After the uncertain roller coaster of a summer, after the Big Ten and Pac-12 bowed out, after more than two dozen teams suspended workouts for COVID-19 outbreaks, after nearly 100 college players opted out, after a half-dozen season openers were suspended, after all of that, the highs and lows, the lulls and peaks, we had the first full Saturday of college football.
And whether or not you believe they should or shouldn’t be playing, Saturday was a glorious return to the closest thing of normalcy in American sports. The 19 college games unfolding on our televisions included lovely upsets (hello, Ragin Cajuns!), incredible trick plays (thank you to Arkansas State), colorful broadcasters (ESPN analyst Mike Golic ate a donut live on air) and a historic first (Notre Dame got its first ever conference win).
It started early. Booming through our televisions (or computers or phones) were the familiar voices of Reece Davis, Kirk Herbstreit and, yes, even Lee Corse, who was situated in his home on a makeshift GameDay desk, an indoor pool over his left shoulder and a cutout of Herbstreit next to him.
Things weren’t all so fun. The disastrous year of 2020 reared its head again. In fact, a fire broke out at Florida’s Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, at the time not hosting a game. It was extinguished quick enough to result in no structural damage, but videos of smoke billowing from the stadium summed up 2020 quite nicely. Meanwhile, COVID-19 reminded us that this season will be unlike anything we’ve ever seen. More than 30 players were inactive for Georgia Southern because of injuries, suspensions or virus-related issues (the Eagles stormed back to win by one over Campbell). Oklahoma experienced similar absentees, but the Sooners didn’t seem impacted and got a stellar debut from QB Spencer Rattler (he started 10-of-12 and his two incompletions were dropped passes in the end zone).
But back to the good stuff. No conference made more of a statement than the Sun Belt. The league kicked open the door to the season’s first full slate of games, completing a pair of upsets by 3 p.m. CT. The Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns thumped Iowa State, 31–14, and Arkansas State won at Kansas State, 35–31.
Sun Belt 2.
Big 12 0.
The Cajuns scored twice on special teams—a kick and punt return—and Arkansas State used some trickeration (a jet sweep TD pass) to knock off the Wildcats. Maybe the Big 12 shouldn’t have scheduled that one non-conference game.
In other news, Army became the country’s first 2–0 team of 2020 and reassured us that things were back to normal: The Black Knights had 435 more rushing yards than they did completions (1). Oh and don’t forget about Mike Norvell’s Florida State debut, which ended in another disaster of a season opener. Georgia Tech, picked to finish last in the ACC and a 13-point underdog, won a sloppy 16–13 game.
Amid the games, there was also scheduling news. Deep breath before this sentence. Baylor, which lost a game with Louisiana Tech scheduled for this weekend because of a COVID outbreak at Louisiana Tech, scheduled an impromptu game for next weekend (Baylor had a bye) with Houston, which lost a game scheduled for next weekend with Memphis because of a COVID outbreak at Memphis. The two, Baylor and Houston, also agreed to a future home-and-home, which is cool. The two programs are separated by just 180 miles.
But the best and most college football moment of the day came from The Citadel and South Florida—a 0-yard punt return for a touchdown!
Welcome back, college football. We love you and we missed you—despite irrational speculation that us in the media didn’t want to see you happen (a journalist’s job is to report all sides of an issue, in particular this year, the tremendous hurdles of holding a season amid a pandemic).
Enough pleasantries, let’s get to Week 1 of our SI Top 10, which looks weird because it’s 2020 and everything this year will look weird. A key point: Only teams who have played a game qualify and the strength of a team’s opponent (or “opponents” in one case) was even more heavily weighed than normal.
TOP 10… Teams
Last game: 37–13 at Wake Forest
Next game: Saturday vs. the Citadel
Trevor Lawrence threw dimes and the Tigers scored their first 20 points of the season in the first 20 minutes of the season.
Last game: 48–0 vs. Missouri State
Next game: Sept. 26 vs. Kansas State
The Sooners jumped out to a 31–0 lead after the first quarter. Jumped out doesn’t seem like a strong enough description. Making matters even more pleasing for many: it was against a Bobby Petrino-coached team.
3. Notre Dame
Last game: 27–13 vs. Duke
Next game: Saturday vs. South Florida
Brian Kelly’s Irish are now 1–0 in the ACC. It was not pretty (the first three ND drives each lasted three plays), but RB Kyren Williams (112 yards and two scores) carried the load.
Last game: 31–6 vs. Syracuse
Next game: Saturday vs. Charlotte
It wasn’t always smooth sailing for the Tar Heels (they led just 7–3 at halftime), but they finished the game scoring 24 points in a span of about nine minutes of game time.
Last game: 59–3 vs. UTEP
Next game: Saturday at Texas Tech
The Longhorns led 35–0 and QB Sam Ehlinger threw for four scores before the 12-minute mark—of the second quarter.
Last game: 55–3 vs. Navy
Next game: Sept. 26 vs. Troy
The Cougars upended the Midshipmen in a thorough beating on Labor Day night, but are they for real? But are they for real? We might never know. The toughest test is a trip to Houston.
Last game: 37-24 vs. Arkansas State
Next game: Sept. 25 at UTSA
The Tigers whacked an Arkansas State team who then turned around and won at Kansas State on Saturday. Despite their COVID problems—an outbreak rooted in a party bus experience—they deserve, at least for now, a top-10 ranking.
8. Appalachian State
Last game: 35-20 vs. Charlotte
Next game: Sept. 26 vs. Campbell
The Mountaineers were a hearty favorite, but it took some sweat to put away Will Healy’s bunch. App State had not one but two 100-yard rushers in a game it led just 21–20 heading into the fourth quarter.
Last game: 31-14 vs. Iowa State
Next game: Saturday at Georgia State
The Cajuns got their first win over a ranked team on the road in school history. Because of a limited field, they may squeak into the AP Top 25 for the first time in program history.
Last game: 35–21 vs. Western Kentucky
Next game: Saturday vs. Miami
Scott Satterfield’s Cardinals were the surprise of 2019 and they started 2020 with an expected bang to round out our top 10.
Bonus 11: Army
Last week: 42–0 vs. MTSU
Last game: 37–7 vs. UL-Monroe
Next game: Sept. 26 at Cincinnati
We added a Bonus No. 11 this year, and who better to land here after the first full Saturday than the Army option machine? We pay homage to the first 2–0 team in college football.