Well, let’s say this for college football: After fans spent the last eight months hyping up Week 1 as “the greatest opening weekend ever” the sport did not disappoint. From Tennessee’s overtime win on opening night, to wild victories for Houston and Wisconsin, into Sunday’s thrilling overtime win for Texas and finally into a Labor Day night clash between Florida State and Ole Miss -- this truly was the best weekend ever.
Now with five days of college football behind us, it’s time to look back at the carnage of it all and what it all means in the big picture. After all, college football is a sport built on hyperbole, so why not start early: Here are six, gross overreactions, following Week 1 of the college football season.
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY SportsTim Heitman
Alabama will be the most entertaining team in college football this season
Will the Crimson Tide win another national championship? It’s impossible to know at this exact moment, although after the Crimson Tide’s disemboweling of USC on opening night, I wouldn’t be surprised. At the same time, what I can definitively say is this: 2016 will be Nick Saban’s most entertaining team yet at Alabama.
While the Crimson Tide have basically dominated all comers since Saban’s first title season in Tuscaloosa in 2009, here’s the simple truth: It hasn’t always been fun, esthetically pleasing football to watch for fans. Take a physical running game, add in a merciless defense, and a quarterback who can do “just enough,” and the Tide have dominated college football in the least interesting way possible, winning a lot of 20-6 and 24-10 games through the years.
But in 2016, that has been flipped on its head. For starters, Alabama has the best group of receivers it’s ever had with Calvin Ridley, Gehrig Dieter and ArDarius Stewart, but they also have their most dynamic quarterback with Jalen Hurts.
And really, that’s what makes Alabama so darn interesting: They already have the defense, they already have the running game (Damien Harris is the next “great one” in Tuscaloosa) but now they have a quarterback that you simply can’t take your eyes off of either. Hurts was dynamic in his first action at Alabama, completing 6 of 11 passes, with two touchdowns, while running for two additional scores as well.
It also means that Alabama will be every bit as dominant on defense, but they'll also have a flashy, modern offense to go along with it. Add it up, and it will make the Tide the most exciting team in college football in 2016.
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY SportsJerome Miron
Auburn will be forced to fire Gus Malzahn before the end of the season
Honestly, no one hates talking hot seat more than I do, especially this early in the season. It isn’t fair to teams, players and coaches to make a sweeping judgements based off just one game. Especially after all the hard work that goes into the off-season.
At the same time, it was hard to think any differently watching Auburn on Saturday. Going up against a good, but not elite Clemson defense (which returned just three starters), at home, with -- again -- eight months to prepare, the Auburn offense wasn’t just stagnant. It was basically unwatchable. Wasn’t it just a few years ago we were calling Malzahn an “offensive genius?”
Yes, and that’s what was so disheartening about the loss: The one side of the ball where the head coach is supposed to be an “expert” looked totally lost. And I’m not just talking about the players or the schemes on offense, but the coaches themselves.
A lot has been made the last few days about the three-man quarterback rodeo that Malzahn implemented Saturday night, but it’s one thing to talk about it, and another thing to have watched it live. There was simply no rhyme or reason to any of the switches -- Malzahn and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee seemed to run QBs out on the field on a whim, like they were picking names out of a hat in between plays. Say what you want about other offenses which used multiple quarterbacks (like Notre Dame or Texas) but at least it was clear they had a plan on how they wanted to use their guys. Watching Auburn, it’s hard to say the same.
Because of it, the offense was never able to get into a rhythm, and also why if the Tigers don’t settle on one guy soon (or at least a better rotation), Malzahn seems doomed. The schedule (like it always is at Auburn) is loaded with landmines, and it isn’t unrealistic to think the Tigers could have three losses before the end of September with games against Texas A&M and LSU.
Thankfully they’re both at home, but it could be a long fall for Malzahn. And he could be looking for a new gig come December, for the least likely reason: Because of his offense.
Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY SportsShanna Lockwood
Michigan will be 7-0 entering an October 29 game at Michigan State
After an off-season full of tree climbing, satellite camps, and rap videos, the “Summer of Harbaugh” officially ended Saturday at the Big House. The Wolverines' 63-3 win over Hawaii also proved something else altogether: For all the off-the-field theatrics, Jim Harbaugh is still a damn good coach.
I know it was only Hawaii (coming across a round-the-world flight from Australia, mind you) but it’s still pretty amazing that after quarterback Wilton Speight threw a pick on Michigan’s opening possession, the Wolverines were able to go on to score on every single offensive possession the rest of the game. The victory also reminded me of something we learned last year: Harbaugh’s teams remain the most immaculately prepared teams, week in and week out in college football (outside of maybe Alabama).
Dating back to his Stanford days, Harbaugh’s teams have simply never come out flat and never come out unprepared. Sure, they might run into a team with more talent than them, but they never beat themselves and never play down to the competition. For all the “Harbaugh didn’t accomplish anything in Year 1 at Michigan,” it says a lot that their only three losses were to the only three teams with equal, or greater talent than them (Ohio State, Michigan State and Utah). And that they handled everyone else with ease.
That’s why I believe that the Wolverines will be undefeated when they play the Spartans on October 29th. This is a team that simply isn’t going to slip up to any inferior team on the schedule (I don’t expect most games to even be close), and the only team that could even give Michigan a little trouble is a good Wisconsin team the first week of October. The problem for the Badgers is that the game is at the Big House, and sandwiched between games against Michigan State and Ohio State (thanks for nothing, Big Ten schedule makers!). Not to mention that for all the hype around Wisconsin’s win over LSU, it was a bit of fool’s gold with the offense struggling most of the game (Bart Houston threw two picks and zero touchdowns; the offense averaged just 3.2 yards per carry).
Time will tell whether Michigan can make a run towards the playoff. But they will be undefeated late into the season.
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY SportsRick Osentoski
Even after a loss to Texas, Notre Dame will end up in a New Year’s Six bowl game
It’s funny how two different people can watch one game and have two completely different perspectives.
If you hung out on Twitter Sunday night, all you heard following the Irish loss to Texas is what an idiot Brian Kelly is, and how several of his decisions (mainly sticking with Malik Zaire for too long) cost Notre Dame the game. The funny thing is, I had the exact opposite reaction: Given what the Irish lost from last year’s team, I think it’s kind of amazing Notre Dame was in that game at all.
Think about it. In total, the Irish had six players drafted in the first three rounds of the draft, including three of the top 35 picks overall. At a school like Notre Dame, with real academic challenges, in a geographically isolated place, it’s hard to accumulate that much talent, let alone replace it when it all leaves. It’s even harder when you have to kick another starter off the team (Max Redfield) just days before the season), and your best skill-position player is knocked out of the game on a bogus, targeting non-call.
So while everyone used Sunday as a good excuse to throw out Notre Dame jokes and call out Kelly, I actually thought it was an incredibly positive sign for the Irish, and their season as a whole. Assuming their quarterback situation is figured out (ie: “DeShone Kizer is their guy”) I actually feel much better about the Irish than I did just a few days ago. I also believe, looking at their schedule the sky is actually the limit for this team.
That’s because, by Notre Dame standards, the schedule is actually very manageable. The obvious two biggest games (against Stanford and Michigan State both come at home), with the Irish’s toughest road game coming against a USC squad that not only looked beatable, but downright flawed on Saturday. The rest of the schedule is chalk full of teams like Army, NC State and Virginia Tech, good teams capable of beating the Irish if they’re not prepared
It also means that even if the Irish split those two tough home games, I don’t see them as any worse than a 10-2 club, and one that will almost certainly be playing in a “New Year’s Six” bowl game because of it.
The Irish might have lost Sunday, but there are still plenty of reasons for optimism in South Bend.
Oklahoma’s defense will cost them at least three games this season
Of every team who received off-season hype, the one I couldn’t simply wrap my head around was Oklahoma. No, this wasn’t a “Big Game Bob Stoops” thing, but instead very real questions about their defense. The Sooners lost virtually every piece off the Big 12’s best unit last year, guys like Charles Tapper, Zack Sanchez and Eric Striker. Was I the only one who noticed? Was I the only one who saw the void that would create?
If I was, I wasn’t alone by mid-afternoon Saturday, after Houston’s shocking upset of the Sooners. Let’s not take anything away from Houston here; they’re a very, very good team, which will be in the playoff mix all season. But they also exposed some real holes on that Oklahoma defense.
Simply put, Greg Ward was basically able to do whatever he wanted against Oklahoma, throwing for two touchdowns and averaging over eight yards per completion. Time and time again he nailed perfectly-executed back-shoulder throws, and a handful of others, Cougars’ receivers streaked down the field virtually untouched. It also raises the question: If Oklahoma couldn’t slow down Houston, what luck do they have against the pass-happy Big 12?
Remember, this schedule is still full of explosive offenses, starting in two weeks with Ohio State, and continuing throughout the Big 12 season with teams like TCU, Baylor, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech. Sure, the offense will be able to outscore some of those teams. But based on what we saw Saturday, it will be tough to outscore them all.
It’s hard to imagine this Oklahoma team not losing at least another 2-3 games throughout the season. It also means that a club touted as a preseason playoff contender, will more likely be around 8-4 by the end of the season.
Jacob Eason will make at least one trip to New York as a Heisman finalist by the end of his career
Alright, so it might not be an “overreaction” to say that the best quarterback in the 2016 high school class could one day be a Heisman finalist. At the same time, for any Georgia fan who watched him play Saturday, how can you not be at least a little giddy?
What started out as concern when Grayson Lambert got the start (after Eason seemingly led for the starting job all fall camp) turned into outright joy, after Eason replaced Lambert, and led the Bulldogs to a victory over North Carolina. Eason finished the game completing eight of 12 passes, with a touchdown.
But it wasn’t so much the stats with Eason as how he looked in the pocket.
The true freshman looked poised beyond his years, knowing when to throw the ball away, and even though he took a sack, if you watched closely, he felt the pressure and hit the ground, before he could take a big hit from the backside.
I’m still not all-in on the ‘Dawgs as a team, but I am all-in on Eason. Give him a year, or maybe too. But he will end up in New York for at least one Heisman ceremony before it’s all said and done.
Aaron Torres covers college football for Fox Sports. Follow him on Twitter @Aaron_Torres, Facebook or ATorres00@gmail.com.