College Football 2011: Best and Worst of Week 1
Salvation is here. College football has returned and not a moment too soon.
After months of prognostications, investigations, allegations and sanctions, the focus of the college football world shifts (for now) to it's rightful place on the field.
The first weekend of the 2011 produced it's usual slate of BCS teams beating up on FCS squads, exciting finishes and a few battles between college football's finest. Throw in an angry Mother Nature and the opening weekend had something for everyone.
Here now are the best and worst from Week 1 of the 2011 season.
Best: Russell Wilson's Debut
One of the highest profile moves of the offseason was quarterback Russell Wilson's transfer from North Carolina State to Wisconsin. The 2010 second team All-ACC selection appeared to fill one of the few holes on a talented Badger team with Big Ten title aspirations.
In his first start on Thursday against UNLV, Wilson did not disappoint.
Operating behind Wisconsin's perennially mammoth offensive line, Wilson completed 10 of his 13 passes for 255 yards and a pair of scores. He also added a 46-yard touchdown run in the Badgers' 51-17 win.
His prowess also inspired the #AllRussellWilsonEverything hashtag on Twitter, a parody of the famous Chuck Norris facts fad.
If he is able to keep up his performance, it will be Norris who will soon be fearing Wilson.
Best: Robert Woods' Record
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If you started Robert Woods in your college football fantasy league that has a point-per-reception-format, congratulations on your win this week.
The ultra-talented sophomore continued his journey towards becoming one of the best wide receivers in the nation with his performance on Saturday.
While the rest of his USC Trojan teammates struggled in defeating lowly Minnesota 19-17, Woods was busy setting a school record with 17 receptions for 177 yards and three touchdowns.
If this weekend was any indication, the Matt Barkley to Woods connection should be one of the more interesting and productive combinations in the nation in 2011.
Best: Stephen Garcia Off the Bench
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South Carolina Steve Spurrier surprised some when he announced that Connor Shaw would get the season-opening start over Stephen Garcia when the 12th ranked Gamecocks battled East Carolina.
His decision proved disastrous, as South Carolina fell behind 17-0 early on, and the Ol' Ball Coach made the switch to his talented and oft-suspended veteran.
The offense immediately responded to Garcia. Although his final numbers were modest—110 yards passing and a touchdown and 56 yards rushing and two more touchdowns—Garcia was the catalyst behind the Gamecocks' revival, as they went on to trounce the Pirates 56-37.
With Garcia back at the helm, the SEC contenders should be among the more exciting—and volatile—teams to watch in 2011.
Best: LSU's Defense and Kick Coverage Units
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The marquee game of the weekend pitted No.3 Oregon and No. 4 LSU in a neutral site battle in Dallas.
With the explosive Duck offense returning nearly intact and LSU's starting quarterback Jordan Jefferson and top receiver Russell Shepard suspended, many thought the Ducks march towards another BCS title game appearance would start with a trouncing of the Tigers.
LSU's defenders had other ideas.
The Tigers' front seven dominated the point-of-attack all night, limiting LaMichael James—the nation's leading rusher in 2010—to a meager 54 yards on 18 carries. The Ducks' longest play from scrimmage was only 18 yards.
As good as the defense was—and it was great—the LSU special teams may have been even better.
LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu forced a fumble from punt returner Kenjon Barner and scooped it up for a Tiger touchdown. Later, the LSU kickoff coverage team forced another fumble from De'Anthony Thomas—this after a prior Thomas fumble turned into an LSU touchdown—that resulted in another touchdown.
A late Oregon touchdown couldn't disguise the fact that LSU's defense made a massive statement in their 40-27 win.
Best: Robert Griffin III and Kendall Wright's Upset
The Baylor Bears had not defeated a ranked team since 2004. Facing the reigning Rose Bowl champions and a team that had led the nation in total defense for three straight seasons, the odds were stacked against Baylor ending their dismal streak.
However, quarterback Robert Griffin III and wide receiver Kendall Wright had other ideas.
Wright capped the opening drive with a 40-yard touchdown pass to Terrance Williams on a wide receiver option play, and later caught two touchdown passes from Griffin as the Bears stormed to a 34-23 halftime lead. Two more Griffin touchdown passes extended the lead to 47-23 after the third quarter.
However, with Baylor being Baylor, TCU came back to take a 48-47 lead late in the fourth quarter. Undaunted, the Bears drove down the field, and on a critical 3rd and 10, Wright again attempted a pass and connected with Griffin for a 15-yard gain. Shortly thereafter, Aaron Jones made a 37-yard field goal to secure the win for the Bears.
Griffin vaulted into the early Heisman discussion on the strength of a sterling stat line: 21 of 27 for 359 yards and five touchdowns, in addition to his reception. He also leads the nation with a passer rating of 250.6. Wright caught 12 passes for 189 yards and two touchdowns and his two completions totaled 55 yards.
Worst: Oregon State's FCS Embarrassment
It's common for BCS conference schools to schedule their opening game against a lowly FCS opponent. While the BCS team gets what amounts to a scrimmage to iron out their game before any "meaningful" contests, the FCS team gets a hefty payday in return.
On occasion, the FCS team shocks the world—Appalachian State defeating Michigan stands as the best example—but those are ever so rare.
Another entry into that ignominious ledger was added on Saturday when Sacramento State defeated Oregon State 29-28 in Corvallis.
Despite 223 yards rushing and three touchdowns from running back Malcolm Agnew, the Beavers couldn't contend with the passing offense of the Hornets, who tallied four touchdowns through the air.
The hot seat of Beaver coach Mike Riley just became blazing.
Worst: TCU's Defense
As mentioned previously, the TCU defense had been an impeccably stalwart unit, having led the nation in total defense for three straight years.
Even with a talented Baylor offense that ranked 36th in scoring a year ago, no one could have predicted this outcome.
Last season in five road games, TCU surrendered 54 points and seven touchdowns. Horned Frog head coach Gary Patterson watched in horror as his defense surrendered 50 points and seven touchdowns to Baylor.
The 564 yards by Baylor were the most allowed by TCU in six years.
Worst: Notre Dame's Hype
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Another season, another stream of relentless hype surrounding Notre Dame.
After finishing 2010 with four straight wins, the Fighting Irish entered the season ranked 16th in the nation and was discussed as a darkhorse national title contender.
Those hopes took a big early hit when the first Irish drive ended with a goal line fumble that South Florida's Kayvon Webster returned 96-yards for a Bulls' touchdown.
The Bulls would never surrender that lead.
After heading into a weather-elongated halftime down 16-0, Irish coach Brian Kelly made a change at quarterback from Dayne Crist to Tommy Rees. Rees played well, but the Notre Dame rally fell short as the Bulls won 23-20.
Check back next August for an entirely new line of Irish hype.
Worst: Auburn Needs a Miracle
No objective person really expected the defending national champions to be in contention to to repeat after losing so many key players such as Cam Newton and Nick Fairley. However, enough remained that with the young talent brought in by head coach Gene Chizik, that an appearance in a solid bowl game was reasonable.
Also reasonable was the idea that Auburn's season opener against Utah State would be a cakewalk. After all, the Aggies had finished 4-8 a year ago, with blowout losses against the likes of Idaho, Louisiana Tech and San Diego State.
Fast forward to the 3:38 mark of the fourth quarter in Auburn.
Utah State is leading Auburn, in Auburn, 38-28. Wow.
A late touchdown pass from Barrett Trotter to Phil Lutzenkirchen closed the gap to 38-35 and a successful on-side kick paved the way for Michael Dyer's game-winning touchdown run with :30 left.
The Tigers may go on to have a very successful season, but there is no excuse for their performance on Saturday.
Worst: College Football's Fashion Sense, or Lack Thereof
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You know things are bad—very bad—when the Oregon Ducks look acceptable in comparison.
You know things are horrendous when the eyesores that Boise State wore evoke a "not too bad."
What the University of Georgia rolled out on Saturday against Boise State was a direct assault on college football, the senses of the human body and of all that is good and decent in civilization.
Eschewing their beautiful classic uniforms, Georgia single-handedly set college football back several years. The Bulldogs took to the field in a red, silver and black uniform that had the makings of what Stan Lee would have illustrated had he gone on a three-day sleepless and acid-fueled bender and had been challenged to come up with something for a third-rate supervillain's back-up henchman. That's putting it nicely.
Nearly one upping the Dawgs was Maryland on Monday night. Showing no respect for the sanctity of the Labor Day holiday, nor the state flag their uniforms were ostensibly trying to honor, the Terrapins unleashed these incredibly atrocious monstrosities against Miami.
As if the Hurricanes haven't had it bad enough lately, they have to spend three hours staring at those "uniforms."
Here's hoping that Georgia and Maryland's atrocities stand as a stark warning for teams around the nation: sometimes less is more.
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