Finally, after a grueling nine-month offseason, college football is back in action and like many others I am excited to see what this season has in store for us. What an interesting and quite exciting weekend of football it was, from having multiple games delayed and called because of inclement weather, to having an opening season prime-time matchup with national championship implications.
The NCAA sure does know how to kick off a season.
There were many great plays, new coaching debuts in Ann Arbor, Columbus and Gainesville, and Lee Corso sporting a Tiger head on College GameDay in Arlington, Texas, on Saturday. Yes, you know college football is back when you see Corso with the headgear.
Take a look at the top storylines from this weekend's games, early season analysis and a preview and prediction of the best matchups Week 2 that this young college football season has to offer us.
Wisonsin Running Back Montee Ball
Granted Wisconsin was facing a below-average UNLV team, it still looked like the excellent Big Ten powerhouse that it always has been, except now the Badgers have something they haven't had in a long time: a mobile quarterback.
Russell Wilson, a transfer from North Carolina State, really shined in his first game as a Badger. Wilson was 10 of 13 passing for 255 yards (nearly 26 yards per pass completion), and he also had a 46-yard rush for a score. His speed and athleticism really give this Badgers offense an entirely new dimension and a luxury they are not used to having.
There are multiple facets that Wisconsin has on offense that North Carolina State never had, the two biggest being a running game and a dominant offensive line. Expect Wilson to have a huge year offensively.
Aside from games versus Nebraska, at Michigan State and at Ohio State, the Badgers have a very favorable schedule. Look for them to compete strongly with Ohio State for the Leaders division, because I am expecting big things from this Badger offense this year led by Wilson, along with the two-headed monster in the backfield in James White and Montee Ball.
USF @ Notre Dame, September 3, 2011
This is getting almost as old as Brett Favre's retirement contemplation year in and year out. The 2011 preseason was just another opportunity for everyone to overhype the Fighting Irish. If I had a dime for every time I heard an analyst claim Notre Dame would contend for a BCS bowl this year, I would be swimming in $100 bills.
Notre Dame had a putrid, turnover-plagued opening game versus South Florida on Saturday, and while all you Irish fans want to blame the inclement weather for their sloppy play, you can forget it. If you watch a replay of this matchup the Fighting Irish were struggling way before the downpour started.
While Notre Dame out-gained the Bulls by 254 total yards, it seems as if every drive was halted by a turnover. They had two huge turnovers in the red zone, one was a fumble returned for a touchdown and one was an interception after a ball thrown by Tommy Rees inadvertently bounced off the helmet of receiver T.J. Jones. Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly nearly blew a gasket after the Irish turned the ball over for a fifth time.
Quarterback Dayne Crist, who barely beat out Rees in a long competition that finally ended in fall practice, was pulled in favor of Rees due to his inability to produce offense. South Florida was bringing the heat on Crist all day, giving him no time to throw the football. Granted a lot of that blame can be placed on the offensive line of the Fighting Irish.
Kelly is facing his worst fear, starting the season 0-1 and now back to questioning who his starting quarterback should be. Rees went a respectable 24 of 34 passing for 296 yards and two touchdowns, but he also had two interceptions.
The Irish have a less-than-generous schedule this season, with games at Michigan, versus Michigan State, at Pittsburgh, versus USC and at Stanford; don't sleep on Boston College either. Notre Dame's schedule alone has me questioning why people had such high aspirations for the Irish this season.
At 0-1 to start the season, team morale is low and I am expecting another down year in South Bend after such high expectations. Expect anywhere from 5-7 to 6-6 from Notre Dame.
Michigan Quarterback Denard Robinson
The Brady Hoke Era has begun in Ann Arbor, and the Michigan faithful have finally gotten what I would call a sneak peak to what kind of season the Wolverines are going to have. Inclement weather forced this game between Michigan and Western Michigan to be called late in the third quarter, granted Michigan was winning 34-10.
Let's talk about what we did see, though.
Early the Michigan defense had shades of the 2010 season, where it gave up 263 passing yards per game and 35.2 points. As the game progressed, I think the Wolverines had a flashback of the final play of last year's three-overtime thriller against Illinois in Ann Arbor, in which the defense finally put immense pressure on Illini quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, which led to a hurry and an eventual sack, winning Michigan the game.
The Wolverines started to bring the house on Western Michigan quarterback Alex Carder, leading him to hurry his throws. Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison was drawing up all kinds of blitzing schemes. This created three Western Michigan turnovers, two of which were returned for touchdowns. The Broncos were deep in Wolverine territory looking to make it 14-7, when Carder was rushed to throw; the ball was tipped and intercepted at the Wolverine 6-yard line by outside linebacker Brandon Herron, and he returned the ball 94 yards for a touchdown.
The second forced turnover for a touchdown was a safety blitz by Jordan Kovacs, who led the team in tackles in 2010. This was an obvious scheme drawn up by Mattison, as the flanking defensive end pulled his lineman to the right, leaving a gap for Kovacs to blind side Carder with a huge hit; this jarred the ball loose and was returned yet again by linebacker Herron. Herron earned Big Ten Player of the Week.
Coach Brady Hoke says his defense is "nowhere near playing like a Michigan defense yet," but I can see vast improvements from last year.
On the other side of the ball, every Michigan fan was wondering how Wolverine quarterback Denard Robinson was going to fair in offensive coordinator Al Borges' pro-style offense. Robinson was 9-of-13 for 98 yards against the Broncos. For the most part, the defense and running game handled business for the Wolverines this past Saturday, and while Robinson's numbers weren't off the charts, you could certainly see his progression as a pocket passer and his capabilities in this offense.
Hoke and Borges are two smart coaches, and they know to conform this offense to Robinson's abilities. While Robinson is polishing his pocket passing skills, he is still running out of the shotgun and threatening the defense with his deception as a passer.
Michigan hosts its first ever night game against Notre Dame this Saturday night at the Big House in Ann Arbor. I expect the Wolverines to win this game convincingly. Notre Dame struggled mightily against an average South Florida team, so I expect big games from Denard Robinson, Fitz Toussaint and Michael Shaw.
Michigan's defense will get great pressure on either of Notre Dame's quarterbacks.
Don't sleep on Ohio State this year
It has been one turmoil-plagued offseason in Columbus. Five of Ohio State's best players were suspended at the end of the 2010 season for selling memorabilia for free tattoos. This led to the resignation of beloved head coach Jim Tressel and the departure of quarterback Terrelle Pryor to the supplemental NFL draft. The Buckeyes lost many recruits, and were in a state of gloom because of this mess.
Up until Saturday the mood in Columbus was somber. Many people were too caught up in the turmoil to even give interim head coach Luke Fickell a chance and to realize the Buckeyes still have many talented athletes, including freshman quarterback Braxton Miller from Huber Heights, Ohio.
The Buckeys kicked off against the Zips in the Shoe at noon Saturday, with three more suspended players than the original five. Joe Bauserman got the nod at starting quarterback and had a stellar game passing, going 12-of-16 for 163 and three touchdown passes, two of them to tight end Jake Stoneburner. Freshman Braxton Miller also looked polished, going 8-of-12 for 130 yards and a touchdown toss.
Don't get me wrong, Akron is, for lack of a better word, terrible, but give credit to the turmoil-filled Buckeyes. They came into this game with a lot of weight on their shoulders and still looked poised and determined. Many people, amidst all the distractions, have overlooked the fact that Ohio State still has some of the best talent in the Big Ten, and is a likely candidate to win the Leaders division.
Believe it or not, Luke Fickell could "wow" Buckeye nation this year and go undefeated, because there isn't one game on Ohio State's schedule that isn't winnable. After the Buckeyes make their way through Michigan State, they get all of their starters back, and this team could definitely be a force to be reckoned with in the Big Ten.
Let's not forget this is Ohio State.
Landry Jones is expected to be in New York on Heisman Trophy Night
Boomer Sooner has had a rough offseason, not trying to replace talent, but mourning the loss of linebacker Austin Box and dealing with the injury to star linebacker Travis Lewis. That didn't seem to have any sort of effect on the Sooners Saturday night when they played Tulsa, as they garnered 663 total yards of offense.
Landry Jones and Ryan Broyles are arguably the best quarterback/wide receiver tandem in the entire nation, next to Brandon Weedon and Justin Blackmon at Oklahoma State. Jones had a memorable game, going 35-of-47 for 375 yards and a touchdown pass. Broyles caught 14 passes for 158 yards and a touchdown.
Junior tailback Dominique Whaley really stood out as well, carrying the ball 18 times for 131 yards and four rushing touchdowns.
I don't think there is any doubt the Sooners have a loaded offense, and they plan to crush every defense that tries to stop them this season. I could easily see Oklahoma in the BCS National Championship game. Its offense is nearly impossible to stop, and it should be getting Lewis back from injury very soon.
Robert Griffin III could lead Baylor to the promise land this season
TCU's 25 regular-season game win streak came to a halt Friday night, as Baylor steamrolled the Horned Frog defense. Robert Griffin III had an outstanding performance against TCU on Sept. 2, going 21-of-27 for 359 yards and five touchdowns.
So you're asking, "What on earth happened to TCU?" As for the defense, who knows honestly. Offensively this team just isn't as good without Andy Dalton—as a matter of fact, the whole team isn't as good without the leadership of Dalton.
TCU's only 0-1 and its BCS dreams are completely non-existent anymore.
On the other side of things, Baylor had quite an impressive showing. Don't let the score fool you, this was a much bigger win for the Bears than the score signifies. Baylor definitely took its foot off the gas peddle after going up 47-23. Griffin looked like a man among boys, making every pass right on the money.
Look at Baylor as a dark horse to win the Big 12 this season.
Time to give the Broncos a shot in the National Championship Game
Is there any more of an accurate passer in college football than Kellen Moore? I mean seriously, this guy has done it all, and he lost his two top targets in Austin Pettis and Titus Young. I fully expect Moore to be in New York City for the Heisman Trophy ceremony at the end of the season because this guy is an amazing passer.
The Broncos have a clear path to a BCS game this season. Their toughest remaining game is against TCU, who just basically got ran over by Baylor.
Could this be the season that Boise State makes a bid for a national championship? It definitely is the most likely team in the nation to be undefeated by season's end, but up to this point that hasn't mattered for the Broncos.
Boise State has proved time and time again it cannot only beat the big dawgs, but it can roll the big dogs. There is absolutely no reason that this team shouldn't at least be considered for a national championship spot if it is undefeated at the end of the year—it will have passed test after test after test. Moore is the left-handed Drew Brees and can make any pass he desires.
I am going to be very upset if I see another one- or two-loss SEC team get into the national championship over an undefeated Boise State team. The NCAA keeps giving the Broncos these tests to prove they are a legitimate powerhouse, but they will not let them take the final exam.
LSU is dreaming of playing for a National Championship in their own house
LSU only needed 273 yards of total offense and a backup quarterback to beat the third-ranked Ducks in the Cowboys Classic in Arlington, Texas, on Saturday Night.
Oregon didn't at all look like its 2010 self, turning the ball over four times, only gaining 335 yards of total offense, Darron Thomas only completing 57 percent of his passes and Heisman front-runner LaMichael James only rushing for 54 yards on 18 carries.
LSU's defense must have studied this Oregon offense up and down, because it is the reason the Tigers won this game. Quarterback Jordan Jefferson was suspended, so backup Jarrett Lee stepped in and did nothing special, going 10-of-22 for 98 yards. LSU running back Michael Ford had a respectable game, carrying the ball 14 times for 96 yards and two touchdowns.
I can't really tell if Oregon just had a bad game, or if this is a sign of things to come for the Ducks. Their rush defense definitely needs to improve, and from what their offense looked like Saturday night that needs to improve as well.
If you are an Oregon fan, I wouldn't write this season off yet, but if the Ducks struggle like this again against a high-caliber defense, that is a bad sign.
LSU's offensive performance was definitely nothing to write home about, but that is expected to improve when quarterback Jordan Jefferson and wide receiver Russell Shepard return to the team.
Justin Blackmon looks to put up big numbers vs. Arizona
This has upset written all over it. Oklahoma State just gave up 27 points to UL Lafayette, and Arizona has a prime passing game with Nick Foles under center.
Expect this to be a high-scoring game. Neither defense is all that great, and both teams have very good quarterbacks. If Arizona gets off to a slow start, this will turn into a rout real fast because slowing down Brandon Weedon and Justin Blackmon is the furthest thing from easy.
You will see Oklahoma State bring pressure early to disrupt Foles' timing. The best thing Oklahoma State can do is set the tempo early, control the clock and keep Foles under control. If the Cowboys do that they will win convincingly.
Arizona, on the other hand, must shut down Blackmon—double teams are likely needed because Blackmon is a big body with large hands and can definitely stretch the field.
Prediction: I give Oklahoma State the nod in this game. I just think it will be too hard for the Wildcats to contain the Cowboys' passing game. I think Oklahoma State will do a good job of disrupting the timing of Foles, and it will cruise to victory.
Oklahoma State 45, Arizona 21
Jordan Kovacs hopes to create more turnovers against Notre Dame
Notre Dame looks to bounce back after an ugly game versus South Florida this past Saturday. Tommy Rees is likely to start for the Fighting Irish.
This is the very first night game at Michigan Stadium in its 131 year existence, and both teams will be sporting throwback uniforms.
Michigan is coming off a rather dominant defensive performance against Western Michigan, and the Wolverines are carrying a lot of momentum. The atmosphere is going to be dazzling, and Michigan is pumped for this game.
I really don't expect this game to be that close, honestly. Notre Dame has low team morale, it is turnover prone and it is back to trying to make a decision on who is going to be the starting quarterback. Michigan, on the other hand, is gaining a lot of confidence, the defense already looks 100 times better than last season's, and Denard Robinson is just a nightmare for defenses.
Robinson had 502 yards of total offense last season against the Irish in Michigan's thrilling 28-24 win in South Bend. I don't expect that many yards from Robinson in this year's meeting, but I expect him to put up good numbers and lead Michigan to victory.
I just think all these factors combined is going to propel Michigan to a big win. I expect Rees to be feeling a lot of pressure, making errant passes and ill-advised decisions. I can see Michigan getting good pressure on the quarterback and making a couple sacks.
Prediction: With everything going bad for Notre Dame, and everything going good for Michigan, the Wolverines will take it to the Fighting Irish.
Michigan 35, Notre Dame 14