A look at who’s hot and who’s not following the first Saturday of the 2016 college football season.
DE Tai’yon Devers, Minnesota
Devers was an overlooked prospect who played one year of football in Pompano Beach, Fla. Now, he might be the Gophers’ answer in the pass rush. His explosive college football debut included a pair of sacks that led to fumble recoveries as Minnesota rallied to topple Oregon State.
Sure, the Buffs were supposed to beat rival Colorado State in the annual Rocky Mountain Showdown. But not 44-7 behind a finely balanced attack that produced 578 yards. With the home opener versus Idaho State on Saturday, Colorado is on the verge of starting 2-0 for just the second time since 2008 while taking an important step toward ending its eight-year postseason drought.
Jeff Brohm, Western Kentucky
You know what gets a coach promoted? When you lose a program-defining QB, Brandon Doughty, yet his successor, Mike White, debuts by going 25-of-31 for 517 yards, three touchdowns and no picks. White was a South Florida castoff, and if he’s even modestly productive this week versus Alabama, Brohm becomes doubly appealing to Power Five ADs.
With a signature win over Temple at the Linc, a house of horrors for years for the Academy, Army is off and running in Jeff Monken’s third year. And with their confidence soaring behind FB Andy Davidson and LB Alex Aukerman, the Black Knights are liable to go on a September tear, with Rice, UTEP and Buffalo up next on the schedule.
QB Taysom Hill and RB Jamaal Williams are finally healthy. Kalani Sitake’s first win as a head coach was over a Pac-12 team, Arizona. The Cougs are roaring into Saturday’s showdown with rival Utah in Salt Lake City. If Hill and Williams can remain off the trainer’s table and the offense executes with more efficiency, BYU boasts the defensive prowess to be a salty squad in 2016.
Alright, so Bowling Green doesn’t have a Big Ten-caliber D. Still, the Buckeyes will have a tailwind entering these next two games with opponents from Oklahoma, the Golden Hurricane and the Sooners. QB J.T. Barrett engineered a record-setting 77-10 evisceration, while RB Mike Weber and H-back Curtis Samuel look like they’re ready to become the new playmakers of Urban Meyer’s retooled attack.
P.J. Fleck, Western Michigan
Think Fleck was sizzling before the season began? Well, his ask and trajectory kept soaring after his Broncos upset Northwestern in Evanston. Western Michigan gets the equivalent of an exhibition game this week against N.C. Central before again traveling into Big Ten country to face Illinois. If the MAC favorites go 2-0 versus the Big Ten, it might be impossible to keep Fleck in Kalamazoo.
RB James Conner, Pittsburgh
Seventeen carries for 53 yards and a score. Never has such a pedestrian stat line been so impressive for a back. Conner beat cancer during the offseason to return in time for the Villanova opener. He even flashed his trademark stiff-arm en route to the end zone. The Panthers didn’t need to lean on their horse in Week 1, but Conner will have a bigger role this week as the Penn State rivalry resumes for the first time since 2000.
QB Lamar Jackson, Louisville
Sure, Charlotte was on the other side of the field. But this was a different Jackson on Thursday night. A more dangerous and confident Jackson, who accounted for a school-record eight touchdowns and 405 yards … before halftime. This Jackson could be a threat to Clemson and Florida State, but first he heads to Syracuse this Friday night.
UCLA in College Station was a fork-in-the-road game for the Aggies and especially Kevin Sumlin. The fact that they survived in overtime, after blowing a late lead, could profoundly affect the program’s early season direction. With a quality win over a ranked opponent in the bank, A&M can use Prairie View to work out some wrinkles before the SEC opener at Auburn on Sept. 17.
The Bulldog backfield was shrouded in uncertainty in August. Who’d play quarterback? Are the backs healthy? Well, Kirby Smart’s debut couldn’t have unfolded much better, as Nick Chubb ran remarkably well in his first game since last year’s knee injury and Jacob Eason displayed poise off the bench in his first-ever college game. Eason now gets to continue his maturation against overmatched Nicholls State before SEC play starts in Week 3.
Let’s see. The Tide throttled a pretty good USC team on the same week that the rest of the SEC performed miserably. Yeah, the gap between Bama and the rest of college football’s best league is even wider than it was last year. The Tide enters this week’s Western Kentucky game, the final test before the Ole Miss showdown, knowing it just shut down Trojan stars JuJu Smith-Schuster and Ronald Jones II. And having popped the cork on rookie QB Jalen Hurts, who accounted for four scores.
The Cougs just might have hurt their chances of getting a Big 12 invite by shocking No. 3 Oklahoma at NRG Stadium. Who wants to play Tom Herman’s team perennially? Now that Houston has beaten top 10 teams in consecutive games for the first time ever, it’ll spend the rest of the college football season making a case for a playoff spot. The key now will be to remain focused on the low-profile opponents, like Saturday versus FCS Lamar.
Wake Forest’s Offense
It’s Year 3 for Dave Clawson. The offense is littered with veterans. Same stinking results. The Deacons managed just 10 first downs and 175 yards in Thursday’s 7-3 win over visiting Tulane, a level of impotence that’s going to derail hopes of a bowl game if not addressed this week at Duke.
The Mizzou Attack
New year. New coordinator. Same feeble results from the Tigers. Mizzou, which averaged 13.6 points per game a year ago, opened the 2016 campaign by scoring just three points in the first three quarters of a 26-11 loss to defensively-challenged West Virginia. With Eastern Michigan coming to Columbia this week, Josh Heupel needs to address line play and QB Drew Lock’s accuracy.
A visit from Furman was supposed to be a tune-up for Game 2 at Notre Dame on Sept. 17. Instead, the sloppy 28-13 victory over the Paladins may have exposed that the Spartans face a longer than expected rebuilding project this fall. Mark Dantonio’s D was fine, but the offense sputtered without QB Connor Cook in a game that was tight until late in the fourth.
A visit from rebuilding South Carolina on opening night. This was going to be the Dores’ best chance all year to cop an SEC win. Uh-uh. QB Kyle Shurmur and the offense were brutal, a fourth-quarter lead was blown and head coach Derek Mason is facing a must-win versus Middle Tennessee in Week 2.
There was chatter throughout the college football offseason of the culture changing in C’ville under Bronco Mendenhall. Funny, it still feels like a Mike London production after Richmond crushed the Hoos, 37-20. It’s going to be a process, but with back-to-back road games upcoming at Oregon and Connecticut, Virginia needed to use a visitor from the FCS as a confidence-booster.
No one thought life after Dak Prescott in Starkville would be easy. Then again, no one thought the Bulldogs would fall at home to South Alabama either. Losing to a Sun Belt team changes the entire dynamic of the season, and puts Dan Mullen’s five-year bowl streak in severe jeopardy. If MSU has any dreams of regrouping, it better begin this week with visiting South Carolina.
The TCU D
The Frogs survived a scare with South Dakota State. That’s the good news. The bad? A defense that was supposed to be healthier and nastier was exploited for too many big plays. If TCU can’t stop Jackrabbit QB Taryn Christion and WR Jake Wieneke, it’s a glaring concern for Saturday’s Arkansas visit and especially when Big 12 play begins the subsequent weekend.
The Vols survived Appalachian State in OT, but there was a hefty toll. Tennessee looked nothing like a top 10 squad, particularly on offense, where the Mountaineers controlled the line. While it was an opener against an underrated opponent, UT must have a short memory because a hungry Virginia Tech awaits in Bristol this weekend.
Football in L.A.
This is the year that either UCLA or USC emerges from the Pac-12 South to snap the North’s dominance in the conference. Or not. The Bruins and the Trojans exposed many warts, especially the latter, which was thoroughly outclassed in Arlington by Alabama. Both schools get a chance to regroup at home versus Mountain West visitors, UCLA with UNLV and USC with Utah State.
Seriously, Sooners, you’re going to continue this same frustrating script of failing to meet expectations when starting in the top 10? Oklahoma was thoroughly outplayed in a 33-23 loss to double-digit underdog Houston. There’s plenty of time to regroup, with Louisiana-Monroe on the slate before another huge game with Ohio State. But any margin of error for a playoff repeat is already gone.
QB Brandon Harris, LSU
Really, the entire program is stumbling into this week’s home opener with Jacksonville State, from Les Miles and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron on down. But Harris is the face of LSU’s crushing 16-14 loss to Wisconsin at Lambeau. He remains erratic, capped by an inexcusable pick as the Tigers were driving for the possible winning field goal. And if it’s the same old Harris behind center, there’s a hard cap on how high this team can go in 2016.
All Things Stoops
Bob looks as if he could be headed toward another season that begins in the top 10 and ends outside of it. Mike’s Sooner D couldn’t stop Greg Ward Jr. and Houston. Mark’s hot seat got much hotter after his Kentucky team wilted to Southern Miss in the second half. Bob and Mike should even their record Saturday against Louisiana-Monroe, while Mark’s Cats will have to win in the Swamp to avoid an 0-2 start.
SEC-haters were given plenty to work with in Week 1. Bama was otherworldly, and Georgia and A&M bagged quality wins. However, Southern Miss and South Alabama beat SEC teams, while Appalachian State, La Tech and UMass almost did as well. Plus, LSU fell to Wisconsin, Auburn lost to Clemson and Mizzou bowed to West Virginia. The league sure could use critic-quelling wins from Ole Miss (vs. Florida State), Tennessee (vs. Va Tech) and Arkansas (at TCU) in the next few days.