This college football season, the Sports Illustrated college football team will run a regular column declaring the winners and losers of each week. Count on us to distill all of the action into tidy, digestible news items that keep you up to date. Remember, in the ever-changing world of college football, you may find yourself a winner one week and a loser the next.
Now, college football is officially back, which means we’re all winners here. Week 1 may have lacked any real marquee matchups (aside from Oregon-Auburn), but it produced lots of interesting moments, from Mack Brown dancing in a locker room, to Tennessee starting the season on an embarrassing note, to a new face emerging as the leader of the Auburn Tigers.
Without further ado, here are your Week 1 winners and losers:
The Tigers found their starting QB for the foreseeable future on Saturday night, and that makes them our clear-cut winners. Bo Nix: you’ll be hearing that name a lot the next three to four years. He’s the son of Patrick Nix, a former Tigers quarterback himself, and on Saturday, he became the first true freshman to start Auburn’s season opener since 1946. Nix was trailing No. 11 Oregon 21–6 in the third quarter, when he led the Tigers on a 21–0 run.
Nix’s final drive in particular was a sight to behold. He scrambled and dove for a first down in a fourth-and-3 situation near midfield. Then he completed a big pass to Seth Williams to convert a third-and-10 and put the Tigers in field goal range. Then he found Williams again for a 26-yard touchdown.
Nix’s final stat line wasn’t pretty: 42% completion rate, 177 passing yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions. But he performed when it mattered most.
2. Mack Brown
The last time we saw Mack Brown on the sidelines, his Texas teams were underperforming. His last four seasons in Austin, the Longhorns went: 5–7, 8–5, 9–4, 8–5. Brown took a job at ESPN, spent six years away from the game, and finally returned on Saturday as the coach of North Carolina, a team he’d coached for 10 years from 1988 to 1997.
This time, in the season opener at least, Brown’s team exceeded expectations. The Tarheels pulled off a surprising 24–20 win over rival South Carolina, while scoring 15 unanswered points in the fourth quarter. Afterward, the 68-year-old Brown danced with his players in the locker room. If you haven’t seen it, watch it here. It’s the feel-good story of Week 1.
3. Georgia castoffs Justin Fields and Jacob Eason
The two Georgia quarterback transfers looked stellar in their first games since leaving Athens. In his first start for No. 5 Ohio State, Justin Fields showed off his athleticism, compiling 295 total yards (234 passing, 61 rushing) and five touchdowns (four passing, one rushing). Later on, in his first start for No. 13 Washington, Jacob Eason showed off his arm, completing 75% of his passes for 349 yards and four touchdowns.
If Fields and Eason continue to perform at that level, both OSU and Washington could make a run at the Playoff this season.
The Trojans lost their starting quarterback JT Daniels to injury just before halftime on Saturday. A crowd of Fresno State defenders sacked him and caused him to land awkwardly on his right knee. Daniels has been announced to be out for the rest of the season with an ACL and meniscus tear, a brutal blow for USC. To make matters worse, over the next six weeks, the Trojans' schedule looks like this:
• No. 25 Stanford
• at BYU
• No. 14 Utah
• at No. 13 Washington
• at No. 9 Notre Dame
The Trojans may turn to freshman Kedon Slovis, who took over for Daniels against Fresno State. They also could try Jack Sears, although he recently put his name in the transfer portal. Whoever starts for USC is going to have to grow up in a hurry. Otherwise, the Trojans could possibly lose upwards of four of these next five games.
2. Mario Cristobal
As we mentioned, No. 11 Oregon led No. 16 Auburn 21–6 in the third quarter on Saturday night. Heisman hopeful Justin Herbert looked sharp, the Ducks looked like Playoff contenders, and it looked as though the Pac-12 would finally win a marquee nonconference game. Then Auburn stormed back. A lot of credit goes to Bo Nix, of course, but Oregon coach Mario Cristobal didn’t help his team much, either.
In the aftermath of the stunning loss, many media members—including, notably, Yahoo’s Pete Thamel—called out Cristobal for his poor game management. First, Cristobal burned two timeouts for not knowing the rules about injured players needing to sit out a play before returning to action. Then he failed to milk the clock in the fourth quarter, which gave Nix and the Tigers time to work on their final drive.
As a result, Oregon’s title chances took a big hit Saturday.
3. The SEC’s Middle Class
Aside from Auburn’s come-from-behind win, Saturday was not great for the SEC—especially for teams in the middle-to-lower class. Let’s take a look around the conference:
• Tennessee loses, 38–30, to Georgia State, a team that went 2-10 last season. Also remember, the Volunteers paid Georgia State $950,000 to schedule this game.
• Missouri loses, 37–31, to Wyoming, in the first game of the Kelly Bryant era. The score seems closer than it actually was, too. Wyoming led 34–17 entering the fourth quarter.
• South Carolina loses 24–20, to North Carolina, and is forced to watch Mack Brown dance.
• Ole Miss loses, 15–10, to Memphis, and the Rebels fail to produce 100 yards passing or rushing.
The day could’ve been worse. Arkansas only beat Portland State by a touchdown, and Mississippi State had a scare against the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns.