The first weekend of the college football season was billed as maybe the greatest in the history of the sport. On Saturday, the high-level competition didn’t disappoint as for the first time since 1972, it saw two teams in the AP Top 5 fall in the season’s opening week. In addition, numerous teams performed better or a times worse than what their preseason ranking perceived them to be. Here is the winners and losers from Week 1.
Winner: Houston. If the Cougars weren’t already prime favorites for Big 12 expansion, then its resounding performance over the Big 12’s beloved Oklahoma Sooners definitely bolstered their case. Houston, who was a team that came into this season with lofty expectations mainly due to its assortment of pro-ready skill players – like Greg Ward Jr., Steve Dunbar, Chance Allen and Duke Catalon – sent out a statement early that it can play with the nation’s best.
From its stalwart defense, which suffocated the Sooners’ preeminent rushing attack anchored by Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon to a combined 71 yards on 12 carries, to it’s highly efficient offense that engineered a 60 percent 3rd down rate and owned 11 more minutes of possession than the Sooners. Oklahoma’s defense, that became crippled without a worthy pass rush allowed Ward Jr. to sling it for 321 yards and two touchdowns, racking up 405 total yards of offense.
Oh yeah, Houston also completed the first kick six of the season.
It isn’t illogical to think that this early September win over a sterling Power Five opponent won’t reinforce their playoff hopes later in the season, especially if the Cougars finish unbeaten. Head coach Tom Herman has already orchestrated two victories over regular powerhouses in college football while at Houston (the earliest coming from its destruction of Florida State in last year’s Peach Bowl). With that, Houston has proven it can last on the big stage against the country’s top teams, making them a team to keep an eye out for as 2016 progresses.
Loser: SEC. Five SEC teams fell in Week 1 and each one had a different story behind it. Mississippi State’s was in the form of a missed field goal which banged off the right upright in the waning seconds of regulation against South Alabama. Auburn’s was expected versus Clemson, however a paltry 282 yard output offensively was traced back to Gus Malzahn’s groundless tactic to use three quarterbacks throughout the course of the game. Everyone knows LSU’s quarterback futility with Brandon Harris against Wisconsin and Kentucky’s deplorable display of defense by surrendering 520 offensive yards and 44 points to Southern Miss might have taken the cake. But hey at least Arkansas grinded past Conference USA behemoth Louisiana Tech 21-20.
Basically, the scarce positives that the SEC salvaged this week was Alabama’s massacre of USC and Georgia’s discovery of freshman quarterback Jacob Eason.
Winner: Kansas. Oh hey Jayhawks how is it like to be undefeated after Week 1? Okay, so it might not provide a lot of insight to the faintest of college football fans, but for the rebuilding Jayhawks any win should be considered as a milestone. After finishing the 2015 season winless, head coach David Beaty took a small step in the right direction by winning his first game as Kansas’ coach. Beaty, in addition to numerous personnel around the program, understands that the road back to respectability is going to be arduous – a process that may take up to 2-3 years to form. However, putting up 55 points in its season opener plus a productive stint out if its two quarterbacks, Montell Cozart and Ryan Willis, administers promise in a season where three-to-four wins is looked upon as improvement.
Loser: Les Miles LSU. Every year LSU emerges into the preseason fog as this pristine Rolls Royce with spanking new rims and a dashing front hood mounted a top the show room floor. It makes us all believe that it’s here for business and that this year is the year to shine. But once you start driving it, issues ensue. The engine starts rattling, the tires deflate a little, the brake fluid runs and the check engine light doesn’t stop freaking blinking.
It’s become an annual theme for Miles and his Tigers: not backing up the talk in the preseason. LSU is littered with 18 returning starters this fall (the most in SEC) and only managed to score 14 points and deliver 257 total offensive yards against a Badger defense that came up swinging amidst gap run protection. Leonard Fournette is and likely will be a Heisman candidate all season (presumably if he stays healthy), as he did his share of the work by rushing for 138 yards on 23 carries. But in the grand scheme it might not matter. Quarterback Brandon Harris failed to show up when it mattered as last season’s sophomore miscues resurfaced late in the game, such as making inaccurate throws and poor reads. Harris completed only 12 passes for 131 yards and his two interceptions which led to an atrocious 6.9 QBR dug him in.
Considering how much intrigue there was surrounding Miles late last season, the last thing he needed was a loss to open this year. The only saving grace for him and the Tigers is how poorly the rest of the SEC West fared also, and that there’s plenty of ground to make up from the rest of September through November.
What else did we learn?
- Clemson’s defense hasn’t left: Nothing came easy for No. 2 Clemson during their “rock fight” of a game with Auburn. Auburn managed to keep Clemson’s electrifying offense in check throughout, even limiting Deshaun Watson to one passing touchdown. Despite it’s scuffling offense, receiver Mike Williams emerged as Watson’s go-to threat hauling in 9 catches for 174 yards. But the most important takeaway of Clemson’s Week 1 victory was how well its defense played. Constantly Clemson’s pass rush stood up to the task, finishing the game with three sacks total. The Tigers also ramped up its intensity on third down, holding Auburn to a 30 percent 3rd down conversion rate.
- Alabama keeps plugging a new QB and winning: Nick Saban was swamped with questions all off-season over who his quarterback would be. Is it going to be red shirt freshman Blake Barnett or grizzled junior Cooper Bateman? Well, as it turns out the answer behind center is true freshman Jalen Hurts. It took three drives into the game before Barnett was replaced for Hurts, and seemingly after the substitution Alabama’s offense began to hum. Hurts’ versatility as a passer and runner diversified the Tide’s offensive outlook, racking up 465 total yards of offense for the game. Hurts was efficient in his throws as well, completing 6 of his 11 passing attempts for 118 yards and two touchdowns. With as vaunted of a defense that Alabama has, the recipe for success shouldn’t be different. The Tide may have another fresh face at quarterback, but one that manages the offense and compliments the run game is good enough for Alabama to succeed.