College football’s Week 1 winners and losers
Sam Ficken had been here before.
Two years ago, Penn State lost to Virginia when he missed a field goal on the final play. Flash forward to Ireland on Saturday, and the senior redeemed himself with a 36-yard kick at the gun to lift the Nittany Lions past Central Florida 26-24.
Ficken’s fourth field goal of the game gave James Franklin, his fourth head coach during his time at Penn State, a winning debut.
More winners from Week 1:
Notre Dame offense: There was no rust for quarterback Everett Golson after sitting out last season. He ran for two touchdowns and threw for two scores in the first half against Rice, and Notre Dame rolled to a 48-17 opening win that provided some positive light to the program mired in an academic scandal. Golson’s mobility and arm will make the Irish offense more difficult to defend than last year, when Tommy Rees was behind center.
Todd Gurley’s Heisman campaign: The only thing that slowed down Gurley against Clemson was the Georgia play calling. The junior managed to make the most of his limited workload with a career-high 198 yards on 15 carries. He found the end zone four times, including on a 100-yard kickoff return. Honorable mention goes to the Bulldogs defense that was burned frequently last year but shut down the Tigers in the second half. Those two pieces together make Georgia very dangerous.
West Virginia: The Mountaineers were almost a four-touchdown underdog against No. 2 Alabama and weren’t given much of a shot to test the Tide. But at halftime West Virginia trailed by just three, 20-17, and pushed Bama deep into the fourth quarter before falling 33-23. Clint Trickett played well at quarterback and would have had a better chance to pull off an upset if not for a series of critical drops by his receivers. Things are looking up after a 4-8 finish last year.
Big Ten newcomers: Rutgers and Maryland were thought to be the weak links in their new conference. But the Scarlet Knights and Terrapins opened with victories. Rutgers won at Washington State, a result that should help the conference’s profile come playoff time. Maryland, meanwhile, cruised against James Madison. It wouldn’t be surprising if both were in contention for a bowl game when they meet on Nov. 29.
Ohio State’s playoff hopes: The Buckeyes’ offense was going to take a step back without Braxton Miller at quarterback. But there was some hope Urban Meyer could patch things together and make a run at a national title. Miller’s replacement, freshman J.T. Barrett, needed more than 40 minutes to generate the offense’s first touchdown against Navy. That 80-yard scoring pass to Devin Smith seemed to settle him down, and the Buckeyes pulled away late to win 34-17. He’ll need to be on target earlier next week when Virginia Tech visits Columbus.
Brett Hundley’s Heisman campaign: The season started great for Hundley, who hit Eldridge Massington for a 48-yard catch on the game’s first play from scrimmage. From there it was downhill. On the rest of the 31 plays of the first half, the Bruins managed 88 yards. And this was against a Virginia defense that allowed 33.3 points a game last season. The blame doesn’t all fall on Hundley, however. The offensive line failed to give him any protection or establish a running game. Despite the 28-20 win, not a good omen when the competition gets tougher in the Pac-12.
Florida State’s title defense: Adjusting to being the hunted wasn’t easy for the Seminoles, who were the one seeming preseason lock for the College Football Playoff. It’s clear their path won’t be as easy as last year when no regular-season opponent threatened them in the fourth quarter. Most disappointing in the defeat of Oklahoma State was the inability of the Seminoles’ offensive line to establish a running game. Karlos Williams was expected to run wild, but never got untracked. The inconsistent defense under new coordinator Charles Kelly wasn’t much better. FSU allowed more points than all but one game last season.
The bottom of the ACC: Where to start? Wake Forest lost to Louisiana-Monroe. Syracuse needed overtime to beat Villanova. North Carolina State had to score a late touchdown to survive Georgia Southern. Georgia Tech led Wofford by five in the fourth quarter. Surprisingly, the most impressive of this group was Virginia, which came close to an upset of UCLA.
Northwestern: After losing seven of its last eight games and an offseason dealing with a still-unresolved drama over a college players union, Northwestern was looking forward to finally taking the field in 2014. The first game didn’t go as planned. California, a team that didn’t record a win against an FBS opponent last year, jumped to a 31-7 lead and held off a rally to win 31-24. A dangerous game against Northern Illinois looms next for Pat Fitzgerald’s team.