Clemson, Washington make Week 1 statements; more Overtime
More Overtime (cont.)
More Overtime (cont.)
More Overtime (cont.)
It's impossible to avoid reading too much into teams' Week 1 performances. Hey, fans didn't wait eight months to say, "Hmm, interesting. I'm curious how they'll perform the rest of the season." With that in mind, here are the teams, players and coaches who made the biggest opening-weekend statements (FCS darlings aren't included, though we'll get to them in a bit).
• Clemson: Dabo Swinney's Tigers needed to beat Georgia to not only have a shot at a national championship run, but more pressingly, to also show that they are more than just a high-powered offense. While no one will likely confuse their defense with Alabama's (Clemson allowed the Bulldogs to gain 545 yards), they had four sacks, forced two fumbles and got a pair of fourth-quarter three-and-outs to help clinch a 38-35 win. "We stood them up in the trenches when we needed to," said Swinney. "We got stops when we needed to."
• Washington: The veteran Huskies, desperate to get over the seven-win hump in 2013, spent the offseason implementing a hurry-up offense. In a 38-6 rout of Boise State, they ran 84 plays (up from an average of 69.5 last year) and gained 592 yards against a normally stingy Broncos' defense. Even more impressive was the way Washington held Boise State coach Chris Petersen's team to its lowest point total since 1997. "We started fast and played fast for the entire game," said Huskies linebacker Shaq Thompson. Washington may finally be ready to challenge Oregon and Stanford in the Pac-12 North.
• LSU: Sending practically his entire first-team defense to the NFL apparently doesn't faze Les Miles. All the Tigers' coach must do to remain near the top of the SEC is to call up the next wave of massive, swarming defensive linemen. LSU held TCU to 259 total yards in a 37-27 win on Saturday night. "They looked like the LSU defense to me," said Miles. In fact, the Tigers got so much pressure on Horned Frogs quarterback Casey Pachall that TCU coach Gary Patterson brought in Trevone Boykin and basically started running the option. It worked for one drive. Meanwhile, LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger looked sharper than he did at nearly any point last season. Never overlook the Tigers.
• Oklahoma State: The Big 12 had a rough opening weekend in general, but its predicted league champion delivered an impressive debut. While the Cowboys were expected to beat Mississippi State, few would have guessed that coach Mike Gundy's team -- known primarily for its offense -- would shut down the Bulldogs en route to a 21-3 win. "We had guys flying to the ball," said OSU cornerback Justin Gilbert. Meanwhile, sophomore J.W. Walsh asserted himself as the team's starting quarterback with a nice second-half performance. The Cowboys did nothing to dampen their lofty preseason expectations.
• Tommy Rees: The oft-criticized senior quarterback's return to the Notre Dame lineup has not engendered much confidence in a team that went 12-1 last year. But in a 28-6 thumping of Temple, Rees did his best to calm the nerves of Fighting Irish fans, throwing a pair of 32-yard touchdown passes to DaVaris Daniels on his first two series. He finished the game 16-of-23 for a career-high 346 yards and, most importantly, he had no turnovers. "I think we answered a lot of those questions right away with his ability to push the ball down the field," said Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly of the preseason concerns about Rees, who gets Michigan in Week 2.
• Tommy Tuberville: The well-traveled coach could not have asked for a much better Cincinnati debut. The Bearcats throttled Purdue 42-7 before a Nippert Stadium record 36,007 spectators. Cincinnati victory was a high point in the newly rebranded American Athletic Conference's otherwise disastrous opening weekend. Rutgers, which lost a 52-51 overtime heartbreaker at Fresno State last Thursday, joins the Bearcats as the league's lone challengers to rival Louisville.
• Referees: They weren't messing around when it came to the new, considerably harsher, targeting policy. Ejections abounded across the country, from Tulane's Lorenzo Doss to Texas A&M's Deshazor Everett to Oregon's Terrence Mitchell to Cal's Chris McCain. Some may find fault with the new rule, but so far it has been applied exactly as officiating supervisors pledged that it would be during various preseason seminars. It's only a matter of time, however, before a star player gets tossed at a critical juncture of a high-profile game -- and people go ballistic.
Two days after leading North Dakota State to a surprising 24-21 defeat of defending Big 12 champion Kansas State, quarterback Brock Jensen was pleased but hardly surprised. "It didn't take any out-of-body experience for us to have some incredible game," said the two-time FCS national champion. "I thought we matched up well skill-wise with Kansas State."
Conversely, a day after his powerhouse Eastern Washington program beat Oregon State 49-46 for it first-ever win over a Pac-12 foe, coach Beau Baldwin did not downplay the significance of the victory. "It's huge, I wont undersell it," Baldwin said. "Sometimes wins like this can go even further than playoff wins or, I hate to say it, but even [FCS] championship games. You have to look no farther than Appalachian State for that. Everyone remembers [when] they beat [Michigan] more than [who they beat] in those three national title games."
The Bison and the Eagles -- winners of the past three FCS titles -- headlined a group of eight FCS teams that knocked off FBS foes in Week 1, the latest display of the the parity that exists in college football just below the Alabama/LSU/Oregon-level tier. Vernon Adams, Eastern Washington's transcendent sophomore quarterback, shredded the Beavers' defense for 518 total yards and six touchdowns. North Dakota State, on the other hand, essentially beat coach Bill Snyder's Wildcats at their own game, wearing them down with an 18-play, 80-yard drive that took up eight and a half minutes and that ended with Jensen falling backward into the end zone for the winning touchdown.
While Appalachian State's victory over Michigan in 2007 remains the crown jewel of FCS-over-FBS upsets, and James Madison's '10 win over Virginia Tech remains perhaps the most inexplicable result, the fact that it was even possible for some (ahem, ahem) to see North Dakota State's triumph coming shows how much the gap between the two divisions has narrowed. "It wasn't a fluke that we won," said Bison coach Craig Bohl, whose program is now 7-3 against FBS foes since '06.
Yet for all the excitement generated by upsets like these, there was buzz this offseason that such matchups might soon become extinct. With the upcoming FBS playoff placing an emphasis on strength of schedule, Big Ten athletic directors informally agreed last spring to stop scheduling FCS opponents in 2016 when the league slate expands to nine games. While the idea makes sense in theory -- given that fans are being asked to spend ever more on tickets for what most consider to be unappealing games -- it's unfair to paint the FCS with such a broad brush because many of the division's upper-tier teams are as talented, if not more talented, than some of the MAC or Sun Belt squads that will probably take their place.
"I think we need to be more inclusive than exclusive," said Bohl, who as the FCS representative on the American Football Coaches Association board was part of a unanimous vote last spring not to institute such a ban. "We think it's good for college football. This Saturday was an indication of that."
FCS teams face no shortage of disadvantages against their FBS foes, most notably fewer scholarship players (63 as opposed to 85), smaller coaching staffs and far fewer financial resources. (Eastern Washington, for example, took an eight-hour bus ride home after its victory in Corvallis.) And that's before taking into account that most of the players in FCS weren't considered good enough to play at FBS schools. Jensen, a small-town Wisconsin standout, never got an offer from the Badgers. The only offers received by the 6-foot Adams came from two Big Sky schools.
But on any given Saturday ...
"If you put it all together, it's not some impossible task," said Baldwin. "It's kind of like those teams that play in the NCAA [basketball] tournament. They might not ever be ranked in the Top 25 with those other teams, but on that given Saturday, that No. 14 seed can beat that No. 3 seed."
While the push toward stronger schedules is certainly a positive thing for the sport, the fact remains that power-conference teams need a certain number of home games, and they're not going to be able to schedule all of them against opponents from comparable conferences. Football could certainly benefit from more, not less, Cinderella stories. However, Eastern Washington (which got a $450,000 paycheck for Saturday's game) and North Dakota State ($350,000) probably aren't helping their cause. Most ADs want to be sure their "guarantee" games are in fact guaranteed wins.
Lost in the hoopla over Johnny Manziel's second-half return on Saturday -- and the subsequent backlash over his trash-talking -- was the news just before kickoff that Texas A&M announced two-game suspensions for four players for "violating athletics department rules and regulations." The four players joined three others previously suspended for offseason incidents (including the aforementioned Everett, who missed a half, returned and promptly got ejected), plus Manziel. Plenty of guys around the country served opening-week suspensions for a variety of reasons, but eight players on one team (including seven starters) certainly seems like a whole lot.
So where is the criticism for A&M's coach?
Kevin Sumlin has been the toast of his profession since taking the SEC by storm last year and lighting up the recruiting trail in recent months. But over the offseason, a circus-like atmosphere has enveloped his program, with Manziel emerging as the poster child. If this were Ohio State, Urban Meyer would be vilified. If this were Georgia, Mark Richt would have "lost control of the program" for the umpteenth time. But Sumlin thus far has skated free of public scrutiny, in large part because the Aggies keep winning -- even with a patchwork defense that struggled to contain Rice's offense on Saturday.
After taking a laissez-faire approach with his star quarterback all offseason, Sumlin finally got stern with Manziel following his Week 1 unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. But as Manziel came to the sideline, he appeared to walk right by his head coach. Sumlin is widely considered a player's coach, but right now he's devoting a lot of energy to putting out his players' fires. Alabama comes to Kyle Field in less than two weeks. We'll see if The Circus can beat The Process for a second straight year.
Each week, I'll update my projected BCS lineup (as necessary) based on the latest week's games. Here's my current edition:
Title game: Alabama vs. Stanford
Rose: Ohio State vs. Oregon
Fiesta: Texas vs. Clemson
Sugar: South Carolina vs. Louisville
Orange: Florida State vs. Notre Dame
There's no need to go tearing up predictions based on one week of evidence, but Boise State, which I had in the Fiesta Bowl last week, hardly looked the part of a potential BCS team against Washington. Perhaps the Broncos are finally dealing with an actual rebuilding year. Or, as Idaho Statesman columnist Brian Murphy wrote, perhaps the program erred in tinkering with its long-successful and unique offense over the offseason.
I'll hold off for now in anointing a different BCS buster, though there are several early candidates. Repeat aspirant Northern Illinois avenged last year's opening-week loss to Iowa with a 30-27 win in Iowa City. Fresno State beat Rutgers as quarterback Derek Carr threw for 456 yards and five touchdowns. And, as a possible dark horse contender, Bowling Green shut down a typically prolific Tulsa team 34-7 behind a very un-MAC like defensive-minded effort. Bowling Green faces a big conference test at Kent State next Saturday.
• No. 1 Alabama routed Virginia Tech 35-10 on Saturday, so it's tough to nitpick the Crimson Tide's Week 1 performance. But 'Bama's rebuilt offensive line did not look dominant. "They outplayed us up front, if you want to know the truth," Nick Saban said after Alabama ran for the second-fewest yards (206) in his seven-year tenure. It didn't particularly matter. The Tide had two kick return touchdowns and one pick-six, and limited Hokies quarterback Logan Thomas to 5-of-26 passing for 59 yards.
Simply put, no team can win a national championship with a mediocre offensive line, but it's not yet time to press the panic button. 'Bama's line is dealing with inexperience, not a lack of talent, and it has plenty of time to improve. In fact, it might not face another defensive front the caliber of Virginia Tech's until its annual slugfest against LSU on Nov. 9, and that includes the Crimson Tide's matchup with Texas A&M.
• Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater played on Sunday against Ohio. Here's guessing he'll have many more Sunday games in the near future. The Heisman aspirant kicked off his campaign by going a cool 23-of-28 for 355 yards and five touchdowns (with one interception) in a 49-7 rout of the Bobcats -- one of the tougher games on the Cardinals' schedule this fall.
• It's no secret that Miami's Duke Johnson is one of the most explosive playmakers in the country. Against Florida Atlantic on Saturday, he racked up 224 all-purpose yards, including a career-high 186 on the ground, in just two and a half quarters. Next week could be tougher. Johnson will go against a talented Florida defense that squashed upset talk with a 24-6 win over Toledo. Gators linebacker Ronald Powell, returning from his second ACL injury, had a sack, and touted freshman cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III reeled in his first pick.
• After weeks of secrecy, Penn State started true freshman Christian Hackenberg at quarterback against Syracuse. He turned in a decent, if predictably bumpy, debut. The 18-year-old threw for 273 yards and two touchdowns, including a 54-yard fourth-quarter deep ball to Geno Lewis that put the Nittany Lions up 23-10. Unfortunately, Hackenberg followed that highlight with an interception (his second of the game) that Orange defensive end Robert Welsh returned to the Penn State one-yard line. Growing pains are to be expected.
• Nebraska appears stuck in some sort of infinite loop. The Cornhuskers' closer-than-expected 37-34 win over Wyoming on Saturday featured all of the staples from their inconsistent 2012 season. For one, Nebraska's still-struggling defense surrendered 602 yards to the Cowboys and quarterback Brett Smith. For another, Cornhuskers coach Bo Pelini's team held a comfortable 37-21 lead in the fourth quarter until, lo and behold, a pair of turnovers by quarterback Taylor Martinez allowed Wyoming to cut the deficit to three on a 47-yard Smith touchdown pass with 1:32 remaining. Rinse and repeat.
• Both Red River rivals had impressive debuts on Saturday -- on opposite sides of the ball. Texas gained a school-record 715 yards of total offense in a 56-7 rout of hapless New Mexico State. Longhorns quarterback David Ash passed for 343 yards and rushed for 91 more. Meanwhile, Oklahoma's defense blanked Kolton Browning-led Louisiana-Monroe 34-0. The Sooners held the Warhawks to 161 total yards. "Defensively, it's one of the better games we've had in a long, long time," said Bob Stoops.
• Ole Miss running back Jeff Scott's 75-yard touchdown run with 1:07 remaining capped a dramatic 39-35 win at Vanderbilt last Thursday, but the Rebels lost two key starters, sophomore linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche (torn meniscus) and junior guard Aaron Morris (ACL). Five-star freshman offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil will likely take over for Morris, making him one of three highly touted true freshman to start for Ole Miss this fall. The other two shined in the win over the Commodores: defensive end Robert Nkemdiche (Denzel's younger brother) ran 11 yards on a fake punt, and receiver Laquon Treadwell had a team-high nine catches for 82 yards.
• Northwestern's preseason Top 25 ranking was due, in large part, to the return of star quarterback Kain Colter and running back Venric Mark. On Saturday night at Cal, Colter left after two plays with a concussion, and a banged-up Mark ran for just 29 yards on 11 carries. But the Wildcats still prevailed 44-30 thanks to a breakout night for tailback Treyvon Green (16 carries, 129 yards, two touchdowns) and a pair of pick-sixes by junior linebacker Collin Ellis off of Bears true freshman quarterback Jared Goff.
• Utah topped rival Utah State 30-26 on Thursday, but Aggies quarterback Chuckie Keeton stole the show. The third-year starter is one of college football's most watchable players. He went 31-of-40 for 314 yards and a pair of touchdowns, and he also ran 15 times for 85 yards and a score. The Utes should be encouraged that their own signal-caller, Travis Wilson, threw for 302 yards against a Utah State team that ranked No. 8 nationally in pass efficiency defense in 2012.
• According to Texas Tech, Baker Mayfield was the first true freshman walk-on quarterback to start a season opener for a BCS-conference school when he led the Red Raiders past SMU 41-23 on Friday. "I coached Case Keenum as a sixth-year senior [at Houston], so God's getting back at me," joked Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury. Mayfield finished 43-of-60 for 413 yards and four touchdowns, but Kingsbury's Air Raid offense took three quarters to really get going.
• First-year NC State coach Dave Doeren's debut was a mixed bag. On one hand, the Wolfpack beat Louisiana Tech 40-14 and held the Bulldogs (now coached by Skip Holtz) to their lowest point total in nearly three years. On the otheer, quarterback Brandon Mitchell, making his first start after transferring from Arkansas, broke his foot shortly after leading two game-opening touchdown drives and will be out for the next four to six weeks. Doeren played four quarterbacks.
• Welcome back, Paul Richardson. The standout Colorado receiver, who missed last season following a spring ACL injury, burst back into the spotlight on Sunday with a 208-yard receiving performance -- including touchdown catches of 82 and 75 yards -- to give Buffs' coach Mike MacIntyre a 41-27 over Colorado State in his debut.
• Given all the upsets by highly ranked FCS teams, it's worth noting that Baylor annihilated FCS preseason No. 5 Wofford 69-3. The Bears are a legitimate threat to win the Big 12.
• The same can't be said for West Virginia after the Mountaineers fought until the very end to survive William & Mary -- 2-9 last season -- 24-17.
• Virginia's nice 19-16 win over BYU came thanks in part to a monstrous performance from safety Anthony Harris, who set up touchdowns with a blocked punt and an interception.
• For the second straight year, Western Kentucky knocked off Kentucky. The final was 35-26, prompting this statement from new Hilltoppers coach Bobby Petrino: "I love winning."
• This summer, energetic new USF coach Willie Taggart invited the Tampa community to "get on the bus." There may be some empty seats following the Bulls' humbling 53-21 loss to McNeese State.
• Meanwhile, most of the country had likely forgotten that Paul Pasqualoni was still Connecticut's coach. That is, until the Huskies' 33-18 season-opening loss to Towson.
Well, now fans know why it's so tough for a defensive player to win the Heisman.
It's hard enough to get voters to pay attention to defene anyway, but last Thursday they nevertheless tuned into South Carolina's game against North Carolina for the specific purpose of watching Gamecocks star Jadeveon Clowney ... and when the junior defensive end delvered a ho-hum effort, many immediately turned on him.
Clowney, who would later admit that he suffered from a stomach virus the night before the game, was clearly winded facing the Tar Heels' hurry-up offense. He frequently came off the field, a fact which had the Around the Horn guys criticizing his conditioning and commentators on Twitter collectively downgrading the presumptive No. 1 draft pick to, say, the middle of the first round.
Some of the criticism is fair, but some of it is based on the entirely impossible standard that was set the moment that Clowney knocked the helmet off Michigan's Vincent Smith in the Outback Bowl on New Year's Day. Even in perfect condition, the nation's most dominant defensive lineman will inevitably have stat lines like the one he had Thursday (three tackles, three hurries, no sacks). Clowney had 13 sacks in 12 games last season. If he had wrapped up UNC quarterback Bryn Renner just once on Thursday, he would have matched his 2012 average. It becomes nearly impossible for voters clamoring for four sacks and a couple of forced fumbles every game to truly quantify Clowney's impact over the course of the season.
The South Carolina star doesn't have to wait long to redeem himself. He faces Georgia in another nationally televised game on Saturday. In the meantime, however, if you want to note a beastly defensive performance from Week 1, look no further than Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack. In the Bulls' 40-20 loss to Ohio State on Saturday, the two-time SI.com honorable mention All-America had 9.5 tackles and 2.5 sacks and returned a Braxton Miller interception 45 yards for a touchdown. Put Mack on those Heisman Watch lists, at least for one week.
Not even the cameraman could figure out who had the ball for Villanova on this fake-punt fumblerooski in the Wildcats' 24-14 loss to Boston College.
Florida Atlantic coach Carl Pelini implores his quarterback to stop the clock, and he obliges ... but it's fourth down. The Owls go on to lose to Miami 34-6.
Mini-previews for three of Week 2's big games:
• Notre Dame at Michigan, Saturday (8 p.m. ET): Wolverines quarterback Devin Gardner got off to an uneventful start in a rout of Central Michigan. Now, he and the other players in Brady Hoke's pro-style offense will get to test themselves against Louis Nix, Stephon Tuitt and the other stars of the talented Fighting Irish defense.
• South Carolina at Georgia, Saturday (4:30 p.m. ET): You hate to be melodramatic, but the 0-1 Dawgs' season now rests almost entirely on this game. Georgia will have to regroup after losing top receiver Malcolm Mitchell to a season-ending ACL injury and hope banged-up running back Todd Gurley is at full strength.
• Florida at Miami, Saturday (Noon ET): The last time these teams met in 2008, the Hurricanes considered it a moral victory that they kept it close into the fourth quarter against the Tim Tebow-led Gators, who won going away 26-3. The bar is much higher in Miami coach Al Golden's third season. A 'Canes upset would give the program a much-needed spark.