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  • Not every lesson from Week 1's action is applicable to the rest of the season. Which of the conclusions drawn over Labor Day weekend won't hold up as the year wears on?
By Joan Niesen
September 05, 2018

The most analyzed week in college football is over, and after eight months of predictions and hypotheses proved to be everything from spot-on (Alabama is still good) to way off-base (FAU’s sleeper playoff chances, anybody?) in Week 1, we’re now left with a slew of infinitely-too-early conclusions. It’s like this every year; we have entirely too long to think about college football, all spring and summer, and then we react the instant the games come back.

It’s insane. It’s fun. Going into Week 2, here’s a rundown of some of the opening weekend’s most popular conclusions with our verdict on how much merit each one holds. Since there’s a broad spectrum of panic, we’re grading each of these 10 overreactions on a scale of 1 (for the most reasonable takes) to 5 (for opinions so irrational it’s worth wondering if we all watched the same game).

Kyler Murray is the second coming of Baker Mayfield.

Overreaction Grade: 3/5—Not just yet. In a Week 1 win over a Florida Atlantic team that was supposed to put up a better fight than 63–14, Oklahoma made a statement in its first game moving on from the Baker Mayfield era. Murray played most of the first half before being yanked for backups, passing for 209 yards and two touchdowns. It was a solid performance against an opponent that may well have been overhyped going into the game, but the Sooners won’t know Murray’s ceiling until he leads them through road tests like Iowa State (on Sept. 15) and TCU (on Oct. 20). Even if Murray can’t quite match the level Mayfield was playing at in his fourth year as a college starter—and it would be a shock if he does—the Oklahoma defense showed that it might have improved enough to pick up a bit of the slack and keep the Sooners atop the Big 12.

Penn State’s offense doesn’t have what it takes without Saquon Barkley and Joe Moorhead.

Overreaction Grade: 4/5—Wait and see. There’s no questioning the fact that what Penn State did on Saturday was unexpected. Needing overtime to beat a Sun Belt team at home was not how James Franklin and company had scripted their start to 2018, but lost in the near-upset is the fact that the Nittany Lions put up 45 points. Quarterback Trace McSorley was slow to hit his stride, and it took him until the third quarter to throw his first touchdown pass, which extended his streak of games with at least one to 29. It should come as no surprise that there might be growing pains without one of the game’s best coordinators and one of the best running backs of the past decade, but Penn State will figure things out, and McSorley’s Heisman candidacy should be very much alive.

LSU is a contender.

Overreaction Grade: 4/5—Not after just one win. Sure, the Tigers jumped from No. 25 to No. 11 in the AP poll after defeating Miami on Sunday, but let’s see where they stick (or how far they bounce) over the next few weeks before deciding head coach Ed Orgeron is on to something. The biggest question for LSU going into the season was how its offense would look when led by transfer quarterback Joe Burrow, and although the Tigers put up 33 points on Miami, the numbers behind the score paint a murkier picture. LSU was dismal on third down, converting just three out of 16 opportunities, and it didn’t exactly rack up yardage, finishing with 296 net yards to Miami’s 342. LSU only got a start in proving this year will be different. We’ll know a lot more in Week 3, when the Tigers play at Auburn.

Virginia Tech is the team to beat in the ACC Coastal.

Overreaction Grade: 2/5—May be onto something. The question of how good LSU might be has a necessary foil: Is Miami just mediocre? That’s impossible to say yet, but Saturday wasn’t the Hurricanes’ best performance, though they did rebound from what was at one point a 33–3 deficit. So if Miami has the ceiling of an eight- or nine-win team, Virginia Tech could have a wide-open door in the ACC Coastal Division—that is, unless we’re reading too much into the Hokies’ 24–3 win over Florida State on Monday. But even if the Seminoles are en route to another mediocre season, there’s no arguing that Virginia Tech’s defense, after losing most of last year’s talent for one reason or another in the offseason, looked strong on Monday night. If Hokies quarterback Josh Jackson can find the consistency that’s eluded him, it’s easy to imagine a path to the conference title game.

The outcome of Notre Dame–Michigan will have playoff repercussions.

Overreaction Grade: 4/5—Unlikely. I wasn’t buying these teams’ playoff potential before the game, and afterward, I’m potentially buying one: Notre Dame. Still, I don’t think the Irish have the offensive consistency to edge their way into the playoff field (to say nothing of a tricky schedule ahead), and I also doubt we’ll be looking back in November and debating the quality of this loss on Michigan’s playoff résumé.

Texas is not back.

Overreaction Grade: 1/5—Sounds about right. In a collection of words that largely ridicules the idea that we should claim to know anything after one week of games, this take is going to stand out. Even if Texas has figured out a few more elements of its offense in year two under Tom Herman, losing to Maryland for a second consecutive year is a pretty definitive statement that the Longhorns are not back. They had 10 penalties for 102 yards, committed three turnovers and gave up two long scoring drives after taking the lead for the first time late in the third quarter. For a team that seems to want nothing more than continuity at quarterback, Sam Ehlinger’s two-interception performance wasn’t much of a confidence.

Arizona State and Herm Edwards are the team to beat in the state of Arizona this season.

Overreaction Grade: 4/5—Probably not. The Sun Devils were the only Territorial Cup participant to emerge victorious from Week 1, beating UTSA 49–7 while Arizona and hotshot quarterback Khalil Tate looked shaky in a 28–23 loss to BYU. After an offseason where Edwards’s hiring and subsequent comments garnered plenty of eyebrow-raising, starting off with a win goes a long way for everyone in Tempe. But if one Arizona team has a shot at the Pac-12 South, I’d still bet on the Wildcats. Although BYU kept Tate under control, the quarterback was the architect of his team’s near-comeback and should have shown enough flashes on Saturday to prompt new coach Kevin Sumlin to call more designed runs.

The Pac-12’s playoff dreams are doomed.

Overreaction Grade: 5/5—No, but they aren’t strong. Washington was not the Pac-12’s only playoff hope, and its close loss to what may be a very good Auburn team probably doesn’t doom the Huskies’ chances, either. But the conference went 8–4 on the whole in Week 1 and may need a high-profile non-conference conquest or two to mend its reputation before its best teams start beating each other. In the pre-Week 2 AP poll, the conference lays claim to the No. 9 (Washington), No. 10 (Stanford), No. 17 (USC) and No. 23 (Oregon) teams.

Tua Tagovailoa is going to be an all-time great at Alabama.

Overreaction Grade: 3/5—Let’s not go that far yet. To be clear, this is in no way an insult directed at any of your quarterbacks, Nick Saban. In a pretty rote season-opening win over Louisville, Tagovailoa was very good, completing 12 of 16 passes for 227 yards and two touchdown passes, with another rushing score. Still, he has basically played one full game’s worth of meaningful live reps at this point, and if Alabama is going to commit to the sophomore as the full-time starter (which looks like it will eventually be the case), the offense has to expect some growing pains if Tagovailoa’s willingness to extend plays leads to untimely turnovers on the level of his interception early in the second half of last year’s title game.

UCF won’t miss a beat without Scott Frost.

Overreaction Grade: 3/5—Brace for some type of step back, eventually. For the alternative national champions of a year ago, there was a lot to be pleased with in Week 1, when the Knights put up 56 points on UConn, finishing the night with 652 yards—356 of them in the air, 296 on the ground—and not a single turnover. New coach Josh Heupel, who ran Missouri’s offense the past two seasons and was Oklahoma’s co-offensive coordinator from 2011 to 2014, has been known to run fast-paced, high-scoring attacks, and even if he was a bit of a surprise hire last winter, he makes sense. Yes, the early returns are good—a year ago, UCF averaged 530 yards per game—but a faster offense, which Heupel’s might be, doesn’t automatically mean better or even as productive as Frost’s scheme. UCF will be in the conversation again this year, and maybe its offense will be slightly different or equally productive; it’s hard to imagine, though, that it will be definitively better as the season wears on.

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