David M. HaleESPN Staff Writer
It has been 280 days since we last enjoyed a full Saturday slate of college football games, so it’s understandable if fans at Auburn and West Virginia and Notre Dame are a little excited. And certainly a little pessimism might be setting in at Texas or Washington or Penn State. But we really shouldn’t read too much into one week of games. Week 1 has a way of being deceptive.
Remember the stunning comebacks last season by Tennessee and UCLA? Both were looking for coaches at year’s end.
Remember when Texas was back after it beat Notre Dame two years ago on opening weekend? So does USF coach Charlie Strong, who coached Texas to that win against the Irish, only to lose his job following a 5-7 season.
Or how about when Texas A&M stunned Arizona State to open the 2015 season? The Aggies proceeded to lose five of their last eight games that year.
The point is: All is not what it seems after Week 1, which is why we’re here to sort out the stocks you should be buying and selling and the ones we’ll still need more time to figure out.
BUY: Will Grier‘s Heisman campaign
It’s way too early to write off Stanford’s Bryce Love (18 carries, 29 yards vs. San Diego State), and Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor (145 yards and two TDs vs. Western Kentucky) was solid enough in an opening win, but what’s clear is that Grier’s case is going to be an emphatic one. No one is going to mistake Tennessee’s defense for 2017 Alabama, but Jeremy Pruitt knows how to scheme against a good QB, and Grier made the Volunteers look silly. In his return to his hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina, Grier completed 25 of 34 passes for 429 yards and five touchdowns, and if not for a couple of drops, his numbers would’ve been even better.
HOLD: Penn State’s chances in the Big Ten
Make no mistake, no one should be feeling good in Happy Valley after an overtime win against Appalachian State, but it’s not the end of the world yet. No, this isn’t the same Penn State team as last year. It’s clear the losses of Saquon Barkley, Joe Moorhead and others had a big impact on the Lions’ offense (just 230 yards on 36 pass attempts … yikes!), but let’s also keep some perspective. The defense had a bad quarter, not a bad game. Through three quarters, App State’s only touchdown came on a kick return. Second, the schedule is still incredibly accommodating. Penn State gets Michigan State, Ohio State and Wisconsin at home. And while it’s entirely possible Week 1 hasn’t told us much about any of these teams, Michigan State and Michigan didn’t look good, either.
SELL: Smack-talking Alabama
Dez Fitzpatrick said Louisville’s receivers could win every matchup against Alabama’s secondary. He finished with three catches. Lukayus McNeil said if Louisville’s line played to its potential, it could dominate the Tide’s front seven. The Cards finished with 16 yards rushing. Bobby Petrino told boosters he really believed Louisville would win. It didn’t. Look, none of this should really constitute trash talk. Were they supposed to say they planned to lose? But even if every member of Alabama’s team took an Ambien before kickoff, the Tide still would’ve been a heavy favorite, so why poke the bear? Head down, mouth shut, hope to get out alive.
BUY: Matt Canada’s head-coaching potential
Who knows where Maryland’s season goes from here? The Terps opened with a win over Texas last season, too, and it didn’t amount to much long term. But this was different in so many ways. Head coach DJ Durkin is suspended. The past few months have been emotional turmoil for the players. And the game started Saturday with another emotional moment, as the Terps lined up without a right guard, to honor their late teammate Jordan McNair. And yet Canada — filling in as interim coach — had a plan for all of it. It wasn’t a flawlessly executed game plan, but this isn’t a flawless team. Canada corralled all that emotion and perfectly directed it toward the task at hand. Even when Texas completely flipped the momentum before the half, Canada rallied his players, who delivered a stunning upset over the Longhorns. For the coach, who has been fired from two different offensive coordinator jobs in the previous three seasons, it was a statement about the respect he has already engendered from his players and his ability to right the ship.
SELL: Oklahoma giving ground in the Big 12
Who’s stepping up to challenge Oklahoma’s dominance? Texas Tech got dusted by Ole Miss, and that defense clearly still has a long way to go. Texas lost to Maryland in embarrassing fashion. Kansas State didn’t look particularly sharp against South Dakota. Oklahoma State was … fine. Meanwhile, Kyler Murray looked like he’s not ready to focus on baseball anytime soon. The Sooners’ starters played less than a half in a win over Florida Atlantic, with Murray averaging 19 yards per pass, Rodney Anderson hitting 100 yards on the ground on just five carries, and the defense holding Lane Kiffin’s explosive crew to just 4.4 yards per carry. TCU and West Virginia will get their shots, of course, but it’s hard to walk away from Week 1 thinking anything other than the Sooners are the clear favorites once again. Oh, and that’s bad news for …
SELL: The Pac-12’s playoff hopes
It’s not just that Washington lost to Auburn. It’s true that would’ve been a signature nonconference win for the league and for its best team, and it’s also true the Huskies had their chances to pull off the victory. But it didn’t happen, and now there’s really not a clear chance to change the narrative the rest of the way. UCLA gets its shot at Oklahoma next week, but that’s not likely to end well. Stanford faces off against Notre Dame in Week 5, making that essentially a must-win. The problem is there’s already a storyline the Pac-12 needs to fight, and every missed opportunity looms larger and larger. Add in that Oklahoma looked great — thus giving the Big 12 at least one likely playoff contender — and it’s already an uphill battle for the Pac-12, with few opportunities to take a big step forward.
HOLD: Notre Dame’s playoff hopes
The Irish beat Michigan, but there’s a long way to go before we start talking playoff. Brandon Wimbush got off to a terrific start, completing 8 of 11 passes for 138 yards and a touchdown (to go with 47 rushing yards) on his first four drives. Clearly, he turned the page on last year’s inconsistency, right? Well, the rest of the game didn’t go so well. Wimbush finished 4-of-11 for 32 yards and had a pick, and Notre Dame’s final seven drives amounted to a field goal, five punts and a turnover. That’s not to say this wasn’t a big positive for Notre Dame overall, but it’s no secret Michigan’s offense is inept, and the Irish still have dates with Stanford, Virginia Tech, Northwestern, Florida State and USC that will require more from Wimbush than one good quarter. Call us cautiously optimistic.
SELL: Shea Patterson as Michigan’s savior
Ole Miss looked just fine without him. Michigan looked like the same old Michigan with him. What does that mean for Patterson? Maybe it’s too early to give up on the guy after one game, but let’s just say history isn’t on his side here. The silver lining is John O’Korn, Tate Forcier and Jake Rudock run a wonderful support group with light snacks and tea.
BUY: The ongoing Clemson QB battle
Dabo Swinney named his starter, and indeed, Kelly Bryant was the first quarterback on the field Saturday in a blowout win over Furman. But Trevor Lawrence got all the second-quarter snaps, and after a slightly rocky start, the true freshman looked every bit like he was ready to ascend to the throne. Lawrence came out with a bit too much adrenaline and lacked some touch on a few early throws, but he finished his day completing six of his final seven throws for 97 yards and three touchdowns. The only incompletion was a touch pass into the end zone caught just out of bounds. After the game, Swinney said he didn’t see enough from either QB to dramatically alter his position in the battle, but it’s also clear Clemson can’t just keep Lawrence on the bench. Next week’s showdown at Texas A&M should be awfully interesting.
BUY: Boston College as a contender
The Eagles were the sexy preseason Cinderella even though it’s tough to buy into anyone really pushing Clemson for the ACC Atlantic. But boy, Steve Addazio’s crew looked really good in a dominant win over UMass. OK, yes, it was just UMass. But BC already has a Heisman contender in the backfield in AJ Dillon, and on Saturday, QB Anthony Brown showed he was healed from a knee injury that ended his 2017 season early, throwing four touchdowns in the first half. No BC quarterback had thrown four TDs in a winning effort in an entire game since Matt Ryan in 2009. So if BC can move the ball through the air and hand the rock to Dillon 30 times a game? Yeah, that’s got the makings of a real contender.
HOLD: Chip Kelly’s demise
It has been a long time since we’ve seen Kelly look like a genius, and Saturday did little to suggest otherwise. But let’s cut him some slack — his QB went down early, his receivers dropped a ton of balls, and at least none of his players threw a punch, as happened in his last college debut. But here’s the thing we just can’t shake: UCLA ran just 68 plays. That’s at least a dozen fewer than Kelly would probably like.
BUY: Boise State as the best of the Group of 5
The Broncos traveled 2,200 miles to face the defending Sun Belt champions, and it was never close. Boise State hung 56 on Troy, an astonishing figure given that the Trojans didn’t allow more than 21 to any opponent at home last year. And while Boise State looked dominant, some of the other big names in the Group of 5 — FAU, Houston, San Diego State — struggled. So while there’s still a long way to go, we’re looking forward to some guy from Boise hiring a plane to fly a “Co-National Champs” banner over Alabama’s opener in 2019.
SELL: Weather delays and cancellations
Come on, Mother Nature. We’ve been waiting so long. Instead, Iowa State gets canceled, West Virginia and Tennessee get delayed and Nebraska … why would you do this to those poor Huskers fans? Haven’t they suffered enough?