LSU coach Les Miles has stated that both Jennings and freshman Brandon Harris will play in the Tigers' season opener.
"Our team understands that we have talented quarterbacks," Miles said earlier this week. "But right now they have not separated themselves, and we are not certain. If we were certain, then I promise you, we would play the one guy that would give us all the advantage.
"But if two guys can give us greater advantage than one guy, then let's certainly play two."
Jennings was forced to play last season after star quarterback Zach Mettenberger injured his knee in the regular-season finale.
Jennings struggled, however, in his debut start in LSU's victory over Iowa in the Outback Bowl, completing 7 of 19 passes for 82 yards, no touchdowns and an interception.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Tennessee-Martin at Kentucky, SEC Network
Mark Stoops enters his second season at Kentucky, and he has a new starting quarterback, Patrick Towles. The third-year sophomore won the position battle in preseason training camp, and the Wildcats are looking for him to get off to a positive start. Establishing confidence early will be key, and against an FCS foe like Tennessee-Martin, that should be feasible. Stoops says Towles is “not on a short leash,” and that he has confidence in his new signal-caller. Just setting a positive tone with a convincing win would be good for the Wildcats as they continue to try to build depth, increase talent level and work their way up from the SEC cellar.
3:30 p.m. ET
The Maty Mauk era begins at quarterback for Missouri. The Tigers are 13-1 in season openers under Gary Pinkel with 13 consecutive wins, and they’re 13-0 all time against FCS teams. The Tigers don’t have Kony Ealy and Michael Sam but still return several standout defenders such as defensive ends Markus Golden and Shane Ray, who aim to continue the Tigers’ defensive line success. Missouri also has the nation’s longest active turnover streak at 44 games.
West Virginia vs. No. 2 Alabama, ABC/ESPN2
The Crimson Tide open as heavy favorites against the Mountaineers, who were 4-8 a year ago. It sounds like Blake Sims will be Alabama’s starting quarterback today, but expect Jake Coker to play also. It appears this quarterback battle will continue for the time being. Clint Trickett is West Virginia’s starter after eight appearances and five starts last season. The Mountaineers play a pace that Nick Saban isn’t a fan of, so it will be interesting to see if that gives the Crimson Tide any trouble or if they simply impose their well at the line of scrimmage -- on both sides of the ball.
4 p.m. ET
Arkansas at No. 6 Auburn, SEC Network
A meeting of two coaches who are quite fond of each other, Bret Bielema and Gus Malzahn. All kidding aside, this is a contrast of styles (smashmouth football versus hurry-up no-huddle) and a matchup of two teams on the opposite ends of the spectrum last season, with Arkansas last in the SEC West and Auburn winning the SEC. The Tigers are looking to take the division title again while the Razorbacks hope for improvement. This is the start to a tough schedule for Arkansas (the nation’s toughest, according to the NCAA). Jeremy Johnson will start at quarterback for Auburn, but Nick Marshall will eventually see the field. When is unknown, as Malzahn has kept that to himself.
5:30 p.m. ET
No. 16 Clemson at No. 12 Georgia, ESPN
This was an entertaining affair last season, one that Clemson won 38-35. It should be another compelling game this time. After South Carolina’s thrashing at the hands of Texas A&M on Thursday, this would be a good opportunity for Georgia to flex its muscle, since many might now look toward the Bulldogs as the SEC East favorite. Both teams have quarterbacks with big shoes to fill (Cole Stoudt for Clemson; Hutson Mason for Georgia), and this could also be a chance to make an early Heisman statement for Georgia running back Todd Gurley.
7 p.m. ET
Idaho at Florida, ESPNU
Florida trots out its new offense under new coordinator Kurt Roper, and quarterback Jeff Driskel makes his return to the lineup for the first time since a season-ending leg injury suffered against Tennessee last season. The Gators are eagerly looking to start this season and put the past behind them; last season’s disastrous 4-8 campaign was unacceptable. Idaho is coming off a 1-11 year in 2013, so this is a game Florida should look to dominate early and build confidence.
7:30 p.m. ET
Southern Miss at Mississippi State, SEC Network
Mississippi State is looking to take a big step forward this season and returns 83 percent of its letter-winners from 2013 (57 total), which is the third-highest percentage in the nation. That includes quarterback Dak Prescott, linebacker Benardrick McKinney and defensive lineman Chris Jones, all of whom are poised for big seasons. Southern Miss is coming off a 1-11 season, and Mississippi State is looking for its 12th straight home win against a non-SEC team.
9 p.m. ET
No. 14 Wisconsin at No. 13 LSU, ESPN
This is a huge early-season battle between two squads that are strikingly similar. Both have experienced offensive lines and good running games going against inexperienced defensive fronts, and both have been mostly mum on their quarterback situations (though reports have Tanner McEvoy starting for Wisconsin, and Les Miles admitted both Brandon Harris and Anthony Jennings will play for LSU). The running backs will probably be the focus, though. Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon is getting early Heisman publicity, and LSU true freshman Leonard Fournette, the No. 1 player in the 2014 class, is someone everyone is waiting to see.
Sunday, 7 p.m. ET
Utah State at Tennessee, SEC Network
This is one of the most intriguing games of the week, even though it doesn't involved a ranked team. Tennessee begins Butch Jones' second season, and there will be plenty of fresh faces on the field. Jones said Wednesday that between 28-30 freshmen could play on Sunday night. This Utah State team is a good one led by a dynamite quarterback, Chuckie Keeton, who threw for 18 touchdowns before a knee injury robbed him of his final eight games. Tennessee's starter, Justin Worley, earned the job this month and has 10 career starts. The Vols are hoping he can take a step forward, and he has some talented weapons around him to use.
Top Week 1 stories:
LSU's student newspaper, The Daily Reveille, first reported Friday that Robinson -- who is listed as a starting cornerback -- did not travel with the No. 13 Tigers to Houston for the game. The Baton Rouge Advocate later reported that Robinson is suspended for the game and that Dupre sprained his ankle in practice and also would not play.
LSU, though, says Robinson was not suspended and that Dupre's injury was to the leg, not ankle.
Tigers coach Les Miles was scheduled to meet with reporters at NRG Stadium on Friday afternoon, but it was canceled.
Miles has played coy throughout the preseason when asked about Robinson and safety Jalen Mills, who was suspended throughout the summer following his arrest for allegedly knocking a woman unconscious in May.
Robinson has frequently practiced with the reserves, but Miles did not reveal that the sophomore had any disciplinary issues.
Asked by a caller on his Wednesday radio show whether Robinson would start against Wisconsin, Miles replied, "Rashard Robinson practiced today. Everything's good."
Junior Jalen Collins started twice last season and could be in line to start against the Badgers.
Bo Schembechler died nearly eight years ago, but Miles can’t bring himself to remove his coaching mentor’s number from his contacts list.
“It's impossible to take it out, isn't it?” Miles asked, staring at the number on the screen. “You know what, sometimes, I haven't dialed it in a while, but sometimes I dial it, too.”
Miles will kick off his 10th season as the LSU Tigers' coach on Saturday against Wisconsin, so the 60-year-old Ohioan had plenty of time to create his own unique identity within the world of college football. And boy has he ever done that, parlaying his wacky personality and consistent winning into a status as one of the sport’s rock stars.
“I think what happens is you have natural instincts in coaching and team philosophies and things that are in your mind right and wrong about a coaching year, scheduling, how you write the schedule for your team -- just the many things that go into developing a team,” Miles said. “And I think that these two guys have so marked my memory that I don't know that I can even separate it.
“But I can tell you this, the things that when you ask [how they influenced me], Bo had the feel of his team. He had just an unbelievable, uncanny recognition for what his team needed. I don't think anybody had that ability that Bo had. I was fortunate to play for him and coach alongside him and I just saw how he touched his team in really special ways -- just roughly and sometimes with humor and sometimes matter-of-factly. He just had it. He could really just speak to his team.”
It’s easy to see how Schembechler’s methods of communication might have rubbed off on his former pupil. In fact, he still speaks to Miles, even from the Great Beyond.
Well, sort of.
Miles chuckled while reporting that he has an enormous Schembechler bobblehead in his office at his family’s Baton Rouge home. Miles said he sometimes talks to the approximately 4-foot-tall doll as though it’s actually the man who coached him at Michigan, offered him his first college coaching job as a Wolverines graduate assistant in 1980 and later hired him as a full-fledged member of his staff.
Asked how those conversations might go, Miles replied, “Just some smiling thoughts. Or I can remember asking him some questions about personnel and his very candid responses.”
Michigan was already on top when Miles became a part of Schembechler’s program. He learned entirely different lessons about how to become successful when he followed McCartney to Colorado.
McCartney hired 28-year-old Miles to coach the offensive line as a member of his first Colorado staff in 1982. Through some rocky early seasons in Boulder, Miles helped McCartney lay the groundwork for what would become one of the nation’s winningest programs in the late 1980s. The Buffaloes had become competitive by the time Miles left McCartney’s staff to return to Michigan in 1987, and it would win a national championship a few years later.
Miles doesn’t speak of any coach as reverently as he does of Schembechler, but it’s clear that McCartney -- a man of great Christian faith -- also made a mark on his young assistant.
“Bill McCartney had vision that was unnatural,” Miles said. “He knew where he wanted to go with his program. He knew how he needed to lead his team. He could recruit as well as any.”
But where does Miles’ trademark gutsiness come from? The trick plays in crucial situations? The decisions to go for it on fourth-and-short over and over? The call to throw for the end zone with seconds remaining when a field goal could win the game?
That’s mostly Les, although even that distinctive bravado might owe a bit to his mentor.
“You've got to understand something,” Miles said. “That Schembechler guy, he was pretty stinking confident.”
Miles is certainly no clone, however. It’s difficult to picture Schembechler or McCartney participating in TV commercials where they eat grass or engaging in some of the other antics that have transformed Miles into the sport’s clown prince. But their lessons are always there, forming a portion of the eccentric coaching personality for which Miles is famous.
Every coach -- actually every successful person in any industry -- can look back at the early stages of his career and point to the people who helped him get on the right track, whose daily presence helped him understand how to do the job correctly.
Miles’ first two bosses are both in the College Football Hall of Fame and Miles is well on the way there himself, proving that he must have been paying attention while learning at the feet of two football masters.
“Being around both those guys,” Miles said, “I can't tell you how fortunate I am.”
We heard the stories about his bazooka arm, how he pushed eventual Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston in the Florida State quarterback race a year ago and how his old coach, Jimbo Fisher, said he would be the most talented quarterback Nick Saban has coached at Alabama.
Who’s to say Coker won’t live up to that billing?
It’s also a reminder that Saban is as bottom-line as it gets. He’s not going to reward a player for potential. He’s going to play whoever gives the team the best chance to win right now.
By all accounts, Sims has outplayed Coker.
That doesn’t mean he has locked down the job. Reports indicate Sims is expected to start against West Virginia in the opener Saturday, but both will get snaps.
Saban’s not nearly as concerned about settling on who his starting quarterback will be for this first game as he is on settling on who it will be for the season. Sometimes, the “process” takes a few games.
Moreover, Coker has been on campus for fewer than four months, since his transfer from Florida State. Sims has been there for more than four years -- sweating, working and sacrificing with his teammates.
The last thing Saban’s going to do is hand the job over to somebody who hasn’t won it, especially when that somebody is new to the program.
The added layer of drama in the quarterback situation this season is that Lane Kiffin is debuting as the Tide's offensive coordinator, their third in four seasons.
However it shakes out, the Crimson Tide would like to add more of a big-play element to their passing game. They ranked 45th nationally a year ago in completions of 20 yards or more (45). A healthy Amari Cooper at receiver should help pad those numbers.
Ultimately, Alabama doesn’t have to figure it out until a stretch against Florida at home on Sept. 20 and Ole Miss on the road two weeks later.
We’re now in the playoff era in college football, so it’s probably fitting that Alabama will have its own little playoff at the quarterback position during these next few weeks.
I’m old enough to remember Herschel Walker’s college football debut and can still see him running over Bill Bates at the goal line in Neyland Stadium. That was 34 years ago.
There was only one Herschel, for sure. But it’s been a while since I’ve been as eager to see a freshman play in this league as I am to see LSU running back Leonard Fournette. He’s built a lot like Walker (6-foot-1, 230 pounds) and has the kind of speed and power the great ones possess.
Rest assured, NFL scouts will be watching, and not just because Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon will be on the other side Saturday night. This summer, I had a longtime NFL coach tell me he’d never seen high school tape of a running back as impressive as Fournette’s.
"I'm not so sure that he's not ready [for the NFL] right now," the coach said. "If he stays healthy, he's everything you're looking for wrapped into one."
Auburn defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson feels better about his defense than he did at any point a year ago. The Tigers should be much more physical in the defensive line and plan to play Montravius Adams a good bit at end. “He’s 315 pounds and can flat run,” Johnson said. Johnson said Cassanova McKinzy and Kris Frost make up the best starting linebacker combo he has ever coached. The big concern is at the hybrid “star” position. There’s no timetable for when the Tigers will get Robenson Therezie back because of an eligibility issue, which means Justin Garrett has to stay healthy. Last season, that was a struggle for Garrett, who has had a terrific preseason camp.
Tennessee’s Curt Maggitt plans to move between end and outside linebacker, as the Vols need him to be a disruptive presence. The concern with Maggitt is whether he can stay healthy. He missed all of last season with a knee injury and has battled a high-ankle sprain in camp. The Vols’ most consistent pass-rusher this preseason has been true freshman Derek Barnett, who will play a key role Sunday night in getting after Utah State quarterback Chuckie Keeton.
One of the best matchups of the opening weekend will be Georgia’s running game against a Clemson defensive line that’s as deep, talented and experienced as any in the country. Todd Gurley won’t have to go it alone. The word out of the Dawgs’ camp is that Keith Marshall looks as good as new after suffering that nasty knee injury last season. Interestingly enough, they also want to play both true freshmen, Nick Chubb and Sony Michel. They are that good, although dividing carries among four running backs gets tricky.
Why does Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen think this is his best team? For one, this is the most depth he’s had, and he also has a quarterback in junior Dak Prescott who’s the best fit he’s had in Starkville for the offensive system he wants to run.
How will it all shake out? This is our first shot at it, so take it easy on us. Like most of you, we will know a lot more about every team in the conference by the time the weekend is through.
But if there is one thing I'm confident in, it's that an SEC team will compete in the inaugural College Football Playoff. Sorry if I'm not buying that two will make it. Maybe next season, when all these inexperienced quarterbacks are a year more mature, but not now.
- CFB Playoff (Allstate Sugar Bowl): Alabama
- Cotton Bowl, Jan. 1: South Carolina
- Orange Bowl, Dec. 31: LSU
- Birmingham Bowl, Jan. 3: Vanderbilt
- TaxSlayer Bowl, Jan. 2: Florida
- Outback Bowl, Jan. 1: Georgia
- Capital One Bowl, Jan. 1: Auburn
- Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl, Dec. 30: Missouri
- Belk Bowl, Dec. 30: Mississippi State
- AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl, Dec. 29: Texas A&M
- AutoZone Liberty Bowl, Dec. 29: Ole Miss
Numbers never lie
Let’s start with the most obvious statistic: the number two. Nick Marshall and Jameis Winston, the two quarterbacks in the BCS National Championship Game, were first-year starters last season. And Marshall, of course, was a defensive back a few years prior at Georgia and had the benefit of only three weeks on campus at Auburn before he won the starting job and took the field against Washington State.
Looking at last season alone, almost 20 similarly inexperienced quarterbacks were ranked in the top 50 nationally in QBR. Along with Winston and Marshall, you could find Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott and Baylor’s Bryce Petty.
Remember your history
There was a time, remember, when AJ McCarron, Aaron Murray and Zach Mettenberger weren’t the players we know them to be today. It wasn’t all that long ago that Johnny Football was a scruffy, too-short Johnny Manziel.
The departed class of quarterbacks had to start somewhere.
Mettenberger finally got his shot at LSU and led the Tigers to a 10-3 record.
McCarron took over and helped Alabama to a national championship.
Murray slid under center and slung the football for 3,000 yards and 24 touchdowns.
Do we need to recount Manziel’s freshman season? The Heisman Trophy says enough.
QBs aren’t young anymore
There’s a new truth about freshmen quarterbacks: By the time they’ve arrived at college, many of them aren’t the wide-eyed rookies we’ve come to expect.
The rise of spread offenses have asked more of high school quarterbacks. Summer 7-on-7 camps have refined their skills, too. And then there’s the trend toward personal quarterback coaches.
With so many tools at their disposal, quarterbacks have shortened the learning curve.
Ken Mastrole can relate. When he was a freshman at Maryland in the mid-1990s, he said he “had no one teaching me what I was doing wrong.” He had little knowledge of X’s and O’s. He didn’t go to camps and didn’t have a personal coach to mentor him.
Now Mastrole is doing that job himself, having worked with the likes of E.J. Manuel and Teddy Bridgewater. As soon as he gets a new client, whether he’s in college or entering high school, he said he immediately starts working on their footwork and drops, watching film and analyzing their throwing motion.
“Plus, the mental and vision training I incorporate speeds up their decision-making process,” he added. “I have QBs now more than ever that are competing to start as freshmen and sophomores, and it gives them three-plus years of experience which makes them even more ready for college."
He continued: “My former teammate is now a high school offensive coordinator and is running the Air Raid offense. I sit in his meetings and am blown away on how advanced he is. He has his guys mentally ready when they sign a letter of intent.”
Let the vet have his shot
Coaches, at the end of the day, will go with their gut. And more often than not that means going with what they know -- at least to begin with.
At Alabama, don’t be surprised if Blake Sims gets the starting nod against West Virginia. The fifth-year senior has earned his shot, while Jake Coker, who transferred from FSU this summer, is still getting his bearings.
At LSU, Anthony Jennings could be the first quarterback to trot on the field against Wisconsin. The sophomore saw the field nine times last year, starting in a win at the Outback Bowl, while Brandon Harris has yet to attempt a single pass in college.
But talent will always win out. If Sims can’t get the job done, Coker will step in. If Jennings struggles, Harris will take over. The two newbies may not be totally comfortable with their respective offenses yet, but you can teach that. You’d rather have the best guy learning on the fly than the best guy riding the bench.
You would rather be sitting here today with a proven guy, but also you know that there's going to be good players that emerge," said Freeze. "I'm glad we're one that has [a veteran QB], but I fully expect that there will be two or three no one's talking about right now that come out and play and perform really well."
LSU will start QB Jennings vs. Wisconsin
4:40 1st Qtr Tennessee-Martin 0 Kentucky 7 3:30 PM ET South Dakota State 24 Missouri 3:30 PM ET West Virginia 2 Alabama 4:00 PM ET Arkansas 6 Auburn 5:30 PM ET 16 Clemson 12 Georgia 7:00 PM ET Idaho Florida 7:30 PM ET Southern Miss Mississippi State 9:00 PM ET 14 Wisconsin 13 LSU
Final 21 Texas A&M 52 9 South Carolina 28 Final Boise State 13 18 Ole Miss 35 Final Temple 37 Vanderbilt 7