Week 1 overshadowed by upheaval
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Kickoff had come at last.
They were going to play a game in Cowboys Stadium Saturday night, with blocking and tackling and cheerleaders and marching bands and face-painted fans -- all the things that make college football such a joy to behold. LSU and Oregon, two top-five teams, were going to spend three hours slobberknocking each other for our viewing pleasure. And the worst offseason ever -- a grim slog through the sport's sausage factory of deceit, greed and mercenary behavior -- would be shoved aside at long last.
Oh, but wait. There was this story breaking about Oklahoma zeroing in on leaving the Big 12 for the Pac-12, and the Sooners might be doing it sooner than later. And they might have company from Oklahoma State, Texas and Texas Tech, sinking the league they'd be leaving. And Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott happened to be there at Cowboys Stadium, where he would drop by the press box smiling like the guy with the biggest pile of chips in his corner of the table.
"Schools have reached out to us," he said, and it's almost certain that the right overtures will be met with the right answers.
And there went the big picture slipping off the wall and crashing down on our heads again.
A typically exhilarating opening weekend of games -- thrillers, upsets, dramatic plays, bold calls, startling gaffes, extreme weather, new faces, old heroes -- has been overshadowed by the constant upheaval. Nationwide realignment seems more real today, more imminent than ever. We may be mere days away from the beginning of the end of college sports as we know it.
The Big 12 will be sun-bleached bones on the prairie soon enough. Its surviving members will be approached by any number of leagues seeking to solidify their place in the new world order. Another round of corporate raiding could yield the result many have foreseen: four 16-team conferences at the top of the food chain.
It is the craziest thing. When working on a story on the six major conference commissioners this summer, I didn't find a great appetite among those men for that ultimate consolidation. A month later, it seems inevitable.
Few of the men who control the most powerful football fiefdoms seem truly convinced that evolving into a select group of mega-conferences is a good thing for the national collective. Yet under the pretense of doing what's best for them, they're taking us in that direction anyway.
Does the Southeastern Conference desperately need Texas A&M? Of course not. The league has won five straight national titles and has been the model of 12-school perfection.
Does A&M desperately need the SEC? No. It will be at a competitive disadvantage and will be leaving rivalries and relationships established decades ago.
Yet it looks as if the two will wed in the near future. Then the SEC eventually goes after at least one more member, at the expense of some other league.
Did Texas get the entire chain reaction started by being a heavy-handed Big 12 partner, alienating its peers? Certainly. And now its reach may finally have exceeded its grasp. The Longhorns might be boxed into a choice between accepting what the Pac-12's membership dictates or going it alone as an independent -- the latter a risky proposition for a broad-based athletic powerhouse.
In the ego-driven quest for power and dollars in "amateur" athletics, everything else is expendable. Tradition, geographic sense, non-revenue sports, collegiality, regional flavor, and scheduling sanity -- they're all just for lip service now. None of the feudal lords believe in those quaint concepts anymore, no matter what they say.
The conference commissioners, university presidents and athletic directors have sold the entire enterprise out to the highest bidder. "At the end of the day, everyone's competing like hell on the field and for TV dollars," Scott said.
If there is such a thing as a big winner in all this, Scott might be it. Last year the aggressive commissioner came close to pulling off the Pac-16, but Texas balked at the last minute and expansion went from only 10 schools to 12. Now Scott could get the Longhorns after all, and on his terms -- equal revenue sharing among all league members, and an adaptation of Texas' Longhorn Network partnership with ESPN to fit under the Pac-12's existing television umbrella.
"Anyone who's a member of our conference is going to be part of our network model," Scott said.
Then Scott left the press box to join more than 87,000 others in watching LSU smoke Oregon. While the game lacked the riveting plot of TCU-Baylor or Utah State-Auburn, the fans who traveled to Dallas certainly seemed to enjoy themselves and get their money's worth.
And that is the ultimate reality here: College football is idiot-proof.
We still love it, no matter how poorly it is administered. The postseason is an unsatisfying, outdated mess that resists fixing. The makeup of the conferences is shifting toward gigantism that will only serve to make the most powerful bigger, not better. The have-nots are further behind than ever. The scandals are more pervasive than ever.
Yet the game is booming with the public. We still pay big bucks for tickets, no matter the disappointment with where we have been and where we're going. We still watched it in massive numbers on TV, no matter how cynical we've become about how it all works.
A lot of greedy men have done their best to damage the sport, but they can't kill it. They can't drive the fans away. The games are too good, the competition too compelling.
You just can't screw this thing up. No matter how hard some people are trying.
Here we go again
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- There was nothing to prepare Tommy Rees to wait 2 hours, 53 minutes during a game that no one else thought he had any stake in.
At least not in the 12 days since coach Brian Kelly sat down with him and Dayne Crist and delivered the decision that would keep the sophomore on the sidelines when the Notre Dame offense took the field for the first time Saturday, a day that ended with a 23-20 loss to South Florida.
"Dayne will be the starter and I expect him to be the starter for 13 weeks," Kelly told reporters a day after making his choice. "We have great confidence in his ability to lead us to a championship."
Eleven days, five turnovers and a 5-hour, 59-minute game later, Kelly, Reese and Crist find themselves at the same crossroads they entered preseason practices with. A fork in the road that was only supposed to arise had one of Crist's two surgically repaired knees not withstood the challenge of live-game action.
Crist looked fine health-wise, and everyone can be thankful for that. But nearly 11 months without game action and an inability to generate any momentum on an offense that looked so good so early has re-opened the battle for the No. 1 quarterback spot.
"We have no choice," the sophomore said. "As the quarterback you're the leader, and you can't have a distraction like that take over the team. It's a long season and we can't let that get a hold of us."
To read the rest of Matt Fortuna's blog, click here.
Bring on the Florida buzz
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The scene outside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium two hours before Florida's season opener with Florida Atlantic wasn't exactly electrifying.
Sure, you could tell it was game day, but there wasn't much buzz. You weren't consumed by the anticipation of the start of the season.
It was even more evident when only 88,708 showed up inside the stadium, ending Florida's streak of 137 consecutive sellouts.
But with a team such as Florida that has so many question marks, it's expected for fans to be a little hesitant and skeptical about a new year and a new coach.
Will Muschamp made his head-coaching debut inside The Swamp and his team generated all the buzz he needed in a 41-3 win over the Owls.
Muschamp, who grew up going to Gators games with his family, was the man in charge of his childhood team and while he was asked about his feelings concerning his move from coordinator to head coach, Muschamp made it all about his team.
To read the rest of Edward Aschoff's story, click here.
Michigan's work in progress
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- There were some very good moments for Michigan's defense Saturday against Western Michigan. Linebacker Brandon Herron became the first defender in team history to record two touchdown returns in a game (and the first Michigan player to do so since Heisman Trophy winner Tom Harmon in 1940).
Herron's second score, a 28-yard fumble return, came after safety Jordan Kovacs leveled quarterback Alex Carder on a perfectly timed blitz. Coordinator Greg Mattison turned up the heat after halftime, and Kovacs recorded two sacks.
"It's a completely different scheme," Kovacs said. "We've got some more blitz packages that give me the opportunity to come down in the box and try to make a play."
The offense started off looking much like its 2010 form. Denard Robinson took off on a designed run on the first play of scrimmage, and spread elements surfaced throughout a 76-yard scoring drive. But the new scheme, outfitted with power elements, began to take root.
The fact Robinson provided only 46 of Michigan's 190 rush yards is significant. Midway through the third quarter, running back Fitzgerald Toussaint raced through a truck-sized hole for 43 yards. On the next play, Michael Shaw found a seam and raced 44 yards to the end zone.
"On the long run by Fitz, he lowered himself to go through a guy, and if you watch, you see [wide receiver] Junior Hemingway launching himself to try to get a block over the top," coach Brady Hoke said. "That was exciting to me. That was good football to me."
To read the rest of Adam Rittenberg's story, click here.
Oklahoma's surprise party
NORMAN, Okla. -- Dominique Whaley's photo is nowhere to be found in Oklahoma's media guide. Before enrolling at OU, Whaley was an NAIA benchwarmer.
Some replacement for DeMarco Murray. Some replacement indeed.
Rising out of complete obscurity, Whaley rushed right into OU history Saturday night as the top-ranked Sooners crushed Tulsa 47-14 to open the season. Consider what Whaley accomplished against the Golden Hurricane:
• The most rushing touchdowns by an OU walk-on in a single game.
• The first 100-yard game by an OU walk-on in 36 years.
• Became the second Sooners player to run for four touchdowns in his debut, with Murray being the other.
Whaley ran for 131 yards and four touchdowns on a game-high 18 carries, the final score coming on a gorgeous 32-yard scamper through Tulsa's defense.
To read the rest of Jake Trotter's story, click here.
Three weekend observations
1. Kellen Moore won't put up the steroidal numbers that would give him a boost in the Heisman race. And with TCU's loss on Friday night, the spotlight has momentarily dimmed on the Broncos' schedule. But he remains an absolute joy to watch. He paints the corners like Greg Maddux. Former Georgia coach Vince Dooley, watching from the press box, said, "He steps wherever they're not rushing." Moore is, like Andrew Luck of Stanford, a living "teach tape" of how to play the position. Enjoy him while you can.
2. The mistakes always seem bigger in the opening weeks of the season. Special-teams gaffes are the norm. Oregon, without suspended All-American Cliff Harris returning punts, gave up a touchdown on a fumbled punt. Ask Utah State how important a good kicking game is. If Auburn didn't have one, the Tigers would have lost to the Aggies by 10 points. Then there's Notre Dame's 14-point swing. The Irish, going in to score against South Florida, instead allowed a 97-yard fumble return for a score and lost by three.
3. The two big games Saturday night turned on the defensive line play of the winners. Boise State allowed Georgia an 80-yard touchdown by Brandon Boykin in the first quarter. On the Dawgs' other 30 carries, they netted 57 yards. LSU controlled Oregon's young offensive line in the Tigers' 40-27 victory. The Ducks rushed for 95 yards. More revealing, they threw 54 times and ran but 28. Last season, Oregon averaged 48 rushes and 30 passes per game.
Highlights: LSU vs. Oregon
GameDay crew final thoughts
"I'm always anxious to see new guys getting an opportunity to play and how they step into the big shoes of some of the departed players. Guys you don't expect, like Matt Miller at Boise State, and guys you do expect, like Tyler Wilson at Arkansas, having strong performances. And fantastic performances like the ones put on by USC's Matt Barkley and Robert Woods whet your appetite for what you're going to see the rest of the season."
Helmet stickers go to:
• LB Brandon Herron, Michigan
Fumble returned for TD, INT returned for TD versus Western Michigan
• RB Dominique Whaley, Oklahoma
18 carries, 131 yards, 4 TDs versus Tulsa
"It's a typical opening week with upsets all over the place. Richmond beating Duke, Sacramento State beating Oregon State and South Florida winning at Notre Dame. Upsets occur in Week 1 because teams typically make more mistakes in their first game than in any other game of the season. You can't tell what kind of team you have in Week 1. In 1995 when I was coaching at Notre Dame, we lost our season opener to Northwestern. People thought we were going to have a bad year, but we went on to win nine of our last 10 regular-season games, and Northwestern won the Big Ten and went to the Rose Bowl. Teams make their biggest improvement from Week 1 to Week 2. Auburn had the kind of win that can change a season and Michigan's win was telling because the addition of new defensive coordinator Greg Mattison has already made an impact as the Wolverines scored twice on defense. As for Notre Dame, it showed it is capable of being an outstanding team if it doesn't make mistakes."
"Year in, year out, every time you think Boise State won't be able to overcome the players they lost, Chris Petersen's team just finds a way to put all of that behind them and win. Two seasons ago at home, the Broncos knocked off Oregon. Last year at FedEx Field, they beat Virginia Tech. And this season, they go to Atlanta and beat Georgia. And what can you say about LSU? The Tigers just win, and it's almost comical how Les Miles & Co. do it. People wondered if they could contain Oregon's running game, and they just came into Cowboys Stadium and stuffed the Ducks, proving how physical of a team they are. And what a tough, tough, bitter loss for Notre Dame. You gain double the amount of yards as your opponent but lose at home because you turn the ball over five times, three times inside the red zone. Those are the types of losses that stick with you."
Helmet stickers go to:
• QB Robert Griffin III, Baylor
21-of-27, 359 yards, 5 TDs versus 14 TCU
• CB Tyrann Mathieu, LSU
7.5 tackles, FF, fumble return TD versus Oregon
Robert Woods' Big Day
Blog Network: What we learned
Stop the presses. One of the most shocking storylines of Week 1 was that Georgia Tech passed the ball more than it ran.
Here's guessing Texas leans on more of a running identity this year, but I loved what Malcolm Brown was able to do.
No more dark horse talk for South Florida. The Bulls announced themselves loud and clear in their win over Notre Dame.
We came into the weekend with three true quarterback competitions still raging. Now it looks like one.
UCLA's loss at Houston means coach Rick Neuheisel is officially in dire straits, even though the offense looked promising.
Everybody wondered before the opener what kind of impact starting quarterback Jordan Jefferson's suspension would have on LSU. That impact was minimal.
The QB battle lasted all spring, most of summer and through 19 preseason practices, but here we go again.
Highlights: Utah State-Auburn
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: David Wilson; Bryn Renner; Florida State's defense
More ACC stickers
• Big 12: Robert Griffin III; Todd Monken; Dominique Whaley
More Big 12 stickers
• Big East: Antwon Bailey; Zach Collaros; Ray Graham
More Big East stickers
• Big Ten: Russell Wilson; Brandon Herron; Jake Stoneburner
More Big Ten stickers
• Pac-10: Nick Foles; Robert Woods; Vontaze Burfict
More Pac-12 stickers
• SEC: Vick Ballard; Chris Rainey; Les Miles
More SEC stickers
• Notre Dame: Michael Floyd; Cierre Wood; Manti Te'o
More Notre Dame stickers
LSU, Boise State trends
In the fourth matchup of AP preseason top-five teams meeting in the season opener, another blowout ensued as No. 4 LSU routed No. 3 Oregon, 40-27. LSU won its 34th straight regular-season nonconference game and is 29-1 in nonconference games under Les Miles. Oregon lost its fourth straight game against a top-20 nonconference opponent, averaging just 18 points in those games compared to 45 in its other 23 games. The Ducks are also averaging nearly 200 fewer yards per game in those four games (against Boise State, Ohio State, Auburn and LSU).
To read the rest of the story, click here.