The seal has been broken on the 148th season of college football. Let the overflow of games begin.
From leather helmets to drones, from the flying wedge to the zone read, we’ve come a long way. Meanwhile, this holiday weekend will go a long way to immediately shaping the national scene.
Enjoy these Week 1 storylines …
1. Southern California Trojans has a chance: One of the best practice combinations in the country assembled last week gathered outside USC’s John McKay Center. Trojans cornerback Adoree Jackson and receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster were asked who has the upper hand all-time in their epic practice battles. “Adoree,” said Smith-Schuster. Jackson protested, but only mildly as a larger epic battle looms with the No. 20 Trojans playing defending champion Alabama Crimson Tide at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
Forget history for a moment — this is only the eighth all-time meeting between the two football powers. The teammates iron-sharpens-iron practice battles is a big reason why the Trojans have a chance against the No. 1 Tide. They’re not only good in practice but dominating in the actual games.
Alabama is a well-deserved 11.5-point favorite, but the Trojans come into the season sneaky good. Jackson is one of the best all-purpose players in the country not named Christian McCaffrey . As a sophomore, Jackson started at corner and safety (one game), breaking up eight passes; he also got 81 total touches as a receiver, kick and punt returner.
Smith-Schuster, a preseason All-American, has no problem wanting to be mentioned in the same sentence with USC’s all-time receiving greats. “Everybody is going to be watching this game,” he said.
Yes, Clay Helton is entering his first full season as USC’s head coach. Yes, Max Browne is a first-time starter. But the Trojans aren’t lacking in confidence. Jackson said he’d pretty much have Alabama preseason freshman All-American receiver Calvin Ridley from the time he gets off the bus.
“[I’m] following him,” Jackson said. “If he goes to the bathroom, I go to the bathroom and wait for him to come out.”
Meanwhile, Smith-Schuster is facing a remade defense under new Alabama coordinator Jeremy Pruitt that will definitely be focused on him. Smith-Schuster has fought through a list of nagging injuries, the latest being a dislocated pinky.
“I don’t need a pinky to play,” he said, the smallest finger healed at what looks like a permanently crooked angle. “You only need these three fingers right here.”
He was talking middle, index and thumb. So three-fifths of JuJu is better than none? More like these Trojans not being intimidated not when their daily battles are epic.
“I got JuJu here to get me ready …,” Jackson said. “I’m trying to beat him, He’s trying to beat me. He going to get mad. I’m going to get made. We go at it, every day, every rep.”
2. The downside of the best opening week ever: Basically, it’s that somebody has to lose. Alabama, Stanford Cardinal , Oklahoma Sooners and LSU Tigers — all top 10 teams — entered the weekend double-digit favorites. That list doesn’t include No. 2 Clemson Tigers (favored by 7.5 at Auburn Tigers ) and No. 4 Florida State Seminoles (a 4.5-point favorite vs. Ole Miss in Orlando) putting their seasons on the line early.
We’ve already told you this is the most exciting opening week ever. But if any or all of those six are upset, the playoff picture is significantly altered immediately essentially because of that fact. Basically, the loser(s) will have to win out. That’s a 12-game grind without a hiccup. Forget playing a quality nonconference schedule. Forget gutting through an SEC schedule.
At the end of the season, the College Football Playoff Selection Committee will be interested most in one-loss and undefeated teams only. That’s because the system doesn’t tolerate two-loss teams. In the BCS era (since 1998), only one two-loss team won a national championship (LSU in 2007). And that was only because of a once-in-a-lifetime series of fortunate occurrences for the Tigers.
Think of Ohio State Buckeyes ‘s Week 2 loss to Virginia Tech Hokies in 2014 as the exception. Those Buckeyes won the first title of the CFP era after winning 13 in a row. What you have to ask yourself is if any of those six teams are capable of 1) losing, and 2) winning a dozen games in row to just get to the CFP.
Some historical references …
- LSU has won 52 straight regular-season nonconference games.
- Alabama’s last season-opening loss was 2001.
- Oklahoma last lost to a non-Power Five school in the regular season back in 2009 (BYU).
- Clemson sports a 17-game regular-season winning streak.
- Florida State’s last regular-season loss to an SEC team other than Florida Gators was 26 years ago (Auburn).
- Since 2009, Stanford had a 17-game winning streak (2010-11) and had three Heisman Trophy runner-ups.
3. The Pac-12 is on the clock: It didn’t really hit home until UCLA Bruins quarterback Josh Rosen raised the subject recently: In particular, there is a lot for the Pac-12 to gain/lose this weekend. As the reigning last team out of the CFP, the Pac-12 has two of its best teams playing off campus in significant openers. USC-Alabama and UCLA at Texas A&M. The Bruins and Trojans could be the top two teams in the South Division.
UCLA’s quarterback weighed in appropriately, saying he believes the blood rivals will pull for each other this week.
“The enemies are rooting for each other …,” he said. “I think the Pac-12 is very underrated. We may not have the flashiest teams. We may not publicize it as much as other schools but I think we can stand toe to toe with the best of them.
“I think it’s an absolute travesty, a joke [that] Christian McCaffrey didn’t win the Heisman and Stanford wasn’t in the College Football Playoff … It takes a team like USC or Oregon Ducks to be a generational team to get the credit. I think we go through a tougher test [than other conferences] each week.”
4. Big 12 expansion game of the week: Now that it’s official the expansion process will extend into the season, we might as well recognize the obvious: Those expansion candidates are being judged on a week-by-week basis. By media, by fans, probably by Big 12 presidents.
It’s not that Houston Cougars can’t reach the CFP if it loses to Oklahoma, its chances for undefeated season are significantly enhanced with a win. The only other currently-ranked opponent Houston plays this season is No. 19 Louisville Cardinals . Yeah, it’s kind of imperative the Cougars win.
5. (Lingering) quarterback battles: Alabama, Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Texas are among those going into their openers undecided on a starting quarterback. What in the name of stability has happened?
Heads are still being scratched over Brian Kelly’s decision to use two quarterbacks (Deshone Kiser, Mali Zaire). Nick Saban at least has a track record of success going deep into the season before deciding on a starter. We’ll find out Saturday between Cooper Bateman and Blake Barnett who takes the first snap against USC.
Charlie Strong already has said that both freshman Shane Buechele and senior Tyrone Swoopes will play against Notre Dame.
Whether this is a trend or an anomaly is up for debate. It just seems strange that three flagship programs that claim a combined 21 All-American quarterbacks can’t settle on one.
6. One-liners: Anxious to see if Georgia Bulldogs ‘s tailbacks are altogether healthy vs. North Carolina Tar Heels . If so, newly named starter Greyson Lambert can conceivably hand it off 30-40 times between Chubb (knee) and Sony Michel (broken arm) … Crisis, what crisis? Nick Saban is 6-0 in neutral site openers at Alabama winning by an average of almost 17 points … I can’t get past the possibility of Auburn’s Sean White (one score, four picks in 2016) actually outplaying Clemson’s Deshaun Watson (478 total yards vs. Alabama) … By the time Hawaii Rainbow Warriors gets back home next week, it will have flown almost 20,000 miles combined for its first two games in Sydney, Australia against Cal and Saturday at Michigan Wolverines . The Warriors will travel a combined 50,000 miles for its road games this season.
Source: CBS Sports Headlines / College football Week 1 storylines: USC upset possible, downside of great games