[Tom Pennington – WAPT News]
In the end, the first weekend of college football was much like it always is – despite being branded as the [GOAT emoji] opening stanza of the season by ESPN. Teams shook off the rust-induced brain-farts; coaches rotated quarterbacks without rhyme or reason, both established (Brian Kelly) and not (Kirby Smart); Alabama destroyed some poor saps; there were a number of nail-biters, blowouts, near-upsets, and, as Michigan fans can attest, some perfunctory cupcake gorging. It was an ordinary week one, but after several months without football, it was a very welcome sight.
Some people will try to tell you that the SEC looked poor in Week One. However, as we all know, a conference is defined entirely by the performance of its best team; based on ALABAMA pummeling USC, the conference looks tremendous. The only scoring in the first quarter was a Trojan field goal, but the Tide eventually got in gear and won 52-6. They looked every bit the top-ranked team they are, and the biggest question entering the season (quarterback) might have been solved by precocious freshman Jalen Hurts. The defense overwhelmed USC as easily as if they’d been a mid-November FCS cupcake. We don’t know how good USC will be and they were dealing with injuries on the offensive line (which is pretty much the worst-case scenario vs. Bama) but the Tide definitely looked the part of a national title frontrunner. By extension, the SEC looked great.
[after the JUMP, other conferences]
One of the best matchups of the weekend was Wisconsin – LSU
: the Tigers, entering the season with a good amount of hype, were perplexingly impotent on offense en route to a 16-14 upset loss in Green Bay. Superstar RB Leonard Fournette was kept mostly in check by a solid Badger front seven, but the real story on that end was quarterback Brandon Harris, who was pretty terrible, throwing for 5.3 yards per on attempts when there was no pressure, per PFF
. LSU has had one of the worst passing attacks in the nation in recent years and it looks like more of the same, despite the ubiquitous presence of top talent at receiver. With a pick-six to the defense’s credit, the Tigers only put up seven points on offense, and wound up being caught up in one of those hideous Les Miles rock fights that end with field goal luck making an inordinate impact on the outcome. With Wisconsin kicker Rafael Gaglianone going 3-3 and hitting a long one late, LSU lost a game in which its defense was largely dominant. They look much closer to a 7-5 / 8-4 team than an SEC West contender.
In the same 3:30 window, TEXAS A&M managed to hold on at home and notch a nice win over UCLA. The Aggies lost a 24-9 lead in the fourth, but wound up winning in overtime after a Bruin receiver dropped a would-be touchdown before the decisive fourth down play. John Chavis has made his mark as A&M’s defensive coordinator – the Aggies forced three picks from highly-regarded UCLA QB Josh Rosen with a ton of pressure, mainly from ends Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall. Strangely, Kevin Sumlin’s offense didn’t look great with Oklahoma transfer Trevor Knight running the show, but there’s definitely talent at the skill positions. If the Aggies continue to play at a high level defensively, there could be a bounce-back season in College Station. AUBURN, a program in similar circumstances, came close to upsetting highly-ranked Clemson behind a fantastic defensive performance, but offensive guru Gus Malzahn couldn’t get enough offense to pull it off. All in all, the Tigers (Auburn, not Clemson) acquitted themselves well.
More on this game in the ACC section, but last night’s contest between Florida State and OLE MISS was a deeply weird game – the Rebels ran out to a 28-6 lead in the second quarter and looked nearly dominant on both sides of the ball; by the time the game was over, FSU had hit six field goals, totally flipped the script on both sides of the ball in the 3rd quarter, and eventually won 45-34. Ole Miss’ inability to run the ball put pressure on Chad Kelly that the swashbuckling QB wasn’t able to handle well, but still, the Rebels scored 34 points – it was a defensive collapse against a redshirt freshman quarterback (Deondre Francois) that lost them the game. Florida State wasn’t really able to handle the Ole Miss pass rush either, which makes Francois’s 478 yards of total offense all the more impressive.
[Alex Kormann – The Daily Tar Heel]
A slightly less high-profile game was North Carolina – GEORGIA; a healthy dose of Nick Chubb against what was a hideously inept UNC run defense in 2015 was the difference in a 33-24 win. Kirby Smart alternated between uninspiring vet Greyson Lambert and hotshot freshman Jacob Eason at quarterback, and Eason looked like he’d be a better bet moving forward – still, giving the ball to Chubb (who had 32 carries, 222 yards, and two touchdowns, including a 55-yard scamper to seal the win) a lot is a strong strategy. As with all Week One matchups, a game can only tell us something about the two teams involved, so we don’t know how good UNC is, but Georgia should make some noise in the SEC East hunt. That the Dawgs scored 19 unanswered points to win against a ranked opponent is definitely an encouraging sign.
There were some near-upsets: TENNESSEE needed to rally late to force overtime against Appalachian State (where they won, 20-13) and ARKANSAS beat Louisiana Tech by a single point after scoring a late touchdown. The Vols are the consensus pick to win the SEC East, but their Mike DeBord-led offense seems to misuse its stockpile of talent with poor playcalling and indifferent-at-best quarterback play. Tennessee’s defense was dominant enough to stifle Appalachian State after going into the half down 13-3, but the Vols’ offense seems destined to doom them sooner or later. Arkansas typically looks bad in September under Bielema, but at least they won; that’s more than MISSISSIPPI STATE can say after they lost a 17-point halftime lead and CLANGA’d a would-be game-winning field goal in the dying seconds of the game… against 28-point underdog South Alabama.
The rest of the SEC East was mostly meh: SOUTH CAROLINA emerged victorious after a late field goal against VANDERBILT (winner of Week One’s annual “Game Most Likely to Resemble Eight-Year Olds Fighting with Foam Pool Noodles” award); KENTUCKY allowed 34 unanswered points at home against Southern Miss after leading 35-10, which is a really bad result for embattled coach Mark Stoops. MISSOURI picked up from where they left off, losing a game with a goofy score (26-11) to West Virginia; FLORIDA won comfortably against Massachusetts after a sleepy start.
Since Alabama was so good, we don’t need to think about how the rest of the SEC went 5-6 against out-of-conference foes, featuring some shaky wins and bad losses. It’s worth noting that Bama’s three toughest opponents – LSU, Ole Miss, Tennessee – all kind of tripped over themselves to varying degrees (LSU’s offense was a no-show, Ole Miss fell apart in the second half, Tennessee’s offense barely cobbled together enough plays to defeat a Group of Five foe). Week One didn’t tell us anything other than that Alabama is ready to take on the SEC mantle in 2016 and they’re a ways ahead of their competitors right now.
[George Bridges – ABC 13]
Perhaps the most interesting matchup of the season’s opening weekend was OKLAHOMA – Houston; the Big 12 is embroiled in expansion talk, Houston is an ostensible candidate, and both teams were coming off of excellent seasons (OU won the Big 12 outright and made the playoff, Houston was the best Group of Five team and won the Peach Bowl against Florida State). The Sooners were simply outplayed by UH, but a critical 109-yard FG return for a touchdown (Kick-Six style) was a ten-point swing that was eventually the winning margin (33-23). Because they didn’t even attempt to fill lanes on an extremely long FG attempt with a returner back, it’s reasonable to assume that Oklahoma’s error there was one of coaching. Later in the 3rd quarter, Oklahoma missed a sure trick play touchdown and promptly turned the ball over afterwards. OU QB Baker Mayfield played below his standard on Saturday and, inexplicably, the Sooner brain trust gave him 49 touches (pass attempts + rushes) while outstanding RBs Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon combined for 71 yards on just 12 carries. The Sooner defense wasn’t able to successfully leverage its advantage in the trenches into general defensive success because of the ability of Houston QB Greg Ward and his receivers. While Oklahoma isn’t completely out of the playoff race by any means, they have plenty to fix before Ohio State rolls into town in two weeks.
Regardless of their playoff chances this season (and I think it would be really interesting to see if they’d get in over a two-loss Power Five champ), Houston looks very legit and is the obvious choice for one of the two spots up for grabs in Big 12 expansion. If they aren’t added to the league, it will definitely feel like the rest of the conference is afraid of adding another good program in the state of Texas. The subtext to Saturday’s win was that the Cougars demonstrated that they were already better than the Big 12’s best.
[John Rivera – Today’s U]
In 2015, Notre Dame put up an embarrassing 38-3 score line against TEXAS, but on the second leg of the home-and-home, the Horns won a 50-47 double overtime thriller against the Fighting Irish, Charlie Strong’s best win to date at UT. New offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert came from the Briles coaching tree and remade a wretched attack in that image; Texas balanced a quarterback platoon of true freshman Shane Buchele and Tyrone Swoopes, who comes in as a jumbo runner, perhaps the best of anybody in all of college football (including Notre Dame, who gave possessions that seemingly should have gone to DeShone Kizer to Malik Zaire instead) and lit up the scoreboard against what should be a decent Irish defense. ND rallied from down 31-14 to force overtime after a late blocked-PAT-return-for-two tied the game with less than five minutes left, but settling for a field goal in the second overtime period ultimately doomed them. The obligatory Week One caveats apply, but it’s hard to argue that anybody’s stock is up more than Texas’s after one game in the books. At the very least, Strong has finally found an offense at UT.
Plenty of Big 12 teams won their opener, though nobody came close to the Horns’ quality of win. Missouri was terrible last year and could be again, so a win from WEST VIRGINIA over the Tigers was more of a relief than anything else. BAYLOR, TEXAS TECH, OKLAHOMA STATE, KANSAS(!) and TCU all hung gaudy point totals on FCS foes, but TCU also conceded 41 points in what was a three-score win over South Dakota State (the game was tied at halftime). Kansas, who went 0-12 last season, beat up on Rhode Island (55-6) and elicited a very modest field-storming that resulted in the PA announcer imploring the students not to embarrass the program. IOWA STATE actually lost to an FCS team (Northern Iowa) and what’s really embarrassing is that it wasn’t particularly hard to see that “upset” coming.
KANSAS STATE dropped a tough road game against Stanford by the score of 26-13. It still feels weird that it’s the case, but it’s reasonable to expect the Cardinal to be good year-in and year-out.
[Morry Gash – News Observer]
The story of Week One in the B1G is WISCONSIN, who notched the league’s best (regular season) non-conference result in some time. Even though new starting QB Bart Houston was average for stretches with brutal mistakes sprinkled in, TE Troy Fumagalli was a great safety valve and the running game was good enough (30 carries for 130 yards between the Badgers’ top two backs) to eke out a win. Of course, the story of the game was the Wisconsin defense: linebackers TJ Watt and Vince Biegel made LSU’s iffy QB uncomfortable and helped set the tone against Fournette in the running game. Perhaps it will be less effective when opponents start throwing “paper” and “scissors” instead of “rock” all the time, but LSU’s “rock” is usually excellent and the Badger’s defense was dominant for pretty much the entire contest and Wisconsin outplayed LSU on aggregate.
Entering the season, people took one look at the Wisconsin schedule and predicted doom for the Badgers; even though trips to Michigan State, Michigan, and Iowa as well as a home game against Ohio State remain, the LSU fixture unexpectedly resulted in a win. At the very least, Wisconsin’s odds of contending in the B1G West have seemingly gone up; if they were good enough to upset an LSU team that was considered a national title contender (though it’s worth noting that the Tigers’ play suggested something far less than that), they’re good enough to win that division.
Outside of that, there were several wins across the league, but few could be considered good. MINNESOTA notched a 30-23 home win against a Power Five opponent, but it was probably one of the worst P5 teams in the country in Oregon State. OHIO STATE and MICHIGAN absolutely destroyed Bowling Green and Hawaii, respectively (and BGSU was actually good last season). Like OSU, PENN STATE and IOWA took care of their MAC opponents; NEBRASKA and INDIANA also had smooth sailing against Group of Five (i.e. mid-major) opponents. MARYLAND and ILLINOIS dispatched their FCS sacrifices handily, and while PURDUE and MICHIGAN STATE defeated theirs, it took a little more effort.
While most of the conference won comfortably against their Week One foes, NORTHWESTERN stubbed their toe in horrifying fashion against a pretty darn good Western Michigan team, 22-21. (Side note: with games remaining against Illinois and NIU, the Broncos have an excellent chance of winning the state title). Both teams ran the ball for about four yards per carry and neither quarterback put together a good performance; the biggest difference was that backbreaking Clayton Thorson fumble into the end zone late in the fourth (the only turnover of the game) and Western’s ability to string together some long drives, hit some field goals, and run far more plays than the Wildcats were able to. While this doesn’t necessarily preclude Northwestern from contending in the West, it’s an inauspicious start for a team that won ten games in 2015.
RUTGERS was the only B1G team to play the role of non-conference cannon fodder, as they traveled to Washington – considered a Pac-12 contender – and were handed a 48-13 loss.
[Joe Rondone – Tallahassee Democrat]
It’s amazing how quickly perception changes early in the season: before the game last night, FLORIDA STATE was a trendy pick to contend for a playoff bid and perhaps a national title – plenty of starters (and stars) were back on both sides of the ball and redshirt freshman QB Deondre Francois was supposed to be an upgrade. By about midway through the second quarter, after the Noles looked helpless on offense in the face of a brutal pass rush and after their secondary gave up some huge plays to Ole Miss’ vertical passing offense, Twitter was ready to declare them a fraud (myself included). A touchdown at the end of the first half made it a two-score game and a dominant 3rd quarter (in which Florida State outscored Ole Miss 23-0) quickly erased those sentiments. Francois made good use of his weapons and looked positively great after a shaky start despite facing pressure and taking hits pretty much all game. Star RB Dalvin Cook recovered from a crazy unforced fumble to put together a mostly good game, but Francois stole the show. After some glitches, the FSU defense was eventually able to contain Ole Miss’ passing game and a six-point second half was a massive improvement from the first stanza.
Despite one of Deshaun Watson’s most uneven performances under center for CLEMSON, they escaped an upset bid from Auburn behind an impressive defensive performance. Both RB Wayne Gallman and Watson were held in check on the ground by the Auburn defense; star Clemson WR Mike Williams looked great in his first game back from a devastating injury – the rapport between he and Watson was the Tigers’ best work on offense. It’s hard whether to assess more blame to Auburn or more credit to Clemson for holding the former to just 13 points, but the significant level of dysfunction from the quarterback position in the AU offense seems to have continued from last season. Regardless, Clemson played a talented opponent in a true road game to open the year and a win in that situation is always at least somewhat impressive, even if it’s a 19-13 clunker. That Dabo almost mismanaged his way into a late Hail Mary loss (instead of kicking a short field goal to go up nine and seal the win, he went for it on fourth down) kind of encapsulates how Clemson played: they got in their own way a little bit, but not enough to lose.
The favorite in the ACC Coastal is still probably NORTH CAROLINA, though seeing their lead slip away to eventually lose their opener to Georgia was a tough way to start the season. One potential point of concern is quarterback – Mitch Trubisky decisively won the job but struggled, throwing for just 156 yards on 40 attempts. Credit should go to RB / KR TJ Logan for injecting some life into the Tar Heel offense, though if their passing game doesn’t improve, they might take a huge step back from last season’s eleven-win campaign.
There were a number of blowouts: LOUISVILLE beat Charlotte 70-14 and had eight total first half touchdowns from wonderful sophomore QB Lamar Jackson; NC STATE, SYRACUSE, VIRGINIA TECH, PITT, DUKE, and MIAMI all defeated their FCS appetizers, but sometimes the appetizer eats you and VIRGINIA – in their first season under Bronco Mendenhall – lost to FCS Richmond 37-20.
Like the SEC, the ACC started Week One with a single conference matchup featuring two offensively challenged teams in a close game: GEORGIA TECH defeated BOSTON COLLEGE 17-14 in a contest that took place in Ireland. Dedrick Mills’s short touchdown run with less than a minute left (after some surprisingly effective throws down the field) was the decisive score for the Yellow Jackets.
WAKE FOREST beat Tulane by the awful score of 7-3 – one of college football’s weirdest stats: WF coach Dave Clawson is 3-2 in games that saw the Demon Deacons score in single digits (4-16 in all other games).
[Ezra Shaw – LA Times]
The Pac-12 went 2-3 against fellow Power Five opponents in Week One, and since WASHINGTON defeated a team that only fits the strictest definition of “Power Five” (Rutgers), STANFORD had the best win of the opening weekend of any Pac-12 team by taking down Kansas State by a pedestrian 26-13 score. The Wildcats suggested that they may be a bit better than they were in 2015, but Stanford let them hang around after leading 17-0 early; a late touchdown run by Christian McCaffery (his second of the day) sealed things late after KSU had made it a one-score game. Determining whether Stanford’s defense was good (like last year) or KSU’s offense was simply horrible (like last year) is one of those fun Week One paradoxes that don’t get solved for a while.
Aside from those that win (which wasn’t particularly great in and of itself), few teams impressed in victory: UTAH, ARIZONA STATE, and OREGON took care of weak FCS foes, while COLORADO smoked rival Colorado State 44-7 (which might have been the conference’s best result, period). CAL didn’t play after defeating Hawaii in Week Zero.
USC and UCLA each lost to SEC West teams in the state of Texas: the Trojans were overwhelmed by Alabama in Jerryworld and the only silver lining is that they won’t have to face a team with that talent level again; UCLA underachieved in the first half and couldn’t get all the way back in a tough road environment against Texas A&M. Josh Rosen had a tougher-than-usual outing against the Aggies and, in addition to his picks, he was hit a lot – the A&M pass rush will probably be the best that UCLA will face all season. The Bruins are probably the better of the two teams, but the Pac-12 South is wide open and a few weeks will have gone by before there’s much clarity in that race.
There were a few other losses across the league. WASHINGTON STATE started the season with a home loss to an FCS team for the second straight season, losing to Eastern Washington in a game in which EWU’s best player, a WR, caught 12 passes for 206 yards and 3 touchdowns. ARIZONA took a late lead against BYU despite trailing 15-3 with ten minutes left; a last-second field goal was the winner in an 18-16 contest at a neutral site (which was located in Arizona but probably had more BYU fans). As mentioned earlier, OREGON STATE lost to Minnesota.