After months of speculation, Week 1 offered the first glimpse of how good teams might actually be rather than how they looked on paper. But first impressions can also be misleading, and flaws that teams displayed in their openers may be fixed long before they derail a season. So which teams' lackluster Week 1 performances could spell actual trouble and which can be dismissed until further notice? SI.com's Zac Ellis, Martin Rickman and Brian Hamilton offer their analysis.
Zac Ellis: It's human nature to have knee-jerk reactions after Week 1 of college football. For the first time in months, teams are finally taking the field in games that count. But even though Week 1 games don't always define a team's season, those matchups can illustrate problems that need immediate attention.
Take Alabama, for example. The Crimson Tide were expected to steamroll West Virginia in one of the two Chick-fil-A Kickoff Games in Atlanta. Instead, 'Bama's well-documented secondary troubles reared their ugly heads. The Tide's defensive backs allowed Mountaineers quarterback Clint Trickett to complete 29 passes for 365 yards, which essentially kept West Virginia in the game. Martin, isn't this the same problem we saw from Alabama last season?
Martin Rickman: It's a problem, but I'm not sure it's the exact same problem we saw out of the Crimson Tide last year. The issue Alabama had a year ago was largely related to its focus down the stretch after dominating a majority of the season. After beating Virginia Tech in their 2013 opener, the Tide pulled out a close victory against Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M before rattling off seven straight by an average margin of 34.4 points, including wins over Ole Miss and LSU. If Alabama were to go on a streak like that this season and is sitting at 9-0 in mid-November, nobody will say they have problems.
I think a lot of the mystique around Alabama is gone, and that's something Saban's squad has to deal with now. For so long teams would beat themselves worrying about playing Big, Bad Alabama. Now foes see that the Tide bleed the same blood as everybody else, and it's giving other football teams a bit more confidence. Alabama still likely has the better players in any given matchup, but it is mortal. That's a big deal.
Brian Hamilton: Well, with the Seminoles, I think what we have here is a variation on the classic Clubber Lang Postulate: No confident reigning champion can recapture its former self until it has its brains bashed in by a guy with a mohawk. Florida State won a championship with a quarterback who won a Heisman Trophy and then spent an offseason counting how many creative ways they could destroy everyone they face this fall. But to even come close to approaching the same level of success, that kind of team needs to get scared.
Jimbo Fisher can contrive whatever motivational schemes he wants, and the Seminoles can convince themselves they're carrying around a chip or that no one believes they can do it again and blah blah blah. It's not until a cold slap of failure hits that they can take true measure of what they need to do in 2014 to repeat 2013. Failure here of course is relative: Florida State won, and Oklahoma State might be better than everyone figured. But after the game, the Seminoles didn't sound oblivious to the realization that this will be much harder than they may have expected.
That should serve them well down the line, but we'll know for sure when Clemson comes through and runs an offense that will test the Seminoles' depth even more than the Cowboys did.
Moving a bit north for you guys buried in the South ... is Wisconsin's passing game a problem moving forward, or just a problem against super-fast LSU defensive backs?
Ellis: I think it's something Badgers coach Gary Andersen really needs to worry about, especially with Joel Stave now out indefinitely with the "yips." That's why Tanner McEvoy was listed as the sole starter on Wisconsin's depth chart this week ahead of Saturday's game against Western Illinois. So for better or for worse, McEvoy needs to be the answer. And that's what will have to happen after he threw for 50 yards, two picks and a measly 2.1 yards-per-attempt against LSU. It's no secret Wisconsin wants to run the ball, and who wouldn't with Melvin Gordon and that backfield? But it's unclear how successful the Badgers can be with a totally one-dimensional offense. We shouldn't take everything away from LSU's defense, though, which did a fantastic job of limiting McEvoy's passing lanes last weekend.
The good news for Wisconsin is the schedule is much more favorable from here on out, with no Ohio State, Michigan State or Michigan looming on its Big Ten slate. So maybe none of this will matter and the Badgers can succeed with a 2013 Auburn offense -- that is, run until you stop us. Brian, do you think McEvoy needs to step up, or can Wisconsin really survive by leaning heavily on the ground game?
Hamilton: I think it's less on McEvoy than the guys he's throwing it to or at least a 50-50 proposition. Melvin Gordon told me at Big Ten media days that Wisconsin's receivers were "going to put on a show." Apparently that show has been put on hiatus, because they couldn't get open at all against LSU. Whether any other team they see will defend them as well, who knows? But there's almost nowhere to go but up. Speaking of that: Hi, Miami's offense! And we haven't even gotten to Texas, which has a new quarterback and a new center after Week 1. These are not good things. The floor is open to discuss Charlie Strong's options and whether he'll need a mulligan already for his first year.
Rickman: It's a shame, too, because Texas looked pretty solid in its win over North Texas on Saturday. I'll say it's too early to count the Longhorns out, as smart money says they were preparing for a possible Ash injury in the offseason. You can't have a guy with that history of concussions without having a contingency plan in place. This just expedites an identity that Strong was probably already putting into place: defense first. He's got his guys wearing suits, he made his statement with discipline, and although Texas is playing behind the eight ball a bit with depth and injury concerns, it is still Texas. The Longhorns won't be playing for a national title this year and may not be in contention to win the Big 12, but they're going to end 2014 better than they started it. That should be considered progress for anyone with reasonable expectations.
Ellis: I'm not sure many folks expected a Pac-12 contender out of Petersen's first season at Washington, but surely the Huskies weren't supposed to struggle against Hawaii. The Rainbow Warriors won just a single game last season! Plus, Petersen isn't having to rebuild in Seattle. This team has won at least seven games in each of the last five seasons. The cupboard isn't exactly bare.
That said, Washington didn't have quarterback Cyler Miles, who was suspended but will start this weekend against Eastern Washington. Having Miles back in place of Jeff Lindquist -- who completed just 10 passes Saturday -- could change things considerably. Plus, before the Huskies kick off Pac-12 play with a home meeting against Stanford on Sept. 27, this is their schedule: vs. Eastern Washington, vs. Illinois, vs. Georgia State. That's a much better slate in which to work out some kinks than, for example, fellow Week 1 Pac-12 disappointment UCLA, who has to travel to Arlington to take on Texas in two weeks before a pivotal South Division matchup against Arizona State.
Long-term, though, Petersen needs time to recruit his players to Washington. He proved he could develop talent at Boise State, and now he finally has the program and the resources to recruit with the big boys. Check back a year or two down the line, and Washington will almost certainly be trending upward. There's one team I'm surprised we haven't discussed yet, Martin: South Carolina! Was the Gamecocks' performance against Texas A&M a sign of larger problems?
Rickman: There are problems there, but I don't know how deep they go. Mike Davis was banged up and South Carolina was playing from behind, so the Gamecocks had to rely more on Dylan Thompson than they would have liked. That changed the whole complexion of the game. And Texas A&M was able to exploit South Carolina's lack of depth in the secondary, which gives teams like Auburn or Missouri a blueprint to follow. That said, Steve Spurrier seems to have taken this one to heart. On Tuesday he said he was "still and will always be embarrassed" by the loss. Even for Spurrier those are strong words. South Carolina should be fine, but it just might not be the sleeper playoff pick people thought it was coming into the season.
Speaking of the state of South Carolina, Brian should we be worried about Clemson? Or was this a combination of bad special teams play, heat and an all-world performance by Todd Gurley?
Hamilton: I'm not necessarily worried about Clemson personnel-wise as much as I'd worry about Clemson having any breathing room to permit that personnel to find a rhythm. The Tigers played at a high-level with Georgia for most of that game, so I don't think they should be written off based on the available evidence and Todd Gurley having a monster day. But now they've got a walkthrough against South Carolina State followed by a bye week...and then the road trip to Florida State and a home game against North Carolina to follow. That's a fairly suffocating early schedule, certainly one more formidable than most teams face before early October. If you assume there's nothing fundamentally wrong with Clemson, then maybe facing that sort of urgency isn't a problem; but whatever there is to fix will be fixed under the gun. That may be true of any team we've talked about, but it'll be particularly interesting to see how Dabo Swinney's team regroups in the next month.