as a darkhorse playoff candidate (sheepishly raises hand), capped off the night with a 20-point loss to unranked Texas A&M.  At least that, though, was a loss to a Power Five school, and one from the stacked SEC West no less, in what was essentially a home game for the Aggies.

Add in Washington’s loss to Boise State — no shame in that — and Colorado’s loss to Hawaii Thursday night — a whole hell of a lot of shame in that — and it turned into a horrific lost weekend for the conference.  That said, remember how many were writing the Big Ten off a year ago at this time?  Yeah, it wouldn’t be wise to repeat that history.

WEAK 1?
If you thought that the Week 1 schedule, especially Saturday, was especially lacking when it came to compelling on-paper matchups, you’re not alone.  In fact, the raw data is sitting right along side you.

Opening weekend, and including the two still remaining, there were/are 87 games involving FBS teams.  Of that, 11 pitted Power Five vs. Power Five (for this exercise, I’m considering BYU a P5); another 47 — more than half — featured FBS teams playing an FCS team.  There were 22 Power Five teams that opened their season against an FCS team, with the ACC far and away leading the cupcake way with seven.  The Big 12, Big Ten and Pac-12 had four apiece, while the pastry alley that is the late-season SEC lagged behind with three.

There were also 23 games played between Power Five and Group of Five teams.  The SEC accounted for eight of those games, while the Big 12, Big Ten and Pac-12 saw four each.  The FCS-heavy ACC had three such games.

It wasn’t just the Power Fives feeding on the FCS, though, as 25 Group of Five teams opened against the former Div. 1-AA.  The remaining six games saw Group of Five squads squaring off against each other.

While most of the FBS feasted on their FCS cupcakes, a handful choked on them.  Two that lost to FCS teams were Power Five members in the aforementioned Wazzu and Kansas (South Dakota State, more on that below) and two were Group of Five teams in Army (Fordham) and Wyoming (North Dakota).

BAD BLOOD CHEAP SHOT?
Vernon Adams transferred from Eastern Washington to Oregon earlier this offseason and ultimately earned the Ducks’ starting quarterback job.  As luck would have it, Adams’ current and former teams squared off in the season opener in Autzen Saturday night, and there was one interesting development in UO’s 61-42 win.

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Derrick Henry’s hat trick pushes Tide to impressive win over Badgers

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It was Jake Coker‘s solid play under center that helped push No. 3 Alabama to a halftime lead on No. 20 Wisconsin.  It was the punishing running of Derrick Henry — and a revitalized unit on the other side of the ball — that sealed the win.

In the only Week 1 game pitting ranked teams against one another, the Tide was able to pull away with a solid and convincing 35-17 win over the preseason Big Ten West favorite Badgers.  Henry rushed for 147 yards — on just 13 carries — and scored three touchdowns, two of which came in the second half to help the Tide run out to an 18-point third-quarter lead.

As good as Henry was in chewing up yards on the ground, the Tide’s run defense was equally adept at spitting out Badger running backs after little or no gain.

The last time prior to tonight ‘Bama took the field, they were gashed for 281 rushing yards by Ohio State in the College Football Playoff semifinal.  Going up against one of the top rushing teams in the country this century, the Tide gave up just 40 yards on 21 carries.  Corey Clement, expected to be the bell-cow replacement for Melvin Gordon, was limited to 16 yards and, adding insult to literal injury, left the contest with a groin issue.

Just as important as Henry’s running and the Tide’s run defense were to the win, the Tide’s long-term hopes this season were buoyed by Coker’s performance.

The fact that Coker, making his first career start, didn’t seem smaller than the stage on which the hyped game was played should bode well for the Tide’s playoff aspirations.  In three quarters of work, Coker completed 15-of-21 passes for 213 yards and a touchdown in the quintessential game-manager performance.

The Tide’s win also capped a fairly decent day for the conference.

Coker solid as Tide takes TD lead on Badgers at the half

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So far so good for Alabama’s first-time quarterback starter.  Still, we still very much have us a football game.

Revealed publicly as the starter shortly before kickoff, Jake Coker looked as if he’d assumed the position for many years prior in helping to push Alabama to a 14-7 halftime lead.  Coker completed 10-of-13 passes for 134 yards and a touchdown, a 17-yarder to Robert Foster in the second quarter that gave the Tide their lead back.

Head coach Nick Saban had indicated leading into the game that two quarterbacks, Coker and Cooper Bateman, would see action; thus far, and likely because of how well Coker has played and how in rhythm he is, Bateman hasn’t seen the field.

Of course, Coker had some help in the form of a running game that accounted for 87 non-sack yards.  Not surprisingly, Derrick Henry led the way with 75 yards — on eight carries — and a 37-yard touchdown run that accounted for UA’s first score of the day.

Perhaps surprisingly, Coker’s counterpart, Joel Stave, was quite effective in his own right as well.  Stave, who suffered through a crisis of confidence last season, completed 14-of-16 passes for 149 yards against a very good Tide secondary.  He accounted for the Badgers’ lone touchdown, a six-yarder to Alex Erickson to temporarily tie the score at 7-all.

UW had the chance to go into the locker room down 14-10 but couldn’t capitalize on a shanked 20-yard punt by UA’s JK Scott with less than 10 seconds left.  With the ball at the Tide 39-yard line, Stave completed a 23-yard pass to Erickson to set up a 34-yard field goal attempt with four seconds left. Rafael Gaglianone, though, clanked it off the upright to keep the deficit at seven.

The Badgers, one of the top rushing teams in college football over the past several years, could manage just 22 on 13 carries against a very stout Tide front seven.

Wisconsin will get the ball on offense to start the second half.

Maurice Clarett, to Seminoles: ‘A lot of y’all need to grow up’

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To say that Maurice Clarett has dealt with significant issues away from the football field would be a massive understatement.  To say that the Florida State football program has dealt with some negative off-field issues of late would be one as well.

Recently, those two worlds collided.

As part of Jimbo Fisher‘s ongoing efforts to educate his Seminole football players, the former Ohio State star running back-turned-convict-turned motivational speaker was invited to address Fisher’s squad.  In a tremendous piece penned by ESPN.com‘s Adam Rittenberg detailing the hour-long talk with the team, Clarett didn’t hold back in an attempting to convey the message to the players that they don’t have to turn out like him, a convicted felon who spent almost four years in prison following an armed robbery and concealed weapon conviction.

“A lot of y’all need to grow up,” Clarett told his audience composed of football players and other FSU personnel. “That’s the bottom line. What happened to Maurice Clarett in prison was, I needed to grow the f— up. You had the world in your hands, the NFL in your hands, and you f—ed it up because you want to be a gangsta.

“There’s a lot of people in this room that want to be that.”

(Click HERE for Rittenberg’s entire article. It’s worth your time.)

Clarett’s tough-love talk comes a couple of months after a pair of Seminoles were charged in connection to incidents in which they were accused of punching females in the face.  One was dismissed, while another will have his fate, football and otherwise, decided in court later this month.

Following those incidents, FSU’s president held a come-to-Jesus meeting with the team.  The football team’s head coach, who spoke of no tolerance for hitting women, has publicly laid out the steps he and others are taking to better educate his players.

Fisher’s FSU players are in a new four-step program that includes such things as five-hour seminars. Just one week prior to the first arrest, former Navy SEALs spoke to the team about making good off-field decisions. Fisher is also good friends with Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, who has agreed to work with the football team as part of his “Pass the Peace” campaign, which supports victims of domestic violence. Former Seminoles, including Charlie Ward and Myron Rolle, have offered their services to come back and speak to the team.

It was Clarett’s message, given his past, that resonated most with Fisher.

“That was one of the most bona fide, true, legit talks I’ve been around in college football in 28 years, trying to reach these young men about making the right choices in life,” the coach said. “Having it all going to the bottom, that gives him a lot of credibility, unfortunately.

“But sometimes, these guys have to see that.”

As much as it resonated with Fisher, it needs to resonate more with its intended target.

“He didn’t really tiptoe around anything,” defensive tackle Nile Lawrence-Stample said of Clarett. “The guys who really needed it the most need that direct quote. It means something that can really embed inside their brain.”

CFT 2015 Preseason Preview: Top 25

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Yes, I know — another meaningless preseason poll tossed atop the overflowing pile of myriad other meaningless preseason polls. Hey, but at least this one isn’t SEC-heavy, so we have that going for us, which is nice.

OK, technically it’s not as SEC-heavy as others as this one contains “just” six teams from that conference and just two in the Top 10, the same number that comes from the Pac-12 for the former and one less than that league’s three in the latter.  For comparison’s sake, the preseason coaches’ poll included eight teams from the SEC (three in the Top 10), while the FWAA Super 16 poll saw five teams man those 16 spots (three Top 10 as well).

The Big 12 and Big Ten are also well-represented here, with four teams apiece making the cut.  The ACC brought up the Power Five rear with three teams included.

Rounding up the Top 25 conference-wise was one from the football independents (guess who!) and just one, Boise State, from the Group of Five.

Below is the entire Top 25, which was a consensus of polls cobbled together by myself, Kevin McGuire and three other individuals who would prefer to remain nameless.  Below that is where you may complain and/or whine and/or moan about how disrespected your team and/or your conference is.

Enjoy.  And complain/whine/moan.

1. Ohio State
With all due respect to those who think otherwise, how could any other be team be slotted in this spot? Not only are they the defending national champions who topped the Nos. 1 and 2 teams in the country to end the season — not to mention putting a 59-0 Big Ten title game pasting on a Wisconsin team that finished the season ranked 13th — but the Buckeyes return 15 starters from that squad. And then there’s the schedule. After a season-opening road trip to Blacksburg to take on Virginia Tech, the only team to leave a blemish on last year’s 14-1 mark, OSU will be double-digit favorites in every game leading up to the Nov. 21 home game against Michigan State. A repeat is far from a given, but given the combination of returning talent and schedule, it’s a given the Buckeyes will have a realistic shot at going back-to-back.

2. TCU
With Trevone Boykin back leading the offense as a Heisman Trophy favorite, you know the Horned Frogs should have plenty of sizzle on offense. TCU returns 10 starters on offense, and Gary Patterson should manage to keep the defense up to par to live up to Big 12 favorite hype. TCU could very well run the table this season, assuring the Big 12 of not being left out of the playoff this season.

cd0ymzcznguwzdbhnduynddiytjhm2yyzthlmtjjotqwyyznpwu4ntgznjrlzde2ndvmzdaxndvhmmy1nwrlywu3ymq13. Auburn
As detailed in the Six-Pack of Storylines, the SEC’s hope for a return to Title Land could very well hinge on the Tigers.  And the Tigers return to prominence could very well hinge on Will Muschamp, the fired Florida head coach who was brought in by Gus Malzahn to revamp and rebuild an AU defense that spewed water and oil all over the field in 2014.  The run-heavy spread offense should be in capable hands, even with new triggerman Jeremy Johnson under center; how the defense fares with Muschamp as its general will determine just how far Malzahn’s troops will go in 2015.

4. Oregon
The Ducks may still be the team to beat in the Pac-12, but the gap could be closing between Oregon and other Pac-12 contenders. Gone is Marcus Mariota but the offense should continue to pile up big numbers with FCS transfer Vernon Adams likely stepping in. There could be a bit of an adjustment, and an early road contest at Michigan State could be trouble, but Oregon should still manage to be among the best out west.

5. Michigan State
The Spartans have one of the best quarterbacks in the country in Connor Cook, a stout offensive line and, despite the loss of coordinator Pat Narduzzi and all four “No Fly Zone” starters in the secondary, one of the top defensive in the Big Ten, but could still find themselves anywhere from a one-loss team to one with three or more.  Why the latter projection?  One, they have to replace their top two running backs.  Two, their schedule includes road trips to Ohio State, in-state rival Michigan and Nebraska, as well as a home game against an Oregon team in Week 2 that will be a consensus Top-Five squad.

6. Arizona State
In a conference with plenty of quarterback talent, Arizona State’s Mike Bercovici could be one of the best. With a sturdy offensive line in front of him, Bercovici will still have to build some new chemistry with his receivers, but D.J. Foster is back and he can provide some options in Todd Graham’s offense. Defensively the Sun Devils bring back seven starters and should be one of the more stable defensive units outside of Utah and Stanford.

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