For FCS teams, it's all about beating the best
Eastern Washington coach Beau Baldwin won a Football Championship Subdivision national title in 2010. Both personally and professionally, he feels a duty to call his team's one-point win against Delaware his finest victory as a coach.
But he also knows how fans work. Their memories can be short, and big names tend to get embedded in their minds.
"Ten or 15 years from now, people might not remember who we beat in the national title game, but they'll remember the ranked team who we beat in the Pac-12," Baldwin said. "It puts you that much more on the map."
Baldwin spoke from a bus carrying happy Eastern Washington players and coaches from Corvallis, Ore., back to their campus in Cheney, Wash. Earlier in the day, Eastern Washington came to Reser Stadium and outlasted No. 25 Oregon State 49-46, recording the first win against a Pac-12 opponent in program history.
The Eagles' win highlighted a huge opening weekend for FCS teams, which brought down Kansas State (North Dakota State), Iowa State (Northern Iowa), San Diego State (Eastern Illinois), South Florida (McNeese State) and Connecticut (Towson), to name a few. The FCS ended up with seven wins against the FBS, which boasts more athletic scholarships (85 versus 63), resources and, of course, home-field advantage.
After falling just short against Washington State last season (a 24-20 loss) and Washington (30-27) in 2011, Eastern Washington finally soared past the big, bad Pac-12. It marked just the third FCS win against a ranked FBS opponent and the first since 2010.
"It's a huge win for the program," Baldwin said. "I won't undersell it. People remember Appalachian State beat Michigan [in 2007]. They can't remember who they beat for three straight [FCS] national titles [in 2005, 2006 and 2007]."
McNeese State outlasted Appalachian State in 2009 for a signature program win under coach Matt Viator. But it's likely the folks in Lake Charles, La., will be talking about Saturday's win against South Florida for much longer.
Viator's Cowboys didn't just beat South Florida for their second win against a team from a BCS automatic-qualifying conference (North Carolina, 1999). They lassoed the Bulls, using a 31-point second quarter to win 53-31, the largest margin of victory for an FCS team against a BCS AQ opponent.
"I thought we had a chance," Viator said. "Our kids were in shape, we were sound in the kicking game. That's usually what gets you against FBS teams. I didn't see something like this coming."
Each FCS team had its own source of motivation heading into the FBS showdowns. Eastern Washington had the close calls against the Pac-12. Northern Iowa had the near misses against Big Ten foes Wisconsin (2012) and Iowa (2009), not to mention the 67 Iowa natives on the roster. Viator's players showed up to the team breakfast Saturday inspired by North Dakota State's come-from-behind win at Kansas State the night before.
The read the rest of Adam Rittenberg's story click here.
Just OK play won't do for Florida in the future
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The opening drive was a clear signal that something was different in Florida's offense. The Gators drove 84 yards on 11 plays against Toledo on Saturday, as they featured running back Mack Brown, who led the way with six carries for 39 yards and his first career touchdown. The drive was a model of efficiency, but that's not all.
"First time since 2009 that the University of Florida has scored on the opening possession," said a proud Will Muschamp after his team's 24-6 win. "Betcha didn't know that. So that's a heckuva deal."
As usual, Florida prepared a conservative game plan. Against Toledo's veteran up-tempo offense, the Gators wanted no part of a shootout, so they dialed up the ball control with a 39:48 to 20:12 advantage in time of possession.
"Started off with a huge drive," quarterback Jeff Driskel said. "That's what we're going to do. We're going to run the ball all year."
The starting point for scrutinizing Florida's offense remains Driskel, and while he took two sacks and fumbled twice, the junior showed better command of the passing game.
Driskel completed 10 of his 11 passes in the first half Saturday (90.9 percent) on his way to a career-high 77.3 completion percentage for the game. He spread the ball around to eight receivers and handled play-action and misdirection plays well.
"Big plays will come," he said. "You can't force them. We had some deeper throws designed, but sometimes the defense takes those away from you. Later on down the road they'll be there."
For now, the Gators and offensive coordinator Brent Pease have to take satisfaction in a solid win with a vanilla game plan that revealed little to next week's opponent, the Miami Hurricanes. Florida didn't show many new wrinkles against Toledo, but did introduce a few new playmakers.
Another new face figured prominently into Florida's final scoring drive in the third quarter. Driskel found fullback Gideon Ajagbe along the UF sideline for a 12-yard gain and then capped the drive by going back to Ajagbe for an easy 4-yard touchdown pass. Until this past spring, Ajagbe was lost near the bottom of the linebacker depth chart. Now he says he has new life.
"I've never really played," the redshirt junior said. "I've had injuries."
Sophomore Valdez Showers is another converted defensive player who has quickly found a role in Florida's offense. On Saturday he averaged 9 yards per touch (four receptions for 23 yards and two carries, including one for 29 yards).
"I like to show my versatility, lining up at wide receiver a little bit, motioning back in the backfield," said Showers, who was among Florida's top four safeties last season and as recently as the start of fall camp. "I definitely like the way they're using me."
The same could be said for two key seniors: speedy Solomon Patton, who is no longer limited to reverses, and versatile Trey Burton, who showed off an improved set of hands in leading the Gators in receiving with five catches for 69 yards.
"I definitely think we have more weapons," Driskel said.
Undoubtedly, they'll need them Saturday in Miami.
The bad, the OK and the Baker Mayfield
During the offseason, Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops suggested the Big 12 could go toe-to-toe with any conference in college football, including the SEC.
During opening weekend, the Big 12 struggled to go toe-to-toe with the Football Championship Subdivision.
Defending Big 12 champion Kansas State fell at home to FCS two-time defending champ North Dakota State 24-21 on Friday. The following night, Iowa State lost in Ames to Northern Iowa, 28-20.
The Big 12 almost succumbed to a third FCS opponent, but West Virginia rallied from a 10-point halftime deficit to knock off William & Mary, which went 2-9 last season.
"Obviously, we've got a long way to go," said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen, who could have been speaking for half the conference.
That half of the conference -- which Stoops touted a few months ago -- overshadowed some positive developments for the top half of the league, including the surprisingly stout defensive performances from Oklahoma and Oklahoma State.
The Cowboys completely manhandled Mississippi State's veteran offensive line, which was supposed to be the Bulldogs' heart and soul. After its opening drive, Mississippi State went 0-of-14 on third downs, as the Cowboys cruised 21-3 despite a sluggish start from their offense.
Oklahoma's young unit, meanwhile, was just as dominant in a 34-0 shutout of Louisiana-Monroe, which averaged 34 points per game last year. The Sooners overwhelmed Monroe despite playing only three returning starters from last season (due to suspensions and injuries).
As impressive as the Bedlam defenses were, nobody was more impressive over the weekend than Texas Tech's Baker Mayfield. The first walk-on true freshman quarterback to start a season opener for a BCS school, according to Tech, couldn't have had a better debut in the Red Raiders' 41-23 win at SMU. Mayfield completed 43 of 60 passes for 413 yards and four touchdowns. He rushed for another score on a nifty maneuver into the end zone.
"He had practiced like a senior for the last week," Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury said. "I'm just happy he played as well as I thought he would."
With K-State, West Virginia and Iowa State all a mess, after one weekend, Mayfield's Red Raiders look like the team most capable of jumping into the top half of a conference that doesn't look nearly as deep as Stoops suggested it would be.
Week 1 Takeaways: Clemson in title hunt?
CLEMSON, S.C. -- Just like we did last season, we will follow each college football Saturday with the biggest takeaways from the week's action.
For Week 1, that includes a look at whether LSU finally has its QB, whether Alabama's offense is a bigger concern than Texas A&M's defense and whether Washington had the quietest big win of the weekend -- plus a lot more.
But we'll start with a look at the weekend's biggest game, and the expectations that will follow for the winner.
1. What's next for the Clemson Tigers after their win over Georgia?
At exactly 1 a.m. ET on the first of September, Dabo Swinney had an impassioned suggestion for the bleary reporters assembled in front of him.
"Y'all need to write something different," Clemson's fifth-year head coach said, launching into a mini-rant that will not be mistaken for Mike Gundy's "I'm 40!" speech, but had some teeth to it. "We don't want to talk about things that happened five years ago. Let's talk about what we have done instead of what we haven't done."
For that to truly change, it will take more than Saturday night's grind-it-out 38-35 win against Georgia. It was another move forward, but the national narrative will not fully evolve until there is a season full of highs rather than momentary peaks.
Make no mistake: This is a team that had the look of a BCS championship contender Saturday, with a dynamic veteran QB in Tajh Boyd, playmakers all over the field and a finishing schedule that is kinder than the ones faced by several other contenders. But is the 2013 edition of this team good enough to make that final breakthrough, avenging last year's losses to FSU and South Carolina on the way to a title run?
To read Travis Haney's full story, click here and become an ESPN Insider.
Three weekend observations
Virginia Tech's Bud Foster long ago established himself as one of the best defensive coordinators in the game. He showed why again Saturday. The Hokies packed the box with as many as nine defenders, and Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron struggled to loosen them up with the pass. The Hokies lost 35-10 and gained only 212 total yards. But that was 6 more yards than Foster's defense allowed. The Hokies' offense and special teams allowed more touchdowns (three) than the defense (two). Frank Beamer will be in the Hall of Fame someday, which is also when someone will explain to me why no Halls of Fame recognize assistant coaches.
Good thing Maryland had the state flag on its helmet, because the team that beat FIU 43-10 looked unrecognizable compared to the offensively addled team of a year ago. Senior quarterback C.J. Brown, who missed last season with a knee injury, directed Maryland to eight plays of 20 yards or more and 40 points -- in the first half. In 2012, the Terps needed two entire games to reach eight big plays and 40 points. If Maryland stays healthy -- and the injury gods owe coach Randy Edsall -- then the ACC Atlantic better be ready.
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly signed a five-year contract extension this week, which is good news for the Fighting Irish. Year 6 for Kelly will be 2016. Why is that important? It's been 17 years since Notre Dame had a head coach for more than five seasons (Lou Holtz, 1986-96). In fact, Notre Dame has had only five head coaches who lasted more than five years. Of those five, only Elmer Layden (1934-40) didn't win a national championship. But he was one of the Four Horsemen. In other words, no pressure on Brian Kelly.
Week 1 Impact Performances
What We Learned in Week 1
Click below to see what our bloggers learned in each conference after the first weekend.
After Clemson's thrilling victory over Georgia, it's clear the ACC has a legitimate contender for the national championship. ACC
Defense in the Sooner State is a cut above the rest, clearly, and teams will have to account for Texas Tech's Baker Mayfield. Big 12
Half of the Big Ten's offensive situations looked solved and solid in Week 1, while the other half looked as jumbled as ever. Big Ten
The biggest surprise of the night in the Pac-12 had to be Washington and QB Keith Price, who looked poised and polished against Boise State. Pac-12
The big, bad SEC showed signs of weakness in Week 1. The top of the league was exposed on defense especially. SEC
Tommy Rees looked like a different quarterback in his 2013 debut, a 28-6 season-opening win over Temple. Notre Dame
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney
Texas A&M honors fallen teammate
A few days before its season opener against Rice, Texas A&M unveiled the decal that players would wear on their helmets this season to honor fallen teammate Polo Manukainiu.
The decal, which has a white background, Manukainiu's first name and jersey number (90) and a Tongan-inspired design, is a way to show that the redshirt freshman is on their minds.
But on Saturday, the Aggies made an even more noticeable gesture to show their love for Manukainiu. Sophomore defensive tackle Alonzo Williams, who traditionally wears No. 83, wore Manukainiu's No. 90 for the duration of the game.
"Each week, one of our defensive players will be wearing No. 90 to honor Polo," senior defensive back Toney Hurd Jr. said after the game. "It's just to show him and his family that he's still out there with us."
Manukainiu, a product of Euless (Texas) Trinity High School, was one of three people killed in a car accident in Northern New Mexico on July 29. The players were proud to be able to honor the late Manukainiu in the manner they did on Saturday.
"It meant a lot," junior linebacker Donnie Baggs said. "We have his jersey hanging up in his locker and we see it every day, before practice, after practice, before meetings. It meant a lot to know that we're representing him and wearing the No. 90 as well as the sticker on the back of our helmets."
Photos From Week 1
Helmet Stickers For Week 1
Every week our bloggers will hand out helmet stickers to the week's top players, coaches, teams or anything else worth this honor.
• ACC: Tajh Boyd, C.J. Brown, Georgia Tech's defense More ACC stickers
• Big 12: Baker Mayfield; Corey Nelson, David Ash More Big 12 stickers
• Big Ten: Collin Ellis, Wisconsin running game, Stephen Obeng-Agyapong More Big Ten stickers
• Pac-12: Andy Phillips, Dion Bailey, Keith Price More Pac-12 stickers
• SEC: Arkansas offensive line, James Franklin, Christion Jones More SEC stickers
• Notre Dame: Tommy Rees, TJ Jones, DaVaris Daniels More ND stickers