Tom Herman's Houston Cougars made a huge statement in their decisive, season-opening win over Oklahoma
Week 1 of the 2016 college football season was billed as the best ever and, while there were some disappointing aspects of the schedule, it ended up delivering considering the number of quality games, close calls and historic upsets that occurred.
It can be easy to overreact to some of the results around the country, but our first taste of real football in seven months is going to alter our preseason perception of many teams no matter what. For some teams, that’s a good thing. For others... not so much. It’s a long year so plenty can change and it’s important to keep in mind the perspective of the past two national champions, which both suffered losses in September.
That said, here are three truths we told ourselves before the season that still ring true and three lies that don’t hold up now that everybody has kicked off.
Truth: Alabama reloads and it doesn’t matter who the quarterback is. The kings of college football will reign until toppled and a dynasty will roll on.
Ponder, for a second, how Nick Saban reached deep into his arsenal of facial expressions and pulled out that infamous scowl following his team’s 52-6 evisceration of USC and remarked that his team could have played better. That is the level the Crimson Tide are operating at and it’s hard not to step back and admire just what a machine the team is each week. The defense looks as good as ever judging by the opener and the thought of three-plus years of Jalen Hurts has to be a scary thought for anybody on the schedule.
Capturing back-to-back titles is hard. Running through the week-in and week-out gauntlet of the SEC is hard. But no team looks as capable of winning it all as Alabama does (again). Even if the team were to suffer a loss, it could be safe to pencil in the Tide for the Peach Bowl on New Year’s Eve.
Lie: Brandon Harris is going to improve and LSU’s offense will be much more than Leonard Fournette off tackle.
Raise your hand if you were among the throngs of people who naively believed that LSU would magically be better on offense this year. Raise your hand if you thought that Harris would make the leap simply by being a year older. Raise your hand if you thought that, despite three years of sub-par offenses, Cam Cameron would magically live up to his lofty salary as the Tigers’ coordinator.
Ok, you can all put your hands down. Perhaps we should have been tipped off that the message coming out of spring practice was that Harris was pushed by a quarterback transfer from Purdue. Les Miles addressed things on defense by bringing in Dave Aranda but it defies logic as to why he hasn’t done the same to try and fix LSU’s Achilles heel since he arrived in Baton Rouge. This team can still regroup and make it to the College Football Playoff if things break right but that scenario seems light years away based on the state of the Tigers’ offense against Wisconsin.
Truth: The Pac-12 has a bunch of good teams, but no elite one.
The season always evolves and nowhere do teams seem to grow and improve more than in the Pac-12. But in searching for an elite team that could put all that “left out of the Playoff talk” to bed for the second year in a row, it wasn’t exactly a big start for the league out West. UCLA faltered in a big perception game at Texas A&M, Stanford never seemed to completely put away Kansas State and USC was blown off the field by Alabama. Mix in Arizona’s loss to BYU, Oregon and Utah not looking too sharp against lower-level teams and Washington State losing to an FCS foe, and it wasn’t a banner week for Larry Scott’s league that is already battling a negative narrative.
Yes, Washington looked good but how much are we really going to learn from the Huskies blowing out Rutgers? The league looked about what we expected it to look like — not a great thing for a conference everybody picked to be left out of the final four.
Lie: The hype is deserved for Tennessee.
Appalachian State is very good team so don’t throw the Volunteers under the bus just yet after a narrow escape in the opener. Yes, the offensive execution needs vast improvement if the team is going to win the division and the defense was surprisingly lackluster for as many NFL Draft picks there are on that side of the ball. The real test will come against Virginia Tech this Saturday and we’ll see if the team can respond but the brakes can be pumped a little on the hype train given how tight Tennessee played.
The real revelation of the week came from the Georgia Dome however. Nick Chubb looked fantastic in his return from a knee injury and true freshman Jacob Eason looked like the budding star we were led to believe. Just as impressive was the defense that limited North Carolina to just 156 yards passing. Remember, the Vols host Florida and then go to Georgia in consecutive weeks. It sure seems like this is the same old SEC East we’ve become used to and that tends to result in a bungled mess at the top.
Truth: Houston has a real shot at the College Football Playoff.
It’s still going to take a perfect storm for a Group of Five team to crack the College Football Playoff but the first thing Houston needed happened on Saturday when the team beat Oklahoma in all three phases of the game. We won’t know how the committee really views the Cougars’ candidacy until much later in the year but it’s apparent that the opportunity is real coming out of Week 1. The potential for two-loss champions out of the Big 12 and Pac-12 really would help a ton. Louisville, which visits later in the season, is primed to be a top-15 team this year too.
It’s a long road to the final four and surviving a college football schedule unscathed is extremely tough. Still, Houston has a way better shot at making it than Boise State or TCU ever did in the BCS era and the Cougars will receive way more media attention on the subject than those two ever had.
Lie: Charlie Strong changing offenses is just delaying the inevitable.
On just about every list of head coaches on the hot seat, Texas’ Strong could be found near the top. The fans in Austin have been restless for half a decade and beyond frustrated with the team’s offense ever since Colt McCoy left campus. Strong opted to try a third different offensive system in as many years and the saga of landing Sterlin Gilbert from Tulsa was enough to fill a “30 for 30” documentary. Many expected the offense to improve — nowhere to go but up, after all — but wondered if importing the Baylor system would result in the wins necessary to keep Strong around for another season.
Well as it turns out, everything is just fine on the 40 acres after Sunday night. The opening act was impressive against a Notre Dame defense that has plenty of talent and it does indeed appear the Longhorns have a quarterback in true freshman Shane Buechele. Just as big for Strong’s hot seat, Texas looks like it will be fun to watch on offense and that’s something UT fans haven’t been able to say in years.
Stat of the week
By the time you read this, Hawaii is finally back in Honolulu and recovering from the monster of all road trips. Factoring in both of their “Week 1” games against California (in Sydney, Australia) and at Michigan, the Rainbow Warriors flew a remarkable 19,112 miles for their first two games. The circumference of the earth is 24,901 miles so that means UH flew three-quarters of the way around the planet for the first “week” of the college football season.
If one were to add up all the non-conference road trips that Power Five teams will take, Hawaii’s 19,112-mile trek is more than:
- All 14 SEC teams will travel this season for all of their non-conference games (12,940 mi.)
- All 14 Big Ten teams will travel this season for all of their non-conference games (12,590 mi.)
- All 10 Big 12 teams will travel this season for all of their non-conference games (9,455 mi.)
So yes, in a span of two actual weeks and one game week, Hawaii traveled more than three Power Five conferences will the entire season for non-conference games. The Rainbow Warriors will travel a total of 46,568 miles in the air and 766 miles by bus this season according to the school.
Good thing Hawaii football players can earn frequent flyer miles.
Also notable: Hawaii kicked off against Michigan at 6 a.m. in Honolulu. The Rainbow Warriors kick off against UT-Martin on Saturday at 6 p.m. local time, a difference of 12 hours on game day that make Stanford’s “body clock” issues of last season look silly by comparison.
Tweet of the week
Superlatives of the week
Best player: Lamar Jackson, Louisville (17-of-23, 286 yards, six touchdowns, 119 yards rushing, two touchdowns)
Heisman five: 1. Nick Chubb (Georgia), 2. Greg Ward Jr. (Houston), 3. J.T. Barrett (Ohio State), 4. Christian McCaffrey (Stanford), 5. DeShone Kizer (Notre Dame)
Team of the week: Texas
Goat of the week: Mark Stoops, Kentucky
Quote of the week: “It’s hard to take positives out of a butt-whooping like that.” - Bowling Green coach Mike Jinks after Ohio State recorded a school-record 776 yards of total offense in a 77-10 win over the Falcons.
Play of the week
Lots of options this week (Houston’s Kick-Six, Jabril Peppers’ hurdle, Penn State’s kicker bringing the wood) but Nebraska honoring punter Sam Foltz is my pick.
I’m a voter in the FWAA/National Football Foundation Super 16 Poll and will be releasing my ballot here every week. Here’s my ballot heading into Week 2.
2. Florida State
4. Ohio State
11. Texas A&M
13. Ole Miss
14. Notre Dame
Just missed the cut: Oklahoma, Tennessee, Boise State, TCU, UCLA, Baylor, Oklahoma State, Toledo, Florida
Virginia Tech vs. Tennessee (Bristol, Tenn.)
This game will likely set an attendance record at a college football game so it’s worth tuning in for the atmosphere alone. Virginia Tech had a solid start to the Justin Fuente era in its opener while Tennessee failed to impressive against a very good Appalachian State team. The Volunteers should come out on top in this one but expect a close game given the defenses involved.
Arkansas at TCU
Both teams didn’t exactly come out of the gates and light the world on fire in their openers, with Arkansas avoiding an upset by Louisiana Tech and TCU giving up a remarkable 41 points to an FCS team. Perhaps both were trying to be extra conservative knowing this clash was awaiting but it makes this much more of a toss-up than previously thought. The Horned Frogs have the better offense and are at home, so they’ll be the pick however.
BYU at Utah
The Holy War is one of the nastiest rivalries in the country despite the image both schools give off and this year’s version is probably extra testy given that BYU has a new head coach in former Utah defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake and the fact that the two played a fun Las Vegas Bowl just a few months ago. Neither team looked super sharp to begin the season but the edge lies with the Utes in what should be a great rivalry game.
— Written by Bryan Fischer, an award-winning college football columnist and member of the Athlon Contributor Network. You can follow him from coast-to-coast on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat at @BryanDFischer.