The first weekend of college football season delivered in all the ways we hoped it would.
Clemson gave us a legitimate party-crasher for the SEC’s dominance and raised the bar for a Tigers fan base used to having their dreams crushed in the unlikeliest of ways.
LSU and TCU delivered on gamesmanship early as neither suspended stars, Jeremy Hill and Devonte Fields, played, but both TCU quarterbacks did. And a series of wild sequences from the end of the first half to a key turnover to a kickoff return kept things interesting for TCU.
In the personality department, Johnny Manziel was Johnny Manziel and he did so efficiently in less than a half of play.
And then there was the ongoing story of FCS teams rising up to defeat FBS program. The day Saturday ended with eight FBS teams losing to lower-division programs.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL WEEK 1 RECAP: THREE AND OUT
THREE THINGS WE LEARNED FROM CLEMSON 38, GEORGIA 35
Stop us if you’ve heard this before: Clemson could be in for a special season. The offense is special, no doubt: Tajh Boyd(right) can get the big play, but he also picked up third downs on the ground late in the game, Sammy Watkins flashed his 2011 form, and Roderick McDowell picked up where Andre Ellington left off. The defense needs work, but few teams will be able to stress Clemson like Georgia did. The Tigers have proven they can go toe-to-toe with SEC teams with three wins in four matchups in the last year, but can Clemson get through the ACC unscathed?
The Clemson secondary is still a question. Todd Gurley rushed for a 75-yard touchdown on his first carry of the game, but Georgia averaged 3.6 yards per carry thereafter. That’s a good sign for the Clemson front seven. However, this looks like the same old Tigers’ secondary. Aaron Murray completed 20-of-29 passes for 322 yards, signaling Clemson’s pass defense could be a liability for yet another season.
Georgia could be in trouble next week. Georgia was gassed at times in the second half in the humidity as the defense spent 76 plays on the field against Clemson. Now the Bulldogs have to turn around from a deflating loss to face South Carolina. The Bulldogs potentially will be without starting receiver Malcolm Mitchell, who suffered a knee injury early in the game.
THREE THINGS WE LEARNED FROM LSU 37, TCU 27
The LSU offense: We don’t want to know how the sausage is made. The Tigers have to love the end result with 401 yards and 5.6 yards per play against the stout TCU defense, but there were still signs of the same old LSU offense. Zach Mettenberger (right) made a beautiful behind-the-shoulder throw to Odell Beckham in the second half, but Mettenberger also completed fewer than half of his passes (15 of 32). At the end of the first half, LSU turned a third and goal from TCU’s 2 to a third down at the 12 when the Tigers were called for a delay of game after their own timeout and then were flagged for a false start. And later, Alfred Blue fumbled inside the Tigers' 10 to set up a TCU touchdown — a rare fumble by an LSU running back, but a momentum-changing fumble nonetheless.
TCU is still going to contend in the Big 12. The Horned Frogs lost, but they don’t look like they’re eliminated from Big 12 contention by any means. TCU closed the deficit to a field goal with 8:44 remaining despite playing without its top defensive player Devonte Fields. Meanwhile, the rest of the Big 12 looked far from perfect.
Crazy things happen. LSU brought us the wildest sequence of the weekend at the end of the second half and that was after LSU was called for a delay of game after its own timeout. Then, the Tigers moved back another five yards on a false start. LSU risked letting the clock run out on a scoring attempt when a player lost a helmet, resulting in a 10-second runoff, on a third down play before the presumptive field goal. The officials at first ruled the end of the half thanks to the helmet removal (there were 5 seconds remaining at the time). Nearly the entire TCU team made it off the field before officials reversed the call, noting LSU’s incomplete pass stopped the clock to negate the runoff. After TCU retook the field, LSU kicked a field goal to end the half.
MOVING THE CHAINS
Maryland’s C.J. Brown. The Terrapins finally got a look at what their offense could be when the quarterback position isn’t a revolving door. Even if it was against FIU, C.J. Brown gave Maryland the quarterback play it had been lacking in his first start since missing all of last season with a torn ACL. Brown completed 20-of-24 passes for 276 yards with three touchdowns while rushing for 105 yards and two touchdowns. For better or worse, Maryland’s best playmaker, Stefon Diggs, had only six touches on offense, most of which after the 43-10 win had been decided.
Northwestern without Kain Colter. Northwestern played most of its week 1 game without Kain Colter, who was out with an “upper body injury,” and Venric Mark contributed little. Their absence was felt, particularly in the red zone, but Northwestern still managed to defeat plucky Cal 44-30 on the road. A big heap of the credit goes to Collin Ellis, who had two interceptions returned for touchdowns.
Allen Robinson’s second half. Robinson was suspended for the first half against Syracuse for reasons Bill O’Brien says are between the receiver and the coach. In any event, Robinson transformed a stagnant Penn State offense in the second half. Robinson caught seven passes for 127 yards with a touchdown in Penn State’s 17-point second half in the Nittany Lions’ 23-17 win. Robinson’s return was boost for freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg, who completed 22-of-31 passes for 278 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions in his debut.
Texas A&M’s defense. Johnny Manziel’s first-half suspension was not the biggest concern for the Aggies. Not even close. Texas A&M allowed Rice to put up 508 yards as the defense stayed on the field for 86 plays. Rice averaged 6.1 yards per carry and pushed the Aggies’ defensive line around early in the game. Some of the issues were due to suspensions as nose guard Kirby Ennis, safety Floyd Raven and cornerback Deshazor Everett were suspended for the first half due to offseason arrests. Linebacker Steven Jenkins, defensive end Gavin Stansbury and cornerback De’Vante Harris — all starters — were also suspended for the first two games. Everett returned for the second half, enough time to pick up another suspension after being flagged under the new targeting rule. All those absences will either help build experience among the backups or could end up being a liability when the SEC schedule starts.
Nebraska’s defense. Bo Pelini is having trouble selling his bona fides as a defensive coach these days with Nebraska. The Cornhuskers were shredded at the end of last season by Wisconsin and Georgia. The opener, though, was a new low. Wyoming, a team that went 4-8 last season and ranked 70th in total offense last season, amassed 602 yards and averaged 8.1 yards per play against the Huskers in the 37-34 loss. Making Wyoming’s outburst most puzzling, the Cowboys went 1 of 8 on third down. Nebraska faces UCLA in two weeks.
Boise State. The Broncos have had heartbreakers and losses to inferior teams, but Boise State has never had a performance this bad during the Chris Petersen era. The Broncos lost 38-6 to Washington, giving Boise State its first loss of more than four points since a 39-27 loss to Hawaii in 2007 and its worst loss since 48-13 to Georgia in the 2005 opener.
Tajh Boyd, Clemson. Five total touchdowns in the marquee game of the weekend is enough to put Boyd near the top of the conversation if he wasn’t there already.
AJ McCarron, Alabama. McCarron will have opportunities to make up ground to make voters forget his forgettable performance against Virginia Tech. Receivers dropped passes, the offensive line struggled — Cyrus Kouandjio in particular — and Virginia Tech cornerback Kyle Fuller had a standout game with an interception and two pass breakups. But McCarron’s stat line will stick out as he finished 10-of-23 for 110 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
Jordan Lynch, Northern Illinois. A loss to Iowa won’t be on the NIU resume this season. And if Lynch is going to make a bid to be a Heisman finalist, he needed a game like he had against Iowa — even if he played little role in the dramatic finish. Lynch completed 25-of-41 passes for 273 yards with three touchdowns while rushing for 55 yards on 23 carries.
2. Return game touchdowns for Alabama’s Christion Jones. It takes a special effort to do something that’s never been done at Alabama, but junior receiver Christion Jones managed that. He took the first touch of Alabama’s season back for a touchdown on a punt return. Then he added a 94-yard kickoff return for a score in the second quarter to become the first player since at least 1944 (that’s how far complete records go back) to return a punt and a kickoff for a score for the Tide. Oh, and he added a 38-yard touchdown catch.
5. FCS teams defeating major conference teams. To put that in perspective: No more than four FCS teams have defeated major conference teams in a season since 1985, according to footballgeography.com. The action started Thursday when Towson defeated Connecticut 33-18 for the most lopsided FCS-over-FBS win since 2000. That mark was crushed Saturday when McNeese State defeated USF 53-21. Two-time FCS champion North Dakota State defeated Kansas State 24-21 on Friday, Eastern Washington defeated Oregon State 49-46, and Northern Iowa defeated Iowa State 28-20.
6-13. Iowa’s record in one-score games since 2010. Iowa’s signature ability to win close games is a distant memory. With 1:24 remaining in a tie game, Jake Rudock threw an interception to set up Northern Illinois at the 30-yard line. After two run plays, NIU kicked a 36-yard game-winning field goal for a 30-27 win. Iowa has lost seven in a row and has lost six games decided by one score since the start of the 2012 season.
THREE OBLIGATORY MANZIEL POSTS
BURIED ON THE DEPTH CHART
Khalil Mack, Buffalo. A name to remember around the NFL Draft: Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack. He was the best defensive player on the field in Ohio State’s 40-20 win over Buffalo. Mack returned an interception 45 yards for at touchdown to go with 2.5 sacks and nine tackles. The MAC isn’t all about offense.
Southern Miss’ losing streak goes on. The nation’s longest losing streak hit 13 games and figures to go a bit longer. Southern Miss lost 22-15 to Texas State in Hattiesburg, a game that was the Eagles’ best chance for a win until at least October. Southern Miss rounds out September at Nebraska, at Arkansas and at Boise State.
Louisville’s schedule got worse. Everyone knew the Cardinals’ schedule was going to be a liability for their perception and their postseason. Before the Cards even played a game it got worse: Louisville’s opponents went 4-7 in the first week, and the most impressive by a wide margin win was Cincinnati’s 42-7 victory over Purdue. Louisville’s opponents’ other three wins were over Akron, Southern and Robert Morris. Meanwhile, USF and Connecticut lost decisively to FCS teams. Rutgers had the best chance for meaningful win for the American Athletic Conference, but the Scarlet Knights lost 52-51 in overtime to Fresno State.
THREE CLOSE CALLS
WHO SAYS COLLEGE HAS NO PRESEASON?
BEST THREE GAMES NEXT WEEK
J.W. Walsh, Oklahoma State. Clint Chelf spent all of two possessions as Oklahoma State’s primary quarterback, but it’s tough to argue with Mike Gundy sticking with J.W. Walsh, no matter what Chelf’s family members may say. Once inserted into the lineup, Walsh gave the Cowboys offense a lift running the zone read out of a diamond formation late in the first half. Walsh completed 18 of 27 passes for 135 yards and led Oklahoma State in rushing with 125 yards and a touchdown ion 13 carries. Gundy left little room for controversy by saying Walsh would start the Cowboys’ next game against UTSA.
Jordan Hall, Ohio State. The Ohio State offense isn't all Braxton Miller. With power backs Carlos Hyde and Rod Smith suspended for the opener, Hall took over. The senior rushed for 159 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries in the 40-20 win. Hall missed most of all of last season with a foot injury and then a knee injury. He’s expected to occasionally play the H-back role when Hyde and Smith return to the lineup, but this day will be tough to ignore.
Mack Brown, Florida. Thanks to suspensions and injuries, the Gators were shorthanded throughout the offense. Running back Mack Brown adequately provided the power run game attack Will Muschamp prefers. With Matt Jones out with a viral infection since July, Brown rushed for 112 yards with two touchdowns on 25 carries in the 24-6 win over Toledo. The Gators had been hoping for Brown to take on a greater role in recent years, but entering Saturday, the senior had only 40 carries in three seasons.
THREE PLAYERS EJECTED UNDER NEW TARGETING RULE
THREE GREAT DEBUTS
THREE DUBIOUS DEBUTS
THREE INJURY CONCERNS
Denzel Nkemdiche, Ole Miss. The Rebels defeated Vanderbilt 39-35 in a thrilling Thursday night opener, but all is not well in Oxford. Star linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche is out for four to six weeks after suffering a torn meniscus. Meanwhile, starting offensive lineman Aaron Morris is likely done for the season after a torn ACL. Ole Miss has a brutal start to the season after facing Southeast Missouri State next week. The Rebels are at Texas (Sept. 14), at Alabama Oct. 28), at Auburn (Oct. 5), vs. Texas A&M (Oct. 12) and vs. LSU (Oct. 19).
Brandon Mitchell, NC State. If first-year coach Dave Doeren didn’t have enough challenges in turning NC State into an ACC contender, he was dealt another blow with an injury to starting quarterback Brandon Mitchell. The senior was 3-for-3 for 93 yards before leaving the opener with a broken bone in his foot. The Wolfpack still defeated Louisiana Tech 40-14, but NC State rounds out September with Richmond, Clemson and Central Michigan.
Tyler Russell, Mississippi State. The Bulldogs quarterback walked off the field in a daze after a shot to the head in the second half against Oklahoma State. Even if Russell is held out of the next week, the Bulldogs might not be in serious trouble against Alcorn State.