Buying or Selling College Football's Top Week 1 Performances
College football's Week 1 leaderboard is littered with names that were never once mentioned as preseason Heisman candidates. Were those season debuts from TaQuon Marshall, J.K. Dobbins and others the beginning of an incredible three-month ride, or were they one-hit wonders?
In other words, should we be buying or selling those top performances?
Buying doesn't mean we think the player (or unit, or team) will put up season averages on par with this initial performance. Nor does selling mean we think the entity is going to completely crash and burn from this point forward. Rather, it's a question of whether we believe the player, unit or team will still be a significant national factor at the end of the year.
Taking the opponent, the circumstances and the history into consideration, we'll let you know whether these Week 1 stars are worth an investment.
Note: Lamar Jackson, Saquon Barkley and Baker Mayfield all had incredible 2017 debuts, but they won't appear on this list. You don't need us to tell you to buy the hot starts from those Heisman front-runners.
J.K. Dobbins, Ohio State RB
A lot of true freshmen saw action in Week 1, but none stood out like Ohio State's new toy at running back.
With Curtis Samuel now in the NFL and Mike Weber sidelined by a hamstring injury, primary rushing duties for the Buckeyes fell to J.K. Dobbins. He was one heck of a Plan B in the opener, carrying the ball 29 times for 181 yards and adding a pair of receptions for 24 more yards in Ohio State's 49-21 victory.
In the process, he broke Maurice Clarett's 15-year-old OSU record for rushing yards in a true-freshman debut (175) and broke the hearts of Indiana fans who were smelling an upset when the Hoosiers took a one-point lead into halftime.
"Not surprised at all," head coach Urban Meyer told reporters. "We've seen that since spring practice. I mean, he walked in as a grown man. ... He has more in the tank. His long was only 35 [yards], and he has breakaway speed."
Verdict: Buying, but 181 yards should be his season high.
We're not ready to crown him the next Ezekiel Elliott, but Dobbins became just the 10th different Buckeye to rush for at least 175 yards in a game dating back to 2000. Every other guy on that list was eventually drafted into the NFL. (Except for J.T. Barrett since he's still at Ohio State.) Dobbins should be a special player for the next several years.
However, Weber will likely be back and starting for the Week 2 game against Oklahoma, and Barrett is a significant factor in this rushing attack. As such, it's tough to imagine Dobbins will reel off 180 yards again in the immediate future. But Ohio State might have three players rush for 1,000 yards this year.
Nic Shimonek, Texas Tech QB
Over the last two seasons with Patrick Mahomes at quarterback, Texas Tech had the most unstoppable aerial assault in the nation. Last year, the Red Raiders led all teams with 463.0 passing yards per game, which was almost 100 yards ahead of No. 2 on the list (Louisiana Tech, 363.4).
With Mahomes out of the picture, it's up to Nic Shimonek to carry the offense. In Week 1 against Eastern Washington, he was up to the challenge.
Shimonek's first incomplete pass didn't come until late in the second quarter, as he completed 23 of his first 24 pass attempts. He finished the game 26-of-30 for 384 yards and three touchdowns—this without taking a snap in the fourth quarter of the 56-10 blowout.
"I thought he ran the system very well," head coach Kliff Kingsbury told Akshay Mirchandani of the Dallas News. "Went through his reads when it wasn't there, took a couple of sacks that were encouraging because he didn't make the play worse when we broke down in our protection, and protected the football overall which is what we asked him to do."
Barring injury or benching, Shimonek is going to get a ton of passing yards in this system. However, we're definitely selling the 86.7 completion percentage with no interceptions. (Though Shimonek could absolutely have another monster performance in two weeks against Arizona State's annually atrocious secondary.)
Eastern Washington is usually an above-average FCS school, but it has also consistently been torched by FBS offenses. Over the last four seasons against Washington State, Oregon, Washington and Oregon State, the Eagles allowed an average of 52 points per contest. We're not willing to call a quarterback a can't-miss star after one game against that defense.
A.J. Brown, Ole Miss WR
If Ole Miss has plans of beating Alabama this year, it didn't show in the first half against South Alabama. The Rebels needed a late field goal to take a 13-10 lead over the Jaguars into the intermission.
Up to that point in the game, sophomore wide receiver—and member of the San Diego Padres farm system—A.J. Brown hadn't done much. He had a modest five receptions for 41 yards. After some halftime adjustments, though, he came out and put up Randy Moss numbers. His three second-half receptions went for 71 yards (TD), 77 yards (TD) and 44 yards (tackled at the 2).
He finished the afternoon with a school-record 233 receiving yards, pacing the Rebels to a 47-27 victory.
On the one hand, both of Brown's touchdowns were kind of fluky. The first one came on a passing route over the middle where South Alabama blew the coverage. The second one came on a broken play that ended with some atrocious tackling effort from the Jaguar secondary.
On the other hand, six of Brown's eight receptions went for first downs, and he proved with a 76-yard TD in the spring that he's a guy with big-play potential who is not easy to tackle.
Plus, if Shea Patterson is going to throw for more than 300 yards per game (he is), someone has to be on the receiving end of those targets. Three of last year's four leading receivers are gone, and Brown was No. 5 on that list. He was already a strong candidate for a breakout year long before that second-half explosion.
Central Michigan's Secondary
It wasn't the prettiest of games by any stretch of the imagination, but Central Michigan's opener against Rhode Island lasted longer than any other Week 1 game. Pittsburgh and Youngstown State needed one additional period and Georgia Tech and Tennessee went to two OTs Monday night, but it took three overtimes for the Chippewas to emerge with a win over the Rams.
Prior to those extra sessions, Central Michigan's secondary made life miserable for Rhode Island QB Tyler Harris. Led by Josh Cox and Amari Coleman, CMU picked off five passes in the second half and finished the night with six interceptions.
Dating back to the start of the 2014 season, the only other FBS team to record at least six interceptions in a game was Florida Atlantic against Charlotte in 2015.
For starters, Harris still threw for 284 yards and three touchdowns. If this secondary is good enough to routinely pick off several passes per game, it wouldn't have given up that much through the air to an FCS team.
Moreover, this particular FCS team went 2-9 and threw 20 interceptions last season, and it's now starting a quarterback who was the third-string option for the UCF team that went 0-12 two years ago. We're not saying Rhode Island is going to throw six interceptions per game, but there will be some trying times for this offense.
Perhaps if Central Michigan had been a little more competent at defending the pass last year, we'd be more willing to buy into this one. However, this team gave up 33 passing touchdowns in 2016—one behind Arizona for most in the nation. The Chippewas should improve with a bunch of returning starters, but it might be six weeks before they add another six interceptions to their season total.
Josh Rosen, UCLA QB
With a little over four minutes remaining in the third quarter, Josh Rosen's 2017 debut was looking like a total disaster. UCLA was down 44-10 at home against Texas A&M, and its starting quarterback was 11-of-26 for 125 yards with a pair of lost fumbles. Barring some kind of miracle, the Bruins were going to drop to 0-1, and head coach Jim Mora was going to be on the hottest seat in the country.
Then Chosen Rosen took over.
Over the course of the next five drives, Rosen completed 24 of 33 passes for 366 yards and four touchdowns. He also set up the six-yard rushing TD by Soso Jamabo that started the comeback for an unfathomable 45-44 victory.
Granted, one of those touchdown passes went straight through the hands of a Texas A&M defensive back, but those are the amazing things that happen when momentum is on your side.
Rosen probably isn't going to throw for 491 yards again—his previous career high was 400—but he could if UCLA's defense necessitates it.
For the first two-thirds of the game, it felt like we were watching someone who was rusty from missing the last six games of last season with a shoulder injury. But once he stopped thinking and just started throwing, it became clear why some scouts think Rosen could be the No. 1 pick in the 2018 draft. Orchestrating that comeback should be the jump-start he needed for a sensational campaign.
Trayveon Williams, Texas A&M RB
Lost in the sands of time to the aforementioned comeback hoopla, Trayveon Williams had the best Week 1 performance by a running back.
Williams only had seven carries for 15 yards in the second half against UCLA, but he tore the Bruins apart in the first half. He entered the intermission with 15 carries for 188 yards and two touchdowns.
Most of that came on two plays, as he had a 61-yard touchdown run a few drives after the 72-yard scamper that put the Aggies inside UCLA's 10. On both of those carries, he showed great vision and speed to both find and bolt through the holes that his pulling offensive linemen created.
This 203-yard performance wasn't even a career high for Williams. He had a 217-yard game last year against Tennessee as part of his 1,057-yard true-freshman season.
The Aggies have to realize they are at their best when Williams is putting on a show, right? They were 7-1 last season when he averaged at least 4.3 yards per carry, and they should have won their 2017 opener after Williams helped pace them to a 44-10 lead.
There is the Keith Ford factor to consider. Williams only had 30 more carries than Ford had last season, and the duo had a 22-18 split against UCLA as Ford ran for 114 yards and three touchdowns. But that's just a testament to how well this O-line can run block. Even if Williams is only getting 20 touches per game, he's going to rush for at least 100 yards more often than not.
Anthony Winbush, Ball State DE
Usually, there are multiple players who get out to hot starts with a bunch of Week 1 sacks. From 2010 through 2016, there were an average of 3.3 players with at least 3.0 sacks in the season opener. This year, though, Ball State's Anthony Winbush is flying solo as the only player with three or more sacks in Week 1.
The most impressive part is he got all three of his sacks in the span of four offensive plays by a Power Five team. Late in the third quarter against Illinois, Winbush sacked Chayce Crouch on 3rd-and-13, forcing a punt. On the following Illini drive, he brought down Crouch on 2nd-and-1 as well as 3rd-and-7 to force a three-and-out.
The second and third sacks came after Illinois got to the Ball State 24-yard line. If not for those two sacks, Crouch would have kept his team in field-goal range. He was unable to avoid Winbush, though.
More often than not, a hot start in the sack department means nothing. Of the 23 players who had at least 3.0 sacks in Week 1 over the past seven years, only Florida State's Demarcus Walker averaged at least one sack per team game by the end of the season. Seventeen of those 23 players tallied five or fewer sacks the rest of the way.
Maybe Winbush is the exception to the rule and he's going to terrorize MAC QBs for the next 11 games. The senior defensive lineman did have four games with multiple sacks last season en route to 8.5 total sacks. But it's more likely he took advantage of a panicking QB who was trying to do too much to bring his team back from a late deficit.
Missouri's Entire Offense
It wasn't quite the 76-61 game between Pittsburgh and Syracuse or the 66-59 game between Oklahoma and Texas Tech from last season, but Missouri's 72-43 season opener against Missouri State featured a ridiculous amount of offense on both sides.
Tigers QB Drew Lock led all Week 1 players with 521 passing yards and seven touchdowns on just 21 completions. Wide receivers J'Mon Moore and Johnathon Johnson combined for nine receptions for 303 yards and four scores. Meanwhile, running back Damarea Crockett had the fourth-highest rushing total of the week with 202 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
All told, Missouri had 815 yards and 35 first downs while scoring multiple times in each of the four quarters. The Tigers only punted twice in the game, and they gained 44 yards on one of those two drives.
We're not saying Missouri is going to put up 72 points in a game again, but this team entered the year with legitimate potential to lead the nation in scoring.
The Tigers got back 10 starters from a group that averaged 49.0 points per game against nonconference opponents in 2016. They put up 61 against Eastern Michigan and 79 against Delaware State, and they clearly still know how to put points on the board.
It's equally important to note how awful this defense is, though. Missouri allowed 34.4 points per game against FBS opponents last year, and it lost most of the key leaders from that already hapless bunch. Because of that, Lock figures to throw a ton of passes for an offense that can score in a hurry.
TaQuon Marshall, Georgia Tech QB
TaQuon Marshall wasn't even named Georgia Tech's starter until Paul Johnson's appearance on GT's pregame radio show, but it looks like the head coach made the right call.
Justin Thomas ran the Rambling Wreck's triple option offense for the past three seasons, finishing his career with 4,748 passing yards and 2,409 rushing yards. Replacing him was supposed to be a major challenge for this team, but it might win the ACC Coastal division if Marshall stays healthy.
The junior QB carried the ball 44 times for 249 yards and five scores. He led all Week 1 players in carries, rushing yards and touchdowns. Marshall also threw for 120 yards, including two vertical strikes that went for more than 40 yards each.
Somehow, it wasn't enough. Georgia Tech outgained Tennessee by nearly 300 yards, but two costly fumbles allowed the Volunteers to take the game to overtime, where they won 42-41.
Marshall won't carry the ball 44 times per game, but he's going to be a major problem for opposing defenses all year. And he's almost certainly going to be Georgia Tech's primary source of offense going forward.
Not only did the Yellow Jackets lose Thomas from last season, but Marcus Marshall transferred and Dedrick Mills was dismissed from the team a few weeks ago, leaving them with nearly 2,000 rushing yards to replace. Clinton Lynch will be a key factor when he's healthy (he missed the opener), and they're going to find ways to get Qua Searcy more involved as either a rusher or receiver, but look for TaQuon Marshall to run for well more than 1,000 yards.
Maryland was the only unranked team to defeat a ranked team, knocking off No. 23 Texas by a 51-41 margin.
Save for throwing a pick-six on the opening drive, the Terrapins could do no wrong on offense. After that rogue attempt, they completed 12 of 14 passes for 219 yards and a pair of touchdowns on the day. On the ground, four different players reached pay dirt as part of a 263-yard attack.
For the most part, Maryland was the better team on defense too. Texas barely averaged 3.0 yards per carry, and Shane Buechele was sacked five times and threw an arm punt of an interception. It wasn't until midway through the third quarter that Texas finally scored on offense, and the Longhorns had to convert a 3rd-and-20 to make that happen.
D.J. Durkin led the Terps to a three-win improvement in his first season as head coach, and now they're seeking at least eight wins in a year for the first time since 2010.
Verdict: Selling as a national contender; Buying as a team that could cause chaos in the Big Ten.
Maryland gave up touchdowns on an interception, a punt return and a blocked field goal. Despite the upset, it has a lot of cleaning up to do before it can be taken seriously. But it also has the talent to beat a great team that isn't playing its A-game.
The Terrapins play at Ohio State and Wisconsin in October and host Michigan and Penn State in November. Led by Ty Johnson, D.J. Moore and Jermaine Carter Jr., they're going to win at least one of those games and ruin the dream for one of the Big Ten powers.
However, it won't be anywhere near enough to win the conference or play in a New Year's Six bowl. At best, this is an 8-4 team that gets one or two more moments in the sun as the underdog in a game that gets social media buzzing.
Kerry Miller covers college football and college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.