Week 1 does its job
We waited more than seven months for the first whistle, for all the heart-stopping and sometimes heartbreaking moments that go with the start of a new season.
Nothing about Week 1 disappointed: Eye-popping plays, superstar players and careless mistakes were made -- a tantalizing appetizer for all the football yet to come.
Shall we start in Ann Arbor? No coach went into the season with more on the line than Michigan's Rich Rodriguez. Uncertainty has engulfed a once-proud football program, and Rodriguez made sure it stayed that way until just before the start of the Connecticut game. He refused to name a starting quarterback, hinting only with a mysterious smile that he had a pretty good idea of who would give his team the best chance to win.
Pretty good turned into magnificent, as quarterback Denard Robinson proved to be a one-man unstoppable force, gouging the Huskies' defense for 197 yards rushing in a 30-10 victory. Robinson's play gave Wolverines fans everywhere the hope that has been so desperately missing from a program reeling from two straight losing seasons.
Hope found its way to South Bend, too. Brian Kelly began his Notre Dame career with a 23-12 win over Purdue, setting the stage for a huge Week 2 matchup against the Wolverines. It was not exactly pretty, though. The Irish never really played the full spread offense that Kelly has come to master and had more carries than pass attempts.
But the Irish did run the hurry-up, and Dayne Crist was efficient and proficient at it, going 19-of-26 for 205 yards and a touchdown. The Irish may have identified a new star in running back Cierre Wood, who averaged 8.3 yards a carry. Their defense, so maligned in 2009, looked much-improved as it shut down what was supposed to be a newly reinvigorated Purdue offense behind Robert Marve.
There were the usual mistakes that often plague the first week of the season. The center-quarterback exchange looked as complicated as a calculus problem. Florida, North Carolina and Oregon State were among those hurt the worst because of these breakdowns. It cost No. 24 Oregon State a chance to mount a tying drive late in a 30-21 loss to No. 6 TCU.
No. 4 Florida looked totally incoherent on offense without Tim Tebow. The Gators had eight total fumbles and lost three in an ugly 34-12 win over Miami (Ohio). Questions linger over whom the Gators will turn to in short-yardage situations with Tebow gone. Meanwhile, John Brantley went 17-of-25 for 113 yards and two touchdowns, a line that rarely finds a place in any Gators offense.
Plenty of other teams had their struggles. No. 14 USC, which was supposed to have revamped its defense under guru Monte Kiffin, struggled to beat Hawaii 49-36 on Thursday night. No. 7 Oklahoma gave up 421 yards to Utah State in a 31-24 win that came down to the wire.
Life after Tebow
|The fourth-ranked Florida Gators survived in their first game of the post-Tim Tebow era, but it was not pretty. The Florida offense had eight fumbles (three lost) and was held to 212 yards, 186 of them in the final 13 minutes. Seventy-two of the team's 99 rushing yards were on one play. Compare this to last year's season opener versus Charleston Southern with Tebow: 624 total yards, 62 points, 369 rushing yards and a 59-point win.
-- David Bearman, ESPN Stats & Information
No. 21 LSU inexplicably allowed a decimated North Carolina team back into a game that was seemingly out of reach at halftime. The Tigers failed to score in the second half, and the Tar Heels chipped away at a 20-point deficit despite missing 13 players.
T.J. Yates threw for 412 yards and brought No. 18 North Carolina down to the 6 with a few seconds left and a chance to win. Two passes went through the hands of receivers, allowing LSU escape 30-24, but not without unsettled doubts about coach Les Miles. North Carolina gave us the gutsiest performance of the weekend in the near upset.
Oh, but there were upsets. North Dakota State beat Kansas 6-3 in a shaky debut for new coach Turner Gill. But the big one came in Oxford, Miss., where Jacksonville State pulled one of the biggest stunners in recent memory, erasing a 21-point halftime deficit to beat Ole Miss 49-48 in double overtime.
You want to talk about gutsy? How about Gamecocks freshman quarterback Coty Blanchard throwing a 30-yard touchdown pass on fourth down in the second overtime? How about coach Jack Crowe going for the two-point conversion and the win? How about Blanchard converting again, finding Calvin Middleton through more gridlock than the 405?
The unexpected always happens. Week 1 just gave us a tasty morsel of the road ahead. Now the stage is set for one of the biggest weekends in college football history.
Get ready for Miami-Ohio State, Penn State-Alabama, Florida State-Oklahoma and Michigan-Notre Dame. Week 2 is nearly here.
Armed and dangerous
ESPN The Magazine
One of the best things about the start of a new college football season is the emergence of stars; Week 1 was all about the first-time starting quarterback.
The new guy
|It took Rich Rodriguez a few years, but he may have found a quarterback to run his offense in Ann Arbor. Denard Robinson threw for 186 yards and rushed for 197 on the ground, becoming only the sixth FBS player since 2005 with at least 185 rushing yards and 185 passing yards in a game. In 2006, a guy named Pat White did it -- for Rich Rod and West Virginia.
-- David Bearman, ESPN Stats & Information
Instead, though, all the buzz on Sunday morning is about Denard Robinson of the Michigan Wolverines. This guy is so much more than his catchy nickname -- "Shoelace," because he plays without them tied. He's one of the biggest reasons I think Michigan will be a Top 25 program this season.
Connecticut Huskies coach Randy Edsall probably agrees.
"Denard Robinson's going to make people look bad," Edsall told reporters after the game.
Indeed. The team Robinson took it to is a well-coached, physical squad that returned eight starters on D and had been picked by some as a BCS bowl team. This wasn't an FCS team or MAC or Sun Belt bottom-feeder.
I'll stop short of saying that Robinson will transform a team that hasn't been to a bowl game in a couple of years into a BCS title contender this season. But he makes the Wolverines dangerous, and as long as he can stay healthy, they will be a handful for anyone in the Big Ten.
To read the rest of Bruce Feldman's blog, click here.
No quit in Heels
ATLANTA -- By the time North Carolina linebacker Quan Sturdivant had joined his teammates around 10:30 p.m. at their hotel Friday, most of the Tar Heels were already asleep.
Sturdivant, who had just learned Friday afternoon that he had been deemed eligible to play in Saturday night's game against LSU, was one of the few recognizable names on North Carolina's quickly revamped defense, which was missing seven starters as a result of ongoing investigations into possible academic fraud and improper contact with agents.
The Tar Heels' entire starting lineup had been shuffled for the Chick-fil-A Kickoff, one of the biggest games of college football's opening weekend. Their roster was filled with new faces and dependent upon teenagers fresh out of high school. North Carolina's staff burned at least eight redshirts it had no intention of burning two weeks ago, and there were walk-ons who had never played in games before. Yet despite the lack of any continuity in the personnel department, North Carolina somehow managed to establish an identity in its exciting 30-24 loss to LSU.
This is a team that doesn't quit -- no matter who is playing.
"We were depleted as is, and we had some guys go down during the game," quarterback T.J. Yates said. "We had guys who have never played before -- ever -- coming out of high school ball playing against one of the top teams in the country. I'm just so proud of all my teammates stepping up.
To read the rest of Heather Dinich's story, click here.
TCU makes statement
ARLINGTON, Texas -- TCU pushed Oregon State around inside the palatial Cowboys Stadium. No getting around that. The sixth-ranked Horned Frogs rushed for 278 yards, which was more than the Beavers' 255 total yards. Oregon State ran just 51 plays; TCU 81.
"Still," the glum head shakes from the Beavers said afterward. They had the ball and a chance with plenty of time left in the fourth quarter, but they made their biggest error of the evening. A miscommunication on a shotgun snap from senior center Alex Linnenkohl to sophomore quarterback Ryan Katz, who was making his first career start, sailed over a surprised Katz's shoulder, which forced Katz to kick the ball through the end zone for a safety.
Those would be the final points -- and the last time the Beavers touched the ball -- in a 30-21 defeat.
"I'm disappointed that we didn't give ourselves a chance on the drive at the end," Beavers coach Mike Riley said.
What happened was this: Oregon State, down seven points, had a first down on its 18-yard line. A draw play was called. Katz saw something he didn't like. He tried to change the play. Linnenkohl didn't get the message and snapped the ball.
The Horned Frogs got two points and the ball, and they didn't give it back.
"The safety was a big deal," TCU coach Gary Patterson said. "You go up by nine, and you play the game a lot different."
To read the rest of Ted Miller's story, click here.
The biggest return
Special to ESPNBoston.com
CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. -- Sitting in the Alumni Stadium press box on Saturday afternoon, Sister Barbara Anne Hallman sported a gold Notre Dame wristwatch and a Mark Herzlich button over her heart.
"This is who I'm rooting for," the 75-year-old Franciscan nun from South Bend, Ind., said with a hand covering the button featuring the Boston College linebacker. Herzlich returned to the field for the first time Saturday since being diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer called Ewing's sarcoma.
"I don't remember the last time I missed a [Notre Dame] game," she continued. "It's worth it."
A cancer survivor herself, Hallman wrote to Herzlich two days after he was diagnosed in May 2009. They have remained friends, and BC athletic director Gene DeFilippo made good on his promise to fly Hallman to the Eagles' home opener, a 38-20 victory over Weber State in front of 35,168 fans.
"That was my goal," Herzlich said of making Hallman miss her first Notre Dame game in roughly 60 years. "She can catch it right now. I think they're beating Purdue 10-3. It was awesome that she got to come out.
"[DeFilippo] always follows through, and he got her out here."
Herzlich, who had a metal rod inserted in his leg last fall after being declared cancer-free, incessantly talked about his goal of finally running through Alumni Stadium's tunnel again -- the timing of which became uncertain when Herzlich hurt his foot before training camp. Last week, Herzlich practiced in pads for the first time since the 2008 Music City Bowl.
When No. 94 finally did sprint out of the tunnel on 9/4 -- as in Sept. 4 -- Hallman was at the lip of the tunnel watching.
"He's such a good man," a blurry-eyed Hallman said. "A lot of good has come from Mark having this problem. Mark had to pay the price, and the rest of us have been the recipients of his hard work."
To read the rest of this story, click here.
Three weekend observations
1. All right, SEC. Alabama's national championship, your fourth straight, masked the fact that you had a down year. But the Tide's rout of San Jose State can't hide the eggs that the conference laid Saturday. Urban Meyer bemoaned Florida's "offensive incompetence" against Miami (Ohio). LSU nearly blew a 20-point lead to a North Carolina team with more spare parts than a '93 Chrysler. And Ole Miss lost to FCS program Jacksonville State. SEC, you can't keep living on your reputation.
2. Brian Kelly's defenses play a lot. Cincinnati finished last in the nation in 2009 with an average time of possession of 25 minutes, 46 seconds. Notre Dame couldn't match even that, holding the ball for only 24:55 in its 23-12 victory over Purdue on Saturday. The Irish defense plays longer, yet defensive tackle Ian Williams said they got plenty of push against the Boilermakers' offensive line in the fourth quarter. Here's why: Williams weighs 305, 10 pounds more than last year, yet his body fat dropped from 20 percent to 18 percent.
3. New Mexico spent most of 2009 in disarray, and that's a fond memory compared with what happened Saturday at Oregon. It's possible that the Lobos simply had a bad day against an offense designed to overwhelm the overmatched and embarrass the undisciplined. It's also possible that New Mexico second-year coach Mike Locksley, whose team lost seven games by 20 points or more last season, is in way over his head. With Texas Tech and Utah next, will Locksley make it out of September?
GameDay crew final thoughts
Saturday was a great test for pollsters. You shouldn't put a lot into one game, especially in Week 1, but the pollsters' job is to judge a team by what is seen on the field. If that is the case, teams like Florida, Texas, and Oklahoma should fall some. That's not to say that they can't rise back up very quickly once they play to their full potential, but the early polls should be very fluid and see teams rise and fall often.
Helmet stickers go to:
• QB Coty Blanchard, Jacksonville State
9-for-13, 126 yards, 2 TDs at Ole Miss
• LB Mark Herzlich, Boston College
Five tackles vs. Weber State
It's very hard to judge any team after just one week. There are more upsets in Week 1 than in any other week. All you have to do is just find a way to win the game. I know Florida and Oklahoma struggled, but they still found a way to win the game. The Gators and Sooners teams that we saw Saturday won't be the same that we see later in the season.
Helmet stickers go to:
• RB Daniel Thomas, Kansas State
28 rushes, 234 yards, 2 TDs vs. UCLA
• CB Patrick Peterson, LSU
257 return yards, TD vs. North Carolina
I want to congratulate Butch Davis for having his Tar Heels fight to the end. That is what college football is all about. I also want to congratulate the Jacksonville State players and coaches for winning in an SEC team's backyard. A special tip of the cap goes to Michigan. Denard Robinson looked fantastic, and the defense stepped up big-time.
Highlights: Oregon State-TCU
Blog Network: What we learned
The ACC avoided embarrassment with no losses to FCS teams and no implosion in Atlanta -- two scenarios the ACC has encountered in recent years.
Texas and Oklahoma were wholly unimpressive in their debuts, although Texas' mistakes weren't nearly as costly.
It's folly to panic after the first week of the season. On the other hand, it was a brutal opening week for the Big East.
Rob Bolden has been playing college football for less than a month, but he's already making a big impression in Happy Valley.
Thank God for New Mexico, else the Mountain West Conference could crow about another strong showing versus the Pac-10.
It's difficult to wave that SEC flag too passionately this first week, especially with what transpired in Oxford, Miss.
It was a terrific opening weekend for the upper-echelon teams in the MWC, with TCU, BYU and Utah posting big wins in the conference's marquee games.
So much attention was put on new coach Brian Kelly's pass-based offense. But the opener proved that the Irish can run the ball, too.
Highlights: JSU-Ole Miss
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: Keith Payne; Jimbo Fisher; Russell Wilson
More ACC stickers
• Big 12: Kendall Hunter; T.J. Moe; Daniel Thomas
More Big 12 stickers
• Big East: Bilal Powell; Ryan Nassib; Brandon Bing
More Big East stickers
• Big Ten: Denard Robinson; Rob Bolden; Jon Hoese
More Big Ten stickers
• Pac-10: Matt Barkley; Kenjon Barner; Keenan Allen
More Pac-10 stickers
• SEC: Derek Dooley; Todd Grantham; Cameron Newton
More SEC stickers
• Non-AQ: Brian Blechen; Diondre Borel; Case Keenum
More Non-AQ stickers
Odds & ends
• Many expected Oregon not to have much difficulty with New Mexico, but the Ducks far exceeded even their own expectations. Oregon tied a modern-day school record with 72 points, set the school's record with 720 total yards and won by 72 points, the most in school history over a fellow FBS team. And it could've been worse: The score was 59-0 at the half. As for the Lobos, their 72-point loss was not even close to the worst in school history. New Mexico lost to in-state rival New Mexico State 110-3 way back in 1917.
• Taking the two matchups of ranked teams out of the equation, there were 15 other ranked teams in action on Saturday. All 15 won, by an average margin of 34.1 points per game. Thirteen of the 15 games were decided by 20 points or more with only the two Big 12 powers, Texas and Oklahoma, not beating their unranked opponents by more than 20. Texas handled Rice by 17, and Oklahoma struggled against Utah State, winning by a touchdown.
• The Sooners might not have been impressive in their seven-point win over Utah State, but they did become the seventh school to reach the 800-win mark, joining Michigan, Texas, Notre Dame, Nebraska, Ohio State and Penn State.