The 25 Biggest Takeaways from Week 1 of the College Football Season

Brian Leigh@@BLeighDATFeatured ColumnistSeptember 2, 2014

The 25 Biggest Takeaways from Week 1 of the College Football Season

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    After any full week of college football, it is difficult to parse through what happened and land on just 25 takeaways.

    After Week 1, it's damn near impossible.

    The first week of the season means the first glimpse at so many different teams, and the first glimpse at so many different teams means that so many new things are learned. The questions we spent all summer asking got their first 60 minutes of answers, and they got them at almost every FBS school.

    Ultimately, trimming the list down to 25 required an emphasis on national import. Impressed as we were with UAB's 48-10 win over Troy in Bill Clark's head coaching debut, it won't affect the College Football Playoff discussion the same way as power-conference dealings.

    The 25 takeaways that were included are germane to the national discussion, which for the most part meant they concern the biggest programs. The only exceptions to this are group-of-five teams with a legitimate chance to be the automatic qualifier in a CFP bowl.

    Sound off below to let us know your biggest takeaway from Week 1.

Florida State and Alabama Are Beatable

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    Florida State and Alabama were (and still are) the overwhelming favorites to reach the College Football Playoff. Of the 90 ballots I tracked down before Week 1, 89 picked the Seminoles, and 64 picked the Crimson Tide. The next highest team (Oregon) had only 43.

    But neither team looked invincible to start the season. In fact, they looked eminently vincible. Florida State got outmuscled in the trenches against Oklahoma State, and Alabama's secondary looked like it couldn't cover a duvet against West Virginia.

    The Seminoles and Crimson Tide survived and advanced, as all great teams are supposed to, but they didn't leave us feeling like there are any slam-dunk playoff participants this season. Even if there weren't an extra two slots available in the national-title discussion, this year feels more wide open than any in recent memory.

    And I can't help thinking that's a good thing.

Kevin Sumlin's Teams Will Always Be Good

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    Death, taxes, sportswriters using the death-and-taxes cliche and Kevin Sumlin's offenses looking unstoppable.

    What else in the world can we count on?

    Alas, we had to relearn that lesson this season—a season Texas A&M entered on the outside of the national Top 20. We doubted what Sumlin could do in the post-Johnny Manziel era, as he was breaking in a new young quarterback in Kenny Hill, a talented but untested group of pass-catchers and a defense that was gouged by attrition.

    All the Aggies did in the season opener was go to South Carolina, a presumed Top 10 team, and put up 680 yards of total offense and 52 points in front of a national television audience.

    I don't think we'll be doubting Sumlin again.

UCLA Hasn't Turned the Corner (Quite Yet)

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    To quote Fox Sports' Stewart Mandel: "I will not overreact to Week 1…I will not overreact to Week 1…I will not overreact to Week 1."

    It's hard to fight the urge, though, after watching UCLA pull a more-of-the-same performance at Virginia. It won with a dominating defense, and Brett Hundley made some plays when he had to, but the offensive line was a mess that looked like it could linger all season.

    Hopefully, third-year starting center Jake Brendel can come back healthy and shore things up. Also, Virginia's front seven is good. That side of the ball has never been the problem for the Cavaliers, and they returned almost every important contributor from 2013.

    There are reasons to think UCLA can come back from this and validate the playoff-contender hype it received all offseason. Not kicking off at 9 a.m. California time should help.

    Still, after one week, the Bruins have not turned the corner so many people were hoping and projecting they would turn.

    For that, they go down as an early disappointment.

A Healthy Todd Gurley Is the Best Player in the Country

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    This wasn't a takeaway so much as a reinforcement. We knew it to be true, we just needed a reminder, preferably of the graphic variety.

    It doesn't get much more graphic than what Todd Gurley did against Clemson Saturday night. He needed only 15 carries and one kick return to reach 299 all-purpose yards and four touchdowns, and it looked even more impressive on tape than it did in the box score.

    The ankle that bothered Gurley last season and kept him limited in spring camp appears to be a thing of the distant past, which is not a good sign for the rest of the SEC East, the SEC and, really, the country.

    The team with the best player always has a chance to go far.

Texas' Defense Looks Nasty

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    Texas made a high-level group-of-five opponent look like a low-level Division II program on Saturday, holding North Texas to 94 total yards on 60 offensive plays.

    For the mathematically disinclined, that is 1.57 yards per play.

    Charlie Strong and Vance Bedford proved they knew what they were doing at Louisville the past few seasons: In 2013, for example, the Cardinals finished No. 10 in Football Outsiders' defensive F/+ ratings and had two converted offensive players (Calvin Pryor and Marcus Smith) taken in the first round of the NFL draft.

    Strong hasn't had this much highly rated talent at his disposal since leaving Florida, and it appears—for at least one week—that the players have bought into his culture-changing edicts wholeheartedly. Cedric Reed was a force to be reckoned with. Jordan Hicks looked healthy, and Hassan Ridgeway stole the show with two sacks.

    Based on what both teams showed Saturday, that Week 3 game between Texas and UCLA just got a whole lot more interesting.

The Big Ten West Will Be Brutal

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    Oy vey—this was painful to watch.

    Other than Nebraska (which looked great), Minnesota (which looked decent) and one half of Wisconsin, the seven members of the Big Ten West were a consistent shade of awful this weekend. Northwestern lost at home to Cal, Purdue barely beat Western Michigan and Illinois and Iowa let a pair of FCS teams stick around for 60 minutes.

    Purdue and Illinois were not being counted on to do much this season, but Northwestern and Iowa were disappointing. Because of their schedules, both looked like potential Big Ten sleepers during the offseason, but neither looked anything like it on the field.

    Unless Wisconsin, Iowa or Minnesota suddenly conjures up a passing game, Nebraska might have to carry the banner for this division. And even though the Huskers looked great in beating up on Florida Atlantic, the jury is still out on them until they play a real team.

    Even the ACC Coastal is laughing at this Week 1 performance.

…But the Big Ten East Might Be Awesome

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    The Big Ten's better half did its best to compensate for the West during Week 1, delivering solid performances across the board.

    Indiana could have done better finishing drives against Indiana State, and Ohio State took a while to get rolling against Navy, but for the most part, the East division looked strong from top to bottom.

    The competition wasn't great for Michigan, Michigan State and Maryland, but all three beat the stuffing out of their opponents. Penn State beat the defending Fiesta Bowl champion, UCF, on a last-second field goal in Ireland, and Rutgers won a true road game on the other side of the country against a bowl team from the Pac-12, beating Washington State in a shootout, 41-38.

    What might be the ceiling for the Big Ten East this season? It's safe to say it won't contend with the SEC West. But the Pac-12 North, SEC East and Pac-12 South (in that order) all look passable for the right to be called the second-best division in college football.

    Rutgers' win over Wazzou got the East off to a good start. How MSU fares at Oregon (and, to a lesser extent, how Ohio State fares against Virginia Tech) will go an even longer way next week.

Everett Golson Is Back (and Better Than Ever)

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    Everett Golson spent his season away from the program working out with George Whitfield, the quarterback guru famous for mentoring Johnny Manziel, Andrew Luck and countless other college superstars.

    Before having to scrap and claw with Malik Zaire for the starting job, that was the main storyline surrounding Golson's return. How much did he really improve? Because the guy who led Notre Dame to the national title game as a redshirt freshman was plenty good, and any improvement over that would make this offense scary.

    It was only 60 minutes, and it was only against Rice, but so far, Golson has been exactly as good as advertised. He finished with 336 yards of offense (295 passing, 41 rushing) and five total touchdowns in the opener, launching a couple of perfect deep balls that could have dropped into an unattended manhole had he wanted them to.

    It's really nice to have this back in our lives.

Auburn's Run Defense Is Still a Problem

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    Credit should be given where it's due to Ellis Johnson and the Auburn defense, which made some fine adjustments at halftime (while the opposition's assistant coaches were stuck in an elevator) and shut down Arkansas' offense in the third and fourth quarters.

    Despite this improvement, though, it's difficult to ignore the way Auburn got pushed around in the first two quarters. A defensive line that lost Dee Ford and Nosa Eguae to the NFL and Carl Lawson to a torn ACL struggled to find playmakers in both facets of the game.

    The holes Arkansas paved in the first half were chasmic, and the result was 151 largely unchallenged rushing yards. "Me and you could have gained 10 yards though those holes that Arkansas' offensive line was opening up," Barrett Sallee told Bleacher Report colleague Michael Felder—and only part of that was meant to be hyperbole.

    It's nice that Auburn's defense patched things over in the second half, but now we have to see if those instant fixes were lasting ones.

    Otherwise, a machine-like offense might go to waste.

Dee Hart Is as Good as Advertised

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    Dee Hart was never going to see time at Alabama, but falling behind T.J. Yeldon, Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake on the depth chart is nothing to feel ashamed about.

    It would happen to just about anyone.

    Hart was still a top-40 recruit in the 2011 class, and he earned that standing for a reason. He has great balance coming in and out of cuts, and he attacks downhill with an encouraging thrust of anger.

    Despite joining Colorado State in early August, Hart validated his pedigree in a starting role against Colorado, combining for 174 total yards and a couple of touchdowns on 25 touches. He looked like a miniature Devonta Freeman on his first score, and he helped the Rams start their season with a comeback win in a rivalry game.

    Not a bad debut at his new school.

The Old USC Is Gone—And That's a Good Thing

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    In the Lane Kiffin era, USC's offense was one step removed from Will Muschamp's. It wasn't quite "Big, Dumb and Ugly," but it was far from being svelte, smart and beautiful. 

    It always sort of felt like it was bland.

    But the old ways are gone under Steve Sarkisian, who, like Kiffin, learned under Pete Carroll at USC, but who, unlike Kiffin, has been willing to catch up with the times. The slow-it-down, pro-style offense gave way to a unit that ran 104 plays in one game.

    The offense Sarkisian unleashed was refreshing, predicated on getting the ball into his best players' hands after a season where Marqise Lee went underutilized. The result was a balanced 701-yard performance—424 through the air, 277 on the ground—and a breakout game for freshmen such as JuJu Smith and Adoree' Jackson.

    USC's depth is still concerning, but its first string can hang with (and beat) any other first string in the country. And it's the first string that will travel to play Stanford in next week's Pac-12 opener.

    That is shaping up to be a heck of a September football game.

Bo Wallace Is Still Bo Wallace

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    Bo Wallace is, and remains, the college football version of J.R. Smith.

    When he's on, he can win you a game; when he's not, he can throw you out of it. And good luck trying to predict if he'll be on.

    The hope in Oxford this offseason was that Wallace's shoulder—which he claims has never been healthy these past two years—was finally in ship-shape, and that because of it, he would become a more reliable passer and leader. Wallace's response to that was three interceptions against Boise State, each one as misguided as the last.

    It would help if Ole Miss had even the suspicion of a running game, but at some point, Wallace is going to run out of excuses. He's a player who can beat or lose to any opponent on any given night.

    You'd think a guy named Dr. Bo would have a steadier hand.

Christian Hackenberg Will Be Fine Without Allen Robinson

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    Christian Hackenberg will miss Allen Robinson—sure. The departed receiver was targeted on 38 percent (150 of 392) of Hackenberg's passes last season. You can't just paper over such a loss.

    But the leap Hackenberg has made from his freshman to his sophomore season looks big enough to mitigate Robinson's absence. The future No. 1 overall draft pick (yeah, I said it) completed 32 of 47 passes against a good UCF secondary in Ireland, finishing with the first 400-plus-yard passing day in Penn State history, one touchdown and a pair of unfortunate interceptions.

    Distributing the ball to receivers DaeSean Hamilton and Geno Lewis and tight end Jesse James, Hackenberg looked sharp and confident throughout, capping things off by leading an eight-play, 55-yard drive in less than 75 seconds to set up the game-winning field goal. On the most important play of the game—a 4th-and-3 on that final drive—he tucked the ball and ran for an eight-yard first down.

    The only person 'Hack can trust more than Robinson? Himself.

Tennessee Might Be Less Than "A Year Away"

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    "I like what the Vols are doing, but they're probably a year away. I think Utah State can get'em in Week 1."

    Sounds familiar, doesn't it?

    The sentiment above was the broad-stroke consensus on Tennessee this season: that Butch Jones has it moving in the right direction, that the freshman class will be special, but that with so much youth being relied on, 2014 would be another down year.

    But UT came out and wrecked Utah State in the season opener, bottling up Chuckie Keeton on defense and riding an efficient (if not decidedly unspectacular) offensive performance to a 38-7 win. The outcome was never in doubt after halftime.

    Does this mean it's time to reconsider our predictions for Tennessee's season? Maybe. Yes and no. Of course we should re-evaluate—we should always re-evaluate—but the offensive line still looked questionable, and it's unclear how much of Sunday's performance had to do with Utah State taking a step back.

    We'll learn a lot more when the Vols travel to Oklahoma in Week 3, but for now, it looks like they might be a year or so ahead of schedule.

Ohio State Needs an Offensive Line More Than a Quarterback

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    J.T. Barrett was solid in his first start for Ohio State. Not bad, not great—just solid. He didn't make anyone forget Braxton Miller, but he also didn't trigger any painful fever dreams of Joe Bauserman.

    And that seems like a pretty healthy trade-off.

    The Buckeyes' biggest problem Saturday wasn't the quarterback but the five guys charged with protecting him. Four starters are gone from last year's offensive line—a unit that advanced stats suggest was one of the three best in the country—and it showed against Navy in Annapolis. The battle in the trenches was a mess.

    Navy has an above-average but not great front seven, which made it a perfect Week 1 opponent for a rebuilt line. There was plenty for it to learn from a four-quarter struggle, teaching moments from a real, live game. Playing Navy will help the unit improve.

    The only question now is how fast? Because next week's opponent (Virginia Tech) has a more-than-above-average front seven, and if Ohio State leaves Barrett exposed again and doesn't open holes in the running game, it might not escape with a win.

Les Miles Is Up to the Same Old Tricks

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    Week 1 was more of the same for Les Miles, whose team, LSU, fell behind, ran a fake punt to seize momentum and then rode the running game to a comeback victory over Wisconsin, 28-24.

    Different story, same script.

    In a postgame interview with ESPN's Todd McShay, Miles said he ran the fake punt—which was converted on a run by linebacker Kendell Beckwith—despite the fact that his team had the wrong personnel grouping on the field, per David Fox of

    In short, he played it fast and loose and ended up in the winner's circle because of it. It was a stock addition to the Mad Hatter's canon, the type of performance that Bleacher Report's Marc Torrence was right to call "the most Les Miles game ever."

    And he commemorated it in epic style.

You're Still Not Paying Enough Attention to Tevin Coleman

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    For a long time now, I've been calling Tevin Coleman the best running back you've never heard of. At this point, he is no longer that. He's the best running back you should have heard of, that you're crazy for (and only hurting yourself by) not watching.

    Yes, it was "only Indiana State," but Coleman ran all over the place in his 2014 debut, taking 23 carries for 247 yards and two touchdowns. On the heels of his dominant big-play performance last year—when he led the country in highlight yards per opportunity, per Bill Connelly of Football Study Hall—it was the perfect way to return.

    And for those pre-typing, Yeah, but look who it came against! into the comment section, remember that Coleman was the only player in the country with a 60-yard run against Michigan State last year.

    He does this to just about everyone.

Washington Needs Cyler Miles to Be Legit

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    Hawaii is an underrated team, and the trip to Honolulu is more daunting than it sounds, but there is no viable excuse for how bad Washington's offense looked in Chris Petersen's debut.

    Quarterback Jeff Lindquist basically handed the job back to Cyler Miles once he returns from his suspension, completing 10 of 26 passes for 162 yards and leading the team to all of zero second-half points.

    According to Christian Caple of the Tacoma News Tribune, Petersen announced Miles as the Week 2 starter on Monday, saying, "It always comes down to…decision-making and accuracy, and I hope [Miles] takes a good step forward in that department for us."

    Compared with how Lindquist looked in Week 1, it would be hard for Miles not to take a good step forward in that department, but decision-making and accuracy are not exactly the positives on his scouting report. In truth, they're the red flags behind his playmaking.

    Next week's opponent, Eastern Washington, may be an FCS team, but quarterback Vernon Adams led it to 49 points in a win at Oregon State last season. The Eagles will get their big plays against the Huskies.

    Miles had better be ready to fire back.

Virginia Tech Found a Running Back—and He's a True Freshman!

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    Shai McKenzie was the No. 243 overall player and No. 17 running back in the 2014 recruiting class, but one week into the season, he's the clubhouse leader for "Breakout Freshman Rusher of the Year."

    Emerging from a Virginia Tech backfield that's been dying for someone to step up and grab the reins, McKenzie took nine carries for 106 yards and one score against William & Mary, highlighted by a 39-yard touchdown run that showcased a nifty blend of power, speed and balance.

    At 5'11", 221 pounds, McKenzie has the size to be a prototypical Hokies running back, the type who barrels hard between the tackles, picks up yards in small bunches, moves the chains, wears down the other team's defense and keeps his own defense off the field.

    He'll get a sterner test from Ohio State next weekend.

The Michigan Offense Will Be Better

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    We can't say for sure how much better it will be after one good game against Appalachian State, but Michigan's offense will not be the same, flimsy, banal pushover that it was under Al Borges.

    Not with new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier calling the shots.

    The Wolverines offensive line held firm in the first game of the season, plowing room for Derrick Green and De'Veon Smith to rush for 285 yards on 23 carries. The team's average of 9.72 yards per rush was more than four yards higher than last year's highest mark.

    In the passing game, quarterback Devin Gardner looked sharp, and 6'5" receiver Devin Funchess reeled in three first-half touchdowns. The degree of difficulty will be considerably higher against Notre Dame next week, but Gardner and Funchess are two physically gifted specimens who appear to be grazing their potential.

    Again, all of this has to be viewed in context, but because Michigan looked so hideous on offense at the end of last season, it is hard not to get excited about what happened in the Big House on Saturday.

    Regardless of the level of opponent.

Chad Morris and Lorenzo Ward Need Players

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    The state of South Carolina is home to two of the highest-paid assistant coaches in the country: Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris and South Carolina defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward.

    For the most part, both of those guys have lived up to their billings (literally) the past two seasons, but they've also been blessed with superior personnel. There's a reason guys like Jadeveon Clowney and Sammy Watkins end up going in the top five of the NFL draft.

    But neither coordinator looked great in his first game after a mass exodus of talent. Ward's defense was a sieve against Texas A&M, surrendering close to 700 yards and 52 points, and Morris' offense stalled for 15 second-half yards in a blowout loss at Georgia.

    Is this to say that either coach is overrated? No. They're still among the best in the country at their respective jobs.

    But there's a difference between "among the best" and actually the best, and that difference comes to light when players leave and the system is forced to cover up their departures.

    (For the flip side of this, go back and re-read the Sumlin slide.)

UTSA Is the Early Group-of-Five Darling

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    UTSA was the group-of-five darling of Week 1 and has a chance to extend that throughout the season.

    The Roadrunners' pass defense was sound and aggressive against Houston Friday night, holding sophomore quarterback John O'Korn to 4.7 yards per attempt and forcing him into four interceptions. His QB rating of 70.09 was almost half of last year's total (133.02).

    Larry Coker's team has only existed for four years, which means its first recruiting class is all grown up. Phil Steele ranked UTSA first in the country on his preseason combined experience chart, and with 19 senior starters, it's not hard to see why.

    If it can pull an upset in one of its next two games—home to Arizona and at Oklahoma State—UTSA will be well-positioned to make a run at the automatic qualifier spot in a CFP bowl. If Week 1 was any indication, those upsets are not entirely far-fetched.

    The Roadrunners are coming for 'yaBeep-Beep.

Missouri Is a Work in Progress

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    Missouri went 12-2 last season, won the SEC East and came within 15 minutes of (likely) making the BCS National Championship Game.

    It also lost a lot of talent from that team.

    The obvious places to point are at the skill positions, where quarterback James Franklin, running back Henry Josey and receivers L'Damian Washington, Dorial Green-Beckham and Marcus Lucas all departed, but also along the offensive line (Justin Britt), at defensive end (Kony Ealy and Michael Sam) and in the secondary (E.J. Gaines), the Tigers lost All-SEC players who are not fungible to replace.

    The result of that attrition was obvious on Saturday, when Missouri struggled to put away FCS South Dakota State, which actually cut the Tigers' lead to 21-18 in the third quarter. At every level of both sides of the ball, Gary Pinkel's team looked like a work in progress.

    Does that mean it will stink this season? Not quite. But Missouri better come together fast.

    The next three nonconference games (at Toledo, vs. UCF and vs. Indiana) all stand out as losable, and they're followed by a road game at South Carolina, a home game against Georgia and a road game at Florida to start conference play.

Vanderbilt Is the Worst Team in the SEC

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    …And it isn't even all that close.

    The Commodores got their bell rung by Temple in the first game of the post-James Franklin era, shuffling through three quarterbacks and gaining less than 4.5 yards per play en route to a 37-7 loss.

    Derek Mason's team wasn't outplayed as badly as the final score indicates, but that's not the point. The point is that it was outplayed at all. At home. By Temple. And that it did that in a week where the other presumed worst teams in the SEC (Arkansas and Kentucky) were either hanging tough at Auburn or beating down on UT-Martin.

    Vandy has played in three consecutive bowl games, but if folks in Nashville had making a fourth listed as a goal for 2014, they'll probably want to temper that down to something more realistic.

    Even if everything goes right, the ceiling here looks like five wins.

Todd Grantham Did Not Ruin Louisville's Defense

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    This last slide could have easily read "Brad Kaaya is not Miami's Quarterback of the Present," but instead, let's skew positive.

    Todd Grantham was among the most contentious assistant coaching hires of the offseason, especially at a $1 million salary. The reported strife between him and head coach Bobby Petrino didn't help. How could the guy who didn't maximize 5- and 4-star talent at Georgia be the right choice to rebuild with 4- and 3-star talent at Louisville?

    One week into the Grantham experiment, however, things look pretty decent. Getting to play a night game at home against a true freshman quarterback was part of it, but even in a vacuum, the Cardinals played fast and aggressive and allowed just 244 total yards, one of 12 third-down conversions and 13 points against Miami.

    Lorenzo Mauldin looked great in his debut at outside linebacker (via defensive end) and is a legit All-America threat this season.


    Note: All recruiting info refers to the 247Sports' composite rankings.

    Follow Brian Leigh on Twitter: @BLeighDAT