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Latest Dish: Five things I learned

8/29/2014

Here are five things I learned in college football this week:

1. We’re often guilty of putting too much stock in a team’s opening performance, but it was clear Thursday night that South Carolina is going to miss star defensive end Jadeveon Clowney a lot more than Texas A&M is going to miss Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Johnny Manziel.

South Carolina’s defense had no answer for A&M coach Kevin Sumlin’s high-flying offense, as sophomore Kenny Hill threw for 511 yards and three touchdowns on 44-for-60 passing in the Aggies’ 52-28 rout at South Carolina. Hill broke Manziel’s single-game record for passing yards in his first career start and never seemed nervous on the road.

Afterward, South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier even seemed to criticize defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward, who installed a 3-4 defense during the offseason.

“I thought we would play a lot better,” Spurrier said. “I have been reading like you guys have about our new 3-4 defense. Did anybody like that 3-4 defense? But I don’t know if it would have mattered if we’d have played a 6-6 defense. I don’t know if 12 out there would have helped that much.”

During the offseason, I said several times that I thought South Carolina might be one of the most overrated teams in the country, given its personnel losses on defense. I also believed the Gamecocks would miss departed quarterback Connor Shaw much more than some people believed. I might have been right on both accounts.

2. Ole Miss had its struggles against Boise State in Thursday night’s opener at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. Quarterback Bo Wallace threw three interceptions in the first half, and the Rebels couldn’t pull away from the Broncos until early in the fourth quarter of a 35-13 victory.

Still, Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze has plenty of reasons to be excited, mainly that his vaunted freshman class of 2013 is a year older and wiser. Sophomore defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche is becoming one of the toughest blocking assignments in the country and safety Tony Conner is a future NFL first-round draft choice. Receiver Laquon Treadwell is also fantastic.

Are the Rebels deep enough and experienced enough to challenge Auburn, Alabama and Texas A&M in the SEC West? Probably not. But the Rebels might be good enough to knock off any of those teams in one game and have a say in which team wins the division.

3. The season can’t get here soon enough for new USC coach Steve Sarkisian. One day after Sarkisian had to indefinitely suspend team captain Josh Shaw for lying about how he suffered two high ankle sprains over the weekend, he was accused of being a racist by running back Anthony Brown, who quit the team.

Brown made his accusations on Instagram and other social media, claiming, “Sark treated me like a Slave in his office.” Sarkisian said the accusations were “shocking,” and anyone who has met the former Washington coach would have a very difficult time believing they’re true.

4. So-called football factories such as Georgia, Oklahoma and Texas were in the news for all the wrong reasons during the offseason, as coaches at those schools had to dismiss several players for off-field problems.

But the recent troubles at high-academic institutions like North Carolina and Notre Dame prove it can happen anywhere. UNC coach Larry Fedora suspended four players from the Tar Heels’ opener against FCS foe Liberty on Saturday, a couple of days after Yahoo! Sports reported that a walk-on receiver suffered a concussion during an alleged hazing incident.

The Fighting Irish announced Thursday that a fifth player, safety Eilar Hardy, is being held out of practice and games while the school investigates an allegation of academic misconduct. The Irish have already suspended receiver DaVaris Daniels, cornerback KeiVarae Russell, defensive end Ishaq Williams and linebacker Kendall Moore.

5. Kudos to Virginia Tech for giving coach Frank Beamer a new two-year contract extension, which might keep him with the Hokies through the 2018 season. Sure, the Hokies have uncharacteristically struggled the past couple of seasons, but we too easily forget that Beamer built his alma mater into a national powerhouse when most people believed it could never be done.

It’s also significant that new Virginia Tech athletics director Whit Babcock gave him the deal instead of Jim Weaver, the retired AD who was one of Beamer’s biggest supporters. The Hokies have won 15 games the past two seasons, after winning 10 games or more in each of the previous eight. Beamer built the program, and he should be given an opportunity to get it back to the top of the ACC.