ATLANTA -- It was by no means a pretty win, but it was a win nonetheless for No. 18 Ole Miss. In a game that featured eight Ole Miss false starts and seven total interceptions (a record for the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game), the Rebels trudged their way to a sloppy 35-13 win over Boise State inside the Georgia Dome. It most be noted that 28 of those Ole Miss points came in the fourth quarter.

Momentum awkwardly traveled back and forth between the teams before Ole Miss sophomore wide receiver Laquon Treadwell put the Rebels ahead by eight with a beastly 14-yard touchdown grab with 12:26 remaining in the fourth quarter.

1. Finding that menacing Megaquon

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Quarterback Bo Wallace, who was having one of his more forgettable performances to this point, saw the obvious mismatch with the 6-foot-2, 229-pound Treadwell facing Boise State cornerback Cleshawn Page (5-9, 178) to his left. Without hesitation, Wallace looked to his left and zipped a pass to where only a leaping Treadwell could get it. The sophomore caught the pass at the 2 and tumbled into the end zone to give the Rebels a 14-6 lead.

Offensive coordinator Dan Werner: "We felt like if we could get him singled up, which they weren't letting that happen very often, but if we did, we were going to audible and run the fade. Bo did a nice job; he saw that they were bringing the free safety, so we had one-on-one coverage and he just threw it up high and let Laquon make a play."

Treadwell: "Man-to-man, throw it up. That's really all I saw. I knew he was pressing. He tried to jump jam, but he kinda jumped offside. After he did that, I knew he was beat, and I was just waiting for Bo to throw the ball, really."

2. Bouncing Adeboyejo

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Not to be outdone a couple minutes later was fellow sophomore receiver Quincy Adeboyejo, who officially put the game away with a springy 31-yard touchdown catch. Adeboyejo, whose touchdown was set up by a fantastic interception by safety Tony Conner two plays earlier, caught a bullet of a pass from Wallace at Boise's 10-yard line before bouncing off two defenders and into the end zone to make it 21-6.

Treadwell: "I think that broke Quincy out of his shell. Quincy's a great player and we know he can play. It's just that he's inconsistent, but now I think that broke him out of his shell, really, and he should have a great season. I think that really helped the offense."

3. Can't catch Cody Core

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So this is what Ole Miss' offense was supposed to look like, huh? An offensive line that struggled all night (did I mention those eight false starts?) held its ground for the second Wallace needed to find Core sprinting through the middle of the field. Core caught the ball in space and was gone.

Wallace: "It was just a vertical route. We swung the backs so maybe the husky would jump out and give us leverage, and they did, so we got it. It's something that we ran in camp that when we first put it in, it was tough on our defense. We felt like that would be a good play for us."

Core: "I saw the field open and I trusted my teammates and just cut loose. I actually didn't [see the linebacker jump out], but I knew the cornerback was behind me so if I cut over to the other side, it would be for the field."

Ole Miss 35, Boise State 13

August, 29, 2014
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Bo Wallace passed for 386 yards and four touchdowns in Ole Miss' 35-13 win over Boise State in Atlanta. Receiver Cody Core caught four passes for 111 yards and two touchdowns for the Rebels.
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COLUMBIA, S.C. – Maybe the whole Johnny Manziel phenomenon was a bit overblown.

That’s not to diss Johnny Football. Few players in the SEC have been more entertaining or transcendent. No, it’s more a validation that the other guy rocking the visor, the guy with the “good negotiator” and $5 million salary, knows what he’s doing.

Manziel, Case Keenum, Kenny Hill

It obviously doesn’t matter who’s playing quarterback for Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin. His offenses are going to put up points, and lots of them.

The Aggies left little doubt Thursday night that they’re going to be just fine without Manziel -- especially if they can straighten out some bugs in the secondary -- by slicing through a helpless South Carolina defense in a 52-28 declawing of the No. 9-ranked Gamecocks before a stunned crowd of 82,847 at Williams-Brice Stadium.

“Quite frankly, there was a chip on our shoulder. Basically, nobody gave us a chance in this game,” Sumlin said. “What we did tonight kind of shows that we’re not a one-trick pony. We’re not anywhere near where we want to be, but we’re not going anywhere any time soon.”

It’s hard to know where to start when heaping praise on the Aggies, who had outgained the Gamecocks 142 yards to 1 at one point in the first quarter en route to scoring the most points against South Carolina on its home field in the Steve Spurrier era. The only other time an opponent had hung 50-plus on South Carolina in Williams-Brice with Spurrier on the sideline was when Tim Tebow came to town in 2007 on his Heisman Trophy march.

As fate would have it, Tebow was in the house Thursday as part of the SEC Network’s coverage and witnessed a Heisman Trophy-like performance.

[+] EnlargeKenny Hill
Phil Ellsworth/ESPN ImagesIt took just one game for Texas A&M's Kenny Hill to break Johnny Manziel's school record for most passing yards in a game.
"Give Texas A&M and their coaches and players credit. It was a mismatch tonight," Spurrier said. "I don't know what else you can say. If we played them again, they'd be a three-touchdown favorite. We tried everything we could to slow them down."

Hill, a 6-foot-1, 215-pound sophomore, broke Manziel’s Texas A&M single-game passing record in his first start. He finished 44-of-60 for 511 yards and three touchdowns and was the essence of composure. He spread the ball around, got rid of the ball quickly and leaned on an impressive array of receivers.

And up front, it was a total mismatch. The Aggies’ offensive line manhandled the Gamecocks in rolling up a staggering 99 offensive plays and 680 yards of total offense – the most ever gained against any South Carolina team.

Hill joked that he was more nervous meeting with the media than he ever was on the field.

“I was more excited than nervous,” Hill said. “I was ready to go. I’ve been ready for this my whole life. Everybody was doubting us, and we were just ready to go and prove everybody wrong and that we could be good without Johnny.”

Hill wasn’t quite ready to take on a nickname yet, although he was asked about it.

“I don’t really like Kenny Football. That’s sort of played out,” he said to a round of laughter.

If you’re wondering, Manziel was 23-of-30 for 173 yards and no touchdown passes in his first career start in 2012, a 20-17 home loss to Florida.

“It’s the reason I came to Texas A&M, to replace Johnny,” said Hill, whose record night sent the Gamecocks to their first home loss after 18 consecutive wins.

The Texas A&M players were almost nonchalant about Hill’s performance. They didn’t necessarily see a record performance coming in his debut, but they knew following in Manziel’s footsteps wasn’t too big for him.

“He’s a pocket passer. He’s going to stay in the pocket,” said Texas A&M receiver Malcome Kennedy, who caught 14 passes for 137 yards. “If you stay on your routes, he’s going to put it right there.”

For Sumlin, this was especially sweet, although he did his best to downplay it afterward.

Spurrier, in vintage form, had taken a few shots at the Aggies’ nonconference schedule and how they rolled up a lot of their big numbers against smaller teams last season. He also quipped during the SEC Media Days that Sumlin had a good negotiator after Sumlin received a raise to $5 million annually when the University of Southern California showed interest in him.

The truth is that Spurrier and Sumlin are friends and even went to Ireland together to play golf two summers ago. Spurrier visited the Texas A&M locker room after the game. Even so, Sumlin made it clear that he wasn’t a big fan of some of the things said about his program during the offseason.

“I heard somebody say we made a bunch of yards against the little teams, but we also made a few yards tonight,” Sumlin cracked.

Granted, it was just one game, but he was genuinely peeved that anybody would suggest he and his staff would suddenly forget how to coach just because Manziel was gone. All offseason he was bombarded with questions about life without Manziel.

Sumlin’s public response was that the Aggies had recruited extremely well to a system they believed in. Privately, he couldn’t wait for the opportunity to fleece a few more SEC defenses with a system that has a way of bringing a defense to its knees no matter who’s playing quarterback.

On Thursday, the Gamecocks were on their heels from the Aggies’ first possession and never recovered. Just a thought: Maybe Jadeveon Clowney had a little bigger impact on that South Carolina defense than some people gave him credit for a year ago.

Either way, it’s clear that Texas A&M has recovered much better without its departed star than South Carolina has without its departed star.

Here’s another thought: The entire complexion of the Western Division race all of a sudden looks a little different, and we’re only a game into the season. If you’re going to beat the Aggies, you'd better be able to score.

The same goes for the Eastern Division race. South Carolina has two weeks to shake off this nightmare and find something that works on defense before Georgia visits.

In the meantime, looks like they’re not going to cancel the season in College Station after all.

Texas A&M 52, South Carolina 28

August, 28, 2014
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video Kenny Hill threw for an Aggies' record 511 yards with three touchdowns in Texas A&M's 52-28 win over South Carolina.
Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin was never comfortable talking about all the players he lost. Throughout the offseason, he was peppered with questions about replacing Johnny Manziel, Mike Evans and Jake Matthews. Each time, he'd bite his lip, say what he needed to say and move on.

Now we know why. In spite of losing so many stars, Sumlin's offense hasn't missed a beat. On Thursday night, Texas A&M's retooled offense outdueled Steve Spurrier and South Carolina, rolling up the Gamecocks 52-28 on the road.

1. Welcome to the show, Kenny Hill

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The sophomore didn’t appear the least bit worried about living up to the legend of Manziel on Texas A&M’s opening drive. He calmly marched the Aggies down the field, spreading the ball around to his receivers. The best of his throws was this 22-yard, third-down strike over the middle to redshirt freshman Ricky Seals-Jones that nearly went for a touchdown. Hill stayed calm in a stressful pocket and stepped into the throw beautifully. Tra Carson would ultimately go between the tackles for the 1-yard touchdown, giving Texas A&M the first points of the game. But Hill was the star of the drive, announcing himself to the college football world as a quarterback worthy of succeeding Johnny Football.

2. This Seals-Jones fella can play, can’t he?

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South Carolina’s defensive backs were helpless to stop him. He was too big, too fast, way too athletic. Sound familiar? It should. In many ways, he’s Mike Evans 2.0. The 6-foot-5, 225-pound redshirt freshman can’t be covered. On this 3-yard touchdown grab, he showed off his burst, getting into his break quickly. After getting a step on the defensive back, all he had to do was hold onto the football, which came on another perfect strike from Hill. On a side note, look at the pocket. The pressure from South Carolina’s defensive line was almost nonexistent.

3. Hill can run the read-option, too

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With the game still in reach, South Carolina had the chance to stone Texas A&M on third-and-goal, but Hill was having none of it. Instead of picking apart the Gamecocks secondary with his arm, he used his feet and instincts to get the defense to commit before pitching the ball off to Carson, who had an easy path to the end zone. If Hill can keep executing the Aggies offense like this, the SEC West is going to be really, really interesting.

4. Spurrier had to roll the dice

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By this point, South Carolina's defense had shown nothing. The defensive line wasn't getting any pressure. The secondary wasn’t making any plays, either. So why not try the onside kick? Down 17 points, it was worth a shot, and Landon Ard executed it almost perfectly. But Texas A&M secured the kick and promptly went 42 yards in 2:27 for another touchdown. South Carolina nearly got back in the game toward the end of the third quarter, but Dylan Thompson put too much air on a deep throw and watched helplessly as Armani Watts came away with the game-sealing interception. What could have been a 10-point game heading into the fourth quarter instead turned into a runaway rout.

#4Pac: Most surprising player in 2014?

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Your humble #4Pac welcomes you to another installment of what'll be a regular feature on the Pac-12 blog. Here's how it works: We take one question, one topic or maybe it's some other really cool format that we haven't even thought of yet and all contribute our thoughts.

Sometimes, like today, we'll be playing devil's advocate for a specific team, player or idea.

Have a suggestion for something we should address in a future #4Pac roundtable? Go ahead and send it to our mailbag.

Today, we're looking for a player who may surprise the league by becoming a household name. They're already established contributors on their own teams, but they may be poised to join the upper echelon in the league with strong showings in 2014.

Utah QB Travis Wilson

Wilson
Ted Miller/@TedMillerRK: The best news is Travis Wilson is still playing football. It wasn't so long ago that it appeared his career was threatened by an injury to an intracranial artery. The good news, at least for Utah fans, is that he successfully fought off a legitimate challenge this preseason from Oklahoma transfer Kendal Thompson.

It's not just good news that the Utes will have a 16-game starter behind center. It's that Wilson wasn't handed the job as a sentimental gesture. He competed and won. And he's won over new offensive coordinator Dave Christensen. That means Utah, a team that has struggled with quarterback play since joining the Pac-12 in 2011, has an experienced player behind center who has flashed real ability, both as a passer and a runner.

If you're looking for an under-the-radar guy who might surprise you, who might lead a team back toward its accustomed winning ways, it's Wilson.

Recall that Utah, though coming off consecutive losing seasons, was 4-2 after an upset win over Stanford in mid-October of last year. Those two losses came in overtime to Oregon State and by seven points to UCLA, despite a dreadful six interceptions from Wilson. Even with those picks, however, Wilson's efficiency rating at the time was just four points lower than Arizona State's Taylor Kelly, who ended up second-team All-Pac-12.

Wilson has something to prove, but he also has the means to prove it. The Utes are going to surround him with good offensive talent, starting with perhaps the Pac-12's most underrated crew of receivers -- underrated in large part because so many other teams are good at the position. He has weapons to help him and a solid offensive line to protect him. Don't be surprised if you're looking at the sparkling Pac-12 QB numbers and see his name ranking in the top half.

Stanford LB James Vaughters

Vaughters
Kyle Bonagura/@BonaguraESPN: Vaughters' arrival at Stanford in 2011 signaled a significant change in the way Stanford was able to recruit. The Cardinal went into Georgia and pried away one of the most coveted recruits in the country.

Vaughters had offers from Alabama, Georgia and just about every big-name school in the country -- so listing him here is not so much a surprise as it is a breakthrough. He bounced around from defensive end to inside linebacker to finally outside linebacker last season when he played opposite All-American Trent Murphy. The results were good -- 36 tackles in 14 starts with four sacks -- but he’s still never quite reached the heights his recruiting profile suggested.

This year, that changes. A.J. Tarpley is going to lead the team in tackles, but Vaughters will be the most physically imposing player on the Cardinal defense and the player most capable of delivering a highlight-caliber hit. At 6-foot-2 and 258 pounds, I fully expect him to push double digits in sacks and turn himself into a legitimate NFL prospect.

Stanford needs that out of him, too. Murphy meant so much to the defense a year ago and with him gone, Vaughters’ role will be key.

USC RB Buck Allen

Allen
Kevin Gemmell/@Kevin_Gemmell: All this guy does is take advantage of his opportunities. You tell him he’s under the radar and he runs over the radar on his way to the end zone.

It’s likely we’ll see him shuffle carries with Tre Madden (when he gets healthy) and Justin Davis. But when you look at what Allen accomplished last season, it’s pretty impressive.

After spending the first portion of his career on Lane Kiffin’s do-not-play list (six carries for 32 yards in 2012), he exploded in the second half of last year and turned into one of the most productive backs in the league, earning all-conference honorable mention along the way. He had four 100-yard rushing performances in the final six games and finished the season with 135 carries for 785 yards (5.8 average) and 14 touchdowns.

When you look at what Steve Sarkisian’s up-tempo twist did for Bishop Sankey last season in Washington (1,870 yards and 20 touchdowns, in case you forgot) it’s hard not to get giddy about the prospect of a productive back like Allen getting a full season’s worth of carries. Whether he emerges as a solo act or part of a committee, he’s shown to be a back you have to scheme for.

Washington State WR Vince Mayle

Mayle
Chantel Jennings/@ChantelJennings: Last season, Vince Mayle had 42 catches (539 yards, seven touchdowns) for the Cougars. But this year, I think he might be making a big jump. He became quarterback Connor Halliday’s go-to guy in the spring and based off the bit I saw in fall camp, the chemistry between the two is pretty darn good.

Mike Leach likes to spread the ball around to his receivers and get as many guys involved as possible, but if Mayle is Halliday’s safety net then the quarterback's going to go back to him time and time again.

Mayle has really only played wide receiver for a few seasons (he was a running back in high school and junior college), but with his learning curve, I think this could be a huge year for him. A 1,000-yard season seems a bit of a stretch considering how many wide receivers the Cougars have, but there's no reason he couldn't lead Washington State in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns by year's end.
The Nittany Lions landed in Dublin, Ireland on Wednesday in preparation of Saturday’s season opener against Central Florida.

Here’s a look at their time there so far:

 
Can anyone recall a season in recent memory that promises to be as wide open as this one? Every team in the SEC has holes. Every team has question marks. But almost every team has talent and legitimate hopes of a banner season.

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

Big Ten bowl projections: Preseason

August, 28, 2014
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You saw our predictions on the conference standings. And our picks for Big Ten defensive player of the year, offensive player of the year, freshman of the year and coach of the year.

But perhaps the most important prediction -- and the one that could cause some more debate -- involves the bowl games. Instead of giving our individual picks for this, we combined our thoughts and butted heads to form a consensus.

We predicted that 10 of the Big Ten's 14 teams will make bowls this season, which isn't too shabby for the conference considering Penn State is still facing a postseason ban. So only Illinois, Purdue and Rutgers were left out in the cold.

Without further ado, here are our Big Ten bowl picks:

College Football Playoff semifinal: Michigan State
Chick-fil-A Peach/Cotton: Ohio State
Capital One: Iowa
Outback: Nebraska
National University Holiday Bowl: Wisconsin
TaxSlayer/Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Michigan
San Francisco: Northwestern
New Era Pinstripe: Maryland
Quick Lane: Minnesota
Heart of Dallas: Indiana

ACC bowl projections: Preseason

August, 28, 2014
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If predicting the order of finish in each division is tough duty this time of year, figuring out the bowl scenarios is an even crazier endeavor. Still, we'll take a crack at it each week of the season, beginning with our preseason projections.

A few quick caveats:
  • If the Orange Bowl selects a Big Ten team this year, a spot would open up in the Capital One Bowl for the ACC. We're not banking on that just yet.
  • Either the TaxSlayer Bowl or Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl gets an ACC team, but not both. For the purposes of our preseason projections, we're slotting a team into the TaxSlayer Bowl, but that could change down the road.
  • For bowl selection purposes, Notre Dame is treated as an ACC team, meaning the Fighting Irish will grab one of the conference's tie-ins unless it is invited to the College Football Playoff.
  • The Birmingham Bowl serves as a backup for the ACC should enough teams become eligible. We're not projecting that yet either.
  • After the playoff committee makes its selections and the Orange Bowl makes its pick, the Russell Athletic gets the next choice of teams. After that, the next group of four work together to decide on selections with geography and a fan base's likelihood to travel to the game playing a role. We attempted to account for that below.

With all that said, here's our best guess at what awaits the ACC in December and January.

College Football Playoff: Florida State Seminoles
Orange Bowl (Miami): Clemson Tigers
Russell Athletic Bowl (Orlando, Florida): Virginia Tech
TaxSlayer Bowl (Jacksonville, Florida): Miami
Belk Bowl (Charlotte, North Carolina): North Carolina
Hyundai Sun Bowl (El Paso, Texas): Louisville
New Era Pinstripe Bowl (Bronx, New York): Notre Dame
Military Bowl presented By Northrop Grumman (Annapolis, Maryland): Pitt
Duck Commander Independence Bowl (Shreveport, Louisiana): Duke
Quick Lane Bowl (Detroit): Syracuse
BITCOIN St. Petersburg Bowl: Georgia Tech

Pac-12 bowl projections: Preseason

August, 28, 2014
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The college football postseason will be very different this season, with the end of the BCS and the beginning of the four-team College Football Playoff. But there's more!

The CFP selection committee also will pick teams for the Fiesta, Orange and Cotton bowls. Those are the major bowls not hosting this season's CFP semifinal games. The selections will be based on ... get ready to be shocked ... merit. Well, there are some other considerations, but there won't be any more ridiculous decisions made purely on potential ticket sales. (The national semifinals, by the way, are to be played out at the Allstate Sugar Bowl and the Rose Bowl Game Presented By Northwestern Mutual on Jan. 1, 2015, with the winners to vie for the national championship on Jan. 12, 2015, at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.)

There also is expected to be more flexibility in the bowl arrangements, with bowls working with conferences to put together the best matchups possible and avoid repeat visits. That seems to be another good thing, though we await its execution.

In any event, here are your Pac-12 bowl projections, made with all the certainty one can muster in advance of the season itself.

College Football Playoff: Oregon
Fiesta Bowl: UCLA
Valero Alamo Bowl: Stanford (vs. Big 12)
National University Holiday Bowl: USC (vs. Big Ten)
San Francisco Bowl: Washington (vs. Big Ten)
Hyundai Sun Bowl: Arizona State (vs. ACC)
Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl: Washington State (vs. Mountain West)
Cactus Bowl: Oregon State (vs. Big 12)
Heart of Dallas Bowl*: Arizona

* at large
The College Football Playoff isn’t the only thing new for the Big 12 this year. The league will welcome new bowl tie-ins, as well as old bowl tie-ins with new names. The playoff is obviously new. The Russell Athletic Bowl and AutoZone Liberty Bowl are new to the league, as well. The Cactus Bowl is the old Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl (which before that was the Insight Bowl). Next year, the Champions Bowl, which will pit top teams from the Big 12 and SEC, will jump into the rotation as well.

But, without further ado, here are our preseason bowl projections for the Big 12, which, like the bowl tie-ins themselves, are sure to change before long:

Allstate Sugar Bowl, New Orleans (Jan. 1): Oklahoma vs. College Football Playoff semifinal
Cotton Bowl, Arlington, Texas (Jan. 1): Baylor vs. at-large
Valero Alamo Bowl, San Antonio (Jan. 2): Kansas State vs. Pac-12 No. 2
Russell Athletic Bowl, Orlando, Fla. (Dec. 29): Texas vs. ACC No. 2
AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl, Houston (Dec. 29): Texas Tech vs. SEC
AutoZone Liberty Bowl, Memphis, Tenn. (Dec. 29): TCU vs. SEC
Cactus Bowl, Tempe, Ariz. (Jan. 2): Oklahoma State vs. Pac-12 No. 7

Chat wrap: CFB Opening Day Live

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28
3:03
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After nearly eight long months, college football is back in our lives. To celebrate tonight's opening slate of games, 12 of our writers chatted it up with you the fans for three hours.

Here's how it went...

It’s impossible to debate the 2014 season for Syracuse without the discussion eventually boiling down to this: Terrel Hunt is the ultimate wild card.

Earlier this summer, Dyshawn Davis told us that the Orange would go only as far as Hunt could take them.

Earlier this week, coach Scott Shafer said he was sleeping better at night, knowing the offense was in good hands with Hunt.

[+] EnlargeTerrel Hunt
AP Photo/David J. PhillipSyracuse QB Terrel Hunt is looking to benefit from improved throwing mechanics this season.
The stats from last season, however, might warrant a few more sleepless nights.

As a runner in 2013, Hunt was pretty good, and his legs clearly helped Syracuse win enough football games to finish its inaugural ACC season with a winning record.

As a passer, however, Hunt was pretty bad.

Throw out his first two starts against Wagner and Tulane — two clearly overmatched opponents that the Orange pounded by a combined score of 106-17 — and it’s hard to see how Syracuse could be overly enthusiastic going into 2014. In 10 games against teams from AQ conferences, Hunt completed 58 percent of his throws, averaged 5.1 yards per attempt and tossed just three TDs to go with eight interceptions.

How bad are those numbers?

Among the 269 QBs in the last five years who attempted at least 200 passes against AQ teams, here’s where Hunt ranks:

  • His 5.1 yards per attempt is the third worst
  • His 8.8 yards per completions is the second worst
  • His rate of 1 TD pass every 78 attempts is the second worst
  • His passer rating of 98.3 is the sixth worst

So, why is Syracuse so optimistic that Hunt can develop into a legitimate passing threat in 2014?

“His elbow is way up,” quarterbacks coach Tim Lester said. “[Last year], he had a tendency to be a little bit below 90 degrees, he’d have a sore elbow and he wouldn’t get his hand on top of the ball. The ball would end up sailing on him, and he wasn’t able to throw the deep ball very well, and that also caused him to over-stride a little bit. It was really all one thing. Keep your elbow up and your hand on top of the ball, and you’ll have control over anything you want to do. And he did it. He could see it on film. I think he understands it now. He believes it. He can feel it. It hasn’t been an issue this year.”

Lester said he tried to work on some of the mechanical flaws in Hunt’s delivery last year, but the quarterback had been thrown into the fire, taking over the starting job in Week 4, and messing with technique is tough in season.

When the season ended, however, Lester and Hunt went to work.

Hunt’s coaches rave about his work ethic and willingness to make adjustments. His athleticism is impressive enough that he’s capable of making plays with his legs, which should open up more passing opportunities, and he’s smart enough to understand how to read a defense and go through his progressions.

In fact, if there was one encouraging sign amid all the ugly stats last year, it was that Hunt always knew why he’d made a mistake.

“There were deep balls he took shots at, it was the right time to take a shot, and he just wasn’t able to put it where he wanted to,” Lester said. “Late in the year, he’d come off the field and tell me exactly what was going on, he was seeing it all, and that’s a good sign for the future.”

Still, it’s fair to wonder if Syracuse’s optimism is misplaced. After all, how many quarterbacks who posted numbers as bad as Hunt’s managed to turn things around?

If we look from 2008 through last season at every QB who attempted at least 200 passes versus AQ competition, completed fewer than 60 percent of those attempts, averaged less than 6 yards per attempt and threw more INTs than TDs, we get 16 names.

Oddly, five of those seasons came last year, including Hunt and another QB in the ACC — David Watford at Virginia. Three more were seniors, so we can’t collect any data on how they performed the following year. So that leaves us with eight QBs who posted numbers similar to Hunt’s and had an opportunity to come back the next season in hopes of improving.

Here’s the list:



So, how’d they do the year after those dismal seasons?

The ugly

Craft lost his starting job in 2009 and attempted just 107 passes, with largely the same results (56.1 percent completions, 6.7 YPA, 2 TD, 3 INT).

The same was true for Smith, who threw 96 passes and was just as bad as a senior (57.3, 5.7, 3 TD, 6 INT).

McEntee attempted just 25 passes his senior season after being passed on the depth chart by sophomore Chandler Whitmer.

Fouch threw just one pass the rest of his career.

And, it’s worth noting, that Watford lost his job at Virginia, too.

The bad comparisons

Scheelhaase was a junior when he had his ugly year in 2012. He was on a terrible team, and his numbers suffered. But he’d started as both a freshman and sophomore and posted solid stats, so when his numbers jumped to 66.7 percent completions, 7.6 YPA and a 21-to-13 TD:INT ratio last year, it was more a return to his career norms than a sudden leap in ability.

It’s the same story for Yates, who was far from great as a freshman and sophomore, but showed signs of promise, starting games both seasons. As a senior, he put together his best season, completing 66.4 percent of his passes against AQ schools, including 16 TDs and just eight picks.

The mixed bag

Gilbert’s story is already pretty well known. After his tough sophomore season in 2010, he played in just two games for Texas in 2011. In 2012, he transferred to SMU and showed some mild improvement, tossing 15 TDs to go with 15 INTs, but still completed just 53 percent of his passes and averaged a lousy 5.8 yards per attempt.

But as a senior in 2013, he put it all together, upping his completion percentage to 66.5, his YPA to 7.0 and tossing 21 touchdowns to just seven INTs. Of course, the level of competition for SMU probably won’t match exactly what Hunt will see in the ACC this year.

The happy ending

The crown jewel of the list is Ponder, and he might be Hunt’s best comparison.

Like Hunt, Ponder was thrown into the fire as a sophomore at Florida State. Like Hunt, he was praised for being an incredibly smart QB with exceptional leadership skills and good athleticism. Like Hunt, his problems came more from being raw rather than untalented.

When Ponder returned for his junior season, he looked like a different player. His completion percentage against AQ teams jumped from 54.8 to 68.4. His YPA jumped from 5.8 to 8.2. As a sophomore, he threw 8 TDs and 13 picks against AQ competition. A year later, he reversed those numbers — 12 touchdowns, 7 interceptions. By the time he was a senior in 2010, Ponder was a legitimate prospect, and he ended up being selected in the first round of the 2011 NFL draft.

Is that the future for Hunt?

Obviously that’s a lofty standard, but perhaps it’s not unattainable. The quest begins this week against Villanova, but Syracuse’s coaches and Hunt’s teammates already believe they know the ending.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Nick Saban opened fall camp with a lofty bit of rhetoric. Speaking with reporters for the first time since spring practice ended, he said how important it was for players to understand that, "The time is now." Everything they'd done during the offseason -- "from conditioning to running the stadium steps" -- had led to this.

How the season would play out, he said, was up to them.

"The challenge is to sort of resurrect our identity, in terms of what we want Alabama football to be," he said.

[+] EnlargeJake Coker is battling with Blake Sims for the starter job at Alabama.
AP Photo/Brynn Anderson
The morbid imagery was interesting -- and intentional. A few days later, Saban reiterated the theme in his opening comments, saying that, "The message really doesn't change. The time is now to resurrect the identity of the Alabama football program." There was even more conviction the second go-round: Alabama flatlined last season. Losing in the last second to Auburn was the knock-out punch. Getting blown out by Oklahoma was the death knell and the eulogy.

Only in Tuscaloosa would a 10-2 record and a berth in the Sugar Bowl be considered an abject failure. Only a coach like Saban would insist that resuscitation and rebirth was required.

"With a program like Alabama if you don't win national championships people think that's a failure," said safety Nick Perry.

But resurrection? Isn't that a little over the top?

At the very least, it's ambiguous. How exactly does one resurrect themselves? It's not as defined as becoming a better zone-blocking team or mastering the two-minute offense.

"I think he just means that we need to be one," said offensive tackle Austin Shepherd. "We don't need to be little pods of people in groups. When he talks about it to us, he just says that we need to be a group, get out there, play together, and then once you're off the field you guys need to hang out because that means you guys are going to click better on the field."

Jonathan Allen, a promising young defensive end, agreed. He said the team wasn't as connected as it should have been. The chemistry wasn't there.

"We lost it toward the end of last year," he said.

"We want to be a team," Saban said, "and we want the identity of our team to include 'we,' which means all players are together, take care of each other and take responsibility."

That's fine and all, but how will that ultimately be measured? How will we know if Alabama dusted off the ashes and began anew?

The problem is we won't know for quite some time. In fact, it might not be clear until the games are over and the history of the season is written.

After all, who outside the program noticed trouble brewing before the Iron Bowl debacle? Anyone claiming to have heard forlorn whispers when Alabama was still No. 1 might be stretching the truth. Even after the loss at Auburn, many expected the Tide to pick back up and wipe the floor with Oklahoma.

Complacency? Please. That wasn't an issue, we were told time and time again. That is, until back-to-back losses put Alabama on its back. Then the explanations came in waves, most notably from AJ McCarron, who said how "success was our killer” and that there was a sense of entitlement that permeated the locker room.

To keep those demons away, Saban wants a fresh start. He wants the focus on togetherness and chemistry and all the intangible things we're told make a champion.

But the truth is winning cures all. Winning makes for good teammates and happy coaches. Winning means not having to say you're sorry.

It's why Blake Sims and Jake Coker are currently entangled in a quarterback battle. Coker has the arm. Sims has the locker room. And, in the end, it's not who has the most friends in the huddle, it's who can throw the ball down the field best.

If you want to know the identity Alabama is trying to resurrect, all you have to do is look up as you enter the Mal Moore Athletic Facility from the players' parking lot. There, in full view on the second floor, are three crystal footballs. Once inside, you'll see the number 15 everywhere. That number -- Alabama's total number of national championships -- is the only thing that matters.

If Alabama wants No. 16, it will take a quarterback coming into his own, a freshman left tackle learning in a hurry, and a defense returning to form.

Call it resurrection if you want. How it's done -- whether it be with a festive locker room or a business-like sense of purpose -- is only window dressing.

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