When Brent Schaeffer took the field at Neyland Stadium last night, the 18-year-old became the first freshman quarterback to start a season opener for Tennessee. Over one summer he went from attending homeroom to performing before 100,000 fans.
At least Schaeffer knew he was in good company. Three other freshmen, all 19, made stellar debuts this weekend for high-profile programs.
Danny Ware, Georgia: No Bulldogs running back had rushed for 100 yards in a game since the Sugar Bowl after the 2002 season. But Ware, the first freshman tailback to start a season opener for Georgia since 1943, did so Saturday, running for 135 yards on 18 carries. Not even former Georgia running back Herschel Walker accomplished that in his first game.
Ware also scored three touchdowns on runs of 10, 3 and 6 yards in the Bulldogs' 48-28 win over Georgia Southern. In the eyes of teammates, Ware was just living up to expectations. "If he did something other than run guys over and score," running back Tyson Browning told the Macon Telegraph, "I would think he was slipping."
Chad Henne, Michigan: The quarterback became the first Michigan freshman passer to start a season opener since Rick Leach in 1975. Expected starter Matt Gutierrez had a sore arm and was able to only hold on kicks. Henne played through early nervousness to throw for 142 yards and two touchdowns in Michigan's 43-10 victory over Miami (Ohio).
Although Henne almost threw an early interception, he settled down to complete 14 of 24 passes with one interception. Michigan Coach Lloyd Carr was impressed with how Henne handled communication with his teammates.
"You got 100-some thousand fans out there when you look up," Henne told reporters afterward. "It's like, this isn't high school."
Adrian Peterson, Oklahoma: The running back is considered by some to be Coach Bob Stoops's best offensive recruit. Peterson averaged 11.7 yards per carry and scored 32 touchdowns as a high school senior in Texas, while being regarded as the nation's top prospect.
He wasted no time enhancing his reputation in his debut Saturday in Oklahoma's 40-24 victory over Bowling Green. Peterson rushed for 100 yards on 16 carries, including a 35-yard third-quarter touchdown run. Perhaps the best news for Sooners fans was that afterward he told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, "I'm going to get better."
SEC's Historic Day
Sylvester Croom waited 28 years for Saturday. The Southeastern Conference waited 71 years.
Croom, a college and NFL assistant for nearly three decades, made his head coaching debut Saturday with Mississippi State, ushering in a new era as the first black SEC football head coach. It was an historic day in Starkville, Miss., even for Croom, who, since hired in December, has tried to avoid the subject of his social significance.
"Even on the bus ride over, I thought to myself, 'Twenty-eight years working toward this day, and now it's here,' " Croom told reporters afterward. "A dream that was an impossible dream at one time today was a reality."
Players said Croom, 49, has emphasized conditioning and a winning attitude at Mississippi State, which has won only eight games the past three seasons combined. The Bulldogs on Saturday achieved half their win total of 2003 by beating Tulane, 28-7. His task remains daunting, though, because the NCAA is expected to sanction the program for violations that occurred under former coach Jackie Sherrill.
Croom, the son of a Baptist minister, is a Tuscaloosa, Ala., native who played for and coached under Bear Bryant. And yet he was looked over when the Crimson Tide job opened last year. Now, he has his opportunity.
At 4:15 a.m. EDT yesterday, around the time Louisiana State fans were getting a second wind in Baton Rouge, Hawaii lost to Florida Atlantic in one of the biggest surprises this weekend. The Warriors were three-touchdown favorites hosting a Division I-AA team that had virtually its entire starting lineup back from last season.
The defeat, 35-28 in overtime, all but squashed the Heisman Trophy hopes of Timmy Chang, the Hawaii quarterback who completed 38 of 66 passes for 302 yards and two touchdowns. Chang now is only 1,916 yards shy of breaking the 13-year-old NCAA career passing mark set by Brigham Young's Ty Detmer.
Florida Atlantic's coach is Howard Schnellenberger, who led Miami to the 1983 national title. While Florida Atlantic won't be given official Division I-A membership until 2006, players already have their coach's vision. "We know we can play with any team out there, whether it's Hawaii, Florida State, Miami," Florida Atlantic tight end Anthony Crissinger-Hill told the Honolulu Advertiser. "There's a lot of talent in Florida."
West Virginia recorded 478 rushing yards against East Carolina. In the previous two seasons, the Mountaineers ran for 361 and a Big East-record 536 against the Pirates. . . . Auburn, which unveiled a West Coast offense Saturday, fared better than it did in last year's opener. The Tigers beat Louisiana-Monroe, 31-0, this season; last year they lost to Southern Cal, 23-0. . . . Minnesota walloped Mid-American Conference favorite Toledo 63-21 in a record-setting offensive clinic. The Golden Gophers have Rose Bowl hopes because of a schedule that does not include Ohio State or Purdue.