The good, the bad and the TBD of college football opening weekend debuts

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (do-overs sold separately in Tucson and Tallahassee): 

[More Dash: Conference rankings | Good/Bad/TBD debuts | Attendance woes | App State heartbreak]

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The weekend provided our first look at some new faces in new places. As is usually the case, results varied — though, in general, if you were hoping your new coaching hire was going to change everything overnight, you were mistaken.

Good: Kyler Murray (11). New position: Starting quarterback at Oklahoma. Replacing: Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield. The new guy got a total of six drives against Florida Atlantic. The results: five touchdowns and a missed field goal. The score was 42-0 after less than 26 minutes of play when coach Lincoln Riley took Murray out. He ran or passed 15 times against the Owls, accounting for 232 yards — that’s 15.5 yards per play, best in the nation for a QB in week one and a higher average than any game Mayfield had last season. The kid’s million-dollar future is in baseball, but he’s a heck of a football player as well.

Bad: Chip Kelly (12). New position: Head coach at UCLA. Replacing: Jim Mora. Nobody, including Kelly, said it was going to be easy. Then the Bruins went about underscoring that point in a dismal home loss to Cincinnati in a half-empty Rose Bowl (more on attendance later). UCLA lost a top-10 pick at quarterback and a top-15 pick on the offensive line, then suspended six players before the opener. The result was a team that played at trademark Kelly tempo (one snap every 22.6 seconds of offensive possession) but not trademark Kelly production (306 yards, 17 points, zero passing plays of 20 yards or more). It will get worse this week: UCLA visits Oklahoma.

The Chip Kelly era in Los Angeles did not get off to a good start, with UCLA dropping one of the most winnable games on its brutal schedule. (AP)
The Chip Kelly era in Los Angeles did not get off to a good start, with UCLA dropping one of the most winnable games on its brutal schedule. (AP)

TBD: Dan Mullen (13). New position: Head coach at Florida. Replacing: Jim McElwain. There was ample reason for encouragement, starting with this stat: a team that was 113th nationally in pass efficiency last season produced its highest efficiency rating since 2015. Maligned quarterback Feleipe Franks threw for five touchdowns in 24 attempts, after having nine TDs in 229 attempts in 2017. Now, the reality check: the opponent, Charleston Southern, was No. 178 in the Sagarin Ratings last year. SEC play starts Saturday against Kentucky.

Good: Dwayne Haskins (14). New position: Starting quarterback at Ohio State. Replacing: Four-year starter J.T. Barrett. Haskins was the talk of fall camp — well, when the talk veered away from the Zach Smith/Urban Meyer furor — and he exceeded expectations Saturday by throwing for 313 yards and five touchdowns. A far better passer than Barrett, Haskins has the ability to enliven what had been a stagnant vertical passing game. His 10.5 yards per attempt was best in the Big Ten in week one.

Bad: Kevin Sumlin (15). New position: Head coach at Arizona. Replacing: Rich Rodriguez. Sumlin managed to do the improbable in an upset home loss to BYU — he turned explosive quarterback Khalil Tate into a virtual non-factor. Tate, who has Lamar Jackson’s athleticism, had just eight carries for 14 yards and didn’t do much throwing the ball either, completing 17 of 34 passes for 197 yards. The Cougars absolutely schemed to slow Tate and make him a pocket passer, but the Wildcats seemed OK with having that dictated to them. Tate’s eight rushing attempts tied for the fewest he’s had in a game since becoming the starting quarterback early last year.

TBD: Herm Edwards (16). New position: Head coach at Arizona State. Replacing: Todd Graham. The Sun Devils achieved their objective, crushing UTSA, 49-7. The Roadrunners won at Baylor to start last year but are in rebuilding mode in 2018, which mitigates the takeaway from the game. Still, ASU was dominant in the trenches, an area of weakness under Graham. The Devils averaged 7.4 yards per carry, most in a game since 2014, and allowed only two rushing yards. Good signs, but a much bigger challenge Saturday against Michigan State.

Good: Trevor Lawrence (17). New position: Quarterback at Clemson. Replacing: Nobody. The fact that true freshman Lawrence did not replace Kelly Bryant as the starter surprised some, but it fits Dabo Swinney’s precedent of playing his veterans first. And Bryant was fine against overmatched Furman, scoring once passing and once running. But Lawrence’s relief performance was enough to accelerate the hype train: three touchdown passes in 15 attempts. Swinney’s quarterback rotation will be of immense interest Saturday at Texas A&M.

Bad: Jeremy Pruitt (18). New position: Head coach at Tennessee. Replacing: Butch Jones. West Virginia is a quality opponent, and there were plenty of warning signs about how average this Volunteers team would be. But giving up 8.97 yards per play — most by a Tennessee defense in five years — was a sobering start. After one week, the Vols rank 13th in the 14-team SEC in total offense and last in total defense. The next two games (East Tennessee State and UTEP) might be the only wins until November.

Exceptionally bad: Willie Taggart (19). New position: Head coach at Florida State. Replacing: Jimbo Fisher. No new coach did less to win over the new fan base in week one than Taggart. At home against a supposedly rebuilding Virginia Tech team, the Seminoles laid a dinosaur egg: five turnovers, three points, outplayed the entire night. While credit, as always, should be given to Hokies defensive coordinator Bud Foster, you couldn’t help but wonder what FSU practiced all August. It certainly wasn’t blocking (star running back Cam Akers had 14 carries for 82 yards, with a long run of 85, which tells you how the other 13 went).

TBD: Justin Fields (20). New position: Quarterback at Georgia. Replacing: Nobody. Like Lawrence at Clemson, Fields arrived in college with a ton of hype and a chance to make an incumbent starter (Jake Fromm) earn his snaps. Well, Fromm earned more of them with a pristine performance in a wipeout of Austin Peay. Fields was eased in with a safe gameplan — short, easy throws — and did well: 7 of 8 for 63 yards and a touchdown, plus three runs for 33 yards. But it appears unlikely he will be displacing Fromm anytime soon — certainly not heading into an early SEC East showdown game against South Carolina on Saturday.

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