Nine teams in the AP top 20 kicked off with either new starting quarterbacks or, shall we say, unfinished QB battles.
Some head coaches simply chose a starter and rode with him. Others got ... more creative. How did they fare, not in terms of quarterback talent, but in managing that talent?
(Since Auburn and Texas weren't ranked, this list doesn’t include Auburn’s struggling new-QB-for-every-play approach -- even Gus Malzahn’s QB-changing tempo is faster than everyone else’s -- or Texas' promising one-runner-and-one-thrower system.)
- No. 10 Notre Dame: Brian Kelly vowed to rotate between incumbent DeShone Kizer and Malik Zaire, who beat Kizer for the job last year before suffering a season-ending injury, against Texas. But Kizer drastically outplayed Zaire and played most of the second half of the Irish’s 50-47 overtime loss. Some contests determine themselves; it would be surprising if Kizer wasn’t getting far more playing time moving forward. Grade: D+
- No. 20 USC: New full-time head coach Clay Helton named Max Browne his starter well before kickoff, and he completed his first seven passes against Alabama, including a lovely 36-yarder to Darreus Rogers that set up an early field goal. After that: 7-for-22 for 65 yards, an interception, and three sacks. Suboptimal. But USC's problems went far beyond Browne's in a jarring 52-6 loss. Grade: C
- No. 18 Georgia: New head coach Kirby Smart named veteran Greyson Lambert his starter a couple of days before the Bulldogs took on North Carolina, but Lambert and freshman Jacob Eason split time. In six Lambert drives, UGA averaged 6.2 yards per play and scored 14 points; in five with Eason, the Dawgs averaged 7.6 and scored 17. Eason was behind the wheel when Georgia erased a 24-14 deficit, and it would be surprising if he didn't see a higher rate moving forward. Grade: B
- No. 12 Michigan State: Michigan State's 28-13 win over Furman was closer than expected, but it wasn't Tyler O'Connor's fault. He completed 13 of 18 passes for 190 yards and three touchdowns; he also threw an interception and took two sacks, but that's not cause for concern just yet. Grade: B
- No. 8 Stanford: Ryan Burns beat out Keller Chryst and played mostly well in the Cardinals’ 26-13 win over Kansas State. He was 14-for-18 for 156 yards and a touchdown. The only weakness: he fumbled twice (a muffed exchange with Christian McCaffrey led to a long return and set up KSU’s first points) and took two sacks. Grade: B
- No. 7 Michigan: Wilton Speight got to make his starting debut against a Hawaii lacking any semblance of a body clock. Still, he did nothing to lose the job in a 63-3 win. He completed 10 of 13 passes for 145 yards, three touchdowns, and an interception, and he did a good job of sticking the ball into the belly of running backs, as easy as that is. Grade: A-
- No. 13 TCU: Texas A&M transfer Kenny Hill won the starting job, and after Saturday's performance against South Dakota State -- 439 passing yards, 45 rushing yards, and five combined touchdowns -- there won't be a change on the two-deep anytime soon. Grade: A
- No. 4 Florida State: Sean Maguire's preseason injury turned Deondre Francois into the de facto starter against Ole Miss, and after a second-quarter dry spell, Francois dominated. Despite his line struggling against a dominant front, he threw for 419 and two touchdowns, and not including three sacks, he rushed six times for 99 yards. Jimbo Fisher said at halftime that Francois was playing fine, and he just needed more help; in the second half, he got that help. Grade: A
- No. 1 Alabama: Nick Saban announced Blake Barnett as his starter against USC, after a long battle fought under cloak and dagger. He went 2-for-3 and took a sack in his first two drives, but according to Saban, he appeared nervous. In went freshman Jalen Hurts, and after fumbling on his first college snap, he was awesome: 6-for-11 for 118 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception, plus nine carries for 32 yards and two touchdowns. He seized control of the job, and Bama gets credit for just leaving him in. Grade: A
We expect pretty big things from Louisville's Lamar Jackson in 2016, and that might not be totally fair. He is just a true sophomore, and the grand expectations are based on a small handful of games. As good as he looked in last year's Music City Bowl -- he was absurd: 227 passing yards, 226 rushing yards -- it was only one game. There could be "too much, too soon" danger.
That's what I would have said if you asked me about him last Thursday morning. And it's technically still true.
But even against a lacking Charlotte defense, Jackson only amplified hype with his ridiculous performance. He completed 17 of 23 for 286 yards and six touchdowns, and he rushed 11 times for 119 yards and two more scores. That's eight combined touchdowns, and all of it came in the first half.
The Cardinals led 56-0 at halftime, but Bobby Petrino showed a little bit of mercy. Jackson ceded the floor to Kyle Bolin for the entire second half in a 70-14 win. The Cards could have threatened triple digits if they wanted to.
A 185.9 passer rating
UCLA's Josh Rosen accidentally questioned how loud the Kyle Field crowd could be, then paid for it.
Through three quarters, his passer rating was at 90.1 (16-for-31 for 166 yard and a pick); that would have been the second lowest of his career to date. UCLA trailed 24-9, having only managed three first-half field goals.
Rosen's fourth quarter passer rating: 185.9. He completed 10 of 13 passes for 177 yards and a touchdown, and the only reason his rating wasn't even high was that two of the three non-completions were intercepted. (One was in no way his fault -- it went right off of his receiver's hands. The non-INT non-completion hit UCLA hands, too.)
Rosen's awesome fourth quarter was responsible for sending the game to overtime, but the game ended with two INCs, a turnover on downs, and an A&M win.
Three fumbles, all recovered
Tennessee fumbled three times in the second half of a comeback against Appalachian State on Thursday night. The Vols had already lost one fumble in the first half, when Cameron Sutton muffed a punt and set up a short, 36-yard Mountaineer touchdown drive. In the third quarter, Josh Dobbs fumbled on third-and-5 from the ASU 42. Two drives later, running back Jalen Hurd fumbled at the end of a 9-yard run at the UT 42. And in overtime, Dobbs fumbled again reaching for the goal line on a third-and-goal scramble.
All three fumbles happened in traffic, with multiple defenders nearby. And the Vols recovered all three.
Obviously the last was the most important of the three. Without it, ASU would have needed only a field goal to win on its own possession in overtime (and granted, ASU had already missed a 42-yarder and a PAT). But with minimal margin for error, Tennessee probably needed recoveries on all three to secure a win.
2.3 points per scoring opportunity
Missouri and Boston College combined to average 11.2 points per game against FBS competition in 2015. If you added together those averages to make a new offense that scored 22.4 PPG, it would have ranked 107th last year.
Progression toward the mean suggested the offenses would improve this fall; they almost literally couldn't have gotten worse. Both teams have had decent offenses recently -- in 2013, Mizzou ranked seventh in Off. S&P+, while BC ranked 30th.
On the road against West Virginia, Missouri matched the Mountaineers by creating six scoring opportunities (first downs inside the 40). In Dublin, Boston College created more opportunities (five) than opponent Georgia Tech (four).
They combined for 25 points, barely more than last year's average. In six scoring opportunities, Missouri managed a touchdown, three field goal attempts (two were missed), a fumble, and a turnover on downs. In five chances, BC one-upped Mizzou by scoring twice but also missed two field goals and lost a fumble. That’s a combined 2.3 points per scoring opportunity. Really, really bad.
As a result, these two teams, which went 1-15 against power conference opponents last year despite fantastic defenses, began this year 0-2.
That they created opportunities provides hope. That they failed to convert meant hope will be necessary, in lieu of progress, for at least a little while longer.
Four FCS upsets, and nearly more
Albany knocked off Buffalo (22-16), Northern Iowa pulled off its common win over Iowa State (25-20 -- the Panthers are 3-3 against ISU since 2007), Eastern Washington outgunned Washington State (45-42, Wazzu's second consecutive season-opening FCS loss), and Richmond smoked Virginia (37-20).
Other underdogs hung around longer than expected. Some of these results confirmed what we expected from a given FBS team, while others were a shock. Which were legitimately scary for power teams' prospects in 2016? And which were a mirage?
- Michigan State 28, Furman 13. MSU head coach Mark Dantonio seems to enjoy keeping expectations as low as possible. In 2015, his Spartans did the bare minimum in getting past WMU, Air Force, CMU, Purdue, and Rutgers before beating Michigan and Ohio State on the road and reaching the Playoff. In 2013, the Spartans beat two one-win teams (WMU and Purdue) by an average of 20-7, then won the Big Ten and Rose Bowl. So, we're not going to read much into this. MSU outgained Furman, 5.6-4.3, on a per-play basis, dominated in success rate (48-31 percent), and suffered one of the least lucky turnover margins of the week. Fumbles and passes defensed suggested State should have been about +1.4; instead, it was minus-1.
- TCU 59, South Dakota State 41. This was more worrisome. South Dakota State is a solid program, but the Jackrabbits produced seven gains of 20-plus yards and nearly matched the Horned Frogs in per-play yardage. TCU won with efficiency, but big plays were an issue last year (opponents had 36 gains of 30-plus yards, 107th in FBS), and early returns are that this hasn’t been rectified.
- Oregon 53, UC Davis 28. UC Davis had five gains of 20-plus, which isn’t good, but at the least, Oregon can at least claim that it had the game in the bag. The Ducks led 33-7 after 32 minutes, and the Aggies never got within 18 points. We’ll give Oregon's defense an incomplete grade.
- EWU 45, Washington State 42. EWU has one of the most prolific offenses in FCS, having averaged at least 30 points per game for seven years. The Eagles scored 42 on Oregon last year, 52 on Washington in 2014, and 49 on Oregon State in 2013. So, we can chalk this up to history. Plus, there's the "Wazzu lost to Portland State, then rebounded to win nine games" thing. Still, EWU averaged 8.2 yards per play with a 51 percent success rate. That's mortifying. Alex Grinch's defense has a lot to prove.
- Richmond 37, Virginia 20. Richmond gained at least 10 yards on 21 of 76 snaps. Virginia put together an efficient attack but couldn't generate big plays. The Spiders finished drives in the end zone. I was curious what the Hoos might have to offer in Bronco Mendenhall's first year. The early answer is: not a whole lot.
- UNI 25, Iowa State 20. Iowa State couldn't get its defense off of the field. UNI had almost 90 snaps, and ISU had barely 50. The Panthers had the ball at least eight minutes in each quarter and at least 9:30 in two. Success rate: UNI 40%, ISU 31 percent. ISU's passing game was pretty prolific, but running back Mike Warren managed 30 yards in 12 carries. I sort of talked myself into ISU being an interesting team if the line held up. It did not in the opener.