Dominant teams and rising stars shine in Week 1
ATLANTA -- When Clemson last took the football field nearly eight months ago, its defense was shredded for nearly 600 yards in an ugly 70-33 loss to West Virginia in the Discover Orange Bowl.
Nearly eight months later, the No. 14 Tigers found redemption in a 26-19 victory over Auburn in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game at the Georgia Dome on Saturday night.
"We let them know not a lot of people thought much about our football program, especially our defense," said new Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables. "We wanted them to take it personally."
Few programs wanted the offseason to end faster than Clemson. How many times can you hear the same joke?
Like "West Virginia just scored again."
At least the 2012 college football season is finally here.
Some things looked much the same: Alabama, which walloped No. 8 Michigan 41-14 in Dallas on Saturday night, might still be the team to beat in the hunt for a BCS national championship. The No. 2 Crimson Tide, the defending national champions, had to replace a slew of starters on defense, but still bulldozed the Wolverines, taking a 31-0 lead before UM quarterback Denard Robinson even tied his shoes.
Alabama's best competition might come from the West Coast. No. 1 USC hammered Hawaii 49-10, and No. 5 Oregon routed Arkansas State 57-34. Trojans quarterback Matt Barkley, the Heisman Trophy favorite, threw a 75-yard touchdown to Marqise Lee on the first play from scrimmage and passed for 377 yards and four touchdowns by the time he was done. The Ducks scored seven touchdowns in the first half and finished with 605 yards of offense.
No. 7 FSU scored 69 points against overmatched Murray State, while No. 19 Oklahoma State scored 84 against overwhelmed Savannah State.
No. 3 LSU, which lost to Alabama 21-0 in last season's title game, looks like it will use the same formula for success. The Tigers had two 100-yard rushers and their menacing defense overwhelmed North Texas in a 41-14 victory.
Like Clemson, the 2012 opener offered plenty of teams fresh starts. No. 18 Ohio State routed Miami (Ohio) 56-10 in coach Urban Meyer's debut. Buckeyes quarterback Braxton Miller passed for 207 yards with two touchdowns and ran for 161 yards and one score.
UCLA's Jim Mora, Colorado State's Jim McElwain, Arizona's Rich Rodriguez, Arizona State's Todd Graham, North Carolina's Larry Fedora, Illinois' Tim Beckman, Arkansas' John L. Smith, New Mexico's Bob Davie and Kansas' Charlie Weis also won with their new teams.
The opening weekend introduced us to several new potential stars in Tennessee receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, Georgia running back Todd Gurley, Miami running back Duke Johnson, Oklahoma State quarterback Wes Lunt and Alabama running back T.J. Yeldon.
Not every team was fast out of the gates. No. 4 Oklahoma, No. 6 Georgia, No. 12 Wisconsin, No. 23 Florida and No. 24 Stanford struggled to put away seemingly overmatched opponents.
The good news? It was only the first weekend of the 2012 season.
Barkley, Trojans make big statement
There was all that USC hype this offseason, particularly the talk about Matt Barkley and his sparkling receivers. Toward the end of the summer, there was a creeping feeling that it might be a tad too much.
Then Barkley found Marqise Lee for a 75-yard touchdown on the first play from scrimmage against Hawaii.
And there it was: Yeah, these guys are pretty darn good and pretty fun to watch.
College football was back, and so was USC. After a two-year bowl ban due to NCAA sanctions, the idea that the Trojans would immediately jump into the national title hunt has been entertained since Barkley shocked many by deciding to return for his senior season. But now the lights were on for real, and USC made a statement.
We're back. For real, ya'll.
It wasn't just Barkley, the preseason Heisman Trophy favorite, throwing for 372 yards and four touchdowns, or Lee grabbing 10 receptions for 197 yards and returning a punt 100 yards for a TD. It was the complete package of the evening.
It was the defense looking better than expected, holding the Warriors to just 264 yards, despite having injury issues and using a number of first-year players. It was the L.A. Coliseum again packed and enthusiastic. It was the Trojans looking a little bit like they did during the Pete Carroll era, when they ruled college football.
Of course, it's just one game against an overmatched foe. While some will already start imagining USC's showdown with an SEC team for the national title, there's plenty of football ahead. USC looked good in the opener, but it's clearly not a sure thing.
Up next: A road trip to East Rutherford, N.J., to face Syracuse. The Orange should offer a bit stiffer challenge, though we won't really get the measure of the Trojans until a Sept. 15 trip to Stanford.
But the Trojans are back in the college football conversation after a two-year layoff. They have plenty of weapons on both sides of the ball. They started their season the right way.
Just 11 more games and a Pac-12 title matchup to fully get to know these Trojans.
Holiday weekend provides plenty of thrills
His feet were at eye level with Boise State's defensive linemen, green and white spikes -- and 244 pounds above them -- in flight.
A handful of games were played Thursday evening, but it felt like college football made its full and triumphant return with Le'Veon Bell's hurdle and dash on Michigan State's third offensive play of the season on Friday night.
The run comprised 23 of Bell's 265 total yards in the Spartans' 17-13 win, but it also signaled the sort of you-can't-help-but-audibly-say-wow moments that only the sport seems to muster.
I am in a both enviable and exhausting position, in the midst of seeing three games in four days in a 2,000-mile circuit through the Midwest, Deep South and Atlantic regions of our country.
It began Friday with a soaring Spartan, Bell, and a grind-it-out effort from Michigan State in a primetime game played under the glow of the lights and new video boards at Spartan Stadium.
The second stop, after a few hours' sleep, was the second Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game inside the Georgia Dome. The venue actually played host to three games in three nights, including Georgia State's Thursday evening opener against South Carolina State. Tennessee put on an offensive show Friday night against North Carolina State.
There were a few empty seats for that one, but they were all filled with vociferous denizens in orange (Clemson) and navy (Auburn) for the Saturday finale. Both teams made their fair share of mistakes, but they played one of the more competitive games of the day, with Clemson making enough plays in the second half to escape by a touchdown, 26-19.
There was no Dabo Swinney maniacal celebration, like there was after last year's win against Auburn, but there was Evander Holyfield, accepting a Tigers jacket from the coaching staff on the field. Swinney said Holyfield spoke Friday to his team, which won a slugfest to make the former heavyweight champ feel at home. I'm 2-for-2 in seeing backs with 200-yard games. Andre Ellington exceeded Bell's rushing total, going for 231 yards on 26 carries. There's no doubt that Ellington, who has dealt with a number of injuries, is electrifying when he's on the field.
Evidence of that came in the second quarter, when Ellington rolled over a would-be tackler, kept his balance and sprinted for 68 yards to set up his team's first touchdown.
Bell still gets the nod there in a tale-of-the-tape comparison of the highlight-makers, but the fact that it's even debatable is reason enough to keep an eye on Ellington and Clemson.
The trip continues Sunday, in the air to Charlotte N.C., and then in the car to Blacksburg, Va., for Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech's Labor Day meeting. Like Spartan Stadium, it'll be my first time to see the Hokies' home atmosphere for a night game.
"Enter Sandman" and 66,000 screaming fans at Lane Stadium? A nice cap to the holiday weekend. Plus, it's a game between two division contenders in the ACC. And to think, we're just getting started. Welcome back, college football. Stay a while, won't you?
Spartans will need more than Bell
EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Make no mistake that Le'Veon Bell, from first-quarter hurdle to final touchdown, was the star of Michigan State's 17-13 victory against the Boise State Broncos. He finished with 265 total yards on a cold-tub-worthy 50 touches, immediately launching himself into the Heisman discussion.
But here is the reality for the Michigan State Spartans: Their fate as a Rose Bowl contender -- or something more -- isn't hitched to Bell's running as much as the team's unproven passing game and particularly its play at receiver. That's the likely difference between a trip to Pasadena and a trip to Tampa or Orlando come bowl time.
That the Spartans are one critical (but fixable) weakness away from having a legitimate stake in the Big Ten and national title races, in a season that might provide one of the more favorable paths to both goals than they'll see in coming years, is just one of the big takeaways coming out of the first Saturday of the 2012 college football season. We learned a lot in Week 1 (with a few games still to come), from Clemson's improved defense to the (seemingly) rocky starts for a pair of top-10 squads to an impressive performance from an SEC East team.
To read the rest of Travis Haney's story, click here .
Three weekend observations
1. Now that they're gone, maybe we'll begin to appreciate the brilliance of former non-BCS quarterbacks Case Keenum and Kellen Moore. Playing its first game without Keenum, who threw for more than 19,000 yards with 155 touchdowns in his college career, Houston lost to Texas State 30-13 on Saturday. Playing its first game without Moore, who won an NCAA-record 50 games during his four-year career, No. 24 Boise State failed to score an offensive touchdown in a 17-13 loss at No. 13 Michigan State on Friday night. Both teams lost a ton of talent (and the Cougars lost coach Kevin Sumlin to Texas A&M), but both quarterbacks were pretty special, too.
2. Maybe Clemson's defense really wasn't that bad last season. West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith, who torched the Tigers in a 70-33 rout in the Discover Orange Bowl, picked up where he left off in Saturday's 69-34 victory over Marshall. He completed 32 of 36 passes for 323 yards with four touchdowns in coach Dana Holgorsen's high-powered offense. In his past two games, Smith has completed 81 percent of his passes for 730 yards with 10 touchdowns and no interceptions.
3. Ohio, which spoiled Bill O'Brien's debut with a 24-14 upset of Penn State on Saturday, might end up being this season's Houston. The Bobcats went 10-4 under former Nebraska coach Frank Solich last season and brought back most of their starters. More importantly, they don't play another FBS team and don't face MAC West favorites Central Michigan, Northern Illinois, Toledo or Western Michigan during the regular season. A 12-0 record going into the MAC championship game might not be too much of a stretch.
Highlights: Penn State-Ohio
GameDay crew final thoughts
Just when you think we're paying too much attention to the quarterback, it appears we should be paying even more attention to the quarterback. All teams have to have at least good quarterback play if they're going to be competitive for championships.
There are some programs which require excellent quarterback play. It's only one week, but look at the difference in the way teams such as Stanford, Michigan State, Boise State (Florida is still looking for a quarterback) play versus teams that had great quarterback play, even if it was a new guy; Marcus Mariota and AJ McCarron played pretty well, as did Tyler Bray and Geno Smith. In today's game, the play at that position ultimately determines if you can play for a championship, and in some cases, it determines whether you can take your program to the next level.
Quarterback play was paramount on the first Saturday of the season, and it will be throughout every Saturday of the season.
Crazy things always happen in Week 1. There are always upsets. Who could've predicted that Youngstown State would beat Pitt and Wisconsin and Iowa would struggle against Missouri Valley Conference teams? Yet, you have other teams which were very impressive. But it's just the unknown about college football that makes it so exciting.
Helmet stickers go to:
• QB Tyler Tettleton, Ohio
324 passing yards, 2 TDs, 1 rushing TD in win at Penn State
• CB Dee Milliner, Alabama
4 tackles, 1 interception, 4 passes defended in win versus Michigan
Alabama was extremely impressive. I thought the Tide had the best offensive line in the country and their depth at running back definitely showed in this football game. AJ McCarron did a great job, but I was also impressed with their defense. Even with all the losses that they suffered through attrition and the NFL draft, they did a terrific job against Denard Robinson and a great Michigan offense.
Another team I was extremely impressed with was the Oregon Ducks, and that they can get a young quarterback, a redshirt freshman, to come in and play like that! Marcus Mariota was absolutely spectacular in the game. I think the Ducks, with all of their speed, played extremely well.
USC did what they had to do against an average team in Hawaii. I thought its offense played very well and I thought its defense still had some issues. When the Trojans get into some big games, we'll see if they're the real deal.
And the Big Ten did not look very good overall. I thought the SEC looked strong again in the first week of the season, and I thought the Big 12 was about average and so was the Pac-12.
Blog Network: What we learned
Clemson is more than Sammy Watkins. The Tigers' offense ran just fine without its suspended star receiver.
While West Virginia looks scary, Oklahoma has a lot of work to do in convincing anyone it's the Big 12 favorite.
UConn's D may be one of the league's best: The linebacker play in particular -- a position in which the Huskies return all their starters -- looked dominant.
Is Michigan good enough to win the Big Ten? We don't know yet. But there's a big gap between the nation's best and the Wolverines.
There were four Pac-12 quarterbacks making their first collegiate starts in Week 1, and all four came out winners.
The East race, which has produced a different champion each of the past three years, could be a dandy in 2012.
Notre Dame's ground game is good. And it's going to be even better when Cierre Wood returns.
Blog Network: Helmet stickers
Every week our bloggers will hand out helmet stickers to the week's top players, coaches, teams or anything else worth this honor.
• ACC: Clemson's offense; Duke Johnson; Giovani Bernard
More ACC stickers
• Big 12: Geno Smith; Shontrelle Johnson; John Hubert
More Big 12 stickers
• Big East: Ryan Nassib; Ryne Giddins; Matt Brown
More Big East stickers
• Big Ten: Le'Veon Bell; Derrick Wells; Braxton Miller
More Big Ten stickers
Johnathan Franklin; Usua Amanam; Marqise Lee
More Pac-12 stickers
• SEC: Connor Shaw; Cordarrelle Patterson; Marcus Murphy
More SEC stickers
• Notre Dame: Offensive line; Everett Golson; Stephon Tuitt
More ND stickers