Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (party hats sold separately at UL-Monroe, which was the only FBS school in the state of L-L-L-Louisiana to win its opener):
A 109-yard kick-six in Houston. A full-field romp with a blocked extra point that produced overtime in Austin. A touching penalty by Nebraska and a classy decline of said penalty by Fresno State. A triumphant comeback from cancer in Pittsburgh. A backup quarterback pulled out of his dress-white uniform in the stands in Annapolis. A college game at Lambeau Field. Lane Kiffin tweet-taunting Troy.
Yeah, the opening weekend was worth the wait. With it all in the books after Monday night, The Dash is here to take care of business, old and new. (Worth noting: if your team steamrolled an opponent that is several notches below yours in terms of talent and resources, there probably isn’t any mention of it in this column. Play somebody, and The Dash will praise somebody.)
Five men who answered some questions in Week One:
Nick Chubb (1), Georgia. The question: Was the star running back sufficiently recovered from a mid-season 2015 knee injury to be a factor in the first game? The answer: Chubb carried the ball 32 times for 222 yards and two touchdowns, including the clinching score against North Carolina from 55 yards out late in the game. The guy never ceases to amaze.
Charlie Strong (2), Texas. The question: Could the third-year coach of the Longhorns finally find an offense that will get Texas back to being Texas, and get a restless fan base off his back? The answer: Fifty points, 517 yards and 86 plays against Notre Dame Sunday night to win the best game of the weekend. With new coordinator Sterlin Gilbert directing a much more urgent offense, the Longhorns got a dazzling debut from true freshman quarterback Shane Buechele and some clutch runs from hard-nosed backup QB Tyrone Swoopes.
(For comparison’s sake: Buechele had 313 yards of total offense and three total touchdowns. Colt McCoy in his first Texas game had 216 yards and four total TDs. Vince Young had 121 yards and two TDs. Buechele was playing against a much higher level of competition.)
Mike White (3), Western Kentucky. The question: Can a guy who quite frankly was a bad college quarterback for two seasons at South Florida transform himself into a prolific passer? The answer: So far, so good.
At USF, White threw 11 touchdown passes and 16 interceptions. But after sitting out last year as a transfer, he took over for 11,000-yard career passer Brandon Doughty and tore it up Thursday night against fellow Conference USA opponent Rice. After one game White leads the nation in passing yards per game (517) and is second in passer rating (252.67). That only furthers the rep of his coach, Jeff Brohm, as one of the fastest-rising offensive minds in the nation. White’s reward for that breakthrough game: a trip to the quarterback graveyard that is Alabama.
Kevin Sumlin (4), Texas A&M. The question: Can a coach immersed in offseason drama put it behind him and be ready for 2016? The answer: Check the scoreboard. Beating No. 16 UCLA in overtime was a much-needed debut, after staff turmoil and turnover and talented players transferring. Still, The Dash is practicing safe hype because we’ve been down this road before with A&M. Each of the previous two seasons the Aggies beat a ranked opponent in the opener to fan the flames of hope, only to see those flames extinguished in the second half of the year. But the most encouraging sign for A&M was its run defense, holding the Bruins to 125 yards and just 3.1 yards per carry. Previously porous A&M has given up more than 200 yards per game on the ground and at least 5 yards per carry each of the past three seasons, so the combination of recruiting better players and John Chavis’ coaching seems to be working.
Ryan Burns (5), Stanford. The question: Really? The answer: Yes, really. He’d thrown one collegiate pass prior to Friday night, when he replaced four-year starting quarterback Kevin Hogan. And most people didn’t even expect him to be the replacement – that was supposed to be Keller Chryst. But Burns won the job and then showed why with a Hoganesque, 14-of-18, 156-yard passing performance against Kansas State. His ability to hook up with Michael Rector (four catches, 73 yards and a touchdown) will be key to keeping defenses from fixating on Christian McCaffrey.
Five things The Dash remains unconvinced will work out:
Southeastern Conference offenses (6). It often was a hard league to watch from an entertainment standpoint last year, and this season is off to a similarly underwhelming start. Through Saturday’s games, all six Western Division teams that had played were ranked lower nationally in total offense than where they finished last season. Only two of seven were lower in the East – but none were in the top 40 in either division. (Highest: Georgia at 45th, with 474 yards against North Carolina.) Eight out of 13 teams scored 21 or fewer points. It should be noted that only five SEC teams played schools from outside the Power 5, which is a mitigating factor. But it also should be noted that two of those five lost and the other three all struggled badly offensively.
Les Miles (7), LSU. Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron took a pay cut heading into this season, from an obscene $1.5 million to a slightly less obscene $1.2 million. But Miles retained him for a fourth year, and that decision – combined with Miles’ own predilection for Cro-Magnon offense – led LSU to where it is now. That would be 0-1, coming off a game in which an experienced offense scored one touchdown and produced 257 yards. Miles most likely is one more loss from completely squandering the singular talent of Leonard Fournette as a vehicle capable of driving LSU to the College Football Playoff.
Mark Stoops (8), Kentucky. There are mounting questions about Stoops as a head coach, but here is the biggest one (for now): Why do his teams have a tendency to completely collapse within games? Saturday night, the Wildcats held a 25-point lead at home over a Conference USA team, Southern Mississippi. They were outscored 34-0 the rest of the way. In the finale last year, also at home, UK was outscored 31-0 in the second half by Louisville. The Cats gave up 28 in the third quarter last year to Tennessee. They led Louisiana-Lafayette 33-10 in the opener last year before surrendering 23 straight and then pulling out the win in the end. Either Stoops has no ability to keep his team focused for 60 minutes, or he cannot adjust to other teams’ adjustments, or both. For a guy who has recruited well, there is very little to show for it on the actual playing field.
Clay Helton (9), USC. The Dash pretty well covered this topic here Saturday night. Questionable hire is 0-3 as full-time head coach, just oversaw the worst USC loss in 50 years and gave Kiffin gloating rights. Other than that, it’s all good.
Rutgers (10). Attempts to extinguish the Great Dumpster Fire of 2015 were promising – a coaching change was made, and former Urban Meyer assistant Chris Ash took over an experienced team, particularly on offense. But the Scarlet Knights were down 24-0 in the first quarter to Washington and 48-3 heading into the fourth. Final was 48-13, Rutgers’ worst season-opening loss since 1997, when it went 0-11. Granted, the Huskies may well be really good this year – but early indications are that Rutgers remains really bad.
Five entities that appeared solid coming into the season but now have some explaining to do:
Brian Kelly (11), Notre Dame. He’s an excellent coach and a creative offensive mind. But his handling of the Fighting Irish quarterbacks Sunday night at Texas was inexplicable and very likely led to turning a great victory into a bitter defeat. If Malik Zaire sets foot on the field at Notre Dame Stadium on Saturday against Nevada for any reason other than mop-up duty or injury replacement, keep your ears open for boos from the faithful.
Mike Bobo (12), Colorado State. Second-year coach is now 0-2 against rival Colorado, and this one was ugly. The Rams lost 44-7, the biggest margin in this series since 1956. This is a rivalry where CSU had been very competitive with the Buffaloes over the previous 15 meetings, and this mismatch will not do much for the school’s Big 12 candidacy. The Rams passed for 63 yards in the game, second-lowest total in FBS in Week 1.
Bob Stoops (13), Oklahoma. The Dash has had doubts about erstwhile Big-Game Bob for a while, as the Sooners have been reliably overrated for much of the last decade. The loss to Houston was foreseeable, but hardly enjoyable for the fan base. In the Sooners’ last two games, against Clemson last year and now Houston, they have scored a total of six second-half points.
USC offensive line (14). Expected to be a strong suit, this veteran unit was completely routed by Alabama on Saturday – outmanned and seemingly quite confused. Granted, the Crimson Tide have the best defensive front seven in college football – but this is USC. Anthony Munoz, Bruce Matthews, Ron Yary, Tony Boselli, Ron Mix … if any of them were watching they had to cringe.
Northwestern (15). After winning 10 games last year with smoke and mirrors and defense, the Wildcats entered 2016 feeling good about their prospects. Then they lost the opener 22-21 to the plucky boat rowers from Western Michigan. Northwestern was outgained by nearly 100 yards and possessed the ball for less than 21 minutes. Still, it had a chance to win when quarterback Clayton Thorson fumbled while trying to score the go-ahead touchdown late. Offense still looks like RB Justin Jackson and not much else.
LET’S HEAR IT FOR THE D
Five defensive players who demanded The Dash’s attention and adulation in Week One:
Ed Oliver (16), Houston. Tom Herman’s first recruiting coup in H-Town paid immediate dividends. The freakishly athletic, 290-pound defensive lineman was all over the place, recording five solo tackles, two assists and two sacks. He’s a five-star guy who turned down, among others, the team he disrupted Saturday, Oklahoma.
Jonathan Allen (17), Alabama. Because the Tide’s legion of experienced defensive line monsters has thinned a bit from 2015, Allen is able to stand out. Boy, did he against USC. Allen did everything but steal the Trojans’ lunch money, bullying them for four solo tackles, two sacks, two batted passes and a number of other blocking schemes blown up.
Malik Jefferson (18), Texas. Was probably the Longhorns’ best player last year as a true freshman, and he seems to have upped his game even more in 2016. The linebacker/edge rusher had a sack and six solo tackles against Notre Dame and had to be accounted for on every play.
Peter Kalambayi (19), Stanford. Led the Cardinal in sacks last year and looks like he’ll do it again. He had 2 ½ against Kansas State, plus a quarterback hurry and another tackle for loss, helping shut down the normally productive K-State quarterback running game.
Chidobi Awuzie (20), Colorado. Had an interception, broke up another pass, made a tackle for loss and had eight solo tackles as the Buffaloes completely shut down Colorado State’s passing game to win the last significant season-opening rivalry game in America in a rout.
FAB FOUR AFTER WEEK ONE
Following the epic comeback of Florida State and the equally epic collapse of Mississippi on Monday night, it’s time to throw a Forde’s Fab Four playoff bracket on the wall and see what sticks. As follows:
Top dog is, rather obviously, Alabama (21). Not because of last year, but because of the seal clubbing administered to USC. Because The Dash is not a slave to preseason rankings or brand names, Houston (22) is No. 2. Give the third spot to Florida State (23), which was all sorts of sloppy and spotted the Rebels a 22-point lead before roaring back and winning by double digits. And fourth is Clemson (24), which went on the road in the SEC at night and came away with a close victory over Auburn.
Check back next week, when it could be completely different.
FOOTBALL GAMES IN STRANGE PLACES
Saturday, college football meets NASCAR in the Battle at Bristol, which matches Tennessee and Virginia Tech on the neutral ground of Bristol Motor Speedway (25) in eastern Tennessee. It is 113 miles from Knoxville to Bristol and 122 from Blacksburg, and thus we have a match made in Appalachian heaven, with a side of Kenny Chesney thrown in.
The goal is to put 150,000 in the Real Big House, or as they modestly refer to it there in Bristol, “The Last Great Colosseum.” It could well be a miserable viewing experience because the football field hardly fills the cavernous interior of the track and many seats will be a long way from the action.
Hotel rooms are rare and scandalously overpriced as well. Like a lot of NASCAR events at remote tracks, the place to sleep before and after may well be the RV lot.
This will not be the first creative relocation of college football to an alternate sporting venue better known for something else. Just the biggest. Among the others:
Various Baseball Stadia (26). Wrigley Field has seen plenty of football over its 102 years of existence, but the most recent game was a logistical bust. In 2010 Northwestern and Illinois played there with all the offensive action going toward one end zone because officials were afraid players would smash into the ivy-covered wall beyond the opposite end zone. Fenway Park hosted Boston College and Notre Dame last year. For 12 years, the Fight Hunger Bowl was played at AT&T Park in San Francisco, with both teams awkwardly sharing the same sideline. Yankee Stadium has been the most successful MLB college football dual site, hosting the Pinstripe Bowl since 2010.
ANZ Stadium (27). That rugby stadium in Sydney, Australia, was the site of California bludgeoning Hawaii to open this season. It was built as the anchor stadium of the 2000 Olympics and normally hosts rugby. The fans who attended the game presumably saw enough to know that Hawaii is quite bad at American football.
Wallace Wade Stadium (28). Yeah, it’s a football stadium. But it did host one highly unusual game on Jan. 1, 1942. The Rose Bowl. It was relocated from Pasadena in the aftermath of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, when fears of a West Coast attack were very real. It wound up being a home game for Duke but a victory for Oregon State, 20-16.
One The Dash would like to see: Churchill Downs (29). Why not play in a legendary venue that is almost as old as the game itself? Churchill opened in 1875, six years after Rutgers and Princeton played what is considered the first football game.
ONE LAST MOST INTRIGUING LIST
The Dash couldn’t squeeze this in before the season started, so here is an abbreviated list of the Most Important Men In Suits in college football for 2016, the guys who will play important roles off the field:
Gregory Fenves (30). The Texas president will cast a key vote in the Big 12 expansion proceedings, and he might also have an important decision to make on the future of the school’s football coach, Charlie Strong. That decision might have gotten a lot easier with the Longhorns’ upset of Notre Dame – the school would prefer to give Strong every opportunity to succeed. But one game doesn’t get Strong out of the woods, and the more Tom Herman wins in Houston, the more some Texas fans will want him no matter what.
Trace Armstrong (31). He’s Herman’s agent, which means he will help the coach navigate the stay-or-go options that lie ahead. Last year the decision was to stay, turning down South Carolina and other overtures – but this year the offers could be much bigger. Herman could be the hottest upgrade candidate from outside the power structure since another Armstrong client, Urban Meyer, left Utah for Florida in 2004.
Conference replay officials (32). With more leagues going to a review system that incorporates officials watching games in the conference offices, conspiracy theorists are busy spinning scenarios where rulings favorable to the league’s best interests are handed down behind closed doors and many miles from where the games are played. (The curious lack of a targeting call on Texas for a hit on Notre Dame’s Tori Hunter on Sunday night caused an eruption of that sort of thing on Twitter.) SEC commissioner Greg Sankey, for one, told USA Today last week that he will no longer watch games in the league’s command center, to avoid even the slightest hint of impropriety and to stay out of an active work environment for those viewing replays. The change may help officials get calls right, but it also will add a layer of suspicion for the paranoid when their team gets the short end of a replay review.
Bob Bowlsby (33). Commissioner of the Big 12 is presiding over a most curious expansion process that seemingly involves every middle-class striver in Division I. He’s trying to navigate this with a disparate and fragile membership group that could be vulnerable its own self to poaching in the years ahead. Trying to get this expansion thing right will be of paramount importance. And the league’s playoff profile wasn’t aided by the season-opening upset loss of its preseason favorite, Oklahoma, to a team from outside the Power 5.
Joe Alleva (34). LSU athletic director and the buyout boosters lost a power struggle with Les Miles and rest of school administration last November. But all the power should shift back to the Fire Les faction if this season continues on the dysfunctional footing on which it started. Will there finally be regime change in Baton Rouge, and if so could LSU be the leading suitor for Herman?
Kirby Hocutt (35). Now it will be Tuesdays with Kirby, after two years of Tuesdays with Jeff. Hocutt, the Texas Tech athletic director, is the new chair of the College Football Playoff selection committee. He replaces Jeff Long, who was perhaps overly loquacious in the Tuesday night interviews with ESPN that sometimes cast doubt on exactly what the committee was considering in making its rankings. How will Hocutt handle the job?
Jonathan Duncan (36). The head of NCAA enforcement has overseen the lengthy – and expanding – probe of Mississippi. Schools everywhere are watching how this one will end up – but they’re especially interested in the SEC, where the probe now includes interviews with players at rival schools about their experience being recruited by Ole Miss.
COACH WHO EARNED HIS COMP CAR
Paul Chryst (37), Wisconsin. Finished his first season as head coach of his alma mater well, with an upset of USC in the Holiday Bowl for a 10th win. Now he’s started year two even better, taking down LSU in Lambeau. Fourth quarter regroup, after losing a game-long lead in a 67-second flurry, was especially impressive. Badgers now have two weeks of walk-through against Akron and Georgia State to prepare for the gantlet of at Michigan State, at Michigan, Ohio State and at Iowa between Sept. 24 and Oct. 22.
COACH WHO SHOULD TAKE THE BUS TO WORK
Bronco Mendenhall (38), Virginia. There always are FCS upsets of FBS teams, but not many knock off Power 5 teams and fewer still rout them the way Richmond did the Cavaliers in Mendenhall’s debut. The Spiders never trailed, outgained Virginia by more than 200 yards, and led by at least two scores for the final 35 minutes and 58 seconds. This was a brutal first game for a guy who was a very surprising hire out of BYU. Good news, though: Up next is a trip to Oregon.
When hungry and thirsty in the best place in the world to be hungry and thirsty – OK, the best place in the world to be anything – The Dash recommends a visit to the Ka’anapali Grill and Tap Room (39) in Maui. Start with the dress code: no shirt, no shoes, come right in. They’ll seat you a few yards from the beach. Once there, order the sinfully good Kalua pig sandwich and pair it with a Jalapeno Mouth Amber Ale from Waikiki Brewing Company (40). Thank The Dash later.
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