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No. 13 Penn State rebounds to trounce Pitt with help of special teams gaffes

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Pittsburgh hung tough with Penn State through one half, but a number of special teams gaffes allowed the 13th-ranked Nittany Lions to improve upon last week’s close call versus Appalachian State with a 51-6 blowout of its Keystone State rivals.

After Penn State (2-0) opened the scoring on a 32-yard K.J. Hamler run, Pittsburgh matched that touchdown with a 13-yard plunge by Qadree Ollison rush, but punter Kirk Christodoulou could not corral the extra point snap and the Panthers could not get a kick off, settling for a 7-6 deficit.

With the score still 7-6, Alex Kessman pulled a 35-yard field goal and came away complaining about the hold as a driving rain blanketed the Heinz Field grass. Pitt’s defense forced a Miles Sanders fumble on the next possession, giving the Panthers the ball back at the Penn State 31 with 7:15 to play in the second quarter. Pitt (1-1) advanced to the Penn State 4, and Pat Narduzzi elected to eschew a field goal try and go for a 4th-and-goal. Penn State stuffed the ensuing run, getting to Ollison three yards behind the line of scrimmage.

Later, Pitt attempted the ball away inside the first half’s final minute and force a 7-6 halftime score, but Christodoulou dropped the punt snap and Penn State recovered at the Pitt 35. After a 21-yard Sanders run, Trace McSorley hit Hamler for a 14-yard score, giving the Nittany Lions a 14-6 halftime lead.

Penn State broke the game open with an 8-play, 80-yard drive, capped by a 4-yard McSorley run.

Pitt was called for holding in the end zone on the ensuing possession, pushing the Penn State lead to 23-6, and DeAndre Thompkins provided the exclamation point by returning a punt 39 yards for a touchdown with 28 ticks to go in the third quarter. McSorley added one more touchdown pass, an 11-yard toss to Mac Hippenhammer, with 11:40 to play. Mark Allen piled on a 4-yard plunge with 6:17 remaining, and backup quarterback Sean Clifford capped the scoring with a 34-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Polk with 4:21 to play.

McSorley completed 14-of-30 passes for 145 yards with two touchdowns, while Sanders led the Nittany Lions with 16 carries for 118 yards.

Ollison led all runners with 119 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries, but he did most of his damage before halftime. Pitt’s passing offense was non-existent, as Kenny Pickett mustered eight completions in 16 tries for just 51 yards with an interception.

The win gives Penn State two straight victories over Pitt, matching the 2-game streak the Panthers carried into 2017. Penn State had won seven straight before that, and owns a 52-43-4 advantage in a series that dates back to 1893.

Kicking woes doom Pitt to halftime deficit against Penn State

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Pittsburgh has rushed the ball for 214 yards on nearly seven yards a carry, but a disastrous effort in the kicking game has allowed Penn State to carry a 14-6 lead into the locker room.

Penn State opened the game as well as a coach (or fan) could hope: by forcing a Pitt three-and-out, then moving 63 yards in three plays for a touchdown, as K.J. Hamler put the Nittany Lions on top with a 32-yard run.

The Panthers answered, though, ripping through 75 yards in 10 plays, culminating in a 13-yard Qadree Ollison rush, but a bobbled extra point snap kept the Panthers’ deficit at 7-6.

Kicking woes would be a theme through the first half, as a driving rain on the Heinz Field grass ruined the kicking surface for both sides. Penn State moved to the Pitt 27 on its second possession, but Jake Pinegar‘s 45-yard field goal try was no good.

Pitt returned the favor midway through the second quarter, as the Panthers could not get a clean hold for Alex Kessman, whose 35-yard try was pulled to the right. Pitt’s defense immediately got the ball back when Rashad Weaver hopped on a Ricky Slade fumble at the Penn State 31.

The Panthers moved to the Penn State 4 on a 4th-and-3, and Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi elected to go for it, but Ollison was stuffed for a loss of three.

Then, with 59 seconds left in the half, Pitt lined up to punt the ball and accept its 1-point halftime deficit, but Kirk Christodoulou, who struggled to corral the earlier snaps as the holder, dropped the punt snap, and Penn State hopped on the loose pigskin at the Pitt 35. Trace McSorley hit Himler for a 14-yard touchdown pass two plays later.

McSorley completed 7-of-11 passes for 82 yards and the late score, while Miles Sanders rushed eight times for 74 yards.

Ollison carried Pitt’s offense, rushing 17 times for 125 yards and a score. Pitt’s passing offense has been non-existent, as Kenny Pickett completed 4-of-8 passes for a paltry 17 yards with an interception.

Penn State will receive to open the second half.

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.

What do Urban Meyer and Jimbo Fisher have that Nick Saban doesn’t? A No. 1 overall NFL draft pick

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The NFL draft is coming up later this week, and a handful of college football coaches could potentially have their first player chosen first overall. Among those looking to join a short list of active head coaches with a top overall draft pick on their watch includes Penn State’s James Franklin, USC’s Clay Helton and Wyoming’s Craig Bohl.

There are just six active head coaches in FBS that have sent a player to the top of the NFL draft order, and only one of those coaches are currently at the same school they had a player go No. 1 overall. Stanford’s David Shaw was the head coach of the Cardinal when Andrew Luck went with the first overall pick of the 2012 NFL Draft to the Indianapolis Colts. The other five coaches on the current list have since moved on to another job since they had a player go with the first pick in the draft. Three of those active coaches will have new jobs starting this fall.

Jimbo Fisher of Texas A&M was the head coach of Florida State when quarterback Jameis Winston went first overall in 2015. More recently, Sonny Dykes was the head coach at Cal when Jared Goff went to the Los Angeles Rams in 2016. Dykes is now the head coach at SMU. And just last year, Arizona’s Kevin Sumlin saw defensive end Myles Garrett go to the Cleveland Browns from Texas A&M with the first pick.

The two other coaches on the list of active coaches with a top draft pick are Urban Meyer of Ohio State and Mark Richt of Miami. Meyer was getting settled in at Florida after leaving Utah, but he was watching admirably as Utah quarterback Alex Smith went to the San Francisco 49ers with the first pick in 2005. Richt’s top draft pick from his time at Georgia was quarterback Matthew Stafford, who was taken first overall by the Detroit Lions in 2009.

You may have noticed (as if the headline didn’t give it away) there are some notable head coaches in college football without a top overall draft pick. Despite all the success of Nick Saban at Alabama, including a factory of NFL talent sent through the draft in recent years, a top overall pick continues to elude Saban. Not that he is worried about such a thing of course. Alabama’s NFL draft output is far more impressive when you realize quantity and quality are not short on supply in Tuscaloosa. During Saban’s time at Alabama, the highest draft pick from the school has been running back Trent Richardson with the third overall pick of the 2012 NFL draft (Cleveland Browns). Defensive tackle Marcell Dareus also went third overall to the Buffalo Bills in 2011.

But again, Alabama may not have a first overall pick, but the Crimson Tide lead the pack when it comes to first-round draft picks.

Here is a list of all the active head coaches with one No. 1 overall NFL draft pick:

  • Kevin Sumlin, Arizona: Myles Garrett, DE (2017)
  • Sonny Dykes, SMU: Jared Goff, QB (2016)
  • Jimbo Fisher, Texas A&M: Jameis Winston, QB (2015)
  • David Shaw, Stanford: Andrew Luck, QB (2012)
  • Mark Richt, Miami: Matthew Stafford, QB (2009)
  • Urban Meyer, Ohio State: Alex Smith, QB (2005)

Wyoming’s Josh Allen is considered one of the favorites to be chosen with the first pick Thursday night in the NFL draft, which would add Craig Bohl to the list (and he gets some of the credit for No. 2 pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, Carson Wentz, too). Penn State running back Saquon Barkley would add James Franklin to the list. UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen is another trendy pick for the top pick, but his head coach, Jim Mora, is no longer an active coach at this time. Sam Darnold of USC would add Clay Helton to the list, and Lincoln Riley would make the jump into the conversation if Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield happens to go first overall.

We’ll find out Thursday night if a new coach joins the list or not.

Stanford RB Bryce Love wins Lombardi Award for 2017 season

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Stanford running back Bryce Love added one more piece of hardware to his collection for the 2017 season on Saturday evening. Love was named the recipient of the Lombardi Award, becoming the first player in Stanford history to win the award in recognition of his performance on the field and leadership.

Love was one of seven finalists for the award this season. Other finalists included Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield of Oklahoma, 2016 Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson of Louisville, Saquon Barkley of Penn State, Minkah Fitzpatrick of Alabama, Joel Lanning of Iowa State, and Shaquem Griffin of UCF. The criteria for the award opened the award up to more positions as opposed to the previous restrictions to focus on interior linemen and linebackers. Beginning with this year’s award, the Lombardi Award was more of an overall player of the year accolade.

Love had previously been awarded the Doak Walker Award as the top running back in the nation in addition to being named the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year and a unanimous All-American. The Pac-12’s leading rusher, Love rushed for 2,118 yards and 19 touchdowns to help lead Stanford into the Pac-12 championship game. Love was also the runner-up for the Heisman Trophy.