Five lessons from the opening weekend of college football



Frank Scicchitano

1. There were never too many cooks in Urban Meyer’s kitchen.  

All three players that were a part of defending national champion Ohio State’s three-way quarterback controversy this past offseason found the endzone for the Buckeyes on Monday night.  Junior Cardale Jones was the starting quarterback and scored three total touchdowns in his team’s 42-24 victory over Virginia Tech.  

Backup quarterback J.T. Barrett played the majority of the fourth quarter and attempted just one pass – a 26-yard touchdown toss to wide receiver Michael Thomas.  He also added a 40-yard run earlier on that drive which set up the eventually touchdown pass.  Ohio State’s extremely favorable schedule is likely to see a handful of blowouts, which could mean that Barrett will get a good amount of playing in an effort to keep Jones healthy.

And Braxton Miller, who many viewed as the odd man out in the quarterback competition, emerged as one of the most threatening playmakers in Urban Meyer’s offense, tallying 78 yards and a touchdown on two receptions and carrying the ball six times for 62 yards and another score.  Wearing a new number and playing a new position, Miller is still the same superstar he has been for his entire career at Ohio State and, if healthy, will be the most dangerous Buckeye every time he steps on the field.

2. Someone needs to test the water in Alabama.

Following in the footsteps of Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson, Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon, Alabama running back Derrick Henry will carry on the tradition of freakishly athletic giants in Nick Saban’s backfield.  At 6-foot-3, 242 pounds, Henry thrashed a Wisconsin defense that finished 2014 with the Big Ten Conference’s second best defense overall.  The junior amassed 147 yards and three touchdowns on just 13 carries in the Crimson Tide’s 35-17 win on Saturday night.  Other SEC head coaches may want to consider add a semi truck to their practice squad to help prepare for Alabama’s rushing attack.

3. Just when you thought the replacement refs were extinct…

In a scenario with which the 2012 Green Bay Packers can surely sympathize, the Colorado Buffaloes fell to Hawaii last Thursday in a game that ended on a complete blunder by the officiating crew.  

With 12 seconds remaining, the Buffaloes trailed 28-20 and had driven inside their opponents’ ten yard-line and had plenty of time for one – if not two – shots into the end zone.   Colorado was out of timeouts, and as its offense got set at the line of scrimmage, the umpire retrieved the ball and attempted to flip the ball to the referee for him to spot it for the next play.  

In the process, the ball struck a Hawaii player who was slowly meandering onto the defensive side of the ball and rolled away from the referee.  Before the officials could recover and properly spot the ball, the game clock had expired and Hawaii escaped with the win. There is no way of knowing whether Colorado would have converted if they were able to get that play off, and it is clear that the referees were in a hurry to get the ball ready for the next play. This exact scenario is too rare to induce a major rule change, but it does need to be addressed so that it could be avoided. If a defensive player touches a dead ball while the clock is running (especially with under two minutes left in a half or game), time should stop until the ball is set.  It’s a simple solution that should be addressed soon.

4. Healthy and mistake-free, Notre Dame is poised for an impressive season.

Head Coach Brian Kelly’s veteran offensive line absolutely manhandled Texas’ inexperienced defensive front, and junior quarterback Malik Zaire took advantage by delivering a nearly flawless performance.  In just his second collegiate start, Zaire completed 19 of 22 pass attempts for 313 yards, three touchdowns and, most importantly, no interceptions.  

Aside from a few frustrating illegal procedure penalties, the Notre Dame offensive line gave Zaire all day to read the Longhorn’s defense and opened up gaping holes for Irish running backs C.J. Prosise and Josh Adams.

Defensively, All-American linebacker Jaylon Smith and standout defensive tackle Sheldon Day led a healthy and hungry defense that is hoping to return to the dominant unit they were in the first half of last season before they were rattled by injuries.  Holding the Longhorns to just three points in the season opener is certainly a good start.

5. For the second straight season, the SEC West will rule the rankings.

Alabama, Arkansas, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Auburn, and Texas A&M each notched their first victory of the season while LSU had a bye week on the opening weekend.  The Crimson Tide handled a physical Wisconsin team with ease, Ole Miss dropped 76 points on Tennessee-Martin, Arkansas scored an impressive win in its return to SEC relevancy, and Mississippi State, Auburn, and Texas A&M all took care of business against strong opponents.

In 2014, the SEC West had three representatives in the AP top 5 for a good portion of the season.  Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Alabama beat each other down with Alabama eventually emerging as the top team in the division.  This year may see the same occurrence, but potentially with different teams such as Arkansas, LSU, and Auburn.

Sure, it is way too early to begin making predictions for the College Football Playoff in January, but the first weekend of the certainly gives fans an idea of where the power lies this season.  Many major programs were surrounded by questions over the offsesaon, and they began to answer them in Week 1.  If the action over Labor Day weekend is any indication of how the 2015 season will unfold, college football fans are in for a treat.