College Football Opening Night Recap: Analyzing the Key Storylines

Danny FlynnSenior Analyst IAugust 30, 2013

College Football Opening Night Recap: Analyzing the Key Storylines

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    The 2013 college football season officially kicked off with a bang Thursday night.

    Though most of the national focus was on South Carolina and star defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, there were plenty of other important developments from a night that gave us two thrilling games: Ole Miss' 39-35 victory over Vanderbilt and Fresno State's 52-51 win over Rutgers.

    Here's a look at the key storylines from opening night. 

Someone Get Jadeveon Clowney Some Oxygen

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    Jadeveon Clowney came into South Carolina's season opener against North Carolina looking as chiseled and as physically intimidating as ever. However, even though Clowney didn't look out of shape, he certainly showed signs of fatigue as the game wore on. 

    The much-hyped consensus No. 1 prospect of the 2014 NFL draft class didn't have the type of dominant performance that many were expecting, though at times, Clowney still showed flashes of his rare explosive speed off the edge. 

    The problem was, his noticeable lack of conditioning was apparent in a way that could have some folks in the NFL scouting community a bit concerned. 

    A no-name lineman can use the excuse that it's too hot. The most-talked about star in the sport can't make those type of excuses. In fact, he can't make any excuses. 

    If you want to be considered the best, you have to play like the best every week. Clowney certainly didn't live up to the hype in the first game of his all-important junior campaign. 

Steve Spurrier Prefers Connor Shaw

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    South Carolina threw 21 passes in a 27-10 victory over North Carolina. Connor Shaw threw 20 of them. 

    That should give you a good indication of which signal-caller Steve Spurrier feels most comfortable with running the Gamecock offense. 

    Overshadowed by more popular SEC quarterbacks like A.J. McCarron, Aaron Murray and Johnny Manziel during the offseason, Shaw didn't garner much publicity this summer. Still, it's clear that Spurrier wants to see the senior succeed during his final season at South Carolina. 

    With playmakers like Mike Davis, Bruce Ellington and Shaq Roland surrounding him, Shaw will have the necessary firepower he needs to lead Spurrier's squad into contention in the SEC East division this year.

Dear North Carolina, Stop Running Bryn Renner

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    Bryn Renner had 11 total rushes (some of them were sacks) for a grand total of minus 11 yards against South Carolina. On one of those runs, Renner actually got hurt. On the others, he just hurt everyone’s eyes with his slow, sluggish running style.

    Blake Anderson, if you value your senior signal-caller’s health, then stop sending him into the awaiting hands of big, powerful defensive linemen who would like nothing more than to break him in half.

USC Still Has Plenty of Questions at Quarterback

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    Cody Kessler's first game as USC's starting quarterback certainly wasn't a memorable one. Kessler completed just 10 passes for 95 yards and finished the game with a lousy 101 passer rating. 

    Considering it's his first ever game, the sophomore signal-caller's struggles are somewhat understandable. Nevertheless, they're still cause for concern. 

    You have to feel a bit sorry for star WR Marqise Lee, who could potentially see his numbers decline and his draft stock take a hit if he doesn't get more consistent play from his quarterback.

    If Kessler doesn't show some drastic improvement in the next few weeks, it's tough to see the Trojans competing for a conference championship in 2013.

'Jeff Scott Is Great Scott!'

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    You know ESPN announcer Joe Tessitore was waiting all night to utter that line, and he finally got the chance to use it, following Ole Miss RB Jeff Scott's spectacular 75-yard game-winning touchdown run. The highlight-reel run gave the Rebels a 39-35 victory in a hard-fought back-and-forth battle with Vanderbilt.

    Scott showed sensational speed, vision and open-field playmaking skills, as he alluded numerous would-be-tacklers and sprinted to the end zone for the deciding score. 

    The 5'7'', 170-pound senior may be undersized, but he's the type of explosive offensive weapon who can clearly do major damage to a defense any time he gets the ball in his hands. 

Jordan Matthews Is the Undisputed Top Senior Receiver Prospect

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    After a breakout campaign in 2012, in which he led the SEC with 94 catches, Vanderbilt's Jordan Matthews entered the 2013 season as one of the most highly regarded pass-catching prospects in the 2014 NFL draft class. Matthews certainly looked every bit as good as advertised on opening night.

    The 6'3'', 206-pound senior hauled in 10 passes for 178 yards and a touchdown. He also showed his teammates just how tough and dedicated he really is, as he missed just two plays following a big hit that caused him to lose his dinner on the field. 

    Though he did let a catchable pass slip through his hands late in the game, which was ultimately picked off by Ole Miss, Matthews still has to be proud of the performance he had against the Rebels. 

    He's now got an early lead on other top senior receiver prospects such as Texas' Mike Davis, BYU's Cody Hoffman, Oklahoma's Jalen Saunders and Fresno State's Isaiah Burse.

Robert Nkemdiche Has Plenty of Room for Improvement

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    No other prospect in the 2013 recruiting class received nearly the amount of hype and publicity as Robert Nkemdiche, the consensus No. 1-ranked recruit in the country. 

    After seeing Nkemdiche in his first ever collegiate game, it's easy to tell why every major program in the country would have loved to have his services. The 6'5'', 294-pound freshman is an incredible athlete for his size, and he certainly has the potential to become the SEC's next star pass-rusher. 

    It is clear, however, that Nkemdiche still has plenty of room to grow, as there were plenty of times against Vanderbilt where he looked like a true freshman, playing in his first ever game. 

    Nkemdiche can be great, but the talk of him being the next Jadeveon Clowney seems a bit premature at this point. Let's let him prove his worth on the field first before we go handing out such lofty praise. 

David Fales Fails to Impress

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    Following a statement debut season in 2012, in which he led the nation with a 72 percent completion percentage and guided San Jose State to a surprising double-digit win season, David Fales entered his senior year as a quarterback who had plenty of buzz. 

    Unfortunately, he was unable to capitalize on that momentum in his first game of the season against Sacramento State. 

    The normally pinpoint accurate Fales completed only 16 of his 32 throws, and he averaged just seven yards per pass against the Hornets. 

    Luckily, Fales still has a whole season left to play at a higher level, because his first performance certainly wasn't stellar. If he wants to be considered one of the top quarterback prospects in the 2014 draft class, he's simply got to step up his game.

Indiana's Offense Looked Outstanding...Against Indiana State

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    Indiana's offense was firing on all cylinders in its first game of the season. The Hoosiers put up 632 total yards and scored 73 points. Sure, they may have done it against their FCS in-state little brother Indiana State, but it was still impressive nonetheless. 

    Indiana's defense still looks shaky, but the Hoosiers look like they have enough weapons at the offensive skill positions, especially with the receiver trio of Shane Wynn, Kofi Hughes and Cody Latimer, to overcome their defensive deficiencies. 

    They definitely have the potential to be a sleeper team to watch out for in the Big Ten this year.

Kent State Is Not the Same Team We Saw in 2012

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    It's far too early to make any sweeping judgments about a team at this point in the season. But obviously Kent State didn't leave a great first impression with a lackluster 17-10 win over Liberty on opening night.

    The Golden Flashes certainly didn't look like the same team that very nearly won a MAC title and almost made it to a BCS bowl game last year. 

    Now that head coach Darrell Hazell has moved on to Purdue, it looks like Kent State has lost the discipline that Hazell preached—the Golden Flashes had nine penalties against the Flames. It could have been rust, or it could have been evidence of a deeper problem that the team will have to deal with in 2013. 

The Paul Pasqualoni Era Isn't Going to End Well

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    Following back-to-back 5-7 campaigns during his first two years at UConn, Paul Pasqualoni entered this season knowing full well that 2013 would be a make-or-break year for his career. 

    After a disastrous and embarrassing 33-18 loss at home to Towson in the opening game of the year, it seems like this will definitely be Pasqualoni's last season in Storrs. 

    The 64-year-old coach just has never seemed to be able to properly connect and motivate his players, and never was that more evident than in the loss to the Tigers.

Chuckie Keeton Isn't the Only Quality Quarterback in the State of Utah

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    Before the season started, the quarterback who was receiving all the attention in the state of Utah was Utah State's Chuckie Keeton. However, we found out that the Utes have a talented signal-caller of their own in Travis Wilson.

    Wilson looked just as good as Keeton when they squared off on opening night. He completed 17 of 28 passes for 302 yards, threw two touchdowns and averaged more than 10 yards per pass attempt as he led Utah to a big 30-26 win over the Aggies. 

    Though he's not nearly the same caliber of runner as Keeton is, Wilson does look like he's ready to guide the Utes back into contention to reach the postseason, something they failed to do in 2012 for the first time in coach Kyle Whittingham's tenure.

Bowling Green’s Defense Looks Legit

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    Last year, Bowling Green quietly had one of the best statistical defenses in the nation. The Falcons ranked sixth in the country in scoring defense and 10th nationally in total defense in 2012, allowing an average of just 296 yards and 16 points per game. 

    The problem was, the unit would often perform terrific against weaker teams, yet struggle against the tougher competition it faced. 

    That wasn't the case, however, in the first game of the season against Tulsa. The Falcons defense stepped up to the challenge and completely shut down a Tulsa offense that brought back many of the same pieces from an attack that averaged 34 points per game last year. 

    The dominant 34-7 victory over the defending Conference USA champs is the type of effort that Bowling Green needed in order to build up early momentum for a potential run at a MAC title in 2013. 

Fresno State's Offense Is Frightening

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    Coming into the season, it was no secret that Fresno State had the ingredients needed to form an explosive passing attack. Last year, the Bulldogs ranked 12th nationally in passing offense, averaging 325 yards through the air per game. 

    With QB Derek Carr, receivers Davante Adams and Isaiah Burse and TE Marcel Jensen all returning, Fresno State looks like they could have an even more potent and powerful passing offense in 2013. 

    Carr completed 52 of his 73 passes for 456 yards and five touchdowns, as he led the Bulldogs to a big 52-51 win over Rutgers in the season opener. 

    Adams and Burse look like one of the most dangerous receiver duos in the country this year. With the strong-armed Carr tossing them the ball, the Bulldogs offense should once again put up some huge numbers in 2013. 

    Fresno State definitely looks like a legitimate contender in the Mountain West, and possibly even a potential BCS buster. 

Remember the Name Leonte Carroo

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    During the offseason, it seemed like the only player on the Rutgers offense that anyone wanted to talk about was WR Brandon Coleman. That's understandable, considering Coleman established himself as one of the top receivers in college football with a breakout performance in 2012. However, it looks like the Scarlet Knights have another dangerous pass-catcher who will give defensive coordinators plenty of headaches. 

    Sophomore Leonte Carroo had a dazzling debut performance against Fresno State, hauling in five passes for 135 yards and three touchdowns. 

    I first had the chance to see Carroo's talents on display when I attended the battle between New Jersey powerhouses Don Bosco and Bergen Catholic in 2011. He was an eye-catching standout player that night, and he looked even better against the Bulldogs.

    Carroo is definitely a young receiver to watch out for.