The first week of every college football season always generates overreaction on both sides of the talking point. If a team lost by a bigger margin than expected or struggled, it’s easy to say that team is worse than anticipated. But if a team wins in an upset or is more impressive than the preseason projections expected, the reaction is this team should be better than we thought.
There could be some truth in both arguments. However, the real truth rests somewhere in the middle. No team is as good (or bad) as they play in Week 1. After all, it’s just the first game of the season.
With overreaction in mind, here are five schools that quietly impressed in Week 1. What does it mean for the rest of the year? We’ll find out.
5 CFB Teams That Quietly Impressed in Week 1
David Cutcliffe has transformed Duke into a consistent bowl team, and the Blue Devils are coming off their best two-year stretch (19 wins) in school history. But despite the recent success and 12 returning starters, Duke was picked (by some) near the bottom of the ACC Coastal for 2015. However, if Thursday night’s win over Tulane is any indication of what to expect from this team this fall, Duke should be in the mix for a finish in the top half of the Coastal. The Blue Devils dominated the Green Wave, winning 37-7 thanks to strong performances on both sides of the ball. New quarterback Thomas Sirk completed 27 of 40 passes for 289 yards and two scores and added 68 yards on the ground. The junior also guided the Duke offense to an average of 5.7 yards per play. The defense limited Tulane to just 4.2 yards per play, 25 rushing yards and forced four sacks. The Green Wave did not score until the fourth quarter and managed only two drives longer than 50 yards. Duke still has its share of question marks to answer on the defensive side when it takes on better offenses. However, Thursday night’s showing was a good sign for the Blue Devils.
We don’t want to overreact to Week 1 with any of the teams on this list, but Iowa has a good shot to be 4-0 headed into its Oct. 3 game against Wisconsin. The Hawkeyes easily dispatched Illinois State – last year’s FCS title runner-up and an upset pick by some in Week 1 – 31-14 on Saturday. C.J. Beathard was picked over Jake Rudock at quarterback to generate more big plays for an offense that ranked seventh in the conference in scoring last season. So far, so good. Beathard led Iowa’s offense to an average of 6.2 yards per play and passed for 221 yards on 15 completions. The Hawkeyes held the Redbirds to just 231 total yards, 14 first downs and generated 10 tackles for a loss.
The Wolfpack ended 2014 by winning four out of their last five games, and coach Dave Doeren’s team picked up where they left off in the opener. NC State handled Troy 49-21 on Saturday with an impressive showing by both sides of the ball. The Wolfpack defense gave up a few big plays, but held the Trojans to 13 first downs, 1 of 9 on third-down attempts and forced two turnovers. Quarterback Jacoby Brissett was almost perfect, completing 21 of 23 throws for 196 yards and two scores. Additionally, Matt Dayes, Reggie Gallaspy and Jaylen Samuels picked up the ground attack with Shadrach Thornton suspended. NC State generated 251 rushing yards and scored five scores on the ground.
As expected, Ole Miss had zero trouble in its opener, dominating UT Martin in a 76-3 rout on Saturday afternoon. The quarterback position was under the spotlight throughout the offseason, and all three quarterbacks vying for the job in fall camp performed well. Chad Kelly took the first snap over DeVante Kincade and Ryan Buchanan and finished with 211 passing yards and two scores on just nine completions. Kelly also added a touchdown run in the third quarter. The former Clemson and junior college quarterback has solidified his place at the top of the depth chart since spring ball, and the Rebels also showcased some punch on the ground in Week 1. Four players rushed for at least 50 yards, with the offense averaging 9.4 yards per rush against the Skyhawks. Yes, the quality of opponent has to be considered, but there were some positive signs for the Ole Miss offense in Week 1.
One of the weekend’s most overlooked performances has to be West Virginia’s 44-0 victory over Georgia Southern. While beating a team from the Sun Belt may not seem like a big deal, the Eagles are one of the preseason favorites in the league and nearly defeated NC State and Georgia Tech in 2014. The Mountaineers dominated from the start, never allowing Georgia Southern’s offense to get on track. West Virginia’s defense limited the Eagles to 74 yards in the first half, forced five turnovers and limited their rushing attack to just 3.4 yards per carry. In addition to a dominant showing on defense, the Mountaineers had zero trouble moving the ball on Georgia Southern. Dana Holgorsen’s group averaged 8.2 yards per play, which was the first time West Virginia eclipsed over eight yards a play since 2012. Quarterback Skyler Howard completed 16 of 25 passes for 359 yards, while receivers Shelton Gibson (3 for 130 yards, 1 TD) and Jovon Durante (3 for 121 yards, 1 TD) impressed as pass catchers.
Six Teams from the Group of 5 Ranks
The Mountaineers picked up where they left off last season, and as expected, easily handled Howard (49-0). The Week 2 test against Clemson will be an interesting game to watch.
Is this Norm Chow’s best team since taking over as head coach? Possibly. USC transfer quarterback Max Wittek guided the Rainbow Warriors to a 28-20 upset over Colorado in Week 1.
Mississippi Valley State isn’t the best judge of where New Mexico is, but the Lobos have enough pieces to push for a bowl this season.
We will have a better idea of where USF stands in Week 2 against Florida State, but the Bulls’ new offense averaged 7.7 yards per play, while the defense held Florida A&M to 182 total yards (2.5 ypp).
One of the weekend’s most overlooked games might have been Northern Illinois’ 38-30 win over UNLV. Again, it’s the opener so we have to be cautious with observations, but the Rebels – projected to be one of the worst teams in the nation – nearly knocked off last year’s MAC champion. That’s a good start for new coach Tony Sanchez.
Yes, the Roadrunners lost to Arizona, but for a team returning just three starters, UTSA gave the Wildcats all it could handle in a 42-32 defeat.