Week 1 Winners and Losers
Ah, the beauty of college football.
Week 1 of the 2018 season had its typical array of surprises, disappointments, dramatic finishes, and emerging stars. Let’s take a look at some of the winners and losers.
Love struggles: Stanford’s 2017 Heisman Trophy runner-up Bryce Love, who averaged 163 yards per game last year, gained just 29 on 18 carries against San Diego State. Last year, Love rushed for 184 vs. the Aztecs, including touchdown runs of 53 and 50 yards. Friday night his longest run was 14 yards, that coming in the 4th quarter when the game was decided.
Wildcats ambushed: Everyone, this writer included, expected Arizona to roll at home against unimposing BYU. But Heisman candidate Khalil Tate had an off day, and the Wildcats lost their first home opener in 17 years, 28-23. Tate completed just 50% of his passes and rushed for only 14 yards. For new coach Kevin Sumlin, it was not the kind of first impression he wanted to make.
Bruins Embarrassed: Former Oregon and 49ers’ coach Chip Kelly was supposed to be the savior at UCLA, after the Bruins under-achieved under Jim Mora. Not so fast. The home crowd at the Rose Bowl was treated to an embarrassing 26-17 loss to Cincinnati, a team picked to finish fourth in the East Division of the American Athletic Conference. For some inexplicable reason, Kelly started Michigan transfer Wilton Speight at quarterback, the guy who made Jim Harbaugh’s life miserable the last couple of years.
Appalachian State (again): In 2007, Appalachian State upset Michigan 34-32 in one of the biggest shockers in college football history. The Mountaineers almost pulled it off again Saturday against Penn State, but the Nittany Lions rallied to win in overtime, 45-38.
Davis Dazzles: Thursday night UC Davis started fast and held on for a 44-38 win over San Jose State. The Spartans are not very good this year, but anytime an FCS school beats an FBS school, it’s a big deal. UC Davis has an outstanding receiver in Keelan Doss. My old friend, UC Davis radio analyst Doug Kelly, tells me eight pro scouts were at the game to scout Doss, who caught 115 passes last season.
Auburn: No. 9 Auburn held off No. 6 Washington, 21-16, in a sloppy game marked by mistakes and missed scoring opportunities. Auburn attempted five field goals; Washington had three straight drives inside the Auburn 10-yard line and came away with only three points. QB Jake Browning had a decent game, but threw a horrible interception and was unable to engineer the game-winning drive at the end.
Notre Dame: The 12th-ranked Irish looked very impressive in a 24-17 victory over No. 14 Michigan. Quarterback Brandon Wimbush rushed for 59 yards and passed for 170. It was an inauspicious start for Michigan QB Shea Patterson, the Mississippi transfer, as the Wolverines were held without an offensive touchdown until the last two minutes.
K.J. Costello and JJ Arcega-Whiteside: What is it with the first-name initials at Stanford? With San Diego State stacking eight or nine defenders in the box to stop Bryce Love and daring Stanford to pass, K.J. and JJ went to town. Costello threw for 322 yards and four touchdowns, including scoring strikes of 38, 19 and 80 yards to Arcega-Whiteside, who has to be the best kept secret in college football. The tall, rangy receiver with the great hands has six TDs in his last two games and won’t be a secret for long. (In fact, the Pac-12 named him Conference Player of the Week earlier today).
This Saturday, Stanford hosts USC in the biggest game of the week, and the Trojans will have to respect the K.J. to JJ combo, which should open things up for Love.
The Pac-12: Things couldn’t have gone much worse for the conference. Its top team, Washington, was virtually eliminated from playoff contention. Its two top Heisman candidates, Love and Tate, had sub-par performances. Two of its high-profile programs, UCLA and Arizona, suffered embarrassing losses to non-Power Five opponents.
Mark Jones: The ESPN play-by-play announcer, who headed the announce crew that last year blasted Washington coach Chris Petersen for daring to suggest he’d rather play day games—going to far as to plant cupcakes on the sideline to mock the Huskies’ schedule—apparently is holding a grudge against Petersen. After the Huskies’ loss to Auburn, Jones tweeted: “Washington Huskies took one on the chin. Where’s Montana?”
Chip Kelly and Kevin Sumlin: As I’ve written in this space before, I’m not a fan of recycling big-name coaches who’ve already “been to the mountaintop.’ Kelly has coached in the national championship game (at Oregon) and in the NFL playoffs. He’s signed contracts worth tens of millions of dollars. He was fired by the Eagles and 49ers. He’s been a TV analyst. UCLA would’ve been much better off with a coach who’s built a winning program at a Group of Five conference school, still has the fire in the belly, and still has something to prove. Someone like North Texas coach Seth Littrell.
Sumlin, while not quite as fat (literally and figuratively) as Kelly, also had his 15 minutes of fame. He posted an undefeated regular season at Houston, coached a Heisman winner (Johnny Manziel) and beat No. 1 Alabama while at Texas A&M, but was fired after his record declined steadily over six years.
More trouble may be ahead for both coaches this weekend, as UCLA travels to Oklahoma and Arizona journeys to Houston.
Willie Taggart: The peripatetic Taggart, now in his third job in three years after bailing on Oregon, bombed in his debut at Florida State, losing 24-3 to Va. Tech. His team looked unprepared and disorganized. A recent CBS sports poll of major college coaches rated Taggart as the most over-rated coach in the country.
Nick Saban: After his team crushed Louisville 51-14 Saturday, the Alabama coach blew up at ESPN's Maria Taylor for asking a perfectly legitimate question about his quarterbacks: “Why do you continue to try and get me to say something that doesn’t respect one of them?” Saban demanded. “I’m not going to, so quit asking.”
Saban was totally out of line. Nothing in Taylor's question or demeanor was intended to elicit a response that denigrated one of the quarterbacks. It’s hard to understand why a coach who's won six national titles, has an embarrassment of riches at quarterback, and has been notoriously fawned over by ESPN announcers for years, would lose his cool after a cakewalk over a vastly inferior opponent.
The next day, Saban made things worse by explaining his behavior thusly: “If I get asked to vilify a player and make another a crown prince publicly…I need to learn a better way to respond to that.”
Except that nobody asked him to vilify a player.