Grading College Football's Biggest Games: Week One

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Grading College Football's Biggest Games: Week One
Week One of the college football season has come to a close.  It was an exciting weekend and the play on the field gave us a little of everything.
We had our upsets (East Carolina over Virginia Tech, Bowling Green over Pitt), we saw some teams get exposed (yes, I’m pointing my finger at you Clemson, as well as, the aforementioned Virginia Tech and Pitt), we had inspired play (LSU facing the impending Hurricane Gustav), and we had sad and somewhat mysterious injuries to star players (Ohio State’s Chris Wells and Missouri’s Jeremy Maclin).
In week one of my Picking College Football’s Biggest Games article, I went 13-5.  Not bad for the first week of the season.  Now it’s time to assign grades to the teams who played in those games.

August 28

Vanderbilt at Miami (OH)   Prediction: Vandy, 24-17    Final: Vandy, 34-13
Vandy quarterback Chris Nickson can run the ball, but can he throw it?  Nickson had a career high 166 yards and 2 touchdowns on the ground, but call me old fashioned, I’d rather have my tailbacks get the bulk of the carries. 
Vandy’s defense did force three turnovers and hold Miami to 13 points, but they allowed 340 yards total offense, 244 of which were threw the air.  This performance was good enough against a MAC team, but unless they improve it will be a long SEC season for the Commodores.
Grade:  C+
The RedHawks need someone to step up in the running game and quarterback Daniel Raudabaugh has got to cut out the turnovers.
Defensively, Miami is in for a long season.  If you can’t stop the run, it makes it pretty hard to win football games.
Grade:  D-

(23) Wake Forest at Baylor    Prediction:  Wake, 38-10    Final:  Wake, 41-13
Wake Forest and quarterback Riley Skinner looked impressive against an overmatched Baylor squad.  The Demon Deacons performance was the bright spot in a dismal showing by the ACC this opening weekend.  Wake just became the team to beat in the ACC.
Grade:  B+
Baylor has a long way to go under first year head coach Art Briles.  The Bears were dominated in every facet of the game.
Grade:  D

NC State at South Carolina   Prediction: SC, 35-20    Final: SC, 34-0
A rocky start for the Gamecocks turned into total domination.  I smell a quarterback controversy brewing in Columbia, although I don‘t know how much controversy there would be.  The starter Tommy Beecher was abysmal, throwing four interceptions before being benched in favor of Chris Smelley.  The offense didn’t get going until Smelley entered the game, who led the Gamecocks on three fourth-quarter drives.
Grade:  C-
NC State coach Tom O’Brien may wish he stayed at Boston College after the way his team performed last season and they showed no improvement through the first game of this season.
Grade:  F

Oregon State at Stanford   Prediction: OSU, 31-20    Final: Stanford, 36-28
Man, did I have this one wrong.  I thought Stanford would struggle this season, but the offense looked solid.  They rushed the ball well gaining 210 yards on the ground.  The passing game wasn’t as impressive, but quarterback Tavita Pritchard was serviceable and didn’t turn the ball over.
The Cardinal defense must improve.  They will face tougher offenses later in the Pac-10 season and they won’t always be able to score more points in order to win the game.  They did come through in the end though, causing a fumble in the end zone in the final seconds to preserve a victory.
Grade:  B
Oregon State quarterback Lyle Moevao did effectively attack Stanford’s defense on the perimeter for much of the game with short passes and end arounds, but turnovers will kill you every time.  The Beavers are a good team, but not good enough to overcome three turnovers.
Grade:  C


August 30

Syracuse at Northwestern  Prediction: Northwestern 42-20    Final: Northwestern, 30-10
Northwestern tailback Tyrell Sutton returned to form running for 144 yards and quarterback C.J. Bacher was solid throwing for 215 yards and three touchdowns. The offense did start slow, but turned it on in the second half.  They will have to get off to a quicker start if they want to compete later down the road.  The defense was solid holding the Orange to 225 total yards.
Grade:  B-
Syracuse is in trouble and Head Coach Greg Robinson’s seat just got a little hotter.  The Orange were not competitive and lacked a sense of urgency.  The fight seems to be gone and resolve has set in.  Too bad, they have talent on the team, but it seems the coaching may be too much to overcome.
Grade:  F


(3) USC at Virginia   Prediction: USC, 54-21    Final: USC, 52-7
USC looked like the No. 1 team in the country, completely dominating the Cavaliers in every aspect.  Quarterback Mark Sanchez should pop up on the Heisman Candidate list, showing no signs of having a dislocated kneecap merely two weeks ago.  The young offensive line delivered, but didn’t face the stiffest competition. 
Grade: A
Virginia was overmatched. Period.  They had no chance in this game, USC was just better.  On the bright side for the Cavs, they will not face a better team this season and they will be competitive in the weak ACC.
Grade:  D


Utah at Michigan   Prediction: Utah, 27-24    Final: Utah, 25-23
The Utes were impressive overall and look to be a factor in the BCS.  They completely dominated the Wolverines in the first half.  Quarterback Brian Johnson was impressive going 21-for-33 for 305 yards.  Utah could have won by more, but killed themselves with 137-yards in penalties.
Grade:  B
Rich Rodriguez’s debut was spoiled by an offense that couldn’t move the ball and a defense that underperformed.  Rodriguez may be too stubborn to realize he just doesn’t have he players to run the offense he wants to run, at least for now.  But, it may be too late for that now.
The defense, which was supposed to be the strength of the team, looked soft and confused on numerous plays.  For all the hype about the strength and conditioning program at Michigan, the defense sure didn’t show it.  They looked gassed and tired in the second quarter.  They will need to play like they are capable of playing or it will be a long season in Ann Arbor. 
Grade:  D

Oklahoma State at Washington State   Prediction: OSU, 42-20    Final: OSU, 39-13
Oklahoma State tailback Kendall Hunter ran for 107-yards and two touchdowns, quarterback Zac Robinson passed for 182-yards and ran for a score, receiver Dez Bryant had seven receptions for 90-yards, and Perrish Cox had a 90-yard kickoff return for a touchdown as the Cowboys completely dominated the Cougars.
Grade:  B-
Washington State’s new no huddle, spread offense has some huge kinks to fix, gaining only 51 yards on its first 28 plays against a defense that allowed 443 total yards per game last season. 
Grade:  D-

Appalachian State at (7) LSU   Prediction: LSU, 41-27    Final: LSU, 41-13
LSU, dealing with an impending hurricane and evacuating families, friends, and fans, played like the defending national champions.  Tailback Charles Scott looked outstanding gaining 160-yards on 16 carries and two touchdowns.  The Tigers overall gained 266 yards on the ground in a dominating performance.
Grade:  A
There would be no upset for Appalachian State this season.  The Mountaineers were completely overmatched by the Tigers, holding quarterback Armanti Edwards to 155-yards passing on 31 attempts.  The Mountaineers were held to 52 yards rushing.
Grade:  N/A (Appalachian State is a FCS school and I have no doubt they will be very successful against teams with similar talent, but it wouldn’t be fair to grade them on this performance against a FCS school.)

Florida Atlantic at (11) Texas   Prediction: Texas 58-24    Final: Texas, 52-10
Talk is cheap and Howard Schellenberger found out how tough the Longhorns are.  Colt McCoy was impressive going 24-for-29 for 222 yards and three touchdowns passing and 103 yards on 12 carries and another score rushing. 
The defense under new coordinator Dave Muschamp looked good and plenty tough overall, but the secondary will need even more improvement heading into the Big 12 season.
Grade:  B+
FAU was overmatched overall, but quarterback Rusty Smith was solid passing for 253 yards and a touchdown.  It’s hard to tell if the defense is really as bad as 503 total yards allowed or if Texas was just too much.
Grade:  D

(24) Alabama at (9) Clemson   Prediction: Bama, 31-27    Final: Bama, 34-10
The Crimson Tide had perhaps the most dominating performance of the opening weekend.  Offensively, John Parker Wilson finished 22-for-30 for 180 yards and two touchdowns and Bama’s backfield tandem of Glen Coffee and Mark Ingram combined for 186 yards rushing on 34 attempts.
Defensively, the Tide was outstanding as they held the Tigers to 0-yards rushing and completely shut down the much hyped running back duo of C.J. Spiller and James Davis.  Thee defense held the Tigers to three points and 188 total yards.
Grade: A
Tommy Bowden should be ashamed of himself.  His team was not prepared to play this game.  There has to come a time when the Clemson administration sees the writing on the wall; Tommy Bowden is not a good head coach.  For all the talent that Clemson has had on it’s roster that last few years, the collapses and under-prepared teams are inexcusable.
Grade:  F

Michigan State at California   Prediction: MSU, 31-28    Final: Cal 38-31
Cal quarterback Kevin Riley passed for 202-yards and two second-half touchdowns, and Shane Vereen sealed the victory with an 81-yard touchdown run with 4:21 left in the game.  Jahvid Best rushed for 111-yards and a score, and tight end Cameron Morrah and fullback Will Taufoou caught Riley’s touchdown passes in a solid debut for Cal’s new starting offensive skill players.
Grade: B-
Another season, another disappointing loss for the Michigan State Spartans.  Sooner or later, things have got to go their way, right?  It took awhile for the offense to get going, but quarterback Brian Hoyer did pass for 321-yards and a score.  Javon Ringer was average rushing for 81-yards on 27 carries.  But it was the defense that was most disappointing, allowing 203-yards rushing and 467 total yards.
Grade:  C-

Washington at (21) Oregon   Prediction: Oregon, 34-28    Final: Oregon, 44-10
First, starting quarterback Nate Costa goes down for the season in fall camp.  Then, new starter Justin Roper, goes down with a concussion in the second quarter against the Huskies.  No matter, Mike Belotti just plugs them in.  Third stringer and junior college transfer Jeremiah Masoli threw for 126-yards and two touchdowns in the rout.  Ducks tailback Jeremiah Johnson had 120 yards on 15 carries and two touchdowns.
Oregon’s defense was stellar holding the Husky offense to 242 total yards.  The Oregon secondary was spectacular limiting the Washington passing game to 147 passing yards.
Grade: B
Ty Willingham has got to be worried.  The Huskies have one of the toughest schedules in the nation and judging by their performance in this game they have not improved.  Jake Locker, Washington’s heralded dual threat quarterback, was limited to 103-yards passing and 57-yards rushing.  As bad as the offense performed the defense was even worse.
Grade:  F

August 31

Kentucky at Louisville   Prediction: Louisville, 38-24    Final: Kentucky, 27-2
Kentucky’s defense was relentless forcing five turnovers, two for touchdowns in the defensive shut out.  They held the Cardinals offense, which averaged 416.5 yards per game last season, to just 205 total yards and Louisville failed to score a touchdown for the first time since 2000.
The Wildcat offense was not so good, but we knew they wouldn’t be.  Mike Hartline wasn’t horrible in his debut as Kentucky’s quarterback, but he will need to improve if the Wildcats hope to be competitive in the SEC.
Grade:  C+ (The defense gets an A)
The Louisville offense was just awful.  Hunter Cantwell passed for 152-yards with three interceptions in his debut as Brian Brohm’s replacement.  The defense was alright holding the Wildcats to 210 total yards, but as I mentioned above that isn’t saying much.
Grade:  F

September 1

Fresno State at Rutgers    Prediction: Fresno, 31-27    Final: Fresno, 24-7
Fresno State started slow, but in the second quarter they turned it on.  Tailback Ryan Mathews ran for 163-yards and three touchdowns, quarterback Tom Brandstater passed for 216-yards, and receiver Seyi Ajirotutu set up two scores with clutch catches.  The Fresno State defense forced two interceptions from Rutgers quarterback Mike Teel.
Grade:  B-
Rutgers coach Greg Schiano has got to be upset with his defense.  The unit was awful in the second half and allowed 206-yards rushing and 422 total yards.  The offense was just as abysmal, as they squandered two scoring opportunities.
Grade:  D

(18) Tennessee at UCLA   Prediction: Tennessee, 30-24    Final: UCLA, 27-24 (OT)
What a debut for new UCLA coach Rick Nueheisel and new starting quarterback Kevin Craft.  Craft threw four interceptions in the first half, but battled back for a spectacular second half leading his team down the field and scoring with 27 seconds left in regulation.
The Bruins defense was outstanding.  They did allow more yards than I like, but they came up with the big plays when they needed them.  Tennessee quarterback Johnathon Crompton was under constant pressure and was held to 189 yards passing on 42 attempts and threw an interception.
Grade:  C+
The Volunteers had the perfect opportunity to put this game away in the first half, forcing four interceptions and rattling UCLA’s new quarterback, but they failed to convert three of those interceptions into points.  The kicking game was awful and eventually cost them the game.  Arian Foster did have 96-yards on 13 carries, but I expected much more from him and as the star of this offense he had the opportunity to take this game over and failed.
Grade: D-

Game of the Week

(20) Illinois at (6) Missouri   Prediction: Illinois, 35-34    Final: Missouri, 52-42
The Missouri offense was spectacular as Chase Daniel solidified his Heisman candidacy by passing for 323 yards and three touchdowns and ran for 46 yards.  Jeremy Maclin had a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and a 45-yard punt return and Derrick Washington had 130-yards on 19 carries and two touchdowns.
The defense did allow too many big plays and way too many yards, but they stepped up when they needed to and Sean Weatherspoon bailed them out in the fourth quarter with two takeaways.  The offense may not be able to outscore every opponent on their schedule and will need to improve.
Grade:  B-
Juice Williams had the best game of his career passing for 451-yards and five touchdowns and Daniel Dufrene had 75 yards on 13 carries.  The Illini offense will be just fine.  The defense, however, is in big trouble if they don’t improve.  Missouri may be the best offensive unit they face all season, but the ease in which the offense moved the ball should make Illini fans a little nervous.
Grade: C-

Upset Special

East Carolina at (17) Virginia Tech    Prediction: ECU, 21-17    Final: ECU, 27-22
East Carolina beat Virginia Tech at its own game when T.J. Lee returned his own blocked punt 27 yards for a touchdown with 1:52 left in the game.  The Pirates offense was led by quarterback Patrick Pinkney who went 19-for-23 for 211 yards and a touchdown and a three-yard score on the ground.
The defense played well limiting the Hokies to 243 total yards and holding Tech quarterback Sean Glennon to 139 yards and two interceptions.
Grade:  B
Virginia Tech was held to 12 first downs and 243 total yards, went 5-for-12 on third down conversions, had a punt blocked for a touchdown, and had two interceptions.  They did manage a 30 yard fumble return for a touchdown and a blocked extra point that was returned 96 yards for a safety.  It wasn’t a great day to be a Hokie.
Grade: D+
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