College Football 2012: 6 Contenders and Pretenders from Week 1
College football is back and better than ever, but as usual, we witnessed the thrill of victory and agony of defeat.
We are already one week in the books (save Virginia Tech vs. Georgia Tech), and we should already be recapping which teams fell flat on their faces and which ones will be hard-pressed to get back up.
However, there will always be a few teams that surprise us (or at least the general public) by exceeding the low expectations that many have put on them.
As we head into the second week of the season, here are your five pretenders and contenders from the opening weekend of the best game in the world.
Contender: Clemson Tigers
Won 26-19 over Auburn
DeAndre "Nuke" Hopkins, Andre Ellington and Tajh Boyd certainly looked like All-Americans against the Auburn Tigers, and they have the talent to help Clemson win every game on their schedule.
While I had this game as a toss-up (didn't think CU would pull it off), Tajh Boyd was the difference in the clutch.
He lost over 10 pounds in the offseason, and his pocket presence was magical last night. He avoided a fantastic Auburn defensive rush all night long—one that was especially vicious in the fourth quarter.
Late in the game on a third down, Corey Lemonier had the edge but Boyd stepped up in the pocket and coasted right by him for the first down.
As long as Boyd can keep his helmet and avoid getting exhausted running around for his life, these Tigers could be BCS-dreaming once again.
Sammy Watkins' return in two weeks will be a joy, but how about the job the offensive line did?
Andre Ellington is a top-10 running back and was as productive as it got in the opening weekend because of that darn-good Clemson offensive line.
Many labeled the O-line as the only weak link on offense, but it was as strong as ever, as they kept Boyd (four sacks, but clean in fourth quarter) clean when it mattered most.
Florida State is coming up in three weeks, and that has a chance to become the game of the weekend in college football.
The thought of one of the premier offenses against one of the best defenses in the nation has me foaming at the mouth already.
Pretender: Auburn Tigers
Lost 26-19 to Clemson
Without Sammy Watkins, I really thought this game would go down to the wire—and it did.
However, the Auburn Tigers could not keep up on offense with one of the best passing attacks in the country (save West Virginia and USC).
Kiehl Frazier certainly played well for his first career-start in a prime-time setting, but throwing 16 incomplete passes is simply not good enough.
He found Emory Blake for a huge TD and Philip Lutzenkirchen was productive as well, but there needs to be that third target to stretch the field against the elite competition.
Clemson's defense is far from spectacular, but it is very athletic and talented.
Many would argue this ACC squad exposed Auburn a tad because it was the Clemson front four, not the Auburn front four that made a huge impact in the fourth quarter (Tajh Boyd was sensational).
Tre Mason and Onterio McCalebb are a fine duo (both combined for 188 yards rushing), but you need to pass the ball when it is crunch time, and the Tigers settled for way too many field goals.
Three kicks inside 40 yards by Cody Parkey was a nightmare last night, and while it is great to see points on the board, we should all realize that touchdowns are the name of the game.
Auburn has a brutal stretch down the road in the SEC West, but it is far from panic time with Gene Chizik at the helm.
Also, they had previously won 11 straight games decided by eight points or less before their loss to Clemson.
Give the ACC some props, but Auburn will bounce back against Mississippi State and still might just pull off a stunner down the road (see: LSU, Arkansas).
Contender: Nebraska Cornhuskers
Won 49-20 over Southern Miss
If you knew in advance that Rex Burkhead would have missed the majority of the game with a sprained MCL, would you not have thought Nebraska would be on upset alert?
Boy, was most of America wrong on Taylor Martinez (it is just one game, relax), as he looked absolutely magnificent against a respectable Southern Miss defense.
Throwing for five touchdowns and 354 yards without their All-American-caliber runner is not only a step up in production, but it might be just what the Huskers were looking for as they attempt to return to national prominence.
That "Blackshirt" defense held the Golden Eagles to just 260 yards of offense, and don't forget they allowed just one offensive TD. (If it were not for a 100-yard kickoff return touchdown by Tracy Lampley, Nebraska would have given them a royal beating.)
Many thought that Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin were the cream of the crop in the Big Ten, but after one game it looks as if the Huskers possess every bit of talent as anybody out there.
Pretender: Oklahoma Sooners
Won 24-7 over UTEP
Wait a tick, didn't the Sooners survive and advance?
Yes, they did, but they did so by sneaking past the same UTEP Miners squad that ranked 104th in America last season in allowing 441.50 yards per game.
The defense was 86th in the nation, allowing 30 points per game, and it is not as if the Miners will be contending for a C-USA title this season (let alone appearing in a bowl).
Oklahoma's revamped offensive line looked atrocious as they allowed Landry Jones to get sacked three times and pressured for most of the night.
Jones was putting the ball on the money in the second half, and some of his receivers struggled to hang onto the ball.
Kenny Stills saved the day with a huge 68-yard touchdown early in the game, but Jones finished with just 222 yards and two touchdowns in a game where many banked on a blowout victory.
Does this automatically drop them out of the top 10?
No, but this is very concerning for a program ranked No. 4 that many are counting on contending for a Big 12 and BCS title.
The defense allowed just 47 yards passing, but they were gashed for 207 yards. Thank goodness Nathan Jeffery pulled up lame (cramps) at the end of the third quarter or else this game would have gone down to the wire.
Jeffery had two huge plays (one for 20 and other for 71 yards), but all of UTEP's exceptional drives were stalled by missed kicks.
There were three missed kicks that cost the Miners dearly, and while Oklahoma survived in Week 1, they may not remain flawless if they keep their current acts.
Pretender: Florida Gators
Won 27-14 over Bowling Green
Many questioned this two-quarterback system, and boy, did it disappoint in the season opener.
The passing totals came to just 145 yards, and despite rushing for 220 yards, Mike Gillislee will not be able to carry this team against the SEC competition.
It might work against Bowling Green, but Texas A&M and Tennessee will be licking their chops if this same offense shows up in their next two games.
This defense is still sensational and will only get better in time (Ronald Powell returns in October), but the offense was flat-out disappointing in the season opener.
We should not be shocked, but concerned might describe the state of this program since many anticipated an SEC East crown.
Will Muschamp is likely going to use both quarterbacks again despite what most expect to occur, and that is certainly nerve-wracking since College Station and Knoxville are not easy places to play in.
Contender: Mid-American Conference
We need to all give the MAC some love even though I already showed confidence in the Bobcats.
Northern Illinois nearly upset Iowa, Buffalo gave Georgia a solid game early on, and Bowling Green nearly upset the Gators at the Swamp.
Toledo had Arizona on the ropes before Rich Rodriguez sneaked away with a victory in overtime, but this conference deserves a lot more hype these days.
They have the quarterbacks and offensive skill players to give any non-BCS squad major issues, but they showed against the Big Ten and Pac-12 that they are not far behind.
The Bobcats have the chance to win every game on their schedule, and while they are not likely going to land in the BCS or even the top 16 (arguably), they will eventually be in the Top 25, and deservedly so.
Let us also not forget about Northern Illinois, Toledo or even Western Michigan, because they have some opportunities as well to post double-digit seasons.
No, the MAC isn't a contender for any BCS bids or Top-25 rankings (save Ohio), but they were certainly contenders on the opening weekend of college football.
Contender: West Virginia Mountaineers
Won 69-34 over Marshall
Geno Smith might just be the top choice for the Heisman after one game, but how about the weapons around him?
Many talk about Clemson and USC, or a few others, but none may be more productive than the Mountaineers' receiving corps.
Dana Holgorsen is arguably the top offensive mind in the country, but it was the running game of WV that was impressive.
Sean Alston, Tavon Austin (all-purpose machine), Andre Buie and Geno Smith combined for 331 yards rushing along with four TDs!
If the running game maintains a consistent production, then this offense might just be the best in the country.
In the last two games, West Virginia has scored 20 TDs and combined for 139 points and 1,250 yards.
Holy bazooka, is this offense unstoppable these days, and yet the defense completely takes a back seat (can't blame anybody). Despite allowing 545 yards, they did allow a few garbage TDs in the closing moments.
Look for the Mountaineers to contend in the Big 12 all season, and there is an excellent chance they appear in a BCS bowl whether they win the conference or not.
Pretender: South Carolina Gamecocks
Won 17-13 over Vanderbilt (Thursday)
Totaling 272 yards offensive is never great news against an unranked squad, but the temporary loss of Connor Shaw during the game (he came back, luckily) certainly made an impact.
However, Marcus Lattimore proved he is back to his work-horse attitude as he toted the rock like a stud. Rushing for 110 yards and two TDs is impressive, but the rest of the offense looked absolutely lost at times.
Without Shaw, this team could be set up for a few letdowns this season. As great as the defense is up front, the back seven struggled miserably at times, too (O-line was also manhandled at times).
While the Gamecocks can still post a double-digit victory season, they may find it nearly impossible to end up in Atlanta with Florida, Tennessee and Georgia, which are all looking a step or two ahead of them at the moment.
Contender: Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Won 50-10 over Navy
Notre Dame absolutely obliterated Navy in all facets of the game, and while the yards given certainly don't do justice to the victory (341 yards allowed), we always could take a gander at that scoreboard.
Even without Cierre Wood, both George Atkinson III and Theo Riddick looked superb against the Navy run defense. While this should be the most lopsided contest and least-skilled team on the slate, for once the Irish are off to an excellent start to their season.
This is beyond vital for their BCS aspirations, and as insane as that may sound, it would likely just take nine wins from the Irish to sneak into a BCS bowl.
Oklahoma did not look good in their opener, and while USC and Michigan State will be tough (BYU, too), games against Stanford and Michigan may not be so difficult after seeing them both fail miserably in their openers.
Everett Golson went 12-of-18 for 144 yards and a TD (INT, too), and he even found All-American tight end Tyler Eifert for a touchdown. Michigan and Michigan State coming up will decide their fates, but they should look forward with hopes of at least going 9-4 this season (BCS or not).
Pretender: Cal Bears (Stanford Cardinal)
Lost to Nevada 31-24
Did the Cal Bears seriously lose to Nevada in their opener?
No disrespect toward Hall of Famer Chris Ault, but everybody attempted to convince me this offseason that the Bears would, at worst, be a middle-tier squad and lock up a bowl bid by early November.
Well, instead, we can point the finger at Jeff Tedford once again for starting Allan Bridgford over Zach Maynard. Overthrowing superstar wide receiver Keenan Allen early in the ballgame set the tone for this one.
After going 1-of-8, they made the move to Maynard, but the offense could still not muster enough consistency.
Isi Sofele was a complete non-factor (five carries for 21 yards), and they need him running hard and staying healthy if they expect to even go bowling this year.
The performance was abysmal, and the Bears defense allowed Cody Fajardo to look like Cam Newton in this one, as he combined for 327 yards of total offense.
Stephon Jefferson ran it 34 times for 145 yards and three TDs, which can only make you nervous about Tedford's job security and the chances of these Bears making a push for the postseason.
Pretender: Michigan Wolverines
Lost 41-14 to Alabama
Disappointed would be the understatement of the decade, looking back at the shellacking that the Maize and Blue took thanks to Alabama.
Denard Robinson looked abysmal early, as he threw a pick-six to C.J. Mosley that made their deficit 31.
Sure, they all fought back, but the end result was ugly and the expectations should have been lowered heading into this season.
There was a reason I personally did not have the Wolverines in my top 10, and that was because the losses from a season ago will be way too much to overcome.
Expecting more than a nine-win season is borderline silly, and this game showed how far the Wolverines are from competing for a BCS title. The loss of Fitzgerald Toussaint didn't help matters, but his impact wouldn't have helped a whole lot.
Rushing for just 69 yards and allowing 232 yards (431 yards total) is not a BCS performance, and the schedule is only going to get tougher.
Who will take over for Junior Hemingway in the passing game, and will they be able to avoid that label as the most overrated top-10 preseason team?
Contender: Alabama Crimson Tide
Won 41-14 over Michigan
It is important in sports and mainly in life to never be a prisoner of the moment.
However, the Crimson Tide have been the best program in the country collectively for the last few seasons now.
Their defense is flat-out filthy, they reload better than any program out there, and their offensive line certainly has the capability of becoming the best in the entire BCS era.
Barrett Jones, Chance Warmack and D.J. Fluker are arguably (there is no argument in my eyes right now) the three best linemen at their positions.
Having four stud backs tote the rock will only allow the Tide to benefit down the road. T.J. Yeldon was labeled as the best freshman in the country for a reason.
His vision, speed, quickness, strength and ability to cut on a dime is going to make him a special player for years to come. If he can stay healthy, his potential is limitless.
The three other backs are legit as well. Most are aware of Eddie Lacy, but Dee Hart and Jalston Fowler are capable backs who will keep everybody fresh come the fourth quarter.
What else can we say about this team?
It is loaded with talent, and it will be a tough task for any team in America to slow this running attack down.
Plus, for any team to move the ball effectively and consistently against this aggressive and talented Nick Saban-Kirby Smart defense, the mission will prove to be impossible.