By Stewart Mandel
September 05, 2009

I'll admit it. I didn't think it would be remotely possible for Missouri to replicate its rapid-fire offense of the past two years following the departure of stars Chase Daniel and Jeremy Maclin. I was wrong.

Daniel's replacement, sophomore Blaine Gabbert, could not have had a more impressive debut Saturday. Cool, composed and clearly in command of coach Gary Pinkel's quick-tempo spread offense, Gabbert completed 24-of-33 passes for 313 yards, three touchdowns and no picks and ran for 54 yards and one touchdown in leading the Tigers to a stunning 37-9 rout of "Arch Rival" Illinois.

While the Illini offense looked helpless after losing star receiver Regis Benn (ankle sprain) on the game's first series, Missouri's offense looked barely different than in years past. Gabbert excelled at the quick slant routes and screens Daniel executed with such precision, connecting with receivers Danario Alexander, Jared Perry and budding star Wes Kemp.

Gabbert was one of several high-profile QBs who put together rousing debuts Saturday:

• Michigan's ballyhooed freshmen, Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson, did not disappoint in a 31-7 rout of Western Michigan. Forcier (13-of-20, 182 yards, three TDs, no INTs) showed off his impressive arm on a perfectly placed deep ball down the sideline to Junior Hemmingway for a 44-yard touchdown. The fleet-footed Robinson, playing in spot duty, changed direction at least twice, then burst through the secondary on a 43-yard TD run.

It's too soon to judge just how improved the Wolverines (3-9 last year) may be, but consider that the last time they faced a MAC team, last Oct. 11, their QBs passed for a combined 120 yards and three picks in a 13-10 loss to Toledo. And while the Rockets went 3-9 last year, Western Michigan went 9-4.

• After a slow start by USC -- the Trojans' first five possessions ended in three punts and two lost fumbles -- Pete Carroll's team rolled to a 56-3 rout of San Jose State thanks in part to true freshman Matt Barkley's 233 yards on 15-of-19 passing.

Mind you, USC relied far more heavily on its running game (the Trojans ran for 340 yards, highlighted by Joe McKnight's 145 yards and two TDs), but Barkley -- the first true freshman since 1975 to start a season-opener for a top five team -- did exactly what the coaches wanted him to: managed to not turn over the ball.

• Finally, Greg Paulus' Syracuse debut against Minnesota culminated in an unfortunate ending -- the former Duke point guard threw his lone interception in overtime, setting up the Gophers' winning field -- but for the most part he played admirably. In his first football game since 2004, Paulus went 19-of-31 for 167 yards and a 29-yard TD pass. He was also sacked three times, a likely common occurrence playing behind that offensive line, but at least he gives Syracuse hope for a more productive offense than recent years.

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