The first weekend of the college football season is more about the hype than the games.
The power teams are almost always looking for an easy win. The non-power teams are searching for a big payday. Most usually get their wish.
All of that said, there are always a few lessons to be learned from at least a handful of season-openers, even in a week when the only ranked teams that lost did so to teams ranked higher than they were; the most notable of those games being Alabama’s 41-14 blowout of Michigan. Lesson learned? Alabama doesn’t rebuild on defense, it reloads. Second lesson learned? Brady Hoke did a remarkable job getting Michigan turned around a year ago, but the Wolverines, even with Denard Robinson back for his senior year, are still a long way from being good enough to compete with the big boys.
The big boys being the SEC . . . again. Oh sure, Clemson beat Auburn to give the ACC a moment of respectability, but Auburn post-Cam Newton is a little bit like the Chicago Bulls post-Michael Jordan. Clemson, along with Florida State and Virginia Tech, no doubt is the best the ACC has to offer. That means the Tigers—like Michigan—MIGHT be good enough to finish in the top six in the SEC.
Actually, that might be optimistic given that the SEC can offer up Alabama (which looked very much like the best team in the country on Saturday), LSU, Arkansas, Georgia, Florida and South Carolina. Even Tennessee showed spark in beating an allegedly decent North Carolina State team on Friday night.
Of course, Florida didn’t exactly dominate Bowling Green and appears to have quarterback issues. South Carolina was lucky to get out of Vanderbilt on Thursday with a win and quarterback Connor Shaw missed a couple of series after his arm and shoulder were rolled up on late in the second quarter. He came back to lead the winning touchdown drive in the fourth quarter but Coach Steve Spurrier, who is 67, might be the Gamecocks’ second-best quarterback.
“Yeah, that third quarter I was havin’ trouble coming up with any ball plays that would work,” Spurrier said the day after the 17-13 victory. “We need ol’ Connor out there healthy. Fortunately, he’s a tough kid.”
He had better be if South Carolina wants to come anywhere close to matching the school-record 11 victories it produced a year ago.
One other thing Week 1 proved: Dominant quarterbacks are not easily replaced. Boise State was 50-3 during Kellen Moore’s four years as the starting quarterback. It is now 0-1 without him after it stumbled around offensively most of the night in a 17-13 loss at Michigan State. It isn’t as if the Broncos looked incompetent against a good team that was playing as home, they just didn’t look like, well, Boise State, the team that made a tradition of traveling east in September to make big-name teams look bad with Moore at the helm.
The same can be said for Stanford, which played at home against a much weaker opponent—San Jose State—in its debut without Andrew Luck and managed to escape with a 20-17 victory. Do not expect to see either Stanford or Boise State in a BCS bowl come January. Of course Boise was left out of the BCS picture last year because it lost—gasp!—one game.
Baylor opened the post-Robert Griffin III era against SMU on Sunday evening with a 59-24 rout. But they won’t all be that easy.
Penn State, as the world knows, began a football season without Joe Paterno on staff for the first time since 1950. All the brave talk about winning without the nine August transfers and after all that has gone on in the past 10 months was muted in the second half when a solid Ohio University team outscored the Nittany Lions 21-0 en route to a 24-14 victory. Fewer than 100,000 fans showed up—a rarity at Penn State. Expect those crowds to dwindle as the weather turns colder.
As for the local teams, the two best stories this fall will probably not receive the attention they deserve. That’s because Georgetown and Howard play in the so-called Football Championship Subdivision.
A year ago, Georgetown produced a turnaround season after years of being awful in the Patriot League and came within one victory of making the postseason before losing its finale at Lehigh and finishing 8-3. This year, the Hoyas return most of their key players and Lehigh does not. Georgetown opened with an easy 35-14 win at Davidson on Saturday.
Howard also had a turnaround season last fall, going from 1-10 to 5-6 under first year Coach Gary “Flea” Harrell. But the Bison had a bad offseason with several key players declared ineligible to start the season because of a scandal involving misuse of textbook funds. Harrell was forced to go with freshman quarterback Jamie Cunningham in the second half of Saturday’s opener against Morehouse. Cunningham came through, rallying the Bison to a 30-29 victory.
As for the local big boys? Well, Maryland managed to escape the embarrassment of losing to an FCS team in front of almost no one in Byrd Stadium. The Very-Young Terrapins (that will be their official name all fall) turned it over four times against William & Mary but the Tribe didn’t have enough offense to take advantage and Maryland escaped, 7-6. The next three weeks will reveal a lot with games at Temple, home against Connecticut and at West Virginia.
The best news for Navy is also schedule-related: the Mids should be favored in at least eight of their remaining 11 games after being embarrassed, 50-10, by Notre Dame on Saturday. The home schedule includes VMI, San Jose State, Indiana, Florida Atlantic (only one win a year ago) and Texas State.
The golden era in which Navy shocked Notre Dame three years out of four is clearly over. The Irish have beaten the Mids by a combined 106-24 the past two years—including a classless rub-it-in touchdown in the final minute in Dublin.
The good news is Navy’s next game is at Penn State. If there were ever a year to have the Nittany Lions on the schedule, this is clearly it.