The first weekend of the college football season is guaranteed to produce a profusion of blowouts, games that are played for two reasons: to guarantee the home team a victory and to guarantee the visiting team — the athletic department, not the players — a big paycheck.
Those not-surprising scores were easy enough to find: Oregon 66, Nicholls State 3; Georgia Tech 70, Elon 0; Tennessee 45, Austin Peay 0.
But amid that carnage, there were actually some games worthy of note. While it may be difficult to carve out any defining moments from football games that are played before Labor Day, there were certainly a number of story lines that took some form before the lights finally went out late Saturday night.
Here are a few that either can’t be avoided or should not be avoided:
●Johnny Manziel. He can still play football, that was apparent when he returned from the 30-minute suspension he received for not taking money from autograph collectors. He is also still an immature punk who apparently hasn’t learned a thing from his stormy offseason. Chirping at Rice defenders and pointing at the scoreboard was bad enough. Pretending to sign an autograph was so far over the line that, if there was any justice at all, would earn him at least a one-game suspension.
Texas A&M’s next game is against Alabama. There is as much chance of Manziel not starting that game as there is of Manziel becoming a grown-up between now and kickoff. And Coach Kevin Sumlin isn’t helping things by continuing to shield Manziel from the media after the game. He’s an enabler — just like everyone else around Manziel, including his parents, the school and the NCAA.
●Clemson. Stop the presses everyone, an ACC team won a meaningful football game. It is believed that the last time this happened Bobby Bowden had yet to learn to say ‘dadgum it.’ The Tigers won a wild game, 38-35, from Georgia on their home field. Once again, Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray proved that he’s always good enough to produce great numbers — except when the score gets added up at the finish.
Clemson has to go to North Carolina State on Sept. 19 and will host Florida State next month. The only other major roadblock for the Tigers could be the season-ending game at South Carolina. Usually, hyped ACC teams’ chances at mattering in the national picture end the first time they play a ranked opponent, which is why Clemson’s win is worthy of mention here.
●Jadeveon Clowney. Even though South Carolina easily beat North Carolina on Thursday night, Clowney did not destroy the entire North Carolina offensive line, did not cause 12 fumbles or make a play that will be replayed 4,367 times over the next seven days. He made three tackles, had no sacks and struggled a little bit in the heat. All of which led to one headline the next day that said: “Clowney’s Heisman campaign over?”
Seriously. This is the world we live in. Clowney spent most of the night lined up against North Carolina left tackle James Hurst, who is thought by many to be a potential first-round pick next April. Hurst got lots of help from his friends and Carolina ran away from Clowney all night. This is what life is going to be like for Clowney: A lot of his teammates got wide-open shots at UNC ballcarriers because so much attention was focused on him. Clowney’s a superb talent but he does not leap tall buildings at a single bound.
●Two scores that should be discussed: North Dakota State 24, Kansas State 21, and Eastern Washington 49, No. 25 Oregon State 46. It isn’t just that a Football Championship Series team beat a Football Bowl Series team in these two games, it is that two good FBS teams lost. K-State is the defending Big 12 champion and was ranked No. 1 in the nation at one point last season; Oregon State was 9-4. Maybe they aren’t as good this year but it isn’t as if they woke up this summer and morphed into Florida International and Florida Atlantic.
Both winners have plenty of pedigree. North Dakota State is now 7-3 against FBS opponents since it became an FCS team 10 years ago and is the two-time defending FCS national champion. The last team not named North Dakota State to win that title was Eastern Washington in 2010.
These victories may not get quite the attention of Appalachian State’s win over Michigan in 2007 but they are further proof that quality FCS teams can compete one level above. The problem comes when teams like Elon and Nicholls State, who are not good teams at their own level, try to compete up so that they can collect a paycheck at the physical and emotional expense of their players.
●Virginia’s comeback 19-16 win over Brigham Young. This was the only local score of any real note. Maryland crushed a bad Florida International team and Virginia Tech had no chance against No. 1 Alabama. Howard did have a shot to win on the road at Eastern Michigan but was outscored 21-0 down the stretch.
The Cavaliers’ win was significant for several reasons: Coming off a step-back 4-8 season a year ago, Coach Mike London shook up his coaching staff to try to get turned back in the direction the program had been going in his first two seasons. BYU is hardly a power but it is a solid team year in and year out, and U-Va. had to come back late in the fourth quarter — aided by a critical turnover — to win the game.
Of course the Cavaliers now go way up in class when they host Oregon this coming weekend. The good news is they then get to play in the ACC — which, Clemson’s victory aside — probably doesn’t have anyone in its expanded ranks as good as the Ducks.
And, if you need one last game to top off the holiday weekend, there’s Florida State-Pittsburgh on Monday night. Nothing like two longtime, traditional ACC rivals facing off in prime time to cap the first week of a new season.
For more by John Feinstein, visit washingtonpost.com/feinstein.