Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football ("terminated" games sold separately, for less than $975,000):
THINGS JOSH SHAW DID IN HIS WEEKEND OFF FROM FOOTBALL
In an exclusive interview with USC’s Rips It Blog (1), ostracized defensive back Josh Shaw (2) explained how he spent his time away from the Trojans as they opened the season without him. You may recall that Shaw declared that his dual sprained ankles were the result of a heroic act, saving his 7-year-old nephew from drowning. You may also recall that several people called B.S. on the Rips It report when the story went national. Shaw subsequently admitted making up the story, as rumors of a much less noble reason for the injury proliferated. Despite simply following the Hollywood tradition of embellishing something “based upon a true story” – the injury was true, right? – he missed USC’s season opener against Fresno State and police are investigating and his status is in doubt even after his ankles heal. Tough turn of events for a momentary American hero.
But in Rips It transcripts exclusively obtained by The Dash, Shaw did have an eventful holiday weekend. Among his stated activities: Safely crash-landed a plane at LAX. Rescued a kitten from a tree. Pitched three innings of no-hit ball in relief of Sidd Finch. Successfully negotiated to relocate an NFL franchise to L.A. Extinguished several wildfires. Got engaged to Lennay Kekua. Reversed the effects of climate change. Stopped the spread of viral LinkedIn emails. Counseled Donald Sterling on racial sensitivity. Cheered on Rosie Ruiz in a marathon. Ended the weekend cooking out with Dashette Kenya Kinski (3).
Fight on. Fabricate on.
THE WAY-TOO-EARLY FAB FOUR, TAKE TWO
With all of one weekend in the books and 96 days until Selection Sunday, it seems like high time to update The Dash’s preseason Fab Four College Football Playoff teams. With the understanding that it takes a quality opponent to score a quality victory, here’s the new list:
Florida State (4). Defending national champion Seminoles probably got exactly what they needed out of their JerryWorld game against Oklahoma State: a victory and a reality check. No matter how many times a coach can try and pound humility into a super-talented team, it usually requires external force to make it happen. The Cowboys applied the external force, but the Seminoles survived and can move forward with a greater awareness of their weaknesses. Repeating will be hard, but winning the Atlantic Coast Conference doesn’t have to be. For the time being, this is still the team to beat.
Texas A&M (5). The biggest revelation of Week One, by a wide margin. The Aggies were utterly dominant in a road Southeastern Conference game against a team that hadn’t lost at home since mid-2011. Major personnel losses at quarterback, wide receiver and left tackle were filled in with shocking ease, and a horrible defense has improved. That unit remains young and susceptible to breakdown, but A&M also appears capable of scoring enough that it won’t matter. This is a big leap forward from preseason perception, but preseason perception is guesswork that is prone to being completely wrong. Given the 60 minutes of data we have to go on at this point, put the Aggies in the playoff.
Georgia (6). And put a second SEC team in the playoff while we’re at it. This would send most of an SEC-fatigued nation screaming bloody murder – but one game into the season, the song remains the same. There were some quality non-league victories, and none was more resounding than the Bulldogs pounding Clemson between the hedges. Todd Gurley can step to the front of the also-way-too-early Heisman Trophy contention line, and coordinator Jeremy Pruitt’s defense looked a lot better than Todd Grantham’s previous versions.
UCLA (7). Yeah, the Bruins stunk on offense to an alarming degree. The offensive line was a mess, star quarterback Brett Hundley was tentative, and the running game was a prolonged display of weakness. But no other Pac-12 team had a more difficult debut assignment, traveling cross-country for a noon kickoff against a power-five opponent that was The Dash’s dark horse pick to make noise in the ACC this season. And the defense was lights out, scoring three touchdowns on its own. So the Bruins at least proved something, and the Pac-12 will get a team in the playoff. So they get something of a pass for a shaky debut win and remain in the Fab Four.
Added: Texas A&M, Georgia.
Dropped out: Auburn, Michigan State. Tigers did nothing wrong, pasting Arkansas by 24 at home, but it was only the third-best showing by an SEC team. Spartans played Jacksonville State, which doesn’t count. They’ll get their prove-it chance this Saturday, which leads us to …
THIS WEEK’S GAMES OF PLAYOFF PERTINENCE
Michigan State-Oregon (8). As Spartans coach Mark Dantonio said Sunday night, “This is an opportunity game.” It’s a huge opportunity for both teams to get the kind of victory that could be a differentiating factor later in the year – if both teams follow up with high-quality seasons. Michigan State is similar to the physical Stanford teams that have given the Ducks fits the last two years – but do the Spartans have the speed to match Oregon and its high-tempo offense? Intriguing clash of styles and differing strengths. Plenty of cynics are just waiting for the hype to swallow a Michigan State program that historically struggles when expectations are highest. Other cynics are waiting for Mark Helfrich to prove he’s overmatched as the successor to Chip Kelly. Everyone else is just hoping this game lives up to its off-season billing as the best non-conference matchup of the year.
USC-Stanford (9). Both teams looked sharp in their openers, but this is a major step up in class. Steve Sarkisian was 1-4 against the Cardinal as coach at Washington and 0-3 in Palo Alto, which is where this game will be played. Stanford got the customary explosive plays from Ty Montgomery in its opener (60-yard punt return, 44-yard reception) but for once he had company – Michael Rector had a 40-yard touchdown reception and freshman Christian McCaffrey (son of former Stanford and Broncos great Ed McCaffrey) scored on a 52-yard catch-and-run play. The Trojans came into this season as a defense-first operation but dropped 701 yards of offense on Fresno State. So USC won 20-17 last year and Stanford won 21-14 in 2012, maybe it will take some serious points to win this time around.
Michigan-Notre Dame (10). It may be a stretch to consider either serious playoff contenders, but they both had emphatic opening victories after considerable preseason doubt. Everett Golson was spectacular in his first game as quarterback of the Fighting Irish since the 2012 season, producing 336 yards of offense and five touchdowns and taking the focus off the five players who are out of uniform during a school academic investigation. After a season in which the Wolverines struggled to run the ball against air, they piled up 350 rushing yards on Appalachian State – most in a single game since mid-season 2012. The last five meetings have been close and crazy, so The Dash is optimistic about entertainment value. But the game will carry an aura of melancholy, since it’s the last scheduled meeting in what has been a great rivalry.
Virginia Tech-Ohio State (11). It took a while for the post-Braxton Buckeyes to assert themselves last Saturday against Navy, but they ended up rolling to a 17-point victory that should provide hope for the rest of the season. And the rest of the season starts now, against a Hokies team that may have found an instant infusion of offense. After years of dwindling firepower and growing fan discontent, Virginia Tech has tapped into a transfer quarterback (Texas Tech’s Michael Brewer) and some freshmen skill players (running back Shai McKenzie, wideout Isaiah Ford, tight end Bucky Hodges). Brewer threw for 251 yards against William & Mary, and the other three combined for 190 yards and three touchdowns on 20 touches. Of course, doing that at home against Will & Mary is different from doing it in the Horseshoe. We’ll see what carries over.
COACHING DEBUTS: PATIENCE, PLEASE
Coaching changes are invariably greeted with runaway enthusiasm and optimism, and a lot of that runs into the brick wall of reality on Labor Day weekend. But not all of it. The Dash is keeping score on the new faces in new places.
Bobby Petrino (12) broke the tie Monday night. Heading into the Louisville-Miami game, new coaches were 9-9 in their debut games over the weekend, ranging from the thrilling (James Franklin) to the surprising (Bill Clark) to the dismal (Derek Mason). The Dash doles out opening-game grades:
Blake Anderson (13), Arkansas State. Previous job: offensive coordinator, North Carolina. Result: beat Montana State, 37-10. Grade: A. When you are the fifth head coach at a school in five years, it takes some work to get players to buy in and be ready – especially when you’re rebuilding most of the offense. But Anderson achieved the desired result, with his team scoring the last 24 points behind dual-threat QB Fredi Knighton to pull away. Next: at Tennessee. Red Wolves have not been outright dump-trucked by a power-five opponent in years – no losses by more than 30 points since 2008 – so don’t expect a Big Orange blowout.
Dino Babers (14), Bowling Green. Previous job: Eastern Illinois. Result: lost to Western Kentucky, 59-31. Grade: D. Babers has an offensive background, but he may want to poke his head into the defensive meeting room this week after the Falcons gave up 708 yards and forced zero turnovers. Bowling Green hadn’t surrendered that many points since playing Michigan in 2010 – and WKU is not Michigan. Next: host VMI, the Falcons’ only home game in September.
Craig Bohl (15), Wyoming. Previous job: North Dakota State. Result: beat Montana, 17-12. Grade: B-minus. FCS wizard will not transform the Cowboys overnight. But apparently they will be a lot better defensively than the porous units of the previous two years. Wyoming overcame a minus-2 turnover margin and a low-powered passing game to hold off the FCS power Grizzlies, which beats the alternative. Next: hosts Air Force in a league game, a division game and a rivalry game. Cowboys have lost four straight in Laramie to the Falcons.
Jeff Brohm (16), Western Kentucky. Previous job: offensive coordinator, WKU. Result: beat Bowling Green, 59-31. Grade: A-plus. Brohm coached under Petrino at Western Kentucky and Louisville, and he showed his pedigree by having his team super-prepared for the season opener and executing on a high level right away. WKU smashed several school offensive records in routing the Falcons; former NFL QB Brohm couldn’t have done any better than his starter Brandon Doughty (569 passing yards, six TDs, no interceptions). Next: at Illinois. The Illini, who labored to beat Youngstown State, better not sleep on the Hilltoppers.
Bill Clark (17), UAB. Previous job: Jacksonville State. Result: beat Troy 48-10. Grade: A-plus. This was the Blazers’ largest margin of victory over an FBS opponent in 10 years. Clark is an in-state up-and-comer who starred at the high school level and then won 11 games in his only season as coach at FCS Jacksonville State. He looks plenty ready for this level. Next: at Mississippi State. So not much time to bask in the glow of the opener.
Dave Clawson (18), Wake Forest. Previous job: Bowling Green. Result: lost to Louisiana-Monroe, 17-10. Grade: C-minus. Clawson tried to tell everyone this wouldn’t be easy. He pointed out that a team with a four-year starting quarterback was still 118th last year in nationally in total offense. He said he had no QB step up and instill confidence during spring ball. Then the Demon Deacons lived down to their coach’s assessment, failing to score an offensive touchdown and generating just 94 yards of total offense against a Sun Belt opponent. Next: hosts Gardner-Webb in a get-well game.
Chris Creighton (19), Eastern Michigan. Previous job: Drake. Result: beat Morgan State, 31-28. Grade: C-minus. Any win is a good win at Eastern Michigan – but barely beating a team the Sagarin Ratings put at No. 240 nationally coming into the year is pretty dicey. Still, that’s not the worst part. This tragicomic video, which pretty much tells the entire history of EMU football, is the worst part. Next: at Florida. Eagles are going to need a bigger hammer.
Bob Diaco (20), Connecticut. Previous job: defensive coordinator, Notre Dame. Result: lost to BYU, 35-10. Grade: D. Nobody said digging out of the Paul Pasqualoni hole was going to be easy – but clearly this is going to take some time. Huskies were dominated at home, and Diaco’s white-dress-shirt-with-a-logo sideline attire was no winner either. Next: hosts Stony Brook. Which pretty well qualifies as a must-win.
James Franklin (21), Penn State. Previous job: Vanderbilt. Result: beat Central Florida, 26-24. Grade: A. This wasn’t a game The Dash expected the Nittany Lions to win – and truth be told, they were aided and abetted by a UCF personnel decision that backfired (see below). But Penn State had control, lost control and still found a way to win on the last play. This team will go as far as Christian Hackenberg and a lot of grit will take it. Next: hosts Akron in a tricky rebound game coming off trip to Ireland and an emotionally exhausting opener.
Willie Fritz (22), Georgia Southern. Previous job: Sam Houston State. Result: lost to North Carolina State, 24-23. Grade: B-plus. Georgia Southern did everything but win their inaugural game as an FBS school, taking a two-touchdown lead into the second half and a 10-point lead into the fourth quarter. They failed to hang on, but GSU looks like it will be competitive in the Sun Belt right away. Next: hosts Savannah State, probably the Eagles’ easiest game of the year.
Bryan Harsin (23), Boise State. Previous job: Arkansas State. Result: lost to Mississippi, 35-13. Grade: C. Suspicions that The Bus has lost a gear or two was not dispelled by the opener. The Broncos failed to crack the end zone for 55 minutes, in large part because quarterback Grant Hedrick threw four interceptions. The Boise defense hung tough until a fourth-quarter collapse. Plenty of work to be done. Next: hosts Colorado State – which impressively manhandled Colorado – in what could be a pivotal Mountain Division game.
Chuck Martin (24), Miami (Ohio). Previous job: offensive coordinator, Notre Dame. Result: lost to Marshall, 42-27. Grade: B. The RedHawks were far better than they’ve been the last couple of years, especially offensively. But that was to be expected when Martin brought Notre Dame transfer quarterback Andrew Hendrix with him to Oxford as an immediately eligible transfer. Still, this a game that looked like a blowout on paper, and wasn’t. Good sign. Next: hosts Eastern Kentucky in what should be Miami’s best chance for a victory until October.
Derek Mason (25), Vanderbilt. Previous job: defensive coordinator, Stanford. Result: Lost to Temple, 37-7. Grade: F. When an SEC team is blown out at home by Temple, it’s a disaster. The Commodores were a grease fire offensively: seven turnovers, no big plays in the running game and shut out for the final 40 minutes. Most folks expected a dip after Franklin and a lot of talented players left, but this may be a swan dive off a cliff. Next: hosts Mississippi, a team the Commodores have beaten three of the last four years.
Charlie Partridge (26), Florida Atlantic. Previous job: defensive line, Arkansas. Result: lost to Nebraska, 55-7. Grade: C. Expectations were low. The Owls met them. Next: It gets worse. At Alabama.
Chris Petersen (27), Washington. Previous job: Boise State. Result: beat Hawaii, 17-16. Grade: C. Other than winning a road game, there wasn’t a lot to be excited about here. The Huskies produced 27 percent of their offense on a single play, a 91-yard touchdown bomb. Otherwise, Washington proved that suspended Cyler Miles is the only good alternative at quarterback. It will get better, but playing in the Pac-12 may make it hard for improvement to show up in the win column. Next: hosts FCS power Eastern Washington, the first of four straight home games.
Steve Sarkisian (28), USC. Previous job: Washington. Result: beat Fresno State, 52-13. Grade: A. Given the surreal week leading up to the opener, spiked with tall tales and accusations of racism, beating down a quality mid-major was a splendid debut. Trojans extinguished any hope of an upset early and racked up all 52 points in less than three quarters. Up-tempo offense appears fully implemented. Next: into the Pac-12 fire at Stanford. (See above note.)
Charlie Strong (29), Texas. Previous job: Louisville. Result: beat North Texas, 38-7. Grade: A. The most impressive thing about Strong’s debut? The Mean Green failed to produce a single play that gained double-digit yards. That’s the mentality that made Strong’s last Louisville team the nation’s leader in total defense. But the offensive job got harder with David Ash out for at least one game after experiencing concussion symptoms yet again. Sad deal for the young man. Next: hosts BYU in a yardstick game that will measure the Longhorns’ toughness compared to last year, when the Cougars embarrassed them in Provo.
QUARTERBACK DECISIONS GONE BAD
Coaches spend all spring practice and all fall camp watching position battles and carefully weighing decisions over who should start. And still, sometimes it turns out all wrong when the proverbial “live bullets” start flying. When it goes wrong at quarterback, it’s even more obvious. There were three glaring examples in week one that contributed significantly to teams losing big games. The list:
Wisconsin (30). Badgers coach Gary Andersen surprised a lot of people by opting for 2013 safety/receiver Tanner McEvoy over returning starter Joel Stave. Opting against experience and feeding McEvoy to the LSU defense didn’t work out so well – he was 8-for-24 for 50 yards, with no touchdowns and two interceptions. He didn’t get much help from his offensive line or receivers, but still – if there was a worse performance by a top 25 quarterback over the weekend, The Dash didn’t see it. Yet McEvoy played every offensive snap – even as Wisconsin’s 17-point lead dwindled, and as the quarterback’s futility mounted. He was 1-for-7 in the fourth quarter alone. Wisconsin’s five possessions: punt, punt, interception, interception, punt. Total yardage gained in those possessions: 32. That dropped Andersen’s record to 1-5 at Wisconsin in games decided by 10 points or less. Monday, the coach said he’s sticking with McEvoy as the starter against Western Illinois. He also said, “We need two quarterbacks. Sooner or later you'll have to have them both.” Sooner was last Saturday. The Badgers refused to budge, and lost a huge opportunity in the process.
UCF (31). Redshirt freshman Pete DiNovo got the first start of his career, and never moved the Knights farther than 22 yards in four first-half possessions. He completed 3 of 8 passes for 18 yards before being relieved for sophomore Justin Holman. By then, UCF trailed 10-3. Holman led three scoring drives of more than 70 yards, putting the Knights in front for the first time all game with a touchdown run with 1:13 left, but Penn State drove for the winning field goal on the final play. If Holman (9 of 14 for 204 yards and a touchdown) had gotten the start – or been inserted earlier – UCF probably would have won the game. O’Leary hasn’t publicly given the job to Holman yet, but he has a bye week between now and playing at Missouri on Sept. 13.
Virginia (32). Starter Greyson Lambert served up a pair of pick-sixes to UCLA in the second quarter. The first was not his fault (he was hit on the throw), but the second one was on him. By the time backup Matt Johns stepped on the field, the Cavaliers trailed 21-3. Then Johns led Virginia on three lengthy scoring drives that gave it a chance to pull a massive upset. Coach Mike London hasn’t yet said who will start Saturday against Richmond, but the choice should be pretty clear after game one.
PLAY CALL OF THE WEEK
Oklahoma State’s bubble pump (33) against Florida State. The play caller: offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich. The play: trailing 20-10 in the third quarter, the Cowboys had a second-and-8 from their own 45-yard line. Quarterback J.W. Walsh motioned running back Tyreek Hill out of the backfield to the right, and it looked like yet another attempt to get the ball in the hands of the lightning-fast junior college transfer in a game where he was OSU’s offensive focal point. But Walsh pumped the bubble screen to Hill and then looked downfield, where receiver David Glidden was all alone. Like everyone else in JerryWorld, the Florida State secondary thought the play was going to Hill and jumped the fake. Glidden sold the fake by hesitating like he was going to block, then sprinted into the clear. Result: a 55-yard touchdown that couldn’t have been any easier.
PUNT TEAM MOMENT OF TRIUMPH
Les Miles (34) calls fake punt with wrong personnel on the field. It works anyway. Of course. Trailing 24-7 in the third quarter and with none of the momentum, the Mad Hatter dialed up a fake punt on fourth-and-4 from the LSU 43. The ball was snapped to linebacker Kendell Beckwith, who was an upback in the punt formation, and he bulled just far enough for a first down. LSU drove for a field goal, Wisconsin never scored again and the Tigers rallied dramatically for the victory. These are the kinds of things that happen with Les Miles.
PUNT TEAM MOMENT OF FAILURE
Youngstown State punter Joey Cejudo (35) delivers a pigskin proctology exam to one of his own blockers. On a fourth-and-1 from midfield against Illinois, Cejudo took a punt snap and rolled right, advancing from the 39-yard line where he caught the snap to the 46, looking like he might have the option to run it or punt it. When the rush appeared, Cejudo punted the ball – squarely into the hind quarters of a teammate who was blocking on the play (and not well). The backward Butt Punt set up an Illinois touchdown, and the Illini went on to win. Despite being the object of national chuckles, Cejudo did get the last laugh – he was named the Ohio Valley Conference special teams player of the week. Cejudo also made three field goals, had a 47-yard punt and two other punts downed inside the 20, and two kickoffs for touchbacks. So he’s more than just The Butt Punter.
The Dash gives the strongest recommendation possible to “The Opening Kickoff: The Tumultuous Birth of a Football Nation.” It is written by Big Ten Network host Dave Revsine (36), and it is fascinating – the best book The Dash has read this summer. The book uses 19th century Wisconsin kicking star Pat O’Dea as a vehicle to examine how college football exploded in America – and all the attendant issues that came with it.
The big takeaway: virtually every single problem college football faces today, it wrestled with more than 100 years ago. Sham academics, paying players, furor over player endorsements, illegal recruiting, brazen money grabs by schools, over-emphasis on the sport that troubled administrators, over-the-top media coverage, player safety … The list is long and strikingly similar to 2014.
Revsine is a wonderful storyteller, and he has a lot of material to work with. If you like football and want to know how to first began its rise to become a national preoccupation, this is a must-read.
COACH WHO EARNED HIS COMP CAR THIS WEEK
Chris Klieman (37), North Dakota State. The assistant who took over the FCS powerhouse when Craig Bohl left for Wyoming proved that the Bison dynasty is far from dead. In his first game as head coach at NDSU, Kleiman authored a 20-point beating of an Iowa State team that was supposed to be improved from last year. There’s little doubt which is the team to beat in FCS, even with a different coach.
COACH WHO SHOULD TAKE THE BUS TO WORK
Gary Andersen (38), Wisconsin. Not only was his handling of the quarterback situation odd (and unsuccessful), Andersen came away from the opening loss to LSU with a festering controversy surrounding his star player. Running back Melvin Gordon peeled off a 63-yard run on the Badgers’ first offensive play of the second half, going over 100 yards for the game, then only carried the ball twice more. Afterward Andersen rather uselessly said Gordon had “a scenario” at halftime, which was before his big run, and offered no explanation for why he barely played thereafter while Wisconsin was trying to protect a lead. “I don’t know,” was the first words out of his mouth, before he vaguely mentioned the “scenario.” On Monday, Andersen clarified, kinda: “Melvin had a little bit of a hip flexor. Anybody that knows Melvin could see that on the long run that he broke out in the second half there. It was very obvious that he had pulled up there at the end of that run.” If that’s the case, it would have helped fans understand – and lessened the furor – if Andersen had said that Saturday night.
Gordon himself said he was “A-OK” after the game. So who knows. The only thing known for sure is that the Badgers once again played well enough to win a big game but found a way to lose it late. That’s been a trend under Andersen.
When hungry in greater Dallas, The Dash recommends dinner at Old Hickory Steakhouse (39) at the fairly spectacular Gaylord Texan Resort in Grapevine. Get an excellent steak, sautéed spinach and the topper: habanero creamed corn. Finish it off with a Fort Worth-brewed Rahr & Sons Storm Cloud IPA (40) and thank The Dash later.