The first full Saturday of college football in 2015 is in the books, with a lot to digest as we got our first glimpses of many teams, new coaches and new quarterbacks after a long offseason wait. From good news in the SEC West to bad news at traditional powers like Penn State and Texas, here are five takeaways from Saturday.
Missed what happened? Check out our game recaps below, and look for further comprehensive analysis of Week 1 in The Professor on Monday at Sports on Earth.
Northwestern 16, Stanford 6
Georgia 51, Louisiana-Monroe 14
Temple 27, Penn State 10
Auburn 31, Louisville 24
BYU 33, Nebraska 28
Notre Dame 38, Texas 3
Texas A&M 38, Arizona State 17
Alabama 35, Wisconsin 17
1. The SEC West still owns September. Did we expect anything different? We will make no declarations about the SEC West being the best division in the history of football, like last October, but after a rough bowl season, the West Division re-solidified its position atop college football -- as most still suspected -- with a phenomenal opening weekend. All seven West teams were in the top 27 of the preseason AP poll, and the division mostly lived up to the hype to open the season. Most notably, the West played three games against quality opponents in NFL stadiums, notching convincing wins in all of them
Derrick Henry and No. 3 Alabama pulverized No. 20 Wisconsin 35-17 Arlington, Texas, with a dominant performance from the defensive front and a solid first start from Jacob Coker.
Texas A&M's defense became one of the biggest stories of Week 1 in a 38-17 over No. 15 Arizona State in Houston in which it finished with nine sacks.
And No. 6 Auburn beat Louisville 31-24 in Atlanta in a game that the Tigers mostly controlled until late, with Will Muschamp's defense showing promise and quarterback Jeremy Johnson shaking off a few ugly mistakes.
Throw in Ole Miss (76-3 over Tennessee-Martin) and Arkansas (48-13 over UTEP) taking care of subpar opponents, and the SEC West could not have looked better to open the season… well, beyond Mississippi State -- picked by most to finish last in the division -- sleepwalking through its trip to Southern Miss. The only team that didn't accomplish anything Saturday was LSU, who had its opener against McNeese State canceled by bad weather. We'll be nice and assume that the Tigers would have won by 50, while enjoying the view from Tiger Stadium:
Winning in September means little come January. It's possible the SEC West won't even make the playoff, thanks to the presence of Georgia in the East. But a few close losses last holiday season don't change the fact that this division is still the deepest and most talented in college football. Teams will beat up on each other as the season goes on -- look at Alabama's midseason schedule, for instance -- but in nonconference play there is no contest. Everyone else is still trying to catch up, while teams like Alabama already appear to be in midseason form.
2. The Pac-12 has work to do to live up to its offseason hype. There's been a lot of attention given to the depth of the Pac-12, and how it is catching the SEC in the race to be America's strongest conference. If Week 1 is any indication, there is still a long way to go. Make no mistake, the Pac-12 South is still likely to be fantastic -- beyond Colorado, who lost to Hawaii. USC, Utah, UCLA and Arizona all won this week, and Arizona State forgivably lost a tough game to a quality opponent in Texas A&M. The Bruins in particular looked sharp, with freshman phenom Josh Rosen living up to all of his personal hype by completing 28 of 35 passes for 351 yards and three touchdowns in a 34-16 win over Virginia.
But depth in the Pac-12 North could be dicey, with Oregon appearing to be miles ahead of everyone else. Stanford's 16-6 loss at Northwestern was disheartening, while Washington finished with 179 total yards in its 16-13 loss to Boise State on Friday, Oregon State looked mediocre in beating Weber State 26-7 and Washington State hit a new low with a 24-17 loss to Portland State, which threw for 61 yards in the game and finished 3-9 at the FCS level in 2014. There's hope that Cal will take a leap forward this year -- the Golden Bears ran up 73 points on overmatched Grambling State on Saturday -- but it's hard to see anything but a wide gap between Oregon and the rest of the North. We've seen Stanford ruin things for the Ducks before, but the tide appears to have turned in that rivalry.
3. Don't assume improvement in a problem area from one year to the next. Penn State, Texas and Stanford fans now know this well (as do Michigan fans after Thursday). There is room for improvement over the course of the season. However, Penn State's historically bad performance in its first loss to Temple since 1941 took the idea that progress was inevitable and showed that last year wasn't actually rock bottom for offensive line play, which is a scary thought -- particularly for prized quarterback Christian Hackenberg. Stanford's sluggish road loss to Northwestern showed the same conservatism and lack of punch that plagued the Cardinal offense for most of last year. Texas, like Penn State, can't figure out how to put together a competent offensive line, in addition to having no answer at quarterback. The Longhorns have now scored a total of 20 points in its last three games against TCU, Arkansas and Notre Dame. All three are quality opponents, of course, but Texas isn't the type of program that should ever appear so hopelessly overmatched against such teams.
Just did some research. #PennState's 180 total yards today are its lowest since Lions gained 147 in the infamous 6-4 loss to Iowa in 2004.— Richard Scarcella (@nittanyrich) September 6, 2015
Texas' last 3 games: - 3.1 yards per play - Two touchdowns scored - Three defensive TDs allowed - 5.8 yards/play allowed - Outscored 117-20— Zach Barnett (@zach_barnett) September 6, 2015
On Saturday, it appeared that little had changed for any of these three. If anything, last year's problems were even worse for all three, despite having an entire offseason for players to become more seasoned in learning their systems and for coaches to make adjustments. While Texas A&M's defense, for example, did prove that it could make a lot of progress in an offseason, Penn State, Stanford and Texas are still firmly in prove-it mode, not deserving the benefit of the doubt. Week 1 is too early to panic, but it's not too early to express loud frustration about the same problems repeating themselves from one year to the next.
4. Little trouble for transfer quarterbacks. Graduate transfer quarterbacks have become one of the biggest stories in college football, and for the most part this year's free agents performed well in their debuts on Saturday after Jake Rudock's struggles for Michigan on Thursday. Florida transfer Jeff Driskel led Louisiana Tech to a 62-15 win over Southern, completing 12 of 15 passes for 274 yards and five total touchdowns -- almost all in the first half. Texas Tech transfer Baker Mayfield (who was on campus last year) led Oklahoma to a 41-3 win over Akron, completing 23 of 33 passes for 388 yards and four total touchdowns. Virginia transfer Greyson Lambert was solid in his debut for Georgia, hitting 8 of 12 passes for 141 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions, which is all the Bulldogs really need thanks to their running game. Notre Dame transfer Everett Golson led Florida State to a 59-16 win over Texas State, completing 19 of 25 passes for 302 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions. Everyone was impressive, despite parachuting into new situations, some as recently as this summer.
Oregon got its much-anticipated debut of Vernon Adams against his former team, Eastern Washington. Adams joined the Ducks only a few weeks ago, but he performed well before taking a cheap shot from former teammate John Kreifels that took him out of the game. Adams himself was made available after the game and said he's feeling well, so it appears that he did not suffer a concussion and should be fine for next week's showdown at Michigan State. Oregon got what it wanted out of the two-time runner-up for FCS player of the year in his debut: He completed 19 of 25 passes for 246 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 94 yards, with his skill set complementing the skill set of powerful tailback Royce Freeman, who ran for 180 yards. Oregon did what it was supposed to do in scoring 61 points against Eastern Washington, while its pass defense was rather troubling (483 yards, five touchdowns, from an Eagles team that had to replace Adams). But while nobody can replace Mariota, it appears that Oregon is in capable hands with Adams, an experienced quarterback with a track record of success, a good arm, quickness and already a handle on the Ducks' fast-paced offense.
5. Welcome back, Deshaun Watson. Clemson's opening game against Wofford didn't go smoothly in every way. While the Tigers got Watson back, star receiver Mike Williams suffered a scary neck injury early, running into the goalpost on a touchdown catch. Fortunately, after being taken to the hospital, all appeared to be OK for Williams later in the day. Aside from the scare, Clemson got everything it wanted in a predictable 49-10 rout of Wofford. No, there was nothing surprising here, but after injuries derailed his incredible freshman season -- including a torn ACL in November -- there were few better sights on Saturday than a healthy Watson back on the field, looking like that same quarterback we saw in limited action in 2014. Watson completed 18 of 22 passes for 194 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions, and he ran twice for 22 yards. With games against Louisville, Notre Dame and Georgia Tech in the next five weeks, Clemson got what it needed, easing Watson back in before the big tests with exactly the type of performance you'd want from perhaps the most talented quarterback in college football.