By Emily Van Buskirk / @Emilnem
The opening week of college football has come and gone — it was kind to some, cruel to others and downright damming for a few teams. Ohio State remains on top after a 42-24 comeback win over Virginia Tech Monday night while the SEC set a record with 10 ranked teams in the first AP college football poll of the regular season; SEC teams went 12-1. The Pac-12, on the other hand, started the year 7-5 with both Arizona State and Stanford dropping out of the Top 25.
Wins and losses in week 1 don’t necessarily tell the story of a team’s season, but for some it appears the party is over before it even started. Below, we examine Week 1 losses and what they mean for certain programs that suffered those Week 1 woes.
If You Are Reading This Then It’s Probably Too Late
First and foremost there is Texas, who lost 38-3 to Notre Dame Saturday night. The once perennial football powerhouse has been reduced to 163 total yards of offense, eight first downs and 2-14 on third downs. The 163 yards ranked Texas dead last in total offense among FBS teams in Week 1.
Notre Dame is no slouch this year, but the Longhorns allowed junior quarterback Malik Zaire to complete 19-of-22 passing (86.6 percent), which was second-best in school history. Zaire averaged 13 yards per completion while Notre Dame racked up 527 yards of offense on Charlie Strong’s team. Texas was 6-7 last season and has not recorded a double-digit win season since 2009. At this point, the Longhorns are looking at a possible two-win season (Rice and Kansas).
The other team whose season is over already is Penn State. Temple defeated the Nittany Lions 27-10 Saturday for the first time in 74 years. Temple hadn't won in the series since Oct. 18, 1941, two months before the United States entered World War II. That was so long ago that the late Penn State coach Joe Paterno was only 14 years old. If that is not a reason to call time of death on a season, I’m not sure what is. The Nittany Lions had 126 total yards in the first quarter but 43 total over the second and third. They punted on six straight possessions after taking the 10-0 lead. Penn State finished the game with 183 yards of total offense while Temple racked up 313. The game was so bad that the players actually buried the game film out by the practice field on Sunday. Symbolic of the season perhaps?
Don’t Call It A Comeback
Stanford’s 16-6 loss to Northwestern Saturday was bad, there is no arguing that, but the loss was more about the Wildcats' stellar play and timely adjustments than the Cardinal’s lackluster effort. Both teams tallied 17 first downs, and Stanford racked up 240 yards of offense to Northwestern’s 330. The Wildcats committed zero turnovers while Stanford had two, one fumble and one interception.
The problem with Stanford is the lack of creativity on offense and the inability of head coach David Shaw to relinquish play-calling power in the red zone. The elements for a good offense are there in sophomore Christian McCaffrey and the trio of tight ends at quarterback Kevin Hogan’s disposal, but it will take more than vanilla play-calling to beat teams in the Pac-12.
Nebraska lost a heartbreaking game to BYU on Saturday — a 42-yard Hail Mary with no time left on the clock gave the Cougars a 33-28 victory over the Huskers, spoiling new head coach Mike Riley’s plans for victory in his debut. The Cornhuskers lost their season opener for the first time since 1985, ending the nation's longest season-opening win streak at 29. But Riley said that four of the five players suspended for breaking team rules will be back for Nebraska's next game against South Alabama. So there’s that.
Also, there were many positives in the BYU game: Nebraska dominated time of possession (32:03 to 27:07), racked up 445 yards of offense, had 25 first downs and went 6-14 on third-down conversions. The Huskers did commit a troubling 12 penalties for a loss of 90 yards, but if anyone can correct that problem it’s Riley.
Keeping It 100
Michigan’s 24-17 loss to Utah Thursday night in Salt Lake City is not nearly as bad as it seemed — the Utes are a good team, and Rice-Eccles is a tough place to play. Look at the numbers: Michigan edged Utah in possession (30:41 to 29:19), matched the Utes in first downs with 20 each, racked up more total yards of offense (355-337) and had less penalties. What killed Michigan were costly turnovers (3) and a 63 percent completion percentage from its quarterback Jake Rudock. But head coach Jim Harbaugh has a way with quarterbacks, so expect that issue to be resolved as the season progresses. Don’t sleep on Big Blue with Harbaugh at the helm — the guy always has a few tricks up his sleeve, and just because we didn’t see them in Utah doesn’t mean they aren’t there.
Lastly, we have Arizona State’s 38-17 loss to Texas A&M. The Sun Devils' loss to the Aggies makes them 0-7 against SEC teams, but the silver lining is that they play in the Pac-12, so besides tough games at UCLA and Utah, the rest of the schedule is very winnable for Todd Graham's team. Also encouraging: the 291 yards of offense the Sun Devils put up on the Aggies, the 19 first downs and the possession time (31:31).
Arizona State will have to tighten up turnovers — the Sun Devils fumbled twice against TAMU — and commit less penalties, six for a loss of 45 yards. The Sun Devils will also need to be more efficient on third down (5-18) and fourth down (0-2), and quarterback Mike Bercovici will be need to be better than the 199 yards and 60 percent completion rate. Luckily for ASU, the defenses in the Pac-12 are hardly as suffocating so expect the Sun Devils to make a run in the South.
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