A bunch of the top teams in the nation got off to seriously sluggish starts to open the season in college football Week 1. It’s to be expected, to a certain degree, but there were some rather alarming performances that leave us with more questions than answers about the coming weeks.
One of the hottest coaches of the offseason absolutely tanked his debut in the biggest upset of Week 1. A Heisman favorite struggled through a very frustrating day in which he failed to throw a single touchdown pass. One of the hottest names in NFL draft circles failed to live up to the hype.
It wasn’t all bad, though. Some major programs watched newcomers have outstanding games in blowout wins. Some very recognizable names put up monster stats for their respective teams.
There was plenty of good, bad and ugly in college football Week 1. These are the biggest takeaways from the biggest games of the week so far, with a few left to play on Sunday and Monday.
1. Texas-sized failure in Tom Herman’s Longhorns debut
Tom Herman might be looking back at his decision to throw shade at Charlie Strong with a bit of regret after watching his team get beat by Maryland Saturday afternoon in Austin.
The final score of 51-41 doesn’t truly do justice to how much of a failure this loss was on the part of the Longhorns. They went into the game favored to win by nearly three touchdowns. Instead, they lost the turnover battle, were plagued by penalties, had no discipline on defense and got humiliated at home for their efforts. In fact, if not for a defensive score and two special-teams touchdowns, the game would have been even more out of hand.
2. Saquon Barkley is the best running back in college football
Not that this comes as a huge shock to anyone who’s been keeping track of Saquon Barkley, but he’s peerless right now. Sure, there are a ton of talented running backs in the nation, but Barkley is clearly in a league of his own. He showcased the full repertoire on Saturday at home against Akron, which never had a chance. Rushing for 172 yards and two scores on just 14 carries and catching three passes for 54 yards, he broke off long plays of 80, 43, 30 and 25 yards in the process.
No running back can match the combination of power, finesse and raw speed Barkley brings to the table. If he stays healthy he’ll be a very high NFL draft pick next April.
3. Bryce Love is going to be a star
It’s going to be impossible to replace Christian McCaffrey. That young man was uniquely talented and could do it all. But Stanford isn’t exactly suffering with Bryce Love as the featured back. We highlighted him before the season as a player set to become a star, and he came through with a huge performance in college football Week 1 against Rice. Rushing for 180 yards and a touchdown on just 13 carries, Love showed off his explosiveness with a 62-yard scamper on the first offensive play of the game. Stanford easily won, 62-7, on the first Saturday of college football action in 2017.
4. J.K. Dobbins will drive Ohio State’s offense in 2017
There have been a lot of impressive freshmen running backs in Ohio State’s history, but none made as big a first impression as J.K. Dobbins. Breaking the school’s freshman record for most rushing yards in a first game, Dobbins was the driving force behind the Buckeyes’ big 49-21 win over a feisty Indiana squad that gave them trouble from the start. Finishing with 181 yards on the ground and 205 total yards from scrimmage, the freshman wowed with his jump cuts, quickness and vision. His ability to break through against a tough Hoosiers defensive front allowed J.T. Barrett to finally make some big plays downfield later in the contest.
5. Josh Allen hype train stalls
One of the quarterbacks who will be heavily scrutinized throughout the 2017 season, Josh Allen appeared to be getting off to a great start against Iowa on Saturday. He opened the game completing 10-of-13 passes and helped set up the game’s first score by magically avoiding a monster sack early in the second quarter. Unfortunately, the good times didn’t last.
Iowa opened up a 7-3 lead and then went up 14-3 right before the half, thanks to one of the worst attempts at a punt this scribe has ever witnessed (watch here). The game snowballed from there. Allen began to struggle, and even when he did make a perfect throw to the end zone he was utterly failed by his receiver. In the end, Allen finished with just 174 yards on 23-of-40 passing and was intercepted twice.
6. Baker Mayfield nearly perfect in easy win for Sooners
Oklahoma’s first game without Bob Stoops in nearly two decades went off without a hitch. Baker Mayfield was darn-near flawless, completing 19-of-20 attempts for 329 yards and three touchdowns before giving way to Kyler Murray in the third quarter. Not surprisingly, tight end/receiver hybrid Mark Andrews had a huge game, catching seven passes for 134 yards and a score. You’d never know Mayfield lost his top offensive weapons from a year ago based on how smoothly the entire offense operated. UTEP never stood a chance, and Oklahoma easily cruised to a 1-0 start to the 2017 season.
7. Indiana is going to be a tough out for Big Ten’s best all year long
The Big Ten East is no joke. Among the giants like Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State is a team that gave the Buckeyes a lot of trouble in the first half. And this isn’t a one-time deal. Indiana was a very tough opponent all year in 2016, losing its seven games by just 67 combined points. And that was against the top teams in the conference.
On Thursday against Ohio State, we watched Richard Lagow make a ton of impressive throws to his talented receivers. Simmie Cobbs Jr., Luke Timian, Donovan Hale and Ian Thomas all made meaningful contributions, with Cobbs Jr. in particular showing off insane hands and body control up against the sideline. Indiana’s defensive line held up well against Ohio State for a full half before Dobbins went buck wild, opening up the entire offense for the Buckeyes.
8. Oklahoma State’s offense is going to be hard to stop
First, a disclaimer: Tulsa was never going to put up much of a fight against the Cowboys. Still, the ease with which Mason Rudolph, Justice Hill, James Washington and Co. were able to move the ball and score at will on Thursday night was remarkable. Especially considering other top teams were so sluggish in college football Week 1. Rudolph completed all but four of his 24 pass attempts for 303 yards and three touchdowns, two of which were hauled in by Washington, who finished with six catches for 145 yards.
This high-powered offense put up 59 points with ease in the blowout win. It is the biggest reason Oklahoma State entered the season as the No. 10-ranked team in the nation and will be a treat to watch all year long.
9. LSU rides strong running game, dominant defense to shutout win
What a difference a week makes. BYU found that out the hard way. After tallying 365 yards last week against Porland State, the Cougars were absolutely swallowed up by LSU’s daunting defense. BYU managed just 97 total yards of offense and never scored. While LSU was favored to win, the performance by the Tigers defense was eye opening.
On the other side of the ball, the Tigers owned the line of scrimmage and pulverized BYU’s defense with a relentless rushing attack. Derrius Guice played into the third quarter, piling up 122 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. Darrel Williams pitched in with 92 yards of his own and another rushing score, and the Tigers romped to a 27-0 win.
10. Lane Kiffin’s debut with Florida Atlantic was awful
So, we didn’t really expect the Owls to beat the Midshipmen on Friday night. Navy was favored to win for a reason. But what transpired in Lane Kiffin’s first game as the head coach at Florida Atlantic was nothing short of embarrassing. His team was trounced by the score of 42-19, both his quarterbacks threw an interception, the running game was non-existent and the defense couldn’t stop Navy’s rushing attack.
Kiffin is always involved in something that brings the spotlight towards him. But to this point in his career, that hasn’t necessarily been for positive reasons. Clearly, he has a lot of work in front of him to turn the Owls into a contender.
11. Georgia’s offense is all about the running game
No matter who starts behind center this year for Georgia, the offensive game plan should start and end with making sure Nick Chubb and Sony Michel both get a ton of carries. On Saturday against Appalachian State, Jacob Eason left early with a knee injury, giving way to freshman Jake Fromm. Between them, the two quarterbacks passed for 147 yards and one touchdown — the lone score coming on a very dangerous throw by the freshman that Javon Wims happened to come down with near the goal line.
The Bulldogs do need to develop that passing game, but it all starts with the ground attack. Michel and Chubb toted the pigskin 31 times for 183 yards and three touchdowns. Given the team’s youth at quarterback and the fact Georgia has a strong defense, it’s clear what the strategy needs to be going forward.
12. The Kelly Bryant era in Clemson gets off to smashing start
Clemson had some significant offensive leaders from last year’s squad leave for the NFL this past spring. Chief among them was Deshaun Watson. His departure allows Kelly Bryant, who knew he’d have to sit his first couple of seasons, to finally step into the spotlight as the leader of Clemson’s offense.
Though Kent State offered little in the way of resistance, it was a good first start for Bryant and the Tigers, who wasted no time jumping ahead on the scoreboard. Before five minutes had ticked off the game clock they led by two touchdowns. By the end of the first quarter they led by three. All told, Bryant led five touchdown-scoring drives before giving way to the backups. He completed 16-of-22 passes for 236 yards and a touchdown, adding another 77 yards and a touchdown on the ground. Clemson eased into the season with a dominant 56-3 win, but a much bigger test awaits in Week 2 against Auburn.
13. Jarrett Stidham showed some rust in Auburn debut
It’s been quite a while since Stidham took the field. His last college game before Saturday came in November of 2015. After taking last year off while attending McLennan Community College, he transferred to Auburn. In his first game for the Tigers, Stidham certainly showed signs of rust. He completed just 14-of-24 passes for 185 yards with two touchdowns and one interception against Georgia Southern. Auburn ran away with the game — quite literally, as the Tigers rushed for 351 yards and three touchdowns — but Stidham needs to be much more on the ball in the coming weeks.
Auburn has high hopes for this upcoming season, and a lot of the optimism stems from the fact that Stidham is the quarterback. A huge test against Clemson is on the menu next weekend. We’ll know a lot more about this young man, and the Tigers, after that clash.
14. Quinton Flowers has to sharpen up his game
Quinton Flowers has been mentioned by many as a potential dark horse Heisman candidate in 2017. A dual-threat quarterback, he has plenty of talent and should be able to post big-time numbers in the American Athletic Conference. He helped South Florida win by 20 points last Saturday night but wasn’t sharp at all in the contest. Completing just 11-of-23 passes for 212 yards, he threw two touchdowns in the second quarter against the overmatched San Jose State Spartans.
It was more of the same this Saturday at home against Stony Brook, which actually took a 10-7 lead into halftime. Flowers and the Bulls perked up, presumably after getting their butts chewed by Charlie Strong. He finished with 186 yards on 19-of-32 passing with two touchdowns and one interception, adding another 67 yards on the ground in this game.
Despite putting up two early wins, Flowers and the Bulls have looked far from impressive. As the leader of the offense and one of the top leaders on the team, it’s up to Flowers to sharpen up his game quickly.
15. Jake Browning misses John Ross
Washington entered the first week of action as the No. 8 team in the nation and was favored to win by nearly four touchdowns. However, we wondered if Jake Browning would look anywhere like he did last season when John Ross caught 81 passes and took 17 of them in for touchdowns.
Washington’s offense sputtered badly to open the game on the road in New Jersey. Browning looked lost and was rocked early on a huge sack. It says something that his most reliable receiver in the game turned out to be running back Myles Gaskin. Dante Pettis was huge for the Huskies, scoring on a gorgeous punt return and catching three passes for 85 yards. That’s great. But the offense isn’t the same this year without Ross.
16. Troy Fumagalli has to stay involved in Wisconsin’s offense all year long
Last season as a junior, tight end Troy Fumagalli opened the season with a seven-catch, 100-yard game for the Badgers. However, that was the pinnacle of his season. He ended up catching just one touchdown all year and managed just 480 yards receiving the rest of the season.
On Friday night at home against Utah State, Fumagalli came up huge for his team when it needed a spark. He caught five passes for 105 yards and a touchdown to lead Wisconsin. He’ll need to continue putting up big totals all year long based on the way the rest of the passing offense performed. We know the running game will show up. But Alex Hornibrook was not sharp in Week 1 and struggled to find his receivers. He’ll no doubt be looking for his big senior tight end all year. And if Fumagalli can deliver, the Badgers will be much tougher to stop.
17. USC’s running game, not Sam Darnold, shines in scrap with Western Michigan
Until very late in this game, a win was far from certain for the No. 4 ranked team in the nation. USC got all it could handle from a very tough Western Michigan squad that didn’t get enough respect coming into the contest. Sam Darnold was far from sharp — he threw two interceptions — and the USC defense was fairly abused by the offensive line of the Broncos.
In the end, it wasn’t the Heisman candidate Darnold who came to the rescue for the Trojans. Instead, the first game was all about Ronald Jones II and freshman phenom Stephen Carr, who combined to rush for 228 yards and five touchdowns. Carr’s second touchdown run late in the fourth quarter was the game-breaker, and then safety Marvell Tell III capped off the win with a 37-yard interception return for touchdown to put USC up by the score of 49-31.
That final score doesn’t tell us the true story of just how close this game was until the end. USC got away with a very poor start and will need to be significantly better next weekend when it hosts Stanford.
One final note here: The Trojans had quite a special moment happen at the end of the game when blind long-snapper Jake Olson took the field in a competitive situation for the first time. His first play was pure perfection.
18. Michigan D strong, but Florida’s offensive flop big story in marquee matchup
You’d think that Jim McElwain, and offensive-minded head coach, would be able to somehow produce a decent offense in his third year as the head coach at Florida. His first two seasons at the helm, the Gators ranked 100th or worse in terms of points scored. Things look to be no different this year, much to the chagrin of Gators fans everywhere.
Despite the defense scoring touchdowns on consecutive pick-six’s in the first half, Florida was trounced by the score of 33-17 Saturday. Michigan’s defense was certainly strong, and we don’t want to insinuate the Wolverines didn’t deserve to win. But the real story here is that Florida’s offense was absolutely hapless. The Gators managed just 11 yards on 27 carries. Malik Zaire and Feleipe Franks were both unable to consistently move the ball, and the offensive line was a mess.
All told, Florida gained just 192 yards, converted just nine first downs and only two of those came on third downs in 13 tries. Hats off to Florida’s defense for keeping the Gators in the game. It’s a trend that will have to continue all year, because this offense is putrid.
19. Lamar Jackson almost single-handedly wins game against Purdue
Louisville has some problems on the defensive side of the ball. And the team’s offensive line didn’t do Lamar Jackson and his running backs any favors, either. The Boilermakers controlled the line of scrimmage on the defensive side of the ball, and the Cardinals struggled against the pass, allowing four touchdowns through the air.
Thankfully, Jackson was able to overcome all that with a very gutsy performance that included a Heisman-reel moment or two. Though, we’d be remiss if we didn’t point out a fumble on a botched exchange between the quarterback and his center in the first quarter. We’d also be remiss if we didn’t point out Jackson threw into coverage many times and got very lucky he wasn’t intercepted.
In the end, his stats looked great. He completed 30-of-46 passes for 378 yards and two touchdowns, adding 107 yards on the ground. His bid to become a repeat Heisman champion is off to a nice start, even if the Cardinals looked less than impressive.
20. New year, same old Alabama
Nick Saban has a pretty standard recipe for domination. He employs a punishing rushing attack that features the most talented offensive linemen and running backs in the nation. He features a defense that has players destined for the NFL at every position. He doesn’t take unnecessary risks and runs as tight a ship as any program in the nation.
All that was on full display Saturday night in Atlanta against a very talented Florida State team that hung tough with the Crimson Tide through one half of play.
At that point, Alabama led by three points, 10-7. Then, over the course of just a handful of plays, the game got out of hand, in typical Bama style. Running back Damien Harris blocked a punt, leading to a field goal. Then on the next kickoff, Florida State’s Keith Gavin fumbled, leading to a Damien Harris 11-yard touchdown run (watch here).
Game over. The defense clamped down, forcing two interceptions, and the offense added three more points to win going away, 24-7.
Making things even worse for Florida State, quarterback Deondre Francois suffered what appeared to be a serious knee injury late in the fourth quarter.