Ten takeaways from a substantive and occasionally stunning weekend in college football:
1) Here lies the remains of Power Five football in the state of Florida. Time of expiration: 10:09 p.m. ET. That’s when Florida completed its dismal home loss to perennial foil Kentucky — yes, Kentucky, which hadn’t beaten the Gators since 1986. The Wildcats outplayed Florida in The Swamp all night, and for once didn’t self-destruct with a chance to beat the Gators in hand.
At the same time Florida was losing that game — and running its losing streak against Power Five opponents to seven — Florida State was trailing FCS Samford in Tallahassee. The Seminoles, favored by 31 points, would trail for 52 minutes and 20 seconds before finally taking a lead with 4:03 left. It was the first time FSU has led this season, after being housed 24-3 at home by Virginia Tech last week.
The Seminoles pulled out the victory, but it was a night of endless embarrassments. They were outgained by 71 yards, their secondary ripped by a Samford quarterback, Devlin Hodges, whose previous claim to fame before Saturday night was winning the Alabama state duck calling championship. Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, Hodges lobbed some ducks to the Florida State secondary — his four interceptions were instrumental in FSU rallying to win. For Samford to be minus-four in turnovers and have its top defensive player ejected for targeting in the third quarter, and still have a great chance to win, is a stark condemnation of the Seminoles’ execution and preparation.
These were the second games for new head coaches at both schools — Dan Mullen at Florida and Willie Taggart at FSU. There was the usual fresh-beginning optimism in both locales. That optimism is gone now, replaced by a sobering return to the reality of 2017: both programs are pretty bad.
Combine that with the defrocking of Miami last week against LSU — the Hurricanes’ fourth straight loss, dating to the end of last season — and the malaise is statewide. From the panhandle to the Keys, the state that once ruled the sport has fallen hard. The combined nine national titles between Florida, Florida State and Miami aren’t getting any younger.
The indisputable fact: Central Florida, its winning streak now at 15, remains the best team in the state by a wide margin. South Florida might be second best. The traditional powers are in no position to argue.
2) Georgia hasn’t won the Southeastern Conference Eastern Division two weeks into the season. But it feels that way.
The Bulldogs served a powerful reminder of their divisional supremacy by walloping South Carolina in Columbia on Saturday afternoon — a game some wise guys thought could be a Gamecocks upset. It was never close. Georgia jumped to a 14-0 lead in three minutes, then pushed the lead to 31 in the third quarter before settling for a 41-17 final score.
Blowing out South Carolina, plus Kentucky’s takedown of Florida, certainly clears some of the expected contenders from Georgia’s path. The Bulldogs do have to play 2-0 Missouri on the road Sept. 22 and at Kentucky on Nov. 3, but there would appear to be a wide gulf between the defending division champions and everyone else. Georgia is 7-0 against the East last year and this year, and none of those games has been closer than 14 points.
Coach Kirby Smart may have cleared up another point of contention Saturday: Jake Fromm was, is, and shall be the Bulldogs’ quarterback. Fromm had a great freshman season in leading Georgia to the national championship game, but the arrival of five-star QB Justin Fields last spring created some intrigue. That intrigue persisted through spring practice, fall camp and the opening rout of Nicholls. Fields saw spot duty last week and performed ably, throwing and running for 96 yards and a touchdown.
But in a hostile setting against a more comparable opponent, it was all Fromm when the game was in doubt. And Fromm delivered: 15-of-18 passing for 194 yards, with a touchdown and an interception. As has been the case last year and this year, the Bulldogs’ primary weapon is the running game (52 rushes and just 19 passes against South Carolina). But if they have to throw, they can, and Fromm figures to be the one doing it.
3) Another Power Five division that already feels rather non-competitive: The Big Ten West. Wisconsin is the two-time defending champion and the strong favorite for a three-peat, and nothing that has happened to date should change that belief.
While the Badgers were shaking off a slow start and steamrolling New Mexico, three West Division rivals were flopping as home favorites. Purdue had the worst loss, a blunder-filled upset against Eastern Michigan that drops the Boilermakers to 0-2 with Missouri coming to West Lafayette next Saturday. Northwestern, which was receiving some buzz, was beaten 21-7 by Duke — a second straight solid defeat at the hands of the Blue Devils. And Scott Frost’s ballyhooed debut at Nebraska ended in a 33-28 loss to Colorado.
Iowa, Minnesota and Illinois all moved to 2-0, but of that trio only the Hawkeyes look like they can play with the Badgers. Iowa is allowing fewer than 200 yards per game and has held opponents to a total of 10 points thus far. The Badgers must go to Iowa City on Sept. 22. If two of Wisconsin’s top receivers remain suspended, Iowa will focus all of its defensive prowess on star running back Jonathan Taylor.
4) In Colorado’s upset of Nebraska, Buffaloes receiver Laviska Shenault continued his coming-out party as one of the nation’s breakthrough players of 2018.
Former Colorado coach Gary Barnett told the Pac-12 Network that Shenault is the best Colorado player in the last 20 years. The big sophomore (6-2, 220) has backed up that high praise. Through two games, Shenault has 21 receptions for 388 yards and two touchdowns, plus another score rushing. That includes catching the game-winning pass against the Cornhuskers, one of the program’s biggest wins in the last 15 years.
Shenault has helped quarterback and fellow Texan Steven Montez get off to a spectacular start. Through two games Montez has thrown for 689 yards and seven touchdowns, with just one interception.
With Arizona and UCLA seemingly in for long seasons (more below), Colorado could emerge as a Pac-12 South threat along with USC (maybe), Arizona State and Utah.
In the Pac-12 North, Stanford’s throttling of the Trojans sets it up as the top challenger to Washington. But Oregon, Washington State and California all are off to solid starts as well.
5) Speaking of Arizona, colleague Pete Thamel filed this takeaway from Houston: Khalil Tate’s Heisman Trophy candidacy melted down before lunch. Kevin Sumlin’s debut season at Arizona has immediately become the stuff of nightmares.
Houston waxed Arizona, 45-18, as the Wildcats endured a second consecutive underwhelming offensive game. After explosive quarterback Tate ran the ball just eight times against BYU, he carried it seven times against Houston. One season after rushing for 1,411 yards and becoming one of the most feared players in college football, Tate has rushed for 22 yards on 15 carries. Tate appeared to twist his ankle in the first quarter, which may have handcuffed Arizona’s play calling. But there’s no excuse for the general malaise the Wildcats have shown. In addition to turning their Heisman candidate into a non-factor, Arizona’s defense surrendered 551 yards to Houston.
The play call that summed up Arizona’s ineptitude came while trailing 24-0, but still holding out hope. On a fourth-and-1 on the Houston 26 in the second quarter, Arizona ran a sweep instead of going straight ahead. Tailback Gary Brightwell couldn’t handle the pitch from Tate, fumbled the ball and Arizona turned it over.
Arizona may have been avoiding Houston superstar tackle Ed Oliver, who was his disruptive self with four quarterback hurries, five tackles, half a tackle for loss and a pass breakup. But running backward to gain a yard epitomized a day – and so far an era – of futility for Sumlin at Arizona.
6) As for UCLA, the Bruins dropped to 0-2 under Chip Kelly with a 49-21 loss at Oklahoma. But Kelly was able to foist off the line of the day afterward.
“The only guy I’d say I’m disappointed in today … is Billy Beane,” Kelly told the Los Angeles Times, referring to the Oakland Athletics executive. “I wish he gave the kid more money so he wouldn’t come back.”
“The kid” is Sooners quarterback Kyler Murray, who signed a multimillion-dollar baseball contract with the A’s this summer but decided to continue playing football this fall. Instead of plying his trade in an instructional league, Murray is doing an excellent job replacing Heisman Trophy winner and No. 1 NFL pick Baker Mayfield.
Through two games, Murray has completed 28 of 44 passes for 515 yards, with five touchdowns and one interception. He’s also run for 92 yards and two TDs. Murray has a lavish collection of skill-position talent around him, and he’s distributed the ball accordingly — 10 different Sooners have caught passes thus far.
However, that supporting cast might have taken a major hit against UCLA. Running back Rodney Anderson was injured in the first quarter and watched the second half on the sideline in street clothes. The Sporting News, citing a source, reported Saturday that Oklahoma’s medical staff fears the injury is a torn ACL. Anderson was a 1,100-yard rusher last year and ran for 100 yards on just five carries in the season-opening rout of Florida Atlantic.
7) The sight of Alabama with dynamic quarterback play in the season opener was a sobering one for those in the sport hoping to see the Crimson Tide dethroned in 2018. What we have now seen through two games is downright frightening.
After hanging 51 on Louisville and 57 on Arkansas State, this is the first Alabama team in 93 years to score at least half a hundred in its first two games. Last time it happened: 1925, when the opponents were Union College and Birmingham-Southern.
Alabama has completed 37 of 55 passes for 618 yards and eight touchdowns with no interceptions. Tua Tagovailoa has been outstanding, Jalen Hurts has been very good in reserve, and new offensive coordinator Mike Locksley is pressing all the right buttons. Half of sophomore Jerry Jeudy’s eight receptions have gone for touchdowns.
Only one persistent problem remains in Tuscaloosa: place kicking. For some unknown reason, Nick Saban has been unable to find a competent — forget good, we’re talking just competent — kicker in years. First-team kicker Austin Jones missed an extra point and a field goal against Louisville, then missed two of his first three extra points against Arkansas State. That got him benched in favor of Joseph Bulovas, who made all his placements.
8) The Crimson Tide and Oklahoma aren’t the only offenses firing on all cylinders. Ohio State, without Urban Meyer, is on fire as well.
The Buckeyes lead the nation in scoring among teams that have played two games, averaging 64.5 points per game. After hanging 77 on Oregon State, they followed with 52 against Rutgers. Not great competition, but credit Ohio State for great execution with a new starting quarterback in Dwayne Haskins. He’s completed a sizzling 79 percent of his passes, for 546 yards with nine touchdowns and one interception.
And when the Buckeyes have gone to the bench, backup Tate Martell has merely completed 13 of 14 passes for 154 yards, plus running for another 99.
Fact is, Ohio State quite likely has better quarterback play now than it did with eternal starter J.T. Barrett. A bigger test awaits against TCU on Saturday, but the Horned Frogs will have to buckle up to slow down the Buckeyes.
9) The most mocked hire of the offseason was Herm Edwards at Arizona State. Nobody is mocking now.
Edwards is 2-0, an impressive 2-0, a how-do-you-like-me-now 2-0 after beating No. 15 Michigan State 16-13 late at night in the desert. This was a body-clock game that favored the home team, and the Sun Devils certainly looked much fresher in the after-midnight fourth quarter when they outscored the Spartans 13-0 to snatch the game away.
Edwards’ hiring at age 64, 10 years removed from his last coaching gig and nearly 30 removed from his only college coaching, was greeted with widespread disbelief. Athletic director Ray Anderson was pilloried for choosing a guy he used to represent as an agent years ago. The number of people who thought this was going to work would fit in a Prius.
It’s working so far.
The biggest difference to date at Arizona State: a greater toughness in the trenches, especially on the defensive side of the ball. In the past two years, ASU allowed 4.9 yards per rush and was consistently outgained on the ground. Through two games, the Sun Devils have given up a total of 65 rushing yards on 61 carries.
10) The losing coach in the North Carolina-East Carolina game figured to be on the hottest seat in America. Larry Fedora, you are that man.
The seventh-year Tar Heels coach saw his tenure slide one game closer to a bad ending in a brutal, 41-19 blowout loss to East Carolina. Yes, North Carolina still was down a bunch of players due to NCAA suspensions — but this was an ECU team that was beaten last week by FCS North Carolina A&T and was 6-19 under Scottie Montgomery.
And yet, the Pirates outscored North Carolina 20-0 in the second half to turn this into a rout. It was the Heels’ first loss to a non-Power Five team in four years, and it makes Fedora 3-13 in his last 16 games.
UNC athletic director Bubba Cunningham isn’t the type to have a quick trigger, but he may well be looking at a sea of empty seats when the Heels have their home opener Saturday against Central Florida. If this keeps going south for Fedora, Carolina may have to contemplate an in-season change.
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