For complete results from the weekend in college football, check out Sports on Earth's scoreboard.
Sports on Earth Saturday stories: Crimson Tide rises back to the top | Young Wolverines crush Gators | Terps spoil Herman's Texas debut | Blind long-snapper Olson plays for USC | Francois injured in FSU loss to Bama
1. The 2017 season feels very familiar … so far.
Alabama won a big game, 24-7, in which the opponent stayed within striking distance much of the way but, ultimately, made too many mistakes to have a real chance to win. This seems like the exact description of a sizable portion of Nick Saban wins at Alabama, including the Peach Bowl against Washington in last year's playoff. This time, it was in the biggest opening game ever, based on the preseason AP poll, against No. 3 Florida State in Atlanta at the site of the national championship game.
We saw many of the same strengths and weaknesses for Alabama: The defense quickly reloaded and held the Seminoles to 250 total yards. Against a talented FSU defense, Jalen Hurts averaged only 5.3 yards per pass attempt despite hitting Calvin Ridley for a 53-yard touchdown (no other wide receiver caught a pass). The Crimson Tide went 3-for-16 on third down. They had some kicking trouble but made big special teams plays. While the development of the offense can't be judged solely on a Week 1 performance against a spectacular defense, it all sounds quite familiar, even with the new offensive coordinator switch to Brian Daboll. There's a lot to learn about Alabama, still. But it's quite obviously a national frontrunner yet again. Last year's team nearly went 15-0 despite some weaknesses, and this team is capable of making a similar run even if some of the weaknesses remain the same.
So how else did Week 1 feel familiar?
- Michigan is still Michigan. Florida is still Florida. Both lost a ton of talent to the NFL, and yet they looked nearly identical to last year. Stellar defense -- including two pick-sixes -- kept Florida in the game, but the offense couldn't do anything in a 33-17 loss to the Wolverines. Michigan's defensive line held a big advantage, it ran the ball well enough behind Ty Isaac and Chris Evans and it made big plays when it needed to. Florida did not, as the ground game went nowhere and QBs Feleipe Franks and Malik Zaire provided no spark.
- Clemson (56-3 over Kent State), Penn State (52-0 over Akron) and Oklahoma (56-7 over UTEP) picked up right where they left off. Kelly Bryant had an excellent debut start replacing Deshaun Watson against the overmatched Golden Flashes, completing 16 of 22 for 236 yards, a TD and a pick with 77 rushing yards and a TD. Penn State's offense dominated the Zips, with Saquon Barkley racking up 226 yards from scrimmage on 17 touches. And Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield completed 19 of 20 for 329 yards and three TDs … all in one half.
- Lamar Jackson accounted for 485 yards of total offense, but Louisville did not make things easy on itself. This time, the Cardinals got a formidable challenge from Purdue in its first game under new coach Jeff Brohm. The Boilermakers appear to be improved, but in a 35-28 victory, Louisville still had issues on the offensive line -- Jackson provided almost all of the offense -- and lost two fumbles at the goal line. This was the same Louisville team we saw in much of the second half of 2017.
- Texas looked like a middle-of-the-road team. Again. In Tom Herman's first game as head coach, the Longhorns made countless mistakes and appeared to be unprepared. Unlike last year, the running game was unproductive. Mostly, it was a sloppy Texas game featuring signs of hope that were ultimately wiped out by mistakes and Maryland big plays. The Terrapins won 51-41, and for one week, at least, the Herman era looked like the Charlie Strong era.
This all comes after Ohio State's Thursday win over Indiana in which it displayed the same issues as last year -- no downfield passing -- but still ending up winning with relative ease.
There's a long, long way to go, and teams are going to change significantly next week and beyond. For now, though, the 2017 season couldn't help but feel like an extension of 2016.
2. The ACC is king narrative took a hit.
There's no doubting that the ACC had a phenomenal 2016 season. Clemson won the national title, Jackson won the Heisman, the league had a strong roster of quarterbacks and ACC teams won a series of big nonconference games. The ACC earned its 2016 respect. Saturday, however, was a good reminder that we should slow down any talk of some sort of long-term changing of the guard among conferences.
Florida State lost by 17 to Alabama. Louisville barely beat Purdue. North Carolina lost at home to California, 35-30, on a rough day for its new quarterbacks. Pittsburgh needed overtime to beat Youngstown State 28-21. And N.C. State's status as everybody's favorite sleeper quickly fell apart thanks to a 35-28 loss to South Carolina.
By no means has Week 1 been a disaster for the ACC that spells impending doom. The truth is that while the ACC had a great season last year, there wasn't much separation between the top conferences. With a lot of quarterback turnover -- which will be made even worse if Florida State's Deondre Francois is out -- this year was bound to feel different, and now the ACC has a small hole to try to dig itself out of. (Virginia Tech plays West Virginia on Sunday, Georgia Tech plays Tennessee on Monday and Clemson plays Auburn next Saturday.)
3. Appalachian State did not celebratate the 10th anniversary of its big upset.
Appalachian State stunned the Big House crowd in Ann Arbor 10 years ago Friday. This time, there was nothing close to a repeat from the Mountaineers, who are now an FBS team. Georgia starting QB Jacob Eason's status is in doubt because of an injury, but true freshman Jake Fromm played well in his place, completing 10 of 15 for 143 yards and a TD. The Bulldogs dominated the defending Sun Belt champions 31-10, also getting solid performances on the ground from Nick Chubb (96 yards, two TDs) and Sony Michel (87 yards, one TD), plus the defense. It was never a close game, with Appalachian State's 10 points coming in garbage time.
Three FCS teams did, however, score wins over FBS foes on Saturday, including one Power Five stunner.
- Liberty upset Baylor 48-45. The Flames are transitioning to FBS status, but they're still playing an FCS schedule the rest of the way this season. They ruined the debut of new Baylor coach Matt Rhule on Saturday in Waco, getting 447 passing yards from Stephen Calvert and 122 rushing yards from Carrington Mosley. Liberty ran 103 plays to Baylor's 64, holding the ball for 38:16 and winning the game with a pair of interceptions: a pick-six off Arizona transfer QB Anu Solomon to start the second half and an interception to seal the win on the last play.
- It's hard to quantify FBS vs. FCS games, but UNLV was a 45-point favorite over Howard, making its victory over the Rebels a seismic one, at least in terms of point spread. UNLV losing to anyone is never much of an upset -- the Rebels have had one winning season since 2000 -- but the Bison had won three games over the past two seasons, with losses to Boston College, Appalachian State, Rutgers and Maryland by a total score of 229-27. Howard pulled Saturday's upset with some familiar names: new head coach Mike London (formerly of Virginia) and quarterback Caylin Newton (brother of Cam Newton).
- East Carolina has fallen so far that losing to James Madison wasn't an upset. The FCS champion Dukes pounded the Pirates 34-14 behind Cardon Johnson's 265 rushing yards. East Carolina went 10-3 in 2013 but has slipped to eight, five and three wins the past three years. Now, it's 0-1 with a 20-point loss to an FCS team.
4. Not the finest day for top quarterback prospects.
Three quarterbacks have gotten more 2018 NFL Draft hype than anybody to this point: UCLA's Josh Rosen, USC's Sam Darnold and Wyoming's Josh Allen. Rosen's first game isn't until Sunday night vs. Texas A&M, but it won't take him much to surpass the Week 1 efforts of Darnold and Allen.
Darnold ended up completing 23 of 33 for 289 yards (8.8 yards per attempt) and rushing for a touchdown, but he was intercepted twice in a 49-31 win over Western Michigan. The game was tied until midway through the fourth quarter, and the ground game featuring Ronald Jones II and Stephen Carr was much sharper than Darnold, carrying the Trojans to a win that was narrower than the final 18-point margin indicates.
Of course, Darnold's day, on paper, looks sterling compared to what Allen experienced at Iowa. In one career game against a Power Five opponent, Allen threw five interceptions in a 52-17 loss at Nebraska last year. In his second game, at Iowa on Saturday, Allen completed 23 of 40 for 174 yards (4.3 per attempt), zero TDs and two INTs, as the Cowboys lost 24-3. There are more questions about Allen's supporting cast this year than last year, but his decision-making and accuracy remain under the microscope, no matter how much arm talent he has. One game does little to impact scouting reports, but Saturday felt like a missed opportunity to prove skeptics wrong, even if he didn't have enough help against a stout Iowa defense.
5. Saturday lacked drama, but prepare for Week 2 now.
There will be no complaining. College football has returned after a long offseason, and we finally got to experience a full Saturday of games. It's great to have the sport back again. With that said, it was hardly a compelling slate: Alabama-Florida State was fun for a while, only to turn into a typical Bama win. Michigan pulled away from Florida, LSU shut out BYU and teams like USC, Nebraska, Louisville and South Florida staved off upset attempts. There were a handful of compelling games, perhaps topped by N.C. State beating South Carolina, but the day, ultimately, finished with a whimper.
Don't expect that to last. There are still three games left on Labor Day weekend, but it's already time to start thinking about a loaded Week 2, particularly next Saturday's prime-time slate: Auburn at Clemson, Oklahoma at Ohio State, Georgia at Notre Dame and Stanford-USC, followed by a buch of interesting late-night games, too. Saturday was merely the beginning.