If someone had said Texas A&M would be the most talked about team after the opening weekend — for good reasons — few would have seen that coming.
But the Aggies' 52-28 win against South Carolina in Williams-Brice Stadium was one of the most unexpected and impressive victories of the first few days of this college football season, and Texas A&M has suddenly become the team to watch in the SEC (again).
Quarterback Kenny Hill broke two school records by throwing for more than 500 yards and three touchdowns in his first career start. He drew praise from across the country, including his predecessor Johnny Manziel, who dubbed him “Kenny Football,” a name Hill didn’t actually like.
Hill’s effort more resembled the first career game of last year’s Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston, and has made Hill a must-watch for weeks to come.
But it wasn’t just the offense that wowed. The defense was especially impressive considering it was one of the worst units in the country a year ago. South Carolina was supposed to have a stellar offense, but it sputtered at times while the A&M defense thrived.
It’s way too early to anoint Texas A&M the frontrunner in the SEC (and a little absurd), but Thursday’s performance showed there is life after Johnny Football and that A&M is more about its system than it is about its stars.
And that’s exciting news considering Texas A&M has been one of the most entertaining teams to watch in the past two years and should continue to be so in 2014.
Here are the rest of the winners and losers from the opening weekend:
The Georgia running game: The Georgia running game will be something to be feared this season after the 328-yard performance it dropped on Clemson. Junior Todd Gurley led a group of six different ball carriers with 15 touches for 198 yards and three touchdowns. Yes, that’s a 13.2 yard average while also scoring three touchdowns. Did we mention he had a fourth score on a 100-yard kickoff return? We also were introduced to freshman Nick Chubb, who had four carries for 70 yards and a score. That touchdown came on a dynamic, rumbling 47-yard run. If the running game can be this potent every game, it could make Georgia pretty scary, especially if it gets its passing game going as well. While Gurley might not have been in the Heisman race at the beginning of the night, it's clear that he at least deserves notice after Saturday's performance.
Florida State: The Seminoles are a winner because they came away from their season opener with a 37-31 victory against Oklahoma State and extended their undefeated streak to 17 games. However, Jimbo Fisher and company can’t be thrilled with the way the team played against a young Oklahoma State team that’s not even expected to make waves in the Big 12. But after watching the rest of the ACC, the Seminoles are the cream of the crop and will have a game against The Citadel and an open date to iron out the kinks before the ACC opener against Clemson.
Everett Golson: It had been exactly 600 days since quarterback Everett Golson last suited up for Notre Dame, yet the redshirt junior showed no signs of rust. In a 48-17 win, Golson, back after sitting out last season due to an academic violation, threw for 295 yards and two touchdowns while adding 41 yards and three more scores on the ground. His last game action came in the Irish's national title game loss to Alabama in January 2013, but on Saturday, Golson looked at ease from the start. His performance gives ND fans something to be excited about moving forward.
Trevone Boykin: Before Saturday's game against Samford, TCU coach Gary Patterson said that both Trevone Boykin and Matt Joeckel would play at quarterback and he declined to name a starter. Both ultimately did, but it was Boykin who started and received most of the snaps, too. Boykin, who has shifted between WR and QB in his TCU career, has been determined to remove the run-first descriptor from his QB resume and did that against Samford, going 29-41 passing for 320 yards and two touchdowns in a 48-14 win. For once, the TCU starting QB job could be all Boykin's.
FCS schools: Take your pick. Sure, North Dakota State whipping Iowa State 34-14 was the only statement win (apologies to Bethune-Cookman’s 14-12 win over FIU), but there were plenty of close calls. Iowa had to fight off Northern Iowa in a 31-23 win. Abilene Christian nearly nipped Georgia State in a 38-37 loss. Central Arkansas gave Texas Tech all it could handle in a 42-35 loss. Morgan State came up just short of Eastern Michigan in a 31-28 loss. Portland State made Oregon State uncomfortable despite falling 29-14. Montana pushed Wyoming, Duquesne toyed with Buffalo, and we could go on (looking at you, Youngstown State). The point is the FCS acquitted itself quite nicely opening week, when the margins are as thin as they’ll be all season, and upsets are there for the taking.
Clemson’s playoff hopes: Earlier this week, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said that if his team lost to Georgia that the Bulldogs wouldn’t be in the playoff and the Tigers wouldn’t be out of the playoff. And he’s right, one game does not decide a season, but this loss makes it a whole lot tougher for Clemson to be among the nation’s top four teams because its conference isn’t as strong as some of the others, and the rest of its nonconference schedule is weak, too. Of course, it’s early and plenty of things could happen between now and the playoff, but Clemson has to be kicking itself at the missed opportunity and wondering what it needs to do to shore up a run defense that gave up more than 300 yards to the Bulldogs.
Vanderbilt: Where do we start with Vanderbilt? In Derek Mason’s head coaching debut, the Commodores were absolutely trounced 37-7 by Temple, a team coming off a 2-10 campaign. Vanderbilt turned the ball over seven times to give the Owls their first win over an SEC team since 1938. Vandy managed just 54 rushing yards and converted just 3-of-14 third down attempts. Patton Robinette started and struggled. Stephen Rivers wasn’t much better, and Johnny McCrary threw three passes – two of which were intercepted. One positive for Vandy: The team produced an email from the NCAA that ensured it would not be penalized for its silly “anchor down” uniforms.
Iowa State: For those who thought this might be the year Iowa State turns things around, well, we feel for you. For the second consecutive season the Cyclones opened the year with a loss to an FCS team. This time, as previously mentioned, North Dakota State bested them 34-14. The game seemed competitive in the first half before the Bison ran away with it. Last season, Iowa State went 3-9 and we’re not sure Iowa State fans can expect much better this season after seeing the performance on Saturday. We’re not calling for Paul Rhoads job just yet, but if this season is another miserable campaign, his seat will be very hot.
Brian Burrell and Brandon Connette: Neither Burrell or Connette were going to live up to the stats that Derek Carr produced at Fresno State. But whoever ended up succeeding Carr simply needed to be adequate, especially against USC on Saturday night. Neither QB was even close to adequate. Burrell started, but he and Connette both saw time. The total stat line in the 52-13 loss: 18-36 passing for 160 yards and four interceptions, including three by Connette, a Duke transfer. Sure, Carr wasn't exceptional in the Las Vegas Bowl against USC last season, but for Fresno to have any success in the Mountain West this season, one of the two QBs needs to win the job.
Wake Forest: Maybe the camo uniforms worn by Louisiana-Monroe distracted the Demon Deacons? The first game of the Dave Clawson era did not get off to an auspicious start. Not only did Wake lose 17-10 to ULM, but the Demon Deacons compiled a whopping 94 yards of total offense on 49 plays while ULM ran 85. Wake Forest also punted 10 times. It's a credit to the Wake defense that the Deacs were in the game for so long; Pete Thomas scored the go-ahead TD for ULM with under four minutes to go. With Utah State, Louisville and Florida State within the next five games, it could get worse before it gets better.
Nick Bromberg, Sam Cooper and Max Thompson contributed to this post.
- - - - - - -
And don’t forget to keep up with all of Graham’s thoughts, witty comments and college football discussions on Facebook