The hottest, the best and the brightest from Week 1 of the 2015 college football season.
South Carolina LB Skai Moore
On a night when the Gamecock offense was ineffective, Moore sealed a 17-13 win over North Carolina with his play from the defensive side of the ball. The senior notched a team-high 10 tackles and a pair of interceptions in the end zone. Moore’s second pick came with under four minutes left as the Tar Heels drove for the potential go-ahead score.
With a comfortable win over Wisconsin in Arlington, the Crimson Tide quashed any concerns about its potential to repeat as SEC champion. While Nick Saban’s quarterback choice dominated offseason headlines, ‘Bama was busy retooling one of the country’s toughest defenses and ground games … again. Derrick Henry ran for three scores Saturday, and the Tide stuffed the vaunted Badger rushing attack, the foundation for another college football playoff-caliber team in Tuscaloosa.
Notre Dame QB Malik Zaire
The Irish would have won a lot of games this year with Everett Golson behind center. However, Zaire could help elevate Brian Kelly’s attack to new heights. Zaire performed surgery on the usually stout Texas defense, throwing as many touchdown strikes—three—as incompletions. He finished 19-of-22 for 313 yards, and he brings an element of athleticism and elusiveness that wasn’t a part of Golson’s repertoire.
UCLA QB Josh Rosen
It was a good Saturday for true freshmen college football quarterbacks, as Louisville’s Lamar Jackson and Texas A&M’s Kyler Murray flashed their considerable potential. No rookie, though, was more impressive than Rosen, who left no doubts about the decision to start him over veteran Jerry Neuheisel. The five-star gem carved up a very good Virginia secondary for 351 yards, three touchdowns and no picks on 28-of-35 passing.
Until Saturday afternoon at the Linc, the last time the Owls defeated Penn State, the United States still hadn’t joined World War II. Temple suffocated the Nittany Lions on Saturday, 27-10, behind a mauling defense that got to Christian Hackenberg an unthinkable 10 times, three from LB Tyler Matakevich. It was a moment on the historical timeline for head coach Matt Rhule’s Owls, which snapped a 40-game losing streak to Penn State.
The Aggies dispatched one of the loudest statements of the opening weekend, dismantling Arizona State, 38-17, in a marquee matchup billed as a toss-up. And unlike recent Kevin Sumlin teams, this edition looks capable of winning with balance and defensive pressure. Texas A&M will score, but the bookend of Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall tormented Sun Devil QB Mike Bercovici in what could be a harbinger of things to come in 2015.
The duds and disappointments from this week in the college football world.
After opening his Commodore coaching career by going 3-9, Derek Mason desperately needed a fast start to the 2015 college football season. It didn’t happen Thursday night in Nashville. In fact, Vandy might be regressing, particularly on offense. Against Western Kentucky, which yielded 40 points per game in 2014, the ‘Dores didn’t reach the end zone until there were 33 seconds left of a listless 14-12 defeat.
Georgia Southern Passing
Georgia Southern might be the best college football team in the Sun Belt, and it was without suspended star quarterback Kevin Ellison, but it was thrown out of its comfort zone. With one of the best rushing attacks in America, the Eagles are a spread-option ground team that puts up massive numbers. That didn’t happen against West Virginia, and after they fell behind against West Virginia, they had to start throwing. Favian Upshaw completed 2-of-13 passes for 29 yards with four picks. GSU’s best receiver? West Virginia defensive back Karl Joseph, who picked off three passes in the third quarter.
True, the Wildcats survived, but the opener couldn’t have gone much worse for defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel. Not only did Arizona yield 525 yards to UTSA, one of the worst offensive teams of 2014, but star LB Scooby Wright was also lost to a knee injury for at least the next month. Keep your arm loose, Anu Solomon, because the ‘Cats will need to light up the scoreboard now more than ever.
Auburn QB Jeremy Johnson
At least for one week, Johnson didn’t look like the fringe Heisman contender many felt he would be this offseason. It was just the third career start for the junior with the elevated ceiling, but there were enough hiccups and poor decisions to slightly downgrade his potential for 2015. Johnson was just 11-of-21 for 137 yards, a touchdown and three interceptions in the win over Louisville. But a review of the film will reveal five or six throws that could have been picked.
It was a rocky weekend in general for the Pac-12, but especially up North. Stanford played horribly versus Northwestern. Wazzu managed just 17 points in a loss to FCS Portland State. Oregon State didn’t shake Weber State until the final quarter. And Washington fell in Chris Petersen’s return to Boise. The gap between Oregon and the rest of the division widened in Week 1.
While there’s no shame in losing to a ranked Notre Dame team on the road, the Longhorns embarrassed themselves on Saturday night. With a chance to display what gains it’s made in Charlie Strong’s second year, UT instead showcased more of its warts, getting abused in all phases of the 38-3 drubbing. Either the Irish are playoff-good, or this was an indicator that Texas might hit new depths before turning things around.