No. 1 Florida State 37, Okla. State 31
Jameis Winston spent almost every weekend last season heading into the halftime locker room with a comfortable lead. So it must have been unfamiliar for Florida State’s quarterback to end Saturday's first half against Oklahoma State with the outcome still undecided.
Winston had tossed two interceptions and helped his Seminoles carry a measly 17-10 lead into intermission. But the Heisman Trophy winner and his No. 1 Florida State squad shook of the rust in the second half and held off upset-minded Oklahoma State, keeping repeat championship hopes alive.
Though the win averted disaster for the Seminoles, the Cowboys pushed Winston to the limit at moments. Florida State struggled to keep drives alive all night, converting only four of 14 third downs, and Winston’s two turnovers were momentum-killers in the first half. It didn’t help that Karlos Williams and the ‘Noles rushing game managed just 3.4 yards per carry on the night.
Luckily for Florida State, its defense stepped up when necessary. The Seminoles forced a fumble from Cowboys quarterback J.W. Walsh late in the fourth quarter to steal possession. Though Oklahoma State scored on its next drive to make it a one-score game, the effort was too-little, too-late as Florida State methodically ran out the clock.
This was a nice test for a Florida State squad that likely needed a gut-check moment or two as it vies for a repeat. Now, with a favorable schedule ahead, Winston and the ‘Noles can work to return those overwhelming halftime leads. -- Zac Ellis
No. 15 USC 52, Fresno State 13
The Steve Sarkisian era is off to a decent start. Between the ongoing Josh Shaw saga and running back Anthony Brown’s surprise decision to quit the team (and accuse Sarkisian of being a racist), it’s been a rough week for USC. One can understand the Trojans' eagerness to get back on the field under the charge of their new coach. They took a promising first step on Saturday, thrashing Fresno State 52-13.
Although the Bulldogs aren’t as formidable as some of the teams USC will face, Saturday night’s performance is cause for optimism. Junior quarterback Cody Kessler, who showed promise toward the end of last season, completed 25-of-37 passes for 394 yards with four touchdowns. Top tailback Javorius Allen rushed for 133 yards at a 6.0-yards-per-carry clip. And true freshman JuJu Smith showed exactly why he was such a highly touted prospect coming out of Long Beach Poly (Calif.) High, hauling in four passes for 123 yards. USC got meaningful contributions from a few other freshmen, too, including offensive guard Damien Mama, tight end Bryce Dixon and receiver Adoree' Jackson.
Defensively, the Trojans recorded four interceptions and limited coach Tim DeRuyter’s team to just 160 passing yards (on an ugly 4.4 yards per attempt) and 166 yards on the ground. In all, USC outgained Fresno State 702-326.
Tougher threats lie ahead for the Trojans. In fact, next week could present their most difficult challenge of the season, a road game at Pac-12 North favorite Stanford. The Cardinal, which trounced UC Davis 45-0 on Saturday, could exploit major weaknesses for USC that Fresno State was unable to expose. We should get a better sense next week of whether USC’s blowout is more indicative of year-to-year improvement or Fresno State’s ineptitude. -- Chris Johnson
No. 12 Georgia 45, No. 16 Clemson 21
One of the most highly anticipated nonconference matchups of the season lived up to the hype. As was the case when these two teams met a year ago in Clemson, S.C., Georgia and Clemson played an exciting, competitive game that whet our appetites for the rest of the college football season. Georgia rode a strong performance from running back Todd Gurley and pulled away in the fourth quarter for a 45-21 win.
If there was any lingering doubt about Gurley’s status as one of the nation’s top players -- and maybe its best rusher -- he dispelled them Saturday night with a scintillating performance. Simply put, Gurley dominated. He finished with a career-high 198 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns. And that was only on offense. Tabbed as a kick returner, Gurley caught the ball a few yards deep in his end zone and ran untouched for a score. Watching him Saturday, it was hard not to start considering his place in the Heisman Trophy race. Gurley may well be a worthy challenger for the award. In the meantime, we should all sit back and enjoy.
Now that Georgia took care of Clemson and is heading into a matchup against a South Carolina team that might be a little weaker than originally suspected, the notion of the Bulldgos as a playoff contender seems very realistic. Yes, it’s probably way too early to be thinking about the postseason. But if Saturday night’s performance is any indication, Georgia is as good, if not better, than advertised. With Gurley, a seemingly improved defense under new coordinator Jeremy Pruitt and a favorable schedule, could this be the year the Bulldogs make a breakthrough?
For Clemson, highly touted freshman Deshaun Watson entered the game late in the first quarter and instantly sparked the Tigers’ offense, leading a six-play, 78-yard scoring drive to tie the game at 14. His 30-yard touchdown dart to Charone Peake offered a glimpse of Watson’s arm talent. Yet one drive isn’t a large enough sample size from which to render a fair, realistic assessment of where he stands in Clemson’s quarterback pecking order.
Watson finished the game with just two completions on four attempts for 54 yards (14.8 yards per attempt) and that one touchdown. His talent is undeniable. Watson’s main competition at quarterback, senior Cole Stoudt, underwhelmed. He completed fewer than half of his passes and didn’t throw a touchdown. But at least some of the blame for Clemson’s lack of success through the air falls on the offensive line, which failed to provide consistent protection. All in all, it was a promising debut for Watson, but it's still too early to say where he fits in the Tigers’ larger offensive plans. -- CJ
For a complete recap and analysis of Georgia's victory over Clemson, read Chris Johnson's three thoughts on the win.
No. 6 Auburn 45, Arkansas 21
When Auburn suspended starting quarterback Nick Marshall for the first half of the season opener against Arkansas, the question was if last year’s national runner-up would lose to last year’s SEC doormat. After backup quarterback Jeremy Johnson finished his first drive -- going 4-for-4 for 79 yards with a 49-yard touchdown pass -- a new question emerged: Would Johnson see the field more often? By the end of the game, Marshall established himself as the starter, and Johnson proved that there isn’t much of a dropoff if the first-stringer can’t take the field.
In a game delayed 88 minutes by a lightning delay, the Tigers pulled away in an interminable affair at Jordan-Hare Stadium. The pain continues for the Bret Bielema’s Razorbacks, who have now lost 14 consecutive conference games (nine under Bielema) and haven’t won since September 14, 2013. But all hope shouldn’t be lost in Fayetteville. The Hawgs confused the Tigers early with their three-pronged rushing attack, the most impressive work coming from sophomore running back Alex Collins (10 carries, 70 yards).
Despite a 21-21 tie at the half, Marshall’s entrance in the second half revved up an already impressive Tigers offense. Marshall rushed for a 19-yard touchdown in his first series of the season to give the Tigers a 28-21 lead, followed by Jermaine Whitehead’s pick-six of Brandon Allen to put the game out of reach. Auburn senior running back Cameron Artis-Payne, faced with the unenviable task of replacing last year's Heisman Trophy candidate Tre Mason, finished with 177 yards on 26 carries and one touchdown.
Both teams can look forward to easier games next week, as Arkansas hosts Nicholls State while Auburn takes on San Jose State. -- Gabriel Baumgaertner
No. 2 Alabama 33, West Virginia 23
Alabama hasn’t lost three consecutive games since coach Nick Saban’s debut season in Tuscaloosa in 2007. Despite a surprising threat, the No. 2 Crimson Tide kept that record intact with a 10-point win over West Virginia in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game in Atlanta.
While Jake Coker, the man many in the offseason presumed would be Alabama's starting quarterback, held his helmet on the sideline, Blake Sims got the start and completed 24-of-33 passes for 250 yards. He dodged a few Mountaineers' pass-rushers on more than one occasion, and he put a nice touch on a few long balls. Sims did throw one pick that briefly gave West Virginia life early in the fourth quarter, but nothing seemed to throw him completely out of sync.
Of course, it helps that he appears to have the most dangerous duo of running backs in the SEC. West Virginia had no answer for T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry, who gashed the Mountaineers for 239 yards, two touchdowns and an average of 6.0 yards per carry. That makes any quarterback’s job a lot easier.
Vulnerability in the Alabama secondary allowed West Virginia to stick around despite being one-dimensional. Quarterback Clint Trickett picked apart the Crimson Tide by connecting on 29-of-45 passes for 365 yards with a touchdown. The shaky pass defense was an issue Saban pinpointed.
“We’re soft,” Saban told ESPN at halftime. “We really need to get ourselves some poise on defense." -- ZE
For a complete recap and analysis of Alabama's win over West Virginia, read Zac Ellis' three thoughts from the Georgia Dome.
No. 17 Notre Dame 48, Rice 17
Due to all the off-field noise surrounding the Notre Dame football team in recent weeks, you could hear the Fighting Irish collectively exhale with 2:01 left in the first quarter after Everett Golson threw a 75-yard touchdown pass to William Fuller to put Notre Dame up 14-7. Football was back. Golson was back. And the Fighting Irish hope the rest will take care of itself in due time.
Golson had 336 total yards and five touchdowns as the Irish topped the Owls 48-17 in South Bend. Notre Dame led 28-10 at the half but easily could have been up more as the team missed a field goal, and C.J. Prosise dropped an easy touchdown. The second half was a mix of ball control and solid defense for the Fighting Irish, with Golson continuing to make a few highlight-reel plays.
A healthy (and eligible) Golson brings a completely different element to the Notre Dame offense, as his mobility and big arm allow the Fighting Irish to open up the playbook. This should help take the pressure off a defense that’s replacing a lot of key players from the 2013 squad.
While the fate of the five suspended Notre Dame players is still to be determined as the school conducts its internal investigation for academic misconduct, the Fighting Irish still have a season to play. This far from guarantees that all is well in South Bend, but it’s a heck of a start. -- Martin Rickman
No. 5 Ohio State 34, Navy 17
Ohio State survived a major scare from Navy, fending off the Midshipmen’s upset bid with a late offensive push.
After struggling in the red zone for much of the first half, generating just six points in three trips, the Buckeyes found better luck in the final 30 minutes by simply not stopping in the red zone at all. Linebacker Darron Lee scored Ohio State’s first touchdown less than two minutes into the third quarter, scooping up an ill-advised pitch from Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds and taking it 61 yards to the house. Quarterback J.T. Barrett, making his first start in place of the injured Braxton Miller, found Devin Smith wide open behind the Midshipmen secondary for an 80-yard strike nine minutes later. Smith’s touchdown gave the Buckeyes the lead for good.
With Navy controlling the clock behind its triple-option offense, Ohio State had little time to do damage. Barrett attempted just 15 passes, but he completed 12 for 226 yards with two touchdowns. His lone mistake was a second-quarter interception at the Navy three-yard line that had no chance of finding the intended target.
The Midshipmen bottled up the Ohio State ground attack for most the afternoon, but the Buckeyes managed to put the contest out of reach when Ezekiel Elliot broke through for a 10-yard score midway through the fourth quarter.
Eleven different Navy players carried the ball, with Ryan Williams-Jenkins being the most productive. Williams-Jenkins burst for a 67-yard gain immediately after Lee’s scoop-and-score, helping the Midshipmen momentarily regain the lead. But the Buckeyes subsequently clamped down, allowing just three more points to pull out a closer-than-expected Week 1 win. -- Colin Becht
No. 7 UCLA 28, Virginia 20
UCLA’s offense should have a simple message for its defense after Saturday’s 28-20 victory over Virginia: Thank you. The Bruins scored three defensive touchdowns in the second quarter while quarterback Brett Hundley and the offense struggled to get rolling. Cavaliers quarterback Greyson Lambert threw two first-half interceptions -- both returned for touchdowns -- and UCLA’s Randall Goforth took a fumble 75 yards for a score.
Despite failing to reach the end zone on offense, the Bruins went into the break with a 21-10 lead. They managed a meager 1.6 yards per carry in the first half as Hundley, a preseason Heisman Trophy frontrunner, failed to find a rhythm against Virginia’s pass rush.
UCLA’s offense woke up in the third quarter when Hundley punched in a six-yard rushing score to extend the lead to 28-17. Still, the Bruins’ offense finished the day averaging just 4.9 yards per play with two turnovers.
The Bruins might be a contender in the Pac-12 and a threat to make the inaugural College Football Playoff. However, there won’t be a lot of hope in Westwood unless the offensive line can show significant improvement. A win? Yes. But it brought questions than it gave answers. -- ZE
Rise of the FCS
One of these days, when a superior FCS team calls a middle-of-the-road FBS program hoping to schedule a game, that FBS program is going to wise up and say no. Until then (or until those teams jump to the FBS level), the FCS' top talent will just keep punishing people. For what feels like the 100th season in a row, North Dakota State captured a big win early in the year, this time beating Iowa State 34-14. That's five straight over FBS foes for the Bison.
John Crockett won the day for North Dakota State, carrying 15 times for 141 yards with three touchdowns. The Bison rushed for 299 yards as a team, and after falling behind 14-0, they rattled off 34 unanswered points between the second and fourth quarters. The Bison held Iowa State to 253 total yards and forced two turnovers.
A couple of others tried to get in on the act, with Youngstown State giving Illinois a fight (the Fighting Illini won 28-17) and Northern Iowa trying its best to deliver a Little Engine That Could-like a win over Iowa (the Hawkeyes won 31-23). Both fell just short. Still, don’t just assume the little guy is going to start emptying his pockets when a bully demands his lunch money. He might just punch back -- and retaliate with an atomic wedgie for the trouble. -- MR
Welcome to the FBS: Take your gift bag on the way out
As for our recently promoted to the FBS friends, Saturday was a bit of a mixed bag. Georgia Southern, making its FBS debut, followed up last year’s win over Florida with a narrow 24-23 road loss at NC State. The Eagles actually got a long pass completion (a rarity for the program), a 51-yarder from Kevin Ellison to Zach Walker, and a passing touchdown to go with the team’s 246 yards on the ground. Georgia Southern led 23-17 with under two minutes to play before Wolfpack quarterback Jacoby Brissett hit Matt Dayes on a wheel route for a 35-yard score. Brissett passed for 291 yards with three touchdowns and an interception.
In Ann Arbor, it certainly wasn’t 2007 all over again when Appalachian State traveled to the Big House. With new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier calling the shots, Michigan racked up 560 yards en route to a 52-14 romp. Quarterback Devin Gardner and receiver Devin Funchess connected for three scores, as Funchess finished the day with seven catches for 97 yards. -- MR
Penn State 26, UCF 24
Saturday's action began early across the pond, as the Nittany Lions and Knights kicked off their seasons in Dublin, Ireland. The result was likely one of the most exciting finishes of Week 1.
UCF sophomore quarterback Justin Holman, who replaced starter Pete DiNovo early in the third quarter, sparked an offensive revival on the heels of a sluggish start. Holman rallied the Knights from a three-point first half with three second-half touchdowns, including a go-ahead six-yard rushing score with 1:13 remaining in the fourth quarter. However, UCF left just enough time for quarterback Christian Hackenberg to lead the Nittany Lions 55 yards in seven plays before kicker Sam Ficken -- who is no stranger to late-game field goal attempts -- converted a game-winning 36-yard try as time expired.
Hackenberg accounted for nearly the entirety of Penn State's offense, becoming the first player to top 400 passing yards in program history. Hackenberg finished 32-of-47 with 454 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions.
Both offensive lines showed major Week 1 jitters, and both teams combined for 81 rushing yards as Hackenberg and Holman settled into a second-half shootout.
DiNovo, a redshirt freshman, had the first crack at replacing first-round NFL draft pick Blake Bortles for UCF, but he proved ineffective against the Nittany Lions' defense. After completing just 3-of-8 passes for 18 yards, DiNovo was spelled by Holman, who promptly led the Knights on two scoring drives. Holman showed excellent touch and strength on his throws, while forcing Penn State to respect his legs, too. He went 9-of-14 for 204 yards with three total touchdowns. -- CB