No. 12 Notre Dame tops No. 14 Michigan to renew rivalry with a win

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The echoes were awoken Saturday night in South Bend… in a big way.

No. 12 Notre Dame jumped out to a lead and never seemed to look back as they made a season-opening statement by topping No. 14 Michigan 24-17 in a game they generally controlled throughout. It was an impressive outing by any measure and especially so as the two college football blue bloods renewed their rivalry series with high hopes for the year but only one walking away happy.

Perhaps the most pleasing development for head coach Brian Kelly’s Irish squad was the play of quarterback Brandon Wimbush. After a full offseason’s worth of work on his passing, the senior looked much sharper and in command of the offense despite the bright lights and feisty defense on the other side. Though he had a few throws that were off target and near interceptions, he finished the night with 170 yards, a touchdown and an interception (he also led the team in rushing with 59 yards). The numbers weren’t eye-popping by any measure but he certainly performed well against a Don Brown-led defense that returned the bulk of last year’s group that was among the best in the nation.

Wimbush wasn’t the only one to get involved in moving the ball as tailback Jafar Armstrong scored twice and ran for 35 yards in a game where every inch was earned. His speed, especially on sweeps, was evident and it looks like he’ll fit in well with Notre Dame’s other skill position talent. That group certainly includes senior Chris Finke, who delivered the early highlight of the year with a leaping touchdown catch and seems like he’ll factor heavily in the rotation out of the slot in 2018.

The Irish defense also came to play and started the year off on the right foot by allowing under four yards per play. That included holding Michigan’s rushing attack to well under 100 yards for the game, keeping lead back Karan Higdan in check particularly well with just 72 yards on 21 carries (3.4 ypc). Te’von Coney led the way with 10 tackles — and the game-sealing fumble recovery — while safety Alohi Gilman made the most of his debut for the team by stuffing the stat sheet with seven tackles, a TFL and two pass breakups.

As a result, the Wolverines couldn’t really muster much consistency at all despite a few nice plays from Shea Patterson throughout the game. The transfer from Ole Miss does look like a good fit in Jim Harbaugh’s system but every yard was tough to come by and he finished 20-of-30 for 227 yards and an interception. Patterson had to exit late with what appeared to be cramps in the fourth quarter, leading to backup Dylan McCaffrey taking a few snaps down the stretch instead of one of last year’s starters in Brandon Peters.

Things could have been much worse for Michigan had it not been for the defense bowing up as the game went on and special teams coming through. Ambry Thomas briefly gave the team life just before halftime with an electric 99-yard kick return for a touchdown but there was otherwise not much scoring on either side as the two teams slugged things out the rest of the way.

The end result will lead to ever more questions for Harbaugh as his offense seemed to once again show flashes but wind up not doing a whole lot come crunch time. There’s certainly still a path to the College Football Playoff available for the Wolverines in the tough Big Ten East but the margin for error does seem a lot smaller than it did in the offseason with the way they played. The defense remains solid and there does appear to be more playmakers available on the other side of the ball but consistency was lacking on the road to open the season.

The Irish, meanwhile, have to be thrilled at the result even if the second half wasn’t quite as convincing as they wanted it to be. They’ll likely move up into the top 10 come the release of the latest polls on Tuesday and have two more home games to work out any kinks before facing a few stout tests in Wake Forest and, especially, big rival Stanford. While it is still far too early to start talking playoff, it was an excellent start to the year for Kelly and company as team gets used to a few new faces around the football offices.

That’s all for another time however as Notre Dame can be sure to celebrate the effort on Saturday night as they vanquished a big rival and made quite the early statement to kick off the season.

No. 12 Notre Dame gets off to fast start, leads No. 14 Michigan at halftime

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It has been a long day filled with plenty of fun college football action but the main event has taken center stage on NBC and the early returns have lived up to the hype coming in as two of the sport’s blue bloods squared off and renewed their rivalry on the gridiron with quite a fun one. No. 12 Notre Dame controlled most of the game against No. 14 Michigan, taking a 21-10 lead heading into the locker room at halftime and looking for more in an impressive season opening outing.

The Irish didn’t take long at all to find the scoreboard, marching 75 yards right down the field in just seven plays on their opening drive. Quarterback Brandon Wimbush nearly threw an interception on his first pass of the evening but rebounded to lead the team into the red zone before exiting temporarily after getting hit on a keeper. Backup Ian Book came in and promptly handed the ball off to Jafar Armstrong, who took the handoff, cut it up and scored his first touchdown to set off a wild celebration at Notre Dame Stadium. The young tailback later added another score and had two of his eight touches wind up with him in the end zone by the break.

Wimbush eventually returned on the next drive and also nearly threw another interception down the field… until Chris Finke was able to wrestle the ball out of the air for an incredible touchdown catch that was the early highlight of the season. That capped off a seven-play, 96 yard drive and Wimbush eventually closed the half with 148 yards passing and that scoring strike.

It took Michigan’s offense a bit longer to get going than the home team’s. Shea Patterson looked like a veteran operating Jim Harbaugh’s offense (62 yards, 9-of-12 passing) but didn’t quite develop a rhythm until the second quarter got going and failed to find much down the field. Karan Higdon did break out for 45 yards on the ground but seemed to be met in the hole on just about every carry as the Irish front seven was active and fast throughout the first half.

The Wolverines defense, aside from that opening drive, also looked fast and physical for the most part. Almost too physical in some cases as starting safety Josh Metellus was tossed barely six minutes into the game for targeting. To make matters worse, linebacker Devin Bush was injured and limped off to the training table as well.

While Don Brown’s unit eventually settled into things as the game progressed, the group still had trouble creating pressure and containing several QB scrambles that helped extend drives. Special teams were a big factor in keeping the visitors in the game, as Ambry Thomas looked like a Big Blue blur on a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown that was just as impressive as it sounds.

There’s still plenty of football left to play in South Bend and after a half of play, this old rivalry is certainly shaping up to be a good one between Notre Dame and Michigan.

Alabama tops preseason Super 16 poll from FWAA and National Football Foundation

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Another day, another hour, and another top spot in a preseason poll for the Alabama Crimson Tide.

Alabama was the most popular pick for the top spot in the preseason Super 16 Poll from the Football Writers Association of America and the National Football Foundation. Alabama received 36 first-place votes to stay comfortably ahead of No. 2 Clemson. The Tigers received 14 first-place votes and Georgia and Michigan State each picked up one first-place vote.

The voters certainly are leaning toward Wisconsin as the top Big Ten team. The Badgers ranked fourth overall, two spots ahead of Ohio State. If the playoff were determined by this preseason poll, Alabama would play Wisconsin and Clemson would face Georgia. Washington would be the first team out. The Huskies coming in at No. 5 likely means a good number of voters believe Washington will open the season with a win against Auburn in Atlanta in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game as well, and that would certainly create a playoff-or-bust season for Washington out of the gates.

One team that has received some good offseason buzz that failed to crack the Super 16 was West Virginia. A trendy pick in the Big 12 for some, the Mountaineers were the first team out of this particular preseason poll.

No Group of Five programs made the Super 16 cut, although UCF, Boise State, and San Diego State all received at least one point in the voting.

Here is how the preseason Super 16 poll breaks down:

  1. Alabama (36 first-place votes)
  2. Clemson (14)
  3. Georgia
  4. Wisconsin
  5. Washington
  6. Ohio State
  7. Oklahoma
  8. Miami
  9. Auburn
  10. Penn State
  11. Michigan State (1)
  12. Notre Dame
  13. Michigan
  14. Stanford
  15. USC
  16. TCU

In the interest of full disclosure, three College Football Talk contributors are voting members in the Super 16 Poll; myself, Bryan Fischer and Zach Barnett). The poll is made up of members of the FWAA and College Football Hall of Famers with an emphasis on geographic balance. New polls will be updated every Monday this season, with the exception of the post-Week 1 poll, which will be released on Tuesday, September 4.

Butkus Award names 51 linebackers to 2018 watch list

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College football watch list season resumed Monday with the release of the Butkus Award and Jim Thorpe Award watch lists. The Butkus Award watch list named 51 linebackers to its preseason list, including players from 41 different schools.

This year’s watch list is highlighted by finalists for the 2017 Butkus Award in Devin Bush of Michigan and T.J. Edwards of Wisconsin. Josh Allen of Kentucky and Cameron Smith of USC are also on the list after being a semi-finalist last year. Former high school Butkus Award winners Caleb Kelly of Oklahoma and Dylan Moses of Alabama also were named to the list.

Alabama and Wisconsin lead the nation with three Butkus Award watch list players each. Ryan Connelly and Andrew Van Ginkel join Edwards of Wisconsin and Anfernee Jennings and Mack Wilson of Alabama are also included.

The list will be trimmed down to a list of semi-finalists on October 29 and then down to a smaller list of finalists on November 19. Georgia running back Roquan Smith won the award last year.

2018 Butkus Award Watch List

Curtis Akins, Memphis
Otaro Alaka, Texas A&M
Josh Allen, Kentucky
Jeffrey Allison, Fresno State
Azeez Al-Shaair, Florida Atlantic
Joe Bachie, Michigan State
Markus Bailey, Purdue
Thomas Barber, Minnesota
Bryton Barr, Massachusetts
Tevis Bartlett, Washington
Devin Bush, Michigan
Josh Buss, Montana
Te’von Coney, Notre Dame
Ryan Connelly, Wisconsin
Deshaun Davis, Auburn
Troy Dye, Oregon
Koa Farmer, Penn State
Paddy Fisher, Northwestern
Joe Giles-Harris, Duke
Dre Greenlaw, Arkansas
Porter Gustin, USC
Nate Hall, Northwestern
Terez Hall, Missouri
Terrill Hanks, New Mexico State
Darius Harris, Middle Tennessee
De’Jon Harris, Arkansas
Khalil Hodge, Buffalo
Justin Hollins, Oregon
Oluwaseun Idowu, Pitt
Anfernee Jennings, Alabama
Gary Johnson, Texas
Kendall Joseph, Clemson
Caleb Kelly, Oklahoma
Jordan Kunaszyk, California
Tre Lamar, Clemson
Dylan Moses, Alabama
Bobby Okereke, Stanford
Justin Phillips, Oklahoma State
Germaine Pratt, N.C. State
Shaq Quarterman, Miami
David Reese, Florida
Cameron Smith, USC
Ty Summers, TCU
Jahlani Tavai, Hawaii
Drue Tranquill, Notre Dame
Andrew Van Ginkel, Wisconsin
D’Andre Walker, Georgia
Devin White, LSU
Mack Wilson, Alabama
Juwon Young, Marshall

Bednarik Award watch list led by Alabama, Clemson, Michigan, and USC

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There are plenty of new faces gracing the 2018 Bednarik Award watch list form the Maxwell Football Club. After three 2017 finalists for the award all moved on to the NFL, there will be some new names to keep a close eye on for the top defensive player award in college football from the Maxwell Football Club.

Alabama, Clemson, Michigan, and USC all landed three players on the watch list for the award. Alabama has also had a player win the Bednarik Award each of the past two seasons, becoming the first school with two consecutive Bednarik Award winners since LSU had back-to-back winners in 2010 and 2011 (Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu, respectively). Jonathan Allen won the Bednarik Award in 2016 and Minkah Fitzpatrick took home the award last fall for the Crimson Tide.

Some key names to note on this year’s Bednarik Award watch list include Houston’s Ed Oliver, Ohio State’s Nick Bosa, Clemson’s Dexter Lawrence, Duke’s Joe Giles-Harris, Mississippi State’s Jeffery Simmons, and NIU’s Sutton Smith. All were semifinalists for the award a year ago.

Here is this year’s Bednarik Award watch list:

LB Curtis Akins, Memphis
LB Dakota Allen, Texas Tech
LB Josh Allen, Kentucky
DE Zach Allen, Boston College
LB Jeffrey Allison, Fresno State
LB Azeez Al-Shaair, Florida Atlantic
DE Bradlee Anae, Utah
LB Joe Bachie, Michigan State
LB Markus Bailey, Purdue
CB Deandre Baker, Georgia
DE Ben Banogu, TCU
LB Thomas Barber, Minnesota
DT Terry Beckner, Missouri
CB Julian Blackmon, Utah
DE Nick Bosa, Ohio State
DE Brian Burns, Florida State
LB Devin Bush, Michigan
LB Te’von Coney, Notre Dame
DE Maxx Crosby, Eastern Michigan
CB Javaris Davis, Auburn
DE Raekwon Davis, Alabama
S Lukas Denis, Boston College
LB Joe Dineen, Kansas
S D’Cota Dixon, Wisconsin
LB Tyrel Dodson, Texas A&M
LB Troy Dye, Oregon
S Mike Edwards, Kentucky
LB T.J. Edwards, Wisconsin
DE Jaylon Ferguson, Louisiana Tech
DE Clelin Ferrell, Clemson
LB Paddy Fisher, Northwestern
DT Greg Gaines, Washington
DE Rashan Gary, Michigan
DE Joe Gaziano, Northwestern
CB Mark Gilbert, Duke
LB Ulysees Gilbert, Akron
LB Joe Giles-Harris, Duke
DE Carl Granderson, Wyoming
LB Porter Gustin, USC
LB Breckyn Hager, Texas
LB De’Jon Harris, Arkansas
DT Trysten Hill, UCF
LB Khalil Hodge, Buffalo
CB Alijah Holder, Stanford
CB Tyler Horton, Boise State
DE Jalen Jelks, Oregon
LB Anfernee Jennings, Alabama
LB Gary Johnson, Texas
S Jaquan Johnson, Miami
DT Kingsley Keke, Texas A&M
DT Dexter Lawrence, Clemson
LB David Long, West Virginia
DE Shareef Miller, Penn State
DE Anthony Nelson, Iowa
LB Bobby Okereke, Stanford
DT Ed Oliver, Houston
CB Brian Peavy, Iowa State
LB Justin Phillips, Oklahoma State
LB Shaquille Quarterman, Miami
S Delvon Randall, Temple
S Taylor Rapp, Washington
LB Malik Reed, Nevada
LB David Reese, Florida
DT Dontavius Russell, Auburn
NG Jeffery Simmons, Mississippi State
LB Cameron Smith, USC
DE Sutton Smith, NIU
LB Ty Summers, TCU
LB Montez Sweat, Mississippi State
S Marvell Tell, USC
S Jalen Thompson, Washington State
S Juan Thornhill, Virginia
NG Jerry Tillery, Notre Dame
DT Ricky Walker, Virginia Tech
S Nigel Warrior, Tennessee
LB Devin White, LSU
DT Christian Wilkins, Clemson
CB Greedy Williams, LSU
LB Mack Wilson, Alabama
S Andrew Wingard, Wyoming
DE Chase Winovich, Michigan
DT Daniel Wise, Kansas
DE D.J. Wonnum, South Carolina
LB Charles Wright, Vanderbilt
DE Oshane Ximines, Old Dominion