The Acrostical, Week 1: Nothing ever changes

Kevin C. Cox

Remember The Alphabetical? That was so hard to write, and if you're going to write something 15 times a year, you either have the choice of your sanity or simplification. Here's to emptying the college football notebook in a loosely thematic form. It kind of has to do with AC/DC.

Satan

When nothing else works, this album makes me want to live, even if it is a colossal monument to brave, loud stupidity. It's dumb, huge, and perfect, and -- yes, we're talking about college football here, and this'll do as a soundtrack. It's reprehensibly stupid at times, totally irresponsible at others, uneven, loud, and please turn it up. We are asking you very nicely to turn it up so the nice man can yell about shooting to thrill and how Satan is calling for you and how we've learned nothing after the death of our lead singer whatsoever.

Learning nothing whatsoever. Repeating the same mistakes over and over again. That's the idea here, especially in the first week of a very young college football season.

  • For instance, Miami still remains an uneven mess, and Bobby Petrino can still solder together a good offense in a matter of months.
  • USC is just as talented as you suspected they were, releasing about a year and a half of pent-up frustration in one game against Fresno State. Points do roll over from year to year in the Pac-12, and the Trojans used all of them at once in a binge that should horrify anyone in the conference.
  • As in 2013, Alabama doesn't have a secondary of note. The Tide will still have to rely on their offense to bail them out. Lane Kiffin, an average head coach at best, is still a capable coordinator when you just let him worry about one side of the ball. (And he is still gloriously surly.)
  • Florida State, like most returning champions, did in fact lose something when experienced people left and were replaced with less-experienced people.
  • The same can be said for South Carolina, but with drastically different results thanks to another constant: Texas A&M under Kevin Sumlin can and will score a thousand points if you don't bury its quarterback under his own linemen.

One week both proves a lot and a little. The good news: the things that you liked about Team X are still probably true. The bad news is that the bad things are likely true. They may have gotten worse. It's a long con and a mean one, but there's no reason not to accelerate as hard as you can into that skid. You might crash in a ball of flames, but you just might come out of it in perfect position for the rest of the season, too.

Hill

Kenny, who is both a cause and a symptom of an ongoing outbreak in the SEC West and beyond. A&M's Hill is really, really good at quarterbacking. He threw for 511 yards, three TDs, and showed so much poise he scared his own offensive coordinator. ("Creepy" was the exact word Jake Spavital used.)

He is also illustrating just how inadequate a depth chart is in describing what a team will look like to your naked eye. Sure, you saw Ricky Seals-Jones listed at 6'5, 225. But did you realize what that would look like on the hoof, running with shocking fluidity through the Carolina defensive backfield? Did you know how hard you'd laugh when you saw Cameron Clear, an offensive lineman masquerading as a receiver, catch a ball? The scouting reports said he was fast, and his name is Speedy, but the reality of how much turf Speedy Noil can scorch with the ball in his hands trumps whatever you read on CreepyRecruitingGuyIsWatchingYouSleep.com or whatever.

A&M has talent, but watching the Aggies in a system where they all understand their roles is half the beauty here. They leveled South Carolina with execution, precision, and speed, the kind of auto-pilot you get when conscious thought has been erased altogether. It's the absolute worst when coaching cliches become true, but it's here: they knew what they were doing, were comfortable in it, and that's how you translate Texas zen into 39 first downs and one of the worst beatings of Steve Spurrier's career.

Watching Texas A&M is like watching the world's most dangerous yoga class move through poses. Just breathe. The points score themselves.

P.S. It should also be noted how brilliant Jake Spavital's playcalling for a young QB was: passing on run downs, running on pass downs, and calling it all to get Hill easy completions and into a rhythm early. Petrino did the same thing on Monday night with Will Gardner for Louisville, and Kiffin did the same for Blake Sims. Smart people, just staying smart year-to-year.

P.P.S. Think it had to be fun for Sumlin after the game to shake hands with Spurrier, who called Sumlin "a good negotiator" this offseason?

Do you think Sumlin and the Aggies really rubbed it in by dancing in the locker room for 10 hours to "Sandstorm" after the game? You can't prove they didn't. You simply can't.

Opulence

Comfort is a luxury, but it's earned. For instance, Alabama clearly experienced a deep and familiar discomfort watching West Virginia do much of what Oklahoma did to the Tide in the Sugar Bowl. The Mountaineers worked the Bama corners; they spread them out to run the ball; Clint Trickett got off to a hot start, and a thousand houndstooth boxer briefs prepared for a powerful self-soiling in the Georgia Dome.

Which is weird, because given Bama's depth, money, and overall resources, there is no reason not to just get dumb and dare West Virginia to try and keep up with the horsepower. This is precisely what Alabama did in the end, sticking with the run and parading T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry through the line, rushing for 288 yards, controlling the clock, and setting up Sims for easy play-action completions. (Including a laugher of a drop by Christion Jones that would have changed the complexion of what was at the time a close game.)

After the game, Saban said of his OC, "The guy’s a really good coach, now. Y’all need to fess up to that." That is true, and in no way did Kiffin move Alabama away from its natural, luxurious advantages. They relied on that power imbalance, and did what Alabama fans screamed at departed coordinator Doug Nussmeier to do for most of his tenure: run the damn baaawwwlll. The last time Kiffin had two backs this talented to play with was 2005, by the way, when he had Reggie Bush and LenDale White. If you want to aggravate irrational expectations for this offense, that thought will certainly do it for you.

The one place Alabama has to budget now is on pass defense, the specialty of the coach who might need the most criticism, if you're into yelling at Ferraris about their lack of efficient fuel economy. The guy who designs those for Alabama is Nick Saban. This is 2014, and for one week at least, Kiffin outperformed the best coach of our era. Alabama is going to have to embrace what it became last year: a team reliant on its ground game and offensive line to score down the stretch, create play-action opportunities, and win high-scoring games.

It's a profligate way to win, but aristocrats can afford it.

(Psssst: if that sounds a lot like Auburn, well, it should. Because it's accurate in principle, if not style. This section suggested Saban has not gotten his secondary read, and also said Alabama and Auburn were more similar in strategy than you might think. We are banned from Alabama and Hogville.net now, and have no regrets.)

And oh: they look so happy together already.

Overkill

Another great tradition of opening weekend.

Nebraska had 498 yards of rushing offense against hapless Florida Atlantic. Oklahoma put up a leisurely 48 points on Louisiana Tech. Baylor lost starting quarterback Bryce Petty halfway through the game and still rolled 574 yards of offense out like it was rehearsal time. (SMU had 67 yards offense in response. June Jones is already retired.) Even Memphis -- Memphis football! -- scored 63 points on Austin Peay.

Conference Power Rankings

The only story involving an FCS team not named North Dakota State that might draw serious note: Texas Tech, a team that should have put up 1,000 yards on Central Arkansas, struggled with CAU in a 42-35 shootout. If the Bears don't seem totally foreign to you, there is internet reason: they're the ones with the eye-melting striped field.

Otherwise, more than a dozen games involved margins of victory over 40 points. The most shocking, even though it fell just short of 40? Historically deplorable UAB winning 48-10 over Troy. Don't forget that in the hustle out of a six-day college football weekend. Larry Blakeney's team lost to a team whose head coach left to become an offensive coordinator in the ACC in the offseason.

Tribulation

What you don't want to do is ignore signs of obvious stress pointing to season-long malaise and a possible offseason armageddon. For instance:

  • Miami cannot block, at all, in most football situations on offense or defense. Their primary offensive threat is running back Duke Johnson, who needs some blocking. That is not a temporary problem. That is very bad for Al Golden's long-term prospects, even though Brad Kaaya looked about as good as a young starter could look if you totally forget Kenny Hill exists.
  • UCLA struggled on the road against Virginia. UVA is not a very good team, and UCLA should have paved them in two quarters of easy work. The problem there is the same: bad o-line play. The solution is to either have an opponent literally hand your defense two or three defensive touchdowns or improve quickly before conference play. The first only happens when you play UVA. Might want to look into the second option.
  • Boise State had no one to stretch the field in the passing game, allowing Ole Miss' defense to hammer short routes. This is the plan to beat Boise, and if you can stop the run game, it's over early for the Broncos.
  • On the other side of that matchup, Ole Miss played one of the worst halves of offense I've ever seen in person, as Bo Wallace threw three reprehensible interceptions.
  • Tennessee couldn't run well against an overhauled Utah State, and that might be an issue in a division including Georgia and Florida.
  • Ohio State had to scramble to beat Navy and was mediocre on third down without Braxton Miller. Everyone struggles against the triple-option a bit, but 370 yards of total rushing is more than your average, store-brand struggling.


Bo Wallace, Photo credit: Kevin C. Cox / Getty Images

Timorous

There's no time for much panic.

Miami only has to play the rest of the ACC, which gives ample rehearsal time to improve. UCLA played sleepy and won through the haze of the horrendous west-east commute. Tennessee's defense and passing game were both light years ahead of anything in recent Volunteer history, and Utah State had a top-15 defense last year. (Repeat that in short: Tennessee was a functional, highly competent football team.) Navy's actually pretty good, Ohio State.

You might be panicking anyway. That is normal. At least you're not Troy or Iowa State.

Outlawed

Scheduling the following teams opening weekend:

  • Navy, whose offense is like, literally the worst thing we can think of facing just after fall practice.
  • North Dakota State, an FBS team masquerading as an FCS team that beat Iowa State 34-14 in front of aghast Cyclone fans.
  • Northern Iowa, which annually harasses either Iowa or Iowa State. The Hawkeyes' turn to almost lose was this year.
  • Michigan, which upset Appalachian State 52-14 in Ann Arbor. CAN'T LET THE WOLVERINES HANG AROUND LIKE THAT, MOUNTAINEERS.

Turnover

You might be panicking. At least you're not Troy or Iowa State.

Roster churn always stings, even for the preternaturally gifted of Leon County Football Preparatory School. Florida State showed its losses where they counted against Oklahoma State: along the defensive line, at running back, and at wideout. Without Timmy Jernigan, the front was pushed around by the Cowboys late. Without Devonta Freeman, the run game stalled out just north of a hundred yards for the night. And when the game needed to be decided, FSU still had Rashad Greene and Jameis Winston, but the ensemble feel of 2013 is gone for the moment.

Not that any of this matters. FSU only has Notre Dame, Clemson, Louisville, and Florida to step over to get a sure shot into the Playoff through the rest of their accommodating ACC schedule.

This assumes Florida isn't prevented from playing football in 2014 by angry divine lightning storms. This is a live possibility.

Hiking

The Clemson Tigers were mashed under by Georgia and Todd Gurley, have serious quarterback issues, and get to play Florida State on September 20.

Consider hiking. You'd be amazed how fit you'll get walking away from the worst part of a rebuilding year and how much cell reception you won't have walking through the real Death Valley in California. Seventy-plus miles of zero reception! Sweet music to the ears of someone who won't have to watch what happens in Tallahassee or listen to Georgia fans scream, "WE GOT THE NEXT HERSCHEL," for the next four months. (Because they will do this.)

Hey, we finally joined Facebook!

Rock

As in Kid, whom we will find and hurt by the end of the season for that "Born Free" Chevy ad that took the lead in the season's Instantly Loathed And Endlessly Played commercial rankings.

Impeachable

USF's 36-31 squeaker over the Western Carolina Catamounts. Western Carolina, a 2-10 team in the SoCon in 2013, dominated much of the game. Texas Tech's struggles with Central Arkansas were bad, but do consider that the Bears went 6-6 on fourth down tries, which makes the Red Raiders' struggles both more and less understandable.

Syracuse had to go to double overtime to beat Villanova, an FCS school.

FIU straight up lost to Bethune-Cookman 14-12, though there apparently wasn't a full-time beat reporter there to cover the game, thanks to the school banning the Miami Herald for honestly reporting attendance struggles. This is the second year in a row the Panthers have lost to FCS Bethune-Cookman. These sentences are all related.

Lording

Over all he sees, is Todd Gurley.

Ahhh

gurley

AHHHHHHHHH

gurley

AAAAAHHHHHHHHH HIDE NO AAAAAAAHAHHHHHHHHH

gurley

[/gurgling noises, muffled weeping]

The worst part is that you will stack eight or nine in the box. When he gets gassed, you will still have to face Nick Chubb, his backup who is made entirely of shark cartilage, jet fuel, and high-grade fast-twitch muscle fiber. And he'll be bright-eyed, bouncy, and waiting to do the work while Gurley rests on the bench.

Between Alabama and Georgia, SEC defenses are just going to have to pray for fumbles, bad play-calling, and random strikes of NCAA ineligibility.

Lane County

The territory that Eugene, Oregon is the seat of, and the scene of the most important game of Week 2, Michigan State-Oregon.

The SEC will also be playing most of FCS, barring South Carolina playing ECU and Ole Miss going to the Khaki Bowl against Vandy, a game that looks a lot worse after Temple destroyed the Commodores.

Don't watch the SEC this weekend, at all. Stick to the Pac-12 (USC-Stanford) and the Big Ten (Michigan-Notre Dame, Virginia Tech-Ohio State, and Ball State-Iowa.) (No really: Ball State-Iowa.) (It'll be a pretty good game.)

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