Big games underwhelm on opening weekend
Given some of the games on the schedule for the first weekend of the college football season, many were expecting some very competitive matchups. However the “big” games failed to live up to the hype until Monday night, when in-state rivals Miami and Florida State provided another classic entry in their spirited rivalry. Miami picked up the win, 38-34, surviving three Seminole shots into the end zone from inside the five yard line to hang on. But even though there was a winner and a loser, both teams can benefit from the result.
Both watched young quarterbacks in Jacory Harris and Christian Ponder come of age; even though there were a few mistakes both signal-callers did more than enough to give their teams a chance to play. Both teams made progress as well, even though there were issues regarding pass defense and tackling (both teams), line play (Miami) and running the ball with consistency (Florida State). Which team needed the win more, even though there isn’t much to differentiate in this rivalry? Likely Miami, who has conference dates later this month with both Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech.
The performance couldn’t have come at a better time for the beleaguered ACC, which saw its national perception take a serious beating. Below is a conference-by-conference roundup, featuring a key point for each conference along with scores.
ACC: Does perception equal reality? The ACC hopes not.
It was a near-disastrous opening weekend for the ACC, beginning with an inept offensive showing by NC State on Thursday night. In non-conference games the league went 4-6 with just one of those wins coming against an FBS opponent (Clemson over Middle Tennessee). That was compounded by two losses to FCS opponents: Duke getting handled by Richmond and Virginia turning the ball over seven times in a stunning loss to William & Mary.
Virginia Tech had a chance to salvage pride against Alabama in the Chick-Fil-A Season Kickoff, but the truth regarding that game lies beneath the 34-24 final. While the Hokies showed much better than Clemson last year, they were also outgained by the Crimson Tide 498-155 and managed just eleven first downs. The preseason talk revolved around whether or not this was the year in which the ACC would grab two BCS slots. That talk’s been hushed for the time being.
Scores: South Carolina 7, NC State 3; #15 Georgia Tech 37, Jacksonville St. 17; Boston College 54, Northeastern 0; Baylor 24, Wake Forest 21; #21 North Carolina 40, The Citadel 6; Clemson 37, Middle Tennessee 14; William & Mary 26, Virginia 14; Richmond 24, Duke 16; #12 California 52, Maryland 13; #5 Alabama 34, #7 Virginia Tech 24; Miami 38, #18 Florida State 34.
Big 12: Oklahoma loses Sam Bradford; good wins for Baylor, Oklahoma State and Missouri.
The biggest news of the weekend in college football had to be the Grade 2 shoulder strain suffered by reigning Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford. His loss highlighted two things for the defending Big 12 champions in their 14-13 loss to BYU: the offensive line had yet to jell and there’s no experience behind him (that one’s obvious). Four new starters up front this season and they struggled in picking up the BYU blitz packages, one of which resulted in the Bradford injury.
Oklahoma managed just 3.8 yards per carry in the rushing game, something that should have been a strength with the likes of DeMarco Murray and Chris Brown returning. The play of the line becomes even more important now with redshirt freshman Landry Jones being the man under center. Luckily for Oklahoma they’ve got Idaho State next, which should allow both the line and Jones to become more comfortable in their roles. As for the rest of the conference, teams picked up some very good non-conference wins on Saturday.
Oklahoma State beating Georgia 24-10 at its own “SEC game” got the majority of the headlines, but Baylor was quite impressive in winning at Wake Forest. Robert Griffin III has gotten even better as a sophomore, and he’s got some skill position players around him who can make teams pay when they focus too much attention on Griffin. And even more impressive was Missouri, who whipped Illinois from start to finish in St. Louis. Blaine Gabbert was sensational at quarterback for the Tigers, who now cannot be discounted from the Big 12 North race. Outside of the Bradford injury and a disappointing performance by Colorado, it was a good weekend for the Big 12.
Scores: Iowa State 34, North Dakota State 17; #9 Oklahoma State 24, #13 Georgia 10; Baylor 24, Wake Forest 21; Missouri 37, Illinois 9; #24 Nebraska 49, Florida Atlantic 3; #20 BYU 14, #3 Oklahoma 13; Texas A&M 41, New Mexico 6; #2 Texas 59, UL Monroe 20; #25 Kansas 49, Northern Colorado 3; Texas Tech 38, North Dakota 13; Kansas State 21, Massachusetts 17; Colorado State 23, Colorado 17.
Big East: Cincinnati makes a loud statement at Rutgers.
It didn’t seem to matter what the Big East beat writers said in Newport back in early August: the national media was determined to anoint Rutgers the favorite to win the Big East. Well, defending champion Cincinnati provided a vivid picture as to why that thinking was flawed. The Bearcats moved the ball at will on Monday, not stopping until they had a 47-15 win in the first game at the expanded Rutgers Stadium. Tony Pike had a career day with 362 yards passing and three touchdowns, and the offense put up 564 yards on the day.
The defense, featuring a new scheme (3-4) and ten new starters (seven are seniors), held the Scarlet Knights to fifty yards rushing and forced three turnovers. And given how Rutgers moved the ball down the field their first drive of the game, that rushing number becomes even more impressive. As for Rutgers the Tom Savage era began in the second half following a three-interception half from senior Dom Natale. Besides Mohamed Sanu and on occasion Tim Brown the passing game lacked for options, and the line wasn’t as dominant as many expected them to be going into the season. Defensively Rutgers had all kinds of trouble slowing down Cincinnati much less stopping them. The quarterback position received the attention during fall camp, but it’s pretty obvious that there are many more issues with the Scarlet Knights.
Scores: Minnesota 23, Syracuse 20 (OT); West Virginia 33, Liberty 20; Pittsburgh 38, Youngstown State 3; Connecticut 23, Ohio 16; USF 40, Wofford 7; Louisville 30, Indiana State 10; Cincinnati 47, Rutgers 15.
Big Ten: Ohio State and Iowa survive scares while Michigan shines.
The week didn’t start off well for the Michigan football program, with head coach Rich Rodriguez tearfully defending the actions of his program in the face of NCAA rules violations. The question wasn’t whether or not this team was unified but how soon everything would unravel. The answer: not any time soon. As a matter of fact, Michigan could end up being one of the nation’s biggest surprises this season. That’s been a trademark of Coach Rodriguez, with his teams improving exponentially from their first to second season.
The Wolverines blew out Western Michigan on Saturday 31-7, and the three-quarterback platoon worked like a charm. Tate Forcier, who will start against Notre Dame on Saturday, played well as did the explosive Denard Robinson. And in Junior Hemingway Michigan has a receiver who can make teams pay when they concentrate too much on the running portion of the spread offense. It’s much too early to declare the Wolverines a contender in the Big Ten, but given what Illinois, Iowa and Ohio State showed they may not be as far off as originally thought.
Ohio State struggled to slow down Navy, getting victimized by the run and the pass in the 31-27 victory. And with USC visiting next weekend that is not a good sign despite the fact that the two systems have nothing in common. Iowa needed to block field goals on consecutive plays to survive FCS member Northern Iowa at home and what happened to Illinois was discussed earlier. Can you read too much into the first week of the season? Yes, but how much different will the Hawkeyes be a month or two from now with RB Jewel Hampton out for the year with a torn ACL? There’s room for improvement; it’s just a matter of whether or not some of the league favorites have the ability to do so.
Scores: Indiana 19, Eastern Kentucky 13; Northwestern 47, Towson 14; Michigan State 44, Montana State 3; Minnesota 23, Syracuse 20 (OT); #6 Ohio State 31, Navy 27; #9 Penn State 31, Akron 7; Purdue 52, Toledo 31; #22 Iowa 17, Northern Iowa 16; Michigan 31, Western Michigan 7; Missouri 37, Illinois 9; Wisconsin 28, Northern Illinois 20.
Conference USA: East Carolina survives an Appalachian State rally while the other favorites impress.
The defending champion Pirates went into the fourth quarter with a 29-7 lead. But they inexplicably took their foot off the pedal, allowing a Mountaineer squad that was without its starting quarterback (Armanti Edwards) to close to within five points with just over three minutes to go. The Pirates had issues all afternoon with nine penalties (109 yards), two turnovers and a passing game that was inadequate (12-of-27, 131 yards) to say the least. ECU was able to run the football (189 yards) on the Mountaineers, but they’ll need a lot more balance when they hit Morgantown next weekend to take on a more talented group of Mountaineers.
The other expected contenders got the job done over the weekend. Tulsa kicked things off with a 37-13 win at Tulane on Friday, and with Oklahoma likely not having Sam Bradford back in time for their meeting on the 19th the Golden Hurricane watched their chances improve on their day off. Also, QB G.J. Kinne was effective both in the air and on the ground for Todd Graham and should be able to rack up even better numbers as the season progresses. Houston and Southern Miss both took care of FCS opponents, and UAB showed marked improvement in a beating of Rice in Birmingham.
Scores: Tulsa 37, Tulane 13; East Carolina 29, Appalachian State 24; UAB 44, Rice 24; Marshall 31, Southern Illinois 28; Houston 55, Northwestern State 7; Southern Miss 52, Alcorn State 0; UCF 28, Samford 24; SMU 31, Stephen F. Austin 28; Buffalo 23, UTEP 17; #8 Ole Miss 45, Memphis 14.
Independents: Notre Dame impresses in shutout victory, and Amry wins their opener as well.
The Irish picked up right where they left off at the end of last season, blowing out a WAC school and showing signs that they could once again be a player nationally. The offense played well in the 35-0 win over Nevada on Saturday and the defense rendered reigning WAC Player of the Year Colin Kaepernick ineffective. On the day the Irish had 510 yards of offense while holding the Wolf Pack to 307 yards and three turnovers. Thanks to the play of both Notre Dame and Michigan their meeting next weekend became far more intriguing.
As for the Black Knights the first game of the Rich Ellerson era was a success, with Army rushing for 300 yards in their 27-14 win over Eastern Michigan. The Army defense forced three turnovers and held the Eagles to forty yards rushing on twenty-nine carries. Coach Ellerson’s team will go through its fair share of growing pains this season, but you can’t ignore the growth that Army showed in their first game of the season.
Scores: 6) Ohio State 31, Navy 27; #23 Notre Dame 35, Nevada 0; Army 27, Eastern Michigan 14.
MAC: Conference favorites fail to make any waves nationally.
There were some opportunities for favorites within the MAC to pull off upsets over teams from BCS conferences this past weekend, but they failed to get the job done with line play being a major factor. Central Michigan went out to Arizona, with signs of both lines struggling. Dan LeFevour was harassed all night long, and the defense gave up 246 yards rushing on the night. Ohio forced four Connecticut turnovers at Peden Stadium, but they allowed backs Jordan Todman and Andre Dixon to combine for more than 250 yards rushing in the Husky victory, not to mention turning the ball over themselves.
Western Michigan’s issues were discussed earlier, and Temple had the most glaring defeat in losing to Villanova in overtime. Luckily for the MAC defending champion Buffalo went on the road and beat UTEP, with new quarterback Zach Maynard playing well and the back by committee idea working to the tune of 159 yards rushing on the night. The issue through much of the BCS era has been missed opportunities; the MAC let a couple more slip through their fingertips this weekend.
Scores: Bowling Green 31, Troy 14; Villanova 27, Temple 24 (OT); Kent State 18, Coastal Carolina 0; North Texas 20, Ball State 10; Kentucky 42, Miami Univ. 0; #9 Penn State 31, Akron 7; Purdue 52, Toledo 31; Michigan 31, Western Michigan 7; Connecticut 23, Ohio 16; Wisconsin 28, Northern Illinois 20; Army 27, Eastern Michigan 14; Buffalo 23, UTEP 17; Arizona 19, Central Michigan 6.
Mountain West: The race for the BCS is now on.
BYU sent a message to the country with their win over Oklahoma, but they aren’t the only hope the Mountain West has to crash the BCS party. The Cougars have the best schedule to make a run at a national title game berth, provided they run the table (which would include wins over Florida State, TCU and Utah in addition to Oklahoma). TCU had the week off before their opener at Virginia next weekend, and given what the Cavaliers did against William & Mary look for the Horned Frogs to be favored. If TCU can win in Charlottesville and at Clemson on the 26th, they’ll be right there as well.
And there’s also the matter of defending champion Utah, who now has a game later this month against an Oregon team that will be without the services of their feature back. And with the developments of this weekend, does it really have to be a competition between the Mountain West and Boise State for one bid? There could very well be two teams from non-AQ leagues in the BCS should they build upon their hot start.
Scores: #19 Utah 35, Utah State 17; Air Force 72, Nicholls State 0; Wyoming 29; Weber State 22; #20 BYU 14, #3 Oklahoma 13; Texas A&M 41, New Mexico 6; UCLA 33, San Diego State 14; UNLV 38, Sacramento State 3; Colorado State 23, Colorado 17.
Pac-10: The kid’s alright at USC, as is Kevin Riley at Cal.
Saturday was the highly-anticipated debut for true freshman QB Matt Barkley and he did not disappoint in the Trojans’ 56-3 win over San Jose State. Due primarily to ball security issues (two fumbles) USC got off to a slow start, allowing the Spartans to hang around. Then the running backs kicked into high gear and Barkley showed the smarts and poise of a seasoned veteran, going 15-of-19 for 233 yards and a score. Not exactly huge numbers but head coach Pete Carroll doesn’t need huge numbers given who’s all in the backfield. USC rushed for 342 yards in the win and given some of the things that Navy was able to accomplish, albeit in a far different system, that could be a sign of good things to come in Columbus Saturday night.
As for Riley, there’s no more looking over his shoulder at Nate Longshore, as both had to do in alternating last season. He’s the man and the confidence that comes with that distinction was on full display in the Golden Bears’ 52-13 beating of Maryland. Riley was 17-of-26 for 298 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions. And just like Barkley he doesn’t have to do it all thanks to the presence of a strong running game. Jahvid Best scored two first quarter touchdowns on his way to 137 yards on just ten carries, and as a team Cal rushed for 244 yards (6.6 yards per carry). A very good start for head coach Jeff Tedford’s club.
Scores: #14 Boise State 19, #16 Oregon 8; Oregon State 34, Portland State 7; #4 USC 56, San Jose State 3; Stanford 39, Washington State 13; UCLA 33, San Diego State 14; Arizona State 50, Idaho State 3; Arizona 19, Central Michigan 6; #12 California 52, Maryland 13; #11 LSU 31, Washington 23.
SEC: Solid debuts for the new head coaches. But they haven’t been tested just yet.
Three new head coaches in the SEC, and all three had relatively easy beginnings to their seasons. Lane Kiffin and company got ready for a visit from UCLA with Western Kentucky, a school playing its first season at the FBS level. Tennessee beat the Hilltoppers 63-7, showing off an offense that look far different from the one that graced the Neyland Stadium field a season ago. The Volunteers put up 657 yards on the day, including 380 on the ground, and the defense held WKU to just eighty-three yards of offense. Not representative of what they’ll see in the SEC but a good start nonetheless.
The same goes for Dan Mullen at Mississippi State, who is charged with ramping up an offense that displayed little ingenuity and even less production last year. The Bulldogs beat Jackson State 45-7 in Starkville, with Tyson Lee and Chris Relf (3 passing TDs) splitting the duties at quarterback and the offense rushing for 238 yards. Defensively the Bulldogs were solid, forcing five JSU turnovers and holding the Tigers to just 1.8 yards per carry.
Lastly, there was Gene Chizik at Auburn, whose team displayed a hunger and ferocity not seen on The Plains late last season. Louisiana Tech was seen as a threat to upset the Tigers if Auburn wasn’t on its game, and that proved to be true in the first half as the Bulldogs went into halftime down just 13-10. But Auburn turned it up on both sides of the field in the second half, outscoring Louisiana Tech 24-3 and finishing the game with 556 yards of total offense. Freshman Onterio McCalebb and Ben Tate both eclipsed the 100-yard mark and Chris Tood threw two touchdown passes (and no interceptions) in the win. While all three teams know that there’s work to be done, there no better way to do it than with a 1-0 record.
Scores: South Carolina 7, NC State 3; Kentucky 42, Miami Univ. 0; Tennessee 63, Western Kentucky 7; #9 Oklahoma State 24, #13 Georgia 10; Mississippi State 45, Jackson State 7; Auburn 37, Louisiana Tech 13; Arkansas 48, Missouri State 10; #1 Florida 62, Charleston Southern 3; Vanderbilt 45, Western Carolina 0; #5 Alabama 34, #7 Virginia Tech 24; #11 LSU 31, Washington 23.
Sun Belt: The favorite to repeat gets outclassed on the road.
Troy may very well go on to win the Sun Belt title for the second consecutive season but Thursday night was not the most convincing debut. Bowling Green, unveiling a new head coach in Dave Clawson, won the time of possession battle by nine minutes and picked off Levi Brown twice in the 31-14 Falcons win. Neither team could run the football but it was Tyler Sheehan who had the banner day through the air. Sheehan completed thirty-two passes (44 attempts) for 339 yards and two touchdowns to just one interception. It also helps when you’re 3-for-3 on 4th down and can return an interception for a touchdown to seal the game.
This was a winnable game for the Trojans, one that many felt they should win, but Troy did not get the job done. It won’t help matters that Florida Atlantic was whipped at Nebraska, but the play of redshirt freshman Riley Dodge was a bright spot. Dodge led North Texas to a 20-10 win over Ball State, leading the offense to 512 yards (296 yards rushing) on the evening. He’s grown up with this system (his father Todd is the head coach, previously leading the outstanding Southlake Carroll program) and it showed in Muncie.
Scores: Bowling Green 31, Troy 14; North Texas 20, Ball State 10; Tennessee 63, Western Kentucky 7; Clemson 37, Middle Tennessee 14; #24 Nebraska 49, Florida Atlantic 3; #2 Texas 59, UL Monroe 20; UL Lafayette 42, Southern 19; Arkansas State 61, Mississippi Valley State 0;
WAC: Boise State carries the banner…but where’s the help?
Much has been made about the Broncos’ 19-8 win over Oregon on Thursday, with the focus unfortunately moving from a dominant defensive showing to postgame behavior. But to be honest that performance was to be expected from Chris Petersen’s team. This weekend we also saw why the WAC as a whole gets routinely left out of conversation for a guaranteed spot at the BCS table while the Mountain West gets the ink. Nevada and Louisiana Tech, both expected to be the best bet to challenge Boise State, went on the road and failed to take advantage of the opportunities presented to them.
At least Derek Dooley’s team hung in there with Auburn for a half; Colin Kaepernick and company had no such luck at Notre Dame. Add to this Hawaii struggling with Central Arkansas, winning by the surprisingly small final of 25-20, and the fear may become whether or not there’s enough “beef on the menu” to make sure Boise State isn’t passed by one (or maybe even two) of the Mountain West’s “big three” due to the weakness of their conference schedule.
Scores: #19 Utah 35, Utah State 17; #14 Boise State 19, #16 Oregon 8; Hawaii 25, Central Arkansas 20; #4 USC 56, San Jose State 3; #23 Notre Dame 35, Nevada 0; Auburn 37, Louisiana Tech 14; Idaho 21, New Mexico State 6; Fresno State 51, UC Davis 0.