Saturday’s college football Week 1 opening slate saw so many compelling narratives play out among the top 25 teams that it’s difficult to boil them down and only choose a select several to focus on. But hey, it’s worth a shot to make some sense of all the chaos that’ll inevitably cause many of those preseason polls to crash and burn.
Check out the top takeaways from what we saw unfold on the NCAA gridiron amid Saturday’s packed schedule.
Alabama deserved that No. 1 preseason ranking
It’s been a straight-up wild college football Week 1 for some of the best quarterbacks in the country. One player who indubitably lived up to and even exceeded the type was Alabama quarterback Bryce Young.
The top-ranked Crimson Tide seem determined to valiantly defend their national title after a 44-13 victory over the No. 14 Miami Hurricanes. Young set school records for a starting debut with 344 yards and four touchdown through the air, easily winning the head-to-head duel with Miami QB D’Eriq King.
Although he’s used to the hype by now as the 5-star recruit who was supposed to beat out Mac Jones for the starting job last year, Young instead sat and learned as a true freshman, and watched Jones succeed Tua Tagovailoa in record-setting fashion.
Even with Jones in the NFL, along with Heisman Trophy-winning receiver DeVonta Smith, another playmaker in Jaylen Waddle and tailback Najee Harris among others, Young picked up the controls of the Crimson Tide offense as if nothing was amiss.
Even more impressive? Young is rolling with a new offensive coordinator in Bill O’Brien after Steve Sarkisian took the head coaching job at Texas (more on him in a minute).
Nick Saban has once again simply reloaded his dynasty in Tuscaloosa. This is not a rebuilding or bridge year by any means. The Tide are in it to win it. Again.
Clemson Tigers weren’t ready for post-Trevor Lawrence era
D.J. Uiagalelei looked so impressive last season stepping in for reigning No. 1 overall NFL Draft pick Trevor Lawrence that it seemed like the Clemson Tigers would see their offense continue to thrive.
Well, that theory was put to the test on Saturday, and Uiagalelei was under siege against the fifth-ranked Georgia Bulldogs. His pivotal mistake was a 74-yard pick-six, which was the only score of the entire first half on either side. Georgia went on to win 10-3. So yeah, that was very costly.
Lawrence was anointed a superstar so early. He fully lived up to that billing. He guided the Tigers to three consecutive College Football Playoff appearances and won a national title as a true freshman. His skill set could cover a lot of flaws.
At least in the early going, Clemson is going to have to dig out of a big hole after losing the season opener to Georgia.
UCLA appears to be for real
OK, you got me, Chip Kelly.
It seemed pretty obvious that a bunch of graduate transfer players, experienced incumbents led by a middling veteran QB in Dorian Thompson-Robinson who completed 50% of his passes against Hawaii and a general lack of success during your tenure wouldn’t bode well against the LSU Tigers.
Derek Stingley Jr. and Eli Ricks at cornerback for LSU? How on earth was Thompson-Robinson going to throw? Being so one-dimensional was surely a recipe for disaster, even at home.
Alas. Kelly’s Bruins controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, established the run extremely well to set up explosive plays, and harassed LSU signal-caller Max Johnson with some exotic defenses. The Tigers never got truly comfortable, and as it turned out, they became one-dimensional because they couldn’t run the ball at all.
Congrats to UCLA on the 38-27 breakthrough win. This author was wrong. If the Bruins can hang with the Tigers, they should be able to compete with just about anyone. Other than Alabama, that is.
Oklahoma Sooners shockingly flat to start pivotal year
So much fanfare surrounded the second-ranked Oklahoma Sooners entering Saturday’s action.
Their latest QB to be a Heisman Trophy front-runner, Spencer Rattler, is at the controls of the latest Lincoln Riley-engineered offensive juggernaut. Oklahoma’s defense is supposed to be the best the Riley era has seen yet. Oh, and the Sooners’ pending move to the SEC in several years’ time is another reason to be excited about their future.
But after a 23-point second quarter to surge to a halftime lead against Tulane, the heavy favorites almost allowed the Green Wave to rally back, hanging on for a 40-35 victory.
This lack of urgency isn’t worth panicking over yet. Nevertheless, Rattler did throw two interceptions against a Tulane defense that lost two key front seven players in Cameron Sample and Patrick Johnson from last year’s team. The Green Wave capitalized on Oklahoma’s soft coverage and nearly pulled off a massive upset.
Again, let’s pump the brakes on worrying too much about the Sooners, but this is worth monitoring. The hope is they take this early adversity and use it as fuel to stay sharp, and adhere to the cliche of staying focused for all four quarters.
Kayvon Thibodeaux’s injury is biggest non-QB star player storyline
Seen in a walking boot on the sidelines after halftime, Oregon Ducks defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux made a splash early with a strip sack, but once he left, the hosts almost let Fresno State get a win in Autzen Stadium before pulling out a 31-24 win.
Thibodeaux is such a phenomenal talent, and has a legitimate NFL All-Pro future to worry about. He’s going to want to get back as soon as possible, because the Ducks travel to Columbus to take on the Ohio State Buckeyes in Week 2.
Not only is Thibodeaux’s health for the 2021 campaign hanging in the balance, but Oregon looked extremely vulnerable without him. Ranked 11th in the AP poll entering Week 1, the Ducks were the most highly regarded team in the Pac-12. Then, they almost lost their home opener.
A conference championship is still possible somewhere down the road, but Thibodeaux and Oregon as a team have to weigh the risk-reward of playing him next weekend. It’s a precarious situation, and the Ducks have to be feeling a little wary about facing Ohio State, given how dependent they seem on Thibodeaux’s individual production.
Texas’ bold coaching decision may have paid off big time
Cycling through coaches never seems like an ideal scenario, and Tom Herman had a relatively successful tenure for the Texas Longhorns before the program suddenly fired him and replaced him with Steve Sarkisian.
What looked like a dubious move at the time now could very well be a stroke of genius. Sarkisian and the 21st-ranked Longhorns didn’t have an easy start, taking on the No. 23 Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns, whose mascot name will never not be fun to write out in full.
Anyway, the innovative scheming Sarkisian has evolved over years as a play-caller wound up paying big dividends. It was a master class in calling a game, as Texas rolled up 439 total yards and converted seven of its first 10 third downs in a 38-18 rout.
Many believed this would be one of the best, most tightly-contested affairs on the college football Week 1 slate. After all, that’s reflected in how close in proximity the teams are in the AP poll. The Longhorns and Sarkisian made a statement. Austin is going to be lit tonight. Alright, alright, alright.