Week 1 Surprises: Which Teams Showed They Deserve More Respect?
- Whether because it pulled off an upset or because it had a better performance than expected, these five teams stood out in a good way in Week 1.
Maryland opened the first full Saturday of the 2017 college football season with a reminder of why preseason predictions are so tenuous. The Terrapins went into Darrell K. Royal Stadium to beat Texas 51–41 for their first-ever win over a ranked opponent in a season opener. Maryland shredded the Longhorns’ defense with 263 yards on the ground, and quarterback Kasim Hill showed remarkable poise for a true freshman after replacing injured starter Tyrell Pigrome late in the third quarter, completing all three of his passing attempts, including one on a key third-and-long midway through the fourth quarter, and rushing for a touchdown.
The Terrapins didn’t subvert the summer consensus with one outcome. They dropped seven of their final nine games last season and were justifiably picked to finish this season behind five other teams in their own division (the Big Ten East), which, to be fair, is arguably the most challenging in the Power 5. Maryland will have to prove it’s for real during Big Ten play, including in bouts at Ohio State and Wisconsin and at home against Michigan and Penn State. Yet it’s possible what the Terrapins did in Austin on Saturday is indicative of how they’ll fare against their conference slate, and not simply the product of Texas flopping in a game it should have won.
Maryland headlines our way-too-early assessment of teams that didn’t get enough respect heading into the season. Four others are listed below. Allow us to hedge these takes with an acknowledgement that we’re working with a one-game sample size. In those games, though, these squads looked a lot better than most thought they would.
When Cal hired Justin Wilcox in January to replace Sonny Dykes as its head coach, it seemed he’d need at least a year before the Golden Bears would be ready to make a push for a bowl game, much less the title of a Pac-12 North division headlined by two College Football Playoff candidates in Washington and Stanford. Both of those squads will probably roll Cal later this season, but the Golden Bears did show signs on Saturday that Wilcox has them headed in the right direction with a 35–30 win at North Carolina. Making his starting debut, redshirt sophomore quarterback Ross Bowers threw for 363 yards and four touchdowns, while Tar Heels duo Chazz Surratt and Brandon Harris combined for just 221 yards, a touchdown and two picks on 25-of-44 passing. More notably, Cal’s defense held up remarkably well, limiting North Carolina to 4.9 yards per play. Don’t put too much stock in the Golden Bears’ victory. The Tar Heels are retooling after losing No. 2 NFL draft pick Mitch Trubisky at quarterback and a handful of top skill-position players. But this is one of the few spots on Cal’s challenging schedule where it’ll have a reasonable chance of getting a result. That this one came in Wilcox’s debut is even more encouraging.
The run-up to Iowa’s game against Wyoming on Saturday felt more like the week before the draft than the start of the college football season. The Hawkeyes were supposed to serve as a professional-stock gauge for Cowboys quarterback Josh Allen, who’s projected to be selected near the top of the first round next spring. That talk drowned out any discussion about what kind of team Iowa could be this season. A pretty good one, it turns out. That’s the biggest takeaway from the Hawkeyes’ 24–3 whipping of Wyoming at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday. Iowa stifled Allen and the Cowboys’ passing attack, which totaled 174 yards on 4.4 yards per attempt and zero touchdowns against a pair of interceptions. On the other side of the ball, Iowa fed tailback Akrum Wadley 24 times for 116 yards, and fellow senior James Butler added 47 yards on 10 carries. The Hawkeyes, largely disregarded in the Big Ten West race entering this season as a second-rate contender behind Wisconsin and Northwestern, easily handled a top-five Mountain West opponent led by an NFL-bound signal caller. What that portends during a Big Ten slate featuring games against Ohio State and Penn State and at the Badgers and Wildcats remains to be seen.
You know the college football hivemind is in a strange place when the Fighting Irish open the season receiving less hype than they deserve. Let’s not go overboard after one afternoon, but it’s hard not to like how Notre Dame performed in its 49–16 win over Temple on Saturday. The sky-high expectations surrounding quarterback Brandon Wimbush this offseason look spot-on after the Fighting Irish’s new starter totaled 290 yards and three touchdowns (two throwing, one rushing). He had lots of help from the running game, with junior Josh Adams going off for 161 yards on 19 carries (8.5 YPC) and two touchdowns. Don’t let Temple’s low profile skew the picture: The Owls project as the nation’s No. 30 defense, according to SB Nation’s Bill Connelly. Notre Dame hung more than 600 yards against one of the better squads in the toughest Group of Five conference. The Fighting Irish will meet stronger competition this season, starting with next week’s visit from SEC East favorite Georgia, and it will take a team with a more potent offense to get a better feel for what coach Brian Kelly’s charges are capable of this season. But for a coach who was a fixture on hot-seat lists all summer, this is a promising start.
Amid all the crazy twists in the waning moments of one of the most exciting games of Week 1, it may have been difficult to appreciate what one of the two teams involved was in the process of doing. That team, South Carolina was sealing a 35–28 non-conference victory over an opponent many observers, including SI.com, expected to push Florida State and Clemson at the top of the ACC Atlantic this season. Maybe we had it all wrong in neglecting the Gamecocks as a sleeper team. South Carolina wide receiver Deebo Samuel got things started with a 97-yard touchdown return on the opening kick and proceeded to torment NC State’s defense all afternoon at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte with 83 receiving yards and a pair of touchdown grabs, including when he snatched clean a 39-yard dime on the end of a nimble stiff-arm-and-scramble from sophomore quarterback Jake Bentley. Will Muschamp didn’t inherit a roster that was ready to aim for anything more than lower-level bowl games last season, even in the SEC’s weaker division, but with Florida still looking for answers on offense, perhaps South Carolina could push Georgia or whoever else emerges for the right to get pummeled by Alabama in the conference championship game.