It began with a “did that really just happen” moment on August 31 and ended (mercifully) around the twilight hour on Labor Day.
Here’s what stood out from college football’s opening week:Thursday, August 31
First game: Boston College at Central Michigan
Should have been the first “upset” of the year, too.
With 10:11 left in the fourth quarter, Tony Gonzalez hauled in a 19-yard touchdown pass from Eagles’ quarterback Matt Ryan, who promptly donned a baseball cap after being informed he was done for the day with BC up 31-10. In the booth, the immortal Doug Flutie joked on-air about his nephew’s chances of taking a live snap in 2006 (note: vertically challenged – by the depth chart).
But Central Michigan’s gritty redshirt freshmen signal caller Dan LeFevour capped off back-to-back drives with touchdown runs to make it a seven point game with 3:55 remaining. A spirited Chippewa defense (aided by misfires from a hobbling, disinterested Matt Ryan) gave LeFevour one more chance.
And Central Michigan head Coach Brian Kelly channeled his inner-Rich Brooks in the early running to be the first D-1A coach fired in 2006.
With momentum that would’ve registered a perfect five on the NCAA 07 meter, Kelly got way too cute for his own good. Splitting his entire offensive line wide to the left side of the field, an unprotected LeFevour attempted a Flutie-esque jump pass that was intercepted by BC linebacker Brian Toal.
The call prompted ESPN’s Jason Whitlock (partnered with Dan LeBatard on a wonderfully self-proclaimed b-list PTI segment) to call for Central Michigan to can Kelly.
After watching it live, I couldn’t agree more.
Temple at Buffalo
The equivalent of Portland, Oregon as a AAA sports city or the Tampa Bay Devil Rays playing AAAA baseball: two D-1A bottom feeders meeting to determine who goes winless for 2006.
And despite holding Temple to an anemic 3.5 yards per play, Buffalo needed overtime to produce a 9-3 victory.
Northwestern at Miami (OH)
No PlayStation stats. No SportsCenter Top 10 Plays.
Two tributes: a Northwestern win for their fallen coach; the game ball to Randy Walker’s widow, Tammy.
One 31-year-old coach who proved he belongs: Pat Fitzgerald, hello world.
Friday September 1
The lone game on the schedule: Nevada at Fresno State
A rematch of Nevada’s 2005 upset that sparked the Wolpack’s run to the WAC title and sent the Bulldogs into a season-ending four-game losing streak.
Nevada’s unique Pistol offense (think: abbreviated shotgun) continues to amaze me. Every time I see them play, I wonder why more teams aren’t jumping on the playbook bandwagon and incorporating the Pistol in their game plans.
Then I remember that this is the WAC, and Urban Meyer allowed us all to witness how gimmick offenses play out in elite conferences.
Fresno State tailback Dwayne Wright rumbled through the Wolfpack defense with two years’ worth of pent-up aggression for 158 yards and three scores on 26 carries. Hard to imagine the 220 pound human anvil hadn’t played since 2004 due to complications from an incessantly creaky knee. As recently as last summer, Wright was contemplating a future without football.
On Friday, he carried FSU West to a 28-19 win.
Saturday September 2
Answer: Kaleidoscope. Cornucopia. Plethora.
Question: What are the first three words I can think of to describe the multitude of games on the season’s first Saturday?
(Editor’s note: Pacific Coast 7 a.m. Game Day equals zero fun, sir! But college football for breakfast is bliss.)
Saturday was a statement day around the country.
Tennessee. One year ago, David Cutcliffe was slated to groom Notre Dame’s Brady Quinn. Divine intervention, in the form of heart surgery that forced the quarterback guru (see: the Brothers Manning) away from the game for all of 2005 saved Erik Ainge’s career. The Volunteer’s fragile-minded quarterback hit on 11-of-18 passes for 291 yards and 4 touchdowns. Junior wide receiver Robert Meachem turned the Cal secondary into his personal stiff arm party (5 catches, 182 yards and 2 scores). And Tennessee’s stout front seven held the Bear’s prolific tailback tandem of Marshawn Lynch and Justin Forsett to 75 yards on 17 carries.
Texas. Nothing short of Napoleon playing middle linebacker for the Mean Green could have stopped the Longhorns. Freshmen Colt McCoy (12-for-19, 178 yards and 4 total touchdowns) gave Burnt Orange Nation reason for extreme optimism as Texas rolled over a morbid North Texas squad, 56-7 in Austin.
USC. Heading into Fayetteville and the ultimate trap game: a Razorback’s team returning 19 starters with revenge on their minds after being drubbed 70-17 in 2005. No Leinart. No Bush. No LenDale White. The result: 50 points and 472 yards of offense. Yep, Troy has fallen.
Colorado. The Dan Hawkins era opened with the school’s first-ever loss to a D1-AA opponent, as Montana State rolled into Boulder and over the Buffaloes, 19-10. Dropped passes, check. Fumbled kickoff with five minutes left in a one-score game, check. But how the Buffs managed a meager 216 total yards and three second half first downs with a coach who made the Smurf Turf his offensive playground at Boise State is an absolute mystery.
Cal. (See: Tennessee above). Everything good for them is horrific for Cal. An impending quarterback controversy + dashed national title hopes in week one = potential for disaster.
Walking a fine line:
Notre Dame. Yes, they appear to have answered some of the speed issues on defense. But it’s hard to put the ball in the end zone when you’re offense sounds like a garbage truck in reverse. Self-destructing penalties derailed several Irish drives. Brady Quinn looked rattled throughout the game and took a huge hit on his golden dome. ND may have played it’s worst game in the season opener. Or it might lose twice before September’s over.
Michigan State. Idaho head coach Dennis Erickson is one junior college recruiting class away from beating a BCS school. Michigan State (led by quarterback Drew Stanton’s efficient 280 total yards) managed to escape, 27-17 in East Lansing.
Oklahoma. Adrian Peterson ran for 139 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries. He added a 69-yard touchdown reception and the Sooners won 24-17. But against an average UAB team in Norman, the Sooners didn’t exactly look like the best team on the field.
Sunday September 3
Kentucky at Louisville
Just once, I’d like to see this game played when the Wildcats don’t look like they’ve got collective bed-head throughout the first half. Last year in Lexington, Kentucky climbed out of a 28-7 hole only to fumble the game away on the goal line late in the fourth quarter. On Sunday, they again mounted a furious mid-game rally before running out of gas and getting drilled, 59-28.
The lone bright spot for Kentucky: Keenan Burton’s 312 all-purpose yards, including an electrifying 100-yard kickoff return and a 73-yard touchdown catch and run on a middle screen.
Louisville quarterback Brian Brohm played his typically efficient game, finishing 19-for-31 for 254 yards and a touchdown. His surgically repaired knee looked just fine. Sadly, the same can’t be said for star tailback Michael Bush’s right leg. After rushing for 124 yards and 3 scores in the first half, Bush crumpled to the turf under Kentucky’s Wesley Woodyard on the second play of the third quarter, his tibia and fibula snapped. After an inflatable air cast was placed around Bush’s ankle, 45,000 fans at Papa John’s stadium watched Louisville’s national title hopes ride off the field on a cart.
Monday September 4
Florida State at Miami
ESPN Full Circle. The game of the week from every angle imaginable meant you no longer had to wonder if Florida State offensive coordinator Jeff Bowden actually drew the plays in the dirt on the sidelines. But any helping of criticism Bowden receives this season for his play calling will warrant two scoops for whatever Miami’s doing on offense.
Both of these teams have national championship-caliber defenses. Florida State linebacker Buster Davis looks like Sam Mills with a Met-RX endorsement and I’d put money on the Miami secondary at any NCAA track meet. If either of the coaching staffs returned their playbooks to the 1990s, maybe we’d see these two teams again in the ACC Championship game with BCS implications on the line.
As it stands, the Seminoles have a leg up on the Hurricanes in the early running for most-disappointing team of 2006, but not much else on the rest of the nation after their first win in the Orange Bowl since 1998.