Winners and Losers from Week 1 of College Football

Ben Kercheval@@BenKerchevalCollege Football Lead WriterAugust 31, 2014

Winners and Losers from Week 1 of College Football

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    USA TODAY Sports

    College football is back, and it looks better than ever.

    You know what they say: 2014 is the new 2013. 

    While our beloved sport's return is a cherished moment, it also means everyone is no longer undefeated. Sometimes, in fact, optimism can be brutally crushed in a single game. 

    That's why, with the onset of the new season, we're starting a weekly "Winners and Losers" recap to capture all that was good—and all that was painful—during the first week of action. 

    As you have probably noticed, Winners and Losers is live before all the games have ended. Fear not, as this post will be updated as events warrant. 

    So let's get the conversation going. Which teams, players, coaches and/or moments were the best from Week 1? Which ones were the worst?

    The answers are in the following slides.

Winner: Texas A&M

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    Grant Halverson/Getty Images

    The Highlight: As the Head Ball Coach himself, Steve Spurrier, eloquently stated during a halftime interview with ESPN on Thursday, "They're kicking our butts."

    By that point, Texas A&M was out to an astonishing 31-14 lead over Spurrier's South Carolina Gamecocks.

    It only got worse. By the time the game clock hit zero, the Aggies' high-powered offense had amassed 52 points (to South Carolina's 28) and 680 yards on 99 plays. Other than A&M's upset at Alabama in 2012, it was the biggest statement win for the program since joining the SEC. 

    First-year A&M starting quarterback Kenny Hill, the successor to Johnny Manziel, didn't show a sign of opening-week jitters. The sophomore threw for 511 yards, thanks to a combination of open receivers and a clean pocket. It was a total effort from Kevin Sumlin's offense.

    It's only one game, but A&M looks nothing like the "most overrated team" in the preseason USA Today Top 25, a label placed on it by the paper's Laken Litman. Conversely, South Carolina didn't look like the preseason SEC East favorite it was tabbed to be by Brandon Larrabee of SB Nation, via Yahoo! Sports.

    Things can, and probably will, change. A&M, for example, still has questions to answer concerning its pass defense. 

    But this was not Manziel performing a one-man show on live television. This was Sumlin showing, through recruiting, that his program has staying power. Hill looks like the real deal, capable of leading this offense week in and week out.

Loser: Survivors and Advancers

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    The Lowlight: There probably shouldn't be too many complaints about a win, but some preseason playoff favorites had a tough time in Week 1. 

    As if anyone needed more evidence that Ohio State would miss quarterback Braxton Miller, who is out for the year with a shoulder injury, the No. 5 Buckeyes needed 14 points late in the fourth quarter to put away a well-prepared Navy team, 34-17. 

    Miller's replacement, J.T. Barrett, was an efficient 12-of-15 passing for 226 yards in his first start, but the play of the Buckeyes offensive line made it difficult for the offense to get much going in the first three quarters. Replacing four seniors from last year's O-line was going to present problems, but the offense clearly has some big kinks to work out. 

    Similarly, No. 7 UCLA had an awful time protecting quarterback Brett Hundley. Had it not been for the Bruins defense coming through with three touchdowns, it may not have come away with a 28-20 win over Virginia. While the defensive effort is admirable, the performance of the O-line—and some drops from receivers—left a lot to be desired. 

    And then there was Florida State, which took every shot Oklahoma State threw at it. It wasn't the Seminoles' best game, yet they got out of Arlington with a 37-31 win. 

    There's a lot of football to be played, but teams such as Ohio State and UCLA are going to get everyone's best shot. Playing well in the trenches cannot be overstated. Florida State got smashed in the mouth, too. Leadership is going to be at a premium for the defending national champs.

Winner: Colorado State Running Back Dee Hart

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    Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

    The Highlight: In 2011, Dee Hart was a 4-star running back, per 247Sports, who enrolled early to be the next great Alabama running back. A couple of knee injuries later, though, Hart was looking for a new direction. 

    He's found it at Colorado State, whose head coach is a former Tide offensive coordinator and Hart's former recruiter, Jim McElwain. In a 31-17 win over Colorado Friday night, Hart had a strong debut with 22 carries for 139 yards and a pair of touchdowns. 

    Hart was a steady force for the Rams in the ground game, which racked up 266 yards on 45 carries. It was a nice moment for a touted player who has had trouble getting things going on the right path. 

    Colorado State plays at Boise State in Week 2, meaning Hart will play opposite another big-time running back in the Mountain West, Jay Ajayi.

Loser: Those Who Dare Schedule North Dakota State

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    David Purdy/Getty Images

    The Lowlight: Memo to all schools looking to fill a nonconference-schedule game in the future: 

    Do not schedule North Dakota State—at all. The Bison are a good team; they will embarrass you in front of your home crowd and then gladly take the paycheck you have agreed to give them. 

    Iowa State didn't get the message soon enough, and after jumping out to a 14-0 lead, it gave up 34 straight points to North Dakota State in a 34-14 loss. (Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads has feelings about this.) 

    A defending three-time national champion at the Division I Football Championship Subdivision level, North Dakota State is far from a Week 1 cupcake. Given that Iowa State is trying to build itself back up to being a bowl-game participant, this wasn't even close to a gimme. 

    The Bison, in fact, have more victories over Big 12 opponents (three) in the past four years than Kansas (two). 

    The schedule doesn't get any easier for the Cyclones, either, who face Kansas State, Iowa, Baylor and Oklahoma State in the next four games. 

    The Hawkeyes, by the way, are scheduled to play North Dakota State in 2016. Good luck.

Winner: An American Football Game in Dublin

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    Patrick Bolger/Getty Images

    The Highlight: Those who woke up early enough to watch Penn State and Central Florida kick off the college football Saturday in Ireland were in for a treat. The Nittany Lions kicked a game-winning field goal as time expired to beat the Knights, 26-24. 

    Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg threw for more than 400 yards in a game—454, to be exact—for the first time in program history, per NFL Network's Bryan Fischer. The Nittany Lions have some work to do along the offensive line, but there's no doubt Hackenberg is living up to his billing as one of the premier quarterbacks in the Big Ten.

    On the opposite sideline, the only thing that can be said about UCF's Justin Holman is that he must be the worst practice quarterback of all time. Pete DiNovo got the first start of the post-Blake Bortles era, but after failing to move the chains, Holman came in to relieve. 

    And what a relief he was, going 9-of-14 for 204 passing yards and a touchdown, while adding another two rushing scores to the stat sheet. 

    The game started slow and endured some sloppy turnovers, but viewers saw three scores in the final 3:30 minutes. That's one way to start the day off.

Loser: Punting

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    Ann Heisenfelt/Associated Press

    The Lowlight: This may be a rash decision, but Week 1 reactions are meant to be nonsensical with a touch of hyperbole. 

    Don't punt—ever. Just don't do it. Otherwise, you risk becoming a folly on the Internet. And, as anyone who has ever been recorded will tell you, the Internet does not forget.

    In Eastern Illinois' 42-20 loss to Minnesota on Friday night, quarterback Jalen Whitlow, a Kentucky transfer, attempted a pooch kick on fourth down. It, uh, did not go well, but it definitely did fly off his foot hard to the right for about three yards. 

    Then, in Illinois' 28-17 win over Youngstown State, Penguins punter Joey Cejudo attempted a rugby-style kick, which—guess what?—didn't go well.

    Mostly, these serve as nothing more than mesmerizing GIFs, but they're also cautionary tales about special teams: 

    If Washington State coach Mike Leach doesn't believe in it, it's best to stay away from it.

Winner: UT-San Antonio

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    Stacy Revere/Getty Images

    The Highlight: In the literal sense, UT-San Antonio beat Houston, 27-7, Friday night—in the Cougars' first game in their new stadium, no less. 

    The Roadrunners prevented Houston from even thinking about a run game to keep the defense honest and limited the Cougars quarterbacks to 234 passing yards, no touchdowns and four interceptions. 

    It was a solid win, but the Roadrunners could be on to something. UTSA is the most experienced team in major college football with 37 seniors, 19 of whom are returning starters, according to Paul Myerberg of USA Today

    Larry Coker's team won its final five games a year ago and is off to a 1-0 start in 2014. In a wide-open Conference USA West division, UTSA pulled out to an early lead in the favorites race. And this team does not appear to be messing around.

Winner: Notre Dame Quarterback Everett Golson

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    The Highlight: As JJ Stankevitz of CSNChicago.com noted, it had been exactly 600 days since Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson played a game for the Irish. 

    You never would have known in Golson's game against Rice on Saturday. 

    Following a missed season due to academic misconduct, Golson returned in a big way with 295 yards passing, 41 yards rushing and five total touchdowns—three of which came in the form of nifty runs. 

    Tommy Rees may have been a safety net for the Irish for the past couple of years, but it's clear how much more potent this Notre Dame offense is when Golson is in the game. It's also a reflection of how much he's developed as a quarterback since 2012. 

    Scoff at Rice if you must, but Golson could have come out rusty. He didn't, and Notre Dame looks like a team that will be in position to win every one of its games.

Loser: Bo Wallace, Grant Hedrick and the Curse of the Interception

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    The Lowlight: Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace eventually threw four touchdowns in the Rebels' 35-13 win over Boise State on Thursday, but not without tossing three interceptions in the process. 

    Wallace's counterpart, Boise State quarterback Grant Hedrick, had a more cringe-worthy touchdown-to-interception ratio of one-to-four. 

    Three times in the first half, Hedrick and Wallace threw picks on back-to-back drives. Save for the fourth quarter, it was anyone's game, thanks to the mistakes. 

    Hedrick's performance was rough, but Wallace, the most experienced returning quarterback in the SEC, has to be better as well. The Rebels are a talented team, but three interceptions aren't going to result in a 22-point win every week.  

    Without more consistency behind center, Ole Miss won't contend for an SEC West title.

Winner: Alabama Quarterback Blake Sims

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    Brynn Anderson/Associated Press

    The Highlight: Anyone who predicted Florida State quarterback Jake Coker as a shoo-in to start for Alabama was wrong. Way wrong. 

    Fifth-year senior quarterback Blake Sims was totally in control of the Tide's closer-than-expected 33-23 win over West Virginia. Other than one interception, Sims was poised, made solid throws and created a few plays with his feet when the situation called for it. 

    West Virginia revealed that Alabama has some hangover from last year's Sugar Bowl loss to Oklahoma. The Tide still show signs of weakness against uptempo offenses and were exposed in pass coverage. There's plenty this Crimson Tide team still needs to work on. 

    The quarterback situation, however, seems well in hand. And given Sims' mobility, it ushers in the possibility of a new era of offense in Tuscaloosa, according to CBSSports.com's Jeremy Fowler

    For now, Alabama should feel good about being 1-0. And having a quarterback.

Winner: Georgia

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    The Highlight: If South Carolina didn't live up to the hype on Thursday, fellow SEC East member Georgia surpassed theirs in a 45-21 win over Clemson. 

    In what was one of the most convincing wins by one Top 25 over another in Week 1, the Bulldogs pulled away thanks to a violent and effective run game. 

    As for Georgia running back Todd Gurley, where do you want to begin? The junior and preseason Heisman candidate had a whole bunch of highlights, tallying a career-high 198 yards and three touchdowns on 15 carries—adding up to a whopping 13.2 yards per rush. Additionally, he had a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. 

    Gurley didn’t see many touches toward the beginning of the game, but he took advantage of a worn-out Tigers defense down the stretch. Along with freshman running back Nick Chubb, Gurley flexed his muscles late, barreling through tackles and showing off his breakaway speed. 

    Everyone’s a Heisman candidate at the start of the season, but Gurley showed why he’s one of the most unstoppable players in the country when he’s healthy. 

    "I think he's the best in the country. Or at least one of the best," said head coach Mark Richt (h/t Seth Emerson of The Macon Telegraph).

Loser: Florida State Quarterback Jameis Winston

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    The Lowlight: Statistically, Jameis Winston was actually solid against Oklahoma State, going 25-of-40 for 370 yards and a touchdown.

    But he also threw a pair of first-half interceptions. For context, Winston only had two multi-interception games last year—against Miami and Duke. 

    Save for a spectacular 28-yard touchdown run in the third quarter (pictured above), Winston had his struggles. From the start, Winston was staring down receivers and forcing throws to veteran receiver Rashad Greene, as Bryan Fischer of NFL.com tweeted

    There were also times when Winston held on to the ball too long and took unnecessary sacks. It was far from his best game. 

    He'll rebound, of course, but Saturday showed that, yes, Winston is human. Credit should also be given to Oklahoma State's defense, which did a superb job stopping the run (Florida State averaged 3.4 yards per rush) and getting pressure past a veteran and big offensive line.

Winner: USC Coach Steve Sarkisian

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    Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

    The Highlight: It’s been, well, an interesting week for the first-year Trojans coach.

    First, USC suspended star cornerback Josh Shaw after he admitted to fabricating a heroic story in which he saved his nephew from drowning, injuring his ankles in the process.

    (More on that can be found via John Walters of Newsweek.)

    Then, Trojans running back Anthony Brown quit the team and took to social media, calling Sarkisian a racist.

    But all of that was quickly forgotten Saturday when USC beat Fresno State, 52-13, running 105 plays in the process.

    Sarkisian had to have been tired of talking about off-field distractions. The only way to ensure those questions aren’t asked anymore is to win. And did USC ever win.

Loser: Wisconsin

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    The Lowlight: Giving up 21 straight unanswered points to lose to LSU, 28-24, ought to do it. 

    Wisconsin appeared to be in control early in the third quarter of Saturday’s game, leading 24-7. However, a signature Les Miles fake punt led to a 30-yard field goal and the comeback was on. 

    Badgers running back Melvin Gordon barely touched the ball in the second half, save for a 63-yard run, and quarterback Tanner McEvoy ended up just 8-of-24 for 50 yards and a pair of picks. McEvoy may have the higher ceiling than incumbent starter Joel Stave, but it's clear head coach Gary Andersen has some further evaluating to do. 

    Long term, the Badgers’ playoff hopes took a major hit. Wisconsin’s schedule isn’t daunting, with just one game against a current Top 25 team (No. 22 Nebraska). A win over the Tigers would have been huge for the resume. 

    Now, this could already be a season of what might have been. 

     

    Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand.