Bo Nix’s heroics, Mack’s return, Fields’ 5-TD debut top wild Week 1

Oh, what a Saturday it was for all the SEC haters, all the folks so gleefully watching each subsequent embarrassment with thumbs tapping away on Twitter, unleashing another wave of insults as the mighty fell.

North Carolina, 2-9 last season, rallies to top South Carolina. Must’ve been that grueling month of camp going up against SEC practice squads that wore down the Gamecocks.

Georgia State, 2-10 in 2018, pulls one of the most shocking upsets in recent SEC history, upending Tennessee. Guess the Vols should’ve hired any of the 46 other coaches they interviewed before Jeremy Pruitt.

Ole Miss falls to Memphis? Missouri comes up short against Wyoming? Hard to fault them. They probably just weren’t all that into winning those games. After all, sometimes it just means … not that much.

The SEC makes it so easy, with all the chest-thumping and rah-rah conference superiority, so it’s hard to fault all the doormats in Pac-12 country or the little brothers in the ACC for gloating.

And then Auburn has to go and ruin everybody’s fun. Why, Bo Nix? Have you no sense of humor?

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No, Week 1 was not a good one for the preeminent conference in college football. Kelly Bryant was supposed to make Missouri a contender, but he can’t play defense. South Carolina‘s schedule is brutal, but the date with supposedly over-the-hill Mack Brown was supposed to be an easy win. Now a bowl game looks like a long shot. The juice Rich Rodriguez managed to create for Ole Miss? A big, fat zero in the first half. And Tennessee. Oh, Tennessee. Bless your heart.

Even a handful of the wins were less than encouraging. Florida hardly looked like a top-10 team in its escape act against Miami. Arkansas narrowly edged FCS Portland State. Kentucky and Mississippi State struggled to pull away from lesser competition, too. Alabama had a lackluster first half against Duke, and Georgia had a bummer of a second half against Vandy. Long story short, it’s not going to be a fun week of practice for most SEC players.

And then there’s Auburn.

Nix, the true freshman legacy, got his first start and looked shaky early, only to deliver an absolute gut punch on the Tigers’ final drive. His touchdown pass to secure the win with only nine seconds to play was something to behold, from the gutsy play call by Gus Malzahn to let his freshman sling it even though the Tigers were well into field goal territory, to the confidence Nix showed in his receiver to high-point a ball and come down with the catch. It’s easy to close your eyes and envision a day, three months into the future, when all the talking heads are reminiscing about how that throw turned Auburn into a legitimate contender.

It could go the other way, of course. Auburn beat Washington last year in a similarly hard-fought game, and the end result was a mediocre season that included an ugly loss to Tennessee. So maybe history repeats itself. Maybe.

For now though, the SEC can turn the page on its worst week in years with the knowledge that it has Auburn and Alabama, LSU and Georgia, Texas A&M and, heck, maybe even Florida still carrying water. So what if Wyoming would finish third in the SEC East? There’s no reason to keep counting past No. 2 anyway, and the odds of the SEC putting multiple teams into the playoff this year didn’t change a bit with Week 1’s brutality in Knoxville and Laramie and Charlotte.

Of course, none of that should stop you from laughing at Tennessee, either. After all, it’s not every day Georgia State beats a Power 5 team. Actually, there has never been another day Georgia State beat a Power 5 team. Now that’s funny.

Week 1 buy, sell, hold

Buy: Illinois

OK, so Illini fans probably don’t need to book those hotel rooms in Pasadena, but Lovie Smith’s team posted a dominant 42-3 win over Akron, with former Michigan QB Brandon Peters throwing three touchdown passes. And while you might shrug at a thumping of Akron, Illinois hadn’t beaten an FBS team by more than three touchdowns or had a QB toss three touchdowns in a game since 2015. No, Illinois isn’t winning the Big Ten, but this looks like a potential bowl team in 2019.

Sell: Quick fixes

Perhaps there are better days ahead at Florida State or Tennessee, but an offseason’s worth of hopes sure feel misplaced now. Both Willie Taggart and Jeremy Pruitt aimed to assuage concerns following 2018’s five-win campaigns by bringing in new, big-name offensive coordinators, and neither showed vast improvement. With Kendal Briles calling plays, FSU had a solid first half against Boise State, but its final nine drives included seven punts, a fumble and a turnover on downs. Tennessee looked lifeless under Jim Chaney, with the ground game failing to crack 100 yards. It’s a good reminder that coaches can help, but they’re not the guys on the field.

Hold: The Pac-12

Just like a year ago, Auburn upended the Pac-12’s highest-ranked team on a neutral field in Week 1. In 2018, that just about ended any hopes for a playoff berth on the West Coast, but this year feels a little different. Utah got off to a strong start with a win over BYU. Washington looked sharp working in a bevy of new faces against FCS foe Eastern Washington. USC could force its way into the mix, too. So yeah, there was the brutal end for the Ducks and some awful losses for Arizona and UCLA and some ugly performances by Stanford and Cal, but the season isn’t over. Yet.

Freshman QB Bo Nix led Auburn to a last-second victory over Oregon. Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY Sports

Buy: True freshman QBs

Years from now, it’ll seem crazy we ever thought starting a true freshman quarterback was a bad thing. From Trevor Lawrence to Jake Fromm, there’s history now that suggests that you can not only win with a freshman, you can win big, and on Saturday, there were plenty of fireworks from the new kids. Boise State’s Hank Bachmeier waltzed into Tallahassee and utterly demolished Florida State’s defense, throwing 51 times for 407 yards and a touchdown. Meanwhile, Sam Howell (once a Florida State commit) led a huge second-half comeback for North Carolina, finishing with 245 pass yards and two touchdowns, and Arizona State’s Jayden Daniels threw for 284 yards and accounted for three touchdowns in a win over Kent State.

And then there’s Nix, who struggled early but ended the game with the biggest TD pass in the past five years for Auburn, a lob into the hands of Seth Williams with nine seconds to play. The lone loss by a true freshman belongs to Brett Gabbert at Miami (Ohio), who actually looked pretty good against Iowa, throwing for 186 yards and two touchdowns.

Sell: Dan Mullen as the best old guy dancer in college football

Mullen’s moves during a Week 1 win last year gave hope to middle-aged guys everywhere, but they pale in comparison to Mack Brown’s ability to get jiggy with it. Ever wonder what your grandfather would look like at a Bruno Mars concert? Wonder no more. (Also, did Mack throw a little Macarena in there? Nice.)

Mack Brown, the legendary coach with legendary moves 🕺 pic.twitter.com/OgF4KDs1Vk

— ESPN (@espn) September 1, 2019 Week 1 at the sportsbook

Hunter Johnson needed to make a play to give Northwestern a chance at a win, but bettors on the Wildcats (6.5-point underdogs) wish he’d have just taken a knee. With less than a minute to play and Northwestern trailing by three, Johnson was sacked and fumbled, and Stanford’s Jordan Fox recovered in the end zone to secure a 17-7 Cardinal win. Worse, a Northwestern lineman had a good shot at the fumble, which had he recovered would’ve resulted in a safety — and a 1.5-point cover for the Wildcats.

There probably weren’t too many folks with Georgia State money-line tickets, but, boy, did it pay out big. The Panthers’ outright win paid 12-to-1. Before that game, SEC teams favored by at least 24 points were 129-4 in the past 15 seasons.

The over/under for Iowa State and Northern Iowa was a paltry 42 at William Hill US, but the two teams still didn’t come close to hitting the total in regulation. After 60 minutes, they were tied at 13. Unfortunately for under bettors, three overtimes followed, and Iowa State prevailed 29-26, making the final total was 55. Another line on our long list of reasons bets should be official at the end of regulation.

Alabama covered the first-half spread in its first 10 games last season, going into the locker room up an average margin of 29 points. Since then, though, the Tide have gotten off to some shaky starts and are just 1-5 against the spread. They went to the half tied with the Citadel at 10 (seriously, that happened), led Auburn by only three in last year’s Iron Bowl, trailed Georgia by seven in the SEC title game and, of course, were getting thumped 31-16 against Clemson in the national championship game. Saturday, the Tide were favored by 23 in the first half against Duke, but were up just 14-3 at the midpoint. The second halves, however, have gone far better.

Lines courtesy of Caesars Sportsbook

UGA/Clemson QB power rankingsJustin Fields is off to a good start at quarterback for Ohio State. Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

1. Justin Fields: In his Ohio State debut, the former Georgia QB who (in ESPN’s rankings) also edged out Trevor Lawrence as 2018’s top recruit, Fields dominated FAU, accounting for 295 yards and five touchdowns.

2. Trevor Lawrence: He didn’t do much with his arm in a win over Georgia Tech, but Lawrence did show he can run a little, which should be a fun little wrinkle for defensive coordinators to consider this season.

3. Jacob Eason: Sure, the opponent wasn’t great, but you can’t ask for a much better debut than Eason’s 349 yards and four touchdown for Washington. Plus with Jake Haener announcing a transfer, Eason now accounts for 50% of the Jakes in the QB room.

4. Jake Fromm: After a fast start, the Georgia offense hit the skids in the second half against Vandy, though the Bulldogs still won with ease. Fromm threw for only 156 yards, the lowest total of his career in a game in which he threw more than 20 passes.

5. Kelly Bryant: He actually played pretty well — throwing for 423 yards, running for 20 more and tossing two touchdowns — but you can’t lose to Wyoming.

6. Zerrick Cooper: Bryant’s former backup at Clemson completed 40-of-52 passes for Jacksonville State but threw two picks and lost 35-14.

7. Hunter Johnson: Clemson’s other No. 1-ranked QB recruit turned the ball over three times and was benched at one point for Northwestern. Better days ahead for Johnson, but his debut wasn’t a great one.

Heisman top five

1. Travis Etienne, Clemson

Perhaps we’ve been spending too much time hyping that other Clemson Heisman contender. Etienne was a beast in the Tigers’ opener, running for 205 yards and three touchdowns in just 12 carries in a win over Georgia Tech. Etienne had touchdown runs of 48, 14 and 90, which tied a school record for the longest scoring run.

2. Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama

Duke was no match for Alabama, to no one’s surprise. But the Blue Devils actually have a pretty solid secondary, and Tagovailoa absolutely torched the Blue Devils, with only one more incompletion (five) than touchdowns (four).

3. Justin Fields, Ohio State

Five touchdowns in his debut was pretty nice. And let’s not forget, Kyler Murray got his Heisman campaign started with a similar performance against FAU last year.

4. Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin

Sixteen carries, 134 yards, two touchdowns. Not too shabby for a non-Etienne running back.

5. Trevor Lawrence, Clemson

Probably not a great sign for your Heisman campaign when a QB’s best highlight is a tackle, but credit where is due: Lawrence’s take down of Tre Swilling to save a touchdown was pretty darned impressive. Overall, Lawrence’s line — 13-of-23 for 168 yards, two total touchdowns and two picks — isn’t the best start to the season.

Head-scratcher calls of the week

1. The numbers nerds will all tell you that punting is for losers, that coaches should go for it on fourth down almost all the time. David Shaw is not a numbers nerd. Early in the second quarter, K.J. Costello took a sack for a loss of 3 yards. That left Stanford with a fourth-and-10 at the Northwestern 34. Last year, teams converted fourth-and-10 about 39% of the time. Teams beginning a drive between the 30- and 35-yard line scored about 38% of the time. What did Shaw do? Punted. Into the end zone. For a touchback.

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2. Mack Brown, on the other hand, wasn’t into punting on fourth down. He didn’t go for it either, as UNC looked to secure an upset of South Carolina. No, the Tar Heels took a knee on fourth down at midfield with 11 seconds to play, immediately stopping the clock and changing possession. The move clearly showcased Brown’s expertise from his time in the TV booth, adding just a bit more drama at the end of the game. Never pick up the clicker when Brown’s calling plays.

3. Boise State scored on a seven-play, 69-yard drive to close the gap against Florida State to 31-26. The Seminoles’ defense desperately needed a breather. Instead, Kendal Briles called for two deep balls — both of which fell incomplete. James Blackman was sacked on third down, Florida State punted, and the Broncos scored on the ensuing drive — and never relinquished the lead.

Honorable mention: USC had a 60-yard kick return negated to open its game against Fresno State because there were two players on the field wearing a No. 7 jersey.

@SECOfficiating comment of the week

We’re a little disappointed by the lack of tweets from the new SEC Officiating account on Twitter, but we’ll never be disappointed by the replies. Saturday’s favorite complaint featured a questionable roughing-the-passer call against Ole Miss, and let’s just say it didn’t take fans long to chime in.

You have already altered the Ole Miss vs Memphis game… its only the 1st quarter

— Evan Foster (@EvanFos06508829) August 31, 2019 Under-the-radar win of the week

Cincinnati Christian is an NAIA school that played its first football game in 2016. In the three years since, the Eagles were a combined 0-33. Last year, they lost nine of their 11 games by at least 38 points, including defeats of 73-0, 73-7 and 70-14. But you can’t keep a good NAIA school down for long, and Cincinnati Christian finally snapped the skid Saturday, toppling mighty (we’re guessing) Warner University (which, turns out, is in Florida), 20-17, behind 271 yards and two touchdowns from quarterback Derrick Taylor.

“Our guys have overcome a lot of adversity and have continued to work,” head coach (and former West Virginia Mountaineer) Trevor Zeiders said. “They have worked and gotten better, and battled through all of it. I can’t say enough about them. Their leadership, their will, and their perseverance has been great.”

Under-the-radar play of the week

In the grand scheme of things, the play meant little. Virginia Tech‘s Zion Debose took a handoff and was stuffed for a loss of a yard. On the tackle were Boston College defenders Marcus Valdez and Richard Yeargin. If that name sounds familiar, that’d be the same Richard Yeargin who appeared destined to be another in the long line of great Clemson defensive ends when he signed with the Tigers in 2014, the same class that included Deshaun Watson. But in the summer of 2017, a car accident resulted in a broken neck, and Yeargin’s football career appeared over. Two years later, he was back on the field at BC, a medical marvel, and was in on his first tackle for loss since Nov. 19, 2016.

Mountain Best

The American likes to call itself the sixth member of the Power 5, but the title might actually belong to the Mountain West. How’s this for a start to the season? Hawaii tops Arizona in Week 0. Nevada pulls off a stunner on Friday against Purdue. Boise State dominates the second half to beat Florida State in Tallahassee. And Wyoming stuns Missouri in Laramie. Wake Forest’s final-minute magic also proved to be the only thing keeping Utah State from adding a fifth win over a Power 5 opponent for the Mountain West. UCLA, Oregon State and Oregon might be a bit nervous for their Week 2 games now, too.

Aged to perfection

The eight Power 5 coaches who are 60 or older went a combined 7-1 in Week 1, with the only loss (David Cutcliffe) coming to another senior (Nick Saban). The wins included victories for Mack Brown and Kansas’ Les Miles, both making their debuts with new programs after years out of the game. And while the older coaches in the Group of 5 didn’t do quite so well, college football’s oldest head coach, Ohio’s Frank Solich (74), cruised to a 41-20 win over Rhode Island.

Where’s the G?

Reminder to fans everywhere: If you’ve painted your chest, you can’t just wander off for more nachos any time you feel like it. It’s called being a good teammate.

Greatest sport. pic.twitter.com/GMbHFvDh6S

— David Ubben (@davidubben) September 1, 2019 You can’t go home again

Two years ago, Idaho made the rare decision to leave FBS and drop down a level to FCS. Since then, the Vandals have played three games against FBS teams and it has not gone well. On Saturday, Penn State played the role of tormenter, demolishing Idaho 79-7. That comes after the Vandals lost last year to Fresno State (79-13) and Florida (63-10). So, in three games, Idaho has given up 221 points to FBS opponents. In that same span, seven current FBS teams have allowed fewer, all playing at least 11 games against other FBS opponents, including Clemson, which has surrendered only 204 in 15 such games.



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