Like South Carolina, Texas A&M, Arizona State, Stanford, Colorado and Ball State had their high hopes for the season jolted in the first weekend of play.
Brigham Young pulled off the biggest shocker, rallying for an 18-17 win by taking advantage of a Texas A&M gamble that failed. The Aggies led 17-10 with 5:33 to go when they went for a first down on fourth and one at midfield. BYU held. After the Cougars couldn't get a first down on their next series, they punted to the A&M four, partially blocked an ensuing kick from the end zone, took over at the Aggie 19 and pulled to within 17-16 when Marc Wilson fired a three-yard TD pass to Clay Brown with 52 seconds remaining. Now it was the Cougars' turn to gamble, and the gamble paid off as Mike Lacey made a leaping catch of Wilson's two-point conversion pass.
Arizona State, always a good bet to win at home at night, was favored to knock the pants off California. Indeed, the Bears lost their pants—they were stolen the night before the game—but they undressed the Sun Devils once the game began, winning 17-9 in 100° heat as Rich Campbell hit 23 of 30 passes for 271 yards.
Just as Cal wasn't undone by the hot air in Tempe, Oregon wasn't bothered by the thin air in Boulder, Colo., where the Ducks were 33-19 winners over Colorado and its new coach, Chuck Fairbanks, late of the NFL. Oregon Quarterback Reggie Ogburn, a transfer from the College of the Canyons, kept the Buffaloes off balance with 168 yards passing and 108 rushing.
September 16, 1979
Stanford, too, was overwhelmed, Tulane jarring the Cardinals 33-10 in the Super-dome. The Green Wave outgained Stanford 326 to 116 in total offense and made 21 first downs to the Cardinals' four.
Another team of Cardinals—from Ball State—lost. The Mid-American Conference favorites fell 27-3 at Miami of Ohio. Injuries forced the Redskins to use two second-stringers in the backfield, and both came through. The pair of subs, Fullback Kaiser Holman and Halfback Paul Drennan, combined for three touchdowns and 279 yards on the ground, and Quarterback Chuck Hauck accounted for 99 yards and one TD through the air.
To be sure, not all the favorites were defeated, but some had to scratch and claw to come out on top. Florida State trailed visiting Southern Mississippi 14-3 with 10 minutes left. Then a blocked punt set up one FSU touchdown, and Gary Henry ran back another punt 65 yards for the go-ahead score in the Seminoles' 17-14 victory. East Carolina led 17-13 at halftime at North Carolina State before succumbing 34-20. Scoring the last two TDs for the Wolfpack was Dwight Sullivan, who carried 15 times for 131 yards. UCLA blew a 9-0 halftime lead in losing to heavily favored Houston 24-16. One particular play shattered UCLA's upset hopes. It was a sparkling 67-yard exhibition of darting and weaving by Quarterback Delrick Brown that set up the Cougars' third touchdown.
It took a get-tough halftime talk from Missouri Coach Warren Powers to arouse his heavily favored Tigers, who were booed after trailing San Diego State 13-0 at the half. "I got on 'em pretty good," Powers said. Then his Tigers went out and stormed to a 45-15 victory. Two long runs were part of a four-touchdown fourth quarter for Missouri, Quarterback Phil Bradley going 63 yards on a keeper and Eric Wright returning an interception 72 yards.
And there were a few favorites that actually won easily. At Georgia Tech, the fans talked about how their Yellow Jackets would "come out humming" against Alabama. Alas, the roar of the Crimson Tide drowned out Tech as 'Bama rolled to a 30-6 victory. Washington whipped Wyoming 38-2 as Joe Steele ran for 106 yards and three touchdowns. That made Steele the Huskies' alltime leading rusher with 2,503 yards, four more than Hugh McElhenny had.
In the Big Ten, Michigan routed Northwestern 49-7. Wolverine freshman Anthony Carter scored on a 78-yard punt return and a 12-yard pass from B. J. Dickey. Michigan State, ahead only 13-10 at the half, overwhelmed Illinois 33-16. The Spartans were led by the 233 yards passing of Bert Vaughn and the four field goals—including one from 52 yards—of Morten Andersen. With Mark Herrmann throwing for 291 yards and four touchdowns, Purdue defeated Wisconsin 41-20, while Indiana won 30-26 at Iowa. In non-conference games, Minnesota rallied past Ohio University 24-10, and Earle Bruce was a victor in his first game as Ohio State coach, his Buckeyes swamping Syracuse 31-8 in Columbus.
USC Coach John Robinson, whose team is favored to win the national championship, said before playing at Texas Tech, "I'm scared to death we won't get a first down. But I believe we will." Although the Trojans had 21 first downs and won 21-7, their title hopes may have been damaged by injuries to three starters, including Tailback Charles White, who hurt his right shoulder in the second period.
A statistical oddity resulted from a tie between Utah State and host San Jose State. With two seconds to go, Steve Steinke of the Aggies missed a 39-yard field-goal try. However, San Jose was offside. So with no time left, Steinke tried again and made a 34-yarder to tie the score, 48-48, the highest-scoring stalemate in NCAA history.