Snap Judgment: The Fearsome Foursome Separates Early

Sep 1, 2012; Arlington, TX, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide running back Jalston Fowler (45) carries the ball during the fourth quarter of the game against the MIchigan Wolverines at Cowboys Stadium. Alabama beat Michigan 41-14. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-US PRESSWIRE

The first Saturday of the new college football season reminded us of what we already know: Alabama, USC, LSU and Oregon remain a cut above the rest of the nation.

You could be forgiven if, as a fan of a team other than the handful of squads that looked truly great, your takeaway from Saturday's buffet of relatively unappetizing meals was a bit of dyspepsia. And if you just looked up when USC plays Oregon and Alabama plays LSU -- Nov. 3, in both cases -- you would certainly not be alone in that regard. Those four teams looked like the best in the country coming into the season, and they lived up to their billings on Saturday.

USC led off by aerating Hawaii: Matt Barkley threw for 372 yards and four touchdowns, and connected with Marqise Lee (10 catches, 197 yards, and a 100-yard kickoff return touchdown) for a 76-yard touchdown on the first play from scrimmage that looked like a Left Coast take on Julio Jones' great escape against LSU in 2009. LSU thrashed North Texas on the ground, racking up 316 rushing yards in a 41-14 win.

Alabama followed with its own 41-14 triumph in primetime, a domination of a Michigan team that looked less than impressive. The game featured a 31-0 Alabama lead and a Crimson Tide team that looked little different from the national title winners of a year ago. And Oregon laid into hapless Arkansas State with a 50-point fusillade in the first half of a nowhere-near-as-close-as-the-score-suggests 57-34 win.

Beyond those four teams, struggles were had, and not just opening-week struggles. Oklahoma let UTEP hang around until the last moments, failing to do much of anything on offense until it ran away late for a 24-7 win. Georgia led Buffalo just 24-16 at halftime, and despite some explosions put the game away. Arkansas trailed Jacksonville State until its offense got in gear; West Virginia's defense took some of the shine off the Mountaineers' unstoppable offense by conceding 34 points to Marshall.

Florida State, the only national championship contender outside the top four to win overwhelmingly, did so against middling FCS squad Murray State, and scored 41 of its 69 points in the second half. Does that performance get more credit considering that the only one like it was Oklahoma State's 84-0 flattening of Savannah State?

That's not to say that those teams in college football's upper middle class/lower aristocracy that struggled will have to fight for their spots. What teams could be coming for them? Clemson, which won a dogfight with Auburn and clearly missed Sammy Watkins? Florida, which never fully separated from Bowling Green and didn't get a clear resolution to its quarterback quandary? Wisconsin, which had to deal with Northern Iowa throughout a 26-21 win? Michigan State, which needed Le'Veon Bell's best bell cow act to get a home win against a Boise State team turning over much of its offense?

This weekend provided scant evidence of anything other than Alabama, USC, LSU and Oregon having the look of greatness, and we know this best because those teams did what they do best. Nick Saban's Tide swamped Michigan and played efficient, balanced offense; mirror image LSU throttled a team with its own defense and balance. USC lit up a team through the air and then on the ground with superior talent; Oregon maximized its speed in space and took advantage of turnovers to go up huge early and cruise to the finish with the parking brake on.

These four teams hew to their identities better than any others in college football right now, and those identities have helped four great coaches (or three great coaches and the ascendant Lane Kiffin) build four great programs. They know what they want to be; their players know what they have to do to win; their recruits know why they want to play in those uniforms. (Especially Oregon's. Shiny!)

Four teams' two games on one day in November may decide the 2012 football season. It took only the first day of the season for that storyline to get set up.

While we’re here, let’s watch some of the many fine college football videos from SB Nation’s YouTube channel:

Check out the SB Nation Channel on YouTube

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