Sports Winners and Losers from Week 1 of College Football
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We are all winners on this opening weekend of college football because our patience over the long winter, spring and summer has ended.
It’s time for three glorious months of wall-to-wall football.
A lot changed since last year, but many things remain the same. The playoff participants from a season ago all look loaded, and despite Urban Meyer‘s suspension, Ohio State wasn’t affected on the field.
There weren’t any major upsets, and while marquee games such as West Virginia-Tennessee fizzled, the biggest one (Auburn-Washington) didn’t disappoint.
It was a strong weekend for quarterbacks. Many Heisman Trophy resumes added credentials with West Virginia’s Will Grier, Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins, Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray and Central Florida’s McKenzie Milton each loading stat sheets.
Though running back Bryce Love sputtered for Stanford, his teammates picked him up.
Meanwhile, weather dampened some of the opening-week excitement with delays across the country.
Still, football is back. Let’s take a look at Week 1’s winners and losers.
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Alabama’s title defense started with a Louisville game that lost a lot of its luster when former Cardinals Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Lamar Jackson declared for the NFL draft a year early.
The Crimson Tide took care of business with ease, winning 51-14 in one of the big-in-name-only prime-time showdowns. But the most impressive thing was how exceptional UA’s youngsters looked.
The Alabama offensive way feels like a brand in Tuscaloosa, and the group didn’t miss a beat under new coordinator Mike Locksley. If anything, they’re more explosive than some of those run-and-rely-on-defense units from years past.
Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was brilliant while implementing the run-pass option and throwing downfield—his strength throughout limited reps in each of the past two seasons.
Everybody knew ‘Bama had an elite running back stable, but the newest offensive star was freshman receiver Jaylen Waddle. The 5’10” jitterbug pass-catcher challenged Purdue’s Rondale Moore for the most exciting newcomer in Week 1 while grabbing three catches for 66 yards.
Waddle showed he can do everything, catching short passes and turning them into big gains, going deep and playing well on special teams. He isn’t the only dynamic Tide receiver, either.
Defensively, UA will always have the talent. But it was encouraging to see just how fast and prepared the youngsters were against Louisville. Bobby Petrino’s team was badly overmatched, and Alabama looks like one of the most impressive squads again. The Tide had to commit dumb penalties for Louisville to even crack the scoreboard.
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Former 5-star recruit and Ole Miss transfer quarterback Shea Patterson was supposed to be the missing piece of the puzzle for Michigan.
The staunch Jim Harbaugh defenders said all the Wolverines needed to be a national title contender was dynamic quarterback play. With a couple of strong recruiting classes on campus and a surging defense, this was Michigan’s year.
All it required was to get Patterson immediately eligible, which happened when the NCAA ruled he could transfer without penalty after the Hugh Freeze debacle in Oxford.
Patterson was supposed to be the answer. After one game, though, there are only questions.
His first test was a road matchup against Notre Dame, and the Fighting Irish harassed him all night. Patterson finished 20-of-30 for 227 yards but had two costly turnovers and failed to consistently put UM in a position to score.
He left the game with cramps with Michigan looking for a spark early in the fourth, and when he came back in, Patterson fumbled with less than a minute to go with a chance to win the game. The Wolverines fell 24-17.
Now, the concerns around Harbaugh will grow, and those surrounding his quarterback will, too. Michigan fans love Harbaugh for heading home three years ago, but he arguably has been overrated. There have been plenty of headlines, but the on-field product hasn’t been as good as expected.
Unless this is just the newest blip in Patterson’s career, his college days will be similarly criticized. It’s not unfair to say the Michigan legacies of Patterson and Harbaugh are intertwined.
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It’s a new Mater Dei in L.A., and that isn’t a bad thing for USC coach Clay Helton.
The Trojans are reloading after Sam Darnold and Ronald Jones went pro, but the future is now for one of college football’s most storied programs.
Mater Dei High School teammates JT Daniels and Amon-Ra St. Brown are the next big things for the Trojans, and their debuts didn’t disappoint.
After four frustrating first-half field-goal drives, Daniels heated up in the second half to help his new team beat UNLV 43-21.
He was a bit overshadowed by star quarterbacks Trevor Lawrence (Clemson) and Justin Fields (Georgia), but Daniels was a 5-star prospect, too. He reclassified from a 2019 to ’18 prospect and immediately became 247Sports’ No. 2-ranked pro-style quarterback.
Joining him in Helton’s stacked class was star receiver St. Brown, who finished with seven catches for 98 yards and a score. Daniels shook off the early hiccups to post a solid opener, going 22-of-35 for 282 yards and a touchdown.
“It’s my first time in the Coliseum; it was really magical,” Daniels told the Daily Trojan‘s Sam Arslanian.
The way Saturday looked, there will be many more magical moments. Trojans fans hope the next one comes next week against Stanford.
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It made huge news when Chip Kelly returned to the Pac-12 this offseason after an NFL career, especially since he was one of the gurus who helped revolutionize college offenses during his days at Oregon from 2009 to 2012.
Obviously, after Cincinnati upset Kelly’s UCLA Bruins 26-17 Saturday night in Pasadena, California, the coach needs to get rid of some of that rust before he can work his magic in Westwood.
The first questionable decision came when he went with Michigan transfer Wilton Speight at quarterback. He’s not the type of signal-caller who thrives in Kelly’s scheme, even if it has evolved after his days in the pros.
Speight struggled, completing 8 of 12 passes for 45 yards and an interception.
When Kelly changed to Dorian Thompson-Robinson, the freshman looked better, finishing with 117 passing yards. But Thompson-Robinson couldn’t come through on a baffling play call by Kelly late in the game.
With UCLA down 19-17 but with 5:46 remaining, Kelly elected to go for it on 4th-and-1 from his 36-yard line with a first-year quarterback. Even more questionable was his decision to pass.
Thompson-Robinson couldn’t find Dymond Lee on a short attempt. The Bearcats took over and converted two fourth-down plays of their own, with the last one going for a touchdown to ice the game.
In other words, Luke Fickell coached circles around Kelly, for one night at least.
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Oklahoma will take a major dip in 2018 thanks to the loss of one of the greatest college football leaders of the past decade and 2018 No. 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield, right?
Sooners second-year head coach Lincoln Riley took his team to the College Football Playoffs a season ago, where it lost to Georgia, but Oklahoma looked like it could be back in the mix.
While not many folks were picking Lane Kiffin‘s Florida Atlantic Owls to beat OU on Saturday, they were a trendy pick to cover the near-three touchdown spread. Instead, the Owls were overmatched in every facet. The defending Big 12 champion looked like a powerhouse, beating FAU 63-14.
Future Oakland Athletic farmhand Kyler Murray’s final year in Norman got off to a phenomenal start as he led OU’s offense to a 42-0 halftime lead. Not only did he connect with Marquise Brown for a 65-yard touchdown, but the quartetrback also did things like this. That makes even the elusive Mayfield look normal.
Oh, by the way, Rodney Anderson had 100 yards rushing by the break. And the defense shut out a good FAU offense until the second half.
Kiffin’s team had no answers for the Sooners, who are one of the top squads in the nation again.
You’d better put up some points if you’re going to hang with Oklahoma.
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Thursday night featured a pair of good games, as a young Wake Forest team won in overtime against Tulane and Purdue-Northwestern went down to the wire in a huge early-season Big Ten West showdown.
Purdue took center stage with mental blunder that cost the Boilermakers a chance to win.
Down 31-27 with a shade over two minutes left, Purdue stopped Northwestern running back Jeremy Larkin in the backfield to force fourth down and what should have been a 50-plus yard field-goal attempt for the Wildcats.
Head coach Jeff Brohm had used all his timeouts, so this was the final chance for Purdue’s explosive offense to get the ball back.
Instead, Boilermakers junior defensive lineman Lorenzo Neal flung Larkin to the ground long after the whistle, drawing a personal foul flag that effectively ended the game.
The Boilermakers lost a divisional contest at home in front of a national audience. A chance for a statement win against a foe that won 10 games last year fizzled.
The gaffe spoiled an electrifying performance for budding star freshman receiver Rondale Moore, who had a 76-yard rushing touchdown, 11 grabs for 109 yards, a 32-yard scoring catch and some snazzy kick returns. It also overshadowed a Purdue defensive performance that left Northwestern scoreless for the second half.
Neal, a veteran, made a mental error that can’t happen at that moment. Who knows if the Boilermakers could have driven the ball down for a go-ahead (or, possibly, game-tying) touchdown, but they never got the chance.
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Scott Frost handed new Central Florida coach Josh Heupel the keys to a shiny convertible and aimed it down Beachfront Avenue before skipping off to Nebraska.
All the first-year coach did was take the momentum from last year’s undefeated season and put the Knights on cruise control in a 56-17 season-opening slaughter of UConn.
Having Milton always makes things easier. The junior signal-caller proved yet again he’s one of the nation’s top quarterbacks as he completed 24-of-32 passes for 346 yards and five touchdowns and ran for 50 more.
Nobody thought UCF would lose on the road against UConn, and the consensus was right. Heupel took his high-flying offense—which flourished under quarterback Drew Lock when the coach was the offensive coordinator at Missouri a season ago—and infused it with all the Frost-recruited weapons.
The results were brilliant, at least in Week 1.
Not only did UCF’s passing offense look like it was in midseason form, but the Knights also rolled out 296 rushing yards—and none of the eight rushers had more than 70 yards. They wound up with 652 total yards and were 10-of-12 on third- and fourth-down conversions.
It looked like a seamless transition against the Huskies.
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Clemson has an abundance of offensive talent. The Tigers just need an elite quarterback who can advance the ball vertically to make everything click.
It must be difficult for coach Dabo Swinney to remove veteran starter Kelly Bryant, because he hasn’t done much to deserve the hook. But the nation’s former top-ranked overall recruit, Trevor Lawrence, went through spring drills and looks like a can’t-miss talent.
In Saturday’s 48-7 win over Furman, he was by far the best signal-caller on the field.
The 6’6″ lanky freshman from Cartersville, Georgia, has a cannon arm and made several NFL-caliber throws, finishing the game with 137 yards passing while connecting on 9-of-15 attempts and tossing three touchdowns. It wasn’t a great opponent. But the Tigers looked better with Lawrence on the field.
He carries himself with a confidence that proves he belongs. Every pundit who watched him had to be a believer. This kid is special, and even though Bryant may hold the starting job for a while longer, that will probably be short-lived.
Clemson will be one of the ACC’s top teams, but we already knew that. The Tigers are more worried about being one of the top teams in the country.
Swinney is used to carrying the Tigers to the playoffs. The coach must have an eye toward winning down the road. The only way for that to happen is for Lawrence to take his lumps with live reps and be the man when the lights get brighter.
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After the first game, the Stanford Cardinal have one of the Heisman Trophy front-runners.
It’s not Love, either.
While San Diego State loaded up to stop last year’s Heisman runner-up, the Cardinal overcame a sputtering start with a resurgent passing game. Quarterback K.J. Costello took advantage of the man coverage by tossing balls over the defense.
Most of those went to 6’3″, 225-pound senior receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside, who finished with six catches for 226 yards, three touchdowns and a two-point conversion in the 31-10 win. It was the most yards for a Stanford receiver since Troy Walters in 1997.
He’ll make it awfully tough for opposing defenses to stack the box. That’ll make Stanford a handful as the season matures.
Love struggled, taking a major knock to his Heisman hopes with just 29 rushing yards.
It’s been a looooong time (Desmond Howard in 1991) since a wide receiver won the Heisman, and Arcega-Whiteside would have to continue posting games like Friday night’s performance against the Aztecs to be a contender. But given the way Love torched everybody a season ago, he may get the chance.
With Love’s home run prowess looming on every down, Arcega-Whiteside stands to get ample opportunities. It also helps that the Cardinal have a great possession receiver in Trent Irwin to take pressure off.
Look for Arcega-Whiteside to be one of the country’s top playmakers.
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Beware the early anointment.
Tom Herman’s splash arrival into the head coaching world at Houston made him one of college football’s most coveted commodities, and his tenure as Ohio State’s offensive coordinator under Meyer before that didn’t hurt, either.
But after weathering an up-and-down first season at his new Texas job and following that by landing an elite recruiting class in 2018, he carried high expectations entering year two with the Longhorns. Instead, Herman laid an egg.
For the second year in a row, Texas lost the season-opener to Maryland, dropping a 34-29 back-and-forth affair.
The game had everything from a long weather delay to plenty of momentum changes. But the Longhorns had two opportunities to come from behind and win late. Instead, the final pair of drives ended with a Tre Watson fumble and a Sam Ehlinger interception, respectively.
With a brutal early slate, the Longhorns face yet another tough road to a major bowl game.
We all know the leash is short in Austin, and Texas has a lot of money invested in Herman. It’s too early for any hot-seat talk, but it’s not too soon to wonder when Herman’s Longhorns will play sound, disciplined football consistently.
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It was the opening weekend’s biggest heavyweight battle, and most expected Auburn and Washington put on a defensive show in Atlanta.
They didn’t disappoint.
The Tigers defensive front is one of the nation’s top units, and coordinator Kevin Steele’s defense was in midseason form, stifling Washington senior quarterback Jake Browning, especially when it mattered most.
You wouldn’t think a game that featured 398 yards and 24 first downs from the Huskies would warrant a “winner” designation for Auburn’s defense. But that’s because the Tigers bent against an excellent offense but rarely broke. The only Washington touchdown came late in the first half on a fantastic grab by Quinten Pounds.
All the other scoring from the Huskies came via three field goals. The Tigers kept a senior-laden Washington offense (that missed offensive tackle Trey Adams, who was out with a back injury) to 5-of-14 third-down conversions.
Derrick Brown, Dontavius Russell, Marlon Davidson and Nick Coe lived in the backfield for Auburn. Coe, especially, wasn’t a player anybody had heard much about before Saturday, but he looked dominant.
This was an ugly affair, but that’s the way Auburn should win with a defense like it has. To take games against Alabama and Georgia, you’ve got to come up big when it matters. Those are the contests by which the Tigers will be measured, and a rugged early tilt against Washington set the tone.
The only style points that count came on the scoreboard.
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You’ve got to be kidding, Mother Nature.
We’ve waited so long for college football, through an offseason rife with scandal, coaching changes and general unrest. Now it’s finally time to play a full slate of football, and what happens?
Rain. Lightning. Delays.
Games all across the country saw long, momentum-wilting stoppages with lightning in several areas. It wasn’t nearly as bad as when hurricanes cancelled multiple games over the last two seasons, but it was bad enough.
Long weather breaks happened in high-interest contests such as Ohio State-Oregon State, Texas-Maryland and West Virginia-Tennessee. Other tilts across the East saw lulls in the action.
Nebraska’s highly anticipated debut of coach Scott Frost against the Akron Zips was canceled following a long lightning delay in Lincoln.
Fans had to leave their seats, teams had to regroup and warm up again, and it messed up the flow everywhere.
For viewers, it ruined DVR’d games, caused programming shifts and led to dilemmas on which matchups to watch. Generally, it was frustrating.
Weather can’t be helped, of course. But it did make for a bummer of a speed bump for college football’s opening weekend.
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A broken finger cut short Will Grier’s promising first season at West Virginia last year, but that didn’t stop all the bold-print headlines from surrounding him entering his final run with the Mountaineers.
He started what should be a high-profile Heisman campaign in his hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina, in a marquee neutral-site game against a rebuilding Tennessee. A hot start and a brief lull gave way to a highlight-reel second half for the senior signal-caller.
Grier shredded Tennessee’s young secondary, and the Vols had no answer for his surgical passing. Grier is the ideal maestro for coach Dana Holgorsen’s offense, and he put on a show to help the Mountaineers turn UT coach Jeremy Pruitt’s debut into a 40-14 laugher.
It seemed like the ball never hit the ground after halftime when West Virginia dropped back to pass. Though Grier missed a couple of sure touchdown passes in the first half, he didn’t let those opportunities pass in the second half.
Grier completed 25 of his 34 passes for a career-high 429 yards and five touchdowns.
“We played a good team game,” Grier told the CBS television crew after the game. “I don’t know all the stats, but the guys played great. First half, we were kind of figuring things out. We settled in and played a complete game.”
With weapons such as David Sills V and Gary Jennings Jr. (both with more than 100 receiving yards Saturday) around him, Grier is poised for a massive season.
The Mountaineers may be Oklahoma’s biggest threat in the Big 12.
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Eleven years ago today, perhaps the greatest upset in college football history occurred when then-FCS powerhouse Appalachian State went into the Big House and knocked off Michigan.
Things have changed since. The Mountaineers are a Sun Belt heavyweight, but they are still big underdogs when it comes to playing major-conference opponents such as Penn State.
That didn’t stop them from marching into Happy Valley and taking the Nittany Lions into overtime before succumbing by a 45-38 margin. They scored 28 of the first 35 points of the fourth quarter to grab the lead before Trace McSorley led the Lions back on a game-tying drive to force the extra session.
ASU missed a 56-yard field goal in regulation that would have won it.
Penn State then scored with ease to start overtime and stopped Appalachian State to survive. It was our first taste of “almost” in the upset-happy world of college football. If you were on Twitter during the game’s final few moments, you would have seen a ton of fans pulling for the underdog.
That’s what makes the sport great.
But what also makes it great is when stars like McSorley calmly lead their teams back to win.
It would have been a remarkable story for the Mountaineers to pull off an upset of a Big Ten team—especially on the anniversary of that day, of all days. But PSU halted those heroics.
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There’s still a big matchup remaining between LSU and Miami on Sunday night, but the conference that produced last year’s two participants in the national title game was the biggest winner through Saturday.
That would be the SEC, which continued to look like the king of conferences with a 12-1 record. The only loss came on West Virginia’s dismantling of a rebuilding Tennessee team.
Highlight wins came from Auburn, which won a top-10 showdown with Washington, and Alabama’s beatdown of an overmatched Louisville. Vanderbilt looked strong against a decent Middle Tennessee team, and Ole Miss blew past Texas Tech 47-27.
Others such as Missouri, Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi State, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Texas A&M played patsies, but they all took care of business without many issues.
The ACC and Big 12 had plenty of highlights, and one of the Big Ten’s losses came in an intradivisional game, but the SEC looks much improved from top to bottom.
Maybe that coaching overhaul was a good thing. But, for one week, the conference didn’t beat up on itself.
Brad Shepard covers college football for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @Brad_Shepard.