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Week Zero: What We Learned as USF, Oregon State, CSU and More Opened the Season

Oregon State still looks like it has a ways to go under Gary Andersen, South Florida overcomes an early wake-up call and more takeaways from college football's unofficial opening Saturday.

College football was back at its delightfully imperfect best on Saturday, as the opponents of Hawaii that chose to schedule their NCAA-approved 13th game the weekend before Labor Day kicked off the 2017 season with a few sloppy performances and a lot of points. Even ESPN’s networks, which carried two of the five games on the schedule, relentlessly promoted next Thursday’s Indiana–Ohio State Megacast as the official start of the season, but for those who passed on the day’s other sporting events to get their first glimpse of the gridiron regardless of how modestly it may have been billed, there were a few moments worthy of carrying over into the real Week 1. Below, the four biggest stories from the first five FBS games of the season.

Gary Andersen could be in for a long year

Remember when Andersen abruptly left Wisconsin, fresh off a Big Ten West title, for Oregon State in December 2014? In the first game of Andersen’s third season as the Beavers’ head coach, the program still looks a ways away from the top 25 heights it reached under Mike Riley, let alone Pac-12 title contention. Oregon State folded in the second half of a 58–27 loss to Colorado State in Fort Collins, which got out of hand after juco transfer quarterback Jake Luton ended the first two drives of the second half with interceptions, the first of which was returned 44 yards for a touchdown by Rams linebacker Tre Thomas.

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There’s no shame in losing to the Rams, who have been to a bowl in four consecutive seasons and have a real chance to open 2017 with two Pac-12 wins when they tangle with Colorado next weekend in Denver. But this was arguably Oregon State’s best chance at an FBS win until November—the schedule over the next two months: Minnesota, at Washington State, Washington, at USC, Colorado, Stanford—and it had no response when a Mountain West team turned on the afterburners.

To make matters worse, next week’s FCS opponent Portland State gave BYU all it could handle in a 14-point loss later on Saturday afternoon and knocked off Washington State in Week 1 of the 2015 season. If the Beavers don’t take care of business against Portland State, who knows where their mindset will be by the time the schedule lets up?

South Florida woke up in time

The many, many people who don’t get CBS Sports Network were justified in doing a double-take at the first-quarter box score of USF’s first game under Charlie Strong. San Jose State, coming off a 3–9 campaign in 2016 and breaking in a new head coach in Brent Bennan, ambushed the Bulls in jumping out to a 16–0 lead and holding star quarterback Quinton Flowers to just three total yards of offense in the first quarter. But after the USF defense held firm on a fourth-and-one stop in their own territory, new coordinator Sterlin Gilbert’s offense began clicking. USF scored 28 points in the second half and 42 unanswered points in all on the way to a 42–22 win to keep the Group of Five’s best hope for a playoff berth on track.

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You should already have Twitter alerts set up for the Saturday afternoon exploits of Richie James, Middle Tennessee’s diminutive speedster, and Courtland Sutton, SMU’s hulking No. 1 target. If the early-season chemistry between Gallup and quarterback Nick Stevens is any indication, Colorado State could be another offense worth flipping over to (or keeping up on a secondary screen) in the middle of each Saturday’s marquee matchups this season.

Gallup sliced up Oregon State’s defense for 11 catches and 134 yards. Stevens had a strong day all-around, finishing 26 of 39 for 334 yards and three touchdowns with one interception—although he didn’t make the perfect decision every time.

That senior duo gives the Rams a puncher’s chance to move the ball on Colorado and Alabama when the non-conference schedule heats up in September.

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The day’s only close game was the one you were least likely to watch

We’ll never completely eliminate the glut of mismatches and blowouts that dominate the first full Saturday of the college football season, but the trend towards neutral-site national TV showcases has certainly helped punch up Week 1 in recent years. Now Week 0 has helped siphon a few additional bad matchups off the Labor Day weekend slate—at the expense of Rice, who was subjected to humiliation on national television and an international stage in its 62–7 loss to Stanford in Australia.

That being said, the additional exposure paid off for Hawaii and UMass, who played a pretty fun back-and-forth game in Amherst, the return date of one of the most far-flung home-and-home series in recent history. The Rainbow Warriors trailed by 14 late in the third quarter, came back to tie it in the fourth, lost the lead on the ensuing drive and then got it back for good on Dru Brown’s seven-yard touchdown pass to Metuisela 'Unga to go up 38–35 with 48 seconds left. The game was only available via an internet stream on UMass’s website, but Week Zero was better off for having any outlet at all for competitive football.