NCF Nation: What we learned 090113

What we learned in the Big 12: Week 1

September, 1, 2013
9/01/13
1:10
PM ET
Here's what we learned after an up-and-down opening week in the Big 12:

[+] EnlargeBaker Mayfield
Cal Sport Media/AP ImagesFreshman QB Baker Mayfield threw for 413 yards and four TDs in his Texas Tech debut.
Baker Mayfield might be a walk-on, but he can play: It didn’t take long for the rest of us to see why freshman walk-on Baker Mayfield won Texas Tech’s starting QB job. While accounting for five touchdowns in the 41-23 win over SMU, Mayfield displayed a rocket arm, an aggressive mentality and a great deal of savvy. The Red Raiders are hoping to get Michael Brewer back, perhaps as soon as next month. But if Mayfield keeps performing the way he did against SMU, it’s difficult to see coach Kliff Kingsbury going with a different quarterback.

The defenses in the Sooner State might be better: Inconsistent defense has plagued Oklahoma and Oklahoma State in recent seasons. Both teams have fielded some of the most prolific offenses in the country, but this season, they might have the defenses to go along with those offensive attacks. In their opener, the Cowboys obliterated Mississippi State up front, and kept the Bulldogs from scoring again after the opening drive. The Sooners completely blanked Louisiana-Monroe in a 34-0 rout. Both Oklahoma State and Oklahoma will face better offenses down the line. But it was a promising debut for both units.

Kansas State, West Virginia and Iowa State have a long way to go: Mountaineers coach Dana Holgorsen said as much after his club narrowly escaped FCS opponent William & Mary. Kansas State and Iowa State weren’t so lucky. The Wildcats fell at home to North Dakota State, while Iowa State lost to Northern Iowa. All three Big 12 teams are in rebuilding mode, which was pretty evident this weekend.

TCU is winless, but it is going to win plenty of games: In a 37-27 defeat to LSU, TCU showed it belonged on the field with one of the top teams in the SEC. Even without All-American defensive end Devonte Fields, TCU’s front held up against LSU’s powerful run game, and the Horned Frogs' defensive backs made several plays against the pass. Quarterbacks Casey Pachall and Trevone Boykin made their share of plays, too, especially Boykin, who pulled TCU to within a field goal midway through the fourth quarter. The Frogs will have to hash out their quarterback situation. But the defense is in place, and enough playmakers exist on offense for this team to contend in the Big 12.

The QB run game will be a big part of the Big 12: Over the years, the Big 12 has been defined by the arms of its quarterbacks. This season, it could be their legs, too. Both Oklahoma State and Oklahoma won their openers by leaning on the quarterback run game. J.W. Walsh replaced starter Clint Chelf and rushed for 125 yards to lead the Cowboys to the win. In his debut, Oklahoma’s Trevor Knight ran for 103 yards. Boykin and Kansas State’s Daniel Sams also pulled off big plays with their wheels in relief of starters Pachall and Jake Waters. Even Mayfield and Texas’ David Ash showed plenty of mobility in their openers. The pass will remain the Big 12’s calling card. But many of these passers can really run, too.

What we learned about ND: Week 1

September, 1, 2013
9/01/13
10:00
AM ET
Here's what to take away from Notre Dame's 28-6 season-opening win over Temple.

ND1. Rees looks better. There's no such thing as a perfectly clean opening game. But Notre Dame delivered about as crisp of a performance as one could have asked for offensively, starting with Tommy Rees. He led the Irish to touchdowns on their first two drives and avoided the bad decisions that had plagued him earlier in his career, allowing Irish nation to rest easy as Notre Dame heads to Michigan for Week 2.

2. Carlisle might become a major factor. Notre Dame's first play of the game? A 45-yard rush for Amir Carlisle, who was playing in his first game with the Irish after a broken ankle cost him last season after getting a waiver to play immediately following his transfer from USC. Carlisle had a team-best 68 rushing yards on just seven carries, adding two catches for 5 yards. He looked like the best of the five running backs the Irish used Saturday, and he could grow into a bigger role in the offense as the season progresses.

3. Kicking woes need to be resolved. Brian Kelly wanted Week 1 to be somewhat of a tryout between Nick Tausch and Kyle Brindza. Kelly could not have liked what he saw, as each missed his lone field goal attempt. Michigan will be far less forgiving of such mistakes next week if Notre Dame cannot work out the kinks there.

4. Freshmen make presence felt. Notre Dame played 10 true freshmen in the opener, with Corey Robinson and Jaylon Smith earning the starts. Receivers James Onwualu and Will Fuller, cornerback Cole Luke and end Isaac Rochell saw action early, with Max Redfield and Devin Butler getting special teams action. Running backs Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston carried the ball late in the game, finishing with 35 total yards. Folston was the only freshman to catch a pass, hauling in a 9-yard grab.
Every Sunday around this time, we'll recap five lessons from the week that was in Big Ten football.

Pencils ready? Class is in session ...

Freshman Christian Hackenberg had some big mistakes but showed poise in Penn State's win.
Cal Sport Media/AP ImagesFreshman Christian Hackenberg completed 22 of 31 passes for 278 yards in Penn State's win over Syracuse.
1. Big Ten quarterback mysteries partially solved: Week 1 provided some clues about the Big Ten's cloudy quarterback picture, but a few mysteries remain. True freshman Christian Hackenberg looks like the long-term answer at Penn State. Although he had a few shaky moments, Hackenberg completed 22 of 31 passes for 278 yards and showcased a big-time arm on a 54-yard touchdown strike to Eugene Lewis early in the fourth quarter of the Lions' win against Syracuse. Joel Stave got the start for Wisconsin and re-established himself with a mostly solid performance against Massachusetts, twice finding top receiver Jared Abbrederis for touchdowns. Jake Rudock's collegiate debut ended with a costly interception, but the Iowa sophomore showed some positive signs against Northern Illinois, passing for 256 yards. Iowa has something to build on with Rudock. Indiana might lack a definitive starter, but the Hoosiers have multiple options with Tre Roberson, Nate Sudfeld and Cam Coffman. Sudfeld, who played most of the opener and fired four touchdown passes, may end up being the answer for IU. Things are much shaker for Michigan State and Purdue, as both teams struggled at the quarterback spot in their openers. The Spartans likely will continue to play multiple signal-callers, while Rob Henry's starting spot at Purdue could be in jeopardy if he doesn't take better care of the ball.

2. Michigan, Illinois and Iowa can see clearly now on offense: After two years of running the Denard offense, Michigan displayed a system more suited to coordinator Al Borges' long-term vision. The result was a 59-point, 463-yard explosion against Central Michigan, in which just about everybody contributed. Michigan's vertical passing game is much more of a factor with Devin Gardner at quarterback, and the Wolverines ran the ball well with multiple backs. Illinois and Iowa lived in the dark on offense for much of the 2012 season, finishing 119th and 114th, respectively, in yards per game. Both the Fighting Illini and Hawkeyes looked more comfortable with their offensive identities in the openers. Illinois senior quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase threw for 340 first-half yards en route to a career-high 416 against Southern Illinois. Despite a crunch-time interception, Iowa's Rudock played with better rhythm in his first career start than veteran James Vandenberg did all of last season. The Hawkeyes are far from a juggernaut but eclipsed 300 yards in the first half against Northern Illinois and scored two touchdowns, more than they had in the first two games of last season. Now if only Greg Davis would get rid of the bubble screen ...

3. Michigan State, Nebraska haven't fixed their issues: First, the good news: We've only played one week, and Michigan State and Nebraska are each 1-0. The Spartan Dawgs defense is as good as advertised, perhaps even a little bit better, while the Nebraska offense remains explosive. Now, the bad news: The problems that plagued both teams last season and were supposedly addressed in the offseason remain glaring, neon-blinking red flags. The Spartans' offense struggled up front against an inferior opponent in Western Michigan, couldn't create separation at wide receiver and never consistently moved the football. Quarterbacks Andrew Maxwell and Connor Cook combined to complete 17 passes for 116 yards, continuing a troubling trend of a condensed passing game. Although Jeremy Langford (94 rush yards) was a bright spot at times, he also fumbled in the red zone. Michigan State can't expect to win more games by having its defense outscore its offense. The opposite is true at Nebraska, which rebuilt its defense in the offseason with supposedly more athletic players. We totally expected the new Blackshirts to need a few games to find their sea legs, but we did not foresee Wyoming putting up 602 yards of offense and nearly winning in Memorial Stadium. That's reminiscent of the Huskers' defensive disasters last season, only worse because it came at home against a mediocre WAC team. Right now, the same songs are playing in East Lansing and Lincoln, and someone better change the channel.

4. Ohio State can't lose focus despite weak schedule: Let's face it: Ohio State shouldn't have too much to worry about until Wisconsin comes to The Shoe on Sept. 28. But the Buckeyes are far from a perfect team, and they need to use each week as an opportunity to develop, especially on defense. Ohio State built a 23-0 lead against Buffalo in less than a quarter Saturday, but the concentration level seemed to waver a bit from then on. The Bulls began moving the ball, Braxton Miller threw a pick-six and there was a decent amount of sloppiness in the middle of the game. Ohio State might have had a perfect record in 2012, but it was far from a perfect team and remains that way now. Turnovers and penalties -- the Buckeyes had nine of them -- will get you beat against better competition. Ohio State would benefit from a true test during nonleague play, but unless San Diego State or Cal surprisingly provides one, it won't come until the Big Ten opener against the Badgers. Urban Meyer and his staff must stress the details in all three phases the next few weeks. Talent isn't the issue for Ohio State, but a lack of focus could prove costly down the road.

5. Honeymoon is over for Hazell, continues for Andersen: Purdue was a solid underdog on the road at Cincinnati, but few expected the nightmarish result that occurred. Down just 14-7 at halftime, the Boilermakers imploded in an ugly 42-7 loss that was as bad as anything from the Danny Hope era. Purdue had four turnovers and was so inept that quarterback Rob Henry tweeted an apology to "all my family, teammates, friends and fans. My performance today was unacceptable. Never played that bad in my life." The schedule provides a break next week with Indiana State, but then the Boilers have six straight tough games. First-year coach Darrell Hazell has a lot of work to do to keep the offseason optimism going. There's no such problem yet for Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen. It seemed like not much had changed in Madison as the Badgers beat UMass 45-0 and rushed for 393 yards. Of course, Andersen had a much easier opponent for his debut and gets Tennessee Tech next week. His first real challenge will come in Week 3 at Arizona State. But Wisconsin clearly is in a lot better shape than Purdue right now.

What we learned in the SEC: Week 1

September, 1, 2013
9/01/13
10:00
AM ET
Now that Week 1 is in the books for the SEC, here are five things we learned about the conference:

1. Alabama's offensive line needs work: We knew replacing three NFL draft picks would be tough for Alabama, but Saturday night showed that this unit will certainly need the bye week to get things ready for Texas A&M. There were communication issues and players weren't comfortable with the actual game speed. It didn't help that Virginia Tech surprised the Tide with some of their defensive sets. Still, the kinks really need to be ironed out up front. Alabama failed to rush for 100 yards for the first time since 2011 and quarterback AJ McCarron never really looked comfortable with all the pressure he faced. These issues can be fixed, and they'll need to be before the A&M game.

[+] EnlargeAJ McCarron
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsAlabama and AJ McCarron have some things to work on before facing Texas A&M on Sept. 14.
2. Ole Miss and Vanderbilt are for real: We saw a great start to the 2013 season when Ole Miss topped Vanderbilt in that thriller in Nashville on Thursday night. Don't think that we've heard the last of either of these teams. They will make life for all of their opponents tough throughout the season. Both teams showed they have the athletes to keep up with some of the bigger boys in the league and they have the capability of making electric plays on both sides of the ball. They combined for 915 total yards and 74 points Thursday. Both of these offenses should be fun to watch and it wouldn't shock anyone if the Commodores and Rebels both upset one of the big boys this year.

3. Suspect defenses: It's obvious that Georgia and Texas A&M both need to see a lot of improvement on the defensive side of the ball. We knew we'd see a lot of points this weekend, but Georgia's defense was too sloppy at times. There were protection breakdowns, the line was pushed around and tackling was a major issue in the Bulldogs' 38-35 loss to Clemson. Outside of the poor tackling, what really had to frustrate defensive coordinator Todd Grantham was the fact that Clemson ran for 197 yards. Stopping the run was a major issue for this defense last year, and it was a problem Saturday night. As for the Aggies, Texas A&M's rebuilding defense had a rough day against Rice. Granted, the Aggies were missing five starters, but they gave up 306 rushing yards and 31 points. Even with guys out, you just can't allow that to happen. Key guys will come back next week, but this defense won't be at full strength until the Alabama game in two weeks. This defense has a lot to work on until then.

4. Kentucky's road is longer than expected: Mark Stoops has brought some excitement back to Kentucky's football program, but Saturday's 35-26 loss to Western Kentucky proved that the Wildcats still have a ways to go when it comes to development and talent. The defense struggled against Bobby Petrino's offense, surrendering 487 yards and 22 first downs, while the offense showed it is in serious need of playmakers in the passing game. The "Air Raid" offense was nowhere to be seen, while the defense didn't register nearly enough pressure to slow down Western Kentucky's attack. This wasn't going to be an easy first year for Stoops, but this was not the start he needed, especially with the way the defense played.

5. Happy returns: It was good to see some players return to the field after injuries affected them in 2012. Missouri had to be pleased with quarterback James Franklin and running back Henry Josey getting off to a fast start. Franklin, who dealt with shoulder, knee and head injuries last year, threw for 318 yards and three touchdowns, while rushing for another 44 in the Tigers' blowout win over Murray State. Josey, who missed all of last season because of a knee injury, carried the ball 13 times for 113 yards and a 68-yard touchdown. Forget the opponent -- these two looked up to speed after a trying 2012. Florida also got good production out of linebacker/defensive end Ronald Powell, who missed all of last year with two ACL injuries. Powell was very active Saturday, finishing with a sack and three quarterback hurries. Also, South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw made it through Thursday's game without injury. He passed for only 149 yards and touchdown, but he ran 12 times for 43 yards. It's clear these guys are back to their old healthy selves.

What we learned in the ACC: Week 1

September, 1, 2013
9/01/13
10:00
AM ET
With a bunch of big games for the conference, there figured to be some major implications from Week 1. Here's what we learned:

[+] EnlargeTajh Boyd
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesTajh Boyd accounted for five touchdowns against Georgia in a statement win for Clemson.
Clemson is a legitimate national title contender. This game shouldn't have been a referendum on the Tigers' legitimacy, but the win nevertheless cements them as real contenders to win it all. The game lived up to its advanced billing, and both teams had their runs. In the end, Clemson proved it was just a little better, and that's due in large part to senior quarterback Tajh Boyd, who was exceptional. He accounted for five TDs, while Georgia's Aaron Murray once again struggled against a highly ranked opponent. There's still a lot of football to be played, but for now, Boyd is in line for a Heisman, and Clemson has a clear path to a championship.

The ACC's profile still hasn't changed much. This weekend was supposed to tell us a lot about the ACC, but after five games against teams from other AQ conferences, there's still plenty of room for debate. Yes, Clemson is in the national championship hunt, but that's not a huge surprise. Virginia was on the ropes against BYU, but a late turnover and lateral helped the Cavs eke out a win. Virginia Tech lost handily, but the Hokies did manage to expose some weaknesses in Alabama. And OK, Syracuse and North Carolina didn't do a lot to change hearts and minds. In the end, Clemson offered the big win, Virginia helped the cause, and at the end of the day, there probably weren't a lot of fans who changed their minds about the ACC one way or the other.

The Hokies' D is good. The offense and special teams need some work. The scoreboard showed a blowout, 35-10, but Virginia Tech actually outgained Alabama 212 yards to 206. So how'd things get so ugly? Alabama racked up two long touchdowns on special teams and returned an interception -- thrown by Logan Thomas -- 77 yards for a score. The special-teams breakdowns are galling for a program once known for success in that area, but Thomas' struggles might be an even bigger concern. The senior was a woeful 5-of-26 passing for 59 yards.

Maryland is better with its No. 1 QB than its No. 5 QB. No offense to Shawn Petty, who did a serviceable job in emergency duty down the stretch last year, but Randy Edsall has to be doing cartwheels that he has C.J. Brown back and healthy. After Brown missed all of the 2012 season, he returned to action Saturday and demolished FIU. Brown was 20-of-23 passing for 281 yards and rushed 11 times for 105 yards, and he tallied five touchdowns in the first half alone. It had been a decade since any Maryland quarterback accounted for five touchdowns in the same game. For the game, Maryland racked up 576 yards of total offense.

Some new QBs had a rough Saturday. NC State certainly looked like it had an answer at quarterback as Brandon Mitchell started strong, but a foot injury in the first quarter now means he'll miss the next 4-6 weeks. Meanwhile, Syracuse didn't get the emphatic performance it wanted from new quarterback Drew Allen, who completed just 16 of 37 passes for 189 yards and two interceptions. Virginia got slightly better results from its new quarterback, but David Watford still wasn't overly impressive, completing just 50 percent of his passes for 118 yards, a TD and an INT. The weather in Charlottesville did Watford no favors, but the Cavaliers certainly will expect more moving forward. Of course, the whole group can take solace that they were better than Virginia Tech's Thomas.

What we learned in the Pac-12: Week 1

September, 1, 2013
9/01/13
10:00
AM ET
A look at what we learned about the Pac-12 in Week 1.

Keith Price
AP Photo/Ted S. WarrenWashington's Keith Price dazzled in his 2013 debut, throwing for 324 yards and two TDs.
Washington looks to be legit: Per my co-blogger, Washington quarterback Keith Price was “lights out” in his performance against Boise State. Bishop Sankey picked up where he left off last season, and the defense kept the Broncos out of the end zone. For those nervous about letting their expectations get raised, go ahead and raise them. Oh yeah, and you get the best tight end in the country back next week.

Andy Phillips is now a household name: In his first career game, the redshirt freshman kicker from Utah went 3-for-3, including a 45-yarder on his first career kick -- and executed a perfect onside kick to swing the momentum in the Utes’ victory over in-state rival Utah State.

USC QB TBD: Is it going to be Cody Kessler or Max Wittek at USC? What we learned is we didn’t learn much. Neither looked particularly sharp as USC struggled offensively against Hawaii. Kessler was 10-of-19 for 95 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Wittek was 5-of-10 for 77 yards. Both seemed constrained by a conservative gameplan of short throws and swing passes.

Oregon likes to run (well, duh): Three different Ducks eclipsed the 100-yard mark: De’Anthony Thomas, Marcus Mariota and Byron Marshall. In all, the Ducks rushed for 500 yards and a robust 11.1 yards per carry against Nicholls State. It marked the first time in school history three players went for 100 yards in the same game. Yes, it was Nicholls State, but you have to figure rushing records are getting harder and harder to break at Oregon.

DAT the featured back? New Oregon coach Mark Helfrich had been fairly noncommittal when talking about how Thomas would be used. He looked the part of an every-down back Saturday night, carrying 18 times for 128 yards and two touchdowns. The 18 carries were a career high.

Utah’s depth will be tested: For the second season in a row, the Utes lost a big-name player for the year at the hands of Utah State. Wide receiver Kenneth Scott will miss the rest of the season after suffering a leg injury in the first quarter. Others will have to step up. Sean Fitzgerald looked pretty good in relief, catching five balls for 79 yards.

They’re serious about this ejection thing: The NCAA’s new targeting rule, which went into effect this season, can lead to an ejection on the spot if the official deems it a head-to-head hit. The first big-name casualty was Oregon cornerback Terrance Mitchell, who makes up half of Oregon’s outstanding cornerback tandem with Ifo Ekpre-Olomu. Miller was ejected late in the first quarter of Oregon’s win over Nicholls State.

Really, Beavers? Maybe more of the offseason focus should have been on the defense, and less about the quarterback competition. Sean Mannion played brilliantly. The defense, not so much, allowing Eastern Washington quarterback Vernon Adams to throw for 411 yards and run for 107. Not that it bears repeating, but this is the second time in three seasons the Beavers have opened the season with a loss to an FCS team.

We’re not done yet: One more game on the Week 1 docket with Colorado and Colorado State squaring off Sunday in Denver.

The Cougs looked better: A gutty effort in SEC country from Washington State, which went toe-to-toe with Auburn before falling 31-24. Turnovers continue to be a curse and three interceptions from Connor Halliday, including one in the red zone in the fourth quarter, contributed to WSU’s downfall.

Speaking of turnovers: In its nine games (Colorado pending), the Pac-12 won the turnover battle, 15-11. When the Pac-12 tied in turnovers (Utah, Cal, Oregon State, Washington), it was 2-2. When it won the turnover battle (Arizona, Oregon, USC), it was 3-0, and when it lost the turnover battle (UCLA, Washington State), it was 1-1.

Special teams had special plays: See Vincenzo D’Amato’s pass to Jackson Bouza on the fake field goal (one of the more creative give-and-gos I’ve seen). See UCLA’s punt block for a touchdown against Nevada. See Phillips’ performance.

Speaking of special: After posting the worst field-goal percentage in college football last year (67.9 percent) the Pac-12 kickers came out swinging in Week 1, converting on 14 of 17 attempts (82 percent).

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