Week 1 Highlights and Lowlights
The opening weekend of the college football season produced its usual assortment of surprises, heroes, dramatic finishes, officiating blunders, and significant injuries.
Here are some of the notable highs and lows:
Pac-12 Stumbles: Once again, a highly-ranked Pac-12 team was unable to defeat a highly-ranked SEC team in a big neutral site game. This time it was No. 12 Oregon blowing a late third quarter 21-6 lead and losing to No. 16 Auburn, 27-21. True freshman Bo Nix threw a touchdown pass with nine seconds remaining to lift the Tigers. Oregon’s latest collapse doesn’t bode well for the Pac-12’s College Football Playoff hopes.
Bruins and Wildcats Bust: Things couldn't have started much worse for Chip Kelly's UCLA Bruins, who were embarrassed by Cincinnati, 24-14. Kelly's famed no-huddle, hurry-up offense was nowhere to be seen. Instead, his accuracy-challenged quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson completed 8 of 26 passes, threw two interceptions and lost two fumbles when he simply dropped the ball. On the sidelines, Kelly shows none of the fire, passion and ingenuity he displayed during his glory years at Oregon. Another 3-9 season, or worse, seems to be in the offing.
Meanwhile, former Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin continued to struggle at Arizona. The Wildcats lost 45-38 to Hawaii, marking the second straight season Sumlin has opened with a loss to a non-Power Five Conference team. Last year it was BYU beating the Cats 28-23.
Sumlin’s dispassionate sideline demeanor is very similar to Kelly’s. We correctly questioned both of these hires when they were made. Lesson: never hire a coach who’s been to the mountaintop and made too much money. There’s not enough fire in the belly.
Transfers Shine: Two high-profile quarterbacks who transferred from Georgia fared well in their debuts with new teams, each throwing four touchdown passes. Jacob Eason led Washington to an easy 47-14 win over Eastern Washington, while Justin Fields directed Ohio State’s 45-21 pummeling of Florida Atlantic. (Eason and Fields left Georgia after losing the starting job to Jake Fromm, who steered the Bulldogs to a 30-6 win over Vanderbilt on Saturday).
Another transfer, former Alabama starter Jalen Hurts, was even better, running for three TDs and passing for three more to lead No. 4 Oklahoma over Houston, 49-31.
Stanford, Cal Prevail: It wasn’t pretty, but both Bay Area teams escaped with wins on Saturday. In a defensive slugfest, Stanford beat Northwestern 17-7, scoring the last touchdown on a fumble recovery in the end zone in the closing seconds. Running back Cameron Scarlett rushed for 97 yards and cornerback Paulson Adebo showed why he might be the best defensive player in the country with a spectacular interception and several deflections.
Cal came back from an early 10-0 deficit to trim UC Davis 27-13. Christopher Brown Jr, a seldom-used backup last year, rushed for 197 yards to lead the Bears to the win. For Davis, it was another impressive performance against a Pac-12 foe. Last year, the Aggies showed well against Stanford.
Targeting, anyone? Stanford’s win was a costly one, as a woozy K.J. Costello was led to the dressing room just before halftime after taking a vicious hit and suffering an apparent concussion. The Cardinal quarterback slid to the ground and was “down,” but a Northwestern defender dove in and slammed Costello below the chin with his forearm, driving Costello’s head back into the ground and knocking off his helmet.
A personal foul penalty was assessed, but—incredibly—no targeting was called. If giving a forearm shiver to the head of a defenseless player lying on the ground isn’t targeting, I don’t know what is.
Let Me In! The worst part of going to a Stanford game isn’t the rude parking lot attendants and ushers. It’s not the anachronistic Stanford Band, which still thinks it’s 1970. No, it’s simply trying to get into the stadium.
I’ve been to football games all over the country and walked into stadiums at Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State with 100,000 people in attendance. In every case, entry was handled efficiently and fans flowed quickly through the gates and turnstiles.
At Stanford, with a crowd of about 25,000, the gates were backed up for a half hour or more. Despite having a “season ticket holder member gate” badge around my neck (a gift from former Stanford star Chuck Evans), my wife and I waited in line for 26 minutes. Half the crowd missed the opening kick (see photo taken at 1:00).
Scott Cops Out: Speaking to a business group in Portland last week, that humble, self-effacing Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott had this to say about his conference's recent lack of success on the football field.
"We don't hire the coaches," Scott said. "We don't recruit the athletes. We don't coach them. We don't take credit for the wins, but sometimes we get blamed for the losses."
Spoken like a true politician.
In fact, Scott often does take credit for the wins—see the "Conference of Champions" mantra repeated ad nauseum—and can't say enough about his visionary leadership and how the conference will cash in when its TV rights are up for negotiation in 2024.
Problem is, the revenue gap between the Pac-12 and the other Power Five conferences continues to grow, due in large part to Scott's failing TV network and the league's lack of national exposure. That annual $10-20M delta translates into lower coaching salaries, smaller recruiting budgets, and less attractive facilities.
Even it Scott is right about the big payday in 2024—which is no guarantee—the Pac-12 will fall further and further behind for the next five years.
Which is precisely why he deserves much of the blame for the conference's failings.
Give Me Liberty: The "win at all costs" mentality has hit a new low at Liberty University, that bastion of sanctimonious, God-fearing hypocrisy. President Jerry Falwell, Jr.'s stated desire is to make Liberty the "Notre Dame" of evangelical Christianity.
In that quest, he has hired two of the most disgraced names in all of college athletics— athletic director Ian McCaw, who presided over the sexual assault culture at Baylor and swept gang rapes by football players under the rug, and Bible-thumping head coach Hugh Freeze, who utilized escort services throughout the Southeast and piled up recruiting violations while portraying himself as a God-fearing holy man during his tenure at Mississippi.
On Saturday, Liberty was whitewashed by Syracuse, 24-0.
Sometimes, the bad guys lose.