If the Mountain West is going down, it's going down with (another) fight. Two nights after Utah handled Big East favorite Pittsburgh, No. 6 TCU (against No. 24 Oregon State) and BYU (against Washington) continued the league's recent success against Pac-10 foes. It would all add to the league's cause in pursuing a future BCS berth -- if not for the fact that two of the three are bolting the conference.
The Horned Frogs did not dominate, their win only assured after Oregon State's muffed snap went into its own end zone for a safety, but it's hard to argue with the result. They held Beavers star Jacquizz Rodgers to 74 yards on 18 carries and Oregon State to 253 total yards in a 30-21 victory. The Beavers' first-time starting quarterback, Ryan Katz, threw touchdowns of 30 and 34 yards early but was largely ineffective down the stretch, finishing 9-of-25 for 159 yards.
TCU's veteran QB Andy Dalton did not have his finest night, tossing two picks, but leading three long touchdown drives. While the Frogs are an experienced club, they did lose several key players from last year's 12-1 team and could be scary a month from now, much how they progressed a year ago.
BYU is in a much different position than TCU, in a perceived "rebuilding" season. While it was favored against the visiting Huskies (5-7 a year ago), some (like me) thought sernior Jake Locker would outduel the Cougars' quarterback tandem of first-time starter Riley Nelson and true freshman Jake Heaps. Not so.
Nelson and Heaps, who rotated series throughout, were solid; but give credit to BYU's defense for clamping down and shutting out Washington in the second half. Locker, whose hype continues to outpace his actual production, was 20-of-37 for 266 yards and zero picks, but he often found himself in difficult third- and fourth-down situations. The Huskies converted just 5 of their 18 attempts on those downs.
I must confess, I saw only one play of No. 7 Oklahoma's 31-24 win (RECAP | BOX) over Utah State, which I'm told was available only on obscure pay-per-view channels nationally. But the score definitely raises some eyebrows. Bob Stoops' teams usually rout these type teams, but the Aggies were in it nearly the whole way, driving with less than five minutes remaining before a nifty Jamell Fleming interception (the one play I saw) finally put things to a halt.
The good news: Senior tailback DeMarco Murray lived up to Stoops' lofty preseason expectations, rushing 35 times for 207 yards. Unfortunately, quarterback Landry Jones did not pick up where he left off in the Sun Bowl, completing less than half his passes, while Utah State counterpart DiondreBorel lit up the Sooners' defense for 341 yards. Is it too late to revise my Big 12 title pick?
New coach, new offense, new NBC color commentator (the impressive Mike Mayock) -- seemingly everything but the fight song has changed for Notre Dame, including the way it beat Purdue, 23-12, in coach Brian Kelly's debut (RECAP | BOX).
The Irish, so pass-heavy last year behind Jimmy Clausen, were balanced on offense, with Armando Allen rushing for 93 yards on 18 carries and new quarterback Dayne Crist delivering an efficient 19-for-26, 205-yard performance. They did struggle at times with the Boilers' pass rush (in particular, All-Big Ten monster Ryan Kerrigan), and receiver Michael Floyd fumbled away a potential long touchdown.
But the real story was Notre Dame's defense, which has struggled so mightily for so many years. Ian Williams and the defensive front relentlessly pressured Purdue quarterback Robert Marve, sacking him four times and intercepting him twice. It also helped that the Irish -- one of the most penalized teams in the country under Charlie Weis -- committed just two all day. All in all, encouraging.
Before Saturday, Jacksonville State coach Jack Crowe's most memorable distinction as a college football coach was his abrupt firing at Arkansas in 1992 upon losing his season opener to I-AA foe The Citadel. One of the assistants on his staff that day was future Arkansas and Ole Miss head coach Houston Nutt.
It may not qualify as "revenge," per se, but 18 years later, Crowe's own FCS (I-AA) squad just handed Nutt's Rebels their own opening-day embarrassment. Down 31-13 entering the fourth quarter, Jacksonville State rallied to send the game to overtime on a touchdown and two-point conversion with 18 seconds remaining. But the real drama came in the second overtime. Down seven and facing fourth-and-15 in the second overtime, quarterback Coty Blanchard fired a 30-yard touchdown pass to Kevyn Cooper in the back of the end zone. Crowe then went for the win, and got it, on a Blanchard two-point conversion pass (RECAP | BOX).
The irony, of course, is that the game's original significance was due to Ole Miss' quarterback, Oregon transfer Jeremiah Masoli, making his SEC debut after winning an NCAA appeal just a day earlier. Masoli shared time with starter Nathan Stanley, but he was Nutt's pick for both overtimes, and he performed decently enough, keeping the Rebels alive on a fourth-and-goal option pitch. The problem wasn't the quarterback; it was Ole Miss' defense, which collapsed in the second half and overtime.
Now we know why the Rebels were picked to finish last in their division -- and perhaps why Nutt so desperately wanted Masoli. They may have to score a lot of points come conference play.
Remember when Jeremiah Masoli (now at Ole Miss) and LaMichael James (suspended for one game) led Oregon to the Rose Bowl last season? Neither was on the field for the Ducks on Saturday, yet that didn't stop Oregon from running up a 59-0 halftime score against hapless New Mexico (RECAP | BOX). Kenjon Barner, James' replacement, rushed for 146 yards and four touchdowns and scored again on a 60-yard catch, while new QB DarronThomas threw for 230 yards and two scores.
Ever since visiting Eugene in the spring, I've maintained that Oregon is still the team to beat in the Pac-10, in part because you won't find a faster backfield tandem than sophomores James and Barner. But throttling New Mexico, a 1-11 team last season, is one thing. Next week will provide a better gauge of Thomas -- still admittedly a work in progress -- when the Ducks visit Knoxville.
There's no nice way to put it: No. 4 Florida's offense looked terrible in its first game A.T. (After Tebow). And Tebow's successor, John Brantley, was far from the worst offender. Every Gator played a part.
From their opening series, when center Mike Pouncey (taking over for his brother, first-round draft pick Maurkice) sent a snap sailing past Brantley that Miami of Ohio recovered, the Gators bumbled their way to 213 total yards and six fumbles (three lost). Brantley (17-of-25, 113 yards, two TDs) spent nearly the entire day relegated to underneath throws to receivers who couldn't break tackles. Pouncey botched numerous shotgun snaps (RECAP | BOX). But the real concern for Florida was its running game -- or lack thereof.
As my colleague Andy Staples astutely brought up in our Florida preview video a few weeks back, Tebow was the Gators' sole reliable power runner in years past, and they have no obvious replacement. Tailbacks Jeff Demps and Emmanuel Moody and motion receiver Chris Rainey combined for a paltry 33 yards on 13 attempts before Demps finally broke a 72-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter. Florida had 28 total yards prior to that play. Unofficially, 21 of its 56 plays gained one yard or less.
Florida was never really in danger thanks to Janoris Jenkins' 67-yard pick-six early, an unsuccessful fake punt by Miami that gave Brantley short field for his first touchdown drive and a 38-yard Ahmad Black interception return that set up another Florida score. But it wasn't like Miami -- 1-11 last season, though clearly much improved -- hung for a half, then folded. The score was 21-12 in the fourth quarter. Urban Meyer's summer of de-stressing has come to a screeching halt.
Much like Florida, Texas ushered in a new era of offense Saturday, and much like Florida, the Longhorns took a while to get going against Rice (though it wasn't as ugly).
Mack Brown spent the offseason preaching a return to physical, downhill running, but top two tailbacks Cody Johnson and Tre Newton both averaged less than four yards on 32 combined carries (RECAP | BOX). Quarterback Garrett Gilbert, making his first start in place of departed star Colt McCoy, was a modest 14-of-23 for 172 yards and no touchdowns. He alternated between shotgun and under center, with some of his best plays coming on the familiar slip screen that was such a staple of McCoy's.
It may take a few games for Brown and offensive coordinator Greg Davis to figure out what best suits their personnel. Newton and Fozzy Whitaker (who carried nine times for 51 yards) have shown flashes the past two years, but it remains to be seen whether the O-line can blow open holes for them after spending the past few years in a more finesse offense.
Penn State's true freshman quarterback, Robert Bolden, didn't just get the start against Youngstown State. JoePa and Co. let him loose en route to a 20-of-29, 238-yard, two-touchdown day (with one interception) and stuck with him through the fourth quarter, turning to sophomore Kevin Newsome only once the 44-14 outcome was well in hand (RECAP | BOX).
Obviously, how Bolden performed against the FCS Penguins is no indicator whatsoever of how he'll handle Alabama's defense next week. The more telling sign is the coaches' confidence in him. He wasn't part of a rotation with Newsome or Kevin McGloin, as some had anticipated. Bolden -- the first true freshman QB ever to start an opener under Paterno -- is the Nittany Lions' guy.
Chronically embattled Illinois coach Ron Zook brought in new coordinators on both sides of the ball last winter. Defensive guru Vic Koenning's work showed early returns in a surprisingly low-scoring opener against Missouri. However, offensive coordinator Paul Petrino -- a year removed from working with star Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett -- clearly has his work cut out for him.
The Illini did an impressive job of holding down Tigers quarterback Blaine Gabbert in the first half, taking a 13-10 lead to the locker room. Missouri, clearly missing dismissed running back Derrick Washington, failed to finish off drives. But while Gabbert heated up after halftime, Illinois' redshirt freshman quarterback Nathan Scheelhasse (9-of-23, 81 yards, one TD, three INTs) spent most of the day running for his life, throwing into coverage or throwing it to no one in particular.
Missouri prevailed 23-13 (RECAP | BOX), cause for concern for its offense, but nowhere near as alarming as what Petrino and Zook are dealing with.