Michigan’s starting lineup was wiped out by graduation and defections to the NFL, and there were reasonable concerns it might take some time for the Wolverines to figure things out in 2017. They seemed especially reasonable when the Wolverines fell behind Florida on Saturday by a touchdown on a pair of defensive touchdowns.
But that was a momentary hiccup. Michigan eventually rolled up 215 rushing yards and 218 passing yards, and the next generation of Wolverine defenders held Florida to 56 yards or fewer in every quarter. The defense even pitched in with a fumble recovery for a score in the 33-17 triumph.
It made Michigan one of the biggest winners of the opening weekend, even if Florida’s roster was diluted because of suspensions. The Wolverines probably won’t see a ranked team again until an Oct. 21 visit to Penn State, and that leaves plenty of time to tidy things up. Jim Harbaugh’s team wasn’t perfect, but it looked capable of doing a fine impression of last season’s version of the Wolverines.
* Alabama: The Crimson Tide handled Florida State, 24-7, in a much-hyped opener in Atlanta, throttling the Seminoles after a fairly even first half. Alabama took advantage of short fields to score all 14 points of the second half while holding Florida State to 65 total yards after the break.
It wasn’t a Picasso by any stretch, but Nick Saban’s bunch did little to suggest it won’t be a factor in the national title race.
* Kelly Bryant: The unenviable task of succeeding Deshaun Watson as Clemson’s quarterback is Bryant’s. When Tajh Boyd graduated after the 2013 season, it was Cole Stoudt who briefly held the starting job before Watson seized it. Bryant’s job in 2017: Don’t become a footnote like Stoudt, and in the process keep the Tigers in the playoff conversation.
Ripping apart Kent State doesn’t guarantee anything, but Bryant did what he needed to do and more in Clemson’s 56-3 pummeling of the Golden Flashes. He was 16 of 22 for 236 yards, a touchdown and an interception while tacking on 77 yards and a TD on seven carries. The competition level increases next week against Auburn, but Bryant looked like a guy who can fend off younger challengers this year.
* California: It might turn out that North Carolina isn’t any good at all. But even if the Tar Heels crumble this season, it won’t diminish how pleased the Golden Bears will be with their season-opening victory.
California made a late coaching change when it dismissed Sonny Dykes in January and then hired first-time Head Coach Justin Wilcox to replace him. The Golden Bears were a sieve on defense under Dykes and figured to be in transition on offense, but a 35-30 victory in Chapel Hill was a welcome sign.
Not only that, but California traveled from the West Coast for what felt like a 9:20 a.m. kickoff for its players and came away with a victory. Few teams should exit the first weekend more satisfied than the Golden Bears.
* Drew Lock: It doesn’t matter who it came against; the Missouri junior posted 521-yards and seven TDs in the Tigers’ 72-43 rout of Missouri State. Lock, who quietly took a substantial step forward last season, helped Mizzou roll up 815 yards in its opener. Missouri probably won’t contend for an SEC East title, and its defense still has problems, but this is a team with a chance to push for an eight-win season.
* Maryland: The biggest reason to be down on DJ Durkin’s team this year was a loaded schedule that featured Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, Texas and Wisconsin — and, presumably, a narrow path to bowl eligibility. But in bagging a 51-41 victory at Texas, the Terrapins vividly demonstrated their improvement.
Certainly, a little skepticism is warranted since it is clear Tom Herman’s arrival in Austin has not immediately improved the Longhorns’ defense. Nonetheless, Maryland earned its first victory over a ranked team since 2010, ending the third-longest such drought among Power Five programs (only Rutgers and Kansas have gone longer). That’s something to celebrate for a program that’s been an afterthought on the national stage this decade for everything besides its fashion statements.
* UAB: The Blazers are back, 38-7 winners over Alabama A&M in front of the largest crowd in program history in their first game since 2014. The program was shut down after that season, but the school was pressured to restore the sport (both by the public and Conference USA, which was on the verge of booting UAB since it no longer fielded a football team).
One victory doesn’t make the remaining road any less daunting; the Blazers are basically just a step above a start-up program at this stage. Still, the easiest team in the FBS for a neutral observer to root for has a victory in the bank before Labor Day and something to build on as the season develops.
* Florida’s offense: It’s a good thing for the Gators they scored touchdowns on a pair of interception returns in the first 20 minutes. Otherwise, the score of their loss to Michigan (33-17) would look as bad as everything else associated with the Wolverines’ romp.
Florida totaled 192 yards against a rebuilt Michigan defense masterminded by coordinator Don Brown, including a meager 11 rushing yards. Both redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks and graduate transfer Malik Zaire took turns mustering little, and Luke Del Rio didn’t get off the bench.
Suspensions surely played a role in the ineptitude, and if Florida had enjoyed plenty of success on offense in recent years, this is a blip that could be shrugged off easily enough. The Gators haven’t, ensuring legitimate and fair questions will follow in the wake of such a forgettable showing.
* Florida State: The 24-7 setback against Alabama isn’t why the Seminoles land on this list. Take out the dubious special teams play — and there was a lot of it — and Florida State matched up relatively well with the Crimson Tide in a defensive struggle.
But it’s possible the Seminoles endure lasting damage from this loss because of quarterback Deondre Francois’ leg injury in the fourth quarter. There is scant experience behind him, and Florida State’s playoff hopes might have taken a major hit if he misses extended time.
* Baylor: The scandal-plagued Bears began what they hoped would be a fresh start under new Coach Matt Rhule and promptly dropped a 48-45 decision to Liberty.
(Side note: Flames Coach Turner Gill didn’t beat a Big 12 opponent on the road in two seasons at Kansas. He had to go to an FCS school to pull off that feat).
* East Carolina: Speaking of FCS-over-FBS triumphs, here’s one that was far less surprising: Defending FCS national champion James Madison was favored to beat the Pirates, and administered a 34-14 drubbing in Greenville. East Carolina went 3-9 in Coach Scottie Montgomery’s debut season in 2016, and his second year looks like it could be even rockier.
* N.C. State: More than doubled up South Carolina in yardage (504-246) and still lost, 35-28, to the Gamecocks. The Wolfpack will still find a way to win a game or two they shouldn’t, and they’ll probably lose another game they should win — it’s what they do.
But for anyone who seriously entertained thoughts that N.C. State would be a playoff contender, let this be a reminder there aren’t many programs as glued to the 7-5/8-4 neighborhood, even when things are at their best, as the Wolfpack.
* Texas: This isn’t a bad time to remind everyone that while Houston beat three top-10 teams under Herman, it also lost three games as a double-digit favorite during his two-year tenure.
In short, Herman is a fine offensive mind but he isn’t a miracle worker, as Texas fans learned more emphatically than they ever would have guessed in the Longhorns’ opener. Maryland averaged 6.1 yards a carry in its 51-41 victory, clearly showing how far the defense must progress for the Longhorns to earn a place in the national conversation.
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